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54

Max prowled his prison. It was a prison, complete with guards, and he didnt like it at all, even though hed sentenced himself to this plush incarceration, and even though the term of imprisonment was to be very short; by tomorrow evening, hed be out of here, one way or the other.

Not the other, please. One way, and one way only: With the burglar in custody, in jail, or in the morgue. The fellow had to make his move while Max was still here in Las Vegas, he just had to.

In the meantime, Max prowled, from the large L-shaped living room to the big square bedroom with its big square king-size bed to the slightly smaller second bedroom with its own compact bathroom and with, at the moment, Earl Radburn napping as neatly as a corpse atop the bedspread; and on to the completely furnished gleaming white-and-chrome kitchen with its sink currently full of dirty glasses and cups, and around to the pleasingly pink large bathroom with all the mirrors and all the little bottles and boxes of sundries: shampoo, hand and body lotion, bath gel, hair conditioner, shoe polish, shower cap, toothpaste ...

Irritated, Max slapped the tiny bath gel bottle back onto the bathroom counter, and glowered at himself in the wall-length mirror. In his boredom, he was reading the little bottles labels again. Again!

The business meetings hed scheduled here had gone well, better than might have been expected under the circumstances, but now they were done, and he was still here, and there was nothing to do, nothing to do. Fuming, restless, struck livid by ennui, Max paced back out to the living room, where the four uniformed guards continued to sit murmuring together in the conversation area, and the drapes remained resolutely closed against the outside world.

Max hated that, the shut drapes. Hed argued against it, pointing out that the idea here was to let the burglar know he was actually present in this cottage. So why not let him see that Max was present? But Earl Radburn had said, Ive been thinking about this problem, Mr. Fairbanks, and Ive been thinking what I might do, if I was the fella were looking for. Its always a good idea to put yourself in that other fellas place. And it seemed to me, if what I wanted was that ring on your finger there, and if I could see you through a plate-glass window, I just might decide to fire a high-powered rifle through that window, and put a bullet in your head, and count on stripping that ring off your finger in the subsequent confusion. While Max had blanched at this ideathe bullet in the head was just too graphic an imageEarl had gone on, Now, Im not saying this fellas the kind that might do such a thing, or not. Im just saying, if I was that fella, thats one of the possibilities Id consider.

So the drapes would stay closed. Every once in a while, a battle would take place out there on the Battle-Lake, unseeable beyond the drapes, and during the period of explosions, and the roaring of the crowd, Max and his guards would pace more restlessly than ever inside this prison, the guards with hunted looks, their hands hovering over their sidearms as the cannonades sounded all around them. But other than during those battles, there was no way to tell for sure that there was anything at all in the entire world outside this apartment. They might as well be on an asteroid in the asteroid belt, the last human beings in existence.

A knock on the door. Max at once removed himself to the kitchen doorway, feeling ashamed of his caution, but knowing nonetheless that caution was his only friend at this moment. One of the guards crossed the room to cautiouslycaution was everybodys friend in this cottageopen the door.

A murmur of voices. The guard stepped back, and a dapper black fellow in a tux came in, with a clipboard in his hand and a gold nametag reading JONES on his left lapel. Evening, sir, he said, with a broad toothy smile and a slight bow of the head in Maxs direction.

Max grimaced in return. Evening? It was after midnight, and nothing had happened yet. He could almost wish this was the burglar himself, or at least one of his friends.

Housekeeping, the guard explained to Max, unnecessarily.

Just checking, the fellow from Housekeeping said, still with that broad smile, to be sure everythings all right.

Everythings, Max said savagely, hunky-dory.

Well, well just look around, the fellow from Housekeeping said. With your permission, sir?

Go ahead, Max told him, and moved out of the kitchen doorway, so the fellow could go in.

The guard had already returned to his conversation in the conversation area, and now Max went over there to say, You recognized him, did you?

The guard had just resumed his seat on one of the sofas, but now he stood and said, Sir?

The fellow from Housekeeping, Max said. You recognized him.

No, sir, the guard said. Why would I recognize him?

Max only now looked at the shoulder patch on the guards uniform, and realized it did not say Gaiety Hotel, Battle-Lake and Casino, it said Markus Plaza, which happened to be a shopping mall owned by TUI outside Phoenix, Arizona. So he was part of the extra security force brought in for the occasion.

Max now looked more carefully at the other guards uniforms and shoulder patches. He said, None of you work here at the Gaiety?

No, sir, they said. No, sir.

So you wont recognize bona fide employees of the Gaiety, Max said.

Well, the first guard said, they have to show us ID.

Did that fellow show you ID?

His nametag, sir. The guard, who was himself black, cleared his throat and said, Uh, the guy youre waiting on, hes white, isnt he?

Well ... yes.

So, the guard said, and shrugged.

But why, Max demanded, arent there people from the Gaiety in here, who know what the other employees look like?

The guards looked at one another. One of them said, Mr. Fairbanks, sir, we couldnt take over for them. We wouldnt know their jobs. Were extra security on account of you, so were assigned to you.

The people outside as well? Around the perimeter?

Yes, sir, they said. Yes, sir.

Max frowned deeply, thinking about this. He wanted to blame Brandon Camberbridge, accuse the man of keeping the most knowledgeable guards for his hotel instead of using them to protect the boss, but he did understand the orders would have come from Earl, and it did make sense to keep the hotel staff at its normal duties. If a white person tries to get in here, he said, check his ID.

Yes, sir, they said. Yes, sir.

Max walked back over to the kitchen doorway, and looked in. The fellow from Housekeeping was washing the dirty dishes in the sink. Looking over toward Max, his inevitable smile now apologetic, he said, Wont take a minute, sir. This should have been taken care of.

Very good, Max said. He was pleased to see someone who took an interest in his work.

Ill be back a little later with the supplies you need, the fellow said. For now, Ill just finish up in here, check the bedrooms and baths, and be out of your way.

Theres someone asleep in the second bedroom.

Ill be as quiet as a mouse, the fellow promised, and flashed that big smile again as he stood over the sinkful of soapy water. Ill be in and out of there, hell never even know Im around.


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