12-11-2012, 06:03 PM
"Apologize?!" Artie Creed was flabbergasted. Never in his years in radio did he ever apologize for anything to anyone, no matter how offensive his remarks had been perceived by the listening public. Now this overblown celebrity mama's boy wanted him to apologize? For the first time in his controversial career, Creed was speechless.
"Yeah, that's right," Criss nodded. "You are going on the air, and you are going to say that you are sorry you lied about my mother. That's all you have to do. And if you don't, well, I hope you have a good lawyer, because you are going to need one."
"Oh, I got one all right!" Creed shot back. "You sue me, and I'll countersue you for every dime you got!"
Morty came between the two men. "All right, that's enough!" he snapped like a father breaking up a fight between two siblings. "Listen, Artie. I don't know how you came up with this story about Criss Angel's mother, but--"
"I didn't 'come up' with it!" Creed argued. "I told you I got a tip on the phone. It's all on tape. I'll prove it."
Criss and Morty looked at each other, then at Creed. "Okay," Criss challenged. "Prove it. But whoever it is, is lying."
"Fine! Believe what you like," Artie said, "but I'm sticking with my source." He stormed out of the manager's office, with his boss and the star magician following in his footsteps, still skeptical. Even if this "source" was as reliable as Creed said, Criss knew that it was all a pack of lies. He had his mother's word on that, and she was more reliable than any source of news Creed ever had.
They entered the deserted studio. Morty switched off the broadcasting mike for privacy--he didn't want another scene like this morning. Artie rewound the phone tape, playing and replaying it to find the beginning of the conversation he had with the mysterious caller. "Okay," he said, "here it is."
Morty and Criss listened to the heavy, breathless man gasping out his story of Dimitra's alleged theft of the foster care money, embezzling it for a trip to Las Vegas and abandoning the children in her care. When the tape ended, Artie sat smugly in his chair, his arms crossed over his skinny chest, daring either man to challenge his authority.
"Who was that guy?" Morty demanded.
"Didn't say," Artie replied, still smug. "He wanted to remain anonymous so he wouldn't prejudice the case."
"How could he be a 'reliable source' if you don't know who the hell he is?" Criss argued.
"Well, he must know about it enough to report it," Artie countered. "He probably caught her in the act. Ever think of that, mama's boy?"
"Did it ever occur to you that he could have made the whole thing up?" Criss shot back. "Ever think of that
"Prove it," Artie sneered. "Prove to me the guy lied. Go on! Prove it!"
"All right!" Criss reached for the station phone. "I'll prove it. Just rewind that tape. I'll give you all the proof you need."
Artie switched on the broadcasting mike. "Hello, Sin City, this is Artie Creed back on the air, with special guest Criss Angel."
Morty was alarmed. "Creed! What the hell are you doing?" He covered the mike as he spoke.
"Hey, if I'm going to prove this mama's boy a fraud, I'm doing it live!"
"Hey, everybody! Artie Creed's back on! And he's got Criss on, too!"
The Loyals gathered around like kids about to watch a fight in a schoolyard, with Criss the odds-on favorite to win. No one dared even to breathe, let alone talk, for fear of missing something important.
"Earlier, I reported that Criss Angel's mother had been arrested for embezzeling funds from the foster home where she was a volunteer for a trip to Vegas. I received a phone tip from an anonymous caller, who must have witnessed the crime, and now Criss Angel himself is here to deny it all."
"I am not 'denying', Artie. I am telling everyone out there the real truth! My mother is innocent. And that phone tip was a load of bullsh*t!"
"You're not allowed to say that on the radio, Criss."
"You've used worse, Creed! And you've gotten away with it! Anyway, here is the one person who can tell you what really happened. Hello, Mom?"
The Loyals were estatic! Dimitra was on the air! They shushed each other to listen in.
"Hello, Christopher," Dimitra said.
"Hello, Mrs. Sardonicus," Artie said.
