02-15-2012, 10:50 PM
Morning came. Alicia and her mother finished packing their things and left the motel room. Alicia had wished she could see Criss one last time before she left, but reluctantly, grudgingly accepted the fact that it was not to be. At least she had seen him at the trial, and had given him his card and birthday present without protest from her mother--that was some consolation, at least.
She had told her mother about her menarche last night while they waited for the cab to take them back to the motel. Nancy, her eyes red and puffy, had merely nodded, then had gone into the small sundry shop in the hotel to purchase a package of sanitary napkins and a box of Teen Midol. "Don't open this until we get to the motel," she had instructed. Alicia had complied, a bit surprised at her mother's somber demeanor. I bet Dimitra told her about it, she thought. That's why she's so sad.
Nancy checked out of the motel, picked up her luggage, and she and Alicia climbed into the cab waiting for them in the drive. As they rode to the airport, Alicia could not help but stare at her mother's blank stare, the same look she had when her father told her he wanted a divorce. For the first time, she felt sorry for her mother.
"Mom," she said softly, "are you all right?"
Mom merely nodded, her face still expressionless. "I'm fine, dear, thank you," she murmured as if half asleep.
Alicia was not to be put off. "Is it because of what happened in the hotel?" she persisited.
Nancy's head swiveled. "A lot of things happened in the hotel," she replied quietly. "Some things I can't talk about."
"Maybe it would help if you did," Alicia pressed. "You're always telling me to talk to you about things. Why can't you talk to me about them?"
Nancy sighed. "We'll talk about it when we get home," she said. "Now's not the time and place for it."
Alicia smiled understandingly. "Sure, Mom," she said. "Whatever you say."
The prison van rolled through the gates of the Clark County Women's Correctional Facility that same morning, with its cargo of five prisoners all dressed in orange scrubs. Two black women, one Latina, one of undetermined origin, and one white female filed out of the van and into the prison building as quickly as their shackled ankles would allow. The two black women shuffled through Processing with the air of renewing a driver's license. The Latina and the mixed-race woman sullenly did as they were told, but not without a few rude comments to the guard at the desk. Only the lone white female, who just yesterday had been convicted of double murder among other charges, hesitated before entering into this unfamiliar environment she had heretofore never even knew existed. The uniformed officer beside her had to nudge her inside toward the reception desk.
"Name?" droned the guard.
"Piccucci, Pamela," the uniformed officer told him, handing over a manila folder containing her files.
The guard opened the file and read its contents. Then he peeled off a bar code sticker, pasted it onto the folder, and handed it back to the officer. "Move on," he said.
The prisoners were taken into another room, where they were ordered to strip, hand in their street clothes to the impound office, shower and line up before another office to be body searched. Pamela cowered, trembling, terrified of the ordeal to come, while her companions from the bus bantered lewd comments to each other and to the guards, which the latter ignored, immune to the taunts and insults of convicts.
She folded her clothes as neatly as she could, covering herself with the threadbare towel provided by the prison, and gave them to the impound officer. The showers, she discovered to her horror, were just spigots on a wall, offering no privacy whatsoever. The gritty brown soap rasped her skin like sandpaper. She did not linger as was her habit, but dashed through it within the space of a minute. She huddled in her towel by the wall before the second office, praying to a God she barely believed in to get this over with.
The two black women went first, then the Latina, then the unknown. Finally, it was Pamela's turn. She entered, shaking like a leaf, before two female guards inside. One ordered her to drop the towel and bend over while the other pulled on a fresh latex glove.
"Do I really have to?" Pamela whimpered.
"Yes, you really have to," the guard with the glove sneered, mocking Pamela's whiny tone. "Now move it--we haven't got all day."
Pamela slowly complied. The guard with the glove probed her insides with professional indifference, shattering the last shred of dignity she possessed. She felt violated, almost raped by this Amazon in uniform. When she was ordered to move on, she ran out of the office, clutching her towel like a security blanket. Receivng her prison uniform was practically a blessing after what she had been through.
After Processing came Orientation. It sounded harmless enough. Pamela recalled her freshman orientation in college; it had been a rather fun weekend back then, with a party at the end of it. This one, however, was more like a drill: Out of bed at six AM; breakfast according to block schedule; work detail eight until ten; classes until noon; lunch according to block schedule; exercise yard until one; cells until dinner according to block schedule; lights out at nine PM. All staff were to be addressed as "officer". No drugs, food or other contraband allowed in the cells. Two books maximum allowed in the cells. Prisoners were responsible for upkeep of their cells ("No maid service here," the officer said unhumorously). Any fighting or other breaches of the rules would result in disciplinary action, from revocation of privileges to solitary confinement.
