05-09-2012, 07:28 PM
"He did?!" Darlene squealed.
Angela showed her roommate the ring as proof of her engagement. "There it is," she said happily.
Darlene shrieked happily and flung herself onto Angela as enthusiastically as she did Criss in the Rover that day at the Cave of Sorrow. "Ohgodohgodohgod! I can't believe this! You're actually marrying Criss Angel's cousin! My God! I feel like I'm gonna be related somehow!"
"Uh, not quite," Angela said, struggling to free herself from her overeager roommate. "But I would like for you to be my maid of honor, if it's all right with you."
Darlene was astonished at such a request. "If it's all right? If it's all right?! Of course it's all right! I'd love to be the maid of honor!" An even happier thought crossed her mind. "Do you think Criss will be the best man? I hope so! Then I can walk down the aisle with him! Oh, God, this is gonna be so cool!"
"Well, just hold your horses, there, Darlene," Angela said calmly. "We still have to tell the immediate family, you know; I've yet to meet his mother. George's family is so big, you know--this is going to take some time."
"Angie," Darlene said, "you're marrying Criss Angel's cousin, for God's sake! Word's going to get out faster than you think!"
Darlene proved to be right about one thing: the happy news of George and Angela's engagement spread like a brush fire over the course of the Labor Day weekend. In spite of Criss' PR agents efforts to keep a lid on it, the story leaked to the fanboards. Thousands of Loyals sent their best wishes to the couple via the Internet, their posts loaded with happy-face emoticons and demands for more information about the wedding and for photos of the bride- and groom-to-be. By mid-September, Angela was officially adopted into the MindFreak family.
Meanwhile, George had dutifully informed his mother, Molina, before telling anyone else. In fact, he didn't have to tell anyone else; Mother Strumpolis called everyone in her personal phone book from her closest relatives to the parish priest and relayed the good news to them in both English and Greek. Meanwhile, she kept pestering her son just when the wedding would take place so she could make travel plans for herself and the family.
"Uh, wouldn't you like to meet Angela first." George suggested, "then worry about the wedding?"
This minor detail had completly slipped Molina's mind. Of course she would be delighted to meet Angela, she said. She was sure she was a very nice girl, and would have no trouble getting along with her, but like every other future mother-in-law, she peppered her son about the bride-to-be: Could she cook? Yes, reasonably well. Was she a good housekeeper? Oh, yes, very clean and tidy. Was she a Christian? Definatly; in fact she worked in a Christian-run homeless shelter to aid the poor. Did she have a good reputation, or was she one of those women she had heard about in Las Vegas? Not to worry, there wasn't a single blot on her character. Most importantly of all, was she Greek? Well, no, not really, but George assured his mother she'd like her all the same.
This last issue deeply concerned Molina. "Does she agree to raise your children in the Church?" she pressed.
George had not discussed this with Angela yet, but he knew this was a serious matter as far as his mother was concerned. "I promise you our kids will turn out just fine," he replied evasively. "Just come on over to Vegas and we'll talk it over furthur. You'll love Angie, I know you will. She's a beautiful lady and she'll fit in just fine, I promise."
"Well, if she is everything you say she is," Molina said, "then I give you my blessing--as soon as I meet her, of course."
After the Labor Day break, when George returned to the production office after his morning boxing training session at Linehan's Gym, he was greeted with cheers and congratulations from the entire MindFreak crew. Surprised at first, then embarrassed, George accepted their accolades with modest grace, shaking hands, giving high-fives and shoulder hugs, all the while flushing beet red, something everybody pointed out and had to record on videotape for posterity.
"Soooooo," Criss drawled, "when's the big day?"
"We haven't picked one out yet," George told him. "I mean, hell, I just proposed to her over the weekend! Give us some time, willya?"
"Oh, sure, sure," Criss demurred. "No sense rushing into these things. Take your time. Hey, it's your day. Make the most of it."
