Second is the First Loser – A short story by L. J. Martin

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L. J. Martin

L. J. Martin is the author of over 46 book length works from such major NY publishers as Bantam, Avon, and Pinnacle, and Wolfpack Publishing LLC


A short story by L. J. Martin


Either I kill him, or, odds are, this is my last day on earth.

And the hell of it is, I don’t know who he is.  He, or even if he’s a he.  It, the assassin, could be anywhere, or nowhere in sight and already have clamped a motion-detector-detonated half-pound of Semtex under my Porsche.  It seems the big boss, Guido Gambrozini, took umbrage with my using his money to purchase my shiny new red Carrera.  Actually it was my money, after I won it fair and square…but Guido doesn’t see it that way.

And I not only have to kill the hit him or her, but I have to kill Guido Gambrozini, the bossman, or he’ll merely hire another him, her, or it, for the hit.

Guido gave me until noon to return the two hundred grand.  But that’s not going to happen, even if I still had it.  Checking my CYMA chronometer good-to-200-meters diving watch, I see I have three and a half hours before I’m about to become the little dented metal duck in the shooting gallery.

As a gambler by avocation, and at one time by vocation, this is not the first time I’ve had my life threatened, but it is the first time it’s been threatened by a no-neck goomba boy who’s credited with a number of cold-blooded murders.

I’m pretty sure where I can find Guido, but have no idea who he’s hired.  Guido the grease-pot hasn’t bloodied his own fat diamond clad fingers with this kind of wet work in many years, and wouldn’t risk sending one of his in-house hooligans, as he’s being watched too closely by the feds, and knows it.

I’ve got to get inside his mind, inside his compound, and inside his fat body with a couple of 9 mm slugs.

Of course he thinks he’s bullet proof; a fat badger holed up in his ocean front Malibu compound, with at least a half-dozen shooters atop the ramparts looking for any threat to thwart or throat to cut, including, I’m sure, that of yours truly.  I’ve been there, to his Malibu compound, twice, for invitation-only five card stud games; ten grand buy in the first time, then forty when they got serious.  Guido found out he was not quite the poker stud he thought himself to be.  Then some son of a bitch—one I’d probably nailed for skipping bail—told old Guido that I was a mechanic with the cards.  Hell, I can do a one handed cut, but that’s as close as I get to a second-card or bottom deck deal.  I’m no Houdini with the cardboards, and never tried to learn, as I might be tempted if I was short that months rent.

The first time I played at the Gambrozini compound, I walked away with seventy two hundred, a small score for a big game; but the second time I cleaned them all out.

Poker, ponies, and sport betting is not my profession.  I’m a bail enforcement officer.  That’s bounty-hunter to those of you who aren’t familiar with the lexicon of bail bondsmen.   But in a way, bounty hunting is gambling as well.  You don’t get paid your  twenty percent, which isn’t bad on a half million dollar bail, if you don’t hook ‘em up and haul ‘em in.   Of course I’m licensed to carry, which is no small accomplishment in L. A. County.

I’m staying away from the windows in my Santa Monica apartment as I know how easy it is to make a two hundred yard shot with even a cheap hunting rifle, much less a sniper rifle, even through quarter inch plate window glass if you’re perpendicular to the surface.  However, if Guido’s a man of his word, the shooter won’t be at work until one minute after noon.

When a guy threatens you, no matter who he is, you only have one choice…take him down before he takes you down.  And Gambrozini doesn’t make idle threats.  He means exactly what he said to me on the phone at 3:18 this morning, waking me and the brunet—Coleen or Colette I think she said—who I talked into following me home from the Alley Oop just before midnight last night.  I’ve managed to convince her I’ll call, and to ease her out of the front door and back to her Morris Minor or whatever that little car was.

Gambrozini’s M.O. is to hire outside help to do his hits.  Otherwise I’d know whom the shooter, or bomber, or whatever, might be, as, having been a poker guest and observant, I know, at least by sight, all his regular goombas.

To take Gambrozini down I have to do so legally, or I’m not only out of business myself, but likely to end up in the lockup with a dozen guys; ugly angry guys with little else to do besides lift weights and hold grudges.  Guys I helped put there, and I won’t be paid the courtesy of having separate accommodations like a legitimate bad cop might.  Now there’s an oxymoron…legitimate bad cop.

And I’ve got to strike fast, as the hired help should get disappointed and cut and run with his down payment if his benefactor is not around to pay the second installment.  Why take the risk when you’re not getting paid?

