View Full Version : Family Affairs
12-05-2011, 09:22 PM
Author's note: Someone on this forum (Rachel) wanted me to bring back one of my best-loved characters, Danny "Springs" Springer. I introduced you to him in "A Mobster's Hallowe'en". It's time the newbies on this site got to know him. Here's his debut story. Enjoy!
"Goooood morning, Sin City! This is Jabber J with your morning wake up call! It's oh-six-hundred hours! What's the "oh" stand for? Oh, my God, it's early! We got some Triple Threat lined up, along with--"
A long, muscular arm snaked out from beneath the covers of the king-sized bed. The hand attached to it fumbled clumsily with the off switch of the clock radio and silenced Jabber J's obtrusive chatter. Criss Angel flung the bedclothes aside and wrenched himself into the perpendicular, yawning and coughing as he stood. He stumbled bleary-eyed into the bathroom, rubbing his stubbled face.
A quick shower, a few swipes of the razor across his lathered jawline, a brief bout with a toothbrush, and Las Vegas' hottest illusionist was ready to face the day. Room service would be bringing him breakfast in about ten minutes or so. In the meantime, he concentrated on dressing for the seven AM rehersal for his television series, MindFreak: fashionable ragged jeans, gray Affliction t-shirt, heavy chains and pendants, earbobs, combat boots, skull bandana tied convict-style around his head. Criss disliked these early morning rehersals, but if he wanted to give his fans--not to mention the producers and sponsors--the very best he had to offer, it was just one more sacrifice he had to make. Every minute shown on the small screen was the product of hours and hours of planning, rehersing and taping, and Criss wanted to make every minute count.
A knock on the door announced the arrival of breakfast. Criss strode into the living room and let the waiter with the shiny chrome food cart inside the suite. "Good morning, Mr. Angel," he said.
"Morning," Criss replied. "Just set it over there, okay?"
The waiter rolled the cart with its gleaming silvery domes by the sofa. Criss tipped him the usual fifteen percent and settled down to eat. As if on cue, he felt a familiar nudging on his arm. With a mixture of humor and chagrin, Criss turned to his beloved cat, Hamlet, known affectionatly as Hammie, who stood there with expectant eyes. Criss sighed. It was the same routine every morning: waiter comes in with food on the cart, Criss sits down, Hammie jumps up hoping for a taste. Criss petted the animal's sleek fur.
"You are such a spoiled little kitty, you know that?" he cooed. "You are such a spoiled little kitty." He raised one of the lids covering his breakfast and broke off a piece of bacon. "Here," he said, feeding the morsel to Hammie. "Now leave me alone."
Hammie munched on his bacon while Criss tucked into his breakfast. Outside, the Nevada sun had fully risen, casting a golden glow through the slanted windows of the Luxor Hotel and Resort, promising a beautiful day.
Meanwhile, several hundred miles and couple of time zones away, thirteen-year-old Alicia Rose of Marvinville, Iowa, was standing by the curbside with several other classmates, waiting for the school bus, their backpacks stuffed with books, papers and other supplies. The gloomy gray skies threatening rain later in the day matched Alicia's mood that morning. Today there was a MindFreak marathon on A&E that she so wanted to see, but as bad luck would have it she had to go to school. Faking sick was out of the question--her mother was wise to any false symptoms, thanks to her bratty little brother, Kyle, who had practically turned it into an art form. Nor could she simply skip classes altogether, for the school's truancy rules were strict to the point of being totalitarian; attendance was scrupulously recorded by the teachers and office staff, and God help the poor student who went AWOL during school hours.
So there Alicia stood, waiting in her crisp white blouse and blue plaid skirt with navy knee socks, waiting with her fellow inmates for the bus to transport them all to St. Benedict's Acadamy for their daily lessons. She prayed for a major disaster to occur--a fire, a flash flood, a sudden late season winter storm, anything to get out of school so she could watch her beloved idol, Criss Angel, on TV. Never mind they were episodes that she had seen three or four times before. She longed to hear his voice, so deep and strong, to gaze upon his toned body, to sink into his hazel eyes. She worshipped him, yearned for him, ached for him, but the closest she came to him was on the small screen, so near, yet so far.
Someday, she mused, someday I'll meet him. Someday I'll be able to put my arms around him and feel his warmth. Someday I will look into his beautiful eyes and find the love I've been looking for. Someday, my Angel, someday...
The big yellow bus with ST. BENEDICT'S ACADAMY lettered in black on the side came rumbling to the curb. With the air of condemned prisoners, Alicia and her classmates climbed aboard and took their assigned seats. Alicia stared out the dirty square window toward the west where her Angel lived, so far away, yet close to her heart.
Someday, my Angel, someday...
Michael "Mick" Piccucci was dying.
He'd been dying for over six months now, lying in his ornate bedroom in his two-and-a-half million dollar Las Vegas mansion atop a grassy mountain with a view of the Baja Golf Course. How he had loved playing golf there! Back in the day, he was there three or four times a week with The Guys. True, he never shot below ninety, but that didn't matter. What mattered was the fresh air, the green grass, the trees, and above all the Manhattans served in the grill room. And, of course, the cameraderie--Springs, Shorty, Bluseman, all of them. But Mick had practically outlived every one of them, or almost; Springs was still among the living as far as he knew. The rest went to whatever eternal reward awaited them in the Great Beyond. Of all The Guys of Glitter Gulch, only Springs and Mick remained, the last of the Syndicate which had run Las Vegas since the end of the Second World War.
Mick and The Guys (they never gave themselves a fancy name, like the Mafia or the Purple Gang; they simply referred to themselves as The Guys. It had been the press who had dubbed them The Guys of Glitter Gulch.) had spent their prime years hustling, extorting, and taking kickbacks from the Silver Slipper to the Ranchero. They never went near the Flamingo or the Sands--that was the Syndicate's territory, and it would have been suicide to hustle there. So they kept to their side of the street, getting a few million here, a few million there, until the Gaming Commission got wise to them all and cracked down on the rackets. Fortunatly, Mick had "invested" in a few offshore tax shelters and a Swiss bank account to keep the IRS from getting hold of his ill-gotten gains. Today, Mick Piccucci was worth over eight million dollars.
And for what? For his (bleep) of an ex-wife could claim it for their (bleep) of a daughter? For his playboy son, Michael, Jr., to squander it on his greedy (bleep) of a wife and bratty kids, not to mention those floozies he kept as mistresses? Was that why he squirrled away all his money the way he did? If he had his way, he'd take it all with him to the grave, no matter what they said! But he had to leave it to someone--but who?
12-06-2011, 03:47 PM
Criss strode into the production office just barely after six-forty-five AM. The usual office staff wouldn't arrive until eight-thirty, so a heavy silence hung in the air. A pair of bluejeaned legs were propped up on one of the desks, their owner hidden behind the morning edition of the Las Vegas Sun.
"Morning, JD," Criss said.
JD Sarantakos, Criss's elder brother and MindFreak production co-ordinator, mumbled his greetings of the day without looking up from his paper. Criss sat down at one of the desks to go over the itinerary for the day.
"Anything of interest in the news today?" Criss asked casually.
"The war in Iraq's stalled, the economy's tanked, GM and Chrysler want government bailouts, Obama's still looking for a First Dog, interest rates dropped--the usual," JD replied. "Oh, hey, you remember Athene Christopolous?"
Criss remembered Athene Christopolous all right, like he remembered the pain from his failed demonstration with that pneumatic nail gun. The heiress of the Omicron Corporation had tried to add Criss to her stable of conquests by sneaking into his suite at the Luxor and hiding in his very own bed, completely nude, only to be driven out by his mother, Dimitra, and the hotel security staff. He still relished the memory of the videotape images of his mother smacking Athene squarely on the ass as she made her escape clutching her clothes. Somehow that tape made it onto the fanboards, and the Loyals couldn't get enough of it; it became the number one requested clip on YouTube. Amusing as that had been, he still found the whole experience distasteful. "Yeah, what about her?" Criss grumbled.
"Says here she died," JD replied indifferently.
Criss sat up, surprised at this sudden turn of events. "Died? How?"
"Complications from surgery," JD read. "Seems she went in for a little nip and tuck and something went wrong." He lowered the paper a few inches. "Did you know she was fifty-three when she died?"
Criss remembered Johnny Thompson's words when he mentioned that she had been seen with Elvis. She's fifty if she's a day! She's been like that for thirty years, acting like she's twenty! She's been through three husbands and God knows how many lovers! Criss was wiser than he knew when he resisted her advances as he did. Now she was dead and gone. He felt no grief, of course, but he felt no sense of triumph either. If anything, he felt sorry for her in a way. Athene had spent a fortune trying to preserve her youthful beauty with makeovers, special diets, vigorous fitness routines, trips to expensive European spas, and now plastic surgery, but in the end it had all been in vain. In the final decades of her life Athene created the illusion of eternal youth, but she could not completely reverse the natural aging process itself. She could fool Mother Nature, but she couldn't fool Father Time.
"That's too bad," said Criss.
JD grunted in reply. Then a memory struck him. "Oh, you know what? I got a letter from Maury. Remember her?"
Criss smiled. Now there was someone worth remembering! Maury Brighton, that sad, neglected little waif whose greedy parents were now serving three to five years for their part in the theft of the Luxor's safe had been JD and Lynn's foster daughter for about three months until Social Services located an aunt and uncle somewhere in the Midwest willing to take her in. For that brief span of time Maury had practically been a member of the Sarantakos clan, going to school, accompanying her foster father to "Uncle" Criss' tapings of his show, listening to "Grandma" Dimitra's wonderful stories from Greece--it had been Heaven on earth for a child who had known nothing but storm and strife from her own parents. When she learned that she was going to live with her Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bryan, she was heartbroken. It took a great deal of convincing on her foster parents' part to accept her new home. Criss had given her a small circle-A pendant as a farewell gift. "I'll always be your 'Uncle' Criss," he had told her before she boarded the plane.
"What's she got to say?" Criss asked.
"Says she's doing well in school," JD replied. "She's in sixth grade now, likes to log onto the fanboards but can't join until she's thirteen. Her aunt and uncle sound like pretty decent people; same with her cousin who's about ten or so. All in all she's adjusted pretty well, it seems. Still misses us, though. She wants you to give Hammie a kiss for her."
Criss had to laugh at that. "Did she say anything about her folks getting out of the slammer?"
JD shook his head. "Didn't even mention them. It's like they never existed."
Criss shrugged. "Just as well," he said. "They weren't the greatest parents in the world, you know."
"They weren't parents at all, Criss," JD said. "They cared more for themselves than their own daughter. Some people just shouldn't have kids."
"Will she have to go back to them once they're paroled?"
"If I was her aunt and uncle, I'd sue for custody. The Brightons shouldn't be allowed to keep a dog, let alone raise a child. Take it from me, she's a helluva lot better off where she is right now."
Criss nodded and let the matter drop. The MindFreak staff was filing in for the production meeting. It was time for business, if it could be called that--production meetings usually started out in all seriousness, but as time wore on they broke down into either buffoonery or brawling. Criss could only pray today's meeting would not end up with the latter.
"What the hell do you mean you can't get my divorce annulled?!" Tina LaRue Piccucci demanded. "I gave that (bleeper) the best years of my life, and he dumped me! That lousy pre-nup I signed wouldn't pay the rent, let alone let me live like a normal person!"
Her attorney sighed wearily. "Well, if shopping for designer clothes and shoes every day, a eleven-hundred-dollar-a-month penthouse apartment on Flamingo, and driving a late model Mercedes-Benz is your definition of 'living like a normal person', then no, it wouldn't," he replied. "According to the divorce papers that you yourself signed, you agreed to the terms of the pre-nup, waiving all rights of rescension. You are legally divorced, Mrs. Piccucci. Only if you remarried your ex-husband would you be considered his lawful spouse."
Tina stared despairingly at him. "But I have a daughter to support!" she cried. "Our daughter! Mick's her father, for chrissakes! Surely he would remember her in the will!"
"That I can't say, Mrs. Piccucci," the lawyer said, shaking his head. "You'd have to contact your ex-husband's attorney to find out about that. Other than that, I can't help you. Good day, Mrs. Piccucci."
Tina's mouth flapped open and shut like a goldfish. The lawyer didn't even flinch when, defeated, she picked up her Gucci handbag and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind her. So, that (bleeper) thinks he can cut me out of the will, does he? she thought. Well, I'm gonna give him a fight to remember! I'll take the whole (bleeping) family to court if I have to, but I'm gonna get my piece of the pie--a big piece! Not just for me, either, but for Heather as well. We're gonna get what's coming to us if it's the last thing I do!
12-06-2011, 03:58 PM
Dear Mr. Piccucci:
This is to inform you that your account is past due. Please pay in full as soon as possible. If you have already paid, please disregard this notice.
Thank you for your consideration.
Michael Piccucci, Jr., disregarded the notice, though he had not paid in full. It was the story of his life, it seemed. He and his wife, Pamela, had been practically living on credit, just like millions of others who wanted to achieve the American Dream on the installment plan. The house was mortgaged to the hilt three times over, and the cars were one overdue payment away from getting repoed. There was nothing the Piccuccis had, inside or out, that was fully paid for, not even the groceries. By procrastination and creative bookkeeping, Michael and Pamela kept their heads above water, though just barely enough to breathe. Yet the creditors were not satisfied; they hounded the Piccuccis relentlessly, informing them in chillingly polite tones that payment was due and if no action was taken, they would have no choice but to resort to a collection agency. For Michael, Jr., the only thing standing between him and total bankruptcy was his father, or, rather, his father's fortune.
He had tried hitting the old man for money countless times in the past, and had been turned down countless times. What the hell do you think I am, a bank? Why can't you go into business for yourself, like I did? You can't go sponging off me like that! I worked for my money, you know!
Yeah, Dad "worked" for his money, all right. He worked over those casino and nightclub owners but good, shaking them down for "protection" money or whatever, taking a big chunk of the profits and depositing them overseas. How much was he worth now? Five million? Six million? Only God and Dad's lawyer, Richard Close, knew for sure. He knew for certain that when Pop kicked the bucket, he, Michael Antonio Piccucci, Jr, stood to inherit everything. He was the only son and legitimate heir, after all. That (bleep) he had married, that former stripper that had caught his fancy thirty years ago, Tina LaRue (which was obviously a stage name; Michael wondered what her real name had been), was a gold-digger of the first order who sank her blood-red claws into him and made him sign a pre-nup which would have cleaned the old man out when they got divorced, had it not been for Richard Close, Dad's lawyer, who found a few convenient loopholes and saved the family fortune. Tina got her cut after the hearing, considerably less than she had bargained for; he recalled how she had stormed out of the courtroom, probably on the hunt for a new sugar daddy, while Pop managed to get out of the deal with his shirt on.
Yet, Tina didn't give up. Once she heard that Pop was on his last legs, she came roaring back on the scene, demanding her "fair share" of the estate. No dice, said Close, you're persona non grata; you lost out on the deal when you divorced your husband. You got your settlement, now get outta here.
So what did that little gold-digger do? She went and tried to get her divorce annulled so she would be his "legal widow" and claim his estate! What a joke! No way on God's green earth was she going to get away with that, not if he could help it! He was the sole heir to the estate, and that was that.
Michael looked at the pile of bills on the desk. If only the old man would die already. He and Pamela would be set for life. The wolves at the door would be fed, and there'd be some left over to set them up for life. Maybe take that cruise they'd always wanted. Send the kids to some Ivy League college. Relax and enjoy life instead of worrying about money.
Or he could ditch the wife and kids and enjoy life himself, with that little blond bombshell he'd been seeing on the side. Jessie was hot, hot, hot, and she delivered the goods like no one else, not even Pamela, who was getting long in the tooth and baggy up front, anyway. It was time to upgrade. If only the old man would die...
12-06-2011, 04:13 PM
The five hour production meeting went well enough, or at least without Criss throwing a temper tantrum whenever something didn't go the way he planned. The staff knew he was a perfectionist, giving one hundred and ten percent to produce the best series on television, which meant designing, redesigning, scheduling, postponing, and endless hours of rehersing, then taping and editing, all for a forty-five minute episode. Only after days, weeks, even months of this process, accompanied by the inhuman amount of stress which was the price of any production did the finished episode finally go on the air, then the whole process started over again. The pressure to produce sometimes got to be so great that occasionally the MindFreak staff had to dodge flying objects furiously flung by Criss when he was in one of his rages. It wasn't easy to work for an artist such as Criss Angel, but in the end it was all worth it.
Criss' older siblings, JD and Costa, knew how to handle Little Brother's angry outbursts--after all, they knew him more intimately than the rest of the staff. When Criss first launched MindFreak Productions and first brought his brothers on board, his two brothers made it explicitly clear that they would not cater to his every whim, nor endure any type of abuse whatsoever. They would work with him, but they were not his lackeys. If they had any objections to anything he planned to do (and they had plenty over the years) they would not hesitate to make their opinions known to him. He may be the star, they had said, but they had seniority. In other words, if Criss ever got out of line, they'd kick his ass all the way back to New York. To his credit, Criss agreed to their terms, for he depended greatly on his brothers' skills and talents.
MindFreak Productions may have been his brainchild, but in time it had turned into a family business; even his cousins were part of the company, like George Strumpolis who did most of the grunt work, setting up props and getting the equipment ready, among other things. Of course, George wasn't all brawn, despite beating Criss' score on the punching bag game in his cousin's suite. He contributed as much brainpower as muscle to the company, unafraid to bring up his personal opinons about whatever crazy scheme his famous cousin dreamed up. George enjoyed working with Criss, though his little cousin could be a pain in the kiester sometimes. And he could kick Criss' ass just as hard as either JD or Costa.
But of all the members of his family working for him, it was his mother, Dimitra, who held a special place in the business--and his heart. She wasn't officially employed, but she served as the moral compass guiding Criss' and his brothers' lives, the rock which kept him anchored in the real world, the source of love and tenderness in the cold, hard world of showbusiness. Whenever Criss performed one of his dangerous demonstrations, she stood on the sidelines with tissue in hand to wipe away the tears of anxiety and horror as she watched her youngest son subject himself to self-inflicted torture in the name of entertainment, only to see him emerge unscathed and ready to give her a big hug. She couldn't bear to see him killed, and Criss couldn't bear to see her suffer for his sake. Only after the hotel demolition escape did he finally promise her never to perform any more death-defying stunts, to her great relief. At seventy-four, she couldn't take too much excitement like that, so she spent her days in New York, coming to Vegas for long visits with her three sons and her only granddaughter, Little Dimitra, now a teenager and not so little anymore. Though distant, Criss' family was as close as ever.
That closeness was reinforced as Criss and his brothers headed for the deli for lunch. Back in the day, Criss would have scarfed down a pizza and washed it down with a large soda, but the physical demands of his career required healthier fare: turkey pita wrap, tomato bisque soup, bottled water and an apple for dessert. It was a sacrifice Criss was willing to make, along with his fitness regimen in the gym (though he had hated working out at first) and cutting his alcohol consumption to just a Martini or two--no more getting wasted at the clubs, he vowed. He had too much to live for to die in a drunken driving accident.
The brothers settled down in a corner booth to eat. Costa swallowed his first mouthful of sandwich and turned to Criss. "Hey, Criss, didja hear about Athene Christopolous?"
"Don't ruin my appetite, okay, Cos?" Criss groaned. "And, yeah, I heard--she died. So what?"
"Well, gee, don't get all broken up about it," Costa replied sarcastically.
Criss set down his pita wrap. "Look, Cos, she's history, okay? She was a fifty-year-old spoiled brat behaving like she was twenty, racking up boyfriends by the score and running through a bajillion dollar fortune searching for the fountain of youth. As far as I'm concerned, ding, dong, the witch is dead, so let's just drop it, okay?"
"It was hardly a 'bajillion dollar fortune'," JD spoke up. "Omicron's been bleeding red ink for almost a decade. They were ready to declare bankruptcy just before Athene died on the table."
"Little wonder," Costa added, "the way she spent her money like that, I'm surprised they didn't go belly up years ago."
"Well, she's gone now, so let's move on to something else," Criss insisted. "She doesn't concern me anymore. That ship has sailed a long time ago." He sank his teeth into his pita and chewed furiously.
JD couldn't help but smile at the memory of the videotape of Mom catching a totally nude Athene in Criss' bedroom, and driving her out with a few well-placed smacks on her bare ass. How it got on YouTube he would never know, but it became so popular it was featured VH1's Best Week Ever!. It still generated a few laughs online, especially among the Loyals. He wanted to bring it up, but the sour look on Criss' face warned him to keep quiet about it. Still, it was pretty funny, though. In the end, JD reasoned that of all of Athene's outrageous antics, her little break-in and subsequent spanking from Mama Dimitra would be the only thing by which she would be remembered. Well, like Criss said, that ship had sailed, so it was best to put it behind them all; life went on and blah, blah, blah.
For Alicia Rose, however, life was going on at a snail's pace as she sat in her math class, half-listening to Sister Constantine's lesson about binomials. She glanced at the plain white-faced clock on the wall. Two-fifteen, it read. Another hour and fifteen minutes and she'd be out of school and racing home to watch the few remaining episodes of MindFreak on A&E. Assuming, of course, that Kyle didn't beat her to the TV set to sate his addiction to violent video games. Her mother did her level best to turn her son away from the CGI mayhem he so passionatly adored and toward more wholesome activities like Little League baseball, adventure books and puzzle games. Kyle, however, turned up his freckled nose at such "wussy" things while popping another installment of Death Race 5000 into the PlayStation console and venting his youthful fury through the characters on the screen.
Kyle Rose was incorrigible, a ten-year-old terrorist whose greatest joy in life was making his sister Alicia's a living hell on earth. He used to sneak peeks in her diary until she stopped keeping one; he snatched french fries from her packet when Mom took them to McDonald's; he would grab an item of great personal value to her and led her on a merry chase throughout the house until their mother intervened and forced him to surrender it, if he didn't throw it out a window or flush it down the toilet like he did with her best pair of knee-high stockings when the family was getting ready to go to Cousin Dale's wedding (Mom let her borrow a pair of her own); he made endless references to bodily functions, especially when it came to the large intestine; and he mocked and scorned her choice of music or other entertainments, forcing her to keep her love for Criss Angel a secret. He was Bart Simpson squared, a demon in blue jeans and t-shirt. His flaming red hair, inherited from their father, only added to the infernal image.
Her mother, Nancy Rose, was a gentle, loving woman, everything a kid could wish for in a mother. The only problem Alicia could see was that she was way out of touch with the twenty-first century; she lived in a Leave It To Beaver world of sunshine and flowers and picnics in the park, of families who went to church on Sunday and played Monopoly or Scrabble in the evenings or had singalongs around the piano in the parlor, and where children listened to the wisdom of their elders and never, ever spoke back to them. That was why she sent her children to St. Benedict's Acadamy instead of public school in spite of the high cost of tuition: to shield them from the evil realities of life on the street.
Alicia glumly recalled her tenth birthday, when all she wanted was a copy of the latest Harry Potter book. She had surreptitiously read the first few in the public library, but now she wanted her own copy, and it took a lot of nerve on her part just to ask. Instead, her mother presented her with a dog-eared copy of Little Women. "I read this when I was your age," she had told her disappointed daughter. "You'll find it's so much better than reading about evil witches and wizards." Alicia had taken the book with mumbled thanks and stowed Louisa May Alcott's timeless classic in the back of her closet, then rode her bike to the library to check out the Harry Potter book she wanted.
Just once, Alicia thought as she sat at her crummy wooden desk feigning attention to Sister's lecture on binomials, just once she'd like to wake her mother up and force her to face the real world. We're not living in the Nineteen-Fifties anymore, Mom, she'd say to her. The Beaver's downloading porn on the Internet, Wally's packing a pistol at school, June Cleaver is having an affair with the milkman and Ward's hanging out with the guys at some topless bar! Couples are divorcing as fast as they're getting married; heck, kids my age are already having sex! There's war, death, destruction, famine, crime, genocide, pollution, and a lot of other evils in the world. It's nothing new--it's been going on for centuries. You just have to get your head out of the sand and look!
Alicia looked down at the circle-A doodles in her notebook, then at the tiny postage-stamp sized photo of Criss Angel taped in the corner of the inside cover. Criss was her escape from the cesspool she called her life, shielding her from the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune: her little brother's torments, her mother's delusions of perfection, St. Bennie's mind-numbing propaganda about being proper Catholic ladies and gentlemen, and the usual angst every thirteen-year-old girl goes through when her hormones take over. No one understood her, she thought. No one, except Criss. If she had her way she'd chuck home, family and school and run away to Las Vegas just to be with him. He was the center of her universe. He was her whole world. Nothing else mattered except that Criss Angel should exist.
Someday, my Angel, she sighed inwardly. Someday, we'll be together and we'll live happily ever after. Just you and me, together, forever.
The two-twenty bell clanged like a fire alarm, jolting Alicia out of her reverie. It was time to go to Confirmation Class, the last one of the day. She picked up her books and trudged to the chapel where Father Michael waited to give instruction. At least it'll be better than binomials, she thought.
Back in Las Vegas, Mick Piccucci sat in his wheelchair behind the gilded Louis XIV table with his lawyer, discussing his final will and testament. Richard Close, Mick's longtime attorney who discreetly overlooked his client's checkered past, had spelled out the estate laws in the state of Nevada chapter and verse. Mick, however, was not interested in chapter and verse. He wanted payback.
"Look, Mick," Close pleaded, "you gotta leave it to someone! I know you're still (bleeped) off at your ex-wife and your son, Mike, Jr., but someone's got to inherit your estate! Otherwise, it goes into probate, and that's gonna leave an even bigger mess. You know what they say: you can't take it with you, you know!"
Mick sighed as heavily as his nicotine scarred lungs would allow. Close had a point; he had to leave his estate to somebody, but double-damn if that (bleep) of an ex-wife or that worthless bum of an only son was going to reap what he sowed. And triple-damn if the government was going to sink its greedy meathooks into it, not after spending decades of his life dodging the system to build it.
"You got the whole thing listed on there?" he asked Close.
"The whole thing," Close confirmed. "Money, property holdings, stocks, bonds--the whole nine yards. All we need is a name."
"Gimme until tomorrow," Mick said. "I'll sleep on it."
"Mick, for God's sake, you're a dying man!" Close exclaimed. "You could be dead tomorrow! You want this to go intestate? It's now or never!" He leaned closer to Mick. "Look, I got word on the legal grapevine that your ex is filing to get the divorce annulled so that she can be your legal widow and claim the whole estate! And your son will be moving heaven and earth to make sure that she doesn't get a dime! This is heading for a showdown unless you come up with a legal heir. Come on, Mick, whaddya say?"
Mick coughed hoarsely and spit up some phlegm in a monogrammed handkerchief. "If I had my way," he croaked, "I'd leave it all to you. You're the only guy who never double-crossed me, even if you are a lawyer."
"Well, that's very generous of you, Mick," Close said. "But your heirs could contest the will if you did that."
Mick sat in stony silence, deep in thought. Again, his lawyer was right. Years of high living with The Guys--the Havana cigars, the endless boozing, the rich food at Las Vegas's finest restaraunts--had taken a toll on his health. Bum liver, bum ticker, bum kidneys, bum everything. It was a wonder he had outlived his cronies, or at least the ones who didn't get rubbed out. His number could come up any moment now and if he didn't provide an heir, all hell would break loose in probate court. But who? Who did Mick Piccucci feel was worthy of his estate, valued at over six million dollars--maybe more with the money he secreted overseas?
Mick thought, weighed his options, thought again, then, after several minutes of silence while Close waited patiently beside him, he took a pad of paper, scrawled something onto it with the large fountain pen his father had given him when he graduated from the eighth grade, and handed it to Close. "Here," he rasped, "that's my final decision."
Close read the scrawl on the pad. "You sure about this?" he asked, puzzled.
"Damn straight I am!" Mick snapped. "Now get outta here! Go on and make out the damn will, and quit botherin' me!"
12-06-2011, 04:21 PM
For Mick Piccucci, the end came in the wee hours of the morning the next day. It wasn't a quiet death, going gentle into that good night with a serene smile on his face. No, it came with the force of a mob hit, his ticker siezing up as if someone threw a monkey wrench into the gears, then the shortness of breath like a plastic bag over his head. He flailed around in bed, fighing off the Grim Reaper with the last of his strength. "God! Help me!" he gasped, groping desperatly for the call button to summon his caregiver.
The call buzzer went off in the caregiver's room, sending her dashing into Mr. Piccucci's room. As fast as she had run, it was still too late--Mick Piccucci, the next-to-the-last survivor of The Guys of Las Vegas's golden age, lay sprawled in his king-sized bed, his mouth agape in his final efforts to breathe, still clutching his chest. The caregiver drew a deep clensing breath and picked up the phone to call the coroner, then sat down to wait. There would be no sleep for her tonight. She did, however, have enough presence of mind to note down the time of death; the cornoner would need it for the death certificate.
The county coroner handled the transfer of the body with smooth efficiency. The caregiver gave him the necessary information needed for the record, and Mick Piccucci's body was wheeled out on a gurney, covered head to toe with a heavy white sheet.
"Shall I inform the family?" the caregiver asked the cornoner.
"Did Mr. Piccucci have any next of kin?"
"Yes, a son, Michael, Jr. They...didn't talk much, though."
"We'll contact the son," the coroner said. "You've done enough for tonight. But I need your name as witness to the death."
"Casey," she said. "Casey Worth."
"All right, Ms. Worth," the coroner said. "Thank you for your co-operation. We'll take it from here. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
Casey watched as the coroner's ambulance slowly rolled out of the drive. There was nothing for her to do here anymore. Nothing but wait until morning and leave the Piccucci house for the last time. Then she would have to find another person to care for, or hope a permanant position would open at the Luxor. Either way, things were going to be tight for her and her family.
There was one thing she remembered she had promised Mr. Piccucci she would do when he passed away. He had entrusted it to her and no one else, and she felt obligated to perform it. But it would have to wait until morning. Maybe it would lead to another job. She hoped against hope.
Dawn broke over the mountains and reached deep into the valley. Casey went into the study, opened the front drawer and took out the small black address book Mr. Piccucci had kept for over fifty years. It was faded and dog-eared, its pages scribbled on and numbers scribbled out and replaced with new ones. She found the number she was looking for and dialed it on the desk telephone. After several rings, the other party finally picked up.
"If this isn't an insanely beautiful blond," the voice growled, "I'm hangin' up!"
"No, sir," Casey said nervously. "This is Mr. Piccucci's caregiver. I just called to tell you that Mr. Piccucci...well, he..."
"Mick kicked the bucket?"
"Yes, sir, he did."
"I'm sorry, sir--"
"Ah, what the hell you got to be sorry for? He wasn't long for this world, anyway. Way of all flesh and all that crapola. You call Mick, Jr., yet?"
"No, sir, I was instucted to call you only."
"Okay, okay, fine. Look, you're a good kid; you did your job and now you can go home. And, uh, sweetheart?"
"Thanks for takin' care of Mick."
"You're welcome, sir."
"Yeah. I'll be over soon. Just get that box of pictures for me, willya?"
"Good-bye, Mr. Springer."
Danny "Springs" Springer hung up. So, Mick bit the big one, he thought. And I'm the last one of The Guys--but not for long, not with this effing cancer eating into my gut. At least I'm still around to attend his funeral. Never thought I'd live so long to bury the son of a (bleep).
Springs mixed himself a glass of orange juice and vodka. He held his glass up toward the ceiling. "Well, Mick," he said aloud, "I'll be seeing you again, wherever you are. Just have a brandy waiting for me when I get there, okay? Just for old time's sake."
He drained the screwdriver and headed to his wardrobe to dress. He had to pay a courtesy call to the family, just to pay his respects to Mick--and to see who hit the jackpot in the will.
The dawn found Criss on the exercise bench in the gym, curling a heavy fifty-pound barbell to his chest, inhaling and exhaling deeply with every rise and fall of the weights. His lightly clad body shimmered with sweat. He personally disliked working out, but he was too self-disciplined to skip even one session. He had to keep his body in top physical condition; the physical requirements of his career demanded it. He had to stay healthy for the sake of his fans, and those who had invested in his shows here at the Luxor. A toned body was money in the bank for all concerned.
Nearby, a flat screened television mounted on the far wall was broadcasting the morning news: President Obama's stirring "We will recover" speech, the latest corporate bailout, and the stimulus plan still in the works. Criss half-listened to the broadcast, if he listened at all. It was basically all the same, he thought. The economy's down the toilet, and everyone's looking for a way out.
In local news, former mobster Michael "Mick" Piccucci, one of the members of The Guys of Glitter Gulch gang, died today in his home in Las Vegas. The gang had been notorious for taking bribes and kickbacks from casinos and other establishments during the heyday of the City's mob era. He was reported to be worth around six million dollars, but the Federal Reserve claims it could be more due to off-shore tax shelters and other funds not yet discovered. He is survived by a son, Michael, Jr., and his daughter by his former wife, Tina LaRue Piccucci. He was eighty-six.
Criss set down the weights and headed for the treadmill. It was time to work on his lower body now. Still dripping with sweat, he climbed onto the heavy vulcanized conveyor belt, turned on the machine and started running. The death of some former mobster did not concern him. Why should it? It had nothing to do with him. You live, you die. C'est la vie.
For those who knew Mick Piccucci, however, the death of the former mobster concerned them very much. Springs arrived at the house at nine that morning--early for him, since he rarely left the house before noon. He stepped into the spacious marble foyer of the mansion and reflexivly headed for his late friend's study. A skinny woman with dark hair stood there, bewildered. "Are you Mr. Springer?" she asked timidly.
"Yeah, I'm Mr. Springer," he replied nonchalantly.
"I'm Casey Worth," she said. "I called you on Mr. Piccucci's orders."
"You got the box?" Springs asked.
Casey handed him a vintage wooden cigar box. "Right here, sir," she said. "Mr. Piccucci told me to give this to you. I didn't open it, though, I assure you."
Springs took the box from Casey. "Wouldn't have mattered if you did," he said. "Thanks a bunch, sweetheart."
"You know," Casey spoke up hesitantly, "Now that Mr. Piccucci is...gone, I'm sorta out of a job. So if you need someone who needs a caregiver..."
"Yeah, sure, okay," Springs said absently, still looking at the cigar box. "You know where Mick kept the will?"
"That was none of my business, sir," Casey replied. "I do know that his lawyer was here just yesterday to talk about it."
Springs nodded. "Ah, it probably all went to Junior," he said with a resigned shrug, "being his only son and all, more'n likely. He'll probably blow the whole wad in a month."
"I never involved myself with the family matters here, Mr. Springer," Casey told him.
Springs smiled a little. "Good," he said to her. "Because this is one family you don't wanna get yourself involved in."
"Will there be anything else, Mr. Springer?"
Springs waved his hand dismissively. "Nah, you go on home. You did your part. And don't worry about finding work--there's still a lot of old farts around for you to take care of. I'm sure you'll get a good reference from Junior."
"Thank you, sir." Casey left in a hurry, relieved to be out of there. Five years of caring for Mr. Piccucci made her feel like an extra from The Sopranos. Mr. Piccucci himself had treated her well enough, but the knowledge that he had been a gangster from the Forties and Fifties who had not hesitated to contract killing a person was unsettling. Still, the pay had been good, good enough to support her family. She could only hope that her next client would not have ties with the Syndicate.
Meanwhile, Springs sat in Mick's office chair, going over the contents of the cigar box, still redolent of fine Havana cigars, sifting through the photographs inside it. So many memories were contained in that wooden box, of dinners at the Silver Slipper, of beautiful dames and expensive sports cars, of long afternoons spent on the track, of children's weddings and parents' funerals, of wine, women and song. His era had passed, however: the wine bottles were empty, the women got married and grew old, and the band had stopped playing the songs, packed up their instruments and gone home, but the melody lingered on.
A slam of the front door shook Springs out of his reverie. He got up from the padded leather chair and walked into the foyer to see who it was. The minuted he saw who it was, he regretted his action.
"Hello, Springs," purred Tina LaRue Piccucci. "Nice to see you again."
12-06-2011, 04:27 PM
"Hello, Tina," Springs said grimly. "Too bad I can't say the same thing about you."
"Now is that the way to greet an old friend?" Tina admonished. "Especially the widow of one?"
"Who said you were an old friend?" Springs retorted. "And who the hell said you were his widow? You divorced him years ago, remember?"
"So? I'm still the mother of his child."
"That don't mean nothin'. You dumped his ass, and now you got the gall to come in and say you're his widow? You're full of it, Tina."
"I still have legal claim to his estate, regardless," Tina pointed out. "I'm the mother of his biological daughter, you know."
"Yeah?" Springs countered. "Well, Junior's the eldest legal heir by his first wife, sweetheart. You and your 'biological daughter' are second bananas as far as he's concerned. In fact, I know that Mick made a new will, just yesterday before he kicked the bucket."
"So, if I were you, I'd turn my ass around and walk on out of here, because you ain't gettin' nothin', sweetheart! Neither you nor your 'biological daughter' are getting jack squat! Junior's the only legitimate heir, and you ain't nothin' but a gold-digging (bleep)! Always have been, always will be. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!"
"The will hasn't been read yet, Springs," Tina reminded him. "And I can contest if I have to. No one is going to shortchange me, not even Mick, may he rot in Hell! Just you wait and see! I'm gonna get my share of the estate if it's the last thing I do!"
"Blah, blah, blah, big words, sweetheart!" Springs sneered. "You ain't got a leg to stand on in court. You wanna waste what's left of your alimony fighting it out in court, you go right ahead! You're only gonna make some lawyer rich, that's all. And, remember, you're too old to go back to strippin'."
"(Bleep) you, Springs," Tina retorted. "(Bleep) you and the horse you rode in on!" She spun on her Manolo heels and stormed out of the house. "See you at the funeral," she said curtly.
"See you in Hell," Springs said in a low tone as she slammed the heavy door behind her.
Michael, Jr., felt no overwhelming grief when he heard the news of his father's death. He felt no anger, no sadness, not even shock. Instead, it was like the storm clouds breaking and rays of sunshine beaming down their warmth and light upon him, and a tremendous feeling of buoyancy, of dancing on air. At last, the old man was dead! The estate was his at last! No more money troubles, no more collection calls--he was finally set for life!
His first instinct was to call Pamela to tell her the good news. He could picture her screaming with joy when she heard about his father's death and their new wealth. He reached for the phone to call her on her cell, but then hesitated. Why should he? Why should she share in what was rightfully, legally his and his alone? Well, she was his wife, granted, but their marriage had been going stale lately, and though they never had any real knock-down, drag-out fights, they never discussed divorce.
Yet Michael wanted his freedom as well as his father's wealth. He yearned for the carefree bachelor days when he had girls at his beck and call and could party all night and sleep all day if he wanted. It was his mother who insisted he get married, settle down and start a family to carry on the Piccucci name. He had met Pamela in a bar somewhere in Cabo and she had really turned him on like no other girl he had met before. It was only after a traditional Italian wedding and Mexican honeymoon did it occur to Michael that his free and easy days were over, and he was just another henpecked husband with a wife and, later, kids to support.
Michael set down the phone. No, best to hold off for right now. He had to think things through first if he wanted to start living again the way he used to. Sure, there'd be alimony payments and child support, but with the help of a good lawyer he'd still have enough to live the good life with Jessie. No marriage--no way was he getting into that trap again! Just shack up, kick back and relax, take it easy and soak in the sun. Michael Piccucci was made for la vida buena, not family life.
One person who was oblivious to the goings on in the Piccucci family was Alicia Rose, who was sitting in the computer lab at school, linking onto the Criss Angel fanboards. The top thread in particular caught her eye: LOYALAPALOOZA! Three days of magic and mayhem in Las Vegas, with Criss Angel presiding, three weeks hence.
Alicia longed to go to Loyalapalooza, more than anywhere else in the world. It would be the fulfillment of a dream, to go to Vegas and meet Criss, touch him, embrace him, even kiss him right on the lips--oh, that would be Heaven! Maybe he'd fall in love with her, take her up to his suite in the Luxor, and then who knew what would happen? Maybe in time he would marry her! To be married to Criss Angel would be the summit of all happiness to Alicia. No more bratty Kyle tormenting her! No more patronizing mother! No more St. Benedict's Acadamy telling her what to do and not to do! She'd be free, and she'd be happy!
But it was hopeless, and she knew it. No way would her mother let her go to Las Vegas, even if St. Bennie's sponsored the trip. Mrs. Rose was not about to let her baby go on a several hundred mile trip just to see Criss Angel, nosireebob! Alicia had school, she had responsibilities, and she needed to remain in the safety and security of home and family. Who knew what evils lurked in that place they rightfully called Sin City? It was no place for a little girl to go running around unsupervised. Besides, she didn't have any money to make reservations.
But, oh, how she wanted to go! How she yearned to go! Loyalapalooza was to Alicia Rose what Prince Charming's ball was to Cinderella. She wished she had a fairy godmother who would appear and send her to Vegas with a wave of her magic wand. A limo, maybe, or even a private jet, along with designer clothes that made her look more mature instead of the dreary school uniform she wore practically every day. She'd have a bottle of champaigne to share with Criss (even though she was only thirteen), and they'd jet all over the world, even go to Greece, the land of his ancestors. Of course they'd have to bring Hammie, Criss' cat, along for the trip so he wouldn't get lonely.
