The elevator door opened onto the 30th floor of the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas. A woman in her 60’s stepped to the entrance of the elevator but the scene before her caused her to stop in her tracks and to emit a loud scream that was both startled and filled with fear. There lying in a pool of blood was the body of an Asian man in his mid 50’s.
– – – – – – – –
Steve, Sam, Mack and Jimmy sat in one of the Flamingo Hilton restaurants. The view from their table near the window reminded Steve of pictures he had seen of a tropical paradise. There was a man-made babbling brook flowing just beneath the window and the colorful tropical fish that inhabited it were easily spotted in the clear water. Beautiful plants and lush green grass covered the gently rolling topography of the garden. And the whole scene was punctuated by live pink flamingos standing on one leg.
Steve had brought the team back to Vegas yesterday and had only arrived a few hours ahead of Mr. Ciau. The timing was good Steve thought, because he knew his Slot Online welcome had pretty much run out in the Reno casinos. The team hadn’t done much, but Steve, playing alone, had done quite well and now the team was within $6,000 of being even. Steve hoped to win that and a lot more tonight.
As he sat there with Mack, Jimmy and Sam, Steve was virtually oblivious to their conversation. His thoughts were consumed by the meeting they were going to shortly have with Mr. Ciau. Steve glanced at his watch and realized that if Ciau was prompt, he should have been here several minutes ago. But he would probably be arriving shortly, and Steve had little doubt that he would have Lisa on his arm.
Steve and Lisa had met Mr. Ciau at the airport and from the moment he laid eyes on Lisa, he, like most men, was captivated by her. During the limo ride in from the airport, Ciau had practically ignored Steve and focused all his attention on Lisa paying her compliments and engaging her in lively and sometimes flirtatious conversation. Upon arriving at the Flamingo Hilton, where Ciau had reserved a suite, he prevailed upon Lisa to join him for dinner and promised to meet Steve later to talk business. But later never came. Steve didn’t see nor hear from Ciau nor Lisa again for the rest of the evening. Steve assumed that Ciau had a guest in his suite last night, and it made him feel sick in the pit of his stomach every time he thought of it.
But an even more pressing issue was his report to Mr. Ciau concerning the team. So far, Steve had managed to speak in generalities whenever Ciau had inquired about how the team was doing, but had promised him a detailed blow by blow account in their meeting today. But finally coming clean with Mr. Ciau and letting him know that after almost a month’s play they had not made a penny, in fact they were down a few thousand, was also generating some nauseous feelings in the pit of his stomach.
Just then Steve heard Jimmy announce, “Hey, here comes Lisa; and she looks like she just saw a ghost.”
Steve turned around and saw Lisa approaching their table quickly. In fact she was almost in a trot and as she drew nearer he could see tears streaming down her face. Steve stood up and Lisa through her arms around him sobbing.
“Lisa, what’s wrong?” Steve asked, his voice filled with concern.
“Oh Steve, M..M..Mr. Ciau,” she stammered trying to get the words out.
“What about Mr. Ciau? Has he hurt you?” Now Steve’s voice contained suspicion and anger.
“No, nothing like that… he’s, he’s dead.”
“Dead!?” Now everyone chimed in with a response. Mack, Jimmy, and Sam were all talking at once and firing questions at Lisa.
“Hold on you guys,” Steve demanded as he tried to gain control of the situation and get some answers. “Lisa, just settle down now and tell us what happened.”
“I was on my way to the elevator to come down here to meet all of you. I thought Mr. Ciau was going to come up to the room and get me, but when he didn’t show up and it was already time for our meeting, I thought he must have come straight down here. But when I got near the elevator I heard a woman scream. I thought maybe she was in trouble so I ran to help. She was standing in the doorway of the elevator holding the door open. I looked in and saw Mr. Ciau. Oh Steve, it was so horrible. He had been shot and there was blood all around him and he was just lying in the corner of the elevator with a surprised look on his face.” Lisa began sobbing again.
A thousand thoughts whirled through Steve’s mind as he held Lisa in his arms and tried to decide what to do next. Could this have been a random act of violence? Steve quickly discarded that notion as not even worth considering. Not in a plush hotel/casino like the Flamingo.
“What kind of low life was this guy?” Sam queried. “And what have you gotten us involved in?!” Sam’s tone was now accusatory.
Steve pulled out a chair and sat Lisa down to avoid drawing so much attention to their group.
“I don’t know much about the guy,” Steve admitted. “He contacted me as a result of an ad I ran in the Wall Street Journal. We had several conversations and I laid out my plans to him. I guess he liked my presentation and thought it was worth the risk. He said he had some partners who would contribute and help finance the blackjack team. In all our conversations he just seemed like a knowledgeable business man. I really never suspected him of being anything else.”
Sam’s cold angry stair sent chills through Steve then he spoke once again: “What kind of legitimate business man finances a blackjack team?”
Actually now, in light of the circumstances, Steve wondered why he hadn’t asked himself that same question a little over two months ago when he first started dealing with Ciau.
“God only knows what kind of dirty operations this guy was into,” Sam continued. “It could be anything but one thing is for certain, IT WASN’T LEGAL!”
Steve hated Sam’s negativity and the way he could only see the dark side of any situation, but right now, deep inside, he felt Sam was probably right.
“Man, we could all be in some real trouble,” Jimmy observed.
“Yes,” Mack agreed cautiously. “If whoever killed Ciau suspects that we had an association with him, they might come after us next. But luckily, nobody has ever seen me and Sam and Jimmy with him, but you and Lisa might have a problem.”
“You’re right,” Steve reluctantly agreed. “And Lisa and I should probably go talk to the police before they come looking for us.”
“They’ll probably figure you had something to do with it,” Sam proposed. “They’re gonna ask why he would entrust someone he hardly knew with $250,000 on a wild haired scheme to beat the casinos at blackjack. As far as they’re concerned, you probably had good motive to have him snuffed.”
“Shut up Sam, that’s enough.” Steve wanted no more of Sam’s comments and suspicions. Steve pondered for a moment before deciding upon a course of action. “Look, you guys go to your rooms and stay there. I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you where to meet me. Lisa, you’d better come with me.”
Steve put his arm around Lisa and ushered her out of the restaurant and around to the side entrance of the casino where there were usually 3 or 4 taxi cabs waiting for a fare. As they made their way toward the cab in the front of the line, Steve had that strange feeling you get when someone is staring at you. He looked around to see a hard looking muscular man a little over 6 feet tall wearing a navy blue suit and sporting a dark tan. He had the look of a thug and he was coming right toward Steve and Lisa. Steve opened the door of the cab and told Lisa to get in quickly. As Steve bent over and slid into the back seat next to Lisa he saw the man still approaching, his pace quickening.
“Take us downtown and make it quick!” Steve barked to the driver. As their cab turned the corner, Steve looked back and saw their pursuer climbing into a black Mercedes that had just pulled up.