It wasn’t exactly “major news.” Didn’t get on many people’s radar unless they happened to be booking a flight to Vegas and noticed, “Hey, what happened to McCarran?” The nature of Las Vegas is constant change, despite few outsiders seeming to realize that it’s forever getting a facelift. The Strip is always being “tweaked.” Sometimes even gutted. All for the sake of “keeping it fresh.” Or whatever. Which is why, to Des Reid, news of McCarran International Airport suddenly becoming Harry Reid International Airport right before the old codger kicked the bucket came as no shock…well, not right away at least.
It looked like one senator was suddenly shinier and newer than another (despite both being lusterless and old in their political “heyday”), for it was Senator Pat McCarran that the airport was named after before Reid came along to usurp his legend. Then again, the only thing “legendary” about him in the twenty-first century was his notorious support of fascist regimes (including Franco’s), anti-Semitism and contempt for communism (of course, no one was ever going to have as much contempt for that political view as another “Mc” of the era, Joseph). On the anti-Semite front, Reid certainly couldn’t be accused—he had married a Jew. Who probably didn’t expect Reid’s Mormon conversion curveball.
But before Harry Reid International Airport, and when it was still “good ol’” McCarran, Des took a long drag of his cigarette as he stood outside of Stage Door. Truth be told, he probably could have just smoked inside without anyone giving much of a shit, but, for whatever reason, he was feeling “courteous” tonight. Which was a vast departure from his usual demeanor, bordering somewhere between the cliché perception of a “tough” New Yorker and a Rottweiler. He had to wonder if maybe the girl he had just met earlier today (specifically, at dawn) could have something to do with it. Des had gone home with countless women during his tenure as both a Las Vegas native and a bartender at the Flamingo Hotel. But something about Quinn was different. And sure, he had been duped into believing this more times than he would like to admit—yet somewhere, deep down, he just knew: she had to be the one. No matter that she was only in for “a couple days” to see Britney Spears perform at Planet Hollywood. He would find a way to make her stay. One way or the other…
The alleged “girlfriends” she came with were nowhere to be found when he caught sight of her in the small hours of the morning at Stage Door, where he so often spent his late nights after finishing a shift. She was already drunk off her face as she tried to play blackjack on one of the screens, pressing indiscriminately in some vain hope of “striking it rich.” Las Vegas had that “Gold Rush” quality about it, Des knew. Except no one ever seemed to hit the motherlode on anything other than increasing their losses and their addictions. Des had mastered the art of managing his own after three decades of living and breathing this life. Hell, he was born to a showgirl. One that Harry Reid reportedly had “a little tryst” with. He wasn’t always as “Mormon” as he pretended to be. It was hard for anyone to adhere to such a religion’s tenets in a town like Vegas. Des had even had his own fair share of cursory encounters with Reid when the “sinless senator” wasn’t skulking back to Anthem with his tail between his legs. His debauchery was common knowledge, yet everyone looked the other way because of what he meant to the state of Nevada. Because of how he had “cracked down” on the mob and the likes of Frank Rosenthal (immortalizing Reid as a celluloid self in Casino). But Des was one of the elite many who knew the truth about Reid. He didn’t “muzzle” anyone in the mob. It was all for sanctimonious show. And, in exchange, the gangsters and the ghouls of Las Vegas were happy to offer up sacrifices in order to keep things, ultimately, status quo. While Harry got to play the hero. Every “city of sin” needs a hero.
Nonetheless, Des didn’t think too much about politics, despite his occasional eye rolls at Harry. In fact, Vegas was really the last place one tended to think about anything at all, other than how to milk another tourist out of their money. He knew that all “big cities” were like that, but Vegas in particular was obsessed with filching as much as you could out of a visitor. He didn’t want to do that to Quinn though. If she were another “usual” girl, he might have talked her into getting married in her state of inebriation. He always did that. He knew how to spot Daddy’s girls with a patriarch willing to pay him off to get the “whole thing” annulled. And even though he could tell Quinn was just that, he didn’t want to take advantage. He wanted her to make the suggestion of her own volition, and when she did, he vowed not to capitalize on the situation—one he could tell might be very profitable based on her head-to-toe Fendi ensembles and the Louis Vuitton luggage he clocked in her penthouse suite at The Cosmopolitan. But no, he would not con this one. She was special. “Wifey material.” Real wifey material. Not just meant to be used as a pawn for his financial gain. And his cons had served him well. He was on his way to raising enough capital to finally opening his own hotel/casino off the Strip. He knew it wasn’t where the high rollers would go, but like the government, he also knew the poor and middle class were nothing to balk at when it came to siphoning money. Indeed, they were most (rich) people’s bread and butter with regard to “squeezing blood out of a turnip.”
