03-01-2012, 04:00 PM
Friday noon rolled around. The press conference ended. While the Loyals were relieved that Criss was still alive, they still kept vigil around the Luxor, to the frustration of the management. The crowd of fans kept the staff from doing their jobs; flowers and tributes littered the main entrance like Kensington Palace after the death of Princess Diana. They stood on the curb of the Strip, holding up HONK IF U LUV CRISS signs before passing traffic. Any attempt to clear the area met with resistance.
Carey Conner grew frustrated as well. In her mind, it was the 1997 Red Wings limo accident all over again, with legions of Wing Nuts gathered at Woodward and Quarton after the limosine carrying Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Mninsikonov, and Slava Fetisov of the Stanley Cup championship winning Detroit Red Wings crashed into a tree, seriously injuring all three men. The accident scene became a shrine, with teddy bears, hockey sticks and jerseys piled all around the demolished tree. There's got to be a better way! she thought as she surveyed the scene outside the hotel. They need to put their time to better use than stand around with signs and flowers.
A crazy scheme began formulating in her mind. Crazy enough to work, she thought. She dashed over to the front desk. "I need the number to the nearest Red Cross Station," she asked the desk clerk.
The clerk tapped on the computer keyboard and came up with an address not too far from the Luxor. She printed it out and handed it to her. Carey thanked her and walked to where she had just spotted Felix Rappaport with a couple of hotel security guards. "Mr. Rappaport," she called out.
The hotel CEO turned, expecting another complaining guest. "I have an idea on how we can clear out all these fans," Carey said eagerly. "It's a long shot, but I think it will work."
"I'm listening," he said.
"I'm going to need your help with this, because you're closer to Criss than I am, and they'll listen to you." And she told him her idea.
"Might work," he said. "It's a gamble, but it might work."
"Well, that's what you do in Las Vegas, isn't it?" Carey quipped. "Gamble, I mean?"
The crowd of Loyals surged forward at the sight of Felix Rappaport, CEO of the Luxor. If anyone had any news about Criss Angel, they believed, he would.
Flanked by the two guards, he took a microphone wired into the PA system outside the main entrance. "Good afternoon," he began. "I have just received word about Criss Angel that you all should know."
He had them at "Criss Angel; they gave the president their undivided attention. God, I hope this works, Felix said to himself. "Criss Angel is due for major surgery today," he announced, "and he needs blood. Unfortunatly, the blood supplies are dangerously low, practically nonexistant. If there is any among you who can donate a pint of blood, please report to the Red Cross Station on B--- Avenue. If you are clean, sober, and have not had a tattoo in the past six weeks, you are encouraged to donate. Thank you."
"Where did you say it was?" some called out.
"On B--Avenue," Rappaport repeated. "It's not too far from L--- Hospital."
The word spread like a brushfire in August. Criss' life was in danger! He needed blood! Only the Loyal could save him! To the Red Cross Station! "We're coming, Criss!" one young female Loyal cried out. "We're coming to save you!"
Rappaport stared in amazement as the crowd of fans all but stampeded away from the hotel. He turned back to Carey. "Well, I'm impressed!" he said to her, shaking his head in disbelief. "That crazy scheme of yours actually worked."
"Wonderful," she said. "Now, I think you'd better call that Red Cross station and give them a heads-up. They're gonna get a helluva lot of new donors, and they need to stock up on juice and cookies."
Meanwhile, Criss Angel lay in bed, turning his mind's eye inward to compensate for the loss of his outer ones. In the dark prison of gauze, he conjured up memories of light and color.
That's me, as a kid, riding my bike off the roof of the house. It's summer, and I'm running through the sprinklers with my brothers. I can see the green grass, feel it under my bare feet. I'm with my dad, he's watching me levitate Mom in the living room. It's Christmas, I can see the tree, all lit up. We're all together for Dad's birthday, his last. I can see his face as I kiss him. Now I'm riding my motorcycle through the desert, it's flat, it's sandy, and it's hot. I can see the cliffs in the distance.
