05-05-2012, 01:32 PM
Angela wiped away her tears as she drove her little brown Chevette down the desert highway faster than she had ever driven it before. She had no idea where she was going, nor did she care; she just wanted to escape the misery of it all. Her life, which had once promised so much happiness, had suddenly crashed and burned thanks to the machinations of her devious sister, Bianca. Not only did she frame her for the theft of the donation money, but she also embarrassed George, the first man Angela ever loved, with that photograph of himself with Darlene at the auction. She's probably posted it on the Web by now! she wailed to herself. George must be furious about it! Dear God, what have I done to deserve this? What had I done to deserve Bianca's torments?
Bianca, always Bianca. Bianca, who cheated her out of her allowance by bullying, tricking or outright stealing; Bianca, who claimed for herself the big beautiful dollhouse Grandpapa Bellows had made in his workshop; Bianca, who undermined her self-esteem by mocking, scorning, and humiliating her in front of her schoolmates, resulting in a lifetime of torment and isolation; Bianca, who always had to be first in everything, take the biggest and best of everything, insist on everything be done her way, get everything she wanted when she wanted it, and never mind with what Angela or anyone else wanted. Bianca cared only about Bianca; it was her world and she was just letting everyone else live in it, if only to serve her. Marie Antoinette was Mother Teresa compared to her.
Just once, Angela fretted, just once she wished she could have stood up to her, defied her to her face instead of creeping around like the little mouse she was, trying to hide from her sister's wrath. Why couldn't she be strong, like Darlene? She had seen her roommate take on some tough customers at the shelter on more than one occasion, especially the time a drunk took a swing at her, only to be thrown to the floor when she grabbed the guy's arm and flung him down, a feat Angela could not recall without feelings of envy. If anyone swung a fist at her, and it was usually Bianca, of course, her first reaction would be to duck and cover. Was she really that pathetic? Was she really that weak and helpless?
Miserably, she had to admit she was. And now she was on the run like a fugitive for a crime she did not commit. Why didn't she just go to Pastor Bob, hand him the money in person, and tell him the truth? Because it would have looked like she had lied to him about it, that was why. No matter how much she could protest, it would be Bianca's word against hers. Bianca was clever, too clever by half, as Mother used to say. She could come up with the most convincing excuses, alibis, and outright fabrications that would blind anyone to the truth. What hope did she have against such an evil genius as she?
The temperature gauge on the dashboard climbed into the red zone; steam began curling from under the hood. Angela pulled over to the shoulder just as the Chevette stalled to a standstill. She pulled out her cell phone from her battered old handbag to try to call for help, but got no signal in the vast emptiness of the desert. She hoped against hope that someone would come along and help her, but even that seemed unlikely, not in an area as desolate as this. Alone, stranded, she wept bitterly, cursing her fate. Then she got out of the car, shielding her face from the merciless sun, and looked around for any signs of life. All she saw was sand, scrub and rocks.
In the distance was a large mesa, its jagged sides and flat top looking straight out of a picture postcard. Angela gazed at its majestic height, its outline breaking up the monotonous desert sky, and followed it downward to the ground. How hard would it be to climb up to the top and jump from it? she wondered. But she abandoned that idea as quickly as she thought of it. No, suicide was out of the question. Besides, she could more easily die out here by the highway without water unless someone came--
Angela blinked several times and stared at the foot of the mesa. She was sure she saw someone standing there a moment ago. A tour guide, maybe? A mountain climber or a hiker? It was possible: she knew that the Nevada desert offered the more adventurous types opportunities to push themselves to their limits, whether it was hiking, climbing or BASE jumping. At any rate, she thought maybe they could help her with her car. It was a long walk to the mesa, but it was better than standing by the side of the road withering from the heat. It was a risk she had to take.
She pulled out her tiny folding umbrella from the glove compartment to use as a parasol, then began the long trek to the mesa. Her throat was parched, and her worn-out loafers offered little protection from the rocky desert soil, but she pressed on, determined to make it. She barely noticed a large scorpion skittering across her path, nor the large rattlesnake that caught it in its jaws and devoured it. Her mind was empty of all thought save for her destination.