So my quest is two fold, take out the shooter and/or take out Guido before the shooter takes me out.  Should be an interesting day.

The first order of business is to get legal.

With the blinds closed, I park myself at my desk, whip out my old fashioned Rolodex from my bottom drawer, and go to work.  It only takes fourteen calls out of the several hundred possible who rate membership in the National Association of Bail Enforcement Officers—calls to New York and New Jersey, Guido’s old stomping grounds—before I find a bondsman in Newark, New Jersey, who has a warrant on Gambrozini.  But it’s Guido’s kid, Aldo, not Guido, and the bondsman is hesitant to get gain the wrath of the Gambrozini boys for the lousy twenty five grand in bail.

I bullshit the bondsman and convince him I can get Guido to pay him back the bail, if nothing else, but I have to have a contract to use as a threat.

“You sure you want to take this on, Adam?” he asks.

“It’s a lay down,” I lie.  “Guido knows no one will come after the kid if the bail goes away.  Besides, he’s probably got the judge on the payroll.”

“Not this prick, this judge is golden.  He nailed me for the forfeiture without a damn day’s extension, much less the thirty days I usually get…but you get Guido to cough up, and I’ll go away faster than a boy scout’s first fuck.  Hell’s fire, man, I’d already given up on the twenty-five, as it doesn’t pay to hound a Gambrozini for peanuts.”

“Email me the contract.  Adam Steel at Steel Steel dot com.”  Plain old Steel dot com was long gone, so I had to stutter.

“You got it.”

And I do get it in the next ten minutes.

Now, if old Guido gets caught in the crossfire while I’m after his kid, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  He’s not too popular with the local cops so they should not have too big a beef with someone who takes him down, in fact if they’re not on his payroll I’ll be hero for a day.  So now when I grease the greaser, which I’ve got to do, I’ve got some legal docs to hang my hat on so I don’t go to the slammer with all the perps who want to hang my huevos on a communal shower head.

I’ve spent the time waiting for the email surfing Google Earth, studying the lay of Dume Point where the Gambrozini compound resides, and the layout of the estate itself, as well as the two adjoining properties.

It doesn’t look easy, but what is?  I’ve got some sea to cross, a little white sand beach flanked by rocks, a forty foot high fairly gentle chaparral and ice plant covered cliff to scale, then most of a hundred yards of, thank God, well landscaped backyard to reach the house.

Max Polkinghorn is a longtime buddy of mine and a diving partner, having served in Desert Storm with me what seems like eons ago.  In addition to some dives in the Persian Gulf and off Okinawa while serving in the Corps, we’ve made many trips to Catalina and the other Channel Islands in his twin engine Grady White fishing machine, and one flight to Belize where the diving was delicious beyond words.  It’s a lot to ask of Max, but I’ve got no choice.  Besides, what are Marine buddies for if not sticking their ass out for you?

I poke his number into my iPhone and he answers on the third ring.

“Talk,” he answers.  Max is a man of few words.

“What’s your day like?”

“Wild, wild, wicked women, cheap dope and very expensive whiskey, like normal.”

Max doesn’t drink, except for the occasional beer, or do dope, so I know he’s putting me on.  “Which means you’ve got to work and don’t have a moment for an old buddy?”

“I got a contract dive tomorrow with a half dozen pocket-protector engineer type dorks from the Antelope Valley, and have to prep the boat, but that’s it.  What’s up?”

“I need a big favor.”

I can hear him take a deep breath, but I know the answer before he comes back with it.  “Why does it always pucker my sphincter so tight you couldn’t drive a sixteen penny nail up it when you say ‘big favor.’  Okay, okay, for a buddy I do big.  When and where?”

“I need a drop off, and hopefully a pick up, off a compound just south of Zuma.”

“I’m going to be an accessory to burglary?”

“No, nothing that mundane, but I can’t talk about it on the air waves.  See you at the boat in forty five?”

“You got it.  Will I need my passport, as in are we gonna have to keep going?”  I knew the question was tongue-in-cheek, but it had a slight ring of sincere.

I laugh, if a little sardonically.  “No, but I would top the tanks, both fuel and air, and bring that present I gave you, not that you’ll need it.”

“Forty five in forty five.”

He means the Model 1913 ivory handle Colt .45 I gave him, and being there in the forty five minutes I asked for, and he’s right on both counts.

