The three of us – LVPD Strip Detective Rook, “Red Penny,” Penelope Fallon, Chief of Casino Security and I, the Poker Cop – stand silently around the now empty Midnight Table, the scene of the crime.
The Stripper sent to find Mrs. Hadley, the shooter’s wife, returns alone. “No one in 13-125.” Rook is not surprised, “It’s Saturday night in Vegas. Mrs. Hadley could be anywhere. Put a message on her phone that says, “Call. Anytime. Important. Leave my number.”
Captain Video, Georgia Young, the Majestic’s Supervisor of Casino Surveillance arrives. “You have the murders on tape?” Rook asks. Captain Video says, “Yes,” and holds up a videocassette. “Poker Room Camera 7,” she points up towards the ceiling, “polar view of the Midnight Game.” Rook says, “OK, let’s look.”
The Captain walks to a wall-mounted TV/VCR and inserts the videocassette. “Time frame 12:30 a.m., the beginning of the hand, through 12:39 a.m., the end of the shooting.” She presses Play: We are looking down at the Midnight Game. Black and white. No sound. The Deal. Rook says, “Stop! Where’s Hadley?”
I put my finger on the screen: “Seat 8.”
“On Hadley’s right. Seat 7.”
“On Hadley’s left. Seat 9.”
I move my finger to the edge of the screen. “Off-camera to the right in between Seats 3 and 4.” Rook nods to the Captain. The tape rolls: Blinds In. The Deal. First Betting Round. The Flop. Second Betting Round. The Turn. Third ligaz11 Betting Round. The River. Hadley and Goldenberg in a raising war. The Guppy going all-in. Goldenberg showing down AK. The Guppy doing nothing. Donny pushing the pot. The Guppy pulling out the gun. The first round of the fight for the gun. Goldenberg shot. The second round. Patrick shot. Hadley turning the gun back toward Goldenberg. Hadley shot.
Rook asks Red Penny and me, “Anything else to add?” Red Penny shakes her head. I say nothing. Rook continues, “Unless and until other evidence comes to light, this is how I now see this crime. “First. The shooting of Judge Goldenberg is an obvious homicidal rage killing. Mr. Hadley probably wins everybody’s quarters in kitchen table poker. Thinks he’s a player. He gets here and learns different. Poker paranoia sets in, he goes out and buys a cheap no-ID number, Saturday Night Special behind some liquor store to defend himself against his imagined enemies. Tonight he loses his shirt, his reaction is violent and uncontrollable rage. He goes berserk, pulls out a gun, yells ‘Give me back my money!’ and shoots the poor guy who won it.
“Second. The shooting of Mr. Patrick by Hadley is clearly unintended collateral damage, Hadley’s reckless indifference to human life. Patrick was the Good Samaritan who forgot that no good deed goes unpunished.
“Third. The shooting of Hadley by ex-Detective Talbot is plainly justifiable homicide, the use of deadly force against a deadly attack. “Unless anyone,” Rook looks directly at me, “disagrees with my analysis this case is closed.” I say nothing. Rook leaves. Red Penny stays. I go to the bar and pour out two glasses of Jack Daniels. I offer one to Red Penny. When she refuses I pour one glass into the other. “This case,” I tell Red Penny, “is not closed.”
“Talbot,” says Red Penny, “it does the Majestic no good for you to push Detective Rook to continue this investigation.”
I answer, “Penelope, do you agree with Rook?”
She frowns, “His conclusion is right but his reasoning is all wrong. The only insanity here is to miss the point that the murder of Judge Goldenberg was not a ‘homicidal rage killing’ but a willful act of premeditated murder.”
I say nothing. She goes on. “Mr. Hadley, a visitor, obtains somewhere in this city an untraceable Saturday Night Special. That’s premeditation. Mr. Hadley then brings the weapon to the poker table, the legal equivalent of ‘lying in wait,’ for some player to beat him so he can use his weapon. That’s willful depravity. This was no rage killing. Rook is wrong.” Red Penny looks very pleased.
“No,” I shake my head. “I’m still sober enough to know that both you and Rook have the shooting all wrong.”
Red Penny looks pointedly at the Jack Daniels and then back at me. I ignore the wordless suggestion. “I don’t think we know why Mr. Hadley shot the Judge.
Clearly believing that I am talking 86 Proof logic Red Penny decides to humor me, “And on what do you base this strange idea? We all saw the tape. Hadley losing. Hadley shooting. Hadley getting shot. As much as I hate to quote from the great “Sherlock” Rook: ‘Case closed.'”
“No, I’m sorry. It’s not. You’ve missed something, Penelope.”
Red Penny becomes quietly furious. “And what is it,” she asks sarcastically, “that you, the great detective Talbot, know that I don’t?”
“I, Penelope, know how to play Texas Hold’em Poker.”
The furious Red Penny had been replaced by the curious Red Penny. I pour her a drink which she takes. “Penelope, have you every played Texas Hold’em Poker?”
“No. I don’t play strip poker either.”
“Too bad,” I tell her, “there’s plenty of good poker on the Strip.” I get an icy look. “You know what hand beats what hand?” She nods and I begin: “The easiest way I can explain Texas Hold’em is that each player gets dealt two cards face down. “Five community cards, The Board, are dealt face up. To win you have to make the highest poker hand out of your two cards and three Board cards.”
I walk over to the Midnight Table. Take a new deck from the dealer’s box and begin to look for cards. “These are the five community cards dealt in the Guppy’s game:
Jack Ten King Ten King
“You sat in on Rook’s interviews with the players. Right?” She nods “Yes.””Did Rook ever ask the two players that were left in the last betting round what cards they had?”
She thinks, shakes her head, “No.”
I deal out two cards under the community cards. “The Lady in Red had A Q.” I then push down the J T K . “Put them together…”
“She had a Straight.”
“Right. She had the nut straight on the flop. Her hand got counterfeited, became less than the best later on, and she folded. I deal out another two cards under the community cards. The Rocket Man had A J. I push down the T K. “Four hearts are?”
“A failed flush. He folded when he failed to make his hand.”
“We call it a busted flush but again you’re right.”
I deal out a third hand under the community cards. “We know The Judge had A K .” I push down T K T K
“A Full House. Which was the winning hand.”
“No,” I tell her.
“You haven’t seen Mr. Hadley’s hand.” I nod to the Guppy’s bloodstained cards still face down on the table. “His cards are right where he left them. Go look.” Red Penny does not like playing games. She glares at me. I nod again at the cards. She walks to Seat 8 and flips over Hadley’s hand.
She blinks, stares, starts to say something, stops. I wait while she does the poker math.
Two tens + Two tens…
“Hadley had Four Of A Kind? That’s…”
I complete her sentence, “The Nuts. The Act of God. The Immortal.”
“And Judge Goldenberg…”
“Was drawing dead, betting, raising, and re-raising on a hand that could not win. That cost him his life.”
Red Penny says, “I’m not sure I understand any of this.”
I answer, “Me neither. We only have these facts to go on. Scott Hadley bet a quarter of a million dollars on a poker hand he never looked at until…”
“Someone else was declared the winner.”
“And when he did finally look at his cards…”
“He knew he had won.”
“But instead of turning over his winning hand…”
“He started a fatal shootout.”
“Which tells us this crime cannot be explained either by Rook’s “insane revenge” solution or your “premeditated murder” solution. It’s…something else…something…”
Red Penny finds the word before I do, “Mysterious.”