10-28-2012, 02:54 PM
The red ball sun shrank back to its usual bright self as it rose to its zenith, bringing with it a scorching heat. A storm system moving in from the west blanketed Las Vegas with a heavy layer of humidity, rare for a desert region. The weather forecast called for late afternoon showers or thunderstorms, ending by nightfall or later.
None of this deterred the Loyals from seeing Criss Angel. They would have braved an F5 hurricane just to catch a glimpse of him. The temperatures were high, the humidity was unbearable, but the general atmosphere around the Luxor was festive and upbeat. They took pictures of each other, exchanged email addresses and text message information, gushed over private photgraphs of Criss taken by the few fortunate enough to meet him, hammed it up for those taping the event on their camcorders, kept each others places during bathroom breaks, and generally enjoyed the cameraderie.
Criss, meanwhile, was in the production office lounge area. His brothers, JD and Costa, were with him, as was his cousin, George. It should have been a time to relax and enjoy a little family time, but bad news from home had unsettled the three brothers and their cousin: their mother had caught someone breaking into her house last night. When he first heard about it, Criss felt a surge of anger. This he didn't need, especially on the day of a demonstration. It was almost as bad as when he got the news of her heart surgery the night he did the Quad Drag Escape. Fortunatly, the worst that had happened was just a broken window.
"When did it happen?" Criss asked.
"Around one in the morning," JD answered. "Mom heard glass breaking. She got up, and there was this guy climbing right through the window."
"Did he attack her?" Criss asked with concern.
"No. The minute he saw her, he climbed right back out again. She said there had been a few break-ins around the neighborhood, some jewelry stolen--small stuff."
Costa spoke up, "I wanna take some time off to go back to Mom's house, just to check on her, see if she's all right. Then I wanna see about installing a security system for the house."
Criss nodded. "You do that. You get the best system you can find, and send me the bill, okay? I don't want anything happening to Mom, you got that?"
"Like you have to remind me?" Costa retorted.
Criss pulled out his cell phone and called his mother. "Hey, Mom, what's up?" Pause. "I heard there was a break-in last night--you okay?" Another pause. Criss smiled a little. "That's good. Say, listen, Mom, Costa's gonna come over and have a security system installed, okay?" Pause. "I'll cover the cost, no problem. We just don't want anything bad happening to you, that's all." He nodded. "Yeah, today's the demonstration. I'll be fine, don't worry." He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know, I know. Listen, I gotta go, all right?" He smiled. "I love you more, 'bye." He flipped off the phone.
"We should have had one installed years ago," JD opined. "Mom's all alone there in New York, us here in Vegas. It's not right."
George suddenly brightened. "Maybe we can set some surveillance cameras from the hotel here and install 'em in the house," he suggested. "I mean, they're always upgrading their equipment--they gotta have some spares."
Everyone laughed at George's idea. "Nice idea, George, but seriously, Mom needs some protection." Criss said.
"I'll take care of it, don't worry," Costa assured him. "The important thing is, Mom is okay for now. It won't happen again, I promise. We got to get through this demonstration; we can't get distracted."
Criss knew his brother was right. It would take all his powers of concentration to perform the feat he had in mind: levitating twenty people chosen at random all at once. It wasn't the most death defying feat he had ever performed, but with Believe premiering soon, he didn't want to risk injury. It would still be a record-breaking feat as far as size and number of people participating.
There was a knock on the door. JD rose to answer it. Outside was a hotel employee who handed something to him and quickly left. JD thanked him and closed the door behind him, walking back to the living room with a black Bible in his hand. He held it up with a sheepish smile.
"From the Gideons," he said. "They were passing them out in all the suites." He set it down on the coffee table and sat down again.
"Hey, weren't they the ones who were passing out those little green Bibles?" George inquired. "Some guy gave me one yesterday."
"I got one, too," JD said.
Criss picked up the Bible on the table and began to chuckle. "I remember a long time ago, when I first came here to Las Vegas, I was staying in this thirty-nine dollar a week hotel room, and I was going through the drawers in the nightstand, and I came across this Bible that was in there. I opened it up, and right on the inside cover was this note. It said, 'If tired of sin, repent; if not, call Carol at 555-1234' or whatever it was." Criss laughed at the memory of it, and everyone laughed along with him.
"So, did you call her?" Costa asked.
"Me?" Criss was indignant. "You'd think I'd call some strange girl who'd leave her number in a Bible? What do you take me for?"
"Besides, the line was busy, right?" JD said with a smug smile.
"No," Criss replied. "It was disconnected."
More laughter. George reached over and picked up the Bible. "Hey, maybe someone left her phone number in this one." He riffled through the pages. "Nope," he said, feigning disappointment. "No numbers. Shoot."
