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About the author:
Married over 10-years, Christie & Jeff Santo, lucky in love, never would’ve met if Christie didn’t miss her airplane. Luckier still, when a motorcycle accident almost took their lives, it became the driving force toward their writing career together.
Coming from the independent film industry, Jeff has over 25-years of filmmaking experience, directing and writing, with memberships in both the WGA and DGA. And Christie has years of experience in editing, producing, acting, and writing. Christie has her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from California State University Long Beach and has freelanced as a ghostwriter for novels.
What inspired you to write your book?
We initially wrote it as a screenplay, finishing it just as the pandemic began. While the world paused, we dug in, deciding to expand our screenplay into a novel. The initial inspiration for the story came from our fascination for the film noir genre. We love the film In A Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. The hard-luck love stories where you are rooting for them even though everything is working against them.
Here is a short sample from the book:
RAVENS IN THE RAIN
In a time where true love is as rare as a thousand dollar bill, and the wealth gap has distanced so many from reality, people have become desperate for any form of a leg-up that they are willing to sacrifice their morals for a sliver of an advantage. Even daring to use love as a currency, they come here, to the Ellis Island Casino, where ominous clouds hang overhead; and its brightly lit neon sign beckons the tired and huddled masses yearn- ing to be lucky.
A beaten white sedan rattles into the lot and parks upfront, its rims blackened from years of neglect. The engine knocks closer to its last breath before going silent. The driver’s door opens. Out steps high heels and legs to die for, a striking contrast to the vehicle they stepped out from; wham goes the car door.
Her heels strut with purpose toward the candy-stripe awning, win or lose, she’ll get what she needs one way or another, and stepping inside, she looks out at the black and grey patchwork flooring. This is no yellow brick road, and she is no Dorothy. She knows this is precisely the sort of place a girl like her belongs, an off-strip casino; it fits the offbeat road she’s traveled to get here. She struts past tennis shoes, flip flops, and trash that’s missed the bin, but no one cares, to a corral of low-minimum blackjack tables. That’s when he sees her, from the craps table, watching with his bluish-grey marbles as he strokes his face, concealing his forbidding pockmarks. There is an elegance about her that sets her apart and draws him in. His sturdy shoulders come to attention as he wonders if her sparkle is what he needs to lift him from his darkness.
Scanning for a table to play, she spots a hundred dollar bill laying helpless on the floor beside a stool occupied by cowboy boots. She could be kind and let the man know, but instead, she takes three quick steps; her last one smothers the bill and drops her purse as if it were an accident. With one smooth fashionable squat, she grabs both her purse and the hundred dollar bill while Cowboy Boots groans in defeat to the dealer. Rising, she sees he’s miserably losing at blackjack, down to his last few chips and his old face held heavy in his hand. She slides onto the stool next to him, effortlessly, placing down his hundred on the felt as if it were her own, and in many ways, she can justify how it is.
“When in Rome, make lemonade, right?” she says, thinking that’s how the saying goes.
As her chips are pushed across the felt to her, Cowboy Boots ogles over her exotic features. She’s aware of what her presence does to him. She’s aware of what she does to most men and uses it to her advantage. She needs all the advantages she can muster. Her current situation demands it. She pushes her long wavy black hair back over her shoulder, revealing her black slinky dress that doesn’t try to cover much nor hug much either. Then places a cautious bet before stopping a passing waitress.
But what she doesn’t see is the man from the craps table, with his gaze still transfixed upon her. She turns back around as the dealer checks for blackjack. Nope, the dealer shows twelve, draws a king, dealer busts.
“Hey, I should call you, lady luck!” Cowboy Boots yelps like he won a ribbon at a rodeo.
“If you only knew what they actually call me,” she says as if it’s a joke, even though it has never made her laugh before.
Over at the craps table, it’s his turn on the dice. He stands alone and stands out among a table filled with t-shirts and shorts. From a distance, he’s all style, with an aura of celebrity. A short-sleeve sweater fits perfectly over his broad shoulders and wide chest, and his jeans are cuffed neatly over his black engineer boots. But up close, there is more substance to gauge. Healed scars formed like fossils of time embedded into the gaps in his cheeks give him a menace. He’d be threateningly handsome if it weren’t for the scars—something that has plagued him almost his entire life. He loads the dice in his palm and jiggles them for luck as if luck were a craps game too.
“Let’s go, Scarface, make me money,” screeches a shabby guy in a Lake Havasu t-shirt flanked by a bunch of the same.
He clenches the dice with a concealed fury. His eyes glare severely at Lake Havasu until he lets the dice fly off the back wall of the table.
