Clanging Bells

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A stranger to Las Vegas endures his first night with an unexpected experience.

Submitted: January 04, 2009

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Submitted: January 04, 2009

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Clanging Bells

A Short Story by Ryan M. Akers

My life hath been one chain of contradictions.

Madhouses, prisons, whore-shops.

-John Clare “The Exile”

Damian looked at the phone book while sitting on one of two queen-size beds in the hotel room. His hands held the thick, yellow book steadily as his wide eyes scanned the thin page. Women in leather, lace, bikinis and scantly evening wear posed in an arrangement of positions. Their countenances wore smiles or sexy stares, pouting eyes or crimson lips being licked. Damian read the captions to himself, scattered throughout the boxed photos across the page. Call me tonight for a private party! All new! Dreamgirls of Las Vegas! Daddy’s Little Girl Gone Bad! Quick and Dirty! Private and Discreet! Outrageous! Sizzling! Hardcore! 2 on 1 Action! Hear Naughty Girls Getting SPANKED! Numbers filled the page like a review of the day’s winnings at the casino floors below. Damian scratched his forehead. His glance shot from the explicit page to the end table sitting between the two beds. The green phone sat beside lines of stacked quarters and an ashtray filled with brown cigarette butts. He smiled, shuffling the whiskers of his goatee with ringed fingers. His yellow teeth caught the attention of his friend, Jackson, who stood near the bathroom, shirtless with a toothbrush in his hand.

“What’s that look for?” asked Jackson, foam and paste on the corners of his mouth. He wiped his hand on a towel draped over his shoulder.

“So,” said Damian, closing the phone book. “This is Las Vegas, huh?” He reached into his shirt pocket and removed a soft pack of menthol cigarettes.

Jackson resumed brushing, moving his head side to side. His thick curly hair bounced back and forth as he scrubbed his teeth roughly. After a few seconds of repeated strokes, he leaned into the bathroom and spit into the wide basin of the porcelain sink. The bluish, bubbly glob splattered. Jackson turned the knob and water flushed the blob down the drain. “Hell yes, bro! But you haven’t seen the half of it. Wait till we go downstairs!” exclaimed Jackson. He smiled in the mirror and looked at his teeth.

Damian lit his cigarette with a silver Zippo and replaced it where he found it: the end table. The lighter spun and knocked over some of the quarters. He stood up, arched his back and approached the wide windows. Fashionably tacky curtains stretched from ceiling to floor and Damien pushed them aside to see through the tented panes of glass. Looking to the top of the Flamingo Hilton’s sign, illuminating brightly with florescent pink, Damien exhaled his drag. “Jesus.”

The lights from the street reflected off the myriad of other windows in the hotel. The streets, several lanes thick and alive with shiny traffic, looked like a parade lap at the Indianapolis 500. Jackson said it was the same view every day, how Las Vegas never changes except for mammoth casinos being erected every so often. Damien tilted his head against the window, looking downward to the casino floors below, separating two halves of the hotel.

The lights in the bathroom went off. Jackson walked with a smooth strut, running his hands through his wet hair. He smiled wide and unevenly, stopping short of the bed. He wore leather sandals, no socks, khaki shorts and no shirt. Gold chains dangled from his neck. Rings glimmered on three of his fingers and one thumb. Jackson threw a hotel towel aside, picked up a stick of deodorant from the pile of clothing near the television cabinet. Lifting his arms, he quickly stroked his armpits. He dropped the deodorant, smelled his underarms and picked up a green golf shirt from the same pile of clothing. Jackson put it over his head and clapped his hands several times. Damien stared out the window, smoking his cigarette slowly and silently.

“Woohoo! All right, bro! Vegas baby!” yelled Jackson. Damien took another slow drag and shook his head, staring still at the people below on the busy sidewalks.

“Yep,” said Damien, exhaling.

“Man, I don’t see how you can wear jeans,” said Jackson. Damien looked down at his wardrobe: lightweight black leather boots, jeans and a white collared shirt. He shrugged.

“It’s all I’ve got left. Eighteen days of hiking and backpacking through Boulder, Moab and Sedona will do wondrous things to your clean laundry when you’re not used to it,” answered Damian. He took another long inhale, stared at the end of his glowing cigarette and breathed smoke through his nose. The smoke blew back and drifted through the curtains, creeping along the dark glass window. “How warm to you figure it is out there?”

“Outside? Warm, buster. Last time I was here… in July, it was 90 degrees at midnight,” said Jackson. He picked up the piled quarters and spilled stack then placed them in his pocket. Damian turned around to the window again.

“90 degrees at midnight? That’s worse than two days ago at Lake Mead.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got other things to consider. For instance, the casinos, where we’ll be all night, are air conditioned. July was three months ago… it’s probably all right. You’re cool.” Damian turned around and stuck up his thumb. Jackson nodded and pulled his wallet out of a drawer on the end table. Fat and thick, he stuffed it into his back pocket.

“I should’ve got more money today,” said Damian, watching Jackson.

“Don’t worry bro. They’ve got cash machines everywhere downstairs. You can even take money off credit cards. Just watch out for the fees… make sure it’s worth it,” reminded Jackson.

“Yeah, right. I don’t plan on gambling much. Never was good at it, even when grunts were drunk in the fraternity and I knew everyone’s tell.” Damian walked over, moved around Jackson and smashed his cigarette in the ashtray on the table. Jackson walked back to his wads of clothing on the floor and began tossing them around. Damian sat down on his bed again and checked his cigarettes. Jackson located a particular pair of shorts and reached into one of the pockets. He removed a fifty dollar bill and crammed it into his front pocket. Replacing the pack in his shirt pocket, Damian chuckled.

“Yeah, bro. But this is it! Sin City! God, I love it. Porn on the tube, hookers on the street, cash floatin’ through the air… I love it! I can’t wait to gamble. Nothin’ like a challenge. It’s not winning that counts… it’s the free drinks!” rambled Jackson, stumbling over his words.