The school bell clanged, signalling the change for class and bringing Alicia back to reality. Sadly she logged off the fansite and dragged herself back to the grey, mundane world of school. If only she could go to Loyalapalooza, if only, if only....
12-06-2011, 04:34 PM
Mick Piccucci's funeral Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church was a small affair, consisting of Michael, Jr.'s, family; Danny Springer, Tina LaRue Piccucci and her daughter, Heather; Mick's few surviving friends and aquaintances; his caregiver, Casey Worth, and his lawyer, Richard Close. A reporter for the Las Vegas Sun was also present to cover the service for the Names and Faces section for tomorrow's edition. The priest's voice echoed through the near empty church.
"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body..."
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Michael, Jr., thought irritably. Ashes to ashes and all that crap! Plant the son of a (bleep) already, okay? I got a one o'clock tee time!
"We bought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out," the priest continued. "The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away..."
The Lord giveth, all right, Tina said to herself smugly, but I'm the one who's gonna be taking away! When all this is all over and the will is read, I'm gonna take away what's mine and move to Beverly Hills, and no one's gonna stop me!
"From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the spirit; for they rest from their labors."
Yeah, Mick, Springs thought sorrowfully, rest in peace, pal. You deserve it. I'll be seeing you soon. Just have a brandy waiting for me, just like old times, okay?
"Let us commend our brother, Michael Antone Piccucci, Sr., to the mercy of God," the priest intoned with upraised arms. "The Mass is ended. Go in peace."
"Thanks be to God," everyone spoke in unison. Yeah, thank God it's over! Michael, Jr., said inwardly. Now let's get the money already and get on with our lives!
A recorded choir sang Libera me, Domine, as the mourners filed past Mick Piccucci in his heavy wood-grained casket smothered in floral tributes. Springs was first by the side of his late friend and partner in crime. "So long, Mick," he said, trying to smile a little. "I'll see you later."
Casey was next. She dabbed her eyes a little as she paid her last respects to her former employer. "Good-bye, Mr. Piccucci," she sniffled. "I know you did a lot of bad things in the past, but you were really a good man, really you were. I never thought of you as a criminal, just as...well, you know. Rest in peace, Mr. Piccucci."
A few others filed past the casket, some blessing themselves as they passed. Tina LaRue Piccucci, swathed in black lace and clutching a white hankie, gave an Oscar-winning performance as the bereaved widow as she approached the casket. "Oh, Mick," she wailed. "I can't tell you how much I miss you! I know we had our differences, but in the end I loved you more than any man on this earth! I never got to tell you how much I still love you, and now--sniff--it's too late! I'll visit your grave every single day, Mick! And that's a promise!"
Tina doubled over sobbing, or appeared to be sobbing as she was led away by her daughter, Heather. Michael, Jr., rolled his eyes in disgust. "Got any eggs to go with that ham, Tina?" he growled under his breath.
He looked down at his father's body. "So long, Pop," he said unemotionally. "Wherever in hell you are, it's where you deserve to be."
He herded his wife and two sons out of the church. "C'mon, let's get something to eat and get outta here," he said curtly. "I got business to attend to."
"But what about the drive to the gravesite?" Pamela wanted to know. "We can't leave until your father's interred."
Michael, Jr., swore under his breath. "You go on ahead," he told her hastily. "I'll catch up later."
Pamela took a boy in each hand and went outside where the limo was parked. Michael, Jr., strode quickly to where Richard Close was standing and faced him squarely.
"Mike, I'm really sorry about your father--" Close began.
"Never mind that," Michael, Jr., interrupted him. "What about the will? You got the will?"
"Yes, I got the will," Close answered. "Everything's all been taken care of--signed, sealed and delivered. The reading is tomorrow at ten AM in my office."
"Tina's not getting anything, is she?" Michael, Jr., asked anxiously.
"I told you, everything's all been taken care of," Close insisted. "Just come to the reading tomorrow and don't be late, okay?
Michael, Jr., sighed. "Okay, tomorrow it is," he said, and left to join Pamela and the kids in the limo. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow he would be a rich man, only a day away from being free of his problems forever. In twenty four hours he would revert to the lifestyle he had once known and enjoyed, with no nagging wife, no bratty kids, and no debt collectors hounding him day and night. Just twenty four hours away lay freedom.
But there were still those hours to get through. Right now, he had to join Pamela and the other mourners to the gravesite and bury the old man next to his mother in the cemetary. Once that was over, he could grab a quick snack at the wake and head for the golf course to make his one o'clock tee time, shoot a few holes, then come home for dinner and bed. Then tomorrow would arrive, and he'd be at Close's office, bright and early, go through the formalities of the will, claim his inheritance, and it was good-bye Vegas, hello Cabo! Michael, Jr., felt like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to arrive. Well, Mike, old buddy, he said to himself, looks like Christmas is coming a little early this year!
Casey Worth didn't go to the gravesite ceremony, having no car to drive and no one to give her a lift. She relied heavily on public transportation to get to work and back, even if it meant getting up at six AM to catch the bus to get to Mr. Piccucci's house. And anyway, she had done her duty to Mr. Piccucci simply by attending the funeral Mass; the rest was the family's business. Now she had to move on with her life.
Her tiny cell phone rang in her purse. Casey felt embarrassed that she had forgotten to turn it off during the service. Thank God it didn't ring in church, she thought. She pulled it out and looked at the tiny screen to see who was calling her: MOM, it read. "Hi, Mom, what's up?" she spoke into the phone.
"Oh, hi, honey," her mother's voice came over the receiver, "am I interrupting anything?"
"Oh, no, no, Mom," Casey said, "the service is over, so it's okay."
"Good. Listen, I got a call from the Luxor Hotel. They want you to come in for a whole week. Some housekeeper's got to go into the hospital for something--they didn't say what. Anyway, you're to come in on the morning shift, starting tomorrow."
"Got it, Mom. Thanks."
"You're welcome, honey. See you."
Casey turned off her phone. Well, she had a job for a week, anyway. After that, who knew where her next paycheck was coming from? She sighed heavily. With the economy the way it was, she'd be lucky if she found another job anywhere, let alone a caregiving job. Maybe at one of the nursing homes? But you had to be certified to do that, and Casey was not yet certified, though she was working on it. All she could do was hope for the best. Something would come up, she was sure of it.
Criss Angel's live show, Believe, was drawing rave reviews from the critics, but the box office take was less than encouraging, barely above the break-even point. Despite assurances from the Luxor's president, Felix Rappaport, that the economy was to blame, Criss felt it reflected badly upon himself as an artist. The show was supposed to be his magnum opus, the culmination of years of hard work and creativity. He had hyped the show to the whole world, only to perform in a theater with half-empty seats. What was he doing wrong? Why wasn't it selling out? Where was everybody?
"I just don't understand it, Felix," he said as he sat at the bar waiting for his Martini. "I put Mind, Body and Spirit into that production and hardly anyone's come to see it. I know not everyone thinks it's great, but there are those who really like it." He rubbed his face with his hands. "I don't know what to do anymore, Felix. I really don't."
Felix put his arm around Criss' shoulder. "Look, Criss, it's not you, okay?" he said. "The economy's taken a nosedive and tourism's gone with it. People don't have as much to spend as they used to. It's just bad timing, that's all. You don't think I'm feeling the pinch? Even with online discounts, half the rooms here are empty. It's not your fault, Criss, so don't take it personally."
The bartender set Criss' Martini on a coaster before him. Frustrated over the lack of ticket sales for his show, Criss picked up the glass and drained it in one swallow. "If only there was something I can do to get people coming in again," he mused.
Felix laughed a little. "When you do find something, let me know," he said. "I'd like to hear it."
He patted Criss' shoulder. "Cheer up, Criss. Things will get better soon, just you wait and see. In the meantime, you still got your health, and you still got your family. And you still got your room here at the Luxor, which is better than some people who are losing their homes to foreclosure. You're luckier than you think, Criss. Just keep that in mind when you're down."
Criss looked up at Felix and smiled. "Thanks, Felix."
"Buy you another drink?" Felix asked.
Criss shook his head. "No, no, I'd better not," he replied. "I don't want to drown my sorrows in booze. Like you said, I got my health, and if the economy tanks any furthur, I'd like to keep that as long as I can."
12-06-2011, 04:39 PM
The phone rang in the Piccucci household that evening. Pamela set down her paperback novel and answered it. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Piccucci?" a timid girl's voice came from the other end.
"This is Casey Worth, Mr. Piccucci's caregiver. I hope I'm not bothering you."
"Oh, no, Casey, not at all. How may I help you?"
"Well, I usually get paid on Fridays for caring for Mr. Piccucci, and now that he's...you know...I was wondering how I was going to claim my last paycheck. Shall I pick it up at the house, or have you mail it to me? I can give you my address if you want."
"Now don't worry about a thing, Casey," Pamela assured her. "I'll have Mike pay you at the house. He has to go there anyway to straighten out the details of the estate. Just go there tomorrow during the day and pick it up." In a burst of magnaminity she added, "And since you took such good care of Mike's father, I'll have him leave you a bonus."
"That's very generous of you, Mrs. Piccucci."
"Oh, it's nothing, nothing at all," Pamela said airily. "You earned it. And we'll make sure to give you a good reference as well."
"Thank you, Mrs. Piccucci."
"You're welcome, Casey. Good-bye."
"'Bye, Mrs. Piccucci."
Pamela hung up the phone. Her husband entered the bedroom, wearing nothing but a thin dressing gown. "Who was that?" he asked gruffly.
"Your dad's caretaker, Casey What's-her-name," she replied. "She wants her last paycheck. I told her you'd have it ready at the house tomorrow."
Michael, Jr., grunted.
"I promised her a bonus as well," Pamela continued. "And a good reference."
"How much of a bonus?"
"I didn't give an exact figure, but after putting up with your dad all these years, the poor girl deserves something. And anyway, we can afford it now. You won't forget, now, will you, darling?"
Michael, Jr., grunted again. Pamela set down her book in disgust. "Mike, for heaven's sake, will you please stop grunting like a pig and give a straight answer for once?"
"Okay, fine!" he snapped. "I'll remember to pay the damn caretaker! Now get off my back, willya!"
"Well, sorreeee! Excuse me for living!"
Michael, Jr., stormed out of the bedroom and into his own. For the past four years, the Piccuccis had been sleeping in separate rooms, since one king-sized bed proved not to be big enough for both of them. The same went for cars, bathrooms and vacations. Only money held them together, though they fought over it constantly. Michael, Jr., knew that Pamela could take him to the cleaners in a divorce suit with the help of a good lawyer due to the common property laws in the Southwest, but he could give back as well as he got in a lawsuit. Greed held them together while at the same time it drove them apart.
Take the money and run. Those words repeated themselves over and over again inside his brain. Go on, take the money and run. It sang in his head, though he couldn't remember the artist who sang it. Some time in the Seventies, but who? Oh, well, it didn't matter who recorded that song, but it was good advice as far as he was concerned. Ten o'clock tomorrow morning he'd be a free man, and to hell with Pamela and the rest of the world. Go on, take the money and run! Ah-ooh Lord! Go on, take the money and run!
Ten o'clock AM, read the giant clock over the skyscraper where the offices of Bruin, Close, LLC, were housed. The plate-glass window of the executive conference room overlooked the fabled Las Vegas Strip, but no one present had any desire to take in the view. Tina LaRue Piccucci, her daughter, Heather, Michael, Jr., Pamela and Springs were tensely awaiting the reading of Mick's will. The atmosphere was more like a Mexican standoff than a simple gathering of friends and relatives to discuss the disposition of an estate. No one spoke, just glared daggers at one another.
I'm the only heir here, Michael, Jr., communicated mentally to the others. Why the hell should any of you be here? You're just setting yourselves up for a big disappointment.
You think you're gonna get it all, huh, Junior? Tina sneered inwardly. Think again, big boy! Heather and I aren't leaving this room until we get what's ours!
This is gonna get ugly, Springs thought. No matter who gets it, it's gonna get ugly. Even if Mick doesn't leave me a dime, I'm gonna make sure that (bleep) doesn't get her meathooks into that money! It's Junior's, and that's all there is to it.
Everyone looked up as the side door of the executive boardroom suddenly swung open. "Sorry I'm late folks," Richard Close apologized breathlessly. "Okay, let's get started, shall we?"
All eyes were focused on the slim manila folder in Richard's hand. He opened it and took out the official looking document inside, then sat down to read it. The room was silent, save for the annoying hum of the flourescent lighting above their heads.
"I, Michael Antonio Piccucci, Sr., being of sound mind, etc., do hereby make my last will and testament, all previous wills null and void. To the following, I bequeath my estate."
Tina gripped her Gucci handbag in anticipation. Michael, Jr., held his breath. Springs braced himself for the worst.
"To my friend and business partner, Daniel William Springer, I bequeath the sum of five hundred thousand dollars."
Both sides of the Piccucci family turned to Springs, who responded with a contented smile and a satisfied shrug. I knew Mick wouldn't forget me, he thought. Five hundred grand--I can live with that.
"The remainder of my estate: money, property holdings, accounts, personal property, stocks, bonds, and etc., totalling eight million nine hundred and ninety seven dollars..."
That's almost nine million! Michael, Jr., calculated. The old man was richer than I thought!
Eight million nine hundred something? Tina was elated. I'll be set for life!
"...I bequeath to my caregiver, Casey Worth, and make her my sole heir to my estate."
Michael, Jr., felt as if he had been sucker-punched. Tina's heavily made-up jawline dropped to cleavage level. Pamela gasped for air. Springs shook with suppressed laughter. "Could you repeat that again?" Michael, Jr., requested in disbelief.
"The remainder of my estate: money, property holdings--"
"Not that part!" Michael, Jr. shouted angrily. "The other half!"
"I bequeath to my caregiver, Casey Worth, and make her my sole heir to my estate."
Tina shot up from her chair and snatched the will. She flipped through the pages furiously, searching for any mention of her or her daughter and finding none. "That son of a (bleep)!" she exploded. "After all I did for him!"
"You mean making his life miserable?" Michael, Jr. retorted. "Can't say I blame him."
"What about us?" Pamela demanded. "Mike's his only son! He's the one who should get the estate, not some little nurse who emptied his dad's bedpan every day!"
"Look, Mick wanted to leave everything to Casey, all right?" Close said in exasperation. "I didn't have anything to do with it except draft it. It was his decision, not mine. If you want to contest it--"
"You're damn right we're gonna contest it!" Tina screamed at him. "And I ain't gonna quit until I get what's mine!"
"Oh, you're gonna get yours all right, honey!" Pamela sneered. "We'll fight you all the way to the (bleeping) Supreme Court if we have to, but you're not getting a single penny from this estate!"
"Have it your way, (bleep)!" Tina shot back. "I'll see all of you in court! And that little (bleep) Casey, too!"
Tina grabbed Heather and stormed out of the room. Michael, Jr., turned to Close. "You screwed me over, Rich," he said. "You knew damn well that estate was supposed to go to me."
"Like I said, it wasn't my decision to make," Close protested. "You want to contest it, go right ahead."
"All right, fine!" Michael, Jr., retorted. "I'll do that!"
He strode out of the boardroom, Pamela in tow. Close breathed a sigh of relief, glad he still had his hide. Springs sat in his chair, chuckling. "Looks like you got a scrap on your hands there, Rich," he said.
Close could only nod in weary agreement.
A battered Chevy van, noticably out of place among the late model cars parked in the driveway of the Piccucci manor, pulled up discreetly to the curb, as if ashamed to be seen there. Casey Worth emerged from the passenger side. "I'll be right back, Mom," she said, "I won't be long."
She shut the van door and ran up the brick walkway up to the front door. The doorbell echoed like a death knell throughout the empty house. She waited patiently for someone to answer. She peeked through the narrow side window to see if anyone was coming. Sure enough, she saw Mr. Piccucci's son striding up to the front door. Casey respectfully backed away a few steps.
The heavy door flew open. Michael, Jr., glared irritably at Casey.
"Hello, Mr. Piccucci," Casey said cheerfully. "I'm here to pick up my paycheck."
It was all Michael, Jr., could do to keep from strangling the woman who usurped his inheritance. Without another word, he stormed away from the front door and into the office, picked up Casey's pay envelope, and strode back to the foyer. He thrust the plain white envelope into her face. "Here!" he said. "Now get out!"
The heavy door slammed shut. Casey wondered what she had said to offend him as she made her way back to her mother's van. She had only done what Mrs. Piccucci had told her to do. What was wrong with Mr. Piccucci all of a sudden?
As her mother drove her to her job at the Luxor Hotel, Casey told her about Mr. Piccucci's cold shouldering. Her mother patted her on the knee. "Now, don't let it bother you, Honey," she said. "It's not anything you did. They're just going through a rough patch right now; it's always like that after a death in the family. Anyway, you got your money and that's all that matters. We can pay the bills and get some groceries. And don't worry, you'll get another job somewhere. People always need someone to care for a sick relative, and you got good references. We'll come out of this just fine, don't worry. In the meantime, you got your cleaning job. That'll tide us over for a while."
"Why won't Benny get a job?" Casey pouted. "He's thirty-two, for God's sake! He should be working and living on his own."
"Your brother just hasn't had any luck, that's all," her mother replied. "Times are tough all over."
"He hasn't had any luck because he won't get off his ass and find a job!" Casey said irritably. "All he does is sit on the couch and watch TV. If we cancelled the cable, he wouldn't have an excuse to loll around all day. And we'd save money, too."
"Now, you know how much your dad likes television," her mother admonished her. "He can't go out and do much since he's been on disability."
"It's just that I'm tired of being the breadwinner, that's all."
"I've been helping out some, ain't I? I got that job at the liquor store."
"Yeah, but you barely work enough to pay for the cable bill, let alone support the family. I'm twenty-eight years old, Ma. I want to get on with my own life--have a career, get married, have a family of my own. Instead, I'm stuck supporting you, Dad and Benny--especially Benny, that overgrown kid who won't lift a finger except to use the remote!"
Ma said nothing, just drove on. She didn't blame Casey for feeling the way she did. Ever since Phil went on disability five years ago and she herself had been laid off at the factory, her youngest child had become the sole provider for the family. Benny, however, had been an underachiever practically from birth; his grades were seldom above C level, he never went out for sports, he had no ambition in life except TV, beer, and going out to topless bars. No matter how much she nagged and nagged him to get a job, he never made the slightest effort to make any contribution to the household. In time, he was virtually part of the furniture.
The giant black pyramid loomed into view, the enormous banner advertising Criss Angel's Believe show covering half the front of it. Ma let Casey out by the curb; it wouldn't do to have the family's rickety old van pull up to the valet drive. Casey kissed her mother good-bye as she clambered out of the passenger seat. The van pulled away while Casey ran to the service entrance (employees were prohibited from using the front entrance when reporting for work). The encounter with Mr. Piccucci, Jr., was forgotten. Ma was right--the family was going through a rough patch with the death in the family. Well, it was none of her concern anymore. She would no longer have anything to do with the Piccucci family ever again.
12-06-2011, 04:46 PM
"All right, this is the Presidential Suite," Rosario, the supervising housekeeper, informed Casey authoritativly as she led her inside. "The hotel's biggest star, Criss Angel, lives up here. Not everyone is allowed up here, even the staff, unless they have official business here. There are a lot of valuable things in this suite, so be extra careful when you are cleaning. Any reports of theft and you will be fired. Understood?"
Casey was astonished at the sight of the enormous suite, filled with arcade sized video game consoles, model trains, awards and other luxuries. She quickly snapped back to attention in a moment. "Oh, yes, ma'am," she agreed eagerly. "I promise I won't steal or break a thing!"
Rosario nodded approvingly. "Good. Now, you start on the bathroom. Remember what I taught you: start from the top down, polish all the fixtures, and don't forget to do the mirrors."
"Yes, ma'am," Casey replied obediantly as she picked up her cleaning equipment and headed for the bathroom. Rosario picked up her duster and swept it across the furniture with professional ease. Casey, meanwhile, had found the bathroom and entered cautiously, not knowing what to expect in such a sumptuous suite. The first thing she laid eyes on, however, made her want to giggle, for there in the marble basin a gray and white tabby cat lounged lazily, its graceful tail flicking idly.
Casey suppressed her amusement. "Well, hello, there!" she cooed. "Aren't you a pretty kitty?"
The cat looked at her in typical feline indifference. Casey scooped it up. "Well, you can't stay here," she told him, "'cause I got to clean the bathroom." She petted the animal's sleek head affectionatly. "You are soooo cute! Yes, you are!"
She gave the cat a kiss and carried it to the bedroom. "Now you wait here like a good kitty, okay?"
The cat curled up in the rumpled bedclothes and dozed. Casey went back into the bathroom and got to work. Well, I guess Criss Angel isn't such a bad sort if he likes cats, she thought.
12-06-2011, 04:51 PM
12-06-2011, 05:00 PM
The next morning threatened rain from the Northwest; the skies over Las Vegas were charcoal grey with the occasional flash of lightning and the distant rumble of thunder. From his suite on top of the Luxor Hotel, Criss could see the approaching storm rolling in. No outdoor taping today, he thought, not with the weather the way it was. Criss had always prided himself on being in control of all his demonstrations, planning them to the smallest detail to insure his safety and its success, but the one thing he could never control was the weather; like everyone and everything on the planet Earth, he was at the mercy of the elements.
He turned away from the window, picked up his keycard, and left his suite to go to the production office. Since taping was cancelled for today, it would be a good time to catch up on the paperwork. Few people outside the MindFreak crew were aware of the white-collar end of showbusiness: the phone calls, the mail, the filing, the bookkeeping. It was tedious, but necessary, something he had learned from his youth working for Monster Music with his brothers.
Criss entered the quiet office. Again, he found his brother, JD, reading the morning Sun, his feet propped up on his desk. Criss went to fetch a cup of coffee. "Morning, JD," he said.
JD mumbled a good morning in return and went back to his reading. "Anything good in the news today?" Criss asked.
"Is there ever?" JD retorted. "Market's down to seven thousand, drought's gonna raise food prices, and--oh, wait, hold the phone!" JD sat up, grinning in amusement. "Here's something interesting. Some former gangster left his entire fortune to his caregiver--almost nine million dollars."
Criss shrugged. "So?"
"So, his son, his ex-wife, and his daughter by her got completely cut out of the deal--zip, zero, bupkus. Now they're gonna fight it out in court. And here's something else--the caregiver is a part-time employee here at the Luxor."
"Won't be for long," Criss said, sipping his coffee. "Not with nine million dollars."
Another dreary day at St. Benedict's Acadamy in Marvinville, Iowa. Alicia whiled away her study time composing poetry about Criss Angel, all but forgetting her reading assignment on The Dark Night of the Soul for Lit class due that afternoon.
Angel bright as day
Please show me the way
Out of this void...
But what rhymed with "void"? she wondered. Annoyed? Paranoid? Avoid? No, this wasn't working, she thought as she scribbled out the last line and tried again.
Angel bright as day
Please show me the way
Out of this eternal night...
Yes, that was much better, she thought. Now she needed a capper for the last line.
Out of this eternal night
Into your (blank) so bright.
Into his what so bright? His heart! Yeah, that was it! Perfect!
Angel bright as day
Please show me the way
Out of this eternal night
Into your heart so bright.
I fly like a dove
On the wings of Love,
Heavenward I fly
Up into the blue sky.
No, that last line broke the rhythm, she thought. Best to erase "blue".
Heavenward I fly
Up into the sky.
Yes, that worked much better, she thought, but suddenly Alicia came down with a bad case of writer's block; she simply didn't know what to write next. She looked up at the clock and almost panicked. Lit class was in five minutes and she hadn't even read word one of The Dark Night of the Soul. Maybe she could just skim over it, get the general idea of the plot or whatever. She put away her poetry and pulled out the book to speed read it, but St. John the Divine's esoteric masterpiece was too complex for her to understand in one go. Sighing in frustration, she closed the book. Maybe the teacher wouldn't call on her to explain it, she hoped against hope. Maybe Teresa, the school bookworm, would dominate the discussion like she always did; for once that would work in her favor.
The bell clanged loudly, signalling the end of the study period and the beginning of the next class. Suddenly, Alicia wanted to just drop everything and run out of that stifiling building that she had been attending for eight years and would be forced to attend for the next five--just run, run, run all the way to Las Vegas and into Criss' arms, run away from Marvinville, run away from the suffocating dreariness that was her life and start anew in the glitter and neon glow of Vegas, even if for Loyalapalooza in two weeks' time.
Loyalapalooza. The very word conjured up images of shimmering lights, laughter, and rapturous joy, with her beloved Criss in the center of it all, performing miracles with a wave of his hand. He would see her among the faces of the crowds, single her out, and make her his queen. If only she could go, if only, if only...
A tap on the shoulder brought her crashing back to grim reality. "Come on, dearie," Sister Roxanne, the plump nun in charge of the library said. "Stop your woolgathering and get to your next class. Hustle, hustle!"
Sadly, Alicia gathered her books, shoved them into her bookbag and trudged off to her Lit class. As she drifted with the flow of the students, her eye caught something new on a wall next to her classroom. She stopped to read it, if only out of desperate curiosity for anything new.
The Manresa Monastery is hosting its annual Youth Retreat on March **, 20**, through March **, 20**.[I] [I] There will be discussion groups, games, Bible study, and other activities. Cost: $65 for three days. Please contact Fr. Boyd for details.
Alicia sniffed in disdain. A three day weekend at a monastery, she thought. Big freakin' deal! If she had sixty-five dollars, she'd go to Loyalapalooza instead of wasting it at some boring monk-fest...
She looked at the poster again and discovered the dates for the retreat were the same days as Loyalapalooza. A plan began to formulate in her mind: if she could convince her mother to give her the money under the premise of going to the retreat, she could go to Loyalapalooza, come back Sunday night, and no one would be the wiser. It was crazy, she knew--crazy enough to work.
Her heart lighter than it had ever been, Alicia skipped into the classroom and took her assigned seat. It didn't matter if she hadn't read St. John the Divine's book anymore; she was going to Loyalapalooza!
Several hundred miles to the west, Michael, Jr., sat in his accustomed chair in the living room of his Las Vegas home, fuming over the latest turn of events. A steady desert rain came pelting down on the flagstone pavement, matching his mood. Yesterday, he had high hopes; today, his dreams were in smouldering ruins after having crashed and burned over the reading of Pop's will. He and his father didn't see eye-to-eye over a lot of things, like Michael, Jr.'s, lifestyle, granted, but he was the legitimate, legal heir to the estate. Why the hell did he have to turn on him like that? Why the hell did he leave all that money to his nurse? She got paid well enough, didn't she?
The reasonable part of his brain told him that maybe they could work out a settlement and avoid court altogether. He'd meet with Cassie or whatever the hell her name was and offer her a few thousand dollars and take the rest. She didn't seem like the gold-digging type, unlike Tina LaRue. Indeed, she was quite deferential, almost timid in a way; he could convince her to take less than three thousand, or even two if he was persuasive enough.
But what if she refused to budge? What if she got greedy all of a sudden and wanted it all? Anyone would, he thought. It was basic human nature to want more than the other guy; greed wasn't a vice, it was an instinct. Then what would he do?
But why deal with her at all? Pop and The Guys had ways of dealing with anyone who got in their way, directly or indirectly. If he could just eliminate the competition altogether, he'd have nothing to worry about. But how? That was the question. How could he quietly and discreetly get rid of that little nurse without it coming back to haunt him?
He'd have to make it look like an accident. Not in the Luxor where she was working now, of course, not with wall-to-wall security cameras; you couldn't go to the crapper without being under surveillance in a place like that. No, he'd have to find out where she lived, how she got to work, and other details. Once he found a weak spot, he'd go from there, and no one would be the wiser. Quick, easy and without witnesses--that was the way Pop and The Guys worked.
And while he was at it, maybe he could do something about Tina as well--kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Michael, Jr., laughed at the appropriateness of that tired metaphor. Kill two birds, feather your nest egg, then fly south of the border and bask in the sun. Free and easy, no shoes, no shirt, no worries. Michael, Jr., looked out at the rain pouring down. Let it rain all it wants, he thought. Tomorrow, he was going bird hunting.
12-06-2011, 05:16 PM
Casey wheeled her housekeeping cart into the service elevator and slid her keycard into the floor access slot. Her morning assignment was Criss Angel's suite, just like last time with Rosario. Today, however, she would be working alone. It pleased her that they trusted her with such an important task after only two days on the job, but she wished Rosario was there with her; it would make her feel less lonely. At least she would have Criss' kittycat--what was his name again? Sammie? No, Hammie--would have Hammie to keep her company.
The service elevator glided along its incline track up to the top suite. The doors slid open, leading into the foyer. Casey wheeled out her cart and positioned it behind her while she took out the special keycard to open the Presidential Suite. She hesitated for a moment--ought she to knock first? She didn't want to disturb him if he was still sleeping or something. Yes, maybe that would be a good idea. She rapped on the door gently. "Housekeeping," she announced.
No answer. Casey rapped again, louder this time. "Housekeeping," she repeated.
Still no answer. He must be gone, she figured. She slid the keycard into the slot. There was a small click, signalling the door was unlocked. Casey pushed open the door and pulled her cart inside. Inside, the suite was a mess: playing cards, food wrappers and note paper lay scattered all over the floor. Half-empty glass tumblers sat dripping condensation on the side tables, leaving water rings on the finished surfaces, and a heavy denim jacket had been haphazardly tossed on a chair, half falling to the floor.
Casey sighed and began to clear the clutter away. She picked up the heavy jacket and hung it up in the small coat closet by the door, then gathered up the glasses and placed them in her cart to be taken back to the hotel dishroom. She cleaned the water rings left behind as best she could, but it would take a good polish to remove them completely. She sprayed a bit of furniture polish on the table and rubbed vigorously, peeved at the occupant's slovenly ways. "Didn't your mother teach you to clean up after yourself, Criss?" she muttered irritably.
"Actually, she did," a man's voice spoke behind her.
Startled, Casey whirled around. Standing before her, his hair dripping wet from the shower and wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and a mischevious smile, was Criss Angel himself. "But, hey, I'm a guy," Criss went on. "Guys are slobs, you know that."
Casey was flustered. "Ohmigod! Oh, I am so sorry," she stammered nervously, blushing. "I knocked and didn't hear anyone answer so I came in and I...I didn't know you were still here..."
Criss laughed at her discomfort. "Hey, don't sweat it, hon," he said. "But I'm really sorry for the mess we made last night. Late night planning meeting."
"Oh, it's okay, really it is," Casey said with hasty courtesy. "I mean, it's my job to clean up after people, after all, right? It's what they pay me to do here, you know."
Criss returned to the bedroom to dress, relieving Casey of any more embarrassment. Casey went on polishing the furniture, her cheeks flushed beet red. I just saw Criss Angel in a towel! she said to herself, horrified. I didn't know he was here, I swear! If I had known, I would have come back later. Oh, God, I hope I don't get fired for this!
She was still rubbing the water stains from the side table when Criss returned, fully dressed. "You rub any harder and you're gonna wear a hole into that table," he laughed.
Casey looked at the table. Well, the rings were gone, anyway. She crossed over and began on the next table. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you," she said apolgetically. "I knocked twice, but I guess you didn't hear me. I-I mean, if I knew you were still here--"
Criss laid a hand on her shoulder. "Look, don't sweat it, uh... I didn't catch the name."
"Casey," she filled in for him. "Name's Casey."
"Well, don't sweat it, Casey," Criss said reassuringly. "I get surprised all the time by people--fans, photographers, naked women. At least you work here."
Casey forced herself to relax. For a major celebrity, Criss Angel was a pretty nice guy, she thought, not at all stuck up or self-centered. Maybe that was less true when you had to work with him, but he seemed pretty normal enough. At least he wasn't angry about her coming into his suite without his knowing about it.
She stood up from the side table. There, the rings were gone, and all that was left was the paper all over the floor. Across the room, Criss was tending to his cat, Hammie, giving him a can of cat food and cleaning his litter box--a definate sign of non-snobbery, Casey thought. A lot of celebrities wouldn't deign to pick up a piece of paper off the floor, let alone clean a cat box. She did not object in the least when Criss made it clear that the cat's business was his alone; her job was to clean the suite only. "Of course, if it starts to smell when I'm not here," he continued, "you'd better take care of it, or I'm gonna have the management and the health department on my case."
Casey nodded. She had no aversion to cleaning a litter box. She liked cats. She had always wanted one, but her mother was allergic and her father hated them. She had hoped by now that she'd have her own place and could finally have a pet, but Dad got injured at work, the disability check stretched only so far (and it wasn't far enough these days, not with rising food and gas prices), and Benny wouldn't get off his sorry butt and get a job to save his life, so Casey remained in the family home to support them. Maybe someday she would have a cat of her own.
"Well, I'm off to work," Criss said. "Don't light a match in the bathroom, though."
Casey smiled in chagrin. "I get it," she returned, knowing what he meant.
Criss left the suite. Casey finished sweeping up the litter on the floor and turned to the bedroom. Inside, Hammie lay on the rumpled bedclothes, his tail flicking idly. Casey stooped down to pet him. "Hi, Hammie," she cooed. "How you doing this morning?"
Hammie accepted Casey's caresses and returned to his morning doze before breakfast. Casey decided to tackle the bathroom first. The pungent man-smell of sulfur and methane mixed with shaving cream assaulted her nostrils as she stepped into the steamy bathroom. What did he have for dinner last night? she wondered. Pizza? Mexican food? Whatever caused it, it was her duty to clean it up. After living with two men in her family, she thought she'd be used to it by now. At least here she was getting paid for it.
Downstairs, someone had observed Casey going through the service entrance around back, go into the housekeeping room, get a cart full of cleaning supplies, then head for the service elevator--all without being detected, at least by her. The cameras above watched only a confused tourist who must have taken the wrong entrance into the hotel and decided to go back out to find the right one. Perfectly natural, probably happened before, no big deal. The observer knew where she worked; now to find out where she lived.
It could have been easy to gun her down in the street, or at least in front of her house, but there would be too many witnesses and the CSI eggheads would trace it. No, it had to look like an accident. It would take time to make sure it was done right. Find out where she lived first, then go on from there. The probate hearing wasn't until two weeks from now. There was plenty of time.
12-06-2011, 05:19 PM
The rain spattered on the brick pavement, hissing like a steak on a grill. Inside his spacious mansion on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Springs sat at his dining room table, sorting out the photographs from the cigar box. They were just what he needed to finish the book he was writing. Springs had a knack for words; he loved crossword and Jumble puzzles and was a pro at Scrabble. He had always wanted to be a writer or a journalist, but the Depression and the war that followed put an end to his literary dreams. After the war he joined up with his old buddies Mick and Blusey and formed The Guys in Las Vegas. Writing didn't pay all that great, anyway, Springs had reasoned. Racketeering was more profitable.
Now that he was "retired" from the rackets, he could do what he had always wanted to do--write a book about The Guys of Glitter Gulch. He had spent years gathering remnants of Las Vegas's golden era during the Forties and Fifties from the other Guys and their families: photos, playbills, programs; assorted trinkets like gold-plated cigarette cases and a diamond tie pin reputedly belonging to the infamous Bugsy Siegel; even a rejected part of a floor plan for the Flamingo, the first grand hotel and casino. But it was Mick who had the real treasure: the pictures of The Guys in their heyday and after. Mick's first wife, Josie (God rest her soul), had been a real shutterbug when she was alive. She could take an ordinary Kodak Brownie camera and turn out small works of art from it. Every family gathering, every wedding of their kids, Mick's and the other Guys's, every vacation spot, and every casino from the Flamingo to Mirage, Josie snapped the pictures. Mick said if she hadn't married him, she could have gone to work for a major newspaper.
Josie Piccucci had been a real looker in her day, a natural beauty, not like those other women who had to use makeup to make themselves attractive. Unlike the other Guys whose marriages ended in divorce (Springs himself had two under his belt; mercifully, both his ex-wives remarried before the alimony payments could bankrupt him), Mick and Josie stayed until death did them part. After thirty-four years of married bliss, Josie came down with heart disease and died sometime in the late Seventies. Springs remembered the funeral Mass: Mick cried throughout the whole service. Josie had been the one stabilizing force in his tulmultuous life, standing by her man through thick and thin, good times and bad, court hearings and FBI investigations. They didn't make women like that anymore, Springs thought.
He picked up one photo in particular, a picture of Mick and Tina on Catalina during their courtship days. Mick's arm was wrapped tightly around Tina's slender waist, while Tina posed seductively by his side, one shapely leg up in the air, her tiny red bikini top ready to give way to the strain of supporting her huge bosom. Springs looked at it with distaste, then tossed it onto the floor. That was one memory he wanted to erase. Tina was the type of woman who made Alzheimer's look good.
Mick had mourned Josie's death deeply, yet only five years later, Mick shacked up with Tina LaRue and married her within six months after their first meeting. She had been a stripper of some reknown, with gazongas like cantelopes and an ass that wouldn't quit. Springs knew she was a gold-digger from the start, but Mick was smitten with her so bad he couldn't talk him out of marrying her. Marry in haste, repent in leisure, his mother had said, and that was true for Mick and Tina. They stayed together long enough to have a daugher, Heather, a quiet, skinny girl who seemed intimidated by her gangster father and shrewish mother, and so kept to herself. Mick was in his sixties at the time, but still naturally virile. Tina spent a fortune on beauty products, more out of personal vanity than out of a desire to please her husband. Yet Mick cursed himself for his mistake throughout their married life while enduring the demands of his second wife for money and sex, in that order.
Tina and Mick divorced around the beginning of the Nineties. Tina was the one who filed first, of course, claiming loss of affection or some such BS. Thank God Close came by and got Mick out of that damn pre-nup she strong-armed him into signing before they married, or else Mick would have been reduced to a charity case. Tina got custody of Heather and a smaller settlement than what she bargained for, leaving her even more ill tempered than ever. Springs still rememebered the huge sigh of relief Mick breathed when Tina stormed out of the courtroom after their divorce trial, yanking Heather along by the arm as she left.
The last decade of the twentieth century passed without incident. The few remaining members of The Guys of Glitter Gulch, Springs, Mick, Andrew "Shorty" Hyneman, and Robert "Blusey" Bluseman had gathered at Mick's place to welcome the turn of the twenty-first century with brandy and cigars, rehashing old memories and hardly believing they had lived long enough to see this momentious event. After that, the past began to fade, and besides all hell breaking loose on Nine-Eleven, the loss of Shorty to cirrosis of the liver and Blusey to a heart attack, life was just a round of golf, poker, and an occasional trip to one of the classic casinos in Glitter Gulch before the wrecking ball arrived. Now, Mick was gone, and Springs, the last surviving member of The Guys, was left to tell their story.
Springs sorted the photographs by category: personal family photos of wives and kids, pictures of the old casinos like the Silver Slipper, the Mirage, the Flamingo, and the Ranchero in their heyday, and The Guys posing with such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Carol Channing, and other luminaries, as well as photos of Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and "Lucky" Luciano. It seemed the whole history of Las Vegas was contained in that single wooden cigar box sitting on Springs' dining room table.
He picked up another photo of Tina and Mick, and again tossed it to the floor, then another and another. It was as if he could erase Tina's existance with a single sweep of an arm, but the recent memory of Mick's will reading could not drive it away. He knew Tina would stop at nothing to get Mick's money. Well, he would make damn sure that she didn't get a nickel of it, for Mick's sake. It was the only way to avenge his late friend and business partner short of murder, although the latter was beginning to look better and better as he thought about it.
12-06-2011, 05:23 PM
Casey stared incredulously at the dark-suited man standing before her in the housekeeper's office that morning. When she had been summoned by the management to go to the office before beginning her shift, she had assumed the worst: they were letting her go, she had done something wrong, there was a complaint against her. Instead she had found Mr. Piccucci's lawyer, Mr. Close, of all people, standing there waiting to meet her. As if that wasn't surprising enough, Mr. Close informed her that she was the sole heir to Mr. Piccucci's estate. Through some discreet inquiries, Mr. Close found out about Casey's fill-in position at the Luxor Hotel and decided to meet her there instead of driving all the way to her home to tell her the news.
When Casey heard the news, she almost fainted from shock. Mr. Piccucci leaving all his money to her? What about his son? Wasn't he supposed to get it all? Why did Mr. Piccucci cut his own son out of his will? Casey kept out of the family politics as a rule, out of respect to her employer and the common sense decision that it was none of her concern, but she could not help but wonder why Mr. Piccucci disinherited his own son? Did they have some sort of falling out in the past? What had happened?
"But-but-but...why?" she stammered. "What about his son? What's going to happen to him?"
"Well, Mick--I mean, Mr. Piccucci--felt that you were the only one who wasn't greedy enough to care about his money," Close replied. "His son has a reputation for being a playboy and a womanizer, and his ex-wife, Tina, is, to put it politely, a gold-digger. Michael, Jr., would just squander it all like he did when he was single, and he refused to have anything to do with Tina. Springs is too old, but was still Mick's former business partner, so he got half a million, just out of friendship."
Casey sat down in the nearest chair, her head spinning. "What am I going to do now?" she wailed. "I didn't want Mr. Piccucci's money; I just wanted to take care of him and support my family."
