Well, I promised you and ending and I delivered. Hope you like it and it made the 14-week journey worthwhile. I have lots to say about the process and the experience, but I'll leave that to next week, where we put a button on this story with its end-tying epilogue. But until then, the end is near...only 2,000 or so words away. Enoy!
And In The End...
“Curtis Stanfield should be arrested, not celebrated!” bellowed C.D. Rappet, head of Stop Predatory Gambling. His shouts were punctuated by a chorus of affirmative “Yeahs!” by the hundreds of picket sign-wielding followers surrounding him. “This is the new Jackass! But where Jackass showed acts of physical irresponsibility, The Spin is an act of social and financial irresponsibility!”
Rappet’s tirade on CNN filled the 72-inch screen in Curtis’s suite, and flooded the room in 18-speaker surround sound.
“Well, at least he called The Spin by its proper name this time,” Joey said. “He rarely ever mentions the brand.”
“Can I ask why we are watching this?” Curtis snapped. “Please, turn it off. Turn everything off!”
The Spin—not just the brand, but the physical act itself—was now less than 30 minutes away. The tension in the room was not just palpable, but almost audible, like one of those multiple cello-and-violin soundtracks used by 1950s film directors to heighten audience anxiety.
Curtis raised his gaze from the floor and looked at himself in the massive mirror that lined a whole wall.
“I can’t believe you managed to jam all these logos on this stupid suit. I look like the starting grid at a NASCAR race.”
“More like Morgan Spurlock in the Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Kleinman said matter-of-factly. “I did that deal.”
“At least it’s Armani,” Lisa reminded him, trying to break the tension.
“Well that changes everything, doesn’t it!” Curtis said as he paced. “I’m sure people will overlook the tackiness of this outfit knowing its sterling pedigree!”
Nobody said anything for over two minutes before Kleinman had the guts to break the silence and state the obvious.
“Curtis, I know you’re nervous. It’s natural. Expected. This has become—YOU have become!—big fucking news. It’s like you’re getting married; you’re getting cold feet. Trust me, I know, I’ve been there four times.”
Cue some well-needed nervous laughter from all.
“But you’re almost there,” he continued. “A half hour to go. Look how far you’ve come! Right now, you’ve got just one more step to go, one last choice to make—red or black. That’s all you have to think about.”
Curtis sighed and slumped into an oversized distressed leather couch, sounding like a free-falling stuntman hitting an airbag. A semblance of a grin did its best to crack through his lips.
“Yup, one last choice,” he said.
“You made your mind up on which color yet?” Kleiman asked.
“No, still up in the air,” Curtis replied. His grin grew wider. Full ear-to-ear. “And besides, even if I did, you know I couldn’t tell you.”
“No harm in asking!” Kleinman laughed and threw up his hands.
“But lots of harm in telling,” Joey said in mock menace, repeatedly punching his open left hand with his clenched right fist.
Joey jumped on Curtis and hugged him. Kleinman and Lisa stood back and breathed relief.
“Dance time,” said Curtis as Joey pulled him from the couch. He hitched his pants, buttoned his garish jacket, straightened his hair and did his best Chubby Checker impression. “Come on everybody, let’s do The Spin!”
--- --- --- ---
Even though the weather was a sunny 60 degrees (a good 10 degrees higher than the usual February average), those who gathered to see The Spin live at the Wynn properties were dolled up in furs and foulards. Socialites, high-rollers, local celebs and well-dressed wannabes nudged up against one another and blew air kisses to those they couldn’t reach across corridors and gaming tables. The whole scene—and indeed a scene it was—was reminiscent of glory days when multi-million-dollar prize fights were the town’s top attraction.
The Spin, however, had eclipsed the numbers and the hype associated with boxing or UFC or even the Super Bowl. Estimates on the North American betting line alone topped $2 billion, while guesses on international action doubled or even tripled that. Dead presidents led to dead precedents.
