The next couple of days had been a big blur. I ditched the car in Salt Lake City, hitched a ride to the Nevada border and hopped a bus the rest of the way to Las Vegas. Once there I adopted a blonde pixie cut wig and leather pants.
There was a place on the strip run by a guy named Vance whom I had met while on the circuit. He told me that if I was ever in the city and needed to make a buck he could hook me up with a job. Vance didn’t have the cleanest of reputations, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how legit The Candy Shoppe looked. It was a casino with a pretty massive stage that held showgirl acts every hour.
The scene was very different once backstage. The halls were littered with security men, and I was stopped by the largest of them who stood guard outside of Vance’s office.
“Do you have an appointment?” he asked gruffly.
“I don’t suppose a promise that I’d drop by if I was ever in town would do?”
“Not a chance, little girl. Go back to where you came from.” He pointed to the exit.
“Will you please just tell Vance that Nixie Stark is here to see him,” I said trying to keep the desperation from creeping into my voice. “I’m only in town for a few days and it would be nice to see what he’s up to.”
I was saved having to be denied again by the office door opening from the inside. Vance stopped short when he saw me and pushed his violet-tinted shades up to rest on top of his neat coil of dreads. “I’d recognize those pretty little lips anywhere, Miss Stark. What in the hell did you do to your hair? That’s not nearly as flattering as the blue.”
“Oh, it’s still blue underneath, I’ve just been a little incognito lately. Can I come in?” I asked sweetly.
“I was just on my way out, sugar lips, but I can pencil you in for sometime tonight.” He snapped his fingers at a small, blonde man in a gold suit who promptly provided a planner.
“It’s a bit urgent actually, I’m in a pretty severe pinch for money and I don’t have a lot of time to make it.”
Vance eyed me speculatively for a moment and then waved his assistant away. “Clear my evening, Ron, and excuse yourself.”
I nodded in appreciation and followed him into the surprisingly cozy room. It was filled with hip, but extremely comfortable furniture and there was a large fireplace crackling happily from behind Vance’s seat. He gestured for me to sit across from him and I happily obliged, sinking heavily into the soft fabric. Without asking if I wanted it, Vance poured out two shots of whiskey and pushed one towards me. We clinked our glasses together and while pinching my nose tightly I tossed back the burning liquid and banged the glass down on the desk.
“You would think with your old boss being dead you wouldn’t be having any issues,” he said, leaning back in his chair.
I glanced up at him startled. “What do you mean he’s dead?”
“Oh yeah, all that time he spent messing with people’s lives finally caught up with him,” said Vance happily. “That crooked old man deserved the bullet that bit him.”
A bullet? My old boss was crooked, crafty, and terrorized my world for quite some time, and all it took to bring him down was a bullet? He wasn’t my problem anymore, though, and I waved away Vance’s words.
“I took off before all of that,” I said, looking down at my lap. “My problem was born before I even started working for the circus. I can’t tell you much, Vance, it’s just better that way but I need a little bit of dough to keep my runaway train moving.
“Nixie, you are one of the most talented young ladies I’ve ever met,” said Vance seriously. “Show business isn’t for the weak of heart or spirit, especially the line you seem to favor. Now, I understand better than most the danger of biting off more than you can chew, and I want you to know you always have a place here, temporary or otherwise. The problem is that I need to know exactly what kind of trouble you’re in, just in case it follows you into my place.”
I simply shook my head. “Trust me, Vance, the less you know about him the better”
Vance clipped the end of a fat cigar that had been sitting in the ash tray on his desk and proceeded to light it. “I’m a little insulted -- I think you’re underestimating me.”
I couldn’t help but smirk. Vance was what you could consider a modern day crime boss. He asked questions with threats and weapons and he got answers with blood, but his dealings, however dangerous, were human. Abe was something else altogether. I could tell that Vance wouldn’t back down so I played my part and I played it well.
“The reason I joined the circus was to get away from my psycho ex-boyfriend, but he always seems to find me,” I sniffed. “I’m tired of running and I’m scared. I can’t keep this up forever, but for right now I’m doing all I can until I find a more permanent solution.”
“Is that all, Nixie gal?” Vance asked, chuckling. “You’re a smart girl and I think you know there’s only one permanent solution to a crazy man problem. The same way old Wiseacre was dealt with by the people he wronged, the same way your young man must be handled.”
He pulled out his huge, shiny glock and slapped it down on the desk. It took all my efforts not to roll my eyes in his face. There was no sane way I could explain that in this particular case, a gun was just not going to cut it.
I was sucked into the memory of the night I left Abe. There was blood -- so much blood...and it wasn’t even his. Blood caked his shirt, his mouth, his hair and he was laughing at me. Naive little me, holding a pistol in shaking hands, aimed right at his heart. He took a step towards me and I pulled the trigger. The bullet went straight through his heart but instead of dying he just kept laughing.
I shuddered and looked at Vance through the tears I hadn’t even noticed falling. “You can’t shoot him….I love him.” My tongue went numb as the words tumbled out of my mouth. I’d say pretty much anything to protect the people around me from Ave.
Vance pocketed the glock with a sad smile. “Trust me, baby, I know what that one feels like. I’m going to make you a deal, okay, sweet gal? Headline for me the next few nights, in whatever manner suits you, and I’ll put you up in my penthouse for as long as you need. There’s more protection guarding my place than you would know what to do with. Sound good?”
I sniffed again and nodded. If Abe wasn’t around, I’d be living the life I’d always wanted. Headlining every night, being blinded by the limelight and soaking up the glory of the stage. But instead, China got all the fun because she was the one who would be dazzling the crowds in Vegas. How sick that I was jealous of my own alter ego.
“Grossman out there is my chief of security. I’ll have him show you to the room and stand guard while you get some rest.” Vance handed me a key card and chucked me under the chin. “Then I’ll be by later on to go over your ideas for the show.”
I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Thank you so much, Vance. You don’t know how much I need this.”
“Anything I can do to give you back that old Stark Spark, believe me I will,” he said grinning.
The weight in my heart lightened but didn’t disappear completely. Vance was confident his men could handle anything but I was even more certain that he was without a doubt underestimating Abe.
I just hoped that Vance would survive to never make the mistake again.