I bid a fond farewell to my new friends and told them I hoped to run into them downtown. I stepped off the plane and saw Matt standing with his fists clenched and Amy waving her arms in a great big happy greeting. The first words out of my mouth were, "I hope you didn't eat yet, because I'm damn hungry."
In retrospect, I realized this was perhaps not the best thing for me to say in the way of thanks for their two trips out to the airport, because Matt exploded in a fit of rage. (Although, if I had handed him $100 to show my gratitude, he probably would have still exploded.) He grabbed me by the shoulders and throttled me like he was some kind of British au pair and I was a helpless infant. He berated me for being an ungrateful bastard and said I would be lucky if I got to eat at all for the rest of the weekend. Amy stepped in and separated us. We headed for the car, me dazed, Matt furious.
On the way to Casino Royale, I realized the importance of arriving in Las Vegas at night, when the lights dance on the car's windshield in a glorious display, rather than during the day, when the dust makes you cough and the seatbelts burn your hands.
We arrived in the casino royale at Casino Royale, and were horrified to learn that their free slot tournament had been "temporarily" suspended during construction. When I asked the deejay who normally ran the tournament how in the world I was supposed to get a Casino Royale cap now, he told me to go and buy one in the gift shop. I ignored this foolishness and took a seat at a bank of slot machines, making a point not to even pretend to be playing. It is worth noting, however, that the slot tournament machines had been replaced with one and two cent slots. These new machines only accept bills, and when you cash out, the machine prints a receipt which can be redeemed at a change booth - meaning you don't really play with pennies.
Matt was less than happy about the lost slot tournament and asked to see a floor supervisor. When one came by, a young man in a black vest, Matt pulled him aside and spoke in a low, measured tone that sounded more menacing than I thought the situation warranted. I didn't want to listen in, but I did hear the young man say several times "No, sir, we can't do that."
By now I had an unbearable hunger in my belly, and I told Matt I was tired of waiting for the others and wanted to eat now. He suggested I shut my face and go get something at the snack bar. Unfortunately, that too was closed for construction.
Just as I began to feel dizzy, Mike, Steve, Robert and Jeff showed up. I wondered aloud where Dan was. Mike said that he left a message at the hotel. He was going to the Rio with some girl he met. Were I not so weak from hunger, my blood would have boiled at this clear breach of the implicit cheapskate credo by which we all live. So instead of vocalizing my ire, I said, "I know, let's go get me some food."
I had been to the Rio for the buffet on trips past (Kat said it's too crowded these days), but I'd never seen the rooms before. For those that haven't seen them, they are as swank and cheesy as anything in Graceland. The room was bigger than those in the Gold Spike, and it smelled much nicer. It had floor to ceiling windows with a view of a bunch of industrial buildings to the north. Plus, it had all these little touches the people at the Gold Spike never even thought of, like a little stool at the end of the bed where you can throw dirty clothes, shampoo, and telephones all over the place.
I felt intimidated by the clean carpets and dim lighting, so I threw myself onto the overstuffed sofa and waited for Katrina to say or do something. I was still not exactly sure why I was there. I mean, I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn't sure if she had brought me back so that I could worship her as a goddess on the altar of love or so she could get me to take her dry-cleaning out for her. Katrina's bedside phone flashed with a message, so she picked it up. She listened for a minute and then said to me, "My dad." I was out of chotchkes to look at so I watched her listen to the message. She listened for a moment, rolled her eyes and hung up the phone. She told me she didn't exactly have permission to use his car, and he was kind of mad. I asked if she would have to go home. "If he really needs it he can come get it." Then she kissed me.
Fireworks exploded in my head. Unlike seeing fireworks at Disneyland or on the Fourth of July, these particular fireworks caused me to undress all bodies within my reach. As nice as the Rio Suites are, they are even nicer with a naked woman therein. I'm not one to kiss and tell, but I would like to wax for just a little while here. So, if you'll excuse me, when I'm done waxing, I'll continue to tell you about the Vegas trip.
If I heard Stinky say one more time that he was hungry I was going to physically remove his stomach. I'm hungry, I'm going to pass out, I feel dizzy. He spun around and around like a broken record. All that good feeling I got from apologizing to my father the previous night dissipated in the desert heat and I was about as cranky as a cow with chapped teats. Partially I was mad at Dan for not being there, and I took it out on Stinky. Taking my anger out on someone who is not necessarily to blame is a practice that has worked well for me over the years, and is why I have dogs.
I don't want to say I don't trust Dan, but we have been friends for eleven years and I always have had to look out for his best interest. He thinks he knows what's best for himself, but the truth is that I know better. In the eleven years of our friendship he has done a lot of things, or tried to do a lot of things that I didn't agree with, like trying to stop being friends with me on several occasions, claiming I was too bossy. Now he had run off with a girl he barely knew. This is how unsuccessful marriages start - with two people meeting each other and then dating! I needed to meet this girl and make up my mind about her before this went any further.
