By Jonathan B. Ferrini
Imagine finding a diamond embedded in the ground. You pull it from the earth and although the diamond glistens, you’re repulsed by the insects scurrying around under it. Like the insects, the hotel, restaurant, and tourism workers toil unnoticed and unappreciated under the glistening neon lights of Las Vegas.
My father was the only child of Italian immigrants who traded the Chicago winters for the heat of the Vegas desert fifty years ago. He found work as a busboy at a swank “old school” steak house adorned with red leather booths, dim lighting, and a thousand broken promises, hustles, and marriage proposals embedded within the dark mahogany walls. He rose to Maître’d and made a good living by knowing his global clientele by name. Pop married my mother who was a Vegas show girl. The grueling show schedules wreaked havoc on her voluptuous body and she sought relief from prescription painkillers which addicted her. It wasn’t long before mom lost her good looks and sexy figure but found work as a hotel concierge to “high rollers”. She was fond of taking her opiates with a chaser of gin and she died in bed suffocating on her own vomit. Pop loved thoroughbred horse racing and spent his free time placing bets on horses at tracks throughout the nation at his favorite casino sports book. When I asked him why he kept betting after losing so much money, his answer was that he liked “the action”.
Vegas is a town of transients seeking “do-over’s and make over’s”. My name is Ronnie Ricci. I’m a rarity in Vegas because I was born and raised here. My parents worked hard to provide their one child with an upper middle class upbringing but they were only able to rent the American dream living paycheck to paycheck. We lived in a spacious home fronting the seventh hole on a private golf club where I found work as a caddy earning generous tips. In my spare time, I practiced golf and became good enough to earn a golf scholarship to an Arizona college. I spent more time on the golf course than in the classroom making money hustling players but was blackballed by the clubs when the players complained. Like Pop, I craved the “action” of hustling golf. I barely managed to graduate in five years with a degree in Business Administration and returned home to Vegas.
My reputation as a golf hustler preceded me so I wasn’t able to find work as a golf instructor or even a caddy in Vegas. I found work as a valet parking attendant working late into the evening and early morning sleeping all day. Valet parking is a grind but it keeps you in good physicalshape because of all the running involved in fetching cars for the guests. The fastest valets made the most money because they could return to the valet’s queue quickly, park more cars, and earn the most tips. Valet parking was a job but I yearned for a professional career.
My college grades were mediocre and I struggled to find a graduate or professional school which would accept me. The streets of Vegas are lined with billboards advertising “slip and fall” attorneys who make big money representing hotel, casino and restaurant employees seeking worker compensation claims from their employers. I’d meet these big shot attorneys parking their exotic cars and was impressed by their bespoke suits and Italian loafers. One evening a black Ferrari approached the valet stand. I opened the passenger door for a beautiful blond woman who was inebriated and vomited on me. I handled the situation with calm and focused upon safely placing the woman on a nearby bench and fetching her a towel and bottle of water. The male driver was embarrassed and so grateful for my kindness, he handed me a $100 tip. After changing clothes, I returned to the valet queue and parked cars late into the night. Hours later, the owner of the Ferrari returned to the valet stand and although another valet was in queue ahead of me, the man motioned for me to retrieve his car. I quickly returned with the Ferrari which was a thrill to drive. I recognized him from one of the billboard advertisements and I said you’re the lawyer on the billboard as I opened the door for his girlfriend. I told him that I just graduated from college but my grades weren’t good enough for law school and asked for his advice. The lawyer said “it’s not about the reputation of the law school you attend. Pass the bar exam and you’re a member of the club!” He revved the engine of his Ferrari, rolled down his window and said “learn to pass the bar!” He sped off onto the strip.
