I have shot the Guppy in the throat. It is a killshot. The entry wound has shattered his windpipe. The exit wound has torn out his jugular. The Guppy recoils violently backwards into his seat. He tries to inhale, lets out a terrible gasp. He tries to exhale, lets out a horrible wheeze. Air cannot reach his lungs. Blood cannot reach his brain. The Guppy’s eyes roll back in his head. He falls, like a puppet with the strings cut, face down on the table. The still smoking revolver falls from his hand, skitters across the table, scattering purple checks. The Guppy lays dead in a fast-spreading pool of blood soaking the felt of the Majestic Poker Room’s $500-$1000 Hold’em Table.
The panic begins. All around me swirls fright, confusion, frenzy. Frantic people run in all directions. People yell. An alarm shrieks. I pick up a fallen chair and set it to rights. I sit down. All around me there is chaos. I can’t deal with their chaos now, I have to deal with my own. I close my eyes. Someone screams hysterically. I hope to God it’s not me.
I am being shaken. “Talbot? Are you all right? Talbot!” Another shake, “What happened here? I have to know what’s happened! Tell me…”
I open my eyes. A woman’s face. Very pale skin. Very red hair. Very green eyes. Her parents should have named her Kathleen or Colleen or Eileen or Maureen. Instead they named her . . .
“Penelope…,” I begin to say. I can say no more. Exasperated, she raises her hand to slap me. I put my hand up to ward off the blow. She puts her hand down. Now that Penelope Fallon, Chief of Casino Security, has my full attention, she leans close to my ear and whispers an incredible stream of smut without once repeating herself. I am told in obscene and pornographic detail exactly what will happen if I don’t immediately start answering her questions. (In Las Vegas people will pay a lot of money to hear a beautiful woman whisper filthy words in their ear. Red Penny, it would seem, provides this service for free.)
“Talbot, talk to me, now! The Strippers are on the way. I have to know. . . .”
“What’s happened here?” asks Detective Richard Rook.
The Strippers, the LVPD’s Strip Division, have arrived. Gunshots in a crowded ligaz11 Poker Room on a Saturday night will draw a crowd. Casino Security, first on the scene, has identified, and detained, the witnesses. The LVPD, second to arrive, has wrapped the Holy Land in yellow “Do Not Cross” tape. EMS is third to arrive, followed by the Casino’s Shift Manager. The Coroner is last in. The TV news crews, reporters, photographers, and looky-loos watch from the rail.
Red Penny and I total up the butcher’s bill. Judge Goldenberg, shot through the heart, is dead. The I-15 Guy, Patrick, shot in the gut, is surrounded by paramedics who are frantically trying to save him – looks like he’ll die too. To Red Penny’s “Will he make it?” a medic turns up his bloody palms.
The investigation begins. Detective Rook sets the Strippers to work questioning everyone in the Holy Land during the shooting. Rook questions me. Red Penny sits in on my interrogation, frowning throughout the questioning. Rook, my ex-partner, is friendly. His questions are exculpatory, tending to show innocence. Why was I present? When did I identify myself? How many times did I order the shooter to drop the gun? When Rook is done, Red Penny, who is never friendly, asks several inculpatory questions, tending to show guilt. Did I have a clear shot at the Guppy before he shot the Judge? Patrick? If I had a clear shot why didn’t I take it? When I finally had a clear shot, why did I shoot to kill? Rook is satisfied. Red Penny is not. When we are finished she moves on to participate in Donny’s interrogation. Rook asks me, “Tal, why did Calamity Jane just give you the third degree?”
I shrug. “Rooky, I have something Red Penny wants.” Rook gives me a doubtful look that says he can’t think of anything that I have that she would ever want. He’s wrong.
