03-24-2012, 01:45 PM
As Criss sped back to the Luxor Hotel on his motorcycle, his shaken mind swirled with unanswerable questions about what he had seen, or thought he had seen, in the desert. Who was the Medicine Man? he kept asking himself. What was he? Was he/it a ghost or simply a delusion caused by the desert heat? Had he imagined the whole thing? No, that couldn't be right: as creative and talented as he was, he couldn't create a separate being out of thin air. Had he stepped through some time-portal, breached some barrier between time and space when he entered into the Cave of Sorrow? Again, no--that was delving into the realm of science fiction. Was it simply a ghost? Criss did believe in an afterlife, but he considered himself intelligent enough to know that ghosts did not exist. Indeed, he had exposed many of the tricks fraudulent mediums used to con innocent people who wished to contact their deceased loved ones out of hundreds of dollars by staging fake seances.
A fake. What if the Medicine Man had been a real person all along? What if he was the one who was delusional instead of himself? What if this Medicine Man guy was simply some crazy old dude who lived alone in the desert pretending to be a Native spirit? It was perfectly plausible--living alone in the desert did strange things to people.
The thought comforted Criss as he rode on. No doubt the isolation had driven the old man to the point of madness, confusing ancient Native lore with reality until he believed himself to be the "avatar" of the Cave of Sorrow, he theorized. The bone talismens, the feathered staff, the leather robe with the painted symbols--all props to stage his illusion. He didn't act crazy, but people who lived in a fantasy world often behaved as if they were sane.
But how could he explain the Medicine Man's sudden disappearance right after he got on his bike? Well, hey, the guy was an illusionist like himself. Hadn't he himself pulled disappearing acts in the street countless times before? With skill and timing, anyone could make himself seemingly vanish into thin air. If he was an illusionist, he was a very good one, Criss conceded.
He sped down the highway. The apex of the giant black pyramid that was the hub of the Luxor Hotel and Resort came into view over the horizon. Nothing had changed as far as he could see, thus eliminatng the time-portal theory he had created earlier. No ghosts, no spirits, nothing but a crazy old Native living alone in the desert keeping watch over a small hole in a rocky mesa with an ancient carving on the wall. Criss decided to forget the whole Medicine Man incident and get on with his life, crazy as it was in itself. He had more to worry about than avatars and ancient caves; he had a demonstration to plan, one that would be bigger than the hotel demolition in Florida, and he couldn't wait to spring it on his crew.
Meanwhile, at the Luxor, life went on as usual. Guests passed through the glass doors leading to the largest atrium in the world, luggage in hand or wheeled in on shiny brass carts by bell attendants, ready to try their luck in the casinos, be pampered in the spa, party in the clubs, shop in the boutiques, dine in the restaraunts, enjoy the live shows, or just relax and be waited on hand and foot by the staff. And the staff made doubly sure every guest who arrived received the best the Luxor offered. Las Vegas was not just built on money, but fantasy and illusion, where the average Joe or Jane could be treated like royalty, surrounded by wealth and luxury, if only for a weekend. When people passed through the glass portal into the black glass pyramid with the blindingly bright apex shining straight through the stratosphere, they left the troubled economy and all the other problems of the world outside like a stray mongrel.
Two such average Janes, a pair of sisters surnamed Honi, entered the atrium that bright sunny Friday morning, their luggage piled onto a brass luggage cart being pushed by an exhausted bell attendant. No, that's not quite right: the elder sister, Bianca, a buxom, fashionably dressed, peroxide blonde who carried herself with a haughty air considered herself far above average. The pile of luggage on the cart was her own, proof of her superiority. She never traveled lightly, even for a two-night stay in a hotel; Heaven forbid she should be without the proper outfit whenever the occasion called for it. Bianca took a perverse pleasure in ordering the poor bell attendant where to move the luggage cart, and for God's sake to be careful with her precious pile of suitcases, garment bags and overnighters. Here, in the Luxor, she was queen of the realm and made sure everyone knew it.
The other sister, Angela, a reed-thin figure in a plain green summer shift that had been fashionable back in the Sixties, followed her arrogant sibling timidly, hiding behind the luggage rack for safety's sake. Her dirty blonde hair, thin as her limbs, hung down from her head like a threadbare curtain concealing the fear and lonliness in her large blue eyes. Her luggage consisted of a single overnight bag, her canvas school satchel and her worn-out purse slung over her bony arm. At twenty-eight, the burden of living with an overbearing sister showed clearly in the sad expression permanantly creased into her thin face.
She did not want to be here at the Luxor; she preferred the privacy of her tiny bedroom back at the house their deceased parents had left them, grading papers and working on her lesson plans for the first-grade class she taught at Applewood Elementary School, or volunteering at the local homeless shelter where she taught literacy classes in the evening three times a week.
She was here because Bianca had won an all-expenses-paid stay for two at any of the top hotels in Vegas through some drawing she had entered so long ago she had forgotten about it, and had been dragged along simply because Bianca could not find anyone to share it with her (her latest boyfriend had broken up with her because he was unable to stand her any longer, and she had no friends to speak of), since the rules clearly stated that the prize was valid for two people for two nights only, and so Angela was drafted by default with warnings to stay out of the way. Reluctantly, Angela agreed, if only to avoid her sister's wrath, though she would have considered a weekend without Bianca around the house a better vacation than staying with her in a luxury hotel.
