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  Angel of Death                     Purchase Now

Book 3 of the CJ Washburn, P.I. Series - Sample

 


Prologue

Angel of Death by James Paddock

Don took a gulp of his drink and slid from the stool. “Ah shit man. What’m I spose to do with that?” He approached the pool table as though stalking prey and then leaned down to gain a line across the top of the cue-ball. It wasn’t just any ordinary white cue-ball. This one had a half dozen equally spaced red dots, supposedly so one could see where to strike it, could tell how it was spinning. It was a learning ball. Some called it the measles ball. Don knew all about the measles ball. He and Bob had several, used them on their own table. He certainly wasn’t going to tell Mig that, nor that they even had their own table, nor that it was the best that money could buy anywhere in the world.

“Where the hell you get this thing, Mig?” Don said. “Looks like it has the measles.”

Mig grinned. “It’s a pro ball, something you probably don’t know nothin’ about. Just shoot. I can taste the money already.”
Don continued to analyze the shot. He was on the 8-ball, but Mig had one solid ball remaining, the five, and it sat just in the way. For the average couch potato pool player, it was a challenge just to get a legal hit on the 8-ball. For Don, it wasn’t a challenge at all. As a matter of fact it wasn’t even a challenge to sink it in the corner pocket for the win. He’d send the cue-ball to the right of the five-ball, adding a half tip of clockwise spin. Upon contacting the rail ten centimeters before the eight-ball, the cue-ball would accelerate off its normal line and tap the eight-ball into the corner pocket. Still, there was always the one in ten chance that he’d misread the rail hit or not get the spin just right and leave the eight-ball hanging in the pocket. To allow for that situation he’d normally put only enough on the cue-ball to make the eight, what’s called pocket speed. If the eight-ball didn’t drop, the cue-ball would come to rest against the bottom rail where it would be impossible for Mig to make his five-ball without some damned fine skill or pure blind luck. Again, that’s what Don would normally do. When there was a couple of thousand on the line pointing to more waiting in Mig’s pockets, normal took on a different shape.

The read on the table came second nature to Don. As a matter-of-fact he probably had it scoped out before the balls even came to rest after Mig’s previous miss.

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this game, Don thought. He and his brother, Bob, quipped that quote many a time. To them it was pure common sense.

Don walked to the other end of the table as though to better analyze the lay of the balls, not so much to make Mig sweat–not a bad thing in itself–but to give him the impression that Don was serious about staying alive. The match was a race to seven. At the moment Mig was on-the-hill, meaning he had won six. Mig had made a great production of being on-the-hill while Don pretended that he had never heard the term before. Don had won four games. To stay alive he had to win this one and then to take the match, win the next two.

He walked back around the table, applying chalk to his stick, scrunching up his face as though this was an impossible shot, still on the fence as to how to handle it. Take the win or give up the match. That’s what it was coming down to. It wasn’t whether he could make the shot but rather, should he?

He set the chalk aside, glanced across the pool table and beyond the neighboring table to where Bob sat at the bar, watching from a distance, Sue sitting beside him. Bob tilted his head to the left, casting his vote. Don gave no response, didn’t need to. He leaned forward, made his standard bridge with his right hand and settled the cue stick into it. He took a full breath, eyed the sweet spot on the rail, adjusted off of that just slightly, made a couple of slow practice strokes and then struck the cue-ball a little bit harder than was necessary, which was exactly as he calculated.

The red dots on the cue-ball swirled, indicating the applied spin. When the ball contacted the rail it accelerated directly at the 8-ball, striking it a bit too straight on, causing it to hit the corner of the pocket and then ricochet back and forth three times. When it came to stop it was one inch from the pocket, dead center, an easy shot even for Mig’s arthritic grandmother, a thought that Don would not vocalize at this stage of the night. He certainly didn’t want to piss of his mark, at least not yet. Meanwhile the cue-ball continued on its way, contacting two more rails and coming to rest in the center of the table, within six inches of where Don intended, giving Mig an almost straight shot on his 5-ball into the side pocket.

