by Martin Maenza
Salvador Malano moved down the aisle from the cockpit area. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a black tie. He moved to the back of the small jet plane to the area where his employer sat resting.
“Boss,” Salvador said gently. “Oh, boss?” Ape-Face opened his eyes. “Real sorry to wake you, boss.”
“What is it, Sallie?” the gang leader asked. “We almost there?”
“Yeah, boss. Pilot says we touch town in Vegas in about twenty minutes.”
Ape-Face brought his hands up to his eyes to rub the sleep out of them. “Very good. Very good, indeed.” He stretched his long arms up and almost touched the ceiling of the cabin. “Go and make sure Bobbie and Lou are awake as well. They need to be ready to go as soon as we arrive. I am anxious to tidy up an end which has been too loose for much too long.”
Salvador nodded. “Sure thing, boss. Right on it.”
Ape-Face looked out the small window of the plane, and the clouds rolled gently by. “Stretch O’Brien,” he said to himself, “I hope you are enjoying your last few hours. For soon, you will learn the hard lesson about crossing the son of the Gorilla Boss.”
It was a few hours later, and after showering and getting dressed up, Stretch and Maggie O’Brien decided to catch some dinner. “How was the shrimp cocktail?” he asked.
“Like buttah,” she replied. The waiter came past and took her empty dish. “Though we didn’t have to do it up fancy tonight. I’d have been happy with steak on the Strip.”
“Yeah, we did,” Stretch insisted. “I thought we’d celebrate. Nice dinner, then hit a show, and after, some dancing.”
“There’s some Elvis impersonator just down the Strip some. Thought we might go and check him out.”
“Sounds good to me,” Maggie replied. “You’ve showed me the finer appreciation of the King these last few months.”
The two laughed a bit, and then a man approached their table. He was older, in his late fifties, with sandy hair. He was fairly good-looking and well-dressed. “Excuse me,” he said as he approached their table. “I don’t mean to take much of your time. I was watching you two from across the way and had to come over and say something.”
“Yeah, like what?” Stretch asked.
“Baby, be nice,” Maggie scolded. “What did you want to say, Mister… er…?”
“My name is John Gage,” the man said. “I spend a lot of time here in Vegas. You might call me a regular.” From his clothes, he certainly looked like he could afford to gamble a lot. “Look, let me get right to the point. I’m a very wealthy man, and I would like to offer you one million dollars to let me sleep with your wife.”
Maggie’s mouth dropped open. Stretch looked surprised, too. Then he started to laugh. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“No,” said Mr. Gage. “That is a very serious offer. I’ll pay you in cash, if you are interested.”
Stretch shook his head. “Nope, no dice. No one tastes my Maggie-pie but me, buster.” He stood up from his seat and looked the man right in the eye. “Now, I suggest you take a hike, spike, unless you want a fat lip!”
John Gage nodded and took a step back. “I understand. Well, thank you for your time.” He then walked away proudly.
“Can you believe the nerve of that guy?” Maggie said. “Who’s he think he is? Robert Redford?”
“Probably,” Stretch said, sitting back down. “He must be a sorry individual if he has to make indecent proposals like that just to get laid.” Just then, the waiter came and brought them their main entrees. The lobster tails and prime rib were enough for them to forget about the incident.
Later that evening, at one of the other hotels, the opening act completed its performance to a round of applause. The master of ceremonies took the stage. “Thank you, thank you,” the man in a black tuxedo said. “We’ll have a brief intermission before tonight’s main performance, Elvis Lives!” The audience applauded again, and then the crowd began to talk amongst themselves. The waitresses began to circulate to get and fill drink orders.
“I’m really enjoying myself tonight,” Maggie said as she squeezed her husband’s arm.
“Me, too,” said Stretch. Then he bolted up from his chair. “I’ve got to go.”
“Go?” Maggie asked, surprised by the statement. “Where you going, baby?”
“Just the bathroom, sweetie,” the man said, smiling. “Be back in a minute.” His wife relaxed.
Stretch left the room, crossed the hall, and entered the men’s room. The first row of urinals was crowded, so he sought the set in the back. He had his pick of the litter. Sidling up to one of the porcelain receptacles, he unzipped his fly and proceeded to relieve himself.
Then Stretch heard a familiar voice. “Enjoying yourself, son?” Elvis asked.
“Havin’ the time of my life,” O’Brien replied.
“Just keep a cautious eye open. This city’s full of its share of snakes. You never know when one will sneak up on you and bite you in the ass.”
“Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself. Always have, always will.”
Elvis nodded. “You got that pretty little filly of yours to think of now, too, Stretch.”
“That’s why we’re here — to win money to take care of our future. Set up a little nest egg, so’s we can settle down someplace.” Stretch finished his business, zipped up his fly, and flushed the toilet.
“Planning for the future’s good, son, but don’t you forget about the past, neither, hear?” Elvis cautioned. And then he faded into thin air.
Stretch stepped back into the lounge and headed for the table. He looked around a bit, not sure for a moment where they were sitting. Then he noticed Maggie’s shawl on one of the seats and realized that was where they had been sitting. “Hmm, maybe she had to go, too,” he said as he sat down.
He listened to the conversations around him for a minute or two until someone approached the table and sat in Maggie’s seat. The man was rather large, dressed in a suit. “Sorry, buddy, that seat’s taken by my wife,” Stretch said.
The man leaned in closer, his hand inside his suit jacket. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, Mr. O’Brien,” said Lou Rossi. “If I was you, I’d choose the easy way.” To emphasize his point, Lou poked Stretch in the ribs with the gun he had inside his coat.
“Hey!” said Stretch.
“Lower your voice!” said Lou softly. “I guess I’ll have to spell it out for you. If you know what’s good for you and want to see your wife alive again, you’ll come with me.”
