A New Start by Steve Prusky
Synopsis: Are you fed up of your dreary existence? Welcome yourself to an alternate lifestyle. Let’s see where it goes. Enjoy the ride.
About the Author: Steve is a native of Detroit. He has spent the last twenty-five years writing, living and working in Las Vegas. His prose and poetry have appeared in various publications including Apocrypha and Abstractions, Foundling Review, Flash Fiction Offensive, Orion headless and The Legendary. He posts all of his previously published work on http://sprusky.blog.com/ .
In this dark episode of gloom, a man takes a chance and lives to tell the tale. Kiss your past goodbye.
Special Guest Artist, Fabio Sassi, a new generation of Beatnik Artwork.
Suburban life sucked Sam emotionally dry, taunted him sleepless, over-anxious, irrational. For ten years, Sam had been self-employed ten hours a day, six days a week in an effort to save his failing business. He struggled to pay an overwhelming balloon mortgage on a home that had dropped to half its original value after he bought it. A distressing family life haunted him; the too dramatic, trendy, spendy wife, three daughters, one just past the hormonal terror and confusion of puberty, two more about to dive head first into it; the banal suburban backwash of Plasma TV’s, X-Box mania, cybercafés, five dollar lattes, the crushing loan against the Cadillac Biarritz… . Sam was no longer living ’The Dream.’ He ran at dawn–no note, no divorce, no goodbyes. By sunset, he was two states west of Detroit. He woke up two-thousand miles later in Vegas mid-May his third morning free.
The transient nature of Vegas suited him as the likeliest atmosphere to hide in, meld with, become someone else in. Beyond that, he had no immediate plan. Sam was a naïve suburbanite, an urban bumpkin self-deceived Vegas floated ankle deep in twenty-dollar bills begging to be scooped up. He rented a pay by the week room in one of a cluster of decrepit motels on Fremont and Eastern, the premier skid row of skid rows failure in Vegas spawns. The nucleus of this crossroad was the Vegas Lounge; a black hole for the lost, the precipice of darkness Sam was about to unknowingly lend his soul to. The ‘Lounge’ strategically stood on the south-west corner of this junction like a cockeyed dry-rotted wood marker in a ghost town graveyard.
When Sam arrived, the blossoms of this urban landscape had long ago wilted dead as week old cut flowers. The forest of worn tattered 1950’s motels, Christmassy neon lit smut stores, a narrow street nicknamed ‘Crack Alley,’ lingered stunted, dormant, neglected, abandoned to the criminal demography headquartered out of the Vegas Lounge. This crossroad was the pedigree of despair; a malignant black spot of melanoma on a brightly lit desert city’s sun baked skin with the ‘Lounge’ as its cancerous host. Sam, innocent, gullible, foolish Sam, freely enlisted in this illicit, well-stocked drug store of stepped on rock cocaine, tar heroin, degraded meth, murderers, smack-back addicts, thieves, felons, soulless crack whores. The ‘Lounge’ wasn’t the glitzy adult amusement park Strip tourists see. It was Sam’s ‘fix’. It was all the Vegas he’d need.
Sam took the graveyard shift at the Vegas Lounge. The absentee owner paid him forty dollars a night plus tips, made him bar manager for an extra fifty dollars a week cash, no questions asked. Sam used a fictitious Social Security number to get the job, was issued the required state gaming card by mistake from an overworked Gaming Commission clerk down town with no time to trace Sam‘s past. His out-of-state driver license expired. The bank caught up with the Biarritz. All traces leading to his previous life disappeared inside two months. The illusion of a new life for Sam was about to begin. He was a freshman initiate to the dregs of Las Vegas life.
