Wanna Get Lucky?: A Lucky O’Toole Novel
I found Dane licking his wounds in the casino. He didn’t look happy.
“You know anything about snakes?” I asked.
“You mean other than what I just learned from your friend, Miranda, back there?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Are you sure she doesn’t crawl on her belly and live under a rock?”
“Well, I don’t know about living under a rock, but one time she decided to live in a mud hut on the beach next to the Santa Monica pier. Something about showing the world the plight of some obscure tribe of cannibals in the Amazon.”
“She would like cannibals. I bet she’s still chewing on the hunk she took out of my ass.” Dane threw a quick look over his shoulder toward the lobby. “I hope she chokes on it.”
“You’re a big boy. I’m sure you’ll find a way to get even.” And I wanted ringside seats. I grabbed his hand and tugged him with me as I headed for the elevators. “Right now we have a more pressing problem. What do you know about real, slither- through-the-grass snakes?”
We skidded to a stop in front of the elevators. I punched the up button. Reluctantly I let go of Dane’s hand.
“What kind of snake?”
“How the heck should I know?” The elevator hadn’t come so I punched the button again, then again and again.
“Punching the button a zillion times won’t make it come faster,” he said.
“Maybe not, but it makes me feel better. I’d take the stairs but we’re going all the way to the top.” I turned and looked at him. “You haven’t answered my question. What do you know about snakes? I can do rodents, but I’m not well versed in reptiles.”
“We had an annual rattlesnake round-up back in my hometown. I participated a couple of times until a buddy of mine got bit and damned near lost a leg. Does that help?”
“It’s better than nothing.” The elevator door finally opened, and I dodged the people trying to get off as I pulled Dane inside. I inserted my card in the slot and punched the button for the Penthouse floor.
“So where’s the snake?” Dane asked after the doors had closed and we’d started skyward.
“In Mr. Ballantine’s suite.”
“Ballantine? You sound like you know this guy.”
“Oh yeah.” I crossed my arms and leaned against the side of the elevator. Just thinking about Mr. Ballantine set my blood to boil. “Our first meeting concerned cockroaches. Now it’s a snake. He’s moving up the food chain.”
Dane chuckled, “You gotta tell me about the cockroach.”
“Cockroaches, plural. Hundreds of them.”
“I think I’m going to like this story.”
“Are you familiar with the hotel rating system?” At Dane’s affirmative nod, I continued. “Like all top hotels, the Babylon jealously guards its rating. We opened at the top of the heap, and we intend to stay there.” The elevator slowed its ascent, then dinged its arrival at the fifty-second floor. “Some of our guests try to blackmail us by doing things that might threaten the rating.”
We stepped out of the elevator and turned right, heading for the King David suite. “They stage some unpleasantness, then threaten to report it to the rating services unless we pay for their room and whatever.”
“Hence the cockroaches.”
“Five star hotels are not infested with bugs.”
“But they could be,” Dane said. “How did you know it wasn’t legit?”
“The bugs were technically water bugs, indigenous to the coastal states. They couldn’t survive in the desert. They were brought in and planted in that room. I could have wrung Mr. Ballantine’s neck, but I stifled myself. This time, he may not be so lucky.”
“So we’re on our way to a potential homicide?”
“Don’t encourage me,” I said as we rounded the last corner. “He’s one of the few people I’d like to meet on the edge of a cliff with no witnesses.”
“Remind me not to get on your bad side.”
Three big, tough-looking security guys were standing outside Mr. Ballantine’s suite peering in through the doorway when Dane and I arrived.
“It’s got Denny,” one of them said when he caught sight of us.
Dane and I pushed past the guards. What we saw stopped us in our tracks.
“Holy Shit,” Dane mumbled.
In the middle of a beautiful, hand-knotted, silk Persian carpet, writhed one of our security guards, presumably Denny.
Wrapped around his middle was the largest snake I had ever seen.
The thing looked to be every inch of twenty feet, although it was hard to tell. It had already circled Denny’s waist twice and was going for a third coil.
“Get this thing off of me!” Denny grunted. “I can’t breathe!” He looked a little blue.
I grabbed the nearest guard and pointed to his gun. “Give me that thing.”
Wordlessly he handed it over.
“Dane, grab the snake’s head and hold it still.” I ordered as I chambered a round and made sure the safety was on. “Everybody back.” Dane dropped to one knee and grabbed the reptile’s head. Muscles bulging, he wrestled with the thing as it writhed. Twice he lost his footing.
I tucked the gun in my belt, shouldered-in next to Dane and grabbed the snake with both hands. Finally, the two of us managed to pull the writhing body away from Denny just enough. Dane put his knee on the snake holding its head to the floor. “Hurry,” he growled through gritted teeth.
