11-30-2012, 08:40 PM
Dimitra stood on the stoop of the large manor-like house, clutching her handbag nervously. It took a great deal of courage on her part to come here. When she answered the ad for a volunteer to aid foster children, she had a few misgivings. The gentleman on the phone, a Mr. Webber, had seemed nice enough, and she agreed to come in for an interview.
From what she gathered from her conversation with Mr. Webber, there were fourteen children, ranging in age from two to twelve. They were wards of the state, he explained, until they were either adopted or turned eighteen. To hire someone would mean cutting into their benefits, and the monthly stipend was stretched to the breaking point already. They needed a loving, maternal figure in their lives to nurture them.
Dimitra felt overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for so many kids. Fourteen children! Would she be able to handle them all? Raising three boys was strenuous enough, especially Christopher, who had been a handful by himself, but she had been their mother: she had raised them from birth. These children would be strangers to her, and she to them. What if they had been abused? Neglected? What if they were disabled? How would she care for them?
She was torn between going in and running away. She suddenly felt the urge to turn around, go back home and hide.
Hide? she scolded herself. Run away and hide behind the furniture like a mouse, like you did before? Costa thought you had gone mad when he found you like that! What is the matter with you? You made a promise to Mr. Webber and you are going to keep it! Those children need you! What, are you going to stand there all day? Move it!
Dimitra took a deep breath, rang the doorbell, and waited. There. She did it. She took the first step. She heard heavy footsteps growing louder as they approached. The heavy door opened, and a pudgy, sweaty fellow in a grey suit greeted her. "You must be Mrs....I forgot your name again." he stumbled, his baggy jowls quivering like a turkey's wattle.
"Sarantakos," Dimitra reminded him. "But you may call me Dimitra."
"Dimitra," he repeated. "I'm Mr. Webber. Please come in."
Dimitra stepped into the spacious foyer. Though large and rather elegant after a fashion, there were signs of neglect everywhere. Dust coated every horizontal surface. The windows were grey with dirt. The threadbare carpets were in dire need of a vacuum cleaner. She thought it disgraceful to keep a house like this with children around.
She followed Mr. Webber into his office, almost a landfill with papers and books piled floor to ceiling. It was a wonder he got any work done, she thought.
"All right, Dimitra," Mr. Webber settled himself into a huge, worn leather chair behind the paper laden desk. "You will be responsible for the care, feeding and education of fourteen foster children, Monday through Saturday, seven AM through six PM." He leaned back, the chair creaking under his weight. "We're under a very tight budget here, so no extravagances. Understand?"
"Yes, sir," Dimitra nodded. Oh, she knew about tight budgets, all right. Being married to a self-employed cafe owner, raising three boys of her own, things got tight when business slumped at times. Not to mention there was her childhood in war-torn Greece, which pained her even after sixty years living in America.
"These kids have a lot of problems, coming from broken homes. You think you can handle it?"
"I will do my best, Mr. Webber," she replied as confidently as she could.
"Good." Mr. Webber wrenched himself from his chair. "I'll introduce you to the children."
Dimitra followed the sweating man to a large dormitory-like room. As he opened the double doors, a foul stench hit Dimitra squarely in the face. She looked around the room. A dozen filthy beds and a large crib lined up in two rows lengthwise, covered in thin blankets. A group of scrawny, ragged children huddled together fearfully, suspicious of this stranger among them. Dimitra was appalled at the sight of them. Didn't this man know how to take care of these poor children?
"Okay, line up," Mr. Webber ordered.
The children shuffled hesitantly into formation, still casting a wary eye on Dimitra.
Mr. Webber walked up to a brown-haired, gawkish girl of about twelve or so. "This is Heather, our oldest. She does a good job watching over the littler ones. Don't you, sweetheart?"
"Yes, Mr. Webber," Heather replied politely.
"Heather, this is Mrs.--"
"Sarantakos" Dimitra prompted.
"Sarantakos. She'll be our new caregiver for you and the others."
"Hello, Heather," Dimitra smiled, extending her hand. Heather took it rather hesitantly.
"And this is our oldest boy, Roland." He laid his hand on a gangly black youth.
"Hi," Roland said. "I can't say your name. Can I call you Mrs. S.?"
Dimitra smiled at him. "Of course you can," she said.
"And this is Buddy." Buddy just made a feeble wave.
"This is China. Come, come, dear, meet your new caregiver."
China didn't want to meet her new caregiver. She just glared at Dimitra with a hatred beyond her years. Dimitra realized she would have to be more patient with this one.
Mr, Webber stepped up to a red-haired, freckle-faced boy, who reminded Dimitra of Huckleberry Finn. "This is Buck."
"Hello, Buck. It is nice to meet you."
"Hi," Buck said. "You look like a grandma. Are you a grandma?"
"Why, yes, I am," Dimitra replied proudly. "I have a granddaughter who's about eighteen or so."
"And this is Brandy...Aaron...Austin--they're brothers, by the way--Jamal...Derek...Tanvi...Chris..."
"Chris? I have a son named Chris!" Dimitra said, delighted at the coincidence.
