The kid is with me in the hotel room, crawling around on the floor while I sit in the whirlpool tub and piss all over my leg. I'm drunk on first class booze and high on discount flu medicine. We got into Las Vegas an hour ago, but my body still thinks its 3am back in Detroit. The kid hasn't slept but an hour or two on the plane, yet still has enough energy to scream like his insides are exploding.
The kid. My kid.
I'm thinking about my wife. I can see the mountains from the little window in the bathroom if I lean over the edge of the tub enough. She didn't care about the mountains. She booked this place for us months ago because it's across the street from a big warehouse of a casino with the sole claim to fame of a sign wittily burned out that flashes LOOSEST SL TS IN ALL OF VEGAS hour after tacky hour from the ass end of the strip.
Tomorrow there will be a time share presentation waiting for me in exchange for the substantial discount if I haven't drunk myself to death by then. I could have upgraded the room when I upgraded the flight after she died, but it seems like a fitting tribute to her and I want to dump my kid off somewhere far enough from Michigan that he won't run into any relatives growing up.
After a few more minutes in the tub, I'm relaxed enough to tune out the kid's screaming and hear a knock at the door. If I'm lucky it's the woman I ordered over the internet, not a hotel manager telling me to shut my kid up. I was never much for a lot of sex when I was younger, or when I was married, but since my wife died I've been as horny as a pimply teenager. I answer the door in a towel, holding the baby, and allow her to enter.
She says her name is Brindy.
I introduce myself and point to my son.
She looks briefly at the kid but doesn’t ask any questions. We do what I paid for and the kid screams during most of it. Every once in a while I catch her looking over at him in his car seat and smiling, but she never stops working and we even manage to have some fun. Later, I've paid extra to keep her there for dessert and several drinks later I find out her name is really Samantha. Brindy was her college roommate.
I can tell she regrets telling me her real name immediately after it happens, but I take her mind off it by confiding in her why I came to Vegas. She tries briefly to talk me out of it but the ice bucket needs a refill before we can continue drinking away our pain and I volunteer to go if she'll stay and watch the kid.
I go across the street and up a block to the Sahara hotel. My wife liked the idea of new Las Vegas with the mega casinos and the family friendly theme park atmosphere. I always wanted to be part of old Las Vegas with the mob and the Rat Pack and all that. Aside from the garishly tacked on NASCAR rollercoaster, The Sahara is the last remaining remnant from those days and I feel time drag back about 30 years when I walk in.
Some of the Detroit casinos have experimented with smoke free environments with mixed results, but not the Sahara. The smoke of modern gamblers mixes in the air with the smoke of past gamblers and entertainers in the walls, simultaneously choking and exhilarating me. I have a $20 in my wallet I plan on using to play blackjack if I can find a $5 table, but as I enter the casino, a thick black guy in a tuxedo offers me a coupon for $10 in free slot play if I join the players club. So I head to the player's club desk, past the all night diner that looks like it was ripped straight out of the original "Ocean's Eleven" and get my free play loaded onto a card and spin a wheel for a bonus prize. I could win up to $100 in additional free play, but the wheel settles on the spot for a free drink from the bar.
Due to this windfall, I change my plan and head to the slot machines instead of the table games. It takes me longer than I like to admit to figure out how to transfer the credits from the card, but I have the watery, yet oddly potent, scotch and soda I exchanged my coupon for to get me through it. Soon I'm up $50 and decide to take a break to go to the buffet.
I have a special spot in my heart for casino buffets because it was the only way I was able to drag my wife to the casinos early in our relationship. Eventually she came to see the joys of blackjack, thanks to free play at the Soaring Eagle Casino near Central Michigan University, but the first few times I had to talk up the large selection of desserts, or specify if there was a prime rib or steak night. We had to eliminate one casino completely that I had great luck at in Windsor because the buffet was truly atrocious. It still feels like the middle of the night to me, and I'm in the mood for a prime rib dinner, but when I'm quickly reminded it's only 7am and the buffet is still serving breakfast.
