The cardboard cutout was a perfect likeness, Donny thought. And he liked the placement too – right at the main entrance to the hotel. They’d been trying to get him to do a series of shows at the Caribbean Treasure Resort Hotel for months now, and his agent had finally gotten the deal done. He’d played Las Vegas a couple of times before, but that was in the real dives, before he’d gone national. The television appearances had helped him and now everybody wanted him. Caribbean Treasure got him. The sign was placed prominently right next to the cutout:
Now Appearing For a Limited Time! Exclusively at the Caribbean Treasure! Donny Marks! Get Your Tickets While You Can!
A few sold-out shows here and he could forget the second-run comedy clubs full of drunks and their cheap whore dates. He was on the way up, no question.
Donny glanced at his watch: two hours ’till showtime. Good. That’d be enough time to go over his material again and take a look if they’d let him at the stage and the lighting. He walked through the casino (you can’t get anywhere in any Las Vegas hotel without going through the casino) and found his way to the box office.
The box office attendant told him where to find Luke DiNardo, who managed Luke’s Laugh Party, the hotel’s comedy club. Luke was sitting in one of the club’s chairs with his head in his hands when Donny found him. He straightened up though and seemed to drop five years from his age when he saw Donny.
‘Donny Marks? Great to see you! I’m Luke DiNardo. I run this place.’ He stuck his hand out enthusiastically.
Luke shook his hand and asked, ‘Everything OK for tonight?’
‘Sure is!’ Then it occurred to him what Donny had meant. ‘Yeah, I’m just real glad to see you. We have people who just don’t show up. That kills us!’
‘Not me. I’m here.’
‘Well, that’s great! Let me show you around.’
They were walking towards the stage when they saw a young man, more boy than man really, lanky and tall, with a thatch of dyed-blond hair. He’d pushed open the main door of the club and was walking towards them.
‘Sorry, kid,’ Luke called. ‘We don’t open ’till eight. Show’s at eight-thirty.’
‘Thanks,’ said the young man. ‘But I’m here to see Mr. Marks.’
Donny looked up. He had no idea who this kid was, and yet there was something familiar about him.
‘I’m about to go on stage in a while,’ he said, trying to be kind. ‘Is there something you needed?’
‘I need to talk to you. It’s about your act.’
‘Yes, could we talk?’
Luke knew all about kids like this one. They were all either autograph hunters or would-be comics who wanted a chance at his stage. No way was he going to let this kid bother Donny Marks. Not when Marks was such a hot commodity. He’d fill up the Laugh Party every night of his booking. ‘Sorry kid,’ he said sharply. ‘Mr. Marks is getting ready for his show. You’ll have to ask for his autograph another time.’
‘But I didn’t come for an autograph.’
‘Look, kid,’ I’m trying to be nice here. You’ll have to wait for another time.’
The young man turned slowly away. That was when Donny remembered who he was. Now it was his turn to look relieved.
‘Kids! Such a pain in the ass!’ Luke muttered as he shook his head.
‘Got that right,’ Donny agreed.
‘OK, let’s go check out the stage and the Green Room.’
By eight-forty the warm-up comic had started to get the crowd going. She wasn’t bad, either, Donny thought, judging by the laughter he was hearing. It sounded like a full house, too. He smiled to himself as he thought about the reason for that. Yes, he was definitely on the way up.
The door to the Green Room opened and in came the young man he’d seen earlier.
‘What the – how did you get in here?’
‘I know one of the waitresses. Look, Mr. Marks, I need to talk to you. I really do.’
Marks knew there was only one way to deal with this. He stepped closer and said, ‘Well?’
‘You probably don’t remember me. I’m Jimmy Gordon. We played a club together about a year ago. Remember? It was at The Joke’s On You.’
‘So? I’ve played a lot of clubs.’
‘I’ve been watching you on TV. You stole my material. You took my jokes. You can’t do that!’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘You know exactly what you did!’
‘Look, kid, even if I did need your material – which I don’t – you can’t prove anything. A lot of people joke about the same things.’
‘You think I’m stupid? I recorded it, OK? My stuff, then yours. You stole my material.’
Donny felt his lips go a little dry. Then he swallowed hard and made up his mind. He stepped closer to Jimmy and said, ‘Let’s work this out, OK? I still have ten more minutes. We’ll go outside, have a cigarette, figure out what to do. Sound good?’
Jimmy nodded curtly and Donny followed him out of the Green Room.
When they got outside, Jimmy lit up a cigarette. Donny draped an arm around his neck. Jimmy’s smoke dropped from his mouth as Donny drew his arm tighter and tighter across his throat. ‘You think I’m going to let a little weasel like you get in my way?’ he asked as Jimmy started to cough.
Then Donny felt a sharp stab in his side. He quickly let go of Jimmy as he felt the knife go in again, this time into his chest. ‘I can’t let you steal from me,’ Jimmy said just before he ran off.
As Donny faded away, he thought he could hear Luke running down the hall calling for him. ‘Donny! You’re on in five! Donny! Donny?’