ANGEL UNAWARE: A Crissmas Story
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware...
Six AM Pacific Standard Time in Las Vegas, Nevada. A bone-chilling forty degrees, still pitch-dark save for the glow of neon from the Strip. The apex light of the Luxor pierced the winter night like Luke Skywalker's light-sabre, shooting high into the stratosphere at nearly eight hundred candlewatts. Daylight was still two hours away, but for the revelers and gamblers who had stayed up until the wee hours to debauch themselves in the pleasures Sin City had to offer, it was time to go back home or whatever hotel in which they were staying to sleep it off. For those who preferred the comfort of a warm bed and the pleasure of a good night's sleep, it was the beginning of a new day.
One of those in the latter group had just awakened in his luxury suite in the Luxor Hotel and Resort to the incessant beep of the small alarm clock on the nightstand. An arm snaked out from under the heavy down comforter, the hand attached to it shut off the alarm, and a bleary-eyed Criss Angel pried himself from the warm coccoon of the king-sized bed, yawning and coughing. He stretched his stiffened limbs to get the blood circulating in his system, then stumbled to the bathroom, clad only in his CK briefs. Every muscle in his body ached from the exertion from last night's performance of Believe, his live show starring Cirque de Soleil that he had spent fifteen years creating, developing and refining to see it come to life. It was his magnum opus, the culmination of a lifetime's experience. But, as he stumbled stiffly to the bathroom to shower, performing two shows a night took its toll on his physical well-being, even though he kept a rigorous fitness program to stay in shape.
Criss stripped off his briefs and cast them aside. Naked, he stepped into the shower, turned on the shower and let the hot water massage his aching back and shoulders. The sharp stream pounded against his flesh, easing away the stiffness, while the warmth soothed him as he leaned on one arm against the marble-tiled wall. This would be the only quiet moment he would have all day; after this, he would be subject to the itinerary set out for him by his manager, Dave Baram: production meetings, rehersals, casting calls, photo shoots; taping of his show, MindFreak; meet-and-greets with his fans, the Loyal; planning meetings, interviews with the press, and all the other chores and duties required of his time and talents. He did not resent it, at least not a great deal. It was the life he had chosen for the sake of his art, and he was too disciplined to play prima donna and cast it all aside just because he didn't feel like working that day. He didn't become a five-time Magician of the Year winner by shirking his responsibilities. He was a professional, and made damn sure everyone knew it.
Reinvigorated, he turned off the shower, toweled himself dry, then padded back to the bedroom to dress. Outside, it was still dark, though a hint of dawn's early light could be seen in the east. Criss flipped through the long rack of clothes hanging to one side of the bedroom and settled on his usual outfit of tattered jeans and long-sleeved muscle shirt. He had always been a casual dresser, disdaining the tie and tails ensemble of magicians past, preferring denim and leather accented with a generous amount of heavy pendants and diamond rings, the style of the times. Some of the pendants he wore cost as much as thirty thousand dollars, almost as much as his late father's yearly income from his restaraunt business. Such expensive jewelry made a stark contrast against the background of his ragged apparel, but it was a style all his own.
As he pulled on his clothes, a soft miaw caught his attention. He looked down and saw his cat looking up expectantly at him. Criss smiled down at the grey and white tabby he loved dearly. "In a minute, Hammie," he said. "I'll get your breakfast as soon as I'm dressed."
He finished lacing up his combat boots and headed for the small kitchen space of the suite, consisting of two counters, one serving as a bar, the other hosting the small sink and fridge. Criss opened a cupboard and took out a can of cat food. He opened the can, dumped the contents into Hammie's usual food dish, then tossed the empty can away in the trash. He refilled the kitty water dispenser with fresh water, then went to the tiny fridge for a breakfast shake. He had no time for a sit-down meal--he had a lot of work to do today, starting with that pile of paperwork in his office, and the sooner he got started, the better.
He downed the breakfast shake, tossed the container in the trash, then grabbed his fashionably shabby denim jacket and headed out of the suite to his office on the main floor of the hotel. He checked his large, diamond-studded watch: six-twenty-seven AM, a late hour compared to his father's four AM schedule, but still early enough to get some work done. Whoever thought that being a celebrity meant rock and rolling all night and partying every day was sadly mistaken. Long hours of stress and strain trying to produce a successful--and profitable--show was more closer to the truth. And Criss Angel, Las Vegas' most famous illusionist, was living proof of that.
