Read an Excerpt
Lennie Golden had not set foot in Vegas for thirteen years, even though it
was the city of his conception, birth and first seventeen years of life.
He looked around as he stepped off the plane, sniffed the air and took a deep
breath. The place still smelled the same.
The airport was doing a roaring trade in visiting gamblers, tourists and middle
America out to have fun. Fat male butts waddled alongside plump, peroxide
ladies in polyester pant suits and fake jewelry. Small children whined and
complained. Traveling hookers in halter tops, hot pants tightly outlining their
crotches, arrived to do business. Swarthy foreigners clutched black leather
attaché cases and breathed garlic over their accompanying yellow-haired
Jess was there to meet him. Five feet tall, startlingly pretty, she still had
the air of a tomboy about her which is what she had been at school. She had
always preferred to hang out with the boys. Especially Lennie. They had been
best friends since first grade, their somewhat unexpected and platonic
relationship surviving and getting stronger each year even though they didn't
see much of each other since he had moved from Vegas to New York.
They made an ill-assorted couple. Lennie, so tall and lanky, with dirty-blond
hair and ocean-green eyes. An overgrown Robert Redford with more than a touch
of Chevy Chase. And Jess, petite and wide-eyed, with a mop of orange hair,
freckles and a Playboy centerfold body in miniature.
She hurled herself into his arms. "It's so good to see you! You look
fantastic. For a guy who spends his life screwin' around I don't know how you
"Hey " He swung her in the air like a rag doll. "Look who's taking."
She giggled and hugged him tightly. "I love you madly, Lennie Golden. Welcome
"I love you too, monkey face."
"Don't call me that!" she screeched. "I'm married now. I'm respectable. I got a
kid, the whole bit. So c'mon, Lennie treat me like a lady."
He burst out laughing. "If you're a lady, I'm Raquel Welch."
She grabbed his arm. "You got great tits!"
Laughingly they strolled toward the exit.
"So how was the flight?" she asked, trying to grab his battered suitcase.
He wrestled it away from her. "Long and boring. If God had meant us to fly he'd
have given us more stewardesses.
"Didja score?" She winked knowingly.
"Would I lie to you?" he deadpanned.
She laughed She had a maniacal guffaw that caused people to turn and stare.
"You'd lie to the Pope if you thought it would get you through the day."
"And there she goes..." he singsonged.
"Who? Where?" Automatically she turned to check out his conquest. A nun walked
"I told you my tastes are changing," he said gravely.
"Very funny!" She aimed a punch at his stomach. He held up a protesting hand.
"Lay off. I just had surgery of the tongue."
"Remember the taping of the 'Lee Bryant Show'? The one I told you I was
"They cut my four-minute spot to thirty seconds. If you fart you miss me."
She frowned. "Schmucks. They know from nothin'. Anyway, you're back in Vegas
now. Your kind of comedy schtick's gonna kill 'em here."
"Oh sure, in the lounge of the Magiriano Hotel I'm really going to cause a
"It's a change of scene. Could be just what you need. Who knows what
it'll lead to?"
"C'mon, less. You sound like my agent. Do this shit, that piece of crap, and
before you know it you'll have a regular spot on Carson."
"Your so-called agent is a New York jerk-off artist." She wrinkled her nose.
"You're a great comedian. I should be handling you. I mean, I got
you this gig, didn't I?"
"What do you want ten percent?"
She laughed wildly. "You think I wanna give up the title of best blackjack
dealer in Vegas? You think I'm crazy or somein'? Stick your commission where
the sun don't give you a tan!"
They were passing a ladies room. "Wait a sec," she said. "I'm so excited to see
you I gotta take a pee."
He laughed and leaned against the wall while she dashed inside. Jess was a
friend indeed. He had called her two weeks ago and said he had to get out of
"No problem," she replied without hesitation. "Matt Traynor, the entertainment
director of the hotel I work at, has the hots for me. Send me a tape and I'll
get him to hire you."
He had sent the tape. She had come through with the gig. Some good friend.
Idly he watched a dark-haired girl in black leather pants and a red shirt
stride by. She cut through the crowd as if she owned the place. He liked her
style, not to mention her body.
Jesus! Was he free yet? He and Eden had split six months ago, yet every time he
saw an attractive woman he couldn't help comparing the two. He was still doing
it. Eden Antonio and he were unfinished business why didn't he just face
Jess emerged from the ladies room and squeezed his hand. "It is sooo
great to have you here," she said. "I want to hear all about
"Hey everything is a career going nowhere and a fucked up sex life."
"Sounds exciting. So what else is new?"
They were outside now and the desert heat enveloped them.
