We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. No, just kidding. I was asleep and Perry smacked me in the face with a phone charger. At first, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. One minute, I was watching some empty street in Fullerton, and the next thing I know, we’re surrounded by dark and the occasional set of headlights. We were around Barstow, though; wherever the fuck that is. Nevada, or some shit.
“What the fuck?” I looked out the window, learning pretty much exactly nothing about the current situation.
“Plug me in,” Perry said, pointing to his phone in the cup holder between the seats.
“What? Why?” I picked up the charger from where it had fallen between the seat and the centre console and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Because you wanted to come with, so you’re still on the clock, Chief,” Perry said as he switched lanes to overtake someone pulling a horse box. Why would someone pull a horse box out in the desert?
Anyway, after a few seconds, I managed to figure out where the plug on Perry’s phone was and hooked everything up to the cigarette lighter. “If I’m still on the clock, then I’m getting overtime, right?”
“Only if you actually do what I tell you to do instead of flapping your jaw.” Something about Perry seemed really off. Like, whatever was going on was seriously not good.
I put the phone back in the cup holder and only then noticed that he had the map going on his phone and was following after a little blue dot. Or maybe we were the little blue dot. I don’t fucking know. I can still barely send a text on my phone, let alone use it to spy on someone.
“There. Done,” I said. “Now you mind telling me where the hell we are? You know. Besides the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.”
Perry might have given me one of those looks he likes to throw my way when he thinks I’ve said the dumbest thing ever, but it was dark and I couldn’t really tell. “We’re following Rothstein,” he said. “According to his wife, he has some ‘urgent business’ to attend to with one of his contracts.”
“Contracts? What the hell does that mean?” I hate how Perry can make something even more confusing by explaining it.
“He runs a small rental car company,” Perry explained. “But small doesn’t mean low-budget. Rothstein specialises in supercars. Pagani, Bugatti; all that expensive shit. He rents them out to film crews who can’t get the companies to give them one of their cars. Makes a fortune on insurance claims, no doubt.”
I had no idea what, like, any of that meant. He might as well have been speaking Italian, for all I could understand what he was talking about.
“What? You think this—” I waved at the never-ending nothingness around the car “—is about that?”
“I’ll tell you what it isn’t,” Perry said as he switched lanes again. “There’s no way this is about an affair.”
We followed him into this miserable little hole on the side of the road called Baker (the miserable little hole. Not the road. I don’t know what road we were on), which near as I could tell, exists only to sell people Subway sandwiches and bags of chips. Perry told me to watch the guy’s car and went into the gas station for drinks.
He didn’t tell me which car I was supposed to be watching, but I was willing to bet that it was the insane blue one that was nothing but fins and spoilers on wheels. Rothstein wasn’t doing much of anything besides filling the tank and looking like a smug bastard. But if I had a car like that, I’d probably look like a smug bastard too.
Perry came out of the gas station a few minutes later and handed me a bottle of Coke through the window.
“You know the rules,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah. Spill it and die,” I said. It was a stupid, pointless rule, because I’m not six and the only time I’d ever made anything even remotely resembling a mess in that car of his was when we found that girl in the lake. Which I still blame on Perry, because it was his damn case to begin with.
“He’s stopped at every town between here and LA,” Perry said, doing a hell of a lot better at watching him without being obvious than I ever could. I guess that’s why he’s the private detective, and I’m just the office boy. “Probably wind up stopping off at Primm, too.”
He got into the car and started watching Rothstein through the mirror.
“Primm?” I asked. “You know, you still haven’t told me where we’re going.”
“That’s why we’re following him, genius. To find out.” He had a drink of his own, but I think he only bought it for show, because he didn’t open it. “If I had to guess, I’d say we’re probably headed to Vegas, though. Which is bad news for us.”
I became very interested at the mentioning of Vegas. “Vegas? Like, Las Vegas? Why’s that bad news?”
Rothstein finally got back into his car and left, but Perry waited a few moments before following after him.
“Because I’m not licensed for Nevada and your track record for staying out of trouble is shit,” Perry said.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” I said, pissed off about Perry’s never-ending lack of faith in me. “I’ve been doing really good lately.”
