Duke continues to regard his extremely messy hotel room and wonders if he could pass it off as a demonstration for the police conference of what drug users’ homes look like. He quickly decides that the mess is too extreme even for that, and is at a loss for how to explain it. The phone rings and Duke’s friend Bruce Innes informs him that he has “located the man who wanted to sell the ape I’d been inquiring about” (188), even though there is no mention of this incident earlier in the text. The ape’s owner is requesting $750 on the grounds that the ape is potty-trained, but Duke insists on paying no more than $400. He agrees to meet the owner in person at the Circus-Circus.
When Duke arrives at Circus-Circus, he is ready to pay any sum for the ape and declares that he will take it home with him on the plane. Unfortunately, the ape and its owner have been arrested for causing a ruckus at the bar. Discouraged, Duke has a drink with Bruce and announces that he has discovered the American Dream, and it is Circus-Circus. According to Duke, the owner of the casino wanted to run away and join the circus as a young child. Eventually he did that—in a way—by developing a circus-themed hotel and casino and becoming extremely wealthy. Duke states that he tried to get an interview with the owner, but was warned that the proprietor of Circus-Circus hates nothing more than reporters.
Duke describes Bruce’s career as a rock musician, and flashes forward to one of his performances in Aspen a few months later. Apparently, a well-known former astronaut confronts Bruce about his politics after the show. Duke and Bruce stand up for their liberal beliefs, and the astronaut is eventually escorted out. The next day, a child asks for the astronaut’s autograph at a restaurant and then tears it to shreds. Duke claims that the astronaut would never have had this trouble in Las Vegas, where he would have been respected for his wealth and prestige.
As Duke sits down to play baccarat, two security guards escort him out of the casino. They show Duke a photograph of himself and his attorney at the bar, stating that both men are banned from the facility for their unruly conduct. Duke claims that there is a case of mistaken identity because he is a police officer. He flashes his conference badge and drives away before the guards have time to react.
Now that the authorities have his picture, Duke knows that he must leave town quickly. He returns to the Flamingo but finds that his car is not working. He attributes this to his decision to drive it into Lake Mead as a ‘water test’—another incident that he completely omitted from the rest of the text. He leaves the wrecked car with a young valet at the Flamingo, explaining that he was attacked by a gang of hobos.
Duke takes a cab to the airport and arrives several hours before his flight. Convinced that the authorities are after him, Duke tries desperately to act normal. He becomes paranoid that the many cops leaving the conference will recognize that he is high. He reads a newspaper article about a Navy captain being attacked by the ‘Heroin Police’ in Guam (200). Duke reflects on journalism and decides that it is “not a profession or a trade … [but] a cheap catch-all for fuckups and misfits” (200).
Duke thinks back on his trip and decides that it was a colossal waste of time for everyone involved. He notes that the police officers can’t have learned anything new from the conference, which presented dated and basic information; for example, the experts were focusing on LSD but downers are more popular now. Duke muses that the conference was merely an excuse for the cops to spend time in Las Vegas on the taxpayers' dime.
Duke boards the plane with a terrible hangover, and fortunately, the flight attendant is kind to him. The plane lands in Denver for a layover, and Duke briefly ponders buying a Doberman for protection before setting out in search of amyls. He finds a pharmacy in the airport and convinces the pharmacist to sell to him by flashing the identification card that labels him a Doctor of Divinity at the Church of the New Truth. The pharmacist pleasantly sells him the amyls, which he snorts. On his way to his next flight, Duke notices two Marines leaving the bathroom. He yells, “God’s mercy on you swine!” (204)
In this chapter, Thompson employs a unique narrative strategy that is unseen elsewhere in the text. As the trip nears its end, Duke begins to reflect back on events that did not appear in the original plot. This occurs twice; at the Flamingo, Duke gets a call regarding his interest in purchasing an ape, which the reader is learning about for the first time. Later, Duke recalls driving the white Cadillac into Lake Mead, but this incident does not appear earlier in the novel. These events seem to have really happened—after all, the car is wrecked, and Bruce’s involvement in the transaction for the ape is evidence that Duke did, in fact, make the call. This narrative inconsistency invites the reader to question the accuracy of Duke’s account of events. It shows that his unreliability as a narrator might extend further than readers realize. It also forces the reader to question whether some of the plot's twists and turns are actually extremely elaborate hallucinations or delusions.
This section further showcases Duke’s complex moral character. He flagrantly violates social norms by impersonating a police officer on several occasions and heckling the Marines at the airport. However, he shows some compassion when he feels ‘a bit guilty’ about leaving the young valet with the wrecked Cadillac (196). He also stands up for his friend Bruce when the astronaut confronts him in Aspen. Although Duke is a brazen and often comic figure, he does not always see himself that way; instead, he often ponders his purpose as a product of a flawed, morally ambivalent culture. He implies on several occasions that his drug use helps him forget the aimlessness and fear that pervades American society.
Duke becomes preoccupied with purchasing animals near the end of the novel. He attempts to buy an ape at the Circus-Circus and later, he considers purchasing a Doberman in Denver before turning his attention to finding amyls instead. It is possible that he feels a kinship with animals because he tends to behave like one himself; in fact, he compares himself to ‘a wild animal’ earlier in the text (134). It’s also worth noting that both of Duke's chosen animals have a reputation for violence—the misbehaved ape is removed from Circus-Circus before Duke has a chance to buy him, and Dobermans have a reputation for being aggressive. By this point in the narrative, Duke is extremely paranoid, so he may be hoping that the animals will defend him against both real and imagined threats.
Encounters with strangers drive the action of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in addition to revealing different facets of Duke’s personality. As he departs from Las Vegas, Duke seems somewhat chastened—he sees the trip as a ‘lame fuckaround’, and despairs about his own future and that of American culture (201). However, his interactions with the pharmacist and the Marines at the Denver airport show that his depression is only temporary, and his true outspoken personality remains unchanged. He still displays the same charisma, boldness, and disrespect for authority that he displays throughout the text. Duke's defiant actions at the end of the novel anchor the narrative in a larger frame of reference; the reader can tell that this is not the first time this character has gone on a bender like this, nor will it be the last.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has a non-traditional structure, but Thompson's style is anchored in literary history. For example, Fear and Loathing has certain identifying traits of the picaresque novel, a tradition that stretches back to the sixteenth century. In picaresque novels, a charismatic but flawed hero has a series of comic, episodic adventures. A picaresque novel does not often follow a traditional narrative arc, and it may not have a traditional climax. The influence of the picaresque novel is evident in the structure and the protagonist of Fear and Loathing, in which Duke relates his travels as a loosely related series of events; they happen at a fast pace and vary little in their intensity. However, Fear and Loathing is unique because it is a rare hybrid between fiction and nonfiction, which is one of the many reasons it remains such a seminal text in the contemporary American literary canon.