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Authors: Harold Robbins

Sin City

BOOK: Sin City
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Table of Contents
For
 
Eugene H. Winick
 
 
Also with gratitude to Tom Doherty,
Linda Quinton, Robert Gleason, Brian Callaghan,
and the other fine professionals at Forge.
 
And to Junius Podrug and Jann Robbins.
ZACK RIORDAN
IN THE BEGINNING. GOD SAID,
“LET THERE BE LIGHT.”
The first time I saw the Strip I thought God lived there. I was twelve years old in 1966, when Betty and me came down on a Greyhound from northern Nevada. We'd left Mina that morning, a little alkali mudflat town with Highway 95 for a main street—the kind of dry-rotted little desert town that even rattlesnakes shied away from. When we got off the bus in Las Vegas, we put our bags in a dime locker and walked from the bus depot to the Strip. I hadn't had anything to eat except a Baby Ruth candy bar since Tonopah and my stomach was growling. Along the way Betty had dropped the three-day's pay she collected before we left Mina, plunking it into slots, a quarter at a time, whenever the bus made a stop. She only had a dollar left when we arrived in Vegas but she was sure she could get a job waitressing right away. Just walk in and go to work—Vegas was that kind of town. By the end of her shift, she'd have enough tips and maybe even an advance on her wages to get us a room and something to eat.
While Betty went into a restaurant to ask for work, I wandered up the Strip alone. It sounds corny, but I got stardust in my eyes the first time I saw the boulevard. It was Times Square, the Arabian Nights, a hundred carnivals, all thrown together and lit up at the same time—the Dunes, Aladdin, Sahara, Caesar's Palace. The lights struck me first, a brilliant neon collage, rocking on the Silver Slipper, blazing at the Stardust, beaming to the heavens from the giant searchlights atop the new Aladdin hotel.
And the people—holy mackerel, it was the first time I saw guys in those monkey suits they call tuxes and women in slinky dresses that sparkled. In Mina women smelled of talcum powder and wore loose-fitting flowery dresses Betty called flour sacks, and men had mud on their boots and sweat under their arms. These women in Vegas had dresses that molded to their bodies and exposed the luscious curves
of their breasts. They smelled like expensive sex, Chanel No. 5, and Fleur de Rocaille. Even the men had an expensive smell, not like the Old Spice lotion that miners splashed on after showering.
Flesh and glitter, that was Vegas—flesh and glitter and the song of money. I had never heard the song before, not this loud at least. Nickels and dimes dropping in slot cups were the money sounds in places like Mina and Tonopah, but on the Strip the music was numbing, seductive, putting you in a dream state and robbing your senses, the forbidden tune played by Lorelei to lure Rhine sailors to their doom, the beckoning of the Sirens to tempt Odysseus. It filled your ears all the way down the boulevard—the rattle of dice and cries at the craps, cards being shuffled at the blackjack tables, the clatter of a roulette ball bouncing around the wheel, the hum of thousands of slot reels spinning, silver flushing from them.
Something spiritual entered my body and glowed inside me that night. I guess it was like the religious experiences that Holy Rollers in Mina talked about, when they woke up in the middle of the night and heard Jesus speaking to them. I only went to the Holy Roller church once and it scared the hell out of me, all that shouting and hysterical laughing, people talking in tongues. That's what it was like on the Strip, too, people shrieking and laughing and shouting mysterious utterances. “Bless these bones!” “Holy Mother, com'on six, gimme a six.” “Jesus H. Christ, I hit the big one!” “Oh my God, my God, my God!”
Whenever I asked Betty about God, she always told me that God was a bright light that shined through the universe. I figured out that night, when I saw the Strip for the first time, that God lived on the Strip and lit it all up.
I also figured out something else that day. As soon as I was old enough, I knew I'd have to make something for Betty and me, otherwise we'd be migrants for the rest of our lives. I loved my mother, but as a neighbor once told me, Betty would always be hopping around on one foot, trying to keep her balance. If we were ever going to have something, I'd have to be the one to get it for us. Instead of pressing our noses against the plateglass windows separating the people with tuxes and slinky dresses from us streeters, someday we'd have the limos, the jewels, the fancy clothes.
I wanted
everything
for Betty and me.
ELEVEN YEARS LATER, 1977
She was a Utah Loletta, one of those wheat-blonde, blue-eyed, peachy-cream kids from St. George, the little town just across the state line. The Lolettas came in on busy weekends: towheads from Utah, tacos from East Los Angeles, dreadlocks from South Central, and Valley girls with tan freckles on their tits. They hung around the casino parking lots, giving head in cars for twenty dollars a blow and using their pen money for movies, fast food, and fast drugs.
The Mormons humped and grunted out the cute cookie-cutter Utah kids like rabbits. This one was about fifteen, just right for chaperoned barn-house dances, moonlight serenade hayrides, and of course, no lipstick on her naturally cherry-wet lips.
