12-03-2012, 06:58 PM
Hundreds gathered in the desert valley where, less than four months before, Criss Angel was about to perform a motorcycle demonstration when the Vegas Bomber struck, almost killing him. The Loyals among the crowd spoke of their shock and grief of that day, pointing to where they stood and what they saw. Many shed tears as they related their stories, their emotions welling up as fresh as the day of the attack. Others vented their outrage at the Bomber, damning him to the lowest, foulest depths of Hell. Yet there were those who had moved on, who had given themselves closure, looking forward, not backward. They were here to see Criss Angel perform his demonstration, not repeat history. To these confident souls, a lot of water had gone under the bridge since then.
Criss himself felt the same way, as he prepared mind, body and spirit for this latest stunt. He had a lot more to overcome than his beloved Loyals, as this affected him more personally. Once bitten, twice shy did not apply to him. Yet there was a lingering sense of foreboding, a residual fear still clinging to the darkest corner of his soul. It was for this reason that he wanted to do this demonstration. Indeed, had to do it, to lay the demon of the past to rest once and for all. Not only did he have to overcome whatever fears he still had since the attack for his own sake, but for the sake of the Loyals as well. A man had to look at himself in the mirror, and he had to look at the Loyals as well. If he didn't do this, he thought, he would lose whatever respect the Loyals had for him, and what he had for himself. Once completed, the ghost of the Vegas Bomber would be exorcised once and for all.
The signal came that all was ready. Criss knelt down for a final prayer. He always prayed silently, as he believed that whatever was between man and God was personal, and being in the public eye so much, very little in his life was kept personal. He quickly blessed himself, rose and strode to his motorcycle (a different one, as the first was demolished beyond repair). He mounted it, kicked the starter, and rode to greet the cheering crowd. The Angel was back! Nothing could stop him now!
Meanwhile, back in New York, Dimitra treated her young charges to a trip to a local playground. It was a warm, sunny day in mid-June, and they needed to get away from that stifiling old house. It would be a great opportunity for them to meet others their age, as well as get some fresh air and exercise.
She herded the children to the playground, admonishing them to stay together and not wander off; she didn't want to lose any of them. It was a short walk, but children being what they are, there was always the danger of one or two going astray, running into oncoming traffic in the street, or just turning up missing somehow. Mercifully, they all arrived safely, every one present and accounted for. Once on the playground, they all cut loose, screaming for joy and stampeding for the swings, slides and jungle gyms. Even little China showed some enthusiasm, brushing off the chip on her shoulder long enough to climb a wooden platform and slide down a yellow plastic spiral tunnel.
Dimitra sat down, relieved of her burden. Even with help, tending to the needs of fourteen children was exhausting, especially at her age. She had spent almost a thousand dollars of her own money on top of the monthy stipend given to her by Mr. Webber and the four thousand given to her by her son, Christopher. The other day she had gone into Mr. Webber's office and demanded why things had gotten so bad for the children. He explained to her that the last volunteer had let things slide and even physically abused them. He threw her out on her ear, of course, and it was a mercy Dimitra had shown up. He promised he would reimburse her for her expenses, and was deeply grateful she had gone above and beyond the call of duty for these kids. He only wished he could hire her full time, but finances being what they are and all...
Dimitra was glad to help, she had said. The care for all those children had been a great boon to her as well. She found herself telling Mr. Webber about her kidnapping ordeal, and of her escape. She even told him about her son, Christopher, being a victim as well while performing as Criss Angel, and his generous donation of four thousand dollars for the children.
Mr. Webber's eyebrows rose to his sweaty forehead. "Your son is Criss Angel, the magician?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, he is," Dimitra smiled proudly. "But to me, he is my Christopher, my little boy." She gave a little laugh when she said that.
Mr. Webber humphed, impressed. "Very interesting," he mumbled.
Now, here she sat on the playground bench, watching her charges run and play with children who were fortunate to have families of their own. Roland was going one-on-one with another youth at the basketball court some yards away. Heather allowed herself to swing on the swings, relieving herself of her self-imposed adult responsibilites for the first time. The others had scattered like chickens, now on the swings, now on the slide, now climbing the jungle gym, and back again. Baby Mia sat in her carrier beside Dimitra, staring dully into space, oblivious to the action.
