The Vegas Virgin
A Las Vegas Novel in 24 Parts
by Thomas Wollwo
This story is a product of National Novel Writing Month, an opportunity for anyone who's ever wanted to write a novel, but needed the encouragement or incentive.

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Part One

Breena stepped away from the gangway and entered the airport building at McCarran. The first thing she noticed was the noise. The jingling of slot machines overpowered every other sound at Arrivals. She was feeling apprehensive, a stranger, and worried, not for the first time, whether all that was a good idea.

She walked over to the slot machines and watched as a tired-looking man well into his seventies fed quarters into it, on autopilot. He glared at the machine, not really looking, and sighed.

A lanky guy in his early thirties with a cowboy hat and a pink dress shirt smiled at her. "Poor guy can't stop," he said. "He's probably been here for 48 hours, not sleeping much. And if he doesn't look out, he'll miss his plane. " He stuck out his hand. It was enormous. Breena shook it reluctantly. "I'm Malt," he said, winking rather annoyingly. "I know, strange name. But a lot better than my real one. First time in Vegas?"

Breena nodded. She didn't care much for the guy who looked at her in her smart white Blouse and snug blue jeans (covering a killer body which be discussed in some length in chapters 7, 13, 21 and 27) in a way that could only be described as "leeringly. " "First time in Vegas, yeah," she said. "Are you a local?" Malt chuckled. "That's almost an insult," he said. "You could almost say that, often asİ I'm here. "

Breena realized that she was talking to this guy a lot longer already than she had originally planned and began to walk to the shuttle. Outside, a tremendous sunset was taking place and bathed what she could see from the Strip in a reddish light. Malt followed her quickly.

"Are you in town for a vacation? Or for a conference?" he asked, flashing her a toothy smile. "No and no" she said curtly. They arrived at the shuttle to the main building and he followed her inside. The shuttle was packed. "Because there's a biiig conference in town," he said. "SEMA," he added, helpfully. "SEMA?" Breena asked despite herself, blushing slightly. "Some automobile thingie," Malt said. "Lots of people in town who are a lot less interesting than me. "

They arrived at the main concourse and entered the main hall. Again, there was a lot of noise, this time from huge screens blaring commercials. The blue men were doing their thing, there were posters for shows from Cirque du Soleil everywhere. Breena realized with a sinking feeling that her luggage wouldn't arrive anytime soon. Malt, obviously knowing about McCarran's luggage handling speed, had seen her looking at the ad. He sat down one of the luggage belts and began a lecture in a very loud voice "Cirque du Soleil is French for Circus of the Sun. It is a Canadian company which specializes in combining athletics and artistry," - a small circle of bored tourists had formed now, listening to the lanky guy with the pink shirt - "creating a dreamlike ambiance that is like nothing else you'll ever see - and boring as hell . " Some people from the now larger circle nodded and smiled. A guy in a grey suit with matching hair protested: "But what about LOVE?" he asked.

"What about LOVE, indeed," Malt said dramatically, winking at Breena again who had to admit to herself that even though he was annoying as hell, his eyes were kinda nice. "LOVE actually doesn't suck. " Before he could elaborate, the belt began to move and his audience scattered. He lifted Breena's two huge suitcases off the belt, carrying his own bag on his back. "Where to, fair lady?" he asked.

Breena wasn't very enthusiastic with this new development. "Give me my bags," she squealed in a sightly higher voice than she had planned. People looked. A girl giggled. Breena didn't like Malt taking charge like that, but she also didn't care for being the center of attention. "I'll take a cab," she hissed, following him outside. He just grinned and pointed to an endless line of people waiting for a taxi. "It's gonna take some time," he said, mischievously. "If you ask me nicely, I have another option for you. " Breena grabbed her bags furiously from him, and tried to get to the guy in charge of the line. Having little success because people simply wouldn't let her, she called "how long's the wait?" "An hour or two," he replied.

Disgusted, she turned back. She realized now it had become dark pretty quickly. The air was still warm, though, and despite the people and the cars, it was actually quite pleasant to be outside. It was definitely nicer than being outside at night in November in Bismarck, she thought.

Malt just stood there, watching her quietly. "Just a ride into town,,"" he said. "It's a casino limo. Nothing lewd can ever happen in casino limo. " Breena looked at a her watch. She was getting hungry, and it had been a long day.

"OK," she sighed,"but no funny stuff. " He took her bags again and she followed him to a humongous stretch limo which was stationed on the curb. The driver wore a black suit and dark glasses. "Good evening, Mr Milk," he said. Breena had to stifle a giggle. "Really?" she whispered to him. He just looked ahead stoically.

As the limo glided away, Malt asked her where she wanted to go. "I have to look it up," she said a bit sheepishly and got her list out of her bag.

"Nov 1: the Plaza," she proclaimed. It sounded promising. Malt made a face. "I can't tell him to drive there," he winced. "Didn't you do any research? Do you have any idea what you're getting into?" He was being very dramatic again, with the bold type and all. The driver looked ahead stoically, but seemed to crack a tiny little smile from what she saw in the rearview mirror.

