A Chip and a Chair (Seven of Spades, #5)
It's time to lay all the cards on the table.
Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo are reunited and more committed to each other than ever, but they can’t truly move forward with their lives until the serial killer who’s been tormenting them is behind bars. When a secret burial site is discovered in the desert with the remains of the Seven of Spades’s earliest victims, that goal finally seems within reach.
But just as the net is tightening, the neo-Nazi militia Utopia launches their master plan with a devastating act of terror that changes the landscape of Las Vegas forever. As Levi and Dominic scramble to prevent the city’s destruction, they’re opposed by treacherous forces that propel them toward catastrophe. In the end, Levi’s fate may rest in the hands of the very killer he’s been hunting.
The race to save Sin City is on, and these players are going for broke. No matter how hopeless things seem, as long as they’re together and they’ve got a chip to play and a chair to sit in, they’re still in the game.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Threat of Sexual Assault
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abduction/kidnapping/hostage (actual), addiction, angst, commitment, depression, family, gambling addiction, hurt / comfort, interracial/multicultural, mental illness, protection, recovery, self-discovery / self-reflection
“Shame you gotta ruin the view,” Martine said.
Levi turned from the heavy mesh grating Dominic had installed over the glass door to their new balcony. “It’s only temporary. The minute the Seven of Spades is in cuffs, this thing is coming down.”
She grinned. “That’s what I like to hear.”
He meant it, too. Although the Seven of Spades had been inactive in the month following Carolyn Royce’s live-streamed murder, he knew the investigation was closing in. He felt the inevitability of the killer’s capture in his bones—it was only a matter of time.
Two men came through the apartment’s front door, carrying a couch between them—Antoine Valcourt, Martine’s tall, laconic husband, and Ezra Stone, husband to Levi’s friend Natasha. They almost tripped over the four-year-old boy who barreled around the corner of the island in the center of the room, screaming and laughing at the top of his lungs.
“Jack!” Natasha exclaimed from the kitchen, where she was unpacking boxes of plates and silverware. “What did Mommy say about running inside?”
“It’s okay, Natasha, I’ve got him.” Adriana scooped a giggling Jack off the floor, tossed him in the air, and then swung him around with the easy strength built by almost a year of rigorous training with Levi. She’d spent most of the afternoon playing with Jack instead of moving anything, but that was just as helpful.
Trusting Martine’s judgment, Levi left her to direct the placement of the couch while he headed out to grab another load from the moving van. Right in the doorway, however, he had to quickly sidestep another couple carting boxes—Carlos and Jasmine, Dominic’s now former next-door neighbors.
“It’s a good thing one of you is so organized.” Carlos nodded to his box’s neatly printed label, which read LIVING ROOM in bold type above a detailed list of the contents. “Dom would have just thrown his crap into random boxes and marked them all ‘Stuff.’”
Levi chuckled, took the box Jasmine was holding, and followed them into the living room.
Planting her hands on her hips, Jasmine stood in the center of the open floor plan and looked around with an artist’s critical eye. “This is a nice place. Tons of natural light, and I love these hardwood floors.”
“Levi, you want this in the spare room, right?” Dominic said behind them.
Any response Levi might have made died when he turned around. Dominic was standing in the entryway, holding one end of a bulky armoire. Underneath its weight, the brawny muscles of his shoulders and arms stood out in sharp relief, glistening with sweat and straining against the sleeves of his T-shirt. Beneath that, basketball shorts clung to the rock-hard ass and massive thighs that gave him the thrusting power of a jackhammer.
The other end of the armoire was supported by Dominic’s brother Vinnie, who was similar to Dominic in height and build. But Vinnie and everyone else in the room might as well have ceased to exist for all Levi was aware of them. His mind went blank.
Dominic cleared his throat. “Baby, this is kind of heavy,” he said, his warm eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Sorry.” Levi snapped himself out of it, his face flushing. “The spare room, yeah.”
He and Dominic had chosen a two-bedroom apartment so Levi could use one room as an office—and, honestly, an escape route for when he needed to be alone. He was far more introverted than Dominic, who thrived on personal connections with everyone from the mailman to passing strangers.