"Jeez!" he exclaimed. "I forgot how hot it is here."
"Aw, stop bitching. You could do with a tan. You look like Nightclub
They approached a dented red Camaro waiting in the parking lot.
"I see you're still an ace driver," he remarked dryly, throwing his suitcase in
"I didn't do that," she replied indignantly. "My old man can't drive
around the block without gettin' into trouble."
He wondered what kind of man took on crazy Jess for a wife. Someone special, he
"C'mon," she said, sliding behind the steering wheel "Wayland is makin' lunch.
The baby's makin' noise, and Lennie, you are gonna love it
here. It always was your kinda town."
He nodded grimly. "Yeah. That's what I'm afraid of."
Lucky Santangelo stood out as she strode briskly through the crowd at the
airport. She was a strikingly beautiful woman of twenty-eight with an unruly
mass of jet curls, black gypsy eyes, a wide sensual month, a deep suntan and a
lean, looselimbed body. She wore soft, black, leather pants, a red, silk shirt
casually unbuttoned to the limit, and a wide belt studded with silver. From
her ears hung plain, silver hoops and on her right hand was a square-cut diamond
of such size and brilliance that one would be forgiven for thinking it was not
real. It was.
No conventional beauty, she had a style and bearing all her own. Confidence
wafted from her like the exotic scent she drenched herself with.
"Hey, Boogie." With affection she greeted the skinny, long-haired man in
army fatigues who stepped forward to greet her. "How's everything?"
"The same," he said, low-voiced, his slit eyes darting this way and that,
observing everyone and everything as he took her black leather tote bag and the
check claim for the rest of her luggage
"No exciting news? No gossip?" she questioned, grinning, delighted to be
He had gossip, but he didn't want to be the one to give it to her.
She talked excitedly as they walked toward the stretch, Mercedes limousine
parked on a red line.
"I think I put it all together, Boog. The Atlantic City deal is ready to fly.
And I did it. Me! All I need is an okay from Gino and the record'll spin. I
He was pleased to see her in such a good mood. He nodded and said, "If you want
it you'll get it. I never doubted you."
Her eyes gleamed with excitement. "Atlantic City," she said. "We'll build a
hotel to beat everything!"
"You'll do it," he agreed, opening up the rear door.
"Hey," she complained, "you know I always sit up front with you."
He switched doors, settled her in the passenger seat and loped off to get the
rest of the baggage.
Gino Santangelo awoke with a start. For a moment he was disoriented, but only
for a moment. He might be old, but he certainly wasn't senile, thank God.
Besides, seventy-two nowadays was not exactly fertilizing-oranges time. In
fact, last night in bed, he had felt like a kid again. And why not, with Susan
Martino for company?
Susan Martino. Widow of the late, great Tiny Martino, a multitalented veteran
of television and the movies. A comedian whose name ranked alongside Keaton,
Chaplin and Benny. Tiny had died of a stroke two years previously. Gino had
attended the funeral in Los Angeles, conveyed his respects to the widow-and had
not seen her again until she turned up in Vegas three weeks ago at a charity
benefit. Now he was waking up in her bed for the fifth morning in a row, and
feeling no pain.
As if she knew he was thinking sweet thoughts about her, Susan
entered the room. She was an attractive, well-groomed woman of
forty-nine, who looked at least ten years younger. Her eyes were pale china
blue, cheekbones high, skin white and smooth. Her silver-blond hair was neatly
drawn back in a chignon, even though it was only nine in the morning. She wore
a white silk peignoir over her understated but perfect body, and she carried a
tray with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a soft-boiled egg, and two
pieces of lightly buttered toast cut into thin slices.
"Good morning, Gino," she said.
He struggled to sit up, pushing his hands through his unruly black hair, which,
although graying at the temples, was just as thick and curly as it had been in
his youth. He was still a man to be reckoned with. Age had by no means dulled
his vitality and ceaseless energy, although a nearly fatal heart attack a year
ago had slowed him down a mite. Like Susan, he did not look his age.
"What's all this?" He indicated the laden tray.
"Breakfast in bed."
"And what did I do to deserve it?"
She smiled. "What didn't you do."
He grinned, remembering. "Yeah. Not bad for an old man, huh?"
She placed the tray in front of him and sat on the edge of the bed. "You're the
best lover I ever had," she said gravely.
He liked that. He liked it a lot. Susan Martino was no tramp, but she'd had a
reputation of sorts before marrying Tiny Martino twenty-five years earlier. Aly
Khan, Rubirosa, even Sinatra were rumored to be in her past. Enough for Gino to
feel more than flattered by her compliment.
Not, of course, that he had ever questioned her about her past, just as she had
never asked him about his.
