by T. E. Lazarz
All rights reserved.
Due to the graphic nature and vulgar prose of this novel the author assumes no responsibility for any deviant, antisocial or self-destructive behavior incurred on the part of the reader. Any resemblance of characters in this prose to persons living or dead is coincidental. Phrases, concepts, thematic materials or characterizations found in this composition may not be reproduced or published in any printed or electronic form without the contractual permission of the author.
The Paris Las Vegas Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
Five hundred forty one feet above Las Vegas Boulevard a once lovely young wannabe struggles with her final regrets. Her cadaverous, emaciated body is covered with black and pastel tattoos. Her collapsed veins undulate with cheap wine and pilfered meds. At that hour the only tourists frequenting the observation deck at the top of the mock Eiffel Tower would be lovers, young and old, gay and straight, legal or illicit and perhaps a few others as desperate as herself. No one noticed when the elevator doors slid open and she silently slipped out a maintenance exit leading to the dangerous outside. No one saw her standing out there with her back against the warm metal, slipping off her three inch heels, one of them falling away, then closer, closer, curling her toes around a still warm strut, unemotionally looking out at the desert night, the lights of Sin City twinkling like so many tiny crystals through the tears in her eyes.
"Tonight the world will discover me. Tonight they will know who I really am. I rid myself of this mortal image and achieve the fame I have always wanted...but only after I am gone."
She closes her eyes.
She raises her head.
She spreads her wings.
Five hundred forty one feet below on hot-to-trot Las Vegas Boulevard, a young man in full leathers screeches up to the Paris Las Vegas Hotel on his Moto Guzzi Corsa motorcycle. He parks it. He gets off it. He removes his helmet and cooly and confidently looks straight up through the haze of the high-intensity Halogen lights illuminating the top of the mock Eiffel. He grabs a Nike athletic bag from the back of his sport cycle then quickly makes his way to the hotel pool where he retrieves a high end Sony HDV camcorder from the duffle. He swings the LCD display out. He tests the monaural microphone. He checks his watch then points the camcorder towards the top of the tower. He focuses it. He waits. He focuses it some more. He waits some more. In a moment he presses a small button on the side of the camcorder and begins recording the tiny failing image high above. He adds his own personal audio to the live video by improvising his own unedited, graven script.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Tonight I come to you from the beautiful Paris Las Vegas Hotel on the fabulous Las Vegas strip where--in just a few short moments--a young actress standing at the top of the magnificent Eiffel Tower will give her final performance and take her final bow.
"And why, you may ask, is she doing this? Why would any one so young, so beautiful, so talented want to destroy herself in such a terrible heinous way? Is it for love? Is it for money? Or perhaps it is for something far more abstract and elusive than the common everyday obsessions that people fixate on. In the words of William Shakespeare, 'fame! Fame! If only for a short while'. But wait! Wait! There she is! I see her. I see her."
He zooms the camcorder in.
Five hundred forty one feet above Las Vegas Boulevard the drama continues. The talent stands at the edge of the stage and the point of no return. Looking up at the night sky, at the moon, the stars, the last audience she will ever perform for is down below, completely oblivious. Her vision is impaired. The multi-colored lights of the strip meld into a lovely moist abstraction as she hesitates, suddenly realizing what it is to stand before her critics. The blinding high-intensity Halogens of the hotel illuminate her. The ambient heat of the desert day warms her stocking feet. There is a moment of clarity, but only for a moment as the pain of an unfulfilled acting career consumes her self-preservation. In that moment, that self-preservation is vanquished.
"And there she goes!"
End over end her body tumbles. Her head is torn back. Her arms and legs flay with the centrifugal force. In the six point seven seconds it takes a one hundred fifteen pound object to fall five hundred forty one feet, the young man zooms the camcorder in closer and closer recording every grimace, every contortion, every gasp and milieu, as the patrons of the hotel, oblivious, gather at the pool for an evening dip.
As she tumbles, the disappointments of her acting career flashing before, her memory flickers on a failed attempt on Broadway, a rejection on American Idol, but it was the screen test at a Los Angeles talent agency for a bit movie part a few hours earlier that brought her to this. Driving out from L.A. in an attempt to escape all the celebrity madness in that town, her clunker Toyota Corolla broke down at the corner of West Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard, and that was where she got out and looked up.
There it was.
The Las Vegas Paris Eiffel Tower.
Her final performance stage.
As she falls, he digitally recording her, she slips past hotel windows where partying people suddenly look out wondering what it was that just zipped by. As they stare at the falling object, she slams, momentarily impaling on the sharp rivets protruding out from the structure. Peoples mouths drop open. Their expressions exude silent shrieks as she hideously hangs up and opens and he excitedly annunciates, "wow! Did you see that?" On the side of the mock Eiffel Tower a six foot crimson streak is left behind and the live entertainment continues. Little is left to the imagination as to what physical or psychological condition the performer is in.
In the final three point five seconds of her semi-conscious existence, the microphone on the young man's camcorder picks up her breathless lament, and he comments, "what did she say?" He pans vertically, zooms horizontally, following her all the way down, down, as she verbalizes something in her final act of contrition. She splays. She splatters. Her head opens as her torso slams hard on the concrete, and the hotel patrons lounging around the pool scream and scatter.
And that is when a lovely, young Asian girl comes out from the back of the crowd. She is dressed in a string bikini. She is sipping a Mai Tai. She sits down next to the still undulating body and dangles her feet into the water. She looks up at the young man then stares directly into the camcorder with a mechanical, well rehearsed expression as if she does not fully comprehend what has just happened. She is beautiful, but she seems quite oblivious. She acts as if this whole thing is just another Reality TV show in production.
The victim's left arm and leg dangle over the edge of the pool. He records this. Her mangled face hangs just six inches above the emerald water. He records this too. Blood and mucus drip from her nose. Her once sweet face is a complete mess now and people gather at the fence to loiter and gawk then straighten up and smile when they see him recording them. The young man moves in for the final photo-journalistic kill, but just as he does, two Las Vegas police cruisers pull up. They enter the hotel property and ask him questions and the patrons questions and the young man video records this too. When the police are satisfied that nothing criminal has occurred, that there has been no foul play on anyone's part, they call for an ambulance chalking up the whole unfortunate incident as just another suicide in Sin City. When they are finished with their investigation, the young man goes back to his production by stooping down next to the body. He is unmoved by the actor's performance or her untimely death.
He holds the camcorder approximately twenty four inches from her still open eyes. They are brown. He very technically and very professionally moves in past the Asian girl to catch the once smooth complexion, the blood soaked hair, but mostly the tattoos that cover the neck and arms and legs. For a final dramatic twist, he fills his LCD display with gored and slashed flesh, with absent and broken teeth, for he understands that though his video will be highly controversial, it is the kind of graphic entertainment that motivates people to get up from their dinner tables and come to their TVs.
He goes on with the audio.
"And now ladies and gentlemen she is famous forever. And now every time you see her image you will remember her as a struggling actress, just this way."
The paramedics come.
The cops go away.
The dead girl is deposited into a body bag and carried to the ambulance for the trip to the Clark County Morgue and he captures their departure.
"From the beautiful Paris Las Vegas Hotel on the fabulous Las Vegas strip," the young man says, completing the production, "this is Draeko. Have a pleasant evening, everyone."
He switches the digital camcorder off.
A few blocks from where all the media frenzy was taking place, Monica Beerman, Doctor of Behavioral Psychiatry, is hard at it, working the overtime, burning the late night oil, humping to please. At that hour she is sequestered in her outdated office doing one of her self-imposed, mental masturbation assignments completing a contract just in the nick of time to keep bread and butter on the table, hopefully. Suddenly, out on bustling West Flamingo, two Las Vegas police cruisers flash by followed a few minutes later by a screaming ambulance.
"Good God. What's that all about?"