The hotel lobby was empty, save for the receptionist at the front desk who smiled at him as he passed. Everybody was either still asleep, just beginning to wake up, or crawling home to bed after whooping it up all night. Criss strode toward the giant black pyramid through one of the corridors connecting the tower where he lived. It was better than going outside in the cold, and safer, too: no risk of overzealous fans ganging up on him inside. As much as Criss loved his fans, they could be a nuisance at best, or a threat at worst. He knew there were obsessive types who stalked celebrities, love-struck predators who would stop at nothing to possess their heart's desire by any means necessary--even murder. It was a tragic side effect of the Cult of Personality, one he took great pains to guard against.
No stalkers or fans accosted him that morning, however, as he made his way to his office. The only sounds he heard came from the security office during Chief of Security Lucas Macaffey's morning briefing. Criss couldn't make out the details, but he knew it was the usual show-no-mercy-and-take-no-prisoners spiel he gave to the men and women under his command. He ran a tight ship, he reminded everyone again and again, and God help the guard caught slacking on duty.
"Big Luke" Macaffey had the voice of a foghorn at full volume, and he wasn't afraid to use it. A former supermax prison guard, Macaffey semi-retired to the less stressful post of the hotel's top cop after a back injury from a prison riot sidelined him. Felix Rappaport, the Luxor's CEO and President, wasn't particularly fond of his heavy-handed tactics, but he did appreciate Macaffey's efforts to insure the safety and security of the guests and staff of the hotel, casino, and the resort in general. During Big Luke's tenure, there hadn't been a single robbery or burglary in the entire hotel, a record of which Macaffey prided himself. Still, Criss wished he would lighten up a little--this was a hotel, not an army base; people come here to relax and have fun, not be drilled into submission. If only he would be less rigid and more human...
Criss approached the Production Office entrance. No one had shown up yet; it would be another hour and a half before the regular staff arrived. He unlocked the door, switched on the lights and stepped inside. On his executive assistant's desk was a large Manila envelope addressed to him, stamped with the approval from the postal inspectors who had run it through the X-ray machine in the mail room to detect any letter bombs, anthrax spores, or other bugaboos created in the post Nine-Eleven world in which he now lived. He picked it up and carried it to his desk, tossing it onto the pile of correspondence waiting for him that morning. He knew what it was already, so there was no real eagerness on his part to tear into it.
A quick cup of coffee later, Criss sat down and opened the envelope. It was a screenplay of a holiday made-for-TV movie he had promised some Hollywood producer he would consider appearing in if his already full schedule would accomodate it. Angel Unaware read the title on the cover. Criss smiled to himself. Talk about typecasting, he joked inwardly. He opened the script and read the summary of the plot on the first page: a spoiled, self-centered heiress planning a huge Christmas party for the cream of society runs across a homeless bum (played by Criss) who is really an angel in disguise; through magic, he shows her the error of her selfish ways and makes her more charitable toward the poor and homeless. Trite, rather cliche, but kinda fun to read anyway, he thought. Better than rehashing Scrooge or any other of the usual Christmas characters.
From skimming over the script, he found his role rather small, just a few appearances in the first few scenes, then brief dialogue with the main character. A few days' shooting, then he was done, according to the producer. Maybe he could squeeze it in somehow. Might be fun. He had some acting experience under his belt already with his CSI: New York episode starring himself as Luke Blade, a psychopathic magician who murdered his two assistants in imitation of his magic acts, so it wasn't as if they weren't throwing him in front of the camera untutored. MindFreak season number five was over and done with, and he knew the Loyals wanted to see more of him, so this would be his Christmas present to his fans. The more he thought of it, the more he liked the idea of doing the movie. By the time he finished reading the script, he had made up his mind to call Dave and tell him to schedule time for filming.
Criss set aside the script and tackled the rest of his paperwork, mostly tedious routine: insurance claims, statements, invoices, permit forms, and the like. The movie could wait, he figured. For now, he had to take care of today's business. Success bought responsibility, and Criss never shirked responsibility, no matter what form it took.
After a long morning of planning and production meetings, Criss and his manager, Dave Baram, broke off for lunch. In keeping with his fitness training, Criss dined on a low-fat chicken stir-fry, deftly manipulating the chopsticks from the styrofoam take-out container to his mouth. Dave stuck to simpler American fare, a Caesar salad eaten with a plastic fork.