“Well,” Perry said.
“No, it’s ‘I’ve been doing really well lately.’ What the hell did adverbs ever do to you? And you have, actually.” He didn’t sound like he was overly thrilled with this admission, which is how I knew something else was coming. “Which just means that you’re due to fuck something up again. So do me a favour and stay the hell out of trouble while we’re out here, all right.”
I flipped him off, but didn’t say anything else. I didn’t want to fuck something up for him just by talking. Hell, he made me feel like just being there had been a fuck-up. He probably thought it was, for that matter. Knowing him. Which I do.
Neither of us said anything for about a half hour, and during that time I had to resist the urge to “accidentally” spill my Coke on Perry’s perfectly clean floor. But I knew that if I did, he’d probably pull over and make me walk the rest of the way to Las Vegas, and I had no idea how far away that was. My luck, I’d try to hitchhike and get picked up by some serial killer truck driver or something.
Then we came out of some mountains, because the only thing the desert has more of than sand is mountains, and I saw some twinkly shit up ahead of us.
“Oh, hey. Is that it? Is that Vegas?” I asked, tapping Perry on the arm.
“No, I told you. That’s Primm,” he said. “And officially the end of my area.”
“So, what?” I asked, never able to figure out what the hell Perry was thinking until way after. “We’re just gonna stop there?”
“Hell no. We’re following him,” he said. “I just can’t do anything if this shit turns sour.”
When we started this thing, it was just some boring case about a cheating husband, but the way Perry said that made me think that maybe he knew something about this mess that I didn’t. I mean, why would he need to shoot a guy that he’s supposed to be photographing? Unless that guy shot at him first, but why would he do that?
“When’s that boring stuff happen?” I asked. “You know, where we’re not getting thrown off bridges and shot at.”
“I guess you’re just my bad luck charm. I should stop taking you with me, because this shit never turns sour when I go out on my own.”
Well, I sure as hell didn’t believe that. But whatever. I know he just says this stuff to get me pissed off, so I just ignored him, because I know he gets annoyed when I don’t get pissed off.
Rothstein did pull off in Primm, and Perry followed him off the freeway and then stopped in at some parking lot. For a second, I thought we’d lost the guy, but then Perry cut the engine and turned off the lights.
“OK, get your binoculars, Chief,” he said. “And tell me what we just did.”
I twisted over the seat to reach the binoculars from the back seat, annoyed at myself for not having grabbed them earlier when Perry left me alone in the car. At least if I’d got them then, I’d have been able to stand on the seat without Perry seeing.
When I finally had them, I sat back down and tried to find Rothstein.
“Oh, there he is,” I said, finally spotting him at the Chevron across the street. “Uhm… What are we doing? We’re across the street.”
Perry nodded. “Right,” he said. “Why?”
I had to think about it for a few seconds, which Perry always lets me do without talking. I know he keeps saying that I won’t be able to ever get a license to do this stuff, but I think he still likes having someone to teach it to, even if he’d never admit to it, the prideful bastard.
“Oh. Duh. He keeps stopping at all the towns, and even in the dark, he’d notice that he was being followed if you went to the same gas station every time.”
Perry nodded again, and I couldn’t help feeling just a little smug at getting it right.
“Tailing someone can be tricky,” he explained. “Especially if they think someone might be following them.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if you drove a black car?” I asked, still watching Rothstein mess around with his fuck-off expensive car across the street.
Perry shook his head. “In the day, a black car stands out just as much as red or yellow. Why do you think most un-marked cars are white?”
“Oh.” And of course all this stuff made perfect sense once he said it, like it should have been common sense or something. “That thing looks like it’s from outer space. He’s not exactly being subtle or anything. Oh. He doesn’t think anyone’s onto him?”
Another nod from Perry. “Probably, yes,” he said. “It goes both ways.”
“He’s showing off,” I realised suddenly. “That’s not his car. It’s from his company, right?”
“Registered to Gemini Rentals. He owns the company, so he has his pick of the cars on the lot. So the question is…”
It took me a moment to realise that he was asking me, and that he wasn’t being all rhetorical or some shit. “Who’s he showing off for?” I finished, not really sure if that was right.
