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I find the guy in the Laughing Jackalope just like they said I would.
I take a seat at the bar, order a seltzer and ask for a roll of quarters. I let the seltzer sit and start slowly dribbling the quarters into the video poker game built into the surface of the bar. I stare at the cards as they blip across the screen. I play a quarter a hand, flying in the face of the most basic rule of video poker that says you always bet the max. Quarter bets pay a bare fraction of the max bets. Hit a big hand on a quarter bet and you’re gonna feel like an asshole.
I hit a straight flush with a quarter once, paid 1,200 to 1. Sure enough, I felt like an asshole. Well that’s happened before and it’ll happen again.
The machine blips me a pair of jacks along with a nine, a ten, and a king. I pass on the even money the pair promises, throw one of the jacks and go for the inside straight. Deuce. I drop another quarter in the slot.
There’s only a handful of people in here. The guy; the bartender; a couple sitting on stools, feeding nickels to one of the slots; an old-timer nodding a bit at the bar; and the evening cocktail waitress straightening the tables and getting things set for the crowd that will come in when the shifts change across the street.
I keep my face in the game, sneaking peeks at the guy, keeping my hand next to my face, hoping no one notices the palm-size patch of white scar tissue around my right eye. I’d just as soon no one remembers that scar if the cops come around later. But really, I only have to worry about that if a body turns up.
I’m on my third roll of quarters and little has changed. The couple’s shifted from the slot machine to the jukebox, so now “Crazy on You” complements the blips of the poker games and the recorded come-on of the slots. The guy still hasn’t moved.
He’s been sitting at the far end of the bar, sliding C-notes into his own video poker game and going through them about as fast as I’ve been going through my quarters. Every fifteen minutes or so he throws back another shot of chilled Jäger and bangs the glass on the bar, indicating the bartender should get his ass over there and give him a refill.
Back in the day, when I had to do that job, when my biggest worry was getting the drunks out the door before the sun came up, I’d never have put up with that shit. Someone banged a glass on my bar or snapped their fingers or something like that and they’d be sitting dry a long fucking time before I remembered they were there. This bartender is different, he’s working the day shift at the Laughing Jakalope for Christ sake, glasses banged on the bar are the last fucking thing he’s gonna raise a sweat over.
The bartender pulls the frosted green bottle of Jägermeister out of the cooler, fills the guy’s shot glass and puts the bottle back. The guy doesn’t even look at him, just keeps peering into the game screen, his credits rolling up and down as he scores on two pair here, three of a kind there; searching for a full house or a straight flush or even a royal.
There’s a blast of sunshine as someone opens the tinted front door and two drunk couples come stumbling in. They’re college kids, the boys in shorts and tank tops, their faces sunburnt except where their eyes have been raccooned white by their sunglasses, the girls in shorts and tube tops, skin tanned cancer brown, harsh bikini lines climbing up out of their stretchy tops and creeping around their necks. All of them are double-fisting plastic cups full of something bright blue and frozen.
The bartender looks down from the TV hanging above the bar. He’s been watching one of those behind-the-scenes shows; this one cracking the lid open on a reality show that teamed up stars from older shows that have already been behind-the-scened. He sees the cups the kids are carrying and shakes his head.
—Uh-uh, not in here, can’t bring outside booze in here.
One of the guys, his tank says don’t drunk with me, i’m fuck!, looks at the drinks in his hands and back at the bartender, trying to connect the dots.
—What the fuck, man? We been carrying drinksh in and out of cashinosh all fucking day.
The other guy, his shirt says i’m with asshole and has an arrow pointing up at his own face, hoots.
—Been drinking all fuckin’ day! All fuckin’ day! Gonna drink all fuckin’ night! All fuckin’ night!
The bartender nods.
—Sure, just not those drinks in here.
Everyone’s watching now; the guy, the old-timer, the slot couple, the cocktail waitress. Asshole takes a couple quick sloppy steps toward the bar.