"So, what did you think of the script?" Dave asked Criss.
"Yeah, the screenplay for the TV movie."
Suddenly, Criss remembered. "Oh! Oh, yeah! The Christmas one!"
"Yeah, so, did you read it?" Dave pressed.
"Yeah, I kinda skimmed through it," Criss replied drily. "Sounds like fun. It's not a big part, granted, but..."
"Well, you don't want it to consume all of your time, you know."
"Well, no" Criss conceded. "But I think I can make it work."
"So you agree to do it?"
Criss picked up a piece of chicken with his chopsticks. "Don't see why not? I mean, it's different." He pointed the sticks in Dave's face "But I want to do the special effects with no camera tricks," he insisted firmly. "If I'm gonna be in it, I can't short-change my audience by cheating."
"I'll take it up with the producer," Dave promised. "If you can pull that off, you'll have one helluva movie!"
"It's gonna be one helluva movie," Criss echoed confidently, "because I'll be in it!"
Dave winced at this bit of self-aggrandizement. "I'll call the producer and tell them you're interested. As for comp, well..."
"That I'm gonna have to negotiate," Dave told him. "You want your usual fee, or..."
"My usual fee, no less," Criss insisted. "Take it or leave it."
Dave nodded. "Got it."
Satisfied, Criss took another mouthful of stir-fry. "So, when does shooting start?" he asked.
"Two weeks at the earliest," Dave answered. "Depends on your availability."
"I'll have Eliza check my schedule and go from there."
"Okay, but you have to show up earlier for costume fitting."
Criss was amused at that. "Costume fitting?" he laughed. "Why do I have to be 'fitted' for a costume? I play a homeless bum, for chrissakes! Put on a few raggedy clothes and that's it!"
"Correction," Dave said, "you play an angel that looks like a homeless bum. You reveal your true self at the end, remember?"
Criss thought about it. "Hm," he grunted. "Guess I forgot that part."
"You'd better read that script a little more carefully," Dave advised. "You'll be doing a reading for the producer and director before we seal the deal. If they don't like you, they'll find someone else to do the part."
"They'll like me," Criss assured him. "They practically wrote this with me in mind, so why would they choose someone else? If they don't like me, then (bleep) them--find someone else or scrap the whole thing!"
Dave looked at Criss irritably. "Just don't let your ego get in the way, okay, Criss?"
Criss smiled. "Relax, Dave," he said cheerfully, "it's gonna be all right! We'll have a great movie for the holidays, don't worry about it! I'll give them the performance of a lifetime, I promise!"
"All the same," Dave persisted, "don't go on any ego trips over this. It's a TV movie, not a major Hollywood production. Do your own stunts if you want, but don't go prima donna on anyone, okay? It's not good for your image--or mine!"
"I'm not gonna go prima donna, Dave."
"Good. You'd better not, or else."
Criss eyed Dave warily. "Or else, what?"
Dave leaned closer, staring his star client squarely in the eye. "Or else I'm gonna kick your ass all the way back to Long Island, New York, that's what!"
Criss laughed out loud, thinking his manager was being facetious. Dave, however, remained grim. "I mean it, Criss," he said seriously. "I ain't gonna stand around while you lord it over the whole film crew. You won't be in charge of this movie, you know; you'll be under someone else's direction, not your own like in your live show or your series. So, you'd better whittle down that ego of yours and be willing to take direction during filming, or else!"
"Okay, fine," Criss aquiesced. "Hey, I've done TV before, rememeber? CSI: New York? I can take direction just fine."
"That was years ago, Criss," Dave pointed out.
Criss shrugged. "So?"
"So, you weren't in charge as much as you are now" Dave said. "Ever since you launched Believe you've been running the entire show in more ways than one. You can't bring yourself to relinquish power now."
"I'm not that power-mad, Dave," Criss protested.
Dave shook his head. "No, but all the same, check your ego at the door when you're working with the director, okay? He's in charge, not you, got it?"
"Okay, I got it, I got it!"
"Good." Dave set aside his salad container. "Now, I'll call the producers and tell them you're interested in the movie. We'll set up an appointment for you to meet them, give them a reading of the part, and go on from there." For the first time that afternoon, he smiled. "You'll do great, Criss," he said. "Just remember what we talked about, okay? No one likes a stuck-up angel."