“What was that?” asked Damian, sitting upright on the edge of a zigzag, multi-colored comforter.

“Stash cash, bro,” remarked Jackson, standing up. He kicked some scattered articles of clothing into one big stack then stuffed them under the bed. “Never know who’ll be coming back with me tonight!” Once every last piece of clothing was hidden, Jackson clapped his hands again. He picked up a few loose items, such as a small bottle of ice blue aftershave and several coins, no bigger than twenty-five cents.

“Free drinks, too?” asked Damian, timidly. He smiled as he awaited Jackson’s response. Placing the bottle of aftershave and coins on the counter just beside the television cabinet, Jackson checked his looks in the mirror again, winked and turned to Damian. He walked straight up to him, leaned over and grasped his shoulders with his heavy, callous, ringed hands.

“No, my boy. Not just drinks… whiskey! Scotch! Gin! Tequila to kill ya! You call it as long the slots are spinning. But the best part about this crazy sideshow starlight city in the desert oasis of pleasure is the sex!”

Damian raised his eyes. Picking up his silver Zippo from the table, he flicked the flint wheel. Sparks sprayed. Jackson saw the look on his face and let go. He stepped backwards.

“Sex?”

Jackson reeled back in laughter: “Hells yeah bro! All the sex a man needs… all for one small itsy bitsy introductory price!” His words were split between loud cackling and heightened, excited humor. Damian’s face dropped to a somber glare.

“Of course. No such thing as love in a place like Vegas, right?”

“Hey bro! Sure there is! Hell, I’ve fallen in love several times here. In and out of love. Get it? In and out, in and out,” said Jackson, increasing his laughter. Damian flicked his lighter again. He looked at the Flamingo Hilton logo in the glass ashtray beneath several snuffed butts. His last extinguished butt, deformed and crooked, emitted smoke. He looked back to Jackson whose face was blushed. Jackson smiled, revealing his bright teeth again. Damian noticed the ice bucket by a curvy lamp, a few inches away from four drinking glasses topped with paper caps. He walked over to pick up a glass as Jackson reached past him for his plastic, credit-card size room key. Damian checked his back pocket and found his own key behind his wallet. Jackson nursed his laughter to a slow end as Damian poured a glass of water from the bathroom sink.

“Well, let’s get out of here and grab a steak at one of the restaurants downstairs. Nothin’ is gonna satisfy men except a medium-rare hunk of filet mignon….”

Damian set the glass down and interrupted: “I’ve only got fifty-seven dollars on me.” Jackson quit talking and looked at his friend’s bewildered visage.

“All right bro…. you’re cool. I know you don’t have much cash yet, but a full plate of steak, shrimp, lobster… hell even calamari and scallops should only cost about twenty bucks. That’s with all the trimmings, too! And you know it! It’s Las Vegas, bro. Your salvation for a roll of the dice makes a poor man king. Things couldn’t be better or cheaper here! The hell with eternity!” exclaimed Jackson, raising his voice until he was shouting.

“What the hell are you talking about, psycho?” replied Damian. Jackson ran over to him and punched him in the arm. Damian sighed reluctantly, placing his hands on his thighs. “Fine.”

Jackson held his room key up then put it in his pocket. “Let’s eat and be gluttonous my friend!” He patted Damian on the back, leaned past him into the bathroom, checked his hair one last time and headed toward the door. Damian followed. Jackson’s machine-gun laughter echoed through the hotel suite and down the hall. Damian closed the door behind them.

***

Twenty-nine dollars was all that remained. With a look of disgust, Damian counted the green bills in his wallet again. Twenty-nine dollars. He stood in the Flamingo’s fabulous casino lobby, near bright posters of upcoming dancing, magician and retired jazz artists’ shows. The constant ringing of slot machines annoyed him upon entering the casino hours ago. Now, he was physically distraught and couldn’t think straight.

Damian folded his wallet, slid it back into his pocket and shook his head. A couple of well-dressed adults in country attire pardoned themselves and stepped in front of him. Damian watched them pass, saying nothing. He followed them back into the blinking lights of the casino, past the spinning Cadillac and Harley Davidsons on display, to the nearest bar. The couple sat next to a grieving old man at the bar and started playing video poker together.

Damian kept strolling, walking through the rows of slot machines past the bar, looking for Jackson. His round, red face showed excitement like a kid on his first visit to a carnival. However, his wide eyes showed fear, unease. Excusing himself to congregating crowds around winning tables or hot slot machines, Damian searched for his friend, knowing he was somewhere in the vast expanse of gamblers.

Walking with a slow pace, he observed the scenery. There were thousands of various slot machines, ranging from penny to quarter to dollar to multi-dollar prices. Flashing lights blinked, sirens screamed and clanging bells rang in the air, no matter where he walked. The sounds followed him, beckoning for attention. Gigantic televisions covered an entire wall to his left, displaying sporting events and greyhound dog races from across the country. Odds were posted on digitally on the bottom of each screen. People sat in seats like a theater, clutching their tickets and exclaiming hopes of landing a lucky draw. Damian turned to his right, locating several small cage-like booths where casino employees exchanged cash for tokens, loose change and chips. Another bar, centered amidst craps, blackjack and roulette tables, served painkillers on ice. Poor-looking folks, in spirit and money, sipped their drinks silently. An entrance to another section of the casino lay beyond more flashing lights and massive mirrors.

Damian stopped walking for a moment and laughed to himself next to a cash exchange booth. He noticed the cash machines for withdrawing debit or credit cards. There were no doors in or out of the casino to the busy streets. It was wide open as if to promote availability 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Warm breeze wisped into the casino every so often, and Damian smelled the air when it reached him from several feet away. He stood in awe, curious and astonished, admiring the neon haven as crowds of people from all walks of life waited to transfer money from their savings accounts into tangible bills. Damian quit smiling and studying their faces, anxious one of them might look back and scowl. He saw a horror show of misery instead of vacationing, fun-loving people. As he turned to search out the other end of the casino, someone slapped the back of his head.

