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.
(From “Landmark Kill” – coming soon)