The following is a PillartoPost.org exclusive preview of the first chapters from the World of Hurt: A novel of Las Vegas by Richard J. Pietschmann, a Los Angeles-based journalist and screenwriter. This is his first novel.
The first three chapters begin the saga of three generations of fathers and sons in the Las Vegas Valley. It combines fictional characters and events with real people and historical facts as they unfold over more than half a century, beginning in the 1950s and continuing through today.
Readers are encouraged to continue the novel at the author’s webpage: http://worldofhurtvegas.blogspot.com/
A Hot Morning Outside the Lucky
Randy Montgomery swung his pickup into the Lucky’s crowded lot, David Alan Coe’s cheery tales of misfortune and heartache keeping him company. Sunrise was an hour away in the dusty furnace of a Mojave summer. At this time of night or morning—whichever one made you feel better about yourself—it was never easy finding a place to park. Tightly packed working-stiff cars and big-tired trucks pulled in at random angles of hostility reminded him of ants around an ice cream cone melted on the ground. Lucky You sputtered the sign, an upraised middle finger to the generally luckless who were the usual patrons of the cinderblock saloon. Of the many stories available, Randy’s favorite fingered the Lucky’s original owner back in 60s as the one who thought up that sign. He was an Elvis impersonator until he aged out, just as everyone in Vegas eventually does, including the real Elvis.
He finally shoehorned into a spot and got out just as a nervous wind began swirling and blew hardpan grit into his eyes. That’s when noticed the big spit-shined truck idling hard and leaking equally loud country music through tightly closed windows. Inside was a counterfeit cowboy under an imitation cattleman hat. He was enjoying a fat joint, cranking air keeping him cozy.
Randy considered for a moment, understanding it was that sour time of day when violence comes easy to those with a talent for it. He walked over anyway and rapped on the window. The boy inside turned an irritated face his way and cracked the window an inch or so. Out rushed a nasal singer’s voice dispensing advice to get drunk and be somebody. Randy wondered what had happened to the real country that George and Hank and Waylon had made.
The smoker scowled and yelled over the din. “The fuck you want?”
Randy gave him a friendly nod and made the roll-the-window-down gesture.
It wasted no time coming down angrily. “Yeah, asshole?”
Randy saw that the boy was on the touchy side.
“How about putting out the doobie, partner,” Randy said, not a speck of antagonism in his voice.
The offended smoker sized up the dipshit in front of him, one who appeared to be an accountant and didn’t even have proper headgear. He leaned his head and shoulders out.
“How about I kick your ass instead,” he said, punctuating his threat with jabs of the joint.
He stared hard at Randy the way he had practiced in mirrors, took a deep toke, held it in and blew the smoke directly at him.
The unmistakable aroma of high-octane weed hit Randy in the face. He nodded pleasantly and slowly raised an arm to scratch the back of his head, the move lifting his untucked shirt high enough to reveal the butt of the Glock. The boy’s eyes went straight to the big semi-automatic with 17 rounds in the magazine, probably another one already in the chamber, the way cops liked to do it.
“You a cop?”
With more than 34,000 citizens holding carry permits in Clark County and countless thousands more who believed they had that right, it was sound survival policy to show you were armed before somebody got it into his head to become frisky. Afterward could be too late for everybody.
Randy dug out his badge, held it out and smiled. The boy’s eyes went from the Glock to Metro’s star.
“Your lucky day, partner.”
Shotguns and Hand Grenades
Slowly and carefully, the newly reasonable boy snuffed the joint, the thick, calloused fingers the kind usually found attached to linebackers and construction workers. Making sure his hands remained in plain view, he placed the doobie gently on the dashboard. Just as easy, he pointed inquiringly at the controls with a forefinger, Randy noting with some amusement it was missing its tip. Receiving an affirmative nod, the truncated digit moved forward to shut down the wheezy gale and wheezier music. The calmed outlaw then moved his hands high on the steering wheel and held on tight, the knuckles showing white in the perpetual glow from the big casino hotels over on the Strip. He looked at Randy with what he calculated to be a contrite expression.
It gratified Randy that this one was experienced in the drill that kept the odds in favor of not getting shot.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” Randy said.
“Henry Withers, sir.”
Randy knew the weed meant Henry would have trouble with names. “Thank you, Henry. My name is Detective Montgomery, but you can call me detective.”
“Yes sir, detective.”
“Now, Henry, I’m thinking you’re aware the weed is clear probable cause.”
Henry stared at Randy, blinked twice and swallowed but said nothing. His brain was working hard but getting nowhere.
Randy would have to move things along.
“However, Henry, what further inquiry might reveal is unknown at this point.”
He let him think that over too.
“Anything I should worry about before we proceed?”
Henry knew what that meant. Keeping his hands where they were, he indicated the space behind the front seats with his nose. “Got a pump shotgun back there.”
Randy looked and saw the gleam of a blued double-barrel.
Henry looked confused. “No point to an unloaded shotgun.”
Randy nodded at the reasonable answer. “Handgun?”
“Sure of that?”
Henry was confused again.
“It’s a joke, Henry,” Randy said, even though there was reason to think it was no joke at all.
Henry forced a polite chuckle.
“Now, Henry, do you happen to be familiar with Nevada statute one ninety-three point one thirty?”
Henry wrinkled his brow, numbers not his strong suit.
Randy obliged. “It’s about controlled substances.”
Henry sat quiet and still, a learned response.
Randy prompted him. “The marijuana, it’s a small amount for personal use?”
“Yes sir, detective.”
