Dice Angel
By Brian Rouff
Published by Hardway Press
February 2002; 0971714819; 242 pages

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Dice Angel by Brian RouffChapter 1

The ringing phone ripped through my sleep like a buzz saw. I caught it on the fourth ring, nearly knocking the lamp off the end table in the process. Squinting through bleary eyes, I could barely make out the time. 3:11 am. "This can't be good," I muttered out loud, even though I was alone. Hoping for a wrong number I barked, "What?"

"James Delaney, Jr.?" an official-sounding voice asked. The little hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

"Who wants to know?"

"Officer Robert Ramos, Metro Police, sir."

For a brief horrible moment, I pictured my seven-year-old daughter, Jenny, dead in the gutter. But that was impossible. Jenny was in Salt Lake with my ex-wife, Joy. And Salt Lake, as far as I know, outlawed gutters years ago.

Trying to sound casual despite my heart beating double-time, I asked, "What can I do for you, Officer?"

"They hit your place again."

"Shit! I'm on my way."

In the time it would take to ask more questions, I could be there. Wide awake now, I threw on a pair of faded jeans and a UNLV sweatshirt as I fumbled for my keys, a million thoughts racing through my mind. How the hell could they have gotten past my new super-high-tech security system? Maybe it's true what the cops say, that locks and alarms only keep out honest people. And honest people are in short supply here in Vegas, or anywhere else for that matter.

I took the steps two at a time. As I flung open the front door, a blast of cold night air hit me in the face, sending an involuntary shudder through my body. Even after more than twenty years in the godforsaken desert, I'm still surprised by the extreme temperatures. Too fucking hot in the summer, too goddamned cold in the winter. Probably a lot like living on the moon, except for the gambling. Jumping into my '97 Mazda 626, the last sensible remnant of my married days, I peeled out of the driveway and headed for my bar. The screeching noise would most likely jar a neighbor or two out of a restful night's sleep. Good, I thought with grim satisfaction. Why should I be the only one up on a night like this?

 

Chapter 2

It's a ten-minute drive from my condo to Jimmy D's, the saloon and supper club that bears my name. I made it in five. Ordinarily, I like driving at night, especially on those rare occasions when I have the road to myself. Sometimes I even play slalom with the orange traffic cones that line most Vegas streets these days, the cones that locals refer to as the official state bush. But tonight, speed was my only concern. Not only to find out what the hell was going on, but to outrace the dark thoughts bubbling just below the surface of my brain. If this was an isolated incident, I could handle it. But it was starting to feel like the beginning of another long losing streak. Well…that was something better left alone for now.

Squealing into the nearly deserted shopping center parking lot, I aimed the car toward the familiar corner slot, where Jimmy D's sits nestled between a bakery and a travel agency. When my father, the original Jimmy D, uprooted my brother and me and trekked across the country more than two decades ago, the bar's location at West Sahara and Jones was at the far edge of Las Vegas. I can remember gazing westward and seeing nothing but sand and tumbleweeds. It reminded me of a scene out of some old cowboy movie. Most people, including the rest of the family, thought the old man was crazy. Nobody would drive all the way out there for a beer and a pizza. But Vegas locals were soon drawn to the friendly Irishman, and word got out that his Detroit-style pizza was bigger and better than anything the Italians or the chain restaurants had to offer.

It seemed like everybody loved Jimmy D's. Everybody but me, an eighteen-year-old kid who felt like an outcast in this desolate wasteland, forced to finish my senior year of high school among strangers, resenting every minute I had to help Pop at his stupid joint. But without even knowing it, the place got under my skin. After a while, I was helping out behind the bar, grilling up the burgers when the cook called in sick, glad-handing and swapping stories with the regular clientele. As Jimmy Sr. said proudly on more than one occasion, "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree."

Over the years, Las Vegas grew up around our popular little watering hole, enveloping it like a neon cocoon, so that it's now pretty much in the center of town. By the time Jimmy Sr. died of a heart attack in 1993, Jimmy D's was a local institution, consistently topping the readers' surveys in the Vegas newspapers. More than five hundred customers turned out for the funeral, an odd assortment that included everyone from borderline street people and political hotshots to a smattering of casino moguls. It was a moving testament to the old man's life. The bar, I suddenly realized, was my father's legacy. I vowed, then and there, to continue the tradition.

