Short - A City in the Desert, Part I
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
*Some Mature content*
A man lays face down in the sand of the Nevada Desert a red halo growing around his head, gore pouring from the cracked hole a bullet left in his skull. Grey matter speckles black hair and tanned fingers twitch in the absence of life. Do you hear that? In the distance, in between the caws of disturbed buzzards and vultures there is the low rumbling of an exhaust; probably one of those muscle cars in dire need of a muffler.
Whatever it is, it’s long gone now. I guess it’s too late to save his poor soul anyway, and who knows, maybe that sorry son of a bitch deserved what came to him... or maybe he just made a bad decision. Not that it makes a difference. People can argue all they want about cause and effect but unfortunately dead is dead.
His story starts pretty unspectacularly. His name is Attol. He never led an exciting life and, being honest with myself, I probably should have kept it that way.
My dad always told me, Attol, just work hard and keep your head down, your mind will get you further than your fists. Why didn’t I listen? In order to explain to you how I ended up a sorry son of a bitch shot dead in the desert, I need to take you back to the beginning.
My name is Attol Panjabi and I grew up in Pasadena, California with my Indian father, Rajesh, and my American mother, Amelia. My father was thought to be the best cardiothoracic surgeon in all of East Asia and my mother was Vice Chairman to The Heart Foundation of America. She met with my father and offered him a scholarship to retrain in the United States, which he gladly took. Two years later they married and three years after that, in 1991, Mr and Mrs Panjabi had a son. (That’s me).
They decided that I was so brilliant they didn’t need to have any more kids. This meant I grew up with a huge weight on my back, always shouldering the expectations of my high achieving parents. Luckily, I turned out pretty smart and developed a love of Math, which then led into a love of Chemistry. In 2009 I graduated High School at the top of my class with a college level GPA and mom and dad who were over the moon.
I got accepted to all of the top colleges but decided to read Bsc Forensic Chemistry at The University of Nevada in Las Vegas. The parents had something to say about me ditching the Ivy Leagues to study in Vegas, but something about the city just spoke to me. When I went to look at the campus it seemed so full of life, almost like the city itself was an organism swelling and breathing with every new soul entering it. I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. I guess you were right, Dad, Vegas was too much city for me. Did I really need to get myself dead to feel alive?
Really my story started when I met my roommate Mike, a Visual Arts Major, and the catalyst for this whole unfortunate adventure. Mike was a really decent guy, his only crime being that he was an idiot. He’d come to Vegas to party, using college as an excuse not to get a job for a couple of years, and party he did.
I was lucky that my parents had to attend a benefit in New York leaving me to move myself into the dorm. I think I would have been forcibly driven home if they’d met Mike the way I did. I remember opening my bedroom door to find a blond beefcake lying butt naked on his bed handcuffed to the headboard and wearing an animal mask. Dancing around him was a slender girl with a mass of dark brown curls (who I later found out was his girlfriend, Liza).
She too was wearing an animal mask, except hers had long colourful feathers sprouting up from the forehead. Fortunately, she was dressed, albeit in a skimpy zebra print leotard, which didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination. The pair only noticed I’d arrived when I dropped a lamp in shock. Oddly neither of them seemed too bothered that I’d caught them in such a compromising position. Liza was a Drama Major, a transfer student from Italy, and apparently very comfortable with her own body. Before I knew it, Mike was unshackled, clothed and already helping me bring my boxes in from the hall explaining how he, ‘Hadn’t expected me to turn up today’.
Liza unashamedly began sifting through my belongings and quickly made my bed for me. Usually that kind of behaviour would have irritated me, but her sweetness made her lack of boundaries almost adorable. Quickly the pair dispersed my things and before I knew it we were neatly tucking empty boxes under my new bed.
Liza removed her mask to reveal a set of beautiful hazel eyes. Eyes that sparkled along with the gleaming smile she wore as she quickly pulled on a pair of skinny jeans and kitten heels. Each move jingling with the mountains of bangles she wore on her wrists. With all her adornments and headscarves, she was like the beautiful living embodiment of Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Similarly, Mike looked like he’d fallen out of a Diesel Editorial, distressed denim and leather from head to toe and pointed snake skin boots that I would never have the cool to pull off. He twisted the front of his hair with a slim finger dragging it into a curl and sweeping the rest to define his part before wrapping an arm around Liza.
“Want to get out of here?” he smiled dropping his hip casually.
I didn’t know what to say. I’d never been around such beautiful people, especially ones that wanted to talk to me. I was skinny and smart, which made me nobody at a high school full of trendy, ripped surfer types.
Before I could stammer a reply, the pair had wrapped their arms around mine and were dragging me out of the door. Liza told me they’d already found a place that didn’t card and that it was almost time for happy hour. That night I tried alcohol for the first time. I knew Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve but it felt good to be rebellious. Even throwing up in Paradise Park and the killer hangover were worth it.
For the next 6 months we looked after each other, Mike and Liza helped me kick back and I helped them study. Despite all the partying I still managed to be first in my class but hanging with Mike and Liza gave me a confidence I never had before. Mike even helped me gain a little weight and taught me how to dress better. In UNLV I actually had a little street cred – until it all came crashing down around me.