"I wanna know somethin'," he said, interested enough now to start finding
"What?" she replied, carefully peeling the shell from his egg.
"When you were married to Tiny you ever cheat around?" She did not hesitate.
"Never," she replied firmly. "Although why I should tell you . . .
He suddenly felt possessive of this woman. This classy blond lady. And how many
of them were there around today?
Women. Love 'em and leave 'em had been his life's motto. With very few
exceptions. In the last year, taking them to bed had become boring. Another
body. Another pretty face. Another thousand-dollar bill for a trinket because
he didn't like to dismiss them empty-handed. When they left Gino Santangelo's
bed he wanted them to know they had been somewhere. Not that he had to
pay. Ever. The very thought was crazy.
"Can we spend the day together?" Susan asked, dipping a sliver of toast into
the egg and feeding it to him.
He was just about to say yes when he remembered. Lucky was coming back today.
His daughter. Beautiful, wild Lucky with his eyes and his deep olive skin
and his jet hair and his zest for living. How could he have forgotten? She had
been away for three weeks on a business trip to the East. He would be missing
her badly if it weren't for Susan.
"Why don't we make it tomorrow? I got things to do today," he said, pushing the
"Oh." She looked disappointed.
He wondered how Lucky would feel about Susan's joining them for dinner and knew
instinctively that she would hate it. He could understand. After all, it was
her first night back, and they would have a lot to talk about.
There was time enough to introduce Susan into their lives, and he fully
intended to. Susan Martino was too much a lady to be just a one-week stand.
During the drive from the airport Lucky continued to fill Boogie in on her
trip. He was more than her driver and sometime bodyguard when the climate
indicated she was in need of protection. He was her friend, and she trusted him
implicitly. In times of trouble Boogie came through. As he had proved in the
past, he was loyal, smart and usually silent, unless he had something worth
saying-which suited Lucky just fine.
He drove her to the front of the Magiriano Hotel on the Strip. She got out of
the car and stood for a minute feeling the usual thrill of coming home to
The Magiriano a combination of her parents' names Maria and Gino. Gino's
dream, put into being by her while Gino sweated out a seven-year tax exile in
Israel. She would always be proud of her achievement. The Magiriano was very
In the lobby there was the usual melee of tourists and noise. The casino was
crowded with morning gamblers. No windows. No clocks. Twenty-four hours nonstop
Lucky did not gamble. Who needed to play the tables when it all belonged to her
and Gino anyway? She strode across the lobby to her private elevator concealed
behind an arrangement of potted palms and inserted a code card to gain
It was good to be back.
She couldn't wait to see Gino. She had so much to tell him.
Jess did not live in luxury, but the small tract house in front of which she
stopped the car at least had its own tiny swimming pool. "This place is okay,
but we're movin' on soon," she explained airily, opening up the front door.
"We've seen a development in Lake Tahoe we're lookin' to buy into."
"Yeah?" said Lennie, and wondered who was looking to buy into it. From the
small amount of information Jess had divulged about her husband, it seemed he
didn't do much at all except look after their ten-month-old baby while she
brought in the money.
"Anyone around?" she called out, as a scruffy mongrel dog appeared and
wagged its sorry-looking tail. She bent to pet the animal. "This is Gaass," she
explained. "Found him dumped in the garbage when he was a pup. Cute, huh?"
Wayland appeared, or at least Lennie presumed it was he. From the look of him,
Jess had found herself another stray. He was dressed in grubby white chinos and
a loose, embroidered shirt, and his dirty feet were bare. He had
shoulder-length yellow hair with a center part, and a long, pallid face. Jess
who wrote wonderful letters had mentioned that he painted. Exactly what
he painted she hadn't gone into.
"Greetings, man"' said Wayland, stoned to the eyeballs. "Welcome to our home."
And he extended a thin, shaking hand.
"Where's the baby?" Jess demanded. "Asleep."
"Go see.', For a moment her pretty face clouded over, and Lennie
sensed all was not well in this year-old marriage. That's just what he needed,
to be stuck right in the middle of some miserable scene. He had enough problems
of his own.
Lunch turned out to be a large bowl of brown rice and some wilted lettuce
coated with stale yogurt. Jess tried to conceal her aggravation she had been
at work all night and had left instructions for Wayland to fix something
special but she did it with difficulty. Lennie knew her well enough to
realize she was pissed off.
The baby a boy named Simon woke briefly and accepted a bottle.
"I wanna take Lennie over to the hotel," Jess said restlessly, when the baby
was asleep again.
Wayland nodded. He didn't have much to say about anything.
