12-06-2011, 04:13 PM
The five hour production meeting went well enough, or at least without Criss throwing a temper tantrum whenever something didn't go the way he planned. The staff knew he was a perfectionist, giving one hundred and ten percent to produce the best series on television, which meant designing, redesigning, scheduling, postponing, and endless hours of rehersing, then taping and editing, all for a forty-five minute episode. Only after days, weeks, even months of this process, accompanied by the inhuman amount of stress which was the price of any production did the finished episode finally go on the air, then the whole process started over again. The pressure to produce sometimes got to be so great that occasionally the MindFreak staff had to dodge flying objects furiously flung by Criss when he was in one of his rages. It wasn't easy to work for an artist such as Criss Angel, but in the end it was all worth it.
Criss' older siblings, JD and Costa, knew how to handle Little Brother's angry outbursts--after all, they knew him more intimately than the rest of the staff. When Criss first launched MindFreak Productions and first brought his brothers on board, his two brothers made it explicitly clear that they would not cater to his every whim, nor endure any type of abuse whatsoever. They would work with him, but they were not his lackeys. If they had any objections to anything he planned to do (and they had plenty over the years) they would not hesitate to make their opinions known to him. He may be the star, they had said, but they had seniority. In other words, if Criss ever got out of line, they'd kick his ass all the way back to New York. To his credit, Criss agreed to their terms, for he depended greatly on his brothers' skills and talents.
MindFreak Productions may have been his brainchild, but in time it had turned into a family business; even his cousins were part of the company, like George Strumpolis who did most of the grunt work, setting up props and getting the equipment ready, among other things. Of course, George wasn't all brawn, despite beating Criss' score on the punching bag game in his cousin's suite. He contributed as much brainpower as muscle to the company, unafraid to bring up his personal opinons about whatever crazy scheme his famous cousin dreamed up. George enjoyed working with Criss, though his little cousin could be a pain in the kiester sometimes. And he could kick Criss' ass just as hard as either JD or Costa.
But of all the members of his family working for him, it was his mother, Dimitra, who held a special place in the business--and his heart. She wasn't officially employed, but she served as the moral compass guiding Criss' and his brothers' lives, the rock which kept him anchored in the real world, the source of love and tenderness in the cold, hard world of showbusiness. Whenever Criss performed one of his dangerous demonstrations, she stood on the sidelines with tissue in hand to wipe away the tears of anxiety and horror as she watched her youngest son subject himself to self-inflicted torture in the name of entertainment, only to see him emerge unscathed and ready to give her a big hug. She couldn't bear to see him killed, and Criss couldn't bear to see her suffer for his sake. Only after the hotel demolition escape did he finally promise her never to perform any more death-defying stunts, to her great relief. At seventy-four, she couldn't take too much excitement like that, so she spent her days in New York, coming to Vegas for long visits with her three sons and her only granddaughter, Little Dimitra, now a teenager and not so little anymore. Though distant, Criss' family was as close as ever.
That closeness was reinforced as Criss and his brothers headed for the deli for lunch. Back in the day, Criss would have scarfed down a pizza and washed it down with a large soda, but the physical demands of his career required healthier fare: turkey pita wrap, tomato bisque soup, bottled water and an apple for dessert. It was a sacrifice Criss was willing to make, along with his fitness regimen in the gym (though he had hated working out at first) and cutting his alcohol consumption to just a Martini or two--no more getting wasted at the clubs, he vowed. He had too much to live for to die in a drunken driving accident.
The brothers settled down in a corner booth to eat. Costa swallowed his first mouthful of sandwich and turned to Criss. "Hey, Criss, didja hear about Athene Christopolous?"
"Don't ruin my appetite, okay, Cos?" Criss groaned. "And, yeah, I heard--she died. So what?"
"Well, gee, don't get all broken up about it," Costa replied sarcastically.
Criss set down his pita wrap. "Look, Cos, she's history, okay? She was a fifty-year-old spoiled brat behaving like she was twenty, racking up boyfriends by the score and running through a bajillion dollar fortune searching for the fountain of youth. As far as I'm concerned, ding, dong, the witch is dead, so let's just drop it, okay?"
