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 Six

Breena headed outside and was glad hat Malt was nowhere to be seen, even if that meant dragging her suitcases to the Golden Nugget on her own. Luckily, it wasnít that hot at noon: on that November day, temperatures were very pleasant again and the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. She crossed the street and proceeded to the Nugget. It was quite a bit too walk with her suitcases after all, but she managed it without breaking a sweat. Thereís an advantage to having been a cheerleader, she thought.

She paused at the Nuggetís entrance to have good look around. The Golden Nugget featured white awnings and arches which looked bright and clean, certainly compared to most of Fremont St. There was a lot of brass, and everything was ablaze with white lights. This look continued indoors; even the upholstery was a risky pale almond color. Dragging her luggage trough the casino all the way to reception was annoying - the reception area was a long way from the main entrance.

With all of the fake plants and white lattice around, it looked like a garden party in the casino. A colorful assortment of stylized flowers twined against the black and red background of the carpet, providing a bit of contrast to all the paleness. Much of the ceiling was mirrored and had old-fashioned ceiling fans.

At the entrance to the outdoor pool and jacuzzi area, the gold-toned palm trees had that tacky Midas touch. The lobby itself was pretty darn ostentatious for downtown, with white marble pillars and leafy chandeliers the size of Breenaís clothes dryer. Behind the registration desk was a muted mural featuring large birds. The pool looked very promising, and she vowed to herself to get some pool time later on.

She checked into her room in the South Tower which was average-sized but first-class all the way, with lots of marble, beautiful carpets, nice bedspreads and elegant accoutrements like a lighted vanity mirror. It also featured irons, hairdryers and in-room safes. The room oozed understated classiness. The Strip could be viewed in the far distance.

Assignment time, she thought. Already the Malt-O-Matic was buzzing urgently. She took the gadget out and typed in "Bonanza Gifts." That produced a new sound effect very much like a snort and the following text: "Bonanza Gifts is said to be the largest gift shop in the world. Of course it's the owners who say that, but it is pretty big. Superlatives are thrown around a lot in this town, as you may have noticed. Everything is the best of Vegas at least, if not the best in the world. I have a nice little rant here about the subject "the best"... "Breena shook the machine some more and it gave a little yelp. "Erm, sorry about that. You will find Bonanza Gifts right on the Strip which can be accessed conveniently right from the Fremont Street Experience. Easy walking. Just a few blocks." Breena looked outside. The weather seemed fine for a little walk. She left the casino with a longing look at the pool and walked down Fremont Street. At the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Fremont, there was a familiar black limo. Mr Ronson was busy polishing the mirrors, while Malt, dressed resplendently in a seersucker suit, was busy explaining to a security guard why his car had to be parked in a "no stopping" zone. He seemed to be getting away with it, too. Breena heard him say "...and that's why the mayor insists I have to do it." She thought about sneaking around the car, but of course Malt had already spotted her.

"Breeniebaby," he shouted. Breena made a sour face. "Yes, Ted?" she asked sweetly. Malt seemed to understand. "Breena! Good to see you, sweetie," he managed. "Where are we headed today?" Breena couldn't believe the nerve of the guy. "*I* am walking to Bonanza Gifts." - "You're walking to Bonanza Gifts," Malt replied for the sole purpose of upping the word count. "That's very - ambitious of you. Especially in that outfit." "Hah," Breena said, pleased with herself no end. "I'm not one of those people who have to be driven everywhere." Malt smiled one of these obnoxious little smiles he was so good at. "What gave you the idea of walking there?" he asked. "Your annoying machine told me to," Breena told him. "It said it'd be an enjoyable walk." - "You didn't shake the Malt-O-Matic violently, by any means?" - "I might have moved it a bit impulsively," Breena admitted. "It doesn't like that," Malt said simply.

"Between here and the beginning of the Strip proper, there is an extended area which isn't exactly pretty. Part of it is called the Naked City and thatís for a reason. There are lots of dingy hotels" - ("some of which feature free adult movie channels!" the machine displayed on its screen. Sadly, nobody saw that.) Malt continued "- and an impressive selection of vacant lots, hobos and hookers. There aren't too many problems if you know your way around, stick to the daytime or look inconspicuous, but this outfit? Not inconspicuous."

Breena had to admit to herself that looking inconspicuous hadn't been high on her list when she chose her outfit for the day.she wore a light blue tank top that showed off her bronze tan and a very respectably-looking mini-skirt which still wasn't exactly inconspicuous. She knew when she was beaten and got into the limo with Malt. Mr Ronson kept on polishing his mirrors, unperturbed even when Malt leaned on the horn. He took his sweet time until he finally took his seat.

Mr Ronson drove down Las Vegas boulevard, and Breena realized that walking wouldn't have been a good idea at all. It didn't look downright dangerous, but she wouldn't have felt comfortable. They passed the humongous tower of the Stratosphere, and Malt said "this used to be a paradise for bargains in the olden days. It was called Vegas World then and its owner Bob Stupak didn't really seem to care about mundane things like turning a profit. He was in it for the fun. So were we."

Mr Ronson parked the car at the lot on Sahara and Las Vegas Blvd. Bonanza Gift turned out to be a series of interlocking shops (the Malt-O-Matic displayed "See? I told you! Biggest in the world? Hah!" Sadly, nobody read it.) It was still enormous, and full of kitsch. Breena chose her fuzzy dice in electric pink and marveled at the rest of the selection. There were aisles with merchandise displaying painfully sassy slogans, shot glasses, postcards, liquor, t-shirts and contraceptives. Malt seemed to be mesmerized by a pen that was able to display an actual nude woman when turned upside down. His constant giggles drew the usual stares. Mr Ronson managed to perform an eye roll that was perfectly visible even under his dark glasses.

Malt put on the new t-shirt he had purchased while he was still in the store. It said "This orgy sure is off to a slow start," which Breena actually found to be funny. Mr Ronson just grunted.

"What's next," Malt wanted to know. "Some store called Love, Jones," Breena said. "Oh, that's inside the Hard Rock," Malt said. "I got a frequent shopper card from them. The Hard Rock is a haven for shallow beautiful people who are only after quick, meaningless one night stands. I love it there!"

They drove over to Paradise and Harmon and Mr Ronson stopped the car directly in front of the main entrance. Breena pushed the door open, using the guitar subbing as a door opener. She liked the casino immediately: it wasn't as big as the Nugget, and seemed to be anchored by a central bar. Even in the early afternoon, there were some pretty people drinking already. There were rock memorabilia everywhere, often, Breena noticed, from cutting-edge modern groups like the Eagles or wild rock stars like Billy Joel. Even the casino tables featured rock motives. Malt suggested a late lunch, telling her that the Hard Rock's coffee shop was one of his favorites in town. "Also, it's kind of named after me," he said. Breena sighed as she saw the name "Mr Lucky".

She thought that unlike Malt, the coffee shop was pretty cool. On his advice, she ordered the special which was not on the menu: a steak and a skewer of shrimp for $7.77. It also came with a salad with an excellent blue cheese dressing and some very decent mashed potatoes. Breena looked at the cool art work at the wall, while Malt ogled some silicone sister at the next table. Had Breena been twenty years older, male and a Springsteen fan, she might have made a quip about Malt being blinded by the light. As it was, she didn't.

