It was rare for Kenneth to come to me and make his confession. Arriving late in the evening, he was concerned about his life and ready to settle down. Like his father, he had attended church when he was young. But as he grew older, he came less and less. Later, after his confession, Kenneth came by the rectory and we spent several hours together talking about old times. Finally, we spoke of Rita. Physically rugged and handsome, Kenneth was always the type of man that women chased. There was an animal magnetism about him. Many of the local girls pursued him, but Kenneth was never serious about any of them, except Rita. She was his childhood friend. When they were children, she spent a lot of time with Kenneth and his friends. Rita was the only one he ever allowed to get to close to him. She had only just come back into Kenny's life. Three months earlier, they had met again at a party that Leon James, the great film director, was giving at his home in Beverly Hills. Neither was aware that the other would be attending.
Rita had been beautiful even as a child. She was very different from the other girls in the barrio. I remember her as a tomboy with tangled light brown hair. Tall and lean, Rita's thin lips were the color of pink rose petals. As a child, her beautiful ivory skin was always smudged with grass and dirt from playing with the boys in the yard. Those large, round eyes of hers were light in color like Kenneth's. But hers were of a light green shade, the color of a new leaf in the springtime. Rita's father was a neighborhood success story. He owned a grocery store, and over time, he bought or stole several apartment buildings. As the years went by, he began to buy older buildings and apartment units. Soon, many of the barrio families were paying rent to Rita's father. In time, the rents became higher and the repairs fewer. He drained every penny out of his properties and his renters. Stealing what he could, the little man invested wisely. Solas fancied himself a captain of industry. Mr. Solas became rich at the expense of others. Lacking compassion and kindness, his hard heartedness destined him to a life of plenty and power.
A little owl of a man, Rita's father came to my parish early on. He sported black, horned rimmed glasses that exaggerated the size of his eyes. His black hair was worn parted in the middle. With a chubby, wide face, and stump of a neck, he reminded me of an owl. Mr. Solas dressed to impress. He gave to the Church, but only for the glory of it. A social climber, with every gift to the Church came a request for notoriety. Wanting others to know of his generosity, Solas was desperate for recognition. The little man needed to have others look up to him.
When Rita was ten years old, the family moved away from East Los Angeles to South Pasadena. Rita's father's new life style demanded even more money. His greed for more property became an obsession. When he couldn't get his way by offering money for property, Mr. Solas would talk to his friends on the city planning commission and have the place condemned. It was the simple exchange of an envelope full of cash for a favor. Inspectors came cheap. He had learned early that he could have his cake and eat it too. Once the property was condemned he could then pick it up for a fraction of its original cost. This was the American way. Rita's father had graduated to the title of rich slumlord.
Mr. Solas' need for acceptance from the Anglos became his life's pursuit. After all, everyone knew that once a Mexican became rich, he also became a Spaniard. Rita's father was now a Spanish-American named Solars and Rita Solas was Rita Solars. The name change was only slight, not enough to draw attention, but just enough to ensure Anglo acceptance. And so it was that the new Solars family began its upward mobility in the outside world. But this was not enough. Somewhere along the way, Rita ceased to be Chicana. Losing her accent and then her past, she was now a Spaniard. Her green eyes helped her play out the farce.
Nothing was too good for his daughter. In this new world, his beautiful daughter became his trophy. Over the years, through his money and influence, Rita became socially acceptable. Rita spent her days in an expensive private school surrounded by the best money could buy. Proper etiquette and voice lessons were part of her daily schedule. There were swimming and tennis lessons, as well. But it was ballet that became his obsession for her. Mr. Solars dreamed that one day Rita would become a prima ballerina.
Rita's father was no longer content with material wealth. His insecurity drove him to amass power, realizing that power would be the only way for him to secure his daughter's future. With both money and power, his daughter could reach the heights he had only dreamed of as a young man. In time, he turned to politics, a game he understood well. After all, he had learned the game of power through his land dealings. Rising quickly in politics, he won a school board seat in 1962. Then, Mr. Solars ran for city council in 1964, and won. Becoming a trusted party man, he could be counted on to back the right candidate and to do it with an envelope full of cash. After all, there was no shut-off valve on the money from his many barrio properties. Money poured out of them monthly. He believed it would never end.
The Democratic Party rewarded him with a State Senator's seat in 1966. He had now arrived. A state senator on his way to the top, with him went his most prized possession, Rita. By then, she was tall and beautiful, and her manners were perfect. The envy of all her friends, Rita had it all. Her life was a fairy tale and Rita was a princess. Her coming out party was the event of the year. Nothing was too good for his daughter. Invitations were sought by anyone who was anybody.
