The Truth About Everything

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The latest installation of the adventures of depraved author and lovable addict Joel Finnerty is a caper that spares no one: the mob, the government, religion, and is of course strung together with the patchwork of drugs, degeneracy, conspiracy, circus -like characters and old-man nudity that typifies a day in the life of America's most disturbed celebrity writer.

Submitted: June 12, 2011

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Submitted: June 12, 2011

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The Truth About Everything
By Matthew Ryan
He was a chunky boy, with a youthful pig-face and crew-cut, dirty blond spikes that screamed ‘fresh-out-of-the-Academy.’ The angled facades of his brass badge alternately flashed red and blue, refracting the ‘you-fucked-up lights’ that permeated the desert darkness. Tubby leaned with painstaking slowness and posturing onto the ledge of my driver’s side window, his pores leeching the warmth of donut lard and used car smell into an olfactory aura that bordered on visible. Half-sniff, half-grunt, eyes lazily tracing the contour of the vehicle’s exterior, he smugly took his time surveying the moment. The calm before the storm.
“License and registraaaa…,.” A short moment to peruse and compute, then “what the ffff…,?” his voice elevating as he instinctively reached for his revolver. Finally, he stammered, “Sir, step out of the car, and keep your hands and, uh…where I can …see them.” This night was about to get longer, something had you asked me an hour ago, I wouldn’t have thought possible.
Resisting the urge to correct my off-center Armani collar, I frowned to one side of my mouth and glanced gently to the passenger seat. My grandfather was still in the depths of oblivion, busting out of his skanky black halter-top and stuffed bra, twiddling his glow stick and dutifully sucking the mascara off his fingertips like they’d been dipped in sausage gravy. The cop chortled as if a pigeon has been accidentally lodged in his nostril, and as steamy filth rose dauntingly off this husky, out-of-breath, John-Candy lookalike and into the chilly air, I swiveled my gaze to the rear of the car. Since we were still in Nevada, or at least within a few hundred yards of the border one way or the other, the teenaged prostitutes might actually be the least of my problems, what with the menagerie of drugs, sex toys, licorice, and hay strewn about the interior of a formerly fabulous Porsche Cayenne. Forget that we’d just killed a French circus-midget from Cirque du Soleil and had Tom Monson, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church gagged and bound in the trunk; how the hell was I going to explain Dulce? As if reading my mind, I felt a warm breathy lick on my ear, sadly not from the pink-lipstick jailbait in the back but from victim zero of the world’s first goat-napping: the King of Spain’s cinnamon-tinged, prized mountain goat. Exuberant little bastard, I’ll give him that. The confounded snorting of a very out-of-his-element traffic cop broke my concentration. He stood with a comedic attempt at omnipotence, arms crossed and his chest puffed like an alpha pelican tending a roost, awaiting my move.
As I stepped out of the car, a twinge of that unidentifiable spice in opium-laced liquor still gurgled in my belly. I found myself wondering if DirecTV channels were the same numbers on prison TV’s as they are in Santa Monica. Stepping from my throne to the dusty edge of Highway 95, I scanned the distance of the Mojave horizon for inspiration, but there was nothing save for the blackness of desert tabletops and canyons, lit ever so slightly by fading embers of cerulean twilight. As with anything both fleeting and retreating, light becomes so magical, so mysterious, so enchanting in the evenings, especially when faced with the possibility that this sunset could be your last. It’s the same with lovers and old relatives, most of the time you hardly notice them, but once fading into the shadows, they somehow recapture your heart, albeit in moments too late. I felt a chilled breeze across my lower extremities, and as I raised my palms to the sky, partly in surrender and partly in a plea to the universe, my stylish dress shirt rose above my waist to reveal unequivocally that I was nude from the waist down. The surprise of the scene daunted the young cop a bit, and he staggered backwards across the yellow lines as he grimaced, unable to have controlled the instinctive urge to leer at the unexpected, in this case, a penis in the advancing moonlight. The girls in the back of the car giggled with glee, chirping like birds, speaking quickly to one another in German and Korean and some Eastern European language I didn’t immediately recognize. I doubted they understood each other’s words but there is something universally entertaining about a half-naked stranger. Porky’s brow furrowed again, though now he was looking past me. “Just what in the hell is going on here tonight?” He stammered, words coming out of his mouth with the same gusto that I imagine cheeseburgers went in. I rubbed my eyes and surveyed the scene, wondering where to begin.Grandpa was leaning out the driver’s side window, stripped down to his bra and my jeans, alternately rubbing the place where his nipples would be and suckling his fingers, the warmest, most placid look on his face. Where an 80-year-old man goes to score Ecstasy I‘ll never know. For a moment, the lines between justice and fate were blurred, and we all shared a collective moment, a beat of community that only comes from sheer absurdity, the energies of life wrapped in a visible tangible ribbon around this tiny oasis of humanity amidst a sea of darkness.
I squinted in the blare of headlights to make out the thin black letters engraved on Tubby’s name tag; where I fully expected a Billy or Bob or Billy Bob or some combination thereof, I was pleasantly surprised to find a “Ziggy.” We were well beyond the formalities of positive identification, and since Ziggy’s face had changed from one of shock to one of desperation and legitimate curiosity, I thought maybe I would sit down with the guy, tell him a bedtime story, like an uncle returning from war to discover a man whom he had only known as a child. This was not my first polka, but it was his. My best guess, he’d been a back-up lineman on a second-rate high school football team somewhere between Laughlin and Bullhead City, watched his only friend leave for a guard post on a military base up north, then failed at his only attempt at ranching on account of being so top-heavy and lacking dexterity. The only time he’d seen anything that wasn’t born and bred in southern Clark County was when he was a boy, and his family would take their monthly trips down to the Interstate 40 Flying J truck stop for the nightly buffet of gristly barbecue and mushy vegetables. He might have even become a trucker if not for his incredibly poor vision, something that kept him out of the military and limited him from any sort of advancement within law enforcement but for the graveyard shift on a lonely stretch of highway that nobody had any business traveling on to begin with. I figured with the allure of a cross-dressed blue-hair, a multicultural gaggle of young girls, a true specimen of the livestock persuasion, the leader of the fastest-growing world religion, the clothes and belongings of a murdered clown, and all the uppers, downers, pickers and grinners that the world had to offer, Ziggy and I could work this out.
