ROMANCE. CHARM. DRAMA. COMEDY
Misty’s Place is renowned throughout the world as the destination for the rich, famous and powerful seeking a complete entertainment experience. Its primary characteristic is that it accepts reservations for men only. Well, that’s because Misty’s makes no excuses for its top-selling commodity—it’s a high-class brothel. Not a problem, until the level-minded Misty shockingly decides to add infant care to her menu.
One might wonder what chance in life a baby has being raised with whores and their clients. Worsening the odds of ending up a refined young lady is that the child’s mother is a prostitute booted out in the street by the madam, the father is a philandering industrialist who can’t claim the baby as his, and the only legal guardian is scared to parent a baby.
Will little Star do the predictable and follow her mother to live in hell? Yes or no, all of the players in her universe will live the remainder of their lives spinning on new orbits, entwined with one another in ways that no one could have imagined.
Dennis A Nehamen
Golden Poppy Publications Los Angeles
By Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright @2016 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy PublicationsTM Los Angeles, CA
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by and information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Golden Poppy Publications or Dennis A Nehamen except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
All images, logos, quotes and trademarks included in this book are subject to use according to trademark and copyright laws of the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016906561
Lyrical passages by Craig M Nehamen
Cover by Cline Cover Design Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
I’m comfortable saying that nobody will ever read as many manuscript pages of my work as my wife, Bernice. Each novel she proofed, from the earliest versions forward—and I’ll admit reworking my stories until they beg to be completed. She’s known for her tolerance, and I’m sure I’ve tested it. Thank you!!
The judicial gavel for an entire culture had long before closed debate on the subject of whether or not a child could be properly raised in a brothel. Even Misty would have protested the absurdity of experimenting with bringing an infant into her fine establishment. But there are occasions when destiny’s dangling carrots order the most rational thinkers to betray sound judgment.
Further, it’s owing to these exceptions to rules that the history of mankind has been blessed with miracles. Misty’s Place was about to birth a prodigy.
CHAPTER 1: NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES
Misty’s Ranch is a one-of-a-kind establishment. A man of sufficient wealth and power can at any time he chooses, have the best of live entertainment, the finest food and beverage, horseback rides at dusk with luscious ladies, a round of golf with a stunningly beautiful female chauffeuring his cart, poker games with sensual women dealing, and…well, that too.
Misty is a businesswoman. Since establishing this high-class brothel on a five thousand acre ranch in Nevada in 1985, she was generating millions in income. It was more like a country club with the members needing to be sponsored before being able to partake in the festivities.
It was generally a happy and harmonious place. It certainly looked to be on the surface. The girls got along well with each other. There was always a cheery atmosphere. But then again, as is the case with any organization, there might be dark issues betraying the otherwise peaceful ambiance.
In fact, the unfortunate circumstance leading to the drama that was about to unfold began in the main hall of the ranch after what had seemed to be a rapturous evening. It was three in the morning and business had closed. The girls had retired to their rooms…all but one of them. Sadly, Misty kept no priest on staff; she would deliver divine retribution through her own code of justice.
The dark cherry wood bar filtered innumerable shades of red, blue, yellow, purple and green into the room from the liquor bottles reflecting against the glass behind them. As was typically the case, the scent of spirits, smokes and the essence of the various fragrances worn by the ladies that evening lingered like delinquents.
The room was deadly still. Misty was standing at one end with a young girl, Gyps, quaking, across from her boss. It looked like a standoff with neither moving. Misty was glaring while Gyps seemed to be awash in contrition. For several more seconds, the space remained silent. It was the type of cold quietude that begs to hush sin.
“I’m sorry; please, Misty, forgive me,” Gyps pled in a near inaudible whisper.
Misty now moved forward, toward Gyp’s corner, narrowing the physical distance between them. Misty’s jaw was firm, battling to contain hot rage. Halfway across the room she paused, throwing her hands open in an inquisitive gesture.
“Forgiveness?” she screeched. “Again? How many times do I pardon you for your offenses and excuse your irresponsibility? How many times do I give special treatment to an ungrateful child who deserves nothing more than being cast away like the useless slut you are?” “Misty, all I want to do is keep the baby. I’ll go away and take care of it and you’ll never hear from me again,” Gyps beseeched.
“You’ve never been able to take care of yourself. You’re going to look after an infant?” Misty sneered. She turned away from the girl, in an attempt to calm herself. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? All this time you hid it from me.” The harshness of her tone mercilessly pounded the frightened girl. “I could have handled this; you know that.”
“I didn’t want you to be upset.“
“I’m so grateful to you. Can’t you see how successful you’ve been? I’m not the least bit upset,” Misty caustically assaulted Gyps with irony.
Gyps knelt down, nearly collapsing from the wickedness of Misty’s reproach. Finally, she fell into a sitting position on the ground, cradling the life within her womb. Misty rushed to her, yanking Gyps back onto her feet to face her.
“If it were anyone else, I’d have tossed you out on the street.”
“Maybe I’m not as good as you; maybe I’m not as perfect,” Gyps weakly defended herself.
“Oh, please, you’re perfect,” Misty mocked the girl. “You’re well into a pregnancy and you know damn well who the father is. Hell. You got yourself knocked up by my business partner, the most influential man in the state…“ Misty threw her hands upward in a comical gesture of appreciation. “How much more perfect could you get?”
