My attorney said nothing for a moment, then he suddenly came alive in his chair. "God hell!" he exclaimed. "I think I see the pattern. This one sounds like real trouble!" He tucked his khaki undershirt into his white rayon bellbottoms and called for more drink. "You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over," he said. "And my first advice is that you should rent a very fast car with no top and get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours." He shook his head sadly. "This blows my weekend, because naturally I'll have to go with you – and we'll have to arm ourselves."
"Why not?" I said. "If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it's worth doing right. We'll need some decent equipment and plenty of cash on the line – if only for drugs and a super-sensitive tape recorder, for the sake of a permanent record."
"What kind of a story is this?" he asked.
"The Mint 400," I said. "It's the richest off-the-road race for motorcycles and dune-buggies in the history of organized sport – a fantastic spectacle in honor of some fatback grossero named Del Webb, who owns the luxurious Mint Hotel in the heart of downtown Las Vegas ... at least that's what the press release says; my man in New York just read it to me."
"Well," he said, "as your attorney I advise you to buy a motorcycle. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?"
"No way," I said. "Where can we get hold of a Vincent Black Shadow?"
"A fantastic bike," I said. "The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing 200 brake horsepower at 4000 revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly 200 pounds."
"That sounds about right for this gig," he said.
"It is," I assured him. "The fucker's not much for turning, but it's pure hell on the straightaway. It'll outrun the F-111 until takeoff."
"Takeoff?" he said. "Can we handle that much torque?"
"Absolutely," I said. "I'll call New York for some cash."
The seizure of $300 from a pig woman in Beverly Hills
The New York office was not familiar with the Vincent Black Shadow: they referred me to the Los Angeles bureau – which is actually in Beverly Hills just a few long blocks from the Polo Lounge – but when I got there, the money-woman refused to give me more than $300 in cash. She had no idea who I was, she said, and by that time I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for California: I have never been able to properly explain myself in this climate. Not with the soaking sweats ... wild red eyeballs and trembling hands.
So I took the $300 and left. My attorney was waiting in a bar around the corner. "This won't make the nut," he said, "unless we have unlimited credit."
I assured him we would. "You Sa-moans are all the same," I told him. "You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man's culture. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking bagnio, stone broke and paralyzed for the weekend, when a call comes through from some total stranger in New York, telling me to go to Las Vegas and expenses be damned – and then he sends me over to some office in Beverly Hills where another total stranger gives me $300 raw cash for no reason at all ... I tell you, my man, this is the American Dream in action! We'd be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end."
"Indeed," he said. "We must do it."
"Right," I said. "But first we need the car". And after that, the cocaine. And then the tape recorder, for special music, and some Acapulco shirts." The only way to prepare for a trip like this, I felt, was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the story. Never lose sight of the primary responsibility.
But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.
There was also the socio-psychic factor. Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun. Just roll the roof back and screw it on, grease the face with white tanning butter and move out with the music at top volume, and at least a pint of ether.
* * *
Getting hold of the drugs had been no problem, but the car and the tape recorder were not easy things to round up at 6:30 on a Friday afternoon in Hollywood. I already had one car, but it was far too small and slow for desert work. We went to a Polynesian bar, where my attorney made 17 calls before locating a convertible with adequate horsepower and proper coloring.
"Hang onto it," I heard him say into the phone. "We'll be over to make the trade in 30 minutes." Then after a pause, he began shouting: "What? Of course the gentleman has a major credit card! Do you realize who the fuck you're talking to?"
"Don't take any guff from these swine," I said as he slammed the phone down. "Now we need a sound store with the finest equipment. Nothing dinky. We want one of those new Belgian Heliowatts with a voice-activated shotgun mike, for picking up conversations in oncoming cars."
We made several more calls and finally located our equipment in a store about five miles away. It was closed, but the salesman said he would wait, if we hurried. But we were delayed enroute when a Stingray in front of us killed a pedestrian on Sunset Boulevard. The store was closed by the time we got there. There were people inside, but they refused to come to the double-glass door until we gave it a few belts and made ourselves clear.
Finally two salesmen brandishing tire irons came to the door and we managed to negotiate the sale through a tiny slit. Then they opened the door just wide enough to shove the equipment out, before slamming and locking it again. "Now take that stuff and get the hell away from here," one of them shouted through the slit.
My attorney shook his fist at them. "We'll be back," he yelled. "One of these days I'll toss a fucking bomb into that place! I have your name on this sales slip! I'll find out where you live and burn your house down!"
"That'll give him something to think about," he muttered as we drove off. "That guy is a paranoid psychotic, anyway. They're easy to spot."
We had trouble, again, at the car rental agency. After signing all the papers, I got in the car and almost lost control of it while backing across the lot to the gas pump. The rental-man was obviously shaken.
"Say there ... uh ... you fellas are going to be careful with this car, aren't you?"
"Well, good god!" he said. "You just backed over that two-foot concrete abutment and you didn't even slow down! Forty-five in reverse! And you barely missed the pump!"
"No harm done," I said. "I always test a transmission that way. The rear end. For stress factors."
Meanwhile, my attorney was busy transferring rum and ice from the Pinto to the back seat of the convertible. The rental-man watched him nervously.
"Say," he said. "Are you fellas drinking?"
"Not me," I said.
"Just fill the goddamn tank," my attorney snapped. "We're in a hell of a hurry. We're on our way to Las Vegas for a desert race."
"Never mind," I said. "We're responsible people." I watched him put the gas cap on, then I quickly poked the thing into low gear and we lurched into traffic.
"There's another worrier," said my attorney. "He's probably all cranked up on speed."
"Yeah, you should have given him some reds."
"Reds wouldn't help a pig like that," he said. "To hell with him. We have a lot of business to take care of, before we can get on the road."
"I'd like to get hold of some priests' robes," I said. "They might come in handy in Las Vegas."
But there were no costume stores open, and we weren't up to burglarizing a church. "Why bother?" said my attorney. "And you have to remember that a lot of cops are good vicious Catholics. Can you imagine what those bastards would do to us if we got busted all drugged-up and drunk in stolen vestments? Jesus, they'd castrate us!"
"You're right," I said. "And for Christ's sake don't smoke that pipe at stoplights. Keep in mind that we're exposed."
He nodded. "We need a big hookah. Keep it down here on the seat, out of sight. If anybody sees us, they'll think we're using oxygen."
We spent the rest of that night rounding up materials and packing the car. Then we ate the mescaline and went swimming in the ocean. Somewhere around dawn we had breakfast in a Malibu coffee shop, then drove very carefully across town and plunged onto the smog-shrouded Pasadena Freeway, heading East.
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