AU: ATF (Sort of)
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
The Challenge: Write a story that involves one or more of the following -Las Vegas, showgirls (dance hall girls), gambling, a casino and/or Elvis Presley. To make it more interesting, please include the following words: Exciting, Midnight, Bright, Jackpot and Illegal. One more thing. The story should be under 5,000 words.
Note: This is under 5,000 words, but only if you don't count this bit and the little spacer things. AU? Young Buck and maybe a young someone else or even two? My thanks, as ever, to the wonderful Helen for all her help. I think I got everything in.
Feedback: Yes please.
"Ma!" the shrill voice echoed in the high blank corridor of plain concrete blocks. The small dark-haired boy shouted again as he flew down the corridor. He was wearing jeans, they were old and worn and too big for him, having been purchased at a thrift shop with plenty of 'growing room', the bottoms rolled over three times. His tee shirt, which was tucked in on one side and hanging out on the other, had once advertised a Las Vegas show, a show long since closed, the lettering mostly faded and peeling. On his feet an old pair of high top canvas sneakers; the laces, which were not done up, didn't match and were frayed at the end. He was six, and had just finished his first year at a real school. As he ran into the chorus girls dressing room, he stopped dead. His keen eyes scanning the room full of half-naked women - some were a lot more than half-naked! But he didn't even blink, he just zeroed in on the tall young woman at the back, her jet-black hair cascading down her back in soft curls from an ornate and garish golden headdress. She was pulling on a tight-fitting one-piece costume that matched the headdress.
"Ma, I did you a picture," the boy gushed.
"You did dear? Where? Let me see." Instantly she stopped and sat down on the edge of the dressing table to view the work of art.
Young Buck Wilmington showed his mother the picture he had drawn, a picture of the two of them living in a house, with a garden and a dog and - most significantly - a younger brother. It made Cindy's heart ache; she just didn't see any way to give him what he wanted most. She was a Las Vegas showgirl, but only at the very back of the chorus. She had had a shot at a top show once. She had been 19, fresh out of high school, years of cheerleading and dance class behind her. Dance class she had paid for with long hours pumping gas and washing cars wearing skin-tight cut-off jeans and near see-through white tee shirt, just so she would get better tips. Some Saturday nights her ass was so sore from being slapped she could hardly sit down, so many hands had groped her breasts she could feel them in her sleep. Then her ambition was to dance professionally for 5 or 6 years, save as much as possible and go to college, to finally escape the grinding poverty of Houston County, Tennessee. She took a bus to Las Vegas, and after only three months auditioning and with her funds dwindling, she was given a shot at a big show. Cindy wasn't proud of it, but she found herself on the casting couch; she did what she needed to do to make her dream come true.
Just four months into the show she was out, pregnant. She was given a stark choice, abortion or quit. For Cindy there was no choice. She tried to go home, but her family, especially her father, turned their backs on her. Disowned and alone, Cindy did what she had to do to get by. It might have been illegal, but to keep her son and her independence, Cindy Wilmington would do almost anything. Once she had her figure back she tried to get back into show business, but it was hard finding shows that would fit in with day-care center hours, and she ended up as an exotic dancer, travelling all over the country. Now Buck was older and at school, she had finally managed to get a show job again. And once more they were back in Las Vegas.
"Honey, it's a lovely picture, we'll put it on our wall at home tomorrow," she assured her son, kissing him on the top of the head.
Home was a rented trailer home in the less famous or fashionable part of the city. Normally Cindy paid a friend to look after Buck. When the show was over, she would collect her slumbering angel and take him home so he always woke in his own bed; they had breakfast together, then she saw him onto the bus for the city school he attended. School was out for the summer, so he had been with Karen all day. But not tonight. Tonight Karen was working not an unusual occurrence. She was a seamstress, working on show costumes at home, it was piecework, she joked she was paid by the sequin. But occasionally she also did private work, wedding dresses mostly, and this sometimes meant visiting clients at home. So today Karen had dropped the six-year-old off at the back of the Riviera hotel and headed out to meet a client. Children weren't meant to be backstage, the boss didn't like it, so the other girls helped Cindy to hide him when necessary.
"Buck honey, do up Mom's costume," she requested.
Buck carefully laid his picture on the dressing table and climbed up on the chair as his mother turned her back to him. Quickly and efficiently, well-practised little fingers pulled up the zipper and did up the hook at the top.
"Buck darlin' do me too!" came a call from his left as he saw Sherri approaching.
"And me sugar!" called Carrie.