Few bartenders at the Vegas Lounge survived long on the graveyard shift. Sam fed drinks to criminals, on the take cops, whores, drug fiends and the living dead from midnight until dawn. No upstanding, decent bartenders last long with this crowd. At first, Sam enforced the peace from his side of the bar with 911 calls each night the predictable brawl occurred. He kept a baseball bat near for the drug-crazed miscreant courageous enough to hop over the bar. His over bearing size and quick temper kept him out of a fight–mostly. When a situation occurred where he couldn’t back down, he’d raise his voice the ear piercing depth of a sonic boom, intimidating those less certain of their bravado. That routine usually browbeat the majority of his antagonists to back down. Sam hovered taller than most; he was a mammoth six foot four intimidating bulldozer of a man. When he scowled in anger his cherubic face glowed red, his two-hundred thirty pound frame puffed up when he had no choice but to square off with a drunkenly brave patron, a crazed addict, a brooding biker in a bad mood. That routine normally settled the less valiant ones down. Sam fought when he had to. When he did, he usually grabbed something to tip the odds in his favor. He was mostly just tough talk though–the right talk apparently. He kept to his side of the bar almost always. He acted fearless at all times. At the Vegas Lounge, how you acted was how you were judged. Tough, quiet, submissive, wise, street smart, violent; each behavioral pattern rated where you stood in the social order of the Vegas Lounge. Sam was near the top. Deep inside though, Sam’s stomach churned life sucking evil lightning bolts stabbing him with fear each graveyard shift at the potentially violent atmosphere on the other side of the bar. When Chauncey showed up, Sam was to set the record for longevity as a graveyard bartender in the ‘Lounge.’
Chauncey, a rock dealer, thug, thief, whoremonger, began patronizing the Vegas Lounge on Sam’s shift. At first, Chauncey sat at the bar most nights, played the video slots, drank Tangueray and tonic in a tall glass with a twist of lime. He appeared to Sam, at first sight, as another lost soul with a pocket full of money and nothing else to do but gamble. Chauncey was big, not as tall as Sam, but stockier, barrel-chested, arms muscular and thick as Sam’s legs. His face was a permanently molded mug of constant hatred, anger, meanness. Chauncey’s mere presence radiated swift violence. Sam chanced to cultivate Chauncey as a friend, an ally, someone he’d want on his side in a fight.
“I’m Sam,” he extended his hand. Chauncey looked up from his bar top video machine as if Sam was a rude intrusion. He lightly clasped Sam‘s hand like a limp noodle, brusquely growled, “Chauncey,” after he fell a card short of a full house. “Get me another Tangueray and tonic,” he gruffly demanded. Sam comped this drink. In Vegas gamblers drink free.
“I’m from Detroit,” Sam continued.
“Milwaukee,” Chauncey replied.
“How long’ve you lived here?”
“Ten years,” Chauncey contained his irritation, “How ‘bout you?”
“Three months,” Sam didn’t yet know how to cloak his over-eager bright-eyed naïveté.
“Oh yah! What do you think of this town so far?”
“Jury’s still out. This town sure is different. Seems like everything normal here would be considered abnormal every place else in this world, and vis-à-vis.”
“What the fuck does vis-à-vis mean?” Chauncey’s vocabulary was limited to street jargon.
Almost embarrassed by Chauncey’s gruff indifference, Sam replied, “Vegas is like no other place in the world.”
“Welcome to Vegas,” Chauncey laughed. Sam feared him. Chauncey was perceptive; he knew right off he could manipulate Sam’s fear to his advantage.
After a few weeks Chauncey began discreetly dealing rocks on Sam‘s shift.
“I know what you’re doing Chauncey,” Sam complained. “You’ll bring Metro down on this place like angry hornets.”
“Just look the other way,” Chauncey advised in a threatening tone. “I’m taking all the chances here. You’re immune.”