Gyps fell back to the ground, staring up at the unsympathetic figure hovering over her like a foul prophecy. She was left with no argument, her tears serving only as hope for leniency.
“I’m having you taken away where they’ll see to the delivery and have the child placed in a proper home.”
“But Misty, it’s my—“ “Get out!”
Misty heartlessly casted Gyps out of the room and seemingly out of her life. The lady had a business to run. Compassion? The girls working for her knew the rules; as long as they committed no serious violations they could expect mercy to be dispensed as freely as promises at a political debate. Misty invested heavily in her employees; Gyps in particular. That she couldn’t treat the young thing the same as the others nagged at her; yet she knew under the circumstances that true equality was impossible. That’s why her level of infuriation had peaked.
Later, it would take only a short announcement to the other girls to explain the abrupt departure of Gyps. Collectively, they understood that Misty was doing what Misty had to do. Still, they anticipated that Gyps would be headed back to the ranch after delivering a baby. The girls asked Misty no questions.
Shortly before the baby was to be born, one of the girls, Crystal, had a brainstorm. She woke up one morning with elements of a dream that wouldn’t stop tickling her psyche. It was well over an hour that she lay in bed wrestling with the disconnected images before finally they coalesced into an intelligible whole. She had imagined herself a mother, an unfathomable fantasy she’d have never granted herself in her conscious mind.
As she deliberated what had intruded into her rest, and then lingered in her waking thoughts, she realized that she really wasn’t any different from every other woman, even all her “sisters” at Misty’s. There was a biological drive to perpetuate the species through procreation, as well as an equally compelling need psychologically to nurture an infant to maturity.
Crystal at the time was only twenty-six. She wondered if there might still be hope for her, especially knowing that women were giving birth up to age forty without a problem. It was common knowledge that her career at Misty’s would be over before that; none of the girls even reached thirty-five before they retired.
Deliberating on the topic was unnerving to her. The more she contemplated her future, the greater were her feelings of sadness. She yearned for motherhood; sooner rather than later. Knowing that was improbable, she tried to douse the pestering fantasy. When she was unsuccessful it frightened her. Then, out of a sense of desperation, the thought of conception triggered a different sort of birthing, an idea she thought might bandage at least for the foreseeable future the sorrow she experienced knowing motherhood had to be well into her future, if at all.
Impossible, she mused to herself. Then she concluded definitively. Never. She’d never consider it.
Still, she had conceived a proposition, one that cried out to be expressed. Later that morning at breakfast, she gingerly brought up her dream, and then the stream of thought it had sparked for her.
“Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Ricki—one of the other girls—posed tentatively to Crystal. “Well, what if we all threatened to quit?” Crystal proposed, gagging over the absurd approach.
“I could see it now. Misty would have us packed and hauled off before we finished the proposal,” Ricki concluded. “You don’t bully Misty, and you don’t bluff her either.”
“I know,” Crystal agreed, “but what if we try begging?” “We can’t do this unless we’re all committed,” Ricki determined.
“Well?” Honey questioned. “All in agreement raise your left hand.”
There were no dissenters.
“You’ll have the honor of approaching her,” Honey mentioned to Crystal. “That way if she has the urge to punch out the plan, you’ll be the one taking her fist first,” she chuckled.
About an hour later Crystal, followed by the rest of the girls, meekly knocked on the door to Misty’s office.
“Good morning, Misty. We were wondering if we might have a few minutes to talk with you.”
“Of course, dear.” The door stood fully opened and Misty could see the necks of the rest of the girls craning forward to be able to hear. “All of you? It must be important. I’ll meet you in the main room in a couple of minutes.”
When Misty entered, the girls were seated around the room. Crystal spoke softly; she tippy-toed her words like gentle steps intended not to arouse a sleeping monster.
“It’s about Gyps. We thought maybe—“
“Girls, I really don’t want to know what you’re thinking,” Misty said kindly.
“We thought maybe you might take it easy on her,” Toni gently jabbed against the admonition.
“Would I take it easy on any of you?”
The girls knew she wouldn’t, and they wisely refrained from pushing the point. In fact, none of them had ever been able to account for the permissiveness that Misty had afforded Gyps in the past, offering amnesty for acts that never would have been allowed for any of the other crew members. The only explanation that had ever rung true was that Gyps was childishly naïve and Misty had a soft spot for her. They were grossly mistaken.
“Misty, it’s really not so much about Gyps as the little baby,” Crystal spoke.
“The infant will be placed in a loving home,” Misty assured them.
“That’s exactly what we all want,” Crystal said excitedly. “We figured out how to handle it.”
“Okay, darling, I’m listening,” Misty consented with a grin, her thick lips spreading in laughter.
“We keep the baby and raise it here.” Crystal gushed her words. “You see, Misty, we’ve talked about it. We could make schedules—“
“And divide up responsibilities,” Honey added to the pitch.
“Are you all nuts?” Misty gasped. “This is not exactly a nursery. The last thing our customers want waddling around here is a toddler. I can see it now.”
This was not the first time Misty had been summoned by her girls, only to be approached with a half-baked idea that she had to reject. But the nonsensicalness of this one inspired Misty to borrow on her acting skills to teach the girls a lesson that would hopefully avoid future muddleheaded excursions on their part.
