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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 27


  At the counter, a different waitress flirts with an aspiring writer who’s probably been trying to fuck her and finish his screenplay for months. He asks for a side of guac and she tells him that it’s two dollars extra. That’s how it works here. The guy who deserves free guac doesn’t get free guac.

  Forty wipes his mouth and pushes his plate away. “You know,” he says. And now he reaches for the big guns. “My sister loves me very, very much.”

  “I know that, Forty,” I say. “I do.”

  He runs his hands through his greasy hair. “You got Love,” he says. “Don’t be a pig. Stop looking for money. It doesn’t make you happy. All the money and all the fame, it’s nothing without love.”

  I remind him of his family hunkered down at Love’s house. His eyes are empty. He is the boy named Forty, the hapless, hopeless brother of Love. “Yeah,” he says. “There’s nothing Ray and Dot love more than a party, even a search party. My fam-damn-ily, they’re something, right?”

  He’s an outsider and he knows it and he’ll never stop punishing them. When I tell him they love him, I sound like I’m lying. Lies sound like lies and it’s impossible to know which came first, the selfish, repugnant nature of this man or the missteps of his nurturers. What I do know: If he stays around, he will destroy everything between me and Love. His family is right. He is self-destructive. But he is also outwardly destructive. Killing him will be the greatest risk of my life—I could lose Love—but it will, of course, yield the greatest reward. I will have Love without Forty.

  I pick up the check. I pay cash; I’ve learned.

  Outside, Forty picks at his teeth with a toothpick. “Well, I’m off to Vegas to bang out another script.” His car pulls up, big and black.

  “Forty,” I say. “I know you’re not going to write.”

  He laughs. “Oh right. Ha. But it’s good, you know, good practice for the talk shows and shit,” he says. Fucking asshole.

  “Hey,” I say. “What do you want me to tell your family?”

  That vacant stare again. He knows they love Love more than they love him. I’m sure that’s true in most families, and some kids shrug it off. But other kids, kids like Forty, I bet he made this same face at every birthday party when Love got just a few more presents than he did and when her mom hugged her and just held on for a teensy bit longer. Forty did not get enough love. A lot of people don’t. But the thing is, he’s twinned with someone who got so much love that she is Love. And that’s got to be hard.

  He shrugs. “Let my mom stress out and starve for a few more days,” he says. “She’s been starting to pork up, Old Sport. We don’t want that, right?”

  My sympathy evaporates. “So you don’t want me to tell them you’re okay?”

  “They need to back off,” he says. “I’m not in fucking high school.” Reverse psychology 101 and his eyes pop. “You know what I do want though,” he begins. “Old Sport, you should come to Vegas. We can bang out a new script, Hangover meets Hangover!”

  The Hangover can’t meet the Hangover because the Hangover is the Hangover and I tell him no, maybe next time, definitely next time.

  He shrugs. I see a bag of drugs in his car, literally, a bag of drugs. He raises his hand for a high five and the next time I touch him, it will be different. I will be strangling him.

  42

  SEVEN thousand hours later, I am getting close to Vegas and the lights of the city twinkle in the distance the way they did in Swingers. I made it. And it wasn’t easy. When I told Love that I had a “hunch” that Forty was in Vegas she was befuddled.

  “Joe,” she said. “I’m his twin. We have that psychic twin thing and I think I would be the one to know if he was in Vegas.”

  “I know what you mean,” I reasoned. I folded my shirts into one of Love’s black suitcases. “But I think when you’re upset like this, it has to affect your radar.”

  She sat on the bed. “Should I go with you?”

  I kissed the top of her head. “No,” I said. “I got this.”

  “You really want that Boyfriend of the Year trophy, don’t you?” she asked teasingly.

  So I fucked her good and hard and then I went to Hollywood Boulevard to pick up some items for my Captain America costume—not the superhero, the generic Vegas bro. I got a Colts jersey and a baseball cap. I let the guy at the store choose. I was feeling lucky. I was going to Vegas.

  And now I’m almost here, I see it in the distance, getting closer. My balls drop. It’s Vegas; it really is. It’s brighter than it is in the movies and it’s uglier as I get closer, every sign a threat. Last casino for twenty miles and last gas and I pull over. I put on my Dodgers hat. I tear the tag off my Colts jersey and pull it on. Mr. Average America! I get back on the road.

