04-26-2012, 12:30 PM
"Sold for eight thousand dollars," they heard the auctioneer call out. "And that's the end of the bidding. Thank you and have a pleasant evening."
A smattering of applause, and the auction was over. The last motorcycle was wheeled off the platform to be transferred to its new owner. The remnants of the audience rose from their seats, stretching their limbs from having sat for so long, and headed for the exit. George and Angela went with them, arm in arm, while Darlene remained behind, hoping to catch one glimpse of Criss Angel before she left. George had said he'd be available after the bidding, but she couldn't find him anywhere. Where is he? she wondered impatiently. He'd promised me he'd be here!
Meanwhile, the kitchen and wait staff were clearing the tables, taking down the buffet, gathering the linens, tossing away the floral centerpieces (the crystal bowls belonged to the florist, so they were set aside to be picked up), and stacking the chairs. In the morning, the maintenance staff would come in and roll away the tables, take down the podium, disconnect the sound system, the plasma TV screens, and the rotating platforms so they would be ready to be returned to the rental agency.
Pastor Bob Beaman strolled over to the donation box to pick up whatever had been dropped inside it. It had been a great evening, he thought, a successful evening. With the proceeds from the auction and in the box, added to Angela's prize money donation, the shelter could operate for years without the spectre of bankruptcy hovering over it. At last, God's mission to aid the poor could finally be fulfilled. Humming an upbeat gospel tune, he slid the bolt back and opened the box.
It was empty.
Puzzled, he felt around inside the box. He touched nothing but plywood on all sides. A sense of disappointment came over him. Didn't anyone care to donate? he wondered. Somebody should have dropped something over the course of the evening. What had happened?
He looked around and spotted one of the security guards who had been on duty that evening. "Uh, excuse me, sir," he called out politely. "Did you happen to see anyone make any donations into the box tonight?"
"No, sir, I didn't," the guard replied. "I was posted by the north entrance. Collins was by the south side; maybe you should go ask him."
The guard looked around. "Um, oh, hey, there he is, over by the stage. The tall guy with the red hair."
Pastor Bob thanked him and headed towards Collins, who was speaking to Chief of Security Macaffey. "Uh, excuse me gentlemen," he said. "Are you Mr. Collins?"
The red-haired uniformed guard turned to him. "I'm Officer Collins," he said.
"I'm Pastor Bob Beaman. You were by the south side entrance tonight, weren't you?"
"I was posted there, yes," Collins replied.
"Were you watching the donation box at any time?"
Collins shrugged. "On and off. Mostly I was keeping an eye on the people coming in, watching for gatecrashers."
"Did you see anyone drop anything in the donation box?"
Collins tried to recall. "Well, I saw one or two people slip something in there," he replied.
Pastor Bob turned to Macaffey. "Did you?"
"I wasn't on the floor tonight," Macaffey told him. "I was in the office on the monitor." He snapped his fingers, suddenly remembering. "Oh, yeah, a couple of giddy girls came in this afternoon to drop something in there, but that was it. Why do you want to know?"
"Because the box is empty."
Macaffey's hackles rose. "Empty?"
"The box is empty," the pastor repeated. "Come take a look for yourselves."
The two guards strode over to the donation box, opened the back door and looked inside. "Nothing," Collins said.
"You sure someone from the shelter didn't come by and pick it up?" Macaffey asked.
"I didn't tell anyone to do that," the pastor answered him. "No one was here from the shelter except me, at least no one I know of."
Macaffey turned to Collins. "You see anyone near this box?"
"No, sir," Collins replied. "I was watching out for gatecrashers, just like you ordered."
Macaffey nodded. He really couldn't fault Collins for the theft, if there was one. He had been ordered to watch out for gatecrashers, and that was what he had been doing; he couldn't watch the doors and the box at the same time. It was the flimsy donation box with the sliding bolt that was at fault; if it had been locked, whatever was in there would still be in there. He turned to Pastor Beaman. "You should have put a lock on that box," he admonished the pastor. "Anyone could come along and help themselves to what's inside."
"We've had that box for years!" Pastor Bob protested. "No one's ever broken into it, no matter where we put it!"
"First time for everything, Pastor," Macaffey said. "First time for everything." He laid a hand on the pastor's shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll find the thief who did it," he said. "Even if we have to shake down everybody in the entire hotel to do it."
Angela, meanwhile, strolled alongside George with a feeling of contentment she had never known before. She was sorry to see the night end. It had been so wonderful, it was almost like a dream. She seemed to float across the floor on a cloud, wrapped in a cozy blanket of bliss. The nightmares of the past had vanished into nothing; ahead was eternal sunshine and happiness. Don't wake me up, she said to herself. I want this to last forever and ever and ever...
"Angela? Is that you?"