—The fuck, dude? Gonna drink!
Drunk Fuck grabs the tail of his shirt and yanks him back.
—Dude, no, sheck it out.
He drapes an arm over his buddy’s shoulder, spilling a little blue slush down Asshole’s arm, and whispers in his ear. Asshole listens for a second and then busts up.
—Yeah, yeah, dude, tha’sh it!
He straightens up and bows to the bartender.
—Yesh, shir, we will be pleashed to do ash you wish. Fuckin’ A.
He gestures toward the door and Drunk Fuck leads the way. Asshole pushes the door open and they turn into dark silhouettes against the fierce late afternoon sun. Asshole points out the door.
Drunk Fuck bows.
He takes one step outside and chugs the contents of his cups and throws both empties into the parking lot. He steps back in and holds the door as Asshole steps out and repeats the performance. The girls are laughing and snorting, hanging on to each other to keep from falling down and struggling to keep their tits from popping out of their tops. Asshole steps back in. He wags a finger at them.
—Ladiesh! No fucking drinksh from outshide! Pleash!
He points at the door. One of the girls straightens up, tries to curtsy, almost falls, and weaves out to the sidewalk. She upends one of her cups and gets half of it in her mouth while the other half slops down her chin and neck and into her cleavage. She explodes laughing and the slush that went in her mouth sprays onto the ground. She stuffs a hand inside her top and tries to dig out the blue daiquiri. Asshole wiggles his fingers.
He tries to jam his fingers between her tits and she slaps his hand, still coughing and choking. Drunk Fuck tries to get into the act and they jostle the girl around, plucking at her top. The other girl steps outside.
—Hey! Hey, assholes! Check this out!
She tilts her head back, holds both cups over her face, opens her mouth wide, and starts to pour. Frozen blueberry daiquiri fills her mouth and overflows down her face. The guys watch, one with his arms wrapped around the waist of the choking girl and one with his hand halfway down her top. The two-cup girl lets about half of each daiquiri pour over her face, then just dumps the remainder over her chest and belly. Asshole and Drunk Fuck abandon Choking Girl and pounce on Two Cups. Asshole kneels in front of her and sucks blue ice from her pierced navel while Drunk Fuck picks up a straw from the pavement, sticks it between her tits and starts to suck on it. Two Cups giggles and screams.
By now the door has swung shut and we are all watching the action as a shadow play taking place beyond the tinted glass front of the Jackalope. Still, we hear it pretty clearly when Choking Girl coughs, gags and begins to vomit blue onto the sidewalk and her friends’ sandaled feet. By then the bartender has come out from behind the bar, crossed to the door and locked it. He walks to the kitchen door and sticks his head inside.
A Mexican kid in greasy dishwasher whites comes out. The bartender points at the scene outside.
—Clean that shit up.
Jesus stares at the carnage taking place beyond the window and nods.
The bartender walks back to the bar, picks up the remote and turns up the volume on his show; the slot couple punches in another song and “Saturday in the Park” starts playing; the old-timer shakes his head and mutters something about Goddamn fucking college kids; the cocktail waitress goes back to cleaning out the votives that she’ll be setting on the tables soon; the guy knocks back another Jäger and bangs it on the bar. I take a last look out the window just in time to see Two Cups start puking, too. The boys watch, laughing and high-fiving each other.
Then the guy gets up and goes to the bathroom.
Jesus is standing by the glass with a mop bucket, waiting for the kids to leave so he can do his shitty job. I follow the guy into the bathroom so I can do mine.
He’s pissing loudly into one of the urinals. I edge past him into a stall, close the door and pull the handful of tiny coke-filled glassine bags out of my pocket. The urinal flushes and I pinch one of the bags open and drop it along with several others onto the floor, most of them scattering out under the stall partition.
—Shit! Oh, shit!
