She phoned Michael, but he wasn’t home. Unless he’d changed shifts in the past six months, he didn’t go to work until noon. She decided to try his number again in half an hour.
After retrieving the morning newspaper from the front stoop, she read the rave review of
written by the
’s entertainment critic. He couldn’t find anything wrong with the show. His praise was so effusive that, even reading it by herself, in her own kitchen, she was slightly embarrassed by the effusiveness of the praise.
She ate a light breakfast of grapefruit juice and one English muffin, then went to Danny’s room to pack his belongings. When she opened the door, she gasped and halted.
The room was a mess. The airplane models were no longer in the display case; they were strewn across the floor, and a few were broken. Danny’s collection of paperbacks had been pulled from the bookcase and tossed into every corner. The tubes of glue, miniature bottles of enamel, and model-crafting tools that had stood on his desk were now on the floor with everything else. A poster of one of the movie monsters had been ripped apart; it hung from the wall in several pieces. The action figures had been knocked off the headboard. The closet doors were open, and all the clothes inside appeared to have been thrown on the floor. The game table had been overturned. The easel lay on the carpet, the chalkboard facing down.
Shaking with rage, Tina slowly crossed the room, carefully stepping through the debris. She stopped at the easel, set it up as it belonged, hesitated, then turned the chalkboard toward her.
“Damn!” she said, furious.
Vivienne Neddler had been in to clean last evening, but this wasn’t the kind of thing that Vivienne would be capable of doing. If the mess had been here when Vivienne arrived, the old woman would have cleaned it up and would have left a note about what she’d found. Clearly, the intruder had come in after Mrs. Neddler had left.
Fuming, Tina went through the house, meticulously checking every window and door. She could find no sign of forced entry.
In the kitchen again, she phoned Michael. He still didn’t answer. She slammed down the handset.
She pulled the telephone directory from a drawer and leafed through the Yellow Pages until she found the advertisements for locksmiths. She chose the company with the largest ad.
“Anderlingen Lock and Security.”
“Your ad in the Yellow Pages says you can have a man here to change my locks in one hour.”
“That’s our emergency service. It costs more.”
“I don’t care what it costs,” Tina said.
“But if you just put your name on our work list, we’ll most likely have a man there by four o’clock this afternoon, tomorrow morning at the latest. And the regular service is forty percent cheaper than an emergency job.”
“Vandals were in my house last night,” Tina said.
“What a world we live in,” said the woman at Anderlingen.
“They wrecked a lot of stuff—”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“—so I want the locks changed immediately.”
“And I want good locks installed. The best you’ve got.”
“Just give me your name and address, and I’ll send a man out right away.”
A couple of minutes later, having completed the call, Tina went back to Danny’s room to survey the damage again. As she looked over the wreckage, she said, “What the hell do you want from me, Mike?”
She doubted that he would be able to answer that question even if he were present to hear it. What possible excuse could he have? What twisted logic could justify this sort of sick behavior? It was crazy, hateful.
Tina arrived at Bally’s Hotel at ten minutes till two, Wednesday afternoon, leaving her Honda with a valet parking attendant.