Out in the car she lit up a joint, blew smoke in Lennie's face and said
aggressively, "I don't want to talk about it, okay?"
"Who's asking?" he replied calmly.
She gunned the car into action and sped all the way to the Magiriano, where she
drew up to the entrance without cutting the engine. "I'll meet you here in a
couple of hours," she said. "Ask for Matt Traynor. He's the guy who booked you.
He'll get someone to show you around."
"Where are you going?"
"I got an . . . er . . . appointment."
"Screwin' around already?"
"Give me a reason not to."
Having met Wayland, he couldn't think of one.
Matt Traynor was a fifty-five-year-old silver-haired fox in a three-piece beige
suit. Apart from being the best entertainment director in Vegas, he had points
in the hotel. Lucky Santangelo had personally pursued him to take the job, and
only the lure of a piece of the action had persuaded him.
He told Lennie he loved the videotape Jess had shown him of his work and then
proceeded to fire off questions about her as if hoping to find out every detail
of her life.
Lennie made a stab at a few answers, but when Matt started asking about her
marriage, Lennie felt the time had come to move on. Quickly he said he wanted
to check out the lounge he would be appearing in and generally get the feel of
the place. Matt Traynor agreed, gave a few vague directions and waved him on
Las Vegas. The heat. The special smell. The hustle.
Las Vegas. Home. From birth to seventeen.
Las Vegas. Youthful memories crowding his head. The first time he got laid,
drunk, stoned, busted. The first time he fell in love, ran away from home,
stole his parents' car.
Mom and Pop. The odd couple.
Pop, an old-fashioned stand-up comic. Jack Golden. Dependable, a real hack. But
a name everyone in show business knew everyone except the general public.
Dead thirteen years now. Cancer of the gallbladder.
And Mom, Alice Golden, formerly known as "the Swizzle" one of the hottest
strippers in town. Good old Mom, fifty-nine years old and living in a condo in
California. From Las Vegas to Marina del Rey in one fell swoop with a used-car
salesman from Sausalito. Alice was not your average Jewish mother. She wore
short shorts, strapless tops, dyed her hair, shaved her legs and got laid a lot
after the Sausalito salesman skipped town with ten thousand dollars' worth of
Alice . . . she was something else. He had never felt close to her. When he was
a kid she bossed him around, sent him on endless errands and used him as a
lackey. She never cooked a meal in her life. While other kids took neat brown
bags to school with homemade meatloaf sandwiches, cookies and cheese, he was
lucky to scrounge an apple from a tree in the garden.
"You gotta learn to be independent," Alice told him when he was about seven.
He had learned the lesson well.
Living with Alice and Jack was exciting. Their untidy apartment was
always filled with dancers and singers, casino people and general show biz.
Life was fun, if you forgot about childhood.
Alice. A real character. He had learned to accept the way she was.
Las Vegas. Why had he come back?
Because a job was a job was a job. And as he'd told Jess, he had to get out of
New York. The police were on his case after he'd punched out a fat drunk who
was heckling him during his act at a Soho club. The fat drunk turned out to be
a shyster lawyer, who, when be woke up the next morning with a black eye and a
split lip, decided Lennie Golden needed to be put away and set about doing so.
The aggravation of a lawsuit was not something Lennie needed in his life.
Leaving town seemed the best way to deal with it. Beside, Eden was on the West
Coast, and for months he had been thinking about following her. Not that they
had parted friends.
After Vegas he planned to move on to Los Angeles.
Not just to see Eden.
Yeah. To see Eden.
Admit it, schmuck, you're still hooked.
Lucky entered the pool area and paused for a moment until she caught the eye of
Bertil, the Swedish heed honcho of all pool activity.
He spotted her immediately. She was impossible to miss in a one-piece black
swimsuit covering a supple tanned body with the longest legs in town. He jumped
to attention, remembering she was the boss, and hurried toward her, greeting
her with just the right amount of deference and enthusiasm. "Welcome back, Miss
She nodded briefly, scanning the mass of bronzed bodies. "Thank you, Bertil.
Any problems while I was away?"
"Nothing to bother you with."
"Bother me," she said softly. "I like to know everything."
He hesitated, then launched into a short story about two lifeguards who had
been hitting on female guests.
"Did you fire them?" she asked.
"Yes, but they're planning to sue."
"Have you talked to our lawyers?"
"When it's all taken care of," she said, satisfied. He escorted her to a
poolside lounger, and she settled back to observe the action.
"Bring me a phone," she requested.
He did as she asked, then left her alone.
She tried Gino for the third time. He was still out. Where the hell was he? Why
wasn't he awaiting her arrival?
Copyright © 1990 by Jackie Collins