The Hard Way by Cathi Stoler is the 3rd novel in the Laurel and Helen New York Mystery Series about a murder in a Las Vegas casino where the duo's friend is the prime suspect (available April 15, 2014).
PI Helen McCorkendale’s childhood friend, Jimmy Scanlan, has just opened January, the most lavish casino and hotel resort in Vegas. After attending the grand opening, Helen returns to New York and encourages her magazine editor friend, Laurel Imperiole to create a get-away contest for readers offering a weekend at the hotel as the grand prize. The winner, Dawn Chapman, a jewelry store employee from Cincinnati, denies entering the contest and initially refuses the trip. Finally persuaded by Laurel to accept, she arrives at the hotel and nearly faints when she passes the hotel’s elite meeting rooms where the International Diamond Dealers Consortium is holding its annual meeting. She insists on returning home immediately. Suspicious of her behavior, Jimmy visits her suite to encourage her to attend the Saturday afternoon pool party, saying she can leave on his private jet the next day. Later in the afternoon, he finds Chapman’s dead body by the pool. She’s been murdered—an unusual double poisoning by cyanide and diamond dust. Dawn Chapman was not who she appeared to be, and therein lies a mystery. But to Helen and Laurel, the main task is to take Jimmy Scanlon off the suspect list and clear his name. Will their luck hold? Or will it be a crap shoot, as they roll the dice and do it ‘the hard way,’ going for doubles when the odds are against them. Losing may mean losing their lives.
“No one comes to Vegas thinking they’re going home a loser.”
Gala Opening, January 1st
January Resort and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada
The January Resort and Casino was a soaring glass tower of planes and angles in perfect proportion. Its spires poked at the clouds as if demanding attention from the heavens themselves.
“Holy shit!” Mike’s eyes widened in amazement when the corporate helicopter that had picked them up from the private jet approached the hotel on the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard.
“So, tell me what you really think.” Helen laughed. “You must have used that expression about fifty times since we left New York.” She squeezed his arm playfully.
“Jeez, I mean, look at this.” Mike made a sweeping gesture.
“Double holy shit.” He grinned.
“It’s typical Jimmy.” Helen nodded. “The biggest, but also the best.”
Jimmy was Jimmy Scanlan, Helen’s oldest and best friend and owner of January Resort and Casino, Las Vegas’ newest hotspot. The grand opening was Saturday, a New Year’s launch and celebration, and Helen and Mike had been invited to spend a long weekend among Jimmy’s VIP guests.
It all began with a limo ride to Kennedy Airport, where Jimmy’s Challenger 605 jet awaited. When Helen learned she and Mike were replacing the mayor and his girlfriend as occupants of the last two seats on the flight, she wondered what Jimmy was playing at. Then she laughed. How pissed off hizzonor must be.
The chief steward raised one eyebrow as he answered Helen’s question regarding Mayor Mark, as the people’s politician liked to be called. “Mr. Scanlon felt the mayor was … umm … somewhat tardy in responding to his invitation and decided he’d have to wait until tomorrow to fly with us, or … take his own jet.” The slightest touch of amusement colored his words.
For once, Mike was speechless, and Helen had to tug on his sleeve to get him up the gangway and into the jet’s elegant common salon, where they nodded politely at the other guests.
Helen gave Mike a quick “don’t stare too hard” look as they smiled at talk show host Bob Planter and his wife, Amanda, said hello to real estate mogul Conrad Dorrian and passed by the actor Alec Bekett, who chatted with Keith Richards and Patty Hansen. When Richards stood up and gave Helen a “‘Lo luv” and a quick kiss on the cheek, Mike stopped dead, almost causing a collision with the lovely young flight attendant who was accompanying them. When Mike was ready to move again, she led the way to Jimmy’s private cabin.
“Mr. Scanlan thought you might like to relax before takeoff.” Smiling, she opened the door to the cabin, which was larger than the average New York City apartment and probably cost twice as much to decorate.
The jet’s interior was designed by Versace in dramatic ice blue, white, and silver to match the themed décor of Jimmy’s new casino. The cabin was definitely the highlight, contemporary yet totally luxurious, with a cushion-strewn, sweeping semicircular settee dominating one side and an enormous flat screen TV and bar on the opposite.
