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“Aces high, know what I mean?”

“Yes, sir.”

The first man cackled. Short, round, and balding in the middle, he leaned down his large nose, plugged one nostril with a pudgy finger, and inhaled a long line of cocaine.

“Whoo!” he said. ‘What a rush!” his voice was gravel, his eyes permanently bloodshot, but piercing.

“Sir, it’s—”

“Hang on a minute.” The boss tilted his head back, spread his arms wide, and closed his eyes, rolling his head back and forth on his shoulders. It was the best he could do, lacking a neck.

He then lowered his lidded eyes and opened them.

“Now, what do you want?”

“Things are a mess.” Compared to his boss, Albert was thin, wiry even, and weak.

Except between the ears. Where God had skimped on muscle in his creation, he’d made up for it in brains. If he’d gone into the military, he would have led men with strategy, brilliance, and creativity.

But he couldn’t do a pushup to save his life, and the idea of shouting “Hoo Rah!” about anything seemed like a genuinely stupid idea to him. That would mean drawing attention to himself.

But his boss, also his uncle had noticed his intelligence and skill. Paid for his college, recruited him as an advisor for his business.

Albert had not known for sure what his uncle did was illegal, and certainly not the extent of his criminal operations, but once he did, and understood the seven figure salary he could earn if he “played his cards right” as his uncle had put it, he lost his conscience for the most part. Other than an occasional twinge when it came to murder and certain types of mayhem, he didn’t feel a thing.

If he ever did, a quick glance at his bank balance and investment ledger quickly put those feelings to rest.

“Well?” his boss/uncle interrupted his thoughts, and he realized he’d just stopped speaking after his last sentence.

“Things are a mess,” he started again. “The Queen is dead. Nakamura is out chasing some lead, trying to find Jack and something he has. Our competition seems to be closing in, and the FBI and the gaming commission seem to be stepping up their efforts.”

“In what way?”

“All I know is there is some kind of secret task force. We need to be careful until we know more.” Albert waited.

His Uncle Barry, who he never called that, sat down at his desk. He brushed away the leftover cocaine, probably enough for another line, Albert thought, to the side. He opened a laptop, and keyed in a password.

Albert knew it, but he would never reveal the fact that he did. He was saving that knowledge in case he ever needed it.

In fact, he’d secretly installed a key logger on the laptop as a part of “security upgrades” his uncle insisted that he do. He knew all of his uncle’s passwords and could read every email or message sent from this machine.

All that knowledge proved both useful and as a way to keep himself safe. He knew the topics to avoid, what his uncle was passionate about, and the ideas he thought were best to develop next.

It made it easy for Albert to always be in the right place at the right time.

He would have liked to romanticize himself, make his role seem like that of the dwarf in Game of Thrones, but he knew he was no Tyrian Lannister. He didn’t drink and didn’t so much know things as he researched them.

It was certainly part of the “brilliance” his uncle so admired and relied on.

On a giant screen behind the glass desk where his uncle now sat, an Ace of Diamonds appeared first. A cursor appeared, and he tapped on that, entering yet another password.

Only one character off from the first, Albert thought.

Then a map appeared, and his uncle turned to look at it. There were several locations marked around the world, some marked with numbers, indicating there was more than one “target” located there.

“Zoom in,” his uncle said out loud. “Sector V.”

The map shifted, the view zoomed, and they were looking at Southeast Asia. There were targets all over Vietnam. Several were green, but many were still marked with red dots.

“We’re so close,” he said. “So close.”

His voice was soft, almost reverent. Normally loud-mouthed, his uncle softened when he talked about one thing. Treasure.

Quite specifically, treasure in Vietnam.

Much of what they found there consisted of arms caches, sold easily enough at ridiculously low prices to arms dealers, most often to one they simply called “The Lord of War.”

He had such deep government connections that he was nearly untouchable anywhere in the world. Any transaction with him was more secure than any retail transaction ever.

Of course, since Albert understood just how vulnerable any retail transaction was, that really wasn’t really saying much.

Except it was. The Lord of War and others like him made the rest of their treasure hunts possible. And what treasures they found!

Jewels, gold, silver, ancient jewelry, all sold on an ever expanding black market catering to the 1%, customers rarely touched by any economic crisis and driven by greed.

“Who is the source of the trouble?” his uncle asked.

“Jack, for one. Blackjack, maybe. We don’t know for sure, but there are some new players on the board. They don’t know what we have, but they want a share of it.”

“Which operations do they threaten?”

“Gambling. Finance in Vegas.”

“What was the Queen after?”

“The ring they say Jack has.”

“The ring?” his uncle spun in his chair, and the screen went dark.

“The one his father gave him. Some say if you know what it means and can decode it, it has the answer to all of our operations.” Albert gestured at the blank screen. “The really important ones anyway.”

His uncle sat, silent, staring and thinking. Albert waited.

He had ideas. Big ones. But sharing was not always caring, or welcome, when it came to the man across from him.

No matter how much money you were getting paid, if you made the wrong move with him, death was your fate. Albert doubted his early purchases of shares in Apple, Amazon, and Tesla would do him a bit of good in any afterlife, and if you believed nearly any popular religion, his destination was unlikely to be a pleasant one.

“Can we find Jack? Bring him here?”

