Here's chapter 17 of my vampire novel. Still working on a title. Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions, but I just haven't found one that works yet. Enjoy.
When I step out of the elevator, I see Sammy waiting for me. Unlike earlier, now the lobby is busy. A half-dozen red-suited concierges buzz around a trio of guests straight out of the tabloids. The drug-addled starlet. The former MVP of the National Football League. The talk-show host.
Just inside the glass doors is the security guard from earlier, but without the shotgun. Next to him is another guard, even bigger than he is. But not a vampire.
Sammy himself is talking to last year's winner of the World Series of Poker.
As I walk up, Sammy introduces me as "Henry, my associate."
I shake the player's hand, and Sammy smoothly guides him towards a concierge, saying, "Now I've really got to go. We'll talk later."
Then Sammy takes me by the elbow and leads me out of the lobby to the waiting limousine.
As we get in, the two guards get into the driver's seat, with the new guy driving.
Iris is here, sitting with a laptop open in her lap. As I slide onto the side-couch next to her, she nods and winks at me.
Once the limo starts moving, Sammy asks me, "Where's your tie?"
"I didn't like it," I say.
Sammy chuckles at this. He hits a button and the window to the driver's seat goes up just as a TV screen slides down. In a quick series of shots, I see me in my suite. First I'm holding Miles by his neck and throwing him across the anteroom. Then I'm standing over the girl in the bedroom. Finally, I'm sitting in the main room, staring up at the flatscreen.
"So," he says. "What have you learned?"
"Other than the
has an isolation ward?" I say. "I've learned Como has too many damned vampires. Though I am impressed with how quickly you clean your elevators." Las Vegas
"That's cute," Sammy says. "Did you happen to learn anything useful?"
"I like your cover story," I tell him. "I wonder how it ends."
In the back of this limo, it's dark and we're sealed in. Protected. But I can feel the heat of the sun just outside as we roll through it.
"Just remember the rules," Sammy tells me.
To Iris, Sammy says, "Where are we with our whales?"
"The Australian is down five million so far," Iris says. "He's in his suite now. He ordered some food and told Margo he'd call her when he gets up. He still wants to go to the Garth Brooks show tonight."
"Are we good there?" Sammy asks.
"All set," Iris says. "Unless he decides to fly in his nieces again. The show's sold out. It'll cost us to get more passes. Peter's already on it."
"Alright," Sammy says. "And what about Chan?"
"Dead even so far," Iris tells him, punching keys on her laptop and reading her screen. "He wants to eat at Carnevino tonight. And he's making noises about switching to craps. Thinks it'll be good luck for him. Pauline's all over it."
Sammy turns to me.
"Last year, Chan spent a week playing baccarat with us," he says. "And left twelve million dollars behind."
The limo swerves and slows. We've pulled off the street.
"And the year before," Sammy continues. "He took us for four million."
Iris hands me a pair of sunglasses.
"These Armani, too?" I ask.
She sticks her tongue out at me. Sammy takes an identical pair from his jacket pocket and puts them on. I put mine on, too.
The limo swings around and stops. Iris puts her laptop aside and scrambles towards the door. It opens and sunlight floods the cabin. Iris slips out, turns around and reaches for Sammy. He takes her hand and starts to exit.
"Follow me and stay close," Sammy says.
In the burning wash of sunlight, all I can tell is we're in front of a restaurant. It says PIERO'S above the door. Iris leads Sammy by the arm through the entrance. I follow. The security guard files in behind me, and I hear the limo pull away.
We move quickly through the tiny restaurant lobby into the bar. I peel my sunglasses off. My head is buzzing, and it's not just from the sun. I smell something.
I notice the carpet is a weird sort of animal print, kind of a mix between zebra and tiger. There are large, realistic paintings of gorillas and monkeys on the walls, and the bar made up like a safari lodge.
People are milling around, but it's clear the restaurant isn't open for business. There's no bartender, and most of this group are carrying some type of equipment, cameras or microphones or voice recorders. And they all seem to be talking to each other in urgent whispers.
The scent I'm getting isn't from any food cooking in the kitchen.
We go past the bar into the dining room.
Three huge floor lamps are pointed towards a booth in the far corner, as is a television camera on a tripod. The surrounding tables are covered with equipment.
Sammy points to an empty booth in another corner of the dining room.
"Wait for me there," he says to me. Then he and Iris start talking to a young woman wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard.
I sit in the booth and wait for my head to clear. I can't place that scent.
The security guard, with his sunglasses still on, starts to get into the booth, but I look at him. He stops. I remember that how I see Sammy is how this guy sees me. Or should, anyway.
I point to a spot beside me but a couple of feet off.
"Stand there," I tell him. He does.
I look at him. I remember that he rode up front, with all that sun coming through the windshield, so he can't be feeling too well.
"No shotgun today?" I ask him. "That mean I passed initiation?"
He keeps a blank expression on his face, but I can tell he's seething.
"I'm thinking you had your gun taken away because of what I did to Miles," I say. "Sammy probably figures you'll just get yourself killed."
His hands are now fists at his side.
"After all, Sammy got me this Armani suit," I tell him. "But you're still in that rent-a-cop uniform."
He's trying to ignore me.
"Or maybe you got your suit dirty mopping up my elevator," I say. "What's that like, having to clean one of your buddies off the walls?"
I can tell from the way he's working his chin that he's actually grinding his teeth.
"I'd ask your name," I continue. "But I figure it's a waste of time, considering how long you're gonna last."
"Listen, fucker," the guard hisses but cuts himself off.
Iris has walked up and now slides in across from me.
"You okay?" she asks the guard. He doesn't answer.
"What's the occasion?" I ask her.
"Local CBS affiliate's doing a series on
history," Iris says. "Sammy's getting interviewed along with Curt about their contributions to blah blah blah. And we got other reporters here, covering this historic meeting between two legendary moguls who blah blah blah." Las Vegas
"Curt Dirigian," she tells me. "The guy who built the Las Vegas Majestic? Started DWA airlines? Majority stockholder in Stripline Gaming?"
The ache in my eyes has faded. Messing with the security guard has cheered me up.
I say to Iris, "Any idea why I have to be here?"
I hook a thumb at the security guard, "I mean, Sammy's got useless here if he's worried about security."
"Oh, you'll see," she says to me.
Iris pulls out her phone and starts typing. I watch Sammy chat with the young woman, who leads him to the lighted booth. He sits.
"That poor chick tried to get Sammy to let the makeup girl work on him," Iris says. "Wasn't part of the original deal, so Sammy wasn't gonna have it. He let her down easy, though."
I look at Iris watching Sammy. Even with her eyes on him, she's punching buttons on her phone, stealing the occasional glance at it.
"How long have you worked for Sammy?" I ask.
"Five years," she replies. "But I got promoted to my current position a year ago."
"And how long does someone in your current position usually last?" I ask.
She doesn't answer. She just goes back to watching Sammy and typing into her phone.
I hear a commotion in the bar area. People start pouring in from the bar. Then the kitchen doors swing open. In walks a very tall old man wearing a gray suit. He's with a short, bespectacled man in a white tuxedo shirt and red bow-tie, and the two of them head straight for the booth where Sammy is sitting.
I recognize the short man from one of the local news programs I'd watched earlier.
"Curt's the tall one," Iris says to me. "The short one is Gary Hennessy from Channel Eight."
I've never seen Curt before, but I know who he is even quicker than I recognize Hennessy. He's what I'd hoped the smell wasn't.
Curt is a vampire, even more ancient and powerful than Sammy. And he's looking right at me. And he is not pleased.
Comments? Questions? Criticism?