"That's kind of the point," she explained. "I'm on assignment here, you see. I started work at the Bismarck Bulletin. Three months ago, I moved to Phoenix and I'm working for the Phoenix Picayune now. I do mostly local stuff. Then the owner of the paper - he's a bit crazy ‚ read something I wrote about a pumpkin competition and decided I was the right woman for the assignment, never having left Bismarck before. "

"Which is. . . ," Malt offered. "I am to stay at a different hotel in Vegas every night and to report back on it. It's supposed to be a series, maybe a book. And I wasn't allowed any preparation at all. So all I know about the town is from TV and some movies. And that Michael Jackson lives here. "

"And they'll call it the Vegas Virgin," she ended lamely. Malt snorted the gin and Red Bull he had fixed himself through his nose on this one. "Not like that!" Breena hissed angrily. "Of course not," Malt said soothingly and wiped Red Bull cocktail from his shirt and corduroy pants. The limo entered the highway.

"It's your lucky day you met me," Malt continued smoothly. "It's my business to know about Las Vegas. I can tell you everything. " Breena didn't bite. "That's fine," she said. "I'll manage. I'm a trained journalist. " "How old are you?" Malt asked, "18? 19?" - "21" she hissed back. "Mr Mouton, he's the owner of the paper, made sure of that. " - "Of course he did," Malt mumbled.

"Mr Ronson," Malt said to the driver as the car hit the interstate, "the lady stays at the Plaza. " The driver still didn't say a word. He just nodded. He seemed to be having fun, though. Breena looked at the Strip on the right hand side of the road. It looked unbelievable. Even though she had seen it in countless shots in movies, it still surprised he to see how bright the lights were and what outlandish buildings were to be seen. A pyramid, a castle, a town, some humongous greenish building - it seemed like a town in some sort of deranged storybook.

"21 is the legal age to gamble in Las Vegas," Malt said as they passed signs for various strip clubs on the interstate. "You know there's gambling in Las Vegas?" "You know you're an arrogant twerp?" Breena bristled back. "I've seen gambling on TV. It looks like fun"

The limo took the downtown exit. It didn't look exactly glamorous. They passed a few vacant lots. "Oh it's fun all right, right, Mr Ronson?" Malt said. The driver nodded again.

Downtown was a huddle of high-rise hotels, with some older low-rises thrown in for good measure. As the limo came closer, the indistinct blur of lights came into focus. There was neon everywhere, often quite garish. Everything advertised something - cheap beer, cheap buffets and cheap gambling. Breena noticed a few classier looking signs. "Oh, these are old school. They put them up recently because people start looking for Old Vegas again. Do you like them?" "Yes," Breena said, "I like those a lot better. " "Maybe there's hope for you yet," Malt said. Breena saw a huge canopy between the hotels as they approached the end of the street. "I saw this on TV," she said. "Of course you have," Malt said with a flourish. "It's the Fremont Street Experience. " You can watch it in a few minutes. " The limo stopped in front of the Plaza. Breena got out as the Driver got her luggage. As she watched the huge canopy on top of a whole street came to life. All the neon signs in the street went dark. The show started, showing a cheesy country and western number. Breena liked the sound, but the graphics were kind of lame. "What do you think," Malt asked who had materialized at her side. "The commercial at the end was cooler than the show," she said. Malt nodded as if she had passed some kind of test. The bellman had loaded her bags on cart and was coughing discreetly. She turned to him and realized the limo had begun to drive away. "See you tomorrow," Malt shouted as it disappeared down Main Street.

Breena shook her head and followed the bellman inside the Plaza. It was a lot less nice than what she'd read about the Plaza in New York. The first thing she noticed was the smell. She couldn't put her finger on it, but it seemed to be everywhere. The bellman saw her sniffing and off-handedly said "You won't notice it after a while. " The paper had pre-booked her and to her relief, her name came up immediately. As she trudged to her room, she felt completely bushed. She had planned to wander around for a bit, but she was too tired for that. The room was shabby but there were two queen beds and a couch, a table and a desk. The bathroom was tiny and looked not particularly inviting. She didn't care much for the dÈcor. It was sort of flowery and a bit old. She brushed her teeth, slipped something comfortable over her killer body and went straight to bed. The last thing she thought before falling asleep was "What did he mean, see you tomorrow?"


Part Two

Breena wasn't sure where she was when she opened her eyes for a few seconds. Then it all came back: she was in Vegas and supposedly working on her assignment, writing a report on every hotel she stayed at for the Phoenix Picayune's slightly crazy owner, Mr. KL Mouton. He had told her she'd get the name of her next hotel reservation at the hotel's check-out counter, along with the day's assignment. She hadn't much to write about yet (she sure wouldn't want to write about that Malt guy), she thought, so she'd better be starting her reporting after freshening up really quickly.

Two and a half hours later, she left the tiny bathroom, feeling refreshed. She had treated her killer body (which will, as might remember, be covered in greater detail in Chapter 7 - but there's a sneak peak in Chapter 3) to a long hot shower. It could have been better with a more satisfying water pressure, she thought with a wistfulness not yet encountered by this author in that character before. She had shaved a legs thoroughly and did these millions of things so important to women in bathrooms anywhere which remain a complete mystery to men.

She felt famished all of a sudden. That was to be expected, as she had had a fruit cup on the plane and a 100 Grand bar in the evening, but not much else. So she left her room in search of breakfast.

As she wandered about the casino, she had to get used to her surroundings again. They weren't especially inviting. The main casino featured low ceilings and unpleasant amounts of smoke. The clientele consisted mostly of tired-looking, slightly disheveled old men. One of these, a guy with a particularly annoying fishy smell, came up to her and tried to tell her about some urban myths even she, hailing from Bismarck, had heard 10 years ago. He also shouted his mangled sentences, riddled with mistakes even worse than in this text.

