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 15

She returned to her room at Wynn and found another message on her phone. This time, it said "Don't you!" in the same garbled voice. Also, there was a note with an assignment on her pillow. This was going too far, Breena thought, but looked at it anyway. The note said "Texas Station" on one side, and the following on the other:

"Sorry to inconvenience you. But you really need to get up early. Be at the check-in desk at 6.30 sharp. This is your day's itinerary. See Red Rock turn red. Obtain a urinal line pass at Red Rock Station. Eat at the best restaurant off the Strip. Conquer Mount Charleston. Also, it's about time you found out about the best-kept secret in Las Vegas"

This really enraged Breena for several reasons. First, she hated getting up early. Second, this wasn't a proper assignment any more, just some gibberish notes. Third, she certainly did not want to check out of this gorgeous room early. And what was that crap about a secret? Muttering dark threats against kl mouton, the beancounters at corporations everywhere and, most unfairly, this author, she finally fell asleep.

The alarm clock went off at 6 sharp. Breena sighed very loudly, a sound ordinarily pleasing to male listeners anywhere, but in this case conveying a deep and unusual dissatisfaction very succinctly. She dressed up in record time and managed to fix her hair, brush her teeth and pack her stuff in 25 minutes (if there is a price for the most unlikely incident in this story (and there are many), this would probably win). She still looked stunning, but felt like hell. When she checked out at reception, a check-out guy pointed to the general direction of the exit and said "There's a car waiting outside for you."

Breena sighed again and went outside with her luggage. Sure enough, there was the black limo. Mr Ronson was nowhere to be seen, although the joke about his not showing up went unfunny 5 chapters ago. Malt was looking worse than the day before, his bruises having turned an ugly green-yellow with some unlikely swellings thrown in for good measure. "I'm not a morning person," he grunted "and I got more important things to do than driving you around." What a grump, Breena thought, though she wasn't sure whether a dour Malt might have the chance of annoying her less. "Let's make that quick," he said. Have you got the navigator?" Breena just stared at him "It's way too early for your obscure questions," she snapped. "The na vi ga tor," Malt said, very very slowly (I just found out that Word counts this as four words! What an op - por - tu - ni - ty!). "The machine I gave to you? The little gadget? The Malt O Matic?" Breena realized that this was not the time for further testing her gentle reader's patience and quickly produced the Malt-O-Matic. "It doubles as a navigational device," Malt said, somehow attaching it to the dashboard. "Where do we have to go?" "We need to see Red Rock turn red," Breena said. Malt grunted and turned the machine on. An obscenely cheerful picture of Little Malt appeared on the screen, sporting bull's horns for some reason. A little arm appeared and pointed to the left. "Why they couldn't choose a better looking guy for this thing is beyond me," Big Malt grumbled. Breena sensibly failed to point out that at least the cartoon Malt wasn't covered with bruises.

They turned left on Las Vegas Boulevard and made good progress. The device let them on the beltway and they were at Red Rock in 25 minutes. The weather was perfect, cool and clear. A ranger at the park's entrance took the $5 charge per car from Breena. The mountains were glowing in the red light, and as they drove along the scenic drive, the sun went up completely, changing the colors of the rocks with every minute. They stopped frequently along the way, enjoying the desert scenery so close to the bustling city. There were almost no other cars, and they were alone wherever they chose to leave the car. Breena enjoyed the quiet most after all the hectic sounds of the city. Malt was quiet, too, which added to her enjoyment, after he had asked her whether she wanted to join the "Red Rock club." It was clear his heart wasn't in it, though he was preoccupied with something. Still, he looked at bit less grumpy. Breena had to concede that, tired as she was, there was no place in Las Vegas she would have preferred to be right now. She was sure glad she brought her jacket, though, as it was quite chilly. They finally finished the scenic road after having spent several hours there. The sun was out in force by now, and Malt's mood improved as Breena removed her jacket and offered him a nice view of her ample cleavage. They headed to Red Rock Casino. It was very close by, and Breena explained to Malt about the urinal line pass assignment. He was puzzled by it as well, but said they'd just have to ask around. They parked the car and admired the view of the Strip from afar. A smoke cloud could still be seen where only yesterday the New Frontier had been located. and headed to the entrance. Breena was very surprised how stylish everything was. The building was made of sandstone and just looked like a desert retreat. There were some water features in the entrance area, and a Palm was growing though an ingeniously constructed spot in the roof in front of the building. She thought it looked old in a cool way, though it was obviously spanking new, as if the architects had tried to evoke the feel of a bygone era, the late Fifties or the Sixties, perhaps.

Inside, the design was much more modern. There were surprising choices of color like bright reds and earthy browns, and the materials used were eclectic. There were crystal chandeliers and lots of fine woods, all blending seamlessly together. Some of the designs seemed a bit too much for Breena, especially at the amount of what seemed to be Swarovski crystal, but she wouldn't have expected this kind of design at a casino so far from the Strip. "This is a local's casino," Malt said, somehow guessing her thoughts. "Local's casinos traditionally were built for the people who lived here or moved here and in some cases spend some hefty amounts of their pay check at the casinos. The casinos tended to lure customers with better odds and pay tables and promotions. You heard about comps before, right?" Breena nodded, remembering how the Grand Poobah had explained the intricacies of comps to her. "The biggest owner of local's casino is the Station chain." Breena remembered having been at Boulder Station when she met Walt. She sighed prettily. Malt pretended not to notice. "They started to go upscale with Green Valley Ranch in Henderson. Red Rock Station was their latest casino to open, and your scheduled to stay tonight at Texas Station, which is one of their older properties with more reasonable prices. A night here or at Green Valley Ranch is almost as much as a night at one of the fancy Strip places" (a main reason why this author has yet to stay there. A comped night offered by the Grand Poobah seems highly unlikely at this point).

The casino itself wasn't as vast as some of the other places she had been to, but still big enough to get lost in. It didn't feel as claustrophobic as the downtown places. It also seemed to be sporting every kind of game known to Breena. Malt looked at the Craps tables longingly and said "I could teach you how to play it's my favorite game." Breena replied: "I'm sorry, but I'm supposed to wait for an expert to explain it, this author is telling me, so he can do some more name-dropping and keep some more people interested."

They looked around for some hint about where to find the line passes. The slot club didn't know about them. Finally, they were approached by a burly security guard who asked whether he might be able to help them "BR!" Breena exclaimed, "What are you doing here?" "Told you I was working freelance back in chapter one, right? This author thought it would be convenient to let me appear at various spots. What are you looking for?" Breena explained about the urinal line passes and BR looked a bit flustered. "Err I certainly know about them," he said, "but you shouldn't. They are one of the most exclusive comps you can get usually you need..." "Grand Poobah status for that, I know," Breena finished his sentence. "But couldn't you make one tiny little exception for me? I promise I won't sell them on ebay or anything." BR turned away, and she couldn't very well see what he was doing, but it looked a lot like he was scribbling something on a cocktail napkin. "I present to you your urinal line pass," he said and offered it to Breena with a flourish. "Do you need one to," he asked Malt. "For you, it'll be $50." Malt cunningly negotiated the price down to $35 and entered the restroom full of vigour. There was some noise coming out of the restroom after that and BR steered Breena away from it. "Don't you need to check that out?" Breena said, worried. "Some things sort themselves out by themselves," BR said and sure enough, Malt reappeared soon after, sporting a brand new bruise over his left eye. "That guy sure didn't appreciate Grand Poobah status," he muttered. Breakfast time had long passed, and Breena suddenly felt famished. "Time for lunch," she announced. "That's easy," Malt said. "The best restaurant off the Strip happens to be in this area it's Rosemary's Restaurant." They said good-bye to BR who was left to ponder an uncertain future in this story, and returned to their car.

The ride to Rosemary's was indeed short, and they parked in a strip mall that didn't seem to promise much in terms of culinary adventures. They saw a huge bar as they entered, and Breena was surprised how busy it was on a weekday for lunch. They were offered seats at the bar, but politely asked for a table (Breena did, Malt shouted "a real table for a real man," which the maitre d' politely ignored). The room was attractive, but certainly not overbearing. They were offered lunch menus, and Breena discovered to her delight that a $23 lunch deal was being offered (this author kicks himself at this point for not taking advantage of that on his last two trips and might be inclined to take Bill from Houston up on a certain lunch offer for his next trip. If there is one. This author sighs melancholically. If there is such a word). It was an extraordinary offer and a great selection, and Breena had a hard time to choose three courses. She finally went with Hugo's Texas BBQ Shrimp with Maytag Blue Cheese Coleslaw. Malt went with Dry Aged Beef & Maytag Blue Cheese Carpaccio with Arugula, and both agreed that this was some of the best food they had ever had. The main courses were Pan Seared Hawaiian Mahi Mahi on a Bed of Julienne Vegetables with Fresh Citrus Supremes, Riesling Gastrique & a Creamy Passion Fruit Vinaigrette and Crispy Leg of Duck Confit on a bed of French Green Lentils with a Brandy Green Peppercorn Sauce for Malt (this author freely admits that he has copied the descriptions from restaurant's website's menu, but proudly states that his prose will never be as good as this description is. Also, he has to take a break for dinner now. There, that's better).

Dessert was a Chocolate Flourless Cake with Scotch Caramel Sauce & Vanilla Ice Cream and the utterly wonderful Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Blackberry Coulis. They were able to pair their selections with suggested beers. Breena was glad she wasn't driving, Malt didn't seem to care all that much (note to movie screen play author: cue ominous music here).

They felt a bit too lazy and full more outdoor activities, but an assignment was an assignment. After all, she at least didn't have to drive, Breena thought (ominous music gets louder). It was quite a bit of a drive out there, but the Malt-O-Meter obviously knew his way around town, and before long, they had left the US 95 and began their way up the lone two-way highway called Kyle Canyon Rd leading to Mount Doom, err Charleston. Breena always liked driving through the desert, but this was especially beautiful, with the Joshua trees in front and the snow capped mountains in the background. In time, the scenery changed, the plants becoming more alpine. She amused herself by looking for the names of the infrequent cross streets. There was Nicholson, Witch Mountain and her personal favorite, Elvis is Alive Lane. The street climbed up to over 8000 feet. They got out at the Mount Charleston Hotel which featured a rustic look, some partly frozen ponds and some imposing icicles, and continued till the end of the road. The cross street to Lukes Canyon also was beautiful and got out at he (still closed) ski area. There were actual patches of snow there, which Breena gleefully used to treat Malt to a snow ball massage. Worryingly, he wasn't in a state to put up much of a fight (worrisome music reaching a crescendo. Cue screeching violins).

They descended the mountain, and Malt drove the car safely to Texas Station (which proves to this author that movie music isn't as reliable as it used to be). Texas Station looked true to its theme: the exterior had a sign that resembled an oil derrick, and the architecture was Alamo-esque. The casino also seemed to sprawl all over the place, just like the wide open spaces of the Lone Star State. After entering, they saw that the carpet features cowboy gewgaws aplenty: hats, boots, horses, lariats, cards, wagons, and stars. The folks at Texas Station really tried to put everything on their carpet. However, they did nothing to incorporate the train theme. The walls near the entrance were made to look like storefronts in a John Wayne Western, or maybe "The Apple Dumpling Gang." Western knickknacks included bull skulls, hanging lamps with cowboy and horse silhouettes, and a large, rotating bucking bronco statue. On the wall over by the restrooms, there hang photos of some famous Texan musicians such as The Big Bopper, Bob Wills, and the Texas Tornados. The restrooms had Texas-oriented posters, featuring intrepid cowgirls and native wildflowers. The stall doors had the rustic flavor of weathered wood. Breena wondered why she was in the restroom so sudden, but figured she just had had to go.

Breena checked and explained Malt patiently for the x-th time that no, he couldn't come to her room to do some unspecified "research." The room itself was big, old and comfy. It had all the basic amenities and a little Southwest flavor. The bathroom was nice: a single sink and a tub/shower combo. The linens and furniture was a cut above average. After the glitz of Wynn, it was certainly a step back, but Breena didn't mind. She was glad to have a comfortable place for the night.

She rejoined Malt who had waited patiently near the lobby and had kept busy by throwing pumpkin seeds at the back of passing cowboy hats. It seemed a ploy likely to earn him a few fresh bruises, but thankfully, the cowboy hats weren't as plentiful as they could have been, provided that there natural habitat had just been imploded the night before.

The two had chosen Austin Steakhouse for dinner and while the cuisine certainly wasn't up to par with Rosemary's Restaurant, it was a great steakhouse experience. Food was plentiful, cooked to order and came with terrific sides. "It's a good thing that the only thing getting bigger when I eat so much is my cup size," Breena said, and Malt choked on his bone-in rib eye.

She was totally beat, of course, so she went to her room quickly after dinner. Malt went away grumbling about the unfairness of it all. He was right, for once.

 

Part 16

Breena woke up at 3 a.m, because her phone was ringing. An uncomfortably quiet voice said "This is our last warning, Breena. We told you several times not to associate with these people. Cut it out or suffer the consequences." She had no idea what that meant. Briefly, she considered calling the police, but it all seemed a bit random to tell them. Also, she was a trained journalist, after all. She had been talking to quite a few random people during the trip. Sure, Malt was annoying as hell, but he sure wasn't worth a phone threat, she thought. Could it be someone jealous about her tagging him along? Could it be Walt? But then she remembered the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, and thought that him working for Walt might be a tad far-fetched, even for this author. Fortunately, she was so tired that she didn't ponder this mystery much longer, conveniently drifting off to sleep before asking any more questions this author hasn't figured out himself yet.

She woke up around 10, as a result for almost not having slept the night before. She still was perturbed by the late-night call. Could it have been Malt himself, drawing more attention to his own importance? It sounded like just the thing he might try to pull off and she prepared herself for some spirited chiding. After some bathroom time, she emerged from her room looking as hot as ever, and proceeded to the check-out desk. The clerk, whose name tag said "Smee," didn't talk too much, he just handed her the pre-paid bill and her now familiar sheet. It said "Luxor" on one side and just three simple words on the other: "Look for the best." It seemed a most peculiar assignment, but Breena understood that as the word count went up, the creativity of this author seemingly had only the opposite way to go. So she decided to make the best of the situation (ha!) and just look for stuff she might consider to be the best in town.

She dragged her bags outside and hailed a cab, as Malt was nowhere to be seen. He's probably still laughing his ass off about calling me that late at night, Breena thought. The cabbie's license said Don del Grande and Breena liked the name, especially as it provided this author with an extra word. They talked pleasantly about the still nice weather, how traffic was clogging up the Valley, and that he had never regretted moving to Las Vegas, even though he had been a highly-paid neurosurgeon before coming to town and now had to ride a cab. This sounded a bit strange, but Don del Grande (yes!) seemed happy enough. "I hail from a long line of del Grandes," he said, "and we del Grandes always try to make the best out of every situation. It's the del Grande way." This sounded like a good family motto to Breena, and she enjoyed once again that after turning onto the Interstate at the Spaghetti Bowl, she could see the Strip in all its splendor on the left. Don del Grande piloted his cab off the highway at Tropicana and dropped her off the reception area at Luxor. Once again, she tipped generously, the del Grande way.

Breena asked for a nice room in her nice voice displaying her exceptionally awesomely nice cleavage again and got a mini-suite with a jacuzzi on one of the highest floors. She rode the inclinator up there, a cool elevator riding up at an angle. It was a long trudge from the inclinator to her room, but Breena didn't mind. The Strip view was fantastic, and the room was extra cool because of the slanted windows. The room was pretty large in theory, but because of the slant, you couldn't use much of the space, unless you wanted to curl up on the floor right under the slant. The bathroom offered only a shower without a tub, and Breena, who loved to stretch out her long luxurious body in a hot tub, disapproved of that. The jacuzzi made up for that, though.

She had to do some research for her assignment next. Even though the charges were horrendous, she connected to the internet in her room. She remembered what the Malt-O-Matic had had to say about the subject of Best Of lists earlier. She certainly knew that any evaluation of stuff was highly personal in most cases, and that it was near impossible to really compare all the stuff in one category the city had to offer. Searching on the net, she soon found the Las Vegas Review Journal's annual Best of Las Vegas poll. The readers of the magazine obviously were an extremely lame bunch, she had to say. Olive Garden as Best Italian Restaurant? Red Lobster for Best Seafood? Outback for Best Steakhouse? Breena hadn't seen much of the town yet, but this was fairly ridiculous. Fortunately, there was a staff pick, too, and it seemed that this was more on the money. She rejoiced to see that Rosemary's Restaurant had been voted best gourmet restaurant, but otherwise, she couldn't take these picks seriously. She took a note of the choice for best dive bar, though. She just was that kind of woman.

Stepping out of her room, she enjoyed the view of what must have been the biggest atrium in the world. The space was vast, and yet they weren't doing much with it. For all its unusualness, the casino breathed blandness, much like TI did, and Breena instinctively realized that it always hadn't been that way. What should have been a gloriously campy place now was just a little hip. She wandered through the casino for a bit and then took the walkway over to Excalibur. It was made up to be a giant castle out of a King Arthur story and it was themed to a degree which was utterly and garishly depressing. It also looked to be well worn and Breena hastily got out of there again.

The next casino she wandered into was so much better. NewYork New York not only provided this author with four individual, highly repeatable words in its name, it (i.e. NewYork New York) also was the best example for a good themed casino Breena had seen so far. The exterior of "The Greatest City in Las Vegas" was an abridged New York skyline (including the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and Statue of Liberty), complete with the wild rollercoaster that circles Manhattan every five minutes. In the casino, there was a fake Central Park with fake trees, Exchange and a reproduction of a cavernous Grand Central Station, a New York Stock Exchange and a Greenwich Village that looked even more gentrified than the original. Realistic steam came out of the manholes on the casino floor. It was all very lovingly done, and the attention to detail was stunning. It also was very cramped and people tended to step on you just like in Manhattan (insert your own mugging joke here it's seemingly de rigeur to write something like that when describing New York New York).

Breena enjoyed it all a lot. She also took note of the interesting selection of restaurants and bars: the coffee shop which was named America and featured a huge map of the States on the wall, the Irish restaurant conveniently called Nine Fine Irishmen which looked imposing and cosy at the same time and the steakhouse with its huge cuts of meet in the windows. There also was a Coyote Ugly bar (Breena certainly knew about dancing on bars) and the Bar at Times Square, which promised Dueling Pianos. Breena should have been excited about that, being from one of the Dakotas, but rightfully, because she was not only incredibly hot-bodied, but also possessed a stunning common sense, she wasn't.

Instead, she moved on to the next casino. As Monte Carlo looked impressive, but slightly boring, she decided to cross the street to the biggest hotel in all Vegas. She got a good look at the vast building site of Project City Center, hoping it wouldn't be as bland from the inside as some of the other casinos she had recently seen. The MGM Grand was another disappointment in that regard. There wasn't much of a theme at all, only a very slight movie vibe. The facade evoked an Art Deco Hollywood with Oscar-esque statues of naked men holding up the lights, palm trees, and gushing fountains.

Inside, the carpet continued the Art Deco design and incorporated the lion head logo. The walls were decorated both with black and white photos of old movie stars and full-color posters of the buffet. Mostly, though, the gaming room was pretty bland, low ceilings, some red and yellow neon. It also was cavernous and easy to get lost in. Breena saw signs for the restaurants. She always loved to read the menus and proceeded to that area, not knowing that she was in for quite a hike. She came by a restaurant called L'atelier de Joel Robuchon which looked like the fanciest diner that Breena had ever seen, with most of the seats at a bar overlooking the kitchen. The menu was wonderful and exciting, but the menu degustation also was $135. At the nearby full restaurant, Robuchon at the Mansion, prices were unbelievable, though. No one should have to pay upwards of $300 for food, Breena thought. It was her dictum that she was perfectly willing to pay a lot when it was worth it, but no meal could be worth that much money in her mind.

She continued to Restaurant Row, and was delighted with what she saw. Even though most of these restaurants were too expensive, it was a menu reader's paradise. There were all kinds of wild, crazy, beautiful and imaginative designs to these places, too, and while some of them seemed ridiculous, none were boring. She checked out the offering at 'Wichcraft, an unusual sandwich shop specialising in very old-fashioned sodas and ordered a Sicilian Tuna with fennel, black olives and lemon on baguette. It was a tad too expensive, too, but very good. Passing the food court on her way back, she wondered why people bothered to eat at McDonald's or Subway when in Vegas places where everything tasted exactly like home. They're probably not as adventurous as I am, she thought, pleased with herself.

She finally made it out of the MGM, and crossed the street to the Trop. This obviously was an older casino, and cynical people might have compared its aging to that of a hooker, meaning none-too-gracefully and with a lot of makeup to cover the wrinkles. But Breena sort of liked it. Its "Island of Las Vegas" slogan had a nice ring to it, and when she wandered around the property, she stumbled upon the pool, which was big and delightful and open even in November. It was old, but still sprawling and tropical and it had a nice lagoon style with meandering pools, being linked by narrow waterways. There even was an indoor pool, connected to the outside.

Inside the casino, she found some nice stained glass and the usual games. When she passed the table games, there someone was shouting "Big Dick Daddy from East Cincinatti." Intrigued, she looked closer and saw a table game she hadn't encountered yet. The man who had uttered the slightly puzzling words hadn't seen her yet (otherwise he would have dropped the dice he was holding, as men were prone to do with Breena around). The crowd at the table cheered loudly it was a lot more boisterous a scene than Breena had seen before in a casino. The shooter threw his dice again. This time, he shouted "hobo's delight on a rainy night." It all seemed pretty strange to Breena. After the next throw, the shooter somehow had to give up the dice and immediately noticed Breena. It was a good thing the dice had been passed. Coincidentally, someone shouted "Call the doctor" at this time and Breena looked around whether there was some kind of emergency. "That would be me," the shooter said, his eyes slightly crossed. "I'm Doc Dice and you are" "Breena," Breena said, just as the good doctor concluded "just about perfect." Breena smiled the tiny little smile she reserved for situations like that and gave him a bit of time. As he had stopped hyperventilating, she asked "What's this game about? This is one I know nothing about." Doc Dice (Breena did a belated eyeroll at meeting yet another doctor) said "This is the most wonderful game there is in the whole casino. I'll gladly explain it too you." They took a seat at a nearby bar,

Breena ordered her first Bourbon Sour of the day, and the good doctor started to explain: "Craps is a simplification of the Old English game hazard. Its origins are complex and there are many historic references on Wikipedia that would bore the skull out of you if I were to copy and paste them. Suffice it to say that it dates to the Crusades. I still have to mention that it was brought to New Orleans by Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, because the name is so great and I couldn't believe someone would think that this should be on Wikipedia.

"In craps, players wager money against the casino on the outcome of one roll, or of a series of rolls of two dice. take turns rolling two dice. The player rolling the dice is called the "shooter." The game is played in rounds, with the first roll of a new round called the "come-out roll." "On the come-out roll, if the total of the two dice is 7, 11, 2, 3 or 12, the round ends immediately and the shooter must roll another come-out roll. A result of 2, 3 or 12 is called 'craps' while a result of 7 or 11 is called a 'win' or a 'natural.' When any other number (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10) is rolled on the come-out roll, this number becomes what is called the point. If a point is established then the shooter will re-roll the dice continuously until either a 7 is rolled, or the point is rolled again. If the shooter rolls the point again, the round ends and the game starts over with the same shooter rolling another come-out roll. If the shooter rolls a 7 instead of the point, this is called a 'seven-out,' the round ends, and the dice pass to the next player to the left, who becomes the new shooter."