As Dominic and Vinnie carried the armoire away, Dominic flinched and subtly shifted more of its weight to his right arm. Levi’s eyes narrowed. Dominic had been fine when they’d gone their separate ways this morning, but since they’d reconnected in the afternoon, Levi had noticed him favoring his left side three times now.
Levi’s thoughts were interrupted by the entrance of the last member of their moving party, Leila. “What about these?” she asked. “They’re the only things that aren’t labeled.”
His breath caught when he saw the two file boxes she was holding, one stacked atop the other. They were locked, but if Leila of all people somehow got a glimpse of what was inside—
“I’ll take those.” He snatched the boxes out of her arms so fast he almost knocked them to the floor. “Actually, I’ll deal with all the boxes that look like this. Don’t worry about it.”
She gave him an odd look. “Okay,” she said slowly, before returning the way she’d come, accompanying Carlos and Jasmine on another run to the truck.
Martine appeared at Levi’s side. “You need to get your shit together,” she hissed so that only he could hear. “If you keep acting so weird around Leila, she’s gonna figure out something’s up.”
“I’m not good at hiding things.”
Levi sighed. Given their recently aroused misgivings about Leila, he probably shouldn’t have asked her to help today, but that would have been just as suspicious.
He brought the file boxes into the spare room. They were the first two of more than a dozen identical containers; each was crammed full of his and Dominic’s independent investigation into the Seven of Spades, which properly belonged in the armoire Dominic and Vinnie were placing against the wall. Most of the work in these boxes had never been seen by eyes other than Dominic’s, Martine’s, and his own, and he planned on keeping it that way.
After Vinnie left the room, Dominic lingered behind with Levi. “Have you seen Rebel?”
“She’s in the master bedroom. She’s been moping in there all afternoon—it’s not like her at all.”
“I know,” Dominic said glumly. “I think she’s upset we’re moving.”
“She’ll adjust, especially once she sees that great dog park.”
Dominic leaned down to kiss Levi, then brushed his lips over the jagged diagonal scar that slashed across Levi’s forehead. Levi’s eyes drifted shut.
After the Seven of Spades had murdered a man in Levi’s last apartment, he’d only returned to remove his belongings. He’d been staying at Dominic’s place since the day they’d gotten back together five weeks ago, but they’d both known that wasn’t a sustainable solution. Dominic’s apartment was too small, and while the closeness had helped solidify their reunion, it wasn’t practical over the long term. They’d started apartment-hunting right away.
At first, they’d had trouble finding a building that was willing to even show them around. Everyone in the goddamn country knew a serial killer was prone to dropping bodies around Levi, and Levi himself was a notorious public figure—though now that he’d been cleared of suspicion in the Seven of Spades’s crimes, public sentiment once more skewed heavily in his favor.
He and Dominic had finally found a building more intrigued by the cachet of housing the famous Detective Levi Abrams than they were worried about the Seven of Spades striking again. The place also met his and Dominic’s stringent security requirements—gated grounds, in-unit alarm system, and a management company that would let them install increased security measures on all the doors and windows—so Levi hadn’t hesitated to sign the lease.
Dominic’s name wasn’t on it. Even after Levi’s ex, Stanton, had paid off Dominic’s mountain of gambling debts, Dominic’s rock-bottom credit would have had their application rejected out of hand, cachet or no. The lease was an extremely touchy subject for Dominic, so although they were making a conscious effort to keep the lines of communication open and honest, that was one topic they always skirted around.
“So are you gonna help me move some of the furniture,” Dominic said, “or were you just planning to ogle me lifting heavy objects all day?”
Levi smacked his ass. “I’ll ogle you later,” he said, and led the way out of the room.
Within two hours, the moving truck was empty, and while dozens of unpacked boxes littered every room, all of the basics were in place. Levi ordered enough pizza to feed everyone, and they spread out around the living room and dining nook to devour the food with the kind of hunger only inspired by manual labor.