I make a quick run through to grab some eggs and bacon and toast when I find out my newly acquired player's club card gets me $1 off the price. I'm back at the slot machines within minutes and before the hour is through I'm up almost $500 and walk away. I leave the casino in a disturbingly good mood and ponder ways to fuck myself over. Losing my money would do it, but I seem to be on a hot streak and don't want to risk anymore good luck. Eventually I decide to just go back to my room and hope the internet hooker is already gone with the kid. She's not. She's sitting on the sofa with the kid asleep in her arms. When I come in, she meets me midway and holds the kid out.
"I'll be back in a few hours," she says. "Get some sleep. We're taking him outlet shopping."
She leaves me stunned and tired, holding a baby I expected to be rid of by then. I look at the bed and at the couch. I hadn't planned on having the baby with me for sleeping and I'm not sure if I should let me sleep in bed with me or call the desk and ask for a crib. I really don’t want to bring the hotel into it, because if they know I have a kid, I don’t want anyone asking questions when I check out without him.
So I lay him in the bed, still asleep from Samantha the Internet Hooker's arms, and to my surprise he doesn’t wake up. I open the safe tucked neatly into the bedroom closet and move the handgun and travel bottle of scotch off of the stacks of cash I put in the safe when I checked in to make room for the cash I won recently. Holding the gun, still unloaded from travel on the plane, I contemplate taking care of myself and the kid right there, but I'm so tired I'd probably miss and end up in jail a vegetable ripe for the raping. I keep the money I won in my wallet just in case and put the gun back into the safe.
I strip down to my boxers and try to get in bed next to the kid, but he stirs every time I move. I don’t want him to wake up, so I think about going out to the couch to sleep, but I don't want him to fall out of bed or anything either, because a little body would be harder to dispose of, I imagine, than an adult body. The floor is too uncomfortable, so I grab an extra blanket and pillow from the closet and go to sleep in the spacious whirlpool tub, wondering what awaits me at the outlet mall.
I grew up in the suburbs and I've always enjoyed malls. The convenience of all those stores in one place, plus a food court and other entertainment is just too much to resist. Outlet malls on the other hand have never done much for me. They're always sloppy, poorly organized and over run with annoying families with annoying children. Back in the day I'm sure they served a nice purpose, but these days I have money to spend when I want new clothes, and if I use even a little patience I can find something on clearance at the retail store. This trip to the mall I suspect will be the worst of my life.
True to her word, Samantha is back to the room four hours later looking less like a hooker and more like a tourist in Capri pants, a modest blouse, and tennis shoes. She finds me still in the tub and I wonder out loud how the hell she got into my hotel room without my permission.
"I took the baby down to the gift shop last night when you didn’t come back and we chatted with the front desk manager while I tried to get the baby to sleep. So when I came back—"
I sit up in the tub, fully alert now.
"They know there's a baby in this room?"
"Did he sleep okay?" She asks, sitting down on the bed next to him. "Has he been like this the whole time? Did you feed him?"
"Yes. I mean, no. I didn’t feed him. I don’t have any bottles. But yes, he slept like that the whole time."
"He's probably hungry. At this age they need—"
"Do you have kids?" I ask.
"Just because I don’t have kids doesn't mean I don’t know how—"
"No. I'm not trying to be a dick about it. You just sound like you know what you're doing. Maybe you can help or something."
"Like with feeding and diapers."
"I'm a hooker, not a nanny."
It turns out she's pretty good at both. I follow her out to a waiting car in the drive of the hotel and she's got a car seat waiting for the kid in the backseat and a rubber waiting in the cup holder for me.
"It'll still cost you," she says when I pick up the foiled goody and hold it out to her. "But I'll give you a substantial discount if you're a good boy at the mall."
I try my best, and she does a good job to make it easier. We end up at a large, boxy, anonymous enclosed strip mall wedged between the airport and an abandoned subdivision full of burned out, half-finished mini mansions. We go the long way down Las Vegas Boulevard through the heart of the strip. I confess my apathy for new Las Vegas and she tells me the view is for the kid.
"At that age they like shiny things and lots of action."