“Crap out,” the dealer cries.
He’s not surprised to lose at the pass and runs his fingers through his thick dark pompadour like a remedy for calm. Scooping up his chips, he ignores the stares and gripes from the Havasu flock, and magnates toward the blackjack tables, more specifically, toward the dark- haired beauty.
“Blackjack,” she cries softly and smiles like she’s almost forgotten how to, but then suddenly, her smile fades at the sight of the dealer’s ace. “You wouldn’t dare,” she threatens, and the dealer flips a five then doles out their winnings.
“Good win,” asserts old Cowboy Boots.
“It’s only a matter of time, though, isn’t it?” she replies. The dealer silently agrees.
“I wish I could stay,” Cowboy Boots says, pushing his chips forward before rising with a grimace for his rickety knees. But before the cowboy leaves, he tells his incoming substitute, “You’re a lucky guy.”
The man with the thick dark pompadour who ventured over from the craps table runs his hand through his hair again, waiting, giving the old-timer his space and time to depart. Then he’s quick to put his chips down on the other side of her and see if the old coot is right, but the treasure he’s seeking is turned away toward the incoming waitress. He places a generous bet and strokes his scars, knowing they’re not so readily accepted by beautiful women. She turns back with her champagne and looks to her new table partner. Damn, he thinks, she’s intoxicating and studies her more than a decade younger face to see if his scars turn her off, but her focus is direct and deep, and his heart races.
“Sir?” the dealer pleads for his attention.
He looks down at a pair of eights, trying to remember the math and what number you hit in blackjack when his dark-haired beauty fires in, “Split.” He hears her suggestion, but he’s immobile. “Trust me,” she says, and to him, trust is a word better done than said, so he adds chips for the split.
“Been a while since I played this game,” he confesses.
Looking down at his stacks, she notices the plethora of black and blue chips he has in addition to his red and white, and figures him for a craps man, a man who plays the field.
“What’s your game then?” she asks.
“Don’t have one,” he remarks while eyeing her like she could be his game.
Their stares are like silent threats, daring the other to engage in this foreplay, and neither one admitting to their undeniable connection.
“Dealer busts,” they hear the dealer say.
“So you do have game,” she says, referring to his winning hand.
He slides her a ten-dollar chip from his winnings. He figures she’s more than earned it.
“What a gentleman,” she purrs. “Thank you.”
He looks down at his new hand, a king queen, like he’s been rewarded. “I guess being a gentleman still pays.”
“We’ll see,” she says suspiciously, in case he’s speak- ing about more than the game. She looks down at her two and four of hearts, not surprised. She’s been dealt low cards for more than a few years now, so she knows how to dig in for a fight—that’s what she does.
He watches, narrowing in on her with his eyes like long lenses, seeing her emotion telling details—that’s what he does. He’s captivated with her every expression, her perfect skin, the slightest of facial movements. Capturing the image of a film star from decades-long gone, and he wonders her story. She hits for her next card and the next. Her expressions, going from hope to despair and back to hope, as if despair never appeared, because she’s almost there, her four low cards add up to eleven.
“If I were lucky, I’d get a face card,” she says, testing fate, but in her head, she’s betting against herself—at least then she’ll be right—so she calls forth her destiny, and it’s a four. Only there’s no celebrating because it means she’ll lose. How could she not? She has five small cards in front of her. There’s no question the next card is a face card, the story of her life, doom lurking around every corner.
He’s thrilled to watch her strategize, observing the mental pinball going on behind her intense eyes. He’s never been much into games but watching her play this out is like witnessing a good pitcher on the mound. He’s rooting for her.
She wants to motion stay and keep herself in the game but staying on sixteen isn’t how she plays. She’s compelled to play out the hand for the sake of the table, at least. If she doesn’t hit, she’ll affect the deck’s entire rotation, changing the outcome of their next few hands, who knows what else, and she knows why staying idle is a bad idea. So she hits, and he watches with anticipation. Another four, so that makes twenty! She can’t believe it. He’s quick to motion stay to the dealer, and the dealer turns and flips so fast he can hardly keep up with the math. It’s not until the dealer calls out, “Dealer bust,” and pays out that he realizes she won. They won. He looks to her to celebrate, but from her only slightly curled smile, he sees she’s more relieved than celebratory.
“You really worked for that one,” he commends her.
“It should have gone the other way. The odds were against me,” she says with torment, her head slightly down.