It was easy to find a non-accredited law school which was eager to take my tuition money and convince me that I would be one of the lucky 40% of the graduating class that would pass the Nevada Bar exam. I graduated, received my law degree but failed to pass the Nevada Bar exam after three attempts. My father was proud of my graduation from law school and was happy to have me living with him at home while I studied for the bar and parked cars. It was a Saturday night on Labor Day weekend and the valet stand was SRO. I was so busy I couldn’t stop to relieve myself and making tip money hand over fist. Upon returning to the valet stand to deliver a sleek new Maserati to a high roller, I felt a tap on my shoulder from the Valet Parking Manager who told me to head for the Emergency Room at University Hospital because my father suffered a heart attack.
I arrived at the Cardiac ICU just in time to see my lifeless father wheeled from the treatment room. Electrodes and IV tubes dangled from the gurney and the green flat line of the cardiac monitor reminded me of a dying Vegas neon sign. I missed my mom but Pop’s passing hit me hard. He was an advocate of the “work hard and get ahead” mentality never missing a day of work. It was ironic that Pop worked for 30 years at the steakhouse and I didn’t even receive a card of condolence from the restaurant. He left me nothing except a mortgage and several thousand dollars in the bank. I was told that dinner reservations at the steak house fell off 30% after his passing.
Pop wanted to be cremated and I made the arrangements to be with him throughout the two hour cremation. He was in a cardboard casket and I kissed his cold forehead. He had a frozen grin as if relieved to be released from the world. I watched the attendant carefully slide the cardboard casket into the furnace and close the door. I was told to come back in two hours. I watched the heat vapors waffle up from the crematorium smokestack and towards heaven hoping that Pop was on his way to a reunion with mom. I contemplated my father’s 30 years of devoted service to one employer. It struck me how unfair it was that he had nothing to show for his work. I vowed to pass the bar exam and become a big shot Vegas lawyer. I returned to the crematorium in time to see my father’s charred bones carefully brushed from the furnace into a metal container. The contents of the container were poured into a cylinder which pulverized the bones into a fine powder and placed into a cardboard box with Pops name on it. I knew Pop wanted his ashes scattered at sea but insisted on doing it myself. I placed his remains on my nightstand as both a loving memory and inspiration. It was my goal to drive down Pacific Coast Highway in my own Ferrari one day with Pops remains in the passenger seat. I’d open a bottle of cognac and toast him before scattering his ashes into the Pacific Ocean.
As I left the crematory and entered the office to settle the bill, the Funeral Director pointed to an elaborate wreath on a stand reading “In Loving Memory” and said “this just arrived for you, Mr. Ricci”. There was a card with an embossed “SH” on the envelope which I opened. A handwritten note said:
“I was a friend of your father for 30 years. He loved you and spoke often about his son the golf pro and future lawyer. He will be missed by Vegas.
Regards, Sy Hersh”
Sy’s business card was included reading “Sy Hersh. President. Zion Taxi Cooperative”. On the back of the card he wrote “I have a proposition for you. Please contact me at your convenience.”
The taxi cab industry in Vegas is a big business and I knew the President of Zion Taxi Cooperative was a powerful man with influential contacts at all the casinos and government. I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage payments on my valet salary and tips and wouldn’t allow Pop’s dream home to fall into foreclosure. Sy’s proposition was timely. I dialed Sy’s number and the secretary made an appointment for me to meet Mr. Hersh.
