12-31-2011, 05:36 PM
It was only eleven o'clock on Friday morning, and already Loyalapalooza was in full swing. Thousands of estatic Loyals were in a festive mood, dancing and schmoozing it up on the upper level of the Luxor Hotel parking garage. Many old friends were reunited on that deck, and many new ones were created; phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, and for those who could not be present, text messages and camera phone photos were sent by the score all over the country, if not the world.
Among the throng of partygoers was Alicia Rose. She had sneaked out of the county youth shelter to come to the festival, determined to catch one final glimpse of her idol before the authorities shipped her back to Marvinville. No one knew how many risks she took just to get here: stealing, lying, running away, being taken hostage by a madwoman whom she had witnessed murdering someone, then running away again after being taken into custody. But it had all been worth it as far as she was concerned; being among those who shared her passion for Criss Angel, to speak freely and openly about him without fear of censure or mockery, was liberating for the sheltered thirteen-year-old. To her, being at Loyalapalooza was like celebrating the fall of Communism. She told everyone she met about how Criss had saved her life in the service corridor yesterday, and gave everyone the full four-one-one on Pamela Piccucci's confession. Few, if any, believed her.
The first day of Loyalapalooza was the stage show. Criss called for a few volunteers for a mentalism trick. Alicia waved frantically for his attention, but he chose instead four others. Alicia was sour about not being selected, though she rationalized that maybe he didn't want to pick anyone he had met before to perform his trick to avoid accusations of fraud. The trick went well, then more volunteers were called for the next, and then the next, and then the next. Not once did he even notice Alicia, let alone choose her. By the end of the performance, she was close to tears. I came all this way to see you, she said to herself but directed it at Criss. I know you saved my life, and you were by my side when the police questioned me about the murder, but couldn't you spare just one glance in my direction? They're sending me back home tomorrow--can't you at least look at me, give me a smile or something? Or have you forgotten me already?
The perfomance had ended, Security struggled to clear the deck, but the Loyals stayed on, begging for pictures and autographs. Alicia clutched her Loyalapalooza program and waited impatiently for her turn with Criss, stubbornly refusing to leave until she got to see him one last time. After a near eternity of jostling, shoving, and shuffling, Alicia was within arm's reach of her beloved idol. Criss turned his head and saw her standing there, rapturous with joy. She racked her brains for something appropriate to say to him as she thrust her program for him to autograph, but could only blurt out "Hi!"
"Hi, yourself," he said, startled that she was there at all. "I see you made it after all."
Alicia was estatic. He remembered her! "I couldn't leave without seeing you again, Criss," she said.
Criss took the program and wrote on the empty space on the back, then handed it back to her. "Here," he said. "I hope you have a safe trip back home."
Alicia was stunned. That was it? I hope you have a safe trip back home. What kind of a greeting was that? She wanted to say more, but the press of bodies shoved her out of the way. Forced to the perimeter of the mob, Alicia leaned on a concrete berm and began to cry. He said he loved me, she thought. He told me so in the security office. Now he just blows me off just like that? What made him change his mind all of a sudden?
She looked up. Detective Meridian stood there before her. "I got a call from the youth shelter," he said bluntly. "They said you ran away from there. I figured you'd be here."
"I just wanted to see Criss again," she sniffled. "But I don't think he wants to see me."
Meridian put his arm around her shoulder. "Ah, come on," he said. "He's a big celebrity; you and a million people want to see him--you're competing with everyone else for his attention. Look at all those poor slobs over there, trying to get a piece of him! Poor guy probably doesn't have a minute to himself."
Alicia looked at the mob of Loyals clamoring for Criss' attention. "As far as he's concerned," Meridian went on, "you're just another face in the crowd."
"I am not!" Alicia cried, whirling around angrily. "He saved my life, remember? He sat with me during questioning, remember? He knew who I was, yet he just...just..." She held up the autographed program. "It's like he just doesn't care anymore."
Meridian took the program. He flipped it over and read what Criss had written. A grin spread slowly across his hardened face. "Read this," he said, handing the program back to her, "then tell me whether or not he cares."
Alicia took the program and read the message: Don't run away from your problems--conquor them! Luv, CA.
She looked up at Meridian. "You see?" he said. "He cares."
He took a bemused Alicia by the shoulder and guided her toward the elevator. "Now, come on, you're going home," he said. "This running away is getting to be a bad habit with you. Keep it up and I'll have to tie you down."
The Friday Loyalapalooza festival had ended, and Criss had a few hours to kill before his evening show of Believe. The performance and autograph session had worn him out, so he decided to grab a drink at the bar before heading to his suite for a quick pre-show nap. He slipped into the hotel lounge and headed for the bar for a bit of peace and quiet. He sat next to a grey-suited elderly gentleman nursing a Manhattan. "Martini, please," Criss ordered.
"They let a bum like you in here?" the elderly man grumbled. "It's a wonder they don't throw you out."
Criss turned. "Springs!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Whaddya doin' here?"
Springs held up his glass. "I ain't had a really good Manhattan in forty years," he said. "Until I came here, that is." He pointed to the female bartender mixing the Martini Criss had ordered. "Girl over there--now she mixes a hell of a drink! You oughta try it sometime."
"I'll stick with the Martini, thanks," Criss said. "So how ya been?"
"Good," Springs replied nonchalantly. "Better now that I got a new gut. Guy who gave it to me must've been an Italian--I've been eating nothing but pasta since I got out of the hospital."
Criss laughed a little. "How's Casey? She still your caregiver?"
"Caregiver, housekeeper, whatever you wanna call it, but yeah, she's still with me. Takes care of the house and all that. She's gonna go to school to be a nurse or somethin'. She's a good kid."
