“You wanted to see me?” Heber said.
The little man looked up and appraised him like he was meat on the hoof. Those close-set eyes were as dark as coal. Death itself was in those eyes.
Heber took a step back. He wondered if he’d have to dig his own grave. Planted in a desert forested with forgotten ghosts.
Finally, the little man smiled and said, “Yes, young man. I did wish to see you.”
Heber badged the security guard at the employee entrance and used a service corridor leading to the casino. He tipped his hat to the showgirls headed for the Crystal Room as they passed. On stage, they looked gorgeous. Up close, they looked tired. He heard one say that her feet would never survive the midnight show.
(from “Joey’s Place,” coming soon as an e-book)
He looked around. Turned his hat in his hands by its brim. He didn’t want to stand here in the foyer and tell them that nothing would ever be the same again. That Mr. Wallace was just cooling meat now, manhandled downtown by people who didn’t know or care about you or your kids or your sisters and brothers. Just another inconvenient stiff making them work late, keeping them from that cold beer, TV dinner, and the six o’clock news.
(from “Joey’s Place,” coming as an e-book December 2013)
The Sky Room was dead. Just a middle-aged couple holding hands over Manhattans at one table and a wrinkled tourist with a loser’s face at the bar contemplating a flock of empty shot glasses. The small dance floor was scuffed and dusty. An empty cocktail table had an ashtray filled with butts. You wouldn’t have seen that in the old days.
The ceiling was still painted to make it look like a starry night with puffy clouds, but some of the stars weren’t shining. It didn’t matter. Nobody said “Meet me at the Sky Room!” anymore.
The Murray Arnold Quartet — minus three — was providing the entertainment. The aging boy wonder of the piano was a long way from his glory days at the Cocoanut Grove in L.A. or fronting for Freddy Martin and his orchestra. But the old guy looked comfortable in this empty relic from the town’s past, noodling the keys of a scratched baby grand, exploring a subtle syncopation on “More Than You Know.” Heber wasn’t sure if he liked Murray’s interpretation, but he appreciated the effort.
He found a table by the big window overlooking the Strip and sat down. Fingerprints smeared the glass at kid level. He took off his Stetson and used his handkerchief to wipe the sweatband. Setting his hat on the table, he looked out the smudged window and tried to remember the last time he saw a mushroom cloud.
He sipped his martini and appreciated how her faded jeans stretched against her haunches as she kneeled to work the fire. He thought about the size of the staff needed for a place like this. A full-time grounds-keeper, for sure. A pool man. Maybe a handyman, too. Housekeeper, definitely, even with auntie in residence. The guys in the truck. It added up.
One thing was certain, somebody filled that ice bucket, somebody put this wood out here, somebody took the covers off these chairs, somebody lit these torches, somebody swept away the desert that would never give up its claim to the land. Maybe she called ahead on that radio-phone in her fancy XKE.
He wondered how long it would be before she mentioned her husband again. Or would he have to bring it up. He knew he should feel guilty, but he didn’t. Mrs. Lyman was a big girl. She could take care of herself. (from “Joey’s Place”)