Poisonous Poker: A UFA Poker Cop Mystery


There have been three poisoning deaths at the Las Vegas Majestic’s Poker Room. The Chief of Poker Room Security, Talbot, The Poker Cop, continues the investigation.

I call the LVPD Switchboard. I ask for Detective Rook, Chief of the Las Vegas Strip Police. “Ex-detective Talbot,” Rook says, “what have you done this time?” I ignore this. “Rook. I’m at the Majestic Poker Room. I’ve got three fatalities, possible poisoning victims, all dead within minutes of each other, all elderly, all players from the same table, all with Poker Room Bar drinks in their hands. Fallon’s shutting down the poker room bar. I don’t how many victims we’re going to have but it’s already ugly and could get a lot uglier.” I stop. Listen. Rook is dispatching EMS units. The ERs at Vegas General and Mercy Hospital are alerted for casualties. He comes back on the line, “I’m five minutes away. I want you to . . .”

“Lock down the crime scene. Identify all possible witnesses and hold them for questioning. Obtain any and all surveillance tapes for your viewing pleasure. Isolate possible victims. Prepare them for emergency treatment and transport. All while not disturbing the crime scene or degrading the evidence.”

Rook hangs up.

I’m dialing Casino Surveillance, when Georgette Olde, our own Captain Video, walks into the UFA poker room with her laptop. I tell her to set up in Joey’s office and wait for the Strippers (the LVPD Strip cops).

In Joey Rosenberg’s office the surviving Sinners sit very still. The paramedic is keeping them under observation, flashing lights into eyes, taking their blood pressure, checking their pulses, and waiting for something to happen. Nothing has.

Red Penny walks into Joey’s office, looks at the three remaining Sinners like they’re lab rats, and asks the paramedic, “Who’s going to be next?”

“Excuse me,” says Voodoo Sue, “this is unpleasant enough without your morbid curiosity.”

Red Penny looks at very worried Sinners, gives them an insincere, “Sorry.”

I tell her, “Penelope. Everyone seems OK.”

Rook walks in. He’s yelling into the cellphone “I don’t care. I want those autopsies done now!” Rook hangs up. Asks me, “What’s the body count up to?”

This time it’s Iron Mike who objects. Rook ignores him.

I tell Rook, “Three dead, 10:10, 10:12, 10:14. That was twenty-five minutes ago. If our three dead were poisoned it must have been fast-acting. If anything else was going to happen it would have by now.”

“OK,” says Rook. “You got blood from everyone?” he asks the paramedic who nods yes and hands Rook three blood-filled vials, each marked with a Sinner’s name. Rook places them in an envelope marked “Evidence” and tells a Stripper to take them to the LVPD Crime Lab for a full toxicology screen. “Tell them,” he says, “I needed the results yesterday.”

Rook says to me, “I’m going to get everybody’s statements now,” he lowers his voice, “just in case.”

“Hey!” shouts Brooklyn Phil, “no one else is dying here tonight.”

Rook give him a “we’ll see” look and turns away.

The Detective knows there’s turf war between Red Penny, Chief of Casino Security, and me, Chief of Poker Room Security. He does not want to be a casualty.

“Which of you two Casino Cops do I have to deal with?”

Red Penny and I give each other a pre-fight-to-the-death alpha-male/dominant-female look. One dead in the poker room, my jurisdiction, two dead on the casino floor, her jurisdiction. I turn to Rook, “Both of us.”

Red Penny decides she can live with it, “Both of us.”

“Well, isn’t this lovely?” Rook grumbles, “Beauty and The Beast.”

The three surviving Sinners – Iron Mike, Voodoo Sue and Brooklyn Phil – are interviewed one by one.

Susanne DeMourier is in her late seventies, white-haired Cajon-Creole woman originally from New Orleans. Sue, who likes to unnerve hitchhikers with her unblinking dead-eyed stare, plays an aggressive, take-no-prisoners hold’em when pickpocketing tourists in low stakes ring games and a solid, no-nonsense hold’em when playing in high stakes tournaments. Joey, who thirty years ago dealt stud in the backrooms of the French Quarter’s jazz and smoke bars, says even then she was called Voodoo Sue.

Rook asks two questions, “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary at the poker table?” to which she answers, “No, nothing, nothing at all,” and “What did you have to drink?” to which she answers, “Coffee, black.”

Rook thanks Voodoo Sue and writes: Subject reports nothing out of the ordinary.

Sue gets up to leave, stops, says to Red Penny, “What would your momma say if she knew you dressed like a slut?” and walks out.

Philip F. Tulip, in his mid-sixties, is a tall emaciated ex-Nuyawker who has lost neither his thick accent nor his smug attitude. An undisciplined cash game player, break-even in Hold’em, indifferent in Omaha, mediocre in Stud, Phil plays mistake-free survivalist tournament poker, which has allowed him to take a lot of money away from the Majestic’s tournament tables. Phil’s trademark is a faded Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball cap. We call him Brooklyn Phil.