  On the strip, at a stop light, I see a woman pull her pants down, squat, and defecate. Tourists abound. People smoke cigarettes and push their babies in carriages and it’s hot and I want to stare at all of it, the sheer volume of lights, the width of the sidewalks, the throngs of people, young and old, fat and American. I allow myself a few minutes to dork out and blast Elvis and the fountains at the Bellagio are grander in real life. I tell Love I made it and she tells me to start at Caesars.

  “This isn’t a twin thing,” she says. “It’s a Forty thing. He says they have the best tables.”

  LOVE was wrong. Forty is not at Caesars and everything here is so grandiose. The floor of the casino is a sprawling wide pasture and the slot machines are immovable cows, blocking my view. There are pods of blackjack tables, people everywhere, blasting music, machines making noise. I have a burner phone. I could call him. But I don’t want to call him until I have eyes on him. Love calls again.

  “So my dad got word from our host at the Bellagio,” she says. “Apparently he’s over there.”

  “Okay,” I say. “I’m going there now.”

  I walk fast. The air is dry and random dudes high-five me— Colts!—and I listen to my pool mash-up and I reach the fountains. There is so much pomp leading up to the front entrance—oversized revolving doors, giant glass flowers on the ceiling, behind the front desk. Businessmen and hookers fill a lounge. I pass a bay of blackjack tables where the minimum bet is ten dollars. I move on, weaving my way through cocktail waitresses in skimpy sequined getups, couples fighting, a woman on the phone with her bank—CASH ADVANCE—a toddler crying, a mother telling him to hold on baby, Mommy’s almost done, as if gambling is a job.

  It’s disorienting the way every area is identical, tables and slots, tables and slots. I reach a clearing and I see a Hangover slot machine and he’s not there and I walk toward another mess of tables, white leather chairs, more of a palace than Caesars, and that’s why Forty is here, sitting in a white chair at a blackjack table. His hair is a wreck. He’s wearing two pairs of fucking Wayfarers, one pair on his head, one on his face. His collared shirt is wrinkled and his feet are grimy and he’s got them propped up on two chairs, like he owns the joint. He’s playing three hands, smoking two cigarettes. Chips fall out of his pocket and he doesn’t bend over to retrieve them. I want to bash his head into the table but the ceilings are high and the cameras are everywhere. I sit down at a slot machine. Texas Tea. I put in ten dollars. I text Love: I’ve looked and looked and I haven’t seen him but I’ll keep looking.

  She writes back: My dad says thank you. You are the best.

  I write back: We’ll find him.

  I play two cents a round on Texas Tea and Forty plays a thousand dollars a hand on his three hands. He’s losing. He is loud. Even several feet away, I can hear him. He sits with a hooker and he periodically grabs her neck and licks her chest. A Chinese lady stares at him disapprovingly. “I’m sorry if I offend you, honey, but this is Vegas and if I want to blow lines off Miss Molly Tupelo’s lovely, enhanced chesticles, then I will do it all night long.”

  The Chinese woman gets up and walks away and I can’t believe this city is so crowded.

  Forty loses a hand. “Is that cuz I pissed off the
Chinawoman?” he asks. “Because if that’s the case, then you’re gonna have to call the pit boss.” He smashes the table with his drink. “Fuck this!”

  Forty walks five feet and sits down at another table. And it all happens again. A girl in a short skirt sits down next to him. A new old Asian woman tries to sit down too. Forty grabs the seat. “Does it look like I want company, lady?” He knocks back his whiskey. “Fuckin’ A. Back off.”

  The girl in the short skirt laughs and tells him he’s funny. He says she can stay but only if she’s lucky and she says she hopes so and I officially hate it here.

  The dealer tries. “Maybe a little lady luck would do you some good, sir.”

  Forty sneers. “I’d rather have some face cards. You know what? Fuck this.”

  And he’s up and I leap to follow him but no. He sits at a neighboring table. He lights up next to a pregnant woman.

  “Do you mind?” she asks. She points at her protruding belly.

