I met Herman Park for lunch at Stanley’s. It was two PM, so most of the lunch crowd was gone by the time we sat down. “How’s the boss the last couple of days?”
“Worse. You know how for a while he was okay while he was dosed? Any more he’s either hurting for it or he’s a sleepwalker. Thirty of the damned things a day. Costing a fortune, not that that bothers him.”
“Are we agreed, then, that we need to get him off it?”
“I guess so. I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”
“I don’t guess it is. You ever been to Hot Springs?”
“Down in Arkansas? Nope.”
“I talked to a man at the Arlington Hotel about a suite. Place’s got an interior bedroom that’s practically soundproofed so he can yell all he wants.”
“How come you can’t take somebody else along?”
“You’re the driver, Park. We can’t take the train, God only knows what kind of messes he’d get into in public. And you’re the bodyguard, too, don’t forget.”
“I don’t know. What if he dies? I think they do sometimes, coming down off dope.”
He was eating a grilled cheese sandwich, picking at the fries that came with it and dunking them in his coffee, a habit I found so distracting that I wouldn’t have hired him had he tried it during our first interview.
“Whatever you call it, we better talk to that doctor before he tries kicking it.”
Park was right. A couple of laymen like us might have killed a man going through withdrawal, especially a man of Collins’s years. I spent the afternoon finalizing the plans for the trip to Hot Springs and phoned his personal physician, Dr. Ezra Groff, who disapproved of the plan.
“You ought to just gradually reduce his dose,” he said with some irritation at my failure to heed his advice. “I told you at the start, this stuff isn’t as addictive as morphine or heroin. It’s my belief that the man could get down to a reasonable daily dosage and do just fine.”
Park pointed out to me that a departure from Collins Field, or even Wichita Municipal, might spark rumors. Add to that neither one of us knew a pilot we could trust to keep his mouth shut, so we started out on US 160 eastward two mornings later in the company Olds with Collins in the back seat, looking out the window at nothing and nearly catatonic. He didn’t even know where we were going or why; so passive had the old geezer become in his dependence on his medicine it was enough to tell him that if he wanted his dose he’d have to go on a ride to get it.
We stopped in my Dad’s hometown of Cottonwood and had a late lunch at the Jayhawk diner on Lincoln. The counterman was a chubby fellow with a shiny red face, and when he recommended the hash, Park and I ordered it. Collins refused to speak a word and got nothing, which seemed to suit him fine. I asked him if he was sure he didn’t want some coffee, and he half-growled, half-muttered something unintelligible but seemingly heartfelt. When I asked him to repeat it he shouted loud and clear: “I don’t drink coffee anymore because it makes me want to piss and I can’t. Satisfied?”
The only other customers in the diner at that hour, a pair of old ladies, laughed furtively behind their hands, and the counterman worked his toothpick around in his teeth and looking like he wasn’t quite sure whether to throw us out.
“Sorry, Mister,” I said. “Our Dad’s a little bit confused these days.”
He nodded and forgave us. “My father-in-law’s getting that way.”
Despite another dose of his medicine, the boss was irrascible and combative on the late afternoon leg of the trip, and he went berserk when Park accidentally let slip that the puropose of the trip was the narcotics version of a drying-out cure.
“I’ll be dipped in shit if I’ll let my employees dictate to me when and whether I’ll be taking one goddamn medicine or another! By all that’s fucking holy, you will stop this vehicle right now and surrender the wheel!”
“Sorry, Mr. Collins, I can’t do that,” Park said.
“All right, goddamn it, I’ll get a ride with somebody else,” he said, and with that he grabbed the door handle and tried to exit the Olds, which at that moment was hurtling down the road at about sixty per. I reached over the seat and grabbed Collins by his arm while Park pulled over to the shoulder.
“What do we do now?” Park asked as Collins thrashed in a fruitless effort to free himself from my grasp.
“Get the trunk open.”
Despite Collins’s self-inflicted infirmity, getting him into the trunk wasn’t easy, and once we’d closed it he kicked at the lid with a ferocity I’d rarely seen even from him. He kept kicking as we drove on, more and more feebly as the shadows along the side of the road lengthened, and about five minutes after the kicking stopped, Park turned to look at me.
“You figure there’s any air getting into that trunk?” he asked.
“What if there isn’t?”
“Then we’ll make up a story and end up either in jail or unemployed without references.”
