Retired Las Vegas Detectives Benson Cavanaugh and Bonnie State always worked alone before retiring. But joining the Cold Poker Gang task force pushes them to work together. Not something they easily want to do.
Searching for clues on a long-cold missing person's case, they explore a shuttered old hotel and casino and find far more than anyone expected.
And that discovery takes them on a twisted journey through the past.
Another very, very twisted Cold Poker Gang mystery novel.
January 17th, 2019
Las Vegas, Nevada
The old Hotel Nevada on Main Street in downtown Las Vegas seemed to be in hiding, almost ashamed to be seen. Only its seven-story oblong tower and a walled-off portion of the old casino was left standing. All the big Nevada-shaped signs with big "N" logos that used to cover the Main Street corner were gone, as well as the huge neon "Nevada" sign that had run across the top of the building proudly telling the world the Hotel Nevada existed.
Every entry on the ground floor had been walled in like a bad horror movie and painted a neutral light-gold color to match exactly the paint color of the entire building. Those old entrances looked as if they had always been walls.
Large, bright-colored billboards along street level now advertised restaurants, steaks, drinks, and gambling at the nearby Golden Nugget, the current owner of the old hotel. Those signs seemed to mock the remains of Hotel Nevada like memories of its past.
The ground floor casino area that used to front Main Street was now mostly a Golden Gate Casino parking lot, not even a bump in the pavement left of where millions were won and lost.
Driving past on Main Street, unless you knew the empty building used to be a major downtown Las Vegas casino, you would never notice it.
No one ever did.
It sat lost.
Hidden in plain sight.
All the room windows from the second floor up still had their drapes and looked like people might actually be in those rooms or sitting on the balconies of the seven-floor building.
No one ever was.
Some days a few of the windows were opened to air the floors out, causing the curtains to blow like ghosts. But there was no way at all into the building besides a heavy steel security door hidden in an alley near a large parking garage.
The Hotel Nevada sat empty.
And completely ignored by everyone.
Recently retired Detective Benson Cavanaugh had gone past the old hotel a hundred times since it had been shuttered in 2012 and never gave the place a second thought.
At least not until tonight.
Now he held a red cold-case file with a picture of the old hotel before it was shuttered and what the hotel had looked like a few years ago, which is what it looked like still today. Why someone had thought to take a picture of the ghost hotel was beyond him.
Around Cavanaugh in the basement game room, fifteen or more retired detectives were talking, laughing, or staring at their cards. Two large poker tables filled the game room of retired detectives Bayard Lott and Julia Rogers. A polished wooden bar from an old hotel filled one wall, and recessed lighting over the bar and the poker tables kept the room bright and yet homey-looking.
The room was climate controlled and even with that many old people in it, the air didn't feel stuffy or warm. And no one smoked, so the air was breathable.
Cavanaugh had fallen in love with the room the moment he had come down the stairs. One of those rooms you wish you had in your own home, but never could afford or find the time to put in.
Bowls of chips and M&Ms were scattered around the room and most everyone had a drink of some sort in front of them, a lot of it soda or water. These were all old detectives. Drinking alcohol, other than a beer or two, for most of them was a thing long in their past.
Cavanaugh felt the same way. He couldn't remember the last time he had had a drink past a small glass of wine at a good dinner.
Hell, he couldn't remember the last time he had gone out for a good dinner, actually.
The entire house had a faint smell of KFC. Cavanaugh had heard that Lott and Julia were KFC fans, but hadn't believed it until coming through the front door. That smell was easy to identify and damned hard to ignore.
Now he wished he would have eaten before coming. Chips just weren't going to hold him for long.
Cavanaugh could tell where there used to be a large-screen television on one wall, but Lott had told him it had been removed along with a couch and chair to make room for the second poker table as the Cold Poker Gang Task Force got bigger and more retired detectives wanted to actually play some poker each week.
Cavanaugh was the newest member of the task force. In fact, tonight was his first time at this regular Tuesday night meeting after just retiring from active duty and the tons of paperwork that went along with being a modern detective.
He had hated the paperwork. He knew of no detective who loved it, actually. But he flat loved the idea that on this special task force all they did was investigate and leave the paperwork to the active detectives when something was found.
Detective heaven as far as Cavanaugh was concerned.
Now, looking around at the room of retired detectives, he understood why they called this task force the Cold Poker Gang. Many of them actually played poker once a week and talked about the cold cases they were working on.
And Cavanaugh knew from his recent days as an active detective that this group closed a lot of cold cases and was respected throughout the city. And the Chief of Police backed the group completely while at the same time making sure it stayed out of the limelight.
Lott, the owner of this house, was sitting at one table, looking very serious at the play going on in front of him. Julia, his wife and partner, stood on the other side of the second table laughing with two other detectives. Lott and Julia had become a couple while starting this cold case task force. They and Retired Detective Andor Williams now ran it.
