02-06-2013, 09:06 PM
By morning of the next day, the city of Las Vegas had heard, read, or seen on television the news of the Grand Imperial project, and the reaction was less than favorable among the general public. A quarter of a trillion dollars to build another luxury hotel in a city full of luxury hotels, tearing down an entire neighborhood to boot? It was madness, they thought, an outrage, especially in these economically troubled times. Tourism was at an all time low; who could afford to stay even one night in such a place? The Grand Imperial would turn out to be a grand disaster, a public relations fiasco, a white elephant in the middle of the desert.
Criss read the morning edition of the Sun in his suite after breakfast that day. In the Op-Ed column a sidebar article entitled "How to Spend $250M", by Susan Akins, caught his eye.
Yesterday, SilverStar CEO Monique Wesley proudly announced the construction of the fifty-story Grand Imperial Hotel and Resort due sometime next month or so, with indoor golfing, swimming and all the amenities, all at the grand cost of $250,000,000,000. She claims it will provide jobs and improve property values in North Las Vegas, and is a "win-win all around."
Criss set down the paper. Akins had a point, he thought. If only this Ms. Wesley would read it herself--then maybe she'd change her mind about tearing down Holy Trinity.
A quarter of a trillion dollars to build some fancypants hotel in Las Vegas which has about fifty of them already, when there are hundreds of families who have lost, are losing or will lose their homes, who have no health insurance, who can barely afford to feed their children? What was she thinking?
How is spending $250B building a hotel going to help "improve property values"? She'll be displacing thousands of residents and business owners from their homes and businesses to build this modern day Tower of Babel. For whom is she improving it for? She is only deluding herself if she believes she's doing everyone a favor by tearing down houses, churches, and businesses and creating this monstrosity. There are better ways of spending that kind of money. Think of it! $250,000,000,000 could:
*Provide medical care for thousands of families without health insurance. The list goes on. If Ms. Wesley is as civic minded as she pretends to be, she'd do well to invest in people, not property values.
*Pay tuition for hundreds of college students for four full years.
*Rebuild hundreds of neighborhoods, houses, streets, and businesses.
*Create housing for hundreds of low-income families.
In truth, Ms. Wesley had no intention of reading Susan Akins's article or changing her mind about tearing down Holy Trinity. By midafternoon, the word was out to the community she planned to take over--give up your property, take the money and go, or be forced out by the authorities. Resistance was futile. Thirty days was the deadline.
Father Stefan read the letter over and over again, his heart sinking deeper into his stomach. The unofficial Holy Trinity Rescue committee, consisting of Dimitra Sarantakos, Mrs. Christoforos, Mrs. Kanakedes, and the Mykoloses, sat in utter shock.
"They really mean it," Father Stefan said. "They are going to take over the church and demolish it."
"They have no legal right to do so!" Dimitra stormed. "We can take them to court and sue them!"
The others agreed. Father looked at Dimitra. "How? We can't afford a lawyer." he said.
"Christopher said he would help," Dimitra promised him. "I am counting on him to do that. Have no fear, Father, we are going to fight this thing!"
Mrs. Kanakedes smiled a little. "You know," she said, "you remind me of my daughter when she was in college. She was always protesting something, whether it was the war, or the environment, or women's rights, or whatever. I remember when she and some of her friends chained themselves to a tree to keep it from being cut down."
Dimitra sat still, lost in thought. "You know," she said as she pondered Mrs. Kanakedes's words, "you've given me an idea."
While Las Vegas went through its daily routine of gambling, drinking and attending shows, North Las Vegas was in an uproar over Monique Wesley's ultimatum. People stormed, swore, cried, prayed and threatened every conceivable legal action against SilverStar, and a few illegal ones as well. It was clear that the designated neighborhoods were not going down without a fight. "That (bleep) knows what she can do with her plans!" grumbled one malcontent to the press.
Almost every attorney in the Nevada State Bar had been contacted concerning the most hostile takeover in history; lawsuits by the dozens were filed by residents and business owners alike. Holy Trinity and other area churches held prayer meetings and special services to beseech the Almighty for Divine intervention. Crudely painted signs defiying the evacuation order could be seen in every window and on every lawn from every shop, gas station, private residence, and even from abandoned buildings.
HELL NO WE WONT GO!!
NOT IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!
SILVERSTAR GO AWAY WE'RE HERE TO STAY!
SAY NO TO THE HOTEL!
(BLEEP) YOU SILVERSTAR!
THIS IS MY HOME AND I'M NOT GOING ANYWHERE!
KEEP YOUR 500$ IM STAYING PUT!
SAVE OUR HOMES! SAVE OUR BUSINESSES!
