11-30-2011, 02:56 PM
The evening darkened into night, then faded into day, and then faded into evening again. Joy was at work, happily stocking toys on the shelves with her co-workers, Tory and Sondra. Aside from the news of the stolen KLUC Toy Drive truck, she could find no reason to be glum. After all, it was close to Christmas. Besides, she was confident that the Grinch, whoever he was, would be caught soon, and all the stolen toys would be returned in time for all the needy boys and girls to get their presents on Christmas morning.
Joy had finished stocking dolls and went to work arranging the teddy bear display at the end of the plush animals aisle. The bears were the same make and model she had put into the donation bin yesterday, sealed in shrink-wrap and sitting in their cardboard trays. She arranged them in a semi-circular fashion so as to be spotted from all angles. Presentation is everything, Mr. Bernie had taught her. The more attractive the display, the better chance of sales. Joy marveled at Mr. Bernie's business acumen. I should just drop out of college and stick with him, she thought as she stacked the teddy bears on the shelves. He's much more knowledgable than my profs when it comes to business.
She picked up another package and noted it was damaged. In fact, it was damaged in the same way as the one she had bought the day before: the shrink-wrap was torn in the same place, and the same corner was crushed in. Could it be a coincidence? she wondered.
At the Luxor hotel, Big Luke Macaffey was leaving for the day. It had been a busy shift for him. For one thing, he and his men had nailed no less than five shoplifters during the afternoon alone, a record to be sure but not unusual for the holidays. Macaffey knew from hard experience that some idiots thought nothing of employing the old five-finger discount when doing their Christmas shopping. Thank God for the eye in the sky--it made his job a whole lot easier.
Tired, irritable, and yearning for a beer, Macaffey climbed into his Land Rover and drove off. Around him, the neon glare of the fabled Strip lighted his way toward North Las Vegas. He turned down a side street where the glow of Christmas lights made a feeble effort to compete with the flickering lights of the Boulevard. As he drove, he happened to glance toward the rear of Uncle Bernie's Discount Toys. Normally, he would have driven by without a second thought, but something in the loading zone caught his eye. It was a large truck, its rear hatch backed into the loading dock as if making a delivery. What really made him sit up and take notice was the lettering on the side of that truck: KLUC 98.5 Annual Toy Drive.
Alarm bells went off in Macaffey's mind. He sped up the driveway and toward the store's rear, determined to solve this mystery. If it was what he thought it was, someone was in for some serious ass-kicking.
Unbeknownst to Macaffey, a sleek black Dodge Viper was tooling down the street just behind him. It was purely coincidental that it was. Criss Angel just happened to be cruising down that same street with a couple of buddies of his: Sully Erna, of the band Godsmack, and the Amazing Johnathan, a rival magician and fellow prankster. Criss was stone cold sober (a DUI would tarnish his career), but his guests were well-lubricated from a few pre-party cocktails from the hotel lounge. Once the threesome found a suitable venue, Criss knew he'd be the one driving them home, unless he himself went over the limit; then he'd have to pour himself and his friends into a cab, leaving the Viper behind with the parking attendants. God forbid it should come to that.
The Viper shook from the vibrations of the powerful woofers thumping out a paint-blistering bass rhythim. Sully, the musician of the group, sang along with whatever was playing on the stereo as best he could. The Amazing Johnathan, for his part, kept sticking his head out the window and shouting "Merry Christmas, everybody! Merry Christmas!", until Criss insisted he pull himself back inside because he was acting like an idiot. "Hey, man," AJ said good-naturedly, "I just wanted to lift everybody's holiday spirits."
"I think you lifted a few holiday spirits too many already, Johnny," Criss retorted.
Sully laughed uproariously at Criss' quip. AJ went back to wishing everyone a merry Christmas. Criss just drove on, keeping his thoughts to himself. As much as he cared about his friends, there were times when he thought they were total dipwads and would like to be rid of them, especially when they were drunk. Note to self, he thought, stay sober all night long.
He glanced toward Uncle Bernie's Discount Toys and noticed a familiar Land Rover pulling up to it. "Hey, that looks like Big Luke's car," he commented.
