I had just dropped off a car in Las Vegas, and my boss Riff called and really pissed me off with his rantings. I hung up on him and decided to relax for a day and enjoy the sights. Gambling, free drinks while you gamble, beautiful women, great shows. Viva Las Vegas!
At 3pm I sat down at a Blackjack table at the MGM Grand. I don't gamble much, but when I do I like Blackjack, and am usually pretty lucky when I play. This day was no exception. I sat down with $20 to bet, and within 30 minutes I was up $200. I didn't win every hand, but I won enough, and doubled down at all the right moments. I'm no expert, just a good friend of Lady Luck.
One hour later, I was up to $540. I might have had more if I was at a table with larger minimum bets, but I am a very cautious gambler. I could never get rich at the tables, I think I'm way too careful for that. As I pondered how much longer I should ride this good streak, two large men stepped up behind me and made themselves known. "Excuse me, Mr. Thomas."
I turned to look at them. "Me? You want Bill Thomas?"
"Yes, Mr. Bill Thomas. Mr. Salerno would like to have a word with you."
I looked them both over. They were well dressed, but big and beefy. They looked like bodyguards or muscle or some such. "What's this about? Have I done something wrong?"
"Absolutely not, sir. Mr. Salerno sends greetings and good wishes to you, and he'd be most appreciative for a few minutes of your time."
I shrugged. "I'm winning here, guys."
"We understand. Can you follow us, please?"
So I wrapped it up at the table and tipped the lovely dealer, then got up and walked with these dignified goons. One of them walked in front of me, one of them behind me. I began to feel like I was in one of those noir detective films, where the Big Boss sends his boys to get the gumshoe and bring him in for a beating.
I was taken out the front door and led to a white super stretch limousine. The guy in front of me opened the door and motioned me in. I climbed in the back and saw a man who looked like he could be from the cast of GOODFELLAS. "Hello Bill Thomas, I'm Joey Salerno. Real pleasure to make your acquaintance." He held his hand out to shake. The car door closed behind me, and the car took off. I stared at Joey's hand, then took it and shook. He looked like he was really happy to see me.
"Who are you and why am I here, Joey?"
He grinned from ear to ear. "Good question. When I give you an answer, you are gonna have about a million more questions."
"Well, I'm kind of nervous Joey. I was minding my own business when your boys came and grabbed me up--"
Joey interrupted, looking very upset. "Grabbed you? Did they touch you?"
"What? No, I just meant they pulled me out of the casino, and I was doing pretty good at Blackjack."
"But they didn't hurt you? Didn't touch you?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm fine."
He seemed genuinely relieved. "Good. Good." He rubbed his hands together anxiously. "Bill, what do you know about your father?"
I shrugged. "Just what my mother told me. That he left us when I was very young, and that he died shortly after."
Joey winked at me. "That's a lie."
"What do you mean?"
"Your mother threw him out, they always fought and couldn't get along. He loved her very much, but she just..."
"Joey, how do you know all this?"
"Because your father Larry Thomas is my best friend in the world."
"Don't you mean 'was'?"
"Is. Larry is still alive."
Time stood still for a moment. My ears turned very hot and began to ring. I felt all numb, then I felt like a ton of bricks fell on my head. "Excuse me, did you say...?"
"Your father, Larry Thomas, is still very much alive. At least as far as I know."
"How can... but how... why didn't... then he really...?"
"Here come those million questions I told you about."
"My dad is dead. Everyone knows that."
"Everyone your mother told, that's who knows that. They know her truth, not the real truth."
I gave my cheek a slap just to be certain I was wide awake. It stung, but at least I knew I had not imagined this. "How did you know him?"
"Larry and I met in the army. We served together, and became fast friends. In fact, we became so close you could say we were brothers."
"My mother never mentioned you."
"Did your mother ever mention anyone or anything about your father?"
"She just said he had no interest in me, and his family had asked that I never contact them."
Joey shook his head sadly. "Bill, it's a long story, but suffice it to say that your father got in bed with some wrong people. He didn't know it, he thought he was doing legit accounting work."
"He was an accountant?"
"Yes, Larry was amazing with numbers. A real genius. But anyway, let's just say he got sideways of the wrong guys. He didn't know Russian mobsters were behind his employers. And when he learned too much, he became a liability. He needed to disappear."
"So that's why he left us?"
"No, he wanted to take his family with him. But your mother made him crazy, and he knew they couldn't stay together. So he left on his own. You were born eight months later."
"He left before I was born?"
"He didn't even find out about you until a few years later. And he kept up with you as you grew, but he couldn't step out of the shadows long enough to see you. Plus, he would have had to contend with your mother."
My head was tingling. "So he's alive. He's out there somewhere. But where?"
"Honestly, I haven't heard from him in years. Last time he got in touch he was living in Oregon. But you travel around the country, maybe you'll find him."
I nodded aggressively. "I will."
Joey smiled. "Yeah, I know you will."
"How did you find me?"
"I've been looking for you for a long time. Then this morning, I see you at the MGM Grand, and you are the spitten image of your dad. No kidding, you even sound like him. So fate brought you to my door."
"What do you do for a living, Joey?"
"This and that. Don't worry about it." He paused. "I know you want to find Larry, but be careful."
"I'm not convinced the Russian mob is done looking for him. They have long memories, and your dad knows things that could do them harm. A lot of harm."
I chuckled. "So it's a race to see who finds him first?"
"Don't laugh. Bill, if they find out you're looking for him, they may follow you."
I got a chill. I didn't like the sound of being followed. I'm a driving fool and a free spirit.
Joey and I drove around Vegas and talked for a few hours. He told me a lot of really great stories about my father, who I knew very little about. Then he took me out for a very nice dinner, and got me a suite at the Mirage hotel for the night. He gave me his contact info and said to call him anytime for anything. My life just took a dramatic but interesting turn.