"It was hardly a 'bajillion dollar fortune'," JD spoke up. "Omicron's been bleeding red ink for almost a decade. They were ready to declare bankruptcy just before Athene died on the table."
"Little wonder," Costa added, "the way she spent her money like that, I'm surprised they didn't go belly up years ago."
"Well, she's gone now, so let's move on to something else," Criss insisted. "She doesn't concern me anymore. That ship has sailed a long time ago." He sank his teeth into his pita and chewed furiously.
JD couldn't help but smile at the memory of the videotape of Mom catching a totally nude Athene in Criss' bedroom, and driving her out with a few well-placed smacks on her bare ass. How it got on YouTube he would never know, but it became so popular it was featured VH1's Best Week Ever!. It still generated a few laughs online, especially among the Loyals. He wanted to bring it up, but the sour look on Criss' face warned him to keep quiet about it. Still, it was pretty funny, though. In the end, JD reasoned that of all of Athene's outrageous antics, her little break-in and subsequent spanking from Mama Dimitra would be the only thing by which she would be remembered. Well, like Criss said, that ship had sailed, so it was best to put it behind them all; life went on and blah, blah, blah.
For Alicia Rose, however, life was going on at a snail's pace as she sat in her math class, half-listening to Sister Constantine's lesson about binomials. She glanced at the plain white-faced clock on the wall. Two-fifteen, it read. Another hour and fifteen minutes and she'd be out of school and racing home to watch the few remaining episodes of MindFreak on A&E. Assuming, of course, that Kyle didn't beat her to the TV set to sate his addiction to violent video games. Her mother did her level best to turn her son away from the CGI mayhem he so passionatly adored and toward more wholesome activities like Little League baseball, adventure books and puzzle games. Kyle, however, turned up his freckled nose at such "wussy" things while popping another installment of Death Race 5000 into the PlayStation console and venting his youthful fury through the characters on the screen.
Kyle Rose was incorrigible, a ten-year-old terrorist whose greatest joy in life was making his sister Alicia's a living hell on earth. He used to sneak peeks in her diary until she stopped keeping one; he snatched french fries from her packet when Mom took them to McDonald's; he would grab an item of great personal value to her and led her on a merry chase throughout the house until their mother intervened and forced him to surrender it, if he didn't throw it out a window or flush it down the toilet like he did with her best pair of knee-high stockings when the family was getting ready to go to Cousin Dale's wedding (Mom let her borrow a pair of her own); he made endless references to bodily functions, especially when it came to the large intestine; and he mocked and scorned her choice of music or other entertainments, forcing her to keep her love for Criss Angel a secret. He was Bart Simpson squared, a demon in blue jeans and t-shirt. His flaming red hair, inherited from their father, only added to the infernal image.
Her mother, Nancy Rose, was a gentle, loving woman, everything a kid could wish for in a mother. The only problem Alicia could see was that she was way out of touch with the twenty-first century; she lived in a Leave It To Beaver world of sunshine and flowers and picnics in the park, of families who went to church on Sunday and played Monopoly or Scrabble in the evenings or had singalongs around the piano in the parlor, and where children listened to the wisdom of their elders and never, ever spoke back to them. That was why she sent her children to St. Benedict's Acadamy instead of public school in spite of the high cost of tuition: to shield them from the evil realities of life on the street.
Alicia glumly recalled her tenth birthday, when all she wanted was a copy of the latest Harry Potter book. She had surreptitiously read the first few in the public library, but now she wanted her own copy, and it took a lot of nerve on her part just to ask. Instead, her mother presented her with a dog-eared copy of Little Women. "I read this when I was your age," she had told her disappointed daughter. "You'll find it's so much better than reading about evil witches and wizards." Alicia had taken the book with mumbled thanks and stowed Louisa May Alcott's timeless classic in the back of her closet, then rode her bike to the library to check out the Harry Potter book she wanted.
Just once, Alicia thought as she sat at her crummy wooden desk feigning attention to Sister's lecture on binomials, just once she'd like to wake her mother up and force her to face the real world. We're not living in the Nineteen-Fifties anymore, Mom, she'd say to her. The Beaver's downloading porn on the Internet, Wally's packing a pistol at school, June Cleaver is having an affair with the milkman and Ward's hanging out with the guys at some topless bar! Couples are divorcing as fast as they're getting married; heck, kids my age are already having sex! There's war, death, destruction, famine, crime, genocide, pollution, and a lot of other evils in the world. It's nothing new--it's been going on for centuries. You just have to get your head out of the sand and look!
