10-24-2012, 11:02 PM
Night fell on the city of Las Vegas. At a time when most of America was winding down for the day, Sin City was just waking up, ready for another night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and partying. The fabled Strip glowed in all its neon glory, beckoning one and all to taste if not indulge in its pleasures. Tourists and citizens alike cast aside their inhibitions along with all the cares of the workaday world, reveling in the endless parade of night clubs, bars, casinos, theaters, and other attractions. Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World--let us entertain you! it cried out.
One entertainer in particular had just wound up shooting his TV show for the day. Criss Angel was tired, but he didn't want to go back to his suite and sleep. He wanted company, preferably female, have a drink or two and unwind. What good was being in Vegas if you didn't go out and party once in a while?
MindFreak had been shooting in one of the seamier sides of Vegas, where he had done some mentalism and sleight of hand for a few passersby in the neighborhood. They had freaked out, as always, but a lot of their reactions would have to be bleeped out by the editors. As darkness fell, the producers and crew began to grow uneasy: it was not the safest neighborhood to be in after dark, they told him. Gangs prowled the streets, drug dealers plied their trades in the alleys, and there were prostitutes on every corner. Criss watched as the camera crew hurriedly packed their equipment in the big black cases and rushed them up the ramps onto the trucks. He looked around himself. There wasn't any trouble as far as he could see, though that could change in a minute, he knew. Be prepared for anything, expect nothing, his martial arts instructor had taught him.
On a street corner he saw a scantily clad woman in very high heels and very short skirt, almost up to her crotch. She looked young, too young for Criss' taste. He approached cautiously, not wanting to attract too much attention either to himself or the young woman. As he looked closer, he saw just how young she was--she had to be fourteen at the most. The heavy makeup did nothing to make her look older or prettier--it was little more than a clown mask on her small face.
Appalled by the sight of this child, for child she was in his eyes, selling her tender young body on the street for God knew what reason, Criss knew that in good conscience that he could not stand idly by while a girl's youth was wasted on the cold mean streets of Las Vegas. He had to take action, but how?
He suddenly remembered the mission for which he had held a fundraiser that was not too far away: the Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless, run by Pastor Beaman. Maybe he could help this poor girl. It was her only hope. But he couldn't just throw her in his car and drive her there; the press would have a field day if he was caught with an underage prostitute, even if his intentions were good. He wished he had the number to the shelter, so he could call them and have them pick her up. What to do?
Then, suddenly, as if by Divine intervention, came the solution, in the form of a cruising cab tooling down the street looking for fares. Criss put his fingers into his mouth and gave a traffic-stopping whistle to flag it down. The green and white cab slowed and pulled over to the curb. Criss went over to the girl on the corner. Her smile looked pasted on as she saw him coming; just another john for her to service in her eyes. But he didn't approach her like any other man who wanted to procure her services. No, this one meant business. Criss grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her, protesting, to the cab. He yanked open the back door and shoved her in. "Hey!" she cried out. "What the (bleep) are you doing?"
Criss slammed the cab door and turned to the driver. "You know where Sanctuary Shelter is?"
"I know where it is," the cab driver replied in a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
Criss handed the driver a fifty. "Take this girl there, and ask for Pastor Beaman," he instructed. "Make sure she gets in there safely. Keep the change."
The driver took the fifty. "All right, I do that," he nodded, and he drove away with the flustered girl in the back seat of his cab. Criss sighed with relief. One less ruined life on the street, he thought. He turned away, but happened to see a paparazzi with his camera. He probably thought I was picking her up, he thought. Joke's on him! Criss greeted him with a one finger salute and went on his way, laughing to himself.
Mario Mendoza, photographer for VERVE!, had waited for this all day. The stars were out, and not the ones in the sky, either. Nighttime was when Vegas was the most alive, and he was out to capture the action. He cruised down the Strip, looking for any signs of a celeb doing something out of character, or something illegal, or something at all for that matter.
He swung by the lesser know part of the Strip and down a side street to circle back--there was a water main break up aways, so he had to detour--and drove cautiously down the unsavoury part of Sin City, where the real vice took place. He kept his eyes forward; to look from side to side would make him look like a tourist, and that would be inviting trouble.