When she returned from the restroom, Malt was nursing a bruise on his hand. The silicone girl looked at him angrily. "We might as well leave," Malt said. The girl looked at Breena sympathetically. "What will you do with the handcuffs you'll buy?" he asked sotto voce. "I thought I could use them if I investigate a criminal. Or if I want to chain a guy to chair and leave.".

They passed the exit to the pool which looked spectacular. Breena threw it a longing glance, but accompanied Malt to the shops. After all, shopping wasn't that bad, either. They passed a Hard Rock logo shop with plenty of overpriced merchandise and finally arrived at Love, Jones. It was a different kind of store than Breena had imagined. It carried a baffling selection of silk stockings, lotions, garter belts, bras and all kinds of other frilly and lacy stuff. Malt ran straight into a cupboard and tried to reassert his cool by asking Breena "maybe you should update your lingerie as long as you're here".

Breena cooly replied: "I own a full line of these Honey Dews over there. One in black, one in pink and one in smoky blue. What's your favorite color, Malt?" she added innocently. Malt was too busy hyperventilating to answer her. The Malt-O-Matic produced a series of frantic beeps. "I think I'll try on some of these pasties over there. What do you think, Malt?" Malt quite obviously wasn't thinking much anymore. "Oh look, they even carry toys here," Breena added playfully. She bought the fur-lined handcuffs, thanked the clerk and left the casino. As expected, Mr Ronson was already there with his limo right at the curb. "Was Mr Milk - delayed?" he asked. "I think you could say he was held up," Breena said calmly.

Minutes later, Malt stumbled into the car where Breena was applying lip stick slowly and deliberately. "Erm - there was some business I had to take care of," he mumbled. "Next thing I have to get is a school girl's outfit at Bare Essentials. I expect you're a regular there too, Malt?" she asked sweetly. Malt just glared at her. The Malt-O-Matic beeped urgently and, sighing, Breena switched it on. "Bare Essentials is Las Vegas biggest intimate apparel store.," she read. "Wasn't that machine somewhat sceptical towards superlatives earlier?" she asked in a way that should have been rhetorical. "Not when it's as important as Bare Essentials," the screen displayed. "It's huge, much bigger than Love Jones or Agent Provocateur or Frederick's or..." - "The guy who programmed this sure knew a lot about these stores," Breena remarked to no one in particular. "He knows a lot about everything important," the machine displayed. "He also knows that the owners cater to all sexual orientations and even though the store is very popular with men, women feel very comfortable there too.

Mr Ronson had been driving westwards and deposited them at Sahara and Valley View. Malt entered the store in a hurry, eager to reassert his masculinity, as did so quite impressively by buying a very macho glitter tanga. He stiffened slightly (or should that be "partly" - this author is writing in a foreign language after all) when he saw Breena modeling her school girl outfit and heard her mumbling "do I really need another one like this?" Malt helpfully suggested a nurse's uniform which, after some deliberation, she also bought, smiling sweetly. "This company credit card is buying some useful stuff after all. And it might be usual for going under cover on a future assignment," she said (this author deserves some credit for omitting some particularly painful puns from the narrative here).

Mr Ronson was tapping his feet impatiently when they returned. "Time to move, if we want to beat traffic," he offered. "We won't have time for yor usual stop at the Adult Superstore, Mr Milk. He drove them back to the Stratosphere area and stopped at Oakey and Western. "Ahhh, Paradise Electro Stimulations," Malt said. i'm afraid you have to venture in alone, Breena. I'm banned there for life since that little incident with the auto-erotic chair. Stay clear of Mr Payton if he's there. He's a little too fond of these gadgets".

Without a word, Mr Ronson accompanied Breena inside the store. It was a pretty dingy neighborhood and she was glad for the company. The mission statement of the store was printed on a pamphlet: "to bring human sexuality into the 22st century." It offered scores of sexual toys, all equipped with "electric muscle-stimulation, harmonising with the body's own electric impulses." Breena wasn't that fond of that stuff, so she just bought some breast-shaped gum. Getting back into the car, Malt asked eagerly "so what did you buy?" Mr Ronson answered for her: "I can't believe you're supposed to fit that in there." Malt was quiet for a minute. Than he suggested an afternoon snack: "as long as we're in the area, we can get some frozen custard - you being from the Dakotas and all." Mr Ronson drove them to their location at Oakey and Las Vegas Blvd. and both had a Western sundae. That was true comfort food and Breena felt much better after the hard day of shopping. "I'm afraid I'll have to work some more," Malt said. "I guess you'll spend some time at the Nugget?" - "After I tried on my purchases," she answered. "Oh, stop drooling!"

Mr Ronson dropped her off at the South Tower entrance and she blew him a little kiss. She changed quickly in her room and went to the pool to spend the rest of the afternoon, buying the local paper at the little store on her way. "The Strevel still at large," the headline blared. She read a bit about the supervillains latest criminal endeavors, but got bored after a while and watched the awesome pool instead. It was several stories high and featured a shark tank one could slide through. Breena decided that this was just the thing to try after her hard day and climbed the stairs to the top. The ride was fun but too short, and the splashing water obscured her view of the sharks. She decided it was more fun to watch the sharks from outside. Breena went to the pool bar to get a beer. The handsome bartender she met earlier seemed to be (by an incredible coincidence) another freelancer. Propelled by an insane desire to allow this author another lame in-joke, she forgot all about her good taste in beer and actually said "Coors light, please." The guy on the stool next to her said "That's me! Finally! I've been waiting for that since I got that stupid screen name." Unfortunately, Breena just looked at him irritated (just like most of the three remaining readers look at this text right now, this author imagines) and went back to her chair, locking her full lips around the beer and not the guy. At least Breena wouldnít order a single malt any time soon, she decided.


Part Seven

Breena returned to her room for a little nap. She awoke refreshed around 8 p.m. and decided it was time to gamble some more. When she passed through the casino, there was a commotion. A guy was shouting "I did it again! And they said it couldn't be done! Three royals in fifteen minutes!" After the initial commotion had died down, Breena approached the man. As it turned out, he appreciated being approached by her. Then again, most men appreciated being approached by Breena. She congratulated him on his winnings as he tried to no avail to take a photograph of the royal. "I can't believe the batteries in my cell phone AND my digicam are dead again," he muttered. "There I am, venturing downtown for once to oversee the monorail's downtown extension which should be announced any minute now, and I'm winning three jackpots again. No one will believe me. Good thing I'll have these forms as proof that I really won. Anyone who puts $10.000 in escrow along with a proof of citizenship, a complete medical history and the Holy Grail will be able to see them along with my Grand Poobah medal".

Poor Breena could understand only a few of these utterings. Monorail? Grand Poobah? Comps? Yet she remembered Darlene advising her to learn about comps. As fate (and this exceptionally industrious author) seemed to have put a man with such an extraordinary knowledge of comps in her way, she might as well grill him about it.

Fortunately, the man liked to talk about Vegas, and after Breena had ordered a root beer for her new aquaintance and a Bourbon Sour for herself, he began to explain.

"The comp system is an incentive for players to continue gambling. It's short for compensation. Basically, the casino uses a small part of its profits to give the customer something back. It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it still counts." He looked around and whispered: "There are many people who lose money while gambling. I never do, so it works out perfectly for me." Breena couldn't really believe that, even though she was from one of the Dakotas, possibly the left one.

The guy continued "There are many different comp system. For machines, all got one thing in common: you enroll in a slot club, which is always free. Sometimes, you get a gift for enrolling. They issue you a card which tracks your level of play when you insert it into a machine. According to the level of play, there is a system of tiers. It might start with silver, then there might be gold, platinum, diamond and, finally, Grand Poobah. But you need quite a bit of play to really get something back. I'm a very substantial player, for example, a Grand Poobah, so they give me pretty much everything my heart desires." - "Cool," Breena said, "like a private jet?" - "Erm, no," the man replied. "A first class flight anywhere in the world?" - "No. I get to eat at restaurants for free. And I get free movie tickets." Breena looked a bit disappointed. "Privileged Parking. And I got a very nice pillow from the casino recently as a gift," the man added hastily. Intelligent as Breena was, she realized pretty quickly that this author was exaggerating for comic effect here. "So to reach some kind of realistic conclusion here," she said, sensibly, "comps can come in quite handy and one should always join a slot club and use ist card when possible, but playing for comps is pretty stupid and touting its benefits beyond all measure is a sure sign that the casino's strategy of making the player forget he's basically bound to lose money in the long run. Present company excluded, of course.," she added hastily. The man blinked and said "I couldn't have said it better myself".

The comp expert produced a 2 for one coupon for the drinks and accurately split the check, leaving an adequate tip. She had to think about her constant quibbles with Malt about that subject. He liked to disappear into the restroom when the cheque arrived and to hide there until she took care of it, reappearing just after the fact feigning innocence. That was a fairer solution, she thought. "You should really get someone to tell you about coupons," the man told her as they said their goodbyes. "I would, but there's stool at a video poker machine at Green Valley Ranch with my name on it. Literally."

Breena proceeded to the Golden Gate and had a big shrimp cocktail. The piano playing performed a rollicking version of Stardust while she munched her shrimp, enjoying the tangy sauce and the single cracker that was provided. It was great value for $2.99.

She caught another underwhelming edition of the light show and returned to Main Street Station. At the slot club, she enrolled and got a spiffy player's card. Making her way back to the bar, she recognized Andrew, who of course was waiting for her. "This might be my favorite place in the world," he said, "and I'm totally happy to help that author out, but I'm sure glad you're finally here. So what can I do for you? Some pressing legal business, I presume? Do you need a restraining order against that Malt character?" - "Erm, I just need some expert on coupons," Breena said tentatively, "and as that author is hesitant to use any lawyer more than absolutely necessary, you'd have to recommend someone else than yourself." Andrew considered this for a moment. "You want to talk to Walt," he finally said. "He knows all there is to know about coupons - and he's the most helpful guy you can imagine".

"Where can I find him," Breena asked. "You can meet him tonight at a concert, if that's worth a trip down Boulder Highway to you. Great show too, I'd be there for certain if that dang storyline wouldn't keep me here." Breena so wanted to help that friendly guy. She thought hard. "Maybe if you come along, it's OK for the story. You'd still be there if I needed you." - "That might work," Andrew said, a tad doubtfully. "But I guess there might be a dramatic development to keep me here if I try." They went to the exit and just as they had passed it, the familiar face of Mrs. Andrew appeared. "Darling! What are you doing here? Especially with that exceptionally attractive scantily-clad blonde buxom beauty who I saw downing large quantities of alcoholic beverages just last night." - "Just showing her where the cabs are," Andrew said smoothly. "You know I have to stay at the bar until the end of the story, my love." ‚ "Remember, Railhead Lounge at Boulder Station," Andrew shouted after her. "Walt is the lanky guy with the hat which has a name tag on it".

Breena got into a cab and told the driver to drive her to Boulder Station. On their way they passed great old neon motel signs. The motels themselves looked pretty run down. Then the cab reached the highway and Las Vegas looked like every boring city in the Dakotas which has more than 10.000 people living there (at last count, there were two), except for the humongous palaces of gambling who could be seen every few miles. The driver stopped the car at Boulder Station and Breena got out, tipping generously as she always did. She entered Boulder Station which featured a faint railway theme, and was surprised that it seemed impossible to say anything about the dÈcor in a fun, succinct way. Probably Amy hadnít been there yet. She continued through the busy casino and finally found the Railhead after passing countless fast food options. Entrance was free, and a fantastic band was playing. "Whoís that?" she asked a lanky guy with a hat who happened to be standing right next to her. "The band is called Lon Bronson. They deliver industrial strength r&b, rock soul and funk.," the man said. Breena strained to see the name tag on the guyís hat. Unfortunately, it said "DocDice." While the band played "Gimme Shelter," Breena searched the audience for lanky guys in hats. When the band took a break after a blistering version of Stairway to Heaven, the lights came on brightly enough that Breena was able to find her man.

Walt was 6 feet 5 and wore his hat like all the cool guys do ‚ with a name tag. He was dressed in chinos and a dress shirt. He had the most interesting eyes ‚ you could really get lost in them, Breena felt, if you could get past the glasses (thatís enough for now, Walt ‚ thatíll be another $50). "Youíre Walt," she half-whispered.

If Walt was surprised to be talked to by a buxom blonde roughly half his his age, he didnít show it. "Hi," he answered, somewhat lamely. "Andrew said you could help me," Breena breathed, still fascinated by this taciturn (yes!!!) figure. "Why donít we go some place more quiet and talk?" Walt had to think about this for some time. "OK," he finally said and came along.

Unfortunately, Boulder Station didnít cater very well to people in dire need of quiet places. So Breena and Walt had to make go with the bar, where Breena ordered a Bourbon Sour. Walt ordered "Gin." "So Walt," Breena began, still puzzled by some of his ruggedly handsome features, reminding her sometimes of George Clooney, sometimes of Brad Pitt ‚ the hair looked like Fabioís ‚ or was there some of the dashing sex symbol hidden in his jowly features (this author is painfully bad at describing menís looks, as he wouldnít have needed to pointed out, but did so anyway to increase the all-important word-count), "So Walt," Breena began again, "Andrew says you know all about coupons". "Yes," Walt said. "Would you tell me about them?" Breena offered. "Yes," he said again. Breena was enchanted. This quiet man offered a mysteriousness rarely encountered outside of the Dakotas. "Then please tell me what coupons are good for," she urged. Walt sprang to action: "Making things cheaper," he said.

Maybe it would save a lot of time to summarize what Walt told a rapt Breena in the next three hours. Coupons apparently were a good way to save money in Vegas. There were excellent and painfully bad coupons, and to get them wasnít as easy as it looked. There were 2-4-1 which actually got you two items for the price of one, mainly attributing to the general non-lankiness of the American public, as people tended to eat more than what was good for them. There were free coupons in the visitorís magazines (Breena asked "Where can I get those," Walt answered "Hotels"). There was a wealth of coupons to be found online, only waiting to be printed. Walt knew them all and could direct people to them. There were whole coupon books to be sold in bookstores and online. Walt showed her his alphabetized 9 versions of the American casino guide and of the Las Vegas Advisorís Pocketbook of Value. These cost money, but they were worth it when used properly. He explained that in great detail and looked very seriously, and Breena thought she was melting inside just a little bit. Yes, properness was important. It was the way things were done in the Dakotas. She thanked and he said "My forte is in repeating conventional wisdom, ad nauseam." That wasnít that romantic, but Breena didnít care by now.

In a daze, she followed Walt outside. She would have done everything for this mysterious taciturn guy. She was preparing to get her courage together and to offer him to accompany him to his hotel room. She was dying to try on her new purchases. Alas for Breena, this was not to be. When she tried to insinuate her plans, Walt looked at her sternly and said, "Sorry. I have to go to the Waltcave alone. But I have a feeling we will met again". As this was the longest sentence he had used all night, Breena was left with a bitter-sweet note of hope and regret.

So poor Breena had to return to her hotel room all alone, filled with regret about the whole affair. She felt very vulnerable when suddenlyÖ


Part Eight

Breena woke up with a start when she heard her room door click shut. She had a bit of a hangover and still felt relaxed and oddly satisfied, but she had no recollection whatsoever about the events of the later evening. The room was a mess, though, there were crumpled sheets on the bed and everywhere, there were mini bar bottles who most definitely not only had been moved, but emptied as well. Considering that the Nugget's rooms didn't even feature mini bars, this was a considerable mystery. Breena stretched her long limber legs (this author has never met an alliteration he didn't like) and decided to take a long, hot shower during which she cleansed herself thoroughly (because you never knew). She took a quick glance at the Malt-O-Matic after getting dressed, but it didn't seem prudent to ask it about the last night's events. Anyway, the picture of Malt wasn't especially appealing today, as there was some kind of golden metal thing passing through his skull on the picture today. "Kind of big for a piercing," she mumbled to herself. She wondered a about what happened last night, but finally considered it the job of this writer to work himself out of the corner he had painted himself into.

She sighed, got her stuff together and realized with a start that it was close to 11 already. She almost never slept that late, and was a little mad at herself to have missed out on some valuable Vegas time. It was a good thing her boss Mr KL Mouton didn't know. He had a cruel streak sometimes, pestering people about seemingly insignificant stuff, but she still had to admit she liked the old grouch.

He hurried towards reception, and checked out of the Nugget. Her bill had been prepaid by the paper as always before. She opened the envelope containing her assignment with a sense of foreboding.

"Find the best price for the Gold Spike and book it. Don't spend more than $75 today for all expenses, including transportation, food, drinks (this was underlined for some obscure reason) and lodging. No mooching off men!"

Breena considered this. This was a really bad assignment, easily the worst yet, even though the Gold Spike seemed a nice enough name. A place like the Golden Nugget with a train motive, she expected. But even though she hasnít had to pay for a room herself yet, the prices printed out on her bill had been higher than $75. And what was she supposed to eat? She hated being a spendthrift for no better reason than a stupid assignment.

She left her bags with the bell desk and began to consider her option. After all, she didn't just possess killer looks along with a killer body and a burgeoning sexuality (this author is really fond of the word "burgeoning" for some reason and plans to look up what it means really soon), but also that kind of keen intelligence people from the Dakotas are justly famous for, combined with extensive journalistic training. She had to rule out comps, she thought, having gambled very little until now. To find a coupon she could use seemed unlikely. While she didn't consider accepting invitations from darkly handsome mysteriously taciturn men "mooching," other people just might. She decided she had to do some research.

The Malt-O-Matic produced a sound very much like a whine. Breena sighed and turned it on. "Low battery" was flashing on the screen. She got it to work anyway by shaking it a bit more and the warning disappeared. Warily, she typed in "How do I find a good rate for the Gold Spike" - "There is no good rate for the Gold Spike," the machine printed huffily. Breena sighed again and typed: "Let me rephrase that. How do I find any rate for the Gold Spike?" The machine displayed, "You could call them, I suppose, by using a telephone and entering the digits 1-877-467-7453 in exactly that order. And donít bother with the "-" (which, this author is sure, there is a specific word for in beautiful English language ("ampersand" briefly came to mind, but thatís of course a strange sexual deviation involving peanut butter, anchovies and a goat), but again, time is of the essence. ). Another option would be to use something called the INTERNET. You might have heard about it." The machine beeped again accusingly and turned itself off. Obviously it really disliked to be shaken.

Looking up, she looked into the achingly handsome face of a tall man. Directly behind him, Malt was lurking. He was dressed very conservatively today, in a white toga with a saffron sash. "I believe weíll head to Caesars Palace today, oh domina. Iím planning on a bacchanal," he said, sucking some Red Bull through a straw. "Weíre most definitely are not," Breena huffed. "I have to find the best rate for the Gold Spike and book it." Very predictably (this author is truly sorry, but he IS in a bit of a hurry today), Red Bull shot though Maltís nose as he was convulsing with laughter. "YouÖ - Gold Spike Ö - best rate." Breena just watched him contemptuously. "Whatís so funny," she finally said after the convulsions had down to a few quivering giggles. "Well, the Gold Spike is one of my favorite places," Malt finally managed. "Youíll feel right at home there." It sounded a bit sarcastic, Breena thought. Malt continued: "All right, the Gold Spike is probably the cheapest casino you can stay at right now, after they closed the Westernís hotel after that unfortunate incident with my good friend, philanthropist and all-around great guy Thomas W. It used to be our base for cheapo stays, but it has eveolved from a exciting dingy low-brow hotel casino to something terrible: a boring dingy low-brow hotel casino. Itís not life-threatening to stay there, though. Most of the time. Maybe youíd be better off with some male company, for security.," he added hopefully.

"Yes," Breena said, "maybe I should ask Walt." ‚ "You met Walt?" Malt screamed, "that no-good slow talking cow-boring little half-brother of mine?" Breena realized there was a very slight family resemblance: if she imagined Waltís face and very slowly removed all the things reminding her of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Gary Cooper, a little bit of Malt remained. Still, she said "You canít be half brothers! Youíre so different!" ‚ "Itís a complicated story," Malt said. "My mom married a guy who had been married to a black lady before who had adopted a little girl who grew up to be a salad farmer in Cleveland. Later on, she met a postman who discovered he was gay. Consequently, he left his wife, who was left to fend alone for her only son, who was me." ‚ "That doesnít make any sense at all," Breena shouted. "Also, Walt didnít even feature in that story." ‚ "Told you it was complicated," Malt replied. "So do you need any help with booking the hotel? This happens to be one of my many areas of expertise. And you might notice that Iím here, dashing as ever and ready to help, while that link-providing South Point‚dissing no-goodnik is probably hiding from the world in his Waltcave." ‚ "I could use some help," Breena admitted. "I also have to get through the whole day spending only $75, and thatís including the hotel. And you might not treat me to anything (as if you would, she added to herself)" ‚ "This is your lucky day," Malt trumpeted, "Another area of my finest expertise! I once wrote a complete trip report about spending a day in Las Vegas for even less, back when I was still writing trip reports instead of just announcing them!" "ThatísÖgood, then," Breena said reluctantly, "where do we start?" "If we want to spend as little money as possible, weíll have to walk over to Main Street Stationís lobby to use thir free internet in the lobby. Iíll explain the rest to you there."