Amy said that it was none of my business what Dan did, but I think it was. All of the friends had flown in to Las Vegas to spend time together and be cheapskates, and now Dan threw all that in the crapper to chase some high-class skirt. It ticked me off.
Out of desperation, I ended up at the Flamingo Hilton's low-roller fly-paper joint O'Shea's waiting in a long line at the Burger King counter. While I ate, everyone else busied themselves harassing a guy handing out free pull tokens in the front of the casino, trying to see who could get the most. Robert managed to convince him that he needed an extra for his daughter, who biologically could not have been more than 14 years old. Robert resembles Matt enough that the token guy got confused when Matt approached him, and he said, "I just gave you one. You only get one."
Now that I had some calories to convert to energy inside of me, I was more willing to go exploring. We decided to check out New York New York, since some of our group had not seen it before. As the only person in the group who had actually lived in New York City, I became the expert on the casino's authenticity. While the joint felt absolutely nothing like the real place, it was clear that some thought had been put into the decor, and the casino was not like all the others on the strip.
In other words, the theme was consistent; they paid attention to detail, and the whole casino was actually pretty neat looking. However, since nobody wanted to gamble or pay the six bucks to ride the rollercoaster, we exited quickly.
Matt suggested we check if the Excalibur still had the Magic Motion Machine, a "virtual reality" ride in their basement. We discovered that not only did they still have the ride, but they had not even bothered to change the movies since the last time we rode it four or five years ago. Unlike the first time, though, when this type of thing still fascinated people, there was no line and we proceeded directly onto the ride.
For our three dollars we were treated to a seat that jolted us mercilessly up and down and from side to side, and a nauseating video display that was meant to simulate a ride in a four-wheel drive truck race through the desert. The highlight of the show was the dialogue, spoken by some ridiculous Texan and characterized by such classic lines as "Hey! Lookout for them guys rollin' boulders!" and "What the!... Hurricane? Where'd he come from!!?"
After the show and a quick stop in the bathroom for me to throw up my Whopper, Jeff said that he wanted to see the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton. Despite Matt's and my admonitions that it really was pretty stupid, Jeff persisted. Not having any better ideas, we all relented and hopped in the car. On the way there, I commented that it was too bad Dan had not been around to see the desert race, as I believe he would have enjoyed it very much. Matt's face turned scarlet at the mention of Dan and he ranted, "Listen, that bastard will get his. Trust me, he can't get away with this. Nobody abandons us."
I decided to keep my yap shut about Dan for a while.
In the afterglow, Katrina suggested that I call room service because she was hungry. It was now afternoon, and as I sat there trying to figure out how to order room service Kat went to take a shower. I dimly recall my naivete at that time as I worried over cost and the imposition on the hotel staff. I asked Kat what she wanted, and she said a candy bar would be fine since she had a big dinner planned at the Mirage. Where I come from, candy bars come from convenience stores, and you go get them yourself. But Katrina insisted. So I called down and asked them to bring up a Kit-Kat, hoping that the similarity of the candy's name to Katrina's would please her into letting me see her naked again. The room service operator embarrassed me when he said there was a minimum service charge and the candy bar wasn't enough. I acted like I knew that and said I also wanted eggs and bacon and enough cans of Mountain Dew to meet the minimum charge.
Kat called to me from the shower and pointed out a small window between the stall and the bedroom area of the room. She gestured for me to come to it, so I did and I could look through and see her standing in the steam with her body all soapy. It was such a great view that I could have stood there looking for hours and I would have, too, if Kat hadn't gotten creeped out and told me to quit staring and to go watch the television or something. So I did, and was amazed to discover that The Rio had cable! I watched Scooby Doo until the waiter knocked on the door. I offered to tip him a dollar of my own money, but he told me I could add it on the room charge, so I tipped him five.
When the food came, Kat wrapped her hair in a towel, and we drank the Mountain Dew and ate up the eggs, bacon and candy. I ventured to ask how she could afford such lavish digs. She didn't seem comfortable talking about it, but instead asked me to order something else from room service. I didn't know what to order, my appetite being sated, but her voice began to rise, and rather than risk upsetting my sweet, I picked up the phone and ordered a salad and some more eggs. "More eggs?" Katrina put on a pouty face which would never cease to charm me. I could see that she was going to expect more creativity than I had just shown. I picked up the phone again, pretended to call room service and sternly told the dial tone where to put the eggs. Katrina said in baby-talk, "Ooh, Daddy so strong!" On a roll, I grabbed her to me and said, "let's blow this joint," pronouncing the last word to rhyme with "pint".
How we ever got suckered into going to the "Star Trek Deal" at the Hilton is beyond my comprehension. Stinky and I swore that we would never go back there after our first visit months before. I am usually a steel trap when it comes to my will against someone else's, but somehow our group had caved in to a request to sightsee. Before we got to the actual "Star Wars Thing" we had to walk through the empty SpaceQuest casino. Last time Stinky and I were here, blackjack dealers stood around without anyone to deal to. Not this time! All live gaming had been removed to better simulate a humanity-free future. Also, the lack of empty tables helped to make the place look less like the failure that it clearly is. We all played about a dollar's worth of quarter slots because the machines let you trigger the reels by breaking a light beam with your hand or, as we learned, butt, arm, nose, hair and shoes. Our interest in the devices was long gone before our quarters were, or the security guard started standing ominously close.