Breena was relieved when a burly security guard appeared to throw him out. "That's enough, fish boy" he said with a Southern drawl. "Everything all right?" he asked after he had disposed of the vile little man. "Why thank you, Mr Eagle," she said, glimpsing his name tag. He was a big guy with a kind face who wore a uniform that looked different from the ones the other guards wore. "Have you worked here for long?" Breena asked. "All my life," Mr Eagle said. "I like to teach people manners, I guess. " "Thanks again," she said.

Breena wandered around the Plaza some more, munching on a bagel she had decided to have instead of a real breakfast. She didn't see a lot she liked, though the mirrors around the escalator to the dilapidated second floor we re somewhat cool. Other stuff had obviously been changed. The gourmet restaurant had recently be turned into a sports bar. The lounge had disappeared - only dancing was still illegal, according to a sign that still remained. A woman who was by all appearance from the Midwest moved lethargically across the floor, moaning something like "Sunspots, oh my Sunspots. " Mr Eagle who had seen Breena glancing worriedly at her said, "that's just Amy. She can't get over Barrack closing the Omaha Lounge. " Barack Obama closing a lounge named after a Dakota town didn't sit well with Breena. She'd have to reconsider voting for him. "The Sunspots used to perform here. These days, they're usually not allowed outside the old people's home much. " Breena send a friendly smile Amy's way who smiled back. "Such a terrible loss," she whispered.

Returning to the casino floor, she realized she had forgot her watch in her room. There was no way to tell time - no clocks anywhere, no windows in sight. She remembered she'd probably need to check-out soon. "A different hotel every night," Mr. KL Mouton had cackled merrily. "That'll keep your reports fresh. Remember to write something about me, too. " KL Mouton was famously egocentric.

She returned to her room and carefully packed her bags, easily filling the time until is was time to check-out (this author realizes that she'll probably be doing that a lot and considers the use of cut and paste to bolster word count at this time).

She headed to check-out and asked for messages. There was a note saying just "Main Street Station. " She turned it over and sure enough, there was her assignment for the day. It said, "Explore. " Breena couldn't help to be a bit disgusted (as are probably most of this author's readers). She had been expecting important tasks, hoping she'd have to confront local super-villains by going undercover. Still, this sounded like a sensible task for her first day. The crime lords could wait.

Breena asked the check-out person where Main Street Station was located. The woman (who wore a nametag stating her name was Marcia or Marsha, she couldn't see it clearly) looked at her suspiciously and said: "it's just to your left. You'll have to walk a few hundred yards. There's been a lot of discussion about whether it's OK to walk all the way with luggage or if you have take a cab. Some people think it's dangerous. I think that's ridiculous. It's bright day outside, for heaven's sake! Personally, I think it's very walkable. But if you need a cab. . . " Breena managed toİ to say, "walking will be fine" and smiled at her. She had a very nice smile, Breena did. Marcia or Marsha said, "Try the brewpub there, it's pretty good. " Breena thanked her and stepped into sunlight.

Fremont Street looked completely different by day. The sun was so bright, the neon seemed almost dull by comparison. The sky was a perfect blue and she felt very comfortable without her jacket. As usual, she wasn't aware of the glances from some of the passing men her tight t-shirt drew. She was very aware of the guy sitting comfortably on a chair next to the exit, though. He was wearing cowboy boots, a Hawaiian shirt which was buttoned at exactly one button and violet velvet trousers. Shockingly, he also wore an Atlanta Braves cap. "Oh that," Malt said, seeing Breena glance at the cap in disgust, "I lost a bet and have to wear it all day. "

İ"You absolutely can't be serious," Breena shouted as Malt picked up her suitcases easily and began to trudge over to Main Street Station. "Give me back my suitcases right this minute!" She realized that people were staring at her again. She did not like that one bit and quickly followed Malt, who was whistling most annoyingly. "GiveÖmeÖbackÖmy. suitcase" she hissed. Malt ignored her and gave a friendly wave to BR, who had been watching the scene. BR waved back. Behind her, Mr Ronson was putting the chair back in the shiny limo. The limo gleamed in the sunshine. Apparently, it had been washed very recently. They passed a very old railway car. Breena would have liked to watch it more closely, because it looked pretty cool, but she had to keep track of Malt.

Malt said, very reasonably: "Listen, Breena, you need all the help you can get. I'm willing to provide you with my vast experience in this town. It'll help a lot. Your assignments are bound to be very difficult, you being an important journalist and all. What's your first one, by the way?"

Breena, a bit embarrassed,İ murmured something about corruption in the Mayor's office. "See, I'm perfect for that. I know all about corruption. " He slipped the security guard at Main Street Station a 5 dollar bill.

"I don't NEED your help" Breena hissed again. The hiss didn't come across as very threatening, though. It's hard to be threatening when you're a petite blonde with shoulder-long hair, a basically sweet disposition and a killer body. (this author personally remembers some blondes of that kind who appeared very threatening at the time. They didn't have Breena's sweet disposition, though). She felt compelled to be outraged some more. "I'll call police! I'll get a lawyer!" she managed. "Police is busy chasing the Strevel," Malt said. "And where do you expect to find a lawyer in this area at this time of day?"