It was late when we got in to Hot Springs, and we got the boss out of the trunk by the side of the highway before heading in to the Arlington, as pulling inert bodies out of trunks was frowned upon in your swankier establishments, even in Hot Springs. Collins was conscious but confused and cranky while I checked in, but no more so than he’d been most of the time for the last few weeks.
As I finished filling out the registration form and deposited a sizeable company check with the clerk, Collins stood closer to me than convention dictates, and said in a lucid, clear tone: “As soon as I’m off this stuff and potent again, I’m going to fuck that pretty wife of yours.” It didn’t sound like a threat, more a well-reasoned prediction.
The desk clerk, his aplomb greater than any I could have summoned at that moment, failed to display the slightest sign of having heard, and I clapped the old man on the shoulder, grateful to see some sign of life in him again.
We had him booked in what I’d been told was Al Capone’s favorite suite in the old days. I don’t know what your average hotel suite is like in Hot Springs, but by any standards I knew Collins’s was opulent to the point of immorality. One of the bedrooms was fully interior with no windows; that was Collins’s room, which locked from the outside. The resort had had plenty of prior experience with dry-outs and water cures and, presumably, narco cases. Park and I had single rooms on either side of the suite, the other two rooms in the suite being reserved for the doctor and his nurse.
Doctor Hargis was recommended by the manager of the resort, Mr. Clyde Furrough,with whom I’d been frank about the reason for our stay. Hargis, the manager claimed, had gotten any number of prominent hopheads off of dope, including Errol Flynn. “He’s not cheap,” Furrough warned, but he’s effective and discreet.”
I fell asleep on a divan of crushed green velveteen, exhausted from the drive, the second half of which had been mine. I dreamed I was in Collins’s office, choking him as he thrashed savagely, his face ladybug red and his eyes watering, tongue protruding purple and twitching, as Miss Grau and Mrs. Caspian and the rest of the secretarial pool looked on impassively but with approval and admiration.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed when a brisk rapping at the door woke me promptly at nine PM. It was Doctor Hargis, accompanied by a white-haired, jowly nurse whose white orthopedic shoes squeaked with the strain every time she took a step. He explained to me my part in the procedure, which consisted entirely of paying his fee, half of it up front. I wrote him a check on Collins’s personal account, which he folded neatly into quarters and put in his vest pocket. He had a pointed van dyke and round glasses that together gave him the air of an old Viennese quack, but which I suspected were intended to foster a slight resemblance to Doc Brinkley, the goat gland man, who’d been a prominent citizen of Hot Springs before he hightailed it for Mexico. I hoped Hargis’s medical credentials were less suspect than Brinkley’s, but then this was just a narcotics cure and not heart surgery.
“By the way,” the doctor said. “You’ll need to get rid of all his medicine. Can’t have any around the suite, not even hidden.”
“You’re not going to taper him off a little at a time?”
“No. This is what we call cold turkey. Cut him off all at once. It’s not pleasant, but it’s the most effective method we have. So take the pills and throw them away.”
The doctor and his nurse went into Collins’s room and I pocketed the rest of the old man’s pills, a couple or three hundred probably. It sounded as though his bedside manner could stand some improvement; I first heard some muttering from Collins and then some garbled but loud introductions from the doctor, followed by a bellow of outrage from the old man. Anticipating a long evening, I told Park I was going out for some air.
At the Western Union desk I composed a telegram for Sally. I’d told her that Collins was coming down for a delicate medical procedure, that it was a secret and that if anybody asked where I was she was to say Chicago.
“Is it one of those monkey gland deals?” she asked. “Or is it goat glands?”
What the hell, it sounded plausible. “That’s right, Doc Brinkley’s coming back up from Mexico in secret to perform the operation. So you can see why he wants it kept quiet. Especially from Mrs. Collins. What would people think if they knew Everett Collins had the testicles of a goat?”
I saw Brinkley once on a gambling trip to Hot Springs before I got married. He hadn’t been indicted yet, I don’t think, and he strode down the sidewalk with the bearing of an archduke in miniature. His radio shows were a staple when I was a kid, promising rejuvenation and renewed virility through the miracle of interspecies ball exchanges. Not exchanges, really, since Doc Brinkley’s operating theatre of horrors offered the poor goats nothing in return for the gift of their gonads. It might be argued that the human recipients of said testes received nothing either, since the most a transplanted pair of billygoat balls would get you was a nasty infection, and the doctor’s death rates were high. The whole business reeked of charlatanism and the carny sideshow and for years his program was by far the best thing on the radio.
