Family Affairs: The Aftermath
Author's Note: This is a small sequel to Family Affairs. It picks up where the story left off. I normally don't do sequels, but I needed to take care of some unfinished business.
Before the sun even rose on Saturday morning, the Piccucci Affair, as the press dubbed it, was worldwide news. It had all the elements of a great melodrama: murder, greed, the mob, and a well-known celebrity mixed up in it. Journalists milked it for all it was worth, and the public was eating it up. Print and electronic media practically competed with each other to produce the most eyecatching headline:
MURDER AT THE LUXOR!!
THE PICCUCCI AFFAIR: A TALE OF MONEY, MURDER AND THE MOB
GUARDIAN ANGEL: FAMOUS ILLUSIONIST CRISS ANGEL FENDS OFF KILLER
WIDOW OF MOBSTER FOUND DEAD AT THE LUXOR
WOMAN BLACKMAILS MOTHER-IN-LAW, KILLS HUSBAND FOR INHERITANCE
PICCUCCI ESTATE SPLIT FOUR WAYS BETWEEN SURVIVING CHILDREN, CARETAKER
MAGICIAN TACKLES PICCUCCI MURDERER, SAVES THREE
Criss' part in the affair was maginified by a factor of ten, making him the hero of the story, while Casey's role was greatly diminished, reducing her to damsel-in-distress status. Springs was all but forgotten, save for some background information he gave to the press after Pamela's arrest. Alicia Rose was not mentioned by name, nor was her history, and her face was strategically blurred in the video surveillance tape to protect her identity. As far as the public was concerned, she was just an innocent bystander who got caught in the crossfire. Detective Jim Meridian could not be reached for comment, the press stated.
Criss Angel spent the better part of Sunday in his suite at the Luxor, with only his cat, Hammie, for company. It was a relief to be alone in the peace and quiet of his room, away from the demands of the reporters and the blinding flash of the cameras. Now he sat on his bed, a glass of juice in his hand, his beloved cat curled up at the foot, dozing. The media had been hounding him all day yesterday for yet another statement regarding the so-called Piccucci Affair and his so-called heroism in it. He couldn't even go to the gym for a workout without a bevy of cameramen following him; the security crew had to herd the whole lot of them out of the hotel with a terse "No interviews!".
He shouldn't have gotten involved, he thought. He should have let Springs and Casey go alone to the security office to identify the body. He should have let Casey go back inside the hotel herself and look for Springs while he returned to the production office. He should have divorced himself completely from the whole sordid mess--it had been none of his business in the first place. He had never even heard of the Piccucci family or the Guys of Glitter Gulch before this whole thing started...well, when did it start? Oh, yeah, that fake bomb in the cleaning cart. But that was targeted at Casey, not him.
Not that he was unsympathetic toward her plight; he couldn't help but feel sorry for her. It was just that he should have backed off when he had the chance. But no, against his better judgement he had to accompany Casey on her search for her employer. Geez, all she had to do was head to the hotel lounge and find him at the bar--he didn't have to go with her at all. Instead, he accompanied her to the service corridor where Springs was walking in front of Pamela and that girl she held hostage, Alicia (he never learned her last name, by the way), and as a result became a hostage himself.
Instinct had taken over when he found himself staring down the barrel of a thirty-eight: thorugh some latent sense of paternal instinct he had shielded Alicia with his own body, then his martial arts training had kicked in the minute he saw Pamela drop her guard when that cop showed up--one swift leap and she was down on the floor. It had been a risky move, going against someone who was armed and ready to shoot; he could have been killed himself, and for what?
Criss reflected on that last query. For what? To save a life, that was what. There was an old man who could barely shuffle from one end of the hallway to the other, a terrified woman who had been the primary target, and a hysterical child several hundred miles from home. What chance did any of them have in fending off that crazy (bleep) leveling a gun in their faces? She could have shot all three of them before that cop came in. Or maybe not; he wasn't sure. All he knew was that if he hadn't been there in the first place, if he had just gone on to the production office instead of accompanying Casey to the security office to identify that woman's body, let alone help her find Springs, he wouldn't be mixed up in the whole damn mess.
But what about Casey? And Alicia? And Springs? Would they have survived? Would the cop who showed up still have been able to save them if he hadn't been there to tackle her? Would there have been another murder in the hotel if he hadn't been there? What would have really happened if he hadn't involved himself with Casey and the Piccuccis?
His mind boggled over what could have been if Fate had decreed otherwise. Finally he gave up--it was no good ruminating over past mistakes. What was done was done, no sense crying over spilled milk and all that BS. He would just have to ride it out until it blew over. He knew that scandals rose up like weeds, flourished for a time, milked by the media until dry, then faded away until new ones cropped up, the old ones all but forgotten. Well, one good thing came out of it, he thought in retrospect: four innocent people were still alive, and the killer was now behind bars.
But there was the trial, he suddenly remembered. Would he be called to testify? The security tapes should be evidence enough to convict her, and he was positive that the police had her records on file. Hell, she practically confessed in that hallway--she should just plead guilty and avoid a trial altogether. That would be nice, but living in the real world often conflicted with one's wishes and desires for perfection. Anyway, it would probably be a year or two before Pamela Piccucci had her day in court. Maybe that would give her time to reflect on her evil ways and repent of her crimes.
Criss laughed ruefully at the thought of a penitent Pamela pleading guilty to two counts of murder and assault with intent to murder. Yeah, he thought, like that was going to happen! Granted, she would be spared the death penalty if she did, but then she'd be facing life behind bars, practically a fate worse than death for a woman who was accustomed to a life of wealth and privilege. No, he knew she was too proud to admit guilt to anything. And pride, he had learned in his youth, goeth before a fall, and Pamela Piccucci had fallen pretty damn hard. Criss could only hope he wouldn't be called to testify at the trial, if there would be one. But he doubted it. He doubted it very much.
Jim Meridian sat behind his desk, savoring the blissful feeling of another case closed. Not just any case, but the most high-profile double murder case in Las Vegas--to date, he amended. Wife blows up two-timing hubby in his car, then strangles former mother-in-law to claim former mobster's estate, sends death threats to caretaker--to the general public, it may have been a horrific crime of major proportions, but for Meridian it was just another day at the office.
His final report on the Piccucci case lay on his desk, printed out with accompanying photos and autopsy sketches, bound in a folder and good to go. Meridian pinched his eyes with his fingers; his head ached from all of the typing and form filling. Maybe he needed glasses? He made a mental note to get his eyes checked; the department insurance would cover it, no problem. God, I hate growing old, he said to himself.
He was also sleepy from having been up half the night seeing Alicia Rose off at the airport around two AM that Saturday morning. A small Cessna passenger plane, a mere puddle-jumper compared to the jumbo jets that usually landed there, agreed to take the recalcitrant runaway adolescent back to--oh, God did he forget the name of that town already? He really was getting old!--back to Iowa and her mother. He could imagine Mom Rose would be pretty damn upset when she got there. Poor kid probably won't be able to sit down for a week after this, he thought with a chuckle. Oh, well, it was totally out of his hands now. The important thing was that she was back where she belonged, safe and sound.
Meridian's mind replayed the scene in the service corridor: He had just arrived and demanded that Pamela drop her weapon. She had hesitated for just a heartbeat, then that Criss Angel guy had to play the big hero and tackle her, risking getting shot himself. While he was somewhat grateful for the assist and admired his sense of timing, he still thought the brash magician an idiot for taking a chance like that. But then, that guy took risks for a living, didn't he? Well, there was taking risks on stage and taking risks in real life; the former was more controlled with safety features in place should something go wrong. Real life wasn't like that--you survived only by chance and sheer dumb luck, even if you did take precautions.
