05-25-2012, 04:35 PM
Criss crawled up the last flight of emergency stairs leading up to his suite, coughing up the last of the dust stirred up from the quake. The elevators were still out, and climbing the entire thirty stories of the Luxor Hotel was an excruciating ordeal, even for someone as physically fit as himself. As soon as he reached the top floor where his suite was, he collapsed onto the landing, rubbing his aching limbs with his dirty hands. "I made it," he said to himself, panting. "I made it."
Fighting off drowsiness, he entered the foyer through the emergency door (the keycard system still worked, as FEMA needed access to each of the floors to search for survivors and assess the damage), and then into his suite. Never in his life had he ever been so happy to be home. He knew he had some bottled water in the fridge in the kitchen, and his bed was calling his name. He longed for a shower, but wasn't sure if the plumbing was working. First, however, he had to find Hammie.
Criss looked around his suite. His collection of awards had toppled to the floor, and a standing lamp on an overturned side table was broken, but everything held up pretty well as far as he could see. "Hammie?" he called out, searching the suite for his cat. "Kittykittykitty! Where are you? Hammie? You okay?"
Criss saw the tip of Hammie's tail under the sofa. He squatted down and peered underneath it. "Hey, Hammie!" he cooed as he reached under the sofa to coax his cat out from his hiding place. "How's my boy, huh? Come on, it's okay." He hooked his hand around the cat's sleek body and gently pulled him out. "There you go." He nuzzled his beloved cat next to his dirty, dusty face. "Thank God you're all right," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. "Come on, let's get something to eat and go to bed."
He found some bottled water in the fridge, filled Hammie's water dispenser, then opened a can of cat food, thanking God that it had a pull-tab lid so he wouldn't have to use the can opener. He fed the contents of the can to Hammie, who devoured it ravenously, then went in search for food for himself. All he could find was a take-out container of cold pasta salad from Maggiano's. Well, it was food, anyway, he thought. He set the container and another bottle of water on the counter, then turned on the sink to wash his hands. Cold water dribbled from the tap long enough to rinse off the grime, then it stopped abruptly. Criss realized that there'd be no shower for him tonight, or any night until they got the water running again, and God knew when that would be.
He sat down at the counter with his meal before him. Childhood memories of family dinners floated back into his mind: of saying grace before meals, of all the vegetables of which he had turned up his nose but his father insisted he eat or he could not leave the table, and of his own fussy attitude toward his mother's cooking which he now regretted. How he wished now to be back in New York, with his mother and the rest of his family, eating pastitsio, spanakopistia, moussakas, and other Greek dishes he had spurned in the past but would have given his soul to be able to gorge on at this very moment. Why do we appreciate things only after they are gone? he wondered. One day, I'm living the high life, the next I'm living like a refugee, eating leftovers and unable to so much as take a shower.
Criss lowered his head more out of sorrow than reverence. "Dear God," he prayed, "thank You for guiding me safely back to the Luxor--me and the others who followed me. Bless this food and keep us ever mindful of those in need."
The irony of that last statement struck a chord within him. "Help us, dear God, for we are suffering--all of us, the whole city of Vegas," he continued to pray. "Heal those who have been injured, and bless those who have lost loved ones in this disaster. Amen."
He looked at the take-out container of pasta salad. The lettuce was wilted, the dressing had separated and the cheese had clumped together, but food was food, he thought. No sense ordering room service--there wasn't any. He picked up the plastic fork packed inside the container and began to eat. Later he'd go downstairs and join the other survivors, maybe try to cheer them up with some magic. He had no Red Cross training like Costa, but it was the best he could offer, a bit of diversion from the trauma of the day.
"There it is, white building on Flamingo and Vegas. Girl's supposed to be trapped up there under a shelf, second floor."
"Okay, let's go in."
The two firefighters trudged up the stairs to the ECRU workshop, burdened by their heavy gear. Every available firefigher, EMS technician, and ambulance driver had been vertical since the quake hit. No sooner than one emergency was resolved than another came over the radio from the only dispatcher still functioning at her post, sending them off again without so much as a bathroom break. Weary but undaunted, they slogged on, dousing fires, plugging gas leaks, searching for survivors, rescuing anyone still breathing, and transporting the injured to the DMF in Sunset Park as best they could, medivacing them by helicopter or by any other means available. They had a job to do, and they were going to see it through, earthquake be damned.