Bally’s, formerly the MGM Grand, was getting to be one of the older establishments on the continuously rejuvenating Las Vegas Strip, but it was still one of the most popular hotels in town, and on this last day of the year it was packed. At least two or three thousand people were in the casino, which was larger than a football field. Hundreds of gamblers—pretty young women, sweet-faced grandmothers, men in jeans and decoratively stitched Western shirts, retirement-age men in expensive but tacky leisure outfits, a few guys in three-piece suits, salesmen, doctors, mechanics, secretaries, Americans from all of the Western states, junketeers from the East Coast, Japanese tourists, a few Arab men—sat at the semielliptical blackjack tables, pushing money and chips forward, sometimes taking back their winnings, eagerly grabbing the cards that were dealt from the five-deck shoes, each reacting in one of several predictable ways: Some players squealed with delight; some grumbled; others smiled ruefully and shook their heads; some teased the dealers, pleading half seriously for better cards; and still others were silent, polite, attentive, and businesslike, as though they thought they were engaged in some reasonable form of investment planning. Hundreds of other people stood close behind the players, watching impatiently, waiting for a seat to open. At the craps tables, the crowds, primarily men, were more boisterous than the blackjack aficionados; they screamed, howled, cheered, groaned, encouraged the shooter, and prayed loudly to the dice. On the left, slot machines ran the entire length of the casino, bank after nerve-jangling bank of them, brightly and colorfully lighted, attended by gamblers who were more vocal than the card players but not as loud as the craps shooters. On the right, beyond the craps tables, halfway down the long room, elevated from the main floor, the white-marble and brass baccarat pit catered to a more affluent and sedate group of gamblers; at baccarat, the pit boss, the floorman, and the dealers wore tuxedos. And everywhere in the gigantic casino, there were cocktail waitresses in brief costumes, revealing long legs and cleavage; they bustled here and there, back and forth, as if they were the threads that bound the crowd together.
Tina pressed through the milling onlookers who filled the wide center aisle, and she located Michael almost at once. He was dealing blackjack at one of the first tables. The game minimum was a five-dollar bet, and all seven seats were taken. Michael was grinning, chatting amicably with the players. Some dealers were cold and uncommunicative, but Michael felt the day went faster when he was friendly with people. Not unexpectedly, he received considerably more tips than most dealers did.
Michael was lean and blond, with eyes nearly as blue as Tina’s. He somewhat resembled Robert Redford, almost too pretty. It was no surprise that women players tipped him more often and more generously than did men.
When Tina squeezed into the narrow gap between the tables and caught Michael’s attention, his reaction was far different from what she had expected. She’d thought the sight of her would wipe the smile off his face. Instead, his smile broadened, and there seemed to be genuine delight in his eyes.
He was shuffling cards when he saw her, and he continued to shuffle while he spoke. “Hey, hello there. You look terrific, Tina. A sight for sore eyes.”
She wasn’t prepared for this pleasantness, nonplussed by the warmth of his greeting.
He said, “That’s a nice sweater. I like it. You always looked good in blue.”
She smiled uneasily and tried to remember that she had come here to accuse him of cruelly harassing her. “Michael, I have to talk to you.”
He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got a break coming up in five minutes.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Why don’t you wait right where you are? You can watch these nice people beat me out of a lot of money.”
Every player at the table groaned, and they all had comments to make about the unlikely possibility that they might win anything from this dealer.
Michael grinned and winked at Tina.
She smiled woodenly.
She waited impatiently as the five minutes crawled by; she was never comfortable in a casino when it was busy. The frantic activity and the unrelenting excitement, which bordered on hysteria at times, abraded her nerves.
The huge room was so noisy that the blend of sounds seemed to coalesce into a visible substance—like a humid yellow haze in the air. Slot machines rang and beeped and whistled and buzzed. Balls clattered around spinning roulette wheels. A five-piece band hammered out wildly amplified pop music from the small stage in the open cocktail lounge beyond and slightly above the slot machines. The paging system blared names. Ice rattled in glasses as gamblers drank while they played. And everyone seemed to be talking at once.
When Michael’s break time arrived, a replacement dealer took over the table, and Michael stepped out of the blackjack pit, into the center aisle. “You want to talk?”
“Not here,” she said, half-shouting. “I can’t hear myself think.”
“Let’s go down to the arcade.”
To reach the escalators that would carry them down to the shopping arcade on the lower level, they had to cross the entire casino. Michael led the way, gently pushing and elbowing through the holiday crowd, and Tina followed quickly in his wake, before the path that he made could close up again.