After Pamela was safely in police custody, Meridian had taken Criss, Casey and Alicia back into the security office for a quick debriefing (Springs had left the scene, mumbling something about getting a drink. Meridian had decided to catch up with the old man later). He had questioned Criss first, Alicia and Casey being to traumatized to speak. He found the famous illusionist very co-operative, even friendly.
"Hell of a risk you took there, Angel," he had said. "One wrong move and you'd have been shot."
Criss had shrugged. "I saw my chance, and I took it," he had replied. "You distracted her long enough for me to make my move. It's like the magician's art of misdirection--I make you look over here, when you should be looking over here." He had demonstrated this point by holding up one of his medallions in his left hand, then holding up Meridian's pen in his right.
Meridian had been suitably impressed, recalling his police acadamy training back in the day: look for an opening, a moment when the perp is distracted, then make your move. This guy had it down in spades, he had thought, though for a different reason.
Criss had also replayed what Pamela had said in the corridor, if not word for word, then pretty close to it. Yes, it had been she who had delivered the phony bomb, blew up her husband (how, he didn't know), and murdered Tina LaRue. Pamela had also mentioned something about her former mother-in-law blackmailing her. Meridian recalled Pamela coming into his office with the letter she had received that morning; the lab established from the latent fingerprints that Tina had indeed sent it. No one was innocent except Casey Worth, he thought ruefully. And Casey herself had confirmed what Criss had told him.
So did Alicia once she had calmed down. Meridian had upbraided her for slipping out of the office like she did, though she had protested that she was hungry and really needed something to eat and she was going to come back, really she was. She had identified Pamela as Tina's killer in a videocam lineup, then sent to the youth shelter when he was through questioning her, only to find her at that shindig on the Luxor Hotel parking garage the next day. What the hell was it called again? Somethingpalooza? Whatever. At any rate he had bought her back to the shelter, then personally drove her to the airport where her plane was waiting to take her home around two AM, putting her in the custody of the pilot to make damn sure she got where she was supposed to be. Alicia had boarded the plane with the same heavy look convicts wore when climbing into a prison van, except convicts usually didn't say they were sorry for all the trouble they caused and hug the arresting officer goodbye.
He had caught up with Springs after the debriefings in the security office. Sure enough, there he was at the bar, nursing a Manhattan. Springs had offered him a drink, but he refused, saying he was on duty. Meridian didn't ask any questions but listened as the garrulous old man went on and on about how Tina LaRue had been poison from the day he had met her over thirty years ago, and how Pamela had done the world a favor for bumping her off, and how Pamela had taken a page out of Shorty Hyneman's book by pouring gasoline in the radiator of Junior's car ("How else could she have done it?" he had said. "She didn't know nothin' about explosives!"), and what happened at the reading of Mick's will, and the whole bomb hoax, and whatever came into the old man's mind. Meridian managed to glean whatever useful information he could from Springs' ramblings, then had left the bar debating whether he should be subpoened to testify. The lawyer questioning him would have a helluva time getting the old coot to stay on track, he had reflected.
Meridian had returned to his office and spent the rest of the night typing up the report. All nighters were nothing new to him--there were times when he practically lived in his office. But as time passed, age and the stress of his job began taking its toll on his system. He began to develop headaches from staring at the computer screen, and bags, wrinkles and crow's feet were creasing his face. He couldn't recall the last time he went on vacation. Maybe he should...?
He pulled out the sofa bed and flopped down on it. If he drove home in his exhausted state, he'd be a statistic for sure. It had been a long, trying day, and he felt he earned a few Zs. The Piccucci case was officially closed, cut and dry. All that remained was the trial, and who knew when that would take place?
The little Cessna plane landed on the tarmac with a bump, jolting the pilot and sole passenger inside, then glided to a halt. Alicia cautiously looked out the window for any sign of her mother, and was half-relieved when she saw none. The pilot helped her out of the plane and retrieved her little brown suitcase for her as well. Alicia crossed the tarmac and walked to the terminal with leaden feet. Deep down she knew that it was not going to be a very happy family reunion when she encountered her mother.
Maybe she wasn't there yet. She hoped against hope. Even the smallest delay would buy her some time to plan her defense, or at least plea bargain her way out of too severe a punishment. It was a longshot, but it was all she had going in her favor. But what if Mom was there already? Would she fly into a rage the minute she saw her, screaming like a banshee with fists flying? Or would she save that when they got home? It was death either way, she thought.
And even if she did survive her mother's wrath, what then? What would life be like after the whole ordeal was over? In Vegas she had dreamed of living with her beloved Criss Angel forever and ever in total bliss. Instead, she had been sent back to Marvinville in disgrace with only an autographed Loyalapalooza program to show for it. Now her future was a void, a black hole where all her past hopes and dreams were swallowed up, never to be seen again. She wished the plane had crashed en route to Marvinville--death was preferable to the lifetime of emptiness she faced.
Alicia hesitated at the foyer of the terminal of the airfield, a metal Quonset hut shaped structure that was half passenger terminal, half hangar for small aircraft, named after some long forgotten local World War One flying ace who had been shot down by the Germans. She took a deep breath, braced herself for a parental hurricane, and stepped through the doors. She did not dare look up for fear of what or who she would see, but wished the floor would gape and the earth would swallow her up.
"Hey, Ma!" came a childish and all too familiar voice that made Alicia cringe. "There she is, right over there!"
Alicia's spirits sank into oblivion. It was bad enough to meet her mother there at the terminal, but for her kid brother to accompany her was another twist of the knife. She knew that Kyle would keep rubbing her face in it practically for the rest of her life. Indeed, she hadn't been in Marvinville five minutes when the little brat launched into his "you're gonna get it" taunts.
"You're in big trouble now, Alicia!" Kyle sneered. "You are so gonna get it when you get home! Mom says you're gonna be grounded for life after this!" He began dancing around his miserable sibling. "Alicia's getting grounded! Alicia's getting grounded!" he singsonged. "Alicia's getting groun--"
Alicia silenced him with a slap across the face. "Will you just shut up, you little turd?" she exploded.
Kyle shrieked from the stinging blow. "Maaaaauuuuuummmm!" he wailed. "Alicia hit me!"
The presence of Nancy Rose loomed over her children. "All right, that's enough!" she commanded. "Both of you!" She turned to her outraged son. "Now, Kyle, it's not nice to gloat over what other people did wrong," she admonished him. "You should be thankful that she's alive and well and back home safe and sound."
From the dark look on Kyle's face, Alicia could tell that he totally disagreed on that point. Nancy turned to her daughter. "Now, Alicia," she began, "I want to make one thing perfectly clear--no matter what you did wrong, we all still love you. Understand?"
For the merest moment, Alicia was taken aback by this statement. She had expected a perfect storm of parental retribution when she arrived. She had to admit her mother's restraint was admirable. Maybe if she played her cards right, Mom would temper justice with mercy.
"Now, we're all going to go home," her mother continued calmly, "and we'll discuss it further after dinner." She turned to Kyle again. "And not a peep out of you. Understand?"
Kyle just glowered at his mother and sister. Yeah, he'd be quiet as a mouse on the way home, all right. He'd wait, biding his time, then when the coast was clear--look out! He'd go after his delinquent sister with both barrels blazing. It was like that old Klingon proverb he had heard on an episode of Star Trek: Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Normally, Richard Close didn't conduct any legal business on Saturday, but after the bloodshed resulting from the Piccucci Affair, he wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. Once he had fufilled his duty as executor of Mick Piccucci's will, he'd wash his hands of the entire clan, or what was left of it, and the sooner the better. Tina LaRue was dead; Michael, Jr., was dead; Pamela Piccucci was facing hard time for both murders and so was disqualified from all claim to the estate; the probate court had ruled with the wisdom of Solomon that the estate would be liquidated and divided among the only surviving daughter, the two grandsons, and Casey Worth.