Right now those cherry-wet lips were locked onto Bic Halliday's cock in the casino's hotel elevator. Bic was the twenty-five-year-old loser son of the club's owner.
“Sonofabitch.”
I stood in Halliday's security room staring at the monitor, feeling like Captain Smith when someone told him the good ship
Titanic
was nosing into an iceberg the size of Rhode Island. I was the hotshot, twenty-three-year-old, youngest casino security chief in Vegas. If I didn't get that lip lock off Bic's cock, I would quickly prove Newton's pet theory about gravity.
Bic wasn't just any kind of trouble, he was born trouble. His old man, Con Halliday, owned the casino lock, stock, and barrel. But Bic suffered the successful-man's-son syndrome: He had shit for brains and did all of his thinking with his gonads.
Bic had slipped the cunt past the guard at the elevators and pulled the emergency button in the elevator to stop the car between floors. Right now he was doing an Elvis hip gyration as he surfed her mouth with his erect member.
The bastard knew better than to pull a stunt like this. Prostitution
was tolerated in Vegas, hell, it was the state's main industry after gambling and money laundering, but these Lolettas were trouble. The Lucky Star Casino down the street got a black mark on its gaming license after one of the girls screamed rape in its parking lot because a john stiffed her. Con Halliday already had more black spots on his gambling license than a seven-card spade flush. My job was to see to it that he didn't lose his license because somebody—besides himself—did something stupid. He hired me because I had a natural instinct for spotting a setup between a blackjack dealer and a player or a miscount at the roulette table—not as a damn baby-sitter for his twenty-five-year-old loser kid.
Bic grinned up at the camera, gave me the finger, and said something. There's no sound, just a surveillance camera, but he was talking to me. He knew I would be sweating in front of the monitor. He wanted the security-head job himself—yeah, like a guy with two drug busts and a statutory rape conviction is going to get by the gaming board in Carson City. This was his way of screwing me.
“You motherfucker,” I told him, wishing I could stick my hand into the monitor and goose the kid so she'd bite off his dick.
“Bic pulled the emergency stop in the elevator,” Bill, the watch commander of the security room, told me.
“Tell me something I don't know. Get the fuckin' engineer to drop the car directly down to the basement. You hear me,
directly
to the basement without stopping at Go. Have three guys, two to handle Bic and one for the girl, standing there when the doors open. You handle the kid. Put her in a cab and pay the driver to drop her off on the Strip.” I thought for a moment. “Make it the parking lot at Caesar's. Tell her if she gets caught, to say she sucked off Hamel for permission to use the parking lot.”
Hamel, a security boss at Caesar's, had pissed me off. When I asked him for information on a new dice switch that had been hitting the craps tables, he let me know that I was working a downtown grind shop while he worked for a Strip palace. That's what they called the downtown clubs on the Strip, “grind shops” that slowly grind pocket change from weekenders while the big bets were made on the Strip. “You people downtown let players buy in for twenty bucks and grind them down, a buck at a time.” He was a shave-head former FBI agent who shit ice cubes. An accusation from the kid will give him diarrhea.
“Where's the guy who's supposed to watch the elevators?” I asked Bill.
“Bic slipped her in when he went to take a leak.”
“Fire him.”
“It's not his fau—”
“Fire him anyway. It'll look good if this gets to the Board.”
“He might make a complaint to Carson City himself. Talk about some things Con doesn't want the Board to know.”
He had a good point. I'd do it myself if I was in his shoes.
“Don't fire him. Promote him. Kick him up here to do monitoring. Fire him next month. Then if he goes to the Board he'll look stupid.”
“Fire him for what?”
“Do I have to do all the fuckin' thinking around here?”
Bill shook his head. “I've always felt sorry for Bic and Morgan, growing up crawling on the casino floor. Bic got his first piece of ass when his old man took him out to the sheriffs chicken ranch when he was fifteen. I heard things didn't go too well. Bic's mother killed herself, you know, walked in front of train. Con said she ‘greased the tracks.' Hell of a way to talk about the death of your wife, isn't it, greasing the tracks?”
Bic went slack-jawed, wide-eyed, tongue-drooping, and panted like a dog as he shot off in the girl's mouth. He thought he was being sexy cool but he looked like silent screen star Charlie Chaplin with his dick caught in the conveyer belt that's carrying a heroine to a rip saw.
Con claimed that if there was one pile of horse manure in the entire world, Bic would step in it. And now he was wiping his shoes on me.
I had to get away from the monitor. It was tempting me to be the guy standing in the basement when the elevator doors opened. I worked too hard to get the security chiefs job to appreciate some crackhead trying to bust my chops. It wasn't every day a former thief got a chance at being head of security for a casino, even if it was in Glitter Gulch. I wanted Con's gamble on me to pay off. Besides, the skimming that was considered a perk of the job paid me more than that shave-head Hamel made at Caesar's.