When Levi was with his friends, talk usually turned to work, because they were all in law enforcement. Even Ezra had chosen a career of service similar to his wife’s, spending the past eight years as a public defender. But Dominic’s friends and family were civilians—not to mention Adriana and little Jack—so the conversation remained lighthearted, never straying toward topics of blood and death.
Balancing his paper plate on his lap, Levi curled up next to Dominic on the couch—their couch—and basked in the warmth of being surrounded by love and friendship. The Seven of Spades had tried to take this away from him. They’d failed, and they would keep failing as long as he had breath in his lungs.
Everyone departed gradually after dinner. Natasha and Ezra left first, wanting to get an overtired Jack home before a tantrum; Martine and Antoine followed, needing to pick up their teenage daughters. When Leila left, Levi managed to behave normally as he said goodbye.
“See you guys at brunch tomorrow?” Vinnie asked at the door.
“We’ll be there,” said Dominic.
Vinnie shook Levi’s hand, then pulled Dominic into a brief hug and slapped his back. As Vinnie walked away, Levi rubbed the spot between Dominic’s shoulder blades.
The relapse of Dominic’s gambling addiction had strained all of his relationships, including those with his large, tight-knit family. He was doing his best to rebuild them now, starting with regular attendance at their weekly Sunday lunches. He and Levi hadn’t missed one since he’d quit gambling again.
The last people remaining were Carlos, Jasmine, and Adriana. Trying not to be too obvious, Levi pulled Adriana off to the side to give Dominic some privacy with his friends. They’d lived next door to each other for years, and this parting was going to be difficult all around.
Levi watched from the corner of his eye as Dominic faced Carlos and Jasmine. The three of them stood in silence for a moment before Jasmine burst into tears.
“Hey, come on,” Dominic said, though he didn’t look far from the verge of tears himself.
“I’m sorry, it’s just . . .” She swiped at her cheeks. “It’s going to be so weird not having you right next door. We’ll go from seeing you multiple times a day to, what, once a week?”
“I didn’t move that far; we’ll still see each other all the time.” Dominic embraced her and dropped a kiss on top of her head. “Things were changing anyway. I mean, fuck, you guys are getting married next weekend. You wouldn’t want me around after that.”
Jasmine laughed against his chest. Dominic reached out to rest one hand on Carlos’s shoulder.
“Leaving you guys is the only thing that sucks about moving,” he said, his voice cracking.
Carlos joined them, his eyes glistening, turning it into a three-way hug. Levi retreated farther, uncomfortable with the display of emotion, and he could tell Adriana felt the same way.
He threw a punch at her face.
She had her hands down, not ready for it, and she reacted exactly the way a Krav Maga practitioner at her early level should—she leaned back out of the range of his strike even as her hands came up, one to redirect his fist and the other to protect her face. Her foot lashed out, stopping just short of what would have been a solid kick to the groin, and then she disengaged.
“Nice.” Pride warmed Levi’s chest. “Just passed your P1 test, and you’ve already got some of your P2 curriculum down.”
She grinned, turned in profile, and sent a side kick toward his knee. He swept her leg aside with one arm.
They played around like that, trading light blows back and forth, until Carlos and Jasmine were ready to go. As everyone said their goodbyes by the front door, Levi hugged Adriana gently, mindful of her need to not feel restrained. “See you at the rehearsal dinner.”
She surprised him by kissing his cheek, something she’d never done before. “See ya.” She gave Dominic a stiffer smile—she still wasn’t comfortable around him. “Bye, Dominic.”
The door closed behind them, leaving Levi and Dominic alone in their new apartment for the first time. Well, except for Rebel, who was still sulking in the bedroom.
The apartment was quiet, the vibe strangely awkward. Levi looked at Dominic, struck by the reality of the situation: this was their home now. They would go to bed together tonight, wake up together tomorrow morning, and after they went about their respective days, they’d return here, to their shared haven from the outside world. And that would happen every single day for the foreseeable future.
Dominic was the first to break the silence. “This is weird, right?”
“Yes,” Levi said, relieved he wasn’t alone. “But I don’t know why. We’ve already been living together for more than a month.”
“Not really. You were crashing at my place; now we live together in our place. It’s not the same.”
