01-20-2012, 06:30 PM
Phil Worth sighed heavily as his latest contact hung up on him. He set down the receiver of the old-model black telephone and rubbed his stubbly face. The plywood dividers that made up his booth shielded him from his more successful co-workers like giant horse blinders. He was hungry, thirsty and frustrated. Two weeks as a telemarketer for Heartage Heating and Cooling and he had yet to make an appointment for furnace cleaning. It was Tuesday, and if he didn't make a sale by Friday, he was out on his ear.
When he first landed the job, he counted himself lucky considering the circumstances. He had no computer skills, no sales experience, nothing of real value to offer in the current job market save that he was a warm body and knew how to use a telephone. The manager of Heartage gave him a script to follow and set him in one of the booths, actually a long table divided into sections with raw plywood. The whole office seemed jerry-rigged with its cheap paneled walls, its threabare carpet and its flimsy furniture. Phil's wheelchair was probably the only good chair in the entire office.
As time went on, however, Phil's frustration grew. In itself the cleaning package Heartage offered was a pretty good deal: Eighty-nine-nintey-five for cleaning and vacuuming the ductwork, cleaning and oiling the furnace itself, even servicing the AC system if they had central air, which nearly everyone had in a desert city like Las Vegas. However, everyone he called were either not interested in their services or simply not talking to Phil. Day in and day out, it was the same--he'd call a number, launch into the prepared introduction given to him, only to be cut off in midsentence. He didn't blame them; he recalled his own irritation at being interrupted by some telemarketer during dinner or game time on TV. But he had a job to do, especially if he wanted that two grand the court awarded him and Benny.
If only that judge had awarded them more money. True, Casey only got a small portion of the nine million dollars, the rest going to those three rich brats who already had more money than he ever made in a lifetime, but still they could have arranged for monthly support payments so he wouldn't have to humiliate himself every day in this hole-in-the-wall of an office. But no, that sorry excuse of a judge awarded only two lousy grand, and only two lousy grand, period. And that only if he got a job within thirty days. No job, no award. So there he was, sitting by the telephone, dialing number after number in a fruitless attempt to land a client for this fly-by-night furnace company, every hang-up chipping away at what was left of his self-esteem.
He picked up the receiver and dialed the next number on the list. He waited for an answer. "Hello?" came the voice on the other line.
Phil launched into his spiel. "Good afternoon, Mr. Pierpont, this is Phil from Heartage Heating and Cooling. How are you today?"
"I'm fine, thanks," Mr. Pierpont replied skeptically. "What's this all about?"
"Well, we just want to know--when was the last time you had your furnace cleaned?"
"Listen, if this is a telemarketing scam, I'm not interested!" Mr. Pierpont snapped. "I don't know how you got my number, but I'm on the Do-Not-Call list! Now, quit bothering me and go to Hell!"
An angry click ended the conversation. Phil drew another deep sigh. It was going to be a long week. He could only hope that Benny was having more luck.
Benny, in fact, was having a ball.
The very next day after losing the lawsuit, he had sought to forget his troubles at the Book Nook, a shabby, sleazy dive of an adult bookstore in the seamier part of Las Vegas that still offered free video clips in the tiny viewing booth in the back for a dollar a peep. The owner, Gifford "Barney" Barnard, a rotund, jovial type with wisps of platinum blond hair, had been a friend of Benny's since he first stepped into the establishment on his eighteenth birthday after ditching school for the occasion. From that day on, Benny had been a loyal customer, purchasing packs of porno mags with what little money came his way, either through begging or pilfering from his mother or sister.
That particular day, Benny came in with a hangdog expression on his face and poured out his troubles into Barney's sympathetic ear. He and Dad got screwed in the trial, he had told him. Now he had to find a job or they wouldn't get the two thousand bucks. Ever the faithful friend, Barney came to Benny's rescue--why not work here at the store? he offered. He could use a good day manager. All he had to do was check ID, ring up the sales, rent out the DVDs, and clean up the video booth now and then. Barney would take care of the more serious business details, like inventory, ordering merchandise, and keeping the books. "Just don't dip into the till like the last guy I hired," Barney insisted.
Benny's mood lit up like the Vegas Strip after midnight. At last, he had found his calling! Now, he sat behind the counter, viewing DVD after luscious DVD of slim, naked girls barely out of their teens frolicking on the tiny TV screen, interrupted by the very occasional customer furtivly searching for erotic thrills. A quick check of ID, and they were free to browse. There was an overhead security camera, and all the merchandise had electronic sensors on them, so if anyone tried to shoplift, it would send an alarm, and Benny would nail them, or try to anyway--he wasn't the most physically fit specimen of humanity after twenty years of being a couch potato. But the counter was right by the door, so he could collar any potiential thief with just a reach of his arm. So far, no one had tried to steal so much as a nipple ring.
