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The Black Chip – first three chapters

© 2012 Gary J Land. All rights reserved.  Noly Boots™        

Prologue

 

One hundred dollars. That’s what a black chip is worth in almost every casino in the United States. The black chip that Joey Trainor held in his hand was stamped, “$100 – Platinum Palace Casino, Las Vegas.” But this was not an ordinary chip, and it wasn’t worth a hundred dollars. It was worth over three million dollars–and it was the reason Joey Trainor would die.

Joey sat at his desk in the Computer Ops Center deep inside the Casino. A senior programmer in the department, and a trusted employee, he could come and go as needed, because computer programs had to be monitored and babysat to ensure the systems didn’t crash. That wasn’t entirely true, but it was something Joey told the security staff to keep from being hassled when working after hours as he was tonight.

He waited patiently until the last IT employee left. Franklin Ames was a low-level ass-kisser who went out to get his usual dinner of burger and fries. He told Joey he’d be back at eight o’clock, which was plenty of time. Joey would be long gone by then. He wondered what Franklin and the others would think when they found out what he had done.

 As Joey held the chip, he thought back to his tenth birthday and the gift he received from his uncle. It was a magic trick called “Scotch & Soda.” The trick consists of a special silver and copper coin named after the cocktail Scotch and Soda. The copper coin represents the Scotch and the silver coin represents the Soda.

The trick uses a hollow coin shell made from the silver coin, and a half-silver/half-copper coin that fits snugly inside the shell. They are precise machine-tooled coins that, when connected, couldn’t be differentiated from a real coin.

The black $100 casino chip that Joey held in his now trembling hand was similarly machine-tooled to create a hollow shell. The space was big enough to hide the dime-sized microchip holding data worth exactly $3.2 million.

Joey carefully inserted the microchip and then replaced the back of the shell to seal the casino chip. It looked…normal. He let out his breath not having realized he was holding it. Pulling off the static-free gloves he wore on each hand, he slipped them back into his desk drawer. He took another deep breath.

“Now or never,” Joey whispered to himself. He laughed nervously when he realized it was already too late–there was no turning back. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t reverse the events the he had set into motion so many months ago.

The phone rang on his desk and Joey jumped several inches off his chair. No one should be calling him now. Not this late.

He picked up the phone, but said nothing.

“Joey? Joey, are you there?” the voice said.

“Shit! You scared the hell out of me, babe. You’re not supposed to be calling me here.”

“I know, but I couldn’t find you–did you turn your cell off?”

“No, I…I’ve been here all day–there’s no reception. Why are you calling me?”

“I’m scared. The auditors are here. They came early this year–I told you this would happen.”

Joey heard the panic in her voice.

“I’m just finishing up. Settle down.”

“They know something’s wrong–we have to leave now.”

“I have to delete the programs and the data files,” Joey said. “I’ll be done in a few minutes, then I have to–”

“Please don’t go, Joey,” she pleaded.

“I have to meet him–I know what I’m doing…I’ll see you at my place when I’m done. I’m packed and ready to go.”

“Joey, I’m scared–this is all messed up,” she cried.

Joey hesitated, then said, “I…I’ll see you soon. Love you.”

He hung up, stared at the computer monitor in front of him, and read the last line printed on the screen, “Execute Now? (Y/N)” The cursor blinked forlornly. It waited with quiet patience for the user to finish typing the command.


Chapter 1

 

Sarah shook Kacy. “Come on, baby, we have to go!”

“What?” Kacy murmured. She rolled over in bed and squinted at the clock. It was only 11:22. She could still hear the late night news on the television in the living room.

“Kacy! Wake up; we have to get out of here. Get dressed.”

Sarah threw some clothes on the bed. She hurried to the closet and grabbed a pair of Kacy’s shoes.

Kacy shook off her sleep, hearing the panic in her mother’s voice. “Mom, what’s wrong? What’s happening?”

Sarah’s voice faltered as she said, “Joey’s dead.” It was almost a whisper. Tears ran down her face. Kacy struggled to process the news, a sense of dread flowing through her as she saw the fear in her mother’s eyes.

Kacy heard the television then. The anchor said he was repeating the top story, “…worked at the Platinum Palace casino. Joey Trainor was a senior computer analyst who had worked there for three years. His body was found in an alley downtown, not far from where he worked. Police are investigating–”

Sarah had run into the living room and snapped the television off. She returned to Kacy’s bedroom to find her sitting dazed on the bed.

Sarah thought Kacy looked like someone had punched her in the stomach. Kacy’s eyes teared up, as she stared at Sarah in disbelief. “Uncle Joey’s…dead?”

