A Matter of Perception
Crystal Rathbone gazed goggle-eyed at the neon wonderland that was the Las Vegas Strip, the constant changing panoply of light and color dancing and flickering before her pale blue eyes. Never in her fifteen years growing up in that one-horse town in southern Nevada had she seen such brilliance, such enticing attractions for entertainments (half of which she could never see because she was underage), and such glamor this side of Hollywood.
But there was only one attraction she wanted to see above all else, and that was Criss Angel, the hottest magician ever to grace the TV screen. She had seen him only on the small screen of her family's nineteen-inch set, with headphones on so as not to wake her parents. They didn't exactly hate Criss Angel, they just couldn't understand what she saw in him, so they simply chalked it off as a schoolgirl crush, puppy love as it was. They simply didn't understand how she truly felt about him. He was her Prince Charming, her Angel of Light bringing joy to her humdrum life. It wasn't a crush (Mr. Sylvester in junior high school--that was a crush), but genuine, adoring, unselfish love, the kind that leads to marriage and a happily ever after. She had scrimped and saved and went without a lot of little luxuries to afford to come here and see him, riding with her friend, Hayley, and chaperoned by her nineteen year old sister, Courtney. Haley was as big a fan of Criss Angel as Crystal, but Courtney was a hard-core skeptic, always cutting Criss down, blowing off his illusions as "camera tricks", grousing all the way to Vegas.
Now she was here, in Las Vegas, and down aways was the big black pyramid where her beloved lived, the Luxor Hotel. She and Hayley sat in the back seat of the car, keeping a sharp eye out for it. With the blinding bright apex and racing lights up the corners, it was not too difficult to spot.
"There it is!" Crystal squealed. "There's the Luxor!"
Hayley squealed in reply, jumping up and down on the seat. Courtney whipped her head around from the driver's seat. "Will you two get a grip?" she snapped. "It's not like we're going to be staying there! We can barely afford the room we got already!"
"But Criss is going to be there!" Hayley pointed out.
"Criss! Criss! Criss!" Courtney sneered. "It's always about Criss, isn't it? If I hear that phoney's name again, I am going to scream!"
"Criss isn't a phoney!" Crystal shot back.
"SHUT UP ABOUT (BLEEPING) CRISS!" Courtney shrieked. "The guy's a (bleeping) phoney and a fraud!"
She swerved around a corner and up the drive of a more modest motel off the Strip, slingshotting into the nearest parking space. She bolted out of the car, grabbing her purse from the front seat. "You two stay here while I check in," she ordered, and marched into the motel office.
Relieved that Courtney was gone for a while, Crystal and Haley pulled out their itinerary for Criss' latest demonstration to take place the next day, poring over the computer printout like generals strategizing for battle. They were going to be front row center even if they had to camp out overnight. It was going to be squeetastic!
Cole Shoope rode his dirt bike across the California state border towards Las Vegas. From his previous trips to Vegas, he had learned to stay off the main highway, stay on the side streets and cut across the desert so as not to be spotted. He was only thirteen, though tall for his age, and if the Highway Patrol caught him, he'd be up (bleep) creek without a canoe, let alone a paddle. But to see Criss Angel, his idol, it was well worth the risk. Criss Angel was the MindFreak, the immortal, the man who could bend and break the laws of nature at his whim. Criss Angel was God.
He had to keep his devotion a secret from his schoolmates, those upright, uptight cliquish All-American snobs at the private school his parents forced him to attend. They wanted him to be a lawyer, like his father and grandfather before him, but the very thought of being cooped up in some office writing legal briefs filled Cole with revulsion. No, his destiny lay with Criss Angel. He dreamed of being his protege, his apprentice, to study at the feet of the Master himself, as Criss studied under the legendary Houdini. His parents dismissed his interest in magic as a passing fad, though his lawyer father rationalized his impromptu performances as a way to develop public speaking skills and to be at ease before groups of people, a benefit for a future attorney. He was way off base as far as Cole was concerned. He just didn't understand--no one did.
Cole stopped before the sign on the desert road: LAS VEGAS 26 mi. He was almost at his destination. Tomorrow he would see his idol in action, performing another death-defying demonstration to prove yet again that he was the greatest magician who ever lived. As if he actually needed proof; his record spoke for itself. But Cole wanted to be there, to see Criss live in person. He had to witness it for himself, to learn from it. It was the only way.
Randy Winterfield, a long standing member of the Gideon society, stood on the corner of one of Vegas' busiest thoroughfares with a large cardboard carton filled with small New Testaments, handing one out to each passerby. Some took them, others turned him down, thinking he was a Jehovah's Witness or something. They didn't know that the Gideons had no affiliation with any particular denomination, but was a separate organization who spread the Gospel by placing Bibles in prisons, hospitals, military bases and hotel rooms. Today, Randy was handing out their pocket sized New Testaments to all who wanted one, smiling and greeting each person he met with "The Lord be with you!" He was doing God's work, and was happy as a clam.
A grungy looking character wearing heavy silver crosses around his neck came forward, a couple of cameramen in his wake. Randy smiled at him. "The Lord be with you!" he said.
Criss Angel stopped in his tracks. "And also with you," he responded in kind.
Randy handed him a New Testament. "We're giving out the Word of God for free today. No charge."
Criss took the small book. "Thank you," he said, looking at the green covered book no bigger than an iPod. "Say, would you like to participate in a little demonstration?"
Randy looked quizzically at Criss, but nodded all the same.
"Now, we never met before, right?" Criss asked him.
"Okay, all you have to do is open this book at random and pick out a chapter and verse," Criss instructed him. "But don't tell me what it is."
Randy did as he was told while Criss turned his back. "Found it," he said.
"Okay, is it...the Book of...Matthew, is it?:
"Is it verse...no, chapter seven, right?"
"Yes, it is."
"Book of Matthew, chapter seven...the first verse."
"Okay, show the camera."
Randy held up the small book in front of the lens, pointing out the verse Criss predicted. Criss shook Randy's hand.
"Have a blessed day," Randy said cheerily.
"Back at you, bro." Criss walked away, sticking the little book in the inside pocket of his leather jacket and thinking no more about it. He had to get to the Magic Castle for his scheduled afternoon performance, and he hated to be late.
Randy stared after Criss, then turned to the cameraman still remaining. "That was incredible!" he exclaimed. "It would have been even more impressive if he said the actual verse. It's 'Judge not, lest ye also be judged'. Still, it was pretty amazing how he did it--I mean, his back was to me all the time."
Mario Mendoza loaded his camera for the afternoon's shooting. He had caught some minor celebs on the Strip and got a few pix, but they weren't anything to write home about, or to the paper, either. He needed some real action--a fight, a celeb couple, someone cheating on their spouse--anything to make it worthwhile. This was Sin City, for crying out loud! Strippers, gamblers, mobsters! The day he was having, it might as well be Mayberry, RFD. Where was the action?
Mario looked around. Nothing. Maybe he should go back to his office, wait until nightfall. Maybe then things would start perking up. The nightlife always bought out the best--or worst, depending on your point of view--in people. Even a photographer for VERVE! magazine could have a slow day.
Wait a minute, hold the phone! There was Criss Angel coming up the street. Mario readied his camera. Wait for it...wait for it...aw, geez! He went into the Magic Castle, alone. No girls, no drunken behavior, nothing! Criss Angel going into the Magic Castle was like a priest going into a church. Big deal! Mario lowered his camera in defeat. He would wait until nightfall after all. No sense wasting his time chasing celebs when they wern't doing anything or with anyone else.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
It was right there, in black and white, plain as day, Hiram Block thought to himself, yet this wicked city continued to indulge the evil practices of that minion of Satan who dwelled in that pagan black pyramid in the heart of it, surrounded by heathen idols of the Pharoah who had been destroyed by the Hand of God Himself with the Seven Plagues. The city had forsaken the One True God for that sorcerer!
There would be a day of reckoning, he told the people. The Lord would smite down the armies of the Anti-Christ and raise up the true believers, casting the rest into eternal damnation. This modern day Babylon was doomed to perdition. Save yourselves, he pleaded. Save your souls! Repent, for the Day of the Lord was at hand!
