Travis strolled down the bright and jumping Vegas strip enjoying the weirdness on parade. At one point he had to sidestep a Darth Vader who was apparently perving on a showgirl in a massive headdress who may have been a man. The showgirl shoved Vader into a family wearing matching yellow tee shirts with “Cheesehead” emblazoned across the front. The dust up resulted in his drink being spilled but he didn’t really mind. It was a nice change of pace from his typical day back home, and he had spent the afternoon gearing up for a good night in sin city. First a nap, then a long, hot bath followed by another short nap had restored his vigor after a long morning, most of which had been spent watching old women from Henderson playing video poker although he hadn’t really been watching them. He had been smoking weed and as he made his way through the casino, the combination of lights and sounds on that particular row of machines fascinated him and the women reminded him of his grandmas who were all dead. But he remembered them like it was yesterday and in his altered state he was trying to remember if he’d had two grandmas or seventeen.
He only saw five here that he was sure about.
He enjoyed weed but it sometimes made him much too paranoid and he was starting to worry a little that he might’ve killed his grandma who he was living with in Birmingham but he was almost certain that was not the case. You just need more coffee, he told himself, and go back to church.
If he worked hard enough at it when he was stoned and afraid he’d killed someone like grandma he would always remember that she’d left him the nice condominium overlooking Highland Park and her money that had previously been his grandpa’s money. Now grandpa, he remembered, was a different story. Everyone was pretty sure that she had killed him but there just wasn’t any proof because he had completely disappeared over twenty-five years earlier. The life insurance never paid off arguing that he was never seen again so he could very well be alive. His grandma Nell could have had him declared legally dead and could have fought the insurance company in court but then the policy was only for a million and a half and she inherited five times that from his estate, so she let it go. By the time she died she had turned some seven million give or take into almost twenty and had left half of that to her devoted grandson who had always been there for her.
In honor of his grandfather he had already made most of the money in her bank account disappear, around twenty thousand from a monthly annuity payment and some social security benefits. It would take a little time, the financial advisor told him, for them to liquidate her investments and get the cash to him, so he took the few thousand he had left, closed her account, and went to Vegas to pass the time where weed was supposedly legal and so was sex.
That was how you got here, he reminded himself. You would never kill your grandma. You loved her. You’ve never hurt anyone besides yourself.
If the gambling grannies were concerned about being observed by a middle-aged man in a plaid Lacoste shirt for three and a half hours, they didn’t let on. He, in turn, heard everything they talked about and remembered it all. It was just like talking to Granny Nell! he thought. By the end it was as if he’d known them for years. He knew about Ann’s hip surgery and Lila’s grandchildren. Less than a day in sin city and he’d already made friends! Though he still regretted the apparent breach of protocol for asking, “Say, do you gals ever win at this?” as the last one lost her bus fare and turned on him with blazing eyes.
“Who the fuck said that?” she had yelled. “What kind of shitass would say something like that!”
“I’m sorry?” Travis said.
“You, sir, are a dumbass. Probably a shithead!” she scolded.
“Pardon?” he replied. “No.”
“Give me some bus fare,” she demanded. “I need to get home and you queered my game.”
“But it was over,” he replied. “You know I follow Fonzie–the Fonz, remember?–on Twitter and he posts some pretty heavy shit like–”
“What’re you, some kind of retard?” she scolded. “Did you just call me a twit? Say I was some kind of twit?”
“I’m an old woman and you’re talking about my twat, you bastard!” she yelled. “Bus fare or I’m calling the cops! Stiff penalties here for harassing the elderly! You have no clue, fella!”
“No, I’m not–of course!” he exclaimed. “How much do you need?”
“Forty-seven thousand dollars,” she said. “Cash.”
“For a bus ticket?” Travis asked.
“Round trip,” she said.
Travis looked around. Even though they were in an obscure, out of the way corner of the casino hemmed in by hundreds of blinking, beeping machines, he was sure security would appear at any moment. He held up two fifties. “How far will a hundred get you?” he asked.
She snatched the bills and said, “Nowhere fast, shitass,” as she walked away. Later, he saw her sitting at a Pai Gow table with several stacks of green chips and several stacks of black chips in front of her. Maybe purples, too, but he didn’t want to get close enough to see. It bothered him that he might have been scammed somehow, and she seemed like trouble.
