(Friday Evening / Pre-Performance)
As with most casinos, there was a selection of truly excellent restaurants. Of course, you had to cross the floor and the inviting sights and sounds of the gaming tables. Alex had enjoyed an occasional weekend night at the casinos when he first arrived in town, but had, like many Vegas residents, ultimately become inured to the illusion of becoming an instant millionaire.
As Alex was shown to his table at a restaurant affiliated with a celebrity chef, he was approached by a woman wearing a conservative business suit bearing a cloisonne pin featuring the Westview Grand logo.
Her nametag identified her as K. Ryder, Operations Manager . Hitoshi's mother, then.
"Good evening, Mr. North," she said, smiling pleasantly. "I'm Karen Ryder, Casino Operations Manager here at the Westview Grand. I wanted to apologize for the unpleasantness earlier this evening."
"Thank you, Ms. Ryder, but the Westview isn't responsible for any of that," Alex reassured her.
"Nonetheless, we're pleased that you weren't seriously injured, and the Westview will be comping your meal this evening. It's a small courtesy, but we want to make it clear that you and your guests are welcome here."
"I appreciate the gesture, Ms. Ryder, but it's not necessary. I just came here for a nice meal and perhaps some Blackjack."
Ryder smiled. "Then we'll do everything we can to make sure your visit is a pleasant one."
Which, fortunately, included telling news crews to wait outside of the restaurant out of respect for the other guests.
"Do you ... ah ... are you hungry?" he asked Phoebe.
She laughed. "Don't tiptoe, Alex. We're not made of glass."
"Warriors know how to celebrate, because they dance on the edge of life and death," Phoebe told him. "The petite-cut filet will do. Rare. A glass of the Domaine Chandon, perhaps."
Most of the news crews had left by the time Alex and Phoebe were done with their meal. They were probably chasing a fire or, with luck, an arrest or three in connection with the shooting.
"Alex!" called out the one photographer who was left. The kid had served as a Combat Photographer in the Army, and considered Alex as a brother-in-arms.
"Evening, Mark. Slow news day?" Alex laughed.
"Just some penny-ante lawyer getting shot outside a casino," Mark shot back.
"Please tell me you're just here for b-roll."
"Yeah. Although Megan left me a list of questions if you want to go on record ...?"
"Not particularly. Okay, here, you can take some pretty pictures of my jacket, and me walking down the hall. Leave the young lady out of things, please."
"I'm going to go find my sisters," Phoebe said, further assuring that she would not end up on videotape, nor the band receive negative publicity.
"Okay," Alex said. "Have fun."
"She's hot," Mark noted. "When did you start dating supermodels, Ell-Tee?"
"Would you believe she's just a friend?"
"And she's got sisters?"
"And they all have really high standards," Alex said seriously.
"Damn, you sound like their big brother."
"I think someone else has that job."
"Cop outside said you were wearing a vest," the photographer remarked.
"Yeah," Alex confirmed. He undid one shirt button to show the vest. However, he hadn't realized one round was still embedded in the trauma plate over his vitals. The slug had the distinctive petals of a 'cop killer' round, and both men recognized it.
Mark gave a low whistle. Alex knew what the photographer was thinking as he pulled back from his viewfinder and glanced at the other two bullet holes in Alex's shirt. If they'd been firing that kind of round, Alex's insides should be all over the driveway.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"I'll cut around that, man. But I want the story."
"When I can give it to you, Mark. Maybe even if I can give it to you. It's not something you want to get mixed up in."
Alex winced at remembered pain. For a moment, he hoped his ability to heal wasn't a question of believing he could, and that, if he doubted or stopped believing, all of his wounds would come back in full force.
He prised the slug free of the trauma plate, folded it into his hand and then into his jacket pocket. It wasn't a question of wearing a vest - the moment someone in forensics got a look at the slug, the moment a police officer examined the shooter's weapon, there would be questions. Dumping the bullet and the vest would make no difference. This kind of bullet was designed specifically to penetrate body armor and wreak grievous injury. And what would the Manada de Lobos try next? Believing he'd had a vest on during the robbery, they'd upgraded to 'cop killer' bullets. It was doubtful the gang had a trained sniper in their ranks, but a burst from an TEC-9 or Uzi might do the trick. Or an IED.
Maybe it was time to take Clemens up on his offer and join the DA's office as an ADA.
