It took me just under five hours to drive from the King’s Castle to the Magenta Building. I didn’t even need to stop for gas. I rolled the windows down in the car and let the hot dry air fill up the car and my ears with white noise.
When I pulled into Las Vegas it was still dark. I avoided the strip but saw the lights and the tall buildings from a distance. I expected all of Las Vegas to be like what I’d seen on post cards and TV shows, glitzy and exciting. Off the strip though, most of Vegas is just pretty much just like every shitty city.
The Magenta Building is lit up with flood lights and lives up to its name. The walls themselves are stucco neon. It’s surrounded by a mote of palm trees. The address and the word “Magenta” are written in cursive letters. It looks like there’s a pool and every apartment has a small rectangular deck sticking off the side full of dead plants and Christmas lights.
I parked a little bit down the block and waited. I was planning to wait until a reasonable time in the morning but I got impatient and had to pee. I got out of the car and headed to Suite 207.
After the initial complicated bits, Kitty said that we were going to have some coffee and a chat. She told me to take a seat.
She sipped instant cappuccino and stared me down. She was wearing a fuzzy orange robe, matching slippers and no makeup. Kitty has thick auburn hair that goes rebel guerrilla freedom fighter crazy if she doesn’t brush it and napalm it with chemicals regularly. That morning, it was exploding from her head like TNT. “What’s your plan?” She asked me.
“Plan?” I repeated.
She nodded. “What do you intend to do?”
“Stay here,” I told her.
“I don’t think that’s realistic.”
“Why?” I asked.
She looked around the apartment. “Well, this is a one bedroom apartment.”
“I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“You don’t have any things with you.”
“I do,” I said. “In the car.”
“Car? What car? How do you have a car?”
I considered lying to her but opted for honesty because she’d see right through me. “I stole it.”
“I see,” she said and took another sip from her coffee. “You’re developing into quite a criminal enterprise.”
“I’m a quick study.”
“School,” she said. “You go to school.”
“High school,” I told her. “It’s overrated.”
“You have to go to school.”
“So I’ll go here. There are schools here. This is Vegas not Mars.”
“I think your family might have a problem with that.”
I shrug. “I told you. I don’t have a family. Mom’s dead. I’m an orphan.”
“You’re not an orphan,” she told me. “Don’t be so melodramatic.” She took another sip of coffee, considering her next move. “What about friends? You have friends back in Los Angeles don’t you?”
“No,” I said.
“No,” I repeated. “I’m weird. No friends.”
“Look, if you don’t let me stay here I’ll probably live on the streets and become like a mouth whore and get addicted to speed or something,” I told her.
“That’s an incredibly manipulative threat, darling,” Kitty told me.
I shrug again. “If it works.”
Kitty looked at the clock on the wall. “Here’s what we’re going to do,” she told me. “I’ll make up a bed on the couch and you can get some rest.”
“I don’t need rest. I’m not tired. I don’t sleep anymore.”
“Fine,” Kitty says. “I do sleep. You can watch videos.” She walked over and opened up a cabinet by her television. She doesn’t have Bluray or even DVD. She has VHS and loads of old movies I haven’t seen in a hundred years.
“You have Fox and the Hound,” I said.
“I do,” she said.
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s just this used to be one of my favorite movies. When I was little.”
Kitty pulled the hair out of my face and put it behind my ears. I looked up at her and I was crying again. I hugged her. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed. She hugged me back.
“Can you watch a little bit of it with me?” I asked her and then immediately decided that was a stupid question. “No,” I told her. “Never mind.”
Kitty nodded. “I’ll watch a little of it with you,” she told me. “If you want.”
We sat on the couch and I started the movie. Kitty was asleep in fifteen minutes. I didn’t wake her.
When Kitty finally woke up it was nearly two in the afternoon and I was going through her cupboards.
“You don’t have anything in your kitchen,” I told Kitty.
“I’m aware,” she said and rubbed her eyes.
I stood on a chair rummaging through the top cabinets. “You have like a hundred bottles of alcohol but no eggs or bread or anything,” I said. “What do you eat?”
“Martinis,” Kitty told me.
“Okay,” I said. “Well, I need actual nutrition.” I jumped down from the chair. “I have some money. I can go to the grocery store.” I pulled the money out that I took from the King.
“Let me guess,” Kitty said. “You stole that money too.”
“Is there a Whole Foods near here?”
“Whole Foods?” Kitty shook her head and looked at the clock. “We have some errands to take care of.”
Kitty nodded. “You need to get your things from the car and bring them upstairs.”
“Okay,” I said. “Then can we get some food?”
“Then we move the car.”