"You can do more than just support your family with nine million dollars, hon," the housekeeping manager said.
"Look, Casey," Close said. "The family and Tina are going to contest the will in court. I'll take care of everything, okay? It's going to be a few weeks before you have to appear in court--"
"Appear in court?" Casey was horrified.
"Now, now, you're not being charged with a crime," Close assured her. "Just as one of the contestors, that's all. I'll be representing you all the way. And don't worry about fees--it'll all come out of the inheritance. Just show up in court and I'll do the rest."
Casey wavered. "I just can't believe this is happening to me," she said. "But could you do me a favor, Mr. Close?
"Don't tell anyone about this, okay? I don't want people to know about this. God knows what will happen to me and my family."
"All right, Casey," Close said. "I promise."
Close picked up his briefcase. "Well, I've done what I came here to do," he said, "and now I'll take my leave. Good day, ladies."
Casey feebly waved good-bye as Close walked out of the office. She looked at the housekeeping manager in despair. "What do I do now?" she whimpered.
"Punch in, pick up your room assignment and get to work, I guess," the manager replied with a shrug. "You still have a few weeks before you can claim your inheritance, anyway."
"If I can claim it," Casey said. "They're gonna sue me for it, and I know they're gonna win. They have more claim to it than I do."
The manager put a comforting hand on Casey's shoulder. "Don't be too sure about that, hon," she said. "The court may just rule in your favor. Who knows? In a few weeks, you could be rolling in dough. Now, you get to work."
Casey nodded and staggered out of the office. She should be elated to have inherited nine million dollars, she thought--anyone would be. She should be doing backflips down the corridor, calling her mother with the good news, planning a bright future for herself. Instead, she was filled with dread, her spirits as dark and dank as the weather outside. The Piccuccis would savage her in court, shred her to ribbons with their high-priced lawyers; even with Mr. Close's help, she didn't stand a chance. They were a mob family, not above using underhanded tactics--even murder--to get what they want. Casey couldn't help but feel that her days were numbered, and those numbers were fewer than she thought.
With a heavy heart, Casey went into the housekeeper's room to pick up her room assignments and her cleaning cart. The other maids looked up as she entered. "Well, look who's here!" one jeered. "The Piccucci heiress herself!"
Casey felt her stomach tie itself in a knot. "Huh? How did you--"
A newspaper was thrust in her face. "It's in the paper, doll!" the maid said. "That old gangster left you with all of his ill-gotten gains!"
"So, how does it feel to be rich all of a sudden?" another maid asked.
"Look, guys," Casey began, "I really don't want--"
"You don't want to be seen with us?" the first maid interrupted. "Boy, did you turn into a snob all of a sudden!"
"No! It's not that at all!" Casey protested. "The thing is I don't want this to happen to me. I'm in trouble here, guys!"
"What kind of trouble can you get into with nine million dollars?"
"With nine million dollars," a jovial black housekeeper said, "any kind of trouble you want, honey!"
There was laughter all around. Casey's heart sank. It was no use trying to convince any of them about the danger she faced by inheriting the estate of a former mobster. Worse, her inheritance was now public knowledge, thanks to some nosy reporter. Now everyone knew who she was. Sadly, she picked up the clipboard with her room assignments and wheeled her cart out of the closet. At least she didn't have to wear a name tag on her uniform; that way, no one could inquire too closely about her as she worked.
Why me, God? she wailed inwardly. Why did it have to be me? Why couldn't I have won the lottery instead of getting Mr. Piccucci's money? Now I got the mob after me. Why did it have to be me?
12-07-2011, 04:38 AM
That girl is going to ahve a stoke when she finds out what she has coming to her
12-07-2011, 04:34 PM
Alicia stood quietly at the counter of the secondhand music store while the clerk appraised the CDs she had bought in to sell. She hoped to get a good price for them, enough to get her to Las Vegas and back, or at least one way. Many were old favorites of hers, like the Backstreet Boys and NSync, but it was worth the sacrifice if it meant seeing Criss Angel. She would have sold everything she owned to go to Loyalapalooza.
The clerk set aside the CDs. "Twenty dollars cash," he said.
Alicia's heart sank. Only twenty dollars? "Are you sure you can't give me more?" she begged. "It's for a...a very important trip."
The clerk remained firm. "Twenty dollars," he repeated. "Take it or leave it."
Alicia sighed and accepted the twenty dollars, signed the receipt, and left the record store. Maybe there was something else she could sell, she thought. She made a mental inventory of her personal possessions: clothes, costume jewelry, books, old toys stored away in the basement--what did she have of value that she could sell for her trip to Las Vegas? Alicia sighed again. Well, she'd have to wait until she got home and looked things over--maybe there was something she missed? Or maybe she could fall back on plan A, getting her mother to finance the trip under the guise of the Manresa retreat. She could get a permission slip from the office, show it to her mother, convince her somehow to pay in cash, have her sign it, and be off to Las Vegas and Loyalapalooza. Or she could turn to that time-honored source of teen income, babysitting, as a last resort. It would mean nights of screaming toddlers and stubborn preschoolers who simply refused to go to bed when they were supposed to, but in the end it would be worth it.
Alicia walked through the front door of the Rose family homestead. Her ears were assaulted by loud computer-generated artillery rat-a-tatting from the living room, punctuated by tinny explosions. Kyle was too engrossed in his War Machine game that he didn't even notice his sister come into the house, something Alicia took advantage of by going up to her room and hiding her twenty carefully in her top underwear drawer, the safest place she knew; she still recalled the time her little brother had gotten into the habit of taking money out of her piggybank, and their mother's purse, too, when he was about seven or eight, and it still rankled her. The last straw came when he stole the cash she had scrimped and saved for their father's birthday present, all one dollar and ninety-eight cents of it, and spent it on ice cream. After her tearful protests and Kyle's emphatic denials to the contrary, it was determined that the latter was guilty as charged; the evidence was the Fudgesicle smear on his mouth. Since then, Alicia hid her money carefully and threatened Kyle with bodily harm if he so much as set one foot in her room.
Twenty dollars in the drawer, another five for allowance, the two she had in her purse if Kyle hadn't fallen back into bad habits--only twenty-seven dollars for her trip to Las Vegas. How much would she need to get to Vegas, anyway? She had seen hundreds of ads for travel deals online; maybe she should check them out. If she was lucky, she could find a way to get to Vegas without her mother or anyone else becoming suspicious. It was risky, but it was worth it. Anything for Criss.
So many changes, Springs thought to himself as he drove down the fabled Vegas strip. All the old casinos were gone--the Mirage, the Flamingo, the Rodeo, the Silver Slipper. The Pyramid House had been replaced by the Luxor Hotel, the Mirage giving way to the MGM Grand--out with the old and in with the new. Vegas Vic, the giant neon cowboy who waved to all who passed, was still there, a comfort to the old man who drove in the black Mercedes. It was bigger, it was more technologically advanced (the size of those outdoor television screens astonished him; he could recall when televisions screens were barely more than twelve inches at the most), and it was more expensive. A week's wages back in Nineteen-Thirty would barely buy a steak dinner today, he calculated. But still they came, by bus or plane, all for that one big score.
When The Guys first arrived in Las Vegas back in the late Forties, the city was barely on the map, a place for workers on the Boulder Dam project during the Depression had come in to blow their wages for the week on legalized gambling and prostitutes. It took Bugsy Siegel and the Syndicate to create the Flamingo, a two-million dollar luxury oasis in the middle of the desert, to put it on the map. Plagued by mismanagement by Bugsy and huge cost overruns by unscrupulous contractors, it seemed doomed to failure until Bugsy was shot in his hotel room and the Syndicate took it over, and the rest was history. And The Guys of Glitter Gulch were there to get a piece of the action; by offering "protection" and taking kickbacks wherever they could, The Guys made themselves a hefty profit, up to a million dollars in six months. They were small potatoes compared to the Syndicate, but by keeping a low profile and steering clear of the Mafia, The Guys thrived on their extortion well into the Seventies--and beyond, thanks to Bluesy's formidable knowledge of the tax laws and how to stash their loot in off-shore tax shelters.
Now their era had passed. Everything was on the up-and-up these days, with security tighter than the White House. Vegas went through a "Family Friendly" phase during the Seventies and Eighties to attract more tourists with their kids, building amusement parks with rides and circuses while toning down the strip shows. The Nineties, however, bought the sin back into Sin City with more, better choreographed strip shows (men as well as women, if you could believe it--talk about equal opportunity!), and huge extravaganzas like Cirque de Soleil, whatever the hell that was, and Siegfried and Roy and that new guy--what's his name? Springs looked at the giant banner covering the top half of the Luxor. Oh, yeah, Criss Angel. He's supposed to be good. Lousy dresser, though, with those raggedy jeans and that whacked off haircut. They dressed better during the Depression, he thought.
As Springs drove down the Strip, he spotted a familiar face standing at the bus stop. Skinny girl, brown hair, wearing a maid's uniform--where the hell did he see her before. Springs drove up for a closer look. Oh,yeah! Mick's nurse, what's-her-name--Cathy? Cassie? One of those. On a whim he pulled over and stopped close to her.
"Hey, you!" he called out. "Sweetheart! Yeah, you!"
Casey drew closer to see who was trying to get her attention, and was relieved to discover it was Mr. Springer. "Hello, Mr. Springer," she said. "Nice to see you again."
"Yeah, hop in," Springs said. "I'll give you a lift."
Casey rather hesitantly accepted Springs' offer. True, he had been a gangster in his day with Mr. Piccucci, but he was also Mr. Piccucci's friend, and he seemed rather nice the last time she met him. She slipped into the passenger side of the Mercedes, feeling a bit intimidated by being in such a luxurious vehicle. Springs drove on.
"So, how ya been, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Fine, thank you, sir," Casey said.
"So, whaddya been doin' now that Mick's bought the farm?"
"I've been temping as a housekeeper at the Luxor Hotel," she replied. "I'm just there for the week. After that, I'm just on call."
Springs nodded. "At least you got work for a while, anyway," he said. "Things are tough all over. Almost as bad as the Depression."
"I hope to work as a caregiver again," Casey said hopefully. "Someone always needs someone to care for them."
Springs nodded. Pretty soon he himself would need to be cared for, what with old age and the cancer eating into his gut. He was on the list for a stomach transplant, provided they could find an available donor. He'd be laid up for a while, and it would be nice if he--.
Suddenly, an idea popped into his head, a way to solve both his and Mick's former caregiver's problems. "Tell you what, Cassie," he began.
"Whatever. Tell you what. I'm gonna need a caregiver sometime soon after I get this gut cancer taken care of. Gimme your number, and I'll buzz you when I need you."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Springer!" Casey said happily. "I'd be glad to take care of you."
"Hey, no problem," Springs said. "After all, you took care of Mick real good. I figure you'd do the same for me."
"Of course, Mr. Springer." Casey fumbled through her handbag for a pen and a piece of paper. On the back of a grocery receipt she scribbled her phone number and gave it to Springs. "There you go," she said cheerfully.
Springs took the number absently and slipped it into his jacket pocket. "Thanks," he said.
Casey spotted a familiar corner. "I live around there," she told him. "You can just drop me off right here."
Springs pulled over, nearly cutting off the driver behind them. "Here ya go," he said, "now get outta here."
"Thank you for the ride, Mr. Springer," Casey said politely as she got out.
Springs just waved and drove on, all but forgetting Casey and their conversation. Casey skipped on down the side street to her home, her heart light as a feather. The misery of the morning was forgotten; things were looking up for her.
A block or two away, someone had been observing Casey's every move, and had also recognized Springs' Mercedes. Was it just a coincidence that he picked her up, or was there something more to it than that? Mick, Sr., had left Springs half a million dollars in his will, and the rest to that little nurse of his. Was there some sort of conspiracy?
The driver had followed the Mercedes to the corner, then was abruptly cut off, then trailed her carefully, keeping well back so as not to be spotted. There, that brown and brick ranch house, that was where she lived, calling out "mom, I'm home," or something. The mysterous car slowly drove by, unnoticed. Casey worked at the Luxor, and lived in that little brown ranch house. Now it was time to plan phase three.
12-08-2011, 03:40 PM
Tina LaRue watched from the driver's seat of her daughter's silver Lexus as Junior's Maserati tooled casually down the side street and disappeared. She had been trailing him ever since she saw him pull out of his driveway an hour or so earlier. She followed him to the Luxor, where she watched that little nurse of Mick's get into the big black Mercedes that could only belong to Springs. Junior tailed the Mercedes while Tina tailed Junior all the way to the corner where Springs let Casey out, then watched as Junior followed her down the street where she probably lived.
So, she thought, Junior's casing out Nursie. Well, he can't be smitten with her--she's not that good looking, and definatly not his type.But then, it could have something to do with the will. Maybe he's planning to have her whacked. I wouldn't put it past him, given that he's Mick's son after all.
Tina drove the Lexus into the parking lot of a small bistro and went inside. She ordered a chicken salad wrap and a cappuccino and sat down to ponder her next move. It didn't matter to her if Junior bumped off Casey Worth; it would be one less thing on her to-do list. Her target was Junior himself, that lousy playboy who cared for nothing but his own pleasures. She knew he had a mistress or three stashed somewhere--he was his father's son after all. Mick had been the same way, chasing anything in a skirt even after they got married. She had had a few marital donnybrooks with him over his womanizing, and in the end she took Heather out of the house and Mick into divorce court. Unfortunatly, that louse of a lawyer he had blew holes in the pre-nup they had signed and Tina ended up with a lot less than she originally stated, a lousy half million total instead of the two million a year. Enraged, she had grabbed her daughter and stormed out of the courtroom, vowing to get back at Mick Piccucci one way or another.
When she heard from one of the few remaining contacts Mick and The Guys still had that her ex-husband was dying, she took desperate measures to get his money by trying to annul her divorce so she could be his legal widow and claim his estate. That plan, of course, fell through. Not only did he cut her and Heather out of the will, he left the whole thing to his caregiver, Casey. Well, Mick, may he rot in Hell, wasn't going to get away with it! Let Junior bump off Casey Worth, she thought. He'll either end up on Death Row, invalidating his claim to the estate, or he would meet with an unfortunate "accident". Either way, Tina was going to come out the winner. Nothing was going to stop her from getting what was coming to her.
Criss was tired after a long day of meetings, rehersals, and shooting the latest episode of MindFreak. All he wanted was something to eat and a quick nap, but there was the Loyalapalooza weekend to plan yet.
"Have someone bring in some food for the meeting, willya?" he ordered his assistant, Jennifer. "I'm starving."
"Shall I call the deli?" Jennifer asked.
"Yeah, good idea," Criss nodded. "Keep it healthy, willya? Thanks."
Jennifer got on the phone and called the hotel deli to order a platter of sandwich wraps for the meeting. Criss went into a small meeting room in the back of the office where the small committee designated to planning Loyalapalooza waited.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. "I ordered something from the deli for everybody." He sat down at the head of the table. "Okay, let's get started. What's the agenda?"
Linda Basse, the social co-ordinator, picked up her notes. "Okay, day one is the stage show where you do your illusions with volunteers from the audience; day two is the meet-and-greet-slash-press conference; day three is the taping of your episode with the Loyals. The whole thing will be shot on the top deck of the parking garage, as usual."
"Sounds good," Criss agreed. "Anything else?"
"What illusions do you plan to perform?" Linda asked.
"The usual," Criss replied. "Levitation, card tricks, mentalism, things like that. I don't want to burn myself out doing any major demonstrations. I mean, I still got the live shows to do."
Everyone nodded in agreement. There was more discussion about the live show, security and other details, then the deli tray showed up and everyone dug into the food, grateful for the break. Criss was satisfied with the planning of Loyalapalooza--nothing should go wrong, he thought. If something did go wrong, he was confident that his staff would take care of it. But he was confident in the efficiency of the hotel security staff and his own that everything would go smoothly. His Loyals deserved the best he could offer, and he was not going to disappoint them.
12-08-2011, 08:10 PM
Alicia Rose dug through the clutter of her bedroom closet, searching desperatly for something--anything--to sell to finance her trip to Las Vegas. Most of her CD collection had been sold, and she had no valuable jewelry worth pawning. Her stuffed animal collection, made up of hook-and-crane teddy bears and gift shop souveniers, was practically worthless--not a collectable in the lot. Alicia was about to give up when she laid eyes on a small square object lying on the floor of the closet. She picked it up and saw it was the book her mother had given her on her tenth birthday, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.
Alicia studied the worn, dog-eared cover of the book. Old books were worth money, and there was a small second-hand bookstore in the small strip mall around the corner that bought and sold books, she recalled. But it had been her mother's book, and she had given it to Alicia with the best of intentions. Did she dare sell a family heirloom just to go to see Criss Angel in Las Vegas?
Yes, she decided without a moment's hesitation, she would. Her mother would never miss it; it had been three years since she had given it to her. She put the book on her vanity dresser and returned to her search. If she was going to Vegas, the sale of one book wasn't going to cover the cost. She was knee deep in clutter when she heard her brother Kyle's voice call out in his usual vulgar manner, "Hey, fartface! Whatcha doin'?"
Alicia ignored him and went on sorting through her clutter. She set aside a school yearbook from fifth grade on the bed and picked up an old Hallowe'en costume from two years ago. She shook it out and began to fold it. Kyle, however, was not to be ignored. "I said whatcha doin', fartface?" he persisted.
Again, Alicia ignored him. "Fartface!" Kyle taunted, imitating flatulence with Bronx cheers. "Fartface!"
No response. Alicia continued to pick up and sort through the contents of her closet, heedless of Kyle's crude behavior. "You live like a pig, fartface!" Kyle sneered. "A fartface pig! Living in a pigsty!"
"You should talk, Kyle," Alicia responded calmly. "Have you seen your room lately?"
Kyle stepped into the room and began throwing clothes and other items in all directions. "Snort! Snort! Fartfaced pig! Snort! Snort!"
Alicia wanted to order him to stop, even to slap him, but long experience had taught her that the best way to deal with her obnoxious little brother was to ignore him. It was just his way of getting attention, that was all. He was just an immature child who didn't know better.
A small teddy bear went sailing across the room and landed squarely on Alicia's head. Alicia flinched a little, but kept her cool. Kyle laughed in triumph over his direct hit and proceeded to pummel Alicia with the other animals on her bed, chanting "Fartface! Fartface!" at the top of his voice. It was annoying to say the least, but Alicia kept calmly going over her things. Just keep ignoring him, she told herself, and he'll go away.
Kyle picked up a pink and white bunny rabbit, a gift from Dad on the last Easter they were together as a family and the one stuffed toy she cherished above all the others. "I got your bunny!" Kyle crowed. "I'm gonna flush him down the toilet!"
"You do," Alicia said quietly, "and you're going to pay for the plumbing bill out of your allowance."
Kyle ran out of the bedroom with the toy bunny and dashed into the bathroom. "I'm going to do it, Alicia!" he threatened. "Bunny rabbit's going down the pipes!"
Alicia would have chased after him in the past, but today she refused to call Kyle's bluff. She reasoned that Kyle wouldn't flush the toy rabbit; the toilet would have overflowed and Mom would have been very upset. Besides, it was just a toy. She had outgrown such childish things, anyway; her affections had turned toward Criss Angel. She was moving on with her life while Kyle remained in a state of arrested development.
Kyle returned to Alicia's bedroom to check on her reaction over the drowning of her favorite toy. To his disappointment, she kept on going through her things. He flung the unflushed bunny onto the floor of the bedroom and stalked away, frustrated. Alicia smiled to herself. She had won this round, at least.
She looked around the room, covered with the debris of the past. Besides the book her mother had given her, there was nothing at all of value. Well, it had given her an excuse to clean out her closet anyway; she never knew she had so much junk.
She found a large plastic shopping bag in the closet and filled them with the clothes she had outgrown as well as the old Hallowe'en costume, all to be given to St. Vincent de Paul's. Her tiny wastebasket was soon stuffed to overflowing with trash, and the few items she chose to keep, like her school yearbook and some photos in a shoebox, went on the upper shelf. As she slid the box onto the shelf, a larger shoebox from FootLocker containing the most precious items she owned caught her eye. It was shoved way into the back of the closet, hidden from view and Kyle's search and destroy missions.
Alicia listened carefully for any signs of Kyle's whereabouts. From the crashing and booming mayhem coming from the living room, she could tell that he was wrapped up in one of his favorite video games and would be occupied for hours. She shut the door and took out the secret, box from its hiding place. Almost reverently, she laid it on the bed and opened it. Inside were the pictures of Criss Angel that she had clipped from magazines, downloaded from the Internet, or purchased by mail order. Below it was The Book, Criss' autobiography, MindFreak, as sacred as the Bible as far as she was concerned. She had wanted it so much when it was first released, but had despaired of ever owning it due to its prohibitive cost and the fact that her mother would have disapproved of her little girl owning such a thing as a book written by a very sexy magician such as Criss Angel. By some miracle of fate, she had found it in a church rummage sale, for only five dollars. The irony of such a find in such an unlikely place never failed to make her smile. She had snatched it up, paid for it quickly, then carried it home with her in a black plastic bag, her mother nor her brother none the wiser.
The video game Kyle was playing boomed on, with Kyle cheering every blast of his weapons and every explosion taking place on the screen. Aside from tormenting his sister, video games were his main if not his only passion in life, the gorier and more destructive, the better. How many of those games did he have, anyway? she wondered. Twenty? Thirty? More? He must have spent a near fortune buying those stupid games, she thought; a waste of money as far as she was concerned.
Fortune? Money? She recalled at the music store where she had sold her CDs that they also bought and sold video DVDs. There had to be a profit somewhere, she figured. Did she dare...?
Well, there were some games he had grown tired of and were collecting dust on the shelf, and Mom always disapproved of his choice of games, so maybe she'd be doing them both a favor. Kyle would never miss them; he was always on the hunt for the newest, latest and goriest games on the market. And she needed money...
Alicia stared at the photo of Criss on the cover of The Book. Would seeing her beloved Angel be worth stealing a few DVDs? Her mother's book would not be missed, but would Kyle notice the loss of a few games? Probably not. Kyle would play a single game obsessively for a week or two, then toss it aside for another one. If he did discover the loss, she could accuse him of misplacing it--he did it all the time with games and other things, like homework. It was an acceptable risk.
Alicia clutched The Book to her breast and closed her eyes. Yes, for her Angel, it would be worth it. Anything to escape this one-horse town and be by his side would be worth it.
Soon, my Angel, soon we will be together. I would rob a bank for you! I would do murder for you! Soon we will be together and we'll be happy--forever and ever and ever!
12-08-2011, 08:21 PM
The week passed quickly. Casey was on her last day of her fill-in job at the Luxor, and again was assigned Criss' suite to clean that morning. The housekeeping staff lost interest in teasing her about her inheritance once they found out the will was to be probated in two weeks. Instead, they sympathized with her for getting a bum break.
"Shake hands with a pauper," said one.
"So, who's gonna get the money?" asked another. "The ex-wife or the son?"
"Smart money's on the son. No way is the ex gonna get nothin'."
"I dunno 'bout that. She had a daughter by him, so she might get something."
"I'll tell you who's gonna get the money--the IRS, that's who! It's all gonna get eaten up by taxes, just you wait and see. That poor girl ain't gonna get nothin'!."
"Well, the guy was a mobster, and a lot of those old mobsters were charged with tax evasion, so you may have a point there."
"Geez! You find out that you inherited nine million dollars, then they turn around and screw you over in court! Poor kid, what she must be going through."
"Hey, nobody said life was fair."
"But, still, she must be taking it pretty hard."
Actually, Casey was taking it in stride as she pushed her cleaning cart up to Criss' suite. The thought of being sued for money she didn't have unsettled her, but she took Mr. Close's assurances to heart and tried to convince herself that everything would work out for the best. She did not even dream of the money she was set to inherit; the chances of the will being upheld and she receiving nine million dollars were, well, Las Vegas odds. Things like that only happened in the movies, not in real life. Still, it was nice of Mr. Piccucci to remember her like that. It showed that he was a really nice man despite his shady past.
Casey arrived at the door of the suite and knocked. "Housekeeping," she called out.
Th her surprise, the door opened. Criss Angel himself stood there, dressed in tight biker shorts and a tank shirt, ready for the gym. "Oh, hi, Casey," he said, "come on in."
Casey wheeled her cart into the suite. It looked much better than the first day, she thought: no litter on the floor, no empty cartons. The bathroom was probably a different story, though. Well, Criss was only human, and humans do what humans do when they're in the bathroom.
"I'll be down in the gym," he said. "There's a baggie of cat litter I need you to throw away. Other than that I--"
Criss hesitated. He looked down at Casey's cleaning cart. "Hey, what's that?" he asked curiously.
Casey was puzzled. "What's what?"
"This thing right here, behind the vacuum cleaner."
Casey removed the vacuum cleaner and saw what Criss was talking about, the strange device with a digital alarm clock wired to what looked like road flares wedged into the side of the cart. "Wh--what is that thing?" Casey stammered.
"It's a bomb!" Criss shouted. "Get out of here, now!"
Casey screamed. Criss got on the hotel phone and punched the red emergency button. "This is Criss Angel!" he snapped into the phone. "We got a bomb up here! Send someone up here now!"
He slammed down the receiver. "We gotta get out of here!" he cried. "God knows when that thing'll go off!"
Criss grabbed Casey by the arm and dragged her out of the suite. Suddenly, Casey stopped him. "What about Hammie?" she reminded him anxiously. "You can't leave him behind!"
Criss swore aloud and ran back into the suite. "Hammeeee!" he called out. "Where are you?"
"Please, Criss," Casey whimpered, "hurry! That bomb's going to go off any second now!"
Frantically, Criss searched for his beloved cat. Not in the living room, not in the small kitchen, not in the bedroom. He looked in the bathroom and found Hammie lounging in the basin, oblivious to the danger. Criss grabbed his cat and dashed out of the suite. He could hear the fire alarms going off in the suites below despite the hotel's soundproofing. They barely made it to the elevator in time before the doors shut and were deactivated.
Casey shook violently, her face wet with tears. "Mr. Angel, I swear I--"
"Did you see anyone put that bomb on your cart?" Criss demanded.
"No, I swear I didn't!" Casey sniffled. "I just picked it up like always. I had no idea there was a bomb on it, I swear!"
Criss gave Casey a hug. "It's okay, Casey," he said quietly. "We'll let the police handle this."
The elevator doors opened to reveal chaos. The entire hotel was being evacuated; staff and guests were being herded out of all available exits. The blaring emergency sirens echoing through the atrium were deafening. Criss clutched Hammie close to his chest for fear the animal would leap out of his arms and get lost in the crowd. Casey looked around and spotted the service entrance corridor, free of congestion. "This way!" she shouted to Criss, motioning him to follow her.
They threaded their way to the service corridor and made their way to the exit. A few desperate types spotted them and followed, fearing for their lives. Once outside, Criss and Casey found a spot by the dumpsters to wait out the impending disaster. Criss slumped down on the curbside, his adrenalin rush draining away.
"God, that was close," he panted. "Are you sure you didn't see anyone put that bomb there?"
"I'm positive, Mr. Angel," Casey confirmed. "I arrived at my usual time, punched in, got my room assignments, took the cart and went to your suite. The only people I saw were the housekeepers and maintenance. Please, you've got to believe me!"
"I believe you, Casey, I believe you. It's just that I can't figure out who wanted to kill me, that's all."
"Who'd want to kill you?" Casey asked innocently.
Criss shrugged, still holding Hammie. "I dunno, but whoever left that bomb there left his fingerprints on it, unless he wore gloves or something. But, anyway, you gotta talk to the police. They may take you in and fingerprint you, but that's just for investigative purposes. Once they determine you didn't do it, you'll be okay."
"But I didn't do it!" Casey protested. "Besides, I don't know how to make a bomb! And even if I did, I wouldn't use it on you, or anyone else for that matter! I'm not a hitter!"
"Gangster lingo for hitman," Casey explained. "My former employer, well, he used to be a gangster back in the Forties. I learned a lot of Mafia words from him: hitter, whacked, packing heat, bumped off, things like that."
Criss looked at Casey warily. "Gangster, huh? What was his name?"
"Mr. Piccucci," Casey answered him.
"What did you do for him when you were working for him?"
"I was his caregiver. He was a very sick old man, and I would come in and take care of his needs, keep him company, things like that. He died about a week ago. Now I'm working here, but I'm just on call."
Criss searched his memory to link what Casey had just told him to what sounded familiar to him. His searching matched what his brother JD had read from a newspaper last week: Here's something interesting. Says here that some former gangster left his entire fortune to his caregiver. And get this--she works here at the Luxor.
"Were you the one who inherited that gangster's fortune?" Criss asked with a tinge of trepadition.
Casey sighed dejectedly. "Oh, you read about that, huh? Well, I--"
"Who else was involved?"
"Who else was involved in the estate?"
"Oh. Well, there was Mr. Piccucci's son, Michael, Jr., and his ex-wife, I forgot her name, and Mr. Springer. But Mr. Springer got half a million dollars. The rest weren't even mentioned. I didn't find out about it until last week."
Criss pondered this new information, then turned somberly to Casey. "Casey, I don't think I'm the target here," he said.
"I think someone's trying to bump you off to get Mr. Piccucci's money."
Casey was stunned. Criss laid a hand on her shoulder. "Look, I know it's a shock, but you got two family members with mob connections who got cut out of the old man's will, and they want it all back--even if they have to kill you for it!"
"But I didn't want Mr. Piccucci's money!" Casey cried. "I thought for sure Michael, Jr., would get it for sure!"
"Well, he didn't," Criss told her. "And he's prime suspect number one."
Criss rose to his feet. "Come on," he ordered. "We got to talk to the police about this."
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Bomb Squad positioned themselves all around the top floor of the suite. Only a remote controlled robot wheeled into the suite itself and located the bomb on the cart. Captain Harding monitored the robot's movements on the computer screen a safe distance from the suite.
"There it is," he muttered. "It's got a digital timer. Can you read what it says?"
"Five-fifty-five," replied the officer beside him. "I'm guessing that thing is going to go off in five minutes."
Captain Harding manouvered the mechanical arms of the robot to grasp the bomb and withdraw it from the cart. "Steadeeee, steadeeee...Got it! Move in with the can!"
Two Bomb Squad officers trotted in with a large, insulated metal drum to store the bomb. They set it down as close to the entrance as was safely possible. The robot carefully backed away with the bomb in its metal claws toward the officers with the can. The machine slowly turned backward to the left, then turned forward toward the can and carefully deposited the bomb into it, then withdrew its arms and waited for its next command from Captain Harding on the controls.
"Package is secured," one of the officers with the can reported to Harding.
"Good! Let's get it out of here!" Harding barked. "We got four minutes before that thing blows!"
The two officers carried the "package" to the waiting freight elevator and secured themselves inside. The trip down was tense but swift with no stops on the way (hotel management made sure of that). With only two and a half minutes to go, the bomb inside the can was quickly transferred to the Mobile Disposal Unit for deactivation. News cameras and photographers present caught the action for the twelve o'clock news, while bystanders took pictures of the squad with cameras, camcorders and camera phones for keepsakes. Hundreds of people--guests, hotel and casino staff, and passersby--huddled in apprehension over what would happen next. Would the bomb go off? Would they defuse it in time? Was there even a real bomb in that container, or was it a hoax?
The seconds ticked by, a seeming eternity to those outside. Many of the guests were impatient, wanting to go back to their rooms or the casino. Others clutched their loved ones in terror; murmured references to the World Trade Center rippled through the crowd. Still others struck up casual aquaintences with those next to them, chatting idly about friends and family and other, familiar things. Some Loyals, fans of Criss Angel, searched the perimeter for any sign of their idol, hoping and praying that he got out safely with his family.
Captain Harding waited for word from the MDU. Years of discipline had instilled patience when it came to deactivating a bomb, yet he knew that time was of the essence as far as public safety was concerned. Once the "package" was safely delivered into the MDU, the worst was over, but there was still the risk of the wrong wire being cut and the whole truck would blow to hell.
There was a crackle on his radio receiver. "MDU. Package deactivated. All clear."
All clear. Screw the poets, he thought. To Captain Harding, those were the two most beautiful words in the English language. He contacted hotel security. "All clear," he announced.
The word was out--all clear. There were cheers and applause as everyone made their way back into the hotel. The crisis was over, but for Criss and Casey, the nightmare had not yet ended. They approached the first uniformed officer they spotted and flagged him down. The officer walked briskly to the uniformed housekeeper and the athletic type clutching a cat in his arms.
"We think we know who planted that bomb," Criss said.
12-09-2011, 02:16 AM
12-09-2011, 02:16 PM
In the computer lab at St. Benedict's Acadamy, Alicia sat before her assigned terminal ready to log onto the Criss Angel fanboards. She hoped her recently posted poem had received postive reviews (except for that snooty Veritas who always had to nit-pick everything. What was she, an English teacher or something?), or that some juicy bit of gossip found its way onto the General Discussion forum, or the latest developments on Loyalapalooza.
It had taken a great deal of courage and cunning, but Alicia did succeed in selling Little Women for fifteen dollars at the used book store, and Kyle's "obsolete" video games for thirty at Play it Again, a secondhand game store, which bought the total to forty-five dollars. Adding the twenty-seven she had already saved up, she was seventy-two dollars closer to Loyalapalooza. Maybe she could convince her dad to come up with more, using the Manresa Youth Retreat as a cover. She still had to figure out how to get there without raising suspicion from her mother, or even her brother who would squeal on her in a heartbeat. And how long would it take to get there from Iowa, anyway? Would she have to leave early? And how much would it cost? She had to factor in food as well; she didn't want to starve while she was there.
Oh, well, she still had two more weeks, plenty of time to plan her trip. In the meantime, she had some serious business to attend to on the boards. She logged onto the Internet as usual, then waited for the AOL homepage to appear on the monitor. After a few seconds delay, the famliar AOL logo appeared with little windows of ads and newsclips. Normally, Alicia ignored the whole thing and went directly onto the fanboards, but Criss Angel's name in the news section caught her eye. Curious, she read the blip of a head line: "Bomb found in Criss Angel's suite..."
A bomb?! Alicia hastily clicked the headline and waited anxiously for the article to download. The plain black text on the blindingly white screen next to a standard press photo of Criss told her the whole chilling story:
March**. A time bomb was discovered in the hotel suite of illusionist Criss Angel at approximatly seven AM (PST). The device was allegedly brought into the suite by a hotel maid in her cleaning cart, and discovered by Criss Angel himself. The hotel maid, whose identity has been withheld by local police, claims she had no knowledge of the bomb in her cart, nor had witnessed anyone placing it there. The bomb squad was able to retrieve the bomb and disable it after guests and staff were quickly evacuated from the hotel. No injuries were reported. Rumors are circulating that the attempt may be linked to organized crime, but authorities will neither confirm or deny such allegations.
Alicia was shocked. Someone had tried to kill Criss! Who would do such a thing? And why? What did that maid have against Criss in the first place? But maybe she was innocent. Had that maid been bribed by someone? How could that maid not have seen a bomb on her cart in the first place? Wouldn't the ticking give it away? The mind boggled.
Frantic with worry, Alicia logged onto the Loyal Community Message Board, her only trusted source for all things MindFreaky. She clicked onto the General Discussion forum and scanned for any mention of the bomb. There was none. With grim determination and a sense of duty to her fellow Loyals, she clicked on New Topic and began to type her message:
RoseRed13: General Discussion > Bomb in Criss's room!!!
THEY FOUND A BOMB IN CRISS'S ROOM!!!! Some maid sneaked a bomb in Criss's room today and tried to kill him! Soem maid who worked there bought it tin his room but Criss saw it and they had to get everyone oru of the hotel so the bomb squad cold get in and get rid of it. No one got hurt but itwas scary all the same. anybody got andy ideas what happened?
Alicia clicked Post and sent her message on the way without even bothering to check what she wrote. All that mattered to her was that the Loyal knew what happened. She had to protect her beloved Criss at all costs; nothing must happen to him.
Criss and Casey sat side by side in the interrogation room at the LVMPD headquarters. Hammie the cat lay on the cold metal table before them, totally unconcerned. Criss held Casey's hand to comfort her while Detective Jim Meridian questioned them both. Meridian could see that Casey was nervous, but it was an honest nervousness, not the type someone showed when they were concealing something. She had obviously never been in a police station before. Angel, on the other hand, was calm and cool as a pond in summer. For a guy that found a bomb in his room, he didn't seem to rattled about it. Meridian reasoned that a guy who made a living trying to kill himself for entertainment, the fear factor must have diminished.
"Okay, let me get this straight," Meridian said to Casey, "you came in to Angel's suite around seven in the morning to clean up, and you had no idea that there was a bomb on your cleaning cart, right?"
"It's true, Officer," Casey responded with a nod. "I just grabbed my cart and went up. I swear I didn't place that bomb there! I don't even know how to make one!"
"Okay, okay, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for now--at least until the results from the lab show up." Meridian turned to Criss. "How long has she been cleaning your room?"
"About a week now," Criss answered. "She's just a fill-in for the regular housekeeper."
"You didn't notice anything unusual during the week?"
Criss shook his head. "Nope, nothing at all. Nothing stolen or out of place. Casey's a really nice girl. But I think this has to do with the Piccucci estate."
"Meaning that Casey here was Mick Piccucci's caregiver before he died," Criss explained, "and the old man left her the whole estate, cutting out his own son and his ex. Piccucci was an ex-gangster with mob connections."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know who Mick Piccucci was," Meridian said dismissively. "So whoever planted that bomb wasn't after you, but Casey here, right?"
"Makes sense to me," Criss retorted.
Meridian thought about it for a moment. "I'm gonna call down to the lab to see if we got any results yet," he said, rising. "You two stay put for a while. And don't let that cat make a mess--the chief will have my jewels on a platter if he finds out I let you bring 'im in."
Criss nodded, and Meridian left. Casey turned to Criss with her eyes shimmering with tears.
"Criss, I'm sorry I got you into this," she sniffled. "I didn't want you to get involved."
Criss smiled. "Hey, it's okay," he said softly and with a smile. "If that bomb went off while we were still up there, who knows how many innocent people would have been killed besides us." He brushed her tears away with his fingers. "Now, don't worry about a thing, Casey," he whispered.
"You do believe me when I said I didn't put that bomb there, don't you?"
"Of course I do. You're not the type to go around killing people." He laughed a little. "Your former boss, maybe, but not you."
Impulsively, Casey threw her arms around Criss, then, realizing the inappropriateness of such an action, quickly withdrew. Criss laughed again at her embarrassment. "You are the bashful type, aren't you?" he said.
He leaned back. "So, tell me about yourself," he said casually. "You married? Single?"
Casey smiled, blushing. "No, I'm single," she said, beginning to relax a little. "I'm just trying to support my family, that's all."
"You support your whole family?" Criss asked.
Casey nodded. "Yeah. My dad's on disability because of a work-related accident--he was unloading some crates from a freight car, and somehow he got sandwiched between some machine parts and crushed half his spine. He's in a wheelchair now."
"That's too bad," Criss said sorrowfully. "What about your mom?"
"Well, she's got a part-time job in a liquor store now, but that barely covers the cable bill. She wants Dad to have a TV to keep him company."
"Any brothers? Sisters?"
"Well, I do have a brother, Benny. He's older than I am and, well, he...hasn't found a job yet."
"Because he can't?" Criss wanted to know. "Or because he won't?"
Casey sighed. "I don't know. Benny doesn't have much...ambition...beyond TV and strip clubs. I can't say what his real talents are because he just...doesn't do anything. He never had any career goals or anything like that. He's just seems...discouraged. And with the economy the way it is..."
"How old's Benny?" Criss asked.
"He's not 'discouraged', Casey," Criss said, shaking his head, "he's just too (bleeping) lazy to get off his ass and do something with his life. He's got no ambition because he'd rather sponge off your dad's disability and your paycheck than get a job. If he were a real man, he'd be pulling his weight rather than parking it in front of the tube."
He leaned closer. "You got to stand up to that pathetic excuse of a brother of yours and lay down the law. Tell him that you are sick and tired of being the breadwinner in the family--and I can tell that you are--and for him to get off his lame ass and get a job! You got a life to live, too, you know. You don't need Benny sponging off you for the rest of your life. He's a parasite, Casey--it's time you realized that. And him, too. He wants money, he's got to earn it himself."
"How can I help him find a job?" Casey asked timidly.
"You can't," Criss replied. "He's got to do it himself. He's got to make the effort on his own. The economy's no excuse. He's the only thing holding himself back."
Casey was about to respond when Detective Meridian strode into the room. "Okay, we got good news," he said. "First of all, that 'bomb' was a total fake--just some road flares, some wire and an alarm clock."
Criss and Casey were dumbfounded. "A fake?" Criss exclaimed. "You mean we called nine-one-one, cleared out the whole hotel, and got everybody panicked over a fake?"
"Well, it seems that way," Meridian said calmly. "Bomb squad gets a lot of false alarms. You did the right thing, though. And the fingerprints don't belong to Casey, here, or anyone else in the files, for that matter."
Casey breathed a sigh of relief. Criss massaged her shoulder in congratulations. Meridian, however, wasn't through yet.