By the time she was halfway there, she was reduced to a zombie-like state. Her watery blue eyes burned from lack of moisture, her feet were blistered and her fingertips felt numb. After a seeming eternity of crossing the desert, she reached the foot of the mesa. Desperate, she cried out for help, but her throat was too dry to go above a whisper. In despair, she dropped her umbrella and fell to her knees in exhaustion. Her head drooped as if her neck could no longer bear the burden of supporting it, her eyes too dehydrated to shed tears. So this is where you die, a part of her conscious mind told her, in a desert wasteland with no water, no food, no friends and no hope. Oh, God, George, please forgive me.
"How have you offended?"
Angela raised her bleary eyes just enough to see a pair of beaded moccasins before her. Startled back into consciousness, she forced her weary head upward to see their owner, a grim-faced Indian (no, they weren't called Indians anymore, they were Native Americans) standing over her. Terrified, she tried to speak, but no words came out. All she could do was gesture helplessly, only to break down and cry. "Please help me," she whispered between sobs. "Please help me, whoever you are."
The grim face seemed to soften a little, his dark eyes reflecting what looked like pity. "I am Medicine Man," he intoned. "I am the keeper of the Cave of Sorrow. Those who have offended come here to reflect on their wrongdoing and make amends. How have you offended?"
Angela swallowed hard to regain what was left of her voice. "Please, sir," she spoke hoarsely. "I-I ran away because...I was accused of...of a crime I didn't commit. I-I was scared...no one would believe me. I don't know what to do." Her voice broke, and she wept out of fear and exhaustion. "I didn't steal that money!" she sobbed. "I swear I didn't! My sister's blackmailing me into giving up my trust fund because of it! She's the one who stole it, not me! I know it was her! She just wants my money, that's all!"
The Medicine Man looked down at her. "If you are truly innocent," he said, "then you have nothing to fear. You must go back and claim your innocence. Fleeing only increases your seeming guilt. Face your accusers with a brave heart. An eagle soars higher against the wind than with it."
"But I can't go back!" Angela protested. "Besides, my car broke down and--"
But the Medicine Man had vanished. Nothing remained where he had once stood, not even his footprints. Angela wondered if she had hallucinated the whole thing before she succumbed to unconsciousness.
George cruised slowly down the main boulevard, keeping pace with the afternoon traffic to avoid being pulled over by patrolmen. Darlene sat up front beside him, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of Bianca's silver Lexus, the vanity license plate her only clue to its identity, while Criss, riding shotgun in the back, idly glanced out the windows on either side, wondering just what they were looking for. "You sure she went this way?" he asked.
"I'm positive," George replied. "I saw her turn right onto the boulevard when she left. She's gotta be here somewhere."
"Maybe we should go back and call the cops," Criss suggested. "They can tail her better than--"
Suddenly, Darlene became excited. "There she is!" she shrieked. "There's her plate! She's right there in front of us!"
George scanned the traffic in front of him. Sure enough, there was a silver Lexus with a Nevada license plate reading BIANCA in large black lettering. He pulled up behind her, leaning on his horn and shouting, "Hey! Pull over!"
Bianca glanced in her rear-view mirror, wondering what all the commotion was about, then, noticing it was George, stepped on the gas and sped off down the boulevard. Irate, George floored his Rover and gave chase, determined to bring down this treacherous (bleep) who had tried to mar his happiness with the woman he loved. The sudden jolt forward sent poor Criss flying to the back of his seat. "Hey, watch where you're goin', man!" he yelled.
The Lexus and the Rover wove in and out of traffic, leaving angry commuters honking their horns in protest. George kept within a car's length behind, close enough to tail her but not too close to crash into her should she slam on the brakes. He hardly noticed that he and his quarry had left the main boulevard, the city limits, and practically all civilization for that matter, and were now heading down a deserted stretch of highway. As far as he was concerned, it made for better sighting of the Lexus without the obstacle of traffic. Darlene, however, became anxious. "Where are we going?" she wanted to know. "Where are we?"