I still listened to the Doc’s radio shows at night sometimes, beamed northward from old Mexico at wattages forbidden to American broadcasters, and sometimes felt tempted to send in a dollar for an autographed photograph of Jesus Christ or a novelty box of jumping beans. Border radio never made me despair for civilization the way “Lum and Abner” or “Baby Snooks” did.
Once I’d sent the telegram I wandered down the street and found a saloon called the Inside Straight. I’d been expecting hillbilly music, but inside a five-piece negro orchestra was doing a pretty good take on “Pussy Willow,” and a decent looking gal greeted me as I walked in. At the bar I ordered a drink from a dapper bartender in a white tuxedo and took a look around the place. Expensive furniture and fixtures, and a mahogany backbar that looked like a survivor of the last century.
Standing there I fantasized that if I’d thought to bring my cash from the safety deposit box I might just take the company Olds and drive it down to Mexico myself for good, leaving everyone wondering whatever happened to good old Wayne.
And then my bleak mood lifted of its own accord, as though I’d simply dwelt on it sufficiently to clear it out of my mind for a couple of days. I was in one of the most wide-open resorts in the country, surrounded by vice and shameless women. My expression must have changed because the bartender picked up on it and spoke.
“Here for the waters?” he asked in a Brooklyn accent thick as Durante’s. He looked like a boxer, or maybe just someone people decided to punch in the face once in a while.
“Not particularly,” I said.
“Hah. Didn’t think so.”
He didn’t press me for more, a sign of a good bartender. All my visits to Hot Springs in the past had been on a markedly lower budget than this one, and now that Collins was in the care of a medical professional, I began thinking about recreational possibilities.
“Where does a guy go to find a gal around here?”
“Depends if he’s looking for a freebie or a paid piece of ass.”
“In a strange place I always prefer to go for the latter.”
“Smart man. Anything free around here is going to be very, very questionable. Where you staying?”
“Class operation, but don’t ask for girls there, you’ll pay too much.” He wrote a number down on a matchbook. “Call this number and tell ‘em Herb sent you.”
“Thanks, Herb. How’d you end up down here, anyway?”
“Cousin of mine had some business associates down here. Speaking of which, you like to gamble?”
“Once in a while. I hate to lose.” Having run a floating craps game in Italy I had come to realize that in gambling there wasn’t much reason for the house to cheat, so stacked are the odds against any individual player.
“The place to go is the Hotel England, you ask for the management and tell ‘em I sent you, they’ll treat you all right.”
“You’re all right, Herb. Who’s the gal up front?” I asked, nodding at the beauty greeting customers at the door.
“Vera’s her name, I wouldn’t waste time trying to get anywhere with her. Lots of guys have tried around here.”
“You’re telling me. I’m a married man, but I’d give a year of my life for one night in the sack with her.”
“It’s just that I don’t remember seeing any girls like her down here before the war.”
“Not many like her now. She’s from Little Rock, what passes for a city girl down here.” He laughed. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the place, it’s been good to me, and I can’t go back to New York anyway. In fact, when I got down here I was knocked out by how swank it was. I was expecting Mammy and Pappy Yokum and donkeys in front yards and booze out of jugs marked XXX, if you know what I mean.”
On my way out I said “Good night, Vera,” and she responded with such familiarity and sweetness I almost stopped right then and there to ask her out for a drink later, but that was the wrong strategy for a girl like her.
At the Hotel England the games were hopping, and a bigger orchestra than the one at the bar was tearing through “Main Stem.” I asked for management and was pointed to a large, dark-haired man in a rumpled tuxedo who was gesticulating with his stogie to an apparently petrified subordinate, whom he then waved away with a delicate gesture of high-strung distaste.
“Herb sent me over,” I told him.
“Herb, huh? How do you know Herb?” he asked.
“Just met him over at the Inside Straight.”
“Oh, that’s great, good old Herb.” He said it with such relief it made me wish I knew why Herb couldn’t go back to New York. “Here’s the Herb special tonight.” He handed me a two dollar chip. “Good luck, pal.”
I decided right then that I was going to bet the two dollars and nothing I’d brought with me. At the roulette table I placed the chip on the red and won, then placed chips new and old on the black and won again. Then I took my winnings and dropped them into my jacket pocket, to the consternation of the dealer, who had plainly read me as a man who would let my bundle ride until it vanished with one wrong spin.