Sarah didn’t answer her. She was numb.

“Mommy?”

Sarah sat down on the bed, suddenly exhausted. Kacy hadn’t called her ‘mommy’ since she turned seven. Next week was Kacy’s twelfth birthday. Joey was going to be there. They always had so much fun together. She must be in shock.

A noise from the parking lot below startled Sarah back to reality. She jumped up from the bed to look out the window. It was just Max who lived in apartment 301. She watched the lot for more signs of activity. Satisfied there was no immediate threat, she went back to the closet and pulled down Kacy’s suitcase. Sarah opened it, and started filling it with clothes. “Kacy, please, I’ll explain everything later. Please help me. We have to leave.”

Kacy got dressed and went through the motions of helping her mom pack supplies. They filled a canvas tote with food, flashlights, and some water.

“Are we coming back?” Kacy said. It sounded like a plea.

Sarah looked at her daughter. She was so pretty. Tall for her age, still a tomboy, but anyone looking past that would see a lovely young girl with auburn hair, large brown eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her nose. Sarah thought Kacy favored her father, but she had her mouth and those freckles. They were adorable on Kacy, although Sarah always felt self-conscious about them on herself. When Kacy was born, Sarah had hoped her daughter would inherit her strawberry-blonde hair, but this was the right look for Kacy.

She couldn’t let anything happen to her daughter. She wouldn’t.

“We’ll be back, baby. We just have to disappear for a little while.”

Sarah hugged her daughter, and they both cried.

“But what happened?” Kacy said, struggling to understand. “How did he…die?”

Sarah wondered how honest she should be with her. She didn’t want to scare her anymore than she already was. But she didn’t want to lie to her daughter either. They were in this together.

“I…I’m not sure, honey–I think some bad people killed Joey. I…I’m afraid they might come looking for me, because I’m his sister.”

Sarah frantically thought of who she could turn for help. She had no family left, and she couldn’t expose her friends to any danger. Besides, they had no experience to deal with this sort of thing. There was only one person she could turn to–

“We have to call Noly,” Kacy said.

But she couldn’t. Sarah couldn’t. She had some pride after all. Then she heard her grandmother’s voice. Pride goeth before a fall. And she knew that was true, but–

“Mom?”

“Kacy, I…he’s out of town, remember? I can’t…”

“Call him, mom–he has a cell phone, you know.”

“I…I’ll call him in the morning. Promise. Let’s just find a motel–over by Nellis–we’ll check in for the night. I just want to get away from here–just in case.”

 

Sarah and Kacy, carrying their luggage and supplies, walked as fast as they could towards the parking lot. Sarah wanted to get to a motel, and then, well, that was the whole plan. No, then wait until morning. She would call Noly then. That was not going to be a fun call, Sarah thought.

“Help me!” cried a woman running towards them.

Kacy screamed. The woman grabbed her, crying and hysterical.

“My God, Jennifer!” Sarah said. Sarah pulled Kacy away from the woman and hugged her close. “What are you doing?”

“They killed Joey–and now they’re after me. I’m next,” Jennifer said.

“Jennifer, I don’t know what you and Joey were involved in, but you’re going to have to deal with it on your own. Kacy and I are leaving.”

Jennifer continued to follow them, crying all the way.

“Please, I don’t know what to do. Joey said it would be okay. No one would find out until it was too late.”

Jennifer and Joey had dated for a long time. Sarah was actually glad he had a steady girlfriend. She thought it was a sign of maturity; a sign that Joey was finally growing up. She wasn’t sure which one of them corrupted the other, or if it was some mutual need they satisfied, but she wasn’t about to get involved in something criminal. She had Kacy to think about. To protect.

Sarah ignored her and kept walking, but she noticed that Kacy kept peeking back over her shoulder to look at Jennifer. Kacy had met her once before when Joey had brought Jennifer over to the apartment to swim and have dinner with Sarah. She remembered that Kacy, at the time, thought Jennifer was so cool and together. Kacy was impressed that Jennifer was an important banker and was in charge of handling a lot of money. She wondered what Kacy thought of Jennifer now.

Sarah popped the trunk open and loaded her bag along with Kacy’s. Jennifer wouldn’t leave. She stood next to the car looking sad and lost.

“Jennifer, go to the police. They’ll protect you.”

“I can’t,” Jennifer cried. “They’ll arrest me for bank fraud.”

Sarah sighed and shook her head. “Joey was involved in this?”

