Checking in at the Flamingo
If things were hot in New York, they’re scorching in Las Vegas, where our family guy is wise to the history of the syndicate, but looking to get a better look at the landscape from his suite on the 30th floor
By John Armstrong
It was just after 7 a.m. local time when we touched down in Vegas and the heat hit us as soon as they popped the cabin door, an instant, sweltering blast like being in the kitchen on Christmas Day when your mother opens the oven to check the turkey. It was already over 80 and climbing and I could feel myself starting to sweat through my ‘lightweight’ wool suit. Vanessa already had her sweater halfway over her head, revealing a shorter version of a man’s white tuxedo shirt under it. She got a pair of sunglasses from the shoulder bag and immediately looked ready for the Riviera.
“Don’t worry, the limo’s got AC,” Cohen said. “In Vegas, everything has AC – no-one goes outside except to get to the pool, and that’s only if they can’t afford an indoor one.” There was a long, pale green Caddy with green, heavily tinted windows waiting at the foot of the stairs and a uniformed driver standing by. Sealed inside, I felt like a tropical fish looking out his window.
The sweat on my body dried into tiny ice cubes within seconds. I’d forgotten that about Vegas – you generally have the choice of frying or shivering. In the hotels and casinos they keep the temperature about right for mink stoles and strapless gowns and the men wear anything from tuxes to sportswear. I was looking forward to some shopping.
The sun was well up and the neon turned off but even asleep the Strip and its giant signs, marquees, and soaring hotel towers is a breathtaking sight, though a bit melancholy, like being backstage with actors after a show, where you can see the wrinkles and other imperfections that disappear 50 feet away under makeup and stage lighting.
The strip was almost empty of cars and only a few diehard revelers and cleaning crews on the early shift were out on the sidewalks, sweeping up under the giant palms that lined the street. We were northbound on the strip, the famous pink flamingo-on-one-leg and stylized F logo rising ten stories at the end of the road, framed against the dusty blue-green of the Spring Mountains across the sand to the west. I made a note to myself to request rooms facing them.
“When we first got here this was tumbleweeds and gophers,” Cohen said. He was wrapped up in a heavy Navajo blanket and wearing dark sunglasses. He looked like an Indian who didn’t want to be recognized. “Everybody said we were nuts. But when the Takeover happened, we were the ones who knew how to administrate a free society. We were flying guys in from all over by the dozens, to give lessons.”
I decided to show my college education off to Vanessa. “Nevada had already legalized gambling and prostitution and repealed state taxation before the Takeover, so they were the obvious model for setting up the new system. They had the least amount of change of any state when the Commission came in.”
Cohen laughed so hard he had a coughing fit. “Two days after we took over, out in the open, I mean – ‘cause we’d been running everything behind the scenes anyway – the mayor of Las Vegas was working as a greeter at the Sands.
“The gravy train had been rolling down the tracks for years for these guys, all of a sudden it pulled into the station, end of the line, and all those bums had to get real jobs. We had senators and congressmen driving hack and delivering Chinese food. And you still had to watch your change, the chiselin’ bastards.
“They tried to get back in here, just like they did in Chicago and New York, other places. Someone put a bomb in my Eldorado and when the driver started it up – actually, a couple minutes after, in case I was slow getting in – Blooooey!
“Bunch of amateurs. I had the whole engine firewall and undercarriage plated in steel. Who’d they think invented the furshlugginer car bomb?”
“Where did they all go, the politicians?” Vanessa asked. We were just passing Vegas Vic, the 70-foot, animated neon cowboy eternally flipping his lucky gold coin. He was taking a break now, his coin back in his jeans until the sun went down again.
“The ones who rigged my Caddy, they went out there.” He jerked a thumb towards the empty desert. “The rest of them bastards? Who knows? Back under a rock, my best guess.”
The entrance to the Flamingo seems oddly undersized given the massive hotel rising above it, but like so much here it’s an illusion. The car lets you out and you walk under the long, overhanging port cochère and through any of the sets of double glass doors ringing the front, and then into the real entrance, this one a series of tropical garden paths around and over a lagoon stocked with brilliantly colored fish and ending at the registration and welcome desk.