"I don't know," George snapped, "and I don't give a (bleep)! All I want is to catch that (bleep), even if I have to drive all the way to (bleeping) California!"
Criss was startled by this unusual display of bloodlust from his normally easygoing cousin. Ever since he could remember, George had never held a grudge against anyone, or at least not for long. Any physical violence was confined to the boxing ring, and even then he followed the rules. Oh, sure, there was that incident with the Vegas Flasher, but that was for family honor, not personal revenge. (1) But now George was pursuing a person with a singleminded purpose to do bodily harm. It seemed to Criss that he was seeing a side of his cousin he had never known existed, and it frightened him a little. Would he actually kill Bianca if he caught her? God forbid he should, he prayed--Nevada was one of the few states in the Union that still had the death penalty.
George leaned on his horn and sped up behind the Lexus. "Pull over, dammit!" he shouted. "Pull over!"
A single slender arm extended itself from the driver's side window, flashing a single slender middle finger in defiance. "(Bleep) you, too, (bleep)!" George growled. "You wanna play games, huh? Well, it's game over, baby! Your ass is toast!"
With that, he floored the accelerator, fully intending to ram Bianca off the road. Alarmed, Criss lunged forward. "What the hell are you trying to do?" he shouted over the Rover's roaring engine. "You're gonna kill us all!"
"Says the man who wanted to blow himself up in a mineshaft!" George retorted. "Hang on!"
The Rover charged forward. The Lexus, smaller and more aerodynamic, sped on, eluding the truck-like vehicle behind it. Bianca cackled in triumph over having outrun her pursuers, now just a diminishing image in her rear-view mirror. "So long, suckers!" she shouted gleefully as she sped down the highway, heedless of where she was going.
Her exhilaration was short lived. She heard a loud bang like a pistol shot, then her car lurched crazily all over the road. Panicking, Bianca tried to regain control of her vehicle, but only succeeded in skidding to a stop on the side of the road, kicking up clouds of dust all around her. Then, all was still again. Bianca drew a few deep breaths to regain her composure. "What happened?" she asked no one in particular.
With trembling hands she opened the car door and stepped outside. The dust had settled enough for her to see that she had blown her front left tire. "Oh, great," she moaned. "Now what am I going to do?"
As if on cue, George's Land Rover pulled up behind her and ground to a halt. George burst out of the driver's side like an angry bull from a rodeo chute, while Criss and Darlene came out after him. Bianca's imperious nature came to the fore, and she stood there defiantly, her head raised indignantly. "How dare you chase after me like that?" she accused them. "Look what you've done! You caused me to have a flat tire! I should sue you for damages! I should have you--"
"Put a sock in it, lady!" George snarled. "I want to know just what the hell you were planning to do with Angie. What were you trying to do, blackmail her? Pin the rap on her for the money you stole from the auction? Where is she, anyway?"
Criss turned to Darlene. "Uh, you wanna tell me what's the deal here?" he asked in a low tone.
Darlene was all too happy to tell Criss what was the deal here. "You see, the money from the donation box was stolen, and then it turned up in Angela's car, see. We think Bianca did it so she could blackmail her somehow--for what, I don't know. Anyway, Angela turned in the money to Pastor Bob, and nobody's seen her since. I tried to look for her, but when I came to the Luxor, thinking she might have been with George, Bianca the (bleep) showed up and accused us of being lovey-dovey. She even took a picture of us together at the auction to try to get back at us."
"Okay," was all Criss could say, though he was still bewildered by it all.
Meanwhile, George and Bianca were still arguing over Angela's fate, with the former hurling insults and accusations, and the latter denying it all and hurling a few insults of her own. Criss could sense the altercation was coming to blows, so he blew a loud whistle through his fingers to end it. "Okay, break it up!" he shouted. "Look, I don't know a whole helluva lot what's going on here, but the first thing we gotta do is find Angie! Then we can get this whole thing settled, okay?"
