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Excerpt: 'Turning the Tables'

Six months earlier, before being accused of forgery by an officer of one of America's biggest companies, Allie Bowen lay blissfully in the arms of Christian Sacco, the man she had been with since her separation from her husband... and, truth be told, a little before that as well. The shrill ring of the phone woke them both.

"Stay asleep," Allie whispered. "It's probably for me."

Even though Christian Sacco was the third most important executive within the casino hierarchy, it was Allie's job as Heaven's vice president of marketing and public relations that was more likely to generate a middle-of-the-night phone call.

"Allie Bowen," she said sleepily.

"It's Falanucci. We've got a Code Yellow. NBC news is already here."

"I'll be there in ten minutes," she said, reaching for her pants.

"What is it? What's happened?" asked Christian, as Allie dressed hurriedly.

"There's been a Code Yellow."

"A Code Yellow? A jumper?"


"It wasn't that bastard pianist in the cocktail lounge, was it?" asked Christian hopefully.

"I don't think so," said Allie, who smiled as she buttoned her blouse.


Allie bent down and gave Christian a soft kiss.

"See you at work, darling," she said.

Teasingly, from the Las Vegas Strip, a passerby can only vaguely discern the giant, blurry outline of Heaven's facade. The city's most impressive monument is deliberately hidden twenty-four hours a day behind an obscuring cumulous mountain of man-made fog.

The only way to see more clearly is to approach more closely. Every day tens of thousands make the decision to do just that by stepping onto the walkway that moves in only one direction. As the people-mover pierces the fog, first-time visitors invariably let out an audible gasp. Heads turn upward and mouths gape open in wonder. Visiting eyes follow the intricate, ornate carving of the front facade, full of trumpeting angels and Dale Chihuly-designed stained-glass windows, as it soars skyward.

Sammy Kirvin, Heaven's octogenarian primary stockholder, came up with the paradise theme himself. Ancient Rome, New York, England, Paris, and Egypt were already well represented on Las Vegas Boulevard. Sammy cursed the fact that all the good countries were gone. Holland had tulips and cumbersome shoes, but that was not enough on which to hang a multibillion-dollar hotel. Afghanistan had caves, which was tempting, but of questionable taste given the current state of geopolitics. Russia had been seriously considered. Sammy liked that one; if something went wrong, such as room service failing to show up, it could just be passed off as part of the theme. However, the more conservative members of his board had vetoed that suggestion.

Brainstorming session followed brainstorming session, until the night Sammy Kirvin experienced a thematic epiphany. In flowerier interviews, he liked to suggest that maybe God himself had chosen to imbue him with the idea. After all, God had always liked the desert. He'd set the Bible there.

Built over four years at a cost of three billion dollars, Heaven is quite simply and without reservation the most spectacular architectural achievement of the early twenty-first century. Stepping off the moving walkway, gawking visitors continue forward through St. Peter's Gates and into the interior where a team of St. Peters -- actually, trained security guards with concealed Glocks beneath their wings -- welcome each gambler with a flutter and a frisk.

Beyond the guards, the atrium ascends to a roof whose trompe l'oeil effect of absolute perspective makes it appear as though one is still outside and staring up into the cosmos. Wrapped around the circumference of the casino floor are 9,750 rooms, making Heaven the largest hotel in the world. It is also the most profitable.

Leaving her car in Heaven's executive parking lot, Allie bounded up the escalator directly into the lobby. The first thing she saw was the camera crew from the local NBC affiliate. Rikki Green, the ambitious reporter who caught the story, had cornered a blood-spattered hotel guest.

"What exactly did you see, Mr. Beechnut?" Rikki was purring, pointing her microphone toward Mr. Beechnut's unfortunately decorated face.

"I turned around just as the fat man exploded on the carpet."

"How did you feel?" Rikki pressed. "What were you thinking? Did you panic?"

"Panic? No, I didn't have time to panic. I just opened my mouth to scream and -- "

Rikki interrupted, excitedly. "Did you swallow anything?"

"Oh my God, I don't know. I was covered in... whatever this is," he moaned, picking gelatinous bits from his jacket. "What if I swallowed something? What if my boy swallowed something?"

Rikki lowered her microphone down to little Augie Beechnut's mouth. "How old are you, dear?"

"Eight," the little boy replied.

"Can you tell me what you saw?"

"I saw his insides explode and everything," Augie enthused. "It completely rocked."

Allie was too far away to hear what was being said, but the triumphant look on Rikki Green's face was enough. At a dead run, Allie lunged at the microphone, pushing it to one side and positioning herself between the camera and the Beechnuts.

"Hello," she panted at the Beechnuts. "On behalf of everyone here at Heaven, I would like to extend our most sincere apologies. We're so sorry you had to witness this tragedy. If you'll just give me one minute, I'll help you get settled."

Though they looked rather stunned at the breathless intrusion, Mom, Dad, and Augie agreeably shuffled to one side. Allie turned to Rikki Green.

"Rikki," she said sweetly, "don't make a bad situation even worse. Think of that poor family and the family of the deceased."

"No can do, Allie. This is a big story," Rikki said. "Great visuals."

Allie swallowed hard. "Great visuals." This was not good.

"Please, Rikki," Allie cajoled. "I'll owe you big time. Christian has Cher coming into the arena at the end of the month. I'll get you front-row seats."

Rikki crooked an eyebrow. She knew the owner of her station was close friends with many members of Heaven's board of directors. One call to her employer and the story would in all probability be scotched anyway. At least this way she would get an up-close look at what was really going on with Cher's face.

"Fine," she said. "You owe me, Allie."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rita Rudner