"That's Sarantakos, dipwad!" Criss snapped.
Artie brushed him off. "Whatever. Anyway, this is Artie Creed. I--"
"You were the one who accused me of theft!" Dimitra said angrily. "You lied to everyone about me! You said I had been arrested!"
"I was never arrested for anything! I reported that theft to the authorities. It was Mr. Webber who stole those funds!"
"But I have a--"
"He is the one who should be arrested! And I did not leave those children alone! When I went to Las Vegas, for my nephew's wedding, by the way, I left them in the care of a couple of nuns from the convent! Who told you these lies? How dare you say those things about me!"
The Loyals outside cheered her on. Mother Angel was really kicking Creed's ass big time!
"Ma'am, we have it all on tape here," Artie said. "Listen to it, and see if it proves you innocent or guilty."
Everyone fell silent as Creed played the tape over the air. There were mutterings of disbelief and denial among the Loyals. No way this was true, they thought. This guy was BSing!
When the tape wound to its end, Artie said, "Do you know who that was? Any idea?"
"Yes, I know who that is," Dimitra replied . "That is Mr. Webber, the guardian of the foster children I cared for."
"Well, he should know if you stole any money now, right? If you worked for him, and he reported that theft, that makes you guilty, right?"
"If Mom did steal that money, why did Mr. Webber tell you instead of the authorities?" Criss pointed out. "What could you have done?"
"Told the truth," Artie replied simply.
"It's because he's setting her up! He's making her the fall guy in this. He's covering his back and pinning it all on Mom."
Artie rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Criss. Just because she's your mommy and all doesn't prove her innocent."
"It's not because she's my mother, and I'll thank you to speak more respectfully about her, but she is innocent. You said she had been arrested, when it was clear she was not. There was no mention of any arrest. She reported it to Social Services. If she had been guilty, they would have busted her right then and there."
"What do you say we call these Social Services people and see if they can confirm it?"
"Okay, we will!" Criss agreed. He turned back to the phone. "Mom? You got the number for Social Services there?"
"Yes, right here," Dimitra said, and told him the numbers as Criss wrote them down.
Artie leaned toward the mike. "We'll be right back after these messages."
As Dimitra waited for Criss to contact Social Services, another call came through to her via call waiting. She put the station on hold and answered, "Hello? Yes, this is Mrs. Sarantakos. Yes. Oh. Oh. dear. No, she was a ward of the state and had been in foster care. I'll be there as soon as I can. Thank you."
Dimitra sadly pushed a button, ending the call, and switched back to KLOL. No response yet. She sighed heavily. From the call she had just received, now there was another crime for which Mr. Webber was guilty.
"County Social Services. May I help you?" a woman's voice answered mechanically.
"Yes," Artie said with uncharacteristic courtesy, "we are investigating a case of some foster children being neglected by their caregiver hired by their guardian. They were abandoned and--"
Criss ripped the phone from Artie's hand and put it to his own ear. "Listen. We need to know everything you can tell us about a Mr. Webber, who had fourteen children in his care and was pocketing the funds. He was the one neglecting them, not their caregiver." Criss shot an angry look at Creed. Trust him to distort the truth, he thought.
"Mr. Harold Webber, of Long Island?"
"Yes, him. Do you know anything about him, what happened to the kids?"
"Well, the authorities are investigating his financial records, and he is being charged with child neglect, fraud and misuse of funds. In fact, it says here there is a warrant for his arrest."
"Has anyone been arrested? And who reported the crime?"
"No arrests that I know of, sir. There is only that one warrant. And the person who reported it is an Mrs. Sa-ran-ta-kos, I believe it is. She was the volunteer caregiver to the children at the time. She had been very co-operative with the Child Neglect officers and Social Services generally."
Cheers rose from the Loyals listening to the broadcast. At last! Confirmation of Dimitra's innocence! Artie Creed was toast!
"Thank you," Criss said. "You have been very helpful." He disconneted the line and switched back to his mother. "Hey, Mom! Did you hear all that?"
