My head pounded like it had been used for a battering ram as I slowly came-to. White-hot pain jolted through my body when I craned my neck to look around. I was in a car, lying on the floorboard wedged between the front and back seats. My hands were bound behind my back and my ankles were lashed together. The brain fog was beginning to lift but I still had no idea how I’d wound up in such luxurious surroundings. One eye was swollen almost shut. My teeth hurt. I reconnoitered with my tongue. They were all in place, but my lower lip was busted and swollen. Somebody had hammered me, but good. I hoped the other guy looked worse than me, but I wouldn’t give odds on it. Above the road noise I heard a metallic click and smelled smoke—tobacco smoke.
“You don’t look so good, honey bun.” From the corner of my good eye a blonde appeared. She looked down at me, chin resting on forearm resting on seatback. Good looking dame, mid twenties, face and hair like prime Lombard, but Mrs. Gable had plummeted out of the sky nearly a decade ago so I hadn’t died and gone to Heaven after all. Deciding a better look was worth the pain, I braced and executed a half roll. My back now butted against the seat, my head rested in the V of the seat and back door. She took another drag on the cigarette, pursed her lips and blew the smoke at me. “I’d offer you one hon, but George wouldn’t like that, would you Georgy Porgy?”
Seeing the driver for the first time, thanks to my painful repositioning, brought the reason for my current predicament flooding back. It was George Demakis in the flesh, owner of the Golden Ladle Hotel and Casino, Sin City’s newest house of get-rich-quick illusion. Since VJ Day, Vegas had been deluged with ex-GIs, “chorus girls” shopping their wares to stake their fame and fortune in Hollywood, and other assorted miserable postwar dreamers trading mundane America for one delusion of grandeur or another. I was merely another piece of flotsam floundering in the Nevadan desert, having traded my Marine Corps olive drab for a dapper lightweight suit and a private eye license. One of Demakis’ competitors had hired me to test the waters in the upstart’s establishment. If I could find evidence of the slightest legal infraction in Georgy Porgy’s operation, I stood to score enough to get the hell out of this damnable desert with honor and manhood still attached, never having to look back. Keeping a sharp eye on the roulette table finally gave me the mark I needed. But getting waylaid from behind in the parking lot dampened my fortunes. Demakis ended my reminiscing when he shook off Blondie’s question with a sharp look and a grunt that would’ve made a wild boar proud.
Time and miles passed. The soreness wracking my body eased and I managed to wrangle my way onto the back seat. An occasional road sign reminded me we were traveling east on Route 66. Demakis spoke sparingly, as if words were as precious as water, or the silver dollars his one-armed bandits occasionally spit up. We passed through Albuquerque as the sun gave up the ghost behind us and darkness covered the desert like a funeral shroud. Around midnight the headlights announced we were entering Tucumcari. A few minutes later Demakis pulled the Cadillac to a stop in the parking lot of the Blue Swallow Court. He shut off the engine, opened the glove box and handed Rita (whose named I’d learned from the scant chatter of the day) a snub-nosed revolver. “Shoot the son-of-a-bitch if he tries anything,” were Georgy Porgy’s parting words as he exited the Caddy and strode inside the office to check us in for the night.
Ever get the feeling that things aren’t exactly what they seem? Yeah, me too. Rita placed two cigarettes between her luscious full lips, thumbed her lighter, and lit up. Reaching out a delicate, smooth-skinned arm, she placed one in my waiting mouth. I sucked in greedily, held the smoke a long time, and exhaled slowly, savoring the taste and calming effect. “So, what’s a nice girl like you doing with a piece of shit like George Demakis?” I said after a second long pull. Rita turned and rested her knees on the seat. She leaned toward me, her ample cleavage spilling over the top of her dress. Delicately she raked my cheek with painted nails and smiled the smile of seductiveness. Holding the barrel of the revolver against her lips in a “shush” manner, she flicked her tongue, stroking the barrel up and down. She winked. I got the message. At least I hoped so.
Returning to our room after parking the car inside the freestanding garage next door, Demakis allowed me the luxury of using the bathroom, door wide open, of course. Afterward, he grabbed the rope, removed my shoes, and retied my ankles. He then ordered me to lie on the spare bed. He untied my hands and gave me the pleasure of rubbing the circulation back into them for a couple of minutes. Then he tied my hands to opposite stanchions of the bed’s headboard. As Rita disappeared into the bathroom, Demakis stripped down to his skivvies and stretched out on the spacious double bed. A few minutes later Rita sashayed from the bathroom in a skimpy nightgown, taking her sweet time passing my bed. I forced my eyes not to follow as she passed and slipped into bed with Demakis. I heard him grunt, and then their beside lamp switched off, leaving the room in darkness.
You imagine a muffled “pop” sometime during the night’s darkest hour. And then a soft, warm body slips into your bed and snuggles tightly against you. The cold touch of steel at your throat startles you and you think, This is it. But the blade moves to hands and then feet and you’re free. A feathery hand rubs your stomach before sliding ever so slowly downward. And then, as she strokes you, you realize it isn’t a dream at all. You roll to face her, touching her lightly at first, and then more ardently as her breathing increases and low moans emanate from her luscious lips. And then you’re joined as one, moving in and out, a timeless rhythm, slowly at first, and then steamrolling until she shudders, clenches, and moans your name over and over against your chest. Slowly you descend from that pinnacle of pinnacles, finally drifting off into a sound and peaceful sleep you haven’t experienced since before the war. With the first rays of dawn creeping through the curtains you wake. You sense you’re alone and hesitantly open your good eye. You are alone. Hoping against hope, you listen for sounds stirring in the bathroom, but are greeted only by silence, a silence so sharp it cuts to the marrow. Finally, you muster the will to crawl from the bed. You visit the bathroom, get dressed, and notice the still lump in the adjoining bed. The pillow with a gray-stained hole; the corpse lying in death’s last pose beneath bloodied sheets. There is no goodbye note that you would gladly trade for the thousand dollars stacked in fresh twenties on the dresser. You take one more glance around the room, and close the door behind you.