“Ah shit man,” Don growled. “I just set you up. You’re one lucky sons-of-a-bitch.”

Mig didn’t say a word while he easily pocketed the 5-ball and then the eight.

“I didn’t hear you call the 8-ball, man,” Don complained.

“Where in hell else am I supposed to put it?” Mig spit back at him, puffing up his chest beyond the bulk he already carried.

Don wondered what Mig bench-pressed. He appeared to be pure muscle. Whatever it was, Don was certain that he and Bob couldn’t lift it together. Physical power wasn’t their thing.

“And I did point to the pocket with my stick.” Mig demonstrated by pointing his cue stick.

“He’s right,” Mig’s girlfriend, wife, date, whatever, said. “I saw him point his stick.”

Don laughed and put his hand on Mig’s shoulder, looking him directly in the eye. Although they were the same height, there had to be twenty-five kilos difference. “Is that right, Mig? Were you pointing your stick? Hope to hell you weren’t pointing it at me.”

Then they both laughed and Don pulled out three one-thousand dollar chips and handed them over. “You’re damned hard to beat, Mig. But I think you just got lucky, know what I’m sayin’. I can play better than this, I swear I can. Just ask my brother Bob over there.”

Mig looked over to where Don was pointing at a guy in a denim shirt and blue ball cap, a blond girl sitting next to him. Bob and the girl had already turned away, apparently now intent on the football game.

Don made a motion as though waving his brother away. “Screw him. He hates this game. I love it but I swear I’m better than this. Let’s do it again. Race to seven again. I love seven. It’s my lucky number.”

“Ain’t so lucky right now, is it?” Mig said.

“Shit, those were just warm-ups.” Don pulled a handful of chips from his pocket and sorted through them, making sure Mig caught a view. “I’m still good for a while. How much you want to go for?”

“How about five-thousand?”

“Five?” Don put his hand up and started counting on his fingers. “You’ve taken one and then two and now three. If my math is correct, that’s a total of six thousand, but you’re only giving me a chance to win back five?”

“Take it or leave it.”

“Hell of a deal. Why not? It’s only money and there’s a lot more where that came from.” He patted a different pocket. With that, Don pulled the rack from its slot in the end of the table, placed it on the cloth and began sorting balls into it. “You won that match so you’re breaking, my friend. Let’s do this!”

Don, Bob on and off from afar, had been watching Mig for a couple of days. Don had won a few hundred off of him early on, lost double that, twice, knew from conversation that he was good for at least twenty thousand in the long haul. Maybe even more because most guys didn’t reveal the true depth of their pockets. Don and Bob certainly didn’t. They revealed only what they wanted their mark to see, which was just enough to keep drawing him in. Sometimes Mig’s girlfriend, wife, date–Michele was her name–watched. Sometimes she took some money he threw at her and went off shopping or out to the casinos to play the slots. Since Mig was winning, he was happy and since he was happy, she was happy and since she was happy, he was happy. You know how it goes. Sue kind of did the same thing. Sometimes Bob went with her. Sue and Bob were an item. Don didn’t have an item, which often, too often lately, irritated him.

This was the third night and Don had figured out that Michele wasn’t a date. She was either his girlfriend or wife, though neither of them wore a wedding ring. She wore lots of other rings, even one in her eyebrow; had a tat of a cowboy hat at the base of her neck, between her shoulder blades. Don wondered what that meant. Did she like cowboys or just hats? Other than that, she was a good looking girl. The two of them weren’t from around Atlantic City. Don could tell that by Mig’s accent and since they both had the same sort of accent, she probably traveled with him from wherever they called home. Significant other most likely, though it really didn’t matter.

Don and Bob could speak perfect English; however, they didn’t have a handle on all the various American dialects. Somewhere south was their best guess. Didn’t make much difference to Don. After tonight he, Bob and Sue would be gone and Mig and Michele would be crying in their beers, as some Americans would say, with nothing more than a terrible memory.