"We just want to know when to plan the bachelor party, that's all," Criss added casually.
George felt his stomach plummet to groin level. "Bachelor party?"
Criss laughed at his cousin's discomfort. "Well, yeah, we can't let you get married without celebrating your last night of freedom!" he said.
The MindFreak crew seconded with war whoops and throaty howls. Poor George merely stood there, visions of his cousins and fellow crew members debauching themselves with copious amounts of beer and the pseudo-amorous attentions of scantily-clad pole-dancing strippers played before his mind's eye. "Uh, guys," he spoke nervously, "I-I think I'd rather not."
Everyone groaned loudly in disappointment. "Aw, c'mon, George!" Criss cajoled him. "Don't wimp out on us! You deserve it!"
"I just don't want anyone ending up getting hurt, that's all," George insisted. "Or put in jail for a DUI. Especially me."
Criss put his arm around George's shoulder. "Look, we promise to bring you back in one piece, okay?" he assured him. "Don't worry about a thing; we got it all under control."
"Famous last words," George muttered with a sinking heart. "I'll be lucky to make it through in one piece."
If the prospect of a raucous bachelor party dampened George's spirits, the visit to the Clark County Detention Center, Women's Wing, soaked them to the core.
He was all too willing to let Bianca rot alone in the lockup, but Angela wanted to see her sister, her only living relative, and announce her engagement in person. Besides, there was a more practical reason she wanted to visit Bianca: her Chevette had been pronounced DOA by the garage where it had been towed that day at the Cave of Sorrow; the mechanic had no parts for such an outdated car as that, he said, so she would be better off selling it as scrap. Angela still needed a car for work, and she hated having to rely on Darlene and George for transportation, but she couldn't afford to buy a new one, not on a teacher's salary. George, however, hit upon a brilliant plan: since Bianca's car had been impounded during her arrest, why not just use it? All she had to do was pay the three-hundred-dollar impound fee, get the tire fixed, and it would be hers, he told her. "Hey, it's not like she's gonna be using it," he had reminded her. "Not when she's in jail, anyway."
Angela had been hesitant at first, but since the fee was far less than the down payment on a new car, she agreed. The Chevette was scrapped, and the silver Lexus rolled out of the impound lot on its new tires. As the summer wore on, however, the matter of ownership worried her. Legally, the car still belonged to Bianca, though she was in custody. If she got pulled over, she would have a lot of explaining to do. Could she arrange a transfer of title? If she could, then the car would be legally hers. Knowing Bianca, however, she knew her sister would never consent to such a thing. What was hers was hers, period.
So, Angela put off the transfer until the day she got engaged. She put the title in her purse and rode with a sullen George to the CCDC one sunny Saturday morning. Neither spoke as they traveled, both dreading the meeting with Bianca for reasons of their own.
After the standard search for contraband, George and Angela stepped into a small meeting room divided in half by a heavy glass partition, further divided into booths for privacy. They found an extra-wide booth with two chairs designed for family visits. They sat down and waited for the guard on the other side of the partition to bring in Bianca. She arrived in due time, dressed in garish prison orange, her hair pulled back into an unflattering ponytail. Neither George nor Angela recognized her at first, until she spoke. Her first words were characterisically cutting and sarcastic. "So, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" she sneered.
"Nice to see you, too, Bianca," George retorted sarcastically.
"George, please," Angela pleaded, "be nice."
George grimaced, knowing that being nice to Bianca was a waste of time. "Well, first of all," Angela began, "George and I are getting married." She held up her finger bearing the engagement ring. "See? It's official."
Bianca grunted in reply, totally unimpressed. "Well, try to control your enthusiasm," George sniffed.
"Is that all?" Bianca said drily.
Angela drew a deep breath. "Well, there is the matter of your car," she began hesitantly.
"What about my car?"