They walked through Vegas Club, making it a point to mention very explicitly several times that one way to pass through the California on the way to Main Street Station was through Vegas Club. When they arrived at the lobby, they activated the wireless on Breenaís laptop and connected to the net. "Thereís a quick way, which obviously is what weíre shooting for here, and a way to look for a rate more thoroughly," Malt said surprisingly seriously. "The obvious way to start is with the hotelís web site. In this case, that wonít help us, as there arenít accepting online reservations " (Breena noticed that the web site didnít look as dingy as Malt had made her expect. Maybe there was hope yet.) "You can go to different resalers from here. Reputable ones are Travelworm, or Expedia, though it always pays to check its cancellation policies. If youíre planning a long time in advance, itís important to be able to cancel when a better rate comes along. Thatís why the hotel sites are such a good way to start, as they rarely have cancellation fees." Breena looked at Malt. She was impressed ‚ this really was something he was good at. Malt continued: " Many of the more reputable travel sites donít feature the Gold Spike, as there might have been some complaints by customers in the past. I always like to check first to check out prices, since they compare the room rates of different companies. The prices arenít always accurate, but it pays to check. And they include taxes and fees of the companies in the final tally, so you can compare pretty well. In this case, you see thereís just one offer by TripRes. They have a room for $25, which is pretty cheap even for the Gold Spike. The total comes to $30.92. Weíll check the hotelís own offer now by calling them".

He dialed and became a different person: charming and friendly: "Oh hi, Sally Ann. Iím calling for a friend who needs a room for tonight. $30 plus tax? Donít you have any specials right now?" The woman on the other side of the line was laughing so loud Breena could hear it. Malt whispered "Highly unlikely at the Spike, but it always is a good idea to ask. If you were a serious gambler, asking for a casino rate would be a good idea. But then they expect a certain amount of play from you, and casino rates are another thing that the Spike isnít especially famous for." The woman settled down and Malt continued his spiel: "Well, I saw this rate of $25 at TripRes online and thought you might be able to match it? Youíll do that? So itíll be about $27 because this author is too lazy to calculate the actual tax? Thanks, youíre a peach, Sally Ann." He put down the phone and explained: "Quite a few hotels match offers you can find online. The Spike usually doesnít, so this was for demonstration purposes only. But it still leaves you with $48 for the rest of the day. And I got a few pretty good ideas what to do with them."

They returned to the Nugget, and Breena got her luggage. The black limo was nowhere to be seen. "Ronson wasnít able to make it," Malt explained. "That happens pretty frequently these days. But to show you what a nice guy I am, Iíll accompany you to the Spike just to prove to you what a kind of guy I am. Youíll save the cost of a cab. And itís certainly not mooching when I carry your bags." This made a lot of sense to Breena, who had to admit she kind of liked that friendlier version of Malt. Even though he was staring t her legs again, mesmerized.

They walked down the Fremont Street experienced and arrived at an ugly structure to the right. "This is Neonopolis," Malt said. "Another of the failed attempts to revitalize downtown. As you can see, what was supposed to be an exciting shopping mall is virtually empty except for a movie theater and a tacky restaurant. Too bad they donít have any better ideas for this area. But if you look ahead, thereís some promising stuff happening on the street leading to the El Cortez over there. They redid the street and there are quite a few cool little spots around it now. Maybe thereís still hope." ‚ "El Cortez somehow rings a bell," Breena said. "I think thatís where my cousin Cameron usually stays when heís in town. He always tend to be rather excited about it." ‚ "Yeah, the ElCo has its advantages," Malt said. "Especially when compared to this " ‚ and with a dramatic gesture he showed her the Spike.

It was a pretty sad sight from outside, but it got worse when they entered. There was smoke everywhere, and the clientele was ‚ well, different than at the Nugget. Malt of course was oblivious to the stares he drew in his toga, but then again, some of the people who were playing at the nickel machines were wearing arguably even worse clothes. Breena got her room key and a laugh when she produced her credit card and walked to her room in a bad mood. Malt trudged along with the bags and for once, she didnít mind. Her room was average-sized, somewhat dark and pretty dingy. There was a pubic hair on the ceiling of the bathroom and the toilet didnít flush when she tried it experimentally. Dejected, she tried to sit on the bed but got up again quickly. Malt looked at her sympathetically. "I donít mind staying in a room like that," he said, but itís certainly not the right place for someone like you. I have a plan ‚ a plan so cunning you could pin a tail to it and call it a weasel. Give me that assignment of yours." Breena handed him the assignment sheet. "Find the best price for the Gold Spike and book it.," Malt read aloud. "You fulfilled your assignment ‚ you booked the hotel. It doesnít say you have to actually stay there!" ‚ "But how am I supposed to find another hotel for $48 and still have something to eat?" Breena asked. "Remember the Travelaxe search we did? The second best rate I found, apart from some dumps in Primm, was the El Cortez for $30 plus tax ‚ letís say $33 to facilitate this authorís mathematical tasks. So youíd still have $15 left for food. Which isnít that much, but stick with me and youíll eat like a King ‚ err, Queen," Malt said.

They shlepped her bags to the El Cortez and sure enough got the room for the rate Malt had mentioned. Breena couldnít believe what she saw: the casino, while old, was nicely renovated. There was hardly any smoke and there werenít any hobos in attendance. The casino was lively, people smiled at her and life was good.

Her vintage room was up a few stairs up from the casino and she could hear a bit of casino noise if she concentrated, but it was sparkly clean, the bed was comfortable and there were no pubic hairs in sight.

Somehow, Malt had become her knight in a shiny toga for the day.


Part Nine

"So where do we eat? I'm hungry," Breena said. "You've got $20 left (this author cunningly raised the budget mentioned in the last part of the story to make this part more enjoyable for you, my gentle reader. Breena started out with $50 originally, but you know how fast the money goes when classy ladies are involved) (oh, just to make this phrase's syntax even worse: you're reading a footnote right now. These are really hard to pull off in a text-based newsgroup. Use your imagination, gentle reader), so we'll have to work out a cunning plan..." - "Yeah, yeah, I know," Breena said, "smart as an otter or something. I'm hungry!" "We don't have the limo, so we'll just have to use public transportation," Malt said. "Let's get on the bus".