Henry’s brain seemed to be making a comeback. Randy proceeded on that theory. “No more than an ounce, Henry, long as it’s a first offense or even a second, that’s a misdemeanor.”
Henry nodded attentively.
“But let’s say this is a fourth encounter with law enforcement involving weed, but still an ounce or less on your person or in your vehicle.”
Randy let that information make its way to its destination.
“Then, well, depending on past events in your life and how a prosecutor annoyed he’s up late feels—and what a possibly aggrieved judge that might got woke up decides—it could get bumped to a Class E Felony.”
He stopped and looked without malice at Henry. “In that case, Henry, a conviction could mean five thousand dollars plus four years state time.”
©2016 by Richard J Pietschmann
Randy saw reefer panic shove aside dope intoxication in Henry’s eyes—his brain had checked back in.
“However, Henry, more than an ounce of weed, or possibly another controlled substance in your truck, that’s a whole other ball game. Some energetic young ADA might get possession to sell into his head—and that puts your Class D Felony on the table.”
He let it sink in.
“You know one of the penalties then?”
Henry tried for helpful. “Jail time, bigger fine?”
Randy nodded. “Sure, that, but it could also mean—”
He swept his glance admiringly along the flank of the cherry truck with its intricate airbrush painting of flames that ended at the rear wheel well in a large-breasted fantasy woman with her hair on fire.
“—some judge could agree this fine vehicle was used in the commission of one or more felonies and be inclined to order its seizure.”
Henry’s hands now held a death grip on the steering wheel. Randy could now back off some.
Randy said, “Turbo six?”
A look of indignation came to Henry’s face. “No sir, the biggest eight Ford got.”
“The six doesn’t sound like it means business?”
“No sir, it sure don’t.”
“How’s the aluminum body working out?”
Henry nodded. “I’m real careful.”
Considering where and how the truck was parked, Randy wondered how careful Henry generally was in life.
“I think we can agree, Henry, what a shame it would be if you lost this fine machine. So here’s what I think. I take your word about the dope and the firearms and assume any mischief you’ve got going is reasonably minor. In return, you agree to quit smoking and see the benefit to society of not driving until you’re no longer impaired—”
Randy looked at Henry’s eyes.
“—which according to your pupils is two hours easy.”
He paused to give Henry a moment to ponder that.
“If you agree, Henry, I’ll let you be. But I’ll get your plate, and if the truck’s not here when I get back in an hour or so, I’ll know you could be threatening taxpayers with vehicular mayhem. Then, naturally, I would be professionally obligated to call it in for the patrol cops to handle—and, naturally, I would have to inform dispatch there’s at least one loaded weapon involved.”
Randy was certain that Henry was perfectly aware of the trigger-happy reputation of Metro’s fine uniformed personnel.
“Sound good, Henry?”
Henry was too stunned to speak, but his hat bobbed in quick agreement. Never before had he encountered such a reasonable lawman offering such an unusual deal. The cop hadn’t called in, hadn’t ordered him to exit the vehicle for a pat-down, and hadn’t even asked for ID. His newly alert brain told him to just shut up.
For his part, Randy was pleased that Henry was sufficiently toasted to buy into such a farfetched scenario. Fighting crime sometimes took creativity if you didn’t want to end up spending a large portion of your life in front of a grand jury, or worse, trapped in the lieutenant’s office enduring his disdainful gaze and wordy lecture full of obscure references you were supposed to appreciate.
Randy said, “Henry, Vegas Metro is grateful for your cooperation.”
Henry just stared at him, afraid to say anything that might change his luck.
Randy took out his phone and pointed it at Henry, gesturing for him to face it. Henry understood that the cop wanted to take his picture, but he was unsure how to pose for a cop. He swiveled that way while keeping his hands carefully in place and grinned like it was a prom picture. Randy snapped it, smiled at the image he saw and turned the phone toward Henry. The distressed look meant Henry saw an image of himself nothing like the one he cherished in his head. That might be punishment enough for one night.
Maybe Henry would honor their agreement, maybe he wouldn’t. It was the worst kind of decision for such a boy to make. You took your humor where you could in a town like this.
Henry leaned his hat out, keeping his hands high on the wheel. “I don’t mean nothing,” he said. “You just don’t look like a cop.”
Randy took a picture of the truck’s license plate and turned to walk toward the Lucky. Over his shoulder he said. “Have a good day, Henry.”
It was nothing new. Randy’s look of choirboy innocence and lack of bullshit swagger meant he was never figured for a cop. Of course, no one ever supposed he was LDS either, the idea of a squeaky-clean Mormon being a cop in a city as wicked and debauched as Las Vegas sounding preposterous. It no longer surprised Randy that almost no one knew Mormons were there first, long before the casinos, the sleaze and the gangsters—or that there had always been plenty of them on the police force.
“That’s me,” he would say whenever the subject came up. “Just like my daddy and his daddy before him, Mormon cops in Vegas.”
©2016 by Richard J Pietschmann
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is Los Angeles-based Richard Pietschmann’s first novel, but he has vast professional writing experience, much of it positive. He has written hundreds of pieces for numerous national publications such as Travel & Leisure, Outside, Playboy, The New Yorker and Bon Appetit, regional ones like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego magazines, and those airline magazines everyone loves. He wrote monthly columns about music and travel for Los Angeles magazine, travel for Diversion magazine and film for San Diego magazine. Other magazine credits: west coast editor for Departures and special projects editor for Running. He has written 2-1/2 unproduced screenplays, which relatives insist are of great promise; one was rejected because it had (this is a direct quote) “too many words.” Over the years, he learned to view expertise with skepticism, including his own. He regards dental plans as the Holy Grail of the writing game.