Don’s intent was to win the $5,000 match. The psychology of the win was that Mig would be thirsty to get it back, plus even more. After all, he’d been up six-thousand; he certainly could do it again. It was just dumb luck that Don had gotten this far, at least that’s what Don wanted Mig thinking.
So Don had to win the match without making it look easy which was what he was good at. He could make it seem as though he was shooting wild, dropping in balls totally by accident, sometimes inadvertently making one of Mig’s balls. An hour and fifteen minutes into the race to seven, the games sitting at 6-6, or “hill-hill” according to Mig, Don missed his shot and accidently left the cue-ball snugged up behind the eight-ball. Anyone who really knew Don would know he did little on a pool table by accident.

Don looked down at the leave. “Sorry about that, man.” His tone oozed sincerity.

They both still had one object ball on the table, that is one stripe and one solid. It was at least a three-rail shot for Mig to even touch his object ball and if he didn’t it would be a foul. A foul meant ball-in-hand for Don which with only one object ball and the 8-ball remaining would guarantee end of game and, in this case, end of match. Don would easily collect his $5,000.

But Mig surprised him by managing a perfect three-rail shot, getting not only a legal hit, but almost pocketing his ball.

Now Don paused to reevaluate. He could still easily take this match, but with the great three-rail shot it might be better to let Mig take it. It was all in the psychology. He’s feeling good about the three-rail hit so let him feel even better with the win and a total take of eleven thousand instead of dropping him back to just one thousand. With a little encouragement from Don, Mig could easily convince himself that it was his skill, not bad luck on Don’s part, that won him the match, playing down that it was hill-hill and not a run-a-way. It was at this point, when a guy was on top of the mountain, that you then point to the next mountain and suggest that since he was so damn good, he could tackle that easily, but do it in such a way that it would seem like it was the guy’s idea.

And so Don pocketed his last ball and left himself a difficult shot on the eight. The rule was if you were going to give up a game by purposely missing a shot, don’t make it an easy shot. That would be too obvious.

With this leave he’d have to bank the 8-ball. He tapped the side pocket with his cue stick and then lined up and took the shot.

This time he nearly blew it, almost making the shot. The 8-ball barely caught one tip, bounced over to the other tip and then stopped on the brink of the pocket, a puff of wind away from dropping in. Don didn’t mean it to be quite that close.

“Quick!” Don yelled. “I’ll pay a thousand for someone to jump up and down on that side of the table until it falls in.”

A few of the spectators laughed, but no one moved.

“Damn,” Don said, checking out Mig’s shot from the corner of his eye. He’d left him a moderately difficult shot, one he was sure Mig could make. Again, don’t make it too easy.

Mig finished off the table and grinned.

Being the sport he was, Don presented his hand. “You’re a hell of a shot, Mig.” The two of them gathered over in the corner wherein Don handed over a single $5,000 chip. “When I was six thousand down you wanted to go for five. Now I suppose you want to do ten, or are you going to just take my money and run?”

Don looked up to see Mig’s girlfriend walking toward them, several shopping bags in hand. “Or is your girlfriend spending it as fast as you’re winning it?”

Mig glanced Michele’s way. “As long as she’s happy, I’m happy.” He dropped his voice. “Thinking about popping the question this weekend.”

Don’s grin may have looked to Mig like he was happy for the coming nuptials. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. What he was grinning about was that Mig had just taken a step to pull Don into his inner circle. He was trusting him with his secrets. One shouldn’t trust someone from whom you just took $11,000.

Don said, “No shit. I’m not feeling so bad about losing eleven big ones to you then. Consider it my wedding present.” He placed a hand on Mig’s shoulder, whispering before she got within earshot. “Knowing women nowadays, it’ll take all that just to pay for the wedding, know what I mean?”

