‘So, what brings you to Sin City?’ the bartender asked as he placed my whiskey on the bar.
‘Conference,’ I said, the lie slipping easily from my mouth.
He nodded, leaning against the counter opposite me and folding his arms across his skinny chest.
‘What makes you ask?’
He shrugged, ‘Regulars tend to sit at tables is all.’
‘Not much of a gambler.’
‘Vegas doesn’t have much more to offer apart from booze, gambling and sex,’ he said.
The suggestion hung in the air between us.
‘And conferences,’ I said.
He moved forward, resting his palms on the counter and leaning towards me.
I subconsciously moved back, but he didn’t seem to notice.
‘What sort of work do you do?’
I glanced around hoping for some respite from the bartenders attention, but it was late, and despite the fact that people roamed the casino floor I was the only person at the bar.
‘Consulting,’ I said, taking a sip of my drink.
The liquid slid down my throat, burning as it went.
‘Where are you from?’
‘Do you always integrate your customers?’
‘Only the ones I find intriguing.’
‘Intriguing? Why so?’
He shrugged, again.
‘I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. Perhaps that’s why I’m asking so many questions.’
‘I don’t particularly like answering questions.’
‘You’ve done ok so far.’
I took another sip of the whiskey, savouring the liquid as it warmed my mouth.
‘For one, you’re drinking whiskey straight.’
‘It’s an unusual choice -‘
‘For a woman,’ I said, interrupting.
‘My grandfather was Scottish. He said drinking it anyway but by itself was a blasphemy worse than taking the Lord’s name in vain.’
‘Your grandfather was right,’
‘He generally was.’
‘Secondly, you’re sitting at a bar in perhaps the sleaziest casino on the whole strip by yourself at close to four am on a Tuesday morning.’
‘Which you only find unusual because I’m a woman?’
‘No, I find that unusual because you’re dressed like you should be staying at the Bellagio.’
‘You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.’
‘I shouldn’t, but I do and I’m generally right.’
It was my turn to shrug.
‘I find the bartenders at Bellagio too chatty.’
‘That’s funny, because I find them the exact opposite.’
‘I guess they don’t find you intriguing.’
I took another sip from my whiskey, and wondered how far I should let this go.
I usually tried to stay under the radar, avoid unnecessary conversation - especially with casino employees. People can’t remember you if they never saw you or spoke to you. But sometimes the desire for a human connection - any human connection - is stronger than long honed survival instincts. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you they think you’re intriguing, to question your choice of drink and want to know who you are - even if you can never really answer their questions.
Another customer approached the bar and I took my chance. I downed the rest of my drink, breathing in sharply as the alcohol spread fire down my throat. My grandfather used to tell me whiskey was to be savoured not devoured, and he was right. I threw a few dollars on the bar for the whiskey and a generous tip for the bartender.
I made my way through the throng of people at the tables and machines, the noise that hadn’t seemed to exist at the bar enveloped me now. It wouldn’t dim considerably outside, but at least it would be accompanied by the frigid desert air.
Of course, the noise in Vegas was good for one thing - muffling my work. When everyone is screaming, one more voice doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.