Authors: Robert Grossbach
It was Kathy. Al took out three large stacks of bills. “Yeah, sweetheart,” he called. “Be there in a minute.”
He heard her start down the stairs. “Can I help you with something?”
He froze. Two more steps, and she would see himl For just an instant, he felt his throat go dry, his vision blur. Then, recovering,
he yelled, “No, no, I’m coming up! I just came to get some of my stuff.”
He jammed wads of bills into his pockets. “Oh, no, just photographs, letters, that sort of thing.” His clothes were bulging.
He crammed several hundreds into his sleeves, a few more into his shorts, tens into his socks. Then he returned the bag to
the suitcase, and the suitcase to the closet. He felt like a scarecrow. I got more stuffing than a sausage, he thought. He
walked stiffly up the steps and met Kathy at the top.
“Willie’s daughter called,” he said. “She invited me and Joe over to her place for a few days.”
“And you’re going?” Kathy said.
“After she missed the funeral and all?”
Al winced. The logic of lying always required more untruth. Lies multiplied like living things. “She said one of her boys
had a hundred-six fever, and that her husband was away at a dental convention. The kid had the measles or somethin’, and she
was afraid to leave him.”
He and Kathy walked into the kitchen. “They have shots now for measles,” she said.
She shook her head. “Kid probably never took them. Some people.… And imagine, her husband’s a dentist.”
“Well, anyway, we’re goin’,” said Al. “It was nice of her to invite us.”
“I suppose,” said Kathy. “Come, sit down and have some coffee.” She walked to the stove to put on a pot of water.
As Al sat down, he heard what sounded like a thunderous crackling of crisp paper. Kathy turned to stare at him.
“These poor bones,” said Al, “they just ain’t as young as they used to be.”
Joe had been rushing around the apartment for a half hour, grabbing up underwear, shirts, pants, and toiletries. There was
no method to his packing; he simply stuffed everything into an old piece of luggage
and forced the lid down until it closed. A single suitcase sufficed for both his things and Al’s. When he’d finished, and
checked that all the burners were out on the Stove, and that no water dripped in the sink, and that the windows were shut,
he lifted his face to the ceiling and spoke to the air. “Willie, I didn’t pack for you, but I hope you’re gonna be there with
Fifteen minutes later, he met Al in front of the house. “How much money’d ya get?” he asked.
“I took around five thousand,” said Al. “You think that’ll be enough?” He had purchased two small burlap bags with draw-strings,
the sort that are intended for children going off to summer camp. He handed Joe a bag.
“I think we’ll be able to squeak by,” said Joe. “What’s this?”
“Two thousand five hundred. Put it in the suitcase; we’ll keep the rest on us.”
“You think it’s safe?” asked Joe, opening the luggage and jamming in the bag.
“Safer than when it was in that bank.” Al stared at the single suitcase. “You got everything in there?”
“You remember my shampoo? And my nail clipper?”
“Everything,” repeated Joe, “Includin’ your Preparation H. I got us clothes, underwear, toothbrushes, the works.” He reached
in his pocket. “And I picked this up for you.”
Al squinted at the small bottle. “What is it, I ain’t got my glasses.”
“B-complex plus pantothenic acid.”
“You hold it for me,” Al said warily.
They walked to Ditmars Boulevard and hailed a cab.
“Where to?” asked the driver.
“Airport,” said Joe.
Joe had no idea. He looked to Al, who shrugged. “The big one,” said Joe.
The taxi eased out into traffic. A half hour later they were speeding down the Van Wyck Expressway, about to enter the airport.
“What terminal?” asked the driver.
“Huh?” said Joe.
“The airline. I gotta know which building you’re goin’ to.”
“I dunno,” said Joe. “We don’t have our tickets yet.”
The cabbie shook his head. “Jesus!… Well, where you heading?”
“Vegas. Okay. You could try United, American, or TWA. Pick one.”
“TWA,” said Joe. It was the airline whose TV commercial he’d seen most recently.
The driver brightened. “Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.”
Five minutes later they pulled up in front of a bustling terminal. Streams of people rushed by in all directions, while cabs,
cars, and limousines jockeyed for position. Dozens of blue-uniformed skycaps pushed loaded baggage carts into and out of automatic
“You’ll like Vegas,” called the cabbie, as Joe retrieved
the suitcase from the trunk. “They got a lotta nice strippers there.”
When the taxi pulled away, Al said, “I think I’ll try one of those vitamins now.”
Joe opened the bottle, handed him an aspirin-sized tablet. “These are chewable, you don’t need water.”
Al put the pill in his mouth. “When are these supposed to work?”
“I don’t know,” said Joe. “Give ‘em a coupla minutes.”
A porter approached them. “Check you in, sir? Take your bag?”
“I don’t think so. We’re fine as is,” Joe said, and Al and he shuffled inside. “You wait here,” he said. “I’ll get the tickets.”
Leaving Al sitting on a bench, he strode to a mammoth counter whose sweep was broken by baggage weigh-in stations. “Two to
Las Vegas,” he told the clerk.
“What flight are you interested in?” asked the clerk.
“Next one out.”
“That’s Flight nine-one-eight,” said the clerk. “Leaves in
minutes. I believe you can still make it, if you hurry.”
“Fine,” said Joe.
“Just have to confirm there are seats available.” The clerk pressed a series of buttons, then stared at a small TV screen
in front of him. “No problem. Will this be a check or charge card, sir?”
“Cash,” said Joe. “How much?”
The clerk told him, and Joe peeled off the fare from a big roll of bills. “Gate six, upstairs,” the clerk called as Joe hastened
Al had moved. He was sitting in a special seat
that had a coin-operated television attached to the front. “Look at this,” he told Joe. “For a quarter you get twenty minutes.
