Why yes, Your Honor, I have been driving since I left home not quite twenty-four hours ago. I can tell, because when Las Vegas rises out of the desert it seems to shimmer a little bit, not because the lights are actually shimmering, which they are to be honest, but because my eyes are starting to go funny around the edges. It's a good thing, though. I feel like I've braved the wilds of the nation and come out victorious yet again, and there's a possibly half-delusional sense of rolling into Las Vegas as though expecting the city to lay down arms and present me, its new benevolent sovereign, with a bevy of hot young boy-slaves to select from. I will have them build me a throne--more of a chaise lounge, really--to recline on while being fed grapes and watching reruns of Titus (the TV show, not the crazy Shakespeare reinterpretation with Anthony Hopkins. No way do I want anything to do with that, if I'm a queen of any stripe.)
Did I mention that I've been driving for almost a full day? I mention it to the girl at the desk of the Main Street Station. She's not particularly impressed, so I just go to my room and fall fast asleep for a while.
When I wake up, it's dark out, which is basically meaningless in Las Vegas, and there's a message on my phone from Dr. Teeth. My brain is still rolling in the soup of sleep inertia and I accidentally turn on the television, filling the room with the dulcet tones of Larry the Cable Guy, so I pretty much forget his message as soon as I hear it. The general theme of it is that he's in Las Vegas and staying with friends, and I should call him as soon as I get in because he's eager to get to the next part of the mystery.
All that does is make me think of Scooby-Doo. Goddammit, I hate Scooby-Doo. I leave the TV on and go to take a quick shower, to wash the road-grime off of me. I don't know where road-grime comes from, considering that I'm indoors the entire time, but it's definitely the case that after a long drive I'm always kind of greasy all over.
I intend for it to be a quick shower, but it turns into a longer one. Not because the shower is particularly special, but because the hot water feels good pounding on my head and it makes some of the crazy of the past day or so recede somewhat. I got flung off of a horse and re-kidnapped and molested by furries, for God's sake. I think I'm entitled to a little breakdown and shower weeping session right now. You might be surprised to find that I don't take advantage of this entitlement, though. I let the endless stream of scalding water ease the pain in my back, of course, but I don't succumb to the tears that are waiting in the wings. Frankly, I'm not in the mood; I'm upset, sure, but right now I'm feeling more pissed and righteously-indignant than weepy. Maybe it's because I'm looking at a bunch of bruises that suggest I was kicked in the chest by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and contemplating how lucky I am that I didn't break any ribs. All in all, the shower is a nice place to be. Things are less complicated in the shower; the water comes out, the grime goes down the drain, and everything else is just soap, shaving or shampoo. Simple.
Eventually I convince myself to come out of the shower and deal with the real world, in spite of the complications that come with it. The TV is silenced and I sit on the bed wrapped in a towel and call Dr. Teeth. He picks up on the first ring and there's a lot of noise in the background, like a television is on. "Where y'at?"
"All hotelled up and ready to go," I tell him, which isn't strictly true as I'm still naked. "Where are you?"
"Bowling alley," he says.
"What are you doing at a bowling alley?"
"Waiting for you. The fellas wanted to go out bowling. I ain't doing anything, I can go whenever you're ready."
"Want me to pick you up there?" He says that's good, and gives me an address to feed to the navigation system.
I rouse myself, dry off, and about half an hour later I'm facing the incongruity of Dr. Teeth in a bowling alley accompanied by no fewer than four well-roasted premium-blend desert hippies. Dr. Teeth fits in about as well as Flavor Flav at Woodstock, which is to say that his being there carries a simultaneous wrongness and rightness. He looks right at home, the same way he seems to be able to look right at home just about anywhere, and when he raises his hand to wave one of the guys sitting next to him waves too, and shouts, "Ey-hey-heeyyyyyy!" as if he's been waiting his whole life just for me to arrive.
This has the effect of making me feel welcome, and I drop myself into a chair across from them. The bowling alley is partially lit with blacklights and UV-reactive balls that streak down the lanes like meteors. Dr. Teeth leans forward, takes my hand and squeezes it like he's about to tell me how much he missed me, then says, "You ever bowl?"
"I grew up in the Midwest, Dr. Teeth. I bowled before I could walk," I say. "Lost my taste for it, but I still like bowling alleys. The thump-padockle is a comforting sound. I feel the same way about old-fashioned coffee percolators."
"I'm glad you made it. I'm just hanging, we can go any time."
"New friends or old ones?" I ask, indicating the hippies.
"Both," he says. That's Glen, this is Gary, that motherfucker over there is Glenn, and Ross is the one on the aisle."
I stare at him for a moment. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," he says, nodding. "They all live together in a place out in Henderson. Got a band. Oh, Dick said to tell you thank you, for getting him out of the house."
I smile. Dick is always up for roadtrips but never seems to be able to come up with excuses on his own, and he's not the sort who goes on a long drive without an excuse. "Did you guys get along?" I ask, knowing that they almost certainly did: Dick is also not a big fan of large government entities.
"We did," Dr. Teeth says. "Dick's a smart guy, I think we're going to keep up online. Did he really drive an ex-dictator's car across a country so he could rescue it?"