  “You should be at a non-smoking table,” he says. He blows smoke into the air. “Or really, you should be home. You fucking pregnant people, you own the whole world. Do you really need to own this too? I can’t smoke anywhere because of you and you really need to tell me I can’t smoke in fucking Vegas?”

  The dealer asks him to quiet down and Forty rises. “Do you know who I am? Motherfucker, I own this city. I just sold a screenplay that takes place in this fucking city for more money than you’ll see in your whole fucking life.”

  My hat itches and I have lost nine dollars at Texas Tea.

  The dealer is trying hard not to laugh. Forty knocks his drink onto the floor and snaps his fingers at a waitress. “I’m empty, sweetheart.”

  She looks tired. In Vegas they force the waitresses to walk around in sequined bathing suits and panty hose. The woman says she’s delivering drinks and she’ll be back to take orders after she drops off her drinks. Forty is irate. “I don’t care what you’re doing,” he says. “Why the fuck do you think I care what you’re doing, honey? Do I look like I care? I told you I want a gimlet. Goose. Gimlet. Now. As in now.”

  “When I come back I can—”

  He barks, “GET ME A FUCKING GOOSEY GOOSE GIMLET.”

  She walks away and the boss man in the pit—I’ve seen Casino a thousand times—approaches Forty. “Mr. Quinn,” he says. “We’re so happy to have you back. I hope you’re having fun gaming with us.”

  “Rocco!” Forty says. “It’s a helluva lot more fun to game when you’ve got a nice big Goosey gimlet. What the hell is going on here?”

  Rocco tries to resolve the gimlet situation while Forty loses a few thousand more dollars and I win fifty-two cents at Texas Tea. Forty is on the move. I follow him. My pants itch.

  He cruises around the casino and every few feet, he ducks into a row of slot machines and takes a bump of blow. He stumbles up to a depressed-looking leggy girl in a tight dress at a slot machine and pulls her hair. She yelps.

  “What the fuck, dude? Get your hands off me!”

  “How much?” he asks. “I wanna go for a ride.”

  “I’m not a fucking hooker, motherfucker,” she says. “I’m a teacher.”

  “I can get hot for that,” he says. He reaches for her. “How much?”

  She smacks him with her purse. “Stop it.”

  He laughs. “Honey, honestly, by the look of your dress, you could use the money and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you know what I mean, jelly bean?”

  She spits at him and he doesn’t wipe off her saliva. He sits down at the machine. He loses a hundred dollars. A hooker witnesses his fight and approaches, so obvious—Vegas! Why didn’t Delilah just move here?—and she tells Forty she wants to party. He looks her up and down.

  “I’d love to sweetheart, but I’m not a homo.”

  She stares at him.

  He slips her a hundred dollar bill. “Take this C-note to the craps table and get it up there and do yourself a favor and go buy some tits.”

  She doesn’t register any emotion. She says thank you, baby and walks away and this is the most depressing place I’ve ever been. There are no clocks or windows and the people are either incredibly sloppy or incredibly overdressed.

  Forty walks up to a craps table and spills a drink. People boo him. “Yeah,” he says. “Boo fucking hoo. Do you people know that I have a two-picture deal at Annapurna? Yeah. Have fun with your boring fucking lives.”

  He walks away. Nobody at the table knows what Annapurna is. He sits down at a new blackjack table and gets a marker for fifty grand. People are gathering to watch and he is bragging about being a huge writer. When people ask if he’s here alone, he says, “I’m with my girlfriend, Love. She’s upstairs.”

  My girlfriend, Love. I shudder. The song “Born in the U.S.A.” comes on and he groans. “I hate Bruce Springsteen,” he says. “Can we do something about this? Goddamn whiny Democrat, we get it. You’re from New Jersey and you think it’s cool to be poor. Just fuck off already.”

  The dealer says he prefers the song “Thunder Road.”

  Forty huffs. “You also probably think a Chevy is as solid as a Beamer. No offense . . . but there is such a thing in this world as fucking wrong. Like these cards. Is there a rule against giving out tens in this shithole? And about a hundred years ago I ordered some gimlets.”