This seemed all very confusing to Breena (as it still does to this author, for whom the highlight of an evening watching craps was to see Matt piss off two ladies with his delightful banter). But Breena took to the game like a natural and soon lead the whole table in raucous cheers, fascinating everyone with dainty throw techniques and cuss words fit for a sailor. "That was so much fun," she finally said after a good hour had passed. She was just about $10 ahead, but it had been an experience as good gambling should be: fun for what it was, not just a way to make money. Breena had finally found her game.

She thanked Doc Dice profusely and even gave him a little peck on the cheek (which went unwashed for the better part of a month). That greatly disappointed Baccarat Guy and Keno Is Bad Guy who were still waiting in the wings, but whose chance of a full part were diminishing rapidly.

It was time to return to her room now. It was getting dark, and she was getting hungry again. As she waited for the inclinator, a good-looking man in his late thirties greeted her friendly and offered her a red rose. "I heard you're looking for the best in Las Vegas," he said. "I'm Burt Cohen, man about town, international man of mystery. I also happen to be the best escort available for you tonight. Malt sent me to keep you company and to watch over you, just in case." This sounded a little doubtful to poor Breena. Could she trust this suave guy in his tuxedo, who looked handsome in a worldly way even Walt couldn't compare to and seemed to know Malt so well? I need to test him, Breena thought and asked: "Campbell's Soup?" "Chunky soup," he replied smoothly and something told Breena she could trust this man with her life (cue ominous music again). "I'll take you out to dinner. As an international jet-setter, I'll even do what Malt never could: I'll treat you. How about a perfect romantic evening no strings attached, of course," he added, while staring into her ample cleavage a tad too long.

"It's a very generous offer," Breena said, who, as any gentle reader might have noticed, did not really concern herself with the dangers of meeting men too much, lest it hindered the flow of the story (which is being downgraded from "flowing to "trickling" as we speak). "I'll need to freshen up a bit first, though." - "Of course, fair lady," Burt said, overdoing it a bit. A beauty such as yourself should take all the time she should need. I'll wait for you here in say ninety minutes? Cocktails at 7, dinner at 8, I would suggest." Breena agreed and, clutching the red rose, returned to her room. She was thoroughly confused. How many men wanted the author to throw in her way before that unbeatable guy from Europe came along? But she certainly was there for the ride, she thought. Why waste a perfectly perfect body just waiting and waiting. She freshened up extensively and chose an elegant little black number she had brought for just such an occasion (which, as this author needs to remind you, gentle reader, is going out with a man she virtually knew nothing about cue screechy violins) that combined very well with her stockings, the ones who were just fishnetty enough to be noticed and just conservative enough to still look respectable. She jotted down a note on her desk, just in case. "In case of emergency: out with mystery man Burt Cohen (or that's how he called himself) for dinner and drinks. I'll be back in time. Love Breena." If this looked suspiciously like a note one would write for his mom, this was what she had done on a regular basis before moving to Phoenix.

Burt was waiting at the inclinator, and offered her his arm. He took her to the valet, where his Aston Martin was already waiting. Burt drove her over to Bellagio, amusing her with light banter without being to aggressive. This fascinated Breena: Walt had rarely managed more than four words per sentence, while Malt well, Malt talked pretty much all of the time, mostly about himself. They had cocktails at Caramel lounge.

It was a glowing bar, nonthreatening and filled with twenty-somethings. Burt didn't look out of place here, Breena thought. There was light hip-hop being played, and Breena tried two novelty drinks served in caramel-and-chocolate-coated glasses. Burt sure was interesting, he appeared to be a playboy millionaire by day, and casually referred to his secret identity which kept him busy most nights.

After an hour had flown by they were still a few minutes early for their reservation. Burt gently steered her towards Via Bellagio, and she gleefully shopped around Tiffany's, while Burt was waiting discreetly. There was a bit of a scene as a man with a full white beard who was wearing a sports cap of one of these obscure Massachusetts sports teams was apparently shopping for an engagement ring. "These are all too cheap," he shouted with apparent rage. "Show me something which is worthy for her." Breena politely looked in another direction, but it was a touching display of love, if a smidgen insane.

Then they headed to their real destination for the evening. They were greeted by a smiling maitre d', who referred to Burt by name, and lead to a fantastic table right at the window. They were surrounded by paintings---not reprints, but $35 million worth of real Picassos. The room was serene and elegant, but not stuffy, with vaulted ceilings, glorious floral arrangements which rivaled the splendor of the Picassos and elegantly dressed tables set comfortably apart. The table looked out at the Fountains, which, as you, gentle reader, might remember, Breena had a soft spot for (cunning planning by an author working out connections several chapters in advance? This author is blushing).

Burt ordered the degustation menu without even glancing at the menu and said to the sommelier "we''ll take the wine pairing. But not the crap you serve the other guests, Jean Claude" and the sommelier actually nodded and smiled. First, the Amuse gueule arrived. It consisted of asparagus soup with a quail egg and a salmon-osetra caviar stick. The first appetizer was Maine Lobster Salad with Apple-Champagne Vinaigrette and corn three ways with a corn flan that was so ethereal it was even better than the lobster. The waiter kept their glasses filled and Breena sure was glad she could hold her liquor.

Next, a Pan Seared U-10 Day Boat Scallop with Green Aparagus and Hollandaise Potato Mousseline arrived as the next appetizer. The giant scallop was something to behold. The highlight of Breena's meal was the Sauteed Foie Gras with Cherries, Port Orange Zest and Crust of Walnut. This might have very well been the best thing Breena had eaten in her life, and the sounds she made kept several tables rather entertained.

The main course was Roasted Aged Lamb with awesome Sofrito truffled mashed potatoes and Au Jus. It was almost as good as the foie gras. Dessert was a Berry Sampler containing a blueberry soup, an unbelievable cheesecake, a light pastry with raspberries and sorbet.

It was an unbelievable meal, and even Breena had to realize that after a Bourbon Sour, two caramel chocolate concoctions and about twelve glasses of wine she was getting more and more tipsy. Burt who had been keeping her perfect company had been drinking about half of that, reminding her he still had to drive (cue "Psycho" music).

Burt paid nonchalantly, adding what seemed to be an obscene tip, and they headed back to the valet parking. Burt seemed a bit unsteady on his feet, and Breena was even swaying a bit. She definitely wasn't in control any more. They arrived back at the Luxor in one piece, though Burt missed the valet's parking entrance and had to self-park the car. As he turned of the motor, Breena leaned over to him and whispered "This has been the most romantic evening in my whole life," smiling enchantingly. Burt opened his mouth for a sassy yet dignified reply and puked all over her shoes.

Things went downhill from there.

 

Part 17

It was already 9 a.m. when Breena woke up. She barely remembered the events of the last night but then, through a wicked hangover, she remembered her perfect evening with Burt, and how it had ended when he had puked all over her Manolo Blahniks. She could forgive a lot of things. This was not one of them. Sighing, she went to the bathroom again for one more thorough cleansing of her dainty feet. The shoes were pretty much beyond repair. It hadn't helped that both heels were broken after she had hammered them against Burt's head. Somewhere, Malt was smiling. She remembered now that she was to compose a best-of list the other night. She was in no mood to argue the pros and cons of these lists this morning, so she just sat down and started typing "Breena's Vegas Best of List:"

  • Best Gourmet restaurant: Picasso
  • Best off - Strip gourmet restaurant: Rosemary's
  • Best buffet: Wynn Buffet
  • Best cheap food: Shrimp cocktail at Golden Gate
  • Best themed casino: New York New York
  • Best room she had stayed in: Venetian
  • Best spa: Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian
  • Best casino game: Craps
  • Best lounge band: Lon Bronson
  • Best shopping mall: the one at the Venetian (this one was really bad, she thought)
  • Best excursion: Red Rock Canyon
  • Most dreamy man I've encountered: she stopped herself. That was definitely not the way a trained journalist was working.

This list definitely needed work. She also remembered guiltily that she hadn't experienced more than one entry in many categories. Still, she quickly added a few more, not really knowing what she was doing:

  • Best podcast: Five Hundy by Midnight
  • Best Vegas Movie: Ocean's Eleven (take your pick)
  • Best Vegas song. Viva Las Vegas

She realized that putting up lists like that wasn't much use (and they are killer when it comes to word count, this author finds, as it takes way to much time to consider where Breena has actually been). So she just prepared for the day ahead whistled a happy little tune checked under the bed for lost items took everything in the bathroom that was supposed to be taken and left the rest checked out her TV found out that there was nothing on TV but the Las Vegas channel's documentaries she had already seen 4 times and filled a paragraph this way much faster than any stupid list could. Breena was starting to tire of the need of packing and unpacking every single day, though she had gotten pretty good at it.

Taking her luggage down the hall to the inclinator once again, she half expected Burt at the bottom of the inclinator with a mariachi band or a marriage proposal. Fortunately, no one was in attendance, so she proceeded to check-out once again and got her assignment sheet. The hotel for the day was the Sahara, she saw with mixed feeling. Her assignment read as follows: "Today is the day to experience classic Las Vegas at its finest. You will do it Animal Style, see Mac King, search for the Checkmates, take a tour to the Boneyard, investigate the shady dealings at the Pinball Hall of Fame, expose MI 5 for what it is and find time for a drink at the Double Down Saloon. Also, find Las Vegas coolest 70's style restaurant and lounge." This sounded more than an itinerary for several days to poor Breena. Also, she needed help again and lots of it. With guys falling over their feet to annoy her, this wasn't the most exhilarating prospect. She needed time to think (that's why this author is going to bed now).

Unfortunately, this author realizes now that nothing much in the story has changed overnight and that, apart from an obscure idea for tomorrow's assignment, nothing much has come out of this author's nightly pondering pertaining to Breena's situation at this time. So she just shlepped her stuff to a cab again and told the cabbie to take her to the Sahara. His name was Paul, and he was very eloquent. He had moved to Vegas a few months ago. "I lost all my money so I have to drive a cab now," he told Breena cheerfully, "but I also lost about 120 pounds while doing so. I've never felt better in my life!" This seemed like a strange idea to lose weight to Breena, but anything that worked was fine, she guessed.

They approached the Sahara, and Breena realized she hadn't stayed at this part of the Strip yet. It was the very beginning of the actual Strip, that much she knew by now, and she remembered her visit at Bonanza Gift Shop just a few days ago. It seemed like a very long time ago by now. Paul dropped her off at the entrance. "What a nice guy," she thought. "Some time I'll have to muster the courage to ask a guy like this out." After a generous tip and an even more generous smile, she got her bags and checked in at the reception. Even though the clerk worked really hard, he wasn't able to get her the three bedroom suite she had asked for, she had to settle for two bedrooms. Can't win them all, she thought.

Obviously, the Sahara was an older resort. It was modeled upon the concept of a desert oasis, which is quite popular in Las Vegas for two reasons: the city is surrounded by its own formidable desert, and each casino wants to appear as the most desirable place compared to all the hell-holes in town. The Sahara seemingly tried to unite two rich desert cultures, that of mighty Arabian nomads and of the mighty gamblers of Las Vegas. Lots of the casinos in Las Vegas didn't place a priority on coordinating the outside of the building with the theme. Caesar's and Bellagio were notable exceptions, but surprisingly, the Sahara started rolling out the magic carpet before one even got in the door. The sand-colored building sported Moorish crenellation along the top, and the traffic signs were shaped like little minarets. As Breena was a fan of well-done theming by now, she appreciated that. She especially liked the neon sign which spelled classic Las Vegas to her. And it was supposed to be a classic Vegas day, after all.

The interior decor was much more ostentatious. Some of the display was pure Vegas - the camel-sized crystal chandelier hanging in the high-ceilinged foyer, the mirrored pillars with tortoise shell accents, the faux gold and marble ashtrays. The touches were as simple as the Arabesque font on all of the directional signs- this way to the Tunis Tower, that way to the Tangiers. The jewel-toned hanging lanterns and door handles evoked the treasures of Arabia. The carpets had a delicate, filigree pattern, in keeping with the rich surroundings. The seats at the slot machines recalled pointy minarets and were upholstered in glittery vinyl in the Sahara's signature colors: gold, royal blue and scarlet. The ceiling, supported by Corinthian columns, was painted with the now-standard blue sky with fluffy clouds. It was all becoming a bit rough around the edges, but this author, appreciating the very fine writing he lifted straight from the very fine CheapoVcegas site (shoplifted with permission), made a vow to finally stay at the Sahara next time. She went up to her room, and liked it. It was modest for a two-bedroom suite (good catch at the last minute: I had almost forgotten Breena had scored a suite again), but clean and ridiculously big, though the furniture was probably about the quality of your average Holiday Inn. She had gotten a room in the Tangiers tower, of course. The view down the Strip was nice, but she had better. Obviously, it was tougher to get a good view from the North end.

Checking out the property, she found the pool, which was large and decent, but certainly not the nicest on the Strip. It was a rectangle, with a nice Saharan theme and a gazebo-covered jacuzzi. She was a bit grumpy about the lack of adequate pool time lately, because she feared that the golden brown tone of her luscious creamy skin could be downgraded to copper brown in the near future (this author hastens to state that he has no such plans). The properly sun-baked pool area provided a view of a rotunda and palm trees, an oasis from the barren desert of slot machines. Shops included "Jewels of the Nile" and the "Sahara Marketplace," which offered pool toys, satin jackets, plush camels and Southwestern gewgaws.

Speaking of slots, there were many. The casino itself was large, as was the pit, and as Breena saw a craps table, her heart fluttered a tiny little bit. But there was work to do, and she had a full day ahead of her. She passed the statues of the intimidating chaps with swords and voluminous mustaches outside the Casbah Lounge, and realized that one of her assignment was fairly easy to finish, as the fabulous Checkmates would be appearing this very evening in the venerable lounge.

Still, there was a lot to do. She was hungry, too maybe there was one place on the list serving breakfast. She asked a kind older gentleman who was scooping ice cream if he knew a classic 70's style restaurant. He nodded emphatically: "You can only talk about the Peppermill. It's up the Strip behind the Riviera, quite a bit to walk, butmanageable." She thanked the old dog, and decided to go for a walk. The morning was nice and crisp, and she had traded her designer shoes with the non-existent heels for some sensible walking shoes (whose heels were only two inches). Stepping out on the Strip, she quickly realized that this area wasn't as jam-packed with attractions as the South Strip was. The Riviera seemed tantalizing close, but she still had to walk a loooong time to get there. Across the street, the freaky clown sign of Circus Circus loomed. She passed the Riviera, which didn't seem all that appealing, and proceeded further up the Strip. On the other side of the Strip, there were building sites and lots of rubble. This was where the fabulous Stardust and the less fabulous Westward Ho must have stood until recently, she thought. On her side of the street, there was some low-brow shopping, some tourist traps and a building sporting a sign saying "Peppermill." She had arrived.

Suddenly, she heard a voice, saying: "The Peppermill Lounge and Restaurant is a Vegas establishment justly famous for its good food, huge portions, and intimate, friendly lounge." It sounded a lot like Malt, but she soon realized it came from her bag. Obviously, the Malt-O-Matic had switched itself on again. She hadn't realized it had a voice option, too. On the display, Malt's picture was wearing an ugly red fez today. The display showed the following: "What am I supposed to do? You never switch me on anymore, you never write. We don't hardly ever talk! It's as if you didn't know me any more!" "Erm sorry?" Breena offered, not really believing she was talking to a machine. The gadget emitted some grumpy beeps, but was mollified soon when Breena stroked its shiny metal soothingly. It displayed more information rapidly: "The Peppermill is a true Vegas classic. Parts of the movie "Casino" were shot here, and it is said that Robert de Niro returned with his crew again and again to keep the right spirit for the movie.