Just a couple of blocks east of the glitzy Vegas strip is mangy Las Vegas. The streets are lined with tattoo parlors, auto body shops, pawn shops, gun shops, and massage parlors. Homeless people roam about. This neighborhood was also the headquarters of the Zion Taxi Cab Cooperative. I approached a large yard smelling of gasoline and radiator fluid. It was full of hundreds of taxi cabs. The property was fenced with high razor wire and warning signs to “Keep Out. Guard Dogs on Duty”. I parked on the street and walked in. Ahead of me was a two story windowless building which resembled a bunker. Atop the building was a flag pole proudly flying both the American and Israeli flags. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that I was being tracked by a tall, muscular and menacing Black man. The yard was teeming with activity and resembled the UN General Assembly sans the suits and ties. There were drivers mulling about smoking and speaking every language on face of the earth. Mechanics were busy repairing taxis, and impatient drivers waited in line to check in or check out a taxi. As I reached the front door, I awoke a sleeping pit bull who growled. I entered a hot dingy office cordoned off with a counter. An old ceiling fan turned slowly and squeaked accompanied by a radio with a broken speaker sputtering big band music. All the office furniture was old and beat up. An elderly lady with a bad wig and cigarette dangling out of the corner of her mouth was using the two finger method of typing on a vintage manual typewriter with carbon paper. On the wall behind her were framed photos of Theodore Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir. I heard phones ringing and a taxi dispatcher in another room shouting into a two way radio. She didn’t notice I had entered until I tapped the bell on the counter. She rose and approached me saying, “You must be Mr. Ricci. Mr. Hersh is expecting you”. She reached for the handset of a black rotary dial telephone and said “Mr. Hersh, your appointment is here sir”. She hung up the phone, pushed a buzzer, and the door in the counter opened. Her accent was native New Yorker and asked “would you like a coffee”? I spotted the jar of freeze dried coffee and a dirty coffee pot and politely declined. The woman returned to the typewriter saying “Mr. Hersh is in the office at the end of the hall. Knock before entering”. I approached a door reading “Sy Hersh, President”. I heard what must have been a heated meeting in an adjoining conference room. I knocked on the door and a voice inside the office shouted, “Enter”!
The room was filled with cigarette smoke and made it uncomfortable for me to breathe. Sy was an imposing man in his seventies, balding, overweight, and juggling a phone in each hand. His conversations were interrupted by a chronic smoker’s cough. Sy’s hands were large like bear paws and the hands of a man who worked hard for living. His old desk was stacked with paper, two phones and table lamp. There was no computer. He pointed to a wooden chair in front of his desk and motioned for me to sit. I could judge from the phone conversations Sy had a firm grip on his company’s finances and an amazing facility for computing numbers accurately within his head without the aid of a calculator. I recognized fine clothing working as a valet and concluded
Sy’s double breasted gray suit was Armani worn over a black t shirt. As Sy was finishing his calls, I scanned the walls of his office which were adorned with framed photos of Sy as a young Israeli soldier, his father and mother, and Sy with all of the casino moguls.
Sy hung up the phone, immediately grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the desk drawer, reached into his Armani suit for a gold cigarette lighter, lit a cigarette and took a long deep drag while reaching to shake my hand with a vice like grip. Sy was not the type of man I wanted to be on the other side of a bargaining table with or in a fist fight. Sy stared deep into my eyes like a shark about to devour its prey and said sympathetically, “I’m sorry for your loss, kid. They’re not making fellas like your father anymore”. I replied, thank you Mr. Hersh to which he replied, “call me Sy, Ronnie. Your father told me about your legal training and your golf hustle and these are the talents I need, Ronnie. Those calls I was taking were with my accountant and investment advisor. My insurance premiums are eating me alive. The taxi business is plagued with bogus insurance claims by shyster sharks representing passengers and taxi drivers seeking a quick buck.
I need a settlement man”. I asked what he meant by “settlement man”. “I understand you’ve taken the Nevada bar exam three times which makes you as good as any shyster in Vegas. You’re also a single guy who wants to get out of the valet gig, correct?” That’s correct, Sy, I replied. “I’ll hire you to respond to any accident involving one of my cabs and your job will be to obtain an unconditional release from the passengers and the driver”. Why would they want to sign a release I asked? Sy rose from behind his desk, and I could see that he was wearing Gucci loafers without socks. Sy opened a nearby closet door revealing a walk in safe. He retrieved a silver metal briefcase and laid it on his desk. He dialed the four digit combination, opened the case which was filled to the brim with stacks of $100 bills. “They’ll sign because you’ll pay them cash on the spot to do so. It’s a 24/7 job and you’ll live in the studio apartment upstairs rent free. Some days you’ll have no work and other days you work around the clock. This taxi yard is strategically positioned within the center of Vegas and less than a 10 minute drive to any accident in the City. Your pay is $500 per day cash and we can talk about a bonus later. Are you in or out?” Sy stared at me expecting a quick answer and I knew that any hesitation would end the meeting immediately and I’d be back parking cars that evening. I thought about Pop’s house facing what he fondly referred to as the lucky “seventh” hole and knew that I could rent it out since I’d be staying upstairs in the studio rent free and Sy’s pay would cover the taxes and insurance. I rose, extended my hand and said, I accept, Sy. “Splendid”, he replied closing the briefcase. “Follow me. I want to introduce you to my gang.”
