“Why don’t we play a game?” suggested Lulu.
“I know a marvelous game,” added Fred, “even though it’s not played very often.”
“What is it?” asked Lulu.
“Let’s confess our greatest crime and no lying allowed.”
“Or stretching truth,” said Danny. “Let’s not!”
“Why not, Danny?”
“It’s a dumb idea. Well, intriguing, really,” said Kitty, “and it could be construed as bragging.”
“I don’t know,” said Anna, thinking about it. “What happened before when you played it Fred?”
“Some of us enjoyed it, but afterward everyone felt badly.”
“I can see why.”
“Let’s go for it!” declared Anna, suddenly smiling. “It’s my party. Let’s go for it. Each of us must agree to tell something, spontaneously, without thinking of consequences.”
“We’ll draw straws to see who goes first,” exclaimed Fred. “Of course, if you’re chicken, you can pass.”
Anna provided matchsticks. “George, draw first. It’s simple, really … simply tell your greatest crime. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with.”
Almost no one liked the idea, but no one wanted to oppose Anna. No one wanted to oppose her because it was her party.
“As for me I don’t know which of my crimes is my greatest,” said Brian.
“One important rule,” replied Fred, “confessions don’t leave this room.”
“Confidentiality, a good idea! Does everyone agree? Confessions don’t leave this room. But how do we know if someone’s telling the truth?” asked Danny. “Who wouldn’t lie? Everyone’s going to lie.”
“I won’t,” Anna declared.
“Are you serious?” asked Danny. “You won’t try to protect someone? You won’t change names to protect innocent people?”
“Yes, I’m serious.”
“Then let’s do it.”
“Don’t forget the therapeutic value of a confession,” exclaimed Fred. “The shortest straw goes first. So George, draw.”
Without a word George drew, followed by Anna and each of her guests. Fred drew the shortest straw. The second shortest belonged to Danny, followed by Anna, then Angela, Kitty, Lulu and so on. At this point no one indicated that they were thinking of backing out.
“So begin, Fred,” ordered Anna impatiently. “Stop stalling.”
No doubt Fred rehearsed his. The game was his idea, so he had time to rehearse.
“I don’t want to be a snitch!” cried Fred. “We all know what happens to snitches. What do you think, George? You know how scummy I am, but I’ve never been a snitch.”
“Oh, my!” declared Sally. “We’re ready. But Fred won’t tell the truth. He doesn’t dare tell the truth. He knows what happens to snitches. He’ll attack George as a diversion.”
“Fred!” said Anna sharply. “Confess!
“Here goes. Lost in a desert for what seemed like an eternity silence of the night was broken by a sound of an automobile. The stars weren’t out. It was pitch dark. There was a chill in the air. Then when a sound from me could’ve been fatal, apocalypse, I was aware that I could never reveal what I saw or put names to faces. My life depended on it. The truth was, it was very, very dark, pitch dark, and I couldn’t see. I didn’t see who they were. I wouldn’t be able to identify them now if they were in this room. It was cold. It was dark. It was dark, so I’m not sure what I saw. You can’t imagine how afraid I was. Petrified. I have never been so afraid. Went for a walk. Lost. Lost in a desert on a dark night. You know it still hurts. It hurts me. What I saw hurt me … hurts me. Some people may think I don’t have a heart, but what I saw hurt me. I should’ve contacted the cops. Maybe I saw enough to help solve a murder. Maybe I could help solve a cold case. You never know how a missing piece will help. From my vantage point … from what I could tell … two big strong men lifted a corpse out of a trunk and dumped it under a Palo Verde tree, and I did nothing. I tried to forget what I saw and did nothing. For years after that I avoided certain individuals.”
Kitty stared at Fred and thought of her mother’s unsolved murder. Higgs stood up and sat back down.
“And what if we stopped right here?” asked Danny, knowing that his turn was next. No one responded. “Pass. I pass, according to the rules I can pass. There’s no way I could top Fred.”
“Then it’s my turn,” said Anna.
Danny seemed alarmed over Anna’s eagerness.