As a highly experienced, university educated psychiatrist specializing in bizarre human behavior, Monica has whittled out a pretty good nitch business with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department filling out spreadsheets, completing crime reports, undertaking the mundane tasks that the so called local municipalities are too busy but probably too lazy to do themselves. But she's not complaining. She is only to happy to get the work and keep her head above water, though her real passion in life is analyzing some of the most diabolical personalities ever recorded in the annals of criminology, her work so original some of it had somehow made their way down to Hollywood to become, conceivably, the most gruesome screenplays ever to receive an R near X rating. But until that day when she and her passion can get forever famous, she keeps cranking out the kind of paperwork that can drive a shrink to drinking.
"Gotta get this boring shit done."
Serial rapists, obsessive-compulsive stalkers, the always pervasive sadomasochistic murderer and her favorite type, The Mister Potato Head Masher, are always in plentiful supply. Every city has them. Every urban community breeds them. Everyone wants them off their streets. With crystal ball accuracy she can anticipate the moves of some of the most psychopathic monstrosities ever to have flopped out of a womb, some of the freaks so heinous they threatened to kill her when they found out that she was the one who fingered them. But working conditions like that never did bother Doctor Monica Beerman, single, sassy, a genuine dyed in the wool, in your face, Swedish blonde from Saint Paul, MN. Ever since high school when she graduated almost but not quite at the top of her class, those sorts of human anomalies, both real and fictitious, had always turned her on. But for now, locked away in her office with its out of date furniture she keeps hammering away on her out of date laptop trying to make a morning deadline when just after ten thirty P.M. her ancient voice mail system cranked up.
"Hello. You have reached the offices of Doctor Monica Beerman, Psychological Services, LLC. I can't take your call right now, but if you'll leave a message--and be civil about it--I will return your call ASAP."
"Monica. Pick up."
She puffs through her nose blowing off the all too familiar goof ball.
"Monica, baby. I know your there. Pick up. I promise you won't regret it."
"I'll bet I won't," she says out loud, reluctantly picking up the yellowed handset. "Jerry? For the last time. No! I don't want to go out with you. I don't even want to be seen with you."
"No, Monica. Listen. Did you see it? Did you catch the ten o'clock news?"
"Jerry. I never watch the ten o'clock news. And if I did watch the ten o'clock news I wouldn't watch it on Channel Five because I don't want to watch you."
"No, Monica. Listen. You gotta see this video. I mean it's gone viral. Totally, totally viral."
"What is it this time, Jerry? Horny humping gerbils?"
"No. Listen. This guy. I don't who he was. He came in here this evening with this video that he just got through shooting. He caught this entire suicide on his digital cam."
"He did what?"
"Yeah! But here's the crazy part. How did he know to be there? How did he know what she was going to do? Did he get lucky? Or was he just in the right place at the right time? It's like the guy has a nose for such stories. You know? Like some Reality TV producer?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Because when he recorded the whole incident of this really screwed up babe jumping from the top of the Las Vegas Eiffel, he added his own audio."
"Yeah! I mean it was like he was doing some sort of play by play. You know? Like they do in sports. She jumped, Monica! That girl jumped and he captured her all the way down to the concrete ground. And man! You should have seen her splatter!"
"Oooh, Jerry. Shut up!"
"Listen, Monica. This video looks for real. I mean it looks really for real. I don't know. With all the techno gizmo stuff they can do with video these days maybe it is a hoax."
"But Channel Five aired it anyway. Didn't they, Jerry? It didn't make any difference if it was true or not."
"Welllll, that is what we do down here. Report the news."
"Yeah, right, Jerry. You keep doing that, Jerry. I gotta go now, Jerry. I got real work to do."
"Monica. Wait. You aughta see our station manager right now. I mean, as we speak, he's dancing around like a wild man just outside my cube."
"I'll bet he is."
"You aughta see our Neilson ratings. They're going right through the ceiling. I mean we've got people calling in from all over Las Vegas about that video clip. I even got a call from some joker down in L.A. who saw it on our affiliate cable station and he wants to put it on some best of videos show."
"I mean this is hot, Monica. Really hot! This is what people really go for. Fact, fiction, reality, fantasy, it doesn't seem to matter anymore. It's all about news entertainment, Monica, with lots of sensationalism thrown in."
"Right, Jerry. News entertainment."
"Heck, Monica. I don't get it. I figured you'd be interested in hearin' about this, you bein' a shrink and all."
"Yeah, Jerry. Me bein' a shrink and all."
"I mean, isn't this the sort of thing you go for? Where all this video and internet stuff and freedom of media is taking us?"
"Right, Jerry. Okay, Jerry. Screw you, Jerry. So where's this incredible video now?"
"In our archives."
"No dimwit. Where is this guy gonna put the damn thing so everybody can watch it over and over until their brains have turned to peanut butter."
"Well. Let me think. When he left here he said he was gonna put it up on You Tube. Yeah. That's it. You Tube."
"I guess as soon as he gets to wherever he lives so he can upload it. Talk about a guy after my own heart. It's probably up there right now. You know. Up high in the virtual sky?"
She snorts at his stupid invented cliche.
"So, what do you say, Monica? With you being a Sigmund Freud type and me soon to be the recipient of the Edward R. Morrow Award..."
"Wake up, Jerry, you're having a wet dream."
"...what da ya say we put our heads together and figure this whole freaking media thing out?"
"The one and only, Jerry Seltzer. News anchor extraordinaire."
"Why in the world would I want to team up with you?"
"Because you and me are like two peas in a cozy little pod."
"Good night, Jerry. Pleasant dreams, Jerry. Don't slip in it, Jerry. After you finish with yourself."
With that she slams the phone back down.
Quiet now, happy in the thought she won't have to access The Jerry Seltzer Channel Five website to see his latest claim to fame, Monica thinks to go check out You Tube, but then she's still under the gun and so she goes straight back to work.
As she waits for an Excel spreadsheet to print on her aging HP printer, she gets up and pours herself a cup of coffee hoping it will keep her up for at least a little while. But then she figures, "what the heck". She pulls a bottle out from her desk drawer and dumps a shot of Cuervo in on top of the Folgers briefly grinning when she takes a sip. The spreadsheet opens. The spreadsheet prints. Her coffee cocktail medicates her nicely. She plops herself back down at her desk only to be interrupted by her unsatiable curiosity. She Goggles. She surfs to the You Tube website. And there it is, the suspect video. She double clicks the latest entry, its express purpose to entertain the discombobulated public, and the horrible drama unfolds.
Taking a bigger sip now, she observes a young female standing at the top of the Paris Las Vegas Eiffel. The girl looks up. The girl looks out. She spreads her wings and Monica leans closer swearing she recognizes the girl from somewhere. The girl drops, head first, end over end, over and over, tumbling toward her already anticipated inevitable demise. But by a neat trick of editing, probably done by the technicians at Channel Five, the video is played three times, the first two times stopping just short of where the girl gets mashed.
The edited version plays for the first time. It is fast. It is furious. Its purpose is to catch and hold the viewer's attention and entice the viewer to hunger for more.
The edited version plays for a second time. It is just as fast as the first time so as to allow the viewer to rewind their mind and prepare oneself in the event that the video runs to the very end, but again, the video does not.
But it is the third time where the video trick is deceptively implemented. By then the viewer has imaged what the end will be, but is safe because the viewer assumes the video will stop short again. To achieve the maximum emotional impact, the third time is played in skip frame motion revealing every contortion of the girl's body and face, but very close to the hideous end the video goes back to real time and the girl slams hard.
"Oh my God!" Monica freaks.
The viewer is caught completely off guard.
Without taking her eyes off her laptop, she grabs the bottle of Cuervo off her desk and saturates her Java. Her eyes go wide as she leans even closer wondering if her drunkenness has now intoxicated her super sensitivity. The lifeless face hanging over the edge of the pool, bloody, limp, lacerated, is still so strangely familiar to her.
And then she puts her hand over her mouth.
