Practically throwing her keys at the valet, Kalenia struts toward the front entrance of the Power Drive Casino. The cops may want to keep her away but it takes a lot more than that to put her off a case once she’s invested. She waited until the next night at least to give them time to get in and out before she showed up. If Valenzuela’s here she’d be afraid of him recognizing her.
Heads turn and eyes follow her as she walks through the automatic doors into the large, ornately decorated lobby. She went all out tonight. After spending most of the day in court, she found time to get her hair done so it makes a statement. She squeezed into her sexiest yellow dress. Her heels make her a good four inches taller than she actually is. Tonight she needs everyone to stare. She’s not in costume so she can be larger than life. Tonight’s her chance to hide in plain sight. If they spend enough time paying attention to her legs, they won’t pay attention to what she’s doing.
The lobby’s almost blindingly bright. Jewels, or at least something pretending to be jewels, adorn every surface in sight. Making the place stranger is that the casino’s theme is clearly the auto industry. All of the walls have paintings of classic cars, but they’re cars with jewels adorning their hubcaps, their headlights, and everywhere else they can go. That’s the kind of car she wants to drive, though it’d end up stolen in no time.
Not knowing where to start searching Kalenia heads to the counter and asks for a couple hundred dollars worth of chips. The girl behind the counter’s a chipper redhead who doesn’t look old enough to be here. With a big grin she asks, “What games will you be playing with us tonight?”
Kalenia leans forward, ready to show she’s a high roller and not likely to take any crap. “Why does that matter?”
The girl seems surprised to receive pushback and glances behind her. Probably looking to see if she has reinforcements if she needs them. “We actually only use chips for our table games. If you’re going to stick to the slot machines, we have a swipe card we can set up for you. We don’t want you to get to the machines and not be able to play.”
She almost feels bad for the girl, she’s trying to be pleasant. With a sigh she decides to let her off the hook. “I’ll be playing table games thank you. Set me up with chips.”
A stack of green and red chips are pushed toward her, along with a nice bag she can carry them around in. Wrapping the cord holding the bag shut around her wrist, she twirls it until it’s tight against her. Kalenia gives the girl a smile and heads onto the floor.
They’re way busier than she expected on a weeknight. People are everywhere, bumping into each other and causing the slots to make fake spinning noises. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s searching for. Anyone who looks familiar, anything that reminds her of last night, anything that looks like it could be tied to Mr. Vincent.
Choosing a game’s easy, poker doesn’t give her much control over how long her money will last. They only have one other choice. Setting herself up at a blackjack table, she tries to play things safe. Her goal isn’t to win a bunch of money. She’s here to watch the players. Her boyfriend Marco’s going to investigate if she loses too much so this stack needs to last. She wins a few games but her unwillingness to take big risks means the wins aren’t offsetting her losses. The man sitting next to her does a lot better. He quickly doubles his money. The casino throws free drinks at him and pretty soon that turns around. She accepts a martini for appearances but only sips it.
After nearly an hour of trying not to lose everything tonight’s starting to look like a bust. Her stack of chips looks sad and and nobody has stood out among the crowd. Plenty of interesting people are running around, but none that seem relevant. She’s seen two former clients and a federal judge with a woman who is definitely not his wife. None of them are tied to last night. Maybe the man in white really did just come here to gamble. Plenty of other people do so. The detective had to think it was more than that though. He wouldn’t have mentioned it without a reason.
When she’s nearly ready to give up a man leaving a nearby poker table catches her eye. Something about him seems familiar and he’s heavily favoring his left leg. Limping across the casino floor, he draws her eye. Kalenia moves to the nearest cashier to cash out. Taking the few dollars she has left, she hurries to catch the man.
He isn’t making his way out of the casino or to another area where he can gamble. Instead he meets up with one of the janitors and after whispering something to each other, they head through a set of employee only doors where she can’t follow.