Misty was envisioning a diapered infant screaming for a bottle in the middle of a whorehouse. It was a loony image that she embraced, one that thrust her into an impromptu skit. She grabbed Crystal, dragging her along as they approached an imaginary door that Misty swung open. Her hands were indignantly resting on her hips as she stared into the illusory space beyond the door.
“Excuse me, Mr. Lawson,” she admonished her make-believe client. “Yes, I know you’re primed for action, but it is Tuesday.” She turned to address Crystal. “It’s Crystal’s day to feed the baby.”
She continued to upbraid the man. “Mr. Lawson, if you don’t mind my saying, you’re acting just a bit selfish. There’s a little infant shrieking with hunger and you want to deprive it so you can…Christ, no wonder you disappoint your wife and children.”
Misty pretended to slam the door. She then scampered throughout the room, chasing after the fanciful child.
“It’ll really get to be fun when the little boy—“ “Boy?!” the girls pondered in unison.
“Well, it could be. And what a celebration for all of us when the grand master runs into Abby’s room and sees her naked, in pious worship to Mr. Mitchell, who is standing firm as a baseball bat.”
“Oh, mommy, can Abby do that with me too?” Misty imitated the child.
“No silly, you don’t have enough money,” she answered in her madam role. “But when you grow up and become a rich, powerful man, you’ll be able to afford one of the nice girls, like Abby…and Ricki and Crystal and Toni and Vera and Honey too. My god, you can have them all bowing to you.”
By now Misty had reclaimed her normal sense of self. “And what if we have a young belle sprouting up amongst us? Won’t it be grand? She’ll want to have some of her friends over to play, right?”
Misty positioned herself on the couch. She picked up a book and started reading. Next she acted out picking up the receiver of a ringing phone.
“Hello, Ms. Patterson. You don’t say. (Silence.) Julie said she saw what is happening here? (Girls all giggling.) She must be mistaken…or,” feigning shock, “she has a vivid imagination. It’s true my little Emma has eight sisters but…“her voice rose as she expressed outrage toward the caller, “they’re as pure white as an elephant’s tusk. And furthermore, I might advise you to be careful with accusations. I never wanted to say it, but your Julie seems rather promiscuous to me.” Misty motioned as if she’d slammed down the phone. “Hah, the nerve of that woman.”
Misty walked back to the girls and sat again.
“By the time dear Emma is eighteen she can put on a mini skirt and get to work.” Misty mused before proceeding. “Gee, I wonder what she’ll be doing by the time she’s twenty?”
“I’ll bet you’d make a great mom, Misty,” Crystal cautiously flattered. “Look how you take care of all of us.”
“Thank you, but—“
“Misty, please,” the girls sung out together, still undaunted by Misty’s opposition.
“This little thing will have more love than any baby on earth,” Crystal voiced independently.
“It’ll be a bright light for Misty’s and for all of us,” Ricki chimed in.
“I’ll think about it,” Misty shockingly responded. The girls couldn’t believe what they had heard. “Really? Wow!” together they shouted gleefully.
They could hardly contain the thrill, dashing out of the room laughing and chattering.
Misty sat by herself, deep in contemplation. It was a wacko idea. The lady had always prided herself on sound, logical decision making. Live dangerous. That would never be a maxim for Misty. It was, therefore, a simple matter that deserved no more consideration than applying for pastoral training. But there were special issues at stake that were weighing on her conscience, and they advocated forcefully for their position, and convincingly. She made a last ditch appeal to her hard-core business persona, but she couldn’t rally the needed support to nix on-the-spot the girls’ proposal.
She smiled. Her thoughts drifted back to her own skits performed moments earlier for the girls; she wondered how close they might be to reality.
Wow! There was a baby coming to Misty’s. She, Ricki, Honey, Crystal and the rest of the team were all going to be playing new roles as moms, sisters, aunts, cousins and nannies.
CHAPTER 2: IT’S A…GIRL
Gyps gave birth to a seven pound, six ounce female on July 30, 1993. The little dear was in perfect health. The mother handled the delivery without need for medical intervention other than standard obstetrical assistance.
After the birth, Gyps slipped out of the maternity ward and disappeared. Misty was in the waiting room. When the nurse told her that the mother had left without leaving a message as to where she was headed, Misty was not surprised. She had already insisted that she have legal guardianship over the infant from birth. She advised the hospital representative that she would be taking the baby home as soon as possible.
Two days later, early in the morning, she arrived at the ranch. She drove home and parked in front of the lodge, the tiny baby girl crying in the car carrier she’d
purchased the day before. It was the only time in her life she could recall being afraid; sole responsibility for another life was something she’d never anticipated.
Misty was raised in a comfortable environment. Her father was an inventor who had filed patents in the electronics field that quickly became invaluable. He made millions in a matter of a couple years. Misty was sent off to be educated in a private finishing school, and then earned an Ivy League college degree.
It was fifteen years later when her parents, Frank and Sylvia, would have two more children, Misty’s only siblings. The firstborn was a girl, followed the next year by a boy. Sadly, the fate of the younger two was not as favorable as for their elder sibling. Shortly after the two were born, her father experienced a dramatic change in personality. From a docile, kindly and introverted man he became hostile and argumentative at first, and later violent.