She entered the restaurant, and it soon became clear that there were two distinctive sections: the actual restaurant, which looked like the coolest diner Breena had ever seen, with intense neon strips of blue and pink on the walls to highlight the colorful seating and carpeting, with enormous artificial cherry trees standing guard over the booths, and a long counter overlooking the kitchen area. The Fireside Lounge was even more over the top: there were cosy seating areas around a fire pit, where flames were dancing on water. There were comfortable pink sofas and plasma-screen monitors playing video clips. The waitresses looked like elegant model in their long, elegant and still playful black dresses slit to mid-thigh. Even though it was morning, quite a few people were enjoying cocktails in football-sized glasses. But Breena was really hungry and ordered Joe's San Francisco Special in the diner, which included scrambled eggs with spinach, onions, and sausage served on potato skins and smothered in a golden cheese sauce. She loved the ambiance: "Stardust" and other classic songs were playing over the speakers, cool people seemed to be everywhere. Many of them seemed to have arrived directly from work the guy over there might have been a bouncer, the pretty red-hairs over here giggling could have been strippers. Breena couldn't finish half of her breakfast and what would have been one of her pet peeves anywhere else much too big portions, somehow was fitting in here.

 

Part 18

She had to make a plan for the rest of the day and so far, no one had offered to be her knight in shining armor for the day. She looked at her assignment again: "do it Animal Style, see Mac King, search for the Checkmates, take a tour to the Boneyard, investigate the shady dealings at the Pinball Hall of Fame, expose MI 5 for what it is and find time for a drink at the Double Down Saloon." It still seemed like a daunting task. She took out the Malt-O-Matic and punched in "Animal Style." The machine displayed "Any time, baby," before launching in a more fact-based diatribe: "Animal style is one of the secret options on the menu of local burger chain In And Out Burger. They have very little selection at first sight, but have this secret menu where the employees carry out your request if you word it the right way. "Animal Style" means the meat is cooked and fried with mustard and then pickles are added, extra spread and grilled onions are also added." "But that sounds disgusting," Breena said. "Well, it is," the machine admitted, "but that's the price to be able to pretend you're "in the know."" "Like Campbell's Soup?" Breena sighed. "No soup for you," the machine bellowed, in an uncanny impression of Larry Thomas. "Actually," the machine printed again, "this is one of the best burger chains existing anywhere in the known multiverse, if not the best. If you want to generate an endless discussion at one of the Vegas message boards, you just need to post something like "best burger in Vegas" or "In and Out beats Fatburger every time" and you are virtually guaranteed a hundred plus responses." (This author personally thinks that In and Out's fries are the best, but that the burger at Fatburger can't be beat, by the way). "The nearest In and Out is at Tropicana much too far to walk from here. You'll need a car." It was obvious she needed one. Most of the things she was supposed to do seemed tough without one.

Needing a car was a complication. It wasn't as if Breena hadn't driven a car before, and she had a shiny driver's license in her possession, but the wide open spaces of the Dakotas were something else entirely than driving through Las Vegas. You could spend an entire day on the road in the Dakotas before you encountered another car (the encounter was more likely if you actually started your car and moved around in it, but then again, not too many people did. (After all, what was the point of getting somewhere?)

Breena looked around, but for the life of her she couldn't make out any motorized male willing to help her. She would have to brave the horrors of a rental car agency. All by herself. The Malt-O-Meter was useless, too; it only displayed a lot of gibberish about getting the best rate, something about priceline and Travel Now and some crap about insurance and she needed it or not. All she needed was a %$"% car! She left the Peppermill and looked for a rental car agency, finally asking a cop who was parked in the lot in front of the Peppermill. He pointed her to Circus Circus and her descent into hell began.

An enormous clown sign loomed menacingly over the Strip, standing guard over the property. The casino was located in low, roundish pink and white building that could, with some imagination, be a big top. Out near the street, there were ghostly white statues of naked acrobat girls, clowns and a gorilla. As everybody knows, Circus Circus is overrun with children of reckless parents that do not care about the gang wars leading to countless deaths every single day in the hallways. Reality was a bit better, though. There were plenty of kids, and that was certainly not a situation Breena associated with a quiet contemplative vacation, but then again, the clanking of slot machines wasn't either. She was much more chagrined that the property was shabby in places and really showed its age. She quickly found the rental car desk and asked the friendly Dollar clerk for a budget car. After much explanation, signing of papers and general unpleasantness this author has no intentions whatsoever to explain, Breena was the proud driver of a Smart, a car just big enough for her, her immediate belongings and not much else.

She remembered the Malt-O-Meter doubling as a navigational device and attached it to the windscreen. "In and Out Burger," she typed. The machine displayed "Eating? Again?" Breena conceded it was too early to eat again after the Peppermill, so she took the next item from her list and typed in "Boneyard Tour." "Another complication," the machine said. "You need a reservation, and they only have tours at noon and 2. Call them quick." Breena called the number helpfully provided by the Malt-O-Matic, and was relieved there was space available for the tour. The machine safely guided her to the Boneyard, a place many locals have been known not to find, and was greeted by a friendly tour guide. There was only a small group, just nine people, and Breena enjoyed being able to admire those old classic neon signs, laid out across three acres. The one from the Stardust was especially nice, she thought, but there were tons of others, all in different states of disrepair. She didn't understand much of the finer details the tour guide offered, of this old motel or that, but she didn't mind. This was an important piece of old Las Vegas and she was glad to have witnessed it (even if the price of admission, $15, seemed pretty outrageous).

She still wasn't hungry, so she typed in "Mac King" next when she got back to the car. The Malt-O-Matic probably misunderstood her on purpose, and delivered a flood of information, barely containing its enthusiasm: "Mac King isn't the biggest show in Vegas, but it's certainly the best bargain, and, arguably, the funniest. Mac King does smaller illusions, which are more slight of hand than anything else, but he does them with warmth and enthusiasm. The show is $24.95 including one drink, which would be a good deal already, but a widely available coupon cuts the cost down to $8.95 (this author hopes), still including the drink."

Breena managed to brave Strip traffic, which wasn't easy with all the visual distractions from the signs, and some of the most suicidal pedestrians she had ever seen. She left her car at the valet who barely fit into it and got a coupon from the concierge, by asking nicely. There was a big line, but everybody just barely got in, and Breena didn't get any alcohol, but nursed a watered-down diet coke. Breena had laughed a lot in her life, and she added some nice ones to her lifelong laugh collection this afternoon. I could recommend this show to anyone, she thought, and no one would have to thank me later. That was the kind of girl she was.

It was finally time for some sustenance, so she drove to the In and Out at Maryland and Tropicana, and ordered her burger "animal style." She also ordered her fries "well done," just like the Malt-O-Meter had suggested, and her shake "mixed with the wild heat of a thousand dying suns," which drew an angry stare from the employee. The burgerwas OK, the fries were exceptional, and the merchandise seemed just the right gift for that guy in Germany she once had met.

It was getting late already, and she still hadn't seen the Pinball Hall of Fame. It wasn't far from her current position, down at Tropicana and Pecos. As she drove, the Malt-O-Matic recited what it had found on the subject on the internet:

"The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world's largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevalent, as this was the 'heyday' of pinball. And since it's a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities."

Breena was too young to remember much about pinball machines. They were on their way out when she had been a teenager, and nowadays, all the kids wanted to play were video games anyway. But there was a sense of excitement in the air when she entered the museum. It was bigger than she had expected, and it consisted of rows and rows of old pinball machines, most of them real beauties. There was no admission charge, but she felt obliged to try a game or two, and she soon found out she was really good at it. She even played a handsome black guy who was on a Eight Ball Deluxe machine for a few games and beat him each time, easily, playing Haunted House and Pin Bot and Taxi . He might have been a bit distracted by her looks, though. Most guys were. As she was getting ready to leave, a man screaming gibberish was being led away by a policeman to a black and white parked next to Breena's car. "What did he do," she asked the policeman. "Oh, that's just Pinball Hall of Shame guy," he said. "We pick him up pretty regularly. Nothing too serious."

It was only seven as she left, and there was still time for her last assignments. The MI 5 stories the Malt-O-Matic told her were a mystery for her, this sounded like the work of a paranoid schizophrenic to her and she just resolved to ignore that guy forever and move on. If there was only a switch in our personal life to get someone like this out of it, she thought. Her assignment was to expose MI 5 for what it was, and to her mind, there was no better way than to ignore it completely, having called bullshit once and for all.

It was time to drive to the Double Down Saloon, and again, it wasn't that far to go there. It was a seedier neighborhood, and Breena was feeling a bit apprehensive as she walked through the door announcing the "Happiest Place On Earth." The bar was fairly empty and very dark, especially coming from outside, where the last rays of sunshine still fought it out with he upcoming evening, much like Dennis Kucinich was hopelessly battling against his opponents in the latest presidential primaries. She took a seat at the sparsely populated bar adorned with bras (Breena, thanks to her gravity-defying breasts, very rarely bothered with these, using them mainly for dramatic effect) and noticed the video poker machines in front of her. There were quite a few signs detailing house rules ("you puke, you clean"), insurance offerings ("puke insurance: $20") and ads for enticing creations as Ass Juice or the bacon martini. Dinner and alcohol at the same time seemed reasonable in a warped way, so she ordered one of these. Vivid chaotic and psychedelic murals covering every inch of walls and ceiling provided the backdrop

She noticed the juke box and went over there. There were quite a few choices from bands she had never heard about but which sounded intriguing: bands with names like the Cramps, Dropkick Murphys, Butt Trumpet, or, her favorite, the Evil Beavers.

She had to forgo trying the Ass Juice this time, because she still had to drive (a dilemma that hasn't has vexed this author that much on his own visits), unfortunately. She reached her car with no problems and steered it back to the Sahara. It took some time because traffic was still heavy on the Strip, but Breena enjoyed all the lights and advertisements. It was more fun now she knew what she was looking at, she thought.

After leaving the car at the valet again, she proceeded directly to the Casbah Lounge. There was no entrance fee and the beer Breena ordered was only very slightly overpriced. The seats were shaped like clover leaves and upholstered in red vinyl. The music was fantastic. The Checkmates were playing soul and rhythm and blues and they did that in a way Breena only knew from oldies radio but so much better. It sounded fresh and relevant, and the band seemed to have a lot of fun, as did the audience. People were dancing and laughing and quite willing to gamble afterwards, and Breena realized that actual lounge acts had been rare on the trip. She remembered vaguely that there had been a time when every casino offered lounge shows, even big stars playing there for free, and she yearned for the days she could have met Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. in a lounge or a the gambling tables, shooting craps with them. Breena was very much a woman of the 21st century, and she wasn't some crazy nostalgic who ran around telling everybody that things were so much better four decades ago. She very much suspected that when the mob ran things, not everyone was as happy as some people would have you believe. Of course the blandness of corporate Las Vegas was not too much to her taste, but as long as there were people enjoying the possibilities Las Vegas still had to offer to people looking for good deals and a grand old classic time, she suspected there would be businesses catering to them.

She stayed for a whole set and then stumbled happily up to her room. Had she only known what awaited her the next day

 

Part 19

Breena got up in an excellent mood. The last day had been such a great experience. She was so thankful to KL Mouton for dreaming up this particular assignment. There were so many great things about this city. You just had to know about them.

She knew that this trip couldn't last forever, of course. It cost a lot of money, she hadn't written all that much and of course, most importantly, this author was getting closer to the 50.000 word mark every day. But she was determined to put on a good show for the last couple of days. Who knew when she would be able to return to Vegas, after all?

She resolved to be at her finest. She put on a particularly low-cut blouse and a dangerously short skirt. The black stockings had to remain, of course. It was November, after all. As usually, she didn't need any make-up. Why mess up what Nature has created perfect, Brad Pitt had used to say to her, before she had dumped him for being so obvious.

Packing her bags in a record 25 minutes, she appeared at the reception desk like a soldier reporting for duty. She took the sheet from the desk clerk's hands and read "The Palms." She was pleased. Wasn't that the nice hotel featured on MTV? On the other side of the sheet, as usual, there was her assignment for day. It read:

"Commit the seven deadly sins today in the city that makes it so easy. Here they are, in case you didn't watch Seven: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride and Lust. Feeling angry isn't enough, by the way. There has to be an envious deed, a deed of wrath and so on. We'll send an expert on deadly sins to check. Note that deadly sins against the owner of this newspaper will be punished to the full extent of the law. Bye - bye!"

Breena couldn't believe what she had read. She had been so motivated to do a good job. This seemed so wrong! And feeling angry, or wrathful wouldn't cut it, or she'd have two of the seven out of the way already. Breena wasn't a particularly religious person, but she wasn't particularly keen on being arrested or worse. She had to find a way to do a deed that would go unpunished, and yet important enough to count as a mortal sin. Deep inside her, she had to admit that she was little turned on by the prospect. If she got caught, she could always argue her way out of trouble with the assignment, right? Unfortunately, the sheet with the assignment self-destructed at this point.

She wasn't that sure what it all meant, though. For example, what the hell was Sloth? She only knew it as a small mammal belonging to the family Bradypodidae, part of the order Pilosa, of the Folivora suborder. She was also pretty sure she saw an animated movie once where one of the main character was named Sloth. But a deadly sin called Sloth? This obviously needed some highly journalistic investigation. She asked the receptionist whether he knew about a church in the neighborhood, and he directed her to Guardian Angel Cathedral at Cathedral Way and the Strip. Breena took her belongings to the valet and crammed it all into her Smart, which necessitated the use of force. Traffic was in full swing and it took almost half an hour for the short trip up the Strip to the church. "Cathedral" was pushing it, Breena thought. The church was more looking like a rustic ski chalet than a Cathedral, or like a tent, mainly consisting of triangular forms. On the front facade, a Guardian Angel was depicted on a huge mosaic, along with the three figures of Penance, Prayer and Peace.

The parking lot was empty, so Breena needed only 10 minutes to park. Fortunately, the doors to the church were open. She looked around, her heels making strange noises in the weird acoustics of the triangular room. "Can I help you?" a friendly voice asked. The friendly voice belonged to a middle-aged man with big glasses, a receding hairline and some facial hair, (who looked much nicer in person than he did on the avlv gallery page, dour expression and all). "I'm Father Corey. I'm helping out here today, because the Cathedral has had some problems with its staff lately. Do you seek repentance?" "I'm more looking for guidance," Breena answered. "Repentance will be for later."

She saw no other way than to tell Father Corey about her predicament: that she was a highly trained journalist ("I can certainly see that," Father Corex mumbled at this point, stroking his beard) and that she had to do some research on the seven deadly search for an upcoming article. That wasn't exactly a lie, she thought. Not that lies would matter much today. "You came to the right place," Father Corey said. "Located her in the heart of the Strip, our little parish knows a lot about sins and sinners. There are many gamblers coming to Mass here, often leaving gambling chips in the collection basket. We even have someone bringing them back to the casinos. We call him the Chip Monk." "That's very funny and all and I'm sure glad you got this painful little joke in," Breena said, uncharacteristically impatient. "But what about the seven deadly sins?" Father Corey didn't seem to mind the interruption much.

"But of course," he said. The seven deadly sins are also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins. You probably know that they are Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Pride, Lust and Wrath. These have been used since olden times to instruct christians on what behavior to avoid, so you wouldn't go to hell. The only chance of absolution was the sacrament of confession." Confession sounded good to Breena, as she was planning to write about it anyway. "But the practicalities," she pressed onwards, "what must one do to commit a deadly sin?" The phrasing seemed a bit strange to Father Corey, yet he continued.