The term “guzzled” is used within the taxi industry to describe a radio call assigned to a driver who speeds to the pickup destination only to find another taxi intercepted the radio dispatch, arrived earlier, and stole the fare. To be “guzzled” is to be hustled. My meeting with Sy Hersh and the “gang” would change my life forever!
I followed Sy down the hall and into a conference room. The menacing Black man was there along with a uniformed police Captain, and a sixty something guy dressed in a wrinkled drip and dry suit with wide seventies style lapels. Sy introduced Jonny Sample who was a Captain with the police department and headed up the traffic division which was responsible for all accident investigations within the City. Jonny reported directly to the Chief of Police and was a powerful man within the department. I was struck by his movie star good looks. Jonny was fifty something, tall, athletic, had a thick mane of sandy blond hair, deep blue eyes and a savoir faire uncommon with cops. I’d come to learn that he was a child television star which accounted for his charm and disarming personality. Sy next introduced me to Steward “Stuey” Standard who was Sy’s insurance salesman wearing the bad suit. Stuey extended his sweaty palm to shake my hand which included his business card reading “Standard Independent Insurance Agency” and said “happy to know you, call me Hush”. Stuey was in his sixties but looked ten years older because of the blush on his cheeks and bloated stomach associated with alcoholism. He had the faint smell of booze on his breath. Sy turned to an old frail man with his silver hair parted down the middle wearing a white Physician’s coat and “Doc” Rigger managed a subtle wave to the group. Doc was a former Chief Medical Examiner of a major city but gambling led to a career downfall and second chance by moving to Vegas where he found work as the doctor at the State Prison. Sy helped him obtain a clinical professorship at the local medical school which needed a doctor expert in “evasive” toxicology techniques who would prescribe drug enhancements to the school’s athletes. We called Doc the “Obituary Oracle” because he was able to predict to the day any ailing celebrity he was tracking would die. Doc had contacts throughout Hollywood and the ME’s offices which he parlayed into considerable earnings by placing wagers on the date of death of celebrities and received payola from TV and print tabloids for inside information. The last man Sy introduced was the menacing Black man who sat silent and motionless. His name was Nassir and Sy said he would be “my trainer”. Sy proclaimed “this is my team, Ronnie. Jonny’s traffic cops write the accident reports favorable to Zion as does Doc. Stuey schmooze’s the insurance carriers when we’re hit with claims. Nassir is my right hand man and bone crusher.”
Nassir was 6’4”, 250# of lean chiseled muscle. He kept his head shaved and wore one ruby crucifix earring. Sy called him “Black Mr. Clean” after the household cleaning product cartoon spokesman. Sy was the only one who dared call Nassir by anything than his birth name. When asked why he chose a Ruby earring as opposed to gold or silver, he muttered “it reminds me of the blood I’ve spilled and will spill from me when the Lord calls”. Nassir washed out of the NFL, couldn’t catch a break as a heavyweight boxer, and failed as a thief when he and his gang held up a drug dealer who was killed in the melee. Nassir wasn’t the trigger man but was charged with Murder One under the Felony Murder Rule which holds all those committing a felony resulting in death culpable for murder. Nassir spent one year in County jail awaiting his trial which resulted in an 11-1 hung jury. Nassir caught a break, found religion, and like so many others seeking a new start, moved to Vegas. He turned his life around starting as a bouncer at strip clubs and eventually finding a coveted undercover security job at one of the classiest casinos in Vegas frequented by Sy. The two have been friends, employer and employee ever since. Sy always supports the underdog. I’m living proof!
