By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Well, then you won’t write the book,” he said. When I didn’t say anything, he changed tacks, grew buttery and assured me, “It will all work out.” I gave a few noncommittal hmms, but mostly, sat in the small dark space in silence.
Back at the Mahoneys’, I went immediately to the cinnamon-scented den and booked a 6 a.m. flight home. Mack was yelling, “She can’t get out of here fast enough!” as I dragged my bags upstairs.
He and Nita were at the kitchen table. They hadn’t turned on the lights.
“You see what our lives are like,” said Nita, fretful and sweaty. She went on to talk about how “We really don’t need the Santillans to tell the story, as they are only a small part of it.” I disagreed. She said she’d assumed the book would be “by Mack Mahoney, as told to Nancy Rommelmann.” I told her this was an incorrect assumption. It was clear they felt any book about Jesica was actually about them, because, as they’d told me countless times, they’d been the ones who found her, who loved her, who devoted inordinate amounts of time and resources to her. And I thought, for a moment, that perhaps they were fighting so hard to control what was left of Jesica because they simply could not bear to let her go, a concept I understood in my heart.
“We’re from Texas, and we’ve worked with Mexicans all our lives,” said Nita. “And they are human beings, but they’re not like us. They don’t think like us. To them, money is the thing.”
I envisioned jet packs on the backs of my shoes. The Mahoneys each carried a piece of my luggage to the car. Nita hugged me. Mack did, too.
“Be good, girl,” he said, and thrust five JHC T-shirts into my hands.
I’d been home two days before Mack called, with what he said was good news.
“I got the family to sign over the rights to Jesica’s story, which means we’re free to write the book.” When I told him I would not write a book with him, he was silent for about five seconds.
“Then send me all my stuff back,” he said, and hung up.
I spent the next six weeks underwater. In my mind’s eye, Jesica was there and we sat quietly. I wrote some assignments I don’t recall. I got a raise and fired from the zoo in the same day. I spent my evenings in front of the NBA playoffs typing page after page about Jesica. I raged against Mack to anyone who would listen; that his consummate need to control everything about Magdalena’s life would only prolong her misery. I did, for a while, want very much to save Magdalena; I sent her a letter via Frank — whom I called each week for an update — to apologize for disappearing, and to tell her I’d do whatever she wanted regarding a book, but the letter was not delivered. Postings about Jesica on the Web shrank, and then disappeared. And then one day, I forgot to check. The terror and melancholy that had kept me clinging to her began to slip off me like effervescence, and though it felt like one more person failing her, I let go of Jesica, and rose to the surface.
The phone rang a month later at midnight. Part of my sleep-addled mind knew it was Frank Cassiano.
“He’s drunk on fame,” he said. His breath on the phone sounded labored and wet. “Some incredible stuff has happened,” he said. “Are you ready to hear it?”
I stood in the yard in my pajamas, and listened to a two-hour monologue about how Mack had arranged for Magdalena to speak on-air with the family of the original organ donor; that he’d excitedly told Frank, “We can’t buy this kind of publicity!” and how Frank had yanked Magdalena from Mack’s home with the cameras there before the spectacle could air.
“I get a screaming call later from Mack saying, ‘If you ever embarrass me again it will be the last thing you do!’ I said, ‘Are you threatening me, Mack?’ and he said, ‘It’s a promise. And don’t think I can’t get them people to fire you by tomorrow.’”
Which is exactly what Mack did; he also had Magdalena’s phone disconnected, which meant Frank could not reach her by phone. More, Kurt Dixon had quit the firm to stick with Mack and represent Magdalena, and had sent out a press release stating as much in which he misspelled the word attorney.
“The betrayal is so intense.”
The betrayal, I knew, was why he was alone in his office at four in the morning. Jesica’s case was clearly the biggest thing Frank had ever done and one he told me would make his name, but also make something right for Jesica and her family. He’d had that taken away; he would not be given the chance to help Jesica or Magdalena, and he was heartsick, and was calling me because he knew I’d know exactly how he felt.
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