I had been invited to play at the Gambrozini compound after winning a small, twenty player, Texas Hold ‘em tournament at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in the suite of a Saudi sheik, who was out in the first round of play.

Gambrozini had come in second, and second didn’t seem to sit well with the fat Mafioso.  Losing wasn’t in his bag of tricks.  I guess he thought five card stud his game, as within a week I received one of those invitations you’re advised not to refuse.

The first game was a relatively small ten grand buy in, I guess to check out my skills.  The game in contention was the second, a forty grand buy-in, six guys, five of whom I figured out early on were playing against me, but the damn fools should have picked a game which was influenced by a draw, not a pure five on the table game like five card stud.  Other than the bluff, presuming you’re getting a fair deal, it’s a game of pure observation, luck, and chutzpah.  Except these five had some stupid signal system worked out, but I could tell by watching that half the time they were confused by their own attempts at cheating, which I figured out in short order, and I took advantage.  And Guido came in a distant second again, the last to fall, but fall he did.

There could not, however, be a second in the game we were now playing.  Second was nothing more than the first loser, and the loss was one of those all or nothing risks that would end the poker games forever for one of us.

I think about moving the Porsche out of the underground parking in my building, then decide against it.  It’s insured, so if Guido wants to screw with it, let him have at it.  Instead, after packing a watertight combo sports bag/back pack with a cornucopia of possible necessities, I bypass the Porsche and head for my old, trusted, Ford Bronco.  Who would bother to bust up a twenty five year old ride, and odds are Guido’s boys don’t know it’s mine.  It’s got tie downs in the back, in case I have to secure a perp, but that’s the only thing that would give it away, as it’s still registered to Sol Goldberg, a local bondsman who loaned it to me to drive to Mexico and haul back a skip over five years ago, and then when I actually ran the border giving the Mexican feds a finger wave and smile, was so appreciative he said to keep the old Bronco.  So I did.

Still, I check underneath her, in the engine compartment, and take a hard look behind the spare tire, then inside I take a quick look in the glove compartment.  Nothing but a screwdriver and the black plastic holder with the operator’s manual.  She’s clean, I’m thinking as I crank the engine over…then almost rip the door off trying to get out as the explosion damn near tears the glove compartment door off and smoke fills the interior in a blast of acrid, eye burning, blast.

So much for the Gambrozini boys not knowing the Bronco is mine.

My phone chimes the theme from Hawaii Five-O, unknown caller, as I stand twenty feet from the Bronco and stare at the smoke billowing out.

“Steel,” I answer.

“You kinda a dumb shit,” the deep Morgan Freeman voice says.

“Kinda,” I agree.

“You be a dead man if I want it, understan’.  Easy as paid for pussy….  You got till noon.”  He disconnects without even a polite goodbye.

It’s not Guido, sounds black, and Chicago Bears tackle big.  So I’ve got a hint what to look for, which if Guido is as smart as he must be to have gotten where he is means he’ll send a petit blond female to actually douse my lights.

I climb back in the Bronco and fire it up, not particularly enjoying the nostril burning odor.  The black plastic operator’s manual in the glove compartment is shredded and still smoking.  I’ll remember not to be so lazy next time, and to make sure what’s inside of every container is what is supposed to be inside of every container.

As promised, Max is waiting aboard the Molly P. with dock lines merely looped around the cleats, having already lowered the two big 200 hp Honda outboards into the water, and they’re humming quietly.

Before we’re out of the harbor, he turns his big burly blond head to me.  “So, some wimp movie producer messing with one of your women, or what?”

“Unfortunately, it’s what.  I got my ass in a crack with Gambrozini.”

“Guido Gambrozini?” he asks, and I can see he’s eager for a ‘no’ answer, and actually pales when I nod, then he stares straight ahead, a little glassy eyed.  I’ve seen Max face to face with a fifteen foot great white and not pale, so I know I got his attention.  Finally, he turns back to me.  “Get me a beer out of the cold box…wish I had a fifth of Cuervo Gold.”  I oblige him and he takes a deep draw before he asks again.

“What’s the beef?”

“I told you I hit a big score last week, but I didn’t tell you how big.  Two hundred, and I think it was all Gambrozini’s money.  Five other guys in a five card stud game, but I bet they were all funded by Guido, and all working against me.  Guido was the only one of them close to being a poker player, and even though they had eye signs and finger tapping table talk going on, thinking they were real cute, I figured it out in a heartbeat and cleaned them out.  Even at that, Guido seemed fine with it, even a little amused, until some a-hole dropped a line of b.s. on him that I was a mechanic.  Then things went sour.”