Criss laughed. It was so good to spend this time with his family like this. No work pressures, no itinerary, no setting up equipment--it was almost like old times, before he became famous, when his brothers and cousins were just that, his brothers and cousins instead of members of the MindFreak crew. With them, he was just plain Christopher, little brother and cousin, a member of the family. He vowed he would treasure this moment as long as he lived.
Hiram Block kept his facial features inscrutable as he snaked his way around the crowd of fans unnoticed. To them, he was just an old man in a dirty green shirt passing by, no one of importance. None of them knew of the sacred mission he was about to accomplish.
He found a spot in the back of the audience, just close enough to get a good shot. In the ensuing panic, he could make his escape, with the Lord to protect him, of course. Yes, he was just close enough....
One-fifty-five. Five minutes until the demonstration. Security detail kept the eager throng of fans at bay, while the crew made last-minute sound checks and equipment adjustments. Cameramen trained their lenses to the best angles of sight towards the stage. The audience paid no heed to the distant rumble of thunder in the distance.
Mario Mendoza readied his camera for action. Editor Jim Close had paired him with Hillary Desjarden, VERVE! magazine's entertainment reporter. She was a petite brownette with light brown eyes to match, and she had a no-nonsense approach to journalism. Mario guessed she would have been happier covering the war in Iraq than a Criss Angel demonstration. No sense of humor, that woman. In the years he had known her, he'd never seen her crack a smile.
"Almost showtime," he commented.
"Come on," she grumbled. "Let's get this over with."
They braved the crowds to make it to the press area, showing their badges to the security guard posted out front. Mario kept his eyes on the girls straining against the barricades to be right up front where the action would be. He snapped a picture of them, just for starters.
"Perv," Hillary deadpanned.
"It's just for coverage, okay? Relax." Mario took a few more crowd shots.
"I still think you're a perv," she said. "You always go for the young girls."
"Hey, they're Criss' fans, not mine. Take it up with him."
Hillary nudged Mario. "The show's starting. Get ready."
The MC strode up to the mike. "Ladies and gentlemen...CRISS ANGEL!!" he shouted.
The roar of the crowd was deafening as Criss Angel bounded onto the stage, wearing his leather jacket and jeans tucked into his black combat boots, despite the humid weather, giving him a punk rock biker look. His collection of bling around his neck flashed in the afternoon sun.
Crystal and Hayley could hardly contain themselves. It was him! Live in person! Oh, how they longed to touch him! They were so near, and yet so far! Their shrieks and squeals were lost in the cheers of the audience, but they kept waving at him, competing with all the other female Loyals for his attention.
On his perch, Cole saluted his idol with extended index and little fingers. The Master had arrived! Criss Angel the MindFreak was here! To see him on television was one thing. To see him live in person was pure mind-boggling ecstacy.
All eyes were on Criss Angel, all cameras were trained on him. No one saw the old man in the dirty green shirt pull out a pistol from his pocket and level it straight at the stage.
"ARE YOU READEEEEE?" Criss bellowed out, his arms extended in enthusiasm.
The crowd screamed their answer in the affirmative. For the merest moment, he stood still, reveling in the adoration of his fans. It was that moment that a loud bang was heard. Criss recoiled, crying out in shock and pain. JD, Costa and other crew members rushed to his aid as he fell.
There was the briefest moment of silence, then screams of panic erupted. What had happened? What happened to Criss? In their stunned minds the Loyals equated the bang with Criss' sudden collapse, and panic swept over the crowd as the horrible realization of the truth spread like a brushfire out of control.
"Somebody shot Criss!" came a cry of angush from the crowd.
Mario had been standing in the press area, about to take a picture of Criss upon his point of entry when his camera jammed. Irritably, he wiggled the film spool to loosen it, then raised it for another shot, then clicked the shutter--at the very moment Criss went down.
Mario was stunned for the moment. What the hell just happened?
Hillary was on her cell phone in a heatbeat. "Jim! We got breaking news! Somebody shot Criss Angel! Mario got the pictures!" She hung up. "Jim says to get as many pictures as you can, Mario," she ordered.
Mario didn't move. Hillary shook his shoulder. "Hey, Mario!" she shouted. "Didn't you hear me?"
Mario snapped out of his trance. "What the hell happened?" he said stupidly.
"Come on," Hillary urged. "We got a major story to cover."
Cole sat on the berm, weeping disconsolatly. One minute he had been elated to see his idol, the next his idol was felled by a bullet, sending him crashing to the stage floor, taking all of his momentary happiness with him.