Pamela's spirits sank with every word spoken by the officer. God, get me out of here! she beseeched inwardly. Why didn't Nigel come to my rescue? I thought he loved me! Doesn't he care anymore?
The new prisoners were marched to their cells, carrying their wad of sheets, blanket and pillow. Pamela found herself roomed with the unknown-origin woman in a five-foot square cell with a single frosted glass window reinforced with steel wire. She stood there, staring at the wall, stiff with shock, while her new roommate made herself at home, tossing her bundle of bedding onto the top bunk. "You gonna stand there all day?" she snapped impatiently. "Move it or lose it!"
Pamela dropped her bundle onto the lower bunk and sat down. The other woman pulled out a cigarrette and lit up. "You're new around here, ain't ya?" she asked.
Pamela nodded feebly. "Yeah, I figured you were," the other woman said. "They don't get too many white women here; it's mostly black or Mexican. White women usually get all the breaks." She took a drag from her cigarrette. "Whaddya in for, anyway?"
"I...my husband was murdered," Pamela murmured.
"Yeah? What'd he do, cheat on ya or somethin'?"
"Look, I don't want to talk about it, okay?" Pamela said sharply. "I'm innocent! I didn't kill him! It was a mob hit!"
The other woman laughed derisively. "Sure it was, sister," she sneered.
"No, really, it was!" Pamela insisted. "My father-in-law was a member of the Syndicate back in the Fifities. He made his fortune by extortion and racketeeing. You ever heard of The Guys of Glitter Gulch?"
The other woman shook her head. "Nope."
"Well, they were all part of the Syndicate, and Mick was in on it. When he died, instead of leaving his fortune to his son, my husband, Mike, he left it all to his caretaker. At first, I thought it was his ex-wife, that golddigger Tina LaRue, but it wasn't. If she wasn't dead already, she'd be sitting here instead of me! I've been set up to take a fall for the mob! I'm innocent! Can't you understand that?"
"Oh, sure, I can understand that," the other woman said with feigned sympathy. "We're all innocent here. I'm innocent, you're innocent, everyone's innocent. If you think it was a mob hit, fine by me." She crushed out her cigarrette under her foot. "Tell ya one thing, though: you spin one helluva yarn. I mean, I've heard some real whoppers in my day, but, honey, you take the cake!"
Pamela fell silent. It was no use. How could she have hoped to find sympathy in this living hell they put her in? Whether they sentenced her to life or death, she knew she would not survive long in this place. No one would listen to her, let alone try to help her. Sitting in this cell the size of a walk-in closet was like being entombed alive except for the surly woman sharing it with her. Suddenly, the prosepct of Death Row seemed welcome. I hope they do execute me, she thought. The sooner, the better! If I have to spend the rest of my life in this hole, I'll kill myself!
It was eleven-fifteen when Criss awoke in his dressing room. He looked at his watch, startled at first at the time. What? Did I just spend the entire night in my dressing room? he thought. He shrugged it off; it wasn't the first time, he reflected. The black, windowless interior made it hard to judge night from day; he'd come here completely exhausted after a performance and fall asleep on the Murphy bed, dead to the world, only to wake up thinking it was still night when it was well into the next morning. The pity of it was that he woke up alone. Oh, well, he hadn't been in the mood, anyway.
He peeled out of his costume and pulled on his regular clothes. Later, he would grab something to eat and head for the Production Office. Right now, he could use a shower. There were no bathing facilities in the dressing room, so he had to go back up to his suite. On his way up, he passed the security office where a guard sat at the desk reading the morning paper. His eye caught a glimpse of the headline:
PICCUCCI FOUND GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS.
Oh, yeah, the trial, he recalled. Well, he was glad it ended as quickly as it did. There was no question about Pamela's guilt; she practically admitted it when she held him hostage, and the videotape revealed everything. And, of course, Alicia's eyewitness testamomy. Poor kid, he thought, what she must've gone through. His role had been minimal at best, though he did lend a hand in Pamela's capture. He was glad to do it, but he still wished he hadn't gotten involved in the first place. Well, it was over, thank God, and now he could get on with his life, same as everybody else in that little drama. Build a bridge and get over it.