"I'm not stuck-up, Dave!" Criss argued. "I'm just confident in my abilities to do this thing."
"Right," Dave said, eager to end the discussion. "It's time to get back to work, me in the office, you on the set. I'll talk to you later."
The two men rose, shook hands cordially, and parted. Don't know what Dave's got a bug up his ass about, Criss thought. I'm not gonna go 'prima donna' like he said. It's just a few days' shoot: I do my part for a few hours and I'm outta there. I'm not gonna go demanding a luxury trailer or anything! Besides, I owe it to the Loyal to do this. I'm doing it for them more'n for me. It's gonna be a great movie; I'm gonna make damn sure it will be!
Criss made a mental note to read the script more carefully that afternoon, see what illusions he could come up with to make it more effective. I'll be saving the producers a wad of cash by doing my own magic, he told himself. They ought to thank me for that. I'll never stoop so low as to use camera tricks, nosirree! I'll bring my own brand of magic to the screen! That'll impress everybody! Yeah, this is gonna be the best holiday movie ever!
Criss in egomanic yea right!!!
"Beautiful!" Dave Mifflin, the director, exclaimed after Criss gave his reading of his part in the movie. "Great job, Criss! This is gonna be the best holiday movie ever!"
"Thanks," Criss said simply. "So, when do we get started?"
"Gimme two weeks to complete the casting call, and I'll get back with you," Mifflin told him. "Your manager says you want to do your own special effects. Think you can handle it?"
"Think I can handle it?" Criss repeated sarcastically. "Of course I can handle it! Just let me go over the script and I'll come up with something spectacular."
"Ah, that'd be great, Criss!" Mifflin gushed. "If you can pull this off, we'll have a movie no one will ever forget!"
Criss smiled a little, then rose to his feet. "Love to stay and talk, but I gotta get back to the Luxor. I got a live show to do in a few hours. You have my number if you need to reach me?
Mifflin nodded. "Good," Criss said. "Just contact my assistant, Eliza, if you need to leave a message or whatever."
Mifflin nodded again. "Got it," he said.
They shook hands, agreeing to keep in touch. Criss walked out of the director's office with the script under his arm, glad that the reading was over. Everything went fine, just as he told Baram. That movie was practically tailor-made for him--why would they choose anyone else for the part? He planned to read the script more carefully when he had the time, try to create the appropriate illusions for the particular scenes they called for. Nothing too complicated, just awesome enough to make the story a little more magical.
For the moment, however, he didn't have the time. First things first, he had to do a live show at the Luxor, and he needed to focus on the evening's performance. Tomorrow, for sure, he would go over the script. By next week, he was confident that he would have his ideas for the movie firmly in place. And he was going to wow them.
Two weeks went by. The shooting for Angel Unaware began five AM Monday morning in the Luxor atrium itself. Felix Rappaport, the president of the hotel, gave the producers permission to shoot in the atrium, provided they did not take up too much time in filming so as not to disrupt the usual business of the hotel--or Criss' performance schedule, for that matter. The Luxor's biggest star may be in Mifflin's movie, but he was still under contract with Rappaport and his investors. "Don't wear him out," Felix told the film's producers. "He's worth a hundred million dollars to us."
The producers agreed. The lights and cameras were set up by the shops which had agreed to serve as setting for the film, the actors got into costume and make-up, while the hotel staff steered clear of the set per Mr. Rappaport's orders. Other cameras, more discreetly concealed on the ceiling, oversaw the whole production, viewing it on monitors in the security office, just to make sure there was no trouble.
Criss sat in the make-up chair of his own dressing room, covered up to his neck with a plastic sheet, submitting to the powdering, brushing, painting and primping of the make-up artist, Marjorie Houghton. With delicate skill and light touches of her vast array of cosmetics, she transformed Criss' handsome features into a craggy-faced wretch of the streets. His costume, consisting of a dirty, ragged tweed jacket, faded cotton trousers and worn-out penny loafers, topped off with a dark-blue knit ski cap, completed the picture. Criss could not help but be amazed at the transformation when he looked in the mirror in the dressing room.
"Wow!" he gasped. "That's awesome!"
