The Grand is the tallest and richest hotel on the strip. Although its exterior harkens back to the old days of Las Vegas, it contains the best of everything. It is the home of the elite, with lines of expensive cars all along the front. People, dressed in the best, mingle in safety knowing that armed security teams watch their every move. As far as they are concerned, it is their world and it is how they like it.
Their world is shattered by the roar of serious, old-school muscle from Detroit, circa 1968, in the form of a Plymouth Barracuda. All heads turn with looks of disgust on their faces as they watch a flat-black Barracuda cut in front of limos and sport cars to find a parking spot near the front entrance.
Security teams train on the rumbling intruder. An order comes through their headpieces.
“Stand down. They have a pass, Mr. Malone’s orders.”
The security teams reluctantly return to their regular duties.
The Barracuda’s engine shuts down. People are drawn to the silence as Pry and Dane get out, both are dressed for business.
Pry steps out of the driver’s side. Her black pin-strip suit, over a dark red, demure, bustier is strong and feminine. Instead of heels, she wears black combat-style boots. Her jacket is custom-made to look good and to conceal pair of weapons in shoulder holsters. Her hair is spiked. She wears dark shades. She’s smoldering and lethal. The parking attendant is turned on and intimidated at the same time.
Dane steps out of the passenger side. His sharksuit jacket and pants have a silver sheen to them. His black shirt and boots make him look like a big time player. Like Pry, his jacket is custom-made to hide his weapons. A black laptop-sized satchel is slung over one shoulder. In his hand, a silver, metallic suitcase. His front jacket bulges with his smartphone.
He holds the door open and flips the front seat forward, allowing Fen to jump out.
Pry rounds the front of the car and tosses the keys to the staring parking attendant. “Keep it handy, honey.”
The parking attendant nods absently as he tries to catch the keys. He juggles them, finally getting a grip on them and himself.
Pry, Dane and Fen stride through the main entrance, across the extravagant lobby, to the private elevators. As many eyes turn to stare at Pry as turn to gawk at Dane.
At the private elevator, two large, well-dressed men step in front of Pry and Dane. Their faces are stone serious, with dark glasses and two-way radio earpieces dangling from the right ears. Pry notes the similar size bulges under their jackets.
“No freaks.” one of the men says in a deep voice, looking at Dane.
“Then you should leave.” Dane replies, mocking the man’s deep voice.
“Maria Torres is expecting us.” Pry says coolly.
The other guy steps forward. “Name?”
“Andreas Pry, Pry Invesgtations. My associates Dane and Fen.”
The other turns to the first guy. “Watch them, all call it up.”
The first guy steps towards Pry, trying to use his size to intimidate her.
Fen gets between them. A rumbling growl comes out of his snarling mouth as he sits down and stares at the first guy’s crotch.
The first guy steps back as the other guy returns. He pulls the first guy aside and whispers something. They whisper back and forth until the first guy reluctantly pushes the button for the penthouse elevator.
The other guy approaches Pry. “She’s expecting you.” When the elevator arrives he directs them in. They go up alone.
In the elevator, Pry and Dane stare straight ahead.
“They are packing serious heat.” Dane whispers. “Subs.”
“Didn’t recognize them. Out-of-towners.” Pry whispers her reply.
“Hotel has decent security. If they’re with her, why hire us?” Dane pauses before adding, “Maybe it was that article in Bounty Quarterly.”
“They weren’t professionals.” Pry comments quietly. “They sent us up alone.”
Fen groans, moving around, restless.
“Agreed.” Pry pats Fen’s head. “I hated that article too.”
When the doors open, Pry, Dane and Fen walk out, marveling at the lavish, two-story penthouse room. The main floor in front of them is for entertaining, with its spacious black marble floor. A number of luxurious sofas and chairs are set around an expensive glass coffee table, in front of a free-standing, gas-powered, stone fireplace, with a large flat screen set on top. Beyond it, a panoramic view of the Las Vegas strip and the city. To their left, a very well stocked bar and galley-style kitchen with a raised counter and stools set around it. Ahead to their right, a wide spiral stair case leads up to three apartment-sized bedrooms.