But Perry just nodded again. “Exactly. And it can be taught. Imagine that.”
Rothstein got back into his car, so I tapped Perry on the arm again. “Hey, he’s leaving!”
Perry kept the lights off, but started the car. “Which way’s he headed?”
I kept my eye on Rothstein’s car, knowing that if I got this wrong, it would seriously fuck everything up. I also had a small suspicion that Perry was able to watch the car just fine without binoculars, but I’m also not exactly convinced that Perry is human, sometimes.
“Uhh… Right. Isn’t that back the way we came?” I kept my sights trained on Rothstein as long as I could, and after a few seconds, Perry turned on his lights and followed after. “Now left,” I said, even though Perry probably saw him turn too. “He’s… going back on the freeway? Yeah.”
At first, I thought that we were doubling back again, but I had no idea where we were to begin with and felt all turned around in general, so I just trusted that Perry knew what the hell was going on. Well, we didn’t wind up doubling back after all, and pretty soon, we were in Vegas. Like, the real Vegas, and not one of the other little nothing towns that you get just because it’s Nevada and they can put slot machines inside of 7-Eleven.
Let me tell you a thing or two about Las Vegas, all right? All those movies you’ve seen where the Strip is all lit up like a Christmas tree and everything looks factory-fresh and all the people you see on the sidewalks look like a million bucks? Complete bullshit. It’s hot, even at midnight, it’s dusty, there’s shit everywhere, it’s about twenty miles between the casinos, and prostitution isn’t as legal as you’d think it would be (as in, not at all). It’s almost better in LA.
OK, in LA, people don’t usually just randomly hand you porn, so there is that.
Anyway, we were following this guy, and when we got into Vegas, I was expecting to see that big fucking sign. You know, the one they show in every goddamn movie that takes place there? But it just wasn’t there. Like, at all.
“It’s on the Boulevard, Chief,” Perry said. “This is the freeway.”
“What is?” I asked, trying my best to sound cool.
“The sign. That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it?” Perry merged toward the right to get off the freeway, swearing at the other cars that wouldn’t let him in. “Keep your eye on that Zonda; now’s when we really risk losing this fucker.”
I looked out the window, not sure what Perry was talking about again. “I thought we were following that Rothstein bastard?”
Perry just sort of stared at me for a few seconds and then shook his head.
“Right,” I said, catching up. Now I knew that that insect car was called, I guess.
Once we got off the freeway, I saw what Perry meant about losing him. I mean, the freeway was kind of crowded once we got to the city, but off it was even worse. We spent about ten minutes just trying to turn at the intersection to get onto the Strip, and then took another twenty minutes to get to the parking lot for the first hotel after the light.
I’ve never seen so many cars in one place when there wasn’t some massive pile-up to slow them all down.
We followed Rothstein to Caesar’s Palace, which was just right there off the freeway and took way too long to get to, and Perry made it look like we just happened to be the car behind him. With that fancy-ass car, Rothstein used valet, but because Perry had his guns in the glove box we had to use the public garage. Which kind of pissed him off, I think, but getting arrested for having a gun in his car would have probably pissed him off even more.
“Stay here,” Perry said, once we were parked on the top floor of the parking garage.
He took his gun out of his coat and put it in the glove box before taking off again, once more leaving me behind to stare at nothing. But I guess my surveillance in Primm had exhausted my usefulness quota for the day, and now I was just once again in his way.
Story of my life.
After about twenty minutes of waiting around for Perry to show back up, and Perry failing to show back up, I was starting to wonder if I was supposed to do something. Maybe, like, he was in trouble, and he needed my help for something. Was I supposed to wait in the car for just a few minutes and follow after? He didn’t actually specify.
Or maybe I was just over-reacting. After all, it wasn’t even the first time that night that Perry had left me behind.
I didn’t have much time to think about it, though. A hard knocking on the window scared me so bad I nearly jumped right out of my seat. I looked over, expecting to see Perry, and instead seeing some pissed off looking security guard glaring at me. I tried to roll down the windows, but they’re electric and Perry didn’t leave his keys behind, so I had to open the door to talk to the guy, which made the whole thing all the more nerve-wracking.