Marjorie smiled. Criss rose from the make-up chair and crossed over to a small sofa by the far wall to go over the script again. He had only one speaking part in his first scene, but mostly he just had to stand there, looking grim, staring at Denise Harwood, the self-centered wealthy heiress played by Nomi Porter, the newest Playmate to grace Hugh Hefner's mansion. Slim, blond, glowing with a California tan, Nomi's reading of the part had been described by Mifflin as "sugar and spice with a touch of arsenic", perfect for the snobby socialite in the film. Criss, on the other hand, found her more affable in real life, even funny at times, but very professional when it came to acting. She's gonna go far in Hollywood someday, he thought. I can't wait to work with her.
But wait he did, for almost an hour and a half before he was called onto the set. "Hurry up and wait" went the old Hollywood adage. An actor would be told to be on the set at a given time and not one minute later, only to be stuck in the dressing trailer for hours on end, fully made up, waiting for the call to do the scene. Criss whiled away the time going over the script again, making notes on the pages for whatever illusion he planned to use for this scene or that. His face began to itch, but he dared not scratch it for fear of ruining the look Marjorie created. When the hell are they gonna call me? he wondered irritably. C'mon, people! I got a life to live here! I can't sit here all (bleeping) day!
A knock on the door caught his attention. "Criss! You're wanted on the set!"
Finally! Criss set aside his script, rose from his seat and left the dressing room. As he entered the atrium, he was stunned by the amount of camera equipment, nearly twice that of his own series, their lenses pointing in every direction. All this for a TV movie? he wondered. What do they use for a real one?
He crossed the atrium to where the director, Dave Mifflin, was sitting. Upon seeing Criss, Dave happily leaped out of his chair, lavishing praise upon his make-up and costume. Criss brushed it all aside. "Let's just get on with this," he said impatiently. "I've been waiting over an hour in my dressing room."
"Okay, okay," Mifflin said just as impatiently. "Now, in this scene, Denise is leaving the building. You're standing there--" he pointed to a spot farther away down the service corridor "--and you're just as still as can be, staring at her. She sees you, and she freaks out. When she turns around, you're gone. Got it?"
"Got it," Criss said. "You got the lighting like I told you?"
"All in place," Mifflin said.
Criss nodded. "Good."
"Okay, places everyone!" Mifflin called out.
Nomi/Denise picked up her shopping bags and took her position by one of the shops. Criss the homeless bum/angel in disguise took his by the service corridor, right where he could be seen. "Ready?" Mifflin shouted. "Aaaaaaannnnnd action!"
Nomi/Denise juggled her shopping bags and her cell phone as she walked out of the shop. "No, no, no!" she shouted angrily into the phone. "I said I wanted a Douglas fir, not a spruce! Can't you get a simple order like that right? Okay, good! Make sure it's an eight-footer, and be sure it's fresh--I don't want any needles in the carpeting. And did the holly garlands come in yet? Do they have the red berries on them? Good!"
She caught a glimpse of Criss standing near the darkened service corridor, his eyes fixed upon her, magnetic, hypnotic, yet frightening all the same. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he faded into the darkness. Nomi/Denise paused, nearly dropping her bags, her blue eyes wide with fear. An insect voice over the cell phone kept calling her name. "I-I-I'll call you back," she stammered into the phone, then closed it with a trembling hand.
"And cut!" Mifflin shouted. "Did you get all that, guys?"
The camera crew nodded. Criss emerged from the shadows while Nomi set down her packages. "That was fantastic!" Mifflin gushed. "Criss, you really blew me away with that disappearing act! And Nomi! You were a natural! A few more takes like that, and we've got it!"
Criss was stunned. "A few more? I thought we nailed it in one take!"
"Criss, we got to get different camera angles, close-ups, things like that before we get a completed scene," Mifflin explained. "It all gets put together in the editing room, just like your show, remember? You want this to be perfect, don't you?"
Criss sighed. "Okay, fine," he aquiesed. "Just remember I got my shows to do, too, you know. I'm on a tight schedule as it is."
"You'll be fine," Mifflin assured him. "Just do what you did before, and you're out of here." He turned to the stage hands. "Reset the corridor lights! Get that light over there! Places, everybody!"
Criss sighed. "This is gonna take longer than I thought," he said to himself.
Nomi came over and laid a hand on Criss' shoulder. "It's okay, Criss," she said. "You're doing fine, really." She laughed a little. "I gotta admit you really scared the hell out of me over there."
"Thanks," Criss muttered. "I think."
Nomi smiled. "Now, let's do this," she said encouragingly.
