“But my favorite is what we call the ‘time-warp syndrome.’ People come here from a lot of dull places, and Vegas is like an adult Disneyland. There’s so much going on, so much to see and do, constant excitement, so people get out of their normal rhythms. They go to bed at dawn, get up in the afternoon, and they lose track of what day it is. When the excitement wears off a little, they go to check out of the hotel, and they discover their three-day weekend somehow turned into five days. They can’t believe it. They think they’re being overcharged, and they argue with the desk clerks. When someone shows them a calendar and a daily newspaper, they’re really shocked. They’ve been through a time warp and lost a couple of days. Isn’t that weird?”
Michael kept up the friendly patter while he got his cone of ice cream. Then, as they stepped out of the rear entrance of the hotel and walked along the edge of the parking lot in the seventy-degree winter sunshine, he said, “So what did you want to talk about?”
Tina wasn’t sure how to begin. Her original intention had been to accuse him of ripping apart Danny’s room; she had been prepared to come on strong, so that even if he didn’t want her to know he’d done it, he might be rattled enough to reveal his guilt. But now, if she started making nasty accusations after he’d been so pleasant to her, she would seem to be a hysterical harpy, and if she still had any advantage left, she would quickly lose it.
At last she said, “Some strange things have been happening at the house.”
“Strange? Like what?”
“I think someone broke in.”
“Well . . . I’m sure of it.”
“When did this happen?”
Remembering the two words on the chalkboard, she said, “Three times in the past week.”
He stopped walking and stared at her. “Three times?”
“Yes. Last evening was the latest.”
“What do the police say?”
“I haven’t called them.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
“For one thing, nothing was taken.”
“Somebody broke in three times but didn’t steal anything?”
If he was faking innocence, he was a much better actor than she thought he was, and she thought she knew him well indeed. After all, she’d lived with him for a long time, through years of happiness and years of misery, and she’d come to know the limits of his talent for deception and duplicity. She’d always known when he was lying. She didn’t think he was lying now. There was something peculiar in his eyes, a speculative look, but it wasn’t guile. He truly seemed unaware of what had happened at the house. Perhaps he’d had nothing to do with it.
But if Michael hadn’t torn up Danny’s room, if Michael hadn’t written those words on the chalkboard, then who had?
“Why would someone break in and leave without taking anything?” Michael asked.
“I think they were just trying to upset me, scare me.”
“Who would want to scare you?” He seemed genuinely concerned.
She didn’t know what to say.
“You’ve never been the kind of person who makes enemies,” he said. “You’re a damn hard woman to hate.”
“You managed,” she said, and that was as close as she could come to accusing him of anything.
He blinked in surprise. “Oh, no. No, no, Tina. I never hated you. I was disappointed by the changes in you. I was angry with you. Angry and hurt. I’ll admit that, all right. There was a lot of bitterness on my part. Definitely. But it was never as bad as hatred.”
Michael hadn’t wrecked Danny’s room. She was absolutely sure of that now.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you with this. I’m not really sure why I did,” she lied. “I ought to have called the police right away.”
He licked his ice-cream cone, studied her, and then he smiled. “I understand. It’s hard for you to get around to it. You don’t know how to begin. So you come to me with this story.”
“Michael, it’s not just a story.”
“Don’t be embarrassed.”
“I’m not embarrassed. Why should I be embarrassed?”
“Relax. It’s all right, Tina,” he said gently.
been breaking into the house.”
“I understand how you feel.” His smile changed; it was smug now.
“I really do understand, Tina.” His voice was reassuring, but his tone was condescending. “You don’t need an excuse to ask me what you’ve come here to ask. Honey, you don’t need a story about someone breaking into the house. I understand, and I’m with you. I really am. So go ahead. Don’t feel awkward about it. Just get right down to it. Go ahead and say it.”
She was perplexed. “Say what?”
“We let the marriage go off the rails. But there at first, for a good many years, we had a great thing going. We can have it again if we really want to try for it.”
