FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS -- A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
by Hunter S. Thompson, © 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson
Chapter 10: Western Union Intervenes: A Warning From Mr. Heem ... New Assignment from the Sports Desk and a Savage Invitation from the Police
Suddenly I felt guilty again. The Shark! Where was it? I tossed the paper aside and began to pace. Losing control. I felt my whole act slipping ... and then I saw the car, swooping down a ramp in the next-door garage.
Deliverance! I grasped my leather satchel and moved forward to meet my wheels.
The voice came from over my shoulder.
"Mister Duke! We've been looking for you!"
I almost collapsed on the curb. Every cell in my brain and body sagged. No! I thought. I must be hallucinating. There's nobody back there, nobody calling ... it's a paranoid delusion, amphetamine psychosis ... just keep walking towards the car, always smiling. ...
"MISTER DUKE! Wait!"
Well ... why not? Many fine books have been written in prison. And it's not like I'll be a total stranger up there in Carson City. The warden will recognize me; and the Con Boss -- I once interviewed them for The New York Times. Along with a lot of other cons, guards, cops and assorted hustlers who got ugly, by mail, when the article never appeared.
Why not? They asked. They wanted their stories told. And it was hard to explain; in those circles, that everything they told me went into the wastebasket or at least the dead-end file because the lead paragraphs I wrote for that article didn't satisfy some editor three thousand miles away -- some nervous drone behind a grey formica desk in the bowels of a journalistic bureaucracy that no con in Nevada will ever understand -- and that the article finally died on the vine, as it were, because I refused to rewrite the lead. For reasons of my own ...
None of which would make much sense in The Yard. But what the hell? Why worry about details? I turned to face my accuser, a small young clerk with a big smile on his face and a yellow envelope in his hand. "I've been calling your room," he said. "Then I saw you standing outside."
I nodded, too tired to resist. By now the Shark was beside me, but I saw no point in even tossing my bag into it. The game was up. They had me.
The clerk was still smiling. "This telegram just came for you," he said. "But actually it isn't for you. It's for somebody named Thompson, but it says 'care of Raoul Duke'; does that make sense?"
I felt dizzy. It was too much to absorb all at once. From freedom, to prison, and then back to freedom again -- all in thirty seconds. I staggered backwards and leaned on the car, feeling the white folds of the canvas top beneath my trembling hand. The clerk, still smiling, was poking the telegram at me.
I nodded, barely able to speak. "Yes," I said finally, "it makes sense." I accepted the envelope and tore it open:
URGENT SPEED LETTER
HUNTER S. THOMPSON
CALL ME AT ONCE REPEAT AT ONCE WE HAVE A NEW ASSIGNMENT BEGINNING TOMORROW ALSO VEGAS DONT LEAVE STOP THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF DISTRICT ATTORNEYS INVITES YOU TO THEIR FOUR DAY SEMINAR ON NARCOTICS AND DANGEROUS DRUGS AT DUNES HOTEL STOP ROLLING STONE CALLED THEY WANT 50 THOUSAND WORDS MASSIVE PAYMENT TOTAL EXPENSES INCLUDING ALL SAMPLES STOP WE HAVE RESERVATIONS AT HOTEL FLAMINGO AND WHITE CADDY CONVERTIBLE STOP EVERYTHING IS ARRANGED CALL IMMEDIATELY FOR DETAILS URGENT REPEAT URGENT STOP
"Holy shit!" I muttered. "This can't be true!"
"You mean it's not for you," the clerk asked, suddenly nervous. "I checked the register for this man Thompson. We don't show him, but I thought he was part of your team."
"He is," I said quickly. "Don't worry, I'll get it to him." I tossed my bag into the front seat of the Shark, wanting to leave before my stay of execution ran out. But the clerk was still curious.
"What about Doctor Gonzo?" he said.
I stared at him, giving him a full taste of the mirrors. "He's fine," I said. "But he has a vicious temper. The Doctor handles our finances, makes all our arrangements." I slid into the driver's seat and prepared to leave.
The clerk leaned into the car. "What confused us," he said, "was Doctor Gonzo's signature on this telegram from Los Angeles -- when we knew he was here in the hotel." He shrugged. "And then to have the telegram addressed to some guest we couldn't account for ... well, this delay was unavoidable. You understand, I hope. ..."