She takes a big gulp.
"It can't be. It just can't be."
But it is, or she was.
"Julie. Julie Felker," Monica says, lamenting.
The You Tube video fades to black.
Monica yanks the chain on her banker's lamp wishing it was a leash on Jerry Seltzer. She mashes her fully smoked Marlboro that she just had to have into a Richard Nixon ashtray blowing the last puff out the side of her head, still freaking on what she just observed. In her comfortably lit office space she closes her laptop and the image of her long lost friend's mangled face continues to disturb her and haunt her. The idea of exploiting Julie's vulnerability by way of her failed acting career, regardless of whether she had any talent or not, makes Monica so mad she could spit. It is just then, much like before, her voice mail cranks up, but this time in anger she snatches the handset right up.
"Screw you, Jerry! Just screw you! Go tell your station manager to go suck an egg!"
She cools her jets.
"Who is this?"
"I'm trying to reach a Doctor Monica Beerman of Monica Beerman Psychological Services. Is this she?"
The deep male voice sounds as though he is reading her title from one of her business cards.
"Yes. This is Monica Beerman." She glances down at the winking light on her phone and sees that he is calling on her private emergency line. "How did you get this number?"
Doctor Beerman? This is Detective Joseph Beaulieu of the Las Vegas police. Please excuse my intrusion Doctor but...do you know a Julie Ann Felker?"
Monica bows her head.
"Yes. I knew her."
There is a moment of silence as if he is wondering why she would answer his question in such a way.
"Doctor Beerman? The reason I'm calling is--about an hour ago, maybe a little longer--Miss Felker committed suicide. She committed suicide by jumping from the top of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel Eiffel. Are you aware of that? Doctor Beerman?"
Monica considers the bottle.
"Yes. I'm aware of that. It was on the news."
"Doctor, we found Miss Felker's Toyota Corolla at the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. It was broken down."
"That's not too far from here," she half says to herself.
"What's that, Doctor?"
"Nothing. Go on. Please. What did you find?"
"Well. We went through Miss Felker's personal effects that were in the back of the car. Some books. Some clothes. Some unpaid bills. And what looks like some movie scripts from the library of the USC School of Film?"
"A Street Car Named Desire. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe."
"Yeah. That's right, Doctor. How did you know that?"
"Julie loved those movies. Julie loved those actors. Julie was always in debt."
"How's that, Doctor?"
"Nothing. Go on."
"We found your business card in her personal effects. Doctor Monica Beerman of Beerman Psychological Services, LLC, Las Vegas, Nevada."
"Yeah. That would be me."
"Your unlisted number is scribbled on the back of this business card. Apparently you knew the deceased quite well?"
"Yes. But I had not seen her in quite some time."
"Doctor Beerman? I've been investigating suicides in this town for a good long while now. Typically when someone is as desperate as Miss Felker seemed to be, they take their lives in a very private manner. In a very private way."
"Would you know of any reason why Miss Felker would commit suicide so publically?"
"Yes, Doctor. It's as if the girl was putting on, well, I don't know how else to put it...a performance."
"A performance. A performance," Monica says, recollecting. "Yeah. I guess I could see Julie doing just that..."
Northwestern University was where the two party girls had first known each other. And Chicago was a great place to explore the possibilities. As opposite as any two co-eds could be, as dissimilar as their goals and paths and dreams would take them, Monica had answered the same advertisement as Julie had for a double occupancy apartment on the near north side both wondering what they had gotten themselves into when they first met, then talked for awhile, then moved in together more out of fiscal desperation than anything they had in common. The relationship was not very amicable at first.
Monica, pursuing her advanced degrees in Clinical Psychiatry with a minor in Criminology, was always up late hammering on her PC, writing papers, researching a project, wondering where all this pop culture stuff was taking Western civilization, pouring over a manuscript that Julie thought was such a waste of time.
Julie, on the other hand, was always and forever auditioning for parts in struggling plays up in Old Town, switching her major from theater, to dance, to voice, then back to theater, trying to prove to herself that she was the consummate artist desperate to achieve great personal expression.
Watching from their tiny kitchenette, Monica would never dare tell her roommate that she could not act, that she could not dance, that she sure as hell could not carry a tune across the street. But Julie was the drama queen, always the drama queen, and there was nothing anybody could do to change Julie Ann's mind short of a train wreck that at the time seemed inevitable. Julie Felker would be a star, a forever famous shooting star, even if it killed her.
It was when the two mischievous miscreants discovered their late night requirement for wild and crazy antics that sealed their infinite friendship. Their incongruent personalities brewed and bubbled and mixed like oil and water, magically syncing when they went out to meet, well, no other way to put it, cute guys. Getting nicely inebriated in the bars and nightspot along Chicago's Magnificent Mile, they would sometimes agree but mostly disagree about everything under the sun, from the existence of God, to the purpose of Hollywood, to the drunken point of pointless pointlessness. But Monica would always let Julie win the arguments. And Julie nearly always took full advantage. Coming from a small town, Monica was the old fashioned big sister guardian type, while Julie was a late bloomer flower child from the big city. Their strained relationship somehow survived the three short years in that tiny north side apartment.
It was on graduation day that the two good buds discovered just how much they completed each other. Monica was shortly on her way to an interview at a Tarzana, California crisis intervention center for washed up porn stars, while Julie was headed for the bright footlights of Broadway. They promised they would Email. They promised they would call, but incidental times have a tendency to make for incidental commitments. They saw each other for the last time on an incredibly frigid day at a Northwestern University football game where Monica offered Julie a swig from her gin flask and Julie returned the favor by bringing a Doobie. Somehow the promises got broken, but those broken promises were never meant to hurt anybody. Five years to the day Monica was in her Las Vegas office trying to keep her Behavioral Psychiatry clinic afloat and Julie, on that very same night, broke down at the corner of West Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. She was on her way to find her old college chum, but somehow her regrets and failures and the Las Vegas Eiffel got in the way.
Monica comes to.
"Doctor Beerman? Are you there?"
"Yes. I'm here. How can I help you, Detective?"
"Doctor, we're not sure who the next of kin is."
"And it is imperative that we do this right away."
"Yes. Need to do it right away."
"Would you be willing to come down to the Clarke County morgue and identify the body. I mean, absolutely positively identify the body, if that is at all possible."
"Yes. I understand. I can do that."
"We need to get this done tonight, Doctor Beerman.
"So that we can move on with the paperwork."
"The paperwork. Of course. The paperwork."
"It appears to be an open and shut case of suicide. Plain and simple."
"Of course. Plain and simple. What else could it be?"
"All we need is to document the fact that there was no foul play and that she simply took her life out of some sense of desperation that no one can explain."
A twinge of rational thinking comes over Monica.
"That no one can explain?"
"That's right, Doctor."
"What was your name again? Detective?"
"Joseph Beaulieu. Of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department."
Monica looks up at her ancient Bulova clock ticking away on her office wall.
It is eleven fifteen.
"I'll be at the morgue in half an hour, Detective."
"Yes. It's her."
"Are you sure? The face was badly mutilated in the fall."
Monica forces herself to look again. It is difficult. There is much blunt force trauma, but she must make a positive ID and ensure herself that is it her old friend.
"Yes. I'm sure. It's Julie. But I don't remember her having all those tattoos."
Beaulieu looks up from the body.
He himself has to wonder why anyone would want to inject that much black and pastel ink under their skin. To him it seems a poisonous thing to do. The arms, legs, neck, torso are covered in multitudes of images of pop icons, her body a veritable mosaic. Monica was never much of a proponent of the practice herself, though, there was a night back in Chicago when she and Julie went out and did something on a dare. Two inches above each of their left nipples are identical likenesses of double red cherries. Monica still has her's. Julie's is just barely visible, camoflauged in all the etchings and carvings.
"She was so vulnerable," Monica says softy, harkening back to better times, staring down at her lost friend, "so very very vulnerable. She just could not give it up."