I let go and grabbed the gun. Thumbing off the safety, I pressed the barrel to the snake’s head. I shut my eyes and pulled the trigger.
The recoil knocked me on my ass.
For a moment time stood still.
I was still deaf from the report when I opened my eyes. Breathing heavily, Dane knelt on hands and knees, his head hanging between his arms. Denny pushed weakly at the now inert body of the snake.
I crawled over to him, grabbed the slippery beast and tried to move it. Dead weight, the thing weighed a ton. “Help me here,” I said to Dane.
It took us a couple of minutes to unwrap Denny.
“You okay?” I asked him as he took deep, measured, lungfuls of air.
Dane stood, then grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. We escorted Denny to the gaggle of security guards who still filled the doorway. One took Denny’s arm.
My Nextel vibrated at my hip. I grabbed it. “What?”
“I got reports of gunfire on one of the upper floors in the north wing,” Jerry stated rather matter-of-factly as if gunfire erupted in the hotel every day. “You know anything about it?”
“Yeah, it was me.”
“Yeah, me. I pulled the trigger.”
“Cool. Who’d you shoot?”
I turned and surveyed the room through slitty eyes. “Nobody…” Ballantine lurked in the far corner behind a chair that looked like King David’s throne. The minute I saw him, my blood boiled over, my temper erupted, and I could almost feel his spindly little neck in my hands. “Yet.”
I dropped my Nextel in my pocket as I stormed toward Ballantine.
The creep shrunk behind the chair.
I was a few feet from him when Dane grabbed my arm, pulling me to a halt. “Whoa there,” he whispered in my ear. “He’s not worth it.”
Ballantine peeked around the edge of the chair.
I felt like making a lunge for him, but common sense slapped a lid on my temper. I straightened, threw my shoulders back, and slowly smoothed my dress. I took a deep breath, then blew several strands of hair out of my eyes. I stepped away from Dane.
He let me go but stayed close. I guess he was worried my temper might erupt again. He needn’t have worried. Past getting mad, I was well on my way to getting even.
Ballantine shrank back.
I crooked a finger at him. “Come here, little man.” I waited until, visibly shaking, he stood in front of me, staring at his toes. “What kind of snake was that?
“Where on earth did you get it?”
“From a guy I know here in Vegas.”
“How’d you get it into the hotel?”
“In a trunk. It took three bellmen to get it on the cart.” A tinge of pride crept into his voice.
For a moment I saw red again. Dane must’ve sensed it. He grabbed my arm, but I shook him off. I leaned down and put my mouth next to Ballantine’s ear. He flinched but stood his ground. “Listen to me and listen good. Pack your things. Stop at the front desk and pay your bill, which will be large as it will include damages for this attempted extortion.” I lowered my voice. “Then get the hell out of my hotel. If you darken my doorway again, or if I get even a hint that you have said anything unsavory about this hotel or any of its employees, I will hunt you down myself. And when I’m through with you, I will personally deliver your sorry carcass to the police.”
Ballantine visibly paled.
“I don’t think you’d like being a boy-toy for some lifer in the State Pen.” I turned on my heel, shouldered past Dane, then retrieved the gun from the floor where I had left it.
At the doorway, I slapped the gun in the chest of its owner. “Why do you carry this thing if you’re afraid to use it?”
The guard grabbed the gun with both his hands and stared at me like I had two heads.
“Men,” I muttered as I stalked off down the hall.
My phone rang as the elevator doors opened, and I stepped into the lobby. I glanced at the caller’s number. I flipped the phone open, pressed it to one ear and stuck a finger in the other. “Mother, aren’t you in Carson City? I’m really busy.”
“Too busy for your mother?” Her tone was colder than ice.
I took the finger out of my ear. That single phrase told me there wasn’t going to be much about this phone call I wanted to hear. “Mother, contrary to what you may think, the earth does not stop rotating when you call. This is a bad time.” Why I let her punch my buttons, I don’t know.
“Sweetheart, with that attitude, you’re going to grow old by yourself.”
“That’s not looking like a bad option right now.”
“If you run off that nice Mr. Dane…” Clearly the concepts of bad timing and non-receptive audience were lost on my mother.
“Mother, if you called to talk about my love life, this is not a good time.”
“What love life?”
I sighed and counted to ten. As I counted, I watched the people milling around the lobby. Did any of them have a mother like Mona? If they did, maybe we could form a support group. The first session could deal with overcoming thoughts of matricide. “Mother, is this really why you called me?”
“Of course not.”