I see the lights on the Strip, rolling and flickering. I see Vegas Vic, waving at me. I see the top of the Luxor, shining so brightly, it can be seen from space. I'm floating above it. It's so bright, even with goggles on, it's like I am in Heaven itself.
I'm with the children at a church. I'm dressed like Santa Claus, standing next to a truck filled with toys. Johnny Thompson is in a fur coat with reindeer antlers and a big red nose. The truck is empty, and I make toys appear by magic. The kids are smiling at me. I see their faces. They're so happy, it makes me want to cry.
I'm in the desert again. I'm riding my racing bike around the valley. I see the cheering crowds. There is a big white flash of light. I feel like I'm on fire.
I don't remember anything after that. I woke up in this dark prison. I heard Mom's voice, but I can't see her face. I want to see her face again! I want to see the faces of those I love! I want to see the faces of children, of friends, of the Loyal! I want to see the Vegas Strip in all its glory! I want to see again! Oh, God, why did You do this to me! Please, God, give me back my sight! I'll do anything, anything at all! I'll give You anything You want: my cars, my bling, my motorcycles--anything at all! Just don't let me go blind!
Officer Jim Lettrile strode into the CSI Crime Lab. He had just received word from the lab techs that they had examined all the evidence gathered at all three Vegas Bomber sites and ready to give their report. "Okay, what've we got?" he demanded as soon as he entered.
Dr. Mackenzie Taylor led him to a table littered with jagged metal parts. "Here are the pieces taken from the Luxor bombing," she said, pointing out the first third of metal scraps painstakingly labeled in numerical order of their constuction. "A crudely made pipe bomb, secured to the underside of the vehicle by the gas tank, using this bracket here." She directed his attention to a blackened strip of metal plumbers' tape, and two large screws. She picked up an envelope lying next to the shatered pipe bomb and removed its contents. "This came from the photo lab. The vehicle was locked in 'drive' and was allowed to crash into the hotel. We think the bomber bailed out at the last minute."
"No tire tracks, no skid marks," Lettrille observed. "Anyone see this guy bail out?"
"No one reported seeing anyone jump out of any car at the time."
"Geez!" Jim tossed the photos down in frustration. "A city this size, with this many people, and thousands of visitors, you'd think someone would have seen something!"
Dr. Taylor moved to the second third of the exam table. "This came from the Magic Castle," she told him. "Same type of materials. It went off behind one of the bars which wasn't open at the time. Again, no witnesses. But we did get a footprint from the service entrance. It looks like a boot of some sort; it didn't belong to any of the staff, and they didn't report any deliveries that day."
Lettrille looked at the footprint, heavy soled like a hiking or workboot. Now we're getting somewhere, he thought.
"Now, over here," Dr. Taylor moved to the last third of the table, "is the desert valley bombing. Same pipe bomb, same materials, same foot print above the scene. They found them behind some rocks from the west."
"That much I know," Lettrille said.
"And again, he got away scot free. No witnesses."
"We got one witness. She didn't see much, but we got a lead," Lettrille informed her. He took out his notebook. "A Carey Conner from Michigan. She heard someone yell, quote, 'I did it, I did it, no more Criss eff-word Angel', and take off in a early model Lincoln towncar with a dent in the fender and BAC on the license plate."
"Not much to go on," Dr. Taylor commented.
"No," Lettrille agreed, "but it's better than nothing."
The B--Avenue Red Cross station found itself overwhelmed that Friday afternoon. Granted, they had received a call from the Luxor Hotel, of all places, warning them of "a lot of new donors" would soon be arriving, but they weren't prepared for the hundreds jamming the tiny foyer and spilling out the door. Rochelle Slemlin, RN and station supervisor, was absolutely flabbergasted the minute she spotted that huge mob converging into her tiny station. "Good Lord, have mercy!" she exclaimed.
She pulled herself and her volunteers together after the initial shock wore off and began organizing what would become the single biggest blood drive since Nine-Eleven. Dozens of forms were collated and attached onto clipboards and equipped with attached pens. Plastic blood pouches were readied by the score. Juice boxes, bottled water and packages of cookies were set out on the recovery tables. All volunteers were to stick to their assigned posts until relieved of duty, she ordered.
