I awoke early and stretched my arms over my head. Still groggy, I plopped back down on the pillows and rolled over on my stomach, spreading out over most of the bed. Something didn't feel right. I began to doze lightly when it hit me. Dan had passed out beside me just hours earlier, and now he was gone.
Fearing the worst, I quietly got up and looked around the floor of the bed, since Dan has a propensity to tumble when he's loaded. No sign of him. I listened for the shower and heard nothing. I checked the living room, and only found Robert snoring passively. I crept into the other room - still no Dan.
I ran over and screamed at Matt to wake up. His head shot up and he asked, "What? What is it?"
"It's Dan. Our little bird has flown the coop."
I looked for the keys to the Mirage as Matt put on his shoes and we headed out, rubbing our red eyes. They were gone! Matt and I deliberated for five minutes, trying to figure out if there was a free shuttle we could take to save our friend. We could take the California to Sam's Town, the Sam's Town shuttle to the Stardust, then walk down to the Polo Towers and catch the shuttle to the Rio. This would take two or three hours. By then, Matt said, Dan would probably married. I suggested a taxi. "What, are you nuts? You think I just fell out of the money tree?" Matt hollered. "I'd rather have my eyes scratched out by one of the crack addicts downstairs." I offered to pay. After all, Dan was our friend. Matt said, "As long as you're paying..."
After all that Xtremity, shrimp cocktail, winnin' crappage, and slogging through the Fremont Street Experience, I was konked out before you could say "Seven Come Eleven." But as the sun's first rays probed Las Vegas as if trying to decide whether it was worth rising on the city, I had to drain the main vein something fierce. All about were snores and wheezes as I tiptoed to the john. As I stood there, licking the fuzz from my mouth, I thought of Katrina, and realized that this was going to be my last chance to see her. I crept from the bathroom. I felt like Daniel in the lion's den, like I was tiptoeing through timebombs. I found Robert's snoozing frame on the floor and begin searching around him for the keys to the Mirage. I checked his shucked jeans. There was his wallet, which I left (I swear, Robert, I don't know who stole that $85 and some change), but no keys. Then I saw that he was sleeping with them clutched in his hand with the ignition key in his mouth, sucking it periodically in a blissful slumber.
"I was kidnapped. I couldn't get back to you! " For good measure, I added, "Oh, and when I was little I dropped this Popsicle."
"You poor dear! You filthy liar!"
"No lie, my love, my life, my old kindergarten teacher from Omaha" I had fallen asleep midsentence and had begun chanting from dream. She slapped me awake.
"I waited for two hours in a very scary place," said Katrina. "You could have been killed. "
"You did the right thing leaving. I looked for an opportunity to come to you, but I was hostage. There was no leather for sale at the circus tent where the spider boy was galloping round and round." Katrina slapped me silly.
"You can explain later. I'm just so glad you're here now," she cried.
I thought I'd weep. "My love"
"My Daniel Spaniel Dingle Dangle." (That was her pet name for me.)
"My Katrina Ballerina Orangina, Semolina." (My pet name for her was "sweetums," but I was free-wheeling.)
Anger, sorrow, regret, love, forgiveness, generosity - a tide of emotion filled the suite and out the window, washing down the side of the Rio into the street and the whole wide world. Katrina rolled me into the tub and ran the bath for me, bathing my wounds. Then she dried me and we went to her bed. We made furious love until I fell sound asleep and could not be roused by a herd of amazingly gorgeous gogo dancers throwing megaphones full of money into the balustrades.
The taxi dropped us off at the front door and the driver demanded eleven dollars. I asked if that included tip and he explained that it did not. I told him that it would this time and gave him eleven dollars. Recalling the room number Dan quoted in his attempted escape phone call, we found the right cluster of elevators and took a spotless one straight to the 15th floor. We exited into a hallway that looked exactly like that of any hotel anywhere in the world.
"This isn't so hot," I said.
Matt returned, "Yeah, I don't know what Dan's deal is, anyway."
I saw room service plates in the hall and pointed excitedly, "They really do have it."
We approached the door to room 1544 and braced ourselves. Matt wanted to kick it down and rush in, T.J. Hooker style, but I told him that he would probably just end up hurting his foot. Instead, we both banged on the door with our clenched fists, yelling, "Dan! We know you're in there, and we don't want to have to start shooting!"
Moments later the door opened a crack, and Dan's bleary-eyed mug stared out at us. Matt jammed the door with his shoulder, sending Dan sprawling. I jumped on top of him and pinned his arms to the ground. Matt grabbed his legs and started twisting.
With me sitting on his chest, Dan struggled to speak, and finally got out the words, "Not here," and motioned with his head toward the still-sleeping Katrina.
Matt dropped Dan's legs and I got up slowly. We checked to make sure he had the car keys, then the two of us grabbed him and shoved him in to the hallway. We pushed him all the way to the elevator, ignoring his pleas to let him go back inside and put on
I indicated his boxers and said, "Those are practically shorts anyway."
Once in the elevator, away from the ears of any witnesses, Matt and I really put the hurt on. By this point I had given up on trying to attain any kind of peaceful resolution, as it became clear that the siren calling Dan away from us sang loud enough to drown out our measured and reasonable words. The whole ride down, which was actually quite short, thanks to the fancy, fast-moving elevators in the Rio, Matt and I took turns mashing Dan in the corner and throwing him against all four walls of the small, carpeted box.
On the ground floor, the elevator doors opened and a bellboy with a cart full of luggage stood looking at us. We unhanded Dan and looked guilty, like we had just been caught shoplifting penny candy, but we kept Dan in close rein as we stepped in to the casino. As we led Dan toward the parking garage he stopped and refused to go on, saying, "Wait a minute, can't we talk about this?"
Matt said, "No. Your fancy mouthwork isn't going to get you out of this."
Dan broke loose of Matt's grip and ran to the bar. He jumped on a stool at the bar and hunched over defiantly. Matt and I tried to pry him loose but Dan had a surprisingly strong grip on the brass pole. I said, "Let's go, soft boy."
Dan demurred, "Don't you want a cocktail."
"Oh, for Christ's sake! You're going to pay for a drink in this overpriced dump? Jesus, it's too late to save you," lamented a furious Matt.
"I don't have to pay. It's free. I just charge it to the room."
"You don't have to pay at all?" I asked.
"No. I don't know who does, but it ain't me."
I asked what would happen if I were to get a drink, and Dan told me that too would be free. "Me too? " asked Matt. Dan nodded.
Still skeptical, I waited for Dan to order up his gin fizz, and watched as no money changed hands between he and the barkeep. Dan just signed a slip of paper. Then I asked for a scotch highball. Matt requested a whiskey sour.
We sat in silence, sipping our curiously large and liquor-filled drinks. I noticed that the air was mostly smoke-free and commented on this fact, to break the tense silence that had enveloped us.
Dan took my words as a good sign and said, "And these are good drinks, huh?"
Matt and I grudgingly acknowledged the truth of his words. I asked, still incredulous, "And this is completely free? Even the tip?"
Dan said, "Yep. All included."
"Wow" was all I could think of as a reply.
After a moment of brow-furrowing thought, Matt finally said, "So, uh, do you think I could get the souvenir glass?"
Dan smiled victoriously.
The cocktails were good, but I didn't need a good cocktail to get to where I wanted to go: Drunkville, USA, where the trees were cotton candy, the buildings were fantastical arches, and the streets were coated in blood from horrendous fatal car crashes. The Rio was nice, sure, and I began to understand how someone could be suckered into living this way. The casino didn't smell like smoke, the carpets were still bright with color, the gamblers looked likethey didn't live there - or at least lived somewhere with an address, and the restaurants didn't give off the distinct odor of sweat and grease. Momentarily my thinking was blinded by the glitz and I thought, "Boy, wouldn't this be nice..."
But my iron-clad will wouldn't let me rationalize all of the overkill, and I slowly convinced myself, in reasonable fashion, that this much comfort would destroy me. Being in discomfort kept a man honest and true to himself. In fact, I would have left right then if the drinks weren't free. From an ethical standpoint, I am willing put up with a lot of crap in order to get free stuff. This is why, I reminded myself, I endured the supple curves of the bar chairs.
My resolution came to me strongest during my second cocktail. I watched Dan and how soft and pliant he had become in less than 24 hours. Before this trip I always thought of him as the toughest damn poet I knew, able to take down a street hoodlum as easily as he could rhyme couplets. Now, sitting at the bar, I watched his glossy, star-crossed eyes and knew that his salvation from the evil grip of conspicuous consumerism would have to come at a hefty price. I was Hercules, I reminded myself.
Dan let us get drinks in the fancy souvenir glasses, and that was super-cool. They were expensive, too, about as much as we paid for our room at the Gold Spike. I had a margarita in mine, but it could have held any tropical drink. The glass was frosted with the imprint of a parrot on one side. It even had an easy-hold handle. I asked Dan if I could get enough to make a set to take home. He shrugged indifferently. I imagined placing twelve of them in the empty china hutch Amy and I had been given as a wedding present. My parents would be very impressed.
After two whiskey sours and the first souvenir glass of margarita, I was staggering down the roads of Drunkville in my mind. Stinky must have also been pretty well lit up because he was getting belligerent and calling Dan a pussy. Every time he did this, he got up, ran away and hid until he was sure Dan wouldn't hit him. Finally, Stinky said, "Why don't you show us your room?" Dan reminded us that Katrina was sleeping, so I asked him whom he was trying to impress, us or her. "Yeah, you pussy," Stinky said before running away and peeking out from behind another table.
When I am drunk I am not the jovial, lovable character that people see in the Andy Capp comic strip. I am not cruel, but I am amazingly persistent. After fifteen minutes of my wheedling and cajoling, Dan agreed to show us the room if we promised to be quiet. Oh, sure, we'd be quiet. No problem there. No siree. "Sssshhh is my middle name," said Stinky.
While Stinky and I carried our empty souvenir mugs, Dan reluctantly took us back up to the room and slid the card key through the door lock and a little green light flashed. That card key thing was really neat. When he opened the door, it felt like we had entered the White House or something because it was so clean and fancy. The air conditioner whooshed without rattling. By the dim light I saw Katrina asleep on the bed and she snored a little bit. Stinky immediately ran to an overstuffed chair and leaped into it. "Damn! This is comfy," he shouted. Dan said, "Shhh." I said, "Let's shed some light on this extravagance," and I flipped the light switch as Dan slapped my hand away from the wall.
"Daniel?" Katrina sat up and blinked her eyes at Stinky. "I'm Stinky," he replied, "and I'm drunk. You're kind of pretty." Katrina didn't seem any too pleased with the compliment. She asked Dan who we were, and I told her we were Dan's friends, that I was drunk too, and to show a little class, I thanked her for the souvenir glass.
Katrina was quiet for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the room. Next she covered her head with the bedspread, slowly counted to ten, then pulled it off. When she opened her eyes Stinky and I waved at her. She screamed, "You're still here!"
Dan showed his new, soft side by apologizing profusely and begging her forgiveness. Stinky opened the curtains and shouted, "Look at this view! I didn't know there were so many strip clubs in the industrial area." By the time I got to the window, Stinky had run to the bathroom. He shouted to me to pick up the phone. When I did, Stinky said "Hello?" from the other end. The place had TWO TELEPHONES. Who in the world needs a phone in the can? Stinky said to put Katrina on so I handed the phone to her. She asked who it was and I said I didn't know. When she put the phone to her ear I heard Stinky say in a low voice from the bathroom, "Hello, Katrina, this is Stinky, and I am taking a dump."
As she slammed down the phone, Katrina fumed at Dan, who sat down on the bed beside her. I asked her if I could order room service and Katrina glared at me. Dan told me not to. I pleaded directly with Katrina, "You let him order room service." In the meantime, Stinky had taken a much more direct route: he just picked up the phone and dialed. Dan rubbed Katrina's back and kept saying, "I know," and "I'm sorry," as Stinky ordered a pizza and a cheeseburger. Katrina said she wanted us to leave.
"But we're drunk," I said. Stinky added, "And loveable." Katrina wouldn't speak directly to us, but told Dan, "I want them out of my room right now."
"Look," I said, "let's all go back down to the bar and talk this out like civilized people. I'm sure we can reach an agreement." Everyone looked at each other while I silently prayed that Matt wouldn't try to slap me into a headlock just now.
Instead, Matt agreed saying, "We'll settle this like lawyers. We'll go to the bar. Katrina - you're buying."
Katrina threw on sweats and a T-shirt. Her hair was ratty, her face soured each time Stinky or Matt entered her field of vision, but she was still about as cute as ever. We rode the elevator down in silence and only the incessant din of the casino spoke to us as we made our way back to the same bar. Sitting there, the waitress approached immediately and asked Matt and Stinky if they wanted more souvenir glasses.
"Not now," I said, "just bring us all Cokes."
I laid out the reasonable and workable options that I had spent the last several seconds diligently concocting. "Option One: We could all agree to spend the rest of the weekend together peaceably."
"You'd have to pay for most of the good time," Stinky informed Katrina, "because we are low rollers and would need some financial assistance in living the high life." Option One was handily dashed to bits by "Mr. Helpful" Stinky.
"Option Two: We could agree to all have a meal together now, then I could spend a few hours with Katrina and then a few hours with my friends."
"No good," said Matt.
"Why no good?" I asked.
"Because of this!" Matt sprang up suddenly, with a fluidity belied by his lankiness and caught me in an underarm headlock. He pulled me to my feet, tipping the table. Then he took off running, dragging me by the head, out of the bar.
"This isn't Little Caesar's!" I screamed. "You can't do this." The headlock was purely ornamental, without any real physical consequence. But my role, according to the codes of television wrestling by which I lived, was to play along.
"Silence!" shouted Matt, ramming my head into a change cart. I fell down because that did hurt. Stinky, who I hadn't realized was there too, dropped a big elbow on me right in the middle of the Rio. Matt scooped me up again and ran as before with my head cinched firmly under his bicep. But security had been quick to arrive and stopped Matt cold. Katrina said, "they just attacked him. I saw it all."
Stinky pointed a finger at Katrina, "She kidnapped our pal, and needs to be arrested. And we need some souvenir glasses for our trouble."
Security radioed for back up, ignoring me as I tried to explain to him that wrestling wasn't real and that nobody could really get hurt. Very soon we were all escorted out of the Rio and placed onto the sidewalk outside. Katrina turned to me. The sour look on her face had turned demonic. "Daniel, I don't know who these guys are or what you are doing with them, but I have had enough of this shit."
Matt said, "Excuse me, but Dan is out friend. Not yours. It's clear to me that you are trying to seduce him into a lifestyle of comfort and leisure. Dan is a weak man and succumbs easily to the ease you offer, but at heart he is meant to be much more soulful than all the chintz and facade that you, the Rio, or the highlife can offer."
"Word!" said Stinky.
Matt continued, "He's in Las Vegas with us. I'll bust every bone in his body if I have to, but finally, he's going to stay with us at the Gold Spike where the reality of Las Vegas is as clear as it can possibly be."
"Word LIFE!" said Stinky, "to the D-Ro."
Katrina said accusingly, "Your friends have no class. "
"We got class," Matt hissed, "we got class up the butt."
"Daniel," said Katrina to me. "Tell these two social retards to go away and leave us alone."
"They won't," I said. "and I don't know that I want them to" Matt grinned." Not until I give both of them their comeuppance." I concluded.
"Daniel," said Katrina to me. "Either the two of them go away right now, or all three of you go away right now."
"But Katrina tangerina vaselina jumping beana," I began, but I could see that she was dead serious. She was also dead tired, which didn't help matters one bit. Stinky smirked triumphantly. Matt cleared his throat.
That's when SHE walked by. A lovely, muscular woman in short shorts and spiky blonde hair with a faint tattoo strutted by on her way into the casino. She glanced directly at me. Time slowed down as my eyes dazzled at her flowing knees. She licked her upper lip as she looked me in the eye, continued walking and turned her face forward. I realized suddenly that she was getting away. I also realized that I had to get away-fast, now, without a doubt."I gotta go wee! You guys talk it out!"
I left all three of them spluttering, and I was on her heels. I caught her by the elbow and spun her around.
"Hi," I said. She was gorgeous. Her eyes glowed with confidence and she smelled like she had money.
"Let go of me," she said.
"Okay, I will. I couldn't help myself. I don't know who you are, but is this the plane from Sacramento? " She tugged herself loose from my hold, so I said, "I find you more alluring than anything else in this entire city. Your beauty claims me. You are freedom; you are love."
"Well, thank you," she breathed, clearly moved. Then she shrugged. "Now if you'll excuse me."
She turned and walked away.
"Don't you want to spend the rest of the weekend with me?" I called after her.
I watched her go, then I went back to where Stinky, Matt, and Katrina stood watching. "Sorry," I said, "false alarm."
Katrina wasn't right for Dan anyway. Way too uppity. You should have seen the crimson color her sorority girl face turned when Dan talked to some blonde lady. In my life, I have only seen one person so angry that steam literally shot from his ears, but I thought Katrina would do it right then. Without another word, she walked away from us, grabbed hold of the brass parrot handle of the Rio door, and vanished into the casino.
"Sweetums" Dan cried, but she was long gone - past the red, white and blue slot machines.
Boy, oh, boy, here was my chance to gloat. Two goals down, and one to go. The sun was now high in the sky and Dan withered in the heat. His eyes were misty. I debated whether or not to dance around him, subtly indicating that I had told him so.
Stinky had something else in mind: making Dan feel better. "Hey, cheer up. It's probably for the best, you know. She wasn't your type. She was too good for you."
"You know what I mean," explained Stinky. "Not 'too good for you', but she was too fancy and hoity-toity and all of that. Plus," Stinky unwisely continued, "she was really pretty and she seemed smart and had so much money. Um, maybe she really was too good for you." Stinky was very bad at holding his liquor. "Way too good for you. But just about right for me." I grabbed Stinky by the arm as he tried to head for the casino.
I said that I was hungry and asked Dan if he was ready to go home. Dan sighed.
"Is that a yes?"
As I watched Katrina follow in the path of the unknown blonde woman, I thought about the fading ember of love that fizzled cooler and cooler between us with each step she took. It is true that into each life a little rain must fall. Rain would have been nice in Las Vegas at that moment. Instead, the sun beat down as I felt a series of disturbing sensations:
"Come on, Dan. Let's go home," said Matt, and I had to give him credit for trying to sound glum, although the nearly ecstatic tone in his voice not only gave him away but also made me feel like slugging him. Stinky, meanwhile, babbled about Katrina.
"Belay that!" I cried, but not in those words. "I'm staying at the Rio."
Matt gasped. "What are you nuts? You've gone off the deep end."
It's true, the good life had taken a hold of me. I could no longer happily return to the grubby version of this wonderful city that had once enchanted me. I had graduated. I tasted the highlife, and I was damn well ready for some more. I was willing to sacrifice my own pocketbook now, for comfort. With the winnings I had from my stint at Caesars, I could afford to avoid the dollar tables and penny-ante slots. I could find comfortable entertainment at the Rio and never have to smell downtown again.
As I headed toward the front door once again, Matt seemed a little upset. "Don't do it, Dan," was the last thing I heard as the door closed behind me. I went to the front desk. Stinky ran past me shouting "Katrina!"
"A room for the afternoon," I said.
"Not the night?" she wondered. I told her just the day and that my private jet was leaving in the afternoon.
"Okay," she said. Then she told me how much it was going to cost.
Question, dear reader: do you know how much it costs to walk in and get a room for one day at the Rio? I hadn't before then. Let's just say that it gave me pause. The amount was the same as the sum of my overdue auto insurance and my phone bills.
"I'll tell you what," I told the clerk, "I won't sleep. I won't even use the toilet. I'll just stand still in there. Now how much?"
She repeated the number.
"What a bargain," I said, then I chuckled to stifle a gagging in my throat. I reached for my wallet but my hand wouldn't go. Some part of me refused to part with the cash. My body ached for the sweet comfort of a tropical-themed room, but my mind paralyzed me.
"Would you like the room, sir?"
I tried to say yes, but nothing came out. I tried again, but merely drooled on the counter. Embarrassed, I turned around and walked away. I went back outside and to Matt, knowing full well the hell he was going to put me through.
As I passed through the front door, Stinky saw us and rushed up, looking red in the face.
"I got a kiss!" he screamed.
"Bullshit!" said Matt and I simultaneously.
"Okay," said Stinky, "but I wanted one."
In silence and with a heavy heart, I followed Stinky and Matt to the car. Matt pretended to care about me, saying over and over, "I don't like to say I told you so, but" which was far more annoying than if he had just been smug. Then, citing their drunkenness, they made me drive. It was like asking a dead man to bury himself. I had a front row seat as the strip faded into the distance and the Fremont Street Experience returned to the foreground.
As Dan drove, I fiddled with the radio until I found the ass-kickin' classic rock station, and cranked up the volume. The car flooded with the sound of Steppenwolf belting out "Born to Be Wild." Matt and I performed a little dance routine that we had choreographed years before, acting out each line of the song. Dan almost plowed in to the meridian a couple of times because we bumped him when we fired all of guns at once and exploded into space.
I kept trying to get Dan involved in the dance, singing in his ear as loud as I could, but he just stared out the window, glassy-eyed. He was a regular old, grumpy Mr. Hydrochloric Acid In His Pants.
Once downtown, Dan parked the car behind the Gold Spike. Matt and I raced ahead of Dan, who dragged along. We turned back, giddily running circles around our downtrodden friend. I figured some of our happiness and energy would seep through his skin and get him to pick up the pace.
As we approached the casino, I ran and grabbed the door and flung it open, releasing a plume of cigarette smoke into the hot air. Matt spread his arms wide, and with a flourish, gestured for Dan to enter. Dan peered in, reluctant to pass through the door, back to the life he once knew. A tear ran down his cheek and I don't think it was because of the smoky air.
Dan sighed and finally stepped through the door. I high-fived Matt. As we followed him in, the door closing slowly behind us, Matt said, "Dan, my dear friend, welcome to the Copper Mine!"
It wasn't so bad. We only had a few hours before I had to get to McCarran airport to fly home. The minutes ticked by as dirty coppers slipped into an aluminum hole.The afternoon blurred by. I had a few farewell cocktails with Matt and Stinky.Jeff turned up, and we sat for some more stupefying blackjack, winning nothingand losing nothing in as much time as we needed.
At last it was time to go. Matt was kind enough to return me to the airport,and he was oddly tactful about not bringing up anything that happened between Katrina and I. He merely said, "What a burn," to me as we passed the Rio. We mainly talked about the Xtreme Scene and decided that should we ever become entertainment producers in Las Vegas, we would do our own version called the K-Scene, a song and dance review set inside a K-Mart.
If you know or see Katrina, will you pass my e-mail address on to her?