“Wake up, bro!” said Jackson, appearing to the right with a plastic tray of large silver coins. “We’ve got some winning to do.”

Unhappily, Damian rubbed the short hair on the back of his head. He looked at Jackson’s short, pug nose in the center of his long face, ending above his crooked smile. Damian crossed his arms.

“No thanks. I only have twenty-nine bucks left, thanks to your extravagant dinner plans earlier.”

Jackson smiled: “C’mon, are you pulling my dick? Only twenty-five bucks for a fat fillet, baked potato, Caesar salad, loaf of honey wheat, veggies, and those beers? You’re bitching about that?”

“Twenty-eight, Jackson,” replied Damian.

“Whatever,” huffed Jackson, rolling his eyes. “That’s just because you tipped the poor bastard.” Damian shook his head disgracefully, but did not move away. He depended on Jackson to guide him through Las Vegas, and at the moment, he wanted to merge into the oblivion to other people. A group of men in tuxedos passed, carrying martinis with green olives and laughing to themselves.

Jackson slapped him on the shoulder. “No worries, bro. I’ll get you back. How about a drink for starters?”

Damian stared at his feet as he stood on the strangely designed carpet. He raised his head, looking at people by the bar again. They were actors, it seemed, playing different unusual parts, pouting or smiling playfully, silent or laughing, drunk or elated. Damian cringed, shook his head again and shoved his hands deep in his pockets. Jackson didn’t notice; ordering two bourbons from a passing waitress, which she took down on a small notepad. She was dressed in a short skirt covered with sequins; her hair sprayed high. Damian couldn’t look at her, especially her dark and tired eyes, as if abused through witnessing more sadness or tragedy capable in a lifetime. She smiled, though, walking briskly away with Jackson’s order.

“Whiskey! Whiskey!” yelled Jackson. The waitress kept walking. Damian watched every step. “What do you think about that, bro?”

“No thanks.”

“What? Whimpin’ out on me, huh? Ah, fuck it. I’ll drink ‘em both. Let’s bet, all right?” rambled Jackson, smiling and looking past Damian to the machines beyond. He nodded to himself and walked past Damian, paying little attention to his friend. Damian scratched his goatee and stood looking at Jackson’s back. He blinked his eyes as the noise increased all around him.

Jackson marched past people and machines until he picked out his own slot for his dollar tokens. He sat down in the plush red leather seat and set his tray on the counter next to an ashtray. Damian stood afar, watching Jackson gamble on the chance of the machine’s colorful spinning wheels. The ringing, hollering and whining of sirens and patrons enveloped the space between them. With his hands back in his pockets, Damian observed as Jackson counted his silver dollar tokens then place them back on the black plastic tray. He stared at the buttons of the slot machine briefly and inserted a token. Damian turned around and started walking in the opposite direction.

His eyes glanced across the floor, seeking out the face of every woman in the establishment. Each one was either wearing a wedding ring or with someone, and he searched for any girl available for a conversation. Rich women dressed in white, elderly women with canes and frosted hair, waitresses hunting for tips and prostitutes preying on anyone for an extra buck were all he saw. He kept walking, stepping along slowly, trying to find someone he could talk to.

***

By midnight, Damian was thoroughly bored. He stood by the opening of the casino from the hotel, on the opposite side where Jackson spent his time and money gambling. He smoked a menthol cigarette, pinched between his index finger and thumb. Frustrated by a lack of money, he leaned against a pillar and looked at the clash of cultures everywhere. It was all contradictory, so many people from so many walks of life in one place after one thing. He was angry with Jackson; all he wanted was to leave Las Vegas and find another dusty back road into the wilderness or a campsite somewhere where the altitude was high and the air was freshly quiet. A road winding until it opened into a brighter existence where his fantasy of pure solitude could be realized. He envisioned rolling hills of joshua trees and steep crags at sunset, when the light becomes golden and dims to darkness. He wanted to be near the ocean to witness the sunrise ripple over the wake from its earliest emergence from the horizon. No more madhouses or whores, money sucking merchants or drug-addled smiles. Somewhere among wild flowers blossoming in their chosen oasis, far from society.

A familiar voice interrupted his thoughts: “Hey bro,” said Jackson. Damian’s blank stare blinked awake and he looked at the long ash on his smoke. He turned slowly as Jackson was already in his face, smelling metallic from coin tarnish. Then the smell of pure Kentucky sour mash bourbon hit. “Where you been hidin’ these last couple hours?”

Damian took a long drag. Ash accidentally dropped to the carpet. He exhaled in Jackson’s direction to accommodate the sour stink of alcohol. Jackson took a step backwards but continued to smile the same way. Damian bit his bottom lip, grinding whiskers with his upper teeth. He shrugged nonchalantly. “Around here. Walking all over mankind’s attempt at paradise,” answered Damian.

Jackson scratched the corner of his shiny nose and smudged blackish silver residue on his face. Damian said nothing but slowly smiled as his friend suggested more drunken words: “Cool, man. Glad you’re enjoying it so far. Had any drinks, yet, bro?”

Damian shook his head and checked his wrist watch.

“Damn, you’re stupid!” shouted Jackson with a wide mouth and slurred delivery. He swayed on his feet while tilting his head to drink the last swallow of his bourbon. Damian crossed his arms and yawned. After his mouth closed, he looked sternly at Jackson.

“So be it, I guess. A fool returns to his folly and I’ll be returning to the room to get some sleep. I had to drive all morning, remember?” reminded Damian.