When Misty would visit the home after her emancipation, she’d be shocked to discover that her father, after a frenzied fit, had beaten her mother, brother and sister. She’d intervene whenever she was present, mitigating the damage to the three other family members, but she had no way of preventing split lips, blackened eyes and bloody noses when she was absent—the younger siblings both seemed to have fragile psyches and over time they weakened and withered.
The brother fared worse. Hopeless under the gravity of desperation, seeking his father’s love, he committed suicide at fourteen years of age. Her sister was fifteen when she lost her brother. One year later, the mother, seeking to follow her son to heaven, also took her own life. The father shortly after that was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, answering the mystery of his dramatic character change—he died during surgery not more than six months after his wife took her life. Misty had lost most of her family within a span of a year and a half.
In all fairness, the siblings were more the age of children to her. Still, Misty struggled with feeling that she had committed an unpardonable sin by not removing her brother and sister from the home. She knew it wasn’t practical at the time for her to take them, but guilt still weighed on her, at times punishing her that she should have done more.
Her sister having taken to the streets and disappearing did nothing to ease her conscience. She searched in every way possible, but couldn’t find the girl. There was a large inheritance that Misty looked after in the absence of her sibling. In fact, both sisters jointly owned the huge parcel of land in Nevada that would ultimately become Misty’s Place, although the younger sister would have no idea of her wealth.
During this painful episode of her life, Misty had been working at the Remington Hotel in Las Vegas as their marketing director. She became involved in an intimate relationship with the owner. At one point, she approached him about the land, explaining that she was considering selling it. He, in turn, shared with her a business plan that he had put together a year earlier.
Since he owned several of the top local hotels, and had influence with the owners of most of the other high-end establishments, he was sure that the enterprise would thrive. As it turned out, Misty put up the land and he chipped in the money. As a result, a partnership was born. Misty had no knowledge of the prostitution business but assumed it was no different from any other for-profit concern. Her theory proved to be correct.
She recognized early in life that she had little compassion for the common and pathetic excuses that people were willing to grant themselves for their inadequacies. After the tragic losses in her family, her attitude stiffened further. She was still aware, however, that the success of any enterprise rested on the quality of personnel hired to perform the needed functions. She never let her personal suffering interfere with her treatment of her employees. She held them to the highest standard of performance but they were rewarded for their contributions.
Each of the girls had a retirement and savings plan set up in their name. Misty educated them about money management. She assured them that when they retired from their employment they would have amassed enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.
It had all been smooth and predictable, except for one gnawing issue.
Misty dwelled on that point as she sat in her car. She was unable to mobilize herself to enter her home with the baby. She couldn’t help wondering if she had done wrong, if she had embraced a mistaken philosophy and failed to account for the fact that some people were damaged to the point that they deserved preferential treatment, forever if necessary.
No!! She refused to budge. Gyps had made her own bed and defined her own destiny. She couldn’t be granted one additional excuse. It was especially the case due to Misty’s generosity where she had given her every opportunity to redirect her life. Misty had stepped out for the girl like she’d never done for another person, and in return what did she have to show for it?
She was exhausted from her dual responsibilities at the ranch and hospital during the past couple of days. But as the last question paraded through her mind, she picked up the infant. The tiny girl represented the answer as to what she had received for her generosity. She bundled the little thing under her arm. It was time to be mommy.
She entered the main room and sat for a few minutes, holding the baby to her chest, listening to the quiet breathing of the fragile creature. Her emotions were stirred. She wouldn’t have admitted it but she wanted the warm creature close to her. She wanted to feel the softness of the facial skin against her cheek and smell the scent of rose petals she swore were coming from the little girl’s delicate, milky scalp.
For a moment she pulled the baby away, holding her outstretched so she could gaze at her. Her face was perfect, almond colored with cute puffy cheeks. She pulled her knees half way to her chest, creating a ledge to rest the infant so that she could continue to inspect her. She marveled at the silkiness and smoothness of the forehead; she rubbed her fingers gently across it and then let them explore the crown, pressing ever so tenderly on the open spaces of the undeveloped skull.
Misty had an impulse to do what she couldn’t remember doing since the first time she witnessed her father smash his fist into her mother’s chest and then smack her across the face. She had sobbed. After that tragic experience, she recalled telling herself there was no reason for weeping; there was nobody there who could wipe her tears, let alone comfort her. It was Misty who would minister to her mother’s wounds.
Now, with the baby’s blank eyes reading her from only a foot away, Misty wanted to cry. She wouldn’t have permitted it even if she hadn’t been interrupted.
The girls had been eagerly anticipating her return. Then after they knew their boss had arrived, they waited as long as they could tolerate before knocking at the door. Crystal was leading the group. Misty instructed them to enter.
They marched in jubilantly to see the newborn. Misty listlessly passed the little girl to Crystal. So thrilled were the girls that not one noticed the sorrow on Misty’s face. They had been preparing for days. The thought of the little one coming to be raised at Misty’s had inspired them to create. Together they had even written lyrics and outlined a plan to deliver them to welcome the baby home.
“Imagine what this little thing is gonna turn into,” the girls spoke together jubilantly.
