12-31-2011, 05:25 PM
The Knicks game had ended, and there were no other games on television until evening, so Phil Worth picked up the remote and began channel surfing for something to watch until then. Television was his only escape from the misery of his life; it filled his days, distracting him from the pain and humiliation of being disabled. It was his window to the outside world, his only solace since the accident which left him paralyzed. It let him live in a world detached from cold, cruel reality.
His son, Benny, was in the kitchen raiding the fridge. There were times Phil wondered when his son would ever get a job, make some money and help support the family, but he appreciated the company Benny provided. It was good to have someone to share complaints about a bad decision made by the ref, or share high-fives when someone made a touchdown, scored a goal, hit a home run, or dunked the ball in the net. Benny's constant presence made life less lonely for Phil. Besides, he needed the help going to the john.
Sharon, his wife, was away at work at the liquor store, and he hadn't seen Casey in ages since she took that job as a live-in caregiver to some rich old fart somewhere in the tonier part of Las Vegas. Her pay was good--it kept the fridge full and the bills paid. Between Casey's and Sharon's paychecks and his disability insurance, the Worths were getting by pretty good, but just barely. The van needed work, the water heater was acting up again, the roof had to be reshingled and the kitchen window hadn't been repaired for two years, plus the medical bills that weren't covered by the insurance.
Phil passed channel after channel, still searching for something worth watching until game time. The latest channel was a local news station; only when he heard Casey's name mentioned in the broadcast did he stop and listen. "...caregiver, Casey Worth, making her the sole heir to his estate," said the newswoman on the screen.
Estate? Phil wondered. What estate? Who died? No one told me about Casey inheriting an estate!
"The Piccucci estate is valued at approximatly nine million dollars," the newswoman continued. "The will was to be contested by the Piccucci family--".
Nine million dollars?! "Hey, Benny!" Phil shouted. "Get in here!"
Benny emerged from the kitchen, his mouth stuffed with ham and cheese sandwich. "Yeah, whaddya want?" he mumbled, still chewing.
"Check this out," Phil said, pointing to the screen. "Your sister just got nine million dollars from that old fart she was taking care of!"
Benny nearly choked on his sandwich. "You're (bleeping) me!" he gasped.
"Swear to God it's true!" Phil insisted. "It said so right on TV."
Benny sat down in his accustomed spot and watched the news broadcast reporting the Piccucci affair and the tragic aftermath. Sure enough, there was Casey on the screen, speaking into a news mike. "Well, it would be nice to get all that money," she said shyly, "but I'm not going to get my hopes up too high. There are the children to consider: Andrew and Matt, and the daughter, Heather, of course. I don't know why Mr. Piccucci would leave it all to me instead of his family."
"I'll tell you why," Phil growled, "because you took care of the old man and they didn't! And because we deserve it more'n they do--that's why! Buncha greedy fat-cat millionaires taking away what's rightfully ours in the first place!"
Benny could only sit there in a state of disbelief. "Nine million bucks!" he mused. "Gawdalmighty! Do you know what we can do with all that cash?"
"I know what we can do with it," his father retorted. "But first we gotta get it. If it's a fight they want, then, by God, we'll give them a fight! It's time we got our piece of the pie, Benny, and we're gonna get a big piece of it--with ice cream on top!"
"Damn straight, Pop!" Benny cheered. "Damn (bleeping) straight!"
Father and son high-fived and returned to the news broadcast. When the anchor desk went on to more mundane matters, Phil switched channels, hoping to find out more about Casey's windfall. They were still wrapped up in their search when Sharon came home from work. To her surprise, she saw Benny jump up from the couch to greet her, something that had never happened, at least in recent memory. Benny usually mumbled some semblance of a greeting while transfixed onto the screen, hardly noticing her presence at all.
"Ma!" he shouted. "Guess what? Casey got nine million bucks from that old man she took care of! We heard it on TV!" He pointed to the screen. "See?"
His mother set down her purse and sighed heavily, her features as fallen as her spirits. Benny was puzzled at her somber reaction to such outrageous good fortune as this. "Ma, don't you get it?" he said. "We're rich! We're stinking, mother(bleeping) rich!"
Sharon went over, picked up the remote, and turned the television off. For the briefest moment, there was an unaccustomed silence. "Sit down, Benny," she said quietly.
