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He was a young valet I’d picked up in Reno. I had ten years on him, and that was part of the turn-on. I liked his bland skin and his voice, the way it sometimes rode on the edge of cracking.


“One of the first things you learn as an Eldorado valet is the fan,” he was saying. “You write ‘F’ on the ticket if there’s a good-looking girl in a dress. Then at the end of the night if you get one of those tickets you know to pull up over the grate. When the girl goes to get in, the air blows her dress up.”


He flicked his cigarette out the window, into the dark. Smoking, I could tell, made him feel older and wiser. Cigarettes as props, I thought it was kind of sweet.


“Yeah. One time this girl was talking to us — a cab had dropped her off. She was wild, you could tell. So I told her to walk across the driveway, and she just laughed. I guess she thought we were going to check out her ass or something, her walk. Anyway, she did it.”




“Yeah. So when she gets over the grate her skirt goes up and she’s wearing nothing under it. And she just starts dancing.” He swayed a bit in the seat with his arms up above his head. “She fucking loved it. We were screaming ‘Yeaahhh!’ from the side.”


He was looking at me then, but I kept my eyes ahead.


“I didn’t get turned on or anything by it,” he said.


Outside, there was nothing but corn fields. Looking closely where the headlights shown, I could see ears of corn low on the stalks.


“So what else,” I said. “What’s it like, to be a valet at a casino?”


“You want to know about the girls?”


I shrugged and looked at him, casual in his cotton khakis and white T-shirt, arms slim and tan. His eyes shone and his pupils were huge, like he was high, but he wasn’t. We’d had some beers by the side of the road after we left Minnesota, washing down sourdough French and some cheddar,

leftovers from his brother’s party in Minneapolis. But that was almost two hours before.


In the distance a few farmhouses were scattered, dimly lit like stars, seeming to go forever into the blackness. I wondered if I would end up like that, in a silent dark place, a place to hear yourself breathe.


“They’re the best tippers,” he said.




“The girls. Hookers, dancers, strippers. What’s weird is that they all drive nice new American cars. Eagle Talons, Le Barons, Ford Mustangs. They all have something wrong with them, though, a door panel falling off, a big dent. The girls don’t care. Usually they got a bag in there stuffed with condoms. Lifestyle condoms.”


“They tip well?” I asked.


“Ten, Twenty. Usually ten in, ten out. More if they have a good night. Sometimes they give us a ‘bonus’ — lifting their shirt or pulling up their dress. In Vegas, you get a little more.” He rubbed his hands on his pants, over his thighs. “This one stripper, Lora Renee, she’s in every night. The other day she comes into the office — it’s two a.m. — and says, ‘I just need to get fucked. There’s no one who can do it the way I want it.’ We just sat there and laughed, like it was nothing, you know.”


“Jesus. What did you say?”


“I said, ‘Sean here will go with you!'” He laughed and rubbed his thighs some more. “She’s actually really attractive, very good looking. She’s what you call a high class prostitute.”


“Obviously,” I said.


Above us, the moon eased itself out of thin clouds like a woman unveiling herself. I thought: Something has begun here, and I would remember later that it was like falling, like shooting down a covered slide, tight and narrow and blind.


“Go on,” I said. He looked at me and smiled. He probably thought he was turning me on.


“Oh yeah, I’ve got lots of stories, shit you wouldn’t believe. Just last month one of the valets had a bachelor party, and Lora Renee was one of the

dancers. I was working, so I only heard about it. She did this thing, naked — the guys would lie on their backs and she would crawl over them, one at time.” He stopped as if to catch himself and looked at me again. “This is kind of explicit, can you handle explicit?”


I nodded.


“Okay, and then she’d sit over their faces, real close, like within half an inch. With Mike though, she actually made contact. He had his tongue up there and was going at it. He thought he was the man! God, the next night she came in and he walked up to her all cocky and said, ‘Hi. Remember me?’ but she didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Mike was really hit by that.”