They walked to the Deuce's bus station. "What a funny name," Breena said as she paid her $5 for her day ticket. "Yeah, it's OK for a city that's running out of acceptable names for stuff pretty fast. Let's see: TI. THEHotel. Bill's Gambling Emporium. Ogden House. The monorail - all painfully lame." - They got prime sears in the first row of the double-decker's upper level. "Why don't we take the monorail ?" Breena asked as the bus departed. "Why don't we take the monorail ?" Malt repeated. "Because the monorail is not cool. Because you wouldn't have any money left once you paid for a day ticket (in case you haven't noticed, gentle reader, Malt is prone to exaggerations). Because you could fall out of it. Because the ads are so annoying. Because everyone in the newsgroup hates it and I tend to pander to my core audience. Because it doesn't go to downtown." The bus had arrived at the Naked City during this. Now it's getting more interesting," Malt said, as they passed the Strat. "most experts agree that the Strip really starts at Sahara and ends at THEHotel." - "Who would argue about this," Breena asked. "Oh, there are people," Malt said darkly.

"Basically, the Deuce is a great way to sightsee on the Strip, especially if you splurge on a day pass, which is a great deal for $5. A one way ticket only costs $2. It goes up and down the Strip pretty frequently and isnít as smelly as the other bus lines in the city. There is one major disadvantage, though: use it during rush hour and it is faster to walk".

Breena marveled at the lights of the Strip from up close for the first time. As they passed the Sahara and Riviera, Malt explained that the North Strip was dominated by older hotels. "Sadly, cheapo places like the Westward Ho or the Stardust with its utterly wonderful neon sign have all been closed and imploded. Theyíre building fancy and expensive new stuff there. Itís all very bland and corporate and directed at those people I hate most: those that donít think twice about being overcharged, because they just donít notice".

They passed the pink monstrosity that was Circus Circus and Malt sighed. " They always blow up the wrong ones. This is the place you just have to visit if you read "Fear and Loathing is Las Vegas." Breena hadnít. "Oh, itís a trip," Malt said. "And the Horse Around bar which is on a carousel is so crazy you donít need any drugs. Thereís also a good steak house in there ‚ and a lot of kids." ‚ "Donít the kids get in the way of the adults pursuing adult fun?" Breena asked, endearing her to millions of avlv readers around the globe. Malt looked around nervously. "Shhh, not so loud. Things can get pretty heated round here when it comes to this subject. " But it was to late.

A guy in his mid forties exclaimed: "I always have loads of fun with my kids because they love all these lights and there are white lions and clowns." One extremely hip guy (you knew because he had the words "Iím extremely hip" emblazoned on one side of his t-shirt and "C the Shocker" on the other stood up and shouted "Hereís some useful advice: keep your damn rugrats at home where they belong and schedule a trip with them to Disneyland next year."

A guy who looked as if he had two names at the very least and who had been strumming his banjo quietly added "Chances are your children will not sustain the permanent physical and psychological damage that you will be be warned of. Chances are someone will mention that they removed the amusement park from behind the MGM as an example of the town becoming less kid friendly. Chances are they won't mention that it SUCKED as an amusement park in the first place. And chances are that you will not be able to enjoy the adult sides of Las Vegas to your heartís content without being a spectacularly bad parent. If youíre just here for a family vacation, enjoy and try to respect otherís wish to do so".

They got out quickly after that before things got violent and crossed the Strip. Breena looked around, awestruck by all the Stripís glitz after spending most of her time downtown. Malt pushed her on, telling her "Youíre not ready for that yet. Weíll go to a place that has that comfortable downtowny feeling." They took Flamingo and passed the somewhat impressive but utterly pointless neon walkway at Ballyís. "All glitz, no substance," Malt muttered. They passed by the Westin Casuarina "Ice queens in a dead casinos," Malt muttered, obviously remembering a painful experience. They did a right on Koval and stood before Ellis Island. "This DOES look like downtown," Breena said, and as they entered the smoky cramped casino, she might as well have been back on Fremont. They went to the coffee shop where you usually have to wait for about an hour for a table around lunch, but because this is a story, they got seated right away. They got one of these waitresses who call everyone "honey," which happened pretty regularly with Breena anyway, but very rarely happened to Malt. Breena wanted to take a look at the menu, but Malt said: "thereís only one thing to order here and itís not on the menu." So they ordered the tomato salad.

Of course they ordered the steak special, as Malt didnít want Breena to be beaten up (he didnít care so much about himself, that happened pretty much all the time anyway). The steak special included a rather weak salad, mashed potatoes (or some other starch), slightly chewy string beans and a steak that had to be eaten to be believed at this price. "They hiked up the price from $4.95 to $6.95 recently." Malt said, "but you had to drink something anyway and the root beer is included now." It still was a very good deal and Breena thought her $20 (-$5 - $8) might actually be sufficient for the day.

Satisfied with her meal, she watched as Malt made a big stink about not being to use his matchplays at the blackjack table. "A matchplay is a wonderful thing when it is accepted," he said after they had been thrown out. "You bet an amount, say $5, and if you lose, itís gone, but if you win, they add $20 as your winnings. So over time, thereís a high probability to eke out a winning. But lately, some places have become stingy about this." He added: "You should really get someone to explain blackjack to you".

"We still have some time left in the afternoon. Letís use our Deuce all day passes a bit more, so you can see a bit more of the Strip". They boarded the bus after a five minute wait. "At this time of day, it arrives all 7 minutes," Malt said. "We are at the Central Strip right now, where a few of the big players are located. Youíve heard about Bellagio and Caesars Palace , of course. This is the Stripís Vegas at its best, especially Caesars is a wonderfully themed and totally nutty place. Youíll have to check out Cleopatraís Barge. A place made for you." Breena felt oddly flattered by that. She sure didnít look like Cleopatra, blonde as she was, she thought. "Iíll have to check it out later," she said. Malt pointed out Paris with the Eiffel Tower and Planet Hollywood to her. "On the right hand side, you see the biggest project in Vegas history. They call it City Center, and itís supposed to be a futuristic mixture of condos, hotels, casinos, shops and convention space. With names like Vdara or Veer Tower. Probably boring as hell. But we wonít know until some more years".

"This part of the Strip is more fun. This intersection is one of the busiest in the Nation, and around here, the South Strip begins. This green monster on the left is the MGM Grand, which was the biggest hotel in the world for some time. NY NY to the right is the best of the themed hotels, in my opinion. And Luxor is just iconic, with its pyramid shape and Egyptian design. But of course, these beancounters are ruining it again. They put these giant ads on the facade and are planning to de-theme it. Pretty soon, they will have sucked all the fun out of the city. This castle here is Excalibur, a pretty depressing affair and a good example that theming can be pretty horrific, too. The Trop over here is really showing its age, but I kinda like it. This last hotel to the right here is tearing me apart, because Ö I Ö donítÖwant to say what this author is typing". ‚ "Is it because you once stated that itís a place for obnoxious people with too much money and this author considers himself to be anything but, and still likes it a lot, especially THEHotel, which you once said was showy and pretentious?" Breena asked with surprising accuracy. "Hrmph," Malt said.

