Teddy Fay crouched behind the parked car and waited for the man to come out the door. He screwed the silencer onto his gun and checked the sight. He didn't have to. Teddy had designed the gun himself, a silent killing machine that didn't miss.
The door creaked open, but it was a woman who emerged, an attractive woman in an evening gown. She came down the steps and walked off down the street.
The door opened again. This time it was his quarry, the young man he'd seen in the window above. He came down the front steps, unaware of any danger.
Teddy stepped up behind him and placed the muzzle of the silenced gun against his neck.
The man froze. Young, handsome, clueless, he murmured, "Wait."
Three shots rang out.
Teddy's body jackknifed away. A river of crimson gushed from his chest. His gun, unfired, wavered and fell away from his target. He slumped to the pavement, his eyes registering shock and pain.
A young woman stepped out of the shadows. She had a gun in her hand. A myriad of emotions registered on her face, from grim resolution to blessed relief coupled with an overwhelming loss of innocence. She swayed slightly, and the young man enfolded her in his arms.
"Cut!" Peter Barrington said. After checking with camera and sound, he added, "And that's a print. Okay, let's get him cleaned up, we're going again."
The crew began resetting the scene. A gofer and a second assistant director helped Teddy to his feet.
Peter conferred with his actors. "Excellent, Tessa. I never get tired of seeing you shoot him."
"Thanks a bunch," Teddy said.
Peter turned to the young man Teddy was going to shoot. "Brad, wonderful work, but the line is 'please,' not 'wait.'"
Brad Hunter was a movie star. He could argue with a director. "I just can't see Devon saying 'please.'"
"I hear what you're saying, but we still need to see the fear. A split second. That cold, icy panic that surges through your veins as you know this is it. Your fans will still love you, they won't think you a coward. They'll think you're a great actor. Plus they'll love the character who masters his fear and is brave in the face of death. Trust me on this."
Peter always gave Teddy notes, too, so Brad wouldn't think he was picking on him. "Nice job," Peter told him, "but I can't help feeling like you're waiting to be shot."
"I am," Teddy said. "If I were doing it, I'd have stepped up and shot him in the head. He wouldn't have had time to say 'please.'"
"Yes, but you're not you. You're Leonard Kirk, a cold-blooded killer and a dangerous man, but not infallible. The type of man who might make a mistake through arrogance. He wants to hear his victims say please."
Teddy grinned. "You couldn't just rewrite the script and let me shoot Brad?"
"It might change the plot a little."
Peter Barrington was shooting a scene from his new film, Desperation at Dawn, on location on the streets of L.A. It was a night shoot, which was hard enough to light without all the special effects. If the blood from the blood bags wasn't lit just right it appeared fake, which of course it was. And the moonlight had to reflect off the cold steel of Teddy's gun. There was a huge difference between an adequate shot and a good shot. Some directors didn't know it. They worked with the actors, and that was it. Peter Barrington was on top of everything. That's why his films were so good.
The second AD led Teddy back to the makeup and wardrobe trailer. Part of the second assistant directorÕs job was being in charge of the cast, keeping track of where the actors were at all times and seeing they made it to the set. Actors had a tendency to wander, hence they were escorted even to places they knew well. Teddy sat down at the makeup counter, where a swarm of crew members from props, special effects, makeup, hair, and wardrobe stripped off his shirt and removed the spent squibs and blood bags that provided the shooting effect.
Marsha Quickly, the actress who came out of the door before the shooting, was touching up her makeup in the chair next to his. She smiled at Teddy. "How many times do I have to watch you get shot?"
Teddy grinned. "You love it and you know it."
"Don't be silly."
"Turns you on, doesn't it?"
Teddy Fay, aka producer Billy Barnett, aka weapons expert and stuntman Mark Weldon, had evolved into a character actor as the man you loved to hate. His on-screen presence had tested so highly, Peter had begun using him regularly. Teddy had adopted the screen name Mark Weldon so as not to draw attention to the producer Billy Barnett. With Teddy's facility for makeup, there was no danger of anyone recognizing him on-screen.