They would not listen to him, Hiram Block, devoted servant to Christ. His warnings went in one ear and out the other with nothing to block traffic. They were too caught up in their gaming and flesh-peddling to heed him. But he would not give up. He would not succumb to the sin of despair. He would continue spreading the message of the Second Coming as long as there was breath in his body.
But lately, he'd been thinking, maybe it was time for a change of tactics. Words were easily ignored, but actions spoke louder. If he could find a way to rid this wicked city of the source of all its sin, then the road to redemption would be easier to trod. Cut it off at the root and throw it in the fire which there was no quenching.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. The answer had been in front of him all along. He'd been a fool not to recognize it before. True, the Bible forbade killing itself in the Ten Commandments, but when it came to witches, even the Lord made an exception. Yes, for the good of the city, for the good of America, for the greater glory of the Lord, Criss Angel must die.
Crystal, Courtney and Hayley wrestled their luggage into their motel room, a modest two-bed paneled job that hadn't seen any redecorating since Ronald Reagan was President. The heavy purple drapes hung precariously from their rod, the veneer from the desk/dresser/TV stand was chipped off around the corners, the paisley bedspreads were frayed around the edges, and the whole room smelled of commercial disinfectant.
But, any port in a storm was safe harbor. It was the best Crystal and Hayley could do with their limited funds, and Courtney insisted they chip in for gas as well, since they drove here in her car (at the firm request of Hayley's parents, which Courtney grudgingly obliged, but not without protest). It left the pair with very little spending money, and, as they were too young to gamble in the casinos, had to make it stretch as far as possible. But it didn't matter. They were here in Las Vegas! Home of Criss Angel! Squeeeeeee!
Courtney claimed the bed closest to the bathroom, throwing her suitcase onto it. Hell of a way to spend a weekend, she thought, babysitting her kid sister and her friend to see that (bleepbleep) Criss Angel. Just what did they see in that guy, anyway? He wasn't even that good looking. He wore eyeliner and nailpolish--he must be gay. And he wasn't even a real magician--those stunts he pulled had to be camera tricks, or CGI, to fool gullible kids like Crystal and Hayley. She knew it was true. Well, she wasn't going to be taken in by that phoney! Not by a long shot. She was too smart for that.
She was supposed to be the official chaperone on this jaunt, making sure that nothing happened to her sister and her friend, but she was too tired to care when they announced that they were going sightseeing, though the only sight she knew they wanted to see was Criss Angel himself. She waved them off and prepared to take a shower. Maybe later she'd hit the clubs, so the weekend wouldn't be totally wasted. As long as she was here, she might as well make the best of a bad situation.
Meanwhile, Crystal and Hayley made their way down the fabled Vegas Strip. It was broad daylight, but no less magical. They peeked through the windows of the high-end boutiques, watched the Circus Circus parade with real elephants, and of course gushed over anything that had Criss Angel's face on it. It was heaven on earth; all that was missing was the Angel himself.
They rounded a corner where they encountered a young, blond man with wire rimmed glasses, handing out something from a cardboard box. He spotted the two girls and held out a couple of small books. "The Lord be with you," he greeted them cheerily. "We're giving out the Word of God for free, no charge."
Crystal and Hayley took the proffered Word of God and examined them carefully. They were small New Testaments, bound in lime-green vinyl, with gold-stamped lettering stating they were courtesy of the Gideons. Oh, well, they were freebies, so they thanked him and went on their way.
Hayley opened the front cover of her book and idly flipped through the first few pages. The introduction included the most famous passage of all, John 3:16, in twenty different languages. She pointed it out to Crystal, who shrugged indifferently.
"Well, maybe they have it in Greek," Hayley said, flipping the tissue thin pages. "Criss is Greek, you know."
Hayley had a point, Crystal conceded. Every Loyal worth their domain name knew of Criss Angel's Athenian heritage on both sides of his family, but for the life of her, Crystal had never heard or seen anything in the Greek language. Her curiosity piqued, she took up her own book and searched for the same passage.
"There it is!" Hayley squealed, pointing at the page.
Crystal studied the strange lettering. It was the same verse; she knew it by heart since her early days in Sunday School, but trying to make out ABC from Alpha Beta Gamma gave her the sense of knowing what it was like to be illiterate. How was it pronounced, she wondered.
"Would Criss know how to read this?" Hayley asked.
"Well, he was born in a Greek family, so I'm pretty sure he would," Crystal answered with some uncertainity.
They tucked the books into their purses and continued their Las Vegas adventure. They grew hungry as the afternoon passed, but their shoestring budget didn't allow for fancy meals, so they opted for the Golden Arches instead. Once inside, they ordered the most basic meal deal--burger, small fries, small diet drink. The cashier served them their order on a brown plastic tray with a smile, and the search began for a seat. The ones in front were already taken, so they had to venture all the way to the back, but even there seating was limited. In desperation, they approached a spindly teenaged boy sitting alone at a table for four.
"Is it okay that we sit here?" Crystal asked.
"Sure," said the teen, motioning them to sit.
The girls sat down across the teen on the padded vinyl chairs. "Thanks," Hayley said as she separated Crystal's order from her own. "We really appreciate it."
"Not a problem," the boy said. "We Loyals have to stick together."
"How did you know we were Loyals?"
"I saw your CA logo pendants," he replied, "and the same earrings."
"He's very observant, I grant you that," Hayley said to Crystal. She then turned to the boy. "I'm Hayley, and this is Crystal."
"Name's Cole," the boy said, shaking hands with the girls in turn.
"Nice to meet you, Cole," Crystal said.
Cole took a sip of his extra large Coke. "So," he said, swallowing hard. "You here to see the demonstration at the Luxor?"
The girls were startled. "We didn't know there was going to be any demonstration at the Luxor," Hayley said, surprised.
"Oh, yeah, it's gonna be so cool! He's gonna go--" He suddenly stopped short.
"Go on," Hayley pressed.
"Well, I'm gonna let you see for yourselves," Cole told them with a mischievious grin.
"Oh, come on!" Crystal pouted. "You're mean!"
"Yeah," Hayley chimed in. "Tell us what he's gonna do!"
"Nah, nah, nah!" Cole teased. "I don't want to spoil the surprise,"
"Well, can you at least tell us when?" Hayley pressed.
Cole leaned forward conspiratoirally. "Tomorrow, two o'clock, right at the main entrance."
"We'll be there," Crystal promised.
They finished their meal, and Cole treated them both to hot fudge sundaes, not caring if they did wreak havoc on their complexions. The restaraunt became more and more crowded, so they decided to enjoy them outside. The found one of the concrete patio tables available to sit and chat about their idol.
"How long you been a Loyal?" Cole asked the girls.
"Well," Crystal struggled to remember, "I first saw MindFreak on TV back in...what? Two thousand...five, I think. Yeah, when he still had long hair. It was, like, love at first sight, you know?"
"And she sort of dragged me into it," Hayley added. "She told me about MindFreak, but I really wasn't into magic at the time. I come from a family of skeptics; my sister is the worst one. She's always ragging on Criss, saying that it's all camera tricks and that he's a fraud and all that. She just doesn't understand at all."
"You think he's a fraud?" Cole asked her.
"No way! Once I saw him in action--not to mention how cute he was--I was hooked!"
"Has your sister ever seen his show?"
"Only to criticize him, cut him down. She'd be, like, 'It's all camera tricks, it's not real magic, he's faking it, it's fake glass, he's got another one in his hand'," and so on and so on. I have to watch it in secret just so I can have some peace!"
Cole nodded sympathetically. "The kids at school are pretty much the same way; either they never heard of him or they cut him down. Me? I think he's the greatest who ever lived. I wanna be like him, follow in his footsteps, you know? I wanna follow him like he follows Houdini. I (bleeping) worship him, man! He's my idol of idols!"
Crystal was stunned. "Man! You're really hardcore!"
Cole took that as the supreme compliment. "Thank you," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "What about you?"
"Well, we're not that much into his demonstrations, though they're exciting enough!" Crystal replied hastily, for fear of not being considered Loyal enough. "We just think he's hot!"