"We did find this wrapped around the 'bomb', however," he said, laying a sheet of paper with cut-out letters glued onto it like a ransom note:
This iS a wARNING ! gIVE UP The InherITance Or Else !
Criss read the note with wide eyes. "Who the hell sent this?"
"Well, we got two prime suspects already," Meridian said. "It's just finding out which one it is."
Casey began to cry, and Criss held her close.
12-09-2011, 07:32 PM
The Bomb Squad had long since left, the guests had returned to their rooms or went back to whatever they had been doing before the alarm went off, and the staff returned to their posts, but the press remained in the hotel lobby waiting for Criss Angel to return from the police station so they could get a statement regarding the bomb scare in his suite. Felix Rappaport, the president of the hotel, was doing his level best to keep order among the journalists, cameramen, photographers and newspaper reporters crowding the atrium. No, there had been no injuries, he said, and the Bomb Squad had handled the emergency with calm, professional efficiency. He was not going to point fingers at anyone, least of all the housekeeper who brought the cart with the bomb in it, until the police had issued a formal warrant for her arrest; in fact, she was at the station now with Criss Angel, offering her testamony about the incident. There was nothing to be afraid of, Felix went on. Everything was under control. The hotel management and security division were working in full co-operation with the police regarding this matter, and he was confident that the truth would soon be revealed.
Felix had just about reached the threshold of his patience when Criss walked into the atrium, holding his cat, Hammie, in his arms. The press did a one-eighty turnaround to meet him, barking questions and flashing cameras in his face.
Criss handled the press with practiced ease. "First of all, the 'bomb' found on the cart was a fake," he stated. "It was just a digital alarm clock tied to some road flares with piano wire--completely harmless. Second of all, the housekeeper who bought it in is completely innocent of any criminal charges. The fingerprints on the fake bomb weren't even hers, or anyone else's in the police files. They're still looking for the person or persons responsible. I can't say if it was a prank or what it was, but I thank God it wasn't a real bomb. That's all, thank you."
The media, however, weren't satisfied. They kept yammering away for more information, but Criss brushed them aside as he headed for his room. Felix Rappaport, however, met him halfway.
"Good job, Criss," he said drily. "So where's the housekeeper?"
"I dropped her off around back," Criss told him. "She said employees weren't supposed to enter through the front."
Felix couldn't help but smile a little. "If you see her, tell her I want to see her in my office," he said. "Both of you. I want to know just what the hell happened."
Criss nodded. "She's probably back with the housekeeping staff," he guessed. "Lemme drop Hammie off and I'll get back to you."
Felix agreed. Criss rode the elevator back to his suite, released his cat inside, then closed the door and rode down to the level where the president's office was located. It was then he remembered that he was still in his workout clothes. Should he go back up and change? Well, it was too late now, he figured, because he was already there at the office. Felix wouldn't mind, he thought. So long as he was wearing something at least halfway decent there would be no objections. He entered the office foyer and asked to see Felix. The secretary let him in without demur. Felix welcomed him inside and offered him a seat. "Casey should be here soon," he told Criss. "I contacted housekeeping to send her up."
Criss could only guess what poor Casey must be feeling at that moment; no doubt the same fear and dread a kid would feel when being told to report to the principal's office at school. He hoped she wouldn't get fired over this; it really wasn't her fault. In fact, she was the victim, not the perpetrator.
There was a gentle rap on the office door, and Casey timidly entered the president's spacious office. She was offered a seat next to Criss, which was some consolation for her. She didn't want to face whatever the president had in mind for her alone.
Criss explained the whole situation to Felix: the fact that Casey was the sole heir to the Piccucci estate, cutting out the son and ex-wife out of the deal, causing them to file a suit against her; the mob connections Mick Piccucci had in life; the threatening letter attached to the fake bomb ordering Casey to give up the inheritance or else; Casey's innocence proven by the results from the police lab. Felix listened attentively, then leaned back to ponder his next move. Casey sat there, clutching and unclutching her hands nervously.
Felix finally spoke. "Well, the important thing is that no one got hurt," he said. "And you are just a fill-in, aren't you, Casey?"
"Yes, sir," Casey squeaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Yes, sir," she repeated more clearly.
"How long are you filling in?"
"This is supposed to be my last day for this week, sir."
Felix leaned forward. "Well, I am convinced that you are innocent, Casey," he said, "however, due to this whole estate situation that you are in right now, I think it best that you stay away from the Luxor for the time being."
Criss sat bolt upright. "Hey, wait a minute--"
"Now, Criss, I'm not firing her," Felix told him. "It's just until the probate court decides the matter and if Casey gets the inheritance or not. When is the court date, Casey?"
"Two weeks from today, sir."
"Okay, I don't see any need for any fill-ins among the housekeeping staff for the next two weeks, but all the same, I'd advise you to seek some private employment, so you won't be a danger to the public. I'd like to keep you on, but I have the safety and the security of the guests to consider. You understand, don't you?"
Yeah, I understand, Criss thought angrily. You want to cover your own ass at the expense of Casey, don't you, Felix?
"It's all right, Mr. Rappaport," Casey said quietly. "I have a caregiver job lined up for a friend of Mr. Piccucci's."
Felix smiled, relieved that she had taken it so well. "Good. Then that's settled. Just remember to hand in your keycard to the office before you leave, okay?"
"Yes, sir," Casey replied, rising.
Criss rose, too, still a bit angry over Felix's seemingly crass behavior. He's just looking out for the bottom line, he thought nastily. It's not the safety and security of anyone, it's the insurance he's worried about! It's all about the bottom line!
He strode out of the office without another word. Casey nearly shrank when she saw how angry he was. "Mr. Angel?" she ventured timidly. "Is anything wrong?"
Criss turned to Casey. "No, it's not you, Casey," he said. "It's just that I think Felix is more worried about his insurance rates going up than he is about your safety."
"Don't feel that way, Mr. Angel," Casey said comfortingly. "I don't want to put anyone here in danger--especially you. It's better this way, really it is. I got a job taking care of Mr. Piccucci's friend, Mr. Springer. He'll be going into the hospital soon, and he'll need a caregiver to stay with him."
Criss turned to Casey. "A friend of Mr. Piccucci?" he repeated. "Was he a gangster, too?"
"Well, yes, he was, as a matter of fact," Casey replied. "But he's the last surviving member of The Guys, and he's retired, too."
"The Guys of Glitter Gulch," Casey explained. "They were quite notorious back in the Forties and Fifties."
"Yeah, I bet they were."
"Anyway, now that Mr. Piccucci is gone, he's the only one left," Casey went on. "And he's sick with stomach cancer, and he knew me when I took care of Mr. Piccucci, so he's going to hire me on."
Criss sighed. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, he thought. She leaves one mob family only to get mixed up with another. This is going to make her situation worse. "Well, okay," he said with a shrug, "if that's what you want to do. Just be careful, okay? I'm not going to be around to protect you, you know. Just watch your back, okay?"
Casey nodded. "I promise."
"Can I walk you to the door at least?" he offered. "Just to make sure you're safe and all."
Casey smiled, flattered over such a gallant gesture, but insisted she had to turn in her keycard and change into her regular clothes, and would he mind waiting if it wasn't too much trouble? Criss said he didn't mind, and waited patiently while she took care of business. She was a bit reluctant to exit through the main lobby--employees were supposed to enter and exit through the service door out back. "But you're not an employee any more, right?" Criss reminded her.
"Well, no..." Casey replied hesitantly.
"Then we go this way," he insisted.
The atrium buzzed with the usual activity of any busy hotel; the press had finally been dispersed by the security detail. Criss and Casey walked across the huge atrium to the main entrance, the latter looking wide-eyed around herself. Such luxury! Such spaciousness! She could not imagine staying in a place like this, even for a single night, even if she did receive her nine million dollar inheritance. And to think that Criss Angel actually lived here, day after day, night after night! Just how rich was he, anyway? she wondered.
"Hey, sweetheart!" a gruff but familiar voice spoke up beside her.
Both Casey and Criss turned to see a stocky old man in a decent grey suit, fingering a cigar. Criss had no idea who he was, but Casey recognized him immediatly.
"Hello, Mr. Springer," she said cheerfully.
12-09-2011, 07:38 PM
Criss stared at the old man in the tailored suit and faded fedora. He wasn't Marlon Brando, granted, but he certainly looked the mobster type. He wondered what he role had been when The Guys of Glitter Gulch were in their heyday. Hit man? Enforcer? Who knew? He might have been a dangerous criminal in the past, handy with a machine gun or something more subtle--a stilletto, say, or even a thirty-eight. Should he let Casey go to work for this guy? he wondered.
"I heard about what happened here this morning," Springs said. "Quite a scare, there, wasn't it?"
"You know anything about it?" Criss asked casually, with a tinge of suspicion.
"Me? Eff no," Springs replied. "Heard about it on the radio in the car." The corner of his mouth turned up in a half-smile, half-sneer. "Couldn't help but remembering that's what Shorty Hyneman used to do back in the day."
"Who's Shorty Hyneman?" Criss wanted to know.
"He was one of The Guys," Springs replied. "Little guy, four foot eleven--jockey's height. Used to be a jockey, but got suspended for throwing a race at Belmont. He used to be a munitions expert during the war, so he came in handy when there was a job to do. Being such a little guy, he could hide anywhere, even a drain pipe. The bomb in the cart was his M.O.: he'd slip into some fancy hotel, hide a bomb in a food cart or something, then slip out without anyone seeing him. Bellhop'd take the cart up, leave, then five, ten minutes later, boom. He was a little guy, but he was big on smarts. That's why we let him join up. Better to have him working for us instead of against us."
"You think Shorty Hyneman had anything to do with this?" Criss asked.
"He ain't got nothin' to do with nothin' anymore, pal," Springs retorted. "Shorty's been dead for almost ten years now. Drank himself to death. I'm the only one left of The Guys, now that Mick is gone. Ask her." He pointed his cigar at Casey, who nodded in agreement.
"Anyway, Cassie here--"
"Casey," she reminded him.
"Whatever. Anyway, Casey here got the gold mine while Junior and the ex-wife got the shaft," Springs went on. "Now they're both hot under the collar about it and are taking it to court. She tell you about that?"
"Yeah, she did," Criss replied. "It was in the paper, too. Nine million dollars."
"And that ain't peanuts." Springs took a drag on his Havana.
"But why would Mick leave Casey all of his money instead of his son?" Criss asked. "I can understand the ex-wife getting cut out of the will, but wouldn't his son be the legal heir?"
"Junior's got a reputation for being the playboy type," Springs explained. "I know he's seeing another woman behind his wife's back. He's also up to his eyeballs in debt--living beyond his means, know what I'm saying."
"Him and a million other Americans," Criss retorted.
"Anyway, just between you, me and the lamppost, I think Mick's trying to bump off Cassie here," Springs said conspiritorially, "so he can get his meathooks into his old man's money."
"It's Casey," Criss corrected him, "and I gotta admit, that makes sense. But let's let the police handle it, okay? In the meantime, we gotta protect Casey here. The probate hearing's in two weeks, and that's more than enough time for Junior to bump her off, know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean," Springs nodded. "So I'm hiring her to do the same thing she did for Mick. I got stomach cancer, you know, and if I don't get a stomach transplant, I'm gonna be joining Mick, Shorty and the other Guys in the Great Beyond before you know it. And I'll make damn sure that Cassie here doesn't get her pretty little self killed, okay?"
Criss turned to Casey. "You really want to work for this guy?" he asked her.
Casey smiled. "Let's just say Mr. Springer here's made me an offer I can't refuse."
Criss shrugged, conceding to her wishes. "Well, I got to get back," he said. "Just be careful, okay?"
"I will," she promised.
Criss shook Springs' hand. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Springer."
"Springs," he said. "Just call me Springs."
"Springs. You can call me Criss."
"Criss. Nice to meet ya. Well, come on, Cassie, let's get outta here."
"It's Casey, Mr. Springer."
A fake bomb! Michael, Jr., laughed out loud after Detective Jim Meridian explained the whole situation to him during his investigaton of the incident. A fake bomb in some hotel maid's cleaning cart! What a joke! Couldn't have been Shorty Hyneman; he'd been dead for years. And anyway, he would have used the real thing instead of road flares. Who the hell could have pulled such an asinine stunt like that? And why?
"That's what I want you to tell me," Meridian said to him, without laughing.
Michael, Jr., held up his hands to halt the interrogation. "Waitaminit, waitaminit. You think I had something to do with this?"
"Either you or Tina LaRue," Meridian said, handing him the warning note that had been attached to the fake bomb. "Read this."
"'This is a warning!Give up the inheritance or else!' I had nothing to do with this," Michael, Jr., protested. "I'd been out of town these past few days. Business trip. Ask my wife."
Meridian nodded skeptically. Out of town. How many times had he heard that old chestnut? Out of town doing what, he wondered. Long experience had taught him that "out of town" either meant hiding out, shacking up with some broad, or just covering his tracks. Well, there were ways of uncovering those tracks.
"Well, from what I can see, you got a couple of choices," Meridian told him. "You can come down to the station and co-operate with us, give us a few fingerprints for our files, or I can arrest you on suspicion of attempted murder and haul your sorry ass into custody. Your call."
Michael, Jr., held up his hands again, this time in surrender. "Okay, okay, don't get ugly," he said placatingly. "Let's get this unpleasantness over and done with. But I assure you, Detective, I had nothing to do with all this."
Meridian escorted Michael, Jr., to the plain, unobtrusive navy-blue Crown Victoria, with the pivoting spotlight next to the rear view mirror on the driver's side the only hint of it being a squad car. Michael, Jr., entered it with all the casualness of a passenger getting into a taxi cab. Meridian slammed the door, circled around and slid into the driver's seat. Soon the dark blue vehicle was quietly driving down the streets of Las Vegas to the police station. Meridian suspended all judgement as he drove his suspect to headquarters, but he narrowed it down to three possible scenarios: Michael, Jr., did it; Michael, Jr., paid someone to do it; someone else did it. Only the fingerprints on file would tell him for sure.
12-10-2011, 02:42 PM
LUXOR 'BOMB' A FAKE
read the headline in the next day's edition of the Sun. Tina LaRue set down the paper and laughed uproariously. She had heard about the bomb scare yesterday on the news. The fact it had been hidden in a cleaning cart tipped her off as to who was responsible; she had heard stories of Shorty Hyneman and his incendiary exploits from Mick and the other Guys when she was still married. The cart bomb was a Hyneman classic.
It had to be Junior, she reasoned. Who else could it be? But why a phony bomb instead of a real one? Because Junior didn't have the smarts, let alone the wontons, to build the real thing, plant it on the cart and not get caught, that's why. And didn't that little nurse, Cassie or Casey or whatever the hell her name was work there at the Luxor? She did, Tina recalled; she had seen her in uniform when she was trailing Junior. It had to be her cleaning cart he put that bomb in. Maybe to scare her? Probably. It sure scared the hell out of everyone else, that was for sure. Yeah, that was it! He put a phony bomb in her cart to scare her off so he could claim the estate. Junior was smarter than Tina took for granted.
Smarter, but not intelligent. No doubt he left his fingerprints all over that thing, and the cops would have busted him by now. Tina laughed again. Junior, it seems, had fallen into his own trap. Wait until the probate judge gets a load of this! she said to herself. Junior has just undermined his chances of getting Daddy's money with this stunt. He can't claim his inheritance sitting in jail.
Or could he? Tina's humorous mood faded. Knowing the legal system, Junior might just get off on probation or something. That might throw a monkey wrench in the works. And even if he did go to jail, there was still his wife to consider. If only there was some way to get rid of them both.
In two weeks the probate hearing would take place. That (bleeper) lawyer Close would tear into her testamony like he did the pre-nup she had signed before marrying Mick. She didn't stand a chance unless drastic measures were taken.
Alicia Rose sat in her Science class that morning, hardly listening to Mr. Waring's lecture on the solar system. She was still shaken about the bomb found in Criss Angel's suite. Why? she asked herself over and over again. Why did she do it? Why did that hotel maid wheel a time bomb into Criss' hotel room? What did she have against him, anyway? If she was innocent as she claimed, why didn't she detect it before going up to his room instead of going up there with it in the first place? Was she a psycho or something?
I have to stop thinking about it, she told herself. I have to stop thinking about it or I'm going to make myself crazy!
She turned her attention to Mr. Waring's demonstration of the movement of the planets using a small scale model on the desk.
"Mercury, the planet closest to the sun," Mr. Waring droned, "orbits the sun every eighty-eight days, while Venus, the second planet, orbits every two-hundred-twenty-four-point-seven days. Of course, Earth, our planet, circles the sun every three-hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, which is why we have leap year every fourth February. Now, Mars..."
Alicia tuned out again. It takes Mars eighty-eight days to circle the sun, and Venus to circle it in over two hundred. Bee-eff-dee! Who the hell cared? She wasn't going to NASA.
The bell clanged, signalling the end of class. Everyone rose with a rumble of gathered books and headed for the door. Alicia followed with the reflexive response of a sheep in a herd. Study period was next; maybe she could log on in the computer lab and get more details about the bomb in Criss' room.
"Oh, Alicia," Mr. Waring spoke. "I'd like to see you for a moment."
Alicia halted in her tracks. What did he want now? she wondered irritably as she turned around to face him. "Yes, Mr. Waring?" she responded with forced acadamy-drilled courtesy.
"Alicia, I haven't received your homework assignment from yesterday," Mr. Waring said. "Did you remember to do it, or did you just forget it?"
A sense of foreboding crept over her. Homework assignment? What homework assignment? She racked her brains trying to remember receiving any science homework assignment yesterday, but she couldn't recall any. She had to come up with an alibi, and fast, or she wouldn't get into the computer lab in time. She knew the old dog-ate-my-homework line wouldn't work, so she feigned surprise and bemusement. "That's funny," she said. "I'm sure I handed it in. Are you sure you didn't see it?"
"I'm sure," Mr. Waring said. "It wasn't with the others. However, I am giving you a chance to make it up. Have it ready by tomorrow, and you'll still get a passing grade. In the meantime, I'll look to see if it was mislaid by chance. You may go now."
"Thank you, Mr. Waring," Alicia said. Oh, God, I am so screwed! she said to herself. I don't even remember what the assignment was! I got to get hold of someone in the class and find out! If I don't, then I'm gonna flunk and Mom's gonna kill me! God! What the hell was that assignment again?
She trotted to the computer lab and found an available terminal. She was about to log onto the system when a warning popped up on the screen: Due to unauthorized use by students, this terminal is for study purposes only. NO outside Internet sites are permitted on school computers.
Alicia was aghast. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and rip out the monitor from the desk on which it was anchored. They cut her off from the fanboards! How was she to find out about the Luxor bomb now? How was she to communicate with her fellow Loyals? How was she to survive without that vital link which was her only reason for living?
Maybe she could get away with it, she thought after she calmed down a bit. No one needed to know. It would be just for a few minutes, and if anyone came by, she could close the link temporarily and pretend to be researching. She entered the web address to the Loyal Community as usual and held her breath as she waited for a response. The message was the same: Due to unauthorized use by students, this terminal is for study purposes only. NO outside Internet sites are permitted on school computers.
It was all Alicia could do to keep from swearing aloud in the computer lab
12-10-2011, 02:53 PM
Casey carried her battered green Samsonite suitcase down the stairs. In the living room, her father and brother were watching sports on ESPN, cheering and cursing the Raiders as they took on the Bruins somewhere in California. It was no use telling them good-bye. Indeed, it was no use telling them anything; television dominated their lives to the point of exclusivity. Casey couldn't remember her father saying anything to her besides "Not now, the game's on, wait for the commercial." during her entire childhood. Over time, Benny followed in his father's footsteps (which only led to the refrigerator and back), and turned into a couch potato just like his old man. Maybe that was why he never bothered to find a job, Casey thought.
She left the house without a word to either of them. She hadn't bothered telling them about her new job with Mr. Springer, nor even about the warning left in her cleaning cart. In fact, she had told them nothing about the inheritance, nor had they read it in the paper or seen it on the news, something Casey considered a blessing in disguise; if they ever found out about the nine-million dollar estate Mr. Piccucci left her, they'd be sponging off her for the rest of their lives, and she'd never have a life of her own. Ignorance was bliss as far as she was concerned.
Her mother waited for her in the rusty old Ford Econoline van, the only mode of transportation the Worths possessed. Casey shoved her suitcase into the back next to the wheelchair lift and climbed into the passenger seat. Mrs. Worth backed the van out of the driveway and onto the street. The muffler had rusted away with the rest of the vehicle, so Casey and her mother had to shout over the noise of the engine.
"You sure you gonna be all right with Mr. Springer?" Mrs. Worth shouted.
"I'll be fine, Mom," Casey shouted back.
The van reached the main road leading to the better part of Las Vegas. "Any word about the inheritance?" Mrs. Worth asked.
"Besides that fake bomb and that warning note, no," Casey replied. "The probate hearing's in two weeks. You sure Dad and Benny don't know about it?"
"Not a blessed thing," her mother replied. "You know them--they only read the sports section and the TV listings in the paper and toss everything else aside, and they never watch the news. Hell, I had to tell them who won the election two days after it was over! Believe me, they don't know a thing about it! If they did, they'd both be carrying on like they won the lottery."
"I wish Benny would pick up the classifieds every once in a while," Casey griped. "When is he going to get his butt off the couch and make something of himself? He's thirty-two, for God's sake! He should be living on his own by now! Me, too, for that matter."
Mrs. Worth patted her daughter's knee affectionatly. "Don't worry, hon," she consoled her. "We'll muddle through somehow, with or without that money. In the meantime, you got a nice place to stay with that Mr. Springer, and you'll be making good money. And don't forget to put a little aside for yourself--you need to build yourself a little nest egg if this inheritance business falls through. We'll get along just fine with what we got."
Casey couldn't help but smile at her mother's optimism. It seemed she had spent her entire married life muddling through, first through her own family's hardships, then with early married life and two children to raise, then Dad's disability. Just once, Casey wanted her mother to have a taste of the good life without having to worry about bills due or when the disability check would come through. It would be nice if she did inherit that nine million dollars, but she knew it was hopeless, even as a daydream; she was certain that Michael, Jr., would get it after all, father and son disagreement or no.
The rusty van pulled up to the curb of the street where Mr. Springer lived--it wouldn't do to go up the driveway in such a wretched vehicle, Mrs. Worth thought. Casey kissed her mother good-bye, promised to write, retrieved her suitcase and got out of the van. Mrs. Worth drove away, leaving her daughter on the curb. She couldn't wait around to see Casey safely to the door--the van would stall if it idled too long. Casey trudged up the sloping drive to the Tudoresque mansion around the bend. She had mixed feelings about being a live-in caregiver. On the one hand, she was reluctant to leave her poor mother to fend for herself with her cranky father and shiftless brother. She hoped Mom had the good sense to hide her pocketbook; Benny had the habit of helping himself to whatever cash was lying around, even in Casey's own purse on occasion. Times without number she had reached into her own billfold to pay for something only to discover it empty. When confronted with the theft, Benny, of course, would deny everything.
On the other hand, she found it a relief to be living away from home. No more thefts from her purse, no more stench in the bathroom, no more putting up with Dad's crankiness or Benny's sloveny habits, and no more being hit upon for "a little loanski" from either Dad or Benny, who promised to pay it back and never did. She was tired of being the family breadwinner and ATM. She wanted her own life, and as she stepped up to the front door of the Springer residence, she had a sense that it was beginning at last.
As Casey was starting her new life, someone in the distance was planning to end it. Through a pair of powerful binoculars, every move she made was carefully noted. So, she wasn't working at the Luxor anymore. She was moving in with Danny Springer. The reason why didn't matter, only that she was there. This would make the job more difficult because of the advanced security system in place. It would have to wait until a more opportune time when Casey was away from the house and somewhere less guarded and more open. There was still plenty of time to plan. For now, it was best to observe, get a sense of her daily routine. It was all in the planning. Nothing must be left to chance.
Detective Jim Meridian stepped into the interrogation room where Michael, Jr., waited impatiently. "Okay, we got the lab results," he said, slapping down the file in his hand.
Michael, Jr., shrugged. "So, what's the verdict?"
"The prints aren't yours, and the receipts in your wallet confirms your alibi," Meridian told him. "Tell me, do all of your business trips involve strippers and one-night stands in cheap motels?"
"Hey, salesmen do it all the time," Michael, Jr. replied indifferently.
Meridian nodded grimly. Adultery in Sin City wasn't a vice, it was a favorite pastime, like gambing and getting drunk. "Okay, you're free to go," he said. "Just keep in mind you're not off the hook just yet. Anything happening to Casey Worth, and I'm gonna drag your sorry ass back here, understood?"
"Fine," Michael, Jr., mumbled as he left the room. Just then the flimsy plastic office phone in the interrogation room rang. Meridian picked it up.
"Jim? It's Janice."
It was Janice O'Connor, the AV tech for the department whose job it was to decipher, dissect and detect images on film and videotape for evidence. "I got something for you on the tape."
Meridian hung up, rose from his desk, strode into the AV lab and lowered himself to computer monitor level. "Whaddya got?" he mumbled.
Janice rewound the hotel security tape given to the Bomb Squad from the Luxor. "Here we go," she said, pointing to the monitor. "At seven-thirty, we got someone coming in through the service corridor from the front who looks like a housekeeper, and she's carrying a shopping bag of some sort. At seven-forty, she goes back through the corridor and leaves the hotel through the main entrance--without the shopping bag."
"A housekeeper? Are you sure?" Meridian asked.
"Same uniform, hair up in a bun," Janice confirmed.
"Can you zero in on her face?"
"I'll try." Janice zoomed in on the mystery housekeeper's facial features on the monitor. "Hard to get anything clear," she said, "she's got her head down, and she's wearing sunglasses."
Meridian mulled it over. "Zoom back for a bit, willya?"
Janice zoomed out, restoring the video to its normal dimensions. Meridian thought for a moment. "Now, zoom in on the shopping bag."
The monitor brought the bag into focus. It wasn't a plastic grocery bag, but a large square boutique bag with handles, the kind found in the upscale shops along the Strip. "Can you highlight the printing on the bag?" Meridian asked.
With a few clicks of the mouse, the lettering on the bag stood out clearly: GUCCI.
Meridian stood there, deep in thought. Where would a housekeeper get a Gucci shopping bag? Discarded, maybe? Or had she racked up one hell of a credit card debt?
Or picked it up from her former employer?
But no, Tina LaRue and Mick had been divorced for years, and he knew that Mick would never shop at Gucci's or any of the other high-end stores; he was more of a Brooks Brothers type. Besides, his caregiver's fingerprints weren't on the device, but someone else's was. But whose?
Meridian rose and left the AV lab. He was going back to the Luxor and interview every housekeeper on that shift until he got an answer, even if he had to interview them all. After that, he was going to pay a little visit to Tina LaRue Piccucci.
12-11-2011, 08:45 PM
That afternoon, Criss sat with his production crew in his suite, ostensibly to go over the final details of the new MindFreak episode, but the usual banter had faded into a more sober tone. The morning bomb scare had everyone rattled, and things did not improve when Criss told them about what the crime lab had discovered.
"So the bomb was a fake?" Criss' brother, Costa said.
Criss nodded. "It was a warning to Casey for her to give up the Piccucci inheritance or else. My guess it was the son, Mike, Jr., who put it there."
"How the hell could he sneak a bomb, even a phony one, into a hotel that has three-hundred-and-sixty degree video surveillance, put it in a cleaning cart, then take off without anyone noticing?" George Strumpolis, Criss' cousin, wanted to know.
"Well, that three-hundred-and-sixty-degree video surveillance either missed something, or the guy wore a disguise," Criss retorted. "All I know is that it has to do with the will, and Casey's in danger."
"Where is she now?" Costa asked.
"She's got a job as Springs' caregiver."
"Danny Springer," Criss explained. "He was one of Mick Piccucci's 'business associates' with The Guys of Glitter Gulch. He's got stomach cancer and he'll be in the hospital for a while. Meantime, Casey's safe with him--if she's safe anywhere."
"Oh, geez," George groaned, "she goes from one mob family to another. Really smart move there, Criss."
"Hey, it wasn't my idea," Criss protested. "Felix didn't want her coming to the Luxor anymore because she posed a security threat, and she needed a job to support her family, and she already knew who he was, so she took him up on it."
"You think they're gonna try again?" Costa asked.
"Nine million dollars?" Criss retorted. "Yeah, like hell they're gonna try again."
Jim Meridian never realized just how large the Luxor Hotel houskeeping staff was--over a hundred people serviced the giant pyramid in a single shift. The management did its best to make his investigation easier by providing the list of maids on duty that morning, along with their personal files that contained each employee's fingerprint for security reasons, but there was still the questioning to go through. Jim eliminated those who didn't appear to fit the profile from the video: medium height, slender, dark hair tied in a bun. The few who did had not reported for duty until their appointed time; the keycard entry record from the service entrance verified it. Could it have been one of the off-duty employees? he wondered.
But wait--the video surveillance tape showed the mystery maid entering through the front of the hotel. From what he gathered from his questioning of the housekeeping staff, all employees were required to enter through the back of the building via the service entrance. Obviously, this mystery employee either didn't get the memo, or...
Meridian gathered up the employee files and handed them back to the housekeeping manager with a brief word of thanks. There was one more stop he had to make before the day was out.
In a small, cheesily decorated but comfortable motel room somewhere in the outskirts of Vegas, Michael, Jr., lay naked in bed with his current paramour, Jessie, a drop-dead gorgeous twentysomething with champaign blonde hair and a toned body developed from endless months in the fitness center. The sex had been good, better than when Pamela and he had been first married. Pam had been quite a knockout when they met; now she had grown tiresome with her constant demands for the latest fashions, trips to Europe, and endless rounds of parties with people with whom he had no desire to aquaint himself. She had become a social climber, aspiring to reach the pinnacle of high society so she could look down her reconstructed nose upon everyone else.
With Jessie, it was different. Jessie just wanted pleasure, especially in bed, bless her nymphomanic little heart. Despite his advancing age ("Past the speed limit but still in the race," he often joked to himself and to others), he gave her what she wanted and more: a small apartment in North Las Vegas, nicer clothes, even his silver Lexus--after he bought the Maserati, of course. Jessie was overwhelmingly grateful; she was so easy to please, unlike Pamela who demanded the best of everything no matter how much it cost.
Now Jessie lay dozing beside him under his arm, curled up like a little tan kitten. Michael, Jr., lay awake, staring at the ceiling. If only Pop had left him the estate like he should have instead of to his caregiver, what's-her-name, he mused. Then he and Jessie would be in Cabo by now, soaking up the sun and drinking Margaritas for the rest of their lives. Now all he had to look forward to was a court battle with that mad-dog (bleep) Tina LaRue.
He had no idea who really put that phony bomb in that cleaning cart, but he reasoned Tina had something to do with it; she wanted the money as badly as he did, the greedy (bleep). Now that the cops knew about the will and the upcoming probate hearing, Michael, Jr., decided to lay low for a while. If anything happened to her, they'd trace it back to him no matter who did it. Well, maybe he couldn't kill the caregiver, but he could intimidate her into giving it up--she seemed timid enough. There was no sense killing an innocent girl who, personally, had never given him any grief. Tina, on the other hand, had been a thorn in his side ever since Pop married her; more than anything, he'd like to deep-six that gold-digger to the bottom of Lake Meade.
But maybe he wouldn't have to resort to murdering anyone. Maybe the court would rule in his favor after all, since he was legally the only legitimate heir. Tina and her daughter, Heather, had no claim to it. Oh, sure, the judge might throw them a bone just to keep the peace, but the chances of Tina getting a dime out of the estate were zero. No, that money was his and his alone, and to hell with that (bleep) Tina, her (bleeper) daughter, that caregiver what's-her-name, and to hell with Pamela herself. To hell with them all! He was going to fight for that inheritance, horse, foot, and artillery--even if he did have to resort to murder.
12-12-2011, 03:19 PM
Here is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls
than these poor compounds thou mayest not sell.
Shakespere, Romeo and Juliet.
The bomb was a fake! Alicia forced herself to refrain from shouting aloud with joy and relief inside the public library's computer lab. After two days of frantic worrying over Criss' fate, the news of the false alarm felt like a huge boulder rolling off her shoulders. In her joy, she posted a reply to the same thread she herself had posted two days earlier, expressing her relief and her curiosity over who planted it in the first place. "If this is someone's idea of a joke, I don't think it's funny," she typed.
Though the library's policy restricted her access to sixty minutes, it was a relief for her to log on without someone looking over her shoulder. She checked the timer on the computer: fifty-three minutes left, just enough time to compose and post her latest poem as well as catch up on her overdue science assignment. Alicia had discovered that she could post and receive messages on the public library's system as easily as the ones in school with no restriction save that of downloading pornography, and she had no desire to do that, for God's sake. She also found that the library's computers were high-speed, much faster than the ones at school.
The poem was completed in record time. The timer read forty-six minutes left. Alicia decided it was best to get started on her homework or she'd receive a failing grade and Mom would ground her. Thankfully, a classmate leant her a copy of the assignement so she could just fill in the blanks and hand it in. As she slogged through her homework, she thought it curious that she could compose poetry on the spot but it took forever to do schoolwork on demand. Maybe that was the price of being an artist, she thought.
Tina laughed in Detective Meridian's face when he told her she was being taken in for questioning about the phony bomb in the Luxor cleaning cart. "You honestly think I had anything to do with such a lame-assed stunt as that!?"she exclaimed, falling back on the overstuffed sofa in her penthouse living rooom. "What do you take me for, a moron? If you think I planted that thing in the hotel, well, you'd better phone your village, Sherlock, because I think they're missing their idiot! Besides, Junior's the one who's guilty! Ask him!"
"I cleared him already," Meridian told her. "It all comes down to you, Tina. Tell me, did you pay someone to do it, or did you disguise yourself as a housekeeper, sneak in with the Gucci bag containing the bomb and slip into the hotel without anyone seeing you?"
Tina rolled her eyes. "Oh, for the love of God!"
"Listen, Tina," Meridian growled, "you can come with me, get printed, and co-operate with the investigation, or I can have you arrested as a suspect. Your call."
"I'm not going anywhere with you, Sherlock!" Tina snapped. "I am completely innocent. Besides, I have an alibi."
Meridian braced himself. "Okay, what is it?"
"I was at the day spa all day that day," she replied loftily. "You can check their records if you wish."
"You were at a day spa," Meridian echoed skeptically. "At seven-thirty in the morning?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Tina said dismissively. "You know I don't get up until after ten in the morning."
Actually, Meridian didn't know that Tina didn't get up until after ten in the morning, but it didn't satisfy his need for answers. "Can anyone verify this?" he asked. "Your daughter, perhaps?"
"Heather!" Tina shrieked. "Get in here!"
A skinny girl with blackish brown hair wearing a mid-calf green skirt and a baggy sweater timidly walked into the living room, her eyes darting between her mother and the floor. "Tell Sherlock here I was home until noon two days ago," Tina ordered her.
Heather eyes darted up to Meridian's face. "Mother was here until noon," she muttered. "She never leaves the house before then, sir."
Meridian nodded, still a bit skeptical. "Okay, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Tina," he said. "But don't leave town for the next two weeks. I'll be watching you."
Tina just smirked, gloating over her victory.
12-12-2011, 09:35 PM
That Tina is a pain in the butt
12-13-2011, 04:41 PM
Evening fell upon Las Vegas. The night was when Sin City came alive, ready for action. While the rest of the country was winding down after the nine-to-five routine had ended, the Entertanment Capital of the World was just getting started. Evening performances in the theaters and resorts were set to go on, clubs prepared to greet the night's partygoers, and casinos restocked their chips, cards and cash for the next round of gamblers. Restaraunts prepped for the dinner shift while bars restocked their supplies. For the millions of tourists, gamblers and conventioneers who arrived by the busload into Vegas, the night was a magical time, of swirling lights, dance tunes and endless pleasure in every shape and form. For those who worked there, it was just another day at the office.
One person in particular who worked at the Luxor Hotel was up in his top floor suite, getting ready for a night of those selfsame pleasures. Criss Angel slipped on the last of his massive collection of rings onto whatever space he had left on his fingers, shoved his keycard into his pocket and headed out the door. He decided to go to LAX tonight--he hadn't been there for a while. LAX was one of the Luxor's premiere clubs, just off the atrium. Criss found it very convenient--if he had a little too much to drink, he didn't have to worry about driving home while under the influence. He could just walk (if he could still stand up, that is) up to the elevator and go straight up to his room. No problem.
Criss rode down the inclining elevator to the lower level without a single stop, pretty rare in such a large hotel. He got out of the elevator and walked into the atrium. Unfortunatly, he also walked straight into a group of fans who recognized him on the spot. They squealed while Criss sighed resignedly. The lack of privacy was yet another price to pay for stardom. He posed for a few pictures, signed a few autographs, gave a few hugs, and received a gift of three linen handkerchiefs with the circle-A logo hand embroidered upon them. He thanked the giver with a hug and a kiss and went on his way to the club, the group of fans chattering excitedly about meeting their idol.
Once inside the relative safety of the club, Criss settled back with a Martini. On the giant screen television over in the corner, the evening news was broadcasting the latest developments on the economy and other issues completely ignored by the patrons. They were there to have fun, not be reminded of world events. The music was playing at ear-splitting levels, the lights spun and twirled all around the dance floor. Criss felt the tensions of the past two days melt away--no bomb threats, no mobsters, nothing. Casey was safe with Springs, the bomb had been a fake, no one got hurt--nothing to worry about, just relax and have fun.
The song playing over the massive banks of speakers ended. The partygoers cheered and applauded. Criss got up to dance with the rest of the crowd, but he stopped in his tracks when he heard a nasally familiar voice speak behind his back: "Volunteer Number One-thirty-two, report to the assistant supervisor."
Criss spun around, startled at first, then delightfully surprised. "Rachel!" he cried.
"How ya doin', Criss?" Rachel laughed, embracing him.
Rachel Goldfarb had been the FEMA assistant supervisor for the DWD volunteers assigned to clear away debris after the Las Vegas earthquake, the group with whom Criss had served for one day until his falling out with the supervisor, Mel (Criss never learned his last name) forced him to quit. Rachel had been the only FEMA worker who seemed to have a heart, sympathizing with the workers when they were tired and hungry and angry enough to kill both her and Mel. Criss was surprised at how lovely she looked, dressed up in a royal blue gown with pearls, and her hair was done up rather stylishly, a far cry from the khaki uniform and yellow hardhat that Criss had first seen her in. (1)
Criss laughed, too. "God, Rachel, I almost didn't recognize you without your hardhat! C'mon over to the bar; I'll get you a drink."
"Don't mind if I do," Rachel said.
They found a couple of barstools to sit down upon and made themselves comfortable. Criss ordered another Martini, while Rachel ordered a vodka gimlet. "God, Rachel, I haven't seen you since the earthquake," Criss said, still shaking his head in disbelief. "So, what brings you back to Vegas?"
"My nephew, Erik," Rachel replied. "It's his bar mitzvah."
"Your nephew is having his bar mitzvah here in the Luxor?"
"No, he's having it at Circus Circus. You know, all the rides, and the elephants, and all that."
"Nah, his folks got a good package deal, what with the economy and all," Rachel told him. "We'll be catching the evening performance, then going to the banquet hall for a nosh--if you can call a mile-long buffet a nosh."
Criss laughed. "You still throw in the Yiddish words, don't you, Rachel?"
Rachel shrugged helplessly. "What can I say? It's what I grew up with."
"So, you still working for FEMA?" Criss asked.
"Oh, yeah, but not as assistant supervisor," Rachel replied. "And especially not with Mel--remember him?"
"Like I remember the quake itself," Criss answered a bit grimly. "Is he still a...well, you know..."
"Yeah." Criss had had something stronger in mind, but he kept it to himself. "He still around? With FEMA, I mean."
"Oh, yeah, he's still with FEMA," Rachel said, nodding. "He's really great when it comes to organization and engineering. It's just that he's not a 'people person'."
"He's a (bleep)hole, if you ask me."
"Look, I know the guy's a schmuck, but he did help get this burg back on its feet again after the quake. He practically rebuilt this hotel alone. Cut him a little slack, willya?"
"I'd like to cut him one right across the jawline." Criss growled.
"Anyway, he's down South checking on some hurricane damage," Rachel told him. "You won't be seeing him again anytime soon."
Criss raised his Martini glass. "Thank God for small favors," he said, and drained his drink in one gulp.
"Criss, let it go, willya?" Rachel pleaded. "I mean, look around you! When I was last here, the whole city was a disaster zone. A year later, it looks like it hadn't even been hit! If it wasn't for Mel and the rest of the FEMA crew, you'd still be stumbling over rubble. This city got rebuilt faster than New Orleans after Katrina!"
"That's because Vegas has more money invested in it than New Orleans," Criss told her. "A lot of people pumped billions of dollars into these hotels and casinos, and big insurance policies came with the deal. They could afford to build it back up like they did." He turned to Rachel. "Look, I know you and Mel and FEMA were doing your jobs, but...it seemed to me at the time you were like an invading army. That time I was on the DWD crew was the most dehumanizing experience of my life. Hell, I wasn't even a person to guys like Mel--I was just a number! One-thirty-two! You wouldn't let me go back into my own hotel room here at the Luxor, you housed us like prisoners in a single room which stank to high heaven, and you made me give up my cat, Hammie, and took him away to some animal shelter! (1) I had to quit that DWD crew if only to retain some sense of humanity!"
