“Jihad, Las Vegas!”

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“C’mon, Sahib,” the Cabdriver said. “Let’s get rollin’.”

Sahib said, “Again I must remind you that my name is not Sahib. And also I must ask you again to wait. Even now I am about to win the jackpot.”

Sahib was sitting at a penny slot machine in the casino of the Stratosphere, in fun-filled-Las-Vegas-Nevada. Max coins, no less, a real player.

“Jeesh!” said the Cabdriver. “Your jackpot’s a hundred freakin’ bucks!”

“No, you are very much mistaken. The colossal-grand-jackpot on this machine is ten thousand American coins.”

“It’s a freakin’ penny slot! Ten thousand pennies is a hundred bucks!”

“Even so, I have every confidence that I must certainly hit the jackpot. By now I have eliminated nearly every other possibility.”

“No memory.” I said that. I was at the bank of machines behind theirs, playing video poker.

Sahib said, “I regret that I must ask you to repeat yourself.”

“No memory. ‘The wheel has no memory.’ Blaise Pascal. Inventor of roulette. Also of probability theory. There’s a random number generator inside your machine. Sixty times a second it spits out a new random number. Doesn’t remember the last one. Doesn’t care about the next one. When you hit the max coins button, you get the current number, and nothing you did before, nothing you’ll do later will change that number.”

The Cabdriver leaned over to murmur in my ear. “Freakin’ fascinating,” he grumbled, “but I’ve got to get this clown out of here!”

“In addition,” Sahib continued, “a young woman has promised to bring me another one of these very appealing citrus beverages.”

“Margarita,” I said.

“Again I must beg your indulgence in repeating yourself.”

“It’s a Margarita. Lime juice and tequila, plus Triple Sec or Cointreau or Grand Marnier.”

Sahib was aghast. “Promise me, sir, that I am not consuming alcoholic spirits!”

“Not here. Not by half. Here they make ‘em with lime-ade and monkey-puke.”

“Thanks be to Allah,” he sighed. “I am very much enjoying my monkey-puke.”

The Cabdriver was seething. “Sahib! Hadn’t we better go about assembling your freakin’ bomb?!”

To the Cabdriver I said, very quietly, “This is Las Vegas and it’s all about fun, but since nine-eleven I don’t think it’s all that funny to talk about bombs. I mean, I think you have the right to yell anything you want in your own damn theater, but anyone who shouts bomb in a crowded casino had better ‘freakin’’ expect to get crushed by the mobs.”

He leaned back over. “You don’t get it! This clown and his two buddies have a plan to bomb Vegas on the Fourth of July!”

“Oh, I heard about that. I thought it was a hoax.”

“I don’t know if this is the same deal or not. For all I know, the whole city’s crawling with teams of terrorists.”

“Praising Allah and hogging all the lap-dancers.”

“You ain’t freakin’ kiddin’! Sahib Two hasn’t left the Olympic Gardens in two freakin’ days! I think he’s over there pickin’ out his seventy-two freakin’ virgins!”

“To be honest with you gentlemen,” said Sahib, “I am not completely convinced that every one of those young women is a virgin.”

There was a pause while the Cabdriver digested this remark. “Yeah, well Sahib Two is givin’ ‘em the full inspection.”

“This has proved to be a difficulty for myself, as well. Today at the spectacular-all-new-Stratosphere-swimming-pool there were two young women sunbathing while wearing only half of their bathing costumes. It was an endless time of prayer and study before I was able to avert my eyes.”

“My week,” the Cabdriver grumbled to me. “They hired me to keep them on track. Sahib’s chasing penny-slot jackpots. Sahib Two’s getting terminal eye-strain at a titty bar. And I can’t remember the last time I saw Sahib Three.”

At just that moment we were joined by another Arab, shorter than Sahib and portlier. On his arm was his date — and by ‘date’ I mean a dried up old fruit. ‘She’ was comfortably in the shadow of sixty, bleached-blonde and teased, a picture-perfect-vintage-Vegas-bar-fly — with a little something extra where Sahib Three might least expect it.

“This is Trixie,” Sahib Three said breathlessly. “She has promised to help me get a job at the hotel as a very highly paid bellman!”

“But this is demeaning,” Sahib One countered, “to carry baggage for money.”

“Ain’t nothin’ demeaning about sixty grand a year,” Trixie said out of the side of ‘her’ mouth.

“You can freakin’ say that again!” said the Cabdriver. “But what about Sahib Two? Is he still at the strip club?”

“Oh, I am very happy to report that he has also become gainfully employed!” Sahib Three rejoiced. “On the second floor of the incomparable-Olympic-Gardens, there is a special stage set aside for men to dance for women.”

“Or something like that,” Trixie muttered.

“Our great friend in Allah has been engaged to dance upon that very stage! Even now he is being instructed in the art of the ‘grind.’”

Sahib One was swearing softly at his slot machine, which still had not paid its colossal-grand-jackpot. Tapping him gently on the shoulder, I said, “Come here. Look at this. That machine pays ninety-three percent. For every dollar that goes in, ninety-three cents comes out. This machine pays one-hundred-two percent. If you play it just right, you’ll average a two percent profit. Forty dollars an hour, if you play the way I do. Sixteen hundred dollars a week. Plus free passes to the buffet and all the monkey-puke you can stomach.”

“I may not be entirely understanding what you are saying.”

“I’m saying you can have a job, too, right here at the Stratosphere, just like your friends.”

“Can it with the freakin’ job!” the Cabdriver murmured urgently into my ear. “I’ve got to get these clowns to the FBI. They finally agreed to arrest ‘em, and I want to get ‘em over there before they change their minds!”

“Why bother?” I asked out loud. “The house always wins. Vegas eats everything.”

“Say what?”

“Vegas eats everything. It devours everything it sees, and its end-product is just more Vegas. Was there a desert here? Vegas ate it. A river? Vegas ate that, too. Cowboys, miners, missionary Mormons in their Sunday best? Vegas ate them all. The Mob? The Feds? Wall Street? Las Vegas ate them one-by-one. Paris? Vegas ate it. New York? That, too. Disneyland’s at Treasure Island and Hollywood is everywhere. Not the real things, the Vegas-real-things, charming post-modern parodies scaled down to the size of a good time, so you forget how much money you’re leaving behind. Vegas eats everything. A year from now these gentlemen will be dressed up as Elvis, singing ‘Jihad, Las Vegas’. Their on-stage bomb will explode and blow their sequined jumpsuits away, and they’ll be grinding in G-strings for screaming hausfraus from Milwaukee.”

“These screaming-hausfraus-from-Milwaukee,” Sahib One began. “Do you think they would be willing to instruct me in the art of American fornication?”

I smiled. “Them or someone just as nice. Welcome to Las Vegas. And Happy Independence Day.”

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