"Yes, I did. Thank you." she replied simply. To Criss, she sounded tired. "Now, put Mr. Creed back on. I want to talk to him."
Gloating, Criss handed the phone to Creed. "It's Mom," he said, smiling smugly. "She wants to talk to you."
The Loyals outside almost shuddered in anticipation. They just could not wait to hear what Dimitra had to say to Artie Creed! It was payback time! they thought. If he could dish it out, he could take it. They all knew that Dimitra was going to give Creed an earful, and Dimitra did not disappoint them.
"Mr. Creed?" Dimitra said, her voice trembling with anger, "I don't know why you came up with those lies about me. What are you trying to do? Ruin me? Ruin Chris? Well, now you have been proven a liar! Does being on the radio give you the right to ruin people's lives? Answer me!"
"Listen, lady," Artie said, "I was misinformed, okay? I just got this tip on the phone and reported it."
"You did not answer my question."
"Hey, I call them as I see them. You ever hear of the First Amendment?"
"Did you ever hear of the Seventh Commandment?" Dimitra shot back. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, remember? And you have broken it over and over again! You had a duty as a radio announcer to tell the truth--"
"I did tell the truth!"
"Whose truth? Yours? You used the radio only to hurt people! And now you have been caught in an outright lie! May you never work in radio again! May the public never hear your voice ever again! May God silence you forever!"
A chill went down Criss' spine as he heard those words spoken by his usually gentle mother. Thousands of years of Hellenic culture hardwired into his psyche told him that there was nothing more feared by the Greeks than a mother's curse. She could call down the wrath of God on a person's head if she had good reason. Artie Creed was doomed.
Artie, however, was nonplussed. To him, her cursing was nothing more than the rant of an old woman. Why should he be afraid of that old bag? He was still Artie Creed! He could land any spot on any radio station anywhere in the country! He would never be silenced, not in a million years. To hell with her! He was glad to be leaving this podunk station; it gave him an opportunity to move on to fresh woods and pastures new. As always, Artie couldn't resist getting in the last word. "Yeah, like that's going to happen." He hung up on Dimitra, leaving Criss outraged.
"This is Artie Creed signing off on KLOL, and this is my last broadcast on this station!"
He stormed out of the studio, giving Morty and Criss the middle finger. Criss stuck his head out of the door and loudly suggested that Creed perform a certain anatomical impossibility. Morty headed back to his office, where Shiela waited in the reception area.
Morty barged in. "Who the hell are they?" he demanded, pointing at the two lovely young girls sitting patiently on the vinyl bench.
"They're here for the intern position, sir," Shiela told him. "They've been waiting for over an hour."
"Okay! You're hired! Both of you!" Morty barked. "First thing tomorrow, six-thirty AM, you two are the new morning show on KLOL. And I don't want any trouble! I got an ulcer eating me up alive because of the last guy." He took refuge in his office.
The two girls, now the new KLOL morning show jocks, stared at each other in disbelief.
The second deejay, a more amiable type, had taken over after Artie left. Criss left as well. Creed never did apolgize for what he said about his mother. He hated the thought of a lawsuit, though. The manager, Morty Bernhard, said the station was so deep in the red it was almost bankrupt. But one thing had been accomplished: Creed was history. Criss couldn't think of any radio station desperate enough, or stupid enough, to hire him. He was poison to the broadcasting arts. His mother's curse would come true. That was payback enough. Creed would be lucky if Artie got a job delivering the farm report.
He called his mother again in a private space in the corridor next to the lobby, still crowded with reporters. "Hey, Mom, how's it going?"
"I am all right. Where is Mr. Creed? He hung up on me."
"He's history, Mom. He's outta here. You won't be hearing from him again."
"Good." She sounded depressed.
"Mom? You okay? You sound kinda down."
"I received a call from the children's hospital where Baby Mia was."
