Plots at the Paradise

Michael Panush

Special Agents Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk drove from Silver Hills in the afternoon and reached Las Vegas in the early evening. Gray didn't like the long trip, he didn't like his traveling companions, he didn't like leaving Mildred and Kirby alone and he didn't like Vegas. He kept his anger under wraps, clutching the steering wheel as they made their way into the city. First they drove to a motel, a place that was cheap and clean to get a single set of rooms. Then they headed into Las Vegas proper, going straight down the main stip.

They rolled past a sea of neon, each casino more fantastic than the last. They passed pyramids, Greek temples and mammoth high rises, all blistering with lights. The road was packed with sleek, luxury cars while tourists flocked on the sidewalk. Gray kept a firm grip on the wheel, working his way down the strip and eyeballing each casino. They were like gaudy tombstones in a cemetery, all lined up and covered in decorations. Gray thought of the greed and corruption such casinos brought - the blood that flowed to keep those slot machines turning - and remembered exactly why he hated Vegas.

In the passenger seat, Special Agent Rudolf Von Voltz was entranced. "Mein Gott!" Von Voltz whispered. "It is like some enchanted fairyland, is it not? Or perhaps Christmas time, with all the twinkling pretty lights." He pressed his nose to the window like he was an excited child as Gray spun the wheel and headed for a nearby parking lot. "To think that Area 51 is so close and in all the time I worked there I never visited this magical land. Do you think we will have time to explore some of these casinos?"

"No." Gray kept his response laconic. "We're just going into this one for information."

"Some snooping, perhaps?" Lusk was in the back seat, looking over his favorite snapshots from past stakeouts. "A little bit of covert observation?"

"We'll see." Gray brought his Packard to a stop, in the lot of the Paradise Hotel and Casino. It was a monumental building of white stone, like a giant, multi-tiered wedding cake. Gray opened the door and stepped out, Von Voltz and Lusk following him. They headed around the lot and to the main entrance. Von Voltz matched Gray's pace while Lusk trailed behind, cradling his precious suitcase of surveillance equipment. They reached the door.

Every casino in Vegas tried to have a theme. Some featured Roman or Egyptian or tropical Polynesian designs, but the Paradise had decided to live up to its name and settle on heaven. The usherettes at the door were dressed like angels, with short white skirts and feathery wings on their shoulders. They grinned at Gray as he trudged inside through the double glass doors. Gray jammed his hands in his pockets and didn't grin back.

They went past the lobby and into the main casino hall. There were fields of slot machines, with the occasional island of felt-topped tables for bigger card games. A fully-stocked buffet and a luxurious stage were waiting in the wings when the tourists got tired of losing money. Gray looked at the tourists, cramming around the slots like pigs at a trough and pouring in their money. There were golden harps, silver wings, and halos scattered everywhere as decorations. White velvet covered the floor. Scantily-dressed angel waitresses weaved their way through the rows of slot machines, handing out free drinks to keep the customers happy. Gray glared at it all.

Von Voltz stood next to her partner. "Oh! The buffet here has chicken-fried steak. That is truly one of my favorite dishes. Are we going to visit this buffet and have some?"

"No." Gray glared at his friend. "We're here to question the owner. He's a scumbag by the name of Moe Caiman and he's waist-deep in Vegas organized crime. If something is happening in this town, Caiman will know about it." Gray turned back to the Paradise floor. "And then we'll leave."

"You don't like it here, do you?" Von Voltz asked, speaking slowly and cautiously.

Gray chose his answer carefully. "It's not the real America," he announced. "It's a shadowy illusion, a mirage. All this crime and corruption is just a little stain. Good men, good women – families struggling to raise children and live honestly. That's what America is about. Not this greed and sleaze." He sighed. "It weakens us. It makes us vulnerable to the communists and moral decay. It's nothing more than a stain."

"But have not many of your politicians profited from the stain of crime and corruption?" Von Voltz asked. "I know part of that was the Third Reich's propaganda, but I did read the newspapers during my time in your country, Agent Gray. I know how powerful crime is."

"Then it's our job to stomp it out." Gray started to head into the casino floor. He wondered if he should hold his breath. "Let's start with Caiman." He walked down a row of slot machines, flanked by Lusk and Von Voltz.

They walked down one of the long aisles between banks of slot machines. Gray had been to the Paradise before. Caiman knew him well – and feared him. Gray had made sure of that and he'd press the point if he had to. He and his fellow agents reached the back of the Paradise Casino's main hall and then walked along the wall until they came to a stairwell.

"You think this Caiman character will give us information?" Von Voltz wondered.

"On a silver platter," Gray replied. He looked back at Von Voltz and Lusk. "All we have to do is ask. Can I trust you fellows to help me?"

Lusk's head bobbed up and down. "Certainly. But, Gray, I think there's something else I should tell you. Didn't want to tell you on the way over here, because I knew you didn't want to be distracted, but I think I noticed something on the drive up." He leaned in close, his voice dropping to a whisper like he was worried the hallway was bugged. "I think we was being tailed. This blue corvette was after us. Always stayed two cars behind – but it never let us out of sight."

"A tail?" Gray wondered who the hell it could be. "You're sure?"

"Can't be sure about anything." Lusk shrugged. "It's just a thought."