Beaulieu looks across the body of the once lovely female that is brightly illuminated by a bank of halogens just above.
"Give it up?" He asks. "How do you mean?"
"Julie was a drama queen. Always the drama queen. Julie was forever going around trying to be someone else."
"You mean she had multiple personalities?"
"No. At least not in the clinical sense. I guess you could say she never could quite figure out who she was supposed to be. Sometimes she knew who she was and other times she believed who she was, but her self image was in such flux, her personality was in constant confusion. It all seemed to be driven by some character on the stage or television or someone on social media."
Beaulieu looks perplexed.
"I don't get it, Doctor. Explain."
"Julie would watch an old movie then act out the parts, especially the part of the leading lady. She would watch a soap opera where some one had died then she would go around for days in mourning and depression. There were times when I would come home to our apartment and find her completely absorbed in being the hero or the villain or certainly her most favorite part, the victim, always the victim. She loved playacting. Her dream was to be someone else. I would catch her looking at herself in that full length mirror that she kept in her room, singing and dancing and making up portrayals. But Julie could not sing. And I suppose you could say she could sort of dance. But acting was what she really desired and I tried to explain to her that her possibilities of making it on Broadway were really quite limited. But she insisted on making a fool of herself at those talent agencies and I guess people like Julie are doomed by their fantasies. It seems to me a lot of people have gotten that way."
Beaulieu is impressed.
"You seem to have a theory about all this, Doctor."
She slightly nods, but continues to stare at Julie.
"Would you care to elaborate?" he asks.
She comes back to him.
"Ever since I first knew Julie I've had this insatiable desire to understand why people are so obsessed with celebrity."
"Okay. Go on."
"Well. Don't you think that's what's happening to people? Compromising their dignities? Selling their self respect? All in the name of getting their fifteen minutes of fame by being on--for example--some mindless talk show? Regardless of how stupid and indignant it makes them look?"
Beaulieu senses something diabolical.
"Doctor Beerman, if you have some insight, some information, some understanding about this suicide that would help me complete my report, would you please share it with me."
Monica slightly smiles at the good looking, well educated but somewhat culturally naive African-American man.
"Detective? I know what killed Julie Felker."
Beaulieu looks gratified.
"No, Detective. I didn't say who. I said what."
Alright, Doctor. What. What killed Julie Ann Felker?"
Monica looks at Julie.
"The dumbed down celebrity culture."
Beaulieu shakes his head in disappointment.
"The subliminal advertizing, the mass media marketing, the fine line between fact and fiction and all the sex video stars turned award winning pop icons you can swallow and puck back up."
The cop thinks, what the heck?
"In my opinion, Detective, we are living in a time where you've got to be very smart to survive the culture. Not smart like book smart. Smart like on the streets, only now the streets are the deceptive TV commercials and the virtual world and everything they throw at you when you are on line. They say never trust your government. I say, never trust the media. Never trust any organization or corporation that is control of information, in their quest to convince you."
"Doctor, I still don't get it."
"Let me put it to you this way, Detective. The other day? As I was media analyzing some talk show about bored housewives?"
"Yeah, I think I know the program."
"A woman was confessing to a live studio audience that she had been having sex with her Great Dane because her husband wasn't giving her enough attention."
"Doctor. Why would any one want to go on national television and expose their personal life that way?"
Monica nods even more vigorously.
"Right, Detective. Exactly, Detective. If it's true, Detective. But let me ask you this. How fast do you think you could get famous?"
Beaulieu looks down at the stiffening mangled body and slowly shakes his head. He does not want to go there.
The Clark County Medical Examiner comes and informs them that he is ready to perform the autopsy. Monica asks, "if we already know self annihilation was the motive, and blunt force trauma the method, what is the point of doing a postmortem examination?"
The forensic mortician explains.
"Even in cases where suicide is the obvious cause of death it must be determined if some sort of pathology or controlled substances may have played a part in her decision making. It is the law."
He is as cold as the cadaver.
The medical examiner begins pushing Julie away, and as he does, he stops a moment to receive the release form from Beaulieu. As the paperwork is exchanged, Julie's still semi-limp arm falls out from beneath the ashen sheet. A slip of paper falls from her tattooed hand.
Monica looks down at the yellow paper. It is just barely visible in the shadow of the Gurney. She looks up at the cop and the mortician to see if they have taken notice. They have not. She slowly bends down and sweeps up the paper then stands back up expecting to be noticed. Detective Beaulieu and the Clark County Medical Examiner are no more the wiser.
"Sorry, Doctor," Beaulieu say. "I know you and Julie were good friends, but they've got to do this. They have to determine if this was due to drugs or alcohol or maybe some virus or disease that may be putting the public at risk. Admittedly it is an open and shut case, but it has to be done."
Monica agrees and nods but is wondering if she should hand that slip of paper over to Beaulieu. She keeps hearing Julie's desperate voice in another failed audition.
"I think you are right, Detective. They need to do this, but I don't think it was anything physical or biological that got to her. I'll be very interested in hearing what the autopsy reveals."
"I'll let you know, Doctor."
The dimly lit, refrigerated morgue is populated with multiple cadavers in various states of condition. Monica rather likes the cold and Beaulieu offers her his dress coat, but she being a Minnesota girl graciously declines.
They go out. They emerge from the cool, dry basement to the warmth of the parking lot. It is midnight. The nocturnal insects are buzzing in the street lights, a brief desert thundershower has left the air somewhat thick and steamy and wonderful Las Vegas is alive and hyperactive and always on the move.
"There were some other people at the top of the Paris, Las Vegas this evening," Beaulieu recounts.
"I'm sure that there was," Monica replies, matter of factly, pressing the unlock button on her car keys, her dust laden Jeep flashing. "Julie always did require an audience."
"Yeah. They said that in those last few moments before she jumped she was saying something. She was repeating something. Something that they could not quite make out. They said she was looking up into the night sky with her arms spread open repeating a poem, or a verse, or..."
"--A line from Broadway?" Monica asks.
"Yeah. That's what they thought."
"Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I'll love you, tomorrow. You're only a day away," Monica recites.
The cop looks at the shrink like she really did know the deceased.
"Yeah, that's what it was," Joe Beaulieu says. "Do you know what she meant by that?"
"It was her favorite line from her favorite Broadway show. I remember her reciting those lines as she looked at herself in the mirror especially when she failed a try out, or a screen test for a commercial or an audition. She did fail at so many of them."
"So she was a struggling actress who never quite made it."
"You could say that about Julie."
"Well, what else would you call it?"
"A free spirit trying to liberate herself of a curse. The pop culture curse, as I call it."
"Mental instability," analyzes Beaulieu. "That's probably what will end up in my report, Doctor. The deceased, Julie Ann Felker, of Los Angeles, California, committed suicide due to classic clinical depression."
"In your line of work, Detective, that might be good enough. But in my line of work, it is not."
"So you don't believe that's true?"
"Detective? I knew Julie Felker quite well. She did a lot of silly things in her pursuit of fame--like the time she was dating some small time TV producer she'd met in a bar so that she could get a bit part in some stupid commercial. Thank Christ I talked her out of that."
"Yeah. Thank Christ."
"But when we were roommates back at Northwestern, Julie did not do meds or recreational drugs. She drank socially, though, at times, like me, she probably drank too much. But I can assure you, Detective, Julie Felker was just another nobody trying to become a somebody, as most people are trying to do. She was very commonly talented, maybe even untalented, as most people in reality probably are. But I believe Julie's suicide was her desperate attempt at a lasting fame, a public image that would last forever every time that video Channel Five aired is played. Julie did not want to be forgotten, and I, for one, will not forget her. I understand this because I saw this in Julie years ago. I understand this even better now because I see the same desperation in people today. I am convinced that it is a psychological disorder that is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture and I have even given it a name."
"What's that's, Doctor?"