Rachel laid a hand on his shoulder. "Criss, we had to do what we had to do under the circumstances. We were there to help, not take over. We followed procedure for the safety of all concerned, including you. They gave us our orders, and we carried them out. I didn't make the rules, Criss, I just followed them."
"They said the same thing at Nuremburg," Criss retorted.
Rachel sighed in exasperation. "Look, it's all in the past now, okay? If there's one thing I learned from working for FEMA is that life goes on no matter how bad the disaster. You got your life back on track, and you got your cat back, didn't you?"
Criss smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, Rachel," he said. "I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's just that, well, you just bought back some bad memories, that's all. No offense, I'm glad I got to see you again, really I am--better you than Mel, anyway."
Rachel nodded. "I know," she said sympathetically. "But, like I said before, life goes on. Build a bridge and get over it." She held up the last of her vodka gimlet. "L'chaim!" she cheered, and drank it down.
"What's that mean?" Criss asked.
"It means 'to life'. And we're both still living, so let's make the best of it!"
She led Criss on to the dance floor. The DJ played another dance tune in the booth, and more partygoers were crowding every available inch of space. The earthquake itself was forgotten, but the bass level from the DJ's booth registered eight on the Richter as everyone jumped, wriggled, waved and hollered over the loud, thumping music pulsating like a giant heartbeat.
(1) See Baptism of Fire.
In the Tudoresque mansion in the quieter section of Las Vegas, Casey Worth prepared for bed. Tomorrow, Mr. Springer would be going to the hospital for his cancer operation. If a donor could miraculously be found before then, he could have his stomach completely replaced. If not, then the tumor and all surrounding tissue would have to be removed. Mr. Springer seemed nonplussed about the ordeal he was facing. "It's gonna be one helluva tummy tuck, I can tell you that," he had joked.
Still, Casey feared for the old man's life. She couldn't help it; it was her nature to care for others. She had planned to go to nursing school after her high school graduation, but had put it off when Dad had the accident and was crippled for life, so she ended up as the breadwinner and went to work as an assistant in a nursing home, then an independent caregiver for Mr. Piccucci until he died. It seemed to her that she was constantly putting her life on hold for the sake of others, whether it was family or someone else. There were times when she wanted to just walk away from her needy family and declare her independence once and for all, but the thought of leaving her mother and father destitute when they really needed her help tore at her conscience. As for her brother, Benny, well, he could fend for himself--no way was she going to let him sponge off her! Thank God he never learned about the inheritance.
Casey looked out the huge window of her assigned bedroom. The lights from the Strip were just a faint glow on the horizon, and aside from the security lights, it was total darkness. She felt safe here, safe from Michael, Jr., and Tina LaRue and their plots to kill her for the money. All she had to do was wait it out for the next two weeks until the probate hearing, then she'd be a free woman, rich or poor. She began to wonder if nine million dollars was really worth all the worry and trouble she had endured lately. No amount of money was worth a human life, she thought to herself. If only this whole mess could be over, then she could get on with her life without worrying about someone trying to end it.
Casey walked away from the window, turned out the light, and went to bed. Tomorrow, she had to be up early to pack Mr. Springer's things for his hospital stay. A cab would come and take them both to the hospital, an arrangement she found comforting--she'd be safer in a cab than Mr. Springer's Mercedes; it was less conspicuous that way. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself.
That light in the window went out, the driver in the car parked by the curb noted. That must be her bedroom window. Good. Now that Casey's room was located, it made the job that much easier. It wouldn't do to break in from outside; the whole house was locked down like a prison. Something more subtle was needed, a subterfuge, a disguise. Yes, gain her trust, then move in for the kill. But it didn't do to go off half-cocked. The better planned, the better the results. Nothing must be left to chance. One little screw up meant jail time, if not Death Row. No, it had to be clean and quick and quiet with no time for her to scream.
The driver pulled away from the curb noiselessly, slowly, so as not to attract the local police patrolling the area. High end neighborhoods like this were always heavily patrolled, the driver knew. The greatest challenge was to avoid detection from them. Not to worry, there was still plenty of time to plan. Patience and observation were keys to success. In the end, it would all be worth it. It would all pay off in the end.
12-13-2011, 11:30 PM
:) :) :)
12-15-2011, 06:27 PM
A week had gone by and no suspect had been linked to the bomb scare at the Luxor. Detective Meridian had run into a dead end during the course of the investigation and he was beginning to feel the strain. In itself, the phony bomb in the cleaning cart was minor affair, as if someone was playing a practical joke that wasn't all that funny. It was the threat attached to it that concerned him; someone wanted Casey Worth to relinquish her claim to the Piccucci inheritance or else. From what he knew about organized crime, "or else" meant only one thing--a quick trip to the morgue.
Meridian reviewed what he knew about the case: Michael Piccucci, Jr., laid claim to the estate because he was the eldest son from Mick's first wife. Tina LaRue demanded a share because she was the second wife and mother to their daughter, Heather, despite the fact that Tina and Mick had been divorced for years. She was also thirsting for revenge because she got short-changed on the pre-nup. Junior had a reputation for womanizing and living high beyond his means, and was starving for cash. Both were contesting the will, with poor Casey caught in the cross-fire.
Casey Worth, on the other hand, was the timid type (he recalled how she always said "yes, sir," and "no, sir," when he questioned her), easily intimidated by those she believed to be more powerful than she was. If either Tina or Mike, Jr., kept up the terror tactics, she would no doubt break under the strain and give in. Meridian could only hope she was somewhere safe.
Meridian pulled out the Piccucci will from the file he had on his desk. He had subpoened a copy from Richard Close "for investigative purposes," he had told him. A subpoena was hardly necessary--Close obliged without question. Obviously he knew about the the threat on Casey's life and wanted to assist him in any way possible. As executor of the will, he had more than a personal interest in the safety of the sole heir to the estate.
After sifting through all the legal-beagle jargon with which all wills are burdened, the gist of it was that Casey was declared the sole heir to Piccucci's estate. Everything was hers, save for five hundred grand going to Daniel William Springer, Mick's friend and partner in crime. No mention of either Junior or Tina, nor of the daughter by Tina, or the two sons Junior had by Pamela. The whole family was left bone dry, not a penny to their names. No wonder everyone got so (bleeped) off. Meridian would be, too, if he got screwed like that, but he'd take it to court instead of threatening murder.
He looked at the will again. Aside from Casey Worth, Daniel William Springer--"Springs" to his friends--was the only person mentioned in the will. He got five hundred grand, a small token of friendship--not a bad sum considering how rich the last two surviving members of The Guys of Glitter Gulch had become after two decades of extortion and racketeering. How much was going to the Feds for back taxes, Meridian didn't know. It was ironic that gangsters and mobsters could kill, extort, embezzle and cheat their way to wealth, but the only crime the FBI could actually convict them on was tax evasion. Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, among others--all went up the river for cheating Uncle Sam of his due, straight to Leavenworth or Alcatraz. After the IRS and the FBI plowed through all of Mick's financial records, there probably wouldn't be much left for anyone to inherit.
Springs. He was obviously still in Las Vegas; a quick check of the records would reveal his address. Maybe Meridian could worm a few clues out of the old man regarding the will, or at least the bomb scare. It was worth a try, anyway. Who knew? The dead end he was facing now might just lead to a new turn he hadn't thought of yet.
Hi, how are you? I am doing okay in school. Kyle's being a big pain in the butt as ususal. Last week he tried to flush that little pink rabbit you gave me for Easter down the toilet. Why do boys have to be boys anyway? Why can't they grow up?
Anyway, we have a Youth Retreat coming up at school. It's a three-day trip to some monestary, and I'd really like to go. I just want to get away from Kyle for a few days, that's all. Considering what a brat he's been lately, even a monestary sounds good to me. The problem is it costs sixty-five dollars, and Mom's on a tight budget. Could you please send a money order to me? The church is kind of nervous about checks lately, it seems that a lot of checks they'd been getting have been bouncing. The retreat is a week from Friday, and I need to get it in ASAP.
Thanks so much for helping, Dad. Love to Dorrie and Missy.
That sounds pretty convincing, Alicia thought as she hit the Send button. Surely Dad would come through. She logged off the system and returned to her bedroom. The family PC was kept in the master bedroom, and access was by permission only, and then just for ten minutes a session and only for homework and emails to Dad or other family members. No chat rooms (too dangerous), no online video games (too violent and/or a waste of time), and no web-surfing (due to "inappropriate content" on the majority of them). As a result, Alicia was forced to go outside to log onto the fanboards, first at school, then at the public library. She wished she had her own computer where she could go anywhere she wanted on the Web. Instead, she had to sneak around to wherever there was an available terminal and where no one was watching. Maybe someday, she hoped as she flopped down on her bed. Maybe someday she'd finally be free enough to express her love openly and without fear of derision from anyone, family or church, and live her life the way she wanted to.
With the seventy-two dollars she had saved up plus the sixty-five she prayed would arrive in time, she would have one hundred and thirty-seven dollars to finance her trip to Loyalapalooza next Friday. In just seven days she would be winging her way to Criss Angel's waiting arms. Seven long, agonizng days separated her from the love of her life, each hour crawling at a snail's pace. If only she could fast-forward the time until then, like in that movie, Click. A press of a button and she'd be Vegas bound in no time. Even better, she could rewind the three days she would be there and live and relive Loyalapalooza over and over again for all eternity. But that was just a daydream; she was forced to live each passing day like everyone else on the planet.
The major obstacle, of course, was how to get there. She had no transportation, couldn't drive, and did not dare ask anyone to take her. To top it off, she had no alibi, no excuse, that couldn't be traced to the school if anyone found out. Her only options would be to sneak out or make other arrangements. She had the money; all she lacked was the means to get to Vegas without getting into too much trouble. How was she going to pull it off?
Alicia turned on her back and stared at the ceiling. It's just not fair, she thought. Why do I have to be restricted from doing everything I want to do in life? I'm not a little kid anymore! I'm thirteen years old, for God's sake! Why does everyone want to keep me from doing what I want to do? I can make my own decisions! Well, screw them! I'm going to Loyalapalooza--even if I have to run away from home! And I might not even come back, either!
12-15-2011, 06:36 PM
Casey lay back on the chaise lounge in the sunroom of the Springer home, exhausted after a morning of housework. It had taken her the entire week to mop, scrub, scour, buff and polish the six-bedroom mansion. Just doing the upper floor was like trying to clean an entire level of the Luxor, and she didn't even have the benefit of help from fellow staffmembers or even a wheeled cart for the supplies, either. Mr. Springer made no mention of a regular housekeeper. Indeed, the lovely mansion had suffered from months if not years of neglect: dust coated every horizontal surface, the linens had not been changed for so long they were almost cardboard stiff, and the marble-tiled bathrooms were grimy and tinged with mildew. Little wonder Mr. Springer was sick all the time, she thought.
As soon as Mr. Springer left for the hospital in a cab (he would not be allowed to drive until he fully recovered), Casey busied herself with the monumental task of conquoring the dirt, dust and grime built up over who knew how long. It gave her a sense of purpose, a feeling that she was earning her money instead of just living in the house. Besides, Mr. Springer deserved better than to recover from his operation in a dusty, dirty house.
Day after day, Casey tackled each room, dusting, vacuuming, washing and scrubbing, not stopping until every speck of dirt and dust was eradicated before moving onto the next. By the third day, she was sneezing and coughing from all the dust she stirred up and had to resort to covering her nose and mouth with a kerchief. The kitchen itself took up the better part of the fifth day, and the house had three and a half bathrooms to boot. Still, she preservered. Six days she labored to bring the mansion up to health standards, and finally, on the afternoon of the seventh day, she finally rested, collapsing on the chaise lounge in the sunroom, exhausted but satisfied over a job well done.
Casey had barely begun to relax when she heard the doorbell chimes. With a deep sigh, she pulled herself up onto her feet and crossed over the newly polished marble floor of the giant foyer to answer the door. Through the side window, she could see it was Detective Meridian. Casey felt her stomach tie itself in a knot, but she knew to make him wait would only make things worse, so she stiffened her back and pulled open the door.
"Hello, Detective," she said, trying to control her nervousness. "What can I do for you?"
Detective Meridian was a bit surprised to see Casey Worth at the Springer mansion, but soon realized that her being here made it more convenient for him. "Hello, Casey," he said with a reassuring grin, "I'd like to see Springer if he's here."
"I'm sorry, Detective, but Mr. Springer is in the hospital," Casey informed him. "He has stomach cancer."
"I see. Do you know which hospital?"
"Okay, good," Meridian nodded. "So, what brings you here?"
"Me? I'm his caregiver now," Casey replied. "Just like I was for Mr. Piccucci."
"What about your job at the Luxor?"
"Oh, that?" Casey smiled ruefully. "They thought I was a security risk, so they didn't want me to come back. Besides, I was just a fill-in. Mr. Springer hired me the same day I got let go."
"And you've been here ever since?"
"Yes, sir, I have. In fact, I've just got done cleaning this whole house from top to bottom--took me the whole week. I'm beat!"
"I bet you are. So, did Mr. Springer tell you anything about the bomb in the Luxor? Any hint over who might have done it?"
"Mr. Springer is a very sick man, Detective," Casey said firmly. "He was more concerned with the doctors finding an organ donor to replace his stomach. He had nothing to do with the bomb or anything else. He never mentioned the will or anything. And I've told you everything I know about it already. I'm sorry I can't help you furthur, but..."
"It's okay, Casey," Meridian said. He pulled out his business card. "If you see anything suspicious, give me a call. And remember to keep the doors and windows locked, willya?"
"Oh, don't worry, Detective," Casey said, smiling. "Mr. Springer has the same electronic security system Mr. Piccucci has, so I know how to program it. I'm pretty safe here, so don't worry about me."
"Thanks, Casey. So long."
The heavy door closed noiselessly. Meridian turned and walked back to his car. So Springs was in the hospital; so much for questioning him about the case. At least he knew where Casey was, anyway. He should have been reassured about Casey's safety in the Springer mansion, but he knew that "pretty safe" wasn't good enough, not with nine million dollars on the line. The case had once again dead-ended, and there was nothing left to do but go back and go over the facts once again to see if there was something he missed. There just had to be.
12-17-2011, 11:06 PM
Huge blocks of styrofoam representing ice blocks were carefully arranged into position, creating a sort of throne. Two glass and steel braziers flanked either side of the blocks with wadded yellow and red cellophane to simulate flames. To one side, Criss Angel was conferring with his technical staff for the Fire and Ice demonstration to be performed for the finale of Loyalapalooza. Criss would sit on the ice throne, then a wall of flames would shoot up around him, and he would vanish the moment the flames receded. It wasn't a major, life threatening demonstration such as he had performed in the past, but Criss felt the Loyal deserved the best he could offer; without them, he was nothing.
The rehersal took place in Criss' secret warehouse somewhere in the Nevada desert. Only one cameraman was allowed inside to tape the run-through solely for the purpose of reviewing how well everything went. The act had to be meticuloulsy timed and flawlessly executed by everyone involved--one slipup and the whole illusion would be ruined, and Criss' reputation as a master illusionist would be irrevocably damaged. Thus the videotaping of the rehersal to point out whatever needed improving or correcting--nothing must be left to chance.
"Okay," Criss shouted to all assembled in the warehouse. "Places everybody! Fire and Ice run-through, take one!"
The camera rolled as Criss took his place on the "ice" throne, ignoring the styrofoam squeaking under his weight. For this first rehersal, yellow sheets took the place of the wall of fire, held up for the count of four, then dropped. Criss had to vanish without stepping over the orange spray-painted boundaries on the stage where the fire wall would be situated. To vanish behind sheets was easy for Criss; cloth couldn't burn him. Only when the flames were at their peak would he have to watch his step, so he had to discipline himself not to step over the boundaries.
The first run-through was good, he had disappeared on cue, but his foot had strayed past the orange line. Another run-through was called for, then another, then another, then still another. Criss wanted to get this down so perfectly that he could perform it in his sleep. Only when the crew began moaning about lunch did he consent to a break. His assistant, Jennifer, had taken care of ordering a few sandwich trays from the Luxor deli so Criss and the crew could would not have to order out , and so avoid revealing the location of the warehouse. Besides, a hungry crew was a rebellious one, and the last thing Criss wanted was a mutiny on his hands.
Criss sat with his brothers and cousin, George, around a packing crate for a table, eating the sandwich wraps from one of the trays. George looked up at Criss casually. "So, find any more bombs in your room lately?" he bantered.
Criss set down his sandwich. "That's not funny, George," he said. "If that thing had been real, God knows what would have happened."
"Well, it wasn't," George pointed out. "And it wasn't even directed at you but that housekeeper, the one who inherited that mobster's estate, remember? Either the ex-wife or the son are trying to intimidate her into giving it up--maybe both of them at the same time, I dunno. Either one has the incentive to do it. I mean, we're talking The Sopranos here. They'll get that money even if they have to kill her."
"How much was the estate again?" Costa asked.
"Nine million, give or take a few." Criss answered.
"That's a lot of incentive."
"I just hope she's safe where she is right now," Criss sighed.
"Where is she now?" Costa asked.
"With Springs, at his house."
"You remember. Danny Springer, Piccucci's, quote, business partner, unquote." Criss held up his fingers for quotation marks.
"Oh, him." George grunted.
Costa, George and even JD looked skeptical. "Look, I know it's not the most ideal situation," Criss concurred, "but under the circumstances, what can you do?"
"Besides leave the country?" George suggested. "Or go into the Federal Witness Protection Program?"
"That's only if you witnessed a mob hit or something!" Criss argued. "Anyway, she's safe there if she's safe anywhere."
Costa looked at Criss with a Mona Lisa smile on his face. "You really care about this girl, don't you?"
Criss was taken aback by his brother's off-the-wall remark. "Well, yeah, I mean, I don't want her to get hurt or anything. She's a human being, too, you know. I'm not going to stand by and let another human being get killed for whatever reason."
The Mona Lisa smile widened. "I think your interest goes a little farther than just concern for a human life, Criss."
"Don't go there, Costa," Criss warned him.
"Hey, I'm just saying."
"I have no personal feelings toward Casey, Costa," Criss insisted. "I just don't want her to get hurt, that's all, so let's just drop it, okay?" Criss chomped down on his pita wrap sandwich, signalling the end of the conversation.
Costa held up a placating hand. "Okay, okay, fine, whatever you say."
No sooner did Costa silence himself than JD spoke up. "You know, Criss, all this talking about wills and estates got me thinking."
"Look out," George joked.
JD ignored his cousin. "Have you ever considered making out a will of your own? You know, if you haven't made one out already. I mean, with all the dangerous stunts you do..."
Criss swallowed his food. "Me? Oh, yeah, I made out a will a long time ago," he said. "I knew that someday I'd have a demonstration that would probably go wrong and I'd end up getting killed, and I wanted to make sure that all of you, and especially Mom, were taken care of. I even have a pre-paid funeral plan, just in case. In fact, before I did that hotel demolition demo in Florida, I took the time to make sure all my affairs were in order in case I didn't make it. Don't worry about me, man, I'm good."
"You have insurance of any kind?" JD asked.
Criss laughed. "What are you, a salesman? But seriously, there isn't an insurance company on the face of this planet who'd issue me a policy! Besieds, the Luxor covers my medical expenses--nothing catastrophic, just the basics, like exams, prescriptions, things like that."
"That's nice of them." said JD.
"Nice? They're not doing it to be 'nice' about it, JD, they're protecting their biggest investment--me! The longer I stay healthy, the more money I produce for them. They can't afford for me to get sick--me, neither."
"So what are you going to do if, God forbid, something should happen to you?" JD persisted. "Say, you got disabled or something and you can't perform magic anymore? What are you going to do for income? How are you going to cover the medical bills? We're talking thousands of dollars here."
"I told you, JD, I'm covered." Criss insisted. "Since I can't get standard coverage, I started my own little 'insurance policy', a secret stash of cash I invested for those very reasons you mentioned. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
"Well, you'd better check on that 'insurance policy' of yours to see if it didn't go down the crapper with the rest of the economy," JD told him. "In the meantime, I'm going to check out some policies for you, see if I can't get you a better deal. You can't put all of your eggs in one basket, Criss. The pre-paid funeral plan's a smart move, but if you end up like Christopher Reeve after that riding accident, you're gonna need more than that."
"JD, I'll be fine, really," Criss insisted. "Besides, didn't I promise no more dangerous demonstrations?"
"I'll be sure to mention that on the insurance form."
"Criss, I'm serious here. I don't give a damn what you leave me in your will. It's your welfare I'm concerned about. You may think you're the greatest magician since Houdini, but I'm still your big brother and it's my job to look out for you. It's been that way ever since you were born, and there's no way I'm gonna break from it now."
"Big Brother is watching you," Costa quipped.
"Damn right he is," JD snapped. "You know what Mom said to me once?"
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Criss joked.
"No, she said to me that she didn't want to outlive you. She didn't want to watch you die in some horrible accident of your own making. She made me swear to her that I'd make sure that you didn't kill yourself doing your demonstrations. I'm not just doing it for myself, Criss--I'm doing it for Mom. It's not your money we're after, it's keeping the family alive and well and all together. We couldn't save Dad from cancer, but we can save you from killing yourself. We're family, Criss--that's why I'm riding your ass about all this. You said you wanted to make sure we're taken care of after you die? Well, I'm making sure you're taken care of while you're still alive. Understand?"
Criss felt deeply moved by this speech. His brother's concern touched him to the core of his being. "Well," he said, choking back the emotions welling up inside him, "if that's how you feel..."
"That's how I feel," JD insisted. "Tomorrow, I'll call my agent and get some estimates on a few insurance premiums and I'll get back to you, okay?"
Criss nodded. "Fine."
"Good. Now, let's get back to work."
Criss was a bit miffed. "Hey, that's my line," he protested as he rose from his seat.
JD smirked at his famous brother while the crew reassembled around the styrofoam blocks for another round of rehersals. Criss sighed. It had never been easy for him being the baby of the family with two older brothers hovering over him all the time, but in retrospect it had been a blessing. The Loyal gave him adulation, but his family had given him life. Without his fans, he was nothing but a two-bit magician doing card tricks in the street, but without his family, he was nothing at all. They weren't like the Piccuccis, those greedy descendents of gangsters who would stop at nothing to get the old man's money. The Sarantakos clan stood by each other without questioning the reason why. All the money in the world could not divide them. For all of his material possessions, he thought as he climbed the styrofoam steps to the fake ice chair, his mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and niece were his greatest wealth, and double-damn if he'd let anything, or anyone, harm them.
12-18-2011, 03:53 AM
That's insurance policy I'd love to look at
12-18-2011, 05:13 PM
The St. Benedict's Acadamy bus rolled to a halt by the curb, opening it's bifold doors only when deemed safe enough by the driver. Alicia and a few of her classmates clambered out of the bus, free for the rest of the day. Alicia trotted to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, hoping that her mother had not picked up the mail yet, and hoping even more for the money order she had requested from her father had finally arrived. Her departure for Loyalapalooza was just four days away, but she was still short on cash even with the twenty additional dollars she had earned babysitting the Fischer twins last Saturday night, a hellacious evening to say the least, but so worth it as far as Alicia was concerned.
Alicia opened the mailbox, and no, her mother had not picked up the mail, and yes, the letter from her father had arrived. Elated over this double stroke of good luck, she tucked the letter into her jacket pocket and carried the rest of the mail into the house, acting as casual as she could be. Inside the house, she laid the stack of letters on the side table by the door and proceeded to her bedroom to stash the money order with the rest of her savings. She was sure that her money was safe in her underwear drawer, but every time she so much as thought about it, there was always the nagging feeling that Kyle had somehow sneaked in, rifled through her things, found the money, and spent it all on videogames. Kyle, however, was too wrapped up in the latest doom-and-gloom creation from X-Box to even notice his sister was even home. Maybe he never found it after all. She vowed that she'd kill him if he did. No one must know about Loyalapalooza--no one.
Alicia made her way to her bedroom. She opened her underwear drawer and lifted the stack of panties where her money was hidden, breathing a sigh of relief to see it was all still there. She closed the drawer and opened the envelope. A folded piece of paper was inside. Did Dad refuse to send her the money? Alicia took the paper out of the envelope and unfolded it. There was no letter, just a blank piece of paper, but inside the sheet was a money order for sixty-five dollars signed by her father. The "payable to" line was blank, presumably to be filled out by the school for the Youth Retreat. To Alicia, it was as good as a blank check. She tucked the money order safely in the underwear drawer and let herself fall into a blissful fantasy of herself with Criss Angel in glittering, fabulous Las Vegas. She was dancing with him, staring into his beautiful hazel eyes, melting into his arms as they swirled and floated above the neon glow of the Strip, ascending into Heaven, together forever and ever and ever...
Her mother Nancy's voice brought her crashing back to earth. Alicia noticed the grim expression she wore on her face. Pulling herself together, she managed to speak, "Yes, Mother?"
"Alicia, I got a letter from your homeroom teacher, Sister Claudia," Nancy said. "It seems you've been neglecting your schoolwork lately. You've been missing assignments, or turning them in late. What seems to be the problem here? Is there something wrong? Is something bothering you that you can't concentrate on your studies? I can't afford to send you to a private school if you're not willing to do the work."
Alicia could only stare back at her mother. What should she say to her? What could she say in her defense? Well, you see, Mom, I've been so caught up with going to Loyalapalooza to see Criss Angel that I forgot to do my homework. Yeah, right, like that was going to get her off the hook. But she had to come up with something.
"Well?" her mother pressed. "I'm waiting for an answer."
Alicia sighed. "Well, you see, Mom, it's like this," she began.
"It's just that, well..." she took a deep breath. "I've been feeling depressed lately, you know."
Nancy looked concerned. "Depressed? About what, dear?"
"About, well, life in general," Alicia replied hastily. "I mean, Dad's gone, Kyle's a pain in the butt, and you...well, you have to work just to support us. It's depressing, know what I mean? I know you're doing your best, but still..."
Nancy stepped forward and laid a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Look, I know that things are rough right now, but that is no excuse to neglect your studies. You have a bright future ahead of you, so don't let your father's absence or your brother's teasing bother you. Now, you have a chance to make up your work, so I suggest you pack up your frownies, get out the books and start studying. In the meantime, there will be no TV, no computer time, and no going out until you bring your grades up to speed."
Alicia was aghast. "But, Mom--" she protested.
Mom was adamant. "But nothing! You got to buckle down and get to work. Your education is more important than anything on television or the internet. Unless you want to go to summer school, you'd better crack open those books. And no daydreaming or playing around--I want to see some real progress, young lady! Understand?"
Alicia remained tight-lipped. "Understand?" her mother repeated more emphatically.
"I got it," Alicia muttered.
"That's not a proper response."
"Yes, Mother," Alicia replied through gritted teeth.
Satisfied that she had gotten her point across, Mrs. Rose left the bedroom. Alicia flung her bookbag onto her tiny desk, cursing inwardly. "It's not fair!" she stormed. "So I missed a few assignments! So what? Why did she have to ruin my life like that?"
She flopped down on the bed, tears streaming from her eyes. I don't care what she says! she said to herself. I'm going to Loyalapalooza, even if I have to run away! Screw her, screw school, screw everyone else! I'm going to Vegas--and I'm not coming back, not ever, ever again! I'm blowing this one-horse town and starting over again! I'll meet Criss and we'll be happy together, forever and ever and ever! Nothing, no one is going to stop me from seeing Criss--not even God Himself!
Michael, Jr., waited for the phone on the other end to pick up. Jessie said she'd be home today, and he planned to take her to the Alzado Motel, the one with the Seventies vintage marble tile hot tub. The image of Jessie's slim, tanned body in that teeny-weenie red bikini excited him more than a month's supply of Viagra. Even more exciting was the image of her without it.
"Hello?" came a girl's voice on the other end.
"Hey, baby, how about you and me checking into the Alzado for a little, uh, afternoon delight?" he crooned. "We can kick back in the hot tub--swimsuit optional."
Jessie laughed. "Throw in a pitcher of Margaritas," she cooed, "and you got yourself a deal."
"You got it, baby!" Michael, Jr., crowed. "See you in thirty!"
"Honey, I'm already there!" Jessie purred.
Hoo-hoo-hoo! Michael, Jr., gleefully hung up the phone, fished out his car keys from his pants pocket, and bolted out the front door to where his Maserati was waiting in the driveway. He hurdled onto the driver's seat, jammed the key into the ignition and started the engine.
The last thing he felt was himself engulfed in white-hot flames as the Maserati exploded into a huge fireball, reducing him to a charred skeleton in an instant. Thick black smoke rose into the clear blue desert sky like a funeral pyre, and the only noise was the crackle of the flames from the twisted ruin of the Maserati.
12-18-2011, 05:21 PM
12-20-2011, 07:27 PM
This is Channel Six News!
Good evening. A car fire was reported in suburban Las Vegas this afternoon. The driver was identified as Michael Piccucci, Jr., who was in his vehicle when it suddenly exploded in his driveway, killing him instantly. Mr. Piccucci was the son of the late gangster, Michael "Mick" Piccucci, one of the so-called Guys of Glitter Gulch gang who extorted money from casinos and nightclubs during the Forties and Fifites. The explosion is believed to be caused by a car bomb. It is rumored that the bombing is linked to the late gangster's will, in which the entire estate was left to Mick Piccucci's caregiver instead of his son. Piccucci's ex-wife, Tina LaRue Piccucci, is contesting the will, as was Michael, Jr. Authorities are still investigating the scene of the blast, and are asking any and all witnesses to come forward and testify.
Casey snapped off the television set and huddled into a ball on the overstuffed sofa in the media room. Ohmigod! Ohmigod, someone killed Michael, Jr.! They blew him up in his car! Who could have done such a thing? He didn't deserve to die like that! No one does! How could anyone do such a thing?
Had it been Tina? It was logical to assume so, knowing that she wanted the inheritance so badly. Casey had never met Tina personally, but from what she had read in the paper about the will, she was angry enough to sue for it. Was she angry enough to kill for it? For nine million dollars, she probably was.
Had she been the one who sent that phony bomb with that warning for her to give up the inheritance? Again, probably. Casey's fingerprints were not on the bomb, and from what she had learned from Detective Meridian, no one else's matched up either--at least, no one in the police records. If not Tina, then who?
Well, worrying wasn't going to help matters, she said to herself. She had a job to do. She rose from the overstuffed couch and walked into Mr. Springer's bedroom. Mr. Springer would be home from the hospital tomorrow after his stomach transplant. He had barely checked into the hospital when the word came that a donor had been found. The ink was still wet on the insurance forms when he was prepped and wheeled into surgery. He came through remarkably well for such an old man, but he still had a long period of recovery ahead of him, and Casey was going to make it as comfortable as possible. Fresh sheets on the huge king-sized bed, fresh batteries in the remote, and fresh air circulating through the windows. The buzzer connected to her bedroom was in full working order, and the phone was within arm's reach on the nightstand. Yes, everything was ready.
Casey looked at the clock: Six-thirty PM. She decided to go down to the kitchen and fix herself some dinner, then call her mother to tell her she was all right. She had probably heard about the car bomb and was worried sick; her dad and brother were undoubtedly too focused on ESPN or some other sports channel to even know about it, let alone care. She trotted down the steps, into the foyer, and--shoot! Forgot to get the mail! Casey detoured toward the front door to where the daily mail lay on the marble floor under the polished brass mail slot. She picked it up and sorted through it. She felt a little silly going through someone else's mail, but she did it chiefly out of habit since she always picked up the mail at home. Oh, well, might as well toss out the junk and leave the rest for Mr. Springer.
Phone bill, utility bill, something from the hospital, ad, ad (toss those), another utility bill, something from the AARP, bank statement. Hold on a minute, what was this? She held up a blank envelope with the flap tucked inside. Casey hesitated for a moment. Was it for Mr. Springer, or was it for her? She stared at the mysterious envelope for a full minute, then with a bit of trepedition, opened it, pulled out the single sheet of paper inside and read it:
MIcK IS GonE &YOU *Re next!
Casey dropped the note and dashed for the phone. She had to call Detective Meridian and fast! Whoever killed Michael, Jr., was now after her. She found her purse in her bedroom after a frantic search, dumped the contents of it onto the bed, and scrabbled madly to find the detective's phone number. Dear God, where was that fricking phone number? It wasn't anywhere! No, wait, there it was! She grabbed the bedside phone and forced herself to remain calm as she dialed.
"This is Jim Meridian," the voice on the other line spoke."
"Detective Meridian!" Casey cried, "this is Casey Worth! I--"
"Sorry I can't come to the phone right now," the other voice continued. "I'm either away from my desk or on another line. Leave your name, number and a brief message and I'll get back to you as soon as possible."
Oh, great! Casey moaned inwardly. I got his voice mail!
The recorded message gave way to the standard voice mail instructions: "Please record your message after the beep. To leave a call back number, press pound twice. To page this person, press five."
Casey pressed five and hoped for a response. "Please enter your ten-digit phone number...now."
Phone number? What was the phone number? Casey looked down at the phone cradle. There it was, printed out behind a sliver of plastic. She knew the area code already, so she entered the number carefully and waited. "Thank you," the phone service said. "Your page has been sent. Good-bye."
A click, then nothing. All Casey could do was wait. Please hurry, Detective, she pleaded. I'm all alone in this house, and the killer knows I'm here! Please, please hurry!
12-20-2011, 11:58 PM
Take a deep breath and sent the alarm
12-21-2011, 05:20 PM
Detective Meridian stood on the front porch of the Piccucci home, away from the smoking ruin of Michael, Jr.'s, car. Next to him was Pamela Piccucci, Michael, Jr.'s wife and now widow, fresh from a shopping trip downtown barely half an hour ago, dabbing her reddened eyes with a tissue. The fire department was hosing down the flaming wreck, good for the general safety of the neighborhood but bad for the CSI team--the water washed away any tangible evidence as to who installed the bomb, where it was detonated, and how. It was this bit of irony that made arson cases so difficult to solve.
Meridian turned to Pamela. "Are you sure you didn't see anyone near the car when you left to go shopping this morning?" he persisted.
"Detective, I swear to you, I saw no one," Pamela insisted. "I left around ten-thirty this morning, and I didn't see a soul for miles. I took my own car, that Prius you see over there, and didn't come home until just now. This is as much a shock to me as it is to you, Detective." She sank down on a brick planter by the door and sighed heavily. "What am I going to tell the boys?" she wailed. "I don't know what to do, Detective. I just don't know what to do."
"Just give me as much information as you can, Mrs. Piccucci," Meridian said. "I'm pretty sure this is tied to your father-in-law's will. Or it could be something else entirely."
Pamela looked up at Meridian, alarmed. "What do you mean by that, Detective?" she demanded.
"Do you know of anyone who has a personal grudge against your husband?" Meridian asked. "Anyone owe him money, or vice versa? A gambling debt? Or an extramarital affair, perhaps?"
Pamela shot up and glared at Meridian. "How dare you!"
Meridian held up a placating hand. "Ma'am, I'm just trying to conduct an investigation here," he demurred. "I just want to know if he had any enemies."
Pamela composed herself, smoothing her designer dress with her freshly manicured hands. "Well, I admit that my marriage to Mike's...been a little rocky lately, but you needn't go so far as to insinuate that my husband was having an affair with another woman," she retorted loftily. "As for enemies, well, Mike had his...detractors, granted, but none who wanted to kill him outright."
"What about Tina LaRue?" Meridian suggested.
"Well, she--" Pamela hesitated, thinking it over. "You know, you could be right! It had to be Tina! Who else could it be? She's been after Mick's money for years, even before he died. She must have planted that bomb in there. Well, maybe she hired someone to plant it in there, of course--I don't think she's that bright enough to know how to even make a bomb, let alone wire one inside a car. A phony bomb like in the Luxor, perhaps, but not a real one. But yes, I do believe Tina is responsible for this. It all makes sense when you think about it."
"Well, in some cases the theory that makes sense at first doesn't turn out to be the truth," Meridian told her. "I still need to examine the evidence, find any witnesses, and do a little legwork before I discover what really happened. In the meantime, don't leave town--I may have to contact you for more questioning."
"Leave town?" Pamela was startled that Meridian should make such a request. "Why should I leave town? The probate hearing is this Friday; I have to be there for that, if only to represent my late husband. I mean, I have the boys to think about, you know. Their future is at stake here."
Meridian nodded. "Of course. I am sorry about your loss, Mrs. Piccucci. I know you have a lot on your mind right now, so I'll be taking my leave. If you have any questions, or have any new information, give me a call. You have my number."
"Thank you, Detective," Pamela said graciously. "I am deeply grateful for all of your hard work--myself and the boys are in your debt."
"You're welcome, ma'am." Meridian left, crossing over the lawn to avoid the charred chassis of the Maserati being hauled off by a wrecker. The coroner's wagon was parked nearby, the officials wheeling Michael, Jr.'s, remains to the morgue for the official autopsy. Meridian drove back to his office to piece together what he knew about this new development into the puzzle that was the Piccucci case.
Back in his office, he went over his notes again. He crossed off Michael, Jr., as a suspect--no need to worry about him now, except as a victim. Tina LaRue was still the number one suspect, and it was perfectly possible that she did hire a hit man to do her dirty work. He would have to wait until the lab results came back for him to investigate furthur, and it was getting late, he was getting tired, and he hadn't had lunch, so he decided to knock off for the day and get some rest. There was a cold beer in the fridge in that hole-in-the-wall of an apartment he called home, and it was calling his name. After the day he had, he felt he deserved it.
Once home, he traded his suit for a more comfortable set of sweats and made himself comfortable with the longed-for beer in front of the TV. It was good to kick back and relax, have the pressure of work off his shoulders and let someone else take over for a while. He took a refreshing swig of beer and reached for the remote to turn on ESPN. Maybe he could catch the end of the UCLA game.
He was feeling mellow, the beer's effects swirling lazily in his system, when his pager went off around six-thirty. Cursing under his breath, he rose from the couch and fished out his cell phone to answer it. He didn't recognize the number, but if someone called, it was his duty to find out who it was and return the page. He pressed Return on his cell phone and waited for an answer. It picked up halfway through the first ring.
"Hello, Detective Meridian?" a woman's anxious voice that he quickly recognized as Casey Worth's spoke over the line.
"This is Meridian," he replied. "Is this Casey?"
"Yes!" she almost shrieked. "I got another one of those letters today! You know, the one with the cutout letters on it? It came with the mail! It says I'm next! What am I going to do?"
"Okay, okay, don't panic," Meridian told her. "I'll be right over. You still at the Springer residence?"
"Okay, I'll be right over. Just don't touch the letter any more. We need to get fingerprints from it."
"Detective? I'm scared."
"I know you are, but just sit tight. I'll be over in a few. Remember what I said, okay? And keep away from the windows, just in case."
"All right," Casey said. "But, please hurry, Detective. I'm really scared here."
"I know you are, but don't panic. I'm coming right over."
He hung up quickly and dashed to change into more suitable clothes, then grabbed his keys and ran out of the apartment, stopping only to lock the door behind him. Once in his car, he drove to the Springer residence, still quiet and untouched as if he had never left the last time he had been there. He arrived at the Tudoresque mansion and pounded on the front door, then realized he should have used a gentler approach because of the shriek of terror he heard inside. The heavy door cracked open, revealing a single eye, wide with horror, then relaxing when it saw who it was. Casey let Meridian in the house, then slammed the door behind her, fearful that the person who sent the letter would slip inside behind him.
"Okay, where's the letter?" Meridian demanded.
Casey pointed to the paper on the floor where she had dropped it. Meridian did not pick up the paper, but could read the message pasted onto it. "Mick is gone and you're next!" he read aloud. "When did you receive this?" he asked Casey.
"I saw it around six-thirty," she replied, still shaken. "I was going to fix myself some dinner, and I saw the mail on the floor, so I picked it all up and saw this blank envelope, so I opened it, and there was that note."
"What time does the mail come around here, you know?"
"Usually around three-thirty, four o'clock at the latest," Casey answered. "I was busy getting Mr. Springer's room ready when he comes home from the hospital tomorrow, so I forgot all about it until then."
Meridian carefully picked up the paper and the envelope in which it had been mailed, and slipped it into a larger interoffice envelope marked "Evidence". Casey stood by as he dusted the polished brass flap of the mail slot for fingerprints. "I'm gonna have a talk with your mail carrier," he said, "see if he or she saw anyone suspicious during the mail route. Meantime, stay put. Whoever killed Mike, Jr., is gunning for you, too, so watch your back."
Casey burst into tears. "Now, don't get all upset," Meridian said. "If you panic, you'll end up doing something stupid and getting yourself killed. Stay calm, and you'll stay alive. Go get something to eat, watch TV, read a book and take it easy. We'll catch this guy. I'll arrange for a stakeout around the house; if he shows up, we'll nail him."
"Should I tell Mr. Springer?" Casey asked timidly.
"I'll talk to Springer," Meridian told her. "Meantime, you get hold of yourself, do your job around here, and keep the security system on twenty-four-seven. You'll be safe if you do." He flashed one of his rare smiles. "We'll catch this guy--you and me together."
