Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chapter Eleven


By February, the whole escape plan was lost and forgotten. Everything returned to “normal.” One night, the same group of college people came back to the Palace. This was their third visit, so I was getting to know them pretty well. They were young and exciting, full of new ideas. It was a group of seven or eight young adults and I looked up to them. They were in college. I wasn’t even in high school.
Later that night, at about eleven thirty, I was hanging out with the rest of the staff. We were in the kitchen goofing off and passing around a bottle of cold duck. When Dad walked in, I could see he was in an unusually good mood.
“Hey, you guys, go on, and get outa here. Grab another bottle if you want and take it with you, but it comes out of your tips tomorrow.”
He turned and left though the swinging door that led to the dining room. Then I heard the squeak of his shoe pivot on the polished wooden floor. I stiffened, and raised my eyebrow at the others. They were somewhat puzzled as well. He pushed the door open just enough to stick his shoulders into the kitchen. I turned to see his head slightly bobbing. He was exposing his teeth in a grin that always caused me concern.
“Hey, Susie, why don’t you go with them tonight? Take the truck up the mountain to the Raton sign. That is where you guys hang out, right?”
He reentered the kitchen and walked over to me, reaching into his pocket to pull out a few bills. That was when I noticed his, should I say, aroused state. God, I hated this! I knew this had to be a trick, but what?
“Here, take this, it’s a couple of bucks, go by Omar’s drive thru, Susie. Just tell him the same thing; that I sent you. His Cold Duck is cheaper than ours is. You guys have fun!”
He practically skipped out of the kitchen, the sound of his steps faded as he padded onto the carpet leading back to the bar.
I turned and looked at the rest of the crew. There were Tito and Matt, the cooks, Andrea and Maria, the other waitresses. Then there was Luke, Matt’s little brother, he was the bus boy. And of course Paul would be going along. Then there was my favorite, Raphael. He was the dishwasher and he was shy, which made me feel protective of him.
“Hey Raphael, we’re going up to the star, you coming with us?” I already knew what his answer would be, and I also knew I wasn’t going to accept it.
So there were eight of us, free, on our own to go have fun! This indeed was a rare occasion! Shit! I was going to take advantage of it. As we all cleaned up and changed out of our uniforms, the excitement grew.
Ironically, I thought to myself, we are just like little kids! Hell, we may not have been little, but we were kids! We were bustling around trying to finish our chores so we could get out of there. We were so busy, I didn’t notice that there was less and less noise coming from the bar.
We were definitely taking my truck, so everyone headed out the back hallway to the door leading out onto the street. As they were heading out the door, I ran up the stairs and grabbed some pot for the outing. I ran back down and then hesitated. I felt I should probably let Dad know we were leaving. So I hurried back through the kitchen, and turned down the short hallway to the entrance of the bar.
Just as I began opening my mouth, I felt myself strangle my voice. My brain instantly stopped the “Hey, Dad….” from actually reaching past my gullet. I froze. I could tell he hadn’t heard me. He hadn’t even noticed me.
He was alone with one of students. She was beautiful. He had his arm around her and she was obviously mesmerized…and drunk. He was looking at her with snake eyes. Then I watched as his familiar tongue entered and probed her mouth.
Fortunately, instead of keeling over, I reeled out of the entrance and back into the hallway. I couldn’t breathe. It took every ounce of energy I could gather to move my legs back toward the kitchen.
My wits were slowly coming back and I was quiet as a mouse as I headed back through the kitchen and out to the truck. Everyone was goofing off, joking around, laughing and stuff. It was all casual. Then as I walked closer to them, the jovial atmosphere died down. Matt was first to speak.
“Jesus, Susan, are you OK? You’re totally white! You’re sweating! Its ten degrees out here! What’d you do, see a ghost up there? Maybe you guys aren’t kidding about them. Wish I could see one!!”
I had to think of something, quick. “No, No, you dumbass!! I got the weed, but I took a few snorts of my dad’s coke and Whoa!!! I didn’t know it was that good! I’m OK, it’s wearing off now. Hand me that bottle of Cold Duck.”
It struck me how lying was becoming so second nature to me. Maria passed it over to me and I drained it. Yes, much, much better. My color was coming back and I was able to actually breathe again.
Everybody relaxed as I headed toward the driver’s door, just as normal as ever. “I’ll drive us to Omar’s but I think we should get Annie Green Springs instead of Cold Duck. It’s cheaper and stronger, what do you guys think?”
“Yeah, sure, sounds good,” was the consensus.
We first stopped by Maria’s to get some heavy blankets, and then head to Omar’s drive through. He knew me and gave me no shit whatsoever. As I pulled around the building and up to the exit, I saw my dad’s car pass by. It was heading towards the cheap hotel with the cheesy piano bar. I cringed, waiting to see if anyone else noticed. Thankfully, no one said anything. God much more of this and I’m going to faint, I guarantee it!
I took a deep breathe and chugged off one of the newly opened bottles of wine. We traveled up the zigzag one lane dirt road, heading up the mountain until we reached a flat parking area. It was a scenic lookout and picnic area. About thirty feet above, affixed to the mountain was a fifty-foot star made of re-bar and luminescent bulbs. It could be seen from at least twenty miles away. It was the pride of Raton.
Then I did what I knew will help me. I buried my sadness and got drunk. It helped that I remembered that I had a few valium in the truck glove box and those reeeaaly helped.
The guys got a fire going and the joints started getting passed around. I laughed at stupid jokes and told even stupider ones, which got just as much laughter. I had a really good time. I had fun.
It was at least 3:00 in the morning and the stars were so overwhelming they didn’t look real, they were almost frightening. Things settled down a bit as the fire died down and blankets pulled up.
“There’s the big dipper,” someone said.
“No shit, duh, Einstein”
Chuckles, all around.
Someone farted.
Blaming and snickers, all around.
Geeez. Teenagers. They’re so stupid, so immature! I almost felt like one of them.
Tito drove us back and we got to the hotel around 4:30am.
Paul was the first to speak “Hey, Where’s Dad’s car? Where do ….”
I gave him a look that froze his tongue.
Nobody else said anything; they knew not to ask questions about the Palace and the people who lived there. That is, if they wanted to keep their jobs. Besides, everyone was too tired and drunk to give a shit.
After everyone took off, I unlocked the back door to the hotel and pulled Paul inside.
“Sorry,” he said. He knew he had broken an unspoken rule. We didn’t talk about anything in front of anyone, pretty much.
“It’s no big deal. I heard Dad talking on the phone last night; He said something about going to play poker over at Randy’s clubhouse. He’s either winning big, losing big or passed out. Anyway, what do we care? At least he’s not here.”
“Yeah, you’re right; do you think I can sleep in the main room? It’s so much warmer.”
That familiar pang of guilt pierced me. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t protect my little brother. “Of course, if we hear him, you can sneak out the door of the spare bedroom…I mean…my bedroom.
He lay down on the floor and within in seconds, I heard his steady breathing of sleep.
I lay back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. Once again, the familiar refrain rolled round and round in my head. “This can’t be my life.”
As the months passed, I felt myself slipping away, but I couldn’t. I forced myself to focus on what was happening at that particular moment. I watched Paul and Paul watched me. With Baron on board, the three of us did whatever we could to trip Dad up. We endured and survived by exchanging slight winks and supportive glances.