Stretch stared him straight in the face, but the look Lou gave him indicated that this was no joke. He would just as soon kill Stretch right here as to look at him. “I guess I got no choice,” Stretch said reluctantly as he stood slowly. Lou stood at the same time, keeping close to the man he was sent to fetch. “Are you gonna at least tell me who sent you?”
“You’ll find out in good time,” Lou said as he handed Stretch the shawl. “Let’s go. We got a car waiting for us.” The two walked out of the lounge, across the lobby of the hotel, and out front. A black sedan pulled up as they appeared from the doorway.
Lou opened the back door of the car. “Inside.”
Stretch ducked his head to slide into the car and saw a scared Maggie was in the back seat. Two other guys sat in the front, one to drive and the other to keep Maggie covered with his gun. “Baby, you OK?” he asked.
“Oh, Stretch,” Maggie said. “I was so worried…”
“Get in!” Lou said as he pushed Stretch into the car. O’Brien hit the seat and was forced to slide over to the middle. Lou entered the car behind him and closed the door. “Let move out, Sallie.”
The driver pulled away from the curb.
The black sedan began to work its way down the Las Vegas Strip. There was a good bit of traffic, with people making their way from one casino to the next or just taking a scenic drive to enjoy the various light displays.
The fifty-foot-tall neon cowboy stood proud as a well-known Vegas landmark, tipping his hat. The neon cowgirl down the way acknowledged it by kicking out her right foot. Up and down both sides of the road, lights of red and orange and yellow flashed and flickered as if the buildings they were mounted upon were on fire. The city was alive at night, and each display called like a Siren to those that passed by. “Come inside and play,” they seemed to say. “Come and enjoy yourself.”
Stretch and Maggie O’Brien were not enjoying themselves. They sat quietly in the back seat of the black sedan, holding hands to comfort one another. Lou in the back and Bobbie in the front seat continued to have their guns trained on the couple, just in case.
Stretch wasn’t sure who these guys were, but by the way they were dressed and how they acted, he could guess. He knew that if he were to save Maggie, he’d have to make a move. He glanced out the window and recognized what part of the Strip they were on. They were heading back toward their hotel. He knew he had to make a move and fast.
The front seat was split with two bucket seats. From the middle of the back, Stretch had a perfect view of the dashboard. He had one option at this point and decided to go for it.
As the car continued to move in traffic, Stretch straightened his leg slightly. Lou barely acknowledged it. Then Stretch went for it.
In one swift motion, he stretched his right foot forward and slammed it onto Sallie’s right foot. The accelerator hit the floor, causing the black sedan to speed forward fast. “Hey!” the three mobsters said at the same time. The car immediately slammed hard into a truck in front of it. While Bobbie’s head smashed into the front windshield, the airbag in the steering wheel engaged and caught Sallie dead in the face.
Stretch, meanwhile, jammed his elbow into Lou’s chest hard, causing the gun to discharge into the ceiling of the car. “Maggie! Run!” Stretch yelled.
The woman instinctively popped open her door and bolted out into the street. She dodged and weaved through the traffic as horns honked and people yelled.
Stretch continued to pound on Lou, hoping to cause him enough injury to slow him down. Bobbie, though bleeding profusely from the head, tried to dive into the back to help. Stretch slipped past him and out the door. Bobbie’s body impeded Lou’s initial pursuit.
Lou Rossi tumbled out of the back of the sedan and glanced across the street. He could see the couple hurrying through the crowd in hopes of getting away. For a second, he thought to pull his gun to shoot but didn’t. He took off after them instead. Ape-Face’ll kill me if they get away, he thought, abandoning Sallie and Bobbie to handle the questions that might surround the accident.
Lou ran up his side of the street, constantly keeping an eye on the couple. He saw them duck into a building, so he attempted to cross the street.
A pickup truck nearly slammed into him but hit the brakes at the last second with a squeal. “Watch it, you @$$hole!” the driver yelled.
Lou ignored him and continued on his way. A car almost hit him. He rolled across the hood and landed hard onto the sidewalk on the other side. He quickly got up, brushed himself off, and bolted toward the building the O’Briens had ducked into.
Looking up at the marquee, Lou cursed aloud. “Son of a bitch!” They had ducked into a wax museum. Lou quickly bought a ticket and went inside.
The place was rather large and had a number of impressive displays. The first ones were of a celebrity theme: stuff from recent films as well as classics like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Lou hurried through, trying to make out if the O’Briens were in the crowds or hiding amongst the exhibits. He passed the one for the Godfather films. That just reminded him that Ape-Face would have his head if he showed up without the couple.
The next rooms were the Chamber of Horrors. This area was much darker. Lou slowed down to look here a bit better. There were darker corners for the couple to hide. After about five minutes, he exhausted the possibilities and needed to move on.
The last bit of the museum was devoted to Vegas and the many stars who performed there. There were lifelike statues of Cher, Charo, the Rat Pack, and Elvis, among others. Lou realized he was at the exit of the exhibits and cursed. “Damn it!” He knew Ape-Face would already be wondering what was taking so long. Best to check in now to avoid the mobster’s wraith. Lou left the building.
A few minutes later, a whispered male voice asked, “All clear?”
The wax statue of Marilyn Monroe opened its mouth. “All clear.” The long coat began to shift and shape, and Stretch O’Brien retook his human form. Where Marilyn once stood, now it was revealed to be Maggie O’Brien. “That was close!” she said as they stepped down from the display. “We have to get out of this town, fast!”
“We will!” Stretch said. “I want you to go get the rental car. Meet me at the Rio. If I’m not there in an hour, take off for my Dad’s.”
“I won’t leave you, Stretch!” Maggie insisted. “What are you going to do?”
“I have to head back to the hotel!” he said.