He was right. And for Levi, it wasn’t even the same as the two years he’d lived with Stanton, because this carried a sense of permanency he’d never felt before. Dominic was his bashert, his soul mate, his partner fated by God. This . . . this was it. The beginning of the rest of his life.
Dominic rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you think we rushed into this?”
“No.” Levi closed the distance between them, settling his hands on Dominic’s waist. “It was the right decision for us. That doesn’t mean there won’t be an adjustment period.”
He tilted his face up, and Dominic answered his unspoken request, kissing him deep and slow. Levi melted into it with a sigh, sliding his hands up Dominic’s chest—and then broke the kiss when Dominic flinched.
“I knew it,” he said. “You’re injured.”
Levi tapped the left side of Dominic’s chest, right where he judged the injury to be. Dominic grimaced, cursed, and stumbled backward, his shoulders hunching in an instinctive pain response before he straightened himself out.
“You said you wouldn’t lie to me anymore, Dominic.” Fear was bitter in the back of Levi’s throat. He didn’t know how a chest injury could be connected to gambling, but they’d been apart all morning. If Dominic had relapsed and was lying about it again, hiding it again, after he’d promised he wouldn’t—
“I’m not lying!” Dominic raised both hands. “It’s nothing bad, I swear. I just . . . It was supposed to be a surprise.”
Giving him the side-eye, Levi said, “You wanted to surprise your homicide-detective boyfriend whose paranoia is at an all-time high after being stalked by a serial killer for a year?”
“. . .Yes?”
Levi snorted and gestured for Dominic to proceed, curious despite himself. Dominic stripped off his T-shirt.
There was a fresh tattoo on Dominic’s left pectoral muscle, right over his heart—two lines of simple black Hebrew script. It was still raw, dotted with blood, and covered with a clear bandage. Levi’s mouth fell open, but no sound came out.
“Jasmine did it this morning,” Dominic said. “It was the only open slot in her schedule. Can you read it?”
Levi brushed his fingertips just below the tattoo. He’d forgotten most of the Hebrew he’d learned decades ago for his bar mitzvah, of course, but he would have recognized this quote anywhere because it was so iconic.
“‘Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,’” he murmured. “‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.’ Song of Songs 6:3.”
“One of Jasmine’s foster brothers is a cantor now. He wrote it down for us so we could be sure it was right.”
Levi’s throat was so swollen with emotion he wasn’t sure he could speak. He coughed, swallowed hard, and managed, “You understand the irony in getting a tattoo to honor your Jewish boyfriend, right?”
Dominic laughed. “Oh, please. Plenty of Jews have tattoos these days. I crossed paths with the IDF a few times while I was with the Rangers, and lots of those guys are tatted up six ways from Sunday.”
Smiling, Levi studied the tattoo a few seconds longer. He leaned forward and very carefully grazed his lips against the bandage. Dominic shivered, exhaling one shuddering breath.
Levi looked up at him. “I am.”
Dominic raised an eyebrow.
“My beloved’s,” Levi said softly.
“So am I,” said Dominic, brushing his fingers along Levi’s cheekbone.
They kissed again, more urgently this time, twining around each other as if they couldn’t get close enough. In that moment, everything in Levi’s life was perfect, his happiness complete.
He pulled back just enough to speak against Dominic’s mouth. “Take me to our bedroom.”
“Uh-oh, Big Man on Campus alert,” Justine Aubrey said as Dominic entered the break room at McBride Investigations later that week.
The half-dozen people in the room exploded into whistles and catcalls. Waving them off, Dominic set his mug beneath the single-cup coffeemaker and dropped in a pod of dark roast. “All right, guys, take it down a notch.”
“Seriously, Dom,” said one of the firm’s receptionists. “Hammond & Cochran has been searching for Gary Booker for six months, and you found him in four days. How’d you do it?”
He gave her a sly wink that had her blushing down at her sandwich. “Trade secret.”
It wasn’t, really. But flushing out Booker—a missing witness in a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit—had required an exhausting, complicated scheme involving a flower shop, a Persian rug, and a speedboat, and he was not getting into that before he’d even had lunch.