“Bed?” snorted Jackson; eyes squinted as his smile diminished. “Did you lace your shoes with silk? Is your pantyhose creeepin’ up on ya? This is Las Vegas, dumb ass!” He stretched out his arms and held his hands toward the high ceiling, dangling the empty glass. “Whatever your pleasure whenever you want! C’mon bro! Don’t go out like that… get a drink! Place a bet! Pick up some snatch!”

“No, thanks.” Damian inhaled more smoke from his cigarette, looking displeased. Jackson snarled and dropped his arms. Damian quickly slipped the butt into Jackson’s empty glass of ice.

“I think I’ll keep my money for breakfast tomorrow. Hiking yesterday wore me out then I had to drive, man. We’ll be here a couple days. No biggie. I might even have enough money to buy you breakfast after you spend your roll,” said Damian. Jackson looked down at the smoking butt in his glass. One shuffled of the glass extinguished the ember.

“I’m gonna crash. You have a good one, Jackson. Maybe you’ll strike it lucky. If you do, wake me up and then I’ll party. No reason to celebrate at the present.”

“Yeah, right,” said Jackson in a smug voice, still looking at the butt in his glass. He sighed deeply then belched. Damian shrugged again and hit Jackson on the shoulder with a hard slap. He walked past him toward a staircase leading down to the hotel elevators.

Jackson’s smile dissolved into a somber face of worry and concern. His friend kept walking toward the end of the casino and beginning of the hotel, unaffected by the din of ringing bells and mixed voices. Jackson set his empty glass on the ground near the wall. He rose, put his hands on his hips and looked around from side to side. Returning to watch his friend, Jackson laughed aloud as Damian, wearing jeans, trudged slowly through a multitude of visitors in summer clothing. He clapped his hands and walked to the nearest bar, ordered another drink and set down a ten dollar bill. He received the drink and lifted the glass to his lips for a long first sip. Jackson looked at his wallet and smiled, thumbing through a wide flap of bills. He sucked some ice cubes into his mouth and crushed them with his teeth.

Just then, a woman wearing a blue evening gown, tight on her petit, firm body, approached the bar. Jackson put his wallet away and leaned away from the counter and stools so she could see him. His wide grin looked wet with glistening lips. Immediately, she responded and smiled back, slowing her pace. Jackson stepped toward her. He couldn’t help staring at her thick red lips and straight brown hair dangling past her shoulders. The mascara, thin and dark, pattered on her moving eyelashes. Her eyes were beautiful yet poignant, mysteriously attractive. The look was there for Jackson. He removed his wallet and a few large bills, discreetly yet obvious for her to notice while he pretended not to see her interest. Jackson leaned forward again, faced forward and ordered her to come closer with two fingers. The woman continued to approach him, strutting like a spoiled house cat.

“Looking for a good time tonight?” asked the woman. Her voice had an accent, which Jackson didn’t seem to notice much. He held up the folded bills by his chest so only she could see. She walked up to him and grabbed his ass. He leaned over and pressed his lips to her ear. She smelled of peppermint, cigarettes and old perfume. He could even sense the salt on her skin from previous perspiration.

“Yeah yeah yeah, baby. But listen. I’ve got a friend who needs more fun than I do… what do you say to cheering the poor fella up for an hour? How much would that cost?”

The woman contemplated the offer as she ran her long red nails down the spine of Jackson’s green shirt. She stepped backwards. He was not her client, so she backed off. She forced a smile and thought about the proposition, never taking her eyes off the money in his hand. Ultimately, she nodded in agreement.

***

Back in the hotel room, Damian lay on his queen size bed with his boots off. In his white socks, he rubbed his feet together, flexing his toes. He watched the television screen and listened to the violent show with light volume. A book rested on his chest and he lay sleepy-eyed with the curtains closed. The pink neon Flamingo Hilton sign could still be seen illuminating through the thin fabric. Damian lit a cigarette and sat up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. With the smoke in one hand and television remote in the other, he watched a hitman suddenly become a millionaire and scoffed at the TV.

Damian flicked the first ash from his cigarette in the ashtray when a knock came from the door. He sat up quickly and froze. A few seconds passed until another knock came. He set his book, still open and face down, on the end table. With the remote control, he pressed the mute button, killing all sound. He looked to the door, wonder some and blinking rapidly.

“Jackson?” he asked. Another short sequence of small knocks followed.

“Hello? Are you in there, Dam-e-on?” The voice was distinctly female with a peculiar accent. Damian sat straight up and set his cigarette in the ashtray. He looked around for a few seconds then stiffened. “Dam-e-on? Hello?” repeated the sultry voice. He cleared his throat.

“Yes?”

“Oh… hello,” said the voice in a higher pitch. Silence followed until she spoke again. Damian let his cigarette burn, emitting clouding trails of smoke in the lamp shade. “Dam-e-on? Are you going to let me in?”

Damian stood up, confused and curious. He looked under the bed and assured Jackson’s clothes were not visible before running to the bathroom. He dashed a few strokes of cologne on his neck and rubbed his goatee in a downward motion. After a deep breath, he approached the door but did not open it.

“Can I help you?” Damian asked. Earlier at dinner, Jackson told Damian a story about how diligent and persistence call-girl services operated in Las Vegas. One example mentioned was call-girls paying to obtain a list of hotel guests from the front desk. After receiving a list of possible clients, the girls would stop at nothing to break a sale, from calling rooms frequently or actually making door-to-door calls without warning. “How did you know my name?”

“My name is Princess,” said the sweet voice from the other side of the door. Closer now, Damian realized how innocent the voice sounded, how soothing it was to his lonesome ear, and how appealing. “Your friend,” Princess continued, “asked me to come up here and give you something special.” Damian covered his eyes with his hand and squeezed the skin of his forehead. He ran his hand over his short hair and took another deep breath.

“Give me what?” inquired Damian.

Princess sighed loudly and began giggling. To Damian, she reminded him of a freshman girl from high school who held a monstrous crush for him when he was a senior. “Why don’t you just open the door and I’ll show… please Dam-e-on?”

