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Authors: James Swain

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BOOK: Loaded Dice
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“Sal,” Valentine said, “please shuffle up.”

Sal removed six decks of playing cards from a plastic shoe on the table and began to shuffle. Valentine turned his attention to the three casino executives.

“For every method of cheating at blackjack, casinos have devised a way to beat it. Computers, cameras, mirrors, daub, you name it, and the casinos have figured out how to stop it. Then something called Deadlock appeared on the scene.”

“So it does exist,” Shelly said.

“That’s right.”

“You’ve seen it, or just heard about it?” Shelly asked.

The challenge in his voice was unmistakable. Valentine could hear the soft purr of the cards being shuffled behind his back. “I own one,” he replied.

Chance Newman acted surprised. He wore hip designer threads and moved like he’d spent his life on a dance floor. “I thought they were impossible to get,” he said.

“They are,” Valentine replied.

“Then how did
you
get one?” Shelly demanded.

Valentine’s face burned. Shelly’s mother had obviously left him in diapers for too long. Taking out a pack of Marlboros, he banged one out and stuck it between his lips. Leaving it unlit, he said, “A casino in the Philippines I was doing a job for gave it to me. The casino’s security department raided the room of a gang of suspected cheaters. They found the device in a suitcase and thought it was a card-counting computer.”

“And you taught yourself how to use it,” Shelly Michael said.

“That’s right.”

Chance Newman placed his hand on Valentine’s shoulder. “Tony’s the best in the business. That’s why I asked him to give us this demonstration. If anyone is going to understand how Deadlock works, it’s him.”

Valentine turned to face Sal. The six decks were ready to be cut. He picked up the laminated cut card sitting on the table and jammed it in. Sal separated the cards at the spot and fitted them into the plastic shoe.

Then Sal started to deal.

         

Valentine played all seven hands at the table, a hundred dollars a bet. Within twenty minutes, the shoe was exhausted and he was down ten thousand dollars.

“This is cheating?” Shelly asked sarcastically.

Shelly was watching him like a hawk. So were Chance and Rags, only Shelly had breath that could melt your glasses. Valentine wondered if he knew how bad his breath was. That was the problem with rich people. No one was honest with them.

“It sure is,” Valentine said.

“But you’re down ten grand.”

“That’s right. I’m splashing.”

“You’re what?”

“Splashing. It’s a hustler’s term. I’m throwing money around, setting you up.”

“How so?”

“I’ve made you think I’m a sucker.”

Valentine placed his unlit cigarette in the ashtray on the table. Picking the ashtray up, he moved it next to the plastic discard tray where Sal put the cards after each hand was dealt. Beneath the ashtray, Valentine secretly held a “lug”—a piece of rubber band tied in a knot with its ends snipped off. With his middle finger, he shot the lug into the discard tray. Sal immediately put some cards above the lug. Then he removed all the cards from the discard tray and began to shuffle them.

Valentine turned around on his stool, effectively shielding Sal from the three men.

“What should make us think otherwise?” Shelly asked.

“My behavior,” Valentine said. “I lost ten grand, and didn’t start pissing and moaning.”

Shelly didn’t get it. Neither did Chance. But Rags was all smiles, his gold teeth glittering. In and out of prison as a kid, he knew the ways of street people, and said, “That’s a tell.”

“Sure is,” Valentine said.

“So what are you telling us?”

“That I’m about to rip you off.”

Rags grinned. “Sure you are.”

Valentine had been counting time in his head. Twenty seconds had passed, and he turned around and watched Sal finish shuffling. So did the other three men.

When Sal was done, he offered the cards to be cut. Valentine picked up a laminated cut card lying on the table and stuck it into the break in the cards created by the lug.

Sal watched him with a bored look on his face, playing his part perfectly. It had taken Valentine no time to explain the scam to him in the elevator. It was one of the things that made Deadlock so deceptive. A dealer could be easily recruited.

Sal fitted the cards into the plastic shoe and started dealing.

         

Valentine played all seven hands, a thousand dollars a bet. After ten minutes, he’d won his ten grand back, as well as twenty thousand of the house’s money.