Phil reached up and took his wife's hand. "What's the matter, hon?" he asked. "Did you lose your job? Heh! Don't sweat it, babe! You don't need that lousy, stinking job anymore! We're set for life, thanks to Casey!"
"Pop's right, Ma," Benny agreed. "You can tell the guy at the liquor store to--"
"Phil, Benny," Sharon began, "there's something you need to know. Casey inherited that money almost a month ago."
Her husband and son were dumbfounded. "A month ago?" Phil exclaimed. "Why the hell didn't you tell us before?"
"Why?" The resentment which had been building up inside Sharon began to burst forth like a dam. "I'll tell you why. Because you never listened to a word I said for the past thirty years, that's why! I gave up telling you anything a long time ago because you were so wrapped up in self-pity over your accident that you paid more attention to the TV than to me or to Casey! You were too busy watching sports to know that our daughter was getting death threats from that family of mobsters she worked for! In fact, she was almost killed by them just this afternoon! I got the call at work, then I saw it on the news. If you had just turned off that damned TV for just a few minutes, you would have known by now!"
Phil and Benny just sat there, staring stupidly at Sharon. "Look at you!" she cried, her anger reaching a fever pitch. "Look at both of you! Neither of you have moved from this living room for ten years, if not longer! Casey gave up her dream of going to nursing school just to support this family, but did either of you appreciate it? No! You're parasites, that's what you are! Fat, leeching, worthless parasites living off Casey and me all these years! Sponging off others so you can rot in front of the TV!"
"Now, look here, Sharon--" Phil began.
"No, you look!" Sharon shot back. "I've had it with both of you! I'm tired of being married to a self-pitying slob who sits in front of the boob tube day in and day out! And I'm sick and tired of having a lazy, no good, pitiful excuse of a son who won't get off his fat ass and get a job!"
Benny stared at his mother, stunned that such an accusation could be directed at himself. Sharon, however, was just getting started. "That's right, Benny, it's true. You're thirty-two years old, for chrissakes! You should have had a career, a place of your own, instead of leeching off your parents and your sister! You never had any ambition beyond who was winning the Final Four or who was playing in the Super Bowl! You never been anywhere beyond the refrigerator! Every time I shook out the sheets from your bed, there you were! Every time I dusted the furniture, you were part of it! You never got up past the crack of noon, even on school days--I had to drag you out of bed every morning! You may be an adult legally, but you never grew up!"
Sharon zeroed in on her son for the coup de gras. "Well, let me tell you something, Peter Pan--you'd better find your worthless ass a job, because the gravy train is no longer stopping at the Worth house! You're not getting a dime from me or Casey, either from working or the inheritance! It's time to make your own way in the world, Benjamin Gregory Worth, because I'm cutting off all funding for your laid-back lifestyle, if it can be called a lifestyle--I don't think you ever had a life to begin with."
She turned to her husband. "And as for you," she went on, "I've stuck with you for better or worse--and it's been mostly worse! Well, I deserve better, and so does Case! We're taking that money, if we get it tomorrow at the probate hearing, and we're starting over! Casey's going to nursing school, and I'm going to enroll in a few college courses myself. We are getting as far away from the two of you as possible! We are going to live, dammit! I thank God you never found out about that inheritance in the first place, because God knows you would have made the situation even worse than it already is!"
"You can't just leave me like this, Sharon!" Phil pleaded. "I'm in a wheelchair! I need assistance! Who's gonna take care of me?"
"Ask Benny," Sharon replied coldly. "He's been by your side all along. It's not going to be me, that's for sure. Nor Casey, either, though she's had more experience caring for crippled old men. I'm free of you, Phil, free of your whining and complaining about how weak you are, how helpless you are. Christopher Reeve did more as a quadriplegic than you ever did as a paraplegic. You're only as helpless as you think you are, Phil. From now on, you and Benny are going to have to fend for yourselves--I'm leaving!"
With that, she stormed out of the living room and into the bedroom she had shared with her erstwhile husband for over thirty years. Phil and Benny simply sat where they were, listening to the scuffling of clothes and other belongings being shoved into suitcases.
