Read Loaded Dice Online

Authors: James Swain

Loaded Dice

BOOK: Loaded Dice
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Loaded Dice

James Swain

Ballantine Books
New York

For Steve Forte

The biggest and first crap game is mentioned in Greek mythology. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades

rolled dice for shares of the Universe.

Poseidon won the Oceans.

Hades won the Underworld.

Zeus won the Heavens and is suspected of having used loaded dice.

Inside Las Vegas


The author would like to gratefully thank the following people for their help in writing this novel: Chris Calhoun, Dana Isaacson, Michele Jaffe, Linda Marrow, Fred Rea, Deborah Redmond, Charles and Margaret Swain, and Laura Swain.


e had left Arlington Heights early that morning, knowing there would be traffic, and had not been disappointed.

The long line of cars on I-395 headed toward Washington had stopped moving, and he hit his brakes. Then he glanced nervously at the cell phone lying on the passenger seat beside him. He’d left the radio turned off so he would not miss the call when it came.

Traffic started to move, and he lightly tapped the accelerator. Normally, he liked to listen to the area’s local shock jocks rant and rave. Even when he didn’t understand what they were talking about, he still fed off their anger.

He saw the sign for his exit and merged into the left lane. Putting his indicator on, he kept left at the fork in the ramp, then took a right onto C Street.

A Texaco station sat on the corner. Inside, he bought a sixteen-ounce cup of coffee. Paying for it with the change in his pocket, he saw the manager stare.

“Where did you get that, buddy?” the manager asked.

He stared at the handful of coins in his palm. With the quarters and dimes was a casino chip. It was brown, what gamblers called a chocolate chip.

“Gambling,” he replied.

“No kidding.” The manager leaned over the counter. “I’ve seen purples and yellows, but never one that color before. How much is it worth?”

He started to tell him that it was worth five thousand dollars. Only he didn’t. He was dressed in crummy street clothes, and didn’t look like someone who’d won that much money.

“Nothing,” he said. “It was a souvenir.”

“Pretty neat,” the manager said.

He sat in his van and sipped the coffee until it turned cold. Finally, the cell phone on the seat beside him rang.

“Yes?” he answered.

It was Ziad.

“It’s time,” his cousin said.

The line went dead. He took the chocolate chip from his pocket. Staring at it, he thought of all that had happened, and all that was about to happen. Then he thought of his parents and family back in Pakistan. What would they think of him? He could only hope they would be proud of what he was about to do.

He left the gas station and drove onto First Street. At a traffic light he stopped and realized his hands were trembling. He unzippered his windbreaker and stared at the three hand grenades strapped around his waist.

The light turned green. Closing his jacket, he took a right on Independence, heading the van toward Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House.

Two and a half years later


he most desirable women in Las Vegas didn’t live there.

They lived in southern California and worked as dental hygienists, aerobic instructors, and nurses. They lived regular, nine-to-five lives. Then, on the weekend, they flew to Las Vegas—usually on Southwest, because it had the most flights—got off the plane, and became different people. Their names changed, and so did their hairstyles and their clothes. It was as if a magic wand had been waved over them, although the change was anything but magical.

They became strippers in the gentlemen’s clubs that hung on the periphery of the Las Vegas Strip. They paid the club owners two hundred bucks a night and made the money back in twenty minutes from drunken men wanting a friction dance. On a good night, they took home a grand.

It wasn’t that these women were
beautiful than the women who lived in Las Vegas. Vegas was filled with knockouts. What made them different was that they weren’t used to being treated like garbage, which was how most women in Vegas got treated. No, these women still had dreams. They lived in la-la land, and it came through on their faces every time they smiled.


Her name was Kris, and she danced at the Pink Pony.

Lieutenant Pete Longo of the Metro Las Vegas Police Department had met Kris while responding to a call about a fight. Normally, he would have let a uniform deal with it, only the prospect of seeing naked women dancing against a backdrop of sporting events projected on a colossal screen had propelled him into action. That, and not having to see his wife for another hour.

The fight was between a drunk and a bouncer, and it was over Kris. The drunk was a big, corn-fed kid from the Midwest who’d trapped Kris in a VIP booth. She was naked save a G-string and looked scared out of her wits. Petite, blond hair, great figure, and her own breasts. Not the prettiest woman he’d ever seen, but damn close.

Longo had acknowledged her with a thin smile. Then he’d tried to arrest the drunk. The drunk had responded by spitting on him.

Longo was pretty fat. His mother called him chubby, but that was his mother. Beneath the flab was some real muscle. In the gym, he could bench-press his weight. Most guys his size couldn’t do that. And he knew how to fight.

He knocked the drunk out with two punches. It had impressed the hell out of the bouncer, an African American kid whose Italian suit had gotten torn in the scuffle. And it had impressed the gaggle of patrons and strippers standing nearby. But who it impressed the most was Kris.

“Ohhh,” she’d squealed as the Midwest Mauler fell.

Longo made the bouncer sit on him. Then he’d taken off his jacket and draped it over Kris’s shoulders.

