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I’M ON MY WAY to Vegas with my friend Bobby Rausch to rescue his stepsister from a life of prostitution.
     It's August 2003: two weeks since I found out I failed the bar exam, six months since I got divorced, a year since I caught my wife with another man, eighteen months since she caught me cheating.
     I'm on quite a streak.
     Bobby's active duty in the air force, stationed at Fairchild; he gets us a lift on a transport out of Spokane. They strap us into jump seats in this flying boxcar and the thing lurches and rumbles and finally leaves the earth, Bobby giving a thumbs-
up. I yell over the rumble of the plane, Are you scared?
     In three weeks Bobby leaves for Iraq.
     Scared? He flips up his sunglasses and grins at me. Bobby and I played football together at Mead High School, where we had one of those classic little-guy, big-guy friendships. But we hadn't seen each other in years when I bumped into him at a bar in Spokane. Bobby teaches at the air force survival school. It's the same thing he'll do in Iraq: teach airmen how to live on lice and tree bark, how to withstand torture if they're captured.
      You know the only thing that scares me? Bobby says. Going my whole life without getting the chance to prove myself.
     This is not the answer I would give.
     Two hours after we take off, our plane crests the pocked red and tan bluffs and we bank hard over a baked floodplain, the desert blooming with shrimp-curled cul-de-sacs, a sprawl of earth-tone houses with swimming pools, and beyond, the glittering lights of Vegas.
     That's when I throw up.

BOBBY'S PLAN in Vegas is to stay one step ahead of the wrecking ball—Sahara, Imperial Palace, New Frontier—Goin' old strip, Bobby Rausch calls it. It's also incredibly cheap, staying in hotels that are slated for demolition.
     Bobby wanted me to come to Vegas because he thought he might need a lawyer. I keep telling him that I haven't actually passed the bar. Oh if I know my old buddy Nick, Bobby says, he ain't gonna let that stop him from bein' a lawyer.
     Actually, I say, failing the bar is precisely what stops you from being a lawyer.
     Well you can still give legal advice, right? he asks. 'Cause I might need some. Then he adds, apropos of nothing, Per se.
     What kind of legal advice? I ask. Per se.
     Well, like whether or not I can kill this shithead who turned my sister into a whore.
     I think about it for a minute. Then I tell Bobby my advice is to not kill the shithead who turned his stepsister into a whore.
     See, he says.

ON THE STRIP, Rausch takes huge strides. I have to throw in a skip now and then just to keep up. At each hotel, he asks for the active-military discount. At each hotel, I lean over his shoulder and add: Two double beds, please.
     Bobby's dream was to stay at the Sands and the Dunes, but those hotels have been torn down already, replaced by themed mega-resorts: Paris and the Venetian. So we stay
at whatever old strip hotels haven't been blown up, like the New Frontier, which—according to the brochure—opened as a roadhouse in '42, reopened as the cowboy-themed Last Frontier in '55, became the space-themed New Frontier after Kennedy's 1960 convention speech (We stand at the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams), hosted Elvis's first Vegas performance in '69, and went back to being a cowboy place in the '70s.
     Today, the New Frontier is a paint-chipped, dirty old shell of a building that takes up an entire block. Its eighty-foot sign advertises BIKINI BULL RIDING, $8.75 STEAK AND SHRIMP, and MUD WRESTLING along with COLD BEER AND DIRTY GIRLS. The hotel is scheduled to be demolished in a few months but the guests at the New Frontier don't look like they'll make it that long. Everywhere there are canes and walkers, oxygen machines and motorized wheelchairs. Even the healthy people move in clouds of cigarette smoke, women straining polyester, men in raggedy cutoffs slathering mayonnaise on foot-long hot dogs. It's as if the hotel were hosting a conference on adult onset diabetes.
     Bobby goes to the room to shower, and I kill some time at a blackjack table. I sit between a man with one arm and a woman hooked to an oxygen machine. I look around to make sure we haven't checked into a VA hospital by mistake. Still, I win my first five hands, including two blackjacks. Then, on the sixth hand, I get a seventeen with the dealer showing a king. I hit, pull a four, and get twenty-one.
     Wow, somebody's hot, says the woman next to me. Then she takes a hit from her oxygen machine.

THIS WHOLE TIME, I'm thinking, I really should tell Bobby why I decided to come on this trip.