“Once you’re settled, please feel free to join the rest of the group in the salon.” She gestured for Helen and Mike to enter. “Or, of course, if you prefer, we can serve you here, after takeoff.” She indicated two facing armchairs by the oversized windows with a sleek table between them. “Your bathroom is through here,” she opened a door onto a blue and white marble bath with a sunken tub, “and if you’d like to nap, the bed is here.” She pulled back a curtain to reveal a steel-frame queen- size canopy bed draped with layers of sheer silver voile.
“In the meantime, perhaps I can bring you some Champagne and oysters before we depart.” She gazed at Mike.
“That would be lovely,” Helen answered for herself and the still mute-for-the-moment Mike, nodding to the young woman. Jimmy certainly picked his people well.
The cabin door was barely closed when Mike uttered his first of many epithets of the day. “Holy shit! You know Keith Richards? Did you see who’s out there? Dorrian is one of my customers, but we’ve never met. I’ve got to give him a few of his favorite cigars.” He reached for his carry-on, which had already been placed in the cabin. “I brought some for Jimmy, but I’ll have the store FedEx more out.”
He rooted through the bag, unearthing a box of Quay d’Orsay Imperiales. Dorrian was just one of the city’s wheeler dealers who ordered from Imperiole Cigars on Madison Avenue. He lived just down the street, but she doubted he’d ever set foot in Mike’s emporium. He had people for that kind of thing. Lots of people.
“Maybe we should get settled first.” Helen sat on the silk- shod bed, patting the space next to her, hoping to forestall
Mike running off like a wild man. “Let’s have our Champagne and oysters, then we’ll join the group. If that’s okay with you.” She looked up at him from under lowered lids.
Mike tossed aside the box of cigars and turned toward Helen. “I think that’s a great idea.” He leaned down and gave her a soft kiss.
“Every good hotel is different. Every bad hotel is exactly the same.” —Jimmy Scanlan
January Resort and Casino
“Laurel, it’s me, Dad,” Mike shouted into the phone. “Jeez. You should see this place. It’s incredible.” He hardly paused for a breath. “A winter wonderland, right in the middle of the desert. I know it’s winter for real in New York, baby girl, but this is the good kind of winter … you know, fake, with ski slopes that slide into an Olympic-size pool and frozen margaritas at the ice rink … Yes, ice rink, with people skating in their bathing suits.
“What? Helen? Yeah, okay, here she is.”
Helen took the phone from Mike, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. What had she done to the suave New Yorker, formerly known as the Emperor of Cigars, now reduced to behaving like an awestruck teenager? His affable dark brown eyes seemed to be permanently agog and his strong jaw agape.
“Dad seems to be really excited about the hotel and casino,” Laurel said from her New York office.
“Yes, he certainly is. He’s having fun.”
Mike walked onto the enclosed patio and pool of their “slope-side chalet” and swiveled his head back and forth. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“You know how carried away he can get. I hope he doesn’t scare off the rest of the guests.” Helen heard the smile in Laurel’s voice.
“Oh, they’ll probably all love him as much as we do.” Helen glanced at her watch. “I don’t want to cut you short, but the gala opening night party is in ten minutes, which is probably how long it’ll take to tear your dad away from the suite. We’ll call you in the morning. Promise.”
“Can’t wait. I want to hear all about it. Enjoy yourselves.”
Helen clicked off Mike’s cell and moved to the suite’s huge closet, still mostly empty even though she’s unpacked. She stepped into the sleek, steel-blue taffeta strapless cocktail dress she’d decided on and zipped its back then checked herself out in the closet’s full-length mirror. The dress matched her eyes perfectly and accented the curves of her petite body. She smoothed back her short blond hair and smiled. She liked what she saw and turned to Mike. Evidently he liked it, as well. Mike’s craggy features softened into an expression that showed his unconcealed pleasure.
“Hey, handsome,” Helen said as she took in her escort, his stocky build appearing leaner in the black tuxedo. She scooped up her matching shawl and took his arm. Sometimes it paid to mingle with the rich and famous.
“Ready to go?” He offered her his arm.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” The phrase, meant to be a light rejoinder, had somehow come out sounding dark and ominous. A chill ran up her spine and settled in her brain like an icy shard. Now where did that come from? She shuddered as they left the suite and turned off the lights.
Copyright © 2014 by Cathi Stoler.
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Cathi Stoler is a native New Yorker who has devoted much of her life to writing. After graduating from The Fashion Institute of Technology, she followed a career path from fashion copywriting to the world of advertising. There, she honed her skills as a Creative Director/Copywriter developing award-winning campaigns. Other than novels, Cathi has published several short stories and posts regularly on the Women of Mystery blog. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a board member of the New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime.