The Vegas Virgin
A Las Vegas Novel in 24 Parts
by Thomas Wollwo
This story is a product of National Novel Writing Month, an opportunity for anyone who's ever wanted to write a novel, but needed the encouragement or incentive.

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Part Eleven

Breena stood in the elevator, shaking all over. Why had Donna and Walt screamed at her for no apparent reason, just because she wanted to have a look at some chocolate?Ý She was a resourceful trained investigative journalist, but this had been a bit much. She decided not to worry about that anymore and to have a look at her room. She looked at the key card. Sure enough, it was on the 27th floor ‚ the one she had just left. Sighing, she pushed the button for the 27th again, while a group of three old ladies watched her every move.

Breena held her breath when the door opened, but nobody was there. To her relief, her room was in the other direction than Donnaís suite. She had to proceed to the very end of the hall, too.

The suite took her breath away, and she couldn't suppress a little giggle. It was a two bedroom suite with a giant jacuzzi and windows looking out to both sides. The furniture resembled the one in Donna's suite, but everything was so much bigger. The bathroom was bigger than her own bedroom at home and there was a tub and separate shower. Best of all, there was the same chocolate arrangement as in Donna's suite. She picked it up giddily. Such nice packaging, she thought. She realized that the chocolate belonged to the minibar. Still, there was no obvious reason for Donnaís and Walt's strange behavior. She hadn't even intended to open it, after all.

She was sick and tired of this mystery (as, this author finds with a heavy heart, are most readers by now). So she decided to take a long little bath in her jacuzzi with a Strip view. Fortunately, she had a copious amount of bubble bath (tangerine-mint for that extra-fresh scent) in her bag. Three hours later, Breena emerged from her bath a changed woman. After that, she amused herself for a while with an electric toy.

After she had played with the electric drapes for long enough, she dressed appropriately for the swanky hotel, selecting a smart business suit tailored to enhance her curves. It was one of these numbers who cover everything and still look as if they donít. She thought looking respectable was a good idea, so the Hogs wouldn't try to take advantage of her.

But first, she needed some sustenance. A place like this surely had to have an array of restaurants? She checked the hotel brochure on her desk and apparently, there were 20, not counting the fast food places. After all that saving money the day before she was entitled to a good meal or two this day, she decided. But which restaurant to choose? The Malt-O-Matic might come handy again, she thought. Hereís what the machine had to say about the dining options at the Venetian:

"The dining options at Venetian are manyfold. Mostly, the prices are high, but still, you get what you pay for in many restaurants in a good way. Delmonico is a case in point. Emeril Lagasse has moved on from cajun food to steaks and prime rib here, and the bone-in rib-eye is the favorite of many a steal aficionado. But also the seafood appetizers are great, and the banana cream pie is amazing. Still, youíll pay $150-$200 for two in a gourmet room that is rather understated then really eye-popping in a Vegas kind of way. Bouchon is another example. Itís Thomas Kellerís casual French bistro with unabashed un-bistro ‚ like high prices, but the mostly simply food is superbly executed and, if you can spare the cash, itís very unlikely youíll be disappointed. Go for breakfast if you want more reasonable prices."

The machine went on and on about all kinds of other places, but another short review caught Breena's attention:Ý "Taqueria Canonita has a pretty good value to price ratio. Itís Mexican food of the less-greasy variety ‚ itís actually very good, and still light on the wallet. Plus its location right on the Canal in the Venetianís swanky mall is a definite plus. Finally, its opening hours are more accessible than most finer restaurants at the V. The best value of the Venetian restaurants , though, is arguably to be found at the Grand Lux Cafe. Itís one of the more expensive coffee shops in the city, but the portions have to be seen to be believed, and thereís an awesome variety of food on the menu."

This settled it for Breena: late lunch at Grand Lux, dinner at Delmonicoís if she could get a table (who of my gentle readers seriously doubts Breena of all people could be refused a table by Emeril?)

Leaving her room, she peered down the hallway, but there was no one in sight. She took the elevator down to the ground level and wandered through the elegant casino. Sure, there were the same slots as elsewhere, but it had a refined, almost European (yeah, thatís refined for you!) feel about it. She noticed that there were a lot more tables than downtown and that a lot of them were in use. The owner of the casino seemed to be doing something right, she thought. He probably listened to the advice of her cousin Cameron, who was one of the most intelligent casino designers she had ever met.

Grand Lux Cafe was cavernous and easily to get lost in. She got a single table and watched a rambunctious group a few tables away who obviously had a fantastic time. It looked pretty random: there were two sophisticated gentlemen who were obviously European, and everyone else didnít fit into a race, color or gender scheme. But they were all having a good time, especially when it became that one of the more respectable looking men (who looked like some American politician that obviously had never been to the Dakotas, and whose wife looked like she was about 30) had obviously paid the bill for everyone. There was applause and some drunken cheers and many pats on shoulders. By then she had had time to work through the tome-like menu. She chose a Caesar salad and, because she had been so sensible, after that a fudge-covered cheesecake. It wasnít exactly cheap, but certainly enough food to be good value, and she considered it all to be very good.

She set out to find the sports book then. The clientele in this casino was totally different from downtown, she noticed. People werenít that much older, but much better dressed. They also looked more boring. There was a lot of somber conventioneers who seemed to think they somehow should be having more fun. Some other conventioneers were downright disgusting in their overt party mood. Somehow, Breena liked the downtown crowd better.

She finally found the sports book and took a look around. There were more than 40 TV screens, three of them were massively big. There were about 150 seats, some of which had their own TV sets. She also noticed more than 10 betting windows, which had electronic displays showing all kinds of numbers Breena didnít begin to understand. Cousin Cameron had always been some kind of expert about this stuff, she remembered, and was exceedingly proud of some nerdy calculator he got for the games. She sighed and realized sheíd have to ask someone about sports betting.

In a particularly comfortable corner of the room there was a gaggle of youngish to middle-aged men, many of whom were wearing black. It was the only bigger group in the sports book, so Breena deduced her chances of meeting the hogs wasnít that bad. One of them shone like a beacon in their midst, light being reflected mightily off his shorn head. She inhaled, drawing his attention, and asked "Is this were the hogs hang?," feeling slightly foolish on the chance she was asking someone not familiar with that term in that context. The bald-headed guy smiled appreciatively and said. "You came to the right place. Iím Cyber Hog, and this is the gang (this author would love to include a loving and mostly pilfered description of the gang at this point, but has to admit his chances of doing that were pretty much squandered when he found out that these descriptions werenít readily available at their website). These are Angry Johnny, Caveman Joe, JRobi and Cuddly Bear. Iíd describe them to you, but from what Iíve seen of this authorís prose so far, my guess is that Johnny will have some sort of temper, Joe will behave in a manner that can only be called prehistoric and that J will be wearing some kind of robe. So why donít we save ourselves some time, take that comfy chair and I order a couple of adult beverages for us?" This sounded like an excellent plan to Breena, and Hog ordered two Bourbon Sours. He looked Breena over and said "You look quite a bit like Elisabeth Carson when sheís blond, but also like Hannah Harper. Has anyone ever told you that before?" ‚ "In the Dakotas, nobody knows who these women are," Breena said with a twinge of curiosity. "Never mind then," Hog said.

Breena explained her assignment, and Hog listened with great interest. "Maybe I should explain a bit more what weíre doing here. Weíre meeting every year for Sporgy or sports orgy, a day of betting on and watching sports. A place like a sports book is ideal for such a thing. The seats are comfy, the drinks are coming fast, and watching the games is a lot more fun when you have some money riding on them." ‚ "It seems so complicated," Breena said. "Well, it only seems to be. If you see something like Atlanta Braves ‚ 160,Ý Boston Red Sox +145, it means that you need to bet $16 on the Braves to win $10 and $10 on the Red Socks to win $14.50. You also know youíre in a fictionalized story, because it would mean that the Braves would be the favorite team, because it has the ‚prefix. The home team is second, unlike it is in Europe." ‚ "But thatís so easy," Breena exclaimed, "I donít understand why this author had to copy it off a guidebook and probably still got in wrong!" ‚ "It might be because heís from Europe," Hog said thoughtfully. "People are kind of slow there, Iím being told. I guess thatís where this acronym SLOE comes from." Breena could follow this reasoning.

"So why do you all wear black," she asked. ‚ "Well, there was this really bad day once where we lost almost every single bet. I dubbed it Bloody Sunday. Then we had one more of these days, so we had think of another name for it. I called it Pestilence Sunday. After the last four trips, we are pretty surprised if any bet wins at all ‚ there was Mortgage Sunday, College Fund of the Kids Sunday and, most recently,Ý Trusting Cameron Sunday. Our mood hasnít been that joyful these last trips when it came to betting. But there are other ways to feel good ‚ I can show you several ones of them in a very short period of time." It looked as if another man had fallen prey to Breenaís wily charms. But right this minute, Angry Johnny (the best name in the bunch, this author thinks, narrowly beating out Caveman Joe) shouted "We won! We actually won a bet today!" There was much jubilation and ululating and some pretty obvious attempts to cop a feel of Breena by some of the assorted hogs. But soon the mood returned to the pure joy of the unbelievable win, and Breena quite enjoyed watching a game or two with these sports experts.

Breena decided she wasn't hungry enough for a fancy dinner at a gourmet steak house. The hogs were just fueling up with hot dogs and the like, and Hog mentioned that there was a lot of snacking options at the Grand Canal Shoppes. Breena didn't care much whether these were calledÝshops or shoppes, but was surprised that she had forgotten about these for the whole afternoon. She said a fond goodbye to the hogs and leisurely sashayed over to the mall.

Breena had never seen a shopping structure quite like this one. She had been aware that there would be a canal with gondola and bemused-looking tourists in them, but she was flabbergasted that is was situated above the casino floor. The stores in it werenít exactly cheap, and quite a few of them were familiar from the malls back home, but the setting was really well done. There were bridges and little squares, and the gondoliers were singing frightful tunes, and every one had the kind of smile that seemed to say "Yes, Iím in on the joke, but Iím not allowed to display that to the world." There was a faithful recreation of the Piazza San Marco, complete with annoying mimes. The light seemed to change, creating the illusion of changing times of day. She bought a pair of Manolo Blahnik high heels with her company credit card, feeling a bit reckless after a few Bourbon Sours. She had a Margarita and an appetizer at Taqueria Canonita and impulsively made an appointment at Canyon Ranch Spa for the next morning. It was an eveningÝ of pureÝ bliss, and a perfect occasion for an afternoon without any male company.

When she returned to her resplendent suite, she was again overwhelmed by its sheer size. At this point, though, she felt a bit alone in her gargantuan suite. Why hadnít Malt shown up at all? Why had Walt acted so weirdly? Why had the concierge sent her a little note stating heíd be available for any service imaginable?

She mulled over her romantic options for a while. Maybe just hadnít met the ideal guy yet. Maybe he was just sitting in a plane over the Atlantic. But she kept coming back to Waltís Gary-Cooperesque charms and his surprising passion about the chocolate. Malt, on the other hand, also had his advantages: he was lanky, and sheíd always had a thing for lanky guys. He also was annoying as hell, but still...

She called it a night and drifted away to sleep in her comfortable bed quickly, unaware that only a few miles away, Malt was being pummeled by thugs.


Part Twelve

The next morning, Breena awoke refreshed and spent three blissful hours in the bathroom. She then arranged a late check-out through reception and went to her appointment at Canyon Ranch Spa. Her massage was heavenly, and her masseur, a handsome guy inexplicably called Chris Sinatra, did a fine job of kneading and massaging every part of Breena he was legally allowed to touch. Also inexplicably, he kept referring to Breena as "gang." He refused the tip afterwards, saying that this had been the most rewarding experience in his professional and possibly also personal life. Breena fueled up on fruit and juices at the Spa and felt very healthy.

Breena accepted the compliment gracefully, got her stuff and proceeded to check-out. Her new assignment awaited her. One side of the sheet, as always, was short and to the point: Billís, it said. On the other side, there was a lot more than usual, though. Hereís what the note said: "What are you doing with my money? Where the heck are your reports? What about me??? Assignment of the day: Win a game of Spot the Hooker."

She did feel kind of guilty about her reports, she had to admit. But there was a wealth of material in what had already happened to her, and she was a trained journalist after all, albeit an exceptionally hot-bodied one. There seemed to be a bit of time in the schedule today ‚ she had no idea what "Spot the Hooker" was, but it sure sounded like something more likely to happen in the evening.

Outside the hotel, her heart did a little leap when she saw a black limo, but it wasnít Mr. Ronson behind the wheel and Matt was nowhere to be seen, either. The clerk had said that Billís would be too far to walk, and sighing, she hailed another cab. Unusually, it was raining, like teardrops on the city. The cab driver whose name was Scooter was a lot nicer than yesterdayís, but he seemed sad, as if he was searching for his groove. "Whatís wrong?" Breena asked sympathetically. "Seems like the whole worldís walking pretty and I canít find the room to move my cab. Everybody better move over," he shouted.

Fortunately, the cab was able to proceed at this point, and Scooter capably drove Breena to Billís. There was no need for a bellhop, because reception was right behind the entrance. As there was a small line at reception, Breena took out the Malt-O-Matic and typed in "Billís Gambling Hall. Maltís picture, in a top hat and with a cigarette holder, looked a bit reproachful "Youíve joined the evil empire then," Breena read. "Evil Empire?" she typed in. "As in Big Empire?" The machine produced a sound appropriate for a bad joke. "No. Youíve learned about the duopoly already, right? MGM Mirage and Harrahís controlling most of the Strip properties? Well, the Venetian you stayed at yesterday was one of the few major exceptions, but Billís is part of Harrahís. And people donít like the fact that it used to be named Barbary Coast until a couple of months ago, when Harrahís bought it, probably to tear it down in the very near future." ‚ "Why does everybody hate Harrahís so much?" Breena typed. "You may never find a more wretched hide of scum and villainy," the machine displayed a tad dramatically and switched itself off.

Breena asked for a room with a view nicely and got one just for asking (Breena does her bribes with style, paying with smiles). It was on the fourth floor, and over looked a giant half-naked ladyís behind on an ad for a show at Ballyís and, much more importantly, the Fountains at Bellagio. The room was big, with newer furnishings, Victorian furniture and nice big plasma TVs. The room certainly wasnít as luxurious as the one at the Venetian, but for a quarter of the price, it was certainly good value. The bathroom was smaller, but not uncomfortably so, and it had a weird shape. The tub had a window open onto the Strip. There was a bit of noise even after the windows were closed, but Breena wasnít a light sleeper, rather prone to make noise herself.

She went downstairs to explore the casino and liked it. It was neither flashy nor particularly big, but it had a nice vibe. In a little shabby lounge behind the main bar, a lot of people were waiting for the show to begin. Breena joined them and saw man being helped on the stage some people might call obese, some people might call too small for his weight and some people just might call fat, which he certainly was. He called himself "Big Elvis" (Breena had noticed that a lot of fat men call themselves "Big") and put on a pretty good free Elvis impersonation show. Breena watched the King for twenty minutes and then decided to move on.

She decided to explore her new neighborhood on foot. As she left Bill's, there were iconic buildings in all directions. There was the Flamingo next door to Bill's, where Bugsy Siegel had built the most famous mob-controlled casino. Across the Strip from there, Caesars Palace was beckoning. Left fro her, there was the garish neon entrance to Bally's, and across from that, the huge lake fronting Bellagio. This was the part of Vegas Breena knew from TV and the movies, which rarely bothered with downtown these days.

She crossed the Strip and Flamingo, using the elevated walkways. The Bellagio appeared to be surprisingly dignified, the lake being serene at this time and bigger than Breena had imagined. The casino itself was supposed to look like an Italian property at Lake Perry Como, she remembered now.

She entered the casino and found herself in Via Bellagio, the high-end shopping area. She happily window-shopped for a few minutes, but realized that KL Mouton would probably suffer a stroke if she charged more high-end merchandise to the company credit card. There were several high-end eateries looking over the Lake. Breena perused the menus of Picasso and Prime, her mouth watering. She continued into the casino, which, much like the Venetian's, was bigger and a touch classier than those she had visited before. She passed through to the reception area, noticing the older, well-dressed clientele, although there were touristy gawkers, too. The reception area was very nicely done. The look was vaguely Tuscan, and there were little courtyards behind the clerks that gave the area a sense of space. Dominating the hall was a huge structure made of glass Breena found to be a bit overbearing. She remembered vaguely that they had been made by an artist called Dale Chihuahua.

She followed a sign to the Conservatory. It was a huge area covered by a glass dome. There were plant exhibits everywhere. Everything was surprisingly tasteful for Vegas. Their were ice bears made of flowers and, as part of an early christmas theme, a cranberry sea and reindeer made of nuts. A christmas tree was in the process of being installed. An older gentleman with thistle-down hair who was standing next to her said "these are so beautiful, don't you think, dear?" - "They are very impressive," Breena answered politely. He smiled a bit too much and said "So you listened to the King." It wasn't a question. Breena felt slightly alarmed. "Er, yes," she managed. "It was very interesting.," she offered. The gentleman smiled again. "There might be some people who don't like you listening to the King, Breena," he said calmly. "Think about it. It would be a pity if something happened to these pretty legs of yours." He turned away and disappeared into the crowd. Breena was flabbergasted (again!). This town was getting stranger and stranger. Why on earth would someone mind her listening to an Elvis impersonator? And why did he know her name? She was used to guys following her around, but this was ridiculous. She couldn't enjoy the Conservatory much after this any more and decided to have a nice lunch instead.

Lucky for herself, she was able to snag a seat at Olives, one of the more affordable restaurants at Bellagio, just before they were closing. She got a table on the terrace outdoors and hat just ordered a flatbread and a salad when the Fountain show started right before her eyes. Frank Sinatra was singing "Luck Be A Lady" as the Fountains moved in harmony and synchronicity, perfectly mirroring the music. It was breathtaking. The food which arrived shortly after that was very good and all, but she was enthralled by the show and vowed to see as many of them as possible. She saw the second one just as the cheque arrived. After that, she needed a nap and returned to her room.

She woke up to the faint sound of a jazzy number she couldn't readily recognize. Immediately, she rushed to the window and was able to see the show pretty well, albeit from an angle and with muffled sound. It was getting dark and the show looked even cooler in the dark. She resolved to file a report and typed quickly, using the in-room internet to send the report to her employer. She was able to see two more shows this way. Finally she stretched, much like an extraordinarily limber cat, put on her Manolo Blahniks, black mini skirt and matching black blouse and left her room.

Malt was standing in the lobby and was in a foul mood. He was covered in bruises and featured an impressive black eye. "Just a squabble about a parking space," he answered her inquiring glance. "So what's your assignment today?" - "It'll brighten your day," Breena said. "I'm supposed to win a game of "Spot the Hooker." Something tells me you might be familiar with that." Malt's eyes lit up. "I practically invented it," he shouted. "Too bad you have no chance of winning against me." Malt was way too smart to make a joke about her outfit at this point. Also, his bruises hurt enough as it was. It has also to be said to be said that even though Breena looked sexy as hell, she didn't have that working girl vibe at all.

"A good place to play would be Cleopatra's Barge," Malt said, "I can tell you a bit more about prostitution in Las Vegas on our way over. I'm a bit of an expert on this." Breena had no doubts. "First of all, we're not in the city of Las Vegas right now. This is called unincorporated Clark County, and if you think that this doesn't matter much, think again. Local law is different here than in other parts of Nevada. Thus, prostitution is illegal in Clark County, but not in other areas like Pahrump, an hour's drive from here." They were crossing the walkway above the Strip now. "If you open the Yellow Pages, you'll find listings for thousands of massage parlors. This has a lot to do with the city's past. Politicians in Las Vegas have been very intent on maintaining the illusion of decency for the last decades. Even if the sanitized family version of Vegas bombed some years ago and even if the current major is a lot more outspoken about adult stuff than his predecessors, there's still an effort to cover up the underbelly of the beast. It's clear what's illegal and what is not, but no one in his right mind really wants to curb an industry servicing millions of lonely conventioneers, most of whom are men." They were crossing the plaza in front of Caesars now. That was interesting stuff, Breena thought. "So all these entertainers, masseuses and escorts are just code words for people selling sex - most of the time. It's not really fun being a real massage therapist out here, I guess. So you have an incredible demand for an illegal service - and it's rather clear that tons of money can be made, especially as police tend to look the other way. And of course it IS hard to know how often that dancer delivered to your room actually is doing more than dancing. There have been reports that innocent guys yearning for an exotic rumba have put some hookers on the spot who couldn't believe they just wanted them to dance." Breena smiled. They entered Caesars and she had to stop to have a look around. This was the biggest casino she had been in yet. To the left, there was an elegant lobby, not as breathtaking as the Venetian, but still impressive. To the right, a seemingly endless casino extended as far as Breena could see. "Cleopatraís barge is not far from here," Malt said. "But itís still a bit early. Would you like a bite?Ý To eat?" he hastily added. "Breena nodded. "Something small," she said. "I know just the place," Malt said. Bradley Ogdenís was a spiffy restaurant located in the center of the casino. It had a very cool design of stone and woods and water and prices seemed alarmingly high. Malt said: "Weíll just have a quick bite at the bar. You can tell every one youíve eaten here, weíll feel sophisticated, and weíll only spend about $20 on food. But that only works if youíre not hungry." They both had the Blue Cheese souffle. To Breenaís surprise, they didnít offer any Bourbon Sours, so she tried an Manhattan. "This is a little girlís drink," she said, a bit disgusted by its sweetness. Bur the souffle was heavenly, even though it was good she had eaten not too long ago.

"So, about prostitution," Malt began sotto voce, drawing quite a few stares. "Be quiet",Ý Breena whispered and Malt continued, a bit more subdued.

"As you basically have no chance at all, I might as well give you a few pointers. Traditionally, hookers have always played it quiet. You can recognize them easily, because they're usually sitting alone in a bar, drinking something non-alcoholic and looking around a lot. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and, obviously, cost. In a place like Caesars, they tend to be considerably higher end than, say, at Excalibur. You've got the true professionals and the weekend warriors, who come over from California to make some cash during the busiest days of the week. And don't get me started about those crack whores in certain parts of downtown or North Las Vegas." The journalist in Breena was enthralled, the Dakota woman rather disgusted. "As prostitution is illegal, it is against the law to solicit a prostitute. You can imagine that this has certain advantages for those in the business, as complaint rates are pretty minimal.Ý There are those who suggest to avoid the hassle altogether and make the drive to Pahrump, with its legal brothels. But this is a very depressing affair - or so I hear," he added quickly.

Breena felt she had heard enough about this subject, and they headed to Cleopatra's Barge. It was a big boat, which was situated on some kind of puddle, actually rocking a bit back and forth. It's most interesting feature was Cleopatra's torso, which actually featured bare breasts. Astonishing that my country is so prude it considers this revolutionary, Breena thought, who was prone to rather un-American thoughts at random intervals. She also couldn't help noticing that while Cleo's breasts were nice, hers still beat them by a mile (which is not to be taken literally). "Why don't we take separate seats, and compare notes after 30 minutes. Honor system," Malt suggested. "To give you a head start, you may count the lady over there" - he pointed to a girl that was pretty but not at all dolled up too much. "How do you KNOW," Breena asked. "Er, that's Lula," Malt said.

Breena took her designated table and, to be sure, ordered a Bourbon Sour ("with plenty of alcohol," she shouted loudly). She started by counting how many girls were approaching Malt, but then changed her tactics as she was becoming bored. She was herself approached twice, but shot the poor guys such withering looks that they quickly disappeared. After 30 minutes, Malt reappeared, grinning devilishly. So how many did you spot?" he asked. "Just write it down." They compared notes, and Malt had written down 11. Breena's number was 11+1. "How did you that," Malt exclaimed. "Easy," Breena smiled. "I figured every woman smiling at you has to be a hooker. And you gave me Lula as a head start." Malt conceded the game with surprising grace. He probably wasn't too keen to discuss that theory any further.

This author has to throw in hastily (this author's best wife on the planet might be reading this some day, after all) that he himself has actually never been solicited in Las Vegas. Countless times on a perfectly normal Berlin street, but never in Vegas. Go figure (this probably explains Doctor Bob's fondness for Berlin, though).

To cap the evening off, Malt suggested visiting the Pussycat Dolls Club. "It's expensive, but I got a coupon." Breena just smiled. They crossed the Pussycat Dolls Casino, with some (thankfully) female dealers in burlesque attire and weird touches, like stockinged table legs. There was quite the line at the club. Malt gravitated to its end, but Breena just smiled again and took him to the front of the line. "He's with me," she said to the bouncer and went in, not waiting for his reply. The only thing he said was "Really?"

They had a good time at the club. There we periodical short burlesque segments, which were well done without being particularly naughty. You can see more nudity on a cab in Vegas, Breena thought. Malt was in a constant state of excitement, though, ogling every square inch of exposed flesh with unabashed happiness.

They called it a night around 2 a.m., and Malt escorted Breena back to Bill's like a true gentleman, only suggesting he might as well come up to her room five times.

Breena brushed her teeth and quickly fell asleep. In her troubled dreams, the gentleman with the thistle-down hair kept reappearing, telling her not to talk to the wrong people again and again.


Part 13

Breena woke up a bit rattled. She had had some strange dreams like night, but couldn't remember any details. She took a long nice bath and headed to reception for her assignment, not wanting to check out just yet. Again, one side of the sheet was just one word: Wynn. The other side was a lot longer. Here is what it said:

"A report! We finally got a report from our star reporter! Keep on writing, girl, there seem to be two people to be reading at this point."

"Your assignment today is a reward for actually working for a change. In the envelope, there's $1,000. I want you to gamble with it, playing slots, blackjack, video poker and roulette. Try to make a profit. This is getting expensive".

So Breena went to the casino for some gambling. It was the thirteenth chapter, after all.

She enrolled in the slot club, as she had been taught, and looked for a good video poker pay table. "Not much hope for that at the Evil Empire," a thirtyish slightly Southern looking guy next to her said. "What's your name?" he asked. "Breena ," she answered, faithfully. "What a coincidence," the guy said. "Some people call me Beener. But I don't like that much. I prefer Elvis, err... Sweet Elvis." - "That's a most peculiar name," Breena said, somehow channeling Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz for a second. "Well, where I come from, people are big on silly nicknames.," Sweet Elvis said. "It's supposed to enhance the mystique or something." That seemed to be a very silly place, Breena thought. "What games do you already know," Sweet Elvis wanted to know, "God, I hate this name," he added to no one in particular.

Breena explained that she only knew about sports betting and video poker yet. "For some weird reason I'm supposed to tell you about slots, because Donna, whose proper job that would be, is delayed by plot contrivances (this author is proud to announce that, unlikely as it may seem at this time, there WILL be a plot towards the end of the story). This author probably thought "why not give the stupid game to the foreign guy"." Breena protested, adding that, from her experience, this author was very close to sainthood.