EVERY NIGHT in Vegas, thousands of Mexican and Honduran immigrants stand along the street, handing out little playing cards with pictures of naked women on them. They
snap the cards to get your attention. If you take a card and call the phone number on it, a stripper comes direct to your hotel room. Or a van picks you up and takes you to a brothel in the desert. Alongside the sexy women the cards feature some of the worst ad copy you've ever seen: Nothing BUTT the best for you and Why not CUM see me tonight—
     It's hard for me to imagine a human being stupid enough to need those nasty puns capitalized, but I suppose they're out there.
      These snapper cards are the reason Bobby and I have come. Six weeks ago, one of Rausch's fellow air force instructors returned from Vegas with a handful of these cards; on one of them was a photo of Bobby's stepsister, Lisa. Bobby called the number on the card, but that particular company was out of business.
     I was dubious that it was Lisa until I saw the photo. It's her all right. In the picture, she wears a white thong and is bending forward, bare-chested, little stars covering her nipples.
      Her card reads: Want me in your room in 30 minutes? Like a pizza. You could just see, on her hip, a little Panther tattoo. Our high school mascot. I remember when she got that tattoo. Rausch and I were seniors; she was a sophomore. Rausch punched his locker when he heard about it. Then he punched the poor kid who'd seen her hip tattoo.
     Rausch's dad divorced Lisa's mom a year after that, but Bobby continued to call Lisa his sister. He'd heard that she moved to Las Vegas and that she was dating a porno photographer. She told her family she was in real estate.  
     There has been a downturn in housing prices, I offer helpfully.

I FIRST met Lisa when I was a junior in high school and she was a freshman. I'd gone to Bobby's house to see if he wanted to hang out. The Rausches were a big blended family, one kid on each side when the parents got married, and two babies between them. That day Lisa was in a lawn chair on the porch, wearing the tiniest pair of shorts, reading a magazine, and flipping a sandal up and down with her toe. I sure like your Camaro, Nick, she called down from the porch.
     I told her it was a Cavalier.
     Really? She smiled. Why so cavalier, Nick?
     I could not think of a thing to say. So often around Lisa I couldn't think of a thing to say.
     Bobby's not here, she said. I'm the only one home. She flipped a sandal up and caught it with her toes. Still feeling cavalier ... Nick? The way she hung on my name (Nick-ah), I swear it was the sexiest thing I'd ever heard.
     Lisa was my first. There was something teasing and irresistible about her. We had to sneak around because she was so young and because Bobby was so overprotective. She'd leave the basement window open at night, and I'd crawl in, lower myself onto the air-hockey table, and go into her bedroom. She always kept her socks on for some reason. The sex was amazing, although, to be fair, I was seventeen and sex was pretty
much amazing by definition. Still, this thing between us only lasted a couple of months. She was the one to end it; I think she got bored.
     Rausch knows none of this.

A FEW WEEKS before we graduated from high school, I heard a rumor from my sister's friend: that Lisa Rausch had gotten an abortion. It was quite a while after we finished sleeping together. So it probably wasn't mine. She was fifteen. I never said a word to her about it. This is another thing Bobby knows nothing about.

IN VEGAS, Bobby insists that we stick and move, stick and move. When I ask why, he says, Because when you're asking the kinds if questions we're asking, it's not long before the people you're looking for . . . start looking for you.
     I can't imagine the questions we're asking causing anyone to look for us. In fact, for the first three days, we only ask the one question: Have you seen this girl? We stagger up and down the strip asking our one question, collecting nudie cards from snappers.
     Sometimes Bobby wears his flight jacket. People come up to him and thank him for his service.
     How's the war going over there? people will ask.
     About to get a lot better, Bobby will say. Then he'll wink.
     One day, out of nowhere, Rausch starts calling us the Dream Team.
     The Dream Team's days begin at 5:30 A.M. It doesn't matter what time we go to bed, Rausch wakes me at 5:30, yelling, Let's go, Little Buddy. We go to breakfast, I gamble a little (I'm still on my strange winning streak.) while Bobby hangs out in the room, then we walk to a new hotel, take a nap, start drinking, gamble some more, eat at a buffet, and spend the night collecting snapper cards, looking through the pictures of strippers until, well after midnight, we stagger back to our room. This is when Rausch becomes philosophical. Ain't no one I'd rather have at my side, you know that, Little Buddy? You and me, we're the Dream Team, last of the heroes.
     It's August. During the day the temperature hits 110; at night it drops into the high 90s. We move in an endless stream of drunken losers from casino to casino, past the snappers wearing their Day-Glo T-shirts advertising GIRLS DIRECT TO  YOUR ROOM and TWO GIRLS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE. Rausch takes a card from each one and rifles through them, looking for Lisa. Every once in a while he shows the snappers the old card with Lisa's picture on it. You seen this girl?
     Si, say the snappers. And they thumb through their own cards until they find a blonde they think looks like Rausch's sister.
     This one, she prettier, eh Boss? says one snapper. He holds up a card showing another beautiful blonde.
      I don't want prettier, Rausch says. I want my sister.
     He ... doesn't mean that, I say.
     Sometimes, Rausch goes crazy non-sequitur bad-cop on the snappers. I'm gonna give you the gist here, pal, he'll say, towering over some poor Salvadoran. Or I don't think you're understanding my gravity. Or Two choices, Paco: number one, the INS runs
you back to Tijuana, or B., you tell me who operates your little ... operation.
     But the snappers have no idea who operates their operation. They line up in a vacant lot somewhere and get their cards from some guy in a pickup truck. We might as well grab a migrant fruit picker out of a Florida peach field and demand the phone number of the CEO of Del Monte.