They picked their way through the debris in the demolished workshop. "Over there!" one of them said, pointing to the fallen shelving unit where an unconscious Vivi DiLano lay, still clutching her cell phone. The firemen lifted the unit high enough to free her, then dragged her to safety.
"Is she still alive?" one of them asked.
The other checked for vital signs. "She's still alive, no sign of internal injuries," he said. Tilting her head back, the fireman resustitated Vivi with his own lungs while his partner assembled a breathing apparatus to a small oxygen tank.
"Unit Twenty-seven, we have a woman here, about twenty-one, unconscious, pinned under a shelving unit. Flamingo Road and Vegas Avenue. Over."
The second fireman strapped the oxygen mask to Vivi's face. Vivi stirred and opened her eyes, relieved to be breathing again. The fireman looked down at her.
"You're going to be all right, ma'am," he said. "We'll get you to a hospital as soon as we can."
Vivi smiled through her mask. "Thank you," she whispered.
Night was falling. Save for the car and building fires and a few hotels and other buildings with emergency generators, the fabled Las Vegas Strip lay in total darkness, its neon glow dead from loss of power. Rescue workers searched for survivors with Klieg lights and powerful police-issue flashlights. Traumatized survivors huddled together in shelters, sleeping fitfully if at all, still haunted by the nightmare of the day's disaster.
Leslie Fanning had been on duty for over twelve straight hours, seven of them alone, trapped in the dispatch room, handling dozens of calls for help that came through the system. She had not eaten since the beginning of her shift earlier in the day, and the need to relieve herself became a crippling agony, but she stayed at her post, forcing herself to go on. Only when her bowels and bladder began to call nine-one-one to her brain did she break away and use a plastic lined wastepaper basket for a makeshift toilet. Tying up the plastic bag so the room wouldn't smell, she returned to her desk, put on her headset, and answered the latest round of calls.
By the twelfth hour, Leslie began feeling faintheaded from lack of food. Then she remembered the granola bars she had cached in her desk drawer; eating on duty was against regulations, but Leslie disdained the sugary snacks in the break room vending machine, so she packed her own wholesome, natural snacks to sustain her through long shifts and overtime. And this is overtime on steroids, she thought.
Opening the drawer, she saw only four bars lying there. Well, she'd have to make them stretch as long as she could. She pulled one out, unwrapped it, and nibbled slowly, trying to make it last as long as possible. Goddess only knew when she herself would be rescued. Meanwhile, she had to help all the other victims of the quake whose names and numbers filled the monitor screen. As much as she wanted to help them all, she could handle only one call at a time.
Leslie turned on her headset. "Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"
Nini stumbled out of the first aid station in Room C, dazed and confused. Should she go back to the store? No, the doors were shut and locked, with a guard standing by. Should she go home? Did she even have a home to go back to?
The lobby was jampacked with survivors and victims, huddled in blankets, trying to sleep. Babies cried, a few people cursed at them to shut up. Nini picked her way over the sea of humanity flooding the floor of the atrium.
"Nini!" she heard a familiar voice call out to her. "Over here!"
It was Hadley Grace, her friend and dancer in Criss' show, waving to her from somewhere in the middle of the room. Nini tiptoed over the scattered sleeping bodies to where Hadley was sitting. "I saved you a spot," she said.
Nini almost fell over trying to embrace her. "Had! Oh, thank God! It's been a nightmare! Some jerkfaced looter tried to rob the cash register in the store, then when I tried to stop him, he tried to rape me!"
"You okay now?" Hadley asked her.
"Yeah, I guess," Nini replied. "They nailed that (bleeper) just in time." She slumped onto Hadley's shoulder. "I don't know if I'll ever be okay again," she sighed. "I don't know if any of us will be okay."
"We'll be okay," Hadley assured her. "Remember what Criss Angel always said? What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
"Well, I don't feel very strong right now," Nini retorted.
"You're just tired," Hadley told her. "Try to get some sleep, okay?"
Nini lay on the floor, curled up in the hotel blanket with Hadley. She wondered if she could ever sleep again, after what happened. It had all been too much for her--for everyone, she amended. Her life had never been easy since her parents abandoned her to the care of her great-grandmother when she was a child. It had not eased up when she came to Las Vegas looking for work. Now, just when she thought things were finally going her way, disaster struck, in more ways than one. How could she sleep after what she had just been through?