Andor actually did all the work connecting the task force with the Chief of Police and getting the cold cases to hand out. If there was a problem or question, Cavanaugh was supposed to immediately contact Andor.
Cavanaugh had been standing at the bar for a good thirty minutes, just trying to soak in everything after the wonderful welcome he had gotten when he arrived. He felt like he belonged here.
Then, out of the blue, Andor, a short square man with wide shoulders and a bald head, had handed an official-looking red case file to Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh would have sworn it was an original case file if not for the large red word "copy" stenciled on the cover.
"Glance at this file and I'll be right back," Andor had said, then turned away.
Andor was the oldest of the active Cold Poker Gang at seventy-three, but you could never tell he was that old. His energy was amazing and he walked anywhere like he would plow through a person in his way. Cavanaugh had heard of Andor and Lott solving some of the city's toughest cases back in the day when they were active partners.
Most of the detectives in the task force were in their late fifties and early sixties. Cavanaugh had retired at sixty-two with full benefits and health care, but he doubted he would have done that without knowing he could join this task force when he did.
Basically work was all he did in his life, all he had, and he loved it.
Cavanaugh knew most of the detectives in the room, if not personally, then by their fantastic reputations. Even though he felt welcome, he wasn't sure he belonged here with this caliber of detectives, but Lott and Julia and Andor had said he did, so Cavanaugh was going to give it a try.
Besides, he had nothing else to do. If he could solve cases working as a detective and not have to do the paperwork, he figured he didn't have much to lose.
But the case that Andor had handed him looked damn near impossible. A simple missing person's case of a Myra Stemple, age 23 when last seen coming out of a hotel on the Strip in 2009.
And even stranger was that her shoes, clothes, and purse, still holding over three hundred in cash, had been found three years later hidden in the back of a closet in the Hotel Nevada when it was being shuttered.
How the hell did that stuff get there? And how had it remained hidden for three years? Or had it just been put there a few days before? No way of knowing.
Or knowing what had happened to Myra.
That was clearly what Andor wanted Cavanaugh to find out.
Cavanaugh found it amazing those clothes and personal items had even been connected to a three-year-old missing person's case. Someone had been on the ball to manage that much.
Clearly the detectives on the case had done as much as they could, running into blank walls all the way along.
The case had been cold since 2012, but twice a year Myra Stemple's brother, a local attorney, went into the main station and talked to the detectives about the progress on his sister's case. More than likely his doing that got the case here to this task force.
At that moment Andor came back leading another detective who had been talking to Julia earlier. Cavanaugh recognized the new detective from seeing her regularly in the Main Street Station Casino buffet. He had had no idea until tonight she was a detective.
"Cavanaugh," Andor said, "meet Retired Detective Bonnie State."
"Great meeting you," Bonnie said, smiling.
Cavanaugh somehow managed to say, "Nice meeting you."
Up close, Bonnie was one of the most attractive women he had seen in a long time. She had short brown hair, rich brown eyes, and a long face that looked like it smiled a lot. She was fairly tall, maybe only a few inches shorter than his six-two and she looked trim, like she worked out a lot, maybe even as a runner.
She had on jeans, tennis shoes, and a white blouse under a light tan blazer. He had no idea how old she was since her face showed very few wrinkles, but she was clearly old enough to be a retired detective.
And there seemed to be a force of energy around her. He liked that.
He reached out his hand and she shook it, her grip firm. She looked directly at him at that moment, then said, "Have we met?"
He laughed as he let go of her hand, even though a part of him didn't want to. "Trust me, I would have remembered, even at this advanced age."
He didn't say anything about seeing her a number of times in the buffet.
She laughed as well and blushed slightly.
Her laugh was wonderful, with a slight force to it that he had a hunch went with her energy and was part of her personality.
"Since you two are the new kids on the block," Andor said.
"I love it when someone calls me a new kid," Cavanaugh said, interrupting Andor.
Bonnie laughed and said, "Yeah, me too. Makes me feel all young and tingly again."
Cavanaugh just nodded. "Ah, to be young and tingly. Those were the good old days."
"Sure do miss the young part," Bonnie said.
"The tingly part wasn't bad either."
Andor just went on ignoring them both, "You two are now partners."
That statement took all the fun out of the air like a bad fart in a crowded elevator.
"I work alone," Cavanaugh said, suddenly feeling a little panicked.
No, scratch that. A lot panicked.
"So have I," Bonnie said. "Last ten years."
"Not on this task force," Andor said, smiling at both of them. "We work in teams of two or three, three being better since no telling when one of us is going to fall and break a hip. So get used to it."
Andor tapped the case file Cavanaugh had been looking at. "Sorry about that one right off. Someone had to take it. You two were just unlucky enough on the draw is all."
With that Andor turned and walked away, leaving the two of them standing there side-by-side, their mouths open.
Cavanaugh couldn't believe it. Twelve years as a detective working alone and now that he was retired, he ended up with a partner.
This did not bode well at all.