Being all he'd imagined she would be, Rita Solars had been created by her father's need for success. After seeing her face in a society column, a Hollywood agent approached her father with the idea of a screen test. Mr. Solars instantly saw the benefit. Yes, he agreed. His eighteen year old daughter would be a movie star, college could wait. In just a few years, Rita was on the silver screen. In the early nineteen seventies, I saw her face and newly colored, flaming, red hair everywhere. She'd gone from barrio tomboy to socialite, then to movie star. Rita's beautiful face was plastered on newspapers and magazines. With her new crown would come a second new name, Rita Heyland. Whenever an important event was held, she was there. A charity ball, a gala event for a worthy cause, Rita Heyland could always be counted on to make an appearance.
But there was another force operating in Rita's life. It was love. Kenneth and Rita always found their way back to one another. As the years went by, the two star-crossed lovers remained close, but distant. It had always been hit and miss for them. Kenneth told me how the two had met by accident years earlier, in 1972. They met by accident, but it was planned by fate. It was summertime and Kenneth was vacationing in Spain with his Uncle César. While sailing off of Costa del Sol, Kenneth and César were first to respond to a radio distress call. A boat was reported to be sinking some distance from shore. They arrived just in time; the yacht was sinking fast. The entire party was brought onto César's sixty-foot sailboat before the yacht sank. One of the parties onboard was Leon James, the great Hollywood film director. James and his guests invited Kenny and César to a party being given that evening for a young starlet. Her name was Rita Heyland. Kenny knew that she was in Spain, but he never dreamed that they would run into each other. He had been sixteen years old the last time they had seen each other.
Kenny and César arrived later that evening at the party dressed in black tie. At twenty-two, Kenneth was tall and strikingly handsome. The summer sailing had left him golden brown and fit. Over the years, Kenneth's vacations with his Uncle César had provided him with an excellent knowledge of the ways of the world. Kenneth was now well-read and sophisticated beyond his years. His father had bred in him self-assurance and humility, just the right combination for a young man stepping out into business and commerce. Strong, hard, and tough Kenneth Aragón was now a great deal like his father, yet untested. Becoming cautious and perceptive, the Family business had given Kenneth a view of the world that had long since taken away a young man's naiveté. His mother passed on to him a love of the arts and music. Speaking Spanish and French fluently, Kenneth was more cultured than most. But at his core was a hardened realist. There was none of the romantic in him.
That evening, Rita wore a black full-length gown with a plunging neckline. A single strand of pearls graced her long, elegant neck. With her flaming red hair piled high on her head, she radiated sexuality. Moving like a goddess, Rita was confident and bold as she entered the villa. Heads turned to get a look. Hollywood hot, her last two films were box office smashes and she was on top of the world.
Kenneth purposely positioned himself in an alcove away from the crowd so he could watch her discreetly from across the great room. It was a mob scene. Everyone wanted to be seen with her. Agents pressed to talk a deal. Aging stars wanted to be seen and photographed with her. Producers were cool, but definitely interested. And Rita was gracious, but aloof.
The evening was orchestrated to be pleasurable for all attending. The food was catered by a popular five star restaurant. Music and entertainment was provided by the latest rock star sensations from England. Many of England's good and the great were there. The Hollywood film and music giants mixed easily with European royalty. The evening was magical as the champagne flowed from a crystal fountain. Everyone was having a good time. As the evening wore on, Kenny went out on a balcony to get away from the crowds. His back turned to the boisterous crowd inside, he looked off into the distance across the bay. Kenny was thinking about his future and what it held. It was then that he heard her voice. Turning, he found Rita standing a few feet behind him. Radiant, her smile was wonderful. Their eyes met as she walked up to him, kissing him gently on the mouth. They stood there alone on the balcony looking at the twinkling lights across the bay. Neither spoke, they simply enjoyed being together in silence. Putting his arm around her, she leaned her back against his chest. It was as if they had never been apart. The nights' cool gentle breeze embraced them. The balcony became their world. For a time, they were protected from the difficulties and adversities of life.
A perceptive host, Leon James made sure to place them in adjacent rooms with connecting doors. That night they drank too much champagne and made passionate love. Their lust lasted for hours. Kenny looked deeply into her eyes as they moved hard against each other. Each move was harder and deeper than the one before, until they were finally completely lost in each other. Afterwards, they talked until the early morning hours as they held each other there in the darkness of the villa bedroom. For that time the world outside ceased to exist. Only they and their love mattered. Promising to keep in touch, Rita left for Los Angeles the next morning. But as with many things, it didn't happen. Life was too complicated. Both had responsibilities and obligations. Though they talked infrequently over the years the spark somehow remained alive. Their encounters were always brief and sexually charged. Accidents of fate always brought them together.