My first week on the job was grueling. I lived in the second floor efficiency apartment and was on call 24/7. Some days I would have no calls and others required working around the clock. Nassir was assigned to teach me the ropes but Nassir’s teaching style was to “throw me to the wolves” so I would learn “the hard way”. We arrived at accident scenes in a former Vegas police undercover car with spot lights mounted at the windshield and the two way radio antennas still attached. This created the aura of authority and give Zion negotiating leverage. Nassir told me that alcohol was our best friend because it always seemed to prevent severe injuries regardless of how serious the damage to the vehicles. It was difficult adjusting to raging taxi drivers yelling in their native tongue along with incensed drunken tourists whose only injuries were bruised egos and feigned injuries. The cash payout would take care of what we called the “jostle jerks” who often settled for under $500 cash. The hardest cases to settle were those passengers bloodied and bruised. In these instances, our protocol was to call Jonny Sample who monitored the police,
Paramedic, and Fire radio frequencies. Jonny’s squad of loyal traffic cops were always first to arrive and began taking statements and writing reports favorable to Zion. Jonny would soon arrive on his shiny police motorcycle dressed in full leather and knee high boots. Once Jonny removed his helmet revealing his movie star good looks, women and even men became putty in his hand. Jonny used his acting skills when he told the accident victims that the report he was writing wasn’t favorable to their case and “if the taxi company was offering a cash settlement, he would take it in a second”! Jonny was a pro and these payouts seldom exceeded $1,000 per accident. Jonny could write a report showing Jesus Christ was at fault for an accident!
Nassir was Sy’s driver, general assistant and bodyguard. I found it ironic that the owner of a transportation company didn’t drive a beautiful car. I guess it was the New Yorker in Sy who was accustomed to grabbing a cab. Sy was tight with a dollar. Complaints amongst the drivers about the cabs being repaired with rubber bands and chewing gum abounded. One evening over beers, Nassir had one too many and revealed some of Sy’s background. Sy was a young man breaking into the schmatta trade pushing clothing racks up and down Seventh Avenue in New York in the 1960’s. His family perished in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. In the spring of 1967, tensions between Israel and Egypt were at a breaking point. Sy was determined to honor his lost family so he quit his job and enlisted in the Israeli Army. He rose to the rank of tank commander and stayed to fight in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He left the Army as a decorated officer and returned to the United States stopping in Vegas for a vacation. Sy never left and built a thriving taxi and limousine business. Nassir told me Sy never married but had his choice of many beautiful women in Vegas. He lived in the penthouse suite of a swanky casino and preferred the perks of 24/7 room and maid service. Nassir pointed out that Sy never seemed to sleep often calling Nassir at any hour of the night for this or that. I asked why Sy chose to live alone in a hotel room with little rest to which Nassir replied, “we all have ghosts which keep us up. Sy has more ghosts than most so he prefers to live where people are only a phone call or elevator ride away to the lobby”. Nassir told me Stuey started in the mailroom of a large insurance company and rose through the executive ranks. He was fired at a senior executive position due to boozing and womanizing with his secretaries. He moved to Vegas and started an independent insurance agency with Sy becoming one of his first and largest clients accounting for half a million dollars a year in commissions to “Hush”. Sy used Stuey’s knowledge and inside contacts within the insurance industry to negotiate claims and keep premiums down. Jonny was a washed up child star who gravitated towards police work . His charm and good looks advanced him through the ranks of a large California police department where he retired and was recruited by our police department to run the Traffic Division when Sy let the police chief know he was looking for a sympathetic traffic cop to investigate collisions with his cabs. Sy was generous to his “gang” and they were loyal to Sy.