Criss remembered his mother telling him about Mia. She had suffered the worst of all the foster kids, with a burned body and missing left hand, then coming down with an infection. In that filthy house, it was a wonder they all did not succumb to illness. "Is she okay?" he asked.
"She is more than 'okay' now" Dimitra said softly. "She is with God."
Criss stood there in shock. Poor Baby Mia, barely two years old and her life was taken from her just like that. He could not help shedding a tear for her. With no family, someone had to mourn for her.
"I'm sorry, Mom" he said. "I really am. Do you need my help with anything? Anything at all?"
"I want to claim her body and give it a proper burial" Dimitra told him. "You can help with the expenses. Nothing too lavish, keep it very simple."
Criss nodded. "Sure, Mom. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"I love you more."
Criss hung up, then braced himself for the onslaught of reporters and photographers for an unofficial press conference. He had plenty to tell them.
Criss wished he had bought his shades to protect his eyes from the flashbulbs of the cameras as he gave his statement to the press in the KLOL lobby. They practically blinded him. Ever since the Vegas Bomber threw that pipe bomb at him during his motorcycle demonstration and damaged his eyes, he had been very careful about protecting his vision. Geez! Didn't they have enough pictures of him already?
"I just want to clear a few things up for the press," he said over the clicking of shutters. "My mother, Dimitra Sarantakos, is innocent of all charges. There is a warrant out for the arrest of Mr. Webber, the head of that foster home where she worked. He is the sole guilty party in this case. My mother was the one who reported it to the Social Services authorities. They have it on record. She is the hero of all this, not the villian.
"I also received word that one of the children in Mr. Webber's care, Baby Mia, was hospitalized for an infection. She had already suffered severe burns on her left side, to the point where she lost her hand. Today, Mia died in the Children's Hospital in Long Island. Among Webber's other crimes, this one is the worst. This is negligent homicide, if not second degree murder. To cause the death of an innocent child, even indirectly, is by far the most heinous crime anyone can ever commit.
"As for Artie Creed, he has been fired from KLOL. He never apologized for any of his remarks concerning my mother. He had ragged me in the past, but they never stung as badly as those directed toward my mother. No one disses my family, especially my Mom! We all love her, and the Loyals love her as their own mother. There was no excuse for Creed to accuse her of anything.
"The so-called 'tip' Artie received was from Mr. Webber himself. There is a warrant out for his arrest. This case is being looked into by the county. As for the children themselves, well, we can only pray for them. I don't know what happened to them, but I hope that whatever home they find themselves in, it will be a hell of a lot better than the last one. Thank you."
Criss stepped away from the media, rubbing his eyes. He made a mental note to keep his shades with him at all times. He couldn't take the glare of the flashbulbs anymore. He stepped outside to the tumultuous cheering of his Loyals. Many tried to hug him, but security fought hard to hold them back. He waved, climbed into the cool darkness of his Lambo, and drove back to the Luxor.
He should have been gloating over Creed's fall from grace, if grace it could be called. Creed had been a splinter in Criss' side ever since he made a name for himself in Las Vegas. Hell! He barely showed any sympathy at all when the Bomber attacked Criss, blinding and burning him. Now he was history. Yet, he felt no triumph. Instead, his thoughts turned to Baby Mia. She did not deserve to die like that. She did not deserve to die at all. How she got burned and lost her hand would remain a mystery to him; maybe he did not even want to know. She had suffered so much in her two years on this earth. He began singing a little song he composed for the birth of his niece, Little Dimitra:
Tiny Angel from Heaven come down.
So great a mystery, deep, profound
In one so small. How came you to be,
Precious gift entrusted to me?
Hope is restored within me.
Joy wells up inside me.
Tiny Angel from Heaven come down.
Tiny Angel from Heaven come down.
The Heavens smile, and surround
You with golden light
To dispel the shadows of the night.
No evil shall ever touch you.
No harm shall ever come near you.