“No, I want to go next,” interjected Kitty. “I want to get it over with. Like everyone else,” began Kitty, “I’ve done things that I am not proud of. Like Fred I’ve done things I’m not proud of. In college, struggling … we all know what college is like: no sleep, cold pizza and watching pennies. My roommate my freshman year was Marsha. Well-meaning and sweet Marsha … I liked Marsha. I would do anything for Marsha. We were both freshmen. It was the first semester, and she already knew that she didn’t belong in college. Worried and flunked, studied and crammed, memorized and as quickly forgot everything. College was impossible for her. She knew she wouldn’t make it. I didn’t care as much and made good grades. We shared a room off-campus. We finally just stopped talking. I wanted to go out, and she studied all the time, so we stopped talking. I thought we didn’t have anything in common. So I picked a quarrel, a violent quarrel and moved out. Three days later I discovered that I didn’t have a term paper that I’d written about Percy Shelley. I immediately suspected Marsha. Beside myself, I flew across campus on my bicycle. I swore at Marsha, calling her this and that … called her a lying thief. And a lying cheat. A liar, a thief, and a cheat. But she gave me nothing back. Sweat rolled off my brow. Shortly after that I learned that Marsha killed herself and felt even worse. I felt like shit.”
“Instead of a great crime,” said Fred, “you told us about something that you had no control over. A worse crime? Mine! Mine, for not calling the police.”
Then Joe took his turn. Once a handsome man he was quite short, slightly bald, slightly gray, and slightly overweight. He began his story deliberately. “I can’t forget the worst day of my life. I won’t make excuses. I’ve never had a worse day. It was right after graduating. Rocko married Karen Allen, his high school sweetheart. Rocko, poor guy, gave Karen everything, and in the end she dumped him. Yes, they divorced. Well, we were rivals. I knew Karen loved lilies … but not just store-bought lilies. She had to have wild lilies, driving poor Rocko wacko, naturally because he didn’t know where to find wild lilies. At my suggestion he promised her a whole bouquet of wild lilies, and without thinking he promised them. Naturally he became frantic. Then on the day before Karen’s birthday, he came to me all excited. ‘I’ve found out where some are! I know where to find wild lilies’ ‘Where?’ ‘Barth’s Bath.’ ‘Where?’ ‘ Barth’s bath. A meadow twenty miles from here. There’s a stream there, running water, very green, and lots of lilies.’ And he told me that he was going there first thing the next morning. And I acted like I was happy for him. That evening before going to bed I decided to beat Rocko to Barth’s Bath. Karen had a headache. She suffered from migraines; and if her migraine persisted she wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on her birthday. I thought wild lilies were just what the doctor ordered. I knew I had to get to Barth’s Bath first. That morning, well before six, I found Barth’s Bath, a meadow with a stream running through it. And lilies were there the way Rocko said. Wild lilies just like Karen wanted. There weren’t very many. Barth’s Bath had shrunk to a trickle. Even though he was married to her then Rocko didn’t have a chance. There weren’t many. It still made a nice bouquet. And I loved Rocko. He was provincial, not very sophisticated. As Rocko went one way I went another. You can imagine yourself Karen’s delight. From that point on Rocko’s marriage crumbled. The next thing I knew Karen kicked him out and I moved in.”
“How depressing,” cried Fred. “If I had only contacted the police.”
“You started this,” Sally reminded him.
“It’s agony,” said Anna. “We could play cards instead.”
“But first … Anna, it’s your turn,” cried Fred.
“George,” Anna addressed him suddenly in a sharp tone, “my friends here, particularly Danny and Kitty, don’t want me to move to L A. What do you think?”
Kitty became nervous. Danny froze. Several seconds of silence followed.
“No … no … don’t seek my opinion,” George whispered.
“That’s it! I won’t move! I’ll stay here and have my baby. I’ll have my baby here. Danny!” Anna addressed him with great relief. “Let that be it.”
“Anna!” said Kitty, shaking.
“Anna!” said Danny, concealing his joy.
Everyone seemed stunned.
“And now for my crime: everyone already knows it. Just look at me. There it is … in my face … in my belly. It’s alive. It’s alive and well. The particulars aren’t important. Now isn’t my crime a great one?”
Having said this she suddenly got up as if she meant to leave the room.
“Anna! Anna! Bravo!” everyone yelled and clapped. “You win! Anna wins!”
Just then the doorbell startled everyone.
“Faust,” George murmured to himself.
Out of breath Maria Martinez rushed in. “Dial 911! They’re after me, Anna. Ten men and all drunk!”
“Don’t let them in. They’ll ruin the party. We were having so much fun.”
No one besides George knew what was going on. It seemed clear to him that this was planned.
Inside the Castle, on their way to Kitty’s apartment, Faust and his men stopped and admired rare furniture, rare paintings, and Egyptian vases, furniture and furnishings that made the hallways opulent (much like rare furniture, rare paintings, and Egyptian vases in the hallways of Oak Lawn Hospital did).