“Card shark, cheat, bottom dealer….yeah, a mechanic.”  I go on to tell him about the late, or I should say early, phone call and the noon deadline.

“So, what are you gonna do?”

“Only thing I can do…waste him.  I got a contract on his son—“

“You got to be nuts, you got a contract to kill his son?”

“No, dummy, a contract to pick up his kid, from a bondsman in New Jersey.”

“So, we’re after his kid.  You think he’ll kill us more tenderly if we go after his kid, or what?”

“Look, Max, you’re not after anyone.  Anyone asks, I chartered the Molly P. so put it in your books that way.  All you gotta do is cruise up the coast.  I’ll disembark a quarter mile off shore.  You keep going.  If I’m back there in an hour and a half or two at the most, on your way back, pick me up.  If not, don’t sweat it.  Odds are I won’t be there.”

He kicks the two big Honda’s in the butt and in seconds we’re skipping along the wave tops at an easy forty mph.  The engines will push this beauty just over fifty-five, if pushed to the wall.  It’s twenty-three sea miles from Redondo to Malibu, so we should be offshore the Gambrozini compound in forty minutes or so.  I duck below and open my waterproof ditty bag and check my equipment.  In addition to a bottle of water, a Hershey bar, and a couple of packages of crackers and cheese, I’ve got my dive knife, two nine mm Sig Sauer 250’s, each with an extra clip, and each in clip-on holsters, so I’m good for 66 rounds there…16 in each clip and one in each chamber.  All cartridges are hollow point dum dum bullets, as good a stopping power as you can get in a 9 mm.  Both pistols have LED lights with flashing features, bright enough to blind someone temporarily, particularly if you’re in a dark room.  My sling equipped Remington 870MSC .12 GA carries six double ott buck 3” shells, plus one in the chamber, and another six loose in the bag.  With it’s 14” barrel and pistol grip stock, it fits easily into the ditty.  A pair of hand held Motorola radios will allow me to keep in touch with Max, not that I’ll need to nor that he can do a damn thing if I get in bad trouble.  A half dozen 18” long plastic cable ties complete the supply list…a habit from many a skip caper as they serve as handcuffs, in fact are more versatile than conventional steel cuffs.

Everything seems ship shape.

A printed copy of my contract from the bondsman is in the bag, on the slight chance I’m hanging around, more likely laying around, when and if the cops come on the scene—at least my obit might say I was legal.  I lay back on the bow bunk and close my eyes.  But as much as I try to catch fifteen minutes of sleep, it won’t come.  I’ve never gone into anything with odds as bad as I’m about to confront.  When I figure we’re just a few minutes away, I strip my clothes and stuff everything, except knife and one radio, into the ditty bag. Not only because the water has a chill, but also because the black wet suit is a color hard to spot among the muscle covered rocks on the sea front of the compound, I pull on a wet suit, my weight belt, my knife in it’s thigh scabbard, my buoyancy vest, a single tank rig, my mask, and make my way into the cockpit carrying my flippers and one preset radio.

A couple of surfers are working the waves, but their attention is on the wave sets and the ride they’re hoping to capture.

Max eyes me carefully.  “You sure about this?”

“Don’t think I have a choice,” I say, shrugging.

He’s suddenly all business.

“We can beach this thing around the point, and make our way back on the waterfront,” he offers.

“I’m not going to be the cause of Molly growing up without a pappy,” I say, and slap him on the shoulder.  His five year old daughter, for whom the boat is named, is my true love.

“Just make damn sure she doesn’t grow up without a godfather.”

“Go out between the engines,” he says.  “I’ll kill them and while we’re drifting, you slip over, and I’ll wait till I know your clear to crank up.”

Keeping low, I make my way aft, get the flippers on, and squeeze between the big outboards.

“Semper Fi,” he says, and I give him a thumbs up as he pulls the throttles back.  I give it the count of ten, to make sure the props have wound down, clear the mask and reset it, and drop off backwards into the brine.  I let the weight belt take me down to five meters or so, use my air to fill the buoyancy vest just enough to maintain that depth, then begin a leisurely stroke towards shore.

