American Midnight

American Midnight final 1-4-15 copy

Doc White wakes up in a Las Vegas hotel suite a very confused man with a massive tequila hangover. As he reflects on the previous day’s events that included his wife walking out on him and with their joint savings, the return of the voice in his head, his subsequent loss of another $150,000 at the blackjack tables, and then waking up next to a total stranger, Doc’s already damaged life has taken another serious dip downward. In order to pay off his new debt, Doc is forced to do something he vowed years ago never to do again; take a corporate job. Doc’s new boss, an octogenarian Chinese casino owner with a taste for curling and political intrigue, along with the return of an old love help to reenergize Doc as he tries to rebuild his life in Sin City. At a major crossroads, Doc draws on the expertise of Merlin, his coke-addled, phobic colleague from a prior life and Summerman, a part-time ghost who is certain he can help Doc deal with the voice in his head. By the time this initial installment in B.R. Snow’s Damaged Posse series is wrapped up, Doc, Merlin, and Summerman have joined forces and are armed and ready to wreak havoc on the bad guys as well as themselves.

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A really strong opening novel in what has real potential to become an incredibly popular series. It’s unusual to see multiple, fully-developed main characters juggled as seamlessly as they are here and B.R. Snow has set the Damaged Posse series up in a way that provides himself with a wide variety of directions to move in future volumes. The storylines are compelling, the characters pop off the page, and Snow displays a sense of irreverence which serves him well as he takes on greed, hypocrisy, and the vagaries of relationships. Best of all, he is one very funny writer. Don’t miss this one and the ones that follow. Comic crime hasn’t looked this good is a very long time.

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Chapter 1

I woke at five with an empty heart and a head full of tequila. Two hours of sleep had no effect on my internal clock that over the years had developed its own on-off switch. I did maintain some control over when to turn it off; but the on-switch flipped at five.

I swayed as I got out of bed, amazed I had regained consciousness. Knowing all too well that gambling and drinking were a deadly combination, I cursed my stupidity. I had certainly planned on getting drunk, but only after winning a few grand at blackjack. Some plans were meant to be broken. This wasn’t one of them.

I shuffled across the suite. A mirror beckoned but I couldn’t bring myself to look. Not yet anyway.

Last night started to come back.

Stacks of chips. Green, black, purple. How much had it been? Seventy, maybe eighty thousand? Certainly not major league, but big for me.

The woman in the red dress. Perched against my right shoulder, nuzzling my neck, whispering in my ear. Her words lost in casino noise and my lack of focus on what she was saying. But I remembered the nuzzling.

I remembered my cockiness too. The early evening success that followed the utter despair of the day.

And the booze. Alcohol was a regular companion, but pounding tequila shooters at the blackjack table was incomprehensible.

And unforgivable.

Don’t drink and gamble, the voice had warned.

Absent for the past several weeks, the voice had returned yesterday and refused to leave.

From the corner of my eye, the mirror beckoned. I moved forward cautiously and scanned the dresser top where my clothes and belongings were heaped.
No chips. That was probably bad news.

Keys, wallet, cigarettes, cell phone, watch…something was missing. Silently, I repeated the list. Keys, wallet, cigarettes, cell phone, watch…wedding ring. Wedding ring. In a flood of emotions too powerful for a half-drunk, hung-over man old enough to know better, I remembered why I came to Vegas in the first place.
Yesterday morning my wife of only a year and a half had announced as I stepped naked from the shower she was leaving. And she left. For Greece. Something about finding a real man, a man bronzed by the sun, to love her and treat her like the lady she was. Or did she say could be? I couldn’t remember her exact words because at the time I was busy getting soap out of my ears. I did remember my response.

“Leaving? What a good idea.”

At least it had been until I called the bank thirty minutes later to check the status of our joint account. The automated voice on the end of the line was far too unemotional in announcing the account’s current balance was $1. That is, it was $1 after my Greek-god-seeking, soon to be ex-wife had withdrawn $187,892 via wire transfer to the Fuck You, Be Glad I Left You a Dollar Bank of Athens.

So the wedding ring was off the list. I had removed one of the six items that told me my life was in order and prepared for another day of battle against the onslaught of the grind. I lit a cigarette and sat naked on the edge of the bed out of the mirror’s line of sight.

I ran through it again. Keys, wallet, cigarettes, cell phone, watch. It was concise and certainly simpler. I liked the rhythm and it had a nice ring to it.

The ring.