"Be that as it may," Sweet Elvis said with an annoyed look in this author's general direction, "slots are a pretty easy game. When I was working with Wolfgang Puck, he always used to say in this funny accent of hisÝ "slots are a pretty easy game, my friend." You put in money, you pull a handle or push a button, you lose. Nothing to it." Breena put ten bucks in a monopoly machine and pushed the button. Nothing happened. "Of course you have to select your bet first.," Sweet Elvis said. Breena selected one credit and lost. "On almost any machine, you have to play maximum bets to win the biggest jackpot," Sweet Elvis told her. "On a dollar machine like this that means you have to wager three bucks a game. Breena pulled the handle three more times and had no credits left in the machine. "Yeah, that's how it works," Sweet Elvis muttered. "Are we done now?" - "No!," Breena protested. "Is there no skill involved at all?" "No. it's a game of chance, pure and simple. The house edge is pretty big on slots, too, so I have no idea why people bother at all. Some people claim that there are machines which are due to hit. That's balderdash. The casino programs a certain payout percentage, and there's no way of determining the payout by looking at the machine, unlike video poker, where the payout schedule is clearly posted. Also, with each game, the chances are exactly the same to hit something. You can hit a huge jackpot twice in two games, that is just as likely as hitting it on a different machine which is programmed the same way." This seemed comforting and confusing at the same time.

Ý"What is this Megabucks thing over there," she asked. "This is a good example of a progressive jackpot," Sweet Elvis said. "The jackpot keeps getting bigger as long people are playing, until it hits. Then the cycle begins again. Basically, the possible payout is much higher, but then again, you won't hit as many smaller payouts. In the case of Megabucks, multiple casinos are linked, generating huge jackpots. You have to wager $3 a game to be able to win it." Breena asked "But over there, it says penny machine. That seems like a cheap way to gamble." - "Basically you're right. In some cases you can get free drinks just playing penny slots very slowly, one penny. But again, if you want to win substantially, you have to play max coins. And that's mostly three bucks a pop again".

Breena had deposited $20 in a machine called Gems Wild Tiles now and was playing max coins. "Why oh why anyone would play a boring slot machine is beyond me. As my former neighbor James Cameron used to say "why would someone play slots? I'm King of the World - he says that a lot," he added. "Why play?? It's fun! Look!," Breena shouted. The gems had cleared away at the display, and a bonus was being paid. Sweet Elvis shook his head "Women," he said, very quietly.

Breena played on for an hour, quickly learning about the downside of slots as well. There were long dry spells, especially on her particular machine, when nothing seemed to hit. When she cashed out, she was about $20 ahead. She turned to ask Elvis about the ticket she got, but he was nowhere to be seen. But she was quickly able to figure out that, once inserted in a change machine, it paid out her winnings.

It was time to check out of the room now, and after she had settled her bill, she stood on the curb, looking for transportation. Malt again wasn't anywhere to be seen, and Walt was but a memory by now. A hot memory, to be sure, Breena thought wistfully.

She got into one of the cabs, which were conveniently waiting (this author almost had Breena hail a cab, which would have been so wrong, considering cabs arenít allow to stop curbside in Vegas).Ý The drive over to the Wynn was slow but uneventful. The cab driver didn't say more than strictly necessary, but kept watching her intently in the rearview mirror.

They passed the resort and she realized she couldn't see all that much from outside. Sure enough, there was the huge curved tower, looking like chocolate in the november light, with Wynn's name on top, but instead of some eye-catcher outside like at Bellagio, there was only a mountain covered in pine trees.

She entered the Wynn lobby and was surprised to see the comfortable chaise lounges which looked quite appealing. She checked the way she had used successfully before and got a suite on a high floor with a Strip view. Her room was large and lavish. The view through the floor-to-ceiling windows was spectacular - Breena never tired to look at the Strip from high up, especially at night. The bed featured 320-thread count European, which had to be good because they were from Europe. There was a large seating area with sofas and an ottoman, a dining table that seemed rather pointless to Breena, and two flat-screen LCD TVs, which did not. The bath area was wonderful, there were scores of goodies like toothpaste and a toothbrush, and the tub looked very inviting indeed.

But Breena had an assignment to do, and so she only stayed in the luxurious bathroom for a little while, about 90 minutes. When she reappeared, she looked stunning: Breena was one of the rare women who looked extremely sexy even when fully dressed (this author does not dare to fully undress her yet. This author hasn't known her that long). She was wearing simple black pants and a black blouse under a casual jacket, combined with sensible shoes. She had a hunch she might need them later.

Breena returned to the casino, put $100 in a bartop video poker machine with a horrible pay scheme and ordered a large coffee. The bar keeper charged her five bucks. She asked whether he hadn't noticed she was gambling, remembering what she had learned about comps. When the bar keeper explained that they weren't to comp drinks at the bar anymore, Breena got uncharacteristically mad. "You don't think I'll play in a joint like this anymore," she shouted and cashed out. That's the 52nd today, the bar keeper told his supervisor. "Wynn's plan to save on drinks seems to be working very well".

Breena was (again, uncharacteristically) so mad she just wanted to leave. She still noticed that the casino itself looked a lot like the Bellagio. There even was an area that seemed like an attempt to recreate the Conservatory. It was all very nice, but Breena was steaming. She passed the high-end designer stores without as much as a second look. She only stopped at the patisserie store, to gawk at the marvelous desserts and cakes they offered.

Leaving Wynn, she noticed the Venetian was next door. She thought it to be a bit redundant to play there again, so she walked on by, realizing how wonderfully it was done from the outside, too.