Nurse Slemlin called for backup from the branch stations in the area, and for building security to keep order. She was relieved when she was informed that the Reno station would bring over its moblie blood donation unit as soon as possible. She had just hung up when she received another call. "Hello, Red Cross, supervisor speaking."
"Hi, this is Dean Sweet from KLOL Radio. We got word you got a lot of donors at your station, today."
"Yes!" Nurse Slemlin exclaimed. "We got a call from the Luxor about it, and they're all lined up outside. We had to call for help from all the other stations."
"Well, we at KLOL would like to offer any assistance. Anything we can do?"
Nurse Slemlin sighed with gratitude. "Oh, bless you! We're going to need snacks--cookies and juice, and plenty of them. We're pretty short right now. And we're going to need some help keeping this from turning into a riot."
"Okay, we're on our way." Sweet said.
"Thank you," Nurse Slemlin said. "Thank you so much. But tell me, what started all this?"
"Well, it all had to do with Criss Angel, ma'am," he answered.
Nurse Slemlin wanted to hear more, but the mob at the door was getting unruly, pounding on the galss door, demanding to be let in. "Sorry I have to cut you off, sir," she said quickly, "but I got to let these people in before they break the door down."
She hung up and rushed for the door. "All right! All right! One at time, please. Just fill out the forms and we'll get to you as soon as possible."
The clipboards were distributed, quickly filled out and passed to registration. The first five donors were escorted to the cubicles for furthur testing and questioning, while the next batch filled out their forms in turn. "To hell with the paperwork, lady!" one impatient Loyal yelled over the heads of those ahead of him. "We gotta save Criss Angel!"
"You wait your turn, like everybody else!" Nurse Slemlin snapped, as she handed yet another clipboard to another donor.
Amber Woods took her clipboard and read through the questions: Did she have any dental surgury in the past month? No. Did she have a history of a list of unpronouncible diseases printed on the form? No. Did she get a tattoo in the past six weeks? No. Was she feeling well today? Actually, she had been feeling great until Criss was almost killed by the Bomber, but she marked Yes. Jaundice, hepatitis, or HIV? No. Was she sexually active? Only in my dreams with Criss, but she put down Yes anyway. Had she come into contact with anyone with HIV? No.
She finished her form and held it up to her lips. This is for you, Criss! She kissed the paper on the board and handed it to the registration nurse, then sat down and waited.
The waiting area began to fill to overflowing. To prevent any safety violations, an empty office across from the Red Cross station was opened, stocked with chairs for the accomodation of the crowd inside the building. Amber found herself seated next to a Latino man wearing a bandana gangster style on his head. She was a bit concerned at first, but if he was here for the same reason as she, then he had to be harmless, he had to be a fellow Loyal, she reasoned.
"Amber Woods," a volunteer called out.
Amber jumped up at the sound of her name, ready to give. but she still had to go through the preliminaries in the cubicles, with the blood tests and the seemingly endless questions. She fidgeted with impatience. Criss was dying, and here she was going through all this paperwork, she thought. She was here to save him, not fill out forms!
Finally, all her information was recorded and filed to the Red Cross' satisfaction, and she was led to a table where a volunteer mechanically explained the procedure to her, to breathe normally, squeeze the rubber ball, and if she felt faint, to call out for help. "Just do it," she insisted. "Just stick the needle in and do it! You can take every drop I have, just save Criss!"
The needle slid into her arm, and rich, red blood traveled through the plastic tubing into the pouch with her name and donor number computer-printed on it. As she lay there, a spiky-haired fellow hopped onto the table next to her. He lay down, endured the same routine as she had from the volunteer assigned to that particular table, and prepped his arm for the needle. "C'mon, lady," Spiky-hair encouraged her with bravado, "hook me up and drain me dry!"
Amber could not sit up, of course, but she could hear what was going on all around her. The Red Cross volunteers went about their routines mechanically, asking the same incomprehensible questions and delivering the same information about blood donation and AIDS an HIV. The donors themselves had more interesting things to say:
"How come we gotta fill out these fricking forms?"
