The Miracle Tree -
01-31-2013, 05:50 PM
"No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty or property,
Sunday morning, five AM. Father Stefan Mykolos, pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in North Las Vegas, stood before the icon of the Theotokos, the Holy Virgin Mary, his hands upraised in prayer. It would be the only private moment he would have all day before the cycle of Masses and other obligations the Sabbath required to keep holy. He was a tall man with carefully groomed jet black hair and a beard to match. His olive complexion revealed his Mediterranean heritage as did his speech, impeccable English with a hint of a Greek accent. His heavy-rimmed eyeglasses gave him a scholarly look, more like a university professor than a priest. His sermons were clear, concise and well-rehearsed, flowing easily from script to speech.
without due process of law;
nor shall private property be taken for
public use, without just compensation."
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
"You wanna run all the people out.
This what your're all about.
Treat poor people just like trash.
Turn around and make big cash."
Open letter (to a Landlord) by Living Color.
"Tenderness springs forth from you, O Theotokos," he prayed, "make us worthy of compassion. Look upon sinful people, reveal your power for ever as we hope in you and cry aloud: Hail! as did the Archangel Gabriel, Chief Captain of the Bodiless Powers. Amen."
Father Stefan blessed himself and went to prepare for early morning Mass. In the sacristy, two sleepy-eyed altar boys yawned as they donned their surplices. Father could not help but smile at the memory of his own days as an altar boy: rousted out of bed before dawn, a splash of cold water in the face, then the long walk to the church to serve at Mass, then back home for a quick breakfast and off to school. To this day he never slept past quarter to five in the morning, even when he had fractured his foot after falling down the basement stairs in the rectory twelve years ago and had to be laid up for a couple of weeks to recover. He had refused the prescribed painkillers the doctors recommended, preferring to rely on faith alone. No one doubted his sincerity about his divine calling--Father Stefan lived, ate, slept and breathed his faith in God and the Church. He was the first to be called upon when there was any sort of crisis, be it domestic, spiritual, or practical. From baptism to last rites, Father Stefan had served his parishioners for nearly the quarter of a century since he had been placed there by the Archbishop when he was fresh out of seminary. Holy Trinity was not only his church, it was his home, and he loved it dearly.
While Father Stefan readied himself and his acolytes for the early morning Mass, the rest of Sin City was recovering from the previous night's debauchery of drinking, gambling and clubbing. One partygoer in particular was sound asleep in his luxury suite at the Luxor Hotel and Casino after having crawled back from LAX two or three hours ago. Criss Angel, Las Vegas's hottest new star and the Luxor's biggest attraction, lay sprawled on the king-sized bed where he had crashed, half undressed and dead to the world. His fashionably torn jeans, grey Affliction t-shirt and weathered denim jacket lay in a heap on the floor. Hammie, Criss's beloved cat, lay curled on the coverlet between his splayed legs.
It had been a wild night for Criss at LAX. But then, that was how he liked it. He reveled in the rock-star lifestyle that his fame as the greatest magician since Houdini had bought him. He had hot cars and even hotter women, VIP status at every club in Vegas, a fortune in diamond jewelry that he wore prominantly on his fingers and around his neck, and his suite was filled with huge, state of the art electronic games and other expensive toys. He had risked his life performing insanely dangerous illusions and escapes--"demonstrations", he called them--to earn the money to buy all of his cars, jewelry and other things he wanted, but to him, it was all worth it. He was on the top of the entertainment world, riding high on fame and fortune.
But with this ride came a heavy price, and Criss knew it. The possibility of a demonstration going wrong in a way that would result in his death hung over his head like the sword of Damocles. A missed cue, a broken piece of equipment, a miscalulation of timing--anything could send him to an early grave no matter how small in itself it was. He accepted his own death with philosophical calm, just as he had accepted his father's death before him ten years ago. It was the knowledge of leaving his family behind to mourn for him that had needled his conscience, his mother especially. She worried herself sick over him; every demonstration he performed filled her with anxiety, often reducing her to tears, nearly driving her to a nervous breakdown. The reality of his mother's welfare hit home when his manager, Dave Baram, informed him of her emergency heart surgery two years ago. Criss had been so grief-stricken he fled home to New York to be at her side. It was because of her that he had sworn off all the death-defying stunts that had made his career, concentrating on his live show instead.
Even though he gave up the dangerous stunts he had once performed, he did not give up on the lifestyle that came with it. He still went to the clubs on his nights off from performing his live shows, living the good life with the Beautiful People and other members of the Cult of Personality. Now, on this early Sunday morning, he was sleeping off the night's festivities with the rest of the city, taking full advantage of the prescribed Day of Rest.
Suddenly, he was jolted awake by his alarm clock on his nightstand. Criss swore in his pillow, groped around for the offending device and fumbled with the shut-off button to silence it. He was too groggy to remember why he had set it so early in the first place, much less care. He dropped the alarm clock back onto the nightstand and went back to sleep. It was Sunday morning, the only one where he was allowed to sleep in, and sleep in he would. It was his Day of Rest after all.