Damian froze. He stood looking at the fire escape instructions posted on the back of the door. Shaking his head, he walked back to the end table to retrieve his cigarette. Taking a long drag, he closed his eyes and thought to himself about the possibilities of such an opportunity. He crushed the cigarette in the ashtray and walked back to the same spot where he stood before, staring back at the door. Princess scratched the other side with her fingernails. Goose bumps sprouted on Damian’s forearms. Gingerly, he reached forward, turned the steel latch handle and opened the door.

The first thing he noticed was the perfume when the door swung open, drafting the air toward him. He smelled cigarette smoke, too. Princess, expecting his reply, stood leaning against the door frame, hand remaining up with fingers extended from scratching. She tilted her head to the side. Large silver hoop earrings dangled from stretched ear lobes. Her brunette hair, full and thick, curled over her right shoulder. Circular sequins sparkled from reflecting light on her blue gown in subtle splendor. Her lips parted and smiled; her eyes fixed on Damian. She lowered her hand and swayed her shoulder. Damian stared at her cleavage, voluptuous and revealing.

On the other hand, Damian stood in the entry hall of the hotel room, dumbfounded and captivated by her exotic, attractive eyes. It was strange. They were slightly raised, thin and remarkably blue, like the color of her gown. The lashes were thick and dark. Her high cheekbones and striking facial features gave her a distinct beauty. She wore little, if any, make-up on her bronzed skin. Damian looked long and hard into her glossy eyes as if they were hypnotic.

His eyes were calm yet focused, like a little boy understanding sexuality for the first time. Princess smiled and walked inside the room without invitation. She continued to smile, but her eyes did not reflect the happiness of her grin. As she approached him, Damian backed up, extending his arm toward the remainder of the room behind him.

“Make yourself comfortable,” suggested Damian. Princess’ smile declined somewhat when she heard him speak in a kind tone. He was sincere and mannerly, unlike other men. She looked at him again. Most men either commanded her to get undressed or verbally abused her with demands of urgency, fetishes and unusual desires. Princess knew who she was and what she did. She didn’t expect manners and it stopped her dead in her tracks.

Damian kept his distance from her until she quit smiling. He stood up against the wall, close to a bar counter top near the bathroom. Suddenly, she walked straight toward him with a funny look in her eyes. Her strut stopped and she slowly shifted toward him. They were face-to-face. Princess tucked her chin, staring into Damian’s eyes. He looked back at her, noticing the same signs of sadness and forced fascination. Damian didn’t flinch.

She leaned forward and breathed into his ear. The short hair behind his ear tickled from the warm, moist air. Princess put her lips close to his neck and inhaled. Damian leaned toward her more, aroused by her peppermint breath and strong approach. She ran her tongue up his cheek. Damian breathed deep. After licking, she looked into his eyes again with unfounded passion.

“I want you,” she purred in a whisper. Damian shared the staring, alertly watching her eyes. At once, Princess grabbed his crotch. He didn’t blink but sucked in a whiff of air at the stroke of surprise. Her soft fleshy fingers and long red fingernails enclosed his testicles and she rolled his scrotum in the palm of her hand. Damian stared back at her, swallowing after every slight move she made.

The fondling continued for a few seconds until Princess smiled again. Her breath brushed against his face. The perfume made him dizzy. He reached down and stopped her hand from further massaging. His grip was controlled and patient, pulling her hand away. Princess’ sexy smile disappeared.

“You don’t have to do that,” said Damian, voice cracking.

“What?” asked Princess. She slowly let go as if her hand froze from shock and became limp. Her eyes spelled shock with her gasp. She moved away.

“I said you don’t have to do this if you don’t want. It doesn’t matter much to me… I can live with a conversation,” said Damian, holding her wrist gently.

“What do you mean? Am I not good enough for you?” Her face was angry.

Damian looked into her eyes and smirked. He made sure he had her attention. “No, that’s not it. You’re gorgeous… but I don’t want to force you to do anything you don’t want to….”

“But I want to. Craig paid me to come up here and show you a good time,” interjected Princess, face changing from anger to persuasive allure. Damian smiled again, and then frowned. He looked down at the floor before talking again.

“I’d rather know you as a person, not an object. I’ve been screwing one-nighters since I want to college… every night another routine to lure some girl out of the corner of a bar to my bed. I’m over it. I’m sick of it… sick of living with the same empty feeling every morning.” He raised his head and looked back into her eyes. “I’d rather get to know you, that’s all.”

Princess pulled her wrist free from Damian’s grip. She stepped back and looked away. Immediately, she began preoccupying herself with fixing the strap to her blue purse, slipping off her bare shoulder.

“Okay Dam-e-on. I will talk with you,” she said in a timid, submissive voice.

Damian walked over and sat on the edge of his bed. His heart pounded. Princess removed her purse completely from her shoulder and set it next to the television cabinet, still playing the violent program on mute. She walked over and sat across from Damian on the other bed, carrying her Virginia Slims and orange plastic lighter in one clutched hand.

“We only have an hour, less than that now, okay?” she asked, taking her seat with ease and poise. Damian shrugged and reached for the ashtray on the end table. She laughed again; sounding forced, and crossed her long brown legs. Her skin was so smooth that it reflected the light from the lamp.

Princess put a cigarette in her mouth and held up her lighter as Damian sat motionless, watching. She rolled the flint of the plastic lighter awkwardly, trying to avoid a long thumbnail. Damian observed three failed attempts before scrambling into his front pockets. He removed his silver Zippo and popped the top. He rolled the flint wheel against the leg of his jeans, striking the flame. After lighting her cigarette, he whipped the Zippo shut with a flick of his wrist. Princess smiled in appreciation, using her tongue to play with the thin filter of her smoke. Taking an inhale, she sucked in a long draw. Damian tossed the Zippo onto the end table.

