I make the tactical error of getting on Las Vegas Boulevard to cross town, and we get caught up in the perpetual evening crawl of traffic through the heart of the nation's foremost producer of sensory overload. Dr. Teeth doesn't have much to say; he just looks out the windows at the neon and the LED screens and the tourists with giant hurricane glasses and the occasional Jesus freak and the volcano at Treasure Island, which erupts while we're stuck in traffic in front of it.
It's possible that he senses my mood. I have come down somewhat from the genocidal rage that overcame me at Ascher's house, but I'm worried and I'm stressed out and I'm still not sure what's going on, and even though we planned to go to Larry's Vegas address, being sent there by Ascher has thrown everything over all tailspinny and now I'm not sure what I should be doing.
The trouble is that I can't decide exactly what I'm thinking or feeling. Do I think it's some kind of trap? No, Ascher has proven conclusively that he's not enough of an evil mastermind for that sort of thing. So I keep running through all of the possibilities of what I might find at Larry's place--a Pizza Hut, a smoking crater in the ground, a computer conveniently open to a document that explains everything, all of my friends jumping out with cake and yelling, "Surprise!"--and nothing really fits, exactly.
Not only am I too wound up to explain all of this to Dr. Teeth, but I doubt he'll have any insight into the matter either. Of course, he's proven me wrong about that before, but to be honest I'm not in the mood to be proven wrong right now either. I'm in the mood to drive in silence and maybe chew on my lower lip a little bit.
By the time we reach our destination, it's after ten. The address is a condo in a decent part of town. The street is brightly lit, and it's so clean and neatly manicured that it's easy to imagine soap operas taking place here. A procession of Stepford Lexuses is parked in front of most of the condos, but there's nothing in front of the one we're at. Spellbound snorts up into the driveway, and I kill the lights and engine.
"No need for stealth," Dr. Teeth says.
"Wouldn't do any good to try. This car doesn't fit in this neighborhood. If we act sneaky, the neighbors will wonder why and call the cops. If we drive up like we belong here, less curiosity."
There don't appear to be any lights on in the condo; it's a dark, sleeping giant, as are most of the other condos on the block. "Apparently the sidewalks roll up early on this side of town," I say.
"Anybody wants to be up late, they can jet over to the Strip."
"Good point," I say. We're talking in hushed tones because there's something about an upscale neighborhood that's like a library. You never hear screaming kids in these places, and at night it's like being in a graveyard, except less interesting. Dr. Teeth is carrying my backpack, and we go to the front door. "Knock or kick it down?" I ask.
"We busted up enough houses this week."
"If you're worried about karma, I think we're okay. Both of our homes have been violated too."
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," he says. "Buddha said that shit."
I just make a frowny face at Dr. Teeth, and ring the doorbell. Somewhere inside the condo, a bell chimes majestically.
Nothing happens. "I was kind of hoping the porch light would come on," I say.
"Yeah, and someone could open the door and give us some candy after we say 'trick or treat.'"
"I always liked the Almond Joys."
"Really? Coconut doesn't do it for me, you can have mine. Do you like Smarties?"
"Nobody likes those things. Cheap-ass SweeTarts is all they are. We used to crush that shit up and snort it."
"Seriously?" Nobody's come to the door, so I turn the knob. It's open. 'That can't possibly be good for you."
"What the fuck did we know? We were eleven. We pretended it was cocaine and shit. Mario traded for as many Smarties and shit as he could, and crushed them all up till he had about a kilo of 'em, and the was the goddam Scarface of sixth grade."
"Did he manage to use his monopoly of the Smartie-powder market to become the most powerful kid in the school?"
"Nah, none of us wanted that shit. You ever snort sugar? The shit burns. Once you got everybody else to do it once, nobody's gonna do it anymore."
"That makes sense," I say, opening the door. We both look around, but the condo's door isn't directly visible from the street. It's unlikely anyone in this already-dead neighborhood will see us, so we go inside, of course. "So, um, what's the next step above IKEA?" That's what the place is decorated with. "I should call Molly and ask. She'd know who made all of this stuff."
"It's expensive and European," Dr. Teeth says, without a lot of interest. "No personality."
"It could use some color." The floor is polished poured concrete, with a dark rug here and there. Even the artwork on the walls is done in half-tones. The only thing that's really distinctive in a non-Architectural Digest way is the smell. "Why does it smell like a vegetable steamer full of unwashed ass?"
"Smells like a corpse," Dr. Teeth says. "Some motherfucker died in here."
"You think?" He just nods. This makes that bubble of worry that's been hovering around the edges of my belly swell up afresh. "Should we back carefully out the door and call the police?"
I'm glad he says that, because I didn't want to go, either.
"I wouldn't touch shit, though."
"Taken under advisement," I say, sniffing carefully. The smell doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere in particular; it permeates the whole condo. In front of us, there's a kitchen to the right and a huge-ceilinged sunken great room directly ahead. There's a huge two-sided fireplace in the middle of the room, a ridiculously large flatscreen on the wall, and more art on the walls, as well as a fantastic view of what would probably be a walled-in backyard, if we could see it.
"Bedroom to the left, bathroom and a master bedroom past the fireplace," Dr. Teeth says. "If someone's dead in here, they been here a while."
"Then why are we whispering?"
