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Vegas And Beyond

written by: Mark Kuglin

@cr8fiction

 

The prosecutor’s opening statement, “I can prove my case beyond any shadow of a doubt,” thoroughly enraged me. “You can't prove anything!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

“Mr. Strong,” the judge sternly interjected. “I am aware of your version of the events.”

“You don't know anything!” I loudly countered.

“Mr. Strong, I’m warning you!”

I should have heeded the warning but my anger got the best of me. For the next two weeks, I stewed in my cell and listened to the prosecutor’s version of events. When she finally finished, I realized I had absolutely no chance of being acquitted. An hour later, I informed her I was changing my plea to No Contest.

Within moments, I was once again standing before the judge. I was expecting to see a smug look but I was completely appalled when she left the bench and did a happy dance. The complete lack of decorum was disgusting but I wisely held my tongue. When order was restored, I was informed that my sentencing would take place immediately.

At that very instant, I glanced over and locked eyes with Merry. For a brief moment, I considered begging for mercy. Instead, I reached into my pocket and took out a coin. And after stroking it for a few seconds, I tossed it in the air.

Heads I apologize…Tails I leave…

***

After the coin toss, I left Merry. I was exhausted. I mean really tired. The kind of tired a hundred year nap won't cure. Life had been dealing me nothing but losing cards and I was sick of it. It didn't seem to matter what I tried or started, it eventually disintegrated. I desperately needed something good to happen and I got it— one afternoon— while I was sitting morosely at a coffee shop.

I was staring into my cup when I was suddenly startled by a sultry voice that said, “Hi handsome.” When I looked up, I was pleasantly surprised to see a voluptuous blue-eyed blonde smiling at me. For a moment, I thought my luck had changed. It ended— an instant later— when a mountain of a man pulled up a chair next to her. Smiling sweetly, the blonde said, “My name is Susie…You looked so sad, I just wanted to cheer you up.”

I glanced over at her companion and he correctly read the apprehension— and touch of fear— I was feeling. “Relax, you have nothing to worry about,” he said reassuringly. He then added with a laugh, “She's an out of control tart.”

“Pay no attention to Earl,” Susie interjected playfully. “He thinks he's funny. He has no idea that everybody humors him with courtesy laughs.”

While they were bantering, I took a moment to appraise them. What struck me the most was that they were an odd pairing. Susie was stunningly beautiful and had an incredible figure. It was obvious she turned heads wherever she went and that she could easily have any man she wanted. Earl, on the other hand, was a stark contrast. He was not good-looking and he had one grotesque feature— a protruding forehead. And when you combined it with his immense size, he looked like a Neanderthal.

“I’m sorry,” Susie said apologetically. “Here we are carrying on and we don't even know your name.”

“It's Pat,” I replied.

After we exchanged pleasantries, we chatted for a while. Earl then surprised me by asking, “We’re going to Vegas for Memorial Day weekend and we want a traveling companion. Would you be interested in going with us?”

“There is nothing I’d enjoy more,” I said dejectedly. “But I can't afford it.”

“Don't worry about the cost,” Earl interjected. “I’ll cover it.”

At first, I couldn't believe my good fortune. But then, I was sure there had to be a catch. Earl saw the look on my face and reassured me his offer was genuine. After he did, I gratefully accepted. He then told me, “I have business to attend to while we're there. I want you to be Susie’s escort during those times.”

***

We headed for Vegas— at the start of the long weekend— in Earl’s car. He had decided it would be easier to conduct his business if he didn't have to rely on taxis. At first, I wasn't keen on the idea. However, I was later glad he made the choice. Along the way, we told each other every joke we knew and by the time we neared Vegas, we had become fast friends finishing each other's sentences.

The moment the Vegas Strip came into view, I asked Earl which hotel we’d be staying at. He quickly informed me we’d be staying in a friend’s condo. When we arrived, I felt grimy from the trip and headed straight for the shower. After I finished my routine, I left my room and found Susie— now for some reason a flaming redhead— seated on the couch in the living room.