Princess stared at Damian as she smoked. She acted anxious, impatient. She crossed her legs and bounced her elevated foot. Inhaling quicker, she clicked her fingernails together on her hand holding the cigarette. Damian started playing with his hands, unsure what to do with them. He rubbed his palms together, crossed his fingers and set them on his thighs. Someone could be heard in the hallway, singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in utter drunkenness, pausing between hic-ups. Damian crouched over, setting his elbows on his knees and hands crossing in front of him. He looked up at Princess. She smiled. He smiled back at her.

“So…” she said, “what do you want of me?” She flicked a long ash on the floor instead of the ashtray. Damian rolled his eyes to his socked feet.

“I don’t know… wasn’t planning on company….”

“I could tell,” interrupted Princess, smiling. Damian matched her grin and laughed a bit to himself.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Craig told me you’d be alone,” added Princess. She continued to click her nails. She pronounced each syllable carefully. Damian blushed lightly and rubbed his hands together. He caught sight of Princess’ crossed foot, slipping the heel of her blue pump on and off. He stared only for a moment before resorting to the television screen, showing two men in a gun fight during a chase over deteriorating building rooftops in some dark urban setting.

“Yeah. I’ve always been that way,” answered Damian after delay. “I couldn’t find anyone my age downstairs anyhow.” Princess laughed. She smashed out her cigarette in the ashtray and set it back on the end table. Damian lowered his head for a minute, and then sat up quickly.

“Where are you from?”

Princess pouted her lips. “You mean, why do I have an accent?”

“I like your accent,” snapped back Damian. Princess didn’t respond.

“If you must know, I come from Canada.” Damian tucked his lips and nodded while looking ahead.

“And… your real name is Princess, too. Is that right?” asked Damian, looking at her. He smiled gently, never showing a tooth. She simply nodded and forced another smirk across her face. Her cheekbones dropped.

“And you, Dam-e-on, where are you from?” asked Princess.

“Nowhere special. Just a dot on a map of Minnesota. Nearest big town is Saint Cloud, between the lakes.” He laughed but stopped when she didn’t join him. “Sorry. There’s a lot of lakes in Minnesota.”

“I’ve never been there.”

“Really? It’s right up by Canada.”

“So you go to school there?”

“No, no… not anymore. I went to U of M in Minneapolis until two years ago. It was too crowded there.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. “In Las Vegas for vacation?”

Damian thought for a moment. “Sorta. Craig and I are running across the country to see as much as we can on a limited budget. This is one of his so-called ‘must see’ stops. I was against the idea, honestly. I want to go check out the ecosystems of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, down by the Texas border, but he doesn’t got for all that. I lost the coin toss.”

“E-co-sys-tiems?” struggled Princess, looking confused.

“It’s what I went to college for….” Damian looked at her dumbfounded countenance and chuckled to himself. “Never mind. That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”

“And what would dat be?” asked Princess.

“Anything to keep me out of the casino again.”

“What? You no like Vegas?”

Damian shook his head. “Not particularly. I’m more out of the way, far out in the woods type of guy. All these lights… all this noise and fancy people get to me.” He removed a cigarette from his crumpled soft pack in his shirt pocket. Princess handed him the ashtray.

“Do you work?” she asked, dropping the previous subject. Damian struck his Zippo, lit his smoke and extinguished the flame.

“Yes… but not really. I graduated in time to nab a natural resources job but I decided to join some friends on a business venture. I should’ve taken the job. It wasn’t a risk… it was steady and waiting for me… but I wanted to get rich. You know, instant gratification….” Damian stared at his socks again. “I lost everything.”

“So how did you make it out here without money?” asked Princess. Damian rubbed his eyes and looked up at her. She waited. He looked around at the walls, the clean drinking glasses with paper tops on the counter, the silent TV. He watched her show slide on and off her heel then raised his eyes to look at her. She sat with a stern face.

“I worked as a waiter in a restaurant part time while applying and interviewing for different environmental jobs. No one took me. In December, two years ago, just as I began to see the light of day… my mother was killed in an auto accident.” Princess’ eyes slowly closed and she titled her head. Damian rubbed his hands together and leaned forward, elbows back on his knees. He cleared his throat and talked louder, avoiding the pains of memory.

“She felt no pain, so they told me. All I remember was washing dishes in the back of the greasy spoon dive where I was working and hearing about it from my mother’s first husband. She was married twice, both of which left her bruised and broken. I didn’t know what to do. I fell there on the floor, sitting on wet tile, balling my eyes out. I thought I would lose it. I started crying to that I accidentally wiped my eyes with soap suds on my hands… it hurt like a bitch for hours,” explained Damian. He looked her and how she focused on him with attentive sympathy. They shared a sad glance before he continued, constantly holding back emotions from interfering with his voice. He snapped his fingers.

“Just that quick… gone without warning.” He rubbed his eyes and ducked his head. “So I don’t work anymore. Insurance, estate and will took care of my problems, costing me the only family I had left. Some trade. Sure, I have cash but I try to save it, mostly. It hurts to spend it because it’s all that remains. That’s probably why I didn’t bring much with me to Las Vegas. I’d rather be out camping somewhere, where I can talk to my mom and she’ll hear me….” He cut off his words and took a drag off his cigarette. When he inhaled, he opened his mouth. Princess watched the white smoke roll off his teeth and tongue.

“That’s my life on a paper plate,” added Damian. He leaned his head back and exhaled toward the speckled ceiling heights. “Young, stupid, lonely and living off my mother’s death.” He managed to laugh in discomfort to make Princess feel better. She didn’t laugh, only looked at him more intently. She sat still, quiet and pale faced. Damian clapped his hands together to break the silence and instigate a change of subject. “What about you?” he asked.

