During the summer, beneath the droning rooftop HVAC machines and the soft lapping of the swimming pool, a curious tableau played out on the periphery of my Las Vegas residence complex’ patio.
Given this city’s transient nature, the estrangement of its more settled residents to newcomers, to each other, events occur here that pass with scant attention but certainly would elicit notice and comment elsewhere.
One should or could wonder whether the environment permits such lassitude or does it derive from such shallow nearly nonexistent roots that fuels an anything goes ethos because who particularly cares? No one?
I arrived just before real estate prices began rebounding. This centrally located address wasn’t decrepit but certain facets of it needed renovation. Absentee owners had made much of the property available for rentals. Most of the renters demonstrated little pride of place. Those owners residing here fairly remained out of sight probably praying for any miracle that would restore any portion of their property’s pre-recession values.
Answered prayers came in the form of Californians escaping the Golden State’s comparatively onerous tax burdens. They spied Nevada’s potential from afar and invested. Change wasn’t swift, however once begun inexorable.
Undesirables were evicted once their leases expired. The vacant spaces were spruced up and rented to worthier tenants whose greater wherewithal fueled revival.
This being Vegas, without question in more than several instances cash vastly outweighed first impressions and gut instincts, overturning any better judgments often used to gauge prospective tenants. One renter in particular must’ve evinced the best image because the eventual truth wouldn’t have gotten her and her coterie beyond the security gate for a look-see, much less the month-to-month lease signed.
A Russian woman, Nelli stood somewhere in her hard 40s. Easy imaging Nelli during her coquette phase having been striking. Then, her hawk-like visage beneath a lush auburn mane likely grasped men and captivated us through its relentlessness. Brown eyes set into stark features atop a ramrod posture enhanced her slight upper carriage and the brief flare of her hips. But the years and whatever they’d demanded of her had hardened what might’ve transfixed to severity.
Nelli presided as housemother over three nearly identical women barely into womanhood. Upon casual glances they aptly fit the definition of pixies. Or sprites. Closer inspection revealed her charges as in their late teens or earliest 20s. Among themselves they spoke Russian. With Americans Nelli got by in the most rudimentary English while lack of minimal proficiency limited her corps to basic greetings before hurrying into charmless cobalt doe-eyed silence.
All corn silk blondes, the pale – so pale that illuminated under the Mojave sun they became alabaster – young women could easily have been mistaken for gymnasts or tumblers. Maybe at one time each had been.
Feminine as they were, the impish trio exhibited lean musculature, the sort borne of intensive exercises and regimens which banished every excess ounce. Like their mentor each smoked heavily. Answering frequent nic fits exposed them to nosy eyes. Only this habit permitted us more than peeps of them.
Broil as the Mojave does during summers, never once did they splash in the swimming pool set amid the patio. Instead the blondes remained ensconced inside the duplex they rented. We only glimpsed them traversing front door to the SUVs which either whisked them away or brought them back to their lair.
Only by chance did I ever learn what occupied this quartet.
A forgotten item detoured me one night. Since the residence’s upgrades, coming home had lost its potential for unpleasantness. Much less worry these days about crossing paths with any vagrants who found our concrete courtyard a comfy or convenient spot to flop for the evening.
With safety improved lighting which once flooded the square had been muted. Now the lumens were moody instead of harsh. Less clarity meant more shadows and these permitted imagination to roam.
Stepping inside the enclosure on the way to my door a vague figure detached himself from the gloom. He dragged on a cigarette, the ember flared red against his glass’ lenses.
Initially I thought him a renter. Approaching him he revealed himself a fellow owner, one of the few who actually resided at his property. He was retired military. Las Vegas teemed with them. He continually inflicted his old post bearing on us through his constantly squared-away demeanor. Oh, and he always wore some garb sporting service insignia. Otherwise he was just another unknown neighbor. We strangers recognized each other enough to nod greeting.