AFTER DAYS of grilling snappers and getting nothing but a stack of nudie cards, Bobby turns our attention to the strip clubs. He shows me a thick roll of singles. This is the only currency these sleaze merchants understand.
     I say that's probably because it's actual currency.
     He slides dollars one at a time into girls' G-strings. He shows the dancers the old card with Lisa's picture on it. My partner and I are looking for this girl.
     We're not ... that kind of partners, I point out helpfully.
     The strippers don't know Lisa, or they know a girl who looks like her, or sure, her name is Destiny or Tanya or Flemisha, or they know a girl who looks like her dancing at
a club in Phoenix: and if we want a lap dance they can tell us more.
     Rausch buys lap dances in every place, but he never seems to learn anything. He tells the strippers on break that he's come to rescue his sister. I think he expects them to be moved by his gallantry, but they never react and we end up sitting quietly, watching girls swing their implants around poles. I'd guess we've seen about fifty naked girls. Rausch is running out of singles. My balls feel like they're going to explode.
     It takes away from my sense of chivalry, having a constant erection. It's been a year since Amanda and I split, and I haven't exactly been what one might call active, unless one counts oneself. And I can't even do that on this trip.
     But Rausch can do that. All the time. He goes into the bathroom and does that any time he pleases, even with me on the other side of the door. In fact, he rubs one off at least twice a day, quickly and efficiently, morning and night, like brushing his teeth.
     I wonder if this is one of the advantages of military training.
     After masturbating he always climbs in his bed and wants to talk. First we find Lisa. Then, when I get back from Iraq, you and me should get a place together. A house or something. You and me on the rampage in Spokane? You kidding me?
     I breathe heavily, trying not to overdo it by fake-snoring.
    You and me, we're a dying breed, Little Buddy.

MY ONLY respite is blackjack. Rausch hates the game; he prefers slots. At a worn five-dollar table, I asked the dealer what's going to replace the New Frontier. He shrugs, but
another player, a woman with an eye patch, tells me, The Montreux. Swiss-themed. With a 450-foot observation wheel, like in London. The woman tells me she's from Orem, Utah, and that she has left an abusive husband. She pats the eye patch and drags her cigarette and nods at the dealer for a hit. She busts a fourteen and waves her hand away. I stand on a nineteen, and the dealer busts. Stupid game, she says.
     She's right. It is stupid. All of it. And when Bobby comes back from watching bikini bull riding, I tell him so. What are we doing? I ask. We're just wasting our time. We're never gonna find Lisa this way.
     You read my mind, partner, he says.

A WEEK before I failed the bar exam, I saw my ex-wife's engagement announcement in the newspaper. The guy she's marrying, the guy I caught her with, is eleven years older than me. They're getting married at the Davenport Hotel. They're going to St. Thomas for their honeymoon. I'd never seen Amelia look as happy as she did in that picture. I'm not saying that was why I failed the bar exam. Or maybe I am. I don't know.

APPARENTLY WHEN a casino like the New Frontier is set for demolition, they don't bother cleaning the carpets anymore. The array of stains is mind-blowing. Listen, Bobby says as we walk back to our room, I know you're getting unpatient, but we're close. I can feel it. We're making some people very nervous.
     I can't imagine anyone getting nervous, other than me, as back in the room Rausch finishes his push-ups, grabs the lotion, and heads for the bathroom to jerk off. It sounds like someone plunging a toilet in there.