"Pseudo Celebrityism. Faux fame. Faux celebrite. Fake identity. Call it what you will. I believe it to be caused by one immersing themselves in too much popular culture."
"False celebrities," the cop says. "Is that what you think people are becoming?"
"You could say that."
"People compare themselves to what they see on TV and feel insignificant because of it. Is that what you're saying?"
"That's a start. Detective? As a Behavioral Psychiatrist I've been studying this disorder in our culture. It's not just about movie stars and pop stars wallowing in their hype and sensationalism. It's become a function of everyday people applying that hype and sensationalism to their own lives."
"So you're saying that's what coerced Julie Felker into committing suicide by jumping from the top of the Paris, Las Vegas, Eiffel."
"You could say that."
"You're saying she became a sort of drama queen Frankenstein."
"You could say that too."
"Doctor. I understand your despair and even anger over your friend's unfortunate death, but those people up in that observation deck saw no one trying to convince Julie of anything."
"Detective? That's what makes this disorder so hard to figure out. It is imbedded in our culture."
"All I know is that I have irrefutable evidence that Julie Ann Felker committed suicide by jumping from the top of the Paris, Las Vegas Hotel, and nothing more."
"You're talking about that video. The one they aired on Channel Five news."
"That's right. What more proof do you need?"
Monica considers the question.
"That guy. The one who shot the video?" she asks.
"Yeah. What about him?"
"He just happened to be there? He just happened to look up and there Julie was?"
"That's what he told us at the hotel pool."
"Detective, I've stared up at that tower from that hotel pool a number of times. You can't see very much from that location. You're up to close to the tower. What did he see that motivated him to get his camcorder out and start shooting? Even before she jumped?"
"He's a tourist. Tourists take pictures. It was simply a matter of coincidence that he happened to be there taking a video of the top of the Eiffel just as she was about to jump."
"Perhaps. And what about those people at the hotel pool?"
"What about them?"
"That Asian girl. The one in the bikini drinking a cocktail. The one who sat down next to Julie as Julie was lying there perhaps still alive. She might be interesting to analyze."
"How so, Doctor?"
"She showed absolutely no shock or surprise or a sense of urgency as she sat there with her feet in the water looking over at Julie. Didn't you find that rather incongruent and contradictory as to how some one would act if they were to witness such an incident?"
"Maybe she was partying. Maybe she was too damn drunk."
"Maybe," says Monica. "Drunk like well rehearsed drunk."
"What do mean, Doctor?
"I don't know. It just seems to me that after watching that Asian girl and her reaction it was like some sort of entertainment conspiracy was going on. I mean--as real as Julie's suicide was--and as graphic as that video is--if you were to rerun that video on just the right TV show, introducing it in just the right way, it'd be just another a form of entertainment that fulfills that gray area between reality and fiction. You know? Like when you watch some contrived dramatic scene in a soap opera then immediately follow it with the local news?"
"Yeah, well, it is Las Vegas, Doctor. All sorts of crazy people come here to do all sorts of crazy things."
"Yeah. Crazy. And that's the kind of crazy that's interesting to me."
"What are you getting at, Doctor?"
Monica reconsiders her analysis.
"Oh, never mind. I guess I should expect this, given the current state of the news and entertainment culture."
He blows it off.
It is just then Beaulieu's cell phone twinkles the tune The Work Song. He thrusts his large right hand deep into his pant pocket and Monica's suggestive mind goes to work. The creative shrink that she is, and dirty minded as well, she images him either adjusting his private parts or playing a quick game of pocket pool. Being a diehard Freudian and forever reducing human behavior to its lowest common denominator, that being sex, she is again confronted with one of her own personal conflicts that she must constantly keep checkmated: are her observations of people truly objective, or has she too fallen prey to the culture? Her conclusion? Another analysis misconstrued by watching too much TV, once again distorting her sense of rational thinking.
"Sorry, Doctor. I've gotta go. Some sort of hostage situation on the other side of town. Nice meeting you, Doctor. Hope you figure out what ever it is you're trying to figure out."
"Yeah. Thanks, Detective."
He runs off.
"What a lovely black man," she says.
His Mother of Pearl Escalade flashes and beeps and she wonders how he keeps the machine so clean in a dusty place like southern Nevada. He blasts out of the parking lot. His siren muted, but the red and violet rack lights twirling on top. He holds up an open hand to say goodbye, crunching June bugs all the way out.
It grows quiet. Monica considers going to her favorite watering hole for a night cap, a sleepy little place on Fremont Street two blocks off of the old north Las Vegas Boulevard. She hops in her Jeep Wrangler. She reaches into her pant pocket for her keys and as she does the piece of paper that had fallen from Julie's hand flutters to the floorboard, unobserved.
Suddenly, her cell phone goes off.
"This is Monica."
"Jerry. Will you please leave me the hell alone."
"Monica, listen to me. You gotta come down here. There's this guy. He thinks he's freaking Elvis."
"Jerry. There must be a thousand and one people in this town who think they are freaking Elvis."
"Yeah, well, not like this one. This one's wired. I mean really really wired. He's got fuses and dynamite and all sorts of explosives paraphernalia duck taped all over his body. He just got through announcing to everybody down here that he's gonna blow up a hamburger stand."
Why does he want to big time blow up a hamburger stand?"
"Hell. I don't know. I'm just down here reporting the news. Come on down, Monica. You won't regret it. This is just your cup of tea."
Monica checks her sport watch.
It is just a few minutes past twelve.
She is reluctant.
"Alright, Jerry. You win this time. I'm on my way."
"Good evening Las Vegas. This is Jerry Seltzer of the Channel Five Fast Breaking News Team coming to you from the parking lot located directly across from the In 'N Out Burgers at the corner of South Dean Martin Drive and West Tropicana Boulevard. At this late hour one of the most beloved icons of Las Vegas fast food has taken a hostage and barricaded himself inside the In 'N Out, and it looks like just about everybody in the valley is down here waiting to see what Elvis is gonna do. From my vantage point I can just barely make out him in there. He is dressed in his familiar Elvis the Burgerman costume. He has a gun to her head and I am counting six...seven...possibly as many as eight sticks of dynamite duck taped to his person, and he definitely looks like he means business because he definitely does not look happy. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police has asked me to ask you to please not come down here as it will only add confusion of an already confusing situation, a request that makes a lot of sense to me. Channel Five is going to stay right here throughout the evening reporting to you every detail of this developing story. Stay tuned to Channel Five or follow us on the web as this police standoff is bound to get very interesting. This is Jerry Seltzer of the Channel Five Fast Breaking News team. Don't go away. We'll be right back..."
"Way to go, Jerry. You're as full of yourself as ever."
Monica clicks off her Sirius radio.
There was some sort of Chimera, Mistress of the Deep convention going on at that hour down on the strip, and evidently the ghouls got hungry. The scene around the In 'N Out is a zoo of occultist and night creatures and Sorcerers of Zoros, some dressed in butch, some dressed in drag, many yet to be categorized by the university sociologists and local liberal media.
Monica gets lucky and snags herself a parking space not too far from where all the action is taking place. She gets out. She slams her door and beeps her Jeep a couple times only to be confronted by a sea of Smartphones, iPads and other mobile devices all displaying the same grinning, yackking, finagling Jerry Seltzer.
She shakes her head.
Channel Five has set up a presence directly across from the soon to be nationally and, if all goes badly enough, internationally renowned fast food night spot. A white van with a multi-colored peacock on the side has its AC blowing, its flood lights glaring, its power generator blanketing the area with an obnoxious whir, tranquilizing the ever expanding, ever inquiring crowd.
Atop the van, high above the crowd, a boom is extended to its full thirty-five foot length. The remotely controlled cam on the end of the boom nimbly and annoying pans the crowd, zooms, pans the crowd some more, zooms some more, the bird's eye view transmitted back to Channel Five where it is delayed slightly, that way anyone out there mooning or fooing or shooting the bird can be quickly edited out.
