Authors: Marlys Millhiser
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For my sister members of Femmes Fatales, with whom I share a newsletter, a Web site (http://members.aol.com/femmesweb), and a very special bond.
Charlie Greene and her author would like to acknowledge the help of Tony Fennelly on astrology, Gail Larson on blackjack, Jay Millhiser on Vegas and aircraft, Lloyd Boothby of the Hilton in the title, and editor Kelley Ragland for a patience that surpasses all understanding.
And to Caryl, Pat, Terry, and Barry and Terry in Dallasâthey know who they are.
it was a sign of the times.
Just off a jet, she walked along a concourse at McCarran International Airport beside her boss and between rows of bleeping, blinking, whistling slots. Her notebook computer in her briefcase so she could send and receive office E-mail, one man passing her talking on his cellular and another approaching her doing the same.
She didn't know about the guys on the cellulars, but Charlie was on vacation.
Sure didn't feel like it.
The men on the phones wore shorts. The one coming at her looked into her eyes without seeing her, his vision directed to his conversation. He was a hunk. The one passing her said, “No, Benny, I keep telling youâin Vegas, it's gaming, not gambling.” This man was not a hunk. But he did have an air of prosperity.
“Merlin's Ridge?” The hunk's face suffused with an anger that would have made anyone else ugly. “Never heard of it.”
“Babe,” her employer burst into her thoughts. “Baggage claim's this way. Pay attention. What am I always telling ya?”
Charlie turned to follow him just as the hunk said, “What I do in your plane is your business. I wasn't flying Yucca on your time. You fire me and I'll open upâ”
“Hello?” Richard Morse, head of Congdon and Morse Representation, Inc., stood nose-to-nose with Charlie. Congdon and Morse was a talent agency in Beverly Hills, Charlie its lone literary agent. “Anybody home there?”
“Did you hear what he'd open up?”
“Did I hear what who would open up?”
“The hunk on the phone.” Charlie pointed to where the guy, his cellular, and Mr. Prosperous had been replaced by a whole new crowd.
I knew I needed a vacation, but eavesdropping on strangers and then getting worked up over it?
“Knew you needed a vacation, but jeez,” Richard all but repeated her thoughtsâwhich was even scarier. “No hunks for you tonight. Room service and sleep. Boss's orders.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Charlemagne Catherine Greene checked into the Las Vegas Hilton, unpacked, and stared out the wall of window at the blinking, sparkling, blatant Vegas night. A blimp in the sky sported garish advertising that zipped in flashing lights across its side. An acquaintance had once remarked that Vegas took tacky to an art form. Too true.
She slipped into a long knit dress with a slit up the side, matching jacket, and sandals and headed for the lobby shuttle that would take her the few blocks away to the Strip.
Charlie, probably a little over half Richard Morse's age, knew vacation for her didn't mean sleep. She'd have her room service in bed for breakfast. At about noon.
If everything in one's life had some meaning, which Charlie highly doubted, Richard must function to reinforce her resolution to remain a single mom who seeks fulfillment in her career.
Winning at both the slots and the blackjack table at Bally's, she paused at the Flamingo Hilton's snack bar for dinner and played video poker at the booze bar over a free margaritaâpostponing losing all her winnings in the next round, people watching.
Funny, how you could enjoy being alone in a crowd.
“This your lucky night?” a suggestive voice suggested behind her. An arm slid around her waist.
Charlie removed it and drained her margarita. “Apparently not.”
Well, you're the one who had to wear a slit in your skirt that opens up a whole new side of you. Damn near to your navel.
It does not come to my navel.
Your underwear then.
Charlie slid off the stool, no longer deliciously alone, and came down hard on the foot belonging to the suggestive arm.
“I suppose I can be thankful you're not wearing those damn high heels.”
“Evan.” Wonderful. Charlie had just snubbed a client. “God, I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting to see you until, what, Tuesday?”
“Apparently not,” he mimicked. Evan Black, with his sleek ponytail, a black ninjalike outfit, dark eyes in an olive-tanned face, a boyish smile, and round tinted eyeglasses. “Just out looking for trouble and spotted you the minute I walked in.”
“I thought some creep was trying to pick me up.”
“I am. I mean, he is.” He nodded to the bartender to bring her another margarita, ordered a beer for himself.
Evan had a home here and one in Beverly Hills. The umbilical cord linking L.A. to Vegas was charged by proximity, smog, jet contrails, cash, the flight from taxation, cash, lack of snow you couldn't sniff, entertainment talent and its money.