I remembered yesterday’s most impressive accomplishment.

I’d been driving to Vegas from LA in a roller coaster mixture of elation and rage with the music loud and the cruise control set at a hundred. For the past hour, I’d been holding the wedding ring, occasionally turning it around in my fingers pondering the beauty and social significance of its simplicity. And it’s seamless completeness. I was torn between hurling it out the window or selling it and using the proceeds for one hand of blackjack. A winning hand would be an omen of better times ahead, but a loss would only reinforce my latest financial debacle. The last thing I needed was a reminder.

Thirty miles past Barstow, I passed a dead skunk on the side of the highway. After a quick U-turn, the overpowering stench left me wondering how long a skunk, like my defunct marriage, had to be dead before the smell disappeared. The body, while not decomposing, was in definite stages of decay. I knelt along the side of the road, oblivious to the speeding cars. Whatever questions the drivers may have had about the man dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt kneeling alongside a dead skunk were of no concern to me.

It wasn’t very big and, beneath its fur, the skunk looked skinny. I wondered if this was normal or if the skunk just hadn’t eaten in a while. Its fur flickered as the desert wind gusted. The skunk was on its back, the body rigid with its legs stuck straight up in the air. The feet – or were they called paws – were perfectly symmetrical. Flip him over and he would make a perfect, yet unusual, little table. But where would you put it? Perhaps the zoo? A little zoo table. A place for all the resident skunks that didn’t have to worry about getting whacked by speeding cars to rest their feet.

The only sign of bodily damage, apart from it being stiff as a board, was a missing toenail. Clipped off by the wheel of a speeding truck? Broken as he rolled from the impact? Lost in a fight with Mrs. Skunk? I studied the skunk’s eyes. What do the eyes say about the last thing in any creature’s mind the second before death? I recoiled from my own question. It was at that moment the voice returned.

Don’t go there.

I cocked my head and waited. “Are you back?”

We’ll see.

I nodded and refocused on the skunk. Its eyes portrayed shock. Shock from the impact, or maybe it had had time to ponder its impending fate. Few outward signs of damage, but an internal system scrambled and rearranged, the ability to function forever lost. I took the wedding ring from my shirt pocket and placed it on the skunk’s left paw on the claw most resembling a ring finger.

I stood and stared down at the rigid body. The skunk appeared different. It was now a member of society’s most sought after and misunderstood club. It had acquired the means to generate sympathy from passersby who might wonder if the skunk had kids and how the family must be devastated by the loss.
I decided it was time for a drink.

The skunk was dead. But I, although very much alone, was still alive. And I’d stumbled onto the perfect resting place for the ring. Thirty miles outside of Barstow, adorning a dead skunk’s foot. Its life, like mine, permanently altered in the amount of time it takes to step in front of a speeding car.

Or out of the shower.

The pounding in my head was relentless and I knew from experience this would be an all-day hangover. I pulled on a bathrobe, sat on the edge of the bed and tried to summon details from last night. I came up blank.

That can’t be good news.

I appreciated the voice’s whisper. The more I tried to concentrate, the more my head pounded. My stomach churned and I tried to remember if I’d eaten dinner. A soft constant sound worked its way into my consciousness. Air conditioning? No. Running water.

I carefully hoisted myself off the bed and shuffled to the bathroom door and inched it open. Amidst the steam, I admired the muscular back of a woman washing her hair. I focused on the woman’s taut buttocks. I continued the journey down her lean thighs and calves. My eyes drifted back to her tight bottom.

“World class,” I whispered.

Despite the headache and nausea, I began to get aroused and cursed my alcohol consumption. To have shared intimacy with this woman would have been extraordinary. To not remember would be criminal. I silently pulled the door shut and returned to the edge of the bed. The water stopped, the sound replaced by familiar sounds of post-shower activity.

Who is she and how did she get up here?

I was hoping you’d be able to tell me.

A hooker, I decided. Given my condition last night, I couldn’t imagine any other woman agreeing to a sleepover. The bathroom door opened and she appeared wearing a towel around her waist and another wrapped around her head. She jumped when she saw me.

“Sweet Jesus,” she said, catching her breath. “You’re up. I was going to leave you a note. Good morning.” She cocked her head at me. “You look like shit.”
A smile was fixed on her face as she watched me glance back and forth between her eyes and breasts. Making no attempt to cover herself, she stood still and allowed me some time. I marveled at their slight upward turn. The air conditioning applied the finishing touches.