It was Tuesday, probably the slowest business day of the week, but it made no difference to Benny. He was thoroughly enjoying the downtime watching hundreds of DVDs portraying every known sexual fetish, perversion, and body type known to humanity, and then some. Indeed, he discovered a few areas of eroticism he didn't even know existed! What a great job! he thought. You learn something new every day! If I'd have known Barney needed help, I'd have applied years ago!
The DVD ended. Benny removed it and popped in another one entitled One Night in a Girls' School, promising lots of short plaid skirts barely covering curvy little derrierres. During the mandatory adult content disclaimer required of all x-rated visual material, he gave the shop a cursory lookaround to see if anything was amiss. No customers had shown up all day, but it made it seem as if Benny was doing his job. When the opening sequence flashed onto the screen, he settled back and waited for the show to begin, happy in the knowledge that he was actually getting paid to watch porno movies. Do what you love, love what you do, someone had once said, and Benny was doing both.
"Flight 347 for Honolulu now boarding at gate 14B."
Pamela Piccucci, now Pamela Petersen, tossed aside her magazine, picked up her carry-on bag, and walked toward the double doors leading to her plane. The flight attendant checked her boarding pass and allowed her entry without demur. As Pamela strolled casually down the corridor, she could not help but marvel at her current streak of good luck. So far, no one had even recognized her, let alone tried to alert the authorities.
Changing her name at the DMV had been almost too easy. There had been a moment of tension when she presented her license, fearing she would be found out, but just as she had surmised, the harried clerk behind the counter did not question her request but made the name change swiftly and mechanically. Once that was out of the way, she went to the nearest travel agency and bought a bargain-rate one way ticket for Honolulu. It meant traveling coach instead of first class, but freedom was worth the inconvenience, she thought. She also feared that if she went first-class, she would be discovered. Besides, she had to budget herself until she found Mr. Right.
She also sold the car for another seven thousand dollars cash. The salesman who took it off her hands had questioned her about the two different surnames on the license and the title. Pamela fought the panic building up inside her and explained as calmly as she could that she was getting married, moving overseas, and had just changed her name on her license but had forgotten to change it on the title, and she was so sorry for the inconvenience. Fortunatly, the insurance had her previous name on it, along with the VIN and license numbers on it. Convinced she was not a car thief, the salesman made the transaction, congratulating her on her upcoming "marriage". Pamela kept a calm, unhurried demeanor throughout, alleviating any suspicions the salesman might have had. With fourteen thousand dollars converted into a prepaid charge card for security's sake, she was now ready to make her escape.
Pamela threaded her way down the narrow aisle of the plane, found her seat, and squeezed into it. She was not a very tall woman, but she could barely fold herself into the two square feet of space the airline allotted for each passenger. She was glad she bought an aisle seat instead of a window; at least the walkway allowed some legroom.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," came a jovial voice over the intercom, "this is your pilot speaking. We will be taking off in the next ten minutes for Honolulu. Please turn off all cellphones and other electronic devices until after takeoff. In the meantime, our attendant will instruct you about safety procedures in case of an emergency."
Pamela ignored the flight attendant's mime show to the soundtrack of the pilot's voice. She had been on enough flights to know the drill already: where the oxygen masks were, where the lifevests were kept, yada, yada, yada. Let's just get going already! she thought irritably. I'd like to get there sometime this century!
The minutes wore on. Pamela wished she had bought a book or something. She didn't bother with the inflight magazine; it was probably two months out of date at least. She could only lean back in her seat and listen to the high-pitched drone of the jet engines. Her seatmate, a dull, nondescript man in jeans and a t-shirt with some sports team on the front stared out the window with a blank expression on his face, not even bothering to make any sort of contact with the fashionably dressed woman beside him. For that, Pamela was grateful. The fewer people she met during her escape, the better.
Right on schedule, the plane began to taxi down the runway, guided by the ground crew, into takeoff position. A few minutes delay while the pilot waited for clearance, then the plane began to race down the tarmac at a frightening speed. It lifted up, up, up into the blue desert sky, Hawai'i bound. Pamela sighed with relief. The worst was over. All her troubles were behind her now, swallowed up in a swirling mass of jet exhaust. In just a few hours, she would be in Honolulu, starting a new life for herself, and, with luck, with a wealthy new husband or lover.