Alicia looked down at the circle-A doodles in her notebook, then at the tiny postage-stamp sized photo of Criss Angel taped in the corner of the inside cover. Criss was her escape from the cesspool she called her life, shielding her from the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune: her little brother's torments, her mother's delusions of perfection, St. Bennie's mind-numbing propaganda about being proper Catholic ladies and gentlemen, and the usual angst every thirteen-year-old girl goes through when her hormones take over. No one understood her, she thought. No one, except Criss. If she had her way she'd chuck home, family and school and run away to Las Vegas just to be with him. He was the center of her universe. He was her whole world. Nothing else mattered except that Criss Angel should exist.
Someday, my Angel, she sighed inwardly. Someday, we'll be together and we'll live happily ever after. Just you and me, together, forever.
The two-twenty bell clanged like a fire alarm, jolting Alicia out of her reverie. It was time to go to Confirmation Class, the last one of the day. She picked up her books and trudged to the chapel where Father Michael waited to give instruction. At least it'll be better than binomials, she thought.
Back in Las Vegas, Mick Piccucci sat in his wheelchair behind the gilded Louis XIV table with his lawyer, discussing his final will and testament. Richard Close, Mick's longtime attorney who discreetly overlooked his client's checkered past, had spelled out the estate laws in the state of Nevada chapter and verse. Mick, however, was not interested in chapter and verse. He wanted payback.
"Look, Mick," Close pleaded, "you gotta leave it to someone! I know you're still (bleeped) off at your ex-wife and your son, Mike, Jr., but someone's got to inherit your estate! Otherwise, it goes into probate, and that's gonna leave an even bigger mess. You know what they say: you can't take it with you, you know!"
Mick sighed as heavily as his nicotine scarred lungs would allow. Close had a point; he had to leave his estate to somebody, but double-damn if that (bleep) of an ex-wife or that worthless bum of an only son was going to reap what he sowed. And triple-damn if the government was going to sink its greedy meathooks into it, not after spending decades of his life dodging the system to build it.
"You got the whole thing listed on there?" he asked Close.
"The whole thing," Close confirmed. "Money, property holdings, stocks, bonds--the whole nine yards. All we need is a name."
"Gimme until tomorrow," Mick said. "I'll sleep on it."
"Mick, for God's sake, you're a dying man!" Close exclaimed. "You could be dead tomorrow! You want this to go intestate? It's now or never!" He leaned closer to Mick. "Look, I got word on the legal grapevine that your ex is filing to get the divorce annulled so that she can be your legal widow and claim the whole estate! And your son will be moving heaven and earth to make sure that she doesn't get a dime! This is heading for a showdown unless you come up with a legal heir. Come on, Mick, whaddya say?"
Mick coughed hoarsely and spit up some phlegm in a monogrammed handkerchief. "If I had my way," he croaked, "I'd leave it all to you. You're the only guy who never double-crossed me, even if you are a lawyer."
"Well, that's very generous of you, Mick," Close said. "But your heirs could contest the will if you did that."
Mick sat in stony silence, deep in thought. Again, his lawyer was right. Years of high living with The Guys--the Havana cigars, the endless boozing, the rich food at Las Vegas's finest restaraunts--had taken a toll on his health. Bum liver, bum ticker, bum kidneys, bum everything. It was a wonder he had outlived his cronies, or at least the ones who didn't get rubbed out. His number could come up any moment now and if he didn't provide an heir, all hell would break loose in probate court. But who? Who did Mick Piccucci feel was worthy of his estate, valued at over six million dollars--maybe more with the money he secreted overseas?
Mick thought, weighed his options, thought again, then, after several minutes of silence while Close waited patiently beside him, he took a pad of paper, scrawled something onto it with the large fountain pen his father had given him when he graduated from the eighth grade, and handed it to Close. "Here," he rasped, "that's my final decision."
Close read the scrawl on the pad. "You sure about this?" he asked, puzzled.
"Damn straight I am!" Mick snapped. "Now get outta here! Go on and make out the damn will, and quit botherin' me!"