Andrew was driving the Cutlass on the turnpike. It was dark. The roads were empty, and he was nervous. Every other minute or so, he’d look to his right, at Roy in the passenger seat, and wonder what Philip was planning on doing to him later. Whatever it was, Roy had no idea, Andrew could tell. The guy was smiling, joking around with Philip and Jimmy, who were in the backseat.
They were on their way back from Atlantic City, the Trump Marina, after spending the last six hours at the bustling casino gambling and drinking.
Andrew could tell the guys were all a little buzzed, if not drunk. He wasn’t. He’d drift a few times out of his lane during the ride back to Philadelphia, but it had nothing to do with alcohol in his system. It was his nerves. He couldn’t keep them in check, worried too much about Roy. Wasn’t even sure exactly why, because he didn’t know the guy all that well, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the man.
He knew Philip was pissed at Roy. That much was sure. Andrew glanced at Philip in the rearview mirror, watching him laugh along with the others. He thought about when Philip and Jimmy showed up at his parents’ house earlier in the day. The way Philip was cursing Roy, saying how he wanted to get him alone. Andrew and Jimmy had to calm him down. Andrew telling him to keep quiet, he didn’t want to disturb his parents. After Philip’s anger subsided, he asked Andrew to come out with Jimmy and him, they wanted to speak with Roy alone. Andrew hesitated, but agreed after Philip offered to pay him a hundred bucks.
Andrew was regretting it now as he stole another glance at Roy. A voice in Andrew’s head was trying to warn him that this wouldn’t turn out well.
“Hey, kid,” Roy said, with a chuckle, to Andrew, “why ya keep staring at me?”
Andrew shrugged, keeping his eyes on the blacktop ahead.
“He likes you,” Jimmy said.
Roy broke out laughing, then Jimmy and Philip followed. Andrew forced out a weak laugh and shook his head, trying to act along with the group.
“That’s sweet,” Roy said, “but I’m taken.”
“It’s cool,” Philip said, lighting a cigarette, “my sister won’t mind if youse two hook up for the night. But just one night. No long affairs, ‘cause then we got trouble.”
The guys laughed again.
Andrew shook his head and said in a low tone, “Give it a rest, Philip.”
Philip patted his friend’s shoulder. “I’m teasing, Andrew. Relax.”
“Tell you what, kid,” Roy said, “once we cross the bridge, stop at Pat’s and I’ll buy you a cheesesteak.” He looked over his shoulder at Philip and Jimmy. “Matter of fact, I’m buying. You guys in?”
“Nah, not tonight,” Philip said. “Andrew, I need you to head over to Logan.”
“Christ, Logan,” Roy said. “Whaddaya need to do there? Trying to get us killed?”
“I gotta drop off something,” Philip said.
“Where in Logan?” Andrew said.
“Forty-five hundred of Franklin,” Philip said. “Where Bart lives.”
Andrew nodded. It wasn’t looking good.
The Cutlass was parked behind the houses on Franklin Street. Except for the moon above, there was no light anywhere.
Andrew and Roy were in the car, alone.
“Geesh, what the hell are they doing in there?” Roy said. “Been like twenty minutes. Fucking starving.”
Andrew’s eyes were fixed on the back door, where Philip and Jimmy stepped into a short time ago. He let Roy’s question hang out there for a minute before saying, “Maybe Bart wasn’t home?”
“Shoulda stopped at a payphone and called first,” Roy said. “Why don’t you go and check on them? Tell’em I wanna get something to eat.”
Andrew looked at Roy, who was watching him, then his eyes moved to the door and saw it opening. Jimmy, wearing a serious expression, stood in the doorway and motioned with his finger.
An overwhelming nervous feeling came over Andrew as he opened his door and stepped out of the car. “Not you,” Jimmy said. “Roy.”
“Jimmy wants you,” Andrew said, leaning over to tell Roy.
“For what?” Roy got out and approached Jimmy. “What the fuck are you guys doing in there? It’s late, and I wanna get moving.”