One floor below Criss's suite, his beloved mother, Dimitra, was still running on New York time; the clock read five AM, but her body told her it was eight. Unable to sleep any longer, Dimitra rose and read the book she had bought with her on the plane to Las Vegas. The hotel's early morning breakfast buffet would not open until at least eight AM at the earliest, and Mass was at nine-thirty, so she had plenty of time until then. These days people seldom if ever fasted before Mass as they did in the old days, and with her advancing age, not to mention her heart scare a few years ago, the health reasons for not fasting were justified.
She was delightfully surprised that she had found Holy Trinity Chruch in North Las Vegas; she wasn't sure that there had been any Greek Orthodox Churches so far west in America, let alone in Las Vegas of all places. From the first day she attended services there, not only did it offer spiritual comfort but also a chance to socialize with people her own age who had immigrated from Greece or were of Greek descent. In the Luxor Hotel, surrounded by her famous son's adoring fans and the MindFreak television crew, she could not help but feel a bit alienated; the world of fame, fortune and luxury was still strange to her. People she didn't know addressed her by name, even posed with her for pictures. She greeted them all graciously, endearing herself to them, but deep down she yearned for the company of her own generation, her fellow countrymen with whom she had more in common than those whom her son called the Loyals. It was in Holy Trinity that she found it. There, she could put aside her "Mama Angel" reputation and just be Dimitra Sarantakos of New York, chatting with the other parishioners and worshipping God in peace. No cameras, no demanding fans, just blend in with the crowd and relax.
Like any good churchgoing mother, Dimitra had tried to persuade her sons to accompany her to Mass at Holy Trinity. Her eldest son, JD, attended with his wife and daughter, Little Dimitra, but rather sporadically, depending on the production schedule. Costa, her second son, also made rare appearances at Mass for the same reason. And her youngest, most famous son of all, Christopher, spent too much time at the nightclubs and the bars to even get out of bed, let alone for Mass. He was probably asleep at this very moment. The Sarantakos family had deep spiritual roots, and Christopher even prayed before his demonstrations, but ever since he hit the big time, churchgoing was all but a thing of the past. It was up to Dimitra herself to pray for her sons' spiritual well-being. Maybe next Sunday she would have better luck herding her brood to Mass.
David Abercrombie rubbed his eyes in an effort to stay awake. He checked his watch and was shocked to discover it was five AM. He had worked the entire night and into Sunday morning. The pot of coffee he had been living on was nine-tenths empty and the caffeine had worn off. His bladder threatened to explode like an overfilled water balloon, so he rose from his design table to use the bathroom. Once relieved of the pot of coffee he had drunk throughout the night, he caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His face was haggard, dark circles ringed his eyes, and he was in dire need of a shave.
Why was he knocking himself out like this? he asked himself. Oh, yeah, he remembered, the design plans for the Grand Imperial Hotel, Resort and Casino which the owner, Monique Wesley, wanted on her desk first thing Monday morning, completed and ready to build. As if Las Vegas needed any more luxury hotels, resorts and casinos as it was, he thought with a tinge of bitterness bred from his exhaustion. The way the economy was, tourism in Vegas was way down; a lot of the existing hotels were bleeding red ink from lack of guests who could afford to stay in them, even with online discounts.
David returned to his table and stared at the design plans for the Grand Imperial, a fifty-story monstrosity of glass and steel and Italian white marble which would boast an Olympic sized swimming pool, a complete health spa and gym, a "collection" of exclusive shops and boutiques, a megaplex movie theater with stadium seating, a garden atrium of exotic plants, a day care center for guests who wanted to ditch their children for the day, and a twenty-four hour surveillance system with Hi-Def cameras so sophisticated it surpassed even National Security standards. It would be the most expensive hotel to build, nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. And what was worse was that it was to be built over an existing neighborhood in North Las Vegas, and who cared what happened to the residents who already lived there?
Monique had assured him that by building the Grand Imperial that she was providing jobs for the local economy and was revitalizing the North Las Vegas neighborhood by improving it with a luxury hotel. It would increase property values, she had said, which meant more tax revenue for both the city of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada. So what if it meant tearing down a few crummy houses and buildings? The Grand Imperial was just the thing to jump-start the state's sagging economy. It was out with the old and in with the new. You couldn't stop progress, she had told him.
As enthusiastic as Monique sounded, David had his misgivings, especially when he went over the map of the designated area. Those few crummy houses and buildings she had referred to so disparagingly consisted of nearly two thousand homes, one hundred and fifty businesses, a dozen churches, a school and couple of nursing homes. The oldest church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox, was seventy-five years old--it was practically a historic landmark! And Monique Wesley was going to tear it down for a hotel?
Exhaustion and despair drove David out of his office and into his bedroom. He planned to spend all day Sunday in bed. Tomorrow, he would deal with Monique. Maybe he could talk her out of tearing down half of North Las Vegas for her fantasy hotel and relocate somewhere else.
Yeah, he thought skeptically, and maybe the moon will fall out of the sky!