“Yes.” Jennifer’s hands were shaking as she balled them into fists to try to stop the tremors. “It was his idea–him and…”

“Get in the back,” Sarah said. “You can stay with us just until morning, okay?”

“Thank you.”

Sarah opened the driver’s door and sat down. She put on her seat belt, checked to make sure Kacy was buckled up, and then pulled out of her assigned space. Before she got ten feet, a white van roared through the lot and blocked her exit. Two men jumped out with guns in hand, and hustled all the occupants of Sarah’s car into the back of the van. One man got into Sarah’s car while the other returned to the van. The van led the way as both vehicles raced out of the parking lot.

Jennifer wouldn’t stop screaming. “They’re going to kill us.”

Sarah had a look of panic on her face. She didn’t fear for herself but for Kacy. She pulled her daughter close and hugged her.

The young girl looked up into her mother’s frightened eyes, and in an effort to comfort her, whispered one name. “Noly.”

 

Chapter 2

 

Noly was born with the name Noel Butowski, a name he used for the first ten years of his life until some of his smart-ass friends shortened his last name to Boots. That apparently wasn’t good enough for them though, because they later started calling him Noly. Both nicknames stuck, but hardly anyone called him Noly these days–you had to earn that right.

Noly lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, the ultimate town where you can get anything you want, do anything you want, at any time of day or night, provided you have enough money and power. And if you have money–you have power. Noly Boots had money and power, but it was the honest kind. The kind you earn.

Noly was a highly decorated ex-Air Force officer, ex-private detective, and ex-sullen loner, although he was still working on that last one. Sarah and Kacy helped–a lot.

He powered his way through the Miami airport, regretting taking the trip and wasting so much time. The last thing he needed or wanted was another apartment building. He wondered how the hell he let himself get talked into making the trip. But he already knew the answer. He was mad at himself and mad at Sarah. His business manager had taken advantage of the situation and convinced him to come out to Florida and pick up a “one-of-a-kind opportunity.”

Jesus, he missed Sarah and Kacy. He no sooner arrived at the airport than he booked an immediate return flight to Nevada on the next available carrier. The clerk who processed the ticket exchange was about to make a smart remark to Noly, but then he looked up into a pair of unforgiving eyes and thought better of it.

Noly eased his six-foot five frame into his first-class seat while the flight attendant closed the cabin door. Noly glanced to his right and saw a World Wrestling Entertainment reject staring him down, pissed off about having to wait. The guy had long, stringy hair and a permanent curl in his lip from snarling at life. But he was the one that blinked first and looked away. Not many people could hold Noly’s stare for any length of time.

Boots unsettled most people. He didn’t look thirty-eight. Instead, he had that ageless look of an athlete in his prime. His eyes were light brown, dotted with flecks of pale green. Light bounced off them making them appear intense, and penetrating. It was as if his eyes could see something normal eyes couldn’t. An ability to see the real person behind the façade we all projected to the outside world. Then there was the scar. It ran across the left side of Noly’s forehead in a slightly jagged line parallel to the scalp. It was at least two inches long. Noly kept his sandy brown hair cut short so the scar stood out. It added a lot to the rough features in his face. Put it all together and Noly Boots was an intimidating man.

As the plane’s wheels left the tarmac at exactly 6:10 AM, Noly reclined his seat and closed his eyes. Uneasy about something he couldn’t put his finger on, a general anxiety ran through him. His mind wandered through his internal rolodex of people, places, and life issues that affected him, trying to put a name to the feeling he had. Like a Roulette wheel, his mind spun through possibilities over and over again, but each time the wheel stopped it was at the same place–Sarah and Kacy. It was over a year now since destiny had introduced him to the Benson girls.

Noly was no longer working as a private investigator, but he had agreed to do a job for his friend, Paul Thornton. Thornton, head of security for the Platinum Palace Casino, was concerned about an employee who they believed was running a “snatch & grab” ring with a few of his drinking buddies. Since this employee was also in charge of monitoring security for the areas where the thefts were happening no one was surprised that the problem persisted.

Busting a group of friends was one of the simplest things a good investigator could do. You simply had to find the weak link of the group, apply enough pressure, and the chain would break. Noly picked out Flip Steal AKA Norman Siegel as the weak link. Flip, a sometime porno actor, and full-time thief had the backbone of a jellyfish.

Noly stared out the window and let his memories unspool as if he were watching a movie.

 

Noly followed Norman–he couldn’t think of him as Flip–as he strolled through the casino picking pockets of elderly gamblers, and snatching chips from unsuspecting players who were either too drunk or too dumb to notice.

