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Cold Deck

Lee Barnes

Publication Year: 2013

Jude is a Las Vegas casino dealer who barely survived the deadly MGM fire in 1980. More than two decades later, he’s still dealing, a tired, middle-aged man, divorced, struggling with debt, and trying to be a good father to his children. Then he loses his job and his car is totaled in an accident. When an attractive woman friend offers to help him get another job, Jude is happy to go along. Gradually, he realizes that his new job is part of an elaborate scheme to cheat a casino and that his own fate and that of his children depend on his finding the courage and ingenuity to extricate himself.

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-10

I wish to express my thanks to all those who have contributed to this book. My special thanks go out to Mary Sojourner and Deke Castleman, friends and remarkable readers. I will forever be indebted to the University of Nevada Press and the fine staff who have championed my works for more than a decade, ...

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1

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pp. 1-13

The shift neared the morning hour we called the hump. A deck of cards lay idle at the far end of the table in the center of the break room, where the usual aggregation of dealers sat dour faced, some sprawled out in chairs watching television, volume turned low, others gathered around the table, cigarettes in hand. ...

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2

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pp. 13-26

Resigned thereafter just to survive day to day, I’d walked out of an inferno that took eighty-five lives. For more than two decades I never spoke of the fire or what I saw inside or outside the casino, or of the terror that had gripped me. I avoided anything contentious. I punched a time clock, paid taxes and child support, and mowed my lawn. ...

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3

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pp. 26-34

Patty Lane reached across a blackjack table to gather up glasses. House rules dictated that she was to serve customers from the aisle outside the pit. She, however, was above normal edicts. She waited on players from inside or outside or from wherever she pleased. Her personal life, though unknown, ...

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4

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pp. 34-42

I’d survived three rollovers and came out of the accident with no broken bones or concussion. The doctor insisted I was fortunate, a view I found difficult to share, considering my overall condition. He sewed seven stitches into my brow and told me to stay off my feet for a while, ...

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5

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pp. 43-48

The evening made a person want to live forever. A light breeze blew in from the west where the Spring Mountains stood in jagged relief before a silver sunset. The air smelled of new-mown grass, blooming desert-willows, and hamburger sizzling on the grill. I stared off from my patio, spatula in one hand, spray bottle in the other. ...

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6

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pp. 48-51

I was as out of place as a ballerina in a prison yard. In an audience largely of women wearing bullet-size diamonds on their fingers, I sat alone at a corner table in Jitters, a coffeehouse that specialized in designer blends, whatever that meant. Most of the others were mothers in their forties and dressed like their daughters— ...

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7

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pp. 52-54

The clerk in the MGM looked at my application, making notes as she read the information. Near as I could determine, she was no more than twenty. I wondered how someone so young could make a valid assessment of an applicant—specifically, me. ...

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8

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pp. 55-56

The New Laredo was a barnlike building with a four-acre wooden floor and open beams. Above the main floor was a loft with a coffee shop and a two-foot sign that read “Gambler’s Special, Eight-Ounce New York Steak and Eggs and Toast for $4.98.” The gaming tables, six blackjack games and one crap table, ...

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9

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pp. 56-58

The morning of my fifth shift, I was on break with Celia, a transplant from Atlantic City. On the way to the pit she forecast tips would be a record. I’d asked how much the record was. Smiling, she said, “I mean the low end. We’re down to bus tours, grandmas from Oswego, and Vietnamese from Orange County. ...

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10

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pp. 58-62

It was like breathing inside a Crock-Pot. Vegas was in day forty-three of one-hundred-degree temperatures and no rain. Heat waves danced on the asphalt, and seasonal clouds had gathered, towering billows that lay languorously on the tops of the Black Mountains and blanketed the valley south to Stateline. ...

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11

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pp. 63-66

On break, she found a corner upstairs in the coffee shop and studied. The casino was merely a stopover to the rest of her life. She was completing a degree in biology and, though nearing forty, applying to medical schools. Her past was unusual. In her early twenties Listelle sold used cars. ...

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12

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pp. 66-67

A day after my release, I couldn’t fathom why they didn’t arrest me at home or call and ask me to surrender. Cops show murderers that much consideration. How could the police even take Edowski seriously? Where was the evidence? I couldn’t imagine a cop leaving the scene with a bag of dog turds and submitting the case to a prosecutor. ...

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13

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pp. 67-68

I waited outside Anne’s, weighing opposing prospects, whether to pursue a job at Wendy’s or McDonald’s or return to laying block. The idea of doing either didn’t lift my spirits. Laying block walls in the Vegas heat after years of avoiding the sun held little appeal, and although there might be some work for a skilled mason, ...