Part Three

They entered the casino, and Breena looked around in surprise. Sure, there was the usual din of murmuring people and the inevitable noiseİ of the slot machines. But the casino itself was so much nicer than the Plaza it was surprising they should be next to each other. It was so much nicer that it shouldn't be in the same street as the Plaza. It shouldn't be in the same county, or the same city, either (this author realizes that, though this technique might be somewhat effective in padding word count, it also is a sure way to lose the remaining three people reading this. This author is probably better off using shocking twists to keep them interested).

"Have you noticed that the high coved ceiling is inlaid with stained glass and hung with chandeliers?" Malt said, sounding surprisingly like a smarty-pants know-it-all website. "Personally, it reminds me of a particularly fancy late Victorian rail station. " The room was adorned with lots of wood and brass. An inviting bar featured a paddle fan. There was just one customer sitting at the bar, a guy in his late thirties playing video poker.

The casino was full of people, which struck Breena as strange at lunchtime on a Friday. They passed actual windows with graceful pillars. Entering the lobby, Breena saw long curvy benches, old paintings and a naked lady clock. It didn't do much for her. She told the guy at reception about her reservation. He looked at Malt for a second and told her that her room wasn't ready yet until 3 and suggested lunch. "Just what I had in mind," Malt said and left Breena's luggage with the bellhop. "I hear the brewpub is pretty good," Breena offered. "You heard right," Malt said approvingly.

They went to the brewpub which was called Triple 7. Before Breena could protest, Malt had ordered two filet mignon sandwiches and two beer samplers. "You'll thank me later," he said with this annoying little smile of his. "Isn't it a little early to be drinking?" Breena said. But it was part of Vegas, she thought, being happy that she'd practiced with her cousin Cameron back at home in one of the Dakotas this author has absolutely no intention to keep apart because it would involve some actual research. She really hoped there were cocktails with lemon juice in Vegas.

Meanwhile, Malt was watching her dreamily. Here is a selection of his thoughts:

  • Man, I love that filet mignon sandwich
  • She has a cute butt. Perky and still mysteriously round.
  • I wonder when the beers will arrive.
  • Shall I give her my gift now?
  • She wears high heels that are just high enough. Any higher and they would look slutty.

I really look forward to Chapter 7.

In the interest of fairness, here are Breena's thoughts:

  • The sandwich sure sounds interesting.
  • Some guys just can't stop staring for even a second.
  • I wish I had worn sensible shoes today.

The beer sampler arrived, and Breena sampled all 5 of the homemade brews. They were all excellent. She especially like the Pale Ale and the Porter. Malt had already ordered a second round before the sandwiched had arrived.

While they sipped there beers and waited for the food, there was a commotion at one of the tables nearby. A guy with a British accent kept telling a small circle of friends tawdry tales about some obscure country called Germany. The stories were full of people of questionable morals. Some of them seemed downright evil. Finally, in great agitation, the man shouted "let's all go to the restroom and I'll show it to you. " As Breena contemplated what kind of person would be considering that kind of offer, Malt was already dragging her to the restroom. People were staring again. She'd better get used to that quickly, she thought.

So Breena entered a men's restroomİ for the first time in her life, or, more correctly, was pulled into it (this author realizes that his heroine isn't able to put up much of a fight, something some of my more salubrious readers may find might come in handy in Chapter 14). The Brit launched into an explanation of the strange urinal she saw in the restroom: it was a piece of the Berlin Wall, complete with graffiti. Covered in plexiglass, it's purpose was painfully clear, especially after the Brit offered to demonstrate. Breena flew out the room, but had to admit to herself that while kind of gross, it was also pretty cool (the Wall, not watching someone pee against it). Too bad there wasn't anything like that in theirİ women's restroom, as Malt was eager to tell her.

They returned to their table and were served their lunch. A filet mignon sandwich had sounded questionable, but it tasted great. "You may be obnoxious, but you know your way around food," she said to Malt. Who grinned. Annoyingly.

"We've still got a lot of time until three," Malt said. "Why don't we explore downtown for a bit. " Breena agreed.

As they left the casino, Malt asked "have you ever gambled at all?" "Not on these games," Breena answered. "I don't know the rules," she added. "You'll have to try them sometimes," he said. "Maybe that'll be one of your future assignments. "

Malt positioned himself on the corner of Main Street and Fremont and pointed to the Golden Gate: "Downtown is where it all started. The Golden Gate is the oldest casino still in use today. They had the first phone in town. Maybe you'll stay there too. The rooms are tiny, though. "

Breena asked "How old is the town?" Malt explained that Las Vegas was founded in 1905. "They celebrated the centennial 2 years ago. It was a pretty boring affair, with a giant cake and stuff like that. But it's the biggest US town founded in the 20th century - and it still grows like crazy. "

"Downtown has lost a lot of its thunder in the last decade or two. People like me still love it, for its bargains and good gambling. " ‚ "There's good and bad gambling?" Breena asked. Malt just rolled his eyes. " You have a lot to learn, young padawan. Anyway, in order to keep Downtown going, they decided to build this canopy to draw tourists. It works a little bit, but they destroyed a lot of the charm of this place. And as you saw, the shows are pretty cheesy. "

They walked on down the Fremont Street Experience. As they passed Vegas Club and approached Binion's, Breena noticed something curious: a very portly man was standing on the side of the road. As he was speaking in a loud voice to no one in particular, he seemed to be spewing a lot of the food he was chewing all around him. He was kind of blurry, though and Breena looked at Malt to see whether he had noticed the tragicomical figure. As Malt completely ignored him, Breena realized it would probably be best to do so, too.


