In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.
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“It has been said that it takes ten days to form habits. Only ten days! If we take pains to persevere for ten days, we will be well on our way to good and Godly habits.”
– homeschooling expert Lorraine Curry
“I don’t have any bad habits. They might be bad habits for other people, but they’re all right for me.”
– composer and musician Eubie Blake
Under the hotel’s sheets, hands on his chest the way the dearly departed lay, Patton Burch blinked into the void of the ceiling, staring past it to the night before. He smiled. After drinking too much the previous evening, he had still remained the gentleman—except in his dreams where he’d made love to Chatterley. Should he feel guilty? Probably.
He turned. The other side of the bed was now empty. He’d slept so well, best in months, that he hadn’t heard her get up. The sound of the hotel’s shower, gentle as a rain, swept into the room. Chatterley’s clothes, which she’d slept in, lay as if hastily discarded on the floor. What if she was feeling better, amorous, even? He pictured her showering, comfortable in her body that men craned their necks for. The truth of the situation was that he was now sober, and she was young, vulnerable. The last thing she needed was an older guy taking advantage of her.
Patton lifted the sheets and saw his boxers were on. He didn’t remember getting out of his clothes. He did remember how Chatterley had trouble breathing last night, and between the drinking and another shot from her inhaler—a bronchial dilator, she called it—she’d been feeling sick again. She’d thought that strange. “I sometimes get shaky after using it,” she said. “It’s like having too much coffee, but I’ve never felt nauseous like this.” She wanted to close her eyes for a few minutes, so he’d offered his bed. “Thank you,” she said. “I just need to relax and catch my breath.”
That led to her falling deeply asleep on his bed. He let her be. He’d mixed himself another gin gimlet and watched a Star Trek rerun. Captain Picard was on a planet where he had a wife and family. He wasn’t a starship captain anymore but worked as an iron weaver, and no one believed him that there was a space vessel called the Enterprise. He came to love and accept his new family and let go of his past life.
After that, Patton had been too tired and dizzy to stay up. He remembered checking on Chatterley in the bedroom, hearing her breathe steadily and easily. He’d thought he’d just lie on the bed in his clothes, but here he was under the covers. He wasn’t used to drinking, but it was Vegas. Ah, the fantasy of it all: a woman like her in bed with him. But he had to let her go. He loved his wife—and he wasn’t like his father.
He could still smell grapefruit on the sheets. When he was a kid and even skinnier, for breakfast his mother would painstakingly cut each section of grapefruit halves for her family. Each pulpy chunk, cut from its heart wall, could easily be scooped up carousel fashion, one by one, and the sour sweet juice could be slurped. He loved that smell. In his dreams, there was something so pure and innocent about Chatterley’s small tight frame, naked and fruity, that their lovemaking seemed as fun as the first time he’d floated down a freshly snowed hill on a sled. In dreams, we get what we need.
Chatterley was showering now. Maybe he should step out and let her have some privacy. He sat bolt upright. Was his wife due in this morning? No. Maybe tomorrow. He held his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart. Calm down. Nothing had happened. As he thought about the situation more, it wasn’t as if he told Tess everything he did anyway. He’d snuck out to a few afternoon movies over the years and never mentioned them, and she certainly never asked. People could never be completely transparent to their mates.
The shower was completely steady sounding. He sat up, frowning. When someone’s in a shower, movement makes the sound vary. Wasn’t Chatterley in it? Patton turned his head toward the bathroom door. It was open. That’s why the sound was so loud. “Chatterley?” he said. No answer.
He swung his legs over the side and stood. They hadn’t closed the thick curtains against the daylight, so the western light, filtered by rare cloud cover, gave the beachscapes on the walls color. Outside, the gentle clay-colored hills far to the west looked flat. Considering that nothing green grew naturally in this area, Las Vegas was an unnatural place for a Lawn and Garden show, but this show was the biggest.
On her side of the bed on the floor, Chatterley’s purse was upside down with everything in it spread out, including a few coins, her friend Faith’s keychain, and a few panty shields. It was as if she had been desperate for something. Perhaps she’d merely kicked it accidentally. Then he saw her inhaler was in two parts: a small aerosol can and the blue plastic part that the can fit in. He picked up the can. It was empty. She must’ve been looking for another. Why hadn’t she awakened him to help?
He strode into the steamy bathroom. “Chatterley?”
The room had both a large whirlpool bathtub for two and a separate shower with a glass door. She wasn’t in either, though the shower was still on, pouring out steamy water. How could she leave it on? He turned it off, and the silence made her absence that much more profound. Did she step into the living room for a moment? Perhaps she’d put on a hotel robe and zipped to the pool. But without a suit? She could be topless in her panties, and the guests would love it. It was Vegas. She had beautiful breasts.
He could hear the air conditioner, a wide unit wedged into the wall near floor level in the living room, with its fan on high. As he moved toward the room, he was freezing with only his shorts on.
He stepped into the living room and saw her, near the Stratocaster, crouched naked on her knees before the long wide air conditioner. Her hands outstretched like a swimmer scooping the cool air. It looked erotic. “There you are,” he finally said, wondering about her intentions. He really couldn’t act on them. “Are you really that hot? Are you okay?”
She didn’t move. Was she asleep? Her head, between her arms, rested on the thick carpet. “Chatterley?” he said and kneeled down to her level. He touched her to wake her, and his first thought was she shouldn’t have been in front of the air conditioner so long because her skin felt downright cold. He shook her. “Chatterley.” She splayed onto her side. Her eyes were open. She didn’t appear to breathe. She stared skyward as if frozen in surprise.
Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, “Blood Drama.” His novel “The Brightest Moon of the Century” made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. “Love at Absolute Zero” also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.
He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections “Months and Seasons” and “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, “Who Lives?” had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.
Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books visit his website at: www.chrismeeks.com.