As she oversaw the children at their play, she noticed Tanvi approaching a Muslim woman, covered head to toe in a blue hijab and chador. "Mama?" Tanvi said to the strange woman.
Dimitra rose and trotted over to Tanvi, pulling her back. "No, dear, she's not your mama," she explained as gently as she could to the little girl. She turned to the woman in the hijab. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "She didn't mean it. She is a foster child in my care."
"I see," the Muslim woman said as she studied Tanvi carefully. "Where is her mother, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Her whole family was killed in a house fire." Dimitra explained. "She is the only survivor."
Tanvi said something incomprehensible to Dimitra, but for the Muslim woman, it spoke volumes. "Do you know this child speaks Arabic?" she asked.
"I wondered what she was saying," Dimitra replied, surprised at this revelation. Then a thought struck her. "Do you think you could help? The foster home where she lives is crowded with thirteen other children, and it is a struggle to keep them fed and cared for. If you can find her relatives, or someone who would be willing to take her in, it would be a great relief to all of us."
The Muslim woman thought for a minute. "I can contact Islamic Social Services, and see what they can do," she suggested. "I am sure they can find a way to help this child, God willing."
"Oh, thank you!" Dimitra was grateful beyond words for this woman's help. "Thank you so much, uh..."
"Musavi. Nurieh Musavi. And over there is my husband, Mahmood." She pointed to a bearded man in more conventional clothes approaching. Mrs. Musavi rose and explained everything to her husband in Arabic. His face expressed interest, then concern, then assent with a nod of his head. Mrs. Musavi turned back to Dimitra. "We will contact ISS and the Imam of our mosque," she told her. "God willing, we will be able to help this child find a proper home."
"May God bless you all!" Dimitra clasped her hands in delight and gratitiude. "If I can help at least one of these poor children, I am glad to do so."
"And may God bless you, Mrs..."
"Sarantakos. Dimitra Sarantakos."
"Ah! Greek, are you?" Mahmood Musavi smiled. "Lovely country, Greece. So rich and full of history."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Musavi." Dimitra was flattered. Such a wonderful man! Such wonderful people to reach out to help a homeless child! And to think there were those who thought Muslims were all terrorists! She prudently kept that thought to herself. She did not want to offend the Musavis in any way, not when they offered to help Tanvi. She gave them the address of the foster home and the phone number where she could be reached. They bowed and left with their two sons who had been at the playground as well. She wished them luck and hoped for the best.
Dear Lord, she prayed, thank You for this encounter with the Musavis. Give them success in finding a family for little Tanvi. May the children You placed in my care all find loving, caring families of their own. Amen.
The preparations for George and Angela's wedding were in full swing. Molina, George's mother, had flown in from New York early to help out any way she could. It was sad that Angela had no family of her own, she had said, save for that sister of hers in prison. George had told her about Bianca--such a selfish, greedy woman to do such things to her own sister, just to get her money! Molina was glad Bianca was behind bars. Such a woman would ruin everything.
Angela, on the other hand, was as good as her name, a perfect angel of a girl who taught school and helped the homeless. Molina had liked her from the moment she met her, last October at dinner before the big charity auction (4). She was so shy and sweet. She would be a welcome addition to the Strumpolis family.
Molina rode in a cab to the Luxor to meet George and Angela from the airport. She so looked forward to the wedding. It was going to be beautiful. She wished it had been in New York, but since George worked for his cousin, Christopher, or Criss, as he wanted to be known, and Angela taught school here, it had to be held in Las Vegas. She had put her foot down when it came to the location of the wedding. No outrageous Vegas style weddings for her family, with Elvis impersonators officiating, or such nonsense like that! She had made her position quite clear: "You were born in the Church, you will marry in the Church, you will die in the Church," she had insisted. Case closed. George had simply smiled sheepishly; Christopher muttered something about two down and one to go.
