Anyone who has bothered to glance over at the right side of the screen will notice the cover photos and links to my detective novel, Pascal’s Wager. Thought I’d let people know a little bit more about it. It’s got a little martial arts, a little poker and a little philosophy in it. Something for everyone…
Destined for a brilliant career in academia, Pascal Silver instead decides to be a risk taker. Packing up his unfinished philosophy dissertation he moves to Las Vegas to pursue his dual goals of winning the World Series of Poker and the only slightly less daunting task of finding the meaning to existence.
Low on cash, Pascal is forced to take a part-time job at a private detective agency. Now, with his boss out of town, into his life walks the gorgeous Allegra LaPierre. She asks Pascal to find out who murdered her father, casino owner “Houston Phil” LaPierre.
Using his uncanny poker skills, Pascal can tell everyone involved with Houston Phil has something to hide, including his ex-stripper widow, his knucklehead son, Bruce, and his old business partner, Fat Johnny, who’s in debt to a local gangster. Complicating matters, Bruce LaPierre is suddenly found dead in his office and the number one suspect is Allegra. Though all the evidence points to his client’s guilt, Pascal falls back on the famous wager of faith put forth by his illustrious namesake. He chooses to have faith in Allegra, not just because he’s gone head over heels for her, but because it’s a good bet.
But when representatives of the Chicago mob show up and tell him to drop the case, Pascal has to take his greatest gamble yet. With Allegra’s life hanging in the balance, he’ll need to pull off the biggest bluff he’s ever attempted to get her back alive. Even if he does, he’s still left with the question “Who killed Phil?” a question only he is shrewd enough to answer.
An Excerpt From Chapter 5:
After about a minute, I dragged myself to my feet. Someone came running over and asked what happened.
“Lovers’ quarrel,” I said, hobbling to the elevator.
The ringing had cleared from my head and I didn’t think I had a concussion or any other serious damage. But my ribs sure hurt like hell. I stepped inside the elevator and pressed the button for the casino.
There was a mirror in the elevator and I finally got a look at myself. It wasn’t pretty.
My shirt was dirty and torn, a trickle of blood was streaming from my left ear and my left eye was a little swollen and turning an ugly blue/black color.
The elevator door opened and I stepped out. Fortunately, the poker room was not far, just on the other side of the sports book. Despite my condition, there were only a few odd glances cast at me. The disheveled, down and out are not an uncommon sight in casinos.
I went into the high stakes poker area and looked around for Blackie White but didn’t see him so I strolled over to the table that usually hosted the 300-600 game.
Jack McGee set eyes on me and said, “Christ, Pascal, you look even worse than usual. What happened?”
“Your wife was over-enthusiastic,” I said. “Have you seen Blackie White around?”
“No. Ask Joe – he’s over there,” McGee answered, pointing with his chin toward a table in the rear of the room.
I headed to the back of the poker room and saw Nevada Joe Smith sitting alone at a table reading the Daily Racing Form. In front of him he had three racks of pink chips. Pink was the color the Mediterranean used for its thousand dollar chip. Joe had three full racks of all pink in front of him. Three hundred thousand dollars.
“Hey, Joe,” I said.
Smith glanced up from his racing form and said, “Jeez, you look like you wandered in front of the starting gate at Churchill Downs.”
“Yeah, you should see the other guy,” I answered. “Look, I need to talk with Blackie. Do you know where he is?”
Joe folded his racing form and put it down on the table next to the chips.
“That old bastard doesn’t know when to quit. I told him to take it easy, he doesn’t have the stamina he used to have. But he gets in a good game and he just won’t listen.”
“Right after you left the other day, some Chinaman comes in with a wad of cash. Sits down in the 300-600 game and starts to go off for all his money. Then he rebuys and loses that, too. Then he rebuys again. I’m telling you, it was like Christmas come early. Everyone got well. Blackie, he played all through the night and into yesterday morning – must have won sixty thousand. But when I talked to him a little while ago, he still couldn’t get out of bed. Crazy old bastard.”
“That’s too bad.”
“You left at just the wrong time, Pascal. You could have had a big score.”
“Story of my life,” I said.
“What did you want with Blackie, anyhow?”
“I needed some information. I thought he might be able to tell me a little about Houston Phil LaPierre.”
“Houston Phil? What do you want to know about him for?”
“I got hired to investigate his murder.”
“Well, Blackie would be the right person to ask. Him and Phil go all the way back to Texas. He knew him out here for years before even I did.”
“You knew Phil?”
“Hell yeah. Time was, every poker player in this town knew Philly. When I first came out here, over forty years ago, the Lonestar had the biggest poker room in town. That was where we played.”
“What can you tell me about him?”
Joe shrugged and said, “He had a good poker room.”
“I was looking for a bit more depth than that, Joe.”