When we get to the mall, Samantha has a stroller in the trunk of the car that allows us to remove the car seat from a base in the backseat of the car and snap it directly into the stroller when the kid is asleep. We have some lunch at the Burger King in the food court and we ride all three of us together on the crappy carousal in the middle of the mall. Things are fine until we end up at the Baby Gap outlet store.
"He needs shoes," Samantha says.
"He doesn't even know he has feet."
"He looks like a hobo."
"He's a baby. Most of his clothes have feet sown into them."
"You shouldn’t take him out in public in his jammies."
"There's a lot of things I shouldn't do," I say.
We don’t discuss it anymore and I feel victorious when we leave without purchasing baby shoes. Wandering the rest of the mall takes another half hour and is enough to knock the kid into nap land. He's still asleep when we get back to the hotel. She puts the kid in the bed and returns from the bedroom, through the bathroom, wearing only her panties.
"I remember you said taking off a girl's panties is your favorite part of foreplay," she says, close to me.
She kisses me and moves my hand between her legs. I move my fingers around in a manner she finds enjoyable and then I peel the panties off and lay her on the couch. When I climb on top of her to make my move, she stops me and pushed me off.
"Me first," she says.
I assume this means she wants to blow me, but my stomach knots a bit when she moves down on the couch and spreads her legs open. She's a hooker. I'm not her boyfriend or her fiancée or her husband. I'm supposed to fuck her, not go down on her or make love to her or buy her shit for Valentines Day. But Jesus, it seems like I need to get laid twice a day just to keep myself operational these days, so I do what I'm supposed to until she finally lets me inside.
She gives me the rubber, already open for my convenience, and I'm quickly in action. But I can't stop thinking. The scenes at the mall, the car seat, the stroller, it all seems too prepared, too handy. And her actions seems like she was testing me.
There was this guy I went to school with who had a crazy girlfriend. She was hot, but crazy, and wanted to have a baby worse than those kids that pop up on Maury and Jerry. But my friend wanted to go to college and Europe and move to New York City without a kid, and without his crazy girlfriend. So on prom night she dressed real slutty and poked holes in the condom she provided. She got knocked up and conned my friend into marrying her. He sells socks over the internet now and drinks heavily.
I go limp and pull out. Then I run away.
The only money I have with me is the cash I won at the Sahara. My credit cards are at home in Detroit and my airline ticket was one way because I didn't think I'd be returning. The plan was to dump the kid then either drink myself to death or shoot myself, depending on my level of guilt. But now I find myself more pissed than guilty and wonder if it's finally time to face the glaring, neon, siren call of my wife's voice. On my way to the SL TS casino I contemplate stopping in at one of the cheap motels nearby to get a room before I blow all my money at the casino, but that seems like a bit more planning than I'm comfortable with. I cash all my bills in for chips and sit at the first $5 blackjack table I find.
I think about the game more than my wife and while I don’t have the same flash of good luck as the last time, I maintain my bankroll and have trouble losing any money constantly enough to propel me to me desired demise. The time blurs with the drinks, but I'm pretty sure I've wasted a good chunk of time when I give up on the card games and start feeding my money into the most expensive slot machines I can find.
The waitress only comes around for drinks once before I'm down to my last bit of money. I'm almost there. I remember the flashing neon sign around the same time as I hit the jackpot. I've been playing the highest odds and the maximum amounts so I don’t even want to look at the screen. Despite the skuzzy atmosphere, this casino still has modern slot machines with tickets instead of coins so I'm spared the depressing clink clink clink of individual quarters spitting out of the slot. But everything else on the goddam machine is making noise and drawing attention to me so as soon as the ticket prints I snatch it and run outside.
I'm briefly caught off guard at how late it seems to be. Not only is it dark, but the streets are nearly deserted. Had I been in the casino so long as to endure the apocalypse? Fleeing my good fortune across Las Vegas Boulevard, I pause on the other side to gaze at the neon sign one last time. I miss my wife briefly. She would have been disappointed in that casino because it wasn't any different than any other casino we'd been to, or, I imagined, any other casino on the strip. I turn to face the southern end of the strip and look at signs for Circus Circus, Treasure Island, and other family resorts that had sprung up in the last ten years. All of them have exciting, colorful, and distinct exteriors, but I imagined once you get inside, they all look the same, like left over sets from The Poseidon Adventure.
