My latest novel, Déjà vu at the Blue Diamond Saloon, began with a dream. Or should I say nightmare? We were living in Tampa Bay and I had one of those middle-of-the-night heart-pounding sweats. I woke up but the story was so vivid and real to me the next day that I had to start writing it down. This was somewhere around late ’05 or early ’06.
Several interstate moves and many rewrites later, Déjà vu at the Blue Diamond Saloon was born. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Déjà vu at the Blue Diamond Saloon
Nikki Durrance escaped the worst nightmare of her life when she fled Las Vegas for San Francisco, leaving her husband behind at the Blue Diamond Saloon. So when the perfect Dr. Mike Fischer proposes, she accepts. But when her new Mr. Right begins to transform into a guy just like her ex-husband, she begins to question everything, including her sanity.
Nikki longs to trust Mike, but with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu, Nikki’s fear propels her into discoveries of betrayals and underworld connections that will send her running for her life again.
AVAILABLE now on Kindle.
I peeked out the window of my upstairs office and thought, “Everything in Las Vegas looks better at night.”
The dusty, thirsty, lifeless terrain transforms into an Alice in Twinkleland and the neon electrifies the Las Vegas strip. The barren stretches of nothingness surrounding the valley of so-called normal life vanishes from view. But nothing is normal in a place where gambling is invasive—it’s in the grocery stores, it’s in McDonald’s, and it’s in every neighborhood corner where a neon sign flashes “gambling and cocktails.”
Leo the grocer startled me when he appeared at the front door of our Las Vegas house—the one we’d dreamed of when we were squished into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. But that house felt like a prison with its tomb-like shades covering the windows to prevent the harsh, desert sun from scorching the inside of the house.
When I ran downstairs to open the front door, he handed me a package of ice. Because this is how Vegas works—when you check out at the grocery store, the clerk asks if you need ice, and if you’re lucky, they’ll deliver it to you on short notice. It would be such a shame if you had the sudden urge to make a martini and be out of ice. Especially if you had a surprise guest like I did that hot August night.
I felt Jeff’s breath on my neck, the belt buckle he wore when he played Texas Hold ‘Em pushing against me, and so I pulled away and asked, “What’s the ice for?”
“Drinks with Gabrielle,” he said.
“Yes, she’s over there.” I looked in the direction he was pointing, as Leo drove off and a woman wearing a black leather mini-skirt and tank-top stepped out of a taxi. Wearing stilettos, she posed in such a way that time stood still, portraying an air of confidence. Stunned that he knew the half-sister I had never met, I drank in the details of her appearance. She looked nothing like she did in the picture she’d sent me–brunette with medium-length hair. Now she had pure white spiked hair, the exact color Jeff described when he insisted I bleach my almost black hair.
She approached our front door and said, “You’ve lost weight.” I’ve lost weight? What did she know about me? I’d planned on sending her my photo, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Jeff stepped forward, “Please, come in, make yourself at home.”
I fingered my wind-blown hair and glanced at my unkempt clothes. This was not how I’d imagined I’d be dressed when I met Gabrielle for the first time. My enormous closet in the master bathroom, part of an even larger master suite, full of clothes for every occasion—for golf, tennis, or evening wear at some elegant function on the Strip. Because if there was one thing true about my husband was that he loved to impress others with a well-dressed wife.
Jeff led us into the living room, moved the cat off the couch and said, “Please, sit here” to Gabrielle but then turned to me, “Shouldn’t you be getting dressed?”
I didn’t wait around long enough to see if Gabrielle sat down or not, but I heard soft laughter and ice tinkling from the kitchen. Jeff must be making his special cocktail—what he called a French Martini joking that he named it after me. Pineapple juice, vodka, Chambord, and Vermouth—”What’s so French about that?” I had asked. “Well, you are French, right?” he said, and then he threw his head back and laughed in a maniacal way, as if he knew a secret I did not know.
Uneasiness swept over me leaving Jeff and Gabrielle alone downstairs in my kitchen—the kitchen I took pride in. It was a luxury to finally own such a beautiful, brand-new home and I considered that room to be my private haven. It was where I stood each morning when I gazed at the backyard, lit with the morning desert sun, recalling a similar backyard in my California childhood.