For the next half hour he happily did up dresses, found lost shoes, pushed back feathers, and checked stocking seams. Then as the stage hand called the first performers to the wings Cindy turned to Buck.
"I asked Manny, you can watch the first show with him, alright?" Buck just nodded enthusiastically and started heading for the door, a quick 'thanks Ma' was tossed over his shoulder.
Manny Spitari was the lighting director; from his control room you got the best view in the whole theatre. Buck would stand beside the huge lighting console and gaze down at the showgirls, at his friends, but mostly at his Ma. Who was the most beautiful and best dancer of them all - in Buck's opinion. When the show was over and he had applauded wildly, Buck made his way back to the dressing room. The showgirls had an hour between shows, which lasted an hour and a half; there were three shows in the evening and one in the afternoon. Buck had just watched the six o'clock show, the next one would begin at half past eight and the last one, the eleven o'clock, would finish after midnight. With four shows and rehearsals at two in the afternoon the showgirls worked more than ten gruelling hours every day.
Since he knew his Ma would make him go to bed as soon as he got to the dressing room Buck took his time making his way backstage. Careful to dodge the security personnel he wandered into the casino. Being close to the ground and possessing sharp eyes he could often pick up a tidy sum in lost coins and chips. Within ten minutes he had $1.25 in change, not much but to him a fortune, you could buy a good supply of candy and at least three comics with that. He was standing behind a tall plant arrangement, watching the people around the roulette wheel, which was the best place to find lost chips. If he saw who dropped it, he always gave it back, but if not he reckoned it was fair game. One of the girls would always change it for him. But he was distracted by a voice on the next table. The voice was female and not unlike his mothers. True southern accents were rare in Las Vegas, so this one caught his attention. The lady was very beautiful, she had blond hair that was cut in a modern style that showed it off wonderfully and her eyes were the deepest green. But what he noticed most was that the lady was going to have a baby, and real soon by the look of her.
She was playing poker, her voice easy to pick out as she charmed and flattered her opponents. Suddenly the lady clutched at her belly and stifled a cry. Buck frowned as he saw the lady in pain, he didn't like it when people were hurting. But as he watched she seemed to recover and continued to play. Then it happened again, just like before.
"Ma'am are you alright?" the dealer asked.
"Just fine darlin', don't you fret about me, ah believe ah just raised?" she turned her attention to the man on her left.
Buck watched the pot grow, as the stakes rose. Then the lady suddenly cried out, her hand went to her stomach and she almost dropped her cards.
The dealer flew to her side. "Ma'am, I think you need to go to the hospital," she said gently as she squatted next to the woman.
"Don't be foolish child, ah am fine, just a little ga " But just then the pain came again.
"Ma'am I think your baby is coming, please let me help you."
"It can't be, the wretched thing isn't due for another 2 weeks. There is close to $8000 in the pot and ah am not walking away from that, leave " Then, despite her protestations, she all but doubled up as another contraction hit her.
The dealer looked up and signalled to the nearest security guard. "We need an ambulance here," she said firmly. Then she looked back to the table. "The game is void gentlemen; everyone will be refunded the money they put into this hand."
The lady had not let go of her hand, the cards were held close to her chest, while the other hand wrapped protectively about her swollen belly. Yet another contraction washed over her, causing her to whimper in pain, the now useless cards fluttered to the ground, three kings and two tens, even Buck knew that was a winning hand. Suddenly he found himself looking straight into her jade green eyes. There was a look of pure accusation there, as if he, as a representative of all children, was responsible for her suffering and the loss of the money she would surely have won, if only the child could have waited another few minutes.
More people gathered around to see what was going on, the security staff arrived with the ambulance crew. Buck couldn't see much but he could hear. He heard someone say something about 'broken water'. For the life of him, Buck couldn't work out how you could break water. Then the woman was screaming and cursing and telling everyone to leave her alone just as they put screens around her and he couldn't see anything, but the screaming and cursing continued. He could also hear someone saying something about 'pushing', though he didn't know what or who was pushing what. Then just as he was going to give up and leave he heard a loud 'slap' and a baby started to cry. Buck loved babies, sometime Karen looked after a baby when he was with her, she even let him give her a bottle sometimes. Buck waited, he wanted to see the baby, eventually his patience was rewarded as the lady was wheeled out on a stretcher with the young dealer walking beside her, carrying a bright pink baby wrapped in a towel. Finally happy Buck slipped away.
As he made his way out, he passed the rows of slot machines. A young man in army uniform hit the jackpot, unprepared for what would happened, the coins that the machine spewed out just overflowed on to the carpet. Buck's mother had taught him to always help people if he could, so he stopped to help the soldier pick up his winnings.