So they were being tailed. Was it the Road Rogues? But how had they found out where Gray was going? Or maybe it was this Weaver character, already keeping tabs on them. But how could he possibly know that the Black Bureau was investigating him? Gray shook the thoughts from his head. Questions wouldn't do him any good, even if there were hundreds of them boiling in his brain – including the existence of aliens and SPYDER. He had to keep his mind at the task at hand. So he tramped up the white velvet, walking past murals of handsome swooping angels, until he reached a set of mahogany double doors. Von Voltz and Lusk followed.

Two bouncers, both wearing matching white tuxedoes trimmed with leopard print, stood before the doors like another set of decorations. One was bald and had a fat nose. The other had a thick moustache that covered half of his upper lip. Both glared at Gray. The bald guy stepped up to meet them, his arms folded. "That's far enough, pal," he growled. "The boss don't want to be disturbed. Take your pals and dangle."

This time, Gray didn't bother with a warning or the brass knuckles in his pocket. He just rammed his fist deep into the gut of the bald punk and doubled him over. The bald fellow grasped his chest and gurgled like something had been lodged in his throat. Gray grabbed the back of his neck and rammed the bouncer's head into his knee. The bouncer hit the carpet and drooled on it. He didn't say anything after that. Gray looked up just in time to see the man with the moustache running at him, already swinging a fist. He ducked down.

The fist punched through the air over his head. The goon pulled back to strike again, but then Von Voltz stepped closer and cracked the handle of his ray gun against the punk's face. It wasn't a heavy blow, but it broke the bouncer's nose and let blood dribble into his moustache. "You skinny little—" The bouncer swore as he tried to swing again. He didn't get the chance. Gray swung upwards, driving his fist into the bouncer's chin. He knocked his opponent back against the hard wood of the doors, cracking the bouncer's skull against the mahogany. The bouncer slumped down, out cold.

Soreness shot through Gray's knuckles. He cracked his fingers and nodded to Von Voltz. "Thanks," he said. "You handled yourself well."

Von Voltz shrugged. "I have my moments."

"Yes, yes." Lusk feigned applause. "All very well done. But can we go in and talk to Caiman? I'm anxious to get to work." He patted his suitcase.

"Why not?" Gray kicked open the door and strolled inside.

Moe Caiman's office was the size of a small restaurant. It was furnished like a palace, with animal skins stretched out on the floor and graceful Grecian statues set around leafy potted plants. A large glass window overlooked the casino floor, so Caiman could lord over everything like god over his kingdom. A desk the size of a car sat in the middle of the room. Caiman was at the desk, flipping through some notebooks. He looked up and saw Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk.

Caiman's jaws fell open. He stood up, moving to run – except there was nowhere for him to run to. "Ah no," Caiman muttered. "Not you. Not today." Moe Caiman was a portly fellow, a gut growing under his white tuxedo. He had graying hair curly as steel wool and thick rubbery lips. A tropical flower drooped in his lapel. "Not now." He grinned weakly as he sat back down. "What'll take to make you split, Gray? You want me to reach for my checkbook?"

In answer, Gray walked around the desk. He grabbed the back of Caiman's head and slammed it down, about to crack the casino magnate's head against the desk. Inches from the corner of the desk, Gray stopped – avoiding the blow. He could feel sweat dripping down Caiman's skull as he held the man down, letting fear – and not pain – doing its work. "Talk to me," Gray ordered. "Immediately."

"About what?" Caiman muttered. "You crazy G-Man. You maniac."

"May I make a suggestion?" Von Voltz asked. "We need to know everything you know about a man called Weaver and an organization known as SPYDER."

"No. Not that." Caiman clutched the edge of his desk as Gray let go of him. "Jesus Christ, Pius will kill me! He'll kill me if he even finds out I'm talking to you!"

Gray strolled around the desk. He looked down at Caiman, staring into his watery eyes. "But if you don't talk, I'll look around your establishment here and find enough evidence of illegal activities to have you sent to Federal jail for the rest of your natural life. How long you think you'll last there, Caiman? You want to make a bet?"

The casino magnate shivered. "I can't!" he wailed. "Pius will kill me!"

"Who exactly is Pius?" Von Voltz asked.

"Pius Bravo. Local gangster. Kingpin of Vegas with connections going to all the big back east Crime Families." Gray turned back to Caiman. He let his coat fall open, revealing the twin automatics in his shoulder-holster. "Pius Bravo won't hurt you, Caiman. Not like I can." He looked straight into Caiman's terrified eyes. "Now start talking about Weaver."

"It's all in capital letters. WEAVER. That's his name." Caiman shook his head. "It's some kind of codename. WEAVER's a kraut, some kind of ex-Nazi. I wouldn't be dealing with a bum like that, but Pius insists on it. He says he's been doing with WEAVER for years and he's never been let down. They're coming to my place to discuss some big upcoming bit of business and he wants me in on it." Caiman bowed his head. "I don't know what WEAVER's racket is. I don't know who he works for. I don't know a damn thing about him. Now please let me go."

"When's the meet?" Gray demanded.

Caiman shuddered. "It's tonight. In one of the high stakes rooms." He looked at Gray. "What? What do you want me to do? You gonna give me another order?"