A costume lady wiped the blood off Teddy's chest and helped him into a clean white shirt. She left it unbuttoned so they could hang the fresh blood bags.
"I haven't seen you on the set before," Teddy said to the actress. "Are you shooting tomorrow?"
"I wish. I'm a Day Player, just in the one scene."
Day Player was a bit of an exaggeration. Marsha was actually a Silent Bit, an extra with no lines but a specific action. In Marsha's case it involved walking out the door.
Teddy nodded sympathetically.
Iris, the makeup lady, tapped his cheek and gave him her patented if-you-wouldn't-mind smile once she had his attention. Teddy shrugged helplessly to the actress, then sat up straight and faced the makeup mirror like a good boy while Iris touched him up.
Marsha side-spied Mark Weldon and wondered if he was worth making a play for. He was certainly handsome enough, but could he help her career? Marsha hated to be so mercenary, but it was tough in L.A. for an actress, at least for one getting nothing but two-second, silent-bit parts. She decided he probably wasnÕt worth pursuing. A name actor might help her, but a stuntman in the film just to get killed wouldnÕt have much clout.
The wig Mark had been using as a villain was askew, having slipped when he slid to the ground. As Iris adjusted it, Marsha was struck by the familiarity of the face underneath.
She knew him. In her former life as Bambi, a cocktail waitress and shill at the New Desert Inn and Casino, a high-end casino in Las Vegas, she had known him as Billy Burnett, a high roller who had run off with one of casino boss Pete Genaro's right-hand girls. The last she had heard, Genaro was moving heaven and earth to find her.
Marsha smiled. What little extra work she'd been getting lately hadn't been paying the rent. She wondered what this little tidbit of information might be worth.
Pete Genaro, the owner and operator of the New Desert Inn and Casino, answered the phone with his customary growl. "Genaro."
"Hey, Pete," Marsha laughed. "Don't bite my head off. I'm on your side."
"Bambi. I used to work for you."
Genaro searched his memory for a Bambi and seemed to remember a cocktail waitress with blond hair and long legs.
"Oh, yeah. What's up? You want your job back?"
"No, I'm an actress now out in Hollywood. I'm doing fine," she lied. "Of course, one can always use some spare change. I have a tip for you. The high roller who ran off with one of your girls, Billy Burnett, wasn't it? The guy who ran off with Charmaine?"
"What about him?"
"I just ran into him on a movie set. He's changed his appearance, and he's working as a stuntman."
"Are you sure it's him?"
"I saw them touching up his makeup."
"Oh? That's interesting."
Genaro took down the information. He'd send Bambi, or whatever she was calling herself these days, a nice bonus to keep the contact open, but she was out of date with her news. Genaro had been trying to find Billy Burnett, had even hired a skip tracer to find him. Not because he cared about some high roller making off with a girl-the girls were a dime a dozen-but rather, at the insistence of one of his guests and board members, a Russian gentleman who proved so odious Genaro had him voted off the board of directors and ousted him from the hotel. He then warned Billy Burnett, whom the skip tracer had found working at Centurion Pictures under the name of Billy Barnett, that the Russian was coming. So Genaro had no intention of acting on Bambi's hot tip. He just filed the information for future reference.
At the moment, Genaro had other things on his mind. Sammy Candelosi had just purchased the casino next door. That couldn't be good. Genaro didn't know Sammy Candelosi, but the man was reputed to have mob connections, and was not to be trifled with. Genaro had no intention of trifling with him. He intended to give Sammy a wide berth.
Genaro's intercom buzzed.
"What is it?" he growled irritably.
"Sammy Candelosi is here to see you."
Genaro scowled. "Send him in."
Sammy Candelosi looked like he'd just stepped out of a barbershop. His curly black hair was neatly trimmed, his cheeks razor-smooth. He gave the impression he was professionally shaved every day. His dark blue suit could have financed a small casino. His black leather shoes gleamed, and his steely gray eyes never blinked, giving the impression that they missed nothing.
"I'm so glad we could have this meeting," Sammy said. Somehow he acted as if he were the host. "This is my associate, Mr. Slythe."