He was very big, with broad shoulders and thick curly hair - which threatened to rebel against his tight army haircut - and huge hands. But despite his size, Buck was drawn to the soft, pale blue eyes, as the young man, not much more then a boy himself, winked at him.
"Thank you little brother," he acknowledged, handing Buck a dollar for his help.
By now it was late and he only reached the dressing room just before the first number was due.
"Oh thank God!" his mother cried as he ran in. "Where have you been, I've been worried sick. I told you to come straight back here didnt I?" She had been frantic with worry and now that worry was manifesting itself in anger. "Well young man, I want and answer."
Buck tried to be brave and not cry, his Ma didn't often yell, so he and never got used to it. "Yes ma'am," he admitted quietly, his head down.
"So where have you been?" she asked, anger still hot in her voice.
"There was a lady, and she was have "
"Places ladies, now!" came the shrill cry of the ASM out side the door.
"Later, you can tell me tomorrow, put yourself to bed, do not leave this room, do you understand me?" Cindy hated to get cross with him, but she had to be sure he wouldn't wander off again.
"Good." And with that she was gone.
The dressing room was just a large square room with a bathroom off to one side. Three walls were lined with a long continuous dressing table, with mirrors and lights; the remaining wall was lined with lockers where the girls kept their valuables. In the centre of the room were four long clothes rails with the costumes on them. Because the costume rails were formed in a square there was an empty and unseen space in the centre of them. This was where young Buck Wilmington slept on those nights Karen couldnt take care of him. He had an airbed, a pillow and a sleeping bag. Dutifully and with far more maturity than most boys his age, he pulled his tooth brush out from his back pack and headed for the bathroom, before pulling off his clothes and tugging on his Lone Ranger pyjamas. The last thing he pulled out of the bag was Bun. Technically Bun wasnt a rabbit but a kangaroo, but he had been Bun ever since Santa had given him to Buck, four years ago, so Bun he remained. With his trusty friend clasped to his chest he crawled into the sleeping bag.
He drifted of to sleep fairly quickly and once asleep rarely woke, despite the commotion of quick costume changes. He slept on peacefully through the second break. He didnt hear the girls gossiping about the woman who had her baby in the casino. But just after the last show started he did wake. The first thing he was aware of was that it was quiet. You couldnt hear the stage from the dressing room but the room was never silent, because the air conditioning essential in the windowless room was always on and always humming. The second thing he realised was, it was hot. Without the constant circulation of cooled air the closed room quickly became hot. It was after all almost August in the Nevada desert. Buck squirmed his way out of the sleeping bag and tried to get back to sleep on top of the mattress, but sleep would not come. He tossed and turned, he took his top off, he got a drink of water from the cooler, but it was just too hot to sleep. When the girls came in for a quick change he pretended to be asleep, his Ma had been real mad and he didnt want to upset her anymore. When it was quiet again he got up and headed to the door. Maybe if he opened the door it would get cooler?
At the end of the corridor was a fire door, normally it was shut, but tonight it had been wedged open with a chair to try to get a breeze. Wedging open the door was against all the rules, but against night-time temperatures in the 70's even the stiffest resolve melted. Buck had never seen what was beyond that door, he had always wondered, but it had always been shut before. Now the door was open, he could hear the show; he recognised the number and knew there was a long time to go before his Ma would be back. For a long time he debated with himself what to do, standing in the doorway looking down at the open door. He could see cars, immediately outside the door was a parking lot, but beyond that he could see the bright lights of the Hilton. Something exciting was happening at the Hilton, he had heard people talking about it, he hadn't quite worked out what, but something that had all the adults talking. Just then Buck's tummy rumbled. He had had his supper at five, it was now past eleven, he was wide awake and he was hungry.
Making a decision he ran back to his 'bedroom', pulled his jeans on as well as his shoes, and checked his pocket for the money he had found or earned earlier. There was just enough to buy a burger and a soda, and still have some left over for candy and comics. His Ma occasionally took him to a burger stand just beside the parking lot. He reasoned it had to be the same lot and he remembered being able to see the Hilton from the stand. As his tummy growled once more he slipped out into the night. He had walked for some time, threading his way through the parked cars, but the burger stand didn't appear, and the Hilton looked as far away as before, eventually he decided he didn't like the parking lot, at night, on his own, and turned back for the Riviera. The trouble was he had never left the big hotel by that particular door. Now he couldn't recognise the building. The front of the hotels were all lit up and easily recognisable, but the backs, the service areas, all looked the same. At night, without a watch, which he only had a very sketchy idea how to read anyway, he lost track of time and became lost, unable to find the Riviera or the burger stand. Buck wasn't a weepy kind of boy, he took knocks and disappointments in his stride, but he was close to tears and had begun to panic that he would never find his way back to his Ma and wishing he had never disobeyed her.