Then Crystal held the child outstretched while she added her lines. “One of these days, she’s gonna tap my arm to play, and it’ll set my heart ablaze, one of these days…not far away,” she affirmed to her colleagues before continuing. “One of these weeks she’ll speak out, with a tone you couldn’t sing, one of these weeks between those cheeks, she’s gonna let it ring.”
Honey ran over and took the baby, cradling her in her arms as she smiled adoringly at the infant. “One month I got a hunch she’ll pack a pretty punch, one of these months she’s gonna bite back with a light snap. One year awfully near she’ll be off to a career…she’ll be at the heart of all you hear,” she rejoiced before changing her tone for her final line. “One of these days she’ll make me cry without the pain.”
“It’s my turn,” Vera impatiently called out, the baby being passed to her by Honey. “One of these days while I lay, she’ll sit next to me and sway, one of these weeks like a treat she’ll be prancing at my feet. One of these months when I’m sunk she’ll giggle at my funk, one of these years she’ll be commonly revered.”
All the girls joined together for the final line. “One of these days she’ll make us cry without the pain!”
Crystal took the baby again in her arms, staring at Misty. “I see this sweet child’s face, the bright smile and the humble shine. She’s going to be special.”
Misty loved entertainment and had made it a core ingredient for her business. Yet on this occasion, she seemed oblivious to the girls’ composition. She was in a funk of her own, not hearing that it is possible to cry without pain, that this child could bring joyful tears.
She was using the time to harden her heart for the assignment she’d been dreading since she was last at the hospital. By the time the recital stopped, she knew there could be no delay.
“Star! We thought we’d talk to Gyps and see what she thinks about naming the baby Star. Wouldn’t that be great, Misty?” the girls called out excitedly.
Misty stared at the cheery group pitching a name. Atypically, she found that she couldn’t speak. The words that she had prepared coalesced at the back of her throat like phlegm. She coughed but her speech fought back.
“Isn’t this great, Misty?” the girls entreated.
She swallowed, trying an alternative strategy to make way for words; still it failed to produce a sound.
“You don’t like it, Misty?” Ricki asked.
“Girls,” Misty finally responded somberly, “Gyps died giving birth.”
There were deep bonds that had developed between the girls. They worked together, played together, entertained together, ate together, took lessons together and slept together under the same roof. Often they’d take trips together during time off. It was not like most brothels where the working ladies had only superfi cial relationships between themselves. An employee of Misty’s became one of the family; they were for the time they worked for Misty, sisters.
Gyps had been the youngest of the group; she had also been with Misty the shortest amount of time. Still, she was adored, much like the little sibling. The news of her passing shocked the girls. But Misty wasn’t finished with them.
“I don’t want her name ever mentioned here again.
Are we understood?” Misty firmly ordered.
The girls had been clutching one another while pitifully sobbing. Hearing Misty’s words perplexed them, but none dared question her. They knew who made the rules, and more so how to tell which ones could be tested without punishment. Misty’s tone of voice left no doubt the name Gyps would from then on be whispered out of earshot of their madam.
Despondently, they started to leave, Misty still holding the baby as they filed out.
“Star. That’s a good name my little doll. I’ll keep you with me. You’ll never have to leave here, never have to go where it’s unsafe,” Misty vowed to her new daughter. She blinked, the repressed tears begging for expression that would go unsatisfied.
Only a few minutes later, Crystal came back hesitantly into the room.
“We’ll watch her, Misty, until you feel better if it’s okay,” she offered, pulling the stick of candy she was sucking out of her mouth.
Misty handed Star over. She sat still for some time, saddened that she had lied to the girls about Gyps, yet at the same time resolved that there had been no other way to handle the situation. It was best to admonish the ladies firmly right from the start and to get the matter over with.
Misty was infuriated about the whole affair. She was also humiliated that Gyps had defied her. That was the end; for all practical purposes, Gyps was dead. That’s why she told the lie and had to tell it. She confirmed for herself that it was the only sensible thing to do. It was the only way for life to go on and for the baby to stand a chance of bettering the miserable track record of the child’s mother.
As she sat thinking, she was distracted by what she believed was the sound of a door handle twisting behind her. Then she heard the gentle creaking of the planks of knotty black alder flooring, confirming to her that somebody had entered without first being given permission: that single fact assuring her that it couldn’t have been any of her staff.
Moving slowly, out of her range of vision, was a man in his early fifties. He stood a couple inches over six feet, with a healthy head of thick silver hair that was stylishly cut. He was indistinguishable from one of thousands of middle age handsome men, except…Hugh Crawford was richer and more powerful. It was not only Las Vegas where he held vast parcels of land being leased by luxury hotels, several of which he owned. He was titleholder of many of the prime properties throughout the state and was the majority stockholder in two of the largest forest product companies in the world.
The other venture that he held interest in—half partnership in Misty’s Place—was a true “silent investment:” the reality was that while there may have been rumors about a romance between them, only Misty and Hugh were aware of their business and personal association.
He approached her and placed his hand on her long, thin shoulder.
“Talk to me, my love. Give me the news,” Hugh greeted her gently.
“One of the girls got pregnant,” Misty reported indifferently as she twisted her neck to look at her visitor. Her golden-blond hair was pulled off her forehead and held by a forest green stretch band, accentuating features that could earn her a spot on the cover of a glamour magazine.
“With all that protection?” Hugh smirked while musing on the situation. “Little guy must have had heart. Well, you’ll handle it.”
