01-17-2013, 05:15 PM
2:00 am to 3:00 am:
"Okay, Gary," Irene said, squaring off for another round. "For the last time, where did you get that money?"
"Does it (bleeping) matter?" he replied, exasperated. "I found it, finders keepers. Let's just drop it, okay?"
"A load of cash like that, it had to be stolen," Irene observed.
"Well, I didn't steal it, if that's what you mean. No one saw me steal anything. I just found it and bought it here. It's no one's business but ours."
"So, what are we going to do with it? If it's stolen, and they find it here, you go to jail."
"Well, they're never gonna find it," Gary said finally. He got up and scooped up the cash into the bag. "We're gonna hide it somewhere where they can't find it. We'll hide it in the kitchen here." He took the bag into the kitchenette and stuffed it under the tiny sink cupboard.
"Oh, yeah, real safe, Gary," Irene said sarcastically. "They'll never think of looking in there!"
"Just can it, Irene," Gary growled. "I'll figure out something else later." He closed the cupboard door. "There. Snug as a bug in a rug!" He crossed over to his sullen spouse. "This is the start of something big, Irene," he gloated. "We're set for life! You, me and the kid can start living the American Dream at last. No more dead-end jobs! No more fighting over bills! We got it made in the shade!"
A knock on the door brought Gary back to earth. Who could it be at this hour, they wondered. There was a second knock, more insistant this time. "Security," spoke a voice from the outside.
The Brightons froze. They were onto them! They knew they had the money! Irene looked to her husband in panic. "Uh, just a minute, here, okay?" Gary called out with forced courtesy. "I gotta get my robe on!"
He motioned Irene to remain where she was. "Don't panic," he whispered, "I'll handle this." He walked over and answered the door. A security guard stood there, with Maury beside him, holding her hand in his.
"We found your daughter wandering around the atrium," the guard told him. "She said you and your wife were arguing about money or something, so she ran away."
Gary squatted down and grasped Maury's shoulders. "Maury!" he said, astonished. "What are you doing, running off like that."
Maury remained silent, too petrified to speak. She squeezed the guard's hand in terror, not wanting to let go. Gary stood up, smiling in feigned paternal gratitiude. "Well, we're grateful that you bought her back to us," he said to the guard. "It'd be terrible if anything bad happened to our little girl, you know." He nudged Maury into the suite.
"So, no more fights about money?" the guard asked.
"Oh, we promise, you won't have any more trouble from us, nosirreebob!" Gary replied hastily. "It's just that the wife, here, got all ticked off about me being in the casino for so long." He leaned closer and murmured conspiratorially, "Lost a lot of money. You know how wives are."
The guard nodded indifferently. "Well, good night, folks," he said.
Gary slammed the door quickly. He leaned against it, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Then he looked at his trembling daughter. He wanted to scream at her, take her over his knee and spank her, but there were more important things to consider. He approached her calmly and led her to the sofa, then sat down beside her. "Okay, kid," he said evenly. "Just what did you tell that guard?"
Maury swallowed hard. "I...I said you and Mom were...fighting about the money." In her fear, she choked on "the money"; it came out just "money".
"And that was all?" Gary asked. "You didn't go into too much detail, did you?"
Maury shook her head no. Gary was relieved. So was Irene. It seemed a plausible enough excuse. Kid gets freaked out over her folks' fighting over money, so she takes off. Couples argue over money all the time, no biggie. Hundreds of couples have probably had a few marital donnybrooks over cash being gambled away in this hotel alone, no doubt.
"Okay, kid," he said, patting her on her bony shoulder. "We're good. Let's just keep this our little secret, okay? We don't talk to strangers about our money situation, understand? No more mention about money of any kind, okay?"
Maury nodded. "Good," her father said. "Now, we're all gonna go to bed and get some sleep."
Irene nodded in agreement. She felt one of her migraines coming on, anyway; she could use some rest. So for the first time in their tulmultuous marriage, the Brightons went to bed quietly, with no arguing.
Maury lay on the sofa and waited until the lights went out. Then the tears started to fall. They weren't worried about her, she realized. They were more worried about the bag of money than they were about her. It wasn't fair! For ten years, going on eleven, she had been pushed to the sidelines of her parents' lives, ignored and neglected. There had been days when it was as if she didn't exist in their eyes. When Dad found that bag of money, they shut her out completely; they didn't even know she was gone until that guard had bought her back. And they didn't even express any concern for her welfare, but asked only about the money. They didn't want her to tell anyone about it, to keep it a secret. They didn't love her at all.