Part Four

Malt pointed out Binion's to her. "This is where the World Series of Poker began. It used to be the most important poker event of the year, until the Solar System Series of Poker came along and effectively buried it. It also helped that Harrah's managed to pretty much spoil it like everything they do, of course. " The name Harrah's drew a blank from Breena. "This is getting tedious," Malt sighed. "Good thing I have a gift for you later. The casinos in Las Vegas are mainly controlled by two large corporations, Harrah's and MGM Mirage. People like to call it the Duopoly. There are plenty of smaller companies in the business, but these two control most of the big Strip resorts. They have a tendency to ruin good things. And prices have soared during the last 20 years. That's not only because of the lack of competition, but also because many customers coming to Las Vegas are morons. " Breena nodded. She had already met a few of them and wasn't that sure about Malt. "There are those kids who have plenty of cash and simply don't care whether their cocktail costs $20; their hotel room comes to $350 or whether their odds at gambling suck. I don't mind paying a lot of money for something really good ‚ but I hate to waste money. Many tourists just don't care about value anymore. And of course the big corporations milk that for all it's worth. "

"Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of bargains to be found in Las Vegas. If you keep your eyes open, you'll find there are a lot of specials, too. Not all of them are good, and you have to know your way around town to find them, but this is what Las Vegas is about to me. It can be a fantastic experience here if you know where to go, what to do and especially what to skip. If your writing concentrates on that, it might be useful to some of your more intelligent and likable readers. " Malt had to inhale at this point and Breena was able to get a question:"But doesn't everyone know that Las Vegas is controlled by the Mafia?"

Malt rolled his eyes again. "There used to be a time when the Mafia was in control of the city. In the Fifties, Moe Dalitz, the head of a Chicago crime syndicate, owned the Desert Inn, one of the greatest hotels this town has ever seen. The mob ties of many others were well known, and of course, crime and Vegas were a perfect fit. It gave the mob a certain respectability and endless opportunities to fix the games, launder money and generally police the city.It's kind of funny that many people think back fondly to these days. They say the streets were safer and violence stayed where it belonged, with the criminals amongst themselves. I'm not so sure about that. But it must have been great to enjoy Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at the Copa room at the Sands ‚ or even Liberace at the Riviera. "

"What drove the gangsters out of Vegas?" Breena asked. This was interesting stuff. "There was a huge public outcry against the Mob and the vices in the city in the Sixties. It was called the diatribe, and while it brought a lot more people into town who LIKED vice, the politicians finally were forced to do something against it. Basically, the corporations who came in and realized that there was a lot of money to be made without breaking the law quite so obviously. They're no saints, either ‚ there's a current scandal about fire safety at Harrah's properties that certainly brings old times to mind. The most prominent more or less legitimate figure to enter the casino market was Howard Hughes. He bought the Desert Inn, entered it secretly and didn't leave again for four years. " ‚ "I've seen the Aviator," Breena said. "Then you know quite a bit of the story. He bought so many casinos that he became Vegas' largest casino operator. There are rumours he bought one because its sign disturbed his view and he bought it to be able to take it down. " - "What happened then?" Breena asked. "Well, after that, the megaresorts arrived. You see the Golden Nugget here on the right? You shouldİ explore it more thoroughly later on. It's the best place to stay in downtown if you get a good rate. That's where Steve Wynn earned his wings. He turned it into a million-dollar affair and went on to invent the megaresort when he built the Mirage. But that's another story ‚ I'm getting thirsty. " ‚ "You just had 10 beers," Breena scolded. "There's room for more," Malt assured her happily. They went inside the bar at the Nugget. Breena discovered happily that they did carry Bourbon Sours there. Cousin Cameron would be pleased. She still virtuously ordered a Diet Coke. "So what did this Wynn character do?" she asked.

"When he opened the Mirage in 1989, there hadn't been an opening of a major resort for 16 years. Wynn cast all conventional wisdom aside and built a sprawling resort with a tropical theme. There's still the volcano out front just to make people visit and gawk. It worked extremely well, and even though the Mirage has certainly aged, it's still one of the nicer places to stay. The building boom of the Nineties was next which basically made the city the place it is today. "

"So today the city is safe?" Breena asked. - "It usually is. There's been some shootings near the Strip in the past months which didn't get a lot of space in the papers, but when you know where to go and especially where not to go, there's no need to worry about safety excessively at any time of day or night. Just don't ever ask to substitute tomatoes at Ellis Island. They got a back room there just for questions like this. You wouldn'tİ want someone to break your pretty legs, now would you?"

This seemed to be one of the strange inside jokes Breena had no chance of getting, so she let it slide. "I'll show you one of the most delicious things you'll ever eat now" Malt said and got up from the bar, letting her go ahead in order to ogle her butt some more. They crossed the street and entered a small casino called Mermaids. It was awful: there was the clanging of slot machines everywhere, almost no room to walk and some high-level bullying to play the machines. Worst of all, the beads they handed her at the door totally didn't go with her outfit. Malt ordered a strange food called fried twinkie and wolfed his down in a second (no wonder that he looked as if he added a few pounds quite recently). Breena insisted on leaving first before trying hers. She had to spit it out again immediately, though. She remembered her good upbringing and tried to spit it out daintily. She failed. "What's that over there," she said, pointing to the sign "The Girls of Glitter Gulch at the beginning of the Fremont Street Experience. "Oh, you'll find out, I'm sure," Malt muttered darkly.

