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Lost in Las Vegas Excerpt | Room 813
Room 813
You can stare at a situation in fright for only so long before fiction becomes fact and develops a life of its own. John and Ludo pause outside room 813 of the Silver Cactus Hotel and Casino. Ludo leans forward, pressing his ear against the door, but he cannot make out any words through the wood, just the sounds of husky male voices and muffled conversations. He shrugs and looks at John.

“I don’t understand why we’re meeting her here,” Ludo whispers out of the side of his mouth.

“I don’t know either,” John says in a hushed voice. “This is where she told me to meet her.

“Number eight-thirteen, man, not a good number. Bad luck. Why does everything we do around here seem to end in the number thirteen?”

“Thirteen again?” John says tremulously.

“Right there in front of us again, homes. I don’t feel good about this, bro. I just don’t. What the fuck is going on inside that room? And who the hell are these people?”

“We’re in the middle of a casino. What could possibly happen? What, we get gunned down in a hail of bullets?”

“Yeah, that and other things,” Ludo says. “And this is not the middle of a casino, let me remind you. It’s a closed room. Ain’t no impartial witnesses behind that door. And we both know that girl is trouble, and since she brought us here, that’s what I think—it’s trouble. More of it.”

“Like what could happen?” John asks nervously.

“Whatever ‘what’ might be, I don’t want to be ‘what-ed,’ that’s what.”

“Well, I guess we should knock on the door.”

“I suppose so.”

“You’re closer,” John says.

Ludo steps back. “Now you’re closer. You knock on that door, hombre. This whole thing is your thing.”

“What’s the big deal? This is just a meeting place. To say hello and whatever. You’ll get to meet ZZ, and we’ll be in and out and downstairs in no time at all. Go ahead, knock.”

“If it’s no big deal, why don’t you just knock on the door instead of staring at it?”

“You’re such a child, Ludo.”

“I may be a goddamned child, but you’re knocking on that door,” Ludo growls. “Bad enough I have to be standing here in front of a number thirteen. Them number thirteens like a tornado twisting all over us and wrecking everything in this town.”

“Here goes nothing,” John says, raising his hand. He looks over at Ludo one last time, sees no encouragement there, and sighs. John meekly taps on the door, hitting it twice. The door immediately opens, as if the knock was expected at that very moment and no time was to be wasted. John’s hand is still suspended in the air, and he drops it sheepishly to his side.

A tall, narrow-shouldered man in his sixties, with a full head of gray hair immaculately combed straight back, stands there measuring them as if they are livestock being sized up at an auction and found to be inferior. He wears a tuxedo that hangs off his gaunt frame like an ill-fitting curtain, and his face, narrow and drawn, has the look of death, the mien of a mortician presiding over a funeral. Hopefully, not theirs. The man peers over the top of his half-rimmed glasses down the hall behind John and Ludo, and then at their shoes, taking in the whole situation with one penetrating look. He rests his stare disconcertingly about one inch over John’s eyes, where a bullet to the forehead might be aimed in an execution, and addresses him in a guttural voice that scrapes out of his throat.

“May I help you?” the man asks after a few very long seconds.

“We’re here to meet ZZ,” John says anxiously, his voice catching in his larynx.

The man, still peering over his glasses, unsmilingly steps aside, and without another word, allows the two to enter.

As John and Ludo squeeze past the mortician into the room, the door quickly shuts behind them. The harsh sound of the bolt slamming into its lock startles and unnerves them further and, instinctively, like trapped animals facing the salivating lips of a drooling predator, they move closer together. The room, a few seconds earlier boisterous with noise, becomes deathly quiet, the silence hanging heavy and oppressive, as if a man had emitted his last gasp to a sober crowd of witnesses and still swings on the gallows.

There are eight occupants in the room: six grim-looking men sitting around a poker table, all of whom turn toward the door; the mortician who allowed them entrance; and a short, creepy-looking man with a bulbous nose sitting by himself in the corner, chain-smoking cigarettes and watching the action with beady eyes. The players at the poker table drop their cards and silently stare at the two visitors standing dumbstruck before them. Seconds, ephemeral pieces of time, drag slowly as eight sets of eyes from around the room burn into John and Ludo, laser beams that scour them like Brillo pads scraping burnt crud off a frying pan. Dripping in their own nervous sweat, John and Ludo feel skewered by these piercing looks, as though their very souls are glass windows and a bunch of killers is scrutinizing them through the clear panes.