All over the Wynn, the unprecedented had become the norm as well. Since noon, roulette wheels at all tables ground to a halt, opening a five-hour window dedicated exclusively for bets on The Spin itself. All restaurants had been turned into differing, and escalating, levels of VIP service, with The Spin beamed live within. (Even the Sports Book section had been converted into an exclusive cigar-club arena at $250 a seat, with all screens focused on The Spin.) All staff members were dressed in either red or black, except for a handful garbed in jarring, rhythm-breaking green to pay homage to the unspeakable you-know-what.
Curtis exited the express elevator and was met by Polly Kamins, who walked him over to where his limo was waiting. Kleinman shook his hand and saluted. Joey embraced him in a loud, back-slapping hug. Lisa gave him a long kiss on each cheek, followed by what could be interpreted as a knowing wink. Curtis leapt up on the SUV’s chrome step, waved goodbye, and climbed into the back seat. He felt like an astronaut on one of those old Apollo or Gemini missions.
The vehicle was vast, almost as big as his suite, with just about the same amount of luxurious amenities. It was almost embarrassing being there alone.
“Seems like a waste just to go around the block,” Curtis shouted at the driver, who may have been in another area code.
“That’s quite the trip for me,” the driver responded over the intercom system. “Sometimes I get booked just to go from one end of a casino to the other!”
Curtis didn’t know if he was joking, but given the surreal nature of what was going on outside the limo’s tinted windows, he didn’t doubt the driver.
To his right, the Schwinn bikes were still humming. Above him, despite the morning’s tragedy, ad-pulling single-engine planes crisscrossed in the sky like mosquitoes. High-definition projections of his image and the Fox logo painted the Wynn’s backside walls. And as the limo made its final left turn onto a closed-to-traffic Las Vegas Boulevard, Curtis shook his head in awe. Polly was right. Literally. People. As far as his eyes could see. Just people. An ocean of humanity, parted neatly in two by what seemed to be a mile of rent-a-fence.
They cheered and shouted as he drove by. They held signs, some hand-painted, others rudimentarily printed, saying things like “I Put My Life Savings on Red!” or “Come on Curtis! Daddy Needs a New Pair of Shoes!” or “Better Red Than Dead" or "Once You Go Black, You Never Go Back.” They waved and jumped and tried to spin in mid air in tribute.
“Un-fucking-real,” said the driver.
The two helicopters had already gently deposited Kanye and Jay-Z on the elevated stage, and just as Curtis passed under it, surrounded by hundreds of fist-pumping teenagers, his cellphone buzzed in his pocket.
“Strange,” he said to himself, “I thought I had turned it off.” He looked down before turning it off for good. It was yet another well-wisher, one of the hundreds he’d received in the past 24 hours. But this special well-wish was particularly well-timed.
“Mr. Stanfield?” the intercom buzzed. “We’re here.”
Curtis crouched as he made his way through the limo’s cavernous seating area to the window frame that separated him from the driver. He reached over and handed him a $100 bill as a tip, then leaned in and whispered something in the driver’s ear that left him laughing.
“Sure thing!” the driver said. “That’s just the way I like it!”
White-gloved Wynn valets opened up the limo’s back door, and Curtis was sucked into a vortex of crazy that stood between him and the casino’s front doors. Mixed among the Stop Predatory Gambling disciples were more fans, but these were more fervent, even more desperate than the ones that lined the strip. They were crying and fainting.
“Curtis, touch my baby!” one wailed as she held out a filthy child in diapers. “Bring my baby good luck!”
Curtis ducked behind his security detail and plowed his way into the Wynn Encore, where Cojo was waiting with his microphone. Cojo danced and feigned fawning over Curtis’s clothes, and asked a bunch of questions that Curtis thought to be somewhat over-the-top. He tried to answer wittily, but couldn’t concentrate over the noise, the lights, the people and the camera flashes.
Somehow, his official chaperone squad delivered him on time to the doors of the Encore Theatre, where they waited for the somewhat unfamiliar sound of Blue Oyster Cult as his cue. At the first note, Polly herself put her hand between Curtis’s shoulders, and gave him a shove.