Jimmy stepped out of the way as a lead pipe swung from out of the darkness and bashed into Roy’s forehead. The echoing thud caused Andrew to jolt back as he watched Roy collapse to the cracked cement.
Andrew, wide-eyed, stared at Philip stepping out of the doorway, clutching the lead pipe. Philip was wearing an intense expression, glaring down at Roy who was bleeding from a gash in his head. The guy was moaning and trying to get to his feet.
“Son of a bitch,” Philip said. “I’m gonna beat you a whole lot more than you beat my sister.”
Roy mumbled something, Andrew couldn’t make it out, then he puked on the ground, cleared his throat, and said, “No…I love Marcia.”
“Bullshit,” Philip said, then kicked Roy’s stomach. “Jimmy, hold him up for me.”
“Hell no, the guy’s covered in shit,” Jimmy said.
“Just do it,” Philip said in a demanding tone.
Jimmy cursed as he walked over and wrapped his hands around Roy’s shirt, pulling him to his knees.
“Pull him up higher, goddamn it,” Philip said.
“Christ, Philip,” Jimmy said as he positioned himself to get a better grip of Roy, “what difference does it make? Just get this shit over with already.”
Roy was being held up at eye level now. Philip approached and looked at his bloodied face. “Why don’t you try and hit me the way you did her? Huh? Go ahead.”
Andrew watched as Roy begged and raised his hands, wanting nothing more than to be let free. Philip dropped the pipe and began sending a flurry of punches into Roy’s face and chest.
The punches continued until Philip lost his footing, crashing into Roy and Jimmy, and then falling to the ground, on top of Roy. Jimmy stepped back and was doing his best to wipe any blood from his clothes. “Damn it. Wouldn’t it be better just to shoot him?” Jimmy said.
“I told you things were gonna get messy,” Philip said, getting to his feet.
Andrew stayed at the door of his car, staring between Philip and Jimmy. Jimmy caught his stare and said, “You all right, Andy?”
Andrew was frozen.
“You want a piece of this bastard before we leave?” Philip said.
Andrew shook his head, kind of surprised that Philip even asked the question.
“Just wait in the car,” Jimmy said, then turned to Philip, “He’s scared.”
The raging man, his front marked with blotches and splatters of Roy’s blood, ignored Andrew as he got back into the Cutlass.
From inside the car, Andrew could see Philip grab the pipe and start whipping it against Roy’s back. Andrew winced every time a thud echoed. There were no more moans or pleas coming from Roy. He was quiet.
Philip stopped and was breathing heavy. Jimmy said, “Is he dead?”
Philip shrugged, gripped the lead pipe, swung it over his shoulders, and brought it down on Roy’s face. Andrew covered his mouth; he could swear he heard a few snaps and crunches.
“If he wasn’t dead before then he is now,” Philip said, sounding eased as he tossed his weapon.
That’s when Bart came out of the house and looked down at Roy’s body. “Messed that boy up, damn.”
“You all right with taking care of this, the mess and all?” Philip said.
“Ain’t nothin’ to worry about, blood,” Bart said. “Ain’t nobody ever gonna see this dude after tonight.”
“That’s what I wanna hear,” Philip said. “Thanks.”
Philip moved in to shake hands, but Bart took a step back and said, “Uh, nah, it’s cool. The thanks was good enough.”
Andrew was driving again, still jittery, stealing occasional glances at Philip and Jimmy in the backseat.
“Andy,” Jimmy said, breaking the silence, “the seats’re a little dirty back here, but I’ll make sure we get it cleaned up. Real nice too.”
Andrew nodded. He didn’t give a shit about cleaning his car. He was still trying to get over the image of watching a man being murdered before his eyes. His nerves made the car drift again.
Jimmy noticed it this time and said, “You sure you okay?”
Andrew glanced at Jimmy in the rearview mirror and saw a few specks of blood on his face. “Yeah.”