"Be sure the turnout is made presentable for tomorrow's meeting of the Board of Directors," Karen Ryder instructed her executive assistant. "There's no keeping the ... accident ... out of the news, but we don't want anything detracting from the front of the house. Sidewalk swept, anything that's broken gets replaced or removed, landscaping to lay new turf or plants. If there are any blood stains, they get steam-cleaned. And not a scrap of crime scene tape, not even peeking out of a trash receptacle."
"Yes, Ms. Ryder."
"Please tell me the limousine wasn't damaged."
"It wasn't, Ma'am."
"Good. Have the limousine and driver available for the board members. Guests can use the backup."
Ryder believed the reason she'd been promoted was the precise manner in which she conducted her affairs. It wasn't enough to be capable; one had to define the word exceeds on performance reviews.
She saw the Westview Grand as one of the pre-eminent casinos on the Strip, and that was because on her watch, everything was squared away and ship shape. She was aware, of course, that some of her employees called her a bitch behind her back, styling her as anal retentive and OCD, but they were in their place, and she in hers.
Alex stopped by one of the stores on the casino's promenade. You could get anything from jeans to Armani, though the jeans would likely be designer label and 'pre-stressed'. He availed himself of a black polo shirt sans logo (and the designer price tag), and a black sportcoat. His vest, dress shirt, and leather jacket were folded up, tucked in a bag, and handed over to the coat check.
"I'll take those, Mr. North," Evie Cartwright said. "Evidence."
"Um, yeah. Of course," Alex said. "Hey, I found this on the ground outside, don't know if it's important."
He opened his hand to show Evie the 'cop killer' round he'd pried out of his trauma plate. "I'm not a CSI, but I didn't want to throw it away, either," he lied.
"Ah! Thanks, I'll take care of it," Evie says. Much like Alex, she has no intention of handing it over to the authorities. It would raise too many questions. Instead, it will be neatly tucked away in her apartment, somewhere, and she will claim that she found it. Somewhere. At some time. She can come up with plausibly vague details, later.
She pulls out her phone and fiddles with it, giving her an excuse to have her head down. Though she has no reason to fear anyone or anything in the casino, well... Better safe than sorry.
As she messes with some random app, she says softly, her words meant for Alex alone, "There was a visitor at the accident who seemed very interested in our group. He took little notice of anything except us. Alone, apart, tailored suit, little smirk...made and held eye contact with me. He knows."
"Another Scion, perhaps? On the other team?" Alex mused. "So they know who we are, but not the other way around. Damn. I hate working blind. It'd be nice to have a break for our side."
"Maybe," Evie answers quietly. "It seems like the most likely answer. Tell you what, let's all meet somewhere more private later, and we can all brainstorm. I don't know what Lya and Hitoshi have learned. Maybe they have some more information that could shed some light on things."
"The lights never go out on the Strip," Alex smiles. "I'll hit the tables for a bit, but probably end up in the Billiard Room. I used to do that in Law School, it helped me focus."
"Ah! Billiards...that's mine and Saul's preferred after work relaxation. Well, on those rare days when we actually have free time at the same time. It's not like it was when we were teenagers and could doink around whenever we wanted," Evie chuckles. "I may hit you up for a game, later."
"A round of pool would be fun," Alex nodded.
Despite a friendly table and a charming dealer, the Blackjack tables held only limited appeal. The buzz of activity, slots chiming as someone hit a jackpot, shouts of victory ... none of the energy transferred to Alex. Instead, the press of the crowd made him feel edgy, not only because he was scanning the crowd for threats, but because the casino floor was packed with innocent bystanders. He rather sympathized with 'Wild Bill' Hickok, who had a marked distaste for leaving his back to a door. (And, who, because he'd really wanted in on one game, did so anyway ... and got shot in the back while holding Aces and Eights.)
After an hour of mediocre gameplay - he was ahead by less than $40 - Alex decided a drink was in order. Then, perhaps, some pool - in the hopes that a favorite pastime would take some of the edge off of his jangled nerves. He hadn't felt this twitchy since being in an active combat zone.
" Konbawa, " the bartender smiled. "What may I get for you?"
"Scotch. A double of Macallan 25, if you have it, please," Alex said, sliding some bills across the bar.
"Here you go, Sir," said Mishii. "A double of Macallan 25."
Alex leaned against the bar, fighting the urge to watch the door and scan the crowd ...
Alex tossed the Scotch down, ordered another. The bartender had seen plenty of gamblers come off the floor for a drink to take the edge off their losses, so a man who'd survived an attempted drive-by was certainly entitled.