Now came the liquidation part. All of Mick's property holdings were to be sold. As good luck would have it, some realtor in Vegas had already found a potential buyer for the house, a Mr. Saul Marten, also known as M. Soul, a rising young rapper with a bad stutter who had turned his speech impediment into a million dollar asset. The prospect of owning a mansion that had once belonged to a former gangster had appealed to him. The antique furniture, he insisted, had to go; he preferred more "modern" stuff. Not a problem, the realtor had told him. It was all going to be put up for auction, anyway.
As were the cars, all six of them: The Rolls Royce, the Bugatti, the Spyder, the Jaguar, the Aston Martin, and the Mercedes-Benz. Close wondered if he could get hold of Jay Leno to see if he was interested in any of them; the comedic master of ceremonies was renowned for his enormous car collection. If not, well, they could all be auctioned off. He just hoped there were no bodies in the trunks. Close hoped they'd fetch a good price in spite of the notoriety attached to them. Or maybe because of it--scandal made for good publicity, especially in Sin City. Owning a classic car or a house or anything else that had belonged to a Fifties-era mobster was alluing to say the least. It was like owning a piece of history, albeit a dark chapter of it.
Close studied the inventory listed in the will. He'd have to make a few phone calls Monday morning, make some arrangements, locate titles of ownership and other documents. It would be a long, tedious task, but to be free of the Piccucci crime family, it would all be worth it. It would be at least a month before Casey and the surviving Piccuccis would get their money. He just hoped none of them got too greedy like their dad and granddad's ex-wife and start going at each other's throats. But he had nothing to worry about, really. From their conduct at the probate hearing, not one of the four acted as if he or she cared how much they got. They all wanted it to end as badly as Close did.
And Close didn't blame them one bit.
Sharon Worth lay on the motel bed, propped up with both pillows, reading a paperback novel. The room was blissfully silent; here, she could read, watch whatever program she wanted on TV, or just nap in peace without having to hear some overenthusiastic sports announcer getting hysterical over a goal, or her husband demanding she tend to his needs, whether it was for food, beer, or help to the bathroom, or her lazy son begging her for a "little loanski". She could go to the bathroom without keeling over from the stench of flatus or having to wipe away the droplets of urine on the toilet seat. She could leave her purse on the desk without fear of waking up to an empty billfold the next day. She could eat nicer meals than canned soup or frozen dinners and not have to clean up afterward. She could live like a decent person, a real person, instead of a drudge. For the first time in her life, Sharon was free.
She set down her book and wondered how long it would take for Casey to get her inheritance. A week? A month? Two months? The probate judge ruled that Casey would receive a quarter of the estate, about one million six hundred thousand something. Well, it wasn't nine million, but it was better than nothing--a lot better, enough to start a new life. At least Casey got something out of the deal, and it didn't seem right to cheat the Piccucci kids out of their grandpa's will, so everything worked out just fine. If they put it in a savings account, at a good rate they could live off the interest without touching the principle. Maybe one of those IRA's or money market accounts they advertised on television would work even better.
The motel she had checked into was a modest affair, reasonably priced at fifty-nine dollars a night for a single, simply furnished but clean and comfortable. Sharon planned to stay there for the weekend until Casey could talk Mr. Springer into letting her stay at his house (Casey could use some help, she thought, what with that big house to take care of), or see if she could find an apartment of her own. Failing either, she could see if she could move in with her sister, Paige, who lived up north in Ely. One thing was for certain: she was not going back to her old life of servitude in her husband's house. She belonged to herself now, and she liked it. No, scratch that--she loved it! Inheritance or no inheritance, she was going to live her own life.
While Sharon Worth was relishing her newfound freedom, her husband, Phil, was sitting in his wheelchair in the living room in front of the television set, still in shock over his wife leaving him two days ago. Benny was out for the evening at some topless bar, leaving him alone with his thoughts. How could she do this to me? he kept asking himself. How could she just abandon me like this? I'm a paraplegic, for chrissakes! I depend on her to take care of me. Just when I needed her most, she up and left me! Why me, Lord? Why does this always happen to me?
As Phil brooded over this latest misfortune, his shock morphed into anger. Self-centered (bleep)! Thinking about her own selfish needs! College classes? She don't need college classes! Hell, I didn't go to college, and I landed a damn good job at the stockyards! And Casey don't need 'em, either--she's just gonna quit when she gets married, anyway, so why throw good money away on a college education? Besides, she's making good money caring for those rich old farts--why bother with training? She's got enough experience already.
Rich old farts? Phil pondered this sudden thought. What about that nine million bucks she inherited? If she was decent enough she'd share it with her family. Is she going to keep the whole bundle for herself? Nah, she ain't like that--she ain't like her mother, that selfish (bleep)! She wouldn't let her old dad go without. She'd been our bread and butter for years; she ain't gonna quit now.
Maybe Casey had been living among her wealthy clients for so long that she had developed a taste of the good life. Maybe she thought that she was too good to be living in this small brown and brick ranch house with a crippled father. Maybe that was why she never told him about the inheritance. Maybe she was like her mother after all. The estate included the mansion the old man had lived in (and died in, by the way, but that was neither here nor there). She'd jump at the chance to live there instead of moving back home--anyone with half a brain would.
Ungrateful little (bleep)! Living it up in that big assed mansion while I'm rotting away here in this dump! Why should she get all the breaks? Why can't I get a break? I've suffered enough in life--I deserve my share of the pie, too!
A grim resolve gripped Phil Worth as his bitterness reached its peak. I'm gonna get some of those millions! he vowed. I'm gonna get my share of that money one way or another! That, or I'll sue both Casey and Sharon for support! Either way, I'm getting what's mine! That'll teach them not to hold out on me! Greedy, selfish (bleeps)!
This is what happens when you take someone for granted
Springs set down his pen, sighing with satisfaction. It was finished--done and done. Now he just needed to get it typed up and sent to a publisher. He picked up his address book, found the number he needed, and dialed. A pause while the phone on the other end rang, then a female's voice answered. "Hello?"Well, this book's done now. Just about everybody I wrote about is gone--Mick, Blusey, Shorty, Tina LaRue, Bugsy, Lansky, the Rat Pack, Mick, Jr.--everyone I knew from the old days have gone on to the great hereafter. Now, it's just me and my memories. Like the man said, the dance is over, but the melody lingers on. There's only me left to tell the story, and I told it to you right here. Everything in this book is as true as I'm sitting here, no crap. Take it or leave it
"Hey, sweetheart, how ya doin'?" Springs greeted her jovially.
"I'm fine, Mr. Springs, thank you," Heather Piccucci replied. "You have your manuscript ready?"
Springs held up the sheaf of papers on his writing desk. "Right here, sweetheart. Think you can decipher my chicken scratch and make it look like a book?"
"I worked in a pharmacy, Mr. Springer," Heather replied. "I can decipher anything."
Springs laughed. "Then you should have no problem with mine," he said. "By the way, how you holdin' up? I mean, with your mother...you know..."
"In all honesty, Mr. Springer, I feel no more grief for her than you do," Heather admitted. "I was just in the way, that's all. Mother would scream at me, belittle me, and order me about--when she wasn't ignoring me altogether. My only advantage to her was for claiming the inheritance because Mick was my dad. I can't tell you how I felt when the police told me she was dead; the day she died was the day my life began. I got a good job, my own place now, and when I get that inheritance, I'm going to put it away in an interest bearing account. I'm free, Mr. Springer, I belong to myself now, and I'm happy, happier than I've ever been in my life."
Springs couldn't help but smile. "That's good, sweetheart. That's real good. So, when you comin' over to pick up the book?"