"All I can do is ask." Gray nodded to Lusk, who opened his suitcase. "You'll wear a wire. We'll listen to everything you say to Bravo and WEAVER." He saw Caiman blanch and start shaking. "You can't turn away now. We have reason to believe that this WEAVER character is a foreign spy, perhaps for the Soviet Union. If you're in league with him, you'll get a ticket straight to the chair or the gas chamber. But if you assist us now, you might not even have to see a courtroom."

Lusk's suitcase was loaded with surveillance equipment. Lusk drew out a small microphone, the size of a deck of cards. "Pull up your shirt, Mr. Caiman," he suggested. "Let me slip this baby in you and get it turned on."

"Oh…" Caiman pleadingly turned to Gray. "Can you watch? There's a two-way mirror in the wall, looking down at the high stakes room. We use it to take care of cheats. Can you go up there and watch, just to make sure nothing happens?" He bit his lip and shivered. "Just watch over me a little, all right? Be my guardian angel."

Von Voltz put his hand on Caiman's shoulder. "We'll do our best, sir," the German replied. "You have my word."

"Thanks." Caiman gulped as he pulled up his tuxedo shirt. "Oh Christ. The meeting's in half an hour. Let's just get this awful business over with." He shook as Lusk taped the bug and the wire to his hairy, flabby chest. Gray watched the whole thing, wondering what exactly he would learn. He had told Caiman that WEAVER was in the payroll of a foreign government, maybe the Soviets – but he doubted that was true. Even the Reds wouldn't be so blatant about enlisting criminals in the United States. And Caiman seemed to think that Pius Bravo and WEAVER had been doing business for some time. What kind of spy worked hand-in-hand with powerful gangsters? Gray thought about SPYDER, the ghost story for spies. Could there be truth to those rumors?

He shook away the thoughts. One way or another, he'd find out tonight.

A half an hour later, Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk were in the small watchman's room overlooking the high stakes room. The watchman's room had a few folding chairs on hard wooden floors and a single table, where Lusk had set up his equipment. Below them, past a pane of two-way mirror, was the high stakes room. It was a small chamber, big as a bedroom. A card table topped with green felt stood between several high-backed chairs. Caiman was down there, sitting in the dealer's seat. Caiman was tapping his fingers on the table and sweating. Gray wondered if he'd crack.

The double doors creaked open. Gray's eyes turned to the doors. Von Voltz straightened up and Lusk stubbed out his cigarette on the table. Lusk fiddled with the dials on his speaker. "Okay," Lusk muttered. "Should be some crackerjack sound coming through on our end. We just gotta listen."

Pius Bravo strolled inside. Gray had never seen him in person, only in mug shots and newspaper photos. He was lean, his sharkskin double-breasted gray suit clinging tightly to his skin and he wore it with a yellow tie and matching pocket square. Bravo set his fedora down on the card table and pulled up a chair. He had slick dark hair striped with gray and tired eyes. Two goons in matching pinstripes filed in after him, both with scarred puffy faces and bulges under their armpits. Gray knew that they were all the toughest class of greaseball.

"How's the casino business, Moe?" Bravo asked. His voice came in small and tinny over the speaker. Caiman's hidden microphone was working perfectly. He watched as Caiman sweated and shifted in his seat. "What's a matter?" Bravo demanded. "You nervous or something?"

Gray leaned in closer. "Sure." Caiman was trying to recover. "You know, about meeting WEAVER."

"Well, that's okay. You ought to be a little nervous about meeting a fellow like WEAVER." Bravo grinned as he held out his hand. One of his goons handed him a cigar and the other readied a lighter. "This guy comes up to me, about last year, says he wants to talk business. He says our deal will be simple – he'll bring in the dope and I'll sell it for him. He says he's done his research on me and knows that I already got contacts in half the towns on the west coast and I can move all the dope he'll bring in. And he wants a third of the profits." Bravo puffed smoke. "I tell him no dice. I say I already got supplier – a Cuban fellow who used to run booze during prohibition, up from Mexico. You know what this guy does?"

"What?" Caiman wondered.

Bravo smiled. "He takes out this satchel and tells me that I ain't got that supplier no more. He takes out the Cuban's head – dried blood crusted on the neck – and puts it on my desk. He tells me to expect the next shipment tomorrow and then he leaves." Bravo shook his head fondly. "And we been in business ever since."

The double doors opened again. This time, it was WEAVER who stepped inside. Gray knew it was WEAVER because Lusk tensed up and pointed, mouthing that it was the same guy he had seen at the hotel in Silver Hills the other day. Gray watched as WEAVER walked over to join Bravo and Caiman.

WEAVER was just dressed Lusk had said – in a dark leather trench coat over a black suit, a fedora low on his head and sunglasses covering his eyes. He didn't even remove the fedora as he sat down. Gray tried to look down to see WEAVER's face. He saw stiff blonde hair under the brim of the fedora and a thin scar creeping from his forehead to his chin. And WEAVER wasn't alone. Two massive bodyguards followed the spy in, both of them scarcely contained by their voluminous black trench coats. They kept the brims of their fedoras low and stood in the back of the room, looking at nothing and remaining motionless. Gray knew immediately that they weren't human. He shivered a little.

Quickly, WEAVER sat down. He looked over Bravo and Caiman. "Good evening, my friends." Gray could hear the German accent in his voice, made tinny by the speaker. "I trust you have been having a fine day? Excellent. Then let us get down to business."

