12-13-2011, 04:41 PM
Evening fell upon Las Vegas. The night was when Sin City came alive, ready for action. While the rest of the country was winding down after the nine-to-five routine had ended, the Entertanment Capital of the World was just getting started. Evening performances in the theaters and resorts were set to go on, clubs prepared to greet the night's partygoers, and casinos restocked their chips, cards and cash for the next round of gamblers. Restaraunts prepped for the dinner shift while bars restocked their supplies. For the millions of tourists, gamblers and conventioneers who arrived by the busload into Vegas, the night was a magical time, of swirling lights, dance tunes and endless pleasure in every shape and form. For those who worked there, it was just another day at the office.
One person in particular who worked at the Luxor Hotel was up in his top floor suite, getting ready for a night of those selfsame pleasures. Criss Angel slipped on the last of his massive collection of rings onto whatever space he had left on his fingers, shoved his keycard into his pocket and headed out the door. He decided to go to LAX tonight--he hadn't been there for a while. LAX was one of the Luxor's premiere clubs, just off the atrium. Criss found it very convenient--if he had a little too much to drink, he didn't have to worry about driving home while under the influence. He could just walk (if he could still stand up, that is) up to the elevator and go straight up to his room. No problem.
Criss rode down the inclining elevator to the lower level without a single stop, pretty rare in such a large hotel. He got out of the elevator and walked into the atrium. Unfortunatly, he also walked straight into a group of fans who recognized him on the spot. They squealed while Criss sighed resignedly. The lack of privacy was yet another price to pay for stardom. He posed for a few pictures, signed a few autographs, gave a few hugs, and received a gift of three linen handkerchiefs with the circle-A logo hand embroidered upon them. He thanked the giver with a hug and a kiss and went on his way to the club, the group of fans chattering excitedly about meeting their idol.
Once inside the relative safety of the club, Criss settled back with a Martini. On the giant screen television over in the corner, the evening news was broadcasting the latest developments on the economy and other issues completely ignored by the patrons. They were there to have fun, not be reminded of world events. The music was playing at ear-splitting levels, the lights spun and twirled all around the dance floor. Criss felt the tensions of the past two days melt away--no bomb threats, no mobsters, nothing. Casey was safe with Springs, the bomb had been a fake, no one got hurt--nothing to worry about, just relax and have fun.
The song playing over the massive banks of speakers ended. The partygoers cheered and applauded. Criss got up to dance with the rest of the crowd, but he stopped in his tracks when he heard a nasally familiar voice speak behind his back: "Volunteer Number One-thirty-two, report to the assistant supervisor."
Criss spun around, startled at first, then delightfully surprised. "Rachel!" he cried.
"How ya doin', Criss?" Rachel laughed, embracing him.
Rachel Goldfarb had been the FEMA assistant supervisor for the DWD volunteers assigned to clear away debris after the Las Vegas earthquake, the group with whom Criss had served for one day until his falling out with the supervisor, Mel (Criss never learned his last name) forced him to quit. Rachel had been the only FEMA worker who seemed to have a heart, sympathizing with the workers when they were tired and hungry and angry enough to kill both her and Mel. Criss was surprised at how lovely she looked, dressed up in a royal blue gown with pearls, and her hair was done up rather stylishly, a far cry from the khaki uniform and yellow hardhat that Criss had first seen her in. (1)
Criss laughed, too. "God, Rachel, I almost didn't recognize you without your hardhat! C'mon over to the bar; I'll get you a drink."
"Don't mind if I do," Rachel said.
They found a couple of barstools to sit down upon and made themselves comfortable. Criss ordered another Martini, while Rachel ordered a vodka gimlet. "God, Rachel, I haven't seen you since the earthquake," Criss said, still shaking his head in disbelief. "So, what brings you back to Vegas?"
"My nephew, Erik," Rachel replied. "It's his bar mitzvah."
"Your nephew is having his bar mitzvah here in the Luxor?"
"No, he's having it at Circus Circus. You know, all the rides, and the elephants, and all that."
"Nah, his folks got a good package deal, what with the economy and all," Rachel told him. "We'll be catching the evening performance, then going to the banquet hall for a nosh--if you can call a mile-long buffet a nosh."
Criss laughed. "You still throw in the Yiddish words, don't you, Rachel?"
Rachel shrugged helplessly. "What can I say? It's what I grew up with."
"So, you still working for FEMA?" Criss asked.
"Oh, yeah, but not as assistant supervisor," Rachel replied. "And especially not with Mel--remember him?"
"Like I remember the quake itself," Criss answered a bit grimly. "Is he still a...well, you know..."
"Yeah." Criss had had something stronger in mind, but he kept it to himself. "He still around? With FEMA, I mean."
"Oh, yeah, he's still with FEMA," Rachel said, nodding. "He's really great when it comes to organization and engineering. It's just that he's not a 'people person'."
"He's a (bleep)hole, if you ask me."
"Look, I know the guy's a schmuck, but he did help get this burg back on its feet again after the quake. He practically rebuilt this hotel alone. Cut him a little slack, willya?"
"I'd like to cut him one right across the jawline." Criss growled.
"Anyway, he's down South checking on some hurricane damage," Rachel told him. "You won't be seeing him again anytime soon."