I slam my shoulder loudly against the stall as I get down on my knees and start scrabbling under the partition for the dropped bags. I peek out and see that the guy has moved to the sink and is washing his hands and ignoring me. I scoop up the bags and flick the open one with my middle finger. It skitters across the tiles, leaving a thin trail of white powder, and comes to rest at his feet.
—Fuck! Oh, fuck!
I stand up, jerk on the locked stall door a couple times, bang it open and stumble out. The guy is just straightening, the open, now almost empty, bag pinched between his thumb and forefinger. I shuffle toward him, the rest of the bags peeking from my fist.
—Um, that’s mine.
He stands there, a couple inches shorter than me, balding, flashy tasteless clothes, pinkie ring, a bulky upper body that’s settling into his midsection but still powerful around the shoulders. The same build my body is starting to develop. He looks from the bag to me.
—Yeah. So, you know.
I put out my hand.
He points at the bag.
He points at me.
He shakes his head.
He reaches for his back pocket.
—Looks like this might be your lucky day.
He pulls out a wallet, shows it to me, and lets it fall open, revealing the LVMPD badge within.
—Except it ain’t.
—You actually staying here?
I squint up at the sign for the Happi Inn Motel as we cross the parking lot it shares with the Jackalope.
I don’t say anything as it kind of goes without saying that a place called the Happi Inn Motel sucks. Besides, I’m busy. I’m wondering if this is it. Did they finally get sick of me fucking up? Have they set me up?
Is this the guy who’s going to kill me?
I get out my room key and the guy puts a hand on my shoulder.
—Wait up, hoss. You got anyone in there? A partner, maybe?
I look at the pavement and shake my head.
—Naw, just me.
—Uh-huh. Well, you go ahead and unlock that door, but don’t open it.
I turn the key, the lock clicks open and I step back from the door. He puts one hand on the knob, tucks the other one up under the tail of his silvery jacket and rests it on the butt of his piece. He looks at me again.
—Last chance. Anyone in there, now’s the time to tell me. I see someone I’m gonna go bang bang.
I shake my head again.
He pushes the door open, makes sure it lies flat against the wall so he knows there’s no one behind it, then nods me in. I step in and he follows me, closing and locking the door behind us. He goes to fasten the chain, but it’s broken, so he puts his hand on his gun again and looks the room over, peeking under the bed, looking in the closet, and sticking his head in the bathroom. Then he claps his hands and points at me.
—OK, hoss, let’s see it. On the table there.
I stick my hand in my pocket, dig out the twenty or so gram bags of coke and dump them on the table. He presses his lips together and shakes his head.
—Not good, hoss, not good. That’s a very felony-looking pile there.
He fingers the bags.
—You got enough weight here to cause you some problems right out the chute. But all packaged up like that? Shit, that looks like intent to distribute to me. What do you think?
I look at the floor and shrug.
—Uh-huh. You got any more? Better tell me now. I gotta take this room apart I’m gonna be irritated.
—You got more?
He blows Jäger-scented air out his nostrils, pulls a Kool from his breast pocket and lights it.
—That is some serious weight. You got it here?
—In this room?
He blows a cloud of smoke.
I tilt my head at the bathroom.
—I tell ya what. You got a half kilo in the shitter there, and this might turn out to be your lucky day after all.
He puts a finger under my chin and tilts my head up so he can look into my eyes.
—You get me, hoss?
Great. Better and better. A dirty cop. And I have such a good track record with dirty cops.
—Yeah. I get you.
He drops his finger from my chin.
—But you fuck with me, hoss?
He slaps me lightly on the cheek.
—And I’m gonna school you. Get me?
—Yeah. I get you.
He gestures for me to lead the way to the bathroom.
—So why the sad face? Let’s get happy.
I slouch past him to the open door of the bathroom. He stands close behind me, blowing smoke over my shoulder.
—You go ahead and take the lid off, but don’t you go reaching in there or anything. Just take that lid off and step to the side.
From the Trade Paperback edition.