Lenny Higgs appeared unceremoniously after Maria Martinez rushed in. Even drunk he commanded respect. He assumed a role of a man at the wheel as he sat between Danny and Fred.
“Ah, Mr. Higgs, I’m glad you’re here!” said Anna.
“You’ve been a father to me.”
George heard someone say, “If you let them in, they’ll tear you apart.”
“What do you think, Danny?” Higgs asked in a whisper. “Do you think we can talk her out of leaving?”
Faust’s gang had grown by two: a reckless punk who was useless from birth; and an odd fellow who turned out to be a world traveler and a philosopher of sorts. The odd fellow expounded on power of the word versus the limitations of the law. Thanks to Faust none of them were really soused, but they all felt dehydrated, which activated their psychoses.
Faust urged them on. He wore a brand new safari hat, fastened around his neck with a cord. George tried to block Faust’s way.
As he staggered toward the kitchen Dante stumbled over Danny’s feet and stepped with his combat boots on the hem of Lulu’s pretty party dress. He didn’t apologize or indeed notice what he did.
“What’s going on?” demanded Anna.
Greeting George with a big toothy grin Faust winked and said, “Watch!” By then Faust’s gang had mixed freely in with Anna’s guests.
“Get out!” George yelled. “Faust take your ….”
“Faust? What?” asked Maria. “Faust?”
George got up and in a shaky voice said, “Nothing. It’s nothing. Thanks. Thanks to you I have a room. But unfortunately my finances are in shambles. I may have to go to Dallas to straighten it out.”
“What did I tell you?” warned Fred. “He’s already talking about leaving.”
For a moment no one responded. Later George couldn’t remember his friends from the hospital leaving.
“George is a very rich man,” insisted Danny.
“Goddamn!” exploded Higgs.
Again everyone was in awe.
George, addressing Higgs, explained how his father made a fortune from a celebrity brand of catsup. Obviously the old man did very well selling catsup, mustard, et cetera, et cetera, named after his friends. As the only heir George never worked a day in his life.
“George has lots of money,” concluded Danny.
“We’ve got a porker,” bellowed Fred. “A rich porker.”
“Someone who can do something,” croaked Higgs in a drunken way.
“Fantastic!” laughed his dumbfounded landlady. “Well, you never know!” And she went to George and hugged him.
Others congratulated him and shook his hand. For a moment they forgot Anna and treated George like a celebrity.
After that Maria sat for some time with her eyes glazed over while faking a smile. Perhaps she wasn’t as resilient as everyone thought. Thinking she closed her eyes for a moment. “Am I really getting married again?” she asked. “Where is Mr. O’Toole? And Molly? And I’m losing a daughter.”
“Oh, Mamma! It’s about time you heard the news!” shouted Angela. “Anna changed her mind. She’s not moving. She’s staying. She’s not moving to LA.”
“Come, George. Sit beside me,” Maria continued. “Friends, congratulate us. I stand corrected. We’re not losing Anna, and I’m getting married. I’m going to have a grandchild, and I’m getting married.”
Danny sat there and stared with his face twisted in a fake smile. He smiled like Maria did.
“Too weird!” muttered Higgs.
Anna nodded in agreement.
“Millions and a Texan from Hollywood. I always said I’d get me a rich Texan. But George, you’re too late. I’m marrying Mr. O’Toole.” But she wrung her hands as she sat there heartbroken.
“Look!” Fred declared. “She’s having second thoughts.”
“No, she’ll marry Mr. O’Toole, and he’ll give her everything,” said Angela.
“George,” asked Maria turning to him, “what do you think I should do? I wish I knew. Should I marry Mr. O’Toole?”
“About Mr. O’Toole?” asked George. “Marry Mr. O’Toole? Why insist on a perfect world? So he had his eye on Anna first? So what!”
Fred thought, “A con artist, and he knows how to schmooze. Meet a con artist. Here we have a con artist.”
George noticed Anna glaring at him.
“He’s got Mamma wrapped around his finger,” declared Angela.
“Something’s wrong,” whispered Higgs
“Thank you, George,” said Maria. “I thought there weren’t any decent men left. You hear that, Lenny? My thoughts right now are so indecent. Lenny! You’re my oldest friend. Where would you take me if we were to run off together?”
“To Vegas,” Higgs announced without batting an eye. “Vegas!” Anna jerked her head up and stared at her mother.