Any channel you want. There was a woman here, but I seen her get up and leave, so I figured I’d use the rest of her time.”
Joe shook his head and waved the tickets. “This is what you’re thinking of? TV? We’re on our way to Las Vegas here!”
Al stood up. “That’s it? You just buy ‘em and that’s it?”
“That’s it. Come on, we’ll drop off the suitcase.”
“Amazing,” said Al. “You don’t need no reservations or nothing like that?”
“When do we got to be on the plane?”
Joe grinned. “About three minutes.”
Al blanched. “You’re kidding.”
Slowly, the 727 taxied to the head of the runway. “… flying most of the time at an altitude of thirty-seven thousand feet,”
the captain was explaining over the PA system. “The weather report ahead is good, and we expect little, if any, turbulence.
For your information, it’s sunny now in Las Vegas, with a temperature of eighty-four degrees. We request that all passengers
remain in their seats and refrain from smoking until the signs are no longer lit. Your flight attendants will do everything
in their power to insure your comfort. We’ll be back to see you all later; for now, thank you, and we hope you have a pleasant
trip.” Almost as soon as the voice clicked off, there was a loud roar from the engines. The seats and overhead racks began
“Whoa! What’s that rumblin’?” asked Al. He was next to a window.
“You askin’ me?” said Joe, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.
“I think the plane’s fallin’ apart.”
They began to move down the runway. “Just close your eyes,” said Joe. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I see the wing,” said Al, his voice rising. “It’s vibratin’ like crazy.” They picked up speed. “I think we’re shakin’ ourselves
The scenery outside began to blur. Runways, towers, other aircraft merged into a strung-out, ghostly continuum. “Oh, my God,”
said Al softly. “Oh, my God… Oh, my God…”
The deafening racket lessened, and the immense metal bird lifted gracefully from the ground.
“Oh, shit!” yelled Al.
They rose at a steep angle through the sultry afternoon air. Moments later, they were at a thousand feet, and still climbing.
Al turned to Joe, who hadn’t uttered a word. “That was all right,” he said.
Joe nodded stiffly. “Didn’t bother me at all,” he lied.
Al gazed out the window. “Amazin’,” he said. “The people look like ants.”
“Must be ants you’re seein’,” said Joe. “We ain’t that high yet.”
“Only one thing bothers me,” said Al.
“The captain. When he said, ‘We’ll be back to see you all later.’ Now, did he mean the whole crew at the same time?”
It was dusk when they landed at McCarran Airport. By the time they’d gotten a taxi and were heading down the Strip, it was
dark. Right from the beginning, Vegas was spectacular. A light show of unexcelled tawdriness, a decadent, rococo mecca of
sleaze before you were halfway down its first street.
“Hey, look, there’s the Tropicana!” said Al, as they rode by a giant, brightly flashing marquee. “And there’s the Aladdin!”
They passed Flamingo Road and turned onto Las Vegas Boulevard.
announced the crimson sign at the Sands.
countered a huge, blinking ochre panel at Caesars Palace.
“I heard of these places,” said Joe. “Don’t Johnny Carson always appear here?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Al. “Look, there’s the Riviera!”
Win a Car, 25$
advertised a sign.
Welcome Teamsters. Free Aspirin. Penny Slots. Craps. Casino. Hugo’s Rotisserie.
“You know where you’re goin’ yet?” asked the cab driver. At the airport, they’d told him to just drive through town until
they made up their minds.
“Maybe you could recommend something?” said Joe. The violent lighting had somehow intimidated him.
“It all depends what you’re lookin’ for,” said the driver. “Different places feature different things. You wanna gamble, there’s
a hundred joints you could pick. You wanna meet girls, the same. You lookin’ just to relax, to swim, to sun, that’s a different
story. You lookin’ for cheap, that’s another ballgame. It’s all according, see.”
“I think we’re mainly looking to gamble,” said Al. “But the other things are good, too.”
The driver seemed to consider. “Well… there’s a new place on Charleston Boulevard, opened maybe three weeks ago. They probably
ain’t booked yet. You wanna try there?”
“Sounds good to me,” said Al.
The taxi made a right turn and three blocks later stopped at the entrance of the Aces Up hotel. The marquee supported a sign
fifty feet high depicting a cowboy shooting at an ace-of-spades playing card. The 5000 multicolored incandescent lights that
comprised the sign had the eye-numbing intensity of flashbulbs. A constant stream of cars stopped at the curb, and dozens
of well-dressed men and glamorous women swept in and out of the lobby.
A uniformed man opened the door of Joe and Al’s cab. Al grinned at him sheepishly while Joe paid the cabbie. The doorman signaled
a bellhop, who removed their suitcase from the trunk. “I’ll bring this inside for you, sir,” said the boy.
Al smiled amiably. The doorman rocked back and forth on his heels. He cleared his throat. A tip, Al suddenly realized. Of
course, that’s what he was waiting for. Al reached in his pocket, handed the man a five-dollar bill.
“Thank you, sir!” said the doorman, and he ushered Joe and Al inside.
The lobby was shrouded by velvet carpeting that featured red and yellow aces of the various suits. Just about every available
surface was covered; the carpet crept from floor to walls to ceiling. The front desk was carpeted, as were the doors of the
men’s and ladies’ rooms. Carpeting ran up the sides of the gushing, multi-jetted, spotlighted center fountain onto the base
of the life-sized Sammy Davis Jr. statue, and into the bank of public telephones. It folded over the garbage pails and standup
ashtrays, and enclosed a machine that measured your blood pressure for a quarter.