"Our favorite is the Naked Jail Escape," Hayley told him.
Cole nodded. That particular episode was always the number one favorite among female Loyals. Even with the more intimate parts of his anatomy blurred out, seeing Criss in the buff was still a huge turn on. Women didn't appreciate his craft so much as his swarthy good looks. Pity, he thought. They failed to see the whole picture of Criss Angel; they couldn't get past the surface.
"So, where are you staying?" Crystal asked Cole. "You have a room somewhere?"
"Oh, well, I really don't like hotels and motels--too noisy, not to mention expensive." Not to mention he was only thirteen and didn't have a driver's license. If they found out the truth, not only would they laugh in his face, but he'd be in super big trouble--his parents were gone for the weekend, and he had promised to keep an eye on the house while they were gone. Instead, he had made the long trek from their California border town to Las Vegas on his dirt bike, knowing the risks involved but accepting them if it meant seeing Criss Angel in person. "I bought my camping gear and I'm heading out for the country," he told them with adolescent bravado.
"Wow, you're really brave," Crystal said admiringly. "How old are you, anyway?"
"Sixteen," he lied. "Well, I gotta go now. Gotta set up camp before dark, you know. Nice meeting you."
" 'Bye, Cole!" the girls called out after him as he mounted his dirt bike and rode off.
"Wow," Hayley sighed. "You know, he's kinda cute. Not as cute as Criss, but still!"
"At least he was good enough to tell us about the demonstration tomorrow," Crystal said. "We owe him one for that."
"Hey, it's like he said, we Loyals have to stick together," Hayley reminded her.
Hiram watched as the two young girls left the patio of the McDonalds restaurant, sipping his cup of coffee. He had heard everything those deluded young people had said about Criss Angel, or Criss Devil as he preferrred to call him. That boy confessed to actually worshipping him, making him an idol in clear violation of the Second Commandment! And those two girls lusted openly over him--they had even seen him naked on TV! All the more reason to destroy that minion of Satan once and for all.
In their misguided praise for Criss Devil, they did provide one crucial piece of information--he was going to practice his black magic tomorrow at two for all the world to see at the heathen Luxor. The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Hiram had stopped in just for a cup of coffee, that was all, and the Lord directed his feet to these followers of the Evil One himself to help him locate Criss Devil and exterminate him. He now knew where and when--all he needed to figure out was how.
Night fell on the city of Las Vegas. At a time when most of America was winding down for the day, Sin City was just waking up, ready for another night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and partying. The fabled Strip glowed in all its neon glory, beckoning one and all to taste if not indulge in its pleasures. Tourists and citizens alike cast aside their inhibitions along with all the cares of the workaday world, reveling in the endless parade of night clubs, bars, casinos, theaters, and other attractions. Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World--let us entertain you! it cried out.
One entertainer in particular had just wound up shooting his TV show for the day. Criss Angel was tired, but he didn't want to go back to his suite and sleep. He wanted company, preferably female, have a drink or two and unwind. What good was being in Vegas if you didn't go out and party once in a while?
MindFreak had been shooting in one of the seamier sides of Vegas, where he had done some mentalism and sleight of hand for a few passersby in the neighborhood. They had freaked out, as always, but a lot of their reactions would have to be bleeped out by the editors. As darkness fell, the producers and crew began to grow uneasy: it was not the safest neighborhood to be in after dark, they told him. Gangs prowled the streets, drug dealers plied their trades in the alleys, and there were prostitutes on every corner. Criss watched as the camera crew hurriedly packed their equipment in the big black cases and rushed them up the ramps onto the trucks. He looked around himself. There wasn't any trouble as far as he could see, though that could change in a minute, he knew. Be prepared for anything, expect nothing, his martial arts instructor had taught him.
On a street corner he saw a scantily clad woman in very high heels and very short skirt, almost up to her crotch. She looked young, too young for Criss' taste. He approached cautiously, not wanting to attract too much attention either to himself or the young woman. As he looked closer, he saw just how young she was--she had to be fourteen at the most. The heavy makeup did nothing to make her look older or prettier--it was little more than a clown mask on her small face.
Appalled by the sight of this child, for child she was in his eyes, selling her tender young body on the street for God knew what reason, Criss knew that in good conscience that he could not stand idly by while a girl's youth was wasted on the cold mean streets of Las Vegas. He had to take action, but how?
He suddenly remembered the mission for which he had held a fundraiser that was not too far away: the Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless, run by Pastor Beaman. Maybe he could help this poor girl. It was her only hope. But he couldn't just throw her in his car and drive her there; the press would have a field day if he was caught with an underage prostitute, even if his intentions were good. He wished he had the number to the shelter, so he could call them and have them pick her up. What to do?
Then, suddenly, as if by Divine intervention, came the solution, in the form of a cruising cab tooling down the street looking for fares. Criss put his fingers into his mouth and gave a traffic-stopping whistle to flag it down. The green and white cab slowed and pulled over to the curb. Criss went over to the girl on the corner. Her smile looked pasted on as she saw him coming; just another john for her to service in her eyes. But he didn't approach her like any other man who wanted to procure her services. No, this one meant business. Criss grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her, protesting, to the cab. He yanked open the back door and shoved her in. "Hey!" she cried out. "What the (bleep) are you doing?"
Criss slammed the cab door and turned to the driver. "You know where Sanctuary Shelter is?"
"I know where it is," the cab driver replied in a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
Criss handed the driver a fifty. "Take this girl there, and ask for Pastor Beaman," he instructed. "Make sure she gets in there safely. Keep the change."
The driver took the fifty. "All right, I do that," he nodded, and he drove away with the flustered girl in the back seat of his cab. Criss sighed with relief. One less ruined life on the street, he thought. He turned away, but happened to see a paparazzi with his camera. He probably thought I was picking her up, he thought. Joke's on him! Criss greeted him with a one finger salute and went on his way, laughing to himself.
Mario Mendoza, photographer for VERVE!, had waited for this all day. The stars were out, and not the ones in the sky, either. Nighttime was when Vegas was the most alive, and he was out to capture the action. He cruised down the Strip, looking for any signs of a celeb doing something out of character, or something illegal, or something at all for that matter.
He swung by the lesser know part of the Strip and down a side street to circle back--there was a water main break up aways, so he had to detour--and drove cautiously down the unsavoury part of Sin City, where the real vice took place. He kept his eyes forward; to look from side to side would make him look like a tourist, and that would be inviting trouble.
Three large trucks blocked his way in the street. Great! he thought. First a water main break, now this! How the hell do I get out of this? Upon closer inspection, however, he saw just whose trucks they were. The MindFreak murals on the sides were a dead giveaway. Booyeah! Mario pulled over to the side and out came the camera. If Criss was in this hellhole, something had to be up, he figured as he climbed out of his SUV. Camera poised, he stalked his prey for a good shot.
There he was! On that corner--with a prostitute! And not just any prostitute, an underage one! Mario could easily tell just by looking at her. He hid himself behind a building across the street, eyes and ears peeled. Now he's flagging down a cab--very suspicious, indeed. Trying to cover his tracks and his ass by not using his own car, huh? Yeah, right. He's got her by the arm--flash! He's pushing her into the cab--flash! Now he's talking to the driver, handing him money. What's he saying? Something about a homeless shelter? Why the hell would he shack up with a little tart in a homeless shelter? Now the cab's driving away, and Criss is still standing there? What gives?
Mario lowered his camera, missing a great opportunity to take a picture of Criss across the street, giving him the finger. Undaunted, Mario vowed to follow up on this mystery. First, find the cab and the cab driver and pump him for some info. Next, find that shelter and the girl and get the lowdown from her. He was going to get to the bottom of this if it was the last thing he would do.
Darkness was falling, and Cole needed a place to spend the night. He was too young to check into a motel by himself, so he was screwed in that respect. He wished he did have some camping gear as he told Crystal and Hayley, so he could camp out under the stars. He wished he hadn't lied to them like that. He should have thought of a way to talk them into letting him spend the night at either of their houses; it wouldn't have been like he was going to sleep with them, just have a roof over his head for the night. He would have slept in the garage if they had let him. But then, their folks would have reported him, and it would be good bye Criss Angel demonstration and the rest of his social life as well.
