Welcome to las vegas, p.1
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Welcome to Las Vegas


  Welcome To Las Vegas © 2012 by Stacy Green

  Cover Art © 2012 by Laura Morrigan

  Copyedited by Kristine Kelly and Shannon Jones Janeczek

  Electronic layout by www.formatting4U.com

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by

  any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information

  storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real

  persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Acknowledgements

  Thanks to Catie Rhodes, Stacey Joy Netzel, and Julie Glover for their help with this story.

  Thanks to Melissa Foster for her encouragement and willingness to answer my many questions, and thanks to all the readers of Turning The Page for their support.

  For more about Stacy’s books, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

  Don’t miss an exclusive excerpt from her debut novel, Into The Dark (November 30th), at the conclusion of this story.

  A heady perfume of mold, decay, and filth coated Tate’s tongue. He pressed his fist against his nose jamming his knuckles into his nostrils, but the scent squeezed between his fingers and invaded his lungs. His stomach recoiled. He willed his breakfast to remain in place.

  With each step, oppressive darkness slithered around Tate, enveloping his ankles, his legs, his torso, and finally, his face. He hated the goddamned dark. Wearing glasses since the age of eight meant he couldn’t see anything but blurry shadows and shifting shapes after the lights were off. His imagination ran away with him, made him feel as though the darkness were alive and breathing down his neck. For years he’d suffered night terrors, relying on a nightlight for a decent night’s sleep.

  Even now, at 30 years old, he kept a nightlight in the hallway of his apartment.

  “Damn you, Lily.” His voice fell flat against the concrete walls, swallowed up by the abyss. His twin sister had disappeared into the stinking Las Vegas storm drains two weeks ago. At least, he thought she had.

  After three months sober, Lily had been caught with meth in her shitty North Vegas apartment. Her roommate kicked her out and Lily bounced around to friends’ places. Word on the Vegas streets was that she’d ended up in the tunnels.

  Providing shelter for Las Vegas’s homeless, the network of storm drains stretched more than two hundred miles beneath the city. The tunnels had gained notoriety after a reporter’s book chronicled his adventures in the drains. Most of the inhabitants were just trying to survive, but not everyone living below valued common decency. Drugs and depression fueled their existence.

  Tate didn’t want to be down here.

  And where the hell to start? He’d walked into the drain near the famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign. Thirty feet inside, the beam of his flashlight revealed nothing but graffiti-covered walls and more darkness.

  He cast the beam higher and saw that the tunnel stretched beyond the light’s glow. Just ahead, a second drain branched off to the right. Judging by the trash floating in the murky water, the second tunnel was well traveled. Tate wiped his face with shaky fingers and walked into the adjacent drain.

  Crawfish scuttled past, along with copious amounts of debris. A candy wrapper floated by, then an empty cigarette carton, then a swelled and used tampon. Tate’s stomach turned over as he waded through the trash.

  People live down here.

  The thought tripped through his brain as he traveled deeper into the void. How could they stand living in the darkness, unsure of who–or what–might be around the corner, breathing in the scent of mildew and bodily excretions?

  Tate knew most of these people didn’t have a choice, but Lily had plenty of options and a family willing to help. Instead she’d thrown everything away to get high.

  “I’m going to stop bailing you out one of these days.” Tate’s voice fell flat against the concrete.

  He knew his words were complete bullshit. He and Lily had shared a womb for nine months. They’d been best friends for most of their lives, until Lily drifted away into her sad world of substance abuse. No matter how much Tate wanted to throttle his sister, he couldn’t walk away from her.

  Something hard crunched under his boot. Tate shined his light into the brown water. A toy soldier–the cheap plastic kind sold at any dollar store–had snapped in half. A sickening realization rolled through him.

  Kids lived in the storm drains, too.

  He couldn’t think about that right now. He dug out his cellphone–he’d already spent an hour pussyfooting around. Time to pick up the pace, find his sister, and get out of here.

  The Sandman’s coming in his train of cars

  with moonbeam windows and with wheels of stars

  So hush you little ones and have no fear

  The man-in-the-moon he is the engineer…

  His mother used to recite Tate and Lily the old nursery rhyme before bed, and in the hopes of alleviating his fear of the dark, urged Tate to tell it to himself when he got scared.

  After their mother had left the room, Lily insisted the Sandman would creep through the dark and snatch them up while the man-in-the-moon watched.

  Of course Tate had believed her.

  “Twenty-five years ago.” He spoke to the walls. “Dark is just dark. It can’t hurt you.”

