08-16-2012, 08:15 PM
"Well, dinner's not until five," Janice said as she unpacked Buzz's suitcase, "so you've got some free time until then."
Buzz rose from the bed. "Yeah," he said, "might as well look around, get the feel of the place, check on the display while I'm at it."
"And no gambling," Janice reminded him.
"I know, I know, no gambling," Buzz said, waving his hand dismissively. It used to be "no drinking" until he quit completely in 'ninety-eight. Now there was a moratorium on gambling, what with finances, not to mention his schedule, being so tight. He didn't have the luxury of blowing a wad of cash on the blackjack tables or the slots; every penny spent was meticulously recorded. Despite his fame as an astronaut back in the Sixties, fortune did not follow it. All he had was his pension, his lecture fees, and the royalties from his books. That did not exactly make him a millionaire by anyone's standards. Still, it beat trying to sell cars.
Buzz grabbed his keycard and left the suite. It felt good to just walk around and see the sights without being yanked from this event to the next. As much as he wanted to share his passion for space exploration, the traveling was exhausting to say the least, especially at his age. He cherished the few free hours his itinerary allowed. It wasn't as much fun as, say, floating in zero gravity, but it was a pleasure all the same.
He entered one of the sliding inclinators, fascinated at how they worked. Never in his life did he ever ride in an elevator that went diagonally. He tried to get a feel of the movement by sensing the g-forces upon his body, but without success: it was too smooth a ride to feel anything at all. Still, the concept was a novel one--an inclining elevator that traveled on an angle. He stored the experience away in his memory--who knew when it might prove valuable in the future?
The doors slid open, and Buzz found himself in the lobby. Oh, well, might as well check on the display while he was there. He walked to the display area and looked around: the posters were in the proper sequential order, the seating was arranged for maximum viewing, even the NASA logo was hung at the right height. Great, he thought, nothing to worry about.
A loud, bellowing voice ordering somebody to keep the exits clear but secure startled him. He looked around and saw a huge bruiser of a guy in a navy jacket standing by one of the exit doors. Around him, other navy jacketed men scurried like mice to do his bidding. Buzz decided to steer clear of this character; God knew what this guy was capable of.
The bruiser, however, had spotted Buzz the moment he had stepped in the ballroom. Indeed, he did a double take, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. Buzz froze in his tracks as the blue jacketed prizefighter type strode toward him. The bruiser's tough demeanor, however, melted into surprise and some sort of hero-worship as he approached. "Say," he said, his voice lowering a few notches in volume, "you're Buzz Aldrin, ain't ya?"
Saved by fame. "Why, yes," Buzz replied genially, "I am."
"Lucas Macaffey, Chief of Security," the bruiser said proudly.
Buzz made a tenative move for a handshake. Macaffey siezed his hand and pumped it eagerly, a huge smile spread across his beefy face. "Sir!" he said, "it's an honor to meet you here! We're very proud to have you come and stay at our hotel! Yessirree, Bob! Mighty proud!"
"Oh, uh, thank you," Buzz said, rattled. "Um, I'm gonna need that hand back, if you don't mind."
Macaffey realized he still had Buzz's hand in his grip and released him. "Oh, sorry," he said, laughing with uncharacteristic embarrassment.
Buzz thanked him and rubbed his aching hand. "So," he said, "everything ready for this evening?"
Macaffey reverted to form. "Ready as it will ever be," he replied, his chest swelling with pride. "Everything's been checked and rechecked to perfection."
"Okay," Buzz said, "good. Then I'll be here for the press conference at six-thirty."
"Will do, sir!" Macaffey said, standing ramrod straight; Buzz was surprised he didn't salute. He quickly took his leave before Macaffey could crush his hand again in another handshake. He decided to seek the sanctity of the hotel lounge. It would be quieter there, he hoped.
Macaffey returned to bellowing orders to his staff, secretly thrilled that he had finally met his boyhood idol, live and in person, and even shook his hand. True, it was forty years after the moon landing, but Buzz Aldrin was still an American hero and always would be. Thank God he had lived to see it.
