02-15-2013, 06:11 PM
"All rise," intoned the bailiff as court reconviened and the judge ascended to the bench. Everyone stood up and sat down again at the judge's command, the air in the courtroom heavy with anticipation aver the verdict. No one dared breathe, let alone speak.
"After careful deliberation and examination of the facts of this case," His Honor began, "the court has reached a verdict."
Silence. The judge turned to Monique Wesley. "Ms. Wesley, you stated that your proposed plan to build a luxury hotel in North Las Vegas was for the benefit of all concerned, providing employment and raising property values in the area. However good your intentions were, your deluded logic and your misinterpretation of the Fifth Amendment regarding public use would do more harm than good to the people of North Las Vegas. The Poletown case Mr. Dewey quoted is proof of that. Thousands lost their homes, churches, schools and businesses in the name of corporate greed, and it was all in vain. I do not intend to repeat that mistake. Therefore, the court rules in favor of the People of North Las Vegas."
Monique's jaw dropped. Cheers erupted in the courtroom. Criss reached over and hugged his mother. "We won, Mom!" he crowed. "We won!"
The judge hammered the gavel for order. "Furthurmore," he continued when the jubilation died down, "it is the decision of this court that you pay ten-point-five million dollars to the community of North Las Vegas, to be used for public works and services. If you are as civic minded as you claim to be, you should have no qualms about paying that amount. I'm confident that the money will do more to increase property values than a luxury hotel ever would." He brought down the gavel with a loud bang. "Case dismissed."
The courtroom emptied as quickly as school let out for summer recess. Criss was so elated that he didn't mind when the media charged forward for his statement, but happily related the case and the verdict in the city's favor.
"The system works!" he exclaimed to the press. "Justice has triumphed, and we showed that just because you have a billion dollars it doesn't give you the right to push people around. The church is safe, the city of North Las Vegas is safe--everything is cool!"
"What about your own suit against SilverStar?" one reporter asked.
"What about it?"
"Do you think you'll win this one, too?"
"I know I will," Criss replied. "Monique had no right to go and arrest my mother like that! It was a false arrest, and she knows it!"
Tired of waiting for her famous son to finish his press conference, Dimitra made her way through the crowd of reporters and cameramen. It was a mistake on her part, because then the media began pressing her on all sides for a statement and a quick photo with Criss.
"Mrs. Sarantakos, how did it feel to be arrested?"
"Do you have any resentment toward SilverStar?"
"Is it true you chained yourself to a tree to protest the demolition of Holy Trinity Church?"
"Can you give us your viewpoint on the trial today?"
Criss charged to the rescue. "Please, everybody," he pleaded. "Don't crowd my mother, okay? You want a statement, you talk to me."
Criss pushed and dodged his way through the mob of reporters and photographers, clutching his mother close to his body like a precious parcel. As soon as they were clear, Father Stefan took over and quickly escorted Dimitra into his own car. The officers from the Sheriff's Department kept the press at bay while Criss made a quick getaway in his Viper. The media feeding frenzy did nothing to diminish his sense of victory over the case. True, Monique could appeal the decision, but he figured with public opinion against her it would be like beating a dead horse. No way would SilverStar triumph against him. It was all over, so now he could relax.
But, he recalled, there was still that personal suit. Well, so what? As far as he was concerned, it was just a formality. Go in, win the suit, get a judgement, and get on with his life. It wasn't the money that concerned him--he had plenty of that. He wanted to punish Monique, hurt her where she lived, right in the pocketbook. Monique had no right to arrest Mom like that, and he was going to make damn sure that Ms. CEO didn't get away with it. No one did that to his mother, no one!
That very Sunday, Father Stefan celebrated the church's victory with a special Mass. The altar was flanked with huge floral arrangements and lighted with white tapers. The marble floor shone with mirror brightness, and the monstrance above the altar gleamed like the rising sun. Not only the regular parishioners but those of the Greek Orthodox faith who came to Las Vegas as tourists also attended, having heard of the SilverStar controversy and court victory on the news. Everyone milled around outside, chatting in English and Greek, getting aquainted and reaquainted with each other while waiting for Mass to begin. The atmosphere was as joyous as Easter.