Cole cruised around the side streets, noting that his gas gauge was hovering around E. He had to find a place, and soon. This neighborhood looked pretty (bleepy), with empty buildings covered with gang graffitti. Gangstas used white boys like him for target practice, or as a punching bag. He was about to turn around when he saw the sign: Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless. Well, any port in a storm, as his dad would say. Technically, he was homeless, if only for the night.
He pulled over to the garage where the van was kept. His luck held when he found the side door still open, and he hid his dirt bike inside, taking care to chain the wheels together so it wouldn't be stolen. Then he walked up to the shelter entrance, working on his cover story in his mind.
A large African American matronly type smiled warmly as he entered the lobby. "Hi, honey, " she greeted him sympathetically. "You lost or something?"
Cole lowered his eyes in shame. "Well, I...I ran away from home, see, and, well...I need a place to spend the night, see. Just until morning."
The motherly volunteer put her arm around his shoulder. "Now why did you run away from home?"
Cole thought fast. "Well, I got into a fight with my folks, see, and I ran away." He began to sniffle, wiping his dry eyes. "Now, I'm scared, but it's too dark to go home again. Could I just stay the night here, until morning? Please?"
"Aw, honey, we can call your folks right now, and they can pick you up." The volunteer picked up the phone.
Cole panicked. "No!" he said, clutching her hand and the phone. "I don't want them to know I'm here."
The volunteer lowered the receiver. "Your parents abuse you or something?"
Cole nodded. "Yeah. They got a drinking problem, you know? They both do. I just wanna stay here until they sober up in the morning, and things cool down, okay?"
"Well, all right, honey, you can stay here," the volunteer said. "But first thing in the morning, we call your folks and straighten things out, understand?"
Cole threw his arms around the volunteer. "You're such a nice lady," he gushed. "I promise to be real good, I won't cause any trouble."
"I know you won't," said the volunteer. "Now, let's get you some food. You look like a bag of bones." She led him down a corridor. "Cafeteria's over here. Then we'll get you a bed."
Score! Secretly elated, Cole followed the volunteer to the cafeteria. This was better than he planned. Free food, place to sleep--perfect! He just had to remember to clear out before they tried to contact his mom and dad. If they contacted them, that is. They weren't even home, he remembered. All they'd get was their voicemail. If he got home in time, he could delete it and no one would be the wiser. Either way, he'd get away with it. God, he was brilliant!
Mahmood Musavi drove his cab up the street to the shelter where Criss Angel had directed him. He knew the place well enough, though he had never been inside. It was the only refuge for the homeless beggars wandering the streets of Las Vegas; for many it was the only home they would ever know. It had been an abandoned warehouse converted into a Christian run mission dedicated to relieving the misery of poverty, drug addiction and abuse. It struck Mahmood as curious that there was so much poverty in a country as wealthy as America. When he and his family came here for Syria, he had believed that everyone had a big beautiful house with a car to drive, and they would want for nothing. The reality was that the big beautiful houses belonged only to a few fortunate people, and there was as much want here as there was back in his own country. But he adapted, learned English, and got a job driving a cab. It paid well enough, with tips, to keep body and soul together.
But the tip he received this evening would do more than keep body and soul together, thanks be to God and Criss Angel. Oh, yes, he knew who it was that gave him fifty dollars for an eight-forty fare--he had seen his face on the billboards and television ads often enough. He had even seen him perform on the street once; a girl not much older than the one in the back of his cab had been chosen from the crowd of people and made to float before their very eyes! There were no wires that he saw, nothing that betrayed any trickery on his part. She just hung motionless in the air in a complete trance. That had taken place a few months ago, and it still astonished him.
Of course, as a devout Muslim, he had been taught that such acts of magic were the work of the djinn, or demons. But even the sultans of old had the Magi to not only entertain, but to give counsel in other matters, for they were holy men devoted to knowledge as well as mysticism. Criss Angel would have been in great demand in any royal court for his skills. True, he did not practice "magic", but created illusions to fool people into thinking they had witnessed miracles. And he had fooled them well.
But his kindness to the girl sitting in his cab, well, that was no illusion. Mahmood had become skilled in reading people's faces after seven years of driving a cab; he could tell just by looking that Criss' concern for this unfortunate child was genuine. To give him fifty dollars to deliver her to the Christian mission showed his generosity as well. May God reward his good deed, he thought.
Mahmood pulled up to the entrance of the shelter with practiced ease. He got out of the cab and opened the back door to let the girl out. "Come along," he ordered her impatiently. "I don't have all night."
The frail girl with the overly made up face emerged from the cab slowly, unsure of her new surroundings. Mahmood took her by the arm and pulled her to the front doors of the shelter. He pulled open the glass door and entered with the girl in hand.
The matronly volunteer stared curiously at the pair. "May I help you?" she asked warily.
"I was told to bring this child here to a Pastor Beaman," he explained bluntly. "She is to stay here with him."
The volunteer looked at the sullen girl hiding behind a face full of makeup and sighed inwardly. Another teen prostitute, she thought. Lord knew how many girls the Pastor had rescued from a life on the streets, and yet they kept on coming. "We'll make room for her here," the volunteer told him. "Lord bless you for bringing her here. Uh, how much do we owe you for the fare?" She began to open the cash drawer.
Mahmood held up his hand. "Not one penny," he said. "Her fare has already been paid by the one who sent her here."
The volunteer closed the cash drawer. "Well, Heaven bless whoever it was!" she exclaimed. She then turned to the girl. "Young lady, you should thank God that He sent an angel to look out for you." She turned to Mahmood. "Who sent her here, anyway?"
Mahmood could not help but laugh. "You answer your own question, mum!"
The volunteer looked at Mahmood bemusedly. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
"You say God sent an angel to help this child," he smiled, chuckling, "and you are right. He sent an Angel--Criss Angel! Hee! Hee! Criss Angel send her here!" And with that, Mahmood walked out of the shelter, laughing at his little joke.
Mario Mendoza waited by the cab where he saw Criss Angel throw the girl in. He had watched as the driver took the girl into the shelter, speak to some lady inside, and leave. Now he was coming back to his cab. Mario waited patiently as the driver, a Middle Eastern type approached. Mario hoped he spoke English well enough, if at all.
Mahmood saw Mario standing by his cab. "Need a ride, Mister?" he asked.
Well, his English was good enough, Mario thought. That was a relief. "I just want to know who it was you drove here," he replied.
"What business is it of yours?" Mahmood snapped.
"I noticed it was Criss Angel who put her in your cab," Mario replied. "You know who he is?"
"Yes, I know, and what business is it of yours?" he repeated irritably. "I got work to do! You need a ride or not?"
"Just answer me this," Mario said patiently. "Why would a big star get involved with a teen prostitute. You know she is a prostitute, don't you?"
"He tell me to take the girl here to the shelter, that's all. He tell me to take her to the Pastor Beaman. Now, you need a ride or not? If you don't, get away from my cab!"
Mahmood slipped back into his cab and sped off, narrowly missing running over Mario's foot by inches. Mario stood there, stewing. Well, he wasn't much help, he thought. Maybe inside the shelter, that lady he was talking to--maybe she could shed some light on this mystery. He turned and went into the shelter. The lady the driver spoke to was still there.
"May I help you?" she said to him.
"Uh, yeah, I need to know about that girl that cabbie just bought in. You know anything about her?"
The volunteer shook her huge head. "No, we don't have a record of her yet," she replied. "I do know that Criss Angel arranged to bring her here. He paid that cab driver himself to bring her here. He's such a good man, that Criss Angel," she sighed wistfully. "You know, he sold two of his fancy sports cars to raise money to build this shelter? Yes, he did! Raised a quarter of a million dollars! And now he rescued that poor child from the streets! He certainly lives up to his last name, that's for sure!"