"S-sure." Caiman stammered. "What you want?"

"Ah, what a question that is?" WEAVER shook his head. "What do I want? I would say the world, Mr. Caiman, but let us keep matters more focused, shall we? What I want right now is currently locked in a steel cell nearly a mile under the earth's surface, below one of the most heavily guarded military outposts on the planet – Area 51 – and you gentlemen are going to help me steal it."

Bravo breathed out smoke from his cigar. "Tall order, WEAVER."

"But an order nonetheless. And it will be obeyed." WEAVER reached into his suit and withdrew a piece of paper with neatly typed words on it. He handed it to Bravo. "These are the supplies we need by tomorrow. You will acquire them. It will not be difficult. You already run girls and dope to the nearby air force base. Simply bribe and blackmail a few commanding officers and you can take the required trucks and uniforms. And the smuggling networks – including tunnels and safe houses in this very city – you already possess. Mr. Caiman is aware of those, which is why I invited him to this briefing." WEAVER leaned back in his chair and let his boots fall on the table. "Besides, Mr. Bravo, you know what will happen if you disobey."

"I suppose I do." Bravo nodded. "All right. You want to knock off Area 51. Mind telling me why?"

"It is not only my desire, Mr. Bravo. SPYDER wants to rob Area 51. As for our objective in this operation, I'll allow you to guess." WEAVER came to his feet and held out his hand. "Now, are there any other questions that you would care to ask?"

Gray's head was still spinning. "SPYDER exists," he said it aloud to reassure himself. "SPYDER's a real organization and they're going to try and rob Area 51."

"Well, obviously." Von Voltz put a finger to his lips. "Please be quiet now, Agent Gray. I think something is going on below us that I do not like." He pointed at Caiman. The poor guy was shaking now, his hands lying flat on the felt table of the card table. And WEAVER was staring at him.

As Gray watched, WEAVER stood up and walked behind Caiman. WEAVER leaned in close, speaking into Caiman's ears. "Why are you so nervous, my friend? I can smell it on you." WEAVER tapped his nose. "You know, during the war, I worked for the Gestapo in charge of investigating the whereabouts of Jews and other enemies of the state. A foolish waste of my talent, of course, but I excelled in it. And I learned to tell when somebody is lying."

"What are you talking about?" Bravo asked. "Caiman's a stand-up guy."

"No." WEAVER reached into his trench coat. Gray felt his heart pound. He knew what was coming next. WEAVER pulled a small metal rod from his pocket and waved it over Caiman's chest. As it neared the casino magnate's belly, it began to buzz and crackle. "You're friend is not a stand-up guy," WEAVER explained. "He is – as you would say – a rat." WEAVER grabbed Caiman's shirt and ripped it open. The bug and wire were there for all to see.

Bravo snarled. "You son of a—" He grabbed Caiman's throat. "Who are they? Who's listening in? Is it the Feds?" Caiman wasn't saying anything. He just sort of mumbled and gurgled, emitting the occasional raspy whine. Gray came to his feet, wondering what he could do to save Caiman. If he darted down and drew his pistol, he could arrest WEAVER and Bravo and-

He never got the chance. WEAVER reached into his coat, pulled out a luger pistol and shot Caiman neatly through the head. The casino owner slumped back on his seat, his eyes still open and staring blankly at the two-way mirror. Gray looked at Caiman's terrified eyes and the little hole in his forehead, dripping blood down his nose. Gray realized that he had already drawn his automatic. Lusk and Von Voltz had both left their seats and pulled their own guns. They looked down through the glass, watching WEAVER, Bravo and waiting. WEAVER's two massive gunmen stood silently by the door, motionless as statues.

"What'd you do that for?" Bravo shouted. He had drawn a huge revolver from his coat and both his bodyguards had pulled automatics. "We never found out who the bastard was snitching to! I could've beat it out of him, but you went and put his brains on the floor!"

"The identity of our foes is immaterial. No matter what government or private force they are, they have chosen to fight SPYDER and so they will be defeated." WEAVER ripped the microphone from Caiman's belly. He held it up to his mouth. "Can you hear me?" he asked, his voice growing in volume. "I'm certain that you can. Reveal yourself now. Contact me and let us talk about this situation. Stand with SPYDER and you will be rewarded. Stand against us and you will be destroyed. That is not a threat. It is a promise."

Gray said nothing. Neither did Von Voltz or Lusk. They had drawn their own side arms and were looking through the mirror, watching WEAVER. Gray could hear his heart pounding. The operation had been compromised. In a matter of seconds, he had learned that he wasn't dealing with an ordinary criminal conspiracy or even spies from a foreign country. These SPYDER people apparently had some of the best operatives in the world, capable of smelling a lie like a normal person could smell rot. And now SPYDER would be after him. Gray tried to keep his mind calm. He thought about Mildred and little Kirby. He vowed that he'd return to them.

WEAVER nodded to his two guards. "Find them," he ordered.

The two goons walked to the middle of the room. Their trench coats and fedoras fell away, like wrapping leaving a present. Gray finally saw exactly what they were. These two bodyguards were gorillas, powerfully-built apes with thick limbs and black, bristly hair. They had little metal spikes stuck in their heads and wore dark black tunics, sleek submachine guns slung over their shoulders on thin straps. Gray bit his lip and waited.