Where he stood in relation to his residence’s location didn’t jibe. If one caught the nighttime air or sought a smoke without fouling one’s own home wouldn’t either have been done in proximity?
Stock-still as he remained, movement shone off his glasses. I traced his line of sight. It led across the patio to Nelli’s duplex, specifically the second floor bedroom; the one looking over the common square containing the pool. Curtains had been drawn back, shades raised. Room lights blazed forth and flashed. There, framed inside the picture window a curious sight.
One of her pixies used the bed as a trampoline – assuming there was a bed. Who knew? Perhaps the bed had been laid aside and a small trampoline installed. She jumped low and down, performing an occasional languid yawning split in that squeezed space. No dangerous maneuvers like somersaults. Furthermore, a man filmed her. Rather than remain stationary, he circled her. All this and the light mounted upon his camcorder created the motion on their mesmerized observer’s cheaters.
The cameraman roamed the room shirtless. The gizmo hid his face. Our angle from below presented him from the waist up. The pair comprising this scene’s audience must’ve mutually assumed him naked.
Arriving late, for a time I thought his acrobat filled a flesh-tone leotard. When his athlete ended her exertions only then did it become obvious she performed nude. Distance, activity, her pallor, and a pube lighter than the locks atop her head or shorn altogether cloaked her lack of garment.
They conversed momentarily. By turns coy, huffy, and cloying she went through the pantomime of negotiating. Having made a game of inevitably agreeing to his terms, she stepped off whatever surface supported her. She shrunk.
Standing on the floor, the young woman’s head barely reached his chest. He gestured downward with the camera. She complied and kneeled, disappearing beneath the window sill. The cameraman pointed his lens straight down. His free hand followed his focus.
It didn’t strain male imagination seeing him taken into her mouth. Less so envisioning her eyes rolled back in order to stifle any gag reflex. The other participant of the select audience sparked up another cigarette. I remembered my reason for being there and departed.
So engrossed had I been in the drama above I never saw that we also engaged attention. Across from us her outline hazed by the pool’s dull lamps, Nelli. Flame flickering from her lighter while igniting a cigarette dispelled murk and bathed her sharp features in almost Mephistophelian ochre.
No mistaking Nelli for the devil, though. She merely served as an adjunct. One of his multitudes in Las Vegas.
I didn’t bother wondering what Nelli thought of us voyeurs. Probably facile contempt sufficed.
Several days later, and it was during daylight hours, I met Nelli when she was leaving the laundry room. A loaded basket she toted brimmed with clothes. Strange. Until then I hadn’t thought of her or any of her cohort doing domestic chores. How far-fetched would it have been for them to have employed a “Beulah” for cooking and cleaning?
Didn’t that quartet seem the types who lounged around in boudoir settings, wearing lingerie and mules waiting for “gentlemen callers” when they themselves weren’t out delivering the goods? How little they’d revealed of themselves, and how easy it was to project upon them.
I don’t know why but in a city where everyone and anyone can do his or her own thing and seldom risk judgment Nelli tried alibiing the prior evening’s show. Open as the den mother might’ve hoped appearing she came across as unnecessarily defensive.
The window was meant to have been covered. The situation just arose and no one thought. They refrained from doing much “entertaining” at home but that “guest” was insistent.
Nelli had been searching for a house to rent. That evening’s slip hastened her hunt with urgency. More room and privacy were sought. She emphasized the privacy part.
Giving Nelli a breath of relief I suggested the “guest” was too cheap to fork over for a suite somewhere on the Strip, adding I knew none of what he saved went towards the girl.
My straight talk lessened distance between us quickly. In a roundabout way made more circuitous by her choppy English, Nelli pondered aloud whether I was “in the game.” In some facet of “the game.”
If she saw me as involved, I hoped she regarded me as a procurer, not talent. Anyway I straightened her out by stating my tasks included all sorts of people and excluded very few here in Las Vegas. Seeing a chance to drum up some business I offered her my card.
For Nelli and her, um, troupe, perhaps I could do things beneficial to us all.