Awe choked off her voice. We all had entered the lobby and stopped in our tracks. The cavernous inner chamber of the Luxor was gold upon gold, gold floors, gold walls, gold ceiling. The place was a temple, and there was no question who God was.
The lobby was a pulsing crowd of people and we were pushed ahead by the current. Everyone stared at us as they passed, eyes flicking from me to Jen to John’s naked ass. I nervously adjusted the guitar strap around my neck.
The shotgun was at my side, concealed under my coat. We probably drew the eyes of a dozen security guys working the floor. But at the sight of us, not a single one of them was thinking, “gun.” They were thinking “retards,” sure, but not “gun.”
John said, “Over there.”
He had found an entrance labeled EGYPTIAN BALLROOM, outside of which were two huge stand-up posters featuring a smiling fifty something man who must have been Dr. Marconi, since his name was boldly displayed under the picture.
A lady sat at a table with a laptop PC and stacks of programs and brochures fanned out on a table. There were two guys in suits with thin cell phone headsets on, guarding the door.
We strode toward them. My heart skipped a beat. This is as far as we had planned.
As we neared I glanced through the partially opened door to see if anything was happening in there, such as Lucifer crashing up through the floor. He wasn’t.
What I could see was that the ballroom was huge, a floor like half a football field. In the center was an enormous ice sculpture that had to have been fifteen feet high. It was an angel with its wings spread, hands upstretched to the ceiling. It must have had water pumping up through it because a rain of liquid rolled off its crystalline wings like a waterfall, splashing into a pool at its feet. The crowd sat in rows of folding chairs around it. Every seat was taken. Each member of the audience had their eyes closed.
The amplified voice of Dr. Marconi drifted into the lobby:
“Okay, everyone. Settle down. I know this is frightening for some of you but what we’re dealing with is real, real as the person sitting next to you. But I need all of you, all of your concentration, all of that power, that openness of the mind for this to work. Now we’ve just heard from Betty, who says her husband disappeared under mysterious circumstances last year. His name is Harold Alexander. Let’s all concentrate on Harold Alexander. Now clear your minds. Each of you picture, in your head, an apple . . .”
I had left the six thousand dollars from my envelope with a ponytailed roadie who gave us fifteen minutes alone with the concert truck while he went off to smoke. The guitar slung over my back was made entirely of a crystal-clear glass or polymer. I was wearing a white leather overcoat trimmed in long, luxuriant green fur and an enormous white sombrero edged in a pattern of fiber-optic lights.
Jennifer had donned a tailed white tuxedo/ringmaster coat over her T-shirt and shorts, the coat long enough to leave only bare legs emerging from the hem. A black feather boa gave her an outfit that sort of looked intentional. Big Jim was wearing an incredibly tight roadie jumpsuit with a flashy Elton John logo on the back. He had a huge Casio keyboard under his arm and pulled a dolly behind him loaded down with two black boxes the size of footlockers.
John wore a black jockstrap, a pair of white chaps and a small purple Robin Hood cap that covered his groin. He was naked from the waist up save for a tight leather vest and a bundle of gold chains. We all wore sunglasses.
As we arrived at the table, Marconi’s voice boomed, “Now, now, everyone be calm. Who’s next? Does anyone else have someone they’d like to contact?”
The guards and check-in lady stared at us in confused amusement as we approached. The lady at the table, trying to suppress a smile, finally said, “Uh, do you have tickets?”
John said, “No. We’re Elton John.”
“We’re, uh, the band,” I said, cutting him off quickly. “We’re playing in there after the séance. Show us the back entrance and we’ll—”
“Dave!” shouted John. “Look!”
It was Shitload. He was at the far end of the ballroom, shuffling between seats, moving toward the stage. He wore an ill-fitting suit jacket, jeans and a cowboy hat that we knew covered a lumpy head wound.
“Yo, I gots an old homey I’d like you to contact for me, fool,” he said as he approached Marconi.
Dr. Marconi’s smile faltered at the sight of Shitload, limping with joints bent at odd angles, his body puffy and stretched as if ready to burst. The jacket didn’t completely conceal the gaping shotgun wound in his midsection.
Shitload said, “His name is Korrok the Slavemaster from the eighth plane, also known in some realms as Baa’aaa’aaa’aab and in others as the Lord Zanthk All-Bzzki’l Shadd’uuul’l L’luuu’ddahs L’ikzzb-lla Khtnaz.”
The guards and the door lady all turned their attention to him, not sure if this was part of the show but sensing something was about to go way, way wrong.