Penelope Fallon looks like a an X-rated Vegas showgirl but is, in fact, an ex-FBI Special Agent. She has jurisdiction over all the House Games, over 99% of the Majestic’s Casino Floor. The other less-than-1%, the Poker Room, where the House makes no vig, but just charges rent, is Tal’s Little Acre. It drives Red Penny, a Type A+ obsessive/compulsive control freak, crazy. In the Casino, people think Red Penny is already crazy. In the Craps Pits, they call her Snake-eyes. At the Blackjack Tables, The Red Queen. In Roulette, she’s The Green-Eyed Monster. In the Arcade, she’s Lara Croft. (I don’t know who this is, but I get the idea.) I call her Red Penny. But never, ever, to her face.
I walk over to what’s left of the Midnight Game. It is covered by overturned glasses, spilled drinks, scattered checks, and a chaotic mass of face-up/face-down cards. I move to Seat #8 and find the Guppy’s hand still face-down where he left them. Blood is splattered over them. I pick them up. Look. Put them back. Wipe my hands. Rook walks by, says, “Stay away from the table.” I walk away.
After Rook takes their statements, the Midnight Game players are allowed to leave the Poker Room. As they exit, Joey offers apologies. The Casino Shift Manager gives out comps. Red Penny promises the safe return of their money. I ask what cards they were holding.
The Coroner, Doc Lieb, has finished his preliminary examination of the Judge and the Guppy. He nods at Judge Goldenberg: “One gunshot, low caliber, point-blank, entry wound mid-chest, no exit wound. Fatal heart shot. Weapon is a .22 caliber no-name revolver, a Saturday Night Special, with its registration number filed off.” He nods to The Guppy: “One gunshot, high caliber, close range, tracheal entry wound, jugular exit wound. Fatal throat shot. Weapon is a .45 caliber Glock automatic.
“When can I search him?” asks Rook, pointing to the Guppy. The Coroner answers, “Now’s good,” and steps aside. Detective Rook methodically empties the Guppy’s pockets, placing all he finds on the poker table. Keys: House. Car. Mailbox. Wallet: Fourteen Dollars. Connecticut Driver’s License. Car Registration. JFK Long-Term Parking Ticket. Harvard University Alumni Visa. MIT Alumni MasterCard. Business Card. Columbia University Faculty ID. AAA Card. Blue Cross Card. Organ Donor Card. Blood Donor Card. Library Card. Majestic KeyCard. Four pictures: Wedding picture. Wife’s picture. Girl’s school picture. Boy’s baby picture.
The Guppy is Scott J. Hadley. Age 51. Residence: Greenwich, Connecticut. Occupation: High Tech CEO. Visiting Professor of Computer Sciences, Columbia University. Married. Two children. Owner of a Mercedes M Class SUV. Guest of the Las Vegas Majestic Hotel & Casino. Now deceased.
Red Penny takes the Majestic KeyCard, runs it through a slot in her Personal Digital Assistant gizmo. Shows Rook the readout. “Room 13-125. Registered to Mr. & Mrs. Scott J. Hadley. That’s a $650 a night Majestic Suite. Checked in Monday. Scheduled to check out Friday.” Rook, who takes the KeyCard from Red Penny and hands it to a Stripper. “Take this up to 13-125. See if you can find Mrs. Hadley.”
EMS wheels Patrick out of the Poker Room. He doesn’t look very alive.
The Coroner’s “bag’em and drag ’em” crew wheels out Judge Goldenberg and Scott Hadley. Only empty chalk outlines and bloodstains remain.
“This looks,” says Rook to Red Penny and me, “like an open-and-shut “Crazed Poker Player” Murder. I think we can all go home.”
“I agree,” says Red Penny, “We need to put this behind us (by that she means “swept-under-the-rug”) as soon as possible.”
I shake my head. “No murder,” I tell Rook and Red Penny, “is ever open-and-shut. I think,” ruining Rook’s thoughts of early-to-bed late-to-rise and Red Penny’s whitewash, “that we should look at the video.” I look up at the “eye-in-the-sky” camera over the table. Red Penny, who wants this all to go away, gives me a venomous look which I ignore. Rook, who just wants to go home, sighs, asks Red Penny to show the tape.
“Why,” Red Penny asks angrily, “do you need to see these murders again? Weren’t you close enough the first time?”
I say nothing. I have no interest in looking again at the murderer or his victims. I just want to look again at how they played their cards.