“What’s up?” I asked, trying not to sound fucking terrified that he was gonna find the goddamn guns in the glove box. I mean, yeah, they’re Perry’s, and you won’t find my fingerprints anywhere on the damn things, but they were still right there, sixteen inches in front of me. There’s not a judge in the world who wouldn’t say they were in my possession.
“Is this your car, sir?” the security guard asked me.
I shook my head. “No,” I said, and it wasn’t until he started looking really annoyed with me that I realised how this all must have looked. “I mean, it’s not my car, but it’s my boss’. He knows I’m here though, because he told me to wait. So, that’s what I’m doing. Waiting. For him.”
It wasn’t going well, and I knew it. Even though this guy wasn’t actually a cop, he still knew how to glare at someone like one.
“Get out of the car?” I asked.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” he said.
He stepped out of the way of the door and I undid my seat belt to get out, still putting every ounce of my energy into pretending that there weren’t two loaded guns in the car, perfectly legal or otherwise.
“Listen, if you just let me make a quick phone call, I’m sure we can get this all straightened out,” I said. “This is my boss’ car. He’s just downstairs seeing about rooms or something.”
The security guard sighed, and I could tell that he really didn’t want to be there dealing with me, which is probably why he said, “Make it quick.”
I got out my phone and called Perry, grateful that the fucker actually answered for once.
“Hey, Per. Bit of a situation here,” I said. “Kinda need your help.”
Well, he already seemed pretty annoyed with me, but after I explained the situation, he was just flat-out pissed off.
“This is your idea of staying out of trouble?” he snapped.
“Yeah. No. Yeah. Just, it’s not my fault, OK? Come help me.”
Perry hung up on me, and after that, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I shrugged at the security guard and leaned against the car, hoping that maybe he’d get bored and go away. He didn’t, but luckily, Perry showed up pretty quickly, and even though he was laying on the charm for the security guard, I could see that he was fucking furious, probably because I nearly blew his cover.
“Hi,” he said, laying on the gay extra heavy. He was just a lisp and limp wrist from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. “Sorry, what’s all this about? Did we do something wrong?”
The security guard looked at us, and I just knew what he was thinking. You know, you’d think it’s something that I’d get used to, but it bugs the hell out of me every time. I could probably have my face buried in Harmony’s tits, and Perry would still be able to do something to make everyone think I was gay.
Perry shamelessly flirted with the guy before getting out his car registration from the glove box (and how he did that without the security guard seeing the guns is beyond me) and proved that it was his car and I was allowed to be there by myself. After that, the guy left us alone, and as soon as he was gone, the smile dropped from Perry’s face so fast that it almost scared me.
“Hey, that was not my fault,” I insisted. “You’re the one who left me alone in a dark parking lot with loaded guns. Which I’m not even supposed to be anywhere near, as you keep reminding me.”
Perry didn’t say anything. He just kept staring at me like he expected me to read his fucking mind or something. I hate it when he does that.
“Oh, fuck. I didn’t blow your cover, did I?” OK, I actually backed up to put some distance between us then, because when Perry gets pissed off, he gets scary.
“No,” he said. “Lucky for you. But I’m up here rescuing your ass instead of keeping an eye on the guy I’m supposed to be watching.”
I took another step back, just in case.
“Well, did you see which way he went?” I asked hopefully. I still had my binoculars, and tried to look around to see if maybe I could spot Rothstein, but all I saw was building and more building. And some neon lights, but apparently the parking garage exists in a black hole where nothing useful is visible.
“Yeah, up to his room,” Perry said, knocking the binoculars down from my face. “Now I just have to hope that he stayed there.”
“Oh.” As I watched him make sure that the car was all locked up, something occurred to me. “You know, this could have been a lot worse. What if he’d checked the glove box? He’d be calling the cops and I’d go to jail and it would be all your fault.”
Perry glared at me again and made me want to step very far away from him. “Please tell me you didn’t give him a reason to search my car.”
“No! No!” I said, hoping to make him hate me a little less. “But, I’m just saying. What if he did? He could have, couldn’t he?”
