10-26-2012, 09:53 PM
Criss was tired, hot, sweaty and hungry. He sat in the back of the large black SUV, swigging a bottle of water. His brothers, JD and Costa, his manager, Dave Baram, and his producers rode with him, poring over every last detail of the episode, what to edit, what to keep, what worked, what didn't, and on and on and on, but he was too tired to care at the moment. He just wanted to go home, take a shower, eat and relax. It had been a long day of shooting in the hot Nevada sun; he thought he'd be used to it by now after living five years in the desert, working in temperatures that would have given lesser men heat stroke.
Something his brother, JD, said snapped him out of his drowsy state. He jerked his head to full alert. "What'd you say, bro'?" he said.
"I said, what was with you and that girl?" JD repeated.
Criss was still in a fog. "What girl?" he asked.
"That girl on the street corner. You know, that little streetwalker?"
It finally clicked in Criss sleep-deprived brain. "Oh, yeah! Her! Yeah, I saw this girl turning tricks on the corner there--she couldn't have been more than...what?...fourteen at most. Anyway, I felt sorry for her, and then I remembered that Sanctuary Shelter wasn't too far from here--"
"That homeless shelter you raised money for?" JD inquired.
"Yeah, that's the one. Anyway, I managed to get a cab and told the driver to take her there, ask for Pastor Beaman. So, that's one less teen prostie on the street."
"You're a real Boy Scout, Criss," JD said with a tinge of sarcasm.
"Just hope the press don't get hold of it and blow it out of proportion."
Criss sat up. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you being seen with a teen prostitute could damage your career," JD pointed out. "There are a lot of people who'd love to see you take a fall, Criss. Even if you stated you were acting out of the goodness of your heart, they'd never go for it. People believe what they want to believe, no matter what. 'My mind is made up, so don't confuse me with the facts', that sort of thing."
"Hey, I didn't get into the cab with her--hell, I barely touched her!" Criss protested. "If they don't believe me, they can call the shelter and see for themselves. I'm innocent here--ask anyone. There was even a paparazzi across the street taking pictures, and even he saw what really happened."
Now it was JD's turn to become alarmed. "A paparazzi? Do you know what that means? He can sell those pictures to some sleazy tabloid, they'd turn it around six ways to Sunday, and you'd have a major scandal on your hands! You're in really hot water here, Criss. You'd better watch your back from now on."
"Relax! Like I said, they can call the shelter and find out the truth for themselves. I helped a little damsel in distress and you're worried about a scandal? I didn't do anything! I am completely innocent." Criss leaned back with an air of self-satisfaction. "It's gonna be cool, JD, don't worry. No one can prove anything against me."
Jim Close, Assistant Editor of VERVE! magazine, sat at his cluttered desk in his cluttered office, reviewing news articles. He was suddenly interrupted by an excited Mario Mendoza bursting through the door, waving some photos over his head triumphantly.
Jim glared at Mario irritably. "Don't you ever knock, Mendoza?"
Mario rapped a few times on the already opened door. Jim rolled his eyes to the ceiling. Mendoza was a damn good photographer, but he could behave like a horse's ass at times. He was the type who lived for getting the goods on anyone whose name was even remotely familiar to Mr. and Mrs. America. Mario hunted scandal like a lion hunted antelope, stealthily, untiringly, unmercifully. When he came into his office like that, it meant he had another kill to his record.
"So, what d'you got this time?" Jim asked him in a bored tone.
Mario slapped down the pictures in triumph. "I caught Criss Angel with a teen prostitute just an hour ago!" he crowed.
Jim studied the pictures. One showed Criss standing next to her, taking her by the arm, the next showed the girl getting into a cab. It looked pretty convincing so far, but something didn't click. For one thing, why would Criss Angel shack up with a girl like her? And take a cab when he had his own fleet, or a limo waiting for him? And why was he just standing there, ramrod straight, while the girl got in? He didn't even look like he was going to get in the cab.
Jim looked up at Mario. He knew that Mendoza had a way of twisting a story around to make someone look bad; he'd been doing it for years. Thank God VERVE! had fact checkers on it's staff, or his ass would be grass as far as the publishers were concerned. Jim was going to grill Mendoza to get the truth out of him if he had to choke him with his own camera shoulder strap!
"Okay, Mendoza," Jim said, staring the photographer squarely in the eye. "Tell me what really happened. If you're not square with me, so help me, I'll..."
