As soon as he landed at McCarran, the heat-baked shimmer of city life was visible, vibrant. He stopped on the jetway to peer through the sooty glass. The reflection was breathtaking even from three miles away. This place really was a treasure trove waiting to be taken by someone brave enough to grab it.
He pushed up the ramp toward his new home and caught the smell of decay as he passed into the open-air walkway. Something must have died on the tarmac; it was faint but undeniable. For an entrepreneur about to open his first hotel in sin city, this might have seemed a bad omen, but not to him; he didn’t believe in that shit.
Two hundred hours: The casino business had been good. His first ten days were coming to a close and he didn’t see anything but the glitter and sex. Fuck if he could remember the names of all the girls he’d screwed or places he’d been.
That smell of decay came and went. He couldn’t quite understand why a city that spent billions on water couldn’t keep the scent of road kill away from the tourists. There were moments he noticed those around him seemed older, more aged and tired, but they were fleeting thoughts drowned by his own youth and vitality.
He sat in a lobby bar some place on the strip and sipped his Old Fashioned. It tasted off, but he was distracted. The waitress who had been serving him, Lina, came over and sat next to him on the leather sofa. She touched his shoulder, asked if he wanted another drink. He didn’t answer until the fingers sliding up the inseam of his expensive slacks reached their intended goal. He winked at her as she stood and walked away. She looked back over the crowded bar with a very suggestive grin.
Five hundred hours: Getting money from this place was easier than getting laid, but that damn smell was everywhere now. He couldn’t go more than a few hours without noticing it. Something was really wrong around here. Nobody else seemed to notice though. He called the city but they found nothing.
He saw Lina last night; the waitress with the suggestive grin and the wandering fingers. It was a good visit. They had camped on the floor of what would be the Casino Manager’s office. Lina had done all kinds of things to him. She seemed tired though. Maybe all the late nights were getting to her. He liked Lina. He promised to take her away once the project was over.
Twelve hundred ninety hours: His vision was coming together. The installation of the new statue of Seduction made it all seem real. The thing was nearly forty feet tall and sat hunched on all fours. It looked like a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn.
The entire thing was cast in gold, which was typical for Vegas. The creature seemed to have flowing hair, like it was caught in a strong breeze. The new hotel manager had called it a Kirin or something. Damn thing looked like it was watching you all the time.
The legend was that the beast brought prosperity and luck, or some shit like that. So far, it seemed to be working. Even the smell of decay had left for a time.
As the staff walked past, they would touch the damn thing whenever they came and went from the project site, but he refused. At first, it was mostly the Asian staffers and construction people, but eventually, everyone was doing it. They joked with him about not offending one of the gods, but he didn’t believe in that shit. He had plenty of women, money and luck.
A few days later, the smell was back and he noticed the statue started to take on a tarnished look.
Lina took him out to dinner that night. She looked older, but said she was fine. Fine enough to make him dessert from under the table in between courses. Certainly finer than the food he sent back. It was rancid. The waiter smiled a tired look and made no complaint.
He looked around the restaurant and it dawned on him that the entire place was filled with older couples trying to look young. Strange thing was, he never noticed it before.
Twenty-one hundred eighty four hours: Just over three months and the new construction was nearly done. The place should’ve looked great, but didn’t.
Everything started to take on the worn-out look. Even the women around him no longer looked appealing.
He had gone out to the Neon museum a few times when he first arrived. The desert had stripped all the luster off those signs at the old bone yard where everything went to die in this town. That’s how this place was starting to feel. What the hell was going on around here?
That night, the statue looked worse than ever. God, were these people pissing all over it? How does gold lose its shine?
He found a security guard in the cash office playing some game on his cell phone. He told him to get off his fat ass and cover that fucking statue before he had to pick his teeth up off the floor; he wasn’t paying him to goof off. He also wasn’t paying someone to come out and buff that statue again.
As the guard waddled away, he remembered the young man who sat here not three weeks ago. This guy couldn’t be him. That kid was young, vibrant; alive.
He needed a drink and to check in on Lina. She hadn’t been feeling well all week and had stayed home from work. Maybe they could spend a little time rolling around on the pile of cash he kept in the apartment.
Three thousand ninety hours: The project was done in record time. He wanted to celebrate by getting royally fucked-up with Lina. Maybe a threesome and some really high-end shit would put things right.
The contractors all looked like they could use twenty years back on their lives instead of the bonus they got.
When he went to see Lina, she wasn’t doing any better. She had invited a few friends over that they had partied with not long after he arrived. After putting away an eighth of an ounce of blow on his own he could hardly remember much, but they had done some pretty kinky shit. He woke up with blood all over the sheets, and what should have been two very pretty ladies playing with each other. But these ladies weren’t the beauties they seemed the night before; they almost had to hold each other up. Everything on them was saggy, tired. The changes around him were so drastic, but had been so subtle in coming. Maybe all the nose candy was getting to him. He didn’t know, but he would worry about it another time.
Forty-two hundred hours: He was just about ready to call it quits. The place smelled of death and old rot. All of Vegas had changed somehow. It seemed to be everywhere.
Lina hadn’t even come over last night.
The grand opening was in five days; one hundred twenty hours and he didn’t think he was going to make it. This place was driving him crazy. Time had sucked the life out of everything here; everything, except him.
What the fuck was going on around him?
Forty Three hundred hours: He woke up that morning with no memory of the last few days. The first thing he needed to do was take a piss. The second thing was a shower; he stunk to high heaven. The smell of decay was now everywhere. It permeated his clothes and his hair.
As he showered, he noticed the water had a bad odor, too. He would need to call the system guys and find out if there was something wrong inside the hotel. No room for screw-ups on opening day.
He went to the entrance of his suite to get his breakfast. It was delivered every morning so he didn’t have to waste time looking for a place to eat. He opened the door and the cart was covered in flies. What the fuck? He lifted the silver plate cover and nearly vomited all over himself. The food had been there for days.
He ran back to the bathroom, trying to contain the bile he was retching, and almost made it.
Once he got himself under control, he picked up the phone in the living room and dialed housekeeping; five rings, no answer. He stormed out of the room. If this staff had gone on strike already, somebody was going to pay. The hotel wasn’t even open yet and already things were falling apart.
He ran through the hotel and found everyone was in their appointed places. They had died there; been mummified in their uniforms and with their assorted props and tools. As soon as he realized he was the last person left alive, he noticed the smell had finally gone. All he inhaled now was dry age and old, worn-out life. That’s when he finally snapped.
He left the Seduction one final time, 180 days after he first arrived. He ran off into the desert and only the Kirin was left to see him off.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.