08-30-2011, 08:19 PM
FIRE DESTROYS MAGIC CASTLE read the headlines next morning. The photos of the interior printed on the front page made me heartsick. The rich, red draperies hung in blackened rags. Gaping black holes yawned from the walls, streaked with smoke and soot. A couple of beautiful stained-glass windows were broken from the outside to allow the firefighters to get their hoses in. I burst into tears when I saw what was left of my hostess station, standing like a charred stump after a forest fire. True, the fire didn't destroy everything--the second floor was spared, and the gift shop was closed at the time, but the entrance and part of the main room were ruined; what the fire didn't destroy, the water from the fire hoses did. The floor was warped, and stains splotched the ceiling where the water hit.
Yet Criss was undeterred. Glowing with opimism, he stated to the press that the Magic Castle would be back in business in a week, two weeks at the latest. No arsonist was going to defeat him, no sirree! What does not destroy us makes us stronger, the only real failure was giving up, and other such positive peptalk were duly recorded by the press. In the grand tradition of "the show must go on", Criss stated that since he could not perform inside the Magic Castle, he would set up a stage and give outdoor performances, weather permitting, until the grand re-opening.
As cheerful as he sounded, the reality was that the insurance policy on the building did not cover acts of arson, only the water damage from the fire hoses. Criss would be paying for most of the repairs from his own pocket, which would eat into his profit margin. To defray some of the expenses, he decided to set up a "fire sale" of the merchandise from the gift shop. I was called in to work the cash register for a few hours every morning, to which I gladly agreed.
So, there I was, sitting in a sweltering tent in the early July heat, ringing up sales of marked down CDs, DVDs, jackets, t-shirts, jewelry, books, magic kits, playing cards, and other stock from the emptied gift shop, while contractors gutted the Castle. The smell of burned drywall and musty damp hung heavily in the air for days. I bought bottled water with me to keep myself from dehydrating during my shift.
Meanwhile, the search for the arsonist went on. The police found footprints leading away from the scene, worn athletic shoes, about a size ten male (I wear a size six female, so I wasn't sure how big that really was). In any arson case, the owner of the building is almost always the first to be suspected, incase it was insurance fraud, but the footprint was too small to be Criss', so he was cleared, as I knew he would. But it also cleared the female members of the CBB, including Mrs. Shook. As I had said before, Mrs. Shook could not have done it herself, what with her bursitis and all, but maybe they hired someone to do it for them, I wondered. They had the most motive in this case, as their conflict with Criss was well known throughout the county.
The week wore on, the odor of burnt gypsum replaced by the welcome smell of sawdust as the reconstruction went on, though the screech of power saws and incessant hammering was annoying. I kept telling myself, it won't be long, it won't be long, it'll be all over before you know it and everything will be back to normal. By Friday, the remainder of the fire sale was all but gone; Criss had marked the last of the merchandise half off, and die-hard bargain hunters snatched up what little was left. There would be no new merchandise brought in until repairs were complete, he said. In the meantime, I was laid off from work, unless I wanted to help with the repairs for minimum wage. Well, I still had to pay my share of the rent, so I agreed.
I admit, I am no Bob Vila, but I know which end of a hammer to hold, and can wield a paintbrush as well as anyone. I was glad to help; I loved the Magic Castle, and wanted to restore it to its former glory. Saturday found me in my ragged jeans shorts and threadbare shirt, rolling paint onto the new drywall in the main theater, trying to get more on the wall than on of my skin.
Nights bought crowds of people to Criss' outdoor theater. The mosquitoes kept everyone slapping their arms and necks despite our best efforts to repel them with sprays and foggers, and the grass was as dry as straw from the lack of rain, but there was one advantage--Criss could perform bigger, more spectacular illusions than he could inside the Castle. He could use more pyrotechnics (with the fire department waiting in the wings, just in case) and have more room to use his motorcycle in his act, a Harley-Davidson, the kind with the long chrome front axles, the kind the Hell's Angels favor. It did nothing to improve Criss' image with the CBB; they now accused him of being in a motorcycle gang as well as being a Satanist. Criss brushed it off, as he did all the other charges they leveled against him.
Yet, while all this was going on, police still had no clue as to the person who torched the Magic Castle, or, at least, did not reveal any details to the public. Still confident that the CBB was somehow responsible, I bided my time. Crimes were not solved in half an hour as on television. Evidence had to be examined, and that took time. I wanted to be absolutely sure as much as the police who the culprit really was.
Sunday came. No shows were scheduled, no painting to be done. I heard the new furniture was coming in to the Castle, but that was for tomorrow. I slept until eleven AM, then had breakfast so late that it could have been lunch. Brunch, maybe? Whatever. I picked up the Sunday paper and scanned the news. A headline on the sidebar grabbed my attention like a pair of hands: Teen Confesses to Magic Club Blaze.
I read the article. Sure enough, the evidence pointed out that a fifteen year old former employee of the Castle had thrown two gasoline filled bottles into the main theater and the entrance after being fired by Criss Angel for smoking marijuana on the premises. His footprints matched those found at the scene of the crime, and a furthur search of his person uncovered a few ounces of pot. Presented with such damning evidence, he readily confessed. He was being charged with arson and possession of a controlled substance, and could face at least five years in a juvenile reformatory. Trial was set for August.
I was stunned. I had been so cocksure of the CBB being behind the fire, and now it turns out that some dopey kid smoking weed had been the arsonist. At least, I didn't make my accusations public, or I'd really be in hot water. But I was too proud to apologize to Mrs. Shook about it; I was still mad at them about the picnic, the petitions, and the negative press they gave Criss. And yet, there was still part of my mind that clung to the conspiracy theories I had formulated. Did the CBB pay him to do it? Was he blackmailed into it? Had he been brainwashed? Or was he just their fall guy?
I read the article again. No blackmail, no brainwashing, nothing of any kind, just a stupid potheaded kid who wanted some payback for getting himself fired for his own drug habit. He alone was responsible for the act.
I sighed. I had to admit it--I was wrong. The CBB was not involved in the fire. They had nothing to do with it whatsoever. They were completely innocent. The evidence absolved them of any blame. And I felt like a big fool over it. Mrs. Shook was right about one thing--when you jump to conclusions, you have to swim back. And I found the current hard to swim against.
Criss had been dead-on about the reopening; after a week, everything was good to go. Wednesday was the scheduled date for the newly restored Magic Castle to make its debut. I had my hostess uniform cleaned and pressed for the occasion, just like the first time. My new hostess station was bigger than the old podium; it was a semi-circle desk with room for a PC to replace the reservation book and seating chart, and a stool to sit on, giving my feet a much-needed break. Cushier couches replaced the vinyl benches in the lobby, and new track lighting brightened the entrance, for security reasons, Criss had explained.
Though I was more experienced in hostessing than I had been at the first opening in June, I was more apprehenseve. Would there be another backlash from the CBB? Would they picket the entrance outside again? I checked the emergency call button on the phone to reassure myself. Dags and his new partner, Brom (the old partner left to work at some night club in St. Georges after the fire), patrolled the area, Bluetooth phones planted firmly in their ears. The eye in the sky tirelessly scanned the premises. Nothing to worry about, I thought, nothing at all. Everyone's going to have a great time, just like before. I told myself that Wednesday was going to be fine, nothing bad was going to happen, nothing at all.