Among the general throng were two young women trying to blend in, but secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol, Criss Angel. They had dressed as conservatively as they could, in simple, modest "church" dresses and wide-brimmed hats (they had heard that Greek Orthodox women were supposed to cover their heads during Mass), but they still looked flashy compared to the rest of the congregation. To their relief, few took notice.
"Do you think he'll come?" Candi asked Kris Lee.
"He's got to," Kris Lee insisted. "I know Dimitra will be here at least. She wouldn't miss this for the world."
"Oh, God, it would be so cool if he did!" squealed Candi.
"I know, I know, but play it cool," Kris Lee told her friend. "This is a church, not a Loyalfest."
Candi pointed to a large Range Rover pulling up into the lot. "Do you think that's him?" she asked eagerly.
"It could be anyone," Kris Lee said, shrugging. "Let's go see."
They trotted to the parking lot with mincing steps so as not to topple over their high heels, then hid themselves behind a wall and peered around the corner to see who just drove up. "Oh, God, let it be Criss!" Candi prayed.
The driver's side of the Rover swung open, and a black suited man who looked familiar to Kris Lee and Candi emerged from inside. He crossed over to the passenger side and let out a blond-haired woman, then opened the back door for his other passengers. Only when he began to walk toward the church did the two recognize the driver.
"Ohmigawd!" Kris Lee gasped. "It's JD! And he's got his wife with him!"
"I see Dimitra!" Candi squealed. "And--it's Criss! He's here!"
Candi hid herself behind the wall like a starry-eyed schoolgirl seeing her crush. "Ohmigodohmigodohmigod! What do I do? What do I say? I am, like, so nervous!"
"Now, just calm down, Candi," Kris Lee told her. "Just let me do the talking and everything will be fine."
"Why do you have to do the talking?"
"Because I know Dimitra and she knows me, okay?"
"Just because you met her during that one day of protest--"
"Look, let's not fight, okay? This is very important for Criss's family and--wait! Here they come!"
Candi and Kris Lee fell silent, tensing up for the big encounter with Criss and his family. They watched in anticipation as they walked up to the church, and then watched in disappointment as they detoured toward a group whom they seemed to be on familiar terms. They stood helplessly as Criss and his family hugged and greeted the strangers, chatting amiably.
"Okay, what do we do now?" Candi asked Kris Lee.
"Just act natural and move in," Kris Lee told her.
They strolled casually among the people, nodding and smiling politely, doing their best to be inconspicuous. They strategically positioned themselves by the same tree where Dimitra had chained herself in protest, close enough to hear the conversation but far enough not to be noticed.
"Thank you for all your help, Dima," an elderly woman said gratefully. "If not for you, the church would be gone."
"Oh, I didn't do it alone," Dimitra protested. "I had plenty of help, from God and my family."
"You are very lucky to have such a supportive family, Dima." the old woman said. Then she turned to JD, Costa and Criss. "It was good of you to help your mother save the church."
JD looked sheepishly at her. "Well, actually, we tried to get her to come back to the hotel more than anything," he said. "We were more worried about her than the church. The only way we could get her home was to file that injunction."
Criss nodded in agreement. "I couldn't sleep that night, worrying about Mom out there in the cold. If it weren't for the Loyals keeping her company, I'd have picked the locks and dragged her back."
"Loyals?" The elderly woman was perplexed.
"That's what Criss calls his fans," Costa explained. "Anyway, Mom was determined to stay on until she got arrested. Now Criss is filing a suit against SilverStar on Mom's behalf."
The elderly woman sighed. "Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits! Why does everyone have to sue everybody? The only ones who get rich are the lawyers, and it costs more than what you get out of it, what with all the legal fees and all that. Why do you want to sue them anyway, Christopher? You already have so much money yourself."
"It's not the money," Criss insisted. "It's the principle of the thing. I want to get the message across to Monique Wesley that she can't bully people around just because she's the CEO of some big corporation, and the only way to do that is to hit her where she lives--right in the bank account. She had no right to get my mother arrested like that, no right whatsoever! If she wasn't a woman I'd go right up to her and kick her right in the--"
"Christopher!" Dimitra was appalled.
"I know, Mom, i know," Criss placated her. "Still, she's nothing but a greedy, land-grabbing...witch! You know she is! It's time someone put her in her place, and that someone's gonna be me! If hauling her into court is the only way to teach her a lesson, then so be it! She may have tried to intimidate everyone else around her, but not me! I hope she rots in Hell!"
