Authors: Lorie O'clare
She was curious that he spoke so openly in front of her. He possibly thought her an idiot, planned on keeping her around, or viewed her as expendable. None of those options sat well with her.
It made her sick, thinking of the part she had to play in all of this. Granted, it had been her idea after she learned Mario's MO. Angela knew it was the only way to get close to him. What she had to do didn't disgust her half as much as did thinking of all the people he'd kidnapped, taken from their families, and drugged so he could make them blow up buildings and kill people. Mario would use all his kidnapped victims just so he could win a terrorizing board game.
"And do you have a role in this sordid game, Jake King?" she pondered as she put away her bug detector.
Moving to the table, she fumbled with the box, glancing over the directions as to how her new gadget worked "'Once the bugs are in place, the monitor allows you to listen to live-feed, record, and save important conversations,'" she read, running her finger over the instructions, then comparing the pictures to the box in her hand.
Angela unwrapped the wire headset and adjusted it to her head. Static crackled in her ear and she leaned over, studying the knobs on the box, then adjusting them until the static faded.
"I know damn good and well why he came to Chicago." Mario's voice came in so loud and clear it sounded as if he sat at the table across from her. "That fucking private investigator went out to California and hired the bastard, thinking he could pull me out of the game."
Angela froze, the instructions sliding out of her fingers and falling onto the table. It was just her luck he would be saying exactly what she needed to hear from him the moment she put the earpiece in her ear. He'd mentioned the game. But what else had he just said? What was this about a private investigator thinking he could pull Mario out of the game? Mario had said "he," right? She leaned over again, running her finger over the few buttons on the box, then set it to record the conversation.
There was a slight pause and she started to bend over again, ready to mess with the controls in case she'd lost reception. She'd barely touched the knob to clear out interference when Mario began talking again. This time, a row of red lights began dancing as they matched the levels of his vocal inflection.
"I know. He should stick to doing what he does best, capturing punks who miss court dates. The only way you get a court date is to get caught, which won't happen to me." Mario had the kind of laugh that sent icy chills down a person's spine. "Why? Because I'm better than those assholes!" he shouted, his accent thickening as he bellowed what appeared to him to be the obvious truth.
"Your persuasive skills are definitely not your best asset, sweetheart. There is one thing you forget. King couldn't destroy the game when he killed your husband. Now the asshole has made the mistake of entering my town and thinking he can learn my operation. He'll be dead before we make our first attack." Mario's laughter in her ear was so wicked and dripping with hatred it made Angela's blood run cold. "Don't worry, my dear. I think I can still cut you in for a piece of the action. You shouldn't believe everything you hear. I'm not completely heartless. In fact, if you want, I'll even allow you to kill King for me. Although my sweet little
has taken a liking to ending people's lives."
Angela studied the instruction booklet another minute until she figured out how to put the conversation on speaker. Once she was sure it was still recording, she stood, suddenly antsy and impatient. She pulled the curtains back from the sliding glass doors and stared out at Lake Michigan. It was one hell of a breathtaking view but not one she appreciated at the moment. Mario also knew Jake was here. How did he know? Did Mario have eyes in the lobby? It wouldn't surprise her a bit if he did. Was Jake the only one in Chicago, or had his entire family come out here? Either way, there was a mark on his head.
Angela turned away from the panoramic view out her window and stared at the small black box. Mario had said the private investigator went to California and hired King to take him down. Was he talking about her father?
"Dad," she whispered, hurrying to her purse and pulling out her personal cell phone. The track phone she'd bought to use while undercover was next to it in her purse. She checked her personal cell, noting the missed call from her father and that he'd tried calling over an hour ago. Angela had her phone on Silent, which her father knew. They'd also agreed, until the case was over he wouldn't leave voice-mail messages. She cleared the missed call and put in a call to her father.
Staying close to the black box on the table, she studied it as she listened to her father's phone ring. Even though the conversations would be recorded, Angela wanted to know immediately if crucial information was revealed. When the call went to voice mail she hung up and put her phone on her bed next to her purse.
Mario wasn't talking at the moment and Angela rewound the recorded conversation and hit Play.
He did say the private investigator went to California and hired King. Mario hadn't said "a private investigator" but "that fucking private investigator." And he didn't say "Kings," or "the King family." He'd said "King," as in one person.
The image of Jake standing in the lobby, staring at her and offering her a final salute, appeared in her mind again. Immediately her insides tightened. As much as she was dying to know if her father had hired Jake and brought him out here to help her, at the same time Angela wasn't sure she wanted to talk to her father about Jake. Possibly it was leaving her mom when she was sixteen and moving in with her father, all of her teenage rebellion already focused on her mother, that had allowed Angela to build such a strong friendship and alliance with her dad. For whatever reasons, she and her dad were very close. She couldn't remember him ever yelling at her the way her mother had or treating Angela like a child. The bond she and her father had was based on love, respect, and sheer enjoyment of each other's company.
A year ago Angela hadn't given a thought when she'd shared the events of her evening with Jake with her father. They'd been in the middle of a case, hot on the pursuit of Marty Byrd. When she'd told her dad how she'd shared some crucial information with Jake, her father had immediately accused Angela of being infatuated with the man. Other daughters might have disputed such a charge, but Angela and her father had discussed her feelings, Jake's character, and the kind of man that would make Angela the happiest. The conversation was quickly forgotten the next day when they learned what Jake did with the information Angela gave him.
Jake had messed up her plan for attack a year ago. The second she had let him know where Marty Bird was, Jake and his family had hurried down there and blown up the damn mansion. All chances of learning anything about the game had been shot to hell. Her father knew how Jake screwed everything up for them. Would her dad seek Jake out again, in spite of what Angela had told him, to help Angela and be her backup?