Mai Tang was one of the most ambitious and shrewdest business people I ever met. I was six months into the job and no longer needed to be on Nassir’s training leash. Anything I couldn’t settle at the accident scene was quickly disposed of by Jonny, Doc, and Hush. Sy’s insurance claims had dropped by two thirds and his insurance premiums were decreasing. The “gang” at the Zion Taxi Cooperative was operating like a “well oiled machine”. The silver metal briefcase was still two thirds full of cash which made Sy aware that I was good at settling which made him happy but his cough grew more aggravated with each week and he was coughing phlegm with traces of blood into a Kleenex. I surmised his weight loss and coughing were attributable to lung cancer. I knew he was dying.
One evening I was alerted to an accident between one of our taxis and a van. I arrived within eight minutes to find that our taxi had “T-boned” a van outside McCarran Airport. Our driver was without a fare but the van was full of 11 beautiful young Asian women. I knew they had just arrived on an international flight and the tour bus was marked with red Chinese language characters and the only word in English was “Tours”. Our driver sat on the curb silently as he was hounded by a forty something Asian woman yelling in broken English. The jet lagged girls sat silently in the van. Some covered their faces and others had a homesick frightened look.
I approached the shouting Asian woman and introduced myself as the “accident investigator” for
Zion and suggested that since nobody appeared injured, we settle the matter quickly at the scene. I had grown accustomed to accident victim theatrics and knew Mai was puffing the injuries to her and passengers while threatening to call 911. I assessed the settlement at $200 per passenger but Mai would have nothing to do with it. She demanded $5,000 or would call 911. I handed her
Jonny’s business card showing his status as Captain of the Traffic Division offering to call him to the scene. I told her that it was Jonny’s practice to summon immigration officials to his accident investigations involving foreigners. Her tone softened immediately and she turned to speak with her beautiful young passengers in Mandarin. She returned and agreed to accept the $2,400 repeating “no want problem.” It took me less than 15 minutes to secure the dozen signatures as well as the signature of our driver. As I placed the 24th $100 bill into Mai’s hands she said “you very clever businessman. Call me. I buy you dinner” and handed me a card reading:
Slippery Sadie’s Massage
Mai climbed into the driver’s seat and drove away. Slippery Sadie’s Massage parlors were located throughout Vegas and were known to offer sexual favors for the right price. I waited a week and phoned Mai. We agreed to meet at a low key Chinese restaurant off the strip serving authentic Szechuan cuisine. The restaurant was packed with ethnic Chinese which told me the food was good. I was taken to a secluded table near the kitchen where Mai sat tending to a stack of paperwork while drinking tea. She greeted me and motioned for me to sit and then ordered my dinner in Mandarin with the waiter. Mai said “don’t worry. You like what I order”. Mai was a multitasker. Three smart phones were placed on the table in front of her and two rang throughout dinner. She used one phone to speak with English speaking customers and the second phone to bark orders in Mandarin to her “therapists”. The third phone never rang and I surmised it served a special purpose. Mai was curious about Zion and my role and I divulged as little as possible and took the opportunity to ask her about Slippery Sadie’s. Mai was surprisingly frank. She had immigrated to the US on a fabricated visa twenty years earlier landing a job as a masseuse. She amassed enough savings to purchase her first massage parlor. She was able to expand her business by cultivating relationships with “regulars” who were businessmen willing to invest in new stores for both the high return on investment and “perks” with Mai’s girls. Mai didn’t like partners and always paid them off earlier than agreed. Mai operated a sham American-Chinese tourist agency out of a post office box which arranged for young beautiful Asian girls to “visit”
Vegas on a tourist visa and go to work in her massage parlors. All of the travel costs were paid by Mai. When the tourist visa was about to expire, Mai would enroll the girls in the local community college “English studies” program and applied for student visas. Her system seemed to be working and seldom resulted in any immigration complications. Slippery Sadie’s were opening at a rate of one per month attracting customers with billboards advertisements throughout Vegas depicting young Asian beauties wearing cowboy hats, chaps, holsters, and cowboy boots. Mai was overwhelmed by the lease negotiations and landlord tenant disputes because her English wasn’t good and didn’t understand the law. She asked me to review a new lease she was negotiating and it didn’t take me long to find the lease was written in favor of the landlord. I suggested she include free rent, tenant improvement allowance, and massage exclusivity clause in her negotiations. Mai was impressed and handed me the file saying “you handle for me” and continued taking calls throughout dinner. I found Mai attractive. She was small in stature but tall in moxy. She had an uncharacteristic large bust line for an Asian woman and her figure was shapely. Her hair was long and braided into a ponytail. Her small hands were delicate and adorned with Jade.