She emerged from her blissful state to see Pastor Bob standing by the donation box with two uniformed guards. Still glowing from the evening, she smiled brightly at him, something the pastor had never seen her do. "Oh, hello, Pastor," she greeted him happily. "Good to see you again."
"Yes, good to see you, too," the pastor said, astonished at the stunning transformation of his volunteer tutor in her designer gown and beaded hair. "You look...quite nice this evening."
"Thank you," Angela responded. "You remember George, don't you?"
"Yeah, I remember George," Pastor Bob said hastily. "Uh, say, Angela, you wouldn't happen to have taken the money out of the donation box, would you?"
"Me?" She shook her head. "No, of course not. Why do you ask?"
The pastor sighed. "Because it seems somebody's stolen it."
That single statement sent Angela crashing down to earth. The blissful feeling crumbled to dust while her tension mounted. "Stolen it?" she echoed, horrified. "Who could have done such a thing?"
"That's what we're asking you," Macaffey said gruffly. "You know anything about it?"
"Nothing, I swear!" Angela protested. "I was with George the whole evening! Wasn't I, George?"
George nodded in confirmation. "That's right, she was," he said firmly. "Swear to God, she was nowhere near that box!"
Macaffey eyed Angela's evening bag. "Could I see your purse, please?" he requested officiously.
Too intimidated to refuse, Angela reluctantly handed the chief her bag. He opened it up and emptied the contents onto the donation table. He found a lipstick case, a small brush, a cylinder of mascara, a tiny change purse holding three dollars in cash, a ticket stub, and a cell phone--nothing incriminating. "Well, you're clear," Macaffey said. "You know anyone who might have taken it? Another worker at the shelter, perhaps?"
"Officer, I swear to you I don't know anyone who would do such a thing!" Angela insisted. "The only other person who was here tonight was Darlene Milliken, and I know she didn't do it!"
"Where is she?"
Angela pointed over to the stage. "Over there, waiting for Criss Angel to appear."
Macaffey turned to Collins. "You go over and talk to the Milliken girl," he ordered. "I'm going up to video surveillance to see if they picked up anything on tape."
Collins nodded. "Got it."
The two guards separated. Angela leaned against George's chest. "Oh, Lord," she groaned. "Why did this have to happen?"
"Now, now, don't fret Angela," Pastor Bob said soothingly. "We'll solve this mystery in a heartbeat. They got it all on tape, just like the chief said. We'll catch this thief in no time. Don't you worry about a thing."
"He's right, Angie," George said, squeezing her shoulder affectionatly. "I know those guys up in the surveillance room--they don't miss a trick. They got three-sixty degree coverage of every square inch of the hotel. You can't even scratch your (bleeps)--oh, sorry, Pastor--you can't even scratch yourself without them noticing. And besides, what's a few dollars in the box compared to what we pulled in with the auction tonight?"
"It's not the money, George," Angela protested, "it's the principle of the thing. Theft is theft, no matter how much it is! That money was supposed to go to the shelter, and now it's gone."
Pastor Bob laid a hand on Angela's bony shoulder. "You go on home and rest," he told her gently. "With God's help, we'll clear up this mess. Don't you worry about it."
Angela nodded wearily. She bid the pastor good night and walked out of the ballroom with George. "Don't let this ruin your evening, Angie," George said. "This is Vegas. Theft is everywhere. Dealers skim money from bets; players count cards and tamper with the slots; people embezzle money from work. Where there's money, there's crime. That's why we got guys like Macaffey to enforce the rules, and the eye in the sky to watch over everything. It's a fact of life here in Sin City. You just have to deal with it."
"Still," Angela sighed, "I just wish..."
But she never finished that thought. She was too tired and upset to argue. The best night of her life had been ruined by some petty thief. Whoever it was, she vowed never to forgive him for that.
Darlene's jaw dropped in astonishment. "Stolen?" she gasped. "But how?"
"That's what I hope to find out from you, Ms. Milliken," Officer Collins replied. "You know anything about the theft?"
"No way! I was nowhere near that box!"
"You have any idea who would take it?"
"Other than Pastor Bob, I can't think of anyone. Don't you guys have it on tape somewhere?"
"Yes, ma'am, we do, but we need to question any eyewitnesses as well."
"Well, it's not me, I can tell you that!" Darlene retorted. "I have no idea who would do such a thing."
Collins' radio receiver crackled. He pressed the transmitter button and spoke into it. "Collins' here."
"Collins?" It was the unmistakable voice of Chief Macaffey. "Get up here to surveillance. I think we got our thief."
"Ten-four." Collins snapped off the receiver. "We got something on tape," he said. "Thank you for your time, ma'am."
Darlene merely shrugged. "Hey, no problem," she said. "But, hey, if you see Criss Angel, let him know I'm looking for him, okay?"
Last edited by Veritas; 04-26-2012 at 12:56 PM.