Criss carefully applied a fine line of black "guyliner" under his eyelid, preparing for his live show in his dressing room. He hoped the revisions in the show would draw better reviews and thereby draw more paying crowds to the theater despite the ailing economy. He had taken risks in the past to bolster his career, even going so far as to mortgage his mother's house to fund his original Broadway show, Mindfreak, and it had been a success. A&E took a risk to host his own series, and it had proven wildly successful.
Now, just when he had created what was supposed to be his crowning achievement, things began to go sour with the economy and the decline in tourism. He had tweaked and rearranged the act over and over again, and he was still playing to a half-empty house. All he could hope for was a major economic turnaround through the Obama adminstration to get people spending money again.
One eye was finished. Criss started on the other eye when a knock on the door interrupted him. "Yo, what's up, man?" he called out, still staring in the mirror.
A round head with shaggy black hair and a face accented with a nose ring popped into the room. "Hey, Criss, 'sup, dude!"
Criss could see in the mirror's reflection that it was Sully Erna, the lead singer of the group Godsmack and one of his closest friends. "Hey, Sully, what's up?" he said.
Sully entered the dressing room. "Just passing by, thought I'd catch your show," he replied. "Heard about it so much I thought I'd check it out."
"Glad to hear that," Criss said. "One less empty seat in the theater."
"Hey, come on, it's not that bad, is it?"
Criss set down the liner pencil. "No, it's not that bad," he retorted. "It's just that I worked so hard on it, and hardly anyone comes to see it. Tourism's down, just like everything else. I try to make it more appealing to everyone, but the only sellout was on opening night. After that, it's all downhill."
"Look, dude, don't sweat it, okay?" Sully encouraged him. "I know the economy's gone to hell in a handbag, but they're still coming in to see your show, right? You must be doing something right. Things'll turn around, just you wait and see. Hell, my own concerts are slow sellers, too. Everyone's hurtin' right now, but it'll change. It can't last forever, you know."
Criss smiled. "Thanks for the pep talk, Sully."
"No prob." Sully flopped down on a nearby couch. "So what's this about a fake bomb in your room?" he asked.
Criss picked up the liner pencil again and traced the edge of his eyelid. "Oh, that? Well, that wasn't for me, that was for...someone else."
"Yeah. Did you happen to hear about some old Nineteen-fifties gangster dying a few weeks ago who left his entire fortune to his caregiver instead of his son? Well, that bomb was for her. It was a warning for her to give up the inheritance or else."
"Oh, yeah, I heard of it," Sully replied. "In fact, it was on the news today."
Criss turned around. "It was?"
"Yeah. The son who got shafted in the will got blown up in his car this afternoon," Sully told him. "Right there in his driveway--boom! Blew him all to hell. So much for getting Daddy's money."
Criss sat there, stunned. "Oh, geez!" he muttered. "Poor Casey."
"She's the caregiver who got the inheritance," Criss answered. "If the son is gone, then that leaves only her and the ex-wife."
"The ex-wife's involved, too?"
"Yeah, she got cut out of the deal as well," Criss explained.
Sully pondered what he had just learned. "Damn," he breathed. "This is really turning into an episode of The Sopranos."
Criss finished lining his eye. "Damn straight," he said. "Look, I gotta get ready for the show. I'll catch you later, okay?"
Sully rose to leave. "Sure thing. Later."
"Later." Criss returned to his dressing table. Sully left the room, singing the opening theme to The Sopranos under his breath. "Woke up this mornin', got yourself a gun..."
12-22-2011, 04:07 PM
Tina LaRue Piccucci pulled on her Gucci jacket and picked up her matching Gucci handbag. "I'll be home early," she told her daughter, Heather. "Don't wait up. And lock the doors this time--I don't want any break-ins!"
Heather stood there, staring dumbly at her mother. The girl was a retard, Tina thought. Must have gotten it from Mick's side of the family. She watched as her only daughter seemed to fade away into her bedroom, her only refuge from her mother's tirades. Tina rolled her eyes and walked briskly to the door, stopping only to check her appearance in the mirror. She sighed; makeup could only do so much to hide the flaws in her complexion. She refused to acknowledge her real age, preferring to stick with thirty-nine for the past twenty years or so, but she did all she could to ward off the ravages of old age with frequent trips to day spas and salons. Despite all of her efforts, however, a few wrinkles cropped up here and there on her face, working their way down to her neck and under her chin. Once she got the inheritance, she planned to go to that Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon who had been so highly recommended by aquaintances at the spa for a face lift. Maybe a boob job as well.
Tina stepped out of the penthouse apartment, took the elevator to the lobby of the complex, then stepped out into the street where, to her surprise and dismay, Detective Meridian was waiting for her. Sighing in exasperation, she walked over to him, the heels of her Manolo shoes clicking on the pavement like castanets. "All right, Detective," she said irritably, "what is it this time? If you're after me about that phony bomb again, you can forget it--I'm innocent."
"It's not about that, Tina," Meridian said quietly.
"Well, what is it then?" Tina snapped. "I got a show to go to in half and hour and you're making me late."
"Sorry, Tina, but there's been a change of plans for you tonight," Meridian retorted. "I need you to come with me to the station."
"For questioning regarding the car-bombing of Michael Piccucci, Jr.," Meridian told her firmly. "You wanna come quietly, or in cuffs?"
Tina went quietly, complaining about missing her show and the cost of the ticket for it. In the interrogation room, she sat in a very uncomfortable chrome-framed plastic chair across from Meridian, sipping from a plastic bottle of spring water, still fretting over the loss of her evening. No, she had not heard about Michael, Jr.'s, firey death today--she had been getting her hair done at the salon all afternoon, she claimed.
"What about this morning?" Meridian asked.
"You know me," Tina said, "you know I don't get up until around ten AM, and I never leave the house until noon at the earliest. Ask Heather." She took a dainty sip of her water and stared at him challengingly.
"You know, we can check your fingerprints with the ones we already have on file," Meridian reminded her.
"And you know I'm not giving you my fingerprints," Tina retorted. "I am completely innocent in this matter."
Meridian picked up Tina's bottle of water by the neck. "We'll have your prints in an hour," he said, his eyes glittering in triumph.
He handed the bottle carefully to the lab assistant waiting in the hall while Tina fumed over this act of deception. "I'm gonna sue you for entrapment over this!" she stormed.
"It's not entrapment, Tina," Meridian said calmly. "It's all part of the investigation." He leaned closer. "So, how about it, Tina? You wanna come clean over this, or do I let the lab results tell me what happened?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Detective," Tina protested. "I had nothing to do with that bomb, real or fake! Someone's setting me up!"
"I wish I could believe you, Tina," Meridian said, shaking his head sympathetically. "I really do. But you're the prime suspect in this case, and unless the evidence we have proves otherwise, you're the only link we got. We all know you want that inheritance, badly enough to kill for it."
"So how do you think I did it?" Tina challenged. "Assuming I did it at all?"
"Well, (A) you're smarter than people take for granted and you planted that explosive yourself, or (B) you hired someone to do it for you. You're the only one with any motive to kill Mike, Jr., so the ball's in your court."
Tina leaned forward, staring Meridian in the face. "Wrong on both counts, Sherlock," she sneered. "I was nowhere near Junior's house, or his car. I was home in the morning, and at the salon all afternoon!"
"What salon did you go to?" Meridian asked.
Tina fished out a pastel pink business card from her handbag. "Here," she said, slapping it on the table. "Call them yourself, and you'll see who's telling the truth around here."
Meridian took the card and slipped it in his shirt pocket. "I'll do that," he said. "Meantime, stay put. I gotta go check the lab results on the car and the prints on file. If the prints aren't yours, you're free to go."
"They're not mine, Detective," Tina insisted.
"Then whose are they?"
"How the hell should I know?" Tina exploded. "You're the detective--you figure it out!" She sat down again with a smirk on her face. "Personally, I'd like to know who that guy was who blew up Junior."
"Why should you care about who killed Mike, Jr.?" Meridian asked.
"I don't," Tina replied. "I just want to know who to thank."
12-23-2011, 03:29 PM
Two AM in Marvinville, Iowa, and Alicia Rose couldn't stand it any more. She lay awake in her room, reflecting on the unfairness of life. Her mother had grounded her for a week until she did her stupid assignments at her stupid school; her brother, Kyle, was giving her more grief than ever about it, and she only had a hundred and thirtysome dollars to go to Vegas to see Criss Angel. Life wasn't just unfair, it totally sucked! Once, just once, she'd like to come out ahead, have something go right for a change. Why couldn't she get a break every once in a while?
Only Vegas and Loyalapalooza were the bright spots in her life right now, but with her mother hovering over her like a hawk, making sure she did her homework for the past weekend, how could she get there now? At least she never found out about it; that was something to be thankful for, at least. How she wished it was Thursday already! She was chomping at the bit to be on her way to Las Vegas, and to her beloved Criss Angel's arms. She wanted to leave now, not wait until Thursday morning.
Leave now? Well, why not leave now? she thought. Flying there was out of the question due to the unaccompanied minors policies airports were now enforcing, but she could get a bus or a train ticket to Vegas. They were always advertising travel deals on television, and it would get her there faster than by car. She could get up right now, pack, pocket her money, and slip out the back door. The bus station was right behind the civic center, a long walk but it would save on cab fare, and she'd be on her way to Vegas by dawn.
Alicia got up, switched on her bedlight, pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, then opened her closet door and carefully removed her treasured box containing her Criss Angel pictures and book. Thank God I cleaned out my closet when I did, she said to herself, or else I'd have to dig through everything. I'd probably drop something and wake up Mom and Kyle, and I can't let that happen.
She dragged out her little brown suitcase that her Aunt Connie had given to her for Christmas five years ago from under her bed and set the box inside it. She packed her underwear, her favorite blue dress, an extra pair of jeans, some stockings, dress shoes, cosmetic bag (makeup was contraband in school and in church), and the little pink Easter bunny her father had given her. She recalled that pickpockets were rampant in Las Vegas from an episode of MindFreak dealing with scams, so she found her old fannypack and put her cash and money order inside it, along with the small travel hairbrush she kept in her purse. All this she did as quietly as possible so as not to wake her mother and brother.
Alicia turned off the bedlight, strapped the fannypack around her waist, picked up her suitcase and tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs. In the dim light of the nightlights Mom installed for safety reasons, she could make out dim shapes of the living room furniture. By the far wall, she could see the credenza where her mother kept the important papers and sometimes cash for groceries or whatever.
Cash? Alicia realized that a hundred and thirty dollars won't get her too far, but stealing from her mother--well, that was going over the line. Did she dare? Was it worth the risk? Was there even any money in there in the first place?
Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to look, she figured. It was probably empty, anyway, and if it was, the temptation would go away and she could be on her way to Vegas guilt-free. She crossed over to the credenza and opened one of the cabinet doors. It was pitch dark inside, so she switched on a small table lamp nearby to see. There were a lot of papers inside the little cabinet: receipts, bills, statements and whatnot. Alicia nervously sifted through them all, searching for money. Maybe there wasn't any, she thought with a mixture of relief and disappointment. She was about to give up when her eyes fell on a small green and white bank envelope, the kind used to keep money in. She picked it up and lifted the flap. Inside were a handful of twenties and a couple of fifites; the front of the envelope had the amount scrawled on it: $207.00
Alicia felt her bowels gel inside her. With this and the money she had saved up, she could go to Vegas and be able to live for the whole weekend! But should she steal money from her mother? This was probably grocery money or something; even though she hated Kyle and couldn't stand her mother, she still had enough family loyalty not to let them go hungry. But she needed more money to finance her trip. She only had a hundred and thirty seven dollars, sixty-five of it in a money order, and who knew how much it would cost to get there. Maybe if she just took half...?
Alicia withdrew five twenties and put the rest back int the credenza. She closed the cabinet door, switched off the light, then picked up her suitcase and slipped quietly out the back door, closing it gently behind her. She had done it, and suddenly the enormity of her deed came home to her: she was leaving everything she knew behind her and leaving for parts unknown. Should she go back into the house, remain in the comfort and safety of home and family, and just forget the whole thing?
The image of Criss Angel floated before her mind's eye. Was he really worth the risk she was taking, just to go see him? Yes! Emphatically, yes! If she chickened out now, she'd regret it for the rest of her life. Was she going to give it up now? No way in hell! If she did, it would mean going back to a dreary lifetime of endless homework and household chores, being terrorized by a ten-year-old demon of a brother, and incarceration by a cabal of nuns and priests who were completely out of touch with the real world. Her true love, Criss Angel, her beloved future husband was waiting for her in Las Vegas! Was she going to leave him standing at the altar?
Alica picked up her suitcase and boldly walked away from her childhood home and toward the bus station. It would be a long walk, but it would save on cab fare. She kept on walking, not daring to turn around and look back; to do so would be her undoing. She was past the point of no return. There was no going back now.
The prints weren't Tina's after all. Not on the fake bomb, not on the two letters Casey received, not on the mail slot in the Springer home--nowhere! They were there, clear as a bell, but who did they belong to?
Meridian rubbed his weary eyes. God, how he needed some sleep! He had broken the dubiously good news to a jubilant Tina LaRue who repaid his kindness with a threat of a wrongful arrest suit, despite his reminder that she had been brought in for questioning only and had not been formally charged with anything. He had been forced to listen to her tirade about her being right all along and how she had missed the show she had planned to see that evening and for him to mind his own business and blah, blah, blah, as he escorted her out of the station. He was deeply relieved when she was finally gone, savoring the silence after the door closed behind her. God! What a (bleep)! he thought. No wonder Mick divorced her! I wonder how he even managed to put up with her when they were married. Hell, I wonder what he even saw in that mad-dog (bleep)!
He looked up at the clock on the wall. A little past midnight. Meridian felt his brain going into sleep mode; he felt too tired to even drive home to go to bed. If he did drive in the state he was in, he'd be a statistic for sure. Oh, well, it wouldn't be the first night he had spent in his office. That was why he had that sofa-bed put in there in the first place, though the department kidded him about using for something other than sleeping. It wasn't as comfortable as the one at home, but right now he heard it calling his name, and he was answering.
Meridian went into his office, pulled out the mattress with the thin green blanket on it, grabbed a pillow from underneath and crashed, falling asleep on impact. His unconscious mind, however, was still on the case, reviewing the facts in his dreams.
Female, medium height, dark hair in a bun, wearing sunglasses and a housekeeper's uniform, carrying a Gucci bag. Coming in from the front--employees are supposed to enter through the back. Fuzzy image of her face. Try to focus, try to get a clear picture on the monitor. She looks familiar somehow. Where did I see her before? Who is it? Is it..?
Meridian woke up with a start. He almost had it, dammit! He almost identified the mystery maid of the Luxor and now he had lost it. He looked at the clock on his desk--six-thirty AM. He had to get up in an hour and go to work. He made a mental note to go back to the AV lab and review that tape again. Maybe he could make a more positive identification this time.
12-23-2011, 09:28 PM
HMMMMMMM who could it be
12-24-2011, 02:49 PM
Casey watched as the taxicab pulled up to the front of the Springer mansion and eased to a stop. The driver got out and circled around to the rear passenger side to assist Springs out of the cab and into the rented wheelchair that Casey had just wheeled over.
"Take your time, Mr. Springer," Casey coached him. "A little to the left there...now turn around...and...there."
Springs fitted himself neatly into the wheelchair, mounted his feet on the metal footrests and allowed himself to be wheeled into his home. The cabbie drove away quietly, his fare already paid by hospital voucher. Casey pushed Springs into his prepared bedroom and helped him onto his king-sized bed--no covers, it was too warm for that, he insisted. Springs sighed contentedly as he lay back on the massive pillows. "Sure is good to be home," he mused, "back in my own bed in my own room. That hospital ward was the damn noisiest place I'd ever been in--reminded me of the old apartment I grew up in back in Queens. All that was missing was the Italian couple fighting downstairs." He laughed a little at the memory of his old neighborhood. "Funny, I ain't thought of 'em in years."
"Well, you'll have plenty of peace and quiet here, Mr. Springer," Casey assured him as she adjusted the pillows behind his back. "Can I get you anything?"
Springs shook his head. "Nah, nah, I'm good. Just tidy up the place, willya?"
"I've been tidying up the place for the past week," Casey told him. "All three levels."
Springs was astonished. "The whole joint?"
Casey nodded. "The whole joint."
Springs looked around. "Wow, that's a helluva job," he commented. "Good girl--glad you kept busy."
He settled back on the bed. "I'll just watch TV for a while, then have lunch around one," he told her. "God, I'd love to have a steak right now."
"Well, steak will have to wait for at least two weeks until your new stomach adjusts to your system," Casey said. "Doctor's orders. I got your dietary schedule right here."
She handed him a laminated sheet listing a menu of recommended foods durning his recovery period. Springs read over the list with a disappointed look on his face. "Applesauce, pasta salad, vanilla custard, soup," he read, then tossed the list aside. "Hell, I ate better during the Depression." he groused.
"It's only for a couple of weeks, Mr. Springer," Casey reminded him. "When your new stomach is adjusted, you'll be eating normally again. Healthfully, but normally."
Springs sighed. "It's gonna be a long two weeks, I can tell you that," he muttered. "When it's over, I'm tellin' you, Cassie--"
"Whatever. I'm tellin' you, sweetheart, when these two weeks are up, I'm gonna order me the biggest effing Porterhouse steak in Vegas--medium rare, with a big-assed baked potato on the side, dripping with butter! And a icy cold mug of the best beer in the joint! From now on, I'm gonna start living again! I don't mind tellin' you, Cassie, that cancer scare made a new man out of me! I may be an old man, but I'm still kicking! I'm gonna finish that book, play a few holes of golf--hell, I may even go back to New York, just for a visit! What time I got left, I'm gonna make the most of it!"
"That sounds wonderful, Mr. Springer," Casey said encouragingly. "And by the way, it's not Cassie, it's Casey."
"Okay, Casey, whatever," Springs mumbled. "Just remember to serve lunch around one. Whatever's good on the menu, okay? Anything solid--no baby food."
Casey left the bedroom. Springs relaxed, picked up the remote and turned on the GameShow Network to watch Wheel of Fortune. He didn't care for the sexily dressed letter turner, but he enjoyed second guessing the contestants on the answers, sometimes beating them to the answer before they figured out half the puzzle. The first round was a phrase with five words, its only clue was a proverb. As Springs waited for the first contestant to spin the wheel, the phone rang once, then stopped. He heard Casey say "hello" in the distance. Springs went back to his program.
Casey returned to the bedroom. "Mr. Springer," she called out. "Telephone."
Springs reluctantly hit the Mute button on the remote and picked up the phone next to him. "Springs here, it's your nickel," he grunted.
"Nickel won't get you anything, Springs," Detective Meridian jovially retorted on the other end. "It's more like fifty cents now."
"Who the hell is this?" Springs demanded.
"Detective Jim Meridian, LVMPD."
"Detective, huh? Whaddya want me for?"
"Just to ask a few questions, that's all," Meridian replied. "You know about what's been happening with the Piccuccis lately, haven't you?"
"You mean about the will? I was there at the reading, that's all."
"I mean about Mike, Jr., getting blown up in his car yesterday," Meridian said. "I mean about the threats against your caregiver, Casey Worth. Any knowledge about either one of those?"
"Junior got blown up in his car?"
"Right there in the driveway."
"Son of a (bleep)! When the hell did that happen?"
"Yesterday afternoon. Care to comment?"
"Listen, gumshoe," Springs growled, "I'd been laid up in the hospital all week after a stomach transplant. I just got home ten minutes ago. I dunno nothin' about nothin'. If you think I had anything to do with Junior getting whacked, you got another think comin'. I'm retired from the rackets, been so for twenty years now. Besides, that sounds like something Shorty Hyneman would do, and he's been dead and buried for almost ten years now."
"I'm not accusing you of anything, Springs," Meridian said. "I know you've had health problems and all that. I just want to know who was at the reading of the will."
"Okay," Springs agreed. "Me, Junior, his wife, Tina, and Close, the lawyer. Oh, and Tina's kid, too--I forget her name."
"So what happened when the will was read?"
"Oh, geez! Well, first, Mick left me five hundred grand--shows what a great guy he was, huh? Of course, taxes took out most of it, but, hey, I ain't gonna make a federal case of it. I'm just glad he remembered me, y'know?"
"I know, I know. Then what happened?"
"Well, everyone was all set to reap what Mick had sown all these years," Springs continued, "then Close dropped the big one: Mick left it to his caregiver, Cassie, the whole bundle."
"You mean Casey, don't you?"
"Whatever. Anyway, she got the whole wad and all hell breaks loose. Tina grabs the will and starts flipping through it, she and Pamela--that's Junior's wife, by the way--they get into a cat fight about it, threatening to contest the will, and everybody leaves madder'n a wet hen. Me? I think Mick got the last laugh in the end. Can't say I blame him, though. Junior's been playing around behind Pam's back and Tina--well, you know Tina."
"Yeah, I know Tina," Meridian said. "Had her in for questioning last night."
"Geez, you poor guy."
"Hey, I've questioned worse. Anyway, did anyone make any type of a threat against Casey? Anyone threaten to kill her?"
"Nah, just to contest the will. I'm just glad she wasn't there at the time--they'd have killed her for sure, especially Tina, she was that mad."
"Anything against Mike, Jr.?"
"Nah, just legal action, no homicide. Wouldn't put it past her, though."
"Yeah, Tina. That broad's been poison ever since Mick married her. She's the one you need to keep an eye on. She may look like a dumb blond, but she's as phony as her hair color. She'll do anything to get what she wants; she's smarter than she looks, Detective, so watch your back."
"Anything else you need to know?"
"Uh, yeah, just one more thing," Meridian hedged. "What is Tina's hair color? The original, I mean."
"Oh, (bleep), I dunno," Springs waffled. "Dark brown or black, I think. I saw the roots once, and I know she bleaches the hell out of it. Anyway, it's darker than it looks."
"Thanks, Springs. Get well soon, willya?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever. S'long."
Springs hung up the phone. So Junior got offed in his car, he thought. Had to be Tina's work. Who else was (bleeped) off enough about getting the estate besides Junior himself? She must have gotten hold of some of The Guys' underworld contacts and found someone willing to send Junior to his old man's side for a price. He should have emptied Mick's desk drawers when he was at the house the day he died. Oh, well, hindsight's always twenty-twenty. He clicked the sound of the television back on and went back to watching Wheel of Fortune. Still, it was a pity, though, what with Pam and the boys left without a dad. Maybe the probate judge would give them a break.
The Fire and Ice demonstration rehersal was improving. Criss managed to avoid the orange firelines during his disappearing act and improved his timing. Today, however, they would use real fire around the base. The styrofoam was covered with fire-resistant tarps to prevent any flare-ups. No ice would be used until the day of the performance. Criss went through the motions of his act, sat down on the tarp-covered blocks, and gave the signal for the pyro technician to activate the flashpots.
A wall of fire rose up before him. Criss made his escape, but not without slipping and catching the leg of his jeans on fire. He emerged from behind the set, slapping the smoldering denim frantically.
"Help!" he screamed. "I'm on fire!"
A fire extinguisher was rushed over to Criss' side and the small fire was put out. Criss was helped up to his feet and carried to a nearby packing crate to examine his injury. His brothers hovered over him, fearing the worst.
"How's it look?" someone asked.
JD spread the charred pants leg and examined the skin on Criss' leg. "It's a little red, but doesn't look too serious," he said. "Singed the hair off, that's all." He turned to Criss. "You feeling okay?"
"I'm good," Criss replied. "Hurts a little, but I'll be okay."
Someone produced an ice pack and laid it on Criss' leg. "Note to self," he quipped, "stay away from the firewall."
JD rose to his feet. "Okay, everybody take thirty for lunch," he announced.
Criss looked up, annoyed. "Hey, that's my line!" he protested.
Lunch was served. Criss kept his burned leg elevated and the ice pack firmly in place while he ate. "You gonna be okay for more practice?" Costa asked.
"I'm fine, really," Criss insisted. "It's just a little scorched skin, that's all. Call it an occupational hazard."
"I call it a damn stupid stunt, is what I call it," JD said. "I thought you swore off dangerous stuff like that."
"This?" Criss laughed. "Hell, this is perfectly safe compared to the other (bleep) I've done in the past, you know that. I just had a minor accident, that's all."
"Like that nail gun demonstration?" JD retorted. "Was that a 'minor accident'? You ended up in the ER, remember?"
"No, you look!" JD snapped. "I'm tired of worrying my ass off over your crazy stunts!" He pulled on his hair. "See all this gray? It's from my worrying over you almost killing yourself over and over again! You're making me old before my time!"
"You look pretty good for an old man," Criss quipped.
JD sighed in frustration. "All I'm saying is--"
"All you're saying is that you still think of me as your baby brother who still needs looking after," Criss interrupted. "All right, I admit it, I've done some dangerous demonstrations in the past, but that's who I am. I've been that way ever since I was a kid riding my bike off the roof of the house. Besides, I've sworn off the real danger, haven't I?"
JD remained skeptical. "Have you?"
"Yes, I have," Criss insisted. "This demonstration is minor compared to what I've done previously. So I got a little teeny burn on my leg--so what? I've suffered worse, but I always came out fine in the end."
"One of these days you won't be so lucky, Criss," JD warned. "One of these days, one of your demonstrations is going to go completely wrong and you'll end up seriously injured or dead. How do you think Mom's gonna feel about that, huh? You think she's gonna be proud of you when that happens? I don't think so."
Criss stared at his eldest brother, perplexed. "JD, what's got a bug up your ass all of a sudden?"
JD was silent. Costa laid a hand on Criss' shoulder. "You can't blame him for feeling the way he does, Criss," he said quietly. "I mean, put yourself in his shoes for a moment; imagine watching someone you love risk his life over and over again just to entertain people. Impaling hooks into your back until you're bloody and being hoisted by a helicopter over the desert, getting run over by a steamroller while lying on broken glass, walking on twelve-inch screwdrivers in your bare feet, running yourself through a wood chipper, nearly breaking your neck leaping out of a prison van before it blows up--"
"I get it, I get it," Criss said irritably. "You don't have to relate my whole career--I know what I've done."
"The point is," Costa continued, "is that it hasn't been easy on us to watch you do this week after week. Every time you do one of these stunts, we fear it's gonna be the last we see of you in this life. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Mom cry during those 'demonstrations' as you call them. She's too old, Criss, she can't take it any longer. She's had one heart scare in the past; she doesn't need you to give her another."
"And that's why I swore off those types of demonstrations after the Florida hotel one," Criss reminded him. "Like I said, this is minor compared to all those. The next practice session will go much better, I promise you."
"It'd better," JD said, "because if you keep this up any longer, I'm the one who's gonna be in the hospital with a heart problem."
"You'll be fine, old man."
JD glared at his impudent younger brother. "Old man? Old man?! I'll show you 'old man'!"
He reached over to strangle Criss, who bolted away from the packing crate, laughing, his burn injury forgotten. JD pursued him, to the amusement of the crew. "I'm gonna kick your ass!" he threatened as he hurdled over camera equipment and other props.
Criss led his eldest brother on a merry chase, laughing and sticking out his tongue and waggling his fingers from his ears like a six-year-old. Costa watched the tomfoolery from the sidelines, sighing and shaking his head in exasperation. He took his art seriously, and he worked harder than anyone in showbusiness, but of the three brothers, Criss was the one who never grew up. He still loved to be the center of attention, and he still loved toys, though the attention he garnered was televised and his toys cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was no fighting it, Costa thought. Criss was just an overgrown kid.
There was a scuffle and some cursing, then a triumphant JD returned, carrying his obstreperous brother on his shoulders in a fireman's hold. Criss demanded, then pleaded to be let down while the crew laughed at his humiliation and disgrace. JD unceremoniously dropped him onto the floor. Unfortunatly, Criss fell on his burned leg, aggravating the injury even more. He let out a yell and a few choice expletives, then rose to his feet. JD stood over him, gloating.
"So who's the old man now?" he sneered. "Huh? Who's the old man now?"
Criss limped over to his spot on the packing crate and reset the ice pack on his burned leg. "You are so dead, JD," he said menacingly. "You are so (bleeping) dead. Just remember, payback's a (bleep)."
12-25-2011, 02:13 AM
I'd be amazed if they really act like this in real life. If they do someone get on tape
12-25-2011, 03:38 PM
"Far as the bus goes," the bus driver announced after stopping in a depot somewhere in Cheyenne, Wyoming. "Transfer for points west."
Alicia rose stiffly from her seat, stretching her legs and back after nearly a day's ride from Marvinville. It had cost her eighty-five dollars for a one-way fare to Las Vegas, with a transfer in Cheyenne--a bargain rate, the clerk behind the window had told her. Alicia paid for the ticket without protest; she didn't want the clerk to raise the issue about her age. Fortunatly, the ticket clerk was either too lazy or too preoccupied with what he had been watching on the tiny portable television behind the counter to even notice how young she was and sold her the ticket without question. Her suitcase was checked into the baggage compartment; the driver took her ticket with just a cursory glance at the destination, informed her about the transfer in Wyoming, and allowed her to board the bus. She remembered how nervous and excited she was when she sat down in a seat by the window. She also noted how comfortable her seat was compared to those vinyl and chrome benches on the school bus she took every day.
I'm doing it! she had thought wildly. I'm actually doing it! I'm going to Las Vegas to see Criss Angel, and I'm going all by myself! I'm actually leaving Marvinville for Vegas! I'm so excited! I'm scared, but I'm so excited!
Her heart had leapt when the bus finally pulled out of the depot. She was leaving! She was leaving at last! If she had had any qualms or reservations about going back home, it was too late now; she was past the point of no return. Good-bye, Marvinville! I'm going to Las Vegas! I'm not even sleepy anymore, I'm so excited to be going!
Fifty miles out of Iowa, however, she had fallen into a deep sleep and didn't wake up until the bus stopped in Cheyenne. She awoke and stretched her travel-stiffened muscles and stepped off the bus. This was the transfer point, she recalled. But which bus was she to transfer onto? She watched as the luggage was hauled out of the baggage compartment and onto a cart, then wheeled to another bus that bore the magic words Las Vegas over the giant windshield. She noted the number on the side: 131. Criss' lucky number thirteen plus one, she thought. Easy enough to remember.
Her stomach rumbled angrily, and she felt a little light headed. She had not eaten since before she ran away, and it had been nearly twenty-four hours since that time, so she went inside the depot where a dollar ninety-nine breakfast special was now being served. She kept one eye on Bus Number 131 while she ate her eggs and toast. Above all else, she didn't want to miss it and be stranded here in Wyoming. A quick trip to the bathroom (God knew when they'd stop again), and she was good to go.
In the stillness of the pre-dawn hour, a pang of conscience pricked her. Should she have left a note for her mother, telling her not to worry, that she'd be back Sunday? But that would have been sheer folly; her mother would have tracked her down and dragged her back home, probably grounding her for a month at least. And what if she found out about the money she took from the credenza? Alicia resolved to negotiate some sort of plea bargain if and when she decided to return home to Marvinville, that she would gladly pay back the hundred dollars without complaint in exchange for a reduced sentence. That seemed like a satisfactory compromise, at least to her; take responsibility before being accused, and make restitution. Very mature, very agreeable.
But there was still the matter of her absence being noted. She was sure that her mother had found out that she was gone by now, and was probably concerned to say the least. Should she call home. She looked at the clock over the counter: six-thirty AM. No, too early. Then an idea struck her: she would leave a voice mail at home during the time Mom went to work, telling her not to worry about her, that she was fine and so on. She could avoid a nasty confrontation and ease her conscience at the same time. Brilliant.
Alicia trotted to Bus Number 131, bound for Las Vegas, and settled in her seat. Everything was going to work out just fine, she figured. No problem at all. A strong sense of determination filled the core of her being. It was time Mom untied the apron strings, she said to herself firmly. No more bending to parental authority. Alicia Rose was going to live life on her terms.
Detective Meridian studied the hotel security tape until his eyes blurred and his head ached. The image was still too vague to identify anyone. He rubbed his unshaven face wearily. This case was taking its toll on him, but he couldn't give up now. That dream he had almost gave him a vital clue. If only he could remember it...
Maybe he was losing his mind, he thought. When he started relying on dreams instead of hard evidence to solve a case, he knew it was time to take a break. He knew from long experience not to let a case obsess him, because then the one clue that would break it would slip right under his nose. Slow down, you'll get done faster, his carpenter father had taught him when he was a boy. It was good advice whether it was building a house or solving a murder. He had to back off for a while, relax and unwind. He turned to Janice O'Connor, the AV tech.
"Can you get me some stills from this tape?" he asked. "I wanna review them in my office."
"Sure, Jim," she said. "No problem. I'll get right on it."
Janice's professional demeanor changed to genuine concern. "Jim? You okay?"
"Huh?" Janice's question finally registered in his weary brain. "Oh, oh, yeah, fine, thanks. Just a little tired, that's all."
"More like drop-dead exhausted," Janice commented. "You'd better go on home and get some rest."
"I'm not going to argue with you, Jan," Meridian said. "I'm dead on my feet as it is. Just put the photos in my inbox, that's all."
"Sure, Jim. Take it easy, willya? I don't wanna see the coroner's office wheeling you out of here on a gurney with a sheet over your head."
Meridian laughed wearily. "Thanks for that cheerful scenario, Jan. See you tomorrow."
Janice said good-bye and returned to the computer monitor. Meridian left the AV lab and headed outside. A few pangs of professional guilt still lingered within him, but he had done all that a man could do under the circumstances. He needed a little personal time, downshift his brain to idle so he could be clearheaded enough to take on the case again with a fresh perspective on it. Who knew? Maybe he'd find that missing piece he'd been looking for in his dreams when he went to bed that night.
12-29-2011, 06:53 PM
Tina finished off her third mimosa of the afternoon in a spirit of triumph. Junior was dead, the detective cleared her of all charges, and now nothing stood in her way of claiming Mick's money except for that little nurse of his. The probate hearing was just three days away, and she was confident that the judge would rule in her favor. She may not be his legal widow, but she was the mother of his only surviving child. Heather was her ace in the hole, her ticket to wealth and luxury. Screw her out of the pre-nup, would he? Well, payback's a (bleep), Mick! As far as Tina was concerned, she was his surviving spouse and mother of his child, therefore, she had a stake in the estate.
But there was still the matter of Junior's widow, Pamela, and her two kids. What if the judge ruled in their favor instead, or decided to split the estate between them? No way in hell was she going to let that happen, nosireebob! Tina wanted it all, and by God she was going for it, and screw Pamela and her kids! Yet the possibility of losing to them nagged her in the back of her mind. Pamela could play the sympathy card by exploiting her widowhood, thereby winning the lion's share of the estate, if not the whole thing. There had to be another way...
She knew where she lived, but knew nothing of her habits. Trailing her would be too obvious, while outright murder would send her to Death Row. No, something more subtle was needed, something that would cause her to stop pursuing the claim to the inheritance. Tina needed to find Pamela's weak spot, her Achilles' heel, and turn it to her own advantage. Something that she could bring up in court that would break her spirit and surrender completely. Maybe even before.
A slow smile crept across her heavily made up face. Oh, yes, Tina remembered all right. In fact, she was sorry she didn't think of it before. I've got you now, Pammie! I got you right in the crosshairs! You are going down--you and the kids! I'm gonna fix it so none of you get a dime of Mick's money!
Sharon Worth trudged up the cracked concrete walkway to the brown and brick ranch house she and her family called home, two plastic bags full of groceries in each hand. The disability check had arrived, and she had just been paid herself, so she spent her one day off stocking up on food and other supplies. Her job at the liquor store paid the cable bill with little left over for necessities. Casey had yet to receive her first paycheck from Mr. Springer, so things would be tight until then. She struggled with opening the front door, juggling her purse, keys and grocery bags in the attempt to enter. Once inside, she could hear the television blaring some arena rock song announcing some sporting event. Her husband, Phil, and her son, Benny, didn't even make an attempt to offer to help her with the groceries, but sat transfixed in front of the set. Sharon hauled her bags into the kitchen and heaved them onto the counter.
A drudge, she said to herself as she put away the groceries. That's all I am. I clean the house, I cook the food, I do the laundry, and all they do is sit there in front of that damn TV and watch game after game after game. It's bad enough that Phil's disabled, but Benny won't even get up off the couch and do his share. Poor Casey's been our only source of income for the past ten years; our youngest child who's the only one with any ambition to be somebody is out there working her ass off supporting the four of us. God, I hope she gets that inheritance. I don't want her ending up like me--a drudge. I don't want her to marry a man like Phil, full of self-pity even before he was disabled. I don't want her to have a son like Benny, either, too lazy and shiftless to make something of himself. She deserves better than that.
Her shoulders ached, her back ached, her feet ached, but did they care? No, they just sat on that damn couch all day every day, their eyes glued to that damn television, oblivious to the world! Thank God they never found out about the inheritance, she thought. Otherwise, Benny would never find a job but squander all of the wealth on booze and topless bars, and Phil, well, Phil wouldn't change, but he'd be demanding a bigger TV and more beer. Casey should take that nine million dollars and move far, far away, Sharon said to herself, get away from all this and start a life of her own. She should marry some nice young man who was not afraid of working for a living, a professional, say, like a doctor or a lawyer or even a businessman, go live somewhere nice, raise a family, and be happy.
Sharon looked at her husband and son, those degenerating blobs of human flesh staring at the television set. She had had such high hopes for them in the beginning. Phil had been a foreman at the warehouse making a very good wage to support his family, and both Benny and Casey had been born healthy and normal. All Sharon had to do was keep house and tend to the children. Eighteen years later, Phil had been caught between two railroad cars and ended up paralyzed from the waist down. The Union ensured his disability pay, but it was no longer enough to pay the bills. Over the years, Phil retreated into a shell of televised sports and self-pity, complaining about anything that crossed his mind.
Benny, meanwhile, had slipped through the cracks despite her best efforts to encourage him. School bored him, work repelled him. All he wanted to do was watch TV and go out crusing with his buddies. His only reading material were comic books, the TV guide, and later those so-called "adult novels" which was only a polite term for pornography. He had been arrested twice on misdemeanor charges, and his driver's license had been suspended for DWI. Now he sat next to his father, sharing the same shell of beer and TV. No matter how much she nagged him to find a job, he wouldn't budge an inch from the couch except to go to the kitchen, the bathroom or to bed. In the end, Sharon gave up on both of them, focusing her attention on Casey instead.
I'm not going to let Casey end up like me, she vowed. I'm going to make sure she has a better life than I do. With nine million dollars, she can get away from all this and go anywhere she wants. I'm going to help her escape this hellhole and start a new life somewhere.
As Sharon looked at her husband and son from the kitchen, deep down she secretly hoped that when Casey did escape this hellhole and start a new life somewhere that she could come along, too.
Michael, Jr.'s funeral was simple and brief, unlike the lavish service which his father had. There were no one present save for Pamela and the two boys, Andrew and Matt. Her husband's remains were furthur cremated and stored in a small urn in a mausolem, with only a brass plaque bearing his name and the years of his birth and death. The funeral director gave the rites and took care of the rest. After the fifteen-minute funeral, Pamela and the boys went home. There were no tears, no outpouring of grief from any of them. Michael, Jr., had hardly spent any time at home, so he had been a stranger to his own sons, if not to his wife. The Piccuccis' had been married in name only, presenting a facade of family life only when it suited their needs.
While her sons played videogames in the media room, Pamela sat down in the bedroom to ponder her future. There was the matter of the insurance, of course, assuming Mike had taken out any. If not, then she and the boys would be forced out of their home when the bank foreclosed on the house. She realized the only thing between her and homelessness was her father-in-law's fortune. She had to claim it, and claim it fast. The probate trial was in two days. Mike, Jr., had been his only legitimate son, so as his widow, she had a better chance than that (bleep) Tina LaRue and that little nurse of Mick's. The caregiver was no problem, but Tina would put up a fight in court. If only there was a way to get rid of her...
But, no. Murder would only send her to prison, and Tina wasn't worth a murder rap. No, she'd fight it out in court. Tina didn't stand a chance in hell of claiming that money. Pamela would show the court what a gold-digging, greedy (bleep) Tina LaRue really was. She smiled at the thought of being on the witness stand, relating to the court about Tina's unsavory past. There would be no need to embellish it. Why lie when the truth can do as much damage?
From the large window, Pamela could see the postman walking up the driveway to deliver the mail. Probably bills again, she thought as she resigned herself to whatever fate had in store in that little box by the front door. She went downstairs, opened the door, retrieved the mail from the box and sorted through the stack of envelopes. One in particular had no return address or any other hint of wherever it came from--not even a stamp, let alone a postmark. The post office wouldn't deliver a letter without postage; someone must have slipped it in while she was at the funeral.
Pamela opened the envelope and removed the letter inside. As she read the pasted lettering on the page, she collapsed in shock and horror, shoving her fist into her mouth so as not to scream. In the media room, Andrew and Matt played on, oblivious to their mother's grief.