I didn’t have to look at him to imagine his mouth — soft as redfruit, almost infantile, the lower lip with a delicate press in the middle. For a moment, I wanted to pull over and put his face in my hands, to touch the smoothness around his eyes lightly with my thumbs. I wanted to see if it would blanch and then fill up rosily again. Because I can’t remember — my skin is thinner, closer to the bone.


“You want me to drive?”


“No,” I said. I liked having something to do. Otherwise I might just stare at that endless corn. When we stopped so he could pee, he did it right into the line of the shadowy field, dropping his pants to his ankles and his bare butt was pure and white and seemed to glow. The sight made me edgy, as if he should have asked permission. The corn was taller than him by at least two feet. Paper-thin slashes would cover my body if I ran through it.


He put his hand on my leg. His calluses caught on my tights and he removed it. I thought about what it would be like later, in bed. In Reno, I’d been drunk, looking for the bathroom at the Eldorado, and he showed me the way. He was subbing for another usher, and had to wear a headset. With his snappy tuxedo, it all felt so Secret Service — I couldn’t stop giggling. In the elevator, I reached out and touched his chest, tracing down to his waist, where I hooked my middle finger on his belt and gently tugged. His eyes got big. “Let’s go — my truck’s right out back,” he said quickly. I took his hands and placed them on my breasts; I wanted him to know I was in control. We ended up in a small room in the employees’ quarters, while my date endured the dinner show downstairs, some gaudy mess with sweaty singers in tight satin costumes. I stayed for as long as I dared.


“Listen, is this too much? I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of me.”


“It’s alright, I had no idea. I thought you just parked people’s cars.”


“I do park cars. And the money’s good, you know,” he said. He made himself comfortable, leaned back in his seat. “You wouldn’t believe what I can make in about twenty minutes if I’m lucky. Sometimes we give the casino guests limo rides. It’s a free service if they’re staying in the hotel. So they

usually tip real good — getting a free limo ride, right? One time I’m taking some doctor from South Africa to another casino, Silver Legacy. He’s a real prick, totally blatant about being a doctor. Tells me, ‘Just call me Doc Hollywood.'”


“So I’m playing it up, saying, ‘Hey Doc, heard you won ten grand tonight,’ and he starts giggling and throwing these twenty-five dollar chips over the divider at me. Just flicks them — they’re falling in my lap and bouncing off my neck, off the steering wheel. The more I laugh, the more he throws.”


“You’re kidding. He sounds like an ass.”


“I made $375 on that ride.”


“So you like your job.”


He was quiet for a while as he got out another cigarette. The match lit up the car interior, revealed the crumbs and stains and wadded up napkins. I waited.


“I’m twenty-two years old and I make about $27,000 a year and I don’t do shit. Parking cars. That’s what I do.”


He groped behind his seat in the dark and came up with a beer. “Want one?”


“No, thanks,” I said. It was hard to concentrate, and I didn’t need that. To the left, a low, rolling creature — an opossum, maybe, crashed into the corn.


“This is just a job, a stepping stone. I’m going to apply to graduate school, be a physician’s assistant. I’ve got what you might call a bright future,” he said.


I smiled briefly. I thought of him in ten years, all softness gone, his eyes knowing. Like me. The fact of his youth exposed the loss of mine.


“Hey,” he said, and put his hand on the dash. “You’re doing ninety.


“Oh, sorry.” I let up on the gas and it felt like life itself had plunged into slow motion. I was all right if I didn’t stop.


“So why do these people come to the casino?” The question was stupid and sat there before us. I felt him staring at me, like he wasn’t sure what the game was but was willing to play for now. After a moment, I realized I was holding my breath.


“Mo-ney. Gambling. They think they can hit it big. I remember this high roller. He had $50,000 worth of ten dollar coins and he just kept plunking them in the slots all night long — he had three machines, front, right and center. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. The manager sent over a

masseuse around four a.m., and she rubbed his shoulders right there where he sat.” He drank the rest of the beer, rolled down the window and started to throw it out, but put it behind the seat instead.


He sniffed the air. “Man, what is that smell?” He rolled up the window quickly.


“That would be a pig farm.”




“It’ll pass. ”


“Anyway, it’s the phony shit that gets to you. They say, ‘Oh that’s so and so, he’s a steady fifty.’ It’s all a dog show.”


