The Fifth Step
All the while, Doug mulled over how to implement his getaway that evening to the Rio. A five hundred dollar ticket assured a great seat. He doubted anyone attending an adult video banquet would recognize him. From what Jasmine had told him, she was the only potential faith-seeker in the bunch. Tiring out Missy was the key.
Missy had led the praise and worship at the morning conference. Afterward, Doug surprised her with five hundred dollars to spend on the kids or to buy unique gifts for friends at home. By three o’clock Saturday afternoon, Missy motioned Doug over to a bench between Caesar’s Palace and the fashion mall, out of breath from chasing Stevie.
“What would you like to do tonight?” Doug asked. “I’m ready to have some fun.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “You’ve been Mr. Leisure. I’ve been breaking up fights and keeping our children in line.”
“But there’s a lot I’d like to see.”
“I’m going to go to bed early.” Missy pulled her coat tight around her. The temperature had warmed a few degrees, but the wind carried gusts upwards of forty miles an hour. “The kids are worn out and so am I. Do what you want. There are enough headliners in Vegas on the weekends to keep you busy all night.”
Doug waved her into a boutique. He bought her four hundred dollars worth of her favorite cosmetics. “I think I’ll play things loose tonight. Maybe take the monorail and see the sights. I promise I’ll be home before 2:00 a.m.”
Missy hugged her cosmetic packages and sniffed the air. “I need to find a restroom to change Douggie. Whatever you want to do tonight is fine.”
Yes, there is a God. Thank you, Lord!
“Chores to do while I’m gone,” Stone said and handed Ike a list. “If the least I do tonight is cause Jasmine discomfort, I’ve succeeded. If I find her alone, I’ll kill her.”
Ike shook his head. “She’s the bomb these days, impossible to get close to. I did a film with her two weeks ago. The lady’s a freaking nutcase. She puts herself all out there, and her radical shit makes money.”
“I despise the bitch. I’ve got a four-hour drive ahead.” Stone studied his friend. Ike’s creative side showed his genius—a fine artist and an intelligent man. The irresponsible, shallow side of him overrode his common sense at times. “No women are to be here while I’m gone. Understand?”
“No problem, but seriously, I wish you wouldn’t go.”
“Try and stop me!”
“You need a shrink who knows Tai Kwan Do to stop you.”
“I tried shrinks. They didn’t help.”
Though he wasn’t a Muslim, Stone believed one line from the Koran, which said, “Thou shalt cut out the tongue of a liar.” All women are full of deceit. The world would be a tolerable place without their voices. His mother’s voice resounded in his head. God should have created females without tongues. However, Ike wouldn’t understand that sentiment.
Doug left the Trump Tower around eight o’clock and hailed a cab. He told Missy he felt like wearing a sports jacket in case he decided to take in an expensive show. She demanded he would wear his overcoat and a scarf to keep him warm in the wind.
As he exited the cab at the Rio, a needle-like tickle crawled up his spine. Not a tickle of excitement, rather the shiver came from something loathsome. Each step Doug took toward the entrance door increased an impending sense of doom. His labored breathing slowed his pace, and he stopped to catch his breath. Maybe he should turn around and leave. He shouldn’t have come in the first place.
The flashing bright lights over the entrance irritated Doug’s eyes. He slipped on a pair of sunglasses he’d bought at the MGM. He couldn’t shake the eerie feeling swirling inside him. He spun around. Had someone brushed into him? No. No one was even close to him, except for a car idling in front of the valet station.
He stared at the car drawn to an emblem on the rear window. A valet ran down the ramp after parking a different vehicle, opened the door of the black Monte Carlo, and pulled away from valet parking. Doug could see the emblem, a Star of David with an upside-down cross, the same emblem Jasmine described on the phone. The customer who’d dropped off the car was nowhere in sight.
The tingling shiver grew in him and another plan. If he could find out whose car the Monte Carlo was, he could help Jasmine get rid of the bum. Whoever was stalking her knew she’d be here. He came either to pay her homage or to do her harm. Doug inhaled a chest full of pride. He wasn’t leaving the Rio until he identified who owned that car.