I played two hands of blackjack and won the second. Then I watched the craps table for a while to see if it was clean, since it was the only game I knew enough to judge by. It looked all right, but I’d watched so many craps tossed in the army the prospect of play held no joy for me. I was about to leave and spend my modest winnings on a steak dinner when I thought I saw someone I knew standing in front of a one-armed bandit. He didn’t seem to have noticed me, so I cautiously moved around the silver row of machines and peered from the other end at my old army pal Lou Arnesdale.
He looked like shit stew warmed over the next day. His eyes were sunken and dull and he was thinner than he’d been in the army, so thin the army wouldn’t have taken him back. He was playing one of the nickel machines and looking heartbroken every time the reels clanked once, twice, thrice to their sad resolution.
Lou Arnesdale owed me money, and from the looks of him he wouldn’t be able to pay it back any time soon. We were partners in London selling army tires to civilians via a black marketeer named Syd, one of the sweetest deals I was ever in on, and I’d done Lou a favor letting him partner up with me. It turned out that Lou had a little narcotics habit of his own, and when he got transferred out of London he took over a thousand pounds of my money. That was pounds sterling, not dollars. He hadn’t told me he was being transferred and I wasn’t able to track him down, and I certainly couldn’t report the theft; some operations are off limits even by the standards of the Quartermaster Corps, and selling army rubber is definitely such an operation.
Approaching him here was a non-starter, so I decided to take a position across the street and wait for him to come out. I didn’t think it would take long, since the supply of nickels in his hand didn’t amount to half a dollar, and his luck certainly wasn’t going to get much better tonight.
I waved at the manager on my way out. “You win some and you lose some, huh?” I said.
“Better luck next time,” he said, delighted to think that I’d dropped some of my own money at his tables.
There was a newsstand across the street. I browsed until I sensed the attendant getting antsy, then I bought the new Esquire and moved a few feet down the block. It was around eleven o’clock when Lou slinked out of the casino, dejected and friendless. He walked up that side of the street and turned a corner. I crossed and peered around it to make sure he wasn’t looking back or waiting for me to catch up. He wasn’t.
He continued up the street to a place called the Stuckey Palace Hotel and Apartments, a rundown brick building advertising weekly rates on the painted tin sign drilled into its facade. I waited until he’d had time to do whatever there was to do in the lobby, which would have differed depending on whether he was a hotel guest or a proper tenant. After five minutes had passed I stepped into a foyer and found no one on duty at the desk. Rows of mailboxes lined either side of the entry, beneath a panel affixed with the names and corresponding apartments of its inhabitants. ARNESDALE, L.P. lived in apartment 5H.
Retribution would wait, whatever it turned out to be. I’d waited years to find Lou, and hadn’t really expected ever to run across him. Now the gods had dumped him wriggling into my jaws, and I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Hell, I’d be here for a week.
When I got back to the hotel I called the number Herb had scrawled on the matchbook and had a girl sent up to my room. The service was cheap, as he’d promised, and mentioning his name had gotten me a further reduction in fee. When the girl showed up I let her into the room and she entered it with the élan and self-confidence of a movie star. She had jet-black hair pinned up at the crown of her skull and big black eyes that set off a slightly-too-large nose. Her walk had a nice sashay to it, and the first thing I asked after handing her the fee was for her to walk around the room a few times. When she asked me what I wanted next I told her to just get undressed and we’d think of something. She engaged me in some small talk as she performed her strip-tease, artfully tossing one garment after another over her shoulder or bending over to place it on a chair. I had a pretty good sense of her body before she’d finished and was glad I’d listened to Herb.
“What brings you to the Springs? Business or pleasure?” Her accent was northern midwest, maybe the Dakotas, maybe Minnesota, maybe even Ontario, and I had to wonder what sad circumstance had brought her down to this hillbilly Sodom.
“Combination,” I said. “Started with business, now there turns out to be some pleasure involved.”
I was thinking of the pleasure I was going to get from killing Lou, but she took it for a compliment. “I’ll try and keep you satisfied.”
Fifteen minutes later we were in mid-fuck when a howling started coming from the supposedly soundproof suite next door. I didn’t think the old man had been without his medicine for long enough to produce that kind of pain; possibly he was howling at the injustice of the whole business. He had become unaccustomed over the last thirty or thirty-five years to having his demands unmet or his orders disobeyed. Then again Dr. Hargis had mentioned that his particular methods involved the application of countermedications, and that the side effects of these were sometimes unpleasant.