"So what do we do next," she asked. "I don't know what you'll do next, Breeniebaby. " Malt said. It was one of the most awful nicknames Breena had ever heard. "I for one have to work. " he added. "But from what I've heard you tell me you'll need lots of help. So I brought you the much hinted-at gift. " He produced a little gadget that looked a lot like a PDA. Only it was neon green and bright pink. "The Malt-O-Matic 2007 (version 1.2), İMalt proclaimed proudly. "It knows everything one could ever want to know about Las Vegas. You just turn it on here" ‚ he flipped a switch and there was an image of Malt doing his obnoxious little wink on the PDA ‚ and then you can type in any question you might have. It's a prototype, and I put lots of work into it, so don't lose it. The information is generally reliable, but the Malt-O-Matic somehow seems to be having a bit of an attitude. No idea where that comes from. " Breena took the gadget somewhat reluctantly, fully expecting an electric shock. But it was pleasant to hold in her hand, cool to the touch and humming softly. It only hurt to look at its design. Much like it hurts to look at Malt, Breena thought. She put it into her purse hastily, so nobody would notice the poor colour coordination with her outfit.

Malt walked her back to the corner of Fremont and Main, where the black limo with Mr Ronson already waited. "It's a miracle he found the way here twice in a row" Malt muttered under his breath. Ronson gave Breena a casual wave and smiled very briefly (he didn't seem to be the smiling kind), Malt told her "see ya soon," and got in the limo which drove away with screaming tires. Breena felt a little lonely, but decided that it was finally time to check in at Main Street Station.

There had been a staff change since her last visit apparently, since there was a lady in charge now. Her nametag said Marge, and she was exceedingly friendly. She asked whether Breena was a light sleeper, explaining that because to the closeness to the railway tracks, a higher floor would be preferable. "So let's see ‚ a low odd room number on a high floor would be best for you. There's free wi-fi in the lobby, if you want to fire up that hideous thing in your purse. " Breena hastily hid the Malt-O-Meter from view, thanked her and carried her baggage up to the 12th floor. The view wasn't that much to write home about, but she could see some of the Strip's lights in the distance. The room was clean with modest furnishings including decent resting chairs with ottomans. The casino theme of Victorian antiques was obviously ignored in the rooms. The bed was comfortable and İthe bathroom bland, but functional. There was shampoo and lotion waiting for her.

Breena studied the hotel directory and found out that Main Street station didn't feature a pool. That was very disappointing, because she had looked forward to spend the last daylight hours catching some rays and maybe even writing a word or two for the newspaper. She suddenly remembered the gadget Malt had given her. Breena turned it on, ignored the picture of a winking Malt (who had, for some reason, a train near his head) and typed in "Pool at Main Street Station?" The screen flashed quickly and displayed the following text: "There is none. Although we would never recommend it, it's possible to sneak over to the Plaza and use its roof-top pool. Otherwise, see if you can use the California's, which has the same owners and is across the street. " That was impressive, Breena thought. She said, "Thank you" somewhat tentatively, but of course, there was no answer. Impulsively, she taped "how do I get into the pool at the Plaza. " The machine displayed "Jump!" then, after an annoying sound effect, changed the displayed message to "just walk in there as if you belong. You're cute. You go girl. " She thought that to be somewhat inappropriate, but still helpful.

So Breena packed her tiny purple bikini, a beach towel and her laptop and strolled over to the Plaza. She took the elevator to the rooftop and the pool boy couldn't help her get a lounge chair fast enough. Breena peeled herself out of her snug blue jeans and tight little t-shirt and displayed her assets to an appreciative audience of two middle-aged men. The two even stopped their animated conversation for a few minutes. They were talking very quietly, so Breena couldn't understand a lot, but it sounded a lot like an Abbott and Costello routine. She closed her eyes for a second and realized she had only been in town for under 24 hours. It promised to be an interesting trip.

She opened her eyes and realized it was getting chilly. The sun was setting and she quickly put on her clothes to the obvious disappointment of the two gentlemen who decided to depart as well. In the elevator, she couldn't help but overhearing the gentlemen's conversation: "I believe you proved your point, Norm," one said. "You didn't post for six months and you're still alive. People worried, people grieved ‚ don't you think it's time to return?" "Well, Bob," the other man said, pronouncing "Bob" curiously, as if in italics or something, "you know I like to keep people on their toes. " Breena decided that people visiting Vegas definitely WERE strange.

She returned to her room and changed into something more appropriate for the evening. It was a slinky black dress, which looked great combined with her black stockings and blond hair. "Maybe I should try gambling for a bit," she thought. "that might give me something to write about. " She decided to consult the Malt-O-Meter again and typed in "which game should I play?" The machine quickly displayed "with fire," showing that Malt picture again, before launching into the following rant.

