Ace in the Hole - By George R. R. Martin

Monday July 18, 1988

6:00 A.M.

Spector pulled down on the padlock with a gloved hand. The lock snapped open. He unlatched the corrugated tin door and put his weight against it, pushing it up and sideways, trying to make as little noise as possible. He slid his thin body through and shut the door behind him. So far it was going just like they said.

The place smelled of dust and fresh paint. The light was dim, coming from a single overhead lamp in the center of the warehouse. He paused to let his eyes adjust. There were boxes of masks all around. Clowns, politicians, animals, some just normal human faces. He picked up a bear mask and put it on; might as well be safe if someone flipped on the lights. The plastic pinched his nose and the eveholes were smaller than he would have liked. His peripheral vision was shot. Spector moved slowly toward the light, turning his head back and forth to make sure no one was closing in on him.

He was a few minutes early. He figured it was the smart thing to do. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble tracking him down and arranging this meeting. They were either desperate, or they were setting him up. It could mean trouble either way. Dust irritated his eyes, but he couldn't do anything about it with the mask on. He stopped a dozen or so feet from the light and waited. The only sound was the moths pinging against the metal light fixture.

"Are you there?" The voice was muffled, but definitely male, and came from the other side of the lighted area. Spector cleared his throat. "Yeah, it's me. Why don't you move into the light so I can see you?"

"I don't know who you are, and you don't know who I am. Let's keep it that way." There was a pause. Paper crinkled in the darkness.

"So. Let's hear it." Spector took a long, easy breath. This didn't feel like a setup, and he had the upper hand.

An arm reached forward into the light. The person was short enough to be a kid, but the arm was thick with heavy muscle. The fingers on the hand were short. The edge of a plastic glove peeked out from under the leather one. This guy was obviously being very careful. The hand held a manilla envelope. "Everything you need to know is in here."

"Toss it over." The arm threw it toward him. The envelope landed heavily and skidded to the edge of the lighted area, stirring up dust and paint flecks. "Like the sound of that. "' Spector walked over to the envelope. Hell, let the guy see him in the bear mask. It wouldn't matter. He picked the envelope up and popped it open with a thumb. There were several carefully hatched stacks of hundred dollar bills, a round-trip ticket to Atlanta in the name of George Kerby, and a piece of paper that had been folded over twice. Spector figured there was over fifty thousand.

"Half now. The rest when the job's finished." The voice had moved, and was now between Spector and the door. Spector opened the slip of paper and held it up to the light to read. He took a sharp breath. "Shit. Never ask for anything small. And Atlanta, too. What a mess that'll be. Why not wait until he's back in town and get a refund on George Kerby's plane ticket?"

"I want it taken care of in the next week. Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon. We got a deal?"

"Yeah, okay," Spector said, bending the envelope over and tucking it into his shirt. "You must hate this guy something fierce."

The door opened. Spector got a glimpse of the man before he pulled it closed again. Four feet tall and built like a linebacker-a dwarf. Not many of those around. And only one who had it in for the guy he'd been hired to nail.

"I heard you were dead, Gimli." No answer. But he couldn't expect any from someone who was supposedly stuffed and mounted in the Famous Bowery Wild Card Dime Museum. Still, Spector knew better than anyone that just because a person was supposed to be a stiff didn't necessarily make it SO.

It was Rat's Alley, where the dead men lost their bones. Where Jokers Wild was, was Rat's Alley.

It was probably a good alley for rats.

The last of the customers stumbled out through the door, set like a scream into a blank Copyright 2016 - 2024