My name is Joel Finnerty, I am 34 years old, and this kind of thing happens to me all the time. Contrary to most people in my field, I am neither a novelist nor am I depraved. There’s something about writers that universally pisses me off, every would-be novelist believes that they are depraved and every reprobate believes that they are a novelist, like living in your Mom’s basement and wearing the same tobacco-drenched clothes every day qualifies you for a seat at the bar next to Hemmingway. That’s why I am neither. Writing is not a job, it’s not a pursuit, it’s not an art; writing is an unfortunate side effect of life, a morbid means of casting off and dispelling all that the heavy doses of perversion and anesthetic cannot quite squelch. A novel, especially that self-indulgent, memoiresque shit, it’s like that moment downtown on a Saturday morning when you sidestep an enormous splatter of sidewalk vomit. Within the crusty chunks and streaks of red liquid is a moment of comedy, and some vaguely recognizable, partially digested items that provide an echo of history and a bit of intrigue, but basically, it’s a sick person committing a sick act in full view of the public and leaving behind a quite unsolicited pile of the waste that their insides couldn’t handle. Bind that up with a clever title and a catchy pen name and you have the next great American novel. Nothing personal.
Twelve hours ago, I was puffing a cigarette in my non-smoking room at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas when a slightly-too-authoritarian knock came on my hotel door. I had moved the cluttered desk right up against the floor-to-ceiling window that faces out towards the west, and sitting in the plush white robe I planned to take with me when I left, was typing madly on my laptop and looking out over The Strip like a watchful God perched thirty-two floors above Sin City. The housekeeping staff had most likely left for the night, and since I had registered under the pseudonym Roland Adversey, I was fairly certain that no one was calling unless they had business or beef with Joel Finnerty. That could be quite a list. I’d been working on a fairly controversial piece for Spin magazine, all about this underground goth club scene that involved a combination of industrial house music and black market serotonin harvested from the pineal glands of cadavers- either by kids posing as med students or funeral home employees, or even grave robbers. It sounds serious, but in reality, life is laughable and these dead folks were no longer in need of neurotransmitters, so I didn’t see the big deal and my records reflected as much. I figured maybe I had ruffled the wrong feathers somehow anyway. Grudgingly, I padded over to the door, incurring a nasty shock from the handle as static electricity generated from my forgettable hotel slippers grounded itself on the silver-plated booby trap. A quick peak through the fisheye revealed a surprisingly dainty and conservatively dressed blond call girl and a grotesquely muscular bald man with a thick black goatee and wearing a suit straight out of the CIA, circa-1950’s. I breathed a sigh of relief and swung open the door. “Wrong room,” I said assuredly. “I had schoolgirl last night.” The behemoth with what turned out to be playful, sparkling eyes cocked his head to the right and said in a silken, soprano tone that couldn’t have been more opposite from his stature, “On the contrary, Mr. Finnerty, this is precisely where we want to be.”
Life is much more livable when you honestly don’t give a shit whether you live or die. Seems like the more you worry about your own longevity, the less living you actually get to do. All those fuckers who are consumed by such impotent suburban concerns like electric bills, IRA’s, cirrhosis, STD’s, cholesterol, cramming for book club- those folks are so intent on living that they’re already dead.The only compelling reasons to live are generally born of the purist ingredients, left natural and untouched for twenty years, then opened and savored on the tongue for as long as they last, suspended in that state of decadent, rich simplicity, until the impurities of time inevitably creep in and all those complex flavors are blurred, muted, and soured. I can take or leave about 95% of what life has to offer, but I endure for those few journeys where your soul earns a vacation to the sun.
Growing up in Las Vegas is kind of a permanent vacation anyway, especially for me, the only son of a popular local escort named Minnie Mazolla and a John who was supposedly a descendent of the original settlers of the real Las Vegas from the 1930’s. Somehow, through a life of boarding house, juvenile hall and a variety of other parking lots for wayward adolescents, I never lost my sense of humor, though perhaps I never developed the zeal or lust for life that another man might under more idyllic circumstances. I do enjoy living, though I don’t really see the point. While that philosophy often sounds to mundane people like one of mental illness, what it means is that I can open a lot of doors to a lot of places that most folks would never ever be caught in beyond the realms of fantasy or daydream.
I rolled my eyes and motioned for my visitors to make themselves comfortable, which they wasted no time in doing, the blond sitting cross-legged in the office chair by the desk and the hulking wrestler with the cartoon voice stretching out on the king bed, as though a college buddy dropping in to watch a movie. I poured myself another scotch and held up a glass to each of my guests. The big guy reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out a flask, unscrewed the top with oddly dainty hands, then pulled a long swill without changing expression in spite of the harshness of tequila that I could smell from across the room. Deeply sniffing and savoring the burn, I was temporarily back in Mexico as a teenager, vomiting off my highjacked ATV as I careened down sand dunes on an out-of-bounds chase with some bandidos from local law enforcement. The sharpness of a smartly feminine voice snapped me out of the momentary daydream, and her displeased refusal of some liquor was with a certainty beyond that of earthly social conscience.
“No thank you, this isn’t a social call.” Her pristine skin and smile, clear eyes, thin straight hair and trace freckles combined with a slightly self-righteous decorum, she screamed of a life free from profanity, chemical abuses or direct sunlight. Mormon, I though to myself. But not the naïve kind.I fully traced every inch of her toned legs from ankle to where her knee-length black skirt hid what rest she had to offer, whence my gaze drew a bit more quickly up to meet hers, an unimpressed and slightly off-put expression that led me to believe I had lingered on those calves a bit longer than intended or was socially acceptable.
“Well,” I said, pausing then to savor the nose of my Benriach single malt, “What are you here for?” There was no answer that could surprise me, or so I thought.
“We’re here to make you a very rich man,” she spoke, breaking up my attentive glare at the conservative plunge of her neckline. This young woman was revealing nothing, not in any sense. “But we need you to do something for us first.”
