12-31-2011, 04:50 PM
Jim Meridian sweated and cursed as he struggled though mid-afternoon traffic. He had his perp, but couldn't get to her because of everyone else hellbent on getting where they were going. If he could just inch a little more up the main road, he figured, he could take a detour through that side street. It would take longer, but it beat being stuck in traffic. "Come on, come on, already!" he snarled at his fellow drivers. "I got a case to solve here!"
The deedling of his cell phone added to his irritation. Meridian grabbed it and flipped it open. "Meridian here," he barked.
"Jim, I need you to go to the Luxor Hotel," he heard the chief detective order him. "There's been a murder."
"I just found out who set that phony bomb in the Luxor," Jim protested. "Can't you send someone else?"
"It's Tina LaRue, Jim," the chief detective informed him. "Get over there now!"
Tina! Jim clipped the curb and drove through a side street toward the Luxor. God, he mused, first Mike, Jr., and now Tina. I know Casey's next. God, this is getting ugly.
"And then I peeked out of the door and I saw this hotel maid or someone dragging her out the door," Alicia sniffled. "I was so scared I just hid in that stall until that security guard found me."
The chief of security sat before her, nodding in understanding. "You think you could identify this person if you saw her again?"
Alicia nodded, sniffing. "Mm-hm."
"Can you remember what she looked like?"
"Well, she wore a uniform, of course," Alicia began. "I remember she had dark hair, kinda skinny. She strangled that lady with a scarf--a silky one, not the kind you wear in the winter. It was blue, really blue--blue blue. Oh, and she wore sunglasses."
"Okay, anything else?"
Alicia shook her head. "Now, a detective from the police department will be here any minute now," the chief told her. "You just sit tight and wait here for him, okay? In the meantime, we should find your parents and have them pick you up later on. You know where they are?"
Alicia froze. The last thing she wanted was to be shipped back to Marvinville for being a runaway, but she was too panic-stricken to think of a lie. "No, not right now," she said quickly.
"Are they checked into the hotel?"
"You here by yourself?"
Alicia sat there, paralyzed into silence.
"Now, Alicia, you gotta be honest with me," the chief said. "You just witnessed a murder, and if you're in any trouble here, we gotta know about it, understand?"
Alicia turned to Criss, her one source of comfort. "He's right, you know, Alicia," Criss said gently. "We know you want to help us solve this murder, but you gotta work with us. Will you do it?" He turned on the charm all Loyals found so irresistable. "For me?"
That did it. "I ran away from home last Tuesday to go to Loyalapalooza," Alicia confessed. "I just wanted to see you, Criss, that's all! I just wanted to see you!" She broke down in tears and sobbed aloud.
The chief of security sat there, staring at Criss, who could only stare helplessly back at him. He knew the devotion of his fans sometimes went to extremes, but for a little girl to run away from home, crossing four states all by herself just to see him perform illusions was really pushing it too far. Didn't she realize the danger she had put herself in?
"Look, we'll deal with the runaway situation later," the chief said. "Right now, we got the whole hotel locked down over a murder and everyone's (bleeped) off about it." He pointed a stubby finger at Alicia. "You stay put for now," he ordered her. "I don't want you running off again before the detective gets here. You're in a heap of trouble, young lady, you know that?"
Alicia could only stare at the chief in outrage. You act as if I killed that lady! she thought nastily.
The chief left the room. Criss rose to leave as well, but Alicia grabbed his arm. "Don't leave me here, Criss!" she beseeched him.
Criss sat down again and faced her. "I'm sorry, Alicia," he said as gently as he could. "But I have to get back to work now. I'm sure you'll be all right. You're safe here; just work with the police on this matter and they'll go easy on you about running away from home, okay?"
Alicia broke into fresh tears. Criss wiped them away. "Now, listen," he said sternly. "I know things are pretty scary for you right now, but we're all her to help you, okay? Now, I know you wanted to come to Loyalapalooza really bad, but running away from home like that wasn't the coolest thing you've ever done, you know that?"
"I love you, Criss," Alicia choked.
"And I love you, Alicia," Criss responded, "just like I love all the Loyal. But your mom and dad love you even more, and they're probably all worried sick about you disappearing like that. Do they even know you're here in Vegas?"
Alicia shook her head. "Dad lives in LA with his new wife and stepdaughter," she told him between sniffles. "Mom still lives in Marvinville with my brother. It's like I can't communicate with them anymore, you know? Mom still lives in a perfect Fifties-style world all her own, and I never hear from Dad unless it's my birthday or Christmas. And don't get me started on my brother--he's a major brat. Ever since the divorce, it's been like me against the world."
"Maybe it's time you declared a cease-fire," Criss suggested. "Communication's a two-way street; you got to open the lines first in order to get a real dialogue going. Not everyone's going to see things your way, Alicia. When you ran away from home like that, did you ever stop to think about the consequences, of how your mother would react when she found you gone and couldn't find you?"
"No," Alicia replied. "All I thought about was how I wanted to be with you."
"Maybe you need to broaden your horizons a little," Criss said, "start thinking of others' feelings instead of your own. I'm not the whole world, Alicia, though you may think I am. You may think your family doesn't care about you, but they do, they really do. If you look deep down inside yourself, you know that was true."
Alicia sighed. "Maybe that's true for Mom and Dad," she said, "but that bratty brother of mine couldn't care less. All he does is play videogames and make my life hell with his making fun of everything I say and do. I had to keep you a secret because I was afraid he'd sabotage my pictures and the book you wrote. He's totally out of control."
"How old's your brother?"
"Ten," Alicia replied, then added sarcastically, "going on three."
"Well, it seems to me that your brother is acting out because he's feeling the same hurt over the divorce as you're feeling," Criss said. "He's hurt and angry just like you are."
"How can you be so sure?" Alicia asked skeptically. "You've never met him."
"Just an educated guess," Criss replied. He rose from his seat. "Look, I gotta get back," he said. "And don't worry, everything will work out in the end. Just think about what I said, okay?"
"Will I see you at Loyalapalooza?" Alicia asked hopefully.
"Maybe." But he doubted it; the police would more than likely ship her back home to her mother in Marvinville. "Just be brave and tell the truth to the detective when he gets here, promise? For me?"
Again, Alicia could not resist Criss' charm. "I promise," she said. "Anything for you, Criss."