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.
Detective Rook, Chief of the Las Vegas Strip Police, ignores Donny the Dealer’s story of the strange goings-on at the Sinners Table and to Red Penny and me he says, “This was not a total waste of my time. While you two were watching the betting and raising, I was watching, and taking notes, on the drinks. Before I see the bartenders and the waitresses I want an explanation of how poker room bar service works.”
Red Penny calls the Food and Beverage Manager, who sends down Ann Gilhooley, the Department’s Beverage Services Supervisor.
Ann Gilhooley, “Ancient Annie,” is a sour-faced curmudgeonly old lady who, according to Joey Rosenberg, was the waitress at the Last Supper. Annie, charming as ever, walks in and asks Rook, “Who the hell are you?”
Rook explains that he is, in fact, LVPD Detective Lieutenant Richard Rook, which earns him a heartfelt, “You don’t look like a cop. Tally looks like a cop. You look like one of my ex-husbands and he wasn’t no cop. Hey, Tally is this guy really a cop?”
“Mrs. Gilhooley,” says Red Penny, “I don’t think. . .” Annie turns her full attention to Red Penny, “Good, dear, keep that up.” She then gives the shocked Red Penny a long up and-down look, notes the long red hair, the perfect make-up, and the tight black leather dress. “Tally! Did you rent Latex Girl here from S&M; ‘R US?”
While I am truly enjoying Red Penny’s discomfort there is work to be done. I tell her, “Annie, love, I need you to be serious. Three poker players were poisoned tonight. We think it was in the drinks. Tell Detective Rook – yes, he is a cop – and Ms. Fallon – no, she is not, at least to the best of my knowledge, a dominatrix – how drinks get served in the Poker Room.”
The I-can-get-away-with-it-because-I’m-old smile fades quickly. “I’m sorry, Tally.” She turns back to Rook and Red Penny. “Listen up, you two, I’m only going to say this the once. For every six poker tables that are open there’s a waitress assigned. They service their six tables for fifty minutes, at which time they get ten minutes off and the next fifty minute shift begins. After that, they go on to a different six tables. That way the tokes get spread out even between the blue boys and the purple gang. A good ligaz11 poker room waitress will earn a lot more than a good poker player. Trust me. When Mr. Rosenberg was still playing poker and I was still hustling drinks he borrowed money from me.
“The waitresses are supposed to take drink orders at each poker table every ten or fifteen minutes. Every visit to a table generates a drink ticket from their order pad. They write their initials and the table number, underlined, at the top of the ticket. The drink orders go clockwise by the seat number and are written in shorthand. So XYZ, the waitress, has gone to table, 9 , where the third seat, 3, wants a Jack Daniels, Neat, JD/N.
“The waitress brings the drink ticket to the bar, picks up her previous order, and the “Pour-boy” goes to work. The bartender puts the drinks ticket on a tray. Fills the orders turning the shorthand into drinks. The glasses are already on the work table, near the ice and the mixers. Liquor and wine are arranged on three shelves, left, center and right. Beer, pop, and H2O2Go in the built-in refrigerator under the sink.
“Any questions?” Annie asks.
Rook asks, “Who decides what liquor is served?”
“Simple,” says Annie, “You ask for a premium brand gin, we pour you the good stuff. You just ask for gin, we pour you generic gin.”
Red Penny asks, “Is there any interaction between the bartenders and the waitresses?” For a second Annie thinks about asking exactly what Red Penny means by “interaction” and then decides to behave, “No. This is an assembly line operation, dearie, one-two-three pour, one-two-three more. Anything else?”
“Yes, Mrs. Gilhooley,” Rook tells her, “I’m going to review the bartender tapes now and I would like you to stay and play tour guide. I’d also like you to tell me if you see anything out of the ordinary having to do with either your bartender or waitresses.”