Perry looked at the car for a minute before punching the air. “Fuck,” he spat. “You. You are off this case, and all cases, permanently. Starting now.”
“I didn’t do anything!” I said. Seriously, I thought I’d done what I was supposed to do. What the hell else could I have done? “You were showing me back there how to tail a guy, and now I’m not allowed to do this anymore? What? Am I fired? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“No, I’m saying it’s pointless to teach you this stuff,” he said. “I’m just wasting my time.”
“Hey, fuck you,” I said. He started to walk away from me, but I followed after him. “I’m not the one who left me alone in a parking lot at three in the morning with a bunch of loaded guns. That’s all your fault, Slick.”
I tried to leave. I wanted to get as far the fuck away from him as I could, but he grabbed my arm and stopped me.
“Hey, just because you’re off the case doesn’t mean you’re off the clock,” he said. “If I call, you’d better come running.”
“Fuck you,” I said, shaking him off. “I’m going home.”
Perry laughed at me. “What are you going to do? Walk?” he asked. “It’s a four-hour drive. Don’t be an even bigger idiot than you already are.”
“Fuck you,” I repeated.
I did manage to walk away that time, and eventually found a huge fucking thing of stairs. There was probably an elevator somewhere, but I didn’t feel like looking. I just wanted to not be anywhere near Perry van Shrike for a long time. Not for the first time, I was tempted to quit, but then I remembered my million rejected applications and interviews from before and knew that I was stuck with the bastard whether I liked it or not.
Well, I didn’t go home. Or anything even close to it. I wandered around for a little bit, trying to find my way out of there, and sort of failing. While I was busy getting lost, I called Harmony, hoping she might still be up from the job she had that night, but the call went to her voice mail. I didn’t even think to wonder what that meant for the state of our relationship if she was getting home in the middle of the night and didn’t even care that I wasn’t there.
I left a message on her phone to let her know where I was and that I didn’t know when I’d be home, and then I texted Perry to ask what the fuck the plan was. He texted back almost immediately to say that I could pick up a room key from the front desk at the hotel. I hoped that meant that we got separate rooms, but somehow, I wasn’t hopeful. Perry can be such a fucking cheapskate sometimes. It’s unbelievable.
I finally found my way out of that concrete maze and wound up across the street at this noisy dive bar with an outrageous cover charge, but I went in anyway because I was mostly surprised that it was still open and busy. It didn’t really seem like the sort of thing you’d find in Vegas, but then again, I didn’t expect to see millions of little porno trading cards all over the sidewalk, either. There were guys just handing them out right there in front of the bar, so I took a few and put them in my pocket without really looking at them.
Anyway, I was in this place maybe twenty minutes, not really sure why I was there except to avoid Perry, when this chick came up and flashed her bellybutton ring at me. She wasn’t like, smoking hot or anything, but she wasn’t completely homely either, so of course I talked to her. What I didn’t mean to do was keep talking to her until they started kicking everyone out at like, six in the morning.
Me and Bellybutton Chick left together, and normally, I wouldn’t have let her hang off of my arm like that, but I didn’t expect that my girlfriend would be looking for me out on the sidewalk. Which, let me tell you, when Harmony gets pissed, she gets really pissed.
“Harmony? What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.
“I could ask you the same thing, Harry,” Harmony said. “Who the hell is she?”
I looked over at Bellybutton Chick, and before I realised that I never got her name, she managed to get away and disappear into the crowd. Not that I could really blame her, though. I wouldn’t want to stick around for someone else’s argument, either.
“She’s nobody,” I said. “I was just having a drink and she showed up. Kinda like you. Seriously, how did you get here?”
“You said Vegas, and I got on a plane, Harry,” she said. “And then I came over here to find you hanging off some skank. You stick your tongue down her throat, too?”
“Hey!” I thought that just wasn’t fair at all, because we weren’t even dating yet when I did that. “That still doesn’t answer the question. What are you doing here? Like, right here. At this place.” I pointed at the sidewalk for emphasis. Because seriously, it was starting to weird me out. Harmony being there; not the sidewalk.