"Well, we got it out of the impound lot where it's been since you were, well, you know..." She pulled out the title from her purse. "And since you won't be using it for a while, I thought you'd like to transfer the title to me. I'll take really good care of it, I promise."
Bianca did a slow burn behind the partition. "Give you my car?" she echoed, appalled at such a thing. "I've been here for two months and already you're laying claim to my property? You have some nerve, Angela! That car is mine, you hear me? It will always be mine, and don't you forget it! No way! I'm not transferring!"
George spoke up. "Yeah? What good is a car gonna do you locked up in jail, huh? What're you gonna do, drive it around the prison? And how are you gonna pay for gas? The insurance? Prison pays peon wages, I heard." He snatched the title from Angela's hand. "Do yourself a favor and just sign the (bleeping) title, willya?"
Bianca stared defiantly at George. "First of all, I am not going to prison! No jury in the world is going to convict me--I am completely innocent! This is just a temporary setback, that's all. When I'm acquitted, I am going to sue you, your cousin the famous magician, and the city for all that I've suffered here! I'll be a rich woman, and the two of you will be living in that homeless shelter! By the time I'm through with you, you won't even be able to afford a marriage license, let alone a wedding! Time's on my side, Georgie! By January of next year, I'll be a free woman!"
"The jury finds the defendant guilty of all charges."
Bianca's jaw dropped. How could they? How could they find her guilty when she had done nothing wrong? Enraged, she turned on her court-appointed lawyer. "You said you'd get me off!" she hissed. "You promised to keep me out of prison!"
The attorney, a slim man with a receding hairline, could only shrug in reply. "Sorry, Bianca," he said helplessly, "but the videotapes clinched it for the prosecution. It was a slam-dunk as far as they're concerned."
"Does the defendant have anything to say before sentencing?" the judge intoned.
Bianca could only gape meaninglessly. "But-but...I'm innocent!" she feebly protested. "It was an accident! Someone else stole that money! Your honor, I'm being set up!"
The judge remained unmoved. "Ms. Honi, you have been tried and convicted by a jury of your peers on charges of attempted murder, larceny and violation of bond. The evidence before the court is solid proof of your guilt; there was no set-up of any kind, except by your own greed. From the testimony of the witnesses, you have no consideration for anyone except yourself. It is the decision of this court that you serve a minimum of ten years, but not exceeding fifteen, in the Alamagordo Correctional Facility for Women, effective at noon tomorrow."
A final bang of the gavel, and the one-day trial was over. Bianca was led away by two uniformed officers, protesting all the way. George swept Angela up from her chair, planted a big smooch on her face, and smiled. "C'mon," he said, "we gotta get to the marriage licensing office before it closes."
A year had passed since Criss' first encounter with the Medicine Man at the Cave of Sorrow. It was a year of changed perspectives and making plans for the future, not just for himself but for those around him. His cousin, George, was engaged to be married; his mother's latest health scare made him more aware of her advancing age, and what the stress of his career was doing to her; and he had seen what Father Stefan had referred to as "the other side of Las Vegas", the poor and homeless who haunted the streets, scavenging for crumbs from the lavish neon-lit banquet that was the Entertainment Capital of the World.
Ever since the spectral shaman had made him see the error of his ways, Criss saw the city of Las Vegas in a different light, as a city of contrasts divided between rich and poor with the former ignoring the latter while indulging in Sin City's pleasures. Riddled with guilt, Criss vowed to share his "bounty" with those who had none. True, he still enjoyed his expensive toys like customized motorcycles and cars, and he loved his new twenty-five million dollar home, Serenity, but to disregard the thousands of people who had no home to call their own, especially the children he saw at Sanctuary Shelter, was criminal. He was currently in the planning stages of holding an annual auction for homeless relief with the help of his celebrity friends, encouraging them to share their bounty as well. They could at least enjoy the tax breaks, he figured.
