On a night that would change the course of his life forever, Zach Slater faces the demons that have chased him for two decades...
May 19, 2004
He walked into the deserted bar -- a darkly handsome man with a stern expression, exuding confidence as he spoke with the bartender. The cut of his impeccably tailored suit bespoke a man of means, and after a brief conversation he turned away carrying a bottle of premium label scotch and a single glass. He seated himself at a table with his back to the room and poured a drink before glancing at me. I gasped at the pain I saw reflected in haunted eyes that belied the self-assurance with which he had entered the room. Glancing around briefly, he held up the bottle and looked at me expectantly. At my nod, he poured scotch into my glass before returning his attention to his own.
I’ve always been a gambler. From my youngest memories, I weighed the risks, looked at the odds and considered the payoff. The fact that my own life is what I’ve gambled with the most is really beside the point. Sometimes I’ve won, sometimes I’ve lost, but I think that I’ve done as well or better than most. Of course owning casinos has certainly helped since, in the end, the odds are always with the house.
I have played probably more than my share of long shots… but I wouldn’t change a thing. Looking back on my life, choosing a point in time to return and make a different choice… that’s just not me. I play the game… and I pay the price. Regrets are a waste of time. It’s not as if anyone actually could go back and change what they’ve done. And I am satisfied with my life… with who I am… and the man that I am would never exist without the choices that I’ve made.
What price was paid by others for my choices, though? A grieving father… an abandoned brother… an innocent child… a lost love. Was it worth it to them? I’ll never know. Three of them are dead and one might as well be. Regrets have nothing to do with the fact that I am left with unanswered questions and a need to act on them, to discover the truth behind the lies, the reality behind the secrets. Will it be worth it? My entire adult life has been lived in the here and now… no past to remember or regret, no future to plan… just today and that has always been enough. But now I am faced with the mortality of those I loved… or hated… and I have to wonder if living for myself is enough… or do I owe a debt that must be repaid for the life I have led?
I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen. I worked wherever I could find a job… at whatever type of work would pay my way… for whoever would hire me without asking questions. The life of a runaway is not easy, and it was complicated by the fact that I had no name, little money and no answers to even the most basic of questions. Putting one foot in front of the other, I walked away from everything that was comfortable and easy – all the plans for my future – into a life of uncertainty. I have to admit, at seventeen the idea of leaving myself behind – all the obligations and the plans for a life filled more with the past and the future than the present – was a welcome and exciting challenge. For the first time, I was making my own choices, my own decisions and even the consequences seemed worth the sacrifice.
Despite my success, I have paid a price for my freedom. There were many years spent in the shadows of society, working at menial and sometimes demeaning jobs that no one else was willing to do. Some of the jobs were glamorous… ranching in Australia, working on an offshore oil rig, road construction and demolition are just a few of the more interesting jobs I’ve held. More often than not, though, they were the jobs that most people prefer not to do… short order cook, janitor, garbage collector. The boredom was unceasing, so when something a little more exciting came along I relished every moment of it. The more willing I was to do the job at hand, the more my employers were willing to overlook unimportant things like paperwork and identification.
My companions were a changeable lot. I kept to myself and disclosed very little. The education I had received prior to leaving home was something I could not entirely mask, but I managed to deflect much of it by always keeping a book by my side. Reading became my passion and books my unquestioning friends. The combination of education and fearlessness, though, was enough to keep the others from expecting answers to the questions they never ceased to ask… and as time wore on, age and maturity helped me to stop them from even being asked with a look or a gesture.
Still, there were good times. When I or my companions had the cash, we drank, gambled and showed the girls a good time. The names all run together now… mine and theirs… but I was certainly happier than I’d ever been living at home in the lap of luxury. Freedom was intoxicating and even the loneliness was better than the alternative. I always made sure to move on before anyone got too curious or interested in me… and before I got too attached. Only once did I make that mistake, and it ended badly. My heart, just like my life and my identity, are mine to keep safe from the rest of the world… and that’s the way it will stay.
Everything changed for me at a fateful poker match in Tahoe. I had recently taken on a new identity, one that allowed me to emerge from the shadows and live as others do. I was still living from job to job and cash was never plentiful, but I always had enough for a beer, a good time with a pretty girl, and to gamble when I felt lucky. Who could have guessed that I’d end up in that game of high rollers with a stake won on a very lucrative streak – or that he’d be fool enough to put up his casino? When I won that game and became the owner of The Seasons Hotel Casino, I knew that it was time to begin my life… again. I could become a legitimate businessman, doing something that I loved.
As loathe as I am to admit it, the old man trained me well. I’ve made a success of myself. The casino business and I are made for each other… and as long as that’s the case, I’ll continue doing it. The casinos are profitable and my other ventures are thriving. I am a success in a town where it’s never easy to succeed… and I am definitely my own man. Las Vegas may be a playground for the rich and unsavory, but I have been able to earn their respect without compromising myself. They cannot dictate my actions and I am a formidable opponent… but I can also be a powerful ally with a reputation that speaks for itself. One of these days, though, my luck will run out – or I’ll get tired of it. That’s when I’ll walk away. But right now… it’s been good to me and I’ve acquired more hotel casinos to add to my collection. From winning that first one, I now own five – all over the world – with another acquisition always on the horizon. And until my past started intruding on my present, it was all very satisfying and enjoyable.
Now I have to face the fact that my past has caught up with me and decide exactly what I want to do about it… and I don’t have much time because it has intruded on my carefully constructed life. I cannot put aside what has happened in the last year, and I’m not sure that I want to. For the first time in a very long time, I need answers. I need to know what happened… and why. I need to understand what made the difference… what caused the events… and if they had anything to do with me or the choices I made. For the first time, I want to reach out and touch the people who mattered to me… the people who had been my family. Each of them is gone and could I have prevented it? Should I have prevented it? Would the knowledge of my life and my choices have made a difference to them? Abandoned… murdered… lost… betrayed – my family… my secrets… my guilt. Even after all these years I can still mourn a family that I never had.
After that last blow, the loss of that innocent life, I escaped from Las Vegas. I found a reason to travel, visiting my other casinos and interests. Instead of conducting business, though, I found myself re-visiting my youth in places I once knew well. I visited my old haunts, gazed on homes where I once lived and relived memories that I had banished from my mind. I had chosen to live my life only in the present, but suddenly I was completely overwhelmed by my past. Only this time, I was by myself with no one to guide my steps. The choices I made had left me to the solitary pursuit of things that were or might have been. I was utterly and completely alone, and realized that of all my choices that one will never change… because revealing myself now would only serve to isolate me more than ever.
I did avoid one place that might give me the answers I seek… Pine Valley, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t ready to face what it might have in store for me. While I traveled, I kept a continent or an ocean between myself and the town that killed them all. What price will I have to pay for those answers? And will I survive if I go there and ask the questions? Or will I become one more casualty of that town’s vendetta against my family? What drew them to that place? They all became entangled in the silken strands of the spider’s web. They’d be alive today except for going there. That place sucked the life from them all… and the people there destroyed them with their lies and betrayals. Now Pine Valley has come to Las Vegas and into the casino that I call home. It is time to decide if knowing the truth is worth the risk of asking the questions… and if I have the strength and the courage to discover it.