Ken Goddard



Chapter One

Saturday, September 25th

It began on the eve of a severe Alaskan snowstorm. Two men stepped out of their four-wheel-drive vehicle into the freezing night. Pausing under a glary streetlight to check their watches, they carefully slid fully loaded. 45 SIG-Sauer semiautomatic pistols into the pockets of their down jackets.

Seemingly alone, the men looked up and down the block, crossed the street, and entered one of Anchorage's sleaziest biker bars.

The man watching all of this from the room above the bar checked his watch. It was exactly eleven fifty-five p.m.

The late-night crowd in the High Horse Saloon was a touchy mix of bikers, fishermen, and oil-field roughnecks. One of the scruffier patrons, Henry Lightstone, sat by himself at a small corner table.

'Get you a cold one?'

Lightstone put his hand over his glass and shook the waitress off as he watched two men enter the bar through the double doors. He wouldn't have given them more than a casual glance if one of them hadn't looked like a cop.

A cop was the last person that Henry Lightstone wanted to see right now.

He glanced down at his watch again-eleven fifty-six. He had planned that in four minutes he would resolve the problem that had been plaguing him for three months. Now he had only two options: stay in the bar and risk getting trapped in an arrest, or leave immediately-and flush six weeks of work down the toilet.

The two newcomers walked over to a wall table, pulled off their heavy jackets and tossed them onto an empty chair. They ordered drinks from a waitress as they sat down.

Henry Lightstone leaned his chair back against the corner wall and draped his long arms across the wooden armrests, trying to look like a man who was working on his fifth or sixth beer of the evening instead of his second.

Come on, he muttered to himself, somebody do something.

Two minutes to go.

The waitress returned with the beers and a basket of the bar's notoriously stale popcorn. The man who looked like a cop pulled two folded bills out of his shirt pocket, tossed them onto her tray, then turned his attention back to his companion.

Lightstone watched the stunned waitress stare at the money. She hurriedly stuffed one of the bills into her low-cut tank top before returning to the bar.

Two twenties, Lightstone told himself. Four beers would have been twelve, and he didn't figure she would skim tips for a lousy five or ten.

Throwaway money. A technique used by insecure people trying to make an impression. Unfortunately, it was also a trick that undercover cops used to throw people off.

Henry Lightstone let his eyes drift slowly around the smoke-filled room. He half expected to see a five- or six-man raid team taking up positions near the rear exit, but the doors were clear.

Lightstone tried to convince himself that the two newcomers were just a couple of moose-hunting tourists grounded in Anchorage by the unexpected storm. Macho types who didn't have enough brains to stay out of places like the High Horse at eleven fifty-five in the evening.

He'd been running across guys like that ever since he'd gotten into town six weeks ago.

He watched as a biker who had been sitting at the bar walked up to the two men. He was classic outlaw: big, with a scraggly black beard, dirty hair, a torn leather jacket, and patched jeans. He crashed into the table, splashing beer on the two men.

The newcomers stared up at the black-jacketed figure with bemused indifference.

Conversations began to die out at several of the surrounding tables.

Lightstone watched the biker bring his hands slowly to his narrow hips, his right hand over the leather knife pouch on his belt. The guy who looked like a cop smiled at the biker, shook his head slightly and stared straight into the biker's bloodshot eyes. Lightstone could lip-read what he said from thirty feet away:

'Don't even think about it, asshole.'

For a moment, the outlaw biker appeared stunned by the newcomer's insolence.

Two of the saloon's bouncers took up positions near the newcomer's table. One was black, the other Oriental. Neither was trying to conceal the buckshot-filled saps they tapped against their legs.

The biker stepped away from the table to face the two bouncers, the fingertips of his right hand still tucked under the leather flap of his knife pouch. But then he faltered. Clearly outbluffed and outmaneuvered, he glared at the bouncers, then swaggered back toward the bar as if the episode had been a waste of his time.

A couple of the oil-field workers, who'd obviously had their fill of swaggering bikers, rose out of their chairs, intent on taking a black leather jacket home as a trophy.

Instead, they found themselves standing nose to shirt pocket with another bouncer, this one a former offensive tackle for the Raiders. Smiling pleasantly, the bouncer placed a courtesy pitcher of draft on the table and shook his head.

'Couple of bad-ass dudes,' a familiar-sounding voice said next to Lightstone.

Henry Lightstone glanced up at the tall, leather-jacketed figure and motioned for Brendon Kleinfelter to join him at the table.

'You know them?'

'They come here every now and then, have a few beers, and then walk out like they don't give a shit that they look like a couple of cops.'

'You sure they aren't?'

'Not according to my sources.' Kleinfelter shrugged. 'Far as we know, they're a couple of import-export guys looking to make some extra money on the side. Popper doesn't like them hanging around here, and he thinks he can run them out. He just keeps forgetting about Larry and Mike.'

'The sap-artist twins?'

Kleinfelter nodded his bearded head.

'I assume you don't really give a shit, since you own the place,' Lightstone suggested.

'Their money's good,' Kleinfelter agreed.

'Know anything else about them?'

'Why? They make you nervous?'

'Damn right they do,' Lightstone said solemnly. 'I didn't set aside much for lawyers this year.'

'Names are Paul and Carl. At least that's what they go by around here. Way I understand it, Paul is the money man. The guy with the attitude is Carl. Figure him for the protection.'

'Protection for what?'

'That's always the question, isn't it?' Kleinfelter nodded. 'Did you remember to bring cash?'

'Yeah, sure,' Lightstone said sarcastically. 'I left it with the waitress for safekeeping.'

'Just as long as we understand each other.' Kleinfelter's eyes gleamed maliciously.

'What I understand is that I'm here to check out the merchandise. If I like what I see, I make a phone call. They give me an address, and you send a couple of people out to check the money. If everybody ends up happy,

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