The bartender handed Criss his Martini. "How'd the probate hearing go?" he asked, sipping his drink.
"Good. Uncle Sam took a quarter of it for taxes, of course," Springs replied. "Court split it up four ways, between Junior's two kids, Heather--that's Mick's daughter by Tina, by the way--and Cassie. A million and change, she told me."
"It's Casey," Criss reminded him.
"And I'm glad she got something out of all this" Criss continued. "But what about Pamela?"
Springs shrugged. "What about her?" he grunted. "She bumped off both her husband and Tina. Now she's facing murder charges." He looked up at Criss. "They still got the death penalty here?" he asked.
"From what I heard, they do," Criss replied. "Lethal injection."
Springs nodded, finishing off the last of his Manhattan. "Ah, well, it's no skin off my nose," he sighed.
Criss decided to change the subject. "So what've you been doing with yourself lately?" he asked.
"Working on my book," Springs answered.
Criss sat up, suddenly interested. "You're writing a book?"
"Been writing one for years now. I'm the last surviving member of The Guys of Glitter Gulch. Ever heard of 'em?"
"No, can't say I have."
Springs shrugged. "Well, they were before your time," he said. "Anyway, back in the Forties and Fifties, if you were in the rackets, Vegas was the place to be. Hell, I remember when Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo. Bugs was a better hitter than a businessman. Couldn't run a hotel to save his life--literally! Syndicate bumped him off in his hotel room and took over the place."
"What was your role in The Guys of Glitter Gulch?" Criss asked.
"Me? I was what they used to call the collector. My job was to go to those places we contracted for protection and collect our fees. They didn't pay up, they got, well, you know..."
Criss nodded grimly. He had lived in Las Vegas for only six years, but he was well versed in Sin City's unsavory past. Every casino, hotel and nightclub had some sort of connection with organized crime until the Feds cracked down on them in the late Sixties. Many went to jail, ostensibly for tax evasion, while others like Springs lived off their ill-gotten gains for the rest of their lives.
"We had a lot of good times together, the Guys and me," Springs mused. "I'd come over to Mick's place, and he'd always have a brandy waiting for me. We'd go golfing, have family barbecues, went to the kids' weddings and graduations--great times we had. I wish you'd of met Mick's first wife, Josie--sweetest lady you ever wanted to meet. She took all of the pictures I'm using in my book. Cassie found the cigar box she kept them in and gave 'em to me. Helluva photographer she was. When she died, Mick couldn't stop cryin' for nothin'. Dunno why he got mixed up with Tina later on--I'm tellin' ya, that broad was poison from day one! Pam shoulda bumped her off a long time ago." The old man sighed heavily. "When I get together with Mick again, wherever the hell he is, I just hope he has a brandy waiting for me, for old time's sake.
Criss looked at the former mobster with mixed emotions. Here was a man who had extorted millions from nearly every casino in Las Vegas, thinking nothing of resorting to violence and murder if things didn't go his way, but here again was an elderly man who had outlived his friends as well as his enemies, with nothing to share except his memories. He had been a criminal, but he had friends and family once who had cared about him, sharing good times like any other person. He was a relic of an era that had long past but still lingered on, whether it was in the movies or in faded photographs in an old cigar box.
"Tell ya one thing," Springs went on, "After what happened yesterday, I got one helluva ending for my book. Y'know, for a minute there I thought I was a goner. Then you came in and knocked her down. Pretty damn brave of you."
"Hey," Criss said modestly, "I saw my chance, and I took it."
Springs nodded. Then he looked up at Criss. "By the way," he said, "you a New Yorker? You sound like one."
Criss smiled. "Yeah, I'm a New Yorker," he replied somewhat proudly.
Springs pointed at his chest. "Queens, born and raised. All of us were, except for Blusey. I think he came from Jersey." He sighed heavily. "Now they're all gone except me. Seems I outlived everyone here in Vegas--The Guys, Bugsey, Meyer Lansky, the whole damn Syndicate, it seems. And Sinatra and the whole damn Rat Pack, Liberace, Robert Goulet--hell, I even outlived Elvis Presley if you can believe that! Seems everyone who's made Vegas what it is today is dropping like flies and I'm still kickin'."
"Wayne Newton's still around," Criss reminded him.
"Like that's supposed to make me feel better?"
Criss laughed. Springs sighed again. "I dunno, maybe they just should've put that stomach transplant into somebody else and let me pack it in already," he mused. "I've lived my life. Why should I keep on kickin' any more?"
"Maybe it's because we need you to stick around long enough to tell the story," Criss said. "Without you and The Guys of Glitter Gulch, Las Vegas would still be a little whistle stop out west. It was guys like you who made Sin City what it is today: a gaudy, decadent, overblown money making empire--and that's a compliment! Hell, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here."
A smile creased Springs' weathered face, then faded again as a thought struck him. "What the hell time is it?" he asked. "I gotta get home before Cassie starts callin' the morgue to see if I'm there. Good kid, but she's a little too attentive, know what I mean?"
"I'm sure that Casey's doing a great job, Springs," Criss said, helping the old man from his barstool. "You take care, now, okay?"
"And you take care, too," Springs returned. "I don't wanna outlive you, too."
Criss escorted Springs out of the lounge. "Don't worry about me," he said. "I'll be fine. See you again soon."
"Yeah," Springs grunted. "If not in this life, then in the next."
"Well, if that's the case," Criss retorted good-naturedly, "if in this life, I'll buy you a drink. If not, well...just have a brandy waiting for me. For old time's sake."
Springs smiled and shuffled off to the valet parking depot.