They’re perfect.

I nodded.

“Do you mind if I use one of your bathrobes?”

“As long as you don’t mind if I ask you who you are and why you’re in my room.”

She laughed and padded softly across the carpet. She grabbed a bathrobe from the closet. She smiled and released the towel from around her waist.
“I’m Grace.”

“Grace. As in state of?”

“That depends.” She focused on untying the knot on the bathrobe’s belt. “I’m here because you asked me. Besides, I wanted to make sure you got home safe.”
I tried to focus on her words but was distracted by the sight of her sliding effortlessly into the plush robe. A knock on the door broke what was left of my concentration.

“Oh, good. Breakfast is here.” She tightened the robe and went to the door. “Good morning, Ernesto. Just put everything on the table over there.”

“Good morning, Grace. How was your evening?”

“Tragically uneventful.”

The waiter chuckled as he rolled a large cart across the room. He noticed me sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Good morning, sir.” His tone was cheerful and upbeat. I barely managed a nod in response.

“Thank you, Ernesto.”

“My pleasure, Grace. Enjoy your breakfast.”

He waved goodbye to her, smiled at me and departed. I continued to sit lifeless on the edge of the bed.

“Why don’t you grab a quick shower before we eat?”

I looked at the woman who had taken charge and nodded. I stood and shuffled toward the bathroom.

“I’ll get this set up. How do you like your coffee?”

From the bathroom doorway, I turned. “In solitude?”

She smiled and waited.

“Just cream,” I said, closing the door behind me.

When I returned several minutes later she was fully dressed in a beautiful red evening gown. A memory returned. Green eyes. Red dress. I remembered first seeing her in one of the cocktail lounges late yesterday afternoon.

The shower helped. Now I sought additional assistance. She poured coffee and juice for both of us and started to eat. I watched the precise strokes she made with her knife and fork as I took a sip of juice and found it lacking. The coffee was more satisfying so I stayed with that. I warily eyed my breakfast. The woman called Grace noticed and reached into her purse. I accepted a small handful of aspirin and washed them down with a sip of juice.

“Thanks.”

The woman finished chewing a mouthful of bagel and pointed at me with her fork. “You really shouldn’t drink and gamble,” she said, sipping her orange juice.
“By themselves, they’re fine. But not in combination.”

“That was my point.” She continued to smile and study my face.

“How long were you with me at the tables last night?”

“Long enough.”

My curiosity took over. “I lost…didn’t I?” I caught a touch of sympathy in her expression. “How much?”

“About a hundred and fifty.”

“We are talking thousands, right?”

She nodded and went to work on her omelet.

“Expensive day,” I said.

330 thousand? Nice to meet you, Mr. Rockefeller.

The woman, oblivious to the voice, nodded in agreement. She finished her breakfast in silence as I went back and forth between watching her and staring down at my plate. I picked at my food but did manage to keep down three cups of coffee. The woman pushed her plate away and I lit a cigarette. She frowned, but said nothing. I coughed and sipped my juice.

“Look…Grace. Do I owe you any money?”

Her eyes flared briefly, but then relaxed. “Of course not. I’m not a hooker.” She then turned playful. “But we should try this again when you’re…”

“Sober?”

“I was going to say functional…but yeah, let’s go with sober.”

“I’m sober now.” I forced a weak smile and shook my head. “Maybe not.”

She laughed. “That’s okay. It can wait. I’ll be around.”

“You live here in Vegas?”

“I work for the Casino.”

Midway through a piece of bacon, I paused. “Doing what? I thought the idea of casino employees dating guests was a no-no.”

“We’re dating? How sweet.” She laughed.

“What would you call it?”

“Oh, just keeping an eye out for someone who’d had way too much to drink.”

She said it far too casually and, despite his hangover, my instincts kicked in. “So last night, did we…?”

“What do you think?”

“I’m betting my plumbing was out of order last night.”

“Finally, you win a bet.” She laughed at her joke and cocked her head. “You’re staring. What?”

“I’m just wondering what your job is. You’re so beautiful.”

“You’re too kind. Let’s call it Guest Relations and leave it at that.” She looked at her watch. “I need to run. And I definitely need to change. A woman wearing formal attire at six in the morning can only mean one thing.” She stood and kissed him hard. “I’ll see you soon.”

I watched her leave and stared at the closed door then crawled back into bed and dreamt hard.

Fortunately, the voice slept soundly.

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