Some citizens banded together in a loose confederation called the Coalition Opposing the SilverStar Takeover (COST) to formally protest the Grand Imperial project at City Hall. Every petition that had been circulated, including the Holy Trinity one, was officially presented to the mayor that very Friday afternoon. The honorable mayor promised to do everything within his power to halt the SilverStar project and save their neighborhoods. It was an outrage, he said, that his constitiuents should be forced out by some corporate bigwig to build a hotel on their properties. The people had more rights than some CEO with a big bank account. Once they realize they can't push around ordinary citizens, they'll back off. Cheered by this vote of confidence from the mayor, the COST members returned to their homes and businesses.
Their hopes were built on sand. Through some legal finagling by Morton Dewey and some clever reinterpretation of the eminent domain laws and the Fifth Amendment, the ultimatum was upheld. Monique Wesley was not going to budge an inch. Everyone in the area now had twenty-six days to comply or be forcibly evicted. The Grand Imperial was going to be built on schedule, whether they liked it or not.
In a large, graffitti covered building somewhere in the desert, George led his Aunt Dimitra and Father Stefan around to where Criss kept his chains, ropes, locks and shackles for his escapes. He pulled out a wooden crate from a lower shelf and opened it. "Okay, here you go," he said. "I'll get the keys from the lockbox. Otherwise, you'll have to call Christopher to pick them open for you."
George looked at his aunt. "I hope you know what you're doing, Aunt Dima," he said. "Criss is gonna kill me if he finds out."
"I'll deal with Christopher, George," Dimitra told him. "You just get those keys and load up those chains."
George left to fetch the keys from the lockbox. Father Stefan examined the heavy lengths of chain. It would take a sturdy pair of bolt cutters to break through these, he thought. Christopher knew quality, that was for sure. It was a wonder the guy was able to get out of them; no mortal man could ever escape these shackles.
George returned with the keys and a hand truck to haul the box of chains to Father's minivan. Once the chains were loaded on board, George gave the priest the keys. "Every one is tagged with the serial number to the lock it goes to," he explained. "Don't lose any of them, okay? Otherwise we'd have to replace them."
"We'll take good care of them, George," Father Stefan promised. "Thank you for your help."
"No problem, Father," George replied. "I just hope Criss doesn't, well, you know, go ballistic over it. I work for the guy, remember?"
"We'll handle Criss, George," Father assured him. "It's for a good cause. He'll understand."
"Okay, but don't tell anyone about this place or where it is," George said. "It's supposed to be secret."
"You have my word."
"Thanks. And good luck."
"Bless you, George."
George watched as Father Stefan and his Aunt Dimitra drove away with the chains back to the church. He knew that they desperatly wanted to save the church, but he had some misgivings over their preferred method of doing it. How long would they be out there? A day? A week? A month? The way cases dragged themselves through the legal system, it could be years before there was a resolution. No way could his seventy-three year old aunt endure the elements for that long.
Should he call Criss? Naturally, he would be concerned about his mother's welfare, but to find out about the chains would probably set him off, even get George fired for breaking into his warehouse and taking his personal property. Father and Aunt Dima promised to handle him, but they never worked for the guy. He could get very tempermental if things didn't go the way he planned. If he found out on the news, say, he'd really fly off the handle. No, it was better to come clean early before the media blitz. Maybe Criss could talk his mother out of it. He hoped against hope as he dialed Criss's number on his cell phone.
"Hello, Chris? It's George," he said. "Look, there's something you need to know about your mom..."
"Mom?" Criss echoed. "What about Mom?"
"Well, she and Father Stefan are planning some sort of protest at Holy Trinity Church, see--" George began to explain.
"I know," Criss interrupted. "I was at the meeting last week."
"Well, let's just say it involves...chaining themselves around it."
Criss was dumbfounded. "They wha...?"
"Yeah, that's right," George confirmed. "They and a lot of other protesters are gonna chain themselves around the church so they can't tear it down. In fact," he continued sheepishly, "your mother asked me to go into the warehouse for the chains."
Silence on the other end. George could sense the tension building up inside his cousin, ready to explode at any minute; he braced himself for the worst. "Look, Criss," he said, trying to defuse the situation, "I know how you feel about this--"
"Is Mom at the church now?" Criss demanded.
"Yeah, she left with Father Stefan," George replied, still waiting for the storm to hit.
"Okay, I'm on my way!"
Criss hung up quickly, leaving a bewildered and relieved George standing there in front of the warehouse, staring at his cell phone. At least he never mentioned the chains, he thought.