Aubrey bumped her shoulder against his arm. She’d supervised his first time in the field with McBride, and he had the sense that she took his success or failure personally. “You’ve been on a real hot streak lately. Cases are toppling like dominos.”
Yeah, it’s amazing what I can accomplish when I focus my time and energy on work instead of gambling.
“Just having a run of good luck, I guess,” he said.
His coffee had finished brewing when Kate McBride herself popped her head into the break room. “Heard you were in here, Russo,” she said in her hoarse smoker’s voice. “You ready for another case?”
He poured a generous helping of cream into his coffee. “Sure.”
“I’ll send the client your way at two. Big payout with this one, but it’s a sensitive case that needs to be handled delicately.”
“Understood.” Dominic dumped three packets of sugar into his mug, followed by some hazelnut syrup for good measure.
“You’re going to end up with diabetes,” said McBride.
He grinned and took a long, exaggerated sip.
Once alone in his office, Dominic stripped out of his jacket and loosened the knot in his tie. He reached for the sandwich he’d bought for lunch, only to clench his hands into fists when he noticed them shaking. He bowed his head and took several deep breaths.
His gambling cravings were usually triggered by feelings of worthlessness and guilt—something he was unpacking with the therapist Natasha had referred him to—but he also felt the urge when in a celebratory mood. Right now, he was flush with the adrenaline and triumph of having tricked Booker into revealing himself, elated by his colleagues’ admiration and his boss’s trust. All he wanted was to keep that high going in any way possible.
Lifting his head, he thought through the situation logically. He was safe at work. The software installed on his computer blocked all gambling-related websites, and he wouldn’t leave when he was expecting a client in an hour. Besides, he only had sixty dollars in his wallet. He’d destroyed his debit card and all his credit cards, along with his personal checks. The only way for him to access his bank account was through electronic transfer or by withdrawing cash in person, which threw another obstacle in his path to gambling.
It didn’t make it impossible, though. He was fine now, but what about when he left the office?
He glanced at the locked drawer in the bottom of his desk. Levi and Martine were expecting him for dinner tonight, during which they’d discuss the troubling research he’d hidden inside—research Levi had asked him to do because some of it wasn’t precisely legal. Dominic couldn’t miss that conversation, but he also didn’t want to jeopardize his recovery.
He tapped out a quick text to Levi. Going to be late for dinner. I need to go to a meeting after work.
Levi’s reply came less than a minute later. No problem. Call me if you need me.
Dominic smiled. It was always painful for him to admit to Levi when he was struggling, but that was his own hang-up. Levi never failed to offer immediate reassurance, and his support was consistently unwavering.
After ensuring that his sponsor, Judd, was planning to attend the Gamblers Anonymous meeting as well, Dominic was able to return his attention to where it belonged. He ate lunch while he wrapped up his report on the Booker case, and by the time his new client arrived, he was much steadier.
McBride had emailed him the basics, and a quick assessment of Miranda Cassidy confirmed his expectations. White, late thirties, attractive, and well put-together with an old-money aura.
He showed her into a chair and offered her a drink before settling behind his desk. As he smoothed out his tie, he caught her giving him a strange look.
“I’m sorry, you seem so familiar,” she said. “Have we met?”
This was happening more and more often lately. “No, but you may have seen me on the news. I’m Detective Levi Abrams’s partner.”
Recognition sparked in her eyes, followed by a flash of distaste that she wasn’t quite quick enough to suppress.
“Is that a problem?” he asked neutrally.
“Of course not,” she said with a thin-lipped smile. “I’m sure it has no bearing on your effectiveness as an investigator.”
Wow, thanks. Maintaining his pleasant expression, Dominic poised his pen over his notepad. “Ms. McBride told me you’re interested in having your ex-husband Conrad Bishop placed under surveillance?”
“Yes. I believe he’s using drugs again.”
“That was a problem during your marriage?”
“It’s why we divorced.” Cassidy crossed her legs primly at the knee. “The damage Conrad was doing to himself and his career was bad enough, but when he started getting high around our children, I was done.”