Trying to figure out where she knows the man from isn’t getting her far. Could he have been a witness in an old case? Why does he stand out? Was he there last night? She can’t remember seeing him there. Unless he’s… no, the hair’s wrong. That can change though. Could he be the guy she shot last night? If she’s right, he was one of Mr. Vincent’s bodyguards. The one she shot in the leg before knocking out. That would explain why he’s limping today. He had long flowing hair last night and today has a buzz cut but that’s not a hard change to make.
If he was shot in the leg last night he certainly shouldn’t be walking on it today. Maybe she’s just connecting dots because he’s limping and she wants it to be him. Any lawyer knows the danger of confirmation bias. The more she tries to picture both faces though, the more she’s convinced they’re one and the same.
Desperate to investigate further, she starts looking for any excuse to sneak into the back of the building. A poorly labeled door, someone walking into the back that looks like they don’t work here, anything that would give her cover if discovered. She doesn’t find anything. Every door into the back’s clearly labeled, “Employees only.” Without other options, it’s time for somebody who can handle themselves if caught to investigate.
Walking up to the valet station, she asks the teenager parking cars for the location of her vehicle. He can’t stop staring at her legs and before she can stop him he’s already grabbing her keys and offering to get the car for her. “No thank you, I’m not leaving. I just need to get something out of my trunk.” He tells her where to find her car and tosses her the keys.
Walking to the far side of the parking lot takes a few minutes but she’s glad to find its fairly dark and nobody seems to be around. Popping the trunk, she finds her gear stashed underneath the built in drone. Her suit, trench coat, mask, boots and gloves are all tightly packed in a duffel bag. A variety of guns and a few grenades are rolling around unsecured. She’ll have to do something about that. Unsecured grenades can’t be safe.
What’s the best way to get into the back of this place? As a vigilante, technically nobody here can stop her. If they’re being run by the group responsible for last night though walking in the front door’s a bad idea. They’ll have a process in place to trash any evidence and she may well face resistance.
Changing in the back seat of a convertible isn’t easy. Especially when you’re trying not to show off to the world. She hasn’t seen a soul since she reached this part of the parking lot though and luckily she put the top up today. Slipping her suit under her dress means anyone watching in a security office won’t see too much. The rest of the outfit goes on over it and her coat wraps tightly around her.
As she starts to climb out of the car she catches a glimpse of herself in the rear view mirror and freezes. Her hair’s hard to miss and will connect the dots for anyone who saw her on the floor. She can’t believe she didn’t notice. After the time she spent sitting in a chair to get it done it hurts to ruin her new look but it’s for the best. Taking the pins out one by one, her hair falls around her shoulders. Now she’s ready to go.
A final stop at the trunk of the car has her considering her weapons. There’s a lot of innocent people inside and she doesn’t want anyone getting hurt. Shotguns that hit everyone in their path or grenades that blow giant holes in walls just aren’t safe to use here. She grabs a couple of pistols and slips them into the inner pockets of her coat. They’ll have to do. She has the trunk halfway closed before she hesitates. Without grenades she’d have never stopped the drug shipments last night. At the last second she throws a pair into her coat’s pocket. They may not be safe but they’ll be good to have if things get out of hand.
Cutting through the field on the side of the casino, Kalenia heads behind the building. She sticks to the shadows in case they have security cameras back here. She doesn’t want to find herself surrounded.
There are a number of doors along the back of the building but each one she checks is locked. She darts up to each of them and when the handles don’t turn she slips back into the darkness. At the third door she tries she notices a camera. It’s hiding above the small light illuminating the entrance which makes it hard to spot but a small blinking red light gives it away. The longer she spends back here, the more she risks some guard seeing her and heading out to investigate. They won’t treat her as a vigilante at that point. They’ll treat her as a criminal.
Nearing the end of the building she’s starting to run out of ideas. She may have to march through the lobby into the employee area of the casino after all. They’ll be on her in seconds. They can’t have her arrested but they certainly can throw her off private property. If they’re not feeling generous they could kill her and say they thought she was an intruder.