Halfway across the long room, they stopped at a clearing where a middle-aged man lay on his back, unconscious, in front of a blackjack table. He was wearing a beige suit, a dark brown shirt, and a beige-patterned tie. An overturned stool lay beside him, and approximately five hundred dollars’ worth of green chips were scattered on the carpet. Two uniformed security men were performing first aid on the unconscious man, loosening his tie and collar, taking his pulse, while a third guard was keeping curious customers out of the way.
Michael said, “Heart attack, Pete?”
The third guard said, “Hi, Mike. Nah, I don’t think it’s his heart. Probably a combination of blackjack blackout and bingo bladder. He was sitting here for eight hours straight.”
On the floor, the man in the beige suit groaned. His eyelids fluttered.
Shaking his head, obviously amused, Michael moved around the clearing and into the crowd again.
When at last they reached the end of the casino and were on the escalators, heading down toward the shopping arcade, Tina said, “What is blackjack blackout?”
“It’s stupid is what it is,” Michael said, still amused. “The guy sits down to play cards and gets so involved he loses track of time, which is, of course, exactly what the management wants him to do. That’s why there aren’t any windows or clocks in the casino. But once in a while, a guy
loses track, doesn’t get up for hours and hours, just keeps on playing like a zombie. Meanwhile, he’s drinking too much. When he
finally stand up, he moves too fast. The blood drains from his head—
—and he faints dead away. Blackjack blackout.”
“We see it all the time.”
“Sometimes a player gets so interested in the game that he’s virtually hypnotized by it. He’s been drinking pretty regularly, but he’s so deep in a trance that he can completely ignore the call of nature until—bingo!—he has a bladder spasm. If it’s really a bad one, he finds out his pipes have blocked up. He can’t relieve himself, and he has to be taken to the hospital and catheterized.”
“My God, are you serious?”
They stepped off the escalator, into the bustling shopping arcade. Crowds surged past the souvenir shops, art galleries, jewelry stores, clothing stores, and other retail businesses, but they were neither shoulder-to-shoulder nor as insistent as they were upstairs in the casino.
“I still don’t see anyplace where we can talk privately,” Tina said.
“Let’s walk down to the ice-cream parlor and get a couple of pistachio cones. What do you say? You always liked pistachio.”
“I don’t want any ice cream, Michael.”
She had lost the momentum occasioned by her anger, and now she was afraid of losing the sense of purpose that had driven her to confront him. He was trying so hard to be nice, which wasn’t like Michael at all. At least it wasn’t like the Michael Evans she had known for the past couple of years. When they were first married, he’d been fun, charming, easygoing, but he had not been that way with her in a long time.
“No ice cream,” she repeated. “Just some talk.”
“Well, if you don’t want some pistachio, I certainly do. I’ll get a cone, and then we can go outside, walk around the parking lot. It’s a fairly warm day.”
“How long is your break?”
“Twenty minutes. But I’m tight with the pit boss. He’ll cover for me if I don’t get back in time.”
The ice-cream parlor was at the far end of the arcade. As they walked, Michael continued to try to amuse her by telling her about other unusual maladies to which gamblers were prone.
“There’s what we call ‘jackpot attack,’” Michael said. “For years people go home from Vegas and tell all their friends that they came out ahead of the game. Lying their heads off. Everyone pretends to be a winner. And when all of a sudden someone
hit it big, especially on a slot machine where it can happen in a flash, they’re so surprised they pass out. Heart attacks are more frequent around the slot machines than anywhere else in the casino, and a lot of the victims are people who’ve just lined up three bars and won a bundle.
“Then there’s ‘Vegas syndrome.’ Someone gets so carried away with gambling and running from show to show that he forgets to eat for a whole day or longer. He or she—it happens to women nearly as often as men. Anyway, when he finally gets hungry and realizes he hasn’t eaten, he gulps down a huge meal, and the blood rushes from his head to his stomach, and he passes out in the middle of the restaurant. It’s not usually dangerous, except if he has a mouthful of food when he faints, because then he might choke to death.