Criss smiled back at her and returned to his spot in the corridor. Two stage hands stepped away quickly after readjusting the lighting to make room for him. He took his position and waited, setting his features the way he had rehersed. It was going to be a long morning's shooting for just a few minutes of film, but with Nomi, he felt it was worth it.
I could exactually see Criss as a bum or did I see that during season four of Mindfreak
Criss did play a street guy named Zane. Very, very cool illusions he performed as that character! One of them was with Sandra. :)
The shopping scene went well. Mifflin was finally satisfied with the results and called for a fifteen-minute break before shooting the next scene. Criss invited Nomi to his dressing room for a bottle of water and a bit of light conversation. Nomi, desiring to get to know her co-star better, happily accepted.
In the privacy of Criss' dressing room, the two sat together on the small sofa, sipping spring water and going over the scene they had just completed. "So, tell me, seriously," Nomi said, "how did you do that disappearing act in the hallway?"
Criss held up an admonshing finger. "A good magician never reveals his secrets," he told her.
"Aw, come on, Criss," Nomi pleaded. "You can tell me. I swear I won't tell a soul."
He leaned closer to her. "You swear?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Nomi replied, crossing her bosom with a finely manicured finger.
Criss looked around conspiratorially, then leaned toward her ear. "Before I do the trick," he murmured.
"Yes?" Nomi said eagerly.
He paused for effect, then said, "I cover my whole body with invisible ink."
Nomi slapped Criss on the shoulder. "Oh, you do not!" she exclaimed.
Criss laughed out loud, enjoying his joke. "You are so full of it!" Nomi said. "Invisible ink! Phfft! No, seriously, I want to know how you really did it!"
Criss shook his head. "Sorry, not telling," he said.
Nomi pouted. "Fine!" she said petulantly. "Be that way!"
Neither spoke until they finished drinking their water. Nomi looked at Criss a little more genially. "Oh, by the way," she said casually, "Holly says hi."
Criss turned his head. "You still see her at the mansion?" he asked.
"No, not at the mansion," she replied, "but she still keeps in touch with Kendra and everybody."
"Oh, that's nice," Criss replied drily. "If you see her again, send her my regards."
He drifted into a melancholy reverie. Holly. Holly Madison. Hugh Hefner's--and Criss'--former girlfriend. They had been so happy together, Criss and Holly, but their respective careers got in the way of their relationship. In the end, they had to break it off. There was no animosity between them; they still remained on friendly terms. It was just a scheduling conflict, they told the press; they just couldn't get together as often as they wanted to. Still, Criss felt a twinge of sorrow at the thought of losing Holly. She had been the first woman with whom he had had a serious relationship since his divorce several years ago.
Nomi looked at Criss, concerned. "Criss? You okay?"
Criss shook himself back into reality. "Hm? Oh! Oh, yeah, I'm okay," he said, putting on a brave front. He quickly changed the subject. "So, how's Hef doin' these days?"
"He's fine," Nomi said. "Still parading around in those silk pajamas. Pretty spry for an eightysomething-year-old man."
"Well, when you're surrounded by beautiful women all day, you'd be 'pretty spry', too!" Criss retorted, laughing.
Nomi smiled a bright, beautiful smile with perfectly straight, pearly white teeth. She looked straight out of a Pepsodent ad, he thought. He wondered if she had done any modeling before landing in the Playboy Mansion. Most likely she did.
"So, what did you do before hooking up with Hef?" he asked casually.
"Oh, the usual," Nomi replied. "Photo shoots, clothing ads, movie extras, things like that. Then I auditioned for Girls Next Door, and I made the cut." Her smile took on a nervous twitch. "I'm still not used to living in such luxury," she admitted. "I've lived in one-room apartments most of my life, just barely able to make the rent. I always seemed to be one step ahead of living on the street. Now, I'm living in this ginormous mansion, with servants and butlers and everything. It's like a dream living at the Playboy Mansion, but there are times when I feel I don't deserve to be there, know what I mean?"
Criss laid a hand on Nomi's shoulder. "Nomi," he said gently. "Don't sell yourself short. I'm sure you worked hard to get where you are right now. If you didn't have the talent and the determination to make it, you wouldn't be where you are right now. Hell, you wouldn't be here making this movie if you didn't! You're not just another pretty face, Nomi. You got something special about you that goes beyond looks. Make the most of it."