It was during the summer of 1975, that Kenny went to meet Rita in Miami. Rita had invited Kenny to attend an awards ceremony in recognition of her film work. The two had just recently begun to keep company again. This was typical of their relationship. There were long periods when they went without seeing one another. But they were always linked. Missing Rita very much and counting the days until it was time for him to meet her, Kenny landed in Miami late on a Friday evening. Rita tried her best to hide her identity, wearing large dark glasses and a black scarf over her head; she waited for him at the terminal. As she watched Kenny walk confidently through the terminal, she could sense his animal magnetism. Rita was hungry for him, she wanted him. Running to him, Rita wrapped her body around his and gave him a deep, hard kiss. Kenny held her in his strong arms, never wanting to let her go.
A limousine full of champagne and food was waiting for them as they left the building. The driver smiled as he opened the door of the limo for them. Turning to the driver, Kenny asked why he was smiling. Continuing to smile, the driver told Kenny that he drove many people every day. Those he enjoyed driving the most were people in love. Once inside the limo, both Rita and Kenny acted like kids, laughing and kissing all the way to her hotel. This was the way it was when they were together alone. They could be themselves with all of the usual silliness. Only when they were in the presence of others did they pretend. When members of the Family were around, Kenny had to be tough and hard. When her hangers on were around, Rita played the part of a Hollywood star, paying tribute to her own legend.
That evening, Kenneth and Rita attended the awards dinner. Afterwards, they went to a party at Uncle César's home. His estate was something to behold. It was a large, twenty thousand square-foot, Spanish-style villa set on several acres of prime Miami waterfront. The landscaping was perfectly kept. Hundreds of palm trees lined the high walls protecting the grounds. Their palm fronds swayed in the soft summer breeze. Beds with thousands of multi-colored tropical flowers in bloom decorated the landscape.
César had spared no expense for the evening's festivities. The entire affair was meant to please the eye and the pallet. At the outside bar under a large canopy, the champagne flowed and pounds of Beluga caviar were kept on ice for the guests. For those ready for something heartier, the buffet was Miami-Cuban. The entertainment included Latin Salsa music and Flamenco. Many American and international stars of stage, movies, and music attended to mingle and be photographed. With everyone in black tie and evening gowns, the affair took on a sophisticated air. From millionaire playboys to captains of industry, César's home was the place to be.
Rita was thirsty when she asked Kenny to get her a drink. Sitting with her back to the party, she said a silent prayer to God, thanking Him for her life with Kenny. She was deep in thought when a young, drunken Colombiano man walked up behind her and kissed her neck. The tall, blonde, pock faced, Colombiano grabbed her hair as she turned to move away and kissed Rita hard on the mouth. When she attempted to push the man, he called her a puta, a whore. The man's friends tried to intervene as he shouted that she had a reputation and he was ready for a little action. Then he threatened his friends for interfering. Guests seeing the ruckus, moved to her aid. Several men tried to help. The Colombiano used brass knuckles on a young Cuban-American man who had come to Rita's aid, beating him badly.
Kenneth arrived just in time to see the Colombiano savagely kicking the unconscious man. Comforting a frightened Rita now in tears, Kenny noticed her torn blouse. While asking her what had happened, the Colombian shoved him from behind. Recoiling in anger, Kenny pushed the man's arm aside and turned back to Rita. But the Colombiano wanted more. Attacking Kenny a second time from behind, the Colombiano swung hard, missing Kenny's face by inches. As he did, Kenny turned and confronted the man. Blocking a second punch, Kenny hit him with the palm of an open hand square in the face. Kenny's next punch landed hard on the man's nose, sending the Colombiano to the ground. The other Colombianos dared not interfere knowing Kenneth wasn't an easy target.
By now, Uncle César was on the scene. Pulling Kenny aside, César cautioned him that the man was the youngest son of Mario Pérez, the local Colombiano Cartel Don. Unable to hold his tongue or his liquor, the young man was a known troublemaker. As they were speaking, the man attacked again, but this time with a knife. Fortunately for Kenny, the very drunk man missed his mark. With a swift kick by Kenny to the man's face, it was over. The Colombiano's friends took him away.