Threading my way through a kelp forest, then across a clean bottom, I finally see the churn of bottom sand indicating I’m near the surf, then watch the bottom rise until I can stand.  With my mask barely above water level, I check the shore visually.  No bathing beauties on the sand or rocks, and I can make out no guards on the skyline.  I’m at the very south end of the compound as I can see the tall clematis covered fence that protects the place.  I work my way shoreward, staying low in the water, then break across  a small patch of white sand for the chaparral on the cliff face.  There’s enough cover there for me, as I’d hoped there would be, so I struggle out of equipment and wetsuit, and pull on my jeans and heavy black leather belt, and the black pullover, black knit cap, then black socks and tennis shoes.  In moments I’ve replaced the knife on my thigh and clipped a Sig Sauer on each side and slung the 870 on my back.  Last but hardly least, I fill my pockets with the half dozen loose .12 GA double ot shotgun shells.

The rear of the property, just at the top of the cliff line, is a row of low flowering azaleas, so I stay flat and shove into it until I can see through to the backyard, where a half dozen kids, ranging from maybe seven to fifteen, are playing badminton.  That was something I hadn’t counted on…kids.  If Guido is like most the Mafioso’s I’ve seen in movies, think Godfather, he probably has the whole family living at the compound.  Not far beyond the badminton game, in the shade of a tall spruce, rests a couple of Adirondack chairs, and the two no-neck guys lounging there don’t look like Norwegian au pairs to me—guys so big they almost occlude the oversize chairs.  And the bulges under their blue windbreakers are not Dr. Spock manuals on caring for the boss’s brats.

The good news is there’s a line of thick cypress on both sides of the property, just inside the tall clematis covered wire fence.

So I drop back down out of sight on the cliff face and inch my way to the edge of the property.  Working my way back up, I again try and peek through the azalea, and am happy to note that all I can see is thick cypress with dusty branches hanging all the way to the ground.  Whoever is handling the compound security should be dumped at sea.

Picking my way between the cypress and the clematis for fifty yards until I figure I’m about even with the badminton net, confirmed by the fact I hear giggling only feet away.  I freeze and drop flat, palming the right side Sig Sauer as I do so.

“It’s in there somewhere,” a young male voice says, then laughs.

“Well, you get it.  You hit it in there,” he’s answered by an even younger female.

“No deal.  Let’s get another birdie,” he says.

“It’s a shuttlecock, dumbo,” the little girl chastises.



The voices fade, only to be replaced by a low growl.  I’m carrying my backpack, dragging it along behind me.  The growl gets a little louder, and by the sound of it I expect a rottweiler to launch himself out of the undergrowth and go for my throat…but then a golden retriever appears, and looks as surprised to see me as I am to see him.

“Hey, boy,” I whisper, in my most friendly harmless-strange-man-in-the-bushes voice, I’m smiling, careful not to show my teeth. He cocks his head, undecided, then straightens up and growls again.  In a half-second I have a cracker and cheese combo in hand and am using the teeth I was reluctant to show to rip it open.  I flip it out to him.  He looks suspicious for a moment then takes a whiff, then a lick, and I know I’ve got him.

Oh, no, a yellow jacket nest the circumference of my head dangles from a cypress branch, and a bevy of the stinging little bastards are eyeing me from a half dozen feet away, as others come and go, one so close I have to bury the urge to swat at him, but restrain myself as it would be an unwise move. He seems put off by my Polo After Shave.  Again I face the threat via a strategic retreat, and work my way around them.

This voice is low and ominous, and I’m pressing my belly to the moist ground before I can make out exactly where it’s coming from.  It seems the two au pairs are making their rounds, or maybe this is a second pair.

“You even think about it and the old man will use the grease from your nuts to oil his switchblade.  She’s only sixteen.”

“Man,” another voice, “she don’t look it.  She’s ripe.  She’s delicioso.

“Just remember, your balls, a grease spot on the pavement.”

The voices fad as they pass on by, their footfalls unheard in the grass.

I take a deep breath, get back to my feet, and keep moving.  Seventy-five feet from my position there’s a break in the greenery, and I can see a few windows of the house.  It’s Mediterranean in style, rough finished trowel-swept plaster, with a variegated red and yellow Spanish tile roof, and two stories with two one story wings flanking the main structure, at least ten thousand square feet of ill gotten gains, I’d guess.  There’s a spacious pool, with a raised hot tub and a little waterfall tumbling from it into the larger swimming area.

The Adirondack chairs near the game are empty, which is not a good sign as I don’t know where the refrigerator-sized boys are.

From my Google Earth study I know that there are two round tables on the upper deck.  I’ll be surprised if there’s not a guard stationed there as it commands a view of half the property.

