Sullivan Rourk walked briskly through the front doors of the Pearl Dust Casino, Hotel and Resort. Several employees quickly noticed him. It was his erect bearing in the perfectly fitted Hugo Boss suit that got him noticed today. By this time tomorrow he would be noticed for an entirely different reason.
The casino floor was typical of Las Vegas. There were carousels of slot machines grouped by the denomination of coin accepted, various bars within easy access to waitresses and customers alike, video poker, card tables, roulette and craps, along with keno and a sports book available to anyone aged 21 or over with money to spend. Sullivan Rourk was the newly crowned 'King' of all he surveyed. This was actually his second day as manager of the Pearl Dust and the day his position would be made public.
Vegas insiders all knew Sullivan Rourk and his journey from Indian Casino operator to convicted felon and back again. Some of those same people helped grease the wheels that made a full pardon possible and to bring Rourk to Sin City in order to turn around the Pearl's declining revenue.
The Pearl Dust was located downtown, where it was no longer fashionable to vacation. The vaunted Vegas Strip, with its themed mega-resorts and huge advertising budgets, had made the older area of Downtown Las Vegas passé. Rourk's job was to turn the Pearl around, thus creating a resurgence of interest - and income - in the Downtown area.
A press conference was scheduled in the Pearl Divers Lounge beginning in less than one hour. The press had already gathered - all of it local, with the exception of the CNN crew. Not the major publicity hoped for by the Pearl Dust's owners, but there was more to come as business improved, of that, they were sure.
Sullivan entered the lounge, greeting those he already knew, introduced to those he didn't. The one person he wanted most to see was his wife, April, yet she was nowhere to be found.
"Have you seen April?" Rourk asked his old friend, Chief Donny De la Cruz.
The hefty chairman of the Desert Pueblo Band of Mission Indians replied, "Not since dinner last night, Sully." Noting the concern on Rourk's face, he added, "She'll be here. This is your big day and that little gal won't miss it."
"Yeah, you're ri…"
"Excuse me, Mr. Rourk?" interrupted a slight man with dark, slicked back hair that looked to be glued into place.
Sullivan eyed the man quizzically, taking in the ill-fitting sport coat, oily, pockmarked skin and hawkish nose. He had never seen the man before, yet there was something unsettlingly familiar about him. "What can I do for you?"
The man glanced furtively toward the swarthy 340 pound Indian at Rourk's side; "I need to talk to you in private."
Impatiently Sullivan replied, "Whatever it is, Mr.…Mr.. Whoever you are, it's going to have to wait."
"But…" the man didn't get to finish his thought before Sullivan and Donny strode off toward the band stage.
Rourk pulled his cell phone from its clip on his belt and hit the speed dial number for Aprils' cell. After three rings the voice mail picked up. He had already left several messages, so didn't bother to leave another.
As the reporters took their positions, so did the people on stage. Five chairs were set to the right and slightly back of the ornate dais that had been placed center stage. To the left was an easel that held an architectural drawing that was currently covered by a pearl white satin sheet.
The chair closest to the dais was empty, as was the one furthest away. In between sat Joey Picarella, Mayor of Las Vegas, Steve Wynn, a gambling industry legend, and Sullivan. Center stage stood the CEO of Pearl Dust Enterprises, Eugene Quinn.