“Well, he was a tough sonuvabitch, I’ll tell you that. Killed a couple of fellas down in Texas. Ran some rackets down there, I think. Then came here and opened the Lonestar.”
“Did he have mob connections?”
“I couldn’t say for sure. Those fellas were always around back then but the Lonestar had a reputation as about the cleanest place in town. Somehow, Phil managed to keep those guys out of his business.”
“I don’t know.”
“The name Vincent Molinaro mean anything to you?”
“Little Vinny Molinaro? Sure, I knew him well. His old man used to run the whole mob in Chicago and was one of the biggest investors in Vegas, if you get my drift. Little Vinny used to come out here, sometimes to look after his old man’s business interests but mostly to have fun. He used to come by and play poker at the Lonestar… terrible card player. Then he’d go off for a big number at the dice tables and Phil would comp him to a room just to keep him around so he’d lose some more money.”
“What’s he doing, now?”
Smith looked at me like the kick in the head I had received must have relieved me of my senses.
“Don’t you know? Vincent Molinaro? He took over for his old man maybe 20 years ago. He runs the whole Chicago mob.”
“Oh, that Vincent Molinaro,” I said.
“Now you listen to me, Pascal. You got alligator blood in you, sure enough, but you still don’t want no truck with Vincent Molinaro. The desert around here is filled with holes from folks that pissed off those fellas over the years so whatever you’re doing with Molinaro, stop it right now before you end up in one.”
“Sure. I was just asking because the name happened to come up.”
Smith gave me a look like he had just caught me in the most horrible of bluffs but said nothing.
“What about Johnny Beckett,” I asked. “You know anything about him?”
“‘Fat Johnny’? Sure, everybody knows Fat Johnny in this town. Or at least they used to. He was a worse gambler than Vinny Molinaro. Johnny would go to a craps table and put down every dollar he had on eight the hard way, miss, go to his bank, take out all his money, then come back and do it again. Never saw a bigger addict than him or a fella with worse luck. Johnny must have gone through three, four million dollars over the years, easy.”
“How come I didn’t know about this? I know most of the big players in town.”
“He doesn’t play as much any more. Occasionally, but not as often.”
“Same reason as everyone else – he ran out of money.”
I nodded, taking in what Smith had told me.
Finally, I said, “Okay, Joe. Thanks for the information. If you see Blackie around, let him know I still want to talk with him.”
“Alright. But hey, Pascal, seriously, you are gonna stay away from Vinny Molinaro, aren’t you?”
“Come on, Joe. You know me.”
“I do. That’s what worries me,” he said.
Smith stood up from his chair and took me by the arm leading me into a private corner of the room. He left the three hundred thousand sitting there at the table without a backwards glance. It was one of the unrealities of the poker life that high stakes professionals left hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting at the tables with no second thought. And it was always there when they got back.
“Listen, son, it’s like with your poker. You’re a great card player but you got to learn to rein it in. Like when you were down to the last ten players at the World Series a couple of years ago. You had the second most chips at the table and could have coasted into one of the top spots, been sure to make yourself at least a million dollars. So what do you do? You get yourself involved in a big pot with the chip leader, the only player at the table that can bust you. And that’s just what happened.”
“It was a bad beat,” I said, quietly.
“The worst. You should have won the whole damn tournament that day. But that’s not the point. The point is, you got some gamble in you which is good. But you got to learn where the line is between risky and just plain crazy.”
I nodded, understanding Joe’s lesson.
“Thank you, Obi-wan,” I said.
Smith snorted at me.
“What are all the pinks for?” I finally asked, indicating the fortune in chips he had sitting on the table.
“The Greek’s in town,” he answered.
“The Greek” was a Greek shipping tycoon who came to Vegas two or three times a year looking to play high stakes poker. He had millions and, best of all, couldn’t play cards to save his life.
“He’s looking to play high,” said Smith. “We’re playing 3,000-6,000 in a few minutes. Do you want to get in? I’ll stake you. I take all the risk and you can have ten percent of whatever you win.”
It felt good that someone of Nevada Joe Smith’s stature was willing to stake me with their own money in such a big game. Normally, I would have jumped at the chance to play for those kind of stakes against the very best players in the world. With the Greek in the game, I could easily win $100,000 if things went well. The ten percent would cover my entry fee into the next World Series. But I also knew I was nowhere near right, mentally or physically, to play in a game like that. If it had just been my money, I might have played anyway. But risking a friend’s money was different. Besides, I had a few pressing matters that needed tending too.
I thanked Joe for the offer but explained why I had to turn him down.
“Okay, Pascal. Good luck. And remember what I said.”
“I will,” I assured him.
He stared at me a long moment, then sighed and said, “No, you won’t. You got too much gamble in you. I just hope you’re good enough to back it up.”
“Yeah, me too.”