I prepared a counter proposal on Mai’s letterhead to her landlord who capitulated to all of my demands and I was invited to Mai’s palatial home in an exclusive gated neighborhood outside Vegas. She was wearing a sexy low cut black dress and smelled of Chanel. We enjoyed champagne and caviar poolside. The champagne lowered my defenses throughout the night as Mai probed about my police and insurance contacts. After dinner, Mai summoned her Chinese servants to bring cognac to the warm bubbling spa nearby. Mai removed all her clothing and entered the spa inviting me to join her. She drew close to me and with the expert touch of a masseuse and gentle kiss, invited me to penetrate her. The servants returned with plush bathrobes and we retreated to the master bedroom for a rain shower in her lavish bathroom followed by pillow talk draped in red silk sheets. Mai was quick to the point and proposed a business proposition. She wanted me to handle all of her landlord and tenant negotiations as well as any immigration issues. I told her I wasn’t an attorney but knew my way around the law because I was studying for the bar. Mai also wanted the benefit of my contacts within the police department as raids on her massage parlors were infrequent but costly. Mai proposed that we could make big money from insurance settlements if I helped her stage accidents with Zion. She would supply the injured victims from her pool of massage therapists and immigrant community contacts and give me kickbacks from the settlement money. In the back of my mind, I knew Sy was dying and pondered my job security. I told her I would think about it but to propose a compensation package if I was to represent her business interests. She wasted no time in offering me 25% equity in all of her new establishments I helped open. I accepted and said I would draft a partnership agreement and LLC on each new store opened. I knew the equity was only a carrot and Mai wanted the big money from the insurance payout scam. I soon discovered that the third phone Mai owned was reserved for communication between the two of us. She would call me day and night and I knew what Nassir felt like being at Sy’s beck and call.
I laid awake evenings thinking about scamming Zion and I couldn’t bring myself to harm Sy who had become a father figure to me and then it dawned on me. Although Zion was the largest taxi operator in Vegas, “gypsy cabs” refusing to join the Zion cooperative, ride share companies, and Limousines cut into Sy’s market share. It would be a smarter “bet” to target these operators and leave Zion out of it. To make it work, I would need the help of Hush, Jonny, and Doc. I would also need to disclose it to Sy who would likely want no part of it.
Nassir called me in the middle of the night and told me Sy had been rushed to the emergency room and was having trouble breathing. He was requesting to see me immediately. Sy was in a private room. He was ashen gray and hooked up to an oxygen tank. His arm uncontrollably trembled as he reached for my hand and held it with that bear like grip but it was weaker than I recall. He removed the breathing mask and told me that he respected me because I had the hustle and the street smarts he had as a young man. He appreciated my drive and desire to learn his business at the expense of my bar exam studies which he told me to pursue because I would be one of the great shysters of Vegas one day. He made me a generous proposition making me Chief Executive Officer of Zion with a 75% equity stake. The remaining 25% would go to Jewish and Israeli philanthropies dear to Sy’s heart that I would oversee. He had a contract ready for me to sign as he pressed the button to summon a nurse who arrived with a notary. He gave me that same shark like stare the day he offered me the job: “are you in or are you out”. I said, I’m all in Sy. The contract would take effect immediately. Sy told me that he had less than a few days to live. When the notary finished her work and we had both signed, Sy told me to convene a meeting of the “gang” who would receive a copy of the agreement and I was now their boss and business as usual. This was the opportunity I needed to establish a staged automobile accident insurance hustle which would increase Zion’s market share at the expense of the competition and enrich the members of the new LLC which would include me, the members of the “gang” and Mai. It would be called “Accident Injury Legal Consultants, LLC”. Sy died that morning and his body was flown by private jet for burial in Jerusalem. The flags at Zion headquarters were flown at half staff.
