V is for Vengeance Page 1

Author: Sue Grafton

Series: Kinsey Millhone #22

Genres: Mystery

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1


BEFORE


Las Vegas August 1986


Phillip Lanahan drove to Vegas in his 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, a snappy little red car his parents had given him two months before, when he graduated from Princeton. His stepfather bought the car secondhand because he abhorred the notion of depreciation. Better that the original owner take that hit. The car was in pristine condition, with 15,000 miles on the odometer, a black leather interior, fully accessorized, with four brand-new tires. The car could jump from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds.


With the top down, he hugged the coastline and then continued traveling east through Los Angeles on the 10. From the 10 he picked up the 15, which took him straight into Vegas. The sun was harsh and the wind whipped his hair to a wild tangle of black. At the age of twenty-three, he knew he was good-looking and he carried the knowledge like a rabbit’s foot for luck. His face was lean, clean-shaven; his dark eyebrows straight; ears tucked close to his head. He wore jeans and a short-sleeve black polo shirt. His white linen sport coat lay folded beside him on the passenger’s seat. In his duffel he had ten grand in hundred-dollar bills, compliments of a loan shark he’d recently met.


This was his third trip to Vegas in as many weeks. The first time, he’d played poker at Caesars Palace, which, though vulgar and overblown, had everything you’d ever want in one sprawling complex. That trip had been magical. He could do no wrong. The cards fell into place, one hand after another. He read his opponents, picking up tells so subtle he felt psychic. He’d driven to Vegas with three thousand dollars he’d pulled from a savings account and he’d run it up to eight with no sweat.


The second trip had started out well but then he lost his nerve. He’d returned to Caesars, thinking the same gut-level instincts would come into play, but his reads were off, the cards wouldn’t come, and he couldn’t regain ground. He left the casino a miserable five grand down. Thus the meeting with the loan shark, Lorenzo Dante, who (according to Phillip’s friend Eric) referred to himself as a “financier.” Phillip assumed the term was meant tongue-in-cheek.


He’d been uneasy about the appointment. In addition to Eric’s filling him in on Dante’s sordid past, he’d assured Phillip the exorbitant fees for the loan were what he called “industry” standard. Phillip’s stepfather had drilled into him the need to negotiate all monetary matters, and Phillip knew he’d have to tackle the issue before he and Dante came to an agreement. He couldn’t tell his parents what he was up to, but he did appreciate his stepfather’s counsel in absentia. He didn’t like the man much, though he had to admit he admired him.


He’d met Dante in his office in downtown Santa Teresa. The space was impressive, all glass and high-gloss teak, leather-upholstered furniture, and soft gray wall-to-wall carpeting. The receptionist had greeted him warmly and buzzed him through. A sexy brunette in tight jeans and spike heels had met him at the door and escorted him past ten interior offices to a large corner suite at the end of the corridor. Everyone he caught sight of was young and casually dressed. He imagined a cadre of tax attorneys, as well as accountants, financial hotshots, paralegals, and administrative assistants. Dante was under indictment on racketeering charges, and Phillip had expected an atmosphere both tense and sinister. He’d worn an expensive sport coat, thinking to show respect, but now he realized the image was all wrong. Everyone he saw wore casual attire, stylish but understated. He felt like a kid dressing up in his daddy’s clothes, hoping to be taken for an adult.


The brunette showed him into the office, and Dante leaned forward across the desk to shake hands, then motioned Phillip into a seat. Phillip was startled by the man’s good looks. He was in his midfifties, a big guy, probably six foot two, and handsome: soulful brown eyes, curly gray hair, dimples, and a cleft in his chin. He appeared to be in great shape. The warm-up conversation had covered Phillip’s recent graduation from Princeton, his dual major (business and economics), and his job prospects. Dante listened with apparent interest, prompting him now and then. Actually, nothing in the way of employment had materialized as yet, but the less said about that the better. Phillip spoke about his options, not mentioning he’d been forced to move back in with his parents. That was too lame to bear thinking about. Phillip began to relax, though his palms were still damp.


Dante said, “You’re Tripp Lanahan’s boy.”


“You knew my dad?”


“Not well, but he did me a good turn once upon a time . . .”


“Excellent. I’m glad to hear that.”

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