The 85-year-old Quinn wore his hair in a severe military style flattop, giving him the appearance of a hard man. However, when he brought the press conference to a start with just a radiant smile, the hardness melted into joviality. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you are here at my invite, then you already know who I am. If I didn't invite you, then my security needs a little improvement." The crowd laughed at the light-hearted remark. Quinn continued in his signature folksy manner. "Today marks the beginning of a new era for things hereabout the Pearl Dust. There have been some big changes in this patch of desert dirt since I first drove into town. No, it weren't on a stagecoach. But not far off. I was drivin' a brand-spankin' new nineteen hunerd an' forty-eight Ford. That car was a piece of crap! I only stopped here acause that damn car wouldn't go no further. Anywho, I figured I'd stay on a few days an' play a bit a five-card stud. Two days later I won this here casino. Acourse it was really just a whorehouse and a few card tables back then. But by fifty-nine I'd built up the building yer all in right now. Times were easier then. Folks came to Vegas to gamble and we were happy to oblige 'em. My time to pass on the reins come long ago. But I'm just now listenin'. I had a chance some twenty years back to pull in Steve Wynn. He turned Vegas into the monster it is today. And got hisself a bundle a money doin' it! Steve ended up goin' to the other end a the street, bought twelve percent of the Golden Nugget and parlayed that into a gambling empire that would include the Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Desert Inn, and a handful of other hi-falutin' business ventures. He's probably one of only two folks in the world that could still turn a profit on the likes of O.J. Simpson or Grey Davis. The other one is the fella sittin' next to him, Sullivan Robert Rourk. Since I didn't see clear to bring in Steve Wynn, I figured the least I could do was let him introduce the man I did bring in. That's right, I'm goin' to ree-tire. So, without any further jaw-jackin' from me, here's Steve."
Cameras flashed as Eugene took his seat and Steve Wynn stood at the podium. "Not much left to say about the old man." Wynn smiled and looked over his shoulder to make sure Quinn was smiling, too. "But there is a lot to be said about Sullivan Rourk. He is a newcomer to Vegas. His claim to fame in the gambling business has been in his ability to lure our customer base to other places. Places most people have never heard of. Temecula, San Jacinto, Banning, Indio. Sullivan Rourk has turned California's Indian gaming from a multi-million dollar bingo business into a multi-billion dollar full service casino resort industry. Now he has come to the Pearl Dust with plans to reclaim the prominence it once held. I've seen those plans, talked with Sullivan, and am convinced he can do it. Enough so that I've now purchased thirty-two percent of the Pearl and today I'm handing over twelve percent to Sullivan Rourk."
The voices of the people gathered rose to a cacophonous roar. Questions were shouted. Wynn raised his hands, palms out in mock surrender, before pointing to one of the hand-waving reporters calling his name.
"Dave Jeffers, CNN," began the perfectly groomed youngish black reporter. "And just what is the value of twelve percent of the Pearl Dust?"
"About eight million dollars."
"Just what do you get for that much money?"
"Twelve percent of the Pearl assures us one hundred and ten percent of Sullivan Rourk."
With that said, Wynn turned and extended his right hand to Sullivan, who rose slowly and took it in his own. Sullivan's shock was apparent only for a moment. Following the unexpected news of becoming a partner in the Pearl Dust, Rourk made a quick recovery and addressed the crowd. "Thanks, Steve. And my thanks to Eugene as well. I've been in town for nearly six months working to revamp the Pearl. The job was initially to come to an end today with the unveiling of what I believe will be the road to recovery for Downtown Las Vegas."
Sullivan pulled the sheet from the architectural rendition of his changes for the Pearl Dust's casino floor. There was less flash, less clutter. More comfortable slot chairs that provided each player with their own area of comfort replaced the formerly cramped rows of one-armed bandits. The card tables were reset to allow for a more private feel, with seclusion from the next table, while other games were set into their own areas. There was an elegance to the design that could be seen nowhere else in Las Vegas. Sullivan Rourk's idea, April Rourk's drawing.
"What we plan to do is return Downtown to the gambler. We do not intend to compete with the themed resorts along the strip. We will cater to gamblers, not families on vacation. Our customer base won't arrive on tour busses. Nor will they be carrying 'Fun Book' coupons. What the Pearl Dust will offer is personal service. All of your needs will be catered to in an intimate setting. We will replace the gaudy opulence that has permeated the downtown area since the mid-nineteen fifties. The Pearl Dust will close for nine months, beginning in six weeks. There will be no lay-offs. All employees will be temporarily reassigned to other duties in order to expedite the remodeling. The hotel will reduce its capacity from twenty-two hundred rooms to sixteen hundred suites."
"How can you make a profit if you slash your potential room capacity?" asked an elderly woman reporter from the Las Vegas Times.
"We currently make a small profit while only a third of our rooms are occupied. Profits will increase if I fill more rooms - even if I have fewer rooms total. As of this morning, we had nine hundred and three rooms occupied. If we fill twelve hundred suites, we will increase our profit margin. Empty rooms don't make money."