Kris Lee and Candi burst into applause. "Yay! You go, Criss! Whoooo!"
Criss and company turned toward the two girls standing by the tree. The girls stopped clapping and stood there, embarrassed. There was a moment of awkward silence, broken by the sound of Dimitra clearing her throat. "Ahem, well, we'd better be getting inside," she said. "We don't want to be late for Mass."
Everyone began trudging across the lawn toward the church, save for Criss and the two girls. Criss looked at the flustered pair standing by the tree where his mother had chained herself six weeks ago. A smile crept over his face as he approached them. "Hi," he said casually.
"Hi," Kris Lee managed to get out, while Candi simply stood there, too awestruck to speak.
Criss looked at Kris Lee. "I think I've seen you somewhere," he said, unsure.
"I was here with your mother," Kris Lee reminded him. "You gave me some money to buy her something to eat, remember?"
"Oh, yeah," Criss said, suddenly recalling the moment. "And did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Buy Mom something to eat?"
"Well, we really didn't have to," Kris Lee told him. "The other Loyals had bought so much food with them I didn't have to buy anything. I kept your money, though," she added hastily. "I still have it with me. Do you want it back?"
"Keep it," Criss said, shrugging. "Or better yet, drop it in the poor box or something, put it to good use. I don't need it."
"I was there, too, Criss," Candi spoke up. "I was in the tent near Dimitra, too. You tripped over me that night and landed on that girl, remember?"
Criss laughed a little. "Oh, yeah, that was pretty embarrassing."
"Not to that girl you landed on," Kris Lee quipped.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
The church bell tolled from above. "Uh, oh, service is starting," he said. "Gotta go."
"Can we come with you?" Candi begged. "Please?"
Criss thought it over. "Well, okay, but you gotta promise to behave yourselves. This is church, not a nightclub."
"Oh, we promise," the girls said.
Criss slung an arm around each of them. "Okay, let's go."
The three stode up the lawn to the church entrance, where JD, Costa and Dimitra waited for him. JD glared at Criss and the two girls. "Just once," he groaned, "just once, would you please check your ego at the door and be like normal people?"
Criss looked at his elder brother bemusedly. "What?" he shrugged. "I just invited a couple of our supporters who helped save the church, that's all. Mom? Is it okay if they sit with us?"
JD rolled his eyes. Dimitra eyed the two girls flanking Criss on both sides. "All right, but I want you two to be on your best behavior. No flirting or any other funny business, understood?"
"Understood," the girls chorused.
"All right then." Dimitra turned and enterd the church, her sons, Kris Lee and Candi following. The girls stared in awe at the interior of the church, with its gilded frescoes glowing from the soft light of the wax tapers, the banks of flowers around the altar and the golden altarpieces gleaming in front. Clinging to Criss's side, Kris Lee began to wonder what it would be like to get married here. The thought sent her into a strange, blissful fantasy.
Criss up front in a white dinner jacket and black bow tie, standing next to the priest. And I'm floating down the aisle in fluffy white satin and lace, carrying a huge bouquet of white roses. Standing in front of the priest, saying our vows. Criss slipping the ring on my finger, promising to love and cherish me, forsaking all others, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, until death do us part. Me promising the same, with all my heart. Criss pressing his lips against mine, sealing our bond. Oh, God! It's bliss, it's heaven, it's--
--rudely shattered by Candi tugging on her arm. "Over here," she whispered, steering Kris Lee into position next to her.
For a moment, Kris Lee wanted to strangle Candi for ruining her wedding, but after reality sank in she brushed it off. She looked around. It turned out that Dimitra had manouvered herself between her son and his two female escorts and was now standing between them and their idol; she seemed determined to enforce the no flirting rule to the letter. She tried to catch a discreet sideways glance at Criss, but was unsuccessful. Disappointed, Kris Lee watched as the processional made its slow, dignified way up the aisle to the altar. Well, she'd have to wait until the service was over. Maybe later she'd get some pictures with her camera phone, just to prove that she had been there; meanwhile, she'd have to get through the Mass without embarrassing herself, or Criss and his family. It was just like what her father had said: life was what happens when you make other plans.