12-23-2011, 03:17 PM
The jitney pulled into a fenced-in lot next to a large windowless cinderblock building, its white-painted exterior covered with black spray-painted graffitti. The street-side of the building had been repainted to read SANCTUARY SHELTER For The HOMELESS. Though the sign itself was cheerful with its brightly colored lettering, the place itself still seemed grim, almost fortresslike, even without the razor wire coiled menacingly on top of the chain-link fence.
Criss looked around inside the bus: Burt sat grimly in his seat, grudgingly resigned to his fate. Dennis was picking at his fingernails, oblivious to everything around him. Old Marvin slumped in his seat, dozing. Buddy simply stared into space, completely zoned out. The driver steered the jitney with the ease of long practice, her face expressionless, bored from hours of driving. To her, the five men in the bus were just human cargo to be delivered to their destination.
He himself had been to the shelter, but as a performer, a celebrity, accompanied by his entourage of camermen, technicians, assistants, and bodyguards (at Dave Baram's insistance because he feared gang violence) with all the comfort and safety money could buy. He had seen the residents living there, had talked to them, performed before them, even handed out lollipops to the kids, but at the end of taping he had returned to his luxury suite in his customized SUV, his staff and assistants at his side. Now he was alone, no staff, no assistants, no money, no anything except the hope that he could use the phone inside the shelter. For the first time in his adult life, Criss felt helpless.
As the jitney passed through the razor-wired fence and cruised toward the main entrance, a metal-framed door that simply read ENTRANCE in block-stenciled letters, Criss had the same sense of doomlike foreboding convicts have when first entering prison. No wonder Buddy freaked out when Burt mentioned the slammer, he thought. I'd be freaked out, too!
The bus jolted to a stop. The driver rose from her seat. "Okay!" she called out in a bored tone, "Everybody out! Go in through the door over there, one at a time!"
Criss stood up and clambered out, glad to be out of that prison van. Burt helped Marvin out of his seat and guided him down the steps, encouraging him to take his time and not fall. Dennis hopped out as casually as a commuter getting off the city bus; it was obvious he'd taken this route before. Buddy simply sat there in a catatonic state, unwilling or unable to move. It took some impatient prodding from the driver to get him conscious again. "Come on, buddy," she insisted. "Get a move on! We ain't got all day, you know!"
She pulled Buddy onto his feet and shoved him out of the jitney. The poor, deranged man looked about himself, zombielike, bewildered at the change of scenery. Only when he saw the razor wire did he react hysterically.
"NO! NOOOOOOOOO!" he screamed. "I DON'T WANNA GO BACK IN THE SLAMMER! I DON'T WANNA GO BAAAAAAAACK!"
Howling in terror, Buddy tried to make a break for it, but it was too late--the chain-link gate had rolled shut, penning him inside. He tried to climb the fence, but Burt and the driver pulled him back down again. Buddy fought back furiously, struggling to free himself, still screaming. Criss could only stand there and watch helplessly as Burt and the driver tried to subdue him.
There was a sudden metallic clunking sound as the metal door swung open, revealing a tall man in clerical garb. Criss knew at a glance that it was Pastor Bob Beaman, one of the founders of Sanctuary Shelter; they had met during the taping of the shelter episode. He fought the impulse to rush up to him and beg for aid; Buddy's rantings were creating a bigger problem at the moment.
"What seems to be the problem here?" the pastor asked Burt and/or the driver.
"Buddy thinks he's going back to prison," Burt explained through gritted teeth as he held Buddy in a hammerlock. "He saw the razor wire and freaked out."
"Okay, let him go," Pastor Bob ordered.
Burt released Buddy from his chokehold, but kept close just in case. The driver simply returned to the jitney to park it in the garage for the night. Buddy glared at the pastor with wild, angry eyes. "You ain't lockin' me up again!" he cried, grabbing the pastor by the lapels. "I ain't goin' back in!"
"Now, now, Buddy," Pastor Bob said in a soothing tone. "You aren't going back to prison. We're here to help you, to take care of you. No one's going to lock you up any more, okay?" He drew Buddy closer by the shoulder. "Now, come on, let's get something to eat, okay? You must be hungry. You hungry, Buddy?"
"I ain't goin' back in!" Buddy insisted, refusing to move.
"No, Buddy, you aren't going 'back in'," the pastor assured him. "You're just here to get something to eat, okay? You're still a free man, to come and go as you please. We just want to take care of you, that's all."
Buddy still refused to move. Realizing this was going nowhere, Criss decided to act. He pulled out the worn deck of cards Burt had given him and held them out before Buddy. "Hey, Buddy, look what I got!" he said enthusiastically as he shuffled and fanned the cards expertly, tossing one in the air and catching it. Buddy watched with child-like wonder, his tantrum subsiding. "You like that?" Criss asked him. "Huh? If you go inside, I'll show you some card tricks just like before."
"Show me some tricks," Buddy demanded. "I wanna see some more tricks."
"I can't show them to you out here, Buddy," Criss said. "We gotta go inside. The light's better there."
Buddy complied, following Burt and the others into the shelter. Pastor Bob smiled at Criss. "Quite a feat there, son," he said, impressed. "You're practically another Criss Angel."
"Pastor," Criss said. "I am Criss Angel."
Pastor Bob stared at him in surprise. Criss could tell he didn't believe him. "Look, I may look like a homeless bum, but it's really me, and I need your help, like, right now."
The pastor looked closer at Criss' make-up smeared face. "My God!" he exclaimed. "It is you!"
Finally, someone recognizes me! Criss thought. "Yes, it's me! Can you help me get back home?"
"What happened to you?" the pastor asked him in astonishment as he looked over Criss' shabby clothing. "You lose all your money or something?"
"Wha--? No! No, nothing like that!" Criss replied. "I was shooting a movie at the Luxor. They made me look like a bum that's an angel in disguise. I was going to the men's room when the chief of security, Macaffey, saw me and threw me out of the hotel. He thought I was a real bum, and he had his men chase me off. I found Burt, and Dennis, and Marvin, and Buddy over there in a vacant lot, and together we got picked up by the shelter van. Is it okay if I use your phone to call my manager? I got a live show to do tonight."
"Okay, you can use the phone in my office," Pastor Bob agreed. "Don't worry, we'll get this mess straightened out yet."
Criss nearly fainted with gratitude. "Thanks, Pastor. I totally owe you for this."
"Not a problem," the pastor replied lightly. "That's why we're here."
Criss followed him into the shelter. Pastor Bob chuckled, shaking his head. "You got yourself into one sorry mess, there, son," he said.
"That's an understatement, Pastor," Criss retorted.