“The murder investigation,” I tell Red Penny, “is a dead end. But we have two crimes, murder and kidnapping. If we solve one maybe we can solve the other. We need to know who kidnapped Audrey.”
“I can’t tell you who,” says Red Penny, “until you tell me why? and how? and where?”
“Why? That’s easy. Kidnapping is theft. Whoever the kidnapper was knew that Scott had money and would, without hesitation, pay the ransom for the safe return of his wife.
“How?,” I continue, “is also easy. You know as well as I do that anyone can be pushed into a hotel room in under 5 seconds.
“Where? is in any one of the Majestic’s 4,500 rooms.”
“No,” says Red Penny suddenly. “We watched Audrey get into an elevator. Alone. An express elevator whose first stop is . . .
” . . . 13th floor!,” I blurt out, “Her floor. Audrey is being held on 13.”
Red Penny takes out her PDA, “I think I can find her.” She begins pointing and clicking. I watch. The Majestic’s “X” floorplan, four intersecting corridors, North, South, East, West, appears on the screen. “13-125 is in the West Corridor.” Click. Now the West Corridor, 13-100 through 13-199, odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right, appears. “If Audrey was taken, and is being held, in the West Corridor, we have 99 possible rooms, excluding 13-125. Click. “The Front Desk lists 65 guest rooms with verified occupants. Click. Reservations lists 26 guest rooms being held for legitimate, that is verifiable, none of Sonny’s false, bookings. Click. Housekeeping lists 5 guest rooms as “Dirty.” Click. Maintenance lists 2 guest rooms as “In Repair.” Click. And one, 13-124, directly across the hall from the Hadley’s room . . . appears not to exist in the Front Desk, Reservations, Housekeeping, or Maintenance databases.” Red Penny looks up. I am not there. I am running.
Red Penny and I are back-to-the-wall, guns in hand, on either side of 13-124’s door. Red Penny inserts her Master KeyCard into the lock and I push the door open. The room is dark, lights off, curtains closed. We wait. The room is silent. Red Penny calls out, “Mrs. Hadley? Audrey Hadley?” Nothing. I turn on my flashlight. Scan the ligaz11 room. Empty. No, not empty. There’s a body, wrapped in a sheet, lying still on the bed. I approach, put out my hand, press down. Slight movement. A moan. Red Penny says, “Thank God!” and turns on the light. Audrey Hadley lies on the bed, tied with duct tape hand and foot. Her face is ghostly white. Penny leans over her and removes the tape from across her mouth. Audrey reacts. She begins to thrash. She mouths, over and over, an almost soundless word. I bend down to listen to what she’s trying to say. Then I realize that, over and over, she is repeating the name “Scott.”
We call 911. Rook too. Red Penny explains how we found Audrey. Rook asks for the third time, “Who is this room registered to?”
“I’ve told you it’s not registered to anyone. The Majestic’s main server has been hacked. This room has been surgically removed from our computers. It could not be let, held, cleaned, or fixed. As far as our system is concerned, this hotel has 4,499 rooms.” Rook shakes his head, walks away.
“Sonny’s rented room?” I ask.
“Has to be. Though I could never prove it. This is way beyond false registrations. A room cut out of our systems cost someone a lot.”
The EMS stretcher bearing Audrey comes out and heads for the elevator. We follow. Downstairs we watch the ambulance, followed by Rook’s car, pull away. I ask “What does EMS think?”
Red Penny says, “They wouldn’t say.”
I start to walk away.
Red Penny stops me. “We know ‘The Why?’ ‘The How?’ and ‘The Where?’ Tell me ‘The Who?’ Who kidnapped her? Who was Scott paying the ransom to?”