Princess pouted her lips and clicked her nails together, again. She fluffed her hair, ran her hand down her neck and sighed. Her moan sounded dull. She uncrossed her legs, stood up, walked over and sat next to Damian on the end of the bed. He didn’t move, continuing to smoke. She stared at the buttons on his white shirt.

“Me? You don’t want to hear about me.”

“Sure I do,” confided Damian. “Hell, you just listened to my sob story. Even the score.”

“Okay,” she answered and looked his passionately. It was a love glance, as if Damian asked her to run away and live with him in luxurious serenity forever. She took a deep breath and sucked in her cheeks. Once she gathered her thoughts, she spoke.

“I live here… in Las Vegas. I moved here from Flo-ree-da many months ago with my daughter, who is six,” she said, holding up an equal number of fingers. Damian nodded.

“I was to be married in Orlando but my fi… fi… the man I was to marry began to hurt me.” Princess shut up and sat still. Damian took another drag and ashed in the tray.

“Go ahead. I’m listening,” he said. She took a deep breath and stood up. Princess walked over to the other bed, retrieved her cigarettes and orange lighter and returned to sitting next to Damian.

“He beat me so bad that I had to quit beauty school. I lost all dat money. I told him I did not want to see him again ever. One night, he came over and tried to take my daughter away… he tried to steal my baby! He was a mechanic ad didn’t get off work until very late every night… he pounded on my door and woke up everyone in the apartments. I would not let him in… but I forgot he had a key… he broke in and grabbed me by the hair, yelling ‘You lousy bitch! You dumb bitch!’ He grabbed my girl and smeared black grease all over her pink pajamas. She started crying, looking at me to do something. I couldn’t let him grab her like dat.” Damian nodded and held up his lighter. Princess dipped the tip into the flame and lit a cigarette.

“I started hitting him as hard as I could, breaking my nails and hurting my… myself. He let go of my daughter but threw me on the floor. I tried to get up… he kicked me several times. I thought I would die. He kept yelling at me: ‘Get down you bitch! You goddamn whore!’ I grabbed his ankle and bit him as hard as I could. He jerked away, chipping my tooth. As I screamed and cried, he picked a mirror off the wall and hit me with it. That’s about the last thing I remember… I woke up in the emergency room with my daughter crying next to me, standing by police,” she finished.

Damian waited a moment as she smoked. “What happened?”

“Look here,” she answered, pointing to her back. She turned her back toward him. At first, Damian noticed nothing wrong: no scars or weird coloring of her tan skin, just a beautiful tapestry of muscles. Using one hand, Princess lifted up the long brown length of her thick hair. There was an ugly scar, crooked and purple, running a jagged path from where her hair began on her neck down to her right shoulder. Damian reached out and ran his finger down the livid scar, deeply impressed in her soft skin, down to its end like a river tributary. Damian cringed and pulled his hand away.

“Jesus…” he uttered. Princess dropped her hair back over the scar and turned back to him.

“Thirty-nine stitches… almost killed me. I took me awhile to get back to normal, scared at night for him to come back. My daughter started having nightmares, crying out in the dead of night. We visited my grandparents in Mobile for a weekend after I lost my job because I climbed into a bottle and drank myself out of misery. She didn’t wake at all when we were out of Orlando… slept like rock. I decided to more… here… since we had nothing left in Orlando. I couldn’t move north… and I always dreamed of being a Vegas girl. I ended up doing this when we had nothing else.” Princess turned back toward Damian, leaned over and ashed her cigarette. He shook his head constantly, frightened. She finished ashing and turned back around. She looked at each one of her hands individually, checking the nails carefully.

“But… money’s good. It’s constant,” she added, laughing. Damian shared her laughter but stopped quickly. “I make my hours and live on my own. My daughter is so happy here.” She clicked her nails a few times and took a drag.

“Wow. I’m sorry to hear about most of that… but it’s good that you’re happy,” said Damian.

“Yeah,” mumbled Princess. She took another drag and smashed the butt in the ashtray. Damian reached over and touched her hand as she crushed the glowing ember of the cigarette. His touch was controlled and gentle, moving his fingers into hers.

“I’m sorry, Princess. You don’t deserve to be treated like that,” said Damian, softly. He shut his mouth and held his breath, focusing on the floor. Princess remained still, sitting straight up beside him.

She accepted holding his hand yet turned away. She looked at the television screen, showing a man stalking a well-dressed woman in a poorly lit city alley. Instead of watching, she noticed a small sand painting on the wall. It was something abstract. She imagined it to be sand dunes at sunrise. She saw herself in the picture, running over the hot sands barefoot, holding her daughter’s hand and laughing at the birth of a new day. She smiled.

Damian saw it. He began moving his fingers along hers as they crossed. He rubbed her knuckle, tracing the wrinkles of skin beneath silver rings. His strokes were slow and prudent, constantly in care. As he thought about his touch, Damian stared at the ceiling. He recognized water stains above the bathroom, brown old rings. His eyes grew tired and he shut them for a moment. Princess sat quiet and motionless, looking at the sand picture, immune to his movements. She crossed her leg and bounced it off the other, smiling at her imagination. Damian, eyes closed, dared to speak.

“I understand.” He cleared his throat. Princes blinked and looked down at his hand, then at him. She frowned and stopped moving her leg.

“My mom always wanted to see me get married and have kids. That’s all she ever used to talk about… how she’d watch them for me on the weekends and help me whenever they needed tending or I needed advice… she never got a chance. I see how you must feel about your daughter. It’s cherishing life… and everything that’s good in this world. That’s really what it’s all about,” said Damian, looking strongly at Princess.

She nodded and squeezed his hand. Their longing looks met again, and both smiled. Her mouth opened and closed. There was warmth in her touch, clinching his hand.

“Still want to talk?” she asked.

“I guess… what do you mean?” inquired Damian, suspicious of her eyes. They looked at him as they did when they first met, about thirty minutes before.

“I want to thank you for somehow listening to me,” she said. Her crossed legs rubbed together.