HOW WELL do you really know your old high school friends? At Mead, I just thought he was a jock, a guy who listened to country music and knew people who could buy us beer. I'm finding out now my old buddy is a creature of strange habits. Twice a day, Rausch does eighty push-ups and eighty sit-ups. He wears extremely tight, silky T-shirts. He picks his teeth with a pocketknife after meals and cleans his toes while he watches TV. He never seems to fully exhale. I imagine he has oxygen in his lungs from 1990. He shaves his balding head and runs his hand constantly over the ridge on top, which looks like the drive train of a pickup. He'll never get married because I don't need no ring to get no pussy. I think he's unaware of the double negative. He tells me he has four girlfriends back in Spokane, two of whom are married. He liked married women because they're used to being fucked bad. Again, I don't know if this is preferable because he plans to have bad sex with them or because his superior sex impresses
them. When I ask for clarification, he just stares at me.
     He seems to like having a sidekick, but is completely uninterested in my life. He only asks about my divorce once, as we lean out over the strip in the Margaritaville bar. I'm drunk, and I tell him the whole boring story: how we got married, how we got jobs in different cities, how we both cheated in our separate cities, and how, by the time I made it to Portland, where Amelia was living, she was already in love with this older guy. When I finish, Bobby is quiet. He stares at the flow of drunks below us, and finally says, Bitch.
     I think you missed the point, I say.
     Here's the point. And he jabs at me with his beer. You and me? It takes a different sort of gal to tame us. We're desperados. We ain't exactly your average husband material.

I WOULD just quit and go home ... but the thing is: I keep winning. In fact, I can't seem to lose. Blackjack mostly. But also Let It Ride. And a Texas Hold 'Em Bonus game that
offers the worst table odds in Vegas, but which I keep hitting like it's a gum ball machine. After a week, I'm up six grand.
     Rausch won't take a dime from me, though, won't let me pay for the room ... nothing. Can't let you do that, Little Buddy, he says. This here's my fight. He explains that he saved up his leave for this trip, and he has one more week—damned if I'm gonna rest while my sister is having her boobies sold off one at a time.
     I have no idea what this could mean. Finally, I can't take it anymore. On the eighth day, I tell him I'm leaving the next morning, that we're never going to find her just going to strip clubs and collecting snapper cards.
     Bobby is hurt. He's quiet for a moment, and then he sighs, climbs out of bed, and begins getting dressed.
     Look, I say, I'm sorry, but it's true.
     He walks out the door. And the next thing I know he's shaking me awake by the foot. Wake up. Come on.
     I sit up. The clock on the nightstand reads 3:15. I ask where we're going.
     Where we should've gone from day one, he says, the belly of the viper.
     I follow Bobby Rausch downstairs. In the cab turnout we climb aboard a minivan driven by a Russian guy in a sweat suit. There are six of us behind the driver in the van—two long-haired blond guys who looked like the terrorist twins from Die Hard (Rausch watches them carefully) and two giggling-drunk businessmen in suits. The van heads out into the desert. Rausch is uncharacteristically quiet. He stares out his window. At four in the morning, there's nothing out here but our headlights.
     The brothel is called the Pony Palace. There don't appear to be any Ponies. The Palace is a small metal building with a half-dozen doublewides flanking it.
     We open the door and a bell rings as we step inside a sad little bar. The bartender draws us ten-dollar beers. I pay for the beers, the least I can do. On the ride out I assumed that Rausch had some information that Lisa was at this particular brothel, but when the hookers come out—summoned by a bell—Lisa isn't there. Rausch chooses a waif: thin and pale with dark hair, a girl who has either her original breasts or a bad plastic surgeon. Bobby pays three hundred dollars for an hour of questioning. I sit on a couch next to the taller of the two businessmen, who has cold feet.

FOR SOME REASON, the reluctant businessman and I feel the need to explain ourselves. The tall businessman says, My daughter is twenty-six, and I just keep thinking: these girls are someone's daughters.
     I say that I'm not over my ex-wife. And as soon as I say it, I realize it's true. And I feel like crying.