So excited was he about these plans that he even mentioned them to Quinn the following afternoon at Battista’s, his idea of a “romantic” restaurant, plus it was right next to the Flamingo, where he never strayed far from. Not just because he never knew how drunk he would get, therefore preferring to stagger more effortlessly into his workplace as opposed to “frantically hurrying” to get to it, but because there was a giant moose head inside they decided to call Moooosolini. All part of the tacky décor that would offend any authentic Italian in their right mind. Luckily, neither Quinn nor Des were Italian or in their right mind. And as the night escalated, he did exactly what he told himself he would not. For it was there in the back of his mind all along. And, as Christopher Nolan taught us, once you’ve been incepted, there’s no turning back. They woke up the following late morning in her suite, with telltale signs—including the presence of a cheap, gold-tone plastic ring on each of their fingers—quickly indicating they had decided to tie the knot.
Quinn rubbed her head and groaned as she looked around the room, stared at her ring finger and started to realize what she had done. She turned slowly to take in the sight of Des, who was still lying on his back in the clothes from yesterday. His eyes were open, and it appeared to her as though he was appraising something (if she had been inside his mind, she would have known it was whether or not he should blackmail Quinn’s father for the annulment, suddenly aware that she was not really all that special, and this would come to a dramatic end as per usual). She queried, “Des?”
He glanced over. “Yeah?”
“Um…what’s your last name?”
“Reid,” he announced. And it wasn’t a lie. He had often wondered if that was Harry’s one conciliation to his mother. Giving him a “good name.” A lot of “good” it did him—he was getting by on the game of love scams. And all at once, he had never felt lower, like more of a fraud. In short, exactly like how Harry Reid must feel every day. Just when he was about to open his mouth and tell her everything, she responded, “Well, I guess I’m Mrs. Reid now.”
But she wasn’t. It took all of twenty-four hours for her business mogul father to fly out like he was Lynne Spears and Larry Rudolph combined—there to undo the damage caused by Quinn’s impetuosity. He the Jason Alexander to her Britney. But no matter—this was what he had really wanted anyway. And he assumed Quinn would quickly find that she desired exactly the same swift end after sobering up enough. But to his surprise, she stood up for the relationship, insisted that Daddy allow her to “give it a try” before throwing in the towel so readily. For whatever reason, the father, “Mr. Erickson,” agreed. And Quinn soon moved into Des’ modest two-bedroom at the Napoli Apartments. It didn’t take long for him to feel the walls closing in, and he wondered why Quinn was so determined to make this work. Even as she did absolutely nothing to try to please him. Never offered so much as to make brunch now and again after his late nights spent working to pay for their life. That’s when he started to wonder if Mr. Erickson had cut her off for her decision to stay married, and he would now be stuck having to care for her like an orphaned pet for the rest of his days. This was a con gone horribly wrong.
Des wouldn’t understand just how wrong until, about six months in to the marriage, he was flabbergasted to find that his card kept getting declined at Stage Door. He couldn’t understand why. He had only just been paid, and the savings account should have been amply full as well, what with his business plans starting to come within plain sight of being a financial reality. A reality now turned delusional fantasy when Des took all of about two minutes to put it together that only Quinn could have drained his monetary supply.
As he drove frantically to get back to his apartment, he tried to call her. The line was disconnected. “No longer in service.” Funny thing was, Quinn was never “in service” to him at all, which is why he never suspected her of such a betrayal. She wasn’t coming across obsequiously enough for that, and he still wanted to believe she had plenty of money of her own that he could eventually pilfer for himself once Daddy actually did come around to the idea of them being husband and wife. But “Mr. Erickson” wasn’t real either. Upon further investigation—like he should have done in the first place (but why would Des bother when he had no inkling that he was the mark in the scenario)—any sign of a “Jessup Erickson” turned up no search result that resembled the man who had barged into their hotel room the day after their drunken nuptials.
Was this karma? Cosmic retribution for all the times he had taken money from women’s fathers in exchange for their freedom and his ability to make a name for himself in Las Vegas that would be entirely separate from the other Reid? He had no idea, because he had never believed in “hooey” like karma before this moment.
Years later, after he had rebuilt his sinecure through a new conning gambit involving leading tours for the elderly that offered plenty of chances for preying on their information and financials, he found himself somewhat stupefied upon being taken to the airport to see the words “Harry Reid International Airport” emblazoned across a sign in front. For whatever reason, the news of this change had evaded him (as it had most people). Or maybe it was something he deliberately chose not to process. Regardless of what caused the oversight, he wished he had been more mentally prepared to see this gaudy display of affection for the man he despised. The father who never acknowledged him. Strange, that Reid should choose to die right after the airport’s rebranding, as though he could finally leave this realm knowing that his imprint would truly be left on Vegas long after those of this generation forgot who he was. Because those who flew into the city would be forced to ask themselves, “Who is Harry Reid?” Just as Des so often asked himself that very question almost every day as he drank away the memory of his illegitimacy and abandonment.