“Too late. She withheld it from me too long. I had to let her give birth.”
Hugh took a stick of gum and unwrapped it, offering one to Misty. She ignored it. Hugh took a seat on the sofa next to Misty.
“She died after the baby was born.” “Oh, god, no. Is the baby okay?”
“Hugh, it’s a little girl; healthy, absolutely perfect.
She’s an angel.”
“Misty?” Hugh addressed her inquisitively. “There’s more to this story. I never thought I’d hear you express tenderness about a baby.”
“That’s right, there is a lot more to the story—the child is yours.”
“I told you any of the girls but that one were fine for you, but you didn’t listen to me, did you?” she spit out at her partner. “She was off all of July and refused to tell me where she went. Then after she was in the hospital I finally pried it out of the little shit, that you had put her up in one of your goddamn resorts so you could fuck her outside of my authority.”
“Look, Misty, I didn’t understand why you made such a big deal out of her in the first place. Besides, she was the best—”
“I know how terrific she was. But I guess you don’t recall our agreement: I run Misty’s and everything associated with it,” she fumed. “But that wasn’t good enough for you, was it? It was none of your business why I made the decisions I did, about that girl or any of the others. I had my reasons for every choice I made. Well, now look where we are.”
Hugh stood, motoring around the room.
“My child; a daughter! I’d break into song and dance if it weren’t for—“
“Right. One tiny thing, Hugh, you have a family.” “That I do. So? We need to do something here; it’s my baby.”
“Oh, stop. I’ve already decided what to do.” “I’m waiting, darling.”
“I’m keeping her with me. I’ll raise her.”
“In a brothel?” Hugh laughed. “Are you out of your senses?”
“Let me explain.”
“Wait. What do you want with a baby? You told me you’d make the worst mother this planet has ever seen.” “People change. I’ve considered this from every angle. I’m going to grow old. One day I’m going to wake up and say to myself, ‘My god, you thought you did it exactly how you wanted but you know, you never had the joy of being a mom.’ It hit me as I faced this situation.
Then after I was holding the infant that was it. I guess an instinct awakened.”
“I’ve never seen you like this,” Hugh responded dubiously. “There has to be another chapter to this tale.”
“Not a thing,” Misty stated emphatically. Then she dwelled on a thought. “I’ve been mom to every one of my girls. I’ll bet if you ask them every last one will tell you I’ve been better than the woman that birthed them. Maybe I won’t be as bad as I thought.”
Hugh nodded approvingly, but still pondered the situation circumspectly.
“So how do you plan to pull this off?” “I’m not—you are.”
“No, Misty. This is not the time in my life for scandal, and I’m not up for raising another child.”
“I didn’t know you raised the one you have,” Misty heartlessly stabbed at her partner.
“Well, my wife did a fine job and he and I got on fine too. Some day if you meet my boy, you’ll see for yourself. Besides, sons need their dads more when they’re grown.”
“Okay, look, here’s how it’s going to work. I have full custody; the kid signed it to me before she died. Now, the father was marked unknown but I want her to have a father of record. It’s simple. You’re going to adopt the baby under a different name and I’ll raise her. Hugh, you can use some of that vast power and influence of yours to work out the kinks.”
“For you, my lovely, consider it done.”
“There’s one other matter. I keep the girl with me.
She’ll be here, and as long as that’s the case you’ll never interfere. You can come visit like you normally might but not let the girl know who you are. I won’t compromise here, understood?”
“So do I get to see my girl?”
Misty walked out of the room, returning a few minutes later holding the little one. She handed her to Hugh.
“Your daughter’s name is Star.”
“Sounds like my girl, a star,” he beamed. “Anything she needs, Misty, she gets. I’ll pay for whatever it is.”
“Aren’t you already paying enough, not being able to disclose the fact that you’re her father?”
“No problem. I’ll be watching the little star grow up.
Hell, I’ll be like an uncle.”
Hugh walked out of the room with a smug look on his face. Misty measured his sense of contentment, wondering how long it would be before she’d have to battle Hugh for control of her child. She knew that he was a man who never surrendered unconditionally and who capitulated only while scheming his next move.
She took a liberty she otherwise never would have allowed herself, pushing the matter out of her conscious awareness prematurely. She was a mom; instincts were already fuddling dangerously with reason.
CHAPTER 3: FINDING HELL
A merciful and loving God might punish Satan for even suggesting the existence of a tormenting, suffering and hateful place called Hell. Yet He might have received a strong affirmation of its reality by Gyps.
After she left the hospital, she fell into a horrid slump. She saw herself as having lost everything. She had once more failed the lady who had repeatedly demonstrated faith in her by coming to her rescue, she had left herself without work or a means of supporting herself in the manner she had been used to living, she had disappointed her friends who had been like sisters but who now she could never contact, and she had walked away from an infant, her only child.
She wandered aimlessly for an amount of time she couldn’t estimate. She had no idea what direction she was headed or where she might want to get to. As it happened, a trucker headed to New York picked her up and invited her to ride along.
He was young, in his late twenties. His appearance was burly and he advertised his poor conditioning by the obesity of his upper body. Still, he was a kind and tender type. He’d recently married. In fact, his wife only two weeks before had their first child; he was faithful to his love and made no advances toward Gyps. To make matters even better, the stranger paid for her meals and let her sleep peacefully in the rear compartment of his truck.