Nomi's eyes shone with tears. Criss smiled tenderly. Their faces approached each other as if under their own power, their lips drawing nearer and nearer like two magnets, their minds empty of all thought save each other's presence, closer and closer, feeling each other's warmth, their hearts beating faster in anticipation...
A knock on the dressing room door jolted them apart. "Criss! Nomi! You're wanted on the set!" someone called out.
Criss swore under his breath as he launched himself off the sofa. Nomi rose after him, as disappointed as he was. "Well, I guess it's back to work," she said resignedly.
She took a quick glance in the mirror to check her make-up and primp her hair. Criss didn't bother checking his. He was supposed to be a bum, and bums don't care about their appearances. "You go on ahead," he told her. "I'll catch up with you later. I gotta take a leak."
Nomi flashed her dazziling smile and left the dressing room. Criss regretted using the "take a leak" phrase in front of her. It made him sound vulgar, uncouth; he should have used something more discreet, more polite. Oh, well, it was too late now, he thought. She didn't seem put off by it, though. Maybe she used it herself.
He shook off his faux pas and headed for the men's room down the corridor. He wished he had a private lavatory installed in his dressing room instead of having to make the trip down the hall to go to the bathroom. Maybe later he could talk to Felix Rappaport about--
"HEY!!" a man's loud voice shouted down the corridor.
Criss whirled around and saw Chief of Security "Big Luke" Macaffey standing not two yards away. "You can't go in there!" he bellowed. "That's for hotel guests only!"
Criss was flabbergasted. "But...!" he protested.
"But nothin', pal!" Macaffey snapped, grabbing Criss by the collar of his ragged tweed coat. "Clear outta here--now!!"
Macaffey shoved him toward the service exit. "I said MOVE IT, buster!!"
"But I'm Criss Angel!!" Criss cried out desperatly.
"Yeah, and I'm Wayne Newton!" Macaffey sneered. "Now, beat it!!"
"Macaffey!" Criss screamed. "Hey!!"
Macaffey flung Criss out of the service entrance. He landed with a thud onto the concrete, scraping his hands as he tried to break his fall. He scrambled to his feet and made a run for the service entrance, but it was too late--the heavy metal doors slammed shut, locking him outside. He hammered on the doors with his fists. "Macaffey!" he cried, "It's me! It's really me, Criss Angel! I live here, remember? Somebody open this door!"
No answer. "Son of a (bleep)!" Criss spat, slapping his palms against the metal doors. "Now what the hell am I gonna do?"
It seemed his only option was to circle around to the front and get in that way. The camera crew in the would recognize him for sure, he figured. Macaffey's so gonna hear it from me after this! he thought bitterly. He is so fired for this!
Criss trudged along the perimeter of the hotel, mentally damning the Chief of Security for throwing him out of his own home with every step. Along the way, he caught a glimpse of his own reflection in one of the mirrored panels of the giant pyramid. He sniffed in rueful amusement at his image. Great job, Marjorie, he thought. You really made me look convincing enough to be mistaken for a real homeless bum! I just hope I'm not too unrecognizable when I get back inside.
He made it to the front of the hotel, but as bad luck would have it, there was Macaffey, patrolling the entrance, two of his men flanking him on either side. "There's a vagrant in the area!" he bellowed in his foghorn voice. "I caught him inside the hotel! I threw him out on his ass, but if you see him around here, you nail him! We can't have any bums scaring off the guests! President's orders!"
President's orders? Did Macaffey already report him to Felix? But he must know that they were shooting a movie in there, and that he, Criss Angel, was in it. How was he going to get past Macaffey's goon squad and back inside the hotel? He wished he hadn't left his cell phone in his suite; Mifflin had insisted that Criss divest himself of all things modern, from his cell to his watch, in order to make his character more "believable". Criss had agreed, not anticipating the emergency he now faced.
A flash of hope burst into his mind. His keycard! He still had that with him, didn't he? He felt around his ragged clothing for the keycard that would prove his true identity and allow him back inside. But with every empty pocket he reached into, hope faded into despair. He then recalled he had left it in his billfold, and his billfold was with his personal assistant, Tom, for safekeeping. Oh, Jesus! he groaned inwardly. I am so screwed right now!
He glanced toward the main entrance where Macaffey's men patrolled. In his hobo costume, he would be nailed for sure, and he didn't want to risk facing the wrath of Big Luke again. By now, the chief would have alerted his troops to watch out for the "vagrant" on the premises, so he could not get into either of the side buildings, with or without his keycard. With no cell phone, no keycard, no wallet, and no money, he could not contact anyone inside for help. Dear God, he prayed. What am I gonna do now?
