Chapter 27

NOTHING WORSE than crappy porn.

Lying in the motel room bed, that was what Charles Talley had been thinking before the phone rang. He'd been watching some weirdly edited porno on the Spectravision Pay-Per-View channel. It had cost him $12.95, but the damn movie cut out all the good stuff, all the close-ups and, well, genitalia both male and female.

What the hell is this crap?

Worse yet, the movie, in order to make up for the lost time, kept replaying over and over the same parts. So the girl would be like sliding down to her knees and then they'd show this guy's face tilting back and then they'd go back to the girl sliding down, the guy's face, the girl sliding down...

It was maddening.

Talley was about to call down to the front desk, give them a piece of his mind. This was the friggin' United States of America. A man has a right to watch porn in the privacy of his own hotel room. Not this chicken-ass soft stuff. Real porn. Hardcore action. This stuff, this soft porn- might as well be put on the Disney Channel.

That was when the phone rang. Talley checked his watch.

About time. He'd been waiting for this callback for hours now.

Talley reached for the phone, put it to his ear. On the screen the girl was panting the exact same way for, what, ten minutes now. This crap was beyond boring.


Click. Dial tone.

A hang-up. Talley looked at the receiver as if it might give him a second response. It didn't. He put the receiver down and sat up. He waited for the phone to ring again. After five minutes passed, he started to worry.

What was going on here?

Nothing had turned out as planned. He'd flown in from Reno, what, three days ago now? Hard to remember exactly. His assignment yesterday had been clear and easy: Follow this guy named Matt Hunter. Keep a tail on him.


He had no idea. Talley had been told where to start off- parked outside some big law office in Newark- and to follow Hunter wherever he went.

But the guy, this Matt Hunter, had spotted the tail almost immediately.


Hunter was strictly an amateur. But something had gone very wrong. Hunter had made him right away. And then, worse- much worse- when Talley called him a few hours ago, Matt Hunter knew who he was.

He had used Talley's full name, for chrissake.

This confused Talley.

He didn't handle confusion well. He placed some calls, tried to find out what was going on, but nobody had picked up.

That confused him even more.

Talley had few talents. He knew strippers and how to handle them. He knew how to hurt people. That was pretty much it. And really, when you thought about it, those two things went together. You want to keep a strip joint running and happy, you need to know how to put on the hurt.

So when things got muddled- as they were now- that was always his fallback position. Violence. Hurting someone and hurting them bad. He had spent time in prison for only three assault beefs, but in his life Talley guessed that he'd probably beaten or maimed fifty plus. Two had died.

His preferred method of putting on the hurt involved stun guns and brass knuckles. Talley reached into his bag. First he pulled out his brand-new stun gun. It was called the Cell Phone Stun Gun. The thing looked, as the name suggested, exactly like a cell phone. Cost him sixty-nine bucks off the Web. You could take it anywhere. You could have it out and put it to your ear like you were talking and bam, you press a button and the "antenna" on the top wallops your enemy with 180,000 volts.

Then he pulled out his brass knuckles. Talley preferred the newer designs with the wider impact area. They not only spread out your area of collision, they put less pressure on your hand when you laid into someone good.

Talley put both the stun gun and brass knuckles on the night table. He went back to his movie, still holding out hope that the porno flick would improve. Every once in a while he would glance at his weapons. There was arousal there too, no doubt about it.

He tried to think about what to do next.

Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on his hotel room door. He checked the bedside clock. It was nearly one in the morning. He quietly slid off the bed.

There was another knock now, more urgent.

He tiptoed to the door.

"Talley? You in there? We need to talk."

He peeked through the peephole. What the...?

It was Matt Hunter!

Panic flooded in. How the hell had Hunter tracked him down?

"Please open up, Talley. I just want to talk to you, that's all."

Talley did not think. He reacted. He said, "One second."

Then he crept back toward the bed and slipped the brass knuckles on his left hand. In the right, he held the cell phone to his ear, as if he were in the middle of the conversation. He reached for the knob. Before he turned, he looked into the peephole.

Matt Hunter was still there.

Talley planned his next three moves. That was what the greats did. They planned ahead.

He would open the door, pretending he was on the phone. He would signal for Hunter to come forward. As soon as he was in range, Talley would hit him with the stun gun. He'd aim for the chest- a big target with the most surface area. At the same time he'd have the left hand prepared. With the brass knuckles, he'd use an uppercut to the ribs.

Charles Talley opened the door.

He started talking on the phone, pretending someone was on the other line. "Right," Talley said into the stun gun. "Right, okay."

He gestured with his chin for Matt Hunter to step inside.

And that was exactly what Matt Hunter did.