She felt a new emotion welling up inside her. It was hate: hate for the people she called Mom and Dad, hate for that bag of money, hate for her miserable life. They weren't her real parents--Criss was her real dad, she decided. And she was going to find him and live with him in his big fancy house with Mrs. Angel as her real grandma, and live happily ever after.
Maury reached over and turned on the lamp on the side table. She got up from the sofa and started to dress herself. The faded blue dress she had worn was the only one in her sparse wardrobe that still fit. She had outgrown the rest of her clothes, and her mother (or the woman she had called her mother), couldn't be bothered to buy her new ones, though she spent enough for her own. She gathered her few belongings in her tiny sleepover bag which had never been to a sleepover and made her way to the door, vowing this time never to return. She looked back one last time, at the sofa with its single blanket and pillow. They didn't even bother getting her a bed, she realized. They just tossed her a pillow and blanket and made her sleep on the sofa while they took the two big beds for themselves. God, how she hated them!
Maury stepped out the door, closing it quietly behind her. She stood in the hallway, overwhelmed over the enormity of her decision to leave the two people she had grown up with. Where should she start? Where should she go?
A small Ford Escort pulled up to the main entrance of the Luxor Hotel. A young valet leapt up as if by reflex and trotted toward it. Then he stopped short, astonished to see Criss Angel climb awkwardly out of the passenger side. How could that be? he wondered. Just five hours ago, he himself had delivered Criss' Lamborghini for him to drive, and now he was coming back in a beat-up old Escort? What was the deal?
Criss stooped down to the car window. "Thanks for the ride, Stacy," he said. "See you tomorrow."
" 'Night, Criss," said Stacy.
" 'Night, Criss," said Lyn from the back seat.
Criss straightened himself, waved good-bye to the departing Escort, and turned to enter the hotel. The valet was still standing there, mouth agape.
"What?" Criss shrugged. "They gave me a lift, that's all."
He entered the hotel and strode to the elevator bank. Halfway there, he saw his mother coming out of one of the elevators, an angry look on her usually gentle face. Criss was taken aback for a moment. What was she so upset about? It couldn't be that he had been out late; he was way too old for a curfew. And he wasn't falling down drunk, either, just a couple of drinks, that was all, and he had been driven home, so there was no DUI to hassle about. Why was she so mad?
Criss strode over to his mother. "Hey, Ma," he greeted her. "What's up?"
Dimitra's anger subsided a little upon seeing her son, but it surged back when she told him about Athene's little caper in his suite.
"She did what?" Criss roared.
"It's true," Dimitra confirmed. "I found her in your bed, no clothes on. Here." She handed him a black lace thong. "I found this in the hallway. She must have dropped it when they took her away."
Irate, Criss stormed off to the security office. His suite was supposed to be the most secure in the entire hotel. No one, but no one, was allowed into it without his express permission. To think that someone like Athene Christopolous could just waltz in and climb into his bed...! Felix Rappaport was going to get an earful when Criss saw him come daylight!
Criss burst into the security office. "Okay, what's the deal?" he demanded. "Where is she? Where's that (bleep) Athene!"
"In one of the 'offices' ", Security Officer Jerry Rand answered. "We were going over the tapes of her little break-in right now. Care to see them?" Rand asked with a lewd smile, as if he had invited Criss to view some X-rated videos.
Criss ignored the vulgarity and hunkered down in front of the video monitor. The black-and-white images on the screen, a bit grainy but still clear enough to idenify faces, revealed every detail, with time and date digitally printed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.
"Okay, there she is," Rand pointed out, "going into the housekeeping closet. That must've been where she got the card to get in. Now, she's going into the suite. Okay, the door's opening again, and she's--"
"That's Hammie!" Criss exclaimed. "She threw out my cat! That (bleep)!"
"Okay, fast forward." The date and time flicked rapidly on the screen until the image of Dimitra, Dagmar and Royce appeared at the doorway. Criss watched as the two guards cautiously entered the suite, while Dimitra stood in the foyer, clutching the cat.
"At least, Mom found Hammie," Criss muttered.