Tiny Angel from Heaven come down.*
No one surrounded Mia with golden light, he thought bitterly. She had been surrounded instead by the fires of Hell itself, maiming her tiny body. Dear God! He remembered the flash of pain he had felt when that pipe bomb exploded in front of him. It must have been so much worse for a two year old, her tender infant flesh torn and seared by the cruel flames. And then, to suffer such neglect by Webber! Mom's help came too little, too late. She had confided in him when she asked for money that Mia was probably brain damaged as well. He wondered, what kind of a God allowed a baby to suffer like that? For what purpose did it serve?
Criss stopped at a red light at some intersection. In the privacy of the Lambo with its tinted windows, he bowed his head and said a prayer for Mia's soul and the souls of the other foster children as well. He wished he had taken the time to learn their names.
Dear Jesus, You once said "Suffer the children to come unto Me, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." Well, these children have suffered greatly. You took one already into Your kingdom. Why did You let these poor kids suffer such neglect and abuse? You are supposed to be the Good Shepherd, yet these tender lambs were left to be devoured by the wolves of an uncaring social system and a greedy guardian. Why? Why did You let this happen? How could You have let these children go through hell if theirs is supposed to be the kingdom of Heaven?
Barely a day had passed since Dimitra's telephone confrontation with Artie Creed. County Social Services moved swiftly, informing Dimitra that agents from Child Neglect would be arriving first thing in the morning to retrieve the remaining children from Mr. Webber's house, and for her to be there with them when they did. Dimitra had merely said yes, she would, and hung up the phone. Now, on the morning of the next day, she sat in the shabby living room, waiting for the CNS agents. She was tired, her eyes were red from weeping over the death of Baby Mia, and she nearly nodded off a couple of times on the worn out sofa.
It was over, it was all over, her mind kept repeating over and over again. Her work with these children was finished. She had struggled to feed and clothe them to the best of her ability with what limited resources she had, only to be betrayed by Webber and slandered by Artie Creed. Now, it was all over, nothing left for her but an empty void she didn't know how to fill...
Dimitra started at the sound of a heavy pounding on the door of the foster home. She pulled it open to reveal two very severe looking women in business attire. They each flashed a badge encased in leather. "Mrs. Sarantakos?" the taller of the two spoke in a deep contralto. "We're here from the Child Neglect division of Social Services. We are here to remove the children from this house."
"Come in," Dimitra said, opening the door wider to allow the two officers access. "I'll go get them. They're upstairs."
The Child Neglect officers stepped in without a word, taking note of every detail of the house, scanning for any signs of code violations or neglect. Dimitra went upstairs to fetch the children. She had prepared them earlier for this. She had told them the whole truth about Mr. Webber and his crime against the county and against them, his charges. Her only hope was that they would find better homes with people who truly loved them. Though she had known them for only a few months, she loved them all as dearly as her own. Now, with their few belongings stuffed into plastic grocery bags, they stood in silent resignation to whatever Fate had in store for them. The two youngest. Chris and Kira, merely stared uncomprehendingly at her. Dimitra reached out to each of them for a final farewell.
"Good-bye, Heather" she said. "You have been such a big help to me."
"Good-bye, Mrs. S." Heather hugged her back.
"Roland, you get any taller and your head will be scraping the ceiling." She tried to laugh. It was a lame joke, but any sort of comic relief was better than none in this situation.
"I love you, Mrs. S." Roland said, wrapping his gangly arms around her,
"Aaron, Austin," she said to the two brothers. "You be good boys now. You are very lucky to have each other." She hugged them both.
She knelt down to Buck next. "Mrs. S." Buck said, "do you think the next family I get will let me have a dog?"
Dimitra smiled. Buck had been going on about having dog of his own for quite some time. "You will have your own dog someday, darling," she answered, hugging him.
"Buddy...Jamal..." she hugged each boy in turn. "Brandy? Now remember what I told you about stealing, all right?"
Brandy nodded, clutching her bag of clothes. Dimitra wondered if she should search it for any contraband, just in case. She came to Derek next.