"Well, hello there." The sudden voice made the distressed boy jump. He turned around to look up at the man who had spoken. He found he was all but surrounded by men. The one who had spoken was a dark-haired man whose voice sounded a bit like his Mas. He was wearing dark jeans and a black shirt.
For his part the man looked down on a small boy who was clearly lost. He may have been in jeans, but the sneakers were undone, the laces trailing away on to the ground. His top was quite clearly a pyjama top, decorated with a faded picture of the Lone Ranger, slightly too small, barely covering the top of his jeans, protruding from the top of which the other half of the pyjamas could be seen. The toy kangaroo dangling by one ear from the left hand completed the picture of a child who was just out of bed.
"You live around here?" the man asked.
For some reason Buck felt he could trust the man, but his Ma had told him not to talk to strangers, so he said nothing. The man, the dark haired one with the soft voice, squatted down in front of him.
"I'm new around here, only just arrived," he explained.
The more Buck looked at the man and listened to his voice the more he felt he knew the man. He cocked his head on one side to look at him in a different way.
"Do you know who I am?" the man asked.
Buck wasn't sure, he thought he recognised his voice, he definitely recognised his face. Buck shrugged.
"I'm betting that your mamma told you not to talk to strangers - right?" Buck nodded in response.
"But if you recognise me, I'm not a stranger, am I?" That did sound right.
Finally Buck decided to speak. "Ma has a picture that looks like you on her wall," he admitted.
The man laughed. "Well there you go little buddy, I can't be a stranger if your mamma has my picture on her wall, can I?"
All the adults watched as a small frown creased the little boy's brow, his emotions played across his face as he decided what to do. Finally he let a shy smile escape.
"Hello." Buck extended his hand and they shook. Just then his tummy rumbled audibly.
"Wow, sounds like someone is hungry." Buck nodded once. "Why don't we go and find something to eat, and then go find your mamma?" the man suggested.
Before Buck knew what was happening, he and the men were standing beside the burger stand, the one he had been looking for.
"You said you were from around here Little Buddy?" the man asked. Buck nodded. "So what do you figure, a pal of mine said this place sells the best burgers in town, that true?"
"Uh-huh, Ma brings me here sometimes, for a treat, Ma says burgers are bad for you, like candy, you can only have them sometimes," Buck explained.
His new friend suddenly looked embarrassed. "Ya know I think your mamma is a smart woman," he admitted. "You mind her."
"Yes sir," now it was Buck's voice that was quiet and embarrassed, if he'd minded his Ma he wouldn't have got lost in a car lot, in the dark.
"Hey let's eat!" The man bent down to Buck's level. "What do you want?"
Buck knew what he wanted; he wanted what he always wanted. "Cheeseburger, please."
"Good choice, make that two." He turned to one of his companions, "Pay the man. Have what you want boys."
"I got money," Buck announced, his Ma didn't ever what him to take charity.
"I don't doubt it, but this is a gift, not just you, I'm buying all of them one too."
After he had eaten his cheeseburger, his new friend had presented him with a huge chocolate milkshake. "So, we're friends, yes?" his benefactor asked. Buck nodded, while still sucking up his chocolate shake. "Where do you live? Where is your mamma?"
Buck looked up, he didn't think the man wanted to know where he lived, that was a long way away, but Ma was at the Riviera.
"At the Riviera," he finally admitted.
Once he was no longer alone, he was suddenly less keen to go back and face his mother, who would be very mad at him - he didn't like it when his Ma was mad at him, he wanted to put it off as long as possible. There was no going back now, he was headed back to the hotel, trusting the man who's picture hung on his Ma's wall to keep him safe and take him back to his mother. As they walked he explained how he came to get lost in the parking lot. Before they were even halfway there, he stumbled and fell, the remains of his milkshake - which he couldn't finish - spilling on to the asphalt.
"Here pard." Strong hands lifted him up and hitched him on to his hip. Buck yawned and let his head rest on his new friend's shoulder.
"BUCK! BUCK!" They all heard the wild desperate cries coming from the direction of the Riviera Hotel. As they got closer a showgirl, still in full costume, shouting and searching desperately, could be seen by the light from the back of the hotel.
"That you pard? You Buck?" But all the man got was a tired nod. "Ma'am!" his new friend shouted.
Her head snapped around to see the group of men coming toward her out of the darkness, the one in the middle carrying a familiar looking burden.