I’m about to decide that I have to lay low until it’s dark, when I hear approaching footsteps, and sink back into the cypress.  This is a third guy, with the tell tale bulge under his arm, and he, too, is clad in a blue windbreaker.  Only then do I realize that it’s a uniform of sorts, and he and the other two I spotted have on khaki pants.  The windbreaker has a subtle embroidered emblem, a scrolled “G,” that I presume stands for Gambrozini, but then I’m a quick study.

Unlike the two Volkswagen sized Badminton boys, this one is more my size, about six foot tall, and a large or maybe extra large jacket…he’s a bit more barrel chested than am I.  As he passes, my attention is attracted from over a hundred yards across the compound, where another guy is matching this one step for step, heading to the rear.  I’m beginning to get the feeling that it’s a routine they follow.  I wonder….

I hunker down even lower, and wait.  And sure enough, my wait is rewarded as in fifteen minutes, the footfalls are returning.  I ease closer to the edge of the cypress, and wait.  The guy passes within five feet of me, now heading toward the front, the street side, of the property.  I step out behind him and drive the stubby butt of the shotgun, which has been hanging under my arm, into the base of his neck and he goes down like a two hundred pound sack of onions.  He’s heavy, but I manage to drag him back into the cypress without hot lead cutting the air around me, or even shouts ringing over the grass.

In moments, after stripping off his windbreaker, I have the cable ties on his wrist, his own belt tied around his head cutting deep enough into his mouth that all he can do is grunt, and he’s stripped to his boxers, his ankles bound to the trunk of a stout tree.  He’s going nowhere until someone comes along with a blade.  His breathing is nice and steady, so I leave with a clear conscience.

I know it won’t be long before the buddy who is pacing my guy across the compound glances over and wonders where he is, so I have to move, like it or not.  With a new pair of khakis and a “G” emblazoned blue blazer on, my shotgun hanging under one arm, a Sig Sauer on each hip, I head for the house.  I’m not the least surprised to find a pair of patio doors unlocked, and enter as if I own the place.  I’m in some kind of library, I decide.  I circle the green felt snooker table and wander into a wide hallway with some very expensive art gracing its walls.  I contain a gasp as I come face to face with a uniformed chunky little Mexican maid, white dress, black apron and dust cap, and eyes black as a widow’s frock.

Ola,” she says, and brushes by

Senora, donde es el jefe,” I call after her, in my best lousy Spanish.  But she understands, and points up a wide curling stairway, rising off a two story entry way facing the street side of the house.

As I mount it, I get only half way before two little girls come giggling and running down it, brushing by me as if I’m one of the sculptures or star pines that frequent the hallways.

The branch of hallway with only two doors is only half as long as the first, and the doors are thick and fancy carved.  I decide the jefe would have the more private, hand-carved, side of things, and head that way.  I pause and listen at the first door, hearing nothing, then another dozen steps to the end of the hallway.

Bingo, I hear talking from through the second door.  However, it’s faint, and I can’t tell who, what sex, or how many.  It sounds as if the two five year old girls have started back up the stairs, as giggles ring out down the hall, so flinging caution to the wind and palming a 9 mm, I try the door.  Guido is facing the deck from behind a desk the size of Godzilla’s coffin, his back to me, leaning way back in a twenty five hundred dollar Eame’s chair, talking on the phone.

No one else is there to interfere, however I can see a guy’s legs, tree-trunk size, out on the deck, stretched out and crossed casually, but his upper torso on the chaise lounge is out of sight.  Which is just fine, as he can’t see me.

Guido is busy, so I’m polite and don’t interrupt—if you can call keeping a 9 mm leveled on a guy polite—instead I shed the windbreaker and un-sling the Remington and let it hang casually in my left hand, while the right continues to zero the Sig Sauer on the back of Guido’s fat neck.

He places the receiver back on a phone on the credenza behind his desk, spins in his chair, glances at me casually, and actually reaches into a rosewood cigar humidifier on his desk before his eyes widen, and the butt of a very expensive Cuban slips from his mouth onto his lap.

He stares.

“You seem surprised to see me?” I ask.

He collects himself, brushing the butt off of what’s left of his lap under his prodigious gut, glancing out to the patio and his reclining guard.

“Yell at him and all you’ll do is get him killed,” I say quietly.  “About a half second before you get to fat boy heaven for an interview with Saint Pete.”

“Humph…”  He backhands some cigar laden spittle from his mouth before he speaks.  Showing cojones, he asks, “You bring my money?”