McBride’s email had mentioned the kids—two of them, ages nine and seven. “Does Mr. Bishop have any custody?”
She nodded. “While we were divorcing, he went to rehab and got clean, so the judge awarded him every other weekend. But if he is using again, that would violate the agreement—”
“Giving you sole custody?”
Dominic tapped his pen against the desk. He preferred to keep an open mind until he had all the facts, but Cassidy’s poorly veiled homophobia had already biased him. He couldn’t help wondering if this was retribution on her part, a ploy to snatch her kids away from their dad as payback for the failed marriage. People with addiction problems made easy targets for witch hunts.
“What makes you think Mr. Bishop has relapsed?”
“I was married to the man for almost a decade. I know when he’s hiding something. Plus, his friends and coworkers have all told me he’s been acting oddly for months—ducking their calls, canceling plans at the last minute without explanation. The last three weekends that he had the children, he hired a babysitter in the evenings and didn’t come home until the middle of the night. It’s the same pattern of behavior I noticed when we were married.”
She’d done some investigating on her own, then. “I’ll need a lot more information from you to set up a feasible surveillance operation,” Dominic said. “But before we dive into that, I want to make sure you understand that it’s impossible to prove a negative. If your ex-husband is abusing drugs again, I’ll be able to find hard evidence of that. But if he isn’t . . .” Dominic shrugged. The lack of proof drove some clients crazy, as they refused to accept that their target wasn’t guilty.
“He is,” Cassidy said with total confidence.
“All right. Let’s get started.”
“Police!” Levi flashed his badge as his suspect exited the 7-Eleven. “Hands up.”
The man, a Utopia gangbanger by the name of Lonnie Hale, took off running. Levi smiled—he’d been hoping the scumbag would give him a chance to stretch his legs.
Hale darted around the side of the building, parallel to the street, and through the back lot. He tossed his plastic shopping bag at Levi’s face as he ran; Levi dodged, gaining ground with every step.
The car wash behind the 7-Eleven was built on a slight incline. Hale leapt the guardrail, but lost his footing and rolled down the slope on the other side, right into the road. A horn blared as a car slammed to a halt, missing him by inches before he sprang back up and continued running.
Levi vaulted the guardrail smoothly and landed without a problem. He didn’t bother drawing his gun as he chased Hale across the road—he wouldn’t have fired even if there’d been nobody else around for miles, let alone in a civilian-populated area.
Besides, he didn’t need a gun to bring this asshole down. Hale was already flagging, winded by the sprint and limping from the tumble he’d taken. Levi caught up as they hopped a low wall into a derelict shopping plaza, and tackled Hale to the asphalt.
Hale swung at him, wild punches that Levi easily countered before flipping the man onto his stomach and pinning his skinny, tattooed arms at the small of his back. “Lonnie Hale, you’re under arrest for the murders of Victor Nuñez and Javier Ibarra. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
Levi stood, hauling Hale upright.
“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”
Hale scowled at Levi over his shoulder. “I don’t take orders from Jews,” he said, and spat in Levi’s face.
Levi’s hands tightened on Hale’s arm. Rage clawed at his heart and lungs, crashing against his rib cage like a feral animal desperate to be set free. It would be so satisfying to smash his fist into Hale’s face, feel the bones break, watch the blood spurt—
He replaced the violent fantasy with the image of a stop sign. He was in control of his anger; it wasn’t in control of him.
Levi wiped the saliva off his face with the sleeve of his suit jacket, then smiled coldly. Hale looked disappointed—little wonder, because a police brutality charge could have gone a long way toward having his case thrown out.
“Maybe you’ll enjoy taking orders from your cellmate,” Levi said.
“Sorry I’m late,” Levi said as he hurried into the conference room at the substation. “I got a hit on the gun used in that double homicide and traced it back to a Utopia foot soldier.”
Martine made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. “Those freaks need to be shut down yesterday.”