“Do you hear that?” the girl asked, tensing beneath me.
“Yep,” I said.
She pressed her hands to my chest to get me to stop pushing. “Shouldn’t we do something? Call downstairs?”
“Trust me,” I said, and I rode her another five minutes to the demented music of Everett Collins’s wailing and yelling until I finally finished and rolled off of her.
“It sounds like someone’s in pain,” she said, sitting up.
“It isn’t. The fellow next door is an animal trainer from the Clyde Beatty Circus. He’s got Beatty’s prize orang-outang, Rusty, in there.”
“Aren’t rangytangs dangerous?”
“Sure, but not this one. He’s highly trained, brighter than most schoolchildren. But he’s at the end of his life now, and they get senile just like people do. He probably thinks he’s back in Borneo, running from a tiger.”
“So Mr. Beatty put him up in a hotel?”
“He was very fond of this particular ape. Wanted him to end his days in luxury. Actually, I believe he thought the waters might bring his reason back.”
She narrowed her eyes, having caught me up. “You,” she said. “You work for the circus, don’t you?”
“I’m not really free to say one way or the other.”
“Do you think there’s any possibility Mr. Beatty is going to come and visit his monkey before he passes?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“My gosh, if he does, would you call back and ask for me? I love the circus. If I could have run away and done that I would have.”
“I’ll call you if he comes,” I said, lacking the heart to disabuse her of whatever remained of the dreams of a midwestern girl who’d run away and ended up joining a whorehouse instead of the circus.
The next night at eleven o’clock, having spent most of the day at the hotel playing cards with Herman Park and listening to Collins’s screams, I stepped out onto the street. I’d only been out once, to the bus depot to meet a man the desk clerk had recommended as a source of illicit goods. The man was a strapping young hayseed who seemed not to have taken to farming. He wore his fedora at an angle meant to be rakish, but that made him look as though someone had recently knocked it askew without his noticing. His enormous adam’s apple danced as he spoke, and for the exorbitant price of fifty dollars he let me have a cheap revolver and a lead sap. Thinking that we were haggling, I’d made a counteroffer of thirty, expecting to pay forty, but he held firm. “Saps are illegal. You get caught selling a blackjack you could get time.”
I was happy to get the sap as a backup plan. I figured on shooting Lou and making a run for it, but I worried about the noise, and I did like the idea of beating him to death with it, if I could get him unconscious quickly enough to avoid a lot of screaming. God knew I’d had enough of that for one day.
Now it was night, warm and humid, the sap weighing down my jacket pocket. The only time I’d ever used such a thing was in London, a token of esteem from Syd the black marketeer, who called it a cosh and described with unseemly gusto his favorite methods for its proper use.
Figuring it was probably still early for Lou to be returning I stopped in at the Inside Straight to thank Herb for his advice. Herb wasn’t in, though, his replacement a taciturn rustic with ill-fitting dentures who served me my drink and scowled. The orchestra was the same but having an off night, plowing through Whiteman instead of swinging to Ellington, and the place had a dingy feel it hadn’t had the night before.
The lovely Vera was still at the door, though, looking even better than the night before. I must have been pretty openly paying more attention to her than to the music, because the bartender finally spoke to me. “You’ll never get anywhere with her. She’s got no sex drive.”
Did this toothless backwoods Adonis take any rejection from a female as evidence of lack of libido? I pressed him for details, expecting to hear a grudge-fueled hard-luck tale. Instead he gave me a real nugget of useful information.
“She’s hooked on codeine. Spends a hell of a lot of dough on it, and it kills any desire she used to have to open her legs.”
I finished my drink and headed for the door, and Vera tilted her head at me in disappointment as I left. I imagined I saw a bit of wooziness in her eyes, but that was probably the power of suggestion. “Just one tonight?” she asked, like a good hostess making sure to quickly learn the habits of anyone who showed the slightest sign of becoming a regular source of money spent.
“Just one,” I said. “I’m Wayne, by the way.”
“I’m Vera. But you know that.”
“See you later,” I said, and gave her a happy glance over my shoulder as I went.
Before I headed out on the night’s real business, I headed up to my room to where I’d stashed Collins’s remaining supply of Hycodan. Ten pills seemed about right for a start, and I headed back down to the street and hightailed it for Lou’s.