She was stunned. “Are you serious?”
“I’ve been thinking about it the past few days. When I saw you walk into the casino a while ago, I knew I was right. As soon as I saw you, I knew everything was going to turn out exactly like I had it figured.”
“Sure.” He mistook her astonishment for surprised delight. “Now that you’ve had your fling as a producer, you’re ready to settle down. That makes a lot of sense, Tina.”
she thought angrily.
He still persisted in regarding her as a flighty woman who wanted to take a fling at being a Vegas producer. The insufferable bastard! She was furious, but she said nothing; she didn’t trust herself to speak, afraid that she would start screaming at him the instant she opened her mouth.
“There’s more to life than just having a flashy career,” Michael said pontifically. “Home life counts for something. Home and family. That has to be a part of life too. Maybe it’s the most important part.” He nodded sanctimoniously. “Family. These last few days, as your show’s been getting ready to open, I’ve had the feeling you might finally realize you need something more in life, something a lot more emotionally satisfying than whatever it is you can get out of just producing stage shows.”
Tina’s ambition was, in part, what had led to the dissolution of their marriage. Well, not her ambition as much as Michael’s childish attitude toward it. He was happy being a blackjack dealer; his salary and his good tips were enough for him, and he was content to coast through the years. But merely drifting along in the currents of life wasn’t enough for Tina. As she had struggled to move up from dancer to costumer to choreographer to lounge-revue coordinator to producer, Michael had been displeased with her commitment to work. She had never neglected him and Danny. She had been determined that neither of them would have reason to feel that his importance in her life had diminished. Danny had been wonderful; Danny had understood. Michael couldn’t or wouldn’t. Gradually Michael’s displeasure over her desire to succeed was complicated by a darker emotion: He grew jealous of her smallest achievements. She had tried to encourage him to seek advances in his own career—from dealer to floorman to pit boss to higher casino management—but he had no interest in climbing that ladder. He became waspish, petulant. Eventually he started seeing other women. She was shocked by his reaction, then confused, and at last deeply saddened. The only way she could have held on to her husband would have been to abandon her new career, and she had refused to do that.
In time Michael had made it clear to her that he hadn’t actually ever loved the real Christina. He didn’t tell her directly, but his behavior said as much. He had adored only the showgirl, the dancer, the cute little thing that other men coveted, the pretty woman whose presence at his side had inflated his ego. As long as she remained a dancer, as long as she devoted her life to him, as long as she hung on his arm and looked delicious, he approved of her. But the moment that she wanted to be something more than a trophy wife, he rebelled.
Badly hurt by that discovery, she had given him the freedom that he wanted.
And now he actually thought that she was going to crawl back to him. That was why he’d smiled when he’d seen her at his blackjack table. That was why he had been so charming. The size of his ego astounded her.
Standing before her in the sunshine, his white shirt shimmering with squiggles of reflected light that bounced off the parked cars, he favored her with that self-satisfied, superior smile that made her feel as cold as this winter day ought to have been.
Once, long ago, she had loved him very much. Now she couldn’t imagine how or why she had ever cared.
“Michael, in case you haven’t heard,
is a hit. A big hit. Huge.”
“Sure,” he said. “I know that, baby. And I’m happy for you. I’m happy for you
me. Now that you’ve proved whatever you needed to prove, you can relax.”
“Michael, I intend to continue working as a producer. I’m not going to—”
“Oh, I don’t expect you to give it up,” he said magnanimously.
“You don’t, huh?”
“No, no. Of course not. It’s good for you to have something to dabble in. I see that now. I get the message. But with
running successfully, you won’t have all that much to do. It won’t be like before.”
“Michael—” she began, intending to tell him that she was going to stage another show within the next year, that she didn’t want to be represented by only one production at a time, and that she even had distant designs on New York and Broadway, where the return of Busby Berkeley–style musicals might be greeted with cheers.