"Oh, the wonders of gambling! The places you'll see! The choices you'll make! The money you'll win!" There was an angry beep, the machine reset and continued in a more quiet manner: İ"Las Vegas is what it is because of gambling. Over any extended period of time, the casino always has the mathematical advantage, known as the house edge. This is why any system claiming to "beat the house" is usually a hoax. The house edge varies wildly from game to game. If you're only into it for short-term fun, you only need to avoid the sucker games, like the Big Wheel, Keno or dating any men except Malt. The main games available in most casinos are video poker, slots, craps, regular poker, roulette, sports betting and betting on horses. " ‚ "Maybe that's what cousin Cameron back at home in one of the Dakotas always meant when he was talking about "taking care of the horses". " She had always thought it was something about to caring for a pony. Didn't he used to mention "playing the ponies"? She continued to read: "The intricacies of gambling are too complex to cover completely in an introductory article even in a machine as awesome as this one. "

Somewhat frustrated, she typed in "SO WHAT GAME SHOULD I PLAY???" ‚ "Erm, right. " printed the machine. "For storytelling purposes, this machine suggests to start with video poker. It should be easy for you to find someone to explain the intricacies to you, as hot as you're looking right now. If you'd like to have a drink with that, there are video poker machines at almost every bar in Vegas. There's a pretty good one here at Main Street station. And there are usually interesting people there, too (hint, hint). " "What a strange machine," Breena thought. It's almost like it was invented for driving the story along, she might have added, if she hadn't been blissfully unaware that she was the heroine of a story at all and that thousands of male readers were only reading on because they waited for Chapter 7 (this author is painfully aware of his storytelling limitations. So war, sex appeal seems to work, though).

Breena entered the bathroom to do her stuff (there will be no mention of the kind of shaving DocTom seems to know an awful lot about. Unless it proves to be necessary for character development). Dolled up, she got her purse, stuffed her taser gun and Malt-O-Meter into it and proceeded to the bar. After that awful twinkie, she didn't feel an immediate need to eat at this point.


Part Five

She approached the bar and noticed that there were a lot of people by now who seemed to have a terrific time. Miraculously, just as she started thinking about moving somewhere else, a woman got up. Breena quickly grabbed her chair and proceeded to check out her surroundings. On her right, there was an old lady with silver-blue hair and a foul mouth. She kept cussing every time she didn't win and threw back tequila shots as if there was no tomorrow. On her left side, there was a man who was just a tiny weenie little bit overweight, drinking a beer, playing video poker, holding his left hand with the stunning woman on his left side AND chatting amiably with the bartender who was a very good looking African American who somehow looked as if he could play pinball very well. He turned away from multitasking man and asked Breena "What'll you have?" Breena ordered a Bourbon Sour and watched how her neighbours played their machines. She knew the basics: You got 5 cards, could decide which to hold and which to discard and got replacements for the discarded ones. If you got a winning combination, you won. Multitasking man had a friendly face she couldn't see for long as it dived into the face of the lady sitting beside him for prolonged periods of time, locking lips. To her disgust she saw he wore a fanny pack. He must have seen her horrified expression, as he said, "It's a very fancy fanny pack, you know. It's made of leather. " That didn't alleviate her pain one bit, but she tried to remain civil, because the guy seemed her only immediate chance for video poker help (the blue-haired lady had taken to pounding the machine with her fists, shouting obscenities). "No, it's veryÖunique," she said. "I'm Breena," she said and held out her hand. "I'm Andrew," the man with the fanny pack said, and this is (your choice, gentle reader) a) a hooker, b) Francine, the wife of my pal Cyberhog or c) my charming wife Darlene. " (This author bears Andrew absolutely no grudge that there hasn't been one single favorable comment about this story yet. As this author also is very fond of Andrew and his charming wife Darlene, he'll try the last sentence again:) İ"I'm Andrew," the man with the fanny pack said, "and this is my charming wife Darlene. " Breena smiled at Darlene who smiled back (now don't you get any ideas, Hog). "I'm interested in learning about this game," Breena said to Andrew as her Bourbon Sour was served. "I've got half a lime and I'm not afraid to use it," the bartender said. This didn't make any immediate sense, but sounded cool somehow (and this author realizes that this story is in desperate need of cool right now).

"I'll be glad to explain it to you," Andrew said. "Video poker is a game that, when perfectly played on a machine with a very good pay table, can reduce the house edge to next to nothing or even turn into a positive expectation game. There are very different video poker games in town, and their pay tables also vary widely. It's easiest to stick to one game like Jacks or Better in the beginning. " He demonstrated how to select the game from the machine. "Now, the pay table is very important if you play quite a lot, like I do, because in the long run, your chances of breaking even are better. It's a bit complicated for beginners, and if you just want to have fun for a few minutes, it's perfectly OK to choose another machine" ‚ "Lies!" The blue-haired lady screamed. "We purists only play 10-7 JoB in any event? Next thing you'll tell her she doesn't have to play 5 credits?" ‚ "It's true," Andrew continued," that playing with 5 coins is the usual way to go, as you'll only get the highest pay out for the best hand, the royal flush, when playing maximum bets. You'll lose credits 5 times as fast that way too, though, so for very casual gamers who realize they just don't want toÖ" ‚ "Blasphemy?" the blue-haired lady shouted. "Blasphemy. " Breena realized that it would probably be quieter if she played 5 credits. She inserted a 10 dollar bill into her machine. "Now, the denomination of the game is also important. One credit can equal a penny, a quarter or even five dollars. Most people play a quarter, five credits. " Breena chose the appropriate buttons. "You try to get combinations like on this pay table. A pair of jacks or better pays the amount you have wagered, for example. Breena pushed the "Deal" button and was dealt a jack of hearts, a king of hearts, an ace of hearts, a queen of hearts and a seven of spades. She quickly held the Ace and beamed at Andrew when she got dealt another Ace. "I've won," she shouted. The blue-haired lady made a gurgling sound and fell out of her chair. As the hubbub of the paramedics died down, Andrew tried to explain what she did wrong: "there's something called basic strategy. It means that you should play according to the probability of you getting a good hand. In this case, you had four to a Royal. That means you should have held the four cards for a chance to get the 10 of Hearts. " ‚ "So this is why the lady had a heart attack," Breena marveled. "Well, I didn't like her much anyway," she concluded. Andrew handed her a card with the basic strategy rules and said, "It's OK to use them. Nobody will look at you strangely for that. Well, the old lady might have. "

Breena downed two more Bourbon Sours during the rest of the evening and continued to play. After thirty minutes, the ten dollars were gone. She made the second ten last for an hour and decided to call it a night. Even for a girl who could hold her liquor, she had had a lot of alcohol for one day. As she said good night to Andrew and Darlene, she said: "I noticed you don't use a player's club card. You should ask someone about comps soon! Andrew will be conveniently here at the bar for any story development that might need him until the end of the novel" Andrew nodded helpfully and waved her good-bye.