I waited, but she said nothing. She was waiting for an apology, and the only way to get her off the phone without hanging up on her was to give her one. I guess I had been a bit harsh. “Sorry, Mother. What can I do for you?”
“I only have your best interests at heart.”
“Why do we take our frustrations out on each other?” An interesting observation from my mother.
“Because it’s safe.”
“That must be it.” Mother paused for a minute. I could almost hear her thinking. “Lucky, sweetheart, the reason I called is to tell you that the man Lyda Sue met at my place is no worry of yours. He had nothing to do with her falling out of the helicopter.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” Sarcasm crept into my voice, but I didn’t care.
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“I’m sure that will be compelling testimony in a court of law, Mother.” I knew what was coming next. I could read my mother like my dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged.
“You’re not going to tell me who she met, are you?”
“Honey, it’s not important. He’s not involved.”
“You’re withholding evidence.” “You’re not the police, and, if it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t tell them either.”
“Mother, you can be mean and really, really irritating, but you’ve never been stupid.”
“I knew you wouldn’t like it, but you’ll have to trust me on this one, dear.”
“So why did you call if you weren’t going to tell me anyway.”
“I want you to be careful, that’s all.”
“That’s not all, Mother, we both know it.”
Sorry I’d apologized to her and more than a little pissed, I snapped my phone shut. I’m supposed to trust her? What about her trusting me? And she was willing to stonewall the police for this mysterious guy. Why? Who could she care about that much?
In a blinding flash of unusual introspection, I realized one very sad and unsettling thing—while I could read my mother like a book, I didn’t really know her at all.
My Nextel vibrated. “What?” I practically shouted into the device.
“I heard you shot somebody.” Miss Patterson had the annoying habit of making an announcement sound like a question.
“Something, not somebody, although the day is still young.”
“Before you pull the trigger, think of me. I’m just getting you trained. It would be such a pain to break in a new Head of Customer Relations.” I heard the smile in her voice.
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’m in the lobby ready to greet the Trendmakers.”
“Got it. I didn’t have anything else beyond wondering whether I needed to find you a good defense lawyer.”
“An oxymoron, if not an impossibility.” I said as I shut the phone, proud of myself for resisting the temptation to toss the thing into the trash and bolt out the front door screaming. Instead I re-hooked the device at my waist, arranged my features in what I hoped was a pleasant expression, and girded myself for my next task.
Truth be told, the Trendmakers made me nervous. I watched them as they arrived to check in at the special desk set up for them in the far corner of the lobby. Short ones, fat ones, tall ones, skinny ones, the Trendmakers came in all shapes and sizes. It was like watching middle-class America coming to Home Depot for a gallon of paint. But they weren’t coming to Home Depot. And they weren’t coming for paint.
They were in Vegas for a weekend of casual sex with each other’s spouses. And they didn’t care if the whole world knew. Well, some of them didn’t care.
As I watched them, I wondered who was sizing-up whom, and for what. Who had already slept with whom? Were they back for more of the same, or did they want fresh meat this time around? Images chased through my mind. How could they stand there talking to each other as if they were bridge players attending their annual convention?
A few moments of that line of thinking was all I could stand. I needed a drink. After greeting the Trendmakers, I was heading to Delilah’s for some personal time with a bottle of Wild Turkey.
I plastered on a smile and started toward the registration table. A tap on my shoulder stopped me.
I recognized the voice that came from behind me. I turned. “Jeep. How are you?”
The Most Reverend Peterson J. Peabody loomed in front of me blocking the light, but his smile shed a light of its own. “Fine, doing much better, thank you. I’d like you to meet the Missus.” He pulled forward a small lady with a cropped hair-do and big eyes. Her smile was almost as wide as her husband’s. Thankfully for the Mrs. Most Reverend, that was the only thing about her as wide as her husband.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. She grabbed my hand in both of hers and looked at me with those big eyes. “Thank you so much for taking such good care of my husband last night.”
Last night? Had it really only been last night? I felt like I’d aged ten years since then. “That’s what we’re here for.” My voice sounded stiff even to me. As I stood there, my hand held tightly in hers, I couldn’t help wondering whose husband she had picked to start her weekend with. Did she like them older, or younger? Fat or buff? One at a time, or two?
I really needed to get a grip. “Would you care to join us tonight?” Mrs. Peabody asked. “A group of us are going to Carne for drinks and dinner.”
I extracted my hand. “Thank you, you’re most kind, but I’m afraid I can’t get away.” I made a sweeping motion with my arm. “As you can see, things are a bit crazy here today.” “
I can see that.” Her smile lit her eyes. “But, if you change your mind, we’d love to have you.”