“Go make history!” she shouted above the din.
And what din it was. The crowd went crazy as Curtis made his entrance and walked down the aisle toward the stage. Sheer pandemonium.
Climbing the lucky seven steps to his on-stage position, Curtis tried to focus on who was who in Team Red and Team Black. The smoke and the lasers and the frantic, multi-color Vari-Lites made it hard to see, but Curtis could make out the Kardashian sisters, Donald Trump, Kirstie Alley, Charlie Sheen, Joan Rivers, Sylvester Stallone and Kathy Griffin clapping along to the music. Even though his senses were being carpet-bombed by electronic stimuli and internal emotion, he had enough composure to shake his head ever so slightly and mouth the sentiment “Oy…” as he performed the pre-determined bow to each team.
At that moment, two overhead spots erupted like volcanoes, illuminating the positions of button-pusher Muhammad Ali and the quintet of lever-pullers.
The countdown drum roll cracked the sky and caught Curtis somewhat off guard. He actually quivered a bit as the rapid snare snaps brought all the other noise and commotion to an immediate halt.
Curtis remained in a slight state of shell shock as the $4 million commemorative chip was brought to him. Standing upright in a Tiffany silver box, Curtis plucked it out from its velvet pinch and rolled his thumb and forefinger over his embossed profile that adorned it. It was way heavier than he figured it was going to be. “Good workmanship,” he thought.
The drum roll, while lasting only ten seconds, seemed to linger for an eternity in Curtis’s head.
The anticipation was suffocating.
Finally…the sharp cymbal crash.
And as the world waited for Curtis Stanfield to reveal his “this or that” decision…he chose “the other.”
In the first unchoreographed move of the night, Curtis spun on his heels and turned his back on the two teams, the pusher, the pullers and the spinning wheel on stage.
Then he flipped $4 million dollars worth of iconography high over his shoulder.
As the commemorative chip slowly arched its way through the air, as the audience in house and around the world gasped, as celebrities and executives looked on in bewilderment, Curtis turned his body 90 more degrees north, took 25 more steps into the wings and out a door to the theater’s loading dock.
The chip landed with a soft thud on the roulette table’s velvet layout, bounced a couple of times and spun on its axis for a bit before finally flattening out to a stop, smack-dab on the intersection of numbers 17, 18, 20 and 21.
The silence and disbelief inside the Encore Theatre held in suspended animation for a few seconds before crumbling under a pile-driver of outrage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please!” Ryan Seacrest pleaded as he bounded across the stage trying to regain control of what had turned into mayhem. “We’ll get to the bottom of this! In the meantime, once again, here’s The Black Eyed Peas!”
As is usually the case in an earth-shattering moment, its catalyst becomes enveloped in a vacuum of eerie calm. Curtis walked through the valley of the shadow of his cataclysm with uncanny poise. As people scrambled around him, he leisurely, deliberately climbed into the limo for a scheduled pick-up he had arranged less than a half hour ago.
This time, he wasn’t left alone in the vast passenger temple.
There waiting for him was a familiar face.
A stunning, long-haired blonde.
One who jumped on him with glee and smothered him in wet kisses.
It was Rockwell, a little worse for the wear and tear, some bald patches where fur once was, but still the same happy-go-lucky mutt he’d always been before the accident. He was joined in barking frolic by Shaynie, who bounded over the window frame into the back seating area like an equestrian champion. Curtis’s Armani suit was soon covered in more dog hair than corporate logos.
“Uh, where to, Mr. Stanfield?” the intercom buzzed.
Curtis replied slowly, drawing out each syllable and slapping each consonant with a sense of fatigued liberation. It was almost as if every word or two was its own unique sentence.
“Just drive,” he smiled.
“And keep going.
"Keep going. Until we reach Sunday.”
Next week: THE EPIC EPLIOGUE!