All eyes turned to the entrance of the lounge as the Security Guard ducked under the doorway. His stride was steady as he walked towards the other end of the room, but the muscles of his massive torso were tensed underneath his trim black Vegas Trips Incorporated uniform. As he stood in a small alcove at one end of the room, he blended in with the shadows, almost invisible except for the glint of a simple gold cross hung around his sinewy neck. His alert stance and watchful features bespoke his military training, as did the casual ease with which his hand rested on the Beretta at his side. However, despite his outward composure, the shadows of a hard life lingered in his steely gray-green eyes. Locked in those eyes were the memories of greater tragedy than most of the pilgrims had ever imagined.
As the families of some of the travelers arrived to say goodbye, a sad expression crossed the Security Guard’s face. He had lost his father to a gunshot wound under mysterious circumstances when he was 8; a grainy picture in the newspapers and a roll of $100 bills were all that remained of him. The boy’s mother had turned to the bottle and left the young man and his younger sisters to fend for themselves. With no known relatives to support the children, the burden of parenting three young girls fell upon the shoulders of the Security Guard. The world was no longer a carefree place for the children – instead of running around with their friends they stood in the soup line at the Baptist Church.
The hands of the Security Guard bore the calluses and scratches of someone accustomed to hard manual labor. He had been working almost his whole life, having dropped out of school after ninth grade to toil long hours at the local McDonalds. While other teens his age were cruising around the neighborhood in their parents’ Cadillac’s, he was flipping hamburgers and microwaving chicken nuggets, saving his money and waiting for an opportunity to get his family out of their miserable state of poverty. The future was looking almost bright for him, until his youngest sister caught pneumonia. Little Sweetness, they called her - her cheerful smile and gentle disposition had lighted up their ramshackle apartment with warmth and joy. But she had always been a fragile child, and she became emaciated and passed away within a week. Soon the welfare agents were at the door, coming to take the three remaining kids to foster homes.
The many faded red scars crisscrossing the jet-black skin of his massive forearms were a catalogue of the rest of the story of his childhood. He ran away from the orphanages and became involved with the gangs and the drug underworld, living a life of crime until he was arrested on charges of racketeering. Given a choice between the armed forces and jail, he joined the Marines, and that decision seemed to be the only reason he was on a tour to Vegas instead of being six feet under with a hole in his head. In the Marines he found friends who became for him like a new family; tough and demanding, but supportive and steadfast to the end. As he pounded the dirt of tall mountains with his heavy boots and sweated through overgrown forests in exotic countries, he realized that this was how he wanted to live his life – but it could not be.
As often happens to those who have done bad deeds, fortune’s wheel turned again on the Security Guard. The demons of his past caught up with him, and when the evidence of a murder case pointed to him, he was demoted and then dishonorably discharged from the Marines. Burned into his brain forever was the shame of that one hot summer day: the endless wait in the bleak barracks courtyard, the scorn on the face of his commanding officer, images of his numerous medals being stripped off of his silky navy blue uniform and ground into the red dirt.
Unable to face his past, the Security Guard ran away from his old life in New York and came to Chicago, the windy city. He still retained his knowledge of how the underworld operated, and soon with the handover of a few crisp green bills, he was given an entirely new identity, complete with photo ID, driver’s license and social security number. The “new man” acquired a job with Wackenhut Security, the premier provider of security services in the US. He was successful at this new profession, and the tour company had contracted him (for a good amount of money) to guard the Vegas trip from disruptions from without – or within.
The Security Guard pulled out his sleek military-style walkie-talkie and spoke into it, then replaced it in his fur-lined coat pocket. His commanding eyes swept the room, taking in the people, the objects, and the layout of space. The attention of the travelers began to turn to their own thoughts, but in the back of everyone’s mind was the knowledge of the silent shadow in the corner, watching, waiting.