"Oh, yes," Bianca agreed wholeheartedly. "By all means, let's find Angela. She's the cause of all this trouble in the first place. After all, she was the one who had stolen all that money--"
"Bianca," George groaned, "don't you ever shut up?"
"Well, I'm just saying--" Bianca protested.
"Yeah, well just don't say anything anymore!" George shot back. "I'm sick and tired of your constant (bleeping)--"
"Hey, look!" Darlene suddenly cried out, pointing down the road.
George, Bianca and Criss followed where Darlene's finger directed. Just a few yards away was a small brown car parked by the side of the road. "That's Angie's car!" she shouted excitedly. "I know it is!"
"You sure?" Criss asked.
"I'm positive!" Darlene confirmed. "That's her car all right!" She began to run toward it. "Come on!"
Criss followed Darlene toward the car. George followed them with Bianca sulkily trotting behind, their quarrel momentarily on hold,. "Angie?" George called out as he ran. "Angie! You all right?"
No answer. No sign of Angela anywhere. Criss could tell the car had overheated by the puddles of coolant underneath the engine block; the cooling hose must have burst, he figured. The car interior was empty except for Angela's school satchel, a white turban and a pair of sunglasses lying on the front seat. George examined the items one by one. The satchel he recognized as Angela's, but the turban and the glasses puzzled him. "What are these doing here?" he asked.
Bianca stood over him, a smug smile on her face. "Isn't it obvious, Georgie?" she said. "That was Angela's disguise when she stole the money from the auction. You said yourself they got it all on tape--a woman in a white gown, a white turban and dark glasses, slipping behind the donation box and stealing the contents. Well, there's your proof that she's guilty. So, what do you think now of your sweet, innocent little girlfriend, Angie, hmmmm?"
George threw down the turban and the glasses. "Know what I think?" he echoed, stepping toward her with clenched fists. "I'll tell you what I think. I think you planted those things in her car to frame her, that's what I think! I think you set this whole thing up to get back at her for your tossing her over the balcony, that's what I think! And I think I'm gonna break your skinny little neck if you don't tell me where the hell Angie is!"
"You wouldn't dare strike a lady!" Bianca said loftily.
"Who said you were a lady?" George shot back.
Bianca was about to deliver a scathing retort when Criss again intervened. "Okay, okay, break it up, you two! We ain't gettin' nowhere fast this way. We still gotta find Angie, so let's just settle down, okay?"
George and Bianca retreated to neutral corners while Criss tried to think. He lowered his head to rub the sweat from the back of his neck, but as he did so he saw a set of small shoeprints heading away from the road and into the desert. He followed them with his eyes and discovered they led toward the mesa in the distance. He suddenly realized exactly where he was, and where Angela had gone. "Everyone, back into the truck," he ordered.
Darlene looked at him, puzzled. "Why?" she asked. "Where are we going?"
"I'll explain later," Criss replied hastily. "Just get into the truck. George, you drive."
George climbed back into the driver's seat. To his chagrin, Bianca took the passenger seat as if she felt entitled to it. Darlene was also miffed about it at first, but felt compensated by having her beloved Criss Angel sitting next to her in the back seat. Tough luck, Bianca! she gloated inwardly. I got Criss sitting right here by my side, and you're stuck with George! She felt a twinge of guilt for that last thought. Oh, poor George, stuck with that (bleep) Bianca. Well, once we find Angie, Bianca can ride in the trunk or something. Oh, hell, she can walk for all I care!
"So where we going?" George wanted to know.
Criss pointed toward the mesa. "That way," he said. "To the Cave of Sorrow."
George looked at Criss bemusedly. "Cave of Sorrow? What the hell's that?"
"I'll explain on the way," Criss replied hastily. "Just get going before it's too late."
(1) See Risque Business
Last edited by Veritas; 05-05-2012 at 01:39 PM.