Her assessment was met with murmured agreement throughout the room. Utopia, a neo-Nazi street gang turned private militia, grew larger and more brazen every week. Intent on spreading their venomous message while grabbing up resources, territory, and fresh recruits wherever they could, they were responsible for a string of violent hate crimes across the Las Vegas Valley. The two men Hale had killed had been members of Los Avispones, a Latino gang that was Utopia’s fiercest rival.
But while Utopia was a huge problem for the city, Levi’s involvement was limited to picking up their members when their murders crossed his desk. In the larger organizational sense, Utopia was the responsibility of either Gang Crimes or Organized Crime, depending on who was winning that turf war on any given day.
Levi’s focus belonged here, with the official task force created to address the city’s other largest threat—the Seven of Spades.
He’d been reinstated to the task force after being cleared of suspicion in the Seven of Spades’s crimes. The group was run by Dean Birndorf, captain of the Homicide Bureau; in addition to Levi and Martine, it included their sergeant James Wen and a cross-departmental selection of detectives, uniformed officers, and technical support staff. Leila Rashid and Special Agent Denise Marshall served as their liaisons to the DA’s office and the FBI, respectively.
Levi took the empty seat beside Martine. “What did I miss?” He couldn’t quite meet Leila’s eyes as he sat, but he felt her heavy gaze.
“Not much,” said Wen, who was as impeccably dressed and well-groomed as always. “We were just discussing the killer’s radio silence—no new murders, no phone calls, no messages, no contact of any kind for over a month now. It’s the longest the Seven of Spades has remained inactive since framing Keith Chapman.”
“And it’s all thanks to Levi’s epic bitch-slap.” Martine elbowed his side.
Levi agreed that his reaction to Carolyn Royce’s murder had rattled the Seven of Spades—but whether they’d withdrawn simply to lick their wounds or to gear up for some sensational vengeful return, he couldn’t say. He remained on high alert regardless.
“How are things proceeding with the ketamine angle?” Denise asked.
“No developments,” said Levi. “But it’s kind of like looking for one specific drop of water in a lake.”
The Seven of Spades used ketamine to drug their victims into a dissociative paralysis before slitting their throats. From the beginning, Levi had believed the killer obtained the drug from a legitimate source. For one thing, illicit sales of ketamine were small-scale, not the kind of operations that would allow for stockpiling. Legal channels were more reliable, involved far less risk of exposure, and carried no need to tangle with criminal elements.
The problem was the sheer number of people who had legitimate access to ketamine. In addition to countless individual practitioners, the drug flowed from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, teaching institutions, and laboratories. The Seven of Spades could be getting their hands on it anywhere along that supply chain.
Levi’s gut told him the Seven of Spades would prefer the end of the chain, where there were fewer moving parts and they’d have greater control over their access. With the cooperation of the DEA’s Diversion Control Division, he’d spent the past year reviewing the licenses of every practitioner registered to dispense Schedule III controlled substances, beginning within the Las Vegas city limits and expanding outward in a circular geographic pattern. One by one, he’d researched every individual for criminal backgrounds, ties to personnel in the LVMPD and DA’s office, unusual business practices, and other red flags.
In the process, he’d discovered several small, unrelated diversion operations, and he’d passed that information along to the appreciative DEA. But as far as the Seven of Spades was concerned, he’d had no luck.
“Do you need more personnel on it?” Birndorf asked.
Levi nodded. “That would be helpful. It’s time-consuming work, and pretty tedious.”
“Sounds like it’d be right up your alley,” said Jonah Gibbs, a ruddy-faced officer with a hot temper that rivaled Levi at his worst.
“Thank you for volunteering, Officer,” Wen said.
As Gibbs spluttered indignantly, Levi tried to hide his dismay. Having Gibbs on this would only slow him down, because he’d have to double-check every single thing Gibbs did.
“You can have all the people you need.” Birndorf gestured to the massive board on the wall, which held brief profiles of the task force’s top suspects. “Make sure you’re cross-referencing all your results with the suspect pool.”
“Of course, sir.” Levi exchanged a quick sideways g
Word Count: ~100,000
Page Count: ~382
Cover By: Garrett Leigh
Series: Seven of Spades
Release Date: 03/11/2019