February 22, 2018

Vegas Snap Preview: Chapter 2

Tequila Eyes

(June 26, 2007. The Previous Evening)


Buddy Crawford strummed and picked his electric guitar until his numb fingers bled. Still in sync with the group, he was glad the last set was almost done. The drum roll crescendo came right on cue as the drummer’s sticks rattled cymbals with a whirlwind flourish. After the last note, the nightclub’s patrons were either too tired to clap or too drunk to care. They shuffled out the thick oak door of Black Hearts.

Buddy moseyed to the long bar for a nightcap. Sipping a salty Margarita, he swiveled his butt on the bar stool, turning to scan the almost empty club. Quiet now, no band sounds. Ceiling spotlights were dimming but still mirrored the black, red, and purple walls. The Black Hearts logo painted on the center of the dance floor faded as lights softened. Only the glass shelves of liquor bottles behind the bar still shined, like garish jewelry at a carnival. Band members reclined in cushy lounge chairs.

When the place was packed, during one of the band’s breaks, Buddy spied two young women clinging to a middle-age man who kept throwing down drink money. The more they drank, the deeper the man sunk into the couch along the far wall. The women became bolder, one on each side of him. They rubbed his knees and then moved their hands up to his thighs. Buddy mused: Who says money can’t buy love? Okay, lust.

Irked by the one-free-drink policy for the band, Buddy devised a plan to snag a larger share. After the bartender left to retrieve more ice, Buddy slinked toward the end of the bar. Saw no one watching so he crawled on the sticky floor mat behind the bar. Sweat streaked his neck. Hands trembled. Spying the prize, he swiped a tequila bottle from the lowest shelf and tucked it under his black denim jacket.

Scooting back around to his bar stool, he sat there, smug and mute. But it was a dumb-ass idea. Buddy was not a clever a thief. A band member had glimpsed his pathetic, clumsy moves and tipped off the bartender. Too bad the returning bartender was also the club’s owner – and a weightlifter.

“Nice move, Buddy” said the owner. “If I ever see you in here again, I’m calling the cops.” He frisked Buddy and fished out the bottle. Then he hoisted him like a barbell, motioned to the ratfink in the band to open the door, flipped Buddy sideways, and heaved him almost headlong into the gravel parking lot.

“Don’t come back,” the owner yelled from the club’s doorway. “The band will split up your share.” He tossed the tequila bottle at Buddy, and sneered, “Consider this your last paycheck.” The bottle rolled and landed near Buddy’s scraped and shaken body, now sprawled on the cold ground. Another band member came outside to bring him his guitar, laid it by his side, said nothing, and left.

Buddy staggered and swayed when he tried to stand. At least he had his guitar, and the booze. As he walked from the club, he unscrewed the tequila bottle cap and took a few bitter swigs. He kept drinking and walking. And thinking: Flat broke, how would he ever pull off his next cocaine fix? For now, the tequila would have to do.

Holding his guitar case by the handle with one hand, Buddy pitched the half- empty tequila bottle with the other hand into a dumpster. He had enough. The bottle ricocheted inside the dumpster. It shattered as it collided with all the other broken glass. The foul mixture of whiskey and beer stung his nostrils: Boilermaker fumes to choke a brain-dead fool. He tilted forward into the final hours of another lost night.

Buddy did not look back at Black Hearts. But he heard the buzz of its tawdry neon sign, two black hearts crying red. Before heading for his 1987 Honda Civic coupe, he would not be denied his routine side-trip to that nearby vacant sandy lot. There, he’d savor a cigarette. Just chill out. Let the desert night stars above Las Vegas serenade him.

His right leg aching, he hobbled toward the long irregular lot. He could already picture his favorite smoking spot, the base of that steel post that held up those twin billboards, its ads visible in opposite directions from the Boulder Freeway. He liked to lean up against that cool metal cylinder and rest his head on it. Soak up the stillness and solitude. Await an arid evening breeze to soothe his weary soul.

At three a.m., his left hand clutched the guitar, and the tobacco burnt fingers of his right hand twirled one of his last Marlboros. Yellowed, crooked teeth and chapped lips welcomed the cigarette. Buddy had just lit up when he sensed a strange, raw smell kicked up by the desert wind. Human or animal, he wasn’t sure. Then, as he rounded the corner of the brittle, cracked  sidewalk, maybe 50 yards from the metal post, he saw it.

A body was hung upside down from a rope suspended by a pulley that dangled and twisted below the platform of the left-side billboard. Blood had splattered on the metal post. Buddy shook his head from side to side. Was it the tequila’s eyes or his own? Could this hanging corpse really be headless?

Shaken, he dropped his guitar case. The case hit a rock and clicked open, his black Ibanez Munky guitar tumbling out. Aghast, he gagged on his glowing cigarette, cast it aside, and slumped to the dusty ground. He scraped his knee on a chunk of gravel. The puncture pierced the black denim fabric, inflicting a nasty cut.

Lying there awhile to make sure he wasn’t hurt too badly, Buddy rose to gaze at the appalling, swinging corpse. Yep, it sure looked like someone lopped off that guy’s head. And how could they have raised up the body so high on to that billboard platform?

About to split so he wouldn’t be tied to this dreadful scene, Buddy began to retrace his steps toward Black Hearts and his maroon Honda, when his right leather boot struck a small, solid object, something too soft to be a rock. My God, he mumbled, it’s a wallet … Must be the dead guy’s. He don’t need it now, but I sure do.

He picked up the bulging tri-fold and brushed off the dust with his shirtsleeve. Sure looked pricey. Hmmm, might be alligator. He opened it, and found a fat wad of 20s. When he saw a zipper compartment, he thought, oh, Lord, went this far. Might as well unzip her. He hoped for better than scratch-off lottery luck.

What he saw pleased and shocked and scared him. He hesitated when he realized they were all Franklins, more than he had seen in a long, long time. Don’t stop now, Buddy, he urged himself. He grabbed all the cash except a pair of 20s and stuffed the thick stack into his own wallet. Like after a good, generous meal, he felt full again.

Buddy took the kerchief from around his neck and used it to wipe off any fingerprints he might have left inside and outside the billfold. He gently set the wallet down where he first found it, then, walked in calm but quick paces from the vacant lot.

Miles away in his rundown Honda, Buddy keyed 911 on his cell to report the crime. Just seemed like the right thing to do. “Who’s calling?” the dispatcher asked. Aware of his prior drug busts, he said, “Nobody you know” and hung up. At home, a few hours before dawn, he counted all the bills – by far his best windfall in years.

$ $ $

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    1. Julia Grace Vogel says:

      I love the suspense. You keep the reader on edge. I can hardly wait to see what’s next!

    2. marnya says:

      I agree with Julia…you keep the reader on edge and at the same time give us an introduction to the cops on the scene!

    3. paul says:

      No, sorry. This is copyrighted material and cannot be used without the author’s and publisher’s permission.

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