  But what lurks inside it can.

  Tate pressed on, fighting the urge to turn and run. When he found Lily, he was going to kill her.

  He tried to maintain a sense of direction. He was heading south–he thought. He’d heard the majority of the drain squatters lived beneath the Strip, so Tate figured that was a good place to start.

  Tate slowed his pace. A new scent had emerged over the stench of old water and trash: cigarette smoke. He tightened his grip on his flashlight and hoped he wasn’t about to walk into a fight.

  “Who’s there?” A gravelly male voice seeped through the darkness.

  Tate directed his light in the direction of the man, but all he saw were more graffiti-covered walls. “My name is Tate. Just passing through.”

  “On a Sunday morning stroll, are you?”

  Movement on the right, and Tate finally saw the glowing red embers. A short, pudgy man peeled himself off the drain’s wall and stepped into the glow of the flashlight. “You look like a cat walking into a pack of dogs. What’re you doing down here?”

  “Looking for my sister.” Tate held up the picture he’d taken of Lily a few weeks ago. She’d been clean and starting to put on some weight. Her skin had cleared up and her eyes were no longer glazed over.

  The man moved closer. “Don’t shine your light on me, dumbass. Put it on the picture so I can actually see it.”

  Tate bit his tongue and obeyed. At this distance, he could see the pockmarks on the man’s face as well as a three-inch scar running along the right side of his neck. The burning cigarette dangled precariously from his cracked lips.

  “Haven’t seen her.”

  A sharp pang of disappointment ran through Tate. “Thanks anyway.”

  “Sure.” The man turned his head and blew a puff of smoke into the darkness. “You know these tunnels go for miles and miles, right? Chances of you finding your sister ain’t good, ’specially if she doesn’t want to be found.”

  “I know.” Tate stuck the picture back in his pocket. “Still, I have to try.”

  “Good luck. Don’t get yourself lost. Or killed.” The man slunk back into the darkness, his cigarette his only light.

  Tate walked on. He met a few m
ore tunnel dwellers, most of them sleeping off the night before. None of them had seen Lily. Tate was getting desperate. He’d been slogging through the storm drains for hours. Maybe the man had been right. He didn’t stand a chance of finding Lily.

  The heavy silence was starting to get to him. The dripping water, the echo of his boots plodding through the muck, and the rumbling of overhead traffic were just background music to the heavy silence pulsating in the drain.

  “Hmmmmm.” The voice, deep and guttural, hit Tate’s stomach with the force of a sledgehammer. He staggered back.

  Tate took a deep breath and wiped his hair off his face. Despite the drain’s cooler temperature, sweat plastered his curls to his forehead. He felt the tunnel waiting with him, holding its breath just as he was.

  “God.” A woman’s voice this time, low and husky. Frantic. “Don’t stop.”

  Embarrassment lit Tate’s cheeks on fire. The sounds came from ahead, where the tunnel turned left. In the stillness, he could hear a mattress scraping against concrete and skin slapping together. Slow at first, and then faster. The woman’s moans grew louder.

  Tate stood like an idiot. Should he hurry by their camp like he didn’t notice, or wait?

  He glanced to his right. Going back the way he came would be stupid, and would mean starting all over again.

  He didn’t have to wait long. The couple finished with appreciative cries, and then the smell of cigarette smoke drifted by. Tate shuffled forward, hoping his cheeks would go back to their normal color by the time he reached the couple.

  Several feet past the curve, their camp emerged. Tate kept his flashlight down, but the candles near their bed provided decent light. Their mattress lay on concrete blocks, and their underground home was more furnished than Tate would have imagined. Filled with books and knickknacks, a tall wooden bookshelf was adjacent to the bed, and a shower curtain rod was pinned between the bookshelf and the tunnel wall, giving the bed a modicum of privacy.

  In the opposite corner was a makeshift shower made from what looked like a used office water dispenser. The walls were lined with torn magazine pictures featuring gardens and beautiful homes.

  A dull ache bloomed in Tate’s chest.

  “Can we help you?” The man sat up to peer at Tate over the edge of the bed. He was wiry and his face mostly clean-shaven.

  “Sorry to bother you,” Tate said.

  “No problem. Part of being on a public route.” The man grinned and gestured his belongings. “You lost?”

  “Looking for my sister. Lily.” Tate dug into his pocket and retrieved the picture.

  The man disappeared back behind the curtain and emerged seconds later wearing faded gym shorts and flip-flops. He took the picture and studied it closely.