"Don't take any wooden nickels!" Derek piped up before Dimitra could say anything, his big smile lighting up the room as usual. Dimitra wondered where he got that peculiar phrase. Still, she hugged him as she did the others. As she rose, she noticed China in a far corner, the chip on her shoulder firmly in place, glaring sideways at Dimitra with burning hatred.
Dimitra took a deep breath and stepped forward. Getting through to China had been like defusing a time bomb every time she spoke to her. The pain of rejection and neglect had taken its toll on her psyche at the tender age of ten. Another move to yet another foster home embittered her even more deeply.
"China," Dimitra began. "I know this is hard for you. It is hard for me as well. I know how you feel about this"
"No. you don"t!" China snapped. "You don't know nothin'! You say you do, but you don't know nothin'!" She burst into angry tears. "People say they care, then they get rid of me! Everyone I love leaves me! Nobody cares at all!"
Dimitra knelt down beside her. "I do care, darling. That is why I called the authorities. Do you want to spend the rest of your life living in a filthy house with a man who is spending the money given to him by the government on himself instead of you? You deserve better than that, China. You deserve a real family who loves and cares about you. And the Social Services people will find them for you."
"No, they won't," China grumbled. "I'll just be stuck in some other place like this one."
Dimitra slumped in despair. It grieved her that this child, who had her whole life ahead of her, should have given up hope of a better future. Still, she was not giving up on China. She had to make one final effort to break through the wall she had built around her and touch the wounded child inside.
"China, no matter where life takes you, always keep in mind I will always love you. We may be miles apart, but you will always be in my heart. You and all the others. You have been hurt in the past, but you will have a better future if you just believe."
Dimitra reached out to embrace China, but the little girl stiffened at her touch. She was not used to any sort of affection, no matter how much she longed for it deep down inside. Dimitra finally backed away. She would pray extra hard for China as she would for the other children.
She turned to little Chris, so unlike her own Christopher, who had been a bundle of energy with his daring, his passions, his love of life, whereas this one was shy, pathetically grateful for any sign of affection which came his way. To him, any sort of life was better than dying. He was too young to comprehend the change about to take place.
Dimitra picked up Kira and herded the children downstairs for the last time. Heather somehow managed to persuade China to come out of her corner and follow the others. They trooped silently into the main room where the two officers were waiting.
"I am sorry for the delay," Dimitra apologized to them. "Here they are. Ready to go."
"I see only twelve. There were supposed to be fourteen. Where are the other two?" the tall officer demanded.
"Tanvi was taken by Islamic Social Services, and Baby Mia was taken to the hospital for some sort of infection." Dimitra explained.
The second officer made a note in her record book. "Well call Islamic Social Services and the hospital to confirm that," she said.
"I can give you their numbers," Dimitra offered helpfully.
"Thank you, but we have them already," the second officer said as she put away her notebook. She turned to the children. "Well, children, it's time to go. The van is waiting. There's nothing to be afraid of, you're going to be transferred to better homes."
"That's what you said last time!" China snarled.
The officer ignored the remark. She had dealt with problem cases before. This one was no different. "All right, let's get going. We haven't got all day."
They all marched out of the house to the waiting van, carrying their plastic bags. Where would they go this time? they wondered. Dimitra handed Kira to the tall officer. The tiny girl began to wail as she was carried into the van and strapped into a regulation child safety seat. Her cries of "Mama! Mama!" tore at Dimitra's heart. But there was nothing she could do but stand helplessly by as the van filled with the children she had grown to love drove away, their faces staring out at her through the windows.
May the Lord bless and keep each of you in His heart, and may you all find the love you need and deserve. May you find families who will love and cherish you as their own. May your futures be bright and full of hope. And may all the troubles you have suffered fade into memory.
*This is not a Criss Angel song, but one of my own composition.
Last edited by Veritas; 12-11-2012 at 06:49 PM.