Annie agrees and Rook turns to Georgette. “Ms. Olde,” says Rook, checking his notes, “at 9:49, the waitress on shift, Mrs. Tallifiero, writes the Final Tables’ drink ticket. Returning at 9:55 with six drinks. I need three playbacks, first, the waitress, Mrs. Tallifiero delivering the drink ticket. Second, the bartender, Mr. Florin, filling the drinks orders, and the third, Mrs. Tallifiero, picking up the drinks and going back to the table. Can you do that?” Georgette tells Rook, “I’ll need a few minutes.”
Silence settles into the overcrowded room. Annie breaks the silence by asking Red Penny, “Honey. Isn’t it all hot and sweaty in there?” and, without waiting for an answer says to Rook, “Listen Cop Rock, A waitress kill a poker player? Why? ‘Cause he stiffs her on a toke? That’s ridiculous. And a bartender? Why and why again? They don’t have enough time to poison themselves let alone some stranger.”
Before “Cop Rock” can answer Georgette tells us, “Casino surveillance has a static camera over the bar’s work area. We’re beginning at time index 9:50:41, just as the drink ticket passes from the waitress to the bartender. Ready?”
We watch Florin take the drink ticket, place it in the middle of a round tray. “Here he goes,” says Annie, “A good bartender, and Craig is very good, worked lots of poker rooms, will mix two-handed. Either two straight drinks at a time or one mixed drink.” Florin takes two pre-prepared glasses full of ice from the counter. They go on the tray. The bartender takes two opened, half-empty bottles, from the shelves and, one in the left hand, one in the right hand, pours out two drinks. Florin returns the bottles to their shelves. Checks the ticket. Two more glasses. Two more drinks. We watch all the way through. The tray quickly and efficiently filled with Mississippi’s scotch, Cheap Eddie’s screwdriver, Jimmy’s Johnny Walker, Brooklyn Phil’s milk, Iron Mike’s iced tea and Voodoo Sue’s black coffee. The six-drink tray is placed on the bartop at 9:54:21. Georgette stops the tape. Rook looks at Annie who tells him, “I watched his hands throughout. Nothing, Mr. Detective, went into those glasses except what was ordered. That’s what we call a ‘perfect pour.'”
“OK,” says Rook, “Let’s see Mr. Florin.”
Florin walks in, he looks bored, Rooks sits him down, asks, “Did you notice anything out of the ordinary tonight?”
“No,” he answers, “there’s never anything out of the ordinary. The waitresses brings drink orders. I fills drink orders. The waitresses brings more drink orders. I fill more drink orders. Pour and serve, pour serve some more.”
“Maybe it will jog your memory,” I say to Florin, “to know that three of the drinks you poured tonight may have been poisoned. Does that make you remember anything?” Florin remains bored, “Three drinks? Poisoned? Not by me, I pour a hundred drinks an hour, eight hours a day, six days a week. Which one would you like me to remember?”
“I told you,” says Annie after Florin leaves, “one, two, three pour . . .”
Rook tells him, “You can go.” And strikes through Florin on his Suspect List.
“Ms. Olde, can we please see Mrs. Tallifiero pick up the drinks from the bar and deliver them to the table?”
“Sure,” replies Captain Video, “hold on.” She types instructions into her laptop, bringing online the playbacks from the poker room’s point-and-tilt surveillance cameras. “Ready,” says Georgette. We fast forward, 9:54.21 through 9:55.10, as the drinks sit on the bar top. Georgette slows the tape to real-time as Mary Tallifiero, at 9:55.11, picks up the tray full of drinks for the Sinners’ Final Table. “We’ll follow her, camera to camera through the poker room surveillance grids.”
Mary walks from the bar, the tray held high in her left hand, palm up, cutting in-between tables, bobbing and weaving through the aisles filled with people and chairs . . . until she suddenly is lost from our sight behind a pillar. The clock on the screen keeps moving . . . 5 seconds . . . 10 . . . Mary does not appear. She had now been out of our sight for . . . 15 . . . . 20 . . . 25 seconds. She suddenly re-emerges.
Red Penny and Rook yell, “Stop!” at the same time.
“You first, Ms. Fallon,” says Rook.
“Look at the tray. It’s now in her right hand!”