I wandered the room a moment, mostly to look like I was pondering my next move, but really I just liked the feel of moving about naked beneath such a cushy robe. It was like being rubbed down all over by a slew of tiny Chinese women all wearing powdered mittens. I marveled at how comfortable the big guy looked in my bed, eyes closed and he purring as the sealed flask rose and fell on his chest with each mammoth breath. I had been ingesting a variety of speed and tranquilizers since about mid-day Tuesday, and I was pretty sure by now the weekend had arrived, so I didn’t expect to be particularly lucid, but the scotch was slowly awakening my senses. I began to realize that these were real people in my room; that I was not just talking to characters from some future novella I would probably never get around to writing. In this case, I was going to have to deal.
“Mr. Finnerty, we’ve found your father.” Little miss doe-eyes shifted to the edge of her chair, awaiting a reaction. Though her statement, likely false and virtually impossible, sent fireworks of a hope descended from boyhood, I was far too calloused to give her any satisfaction.
“Didn’t know you were looking,” I responded, emotions held tightly to my vest. Her disappointment was visible, and she motioned to Snuffaluffagus, who was already reaching into his wide breast pocket and pulling out the most clichéd envelope I have ever seen, fastened shut with those little bendy metal clips that poke through the hole and get spread like the you-know-what of a you-know-what. As typical as the envelope was, the photographs inside were anything but. The first was a tattered photo of two young men standing beside an archaic aqua-plane, quite obviously the H-4 Hercules, one of Howard Hughes’ most famed commissions, one that he completed well after the end of the war it was intended for. This plane only flew once, with Howard himself at the helm, and from the looks of it, this photo was taken just seconds before that flight. What was surprising though, and I assume was the cause of this interruption, was the other man in the photo. It was me.
I waded through the tangled mental and emotional underbrush of constant drug use that populated my otherwise above-average memory. I knew for certain that this photo had to have been taken in the late 1940’s, a good 20 years before I was born. So who was that? I flipped to the next photo, which seemed to jump forward in time about thirty years, to five men sitting together in a crowded restaurant. One was Howard Hughes, now donning his trademark mustache to cover up a scar he received in one of his many aviation disasters. Next to him were renowned Chicago and Las Vegas mobsters John Roselli and Sam Giancana, a young Richard Nixon, and an aged version of me, most likely the same guy from the previous photo. This guy was far too old to be my father, as the tasty little tart at my desk had implied, so I flipped to the third photo. This one spooked me a little. Standing outside the Golden Nugget, backed by a 1960’s Las Vegas skyline, was a man who looked exactly like me flanked by a boy who looked just as I had as a boy, right down to the unruly hair and the smirk that drew ire from even the most patient of authority figures. In thirty seconds I had learned more about myself than I had in thirty years, but a lifetime of being let down by absentee adults rendered all this information nothing more than a side note, or an asterisk, in a life otherwise whipping along a freeway ignorant of unanswered questions. But wasn’t there something about getting rich?
I turned back to the blonde. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a business card, handing it to me. Unlike most of the business cards I get handed in Vegas, this one had no nude pictures or X-rated phone numbers on it, kind of disappointing but at least I might know who had so determinedly hunted me down and disturbed my peace. The information on the top of the card confirmed my two conjectures: “Faith Young – Freelance Journalism 435-445-6987.” Utah. Mormon. Journalist. Put all that into a cauldron and you don’t usually get someone barging into your hotel room offering to make you rich. But, this is Las Vegas, Mecca for things unusual. Still, nobody gets something for nothing.In spite of having so many of my deepest personal quests stirred and that I was broke and had fraudulently obtained this hotelroom using a credit card I had lifted off of a loud-mouth Texan who was on his way to the Grand Canyon for a two-week rafting expedition, I wasn’t particularly interested in where this was going. The errant smell of cheap tequila reminded me that there was still a stranger in the room, and an odd one at that. “Who is this?” I inquired, pointing towards the source of the gasoline-like smell that was tearing my eyes. Faith smiled.
“That’s my attorney,” she replied. “And I don’t think you two are completely unfamiliar. “ I could tell she was waiting for something to dawn on me, which meant she underestimated the extent of my elective alcoholism. The only dawn I knew was for champagne cocktails and cigarettes. Only, there was something vaguely homey about this rippling monster with the girlish voice and the epic blue eyes and the tender hands. I had known eyes like these just a handful of times in my life, most recently during a failed jaunt in a California law school about ten years ago while I was living in La Jolla and commuting to San Diego. My study partner had been this bizarre chick from the San Fernando Valley, and it was during one of our study sessions that I first revealed the exploits of Roland Adversey, the character you all have since come to know and love as the world’s most famous sex addict with the heart of gold and the cock of steel. Instead of reading cases, I spent most of the semester in Mission Bay Park, working on the manuscript that became “The Girth and Meth of Man Diego.” Bobbie was her name, and in spite of her weirdness, was a lovely friend who had encouraged me to try and get some buzz and maybe a publisher. She was one of the few damaged women in my life who wasn’t attracted to a self-loathing man in desperate need of mothering and fixing, and for all the time we spent together, the issue of intimacy never remotely came up. In fact, sometimes I wondered if she were gay, or maybe.., oh, fuck. Those eyes were like blue diamonds, and there couldn’t be another set like them. Is that Bobbie? Or should I say Bob? Remember when there were consistencies you could just take to the bank, constant truths, like gender?
Bob jumped up and hugged me awkwardly, still that same strange young girl in the body of a steroid-infused body builder, and it’s anyone’s guess what sort of physical structures occupy the space between Bob’s legs. I reciprocated slightly and refilled my scotch for a third time. I sat down between the intense but dreamy journalist and my old friend Bobbie, who was now Bob, re-contemplating the purpose of their visit. Based on the stature of the men in the photos, there may in fact be some sort of connection between my past and the sordid history of Las Vegas, and maybe there was even some money to be had. Or, maybe these two were complete crackpots and scam artists, but either way, listening intently was the best chance I had to defile the young Mormon beauty who had landed in my lap, and at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that any man cares about, despite what he may say on first dates or skive onto internet dating profiles. The story I was rewarded with, however, was quite interesting, as she told it, anyway.
