The Final Call by Stephen Paul

The Final Call

His friend had asked for his help, and like a fool, he’d agreed. Now he’d probably pay for it with his life. The whiskey bottle went to his lips again and he took a hard pull trying not to choke from the liquid that felt like acid going down his throat.


Leonard sat in his car on top of a dirt mound outside of North Las Vegas. It was high enough up he could see the strip lights glittering before him, the casinos like spiders that had spun intricate webs, waiting for their victims.


The paper had reported David Harley being found dead, suicide, the coroner said. His body stretched on a rope slung over a beam in the video game building, on Ashley Court, where he was vice-president of sales. It wasn’t suicide, it was murder.


David had a run of bad luck at the Casmir Casino, the one behind the MGM Grand. Not quite on the Strip, but close enough to snag the gamblers who tired of the glitz and showmanship. He went down for over $50 thou, then found out he wasn’t going anywhere fast with his job. Being a microchip engineer, he rigged a game to pay off big. So big, the mob who ran the casino knew there was something fishy going on.


Leonard Holtz was the man who played the rigged machine and hit the progressive jackpot for a cool 2.3 million. He got a cashier’s check for $185,000 and the balance would be paid over the next twenty years. All right! Easy street, I’m here, he thought.


A quick trip to L.A. so he could open an account for some untraceable money transfers, then back a couple days later. That was when he read the paper and learned Dave was dead. Now, they’d be after him. No horse’s head in his bed, thank you very much. Leaving Las Vegas, just like the movie, but Leonard had no intention of dying.


He threw the empty bottle out the window, not hearing the shatter of glass as it hit the ground. The car eased down Overlook Hill and he took Marquette Street south until he turned at 15th East and pulled into his apartment house parking lot. The front window had the reflection of the Stratosphere in it. If he stared long enough, he could see the roller coaster racing around the tower and would have sworn he heard the screams of the riders. Leonard didn’t turn the lights on as he entered. Silently, he stood and listened. Nothing. It didn’t take long to fill the suitcase and as he pushed on the top to latch it, the phone started to ring. The answering machine picked up and the message that came over was clear. “Give us back what’s ours.”


Leonard ran to his car, throwing the suitcase in the backseat and pulled onto 15th with a squeal of rubber. He sped a mile until he could take the Strip exit south. Traffic slowed him down as he went through motions of stop and go, stop and go. The Treasure Island Casino had a show going on outside on the pirate ship and Aladdin’s remodeled face promised more payouts than anyone else. Past the casinos he drove until he reached McCarran Airport.


He checked his bag at United, and with $65,000 in cash taped to his torso, Leonard boarded the jet for Cleveland, Ohio.


*     *   *


The sun was peeking up from behind low lying clouds when the plane landed at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. After picking his suitcase up, he hailed a taxi in front of the “A” terminal. “Take me to the Carlton Hotel on 38th and Wilmar, in Shaker Heights.”


“You got it, Mister. Ya want to see where Drew Carey does his show?” the cabbie asked.


“Just take me to the hotel,” Leonard said.


They drove down Clifton Blvd., with the Lake Erie on the north, then turned onto Highway 422 where the taxi picked up speed. When they came to the Wilmar exit, Leonard’s heart picked up the beat. He was close to being home. He’d lived in Shaker Heights for seventeen years. They might not find me.


He signed the register as Fredrick Holliday.


After changing clothes in his room, Leonard, carrying a small leather case containing the cash, boarded the last commercial trolley that operated in Ohio, Shaker Height’s claim to fame with banners and posters plastered over billboards and the back of the high school football field’s scoreboard.


He loved the ride through the small city; prewar buildings made from brick rose majestically, trying to prove they were capable of being important, mom and pop stores with fruit in display shelves outside the stores, and neat, whitewashed homes that made up a neighborhood of family.


At Sycamore Avenue, Leonard jumped off and went into a small store with the name, Final Call, on a huge sign.


An hour later he stepped out. The pressure surrounding his chest was uncomfortable, and he had trouble breathing. Two blocks east of the building was a small park with a fountain in the middle and made from granite blocks that had come from the local quarry in 1937. The significance was the engraving on the top of the granite blocks–The history of Shaker Heights in etchings by an artist who didn’t find fame until he had been dead for forty-five years.


Two men had boarded the plane in Vegas just before it left. They had the look of mobsters. No doubt they’d find he checked in at the Carlton. With a sigh, he stood up and walked back to Sycamore Avenue and waited for the trolley.


He pulled the stop rope at 38th, the Carlton across from the trolley stop. Leonard entered the lobby and saw the two men from the plane talking to the desk clerk. Leonard strolled over to a rack and picked a brochure out, pretending to scrutinize it.


“Yes,” the desk clerk said, a picture in his hand and bills sticking out of his closed fist. “He checked in a few hours ago. Room 512.” The clerk frowned. “But he left a little while ago.”


“Did he take any luggage with him?” one of the men asked.


“No, and he told me he’d see me later.”


Leonard approached the two men.


“Excuse me,” he said to the tallest one.


The man turned. “Hey, baby. What can I do for you?”


“Can you tell me how to get to the courthouse?” Leonard asked.


“Stick around sweetheart, I’ll take you,” the man replied.


“No thank you, I’m meeting my husband.”


“Oh. I don’t know where it is, lady.”


“You can either take a taxi or the trolley down to Sycamore,” the desk clerk said. “Then get off and you’ll see a theatrical store called, Final Call. The courthouse is two blocks south. You can’t miss it.”


“Thank you, you’re so kind.” Leonard said. He paced himself as he walked toward the door. Don’t panic, not too fast, you’re good.


As he pushed the door open, he heard one man say to the other, “Damn she has a nice ass and legs.” Then Leonard Holtz disappeared forever.

The End