Philip seemed relaxed now, like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. He ignored Andrew and Jimmy and said, “Now maybe Marcia can move on and forget about that bastard…”
“…But I won’t ever forget. God only knows why. The guy was an asshole. Most of the time anyway. Sometimes he was all right. Funny,” Philip was saying in a whisper, so only he could hear. It was Tuesday night and he was sitting on a barstool, with a drink in hand, at the Home Turf Sports Bar in LAX.
Killing came easy to Philip Morgan. As a key member of the K&A Killers gang in the early ‘80s, he was responsible for seven murders. Wasn’t until he murdered his brother-in-law, Roy, that it affected him so much he started drinking. He murdered Roy after finding out the bastard was using his sister as a punching bag most nights after coming home from work because he hated his job and needed to take out his aggression somehow, so what better way than beating on his wife, right? Well, Philip disagreed. And he showed it by beating him to death. He paid someone he associated with to get rid of the body and that was that. His sister, Marcia, moved on, remarried, had a few kids, and was happy now. Philip tried to move on, but the images of seeing Roy always haunted him. He turned to drinking, and that seemed to relieve him somewhat. The images were less frequent, and he swore he would never kill anyone ever again unless he had no other choice. Like if his wife of twelve years was threatened with her life then he’d kill the son of a bitch doing the threatening. Philip loved his wife. He loved her very much.
Philip was forty-six years old now―twenty-three years since taking Roy out that night―thin with a three day old scruff, and nursing a Rum and Coke. His elbows rested on the bar as his green eyes held on the sixty inch flat screen, hanging on the wall, showing highlights from Game Five of the World Series that was suspended, with the score tied at two, because of bad weather. The Phils were leading the series three games to one and were that close to winning their first World Series since 1980.
Philip was a fan, but right now he could care less about what was going on in that two thousand dollar window. There were more important issues to tend to. He was on his way to Las Vegas to begin tending, just waiting for the departure time to come around.
His eyes went to a businessman at the far end of the bar. The guy was clean-cut, wearing an expensive suit, and was loud and drunk. “If they win, I guess it’d make up for ninety-three?”
Philip gave the drunk a tired smile and nod, agreeing with him. He remembered the Phillies battling the Blue Jays in the World Series back in 1993. They played good, it was an exciting series, but they lost in six games. Judging by this year’s Series, Philip thought, things appeared to be turning out in favor of Philadelphia, a city starving for a championship since the Sixers brought them their last back in ’83.
He placed his drink on the napkin on the bar and checked his watch: 9:30. His flight to Vegas was leaving in thirty minutes. His hand slid into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet, paid for the drink, gave the young pretty bartender with the nice tits a good tip in return for watching her work for the past hour, and left.
Besides being a murderer and a former gang member ―he still had the faded “KA” tattoo in the web of his right hand―Philip Morgan was a professional thief. He made a career out of stealing for money. The man had an average that any major league player participating in that World Series could only dream of: he was batting a thousand. In over one hundred and twenty jobs the man was never caught. But it was at least five years since his last and Philip was in need of money, big money. His wife, Sissy, was ill. He didn’t know how long she had and he wanted to do something special for her. He wanted to take her on a world cruise. It was about time to shake off the rust and see if he still had the skills to earn the money needed to make his wife happy.
He strolled toward the gate, making his way to the 747 that would take him to Vegas.
There was a cool breeze blowing out back of Silvio Sollazo’s mansion, where Philip was sitting now in a lounge chair by the edge of the pool. This was usual weather for a Vegas night in late October.
The plane ride wasn’t as bad as Philip had imagined. It was quick and quiet. He was even able to take a nap before hearing the pilot announce their arrival to Sin City.
In his hand now was a Red Death that Silvio’s personal bartender made for him as he sat out here waiting for the old man. While waiting, he spent his time gazing at the domed top of a tower, about 1,200 feet high, miles away in the distance.
He heard the screen door, which led to a sunroom, open. Looking back he saw the old husky man exit, then he walked across the stone path leading to the pool, then he pulled a chair from the patio table and brought it beside Philip.
Philip studied Silvio’s face, thinking the old guy didn’t look too bad for someone his age who still managed to oversee the operations of his crime syndicate, which covered almost all of Las Vegas.