I nodded, impatient to flee. "You did the right thing," I said. "Never try to understand a press message. About half the time we use codes -- especially with Doctor Gonzo."
He smiled again, but this time it seemed a trifle odd. "Tell me," he said, "when will the doctor be awake?"
I tensed at the wheel. "Awake? What do you mean?"
He seemed uncomfortable. "Well ... the manager, Mister Heem, would like to meet him." Now his grin was definitely malevolent. "Nothing unusual. Mr. Heem likes to meet all our large accounts ... put them on a personal basis ... just a chat and a handshake, you understand."
"Of course," I said. "But if I were you I'd leave the doctor alone until after he's eaten breakfast. He's a very crude man."
The clerk nodded warily. "But he will be available. ... Perhaps later this morning?"
I saw what he was getting at. "Look," I said. "That telegram was all scrambled. It was actually from Thompson, not to him. Western Union must have got the names reversed." I held up the telegram, knowing he'd already read it. "What this is," I said, "is a speed message to Doctor Gonzo, upstairs, saying Thompson is on his way out from L.A. with a new assignment -- a new work order." I waved him off the car. "See you later," I snapped. "I have to get out to the track."
He backed away as I eased the car into low gear. "There's no hurry," he called after me. "The race is over."
"Not for me," I said, tossing him a quick friendly wave.
"Let's have lunch!" he shouted as I turned into the street.
"Righto!" I yelled. And then I was off into traffic. After a few blocks in the wrong direction on Main Street, I doubled back and aimed south, towards L.A. But with all deliberate speed. Keep cool and slow, I thought. Just drift to the city limits. ...
What I needed was a place to get safely off the road, out of sight, and ponder this incredible telegram from my attorney. It was true; I was certain of that. There was a definite valid urgency in the message. The tone was unmistakable. ...
But I was in no mood or condition to spend another week in Las Vegas. Not now. I had pushed my luck about as far as it was going to carry me in this town ... all the way out to the edge. And now the weasels were closing in; I could smell the ugly brutes.
Yes, it was definitely time to leave. My margin had shrunk to nothing.
Now idling along Las Vegas Boulevard at thirty miles an hour, I wanted a place to rest and formalize the decision. It was settled, of course, but I needed a beer or three to seal the bargain and stupefy that one rebellious nerve end that kept vibrating negative. ...
It would have to be dealt with. Because there was an argument, of sorts, for staying on. It was treacherous, stupid and demented in every way -- but there was no avoiding the stench of twisted humor that hovered around the idea of a gonzo journalist in the grip of a potentially terminal drug episode being invited to cover the National District Attorneys' Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
There was also a certain bent appeal in the notion of running a savage burn on one Las Vegas Hotel and then -- instead of becoming a doomed fugitive on the highway to L.A. -- just wheeling across town, trading in the red Chevy convertible for a white Cadillac and checking into another Vegas hotel, with press credentials to mingle with a thousand ranking cops from all over America, while they harangued each other about the Drug Problem.
It was dangerous lunacy, but it was also the kind of thing a real connoisseur of edge-work could make an argument for. Where, for instance, was the last place the Las Vegas police would look for a drug-addled fraud-fugitive who just ripped off a downtown hotel?
Right. In the middle of a National District Attorneys' Drug Conference at an elegant hotel on the strip . ... Arriving at Caesar's Palace for the Tom Jones dinner show in a flashing white Coupe de Ville ... At a cocktail party for narcotics agents and their wives at the Dunes?
Indeed, what better place to hide? For some people. But not for me. And certainly not for my attorney -- a very conspicuous person. Separately, we might pull it off. But together, no -- we would blow it. Too much aggressive chemistry in that mix; the temptation to run a deliberate freakout would be too heavy.
And that of course would finish us. They would show us no mercy. To infiltrate the infiltrators would be to accept the fate of all spies: "As always, if you or any member of your organization is apprehended by the enemy, the Secretary will deny any Knowledge, etc. ...!
No, it was too much. The line between madness and masochism was already hazy; the time had come to pull back ... to retire, hunker down, back off and "cop out," as it were. Why not? In every gig like this, there comes a time to either cut your losses or consolidate your winnings -- whichever fits.
I drove slowly, looking for a proper place to sit down with an early morning beer and get my head together ... to plot this unnatural retreat.