One of the gorillas sniffed in deeply. Then it started running, moving on its knuckles and pounding across the white velvet carpet of the high stakes room. Without slowing down, the gorilla clambered over the table and then leapt into the air. It grabbed its submachine gun, swung it to face the two-way mirror and leaned on the trigger – all in midair. Bullets ripped through the glass, shattering it instantly. Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk ducked down, as shards of mirror flew back and bounced on the carpet. The gorilla touched down and roared, swinging its sub-gun around to face them.

Von Voltz fired first, blasting a beam of burning energy through the shoulder of the gorilla. Gray smelled burning hair and cooking meat. The gorilla lunged back, bellowing in pain. Then Von Voltz was grabbing Gray's arm and racing to the edge of the sill. Lusk followed and Gray put some energy into his legs. They had to get out of there.

"Kill them!" Bravo roared. "Waste them all!" He fired his revolver at Gray, Von Voltz and the other agents, his goons doing the same. Lines of hot lead burned through the air of the high stakes room. Gray heard bullets humming past him, almost kissing his cheek. He clattered away with his own pistol, firing blind as he leapt from the watchman's room and plummeted into the chamber below. Gray landed on the green felt of the card table. It broke under his weight. He hit the ground, but he was up on his feet and running for the door.

Gray scrambled up and saw Bravo blocking his way. Bravo leveled his pistol at Gray, but the G-Man was faster. Gray swung down his automatic's barrel, bashing it against Bravo's forehead and sending the gangster sprawling. Gray clutched his gun tightly, hearing his own ragged breathing as he made for the door. Lusk and Von Voltz ran with him, bullets cutting the air around him. WEAVER turned to watch them go, though he made no move to give chase. The gorillas would do that.

The remaining ape blocked the door, as the other gorilla jumped down from the watcher's room. The gorilla blocking the door went for its sub-gun, holding the firearm in one mammoth hand between its thick fingers. But before it could shoot, Von Voltz, Gray and Lusk raised their pistols and clattered away together. The gorilla roared in pain and slipped out of the way. That was the only chance the Special Agents would have to escape.

Lusk reached the door first. "Go!" he shouted, slamming his shoulder into the door and knocking it open. Gray and Von Voltz reached the doorway and hurried outside. They scrambled into the hall, darting back towards the main casino floor. Gray's legs pumped under him, carrying him swiftly over the white velvet. He still held the automatic. He kept on seeing Caiman leaning back in his chair with his eyes staring open and the blood trickling down his nose and reaching his lips like stains from a zealously-eaten meal.

Then Gray looked back over his shoulder. The gorillas were pounding after them. The chase had just begun. Both gorillas were in pursuit now, making an easy, loping run with the help of their knuckles. The apes crossed the carpet swiftly, closing in on the Special Agent. Gray swung back and fired his automatic. The pistol barked in his hand. He saw fur and blood spray on the ground, but the gorillas kept coming. He might as well have saved his ammunition. Those apes needed heavier bullets to put them down – or a shot through the head that Gray didn't have the time to pull off.

They passed a pair of blonde waitresses in angel wings and miniskirts. Gray knocked a tray of drinks out of a girl's hand as he ran past. "Sorry!" Von Voltz cried, without breaking stride. They ran past them, moving for the casino floor. Behind them, Gray could hear the waitresses screaming at the passing gorillas. He quickly glanced back and saw that gorillas hadn't hurt the waitresses, but had just loped past them. It made sense. The beasts had a single-minded pursuit of their quarry.

And behind the gorillas, Gray saw that Pius Bravo's mob goons were also on the pursuit. There were maybe half a dozen of them now, running down the hall and going for their guns. Gray heard more guns rattling to life and felt bullets soaring past him, Lusk and Von Voltz. He looked ahead and saw the long rows of slot machines, glowing and whirring to life before crowds of casino patrons. There was nothing for it. Hoover always hated when the FBI acted too publicly. Too many witnesses kept the director from ensuring that the proper sequence of events went to the press or to the annals of history. But there was nothing for it now. Gray held his breath and plunged into the casino floor, his friends flanking him and the gorillas close behind.

They scurried through the rows slot machines. Lusk grabbed the arm of one slot machine and shoved it to the side, pushing it into the way of the gorillas. Lusk grunted with exertion as the one-armed bandit hit the carpet. The machine cracked open, spraying a pool of gold coins onto the white velvet. As I fell, Lusk darted back to keep up with Von Voltz and Gray. But the gorillas just leapt over the fallen slot machine, hardly slowing as they continued their chase.

"Jesus Christ…" Lusk whispered. 'What'll it take to get rid of these apes?"

By now, the tourists had noticed them. Gray heard their frightened cries as they tried to move out of their way, some hauling buckets or armfuls of their winnings with them. Others just thought it was part of the night's entertainment. They applauded as Gray, Lusk and Von Voltz ran for the Paradise Casino's exit, hooting and shouting encouragement. Gray hoped they'd keep their mouths shut – but even if they talked, who would believe some nutty story about gorillas with guns running through a casino? That was a small mercy – if they lived to enjoy it.