AT DAWN we get back into the minivan: the one sated businessman; the one who didn't want to sleep with someone's daughter; the two satisfied blond Fabio terrorists, both of whom chose black women; me; Rausch; and his waifish whore, whose name turns out to be Meilani. She has a backpack and a suitcase.
     Can she just leave like that? I whisper to Rausch.
     I hope to hell someone tries to stop her, Rausch says loudly to the room.
     Meilani explains to me that they can't stop her. The girls are independent contractors who pay a percentage to the house. After describing other fascinating aspects of her business on the drive back to Vegas (You have to pay for your own STD tests.), Meilani goes to sleep on Rausch's shoulder.
     I'm glad Bobby has found someone to rescue. Now I can go home to Spokane.
     Back at the New Frontier, the air conditioning is out. It's ninety-two degrees in our room. Meilani curls up on top of Rausch's bed in a pair of panties.
     I pack my things, say, Best of luck, man. You keep your head down over there. Come back in one piece.
     Rausch is stunned. What? You're leaving? But we're getting so close. Did you see how nervous we made those people at the Pony Palace?
     I start for the door, but then I turn. I tell him that Lisa was the first girl I ever slept with. I say that was why I had agreed to come. Because I felt I owed her.
     Bobby blinks twice. Then, no blinking for a while. Then another blink. When?
     End of our junior year, I say. I tell him about the open basement window.
     Bobby looked disgusted. Those weren't even egress windows.
     I don't feel qualified to address the window size. I turn to leave.
     So, he asks, was everyone fucking my sister?
     Can we get some quesadillas? Meilani asks from the bed.

I BOOK A FLIGHT out the next morning and check into my own room at the New Frontier. The air conditioning works in my room. I spread out on the bed and think about Amelia.
     When I first got to Portland, I wanted so badly for it to work out between us. I felt awful about sleeping around on her while I was in law school, but I was certain I was done with all of that, and that we could start over. I opened the phone book and found a florist near her apartment, walked there and ordered a bouquet of tulips, her favorite. The clerk said they already had her name and address in their computer. They wouldn't tell me who had been sending her flowers.

THERE'S A PHONE BOOK in the drawer of my room at the New Frontier. On a whim, I open it. First I try Lisa Rausch. Nothing. Then I remember Rausch's stepmother's maiden name was Heitmaker. So I look up Lisa Heitmaker.
     I find a listing for Heitmaker Realty.
     I call the number.
     This is Lisa.
     I tell her it's Nick.
     She's quiet for a second and then she laughs. Come on. Really?  She laughs again. Did you drive down here in your Cavalier, Nick?
     We meet at the food court of the Riviera. Lisa looks older than the photo on the card. Her hair is short now, brown with streaks of blond. She's incredibly tan and wears a loose-fitting sundress. She's also six months pregnant. The father is her new boyfriend, a Vegas developer. It's complicated, she says. He's older. And sort of married. For now.
     I stare at her little pregnant bulge. I say I have to ask her something. In high school, you had an abortion.
     Is that a question? she asks. Then she says she doesn't know who got her pregnant. Maybe you. Or Billy DiPino. She laughs uneasily. You came all this way to ask about that? Don't they have phones where you live?
     Actually, I say, I came with Bobby.
     Her smile fades. Wait. You're here with Bobby?
     Yeah, we came to rescue you from a life of prostitution.
     She explains how she'd ended up on a stripper card. Years ago, she did, in fact, date a sleazy photographer. He convinced her to model for some topless photos, and after they
broke up he sold the pictures without getting her to sign a release. You guys do know that the women in the pictures are models? They aren't the actual girls who come to your room. Right?
     I shrug as if to say, Of course we knew that, although it hadn't occurred to me.
     Lisa was working for a real estate broker when her picture showed up on the snapper cards. At first she was devastated. But then, with the help of her new boyfriend's lawyer, she sued. The company that produced the cards, a big LA advertising firm, quickly settled, and Lisa invested half of the money in the boyfriend's new development project—a neighborhood of Spanish stuccos abutting the desert. She invested the bulk of the proceeds from that project into two others. Lisa is doing very well.
     I ask if she could call Bobby and tell him that she's okay. I say it would mean a lot to him.
     I can't do that, Nick, she says. Then she narrows her eyes. Wait. You don't know why our parents split up, do you? And then she tells me the rest of the story, the part I feel stupid for not knowing—or for not guessing. There are apparently no limits to the delusions of old desperados like us. We are indeed a kind of Dream Team: Bobby and me.
     She was twelve. He was fifteen. They were home alone that summer. It might have been perfectly natural if their parents weren't married. But when her mom found out, she freaked out and got them all into family counseling. Lisa quickly got over it, but Bobby wouldn't leave her alone. For the next four years he sulked. He beat up her boyfriends. He followed her. After their parents divorced, Lisa had to get a restraining order against Bobby.

