[written by @Kid Kidman and @Joe Kerr]
Las Vegas has always been known for some weird and outlandish sights; a natural wild child borne of the ‘go big or go home’ and ‘campy glitz’ attitudes exuded by every single casino dotting the strip.
Perhaps this was why no one seemed to bat an eyelid at the sight of a small orange cat weaving seamlessly through the endless barrage of patrons on the casino floor. The feline would continue her journey before coming to a stop at the feet of a short man in a perfectly tailored suit.
The man smiled before reaching down to scoop up and stroke the cat who had started to polish his Italian leather shoes with her tail.
“And what mischief have you been up to again, Carmine?”
Joseph Kerr laughed as said feline let out an innocent ‘meow’ in response. He continued to stroke her auburn fur as he strolled around the establishment, his eyes never ceasing from their task of scanning the floor for troublemakers.
It was common knowledge in Vegas that 5 years ago an unnamed multinational corporation had bought over The Mirage from its former owners; however only a select few knew that corporation was actually VILE, or rather, one of its shell companies.
The Mirage had since served as VILE safehouse and regional base; the hotel and casino itself were perfectly legitimate but the same couldn’t really be said for some of its VIP guests. A small handful of VILE Agents also took turns in managing the establishment and ensuring that it was run properly and ‘above board’. The irony was never lost on Joe whenever he or his fellow VILE colleagues had to throw out various people for attempting to cheat the system and steal from the casino.
Carmine, for her part, seemed to love popping into rooms unannounced and conducting her own ‘inspections’.No one seemed to mind her though, most guests just thought of her as the hotel mascot, and an unannounced visit from her was even said to be a sign of good luck (Joe had started that rumour as a joke but it had somehow taken on a life of its own and become part of the local lore).
* * *
Neb was still sore, but driving today had been far better than it would have been last night. For one thing, she’d actually achieved her goal by hanging around. Almost. Maybe.
She bit her lip in consternation as she looked at the room service menu. She’d originally planned on grabbing the book and riding off into the sunrise, but now Flag was involved, and even though she’d managed to get Flag involved, she’d also gotten Flag involved.
“Balls.” she muttered ambivalently.
After leaving her loaner bike at a small airstrip a half hour out of Burrows, she’s hopped a small plane headed for Las Vegas, as nothing leaving the small airstrip would be able to manage a direct flight to San Francisco. That had cost her time enough, but another wave of storms had stalled her progress further, and so she had no choice but to crash at VILE’s outrageous oasis. Now she only had two more days to get to her apartment before Flag did, a matter of utmost importance.
She had to clean it first.
Neb rolled off the plush bed onto the floor. Despite how tired she was, she couldn’t fall asleep. The whole place was electric. The woman dragged herself over to the backpack she’d left at her bike the night before and from it she pulled a pair of tights, an over-sized shirt, and a short, black bob wig.
She put on the lot and checked herself in the over-sized mirror. “Good enough,” she said, then left the room for a place to eat.
Downstairs was a madhouse. For someone who was now more or less a hermit, it was overwhelming, but for some reason it didn’t bother her as much as it should. A part of her had woken up, and it was hungry for stimuli.
After roaming the glitz for a good half hour, she felt something bump up against her leg and looked down to find a red-haired cat. Neb smiled at it wryly. “Aye cat, smell the other cat on me?” she asked it, then scanned her surroundings. “Where’s your partner at?”
The sight of Carmine putting on the charms for their VIP guest made Joseph crack into a wide smile. He had sent his feline assistant ahead to look out for their mutual friend while he settled some unruly business in the casino.
Joe shook his head as he recalled the enraged couple that had been caught counting cards. While the skill was admirable and totally legal, it was also forbidden under an unwritten rule in every casino in Vegas, and the Mirage was no exception.
After a lengthy discussion, the pair had been allowed to leave with their winnings intact. What Joe had neglected to mention though, was that as per Vegas’ unwritten law, he had forwarded their details to every casino in town; they were effectively blacklisted. Like everyone else before them, they would learn the hard way that the house always wins, always.
Carmine’s calls broke Joe out of his stupor as he reached his intended target. Smiling, he addressed his special guest.
“Good to see you up and about; I trust the room was to your liking?”
“Hey Joe!” Neb greeted him warmly as she went to embrace him, a response that surprised her. Usually she hung back, uncomfortable and reserved around other people as she became more reclusive, but now she felt at ease, or at the very least, no longer cared. “Any room with hot water, a bed, and a door that locks is a luxury to me, so yes. Only thing it lacks is food. Could you direct me to some?”
A short walk and a couple of chuckles later, the duo found themselves seated at one of the more secluded tables of the all-you-can-eat buffet in the casino.
Carmine mewled serenely as she lay on Joseph’s lap, curiously eyeing the intriguing woman seated opposite her. Joseph Kerr merely smiled as he observed his old friend tuck into her meal.