Evanâscreenwriter, director, and producer of low-budget specialized featuresâhad cleaned up at the film festivals and often on the megabuck-proven story formulas at the box office, as well. So the studios making them had begun to court him and he'd sought out Congdon and Morse to represent him. Maybe because in the world of rapacious entertainment conglomerates, Charlie's agency was relatively small potatoes too.
Evan could bomb in the hundreds of thousands instead of hundreds of millions. But when he hit, it was mostly profit. He could attract star talent for peanuts because he offered memorable scripts that taxed and excited them.
A brand-new client worth the earth. And she'd stomped on his foot.
“So, how much have you lost?” He kissed her neck, forgiving her.
“I've been winning, smart cheeks, and I've got the rest of the night to lose it. Wanna help?”
In the spirit of Robin Hood, they decided to hit the Barbary Coast and Loopy Louie's because she'd earned her winnings in the posher casinos.
They were at the craps table at the Barbary, losing, and she'd paused to watch the rippling lights on a keno board ripple across the lenses of Evan's glasses when, over his shoulder, she saw the hunk from the airport. He was in earnest conversation with a blonde in black leggings, high-heeled boots, and a vest that almost hid her nipples.
Evan turned to follow her stare. “That's Caryl. She's my pilot. Cute, right?”
“I was looking at the guy. He's a pilot too. She looks more like a bar girl.” With the empty tray wedged against her hip, she looked exactly like one.
“Young pilots don't make much money. Too many people wanting the fun, glamorous jobs, so the pay sucks until they get mucho hours. Unless lightning strikes, they need a day job. In Caryl's case, a night job.”
Charlie lost interest in the pilots when Evan's luck changed and the dealer began shoving chips his way. But when his winnings had piled into neat rows of some height, Charlie's client decided he would cash them in.
“You can't do thatâyou're on a streak, you idiot,” she let loose before she could talk sense to herself. She'd become so involved in his winning, she felt like a participant instead of a bystander.
“She's my agent,” Evan explained to the fragile woman next to him. Her head shook with palsy in sync with her diamonds strobing back the flashing lights that careened around a
sign above a bank of slots.
She squinted up at Charlie and patted Evan's hand with jeweled fingers. “You should look into a manager, honey.”
“Hey, in the spirit of fairness, Charlie,” he said on the way out, “I have to lose my winnings from the Barbary at Loopy's.”
They'd reached the delightfully tawdry entrance to Loopy Louie'sâit resembled the entrance to a harem in Cecil B. De Mille's seriously senior-citizen dreamsâwhen she saw her pilot hunk again. He was exiting the harem's blue-pink-and-gold doorsâtastefully rendered in neon and mirrorsâwith a somber muscleman on each side. Shoulder-to-shoulder on each side. Without them, the pilot in the middle might be staggering. These guys weren't eunuch harem guards. One had a shaved head, the other shoulder-length curls. The pilot looked bewildered, half-aware, in the process of swelling up around the eyes and neck, but the swelling had not yet discolored.
Mind your own business, Charlie. “Evan, did you see that? The pilot who was arguing with your Caryl, and those goons muscling him out the door?”
“No. Maybe he was counting cards. Come on, agent mine, you have a duty to help me lose money.”
Charlie, mind your own business.
“Evan, they've hurt him.” But she'd no more than said that than she lost sight of the three too.
The sidewalk was very nearly a solid mass of people, like the sidewalks of Manhattan at morning rush hour, but without the rush. These people sort of slushed instead, slowly pushed for a better view of the “volcano” erupting at the Mirage. It sounded more like a hot-air balloon than an eruption, more of a whooshing noise than an exploding one.
Fire, rising on rather obvious natural-gas jets, but no rocks, spurted thirty to forty feet into the night from a mound in a pond. It erupted on waves of canned music and creative lighting that reflected off upturned faces even here across the street.
She found the three men again because they stood at the curb and took no notice, even when colored lights on cascading water pretended to be flowing lava and steam hissed up out of the pond. The air filled with the scent of stage smoke and raw natural gas, of car exhaust and beer-laden human breath.
The mysterious beacon of the Luxor's pyramid sliced into the heavens, where countless jets, wingtips flashing, circled the landing pattern at McCarran or soared off to find reality. A Steven Spielberg brainstorm run amuck.
And down at Charlie's level, an ambulance tried silently to thread traffic too packed to get out of its way. Traffic moved, but in a slow, solid mass, as if welded by headlights and tail-lights and blaring horns, side-road and pedestrian traffic ignored until the eruption ended. Interest in this extravaganza that played every fifteen minutes after sunset and alternated with the pyrotechnics of exploding pirate ships next door at the Treasure Island Casino attested to the turnover of tourists and money on the Strip.