Mario sighed defeatedly. Here he had what he thought would be a big scoop, a major scandal involving the most famous magician in the world and an underage prostitute, and he turns out to be a Boy Scout! Mario couldn't win for losing.
Randy Winterfield drove his van to the temporary Gideons headquarters in a local motel. He had had a busy day, with that visit from Criss Angel, the magician, being the highlight of his afternoon; he was still freaked out over it. Now all he wanted was a bite to eat and a good night's sleep, for tomorrow would be even busier. The Gideons had arranged for new Bibles to be placed in the suites of the Luxor Hotel and Casino. As large as it was, it would take him all day to deliver them to each suite.
Randy entered his single room, crowded to the ceiling with cartons of Bibles and New Testaments, leaving barely enough room to walk around. He flopped down onto the mattress, exhausted. Lord, thank You for the blessings of the day. May those who read Your Word find salvation and peace. Amen.
Suddenly he shot upright. He had forgotten to make one very important delivery to the Sancutary Shelter for the Homeless, and he had promised he'd make good on it. He got up, grabbed the keys to his van, and shot out of the door. Pastor Beaman was counting on him, and he wasn't going to let him down.
In his dingy home fifty miles from Las Vegas, Hiram Block was reading the same Word of God for his own purposes. The deeper he delved into Scripture, the more convinced that the Lord wanted him to get rid of Criss Devil. He read on, reaching the fifth chapter of St. Matthew:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell.
Hiram pondered on these two verses. He had known them from his earliest boyhood, but now the meaning was clear. Cut off the source of the sin and cast it away, so as not to contaminate the whole. Root it out like a weed on the lawn, or it would grow back.
He set aside his dog-eared Bible and pulled open a small drawer under the lamp table. He reached in and took out a revolver, freshly cleaned and oiled just yesterday. His father, God rest his soul, had bequeathed it to him on his deathbed, instructing him to use it only if he absolutely had to. He had so promised, and now the time had come to fulfill it. Tomorrow, he would cut off the right hand of Satan and cast him into Hell. It would be profitable for him, indeed.
I hate narrow minded people
Criss was tired, hot, sweaty and hungry. He sat in the back of the large black SUV, swigging a bottle of water. His brothers, JD and Costa, his manager, Dave Baram, and his producers rode with him, poring over every last detail of the episode, what to edit, what to keep, what worked, what didn't, and on and on and on, but he was too tired to care at the moment. He just wanted to go home, take a shower, eat and relax. It had been a long day of shooting in the hot Nevada sun; he thought he'd be used to it by now after living five years in the desert, working in temperatures that would have given lesser men heat stroke.
Something his brother, JD, said snapped him out of his drowsy state. He jerked his head to full alert. "What'd you say, bro'?" he said.
"I said, what was with you and that girl?" JD repeated.
Criss was still in a fog. "What girl?" he asked.
"That girl on the street corner. You know, that little streetwalker?"
It finally clicked in Criss sleep-deprived brain. "Oh, yeah! Her! Yeah, I saw this girl turning tricks on the corner there--she couldn't have been more than...what?...fourteen at most. Anyway, I felt sorry for her, and then I remembered that Sanctuary Shelter wasn't too far from here--"
"That homeless shelter you raised money for?" JD inquired.
"Yeah, that's the one. Anyway, I managed to get a cab and told the driver to take her there, ask for Pastor Beaman. So, that's one less teen prostie on the street."
"You're a real Boy Scout, Criss," JD said with a tinge of sarcasm.
"Just hope the press don't get hold of it and blow it out of proportion."
Criss sat up. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you being seen with a teen prostitute could damage your career," JD pointed out. "There are a lot of people who'd love to see you take a fall, Criss. Even if you stated you were acting out of the goodness of your heart, they'd never go for it. People believe what they want to believe, no matter what. 'My mind is made up, so don't confuse me with the facts', that sort of thing."
"Hey, I didn't get into the cab with her--hell, I barely touched her!" Criss protested. "If they don't believe me, they can call the shelter and see for themselves. I'm innocent here--ask anyone. There was even a paparazzi across the street taking pictures, and even he saw what really happened."
Now it was JD's turn to become alarmed. "A paparazzi? Do you know what that means? He can sell those pictures to some sleazy tabloid, they'd turn it around six ways to Sunday, and you'd have a major scandal on your hands! You're in really hot water here, Criss. You'd better watch your back from now on."
"Relax! Like I said, they can call the shelter and find out the truth for themselves. I helped a little damsel in distress and you're worried about a scandal? I didn't do anything! I am completely innocent." Criss leaned back with an air of self-satisfaction. "It's gonna be cool, JD, don't worry. No one can prove anything against me."
Jim Close, Assistant Editor of VERVE! magazine, sat at his cluttered desk in his cluttered office, reviewing news articles. He was suddenly interrupted by an excited Mario Mendoza bursting through the door, waving some photos over his head triumphantly.
Jim glared at Mario irritably. "Don't you ever knock, Mendoza?"
Mario rapped a few times on the already opened door. Jim rolled his eyes to the ceiling. Mendoza was a damn good photographer, but he could behave like a horse's ass at times. He was the type who lived for getting the goods on anyone whose name was even remotely familiar to Mr. and Mrs. America. Mario hunted scandal like a lion hunted antelope, stealthily, untiringly, unmercifully. When he came into his office like that, it meant he had another kill to his record.
"So, what d'you got this time?" Jim asked him in a bored tone.
Mario slapped down the pictures in triumph. "I caught Criss Angel with a teen prostitute just an hour ago!" he crowed.
Jim studied the pictures. One showed Criss standing next to her, taking her by the arm, the next showed the girl getting into a cab. It looked pretty convincing so far, but something didn't click. For one thing, why would Criss Angel shack up with a girl like her? And take a cab when he had his own fleet, or a limo waiting for him? And why was he just standing there, ramrod straight, while the girl got in? He didn't even look like he was going to get in the cab.
Jim looked up at Mario. He knew that Mendoza had a way of twisting a story around to make someone look bad; he'd been doing it for years. Thank God VERVE! had fact checkers on it's staff, or his ass would be grass as far as the publishers were concerned. Jim was going to grill Mendoza to get the truth out of him if he had to choke him with his own camera shoulder strap!
"Okay, Mendoza," Jim said, staring the photographer squarely in the eye. "Tell me what really happened. If you're not square with me, so help me, I'll..."
"Hey, Jim! Take it easy, willya? I saw Criss Angel on that corner, talking to that girl, he gets a cab and she gets into it."
"Did Criss get into the cab with her?" Jim wanted to know.
"Well, no, but.."
"But what, Mendoza?"
"Well, maybe he sent her on ahead somewhere to meet later, you know? Arranged a little liason somewhere private?"
"Mendoza, we don't publish anything on 'maybe'! We get the facts, understand? I don't see anything here that suggests Criss was going to shack up with some little teen tart on the street corner. I want the truth, Mendoza! What did you see and what did you hear?"
Mario raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine. He told the cabbie to take her to some shelter, or something like that. You satisfied?"
"Okay, I'm gonna get someone to check it out. Maybe we can use it after all. But." He pointed a knobby finger at Mario. "You'd better watch your back from now on, Mendoza. If we publish false or misleading information, we'd get our asses hauled into court faster than you can say watch the birdie! We're an entertainment news magazine, not some sleazy yellow tabloid rag! We got standards here! Capisce?"
"Yeah," Mario nodded grudgingly. "I capeesh."
"Good." Jim sat down. "Now, if you really want to cover Criss Angel, he's got a demonstration in front of the Luxor tomorrow afternoon. Get me some pictures of it for an exclusive. And no muckraking! You're a photographer, not a photojournalist."
"Got it," Mario mumbled, cursing under his breath.
"All right, now get out of here!" Jim waved him away and went back to his reviews.
Mario left. Oh, he'd get some pictures all right, no doubt about that. He knew that Criss Angel had rock star status among teenage girls, and they'd be there in droves. If he could catch him in the act of doing something "inappropriate"...