"There's quite a bit of information I have on that subject," he said. "Wouldn't it bore your readers to have to go though it all in one sitting? Or do you happen to have a small device, a machine maybe or a gadget, which could record what I say and replay it at a time when you and the reader might need it?" This seemed to be an unusual suggestion, but as it turned out, the Malt-o-Matic turned out to be the perfect recording device as well. Father Corey faithfully explained the seven deadly sins in great detail for the next 45 minutes, greatly emphasizing the one called Lust. Breena thanked him profusely and went to her car to think. It seemed like a good idea to get her stuff to The Palms first. If she needed to sin, she might as well plan it in comfort. So she got into her Smart again and drove there, following the Malt-O-Matic's sage advice. She left the car with the valet and entered The Palms. She ambled up to the check-in clerk. "I lust for a suite which is so over the top it's worthy for a supreme being like me, so I can lazily hang out, drink the entire minibar, covet an even better suite at an even better hotel, envy the couple next door who is evidently having great sex and crush you like a bug if the toilet paper hasn't been folded in an amusing shape" is what she could have said, and gotten it over with. But that would have been way too easy (and certainly not good for word count). So she flashed the employee her nicest smile and uttered the magic words "high floor," Strip view" and "upgrade to a suite." She might also have unbuttoned her blouse twice and might have leaned forward. The clerk began to hyperventilate and to maniacally pound on his keyboard, glancing into Breena's ample cleavage once in a while. This took quite a while, but it seemed to work. "you wanted a suite," he breathed heavily, "I got just the right one for you. It's in the new tower and has a Strip view." He glanced at her cleavage again and giggled maniacally. "You'll like it a lot. I'll come by personally to check out how much you like it." He handed Breena a keycard and a room number and collapsed in a puddle of sweat.

This had happened to Breena three times already during the last week, so she wasn't all that shocked. She wisely buttoned her blouse up again, called a supervisor and told him to let the poor man breath into a bag. Then she went on to look for her new digs. On her way, she noticed that Palms were everywhere. There was the Palms logo on every conceivable surface, and depictions of the actual plants covering the rest. But some actual plants tried to further consolidate that tropical Mirage feeling. In comparison, it sucked, though.

The casino was rather big, and it was surprising how mixed the clientele was. Some oldsters straight from the retirement center (but alas, no Sunspots, Breena had checked) were playing alongside of that hip young MTV crowd. It wasn't very busy on that Sunday morning, though. Most of the hipsters probably just had gone to bed, Breena thought. She passed the tattoo parlor which was still closed and made her way to the new tower. On the 25th floor (or possibly the 26th, this author hastens to add), she got out, opened the door to her suite and looked it over in wonder. My gentle readers of course have already guessed that she had gotten the Pink Suite.

It was breath-takingly big, more than 2.000 square feet, she guessed. The view over the Strip was amazing, the best she had so far. It was laid out before her like a photo tapestry. There were two bedrooms, one with a King and one with two Doubles. It also featured a lot of couches and chairs, a full bar, dining table,and a fireplace. Plasma screen TVs were scattered throughout, and there was a nifty stereo system. She also saw a strange shower with a sign stating it was a Show Shower , strangely, a stripper pole, and the biggest Jacuzzi she had ever seen. cBut above all, it was pink. The sparkly terrazzo bubble floor was pink, the comfy couches and chairs were covered with pillows in shades of pink, the drapes were pink. Breena, incidentally, loved pink. There also was a $1 per day phone fee.

This seemed like a place where a girl can sin in style, she thought. Rechecking her list of sins, she decided she would tackle them in order of appearance: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride and Lust. Saving the best for last, she thought. Gluttony seemed easiest to achieve. She switched on the Malt-O-Matic to listen to Father Corey's sermony voice: "Gluttony is derived from Latin and originally meant to swallow. It signifies the over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. A prime example for gluttony can be found in the movie Blow-Out (La Grande Bouffe) which I believe this author has actually watched partially and in which some people eat themselves to death. A similar experience can be had in Las Vegas in extraordinary variety. It's called a buffet."

A buffet would certainly seem gluttoneous, Breena thought. But it would have to be not any old buffet, but something extra special. The door bell of the suite rung seven times. Breena used the peephole, wary of the lecherous check-in clerk. But it was only Malt, who came in panting. "They wouldn't let me up at first. But I convinced themby promising them you'd unbutton your bouse again later. This is so great! I love pink!" There's nothing as manly as an abundant love for pink, Breena thought. What she said was "What are you doing here, Malt? Don't you have some important work to do?" "Oh yes," he answered. Predictably, I've been appointed your expert on sins. I'm the one who has to check whether you committed a real Deed or just a misdemeanor. And Deed is capitalized, because it actually seems meaningful this way." Breena was disgusted. This bruised pink-loving girlie-man couldn't be supposed to be judging anything! "I'm Judge Mental!" Malt added, giggling happily.

Breena sighed. "I'm gonna start with Gluttony," she said. "Which buffet would you recommend, Judge?" "An excellent choice, "Malt said. "On a Sunday morning, there are many champagne brunches at the buffets all over town. But I think we'll only have one choice: we go with the Sterling brunch." Breena perked up: "Did you say champagne? I looove champagne! You're driving! I'm sinning!" (the more experienced among my gentle readers might have a hunch where the narrative is heading. This doesn't make it any less enjoyable, right?). Malt quickly made reservations for the brunch "you actually need them there," he explained.

They boarded Malt's limo and drove over to Bally's. The Sterling Brunch was something else. It took place at Bally's Steak House, which was old-school to say the least. It was full of tanned-leather furniture and there was real linen on the table. The champagne flowed freely, and the buffet, while not as big as the Wynn buffet, consisted mainly of luxury items. Breena had never tried caviar before. It was served with all the trimmings, but it only stopped tasting salty after the third glass of champagne. There was beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, filet mignon and lobster ravioli. There was sushi, and duck, and venison and even buffalo (and no wings, either). The food tasted good, but was curiously bland, as if the cooks were somehow afraid to flavor it too much for the somewhat staid crowd. Then, Breena discovererd the lobster. Breena loved lobster almost as much as she loved champagne, and lobster was hard to come by in the Dakotas. The lobster was prepared conventionally, but very well, even if it was a bit rubbery at times. Breena had one, and then another, and yet another. After her fifth lobster, she thought she couldn't eat any more, but she still managed a sixth, washing it down with some more champagne. She looked at Malt expectantly, who said "I would have given it to you after the fourth one. Yuck!" Breena didn't care. She was having the time of her life and had some cherries jubilee with vanilla ice cream and some spectacular home-made pistachio ice cream. She looked at the raspberry mascarpone cream longingly, but there were limits.

Malt ticked off the first vice from the list on the clipboard he had brought along. "What's next," he asked. "Let's hear what Father Corey has to say about Greed," Breena suggested. The Malt-O-Matic switched itself on, and Father Corey began: "Greed is a sin of excess, much like Gluttony. But Greed is more about posession of objects and refers mainly to the acquisition of wealth. Even theft and robbery are usually inspired by Greed. Gee, I wonder where you have a chance to commit the sin of Greed in Las Vegas." Breena wasn't even listening any more. She has waddled over to the craps table, and bought in for a $100. She was extremely lucky, of course, and her stack of chips grew to unbelievable heights. You all know what has to happen next, gentle readers. Yes, Breena committed the sin of Greed: she did not stop when she had doubled her money, she did continue to play when she had tripled it. She played and played until, you guessed it, she walked away from the table with $4.000. Cousin Cameron would have been proud, she thought, the way she had gradually increased her bets (pass line & odds). Malt sighed and checked off the second item from the list. "You were certainly greedy," he said, "but this wasn't supposed to happen." "You're a dour moraline-sour funkiller!" Breena exclaimed, kissing him very lightly on the cheek. Malt crashed into a nearby change machine, but didn't seem to mind much.

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