Duke hadn't changed any, not a bit, even though he was getting along in years. Just as efficient as ever. He passed the small folder across the desk to Larry. The contents were mostly as usual: a photograph, a brief description of the individual, the date and place of the rendezvous. This time, though, two plane tickets to Reno were included along with the flight number and boarding time. The folder also contained the name of the rental-car company and the car reservation. Duke left nothing to chance.
He gave Larry a few minutes to absorb the contents. It looked like an easy job.
Duke had more instructions. "You won't be able to just drive up to the hotel and park. It's downtown, and you don't want to waste time going down to their garage. And you sure as hell don't want to leave any record that you've been there. So that extra ticket is for Chet. He'll know where to pick up the necessary gear for you, and he'll drop you off at the lobby and come back for you ten minutes later-or whatever time you figure it will take to do the job. I won't have the room number until tomorrow afternoon. So give me a call-usual phone number-and I'll have it for you then. You'll be a courier. You're supposed to be delivering him some important papers. He'll be expecting you. As soon as he opens the door, do him."
It annoyed Larry to have anyone telling him his business, but he wasn't about to show Duke his resentment. The old man was never very tolerant of objections. When you worked for Duke you did the job the way you were told, you collected your pay, and that was it.
Even so, Larry couldn't resist one comment. Having put in so many years as a completely reliable employee in Duke's service, he felt considerably more secure than some of the young guys just learning the trade. "You sure he won't be entertaining a call girl? Two hits'll cost extra, you know."
For a moment, Larry thought he'd pushed too hard. Duke's annoyance was obvious, but it quickly faded. "You damn well get paid enough to cover two. Anyway, don't worry about it. He'll be knee deep in records when you get there and won't have time for call girls or for anything else. And, besides, he won't want anyone else to see the papers you're supposed to be delivering. So, relax!"
Larry got the message: "Conversation over, now get on with it."
He actually didn't mind having Duke push him around a little. He was sure the old man valued his services. After all, Duke knew that Larry was the ideal hit man. Average looking, easily lost in a crowd, a forgettable face. And he always made it a point to fade into the background. When he pushed that one woman in front of the El, no one on the crowded platform even realized he was the one who'd done it.
And never any boozing or drugs to muck up his mind when working. Anyone doing a job for Duke couldn't afford to screw up. Duke was unforgiving of mistakes, even minor ones. Major ones meant more than the loss of a job. He had once given Larry the task of eliminating an inept employee, one who had made the colossal mistake of being identified by a witness while carrying out a contract. Even before the police moved in, Duke had put the mark on him and Larry had removed him from the picture. That incident left Larry with acute awareness of the consequences of failure.
The one flaw in Larry's character went back to his early contacts with the law, a past he frequently regretted. A string of petty crimes, including a burglary that had netted nothing but thirty days, and then a stupid armed robbery that had produced fourteen dollars, a Timex and a long stretch in the pen.
But he'd learned his lesson. Never any small-time stuff, and he was now always extra cautious about fingerprints. That was one reason this job looked easy. No need for gloves, no concern about prints.
Thirty hours later, as he walked through the lobby of the second-class hotel, with its garish decorations, slot machines lined against the wall, tourists, and crowds of businessmen sporting convention badges, he decided that his quiet LA apartment was far preferable. The biting wind of this miserably cold Nevada winter day was also convincing. But the comfortable and familiar feel of a silencer-equipped automatic resting in his shoulder holster reassured him. He'd be out of here in minutes, and out of the state in less than an hour.
As with all of his previous jobs, this one went smoothly. Larry emptied the clip into the victim, then carefully closed the door with the string of the "Don't Disturb" sign. After all, Duke had assured him that there would be no other visitors to the room that night, so there was no rush. And it gave Larry time to think about the ten thousand dollars now due him, and about how he planned to spend it. Beyond that, there was the satisfaction he always felt at a job well done.
While slipping back through the lobby, he reached into his pocket for car keys and found a lone quarter instead. He smiled as he remembered that this was a chauffeured trip.
Even though there was no need to hurry, he was still annoyed that Chet was taking his own sweet time. The lobby was more crowded than ever, and Larry was certain he would never be remembered by anyone. No one even looked in his direction-but why take chances? Reluctant to go out into the icy wind, and standing unobtrusively near the hotel door, he kept an eye out for the rental car.
A slot machine near the hotel entrance caught his eye. He grinned, dropped in the coin he'd fished from his pocket, and yanked down the lever. "Maybe I'll win enough for taxi fare if Chet doesn't show up soon." But Chet was just coming through the door, and everything seemed to happen simultaneously. Chet was saying "Damn flat! I'm parked right around the corner." And the machine was screaming "JACKPOT!"
Lights were flashing, whistles were blowing, everyone in the lobby turned in his direction. Two Japanese women tourists standing nearby, a mother and daughter, were caught in a fit of giggling and immediately trained their instant cameras on him. A hotel security guard was rushing over with arm extended to congratulate him. A Japanese man, evidently the father of the family, who'd been using his camcorder to film the lobby, now had it turned on the winner of the six-hundred-thousand dollar jackpot.
Larry heard him say to his wife, "Uu ga ii desu, yo."
Eye still glued to the camcorder, the Japanese tourist, even while being bumped and pushed by all the well-wishers eager to shake the hand of the winner, grinned and said, "You are lucky man."