Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day Twenty-Three

Day 23: 24 Aug 2010

Everything in Vegas looks closer than it is. I'm not sure if it's some trick of the desert air or what. Distances are deceiving here, especially when you're on foot.

It doesn't help that my hotel is the tallest building in town. I guess you can see the Stratosphere from anywhere, so it always looks like it's just up the street when, in fact, it's miles away. So I feel like the garage was just a couple of blocks from the Stratosphere, but I really can't be sure.

"So, where to?"

As I got into the passenger seat of her car, Cassie looked at me as if that was the dumbest question anyone had ever asked her.

"Something wrong with that question?" I said.

"No, just not the one I was expecting."

"Oh, you mean the obvious one, yeah? Why the fuck do you people keep knocking me out?"

I couldn't really contain my anger any more, so I wasn't even going to try.

"Yeah, that's what I was expecting. Would you believe me if I told you it was for your own safety?"

"That's pretty fucking funny. In all the safety lectures and stuff I've been subjected to in my life, getting hit on the head was never mentioned as a good thing."

"They can't track you when you're unconscious," she said, as if that answer made any kind of sense. "You drop off the grid."

"You know, Cassie, I pride myself on never having hit a girl. But if you don't tell me right now who 'they' are, I will slap you. I'll probably feel bad about it, but I promise you I'll do it."

Cassie sighed and started the engine. She pulled out a cigarette.

"'They' are an organized criminal faction. Like the Mafia, only not Italian. They're not any racial group, really," she said. She lit her smoke and took a long drag. "And they're the ones who turned your brother Jared into a monster. Now they want you."

"For what?"

"Same thing. To turn you into something horrible. But there's a hitch -- they're not the only ones who want you."

"When you say monster, you mean. . ."

"The type of thing that can tear a man in half with its bare hands," she said. "Something evil. Something else. There's a man who can explain it to you much better than I can. He used to work for them. That's the answer to your 'where to' question."

Cassie drove us out onto The Strip for a moment, then turned left on Riviera. A half-minute later, we pulled into the Las Vegas Hilton's parking garage.

"Come on," she said, shutting off the T-bird's engine. "This is where we can find him most nights."

We walked into the Hilton, Cassie taking the lead. She walked fast -- really fast. For someone so tiny, she took long, quick strides -- I almost lost her twice in the busy, labyrinthine casino, but I did keep up.

This is where we stopped:

It looked more sophisticated than NORAD to me, but instead of nuclear missile target coordinates, the screens showed sports odds. Cassie scanned the room, finishing off her cigarette and crushing it into a nearby ashtray.

"Shit. Thought he'd be here for sure. He's always here," she grumbled.

"This operation doesn't seem to well-planned, if you don't mind my saying so," I told her.

"Quiet, you. Aha. There's someone to talk to."

Cassie strode over to a fat, balding white guy squeezed into a leather chair. He didn't look like someone anyone would particularly want to talk to.

"Hey, Freddie," she said, plopping down next to him.

"Well, I am lucky indeed tonight," the fat guy said, smiling and sweating profusely. "How are you this evening, darling?"

"Good. Hey, you seen Mark around here lately? I was supposed to meet with him," Cassie asked, smiling wide.

"Mark, you say? Hmm. I didn't know he was a client. Yeah, he was here up to about 15 minutes ago, but he said he had to step out back for a moment. Said he'd be back soon enough," Freddie said.

"Thanks, Freddie. You're a doll," Cassie said, kissing him on the cheek. She got up.With a quick hand motion, she indicated that I should follow her, and she was off again, bouncing through the packed gaming floor.

Cassie led me out a back door, where we found a young man face-down in the alley. A black Lexus was just tearing away.

"Shit!" Cassie yelled, pulling me back inside and dragging me through the casino once more.

"Wait, what the fuck just happened?" I said.

"That was Mark. They killed him. Try to keep up -- if they found him, they can damn well find us."

We ran for the garage. Cassie had the car started and in gear before I even got my door closed, and we flew out into the street.

* * *

That brings us to the picture from last night. Fremont Street, around 8 p.m. We'd stopped at the Stratosphere first to get my stuff. No luck -- my room was tossed and everything had been stolen.

"Knew they'd find you sooner or later. We'll go to my place. Plan our next move," she said, sighing. "I might have to put you out again."

"You'd fucking better not," I growled.

"Fine. I'll let you stay conscious if you're going to be a crybaby about it," she said. "Just try to keep your thoughts ordered. Logical. Don't let your mind wander. Can you do that?"

"That's pretty much what I do," I told her.

So, on to Fremont Street. Cassie told me Mark lived at a suite in the El Cortez, and we should get there before someone else did. He had data, apparently. What kind of data, I don't know.

We stopped somewhere off the beaten track for burgers, then drove out to Downtown Vegas. The Concierge at the El Cortez seemed to recognize Cassie -- he nodded at her, and she nodded back. We went to the elevators.

"Mark was a good friend," she told me as we ascended. "I've got a key to his room. It's pretty secure, too -- we should be fine here. At least for a little while."

The elevator stopped, and she led me to Mark's room. She opened the door, and we went inside.

"All right. I'm going to look for --"

Cassie stopped dead as she turned on the lights, illuminating a pair of rather large men. Both of them were dressed in black cargo pants and T-shirts, and both had automatic weapons. One of them was grinning.

I took that picture just before we got to the El Cortez, and it was the last time I saw the outside for a while. The guys grabbed us. They threw hoods over our heads, shuffled us down a staircase, and put us in a car. I'm just thankful they didn't knock me out.

When the bag came off my head, I was being pushed into what I can only describe as a dungeon -- concrete walls, concrete floor. There was a heavy metal door that slammed shut as soon as I was in. And that's where I've spent all of today so far. No food, no water, and no one even coming by to peek in since about 9:00 last night.

And dammit -- I'm hungry.

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