He snorts. "I have no idea," he says in his normal froggy voice. "Someone's always listening, but they already know what happened here."
"Which room do you want to check first?"
He jerks his head at the closer bedroom. The door's already partly open, and a simple nudge swings it the rest of the way open. It's a guest bedroom slash office, with no evidence of mayhem or budget furnishings and certainly no corpse. "Clear," he says.
We cross the living room on opposite sides. If we had guns, we'd probably have them out and held up, like TV cops. The other room's door is closed, and I really don't want to open it. I'm afraid of what we might find, of what that smell might be.
Dr. Teeth seems to agree. He gets to the door first, wraps the tail of his shirt around his hand, puts it on the knob, and hesitates for just a moment, meeting my eye. "It might be bad," he says. "You ready for that?"
I just nod.
"Don't make fun of me if I puke and cry," he says with a smirk, and then twists the knob and opens the door.
The room is a spiritual brother to Larry's room in his New York apartment, and this if nothing else tells me that he definitely owns the place. Of course, that deductive reasoning is kind of pointless since Larry himself is in the bed, silk sheets scattered about his body. One arm hangs limply off the side; the rest of him is sprawled in an ungainly twist, sideways across the king-size mattress. He's shirtless, wearing flannel pajama bottoms and houseshoes.
"Oh, shit," I say. I've seen dead bodies before, but never someone I knew well, apart from funerals. Never a friend.
"I'm--" Dr. Teeth says. I assume he's about to say that he's sorry, but then Larry snorts and sits up, and we both scream like tweenagers telling ghost stories in a blanket fort. Dr. Teeth and I actually grab and hug each other without taking our eyes off the walking corpse on the bed or shutting up. It's a reflex. Who knew people really did that?
The noise causes Larry to jump up, as well, and he spins halfway around on the bed and starts screaming too. He fumbles for the lamp and turns it on, flooding the room with warm light, and we all stop screaming, though I do make a few kitten-like noises in the back of my throat while my brain catches up and steps down the he's a zombie kill it kill it kill it alert.
"Lexi?" Larry asks, obviously completely confused. "What are you doing here?" He leans over the side of the bed, picks a robe up off the floor, and pulls it over his chest.
"Looking for you! You disappeared!" Dr. Teeth lets me go and takes a few steps toward the window.
"But how did you get here?"
"How did you?"
Larry shakes his head, and his confused expression melts into a smile. "Oh, that." He starts laughing. "Oh, it didn't even occur to me that you'd--" He laughs some more, which has the effect of making me start to frown.
"Larry, I would like for you to make with the explaining right now."
He waves a hand at me while he regains his composure. "Sure, sure. I'm sorry. You've probably figured out that this is all a big misunderstanding by now. I got into a bit of a pickle, and needed to get out of the spotlight, so I suppose I made some folks think that I'd made a handoff to you. I imagine they took you in and questioned you for a while." I open my mouth to let him know how wrong he is, but he keeps going. I hate being interrupted. "But that gave me enough time to slip under the radar. I'm really sorry about dinner. I'll pay you back, of course. Shall we try again? I'll take you to the Alex at the Wynn--appropriate, don't you think? Who's your friend?"
I can't see Larry. Well, I can see him, objectively, but parts of him and of the room are obscured by a sort of red mist. His words seem to be coming at me from the far end of a tunnel. Am I having a stroke? If Larry has gone and made my brain explode and he's standing there laughing, I am so going to be waiting for him when he gets to hell. In fact, if I go to heaven, I will request that I be sent to hell, so I can be there waiting for him.
Something touches my right hand. It's Dr. Teeth, pushing something into my fingers. I bring my hand up to my face, and see that he has given me the canister of bear spray. That seems like a great idea, and I fully endorse it.
The can works kind of like a fire extinguisher, and it sounds like a bug bomb when I hit the trigger. There's an awesome spitting whoosh of aerosol, and Larry's head and the front of his robe turn orange. The wall also gains an awesome abstract expressionist pattern that forms a silhouette of Larry in its negative space. It brightens up the room considerably.
Larry is not in the mood to enjoy it. He is no longer mirthful. He rocks back in surprise when the spray hits him, says, "What was that?" and then his body tells him exactly what it was and he says, "Uck." Then he starts crying and rubbing his robe on his face, and crawling around in little circles on the bed. He keeps saying, "Uck," with greater and greater urgency.
"Will this stuff kill him?" I ask Dr. Teeth.
"Nah. Make him think you did, though. Let's go see if he's got something to eat."
"Good idea." I hand the can of bear spray back to him, and he puts it back in the backpack. Larry is trying through tears and choking to ask us for some water. "Your bathroom is to your right," I tell him. He staggers in that direction, with a bit too much curve, and arcs into the wall next to the bathroom door with a groan.
"Water ain't gonna make it better," Dr. Teeth tells me as we head to the kitchen. He drops my backpack on the counter. Larry's got a nice kitchen, with a marble-topped island and bar stools so it doubles as a dinette.
"Really?" I ask, sitting at one of the stools.
"Nah. You gotta douse with milk to stop the burning. Water just moves it around. Lotion'll seal it in and make it worse." In the bathroom, the shower starts up, and Larry lets out a protracted yelp.
"Does Larry have any milk?"
Dr. Teeth opens the fridge. "Just soymilk."