Jerry is standing out on the side of the van dressed in his trademark orange tie, loosened, short sleeve green plaid shirt and double knit chocolate brown slacks and Monica just can't help herself, "God. What a dick". There is a camera crew is on Jerry catching his every fraudulent worry while another crew scans the crowd searching for that one bystander bold enough but ignorant enough to come forward and relate their emotional mis-observations, an essential ingredient in holding the TV viewer hostage during the commercial breaks.
Jerry is amicably walking back and forth in front of the crowd uncouthly sticking his microphone in people's faces. "Hi there. And what is your name?" Monica, in search of sanity, looks for Detective Beaulieu. He is at the front, standing in the bed of a pickup truck that has been requisitioned from some old boy who just got through losing a boat load of money at the craps tables, but the old boy does not seem to mind as this could be his big break. His Ford Ranger with Playboy mud flaps is on TV.
Beaulieu has the optimal vantage point for observing the escalating situation. He is very bravely standing head and shoulders above the crowd and Monica fights her way to get up to him, but some of Las Vegas' finest dutifully hold her back.
"Let 'er pass!" Beaulieu orders.
And they do.
"Glad you could make it, Doc." He helps her up into the truck bed. "What kept you?"
"Got hung up in some late night cell phone traffic."
Beaulieu nods like he totally understands.
"You don't mind if I observe. Do you?"
"Not at all, Doc. Glad to have you. Your insights just might come in handy."
Monica analyzes the highly volatile situation.
Two dozen LV cops and a dozen more SWATs have surrounded the restaurant. Their 9mm's and AR-15's are trained on the front of the glass enclosed eatery. The Nevada State police have cordoned off the southbound lanes of interstate 15 and all traffic on Dean Martin Drive has come to a gloriously confusing but fun filled dead stop. People have gotten out on the hoods to watch and to wait and catch a glimpse of the action. Some one out there has his radio cranked up. It's the tune Jumper by Third Eye Blind.
Center stage to all the drama is Elvis with hostage standing in the middle of the brilliantly lit fast food foyer. He is an over-weight, middle-aged, white male with fake sideburns and thinning slicked back hair, appropriately outfitted in a pure white jumpsuit accentuated by a glittering rhinestone laden cape, white patent leather shoes and oversized tinted sunglasses. He has taken the liberty of wrapping his hairy forearm around the long sweet neck of a very lovely Asian girl.
She is attired in a hot pink mini. She appears to be unscathed. With the assistance of the Channel Five news team in conjunction with the internet, Monica can see that she is turning the local crowd on and, she assumes, the TV viewers. By that hour most of Las Vegas has probably tuned in for some late night adult diversion and with all the media coverage Monica figures the lugubriously suffering Elvis must know that he is the host of the show. He is perspiring badly as if very close to the edge, but what really intrigues Monica is that the Asian girl does not seem traumatized in any manner. Then Monica takes another look at the girl. She has seen her before. She is the same Asian girl in the video who had sat down next to Julie, as Julie lay dying.
In an effort to keep the cops at bay, Elvis continues to press his sagging crotch against the Asian girl's bottom and Monica continues to try and figure the guy out. Though she would like to think of herself as an authority on local popular culture she has to admit: she has never heard of Elvis the Burgerman.
"Who is he?" She asks Beaulieu, as the crowd continues with its great expectations.
"Elvis Coffee. He pitches their burgers on TV. He's become one of Las Vegas' most beloved pop icons."
Monica takes that in.
"Okay. Now who is she?"
"Her name is Mai Lei Song. From what we know about her, she's some sort of cocktail waitress or showgirl or stripper. And yes, Doc. You would be correct in saying she is the same Asian girl we saw earlier in that video from the Paris, Las Vegas Hotel."
"A date gone sour?" The shrink asks.
"Perhaps. We're not quite sure. She might be doubling as a hooker or a high dollar call girl but we don't think she propositioned him. The way we got it she came down here with a couple of friends on a burger run and Elvis was just coming on his shift. Evidently things had not been going well between him and his boss because as soon as he walked in he very calmly propped the doors open, pulled a handgun and grabbed her and everybody ran for cover. He evidently got a whiff of her perfume and that was when he went completely berserk."
"What's that he's got in his other hand?"
"We think it's some sort of detonation device. You can just barely see the wire running down his arm to those sticks of dynamite duck taped to his person. Doc? We've got a live one here. I mean a real wannabe. You gotta hear this guy's story."
"And we will. But may I first make a suggestion?"
"Sure, Doc. Shoot."
She looks at him like please don't use that terminology.
"Whatever you say to him," she goes on to suggest, "don't say anything that comes out sounding like you're nuts, or you're a bad person, or your mother will never love you again."
"And one other thing, Detective."
"What's that, Doc?"
"Don't dare tell him that he will never be famous. That would make him feel like a nobody. And that will make him feel insecure. And that, I am quite sure, will really take him over the edge. Okay?"
"Now," the shrink says, continuing to study the situation, "let's go save Elvis."
Beaulieu cranks up his bullhorn.
"Elvis? This is Detective Joseph Beaulieu of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police! Lets try this again, Elvis! What seems to be the problem?"
In a moment, acoustically amplified by the wide open doors of the emptied out lobby, Elvis speaks.
"Those assholes! Those fucking assholes! They gypped me!"
"Who, Elvis? Who gypped you?"
"The assholes who run this God damned burger stand! It's all their fault. They talked me into coming out here from Rancho Cucamonga! They told me if I took this job they would get me a part in a movie or an audition down on the strip! They said I could eat all the burgers and fries and drink all the Doctor Peppers I wanted, just as long as I went around telling people how good the food is here! And look at what they did to me! God damn it! Just look at what they did to me!"
"What, Elvis? What did they do to you?"
"They got me all fat and dumpy! They got me all screwed up! They made me eat this shit until I was all hanging out and then do you know what they did to me? Do you know what they did to me?"
"No, Elvis! What did they do to you?"
"They got rid of me! They laid me off because I was starting to look like the real Elvis. They said I was giving the place a bad name. They took away my fame by taking away my image! Hell! I can't be famous looking like this!"
Beaulieu pulls the bullhorn away from his face.
"God. He is a mess."
He turns to the shrink for support.
But Doctor Monica Beerman is preoccupied with her own compassionate analysis. She has been in search of some one like Elvis Coffee for quite some time now. She considers him a working example of that very common psychological malady that is running ramped through the psyche of Western culture, Pseudo Celebrityism. She looks around at the colluding crowd wondering how many of those people are suffering, even unconsciously, from the same disorder as poor, deluded Elvis.
Beaulieu carefully amplifies, "I'm sorry, Elvis. I'm really sorry that you lost your job."
"And my girl friend too! Don't forget about her! She dumped me too!"
"Right, Elvis. And your girl friend to. But that doesn't give you the right..."
"--Easy," Monica interrupts.
Beaulieu looks at her.
"What this guy is going through?" She explains. "It sounds like a side effect of that disorder I was telling you about earlier. You know. Like what Julie had?"
"He thinks he's achieved enough fame where he does not feel accountable for his behavior. You know? Like celebrities sometimes do when they get busted for drugs, or drinking and driving? He's convinced himself that what has happened to him is someone else's fault, when in actual fact, it really is his fault."
"Well, okay Doc. So what do we do now?"
Monica takes a moment.
"Tell him very carefully that he could have made better choices. Tell him his choices were his and his alone."
"But tell him bad choices can be fixed. Tell him he must realize that he is famously human."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Famously human? It's an incongruent concept that just may pacify him."
"Doc, are you nuts?"
"Tell him! My guess is he will understand."
"Beaulieu figures what have I got to lose, but my job.
He puts the bullhorn back up to his face.
"Elvis? This is Detective Beaulieu again. You screwed up, Elvis! But that's okay, we can fix all that!"
Monica buries her face in her hands.