They ran past a number of card tables. Gray, Lusk and Von Voltz weaved around them and then the gorillas plowed right through. The gamblers ran screaming from the card game as the two apes smashed their way past the table, knocking it aside with heavy, hairy arms. Cards and poker chips flew through the air. Gray saw the cards fluttering down like confetti, spinning as they reached the carpet. He brushed an ace of spades off of his shoulder and doubled his pace. His legs ached and his breath was short. Von Voltz was in even worse shape, his lanky legs nearly tripping on the white velvet floor. He didn't know how long they could keep running.

Finally, they reached the lobby. They hurried past, ignoring the shouts and cries of the people behind them. They reached the double glass doors. Gray kicked them open and they ran outside, into the parking lot. Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk hurried into the parking lot, with the gorillas after them and then Bravo's mobsters close behind.

They got into the parking lot, the lights of Vegas glowing down upon them. The busy traffic roared by, moving in its endless stream. Gray paused for breath and looked around, his mind racing. He looked back at Von Voltz and Lusk and then stared at the rows of car in the parking lot, struggling to catch his breath.

"Wait a minute," Von Voltz muttered. "Where exactly did we park?"

Gray turned to look for the black Packard, before a gorilla lunged out of the doors of the Paradise and swung the length of its furry arm into his chest. Gray fell down onto the pavement, feeling like a wrecking ball had hit him. He gagged and gasped as he saw both gorillas hurrying towards him, ignoring the shots Von Voltz and Lusk were sinking their way. Bravo's hoodlums were behind them, all packing. They didn't have to time to fight the apes. Gray told himself to get up and run – but just moving his arms was an ordeal.

The gorilla who had struck him raised its fist again. The heavy fist came down, about to mash Gray's skull to paste. Gray gritted his teeth and rolled over. The gorilla's hand cracked down on the pavement. Gray could feel the force of the blow. The gorilla wouldn't miss again it pulled back its arm as Gray dug into his coat. He clutched his second automatic, the handle feeling cold against his fingers. Gray finally dragged it out.

He saw the gorilla's fist swinging down. Gray fired once. His shot punched through the forehead of the ape. The gorilla's mouth fell open. It toppled backwards and landed on the pavement in a furry heap. Gray gasped as he crawled away from the corpse. He felt like his ribs had changed shape.

"Well done, my friend!" Von Voltz cried as he and Lusk hurried to him and both men offered him a hand. "But I'm afraid there is still one gorilla intend on pounding us into oblivion, not to mention the small army of criminals!" Von Voltz fired his ray gun at the remaining gorilla, sinking shots past the ape. Gray managed to put some strength into his feet and stood up by himself. He turned and looked at the gorilla.

The ape charged. Its submachine gun was held in one hand, firing wildly. There was pure red hate in the ape's eyes and its fur flew as it pounded madly across the black pavement. Gray wondered if even a bullet through the brain would bring that gorilla down. The ape would probably just keeping on charging, made even madder. Von Voltz, Lusk and Gray all fired at it. Their bullets punched into the ape's midsection. The gorilla howled louder and louder. It was closing in – just like the gangsters on the steps of the Paradise. There was no time to get out of their way. Gray had a terrible feeling that the Black Bureau was finished. He would never get to feel the warmth of Mildred's body again or see Kirby's hopeful smile. He missed them dreadfully.

Then a honking horn sounded, louder than the gorilla's roar. A bright red Cadillac sped through the parking lot and crashed hard into the gorilla. The ape spun to the side, roaring hoarsely as it toppled back and crumpled on the ground. The gorilla roared and moaned and Gray couldn't stand it. He leveled his automatic and fired again, putting a single rough through the gorilla's skull. The ape finally lay still. Gray looked up at the Caddy as the door passenger seat door slammed open.

Desdemona Prince poked her out from the window. "You boys need a ride?" she asked. Gray stared at her, hardly believing that the annoying female journalist from the Bronco Burger had just saved all their lives by ramming her automobile into a charging gorilla. Prince pointed to the front door of the Paradise, now swarming with wiseguys. "I don't think you're gonna get a better offer," she suggested.

In answer, Gray, Lusk and Von Voltz ran for her car. Gray got into the passenger seat while Lusk and Von Voltz crammed into the back. The car was a mess, full of scattered papers and old issues of All-Seeing Eye magazine. Prince hit the gas pedal as soon as Gray had sat down and sent her car speeding out through the pavement. Bullets whizzed after her. One cracked the glass of her rear windshield, and she jumped in her seat. But then she was into the big stream of traffic, honking her horn and fighting for space like any of the other cars.

She sped away from the Paradise, keeping her foot on the gas pedal. They drove away quickly, getting as much distance as possible. "You fellows okay?" Prince asked, finally looking back at the three federal agents. "I gotta admit, I wasn't planning on rescuing you. I got a few sources in the FBI and checked up on you to see where you were going – I still want to do some interviews, you know – and when I came by the Paradise I saw you running outside and decided to give you a hand."

"You have sources in the Silver Hills Field Office?" Gray asked. "Who?"

Prince glared at him. "Come on, pal. I just saved your life. Do you ever stop being a hardass?"

"He does, occasionally." Von Voltz smiled. "But perhaps his temper is somewhat raw, given his recent escape from certain death." Von Voltz leaned forward and patted Gray's shoulder. "I think we can trust Miss Prince, Agent Gray. She could have let us die, but she did not. She could have been scared off, but she was not. I think she is trustworthy."