Slythe wore a pale blue turtleneck instead of a tie, and an off-white suit. His look was not welcoming. He neither smiled nor gestured. His eyes were calculating, constantly taking in information.
Genaro had a goon on hand for muscle. "This is my associate, Jake. Gentlemen, please be seated."
Sammy was already pulling up a chair.
Pete Genaro smoldered and tried to think of some way he could regain the upper hand.
"So, have you ever run a casino before, Mr. Candelosi?"
"I've been in them," Sammy said.
Genaro wasn't sure if it was a joke. "Well, they don't run themselves. You need good people. The money's steady, but it's work."
"The money's steady?" Sammy said.
"Shouldn't it be increasing?"
"It is. A steady increase."
"Again with the word 'steady.'"
Genaro frowned. "What are you trying to say?"
Sammy lit a cigar, looking around for an ashtray. Genaro moved one across the desk for him. Sammy flicked his cigar in that general direction. "You've been in this business a long time."
"I have. I know the ins and outs, if there's anything you need to know."
"I need to know why you're not rich."
Pete Genaro's mouth fell open. "I beg your pardon?"
Sammy shrugged. "A casino is a gold mine. It mints money. People bring money to it, leave money in it, and take away nothing. There's no product. In any other business, you're selling something. Say it's olive oil: You have it, you sell it, you run low, you need to restock your supply. But with a casino, people show up and happily plunk their money down to buy nothing. Money for nothing. That's the best business in the world. So I take a look at your casino as I walk in, and I'm saying to myself, that's a pretty nice operation. They should be making more money. So I'm thinking, how can we make that happen?" Sammy took a puff on his cigar. "Seems to me the easiest thing for me to do is buy you out."
Genaro was dumbfounded. "What?"
"I mean, here we are, next door to each other, in competition with each other. How much better to pool our resources? If I were to buy you out and run both organizations at the same time, think of the cost benefit. Some of middle management would become redundant, and there would be no reason to waste money attempting to lure players away from each other."
"We don't do that."
"Oh, no? I comp a high roller a suite, you comp him a suite and a hooker. I have nothing against gamblers getting laid, but why should I pay for it?"
"Mr. Candelosi, I have no intention of selling."
"Don't you have a board of directors? Wouldn't they have to consider a bid?" Sammy flicked his ash. "Anyway, assuming a merger might be in store, any accommodation I can make, or any advice you might have on the operation of a casino, I'm not too old a dog to learn a new trick."
Sammy smiled and spread his arms, as if they were the best of friends.
Son of a bitch!Ó Genaro growled.
Jake, on his way back from seeing Sammy out, said, "Who?"
"Who do you think? Sammy fucking Candelosi! He knows I'm not going to sell. That wasn't a genuine offer. That was just posturing, strutting his stuff, trying to assert himself because he's the new kid in town and he doesn't like it. Well, he picked the wrong man to meddle with." Genaro jerked his thumb. "Get over there and find out what he's doing."
"How do I do that?"
"Say I sent you to help him."
"Why would you do that?"
"To find out what he's doing!"
"Hey, you say I sent you to help. He won't buy it, but you get to look around. Talk to his goon."
"He don't look like he talks much."
"Give it a shot. The worst that happens is it doesn't work."
"The worst that happens is he shoots me in the fuckin' head."
Genaro shrugged. "Then we'll know it didn't work."
Pete Genaro didnÕt know who he was dealing with. Sammy Candelosi sized Jake up as the Trojan horse he knew him to be, and asked him to walk the floor with his man Slythe to tell him who his best men were. Jake, who had no idea which employees were any good, pointed out a dealer and pit boss just because he knew their names.
The next morning, the pit boss was found floating facedown in his swimming pool, and the dealer's car blew up.
The police had no problem following the trail from Sammy and Slythe, who volunteered that Genaro's man Jake had identified the victims as Sammy's best men, to Jake, who admitted he'd done that, to Pete Genaro, who was apoplectic. He was certainly the most likely suspect in the two murders, but he was innocent. Sammy Candelosi had killed his own men just to get him in trouble.