As Silvio sat, Philip’s eyes went back to the tower.
Silvio noticed his gaze and said, “You ever been there? To the top?”
“What? That needle?”
“It’s called the Stratosphere,” Silvio said. “It’s a casino, but yeah, ever been there?”
Philip shook his head saying, “No.”
“There’s a rollercoaster at the top.”
He turned, raising his eyebrows, to face Silvio. “Get the heck outta here,” Philip said.
“Yeah, last summer my grandson begged me to go on there with him. I made the mistake of agreeing.” He chuckled and continued, “I tell ya, it nearly made me shit my pants.” Laughing now, he said, “I thought I was gonna die that night. Never again. You gotta have balls to go on that thing. I mean, not only is it a rollercoaster, that’s bad enough, but so high in the air. Why make it so high in the air? I don’t get it?”
Philip shrugged. He could care less about the fucking thing. He was only staring at it because it stood out among the other lit casinos and shit from the Strip. “So what’s this opportunity you were talking about?” He sipped his Red Death. Loved the taste of it, you couldn’t even taste the vodka, just the lime and orange juice. Before you knew it, you were knocked on your ass with three of them.
“Are you interested?” Silvio said, light from the bright moon enhancing every wrinkle on the Vegas mob boss’s face.
“I flew here from LA to see you. What does that tell you?”
“Still a goddamn wiseass.” Silvio was lighting a cigarette now from a pack he pulled out of his shirt pocket. He said, “Ever hear of the Aztec Jewel?”
Philip shook his head.
“The Aztecs made it for Montezuma the second in the early fifteen hundreds.” He drew from the cigarette. “It’s a diamond about six inches in diameter, and it sits on top of the shoulders of an Aztec warrior made of stone.”
Philip was intrigued. He placed his drink on the table beside the lounge chair and lit a cigarette of his own, Newports.
“It symbolized that, with Montezuma as their leader, the Aztecs would conquer the world. But then, of course, the Spaniards showed up and had a change of plans for them. Around fifteen-twenty, their empire collapsed and Montezuma was killed.”
“How’d he die?” Philip said, drawing on his cigarette.
“Hernan Cortes poured molted gold down his throat.”
“Ouch.” Philip squinted. Just hearing it sent a chill down his spine.
“Yeah, you ain’t lying. He choked, suffocated, and burned all at once. From there, Cortes kept it and legend has it he would crack jokes about how the Aztecs were going to take over the world someday. But somewhere along the line, it vanished. Maybe it had to do with Cortes traveling to South America or going from Mexico to Spain so many times? Whatever it was it caused the Aztec Jewel to disappear for a few hundred years.
It turns up in the eighteen-seventies during the Black Hills Gold Rush in South Dakota and Wyoming. Some miners digging in the Black Hills discovered it and planned on making a fortune from it. But they didn’t leave right away. They still wanted to strike gold. You believe that? The greedy bastards. Fucking jewel wasn’t enough, they wanted the gold too.”
Blowing smoke, Philip said, “Greed can do that to a man.”
“So anyway, they stayed mining, but they always had a man or two guarding the Aztec Jewel. Well it wasn’t enough. A few days after the discovery, a band of Sioux raided their mine and butchered the miners and took the jewel with them.” Silvio let the cigarette hang from his mouth as he adjusted himself in the chair, trying to ease his chronic back pain. “A sheriff from a nearby town lost his only son in that raid. Wanting a little revenge, he hired someone to go after the Sioux.”
“Wait a second, he hired someone.” He paused, thinking about it for a second, then said, “Someone meaning one person?”
Silvio was nodding as he said, “That’s right. But this wasn’t your average man. This was Hank Roscoe Head. They called him Hellbilly Hank.” He stopped and put the cigarette out in the ashtray on the table. “You ever see Good, Bad, and the Ugly?”
“Of course,” Philip said; he always thought it should be a requirement for every person to watch the film.