"He did, but it was my idea."
"That's some good shit right there. So here's the story. I got an office address for Ascher, here in town, and then there's an address that goes with the other number from Larry's phone that we found in NYC."
"Not the same address?"
"Nah. I called both of them; the office was still open at seven, but nobody picked up at Larry's number. And Ascher's office is in a residential area; I checked on Google. Looks like he's got a house that he calls an office. Tax breaks," he adds.
"I wonder if he's home right now?"
"I can hack into the traffic camera system and see if we can track his car."
Dr. Teeth grins and shakes his head. "Naw, I don't have access to that shit. But I wish I knew some motherfuckers who had access to those cams so I could. If I had the right passwords, I could hack LoJack and some government satellites and shit and find anyone in the country, anywhere, just by his car."
"I can't believe you just raised my hopes like that, only to let them be dashed."
"It's a part of life, girl, get used to it," he says with mock condescension. "So anyway, the only way to find anything out's gonna be to just drive over there and knock on the door, I think."
"That approach works for me. Do you think we'll get shot?"
"Hopefully you have some research on Ascher to back that up."
"I stalked him online, but everything I found was boring. He doesn't sound like someone who's gonna shoot us, though. And he hasn't hired anyone who's got conceal-carry permits. Even though that doesn't mean anything, security fucks'll carry even if they ain't supposed to. The man himself is a pussy, always wanted to put his teeth into the big time but never had the balls to do it. He rides coattails, he don't surf."
"I think I understood what you meant." I tell Dr. Teeth about the Shim K12 and all the fun I had in my house, as well as the visit from Mrs. Shim. "And since they think that I'm after blackmailing them, I'd assume that Ascher's trying to ride on the coattails of my supposed blackmail. And I hate being taken advantage of, even if it's a case of mistaken identity, which means that it's my sworn duty to go out and make him as unhappy as possible. Are you with me?"
"You know I am, baby."
"I do, actually. It was a rhetorical question. We'll ascend together, and turn back the time to never. Let's go dark." When we stand up to go, Glen, Glenn, Ross and Gary don't take much notice. "New-old friends, eh?"
Dr. Teeth nods.
"Kind of like me?"
"Naw, you're a new friend."
"Well," I say as we head out the doors to where Spelly's parked, "you are awfully good at going out of your way for new friends. I like this about you, and not just because I'm a beneficiary."
We roll out of the bowling alley parking lot, and over to where Ascher lives. This is where you're naturally going to expect that we pull up and see that pearly BMW and then storm in there like Clint Eastwood and Jason Statham combined, kicking the front door down and practicing our martial arts on any number of black-suited henchpeople as they rush out at us. Then we'll corner Ascher and pummel the secrets of this whole escapade out of him.
Of course, the fact that I said all of that scarcastically should be your first clue that it doesn't go down even remotely like that. That pearly-white BMW is in the driveway, along with an Oldsmobile Intrigue, but that's as far as it remains predictable. We park behind the Oldsmobile and go up to the front door. I figure that Ascher will recognize us, so we probably don't need an appointment. "You should text someone, and tell them where we are," I tell Dr. Teeth, "just in case we do get shot."
"I keep a file on an RSS feed for that," he says. "If I don't get home to disable it, it goes out to two hundred people telling them I've been disappeared and where I was last, and what I was doing."
I don't have an answer for that, and knock on the door. There's no answer, so I try the knob, which is unlocked. I hate the feeling of walking into someone's house unannounced, especially if I don't know them.
The foyer is about half business and half residential; I can see a living room and a dining room off to either side, but there's also a desk that looks like a reception desk, a set of very corporate-looking benches, and the floor's covered in industrial carpet tile.
The receptionist's desk is empty, and there's no bell to ring. We wait for two minutes without any sound from anywhere else in the house before I peek into the dining room. "Hello?" I call. No answer. Past the dining room there's a kitchen, of course, very nicely done with greenish marble counters and pots neatly hung from a rack on the ceiling and that's all I see before there's a painful jolt across my thighs and the whole house suddenly rotates around me, and I hit the floor on my side as something extremely large rolls past me making a grumbling noise.
From behind me, Dr. Teeth yells, "Aw motherFUCK!" and then I hear him running. The front door doesn't open; he keeps going, into the living room, and I hear a piece of furniture turn over. What the hell just happened?
I get to my feet, a bit shakily, and go back toward the foyer. From there, I can see that a recliner has been turned over, and Dr. Teeth's legs are sticking out from behind it. I can also see what knocked me (and presumably everything else that's not upright) over.
It's a pig.
No, I'm serious, it's a pig. It's not a cute little Charlotte's Web Wilbur pig, or a bloated Alfred Hitchcock-looking potbelly. It's a full-grown Goodyear Blimp-shaped monster that makes me want to get down on my knees and apologize for every time I ever ate bacon. It's as big as a Jet-Ski and it's the source of the grumbling noise and judging by the three point turn it's in the process of making, it has noticed me.
"Guard pig!" Dr. Teeth yells from behind the chair. As if to prove him right, the pig rushes forward, closing the distance between it and me.