“Probably, sir. He has limited resources and places to hide. He is clever though.”

“Yes. I heard about the King of Hearts. What a waste.”

“Indeed.”

“Let’s do it. Bring him here, and his dog. They are not to be harmed in any way. I want that ring, and I want answers.”

“Who do you want to send?”

His uncle sat forward and closed the laptop. “Who’s the best?”

“Probably Tony.”

“Have him assemble a crew. And you go with them.”

“I usually—”

“You usually don’t go to the field. I get it. Go anyway.”

“May I ask why?”

“I want you to get that ring. I want to know what it does. If he won’t tell you, you’re the best man to figure it out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now get out.”

Albert spun on his heel and headed for the door.

“And Albert?” his uncle said. Albert turned back to face him. “Don’t let me down.”

Once outside the door, Albert found himself in a plush hallway, just down from a series of elevators. The smell of money drifted over him from the overhead vents.

Jack had been here, in this building, several floors down.

But he wasn’t any more. Still, Albert had a pretty good idea who he might go to, and how he might find him.

He pulled out his cell phone and called Tony as he headed for the private penthouse elevator.

As he did, he reached in his pocket and popped a pill. He’d need it today.

* * *

Simion was not really loyal in the true sense of the word. He kind of played all sides, whoever had the money to pay for his services. Yes, he did have men he would call friends, but they were few and far between.

And to save his own life or his fortune, he’d sell most of those out in a heartbeat.

He saw the men approaching. He knew who they were, or at least who they represented. Solitaire.

He’d have to give them something, but there was a risk. The men he’d connected Jack with were much more powerful than Solitaire. Simion had no idea how that was even possible, but it seemed to be the truth.

He also had little idea of where Jack was headed. But he did know one thing.

He’d left a couple of bags here, and he would also likely be back for them at some point. Or he’d send someone for them.

Those bags might be his only bargaining chip. What was in them likely had little value. Clothes, other personal items, although he was smart enough not to look.

He saw the man raise his fist to knock.

“Come in,” he said through a speaker on the wall and pressed a button that unlocked the door.

He knew better than to refuse them entry.

The large man came first. Tony, he thought he remembered his name being. There were a couple of others with him, large men, but there was another man with them.

He looked like an accountant rather than a heavy. He was thin, wiry, and shorter than all the rest of the men to boot. Simion smiled.

He left the office and headed to meet them toward the front of the building, where he normally did business. He pulled out his phone.

“Have the bags ready,” he texted one of his men.

A thumbs up emoji was his only answer.

He opened a door, and saw the men standing in front of him. The thin one stood in front.

“Hello there,” Simion started. “What can I do for you?”

“Jack,” the skinny man said. His voice was slight, almost effeminate, but he clearly commanded the power standing behind him.

“Nice to meet you, Jack,” Simion said, hoping that he could play dumb, at least for a few moments.

“I’m not Jack, smartass,” the man said. “And it wouldn’t pay for you to be smart with me.”

“Okay. So, you’re looking for a Jack? Jack who?”

“Tony?”

The big man stepped around the small man who was clearly in charge and then took a step forward.

Simion held up his hands. “Hey, I’m just trying to be helpful.”

“Sure you are,” Tony said. His hands flexed into fists, and his steel-gray eyes hardened further. They’d met before, and he was built like a linebacker. Simion was tough, Romanian by birth and upbringing, but he wasn’t the gym rat this man clearly was.

Besides, a beating mattered little. Pissing off Solitaire might just kill the back room part of his business. That’s where the real money was, not in offering limo rides to drunk co-eds and bachelorettes.

“Okay. You mean the fucked up guy, the one with the dog, right?”

“That’s him.”

“One-eyed Jack. That’s what I call him.”

“Clever,” the little man chimed in again. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” Simion said. “And that’s the truth. He was here. Asked about a game. I sent him to a casino I know of, off the strip. But I have no idea if he’s still there or not.”

“An address?”

“I have something better.” Simion held up his hands again, in a sign of surrender.

“What would that be?”

“He left his bags here. A couple of them.”

The little man smiled. “He will probably come back for them or send for them at least.”

“Yes.”

“Follow the bags, find the man.”

“Probably.”

“Let me see them.”

“I’m just getting my phone.” Simion pulled the device from his pocket and texted, “Now.”

A moment later, one of his men appeared carrying the two bags like they were tiny toys.

“Here,” Simion said, gesturing as the man set the bags on the floor.

The small man looked at them for a moment, and then pulled a card from his pocket.

“Put this inside,” he said.

Simion took it. The Ace of Diamonds. He turned it over and looked at the back. It looked and felt like any other playing card.

“Just do it,” the thin man said.

Simion unzipped the bag and slipped the card inside. “Done.”

“Thanks,” the man said. The group turned and left without another word.

Simion turned and looked at the man who’d brought the bags. “Well? Put them back.”

He headed back for his office, but before he could even take a seat, he saw a new group of men approaching the front door, Jack among them.

“Shit!” he said. Clicking the button to unlock the door, he headed to the front again.

He grabbed the rabbit’s foot that hung on a gold chain around his neck, and wished for this night to be over.

I hope you are enjoying reading this series as much as I am. You can the rest of this series on Amazon here! Stay tuned for another FREE story right here next week. I hope to see you then!