“You okay?” he asked.

She closed the jacket around her and nodded her head.

“Did he hurt you?”

She shook her head. “That was really cool,” she said.

“What’s your name?”

“Starr,” she said.

“Your real name.”

That had gotten her. The hint of a smile crossed her lips. “Kris.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” he said.


That had been six weeks ago. Pulling into the driveway of Kris’s townhouse in his brand-new Ford Explorer, Longo found himself shaking his head. It felt like they’d known each other six years. Every time they’d gotten together—every single encounter—had been the stuff dreams were made of. Beeping his horn, he looked expectantly at the front door.

A minute passed. He rolled down his window and sucked in the brisk desert air. It was early April, his favorite time of year. Warm days, cool nights; perfect sleeping weather. He tapped his horn again.

When she didn’t come out, he slipped out of the SUV. The garage door was open, his old Mustang convertible sitting in the space. He’d given it to Kris so she’d have wheels on the weekends. He’d concocted an elaborate story for his wife, only she’d never asked him what he’d done with the car. Too happy with the new Ford Explorer, he guessed.

Cindi was funny that way. Since their marriage had gone on the rocks, she had stopped questioning where the money was coming from. They went on nice vacations twice a year, drove new cars, and had money in the bank. All on his crummy detective’s salary.

The front door was locked, and he trudged around back. Taking the spare key out of the flowerpot, he unlocked the back door. He waited expectantly for the alarm’s piercing whine. When it didn’t sound, he went in.

“Hey, Kris, it’s me. They stop serving breakfast at nine. We need to hurry.”

Still no answer. Probably in the bathroom, doing her hair. Kris looked like a cheerleader when she wasn’t stripping. She was a stickler about keeping the place clean, and he slipped off his shoes and padded silently into the living room.

Right away he knew something was wrong. The air smelled funny, and he spied a half-smoked cigarette lying on the glass coffee table. Kris had flown in the night before and called him from the club. Said she was going to dance until three
, then go to the townhouse. He was to pick her up at eight thirty for breakfast. A simple plan, although he now realized that someone had come home with her.

Lifting his eyes, he stared at the hallway that led to her bedroom. Were they in there, sound asleep?

He took a deep breath. Being a cop twenty years, he’d come to know the seven deadly sins pretty well. Betrayal was the worst. It shattered everything you held to be true, and was as damaging as a bullet to the flesh.

He cracked her bedroom door and peeked inside. Kris lay beneath a leopard-skin blanket, eyes shut, her wheat-gold hair displayed luxuriously on a pillow. His heartbeat quickened. Every time he saw her, he felt like a high school senior with his life stretched out before him, not some fat, forty-five-year-old bozo with two kids and a wife he couldn’t stand.

Longo opened the door fully and stared at the bathroom door. Was her friend with the cigarette in there? His eyes canvassed the room and spotted Kris’s clothes folded neatly on a chair. It was a little ritual she performed whenever they made love. It always made him smile.


Her eyelids remained shut. He stepped into the room. His instinct told him to check the bathroom first, and his heart told him to check her. His instinct won out, and he kicked the bathroom door open. Empty.

He sat on the edge of the bed. It was a motionless water bed, so comfortable that they’d once slept for ten hours straight. He looked down at her. The color was draining from her face, her exquisite features turning hard.


He didn’t want to believe she was gone, his heart winning out over his instincts. He lifted the blanket with the tip of his finger and saw where the bullet had entered her body, and taken her life.

Her killer had been kind. He’d shot her through the heart, and he guessed she’d died instantly. Lowering the blanket, he rose from the bed, looked at the ceiling, and tried not to sob.

Only one thing to do. Get in the Explorer and burn rubber. He couldn’t be caught here. He looked down at her a final time.

“I love you so much,” he whispered.


Putting his shoes on in the kitchen, Longo stared at a pair of socks sitting on the table. He’d left the socks here last weekend. In typical Kris-fashion, she’d washed and folded them. As he picked up the socks, the words
Oh, no
, escaped his mouth.

How many more of his things were in the townhouse? And what about his fingerprints? They were probably on every doorknob and light fixture. And Kris’s phone bills, the investigating detectives would surely look at those. All trails would lead directly back to him.

He pulled a chair out from the table and dropped his massive bulk into it. He was about to become a suspect in a murder investigation. The detectives in charge would not be his friends. They would look at his lifestyle, questioning his expensive vacations and the new cars he bought every year. What was he going to tell them? That he found a bag of money behind a casino?

Or would he tell them about the department’s secret slush fund, and how money was being siphoned from the bank accounts of well-known wise guys. The wise guys weren’t shouting about it, knowing a bribe when they saw one.

He couldn’t do that. That would be suicide.

He would lie about the money.

“Jesus Christ,” he said aloud.

He’d get thrown off the force, and Cindi would surely leave him. His teenage daughters would shun him, and his parents wouldn’t be too thrilled, either. His life was about to be ruined. And all because he’d gone and fallen in love.