The bus reached its final destination, and they had to get off, but were able to board it again in no time. On the way back, Malt pointed out the Palms at the far left and the Venetian and the Wynn on the right. When they returned to the El Cortez, Malt said goodbye, because he had to work again and Breena actually felt a little sorry to see him go. In her room, to her surprise, there was a gigantic fruit basket, covered with cellophane. She found a little note on it, saying just "Hi." She knew exactly who it was from.

She toyed around with a banana for a bit and then decided to take a nap. When she woke up, it was dark outside and she was feeling hungry. Bananas just wouldnít cut it, and after all, wasnít that mooching off men? Hastily, she put the banana back. She counted her remaining money: $7. She needed something cheap.

At the coffee shop Careful Kittyís (great name, she though appreciatively. She was starting to think like a Vegas aficionado), she asked for the specials. The cheapest graveyard special was just $3.95: 2 eggs with hash browns, toast, and bacon or sausage. She wolfed it down hungrily, and after tax and tip, actually had $1.50 left.

She was in the mood for a beer and decided the most likely place to get a beer for her remaining buck would be the place where she had booked her first room for the night. So she returned to the Gold Spike's bar and got her beer, tipping her last 50 cents. It was just a Budweiser, but it still hit the spot. Near the bar, behind a table where some kind of dice game was played, there was a little plaque that stood out from its surroundings because it was so shiny. It looked like it was being polished every day, something rather rare at the Spike. On the plaque, in tiny letters, Breena read the following:

"This marks the spot where Mark 'Stinky' Sinclair once threw a pair of dice so high that one landed in the cleavage of a lady of the night, while the other one never came down again. He will always be remembered and deeply missed".

What a nice way to remember someone, Breena thought. And hopefully, it was.


Part Ten

The next day, Breena awoke around 10. She realized her assignment was probably waiting at the Gold Spike, even though she had checked out there only a few hours after checking in. This had not seemed to be unusual at all for the clerk. To her surprise, her assignment was there at the El Cortezí reception desk, though. It said "The Venetian." That was a relief, because Breena remembered it distinctly to be a lot nicer than the Gold Spike. Also, it was a good feeling to be able to spend company money like there was no tomorrow again. She turned the sheet over for her assignment, and it just said "Hang with the Hogs." Now, that was a curious assignment to be sure. She either needed some help or some research. Remembering the Malt-O-Matic, she took it out and tried a new approach, stroking it gently. The machine purred and sprang to life, displaying "Battery fully loaded." In the picture, Malt looked like a gondolier today.

Breena typed in "Hang with the Hogs?" and the machine sprang into action.

"Hogs are animals which are filthy, smelly and great to turn into bacon. Hogs are also omnivores, which means that they consume both plants and small animals. They will scavenge and have been known to eat any kind of food, including dead insects, worms, tree bark, rotting carcasses, excreta (including their own), garbage, and other pigs. Occasionally, in captivity, pigs may eat their own young, often if they become severely stressed. To hang with hogs, Iíd suggest a hog farm"

Breena started to get angry again, but controlled herself. "Hanging with the Hogs in Vegas," she typed. "oh, THESE hogs," the machine displayed. The hogs are a group of extraordinarily virile men who love the city of Las Vegas because of its easy access to loose women, loose slots, sports books and copious amounts of alcohol. They used to have a website, from which this machine was hoping to pilfer a lot of information, thereby greatly piling up word count. Unfortunately, the website seems to be defunct at this time, and this machine only remembers a great variety of pictures of ladies in various states of undress and an open enthusiasm for porn rarely found in the American public. Also see Sporgy." The machine waited, expectantly. Breena sighed and typed "what is Sporgy" ‚ "Type "please"" the machine wrote. Breena had to control her temper again. "What is Sporgy, please." ‚ "Funny you should ask," the machine replied, "as I seem to have answered this question an awful lot lately.

"Sporgy is short for sports orgy. To get an idea about what it used to be, I have a quote from a man intimately familiar with the concept:

You spend an entire Sunday watching football games in a comfy seat being served free cocktails by one of the sexiest cocktail waitresses in the world every 15 minutes or so. There were at least eight games going on at once (before 9:00 am) and if you were a scientific bettor

you could have ACTION on all of these games. Every fumble, tipped pass or incompletion wreaked some sort of havoc on your sympathetic nervous system. Your heart would race, your palms would sweat and there was Connie with another frosty (free) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Ahhhh. refreshment!

As the seconds would count down on eight games simultaneously you realize you have a winning stake in *all eight* of these games. Huge gobs of testosterone are let out each time a pass is completed or a tackle is broken. Men of all ages will shriek for joy or wail in terror. Huge slabs of mankind. You'd never expect such sounds from sides of beef this large! Your

neck feels sore from turning your head from one goal line stand to a 50 yard field goal attempt to a 108 yard kickoff return by Devin Hester to an improbable recovery of an on-side kick.

Incredibly you look down at your betting tickets and YOU ARE STILL IN THE RUNNING FOR EVERY SINGLE GAME and here comes Connie with yet another Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. You didn't order it, but "she figured you needed it" and oh by the way here's a hot towel to refresh yourself for the NEXT SLATE OF EIGHT GAMES that start in 15 minutes.

You realize now that your skin and eyeballs have turned yellow because your liver has just said "STOP IT ALREADY." You have lost a layer of skin on the palm of your hands from slapping your friends "high five" after anything positive that has come your way. You've sat here now for almost six hours and haven't paid for a drink, have been entertained by the games and the fact that you have a significant dollar investment in each one. At the end of this session you have WON EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR BETS, so you cash out over one thousand dollars in tickets thanks to Ronald Emerson's picks earlier in the week.

You get ready to settle in for your next round of WINNING SPORTS BETS and another round of SPNA's served up by your oh so easy on the eyes cocktail waitress when your sure thing comes waltzing into the Venetian Sportsbook. Why it's none other than Bartender WJT and his ungodly record at handicapping football games. Looks like we're going to bet a few parlay cards this morning. Oh and Connie, bring another SPNA for William here! (in case you were wondering why the prose got so much better over the past six paragraphs: someone else wrote it)"

An orgy wasn't exactly what Breena was looking for. But it sounded like fun, if you happened to be a male chauvinist pig (by now it should be clear to even the most casual reader that Breena was exceedingly female). "I have to get someone to tell me about sports betting," she thought.

Breena stepped outside the El Cortez. There were no black limos to be seen anywhere. In fact, there were hardly any cars around at all. A classic cadillac was parked a bit down the road. She noticed because it was such a beautiful car. "Service sure is getting sloppy around here," she said to no one in particular and, as this very male author might add, a tad unfairly. She had to trudge back inside where reception called a cab for her.