Six men, similar to the ones downstairs, lounge on the chairs and sofa, talking, drinking and smoking. Dane and Pry share a glance. The expensive suits may be the same, but these guys are a little more thug-ish.
Pry lifts her arm and brings her hands together making a loud clap that sounds more like a whip cracking.
The men jump, startled. When they see Pry, Dane and Fen, they scramble to their feet, grabbing for sub-machine guns under their jackets and cursing.
“Easy gentlemen, I called for them.” a woman’s voice calls out from the second floor.
The men stumble to a stop and look up at the woman descending the staircase.
Maria Torres walks with a smooth confidence and dignity, despite her plain blouse, jeans, and sneakers. Her long, dark hair and complexion reveal her South American heritage. Her once youthful beauty that gained her so much attention remains, hidden by stress and hardship.
“Ms. Pry.” Maria says as she reaches the main floor. She walks past the men, towards Pry, extending her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Mrs. Torres.” Pry replies, shaking her hand in a curt, professional manner.
“Please, call me Maria.” she says, sincerely. She turns, offering her hand to Dane. “You must be Mr. Dane.”
Dane smiles, shaking her hand. “Just Dane.”
“Add who is this?” Maria says, smiling at Fen.
“This is Fen, our associate.” Pry answers. Although she just met this woman, how she treated Dane impresses her.
“May I pet him? Or is he your guard dog?” Maria asks.
Fen makes a few quick, friendly barks before approaching Maria. He pants, his tongue hanging out, looking adorable.
“He’d be offended if you didn’t.” Pry smiles, shaking her head.
Maria crouches down and pets Fen, who eagerly licks her face. His presence quickly loosened the tension.
“Mrs. Torres.” one of the men speaks up, “Who are these people?” he asks, the last word coming out like a curse.
Maria stands, the tension returns.
Pry and Dane share a knowing look. He nods, sets his briefcase down and takes out his smartphone. His fingers twiddle barely an inch over the screen as apps open and activate.
Maria turns to face the men. “Mr. Goldman, gentlemen, I want to thank you for your time, but your services will no longer be required.”
The men react with shock and make their thoughts known. One of the men calms the others. He has dark, cold eyes to match his hardened, pok-marked face. He approaches Maria. “You sure this is the right decision, Mrs. Torres?”
“Yes Mr. Goldman.” Maria replies, her hands involuntarily clenching.
“Replacing eight, big, strong men with a girl and two dogs?” Goldman comments with disdain. “Maybe in this case, you should let professionals, like myself–”
“Mr. Goldman.” Maria interrupts, her voice angry and stern. “My decision is final. You and your men will be paid your standard fees. Good night.”
Goldman steps back, obviously furious at being told what to do. “Let’s go boys. We ain’t needed here.” He smiles at Maria, revealing a couple of gold teeth. He leads the others to the elevator. As he walks past Pry and Dane, his cold eyes stares daggers of ice at them. When they are in the elevator, he smiles and waves as the doors close.
Once gone, Maria turns to Pry and Dane, “I apologize for–” she begins to say.
“Nice place you got here, Mrs. Torres.” Pry comments, cutting her off as she walks past her, checking out the penthouse. “This must have set you back a pretty penny.”
“Pardon?” Maria stammers, puzzled.
“Who’d you have to nail to get the money for this place?”
“I beg you pardon!” Maria snaps, shocked by Pry’s words.
“I’m just thinking if you can afford this, you can probably afford to pay us more.”
Maria approaches Pry, anger building up within her. She opens her mouth to unleash when Pry holds up her finger, stopping her.
“Dane?” Pry whispers, looking over her shoulder.