Something you should about Mike and Liza is that they really like their recreational drugs. It wasn’t really my thing but I didn’t mind them indulging. Due to this we ended up going to Club Papillon a lot. It was well known on campus that the owner turned a blind eye to dealing there, making it really easy to get high. It was like any other club to me but Mike and Liza went crazy for it.
There were rumours around town that Vegas was turf to two pretty unscrupulous gangs and by all accounts they did not like one another in the least. People thrived on the idea that their city was centre to a drug war drama and gangbanger hearsay was frequently the topic of interest. Every week there was something new to drop, snort, or smoke, supposedly evidence that the gangs were trying to one-up each other, which made for some killer capital.
One day Mike and Liza overheard news that there was a new derivative of ecstasy on the street and it would have its debut at Papillon that very night. Of course, this meant we were going out. Except I needed to study for a really hard quiz and didn’t particularly feel like getting crunk. All evening Liza and Mike tried to convince me to come but by 10pm they gave up and went out without me. I resigned myself to an early night and was in bed promptly by 11.30.
I was roused at some ungodly hour by the annoying K-Pop song that Liza had somehow gotten on my cell. She had put it on there so that I would always know she was calling. Clumsily I reached for my phone but got it just as the call ended. I waited a moment with my hand resting on the device trying to banish my lethargy. Glancing at the time I saw it was almost 3am and figured she must be high. Next, I felt the familiar buzzing of my phone. A new voicemail. I lifted the phone to my ear with a smirk on my lips expecting to hear Liza’s typical drunk gibberish telling me I should have come out with them.
Voicemail account 239-321-4639. To listen to your messages please press #1. I press 1. There are 6 new messages. First new message left March, 19th at 2.20am.
‘A.P. please answer your phone! I need help!’
Immediately I bolted upright as a chill shot down my spine. I could feel myself sweating as I continued listening. Next new message left March 19th at 2.24am.
‘A.P. Please. It’s Mike. I think he O.D’d and they threw us out onto the street. Please come to the Papillon!’
End of message. Next new message left March 19th at 2.30am.
‘A.P! Come on. I think he’s dying. ANSWER YOUR PHONE!’
It was at that point I hung up and looked at the glowing screen. Thirteen missed calls! How did I miss them? Diving out of bed I dressed in the closest thing to me and threw myself into the corridor, barely able to shut my bedroom door behind me as I fled toward the parking lot. Scrambling to get into my Fiat I could feel it jumping up and down on its suspension with the force of my movements. Hands shaking, I yanked the car into reverse almost crashing into the cars behind me. As I was pulling onto the road the K-Pop began screaming at me again. Clawing at the next seat I grasped my phone trying not to take my eyes off the road, praying that a cop wouldn’t catch me speeding down the strip.
‘I’m on my way Liza!’ I barked, my voice catching with every stricken inhale. I could barely understand Liza through her tears, she was so drunk. ‘Did you call 911?’ I said as calmly as I could muster.
‘It’s...it’s not just Mike.’ Liza sobbed. ‘There are already para...paramedics here but we’re in the alley behind the...club. They don’t know we…we’re here.’
‘Go and get somebody to help.’
‘Cosa devo fare con te? I can’t leave him!’
‘Is he conscious?’
‘No... What do I do? COSA DEVO FARE!’
‘Try and get someone’s attention. I’m coming!’ I threw the phone into my passenger’s seat as I quickly rounded a corner almost swerving into oncoming traffic. I hammered my foot onto the gas knowing Papillon was on the next block. Taking a side-road, I pulled up sharply at the neck of the club’s back alley. I could barely see her there in the dark crouched over Mike. I tripped as I got out of the car and fell flat onto my face before limping to her side.
The sight of Mike made my heart jump. He was pale and sweating with thick foam dripping down his face. His lips had turned purple. Liza had her hands crossed over his chest trying to give him CPR but, in her state, she was practically useless. I leant down to feel his pulse but there was none. Quickly I pulled his limp body off the ground and began dragging him to my car. Liza remained knelt in the alley sobbing.
‘Help me!’ I bellowed. Immediately she stumbled to her feet and tucked her head and shoulders under Mike’s other arm leaving his feet dragging behind us.
‘What are you doing we need a paramedic!’ Liza protested when I started to push him onto my back seat.
‘It’s a circus out front. There are so many ambulances out there and they’re all getting blocked in by traffic. It’ll be faster if I drive him.’
Liza was a crying wreck when I forced her into the front seat; I had to keep pulling her back from constantly trying to climb into the back. Just before I reached the hospital I was spotted by a police cruiser that immediately began chasing me down the street, sirens blaring through the night. I came to a screeching halt outside the emergency room with the cruiser not far behind me. The officer was ready to arrest me until he saw me trying to carry Mike from my car. Liza ran into the reception screaming for someone to help us. Doctors and nurses came rushing to my aid just as I fell to the ground unable to support Mike’s limp body.
Next, I knew there was a swarm of medical professionals strapping him to a gurney. I had to hold Liza back to give the doctors room. They stuck plastic tubing down his throat as they started to roll him inside the building. No matter what I did I couldn’t get Liza to stop crying. All I could do was hold her. From the look on the doctors’ faces I already knew Mike was dead.