The billiard room, bearing the moniker The Corner Pocket, was an upscale pool hall, more of a club atmosphere than a 'T-which-rhymes-with-P-and-that-stands-for-Pool' setting. Players had access to a full bar and an assortment of finger foods suited to playing - nothing with messy sauces or coatings that would get on the tables or cues.
Alex told the hostess that he'd be here for a while. He was prepared to spend time looking for a reasonably straight cue, found that the Pocket took care that its cues weren't warped or bent from people using them as leaning posts and walking sticks.
He set a rack of 9-Ball and began his game.
Alex was several games in when his cell phone rang. Vibrated, actually, as he habitually had the ringer off so as not to run afoul of courtroom etiquette. To Alex's dismay, the faceplate now had a crack spidering down from one corner.
He recognized the number; it was Christopher Clemens, the District Attorney.
"Alex! Glad to hear you're all right," Clemens said.
"A bit sore, but I'll take that over a sucking chest wound any day."
"I'm sure I don't need to sell you on an anti-gang initiative, but that's in the pipe," Clemens said. "If you're available tomorrow, let's have lunch."
"It's business, but I don't want it to be business," Clemens said. "Saturday lets it be less formal, and neither one of us will be dashing off to court or fielding a phone call from the Mayor."
Alex had an inkling as to what this was about, but didn't want to slam the door on the DA.
"Okay, lunch. Where and when?"
"Country Club. Noonish. Just give them my name."
"See you then, Chris."
Eventually, Evie decides that nothing more is going to happen and starts making her way to the pool room. She realizes that she is bone-tired. Between all the running around and investigating earlier and the excitement this evening, she's been going pretty much non-stop and it's starting to catch up with her.
She enters the room and spots Alex at one of the tables, already in the midst of a game. Wandering over to his table, she finds a seat against a wall and flops into it. She lets her head fall back and rest against the hard wall for a moment and the temptation to close her eyes and sleep is strong. Evie sits back up, rubs her face and shucks out of her bulletproof vest, setting it in a seat beside her.
"Oh gawd, that feels better," she sighs, delighted to be out of the hot gear. "I know that I am sweaty and unpresentable under it but...screw that."
She grins and gestures towards the table, "How's the game going?"
"I think I'm winning," Alex smiles. He lines up a rail shot. His cue taps the cue ball just so, and the 4-Ball rolls neatly into a corner pocket, while the cue ball stops short of following it in for a scratch. Still, it doesn't leave him with the best angle on the 5-Ball. "At the very least, I'm not losing."
"Can I buy you something to drink? Soda, mineral water, if you're still on duty."
Evies, smiling, waves off the offer of a drink, "Nah. I just finished a coke. I'm fine. Thanks, though."
She stands and looks down at the table, "Looks like you are doing pretty well! But, this is coming from me. I always lose at pool. Love the game, but I stink at it so...take my word for what it's worth."
Evie grins and then starts to laugh quietly, "One time, I accidentally started a brawl. I was off-duty, Ricky (that's one of my brothers) and I were playing, and there was this group of people in the bar who didn't know me."
"Now, the regulars...they know my 'talent' with a pool cue, so any of them would've laughed off what happened..."
She shakes her head and continues, "Anyway, I'm getting off track. So, I'm leaned over the table and I have everything all lined up. I pull back...smack the ball...and BOINK! I hit it at just the right angle to pop it off the table and right into the back of some guy's head."
"This guy is big. He's drunk. And, as it turns out, he's an angry drunk. He does not like being beaned by a cue ball and immediately takes it up with me."
"I, of course, am trying my damnedest to make peace with this guy. I don't want trouble! I apologize, offer to buy him a beer but he has threatened me in front of my brother. Ricky knows that I'm a cop and I knows I know hand-to-hand but...he's my brother and he's got a temper."
"Oi, but that was a night!" the detective laughs again. "I managed to break it up and the owner was happy to have everything settled without legal recourse."
"Back in JAG, the pool table was an informal conference location. You'd give opposing counsel a heads-up on discovery or pending motions, try to bet them off the table," Alex said, sinking the 5-Ball and moving to the 7. "NYC, it was the basketball court down at the gym. Same idea."
"Trick is, you're not always trying to power through things," he says, nodding towards the table. "Rail shots, for example, are all about hitting it square and a bit easy."
He makes his shot, the cue ball tapping the 7-Ball for an easy pocket.
"Come on, I'll set up a rack and we can have a game."
Evie watches as Alex sets up the game, glad to have a touch of normalcy after the past few days. She has a feeling that, from here on out, she'll have to grasp these moments with both hands and hold on tightly because they won't last long.
