12-07-2011, 04:34 PM
Alicia stood quietly at the counter of the secondhand music store while the clerk appraised the CDs she had bought in to sell. She hoped to get a good price for them, enough to get her to Las Vegas and back, or at least one way. Many were old favorites of hers, like the Backstreet Boys and NSync, but it was worth the sacrifice if it meant seeing Criss Angel. She would have sold everything she owned to go to Loyalapalooza.
The clerk set aside the CDs. "Twenty dollars cash," he said.
Alicia's heart sank. Only twenty dollars? "Are you sure you can't give me more?" she begged. "It's for a...a very important trip."
The clerk remained firm. "Twenty dollars," he repeated. "Take it or leave it."
Alicia sighed and accepted the twenty dollars, signed the receipt, and left the record store. Maybe there was something else she could sell, she thought. She made a mental inventory of her personal possessions: clothes, costume jewelry, books, old toys stored away in the basement--what did she have of value that she could sell for her trip to Las Vegas? Alicia sighed again. Well, she'd have to wait until she got home and looked things over--maybe there was something she missed? Or maybe she could fall back on plan A, getting her mother to finance the trip under the guise of the Manresa retreat. She could get a permission slip from the office, show it to her mother, convince her somehow to pay in cash, have her sign it, and be off to Las Vegas and Loyalapalooza. Or she could turn to that time-honored source of teen income, babysitting, as a last resort. It would mean nights of screaming toddlers and stubborn preschoolers who simply refused to go to bed when they were supposed to, but in the end it would be worth it.
Alicia walked through the front door of the Rose family homestead. Her ears were assaulted by loud computer-generated artillery rat-a-tatting from the living room, punctuated by tinny explosions. Kyle was too engrossed in his War Machine game that he didn't even notice his sister come into the house, something Alicia took advantage of by going up to her room and hiding her twenty carefully in her top underwear drawer, the safest place she knew; she still recalled the time her little brother had gotten into the habit of taking money out of her piggybank, and their mother's purse, too, when he was about seven or eight, and it still rankled her. The last straw came when he stole the cash she had scrimped and saved for their father's birthday present, all one dollar and ninety-eight cents of it, and spent it on ice cream. After her tearful protests and Kyle's emphatic denials to the contrary, it was determined that the latter was guilty as charged; the evidence was the Fudgesicle smear on his mouth. Since then, Alicia hid her money carefully and threatened Kyle with bodily harm if he so much as set one foot in her room.
Twenty dollars in the drawer, another five for allowance, the two she had in her purse if Kyle hadn't fallen back into bad habits--only twenty-seven dollars for her trip to Las Vegas. How much would she need to get to Vegas, anyway? She had seen hundreds of ads for travel deals online; maybe she should check them out. If she was lucky, she could find a way to get to Vegas without her mother or anyone else becoming suspicious. It was risky, but it was worth it. Anything for Criss.
So many changes, Springs thought to himself as he drove down the fabled Vegas strip. All the old casinos were gone--the Mirage, the Flamingo, the Rodeo, the Silver Slipper. The Pyramid House had been replaced by the Luxor Hotel, the Mirage giving way to the MGM Grand--out with the old and in with the new. Vegas Vic, the giant neon cowboy who waved to all who passed, was still there, a comfort to the old man who drove in the black Mercedes. It was bigger, it was more technologically advanced (the size of those outdoor television screens astonished him; he could recall when televisions screens were barely more than twelve inches at the most), and it was more expensive. A week's wages back in Nineteen-Thirty would barely buy a steak dinner today, he calculated. But still they came, by bus or plane, all for that one big score.
When The Guys first arrived in Las Vegas back in the late Forties, the city was barely on the map, a place for workers on the Boulder Dam project during the Depression had come in to blow their wages for the week on legalized gambling and prostitutes. It took Bugsy Siegel and the Syndicate to create the Flamingo, a two-million dollar luxury oasis in the middle of the desert, to put it on the map. Plagued by mismanagement by Bugsy and huge cost overruns by unscrupulous contractors, it seemed doomed to failure until Bugsy was shot in his hotel room and the Syndicate took it over, and the rest was history. And The Guys of Glitter Gulch were there to get a piece of the action; by offering "protection" and taking kickbacks wherever they could, The Guys made themselves a hefty profit, up to a million dollars in six months. They were small potatoes compared to the Syndicate, but by keeping a low profile and steering clear of the Mafia, The Guys thrived on their extortion well into the Seventies--and beyond, thanks to Bluesy's formidable knowledge of the tax laws and how to stash their loot in off-shore tax shelters.