Putting the distraction behind them, Kenny and Rita spent the rest of that evening in each others arms. Once back at their suite, they made lustful love. The next morning, Kenny left for LA and Rita went off to do a film in Europe. She was soon to be one of the queens of Hollywood cinema. Having won her first academy award when she was twenty-two, Rita was a star, a bright comet. Her movies were all box office smashes. A movie star of the greatest order, one of the untouchables, Rita became a legend. She played with all the great leading men of her day and was the woman every man wanted to be with. But as with all made up things, one day Rita would have to pay the price. A life of chemical abuse had taken its toll.
One night, in the early nineteen-eighties, she came to my parish to confess. Desperate and empty from her hellish existence, Rita prayed for deliverance from drugs and alcohol. But she persisted in her folly. Rita was not yet ready to give it all up. Her beauty and addiction to drugs led the Italians to her. They wanted to use it all for their own sick pleasures. By 1986, her life was no longer her own. The Italians owned her. In the end, Rita became entangled in a web of terror. In the beginning, the Mafioso's used her fame for a two year run in Las Vegas. Keeping her drugged by day, they used her by night. The Italians made her sing and dance for them. When that wasn't enough, they stole her money. Finally, they used her body as a plaything, passing her around like a high-paid hooker. In time, Rita became the Mob's plaything. She became a joke to them, someone to ridicule, and all of Las Vegas knew it. Anytime a mafia Don wanted a glamorous woman for sex, she was called. At first, she was asked to entertain them as a favor. Finally, she was given the key to a hotel room and told when and where to be.
Before her first nervous breakdown, Rita was forced to have sex with other women. The Italians later got their sick kicks out of watching her used at orgies. When she tried to resist, Rita was taught a lesson. They beat her until she stopped resisting and then Mafia soldier's gang raped her.
Without hope, the time came when she had to go to her childhood friend for protection from people more powerful than her fame or her father's influence. In an act of final desperation, she would reach back to her carefully hidden past. Rita would run to Kenneth for protection, the one who had always been her knight in shining armor. A year earlier, in 1985, they had been together. It was a difficult time for two powerful, headstrong people with high profile careers. In their mid-thirties, each was now living a life of great demands. Too much had happened in their lives. Having changed over the years, they no longer understood one another. So they once again went their separate ways.
With nowhere else to run, in the winter of 1987, Rita rushed to Kenneth for help. The Italians had been cruel, using her money and her body. After making her a prostitute, finally, the Italians beat her until she was taken to the hospital and held in intensive care. Laughing about the incident, the Italians believed they had taught her the final lesson, she was to be used wherever and whenever they liked. After being released, it took months for her to heal. When they came for her again Rita called Kenny. A wounded child when Kenny found her, Rita's face was beaten to a pulp, her body a mass of bruises.
After rescuing Rita, he ordered his men to destroy the Italian family responsible for dishonoring her. For having made her a laughing stock, the family heads were executed and all of the important soldiers, the made men, killed. He'd take down the Italians and their rackets for her. Rita would never have anything to fear again. When all was said and done, Kenny owned all the Italian businesses and their barrio profits. Having broken the Mafia's back in East LA, the Italians had to vacate the premises. He had done it for Rita; not for business or gain, but for the love of a woman. After a few half hearted attempts to keep what was left of their barrio rackets, the Italians gave up. Kenny made the price too high. There had been enough death. Neither side wanted the war to last. Too many Italians lost their lives. In the end, his father arranged a truce.
Even though his son, Kenneth, had broken a Family rule by mixing business with personal needs, Michael went to his old friend Don Romano for help. Both men, older and wiser after years running families and trafficking in death, they quickly agreed to the terms of the truce. Don Romano was given a percentage of everything lost. Italian honor regained, Michael Aragón won the peace.
Over the next several months, Kenny nursed his Rita back to health at the family villa in Santa Bárbara. Securing the best care money could buy, her doctors and nurses brought both her body and her mind back to good health. As beautiful as ever, Rita finally became her old self once again. That year, she gave up drugs began to exercise and eat well. Rita rode horses daily at the Santa Bárbara Polo Club. Clouded and numbed by years of drug abuse, Rita's psyche took time to heal completely. At Kenny's prodding, she had begun to write. At first, it was hard. Rita had trouble concentrating for long periods of time. Finally, regaining her focus, Rita's creative juices began to flow. Rita Heyland's first novel, "Hollywood Queen," became a best seller. Her agent, Saul Weckstein, sold the film rights to a major studio. Declining an offer to star in the film, Rita instead chose to begin a second novel, "The Power of Passion." Spending endless hours discussing the characters and plots, the book took shape. Kenny knew that it was another best seller.