But that was all behind him now. It was his first night ever in Vegas and he was on his way to a show. A real Vegas show! He looked and saw a cab approaching so he took a chance and hailed it. It stopped!
I should be gambling,” he thought. “I’ve got hot running luck!”
He opened the passenger door and started in when he felt a hand on his backside shoving him across to the far side where he slumped against the door. He turned and looked at his assailant. The old woman! She had climbed in behind him and shut the door.
“Paradise Pawn and Gun,” she yelled at the driver, sitting back and tightening the selt belt. “And an extra hundo if you don’t catch us in this fruit and nuts show traffic and get me there before they close.”
The cabbie floored it, throwing Travis back against the seat. “Seaside a beltsis!” he yelled at Travis and the woman. “Put on.”
“Hey!” said Travis. “I’ll miss my show. That ticket cost one hundred forty dollars!”
The woman pulled a wad of hundreds the size of a double cheeseburger, snapped off a couple bills, and tossed them at him.
“Keep the change, rube,” she said. “Where you from, anyhow?”
“Birmingham,” said Travis. “Alabama.”
“Well that explains it,” she said derisively.
“No one in my family has ever been here before,” he said.
“Congrats,” she said sarcastically. “Money well spent.”
“It doesn’t give you the right to kidnap me and make me miss my–where I was going!” Travis protested.
“Fuck that noise. You’re not kidnapped. This is a cab for fucks sake. You can get out any time you want,” she pointed out. “You got in the cab voluntarily, genius. It’s not like you’re being held against your will.”
“Good then I want to get out,” he said to the driver.
“Hell no you can’t get out!” she yelled. “After the pawn shop. I’ll pay him to take you wherever you want to go.” She held up the massive wad of hundreds with her tiny hand. “Just sit still and shut up.”
“What’s so important about the pawn shop?” he asked.
“Never you mind, Scooter,” she said harshly.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
She scowled at him again. “Abigail. Boulevard. Zimbabwe, the fuck does it matter?” she snapped. “Now shut up before I kick you in your box or whatever you got down there.”
Travis sighed and settled back into his seat and watched the lights and faces along the sidewalk stream by as they sped west toward the setting sun. He glanced over at the old woman but she was sitting upright with her eyes closed as though meditating.
Thinking she was asleep, he quietly pulled out his flip phone and dialed then held it to his ear. “Hey, Uncle Barney? Yeah it’s Travis,” he said in a quiet voice. “You’ll never guess where I–” But that was as far as he got. The old woman opened one eye and slapped the phone out of his hand. It hit the door handle and broke into several pieces that clattered down onto the floorboard.
“My phone,” Travis said, defeated.
“What you?” the driver said. Travis looked up and saw him looking at Travis in the rear-view mirror. “Are you her…byeotch, how you say or someting?”
“Sit still, fucker!” the old lady said. “I’m not going to tell you again. We’re almost there.”
Just as Travis settled back into his seat, the driver turned quickly into a small, run down shopping center and stopped in front of Paradise Pawn and Gun. A large clock on a roof gable read five fifty-five.
“We made it!” he exclaimed. “With five minutes to spare!”
The woman rolled her eyes and paid the cabbie.
“You want I wait?” the cabbie asked her.
“Fuck no, Al Queso” she said, giving him an extra hundred. “But take him wherever he needs to go, just get him out of here.”
Then she counted out more money, laying it on the back seat.
“Here’s an extra thousand,” she said. “For a new phone. One that was made in the last twenty years. Quit fucking up your life. Quit being a dumbass. Go back to Alabama and stay there and do something that isn’t so stupid. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Have some fucking milk and cookies instead of weed for a change.”
“What?” he said. “Who are you?”
“Who the fuck you think, shitass?” she shouted at him. “Somebody’s grandma.”
Then she slammed the door. The cab made a half-circle and exited the parking lot. As they pulled into traffic, he turned for one last look at the old woman, but she was gone. Instead of a shopping center there was just a big empty lot on a big empty block. Travis looked at the driver but his eyes were on the road ahead. He scooped the money off the seat and folded it, stuffed it in his pocket.
“I take?” the driver asked.
Travis looked up and met the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror. “Take me to the airport,” he said.
“Airport!” the driver exclaimed. “Now where you going?”
“Home,” he said to the cab driver. “I’m going home.”