LoopThe casino and hotel were located just across the Indiana border tucked into what has been described as the “armpit of America.” East Chicago, Indiana, maintained a reputation as a violent, crime-ridden area since the days of Prohibition and the place served as a major thoroughfare for Depression-era criminals like John Dillinger who crisscrossed the Midwest eluding law enforcement. Michael could just feel the seedy history around him stepping out of the taxi. Looking around at the recent tourist additions, he thought to himself, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

A spry, young man in a valet outfit approached Michael as he was walking up to the hotel doors.

“Welcome, can I…” the kid shot out in a high pitched voice before Michael interrupted and asked for James.

“Sure, he’s right over there,” the valet said, pointing to a slender Asian man who was waving, making a beeline over to them.

After ushering Michael inside the hotel, James tried to hold back his excitement as he stumbled over his words. He said that he met Jennifer through her girlfriend, whom he had dated, and she was always very nice and helpful. Michael chuckled at his obvious nervousness which helped to offset some of his own. James led Michael into a side door and through a maintenance tunnel which opened to an underground parking garage. Lighting up an off-brand cigarette and taking a massive hit while nearly inhaling half of it, James forcefully blew out the smoke before declaring that, “This is safest place to talk.”

Michael knew Jennifer’s judgment was as good as anyone’s, but he wanted to get a read on the kid for himself. Slowing the conversation down, Michael pitched innocuous questions to the excitable valet. James eagerly fielded the questions and told Michael that he was born in a small, remote village in Thailand and came to America as a teenager with nothing but the clothes on his back. After a few rough years of cultural adjustment, James said that he took up some language classes where he had met Jennifer on campus. She introduced him to his first girlfriend since his move and helped him to secure a job at the hotel; he felt very much indebted to her. James also shared with Michael his love of American muscle cars and his determination, and willingness, to do whatever it took to fulfill his dreams.

Michael complimented James and congratulated him on his progress thus far starting over in foreign country. At the same time, Michael thought that his effervescent attitude was indicative of his innocence and he wondered how long it would take before the underworld would swallow him up. Michael knew all too well that he couldn’t save everyone and he had enough problems of his own right now so he kept any advice to himself. Shifting the conversation, Michael asked James about his latest talk with Jennifer prior to his arrival and what information he knew.

James said that another friend of Jennifer’s was working in guest relations and wanted to personally meet him. James gave him a key card to a room and gave him a quick layout to the hotel and casino which was located close by on a riverboat docked at Indiana Harbor on Lake Michigan. He went into a routine about the amenities offered and the buffet with crab legs that he should check out. Michael thanked him, but told him that he planned to make it a quick trip and didn’t think he would get to do a lot of relaxing.

Snapping out of his hospitality role and sensing an opportunity, James exclaimed, “Oh I have some great news Jennifer thought that might help! And if there is anything else you need, I am your man.”

“You’ll be taken care of, don’t worry,” Michael assured him, “what did you want to tell me?”

James told Michael about how the luxury suites at the hotel had gone under recent renovations. He told him that Jennifer’s other friend at the hotel knew more, but all the big shots stayed in those rooms. James shared some ideas he had worked up in his mind on how to gain access to the suites and rob the guests’ blind. He figured a lot of the money coming through the hotel and casino was illegitimate and they would never report the losses. While it made Michael nervous that this kid’s head was getting too big, Michael also knew he was going to be gone in the next twenty-four hours, enough time before James could press any further to be involved. To appease James, Michael told him that he would take him out the next night. He told him to go home and get some rest; tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Days prior, the boss of the Milwaukee outfit had given Michael the order to meet with their associate early the next day; Michael planned to be gone by then too. First things first, he had to meet up with Jennifer’s friend in guest relations who knew the movements of all the gangsters that passed through. It was going to be a few hours before meeting up with her, maybe he could relax a little bit, but he doubted it; twenty-four hours seemed like a lifetime away.

Michael: Vice and Casino Dice