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Authors: William Lashner

B009XDDVN8 EBOK

BOOK: B009XDDVN8 EBOK
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 William Lashner

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Thomas & Mercer
PO Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

ISBN-13: 9781611099355
ISBN-10: 1611099358
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012920550

Contents

Start Reading

I. VEGAS, BABY

1. Silence

2. Spring Valley

3. Message from the Past

4. A Little Rough

5. Flamingo Road

6. The Big Ditch

II. MY THREE SUBURBS

7. East of Eden

8. Philly International

9. Anyone Home?

10. Shelby

11. Spirals

12. Eric

13. Caitlin

14. Stems

15. Fighting Harry Conahan

16. Splitsville

17. So Long to All That

18. Last Sunday

19. A Mr. Clevenger

20. Trifecta

21. Chandler Court

22. Frenchy Finds a Snorkel

23. Pickup

24. Kitty, Kitty

III. PHILADELPHIA STORY

25. My Strip

26. Oh, Madeline

27. The Stoneway

28. The Pilot Fish

29. Tony Grubbins

30. Death in Guaymas

31. Devil’s Brew

32. The Fat Dog’s Kid

33. Rattle Rattle

34. Rampage

35. The Club

36. UnWilling

37. Unsafe at Any Speed

38. On the Beach

39. Nocturne

40. The Morning After

IV. EVERFAIR

41. The Final Third

42. 52 Pickup

43. Second Chance

44. Derek

45. Oceanfront, Nebraska

46. A Cold Wind

47. Rumble, Rumble

48. Jacob and Esau

49. Spark

50. Lurch

51. The Piper

52. Slim Chance

53. The Dentist

Acknowledgments

About the Author

I took a piss at fortune’s sweet kiss,
It’s like eating caviar and dirt.

Bruce Springsteen

“Better Days”

I. VEGAS, BABY

“Las Vegas. If we can’t get in trouble there, boys, we’re not trying.”

—Augie Iannucci

1. Silence

W
E TALKED EVERY
week, Augie and Ben and I. We grew up together, closer than brothers, and though we went our separate ways, and barely saw each other anymore, we stayed forever in touch. Every Tuesday, by phone. At least that was the plan. We didn’t say much, most of the time there wasn’t much to say. How’s it going? How are the kids? Same old, same old. Sometimes we’d call just to say we were rushing somewhere and couldn’t talk. Augie didn’t want to hear the details of my suburban life, and I didn’t want to hear the details of his self-destruction, and neither of us wanted to hear Ben whine anymore about his ex-wives. But it really didn’t matter what we said, so long as we said something. We were each other’s canary in the mine shaft. As long as we were talking, it meant we had still gotten away with it.

Which was why I was flying into Vegas out of Philly International. It was a Wednesday morning and the day before, Augie hadn’t chirped.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Ben from his home in Fort Lauderdale. “He’s probably just stoned or shacked up with a whore. The problem isn’t that he hasn’t called, the problem is that he didn’t invite us to the party.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said. “But my call went straight to voice mail. He always has his phone.”

“Remember that time a couple years ago when Augie had us sweating for a week and a half before he finally called from a Mexican jail?”

“He blamed it on the worm.”

“It’s like you always say, J.J.: anything that happens to Augie, he’ll have done it to himself.”

“He does love his pornography,” I said.

“Let me know when he finally rings up, hungover like a buzzard, with some new tattoo he doesn’t remember getting,” said Ben. “So, how are the kids?”

I didn’t tell Ben I was flying out to check on Augie, but Augie hadn’t called, and so there I was swooping down toward the gaudy Vegas strip in a 757 with my seat back up and my stomach clenched, not knowing what the hell to expect. Though with Augie, it was always safe to expect the worst.

I didn’t much care for Las Vegas. I went there only to see Augie, and there wasn’t much fun we could have together anymore. Augie liked to gamble, could play poker in the casinos for days at a time, and was pretty damn good at it when he was sober, but I never took to the tables. For me the pain of the losses always outweighed the charge I got from winning; heaven knew my money had been too hard earned. And Augie liked to end his nights with a lap dance at his favorite stripper joint, but as far as I was concerned, if I wanted to see a naked woman who wouldn’t screw me at the end of the night I could just lie in bed and watch my wife undress. We used to play golf together, Augie and I, but after that crank dealer in Reno shot off his ring finger Augie didn’t much play anymore, even though one-handed he could still bludgeon me on the course. And frankly, online pornography is not something one forty-year-old man wants to share with another. When I visited Augie we mostly drank, watched sports on TV, and ate at the Applebee’s by his house.

Vegas, baby.

We landed with a jolt. I put on my sunglasses and my game face as the plane slid into the gate. The Vegas airport was a party I wanted no part of. The slot machines whirred, the bartenders poured, hawkers hawked their wares as the great screens high above the baggage carousels advertised the production of the year, the comedian of the decade, the sexiest showgirls on the strip. If Vegas didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be able to dream it up, and if by chance you did, before you could tell anyone about it a white rabbit would have chewed off your face.

All I had was a briefcase, so my journey through the airport was mercifully brief. I took the shuttle to the rental car center, checked in at a kiosk to avoid any face time with a clerk, picked the most generic-looking midsize I could find in the garage, and followed the arrows to the highway. No GPS, thank you. It’s not that I knew my way around, it’s that I didn’t want to leave a record anywhere of where I’d been.

“Mr. Moretti, yes, how good to see you again.”

“Thank you,” I said to a bank clerk I had never seen before. I suppose obsequious customer service is better than no customer service, even in a strip-mall bank branch not far from Augie’s Applebee’s.

“Just show me your key and your identification and sign here,” said the clerk, “and we can get your box for you right away.”

It took me a moment to remember which signature I had used when I first rented the box. An oldie but goodie. Two looping
J
s, each followed by a period, before a scrawled, half-legible
Moretti
. I showed her the key and a license that had me living at Augie’s house in Nevada, the same license I used for the flight and to rent the car.

“Very good,” she said after she compared my signature with the one in the file.

She put me and the box in a room smaller than an airplane toilet and left us alone. I sat there for a moment and felt nothing, felt dead. My son had a ball game that afternoon that I was
missing, my daughter had a choral concert at the high school that night, and I was booked on the red-eye back, which meant my next day would be a sleep-deprived mess, all to fly out to a city I hated to make sure an old friend, with whom I no longer had anything in common, was okay because he hadn’t phoned, even though he was a drug-addicted drunk, which might have had something to do with the lapse. And all of this was in service to something that happened almost a quarter of a century ago. I closed my eyes for a moment, fingered the scar on my neck, and thought what it would be like to be done with it all, to be finished, to let the fear bleed out of me one last time. What would it be like to be normal?

I let the weakness overtake me for a moment, let it pass through me and out of me. And then I opened up the box.

No surprises, nothing popping out like a stuffed clown atop a Slinky, just the same stuff I grabbed from the box each time I came to Vegas to check on Augie. There were the keys to his house. There was the wad of hundred-dollar bills bound in a purple-and-white wrapper, a little pillow of security if things went wrong. There was the automatic wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in a plastic bag so that it wouldn’t rattle in the box, something that scared the hell out of me but that Augie insisted on. And oh yeah, there were a couple boxes of condoms.

BOOK: B009XDDVN8 EBOK
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