"Look, I'm straight, I'm clean, and I'm sober! That's all you need to know, right?"
"Did I have what in the past six months?"
"Have it? Hell! I can't even pronounce it!"
"Take it all, nurse! Take it all! Every last drop of blood I have, just save Criss Angel!"
"This is for you, Criss! Whoooooo!"
"Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women..."
"Aw, (bleep)! I shouldn't have gotten that tattoo! Now I can't give blood for Criss!"
"Oh, Jesus, I'm gonna be sick!"
"Just take it easy, you'll be all right."
"Juice boxes and cookies?! What the hell is this, kindergarten?"
"Anyone want to go in for pizza?"
"What? No beer?"
"Hey, I feel fine, really! I'm good for another round!"
The plastic pouch dangling beside her filled, Amber was disconnected from the needle and her wound bandaged. She held her arm upright, pressing a square of gauze with her free hand. She slowly sat up with the help of the volunteer and escorted to the recovery table. As she munched her cookies and drank her juice, she was soon joined by Spiky-hair and the Latino she had sat next to in the waiting area.
"Hey, how ya doin'?" Spiky-hair greeted her.
"Hey, wassup?" the Latino waved at her.
Amber smiled. "Hey, guys. You okay?"
"Fine," Spiky-hair nodded. He picked up a Red Cross "Be Nice to Me, I Gave Blood Today" sticker, peeled off the backing, and stuck it to his ragged t-shirt.
"So, what's your name?" the Latino asked Amber.
"Amber. Amber Woods."
"Name's Raul Alvarez." They shook hands. "How about you, man?"
"Brent diOrio." Again, more handshakes all around. "Glad to meet you."
"So, what do you do?" Raul asked his new companions.
"I'm studying computer graphics at the University of Nevada." Amber replied.
Raul was impressed. "Hey, cool! You know, I'm trying to get a Latino Criss Angel Website going, okay? Maybe you can help?"
Amber brightened. "I'd love to! Sure!"
"What about you, man?" Brent asked Raul.
"Me? I'm an apprentice electrician, man. Las Vegas is the best place in the world to be an electrican, you know, what with all the lights and the computer-generated screens and all that."
"Yeah, for real," Brent nodded.
"What about you?" Amber asked Brent.
"Ah, I just work at the auto parts store off the Strip. I had the day off today, so I came down here to do my bit for the cause, you could say."
"Where were you when you heard about Criss?" Amber inquired.
"I was at work, and I heard it on the radio. I was like, oh, (bleep)! I mean, it was total shock!" Brent answered.
"I heard it on the radio where I was working. There was this big plasma TV in the next room, and we all watched it. God! It was awful!" Raul said. "How about you?"
"I was there," she said. "I saw the whole thing live." Amber burst into tears. "One minute Criss is riding around on his motorcycle, the next, he was--" Her voice choked off in a muffled sob.
"Aw, hey." Raul patted her shoulder. "He's gonna be okay. He's the MindFreak. That's why we're here, right?"
"Damn straight" Brent nodded. He tossed his juice box away. "To hell with this, man. I'm getting a pizza." He got up and left, exchanging high-fives with the people waiting in line to donate. Amber and Raul finished their snack and also left.
Outside the Red Cross station, shrines had been erected to Criss on the side of the building. Posterboard signs, teddy bears, silk flowers, drawings, photos and other signs of devotion lined the wall, more added by each passing Loyal. Dominating the scene was what had to be the world's biggest get-well card, a huge tryptich made up of three sheets of drywall hinged end-to-end with duct tape and covered front and back with scribbles of love and prayers for their fallen Angel--so many in fact it began to resemble the Berlin Wall. Those who bought camcorders wandered around, documenting the actions and reactions of the Loyals gathered there. Others resorted to camera phones to preserve the event for posterity. The general atmosphere was part vigil, part prayer circle, part Loyafest and part indignation meeting against the Vegas Bomber.