Suddenly he sees her broken pieces spill out from under her elegant facade. This beauty is hiding a painful past, dark corners, and hard nights, and strangely enough, it only makes her more attractive. He wonders what the hell she’s been through and how she made it
through while maintaining her grace and beauty. With a reflective tone, he adds, “The odds are always
“Isn’t that the truth,” she says, pleasantly surprised
to be relating with him on a deeper level. With his clean and crisp style, she initially pegged him for a slumming Bellagio brat, but as he smiles back, she suddenly finds herself wondering who he is and what this is. They play the entire next hand linked in gaze, and she’s unable to read him. Is it a deeper connection, is it a game of flirtation, or, she wonders, is it something more sinister?
The call, “Dealer busts,” breaks their stare, and more chips are slid across the felt to them.
He can hardly believe his fortune. “That old man was right,” he claims, putting half of his chips in, tripling down on the currency of her luck.
But she pulls her chips and tosses back the last of her champagne. “Well, that’s all she wrote.”
He thinks she can’t be leaving. It doesn’t add up, but for him, nothing’s adding up lately. He calls out, “You’re done? We haven’t lost.”
“I double, I walk. I don’t push my luck.”
“But we’re winning.”
“My luck runs out just like that. I get by only because I’m getting better at predicting it.”
“Sir?” the dealer interjects.
He looks down at a jack two and looks to her. She stands firm with folded arms, assuring him she’s not going anywhere, at least until he plays out his hand. Focusing back on his cards, twelve is so far from twenty-one, so he hits, but it’s a bust. “Shit,” he calls out, seeing her already walking, so he scoops his chips and catches up. “I’m Carney.”
“Hi, Carney. I’m Pru.” “Pru like in Prude?”
“As in Prudencia Romiti. Watch what you’re getting
at, Pal,” she teases. “I only have sex on second dates.”
Surprised by that, he tips his head and says with a Bogart-like voice, “Well, how long you in town?”
“Leaving now. Too bad for you,” she says. But her eyes tell a different story as she approaches the teller first, placing her chips on the counter.
“What were you in for?” he asks. “I mean, no one comes to Vegas unless they have to.”
“Let’s just say, a wedding,” she meanders.
“Why just say?” he asks, unable to take his eyes off of her.
She looks at him suspiciously. “You a PI or something?”
“A private investigator? No,” he says curtly. She laughs. He’s obviously not a PI.
“The bride gave me the wrong day, wrong month, actually,” she says, collecting her money.
He turns in his chips to the teller. “That’s fucked up.”
“It could be unintentionally on purpose,” she admits, “but since I have very few friends, I can’t afford to think that way.”
He takes her in like a good movie but knows if he doesn’t act quickly, she’ll be out the door, and he’ll have nothing but the celluloid of her in his head.
“Well, I have an extra ticket for the Cryptid Animals tonight,” he throws out as he collects his money.
“What’s the Cryptid Animals?” she asks, walking again. He joins her, step for step. “A heavy metal band.”
“That still exists?”
“Come and see,” he says luringly.
She watches him walk beside her, in step, and she’s in control. She starts to wonder if he would be a fun mouse to play with. From his hefty stack of chips at the table, she knows he’s not a total louse, but she can’t be sure yet. A mouse can easily be a beast.
“You know,” she muses, “you should have stayed on jack two. The dealer showed fifteen. Luck is only part of it.”
“Something tells me you could teach me a few things,” he says before following her into the diner like she knew he would. “Vegas must be your town, and blackjack your game, huh?” he insinuates as they migrate toward the back of the restaurant like familiar strangers and slide into a corner booth.
“You could say that. I used to live here.”
“I bet there’s a story in that,” he encourages, and by the look on her face, he knows he’s right.
The memory of those days is long behind her, although still fresh enough to repeat injury. Even if she does tell it, she reasons, he won’t believe her. They never do. That’s why she usually doesn’t even bother, but there’s some- thing daring about this stranger. She thinks perhaps she will, for toying purposes, only just before she could, a waiter interjects with two menus.
“Hi, I’m Edgar. I’ll be your server.”
“Hi, Edgar,” she says, beaming bright, a performance for his benefit. “Bring us your favorite item on the menu. We’ll share.”
“Alright, I know just the delight,” Edgar exclaims eagerly.
Carney looks inquisitively at her as he hands Edgar back the menus. “And a beer. Any brand. I don’t discriminate.”
She follows with, “Champagne or water. That’s all I drink.”
The waiter nods before leaving, and Carney can’t believe his luck. Feisty and exotic, a dangerous combination. He leans in, saying, “Do you always order for the man?”
“I do what I want,” she exclaims, “and I want good service. Plus, there’s too much wasted time looking at a menu when all you do is order the same thing, and what’s the excitement in that?”