Rook asks the same two questions, “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary at the poker table?”

“I just won $10,000 in a big-money tournament, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary, otherwise no.”

“What did you have to drink?” to which he answers, “Milk, I had surgery a couple of week ago and the doctors won’t let me drink anything else.”

Rook thanks Tulip and writes: Subject reports nothing out of the ordinary.

I help Tulip, who has trouble straightening up, out of the room. “Should I congratulate you on winning?”

To which he replies, “Talbot, I’d give it all back in a New York minute to see Mississippi, Eddie, and Jimmy again.”

Miguel Segovia is in his early eighties. Miguel fought, professionally, as a lightweight, in his native Mexico. His seven year record was 64 and 1. That 1 was a beating that left him in a wheelchair for the last fifty years. Miguel plays a straightforward, in-your-face, out-of-my-way poker. If Miguel checks, and you bet, and you see his hands shaking it’s not from his fear, it’s from your stupidity. We call him Iron Mike.

Rook, who gives a new definition to the word “plodding,” asks the same two questions, “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary at the poker table?”

“No. I played, I lost, I went to find another game to play.”

Rook asks, “What did you have to drink?” to which he answers, “Iced tea.”

Rook thanks Iron Mike and writes: Subject reports nothing out of the ordinary.

Miguel, wheeling himself out, suddenly spins his chair back to face us, “Who did this?” I tell him, “We’ll find out.”

The dealers are next. Lisa, Teddy, Donny had all dealt to the Final Table.

Rook asks all three the same question, “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”

Lisa tells Rook, “No.” Rook writes: Subject reports nothing out of the ordinary.

Teddy tells Rook, “No.” Rook writes: Subject reports nothing out of the ordinary.

Donny tells Rook, “Hell, yes!”

We are all surprised. Donny tells this story, “I had only been dealing for maybe ten minutes, just around 10:00 whole table suddenly goes on tilt. The Rocks turned into Maniacs. No one checked. No one limped. They bet with rags, raised with blanks, and re-raised with garbage. “Tonight the people I thought I knew acted like strangers.”

I’m thinking, Wild betting, raising and re-raising, without good cards, at the Final Table of a Seniors Freeze-out Hold’em Tournament! What the hell was going on?

This is what Rook, who has never mastered the intricacies of Old Maid let alone the subtleties of Go Fish, says, “I know they were betting, raising, and re-raising, they were playing poker weren’t they?” Detective Rook puts on his best I’m-talking-to-you-stupid voice and says slowly, “Listen carefully to the question, Mr. Donnatello. Did you witness anything out of the ordinary?”

“I just told you I did. Rocks never bet early and raise often. Hello?”


“Donny,” I step in before the yelling starts, “we have video of the final table. Let’s go back to the final hand, and you can take us through what you saw.”

Georgette has her laptop attached to Casino Surveillance’s Video Playback, which is in turn plugged into Joey’s oversized HDTV. The opening deal of the final hand of the Sinners Tournament is cued up.

“OK,” says Donny, “the gang’s all here. Let me set this up. Two hands previous, Iron Mike, the chip leader, gets into a suicidal raising war with Jimmy the Gent, who had almost as many chips. Mike shows down second and third pair. Jimmy busts out with an Ace Face.

“On the next hand Iron Mike, now with more chips than everybody else combined, and Mississippi, with maybe half as many chips, force Brooklyn Phil all-in on Fourth Street, and they lose to Phil’s top two pair when they showdown . . . nothing, a busted straight, to the low end, and a pair of red sevens.

“And that brings us to the Final Hand: The limits here are $600-$1200. Six players. Brooklyn Phil’s in the 3 with the button. Mississippi Mudd’s in the 5, has the small blind. Voodoo Sue’s in the 6 with the big blind, Cheap Eddie’s Under the Gun in the 7, and Iron Mike’s behind the 8-Ball. Run the tape, please.”

“Hold on,” says Red Penny. “Tal, would you please explain, for those of us non-poker players. . .”

“Sure. The game is limit hold’em. The bets, at this stage of the tournament, are in increments of $600, for the first two betting rounds, and $1,200 thereafter. Two players make forced bets before they ever see their cards, the Small Blind puts up half the minimum bet, $300, the Big Blind puts up the minimum bet, $600. If you want to play you have to call the bet. Best five card poker hand wins. Two cards to each player. First player after the Big Blind starts by either betting or raising. The other players can either fold, call or raise. Limit of three raises. First betting round is based on the hole cards. Then three community cards are dealt face-up. Second betting round. A fourth card is dealt face-up. A third betting round. A fifth, and final, card is dealt face-up. A fourth betting round. A showdown. Best five card poker hand wins.”

