Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day Nineteen

Day 19: 20 Aug 2010

Slept for nearly 20 hours and got some food in me -- strange how much better one feels after that, right? Yeah, I know. The sarcasm isn't necessary -- but I'm not in a great mood at the moment, sleep and normal meal cycles aside.

Ever take your car to the mechanic? You're sitting there in the waiting room -- bad coffee, Oprah or Glenn Beck on TV -- you dig. The guy comes out and tells you what's wrong with the car, then leaves you with Oprah and Beck for a few minutes. Then he comes back:

"Oh, here's a little more we found," he says, and gives you some basic info on the problem.

Away he goes -- more bad coffee. Ten minutes later, he's back with even more problems. You start wondering how you even made it to the shop without exploding. You start thinking he's seen a mark, and is going to take you for as much cash as he can.

I don't like to speak ill of the dead. Still, around midnight, I started to get the sneaking suspicion that Kevin and his tiny Chinese friend were playing me as a mark. A bit of information here, a picture there -- they'd already gotten me to fly halfway across the country on essentially nothing. It definitely felt like I was being set up for something -- for what, though, I wasn't sure.

So I was in a foul mood by 2 a.m. I sat in the lobby of the Stratosphere, bouncing my legs impatiently and looking enviously at the smokers -- well, everywhere. Las Vegas is a smoky town.

Right at 2, at least according to my BlackBerry, Cassie walked into the lobby, heading right for me. I stood as she approached.

"You look much better. Got some sleep?" she said. Apparently, she didn't bother with "hello"s.

"Yeah. A bit. So, Cassie, it's answer time. I think I've jumped through enough hoops, don't you?"

She smiled and laughed a bit.

"OK, so you slept, but you got up on the wrong side of the bed. That's cool. I'd be pissed if I was running around like you, too. Let's get moving, then. Daylight's in three and a half hours, and we've got a lot of ground to cover before then," she told me.

Without waiting for a response, she walked away to the casino's front doors -- after a second's thought, I got up and followed her. If she didn't give me some real answers soon, though, I was out of here.

I caught up to her at the Stratosphere's valet stand. She was just handing her card to a young guy in a blue shirt, who took off at a run.

"You want anything to drink? Some water? We can make a quick stop on the way, but we'll be out for a little while," she said.

"No, I'm good."

"Right. Here we go, then."

The valet pulled up with her car -- I can't see why she decided to valet park it, as it was a complete piece of unmitigated shit. Her 1989 Ford Thunderbird was rusting out at the rear wheelwells, and whatever color it had been originally was lost under dirt. The engine was oddly quiet, though -- a low, steady rumble is all I heard as she tipped the valet and slid into the driver's seat.

I got into the passenger seat, and she tore out onto Las Vegas Boulevard before I even got my seat belt on.

"Sorry," she said. "Living here kinda makes you drive like a psycho, and I don't have passengers much."

She hammered the T-bird away from the Strip. I didn't really know where we were going -- first time in Vegas, and all -- but she sure seemed to know her way around the city. She took so many sharp, high-speed turns that I quickly became lost. After ten or so minutes of near-terror, she stopped the car.

We were in a dark, mostly industrial part of town. She killed the engine and all the lights, then turned in her seat to face me.

"Listen," she said, "because this is important. No matter what you see, you need to stay in the car. Are we clear on that?"

"Fine," I said, but I guess my answer wasn't convincing enough.

"I mean it. Get out of this car, and you'll be in a world of hurt. I don't know how to put it much clearer than that."

"That's. . . not really clear at all," I said. "But I get you. Stay in the car. Roger that."

"Good. Now, the building to my left. Keep your eyes glued to it."

I did. Seemed like an ordinary warehouse. Kind of shitty and run-down, really. There was a light on out front, and as I watched, a pale, thin guy came out and stood under it. He was dressed in brown coveralls, and was kind of filthy. I watched him pull out a cigarette, light up, and start smoking.

"Wow, fascinating," I said, sighing. "I never get to see guys smoke in North Carolina. Glad I made the trip."

"Quiet!" she hissed.

She pointed out the windshield, where a long, black Jaguar XJ8 was pulling up outside the warehouse. The passenger door opened fast. Someone leaped out and covered the distance between the Jag and the smoker in about half a blink. The smoker tried to turn, to yell.

Before he could do any of that, the man from the Jag was on him, ripping him apart with his bare hands. Really. I'm not kidding. He literally tore the guy open and threw chunks of him to either side in less time than it took you to read this sentence. It was about the most awful thing I've ever seen.

"Fuck," I said.

The guy from the Jag turned and looked right at us. I recognized him instantly -- I had, after all, grown up with the guy. It was Jared.

I went for the door handle immediately. My muscles suddenly seized up, my vision got black around the edges.

"I told you to stay in the car," I heard as I blacked out.

It was Cassie's voice, and she sighed as she said it.

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