He threaded his way through the small round tables scattered across a dark, cavernous room. Small floodlights in the ceiling cut through a fog of blue cigarette smoke. Somewhere, someone was torturing an acoustic guitar. Nevada Southern University was just across the desert—maybe half a mile away—and college kids with fake IDs crowded the tables, sitting on short stools and mismatched chairs. Smoking. Drinking jug wine from chipped coffee cups. Acting cool. Acting beat. Snapping their fingers instead of clapping their hands. Pretending they were something they weren’t. He saw some older faces among the students. Hip professors. It was perfect. It was the last place anyone would look for Ben Berlin.
When the Red Barn opened just off old Bond Road, a couple miles east of the Strip, it was an antique store with an Old West angle. The antique store didn’t last. A new owner came along and it reopened as a cowboy bar. That didn’t last either. The county fathers renamed the two lane road Tropicana Avenue and it still looked like a big red barn and the decor inside was still cowboy. But cowboy, it was not.
Aged hipsters sat at the bigger tables around the edges of the room. Mostly men. Their long silver hair, if they had hair, set them apart. A few of the hipsters had dates. Somewhat younger than they, but not young. Women swimming in cable-knit sweaters and sheathed in tights. Black, of course. The wine at these tables was served from a bottle, not a jug. That didn’t necessarily mean it was better grape. Just more expensive.
Nobody knew him, but he knew he was being watched. Even if heads didn’t move, even if eyes were hidden by dark glasses. He was a square. As welcome as a draft notice. As out-of-place as a tourist in Bermuda shorts and a knit shirt with a little alligator on the chest. Everyone here was cool and he wasn’t. He didn’t care. He just wanted to be lost.
Up front, near the door, were four nickel slot-machines and one that took quarters. They looked dusty and unused. Along the wall opposite the bar there were booths pretending to be upholstered in red leather. They were empty except for one near the middle that held an old blond overflowing a shiny black spaghetti-strap dress and a fat man in a dark suit with his face in a bowl of chili. At least, it looked like chili. Their table was flush with empty highball glasses. The old blond was washed-out by too much neon and not enough fresh air. She took a drag on her cigarette and glared at her date’s head like she wanted to put it out in his bald spot. Maybe this was Gwen.
Two stiff young deputies bracketed the open doorway of a room on the first floor. Two older deputies caressing cigarettes leaned against the columns supporting the second story and blew smoke at the stars. All four jumped when Parkins almost put the unmarked sedan’s bumper into one of the columns, tortured the transmission into Park, threw open his door, and rushed into the room, holding up his badge like it was the Olympic torch. Slack-jawed, the deputies just watched him pass.
Fortuna reached over the front seat, turned off the ignition, and said to Ben, “He still gets excited.”
The dead woman’s skirt billowed like a parachute as she slowly rotated in the current from the pool filter. Her hair drifted around her head like sea-grass. Jill’s hair wasn’t that color or that long. That should have made him feel better, but it didn’t. There was a dead woman anchored to the bottom of the swimming pool.
JFK, Gov. Grant Sawyer, Sen. Howard Cannon, and Sen. Alan Bible – Sept 28, 1963
When can I read “Landmark Kill?” And my response was:
“I have learned to spare no labor upon the process of writing a page four or five times over if nothing less will bring the words which express all that I mean, and nothing more than I mean.” Thomas Henry Huxley, 1927