Oh, yeah, Criss, you're going down. And you are going down hard. I can see the headlines now: FALLEN ANGEL. Oh, that would be so sweet! You may be on top of the hill now, but when I get the goods on you, you're gonna be flapping your broken wings in the gutter, and you won't be able to levitate out of it no matter how hard you try, you overblown two-bit party magician. Yeah, I know you for what you really are. You're riding high, but I can bring you low with the right photos. Just you wait and see.
Randy Winterfield drove his van to the service entrance of the Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless. It was late, he knew, but he had promised to deliver one hundred Bibles to the shelter for the residents. One hundred books may seem a lot at first glance, but with the homeless situation reaching crisis proportions, with more and more people seeking help than the shelter's resources could provide, it wasn't enough. He could only pray that his small offering of the Word would help even one resident turn his or her life around.
He parked by the loading dock, got out of the van, and walked over to the receiving office door. It was locked, so he rang the bell, which echoed loudly inside the storage warehouse. Through the wire mesh reinforced window he saw a familiar face approaching. It was Pastor Beaman himself who opened the door for Randy.
"Hey, Pastor!" Randy greeted him.
"Randy! Good to see you!" The two men happily shook hands. "Come on in!"
Rnady entered the warehouse, stacked with boxes and cans of food, donated clothing, and other necessities. "I got those Bibles you asked for," he told the pastor. "We could only turn out a hundred for now, but we promise to get more in the future. Printing costs have really gone up lately."
"Lord bless you, Randy," the pastor smiled at him. "Whatever you and the Gideons can contribute will be greatly appreciated."
"Thank you, Pastor. You wanna give me a hand with these boxes."
The Pastor pointed to a hand truck standing in the corner. "You can use the dolley over there," he said to him. "One hernia operation's enough for me, thank you."
Randy winced. "Ouch!" he said. He went for the hand truck. "You know, a funny thing happened to me today. I was passing out our pocket New Testaments when I saw that magician, Criss Angel. You know him?"
Pastor Beaman laughed. "Know him? He raised money for this shelter! Sold a couple of his fancy sports cars and a motorcycle at an auction for it--quarter of a million dollars we got!"
Randy was impressed. "Well, the Lord bless him for it. Anyway, he comes up to me, I give him a book, and he tells me to find a verse in it while his back was turned to me. Well, I found Matthew seven-one. And would you believe it, he nailed it spot on! And his back was to me all the time! I don't know how he did it!"
"Well, that's what he does, you know? Besides, there's a trick to it." the pastor said.
"Yeah?" Randy replied as he loaded three big boxes onto the hand truck. "I'd sure like to know what it is!" He wheeled the boxes into the warehouse. "Still, it was pretty scary in a way."
"Ah, he's just into it for the entertainment value," the pastor said dismissivly. "He just makes people think he can do magic. He's really a good God-fearing man--I know him."
"Well, there's a lot of people out there who would disagree with you there, Pastor," Randy countered as he lifted the boxes of Bibles onto a shelf. "I heard a lot of rumors of Criss being in league with the devil. I even saw one site on the Web that claimed that he was the Anti-Christ."
Pastor Beaman sniffed derisivly. "That's a lot of horsehockey!" he exclaimed. "I know Criss Angel better than they do, and I can truthfully say that isn't the case."
"Well, I'm glad you say so, Pastor," Randy replied. "Me? I really don't give it much thought. Anyway the Anti-Christ is going to be a political figure, not an entertainer. And I got more deliveries tomorrow, so--" Randy put the hand truck back in its corner. "I'll see you soon."
"Good to see you again, Randy," the pastor said, shaking his hand in farewell. "Lord bless you."
"Lord bless you, too, Pastor," Randy returned as he got into his van and drove away.
Pastor Beaman turned and walked back to his office. Tomorrow, he would distribute the Bibles as best he could. A hundred wouldn't be enough for all of the residents, he knew, but he'd have to do his best with what he had. He was a past master at making do with little, stretching every dollar to its breaking point to cover expenses. If it hadn't been for Criss Angel, a man who lived up to his name no matter what the naysayers charged against him, this shelter wouldn't even be here.
Criss Angel the Anti-Christ? Horsehockey! There was no solid proof that it was so. People had believed Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and even Ronald Reagan to be the Anti-Christ, but the world went on, with no rapture, no destruction, no anything form Revelations. True, Christians had always been a little freaked out over magic and conjuring, but Criss was a stage magician, no more, no less. He was an entertainer, just as he told Randy. There wasn't a Satanic bone in his body. Why would he sell two expensive sports cars to raise money for a Christian based mission if he was a Satanist? Answer that, you holier-than-thou Pharasees! he said to himself. And didn't he just bring in some poor child off the streets who had been peddling her body for money, paying her fare out of his own pocket like the Good Samaratan? Was that the act of a Satanist? He thought not! Those critics knew what they could do with their false witnessing against Criss Angel! He was a better Christian than they'd ever hope to be! Besides, what had they done for his mission lately? No matter what anyone else said, Pastor Beaman vowed to stand by Criss Angel to the bitter end.
"We're gonna see Criss Angel!" Crystal and Hayley squealed in girlish delight as they burst into the motel room. "We're gonna see Criss Angel!"
Courtney looked away from the large mirror by the TV set. "What are you two all excited about?" she grumbled as she adjusted her earrings.
"Criss Angel is going to do a demonstration in front of the Luxor!" Crystal announced gleefully. "Oh, God! I can hardly wait 'til tomorrow."
"A demonstration of what?" Courtney sneered. "How big a jerk he is? He doesn't have to do it in front of a crowd--he's already proven that."
Hayley looked annoyed at her older sister. "Courtney, what is your major malfunction?" she demanded. "You've been ragging on Criss ever since we got here."
"I'm not 'ragging' on him," Courtney protested as she applied lipstick. "I'm merely pointing out the truth. He's a fraud and a loser. And personally, I think he's gay."
"He's not gay!" Crystal and Hayley chorused angrily.
"Sure he is," Courtney argued. "A guy who wears eyeliner and nail polish, can't commit to a relationship with a girl--he's gay."
"Actors always wear makeup when they're on stage," Hayley pointed out. "And he's been too busy with his shows to commit to a relationship to anyone."
"I still think he's gay."
Hayley was about to protest, but Crystal held up her hand. "Let it go, Haye," she said. "Everyone's entitled to their own stupid, misinformed opinion. We know the truth, and that's all that matters."
Courtney finished making up her face and picked up her evening bag. "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going out. As long as I'm here, I might as well make the most of it. You two are on your own. I'll be back later. Much later." She sailed out of the room, leaving the scent of Chanel in her wake.
Hayley flopped down on the bed. "God! I don't know what to do about her!" she groaned. "She's always on my case about something. Everything I like, she trashes. And she criticizes everything I do, picking it apart to find the tiniest flaw. She hasn't said a kind word to me ever since I was born, it seems! I mean, what did I do to offend her?"
Crystal sat down by her friend. "You got born after her, is what," she replied. "She was an only child before you came along, getting all the attention and whatever. Then you came along and stole the limelight from her. It's like that with me and my brother, Chad. He was six when I was born, and he made my life a living hell until he went into the Army and got sent to Iraq. Now, I miss him something fierce. Every day Mom waits for a letter from him, or a phone call in the middle of the night from him. When we do get one, it's like a big celebration. Five years ago, he wouldn't have given me the time of day. Now, he asks me how's school going and stuff like that."
"Well, fine for you, Crys," Hayley retorted. "Maybe if Courtney went to Iraq, she'd be nicer to me, you think?"
Crystal giggled. "Well, give it time, Haye," she said. "We all gotta grow up sometime--she's just a late bloomer, that's all. I mean, she's so immature, you know?"
Hayley smiled. "Yeah, maybe you're right," she conceded. "She's gotta grow up sometime."
"So, let's just forget her and concentrate on how we're gonna meet Criss. We gotta get up really early so we can get a good spot. Did you bring your camera?"
Hayley nodded. "Good!" Crystal said. "Now, here's what we do...."