Three large trucks blocked his way in the street. Great! he thought. First a water main break, now this! How the hell do I get out of this? Upon closer inspection, however, he saw just whose trucks they were. The MindFreak murals on the sides were a dead giveaway. Booyeah! Mario pulled over to the side and out came the camera. If Criss was in this hellhole, something had to be up, he figured as he climbed out of his SUV. Camera poised, he stalked his prey for a good shot.
There he was! On that corner--with a prostitute! And not just any prostitute, an underage one! Mario could easily tell just by looking at her. He hid himself behind a building across the street, eyes and ears peeled. Now he's flagging down a cab--very suspicious, indeed. Trying to cover his tracks and his ass by not using his own car, huh? Yeah, right. He's got her by the arm--flash! He's pushing her into the cab--flash! Now he's talking to the driver, handing him money. What's he saying? Something about a homeless shelter? Why the hell would he shack up with a little tart in a homeless shelter? Now the cab's driving away, and Criss is still standing there? What gives?
Mario lowered his camera, missing a great opportunity to take a picture of Criss across the street, giving him the finger. Undaunted, Mario vowed to follow up on this mystery. First, find the cab and the cab driver and pump him for some info. Next, find that shelter and the girl and get the lowdown from her. He was going to get to the bottom of this if it was the last thing he would do.
Darkness was falling, and Cole needed a place to spend the night. He was too young to check into a motel by himself, so he was screwed in that respect. He wished he did have some camping gear as he told Crystal and Hayley, so he could camp out under the stars. He wished he hadn't lied to them like that. He should have thought of a way to talk them into letting him spend the night at either of their houses; it wouldn't have been like he was going to sleep with them, just have a roof over his head for the night. He would have slept in the garage if they had let him. But then, their folks would have reported him, and it would be good bye Criss Angel demonstration and the rest of his social life as well.
Cole cruised around the side streets, noting that his gas gauge was hovering around E. He had to find a place, and soon. This neighborhood looked pretty (bleepy), with empty buildings covered with gang graffitti. Gangstas used white boys like him for target practice, or as a punching bag. He was about to turn around when he saw the sign: Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless. Well, any port in a storm, as his dad would say. Technically, he was homeless, if only for the night.
He pulled over to the garage where the van was kept. His luck held when he found the side door still open, and he hid his dirt bike inside, taking care to chain the wheels together so it wouldn't be stolen. Then he walked up to the shelter entrance, working on his cover story in his mind.
A large African American matronly type smiled warmly as he entered the lobby. "Hi, honey, " she greeted him sympathetically. "You lost or something?"
Cole lowered his eyes in shame. "Well, I...I ran away from home, see, and, well...I need a place to spend the night, see. Just until morning."
The motherly volunteer put her arm around his shoulder. "Now why did you run away from home?"
Cole thought fast. "Well, I got into a fight with my folks, see, and I ran away." He began to sniffle, wiping his dry eyes. "Now, I'm scared, but it's too dark to go home again. Could I just stay the night here, until morning? Please?"
"Aw, honey, we can call your folks right now, and they can pick you up." The volunteer picked up the phone.
Cole panicked. "No!" he said, clutching her hand and the phone. "I don't want them to know I'm here."
The volunteer lowered the receiver. "Your parents abuse you or something?"
Cole nodded. "Yeah. They got a drinking problem, you know? They both do. I just wanna stay here until they sober up in the morning, and things cool down, okay?"
"Well, all right, honey, you can stay here," the volunteer said. "But first thing in the morning, we call your folks and straighten things out, understand?"
Cole threw his arms around the volunteer. "You're such a nice lady," he gushed. "I promise to be real good, I won't cause any trouble."
"I know you won't," said the volunteer. "Now, let's get you some food. You look like a bag of bones." She led him down a corridor. "Cafeteria's over here. Then we'll get you a bed."
Score! Secretly elated, Cole followed the volunteer to the cafeteria. This was better than he planned. Free food, place to sleep--perfect! He just had to remember to clear out before they tried to contact his mom and dad. If they contacted them, that is. They weren't even home, he remembered. All they'd get was their voicemail. If he got home in time, he could delete it and no one would be the wiser. Either way, he'd get away with it. God, he was brilliant!