Dimitra sat on a camp stool in the shade of a large tree in the front yard of Holy Trinity, calmly and serenely doing needlework, a heavy steel chain wrapped around her waist and secured to a tree. Beside her, other protesters sat around the base of the tree, reading, texting messages, talking on their cell phones or to the other protesters around them. Everyone was generally having a good time. Others sat on the front steps with picket signs or positioned themselves around the perimeter of the building. Those who were not tied or chained to any part of the church property hung huge signs on the wrought iron fence, stating their defiance to SilverStar's ultimatum, or marched up and down the sidewalk with picket signs, chanting "Save Our Church!".
The protest did not go unnoticed by the media. Within the first ninety minutes hoards of television camera crews and reporters descended onto the scene like sharks on a feeding frenzy, shoving camera lenses and microphones into the protesters' faces and barking questions. The protesters were all to happy to welcome them.
"No one has the right to take away our church, or anyone else's property!" stormed one angry parishioner into a Fox Network microphone. "We're not going to let ourselves be bullied by some big corporation! We have rights, too!"
"If SilverStar wants to build something, why don't they rebuild what's here instead of tearing it all down?" demanded another.
"Down with SilverStar! Down with SilverStar!" chanted a young woman, her small fist defiantly in the air.
A CNN reporter managed to get hold of Father Stefan for a quick interview. "Father Stefan," she asked, "can you give us your views on the threat to your church?"
"My views are quite obvious," he patiently replied. "It's an outrage against God and His people. Holy Trinity has stood here for seventy-five years, and it has served this community better than some overpriced hotel ever will."
"SilverStar is claiming it under the eminent domain laws," the reporter continued. "Do you think it has a valid claim?"
"Let me tell you that God Himself has eminent domain over this church, and no one else," Father stated firmly. "If SilverStar persists in this grandiose project, then disaster will fall upon them for desecrating holy ground."
He pointed to the small churchyard cemetary about a hundred yards away from the church building. "Over there," he said, "are those who have passed on before us. They sleep in peace until the Day of Judgement. Would they dare disturb them? That is consecrated ground, and I will not see it bulldozed for some luxury palace!"
"I see you're not chained up like the others, Father," the reporter commented.
"No, I have to be free to tend to my duties," Father explained. "The Church comes first, you know. I have to be on call in case of an emergency."
"Thank you, Father Stefan," the reporter said. "This is CNN, Las Vegas."
"Save our church! Save our church!" chanted the picketing protesters on the sidewalk, occasionally breaking into cheers at the sound of the occasional driver honking the horn to show support as they drove past. One car in particualar, a shiny black Lamboghini, peeled up the street and swerved into the church parking lot, sending gravel, dust and pedestrians flying in its wake.
A protester sitting beside Dimitra nearly jumped out of his seat. "Who the devil is that?" he demanded, shaken by the sudden appearance of such an flashy vehicle.
Dimitra sighed. "That," she replied, ''would be my son, Christopher."
The black Lambo's door flew open, and out popped Criss. Cheers and whistles greeted him as he emerged, but he was not in the mood to play celebrity at the moment. Instead, he bolted across the lot to the tree where his mother was sitting. Dimitra was nonplussed at her famous son's appearance; her soft, withered features were set in a sterner countenance than Criss expected.
"Mom!" he shouted as he ran to her side, the cameras trailing behind him.
"You could have driven a little more carefully, you know," she scolded him. "You could have run someone over, driving like that."
Criss ignored his mother's admonition. "Mom, what are you doing here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Dimitra retorted. "We are taking a stand against those who will destroy this church!"
"By chaining yourself to a tree?"
"Yes, by chaining myself to a tree," Dimitra snapped as she returned to her needlework. "We are not moving until they relent. I've come to accept this church as my second spirtual home, and I am not going to see it ruined!"
"Look, Ma," Criss said with all the patience he could muster, "I called some law firm and they're moving heaven and earth to save it. We're gonna sue SilverStar for an injunction or whatever. You don't have to do this!"
"Lawsuits take time, Christopher," Dimitra pointed out. "We don't have that kind of time. We only have twenty-six days left."
"But what about the petitions? Didn't they help?"
"We gave the mayor the petitions, and the courts refused them. They're claiming eminent domain under the Fifth Amendment for public use."
"Well, if I remember my high-school civics class, that's for building highways and parks, not hotels!" Criss argued. "Look, Mom, I promise you the law firm I called are gonna do everything in it's power to stop this whole thing. This whole chaining yourself to a tree is going to get you arrested!"
"Then I'll go to jail, then," Dimitra said firmly. "But I am not moving from this spot until they call off the demolition!"
"Christopher!" Dimitra spoke in that all too familiar authoritative voice that brooked no arguement from any of her sons. "I'm staying and that is final!"
Criss sighed heavily. Dimitra returned to her needlework. He turned and looked straight into the cameras behind him. "She ain't gonna move," he said simply.
Last edited by Veritas; 02-07-2013 at 06:26 PM.