  He sat down ten seconds ago but nobody tells him he is wrong and “Thunder Road” is a great fucking song. I sit down at a Hangover slot machine. I lose ten dollars in a few seconds and Forty splits tens. I know this because the dealer calls it out to the pit boss and the people standing around are gasping.

  He loses.

  A newly married couple enters the bar and everybody claps and Forty stands up and whistles with his hands. He motions for the band to stop playing. The lead singer looks at the doorway where a man stands with his arms crossed. He nods. This really is Forty’s playground. Forty goes onstage and grabs the mic.

  “First of all,” he says. “Congratufuckinglations!”

  Everybody cheers. He is the good guy. Fun guy. He high-fives the groom. He kisses the bride on the cheek. “Now, let’s have some fun,” he says. “As it happens, I am here to celebrate too. I just sold two scripts to Megan Fucking Ellison.” He waits for a reaction. Still nobody knows her name. “Point is, I made some money and I wanna spread the love around!” Applause, obviously. “And this is what I wanna do. Groom, get the fuck up here.”

  The groom gets the fuck up here and he is a small guy, shorter than his wife. He seems shy. He has a big smile, big teeth, they’re too big for his face. His wife cheers. “What’s your name, son?”

  “Greg,” he says. “Mr. and Mrs. Greg and Leah Loomis from New Township, New Jersey!”

  Greg has probably never said that many words out loud to a group this size. Forty motions for everyone to quiet down and he waves the bride onstage. He puts his arm around Greg. “Greg,” he says. “You got a beautiful bride. And you got a long life ahead.”

  There is a mixed response. Some laugh. Some are disgusted.

  “So why not let me give you guys a wedding present you’ll remember forever,” he says. “Greg,” he raises his eyebrows up and down and up and down. “I’ll give ya ten if ya let me kiss your wife. Right here. Right now.”

  Greg the groom doesn’t punch Forty. People boo. They hiss. Some people whistle. They want to see it. Forty takes five thousand-dollar chips out of his pocket.

  “One, two, three, four, five!” he exclaims.

  More of the same, booing and cheering—America—and the bride is pleading with the husband. I think she’s saying something about the mortgage. The groom is turning redder by the second and the bride does a shot and Forty plays with his chips and finally the bride wins; she is the alpha, she will choose their vacations, program the DVR, demand him to renovate the man cave he undoubtedly has where he roots for his teams, eats his salsa. No guac for these two; they’re not from that part of America.

  She finishes slapping on lip
stick and she gets up onstage. Forty kicks, yes! He dips the bride. He grazes her boob and he never said anything about feeling her up—booing and cheering—and he leans over and grabs her ass, hard, and he shoves his tongue down her throat. I watch the groom. He looks broken; ten minutes ago he was in love, he was just married. And now he’s just fucked over. Forty releases the bride and she wipes her mouth and she puts her hand out and Forty tosses the chips on the floor and pumps his fists.

  So now, of course, there are a million people who would kill this guy. The lead singer takes the mic and the bride hugs the groom but you can tell Forty ruined their marriage. Their odds of happiness are lower now than they were before they met Forty Quinn.

  Forty takes off again, meandering through the floor of the casino. I follow him and text him from my burner phone: It’s snowing at the Sapphire.

  Forty writes back: ?

  Me: It’s Slim. New phone. Your sister’s looking for you.

  Forty: Heavy snow? Better than last time I hope

  Me: Yes. Sapphire in twenty.

  Forty: Leaving Bellagio now

  But he’s not leaving Bellagio now. He’s settling into another white leather chair, motioning for the dealer to deal, as if he doesn’t know that the dealer can’t deal to him while he’s texting. He writes: I heard there’s hella ice out there too.

  I confirm that I have hella ice and I park myself at a slot machine with a lobster theme. I insert my ticket, now worth only $2.11. Forty is the world’s least interesting man, bragging to the disinterested players around him about his career being on fire, as if people came to this place to talk about work.

  My machine goes berserk. The screen changes and an animated lobsterman introduces himself to me. The woman next to me says it’s a bonus round and the fisherman reaches into the water and pulls out cages of lobsters. My $2.11 turns into $143.21. The house doesn’t always win and I know when to walk away. I take my ticket to a machine and cash out. I text Forty: Snow ice and snow bunnies too gotta come now.