Don took a sip on the drink he’d been nursing for the last five games as Michele stopped next to Mig, setting down her bags of treasures. “I think my brother and I are going to go find something we can win at. He’s normally good at the blackjack tables.”

Mig put his arm around the girl as she snuggled up to him and looked over at Bob who was glaring back. “He’s kinda quiet.”

“Yeah. I’m the mouthy, physical one. He’s the intellectual brain. I think he saw me drop my big five in your hand. He’s probably been sitting there trying to figure out how to count the cards in blackjack, or plan the next moon mission. He’s always planning something. Anyway, we usually come into town with 50K between us. By the time we leave I’ve normally lost my half and he’s doubled his. I’m actually still up, believe it or not. He’s not. Things are a little backwards. Still, we both have fun.”

“You twins?”

“Twins?” Don snorted. “Shit no. He’s the younger more serious one, stuck with glasses since he was six. Says he’s always having to keep an eye on me. Nice guy otherwise, according to our mom.” Don stuck out his hand again. “It was great shooting with you, Mig.”

“You, too.” Mig clasped his hand.

Don walked over and slid onto the stool next to his brother, Sue on the other side.

“How’d it go?” Bob said.

“Not bad. Changed tactics right at the end, let him take it. I’m down eleven, but I think he’s still thirsty. He knows that there could be a lot more from where that eleven came. I give him five minutes, maybe ten. He’s ready to put up everything he’s got.”

“You played sloppy.”

“I know. I’m good at making it look that way.”

“That’s the part I’m not good at. I just like to kick ass.”

“And that’s why I keep you around little brother.”

“Little my ass, by two minutes. Mom saved the best for last, kicked you out first so that she could enjoy me a little longer.”

“That’s not what she told me. She said that you were the immature one, needed to nourish you a little longer. I was ready for the world an entire two minutes before you.”

Bob punched him in the shoulder. Don punched him back. It was an old joke.

“I’m getting bored,” Sue said. “I feel like a third wheel when you two get together.”

Bob put his arm around her. “Sorry. Sometimes we just get going. It’s a twin thing.” He tilted her chin up to him and kissed her. “It shouldn’t be too much longer with this guy, then we’ll head out and find a decent club somewhere.”

It was twenty minutes before Mig approached them. Don was beginning to think that he misjudged the guy, that they might be walking away with a loss, and that was a rarity. Not that it’d hurt them any. Their pockets were deep, almost bottomless. It was all about the game, the winning for winning sake, playing the opponent, reading his mind, manipulating the psychology. At least that’s the spin they put on it. They loved beating a guy by using him against himself. And that was what Mig was about to do to himself. He couldn’t just take the win and walk away.

Mig took the stool next to Don. “Whatcha say to double or nothing?”

Don looked at him, not at all surprised though he made a point of putting a surprised look on his face. “That’d mean I’d be down twenty-two after you beat me.” He looked at Bob. “What you think, little brother? I have a chance?”

“It’s your stupid game and your money,” Bob said, a disapproving tone in his voice. “We no longer have to answer to Mom for it. Go ahead if you want, but Sue and I are going back to the motel. We’re tired.” He seemed to think for a minute. “On second thought, you sure you want to do this tonight. You know you don’t play well when you get tired and I’m sure Mig here wants to have a decent match. Why not tomorrow? Sue and I would be willing to come and watch.”

“Sure,” Sue said. “Would rather watch you win than lose, Don.”

Don shoved at his brother, almost knocking him off the stool. “Go up to bed, Bob. Both of you. I’ll stay here until Mig finishes kicking my ass and then I’ll come up and find what you have left of your stash and go lose it at the blackjack tables.”

“You do that and I’ll kick your ass.”

“What? You got another little brother in your pocket? It’ll take two of you.”

“Hey!” Despite his bulk, Mig seemed to back away. “I didn’t mean to start a fight.”

“Naw,” Don said. “We’re brother’s. We pick on each other all the time. It’s what brothers do, right little brother?”