The next casino she saw was small. It was called Casino Royale and certainly seemed to be on the seamy side. Breena walked by it. The next casino she came to was Harrahís. After all that Evil Empire talk it didnít seem the right choice for her gambling spree. The theme also seemed kind of lame. Breena decided to return on the other side of the road. She saw the Mirage and remembered that MGM Mirage was the other big player on the Strip. But after all, she had to do her assignment somewhere. The first she noticed was the Volcano. It wasnít doing anything besides looking cheesy. She used the moving walkway to enter the cainos ad passed the space soon to be formerly known as the tiger habitat. The casino was large and had a tropical theme that was done well. There was a huge atrium with a rainforest that seemed to be part real, part fake, and a huge aquarium behind the check-in area.

She admired the Love theater and the Revolution lounge. The Beatles were everywhere, but again she liked the way it was done. She had to go to a show some day, and hadnít Malt advised her that Love was pretty god?

Impulsively, she went to the box office and bought a ticket. They were unreasonably expensive, but Breena rationalized that sheís be able to cover that with her gambling wins easily.

She enrolled in yet another slot club and looked for full pay video poker then and realized it obviously was hard to find. So she settled for 8/5 and put in $100, choosing max coins on $1. Exactly 20 hands later, she only had two credits left. Frustrated, she cashed out and put the remaining $10 in a Megabucks machine. These disappeared even quicker. "Looking for an even faster way to lose money?" a guy in a white beard asked her. "Iím Dr. Baf, and apparantly Iíve been chosen to explain the exciting world of roulette to you. Except I hate roulette." These experts arenít very enthousistic today, Breena thought. So she smiled one of her killer smiles and as usual, this helped. "But I can see it might be still fun to explain it to you, all 69 ways of playing," Dr. Baf said. "Are you a physician?" Breena asked. "No," Dr. Baf said, "Iím a doctor of blackjack and a professor of coupons. I HATE roulette."- "So Iíve noticed," Breena said. "But you sure can tell me about the basics, right?

"The house edge is ridiculously high with most roulette games," the good Dr. lectured. "Most Vegas roulette wheels have double zeroes, which raises the house edge. Even with a single 0 wheel, the house edge is still pretty high. The most easily explained bets are the bets at even odds, like black or red. The casino has the edge because even though these pay 2:1, you still lose when the wheel hits zero or double zero. Numbers bets pay 35:1 ‚ but thereís this pesky house edge again. The best thing you can do is trying to look elegant while youíre losing".

"Now, you need chips to play. Observe the table limits: thereís a minimum and a maximum bet. You look fairly ridiculous if someone has to explain these to you, as exemplified in the best Vegas movie of all time, Swingers. The table limits are one of the reasons the much-touted systems for roulette donít work. All of them donít, except of course for Lucky Tedís IncrediSystem." Breena decided she had to look that one up. She put a black chip on red (naturally) and won. She put the two chips on red again and won again. She put the four clack chips on red again and won for the third time. "What a fun game," she shouted. Dr. Baf was covering his face with his hands and murmured something that sounded a little bit like "women!"


Part 14

Collecting her winnings, Breena moved on to the next casino. It was called TI, which didn't seem to be much of a name. The Malt-O-Matic beeped urgently and Breena switched it on.

"TI is the newish name for a casino formerly known as Treasure Island. Treasure Island used to be a lot of fun. It had a big old pirate flag for a sign, a nicely themed casino area full of treasure chests and booty and the greatest free show on the Strip, a battle between a British vessel and a pirate ship. These days, everything is sterilized, homogenized and generally boring. Also, it's supposed to be "hip"." If a machine wasn't capable of displaying disgust, this one still did a pretty good job. "They replaced the pirate battle with the Sirens of TI, a show so lame even this author hasn't seen it yet. And, of course, the glorious pirate flag sign is gone".

Breena entered the casino. It was nicely enough decorated, even tasteful, but still it all seemed curiously bland. She wondered if she had felt the same way without knowing about the casino's history.

She still had to play one more game today for her assignment, and she might as well do it here, she thought. She had left blackjack for last, because it intimidated her somehow. She didn't know any rules, and everyone else seemed to know what they were doing.

She needed to learn more about the game, and looked around for someone to teach. Today, it was easy: she just had to find someone who looked unhappy. She saw a middle-aged bearded man milling about in the blackjack area. "You probably know a lot about blackjack," she said to him. "And you probably hate it." "No!," the man said, sounding surprised, sporting a Southern accent. "I love blackjack! I'm just disgruntled because I had to wait at this boring hotel. Also, I'm generally a bit disgruntled these days. But let me say that you appearing here makes me feel a lot better. May I say that this author sure doesn't do you justice." Breena privately certainly agreed about that. "I'm Doc Tom, by the way." There seemed to be an awful lot of doctors in Las Vegas, Breena thought.

"So, blackjack. A game of skill and chance. A challenge to the mind. The game of kings." - "The game of kings?" - "Something like that," Doc Tom said. "It works like that: you get two cards, the dealer gets two cards. Your cards are dealt face-up, but you can see only one of the dealer's cards. Your goal is to reach 21. You know how much the cards are worth?" Breena nodded. "An ace counts as 1 or 11. An ace and a face card or a ten are blackjack, an instant winner. If you have less than 21, the dealer wants to know whether you want another card or whether you want to stay. It depends on the dealer's first card and your total whether you should ask for a card or not. The goal is to have a higher total than the dealer without busting out, which means having a total of 22 or more. If you have the same total, your bet is returned. That's called a push" - "Slots are simpler," Breena deduced. "Yes. And I haven't even started with basic strategy, doubling down or splitting. There are different rules at different tables, too. For example, the payout for a blackjack can very, so you can get better odds by choosing the right table. But there are handy strategy cards you can use, and most of the time, dealers and other players will be happy to help you out. And as with any table game, if you don't feel comfortable, choose another".