I knew the bar exam was coming up fast but I was so busy doing settlements for Sy and working as Mai’s business manager I didn’t have time to study. I contemplated giving up the law with my new found equity in Zion and Slippery Sadie’s. I didn’t need to be a lawyer but I remembered how proud my passing the bar would make Pop and Sy. I went ahead and registered for the Bar exam which would be my fourth and final attempt at passing. In representing Sy and Mai’s business interests, the legal principles of torts, property, and contract law had become real to me. They were no longer abstract text book concepts because I lived and breathed them every day. When I sat for the exam and began reading the case studies loaded with contracts, property, and torts principles which were easy to miss to an untrained eye, I found each of them to be exceptionally obvious. Not only did I see the legal issue at hand, I had well reasoned answers to each question and was the first to complete the exam as I looked about the convention center where hundreds sat for the exam.
About a month later, an envelope from the State Bar Examiners arrived in the mail notifying me that I passed the exam and was in the upper 95% percentile of examinees. For the first time in my young adult life, I broke down in tears for my father as I held his box of ashes close to my heart and told him Pop we’ll be taking that ride down Pacific Coast Highway soon! After taking my oath at the State Building and receiving my State of Nevada Bar License, I set up Accident Injury Legal Consultants, LLC as a law firm which quickly flourished. Mai staged accidents between Chinese tourists and the livery, ride share, and gypsy cab companies. The ride share drivers were the easiest to settle because they were frightened about the damage to their personal vehicle, liability to their passengers and doubts about the insurance coverage from the rideshare company. The passengers were also easy marks because they knew they were in a private passenger vehicle with minimal insurance coverage and I made it clear the rideshare company would be difficult to sue. I could settle these for $500-$1000. The hard case gypsy cabs and limos capitulated when Jonny or one of his traffic cops arrived on scene and began finding vehicle code violations, outstanding immigration or arrest warrants on the drivers and presented them with an unfavorable accident report. Doc’s medical reports and Hush’s behind the scenes negotiations with the insurance adjustors always favored our case. Word spread amongst Zion’s competitors that “AILC” was the “go to” law firm for accidents and retained our firm to also settle their cases! As I grew to know the ownership of these competing companies, I was able to negotiate their purchase for Zion increasing our market share and becoming a virtual monopoly within the Vegas taxi cab business. AILC became the dominant auto accident legal firm in Vegas and I became enriched by my equity in Zion, AILC and Slippery Sadie’s. I never needed a billboard to attract clients!
It was a five hour drive from Vegas to beautiful Del Mar California which is home to one of
Pop’s favorite horse racing tracks. Pop and I enjoyed every minute of the long drive in my new red Ferrari with Sinatra playing. The sun set behind the blue Pacific Ocean with a blue sky painted with wisps of orange and yellow clouds. I reflected upon my father’s journey through life as well as my own. In one hand, I held a bottle of cognac and in the other; I held the box with Pop’s remains. I opened the lid to the box and as a wave crashed into me just above my knees, I sprinkled Pop’s ashes into the warm blue surf and he was gone forever but would always be my inspiration. I took a swig of the cognac and toasted my beloved father saying I love you Pop and will never forget you. I also toasted our best friend Sy Hersh. They don’t make fellas like those anymore!
Between my investments in AILC, the Zion Taxi Cooperative, and Slippery Sadie’s, my reputation as a cunning business lawyer spread throughout Las Vegas and I took on clients ranging from Casino moguls to real estate developers. I was a featured speaker at State Bar conventions. My legal achievements, native son citizenship and youth made me an attractive candidate for political office and was courted to run for office.
Every once in awhile, one of the insects crawls out from underneath the diamond and takes it with them.
About the Author:
Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who lives in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA.