Warning: offensive language, bigotry, violence and gore
In a penthouse suite atop The StarShip Towers luxury apartment building overlooking the Las Vegas strip, there is a tense minute of near silence, only a clock ticks softly. The three men in the room are fifty stories up and tense because the boss’s hooded eyes blaze with fury.
The clock on the wall over the bar tinks away a full sixty seconds…at a slug’s pace.
The two who were summoned wait respectively for Don Carmine Vaselletti to speak. Vassey stands, saunters to the chrome and white marble bar, the ‘thunk’ of the heavy lead crystal glass is loud. He splashes another finger of Walker’s Blue Label over the remaining cubes, again, not offering his guests a drink. His old man’s hand trembles not from palsy, but from anger, it would be a terrible thing to not make the distinction.
He sips the extra smooth scotch, walks to the floor to ceiling windows, and turns around. To Buggy Carlyle he says, “His father and I grew up in the same hoodjou know.”
This wasn’t the time to reply as if this had been a question. The old man in the pink silk shirt and sharply creased trousers continues, “We did time together too.” All the Good Guys in all of Nevada and even parts of Italy, knew this.
Buggy opens his mouth, Vassey shoots lasers from intense and serious hazel eyes, Buggy closes his mouth.
“I promised your mutha I’d look out for you…and did I not do just that? But I tell ya…ya don’t make it easy. Now I gotta go see Dukie’s brudda and make amends and that’ll cost aplenty. It’s coming outta your pay Buggy. You’re payin for the foonral too. I’m sick of yer fuckin up! My boys got control. They got class. Lookit that jacket yer wearin fer chrissakes! You at a weddn from the fuckin 1980’s?”
Buggy glanced down at his powder blue lapels for a split second, he dared not take his eyes off the Boss, afraid the old man’d lose the cool he was obviously having a hard time keeping.
Vassey sipped his scotch. “I’m keepin my cool Buggy. Ise cool as fuckin ice. But ice melts in the heat. You got that? Get outta my sight. Do yer rounds. Keep yer fuckin fat head down.”
“Yes Boss. Thank-you.”
Salli opened the door for Buggy, and bowed slightly towards Vassey, like a Chinese waiter, then followed Buggy out the door.
Later that night, at The Red RumpInn, they sat at the polished oak bar. Each had a pint half-full of amber ale in front of them and a rocks glass of Johnny Black. The bar served the blue label as well, but it was 180.00 a shot and the owner was a pal of Vasseys, no stiff-arming here for a free tab. Buggy came there every night though, usually dragging Salli along, he had a thing for the black cocktail waitress, an exotic beauty with emerald-green eyes and legs to her pointed chin.
The place was dim and smokey and classy… and though her skirt was short and clingy, her black velvet ensemble was tasteful and not hooker-like in the least.
Buggy drained his glass and raised his hand to gesture for another. Salli put his hand on Buggy’s shoulder and said, “Hey man. Slow down. I get yer pissed but you gotta keep cool man.”
Buggy brushed the hand off. “I am cool. Cooler than that ole man in his fag pink shirt.” He looked down and puffed his chest. “This fuckin Tom Ford cost me more than a grade A escort makes in a week.”
Salli’s skin itched, his scalp sweated, he nervously twisted his glass around on its coaster. He was desperate to be any place but here. There was always fallout to his Buddy’s rages, and he inevitably ended up smack in the middle like a poor sap caught out in a hurricane hangin onto a tree as the wind canted him horizontal and the torrents water-boarded him.
The bartender poured another two ounces in both their glasses and Salli sighed as Buggy tipped half of his into his mouth. A drop trailed along his jaw and he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
Absinthe was serving tequila shots to a table halfway between their stools and the back of the bar. She bent at the knees demurely instead of bending over to show the world her lacies. She looked up and winked at Buggy then laughed at something one of the guys had said.
Buggy looked away and signaled the bartender back over.
Buggy was a handsome man- tall, wirey-tough, slicked back dark hair, heavy lidded eyes like Fred Astaire, only his were dark brown. He had deep dimples when he smiled. When he was lit his eyes got puffy, his face got shiny red, and his mouth turned downwards into a grimace…like it was doing right now. He eyeballed the blond guy at the table, the funny one. The Laugher. He got up, wavered a bit, and said, “I gotta piss.”
He made his way to the back of the bar and turned down a dark corridor to the right.
The bartender came over to Salli with the bottle. Salli covered Buggy’s glass and said, “No more ya fuckin moke, cantchoo see he’s had enough?” He tossed a C-note on the bar, “Keep it.”
Buggy came back into the bar, still weaving a bit, but he’d splashed water on his face, he had wet spots on his shirt, and though his face was pale, his mouth turned down like an upside-down horseshoe.
Absinthe was at The Laugher’s table, leaving him the check. As Salli watched, the young man’s hand slid up her thigh. She moved out of his reach quickly and stalked to the bar, swinging her dark hair over shoulder as if brushing off the incident. Salli watched his friend’s eyes to see if he’d caught it. As he passed the kid’s table, laughter erupted behind him, the word ‘salami’ flashed out like neon.
Buggy kept walking towards Salli, who was standing and gesturing to the front door, “Let’s hit it.” Buggy drained his beer and followed Salli out, his head lowered between his shoulders like a bull with his eyes on the waving red Muleta. Salli sized him up and figured he was walkin okay, so he’d be fine to drive; takin the keys from him woulda earned him a punch to the mouth.
Buggy’s caddy was the same color as Absinthe’s eyes. The powerful twin-turbo engine purred as it idled.
The two guys exited the bar. Buggy pulled forward. The guys crossed the parking lot, heading towards a silver Toyota. The Laugher headed to the driver’s side. Buddy accelerated and the shiny new Cadillac bolted like a bronco from a gate. Two seconds later it slammed into The Laugher, crushing his legs between the cars like dry twigs.
Buggy said, “You laugin now?! I can’t heeeeear you!” The guy was slumped over the hood, pinned… not moving. The passenger, halfway to Arizona.
Buggy got out with his backseat baseball bat.
Salli jumped out and cried, “No! Hey! He's had enough!” Futile. As Salli sat back down, he heard the sickening splat-crunch as the kid’s head caved in and apart like a watermelon dropped from Vassey’s penthouse.
Buggy called out, “Pop da trunk!”
The car rocked as its burden dropped into it. The trunk closed softly.
They sped from the lot as the bar door opened and customers spilled out.
In the small tidy home with the bougainvillea bordering the front living room windows, Salli sat slumped in a Laz-y-boy recliner next to an older woman on a beige couch with a crocheted Afghan draped over its back. She had thick wavy hair and a high, widow-peaked forehead like her son. She had his high cheekbones too, and sensual thick lower lip which she was biting as she listened.
“Aw Ma. What am I gonna do? He’s outta control. He’s gonna get us both killed.”
“You say the body’s in the trunk?”
“Yeah. I told him to drop me off here while he washed the car. Fuckin brains all over--”
“You’re a good kid Salvatore. Donna you fall to the likes a-his level.”
Headlights flared white through the window, lighting up the fuchsia and green foliage surrounding it.
“He’s back. I gotta go.”
“Take Randy with you. He been in da house all day. He come in useful.”
Salli looked up wearily. “Uh…sure Ma. Okay.” He stood up and called to the German Sheppard lying under the window, intently watching him. Randy got up and padded to the front door, swishy tail a-waggin.
Buggy was calm. It was a relief as much as it was unnerving. A Stones song came on and he sang along with it, “…whooo whoo… hope you guess my naaame…” His fingers drummed the steering wheel.
Salli plotted how he was going to get rid of Buggy.
Randy stood on the floor hump between the front seats and panted happily, long ears erect, eyes sparkling and alert.
They were in the middle of the Mojave Desert, just past the Giant Joshua Tree on Kelso Cima Road. It was 4am, after they’d exited highway 15, there’d been no other cars.
They took the turn-off for Cima Road. Nothing but sand and cactus and the occasional bright eyes of a night dweller. A tall straight tree arose to their left, it was branchless and silvered by ages in the sun.
Buggy slowed and pulled over onto the hard-pan edge of the road.
He hummed the Stones song as he popped the trunk and got out. Randy leapt out and ran off, he barked twice and disappeared into the night.
It was too late to save the trunk liner, blood and gore glistened on its water-proof surface. Buggy unfolded a blue tarp and laid it on the ground. They heaved the stiffening body out and dumped it onto the tarp like a sack of trash.
“I got the shovels,” Salli said. They clanked together clamorously in the quiet. He grabbed the Coleman lantern as well.
“Fair ‘nuff.” Buggy took hold of the tarp and headed in the same direction Randy had taken off in.
The tarp on the sand made a shushing noise, like the sound of snow under cross country skis. The night symphony resumed around them, chirruping, squeaking, clicking.
At about two hundred feet out, Buggy dropped the tarp and announced, “This is good.”
Salli nodded and tossed a shovel to Buggy. They dug in.
The grave wasn’t deep, just deep enough to not be spotted from above or from the road. If an animal undug it, there wouldn’t be much left of it the next day, between the digging carnivore and the vultures.
It was a warm night. A pleasant, sweet-smelling breeze dried the sweat from their faces. They’d left their jackets in the car. Their shoes would need a shine later that day. Buggy stretched his back and smoked a cigarette.
Behind him, Salli gathered all his nerve. He hefted the shovel and brought it up---
Buggy spun. Salli dropped the shovel, turned around, and appeared to be taking in the peaceful landscape. Buggy said to the dog as he patted the dog's thick fur, “Thought you were history buddy.” Randy grinned, tail wagging.
Salli said, “Say Buggy…where’s the car?”
“It’s right over the---” He turned around, scouring the dark. He shut off the lantern, it was blinding him. They blinked into the dark, their eyes adjusting.
The car was nowhere in sight.