"Would tomorrow afternoon be all right?" Heather suggested. "Say, noonish?"
"Works for me," Springs agreed. "Cassie will be here to give it to you."
"I thought her name was Casey."
"Whatever. She'll be here at any rate."
"All right, Mr. Springer, I'll see you tomorrow."
Springs hung up. He began to bundle the finished manuscript with the photographs he chose to include in the book. He didn't want to lose a single one of those pictures, not a single one. They weren't just snapshots, they were history; they told his story better than what he wrote--a picture's worth a thousand words, like the man said. Springs was the only one left of The Guys, and he felt he owed it to his fallen comrades in arms to tell their story, and to set the record straight. The photos would do just that. When his book came out, The Guys of Glitter Gulch would be as familiar as Bugsy Siegel or Lucky Luciano or Meyer Lansky.
Nancy Rose pulled into the nearest parking space next to the large modern brick structure that was St. Benedict's Catholic Church. Alicia sat next to her in the small sedan, puzzled at this unexpected stop. "Uh, Mom? Why are we stopping at the church?" she asked innocently.
Her mother said nothing, but turned off the engine and shifted into park. "Out," she ordered. "Both of you."
Her two children exited the sedan quietly and obediently, but still puzzled as to why they were there in the first place. Nancy escorted them inside the church, heading straight to the priest's office where Father Michael was waiting. Alicia felt her stomach tie itself in a knot, just like it did when she was bought in for questioning in Vegas. Whatever Father Mike had to say to her, she knew it would not be pleasant. But why was Kyle coming along as well? she wondered. Probably because Mom didn't want to leave him alone in the car, more than likely--a wise precaution, knowing Kyle.
There was a wooden settee next to the door of the priest's office. "Sit there," Nancy commanded her son and daughter. "Don't move until I get back. And not a word out of either of you."
They sat on the settee, looking up at their mother in silent bemusement. Nancy knocked on the office door. Alicia heard a faint "come in" from inside, then watched as her mother entered the office, closing the glass-paneled door behind her. The office foyer was oppressively quiet, save for the muffled voices coming from behind the glass door. Alicia could only guess what they were talking about. From her past experience growing up Catholic, she reasoned why she was here.
Kyle's boredom from sitting so long triggered his instinct for mischief. He turned to his sister and fired the opening salvo. "You're really gonna get it now, Alicia," he whispered threateningly. "You know what Father Mike does to kids who get in trouble?"
Alicia remained calm. "You should know, Kyle," she retorted just as quietly. "It's not like you haven't been here before. You've been sent here so many times, they should have a sign on this bench: reserved for Kyle Rose."
Kyle fired another round. "Yeah, but you skipped school for a whole week," he reminded her. "That's major big-time trouble."
"It wasn't a whole week," Alicia said, still remaining calm. "Just four days."
"That's still a whole week," Kyle argued.
Alicia knew that Kyle was trying to drag her into a fruitless "is-not-is-too" debate. Refusing to take the bait, she simply shrugged. "Whatever," she deadpanned.
"I bet you get grounded for a whole year!" Kyle went on. "I bet Father Mike makes you say a million rosaries as penance! I bet you have to stay after school every day for ever and ever! I bet they won't even let you graduate! I bet you get paddled on your butt until you can't sit down--"
"He can't do that," Alicia said. "That's illegal."
"So's running away and skipping school," Kyle argued. "I bet you end up in Juvie!"
Alicia smiled. "That'd be nice," she retorted lightly. "I'd be away from you, anyway."
Kyle grew frustrated. Alicia's calm demeanor irritated him. He struggled to come up with an even more dire fate awaiting his sister, something that would cause her to crack, or at least make her raise her voice at him and so get in even more trouble with Mom. Suddenly, the office door opened, startling them both. Father Mike stuck his head out of the frame. "Alicia, could you step in here for a moment?" he asked.
Alicia took a deep breath and stood up. This was it, she thought, whatever it was. As she stepped into the office, her mother stepped out, leaving her alone to face her fate with Father Mike. "I'll be right outside," she said. "In case you need me."
I'm not going to break, Alicia vowed. I'm going to defend myself like never before. Father Mike can't hurt me--at least not physically.
Father offered her a leather cushioned chair in front of his desk. Instead of sitting behind his desk, however, he took the other chair beside it. Alicia was wary of this unexpected move. Father smiled reassuringly and sat back, one leg casually thrown over his knee. "So, Alicia," he began almost jovially, "I heard you had quite an adventure this week. Care to tell me about it?"
Alicia kept up her guard. "Tell you? Or confess to you?"
"Mother bought me here straight from the airport after I ran away to Vegas," Alicia said. "She figures if I came here, I'd be all weepy and sorry for my sins or whatever, and you'd give me some sort of pennance to do, and I'd go back to being a good little Catholic girl doing everything I'm told. She did it all the time whenever we got in trouble--drag us here to confession, then punish us in some way when we got back home."
Father shifted in his seat. "Well, could you just fill me in on why you ran away like that? You're mother was very worried about you these few days--in fact, she'd come here and pray for your safe return. Tell me, why did you run off like that?"
Alicia sighed and told the priest about her boredom, her frustrations, her brother's incessant taunting; her love for Criss Angel, her overwhelming desire to go to Loyalapalooza; her plan to get there, even to the point of selling some of her brother's old video games and conning her father out of sixty-five dollars using the Youth Retreat as a ruse ( "I have the money order right here," she insisted. "I can mail it back to him if you want."). She also told him about witnessing the murder of Tina LaRue in the hotel restroom, stressing the point that she had fully co-operated with the police during the investigation. She told him about her being taken hostage by Pamela Piccucci who had murdered Tina, and how Criss saved her life by shielding her with his own body. "He's really a great guy, Father," she insisted. "You'd like him if you met him."
"Well, I'm sure I would," Father conceded. "It was very brave of him to do that. But, Alicia," he continued, leaning a bit closer to her, "let me ask you something, and I want you to think about it very carefully: Do you honestly believe that all you had suffered in Las Vegas--the worry you caused your family, the loss of esteem in the eyes of your peers, the danger in which you put yourself while you were there--was it all really worth it just to see some magician? No, don't answer yet, I want you to go home and take some time to think about it."
"I don't have to think about it, Father," Alicia said, her head held high and staring at the priest straight in the eye. "You asked me if what I did, and what I saw, and what I went through was worth seeing Criss Angel. Well, I have to say in all honesty--yes, it was! Oh, sure, I'm sorry for stealing the money for it, and I'm sorry for causing Mother so much worry, but put yourself in my place for a minute. I'm stuck in this little one-horse town, confined in a tiny space--school, home, school, home, church once a week, then back to school, home, school, home, school, home. My brother, Kyle, is an insufferable brat--just look at his behavioral record! Mom's living in a time warp--she thinks it's still the Nineteen Fifties! And the school is so out of touch with the real world; it's afraid to move forward, get with the times. All you're doing is preparing us for the religious life instead of real life. There's a whole world out there, Father, and I want to experience it! I know the real world can get ugly at times--I've seen the headlines--but it has so much to offer, too. I love Criss Angel because he was my key to opening up a world of possibilities to me. Do you know what he wrote to me when he gave me his autograph? He wrote, 'Don't run away from your problems--conquor them!' Now that's pretty good advice, don't you think?"
"In itself, yes," Father replied. "But, Alicia, you don't understand--"
"No, Father, you don't understand," Alicia interrupted. "I've changed in these past few days. I've taken risks I would never have even considered. I've seen the world as it is, not as the church says it is--or should be. I saw evil, but I also saw good. I experienced terror and lived to tell about it. I saw reality, Father--real reality, not the reality you present in those old films you show at assembly. You could order me to say a million rosaries as a penance for stealing and lying and running away, but it wouldn't make any difference. I've changed. I'm not the little girl you used to know anymore."
