Soap and Water - 040
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Cutt had told his number two, Marsh, to split the rest of the Posse into groups of three and send them to find abandoned houses like him or hide among the refugees of the Strip. As long as they were in town he wanted each of these cells only in contact with two of the others. Even Cutt only knew how to reach Marsh and one other man—the one he’d assigned to keep an eye on that Sheriff who called himself Borachon.
The drunk hadn’t been hard to find. Except for a few hours at irregular intervals when he crawled to a hotel room to pass out, Cutt’s spy reported he could nearly always find him at one of the bars on Fremont Street, alone. There was no evidence he’d even remembered to summon the rest of his Posse.
Two nights ago, Cutt’s man had called to report that Borachon chatted for nearly an hour with the Nationalist they’d had in camp a week ago. Cutt hadn’t liked any part of that. What was the guy doing here? How had he found Borachon?
He hadn’t wanted to panic, though. Not much awaited them back at Pike if he took his men home, just more years—anyone’s guess how many—of working for drug dealers and hiding like voles.
Then, this morning, Shecker called. The Eastern reporter was in Vegas too, she’d found Shecker and wanted a follow-up interview. Which was ridiculous. No chance the three of them—if two were here the girl must be too—had tracked him all the way here just so that woman could flesh out an article. In fact, not much chance they’d tracked him at all. It seemed to him much more likely that they’d had help. The reporter had gone to the Feds as soon as she had her friend back, as he’d kind of expected. The Feds had followed him and now they were trying to use the reporter to trap him.
“Forget it,” he told Shecker. “We need a reporter like I need three assholes.” Shecker shouldn’t even have called him.
“You’re wrong,” Shecker said. “You think the important part is getting in there, even wrecking the place? They’ll just start over somewhere else, they can fly that technology hundreds of miles in nothing flat. The important part is getting it in the papers, showing all the bleeding hearts what they’re doing to kids. We have to prove it’s real.”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll think about it,” Cutt said, and got off the line.
He did not think about it. He’d already decided this felt all wrong. Going back to Pike with nothing accomplished might sting, but it wasn’t a good enough reason to waste his guys’ lives, which is all he’d be doing if the Feds were already onto them. It would take a few hours to collect them all and get moving. He phoned Marsh to get it started.
“We’re not doing this,” he said. “We’re leaving. Come get me.”
“Actually, you should come here,” Marsh said. “The Flamingo, back entrance. Things are not good.”
Cutt took the highway to just south of the city limits and drove two blocks east to the Strip. He’d had no reason to come here all week and had expected things would look pretty different from the last time he’d been, what, fifteen years ago. But there was very little outward change, actually. The palm trees were dead on both sides of the road and down its center divider, and there wasn’t much traffic, just a few Hummers’ worth of Mips. But the glaring sun made it less noticeable that the lights and animated signs were gone. The landmark buildings themselves were the same, ready to be revived, and the sidewalks were full of people.
The only difference was that instead of going from one casino to the next, they shopped at a sprawling open-air bazaar. Blanket-top vendors covered nearly every square yard of open space: the drives, empty marble basins, and colonnade walks of Caesar’s Palace; the plazas and drained canals of the Venetian; the dry expanse of Bellagio’s dancing fountain, studded with lengths of pipe that once swiveled and jetted water. They sold homemade jewelry, secondhand clothes, books, cookies, and their family heirlooms.
These fields of commerce were separated by half-mile stretches of sidewalk, along which groups of teenaged and twentysomething boys drank on the guard walls and ledges, smoked pot, played dice. Smaller groups of girls sauntered past them in plastic high-heeled shoes.
He turned left onto Flamingo Avenue and left again onto a side street. Marsh waited outside the hotel doors in a Denver Broncos sweatshirt too small for him. Cutt stopped, leaned across, and unlocked the passenger door. Marsh did not get in. He came around to the driver’s side and Cutt lowered the window.
“They’re all here,” Marsh said. “I tried to break them up in threes like you said, but they don’t listen.”
Cutt scowled. Marsh wasn’t a whiner, and the men usually did what he told them. He turned off the engine and got out.
“They didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” Marsh said. “When we got here yesterday they were excited to be out of Pike and wanted a little party.”
“And they’re still partying.”
Marsh nodded and led him through a fence gate to the right and onto the deck of a very large swimming pool shaped like several inkblots bled together. Two of his guys armwrestled on a deck table, a pair of twenty-year-olds, dear friends who’d met in their early teens when Cutt threw them in juvenile detention together. The smaller and gentler of the two shook with effort and cursed at his bigger friend, loud, as fast as his lips and teeth could manage. Tweaking.
“Hey Sheriff,” said the bigger one in a confident, vacant tone.
“Where are the others?” Cutt said.
The boys stopped the contest. The little one jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.
“When did you get high?” Cutt demanded.
“First? We’ve been going since last night.”