Sam silently blessed Chauncey’s activities. Sam acted nerveless, brave, distant, as if he were privy to a monumental secret others only hoped to know. “There’ll be no need for 911 calls any more. I’ll keep security here an in house affair.” Chauncey survived twenty years in Waupun State Prison (a ‘silent’ prison; inmates weren’t allowed to talk), for Murder 2, kept a slim handled snub nose 38 in his hip pocket. He wasn’t averse to grabbing a pool stick to crack a skull, wrapping his fist around a cue ball to crush a cheekbone, busting a long neck Bud bottle jagged to slash a chest open from shoulder to shoulder. To Chauncey the only fair fight was the fight he won. Word hit the corner of Fremont and Eastern, Chauncey enforced the peace at the ‘Lounge’ with ruthless brutality. From then on no more fights, no more cops. Chauncey securely promoted his trade, although he always remained alert, suspicious, untrusting. Sam fed Chauncey drinks free whether he gambled or not. Sam ran the bar–Chauncey ran the floor. The Vegas Lounge was their malevolent empire.
Sam knew all the local rock-hoes intimately. He let them ply their trade in the bar when he was on; in return, he had the privilege of fucking any one of them free. Sam set his new female friends up with ‘dates.’ It was a whore that got Sam sprung on rocks his first time. Sam easily fit in as pimp, whoremaster, connect, rock fiend. One foot on the curb, the other in the gutter, Sam had his new life. Chauncey watched Sam’s character deteriorate to the same level as the felonious crowd on the floor. Sam matriculated for his street degree. Chauncey gladly volunteered as his tutor.
Ultimately, Chauncey slyly convinced Sam to keep the bag in the stock room behind the bar with promises Sam would get a cut of the profits and rocks at cost. Only he and Chauncey knew its location amongst the beer and liquor stocked shelves. Sam cautiously doled out the speedy, yellowish chunks to Chauncey when prompted. Chauncey slowly coaxed Sam to serve his customers across the bar when Chauncey discreetly signaled Sam with a twitching hand, a tapping foot, a tweak on his ear. Chauncey stayed almost completely out of the criminal loop. All Chauncey did was collect payment first before he cued Sam to deliver. While Chauncey worked the floor, Sam persuaded non-slot players into drinking doubles. He rang up the price of the cocktails as comps to imaginary bar top video game gamblers, stuffed the money in his pocket to buy rocks at a cut-rate price from Chauncey after work. Chauncey never shared the money he pledged. So, secretly Sam shaved from Chauncey‘s bag whatever he could each night, hit the pipe in the stock room, chancing Chauncey wouldn’t become suspicious he worked the bar sprung all night.
Like any other perishable product picked off the grocery shelf, Sam’s time on this corner had an expiration date.
Sam mingled with the hoes, ran with them on his days off. Chauncey went on hiatus when Sam didn’t work. Sam chased the elusive high of that first hit on two-day runners with his whores as if he were a Jekyll turned fiendishly Hyde. He’d return to work his first shift of the week face drooping past his chin, sleep deprived, crashing hard as a boulder rolled off a hundred foot high cliff, jonesing for the wispy smooth white cloud that passed through the transparent glass pipe.
Sam began hitting the pipe every day. The first half of each shift his craving muscles twitched in withdrawal with each drink he served until Chauncey arrived with the daily bag. Sam automatically begged Chauncey for a rock to get a grip until he made enough tips to pay Chauncey back. Chauncey knowingly obliged.
Sam began hitting off Chauncey’s rocks in the back room of the bar. Chauncey knew Sam was shaving, he let it go in trade; ultimately, Chauncey had Sam do all the hands on work across the bar and pass the cash from each transaction unobtrusively to him. Sam began keeping a five shot 25 automatic in his front pocket. He wasn’t sure he could ever use it. It seemed an appropriate tool for his new avocation.
Often, fake bearded undercover cops swarmed the lounge draped in phony, easy to spot longhaired wigs, tattered, soiled tee shirts and jeans. They’d watch the action behind them in the mirrored bar back wall. Sam and Chauncey spotted them… mostly. They’d lay off dealing a while. Sam warned the whores to beware. They’d do their business in one of a number of less active skid rows doting Vegas like rampant spreading acne until Chauncey was certain Metro lost interest and left for the action further west up Fremont Street. When Chauncey was convinced it was safe, the routine crept back to normal until the next potential sting.