As far as his mother was concerned, she showed no sign of her illness since last July, a big relief to her family. The battery of tests the doctors had run had revealed nothing serious; a few days' rest at Serenity, and Dimitra was back on her feet as well as ever. Criss had chalked it off as heat stroke; he was aware that the elderly were more vulnerable to it than anyone, and being in the Arizona desert in July was asking for trouble. From now on, he vowed, Mom was going to stay indoors as much as possible when she was at Serenity or in Las Vegas--no going outside after ten AM or before six PM. God forbid she should succumb to the triple-digit temperatures of the Southwest.
Then there was the matter of George and Angela's wedding. As estatic as everyone had been about the engagement (Everyone still recalled the tears of joy Mother Dimitra had shed when she heard the news), the actual planning of the wedding proved to be a logistical nightmare. For one thing, George's family lived in New York, and there were relatives in Florida to consider, but there was also the friends he had among the MindFreak crew here in Vegas. Would they hold the wedding in New York, or would they have to fly everyone into Vegas? And who would Angela invite? She had no real family except Bianca, who was serving time at Alamagordo. She had a few friends among the staff at Applewood Elementary and at Sanctuary Shelter, but that was all. How could they balance out the guest list without offending anyone?
After numerous phone calls to everybody concerned, it was finally decided the wedding itself would be held in Las Vegas so Angela could invite some of her friends, then a large family reception would be held in New York so no one would have to make the trip all the way out west. Most of the family were too old or infirm to travel, anyway, so this worked out for the best.
After that problem was solved, George's mother entered the picture. She had met Angela a week after Labor Day weekend and, after a perfunctory interview, pronounced her worthy enough to be her daughter-in-law once Angela agreed to raise their children in the Greek Orthodox faith. Relieved she had passed the test, Angela embraced Molina and swore to be a good wife to her son. Criss' sister-in-law, Lynn, bless her, gave Angela a set of Greek language CDs so she could communicate in the family's native tongue.
"This isn't going to be like that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is it?" Angela had asked Lynn nervously.
"You'll be fine," Lynn assured her. "They're Greek, but they're not that Greek."
Next was the venue, the term wedding planners use for the location. In the living room at Serenity, Criss was full of ideas in that department, and he was all to eager to share them with everybody. "We can have it at the Luxor!" he said excitedly. "We could fix it up so we can have the wedding on one side of the Grand Ballroom and the reception on the other! Better yet, you can have it here! It's big enough for everybody, and the view is great--think of the wedding pictures you could take! Or we could go to one of the wedding chapels! I know this great one on Flamingo: it's got this awesome aerial act! You got to see it! Or, hey, you can go to one that has Elvis officiating! That would be so cool!"
George shook his head in disagreement. "Uh, I don't think I'd like to have Elvis marrying us, Criss."
"So, okay, you don't have to have Elvis," Criss conceded, his spirits still high. "I mean, hey, this is Las Vegas! You can get married however the hell you want!"
"A nice little chapel would be nice," Angela suggested timidly. "I really don't want anything fancy."
"Well, we got dozens to choose from, honey," George said. "Take your pick."
Meanwhile, George's mother, Molina, sat like a stone statue, listening to the plans and ideas tossed around, her face grim. The words "chapel", "ballroom", and "Elvis", made her bristle. George turned to her and asked casually, "So, what do you think, Ma? Where would you like the wedding to be?"
She rose from her seat, faced her son, and, in a firm tone, said in clear but heavily accented English, "You were born in the Church, you will marry in the Church, you will die in the Church."
With that, Mother Molina spun on her heel and left the room, leaving George subdued, Dimitra, JD and Costa amused, and Angela puzzled. Criss shook with suppressed laughter. "Two down and one to go, huh, George?" he murmured into his cousin's ear.
"Dummy up," George hissed.