“No problem. You listened to me.” Princess smiled a squeezed his hand tighter. She sighed and saw the book sitting on the end table.

“You like to read?” asked Princess.

“Yeah, I read a lot. What do you like to do? Have any hobbies?” asked Damian, holding her hand tightly.

She smacked her lips before speaking, aroused. “I like to take my daughter out for breakfast when I get off work. I like going to all the shows to see the dancers and singers... I like to dance, but usually don’t get much chances. I like to sleep naked. I like to run on the strip before I get ready to go to work,” said Princess, stopping to think.

“Where do you work most often?” asked Damian.

“Here… down the street. Up and down the street all night long. Five in the evening until eight in the morning almost every night sometimes.”

“How much do you make in that amount of time… if you worked that shift?”

“On a good night, probably close to couple thousand dollars, sometimes more. Depends on… things. One night, I went out with a magician who appeared at Ballys and made over three thousand. Sometimes it is good not to have busy nights.”

Damian interrupted: “Do these questions bother you? I’ll quit if they do.”

Princess shook her head.

“How much do you charge an hour?”

“One to two hundred. Depends. Fifty for oral pleasure. I don’t do couples and I try to stay away from lesbians… but sometimes… sometimes. The money is better there are certain fantasies in mind.” She became uncomfortable. Damian let go of her hand and stood up. He raised his knuckles. Each popped. He proceeded to stretch his back. Princess checked her purse, still on the counter. She checked her silver watch. Just over fifteen minutes remained.

“Oh… Dam-e-on… please let me thank you! We only have….”

“Who cares about the time? Right?”

“Dam-e-on… let us have some fun! I’ll do whatever you want.”

Damian looked down at her, rocking her legs and pouting. “I guess I can’t tell Craig it was all just talk.” Princess squealed and climbed to her knees on the bed. She sat her cigarettes and lighter aside. Damian scratched his goatee and closed his eyes, pondering what to do.

“What will we do? Dam-e-on? What do you want?” asked Princess anxiously. Damian opened his eyes at once and laughed to himself, throwing his head back. He looked at her and laughed more. In response, she laughed back, but not nearly as emphatic.

“You like to dance but never get a chance?” asked Damian. Princess nodded, her eyes fixed on him. “May I have this dance?” He extended his right hand.

Princess let out a cat-like shriek and clapped her palms, keeping her fingers wide apart so the nails wouldn’t touch. She laughed out loud and jumped to her feet, seizing Damian’s open hand. He laughed at her excitement. She removed her high heels and stood barefoot on the soft carpet. She wrapped her fingers around his hand and pulled him closer, causing Damian to stumble slightly.

“We have no music,” pointed out Princess. Damian looked around the room for a clock radio but saw nothing. He shrugged.

“Oh well. Just imagine it.”

Sharing happiness in their eyes, Damian and Princess began spinning each other in the open floor of the hotel suite. Princess continued laughing. Damian did his best to keep up. On the television screen, a man and woman made love.

***

Slipping her shoes back on, Princess thanked Damian for the fifteen minutes of quick-step spinning and deep dipping. After dancing more than he had in many months, Damian breathed fast. His face was bright red as he rotated his shoulders and shadow boxed the air.

“Man, my shoulders ache. I must be getting old.”

“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” joked Princess. “No one has danced with me in a long time… not like that.” She picked up her cigarettes and orange lighter. She stuffed both into her small blue purse.

“It was better than good,” answered Damian. She looked at him with a crinkled nose, turned and walked toward the door.

“Wait… wait a sec… you don’t have to leave yet,” pleaded Damian. She stopped dead in her tracks, still facing the exit, adjusting her feet in her high shoes.

“I have to go. Thank you, Dam-e-on, for a wonderful time,” said Princess. She opened the door and walked out into the hall, strutting away. Consternated, Damian watched the door recoil and buckle shut. He uttered incoherently to himself and chewed a small portion of dead skin off his left thumb. He paced back and forth across the hotel room, then stopped. After a minute of deliberating, Damian ran out of his room into the hall. He still wore jeans, the white long-sleeve shirt and only his white socks on his feet.

Running at full speed, he didn’t see Princess. He ran to the end of the long stretch of diamond designs on the carpet and walls, then rounded the corner to head down another corridor toward the elevator. As he neared the elevator floor lobby, Damian slowed slightly as soon as he saw Princess standing by one of two elevators. The down button was illuminated.

As he rounded the last corner, he nearly knocked over a standing ashtray, spilling sand on the floor. Princess turned from the sound of the collision. Damian slowed to a walk.

“Dam-e-on? What are you doing?” she asked, looking scared. He held up his hands and stopped walking, breathing deeply. Princess looked at his socks and back up to his face, holding the strap of her purse on her shoulder.

“Do you like me?” asked Damian. His face looked flushed and desperate.

Princess smiled uneasily: “I like you very much.” Damian smiled and walked toward her.

“I like you, too. I don’t want you to go back down yet… you can stay up here and talk more… I think we talk well together,” sputtered Damian. The elevator rang and down button went dark. The doors parted open.

“I think so, too,” said Princess. Flipping her hair, she turned away and walked into the elevator. Three men in golf attire stood together inside. Damian walked after her as she looked at the floor indicator. Damian slipped inside before the doors closed.

Damian swallowed and looked at Princess, who seemed to ignore him. “Please,” he whispered. “You don’t have to keep doing this.”

Princess cast an ugly look at him. Her face looked different, completely transformed from moments before when they were twirling on their toes. “Doing what? What do you mean?” she asked loudly. The three men standing behind them snickered to one another then pretended to pay attention to the dinging floors as the elevator kept going down.

“This… this is what I’m talking about. You can stay with me.” Damian pointed at the floor beneath her feet. She looked over her shoulder to the men in the back of th


© Copyright 2019 Ryan M Akers. All rights reserved.

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