Now their era had passed. Everything was on the up-and-up these days, with security tighter than the White House. Vegas went through a "Family Friendly" phase during the Seventies and Eighties to attract more tourists with their kids, building amusement parks with rides and circuses while toning down the strip shows. The Nineties, however, bought the sin back into Sin City with more, better choreographed strip shows (men as well as women, if you could believe it--talk about equal opportunity!), and huge extravaganzas like Cirque de Soleil, whatever the hell that was, and Siegfried and Roy and that new guy--what's his name? Springs looked at the giant banner covering the top half of the Luxor. Oh, yeah, Criss Angel. He's supposed to be good. Lousy dresser, though, with those raggedy jeans and that whacked off haircut. They dressed better during the Depression, he thought.
As Springs drove down the Strip, he spotted a familiar face standing at the bus stop. Skinny girl, brown hair, wearing a maid's uniform--where the hell did he see her before. Springs drove up for a closer look. Oh,yeah! Mick's nurse, what's-her-name--Cathy? Cassie? One of those. On a whim he pulled over and stopped close to her.
"Hey, you!" he called out. "Sweetheart! Yeah, you!"
Casey drew closer to see who was trying to get her attention, and was relieved to discover it was Mr. Springer. "Hello, Mr. Springer," she said. "Nice to see you again."
"Yeah, hop in," Springs said. "I'll give you a lift."
Casey rather hesitantly accepted Springs' offer. True, he had been a gangster in his day with Mr. Piccucci, but he was also Mr. Piccucci's friend, and he seemed rather nice the last time she met him. She slipped into the passenger side of the Mercedes, feeling a bit intimidated by being in such a luxurious vehicle. Springs drove on.
"So, how ya been, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Fine, thank you, sir," Casey said.
"So, whaddya been doin' now that Mick's bought the farm?"
"I've been temping as a housekeeper at the Luxor Hotel," she replied. "I'm just there for the week. After that, I'm just on call."
Springs nodded. "At least you got work for a while, anyway," he said. "Things are tough all over. Almost as bad as the Depression."
"I hope to work as a caregiver again," Casey said hopefully. "Someone always needs someone to care for them."
Springs nodded. Pretty soon he himself would need to be cared for, what with old age and the cancer eating into his gut. He was on the list for a stomach transplant, provided they could find an available donor. He'd be laid up for a while, and it would be nice if he--.
Suddenly, an idea popped into his head, a way to solve both his and Mick's former caregiver's problems. "Tell you what, Cassie," he began.
"Whatever. Tell you what. I'm gonna need a caregiver sometime soon after I get this gut cancer taken care of. Gimme your number, and I'll buzz you when I need you."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Springer!" Casey said happily. "I'd be glad to take care of you."
"Hey, no problem," Springs said. "After all, you took care of Mick real good. I figure you'd do the same for me."
"Of course, Mr. Springer." Casey fumbled through her handbag for a pen and a piece of paper. On the back of a grocery receipt she scribbled her phone number and gave it to Springs. "There you go," she said cheerfully.
Springs took the number absently and slipped it into his jacket pocket. "Thanks," he said.
Casey spotted a familiar corner. "I live around there," she told him. "You can just drop me off right here."
Springs pulled over, nearly cutting off the driver behind them. "Here ya go," he said, "now get outta here."
"Thank you for the ride, Mr. Springer," Casey said politely as she got out.
Springs just waved and drove on, all but forgetting Casey and their conversation. Casey skipped on down the side street to her home, her heart light as a feather. The misery of the morning was forgotten; things were looking up for her.
A block or two away, someone had been observing Casey's every move, and had also recognized Springs' Mercedes. Was it just a coincidence that he picked her up, or was there something more to it than that? Mick, Sr., had left Springs half a million dollars in his will, and the rest to that little nurse of his. Was there some sort of conspiracy?
The driver had followed the Mercedes to the corner, then was abruptly cut off, then trailed her carefully, keeping well back so as not to be spotted. There, that brown and brick ranch house, that was where she lived, calling out "mom, I'm home," or something. The mysterous car slowly drove by, unnoticed. Casey worked at the Luxor, and lived in that little brown ranch house. Now it was time to plan phase three.