I CALL Rausch's cell phone, hoping he won't pick up, so I can just leave a message. But he answers on the first ring.
     Meilani? he asks, his voice wavering, desperate.
     I say it's Nick.
     Nick? Oh. Hey. His voice became sturdy again. Shit. She cleaned out my wallet. I woke up from a nap and Meilani was gone.

I HAVE this theory, that this will be the only city that future archaeologists find, Las Vegas. The dry climate will preserve it all and teams of scientists in the year 5000 will carefully sweep and scrape away the sand to find pyramids and castles and replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the New York skyline and stripper poles and snapper cards and these future archaeologists will re-create our entire culture based solely on this one
shallow and cynical little shithole.
     We can complain all we want that this city doesn't represent us. We can say, Yes, but I hated Las Vegas. Or I only went there once. Well, I'm sure not all Romans reveled in the torture-fests at the Colosseum either, but there it is.
     That afternoon, I walk. The sun presides over crowded sidewalks; streets course with stretch hummers; shadows reach from the big facades fronting all those giant, bland
block-and-steel boxes. Beneath the streets, gladiators sharpen their spears; lions await.

I MEET Bobby in front of the New Frontier and give him five hundred dollars. I offer to give him more, but he says it's all he needs. In fact, he tells me, he could've easily made it home without the loan. I don't doubt it. I imagine him walking across the desert, sucking water from cactus roots, and cooking cockroaches in his boiling saliva.
     I tell him that I found Lisa. That she's fine, that she isn't a prostitute, that the picture on the snapper card was a mistake. I also repeat what she asked me to tell him: that under no circumstances should he try to contact her.
     Good, good. Very good. He acts as if he didn't hear this last part. How'd you find her, anyway?
     I tell him I looked in the telephone book.
     He shakes his head admiringly, as if I've just described some kind of global search involving advanced GPS and DNA databases. See, he says, that's exactly why I brought you in on this one. This one: as if it's one of our many cases together. Then he asks, How'd she look?
      I promised not to tell him about the baby. Fat, I say.
      He nods and looks off into the distance. Flexes. Inhales. Wrinkles his brow. He has five more days before he has to report. There are certain people you feel like are supposed to be in your life forever, you know? Like, there's been some mistake . . . then he sighs. What do you say we go get that wife of yours back?
     She's getting remarried, I tell him for at least the third time.
     Oh. He nods. What are you gonna do now?
     Stick and move, I say.

THEN BOBBY RAUSCH smiles and stares down the strip. We are standing outside the New Frontier, beneath that eighty-foot sign. The street shimmers. Sweat beads Rausch's
head like a newly waxed car. He looks up at the sign. They always tear down the good shit, he says. It's always the end of the legacy, ain't it?
     I tell him I can't argue with that.
     Then Rausch holds out his hand. I'm not thrilled to touch it after all the pleasure he's given himself, but I take it and he pulls me in tight for a hug. We did it, man. They said the Dream Team couldn't do it, but hell if we didn't come down here and find her.
     We say good-bye then, and I start back down the strip. The snappers flick their cards at me: A girl in your room in forty minutes!

GOD, I ache for those girls.

A LONG BLOCK AWAY, I glance back. Bobby Rausch is still standing there, beneath the New Frontier sign. He is a head taller than the crowd around him, and for just a moment he is framed against the brash, spread-out skyline, staring off, maybe at something beyond the strip, beyond bikini bull riding and dirty-girl mud-wrestling, beyond stripper cards and the last cowboy and archaeologists and his generation's war,
beyond even the myth of an $8.95 steak-and-shrimp dinner. And suddenly Bobby Rausch is moving again, not with our old meandering strip-stroll, but with real purpose, perhaps with the stride of a changed man, a man headed for a new realm of honest insight and humility, a man finally making his way out of this frontier of stale and unfulfilled dreams.
      Or maybe he's just headed for the Flamingo.

© Jess Walter

This electronic version of “The New Frontier” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author. It appears in the short-story collection We Live in Water by Jess Walter, published by Harper Perennial, 2013.   Book ordering available through and

The Barcelona Review is a registered non-profit organization

Author Bio

Jess Walter - photoJess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award  finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel.  His short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading.  He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.