I shivered. Coming from her, that innocent phrase took on a whole new meaning.
Forty-five minutes of meeting and greeting the swingers, directing them to the corner of the bar where libations would be served, and I was more than ready to drown myself in that bottle of Wild Turkey. I sidled onto the last remaining stool at Delilah’s.
“The usual, Ms. O’Toole?”
I looked into the smiling eyes of Sean Finnegan, one of our head bartenders. “Make it a double and if you put more than one very small cube of ice in there, I’ll come across this bar and strangle you myself.”
“Good day, huh?” Sean and I went way back. He liked to tell people, women in particular, that he was Black Irish. I guess they found that sexy or something, I don’t know. What I did know was Sean’s name wasn’t Finnegan, it was Pollack, and he was from New Jersey, not the Emerald Isle.
We all had our little secrets.
“Terrific,”I growled. For some reason, I had a burr under my saddle, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why.
Cupping my hands around the double old-fashion glass Sean set in front of me, I swirled the amber liquid and the one lonely ice cube around in the glass. Normally, I could blow through a day like to today and not be phased, but for some reason I felt out of kilter, not myself. Surrounded by people, I felt strangely alone, disconnected.
“I’ve heard of people trying to divine the future from the leaves at the bottom of a tea cup,” Teddie said as he appeared out of nowhere. “But never from a glass—a very large glass, I might add, of Wild Turkey.”
He sounded way too chipper for me to deal with right now. “Go away.”
He leaned in and shouted down the bar. “Hey, would you guys mind moving down so I can sit next to my lady here?”
I felt all eyes turn my way. Terrific. Now I was the center of attention—just what I wanted.
After much grumbling and scrambling about, everyone moved down one seat, leaving an empty stool to my left. Teddie straddled it.
I felt the reassuring warmth of his shoulder next to mine. Grudgingly, I had to admit, cheery mood and all, it felt good to be with Teddie. It always did. Especially, like today, when he was just Ted and not wearing a dress and my high heels. “I think I’m supposed to be mad at you.”
“Moi?” He feigned innocence. “What did I do?”
I tried not to smile at his big blue eyes and exaggerated expression. When he was just Ted Kowalski he was damned attractive. He still wore his torn Harvard sweatshirt and a pair of faded jeans that were just tight enough to spark interest but still leave a lot to the imagination. A hint of Old Spice aftershave wafted around him. I liked that—so old school.
“Nothing, really.” His crack about losing my smile had stung. As they say, the truth hurts.
“I have your best interest at heart.” So he knew. He draped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me a bit closer.
“You’re the second person who told me that today,” I said, enjoying the feel of his arm holding me.
“Who was the first?”
“Mother. Right after she stuck a knife in my back.”
“Your mother is a piece of work.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” I pushed the drink away. I didn’t want it anymore. “But you know the weirdest thing?” I leaned against Teddie. Solid, and male, he felt safe—and not a bit like Cher. “She’s my mother and I don’t even know her, not really. You know what I mean?”
“People build walls. Vegas can do that to you.”
I thought about that for a moment. “Do I do that?”
He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Honey, you learned at the foot of the Master. Mona is the most isolating person I know.”
“But I have a ton of friends.”
“You have a few friends and you keep us all at a safe distance.”
“That sounds so sad.” I didn’t want to be the gal Teddie described. “I must not be a very good friend, then.”
“Well it wouldn’t hurt if you took a couple of rows of bricks out of that wall.”
“I have no idea how. You help me, okay?”
“Your wish is my command.”
We both said nothing, letting the noise of the bar close in around us. Tired of resisting, I let my head rest on his shoulder. I didn’t want to think about building walls, tearing them down, keeping people out, or letting them in, but those thoughts buzzed around the edge of my consciousness.
“So how many years do you have to go without sex before they declare you a virgin again?” I mused aloud.
“What?” Teddie dropped his arm and leaned away to get a better look at me.
I darn near fell off my stool.
“Well.” I pushed myself back upright and refused to look him in the eye. “I read somewhere that if a person hadn’t had sex in ten years, then that person could be declared some sort of a de facto virgin again.”
He looked at me aghast. “Why would anyone want that?” He made becoming a virgin again sound as appealing as contracting the Ebola virus.
“I’m serious. I was just wondering about the ten year thing.” I thought back to the last time I’d had sex. I wasn’t close to the ten-year mark. Well, not perilously close anyway. I’d worked hard enough to lose my virginity the first time, I didn’t think I needed to push through that barrier again.
Teddie said nothing for a moment, and thankfully he didn’t laugh—or ask me how long it had been. Finally, he took my hand in his and looked me in the eye. “If you want to have sex, all you have to do is ask.”