Father Stefan Mykolos was all too happy to officiate the wedding, but there were a few issues of protocol that needed to be laid down. For one thing, both the maid of honor and the best man had to be Greek Orthodox according to tradition. That meant Darlene didn't qualify; a female cousin from George's side of the family had to fill in. Not only that, but Molina was dead set against Criss being the best man because of his divorce four years ago; she felt it would bode ill for her son's marriage to be witnessed by a man whose own marriage had ended disgracefully. JD was chosen instead, as he had a more stable relationship with his wife. Though it stung him deeply, Criss aquiesced for the sake of family harmony. It was George's day, he reminded himself; he could choose whomever he wanted. He could still serve as a groomsman, however, a compromise he could live with.
When Darlene heard the edict against her, however, she was heartbroken. "It's so not fair," she pouted. "I mean, it's your wedding, right? You should be able to choose whoever you want to be maid of honor!"
"You can still be a bridesmaid," Angela told her, trying to cheer her up.
"But I wanted to walk down the aisle with the best man--Criss!" Darlene wailed.
Darlene looked up. "I will?"
"Uh-huh. You see, Criss isn't going to be the best man."
"No, he's not. It seems they won't let him be the best man because he's divorced. These people are pretty strict about things like this, so we gotta play by their rules."
"But that's still not fair!" Darlene protested. "At least, not to him. I mean, JoAnn divorced him! What difference does it make, anyway?"
"Well, rules are rules," Angela said resignedly. "Besides, you still get to walk down the aisle with Criss, just not as maid of honor and best man."
Darlene pondered it, then shrugged her shoulders. "Six to one, half dozen the other," she said lightly, "I still get Criss either way."
The wedding took place in mid-June at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The interior was decked out with hundreds of flowers and lit with dozens of white tapers from the vestibule to the altar, softly illuminating the Byzantine stained glass windows of the hundred and seventy five year old church. George's family, friends and fellow MindFreak crewmembers filled one side of the church; Angela had invited whomever she could think of to balance the guest list on her side: fellow teachers from Applewood Elementary, Pastor and Mrs. Beaman, volunteers from Sanctuary Shelter--a pretty good turnout in total.
Everyone had liked the black and white ensemble Darlene had worn to her sister's wedding, so they chose that design for the bridesmaids (saving Darlene time and expense for a new gown, at least). The men in the party wore simple black tuxedos with white carnation boutonnieres. George stood by the altar, simply happy to have survived the raucous bachelor party his cousins insisted on throwing him the night before. He could recall very little: it had been a blur of neon, loud music and naked female flesh scented with beer and liquor. Mercifully, no one had called the cops.
The procession began. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen, led by JD and a female cousin, walked slowly down the nave. Darlene beamed as brightly as if she were the bride herself, gliding along on Criss Angel's arm. Oh, God, this is a dream come true! she thought gleefully. Next to marrying Criss, of course!
Michael West, principal of Applewood Elementary, had the honor of giving away the bride. Angela looked resplendent in her Vera Wang gown (she had wanted to wear her DeVris gown, but Darlene insisted she save it for the New York reception), drawing gasps of surprise and delight from the guests. The shy, frail schoolteacher had transformed into a beautiful swan on her wedding day. George felt a lump in his throat when she approached the altar. How could a guy like him be so lucky to be marrying such a vision of lovliness as she? When Principal West joined Angela's hand into his, he felt his spirits soar to the heavens.
There wasn't a dry eye in the church as the priest intoned the two-thousand year old rite of marriage. The American-born half of the guests couldn't understand the Greek language spoken during the ceremony, but it was moving nonetheless. Principal West claimed he found the ceremony fascinating. Doug Malloy, one of Criss' technical assistants, said he found the whole thing confusing. "Why the hell didn't they speak English?" he complained later. "This is America, ain't it?"
The floral wreathes were set on the heads of the bride and groom, the rings were blessed and exchanged, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Strumpolis took their first steps as husband and wife to the accolade of everyone present. Darlene broke into sobs of joy; Criss whipped out a handkerchief and buried his face in it to keep from weeping out loud. Then the wedding party paraded out of the church to the strains of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, proud and triumphant.