"Oh God! Oh thank you!" she cried as she ran to intercept him, and then pulled up short. "Oh. My. God!" she gasped out.
"No ma'am, not quite. Is this yours?" he indicated Buck, who now pulled his head off the black-clad shoulder.
"Yes. Where have you been? I have been worried sick, I told you not to go anywhere, I told you not to leave the room." She stepped forward and took her son into her arms, hugging him close. "Do you know how scared I was? I love you so much baby, please don't scare me darlin'."
"'M sorry Ma," he mumbled.
She smiled, knowing he was more asleep than awake, tomorrow they would have a discussion, and Buck Wilmington would not be watching TV or eating candy for a long time. She hefted him up again. Lord the boy was growing! He was really too heavy for her.
"Let me have him, ma'am."
She smiled shyly, suddenly - now her fear for her son had passed somewhat - star struck, letting him take Buck from here.
"Thank you Mr Presley, I'm most grateful to you, for bringing my son back safely."
The King of Rock and Roll smiled back at her as he once again took the boy. "My pleasure, he's a good boy, real polite and well brought up, he didn't mean to scare you, he just wanted to see what was outside that door and got lost."
"He's very independent, and curious - it gets him into trouble sometimes," she admitted.
"Well that's how boys are - I guess," Elvis said with a smile. "Sure gave my mamma some scares I can tell you," he added with a wistful tone.
"I am sorry for your loss."
"Aw, it was a time ago now, but thank you ma'am." He shifted Buck to the other hip. "He sure is a big boy," he admitted.
Elvis' entourage had faded back, somehow knowing they were not needed. "I'm sorry, wake him up, he can walk." Cindy turned to take her son from him.
"No ma'am, he's fast asleep, best not to disturb him now, where do you want him?"
Cindy suddenly looked panicked, pulling off her head-dress. "Oh gosh, I don't know. I have to change, then head home. Oh baby." She reached out and stroked her son's hair. "I best wake him up, I can't lift him off the mattress."
"You have a car here?" Elvis asked.
"Um yes over there." She pointed in the direction of the far dark corner of the lot where the staff parked.
Presley insisted that he carry Buck to her station wagon, place the sleeping boy on the back seat and watch him until she was dressed and ready to drive home. She rushed, still holding 'Bun' and assuring her friends, who were all set to come and help her search, that Buck was safe in the car and she was headed home. Sherri offered to take care of her costume, so she could get out faster. Now dressed in jeans, tee shirt and sneakers she ran across the lot to her car.
"Don't fret ma'am, he's still asleep. What is your name?" he asked softly.
"Oh, um Cindy, Cindy Wilmington," she stammered out.
"You from Tennessee, Cindy?" he asked.
"Yes yes I am, Houston County."
He of all people knew what it took to get out of places like Houston County, and why. And he understood a mothers love, he could well imagine what she had done to keep them together. When he had first seen the boy, in his worn, over-large jeans and cheap sneakers, he was reminded of another boy, a boy that was still inside him some place.
"Don't be too hard on the boy, he didn't mean to scare you." With that he extended his hand to her. As she shyly took it, he pulled her closer and kissed her cheek, before releasing her. She straightened up, blushing deeply, and as he released her found something in her hand, and frowned.
"Please ma'am," he asked, hoping she wouldn't spurn his gift. "for Buck."
Hesitating for a moment, she closed her hand around the paper.
"Thank you, I I have your picture on my wall, I'm a big fan," she suddenly gushed.
He smiled a full hundred-watt smile - not unlike her Buck's. "Yes ma'am, he told me. Goodbye Cindy, you take care of that boy."
She didn't look at what Elvis had given her until she got home. Once she was stopped outside the trailer, she uncurled the piece of paper. There were ten hundred-dollar bills and a note. 'For a good mother and a good son. Elvis Presley, July 30th 1969. Las Vegas.'
She was pulling up the covers when Buck woke up; he blinked sleepily up at his mother.
"'M I in trouble?"
"Yes, but not until tomorrow, go to sleep now darling. I still love you, no matter what."
"That man, the nice man."
"Yes, what about him?"
"You have his picture on yer wall."
"I do yes, what about it?"
"Is he my pa?"
She just stared at him, not quite sure how to respond - they listened to Elvis on the radio and played his records. It had never occurred to her that he hadn't realised that the man on her bedroom wall was the same man who sang the songs he liked so much, he had met his hero and hadn't even realised.
"No honey, he's not. I wish he was, but he's not. Come on, go to sleep, we'll talk about it in the morning."
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