Belle, one of my surveillance people, called me over to the screen displaying a blackjack table. Her name meant “pretty” in French, but we called her “Bell” because she was shaped like one. She was the best spotter we had.
“The pit boss thinks the guy's counting cards.”
“How's he doing?”
“He's playing a hundred a hand, and kicking it up to a thousand when he needs a low card. Before the last shuffle, he wasn't taking regulation hits and letting the dealer bust drawing big cards. He loses a lot of small bets, but he's ahead eight thousand dollars in an hour.”
There was nothing illegal about card counting, not on the law books, not as long as you counted in your head and didn't use electronics. But no club liked it, including the palaces or the grind joints, not in Vegas, Tahoe, Reno, or any place else. When you got caught, security took a mug shot of you and escorted you to the front door. Your picture got distributed to every casino in the state.
Most counters kept a running tally of the cards dealt, using a high-low count system, keeping track of the ratio of high cards left in the shoe to the number of low cards. Because dealers had to take a hit on hands up to a point count of sixteen, they were more likely to bust when the deck had a greater percentage of high cards.
Card counting was no easy matter because most casinos fought back by using a six-deck shoe rather than a single deck. That left the field open only to those few who could do it mentally or with hidden electronics.
“Have his shoes been checked?”
“Regulation,” Belle said.
Counters sometimes hid electronics in their shoes, tapping with one foot to register a high card, with the other for a low card, feeding the information to a minicomputer strapped to their back or out to a van in the parking lot. Dingo cowboy boots and elevator shoes were automatically suspicious.
I was taught card counting by Paul Embers, the most notorious gambler in Nevada. Taught me a bit about cheating, too, and I picked up a lot more on my own. That gave me an advantage over shave-heads, who only studied how
others
cheat. The biggest tip-off to a scam was a sudden change in bets. If someone played a hundred dollars a hand and suddenly kicked it up to a thousand, and consistently won the big plays, it was a sure bet someone besides Lady Luck was setting the odds.
Belle was keeping a running tally of hands. Looking over the table play, I could see what got the pit boss suspicious. The guy was going
against standard strategy at the times he was kicking up his bets—taking hits when he shouldn't, passing when he should take a hit—and was winning. As I watched, he took a hit on seventeen when the dealer was showing an eight. A typical player would not hit a seventeen, period, though there were some who took a hit if the dealer was showing a ten or ace. But to hit when the dealer was showing an eight was unusual—unless you were counting and knew the deck was loaded with low cards.
He was dealt a three, which gave him twenty.
The guy interested me more than the cards. He was definitely not card counting. He wasn't even looking at the cards other players were dealt. He spent half his time looking at his own cards and the other half trying to get a look-see down the low-cut blouse of the woman sitting next to him. She had big jugs and he was not making any bones about wanting to stick his head between them and let them slap his face. And she didn't hide the fact she thought the guy was a jerk.
“So why doesn't she move to another table?” I asked.
“Good question. She's losing and can't stand the guy. Two good reasons to change tables.”
Ember always told me not to focus on the obvious, so I let my eye roam around the table and the vicinity. A mousy-looking guy with thick glasses who looked like a caricature of Woody Allen was seated to the winner's left.
Belle followed my gaze. “Woody's making five-dollar bets and digging a dry well.”
“Maybe not. Look at how his eyes follow every card while the winner is distracting us by sticking his nose in the woman's blouse and the woman is letting everyone know how annoyed she is. They're a team. Woody's the counter, the winner's the shill he's signaling the count to. The winner and the woman are keeping us distracted so we can see the winner's not making a count. Page Con. Tell him to meet me in the pit.”
I started out of the room but paused by a monitor where one of my people had directed a parabolic mike at a craps table. Most of our surveillance was done without sound, but we had long-range microphones available to key in on conversations. The Board didn't like mikes, but they looked the other way as long as we kept them strictly in the gaming area.
A big husky guy, maybe in his late fifties, with a high-school football-player physique turning to tapioca, was losing at a craps table and letting everyone around him get a taste of his bad mood. He was making bigger bets than the other players, but Halliday's was the only place in town where you'd find a craps player with five dollars' worth of twenty-five-cent chips standing next to a Texan with five-hundred-dollar chips.
“Fuckin' downtown joint, I get comped at the Tropicana and come downtown just to slum,” came over the mike.
“Keep on losing you, bastard,” the surveillant said, “when you're through we'll comp you a bus token back to the Strip.”
My blood turned cold as I stared at the guy. I had seen him before, years ago.
He was the guy who killed my mother.
BOOK: Sin City
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