Bianca, however, yearned for the high life, squandering her trust fund on shopping sprees, spas, cruises and luxury hotels just so she could be indulge in the life to which she felt entitled. To her, poor Angela was at best a maid-of-all-work, performing all the household chores so she could be free to go shopping or spend weekends at one of the many luxury hotels Las Vegas had to offer. At worst, Angela was a useless burden intruding into Bianca's perfect world when she was three years old, usurping her place as Daddy's little princess and Mommy's little angel. Bitter and resentful, Bianca did her level best to make her baby sister's life a living hell from the first day her mother brought her home from the maternity hospital: crushing her spirit, pointing the finger of blame upon her for every crime committed, and belittling her achievements, all the while hiding behind a mask of perfect innocence.
Bianca manipulated and bullied everyone around her to get what she wanted: her parents, her grandparents, her schoolmates, and especially her younger sister who was too gullible, too trusting and too frightened to resist. Times without number Angela had her allowance extorted, her toys stolen or destroyed (or both), and the intimate details of her life, few though they were, broadcast to the world at large--unless, of course, Angela paid Bianca hush money to preserve them.
Now, there they were, in the lobby of one of Las Vegas' premiere hotels, preparing for a weekend stay in one of its poshest suites. Bianca swept up to the front desk, flashed the postcard she had received from the contest to the receptionist and loftily demanded the keys to her suite, which she received without delay or tantrum on her part. Angela, left behind with the luggage, stared at the patterned carpet, her misery unabated by the sights and sounds of the Luxor. She didn't want to be here. She didn't want to be anywhere but in the safety of her little bedroom, working on her lesson plan for the week, away from Bianca's screaming voice and overbearing manner. She could only hope that Bianca would spend more time at the spa than in the suite; only then could she have some peace and quiet.
The luggage cart was wheeled onto the elevator, or inclinator, as they were called in the pyramidal structure of the Luxor. Due to the sloping shape of the walls, they traveled on an inclined plane instead of vertically like normal elevators. Bianca, Angela and the bell attendant rode up to their suite in silence. Once the doors slid open, the attendant wheeled the cart to the designated suite, slid the master keycard into the slot, and entered. Bianca sailed in behind and surveyed the elegant suite with an extremely critical eye, then turned to the bell attendant. "Is this the best you got?" she asked contemptuously.
"Yes, ma'am," the attendant replied politely as he unloaded his cart. "This is the Nefertiti Suite, one of the best in the hotel."
Bianca made another visual sweep of the room. "It'll have to do," she sighed. "It's only for the weekend after all."
She turned to Angela. "Tip the man, will you?" she ordered.
Angela reached into her purse and gave the attendant a ten-dollar bill. "Thank you for your assistance," she said quietly. "We appreciate your help."
The sincerity of her gratitude did not compensate for the measly tip the attendant received. He took it with a scowl and departed with his empty cart. Angela felt guilty over offending the man, but what could she do? It was the largest bill she had in her purse. With a deep sigh she went into the nearest bedroom and laid her overnight bag on the king-sized bed to unpack. Bianca immediately flew into a rage. "That's my room, Angela!" she snapped. "Yours is over there."
She pointed to the smaller of the two bedrooms of the suite. Chastened, Angela picked up her bag and went into her room. At least she had a room with a bed, she thought gratefully; she feared she would have to sleep on the floor or something. She laid her overnighter and school satchel on the bed and sat down, too tired to unpack and too anxious to do anything else. Meanwhile, Bianca busied herself unpacking her extensive wardrobe and storing it in every available storage space in the suite. From her bedroom, Angela could hear her humming happily to herself as she hung up her dresses, suits, blouses and slacks and stored her intimate apparel in the dresser drawers. You'd think she was moving in instead of staying for a single weekend, she said to herself.
Suddenly, the happy humming stopped. "Angela?" Bianca called out sharply. "Angela!"
Angela started. From the angry tone of her sister's voice, she knew that whatever her latest transgression had been, it was already unforgivable. She rose on shaking legs to answer the summons. Maybe she could mitigate the damage somehow. Maybe.
"Yes, Bianca?" she said timidly.
"Angela," Bianca said with forced calm. "Where is my blue suit?"
"Wh-which blue suit?" Angela stammered.
"What do you mean 'which blue suit'? The one you were supposed to pick up at the dry cleaner's on your way home yesterday, that blue suit!"
Suddenly, Angela recalled the blue dress suit Bianca had ordered her to pick up from the cleaner's on her way home from school, and with a sinking heart realized she had forgotten all about it. "I-I'm sorry, Bianca," she quavered. "I-I-I guess I forgot--"
Bianca's face reddened. "You forgot?!" she raged.
Angela stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed with fear. "I told you twice to pick up my suit and you forgot!?" Bianca shrieked. "Of all the stupid, incompetant, idiotic--"
"I'm sorry, Bianca," Angela repeated, more pitieously this time. "I just--"
She was cut off by a sharp backhanded slap to the face that sent her reeling to the floor. "Don't give me any excuses!" Bianca growled. " Now I have to ruin my vacation by going to pick it up myself, since you're too stupid to do it! It's lucky for you the dry cleaner's not too far from here!"
She grabbed her purse and made for the door. "Do something right for a change and put my things away while I'm gone!" she ordered. "And make sure nothing gets wrinkled! I'll be back later!"
Bianca stormed out the door, slamming it behind her. Angela still lay on the floor, her brain still spinning from the blow she received. When all was quiet again, she burst into sobs.