Back at the Springer residence, Casey was clearing away the lunch dishes while her mother, Sharon, tended the flower garden in back of the house. Casey remembered how much her mother loved gardening; she had tried to make the tiny front yard look presentable with whatever blooms she could get on sale, only to watch them wither and die in the desert heat. Once she tried to turn their wasteland of a backyard into a vegetable garden when Casey was seven, but her brother, Benny, then twelve, had taken his second-hand BMX bike and turned all of Sharon's efforts into a Baja racecourse, spraying dirt, mud and seeds in his wake. Her father had tried to make a joke out of it, saying boys would be boys and maybe she could grow succotash out of it, but Casey still recalled the crestfallen look on her mother's face as she surveyed the damage. She could not remember if Benny was punished for it or not, but from that moment on Sharon had given up gardening, turning to magazines with articles about greenery as a substitue.
But now, with acres of land to spare, Sharon spent her off-hours weeding, pruning and dressing the roses, azaeleas, and other flowers and plants around the house. It made her happy, and that made Casey happy, too. Forget business school, Mom, she said mentally. You should become a landscaper. You have the knack for it.
The kitchen phone rang. Casey reached over and answered it before it completed the first ring. "Springer residence," she said politely.
"Hey, Casey, this is Benny."
Casey stiffened. There was only one reason her brother would call her--to beg for another loan. She knew his modus operandi: make a bit of chitchat, tell his tale of financial woe, then cut to the chase with his hand out. Well, this time she wasn't giving in. "If you want money, Benny," she said, "you're gonna have to get off your lame ass and find a job. I'm not your bank anymore."
"That's what I wanted to tell you," Benny said. "I have a job now, working at the Book Nook."
Benny has a job!? Casey was dumbfounded. This was news indeed! She opened the kitchen window and stuck her head out. "Hey, Mom, guess what?" she shouted. "Benny got a job!"
Sharon dropped her pruning shears and trotted to the back door, hardly believing what she had just heard. The phone had a very long cord attached to the receiver, so she didn't have to go into the house with muddy shoes to talk. She simply took the phone from Casey's hand and spoke from the deck. "Benny? This is Mom," she said.
"Oh, hi, Ma," Benny said casually.
"Casey said you got a job," Sharon said, still not believing it. "Where are you working?"
"At the Book Nook in North Las Vegas," Benny replied. "I'm the day manager."
"You making good money there?"
"It's just part time, Ma, but I'm doing okay."
"How's your father doing?" Sharon asked. "Is he working, too?"
"Well, he had a telemarketer job for a while, but they fired him."
"Why'd they fire him?"
"He wasn't making any sales, so they let him go. It was a (bleep)poor job, anyway."
"Well, tell him to keep looking."
"Listen, I got to get back to work here," Sharon said. "You keep up the good work at the bookstore, okay? Don't slouch off or do anything to get yourself fired, you hear?"
"I'm fine, Ma, really. Barney's a good guy to work for. I've known him for years; he's a good friend of mine."
"Well, that's good. Talk to you later."
Sharon handed Casey the phone back and returned to her gardening. "Hello, Benny?" Casey said. "So what's this place you're working at again?"
"The Book Nook," Benny repeated. "It's in North Las Vegas."
Casey was puzzled. She knew Benny wasn't the literary type--why would he be working in a bookstore of all places? "So, what do you do there, anyway?" she asked.
"I'm the day manager, that's all," Benny replied. "I just keep an eye on the place and ring up sales, that sort of thing."
"Oh, okay," Casey said, shrugging. "Hey, maybe I'll stop by and pick up a paperback sometime. Do they offer employee discounts there?"
"Uhhhhh, I don't think you'd want to come to this store, Case," Benny drawled hestitantly.
Casey was puzzled. "Why not? It's a bookstore, isn't it?"
"Weeelll, yeah, but it's not the kind of bookstore you'd like to go into--it's an adult bookstore."
"Yeah, as in, you know..."
"You're working in a porno shop?!" Casey exclaimed. "Benny! How could you?"
"Hey, you wanted me to get a job, so I got a job," Benny argued. "I'm working, ain't I? Besides, Barney here's a good friend of mine, so he hired me on to be a day manager. I'm working, I'm making money like you wanted me to, so what's the problem?"
Casey sighed at the conumdrum her brother presented to her. He had a job, which was good, but he was peddling smut, which was, well, not so good. But years of struggle and privation had taught her to make the best of a bad situation, so she had no choice but to accept what was. "Well, I suppose in this economy, you have to take what comes along, I guess," she rationalized. "A job's a job. I just hope you stick with it, that's all."
"Hey, I love it, man!" Benny cheered. "I get to watch all the DVDs I want! It's the best job in the world!"
Yeah, I bet it is! Casey thought nastily. It's just right up your alley, isn't it?