12-30-2011, 02:03 AM
12-31-2011, 04:23 PM
Sharon Worth dished out the last of the beef stew from two nights ago into a couple of cereal bowls and carried them into the living room. It was no use calling her husband and son to the dinner table; they'd just grab their plates and return to watching the game on television. She plunked the bowls of stew on to the battered wooden coffee table and resigned herself to a lonely meal of canned soup in the kitchen. Just once she'd like to have a real family meal as they had in the past, with everyone seated at the table and having a real conversation without waiting for a commercial break. At least when Casey was home she'd have someone to talk to.
She looked over the half-wall divider into the living room, watching Phil and Benny shovel stew into their mouths, their eyes glued to the TV. Look at them in there, she said to herself, they're just like pigs at the trough, gobbling up whatever is in front of them. They don't even care if that stew was two days old. Hell, they wouldn't even notice if it was two years old! They don't appreciate anything I do for them. Or Casey, for that matter. She's been our bread and butter for almost ten years now. She should be supporting a family of her own instead of us! God, I hope she gets that inheritance Friday!
She picked up her bowl and carried it to the sink. Later, she'd pick up the dishes in the living room. It seemed to her that she had spent her entire life picking up after people, first her younger siblings, then her husband, then her children. If Casey gets that inheritance, I hope she hires a maid! One for me, too!
The message light on the kitchen phone was flashing. Sharon sighed and went to answer it. No doubt it had been flashing all day; neither Phil nor Benny would bother answering the phone even during a commercial break--God forbid they should miss something important on TV. She picked up the receiver, pressed Play on the answering machine, and listened.
"Hello, this message is for Casey Worth. This is the housekeeping office at the Luxor Hotel. We have your paycheck waiting for you here at the office. You can pick it up at any time during the day, or arrange for us to mail it to you. Thank you and have a good day."
Sharon hung up the phone. The Luxor housekeeping office didn't leave a phone number, so she couldn't call back and tell them that Casey was working for Mr. Springer, so she decided to call Casey herself and inform her of her check waiting for her. She found the number of the Springer residence and dialed it. One ring, two rings, three rings...
"Springer residence," she heard Casey say.
"Hi, hon, it's me, Mom," Sharon said.
"Oh, hi, Mom," Casey said as if relieved it was her mother instead of someone else. "I'm glad it's you."
Sharon became concerned. "Is everything all right over there, honey?"
"I'm okay, Mom, really I am," Casey insisted. "It's just that, well...it's nothing, really. Everything's fine."
Casey didn't sound fine, Sharon thought, but decided not to press the matter. "Well, anyway," she said, "I got a call from the hotel you were working at, and they still have your paycheck waiting for you at the office and they want you to pick it up."
"Okay, Mom, got it," Casey said. "I'll pick it up first thing tomorrow, if I can get away from Mr. Springer for a while."
"You need me to pick you up or anything?"
"I'll call if I need a ride. Thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome, hon. Are you sure there's nothing wrong over there?"
"Well," Casey hedged, "after what happened to Michael, Jr., a couple of days ago, things have been a little...unsettled."
"Who's Michael, Jr.?" her mother inquired. "And what happened to him?"
"He was the son of Mr. Piccucci, the man who was supposed to get the estate instead of me," Casey explained. "And someone blew him up in his car."
Suddenly, Sharon remembered. "Listen, hon, just keep the doors and windows locked and you'll be fine," she told her in a low voice, cupping her hand around the receiver. "I don't want anything happening to you, understand? You're the only good thing in this family, and we don't want to lose you. And I'm not talking about the inheritance, either. You got it?"
"Got it, Mom. Listen, I gotta go now, okay? Love you."
"Love you, too, hon. 'Bye."
Sharon hung up quickly and cast an anxious glance at her husband and son in the living room. There had been no need for secrecy, she discovered; they were too caught up in the Raiders game to care what she had said to Casey over the phone. With another heavy sigh she went into the living room and cleared the coffee table. Phil and Benny cheered loudly over the touchdown scored on the screen. Whose touchdown didn't matter to Sharon--it was all the same to her. So long as there was some sort of sporting event on the screen, she and the rest of the world didn't even exist. As far as those two men in her life were concerned, she was just a pair of hands which served them food and fetched them beer on demand, tuning her out while tuning into ESPN or whatever station had a game on. Upon reflection, she wondered maybe in this particular case it was a blessing in disguise. If all they did was watch sports, then they had no knowledge about Casey's inheritance, and that would work in her favor. Their ignorance was her bliss.
Of course if they did find out about the inheritance, God forbid, both Phil and Benny would be demanding their share in the name of family, and that would be nine million dollars down the drain. No, she resolved to keep the whole thing secret, if only for Casey's sake. But it wouldn't hurt if Casey shared a little--just a little--of that windfall with her mother, now would it? She wasn't asking for a lot, just enough to buy some new clothes, get her hair done, dinner out somewhere nice for a change instead of from takeout containers, file for divorce--
File for divorce? Whatever gave her that idea? She had married Phil for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death did them part. Again, she looked into the living room, her heart sinking into her stomach. Over the years things got worse, the family got poorer as Phil's health deteriorated from too much junk food and too little exertion. Richer, better and good health were no longer part of the deal, and even if Phil died, she was still stuck with her lazy, no-good son.
Sharon went into the bedroom and sat down before her vanity mirror. In the clouded glass she saw a woman growing old before her time. Lines creased her forehead, and her mouth seemed to be set in a permanant frown. Dark circles ringed her dull grey eyes from too many early morning shifts at the liquor store. Marriage was the greatest happiness, her mother had told her in her youth. It was when a woman fulfilled her destiny life had decreed for her. Take care of your husband, she had said, and your husband will take care of you. And when you have children, they would be a blessing in your old age.
Looking back on her life, Sharon realized that her mother's words had rung hollow. Sharon had been the caretaker for her family with no help whatsoever from her husband, Phil, even when he was able to work. She alone tended the children while he went off to the bar or the bowling alley, and when he was home, he just sat in front of the TV, just as he was doing now. As for her children, only Casey came closest to being a blessing in her old age. Sharon knew that her daughter resented being the breadwinner of the family, and had often complained about wanting to be free to live her own life. Sharon didn't blame her one bit. If Casey didn't get that inheritance, she'd be doomed a lifetime of servitude to her ungrateful father and shiftless brother, just like Sharon herself.
I'm going to take Friday off and go with Casey to that probate hearing, Sharon vowed. I'm going to make sure she gets a part of that estate--a big part! No one deserves it more than she does. She earned every penny of it, and I'm going to make sure she gets it! Those fat-cat rich people don't need that money--we do! They got all the breaks while we're just muddling through on Phil's disability and Casey's paychecks. One way or another, we're going to get our share!
"Mr. Springer?" Casey called out quietly.
Springs looked up from his Times crossword puzzle. "Yeah, what is it?"
"I need to go to the Luxor hotel tomorrow," Casey began tentativly. "I need to pick up my paycheck from working there. My family needs the money, see..."
Springs held up his hand. "Not a problem, sweetheart," he said magnaminously. "In fact, I'll go with ya. I'd like to get outta here for a while. I'm gettin' tired of being cooped up in the house all week. Hell, we'll make an afternoon of it."
Casey brightened. "Well, if you're feeling up to it, Mr. Springer..."
"Hey, I'm more than feeling up to it," Springs said. "I could use a change of scenery. Both of us."
"Well, I don't have a driver's license..."
"So? I'll drive. I can still drive, y'know. Doc didn't say I couldn't. We'll go there around two."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Springer."
"Ah, forget it, Cassie."
"It's Casey, sir."
Casey could only smile in exasperation. Mr. Springer's calling her Cassie instead of Casey had become a running gag between them. She refused to make a federal case of it, preferring to dismiss it as an idiosyncracy of an old man. At least her proper name would be printed on her paychecks; his accountant made sure of that when she filled out her W-2 form.
Casey left the bedroom to prepare Mr. Springer's dinner. It would be nice to go out for a while, if only to run a routine errand. Go out, see new faces, browse around the shops, and maybe see...
Oh, come now, Casey, she said to herself. You're too old for that sort of nonsense! But there was no denying it--she had to admit she wanted to see Criss Angel again, if only for a few minutes. But, she resolved, only for a few minutes. Say hello, everything's fine, and leave it at that. Besides, he would be too busy to waste time chatting with her. She probably wouldn't even see him, anyway. Why should he? He was a big time celebrity, and she was just a former hotel housekeeper. What were the odds that he even remembered her, let alone would stop to talk to her? Maybe it was all for the best that they didn't meet tomorrow.
But deep down, however, she wished they would.
12-31-2011, 04:34 PM
It was Thursday, and Jim Meridian arrived at his office with a mixture of confidence and dread, the former after a day of self-imposed r-and-r, the latter from the knowledge that he'd be facing a backlog of work. Still, it had been worth it; he didn't want to end up in the hospital because of a nervous breakdown or a stroke from non-stop work.
The videotape dream had replayed in his head again last night, but the image of the mystery maid was no clearer than it had been in the last one. He was sure that Janice would have the stills ready and waiting on his desk that morning, but would they be clear enough to identify the culprit? Janice O'Connor was the best AV tech in the city, if not the state; she could pinpoint a single face from a crowd scene on an amateur home video and determine innocence or guilt from it. If she couldn't clarify the mystery maid of the Luxor Hotel, who could?
Meridian stepped into his office. Sure enough, there was the interoffice envelope from the AV lab. Good job, Janice, he said mentally. He had no sooner sat down in his chair than the phone rang. No rest for the weary, Meridian thought as he picked up the receiver. "Meridian here," he said bluntly.
"Detective?" came a tremorous woman's voice. "This is Pamela Piccucci. Can I talk to you?"
"What about?" Meridian grunted.
"I got this...letter in the mail yesterday," Pamela stammered. "And it's...I know it's from Tina, I know it is!"
"What does it say, Mrs. Piccucci?"
"It's got newspaper letters pasted on it like a ransom note," Pamela went on. "It says 'Who's the real father of your boys? I know it's not Junior. You and your bastards will never get the money. Give it up or else'. This woman's blackmailing me, Detective!" Pamela sobbed over the phone. "You've got to help me!"
"All right, all right, calm down," Meridian said. "You got the letter with you?"
"Yes, right here."
"Okay, just bring it in and we'll look at it" Meridian ordered. "Don't handle it too much; we need to take fingerprints from it. Just hold it up by the edges and put it in a plastic bag or something."
"Thank you, Detective."
"You're welcome. I'll see you in a bit. Good-bye."
Meridian hung up. This case was spinning out of control, he thought. First a fake bomb threat against Casey Worth, then a real bomb attack killing Michael, Jr., and now this. And all for nine million dollars, chump change compared to the billions Las Vegas circulated every day. Somehow, it just didn't seem worth it.
With a heavy sigh, Meridian picked up the envelope of photos from AV and noticed another folder from the crime lab lying beneath it. He picked that up and opened it. Inside was the report of Michael, Jr.'s, Maserati detailing the path of the explosion, the substances found and the approximate time of the blast. Meridian read through the report, hoping to glean some clues as to who was responsible.
According to the report, the explosion orginated from the radiator and blew backward, igniting the gas fumes from the carburator and so blowing up the whole car. Michael, Jr., was engulfed in flames instantateously. Nothing unusual was found in the engine of the car: no wires, no foreign substances such as C4 or other incendiary materials. There was, however, minute traces of petroleum residue inside the radiator, meaning that gasoline had been poured into the cooling system. When the car engine heated up, the gas exploded, and the car along with it.
Meridian sat back, deep in thought. Definatly a mob hit, or something like it, anyway. He recalled that one of The Guys of Glitter Gulch had been a muntions expert during the war, then used his skills to pull jobs like this one. Shorty. Shorty Hyneman. Yeah, him. Been dead for years, but his legacy seemed to live on. If he could pull his record from the archives, maybe it would offer a clue in this case.
He booted up his computer and entered a search under Hyneman, Shorty. After a few minutes' delay, the information he needed came up on the monitor:
Name: Hyneman, Andrew Charles, aka "Shorty".
Born: South Bronx, NY, April 3, 1915.
Height: 4ft, 11 in.
Weight: 98.3 lbs.
There was the usual list of petty thefts and minor assaults, common for the time and place Shorty grew up in. It showed his military record as a munitions expert during World War II, served with distinction and an honorable discharge. Probably the only legitimate job he ever held, Meridian thought. There was his suspension from horseracing for throwing a race at Belmont among the list of allegations and arrests for arson and murder, but no convictions. He either had a damn good lawyer or was just plain lucky. Or, more likely, some money exchanged hands to insure Shorty got off scot-free. Bribery and extortion were common business practices during the gangster era--everyone had their hand out when it came to easy money, no matter how high up the social scale or the position of trust.
Meridian checked out Shorty's MO, or modus operandi, the method of how he worked. He had a steady supply of TNT, and later got his hands on the plastic explosive C4, but back in the day he used a simpler method to blow the competition sky high by pouring a gallon of gas into the radiator. Cars were simpler back then, without all the high-tech sensors of today's models, but it seemed that Shorty's old-school method still worked today as it had back then. Obvioulsy, whoever killed Mike, Jr., knew the history of The Guys of Glitter Gulch, especially Shorty Hyneman.
There came a rap on his office door. Meridian could see through the window that it was Pamela Piccucci, clutching a plastic grocery bag. He rose to let her in. Pamela was shaking all over, her face wet with tears, far more emotion than she showed for the death of her husband, it seemed to him. Well, it could have been shock. "Come in, Mrs. Piccucci," he said. "Just have a seat right over there."
Pamela took the proffered chair, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "Thank you, Detective," she sniffled.
"You have the letter?" he asked.
"Right here." Pamela began to reach inside, but Meridian stopped her.
"Just hand over the bag, Mrs. Piccucci," he told her. "We need to examine it for fingerprints."
Pamela nodded. "Of course," she breathed. "Here you are. I did exactly as you told me--I picked it up by the corners and put it in the bag. I hope I didn't ruin it for you."
Meridian took the bag and laid it on his desk. "You did fine, Mrs. Piccucci, " he said. "We'll send this down to the lab for analysis."
"But aren't you going to read it?" she demanded.
Meridian sighed, pulled out a pair of latex gloves from his desk drawer, carefully withdrew the letter from the bag, unfolded it and read the message on it:
Who's The Real Father of Your Boys ? I know I'ts NOT Jr. You & your Bastads WILL Never GET The Money!Give it Up Or ELSE !
"It's Tina!," Pamela insisted. "I know it is!"
"You sure about that?" Meridian asked.
"Of course I'm sure about it!" Pamela snapped. "She used to be my mother-in-law, remember?"
"Thank you. So, what are you going to do about it?"
"Like I said before," Meridian replied calmly. "Take it down to the lab and analyze it. We got Tina's prints on file, so we should have a result in an hour or so."
Pamela seemed genuinely relieved. "Oh, thank you, Detective," she said, gushing with gratitude. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your hard work in solving this case."
"My pleasure, ma'am," Meridian said. "But tell me, what would Tina blackmail you about?"
Pamela's grateful smile faded. "Well, it's like this, Detective," she began. "While Mike was out on his 'business trips', I had an affair with...another man. Two men, actually. But it was nothing permanant," she protested. "It was just that I was bored and all alone, and well, you know..."
"You had a fling with the pool boy," Meridian said.
Pamela looked at Meridian in chagrin. "No, it wasn't the pool boy," she said. "They were just friends of Mike who dropped by to see him, but he wasn't home on those occasions, and they were really good looking, and so..."
"So you 'entertained' them yourself."
Pamela blushed. "In a manner of speaking, yes."
"And Tina found out about it?"
"No doubt she did," Pamela replied. "That (bleep) had the goods on everyone, including me. She was like J. Edgar Hoover in a Gucci outfit, ready to reveal her secret files if things didn't go her way."
"What about your husband?" Meridian asked. "Did she have any dirt on him?"
"Like I said, she had dirt on everyone she knew."
"Did she inform you about any affairs on your husband's part?"
"Oh, don't think me naive, Detective, I knew Mike was having an affair, and I didn't need Tina to tell me about it, though she snidely hinted about it whenever we were together."
"Did Mike find out about your affairs?"
"If he did, he never said anything about it. Maybe he knew that I knew about his, so he was afraid I'd throw it back in his face."
"Mrs. Piccucci, getting back to this letter, it questions the legitimacy of your sons. Not to be too personal, but..."
"You want to know if Andrew and Matt are really Mike's sons, is that it, Detective?" Pamela charged. "I can assure you, they are. I was the model of marital fidelity when I had my children, I can assure you. It was after they were born that I 'strayed from the straight and narrow', so to speak."
Meridian nodded. As much as he personally hated delving into such sordid matters, as a detective he knew it came with the territory, especially when that territory was Las Vegas. It wasn't called Sin City just for the legalized gambling. "Thank you, Mrs. Piccucci," he said, rising. "We'll get this letter to the lab ASAP. If Tina's prints are on it, we'll take her into custody."
"Thank you so much, Detective," Pamela said, also rising. "I know this case has been such a difficult one for you."
"I've handled worse, Mrs. Piccucci."
"I'm sure you have. Thank you again."
"Have a good day, ma'am."
Pamela left. Meridian went back to his desk and slipped the letter with its envelope into a larger one marked Evidence and sent it off to the lab. When that was finished, he turned his attention to the photos from AV. He slid them out of the envelope and studied them carefully. The photos had been enlarged to eight-by-ten, but the pictures were no clearer than had been on the tape despite Janice's best efforts. The mystery maid had done a good job concealing her identity. The closest he came to a face was just an outline of her jaw. Meridian studied it carefully. It looked familiar to him somehow, but who...
Sweet merciful Christ! It was her! It had been her all along! God, what an idiot he had been! Meridian strapped on his gun holster, pulled on his coat, and bolted out of his office. So help me, God, he swore, I'm gonna nail that mad-dog (bleep) for sure this time!
I'm here! Alicia exulted as the land mark Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign came into view. I'm in Vegas! I made it! Oh, thank You, God! Thank You!
Alicia stared goggle-eyed at the skyline of the Entertainment Capital of the World. Even in the daylight the fabled Strip was aglow with neon, a veritable fantasyland of dancing light and color. No sooner than the bus stopped at the depot than Alicia bolted out of it, ready to search for her true love, Criss Angel.
"Baggage claim to your right, folks," the driver announced. "Baggage claim to your right."
Baggage. Oh, right. Alicia crossed over to the baggage claim area and found her little suitcase winding its way down the conveyor belt. She grabbed it and skipped out of the depot with girlish ecstacy. Outside the depot, she found a row of taxicabs waiting to ferry passengers to their destinations. Alicia flagged the first one she saw and climbed inside with her suitcase.
"Luxor Hotel, please," she ordered the driver.
Though she had never been in a cab before, she felt so grown-up in riding in one by herself. She gazed at the wonder of Las Vegas' attractions--Fremont Street with Vegas Vic waving hello from above, the Golden Nugget, the Excalibur where Criss did that Quad Drag Escape on the night his mother had been taken into emergency surgery for her heart. It was all wonderful, all magical, but her destination was the Luxor Hotel; she almost sobbed with joy at the sight of the enormous black pyramidal structure with its blindingly bright apex and the giant banner advertising Criss Angel's show, Believe. The cab pulled into the drive and swerved up to the main entrance. "Twenty-two dollars, please," the driver said.
Alicia was too entranced to hear him. "Twenty-two dollars, ma'am," the driver repeated.
Alicia shook herself back into reality. "Huh?"
"Twenty-two dollars, please," the driver insisted.
Alicia fished out a twenty and a ten and gave it to the driver. "Thank you," the driver said.
"Don't I get change back?" she asked, unaware that she was supposed to tip him.
The driver handed her eight dollars rather grudgingly, and Alicia climbed out of the cab, grasping her suitcase. She was here! She was at the Luxor! She dashed inside and gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the largest atrium in the world. It's Heaven! she thought. I'm in Heaven!
Her elation at arriving was interrupted by a tugging on her bladder. It had been a long trip, and she really needed to use the ladies' room. A few tense minutes of searching later, she found the corridor where the public restrooms were. She dashed in, feeling as though she was going to flood the place if she didn't relieve herself soon, and found an available stall.
Ah, blessed relief! She sat in dreamy silence inside the stall, taking in the marble tile, the ambient lighting; even going to the bathroom in the Luxor was luxury, she thought. From the underside of the stall she could see a pair of high-heeled shoes and shiny hosery, obviously one of the guests, she thought. She heard water running in a basin--someone was washing her hands, she deduced, and gave the matter no more thought. Then another pair of shoes appeared, these more utilitarian than the guest's. A maid, maybe, or some other employee.
Suddenly the high-heeled shoes scuffled across the marble floor with gasps and choked cries accompanied by the sounds of struggle. Alicia peeked out and saw a hotel maid drag an unconscious woman out of the ladies' room. Or maybe she wasn't unconscious. Maybe she was dead!
Alicia ducked back into the stall, trembling. "Oh, God, what am I going to do?" she sobbed. "What am I going to do? Oh, God, I just saw someone murder someone! Oh, God, what am I going to do?"
12-31-2011, 04:42 PM
The big black Mercedes pulled up to the main entrance of the Luxor. A parking valet trotted over to the driver's side and opened the door. With a grunt and a groan, Springs heaved his eighty-six year old body out of the driver's seat and stood upright.
"You need help, sir?" the valet asked with all professional courtesy.
"Nah, I'm good," Springs grumbled. "I ain't no cripple."
He handed the keys to the valet and fished out a fifty dollar bill for a tip. "Park it somewhere safe, willya?" he instructed.
Springs hobbled to the curb, brushing off Casey's offer of assistance. "I'm fine, okay?" he snapped. "I ain't that far gone."
Casey escorted Springs into the hotel. Springs gave a long low whistle as he looked around. "Geez-Louise!" he exclaimed. "Willya look at the size of this joint! Hell, it's bigger than my whole house!"
"It's supposed to be the world's biggest indoor atrium," Casey informed him.
"Yeah, it's that," Springs agreed. "It's that in spades." He turned to Casey. "You know where the bar is around here?" he asked.
"Now, Mr. Springer, you know you can't have alcohol for the first two weeks after your operation," Casey admonished. "Doctor's orders."
"Ah, screw the doctor's orders!" Springs snarled. "I'm gonna have me a drink. One can't hurt, right?"
Casey doubted that very much, but knew she'd be fighting a losing battle if she argued the point. "All right," she conceded, "but remember, you're driving, so keep it light."
"Fine, whatever," Springs grudgingly agreed. "You go pick up your pay and meet me back here."
I will, Mr. Springer," Casey said, and with that left the old man in the atrium. Springs looked around himself. Godalmighty, this place was bigger than Grand Central Station! he said to himself. Where the hell's the bar?
He shuffled to a small group of people centered around some guy in shabby clothes doing card tricks. Can't believe a classy place like this would let a bum like that in here, he thought. Back in the day, they'd never even let a guy like that get through the front door. Someone should call security, get rid of him.
Springs shuffled closer to the group. The "bum" had just finished his card trick and turned around to face him. He broke into a wide smile. "Springs!" he said, obviously delighted to see him. "How ya doin', old man?"
Springs was puzzled at first, then he saw a poster with the guy's face on it. Oh, yeah! Criss, uh, what's-his-name? Angel, yeah that was it. He'd met him before when he first saw Cassie after that fake bomb threat. He still looked like a bum, though.
"How ya doin', kid?" Springs returned the greeting.
"I'm good," Criss said. He turned to the group for whom he had been performing. "Hey, everyone, I want you to meet Springs," he said cheerfully. "He's one of the last of the old time gangsters here in Las Vegas."
"Please, I prefer 'businessman'," Springs insisted.
"So what brings you here?" Criss asked.
"Well, Cassie had to pick up her pay from working here," Springs explained, "and I needed to get out of the house after being cooped up in bed for two weeks after my stomach transplant. Where the hell is the bar around here?"
Criss waved him forward. "C'mon, I'll buy you a drink," he offered.
"You sure they're gonna let you in dressed like that?" Springs asked skeptically. "I mean, look at you! Pants all shot to holes, wearing an undershirt--I've seen hobos dress better than that during the Depression!"
Criss laughed in embarrassment. The group of fans laughed, too. "Didn't your ma teach you how to dress?" Springs went on. "Geez-Louise! Fifty years ago, if you showed up like that, they'd have given you the heave-ho!"
Criss recovered his wits. "It's okay, Springs," he said, still laughing a bit. "I work here, so everyone knows who I am, and they don't care how I dress. So long as I keep doing magic and performing my live shows, I can wear whatever I want."
"At least Houdini had a decent wardrobe," Springs grumbled. "You look like a panhandler."
Criss guided Springs to the hotel bar. "C'mon, Springs," he said jovially. "I'll buy you a drink."
"Thanks," Springs said, "but I still think you look like a bum."
"There you go, Casey," the housekeeping manager said as she handed over the check. "Don't know why you even bothered coming over. I mean, with you inheriting nine million dollars and all that, it's not like you need it."
"I haven't inherited anything yet," Casey insisted. "The probate hearing's tomorrow, and I might not get anything at all. It's all going to the family, anyway."
"Well, you never know," the manager said hopefully. "You might just land that windfall after all. I know about that car bombing of that gangster's son. That increases your chances, you know."
"I prefer not to think of it in those terms," Casey said seriously. "I'm not competing with anyone for it. It was a tragedy, an act of cold-blooded murder, and I feel sorry for the Piccuccis'."
"You're probably the only one," the manager retorted. "We're talking Mafia crime family here."
"They're not Mafia," Casey insisted. "And anyway, all that was in the past. They were really nice to me when I worked for Mr. Piccucci."
"Until you inherited the family fortune instead of them," the manager pointed out. "They sent you that threat, remember?"
Casey threw up her hands in exasperation. "I don't have time for this," she groaned. "I got to get back to Mr. Springer. Thanks for the check."
The manager said nothing more as Casey left the office. Casey wished the whole ordeal was over and done with, the will settled to everyone's liking so she could get on with her life. She had no idea that a nine million dollar windfall would be such a curse. Michael, Jr., getting killed, her own life threatened, the other Mrs. Piccucci suing her for the estate--it had been a nightmare. All Casey had wanted out of life was a chance to just live it without the burden of being the family breadwinner, yet with the confidence that her parents and brother were taken care of. Now everything was inside out.
As she made her way down the corridor to the atrium, there was a flurry of activity from the security office: guards scrambled down the service corridor, nearly bowling her over. Had there been a robbery? she wondered. Regaining her wits, she resumed her search for Mr. Springer as soon as she entered the atrium. Around the main entrance, guests were informed that the hotel was "on lockdown" by order of the chief of security. Whatever it was, it must have been serious, Casey thought.
Casey peered through the doors of one of the lounges. Sure enough, there was Mr. Springer, nursing a Manhattan, and next to him was, of all people, Criss Angel. Casey's heart skipped a beat when she saw him, but she firmly reminded herself that she really had no interest in him. He was just the man whose room she had cleaned for a week, no more. True, he was nice, and he was rather handsome, granted, and he had been with her during the bomb scare investigation, but that was where it stopped. Criss Angel was an aquaintance, no more.
Springs looked up from his glass and spotted her. "Hey, Cassie!" he called out, "over here!"
Casey walked over to her employer. "I keep telling you, Mr. Springer, it's Casey," she told him for the hundredth time.
"Whatever," Springs grunted. "Anyway, I want you to meet Criss. Criss Angel."
"We've met before, Mr. Springer," Casey reminded him. "After that phony bomb scare, remember? You met me in the lobby, and Criss was with me."
"Oh, yeah, right," Springs mumbled. "Anyway, have a seat. Care for a drink?"
"Uh, no thank you," Casey said politely.
"So how's things with you?" Criss asked casually.
"Oh, I've been busy," Casey replied lightly, concealing the swirling emotions within her. "Taking care of Mr. Springer and all that."
"No threats lately?"
"Oh, no, no," Casey lied. "None whatsoever."
Criss, however, could see right through the airy facade. "Casey," he said, laying his hand on hers, unintentionally sending an electric thrill up her arm, "level with me, okay?"
Casey sighed in defeat. "Okay, there was one," she confessed, "but only one! Detective Meridian has it."
"Who sent it, do you know?"
"No. Probably the same person who sent the first one."
"What did the note say?"
"It said, 'Mick is gone and you're next'."
"Had to have been Tina," Springs commented.
"Tina?" Criss asked.
"Tina LaRue," Springs explained. "Mick's ex-wife. She's been gunning for Casey ever since she got gypped out of the will."
Before Criss could comment furthur, there was a commotion outside the lounge. "Hey, what's going on out there?" he asked.
"I don't know," Casey replied. "All I know is that the whole hotel's on lockdown or something. I saw some security guards running down the hallway earlier when I went to get my check."
Criss jumped out of his chair and barged for the exit, determined to find out what was happening. Out in the atrium, people milled about as bewildered as Criss himself. Among the throng he spotted Felix Rappaport, the president of the hotel. Criss waved frantically to get his attention.
"Felix!" he called out. "Felix!"
Felix turned and spied his star attraction nearby. Both men struggled to meet each other and to find enough space just to breathe, let alone talk.
"What's going on here?" Criss demanded.
"We got a murder," Felix told him grimly.
Criss was stunned. "A murder?"
"Woman's body was found outside in a trash dumpster," Felix explained. "One of the kitchen staff found her. The police will be here any minute. Meanwhile the whole hotel's on lockdown until whoever did it is found."
Criss stood motionless for a minute, then dashed back into the bar. "Springs! Casey!" he called out. "We need you out here right now!"
Casey helped Springs onto his feet, and both of them walked over to Criss. "What's the matter?" Casey asked.
"There's been a murder," Criss said breathlessly. "Woman's body found in a dumpster."
"A murder?" Springs echoed. "They know who done it?"
"No, but the hotel's on lockdown until the cops get here," Criss explained. "I'm not pointing fingers at anyone, but I have a gut feeling that it may be tied to what Casey here's been going through. I could be wrong, of course, but after what happened two weeks ago..."
"You know when it happened?" Casey asked.
"Can't say for sure," Criss replied, "they just found the body a few minutes ago."
"I'm sure they caught the whole thing on tape," Casey said hopefully. "I mean, cameras are everywhere."
"Who's the broad who got whacked?" Springs asked.
"I don't know," Criss replied.
"If it's someone connected to Mick's will," Springs said, "we'd better find out."
Criss, Casey and Springs made their way through the crowded atrium and toward the security office. Just outside the entrance a burly guard halted them. "This is a crime scene, folks," he brusquely informed them. "No one allowed without authorization."
"We wanna identify the body," Springs said. "I think we know who it is."
The guard thought about it. "Just a minute," he said as he pulled out his radio transmitter. "Fifty-seven here, we have someone who claims to know the victim," he spoke into the handset.
"Roger that, Fifty-seven," came the staticky reply. "Chief will be down shortly."
"Roger that." The guard hooked his transmitter back onto his shoulder harness. "Chief will be here shortly," he told Springs. "You sure you know who it is?"
"Let's just say I gotta hunch," Springs replied.
"Hunch is better than nothing at this point," the guard retorted, shrugging his beefy shoulders.
Criss, Springs and Casey waited for the chief of security to escort them inside the office. Suddenly, the sound of sobbing echoed through the corridor. They all turned to see a guard escorting a very young girl barely into her teens being escorted down the hall by a female guard. The moment she saw Criss, however, her face lit up like the Strip.
"Criss!" she shrieked as she dashed over to embrace him. She threw her arms around him and cried even harder. "Oh, God, Criss!" she wailed. "I so wanted to meet you, but not like this! Please, Criss, you gotta help me!"
"Waitwaitwait," Criss said, disengaging himself from the girl's arms. "What did you do, anyway?"
"I...I saw a woman get killed!" she blurted.
"We found her in the ladies' room, hiding in one of the stalls," the guard explained. "She says she saw the whole thing."
"What's your name?" Criss asked.
For a moment, Alicia was indignant. What do you mean, what's my name? I wrote you letters all the time! I even sent my pictures to you! Then it occurred to her that maybe he really didn't know who she was. "Alicia," she responded.
"Well, Alicia, you don't have anything to be afraid of," Criss assured her. "Just go in there and tell the police what you saw."
"Can you come with me?" Alicia begged. "I came all the way from Iowa just to see you!"
"Where are your parents?" Criss asked.
"They're...not here," Alicia replied evasivly.
"Well, we'll find them later," Criss said. "But if it will help you, I'll come with you."
Alicia squealed and again threw her arms around Criss. "Oh, thank you, Criss!" she wailed. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"
"Sure." Criss pried her arms away from his body. "Now, do you think you can describe the person who murdered the woman?"
"That's the detective's job, not yours," the female security guard informed him. "Police'll be here any minute now."
The other guard stepped forward. "Okay, all clear now," he announced. "Chief says you can go in. He's around back."
Springs, Casey, and Criss with Alicia still clinging to him entered the office, the chief of security waiting to meet them. "You say you know the deceased?" he asked.
"I gotta hunch," Springs replied.
The chief escorted Springs and Casey to the rear of the hotel where the trash dumpsters sat discreetly hidden in a lower level. "The body's over here." he said. "Right in that bin over there."
Springs crossed over to the dumpster. The lid was pulled back to reveal the body. Springs' eyes widened. "Yeah, I know her all right," he said as he looked at the twisted body of Tina LaRue lying among the black plastic bags of garbage.
12-31-2011, 04:50 PM
Jim Meridian sweated and cursed as he struggled though mid-afternoon traffic. He had his perp, but couldn't get to her because of everyone else hellbent on getting where they were going. If he could just inch a little more up the main road, he figured, he could take a detour through that side street. It would take longer, but it beat being stuck in traffic. "Come on, come on, already!" he snarled at his fellow drivers. "I got a case to solve here!"
The deedling of his cell phone added to his irritation. Meridian grabbed it and flipped it open. "Meridian here," he barked.
"Jim, I need you to go to the Luxor Hotel," he heard the chief detective order him. "There's been a murder."
"I just found out who set that phony bomb in the Luxor," Jim protested. "Can't you send someone else?"
"It's Tina LaRue, Jim," the chief detective informed him. "Get over there now!"
Tina! Jim clipped the curb and drove through a side street toward the Luxor. God, he mused, first Mike, Jr., and now Tina. I know Casey's next. God, this is getting ugly.
"And then I peeked out of the door and I saw this hotel maid or someone dragging her out the door," Alicia sniffled. "I was so scared I just hid in that stall until that security guard found me."
The chief of security sat before her, nodding in understanding. "You think you could identify this person if you saw her again?"
Alicia nodded, sniffing. "Mm-hm."
"Can you remember what she looked like?"
"Well, she wore a uniform, of course," Alicia began. "I remember she had dark hair, kinda skinny. She strangled that lady with a scarf--a silky one, not the kind you wear in the winter. It was blue, really blue--blue blue. Oh, and she wore sunglasses."
"Okay, anything else?"
Alicia shook her head. "Now, a detective from the police department will be here any minute now," the chief told her. "You just sit tight and wait here for him, okay? In the meantime, we should find your parents and have them pick you up later on. You know where they are?"
Alicia froze. The last thing she wanted was to be shipped back to Marvinville for being a runaway, but she was too panic-stricken to think of a lie. "No, not right now," she said quickly.
"Are they checked into the hotel?"
"You here by yourself?"
Alicia sat there, paralyzed into silence.
"Now, Alicia, you gotta be honest with me," the chief said. "You just witnessed a murder, and if you're in any trouble here, we gotta know about it, understand?"
Alicia turned to Criss, her one source of comfort. "He's right, you know, Alicia," Criss said gently. "We know you want to help us solve this murder, but you gotta work with us. Will you do it?" He turned on the charm all Loyals found so irresistable. "For me?"
That did it. "I ran away from home last Tuesday to go to Loyalapalooza," Alicia confessed. "I just wanted to see you, Criss, that's all! I just wanted to see you!" She broke down in tears and sobbed aloud.
The chief of security sat there, staring at Criss, who could only stare helplessly back at him. He knew the devotion of his fans sometimes went to extremes, but for a little girl to run away from home, crossing four states all by herself just to see him perform illusions was really pushing it too far. Didn't she realize the danger she had put herself in?
"Look, we'll deal with the runaway situation later," the chief said. "Right now, we got the whole hotel locked down over a murder and everyone's (bleeped) off about it." He pointed a stubby finger at Alicia. "You stay put for now," he ordered her. "I don't want you running off again before the detective gets here. You're in a heap of trouble, young lady, you know that?"
Alicia could only stare at the chief in outrage. You act as if I killed that lady! she thought nastily.
The chief left the room. Criss rose to leave as well, but Alicia grabbed his arm. "Don't leave me here, Criss!" she beseeched him.
Criss sat down again and faced her. "I'm sorry, Alicia," he said as gently as he could. "But I have to get back to work now. I'm sure you'll be all right. You're safe here; just work with the police on this matter and they'll go easy on you about running away from home, okay?"
Alicia broke into fresh tears. Criss wiped them away. "Now, listen," he said sternly. "I know things are pretty scary for you right now, but we're all her to help you, okay? Now, I know you wanted to come to Loyalapalooza really bad, but running away from home like that wasn't the coolest thing you've ever done, you know that?"
"I love you, Criss," Alicia choked.
"And I love you, Alicia," Criss responded, "just like I love all the Loyal. But your mom and dad love you even more, and they're probably all worried sick about you disappearing like that. Do they even know you're here in Vegas?"
Alicia shook her head. "Dad lives in LA with his new wife and stepdaughter," she told him between sniffles. "Mom still lives in Marvinville with my brother. It's like I can't communicate with them anymore, you know? Mom still lives in a perfect Fifties-style world all her own, and I never hear from Dad unless it's my birthday or Christmas. And don't get me started on my brother--he's a major brat. Ever since the divorce, it's been like me against the world."
"Maybe it's time you declared a cease-fire," Criss suggested. "Communication's a two-way street; you got to open the lines first in order to get a real dialogue going. Not everyone's going to see things your way, Alicia. When you ran away from home like that, did you ever stop to think about the consequences, of how your mother would react when she found you gone and couldn't find you?"
"No," Alicia replied. "All I thought about was how I wanted to be with you."
"Maybe you need to broaden your horizons a little," Criss said, "start thinking of others' feelings instead of your own. I'm not the whole world, Alicia, though you may think I am. You may think your family doesn't care about you, but they do, they really do. If you look deep down inside yourself, you know that was true."
Alicia sighed. "Maybe that's true for Mom and Dad," she said, "but that bratty brother of mine couldn't care less. All he does is play videogames and make my life hell with his making fun of everything I say and do. I had to keep you a secret because I was afraid he'd sabotage my pictures and the book you wrote. He's totally out of control."
"How old's your brother?"
"Ten," Alicia replied, then added sarcastically, "going on three."
"Well, it seems to me that your brother is acting out because he's feeling the same hurt over the divorce as you're feeling," Criss said. "He's hurt and angry just like you are."
"How can you be so sure?" Alicia asked skeptically. "You've never met him."
"Just an educated guess," Criss replied. He rose from his seat. "Look, I gotta get back," he said. "And don't worry, everything will work out in the end. Just think about what I said, okay?"
"Will I see you at Loyalapalooza?" Alicia asked hopefully.
"Maybe." But he doubted it; the police would more than likely ship her back home to her mother in Marvinville. "Just be brave and tell the truth to the detective when he gets here, promise? For me?"
Again, Alicia could not resist Criss' charm. "I promise," she said. "Anything for you, Criss."
12-31-2011, 04:54 PM
Casey stared at Springs in shock. "Tina? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's her all right," Springs replied. "Care to take a look?"
Casey hesitated. "I'll take your word for it."
Springs walked away from the dumpster and came over to Casey's side. He put his arm around her shoulder. "Well, that just leaves you, sweetheart," he deadpanned. "Now that Junior and Tina's gone, you're the sole heir to Mick's estate."
The security guard looked at them suspiciously. "Wait a minute," he said. "What's this about an estate?"
"Well," Casey hedged, "it's a pretty long story."
Springs jumped in. "Well, y'see, Cassie here--"
"Whatever. Anyway, she got all of Mick's dough, see, and Junior and Tina got gypped out of the whole deal. They were gonna settle it in probate court tomorrow--" He turned to Casey. "It's tomorrow right?"
Casey nodded. "Well, anyway," Springs continued, "they'd been at each other's throats since. Junior got blown up in his car, and now Tina's got bumped off, so that leaves..." He nodded toward Casey.
The guard nodded. "I think you'd better stick around for a while, miss," he said to Casey. "The detective will want to talk to you."
Casey divined what the guard was thinking. "You don't mean to say you think I killed Tina, do you?" she said, appalled.
"I'm not accusing you of anything, miss," the guard said. "But you are still mixed up in this mess, so I'd advise you to stick around for a while."
Casey turned to Springs. "Mr. Springer, you know I'm innocent," she wailed. "I was with you all the time, except to go to the office to pick up my check."
Springs turned to the guard. "Look, buddy," he said. "Cassie here is innocent. She ain't done nothin' to nobody. She's been with me all afternoon."
"Like I said, I'm not accusing anyone of anything," the guard said calmly. "I just think it'd be a good idea if Cassie or Casey or whatever the hell her name is stayed here until the detective gets here, so just simmer down, willya?"
Casey laid a hand on Springs' arm. "It's okay, Mr. Springer," she said. "I'm sure Detective Meridian will prove my innocence when he gets here."