"What about our car?" Lusk asked. "The Packard? That was a nice ride."

"We'll pick it up tomorrow, once things have calmed down," Gray explained. He nodded to Prince. "You will take us to our motel and drop us off. Then you'll return to whatever rock you crawled out from under and stay there. You'll get no story from us. Is that understood, ma'am?"

"Gray…" Von Voltz's voice was plaintive. "She saved our lives. Does that not earn her at least a small interview? She doesn't have to list our names, you know. And we can be as vague as we like. After all, it is not like many people will believe such a story about great freelance spy organizations with gorilla soldiers."

Desdemona Prince smiled. "Gorilla soldiers?" she asked. "My readers will love that."

"Fine. But we keep it vague." Gray could hardly believe himself. Usually, the only thing he would show to a reporter would be his back or his knuckles. But things were different than what he believed. Aliens existed. SPYDER was real and was trying to kill him – and to rob Area 51. With those kinds of dangers arrayed against him, what did a few covert words to a reporter matter? And she had saved his life. That had to be worth something.

They drove on through Vegas, heading back to their hotel.

It was about midnight when they arrived. Gray always kept the budgets for his operations tight and it was no exception for the Black Bureau. Their motel room was a small set of rooms with two bedrooms and a couch, where Gray would be sleeping. Gray, Lusk, Von Voltz and Desdemona Prince arrived and headed to the room. Prince looked at the peeling yellow wallpaper and bare wooden floor, then at the little TV and icebox in the corner.

"Not exactly the Ritz…" Prince admitted. "But you certainly are saving taxpayer dollars."

"We do our best." Von Voltz sat down at the couch. He nodded to Prince. "Now, I think my partner and Mr. Lusk need to talk. Could you please excuse us? After that, you can have the exclusive you desire." Von Voltz put his hands in the pockets of his coat. "I have no wish to be rude, but please do not listen in."

The reporter shrugged. "Why not?" Prince replied. "I'll be in the bathroom. Gotta freshen up for this little interview. I'll give you fellows a few minutes." Prince stepped away, heading to the bathroom and leaving Gray, Von Voltz and Lusk alone.

Gray sat down in the shaggy brown armchair in the corner. His ribs still hurt like hell. He took off his coat and stretched, wearing his shirtsleeves, vest and twin shoulder-holsters. He glanced up at Von Voltz as he removed his automatics and started to carefully reload each gun. "I don't like it," he said. "I don't like involving the press. The director won't either, after I tell him. This thing with Prince could backfire in a big way."

"Come now, Agent Gray." Von Voltz smiled. "J. Edgar Hoover is not God on his throne. And besides, I think we must rely on this reporter even more – and promise her more in return." He raised a thin finger. "Let me explain my thinking. Now, tonight we learned that SPYDER is going to attempt some sort of robbery of Area 51. The wheels of this robbery are already in motion. The question that now arises is what must we do to stop it?"

"Warn Area 51." Gray gave the most obvious answer. "It's a Central Intelligence Agency base, with some Air Force work being done there. We warn them and have them prepare for the coming attack and robbery. Then they capture SPYDER's operatives and we go from there." He had a hard time even saying the name of SPYDER, but he knew it was something he would have to get used to.

But Von Voltz shook his head. "No. Your CIA and the FBI don't have the best relationship, do they? When I was working in Area 51, you G-Men were the objects of much ridicule and distrust. J. Edgar Hoover himself was referred to as an 'oaf' and his walk was often called 'mincing.' I doubt they would heed our warnings. Also, there is the matter of belief. Is our story about an attack by an organization previously thought to be a rumor credible? Do we have any evidence for the coming raid?"

Gray turned to Lusk, but the surveillance man shook his head. "I didn't have a chance to grab the recording," he muttered. "Not with those gorillas chasing us down and trying to rip us apart. We don't have a shred of evidence that SPYDER even exists."

"So what do we do?" Gray asked.

Von Voltz's smile faded. "You won't like it, Agent Gray."

"Tell me your idea, Rudolf."

"We break into Area 51. I have some knowledge of the base's inner workings, though I know nothing about the security. From there, we see what SPYDER's goal is and protect it." Von Voltz smiled. "Perhaps we can abscond with it and take it somewhere it will be safe from SPYDER's endeavors."

"Where the hell would that be?" Lusk asked. "Is there anywhere in the world that SPYDER can't get to?"

Nobody answered his question. Instead, Gray leaned back in his seat, a hand on his bruised chest. The skin was already turning purple. "But you said you knew nothing about the security. We'd have to get some fake documents, fake identification and bluff our way into one of the most secured places outside of Fort Knox. Are you gonna do that, Rudolf?"

"No." Von Voltz grinned as Prince walked into the room. "But I know someone who can."

Desdemona Prince looked from Von Voltz to Gray. "Someone who can what?"

"Nothing," Gray started, but Von Voltz had already popped up and walked over to her.

The German Special Agent smiled at Prince. "We want you to help us break into Area 51 ahead of an extremely powerful freelance espionage organization known as SPYDER. Then we want you to help us find what they're looking for and perhaps steal it out from under their nose – or at least keep SPYDER from taking it." He grinned as he rested his hands in his pockets. "In return, you will get the exclusive rights to publish a story about our adventures – 'My Journey in Dreamland,' or something similar – only you must change all the names and avoid the particulars." His grin grew a little weaker. "How does that sound?"