When they arrived in the city, the man knew near nothing about his guest but could tell she was deeply troubled. He invited her to visit his family. He explained that he’d been through tough times and someone had reached out to help him. In his opinion, this stranger had saved his life.
When she refused his offer, he wrote out his name and number and asked Gyps for her contact information. She scribbled Candy Foster on the piece of paper he handed her, and made up a false address as well. The little that she had divulged about herself during the trip was a total fabrication she manufactured on the spot.
When she separated from the trucker, she found herself on the streets of Manhattan. Having never been to New York, and being severely depressed, she walked purposelessly. But as the air began to cool and the sky darkened, it awakened her to the fact that she was alone and without shelter.
Gyps had wisely wandered into a subway station to take advantage of the warmth and cover. She watched as the masses of mankind rapidly exited and entered trains. Then her eye caught sight of a lone male figure wearing a faded, filthy and torn chocolate leather jacket. He walked to the end of the line, far beyond where any of the customers needed to or cared to venture. Then he dropped down to the ground below where the train tracks ran. In an instant, he disappeared.
She might not have given the man another thought except for one fact: as she watched him walking in the opposite direction from where she was standing, she noticed on the back of the jacket in large bold red letters that had lost their luster, the word, HELL. That’s when her mind began magically piecing together a series of random and disconnected thoughts, lumping these into a single whole and then employing them—regardless of them being unproven—as facts to be used to issue a verdict.
She was going to hell for her sins. The truck driver had been kind to her only in order to deliver her to the destination where her punishment would be dispensed. The man wearing the jacket had descended in front of her to lead her to her place of suffering, an underground world. Hadn’t he glanced back at her, beckoning her to follow, leading her to the land of evil? She had to conclude that he had.
She shuddered at the imagery she had painted since childhood of the godforsaken place, a final destination she sensed from youth she was headed to. There she would meet her fate, an eternity of suffering. The world would turn to fire—bright yellow, red and orange—so hot that her eyes would melt from the heat. She’d gag from trying to breathe the fumes of volcanic-like explosions of gas. The sound of voices would screech so that her ears would fill with the sensation of needles being shoved deep within to the primitive structures of her brain.
Then before even being taken to Satan for the penalty phase of her trial, long passageways filled with giant serpents shooting venom from their fangs would have to be traversed. Her clothing would be pulled off, leaving her naked for the prehistoric dogs to begin gnawing on her flesh.
Then the floor would burn and massive eyes would glare out from the madness around her. Only then would she hear the first intelligible, yet infernal and pan-demonic words, “I am Satan; I am your master. Come, I will show you to your room…“
For Gyps it all seemed real as she jumped off the ramp and down to the level where the trains raced along to pick up passengers lucky enough to be destined for locations other than where she was going. She noticed that once she descended into the dark, that there was a small doorway leading to a stairwell. She followed it downward, level upon level, sure that her deserved discipline was soon to be inflicted.
Finally, she stepped out on to a dirt footing. The ground was cold but not damp or frozen. It was pitch black in some areas but intermittently light filtered through from above, an unanticipated phenomenon for a young lady expecting the worst. Then she saw what she would have thought to be shacks, if they had been in a destitute area of a backward country. For there were what she was sure were walls constructed of everything from cardboard to wood to metal sheeting, the makeshift structures separated by great distance from one another much like pioneers who had staked out parcels of land on a prairie upon which they had built cabins.
She ventured deeper into the world she now realized was one she had heard of, a sad habitat for thousands of homeless making a life for themselves under the New York City subway system. The fact was confirmed as she periodically saw outlines of what she was certain were human beings.
Gyps stood about five-foot seven in height and weighed no more than a hundred and twenty pounds. Her slight figure was well endowed in the areas women typically find most advantageous, and men most appealing. Those elements of her figure were, of course, fixed by nature. But when it came to all of the other ingredients composing her appearance, Gyps in her prior life as a working girl delighted in creating mystery and intrigue.
For example, from week to week the color and style of her hair would change, along with the costumes in which she’d clothe herself. From her imagination, she would invent new roles to enact as well. Thus, her style of speech, manner of gesturing, and tone of voice might alter with the same expertise as a professional impersonator. She was a born actress who never had the opportunity to play a formal part in theater but enjoyed performing on her own the multitude of characters she invented.
The enactment of these transformations would be carried out with such perfection that the men who routinely came to visit her at Misty’s would never know what they were going to get from one evening to another. In fact, so skilled was she at modifying her presentation that there were regulars who were surprised when she assured them that indeed she was the same lady they had enjoyed on their prior visit.
All in all, it made her top of the line merchandise at Misty’s, in spite of the fact that she was the youngest employee. Now, she was about to play an entirely new role. As she investigated what was to become her new home, she was as attractive as a…vagrant; she hadn’t bathed in days, the clothing she wore—her only possessions—were soiled and stank, and her hair was beginning to knot from oils, dirt and neglect of brushing.
After investigating by meandering underground for miles she was exhausted, finally cuddling next to what seemed to her to be the most lavish of the dwellings she’d come across. She fell into a deep sleep immediately. When she awakened she noticed she was hungry. She didn’t’ have a penny to buy food. Her life as a homeless person was about to begin.
