USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith returns with a new novel in his popular series about a group of retired Las Vegas Police detectives playing poker and solving cold cases.
When retired detective Bayard Lott offers to help retired detective Julia Rogers search for her lost friend near a remote Idaho lake, they find clues that might lead them directly to the most dangerous serial killer in Las Vegas history.
Set in the rugged mountains of Idaho, this twisted mystery pits the Cold Poker Gang against a master criminal.
I fully admit I might be biased when it comes to Dean Wesley Smith the person. I married him because I think he's one of the most terrific people I know. But I'm not biased when it comes to his fiction—or not biased in the way you'd think I should be.
I'm his first reader, and it's my job to tell him if something's brilliant or if it needs to go back to the drawing board. Dean writes a several series, but only two make me grab the books out of his hands the moment he finishes them. (And nag him to finish more.) One is the Thunder Mountain series. I think you should look it up now.
The other series? The Cold Poker Gang. I insisted he participate in this bundle with first book in the series, Cold Call. Once you start this series, you'll become as rabid a fan as I am. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Dean Wesley Smith does for poker what James Patterson does for serial killers."– Sheldon McArthur, former owner of Mysterious Books in Los Angeles, on Dead Money
"[An] exhilarating political poker thriller."– Midwest Book Review on Dead Money
May 21, 2002
Lake Mead, Outside of Las Vegas, Nevada
They'd come to the edge of the big lake to celebrate.
It was Danny and Carrie Coswell's first wedding anniversary, and since the night was so warm and both had just finished another long semester at UNLV, they had decided to go back to the place they used to go while dating.
It seemed right. Danny had loved the idea when Carrie suggested it over great steak dinners at the MGM Grand Hotel. They had gone home and changed clothes after the fancy dinner, changing back into their jeans and t-shirts and carrying sweatshirts in case the night cooled.
Danny loved how Carrie looked with her long blonde hair pulled back and her trim figure. Both of them ran for exercise and at times their class and study schedules allowed them to run together.
Danny really enjoyed being out at the lake, but Carrie liked it even more. She had told him that being along the vast expanse of Lake Mead made her feel part of the world. The silence and the wild of the shores of the lake were a sharp contrast to the constant motion and noise of Las Vegas.
He and Carrie were what some called childhood sweethearts. He knew he had loved her since the very first time he had seen her walking the halls of their high school, her books clutched against her chest, trying to find her locker. They had both been in the tenth grade and he offered to help her find her locker and they had became friends, then dated all the way through school after that.
They had wonderful memories of all the dances together, graduating together, and two years later getting married.
Below them, the lake was calm, its black surface spread out to the outlines of the hills on the other side. The faint moonlight shimmered across the water, making the night feel just a little brighter.
When dating, they would often go down the gentle gravel slope to the edge of the water, maybe even do some skinny dipping. But tonight they were content to sit on a blanket on the slight bluff, holding hands, leaning into each other, just talking about their first year of marriage, and their plans for the future.
Danny had called it their private place because they were tucked into what felt like a fort of brush and small scrub trees on the bluff. No one could see them, even down along the shore. And it was on a blanket in this private place that they had first made love in their senior year of high school.
The shelter in the brush with a view of the lake was a perfect place to dream about the future, and they had used it often to plan everything from their wedding to which classes to take.
Then a dark Mercedes eased slowly down the gravel road toward the edge of the lake, its lights off, its wheels making cracking noises on the rocks, its engine muffled by the tall, thick brush that lined the top of the bluffs along this part of the lake.
There was just enough moonlight to see the worn gravel road used during the day by fishermen and at night by kids like Danny and Carrie. Danny had parked their Toyota Camry in some brush about fifty paces back up the hill. It couldn't be seen at all from the gravel road.
The Mercedes was the wrong kind of car for a lake adventure. Danny could clearly hear the beautifully engineered chassis scrape against the rocks and bumps of the rough gravel and dirt road.
The only reason Danny could get his Camry this close to the lake was because he knew every bump and large dip. Clearly the Mercedes driver did not.
"What's a car like that doing on a road like this?" Danny whispered.
"I just want to know when he's going to leave," Carrie whispered back. She smiled at him. "I have plans for you, and I don't want an audience."
He laughed. Even after all the years, they still had a good time out here along the lake.
"He can't see us," Danny said. "More than likely just some rich daddy's kid on a date with his dad's car."