“Sounds easy,” says Rook.

Donny snorts. Rook glares.

“Let’s just see the tape,” says Red Penny, who nods to Georgette.

The game begins. Donny starts a running commentary on the play.

“I deal them each two and . . .Cheap Eddie, short stacked, bets. OK. Stop. They don’t call Cheap Eddie cheap for no reason. Now I know, and so does every player at that table, that Rocky Raccoon here only raises from Under The Gun with Rockets and Cowboys.

“Tal,” asks Rook, “what’s going on?”

Donny shakes his head. I tell Rook, “Eddie Sherry is, by reputation, a Rock, a disciplined, conservative, low-risk gambler, who would not, from the first betting position, where he’s vulnerable to possible raises after him, voluntarily raise the blind bet, if he did not have a monster pair, Rockets, Aces, or Cowboys, Kings.

“Could he be bluffing?” asks Red Penny.

“No. Not with a short stack. He would never risk getting a bluff called by a bigger stack.”

“So. What’s everybody else going to do,” asks Rook, “give up?”

“Based on the player. Based on the player’s position. That’s exactly what they should do. Run the tape, please. Donny?”

“OK. Now I’m thinking fold, fold, fold, fold,. What I get is re-raise, re-re raise, call, call.”

I watch, in disbelief, as Iron Mike, Brooklyn Phil, and Voodoo Sue, all of whom told me nothing out of the ordinary had happened, re-raise, re-re-raise, and call three raises. Mississippi, in the small blind, not only calls but splashes the pot doing so. I shake my head. Donny stops the tape. Says nothing. Rook and Red Penny turn to me.

“I don’t . . . They’re not playing . . . This doesn’t . . .” I stop. Brainlock has set in. Rook, impatient, tells Georgette to show us more.

“OK,” says Donny, “I deal the flop. A ragged rainbow: T 7 3. No aces. No faces. No draws. Do I hear a Check? No. I hear: Bet. Raise. Call. Re-Raise. Re-re-raise. Call. Call. Call. Call.”

Red Penny asks me. “Is this unusual?”

I answer, “Only if you’re Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter has just bet the Dormouse’s Head.”

We watch Donny deal out Fourth Street. The 8 falls. Donny shrugs, says, “Guess what?”

I watch fifteen bets go into the pot.

“Last card,” calls Donny.

Fifth Street brings a J. And another betting frenzy.

Mississippi has almost no chips in front of him.

Brooklyn Phil’s two tall smoke stacks have been reduced to rubble.

Iron Mike is all-in.

Voodoo Sue is a handful of chips from all-in.

Cheap Eddie has maybe two more chips than Sue’s too few.

“OK. Showdown Time. Now watch.”

Mississippi shows 72.Room Temperature. A pair with no kicker.

Brooklyn Phil shows 66. Route 66. Plus a 6. The Devil’s Home Address.

Iron Mike. K9. The Big Dog. A busted two-way straight. Nothing.

Voodoo Sue. 64. The $64,000 Question. A busted inside straight. Nothing.

Cheap Eddie. 78. The Scratchy Record. Two Pair.

“I read the hands and push the pot towards Brooklyn Phil when . . . the crazy thing happened. Some of them begin to laugh. As if something funny has just happened and only they have gotten the joke. Voodoo Sue has to tell Iron Mike he’s just busted-out and he finds this hysterical. Eddie and Mississippi find the huge pile of their former chips now in front of Phil somehow very funny. Even Phil, who to my knowledge has never found anything, except his own jokes, amusing, is, at this moment, laughing.

“Stop the tape,” Donny tells Georgette. “Tally. Detective. Ms. Fallon. I’ve dealt this game more than half my life. I know what I saw. I could hardly believe it when it was happening, I can hardly believe it now, but sometimes, no matter what you believe, you have to believe your own eyes.”

“Mr. Donnatello . . .” interrupts Rook.

Donny is not finished, “. . .Look, you can see me right there, at the table. I’m the only one not laughing, the one who thinks this was way out of the ordinary.”

Rook looks skeptical. “OK. You tell me they played bad poker. Fine. But you can’t tell me they died from playing bad poker. They were laughing? Maybe the joke was on you. I need somebody to tell me who poisoned them. Not someone to criticize their play or their reactions.”

Donny attempts to argue but Rook cuts him off. “I guess those who can play poker well, play and win, those who can’t play poker well, play and lose, and those who can’t play poker at all, deal. Thank you for your time Mr. Donnatello. You can go.”

I give Donny a now-you-see-it now-you-don’t shake of the head which tells him, Don’t bother. He gives Rook a venomous look and walks out. Rook writes: Subject reports almost nothing out of the ordinary.