Criss went into his suite. The first thing he spotted was the birthday gift Alicia had given him lying on a table. For some reason, he had never gotten around to opening it. He went over to the table, picked up the present, and peeled off the wrapping paper. It was a tasteful nude drawing of himself, framed in silver. Kid's got some talent, he thought. Then he opened the card. Next to the Hallmark inspired greeting printed on it was a personal note: MA drew this for you. I just picked out the card. You'e made a very big difference in our lives, Criss, and we love you for it! Thank you for saving my life! Happy birthday to our Angel! Love, Alicia and MA.
Criss set aside the picture. The lengths that his Loyal went through to express their devotion to him, he reflected. On paper, on film, on videotape, even on flesh they immortalized him, though it grieved him that some like Alicia would risk their lives just to meet him. The very thought of a thirteen-year-old girl running away from home and traveling several hundred miles all by herself to Las Vegas just to catch a glimpse of him stirred up guilty feelings in his soul. She could have been mugged; she could have been assaulted; she could have been murdered; she could have been forced into a life of teen prostitution by some pimp. Maybe that was why he got involved, he thought suddenly. It was to protect Alicia from harm, and to get her back home safely. Of course, he didn't want Casey or Springs to get hurt, either, but still...
He silently thanked God that Alicia was back home with her mother, safe and sound, then headed for the bathroom for a quick shower before breakfast.
Breaking news: Pamela Piccucci, the woman convicted of two counts of first degree murder in the notorious Piccucci Affair, was sentenced to death by lethal injection by order of the district court today after only an hour's deliberation by the jury. Mrs. Piccucci had been found guilty of murdering her husband, Michael Piccucci, Jr., and former mother-in-law, Tina LaRue. She had also been responsible for sending a fake bomb threat in the Luxor Hotel last March, threatening the caregiver who had been named Michael, Sr.'s, sole heir to his estate, causing widespread panic among the guests and staff. Her attorney is appealing the sentence.
The release party in the Grand Ballroom of the Luxor Hotel and Resort for Springs' new book, The Guys of Glitter Gulch, was in full swing. Springs was dressed to the nines in a pinstriped suit and broad brimmed fedora, his trademark Manhattan in his hand. He schmoozed around with the guests, a wide grin on his weathered face, basking in the limelight. His escort for the evening, Dimitra Sarantakos, stood beside him, radiant in a shimmering blue evening gown with pearls. Big Band music filled the air, and the liquor flowed like a Harry James solo.
"So, what inspired you to write your memoirs?" the social columnist for the Las Vegas Sun asked Springs.
"Well, I wanted to set the record straight while I still had all of my marbles," Springs replied. "I owed it to The Guys to tell their story--it's sort of a memorial to 'em. Hell, we practically made Vegas what it is today, y'know? Me, Mick, Blusey, Shorty, all of us. We turned this little one-horse town into the mecca it is today! Yeah, I admit we roughed up a few people now and then, but that was the way we did business in those days. If anyone got bumped off, it was within the ranks, no innocent bystanders or nothin'. That wasn't good for business relations, y'know."
"You had a stomach transplant about a year ago," the columnist went on. "How's that holding up?"
"Doin' good. Guy who donated it musta been Italian--I've been eaten' a lot of pasta since then," he joked. "But seriously, sometimes I wish they'd given it to a younger guy instead of wastin' it on an old fart like me, y'know?"
"Danny, don't talk like that," Dimitra admonished.
"Nah, nah, it's true," Springs insisted. "I'm eighty-six, for chrissakes! What the hell is prolonging my life gonna do?"
"Well, you lived long enough to publish your book," the columnist pointed out.
Springs shrugged. The columist turned to Dimitra. "So, Dimitra, how long have you known Danny Springer here?"
"Oh, about since spring of last year," Dimitra replied. "We've been very good friends ever since."
"Is there any truth to the rumors about you and Danny here contemplating marriage?"
Dimtra laughed, flustered over such a thought. "Oh, heavens no! Nothing like it at all!"
Springs took over. "Look, I went through two marriages, and both ended in divorce," he stated. "I ain't gonna go through that again, nosireebob! I ain't plannin' on having kids, and I ain't gonna let myself get tied down again. Didi and I are in it only for the companionship. Besides, if we did get married, I'd just leave her a widow again, and I know she don't wanna go through that for a second time, right, Didi?"