Robert Matthew, apparently my grandfather, was born Waterville, Maine in 1928. After college he joined the FBI and in 1954 transferred to the CIA, where he began freelancing for Howard Hughes. Over the years he moved a lot of money for Hughes, mostly in the form of political contributions and bribes, as he served as a go-between for businessmen, politicians, and gangland mobsters. Apparently, because of dear old Granddad’s unique relationships and his foreign dignitary experience managing mafia clubs and brothels in Havana, then-CIA Director Allen Dulles tapped Robert to organize the assassination of Fidel Castro in 1960. Through my Grandfather, this contract hit was offered to John Roselli and Sam Giancana as one half of a double-murder, first Castro and then JFK, and the dinner meeting where this went down was all but lost to history, except for the photo that now lay between me and a gender-bending lawyer who looked like Hulk Hogan during his Hollywood Hogan years. Ultimately, Robert and Roselli delivered $150,000 and a large supply of poison pills to Santo Trafficante, a second-generation mobster with interests in the Cuban rackets. Though Trafficante failed in his attempt on Castro’s life, he was eventually successful at orchestrating the assassination of both Kennedys, at which point he became quite concerned about his future in the US with such high-profile murders on his resume, and he decided to cover his tracks. Circling back to his higher-up CIA handlers and singing like the first canary, Trafficante apparently secured Robert Matthew a spot on a list of subjects for the involuntary LSD research that continued into the early 1970’s. With the CIA running their shadowy tests in the background of a cultural revolution, Robert Matthew was reduced to ashes, and he was eventually presumed dead by his former girlfriend, his son Robbie, the mob, the government-at-large, and the IRS.
It was here that I stopped Faith’s rambling story. While it seemed accurate and sensible enough, it still didn’t explain why she was in my room. It also didn’t explain how Bobbie was now a man, but I figured that one would have to wait. The room had been closing in on us for some time and the wallpaper had started licking away my face about halfway through 1961. The only solution I had found for this, albeit temporary, was a handful of bennies chased with a handful of these little pink pills I found in a coat pocket. Keeps things clear. But honestly, here I am being told that me grandfather killed JFK and I am mostly preoccupied with waiting for the moment when my Mormon pixie leans forward enough to reveal the color of her bra. You’d think that I would have outgrown that by now. Still hoping, I had to interrupt. “What’s in this for you?” I inquired. “Vengeance,” she replied, mouth taut and shoulders on the defensive. Apparently, the Mormon Church had not actually distanced itself too far from the fundamentalism that had left such an ugly scar on the public face of the Latter-Day Saints.
Faith continued, and pleasantly enough, I could now see two of her, the woman in the chair and the reflection of her in the wall-sized window, giving me the illusion that I could see her from the front and the back simultaneously. Or maybe I was getting tipsier. As for the word in Utah, despite lengthy appeals by church leaders that the fringe practice of polygamy and racism had been purged from the practice, Faith contended that one hundred years of history was not about to be wiped out by some overzealous lawmakers in Washington. The agreement within the Prophets of the religion was to reform the outward facing façade while burrowing it’s gnarly practices deeper into the bowels of the church. Faith was conceived and born in 1989 to a fourteen-year-old girl in Copperton, Utah. She was raised there, out of the view of Salt Lake City and the sphere of influence the federal government had over Mormons, on a remote compound reserved for men in the upper echelon of Mormonism to continue the practice of spiritual wifery. A skeptic from the beginning, Faith had rebelled against the idea that she would be married as a teen, and when she discovered it was to be her own uncle she would marry and disgustingly consummate the deal with, she escaped.
I was back on my feet, pacing, imagining those Chinese women all caressing me with their little mittens, only now I was fully attentive.I loved everything about her story, it had all the elements that make readers squirm with delight- conspiracy theories, charming gangsters, illicit underage sex, criminal religions, politics, celebrities, drugs- anything a hopeful person could consume to make up for their life on suburban death row. This, however, wasn’t some eager and equally terrible author asking for notes on their “masterpiece,” this was starting to sound less and less like fiction. Bob had gone into the bathroom, and I feigned deep thought while I listened to the stream of pee as it hit the toilet water. Was it strong and full of bass notes to suggest that the urinator was standing, or gentle and polite as though Bobbie were sitting? I couldn’t tell.What was lacking, up this point, was a connection between me and Faith, beyond our mutual acquaintance, who emerged from the restroom still a mystery. Faith continued.
In 1963, John F. Kennedy was causing problems for a lot of special interest groups. In this specific case, his mobilization against organized crime and his pragmatic support of the Civil Rights Movement had temporarily aligned the loyalties of the west-coast mafia and the fundamentalist leaders of the Mormon church. In the summer of 1963, the Latter-Day Saints leadership sent religious mercenary Tom Monson to a Nevada border town to meet with an associate of John Moselli who was known as Matthew Roberts, an obvious cover for my grandfather Robert Matthew. Both parties wanted Kennedy out, Robert to make way for a new generation of mafia-friendly policy-makers, and Tom to prevent the rise of the African-Americans, who according to Mormon doctrine were marked by the Lord with flat noses and blackness to identify them as evil descendents of Cain. When “Matthew Roberts” explained that following Santo Trafficante’s bungling of the Castro poisoning, the CIA refused to pony up another one hundred fifty grand for the Kennedy job, Monson assured him that the Mormons would fund the project, since they were happily assessing all members a 10% salary tax for the privilege of being a Saint and whose accounts were well in the black (so to speak). Amazing to imagine that forty-seven years after this first fateful desert meeting on the outskirts of Nevada, these two powerful men would find themselves reunited in yet another border town, one of them wearing women’s clothing and the other duct taped to a spare tire.
In November 1963 in Dallas, the plan Robert and Sam laid would be carried out, then again a year later in California, and then Robert would be disappeared not long after that. Robert’s son Robbie was a bit of a player in the casino market during the 1970’s expansion, largely due to some huge real estate breaks afforded him by the oddly loyal and supportive Howard Hughes, who looked after Robbie like a son before succumbing to his own internal toils. Robert Matthew, Jr. died when the silver mine he was prospecting exploded, and his considerable fortune was left to an only son he neglected to name. In spite of the minimal effect JFK’s assassination had on slowing the US political and social climate of increased equality, Tom Monson would be continually rewarded for his loyalty and effort. On a fast track up through the hierarchy of the Mormon church, he eventually gained access to the pleasure palace in Copperton maintained by the keepers of fundamentalist values, including the strict manifest that Mormons were to reproduce at the most astronomical rate possible. A relatively impotent man and shamed because of it, Tom didn’t father a child until 1989, with his eleventh wife. Certain his daughter was a reward for his unwavering belief, Tom named the baby girl “Faith,” and her last named was quickly changed to Young, in honor of former prophet Brigham Young and to avoid any casting of suspicion in the case of the Bureau of the Census, which seemed to audit the Utah statistics with considerable frequency.