“Not your money, Guido.  I won that dough fair and square.”

“Not the way I hear it.  I hear you got golden fingers, and can find an ace in a pile of horseshit.”

“Not true.  Who told you that?”

He ignores the question.  “So, you think pointing that wad cutter at me is going to get me to change my mind?”

I actually manage a smile.  “Nope, I don’t.  I think spreading your mind all over that painting behind your desk is about all I can accomplish.”

“That’s a Dutch master…that would be a shame.”

I shrug.  “You really give a shit?  I’m sure you stole it.”

“So,” he says, “you think you can do that and get off my property without being cut in half?”

“Don’t much matter.  You said you had a hired gun on my tail so I figure the only way out of this is to douse your lights so the gun knows he doesn’t have his next payday coming, then maybe he’ll head back to Philly or Chicago or whatever scumbag hole he crawled out of, and your family and goons will be busy cutting up your estate.  Too busy to give a rat’s ass about me.”

The guy outside has risen to his boat shoe clad oversized feet, but is facing away.  He yawns, stretches, and walks over to stare out over the rail.

“Look, Steel,” Guido says, “All you gotta do is return the two hundred g’s, plus the forty you bought in with, and I’ll call off the dogs.”

“Not to be, my man.”

“Then drop that Porsche off in my driveway—“

“Guido, tell me where I’m wrong?  You’ve killed lots of guys; most probably deserved it, but I don’t.  The hell of it is, you don’t give a damn.  You’re a low life dishonorable son of a bitch who wants to Welch on a bet.  So I’ve got to blow you all to hell because I’m going to be blown all to hell, one way or the other.”

“I honor my debts, you piece of shit—“

“Bull.  I won fair and square in a game you thought you had rigged.”

It was his turn to smile.  “You knew that?”

“I knew it, and used your own stupid goomba boys to beat you and each of them.  Those guys weren’t car dealers and movie producers, like you said.  All of them are shit-for-brains who work for you.”

He laughs aloud.  And I have to spin as the door opens behind me, but quickly recover as he’s reaching for a drawer.  He jerks his hand back, as the two little girls run giggling into the room.

I snatch the windbreaker up and drape it across both firearms as one of the little girls circles the desk and jumps up into his lap.

“Grampa, they won’t let us play racquets,” she says, pouting enough that a bird could have landed on her bottom lip.

“I’m sorry, bambina.  You run along now, grampa has business with the nice man.”

The girls run out of the room, slamming the big door behind them.

Which draws the attention of the guy out on the patio, who stares, then runs for the doors.  He flings one aside as he is drawing his weapon.  Trying for a chest shot, I’m a little high and wide, and take him in his gun arm shoulder, spinning him around and dropping him.

Guido is reaching for the drawer again, and has it open as I sprint by.  I spin, and kick the drawer hard enough that I know his fingers or the bones in his hand are broken.  I step on out and kick the gun the guy had dropped, which shoots across the deck like a hockey puck, then turn my attention back to the fat Mafioso don.

The hell of it is, the girls have run back into the room, and all I can see in my mind’s eye is Max’s daughter, Molly, sweet Molly, and my stomach turns.  The one that is obviously his granddaughter runs to where he’s sitting, sucking his fingers.

I bring the muzzle of the gun up, a foot from his forehead.  “Not in front of my baby,” he says, his watery eyes pleading…not for his life, it dawns on me, but for the feelings of his granddaughter.

“You say you’re an honorable man, Guido?”

“I do.  I am.”

“Do you swear on the life of your granddaughter that you’ll leave me be.  I didn’t cheat you…you tried to cheat me.”

He takes a deep breath, and his granddaughter lays her head, and blond curls, on his chest.  “Did you hurt your fingers, grampa?” she asks, oblivious to the weapon so near her beautiful blond curls.

“Get out of here, Steel,” he says, trying a growl, but it’s more of a plead.

I can see Guido thinking about getting between me and his granddaughter, and nothing good can come of that.

“Not without your word.  On the life of your granddaughter.”

“I swear on my honor.  I wouldn’t swear this bambina’s life no matter how many times, or how hard, I have to die.  But I swear.”

I have to chew on that for a second, then hear footsteps pounding down the hall outside.

“Well, that’s honorable as it gets, I guess.”  I holster the Sig Sauer and stick out my hand.  “You got it,” I say.  “I couldn’t kill a little girl anyway.”