The reception could be anywhere they wanted, however; she was more flexible about that. Criss offered the Grand Ballroom at the Luxor--expensive, but convenient. No long distance traveling required, and she knew where it was.
The cab pulled up to the Luxor main entrance. George was there, waiting. Angela was missing, this being her day at the shelter. George came up and gave his mom a big hug as the cab driver pulled out Molina's luggage. "How ya doin', Ma?" George greeted her jovially.
"Oh, I am so happy to be here!" she gushed. "Where is Angela? I want to see my daughter-in-law!"
"She's at the shelter today," George answered. "Say! How'd you like to come with me when I pick her up? You can see the shelter for yourself."
Molina had heard about Sanctuary secondhand, knowing her famous nephew had sold his cars to raise money for it, God bless him, but she had never seen it. "All right! I would love to!" she answered.
"Great! Then we can all go out for dinner." George escorted his mother into the hotel, with an attendant wheeling her bags on a brass luggage cart behind them. Molina checked into her room at the desk and made her way toward the elevators. It had been a long trip, and she was tired. She wanted to rest a bit before going to the shelter.
"How's Aunt Dimitra?" George asked. "Criss says she's doing volunteer work with orphans or something."
"That's right, she is," Molina confirmed. "She works at this foster home with fourteen children in it. It was so filthy she had to call me, Popi and Costa for help." She shook her head at the memory of the sordid conditions of that house. "It would disgust you to have seen it. I can't even begin to describe it, it was so horrible."
"Well, I'm sure Aunt Dima's got it under control by now." George nodded confidently. "Those kids got a great person to care for them."
"And she spent a near fortune out of her own pocket to feed them and clothe them," Molina continued. "She says the state gives her only sixteen hundred a month for all of their needs."
"Sixteen hundred a month for fourteen kids?" George echoed as he tried to do the math. That amounted to about one hundred and fourteen dollars per kid per month. No way. You couldn't take care of a dog on that kind of income these days. Somthing was defianatly wrong with this picture.
"You think Aunt Dima will make it to the wedding?" George asked.
"Of course she will!" Molina assured him. "She would not miss it for the world."
"Please, Mr. Webber," Dimitra pleaded. "This is my nephew's wedding. I need time off to attend it. It's all the way in Las Vegas, and I need time to get there. I promised I would be there, and I haven't seen my sons in months."
"And who is going to take care of the children?" Mr. Webber wanted to know. "I need you here, Dimitra. The children need you here."
"I don't know." Dimitra searched her brain for an answer. "I'll find someone to cover for me. I promise."
"You'd better," Mr. Webber said. "You just can't take off and leave these kids unattended."
"I would never do that," Dimitra protested. "I love those children, and would never do anything to harm them."
"All right, if you can find a substitute, I'll let you go to the wedding." Mr. Webber conceded.
"Thank you, sir! I won't be long, just for a few days."
"Fine," Mr. Webber muttered absently. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
Dimitra left the office, careful not to trip over anything on the floor in the cluttered office. She had to find a substitute, and fast. Maybe some of the nuns at the church could help? It was worth a try. One thing was for sure. She was not going to miss George's wedding for anything, not for anything! But she could not leave these children unsupervised. It was as she told Mr. Webber: she loved them and would not harm them for anything. She would only be gone a few days.
But a lot could happen in those few days--a fire, an illness, anything. She could be held for neglect if anything happened while she was gone. No. She would find someone responsible enough to cover for her. She had her own family to think of as well. Besides, she missed her own children. She was a mother first, even if her own sons were grown up men, she still felt maternal instincts for them. Anyway, a little time off from her duties would be refreshing. She'd worked so hard these past few weeks and was tired. She needed a break.
She called the convent when she got home. To her joy and relief, the Reverend Mother agreed to send a couple of sisters to tend to the children while she was gone. Now she could go to the wedding with a clear conscience. Everything would work out fine. There was nothing to worry about. For the first time in weeks, Dimitra relaxed, confident that there would be no trouble.
(4) See "The Cave of Sorrow".