Faith sat back in her chair. This seemed like the conclusion of a long journey, the years of research twisting and winding their crooked ways throughout history, until the moment when every thread could be tied neatly in a bow, or more appropriately, a noose. When I woke up this morning, meaning sometime between my fifth Singapore Sling and when I chased the housekeeper down the hall with a lacrosse stick some square-jawed frat boy had left in the lobby, I hadn’t planned on solving the greatest conspiracy in American history, toppling an arch nemesis in the conservative Mormon Church, or reclaiming great wealth to which I was the heir apparent. However, all this seemed possible now. Suddenly I felt a lot less sullen. Or maybe it was those pink pills that I had retrieved from the carpet and swallowed greedily. With almost everything out on the table now, there was collective sigh of relief.
At long last, Bob spoke up. “I was working in San Diego on Proposition 8, trying to limit the Mormon population influence on voters in Southern California, when I met Faith.” It was surreal listening to Bob speak, his voice had somehow gotten higher even though he was becoming a man, but I began to recognize certain gestures, speech patterns, even vocabulary. I tried to remember if he had been hot at all as a woman. Theirs had been a chance meeting, one that drove both of these zealots to track me down at my favorite destination for getting some honest-to-goodness thinking done.
As it turned out, Robert Matthew was alive, but he wasn’t the same. His entire constitution had been wiped clean by years of confinement and hallucinogens, built up and erased again like letters written in sand at the waters edge. He had had no family to come looking, and when a known mob affiliate doesn’t show up for tea, it doesn’t take long to figure out that dinner reservations can subsequently be made for one fewer-forever. No one can say for sure how long Robert was subjected to the cruelest of psychological torture, but a case file containing the name Robert Matthews turned up on Faith’s desk not one month ago, thanks to a constantly revolving search engine task that scoured databases across the internet and waded through billions of partially declassified materials and peer-to-peer documents. When an off-beat comedic rag from the backstreets of Vegas turned out a reference to a recently arrested elderly gentleman containing the search terms “Las Vegas,” “Robert,” and “Matthew,” it only took a few days to connect the pieces.
The man, arrested for indecent exposure and assault on a busload of Japanese tourists (not the tourists, mind you, but the bus itself), had apparently experienced a great awakening inside the police station, demanding to speak to his lawyer. When asked who that was, the half- nude senior citizen replied with a straight face, “Dick Nixon.” As though experiencing a strange state of déjà vu, which he undoubtedly was, the old man was able to walk room to room, recounting tales of the 60’s and all of the famous arrests and interrogations that had taken place in that very building. The man, identified positively through facial recognition as Lewis Towley, a recent parolee from the Nevada State mental Hospital, nonetheless claimed to be a client of Richard Nixon and a close friend of Howard Hughes. Since this incident took place on a Saturday night in Vegas, it hardly registered on the police blog, and since Mr. Towley didn’t have a record or hardly even a past for that matter, he was sent on his way. However, one of the witnesses at the scene was a writer for a local website that produced articles similar to those of the Onion, but that were based slightly more on actual events, for which this desert city provided endless fodder.
Sam Kirsch was sitting in the waiting room of the Las Vegas Police department, waiting for a red-headed hooker named Arkansas Allie to be processed and released on bail on his dime, in exchange for a supposed scoop on the County Commissioner and some sort of out-of-wedlock bondage or orgy or other irrelevant perverse scandal that was rich for public appetite. Sam was a lifer, one of few offbeat beat writers who was born and raised in Vegas by normal parents, his dad was a history teacher and his mother a receptionist in a prominent medical office. He knew the city inside and out, venturing as far as UNLV for a journalism degree, then starting what he considered to be a receptacle for worthless news, a website called Naked Underbelly: the REAL Las Vegas. His success scoffed in the face of his credentials, where as his infantile reporting of secret and sinful hookups drew one thousand times more clicks than his clever op-ed pieces about the cultural humanity beneath the stones less-turned. So there he was, spending another Saturday night with cops and prostitutes, panhandling for some more “news” to assuage his advertisers. What he ended up seeing was more like time-travel, reincarnation, or ghosts.
Lewis Toley, up until up until about 11 pm, had been a typical cross-dressing mental patient, one who drew the ire of arresting officers by constantly mooning anyone who happened to cross paths with the aging lunatic, his frail butt cheeks winking at the crowd of ne’er-has-beens that populate the waiting room of LVPD.Nobody in that entire building wanted to be there that night, not the desk clerks or the inmates, not the cops or the public defenders, nobody. Still, in spite of the circus like atmosphere, the real spectacle was the resurrection of a CIA assassin and mobster reborn from within a lunatic in a miniskirt. The cops on the scene didn’t seem to recognize the gravity of the name-dropping that was taking place; but rather they just let Lewis Towley rant because he was awfully amusing.But Sam Kirsch knew. And it was something.Half-naked grandpa knew everything.
Robert Matthew, speaking with the cold and calculated verve of an executioner but still looking like a transvestite junkie, wandered the room and peered down hallways, trailed by two amused cops. “The desks used to be over there,” he motioned, his silver bracelets jingling. He was referring to the layout of the building prior to a 1980 remodeling, which put him somewhere in the mid 1970’s. “That’s where they had Frank the Irishman, and Tommy Andretta, and they were shaking them down over a few cases of cigarettes, and we were all out here in hysterics, because everyone in the world is asking about ‘Where is Jimmy Hoffa?” and those dumb sons-of-bitches have the two shooters, barely off the plane from Detroit, and they’re asking about a few hundred dollars worth of lucky strikes. It was so easy in those days, I remember Frank walking out of that interview free as a bird, smoking one of the cigarettes he had denied knowledge of high-jacking, probably with the gun that killed that Union bastard tickling his balls. Incredible.” Robert hopped around, pointing and shouting and asking for people who had long since been discovered mutilated and buried in shallow, dirty holes. He carried on.