A car, the first in twenty minutes, drove by us in the other direction.


“What about you, do you put on a show?” I said this carefully. He let out a breath and looked out his window. His long smooth fingers drummed his armrest.


“Yeah. But more people stiff me than not. They say, ‘I’m sorry. I lost it all.'” He turned in his seat a bit to face me. “You know what? Getting stiffed never used to bother me. Now I get pissed. Sometimes I say, ‘What’s up with that? You going to stiff me?’ At least give me a buck for your integrity, so I don’t remember your face, so I don’t think you’re a prick.'”


He was looking out into the dark fields.


“How can you stand this, this corn? Shit, this is a desert too. All around Reno, it’s black like this at night. Reno’s all lit up like a fucking pinball machine and then it’s black.” I didn’t say anything — I didn’t want to talk about myself or this place.


“So you get stiffed a lot . . . ” I said. It was an effort, the casual tone, but I couldn’t stop.


“How much further is your house?” He looked straight ahead, and like an old man or someone afraid, he cupped his knees.


“We’ve got less than an hour,” I said, and then, “Tell me a little more.”


“Listen, this is my only vacation, flying out to see you this weekend. How about we take a little break?”


“Hey, I’m just interested in your job. Like I said, I had no idea it was so— ”


“So sleazy, right? You know, I wonder why I’m here. Why’d you give me your phone number in the first place? You slumming? Chris, at work, he says to me, ‘Did you see her hands? She’s old, man.’ No offense, he thought you were hot just the same. And then I find out you’re in Iowa. But I think, I’ve got family in Minnesota, I can make a weekend.”


“Come on, you’re here because I wanted to get to know you. It’s just a little lonely out here, I guess. Sometimes.”


He looked at me while he considered this, and when I glanced back at him, I saw he was watching me the same way his mother did at the party — as if she knew all my secrets and fears and was deciding whether to expose them. Then he started talking fast, his body tense.


“Okay, you want the dirty stuff? Sure. You want to know about the old guy with the sores on his nose, the one with the Camaro who offered me ten bucks to suck him off? You want to know about the woman who passes out at video poker every other day, and how she drools on me as I carry her to the cab? Or how about this: once these six big black guys in a Range Rover pull up and I go around and open the driver’s door and say, ‘Welcome to the Eldorado.’ And the driver just sits there glaring at me. It’s like they’re all frozen. They just stare. His thighs look big as tree trunks and his head is angled a little bit to the side and he’s looking at me like if I say one more word or touch his car one more time he’s going to grab my neck and snap it in two. And I can’t see his right hand, it’s down low and I just know that if I lean forward it’s gonna be wrapped around a fuckin’ 45.


“So I back up real slow and he’s still staring. It’s like this staring match and I can’t even blink — if I do I’m dead. Then he slams the door and they drive off. You want to know? I wet my pants.”


He leaned forward some and he was not looking at me anymore. “Once I pulled this guy off his wife. He was yelling at her as they came out from the casino. Seems she lost all their money at craps, even his secret stash. He’s yelling at her, ‘You stupid bag! You took my hunnerd! My lucky hunnerd!’ Then he slaps her a couple of times. Hard — I mean, she staggered. He was wearing this giant black cowboy hat and it fell off. I run over there and push him against the wall. God, he was just a small, gray-haired guy, all soft like a fat animal. I punched him once and then all of a sudden it’s like lightning strikes. I’m down on my hands and knees and hear a woman screaming, and I look around real slow, ’cause I can’t move so good, right? And his wife’s got her big red shoe in her hand and she’s just whacked me on the back of my head with the heel. She’s screaming at me to get my goddamned hands off her husband.”


I thought about reaching for his hand; it would have been cold and wet from the beer can.


“If it had been a spiked heel, I’d be dead.”


We drove quietly for some minutes and then I asked him to tell me some more stories and he looked out the window. It’s quiet, too quiet.


“Please, a little more, okay?” I steadied my voice. “Just tell me a little more.”

©2000 Joelle Fraser and, Inc.