They piled into the fleet of limosines parked in front to take them to the reception at the Luxor. It turned out to be an even bigger "reception" than they had ever planned--hundreds of Loyals, armed with digital cameras, camcorders and camera phones, had gathered in the front of the hotel to welcome the happy couple (and to catch a glimpse of Criss Angel) and shower them with good wishes. It took the entire hotel security detail to keep them at bay long enough for the wedding party to make their way to the Grand Ballroom. Angela blushed, hiding her face behind her bouquet. George took it in stride, accustomed to being famous by proxy. Criss waved to his fans, shook hands with them, but could not linger long--Darlene kept yanking him by the arm, intent of keeping him for herself for the evening. The other guests, including Dimitra and Molina, were taken to the rear of the hotel to enter in relative safety. Once in the Grand Ballroom, all entrances were sealed off to uninvited persons per order of Chief Macaffey.
Felix Rappaport, president and CEO of the Luxor Hotel, welcomed everyone personally and offered the newlyweds a free weekend vacation package, good for one year, as a wedding gift. The cake came gratis as part of the Wedding Package: a four-tiered confectionary skyscraper detailed in delicate white icing filigrees, a masterpiece of the pastry chef's art. "It looks to pretty to eat," Angela had commented, though she had no qualms about cutting it with a silver knife and feeding a piece to George. The groom reciprocated in kind, but he cut too big of a slice and ended up mashing it into Angela's face. For once, Angela did not feel humiliated when everyone laughed at her cake-smeared face. Indeed, she laughed along with them, something she had never done before in her life.
There was dinner, there was dancing, and there were the tributes to the bride and groom. Criss spent most of the evening mingling with the guests while at the same time trying to evade Darlene's amorous advances. Just as the party was beginning to wind down, Criss disappeared completely. Darlene searched every square foot of the Ballroom, even daring to take a peek in the men's room, but she couldn't find him anywhere. She asked around, but no one had seen him except for JD, who saw him take some wedding cake from the table, but that was about it, he said. Darlene just pouted. He could have at least stuck around for one last dance, she fretted.
A pair of bright halogen headlights illuminated the dim desert landscape like a pair of cat's eyes. Only the purr of a car engine could be heard, if anyone or anything was around to hear it at that late hour. The black Lamborghini Viper was all but invisible in the darkness as it veered off the road and headed toward the mesa in the distance. Once it had reached its destination, the lights went out, submerging it into darkness. The gull-wing doors flew upward, and Criss Angel, still dressed in his tuxedo, emerged from within. He clicked on a flashlight and searched for the Cave of Sorrow. It took longer than usual in the nighttime darkness, but he found it soon enough. He lowered himself in front of the mouth of the cave and carefully crawled inside, his flashlight guiding the way.
He crept up to the small jut of rock used as an altar. He blew away the ashes of ancient sacrifices, reached into his jacket pocket, and took out two small white boxes tied with white satin ribbon and embossed with George and Angela in gold calligraphy on the lids. The creamy white boxes stood out in stark contrast to the overall gloom of the cave. Criss set the boxes onto the altar reverently, then bowed his head in prayer. God, bless George and Angela in their new life together. May the sorrows of the past never haunt them, and may their days be happy and bountiful. Amen.
Criss quickly blessed himself, then crept backward out of the cave, still clutching his flashlight. Once outside, he stood up and brushed the dirt from his trousers, hoping he hadn't damaged them so badly he would have to forfeit his rental deposit. Then he returned to the Viper, climbed in, folded the doors closed, and drove away into the desert night.
If he had turned around for even a moment, he would have seen the ghostly figure of the Medicine Man standing on the rocks above, smiling faintly.
Last edited by Veritas; 05-09-2012 at 07:48 PM.