Creeping through the dark she sees a figure ahead bathed in light. As she gets closer, she finds it’s a young woman in a chef jacket. Puffing away at a cigarette the woman’s leaning against the wall with her eyes closed. The door next to her’s propped open by a large cement block. Jumping her would provide a way inside. That’s not right though, she just works in the kitchen. Even if this place is involved with gangs that likely doesn’t extend to the cooks. Maybe she’ll leave the door open. All Kalenia can do is wait.
Putting the cigarette out with her shoe, the woman turns to go inside. Since she’s looking away Kalenia sneaks closer. Her hope that the door will be left open quickly fades. The cook starts inching the block holding the door aside. It falls to the side with a crash and the cook leaves it. She moves inside and leaves the door. It starts to slowly swing shut and Kalenia searches for any solution. A long stick on the ground catches her eye so she grabs for it. As the door picks up speed, she rushes forward. At the last moment she’s able to insert just enough of the stick into the door to keep it from latching.
Nerves take over. The cook could still be right there. She might see the stick. She might be tipped off by not hearing the door latch. A million possibilities rush through her mind. Half convinced she’s already been discovered all she can do is wait. After a minute or two of nothing happening, she wraps her fingers around the door and starts to pull it open. It makes a loud creaking noise but opens without issue. Glancing down the hall, there’s nobody around.
This time she allows the door to close. The latch quietly clicks behind her. Loud sounds of metal on metal drift toward her from a hall to her left. The smells coming from that direction suggest that’s the way to the kitchen. Not where she’s likely to find answers. To the right she sees a long hallway leading to more hallways and closed rooms.
Each office offers an opportunity but she starts to realize how big the back half of the casino is. It might be nearly as big as the public area. The halls branch in all directions and every way she looks there are more closed doors. She’s nervous she’s going to run into an employee but so far the place seems pretty dead. It’s late at night on a weekday and they were pretty swamped. Hopefully employees don’t have time to hang out in back.
An open door ahead catches her eye but inside she only finds a break room with a beat up table and a loud fridge. No employees. Hearing noises around a corner, Kalenia ducks inside and closes the door behind her, leaving a small crack of light so she can hear what’s coming. With her back pressed against a wall she clenches her fists, hoping whoever it was keeps walking. Footsteps get louder and louder but soon they start to fade again. She glances through the crack long enough to see someone in a casino uniform. Not who she’s looking for.
Exploring hallway after hallway reveals nothing. Every so often she has to duck into an office to avoid an employee but most of these rooms seem empty and most are unlocked. She can’t help but feel any important rooms would be locked. None of the employees she glimpses through cracked doors look familiar. There’s absolutely no sign of the limping man.
Nearing the point of giving up, Kalenia’s surprised to stumble upon a staircase leading downstairs. A building this size wouldn’t always have a basement. It’s probably for storage or supplies but without any other idea where to look, she decides to check it out. She’s having no luck on this floor.
The staircase keeps going longer than she expected and the deeper she goes the dimmer the light gets. Kalenia finds herself in a cement tunnel with only a few stray light bulbs dotting the way. She must be at least a couple stories below ground. In the distance she sees a hallway like a cross splitting off in multiple directions. She sets off toward it.
With three directions to choose from Kalenia has to make a decision. She cups her ear in each direction but the only noise she can make out sounds like a dripping pipe. Down the path to the right there’s complete darkness so for now she rules it out. Straight ahead the hall goes another fifty feet or so before hooking to the right. To her left the path’s a similar length but instead of hooking it ends in a large metal door.
The door seems like the easiest path but when she pulls on the handle it won’t budge. There’s a strong looking lock and without a key she doesn’t see another way forward. This door’s so thick that her grenades probably wouldn’t make a dent. That only leaves one path to explore.
Unsure what she’ll find around the hook she chances a glance and almost swears at what she sees. A steel door exactly like the last one. After a moment she notices one difference though. This door’s slightly ajar. Pulling it open slowly, as quietly as possible, she finds a massive storage room, which explains why they needed to be so far underground.