"So, I guess you'll be paying me that two thousand after all, won't you?" Benny gloated, twisting the knife a little.
"It's not just you, Benny," Casey reminded him. "Dad gets a share, too."
"Look, I got to get back to work here," Casey said anxiously. "Congratulations on the new job. Talk to you later."
She hung up before Benny could say good-bye. So Benny was working in a porno shop, she reflected. Not the most respectable job in the world, but at least it got him out of the house. Not only did he land a job, but he actually enjoyed it, something she had never known him to do. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it was probably the only job her shiftless brother was suited for. Count your blessings where you find them, her mother had taught her. Against all odds, her underachieving sibling was working--that was a miracle in itself. Even if it involved selling dirty magazines.
"Sold for three hundred and seventy five thousand dollars!"
Criss Angel sighed with relief. There, the Spyder was sold. True, it had been sold at a fifty thousand five hundred dollar loss, but it had been sold nonetheless. The Spyder was sold, and every dime of the proceeds would go to homeless relief. The burden of guilt had been lifted. All he had to do now was to go to the purchasing office, sign the transfer papers, and arrange for the donation--anonymously, of course. He didn't want to draw attention to his generosity so much as to his extravagant purchase. He just wanted to put the whole thing behind him and get on with his life.
Criss made his way to the purchasing office, carrying the paperwork for the Spyder. A familiar figure stood by the counter, filling out the forms. Criss tried to remember who he was, but for the life of him couldn't recall where he had seen him before. Oh, well, with his fame he met people every day--what was one more face in the crowd? He handed over the documents to the clerk, signed the transfer, took the check and turned to leave, promptly dismissing all thoughts of the stranger and the Spyder from his mind.
"You didn't keep that car for very long," the stranger said casually behind Criss' back, "did you?"
Criss whirled around to face the stranger. "What's it to you?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing," the stranger said. "It's just that I'd like to know if there's anything wrong with it before I take it home, that's all."
Something clicked in Criss' brain. "You bought the Spyder?"
"That's right," the stranger confirmed. "Along with Mick Piccucci's Aston Martin and the other cars, or at least the ones I wasn't outbid upon."
Criss leaned against the wall. "Wait a minute," he said. "You were at the first auction, right? You asked me for directions to the office here."
"So nice to be remembered," the stranger said. "And now we meet again."
"Yeah, now we meet again," Criss repeated, still bemused. "So, what is it about Mick Piccucci's cars that appeal to you?"
"Oh, it's not the owner," the stranger said, "it's the vintage." He began to wax poetic. "I love classic automobiles! The newer ones today just don't have the same quality--they prefer technology over craftsmanship! Back then, automobiles were not just means of transportation, they were works of art! The curve of the body, the gleam of the chrome on the grille! You had purchased a rare masterpiece, Mr...Angel, is it? I have no idea why you would all of a sudden give it up!"
"I gave it up because I bought it just to (bleep) off a friend of mine," Criss explained. "Him and me were in a bidding war for it, and I won. After I paid all that money for it, I realized what a mistake it was to buy it in the first place."
"Buyer's remorse," the stranger said drily.
"No, it went deeper than that," Criss argued. "The economy's down the tubes, with people losing their homes and their jobs, and I'm blowing six figures on a car I didn't even want! Well, now it's yours, and you'll be happy to know that your money's going to homeless relief! The car's fine, it works perfectly." Criss turned to leave. "Drive it in good health."
"I fully intend to, Mr. Angel," the stranger said, smiling. "And now I find I can write off the cost as a charitable deduction, thanks to you."
"Fine, whatever," Criss mumbled as he strode out of the office. He was glad to be out of there, away from that nutcase who bought all but two of the Piccucci cars. God, how much did he blow altogether? he wondered. Three hundred and seventy-five grand for the Spyder, then six figures for the other three? That guy must be loaded! What was he, a CEO? The ruler of some oil-rich country? Or did he do something more illegal, like drug dealing?
Ah, forget it! That guy was history as far as Criss was concerned. He got his car, and Criss got his money, and soon those missions, civic associations and other organizations dedicated to homeless relief he had found on the Web would get the funds they sorely needed. Let that (bleep)hole squander his millions on the classic cars he so passionatly adored, he said to himself. There were children who needed food and shelter, men and women who needed job training and housing assistance. Three hundred and seventy five grand was just a drop in the bucket, but it was probably more than they received from the federal government. If it saved just one child's life, he figured it was worth every penny. A shame he had to waste it on a sports car in the first place. Well, live and learn. If you didn't make mistakes, his dad once told him, you weren't doing anything. And Criss had done a lot in his life, and it was time to move on.