Dimitra stepped into the suite. The door remained open. A minute and a half of stillness, then there was a flurry of activity at the door. Criss watched as Athene was hauled out by the two guards, naked, clutching her clothes in front of her. Dimitra suddenly appeared, quite agitated, drawing back her arm and landing the back of her hand squarely on Athene's rump, causing her to jump and whirl around, exposing her entire bare backside to the camera. Criss and the security officers laughed uproariously.
"Whoa!" Criss shouted, laughing. "Way to go, Mom!"
The two guards pulled her away from view. Dimitra stood there, clearly furious at her, then closed the door behind her and walked away, stopping momentarily to pick up a black object off the floor.
"What'd she pick up there?" one of the officers asked.
Criss held out the black lace thong. "This," he answered.
Rand held up the thong for all to see. "Woo-woo!" Officer Royce hooted gleefully.
"Knock it off, Royce!" his supervisor ordered.
"Think we should give it back to her?" someone in the back suggested.
Criss took the thong from Officer Rand. "I'll give it to her," he said.
Athene sat in one of the "offices", security personnel's polite term for holding cells in which offenders were detained until furthur action was taken. She had hastily dressed herself in the elevator on her way down, heedless of the stares from the two guards. Her carefully coiffed jet-black hair was tumbling down around her eyes. In her rock-and-roll miniskirt ensemble, she looked like a Vegas streetwalker instead of an heiress.
The "office" door opened. Athene looked up, hoping to see a lawyer, the manager, the CEO, or at least Crito. Instead, Criss Angel appeared before her, leaning against the doorframe, looking none too happy to see her. He extended his arm, dangling her black lace thong in her face with one finger.
"I believe these are yours?" he asked casually with a hint of malice.
Athene snatched the thong out of his hand, snarling.
"Just what the (bleep) were you doing in my room?" Criss demanded. "What the hell do you want with me, anyway?"
Athene drew herself up seductivly. "I tried to be nice to you, Criss," she purred. "I wanted us to be together. I would have been good for you. But you chose to spend your time with cheap bimbos off the street! You could have done better than that."
"They weren't 'cheap bimbos'," Criss argued. "They were dancers in my show."
Athene shrugged. "Same difference."
"Look, lady!" Criss said sharply. "I don't know what kind of game you're playing here, but it's over. You hear me? Game over, no replays! And if I ever catch you even near my suite again, I'll beat your ass worse than my mother did!"
Athene sneered laciviously. "You'd enjoy that, wouldn't you?"
"I know you would," Criss retorted, and with that, he walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Officer Royce stood by to escort Criss out. He couldn't help overhearing that little conversation Criss had with Athene, and he couldn't help smiling about it. Criss wanted to tell Royce where he could go, but he had been one of the arresting officers, and had all the juicy details.
"Did she put up much of a fight when you busted her?" Criss inquired.
"Yeah, some," Officer Royce said. Then he chuckled a little. "Your mama beat her ass good when she found her in your bed! She really smacked her good!"
"Hell, I'd have done the same."
"Your mama ever beat your ass when you was a kid?"
"No, Dad was in charge of the ass-beatings," Criss replied casually, "Mom usually sent us to our rooms to 'think about it'."
Royce laughed at that. "Yeah, but your mama's still a good lady."
"Damn straight." Criss concurred.
The elevator stopped on the twelfth floor, and the "good lady" Dimitra stepped out into the hallway. It was almost three AM, Las Vegas time--six AM in New York. Sleep would be hopeless until she got over her jet lag. Well, there was still her book. She walked towards her suite. Suddenly, she stopped. In the hallway next to her suite stood the same little girl she had found in the atrium, this time fully dressed and carrying a small suitcase. Maternal instinct once again rose to the occasion; Dimitra stepped up to her to find out what the problem was this time.
Maury saw her coming. It was true after all! She was her real grandma! And she was coming to take her to Criss' house to live with him! Maury dropped her sleepover bag and reached out to embrace her. To her joy, Mrs. Angel embraced her back, not pushing her away as others did. It felt so good, she never wanted it to end.
"Darling, what are you doing out here?" Dimitra asked her. "You should be back with your parents."
"They're not my parents!" Maury insisted. "They never loved me! They only care about that bag of money Dad bought home."
"Oh, that's not true," Dimitra protested.
"Yes, it is!" Maury insisted, tears streaming down her face. "They weren't worried about me at all like you said. They were more worried about that man finding out about the money. That's all they want, that big bag of money."