"Is your eight-million dollar deal the highest in Vegas history?" again, the woman from the Times.
"Yesterday I agreed to a five year contract that would provide me a little over one million per year. That was the deal. For that sum, I would give 111% of my effort to this casino. Mr. Wynn's generous gift is a pleasant surprise."
Reporters clamored once more for Sullivan’s attention. Shouting questions, waving hands that clutched pens, microphones and micro-cassette recorders. Rourk ignored them all, waved, said "Thank you", then turned and shook hands with those on stage while cameras clicked and whirred.
April still hadn't arrived and Sullivan was quickly becoming wrought with concern.
As soon as was politely feasible he excused himself from the group of men on stage and headed toward the main entryway where Chief De la Cruz stood waiting.
Just as he and De la Cruz entered the noisy casino, the greasy, ferret-faced man in the ill-fitting sport coat stepped in front of them and thrust an envelope into Rourk's hand.
"What the…" Rourk began, but stopped as the man turned and fled into the crowd at a brisk pace.
Instinctively, Sullivan followed the man, while opening the envelope.
Inside were two sheets of paper. The first was a typed message, printed on a laser printer in need of a new cartridge. It said:
“If you do as you are told, we will let her live. Go to your apartment and wait for our call. Do not call the police.”
Sullivan’s heart began to pound in his chest, fear gripping his insides like a huge hand wrapped in his intestines. He looked up; the ferret had made his way to the Wheel of Fortune slot carousel and was turning toward the eastern entrance. Rourk took two long strides before looking at the second sheet of paper and stopping dead in his tracks. He read the words written in his daughter's flowing script:
“They took me and want you to do something for them. They hurt Mom. I am okay. Just scared.
“Please help me.
"What is it?" asked De la Cruz as he caught up to Rourk.
In reply, he shoved the papers into the Chief's hand and sprinted after the man who had delivered them.
Rourk caught up to the man twenty feet from the exit. His mind racing with a kaleidoscope of images: the birth of his precious little girl nearly twelve years earlier; the first time she fell and skinned her knee; when she first learned to ride a bike; the horror of his own traumatic abduction as a child; the man who had beat him, tormented and raped his young body. His left hand clamped down on a bony shoulder and spun the ferret around. The man lost his balance and crashed into a twenty-five cent triple wheel slot machine. Two blue-haired old ladies near by shrieked in fear while clutching their buckets of dirty quarters to their ample bosoms.
The Ferret - as Rourk came to see him - tried to scurry on his hands and knees between several overturned stools in an attempt to flee. Rourk grabbed him by the back of his sport coat and tossed him into another slot machine.
"WHERE IS SHE!?!" Sullivan demanded, his voice thundering.
Ferret turned and Rourk encircled his skinny neck with his right hand. Hate like he had never known engulfed him, bringing with it a murderous rage. “WHERE IS SHE!?!” he screamed, his face inches from ferrets face, Sullivan’s skin a deep red from the tide of rage surging within. The ferret’s face was equally red, though his was due to the ferocious grip the massive hand had on his throat.
“Put him down, Sully!” yelled Chief De la Cruz.
Rourk had the ferret in one hand, the man’s feet six inches off the ground. “WHERE IS SHE, YOU FUCK!?!” The ferret’s eyes bulged grotesquely, the capillaries swollen and beginning to burst. “TELL ME!” Rourk screamed, as he smashed the ferret repeatedly into the slot machine. “TELL ME!”
“Sir! Put him down!” ordered a security guard, gun in hand.
Rourk continued to crush the now limp figure of a man into the slot. De la Cruz placed his friend in a police style chokehold. Slowly, Rourk succumbed to the loss of air and blood. His grip on the ferret loosened, the body falling to the ground with a dull thud.
Security guards running through the casino had caught the attention of the news media that had been at the press conference. Rourk’s savage attack was the lead story on all of the networks. Very little was missed by the cameras. They were still there when, several minutes later, the paramedics pronounced the ferret dead and Rourk was lead away in handcuffs by two Las Vegas Metro Police Officers.
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