She recognized a human figure moving toward a doorway that was dimly illuminated by a light shining from a train crossing sign above. She followed. She ascended stairs several levels before she exited to what she took for a trap door that opened into an alleyway. She crawled out, taking note of her location so that she could re-enter later. She had found her Hell, the final resting place where she would be rightfully punished. Still, she needed food and water or there would be no Gyps left to pay for her sins.
What does a person do when they possess nothing but the rags on their body? How do they provide themselves with the basic necessities to survive?
Gyps had no idea. While her life up to that point had been no carnival, she had never wanted for nourishing food or a setting within which to live. The underworld was new for her. She needed instruction on how to play her new role as the “street trash” she now envisioned she had become, and would remain for the duration of her self-imposed lifetime sentence.
They say that when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear. Gyps would have to make it without a map to follow; there would be no tutor. Making matters worse, the kid had her own system of justice and was determined to administer it in a manner leaving her childhood evil dispenser, Satan, seem like a wimp.
CHAPTER 4: 4,018 DAYS IN HELL, AND COUNTING
Who’s counting? When you’re having a ball, an eon of time wafts past like a fall breeze. Likewise, at the other end of the satisfaction scale, where suffering becomes an inescapable companion, hours, days, weeks, months and years sneak by like slithering thieves in the blackness of night. Gyps had lost track of time on the dark side.
The lady couldn’t have planned her choice of lodging better had she stopped in at a realtor’s office and asked where would be the most prestigious location to settle. She had roamed the dimness beneath the rail system for several days, near starving, sleeping on the dirt surface and drinking only when she passed a leaking pipe from above her.
Her stomach began to cramp, so much that the pain reminded her not only of hunger but also fear. The thought of food disgusted her. She might have died of malnutrition had it not been for an indomitable human drive, survival. As much as she tried to clobber the instinct, seeking liberation to allow her vile existence to end, she found she was no challenge to the persuasion of man’s fierce will to wake up to face the next hideous day. She could never recount how long it was before she had finally followed the human figure that had led her to the trap door from which she ventured upward to explore the world of sun, air and…humanity. She did realize that her eyes couldn’t focus at first, blinded by the brightness of a clear spring day. She walked through the alley and then turned to her right, where she was swallowed into a street mobbed by people hustling in every direction and at a brisk speed.
Finally she began to make out images and discerned that she had landed in a world of opulence; people were wearing fine clothing and had an air of importance. Then what registered next was a huge sign reading, Whole Foods.
Gyps understood that the company existed to turn a profit and wasn’t inclined toward altruism. However, she reasoned that somewhere hidden outside the bowels of the store was an area where damaged packages of foods, rotting vegetables and fruits, and returned goods that couldn’t be resold were dumped.
She read the city sign that informed her she was at Columbus Square, on the southwest corner of Central Park. The subway system below was a transition point for the red, orange and blue lines, and below that was her home. She was looking for a charitable side from the cold-hearted retailer.
Within a short time, Gyps had identified where the trucks came to pick up trash. She helped herself to more food than she could imagine eating; the gold prize from the first day of scavenging went to a bag of whole grain rice that had been tossed due to a hole in the packaging. She used an old sack she found in the container to load her provisions.
She then moseyed along 59th Street toward The Hudson River Parkway. During her journey, she found an old sleeping bag along with outdoor cooking gear. She also noticed in a commercial dumpster a long electrical cord, recalling that near where she was sleeping there was a power outlet no doubt used by crews sent down by the transit company to do repairs.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Gyps would build a stockpile of materials that she’d transport in a dilapidated shopping cart to her point of entry to the underground. She then carried the provisions to where she was building her home. Over time from people’s trash she’d collected items ranging from an electric frying pan to a small room heater to a wardrobe of clothing articles to a flashlight to grooming aids to a small mattress—all dumped by local residents.
What she lacked the skill or experience to do was build a structure to protect herself or her newfound possessions. She did wisely select a plot of land off from the main walkway and therefore not likely to be discovered by her neighbors. With an inexhaustible supply of nutritious foods, along with warmth and comfort for sleep, she was living a life better than she’d admit deserving.
Not more than a hundred yards from her dwelling was a constantly available water source. The trickling was not going to provide a comfortable shower but with patience, and tolerance of the cold, she was able to routinely wash herself and keep her clothing clean. She was able to groom herself sufficiently so that on excursions into the city, nobody would have had a clue that she was homeless. However, it was of little importance since she never associated with other people.
Her neighborhood was rich in culture, as well as people with money. Occasionally she’d walk to 62nd Street and Columbus Avenue where the New York City Ballet building was located. Other times she’d go to the corner of 64th Street and Amsterdam Avenue to see the Metropolitan Opera House. At those destinations, she’d watch as ticket holders went into and exited performances, the feelings of envy and isolation these experiences would heap on her seemed the perfect remedy for when she was close to forgetting the suffering she deserved.
Then there were times she’d venture further west in this safe Upper West Side area, eventually arriving at the park along the Hudson River. There she’d sit and watch people bicycling along the path while boats would be slowly moving through the waterway. Sometimes a bum or a young person wandering alone on the grass would approach her. Gyps would refuse to engage in conversation. Instead, without a word she’d pick herself up and walk away.