When I turn back up-Strip someone is there waiting for me. He's a tall man in a suit and he punches me in the face then drags me to his car. It's about time.
I don’t lose consciousness exactly, but the details of the several minutes after the punch elude me. Finally I'm able to process a coherent thought and notice the gun pointed at my head is the same one from my locked safe in the hotel room. I'm in a limousine alone with the guy from the sidewalk. He's sitting across from me and after a beat or two puts the gun in a briefcase sitting on the seat next to him.
I'm not a man with a shortage of enemies of the sort that might resort to kidnapping and assault, which makes the gun interesting. There's nothing particularly distinct about it, to the untrained eye at least, but the gun he pointed at me looked enough like mine to make me think this is more than a casual grab and beat. If it was my gun, this man has been in my hotel room, seen my cash, maybe my kid. He probably owns the hooker.
We travel down Las Vegas Boulevard away from the main strip through the old downtown area. This is the area that looks more like the Vegas I've seen in movies and television and we drive through out to an area that looks less like movie Vegas and more like every other grungy Southwestern suburb. The homes are small and packed close together with gravel lawns, disabled cars in the driveway, and thick dogs guarding out front. The strip malls on the various corners have Laundromats and video stores and chain restaurants that you wouldn’t recognize.
The limo pulls into one of these driveways behind the shell of a 80s era sedan and the back half of a foreign model pickup truck. My escort gets out of the car and waves for me to follow. We walk up a piecemeal sidewalk to a crumbling porch and he bangs on a sagging screen door. Nobody comes to greet us, but I hear scrambling sounds inside and muttered cursing. My new friend uses his shoulder and leg to knock the second time and it doesn't take much effort to take the door down.
I'm the last one inside and try to stay out of everyone's way. There's more cursing and banging around and the guy appears from a back room holding a kid my age dressed in Sponge Bob boxer shorts and a stained UNLV football t-shirt. I didn’t even know anyone still acknowledged UNLV had a football team.
"Jesus, Charlie," the kid says. "I owe you, I get it, but you gotta stop breaking in on me like this."
"This is Tony," Charlie says. "His father was a degenerate gambler and wanna be thug from Cleveland who abandoned him here as a baby. Look what he's become."
"I got stuff going on and you can't—"
"Anybody who will fuck you or get high with you like you are now isn’t going to be turned off by my occasional visits."
As Charlie speaks, a girl appears behind him still straightening out her clothes. She takes a second to look at all of us then scurries out the door. That second is all I need though to see what kind of girl she's become. I suppose I'm supposed to think about what kind of girl she used to be and let that cloud my decisions about my kid. But all I think is that for a junky she still had a pretty good ass.
"She was doing this thing to me," Chris says. "That I've been begging her to—"
"Be glad she left. Because she won’t have to see this."
Charlie has my gun in his hand again and he shoots Tony in the head. He shoots him once more in the head when the body hits the ground and finishes it off with two more to the chest before dropping the gun next to the body.
"You've got a choice," Charlie says to me. "I'm cleaning the trash from my business which includes this carpet stain here and your lady friend Brindy."
"Her real name is—"
"She's Brindy when she works for me and she'll be Brindy when I get rid of her. But she's got your kid."
"You're going to kill a little kid?"
"No I'm not going to kill the kid. Why do you think I brought you out here? I want you to think about your kid for once in your no good fucking life."
"You don’t know anything about my life."
"There's only a few kinds of guys who bring a kid out here to dump him. And you don’t strike me as a diddler so that leaves degenerate criminal fuckup father. So here's your choice. I can go do what needs to be done to the whore, but she'll probably hold the kid or try to protect him or something and he'll see what I do to her. You can imagine how that might scar him more than even being dumped alone here in the desert."
"You don’t have to kill her with the kid. Wait till he goes to sleep or something."
"She knows I'm coming. When she sees me she'll be desperate. But if you go to see her, she'll talk to you. Maybe you can even get her into the bedroom away from the kid and take care of it."