Boxes overflowing with supplies are everywhere. There’s food, serving treys, uniforms, everything a casino could need that doesn’t need to be kept cold. It’s all stacked from floor to ceiling in clearly marked cardboard boxes resting on wooden pallets. There must be hundreds of them. On it’s own this isn’t surprising, a place this large needs supplies and supplies have to go somewhere. Closer examination reveals the room’s full of people though. A lot of them and they certainly aren’t servers getting supplies.
She’s too far away to hear what’s going on but the limping man’s here along with a couple of women who were definitely in the warehouse last night. They stood there screaming while the men they were with died. Cowards. They’re standing next to a third woman Kalenia doesn’t recognize. They’re all gathered together but there’s at least a half dozen bodyguards wandering around as well. Big, muscular men and one woman. They’re all dressed in similar suits and all are armed.
Kalenia searches for somewhere she can hide which is close enough to listen in. Scanning the area, she sees a shelving unit not far away where the ledges don’t seem far apart. She can climb that and get a great view. As long as she stays behind the boxes she’ll have cover. It’s a long way to get there but none of the guards seem to be paying attention. They’re focused on the area where the group’s gathered.
Without a better idea Kalenia races for the shelves. They loom over the crowd, at least twenty feet tall. She paces herself to keep her feet from pounding too loud. The entire way she keeps her eyes on the group. None of the guards look her way and she thinks she’s escaped notice. After catching her breath, she starts climbing. The shelves prove sturdy and don’t budge when she pulls herself up. Tired from the run, she decides to wait on the second level. That’s already seven feet up and she has a fine view. Trying to stay behind a box she finds she can hear if she focuses.
One of the women from last night seems to be in the unknown woman’s face. “It happened too fast, I didn’t get a good luck at them. What was I supposed to do, dive in front of the crazy woman?”
The woman she doesn’t recognize shoves the first one back and stares her down. “No, you were supposed to protect our product. We have a problem now. The whole scene’s locked down and we can’t even try to recover anything that wasn’t destroyed. You’re lucky the other truck got out of there or you’d already be dead.”
“Even that truck was on fire. We’re not going to salvage crap from it. Face it, she got us good. We weren’t going to recover much from the factory even if we could get in there.”
The limping man’s leaning against a box, not putting any weight on his injured leg. “Do you think Grant gave us up? I’ve watched his back for years and I can’t imagine he would but the cops showed up awfully fast.”
The unknown woman paces back and forth wearing a white pant suit. “Probably not, the woman probably tipped them off before her attack. I want to know if she’s a free agent or she works for another gang. We need to retaliate now but we don’t have a clue who to go after. Every day we sit around doing nothing makes us look weak.”
The woman paces right out of sight. The box in front of her provides cover but it also blocks too much of her view. She needs to move but she’s not sure where to. Climbing on top of the boxes could give her a nice view but someone would only have to look up to see her. She could move to another location but that means leaving cover and she’s lucky she made it here without being spotted. Wherever she looks she finds only bad options.
Settling for leaning around the side of the box, she can make out most of the group now. The unknown woman has finally stopped moving and her hands are on her head. “I don’t like it but I think we need to take Grant out.”
The limping man, who Kalenia now knows is Grant Vincent’s bodyguard, leaps to his feet. He winces when he puts weight on his leg but he manages to get in her face. “Look, I’ve known that man for fifteen years. You just said yourself he probably didn’t talk. He knows better. He’s not going to say a word. Why would we kill someone who’s loyal to us? It doesn’t make any sense.”
She puts a hand up to put space between them. “I know Grant’s close to you James and I know you want to protect him. I do too, you know how I feel about him. We’re out of options at this point though. It’s gone above our level. When they show up to investigate this and he’s alive he’ll die anyway and if that happens the rest of us are going to be dead too, and a lot more painfully.”
One of the women still hasn’t said anything. She’s sitting on top of one of the boxes with her face in her hands. What Kalenia can make out of her is as pale as her white blouse. Every so often she puts a hand over her mouth but for the most part she just watches. The excitable woman from last night steps forward. “I need to know what you decide to do. I can have him taken out tonight. If we’re going to do this, the sooner the better. We don’t want to give him time to spook and decide to talk.”
