There are no actual slow times in Las Vegas, not even in August, when the climate in and around the Las Vegas desert is similar to that of the planet Mercury, but the closest the city and its casinos come to a slow period is very late on a Monday night, into Tuesday morning. The weekenders have gotten back into their pickup trucks and campers and station wagons and vans and gone home. The people who’d spent a week or two weeks left the hotel last night. The people who are just starting their week or two weeks in funland didn’t get here until late this afternoon and they’re exhausted; not even extra oxygen in the air will keep them up their first night in town. Conventions and business conferences, which last three or four days, start in midweek and end by Sunday.
So on Monday night, particularly into Tuesday morning, is when the casinos are at their emptiest, with the fewest tables open, the fewest dealers and croupiers and security people around, the fewest players. On this particular Monday night, Tuesday morning, by 3:00 A.M., there were barely a hundred people in the whole casino area of the Gaiety Hotel, Battle-Lake and Casino, and they were all giggling.
None of the Dortmunder crew were in with the gigglers, not yet. Tiny Bulcher and Jim O’Hara and Gus Brock, cause of the giggling, remained on duty near the air room. Not inside it; the air room was also on the sweetened air line. Tiny and Jim and Gus hung around the basement corridors, keeping out of other people’s way—not that many other people wandered around down here late at night—and from time to time checked on the equipment in the air room, where the technicians were now all fast asleep, with smiles on their faces.
In cottage three, Dortmunder sat in the dark living room, looking out at the lights behind drapes of cottage one; Max Fairbanks hadn’t gone to bed yet. In their fourteenth-floor crow’s nest, Kelp and Anne Marie looked out the window at the night and discussed the future. Herman Jones, now in chauffeur’s cap, sat at the wheel of a borrowed stretch limo near the front entrance of the Gaiety, ready to be part of the general exodus should trouble arise.
Across town, on a dark industrial street near the railroad tracks, Stan Murch napped in the cab of the big garbage truck borrowed from Southern Nevada Disposal Service. Out of town, up by Apex, in a wilderness area off a dirt road leading up into the mountainous desert, Fred and Thelma Lartz had parked the Invidia, in which at the moment Thelma was asleep in the main bedroom, lockman Wally Whistler was asleep in another bedroom, and Fred and the other lockman, Ralph Winslow, and the four other guys aboard were playing poker in the living room, for markers; they’d settle up after the caper.
Who else? Ralph Demrovsky, in guard gear, patrolled the dark paths in the general vicinity of the cottages. And three other guys, dressed all in black and holding pistols in their hands, stood in the shrubbery at the rear of the main building, near an unmarked door that opened out onto a small parking area. This parking area held an ambulance, a small fire truck, and two white Ford station wagons bearing the logo of the Gaiety security staff. The unmarked door beside them led into the security offices, where at this moment five uniformed guards were yawning and giggling and trying to keep their eyes open. “Jeez,” one of them said. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me tonight.”
“Same thing’s the matter with you every night,” another one told him, and giggled.
The guy who was supposed to be watching the monitors—fed by cameras pointed at the front entrance, at the side entrance, at various spots within and without the hotel, a whole bank of monitor screens to watch for stray movement—that guy gently lowered his head to the table in front of him and closed his eyes. His breathing became deep and regular.
“Jeez,” said the first guy again. “I need some air.”
That made all the others, except the sleeper, laugh and chortle and roll their heads around.
The first guy lunged to his feet, staggered, said, “Jeez, what’s the matter with me?” and moved, tottering, to the door. “I’ll be back,” he told the others, and opened the door, and then, true to his word, backed directly into the room, blinking, coming somewhat more awake, as the three guys dressed in black pushed their way inside, guns first, one of them saying, “I was beginning to wonder when one of you birds would come out.”
A second guy in black pointed his pistol at the seated guards, and snapped at one of them, “Stay away from that button! Your foot moves over by that button, I’ll shoot your knee off!”
These guards were professional, highly paid, three of them ex-cops and the other two formerly military police. Normally, they would have caused a great deal of trouble for any three wiseguys with guns blundering in here. But tonight their reaction time was nil, their coordination was off, their brains were wrapped in cotton and their bodies in bubblewrap. Before the guard sitting near the emergency button could even think about moving his foot over to press that button—which would send alarms both to police headquarters and to the manager’s office behind the check-in desk—he’d been roughly hustled out of his chair and over against the wall, with his friends, including the sleeper, who was very rudely awakened indeed. All five of them were briskly disarmed, and then, blinking, open-mouthed, fuzzy-brained, they stared at their captors and waited for whatever would happen next.
“Uniforms off,” one of the guys in black said.
The guards didn’t like that, not at all, but the guys in black were insistent, so off came the trimly pressed shirts with the pleats, and the shiny gun belts. More difficult were the trousers; all five guards had to sit on the floor to remove their pants, or they would have fallen to the floor and possibly hurt themselves.
There was a locked gunrack full of shotguns and rifles and handguns along one wall, with a heavy barred gate locked across the face of it. The guys in black forced the guards, now in their underwear, feeling foolish and ill-used but unable to stop the occasional giggle at the sight of one another, to sit on the floor under this gunrack. Then they were trussed, ankles and wrists (behind back), with duct tape, and more duct tape was looped under their armpits and through the bars of the gunrack gate, so they wouldn’t be able to crawl across the room; toward the emergency button, for instance.
“Let’s move this along,” said one of the guys in black. “I’m beginning to feel it.”
“Jeez,” the first guard said, shaking his woolly head, body hanging there suspended from the gunrack by duct tape. “What’s goin on here?” he wanted to know.
The guys in black were stripping out of the black and into the uniforms. One of them paused to say, “Oh, don’t you know? It’s a heist goin on here.”
One of the other guards, the one who hadn’t managed to get to the button, tried to snarl, “You won’t get away with this,” but the threat came out softer than he’d intended, almost caring, and was further diminished by a loud snore: the sleeper had returned to sleep. All of which should have made the failed snarler mad, but somehow it didn’t. He chuckled instead, and shook his head, and grinned at the heisters now zipping up the uniforms. “You’re crazy,” he told them, and laughed. So did the other still-awake guards.
“That’s okay,” one of the heisters said. He had the extra uniforms and their own former clothing wrapped in a big ball in his arms. “See you later,” he said.
Which the still-awake guards—now down to three—found very funny indeed. They were still laughing as the heisters went out and the door swung shut behind them, leaving the guards in their underwear alone on the floor in here with nothing but the air-conditioning.