"You know who the detective is?" the guard asked.
"Yeah, it's Detective Jim Meridian," Casey replied. "He's been on this whole case since it began with that phony bomb threat a few weeks ago. I've been working with him since."
"Well, it's good to know you're aquainted with each other," the guard said drily. "Look, I got to get back to work. Just make sure you're here to meet the detective when he gets here, got it?"
"I got it, I got it."
"Good." The guard walked away. Casey breathed a heavy sigh. Springs patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, sweetheart," he said, "I know you didn't do it. You just stay put for a while longer." He chuckled a bit. "Y'know, I always said she was trash," he mused. "Seems a fitting end, don't it?"
Springs turned and headed for the service entrance. "Mr. Springer, where are you going?" Casey asked fearfully.
"Me? I'm gonna get me a drink," he replied. "After what happened here, I need one."
Meridian pulled up to the service entrance of the hotel and parked at the curb. Around the area, yellow Crime Scene tape cordoned off the trash dumpster area. The CSI team was dusting for fingerprints on the lid of one of the dumpsters, taking photographs of the body, and scouring the whole area for other clues. Meridian bolted out of his car and headed straight for the entrance, flashing his badge to the security guards who waved him through. He turned to the chief of security. "Okay, what've we got here?" he demanded.
"Female, around forty or so, hard to tell with all that makeup she got plastered on her face," the chief told him. "Body's in the dumpster. Some old man ID'd her as one Tina LaRue."
"We got witnesses?"
"One," the chief replied. "Some little runaway who wanted to see Criss Angel. Name's Alicia Rose. Saw the whole thing in the ladies' room. She's in the office right now."
"Good. Where's the vic?"
The chief led Meridian to the dumpster where Tina's body lay entombed. Jim fought to overcome the stench of rotting food and other debris eminating from the bin and studied the corpse. From the haphazard way her arms and legs were splayed on the surface of the bags, he could tell she had been tossed in hastily, no binding or gagging. Her mouth was agape and her tongue was a bright blue, sticking out of her mouth almost obscenely. Meridian could make out signs of brusing around her neck, meaning she had been strangled.
"Is the whole hotel sealed off?" he asked.
"Whole place is on lockdown," the chief replied. "No one goes in, no one gets out."
"Where's the witness?"
"Inside." The chief led Meridian to the little office where Alicia Rose waited. He opened the door where a frightened child cowered in a chair, staring at Meridian with fear filled eyes. Meridian sat across from her with a reassuring smile. He had questioned kids before, and he knew from long experience that the best way to get them to open up was to try to be a friend to them, especially when they'd been traumatized by what they had witnessed.
"Hello, Alicia," Meridian greeted her warmly. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, I guess," Alicia replied in a trembling voice.
"So, where are you from?"
Alicia swallowed hard. "Marvinville," she answered. "Marvinville, Iowa."
"That's a pretty long ways from here."
Alicia nodded. "You here by yourself?" Meridian asked.
Alicia nodded again.
"Why'd you come all the way from Marvinville, Iowa, to Las Vegas?"
"I wanted to see Criss Angel," she half-whispered. "I wanted to go to Loyalapalooza."
"Loyalapalooza. It's a big Loyalfest for Criss Angel fans," Alicia explained. "It starts tomorrow, and I got here a day early, and I had to go to the bathroom, and that's when...I saw that..."
"You saw what, Alicia?"
"I saw that hotel maid kill that lady." Alicia burst into tears. Meridian gave her a handkerchief he specially reserved for teary-eyed witnesses. "She choked her to death."
"How did this maid choke her to death?"
"With a blue scarf," Alicia replied, wiping her nose with the handkerchief. "The dressy kind, not the winter kind. The silky kind."
Meridian nodded. Another piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place. "If you saw this hotel maid again, would you be able to recognize her?"
"You remember what she looked like?"
"Uh, dark hair, uniform. She wore sunglasses--I don't know why."
Meridian nodded again. It was definatly the mystery maid he had been hunting down, and she was here in the hotel. "Okay, Alicia," he said. "I'm going to find this hotel maid. Meantime, you stay here."
"Please, Detective, I'm getting awfully hungry," she moaned. "Can I get something to eat around here? I got my own money."
Meridian smiled a little. "Save it," he said. "You're gonna need it for the return trip home. We'll get you something to eat."
Alica sank deeper into her chair. Meridian left the room and charged out to the scene of the crime. "Chief!" he shouted. "We need your men to scour the whole hotel," he said. "Look for a woman of medium height, dark hair tied up and wearing sunglasses and a housekeeper's uniform. She's not an employee here, so check all entrances and exits. If no one's gone out of the building, she should still be in here."
"Got it," the chief confirmed.
Casey crossed over to Meridian. "Detective? Do you know who did it?"
Meridian looked at Casey. "Let's just say I got a hunch."
12-31-2011, 05:03 PM
Alica sat in the small room in the hotel security office, reflecting on the misery of the day. She had barely begun to enjoy the wonders of Las Vegas when she ended up witnessing a murder; now everyone knew that she had run away from home, and they were threatening to send her back. She dreaded the moment of facing her mother upon her return to Marvinville. Would she be angry? Duh! No doubt! She'll probably ground me until I'm Criss' age, she thought morosely. If she doesn't kill me first.
The minutes crawled by, and Alicia's fears turned to impatience. Detective Meridian had promised to bring her something to eat but so far no one had shown up. She wished Criss was still there with her, if only to keep her company. Maybe they forgot about her because they were too busy with the murder investigation, she reasoned. It was perfectly possible--Alicia had seen enough CSI shows to know that a homicide investigation took time and effort; every little scrap of evidence had to be analyzed, every surface had to be dusted for fingerprints, every square foot of the crime scene had to be photographed. She had already given her eyewitness testamony to the detective; why should she bother hanging around here starving to death?
Maybe if I just slipped out for a while, she thought, just for a few minutes so I can get something to eat. It's not like I'm running away again. I'll just be gone for a little while, then I'll come right back. Maybe I'll see Criss again. He'll understand, won't he?
Alicia got up from her chair, tiptoed to the door, opened it just a crack and peeked out. No on was in sight. Good! She slipped out and tiptoed down the hallway, then peered around the reception area of the security office. Empty. A quick dash out the door and she was free. I'm just going to get something to eat and come right back, she told herself. It's not like I'm running away again.
She crept down the service corridor, past the utilitarian doors painted the same shade as the walls, keeping an eye out for anyone who might see her and send her back to the security office. At the end of the hallway, she found herself in an almost forgotten corner of the atrium camoflaged by large potted plants. Alicia spread the foliage and looked around. The coast was clear as far as she could see. Now to just walk out into the atrium and--
A hand clamped over her mouth and pulled her back. Alicia struggled to free herself, but the cold steel of a pistol pressed against the temple of her head stilled her. "Don't try anything funny," she heard a woman's voice hiss in her ear from behind. "Just keep moving and you won't get hurt."
It's her! Alicia thought wildly. It's that crazy lady who killed that other lady!
Too frightened to scream, she allowed herself to be dragged back through the corridor to whatever fate awaited her. Please don't kill me! she pleaded mentally. Please don't kill me!
While the CSI team was preoccupied with their search for clues, Springs managed to slip back into the hotel unnoticed. Let the gumshoes figure out who killed Tina, he thought. Like I give a rat's ass about it! Whoever did it did the world a favor as far as I'm concerned. Screw the doctor's orders, I'm gonna get me a drink.
After meandering around for a good five minutes or so, he found himself in the service corridor. "Geez-Louise!" he growled. "How the hell do you get out of here? Place is like a effing maze!"
Springs shuffled on, determined to find the first watering hole he could lay eyes on. Suddenly he halted, startled at the sound of scuffling and muffled cries. His eyes weren't as sharp as they used to be, but he could still make out the forms of a hotel maid holding a girl hostage with a gun to her head. What the eff? Springs wondered.
Before he could take any action, however, the gun-toting maid spotted him and turned the pistol toward him. Springs froze, holding up his hands but remaing calm. Forty years in the rackets had taught him to respect anyone who was packing heat, inside or outside the law.
"Whaddya want?" Springs asked. "Do what you want with me, but let the girl go. She ain't done nothin'."
"Just turn around and keep walking, old man," the maid ordered him. "And no funny business."
Springs turned and shuffled back the way he came. There was the nagging feeling that he had heard that voice before, but for the life of him he couldn't recall. If only he could get a good look at her face, maybe that would shake the cobwebs off a few memory cells. But in his present condition it was impossible. Where the hell is that gumshoe Meridian? he thought. Son of a (bleep)! The one time I need a cop there ain't one around.
Casey looked around the crime scene outside for Mr. Springer. Where'd he go? she wondered. "Detective?" she called out to Meridian who was just at the door. "Mr. Springer's gone! I don't see him anywhere!"
"Look, Casey," Meridian said impatiently, "I've got bigger fish to fry. I can't go looking for some old fart when there's a murderer on the loose. You'll just have to look for him yourself."
Meridian dashed into the hotel, his pistol drawn. Casey was hot on his heels, ignoring the guard's warning of the lockdown still in effect, determined to find her employer. Meanwhile, inside the security office, Criss had just come to the conclusion that none of this involved him, so he decided to go back to the production office. The novelty of a homicide had worn off, and he was just in the way of the investigation. The whole hotel was on lockdown, anyway, so he might as well get something accomplished. He had just turned to leave when Meridian blew by him, hellbent on finding the killer. Seeing the gun, Criss flattened himself against a wall to get out of his way. Before he could regain his composure, Casey came dashing up to him, breathless with anxiety. "Did you see Mr. Springer?" she pleaded.
Criss shook his head, still bewildered over what was going on. "Uh, no I haven't," he replied bemusedly. "What the hell's going on?"
"Detective Meridian's after the killer, and I got to find Mr. Springer," Casey babbled. "Please, you got to help me!"
Oh, (bleep)! Criss sighed heavily, resigning himself to the role of hero to the damsel in distress. "Come on, let's go," he said without much enthusiasm. "He probably went back to the bar more than likely."
Casey and Criss left the security office and made their way down the service corridor. To the relief of both of them, they spotted Mr. Springer right in front of them. "See, there he is," Criss said casually, pointing at the old man. "Hey, Springs, where ya been?"
"Don't come any closer," a woman's voice spoke from behind him. "Or Cutie-pie here gets it."
Criss and Casey froze. Being the tallest in the hall, Criss could see a woman dressed as a hotel maid holding Alicia Rose hostage. "Let her go," he ordered.
"Oh, right," the phony maid sneered. "Like I'm going to listen to you!" She waved the gun towards them. "Hands up, all of you! Up against the wall over there!"
Criss, Casey and Springs moved to the wall, their hands up to shoulder level. The gunwoman flung Alicia toward them. "You, too!" she snarled.
Alicia stumbled toward Criss and landed in his arms, weeping loudly. "Shut up, you little twerp!" the gunwoman snapped. "I should blow your brains out right now, this minute!"
Criss pulled Alicia behind him, shielding her with his own body. He glared at the madwoman in the maid's uniform. "Don't even try it, (bleep)!" he growled. "You'll have to get by me first!"
"I'm more than willing to oblige," the gunwoman said, smiling evilly.
"What do you want with us?" Casey demanded.
"Oh, nothing," the gunwoman said. "Except for you and the old man there to be out of my life forever. Once you're both out of the way, I can claim Mick's money all for myself. How convenient that you showed up when you did--it spared me a trip to Springs' house."
"But how did you..."
"Let's just say the police wern't the only ones staking you out, sweetie."
"What's Mick got to do with you?" Springs demanded hoarsely. "What've you go to do with any of this?"
"More than you realize, Springs," she answered. "More than you realize. Mike was supposed to inherit the estate from his father, but no, he had to go and leave it to little Casey here! Now that Mike and that tramp Tina's gone, there's nothing to stand in my way of getting the money. Nothing, that is, except the four of you."
Casey stared incredulously at the gunwoman. "Mrs. Piccucci?"
Another oily smile. "Give the little lady a kewpie doll," she said sarcastically.
"But the probate hearing's tomorrow!" Casey argued. "I'm sure we can reach some sort of settlement!"
"Sorry, sweetie," Pamela said casually, "but I need that nine million more than you do, and I can't have you getting any of it. But I'll tell you what: I'll leave you a bonus check for all the tender loving care you gave to Mick. It'll be enough to cover your funeral costs."
"Look, do what you want with me," Casey pleaded, "but let the others go!"
"Sorry, no can do," Pamela retorted. "Cutie-pie over there saw too much already, and Magic Man here had to stick his nose where it didn't belong. And Springs? Well, let's just say he's had a good run, and now it's time for him to bow out."
Criss turned his head to face Alicia. "Is she...?"
Alicia nodded frantically. "She's the one," she whispered, cowering behind Criss' back.
Criss turned back to Pamela. "So it was you all the time," he said accusingly. "You sent that phony bomb threat, blew up your husband in his car and killed that woman in the ladies' room--all for nine million dollars."
Pamela strutted closer to Criss. "Figured that out all by yourself, didn't you?" she sneered. "You're pretty smart, you know that? Kinda cute, too. Oh, yes, I did send that phony bomb threat as you call it. As for blowing up that lying playboy husband of mine who had been cheating behind my back for years--oh, yes, I knew all about his affairs, especially that little blond tart, Jessie! I'd been trailing him all along--well, let's just say payback's a (bleep). And as for greedy (bleep), Tina, she tried to blackmail me into giving up the inheritance. As far as I'm concerned, it was justifiable homicide on both counts."
She strutted back, still staring at Criss. "Too bad you got yourself mixed up in all this, and it's too bad I have to kill you with the others, but I just can't have any witnesses. You understand, don't you?"
Pamela raised the gun and aimed it at Casey. "Say hello to Mick for me, will you?" she said.
"Drop the gun, Pamela!"
All eyes turned to see Detective Meridian poised with his pistol aimed squarely at Pamela. "Drop your weapon and get down on the ground!" he barked.
For the briefest moment, Pamela dropped her guard as she stared at Meridian. This moment was not lost on Criss--he sprung forward and knocked Pamela to the floor. The gun fell from her hand and clattered to the floor. Alicia screamed in horror. Meridian took over, slammed Pamela to the tiles and wrenched her hands behind her back to cuff her. "You (bleepers)!" she screamed angrily. "You (bleeping bleepers)!"
"You have the right to remain silent," Meridian told her officiously. "Anything you say will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford one, one will be provided for you before questioning. Understand."
Pamela panted heavily under Meridian's weight. "I get it, Joe Friday, now just get off me! You're breaking my ribs!"
Two security guards arrived and helped Meridian escort Pamela out of the hall. Alicia wrapped her arms around Criss, hyperventilating in her state of panic. Casey embraced them both in a group hug. Springs just stood there grimly, then shuffled out of the corridor. "I'm gettin' me a drink," he grumbled. "Any of you wanna join me, go right ahead. I'm gettin' the eff out of here before something really goes wrong." He sighed heavily. "Geez-Louise! Glad I ain't got no family to leave all of my dough to."
12-31-2011, 05:25 PM
The Knicks game had ended, and there were no other games on television until evening, so Phil Worth picked up the remote and began channel surfing for something to watch until then. Television was his only escape from the misery of his life; it filled his days, distracting him from the pain and humiliation of being disabled. It was his window to the outside world, his only solace since the accident which left him paralyzed. It let him live in a world detached from cold, cruel reality.
His son, Benny, was in the kitchen raiding the fridge. There were times Phil wondered when his son would ever get a job, make some money and help support the family, but he appreciated the company Benny provided. It was good to have someone to share complaints about a bad decision made by the ref, or share high-fives when someone made a touchdown, scored a goal, hit a home run, or dunked the ball in the net. Benny's constant presence made life less lonely for Phil. Besides, he needed the help going to the john.
Sharon, his wife, was away at work at the liquor store, and he hadn't seen Casey in ages since she took that job as a live-in caregiver to some rich old fart somewhere in the tonier part of Las Vegas. Her pay was good--it kept the fridge full and the bills paid. Between Casey's and Sharon's paychecks and his disability insurance, the Worths were getting by pretty good, but just barely. The van needed work, the water heater was acting up again, the roof had to be reshingled and the kitchen window hadn't been repaired for two years, plus the medical bills that weren't covered by the insurance.
Phil passed channel after channel, still searching for something worth watching until game time. The latest channel was a local news station; only when he heard Casey's name mentioned in the broadcast did he stop and listen. "...caregiver, Casey Worth, making her the sole heir to his estate," said the newswoman on the screen.
Estate? Phil wondered. What estate? Who died? No one told me about Casey inheriting an estate!
"The Piccucci estate is valued at approximatly nine million dollars," the newswoman continued. "The will was to be contested by the Piccucci family--".
Nine million dollars?! "Hey, Benny!" Phil shouted. "Get in here!"
Benny emerged from the kitchen, his mouth stuffed with ham and cheese sandwich. "Yeah, whaddya want?" he mumbled, still chewing.
"Check this out," Phil said, pointing to the screen. "Your sister just got nine million dollars from that old fart she was taking care of!"
Benny nearly choked on his sandwich. "You're (bleeping) me!" he gasped.
"Swear to God it's true!" Phil insisted. "It said so right on TV."
Benny sat down in his accustomed spot and watched the news broadcast reporting the Piccucci affair and the tragic aftermath. Sure enough, there was Casey on the screen, speaking into a news mike. "Well, it would be nice to get all that money," she said shyly, "but I'm not going to get my hopes up too high. There are the children to consider: Andrew and Matt, and the daughter, Heather, of course. I don't know why Mr. Piccucci would leave it all to me instead of his family."
"I'll tell you why," Phil growled, "because you took care of the old man and they didn't! And because we deserve it more'n they do--that's why! Buncha greedy fat-cat millionaires taking away what's rightfully ours in the first place!"
Benny could only sit there in a state of disbelief. "Nine million bucks!" he mused. "Gawdalmighty! Do you know what we can do with all that cash?"
"I know what we can do with it," his father retorted. "But first we gotta get it. If it's a fight they want, then, by God, we'll give them a fight! It's time we got our piece of the pie, Benny, and we're gonna get a big piece of it--with ice cream on top!"
"Damn straight, Pop!" Benny cheered. "Damn (bleeping) straight!"
Father and son high-fived and returned to the news broadcast. When the anchor desk went on to more mundane matters, Phil switched channels, hoping to find out more about Casey's windfall. They were still wrapped up in their search when Sharon came home from work. To her surprise, she saw Benny jump up from the couch to greet her, something that had never happened, at least in recent memory. Benny usually mumbled some semblance of a greeting while transfixed onto the screen, hardly noticing her presence at all.
"Ma!" he shouted. "Guess what? Casey got nine million bucks from that old man she took care of! We heard it on TV!" He pointed to the screen. "See?"
His mother set down her purse and sighed heavily, her features as fallen as her spirits. Benny was puzzled at her somber reaction to such outrageous good fortune as this. "Ma, don't you get it?" he said. "We're rich! We're stinking, mother(bleeping) rich!"
Sharon went over, picked up the remote, and turned the television off. For the briefest moment, there was an unaccustomed silence. "Sit down, Benny," she said quietly.
Phil reached up and took his wife's hand. "What's the matter, hon?" he asked. "Did you lose your job? Heh! Don't sweat it, babe! You don't need that lousy, stinking job anymore! We're set for life, thanks to Casey!"
"Pop's right, Ma," Benny agreed. "You can tell the guy at the liquor store to--"
"Phil, Benny," Sharon began, "there's something you need to know. Casey inherited that money almost a month ago."
Her husband and son were dumbfounded. "A month ago?" Phil exclaimed. "Why the hell didn't you tell us before?"
"Why?" The resentment which had been building up inside Sharon began to burst forth like a dam. "I'll tell you why. Because you never listened to a word I said for the past thirty years, that's why! I gave up telling you anything a long time ago because you were so wrapped up in self-pity over your accident that you paid more attention to the TV than to me or to Casey! You were too busy watching sports to know that our daughter was getting death threats from that family of mobsters she worked for! In fact, she was almost killed by them just this afternoon! I got the call at work, then I saw it on the news. If you had just turned off that damned TV for just a few minutes, you would have known by now!"
Phil and Benny just sat there, staring stupidly at Sharon. "Look at you!" she cried, her anger reaching a fever pitch. "Look at both of you! Neither of you have moved from this living room for ten years, if not longer! Casey gave up her dream of going to nursing school just to support this family, but did either of you appreciate it? No! You're parasites, that's what you are! Fat, leeching, worthless parasites living off Casey and me all these years! Sponging off others so you can rot in front of the TV!"
"Now, look here, Sharon--" Phil began.
"No, you look!" Sharon shot back. "I've had it with both of you! I'm tired of being married to a self-pitying slob who sits in front of the boob tube day in and day out! And I'm sick and tired of having a lazy, no good, pitiful excuse of a son who won't get off his fat ass and get a job!"
Benny stared at his mother, stunned that such an accusation could be directed at himself. Sharon, however, was just getting started. "That's right, Benny, it's true. You're thirty-two years old, for chrissakes! You should have had a career, a place of your own, instead of leeching off your parents and your sister! You never had any ambition beyond who was winning the Final Four or who was playing in the Super Bowl! You never been anywhere beyond the refrigerator! Every time I shook out the sheets from your bed, there you were! Every time I dusted the furniture, you were part of it! You never got up past the crack of noon, even on school days--I had to drag you out of bed every morning! You may be an adult legally, but you never grew up!"
Sharon zeroed in on her son for the coup de gras. "Well, let me tell you something, Peter Pan--you'd better find your worthless ass a job, because the gravy train is no longer stopping at the Worth house! You're not getting a dime from me or Casey, either from working or the inheritance! It's time to make your own way in the world, Benjamin Gregory Worth, because I'm cutting off all funding for your laid-back lifestyle, if it can be called a lifestyle--I don't think you ever had a life to begin with."
She turned to her husband. "And as for you," she went on, "I've stuck with you for better or worse--and it's been mostly worse! Well, I deserve better, and so does Case! We're taking that money, if we get it tomorrow at the probate hearing, and we're starting over! Casey's going to nursing school, and I'm going to enroll in a few college courses myself. We are getting as far away from the two of you as possible! We are going to live, dammit! I thank God you never found out about that inheritance in the first place, because God knows you would have made the situation even worse than it already is!"
"You can't just leave me like this, Sharon!" Phil pleaded. "I'm in a wheelchair! I need assistance! Who's gonna take care of me?"
"Ask Benny," Sharon replied coldly. "He's been by your side all along. It's not going to be me, that's for sure. Nor Casey, either, though she's had more experience caring for crippled old men. I'm free of you, Phil, free of your whining and complaining about how weak you are, how helpless you are. Christopher Reeve did more as a quadriplegic than you ever did as a paraplegic. You're only as helpless as you think you are, Phil. From now on, you and Benny are going to have to fend for yourselves--I'm leaving!"
With that, she stormed out of the living room and into the bedroom she had shared with her erstwhile husband for over thirty years. Phil and Benny simply sat where they were, listening to the scuffling of clothes and other belongings being shoved into suitcases.
While one storm passed over the Worth household, another was brewing several hundred miles away in Marvinville, Iowa. After two frantic, anxiety-filled days of calling the acadamy, the neighbors, the police and her ex-husband's voicemail, Alicia's mother, Nancy, finally received word about her missing daughter from a Detective Jim Meridian of the Las Vegas Municipal Police Department. She sobbed with relief when he told her she was alive and well, but was stunned when she learned she had taken a bus all the way to Las Vegas just to see some magician named Criss Angel. It didn't help her feel better when she learned that Alicia had witnessed a murder and would have to come back to testify. It was all Detective Meridian could do to calm her down.
"Is she there?" Nancy Rose demanded over the phone. "I want to speak to her!"
Meridian handed the receiver to Alicia. She was hesitant at first, but from the grim look on the detective's face, she realized she had no choice but to face the music. Slowly, she raised the receiver to her ear. "Hello?" she squeaked.
"Alicia?" her mother cried. "Are you all right, baby?"
So far, so good. "I'm all right, Mom," she managed to get out. "Really I am. I'm sorry I ran away from home like that, but, well..."
"Well, what?" her mother demanded.
Alicia plunged. "I just couldn't take it anymore, Mom," she said. "I got tired of Kyle's bugging me, and Dad ignoring me, and school being so boring, and you so out of touch with the times, I had to get away. I was going to come back on Sunday, really I was! I wish I'd have left you a note or something. I still got the hundred dollars I took from the cabinet--I can pay you back!"
"You took a hundred dollars from the credenza?"
"Yes, and it's right here, all of it. And that money order Dad sent me for the Youth Retreat. I'll give it back to him, too."
"But why, Alicia? Why do this? Just for some movie star?"
"First of all, he's not a movie star," Alicia explained. "He's an illusionist--you know, like Houdini? I love him, Mom. And he saved my life, too. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for him, really."
"How did he save your life?" her mother asked.
Alicia went on to explain about how Criss Angel shielded her with his own body from Pamela Piccucci's gun, putting his own safety at risk. "He's a hero, Mom," she insisted. "He saved my life."
"Well, I'm glad he did, Alicia," Mom said, "but if you hadn't run away from home like that, you wouldn't have been in danger in the first place."
Oh, boy, here it comes. Alicia braced herself for a parental lecture. "Do you have any idea how worried I'd been about you for the past two days?" Mom went on. "Calling and calling everyone I know trying to find you? I even filed a Missing Persons report with the police! I haven't slept for two nights, I was so worried about you! And now I find that you're in Las Vegas of all places, just because you wanted to see some two-bit magician pull a rabbit out of a hat--"
"He's not a two-bit magician!" Alicia argued. "He's the greatest since Houdini! If you'd seen any of his shows, you'd know that!"
"I don't care who he is!" Nancy Rose exploded. "It's no excuse for you to go running off like that! The minute I get you home, I swear to God I'll--"
"You'll what?" Alicia challenged. "Beat me? Ground me? I'll just run away again, and I will! You can't keep me locked up forever, Mom. You can ground me until I'm as old as you are, you can beat my butt until it's bleeding, but I won't let you crush me. I've changed, Mom. I've seen too much of the real world to go back to being what I was before: that timid little girl in that tacky school uniform putting up with her little brother's torture. I saw a person kill another person! You think punishing me is going to make me forget that? You can do whatever you want with me, but the damage is done. I'm not the same Alicia I was when I left."
There was a silence on the other end of the line. Alicia listened for any sign of life, then handed the receiver back to Meridian, who took over as soon as he got it. "Hello, Mrs. Rose?" he said. "Are you still there?"
The officious voice snapped Nancy out of her shock. "Yes, Detective?"
"We'll have Alicia back first thing Saturday morning at the latest," Meridian promised. "It'll be a while, but she'll be back safe and sound. In the meantime, we'll arrange for accomodations for her until then. She'll receive a summons to appear in court as a witness thirty days before the trial; we'd appreciate it if you came with her."
"Thank you, Detective," Nancy said. "Good-bye."
Meridian hung up. "That's a pretty powerful speech you gave there, young lady," he said.
Alicia stared at Meridian boldly, almost defiantly. "I meant every word, Detective."
"I'm sure you did," he concurred. "Now, we got to find you a roof over your head until Saturday morning. I'm sure Social Services can find a place for you."
"Can I at least stick around here for the first day of Loyalapalooza?" Alicia asked. "Pleeeeze?"
Meridian could only shake his head in exasperation.
(It's not quite over yet...stay tuned.)
12-31-2011, 05:28 PM
The Piccucci estate probate hearing went on as scheduled despite the fact that two members of the contesting parties were deceased and the third was disqualified for murdering her husband, leaving only Casey Worth and the three surviving Piccucci children, Andrew, Matt, and Mick's daughter by Tina LaRue, Heather Piccucci. It was all over in ten minutes, to everyone's relief. Instead of the big overblown courtroom drama everyone involved had anticipated, it was more of an anticlimax.
The court ruled that the estate be liquidated and the cash be divided evenly between the four surviving parties. Thanks to the late Robert "Blusey" Bluseman's financial acumen and considerable knowledge of the tax system, the IRS claimed only a fourth of the estate, leaving each of them with one million, six hundred thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars. For a blue-collar girl like Casey Worth, it was still a windfall.
For Andrew and Matt Piccucci, their share of the inheritance was to be held in trust, to be claimed on their twenty-fifth birthdays. It also granted custody of the two brothers to a family friend in California.
Heather Piccucci was present at the hearing, but sat like a stone in her seat in the courtroom, standing only when the bailiff ordered everyone to do so when the judge entered. She heard the opening statements, the verdict by the court, and the dismissal, all without the slightest flicker of emotion. When the case was dismissed, she rose and seemingly faded into obscurity, as if ashamed to be seen by anyone.
Casey's mother, Sharon, was also present at the hearing. Though she was somewhat disappointed that her daughter didn't get the enitre estate, she was grateful that she still came out ahead by over a million dollars. Besides, the kids had to get something out of it, too, she told herself. No sense depriving them of their share. She rose when the hearing ended and embraced her daughter, both of them relieved that the whole ordeal was finally behind them.
As they left the courtroom, Sharon turned to Casey. "I left your father yesterday," she confessed.
Casey halted in her tracks, surprised at this sudden revelation. "You did?"
Sharon nodded. "He finally found out about the inheritance," she explained. "He and Benny found out about it on TV. They wanted it all for themselves, of course, but I told them that we're taking that money and starting over."
"We? As in you and me?"
"That's right, hon," Sharon nodded. "You can go to nursing school like you wanted, and we can get ourselves a nice little place of our own. I may even enroll in a few college courses myself--I always wanted to study business."
"What about Dad and Benny?" Casey asked.
Sharon shrugged. "What about them? They can fend for themselves from now on. I'm through waiting on them hand and foot."
"Personally," Casey said, smiling a little, "I don't blame you one bit."
Both mother and daughter smiled as they walked happily out of the courthouse and into their new life together.
"Detective Meridian here."
"Hello, Detective," said an older woman's voice. "This is Mrs. MacGrew from Social Services. You sent an Alicia Rose to us for temporary custody at our Youth Shelter yesterday afternoon."
"Well, it seems that Alicia has disappeared from the shelter," Mrs. MacGrew said. "Do you know where she could be."
Meridian rolled his eyes. "I'm pretty sure I know where she might be," he said.
12-31-2011, 05:36 PM
It was only eleven o'clock on Friday morning, and already Loyalapalooza was in full swing. Thousands of estatic Loyals were in a festive mood, dancing and schmoozing it up on the upper level of the Luxor Hotel parking garage. Many old friends were reunited on that deck, and many new ones were created; phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, and for those who could not be present, text messages and camera phone photos were sent by the score all over the country, if not the world.
Among the throng of partygoers was Alicia Rose. She had sneaked out of the county youth shelter to come to the festival, determined to catch one final glimpse of her idol before the authorities shipped her back to Marvinville. No one knew how many risks she took just to get here: stealing, lying, running away, being taken hostage by a madwoman whom she had witnessed murdering someone, then running away again after being taken into custody. But it had all been worth it as far as she was concerned; being among those who shared her passion for Criss Angel, to speak freely and openly about him without fear of censure or mockery, was liberating for the sheltered thirteen-year-old. To her, being at Loyalapalooza was like celebrating the fall of Communism. She told everyone she met about how Criss had saved her life in the service corridor yesterday, and gave everyone the full four-one-one on Pamela Piccucci's confession. Few, if any, believed her.
The first day of Loyalapalooza was the stage show. Criss called for a few volunteers for a mentalism trick. Alicia waved frantically for his attention, but he chose instead four others. Alicia was sour about not being selected, though she rationalized that maybe he didn't want to pick anyone he had met before to perform his trick to avoid accusations of fraud. The trick went well, then more volunteers were called for the next, and then the next, and then the next. Not once did he even notice Alicia, let alone choose her. By the end of the performance, she was close to tears. I came all this way to see you, she said to herself but directed it at Criss. I know you saved my life, and you were by my side when the police questioned me about the murder, but couldn't you spare just one glance in my direction? They're sending me back home tomorrow--can't you at least look at me, give me a smile or something? Or have you forgotten me already?
The perfomance had ended, Security struggled to clear the deck, but the Loyals stayed on, begging for pictures and autographs. Alicia clutched her Loyalapalooza program and waited impatiently for her turn with Criss, stubbornly refusing to leave until she got to see him one last time. After a near eternity of jostling, shoving, and shuffling, Alicia was within arm's reach of her beloved idol. Criss turned his head and saw her standing there, rapturous with joy. She racked her brains for something appropriate to say to him as she thrust her program for him to autograph, but could only blurt out "Hi!"
"Hi, yourself," he said, startled that she was there at all. "I see you made it after all."
Alicia was estatic. He remembered her! "I couldn't leave without seeing you again, Criss," she said.
Criss took the program and wrote on the empty space on the back, then handed it back to her. "Here," he said. "I hope you have a safe trip back home."
Alicia was stunned. That was it? I hope you have a safe trip back home. What kind of a greeting was that? She wanted to say more, but the press of bodies shoved her out of the way. Forced to the perimeter of the mob, Alicia leaned on a concrete berm and began to cry. He said he loved me, she thought. He told me so in the security office. Now he just blows me off just like that? What made him change his mind all of a sudden?
She looked up. Detective Meridian stood there before her. "I got a call from the youth shelter," he said bluntly. "They said you ran away from there. I figured you'd be here."
"I just wanted to see Criss again," she sniffled. "But I don't think he wants to see me."
Meridian put his arm around her shoulder. "Ah, come on," he said. "He's a big celebrity; you and a million people want to see him--you're competing with everyone else for his attention. Look at all those poor slobs over there, trying to get a piece of him! Poor guy probably doesn't have a minute to himself."
Alicia looked at the mob of Loyals clamoring for Criss' attention. "As far as he's concerned," Meridian went on, "you're just another face in the crowd."
"I am not!" Alicia cried, whirling around angrily. "He saved my life, remember? He sat with me during questioning, remember? He knew who I was, yet he just...just..." She held up the autographed program. "It's like he just doesn't care anymore."
Meridian took the program. He flipped it over and read what Criss had written. A grin spread slowly across his hardened face. "Read this," he said, handing the program back to her, "then tell me whether or not he cares."
Alicia took the program and read the message: Don't run away from your problems--conquor them! Luv, CA.
She looked up at Meridian. "You see?" he said. "He cares."
He took a bemused Alicia by the shoulder and guided her toward the elevator. "Now, come on, you're going home," he said. "This running away is getting to be a bad habit with you. Keep it up and I'll have to tie you down."
The Friday Loyalapalooza festival had ended, and Criss had a few hours to kill before his evening show of Believe. The performance and autograph session had worn him out, so he decided to grab a drink at the bar before heading to his suite for a quick pre-show nap. He slipped into the hotel lounge and headed for the bar for a bit of peace and quiet. He sat next to a grey-suited elderly gentleman nursing a Manhattan. "Martini, please," Criss ordered.
"They let a bum like you in here?" the elderly man grumbled. "It's a wonder they don't throw you out."
Criss turned. "Springs!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Whaddya doin' here?"
Springs held up his glass. "I ain't had a really good Manhattan in forty years," he said. "Until I came here, that is." He pointed to the female bartender mixing the Martini Criss had ordered. "Girl over there--now she mixes a hell of a drink! You oughta try it sometime."
"I'll stick with the Martini, thanks," Criss said. "So how ya been?"
"Good," Springs replied nonchalantly. "Better now that I got a new gut. Guy who gave it to me must've been an Italian--I've been eating nothing but pasta since I got out of the hospital."
Criss laughed a little. "How's Casey? She still your caregiver?"
"Caregiver, housekeeper, whatever you wanna call it, but yeah, she's still with me. Takes care of the house and all that. She's gonna go to school to be a nurse or somethin'. She's a good kid."
The bartender handed Criss his Martini. "How'd the probate hearing go?" he asked, sipping his drink.
"Good. Uncle Sam took a quarter of it for taxes, of course," Springs replied. "Court split it up four ways, between Junior's two kids, Heather--that's Mick's daughter by Tina, by the way--and Cassie. A million and change, she told me."
"It's Casey," Criss reminded him.
"And I'm glad she got something out of all this" Criss continued. "But what about Pamela?"
Springs shrugged. "What about her?" he grunted. "She bumped off both her husband and Tina. Now she's facing murder charges." He looked up at Criss. "They still got the death penalty here?" he asked.
"From what I heard, they do," Criss replied. "Lethal injection."
Springs nodded, finishing off the last of his Manhattan. "Ah, well, it's no skin off my nose," he sighed.
Criss decided to change the subject. "So what've you been doing with yourself lately?" he asked.
"Working on my book," Springs answered.
Criss sat up, suddenly interested. "You're writing a book?"
"Been writing one for years now. I'm the last surviving member of The Guys of Glitter Gulch. Ever heard of 'em?"
"No, can't say I have."
Springs shrugged. "Well, they were before your time," he said. "Anyway, back in the Forties and Fifties, if you were in the rackets, Vegas was the place to be. Hell, I remember when Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo. Bugs was a better hitter than a businessman. Couldn't run a hotel to save his life--literally! Syndicate bumped him off in his hotel room and took over the place."
"What was your role in The Guys of Glitter Gulch?" Criss asked.
"Me? I was what they used to call the collector. My job was to go to those places we contracted for protection and collect our fees. They didn't pay up, they got, well, you know..."
Criss nodded grimly. He had lived in Las Vegas for only six years, but he was well versed in Sin City's unsavory past. Every casino, hotel and nightclub had some sort of connection with organized crime until the Feds cracked down on them in the late Sixties. Many went to jail, ostensibly for tax evasion, while others like Springs lived off their ill-gotten gains for the rest of their lives.
"We had a lot of good times together, the Guys and me," Springs mused. "I'd come over to Mick's place, and he'd always have a brandy waiting for me. We'd go golfing, have family barbecues, went to the kids' weddings and graduations--great times we had. I wish you'd of met Mick's first wife, Josie--sweetest lady you ever wanted to meet. She took all of the pictures I'm using in my book. Cassie found the cigar box she kept them in and gave 'em to me. Helluva photographer she was. When she died, Mick couldn't stop cryin' for nothin'. Dunno why he got mixed up with Tina later on--I'm tellin' ya, that broad was poison from day one! Pam shoulda bumped her off a long time ago." The old man sighed heavily. "When I get together with Mick again, wherever the hell he is, I just hope he has a brandy waiting for me, for old time's sake.
Criss looked at the former mobster with mixed emotions. Here was a man who had extorted millions from nearly every casino in Las Vegas, thinking nothing of resorting to violence and murder if things didn't go his way, but here again was an elderly man who had outlived his friends as well as his enemies, with nothing to share except his memories. He had been a criminal, but he had friends and family once who had cared about him, sharing good times like any other person. He was a relic of an era that had long past but still lingered on, whether it was in the movies or in faded photographs in an old cigar box.
"Tell ya one thing," Springs went on, "After what happened yesterday, I got one helluva ending for my book. Y'know, for a minute there I thought I was a goner. Then you came in and knocked her down. Pretty damn brave of you."
"Hey," Criss said modestly, "I saw my chance, and I took it."
Springs nodded. Then he looked up at Criss. "By the way," he said, "you a New Yorker? You sound like one."
Criss smiled. "Yeah, I'm a New Yorker," he replied somewhat proudly.
Springs pointed at his chest. "Queens, born and raised. All of us were, except for Blusey. I think he came from Jersey." He sighed heavily. "Now they're all gone except me. Seems I outlived everyone here in Vegas--The Guys, Bugsey, Meyer Lansky, the whole damn Syndicate, it seems. And Sinatra and the whole damn Rat Pack, Liberace, Robert Goulet--hell, I even outlived Elvis Presley if you can believe that! Seems everyone who's made Vegas what it is today is dropping like flies and I'm still kickin'."
"Wayne Newton's still around," Criss reminded him.
"Like that's supposed to make me feel better?"
Criss laughed. Springs sighed again. "I dunno, maybe they just should've put that stomach transplant into somebody else and let me pack it in already," he mused. "I've lived my life. Why should I keep on kickin' any more?"
"Maybe it's because we need you to stick around long enough to tell the story," Criss said. "Without you and The Guys of Glitter Gulch, Las Vegas would still be a little whistle stop out west. It was guys like you who made Sin City what it is today: a gaudy, decadent, overblown money making empire--and that's a compliment! Hell, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here."
A smile creased Springs' weathered face, then faded again as a thought struck him. "What the hell time is it?" he asked. "I gotta get home before Cassie starts callin' the morgue to see if I'm there. Good kid, but she's a little too attentive, know what I mean?"
"I'm sure that Casey's doing a great job, Springs," Criss said, helping the old man from his barstool. "You take care, now, okay?"
"And you take care, too," Springs returned. "I don't wanna outlive you, too."
Criss escorted Springs out of the lounge. "Don't worry about me," he said. "I'll be fine. See you again soon."
"Yeah," Springs grunted. "If not in this life, then in the next."
"Well, if that's the case," Criss retorted good-naturedly, "if in this life, I'll buy you a drink. If not, well...just have a brandy waiting for me. For old time's sake."
Springs smiled and shuffled off to the valet parking depot.
01-02-2012, 04:19 AM
vBulletin® v3.8.7, Copyright ©2000-2013, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.