I stepped up to the door and ran my hand along my side, felt the long, rigid shotgun hidden behind my overcoat. I was about to tell Door Lady that we were in the midst of an emergency that only rock and roll could solve and thus had to be let in at once.
It was the guard to my left. I looked down, realized six inches of shotgun barrel was exposed where my coat had folded back.
Quickly, I whipped it out and pointed it at his face, freezing him in mid-lunge.
John said, “It’s not a gun! It’s part of our act!” at the exact same moment I said, “I’m a cop! I’m undercover!”
Then, over the loudspeaker:
“AGGGHHH!! MY BALLS!!!”
I spun and saw Dr. Marconi fall to the floor, grabbing his punched groin.
Shitload loomed over him.
Gasps rippled across the audience.
I sprinted into the ballroom. Guards muscled past me, rushing the stage.
Shitload punched the first guard in the groin so hard it flung his body back five feet. The other retreated.
I raised the shotgun, leveling it at Shitload.
“FREEZE!” I shouted, for some reason. A lady screamed at the sight of the gun. Shitload turned his back to us and leaned forward. His pants split. A fleshy, puckering protrusion formed and pushed its way through the slit, looking like the end of a flesh trumpet.
With a bassy thump and a smell like burnt sulfur, Shitload farted himself far into the air.
The crowd went wild, chairs clanging down all around us. I tracked Shitload with the barrel of the shotgun as he climbed a hazy contrail of shimmery methane. He landed atop the giant ice angel. Shitload crouched on one wing, raised his arms in a “touchdown” motion and said something at the top of his voice that was probably very profound and ominous but was drowned out by the absolute bedlam in the crowd below.
I fired. Shitload exploded.
Hey! That was easy!
An eruption of blood and hamburger stained the wings of the angel red and pink. I felt a momentary euphoria of victory, ready to be carried off on shoulders. I should have known better.
Out of Justin’s guts poured, not the white buzzing worms, but a shower of black specks that could have been coffee beans. They bounced and flecked off the wings of the angel and plinked into the water below.
I edged up to the pool with the shotgun. Dark shapes started writhing and splashing below the surface.
A soft hand landed on my shoulder and I turned to see the sharp, brown eyes of Albert Marconi.
“Son, I think we need to get the people out of here.”
Big Jim was behind him, still toting the keyboard. Marconi said, patiently, “Don’t you think? We haven’t much time.”
I turned, ran, fired the shotgun into the air and shouted, “Bomb! There’s a bomb in the fountain! Everybody run for your lives! Please don’t not panic!”
The words were completely lost in the stampede caused by my shotgun blast. I bumped into John in the crowd.
“Where’s the bomb?”
“There’s no bomb, there’s something in the—”
It was Jen. She was yelling and pointing at the fountain. I turned just as one of the seven-legged wig monsters flung itself out of the pool, in a spray of water.
The beast landed on the carpet on its little baby-like hands, looked around, meowed, then disappeared. In a blink it was clinging to the back of an elderly black woman, scorpion tail buried down into the base of her spine.
Another of the little black beasts emerged. Another. Then three more. They crawled, leapt, clamped themselves onto victims. A fat guy went flailing past me with one of the things on his chest; a bearded man was trying to shake one off his leg.
One of the wig monsters ran and jumped at Jim. He swatted it like a baseball with his Elton John keyboard, then bashed the heavy Casio in half over its prone body in a spray of white and black keys.
Jen was on the other side of the fountain, kicking one of the beasts to death. I ran toward her, blew a wig monster in half, worked the pump and realized I had no more shots. I flung the gun at another one of the monsters, missed, hit an elderly man in a wheelchair instead, toppling him over.
I was kicking through the sea of blue chairs, closing on Jen. Two of the wig beasts were bearing down on me. No, three. One of them crouched and launched itself at me—
The beast was batted away by a folding chair, wielded by John.
He screamed “YEAH!” in a dead-on impersonation of pro wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage, grasping the folded chair by two legs. He swung again and flattened another of the beasts, screaming, “Have a seat, bitch!”
There were at least a hundred of the wig monsters bouncing around the ballroom now. Victims littered the floor by the dozen.
I flinched at the sound of a sharp gunshot, spun to see a middle-aged lady holding a little chrome pistol. She shot one of the things, killed it, took shots at another, missed. The beasts ganged up on her, three stinging her simultaneously. I heard someone shout, “Becky!” from behind me. A tall guy with a heavy brown beard pushed through the chairs. “BECKY! HONEEEEY!”