“Where’s Lefty? Where’s Tony the Ant? They at Bugsy’s place? You know, the one named for that broad with the long legs? I remember sitting in a car outside with Benny, picking those Chicago guys up- thinking that times were about to change…,” his voice trailing off and lost to memory. Robert, jammed up face-to-face with a narcoleptic bus driver and a recently-booked Madame, was right on so many levels, and what sounded like a spew of insanity to the witnesses was too much for Sam to ignore. Lefty Rosenthal was a connected casino boss, whose story you might remember as portrayed in the film “Casino,” where Robert DeNiro played him as the character Ace Rothstein. Tony Spilotro, or Tony the Ant, (renamed Nicky Santoro for the film), was in fact a 5’4” enforcer with a gruesome thirst for violence. Lefty is actually still alive, the car bomb that shredded his flesh and implanted shrapnel in his back was enough to oust him from mob life, but he settled in Florida, operating a restaurant in a retirement village. Tony the Ant wasn’t so lucky, as he had been flaunting his sexual relationship with Lefty’s hooker-turned-wife Geri, unsettling the landscape enough that he wound up dead and disfigured in an Indian cornfield. Sam Kirsch had no doubt that the former incarnation of this lip-sticked senior citizen had in fact spent time in the Las Vegas mob heyday, tipping drinks at the Flamingo, a known mafia hangout named for Bugsy Siegels’ girlfriend with her gorgeous showgirl-long legs. Robert’s reference to Benny Binion, an outdated mogul both successful and notorious, hinted at just how long my grandpa had been a part of the sordid landscape of Las Vegas crime.
The hooker story Sam was there to work quickly paled in comparison to the potential of this raving drag king, so he instead negotiated Robert’s release, paid the reduced $500 fine for first-time indecent exposure, and sat the old man down in the lobby of the Sahara with a cup of coffee. After three hours of attempting to distill a story out of this rambling collection of incidents, even a leading local history buff like Sam Kirsch reached his tipping point. But, recognizing the potential gold mine-in-a-garter belt he had procured, he was not about to let Lewis Towley get away, either. With a cross-dressed grandpa sedated and occupying his guest bedroom, Sam ran his Robert Matthew story in the same op-ed section of his tabloid website that he put all of his thoughtful pieces, only this time, he would prove to be an invaluable cog in exposing one of the greatest mysteries from our nation’s precarious three-hundred year existence.
I wriggled in my robe a second, imagining it was Faith’s magic pajamas rustling against my skin. The silver mine fortune sounded nice. Reconnecting with my grandfather would be a trip, to say the least. I mean, an old girlfriend from California had just re-entered my life, now as a man looking like he belonged in the UFC cage down the street, and my kin was directly related to some of the worlds most infamous murders- why not roll with it? I scanned my ruphee-riddled brain for words, sniffed my scotch and cocked my head to the right, closing a left eye. “What do you suggest we do?” I asked.
“We blow this story up,” Faith said, resiliently. Bob nodded in agreement, lying comfortably on the bed, his head held up awkwardly on the too-many pillows hotels always provided. I stared at the crotch of his suit pants, checking for a lump, but there was just an ambiguous wrinkle. So glad I never went there back in the day. “Lets do it.”
“It” proved more difficult than I expected, as it required walking upright down a straight hallway following 48 hours of snorting powdered poppies and orange Tang in order to stay awake long enough to put the final spin on that serotonin piece. I am the only impeccably dressed drug addict you will ever know, and I admired myself in the shine of my shoes as Bob lovingly cradled me towards the elevator. He smelled like layers of sweet sweat then musk then perfume then cologne then tequila then aftershave, which I think was to blame for my nausea becoming full-on vomiting as the elevator ducked sharply, hurtling towards the lobby, hopefully stopping short of hell itself. Nonetheless, I smiled with great composure at the valet and summoned the Porsche I had leased from an old informant-turned-salesman who worked a lot right down the street from where Tupac was shot. In spite of some well-intentioned objections, if I was going, I was driving.
Twenty minutes later, we were in a small suburban development nearly to Henderson, with the intent of verifying that a homeless insane recluse in hooker’s garb was actually a former CIA assassin and my grandfather. I imagine Sam Kirsch had had quite enough of the old badger by now, but through a series of texts he exchanged with Faith, it became clear that he wasn’t home, and to expect Lewis to be inside, touching up his makeup and watching television. We knew that wasn’t going to be true because the second we pulled up to the cub, Sam’s television came crashing through the large bay window that overlooked the street, landing in large pile of glass in the front yard. Interesting. A moment later, the commotion spilled out the doorway, an elderly man of seventy emerging first in a lacy padded bra and a thong followed by a three-foot-nothing midget with blue hair waving the extension adapter of a vacuum cleaner. Both were screaming illegible words, slurring like drunks, and when the old guy started running in circles, I felt like I was back in Spain, watching bullfights on bad acid. However, had it not been for my concern for the old man’s bare feet around all of that broken glass, I might have enjoyed the scene very much.
Big Bob stepped in and tried to ward off the angry sword-fighting dwarf, but to little avail, instead opting to shield grandpa from the plastic blows. Mimicking something I must have seen in cartoons, I got into the mix and reached out my right palm, placing it flat upright against the little man’s forehead and bending my four fingers over top of his head, bracing his forward thrust with my legs. For some reason I thought he would continue to run straight at me but would be unable to advance or reach me with his short arms, which would just swing punches that would fall short and swipe the air. Instead, shorty put on a spin move, gave me a left jab straight to the groin, followed by a full-on tee shot with the vacuum tube to the back of my legs and a kick to the ribs. I lay in the grass, wincing but laughing because I had just gotten my ass kicked by a midget, and the humor made that palpable scream in my testicles just a little more bearable. The grass smelled sweet and was soft on my cheek, so I lay there, listening to the various crashes and bangs, as Faith and Bob slowly brought order to the situation. Turns out, the little guy was the understudy for a very prominent role in the Cirque du Soliel downtown, but until his dreams were fully realized, he was selling narcotics on the side to support his carnie lifestyle. It’s unclear how he had arrived at the house, but based on the cloudiness of the explanation, these two had done some considerable swallowing and snorting, until a disagreement on compensation had arisen, which is when we pulled up.I humbly crawled into the driver’s seat and backed up a few yards to where Bob was escorting Gramps to the car.Just as they were settling in, Faith came running rather enthusiastically around the corner of the house, motioning for us to activate an emphatic getaway. Ten yards behind her was a streak of midget blue, waving that same pipe and hollering in French, which is why I initially thought he was particularly wasted. Turns out he was both. Faith jumped into the car and screamed for us to get going as the violent little dwarf started taking out his rage on the taillights. I slammed on the gas, and the car lurched-straight backward. I had forgotten to take it out of reverse. We heard a squeal, a thump, and then for the first time since our arrival: silence. We sat for a moment, hoping for that mini-fountain of rage to re-erupt, but it never did. I’m usually a big fan of controlling situations, but I figured I ought to let some of the other passengers weigh in on this one. After so many blank stares, we drove off, never looking in the rearview.At least Sam would have a murder mystery to go with his broken television set.
