Here's another piece that will be filling in some spaces in the evolving "Saga" chronology. This is meant to be overlapping with the Tal/Little Rock chapters in the second half of "Fear and loafing".

Week 42

"Morning, Mrs. Kansas!"

Wichita smiled and waved to a middle-aged man whose name she couldn't remember. He had the unmistakable look of someone who was about to offer her a gift. She had crunched the data, and come up with averages of 300 diapers, 100 toys, 40 clothing items, 12 cribs and 1 indecent proposal offered to her every week since she had announced she was expecting. (Most of the propositions were from the same four people.) She spouted off a rote excuse and hurried onward.

"Morning, West," she said as she entered the lobby. "West" was the head of housekeeping for Circus Circus's West Tower, the largest substructure in the hotel-casino. West was also a mother of three children, including a 3-month-old infant born in the casino. Things had been tense between them as Wichita attracted the limelight in the hyper-dense community. "Any news?"

"Point Loma and Cal Tech were at it again last night," West said, naming a couple in Skyrise who accounted for almost 10% of "domestic disturbance" complaints. "I had to get up at 1 AM to clean leftover eggplant off the carpet. Did I ever mention I hate eggplant."

"Where'd they get the eggplant?" Wichita said off the cuff. West tsked.

"There was also an Elvis sighting in the RV park," the housekeeper added. "Three witnesses said they saw a zombie in an Elvis costume nosing around Manor D."

"Not my department... They hardly even let me out of the main building."

"Sure, talk to me about tough luck... Well, your beat today is the Promenade. Again. Don't let the door close on your fat * on the way out."

Wichita left with a prim "humph".

She rode the escalator up to the promenade. She passed her husband coming the other way, and managed to lean across for quick kiss that left him coughing. As she continued upward she knew he was watching her backside. She reached the top and strutted off.

The West Tower promenade was the social and commercial hub of the Circus. Position alone assured its importance: It connected to the lobby and the main tower/casino area by the escalators; the entrance to the Adventuredome was directly ahead, and access to the main parking garage was on the left; and the Skyrise Tower casino was at the other end. The promenade had been developed accordingly into a mini-mall, with a range of shops and restaurants. In the post-apocalypse culture that had developed, the promenade had turned into an "old world" market of improvised stalls. The system worked remarkably well. Sellers had broad freedom to set out wares to sell, as long as they did not intrude into designated throughways, and generally were quick to reach amicable arrangements for sharing spaces. Theft was minimal, if only because the value of most goods had greatly depreciated in the post-war economy. The only rules were no sleeping in the market area, no sale of guns, ammunition, prescription drugs or narcotics, and if one sold goods or services of a sexual nature, to do so with a reasonable amount of discretion.

The traffic was comparatively light for the time of day, mostly mothers in the 20-30 range with children in tow. She was relieved; women her own age with their own children were not nearly as prone to less-than-wanted well-wishing or gift-giving as men or older women. She strode along the edge of the traffic way, sending the occasional encroaching merchant scooting back. Similarly, when she slowed down, several titles just barely peeking from behind black dividers in a magazine stand were pushed down, and several items at an improvise drugstore went a little further under the counter.

As she completed half a round, she dropped into Barista's Bagels and bought a cup of coffee, relishing looks of indignation from several passers-by. Columbus had assured her that it would not do any harm to the baby, no matter what everyone else said, and she preferred angry looks to more the way back around, she walked through the Criss Angel store, which had come to double as a showcase for merchants that Criss himself endorsed as a cut above the rest, and made casual inquiries about complaints that Criss had been taking bribes. After that, she stopped to make very discrete purchases at the drug store and magazine stand.

When she turned around, she found herself face to face with Criss, and a gathering crowd behind him. He smiled, then took out a six-inch knitting needle and appeared to shove it up his nose. He loudly blew into a hankerchief, then pulled out a beautiful spun-glass rose. He handed it too her, to a rising chorus of applause. She took the thing carefully, careful not to drop it or the magazine she had under her jacket. She looked at a little card tied to the rose, and read: "Meet me for lunch at Mexitalia. Columbus."