“What the hell you doing?” Rags yelled at him. He was hanging on the table rail, staring in disbelief as Valentine won every single hand he played.

“Cheating,” he replied.

“Ain’t possible,” Rags said, looking at his peers for support. “Is it?”

“That, or he can walk on water,” Chance said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Shelly glared at him, refusing to acknowledge he was beaten. Valentine played another round, winning all seven hands. Rags slapped the table incredulously.

“Are you going to show us what you’re doing, or do we have to lie on our backs and say
Uncle
?” Shelly finally asked.

Shelly’s timing was perfect. The cards that Valentine was using to win had been exhausted. He
couldn’t
cheat anymore, not that he planned to tell Shelly that.

“Be happy to,” Valentine said.

Standing, he undid his belt and let his ill-fitting, three-hundred-dollar slacks fall to his ankles. The three men instinctively stepped backward. They stared at his white jockeys and the keypad strapped to his thigh. It was the size of a PalmPilot and had wires that ran beneath his shirt. Valentine lifted his shirt and let them see the small black box taped to his side.

“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Deadlock,” he said.

         

“A couple of years ago, a group of supersmart college students in Japan pulled a little prank,” Valentine said after he’d removed the apparatus and laid it on the blackjack table. Pulling his pants up, he continued. “They read in the newspaper that U.S. reconnaissance jets were flying over their country while monitoring North Korea. So these students made some alterations on a computer in the math department at their school.

“One day, while a U.S. jet was flying over their country, the students sent a beam up from the computer and downloaded all the intelligence in the jet’s computer that had been gathered about North Korea. They e-mailed the information to everyone they knew.

“Needless to say, they got in trouble, and apologized for what they’d done. After a while, things calmed down. Then one day, a guy from Nevada shows up at their school. A gambler.

“This gambler had participated in a blackjack scam in Atlantic City years ago that used a computer hidden in a van, and a gang of accomplices. He explained the scam to the students and challenged them to come up with something that would re-create it, using less equipment and no accomplices. He also offered to pay them extremely well if they succeeded.”

“And Deadlock was born,” Shelly said.

“That’s right.” Valentine picked up the equipment from the table. “In the beginning, the students had some problems, mainly because they didn’t understand how blackjack was played. But eventually they caught on. Here’s how Deadlock works.

“The keypad is strapped to my thigh. With my right fingers, I input the values of the first hundred and twenty cards played through the fabric of my pants. Because my right hand is beneath the table, the security cameras won’t see this. Neither will anyone else at the table.

“Deadlock takes this known sequence of cards, plays out all possible drawing sequences, then outputs the strategy that wins the most money.”

“How many sequences are we talking about?” Shelly asked.

“Millions.”

“How quickly?”

“Ten seconds at most. Deadlock also adjusts for player mistakes, and legitimate players entering the game, all on the fly.” He picked up Deadlock and pointed at the red light on the keypad. Pressing the 1, he made the light come on. “This means Deadlock is ready to pass the information on to me.” He pointed at his right ear. “I’m wearing an intracanal earpiece. In a few seconds, Deadlock will tell me how to play the first round.”

“It will
tell
you?” Rags said incredulously.

“That’s right. Deadlock speaks with an automated voice. The instructions are always crystal clear.”

“Wait a minute,” Shelly said, unable to hide his anger. “These cards were shuffled. They were in a
random
order.”

Valentine shook his head. “Afraid not.”

“What do you mean?”

He glanced at Sal. “I had some help. That was one thing the Japanese whiz kids couldn’t solve. The scam needs two people.”

It took a long moment before the words sunk in. Then Shelly erupted. With venom in his eye, he stared across the blackjack table at Sal. “You tricked us!”

Sal was a classy guy and held his ground. “Mister Newman told me I was to do whatever Mister Valentine wanted. Mister Valentine asked me to help him demonstrate the scam. So I helped him.”

“Sal didn’t shuffle the first one hundred and twenty cards,” Valentine explained. “He only pretended to, while I was distracting you. He shuffled the
rest
of the cards, which was what you saw, and remembered. When I cut the cards, I brought the unshuffled cards to the top.”

“That won’t work in a casino,” Shelly said.

“Of course it will,” Valentine replied.