Whoever my grandfather was in the late 60’s and early 70’s, that man had been entirely replaced by the ragged, whiskered, toothless wino seated beside me- this guy had no more killer instinct than a piglet toddler. I doubted we would get much information from him, in fact, I think he was just a piece of evidence, a slightly muskier, louder and more inconvenient snapshot of the past. Still, I could immediately see a resemblance, and feel a familiarity.We shared some physical characteristics, though we had quite different buttocks, his emerging in their entirety from a skimpy thong, mine thoughtfully clothed in silk boxers.“His name was Anton,” Faith mustered, breaking the relative silence of a mostly naked man smacking his gums in intoxicated oblivion. She was visibly upset by the entire scene at Kirsch’s, but the proximity of achieving her lifelong goals was far more encompassing and overpowered her guilt. I thought little more about it, as Bob nursed his flask and stroked his non-existent beard. The car hummed. Gramps was the easy part.
I hadn’t been to Spain for some time, nor had I been to Salt Lake City since I covered the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. Neither place enjoyed me much, as a (not-so) slight misunderstanding during a Papal visit to Madrid placed me on the international ‘Do not Fly back here” list, and my advocacy for freeing the thousands of Mormon girls in captivity on account of the perverse nature of their faith drew hypocritical objection, to which I responded by spiking dozens of their watered-down beers on the floor of a news room press conference and storming out. I’m not sure if I truly object to all forms of world religion or if I use them as a convenient opportunity to piss off and offend large groups of people in a sweeping and efficient manner, but I do enjoy crushing them with blows from my atheistic hammer.At the crux of these incidents were two men who publically denounced me and my opinions and actions, two men who ruled their respective populations with iron fists, two men who were having tea about ninety stories above me, discussing the disgusting spew of Mormonism overseas and the potential profitability for each party. A King and a Prophet, and it was time to ruin their days.
Faith had really done a stellar job with her research. She knew some when and where details that were normally not obtainable, even for a skilled and covert journalist. Our siege on America’s past, present, and future seemed to me almost serendipitous, largely due to the orchestration of an obsessive young woman whose vigor hinted at her rage, but she remained precise and collected, nonetheless. The plan seemed laughably impossible for anyone not named Danny Ocean, but in the end, we really needed to reunite these two former gangsters, one obsessed with young girls and the other dressed like one. Deciding it was better to keep Roberta Matthew in the car, Bob took over the wheel in front of that faux-Eifel tower and Faith and I slipped onto the floor of the Paris hotel and casino. It definitely smelled like French people in there, that’s for sure, the jingling of bells and flashing of lights and the celebratory crowd noises pumped in from camouflaged speakers to create the illusion that someone there were having a good time. A true gambler has a sixth sense about places like this, there is no need to see cards or faces, good mojo wafts gentle and golden straight into your soul, losing mojo sours and crusts your spirit until every carpeted step is jagged glass and leprosy. This place seems to ever embody the latter, but no mind, we were rolling past the tables and fake trees and overpriced gift shops in a flash, making for the bank of golden plated elevators. Almost instinctively I reached for the 14th floor button; that was my standby at this hotel and cleverly numerated or not, I knew it was really the 13th floor and that I was enough of a badass to handle it. Faith grabbed my arm- the first time she had touched me- and motioned to a set of painted doors. Breathlessly, she whipped out a Diamond Club card and was granted access to a separate elevator offset privately beside a marble compass rose. Even I had never been in this space.
The King of Spain is a curious looking fellow- a caricature of a European Richard Dreyfuss behind a ridiculous trimmed little mustache. He is always a little too tan for the climate and always appears to be stifling a giggle. I swear I saw him chuckling during my ceremonious and literal defrocking of His Holiness back in ’99, though his official position differed greatly. Across alternate circumstances I might have even liked this guy, but in this lifetime, I owed him a sucker-punch or two. He was getting on in years, and I imagine Tom Monson sought to take advantage of his senility coupled with such an expansive reach. Apparently, an elaborate and stately dinner was planned for a banquet room on the 80th floor, a space reserved for only the most elegant guests and personally presided over by … the Chef of ……oh, I forget. Faith was moving deftly now, operating in a dreamlike state,sequentially performing movements in perfect automatronic motion. The elevator raced skyward.
What at first had appeared an inconspicuous oversight in the form of several blank, unnumbered elevator buttons turned out to be a pivotal part of Faith’s preparation. She tapped the middle of three, and the elevator screeched to a halt- passed floor 79, but before floor 80. Hmm… Only in Vegas can you hide an entire floor in plain sight. The door opened. It was like nothing I ever saw. A cathedral-ceilinged entryway loped gloriously towards gold and leaf arches and Italian marble, and a two-story silver-plated doorway beckoned with awe-inspiring prestige. This place was like Sacre Couer on MDMA and in full-blown Technicolor; no wonder one of the worlds most powerful Monarchs opted to stay in what was otherwise such a dump. The atrium was silent except for the sound of tapping.
Emerging from around a cascade of lush maroon drapes was a hunched-over little man in gaudy robes, gently creeping across the echoing room, looking as though his cane was the only thing preventing a full-on face-plant. In his other hand he held a white string that trailed off behind him and went taut. He muttered, not noticing us, waving his cane like a blind guy tapping for the edge of a sidewalk. Seconds later, and after some fanfare, a tan goat clicked its hooves from behind the curtain, a mouthful of velvet and a look of disapproval. I made reluctant eye contact with the goat, imagining him skinned and covered in garlic-yogurt sauce. Hunger is the first sign that the drugs are really wearing off. Dammit. The old guy turned to see what his pet was enchanted with, and for the second time in my life, I saw those twinkling hazel eyes turn upon me.From the other side of the hallway emerged another man, tall and thin and boldly blue-eyed, and he carried with him a distinct chill. Nonetheless, he temporarily feigned affability towards the King, but instantly switched to suspicion and wavered towards threats when he saw us in the elevator doorway. I heard Faith audibly gasp- and their eyes narrowed at each other, clearly both Mormon, and sharing many other characteristics as well. I sensed this was the first time Faith had ever been face to face with her father as an adult. This wasn’t the plan at all, just an incredibly opportune occurrence, and things went pretty quickly.
