01-19-2013, 12:47 AM
4:00 am to 5:00 am:
Steve Packard awakened to the sound of loud persistant hammering on the door of his flat. Bleary-eyed and still half-asleep, he rubbed his stubbled face with his hands and wrenched himself out of bed, wondering who it could be at this hour.
"Who is it?" he croaked.
"It's Vic! Open the (bleeping) door, (bleepbleep)!"
Steve's drowsiness vanished in an instant. Oh, (bleep)! he thought wildly, he's onto me! "Okay, just a sec!" he said loudly as he fumbled with the latch. He had to think and think fast. Vic wasn't the forgiving type; anyone screwed him over and they faced serious payback in the form of a baseball bat, a crowbar or whatever else was handy to break bones with. Steve succeeded in opening the latch and had barely turned the knob when Vic burst into the room, grabbing Steve by his hair and slamming him against a wall. "Okay, you lying (bleeper)," Vic hissed in Steve's face. "Where's the money?"
Steve screwed up his courage and faced his assailant squarely. "I told you, they were onto me," he insisted. "They saw me, I panicked and took off."
"What about the money?" Vic persisted. "Did you get the money or didn't you?"
He twisted Steve's hair until it felt as if it would rip right out of his scalp. "Let go already!" Steve squealed in pain.
Vic slammed Steve's head against the wall. "The money, Packard! What did you do with the (bleepbleep) money?"
In excruciating pain, Steve blurted out, "I dropped it! I dropped the bag!"
"You dropped it?!" Vic hammered Steve's head against the wall. "Where the hell did you drop it? Huh? Where?"
"If you let go of me, I'll tell you, okay?" Steve pleaded.
Vic thought about it for a while. "You'd better be straight with me, Packard," he threatened. "Or else."
He released Steve and stepped back. "Talk," he ordered.
Steve massaged his aching scalp and swallowed hard. "Okay, here's what happened," he began. "I got into the office where the safe was, just like we planned. I found the safe, and disconnected the camera, and got the cash from the safe."
"How the hell should I know?" Steve threw his hands in the air, exasperated over such a question. "I didn't stick around to count it. I had to get the hell out of there."
"Okay, okay, so what happened next?"
"So, I'm making my way out when I got spotted by a guard. I got out as fast as I could, and I threw the bag on my way out. It was weighing me down, man!" he said helplessly. "If I hadn't dropped it when I did, we'd be busted for sure."
"You mean you would be busted," Vic pointed out. "I'd have gotten away. And by the way, that little scene in the parking lot? That was quite noble of you, telling me to forget you and save myself. What the hell was that all about?"
"Oh, that?" Steve said. "Well, I guess you could say it was a diversion of sorts. I figured if they saw the van pull away like that, they'd go after it, thinking I was in it. Meanwhile, I could go back and get the money."
"And keep it all for yourself?" Vic sneered.
"Hey, man, a deal's a deal. We're partners. Fifty-fifty, down the middle, remember?"
"Yeah, right. So did you get the money or not?"
"No, I didn't. It's gone. You want it, look for it yourself. I did my part, now you do some of the dirty work."
Vic wanted to punch Steve a good one, but thought about his words. Well, why not? If he did find the bag where Steve tossed it, the whole bundle would be his. Who needed a partner, anyway?
"Okay," Vic nodded. "I'll find that bag myself." He leaned closer. "But if it turns out you've been (bleeping) me over, so help me, God, you're road pizza!" He headed for the door.
"Fine," Steve snapped. "Go look for the (bleeping) bag yourself! I'm going back to bed! Good-night and go to hell!"
"So, the dad says he lost money in the casino; that was why they were fighting," Officer Underwood told his superior, "Big Luke" Macaffey. "But the kid said he won a big bag of money. Doesn't make sense."
Macaffey nodded. "No, it doesn't. Did the kid say how big the bag was, or how much was in it?"
"Nope, just a big bag of money, that's all she said."
"Well, I'm not gonna jump to conclusions at this point. He could have stuffed it in an envelope or something, and kids do have a tendancy to exaggerate. Besides, he probably did lose a lot of cash, probably more than he won."
"Probably," Underwood concurred.
"And God knows how many couples get into fights about money, especially in Vegas." Macaffey gave one of his rare smiles. "Hell, I remember one couple here--swear to God they gambled away every cent they had. He said it was all her fault, she said it was his, yada, yada, yada. They were gonna kill each other, swear to God! We had to go into the casino and break it up!"