Bob emptied his drink and slid to his feet. “Right big brother. See you in the morning.” With that Bob and Sue walked away.

“How about a race to five instead of seven?” Don said. “I do have to admit, I am getting a bit tired. Starting to lose my edge.”

Mig shrugged. “Five it is. Just means that I’ll take your money a little faster.”

They started the match and Don could see the cockiness in Mig. That was good because it also meant that when Mig won he’d think it was because he was playing hot. So Mig won the first two games, Don took the third. That put Don down 1-2 in the race to five. It was in the beginning of the fourth game when Don spotted Bob. He was alone and well disguised. Don had been starting to get worried that the games were moving too fast. He’d already started using delay maneuvers, missing shots and giving Mig lousy leaves.

Don made the signal, sticking his little finger in his ear. Bob lifted his hat, settled it back on his head and then turned toward the restrooms.
And then the game went a bit longer than it should have. Don kept giving Mig openings, but Mig kept missing. Who’s really getting tired here? Don thought.

Finally Mig managed a three-ball run and finished off the 8-ball. Don racked the balls and then said, “I’ve got to go take a piss. Don’t you break them until I get back. Too damned much shit riding on this, know what I mean.”

“Not a problem. Wouldn’t think of doing anything without you here.” As

Don headed off, Mig called to him. “Hey!”

Don stopped and looked back. “What?”

“Whatcha think about increasing the wager?”

Don couldn’t believe his ears, but then when he thought about it, he shouldn’t have been surprised. The guy was up $11,000, was just two games from doubling it. He not only could already taste the win, but with being up 3-1 he was starting to salivate over the possibility of even more. Don grinned to himself.

The mark was hooked.

“Why not?” He walked back to Mig. “How much you thinking?”

“How much you good for?”

“Well if I get a loan from my brother . . . naw, he won’t agree to that. Stupid thought. He’ll nag, nag, nag me.” Don reached into one pocket and pulled out chips. “I’ve got nineteen plus the eleven Michele is sitting on.” They’d agreed that with the level of the stake, Michele would hold the chips during the match and she wouldn’t leave to go off shopping or whatever. “And in this pocket I’ve got . . .” He opened his hand and sorted through the chips, “another nine. And then here . . .” He extract a single $5,000 chip from a hip pocket. “Hell! I’m good for a bunch.”

“What’s that all come to?” Mig asked.

“All told?”

“Yeah.”

“Without a pencil to lick I’d say about . . . forty-four.”

“How about all of it?”

“All of it? You want to bet $44,000 on the rest of this match and you’re up by two?”

“That’s what I said. You’re good for it and you said you have deep pockets so it’s not like I’d be taking food away from a baby at home, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do. But are you good for it? I showed you mine. It’s only fair you show me yours.”

“I wouldn’t respect you if you didn’t ask.” Mig led him over to where Michele sat. He opened a small backpack and pulled out a box. Inside were slots for chips and there were ten $5,000 chips plus another five $1,000 chips.”

Don whistled through his teeth. “I’m impressed. You going to spot me a couple of balls?”

“Spot you? Hell no.”

“I’m behind by two in a race to five and you want me to increase my wager four-hundred percent. That would be stupid to any normal person. I agree that I’m not all that normal, but still, what’s in it for me? “

“Hell. I’ve seen you get lucky and sometimes even get good when the pressure is on. I think you could make it interesting.”

“Then you think I might be able to win?”

“Oh, hell no. You think I’m stupid?”

That’s exactly what Don was thinking. “But it still is a gamble. Like you said, I could get lucky and good at the same time and you could get unlucky and not so good.”

“That’s why it’s called gambling. You’ve got a better chance here then throwing it all in the machines or at the blackjack table. At least here you have some control.”

That was the way the brothers saw it, too. They did play blackjack now and then, but they knew the odds were against them. Casinos couldn’t stay in business if they weren’t. On a pool table, they certainly had control and the casino wasn’t getting any cut. Casinos didn’t like people using their chips to gamble off their property, the reason Don and Bob were always careful as to who noticed the tender of their bets.