With renewed energy, he entered the casino, checked his coat and scarf, and headed toward the Rio Pavilion Convention Center. The dark glasses seemed to be working. No one in the milling crowds walked up and asked if he was Reverend Doug Alcott.
The sound of slots and the sight of entertainers descending from the ceiling throwing prizes set this casino apart from the Trump Tower’s business-like atmosphere. The vivid South American décor with brilliant colors engaged every one of his senses. The Brazilian-like music and dancing might have energized Missy into wanting to Samba, a dance at which she excelled. She swiveled her body with the best.
A flicker of guilt crept into a corner of his mind. Maybe he’d bring Missy to the Rio before they flew back home. He shook his hands. If he kept thinking about Missy, he’d end up running back to the Trump Tower.
Doug passed an ad for the AVN Awards that covered one whole wall in pink, too much pink. Yet, the right color choice for a porn industry banquet. He strolled, ticket in hand, toward the ballroom. Almost nude to brazenly nude photos greeted his eyes and spiked his senses. His mind bounced between erotica and disgust. What business did a child of God have here? The erotica won. Soon he would see his Jasmine live.
A huge black man dressed in a white tuxedo and black bow tie stopped him at the entrance door. “Ticket?”
Doug handed him his ticket. The man ripped the top half off and slapped it into Doug’s palm. Then he turned and put his hands behind his back wiggling his fingers. “Just because you’ve got a second-row seat, doesn’t mean you’ll sit in it.”
Doug slipped a twenty-dollar bill between the black man’s fingers, and he escorted Doug down to second-row center.
A pretty blonde wearing a micro-mini bikini covered with feathers approached him expecting him to order. “Anything to drink?”
“I don’t drink. I just watch.” Doug smiled and gave her another twenty. “Don’t bother to ask again.”
She grunted and clopped away.
A quick look around and Doug found himself sucking in his gut. Many male attendees were muscled hunks, as fit and trim as he’d been when he was a middle linebacker. Much of Doug’s muscle had turned to flab. Bi-weekly attempts at exercise weren’t working. Weighing two hundred and fifty-five pounds at six-foot-four, he’d lost most of his former conditioning tone.
I need to lose twenty pounds.
The tasty dinner surprised him—no rubber chickens served here. The salad, fruit, and vegetables tasted scrumptious. The succulent steak was a small but delicious filet mignon.
He eyed the way the men were dressed. Everything from printed tees showing off huge tattoos to tuxedos and black bows ties covered Mafia-like to normal bodies. With his sports coat on, Doug considered himself overdressed, but not out of place.
The nominees appeared and took their seats at the front row of tables. Doug sucked in deep breaths as Jasmine slid into a chair only two tables from his. Her brown eyes and milky white skin complemented each other as the spotlight passed over her. She was taller than Doug expected. Her dark brown hair draped down past her shoulders. She yawned, sprawled out in her chair, and ignored all the glitz.
Her dress shimmered with sequins. Made of layers of sheer see-through skin-colored fabric, she looked like a glittering nude with extra layers of material covering her private parts, parts that tantalized him in her films. She spoke to only one person, the man sitting at a table across from hers. Doug figured he was her agent, Harry Heart, because several other starlets sat around him dressed in vampire black. On her big night, she appeared alone and sad.
All the women wore dresses that left their breasts three-quarters exposed.
The lights dimmed and the Emcee took the stage. Doug kept his focus on Jasmine. She fiddled with her cell. He hadn’t contacted her in five days. He couldn’t ring her, but he could text.
You look beautiful.
Jasmine jerked in her chair and stared at her phone. Then her head swiveled first left, then right.
Second-row center sitting amongst the trolls.
She spotted him and leaped up. She must have realized she’d have to hurdle over the tables to get to him through the crowd and plopped back down.
Oh God, Doug, you’ve just made me the happiest girl in the world.
She waved. Her thumbs moved at a rapid pace.