Dane glances over at Fen.
Fen tears off around the main floor, sniffing at everything.
Dane picks up his steel briefcase and walks over to Pry. He holds his smartphone in the other hand as he wiggles his thumbs over the screen, making minor adjustments to various apps. “We’re clear. Their signal is scrambled.” he says. When he joins them, he holds up his smartphone, screen towards Pry. It indicates nearly twenty bugs, cameras, and other devices for surveillance.
The anger drains out of Maria. “What are those?”
“Who do those guys really work for, and who wants you dead?” Pry asks, turning her attention back to Maria.
Maria doesn’t reply, she just looks at Pry in surprise. Not for what she said, but for what she knows.
“You’re in one of the most secure hotels in town. Its security comes from its exclusiveness, not from spying on its clients. This penthouse requires serious cash, the kind of cash that could afford serious protection. The way those guys moved, how they handled themselves, the weapons they were carrying, they are serious, but not protectors. They are killers. Assassins. They weren’t here to protect you. My guess would be they were here to either keep you in one spot until their real boss arrived, or they were just waiting for the order to kill you. Did they suggest coming here?”
Maria nods. She feels her knees getting weak and wobbly.
Pry grabs her arm and leads her to one of the sofas, sitting her down. Pry remains standing, her arms crossed.
Dane walks over with them. He sets his briefcase and smartphone down on the glass coffee table. Inside the briefcase, a custom-made satellite transmitter and various compact hard drives. He pulls out his laptop from his satchel, connects it to the equipment in the briefcase, and starts it up. He sets his smartphone into a connector within the briefcase. All become interconnected. His left hand works the laptop’s keyboard, while the fingers of his right hand wave and wiggle in front of his smartphone.
As the others try to settle down, Fen moves quickly around the penthouse, seeking out and destroying the hidden surveillance equipment, leaving a trail of chewed up wire and plastic.
“We want the truth, or we walk.” Pry says with a coolness that hints at her feeling from early today, back in her apartment.
Maria calms herself, gathering her thoughts, as if about to confess. “I had my suspicions about those men.” she begins. “I hired them to protect me and my son Michael from my ex-husband. But I never trusted them. Late last night, I over-heard one of them, Mr. Goldman, talking to someone. My ex-husband. They worked for him!”
“Who’s you ex?” Pry asks.
“I knew him as Gomez Torres. He took me from a terrible life and gave me everything a girl could ever want. He was kind, sweet, and so gentle. Then, he gave me the most precious gift in my life, Michael, my son. Our love burned very bright. But it burned out quickly. When he left and came to America, he brought us as well. He gave us a good life. I still considered him a good man, even if our love was gone. But for me, Michael was everything.
“A few months ago, federal agents came to see me, told me who Gomez truly was. In America, he was known as Hyden.”
Dane pauses, glancing up at Maria. “Whoa.” he murmurs.
A look of concern crosses Pry’s face. “You knew about him, didn’t you?”
Maria looks away, shame in her eyes. “When a man like Hyden offers a girl living on the street a life of beauty and happiness, you don’t ask questions.”
“No. But those questions remain, don’t they?” Pry spits quietly through her clenched jaw.
Dane glances up at Pry, concern on his face.
“Originally, I told them nothing.” Maria says quietly, looking down at her hands. “But that didn’t stop him from surprising my son at his school.” he looks up at Pry, tears filling her eyes. “He threatened me through his own son!” she wipes the wetness from her eyes. “I realized no matter what I said, he would never believe me. So I hired those men as protection, and contacted the federal agents.”
“So how come the feds aren’t here?” Dane asks, looking from Maria to Pry.
“Hyden.” Pry answers. “He’s powerful, not just in Florida, or the criminal underworld. He has top lawyers on his pay roll, probably some men in law enforcement, state and federal. He’s probably using whatever red tape he can to delay things.” Pry turns to Maria. “That’s why you only need us for a few days, right?”