“Nor could I.”

The door is flung aside, and two of his guards stand there, semi-auto pistols in hand.

“Boss?” they question.  I have moved behind Guido, and he and his granddaughter are protecting me.

“Everything is under control here, Oscar.  You guys take a walk.  And take Tony out there with you.  He needs patching up.  We had a little firearm accident.”

“I don’t think so,” the guy says, to his credit.

“You go…take Tony to the doc.  You know, that Vet we use sometimes.”

The one in the lead crosses to the deck and hoists the dazed and wounded man up, I slip around Guido to keep him and the big Eames chair between me and the two of them the best I can.  But I’m sure they won’t try anything, not with the little girl in his lap.

“Go on now,” Guido commands.

“Yes sir,” the first one says, passing the wounded man to his partner.  “You sure?“ he asks, but begins moving backward, his partner giving way behind him.

“Hey,” I yell at the two of them.

“Yeah.”  The talker responds.

“Mr. Gambrozini is going to give me a ride into town.  Bring a car around.”


“Do it.  The Mercedes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can I go, grampa,” the little girl asks.

“No, sweetheart.”

“You sure?” I ask Guido, who gives me a look like I’m something stuck to his shoe that came from the Golden Retriever outside.

“Don’t press it, Steel,” he says, and digs out enough cigars to last him for the drive into town and back.  “You gotta drive me to my doc in Beverly Hills to get this hand looked at.”

“You got a deal, but you’ve got a phone call to make to get that wet work cancelled.”

“I’ll make it from the car.”  He laughs, which comes out a little like a growl.  “You’d never have seen that little blond bombshell coming.”

It’s my turn to laugh.  “Wrong, I had that one figured as well.”

This time, it’s his turn to shrug.

So I continue.  “By the way, I’ve got this buddy in New Jersey who’s out twenty five big ones for bailing your kid.  I don’t suppose you’d cover that?”

If a look could melt gonads, mine would be running down my leg.





About L. J. Martin

L. J. Martin is the author of four dozen works of both fiction and non-fiction from Bantam, Avon, Pinnacle and Wolfpack Publishing, and formerly a publisher of over 400 titles from other authors. He lives in Montana with his wife, NYT bestselling romantic suspense author Kat Martin. He’s been a horse wrangler, cook as both avocation and vocation, volunteer firefighter, real estate broker, general contractor, appraiser, disaster evaluator for FEMA, author, publisher and has traveled a good part of the world, some in his own ketch.  A hunter, fisherman, photographer, cook, father and grandfather, he’s been car and plane wrecked, visited a number of jusgados and a road camp, and survived cancer twice.  L. J. Martin carries a bail-enforcement, bounty hunter, shield.  He knows about what he writes about, and tries to write about what he knows.  His work has topped the Amazon genre lists in Action Adventure and Western.  L. J. Martin has over 120 videos posted on YouTube, with over a million views, edited by him on Final Cut Pro: search ljmartinwolfpack.  You can join him at, on twitter at @westwrite, and on other social media sites.  His Wolfpack Publishing LLC, now sold to a former partner, had great success in eBooks, having a disproportionate share of top action adventure novels in that genre, consistently over 60% of all of Amazon’s classic western bestseller list.


Other Fine Action Adventure from L. J. Martin

(and many more, available on Amazon)

West of the War

Young Bradon McTavish watches the bluecoats brutally hang his father and destroy everything he’s known, and he escapes their wrath into the gunsmoke and blood of war. Captured and paroled, only if he’ll head west of the war, he rides the river into the wilds of the new territory of Montana where savages and grizzlies await. He discovers new friends and old enemies…and a woman formerly forbidden to him.

Overflow. Mike Reardon, the Repairman, hates to mess his own nest—to work anywhere near where he lives. If you can call a mini-storage and a camper living. But when terrorists bomb Vegas, and a casino owner’s granddaughter is killed…the money is too good and the prey is among his most hated. Then again nothing is ever quite like it seems. Now all he has to do is stay alive, tough when friends become enemies and enemies far worse, and when you’re on top the FBI and LVPD’s list.

Click here to visit L. J. Martin’s Amazon Page!

Click here to email L. J. Martin!

Short story, L. J. Martin



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L. J. Martin

L. J. Martin is the author of over 46 book length works from such major NY publishers as Bantam, Avon, and Pinnacle, and Wolfpack Publishing LLC

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Second is the First Loser…

by L. J. Martin time to read: 30 min