Gemma taps at the edge of her plate, which is devoid of the fried calamari that she put on Dawn’s tab. Several glasses are on the table, half of them having contained water while the rest held a mixed drink randomly chosen from the menu. She can see the hotelier standing behind the front desk in an old-fashioned bellhop outfit that is one size too small. The friendly woman does not appear to be doing anything more than greet guests and whisper into the ears of her smiling employees. Even from so far away, the detective gets the sense that her target is aware of her presence. The sensation sends a chill up her spine, so she orders another drink to take the edge off her nerves. With Dawn having no consistent schedule, most of the Gemma’s notes are useless. Copying what she can still use to a fresh sheet of paper, she tears up the rest and leaves them as a pile on the table.
Leaving a decent tip and taking her drink, the red-haired woman decides to give up on her stakeout. She considers going to the pool, but there are no empty lounge chairs and she is too worn out to bother getting her swimsuit. Gemma decides to visit the game room downstairs, which forces her to abandon the margarita at the door. The bright lights and loud noises give her a slight headache, so she rests near a water fountain until the alcohol’s effect is over. Two of the older kids watch the recovering detective, the pair whispering and giggling about the woman’s appearance. Fishing some bills out of her pocket, Gemma grabs a paper cup and gets enough tokens to claim one of the shooting games. The laughing teenagers are silenced when she takes out the first wave of enemies without missing or taking a hit.
“Care for a second player?” a black-haired man asks as he approaches the machine. He rolls up the sleeves of his dress shirt and places his own cup of tokens on the console. “I beat the first three installments of this series, but I haven’t gotten to the fourth. So, do you use a gun in your real job?”
“Yes, but I’ve played this game before. Memorized most of the enemy locations for the first level,” Gemma replies before cursing at taking a hit. Giving the stranger a sideways glance, the detective senses that he is going to hit on her. “Normally, I’d guess about your job and reason for approaching me. This has been a long day, so I would prefer you be honest and upfront. The alternative is that I do nothing to stop the bad guys from killing you.”
“That sounds like flirting to me,” the handsome man replies with a grin. Joining the game in time to fight the first boss, he teasingly shoots whatever target Gemma aims for. “As you can see, I can handle myself. Still, you are right that life is too short for games that don’t involve tokens and controllers. My name is Roy Caro and I’m in town for a dentist convention. Not one myself, but I design various instruments that makes their jobs easier. The reason I approached you is because you’re attractive, not jailbait, have good taste in games, and not likely to talk business with me.”
“All very interesting,” the detective says as she adds more coins to the machine. She frowns at having taken a shot as soon as she continues. “You know, I’m not really interested in doing anything other than relaxing. My boss put me on administrative leave for harassing a suspect, so I’m not in the best of moods.”
“What about a free dinner with no strings attached?”
“Not wanting to take a hint, huh?”
“Let’s just say you’ve gained my interest.”
Letting the game end, Gemma heads for another game that is far in the back and ignored by the kids. The images on the sides have been drawn on, the visible parts having become faded and cracked long ago. It is an old action game with joysticks that click and buttons that have managed to retain their vivid colors. The token comes out of the return slot twice before the machine finally keeps it and brings her to the character screen. A dark spot in the top right of the screen makes it impossible for her to see how many lives she has left. Unsurprisingly, Roy joins the game without asking and relaxes now that they are in a more secluded spot.
“I don’t believe your story,” Gemma states as she pounds an attack button that works only half of the time. She can feel something crunch below the console and the controls become more responsive. “You have a gun hidden under your shirt, but no badge. The outline on your back pocket looks like handcuffs. I checked what local conventions there were this week to see who would be around the hotel. Nothing for dentists. Care to try again?”
“Hard to imagine you pissing someone off enough to get put on vacation,” Roy replies with a smirk. He pulls out his wallet and flips it open to show a private investigator license. “I’ve been hired by some people in Las Vegas to look into Dawn Addison. They think she’s responsible for their friends and family disappearing. Not to mention a lot of money, but only one of my many clients cares about that. I’ve been at this place for a week with no luck. Then you show up and strange things begin happening. To be honest, I didn’t think you were involved until I saw you spend today staring at our mutual friend. Odd since I thought that chef was responsible for the killings.”
“Not everything is as it seems, Mr. Caro,” the detective replies, her tongue sticking out as she focuses on the game. With a hum, the screen wavers for an instant that costs her a life and another token. “I believe Ms. Addison is responsible for the deaths and disappearance. I pushed too hard, got in trouble, and she invited me to stay here. That’s all I’m willing to share with you right now.”
Roy stops playing and eats as tick of gum while he watches his character die. “How about we spend the day together? Then you can decide on sharing the story with me when I treat you to dinner.”
“I’m putting everything I eat and drink on Ms. Addison’s tab,” Gemma says, giving up on the games. Walking toward the exit, she hands her remaining tokens to a little girl that is arguing with her brother. “So a change of plans. You and I will hang out today. If my partner at the precinct tells me that you are who you say you are then we have dinner. Forget chivalry here and enjoy doing a financial flip off to the woman you’re after.”
“You seem oddly accommodating.”
“I work better when I have someone to talk to.”
“What exactly are you involved in?”
“The case of both our lives.”
Roy offers his arm when they come to the stairs, which results in him getting left behind as Gemma takes the steps by twos. Coming to the busy lobby, the pair stop when they see Dawn staring at them from the front desk. The hotelier scratches the corner of her lips before giving one of the clerks a kiss on the cheek. Grabbing several random bags as she goes, the fast-walking woman hurries to her private elevator. Hurling the luggage inside, Dawn walks backwards to keep an eye on Gemma and Roy. They can still sense her staring at them after the doors close and a faint rumble shakes the hotel.