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Loaded Dice

James Swain

Ballantine Books New York

For Steve Forte

The biggest and first crap game is mentioned in Greek mythology. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades

rolled dice for shares of the Universe.

Poseidon won the Oceans.

Hades won the Underworld.

Zeus won the Heavens and is suspected of having used loaded dice.

MARIO PUZO

Inside Las Vegas

Acknowledgments

The author would like to gratefully thank the following people for their help in writing this novel: Chris Calhoun, Dana Isaacson, Michele Jaffe, Linda Marrow, Fred Rea, Deborah Redmond, Charles and Margaret Swain, and Laura Swain.

PREFACE

He had left Arlington Heights early that morning, knowing there would be traffic, and had not been disappointed.

The long line of cars on I-395 headed toward Washington had stopped moving, and he hit his brakes. Then he glanced nervously at the cell phone lying on the passenger seat beside him. He’d left the radio turned off so he would not miss the call when it came.

Traffic started to move, and he lightly tapped the accelerator. Normally, he liked to listen to the area’s local shock jocks rant and rave. Even when he didn’t understand what they were talking about, he still fed off their anger.

He saw the sign for his exit and merged into the left lane. Putting his indicator on, he kept left at the fork in the ramp, then took a right onto C Street.

A Texaco station sat on the corner. Inside, he bought a sixteen-ounce cup of coffee. Paying for it with the change in his pocket, he saw the manager stare.

“Where did you get that, buddy?” the manager asked.

He stared at the handful of coins in his palm. With the quarters and dimes was a casino chip. It was brown, what gamblers called a chocolate chip.

“Gambling,” he replied.

“No kidding.” The manager leaned over the counter. “I’ve seen purples and yellows, but never one that color before. How much is it worth?”

He started to tell him that it was worth five thousand dollars. Only he didn’t. He was dressed in crummy street clothes, and didn’t look like someone who’d won that much money.

“Nothing,” he said. “It was a souvenir.”

“Pretty neat,” the manager said.

He sat in his van and sipped the coffee until it turned cold. Finally, the cell phone on the seat beside him rang.

“Yes?” he answered.

It was Ziad.

“It’s time,” his cousin said.

The line went dead. He took the chocolate chip from his pocket. Staring at it, he thought of all that had happened, and all that was about to happen. Then he thought of his parents and family back in Pakistan. What would they think of him? He could only hope they would be proud of what he was about to do.

He left the gas station and drove onto First Street. At a traffic light he stopped and realized his hands were trembling. He unzippered his windbreaker and stared at the three hand grenades strapped around his waist.

The light turned green. Closing his jacket, he took a right on Independence, heading the van toward Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House.

Two and a half years later

1

The most desirable women in Las Vegas didn’t live there.

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