Dimitra nodded. "I lost one husband twelve years ago," she said. "I couldn't bear to lose another."
"Moving on, do you have any comments about the Piccucci Affair?"
"I ain't losin' sleep over it, if that's what you mean, " Springs said dismissively. "It's over and done with. She's gettin' the juice, and that's all there is to it. Next question."
"Is Criss here with you tonight?"
Springs turned to Dimitra. "Yeah, where is he, anyway?"
Dimitra smiled. "Oh, he'll turn up," she said. "He always does."
A voice from behind startled them. "Someone mention me?" Criss said, popping up suddenly.
Dimitra cried out in surprise. "Geez-Louise!" Springs exclaimed, clutching his chest. "Gimme a heart attack, why don'tcha?"
The columnist regained her composure. "Criss," she said, "good to see you."
"Good to see you, too," Criss returned. "And it's good to see you," he added, putting his arm around his mother. "And it's good to see you," he said as he laid an arm on Springs' shoulder.
"So, Angel," Springs said casually, "how's tricks?"
"I'm glad you asked," Criss replied, withdrawing his arms.
He produced a silk handkerchief, held it up in front of himself, then whisked it away, producing a bottle of brandy in his other hand. "There you go, Springs," he said proudly, giving the bottle to the astonished old man. "A little something for the occasion."
"Now, that's my kind of magic trick," Springs laughed, taking the bottle and holding it up for a photographer who snapped a picture of him. "You'd have made a fortune during Prohibition doin' that."
"Could we get a group photo, please?" the photographer requested.
Dimitra, Criss and Springs huddled together within camera range. A flash of the bulb, and the moment was preserved for posterity. The shutterbug strode away, leaving the three of them to talk.
"So, Springs, now that you got your book out, what're your plans for the future?" Criss asked.
Springs shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "Golf, cards, the slots. Maybe take in a show now and then. There ain't much left to do when you're eighty-six. Nothin' left to do but wait until my number comes up, I guess." He put his arm around Dimitra. "At least I won't be lonely anymore," he said with a bit more confidence, "now that I got Didi here."
"What about you, Mom?"
"I'll be staying with your brother, Costa, for the time being," Dimitra replied. "It's closer to Danny's house, so we won't have to drive far. We'll keep each other company for as long as we can. With him, I am not as lonely as I was back in New York."
Criss had accepted his mother's friendship with Springs a long time ago, but for the first time he welcomed the former mobster into his heart, if not his family. Even the unlikely possibility of having him for a stepparent didn't seem so repulsive anymore. Mom made Springs happy, Springs made Mom happy, and that was all right with him.
Casey Worth, Springs' caregiver and personal assistant, stepped up. "Mr. Springer?" she called out. "It's time for the press conference."
Springs drained the last of his Manhattan and headed for the stage. At the podium, the master of ceremonies made the introduction: "Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you one of the living legends of Las Vegas, a man who had, in his own way, helped create this city into the Entertainement Capital of America. His recently released book is a record of the history of Vegas in all its glory. Please welcome the last surviving member of The Guys of Glitter Gulch, Danny 'Springs' Springer!"
Springs stepped up to the podium amid thunderous applause. He tipped his fedora to the audience, then cleared his throat. "Thank you," he rasped. "First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for comin' to this clambake tonight--pretty damn good turnout, I have to say. I'm actually glad I lived long enough to see it."
More applause. "I was here when this was a stop for workers on the Hoover Dam," he went on. "They'd come in here to drink, gamble, get a little in the back room, if you know what I mean."
Criss listened to the rest of Springs' speech, holding his mother by the waist. "I'm glad you and Danny became such good friends," Dimitra whispered to her son.
"Ah, he's not such a bad guy," Criss said, "once you get to know him."
Dimitra leaned closer. "We're going to New York later this summer. Danny promised to take me to Queens to show me his old neighborhood--that is, if it's still there. And I want your aunts and cousins to meet him as well. I hope they like him."
"They will," Criss smiled. "Hey, he's practically family already!"
Dimitra smiled back and hugged her famous son. "So, lemme say that it's good to know I did something worth writing about," Springs concluded. "You've been a great group! Enjoy the evening, and don't forget to tip your waitress!"