Her eyes grew heavy, and she drifted off into adrenalin-drained slumber, too tired and too traumatized to even dream.
Criss dampened a bath towel with what little water he could get from the tap and wiped himself down as best he could. It wasn't as refreshing as a shower, but it had to do for the time being. At least he was no longer caked with concrete dust. He pulled off his dirty clothes and flung them into the hamper with the damp, filthy towel and staggered to his bedroom. He flopped down on the bed, ready to doze, but was rudely jolted awake by the sound of his cell phone going off. Drawing an irritated sigh, he wrenched himself perpendicular again , grabbed his phone and flipped it open.
"Yeah, what is it?" he mumbled irritably.
"Christopher?" his mother's voice came across from the other end.
Criss snapped to full alert. "Oh, hey, Mom," he said, flustered. "Oh, God, I didn't know it was you at first. I-I mean--"
"Are you all right?" Mom asked anxiously. "I heard about the earthquake over there; I called to see if you were all right."
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine, Mom," Criss assured her. "We're all okay at this end. Costa's been working his tail end off in the Red Cross station, and JD's been helping out some, but we're just fine, so don't worry."
"Good," his mother said, relieved. "Are you coming back to New York anytime soon?"
"Well, if Las Vegas is destroyed, you need a place to live until they rebuild, don't you?"
Criss grinned. "No, I'm good," he told her. "The Luxor's still standing. In fact, I'm in my suite right now, with Hammie."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Bless the woman, Criss thought. Always thinking of others, especially her family. "No, you're safer there, Mom. The streets are torn up, and I don't think there will be any incoming flights for a while. We're good to go here."
"Well, can I send anything to you? Food, medicine, clothes, anything?"
Criss couldn't help but admire her persistance. "I'm fine, Mom," he insisted. Then, as an afterthought, he told her, "If you really want to help, you can organize some sort of relief effort through the church or something. There are a lot of people here who are worse off than I am. I'm sure they'd appreciate it."
"I'll do that," she said. "But you must lend a hand yourself, Christopher. They need your help as well, you know. You're big and strong enough to do your part in the relief effort; you need to go out and work along with your brothers. Don't shut yourself up in your hotel room--you go and make an effort to help those poor people down there. Don't let being a celebrity blind you to those in need."
Like I need reminding, Criss thought. "Mom, I never let being a celebrity blind me to anyone's needs, you know that," he protested. "I just guided a bunch of survivors here to the Luxor just after the quake hit. I tied a cable around my waist and told them to follow me. Now the whole lobby is so jammed with survivors, you can't even move without bumping into someone. And with the power out, I had to climb the emergency stairs just to get to my suite, and now I'm so tired, I could drop off just sitting here talking to you. Not that you're boring me or anything, it's just that I'm just so dog-tired right now."
"Hmm. Well, you get some sleep, darling," his mother told him. "You have a lot of work to do tomorrow, all right?"
"Okay, Mom. Good night. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I love you more, Mom. 'Night."
He flipped off his phone and flopped down on the bed again, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. His room was pitch-black from the power failure; no neon glare from the Strip below illuminated the suite, not even a streetlight, just the faint flickering glow from the building fires. No electronic billboards blared their messages, no loud club bands thumped out a back beat to the pulse of the city; not even a slot machine jingled and hummed in a casino. The blatting of car alarms triggered from the tremors had finally died down due to loss of power from dying car batteries. Even the wail of fire truck sirens had ceased. For the first time since its founding in 1905, Las Vegas was as silent as the desert surrounding it.
Downstairs in the Red Cross station in Room C, Costa lay on one of the cots, dead to the world, drained of all energy from his non-stop shift. He barely had had time to eat, let alone take a break, scarfing down a prepackaged sandwich from the deli between emergencies and washing it down with bottled water. In the ninth hour after the quake, his body screamed "Enough!", his brain went into shutdown, and Dwight Wyman found him slumped in a corner of the room, exhausted.
So there Costa lay, on a regulation Red Cross folding cot in the Red Cross station, sleeping so soundly that nothing short of a pistol shot could wake him. Dwight, seasoned veteran that he was, remained awake and alert, taking inventory of their diminishing supplies. It was only the first day of the disaster, he thought, and already half their stock was depleted. Stations across the state of Nevada were promising to send more, but in light of the fact that the roads were impassable, either by the quake or by state police roadblock, it was doubtful they could get through in time. All he could do was wait and make do with what they had.