"No. I don’t care about the kid. I don’t care what happens to him and I don’t care about Samantha."
"But you care about yourself," he says.
Then he hits me again. This one is to the back of the head and I know I lose consciousness this time. When I come back around Charlie's still next to me but he has more things with him. My vision is foggy but I immediately notice several knives, various scraping devices, and a blowtorch.
"You want to die easy, I get that," Charlie says. "So if you don’t do what I want I'm going to kill you slowly and painfully."
I really don't want to kill anybody and I really don’t want to see my kid again and have his face the last thing I see in this world. So I hold out. I think about how warm and soft Samantha would be in bed and how hard it would be to leave and how much I would regret being a father with her. It gives me enough strength to endure the matches and the knives. But I don’t have anything to get me past the blowtorch.
"Okay," I say. "Please stop."
Charlie lets me cleanup in Tony's bathroom before taking me to Samantha's house. I'm sickened to see how little damage was done to my body before I gave in. At least I won't have to explain away any strange marks when I make my moves in the bedroom. Samantha greets me at the door still wearing her clothes from the outlet mall trip with a red apron over top. She hugs me and I notice her hands are in yellow rubber gloves like my mother used to wear when cleaning the bathroom.
"Uh, I just wanted to apologize for earlier," I say. "You were very nice to me and I kind of messed it up."
"I wasn't doing that to be nice to you, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the whole day. I was more disappointed than anything else."
She waves for me to follow her inside and I do. The little house smells like cookies and pine cleaner and I can't help thinking it all seems a little staged, but it makes me feel cozy anyway.
"There was this guy I went to school with who had a nutjob girlfriend that poked holes in the condom when they had sex on prom night so she could get pregnant and force him to marry her."
"And you thought that's what I was going to do to you?"
"I'm not right in the head these days."
Or any days, for that matter.
"I can't have kids anymore, if you care at all. Miscarriages from a misspent youth and I'm sure the rigors of my career choice haven't helped. So yeah, it's made me a little crazy with the kid stuff and when you came along I got a little obsessed and—"
"I'm not here to take him away from you," I say. "I mean, assuming you want to keep him. If you don't—"
"He's asleep in the other bedroom."
Yeah. Good for him, and me, but not so much for Samantha. Am I really going to be able to do this? I've led a very boring sex life with the occasional blow job in a moving car and anal with a prostitute to keep it interesting. I've never been into the rough stuff and don’t quite know how I'd go about strangling a woman while having sex with her. If I stop mid-copulation, I'll be sure to give away my intentions and she'll try to escape. But during the act I don’t know that I'll have the energy to do anything additional.
She's kissing me now though, so I think about that instead. My little friend down south quickly comes out to play.
"You can't knock me up, so let's have some fun," Samantha says.
She leads me back to her bedroom and pushes me onto the bed. My head is still foggy from the punches and whatever the hell Charlie did to me, so I mostly lie there and let her have her way with me. I need to save my strength for the final act. When she's removed both our clothes, Samantha climbs on top of me and begins writhing and grinding with little care for comfort or common sense. But Jesus, it feels amazing. I come alive midway into her second round and figure now is as good a time as any. If she's going to be murdered, right after an orgasm has to rank pretty high timing-wise.
I try to maneuver myself on top of her, but she maintains control. I'm about to just give in completely and come up with another plan for another day when my focus becomes crystal clear. I begin remembering stories I told her the first time we were together. Stories about my wife and why I came to Vegas and why she didn't. Fuck.
Oh yeah. That's the spot. Do they have classes to teach this stuff?
She tells me stories about why she's here and what she's done and who she owes and how she can have a better life in Mexico where she knows a few people who can help her out. She's got her hands around my throat now and I'm dually surprised by how strong she is and how focused she is, because she never stops grinding even as she squeezes tighter. She's telling me about this girl who will help her with Danny if she has to get a job early on and I'm wondering who the hell Danny is as my focus begins to fade. I blow my load on my out of this world, then I remember.
Danny is the kid. My kid. Named after Danny Kaye.
My wife always hoped our kids would be singers and dancers.
Maybe if she could dance herself she wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs so easily.