I think that make-up went overboard
Meanwhile, back inside the hotel, Dave Mifflin was frantically pacing around the atrium. "Has anyone seen Criss?" he called out to everyone within earshot. "Where the hell is Criss?"
Nomi Porter spoke up. "Last I saw him, he said he was going to the men's room."
"Somebody go find him!" Mifflin ordered. "We gotta start shooting as of right now!"
"Now, calm down, Dave," Nomi said soothingly. "I'm sure he'll turn up soon. He probably got sidetracked by his other manager or something. Or maybe he got mobbed by his fans."
Mifflin turned on her. "That's supposed to make me feel better, Nomi?" he said, exasperated to the point of hysteria. "We got a deadline to meet! He doesn't have time to play celebrity here! I'm gonna go to the office and see if he's there."
He spun on his heels and stormed off the set. The nerve of that guy! he said to himself. Keeping me waiting like this! He knows damn well we got a deadline to meet! He'd better have a damn good reason for not being on the set!
Using the glass panel as a mirror, Criss ripped off his worn cotton shirt and rubbed his face vigorously to remove the make-up Marjorie had so painstakingly applied. It left his face smudged and greasy, but it was still more or less recognizable--he hoped. Now maybe I can get back inside, he said to himself.
He pulled on his greasy shirt and worn-out tweed jacket, steeled himself for the conflict to come and strode to the main entrance. "Hey, guys," he greeted the two guards on duty as he approached. "Uh, I'm kinda stuck out here--"
Before he could draw closer, however, the two guards rushed him. "Vagrant on the premises!" one radioed in, while the other kept Criss at bay with a drawn pistol. Criss could only stand there, perplexed.
"Wait a minute!" he cried out. "It's me, it's me!"
"You'd better clear outta here, mister," the guard with the gun ordered him, "or you're gonna hafta deal with Chief Macaffey--and you don't wanna deal with him, I can tell you that!"
"Guys! It's me!" Criss insisted. "Criss Angel! Remember? I'm shooting a movie in there and I gotta get back on the set! Call Dave Barum if you don't believe me! Call Felix Rappaport! He'll vouch for me!"
The armed guard didn't budge. "You ain't Criss Angel, and you ain't no movie actor," he growled. "If you don't want your sorry ass hauled off to jail, you'd better get moving!"
"Chief's coming," his partner announced.
Criss glanced through the glass-paneled doors. Even from a distance he could see the steam shooting from Macaffey's ears. Home or no home, Criss did not want to tangle with a man who had guarded Nevada's worst of the worst in a supermax prison for fifteen years. When Big Luke was mad, it was politic to run.
And run Criss did, back around the giant pyramid where he had been thrown out. He could hear the chief's bellowing threats a quarter of a mile away as he sprinted down the sidewalk. Geez! he thought. I wiped off the make-up and they still didn't recognize me! What the hell is wrong with those guys!
When he judged himself a safe distance away from Macaffey, he sat down on the curb to think. He wished he had his cell phone, or at least fifty cents for a pay phone to call his assistant, Tom, or Eliza, or even his manager, Baram. But they were all in the Luxor, and he was probably a mile away with no way of contacting them. Who could he turn to now that he had been virtually evicted from his own home?
He began to grow hungry, and the need to urinate became a burning agony. Maybe he could find a public restroom somewhere, he hoped. He looked down at his hobo suit; no one would permit him entry dressed like he was, that was for sure. He'd have to find the nearest tree or something and go behind it. Once he had relieved himself, he could think more clearly and figure out how to get back to the Luxor.
Criss rose from the curbside and began to walk, keeping an eye out for a suitably private spot to empty his aching bladder. I gotta get back to the Luxor, he said to himself. I gotta do my scenes for the movie. After that, I gotta live show to do. Most of all, I gotta use the bathroom like right now!
He looked up at the desert sky, accented by the city outline. Somebody, somewhere in this huge metropolis had to come to his aid. But who? And where would he find that person? God, he prayed. I need you more than ever, because I am really screwed right now. Help me get back to the Luxor. I don't care how You do it--just get me back before showtime! I don't want to spend the rest of my life wandering the streets of Vegas! I need help, and I need it bad!
Know that feeling where you got to go and can't find a place to go
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