"Dad's not going to be happy if he notices the scrapes under the car," Carrie said, laughing softly.
The driver of the Mercedes stopped ten paces short of the edge of the bluff overlooking the water on the other side of the road.
Danny watched as a tall man got out. In the faint light from the Mercedes interior, Danny couldn't see the man's face, but Danny could see that the man had on a suit nearly as expensive as the car he drove.
"Not a date," Danny whispered.
Carrie grasped Danny's hand and said nothing as they watched.
The man opened the back door of his car and dug out a pair of dark coveralls. He pulled them on over his suit, put a dark hat on his head, and dark gloves on his hands.
With one final movement, he put on plastic boots over his shoes, the kind that golfers wear over their golf shoes on a rainy day.
Given that the night was perfect, not a sign of rain in sight, Danny had no idea what the man was up to with all the protective gear. But Danny's stomach was telling him it wasn't good.
Then, whistling a faint tune that seemed to just drift on the slight wind, the man moved around to the trunk of his car and opened it.
Since Danny and Carrie were just above the man and the trunk light came on, it was clear there was a human body in the trunk.
Carrie inhaled, about to scream, but Danny put a hand over her mouth before she could make a sound. He could feel her trembling beneath his touch.
Or more than likely, that was his own hand shaking.
With a swift motion, the man in the expensive suit and coveralls yanked a woman's body out of the trunk and slammed her to the ground on the rocks and gravel.
Danny wanted to be sick. Beside him, Carrie was grabbing his hand hard and trembling.
The rich guy pulled out the plastic sheet the woman had been on in the trunk, spread it out beside her, and then rolled her body onto the plastic like it was so much garbage.
The dead woman seemed young, with long blonde hair and nice clothes. She might have been pretty because she had a thin body, and she seemed very, very stiff. Nothing about her seemed to bend.
Danny still couldn't see the man clearly enough to pick him out of a crowd.
The man was whistling a little louder, clearly enjoying himself. The whistling sent chills through Danny's back. He knew they were witnessing pure evil.
The man pulled the woman and the tarp toward the edge of the bluff over the water. Then, with a strength that surprised Danny, the man picked up the woman and tossed her into the water below.
The sound of her body splashing in the black lake water carried through the night air like a death knell.
"We've got to get out of here," Danny whispered to Carrie. "If he sees us, he'll kill us."
She nodded, still staring at the man on the edge of the bluff as he took a couple of rocks, wrapped the plastic around them, and then tossed the plastic into the lake as well.
"Wait," Carrie whispered. "Let's try to get the plate number. He hasn't noticed us so far. Maybe we're better off letting him leave first."
Danny nodded. He agreed with that now that he thought about it. They would not be able to be silent moving through the brush back to their car. They were in their hidden secret place. If they stayed still, the man wouldn't see them.
They waited and watched until the man took off his protective clothing, boots and all, wrapped rocks inside of them, and tossed the clothing in the water as well.
Then, still whistling, he climbed back into his car and shut the door.
The sound of the high-powered Mercedes engine cut through the night air. He quickly turned the car around in a wide area and went back up the road slowly, without lights or parking lights on.
It surprised Danny that a modern car could even move without at least some running lights on, but this car was nothing more than dark ghost moving along the narrow gravel road in the faint moonlight.
Danny thought his heart was going to pound right out of his chest. He was terrified the killer would see them, make them his next victims.
As the car headed slowly up the rough road, Danny eased out to see if he could read the license plate number.
Nothing but a faint dark outline of the car disappearing into the night.
When it vanished into the distance, Carrie let go of a long, shuddering breath, then burst into silent tears.
Danny let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and they both sat there, holding each other, shuddering.
Danny could see no evidence of what had just happened in the lake below.
He and Carrie had both been born and raised in Las Vegas. They heard about crime on the nightly news, but never had been this close to anything like this.
After a few minutes, Danny figured enough time had passed. He couldn't hear the Mercedes at all.
They moved as silently as they could to their car and then sat there for another few minutes.
Nothing moving in the dark night.
Danny finally started the car and faster than he had ever driven the gravel road, he headed for the main highway.
Within minutes, Danny and Carrie were speeding back into town along the old Boulder Highway, Danny driving as fast as he could do safely.
Next stop: the Las Vegas Police Department.
He just hoped they would get there alive.