ROGER COKE CALMLY LEVELED a pistol at me. My suppressed Ruger had been confiscated at the door. I matched Coke’s calm with a degree of my own, staring indifferently at the weapon in his hand. A Smith & Wesson BODYGUARD 380 with integrated laser sights focused on my head. Without question it could do some damage. All firearms could. Even so, it wasn’t one of the more remarkable handguns in Roger Coke’s substantial cache. A gross miscalculation on his part. I’d personally see to it that he paid for the error. In full.
Meanwhile, he was just as intent on making me pay as well. Joseph Yerby’s fate pleased him but he wasn’t happy about the expense of a cleaner.
“Ten thousand dollars,” he barked. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t stink up this room with your remains? Why I shouldn’t put you down for good? Just one reason, please.”
The nearly imperceptible hum of an oscillating fan was the only other sound in the unfurnished basement. Coke’s partner killers, including Murdoch, were completely still and quiet. I was as well, despite the heat and the mood. Oppressive heat and a man bent on killing me before I killed him. You couldn’t have coaxed a politician’s smile out of me with either meat or money as a reward. I imagine Coke was just as bothered by the stifling temperature but it was difficult to tell. The Smith & Wesson held steady in his hand and the light gray T-shirt he wore wasn’t darkened by sweat in the armpits. He licked his lips a few times and continued to stare at me down the sight line of the Smith & Wesson.
I suppose he expected me to flinch.
Instead, I placed my hands on the table so he could see them and asked, “Why you shouldn’t put me down for good?” making as though I were actually pondering the question. “Can’t help you there, Roger. I can think of a few reasons why you should, though.”
His brows knitted, turned his face into a question mark. “Is that so? Okay, I’ll bite. Why should I?” There was a note of amusement in his voice.
That good cheer wouldn’t last. I’d see to that as well.
I showed him my teeth without smiling and kept silent.
“I asked you a question, sir,” he said without the politeness the words suggested.
I nodded slightly, but didn’t speak.
“You’d be advised to answer, sir.”
“I would direct you to ask the last man that threatened me,” I said, finally. “But I’m afraid he’s unavailable for comment. Ever.”
A disarming smile wiped the question mark from Coke’s face. I wasn’t in any way fooled by his smile. I didn’t let my guard down. He did, though. Carelessly dropping the Smith & Wesson to his side, held loose in the grip of his hand instead of sighted on me. Taking his eyes off of me to address the killer seated to his left. “Is this gentleman for real, Murdoch?”
“Yes,” Murdoch said without hesitation.
“And you personally vouch for him?”
“Your very existence will be in peril if this motherfucker so much as jaywalks,” Coke told him. “If he takes a bathroom break and his piss misses the toilet and sprays my tile I will hold you accountable. You brought him here. He’s your ward now. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”