“Let me continue on to the thinking room,” Don said. He took five paces and then turned and walked back. “How about this, just to balance things a little? I’ll add in everything in my pockets against you adding in everything in your box there. That’d be your sixty-six against my forty-four. You only have to win two more games. I have to win four.”

Although Don could see that Mig wasn’t thrilled with the idea, he couldn’t deny the off balance the other way. Mig looked at Michele who gave him the, “I don’t like it but it’s your money and we’re not married” look.

“Sounds fair,” Mig said.

“Done!” Don pointed toward the restrooms again, grabbing hold of his crotch. “Got to go. Don’t you go anywhere. I’m trusting Michele with my 11K. I’ll add the rest when I get back. Damn, this is the shit I love.”

In the men’s bathroom, Bob was waiting for Don. “What took you so long? You gave me the signal ten minutes ago. We’re lucky we’re alone right now.”

“The game slowed down and then there came a complication,” Don started unbuttoning his shirt. Bob was pulling off his T-shirt. He’d gone back to the room to change so that when he returned he’d look like a different person. He’d exchanged the denim shirt and blue ball cap for a Miami Dolphins T-shirt and matching white ball cap. He also added a mustache.

“Good or bad complication?”

They exchanged shirts.

“Good. The bet is up to $44,000 now.”

“No shit!”

“It was his idea.” Don unloaded his pockets over to Bob. “I pulled out everything I had and he went for it. When he showed me he could cover it, he had $66,000 and I talked him into putting all of it up against my $44,000.”
Don put on the glasses and the white ball cap that Bob had been wearing. Bob donned the red one that Don had been wearing.

“No shit?” Bob said.

“I can’t believe he’s carrying that much himself, but hell, some people are crazy.”

“Yeah, like us. This will be our biggest win ever. Where do you stand in the match?”

“Yeah. There’s that. It’s sort of the reason I was able to talk him into putting up all $66,000. It’s a race to five and he’s up 3-1. Un-tuck the shirt. Don’t look so damned neat. I un-tucked it at the beginning of this match.”
Bob pulled the shirt out. “You know I hate that. I feel like a bum.”

“Sorry, brother.”

“You’re giving me 1 to his 3. That makes it a 4-2 race. Glad there’s no pressure.”

Don stepped back and looked at his brother. “Perfect except for the mustache.”

“Right.” Bob peeled it off and handed it to Don. “Glad to get rid of this damned thing.” In exchange, Don took off his watch and handed it to Bob.

“One other thing, he told me he was popping the question to his girlfriend this weekend.”

“So.”

“In case he brings it up again, I don’t want you being surprised by it. Her name is Michele. Don’t know any last names. She’s holding the original 11K wager.”

“Any other details I should know about?”

“We talked about his pool cue. It’s a McDermott M Series. An older one, made of cocobolo. He won it off of someone a couple of years ago. It’s a good cue but certainly not top of the line. That’s about it. I left the cue that I’m using on the table. Not bad for a house cue. You could probably kick his ass using the butt end.”

“Not a good idea, though.”

“Probably not.”

“Think I ought to give him one more game?”

“Up to you. Might wait until you’re on the hill. Basically the guy is good. Just not as good as he thinks he is. He has done a break and run once, so another game is certainly in him and he has enough skill to get lucky.” Don applied the mustache. “As I think about it, no. Don’t let him have any more games. It might be best that his night be over quickly.”
Bob made a face at his brother.

“What are you thinking?” Don said. “You going to start feeling sorry for him or something? Because he is about to pop the question to his girl and we’re taking everything he’s got?”

“Maybe.”

“My brother the sappy one. How can we be so identical in looks yet be so different? Fine. Flip him a five-grand chip as you leave so that they have a way to get home, wherever home is.” Don slapped Bob on the back. “Now get the hell out there and Assommer lui morts, little brother. Knock him dead.”

 

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