One refurbishing, two expansions, and three break-ins later, I swung into a parking space next to the only other vehicle, a shiny new Metro squad car. Briefly surveying the tavern's exterior, I was relieved to see the windows intact. Whatever had happened, this wasn't your garden-variety smash-and-grab. A uniformed officer met me at the door.

"I'm Delaney," I said, extending my hand. Christ, the cop looked like a teenager. Well, who the hell else were they gonna put on the graveyard shift?

"Officer Robert Ramos," the cop said, giving my hand a perfunctory squeeze. "We spoke on the phone."

"Where's the Z-man?" I asked.

"Who?"

"Officer Zelasko."

"Oh, you mean Sergeant Zelasko. He got kicked upstairs. He's a desk jockey now.

Why, you know him?"

"We went to high school together. I'll have to be sure to call and congratulate him on the promotion."

"Maybe you better not. I hear he isn't too happy about it."

"All the more reason," I said with a slight grin. "So what's it look like in there?"

"See for yourself."

Expecting the worst, I stepped through the door. At first glance, everything appeared to be in order. Big-screen TV in one piece, guitars and keyboard still set up in the small lounge area, Detroit Tigers memorabilia still covering the walls, including my prized Al Kaline autographed jersey.

"I don't get it," I said.

"Come with me."

I followed Ramos to the oversized bar, a gleaming mahogany and brass artifact, circa 1870, that my father brought down from a condemned Virginia City hotel. Only then did I notice the fifteen bartop video poker machines. Each one had been carefully pried open and emptied of its contents.

"Shit," I said under my breath. "They must've gotten away with over twelve grand."

"Whoever did this really knew what they were doing," Ramos said.

"They certainly took their time. How'd they get in?"

Ramos' eyes went to the false ceiling, where one entire section of acoustical squares had been meticulously removed. The hole it left was just big enough for a man.

"They broke into the bakery through the back door, then climbed into the crawl space above the stores, and the rest, as they say, is history."

"I never liked history," I said. "Well, at least they didn't trash the place like those kids did last time."

"I don't think this was kids. Employees, maybe. Looks like it could be an inside job."

I couldn't help saying, "Inside job, huh? Where'd they teach you to talk like that, the Academy?" Ramos ignored the comment. I continued, "I don't think any of my people would have done this. They've all been with me too long. They're like family."

"If you ask me, you can't trust anybody these days. Even family."

Nobody asked you, I thought, but decided to hold my tongue for once. Instead, I said, "I guess I should have bought a fucking alarm for every store in the center."

"We have a saying on the force. 'Alarms only keep out…'"

I cut him off. "I know, I know. Honest people."

Ramos started to get a little peeved about me short-circuiting his routine. "Well, it's true," he said petulantly.

"I don't suppose you got any prints."

"You suppose right."

"So what are the chances you'll find these guys?"

Ramos shook his head. "We'll keep an eye out for your dollar tokens at all the local joints. But, unless you're willing to let us interrogate the help…"

"Forget it," I said.

"Then, to be honest with you, the chances are slim and none. And slim just…"

"Don't tell me. Left town."

"Yeah."

"You know what I think?" I asked.

"What?"

"I think you could use some new material."

Copyright 2002 Brian Rouff
Reprinted with permission.

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Synopsis

Jimmy Delaney is on another bad roll. His ex-wife is cranky. Burglars clean out all the coins from the video poker machines at his saloon, Jimmy D's. His accountant is missing - with all the bar's money. He can't get a loan because the IRS has a lien on the joint and a rogue revenue agent with a personal grudge is seizing Jimmy D's on Friday unless he can come up with $50,000 in back taxes. Losing streaks in Las Vegas can be the worst in the world. And then a mysterious woman enters his life. A karma-spouting planet-charting colon-cleansing floozy - the Dice Angel. Can Delaney save Jimmy D's with a supernaturally hot hand at the crap tables at Luxor? Or does Lady Luck bite off, chew up, and spit out another Las Vegas loser...

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Author

Brian Rouff has lived in Las Vegas since 1981, which makes him a long-timer by local standards. He is married with two grown daughters.

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