At that point Beaulieu figures he has run out of options. He rubs his hands over his chin wondering how in the world is he going to defuse this guy? He turns to Monica.
"Here. You seem to have a handle on this situation. You talk to him for a while."
He extends the bullhorn to her and she takes it.
"So what're you gonna tell him?" He asks.
She considers her strategy in prep for his therapy.
"I'm going to try and appeal to his sense of false celebrity."
"You're going to do what?"
"Something along the lines of, Elvis? Do you know how many people there are in this world who are just like you?"
"Yeah," says Beaulieu, "and he's gonna answer that question by blowing up their favorite hamburger stand."
Monica stares at her subject matter for a few more precious moments. She holds the bullhorn aside and decides she needs more information, more specific information. She asks Beaulieu, "what is his name?"
He looks at her confusingly.
"No. What is his real name."
"As far as we know, Doc, that is his real name."
She thinks, why in the world would anybody name their male child Elvis? She figures that could be part of the problem.
Sweetly, the shrink speaks to him.
"Elvis? Elvis Coffee?"
There is nothing, then, anemically, "who's that?"
"Elvis? My name is Doctor Monica Beerman. I'm a psychiatrist."
"I don't need no God damn shrink!!!"
"Elvis! Listen to me! Please! Listen to me! I think I understand what you are going through. I think I know who you are."
"No you don't! You don't understand me! Nobody understands me!"
"Oooh, but I do, Elvis. I do understand you. You see, Elvis. I have met a lot of people who are just like you."
"Damn it! I'm not crazy!"
"And you are right, Elvis. You are absolutely right. You are not crazy. As a matter of fact--by today's standards--you are quite normal and sane. You are only suffering, Elvis. You are enduring and trying to cope with a culture that is trying to control you and turn you into some one else."
Beaulieu is impressed. He looks at the shrink like, she just might be on to something here.
The mood and activities of the crowd suddenly shifts, becoming more social media introverted. Via their iPads and Smartphones there is a sense that this Doctor Monica Beerman is not only speaking to Elvis, she is trying to tell them something to. Except for the tunes emanating from up on the freeway, the entire surrounding area becomes deathly quiet and Monica considers how she will convince this poor unfortunate consumer of mass media that this is not his fault, though, in reality, it is his fault, due to the fact that he is too weak to resist the mass media.
Elvis is hyperventilating. The Asian girl is stiff in his arms. Monica is sure Elvis is extemporaneously acting but the girl still seems so rehearsed and scripted. Finally, ad libbing, Elvis begins his soliloquy and Monica becomes fearful. Though well meaning, it comes out sounding like a lament.
"Now you people out there you to listen to me and listen to me good. Before tonight I was Elvis Coffee, the Burgerman. Before tonight, before they took my image away, people loved me and respected me and I was on the fast track to fame as seen on TV. But now, after all this, after all I've done, I don't think anybody loves me anymore, and I don't think I'll ever get famous working here. Look at what they've done to me, everybody! Look at how I look on TV! I'm Elvis Coffee, the Burgerman, so get your cameras ready. I'm gonna give you a show now. I'm gonna give you a really big show now! Tonight, I'm gonna be famous forever!"
The media deluded man with the greasy slicked back hair shoves the handgun even harder against the Asian girl's head. She grimaces and squeaks and wiggles, but to Monica she still looks a bit too much like she's contrived and made up.
"Jesus," Beaulieu breathes. "That wacko's gonna blow her away, and when he finishes with her, he's gonna blow that hamburger stand all to hell. That's it, Doc. You've had your chance. Now it's mine. I've got sharp shooters trained on this guy. It's time to take him out."
Monica looks past Beaulieu to a small army of law enforcement personnel who are locked and ready. She starts thinking. She starts thinking real fast, realizing that she and Elvis are all out of time. She figures the people out there in TV land are watching this whole thing as if it were just another bad B movie. She knows that the difference between what they are experiencing and what she is experiencing is innocuous to them, because they are safe in their virtual worlds while she is seeing it for real and up close. And so she figures, 'No! I am not going to give in to the culture and go home to watch how this whole thing unfold on TV. I really do know the difference between reality and make believe'.
All over Las Vegas, at the casinos, along Fremont Street, in the strip clubs and out into the desert, people are in their hotel rooms or pickup trucks or limousines checking their lottery tickets, or smoking pot, or getting some, while they wait. Suddenly Jerry Seltzer comes back on, interrupting their evening social activities with some more late night must see TV.
"Hello, Las Vegas! This is Jerry Seltzer of the Channel Five Fast Breaking News Team again with an update on that hostage situation at the In 'N Out Burgers on South Dean Martin Drive. Elvis the Burgerman is still going strong. He's still holding that young Asian girl hostage and he's still got all that dynamite all over him and he's still making demands. The Las Vegas police have been in negotiations with the iconic pitchman for over an hour now and it looks like another one of those sex fetishes gone awry, and you know how sex fetishes go when they go awry. The Las Vegas police has once again asked me to ask you to please not to come down here. Yeah! Like that's gonna happen! Stay with Channel Five for the latest coverage on this fast breaking news story. And now, here's a word from our sponsor, Priscilla's, where fun and fantasy deliciously mix..."
Beaulieu looks to her.
"What's the matter, Doc?"
"Did you see that?"
Beaulieu looks at the burger stand again.
"Did I see what?"
Monica makes sure she saw it herself before she opens her mouth again.
"There's someone else in there."
"Besides the girl?"
"Yeah. Look there. Up front." She points. "Just to the left of the propped open doors. There's someone else in there. Someone is sitting in that booth with their back in the corner so that they won't get picked up by the cameras. It's a male with," she squints, "a camcorder."
"A digital camcorder. It looks like he's shooting Elvis."
"What the hell's with that?"
"I don't know. But we're gonna find out."
Monica thinks about how she's gonna do this. She wants to determine the identity of the person, but she does not want to get any one killed. She quick turns around one hundred eighty degrees and stares straight up into the blinding flood lights and the Channel Five boom cam then cranks up the bullhorn.
"Jerry Seltzer! Can you hear me, Jerry? Can you see me?"
She gives Jerry and the Channel Five News Team a full arm wave, but at that moment Jerry is engaged in his own professional analysis.
"...and as you probably already know, the idea of sex fetishes is not a new one to Las Vegas. Years ago there was a place up on old Las Vegas Boulevard where the Rat Pack would go for--shall we say--a little late night rest and relaxation after one of their wait! Wait just one minute, everybody! There's something going on down there! Someone is waving at us trying to get our attention. Let's zoom the Channel Five News cam in and see who it is. Can you do that? Lenny?"
Inside the Channel Five news van a nerdy college kid pulls his knobs and diddles with his joysticks. Lenny zooms the boom cam in and suddenly, all over Las Vegas, in the casinos, along Fremont Street, in the strip clubs and out into the desert, Monica's virtual image is interrupting their social activities now. Her voice is reverberating badly. It does not get picked up very clearly by the microphone, but her body language is unmistakable.
"...The front doors, Jerry! Zoom your cam in just to the left of the front doors!"
"Wow! Will you look at that, folks," Jerry says. "It's my good friend Monica Beerman. The one and only Doctor Monica Beerman of Monica Beerman Psychological Services, Las Vegas. It looks like the cops have brought in the expertise of a very experienced and very sexy lady."
"Damn it, Jerry! Zoom your cam in there! In there!"
She points at the front of the restaurant.
"What's she saying, Lenny? Can you pick her up, Lenny? What does she want moi to do?"
The message finally gets through.
Lenny pulls a few more of his knobs and zooms the boom cam in further. The techno mutant is astute enough to understand what Monica is after, and so he gets a good close up of the back of the head of the young white male sitting in the booth, along with a twelve ounce Coke and a crinkly piece of yellow paper cradling a pickle and onion cheeseburger.
