The Riverside is still standing. I don’t know why that always amazes me but it does, maybe because in Reno the city fathers have no idea what to do with historic buildings except to blow them up and in their place build parking lots. Of course, the Riverside is no longer a hotel. There’s an organic cafe in the lobby and the upper floors have been gutted to create art studios. If I had the money I’d buy the building tomorrow and on the top floor I’d set up my easel and paint the same picture again and again. I’d start with an outline and then discover, through an endless process of elimination, the pallet. I’d gaze nostalgically across the river to where the Riverside’s much gaudier sister, the Mapes once stood, a red-velvet high-heeled harlot, until the city fathers blew her to smithereens. She had the juicier stories to tell of movie stars, cowboys, and corrupt politicians but they turned her into a flat surface of manufactured ice and left standing the city’s symbol of implied respectability, the Riverside, to guard the secrets of both.
Many years ago I was lured back to Reno by a rumor that this guy I’d neither seen nor heard of since graduation would be at the reunion. He was someone who rode a motorcycle and wrote poetry. Someone who didn’t much care what the popular kids thought, who listened to Indian music and meditated and who, like me, had disappeared after high school. Someone you always wondered about. Your what if guy. But I knew as soon as I looked across the banquet hall and saw all those blown up images from yearbooks I never owned that he would not be there. A friend I’d thought was fun but ditzy had gone to college on the East Coast and become a prominent eye surgeon. Another friend, the class clown, had become a prosecutor. You just never know what people are going to do with their lives. Most people that is. Jerrie Bailey still looked the same as she had at graduation which is not to say she looked eighteen.
“I’ve arranged for you to sit at our table,” she said grabbing me by the arm. By “our table” I knew just what she meant.
“But I wasn’t a cheerleader.”
“Come on Riley. I promised the gals you’d sit with us.”
I hadn’t a clue as to why a group of females who barely talked to me in high school would want me to sit at their table. Maybe Jerrie, who had by my best friend at one time, just wanted to make amends for the way she’d treated me. “Let go of my arm. I’ll come,” I said, shaking off her manicured talons.
Alas, once again I’d overestimated Jerrie Bailey.
The gals were four of the six varsity cheerleaders. They were all all-stay-at-home-moms who’d never left Reno and still meet regularly for pot-lucks. They’d all married their high school boyfriends who were now gathered at the bar in their Block R jackets.
“Tell them what happened that night at the Riverside,” Jerrie demanded.
“You know — at the Riverside.”
I knew what she meant but after it happened I’d promised her my eternal silence on the subject. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes you do, Ry. Tell them.”
“Well, there was that poor kid who jumped off the roof and went splat in the parking lot. I’ve forgotten his name.”
“No, not him! You know what I mean.”
“You’re talking about Bella.”
“Jerrie said she was there too,” Brenda Sue Hartley said. She seemed especially peevish, perhaps because she was pregnant for the third time and her father, who had been state senator for several terms, had been defeated in a landslide after some scandal involving a tart, and her husband, who’d been a chubby linebacker, was now a full-fledged blimp. “She said they were really there.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“Remember my sister Thea?” Jerrie asked.
“Well, she, ah…”
“She’s a drug addict.” Brenda Sue added.
“Yeah, but she’s at a really good place now.” Brenda Sue and the other ‘gals’ exchanged yeah right glances. “Here’s the thing,” Jerrie continued. Thea met this prostitute when she was in rehab who claimed she had sex with George! Guess where?”
“Yes. The Riverside Hotel! And that’s not all. She looked up and saw this girl looking through the window at them. Of course, Thea knew right away who it was. Rosabella Muselik!”
All these years I’d had such disdain for Jerrie, for everything she put such a high price on. Popularity. Stability. Permanence. Respectability. And now I felt sorry for her. The ‘gals’ she spent most of her lives with were catty bitches and her sister was a washed out druggie.
“And then Mr. Agostino … you do know that Steve took over his daddy’s business, Golden Limos, right? He drives all sorts of celebrities but he can’t talk about it. Client confidentiality.”
Not only did I not know, I did not care. But I was impressed Jerrie could handle such a big word.
“Well, he said he drove them to the airport and it was at Halloween and … it was that same year.”
At this point the other cheerleaders began jumping in with further “evidence.” On and on they rambled, citing numerous people who’d come forth over the years with “facts” about that night.
“Remember that girl who got caught?” Jerrie said. “She killed a man last year. Can you believe it?”
“I heard. Shot him in the back while he was running away. But she was always crazy.”
Jerrie Bailey’s face went blank. “To think I was so close. And, you know, Rosabella Muselik became a nun!”
“Well, I saw her a couple of years ago, selling those candles the Carmelites make for Christmas. She still swears that she’s telling the truth.”
“That sounds like Bella. She’d rather die than admit she’d lied about anything!”
“Yeah but, now she’s a nun! Nun’s don’t lie.”
I could’ve pointed out that before Bella Muselik became a nun she worshiped Satan, but it wouldn’t have done much good. It was their story now. Their glorious almost.
[either the beginning or the ending of a story]