“Because we can’t have a stolen car in front of my apartment.”
I thought about it a moment. “I guess that makes sense.”
“For a criminal protégé you’re certainly making some rookie mistakes,” she told me.
“I’m getting better.”
She rolled her eyes. “Go,” Kitty instructed. “I’m going to freshen up and put my face on.”
I did what she told me. I went to the car and got my bags. I looked around the neighborhood in the daylight. There was a scary looking convenience store with bars all around the glass and a couple other apartment buildings. Las Vegas has a gray pallor. I didn’t really care for it.
On the way back in there was a man in short short pink shorts, a gold chain, flip flops and a “What Happens in Vegas” t-shirt. He has white hair and he’s way too tanned. He looked at me suspiciously.
“Suite 207,” I told him and then ran up the stairs.
With her “face” on, Kitty looked like a cross between a black and white bombshell and a magazine model. She was graceful but flashy at the same time. She’d changed to a jacket dress thing that I can only describe as something that I’m pretty sure Jackie O would have worn and gravity defying heels.
“Did you hotwire or do you have the keys?” She asked me.
“I have the keys.”
“I suppose that’s something.” She applied some lip gloss and stretched her hand out for the keys. I put them in her hand.
“There’s a guy downstairs with pervy shorts on,” I told her.
Kitty nodded at herself in a handheld mirror. “I am aware.” She stood up, smoothed out her jacket dress and put on a pair of pink sunglasses. “Shall we?”
“Okay,” I said.
“You’re going to see Vegas, sweetheart,” she told me with a smile and kissed me on the forehead as she passed. I tried to rub off her gloss but it stuck.
Kitty drove the King’s car. She drove us down some strange side streets and finally parked the car just off the strip where the Scientologist and the Boxer would find it three days later. “Come on,” she told me. “Let’s get breakfast.”
The thing about Kitty is that she knows people. I mean she knows everyone. The mysterious desert doctor surgeon guy is just the tip of the iceburg. Kitty knows what to do and she knows someone that can make it happen. That’s Kitty’s thing. I kill people. She gets favors. Not really fair if you ask me.
One of the people Kitty knows is Bonita Tequila, a Las Vegas legend. After we parked the car, we walked to the strip and there she was, bigger than life and far more interesting. She saw Kitty and nearly sprinted toward us. Bonita is tall, her black hair standing up giving her an extra six inches. That day she was wearing black tights and a Technicolor dreamcoat.
“Kitten!” She screamed and wrapped her big gawdy arms around Kitty. She kissed both of her cheeks. “You look stunning! So beautiful!” Then she saw me and her eyes surrounded in huge fake lashes exploded. “Oh! Oh!” She said and hopped up and down, waiving her hands. “You!” She said. “You’re so beautiful!” She looked over to Kitty. “She’s so beautiful!” Then she grabbed me in a great big warm Bonita hug. “I love you! I love you! I love you!” She told me. She kissed my cheeks. It’s impossible not to like Bonita immediately.
“Betty,” Kitty said. “This is Bonita Tequila.”
I was not prepared for Bonita Tequila.
The three of us stepped into some casino. I couldn’t catch the name. Once we got to the strip and met Bonita I felt like I was an alien on some foreign planet. I didn’t even understand the language on the bright blinky signs. Kitty and Bonita moved so quickly, talked so quickly about Vegas, people I didn’t know, about me even. I could hardly keep up. Bonita would lapse in and out of Spanish if she thought I might be listening. We weaved through crowds of old people with green plastic visors and fanny packs. We took shortcuts past ice machines, dodged gawking tourists. Later Kitty told me that they make the interior of the casinos intentionally disorienting. They make the carpets like mental labyrinths to drive your eyes up to the machines and tables.
“Everything in Vegas is a competition for your eyeballs,” Kitty told me.
We stepped past a line of people, stopping only briefly as Kitty chatted up a few friends of hers as they let us step through into the largest and most absurdly equipped food orgy buffet I’ve ever seen. There was food going on forever. Kitty handed me a plate and got one for herself before going directly for the red meat.
“You should have some greens, chica,” Bonita told me and started to put things on my plate. “And some fruit. Fruit is good for your complexion.”
I followed Bonita in a daze. There was steak and shrimp and roasted chicken and potatoes and everything anyone could ever put on a salad ever and lobster legs and goblets full of pudding and a dozen different kinds of cheese cake. There was fruit spilling out of serving bowls, pasta and pasta sauces in three or four different colors. A man was making omelets on demand right there. I’m pretty sure I saw sushi and a bank of cereals. They had pancakes and rice pilaf. I let Bonita fill up my plate with random delicacies. She’d grab a hunk of something, a dollop or something else. Put one on her plate and one on mine.