Monica looks down from the requisitioned pickup truck at two bystanders who appear to be having a really great time.
"May I?" She asks them, and the two ladies celebrating their civil union offer up their iPad.
"Thank you," she tells them, "and congratulations."
They thank her back.
"Who is that in there?" Beaulieu asks, looking over Monica's shoulder at the image on the iPad display.
"Can't tell. He keeps facing towards Elvis. Let's see if we can get him to turn around."
Again, Monica cranks up the bullhorn.
"You in there! You with the camcorder! Who are you?"
The young man in the booth ignores the order.
"You in there! I'm talking to you! Identify yourself!"
The guy stops shooting. He leans and looks around the corner of the open door then blows it off and goes back to shooting Elvis.
Monica gets aggressive.
"You in there! You with the cam! What are you doing to that poor man?"
The young man hears this and gets fed up with this liberated woman's intrusions. He turns and points the camcorder out the propped open doors towards her, and the cops misidentify the cam as an Uzi and Beaulieu almost nearly gives the order and everybody hits the deck. But Monica stays cool and gets a good look at the guy. From way out there she observes his attitude and demeanor and she could swear that she has seen this him before, somewhere to do with The Media, but she can't quite put her finger on it. To return the intimidation, the young man zooms in on her and Lenny in the news van zooms the boom cam in on him and the guy's face completely fills everybody's mobile device, including the iPad Monica is holding.
"It's him," Beaulieu says.
"It's who?" Monica barks back.
"That's the guy who shot the video of your friend's suicide. What the hell's he doing in there?"
Monica would like to know that herself.
"Hey!" Elvis Coffee suddenly hollers. "Where the hell is everybody? Have you already forgotten about me?"
Monica gets back to work.
"Elvis! Elvis, it's me again, Doctor Beerman. Are you okay?"
"I'm okay! I'm okay! No. I'm not okay. I'm not okay."
"Elvis! Listen to me! That guy in there. The one with the camcorder. Who is he?"
"That guy in here?"
"Yes, Elvis. Who is he? Do you know him?"
With the handgun cocked to Asian girl's head, Elvis tries in vain to think. For a moment there is clarity, but much like Julie that clarity quickly disappears.
He says, "that guy is, is...that guy's gonna make me..."
Suddenly the double glass doors swing shut.
"What the f...," Beaulieu says. "He closed the doors. Whoever that guy is, he just closed the doors."
There is confusion. There is much confusion, and Monica and Beaulieu and everyone watching can plainly see that Elvis is experiencing an even higher state of anxiety. Some mild discourse goes on between the young man and Elvis and Monica interprets this as some form of psychological indoctrination to calm Elvis and get control of him again. She looks down at the borrowed Ipad. She tries to figure it out.
She breathes, "forever famous."
"What?" Beaulieu asks.
"I can plainly read the words on that guy's lips. That guy keeps repeating forever famous to Elvis, over and over."
"What's Elvis doing now?"
She looks again at the iPad.
"Every time that guy repeats that promise to Elvis, Elvis' eyes get bigger and bigger."
"Christ. What a mess," Beaulieu says.
At that point it becomes a waiting game, hopefully a short waiting game, as Channel Five does not want people's short attention span to cause them to lose interest and change the channel because Channel Five does not want to jeopardize their all important viewership.
The entire incident is being tweeted all over who knows where and the mobile devices people are cradling are transmitting those tweets and pics to those not lucky enough to be there. Monica looks around. People are milling about as if they are at Disneyland taking selfies with the In 'N Out Burgers behind them. Monica looks up at the interstate. It is a parking lot, completely hosed up and people are enjoying, listening to Jerry's play by play on their radios that are all tuned to the exact same Sirius station.
Suddenly there is movement within the burger stand and everyone gets ready. The guy with the camcorder gets out in front of Elvis and squats down to record the failed wannabe. Elvis, his crotch still firmly planted in the bottom of the young thing, begins maneuvering her towards the front door, his forearm still around her neck, the handgun still to her head. They shuffle. The guy keeps video recording. They shuffle some more. The guy video records some more. As they pass by, Elvis looks straight into the camcorder as if this is his big moment and he has arrived. With one hand on the camcorder and the camcorder up to his face, the guy reaches out and slowly swings open one door and Elvis is ready to meet his public. The flood lights blind him. There is a barrage of flashes from the sea of mobile devices.
Beaulieu breaths. "Jesus. He just urinated on himself."
Things get real quiet and Elvis does the stand up routine he'd been practicing for.
"You people out there! You came here to see me act? Well you just watch me! You just watch me now! I'm gonna put on a real show for you!"
He shoves the girl further out into the parking lot and she falls to her knees.
"This is it, folks. This is real news," Jerry says. "This is where the rubber meets the road."
The guy with the camcorder is right there behind Elvis, then beside Elvis, then directly in front of him capturing every grimace, every tormented expression, exhibiting absolutely no fear of being blown up or shot himself.
"I'm Elvis Coffee! The Burgerman! And tonight I'm gonna be famous forever!"
He raises the detonator high over his head with his thumb on the button and points the gun directly at the crowd and everyone, save the shrink and the cop, screams and runs.
"Take him!" Beaulieu orders.
And three sharpshooters do.
One in the head, two in the chest and the fantasy is over. Elvis groans, slumps to his knees, drops to his hands, falls flat on his face and his final close up is well recorded. Another Elvis has left a burger stand.
The sun was just breaking across the desert mountains when Jerry Seltzer and the Channel Five News Team were packing up. The interstate and South Dean Martin Drive are again in high gear as working people are commuting, enjoying their Starbucks coffee, catching the news on the radio that happened while they were asleep.
The Clark County coroner pulls up and a youngster cop helps him with the body.
"Detective Beaulieu? Detective Beaulieu?"
Beaulieu interrupts expressing his condolences to some Elvis Coffee fans.
"Yeah. what is it, Corporal?"
"Could you come here a minute, sir?"
Beaulieu and Monica walk over to where the young police officer is just about to zip up the body bag.
"What is it, Corporal?"
"Take a look at this, sir."
The young officer holds the hand gun out to Beaulieu.
"What is it?"
"It's a squirt gun, sir."
"It's a what?"
"Yes, sir. A piece of molded plastic. Take a look."
Beaulieu grabs the toy out of the young cop's hand. It is a very realistic likeness of a Taurus 357 service revolver.
"And look at this, sir," the young cop says.
"Yeah, I know. He was wired like a terrorist," Beaulieu responds.
"What do you mean, no?"
"Take a look at this, sir."
And Beaulieu does.
"They're cardboard tubes from the centers of toilet tissue rolls, sir. They've been painted red with wires inserted into them to make them look like sticks of dynamite."
"Take a look, sir!"
And he does.
"What the hell was he thinking?" Beaulieu says.
"He was thinking celebrity. He was thinking never to be forgotten. He was hoping for everlasting fame," Monica explains and Beaulieu is still in denial. "Detective? Last night at the morgue I asked you a very revealing question about your relationship with our culture."
"Yeah? And what was that?"
"How fast do you think you could get famous?"
Beaulieu looks down at another working example of Doctor Beerman's sociological theory. He suddenly feels retirement coming on.
It is just then the young man with the digital camcorder comes strolling out the front doors of the In 'N Out Burgers with a breakfast muffin and a hot cup of coffee, black. He looks across the empty parking lot to his waiting Moto Guzzi Corsa and starts heading in that direction.
"Hold up a minute, buddy," Beaulieu orders. "I'd like a word with you."
The young man stops and turns around.
"Sure thing, Detective. No problem, Detective. What seems to be the problem?"
The cop and the guy exchange a few choice words and Beaulieu tells him it would be a good idea for him to come down to the station to answer a few questions. The young man agrees then confidently strolls off with an air like he has done absolutely nothing immoral, nor unethical, nor illegal, and he may very well be right.
But in Doctor Monica Beerman's honest professional opinion, she would beg to differ.