Breena stumbled back to her room and lay down. She considered briefly playing with her new toy some more, but fell asleep too quickly, oblivious to the faint sounds of the train from down below.

She woke up with a mild hangover. Dang Bourbon Sours, she thought. She dragged herself into the bathroom again and did her stuff. Some of it several times. Then she realized how hungry she was. Naked, she grabbed the Malt-O-Meter and sat on the bed, just inches from where her body would have been reflected in the mirror, making a detailed description possible. She switched on the machine and realized the picture of Malt had changed. He had a golden glow around him now. Even his face was yellow. If this was supposed to make him look any better, it failed, Breena thought.

She typed in "Best breakfast downtown. " The machine made an approving sound and showed the following text: "What is the best? Best is the superlative form of good. Can there be any objective best in something as subjective as taste? Won't a question like that lead to disagreements, arguments, fights even? Who can say that he has eaten all the breakfasts available downtown? And whose taste should be so superior to all the other tastes to decideÖ" Annoyed, Breena shook the gadget. There was a little yelp and the text changed: "The best breakfast. Right. Downtown, I'd recommend Carson Street CafÈ or the Bay City Diner at the Golden Gate which is closer. You can always choose a buffetÖ" Breena looked irritated and started to shake the gadget again, which printed hastily "Öbut for your personal needs, I'd say Bay City Diner. " "That wasn't that hard, right?" Breena said and caught the phrase "but there is some room for discussion" on the screen before the device switched itself off. Breena could have sworn the little machine looked reproachful, but that was ridiculous.

She selected a brown skirt which showcased her perfect calves and a white blouse and got dressed quickly. She went through the casino and took the escalator to the first floor. She entered the California via the walkway and crossed Fremont Street to enter the Golden Gate. The snack bar was still closed, unfortunately. The gadget in her purse beeped. She took it out carefully, hiding it from the views of passers-by. The clientele of the Golden Gate was not interested. On the display, Breena read: "One of the best bargains in Las Vegas is the shrimp cocktail in the snack bar of the Golden Gate. It features a $1 shrimp cocktail with a tangy horseradish sauce. While the quality of the $1 cocktail isn't that great, the deluxe version for $2.99 is excellent value. Some evenings, live piano music is featured. The legendary shrimp eating contests scheduled here annually had to be cancelled when its ringleader was banned from the casino for life. Unfortunately for you, it's closed now during the morning. It used to be openÖ" Breena turned the gadget off. There could be something like too much information, she thought.

The Golden Gate showed its age. If Breena had been a bit more patient, this is what she could have read in the Malt-O-Meter 2007: "Some call it quaint, others call it cramped and old. We like the old-fashioned charm, the piano player and the fair games. You say tomato, we say, "Another Heineken, please?" And about the Diner: "Bay City Diner:İNot to be confused with the Bay City Rollers, the lame teen heartthrobs from way back when, this place offers the usual diner fare. It's one of the better coffee shops in town, and one of the best downtown, at prices that are completely reasonable. The specials that run all day are a downright bargain. Oh boy, their cups of joe are hot and delicious. " Oblivious to all that information, Breena choose a booth and ordered an American breakfast and a Bloody Mary. Yes, she was that kind of girl. The food was perfectly OK for the little money she was spending, and Breena was in a good mood: the weather was nice, the hotel was well suited to her needs, the food was good, the assignmentÖ She had forgotten about the assignment. There had been nothing in it about actually writing it, she rationalized. Explore she should and explore she did. But because she was basically a nice (if exceptionally hot-bodied) mid-western girl, she sighed and pulled out her laptop.

Unfortunately for his readers, this author has decided not to share what she wrote with her for now. With enough encouragement, this could change in the future, but for now, it's no use reminding everyone that pretty much everyone (especially Breena, not only an exceptionally hot-bodied mid-western girl, but also a trained journalist) writes wittier stuff than this author does.

One hour later and exactly 500 words later (Breena was nothing if not efficient), she closed her laptop and returned to Main Street Station. Check-out was looming, and she packed her stuff as rapidly as she could. The nice Ms Rogow handed her her pre-paid bill and two sheets with today's info. "Golden Nugget" was written on one sheet, the other said, "Visit the following stores and buy the appropriate items: Bonanza Gifts ‚ fuzzy dice; Love Jones ‚fuzzy handcuffs, Bare Essentials Fantasy Fashions - schoolgirl outfit;İİ Paradise Electro Stimulations - your choice. " Breena had to say that this was a very strange assignment. She certainly loved to shop, but what in the world was she supposed to do with fuzzy dice? Ms Rogow was able to help her, though: she knew exactly, positively and for certain where Bonanza Gift was located.

On to Page 2


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