Raul and Amber met up with Brent, who had been sidetracked by a few friends among the crowd. "I swear to God," they heard Brent say, "I ever find this mother(bleeper) Bomber--" He flicked open a springblade for emphasis. "I'm gonna carve him a new one!"
"I'll hold him for you," one of his companions snarled.
The group laughed. Amber was startled. She didn't know that Brent was carrying a knife; it made her wonder if her newfound companion belonged to a gang or something. Brent turned and saw her standing next to him along with Raul.
"Hey, there!" Brent smiled.
"Wassup?" Raul greeted him.
"Just talking to some friends of mine." Brent said. "Jordan, Deege, Mike, and Evan. This is Raul, and Amber. I met them inside."
Hellos were exchanged. "Love to stay and chat, but I got to catch the bus home," Amber said. "Later."
They waved good-bye to her as she headed for the bus stop. A large group of Loyals stood there, waiting to return home after donating as well. Amber looked around idly at the crowded Red Cross station. Suddenly, she noticed a familiar figure wearing a large sunhat.
"Carey!" Amber called to her. "Over here!"
Carey caught sight of her and walked up to the bus stop. "Hello again," she said.
"You here to give blood?" Amber asked.
Carey shook her head. "Nope, sorry. My last bout with kidney stones disqualifies me."
"So, what have you been doing?"
"I just spent the better part of the day being grilled by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police regarding the Vegas Bomber, is all."
Amber practically jumped out of her Nikes. "You're a witness?"
"Well, sort of," Carey replied. "I can't go into too many details about it, because--"
"Well, did you see him or not?" Amber demanded impatiently.
"No, I didn't see him, I just got a partial license plate and a voice."
"What'd he say?"
Carey sighed. "He said, and I quote, 'I did it, I did it, no more Criss effing Angel!', end quote."
The minute Carey uttered those words, shock and outrage spread among the Loyals like a brushfire out of control.
"You hear that? The Vegas Bomber is targeting Criss!"
"She saw him! That lady saw him!"
"The Vegas Bomber, dipwad!"
"No, I mean, who saw him?"
"The lady with the sunhat over there! She got his license plate and everything!"
"The Sunhat Lady over there nailed the (bleeper) who did it!"
"Tell us what you know, lady! We wanna know!"
The Loyals surged forward, screaming for answers. Fearing for her own safety, Carey fled the scene, seeking refuge in an alley behind the Red Cross Station. Oh, boy, I really did it this time! she said to herself. I had to go and tell the whole world about what I saw, which really wasn't much of anything to begin with, and now, not only have I put the whole investigation in jeopardy, but my life as well! Lord! How do I get myself into these things?
She turned to see Amber Woods standing just outside the alley, with two young men beside her.
"Oh, Amber," Carey sighed with relief. "I don't know what to do now. I wanted to keep this under wraps, and now that everyone knows..."
"Don't blame yourself, hon," Amber said. "It's partly my fault for pressing you for details. It's just that everyone out there is gunning for the Bomber, and they're scared, see."
Carey looked at the two young men. "Who are your friends?"
"Oh, this is Brent, and this is Raul. We met inside when we were donating blood." Amber replied.
"How do you do." Carey nodded politely.
Brent waved and Raul nodded. Brent was the first to speak. "So, you know who did it? 'Cause whoever did it, man," he flicked open his springblade, "he gets it."
Carey was shaken at the sight of that slender knife in Brent's hand. "Now, wait just a minute there, friend! Let's talk this over, shall we?" An idea flashed into her head. "What do you all say we go out for pizza--my treat! Okay? My car is right over there."
They nodded. Brent sheathed the springblade. "Relax, lady," he assured her. "I wasn't going to use it on you."
In a small pizza restaurant Raul had pointed out as they drove away from the Red Cross station, Carey, Amber, Brent and Raul sat in a corner booth all the way in the back to avoid attracting attention. Carey had taken the extra precaution of leaving her sunhat in the car before entering the restaurant.
"So, I didn't really see anyone," Carey explained. "I just saw a big Lincoln towncar with a dent in the fender and just three letters on the license plate. The rest was a blur."
"But you heard his voice, didn't you?" Brent pressed.