  “You know, I may have seen her. What’s she down here for?”

  “I…well…” Tate wasn’t sure how to respond. Weren’t all the tunnel inhabitants here for the same reason?

  “I mean, how’d she wind up here? Drugs?” The man hooked his thumb over his shoulder. “Lady and me been clean for six months. Just trying to save enough money to get a decent place. But if your sister’s still using, there’s certain places to look.”

  Tate explained Lily’s situation. “She’s using, I’m sure.”

  The man took the picture to his Lady. “Don’t she look like that girl we saw yesterday at Caesars?”

  “Yeah. Yeah, that’s her.” The response from behind the curtain got Tate’s heart racing.

  “You saw her yesterday?”

  The man reappeared and handed the picture back. “Yep. She was with a guy we know, credit hustling at Caesars. You know, getting the credits left behind.”

  Tate nodded. “Have you seen her in the tunnels?”

  “Well, guy she was hanging with lives down here, so I’m guessing she is, too.”

  “Do you know where his camp is?”

  The man scratched his chin. “He don’t really have a camp. Not like ours. Kind of moves from place to place, but last week he was in the drain below The Golden Nugget.”

  “Where’s that at?”

  “Go past the open air channel until you hit a fork. Turn left. Well…maybe I shouldn’t send you that way. It’s a shortcut, but it gets pretty hairy.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Thugs down there. Real dark. Low ceilings.” The man shook his head. “You’d be better off to go back the way you came and head north. It’s a longer route–”

  “I’ll take the shortcut. I need to find my sister and get out of here.”

  “Suit yourself.”

  Tate listened as the man repeated his directions. “Now, you run into any assholes, you tell them Tony sent you that way and that you’re just looking for your sister. They try anything, give ‘em your wallet. Don’t put up a fight.”

  “Okay.” Tate swallowed nerves building in his throat and tried to grin. “You sure you’re not exaggerating?”

  Tony didn’t smile. “If anyone’s in those drains, they’re rough types who won’t think twice about robbing you. Or worse.”

  “Go back and take the long route,” his girlfriend called from the bed. “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

  Tate regretted this whole damned day, but if he was in danger down here, then what about Lily? Images of what she may have encountered in the tunnels overpowered his shattered nerves. He summoned whatever bravado he had left. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.” He waved to Tony and headed past their home, keeping his head down as he walked past the bed.

  Soon Tony and the woman were eclipsed by the dark, and Tate was alone. Once again the tunnel walls seemed alive in the black stillness, their imaginary pressure closing around Tate.

  The beam of his flashlight dimmed as the blackness grew thicker, wrapping itself around Tate like a hungry boa constrictor. He gasped for air and tasted dirt and trash and mildew. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sped up his pace.

  Blood pounded in his ears, and his hazy thoughts made his limited vision blurry. The dark closed its iron fist around Tate’s throat sending his already pounding heart into overdrive. What lurked behind his precious little light? Was someone or something waiting to reach out of the pitch black and squeeze the life out of him?

  Ridiculous.

  His chest burned. His lungs worked overtime. One, two, three. Inhale. Exhale.

  Stop being a pussy.

  The smell of fresh, desert air caught him off guard. Tate came to an abrupt stop and nearly tripped.

  Where was the smell coming from? He looked to his left and then his right, seeing only the concrete walls and their six-legged inhabitants.

  Slowly, chest hitching as he caught his breath, Tate moved forward. The tunnel curved. Fifty feet ahead lay daylight.

  The open-air channel.

  He raced into the light. Tall weeds and swarming bugs greeted him, but Tate didn’t care. The blazing sunlight was beautiful. And blinding. Shading his eyes, he sank down into the dry grass. Digging a bottle of water out of his backpack, he guzzled until he realized he’d only brought two bottles.

  What if he were stuck down here for days? He’d need the fresh water.

  Traffic rushed by, and Tate wondered if the drivers noticed him. Were they as apathetic as he, just going through their busy lives without considering the less fortunate? Never again would he be able to drive past without thinking of this day, and he’d only been in the tunnels for five and a half hours.

  Five and a half hours. His gaze fixed on the black mouth of the tunnel. Maybe Lily wasn’t here. Maybe he should go home and see if she’d shown up there. No. Resignation made his shoulders droop. That was nothing more than wishful thinking. He knew she was here. Even Tony and his Lady knew.

  He raked his hand across his wet forehead, fortifying himself to reenter the underworld. He’d promised their mother he’d find Lily.
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