"Damn it," she hissed, and dragged her fingers through her hair, tangling it and encouraging herself to take that shower now.
Mario wasn't talking anymore, but she thought she heard the engine running, which meant he was still in the limo. That or Tomas was driving somewhere without Mario.
Angela looked at the remaining bugs. Two more black thin pads, no larger than the size of a dime, remained in the box. She pulled them out, keeping them in their wrapping. When she got inside Mario's house tonight, she would bug it, too.
"One for the inside of your house, and one for the outside," she said out loud, holding the small packages up in the air and studying the flat, round disks. Once she peeled off the small paper on the back side of each disk, there was a sticky substance that would allow her to leave it anywhere and keep it secure. "I'm going to know every time you take a shit, motherfucker."
The words were barely out of her mouth when a loud explosion rattled the small speaker on the black box.
"Holy crap!" Another booming sound came through the speaker. Angela swore it shook the box. "Somebody talk! What the hell just happened?"
Angela slid a flash drive into a USB port in the side of the black box where the file would be saved once the conversation ended. She actually loved her new toy. The little box enabled her to listen, record, then would automatically save the conversation and allow her to play it back at her leisure.
"Come on; come on," she muttered. "You don't explode like that without giving me some kind of doable explanation."
It sounded as if a car door opened and closed, then the engine roared, accelerating quickly. Angela wondered if a police scanner might be a good addition to her setup here. If Mario just blew something up, it would be nice to know if someone had witnessed it and if police were on their way. She couldn't set up too permanent a headquarters in her suite. This arrangement was temporary. Not that Mario would ever set foot inside her suite. All he needed to know was she stayed at the Drake hotel because she was a spoiled rich girl who'd rather live on the edge than with her annoying parents.
She forced her thoughts to quit meandering throughout her brain when there was a noticeable rustling sound. Angela leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, and stared at the black box. Her insides constricted painfully when she heard laughter. The sound was demonic, almost bordering on insane.
"That was quite the show," Mario said, sounding incredibly happy. His voice was as clear as if he stood in the room with her. "It was almost as good as watching my sweet
tell those two dumb fucks to drive into the side of a building. God, that was classic. The stupid little bitch never batted an eye. No remorse or fear or concern. Nothing."
"You're so easily entertained," a woman said, laughing along with him. "Did you expect anything other than perfection out of my drug?"
"Your slave juice?"
"'Juice' is such an inaccurate term, but it will work for the nonscientific brain," she said, sounding rather full of herself. "Get your board pieces warmed up on the stuff and, darling, they'll do absolutely anything you want them to do."
"Just like you?" Mario asked, his baritone a soft growl. "Or do I need to give you the drug, too?"
"You know, if you're very good I might show you how to make your army respond to your command with a remote control. You won't need to be anywhere near them."
Angela forced herself to breathe, realizing just then she gripped a ballpoint pen in her hand so tight her knuckles were white. She began scribbling notes on the margin of the instruction manual.
Need attack locations. Where are kidnapped victims?
She tapped her pen on the paper, creating small dots around what she'd just written. Being artistic was never one of her strong points, but with a few more clues she would easily connect the dots.
Does slave juice have lasting side effects?
Angela wasn't sure what compelled her to write the question, but if she was to free the people Mario had kidnapped, understanding as much as possible about slave juice would be helpful.
she freed the people Mario had kidnapped.
"I have a better idea." Mario's accent had thickened. "You show me how good you are and maybe I'll consider letting you play with my army."
"Is your army all you want me to play with?"
Mario laughed, and the sound faded into a groan. Angela didn't need too much of an imagination to figure out what they were doing. Running her fingers through her hair, she lowered her head, closing her eyes once again and resting her forehead on her palms. There wasn't much to listen to now, an occasional moan and shuffling sounds. She didn't want them fucking. She wanted them giving her information. No matter how many times she did undercover work, patience wasn't one of her strong points.
Although sometimes pillow talk provided very important clues, so far all the two of them were doing was grunting.
"Time for that shower," Angela muttered, having no desire to listen to the asshole fuck. Anything they said would be recorded.
Angela pulled clean clothes from the closet where she'd unpacked and arranged them the day she'd checked in. After showering she planned on finding out what Jake King was doing in her hotel. Her tummy quickened as the image of him staring at her in the lobby filled her brain. Sexual tension had shot across that lobby, and it grew stronger by the moment.
"He is going to find you," she whispered, a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation twisting her tummy into a fierce knot, when Mario and the woman started talking again.
"So, do we have an arrangement?" the woman asked.
"Is this how you seal all of your deals?" Mario's soft tone didn't sound amused or exhausted. He sounded crisp and all business.
"Not all of them." There was a short scuffling sound.
"All you've convinced me today is you give one mean blow job and know how to fuck in the back of a car better than a lot of sluts I've been with."
"Go to hell," the woman hissed, sounding pissed. "If you're going to win this goddamn game you're going to need an army larger than--"
"Don't tell me what I need to do to win the game," Mario roared, interrupting her and pounding against something that created an annoying scraping sound. "The other players don't stand a chance."
What Angela wouldn't do to learn who the rest of the players were in the game. Her heart pounded so hard in her chest she could barely breathe. Even slow, deep breaths didn't calm her down. She was so close to learning significant information about the game. Suddenly she needed to call her father again. There was so much to fill him in on.
"God forbid I tell you how to do anything." The woman was undaunted. "What I do know is you can increase the size of your army tenfold with my drug and control them easier than you are now."
Angela froze, her jaw dropping as her heart quit beating. The woman in the car was Evelyn Van Cooper, the inventor of slave juice.