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14

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pp. 68-72

Audra, as I’d come to think of her by that name and not Audie, was there and sitting alone, looking as casual as a tourist on vacation in her blue tank top, white cotton skirt, and leather sandals. She offered a short, noncommittal wave. I raised my hand, careful to make the gesture appear impersonal. ...

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15

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pp. 72-81

Audie, for I had decided to start calling her that, pulled her BMW into the circular driveway of a three-story house in the Scotch 80s, a tract of exclusive homes southeast of Rancho Circle. Edwardian in design with stone and stucco walls, stained-glass windows, and a faux slate roof, it looked out of place in the desert. ...

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16

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pp. 82-89

The room was full of human smells—stale tobacco smoke on clothes, wet diapers, milk, candy—and the line of the unemployed coiled through three switchbacks, extending to the rear of the building some fifty feet. I took my place in it, now an unemployed statistic entitled to a few weeks of benefits ...

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17

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pp. 89-96

Ben answered the door. He smiled and stepped aside for Audie and me. I felt bolder this trip and wondered if Audie could sense a change in me. Did she see herself as the catalyst? Inside was pleasantly cool and less intimidating this time. The hallway smelled of incense, and sunlight glistened on the tile. ...

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18

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pp. 96-99

Audie sat at the counter trying to convince me of the advantages in owning a luxury car. In the presence of Ben, she was distant, seemingly untouchable, but in the evening reverted to her witty, lighthearted manner as we talked about the vicissitudes of rearing daughters. ...

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19

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pp. 99-101

Early in the evening two days after she stormed out, Audie stood at the threshold, head tilted seductively. I was in my apron, paring knife in hand, when I answered the doorbell. Her hasty departure had added another mess to the disarray that was my life. Now her showing up piled on even more. ...

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20

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pp. 101-104

At the time I gave no thought to what Audie might have meant, nor did I consider the varied meaning of the words, when she’d said she hadn’t come to the house to fuck me. Instead, I let myself believe that serendipity had brought her and all that was ahead to me. ...

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21

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pp. 104-113

We waited at Ben’s in the den for the fourth member of the crew to arrive, Angel with his eyes on a sports betting form, Audie in a recliner with an open newspaper in hand, me on a stool, steadying my sweating hands. Past noon, the temperature hung at 110 degrees. ...

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22

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pp. 114-116

Thursday and the kids would be over. The final fifty minutes of eight hours were clicking down toward shift’s end, and I had two days off coming. I felt a headache coming on. The battering sounds of the casino and cigarette smoke added to a dull throb at my temples. I offered up the deck to first base to cut. ...

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23

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pp. 116-118

Lucas’s car shined in the glow from the corner streetlight. It made me want a nicer car, but the Nissan would do for now. Wasn’t it best to drive something inconspicuous and avoid drawing attention to myself? Isn’t that what smart thieves did? Still, something in me wanted that better car. ...

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24

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pp. 118-122

I followed him to the rail. He held the gate, and I stepped in and stood before the bench as dozens of traffic violators had. Braverman waited calmly. He’d indicated the case would be reduced, but nothing was absolute. I would have had reservations no matter what he said. ...

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25

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pp. 122-123

The gun was dark metallic blue, and its checkered stocks shined. Using a soft cloth to protect the finish, the clerk opened the cylinder and offered the gun for me to examine. I held it with a sense of awe and apprehension, sort of the way I’d felt when the nurse handed Lucas to me for the first time. ...

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26

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pp. 123-125

I was dealing to a lone woman when Felicia, the assistant pit boss, sidled up to my game. She said business was slow and asked if I wanted to leave at half-shift. In her midthirties, she was married to a golf pro, always dressed in something blue, and smelled like a basket of fruit. “You keep looking around like you want to escape.” ...

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27

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pp. 125-130

Though the table was busy, I looked up by chance and saw him, leaning against a slot machine, the gray-Honda man. At least I thought so. I’d glimpsed him only briefly, inside a moving car, and I couldn’t be positive. A bit under six feet tall, medium build, late thirties, he was the kind who otherwise blended into any crowd. ...

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28

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pp. 130-133

The Monday Night Football crowd hogged the tables by the bar. I watched for Ben and waited for the waitress to bring my order. I’d called and told him we needed to talk. I wanted out. I wasn’t going to offer an explanation—just out. I hoped to keep the straight dealing job. ...

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29

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pp. 133-134

No change came of my meeting with Ben. A month passed with no threatening calls. I still had the job, Ben’s agents continued to land on my game and win, and at the end of each week I found an envelope with cash in my mailbox. One thing that did change was my taking on new habits. ...

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30

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pp. 135-142

I walked into the break room at the Le Grande and looked around for an empty table. This was my last shift before two days off, and I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Somehow I had to take my life back and do so without endangering Beth. Six weeks had passed since the phone call, and though Gabe Blitzstein’s threat was beginning to seem all bluff, ...