The hotel lounge was sparsely populated when Buzz arrived. No one bothered to glance up to see him come in, a relief compared to the hearty welcome Macaffey had given him. They all sat at their tables in twos and threes, chatting quietly with each other or on their smartphones. A waitress walked by with a small round tray of cocktails in one hand. It reminded Buzz of his years as an alcoholic; back then, the bottle had been his only comfort during his bouts of depression after the hoopla over the Apollo 11 moon landing had faded and he had nowhere to go, no plans for the future, uncertain of what to do with his life. It had cost him two marriages and his career as an astronaut, almost. It took the love of his third wife, Lois, to get him back on his feet again and found ShareSpace, his foundation to teach kids about space exploration.
Buzz shook the memories out of his head. Those days were past, he reminded himself. He was sober and focused on his mission here at the Luxor: his lectures about his foundation. He was in his seventies, yes, but he was going to be as active as he had been before the Apollo mission. His remaining years were going to make up for the ones he had wasted on booze and depression. He may have been down, but he had never been out.
He spotted an elderly man sitting at the bar, nattily dressed in a tailored suit with a matching fedora--a fedora, for chrissakes! Who wore those these days? It made the guy look like a mobster or something. Curious, Buzz walked up to him and sat down on the stool beside him. The old man turned his head, looked at Buzz, raised his glass in greeting, and turned back again. The bartender approached Buzz. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.
"Strawberry daquiri," Buzz told her, "virgin."
The old man turned toward Buzz again. "You ain't much of a drinker, are ya?" he drawled in a New Yorker dilalect.
Buzz shook his head. "Uh, no," he replied. "I had to quit a few years ago."
The old man nodded. "Yeah, I went on the wagon a few times myself," he said, swirling his cocktail, "and fell off of it a few times as well."
Buzz smiled. "Well, I've managed to stay on it for fourteen years," he said. "Figured I got better things to do than drink myself to death, like I'd been doing."
"Well, good for you," the old man said. "Uh, say, you look familiar. Can't place the face, though."
"Well, it's where it's always been, right here," Buzz replied, pointing to his face.
That bought a smile to the old man's withered face. He extended a gnarled hand. "Name's Danny," he said, "Danny Springer. Everyone calls me Springs."
"Nice to meet you, Springs," Buzz said, shaking his hand, a much more comfortable one compared to Macaffey's vise-like grip. "Buzz Aldrin."
Springs was startled. "The astronaut?"
The bartender set a foamy red beverage in a stemmed wineglass on the bar in front of Buzz. "Former astronaut, actually," he replied with a shrug. "Now I'm just a spokesman for NASA."
"Hmph!" Springs grunted. "Well, I'll be damned! So, what brings you here to the Luxor?"
"Promoting my foundation, ShareSpace, for the weekend," Buzz informed him. "I'm here until Monday."
Something registered in Springs' aging brain. "Oh, yeah, that's right," he said, suddenly remembering. "I saw yer ads out in the lobby." Something else clicked inside his mind. "Y'know, there was this hippie type goin' around sayin' the moon landing was a hoax, and--"
Buzz held up his hand to silence him. "Yeah, I know, I know," he droned. "I get it all the time. Conspiracy theorists who think the moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage, the photos were faked, and all of that BS. No matter how many times I try to convince them it was real, they just go on and on and on. I mean, they just won't quit!"
"Well, I believe ya," Springs said. "I saw the whole thing on the boob tube back in the Sixties. And believe you me, that was no Hollywood soundstage, not by any description! That was the real deal, I can tell ya that!"
"So, what happened to that hippie guy?" Buzz asked.
"Security gave 'im the bum's rush, is what," Springs replied. "He ain't gonna show his face around here no more, that's for sure--not with Macaffey around. He's chief of security, y'know."
Buzz rubbed his still aching hand. "We've met," he said.
Springs drained the last of his drink. "Well, I'd like to stay and chat," he said, "but if I don't get home soon, my housekeeper Sharon's gonna start callin' the morgue to see if I'm there. Nice meetin' ya, Buzz."
The two men shook hands, and Springs shuffled out of the lounge. Buzz turned to the bartender. "Quite a character, isn't he?" he commented casually.
The bartender looked up. "Springs?" she said. "Oh, yeah. He used to be a former mobster back in the Forties and Fifties, y'know. Part of a gang called the Guys of Glitter Gulch. He's the only one left, by the way."
Buzz pricked up his ears. A mobster? Well, that would explain the fedora and the suit. He wondered just what Danny "Springs" Springer did during the Forties and Fifties when he was in that gang of his? And how many bodies did he leave behind?