"Hey, Jim! Take it easy, willya? I saw Criss Angel on that corner, talking to that girl, he gets a cab and she gets into it."
"Did Criss get into the cab with her?" Jim wanted to know.
"Well, no, but.."
"But what, Mendoza?"
"Well, maybe he sent her on ahead somewhere to meet later, you know? Arranged a little liason somewhere private?"
"Mendoza, we don't publish anything on 'maybe'! We get the facts, understand? I don't see anything here that suggests Criss was going to shack up with some little teen tart on the street corner. I want the truth, Mendoza! What did you see and what did you hear?"
Mario raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine. He told the cabbie to take her to some shelter, or something like that. You satisfied?"
"Okay, I'm gonna get someone to check it out. Maybe we can use it after all. But." He pointed a knobby finger at Mario. "You'd better watch your back from now on, Mendoza. If we publish false or misleading information, we'd get our asses hauled into court faster than you can say watch the birdie! We're an entertainment news magazine, not some sleazy yellow tabloid rag! We got standards here! Capisce?"
"Yeah," Mario nodded grudgingly. "I capeesh."
"Good." Jim sat down. "Now, if you really want to cover Criss Angel, he's got a demonstration in front of the Luxor tomorrow afternoon. Get me some pictures of it for an exclusive. And no muckraking! You're a photographer, not a photojournalist."
"Got it," Mario mumbled, cursing under his breath.
"All right, now get out of here!" Jim waved him away and went back to his reviews.
Mario left. Oh, he'd get some pictures all right, no doubt about that. He knew that Criss Angel had rock star status among teenage girls, and they'd be there in droves. If he could catch him in the act of doing something "inappropriate"...
Oh, yeah, Criss, you're going down. And you are going down hard. I can see the headlines now: FALLEN ANGEL. Oh, that would be so sweet! You may be on top of the hill now, but when I get the goods on you, you're gonna be flapping your broken wings in the gutter, and you won't be able to levitate out of it no matter how hard you try, you overblown two-bit party magician. Yeah, I know you for what you really are. You're riding high, but I can bring you low with the right photos. Just you wait and see.
Randy Winterfield drove his van to the service entrance of the Sanctuary Shelter for the Homeless. It was late, he knew, but he had promised to deliver one hundred Bibles to the shelter for the residents. One hundred books may seem a lot at first glance, but with the homeless situation reaching crisis proportions, with more and more people seeking help than the shelter's resources could provide, it wasn't enough. He could only pray that his small offering of the Word would help even one resident turn his or her life around.
He parked by the loading dock, got out of the van, and walked over to the receiving office door. It was locked, so he rang the bell, which echoed loudly inside the storage warehouse. Through the wire mesh reinforced window he saw a familiar face approaching. It was Pastor Beaman himself who opened the door for Randy.
"Hey, Pastor!" Randy greeted him.
"Randy! Good to see you!" The two men happily shook hands. "Come on in!"
Rnady entered the warehouse, stacked with boxes and cans of food, donated clothing, and other necessities. "I got those Bibles you asked for," he told the pastor. "We could only turn out a hundred for now, but we promise to get more in the future. Printing costs have really gone up lately."
"Lord bless you, Randy," the pastor smiled at him. "Whatever you and the Gideons can contribute will be greatly appreciated."
"Thank you, Pastor. You wanna give me a hand with these boxes."
The Pastor pointed to a hand truck standing in the corner. "You can use the dolley over there," he said to him. "One hernia operation's enough for me, thank you."
Randy winced. "Ouch!" he said. He went for the hand truck. "You know, a funny thing happened to me today. I was passing out our pocket New Testaments when I saw that magician, Criss Angel. You know him?"
Pastor Beaman laughed. "Know him? He raised money for this shelter! Sold a couple of his fancy sports cars and a motorcycle at an auction for it--quarter of a million dollars we got!"
Randy was impressed. "Well, the Lord bless him for it. Anyway, he comes up to me, I give him a book, and he tells me to find a verse in it while his back was turned to me. Well, I found Matthew seven-one. And would you believe it, he nailed it spot on! And his back was to me all the time! I don't know how he did it!"
"Well, that's what he does, you know? Besides, there's a trick to it." the pastor said.