I snatched my hand away. “Why is casual sex a guy’s answer to every problem?”
He reared back. With one hand he tapped himself on the chest. “Me? Men? You brought it up!”
“So to speak.”
We stared at each other. Then we both burst out laughing. Tears rolled down our faces, and we both were gasping for air before we could stop. In between fits of laughter, Teddie took a big slurp from my abandoned drink. I thought for a second, then did the same.
We both sat there trying to breathe and fighting the giggles that threatened to erupt again. Finally, I could take a deep breath and trust myself not to dissolve into hysterics.
Teddie had quieted beside me when he turned on his stool so he was facing me. He pulled my knees around so we were staggered knee-to-knee, face-to-face.
I started to say something, but the look on his face stopped me. The laughter had disappeared, replaced by something else.
Holding my hands in one of his, he reached up with the other, running his fingers over my cheek. Slowly he traced my jaw. I gasped as he brushed his thumb lightly over my lips.
Then he kissed me.
His lips felt soft, yet insistent, exciting. A long forgotten feeling stirred inside me. I wanted to resist, then I didn’t want to. Thoughts and emotions tumbled.
I kissed him back.
The world disappeared.
He pulled back. His lips next to my ear, he whispered, “Lucky, my love. I’ll make love to you anytime you want, and I can assure you, it will not be casual.”
With that, he backed off his stool and strolled away. Trying to catch my breath, I watched him go. I sat perfectly still as my heart pounded.
What had gotten into him? And me? I felt a grin tickle my lips. Typical guy. Where finesse was needed, brute force was applied. Why dismantle a wall brick by brick when you can run a bulldozer right through it?
Then my smile faded as reality reared its ugly head. I liked my life just the way it was. I liked my friendship with Teddie, our ease around each other. Sex just complicated things. I didn’t want complicated. Especially not with Teddie.
Teddie dodged a group of women who all turned and looked at him, their admiration evident, their lust poorly concealed. He seemed oblivious as he walked down the steps, out of the bar, and shouldered right past Paxton Dane.
Dane didn’t watch Teddie as he left. Instead he stared right at me.
Terrific. I whirled around to face the bar.
Dane parked himself on the empty stool recently vacated by Teddie. “Wasn’t that that Theodore guy we saw earlier? You told Mr. Jones that Theodore had had a late night, then he showed up. Right?”
“Yup.” I refused to look at Dane. This day had morphed from just plain weird to totally out of control. My hand shook as I brushed my hair out of my eyes.
“How’d you know he had a late night?”
“He was coming in as I was leaving this morning.”
“You live together?”
“Yeah.” I gave Dane the wickedest smile I could muster. “Same building.”
He seemed to accept that. “Bartender, give me a Bud light.” Dane rooted around in his pocket.
I put my hand on his arm, stopping him. “Sean, put the beer on my tab.”
“You got it.” Sean grabbed a bottle out of the cooler, twisted off the cap, then slid it down the bar where it stopped, still upright, in front of Dane. Amazed, I wondered how much practice that skill had taken.
Dane grabbed the bottle, tipped it in my direction. “Thanks.” He took a long pull. “You’re having quite a day, Ms. O’Toole. You blow the head off a snake, making fools out of all the men in the room, by the way. Then you make out with your boyfriend in the bar. Then, when he leaves, you buy another guy a drink. Impressive.”
“He’s just a friend.”
“You treat your friends well. Where can I sign up?”
“It’s a select list—hand picked. Very difficult to earn your way on.”
“I like a challenge.”
I gave him what I hoped was a dirty look as I pushed myself to my feet. “None of this is any of your business. And I don’t’ like being thought of as a game you’re going to play.”
“I’m very good at games.” Leaving the bottle on the bar, he rose. He stood close to me, too close. I started to take a step back, but he grabbed my arm, holding me tight against him. “Want to play?”
“Does that line really work for you?” I raised my eyes to meet his. “What is up with all you men today? Is it a full moon? Did you overdose on testosterone? What?” I slapped his hand away. “I’ve been assaulted enough today.”
He stepped back as if stung. “Excuse me.”
“Damned straight. And a simple ‘I’m sorry’ will do.”
“I’m sorry.” He looked chagrined and half mad, a weird combination. “I really am. I don’t know what got into me. Seeing you with that guy…” He looked as confused as I felt.
“Dane, go home. Your shift is over. It’s been a long…weird…day. Get some sleep. God knows there won’t be much time for rest later in the week.”
Absentmindedly, he nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. See you tomorrow. You’ll be here?”
“I’ll be here.”
If I didn’t shoot myself first.