Once the game starts, she falls into her old habits of playing very, very badly. She's simply terrible at determining angles and how much force is necessary to make the cue ball do whatever it is that she wants it to do. Shots routinely fall short or go shooting across the table like big, colorful bullets. All the while, though, she laughs at herself. Her lack of skill doesn't bother her in the least and she enjoys the game for what it is: a game.
As they play, Evie considers something to chat about. Her first inclination is to ask Alex what brought him to the military and then law, but she quickly realizes that would be a stupid thing to ask. Just as detective work is part of her very nature due to her parentage, so too is war and law to Alex.
Instead, she starts with the little things, "So, are you originally from around here?"
"No. Grew up in Adelphi, a little suburb in Maryland. Dad," Alex pauses briefly, so you know he's talking about his mortal parent, "was a contractor working at Fort Detrick. Joining the Army was a way to afford law school, though I sure as hell didn't expect getting assigned to a war zone as a JAG officer."
He watches you handle several shots. "Want some tips? You can hustle Saul next time, he won't know what hit him."
"Absolutely! Anything I can do to annoy him makes my life just a little bit more fun," she laughs and it is clear in her tone that this is not a mean-spirited statement. Instead, it's just her picking on an old friend.
"First, you're rushing your shots just a bit. Unless you're playing on a shot clock, you have all the time in the world," Alex says. "So, tell me how you'd handle the 3-Ball on this next shot."
Evie walks around the table, looking at the three ball. Unfortunately, it's nestled up next to some other balls and she's not quite sure how to get it into a pocket from here.
"I think I'd just hit the group and see if I can break them apart. I guess that I could maybe get it into that corner pocket over there, but it looks like there's too much going on with obstacles in my path," she says thoughtfully.
Even as you consider your shot, you realize your assessment is colored by prior experience. You could hit the 3-Ball and tuck it into a corner pocket; you just have no idea how to make it happen.
"This is where brute force can work against you," Alex coaches. "You want to hit the 3-Ball, but instead of knocking the balls hither and yon, let the table do the work for you. Aim straight at the cue ball ... that's it ... now take a half-step to your left ... and hit the cue ball firmly, but not too hard."
You do, and it's a sensation similar to when you were examining Thomas Cardinelli's body, an instinctive 'read' of the situation, as if you were judging the direction of a shot. The cue stick slides forward, and there's a soft clickof balls against one another.
The 3-Ball stops right on the edge of the pocket and refuses to drop.
"Good. Very, very close. You'll get better at judging how much force to use. If you'd sunk it, the cue ball would have bounced off this rail, and broken up that cluster of balls you were worried about."
Alex takes a moment, sinks the 3-Ball, then the 4-Ball. He falls short on sinking the 5.
"I got a call from the District Attorney earlier. Says he wants to talk to me. Rumor mill says it's a job offer, so I'd be moving to the Hall of Justice."
The detective gives a soft, almost inaudible gasp of surprise as her powers kick in during play. Her eyes widen and a wicked grin spreads across her face. Eyes twinkling with mischief, she stands up straight and says to Alex, "My powers kicked in on that shot! I could see the layout...the same as I do in crime scenes. Maybe if this whole detective thing ever falls through, with practice, I could become a professional pool shark!"
After a moment of faux contemplation, though, she grins, "Nah. I don't think dad would approve."
She leans back against the wall, her pool cue propped against her shoulder. When Alex mentions the possible job offer, she says, "So, do you think you'll accept the offer, if that is what is happening? What would that mean for you?"
"Interesting," Alex says. "Dad didn't tell me much. Gave me a couple of presents, told me to keep doing what I was doing, galloped off to some other battlefield. A lot of it has been trial and error, like learning I can go several days without sleep. Or that asking the right question can give me an absolute sense of guilt or innocence, which is what drove the two big cases I've been involved with."
"And then the more recent events. Someone's pointing their attack dogs at me, but I've got no clue how it ties into anything else. I don't think I've upset some godly plan with any case I've handled."
"As for the job offer, I'm inclined to say no, just because justice comes first in my book, and this sounds like politics. Chris Clemens is up for re-election in November, and his term hasn't been all that great."
"Honestly, I don't think it has anything to do with you, personally," Evie muses. "Thomas was a son of Tyr, too, and he was made an example. I think that whoever is doing this is...well...tweaking Tyr's nose. I have no proof of this at all, but my gut feeling is that any child of Tyr would be a target."