By late autumn, it ultimately happened….it was bound to. Sam grew sloppy, too obvious, overconfident. Chauncey spotted it, so did Metro. Chauncey gave Sam the nightly bag as quick as he could, never carried, made the deal, signaled to Sam how many rocks should be passed over the bar and to whom. Sam held the money until end of shift. Chauncey kept count of the money in his head. Chauncey stayed clean at Sam‘s too trusting expense.
Often Metro waltzed in, took Chauncey outside, jacked him up and searched him with no results.
The validity of Sam’s illegitimate front crumbled when Chauncey told Sam not to serve a hoe on credit Sam often fucked free. As revenge, she snitched on Sam to trim her charges down on a pending case. The arrest hit like a meteor strike. Cops dressed like armored robots bashed in the door of his hotel room without warning, guns drawn, screaming intimidating threats, cuffed him and the hoe he slept with. Before they finished reading him his Miranda and the writ, his legs began cramping, twisting, gnarling in withdrawal. His body wept for that hypnotic stream of white mist he sucked into his lungs. Buckled down snug in the back seat of the black and white, hands tightly cuffed behind his back, craving welled up in his gut. Where was Chauncey with that first rock of the day now? He needed just one more hit to take the edge off. The symptoms of his addiction were too strong. It was a long ride to processing and the holding tank. Chauncey heard about the bust and slithered off to cultivate another new bartender further up Boulder Highway in Pittman, just outside of downtown.
“Where’d you get the rocks from?” a plain-clothes detective asked.
“Fuck you! D Street and Lake Mead, how‘s that?” Sam wailed. He was more afraid of Chauncey’s wrath than he was of the belligerent detective. The cop grabbed Sam’s balls and squeezed, “Don’t bullshit me, that’s darkest Africa, those savages down there’ll kill a fucking stupid white boy like you for a double up.”
“Kiss my ass,” Sam howled.
“That’s it fool, don’t snitch on Chauncey. Be loyal asshole. I don’t see him here bailing you out. He’s not your friend. Give him up. We’ll forget about this and let you go. We know this bag in my hand is his rocks; there’ll be no deals with you if you don’t snitch.” Sam stayed silent. “That’s okay,” the cop calmly said, “you’re ours now. He’s ours too, just a matter of time.”
Pandering, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell; drug trafficking, possession of an illegal firearm. At arraignment, Sam’s first winter in Vegas, the public defender recommended he plea out; take the Big Bitch; the Habitual Criminal, twenty years–fifteen minimum–as opposed to the life sentence the DA wanted. Sam took the deal. He never saw Chauncey again.
Prison! Lock down alone twenty-three hours a day. The narrow wire reinforced glass slit in his cell wall faced east. He often peered past it toward the suburban world he knew before Vegas. The thick glass magnified the sane life he left behind for Vegas as if it were a telephoto lens repeating vivid, non-stop streams of his past. Memories of his former life compounded the new Vegas demons that tagged his soul black.
He’d do three nickels in Carson City. Upon release, Sam left without shaving his head bald, gangbanging up, pumping weights, marring his skin with a white supremacist thunderbolt tat under his arm. Sam found his way back to Vegas.
Years later Sam heard Chauncey got shot and could occasionally be seen navigating Vegas in a wheel chair panhandling at the corners of Charleston and Nellis, Main Street and Gasse, Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Sam worked menial construction jobs in Vegas for twenty-five years after he got out, stayed straight, behaved, read books, died. It was almost as if he could have stayed put at the Detroit suburbs and lived the same drone existence.
**** THE END ****
Copyright Steve Prusky 2012
Image Courtesy: www.coroflot.com/fabiosassi © Fabio Sassi