Criss raised his Martini glass. "Thank God for small favors," he said, and drained his drink in one gulp.
"Criss, let it go, willya?" Rachel pleaded. "I mean, look around you! When I was last here, the whole city was a disaster zone. A year later, it looks like it hadn't even been hit! If it wasn't for Mel and the rest of the FEMA crew, you'd still be stumbling over rubble. This city got rebuilt faster than New Orleans after Katrina!"
"That's because Vegas has more money invested in it than New Orleans," Criss told her. "A lot of people pumped billions of dollars into these hotels and casinos, and big insurance policies came with the deal. They could afford to build it back up like they did." He turned to Rachel. "Look, I know you and Mel and FEMA were doing your jobs, but...it seemed to me at the time you were like an invading army. That time I was on the DWD crew was the most dehumanizing experience of my life. Hell, I wasn't even a person to guys like Mel--I was just a number! One-thirty-two! You wouldn't let me go back into my own hotel room here at the Luxor, you housed us like prisoners in a single room which stank to high heaven, and you made me give up my cat, Hammie, and took him away to some animal shelter! (1) I had to quit that DWD crew if only to retain some sense of humanity!"
Rachel laid a hand on his shoulder. "Criss, we had to do what we had to do under the circumstances. We were there to help, not take over. We followed procedure for the safety of all concerned, including you. They gave us our orders, and we carried them out. I didn't make the rules, Criss, I just followed them."
"They said the same thing at Nuremburg," Criss retorted.
Rachel sighed in exasperation. "Look, it's all in the past now, okay? If there's one thing I learned from working for FEMA is that life goes on no matter how bad the disaster. You got your life back on track, and you got your cat back, didn't you?"
Criss smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, Rachel," he said. "I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's just that, well, you just bought back some bad memories, that's all. No offense, I'm glad I got to see you again, really I am--better you than Mel, anyway."
Rachel nodded. "I know," she said sympathetically. "But, like I said before, life goes on. Build a bridge and get over it." She held up the last of her vodka gimlet. "L'chaim!" she cheered, and drank it down.
"What's that mean?" Criss asked.
"It means 'to life'. And we're both still living, so let's make the best of it!"
She led Criss on to the dance floor. The DJ played another dance tune in the booth, and more partygoers were crowding every available inch of space. The earthquake itself was forgotten, but the bass level from the DJ's booth registered eight on the Richter as everyone jumped, wriggled, waved and hollered over the loud, thumping music pulsating like a giant heartbeat.
(1) See Baptism of Fire.
In the Tudoresque mansion in the quieter section of Las Vegas, Casey Worth prepared for bed. Tomorrow, Mr. Springer would be going to the hospital for his cancer operation. If a donor could miraculously be found before then, he could have his stomach completely replaced. If not, then the tumor and all surrounding tissue would have to be removed. Mr. Springer seemed nonplussed about the ordeal he was facing. "It's gonna be one helluva tummy tuck, I can tell you that," he had joked.
Still, Casey feared for the old man's life. She couldn't help it; it was her nature to care for others. She had planned to go to nursing school after her high school graduation, but had put it off when Dad had the accident and was crippled for life, so she ended up as the breadwinner and went to work as an assistant in a nursing home, then an independent caregiver for Mr. Piccucci until he died. It seemed to her that she was constantly putting her life on hold for the sake of others, whether it was family or someone else. There were times when she wanted to just walk away from her needy family and declare her independence once and for all, but the thought of leaving her mother and father destitute when they really needed her help tore at her conscience. As for her brother, Benny, well, he could fend for himself--no way was she going to let him sponge off her! Thank God he never learned about the inheritance.
Casey looked out the huge window of her assigned bedroom. The lights from the Strip were just a faint glow on the horizon, and aside from the security lights, it was total darkness. She felt safe here, safe from Michael, Jr., and Tina LaRue and their plots to kill her for the money. All she had to do was wait it out for the next two weeks until the probate hearing, then she'd be a free woman, rich or poor. She began to wonder if nine million dollars was really worth all the worry and trouble she had endured lately. No amount of money was worth a human life, she thought to herself. If only this whole mess could be over, then she could get on with her life without worrying about someone trying to end it.
Casey walked away from the window, turned out the light, and went to bed. Tomorrow, she had to be up early to pack Mr. Springer's things for his hospital stay. A cab would come and take them both to the hospital, an arrangement she found comforting--she'd be safer in a cab than Mr. Springer's Mercedes; it was less conspicuous that way. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself.
That light in the window went out, the driver in the car parked by the curb noted. That must be her bedroom window. Good. Now that Casey's room was located, it made the job that much easier. It wouldn't do to break in from outside; the whole house was locked down like a prison. Something more subtle was needed, a subterfuge, a disguise. Yes, gain her trust, then move in for the kill. But it didn't do to go off half-cocked. The better planned, the better the results. Nothing must be left to chance. One little screw up meant jail time, if not Death Row. No, it had to be clean and quick and quiet with no time for her to scream.
The driver pulled away from the curb noiselessly, slowly, so as not to attract the local police patrolling the area. High end neighborhoods like this were always heavily patrolled, the driver knew. The greatest challenge was to avoid detection from them. Not to worry, there was still plenty of time to plan. Patience and observation were keys to success. In the end, it would all be worth it. It would all pay off in the end.