It was in this moment that our mission seemed destined to succeed.While you rarely make heroic headlines capturing an eighty- year-old man unaware as he walks out of a restroom, this guy held answers to some of the worlds best kept secrets. And here he was, unguarded in spite of his present company. Before anyone could move, the room erupted in pepper spray. All of the elegance of hidden castles and subservient royalty, and our plan was for a pissed off Mormon hottie to mace her fuckin’ dad. Truly poetic. The vigor with which she brought him down in a swift, Lawrence Tayloresque tackle hinted at some of that bottled rage she possessed, and of course the pervert in me added “Access Faith’s daddy issues in Bed” to my to-do list. Not to be outdone, the bling of the elevator door reopening behind us reminded of the need for escape, and through the blindness and throat-scorching pain, I got my revenge too- I stole the goat.
The elevator dropped towards the parking garage as Faith bound and gagged a sputtering, formerly virile 120-pound AARP assassin, and I stole a moment from the madness to dream of ether binges and to pet my new prize.The squeal of tires and the slam of car doors was all that remained of our mission, that and the video footage from the 10,000 cameras that just saw us commit a few dozen felonies. As we rallied down the strip, I carefully removed the cover from the vent positioned on the back of the driver’s center console, poked two fingers into its belly and tweezed out a stash of amyl nitrates. Rooting through the crushed plastic bag like an elephant brushing for leaves with its clumsy trunk, I removed as many as would fit between my fingertips, swallowed them whole, and awaited the rush. “I’ll drive,” I said.
We had everything we came for- Robert Matthew in the front and Tom Monson bound and gagged in the trunk- and a few things we didn’t- a murder rap, a goat; it was a spectacle and then some. Figuring the highway was going to be a bit hot once word spread around Clark County of our abduction(s), I squealed the tires east and we headed out of town the back way towards Boulder City. Faith sat looking restless and nervous in the back middle, clutching at the front seats with each hand and stealing glances in the rear view mirror. Bob was seemingly aloof, smudging mini tequila spots on his shirt and frequently adjusting his suit coat with the exact mannerisms of a full-time man. The canvas cover that stretches out from the back seat to the base of the rear window muffled Munson, to the extent that we almost forgot he was in there. My only real objection was my grandfather. Discovering a long-lost relative is a life-changing experience, and even though he was a killer-turned transsexual Thing 1 from The Cat In The Hat, I have to say I was thrilled to have him back. However, he insisted on leaning out the open window and lapping at the breeze, which left his 80-something derriere aimed smilingly right at me, his black thong doing little but divide his bony backside into two cheerful lumps, shiny in the glow of Vegas. Gross.
BY the time we hit US 2 I’d had it, screeched the car to a resounding halt and threw open my door. I flipped open the button on my pants and handed them and some boxers to Faith. She deftly navigated them onto the drooling assassin and soon enough we were back on the way.I scanned the radio, familiar with the breaking news channels on AM that provided endless entertainment in a town like this one. Fire alarm pulled at the Wynn...riot at the UFC tailgate party…stabbing at the UNLV campus…hit and run death in Henderson… immigration raid at a brothel in Boulder City… but no mention of any abduction to speak of. The car hurtled through the darkness like an unpronounced missile over the ocean, beams of light the only disturbance in all the blackness.
Chokingly dusty and peppered with sagebrush, the Nevada desert is nothing to be trifled with, an ancient burial ground for secrets and lies and overzealous businessmen alike. The heat of midday sun is almost unlivable, you can feel your skin shriveling, shrink-wrapping your soul and parching your veins. At night, the mystery of the desert is the chill, the blistering swell of warmth evaporating with the daylight to give berth to nuclear winter, sand as soft and cold as ice, a tundra of non-forgiveness. Normally, this is not a habitat for neon pink or zebra, which is why I had to pull the car over once again. Either an alien abduction had gone horribly wrong, time travel from 1985 had just become possible, or the local brothel raid had sent girls like minnows scurrying into the relative safety of forgotten land. Huddled behind an errant pine just off the highway were three young women, eight-inch stilettos punching holes like tent stakes into barren soil, a sad, long way from home. It’s moments like these that define a life.
Somewhere under this armored, lavishly-dressed exterior and woven into a soul blackened with remorse, regret, and soot is a heart. The Joel Finnerty who as a kid loved stickball and kittens, went on awkward dates and saved up for his first car, he’s still in there. As adults get wrapped in and ultimately warped by the unnecessary pace of life, that heart gets blinded, trapped, and lost, but it never dissolves. The opportunities to reconnect are everywhere, but without cognizance of need, no effort will be taken. Standing just outside the car, half-naked, I laughed for the first time I could remember, at the sheer absurdity of it all. Concurrently, I cried for the first time I could remember, at all of this beauty I was surrounded by in this unlikely fishbowl of degeneracy. A deep breath, a few hand motions, and we’re back on the road three passengers heavier, barreling out of town on a ship that no matter what, can’t get there fast enough. I was back in the zone, sharing Bob’s tequila to help subdue the edginess as steel pummeled the night with racing blows.
Were we going on in silence or had I finally devised the right chemical combination to quiet my brain? Had it been a minute or an hour since we stopped? Were the dragons real? Was I able to see figments of someone else’s imagination? Does my reflection have it’s own separate consciousness? Is it staring at me? What if leopards and lepers accidentally switched places, and lepers got beautiful spots and leopards fell apart when they ran? Is Lima any match for Limon? Llll, luh, la, lllllllll, those l’s feel so nice when tongue tickles the backs of my gums…and then all of the lights.
A man like Ziggy, simplistic and kind, is always bound to duty. It’s


© Copyright 2019 Matthew Ryan. All rights reserved.

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