Candalaria looked out the window as she heard the crowd's "Happy New Year!" on the television. She didn't feel happy, even after the second bottle of wine. Before, it did the trick but now it just caused more pain. Sure, they had suggested other stuff but she drew her line at alcohol.
Throwing the curtain shut, she sighed and tried not to think. But when you're alone on the top floor of the Bilagio in Las Vegas and hating every minute of it, one can't help but think. She needed to disappear. She needed to not exist anymore. She needed to hide.
Fortune and fame. Everyone strived for it but it quickly destroyed those who got it. With looks and a voice, she got it. And now she hated it. No wonder some stars did drugs and drank to excess. No wonder a celebrity was in the highest percentile of suicides. No one respected her privacy and right now she'd do just about anything for that once more.
"Happy New Year," a strange voice purred from the dark. Candalaria jumped. Her heart raced as she quickly thought of who could have intruded upon her privacy. In an un-thought out moment, she grabbed an empty bottle of champagne and tossed it at the voice. It was a poor throw, and the bottle landed neatly on the thick carpet about five feet from the man sitting in the chair.
"Not welcomed, I can see that. But if I had been seeking a polite hostess I would have knocked on the door and made myself known to every idiot with a lens." He shifted his legs and the light from the lamp that hid most of his face momentarily reflected off his shoes. "Please, relax. I wish to speak with you because you want out."
Not wanting to make herself vulnerable like she had before, Candalaria grabbed a full bottle of what ever expensive swill her agent had stocked and leaned against the table. With the neck in hand, she crossed her arms in an angry pose.
"Not one to let your guard down, I see. Not when danger is possible. That's good." The man shifted and cleared his throat.
"Talk," she sneered. There was a small hesitation before the man continued on.
"As I said before, you want out. We can do that. We've done it before and we're very good at it, despite the advances in technology. We helped Presley, Monroe, even the esteemed Jackson. Granted, it took a long time for him but we still did it."
"Helped them out." The man's tone was very sure of what he had said.
"Helped... dead people?" Those were last names anyone would have known: Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Micheal Jackson.
"Ah!" the man shook a finger and stood up. Candalaria gripped the bottle and put her weight on both legs, ready to fight. "That was what we wanted you to think! That was what we intended it to look like. One can go to prison but still be remembered. One can take a vacation but still be recognized." He was now pacing, his hands a blur as he spoke. "One can go home but still be plagued. One can go anywhere, do anything and still, STILL, they," he pointed at the door. "Will be there." His voice dropped a level and his tone became bitter as if he were talking about vermin. "Watching you. Following you. Taking pictures of you, your friends, your family and making up wild and false stories. Creating mountains out of mole hills. Fairy tales. Gossip. Rumors. Lies." The last word came out in a hiss that sent a chill up her spine. "Until you die."
"You... kill people?"
"Proverbially, yes. When one is helped by us they lose friends, family, spouses, children, estates, automobiles, fortunes, and, most importantly, fame." Dropping to a whisper he smiled. "Don't you want that? You back? No longer a slave to the public. No longer a prostitute to the media. No longer a puppet to the fame." Deep inside, she quivered at the thought. Freedom. It was the best word for it.
"Yes, freedom," that voice purred. She didn't know if she had said it out loud or if he had read it on her face. "Freedom to be you." Setting the bottle on the table, Candalaria stared at her bare feet. On the left foot she focused on the scars where her two littlest toes used to be. There was a price for fame. A price that came with blood, tears, fear and terror. A price collected anytime, anywhere and by any means, be it a sniveling and selfish agent or a mad man with a knife.
The memory flashed before her eyes and she shook her head. The pills were supposed to keep those nightmares away but they rarely worked. They just made her feel fuzzy and nauseous. Looking up, to see if the offer was still available, she was surprised to find herself alone.