--06 Binding Ties (04-2005)

For Terri and Rod- nicely bound.

I would like to acknowledge my assistant on this work, forensics researcher/co-plotter

Matthew V. Clemens.

Further acknowledgments appear at the conclusion of this novel.


'A sound thinker gives equal consideration to the probable and the improbable.'

-R. Austin Freeman's DR. JOHN THORNDYKE

'Nothing is simpler than to kill a man; the difficulties arise in attempting to avoid the consequences.'

-Rex Stout's NERO WOLFE

Like a cold harsh mountain wind wailing down across the Nevada desert, panic swept through Marvin Sandred.

Awake again finally, his first realization was of his utter helplessness, a figure behind him, straddling his ass-literally-and a rope looped around his neck, pulling back, choking. Chills shook Marvin's body, making the noose chafe harder, and he felt it tighten more and more with each passing second.

Arms flailing, Marvin tried to control and even out his breathing. He did not have the time or frame of mind to take stock of his situation; still, he knew he was home, in the livingroom of his small North Las Vegas house-on the floor, on his stomach, his bones aching, his lungs burning, his assailant sitting astride his backside, as the noose slowly squeezed against his windpipe, and no matter how hard he worked to avoid it, his breaths could only come in short, sucking gulps. The room reeked of his sweat and the rope seemed to be squeezing his bladder as much as his throat.

Somehow, the worst thing of all, the most extreme indignity, was his nakedness-his clothes had been stripped from him, and he battled the urge to piss himself. Cold yet sweating, hands swimming limply in the air, fighting suffocation even as he wondered if he should just go ahead and free his bladder to remove the only pain within his control, Marvin Sandred was experiencing the reality behind the abstraction.

This was terror.

Terror-that word so bandied about on the news every day-was not an abstraction, but a very real emotional and physical state. Sheer terror-pain and helplessness and fear and despair and, worst of all, hope. He was still alive. He'd gotten into this somehow, and he could still get out. He might still survive….

Not so long ago, Marvin had responded to the doorbell, finding a well-dressed man in a black suit standing before the peephole, clean-cut enough to be a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon missionary, only those guys travelled in pairs and the man on Marvin's doorstep had been alone.

Marvin had long since learned that there is much in this life that the individual cannot control. But a man remained king of his castle, however shabby, and invasions by phone solicitors and door-knocking salesmen were indignities he did not have to suffer. Didn't he have a NO SOLICITING sign on his goddamned door?

Marvin saw the bland individual on his doorstep as representing every intrusion, every invasion of his precious privacy, and an indignant Marvin Sandred had opened thedoor wide, to tear this guy a new orifice and send him on his fucking way, only not a word had emerged from Marvin's mouth before things went wrong, horribly, terribly…wrong.

Whether he had been drugged or punched or hit with a tire iron, he did not know, perhaps never would know. Right now, all he knew for sure was that he lay naked on the floor, the rough carpeting irritating his nipples and his ample belly and his genitals, even as the noose closed ever tighter around his throat. He stopped flailing and tried to get at the rope, but couldn't get his fingers beneath the damn loop….

Even though his attacker was behind and above him, Marvin kept his eyes pinched shut. On waking, finding himself under attack, that had been his first instinct-if he didn't open his eyes, he reasoned, he wouldn't see his antagonist's face.

If he did not get a good look at the man, the attacker might let him live-the intruder might be a burglar who would leave Marvin unconscious on the floor to be found later. Two facts that Marvin did not grasp made the point moot: Had he opened his eyes, sweat would have poured into them, impairing his vision; and his attacker's ride-'em-cowboy position made him impossible for Marvin to see, anyway.

The attacker controlled the situation so utterly, Marvin knew that the decision of his life or death belonged to the man in the black suit.

One tiny hope glimmered in Marvin's mind….

He knew that a letter opener lay on the nearby coffee table, under the morning paper and a stack of bills, if only he could reach it. Eyes still squeezed shut, Marvin pawed helplessly in that direction, with his left hand, but his arm felt heavy, like trying to lift a refrigerator, not his own limb.

The attacker slapped the arm down, and Marvin couldn't find the strength to raise it again….

As it got harder and harder to breathe, and surviving became more and more abstract, a thought jumped into his mind, between panic-stricken plans to somehow get loose: That thought was how stupid he had been to move to Las Vegas in the first place.

Then his wife Annie popped into his mind: her pretty, smiling face, the way she had looked at him so often, before she left him last year.

Though these thoughts lasted only a few seconds, they were profound: Marvin realized he still missed his ex-wife, and wished he'd been smart enough to stay in Eau Claire and try to patch things up with her, instead of throwing away his entire life to move to the city of dreams….

He'd been an idiot. He still was an idiot. He knew as much, even with the breath being sucked out of him for what was probably the last time…a goddamned idiot, cashing in his retirement, driving away Annie, looking for a new life….

Marvin Sandred, at the brink of death, did not have the time or luxury of acquiring a longer, more mature view of his life and where it had gone awry. Lots of people had come to this city of dreams, from Bugsy Siegel to Howard Hughes, from Liberace to Penn and Teller. Formerly an assistant plant manager at Eau Claire Steelworks, Marvin Sandred had been one of hundreds of thousands of dreamers who'd migrated to the neon oasis, not just to visit, but to live.

Marvin's dream was modest, comparatively speaking, if typically unrealistic of Vegas dreamers. Just as Annie was entering menopause, Marvin's midlife crisis kicked in, and the forty-six-year-old had felt life slipping through his fingers, opportunities and dreams betrayed by a lifetime of doing 'the right thing.' Marvin had started watching poker on ESPN, and then played it on the Internet, till his wife put her foot down just when he was starting to win a little; so he'd practiced on a ten-buck computer game and did very well indeed, so well that he finally decided to come to Las Vegas to play poker professionally.

His retirement settlement gave Marvin just enough money to get to Vegas and put a down payment on this little bungalow; he'd hoped his wife-they were childless-would view this as a fresh start. Actually, she saw it as a dead-end. The rest of his money he had used to fund his fantasy of becoming the next Amarillo Slim or Doyle Brunson.

The dream had indeed gone quickly south, his poker skills faring far better against his computer game than real people. After two tournaments, Sandred got a day job in the sales department of a welding equipment company. The dream began its slow death from that point on, his meager earnings winding down the spiraling hole of Texas Hold-'em, casino-style….

Still, Marvin had never given up, and his sick-gambler's optimism stayed with him, right up to where his dream was swallowed by this full-fledged nightmare, the attacker applying even more pressure now….

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