Norman pulled a cell phone from his pocket and checked the screen. Noly couldn’t tell if Norman was getting a call, or wanted to make one and was just checking the signal strength. Reception was notoriously weak inside a casino. Management didn’t want players using cell phones to help with cheating scams. Since phones first offered camera and video technology, the list of players trying to cheat kept getting longer.

Noly followed Norman out of the gaming area through the hotel, and outside to the pool area. Norman made a phone call and sat down on a chair he found in a shady area. He became very animated on the phone and started yelling. Noly was too far away to pick up any of the words so he moved closer. It was time to pick up the little porno star and let him give up his friends.

Noly made his own call to Thornton and asked for backup to approach from the other side of the pool. As he closed the phone, he looked at Norman who was now staring back at him. There was a moment when nothing happened, and then Norman jumped up and started running. Noly quickly followed but Norman had several yards head start.

Norman jumped two lounge chairs, pushing people out of the way. He slipped, and tackled a young girl who was standing near the edge of the pool. She went down hard on the cement. Noly could tell from the force of the hit that she was already unconscious when she went down. He watched her bounce once on the ground, arms outstretched. If it had been snowing, Noly would have thought she was making snow angels. She looked like a fallen angel. When she stopped moving, her momentum on the wet cement caused her to slip slowly into the pool. That’s when he heard the screaming. He had a moment to register a woman with strawberry-blond hair rushing forward and calling a name. It sounded like Kacy.

All thoughts of capturing Norman fled in an instant. As Noly dove into the pool, he saw the girl slowly sink to the bottom, leaving a trail of blood through the water. Small bubbles of air escaped through her nose. Noly thought she was dead when he grabbed her around the waist and cradled her head. He kicked his way back to the surface where waiting hands helped him and the girl out of the water.

“Oh, God, Kacy!” the woman yelled.

A pool attendant said something about paramedics, but Noly couldn’t wait. He felt for a pulse. Very faint, but there.

The woman screamed, “She’s not breathing–help her!”

Noly began mouth-to-mouth, continuing to check her pulse. She was still bleeding from the crack to her skull, but it looked worse than it was. Head wounds always bled a lot. He heard the first siren at the same moment that Kacy coughed. She coughed again, more violently, rolled to her side, and threw up. It was mostly water. She heaved again, but this time nothing came. She gulped for air, once, twice, and then her breathing started to slow, to resume a more normal rate.

Kacy started crying and then the woman was there, holding her, and crying too.

 

As the jet engines powered down, and the plane taxied to the gate, Noly turned his cell phone back on, and saw that he had received a voice message and a text message. The text was from his lawyer, John Rutherford. The message made his gut ache.

“van leesle suing u call me.”

His churning stomach didn’t care about a lawsuit brought by Otto van Leesle, Junior–it was the rancid memories the van Leesle name stirred within him that made Noly sick. Van Leesle had been his last case–the reason Noly was no longer a private detective. The reason Noly had twenty million dollars, and the reason for his scar.

  

 

Chapter 3

 

Only a handful of people dared call Noly by that name. One who earned that right was Detective James Collins.

Collins squeezed himself into a booth at the local pancake house and signaled Betty-Ann for some coffee. Detective Eric Johnson followed him in a few moments later. Johnson was the latest in a succession of rookie detectives that Collins was training. Collins just finished his twenty-fifth year with the Las Vegas Police Department. As a Supervising Detective, he holds the highest rank still working in the field. The next step up would be Lieutenant, but that was primarily an administrative job, and Collins couldn’t see himself riding a desk all day–not to mention the paperwork and the politics that went with the job.

Collins stood over six feet, but he easily tipped the scales at two hundred sixty pounds. Except for the thinning hair, he had a more than passing resemblance to John Wayne. Johnson, on the other hand, was tall and lanky. He looked more like a dancer than a cop.

Betty-Ann brought two cups of coffee and a smile with her as she sashayed up to the table. The place was half-empty, since it was already past eight o’clock, and most of the regulars were already at work.

“Hey, Jimmy…who’s the rookie?”

“Detective Eric Johnson meet Betty-Ann Humphries, the best waitress in Las Vegas.”

Betty-Ann giggled and flashed her smile at Johnson, then turned to face Collins.

“He’s a real cutie–glad to see they’re giving you better looking partners–balance out that ugly puss you got for a face.”

“Hah!” Collins half-laughed, as Betty-Ann bent down to give him a hug.

“Now you know I’m only kidding,” she said. “You losing weight, Jimmy?”

“Losing hair, more like it,” Collins said.

“Can’t hardly tell at all,” she lied. “Now, what can I get you boys?”

