Las Vegas 3
“So what would happen if we didn’t give it back? If we just kept going?
It’s a throwaway comment – a joke; I don’t really expect an answer. For a minute or two he’s silent, and I look ahead and realise we’ve broken free of suburbia. We’re suddenly back on the open road, nothing but desert, with only the mountains in the distance to break the dusty brown monotony. Then he says;
“Seventy two hours. After that, they call the police. I already looked it up.”
He glances across at me for a second, then turns his attention back to the road, but I carry on looking at him. His eyes are the darkest brown you could imagine, and the lashes along the bottom are so black, it looks as if he’s wearing make-up.
“That would take us to Monday. Pretty much most of Mexico.”
I try to imagine Monday if we were in Mexico, then how it’ll be in reality – five hours’ dreary layover in New York, en route to Heathrow. We both know it’s not going to happen. Suddenly, Sunday, the day I leave here, seems like minutes away, and I don’t want to go home.
I move my arm over towards him, and he takes one hand off the steering wheel. I look at his fingers on mine and I tell him I’ve never felt quite like this before. He squeezes my hand and says he hasn’t either. As teenagers in London, we could have done almost anything we put our minds to, and we did do most of it, just not this.
It’s a long drive back, and we only stop once, at a little place called Mammoth, which makes me laugh because it’s anything but – just a dusty road really, and a small stopping place, which doesn’t even sell gas. Above the door, it says in big letters “Everything you ever wanted from Chicago without the 1800 mile drive!” and I try to imagine what could possibly have brought someone all that way to start a business in such a nothing place. Whatever it was, they must really believe in that slogan, because it’s repeated everywhere – on the napkins, at the till, on the menus, and on the pocket of the white uniform of the smiling man who takes our order for sodas and a tuna melt to share.
While we’re waiting, I wander around; half the building is the diner, and the other half sells all sorts of odd things – Mexican knick-knacks, musical instruments, fishing tackle. There’s also a counter with a notice above it saying “Genuine Indian Blankets” and it’s true, there are some blankets hanging on wooden poles. They’re in lurid, day-glo colours – pink, turquoise, lime green - and they all have a crude, larger-than-life print of Marylin Monroe in the middle, her skirt still being raised up by that long ago New York air vent. They don’t look very Navaho to me.
At the Hoover Dam we cross the state border, and because it’s a sensitive area they have a much bigger, more serious checkpoint than the others we’ve seen on our trip.
“Always best not to look too rock and roll going through this one,” he says, doing up one more button on his shirt, “especially not with what we’ve got under the wheel arch. For some reason they always go down extra hard if you have a pipe as well – doesn’t really make sense, but there you are …”
I sit up straighter in my seat and try not to think about what’ll happen if we get stopped; my mouth goes quite dry as we move our way up through the stop-start queue of traffic. A little further on, people in uniform peer into each car as it comes to a halt. As we get nearer, a vehicle that’s been picked out for some reason is parked to one side. It’s old and has a mattress tied to the roof with rope, and something in Spanish painted on the side. As we inch forward, I watch a woman getting out of the passenger seat. She walks to the back of the car where a man’s unlocking the boot. They don’t look nervous – just very tired, resigned. I wonder if she has children, like me. Then suddenly it’s our turn. I try to stare straight ahead, but out of the corner of one eye I can see the guard looking us over. He’s big, and unsmiling, and the sun reflects off the metal of his gun. There’s a tiny pause and I hold my breath; then he gestures with his hand and we’re through.
By the time we reach the outskirts of Tucson it’s five o’clock and we’re late. As he reaches up to find the remote to open the garage door, I glance at the temperature gauge, which says 117. It’s hot and airless, and when I try to get out, my legs are stuck to the seat. Unpacking the trunk, we take the bags into the flat. Then we go upstairs and he digs out the black he left behind hidden in a box of vinyl – we could really do with some to wake us up before cleaning out the car and taking it back to the airport. Chasing the little plume of smoke around the foil, I’m beginning to feel really good. It’s been a couple of days since we last had some, in that cheap motel in Ventura, where he worried constantly about the car parked outside, and men in dirty white vests leant over the first-floor balcony railings, drinking beer and watching us silently as we unlocked the door to our room.
Then his cellphone beeps, and while he checks it, I don't feel so good anymore, so I sit down on the sofa. I’m glad to be out of the sticky car, but I also half-wish we’d kept going forever. Now that we’re back, I can’t stop thinking about how soon I’m going home - over and over, no matter how hard I try to snap out of it. The only thing that works in the end is when I realise I must have overdone the heroin, and I’m going to be very sick at any moment – who’d have thought you could lose your tolerance so quickly like that, after only a few days?
I’m just about to get up and rush off to the bathroom – I think I can more or less get there in time - when there’s an odd noise, a kind of croaky squeaking – and a little cat skitters out from under the sofa. She’s got the face of a Persian, with the flat nose and long hair, but except for the tip of her tail, the rest of her body’s been shaved. It’s the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen.
He says “Baby!” and he bends down and strokes her, while she rubs herself against his hand. She’s obviously thrilled to see him.
He looks up at me; I know what it means and honestly, I really don’t mind - but he looks a bit worried, as if he thinks I might be pissed off, and he says
“Katy must be back. You haven’t actually met have you?”
I try to say something reassuring, but as soon as I open my mouth I realise I have about thirty seconds before I really am sick, so instead, I get up and run out of the room. I’ll just have to hope he doesn’t get the wrong end of the stick.