Maria nods. “The agent I’ve talked to, Willis, he’s been after Hyden for years. He’s trying to push the witness protection package for Michael and I through, but from what he’s told me, Hyden’s lawyers are countering. They are saying the most horrible things about me, discrediting me, making things difficult.” she chuckles. “When Willis heard I was coming here, to Las Vegas, he was very upset. Nevada isn’t a popular state with law enforcement agencies. But I guess that’s why those bodyguards wanted me to come here.”
“Yup.” Dane murmurs.
A squeal of surprise erupts from the second floor.
Pry turns and draws her gun.
Dane pulls his weapon out.
Maria bolts to her feet. “Michael!”
Michael races down the spiral stairs, wearing Top Cat pajamas that are on the verge of being too big for him. His short tangle of black hair sticks up in all directions. A large smile is plastered across his face, with a look of glee in his eyes. Despite his size, his foot falls sound like the rumble of a stampede, with hints of bare feet slapping on marble steps.
“Mom!” Michael yells, “There’s a big dog upstairs! He said his name was Fen!” When he reaches the bottom of the stairs and sees Pry and Dane, he stops and looks worried.
Pry puts her weapon away, as does Dane, who stands up.
Maria gets up from the sofa and storms over to Michael, a look of motherly anger on her face. “Michael! I told you to be careful coming down those stairs!” She grabs him and hugs him. The tension and revelation from a few moments ago washes away in her son’s arms.
Fen comes bounding down the stairs, yowling and yammering excitedly.
“Fen!” Pry says with authority.
Fen calms down, tongue still hanging out. He walks over and sits down beside Pry.
Maria walks over with Michael. “This is Ms. Pry, and–”
“Does he talk too?” Michael cuts in, looking at Dane.
Dane steps forward and crouches down near Michael. “Sometimes too much, and often filled pop cultural references that only I get.”
Michael looks at Dane for a long time, then slowly starts to smile. He turns back to his Mom and whispers, “He talks funny.”
“That I do.” Dane replies with a smile. “My name is Dane, and this is–”
“Fen!” Michael says a little loudly. He whips his gaze back and forth between Dane, Fen and his Mom. “I know his name! He told me in my mind!”
“Michael.” Maria says in that motherly tone, reminding children of their manners.
Michael reels in his excitement as best he. He turns back to Pry and Dane. “It is a pleasure to meet you. Why does you dog talk?”
“Their dog doesn’t talk.” Maria says in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Actually he does.” Dane replies, straightening up. “As far as we can tell, it’s a basic form of telepathy. However he gained his powers, it also made him smarter. Normally, he only talks to Pry or myself.” he looks down at Michael, “But on a few occasions, he makes a connection with someone who’s very special.” he smiles and winks.
Michael smiles back, excited.
“It’s late.” Pry steps in. “Dane and I have a lot of work to do, to make this place secure. You both get some sleep. We’ll see you in the morning.”
Maria nods, relief spreading across her face.
“Aw! I wanted to play with Fen!”
“Fen’s going to be working too.” Pry says simply.
“But,” Dane adds, glancing down at Michael, “Maybe, when he’s done, he can come up and watch over you when you’re asleep.”
Michael smiles and his eyes light up.
Maria looks at all of them. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“Good night.” Pry nods.
Maria and Michael head up the stairs and disappear into the rooms.
Fen walks over to Pry, nuzzling up against her.
“I’m fine.” Pry says, stepping away from Fen. “We got work to do, lets get to it.”
Fen looks at Dane, worried.
“She’s right.” Dane replies, patting Fen’s head. “Let’s get to work.”
Dane walks back and sits down at his laptop. Fen continues to walk around the penthouse, sniffing things out.
Pry wanders over to the large windows, looking out over the city.
Pry: Rabbit-Sitting Blues Copyrighted © 2013 Mark James MacKinnon. Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.