02-20-2013, 06:28 PM
The normally serene, quiet atmosphere of Holy Trinity Church had given way to the sound of hammers, power saws and electric drills as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and tilers plied their trade inside the seventy-five year old church, making much needed repairs and other improvements, all paid for by the court settlement from SilverStar. Radiant floor heating replaced the noisy steam radiator system; the last of the asbestos insulation was removed and liquid foam insulation was sprayed under the eaves and the roof; the frayed cloth-covered wiring was stripped out and new, safer electrical wires were strung in the walls, complete with a new circuit breaker box; even the damp, musty basement received an extreme makeover, creating new space for church social gatherings and other functions in comfort and style. The icons and frescoes were painstakingly restored to their former glory, cleaned of decades of soot and smoke from thousands of candles and burning incense until they shone like visions of Heaven itself.
Father Mykolos used the renovation period to organize his books, files and other items in his office, a task he had been putting off for so many years no matter how many times he promised himself he'd get around to it. It took the better part of a whole day just to sort through his filing cabinet: sermons, bills, attendance records, accounting sheets, itneraries for Holy Days, requests for Masses, expense accounts, tax forms, letters and other correspondence, all had to be sorted out, filed or discarded. His small wastebasket proved to be insufficent for the amount of discarded paper, so he had to resort to using the large trash bin in the men's room.
After his third trip emptying the wastebasket, Father Mykolos returned to his office and resumed the paper shuffling. By now he was on the more recent stuff. Bills were sorted and filed, expense reports sorted and filed, more obsolete correspondence tossed in the wastebasket. He reached down to pick up the next sheet of paper and read it to determine its fate:
Dear Father Mykolos,
We have contacted Harlan and Harlan to build the Grand Imperial Hotel in North Las Vegas...
With a faint feeling of satisfaction Father Mykolos tossed the letter into the wastebasket. He had nothing to fear from SilverStar or any other corproation now. The church was safe, thanks be to God. It would endure until the Day when all would be called before the Lord for final judgement.
Father looked out the window of his office onto the front yard. The tree where Dimitra Sarantakos had chained herself stood like a sentinel before the gates, its leafy boughs spread over the whole area all the way to the roof as if shielding it from harm. It had been half as tall when he had assumed his duties twenty years ago, and it grew so quickly in the desert oasis that was Las Vegas. It would be there still, its roots as deep as the Church itself and reaching higher and higher to Heaven, tall, defiant, steadfast, like the Miracle Tree in the story he had heard as a boy, the tree that had sprouted from a wooden staff spitefully stuck into the ground by a Turkish governor in scorn of a shepherd boy's desire for freedom. Yes, the Miracle Tree still lived and grew right here in North Las Vegas, an enduring symbol of hope in a time when all seemed hopeless.
Father returned to his organizing with a light heart and renewed spirit. He just missed seeing two familiar figures outside, cameras in hand, taking pictures of the church and the tree, the same two figures who had attended the thanksgiving service three weeks ago and had taken his picture with Criss Angel and his mother with their camera phones, and who could not resist getting better photos of Holy Trinity and Dimitra's tree, as they called it. After the photo shoot, they slipped through the gates and left a small bouquet of wildflowers with a note attached: To our Mama Angel, we luv u, keep the faith. Luv, Kris Lee and Candi.
Monique Wesley sat in her luxury home in the tonier part of Las Vegas, next to the Baja Golf Course where she used to spend many a pleasant afternoon shooting all eighteen holes and entertaining potential clients. Today she didn't feel like golfing. She had lost her position as CEO of SilverStar Enterprises, she had lost not one but two lawsuits over the Grand Imperial project, along with all the investors demanding their money back, and worst of all, she had lost face in the corporate world for her plan to evict thousands of people from their homes, schools, churches, and businesses without any concern for their welfare. Her rationalization of improving property values had fallen through the cracks with the public. She was villified in the press, unceremoniously crowned the new Queen of Mean, dethroning that other hotel magnate, the late Leona Helmsley.
And it was all because of Criss Angel, she told herself. Criss Angel and that sainted mother of his. They were to blame for her downfall. That her lawyer, that overpaid ambulance chaser Milton Dewey, had been suspended from practicing law just when she needed him most, added insult to injury. How much worse could it get? she wondered.
The answer came over her cellphone. She whipped it out to answer it. "Monique Wesley here," she snapped impatiently.
"Hello, Monique," Edward Craczbarten said. "I called you about the board's decision regarding your...resignation."
"First of all, Ed, I didn't 'resign' anything," Monique retorted. "As far as I am concerned, I'm still the CEO. As for the board's decision, it'd better be that you came to your senses and agreed to keep me on."
"Actually, no," Craczbarten said calmly. "The board has formally elected me CEO of SilverStar Enterprises, removing you completely. However, you will be granted a generous severance package of about one and an half million dollars total."