In the men's rooms the urinals made "humorous" comments about bodily fluids. I thought this was something that might amuse someone once, but certainly wouldn't inspire repeat business. That is, until I saw two guys in ill-fitting, homemade Star Trek uniforms guzzling water from jugs they had brought into the casino. They looked at each other and the one with the white face powder on asked the other, "Do you have to go yet?" "Not yet." (Note to the Hilton management: neither of these men who were amused by your urinals were putting any cash into your machines.) Amy reported that the woman's bathroom had no talking plumbing, probably because girls don't understand such high-brow humor.
We wandered through the SpaceCrap casino and down into the entrance to the "Star Space Nine Show" only to discover the ride cost $15. Now, I don't even like the TV show so there was no way in hell I would pay for a shortened and more nausea-inducing version of it. I had already listened to Tex scream about "Hurricane" while I bounced around, and I had no interest in a repeat performance by people in monster masks. In our group, Jeff was by far the show's biggest fan and even he balked at the high price. He decided to try to simulate the ride using objects in the gift shop, so we all held small planets or rocketships at arm's length while Jeff zipped around us, squinting his eyes and screaming, "Aye, Captain!" and "Worf, send us into hyperspace!"
I wanted to go see the Orleans, which is one of the newer casinos, and one that none of us had yet visited. So, we hopped back into our cars and headed cross-town.
Having Daddy's money must be nice. Katrina knew how to spend. When we left the Rio, she took me to Caesars Palace where the walls were dark, the air was relatively clean, and the stakes were high. She easily found the hundred dollar tables, and winking at me, threw three of the big bills on the felt. She got three black chips, and, still standing, played a hand for two-hundred dollars. Me, I'm used to calling that amount of cash "auto insurance." But she called it an honest-to-goodness blackjack-all 21 of it. The payoff was $300, and she threw one of the chips on the circle again, while giving me a wink.
I tried to smile, but I felt as if it my money walking that thin line between here and gone. This time, she lost, and without batting an eye, threw another $200 into the circle. I gulped, but she seemed so calm that I couldn't help thinking the only difference between the blackjack I was used to playing and the blackjack Katrina played was the decimal point's proximity to the one. So she was using exponentially higher denominations than I. Finally, it was all a matter of what you could afford: the simple divisor between a black, flawless 1998 Mercedes and a scuffed-up, blue-grey, 1986 Toyota Tercel.
Katrina doubled down on the ten she'd been dealt. She wound up with a fourteen total, not that she looked at the down-card, but it made no difference as the dealer busted.
"Shouldn't bust with so much dough on the deck," I told the dealer, trying to blend in with the high-rollers. He didn't look at me, but dealt the next hand to Katrina. Meanwhile, three Japanese men sat down at the table. Katrina looked at them and seemed flustered. "I like playing alone," she told me. So when she lost the hundred, she stood and we moved to another table. As we walked across the pit with Katrina scanning the tables in search of the right one, I said, "You know, since your playing a hundred dollars, we should try to get something out of them. Like free keychains or something. " Katrina told me to "settle down, Red Rider."
The new table had a $25 minimum and was empty. She handed me three black chips - the first I'd ever handled - and we sat. Even before the first hand was dealt, a waitress took our drink requests. Katrina asked for a Vodka Collins. I asked if I could have some chicken. The waitress looked at the bet in my circle and then nodded without even smiling. I told her I wanted a drumstick, please. Katrina thought that was a riot and said, "Make it two!" The waitress left us without comment. You don't roll your eyes at people playing blackjack with black chips. No siree, Bob!
Katrina was a hot blackjack player, clearly well-versed in basic strategy, and she whispered that she was counting tens. I followed her every move, and tried keeping up with my green chips. With a chicken leg in one hand and my thigh in the other, she looked so smooth, so beautiful, yet so ironic that - dang it all - my heart took one last look at my brain, and dove into the waters of blissful lOOve. With the drumstick polished off, she put her hand high on my leg and gave me a significant squeeze each time she won. In exchange, I rubbed the velvety back of her black dress each time she lost. The stack of black before her grew and shrank for a timeless span. The room spun. Lights, sound, heat.
I asked, "What about my clothes and other stuff? I have a lot of pennies." She told me to just have my friends bring it home for me. I said, "You don't know my friends. If I don't get my stuff it will end up in the middle of Ogden Street." At first, she didn't want to go back downtown, so I asked if I could drive her father's Mercedes. Then she changed her tune and agreed to go with me.
At the Gold Spike I was relieved to not run into the gang because I hadn't quite figured out how to explain my decision to them yet. I got my stuff from the room, left my copy of the key on the dresser and headed down the elevator while Katrina waited in the car.
That's when they jumped me.