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Nash, hot on the trail of a missing woman's near-perfect imposter, discovers a horrific secret laying underneath a popular casino.

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Chapter 1

Damn! I thought. Could she be any hotter?

Shaking my head to focus on the task at hand, I dismissed the thoughts of the beautiful Blackjack dealer’s low cut outfit and instead concentrated on the cards in my hands. Quickly calculating the odds, I signaled I didn’t want any more cards and I didn’t want to split or double down on the two tens I held. The dealer dealt herself a final card before flipping them over for everyone to see.

“Twenty-One.” The woman announced, immediately collecting everyone’s bets from around the table.

The dealer’s hand showed twenty-one. Mine, twenty. The other players at my table all groaned in defeat.

The house always wins. I thought.

Tipping the dealer and receiving a wink in return, I gathered my few remaining chips and surrendered my seat at the table to another gambler.

Now where can I lose the rest of my money?

Glancing around the casino, undoubtedly the primary source of revenue for this Native American owned gambling establishment, I recalled the games of chance I’d already played and which ones I enjoyed and which ones I didn’t. I knew the longer I gambled, the more the odds were stacked against me. I figured with the odds stacked against me, I might as well choose a game of chance I enjoyed.

I’m not here to make money anyways.

Walking around the mid-sized, ant-themed casino and checking out the ongoing table games, each of them packed with players, I decided on the all-you-can-eat buffet instead.

Even on a stakeout, I can still eat well. I thought, smiling at the chance to take a few minutes to relax and eat.

As I cashed in my chips, the friendly casino worker also handed me a book of matches with the casino’s logo on it. Everyone who cashed in their chips received one and I thought it funny as these thin books of matches are a rare find nowadays.

Before making my way over to the buffet, my mind on crab legs but my eyes on my surroundings, I pondered the ant picture on the matchbook and the casino’s ant-themed décor. I recalled the large sign at the entrance to the casino outlined the native-American folklore concerning “ant brothers” who lived underground before the arrival of mankind on the Earth and why the local tribe had chosen that particular story to design their casino after.

As the smells from the buffet reached my nose, I glanced toward the entrance where the sign explaining the ant motif lay and noticed her arrival.

At last!

Through the elegantly designed glass entry doors, I spied my target gracefully stepping out of her luxury sports car illegally parked directly in front of the casino in a handicapped slot. The exotic, blond-haired woman I’d spent the last three weeks passing the time gambling, surveilling and waiting for in this western casino, surrounded by dusty desert for, had finally arrived.

The double.

I don’t know how they did it or who they actually were, but the woman entering the casino wasn’t the person she pretended to be. That is, it wasn’t her. I couldn’t go to the authorities on the imposter, because when I say what I knew out loud, it certainly doesn’t make sense and I generally disliked sounding like a madman. I wanted to find out three things.

One, where the woman I’d been hired to find actually is or what happened to her. Two, the identity of the imposter walking into the casino, and three, how they’d made such a near-flawless copy of the missing woman. An almost perfect double.

If I found out who “they” were, all the better.

This whole mysterious affair began months earlier, when I’d been contracted on an interesting missing person’s case. Although not a licensed private investigator, I’d been recommended as someone who gets the job done and someone who is used to dealing with “extra-normal” situations similar to this. Some might even say, “paranormal”. With no other job prospects on the horizon, combined with a huge retainer, I took the case.

Plus, the whole thing intrigued me.

May Rogerson, a married schoolteacher, visited this exact casino and although she’d never gambled before in her life, won several million dollars in a single night, a feat almost unheard of, before returning to her modest home. Immediately upon her return, her husband noticed distinct changes in her demeanor and especially so when she divorced him within the month.

Mister Rogerson had initially gone to the police with stories about how his wife wasn’t really his wife. Fingerprints and DNA tests confirmed his wife was indeed his wife, but Mister Rogerson still wasn’t convinced. The lawyers and the authorities chalked it up to her winning the large sum of money and then changing her attitude about life. She wasn’t the first married person to strike it rich and split on their spouse after all.

Everything about May Rogerson appeared exactly the same from the day before she became a millionaire to the day after except her attitude and mannerisms. After the divorce, and when Mister Rogerson hired me, he disclosed one change he’d noticed in his wife he hadn’t shared with anyone else. The reason he knew the woman couldn’t be his wife.

Her tattoo had vanished.

Mister Rogerson swore when his wife left for the casino, May Rogerson had a small, heart-shaped tattoo in a location no one could see, even if she wore a bathing suit, and one no one knew about the tattoo except her husband. Upon her return from the casino, apart from her debts, money problems and previous mannerisms disappearing, so had her tattoo.

Hence, the request for me to take the case.

It didn’t take much digging to uncover similar stories concerning this same casino and people who had won big. The rumors claimed regular people, the only common denominator I could determine being all of them appeared young and attractive, would strike it rich extremely quickly, immediately divorce their spouse and live a completely new life.

Naturally, the stories of overnight millionaires did wonders for the casino’s business as everyone wanted to strike it rich.

I’d knew May Rogerson still had limited contact with her husband, so I lied and told him a few days ago how I had discovered what happened to his wife and I discovered the true name of the imposter who replaced his wife. Of course, I had no idea, but, as I hoped, word of my discovery had reached May though her husband, and now she had returned to the casino which had changed her life.

Or, as I referred to it, “the scene of the crime”.

Following the well-dressed, female millionaire through the casino as she walked directly towards a door at the rear of the casino marked AUTHORIZED PERSONS ONLY, I watched as she pushed a four-digit code into the keypad on the side of the door. The door clicked and she went inside. After waiting a few seconds, I went to the door and entered the same code as her, thankful she hadn’t blocked the keypad with her body to prevent me from seeing the code. The door clicked, I pushed it open and followed May Rogerson’s imposter into the unknown.

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