"You're experiences may have changed you, Alicia," Father Mike said seriously, "but they do not justify your actions. Did you ever stop and think about the consequences of what you have done? Did you ever stop to think about how running away all the way to Las Vegas would hurt your family? Did you consider how this would affect your future? Did you ever stop to think?"
Alicia remained silent. Father Mike sat back. "I didn't think so," he said. "You're still a selfish, impusive child, you know that? You have no consideration for other people's feelings. Maybe you don't feel sorry now, but I can only hope and pray that when you think about what you've done, you'll do something to make amends."
"I already promised to give Dad back the money, didn't I?" Alicia argued.
"It's not just the money," Father said. "It's the fact that you betrayed the trust of those who love you. It's the fact that you acted upon your own selfish impulses without even thinking about the consequences. Now, I want you to go home and think about what I said. Hopefully, you'll have come to your senses by Mass tomorrow. You may go now, but send in Kyle on your way out."
Alicia rose and turned away. She couldn't help but feel a bit proud of herself for standing up for herself, and not breaking down in tears before Father Mike's browbeating. Even in her disgrace, she felt a sense of victory.
God am I thankful I never went to catholic school
A week had passed since the infamous Piccucci Affair ended with the probate hearing dividing up the estate. M. Soul, the stuttering rapper, had purchased Mick Piccucci's home for around two and a half million dollars. The antique furniture, the paintings, and Mick's other personal possessions were packed and carted away to Sotheby's in Beverly Hills, California, while the six automobiles were transported to a secure warehouse somewhere in Las Vegas, all to be auctioned and the money distributed to Springs and the four Piccucci heirs, after taxes.
Mick's liquid assests--stocks, bonds, securities, and other funds--were assessed by the IRS. It turned out that Mick had secreted a lot of his ill-gotten gains in offshore tax shelters, European gold bullion, and of course the usual Swiss bank account, bringing the total of his estate to over ten million dollars gross. A thorough examination of the former gangster's tax records revealed that he had exploited every loophole in the book to keep his money from falling into Federal hands--Rob Bluseman had done his job well, it seemed. Still, it did not stop the Feds from claiming what was rightfully and legally theirs; over a quarter of the estate was garnished for property, federal, state, local and inheritance taxes. Mick Piccucci had tried to cheat the system and had lost.
All of this didn't bother Casey Worth in the least. Secure in her new job as live-in caregiver, she went about her duties as if she had never even been mentioned in the will. She fixed Mr. Springer's meals, monitored his medications, ran his errands, tidied up the house, and bought him the daily paper every morning turned to the crossword puzzle. Springs' new stomach was working out just fine, so long as he cut back on the Manhattans he loved so much. He even enjoyed that longed-for Porterhouse steak after the last follow-up visit to the doctor. "If I'm gonna live this long," he had said, "I'm gonna enjoy it to the hilt."
Springs had consented to allow Casey's mother, Sharon, to live in the mansion for a while "so long as she don't mooch offa me," he had insisted. Casey promised that her mother was no mooch, but was more than willing to help with the housework--a five bedroom mansion was too much for one person to maintain, she had pointed out. Springs had merely nodded and went back to his crossword puzzle. Sharon arrived on Monday morning; by Monday afternoon she was hard at work cleaning the master bathroom which had been reeking of the old man's past bodily functions. The new fuel tank may have been in perfect working order, but the exhaust system left much to be desired.
Her mother's assistance allowed Casey a little extra time each evening to attend certification classes at a local community college. Mr. Springer didn't have a computer, so she couldn't take online courses, but her experience helped her a great deal in her studies. With the money she had saved from not supporting her father and brother, she could afford to pay her own tuition. When the inheritance came through, she would help her mother find a place of her own while putting aside some cash for her own housing situation should Mr. Springer pass away. A mansion was nice, but it was too big for a blue-collar girl like Casey--she would have been happy living in a broom closet so long as she didn't have to share it with anyone.
Sharon, for her part, was happy as a clam. Even though she was the unofficial maid-of-all-work at the Springer residence, she felt like she was finally living like decent people. She had quit her job at the liquor store (to the total indifference of the owner), and had settled in her new routine like a duck to water. Aside from the formality of filing for divorce, she hadn't given Phil a second thought since she had been living here. What few twinges of maternal affection for her son she had felt soon faded when she vividly recalled his laziness, his slovenly ways, his pilfering of her purse. He was a good-for-nothing, and so she wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Instead, she focused on her daughter, Casey, beaming with pride as she studied for her certificate. Maybe, after Casey got the inheritance, she herself could take some college courses, just like she had always wanted. After nearly fifty years, Sharon felt as though she was just beginning to live.
"Things look swell, things look great," she sang as she scrubbed the toilet in the master bathroom. "Gonna have the whole world on a plate. Everything is coming up roses!"
Benny Worth stared at his father in disbelief. "You wanna sue Casey?"
"Damn straight, I do!" Phil snapped. "She's been holding out on us with that inheritance she got from that old man. When they read the will, she never said a word to anyone about it execpt your mother. She cheated us, Ben--she cheated her own dad and brother! Damn if I'm gonna let her get away with it!"
"How much are we gonna sue her for?" Benny asked.
"If I had my own way, I'd get the whole bundle," Phil answered. "But we can sue her for support, at least. She ain't got no right to keep all that dough for herself while her poor crippled dad is sitting in this (bleeping) wheelchair barely making it on disability. It's just plain immoral."
"Ain't lawyers kinda expensive?" Benny asked a bit tenatively.
"Once we get our share, we'll pay him later," Phil replied. "They got legal assistance for people who can't afford it. There's a fancy Latin name for it, but anyway, we'll get one who'll work for free, or at least when we win the suit."
"You really think we'll win?"
"Of course we will! If I know Casey, she'll want to avoid a lawsuit altogether. We might even settle this out of court and avoid having to get a lawyer in the first place. If she's smart as her mother thinks she is, she'll do the smart thing and pony up the dough without having to drag it into court."
Benny's television-dulled mind pondered this. "Funny," he said. "The dad suing the daughter for support. It's usually the other way around, ain't it?"
"Yeah, whatever," Phil mumbled. "Now go get the phone book, we gotta find a lawyer and file that suit. The sooner we take care of this, the sooner we'll be rollin' in dough."
It was Sunday, Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday. Due to his performance schedule, Criss could not attend the midnight vigil at Holy Trinity Church, but he dutifully attended the eleven-thirty liturgy service come daytime. He had promised his mother he would attend Mass in keeping with his Paschal duty. Dimitra Sarantakos was living in New York, but he still sensed her presence in Las Vegas; he knew she would be calling him to ask if he had gone to church that morning, and he wouldn't think of lying to her. Besides, Dimitra had fought tooth and nail trying to save Holy Trinity from the wrecking ball; it had become the family's place of worship when everyone was in Vegas. Besides, he had promised to give her regards to Father Stefan.
Conservatively dressed in a black suit sans bling, he had entered the huge Byzantine church virutually unnoticed by the rest of the congregation-- rather refreshing for someone who couldn't turn around without someone flashing a camera in his face or demanding an autograph. When the liturgy was over, he blended in with the crowd of congregants as they shuffled out of the huge doors. Father Stefan stood in his accustomed spot in the vestibule, shaking hands with everyone who passed him by. Criss patiently waited his turn, then stepped up to the priest.
"Christos Anesti, Father," Criss greeted him respectfully.
"Alyekos Anesti, Christopher," Father Stefan returned in kind. "I'm glad you came today."
"My mother sends her regards," Criss said.
"Thank you, and I send her mine. I look forward to her next visit."
"I do, too, Father. Ka'lo Pascha'."