But he was so involved with his fantasy that he wasn’t aware that she had no desire to be a part of it. He interrupted her before she’d said more than his name. “We can do it, Tina. It was good for us once, those early years. It can be good again. We’re still young. We have time to start another family. Maybe even two boys and two girls. That’s what I’ve always wanted.”
When he paused to lick his ice-cream cone, she said, “Michael, that’s not the way it’s going to be.”
“Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe a large family isn’t such a wise idea these days, what with the economy in trouble and all the turmoil in the world. But we can take care of two easily enough, and maybe we’ll get lucky and have one boy and one girl. Of course we’ll wait a year or so. I’m sure there’s a lot of work to do on a show like
even after it opens. We’ll wait until it’s running smoothly, until it doesn’t need much of your time. Then we can—”
“Michael, stop it!” she said harshly.
He flinched as if she’d slapped him.
“I’m not feeling unfulfilled these days,” she said. “I’m not pining for the domestic life. You don’t understand me one bit better now than you did when we divorced.”
His expression of surprise slowly settled into a frown.
She said, “I didn’t make up that story about someone breaking into the house just so you could play the strong, reliable man to my weak, frightened female. Someone really
break in. I came to you because I thought . . . I believed . . . Well, that doesn’t matter anymore.”
She turned away from him and started toward the rear entrance of the hotel, out of which they’d come a few minutes ago.
“Wait!” Michael said. “Tina, wait!”
She stopped and regarded him with contempt and sorrow.
He hurried to her. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault, Tina. I botched it. Jesus, I was babbling like an idiot, wasn’t I? I didn’t let you do it your way. I knew what you wanted to say, but I should have let you say it at your own speed. I was wrong. It’s just—I was excited, Tina. That’s all. I should’ve shut up and let
get around to it first. I’m sorry, baby.” His ingratiating, boyish grin was back. “Don’t get mad at me, okay? We both want the same thing—a home life, a good family life. Let’s not throw away this chance.”
She glared at him. “Yes, you’re right, I do want a home life, a satisfying family life. You’re right about that. But you’re wrong about everything else. I don’t want to be a producer merely because I need a sideline to dabble in.
Michael, that’s stupid. No one gets a show like
off the ground by dabbling. I can’t believe you said that! It wasn’t a fling. It was a mentally and physically debilitating experience—it was
—and I loved every minute of it! God willing, I’m going to do it again. And again and again. I’m going to produce shows that’ll make
look amateurish by comparison. Someday I may also be a mother again. And I’ll be a damn good mother too. A good mother and a good producer. I have the intelligence and the talent to be more than just one thing. And I certainly can be more than just your trinket and your housekeeper.”
“Now, wait a minute,” he said, beginning to get angry. “Wait just a damn minute. You don’t—”
She interrupted him. For years she had been filled with hurt and bitterness. She had never vented any of her black anger because, initially, she’d wanted to hide it from Danny; she hadn’t wanted to turn him against his father. Later, after Danny was dead, she’d repressed her feelings because she’d known that Michael had been truly suffering from the loss of his child, and she hadn’t wanted to add to his misery. But now she vented some of the acid that had been eating at her for so long, cutting him off in midsentence.
“You were wrong to think I’d come crawling back. Why on earth would I? What do you have to give me that I can’t get elsewhere? You’ve never been much of a giver anyway, Michael. You only give when you’re sure of getting back twice as much. You’re basically a taker. And before you give me any more of that treacly talk about your great love of family, let me remind you that it wasn’t
who tore our family apart. It wasn’t me who jumped from bed to bed.”
“You were the one who started fucking anything that breathed, and then you flaunted each cheap little affair to hurt me. It was
who didn’t come home at night. It was you who went away for weekends with your girlfriends. And those bed-hopping weekends broke my heart, Michael, broke my heart—which is what you hoped to do, so that was all right with you. But did you ever stop to realize what effect your absences had on Danny? If you loved family life so much, why didn’t you spend all those weekends with your son?”