"If you heard it again, would you recognize it?" Amber chimed in.
"I probably would, if I heard it again." Carey replied hesitantly. "You two are begining to sound like police investigators," she added with a little chuckle.
"Hey, we're concerned citizens," Brent told her. "We want this (bleeper) behind bars as much as anyone, and you're the key to do it! You're the prime witness!"
"What 'prime witness'? I just picked up a couple of crumbs of information and reported it to the police."
"Those 'crumbs' were the best lead anyone got, man," Raul pointed out.
The group fell silent when the pizza arrived, and did not speak again until after the waitress left.
"So, we gotta put our cards on the table and go over what we do know about the Vegas Bomber," Amber said authoritivly. "We have to go over every detail from the beginning. We'll start at the Luxor."
Carey rewound the mental videotape of her memory from that fateful day. "There was a car bomb that crashed through the main entrance and exploded. There was no driver. That's all I know."
"Anyone know what kind of car it was?" Raul asked.
"Two-door hatchback from what I saw from the framework," Brent said, "and from the videotape."
"The pipe bomb was attached to the gas tank, and the gearshift was stuck in 'drive'." Carey continued. "That's still not enough to go on."
"What about the Magic Castle?" Raul asked.
"Same deal," Carey said. "The pipe bomb was behind a bar where it went off. No one saw a thing."
Brent sighed in frustration. "Look, maybe the CSI people got more than we think," Carey said. "They can find a suspect with a single hair or a fingerprint. We should leave it up to them. They're the professionals, know what I mean?"
"But you're the closest witness we got," Amber insisted.
Carey threw up her hands in exasperation. "What witness? I didn't see anything! And why am I letting you drag me into your little investigation, anyway? I mean, I came her for a two-week vacation, some psycho starts blowing up the city, and all of a sudden I'm Nancy Drew! I gave my statement to the police--let them figure it out." She sank her teeth into a slice of pizza.
The group ate in silence. Once their meal was finished, Carey paid the bill, left a five dollar tip and walked out of the restaurant to where her car was parked. It was already dark; Carey noticed her car in the shadow of a retaining wall; she wished she had parked under a light. She glanced inside the car as she fumbled for her keys, then suddenly froze.
"Amber," she said quietly with forced calm, "I need you to call the police. Now."
JD Sarantakos stared incredulously at the two police officers standing before him. "You gotta be kidding me!" he cried.
Officer Jim Lettrille shook his head. "We checked out those footprints in the desert where the Bomber was allegedly hiding, and from the Magic Castle. We matched them up with those bootprints we found around the Luxor, in the back of your office. They matched perfectly."
"But I never even wore those boots!" JD protested. "They'd been there since my wife picked them up from the shoe repair shop last Tuesday!"
"Do you have them here?" Lettrille asked.
JD led the two officers to the very back of the MindFreak office. "There!" he pointed out triumphantly, "you see?"
Lettrille picked up a boot and examined it. "You say they were in a repair shop?"
"That's right. And my wife picked them up and left them there. I hadn't touched them since."
Lettrille held up the boot higher for JD to see. "Then what's all this dirt in the treads? Your shoe repairman take 'em out for a test run or something?"
JD's bowels turned to water. "But I never...I swear to God...!"
"Okay," Lettrille said. "We'll take the boots to the lab and run a few tests, take a few soil samples, and if there's any sweat samples inside, we'll run a DNA test. If they come up negative, you got nothing to worry about. In the meantime, you'd better come with us." He carefully slid the boots into a large plastic bag.
"Officer," JD protested, "I swear to God, I am not the Vegas Bomber! I was nowhere near where he struck! I never even wore those boots since they came back from the shop! I'm telling you, I didn't do it!"
"You can tell us everything when we get to the station," Lettrille said. "Like I said, if the tests come up negative, you're good to go."
"All right, fine!" JD walked out the door alongside the two policemen. "You have my full cooperation. DNA, fingerprints, whatever--just take it! I'm going to prove to you that I am not the Bomber."
Last edited by Veritas; 03-02-2012 at 03:19 PM.