"Who's Big Luke?" Sully asked.
"You know, Big Luke Macaffey, chief of security, hotel's top cop," Criss explained. "Big guy, used to be a guard at a supermax prison. Show no mercy and take no prisoners, that sort of thing."
"A real hard-ass, huh?" Sully grunted.
"They don't come any harder, I can tell you that." Criss replied.
"So, who the (bleep) cares?" AJ snapped. "He's probably buying presents for his kids."
"I don't think he's married," Criss said.
The Land Rover sped toward the rear of the store. Criss pulled alongside and spotted the KLUC Toy Drive truck backed into the loading zone. Suddenly, the whole scenario began to make sense. "Son of a (bleep)!" Criss exclaimed, swerving into the parking lot. "They got the toys!"
"Who?" AJ demanded. "What toys? Who got the toys?"
"The toys from the toy drive!" Criss replied, charging toward the loading zone. "Those (bleepers) stole those toys!"
Meanwhile, Joy took the damaged teddy bear back to the storage room, determined to clear up its sudden reappearance on the shelves. "I don't know what's going on here," she said to herself, "but I am so going to find out."
She burst through the heavy swinging doors and looked around. Piles and piles of toys were stacked all around her. They were not in shipping cartons, as was usual during a delivery, but were simply piled up at random, making a mountain of toys. To one side, however, she saw a neat stack of black and silver boxes. Upon closer inspection, she saw they were Criss Angel's Platinum Magic Kits, the same ones he had donated to the radio station's toy drive. She took one down and examined the cover. It had been autographed by Criss himself.
Joy hastily put the kit back and dashed out to the loading ramp. She read the KLUC logo on the side of the truck and felt a chill that didn't come from the cold night air. She recalled the Toys-R-Us invoice that she thought was a mistake--they must have been stolen, too! Again, she looked at the KLUC logo. There was no denying it: Uncle Bernie's Discount Toys was a front for stolen merchandise.
But what could she do about it? Well, there was only one thing to do, and that was to report this to the authorities. Shaking with fright, Joy pulled out her cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. She huddled behind the toys so as not to be detected.
"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?" The insect-like voice of the dispatch operator seemed to echo throughout the dock. Joy cringed, praying no one heard.
"Hello, operator?" she spoke in a hoarse whisper, "You've got to send the police to Uncle Bernie's Discount Toys. This whole thing is a set-up! They're the ones who've been stealing all those toys from the donation bins! They've got the KLUC Toy Drive truck right here! You've got to help me!"
"You say they've got stolen toys at the store?" the operator said.
"Yes!" Joy hissed. "They're all stolen! Please hurry! No one knows I'm back here!"
"All right, ma'am, a unit's on it's way. I would advise you not to leave the store until it arrives."
Joy breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Thank you."
She shut off her phone and stuffed it back into her pocket. Then she peeked around the pile of stolen toys to see if the coast was clear. Detecting no signs of life, she made a break for the swinging doors. Back inside the store, she stared at the dozens of customers pulling off toys from the shelves and placing them in their carts, unaware of the immensity of their actions. I've got to stop them! she thought wildly. I've got to tell them they're buying stolen toys!
There was a public address system right next to the doors. Joy siezed the microphone and turned it on. "Attention all shoppers!" she cried into the mike. "The toys you are buying are all stolen! I repeat, the toys you are buying are all stolen! Please return everything where you found them! I repeat, they're all st--!"
A heavy hand clamped over Joy's mouth, silencing her. She felt herself being dragged back into the storage area. She struggled to free herself, but the arm around her neck was too powerful to break away from. "Now, we can't have you scaring away our customers, now, can we, Joy?" she heard a familiar, jovial voice hiss in her ear.
Joy wrenched her head around and came face to face with Mr. Bernie himself. "It's bad for business," he added with an oily smile.
He pulled her along to the loading dock and stuffed her into a small delivery truck. "Sorry I have to do this to you, Joy-to-the-world," he said as he slammed the passenger door shut, "but I can't have anyone blowing my cover. You understand, don't you?"