Cole Shoope sat on one of the metal folding chairs in the chapel, listening to the evening devotional service, a requisite for spending the night here at Sanctuary Shelter. His soul writhed with boredom as he allowed the words of the pastor to wash over him like so much surf, with nothing sinking in. He had heard it all before in church, when his parents used to go to church. Instead, he concentrated on trying not to gag from the stench of the bum sitting next to him. Geez! Couldn't they give the guy a shower before coming to church? He stank worse than the gym locker room at school!
But he was stuck here for the night. He began to really wish he had bought camping gear like he told those girls at McDonalds. Then he wouldn't be sitting here, choking on the fumes of some dude's dirty body and clothes. This (bleeper) could burn a hole in the ozone layer!, he thought. Guess that's what I get for lying my way in here.
But then again, this was the very shelter Criss had raised money for with that auction. Cole felt a cosmic bond between himself and this mission he was in. Yes, it was destiny that bought him here. The Spirit of Criss Angel had guided him here so he wouldn't have to sleep on the steet. And tomorrow, Criss himself would appear in person at the Luxor, yet he had no idea what the demonstration was. Would he risk life and limb in some death-defying escape, as he had in the past? Maybe, since he was here in the chapel, he should pray for him. Yeah, that would be a good idea, he thought.
Cole bowed his head, folded his hands and closed his eyes. Dear God, thank You for Criss Angel. Keep him safe when he does his demonstration tomorrow. Don't let anything bad happen to him. Remember, he built this shelter for the poor. You owe it to him to keep him safe. And please, God, when I get home, don't let my parents find out I came here to Vegas on my dirt bike, 'cause if they do, I'm dead! I'll drop some money into the donation box on my way out if You do. Amen.
Hiram Block slowly and painfully knelt by his bedside for his final prayer of the day. It was a habit he had kept since he was knee high to a grasshopper with his mother, God rest her, beside him, teaching him his prayers. It was his favorite childhood memory, one he always recalled with a smile this time of night. Even at sixty-five, though arthritis had stiffened his left knee and he had had hip replacement surgery two years ago, he still humbled himself before the Lord every night in the same manner. He folded his weathered hands and bowed his head.
Heavenly Father, he prayed, I thank Thee for the day Thou hast given me. I ask of Thee to arm me with the sword of righteousness, for tomorrow I go and destroy that minion of Satan, the one who calls himself Criss Angel, but who in fact is really a Devil in disguse, and the Devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shape. My faith in Thee is my shield, my armor. Give me the strength of a thousand men to cast the Evil One into the depths of Hell where he belongs! Free this benighted city from the grip of the Anti-Christ! Let Your power and glory be revealed at last, so that the whoremongers and fleshpeddlers may be driven out as Thou hast driven out the moneychangers from Thy Temple. Guide Thy people who have steered from the straight and narrow path back to Thy bosom. Let me by Thy right hand to deliver justice! Let me bring ruin upon the heads of those who lead Thy children astray with lies and trickery! Let it be all according to Thy will. In Jesus' Name, amen.
great chapters , I really don't like this reporter , can't wait to read more :)
CRISS GAY: If that was true I'd take stock in Prozac because a lot of girls would become depressed (me included)
The sun rose an angry red in the desert sky, shooting streaks of pink and orange through the wisps of clouds. Randy Winterfield could not help but remember the old seaman's adage: Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning. He knew a red sun meant a scorcher of a day, with bad weather following, at least where he came from. Who knew how that old saw applied here in the Southwest.
Randy loaded his van with boxes of Bibles. He had a lot of them to deliver, especially at the Luxor Hotel, and it was best to get an early start so as to beat the worst of the heat. It was six AM, and already it was too hot for comfort. Triple-digit temperatures were not uncommon here in Nevada. He made sure to bring plenty of bottled water, not only for himself, but for any passerby who needed to cool off. Even a cup of cold water given in Jesus' name was rewarded in Heaven, he recalled.
He slammed the rear doors of the van and circled around to the driver's seat. He opened the door, climbed in, and shut it behind him. He breathed a prayer for God's help for the day, and drove to the Luxor, humming a hymn playing on the radio. The sun was still a blood red orb in the sky, reminding him of a kickball in school. Upon arrival, he circled around the back to the service entrance and parked by the sliding doors. Granted clearance from Checkpoint Charlie at the office, he unloaded his Bibles onto a utility cart thoughtfully provided by the hotel, and pushed it into the hotel proper.
Randy stopped at the security office for a pass to enter the rooms, but he was told that because of security reasons, the Bibles were to be distributed by the staff. He was to leave them in the storage room in the back. Randy shrugged in acquiescence. It was all the same to him. So long as the Word of God was spread, it didn't matter who did it. Saved him some work, though.
He wheeled the boxes to the storeroom as directed. On his way down the carpeted hall, who did he see but the same Criss Angel coming back from his workout, his hair still damp from his shower. Randy brightened and stopped pushing the cart.
"The Lord be with you," he greeted Criss.
Criss looked at him, unsure at first, then he remembered that it was the Bible guy he met yesterday who gave him that little green book (what the hell did he do with it, by the way? he wondered). He stopped to greet him in return. "And also with you," he replied. "What are you doing here?"
"I have some new Bibles to pass out in the rooms here in the hotel," Randy explained. "The told me to put them in the storage room back here so they can do it."
"They won't let you pass them out?" Criss asked.
Randy shook his head. "Nah, they said it was for security reasons."
"Oh." Criss shrugged. "Well, I'm sure they'll get them up there soon. Gotta go now, so good luck." He strode away, waving.
"Have a blessed day," Randy called out after him, and returned to pushing his cart.
Bibles in hotel rooms made Criss recall a funny incident from his early days in Vegas, making him smile. He kept it to himself for the moment. He had to prepare for the demonstration this afternoon, and he had to stay focused.
After breakfast, Criss went down to the Production Office for the day's meeting. It was seven AM, seven hours before the demonstration, and already there was a crowd assembling out front, wanting to get a good seat. Despite the best efforts of the staff to keep the entrance clear, the Loyals insisted on staying there until the appearance of The Angel himself. Criss couldn't help but be amazed at the extremes his fans would go to express their devotion to him. He could only hope and pray that it didn't result in disaster for any of them.
In the office, Criss met up with his eldest brother and right hand man, JD, who sat at his desk, going over some papers. As Criss crossed over to meet him, he noticed a familiar green book sitting on his desk. Looking around, he saw those same little green books on several of the desks in the office. That Bible guy was really busy around here, Criss thought.
"Hey, bro'," Criss said. " 'Sup?"
"Oh, hi, Criss," JD said, looking up. "Just the production schedule and all that."
Criss picked up the green New Testament. "You got one too, huh?"
"Hm? Oh, that." JD replied indifferently. "Some guy was passing them around yesterday and handed one to me. Thing's so damn small I can't read it."
Criss opened the tiny book. "What're you talking about? I can read it fine. Maybe you need glasses or something."
"Maybe they need to make them bigger." JD retorted.
Criss set the book aside. Enough about Bibles, it was time to get to work. The demonstration was at two and every moment counted when it came to preparation. The rest of the staff would be here later. Then the real work would start.
Cole Shoope awoke with a start at the morning bell in his room at Sanctuary Shelter. He looked at his watch. Seven o'clock AM. And the demonstration was at two. He had to hustle in order to get a good spot. He hoped that his bike hadn't been stolen, or locked in the garage, or even noticed by the staff. If any of those scenarios came true, he was screwed.
Cole bolted out of his bunk, startling the other three transients with whom he had spent the night and dressed hastily. He had taken the precaution of sleeping with his wallet under his pillow so that his "roommates" wouldn't help themselves to his limited stash of cash. He checked it to see if everything was still there, sighed with relief that it was, then stuffed it into his jeans pocket. He grabbed his keys and jacket and dashed out the door.
"What's his hurry, man?" wondered one of the vagrants on the other bottom bunk.
Cole slipped down the corridors, looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. He passed the cafeteria, where the smell of hot food stopped him in his tracks. Well, maybe he'd stay for breakfast, anyway, he thought. It would save money buying something. He slipped into the cafeteria. The morning volunteers were just setting up the steam table when a large, motherly type noticed him.
"Well, you here bright and early!" she said loudly. "You look kinda young to be here."