"You do?" the little boy said curiously. "Is he here?"
"No, dear, he lives far away in Las Vegas."
"And over here," Mr. Webber walked over to the crib. "We have Kira--she's about four. And our youngest, Mia."
Dimitra stared in horror at little Mia. Nearly her entire left side was badly burned, up to her neck and a part of her tiny face. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that Mia's left hand was only a stump. The baby stared back at Dimitra with large, soulful eyes. She was clad only in a disposable diaper. She was two years old, but looked less than one. She looked like...like...
She looks like a victim of the Vegas Bomber!
Dimitra recoiled at the thought. She came here to forget that nightmare. It was something else that injured this poor baby, she told herself. It must have happened before then.
"Well, I'll leave you to get aquainted with your new charges," Mr. Webber said jovially. "They're your responsibility now."
He left the dormitory, sweating and panting like a huge dog. Dimitra looked sorrowfully at these poor pitiful young ones.
Dear Lord, she prayed silently, give me the strength and the resources to help these children, for their lives are wretched, and their souls are troubled. I give them to You to heal and make whole again. Amen .
Raul Alvarez strung heavy electrical cable through the holes drilled in the two-by-fours of the housing framework. It was mid-morning. His apprenticship was going well. He enjoyed his work and the people he worked with. If everything went as good as it was going right now, he'd have his electrician's license in a year or so. He was a gifted electrician, his supervisors said. His mother bragged about him at church, proud that her son had followed an honest trade instead of falling into gang life like so many of his peers. But he had an even bigger reputation to live up to. He was a member of Team Angel, one of the group of five who nailed the Vegas Bomber and put him behind bars. Or at least the first time, they did. The (bleeper) escaped jail and ended up blowing himself up instead.(3). Oh, well, it was as his Tio' Alberto said: It saved the taxpayers' money that way. No expensive trial, no stay in prison at the public's expense. He would have been executed, anyway, but only after a long appeals process which would have taken years. His suicide was quicker and cheaper in the long run.
He still hooked up with Brent on occasion, and was currently dating Amber. He rememberd how hot she looked in the limo when they went to see Criss Angel in the hospital. That sexy red dress--RRROWWWWLL!
Someone had tuned into KLOL on the dusty, battered radio perched on a sawhorse on the second level. Artie Creed was his usual, obnoxious self, skewering anyone who blundered their way into media attention, be they celebrites or ordinary citizens who had fame thrust upon them by act or circumstance. Raul thought Creed a pain in the ass. All he did was trash people's reputations. At least, with the construction noise around him, he could drown out his specious claptrap until Creed decided to actually play some music like he was supposed to.
Raul continued threading electical wire through the frame. Over the screech of a power saw, he could not hear Creed's latest blather about Criss Angel and his latest demonstration--or, rather, repeat demonstration, for he would once again attempt the motorcycle stunt he had tried to perform when the Bomber attacked.
Meanwhile, at KLOL, Artie was in rare form, burning the airwaves with his incendiary views regarding Criss Angel.
"In another attempt to prove his overinflated ego, Criss Angel will once again try to jump his motorcycle and make it disappear. Someone should tell that Evel Kneval wannabe to make himself disappear--permanantly! He states that it's to show the public that he is not afraid of the Vegas Bomber. I say he just wants to show off! I mean, how many stunts does this loser have to do before he wakes up and smells the toast burning? He's like a little kid, you know? 'Hey, Mom! Lookit me! No hands!' No brains, either. Do yourselves a favor, people. Stay home and do your laundry or something. Don't pay any attention to this overgrown child, Criss Angel. He'll get tired and go away, and we'll all be happy."
The phone line in the studio lit up. "Hello, you're on the air."
"You know what I think?" the caller on the other end said.
"Not really," Artie retorted, hanging up. "Hello, you're on the air,"
"Maybe Criss Angel should make you disappear--permanantly!" the second caller snarled.
"Hey, I'm just doing my job here. You can't handle the truth, tough luck!" He hung up. He wanted to use something stronger, but the jerkwads of the FCC wouldn't let him. Regulations, they said. Well, to hell with them! He was Artie Creed, champion of truth and free speech. He had the power of the airwaves, and he would say what he damned well pleased, FCC or no.
Johnny Thompson, Criss' MindFreak consultant and dear friend, stepped into the production office, where he was surprised to see Criss listening to the Artie Creed show on KLOL. He'd never heard Creed say anything positive about Criss, or anyone else for that matter. And here was Criss, listening to Creed's trashing of him and not even flinching.
"How can you listen to that crap?" Johnny asked, appalled.
"Hey," Criss smiled. "The more he trashes me, the better publicity I get! He's been my best PR man! It's reverse psychology, you know? He can say anything he wants about me until he's blue in the face! I still come out ahead!"
Johnny sighed. That may all be very well and good now, but he knew that someday Creed would cross a line somewhere, and then all unholy hell would break loose. Creed was notorious for fanning rumors, true or not. Yes, one of these days, Creed would go too far, if he hadn't gone too far already, and then there would be hell to pay.
(3) See "Avenging Angel"