I had a retirement photo opportunity with then-CIA Director John Brennan. He greeted me with a CIA...
Detective Emilia Cruz is a gambler. You could even go so far as to say she has a gambling addiction.
As a cop in Acapulco, one of the most deadly cities in the world thanks to Mexico’s drug cartels, Emilia gambles every day that she’ll survive the violence on the city’s streets. She risks coming to the attention of street gangs and cartels that routinely target cops. If you see pictures of Mexican cops at major crime scenes, they are wearing masks for that very reason.
In KING PESO, the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, the gambling theme goes big with epic action at the El Pharaoh casino. That’s the place that Emilia and senior detective Franco Silvio closed down on money laundering charges in HAT DANCE. But if you remember the end of HAT DANCE, evidence went missing and the casino reopened.
Two books later, the El Pharaoh is a bigger success than ever.
All due to a steady line of gamblers? Or something else?
Pull the lever, hear the win
Okay, I’ll admit to enjoying a little casino play time now and then. Years ago, my husband and I hit the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and I won $700 playing the quarter slot machines. That was back in the day when coins spilled into the hopper with a deafening clatter and you knew you’d WON. Now the light still flashes and the bell rings but all you get is a bigger digital number and a slip of paper when you cash out.
I can see why a gambling addiction can take hold. Whether you play the quarter slots or table games, there is always the breathless anticipation that this could be THE TIME that you hit it big.
My husband and I have a rule when we go to a casino. We play with a fixed amount of money. If we lose it, well, we’ve had a fun day for the same price as a theme park ticket. We usually end up a few bucks up, however, because whenever I win, I pocket the extra and keep playing with the original amount.
The Beau Rivage provided some inspiration for the casino in KING PESO, but the El Pharaoh is more Caesar’s Palace than coastal Mississippi. The El Pharaoh is big and brassy. Imagine it full of kitschy Ancient Egypt décor as interpreted by, say, Taco Bell.
Here is Emilia’s first impression:
“The casino was big, noisy, and crowded. Waiters and waitresses were dressed as ancient Egyptians. Costumes leaned heavily on metallic leather, imitation gold, gladiator sandals, and jeweled collars extending beyond their shoulders. Emilia’s senses were assaulted by blaring pop music, incessant electronic bleeping and ring tones from hundreds of slot machines, and a circus of visuals inputs including blinking lights and wide screen televisions broadcasting Copa America highlights.
Emilia ordered a mojito and looked around. The first and last time she had been in the El Pharaoh casino was with a detective badge around her neck and a warrant in her hand. She remembered telling Kurt that Silvio had walked into the place as if he owned it and had the doors shuttered ten minutes later. Of course, it had all been for nothing.”
I think Emilia’s gambling addiction extends to her personal life. Every day she gambles on her cranky partner Franco Silvio as well as her roller-coaster love affair with hotel manager Kurt Rucker.
So in KING PESO, Emilia knows what he’s talking about when the owner of the El Pharaoh tells her, “When you are a gambler you know that tomorrow the odds will be better.”
May they ever be in Emilia’s favor.
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