"Ka'lo Pascha', Christopher."
Criss trotted down the steps of the church and toward the parking lot. It was easy to spot his ride among the dozens of cars parked; his was the only jet-black Viper in the lot. And who should be standing there, perched casually on the hood with a smirk on his face, but his old friend, Sully Erna from Godsmack. Criss was startled, then surprised, then annoyed that Sully should treat his car like a park bench or something. "Get your ass offa my car, Sully," he ordered.
"Hey, is that any way to talk in church?" Sully admonished him, leaping off the hood.
"I'm not in church anymore," Criss reminded him. "What're you doing here, anyway?"
"Weeeellll," Sully drawled, "I saw on the calendar that it was Greek Easter Sunday, and with you being Greek and all, I figured you'd be here, so I came over. Turned out I was right."
"Okay, you were right," Criss retorted, "so, what do you want?"
"Hey, dude, I just wanted to say Happy Easter and all that," Sully replied. "So, do you get another Easter basket since you celebrate two Easters? That's a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies."
"No, I don't get two Easter baskets," Criss replied irritably. "And we didn't celebrate two Easters either--just this one. We just had a big lamb dinner with the family, that's all."
"Bummer," Sully said pityingly. "No chocolate Easter bunnies."
"I survived. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get home if you don't mind. I'm starving and I need some lunch."
"You know, you're awful cranky when you're hungry. I should have bought you a chocolate Easter bunny."
"Enough of the chocolate Easter bunnies already!" Criss exploded. "What is with you and chocolate Easter bunnies all of a sudden?"
"Hey, it's what I grew up with," Sully replied. "But before you go, there's something I wanna give you."
"It'd better not be a chocolate Easter bunny."
"It's not a chocolate Easter bunny," Sully said as he fished out a piece of paper out of his pocket. "It's a car auction coming up this Thursday. Interested?"
"What kind of car auction?" Criss asked.
"Some dead mobster's got a bunch of cars they're trying to sell off," Sully explained, handing Criss the paper. "Sports cars, the kind you like."
Criss read the paper Sully had given him. It was a printout of an Internet ad for an auction being held in the Aladdin hotel on Thursday around noon. The cars offered had belonged to Michael Piccucci, deceased. They were classic cars from the Fifties and Sixties, practically in mint condition--a great temptation, but after his experience with the Piccucci family feud over the estate, Criss was hesitant. He wasn't sure if he wanted to have any reminder of that sordid affair.
He folded the paper and stuck it in his pocket. "Thanks," he said, "I'll think about it."
"Think fast," Sully told him. "Jay Leno might just beat you to them all."
Criss smiled. Sully trotted away. "Happy Greek Easter!" he called out.
"Yeah, Ka'lo Pascha', Sully!" Criss called out after him.
He watched as Sully got on his motorcycle and drove off. Criss wanted to give him the finger, but he was still in the church parking lot, and that would have created a bad impression. Instead, he got into his Viper and drove back to the Luxor. Sully Erna was a good guy, he reflected, but he could be a pain in the ass sometimes. Nice of him to tell him about the auction, though.
The auction. Did he really want to go there? As much as Criss loved cars, the faster the better, he wasn't sure if he wanted one from Mick Piccucci. Not because he had been a gangster, but because of his unwitting--and unwilling--involvement in the notorious Piccucci affair. Many still hailed him a hero for tackling Pamela in the service corridor, but that was more reflex than courage. He wanted nothing more to do with that family of psychos who would kill for money.
But, still, what kind of cars did Mick have, anyway? Well, it wouldn't hurt to look, he figured as he drove down the Strip. He'd check out what was going under the hammer, and if there was nothing that interested him, then fine, he'd leave it at that. If there was, then he'd place a bid or two, then take it to Count's Custom Cars and pimp it out if he got it. If he was outbid, well, he wasn't going to lose any sleep over it. He had enough cars and motorcycles to open his own dealership. He doubted if there was anything there he didn't already have. Still, Sully had made a special trip to tell him about it, so he could at least check into it. Criss wondered if Sully knew about the Piccucci Affair and his getting mixed up in it. Probably did, but at least he had the courtesy not to bring it up.
Criss drove up to the Luxor, handed the valet the keys to the Viper, got out of the car, went into the hotel, up to his suite and into his bedroom. He stripped off his Sunday best, tossed his clothes onto a chair, then flopped down on his bed, naked except for his briefs. All he wanted to do on this Easter Sunday was catch up on his sleep, putting Sully, the Piccuccis, and sports cars out of his mind. Tomorrow would bring its own stresses; this was his day of rest, and he was going to take full advantage of it.
After the visit to Father Mike on Saturday, Nancy Rose spelled out the conditions for her daughter's punishment: two months' confinement (of course); pay back the hundred dollars she had stolen from the credenza (done); give her father back the money order with a letter of apology (done); no television, phone, visiting, or computer privileges for the duration (groan, but at least she could use the library computer); do all the chores assigned without complaint (fine, but she wasn't going to do Kyle's chores for him, she had said. Her mother assured her she would not).
"And one more thing," Nancy said. "You are to renounce this Criss Angel person completely. You are to throw away anything even remotely connected to him. If I find anything, even a picture of him, in your room or anywhere else in this house, it will be taken out and burned. Do you understand?"
Alicia was stunned. It was bad enough to have her social life put on hold, but for her to give up her only reason for living was unbearable. She had to take a stand, no matter what the consequences.
"You can't make me give up Criss," she protested. "I love him! He saved my life, remember?"
"If you hadn't run away like you did, he wouldn't have had to save your life," Nancy argued. "He's been a bad influence on you. He's turned you against your family and your faith. Because of him, you went from being a sweet girl to a thief and a runaway, not to mention a liar. This infatuation you have almost cost you your life. Well, I'm going to nip this in the bud before this obsession destroys you."
"But you don't know him!" Alicia cried. "If you got to know him better, you'd like him! If you had heard what he told me in the interrogation room after the detective got through questionong me, you'd find out you and him are on the same page!"
"And what did he tell you?" her mother demanded.
"He said I should conquor my problems instead of running away," Alicia said. "He said that Kyle's been acting out the way he is because he's angry about Dad leaving us. He said I hurt you for running away, and that he loved me like he loves all of his fans. He was there for me, Mother. He listened to me. Not like Dad, who just brushed me off. Or you--you think you understand me, but you don't. It's like we live in two different worlds--yours is all sunshiny perfect, and mine is, well, more grounded in reality. Going to Las Vegas may not have been the smartest move I made, but I'm glad I went--even if it didn't turn out the way I expected. You can torch every single Criss Angel picture in the world, but you can't erase my love for him. You can't change what's in my heart, though you may think you can. You can ground me for life, but it won't change what happened. I love Criss, and there's nothing you can do about it."
She had said all this in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, staring directly into her mother's face. Nancy could only stare back, stunned by this outburst from her thirteen-year-old daughter. She was forced to admit that the damage had been done, and nothing could change the past. But she was determined to change her daughter's future--whether she liked it or not.
"Maybe there's nothing I can do about it," she said, "but there is something you can do about it."
A chill went down Alicia's spine. She did not like the tone of her mother's voice when she said that. She knew it boded ill for her: how, she didn't know.
"I want you to sit down and write this man a letter," Nancy ordered, "and tell him you never want to see him again."
Alicia was aghast. "I can't do that!" she cried.
"You can, and you will," Nancy told her firmly, taking Alicia by the arm and dragging her to the dining room table. "Now, sit over there!"
Alicia sat down, scared stiff. Nancy rummaged through the credenza for a pen, a sheet of paper, and an envelope, then bought the materials to the table and slapped them down. "Now, write down everything I tell you," she ordered.
Alicia reluctantly picked up the pen and held it over the paper. "Dear Mr. Angel," Nancy dictated.