I stand there thinking it all over. Audrey is kidnapped. A ransom is demanded. Scott raises $250,000. Changes it from traceable cash to untraceable casino checks. He goes to the poker room to hand off the racks to the kidnapper. . . . At that moment, the kidnapper is vulnerable, exposing himself to collect the ransom, exposing himself to Scott’s gun . . . to our surveillance cameras…. It just doesn’t make any sense, unless . . . . It hits me. I grab Red Penny, yell “That’s it!” and shake her like a Raggedy Anne doll, “That’s it!” I repeat, still excited.
“What’s ‘it?'” asks Red Penny, untangling herself.
“The ransom delivery! The $250 grand. That’s what Scott was doing in the Midnight Game!
That’s why he never looked at his cards! He didn’t go there to play. Scott went there to lose, on purpose, to the kidnapper. $250,000 in purple checks changing hands, with nine eyewitnesses and the eye-in-the-sky to swear it was all fair and square.” Red Penny sees it too. “When Scott lost he thought he was face-to-face with the kidnapper. He asked Goldenberg, “Is that enough . . .”
” . . . and the Judge told him it would never be enough. But they weren’t talking about the same thing and Scott pulled out his gun.”
“We all thought Scott yelled at Goldenberg ‘Give me back my money’ but he was yelling
‘Give me back my wife.'”
“Yes,” I tell her, “but Scott was yelling at the wrong player. The Judge wasn’t the kidnapper.”
“Then who at the table. . . ?” She stops. Her eyes go wide in disbelief.
“Not Goldenberg. He was the lucky guy with the good hand who got in the way of the ransom payoff. It was the other player in that hand, the one who didn’t need a good hand to play, the one who knew he could raise and re-raise and that Scott would, when he ran out of money, fold. The one who went for Scott’s gun when the ransom delivery went bad, the one who Scott shot by accident. Cliff Patrick.”
Red Penny’s cellphone rings. “Yes? . . . What? . . . Are you . . . OK.” She hangs up. Visibly upset.
“That was Rook.”
“God, not Audrey?”
“No. Patrick. Murdered. Throat cut ear to ear.”
I say nothing. I head off for a shot of Joey’s Jack Daniels.
Red Penny grabs me, asks, “Who killed Patrick?”
“That’s easy,” I reply, “Sonny. He had Luther Mope slit Patrick’s throat.”
Red Penny says this makes no sense.
I tell her, if you’re Sonny, it makes perfect sense. “On Monday Sonny rents an untraceable room to Patrick. No questions asked. On Friday Sonny sells an untraceable gun to Scott. Again, no questions asked. It’s only after the shoot-out that Sonny learns he has a problem. The room and the gun may be untraceable, but both Hadley and Patrick can answer questions to which Sonny is the answer. On Saturday night Sonny hears Hadley and Patrick are dead. He thinks ‘end of problem.’ Then you and I show up and tell him two things.”
“That we’re searching the Hotel for Mrs. Hadley and that Patrick is still alive.”
“He figures out that Patrick has kidnapped Mrs. Hadley and that when we find her she may be able to finger Patrick.”
“And, if we get our hands on Patrick, he’ll give up Sonny.”
“Sonny sends Luther to kill Patrick. He saves himself and, in the process, does us all a favor.”
“A favor?” Red Penny asks. “A favor!” Red Penny yells. “But Patrick was a kidnapper. He caused two deaths. Now he can never be brought to justice.”
“Penelope. He was brought to justice. Not your kind of ‘read them their rights’ justice. Street justice. No lawyers. No juries. No judges. Just Luther Mope’s straight razor. Street justice.”
“Street justice?” Red Penny says to me. “You can’t be serious?”
I give her my most serious look.
“What about Sonny?”
“Penelope, only you and I know the truth. The unprovable truth. Street justice is good enough for the likes of me. If it’s not good enough for you, go read Sonny his rights. He’ll probably die laughing.
Red Penny’s face turns the color of her hair. She is, for once, speechless. She storms off. Red Penny doesn’t understand street justice. She never will. It’s not part of her orderly world. I understand it perfectly. I guess it’s a Poker Goon thing.
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