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31

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pp. 142-145

Rumors proved true; Hefty took over the joint. If he fired me, I welcomed it. I wanted Ben and all his agents and Hefty and Blitzstein, Detective Beardsley, and the clown in the gray Honda to watch me clock out for the last time. I had enough money to open up F and J Masonry. ...

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32

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pp. 145-147

The following Thursday, Ben called me in the morning and woke me. He said he wanted me to come to his place around noon. I told him I would be busy and couldn’t make it. ...

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33

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pp. 147-155

The video had changed matters. I watched it four times. Each viewing further fueled my anger. At first I looked at everything else other than myself to blame—Audie, Ben, Dad’s dying so young, and the MGM fire. I laid the disc on the coffee table and stared at it for nearly an hour, my feelings shifting between fear and rage. ...

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34

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pp. 155-157

I spent the afternoon preparing dinner—flank steaks stuffed with banana peppers, bleu cheese, and chopped garlic; Caesar salad; vine-ripened tomato slices topped with provolone and fresh mint, smothered in wine vinegar and virgin olive oil; fresh asparagus steamed, lightly buttered; bow-tie pasta in Alfredo sauce; ...

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35

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pp. 157-161

The shufflers discouraged play, a pattern at the Monaco repeating itself here. Day to day, games in the high-end pit stood dead for hours, and I stood idle as my worries drumrolled in my head. What and when? When and what? And what was my part in it to be? ...

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36

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pp. 161-163

I had no one to confide in, but I wanted to establish some record in case events went south on me. I dialed my younger brother’s number in Los Angeles, and as I waited for the line to ring through, I imagined his reaction to hearing the story, his wondering why after all these years I dragged him into a mess like this. ...

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37

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pp. 163-165

I placed a two of spades crossways on Linus Berman’s double down. He shook his head and moved to the next hand, a sixteen. He hit it and lost. Two slot rows away a buzzer went off, signaling a big jackpot. ...

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38

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pp. 165-169

As Ben critiqued, Angel and I switched five-card decks, the house deck for the cold deck. At first I’d progressed fast, but improvement since then came in painfully slow increments, intentional on my part. In our second week of practice I was fumbling one out of every three tries as our speed increased. ...

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39

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pp. 170-171

I sat at the end of a table in the help’s hall and laid my head on my arms. Gathered around the next table, several women watched spellbound as a soap opera blared sentimental theme music and two actors faced off in a scene intended to stir emotions in the audience. ...

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40

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pp. 171-174

It was 9:20 in the morning, two hours and forty minutes before I was to report for work, an odd time to be summoned to Ben’s or whoever’s house it was. I rang the bell and turned my back to the door. When it opened, I looked over my shoulder and asked, “More practice?” ...

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41

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pp. 174-176

The knock came as I was dressing for the day. I grabbed the pistol and peered through the peephole. Detective Beardsley stood at the stoop. I stuffed the gun under the seat cushion and opened the door. He was writing on a business card. ...

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42

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pp. 177-179

I stepped out into the parking lot of Big Dog’s at noon, two hundred dollars poorer, but with a telephone number and the name Masters on it. I’d asked Biggs a couple of times, who was this guy Masters? He’d refused to say. He said that his only advice was to call the number he’d given me. I turned the ignition and dialed the number Biggs had written down. ...

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43

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pp. 179-182

“That’s right,” I said. “I’ve never studied philosophy. I never studied much of anything, but I wish I had. Yeah, and I wish I’d done better by you two and better for myself, but I am what I am.” I stood and gathered up my plate and flatware. “I’ll eat elsewhere.” ...

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44

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pp. 182-193

I wondered, as I had for weeks, if this, the last day of the year, was going to be the day. I couldn’t be certain. Ben hadn’t yet said, but I sensed tonight or the next the scam would go down. Over Christmas, business had been so slow bosses and dealers outnumbered the players. It would have been impossible to run a deck in. No shade, as the expression went. ...

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45

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pp. 193-195

The assistant district attorney placed the form in front of me. I picked it up and began reading. Masters sat beside me, holding a voluntary statement I’d given some weeks ago. In it I confessed to switching cards on a blackjack game at the Whiskey River with a man I knew as Angel. ...

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46

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pp. 195-201

Vegas’s optimism, sparked by a surge of January visitors, had long since subsided, supplanted by a cynical sense that the worst was yet to come. In March the Dow spiked up and down like a bad EKG, and by May it again plummeted. Occupancy rates on the Strip dropped to below 70 percent, and early-summer vacationers began canceling reservations. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780874178883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874178845

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: West Word Fiction

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Subject Headings

  • Card dealers -- Fiction.
  • Single fathers -- Fiction.
  • Casinos -- Fiction.
  • Las Vegas (Nev.) -- Fiction.
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