Dear Criss, Alicia wrote.
"I have seen the error of my ways," Nancy continued.
I miss you very much.
"And I never want to see you, nor hear about you, for the rest of my life."
I want to see you again, and be with you for the rest of my life.
"My family and my faith are more important to me than your silly magic tricks."
You are more important to me than life itself.
"I am throwing away all of your pictures and any other reference to you."
I still treasure your pictures and any other reference to you.
"I've grown up now, and I see what a silly child I have been for being obsessed with you."
I've grown up now, but my mother thinks I am a silly child for being obsessed with you.
"You are an evil influence on young people."
You are a positive influence on young people.
"Please do not contact me, or my mother will call the police and have you arrested."
Please contact me as soon as possible.
"Sincerely, Alicia Rose."
With all my love, Alicia Rose.
"Now, you mail that letter to that man right now," Nancy ordered her. "Then go to your room and stay there."
Alicia folded the letter and inserted it into the envelope, then sealed it as securely as she could. She quietly retired to the safety of her bedroom, carrying her suitcase. She smiled to herself. Yes, she would mail that letter (once she found the address to the Luxor Hotel, of course), expressing her true feelings for Criss. She had to see him again, anyway; she was the primary witness to the murder of Tina LaRue, and she had to appear in court, and Criss had to be there, too. No matter what her mother said, Alicia would see Criss Angel again.
School was over for the day, but Alicia remained in the library, serving the first day of her two-week detention for truancy. As well as doing make up work, she was assigned to write a five hundred word essay on "The Sin of Disobedience" by Father Michael. Either that, or she would get kicked out of her Confirmation class, and that would disappoint her mother even more. For once, Alicia had swallowed her pride and accepted her sentence without protest.
Father Mike had been wrong about one thing: she didn't lose the esteem of her peers because of her actions. Indeed, they hardly noticed; the few who were curious about her whereabouts had been satisfied by a simple "I've been out sick.". And I was sick, too, Alicia thought. Sick of this whole boring existance. No mention had been made of the Piccucci Affair whatsoever. Life was the same routine of school, home, school, home, school, home--except it was more of the same, having been grounded for two months by her mother.
The letter had been posted that very morning. Alicia had posted it herself, for fear that her mother would rip it open and see what she had really written. She doubted that Criss would read it any time soon; God only knew how much mail he received on a daily basis at the hotel. Besides, she didn't know his suite number. Still, it would have been sweet if he had.
Alicia sighed and got down to doing her makeup work. She still could not access the Loyal Community website on the school computer, but she was allowed to go to the public library so long as she was home by a certain time--and not one minute later, either. She resigned herself to two weeks of drudgery so that she didn't have to repeat the ninth grade. Still, she gloated over her cleverness about the letter--a small victory, to be sure, but a victory all the same. No matter what anyone said, be it her mother or Father Mike, she would not let them break her.
CLARK COUNTY AUTO AUCTION
ITEMS UP FOR BID:
1938 Rolls Royce
1955 Spyder convertable
1958 Jaguar convertable
1960 Aston Martin
Damn! Criss thought as he read over the list of Mick's collection of classic cars. These things are vintage! A nineteen-thirty-eight Rolls? That's gotta be worth a cool mil in itself, especially if it's in mint condition.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," the auctioneer said over the loudspeakers. "Welcome to the Clark County Auto Auction. We have six classic automobiles up for bid today. Let's begin with our first item: A restored nineteen-thirty-eight Rolls Royce, four door, V-eight engine, genuine leather seats, and original chrome. Opening bid, one hundred thousand."
Criss decided to sit this one out. He had a Rolls Royce of his own, more up-to-date than the grandfatherly model on the auction floor in front of him. Still, it was pretty impressive looking. He bided his time until the next car would be rolled out on the floor. In the meantime, he checked out his fellow bidders. No sign of Jay Leno--a bit of a surprise, since the famous comedian and late night host was known for his love of classic automobiles. Maybe he had one already, Criss thought.
He scanned the audience seated around himself. The auction house was sparsely attended; more than three quarters of the seats were empty. Maybe the economy had hit the classic car market as hard as everywhere else, he figured.
The gavel came down like a pistol shot. "Sold! For four hundred thousand dollars!" the auctioneer called out.
There was a smattering of applause, then the Rolls was driven off the floor. Criss wondered who bought it; he should have paid more attention to the auction than casing out the competition. He focused on the next item up for bid: a silvery-grey nineteen-fifty-eight Bugatti, straight from Italy. Niiiiiiice! Criss thought.
"We open the bidding at fifty thousand dollars," the auctioneer called out.
"One hundred thousand!" Criss shouted.
"One hundred thousand," the auctioneer repeated. "Do I hear one-seventy-five?"
"One-seventy-five!" came a strangely familiar voice. Criss spun around and saw none other than his friend/rival/fellow car freak The Amazing Jonathan sitting three rows behind him. AJ smiled smugly, almost challengingly, at him. For a moment, Criss was outraged. You son of a (bleep)! What the hell are you doing here?
"One-seventy-five going once," said the auctioneer.
"One-ninety!" Criss shouted.
"One-ninety. Do I hear two hundred?"
"Two hundred!" AJ shouted.
You (bleeper)! "Two fifty!" Criss screamed.
"Two hundred fifty."
Before either Criss or AJ could make another bid, a third voice spoke up. "Three hundred."
Three hundred thousand dollars! AJ was silent. Criss threw caution to the wind and cried out "Three fifty! And that's my final offer!"
"We have three-fifty," the auctioneer announced. "Three fifty going once..."
Come on, you (bleeper), Criss mentally challenged his rival. I dare you to outbid me! I double-dog dare you!
"Four hundred!" came the mysterious third voice.
"Four hundred, going once, going twice...sold! For four hundred thousand dollars!"
Criss sank back, defeated. Well, at least he was willing to beat AJ, anyway. In truth, it had been a draw, with neither side winning. I may have lost the battle, Criss thought, but I can still win the war.
The Bugatti rolled off the floor. "Our next item up for bid is a nineteen-fifty-five Spyder convertable," the auctioneer announced.
The cream-colored sports car entered like a model on the runway. Criss' heart went out for that racy little two-door convertable; he just had to have it, no matter what it cost. Screw you, AJ! This baby is mine! he vowed.
"We open the bidding at fifty-thousand dollars."
"One hundred thousand!" Criss called out.
AJ was not to be outdone. "Two hundred thousand!"
You want a bidding war, AJ? "Two-seventy-five!"
"Three hundred!" AJ countered.
"Four fifty, going once, going twice...sold! For four hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
Yes! Criss pumped air in triumph. Score one for the home team! He looked smugly at AJ behind him, gloating over his victory. AJ glared at his rival, vowing revenge.
The coveted Spyder rolled off the floor to make room for the next car. "Our next item up for bid is a nineteen-fifty-eight Jaguar converatable. We open the bidding at fifty thousand."
AJ fired the opening round. "One hundred thousand."
"One-fifty," Criss called out.
"Two hundred," came the third voice which had outbid them on the Rolls.
"Two-fifty," came another voice from the audience.
"Three hundred," AJ called out.
"Three hundred, going once..."
Criss hesitated. He had already spent four hundred fifty on the Spyder. Should he go for broke and get the Jag?
"Three fif--!" Criss called out.
But he called out too late. The hammer came down. "Sold! For three hundred thousand dollars!"
Criss swore under his breath. Damn! He had waited too long! "Okay, AJ, you won this round," he muttered.
"Our next item up for bid is a nineteen-sixty Aston Martin."
An elegantly sporty vehicle the color of French vanilla ice cream rolled onto the bidding floor. An Aston Martin! Criss thought. That's James Bond's car! I so gotta get this one!