James limps over and leans against a shelf. “Damn this leg. Hurts like hell. We keep any booze down here? I could use a drink.”
The unknown woman walks down a row of boxes and pops the lid off one. She pulls out a massive bottle of whiskey and hands it over. “Maybe next time try not getting shot. I hear it hurts less.”
“Shut the hell up Lily. You weren’t there. She came in hard on one side of the building and drew most of us away, then snuck in another way. She had to have help. We should be focusing more on her and less on taking out one of our own.”
Turning away, Lily shakes her head as she turns from James. “We’ll have to put it to a vote. There’s four of us so if there’s a tie I break it. I think we both know how the two of us will vote.” She turns to the two women from the night before. “What do you two think? You’re not putting this entirely on us.”
The woman who spoke up before quickly chimes in. She’s chewing gum and bouncing up and down. “Take him out. Sucks, but we need to watch out for the operation. Plus, I don’t want to bring the bosses down on us. He knew what might happen if he got caught. Especially right now.”
Turning to the woman who still hasn’t said a word, Lily asks, “What about you? Care to put an end to this.?”
At this point the woman’s practically translucent. “I don’t want to make that decision. It’s too much.”
After another long swig of his whiskey, James sets the bottle down on the closest box to him. “You know there’s no way he’d vote to off any of us. We set out to do this together. We should finish together.”
“That’s a very nice sentiment.” Lily crosses her arms and walks right up to him before continuing. “It doesn’t help us get out of this though. Let me repeat, the — boss — will — kill — us if we don’t take him out. He has to know about the shipment by now. We still haven’t heard from him. What does that tell you? He doesn’t trust us anymore. If we’re going to win him back we need to take bold action. I need an answer Lacey. If it’s no, it better come with a plan on what we’re going to do instead or I break the tie for my side.”
Lacey jumps off the box and takes a few steps toward the door. She puts her head in her hands and looks like she could start crying at any moment. She finally stops herself. “Fine, do what you have to do.”
The first woman from the warehouse steps forward. “I’ll take care of it then. I want you all to go quiet for awhile.” She turns to Lily. “You need to get ahold of the boss, let him know we’re taking care of this. We need to prove we’re still loyal. I don’t want to wake up to my replacement standing over me one of these mornings.” She spits her gum on the floor.
At this point the quiet woman has tears in her eyes. Without a word she rushes out of the room. The one with the gum looks at the two remaining members of their group. “You didn’t have to get her involved. You know she can’t handle this kind of shit and it didn’t even matter. You were always going to break the tie Lily. I’m going after her to calm her down. If we’re not careful we’ll have to put her down as well. We’re already going to be down two of us, I don’t want to make that three.” She stomps out of the room.
Lily leans against a large crate and takes a deep breath. She closes her eyes and her hands grip the box. James takes another swig of the whiskey and offers the bottle to her. She opens her eyes long enough to notice and waves it away. “Get that away from me, you know I don’t drink.”
“Just figured if there was ever a time, it was now.”
“There’s never a time. What the hell are we going to do? I can call the boss and probably talk him out of killing us but if things go bad again we’re going to have an awfully hard time convincing him to forget about it. Plus, you of all people go against me and make me the bad guy. You know what we have to do.”
After another long swig of his vodka James slumps in on himself, the bottle hanging low to the floor. “I know it, but I don’t like it. I couldn’t bring myself to sign his death warrant. Sorry.”
“For what it’s worth, you know I am too. How do we take this girl out? We can find her easily enough but we need her in the ground and you say she seemed capable last night.”
“She was, but I’m not too worried about it. I think we can get it under control tonight.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because she’s hiding behind those shelves over there.” He points right at Kalenia. She freezes, unsure what to do. How did he see her? After a moment she jerks back around the box but it’s too late. “Impressive job sneaking down here. It’s time to come out and say hello though. Or you know, we could just fill you with holes right where you stand. Your call.”