"One and a half million?!" Monique exploded. "That's chicken feed! That's bull(bleep)! I want my usual annual salary and nothing less! You got a lot of gall to hand me a deal like that!"
"Unfortunatly, that is all we can offer, after the lawsuits and other settlements with our former investors," Craczbarten said. "You have nearly bankrupted this company with your wild schemes and unethical practices, Monique. One and a half million--take it or leave it. It's the last money you will ever receive in your lifetime, unless you can find some other employment. With your record, I doubt you'll be able to find a position as an office clerk. So, if I were you, I'd take it, and I'd make it stretch as long as possible. It may be your only income from now on."
Monique was flabbergasted. "Think about it," Craczbarten said. "We'll be waiting for your answer."
He hung up before Monique could respond. Monique sat there in total shock. One and a half million severance for all the years of service as CEO of that overblown real estate office? The nerve of those (bleepers)! The sheer, unmitigated gall! No way was she going to back down! She was Monique Wesley, the woman who had the smarts to run a corporation and the audacity to take risks. She had had her share of failures, but she also had had her successes.
Oh, she would take that one and a half million all right, she decided. She would use it as seed money to start her own company, be her own boss whom no one could vote out. She would rise from the ashes, more powerful than ever, and when that day came, look out world, because she was going to get down to some serious ass-kicking!
And the first ass she would kick belonged to Criss Angel for all he had done to her.
Back at the Luxor Hotel, Criss was helping his mother pack her things in preparation for her return to New York. It would be the last day they would have together until the next visit, and Criss wanted to take advantage of every moment. He had asked her to stay on, but she refused. Not that she didn't enjoy her visit with her sons and her new friends at Holy Trinity; she just wanted to go back to familiar surroundings and see familiar faces again.
True, it hadn't been the most relaxing vacation Dimitra had taken, what with the threat of demolishing Holy Trinity, her overnight protest movement and her stay in the city lockup, but it had been an adventurous one. From the serene calm on his mother's face, Criss could tell that the whole episode had been worth it for her. He couldn't help but feel a renewed source of admiration for her, standing up to a major corporation in spite of the risk to her own personal safety for what she believed in. He had seen a side of her he had never noticed before, or failed to notice; behind the sweet, seemingly frail maternal figure was a will of iron, a spirit some would call stubborn but in reality was the integrity to stand up for what was right, no matter what the consequences. She was Greek, she was a mother, and she was a survivor--how else could she have gotten through the hell that was the Second World War, the trauma of immigrating to a whole new country, and the death of her beloved husband? If she could face all that, she could certainly face the likes of Monique Wesley. She could have faced down the Devil himself had he the temerity to appear before her. Indeed, she would have sent him crawling back to Hell with his forked tail between his legs.
Criss closed the suitcase full of Dimitra's best clothes and turned to look at her. His mother had just bought her toilet kit and was about to insert it into her carry-on when she noticed Criss staring at her, smiling.
"What are you thinking about, Christopher?" she asked, suspicious of any mischief on his part.
"About how wonderful you are," he replied, reaching out to embrace her, "and about how proud of you I am."
Dimitra gave a little laugh as Criss wrapped his muscular arms around her. "And I'm proud of you, too, honey," she said, embracing him back. "You know, before all this happened, I was worried that you were becoming spoiled by success, forgetting everything your father and I taught you."
Criss looked down at her. "No way!" he protested. "I'd never forget what you taught me--it's hardwired into my brain!"
"I know," Dimitra said. "You proved it by your support of the church. You came through just when it needed you. Without your support, it would be an empty lot."
"Without your spearheading the whole thing," Criss returned, "I would have spent all that money on another sports car or something. I did it because I knew it meant a lot to you--and, I have to admit, to stick it to Monique Wesley and SilverStar. I mean, the nerve of that--"
"Christopher." Dimitra silenced him with her fingertips over his mouth. "I have no malice against Monique Wesley. I am sure she has learned her lesson by now. Even if she never pays me that money I won in court, it would not matter. I have everything I need right here: my church, my home here and in New York, my health, God willing. And above all, my family, especially my sons, whom I am very proud of myself. I don't need anything more than that."
She patted her son on the rump. "Now, I have a plane to catch," she reminded him, releasing herself from Criss's grip. "Is the limo here?"
"Should be down waiting for you," Criss answered, giving her a final squeeze. "Your flight won't leave for another hour or so."
"I still want to be on time," Dimitra insisted. "I don't want to miss my flight. You know how I like to be on time."
Yeah, Criss knew how she liked to be on time, and he was not going to argue the point, either. He knew better than that: what Mom wanted, Mom got, and no questions asked, whether it was dinner reservations or saving the church. She was Greek, she was his mother, and he was proud of her.