Rising up among the orchids and hibiscus are more palms, some as tall as those out on the boulevard, and Mimosa trees with pink and white puffball flowers straight out of fairyland, who have no idea they’re in a five-story glass-roofed garden. Nor do the flamingoes who wander at large among them. They’ve lost any natural fear of people – in fact, they’ll pick your pocket, looking for treats. We had to stop for Vanessa to pet them and then wait again when she discovered the bowls of seeds and nuts the hotel keeps at the front desk. By the time she was done fussing over the birds they were ready to go up to the rooms with us.
“VIP suites for Mr. Kennedy and the lady, adjoining. With a view of the mountains. Full boat.” Mickey turned back to us with the keys. “Anything you need, they know to get it for you. Anything. You want to go freshen up, I’ll get the men together and we can talk about it this afternoon.”
“I could do with a shower,” I said, and Vanessa made the me-too sign. “Then I need to get some clothes.” I felt like I was wearing a nice burlap sack.
Cohen said to the desk clerk, “Send a couple masseurs up to their rooms and comp them at the stores.” He looked back at us. “Don’t be shy. I’ll be disappointed you don’t need help carrying what you buy, okay? Get some stuff for by the pool, and something snazzy for tonight. We’ll hit the shows.
“Now I want to go check on Benny, take him his soup and sandwiches. Anytime you want me, ring the desk. They can always find me.”
I took Vanessa’s arm and we made our way to the glass elevators stationed around the reception area. You climb the outside of the hotel walls, looking in and down on the garden, then exit at your floor out into a hallway facing the entrances to the suites. Consequently, all the rooms have outside views. It’s a beautiful design, as is everything about the hotel. Did you know that each suite has it’s own plumbing and sewer system? It cost over a million to do that, Meyer told me, back when a million dollars was serious money. He ought to know – he paid for it. Meyer still owns a big chunk of Vegas and, with our company, a major share of the Flamingo.
We were on the 30th floor and the rooms were spectacular. Vanessa and I entered through our separate doors and met up again immediately inside as the connecting doors had been opened in advance. The walls were finished in a deep gold with intermittent teak panels. Underfoot was sculpted wall-to-wall carpeting in a thick chocolaty brown; you sank down to the ankles with each step. It took a bit of getting used to. The first few steps I found myself walking like a cat with scotch tape on his paws.
Further in the floor fell away into an entertainment pit, white leather couches with sleek wood accents, and a fireplace dressed in white stonework. There was a bar on the near wall with more chrome and white leather, and another entertainment area with leather chairs and tables and a TV/radio/record player console, also teak. The color scheme was a nice change after the relentless pink motif of the rest of the hotel. At a certain point, you want to yank the paintbrush out of someone’s hand and say, “Yes, we get it, now please give it a rest.”
That’s a minor complaint, though, all things considered. The Flamingo is the crown jewel of the strip, expanded and improved constantly since it was first built, 15 acres of reclaimed desert now filled with waterfalls, pools, gardens, and golf courses. Mirage would have been a better name for the place. Looking at it from the desert side, it’s hard to believe it exists.
To my right I saw the bedroom through an open door, the near edge of a circular bed that looked big enough for a football team to scrimmage on, and through there I found the bathroom. Ah ha – they kept him out of the suite but he snuck in here at some point. A family-size tub in pink marble and matching countertop.
Vanessa was already on the balcony. I filled glasses with cracked ice and made two elementary cocktails at the bar and joined her. At the far edge of the desert the mountains rose up out of the heat shimmer like something from the Arabian Nights. The ice was already melting, the glasses dripping sweat, before we took the first sip.
She pressed the cold glass against her cheek and said, “Okay, enough.” As we came inside there was a knock at the door. I crossed the room and opened it to two young women in white uniforms with the ubiquitous F monogram carrying folding tables and little milkmen’s baskets filled with clinking bottles of lotion. Mickey’s masseurs. Or masseuses, I should say.
I held the door while they loaded in and said, “You set up and we’ll just jump in the shower.”
“Will we now?”
I put on my best look of purity and innocence. “I took an oath, remember? Off you go.” She scampered out the door and I drank off about half my highball and headed for my own bathroom. When I came back she was already face down on a table, under a sheet. I made a refill and got onto my table holding it one hand and steadying my towel with the other. I don’t have a great deal of dignity but what I do have I’d like to keep.
The masseuse ushered me under the cool clean sheet. I turned my head to Vanessa in the table beside me, and raised my glass.
“Here’s to crime,” I said.
Mob Rule continues in The Ex-Press, to read past instalments, click here.
THE EX-PRESS, October 27, 2015