The time spent together brought them closer than ever. Rita's failed life was once again a success. No longer just a pretty face, she was now a respected author. As a result of her book sales, Rita was now a wealthy woman. With her self-esteem restored, she was whole again. Spending quiet weekends together in Santa Bárbara, Kenny and Rita made love and planned their future together. Their love became deeper, more tender. Returning to him for good, their days of being apart were gone. His childhood sweetheart was his forever. Now one, their last several months together had solidified their relationship. Gone were her fitful nights without sleep. Those days of depression and hate were behind her. Ready to live and love, Rita accepted Kenny's large pear shaped diamond engagement ring. After Kenny placed it on her finger, Rita danced around the room like a little child.
For a season they enjoyed each other. Life was theirs and no one else's. It was then that a wonderful accident happened, Rita became pregnant. The idea of a forty-year old, washed up movie star having a child was absurd. After weeks of entertaining the idea of abortion, Rita decided she had done enough killing in her lifetime. Rita had killed her marriages and almost her career. She had destroyed every relationship except that between Kenny and herself. Her film career had also been destroyed by her own hand. And anything else that had come her way, Rita had sacked. Her decision to keep the child was a great milestone in her life. For the first time, she had placed someone else above her own needs and wants. To her amazement, Rita had grown up.
The secret had been kept long enough. Rita told Kenneth in her twelfth week of pregnancy. The two talked about the consequences of having a child, discussing their choices through the night. Kenny wanted the child, though Rita still had mixed feelings about the responsibility. In the early morning hours the matter was decided, they would have the child. They even agreed to an unrecorded Mexican wedding. Not wanting to give the Colombianos any more targets than they already had, Kenny felt it best. But there could be no excuses; Rita couldn't fall back into her old habits. Something new was of more importance. Rita had to remain healthy for the baby. And she worked hard at it. They decided to vacation in Méjico for the last two weeks of the pregnancy, Kenny made all the arrangements. While enjoying the warm Mexican weather, the child was born. It was a very cold day in October, 1989, when little Anna Solas- Aragón was born. Anna was a healthy baby girl. Rita now had a nine-pound reason to live. The baby girl had her father's fair looks and her mother's green eyes. Listing the mother's name as Rita Solas, her original name, Kenneth ensured that no unnecessary attention would be attracted. The doctors and nurses knew enough to keep their mouths shut. The hospital was to receive a new wing complete with the latest medical equipment. The birth of the baby was a shock for the both of them, changing their life forever. Three days later, Rita and the baby were flown to Santa Bárbara and spent a quiet first week at the villa. Kenny proceeded to New York for meetings with the Puertorriqueños and later traveled to Miami, to discuss business with the Cubanos. Kenneth had a hard time concentrating on the business at hand. He was proud of his little Anna and she was now the center of his universe. Having never given any serious thought to marriage or children, Kenny had been a bachelor for so long that he thought that he would be single and childless the rest of his life. But now he found himself a married man with a child.
Rita also changed. The little baby in the crib beside Rita's bed had changed her for all time. Life suddenly took on new meaning. She was no longer her own person. Little Anna needed her. Gone were the days of loneliness and self-pity. She now had something to live for. Kenny had arranged for a nurse to be at the villa while he was away. Rita spent most of her time trying to sleep. The baby's constant feedings had worn her out. The week alone at the villa without Kenny had gone quickly and given her time to think. She decided that she would visit her doctors regularly and take good care of herself. Rita would stay away from drugs and alcohol.
It was late on Saturday night when Kenny arrived at the villa. Bringing with him presents for his two precious girls, Kenneth brought a large teddy bear for little Anna and chocolate candies for his wife. Tired and just wanting to be with his family, he first went into the bedroom to kiss his wife on the cheek as she lay sleeping. Then, he went over to the bassinet and kissed his baby girl on the forehead. Now he was ready for bed. It had been a long trip and he needed rest. With business done, Kenny, his new wife, and baby could settle down to life as a family. Like his father before him, Kenny would spend his time building his family and home. Also, like Michael Aragón, Kenneth would continue building the Family. But now it was to become the international Eme.
Walking daily along the deserted streets of the sleepy town of Montecito, Rita built up her stamina. Soon, she began to exercise lightly. Whenever possible, Rita slipped away and lay by the pool making notes for her latest novel. Always on watch, the guards did their best to protect Rita's privacy. During the day, they spent the majority of their time patrolling the grounds outside. In the evenings, they played cards and watched television out at the pool house. In this way, they gave Rita and little Anna the peace and quiet they needed.
02/25/2016 07:53 AM