Dead palm trees poking through neat holes in the concrete had covered the deck in brown fronds. He kicked through them to the lip of the pool and looked down. Two more of his guys slept at the bottom, naked, on either side of a fattish, middle-aged woman wearing only a tube top and no pants. The concrete around them, peeling blue paint, was strewn with empty and half-empty plastic soda bottles. A third man crouched down there with one hand splayed before him, mumblety-pegging his fingers with a short, lock-blade knife. Cutt waited until it paused clear of the thumb.
“Anything but alcohol in those bottles?” he yelled.
The man sat back and looked at him. The left side of his face was red and swollen.
“These?” He picked up the plastic bottle nearest him, examined it as if the label might say. “I think some had Robitussin.”
Cutt turned to Marsh. “Where did they get money?”
Marsh rubbed the top of his head. “We brought all of it we had. It didn’t seem like we’d be going back to Pike.”
Fair enough, Cutt supposed. That’s what he’d thought too. “How much have we got left?”
Cutt looked up and saw two more guys dangling their feet from a cliff of plastic rocks, shoving each other way too hard. If either fell he’d drop thirty feet to the bottom of the empty pool.
“Get off that thing!” Cutt roared, and they blinked and climbed down the far side, out of his sight.
He and Marsh circled the pool through a tangle of deck chairs. They reached the foot of the plastic cliff and found a little cave underneath. Six pairs of panties lay on the deck inside, in a row.
He climbed a stairway and found himself at one end of an empty oval pool ringed by statues of flamingoes on pink pillars. One of his guys had bought or stolen a skateboard and teetered on it in the pool’s bottom. Beside him a battery-powered radio played a tinny song:
I don’t want to sober up tonight
I don’t want to act like things are alright
And I don’t want to change just to make you think I’m happy
That's my right, I don’t want to sober up tonight
Four men played cards with a fifth he didn’t recognize; probably a local hustler taking the Posse’s remaining cash. Two of those four, Anton and another, had girls on their laps who might have been as young as fifteen, exhilarated and scared, their makeup applied all wrong. A third girl sat on a bent chaise longue a few feet away, watching her friends with a worried expression. Anton, as always, dominated the conversation, chattering away indefatigably.
Something occurred to Cutt. “The guns?” he asked.
“My room,” Marsh said. “I spent half the night collecting them, too. There was a fight with some of the refugee kids and we could have killed somebody, or at least attracted the cops.”
A few more of his men slept on chaises at the other end of the pool, by a boarded-up hamburger stand. That left a little more than half unaccounted for. “Where’s the rest of us?”
“I don’t know,” Marsh said. “Some working girls came through last night and a lot of the guys went with them.”
Cutt sank onto a plastic chair.
“I’ll look,” Marsh said. “They’re probably upstairs.”
And if they weren’t? Cutt thought as Marsh headed up a garden path in the direction of the hotel. Maybe some had taken prostitutes to the nearest beds, but others could have wandered off anywhere, to come back God only knew when. He thought about how Borachon had said his own Posse was scarcely better than a gang. Even if Cutt did round up his men, what would he accomplish by taking them home to Pike? All he’d have won from the past few years of drugrunning would be enough money for a party, not even a good one.
“Got a cigarette?” he called to the card players.
Anton took one from his breast pocket, handed it to the girl on his lap, and whispered something in her ear. She pushed herself off his legs and trotted in Cutt’s direction, baby-fat thighs jiggling, face drawn and overly perky. She too was high, he guessed.
She offered him the cigarette. He took it and lit it. She stood before him, trying to put on a come-hither look but making it all too clear that basically she didn’t care whether he came thither or not. She didn’t even bother to make eye contact.
The stranger at the card table watched intently. Cutt understood that he was her pimp.
“Why don’t you and your friends go home, honey?” he said.
She gave him the finger and returned to Anton’s lap.
There was always the option of giving up, going on a bender, and forgetting the whole business altogether. Of course, he’d be setting loose an antisocial pack of men he’d locked up a couple of times each himself.
Shit. He really needed an AA meeting.
Marsh reappeared. He was a big man who never, ever ran, but for him he was moving fast. Cutt got up and went to meet him halfway.
“They’re upstairs with five of those girls, every one with bruises she didn’t have last night.” As soon as Cutt reached him, Marsh turned back for the hotel. Cutt kept pace. “The guys are all high and crazy. So are a few of the girls, but the couple that aren’t look like they want to die.”
Fuck these guys, Cutt thought. They’d disobeyed and sabotaged him without thinking, spending his last two years of moral compromise on a single night of drugs and hookers just because they were incapable of looking more than twelve hours ahead. They were a bunch of selfish teenagers, that was all. Why should he care about wasting their lives? They’d never planned to do anything with them, and they certainly hadn’t hesitated before wasting his.
He took his cell phone from his pocket as they walked and called Shecker. “You want it in the papers?” he said. “Forget the interview. They’re riding with us.”
He hung up. “You know you look ridiculous in that shirt,” he said to Marsh. “I don’t know what makes you think twenty-year-old clothes from another state are inconspicuous.”
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