"Yeah?" Randy replied as he loaded three big boxes onto the hand truck. "I'd sure like to know what it is!" He wheeled the boxes into the warehouse. "Still, it was pretty scary in a way."
"Ah, he's just into it for the entertainment value," the pastor said dismissivly. "He just makes people think he can do magic. He's really a good God-fearing man--I know him."
"Well, there's a lot of people out there who would disagree with you there, Pastor," Randy countered as he lifted the boxes of Bibles onto a shelf. "I heard a lot of rumors of Criss being in league with the devil. I even saw one site on the Web that claimed that he was the Anti-Christ."
Pastor Beaman sniffed derisivly. "That's a lot of horsehockey!" he exclaimed. "I know Criss Angel better than they do, and I can truthfully say that isn't the case."
"Well, I'm glad you say so, Pastor," Randy replied. "Me? I really don't give it much thought. Anyway the Anti-Christ is going to be a political figure, not an entertainer. And I got more deliveries tomorrow, so--" Randy put the hand truck back in its corner. "I'll see you soon."
"Good to see you again, Randy," the pastor said, shaking his hand in farewell. "Lord bless you."
"Lord bless you, too, Pastor," Randy returned as he got into his van and drove away.
Pastor Beaman turned and walked back to his office. Tomorrow, he would distribute the Bibles as best he could. A hundred wouldn't be enough for all of the residents, he knew, but he'd have to do his best with what he had. He was a past master at making do with little, stretching every dollar to its breaking point to cover expenses. If it hadn't been for Criss Angel, a man who lived up to his name no matter what the naysayers charged against him, this shelter wouldn't even be here.
Criss Angel the Anti-Christ? Horsehockey! There was no solid proof that it was so. People had believed Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and even Ronald Reagan to be the Anti-Christ, but the world went on, with no rapture, no destruction, no anything form Revelations. True, Christians had always been a little freaked out over magic and conjuring, but Criss was a stage magician, no more, no less. He was an entertainer, just as he told Randy. There wasn't a Satanic bone in his body. Why would he sell two expensive sports cars to raise money for a Christian based mission if he was a Satanist? Answer that, you holier-than-thou Pharasees! he said to himself. And didn't he just bring in some poor child off the streets who had been peddling her body for money, paying her fare out of his own pocket like the Good Samaratan? Was that the act of a Satanist? He thought not! Those critics knew what they could do with their false witnessing against Criss Angel! He was a better Christian than they'd ever hope to be! Besides, what had they done for his mission lately? No matter what anyone else said, Pastor Beaman vowed to stand by Criss Angel to the bitter end.
"We're gonna see Criss Angel!" Crystal and Hayley squealed in girlish delight as they burst into the motel room. "We're gonna see Criss Angel!"
Courtney looked away from the large mirror by the TV set. "What are you two all excited about?" she grumbled as she adjusted her earrings.
"Criss Angel is going to do a demonstration in front of the Luxor!" Crystal announced gleefully. "Oh, God! I can hardly wait 'til tomorrow."
"A demonstration of what?" Courtney sneered. "How big a jerk he is? He doesn't have to do it in front of a crowd--he's already proven that."
Hayley looked annoyed at her older sister. "Courtney, what is your major malfunction?" she demanded. "You've been ragging on Criss ever since we got here."
"I'm not 'ragging' on him," Courtney protested as she applied lipstick. "I'm merely pointing out the truth. He's a fraud and a loser. And personally, I think he's gay."
"He's not gay!" Crystal and Hayley chorused angrily.
"Sure he is," Courtney argued. "A guy who wears eyeliner and nail polish, can't commit to a relationship with a girl--he's gay."
"Actors always wear makeup when they're on stage," Hayley pointed out. "And he's been too busy with his shows to commit to a relationship to anyone."
"I still think he's gay."
Hayley was about to protest, but Crystal held up her hand. "Let it go, Haye," she said. "Everyone's entitled to their own stupid, misinformed opinion. We know the truth, and that's all that matters."
Courtney finished making up her face and picked up her evening bag. "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going out. As long as I'm here, I might as well make the most of it. You two are on your own. I'll be back later. Much later." She sailed out of the room, leaving the scent of Chanel in her wake.
Hayley flopped down on the bed. "God! I don't know what to do about her!" she groaned. "She's always on my case about something. Everything I like, she trashes. And she criticizes everything I do, picking it apart to find the tiniest flaw. She hasn't said a kind word to me ever since I was born, it seems! I mean, what did I do to offend her?"