“I would bet there’s nothing but excitement in your life,” he surmises.
“I see your game,” she calculates. “You bet on people. Right now, you’re betting on me. Only I’m not paying out for you later tonight.” She leans back into the booth, twisting her torso in a way that moves the slit of her dress up, tantalizing him with more skin from her thigh.
As difficult as it is for him, he holds his gaze and teases back, “Can’t it be more than that?”
She’s heard that lie before and asks, “How about a little honesty?” Crossing her legs to show more skin, she toys with him even more. “Let’s lay all our cards on the table and see how they fall. You can start with small suits if it makes you more comfortable.”
He’s eager to play and doubles down. “Alright, you seem like someone who’s one bad experience away from getting a gun and shooting up a bank. Maybe you need a friend. And I’m not a bad guy to spend the night with.”
She’s taken aback. That’s not the way she thought this was going. He is different, and different is exciting. She wonders if he really does see her that way or if he’s just trying to tear her down to a size more reasonable. She deducts, “You must be attracted to danger.”
His body language doesn’t necessarily disagree. “Perhaps I see a similar hopelessness in you,” he pecks.
“I look hopeless?”
“You look drop-dead gorgeous.”
“Well, now we’re getting somewhere,” she pecks back playfully.
But he continues, “The world around you is dark and decaying. Sooner or later, your beauty will go, and then where will you be?”
“Hung out to dry and on the lamb looking for you,” she smirks, playful or serious, it’s hard for him to tell which.
“Wouldn’t that be my fate?” he says as if his thoughts have spoken out loud.
The way he said “fate” makes her think they have something in common, but she knows the divide. He’s in a far better spot than her. Most people are, and the ones who aren’t are easier for her to spot. She wonders if perhaps that’s why he’s attracted to her, that her hopelessness will make him feel better. She figures he’s betting on it, only he’ll be setting himself up for disappointment.
“Dabble in self-sabotage much?” she asks.
Her question rips through his mind with enough truth for him to admit to, but denial is fast friends with the blissfully ignorant, so the thought rattles around in his head never making contact. Then Edgar drops in to deliver their drinks, and for Carney, there could be no more perfect timing.
“Thanks,” he says, and Edgar smiles. They’re his favorite table in the diner.
They both sip from their beverages, eyes locked in a game that neither knows the rules nor how to win, but neither can pull themselves away.
Taking his silence for agreement, she continues with her deductions, “I’d bet you make a habit of creating your own bad luck and place the blame onto the world. Why else would you chase after me if I’m as bad as you say?”
“Do you ever step away from the card table?” he asks, with laughter surrounding his words.
“Only on second dates,” she confesses, hiding a smile.
“Something tells me you don’t have many of those.”
She gives him a look that tells him he may be right. Playfulness aside, it pleases her that he sees that, so often it goes the other way—treated as an object for sex. A curse and a blessing, depending on what she wants.
She admits, “Lately, it seems like love is a game where everyone plays dirty.”
“You don’t look so innocent,” he quips, playfully, before realizing from her heavy eyes that the game just got serious.
She can’t deny the truth in what he says. She lost her innocence long ago. The girl she used to be is a distant memory, and it’s all her doing. She received a fast education for a cheap price, one she continues to pay for.
She insists, “Why don’t you speed up this merry-go-round and tell me what you want?”
“I want to take you to a concert tonight,” he says.
All she hears is the lie because that can’t be all he wants. She doesn’t know why truth is such a rare commodity. She hungers to tell him she craves honesty. Suddenly, Edgar drops in with a simple barbecue chicken dish.
“Here we go, bird’s the word,” Edgar says, with wide eyes as if he just dropped off gold.
Pru and Carney stare at the plate, uninspired, while Edgar waits for a reply.
So Carney chirps out, “That was fast, for chicken.”
“Rotisserie,” Edgar chirps back.
“Interesting choice,” Pru chirps final.
“Enjoy,” Edgar leaves, sticking to his decision.
Carney looks at her and wonders, “Is it ever what you
think it’s going to be?”
“Most of the time, unfortunately,” she admits.
That resonates between the soft spots in his face. So
often he’s unimpressed with the expected, and that’s why he’s so impressed by her. He needs more, and he’s secretly aching inside, wondering if she’ll spend the night with him or leave him forever.
“Is he watching us?” she asks, devising a plan.
His eyes pan across the room, spotting Edgar watching them through the server station window. “Yep.”
“Okay, take a couple of bites and smile at him,” she says. “Then we’ll head over to the concert.”
He smiles victoriously. He may not have won his money back at the tables, but he won the night. She’s not going anywhere just yet.