I COME downstairs after a first shower and shave, teeth aching from gum, eager to see about breakfast. The boiling sound of my secreted novel has already fallen beneath my notice, mixed in with the pipes and radiator.

 

I pause to let past two guys wheeling a slot machine. I decide to follow them, see where they’re wheeling it. They’re wheeling it into a Function Room, through some frosted glass doors near the front desk.

 

This must be where the breakfast buffet is held, but it looks like I missed it. I scan the walls for a clock but don’t find one, and remember this fact about casinos.

 

The guys plug the slot machine in next to two others. It lights up and starts to warble for cash. Behind me, an amplified voice says, “And he says, ‘For my third wish, I’d like for half my head to be an orange.’”

 

I turn around through a tunnel of screeching microphone static to see a giant wearing a white suede suit and knee-high black boots standing on a low stage, rocking from one heel to another like he’s waiting for some furious circus animal to be released from a cage and come running for his crotch.

 

He’s so big that the mic disappears inside his fist, with only the cord sticking out like the tail of a crushed rat. “This a casino?”

 

“Yup,” he replies. “Whenever they wheel that shit in. Fine by me. I get to do my act, cuz people are in here, and they have to listen. What else can they do, right? Except gamble.”

 

I look him over. “What’s your act?” I ask.

 

“Comedian. You know. Road-torment, highest of highs and lowest of lows, unmanning, degradation, dubious and truncated euphoria, sort of thing.”

 

He climbs down from the stage, still choking the mic.

 

At the end of the mic cord’s reach, he offers me his other hand. “Big Pharmakos.”

 

I introduce myself, and we shake. His hand covers mine so that it disappears as thoroughly as the mic.

 

“I’m sort of the main pimp in this Hotel,” he says. “In this whole town too, for what it’s worth. Ask around. Or, better yet, don’t. Here I am. Just give me a call whenever you’re … you know. Took care of Drifter Jim last night, and let’s just say he won’t be back anytime soon.”

 

Letting my hand go, he pulls a card from his front suede pocket, forks it over. It has a photo of a skeleton with a circle around the pelvic region, his email address written inside an arrow pointing at that circle.

 

I put it in my back pocket.

 

As I leave, I hear him clearing his throat back on stage, simpering to an imaginary crowd: “Okay okay, now where was I … so anyway, there’s this other guy in the car too, next to Orangehead, not the dead one, and not the living one either, but the one that … ”

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