Crystal sat down by her friend. "You got born after her, is what," she replied. "She was an only child before you came along, getting all the attention and whatever. Then you came along and stole the limelight from her. It's like that with me and my brother, Chad. He was six when I was born, and he made my life a living hell until he went into the Army and got sent to Iraq. Now, I miss him something fierce. Every day Mom waits for a letter from him, or a phone call in the middle of the night from him. When we do get one, it's like a big celebration. Five years ago, he wouldn't have given me the time of day. Now, he asks me how's school going and stuff like that."
"Well, fine for you, Crys," Hayley retorted. "Maybe if Courtney went to Iraq, she'd be nicer to me, you think?"
Crystal giggled. "Well, give it time, Haye," she said. "We all gotta grow up sometime--she's just a late bloomer, that's all. I mean, she's so immature, you know?"
Hayley smiled. "Yeah, maybe you're right," she conceded. "She's gotta grow up sometime."
"So, let's just forget her and concentrate on how we're gonna meet Criss. We gotta get up really early so we can get a good spot. Did you bring your camera?"
Hayley nodded. "Good!" Crystal said. "Now, here's what we do...."
Cole Shoope sat on one of the metal folding chairs in the chapel, listening to the evening devotional service, a requisite for spending the night here at Sanctuary Shelter. His soul writhed with boredom as he allowed the words of the pastor to wash over him like so much surf, with nothing sinking in. He had heard it all before in church, when his parents used to go to church. Instead, he concentrated on trying not to gag from the stench of the bum sitting next to him. Geez! Couldn't they give the guy a shower before coming to church? He stank worse than the gym locker room at school!
But he was stuck here for the night. He began to really wish he had bought camping gear like he told those girls at McDonalds. Then he wouldn't be sitting here, choking on the fumes of some dude's dirty body and clothes. This (bleeper) could burn a hole in the ozone layer!, he thought. Guess that's what I get for lying my way in here.
But then again, this was the very shelter Criss had raised money for with that auction. Cole felt a cosmic bond between himself and this mission he was in. Yes, it was destiny that bought him here. The Spirit of Criss Angel had guided him here so he wouldn't have to sleep on the steet. And tomorrow, Criss himself would appear in person at the Luxor, yet he had no idea what the demonstration was. Would he risk life and limb in some death-defying escape, as he had in the past? Maybe, since he was here in the chapel, he should pray for him. Yeah, that would be a good idea, he thought.
Cole bowed his head, folded his hands and closed his eyes. Dear God, thank You for Criss Angel. Keep him safe when he does his demonstration tomorrow. Don't let anything bad happen to him. Remember, he built this shelter for the poor. You owe it to him to keep him safe. And please, God, when I get home, don't let my parents find out I came here to Vegas on my dirt bike, 'cause if they do, I'm dead! I'll drop some money into the donation box on my way out if You do. Amen.
Hiram Block slowly and painfully knelt by his bedside for his final prayer of the day. It was a habit he had kept since he was knee high to a grasshopper with his mother, God rest her, beside him, teaching him his prayers. It was his favorite childhood memory, one he always recalled with a smile this time of night. Even at sixty-five, though arthritis had stiffened his left knee and he had had hip replacement surgery two years ago, he still humbled himself before the Lord every night in the same manner. He folded his weathered hands and bowed his head.
Heavenly Father, he prayed, I thank Thee for the day Thou hast given me. I ask of Thee to arm me with the sword of righteousness, for tomorrow I go and destroy that minion of Satan, the one who calls himself Criss Angel, but who in fact is really a Devil in disguse, and the Devil hath the power to assume a pleasing shape. My faith in Thee is my shield, my armor. Give me the strength of a thousand men to cast the Evil One into the depths of Hell where he belongs! Free this benighted city from the grip of the Anti-Christ! Let Your power and glory be revealed at last, so that the whoremongers and fleshpeddlers may be driven out as Thou hast driven out the moneychangers from Thy Temple. Guide Thy people who have steered from the straight and narrow path back to Thy bosom. Let me by Thy right hand to deliver justice! Let me bring ruin upon the heads of those who lead Thy children astray with lies and trickery! Let it be all according to Thy will. In Jesus' Name, amen.
Last edited by Veritas; 10-26-2012 at 09:55 PM.