Gray gritted his teeth. He came to his feet and had to stop himself from striking Von Voltz. "Agent Von Voltz, that is a gross breach of security and I will see you severely reprimanded for telling highly confidential information to—"

"Relax, G-man." Prince nodded to Gray. "I already know all about SPYDER and Area 51. I even know what's going on there and what the CIA boys have locked up in the bottom of their base." She walked back to the corner of the room, where she had set her purse. "As a matter of fact, I was kind of planning a little infiltration of Area 51 myself. I've been getting documents ready and while they ain't exactly bulletproof, they should at least get us past the door."

"How the hell do you know about SPYDER and Area 51?" Gray snarled.

"Come on, chief." Prince nudged him playfully. "I'm an investigative reporter, I'm very good and this country's soldiers, scientists and CIA agents aren't made of stone – not like you. For a pretty smile and a promise of more, they'll take me out to dinner and tell me everything they know after a few glasses of wine. They'll even pick up the check." Prince swung the purse's strap over her shoulder. "Your nation isn't impregnable, Special Agent Gray. I think SPYDER will teach you that lesson even if I don't."

Von Voltz stepped between them. "Tomorrow shall we leave for Area 51, then?" he asked. He smiled hopefully at Gray and Prince. "Perhaps you can drive by this hotel and offer us a ride back to the Paradise, where we can get our vehicle and then we will all drive to Area 51 together? After that, we can prepare our cover story and begin the infiltration."

"I haven't agreed." Gray hadn't taken his eyes of Prince. "I haven't agreed to anything."

"But, my friend," Von Voltz asked. "What choice do we have?"

He was right. Gray knew it and he also knew there was nothing he could do. He'd have to break into his own country's secret military base, with a possibly communist journalist as his accomplice. But then again, he was in a world with aliens and SPYDER. He was in a world where he didn't know what was true and everything seemed to make less and less sense.

"Tomorrow," Gray said. "Now leave, ma'am. I could use some rest."

Prince nodded. "Okay. That gorilla did bang you around a little." She cocked her head. "You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine. We'll leave tomorrow." Gray walked back to the couch and sat down. "And thank you, Miss Prince, for saving our lives back there." He didn't like admitting it, but he knew he had to. "We'll see you tomorrow. Good night."

"Good night, Agent Gray. Sleep tight." Prince walked to the door. She paused and looked back at Von Voltz. "And thanks to you, Rudolf. People of my persuasion don't exactly have the most love for your countrymen, but I think you convinced me otherwise."

"Journalists?" Prince wondered.

"Jews, actually," Prince replied. "Good night, boys. I'll see you tomorrow." She walked to the door and departed, leaving the three agents alone.

They prepared for bed, taking turns showering and seeing to their wounds in the bathroom and then dressing and retiring for bed. Gray slapped a few bandages over his cuts and scrapes from the chase with SPYDER's gorillas and put on his pale blue pajamas. He returned to the living room and prepared the couch with pillows and sheets as the pain from the bruising finally started rippling to life. Gray considered calling Mildred and Kirby, but it was late now and they were probably asleep. Kirby needed his rest and Gray didn't want to bother them.

He heard Lusk stepping into the room. Gray turned around. The surveillance expert slept in an undershirt and boxers. He held something behind his back. Lusk walked over to Gray. "Didn't want to bother you earlier," he said. "Not when you was chatting with that nice little piece of—"

"What's up, Agent Lusk?"Gray asked.

"This." Lusk pulled out a little metal box and tossed it on the bed. "You know I sweep every room for bugs. Bit of a habit, really. You know – don't want anyone spying on the spies. Anyhow, I did a sweep of this place while you was in the bathroom and I found three of these, one in each room. They're good work, done quickly but definitely a professional job." Lusk sighed. "I should have checked earlier. Whoever they are, they heard everything."

"The plan about Area 51?" Gray gulped. "Was it SPYDER?"

"I don't see how it could be. Nobody tailed us from the Paradise to the motel. Not even SPYDER's that good." Lusk sighed. "Unless they've been watching us the whole time – maybe they was in that corvette following us from Silver Hills – but then why would they let us listen in to WEAVER's conversation with Pius Bravo? And why haven't they killed us yet?" He glanced to the window and then to the door of Von Voltz's room. "There's another option though. Maybe our German pal over there ain't exactly playing for the right team, if you know what I mean."

"No." Gray was surprised by the firmness in his voice. "I trust him, Lusk. I trust him like I'd trust any other agent. Now get some rest and try not to worry about the bugs. The damage is done and we'll just have to be extra careful for the infiltration tomorrow. I'll need you staying out of the way, though. Let me, Von Voltz and the reporter go inside and you wait for back-up in case something goes wrong – and I have the feeling it will."

Lusk nodded. "Okay, okay. Sounds doable." He started back to his room. "Good night, Agent Gray. Pleasant dreams."

"Thank you." Gray clambered onto the couch and switched the lights off. He stared at the ceiling in the darkness, listening to himself breathe and the car speed by outside in an endless hum. SPYDER was real. There were aliens in Area 51 and he was working side-by-side with a trouble-making reporter for some paranormal tabloid. He didn't know what was true anymore.

But somehow, he still thought he knew who he could trust