LuckyBy: Jackie Collins
May 1984, Los Angeles
The jury filed silently into the courtroom. The judge made his entrance a moment later, and a hiss of expectation raged through the packed room.
Lucky Santangelo stood tensely in the dock. She stared straight ahead. Impassive. Wildly, darkly beautiful. In spite of everything.
The judge took his place, adjusted his heavy horn-rim glasses, and cleared his throat. ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached your verdict?’ he asked tersely.
The foreman of the jury stepped forward. He was a sallow-faced man with a facial tic. ‘Yes, Your Honour,’ he said indistinctly, causing the judge to bark an irritable, ‘Speak up!’
‘Yes, we have, Your Honour,’ the foreman repeated, his nervous tic becoming distractingly obvious.
‘Then pass your verdict to the court clerk, if you please,’ snapped the old judge waspishly.
The foreman did as he was bade. The clerk accepted the folded verdict form and took it directly to the judge who peered at it intently.
An expectant hush hung over the crowded courtroom. A silence so heavy that to Lucky it seemed more like an accusing roar.
She did not look at the judge, but she saw him read the paper, saw him pass it back to the court clerk, and she closed her black opal eyes for one brief moment of secret prayer. She, Lucky Santangelo, was accused of murder, and the next few minutes would decide her fate.
She tried to breathe evenly and deeply. Tried to remain calm, to concentrate, to think only positive thoughts.
The court clerk began to speak.
Oh God! This couldn’t be happening to her. Not to Lucky Santangelo. NOT TO HER.
She held her head high. She was a true Santangelo. Nothing could get her down. Nothing.
After all, she was innocent.
Wasn’t she . . .
The Summer of 1978
Lennie Golden had not set foot in Vegas for thirteen years, even though it was the city of his conception, birth, and first seventeen years of life.
He looked around as he stepped off the plane, sniffed the air and took a deep breath. The place still smelled the same.
The airport was doing a roaring trade in visiting gamblers, tourists, and middle America out to have fun. Fat male butts waddled alongside peroxide plump ladies in polyester pant suits and fake jewellery. Small children whined and complained. Travelling hookers in halter tops, hot pants tightly outlining their crotches, arrived to do business. Swarthy foreigners clutched black leather attaché cases and breathed garlic over accompanying yellow-haired mistresses.
Jess was there to meet him. Startlingly pretty, five foot tall, she still had the air of a tomboy about her, which is what she had been at school. She had always preferred to hang out with the boys. Especially Lennie. They had been best friends since first grade, their somewhat unexpected and platonic relationship surviving and getting stronger every year – even though they didn’t see much of each other since he had moved from Vegas to New York.
They made an ill-assorted couple. Lennie, so tall and lanky, with dirty blond hair and ocean green eyes. An overgrown Robert Redford with more than a touch of Chevy Chase. And Jess, petite and wide-eyed, with a mop of orange hair, freckles, and a Playboy centrefold body in miniature.
She hurled herself into his arms. ‘It’s so good to see you! You look fantastic. For a guy who spends his life screwin’ around I don’t know how you do it!’
‘Hey . . .’ He swung her in the air like a rag doll. ‘Look who’s talking!’
She giggled and hugged him tightly. ‘I love you madly, Lennie Golden. Welcome back.’
‘I love you too, monkey face.’
‘Don’t call me that!’ she screeched. ‘I’m married now. I’m respectable. I got a kid, the whole bit. So c’mon, Lennie – treat me like a lady.’
He burst out laughing. ‘If you’re a lady I’m Raquel Welch.’
She grabbed his arm. ‘You got great tits!’
Laughing, they strolled towards the exit.
‘So how was the flight?’ she asked, trying to grab his battered suitcase.
He wrestled it away from her. ‘Long and boring. If God had meant us to fly he’d have given us more stewardesses.’
‘Didja score?’ She winked knowingly.
‘Would I lie to you,’ he dead-panned.
She laughed. She had a maniacal guffaw which caused people to turn and stare. ‘You’d lie to the Pope if you thought it would get you through the day.’
‘And there she goes . . .’ he sing-songed.
‘Who? Where?’ Automatically she turned to check out his conquest. A nun walked serenely by.