She flung her arms around Dimitra's neck and cried. "I want Criss to be my dad!" she wailed. "I want you to be my real grandma! You love me, don't you, Mrs. Angel?"
Dimitra sighed, hugging the sobbing child in her arms. She could feel her ribs. Maybe there was some truth to what she said. Maybe they were too self-absorbed to tend to their child's needs. She pulled out a tissue and wiped Maury's eyes with it. It was late, the poor little thing was tired and stressed out over the tension between her parents. She needed sleep, and a good breakfast in the morning, then, when she had calmed down, she could tell her the truth.
"Come along, darling," Dimitra said, smiling. "You can stay in my room tonight."
Maury needed no furthur encouragement, but grabbed her bag and followed the older woman to her room, just next door to her own, she was surprised to learn. If she had known that the wonderful Mrs. Angel had been right next to her, she'd have gone there sooner. What a stroke of luck!
The suite was pretty much the same as the one she left, but it was tidier. Dimitra guided the little girl into her own bedroom and told her to get ready for bed, it was way past her bedtime. Maury unpacked and redressed in her thin nightie, then clambered into the big bed that Dimitra had vacated well over an hour ago. It felt good being in this big bed--it made her feel like a princess. Dimitra entered the bedroom, crossed over to the bed, and, to Maury's surprise and delight, tucked her in. No one had ever tucked her into bed before. It was worth more to her than all the amenities the Luxor had to offer. She was too happy to sleep.
"Do you want to hear a story?" Dimitra asked.
A story, too? This was too good to be true! Maury nodded eagerly, giving her undivided attention.
"Well, once upon a time, the Bee, the Turtle, the Wasp and the Spider were all brothers. They had one Mother, who cared for them deeply. Now, there came a time..." (1)
Someone who didn't need a story to fall asleep was Criss. He was tired, he was feeling the effects of his evening out, his ears still rang from his impromptu drum gig, and he was still (bleeped) off about Athene. He looked at the time. Hell, it was well after two in the morning. He had to get up in four hours and go to work. He stumbled to his bedroom and crashed onto the bed, falling asleep where he landed, not even bothering with the bedclothes.
A sharp pain in the abdomen jolted Felix Rappaport awake. It's starting again, he thought irritably. The burning, stabbing pain in his gut had been tormenting him on and off since yesterday afternoon. Something was wrong, no doubt about it, but what? He hated the thought of having to go to a doctor, but if worse came to worst, well...
In desperation, Felix rose from his sumptuous bed and plodded to the bathroom for some antiacid tablets. He shook out a couple of pastel-colored wafers and chomped them down. It worked before, so it should work again, he reasoned. It should at least hold him until morning.
Vic drummed his fingers impatiently on the dashboard, waiting for Steve. What the hell was keeping that guy? he wondered irritably. He showed up at two, just as they agreed on, and Steve was nowhere in sight. Vic grew antsy as he kept an eye out for security. It was all he could do to find an inconspicuous place to park. There wasn't a square inch of space in Las Vegas that wasn't illuminated or under video surveillance--Big Brother was alive and well in Sin City.
If that (bleeper) got caught, and he probably did, Vic could only hope that he kept his mouth shut about his involvement. If he ratted him out, Steve would find it very hard to fix slot machines with ten broken fingers. Well, maybe he didn't get caught, just delayed, hiding out until it was clear. Or there was a snag, they changed the combination on the safe (the Luxor did that periodically, for security reasons), or he took a wrong turn, or anything at all. Only when the three o'clock hour began to creep up did the possibility of capture seem more likely.
A sudden movement in the rearview mirror caught his eye. It was Steve's reflection growing bigger as he ran breathlessly toward the van. Vic stuck his head out the window.
"You got the money?" Vic wanted to know.
Steve slammed against the van door. "They're onto us, man!" he panted. "We gotta run!"
Vic swore under his breath and shifted it into gear. "Get in the van!" he ordered. "Now!"
Steve shook his head. "Too late for me! Save yourself!" He pounded the side of the van. "Go! Now! Before they nail you, too!"
Vic didn't argue but sped off with tires squealing. Steve dashed away and hid behind a concrete berm. Once secluded, he peeked over the barrier. Vic and the van was gone. And Steve laughed to himself.
(1) See "Three Tales from Grandmother Dimitra"