Breena and Doc Tom chose a seat at a table nearby, after she had duly checked out the minimum. During the next hour, Breena played more or less correctly, expertly coached by Doc Tom. It still was slow going, and even though she had lost only $50, it was clear to her that this wasn't her game. "Wasn't there something in the news about card counting?" she asked. "Theoretically, you can keep track of the cards in a deck. If many high cards are left, the chances of winning improve when using the right strategy. But this is not going to help a normal player, because you have to be extremely good at it, and the casinos of course don't like it at all. Using multiple decks or continuous shuffling machines makes card counting near impossible."

Breena counted her remaining money and realized she was still $200 up. She played a little more video poker with a lousy pay table, after saying her good-byes to Doc Tom. He had been very helpful, but his questions about what precisely she did with her hair were a bit strange.

She was feeling hungry enough to eat a horse, which was a good time to try a buffet, she thought. Ignoring the frantic beeps of the Malt-O-Matic, she called the Venetian on her cell phone and asked for the Guggenheim. "Chef Kurt, is that you? I thought you might be able to recommend me a really good buffet. Yeah, the connection is really bad. There's a lot to tell me about? Just give me a name now and I'll get back to you. Yeah, that's good, I'm staying there anyway. Thanks! Bye" (please note the unbelievable skill used by this author to postpone the inevitable buffet discussion for a day not already full of bone-dry descriptions).

She returned to Wynn and took the elevator to her room. Two men who looked vaguely familiar were discussing religious issues. "But if the Virgin Mary really was a Virgin," one of them said, "and the whole immaculate conception thingie was true - are you listening, Norm?" Norm seemed to have been momentarily distracted by Breena's legs. "OF COURSE I'm listening, BOB," he said. "Virgin Mary, immaculate conception, yeah, I'm listening," he said. "Wouldn't have the baby Jesus deflowered his mommy on the way out?" The elevator reached Breena's floor, so she had to step out, not being able to catch Norm's reply.

She freshened up, choosing a jacket for her evening out. The message button on her phone was blinking. She pushed it, but all she got was a garbled "Don't".

It was 5 p.m. By now she was really hungry. Fortunately, she only had to wait for 10 minutes to get in. The buffet's cost was well over $40 with tax, quite a lot for a buffet, she thought. But the room was beautiful. The room featured a colorful design, with lots of fruit and vegetables on display for decoration. The selection was unbelievable to Breena: food wherever she looked. It was a lot better than at the only other buffet she had ever tried before, Chunky Charles' Chuckwagon buffet back home in one of the Dakotas. There was steak and peeled shrimp, sushi and real king crab legs, fine (=European) cheeses and a daunting selection of desserts. She couldn't even hope to try everything on the buffet. But it was fine food, and even if she didn't pig out like some of the people she saw who filled their plates on the first go as if there was no second time), she still felt she got her money's worth.

When she got up, the server asked her whether she was going to see the big implosion tonight, explaining that the Frontier on the other side of the Strip was to be imploded at 2.30 a.m. That seemed like a journalistic thing to do. It was time to walk over to the Mirage for the Love show, and she ambled over leisurely, passing the Mall with its strange architecture and blaring music, checking out the menus of Cafe Ba Ba Ree Ba and Strip Burger, and generally feeling as if she finally knew her way around town. She had gambled, she had won, she was meeting people, she was enjoying herself. Who needed Malt or Walt, anyway.

The Love theatre was spectacular. It was a theatre in the round, with curtains partitioning it until the start of the show, when all the curtains disappeared. The show itself was based on snippets, parts and entire songs by the Beatles. It was a Ýcombination of acrobatics, ballet, video and fanciful sets and costumes, and it all was very exciting to Breena. She liked the songs, most of which she didnít know all that well, and even though it was hard to make too much sense of what was going on on stage, she just enjoyed the ride. Maybe thatís what taking drugs would be like, she thought primly, thereby an inspiration to young people around the globe.

She left the theatre after the show and returned to her room for a little nap before her date with demolition. At 2.15, her wake-up call woke her up, and she hurried down the almost empty casino to the Strp. A festive gang of spectators had gathered, and there was much excitement in the air. People were drinking and filming, even though nothing much was happening. Then, with some delay, fireworks started and continued for five minutes. Then, a series of detonations moved through the building, followed six seconds later by a louder series of explosions that brought the building down in a large cloud of dust. All that was left was a pile auf rubble, steel and concrete, four stories high. The implosion sent lots of dust in the air, messing up Breenaís hair.

The crowd was jubilant, but Breena felt a bit sad. She hadnít been inside the New Frontier and she never would, but it was somewhat disappointing that almost nothing of the past remained in Vegas. Sure there would be a new glitzy megaresort, but the past had to have its place, too. She remembered reading about the Stardustís implosion not that long ago. Vegas obviously was a city constantly re-inventing itself, and while that brought progress, it also brought loss. Feeling eerily depressed and sad beyond her years, she returned to the luxurious comforts of her room in the glitzy new mega resort that had been built just a few years ago, on the debris of the Desert Inn. Which was beautiful and full of stories and histories in its own right, of which Breena would never know anything.

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