‘I told you my tastes are changing,’ he said gravely.
‘Very funny!’ She aimed a punch at his stomach.
He held up a protesting hand. ‘Lay off. I just had surgery of the tongue.’
‘Remember the taping of the Lee Bryant show? The one I told you I was doing?’
‘They cut my four-minute spot to thirty seconds. If you fart you miss me.’
She frowned. ‘Schmucks. They know from nothin’. Anyway, you’re back in Vegas now. Your kind of comedy schticks gonna kill ‘em here.’
‘Oh sure, in the lounge of the Magiriano Hotel I’m really going to cause a riot.’
‘It’s a change of scene. Could be just what you need. Who knows what it’ll lead to.’
‘C’mon, Jess. You sound like my agent. Do this shit – that piece of crap, and before you know it you’ll have a regular spot on Carson.’
‘Your so-called agent is a New York jerk-off artist.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘You’re a great comedian. I should be handling you. I mean I got you this gig, didn’t I?’
‘What do you want – ten percent?’
She laughed wildly. ‘You think I wanna give up the title of best blackjack dealer in Vegas? You think I’m crazy or somethin’? Stick your commission where the sun don’t give you a tan!’
They were passing a ladies room. ‘Wait a sec,’ she said. ‘I’m so excited to see you I gotta take a pee.’
He laughed, and leaned against the wall while she dashed inside. Jess was a friend indeed. He had called her two weeks ago and said he had to get out of New York.
‘No problem,’ she replied without hesitation. ‘Matt Traynor, the entertainment director of the hotel I work at has the hots for me – send me a tape and I’ll get him to hire you.’
He had sent the tape. She had come through with the gig. Some good friend.
Idly he watched a dark-haired girl in black leather pants and a red shirt stride by. She cut through the crowd as if she owned the place. He liked her style, not to mention her body.
Jesus! Was he free yet? He and Eden had split six months ago, yet every time he saw an attractive woman he couldn’t help comparing them. He was still doing it. Eden Antonio and he were unfinished business, why didn’t he just face it?
Jess emerged from the ladies room and squeezed his hand. ‘It is sooo great to have you here,’ she said. ‘I want to hear all about everything.’
‘Hey – everything is a career going nowhere and a fucked-up sex life.’
‘Sounds exciting. So what else is new?’
They were outside now and the desert heat enveloped them.
‘Jeez!’ he exclaimed. ‘I forgot how hot it is here.’
‘Aw, stop bitching. You could do with a tan. You look like nightclub Charlie.’
They approached a dented red Camaro waiting in the parking lot.
‘I see you’re still an ace driver,’ he remarked dryly, throwing his suitcase in the boot.
‘I didn’t do that,’ she replied indignantly. ‘My old man can’t drive around the block without gettin’ into trouble.’
He wondered what kind of man took on crazy Jess for a wife. Someone special he hoped.
‘C’mon,’ she said, sliding behind the steering wheel. ‘Wayland is makin’ lunch. The baby’s makin’ noise, and Lennie, you are gonna love it here. It always was your kinda town.’
He nodded grimly. ‘Yeah. That’s what I’m afraid of.’
* * *
Lucky Santangelo stood out as she strode briskly through the crowd at the airport. She was a strikingly beautiful woman of twenty-eight, with an unruly mass of jet curls, black gypsy eyes, a wide sensual mouth, deep suntan, and lean loose-limbed body. She wore soft black leather pants, a red silk shirt casually unbuttoned to the limit, and a wide belt studded with silver. From her ears hung plain silver loops, and on her right hand was a square-cut diamond of such size and brilliance that one would be forgiven for thinking it was not real. It was.
No conventional beauty, she had a style and bearing all her own. Confidence wafted from her like the exotic scent she drenched herself with.
‘Hey, Boogie.’ With affection she greeted the skinny, long-haired man in army fatigues who stepped forward to greet her. ‘How’s everything?’
‘The same,’ he said, low-voiced, slit eyes darting this way and that, observing everyone and everything as he took her black leather tote bag and the check claim for the rest of her luggage.
‘No exciting news? No gossip?’ she questioned, grinning, delighted to be back.