"Well, I ran away from home yesterday," Cole alibied, "but now I'm ready to go back. Everything's cool now." he added hastily.
"Well, that's good to hear, honey. You want some breakfast before you go?"
Cole brightened. "Sure do!" he exclaimed eagerly.
He grabbed a tray from the stack at the end of the counter and helped himself to some pancakes and sausage set before him by the volunteer. He slid his tray along the rail to pick up some orange juice and milk at the other end when he was stopped by another volunteer, a skinny, almost skeletal figure wearing a perpetual frown. Cole felt a chill go down his spine as he looked at her. She, in turn, practically glared at him almost accusingly. Did she suspect that he had lied his way into the shelter? he wondered fearfully.
"Don't forget to ask the blessing before you eat," she warned him. "That's the rule here."
"Yeah, sure," Cole replied, still shaken. "Okay."
He grabbed his tray and moved as far from Skeletor as possible. He sat down at a table in a far corner of the cafeteria, but he could still feel her eyes upon him, boring into the core of his being, making sure he followed the rule of saying grace before meals. Cole folded his hands together, bowed his head and pretended to pray, stretching it out for what he hoped was a reasonable time period, then dug into his breakfast. No reprisal from Skeletor, thank God.
Other residents trooped into the cafeteria, picking up trays and receiving the same grim reminder from Skeletor the volunteer. Cole wondered if anyone tried to buck the system by not saying grace, and what happened to them. Did they get yelled at? Were they not allowed to eat if they didn't? The mind boggled.
Cole finished his breakfast and quickly left the cafeteria. He had to get out of here in a hurry before he was found out. If he remembered correctly, the main entrance was just around the corner and down the hall. He trotted down the corridor, past the chapel, nearing the reception desk. He saw sunlight streaming through the glass doors. Freedom was almost his! He hid behind a vertical soffit until the receptionist's back was turned, then made a dash for the doors.
"Excuse me, young man?" said the receptionist behind him.
Cole froze in his tracks. Oh, God, what now? Was he busted?
"If you are leaving, you have to sign out in the register," the receptionist told him, holding up a black notebook. "Those are the rules."
Lotta rules in this place, Cole thought. He reluctantly returned to the desk to sign out.
"Just sign your name, the time you're leaving and the time you'll be back," she explained, handing him a pen. Cole took it, found an empty space on the register (some were filled in the same handwriting, he noticed. Maybe some of these people couldn't write), and quickly came up with a fake name to cover his tracks--Carl Shooter. It wasn't the best, but it would do to conceal his identity for the time being. He clocked out at seven-twenty, but left the re-entry time blank. He was definatly not coming back, that was for sure. He handed the book back to the receptionist and turned to leave, but again he was stopped.
"You didn't fill in the return time," she pointed out. "When are you coming back?"
"I'm not!" Cole cried. "And thanks for everything!" And he ran out the door as fast as he could . The next sound the receptionist heard was that of a dirt bike being revved up and buzzing by the building, fading as Cole rode hell-bent-for-leather away from Sanctuary and to the Luxor.
"Haye! Haye, wake up!" Crystal shook her sleeping friend beside her. "Today's the day! We gotta get going!"
"Mom, I don't wanna go to school," Hayley mumbled sleepily.
"Haye! It's me, Crys! Come on already! We gotta get to the demonstration!"
Hayley blinked the sleep from her eyes. "Morning already?"
"Yeah, it's morning already. Come on before Courtney wakes up."
"I'm already awake, dipwad!" came an irritated voice from the other bed.
Oh, Geez! "Sorry, Courtney," Crystal apologized. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
"Well, keep it down, willya?" she grumbled. "I had a late night last night." Courtney dozed off again.
Hayley, meanwhile, was struggling to wake up, yawning and stretching and rubbing her face. She really needed a cup of coffee at that moment. Crystal was in the bathroom already, taking the quickest shower she ever knew, and dressing in her specially selected outfit in record time: fashionably faded jeans, CA t-shirt with matching pendant specially ordered from the Criss Angel website, combat boots with comfortable socks, and black bandana tied around her head. Hayley took more time in getting dressed, however. She wished Crystal would have let her sleep in for at least another hour, but no, she insisted on getting front row seats, even if it meant sitting in front of the Luxor all day. Hayley liked Criss as much as anyone, but Crystal could be so obsessive at times, and it irritated her.
"Come on, Haye!" Crystal pressured her. "We gotta get going!"
"I'm coming already," Hayley told her. "Can we at least get some coffee or something?"
"Sure, sure, let's just get going!" Crystal pulled Hayley along eagerly. "I don't want to miss a thing!"
"It's not until this afternoon, dummo!" Hayley reminded her. "We got plenty of time."
"Not if we want to get a good seat," Crystal argued. "They're probably lining up already."
By eight o'clock, they were lining up already to see the demonstation. Crystal and Hayley succeeded in worming their way up front to the barricade, as close to the stage as possible. A larger than life banner of Criss Angel hung from the steel girders framing the stage. They were so close they could almost feel his touch, though he was not on stage yet.
A frail looking girl stood next to Crystal, staring at a photograph in her hand. Crystal could not help but notice that Criss was in that photo, with a bedridden child next to him. Could it be her? she wondered.
"You must like that picture," Crystal said to break the ice. "You keep looking at it over and over again."
The girl turned to her. "Yeah, it's my favorite. Criss came to the hospital for the Annual Children's Hospital Function when I was in for open heart surgery when I was twelve," she explained. "He came to my room and my mom took this picture of us. He really helped with my recovery."
"Wow, that's awesome!" Crystal exclaimed. "What's your name?"
"Chloe. What's yours?"
"Crystal. And this is my BFF, Hayley."
"Hi," Hayley said, smiling. "Nice to meet you, Chloe."
"You think Criss will remember me?" Chloe asked anxiously. "I mean, it was three years ago when I met him."
Three years ago? Crystal doubted it. But, she looked so frail, and she did have a major operation at the time. She had to say something to cheer her up.
"I'm sure that once he sees that picture, he'll remember you," Crystal said encouragingly.
"Thanks." Chloe went back to her picture gazing. A warm feeling spread inside Crystal. She knew that during his meteoric rise to fame, Criss had taken time to visit sick kids in hospitals to perform magic for them, encourage them to think positive so as to better their chances of recovery. Many terminally ill children requested to see him as a last wish before dying through such organizations as Make-A-Wish, and Criss always came through. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Criss was truly an Angel when it came to sick kids like Chloe. All the more reason she was in love with him.
Cole hid his dirt bike behind some greenery by the Luxor entrance and climbed up a concrete berm for a better view of the stage. He made it! He made it! That was all he could think about as he stared at the huge banner with his idol's face on it. He was here! Today, he was going to see the Master in action! He felt it was worth all the little white lies and deceptions he committed to be here, just for this one moment of triumph. Thank You, God! Thank You for getting me here today. Bless Criss Angel for all he does and what he's gonna do! Amen.
He could not tear his eyes away from the giant banner. Neither could the other Loyals assembled around the stage. For the next six hours, hundreds of adoring eyes gazed worshipfully upon the giant face of The Angel, staring back at them with smoldering looks, arms outstretched, two crudely feathered wings exteneding from his back. They were too entranced to notice another pair of eyes, burning with righteous anger from a withered face, seeking to bring about Divine retribution, a gnarled, calloused hand fingering a loaded pistol in his pocket.
Block bided his time, gauging the distance to the stage where the Anti-Christ would perform his devilish tricks. Hiram Block would not give him the chance. He may be an old man, but his eyesight was still as good as ever. The Lord would do the rest, he reasoned. He would purge Sin City of its greatest source of evil. Only then would he avenge the suicide death of his only son, whom he had tried to raise in the ways of the Lord, but he had strayed from the path of righteousness, succumbing to the Devil's rock and roll music instead, rebelling against all that was holy. He had thrown away the life God had given him with shot of the hellbrew he had been addicted to, over twenty years ago. The Devil had tempted his son, and now the father would have justice. God had willed that Criss Devil would die today, and Hiram Block was His chosen servant to do it.
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