“It was this way.” Buggy pointed to a far-off figure on the horizon. The marker. They headed towards it. The sky was turning pink in the east.
What they’d taken for the marker was a tall skinny cactus.
There was no road in sight. The immense sky surrounding them was lavender, yellow, and blue, a glorious dawn.
“What the fuck?” Buggy’s mouth curled into a grimace as he surveyed the view 360 degrees around.
“Sun’s east, that’s west.” Salli pointed. “We drove south, so now we walk north.”
“Where’d the car fuckin go?”
“Someone had to of rolled it away. Put it in neutral and rolled it. What fuckin else could it be?”
“AROOF!” Randy headed north, they followed.
By 10am, they’d taken their shirts off and draped them over their heads. At noon, Salli stopped. “Fuck!” He pointed at the ground ahead to his left. Footprints.
Hot, red, drenched, and dying of thirst, Buggy kicked weakly at the dog, “Fuck you! We been goin in a circle!”
Randy yipped and bounced out of reach. His tail was wagging, he seemed to be enjoying this. “Woof.” He stood square then pointed like a hunting hound, the men scanned the horizon he indicated.
An oasis shimmered on the horizon.
“It’s not real.” Buggy rubbed his eyes, “It can’t be. A mirage is all…”
Randy took off towards it. Salli trudged after him, a little lighter in the feet. “Looks real to me. Maybe we weren’t goin in a circle after all…”
Two hours later, the oasis still shimmered on the horizon. It appeared larger. They kept on.
At four, they slid down a tall dune, stumbling in the burning sand… and the oasis slipped out of sight. On hands and knees, they crawled like infants up the next dune, ever following the patient dog who waited then encouraged them on.
They topped the mound of sand and there it was. A real oasis. Complete with low, bushy palms and desert ferns drinking from its shimmering blue water. Neither man had the strength left to stand. They crawled on burnt hands and ragged trousers. Salli had lost a shoe.
Randy bounded ahead, barking happily. Salli’s mouth watered as he watched the dog leap and splash into the pool, chomping at the water in great gulps.
At the shore, he half stood and flopped into the heavenly water. He heard Buggy splash in after him and felt the wonderful waves roll over his burnt, raw body. They drank their fill, then lay in the growing shadow of the largest of the palmy bushes.
The slept and awoke after dark.
Randy was gone.
They stood and called his name. In the distance they heard a coyote’s ululating cry, like the aria of a sad opera. Across the pond, bushes rustled.
Salli said, “Randy?”
The breeze picked up and whipped their open shirts around them like sails.
Buggy said, “Lookit the sky out that way. It’s glowin. That’s Vegas baby!” He started that way but halted as dry twigs cracked to the right of them.
Salli held back…something dark darted out past the oasis. ‘Randy!’
A shushing noise, like the sound the body-laden tarp had made on the sand whisked behind them, like something coming at them…fast. Wind howled around them, a whirlwind of sand stung their faces, blinding them. Salli looked behind them and saw white creatures scuttling around the healing pond, coming towards them.
Buggy grabbed Salli’s arm, “C’MON!” He had to shout over the sound of the angry wind. Then he saw what Salli had been seeing. Sand pelted his face, scratching his eyes, blinding him. To their left that shushing sound …and a pit opened in the sand ten feet from them. Another appeared twenty feet to their left. The white scuttling creatures emerged from the low palms and shrubbery they had been sleeping under. The things straightened and walked erect like men.
Moonlight shone whitely off their bare skulls.
There were three of them, and more scuttling around the oasis from the other side. Without flesh and muscle, the skulls appeared to be grinning. One with a broken, unhinged jaw was frozen in a huge guffaw, forever laughing.
From the pits opening around them, gleaming white phalanges clawed the surface of the sand like white spiders, until the fleshless bodies were expelled from the many graves. They rose on thin pale leg bones, shaky at first…then the empty sockets- the pits of hell- one by one settled on the one they sought.
Buggy at last unfroze and looked around. Salli had backed away thirty feet, Randy was sitting by his side, tongue lolling, face grinning as if watching the climax of a blockbuster Spielberg film.
It was a climax. Salli was certain of it. He was also certain he’d come very close to co-starring in it, leaving Randy to find his way home …alone.
Salli wanted to turn and run. But he’d paid for his ticket, and he owed it to the players to stay until the end.
Buggy was surrounded by perhaps twenty-five to thirty skeletons. Many had jagged caverns in their skulls, with fragments crumbling over their rib cages, the fierce wind swirling around them taking more fragments with it.
A few skulls had deep V-shaped clefts. ‘Axe,’ thought Salli.
One skull was nearly separated in two, each rough-edged half joined at the bottom. ‘Chainsaw. That was Tony Bee from Philly.’
They fell upon Buggy in a rattling, clacking heap. Only a half scream escaped. It petered to a gurgle as his jaw was ripped off.
Randy stood and chuffed softly. He trotted off towards the glow of Vegas. Salli trotted after him. He felt good. And thankful he’d kept his cool.
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