I hurriedly dressed in a pair of black slacks and my favorite black pumps I’d found on sale at the Outlet Mall on Las Vegas Boulevard. I rummaged through the dresser drawers searching for a particular red shirt—because from the way my husband was leering at Gabrielle, I knew it was important I dress my best.
Unable to find it, I put on a black one instead, and grabbed a matching black purse. On my way downstairs I passed my upstairs office where I indulged myself in working on my latest manuscript. The words often failed me then, but when I awoke in the middle of the night to an empty bedroom, I could sit in my office and the lights of South Point Casino calmed me, reassured me. I then wrote until the sun began to peek over the mountains of Henderson in the east in that special hour where the daylight meets the neon. I jumped into bed before Jeff returned from an all-night poker game.
When I’d made my way to the living room, Jeff handed me a drink and the three of us sat down—Jeff in his leather recliner and Gabrielle in the chair next to him—the one I considered my own. I moved our cat, Sam, the name Jeff had insisted on even though he was not a cat lover. I sat down on the couch closest to Jeff as if I was competing with Gabrielle for his attention.
After a quick drink and a brief chat, Jeff suggested we all go to the Blue Diamond Saloon. “They have the best buffet,” Jeff said.
No, it wasn’t the fanciest place, like those casinos on the Strip, but it was a local hangout like so many in Vegas that served food, drinks, and of course, the ubiquitous gambling. The saloon was within walking distance from our home, and Jeff particularly enjoyed the poker games there. Jeff said, “You two go on—I’ll catch up” so Gabrielle and I started walking toward The Blue Diamond Saloon.
Jeff caught up with us, and once we arrived, he sauntered inside as if he owned the place. When I tried to follow him, Gabrielle’s demeanor changed and she gave me a look that said, “You’re so gauche” (after all, according to the emails we’d exchanged, she’d lived in Paris) and she’d indicated she’d expected me to have done the same—with a French name like Nicole and all. But ever since she discovered I hadn’t lived in Paris, she seemed to be slightly disappointed in me. I’d hoped, perhaps, that living in Las Vegas, the “entertainment capital of the world,” would give me some caché, but this was something she dismissed—as if I hadn’t quite mastered being here.
The doorman must have felt the same way, because he refused me admission. This was too weird to even be polite, so I left, and headed for home, stopping by the shop around the front of the club. But all the red shirts cost more than I had on me, and I had left my credit cards in my other purse—the red purse.
When I arrived back home, I noticed the laptop sitting on the white wicker table next to a matching rocking chair in the front entry. When I took a closer look, I saw that the browser was open at Jeff’s poker blog—something he rarely updated. After all, I was the online multi-media professional: writer, blogger, and graphic artist. I read the entry there, with a link to a video he’d posted.
The text said, “Don’t watch unless you have the stomach for it.” So, of course, I clicked on the link. And what I saw filled me with fury, disgust, and hate. It was a video of my husband dressed in my missing red blouse and matching red shorts, with my red purse on his arm, prancing around to some seductive music. And in the background, a neon sign flashed, “The Blue Diamond Saloon.”
Early in our relationship he had revealed how he struggled with his weight when he was younger, and so he took pride in being able to wear my size twelve clothes. In spite of what the fashion industry wanted to believe, I was still below the average size fourteen that most U.S. women wore. I worked hard at keeping my weight down.
But Gabrielle mustn’t be any larger than a size eight, my best guess after viewing Gabrielle wearing nothing but a satin black thong, matching low cut silk black bra, and Jeff’s tie. I recognized it from one of our cruises. She maneuvered a sexy move behind him, danced around him, and smiled into the camera taunting me. A swift kick to my gut told me that today was not the first time they had met.
Then he peered directly into the camera, and snarled, “This is for Sam.” And then right in front of me, in front of the camera, he started making rude fondling movements on Gabrielle’s body while she fondled him in return. I’m a voyeur as much as the next person, but I couldn’t watch anymore. And when I closed the browser window, a message written like a handwritten note said, “RIP, darling,” and then a mock newspaper headline flashed. It said, “Jealous Wife Found Dead at The Blue Diamond Saloon wearing nothing but black pumps.”