Over the last few years, she’d blossomed from a shy girl into a confident thief, one who was more than a match for any ACME Gumshoe; In his opinion, Neb had not only talent but a natural flair and passion for their chosen profession, so much so that she might even become heir to the throne. His only worry though, was that she had also started to become a little more reckless lately, and recklessness was a fatal trait for a thief.
“So Neb, been keeping busy? I know ‘business’ hasn’t exactly been booming this year.
Buffets were the best. You could pick out which things you wanted, as many things as you wanted, and how much of each thing you wanted. It was, to her, the epitome of freedom. Pudding and spaghetti on the same plate? No problem. Salad made entirely of shredded cheese and croutons? No problem. Mix the soups together to make an ultra soup? Also not a problem.
Neb did all three.
“Business?” She asked as she tried to corral the last of her croutons onto her fork. “If you’re talking about Red Hat, then nah. There hasn’t been for anyone, that I know of.” A trace of a shadow flitted across her face, then disappeared. “But that’s all right. I got my own stuff going on.”
“Oh? Freelancing are we? Sounds interesting; always good to keep the hands busy and the mind sharp.” Joe paused to give Carmine a few affectionate strokes, receiving a plethora of well-pleased purrs for his troubles.
“Would you happen to require some assistance on your venture? My ‘tenure’ here at the hotel ends after tomorrow so I have a pretty empty schedule for the rest of the week. And I’m sure Carmine here, would appreciate a change of scenery.”
A chorus of meows confirmed the opinion.
Neb raised an eyebrow. “I dunno. How bored are you? After I get this book from Flag in San Francisco, I’m just going to be doing more hardcore research in my apartment. Might have to steal some stuff after that, though.”
So Flag was somewhat involved? As far as Joseph knew, Flag was one of the more eccentric members of their group; a book from him would probably not be your regular off-the-shelf type of text. This venture was already intriguing.
“I’m always up from some ‘item reappropriation’. Though the fact that Flag is involved intrigues me. I thought you were afraid of the guy? I certainly never pictured you as the type to like his literary stylings either.”
The woman paused mid forkful as her brain roared with laughter. “Um… well, actually,” she said as she fumbled for an answer. Then she put down her fork. “Wait, what makes you think I’m afraid of him? I’ve spent years just trying to find the guy. How did you find him first?”
“I don’t know Neb, for some reason I have this fuzzy memory of you being slightly wary of him. Then again, it may have been a dream. Weird dream though, for some reason I kept calling you ‘Kid’.”
The VILE Jester pondered for a little while before shrugging it off. “Eh, must be the Vegas air getting to me. I really should get that change of scenery.” Joe took Carmine’s mewling as her vehement agreement.
“Oh, and as far as Flag goes, who said anything about finding him? Last I heard, he didn’t want to be found so I thought it prudent to leave him be. Ran into him once or twice over the years though; small world, I guess.”
Neb looked at her plate thoughtfully, then signaled for a waiter.
“Give me your fruitiest cocktail, please,” she asked grandly, then leaned back and took in her surroundings. The restaurant was fancy enough, comparatively quiet, and the mix of mirrored low light and classic lounge music put her strangely at ease. Her gaze drifted upon the suited man and his familiar seated across from her.
‘He somewhat remembers me too. That’s interesting…’ she thought as her drink was placed in front of her, and she sipped it as she debated her next move.
Joe was a kind soul, lively and full of humour. She’s taken a metaphorical bullet for him once, while he had taken a literal one in Kamchatkan wastelands. She hoped he didn’t remember either.
“I used to go by that name when I was in training, so you might have heard it then. One of the pitfalls of being short.” Neb replied cordially. “As for Flag, it’ssssss….complicated.” She paused to take another sip. “We got a long, weird history. Not sure what else to say there. Don’t worry about him, though. He’ll disappear back into the aether once we switch books.”
“Disappear into the aether? You make it sound like Flag’s some sort of other-worldly sorcerer. You wouldn’t be trading spellbooks with him, would you?”
Neb looked at him blankly. “Yes. Yes to all of that.”
For a brief moment, silence reigned as Joe just looked at Neb with an equally blank stare, trying to decipher if she was joking.
Without warning, the silence was shattered an annoyingly loud shriek in the background; Joseph turned around to see a casino employee run toward him. Apparently, some woman just struck the elusive million dollar jackpot off the one-armed bandits.
Sighing, Joseph turned back to address Neb.
“You’ve got me intrigued, old friend. My offer still stands if you want it, think about it and let me know. Meanwhile, if you excuse me, I have some business to attend to.”
Joseph got up as Carmine leapt off him and ran ahead; just before he was about to give chase to his feline assistant, he turned around, “Oh, by the way the meal and drink are on the house. Enjoy yourself.”
“Uh…” Neb replied as she watched her fellow run off. She’d have to track him down later. Sleep had finally shown itself, and she only had five hours until she’d be back in the air again...
TO BE CONTINUED!
You need to be logged in to comment