The cabbie seemed to be a bit on the sleazy side. His name, according to the license displayed, was Max Wolf, and he sure liked to use expletives a lot, many of which couldn't be reprinted in a family news group, but are perfectly OK here (My son's asking me "Daddy, what are you writing?" right this minute. Of course, he did it in German, so he actually said "Papa, was schreibst Du da? "). He offered her to "take through the tunnel," which she took to be a lewd sexual allusion at first. Fortunately, at this exact moment, a woman opened the cab door and said "Reception told me you're going to the Venetian. Do you mind if we share the cab? I'm Nancy, by the way." This seemed pretty far-fetched to Breena, but she agreed anyway. Nancy began to chastise the driver for his tunnel suggestion: "You're probably a bleeding-heart liberal to suggest crap like that. There just might a few cases where taking the tunnel might be feasible (the tunnel is south of the airport and adds a few miles to most trips to the city, but might be quicker depending on the destination and time of day, she said to Breena), but in this case, only an Obama-loving tax wasting big government-loving hypocrite could suggest such a thing. Are you with the terrorists? Don't you love America?" - Breena very privately thought that charging extra for something nobody needed sounded pretty Republican to her, but wisely held her tongue. There was an uncomfortable silence in the cab as the driver obviously tried to get to the V as fast as humanly possible.

They got out of the cab at the V, and said their goodbyes. Breena left the luggage with the bellhop and entered the lobby area. She was awestruck. This was the most spectacular building she had ever seen, even though she was from one of the Dakotas, and there were several buildings in her home town that actually featured two floors and a working restroom. She admired the parquet floors, the sparkly chandeliers, the enormous map of Venice and the giant fountain shaped like some obscure navigational tool (of which this author has no recollection whatsoever ‚ but if it's on Big Empire, it must be true).

She passed through the marbled hall, admiring the awesome paintings on the high ceilings and looked around in wonder for a long time. Such a vast hotel, she thought to herself. I wonder if there's a trick to get an especially good room. Totally coincidentally, the Malt-O-Matic had started to make strange noises again. She turned it on and typed in "best way to get the best room," adding a "please" despite herself. The machine came up with thr following information: "the best rooms in a casino are usually reserved for whales. These are players who gamble so much they're entitled to the biggest suites. Gamblers who playing enough money to get comps usually also tend to get the nicer rooms. Of all the remaining rooms in the hotel, you could get the best if you play your cards right. The best trick by far, if you ask me, is to just ask nicely. It helps if you are blond (check) and buxom (check), but also to know what you're aiming at. A room with a view always is nice in Vegas, for example. Many people like higher floors for a better view. For others, it's most important not having to walk too far from the elevator. If there aren't too many people there, you have good shot to get such a room just by asking. It also helps to have a fake or real reason, like a birthday, an anniversary or an upcoming engagement with a dashing young whippersnapper".

"To get a substantial upgrade like a suite, just asking rarely works. There are tons of people who swear by the $20 trick. It's more like a bribe to me, because basically, you offer the clerk a folded $20 bill when asking for the room upgrade and give it to him when he obliges. Most people do, anyway. Of course you never know whether you might have got the same room just by asking".

"We'll see about that," Breena thought and unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse. She selected a young male employee called Rex who smiled a lot. "Hi," Breena breathed, "there should be a reservation for me, prepaid by KL Mouton." "Oh yes, Rex said, "quite the clever booker, your Mr Mouton. I have rarely seen a rate this low for the Venetian." - "Please, Rex, could you upgrade me to a suite? With a Strip view? And a whirlpool? I loooove whirl pools. I'd consider it a personal favor." She inhaled a bit and leaned forward. Rex began to sweat copiously. "I'll see what I can do," he managed and began to pound at the keyboard. "This should be right," he finally said and handed her a keycard with her room number. "Your luggage will be in your room momentarily".

"That went well," a quiet voice said behind her. She turned to see Walt smiling reluctantly at her. He didn't wear a name tag on his hat today. "What are you doing here?" Breena asked, pleasantly surprised. "I'm here for the exhibition at the Guggenheim. Wanna come? Got a coupon. My treat. Also gonna visit a friend."

"There's a Guggenheim in here?" she asked. "What's the exhibition about?" "Oh, it's a salad photography exhibition," Walt said. "It's called Caesar salads through the ages. The entrance is right to the left." Walt purchased the tickets from a middle aged man who somehow looked very unhappy. Breena inquired about it. "I'm Chef Kurt," he said. "I had hoped for a part as the head chef at Picasso. But someone obviously thought it to be extremely funny to put a chef in charge of a salad photograph exhibition. Whatís next? Jokes about anchovies?"

The man was clearly very bitter and Walt and Breena continued through the exhibition. There were lots of fine specimen, photos taken all over town in all degrees of skill. The crown jewel of the exhibition, naturally, was the coveted"Salad with Mexican Hooker (in absentia)." Breena and Walt just watched it mesmerized. "Itís hard to believe that it actually exists," Breena finally whispered. "Yes," Walt said.

They left the gallery in awe of what theyíd seen. Finally, Breena remembered: "You said you were here to visit an friend. Whoís he and does he know about sports betting?" "Erm, itís a lady, actually," Walt said. "Her name is Donna, and she is rather a slot expert." Being the adopted half-brother of a woman coincidentally named Donna too, this author wisely refrains from all puns which could come to mind using permutations of the word "slot." Breena looked at Walt, hurt: "Youíre visiting a woman?" she asked. "Sheís an old friend," Walt said who was very bright and, like this author, realized that this situation was pretty certain to make either a fictional or a real character mad, (one of whom is part Italian). "but not old in an old kind of way. Rather old as in "having known her for a long time." ‚"Oh, thatís OK then," Breena said. "When did you first meet her her?" ‚ Walt, who was intelligent, handsome and taciturn, but not an exceptionally good liar, said "Er ‚ five months ago?" Breena looked very upset indeed, which was surprising considering she had spent the last day pretty much completely with another guy. Well, maybe not THAT surprising when you know a tiny little bit about women. Walt had to admit that all the color in her face made Breena even more attractive. As a peace offering, he said: "Why donít we go to her room and I show her to you?" (which is another example of the incapability of this author to cut out any joke, bad as it might be). To his surprise, Breena agreed.

They took the elevator up to the 27th floor, and Walt rang the bell on the door. Donnaís suite was spectacular. Breena entered the 650 square feet standard room through a marble foyer to see a sunken living room complete with writing desk, fax machine/copier, a flat-screen TV, table, an in-room safe, mini-bar and enough chairs for a baseball team. In the bedroom area, there was another big flat-screen TV, canopied bed and another phone. In the bathroom another, smaller flat-screen TV a joined a huge tub. It looked wonderful, just like the write-up at Big Empire would have let her to believe if she had had any knowledge of that wonderful site (check it out at Say hi to Matt from me.)

Donna was the kind of woman her cousin Cameron kept referring to as voluptous. She had flaming red her and was smiling very friendly at this moment. Walt was saying nothing, so Breena said "Hi, Iím Breena, Walt told me to tag along and meet you." Before Donna could reply anything, Breena added: "Oh, these chocolates look just wonderful" and tried to pick one up. In that moment, there was a horrific scream from Donna and Walt at the same time: "Nooooooo" they both screamed. It terrified poor Breena, who had no idea what was going on. She fled the room and jumped into an elevator just as the doors closed behind her. And I thought Malt was crazy, she thought as she heard someone shouting "Breena, come back" and fists hammering on the elevator door.

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