La Salle Verte wasn’t the kind of place you went to if you were married. A cheap gin joint on the wrong side of The Strip, it had been brought by Madame Absinthe with the money she’d made from some song and dance number over in Hollywood. They let anyone in provided they had enough money in their pocket for drinks and didn’t cause trouble, which meant I had to fast-talk the gorilla on the door. When I finally got in I was just in time to see the end of some act with a giant champagne glass by some floozy I’d never heard of. The number of men watching the stage told me that she’d be on soon though.
“No thanks, I don’t smoke.”
The waitress flitted out of view allowing me to survey the bar for the one man I didn’t want to see there – Richard. Sure as eggs are eggs he was there, sat at the front table, eagerly waiting with the rest of the men there. I’d seen him before but only through the high-powered magnification of camera’s lens, she’d met him shortly after we’d finished and he was some stable, ageing, middle-class dentist from the better side of the city, a rich sugar daddy to keep her in the manner she was accustomed to. I’m sure it wasn’t love for her, just a steady pay cheque. The lights dimmed but I kept my eye on him until I saw her.
I’d only ever seen her in the movies – those little glimpses put in by savvy directors in Tinsletown to keep marks like me returning to the fleapits – but that leg couldn’t have belonged to anyone else in this dive. She’d got the audience in the palm of her hand and she hadn’t even brought out her weapon yet, that sultry voice with just enough European in it to sound exotic. She sang some old fashioned song about lovers dying in each other’s arms but it didn’t matter – she could have sung her weekly shopping list and these men would have paid to hear it.
I got up to leave before she had finished, I needed to know more about her than I could get here.
Outside there was already a group of men hanging around the artists entrance waiting for her to leave, each hoping that she’d look at them tonight. I wouldn’t be able to get in that way to have a look-see. I only had one choice and I didn’t like taking it. It had been a while since I’d done a roof job, but I guess the old skills never left. Of course if Rudy’ knew I was doing this he’d bust a fit, I wasn’t official anymore – wasn’t licensed – which meant I had to be extra careful.
Security wasn’t much to look at, just a cheap cover designed to keep pigeons out. If I’d had my old tools with me I’d have been in quicker but I when I’d woke up this morning I didn’t know I’d be doing this. Brute force occasionally got the job done and I felt sure that no one would notice anything by the time I’d finished. I slipped inside.
Backstage wasn’t much better than out front, it still had the feel of some dive where money could buy you anything you wanted. It wasn’t hard to find her dressing room; it looked to be the only one that had had any attention paid to it. I knocked and there was no answer, so I let myself in.
Inside it was much the same as any other failed starlet dressing room, the faded and torn posters on the wall of the various films she’d been in, all with salacious titles that hid the bad plots inside – Drink For Danger, Wild Women of the Left Bank, The Green Door – all signs of past afternoons spent on the casting couch. She’d been lucky with the gig she’d got, it had allowed her to get out whilst she was ahead.
Tucked behind the mirror were photographs of her and the big names – probably taken at parties – but it was the one out on her own that piqued my interest, her and Richard by some pool, a high class hotel far out of this city.
“You know she doesn’t love him, don’t you?”
How I hadn’t smelt her come in I don’t know, but she’d got me square where she wanted.
“Sure, she’s only after his money, aren’t we all?” I replied.
“Or she’s still in love with someone else. Drink?”
“I don’t take drinks from strange women either, not after the last time.”
“Who says I’m a strange woman, or need to be a stranger?”
I’d give her one thing she was good at her job.
“You know why I’m here.”
“Yes, of course I do, she doesn’t love him and still loves you and wants you to ride to her rescue, if I get hurt in the process that doesn’t matter to a woman like her.”
I didn’t know whether to slap her or kiss her.
“Or didn’t you think I knew who you were, Nick?”
“I didn’t care.”
“Not ever, not even about all those children when you were still on the job?”
“That was different.”
“Why, because they were either naughty or nice? Can’t your primitive little mind deal with the concept that somebody might be both?”
“Listen lady, I don’t mess around with you European types no more, not after I got my fingers burned in Helsinki. So your putting out with the Tooth Fairy’s husband, that doesn’t matter – what matters is its going to stop, he’s going to go back to her and I’m going to go back to drinking, you understand? Good.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way Nick.”
“Yes it does, now here’s your photo, just so you something to remember.”
I left, taking the back door through the crowd of people waiting for her still. I looked around for Richard but couldn’t see him anywhere, he must have slipped in whilst I was in there taking to the green dame. The only thing I knew was that I needed a drink and I only knew one friendly joint in this town.
Sasq’s was a small jazz bar over on the east side which neither the cops nor mob bothered with on account of the owner, Sas. Sas had been part of the agency up until a year ago when he finally got tired of tramping around the Canadian wilderness in those size fourteens of his – I’d never asked what he was doing up there but I had a fair idea.
“My man Nick, how’s it going?”
“Okay I guess, saying I’m back in this town.”
“But this is the better side; what you drinking, it’s on the house?”
Sas slipped me a whisky as I sat and replayed the night’s events in my head. I’d been dragged half way round the world to deal with a marital case that any first year desk jockey back at the bureau. Furthermore, it involved the one woman I didn’t want any more to do with.
“What you thinking about there Nick?”
“You ever heard of a retired agent being bought back just to deal with a simple marriage case?”
“If you’re talking about what I think you are then I don’t think it’s as simple as you think.”
“You know something?”
“I’m not saying anything, how else you think I get to run a bar that nobody hassles?”
“I thought it was because you watered the liquor down so much it wasn’t worth the trouble of coming here, ‘cept for the company.”
I glanced around; the bar was empty except for the two gorillas in the corner. Something told me they weren’t here for the happy hour.
“Sas, you got a back way out of here I could use?”
“You got company? Sure, go through the men’s and out into the alley behind – I’ll see if I can stall them.”
“I owe you one.”
“You always did.”
I got up from my stool and made like the village drunk to the men’s. Two chairs scrapped behind me as the gorilla’s rose to follow. Inside I moved quickly to the back door and into the alley behind. I needed to find a weapon and quick, fists wouldn’t work against muscle like this. A quick look around yielded little more than a stick that would break the first time I swung it; I guess it would need to be my wits.
The door swung open and the two gorillas emerged into the alley.
“Hello guys, nice night isn’t it?”
The first fist hit me like a sledgehammer; I barely had time to breathe before a second followed it swiftly into my gut.
Ah, Vegas, you had to love this town.