Seeing my obvious confusion, Susie said, “It's a wig…Earl and I are known here and he doesn't want to be disturbed…If I go out as a blonde, people will know we’re in town.” Susie then added— after a brief pause—  “Earl’s gone already and he left us money…Grab what you need…We’re going shopping.”

***

Susie’s idea of shopping was more like a shark feeding frenzy. She bought everything that caught her eye and even insisted on giving me money to spend on myself. I tried to refuse but she wouldn't hear of it. To please her, I splurged and bought myself an expensive leather jacket.

After we finished shopping, we returned to the condo. The moment we walked in, Earl startled the hell out of us by blurting out, “There's been a change of plans…Susie, go change for dinner…I'm taking you with me.”

Apparently, Susie was used to these sharp, abrupt changes. As soon as Earl was finished, she left without saying a word. I was about to ask what had happened when Earl quieted me with a wave of his hand. He gestured me closer and said in a low conspiratorial tone, “I have a surprise for you…Her name’s Gwen…She's your date for tonight.”

***

Quite honestly, I have no idea what happened for most of the evening. I remember Earl yelling to Susie that he was going to drop me off at a casino and that he’d be back soon. Earl and I then got into the car and he dropped me off at Gwen’s apartment. The last thing I can recall— before blacking out— was Gwen meeting me at the door with a glass of champagne. The next thing I know, I’m on a sidewalk— sans new jacket and my wallet—  near Caesar’s Palace. I was trying to shake the cobwebs out of my head when I was suddenly approached by a cop.

At first, he treated me like I was just another drunk. However, the moment I mentioned my jacket and wallet, he asked for my I.D. A few moments after he read it, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. A split second later, he snatched me from the ground and had me in handcuffs before I even knew what was happening.

***

When I arrived at the police station, I was immediately ushered into an interrogation room. In very short order, I was informed that my wallet and jacket had been found at the scene of a major robbery. At first, I was calm and did my best to tell the detectives my version of the events. However, when my interrogators asked me to repeat it for the sixth or seventh time, I completely snapped. I was mid rant about the injustice of all of it when another cop suddenly entered the room and said, “Please calm down…We needed to see if you’d change your story.”

But before I could respond he added, “I have good news and bad news.”

Still highly annoyed, I said with as much pleasantness as I could muster, “And what's that?”

“The timeline doesn't seem to fit,” he responded. “And…It's the arresting officer’s opinion you were too intoxicated to have done it.”

“That's great!” I replied. “Un-cuff me and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’d like to but I can't,” he replied apologetically. “I can't release you until you’ve been arraigned…And the courts are closed until Tuesday morning.”

***

Three days later, I was bitterly angry as I was led into court— in shackles— for my arraignment. I had spent the previous seventy-two hours vacillating between pure hatred for Earl and Susie— and how they had used me— and at my own stupidity. I was about to loudly proclaim that I had been framed when the judge suddenly said. “I’ve looked over your interrogation transcript…There's something wrong here…Sometimes prosecutors are dealt winning hands…But this is way too pat.”

When he said the words ‘way too pat’, I was convinced he was mocking me. And an all too familiar pair of questions echoed savagely in my mind.

What have I done to deserve this?…Why does the universe hate me so much?

I was so stuck in my own misery, I missed the next few things he said. However, I did catch his closing lines. “In the meantime, I’m going to release you on your own recognizance. It's up to the prosecution on whether to proceed. You may have to return for trial.”

After I was officially released, I couldn't get out of Vegas fast enough. An hour or so later, I was standing— by the side of the road— on the outskirts of Vegas. I was trying to hitchhike and I was miserable about everything that had happened. But then, I realized my life before— by comparison— wasn't that bad after all. I was so lost in thought, I didn't notice a car had stopped. I was popped out of my trance by the sound of a sultry voice. “Hi handsome. Need a ride?”

Mark Kuglin

Mark Kuglin

JULY 2018 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Mark Kuglin is an American expat currently living and working near Ensenada, Mexico. He writes fiction, poetry and the occasional essay. Samples of his work can be found on his website 'Mark Kuglin'.
Mark Kuglin

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