Feeling a second swift kick to my gut, I peeked in the closets, the pantry, the cabinets and the rooms upstairs to make sure nobody was in there, waiting for me. Because I was afraid that this time he would make good his idle threats and I’d be dead. Maybe not by his own hands, but I suspected he knew people in low places and somebody someday would murder me. I’d had enough and I knew that it was up to me to remain alive, to get away before tomorrow arrived.
I may appear stupid for hanging around this long, but I wasn’t about to stay any longer, in case my luck had run out. I was afraid the next death threat, the next slap on the face, the next infidelity would mean the end of me.
At the same time, I asked myself, “Why? What did my husband have against me? What had I done to him?” The years of our marriage punched through my mind like a ticker tape, and then I knew. He had never forgiven me for not loving him as much as I had loved Sam—the one man who’d eluded me. I loved how his name rolled on my tongue—Sam, Sam Sullivan. It played the right notes to my ear like a private dick in some mystery novel. Maybe I had stayed with Jeff for so long out of guilt that somehow I deserved this mistreatment. After all, wasn’t it a sin not to love your husband more than any other man in the world?
So Jeff taunted me, jealous of any man so much as glanced at me, paying me back by flirting with other women and inviting them to our house. And then later when we broke into the inevitable fight his mustache would curl around his lips, and he’d stare at me, and peer into my soul with those devil-green eyes and say, “I’m the best you’re ever going to have” and somehow I believed him. After all, my own father had rejected me—I couldn’t let the one man who was willing to be with me abandon me, too.
I hung on year after year until I noticed the taunts were getting more serious. And now he had gone too far. He had behaved despicably in front of my half-sister—the one person I wanted to think well of me. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t been drawn into his web, making it worse until that night, after I left The Blue Diamond Saloon and found that message on his laptop.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been spurned forward to race down to The Blue Diamond Saloon to confront them—confront him, for I knew he had set it up—that he had lured her into being on his side. After all, weren’t they both jealous of me—resented me? Gabrielle, when she discovered she wasn’t her darling daddy’s only daughter, and Jeff, well, Jeff, because he couldn’t own me.
But when I got there, all mad as hell, ready to cause a scene, the doorman was off-duty. I had no problem entering the place. I was armed with the ammo of my fury, but when I glanced around the room, nothing untoward was occurring anywhere. People were milling around, playing slot machines, eating, drinking. And then my eyes located Jeff and Gabrielle playing a quiet game of video poker, laughing, but looking bored. Maybe their fun had been putting on a show for me. They both glanced up and smiled innocently at me when I stood in front of them, energized by the expression on my face, as if asking for a confrontation.
And that made me even more furious. Gabrielle, I dismissed. But Jeff, oh, Jeff had it coming. I lifted my right hand, pulled back, and with all the fury of the past five cruel, miserable years, I slapped him. I slapped him hard. I slapped him so hard, blood trickled down from his lip—those full luscious lips he took such pride in. He stood up, angry, and slapped me back, “You bitch. You made my lip bleed. You’ll have to pay for that.”
But I’d had enough. I turned around and ran. I ran so fast, not stopping to see if anybody was following me. I ran back to the house, while calling a cab from my cell phone. I threw together a few of my most important items, like my red purse, but it didn’t take long because the only item of importance was me. And five minutes later when the cab arrived, I jumped in, and told the driver to take me to the airport.
“Lady, are you all right?” he asked, dodging the dozen or so Harleys that rumbled past the house. Too bad I didn’t have my own Harley so I might disappear into the desert.
“I am now,” I said as I met the cabbie’s eyes in the rearview mirror as he peeled out, sensing my distress and urgency, as I left my past behind in the dust.
I took the first flight to San Francisco where I had lived before I met Jeff, where I hoped I still had friends. I charged the plane fare to my Visa, although I knew Jeff would be able to trace the charge and know where I had gone. But I wouldn’t worry about that now. It was important to get myself as far away from Vegas, as far away from Jeff, as far away from my past as I could.
I was burned by my past, yet hopeful that I could build a Disney World kind of life for myself. I closed that dark, dreary, scary door, and I made a vow to never open it again. And when humpty dumpty fell off that great wall, you might not ever rebuild humpty dumpty ever again. But from now on, people would see a strong, confident, happy, positive-thinking woman.
What I didn’t know was that as soon as you make a vow, the world will do everything in its power to tempt you into breaking it.