Dwight looked at Costa asleep on the cot. Just a few short weeks ago, the latter was in his training class, awkwardly giving CPR and mouth-to-mouth to his female partner. Today, Volunteer Number Twenty-three had survived his baptism of fire, performing his duties like a pro, not a word of complaint out of him. Dwight let him sleep. He was going to need all the rest he could get, he thought. Tomorrow, the real work would begin.
Leslie sat asleep at her post, her head pillowed on her folded arms over the keyboard of the computer terminal, the headset still in her ear. The calls had finally stopped coming in, to her relief. The granola bar she had been nibbling on had sustained her throughout her twelve-hour shift, as well as the half-bottle of water Evelyn had carelessly left behind her when she disappeared before the quake hit. Leslie owed her negligent co-worker that much, at least.
She had once again tried to call for help on her cell phone, but still no luck. She had tried to contact the other EMS dispatch offices via her computer, but received only "Unable to forward" messages in return. Had they all been wiped out in the quake? she wondered.
The emergency generator in the building still delivered enough power to keep the system running, but how long would it last? A day? A week? Or only a few more hours, Goddess forbid? She had activated Sleep Mode to conserve power when the calls dwindled down, just to be sure. Then Leslie herself succumbed into her own sleep mode as exhaustion overpowered her.
Beep--Beep--Beep! Another emergency coming through jolted her awake. The computer monitor glowed back to life. Shaking off her drowsiness, she answered the call.
"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?" she rasped mechanically.
"Oh, thank God! I tried and tried and tried to get through, but the line was always busy!" came a frantic woman's voice. "Listen, I'm trapped in the basement of my home with my baby! Can you get anyone at all to come get us out? We don't have any food or water or anything down here!"
Leslie looked at her monitor. The address was right there, so that meant the land lines were working at least. "All right," she said, "you live at 32944 Alamo Drive, right?"
"Yes! Yes! That's right! We're in the basement!"
"All right, ma'am, I'll send someone out to you as soon as we can. It's gonna take a while, because we're so backed up with emergencies, but I'll do what I can to get someone there to free you and your baby."
"Thank you, whoever you are!" cried the grateful woman.
"Leslie," she said.
"Leslie," the woman repeated. "I'll never forget you! Never!"
"Thank you, ma'am," Leslie said.
"Thank you, Evonne." Leslie whispered wearily.
"Gee, you sound really beat," Evonne said concernedly.
"I've been here alone for twelve straight hours," Leslie told her, "handling every emergency call on the only working computer here in the city. I'm trapped here with only three granola bars and a quarter bottle of water, and the woman who was supposed to be working with me disappeared on one of her unauthorized breaks just before the quake hit."
"So, you're trapped like me," Evonne said.
"Yeah," Leslie concurred. "But at least you have your baby for company."
"An eighteen-month-old isn't much company," Evonne pointed out, laughing a little. "I just managed to get him to sleep."
"What's his name?"
"That's a nice name."
"Thanks. Listen, I know you probably got a ton of calls coming through, so I'll let you go," Evonne said. "Just hang in there, and when they come to get us out of her, I'll tell them about you, okay?"
"Thanks, Evonne. And blessed be."
"Blessed be what?" Evonne asked, bewildered.
Leslie realized she was not talking to a fellow Wiccan. Thinking as fast as her exhausted brain could function, she said, "Blessed be you and yours. And thanks for the chat."
"Sure," Evonne said, "If you're not too busy, you can call me if you need some company. I think you got my number already."
"I got it here on the monitor," Leslie said. "And I'll get someone out to help you and Chandler."
"You're a doll, Leslie," Evonne said. " 'Bye now!"
" 'Bye," Leslie disconnected the phone and got on the mike. "Attention all units! We have a woman and baby trapped at 32944 Alamo Drive. Cross street, Cactus and Brush. 32944 Alamo Drive."
A long pause, then, "Squad Thirty-seven, acknowledged," came the reply.
At last, Leslie sighed with relief. Hang in there Evonne and Chandler, she mentally told them, help is on the way.
Last edited by Veritas; 05-25-2012 at 04:47 PM.