Red Penny’s right, the tray has changed hands, it’s now held in Mary’s right hand at hip level. Rook nods and says to Captain Video, “Can I see her on the other side of that pillar?”
Georgette shakes her head, “No. Sorry. This is every Casino Surveillance Department’s dirty little secret: We have blind spots. She’s standing in one of them.”
“Let’s see the tape again, please” says Rook, “this time all the way to the Final Table. We watch again. I am shaking my head. I play: Follow the drinks.
The drinks are mixed at the bar. Florin does not tamper with them.
The drinks are picked up from the bar. Mary is MIA for 25 seconds.
The drinks arrive at the table. Jimmy the Gent, now standing up, has just busted out of the game. Mary hands him his drink as he leaves. The seated players are given their drinks, first Mississippi, then Sue, then Eddie . . .”
“Stop!” yells Rook.
We have just seen Eddie Sherry put his hand on Mary where his hand should not be. We have also seen Mary take Eddie’s little finger and bend it backwards.
The room is silent. Rook turns to Annie, who stands there with her mouth open, “Mrs. Gilhooley has Mary Tallifiero ever complained about Mr. Sherry inappropriately touching her?”
“Waitresses always have trouble . . .”
“I asked specifically about Mrs. Tallifiero. Has she ever complained to you of being sexually harassed by Mr. Sherry or any other of the players that died here tonight?”
“I . . . I think maybe . . .” stammers Annie.
“Mrs. Gilhooley please. If you know something tell me now.”
Annie looks wretched. “I . . . had complaints from Mary that . . . Cheap Ed . . . Mr. Sherry has . . . well you just saw it for yourself. She told me, not to worry, she had . . . warned him off. ”
“Annie,” I ask, “just what did he do?”
“Tally, waitresses get their tokes in return for free drinks, not for free feels. When Eddie started putting his hands where they didn’t belong, Mary . . .”
“Mary what?” asks Rook. “Threatened to kill him?”
“O no! nothing like that . . . she just . . . dumped hot coffee in his lap.” Annie smiles. Rook does not. “When? When did this happen?”
“A couple of days, maybe three or four, days ago . . .”
“Did anybody witness this assault?”
“He didn’t assault her, he . . .”
“No,” Rook breaks in, “I meant Mrs. Tallifiero’s assault on Mr. Sherry.”
“She never . . .”
“The hot coffee. Who saw her deliberately inflict bodily harm on him?”
“Inflict bodily harm? . . . You mean the coffee? . . . I guess, a lot of people.”
“And when you learned of this assault from “a lot of people,” did you report it to the police?”
“No . . . but . . .”
“Did you report it to Mr. Talbot or Ms. Fallon?”
“I . . . didn’t . . .I . . .”
Rook calls in a Stripper, “Mrs. Gilhooley, you are going to go with this officer and give him a complete list of everyone who told you about the assault upon the late Mr. Sherry.” To the Stripper he says, “Get the list. Question everyone on it. I need eyewitnesses.” Annie and the Stripper leave.
“Ms. Fallon,” says Rook, “I need Mary Tallifiero’s home address.” Red Penny pulls up Mary’s personnel file on her PDA and reads off the address.
Rook takes out his cellphone and calls the Municipal Night Court. “I’m going to need a search warrant,” he tells a Court Clerk. “The probable cause? A prior assault by a suspect on a poisoning victim. We’re looking for an unknown deadly poison.” The Clerk leaves Rook hanging for five minutes while she hunts down a Judge. Rook drums his fingers. The Clerk returns with verbal permission for a search. Rook calls the LVPD Central Switchboard and orders a Black & White to Mary’s address with an order to search the premises. He puts down the phone and tells a Stripper, “Would you ask Mrs. Tallifiero to join us?”
Rook says to us, “I’ll let you two stay but not one word out of you. The last thing I need is for the woman to lawyer-up on your advice. Understood?” Red Penny agrees. I say nothing.
Mary is brought in. She looks around, sees me, smiles. The Stripper seats her. Rook immediately goes on the attack. I know the interrogation drill, I taught it to Rook, it’s called a “stress-test.”