A few minutes later I was standing outside the front of his building. I walked around the corner to examine the western façade; from the street there were no lights visible on the fifth floor. Once again there was no one to slip past at the front desk of the Stuckey Palace Hotel and Apartments, and I followed the path worn into the stairwell carpet up to the fifth floor. I’d brought a few things I thought might be useful for picking Lou’s lock, but to my considerable surprise found that he hadn’t locked his door. I looked around the apartment and found nothing of value; no doubt everything but his clothes had been pawned to feed his habit.
I turned out the lights again and sat down in Lou’s threadbare easy chair and picked at the loose threads on the armrests. I hoped he wouldn’t be too long; it wouldn’t do for Lou to come home and find his would-be killer asleep in his front room.
Around twelve fifteen the door cracked open and Lou entered. “Hello, Og. Long time,” he said before he flicked the switch.
I had the revolver trained on his silhouette when the light came on. Lou was smiling.
“You robbed me, Lou. We were partners.”
“No honor among thieves, Ogden, isn’t that what they say?”
“What can I say? I had a monkey on my back the size of King Kong and dope peddlers after my hide and Uncle Sam offered me a transfer and I took it.”
“Along with your money and mine.”
“And you still haven’t kicked. All this time and you’re still fixing, throwing all your money away.”
“Nope, I kicked two years ago, after I got discharged. Dishonorable. You know how fucking hard it was to get a dishonorable discharge in the middle of that war? Damned hard.”
“Doesn’t look much like you kicked.”
Another smile, rueful and without guile. There was forgiveness in it, fondness, even. “I did, though.”
“Don’t you want to know how I tracked you down?”
That smile again, patient and saintly. He looked seventy years old, and he was two years younger than I was. “Saw you last night at the casino, made damn sure you saw me.”
“You wanted me to follow you.”
“Yep. Came home an hour earlier than usual just so you’d know where to go.”
Just then it hit me that he might be planning something of his own, but that look in his eyes belied any such notion. “You thought you could talk me into letting you off?”
He sank down into the recently vacated easy chair, seemingly exhausted. “Not at all.”
“Then you know why I’m here.”
“Og, I ain’t hooked any more. I’m sick.”
“Cancer. Plus I got the sugar diabetes so bad you could take my piss and make wine out of it. Course with the kidney troubles I don’t produce much of that. One doc says I’m dead in three months, other one says I could last two years.”
“So you think I’m going to give you a pass because you’re sick.”
“Hell, no. I’m expecting you to kill me, just like you meant to.”
I stared at him and knew he was telling the truth. He winced from a sudden pain, clutched his side, a single shameful tear coursing down his stoic left cheek.
“I can’t take two years of this, can’t take three months even. Don’t have the balls to do it myself. Jesus Christ sent you to me, Og. You’re my angel of death.”
“No, I’m not,” I said, and I moved for the door. I nearly gave him the revolver and told him to be a man and do it himself, but in the end I just walked out the door without looking back, my revenge more severe than I’d pictured it and, curiously, less satisfying.
On my way through the lobby a poorly-shaven bald man called out to me. “All visitors must be announced,” he said, his voice high in pitch and adenoidal. In a better mood I might have insulted his ancestry or told him where to go, maybe even broken his arm, but tonight I said nothing.
I walked away in the wrong direction and ended up in a section of town even seedier than Lou’s. Passing a dark doorway I was startled by the appearance of a raspy-voiced stranger.
“Help a fellow out?” he asked. I couldn’t see him well but he was young and unshaven, and I almost reminded him that the depression was over. On second thought I pulled the gun from my coat and, after letting him get a good, long look at it, offered it to him, butt first. He stared without taking it.
“Go on, take it. Go earn yourself a living.”
With some reluctance, even a smidgeon of fear, he took it and pocketed it. “Thanks, bub.”
I turned and walked back in the other direction, toward the hotel. When I got to the Inside Straight I stopped back in and Vera greeted me by name, touching me ever so slightly on the sleeve as I passed her. I stopped as though an interesting but absurd thought had just come to me unbidden.
“Say, Vera, I don’t suppose you ever get off work, do you? I’m here for a week with nothing to do.” With an effort to appear casual I pulled a couple of Hycodans from my shirt pocket and displayed them before tossing them back out of sight.
She knew the pills by sight, and she gave me a look that on a less poised woman might have been described as brazen. “I do get off work, every night. Tonight included, if you’re up late.”
“I plan to be,” I said, and I made up my mind to consider the rest of the week a vacation from all my cares.