Underwood nodded. "But, anyway, write this down in your report," Macaffey told him. "Just in case this leads anywhere. Maybe it's something, maybe nothing, but I'd like a record of it, just to be safe."
"Got it," Underwood grunted in reply. He left to patrol his assigned area. Maybe the boss is right, he thought. Maybe it is nothing to get worked up about. Husbands lie to their wives, parents to their kids, kids to their parents--it was basically human nature. Maybe the dad did lie to his kid about winning, the wife found out the truth, they started going at it, and the kid got freaked out and ran off. It was a domestic dispute, pure and simple.
Or was it? That guy seemed pretty nervous when he showed up with his kid. One could say he acted suspiciously, as if he had something to hide. Maybe the dad was lying about the money he either won or lost. Maybe that dad of hers was lying to him.
Don't jump to conclusions, Underwood told himself. Just write it up in the report and let it go for now. Whether it was something or nothing, either way, it'll all come out in the wash.
The pain was back. Felix Rappaport, CEO of the Luxor Hotel and Casino, doubled over, clutching his abdomen with his hands as if he was trying to rip out whatever had been tormenting him for the past twenty-two hours. The burning sensation was worse than ever. Again, he got out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, fumbled for the lightswitch, grimaced at the sudden brightness when he turned it on, then flung open the medicine chest for the antacids. He'd been eating them like candy since the pain started. They helped for a while, but it was turning into a losing battle. He would need something stronger. First thing in the AM, he would go to the hotel pharmacy and ask about it. He hoped it wasn't anything too serious; he had a hotel to run.
He found the bottle of Pepcid and shook out a couple of tablets. He popped them into his mouth, chewed them a bit and swallowed. Sighing, he switched off the bathroom light and headed back to bed. Maybe it was that acid-reflux disease he had heard about on television. Or maybe it was just job-related stress. A lot of people think he just sat at his desk, counting the money that rolled in from the casino or the clubs or from Criss Angel's show, but no one realized just what it was like to be in charge of one of the most popular hotels in Vegas, if not the world. Felix had his eye constantly on the bottom line, accounting for every penny coming in or going out, keeping that big black pyramid out of the red. Wages, taxes, food, equipment, maintenance, security, sanitation--hell, the electric bill alone ran into the upper four digits every month! Thank God for the auxilary generators.
Felix lay down in bed again. The Pepcid was kicking in; the burning subsided once again. Now, maybe he could get some sleep. He had a busy day tomorrow. What the hell was he thinking--every day he was above ground was a busy day! Even when he went golfing, he rarely played for the sheer fun of it; he always had a client or some VIP to entertain. Felix Rappaport, the eternal host, providing every conceivable luxury and amemity money could buy, yet unable to enjoy any of it. The CEO of the fabulous Luxor Hotel and Casino in fabulous Las Vegas was too busy to enjoy what it had to offer. How was that for irony?
Athene Christopolous was safely in her suite again, but she could not sleep. He humilation at the hands of that (bleeper) Criss Angel still burned within her. She had waited for him in his room, ready to offer him such sensual delights as her experienced body could offer, only to be driven out by that old witch of a mother of his. She had been infatuated by his dark, menacing, sultry good looks, his hazel eyes lined in black like an Egyptian god, his chiseled torso like a living Adonis. Now she despised him, saw him for what he really was--a working-class commoner who clawed his way to the top by defrauding the public. If only she could expose him to the world...
Athene flung the covers away and pulled on her dressing-gown. Then she pulled out her top-secret laptop computer from its case. "Clio1, Erato2, Thalia3, Urania4" she spoke into the voice-activated lock.
The latches flew open at her command. She booted up the laptop and entered her password: Pandora. Welcome, Athene, the words on the screen greeted her as usual. She clicked onto the Internet, then paused. Where should she start first? she wondered. Should she use Criss' own website, or the myriad of sites his legion of fans had set up? No, it was best to use a public forum, to reach a bigger audience.
Ah, yes, of course! Celebnooz.com, the most yellow of all gossip sites, past master of making hamburger out of sacred cows. Perfect! God knew how many times that fly-by-night site had splashed her face on its pages, relating every lurid detail of her private life with brutal relish. She had even come close to suing them once over their exposure of her naked backside while she was on holiday in the South of France. There had been no love lost between Celebnooz.com and Athene Christopolous over the years. But now, in her quest for revenge, she was willing to bury the hatchet.
And, God willing, it would be right into Criss's heart.