Why? he kept asking himself. Why did they try to kill him? Dear God, why? Why did You let this happen to Criss Angel, of all people? How could you let this happen? Oh, dear God, please don't let Criss die! I'm sorry I lied to everybody to come here! Is that why you let this happen? Because of what I did? God, don't take Criss away because of what I did! Take me instead! I'm the one who deserves to die, not Criss!
For Crystal Rathbone, it was as if the world had been slowed down from 78 rpm to 16. She had been swept up in the enthusiasm of the moment Criss made his grand entrance. She didn't even see him walk up the stage; it was as if he just appeared out of nowhere. He was just there all of a sudden. Then she heard the shot, then she saw Criss' legs buckle under him, his face contorted in pain, then fall to the stage.
Her thoughts slogged through her head as if through molasses. Slowly she began to comprehend the horror she had just witnessed. The terrible words Someone shot Criss! echoed in her skull over and over again. Someone shot Criss Angel! She couldn't believe it. She refused to believe it! It couldn't be true, it just couldn't!
The sirens of the paramedics howled as an ambulance came to take Criss away. Police and security personnel cleared a path for the gurney to wheel Criss away. Crystal could only stare in shock. It was true, then. Someone shot Criss Angel. She heard him cry out in agony, the sound piercing her heart.
She crumpled to the ground and wept. Hayley knelt beside her and wept also.
What the hell happened? Criss wondered as he lay on the stage, his brothers, cousin and crew surrounding him. It had all happened so fast. He had just run on the stage, ready to perform, looking over the hundreds of Loyals cheering him on, then there was a noise, a loud bang like a pistol shot, then pain in his chest. Something was lodged in his chest; he could feel something hard in there, close to his heart.
"Criss!" JD hovered over him anxiously. "You okay?"
Criss nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay," he replied. "Hurts, though. What happened?"
"Someone tried to shoot you," JD told him. "Where'd he get you?"
Criss covered his injury with his hand. "Here."
JD and Costa began to pull his jacket off. Something ripped out of Criss' body, causing him to cry out in anguish. Blood began to flow from his wound. JD grabbed a towel and pressed down on the wound with it as hard as he could to stanch the flow.
"Paramedics are here," someone called out.
Everyone except JD cleared the stage. C'mon, Christopher! JD mentally urged his brother. You gotta pull through, okay? You've survived worse than this! Hell, I've seen you run over by a steamroller and you walked away from it! C'mon, little brother! Think of Mom back in New York! Think of all your fans out there!
The paramedics tightened a tourniquet around Criss' body and lifted him onto the gurney. They wheeled him through a gantlet of the outstretched arms of grieving Loyals, all weeping, wailing, and shouting encouragement to him.
"We love you, Criss!"
"Oh, God! Please don't die, Criss!"
"You rule, Criss! You rule!"
"You gotta get well, Criss! We all love you!"
"Dear God, pleeeeze don't let Criss die! Don't take him away from us!"
He lay there, helpless, as the gurney rolled past the anguished faces of his beloved Loyals. He wanted to reach out to them, hold their hands, speak comfort to them. He did none of those things; he could only gaze at them through pain-filled eyes, growing weaker by the minute. The paramedics lifted him into the waiting ambulance and slammed the doors, cutting him off from his fans.
Alone, save the medics at his side, memories began to flash before his eyes as if in a mental slide projector: his childhood home in East Meadow, Long Island, riding off the roof on his bike; showing off his magic tricks to anyone willing to put up with him; school days filled with tedious boredom; his crew humiliating him by cutting off his CKs, leaving him naked in that jail cell in Pioche; the face of his mother, worried about his welfare while doing his demonstrations.
Mom, he cried out in his mind before falling into oblivion. I love you, Mom.
It was finished. Hiram had bought down the Devil's minion, Criss Devil, with a single shot. Not bad for a sixty-five year old man, even if he did say so himself. The Lord had guided his eye and hand, and together they had laid the evil one low. Mission accomplished. But there was no time to gloat; he had to get out of there fast. When the people started to scream, he turned and began to run, only to plow into a wall of uniformed police officers who pinioned his arms behind his back and handcuffed him. In his struggles he had dropped his pistol. Another officer picked it up carefully so as not to contaminate the fingerprints and laid it on the hood of a police cruiser.
"You have the right to remain silent," and so on and so on. Hiram knew the drill from so many episodes of Dragnet. Didn't matter to him, anyway. Criss Devil was dead and burning in Hell. His dead son was avenged for his self-murder caused by Satan's minions. He had done the Lord's work, and that was what counted.
They shoved him into the back of the cruiser and locked him in, but even this did not faze him. Many Christians had been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord would justify his actions no matter what they did to him. He was right and they were wrong. When the Babylon that was Las Vegas was purged of all its sinfullness, history would judge him rightly as the man who killed Criss Angel.