Standing, he slid the chair beneath the table. The leg hit something soft, and he looked beneath the table and saw a black gym bag. The bag was open and stuffed with casino chips from several different casinos. He pulled it out and let his fingers run through the chips. Reds, greens, purples, and yellows. There was even a brown chip. You didn’t see those very often.

He blew his cheeks out. There was twenty grand here, easy. This was worse than bad. He couldn’t explain
. And if there was any part of the story the investigators would want explained, it was why twenty grand in casino chips was in Kris’s townhouse.

Zipping the bag closed, he saw a sliver of paper tucked in a side pocket. He pulled it free. It was an embossed business card, and he stared at the raised lettering.

Grift Sense
International Gaming Consultant
Tony Valentine, President

It was a small world. He knew Valentine. A retired Atlantic City detective who helped casinos catch cheaters. Had he blown into town, met Kris, and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse?

Sticking the card into the bag, Longo searched the bag’s other pockets and found a pack of Marlboros. He went into the living room and stared at the filter of the cigarette lying in the ashtray. It was a match.

Back in the kitchen, he grabbed the gym bag off the floor and exited through the back door. He went straight to the community trash area and buried the bag beneath a ton of garbage.

Coming back inside, he dialed the police station on the kitchen phone. An automated message greeted him. While he waited for an operator, he wondered how hard it would be to track Valentine down. Valentine was probably in town on a consulting job, staying at one of the nice joints on the Strip. A few phone calls at most, he decided.

His thoughts shifted to his dead girlfriend. Her memory was going to stay with him for the rest of his life. He was going to make Valentine pay for this, only he wouldn’t be as kind as Valentine had been to her. There was no reason why he should be.


ony Valentine watched a police cruiser race down Maryland Parkway, the morning sunlight beating brightly off its roof. Distances were hard to determine in the desert, and he guessed the cruiser was five miles away. Back home in Florida, the landscape didn’t play tricks with you like it did out here. But that was the appeal of Las Vegas: You didn’t know what was real and what was an illusion.

He turned from the window. He was standing in a penthouse office of Sin, Las Vegas’s newest casino. Three thousand guest rooms and a gaming area as big as an airport terminal. It was Vegas’s second new casino this year, the public’s appetite for throwing away their money knowing no bounds.

Three of the most powerful men in Nevada stood on the other side of the room: Shelly Michael, CEO of Michael Gaming, the country’s largest casino chain, the man the
Wall Street Journal
called “a barracuda in pinstripes”; Rags Richardson, the African American owner of three Strip casinos and founder of BE BOP SHABAM Records; and California beach boy Chance Newman, owner of Sin, who’d made his fortune in Silicon Valley before the tech bubble burst.

Crossing the room, he stuck out his hand. “Tony Valentine. Nice to meet you.”

They all shook hands. Normally, Valentine didn’t kowtow to
. Only these guys had made his day. They’d called yesterday and offered him twenty-five thousand dollars for a private demonstration. Even if he hadn’t already been en route to Las Vegas to check up on his son Gerry, he still would have accepted the job.

Twenty-five grand was a lot of dough. More than he’d made his first years as a cop in Atlantic City. When he and his wife retired to Florida, he’d figured his earning years were over. Then Lois had died, and he’d opened a consulting business to help casinos catch cheats. It kept his mind off the past. And the pay was good.

He caught the three men smirking and guessed it was his clothes. The airline had lost his luggage, and he’d bought pants and a shirt in Sin’s haberdashery for the meeting. The pants had set him back three hundred bucks and didn’t fit worth a damn.

A blackjack table sat in the center of the room, along with four stools and a dealer from the casino. Hitching up his trousers, he crossed the room and pulled a stool out from the table. “Care to join me?” he asked.

The three men elbowed up to the table. Shelly Michael had an annoying habit of continually looking at his watch. Valentine saw him do it again.

“Got a train to catch?”

Shelly glared at him. He wore an exquisite silk suit that was offset by a toupee too flat for his head. He also wore a wedding ring, and Valentine wondered why his wife hadn’t bothered to tell him how ridiculous he looked.

“You may begin,” Shelly said.

Valentine had a feeling that he wouldn’t be getting any jobs from Michael Gaming after today. That was okay. He had to draw the line in the sand somewhere.

“As you know, blackjack is the favorite table game of every casino in the world,” he began. “It is also, unfortunately, the game that’s most susceptible to cheating. I personally know of a hundred ways to cheat at blackjack, and that doesn’t include card-counting. That’s why casinos monitor their blackjack tables so zealously.”

He shifted his attention to the dealer behind the table, a good-looking Italian kid named Sal Dickinson. They’d talked briefly in the elevator. Sal was an A dealer, which meant he got to work the high-roller salon and made good tips.

BOOK: Loaded Dice
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Christmas Babies by Mona Risk
Bella by Barrett, D.J.
Chaos at Crescent City Medical Center by Rocchiccioli, Judith Townsend
86'd by Dan Fante
Lessons of the Past by Chloe Maxx
One Grave Too Many by Ron Goulart
Gutta Mamis by N’Tyse