"We open the bidding at fifty thousand dollars."
"Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars," came the voice of the mysterious bidder.
There were gasps of surprise all around. Even Criss was stunned, too stunned to even offer a higher bid. Before he could recover his senses the hammer had come down hard. "Sold! For three hundred and fifty dollars!"
Son of a (bleep)! He would gladly have traded the Spyder for the Aston Martin, but it was too late--it was rolling off the floor, lost to him forever. All that was left was the Benz. In his disconsolate state, Criss let it slip away to his rival, AJ, for just two hundred thousand. It was over. But at least he had the Spyder. There was that.
Criss met AJ at the purchasing office later that afternoon to fill out the title forms for his new aquisition. AJ spotted him immediatly and broke into a smirk hiding behind a big smile. "Hey, Criss, howzitgoin'?"
(Bleep) you, AJ. "Hey, John." Criss replied, aloof.
"Congrats on getting the Spyder," AJ went on. "You know, that was James Dean's car--the one he got killed in?"
"Thanks for the history lesson, AJ." Criss deadpanned.
The forms were handed over by the clerk. Neither man spoke while they filled out the necessary information to claim ownership of their new vehicles, then wrote out the checks to pay for them. Criss had finished filling out his form for the Spyder, arranging for delivery to the Luxor, and handed it to the clerk. AJ was still writing, having purchased two cars. Criss left quickly so he wouldn't be tempted to say something he'd regret later. He trotted down the hallway, eager to get out of the building.
Criss turned around and saw a man in a decent dark suit, dark-haired, about thirtysomething. "Could you tell me where the purchasing office is?" he asked.
Criss pointed the other way. "Down that way."
Criss turned and left. Who was that guy? he wondered. Well, obviously, he was the one who purchased the Aston Martin and the Bugatti, and maybe the Rolls, too, but he still didn't know his name. He had to be rich, of course, but he couldn't recall the face. Ah, screw it! he thought. I'm going home.
On his way home, his anger faded away. I got one of Mick Piccucci's cars, he reflected. I bought the car of a mobster! He also recalled that the sale of the cars would go to Casey Worth and the other heirs as part of the probate deal. Well, Casey's gonna be set for life, he thought, smiling to himself. Thanks to me--and AJ. Oh, and that other guy, whoever he is. I wonder how Casey's doing, anyway? Ah, I'm sure she's okay. At any rate, I'm out four hundred fifty grand, and all because I wanted to put a bug up AJ's ass. God! I can be such an (bleep)hole!
Play nice Christopher LOL
Barricade Books, Inc.Springs broke into the biggest smile since he won the trifecta at Belmont back in fifty-three. "Hey, Cassie!" he shouted. "Hey! Guess what? I'm an author!"
Casey and Sharon entered the study together. "What's going on, Mr. Springer?" Casey asked.
Springs held up the letter. "Here, read this," he said proudly. "They're gonna print my book!"
Sharon took the letter and read it. "That's wonderful, Mr. Springer," she said, smiling. "Congratulations!"
Springs leaned back, satisifed. "Yeah, how about that," he mused. "Me, an author." Suddenly, he sat up. "Hey, we should go out and celebrate! Dinner on me, the three of us--how about it, Cassie?"
"It's Casey, Mr. Springer," she reminded him. "And it sounds like fun."
"It'd be good to go out to somewhere nice for a change," Sharon agreed.
Springs nodded. "Great, then it's settled. I know a good place where they have the best damn prime rib in Vegas--right at the Luxor Hotel! Damn good Manhattans, too. What the hell is it called? Uh, Mangino's?"
"Mangiano's" Casey said.
"Yeah, that's the place! Hey, Cassie, you get on the horn and make reservations for three."
"It's Casey, Mr. Springer."
"Whatever, just make the damn reservations!" Springs said. "Me, I gotta get myself a shower and a shave." He turned to Sharon. "Get yourself dolled, sweetheart! You and me are steppin' out tonight! You and Cassie, that is."
"It's Casey, not Cassie, Mr. Springer," Sharon reminded him.
Sharon could only shake her head in exasperation. Casey called to make reservations for three at Mangiano's at the Luxor over the phone. The operator put her on hold, forcing her to listen to recorded messages detailing the shows and other events the Luxor Hotel and Resort had to offer, interrupted by the standard voicemail message: "We're sorry for the inconvenience. Please continue to hold, and someone will be with you momentarily. Thank you."
After the third cycle of mechanical apologies, creepy music began to play over the receiver. "Come experience the surreal world of BELIEVE, starring famous illusionist Criss Angel, performing with Cirque de Soleil, in a fantastic meld of fantasy and magic! Now showing at the Luxor Hotel. For showtimes, press one. To purchase tickets, press two. For--"
"Magiano's, may I help you?" a woman's voice interrupted.
Casey was startled at first, then composed herself. "Yes, I'd like to make a reservation for three around six PM tonight, if that's possible."
"One moment, please." A minute of silence followed, then the woman confirmed the reservation: party of three, six PM. Casey thanked her and hung up. She couldn't help but wonder if she would see Criss again. True, he was busy with his show, but one never knew...
The front doorbell chimes shook her out of her thoughts. She heard her mother answer the door, so she rose to go to her room to get ready for Springs' dinner engagement, not giving it a second thought. She decided to wear her favorite lavender dress, the one with the bolero jacket that she seldom wore due to her work schedule, past and present. Happily, she opened the closet and took out the dress, along with her faded black dress shoes, scuffed but still presentable, and her little black evening purse she had bought for a friend's wedding six years ago. A quick shower, fix her hair, and she'd be good to go. It felt good to dress up for a change, she thought. In her joy, she did not notice her mother standing in the doorway, clutching some legal looking forms, her face ashen.
"Casey?" Sharon spoke as if from a distance.
Casey did not look up, but continued preparing for dinner. "Yeah, Mom, what do you need?" she replied absently.
"Casey?" her mother repeated in a tremorous voice.
This time, Casey did look up. "Mom? Is something wrong?"
Sharon swayed like a reed in a breeze. "We got this summons," she said, still reeling from the shock. "Your father is suing us."
Casey's jaw dropped. "Suing us?" she echoed in disbelief. "What for?"
"For the estate money," Sharon replied. "He wants nine million dollars."
The blissful feeling Casey felt was gone, anger taking its place. "He can't do that!" she stormed. "I don't have nine million dollars! None of us do! Hell, I haven't even received my share of the estate yet, and now he's suing us?"
"I'm afraid so," Sharon said.
Casey sank down on the bed. "What am I going to do, Mom?" she wailed. "Ever since Mr. Piccucci died and made me his heir, I've had nothing but trouble ever since! I got death threats, bomb threats, I almost got shot, and now my own father is suing me! Dear God, what am I going to do?"
Sharon sat down beside her daughter. "We're going to get dressed and go out to dinner with Mr. Springer, that's what we're going to do," she said firmly. "And don't worry about a thing--I'll handle your father."
Casey sighed. "Thanks, Mom." she said, trying to smile. "You're the greatest."
Sharon hugged her daughter by the shoulders. "Don't get too upset about this, hon," she said. "Everything's gonna work out just fine." She turned to face Casey directly. "But don't breathe a word of this to Mr. Springer," she ordered. "At least, not for now. He just landed a book deal, and we don't want to rain on his parade, now, do we?"
Casey shook her head. "I promise, Mom," she said. "I don't want to ruin Mr. Springer's celebration."
Sharon kissed Casey's forehead. "Now, you get ready," she said. "We don't want to be late."
Casey nodded. As soon as her mother left the bedroom, she went into the bathroom to shower. She was glad that Mr. Springer got his book published, but after the buzzkill of the summons her father had sent, she didn't feel much like celebrating anything.
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