“Mamma, have you lost your mind?” cried Anna.
“I wouldn’t, would I?” asked Maria. “You don’t think I’d run off to Vegas with Lenny, do you? It’s too late, isn’t it? Lenny and I are old friends, old friends. That’s all, isn’t it? It’s okay for Anna to think about taking off to L A. Then what’s wrong with me running off with Lenny? Come on Lenny! Put your money where your mouth is. I’m going to cost you a pretty penny. Lenny, why not Vegas?”
“Sodom, here we come!” declared Higgs, standing up.
“Are you nervous, Lenny?”
George was heard muttering, “Faust stay out of this.”
“What are we waiting for Lenny? For you to have a heart attack? Vegas!”
“Let’s go!” roared Higgs. “I love her! I’ve always loved her! I’ve always loved Maria! Vegas!” Out of breath he grabbed Maria’s hand and started pulling her toward the door. “I love you! Vegas here we come!”
While this drama unfolded intensity of the party increased a notch. Everyone drank, some shouted and laughed, and all were completely uninhibited. Kitty headed for the front door, obviously embarrassed by her father.
“I love you Maria!” shouted Higgs.
“You’re too drunk to know,” Maria laughed. “I’m me. You’re you, and why not? (She pointed to Angela.) Blow your nose. Wipe your tears. Don’t be sad. All of his life Lenny has had a crush on me. Lenny, are you ready? Even when he was married, he had a crush on me.”
“Ready! Vegas here we come!”
“Mamma, would you really go to Vegas with Higgs?” asked Angela.
“Lenny! My Lenny!”
“Jilt Mr. O’Toole, and you won’t disappoint us.” It was Anna’s turn.
“No!” cried Maria, and seizing Higgs she wrapped her arms around him, and as soon as she did she started to weep.
“No,” said Anna. “No! That’s it! I can’t stand this. I’m going, going to L A.”
“Mamma! What are you doing?” wailed Angela.
“Wailing is not becoming!” cried Maria. “I know wailing is not becoming.”
Anna stepped between her sister and her mother. In her best dress Angela stood facing her sister. She wasn’t going to budge.
“Your envy is showing!” Anna shouted at Angela.
“Maria!” cried Higgs, as Kitty dragged him to one side. Kitty’s whole being was now focused on rescuing her father. “She loves me!” he kept repeating. “She loves me!”
“He’s too old to get it up!” proclaimed Fred.
“I’m not too old!” shouted Higgs.
“I’d head to Caesar’s Palace first!” cried Brian.
“Cesar! If you have money to burn go to Cesar’s!” enjoined Higgs. Obviously excited Higgs suddenly collapsed.
“Fainted!” people around him observed.
“They waited too long,” someone shouted. He’s having a heart attack.
“He’s too old,” Fred said. “And having a heart attack.”
“Get him some water! Someone do something,” cried Kitty. “Give him space.” Almost at once it became apparent that Higgs would live. His breath was deep and sonorous like he fell asleep.
“There goes my trip to Vegas. It was utterly ridiculous anyway,” declared Maria, as she helped Kitty with Higgs. “It wasn’t meant to be. There, he’s already coming around. Angela, let’s go home. Good-bye Anna. Good-bye. Write sometime.” As a farewell gesture Anna kissed her mother lightly on the forehead.
“I was thinking,” Anna said, trembling with emotion, “thinking about staying. It was certain that I’d leave. Now I won’t ask you to understand why I must go. You are ridiculous people. Utterly ridiculous. Now I have to think of what’s best for me. And yes what’s best for my baby. You have to believe me that I’m sad. All I know is that I have to escape. Tucson has a way of ruining people. Mamma, I won’t end up on the street. You heard me. I know how to take care of myself. Don’t think badly of me.”
But before a final farewell George rushed outside. Angela overtook him near a corner.
“George, talk sense into her,” she said. “Anna doesn’t want to go to L A.”
George looked at her, shook his head, and walked on.
Angela watched George cross the street in the opposite direction. “Where are you going?” she yelled.
“To Cesar’s!” shouted George. “I need a beer.”
Then Angela walked home with her mother. Both women were thinking of their dreams. More than once Angela imagined Anna interfering with those dreams.
“A shame! Lose a sister. Lose a stepfather. Both on the same night.”
A couple other guests, who came outside shortly after Angela and George, said good-bye to each other.
“I have a gun,” Fred said to Anna. “And if you don’t leave town will I shoot you with it? Yeah.”