While one storm passed over the Worth household, another was brewing several hundred miles away in Marvinville, Iowa. After two frantic, anxiety-filled days of calling the acadamy, the neighbors, the police and her ex-husband's voicemail, Alicia's mother, Nancy, finally received word about her missing daughter from a Detective Jim Meridian of the Las Vegas Municipal Police Department. She sobbed with relief when he told her she was alive and well, but was stunned when she learned she had taken a bus all the way to Las Vegas just to see some magician named Criss Angel. It didn't help her feel better when she learned that Alicia had witnessed a murder and would have to come back to testify. It was all Detective Meridian could do to calm her down.
"Is she there?" Nancy Rose demanded over the phone. "I want to speak to her!"
Meridian handed the receiver to Alicia. She was hesitant at first, but from the grim look on the detective's face, she realized she had no choice but to face the music. Slowly, she raised the receiver to her ear. "Hello?" she squeaked.
"Alicia?" her mother cried. "Are you all right, baby?"
So far, so good. "I'm all right, Mom," she managed to get out. "Really I am. I'm sorry I ran away from home like that, but, well..."
"Well, what?" her mother demanded.
Alicia plunged. "I just couldn't take it anymore, Mom," she said. "I got tired of Kyle's bugging me, and Dad ignoring me, and school being so boring, and you so out of touch with the times, I had to get away. I was going to come back on Sunday, really I was! I wish I'd have left you a note or something. I still got the hundred dollars I took from the cabinet--I can pay you back!"
"You took a hundred dollars from the credenza?"
"Yes, and it's right here, all of it. And that money order Dad sent me for the Youth Retreat. I'll give it back to him, too."
"But why, Alicia? Why do this? Just for some movie star?"
"First of all, he's not a movie star," Alicia explained. "He's an illusionist--you know, like Houdini? I love him, Mom. And he saved my life, too. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for him, really."
"How did he save your life?" her mother asked.
Alicia went on to explain about how Criss Angel shielded her with his own body from Pamela Piccucci's gun, putting his own safety at risk. "He's a hero, Mom," she insisted. "He saved my life."
"Well, I'm glad he did, Alicia," Mom said, "but if you hadn't run away from home like that, you wouldn't have been in danger in the first place."
Oh, boy, here it comes. Alicia braced herself for a parental lecture. "Do you have any idea how worried I'd been about you for the past two days?" Mom went on. "Calling and calling everyone I know trying to find you? I even filed a Missing Persons report with the police! I haven't slept for two nights, I was so worried about you! And now I find that you're in Las Vegas of all places, just because you wanted to see some two-bit magician pull a rabbit out of a hat--"
"He's not a two-bit magician!" Alicia argued. "He's the greatest since Houdini! If you'd seen any of his shows, you'd know that!"
"I don't care who he is!" Nancy Rose exploded. "It's no excuse for you to go running off like that! The minute I get you home, I swear to God I'll--"
"You'll what?" Alicia challenged. "Beat me? Ground me? I'll just run away again, and I will! You can't keep me locked up forever, Mom. You can ground me until I'm as old as you are, you can beat my butt until it's bleeding, but I won't let you crush me. I've changed, Mom. I've seen too much of the real world to go back to being what I was before: that timid little girl in that tacky school uniform putting up with her little brother's torture. I saw a person kill another person! You think punishing me is going to make me forget that? You can do whatever you want with me, but the damage is done. I'm not the same Alicia I was when I left."
There was a silence on the other end of the line. Alicia listened for any sign of life, then handed the receiver back to Meridian, who took over as soon as he got it. "Hello, Mrs. Rose?" he said. "Are you still there?"
The officious voice snapped Nancy out of her shock. "Yes, Detective?"
"We'll have Alicia back first thing Saturday morning at the latest," Meridian promised. "It'll be a while, but she'll be back safe and sound. In the meantime, we'll arrange for accomodations for her until then. She'll receive a summons to appear in court as a witness thirty days before the trial; we'd appreciate it if you came with her."
"Thank you, Detective," Nancy said. "Good-bye."
Meridian hung up. "That's a pretty powerful speech you gave there, young lady," he said.
Alicia stared at Meridian boldly, almost defiantly. "I meant every word, Detective."
"I'm sure you did," he concurred. "Now, we got to find you a roof over your head until Saturday morning. I'm sure Social Services can find a place for you."
"Can I at least stick around here for the first day of Loyalapalooza?" Alicia asked. "Pleeeeze?"
Meridian could only shake his head in exasperation.
(It's not quite over yet...stay tuned.)