“Perry tracked your phone.” She said it like there was supposed to be a ‘duh’ at the end.
The fact that Perry could do that was a little scary though. I mean, like, did he do that all the time, or just when they wanted to find me? Jesus, either way, I didn’t want him doing that. Not that I have anything to hide, but fuck.
“That bastard!” OK, I admit, I may have sort of lost focus of what I was supposed to be doing.
“Yeah, kind of like you, Harry,” Harmony said, and then I remembered what was going on, but by then, she was already walking away as well. “You better start working on your apology. And don’t follow me. I’m going to bed.”
I didn’t follow her, but only because I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. OK, not like that. But everything happened so quick that it was hard to figure out where I’d gone wrong in all that. I mean, not that I thought I did, or even now think so, but Harmony was obviously pissed off at something. Even though there were still some people out on the sidewalk, there weren’t a lot, probably because it was like, six in the morning, and all the sane people were going to bed. But I could see Harmony go into the Flamingo, but I didn’t follow after her because the last time I didn’t leave her alone when she said to, she cut off my finger.
Not sure what else to do, I pulled out my phone to see if I could tell if Perry was still tracking me. I never did actually figure it out, because I had three texts from Harmony that I didn’t even notice getting inside that damn bar.
“Fuck.” I kicked at some of the porno trading cards that were all over the sidewalk, but it wasn’t very satisfying.
But this was typical, though, wasn’t it? Harmony was pissed off at me; Perry had thrown me off the case. I was starting to wonder who else I could manage to piss off before going to sleep. Which, by the way, spoiler alert: that is a really stupid fucking thing to wonder, especially when you’re in this line of work. Also, for those of you who aren’t very genre-savvy, why the hell would I be telling you a story about the time I accidentally went to Las Vegas and nothing happened? I wouldn’t. That would be boring. Of course I managed to piss someone else off, because you all know that it wouldn’t have been Perry to get us into trouble.
I went back to Caesar’s and after getting lost again, I managed to find the front desk to get my key. I had to go through the casino to find the elevator to get to the room, and I’m just gonna skip all the boring shit and tell you flat out that I got so fucking turned around in there that it took me almost a half hour to figure it all out. It probably didn’t help that I was drunk and damn near exhausted, but there it is.
The room was up on the eighth floor, and I found Perry in it on one of the beds, fucking around on his laptop, doing whatever private investigator shit he had to do. Or maybe looking at porn. I don’t know. He was in his pyjamas, which surprisingly weren’t silk with a monogram on the breast pocket. Well, that’s what I expected them to be, anyway. Turns out, he sleeps in sweat pants and sometimes a T-shirt. Luckily, he went with the T-shirt this time, because I probably would have walked out of the room again if he wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“Oh, good. Two beds,” I said as I looked around the surprisingly large room. It wasn’t like the suite Dabney put me in when he brought me to LA, but it was still pretty nice.
“I wouldn’t share with you if you were the last man on Earth, Chief,” he said.
I know he says this stuff to make me feel better, and I’m not gonna lie. It does, sort of.
“Why’d you track my phone?” I asked, trying to decide what I wanted to do about it. At the time, not a whole lot. I was more interested in going to bed, to tell the truth.
“Because you weren’t answering it,” Perry said. He closed his laptop and put it on the little night stand thing. “Pissed her off already, did you?”
“Fuck off.” I still don’t know if she texted him or if he just did his Jedi mind thing to figure that out.
I started to take off my coat so I could just crash, and as I walked around to the other side of the bed, I tripped over something and almost fell. When I saw what it was, I felt like an even bigger jerk, which wasn’t fair, because I still don’t think I did anything wrong.
“Oh,” I said, looking down at my bag, which looked a lot heavier than it usually did with just my course books in it. Oh, yeah. I should probably mention that one of the things I was doing to try to work toward being able to do this PI stuff was getting my GED. I say ‘was’ because I’m not anymore. No, I didn’t drop out, thank you very much. I got it in October. And because I know you’re thinking about it, and probably laughing, I passed the math part on the first try.
No, I will not tell you how many times it took me to do the English part.
Anyway, fuck off.