“Ooh, mussels in white wine sauce,” she’d say or just simply, “you’ll like this” without identification or explanation. This place, all of this reckless hedonistic gluttony was like what a regular non-Vegas buffet has dirty buffet wet dreams about. This is what all buffets want to be when they grow up.
Bonita got me a big glass of milk and led me to join Kitty at a table. Kitty had a steak, strawberries and a glass of champagne.
“This place is crazy,” I told Kitty when I sat down.
“It’s not Vegas if it’s not completely unnecessary and flagrantly gratuitous,” she told me. Honestly? I don’t always know all the words Kitty uses. Sometimes I wish I had a dictionary with me. When she wasn’t around I looked up some of them on the internet. Flagrantly means conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible, by the way.
“I need a bigger plate,” I said, finding a chicken wing buried beneath mashed potatoes and a spinach and feta omelet.
“Don’t eat too much,” she cautioned me. “Or you’ll get sick on the roller coaster.”
“Roller coaster?” I looked at Bonita and Kitty.
“Indeed,” Kitty said.
“Eat your salad,” Bonita told me.
“Bonita took care of me when I got to Vegas,” Kitty told me. “She took me under her wing. She’s been in Vegas for forever.”
“You make me feel old,” Bonita told Kitty.
“She’s my fairy godmother,”
I ate until I was sure I wasn’t going to want to eat ever again. I watched Kitty eat a hundred strawberries and steak. That was it. Well, and three glasses of champagne. She produced a pill tin and took a few pills after eating.
“What are those?” I asked her.
“Medicine,” she told me.
Sure enough, Kitty took me on the roller coaster. Most people know that there’s a roller coaster on top of a hotel in Las Vegas like they know that the Earth is the third planet from the sun. I however, was not aware of this and was a little impressed. Kitty told me that Vegas tried to attract families to the casinos back in the 90s but it hadn’t really worked.
“The whole city is broke now,” she told me as we got into the roller coaster cars (she knew someone there too that waved us on past the crowd). “Who would have imagined sin would lead to bankruptcy?”
From the top of a roller coaster the whole city of Las Vegas looks like a misshapen Christmas ornament. Everything’s blinking and shiny or it’s shooting out jets of water or sprouting random columns of marble. It’s kind of beautiful in a conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible way.
After the roller coaster, Kitty asked me if I’ve ever been to Europe.
“I went to Canada once,” I told her.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s see Paris.”
Apparently the whole world exists as a casino in Las Vegas. There’s New York City and Paris with the Eiffel Tower going right through it. Venice, Egypt, even Hollywood.
“You can go to every place worth going and you can get a huge drink there,” Kitty said as she led me through the whirlwind tour of the strip.
“Do you like living here?” I asked her.
Kitty smiled at me. “I hate it more than words can express,” she told me.
Kitty got me ridiculous Las Vegas t-shirts from a person she knew at the t-shirt place. She let me play slot machines when no one was looking. I asked for a sip of her giant drink but she wouldn’t let me have any.
“Do as I say, child,” she told me.
By the time it was dark I was dead on my feet. We stopped at a juice bar where Kitty knew a guy (I’m not kidding; everyone) and got smoothies.
“What do you think?” Kitty asked me.
“I don’t want to go home,” I said.
Kitty took a drink from her Blueberry Explosion. “This place is awful, Betty,” she said. “It’s vapid and superficial and under the surface it’s just trash and desert. The people here are awful.”
“I don’t think you’re awful,” I told her.
She smiled at me. “You’re sweet.”
“How do you know this isn’t where I’m supposed to be? How do you know that somehow this isn’t like fate or something?” I asked.
“I don’t believe in fate, darling.”
“You don’t really want to get rid of me,” I told her. “If you wanted me gone you’d take me to the police station and not to a roller coaster on top of a skyscraper. You want me here, don’t you?”
Bonita smiled. “She has a point, chica.”
Kitty held up her hand in Bonita’s face to shush her. She drank from her smoothie. She looked at her watch. “I have to work tonight.”
“I can watch videos back at your apartment,” I said.
She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you alone there. You’re an admitted thief. I hardly know you.”
“You know me,” I protested.
“Maybe,” she said. “But tonight you’re coming with me.”
“Okay,” I said.
I’m pretty sure Stockings was Kitty’s secret weapon. She thought she’d introduce me to all these crazy dancers like Jaydee and I’d run for the airport. Or maybe she just thought I’d see another side of her in the club and I’d be disgusted or something and leave her. Total miscalculation on her part.