“Well this guy was the Man with no Name. If he ever existed then Hellbilly Hank was him. So Hank goes after the Sioux and manages to give’em a good fight. But something happened. No one was ever really sure.”
“Did he get killed?”
The old man shrugged, “No one knows. But somehow the Aztec Jewel winds up in New Mexico years later. In nineteen-oh-eight, a millionaire oil man, named Byron Campbell, found it in the possession of an Apache tribe. He paid thieves to steal it, which they did. Then he gave it to his wife as a wedding gift.”
“Shit, that’s some wedding gift. I took my wife to Old Country Buffet on our wedding day. Got sick from overeating the fried fish.”
“Yeah well, this guy was worth a lot of money. It goes without saying that she loved it. It stayed in their family until just a few days ago.”
“What happened a few days ago?”
Silvio got out of his chair. He started pacing back and forth in front of the pool, trying to ease that goddamn pain. “I was in Philly for Game Three. Before the game I took the wife to Jewelers’ Row. Promised her I’d get her something for coming with me. She doesn’t like flying, not really. She’ll fly maybe once a year but only if we’re going to the islands or someplace like that. But you don’t wanna hear none of that. I’m old. Old and I ramble. So we go to this place…” He paused to think of the name, remembered and continued, “Espinoza…no, uh, Esposito, that’s it, Esposito Jewelers. She’s looking at the rings under the glass and I’m just checking out the joint, trying to pass the time away. Then I see this guy, says he’s the grandson of Esther Campbell, the heiress to the Campbell estate, she’s the daughter. Well, she died a few weeks ago. But this guy is young, looks like a goddamn criminal. I don’t see how he’s related to her, but screw it; it’s none of my business. I go back to what I was doing and then I hear him talking about a diamond he found in her attic when he was cleaning it out. Said it looks like an Indian holding a diamond on his shoulders. The owner is interested, asks him if he wants to get rid of it. Young guy says yeah. Owner says he’ll give him a thousand. He says hell no. So the owner offers him five grand, and the dumb shit jumps at it. At this point, I’m standing next to my wife, but I’m looking at the owner and this asshole a few feet away. He was carrying a plastic bag, like from a supermarket. Guy opens the bag and pulls out the Aztec Jewel.” Silvio’s eyes were wide open now; his voice sounding like he couldn’t believe what he was saying himself.
“So this jeweler has it now,” Philip said. “How are you so sure this is the real one?”
“I know its history. The Campbell family had it for the past hundred years. I’ve seen pictures of it, and I saw what this clown sold to the jeweler. I was in shock, and I don’t know if it’s from seeing the jewel with my own eyes or knowing this guy sold it for only five thousand dollars.”
“Okay, so what, you want this jewel for yourself?” Philip said, wanting to get right to the point.
The old man was nodding, saying, “I’m a big fan of the Old West. You’ve seen my room, right?” Philip acknowledged that he had. “Then you know how many artifacts I have in there. From Wyatt Earp’s badge to a gun that was supposed to belong to Billy the Kid.”
Philip interrupted, “I don’t know about that. I think you got screwed on that deal.”
“I don’t care what you think, Philip,” Silvio said with an edge to his tone. “I happen to believe it’s his goddamn gun. But that’s not important. What’s important is: I want to add the Aztec Jewel to my collection. You interested?”
“One million,” Silvio said without even blinking an eye.
Philip’s eyes lit up, he tried to hide his enthusiasm from the old man. He thought of the extravagant gifts he could buy Sissy, the beautiful places he could take her. The poor woman’s been dealing with the goddamn illness for so long, depressed day after day because of it. He knew this would bring her out of it. Who the hell says money can’t buy happiness? What a bullshit line that is, he thought.
Silvio continued, “But it’s very important that you do this as soon as possible. The jeweler has it, but who knows for how long. Understand he’s probably trying to get rid of it himself. It’s worth way more than what he paid, and I’m sure he knows it.”
Philip nodded and drew on his cigarette. “Start making some room on your shelf for that diamond.” He pushed the cigarette into the ashtray and stood. “I’m going to Philly.”