It’s nothing, lol. Our agents pick out our outfits.
He once thought lol meant ‘lots of love.’ Jasmine corrected him.
Glad you’re not a vampire.
The girls in black didn’t get nominations.
A gloomy expression covered Jasmine’s face when she didn’t win her first four nominations. Why anyone would want to win Best Actress in an Oral Sex Scene, Doug thought. She seemed disappointed, frowning and kicking the floor a lot. Two hours into the show, the announcer introduced nominees in the category, Best Actress in a Heterosexual Group Scene. Jasmine moved to the edge of her seat. The Master of Ceremonies read the names and opened the envelope. “And the winner is—Jasmine Clyne for Ambushed.
Up onto the stage, she raced, pumped her arms, and bounced around. “I want to thank Ronny Rhodes and Headhunter for their supporting roles. They’re great guys to work with.”
She pointed her index finger at her cheek and said, “I’m nervous with clothes on.”
Laughter erupted. She moved close to the microphone. “One more thing and I’ll sit down. In my whole freaking life, only one man ever inspired and believed in me. He got into my head and I kept him there. He’s the only man I’ve ever loved. He knows who he is, and I couldn’t have won this without him. Thank you, darling.”
A collective gasp went up. People glanced around as if some magical suitor would appear. The whispers flew, and Doug’s head swelled.
Stone sipped a Virgin Mary as Jasmine accepted her award. He saw her glance in his direction. No. Her gaze fell in front and to the left of where Stone was. A tall, husky man sat there looking a little disheveled. He seemed a bit in awe of Jasmine and out of place in this crowd. Could he be the love of the bitch’s life?
Once the first award went Jasmine’s way, so did all the rest—Actress of the Year, Best Picture for Ambushed, Best Actress in a Gonzo film, and the final award, Performer- of-the-Year, where she’d been nominated for her work in three films. Each time she thanked her fellow performers by name and the man in her life.
Jasmine was on stage accepting her Performer-of-the-Year Award when Doug’s spine burned. He turned his head toward the row behind him and to his right. A man with steel-blue eyes sat astride a chair leering at Jasmine and stirring a drink. The look on his face shot either hate or lust rays at her. Grizzled and unshaven, his leather-worn cheeks spoke of a life of outdoor work, like a cowboy of old. His spiked hair told Doug this was no cowboy.
Jasmine descended the stage. Doug sent her a text message.
I think your stalker is in the third row—cowboy shirt, blue jeans, and string-tie.
She looked where Doug instructed her. Her eyes widened. She said something to Harry Heart. Heart shrugged.
I have protection. I know that guy, and you may be right.
Doug bet this man drove the Monte Carlo. I’ll watch to see what kind of car he drives. A black Monte Carlo was in valet parking when I arrived.
Her fingers raced across her cell. Be careful, he’s one mean, nasty guy. Let me know tomorrow. Love you.
I love you, too.
Jasmine glided eloquently on stage for the closing ceremonies. The sad little girl who entered two hours earlier was sad no longer. Doug left with most of the crowd. He slowed his pace as he exited the ballroom and watched for the suspected stalker with the string tie. Within seconds, the man came out, paced back and forth as if disturbed about something, and then tried to go back inside. Two-door attendants stopped him. The man’s posture spoke confidence and skill. Maybe he was an expert trained in martial arts. The black man who had escorted Doug to his seat joined the attendants.
Thwarted from going back inside the banquet room, Jasmine’s suspected stalker wandered around near the entrance for several minutes. Doug retrieved his overcoat from check-in and sat down at a slot machine watching String Tie from a good distance away. As the man left the Casino, he glanced in Doug’s direction. Did String Tie recognize him? He couldn’t tell. Doug followed him out a few moments later.
As Doug walked into the cold, the man was standing at the valet station waiting for his car. Doug stayed near the exit doors watching as the black Monte Carlo pulled up, and the man got in. A surge of energy enlivened him and a chill ran down Doug’s spine. “Gotcha!”