As she concentrates upon the mystery before her, all previous mirth disappears. Her brow furrows and her expression is once again serious, "But, I don't know why anyone in their right mind would do that. If you are really planning on trying to bring about Ragnarok, I would think that you wouldn't want to draw attention to yourself. You'd want it to happen as quietly as possible..."
"Unless...unless..." she chews her bottom lip, ..."Could this all be a distraction, a decoy? Something meant to make us look in the wrong direction?"
"Or move in the wrong direction," Alex nods. "We respond to a threat that's real enough, but it's not the main push. It's a feint. Trick is figuring out what's what. So, if the Lobos aren't the real threat, someone's pulling their strings, giving them a nudge.
"Humans are bad at judging risk. Heck, that's the whole point of a casino. That's Roget's story - a relative nobody, and then, wham, a big casino win and he becomes somebody.
"He might not even have been a Scion, because he kicked th-"
Alex breaks off in mid-sentence. "Shit. I should have twigged to that. I'll have to look it up. Roget dies, someone inherits. Except, if he's a Scion, he could have faked his death and left his money to himself, under another name. We don't age like most people, at least that's the theory."
"Huh! I didn't know that. That does change things a bit if he was a scion, doesn't it," she ponders. "Just out of curiosity, do you have any guesses about who's kid Roget might've been? I've been doing the Cliff Notes of mythology thing for the past couple of days, but it's a lot of information to absorb in a short amount of time."
"I don't know if that information would be entirely relevant, but we can't ignore anything, at this point."
"I don't know that he was or wasn't," Alex says. "But the building that bears his name had the body of my half-brother hidden beneath it. Can't be a complete coincidence.
"Being filthy rich isn't much to go on, but Roget did have political aspirations at one time. Bankrolled other candidates, other development across the state. He could be anyone's kid."
"Well, I do have a list of people to look into, now. Tomorrow, I'll start doing some digging and see what I can find out about them," Evie nods in agreement of Alex's assessment.
"I'll definitely have to look into who Roget bankrolled and supported. That might be important. He may not have had the power to move things directly...or he had the power but didn't desire to do things himself...so he paid others to do it for him."
"Right now, he's my main concern. Well, no...my real main concern is that figure I saw tonight, but I've got jack crap to go on about him, at the moment," she pokes half-heartedly at the table with her cue, fidgeting as she thinks.
"One mayor, two county supervisors, a member of the school board, two sheriffs, and - surprisingly - a supporter of a local food bank and homeless shelter," Alex said. "I can e-mail you that stuff. I can't see any real pattern to it, at least nothing major."
Evie continues to tap the end of her cue on the table, "Hmm...yeah, there's certainly no immediate connection except..."
She pauses, "The sheriffs. I'd be interested in finding out who they were. Thomas was an officer. I wonder if Roget got to him from the inside. But, that would depend on the timing. I don't know if he was throwing support their way before or after Thomas' death."
Alex glances off to one side as he consults his memory. "The sheriffs were about the same time, but I'm pretty sure they were after Thomas got killed. Yeah, I could see that. They do a favor, maybe not even realizing it got a cop killed, they get a promotion, and Roget gets an endorsement for his campaign."
"Not sure how we could prove any of that, fifty years after the fact," Alex says. "Oh, and before I forget, there's a news photographer who saw the bullet, he's promised to keep his mouth shut. Good kid, though. Former combat camera."
The clerk at the front counter fields a phone call. A moment later, he's taken the rest of the staff aside for a huddled conversation. There are nods of assent, but neither Evie or Alex have any notion of what the 'pep talk' involved.
Until two security types - black suits, close-cropped hair, earpieces, and a familiar bulge under their armpits - take up station near the front.
Evie exchanges glances with Alex and drops her cue upon the table. Any more talk of theories will have to wait.
The detective moves to the chair where she deposited her vest, picks it up and shrugs back into it with the ease that comes from years of wearing one of the blasted things. As she moves towards one of security, she straps it down.
"What's going on?" she asks the nearest security guard that she reaches.
"Rowdy crowd at the concert," the security guard says. "People we have inside say someone lit off some fireworks - smoke bombs, firecrackers - and there's some fighting, but we're holding back right now, don't want to go all Five-O on the crowd. At least, not yet."
"Understood," she says. "I'm going to go take a peek, but I'll not rile anyone up. Going to stick to the back and watch until I know what's what."
She gives a smile and nod to the security guard before turning to move towards the concert hall.
"Mind if I tag along?" Alex says. "My antennae are twitching, you know?"
"Absolutely!" she replies. In a lower tone so that the security guards can't overhear, she adds, "We need to stick together. I don't like the idea of any of us being alone, at this point."