“Now
this
I’ve got to see,” Rags Richardson said.

         

“It’s called putting the eye to sleep,” Valentine explained. “The average surveillance technician in a casino watches forty different video monitors. He tends to focus on things that attract his eye. Like a guy betting heavy. Or a pretty woman. Things that most casinos are filled with. Especially at night.

“The cheater knows this. So he plays like a dummy for a few hours, splashes money around. He’s not seen as a threat, so the technician stops watching him. That’s when the scam happens.”

“What if the tapes were watched later on?” Shelly said, still not believing him. “Wouldn’t they see that the cards weren’t shuffled?”

Valentine looked at Sal. “Sal, would you please demonstrate the zero shuffle?”

Sal slid a deck across the felt, broke it in two, and prepared to shuffle the cards together. Only he didn’t interweave the cards. He simply ran his thumbs up the sides of the decks, while leaving one half atop the other. Then he squared them.

“Looks stupid, doesn’t it?” Valentine said. “The only eye it will fool is the one in the ceiling. To the camera, this shuffle looks legitimate.”

Shelly climbed up on a stool and had Sal do the shuffle again. Chance and Rags got on their stools as well.

“That does look good,” Rags admitted.

“Radical,” Chance added.

Valentine had Sal do the zero shuffle again. From above, it looked perfect, and that was all that mattered.

“Jesus!” Chance exclaimed.

“Impressive, huh?” Valentine said.

“I’m not talking about that,” Chance said, pointing at the picture window on the other side of the penthouse. “Looks like we’ve got a jumper.”

The three men turned and stared. Next door was a dump called the Acropolis. On its top floor, an attractive woman stood on a balcony on the wrong side of the guardrail. They hurried across the room just as she started to cross herself.

Valentine put his face to the glass. Then he swallowed the lump rising in his throat. The woman looked like his late wife, right down to the short dark hair and the way her dress clung to her slender frame as the wind whipped it around her body. His wife, whom he missed more than anyone in the world.

“Call the police,” he said.

Then he ran out of the penthouse as fast as his pants would let him.

3

R
eaching Sin’s lobby, he flagged down a security guard on a bicycle. One of the annoying things about Las Vegas was that nothing was close. The city’s architects had somehow forgotten how difficult it was to get around in the desert, and had spaced the casinos far apart from each other.

“There’s a jumper next door,” he told the guard. “I need your bike.”

The guard was a red-haired guy with a face that looked like a swarm of bees. “You a cop?” he asked.

Valentine had been a cop so long that being retired was something of a joke. “Yeah,” he said.

The guard relinquished his bike. Valentine hopped on and sped through the casino’s front doors. As he pedaled furiously down the front entrance, he looked straight up, and saw the woman that resembled Lois standing on the edge of the balcony, getting ready to take a swan dive into the great beyond.

He rounded the corner and rode up the Acropolis’s entrance, still staring at the sky. The woman saw him, and he waved to her, hoping to get her attention. That was key: Get her thinking about something besides dying. He’d dealt with jumpers in Atlantic City several times. A couple he’d saved, a few he hadn’t. There was no magic to it.

He passed the Acropolis’s famous fountains and got sprayed with water. Nick Nicocropolis, the hardheaded little jerk who owned the place, had erected toga-clad statues of his voluptuous ex-wives—a stripper, two showgirls, two beauty queens, and a retired hooker who’d run for mayor and gotten six votes—and bathed them in orgasmic bursts of water. A seventh statue had been added, the beautiful Nola Briggs. Nola was a blackjack dealer who’d stolen Nick’s heart, while her boyfriend, a cheater named Frank Fontaine, had nearly stolen Nick’s casino.

He parked at the valet stand and ran inside. The lobby was jammed, and his eyes scanned the crowd’s faces. He worked for Nick often and knew most of his security people by first name. He didn’t see anyone he knew.

An elevator reached the lobby and opened its doors. He jumped in and held out his palm as others tried to board. “Police. This is an emergency.”

No one argued with him. The doors shut, and he hit the button marked
PH
. The Acropolis wasn’t one of those fancy joints where a special key was needed to reach the top floor. Rich and poor rode together here.

BOOK: Loaded Dice
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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