“Denver Omelet, hash browns, and an English Muffin,” Collins said.

“I’ll have the Corned Beef Hash, side of pancakes…and some orange juice,” Johnson told her.

“Okay, just be a sec.”

Johnson put three sugar packs into his coffee, and stirred it with a top-to-bottom motion. He looked up and saw Collins watching him, shaking his head.

“What–too much sugar?”

“Who taught you how to stir a cup of coffee?” Collins asked.

“You do it your way and I’ll do it mine”

“I tracked down Noly and left a message for him–his plane’s landing in a few minutes.”

“So, what’s the story with this buddy of yours–used to be a private cop, right?”

“Yeah, until he got shot.”

“And made twenty million dollars?” Johnson asked.

“You heard?”

“Only some of it,” Johnson said. “The van Leesle case.”

Collins nodded. “Catherine van Leesle was kidnapped on Lake Mead with her fiancé, Daryl Preston.”

“Preston–yeah, I remember reading something on him in one of those entertainment magazines–‘hot shot actor killed’,” Johnson said.

“Catherine is the daughter of ‘Otto-mobile King,’ Otto van Leesle, who offered twenty million dollars for the safe return of his only daughter.”

Otto van Leesle owned ten dealerships in and around Las Vegas and Henderson, and he catered to the staff and dealers of all the casinos. He was a beloved septuagenarian who had lost his wife five years earlier. Rumor had it that Otto hadn’t handled the loss very well. The media began referring to him as eccentric, which most people understood to mean crazy-but-rich.

Collins continued, “The boat they rented returns to the rental dock, unoccupied. It had been set to slow speed, and had the steering wheel locked into place. The only thing the police found on board was a red balloon tied to the wheel.”

Betty-Ann came back with their meals, and expertly placed them down on the table. She pulled ketchup and hot sauce out of the pockets in her apron, and scooted them across the table.

“Here you go, hon–I’ll be back in a minute.”

She put down some extra napkins and was off to another customer.

Johnson covered his pancakes in so much butter and syrup that they seemed to be floating on the plate.

“You sure like your sugar, don’t you?” Collins asked.

Johnson smacked his lips. “Man, you don’t know what you’re missing.” He looked over at Collins plate. “Meanwhile, you’ve got half a bottle of Tabasco on your omelet–let me guess, ex-smoker?”

Collins shrugged his shoulders.

“The smoking ruins the taste buds,” Johnson said, “so smokers always over-season their food.”

Before Collins could say anything, Betty-Ann was back with the check, and refills for the coffee. “Anything else I can get you before I take a break?”

Collins had his mouth full, so he just shook his head. Betty-Ann slapped the check down on the table, and glided away.

“Okay, so what’s with the red balloon?” Johnson asked.

Collins swallowed, drank some coffee and continued. “Nothing, really. Inside is a note with an address on it. We go there and find another red balloon with another note. Inside it are strands of blonde hair.”

Collins liberally buttered one-half of his English muffin, then peeled back a small plastic container of strawberry jam. He layered it on top of the butter, and devoured the muffin in three bites.

“They match the girl?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah, DNA confirms the hair belongs to Catherine van Leesle. And the note says, ‘The bitch is dying, better hurry.’”

“So what did the perp want?”

“That’s just it–there were no ransom demands. No demands of any kind. Seemed like he was just playing a game, and was challenging us–and the Feds–to find him.”

“What about the reward?”

“Every private cop and nutball in the city started trampling all over the investigation trying to claim the reward. In the meantime, Otto’s having his best year ever–free publicity, media all over the place, people jamming his car lots to get in on the action.

“Every few days a new red balloon shows up with some piece of crap inside–a map, a key, a silver dollar. It never led anywhere, but we had to follow-up on everything.”

Collins was just pushing his food around the plate now. He wrinkled his brow, as he pulled the memories out of their hiding place. Sliding his fork across the plate, Collins looked up at Johnson.

“Twenty-one days after the kidnapping, a balloon shows up, tells the Feds to go to Otto’s Lexus dealership on Sahara–”

“They found Preston in the trunk of a new ES350, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Heard about that from Gil Whittaker at Metro–you know what happened to that car? Some guy runs one of those weird museums showing freaky stuff…he bought it. Off of Tropicana I think…how did Preston get it?”

“Beaten–sexually tortured. Died from blood loss from a three-inch deep cut across his right carotid artery.”

“Shit.”

“There were more balloons after that, but everyone knew the cops and Feds were running around in circles. We lost the trail–if we ever really had one.”

“Until Noly solved the case,” Johnson said.

“Right.”

 

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