Continued from Chapter One:
My first visit to the strip clubs felt like a rite of passage and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to go to other nightclubs. There was a roller disco in West Hollywood called Flippers that was THE place to go in the 70’s. I asked Dad repeatedly if he knew someone there that could get me in but he said no.
“I don’t understand why, I mean all I want to do is skate, I’m not going to drink and I’ve already been inside strip clubs.” He just laughed. “Lip, it’s because you’re only ten, that’s why.”
At the time Dad was arrested for murder he had owned the Jet Strip for twenty years. After Mac’s death, he found a new business partner, David. David was tall, dark, handsome, polite and British. I had a huge crush on him. Previously a boxer in the UK, Dad had met David through mutual friends and hired him to be a manager. Dad treated David like a son; he even went on family vacations with us and spent most holidays at our house. Mac was never a fan of David.
The day Dad was arrested, David asked Dad to lunch at Jerry’s Deli in the valley. The restaurant had been wiretapped by the D.A.’s office and David who had been arrested earlier discussed the murder with Dad on tape and entrapped him. They arrested Dad at the deli and immediately sent police out to raid the house and all the clubs. The entire lunch was a sting operation and the restaurant was filled with undercover cops.
We learned all this from Vicki, one of Dad’s criminal defense attorneys, who calls the house soon after Jack the private investigator left. I didn’t even know Dad had attorneys. But he had hired Vicki and Richard two months before his arrest, trying to negotiate their rate. Vicki doesn’t explain too much.
“The charges are for murder for capital gain, coupled with a tax evasion case, meaning the district attorney’s office can seize all assets – the house, cars, and bank accounts.”
When she mentions the word “seize” my heart stops beating as I think of everything they can take…everything.
“What exactly can they seize?”
“Well they can seize anything that they feel was purchased with illegal funds – the family house, you and your sister’s condos, your cars, your dad’s boats and all belongings. Hard to say what they’ll do. We’re still not sure what evidence they have against your dad. But currently the sentence would be death penalty because of the capital gain charge.” I can’t even believe I’m hearing this.
“Also, there’s mention of another motive because Mac made threats against the family, specifically, to have the daughters gang-raped.” She says “the daughters,” as if she were talking about someone else, not me.
She also warns us not to let Dad say anything about the case on the phone. All our phones, and possibly our houses, are tapped. Suddenly, I remember the phone conversation last summer when I called my dad from London after my first trip to Africa. “How was it?” Dad asked me. “It was great! I slept with our African tour guide!” “I wish you hadn’t told me that, Laurel.”
Even though Dad was a strip club owner, he was a very strict and conservative father. Once when I was sixteen, he bought me a used Saab turbo, my first car. I was in love with the car, the previous owner had let their cat live in the car so I had to do a fair amount of vacuuming out of hair and dry cat food. But once I cleaned it up, it looked brand new. I waxed it and Armor Alled the whole exterior. Dad taught me how important it was to take good care of your car. It became my identity; everyone knew the midnight blue Saab was mine around town.
I had been mildly obsessed with a boy in high school named Sean Kelsey. I knew that he hung out at this club in Santa Monica called 321. My friend Kim Cole was going to drive us there. I had borrowed a leopard-print tank top and a black leather mini-skirt from a friend. I got ready to leave and walked by my parents’ bedroom to say goodbye.
“Umm, what are you wearing?” My mom said.
“What does it look like I’m wearing?” I replied, a tad snotty. Teen angst at its worst.
“You’re not leaving the house dressed like that,” Dad said.
“Ok, I’ll change,” as I quickly threw on jeans and a tee-shirt, throwing my contraband outfit into my bag for later.
Kim and I got to the club, mini-skirt back on. We drank diet cokes with cherries and were smoking cigarettes, acting cool like you do in high school. Sean was there with a group of people, he was dressed in white. He said hi to me, but that was about it. I just kept looking as cool as possible, occasionally looking over at him to see if he noticed me, but he didn’t. We drove home with the windows open to air out the smell of smoke in our hair, and I changed back into my jeans. About a week later, Dad approached me when I was washing my car in the driveway.
“Did you go out in that leather mini-skirt after I told you not to?”
“Yes I did.”
“And were you smoking?” How did he know that???
“Yes I was.” I was a horrible liar. I never even tried; I’d giggle if I tried to lie to Dad. Somehow he always had a way of finding things out.
“Ok, then, you’re grounded until further notice and I need the keys to your car.”
It turns out that one of the secretaries for my dad’s entertainment attorneys had been at the same club and recognized me. She told my dad that I had “really grown up and was smoking like a chimney.” Dad had asked her what I was wearing – leather skirt, leopard top. I was grounded for six months. Mom drove me to and from school. I was humiliated. I’d cry in my bedroom blasting Depeche Mode.
I am twice as old as I was then, and now it is Dad, my conservative, protective Dad, who has been grounded.
After Vicki discusses how we could be under surveillance, she explains the process of Dad’s arraignment, “Don’t expect too much,” she says.
I had felt a powerful surge of confidence after Jack left with his reassuring words, yet now I feel every ounce of hope drain from my zombie-like body after talking with Vicki. It’s the way she withholds information that makes me nervous. There is so much more I want to ask her. After she hangs up I recount everything to Mom and Kristen. Mom sits there motionless as Kristen cries hysterically. I ask Mom if it was true that Mac threatened Kristen and me. “Yeah, he did.” Why would he say that? He treated me with such respect when I came to visit Dad at the clubs, making sure I was taken care of. It didn’t make sense.
That Saturday night I take some of Mom’s prized possessions, her mother’s wedding china, over to a friend’s house to keep just in case.
A couple of months before Dad’s arrest, Bob Eubanks, famous host from the popular TV show “The Dating Game,” and his wife Debbie, moved in next door. Debbie came over, introduced herself, and gave Mom their alarm code and spare keys to their house – the neighborly thing to do.
Mom knows that the entire cul-de-sac saw Mom and Dad’s house raided the day Dad was arrested. All the neighbors had stood on the street watching and whispering while helicopters, sheriffs, police and district attorney investigators swarmed all over. They raided all the clubs too. On Sunday morning, Mom walks over to the Eubanks and Debbie opens the front door.
“Hi Debbie, not sure if you’re aware but my husband Michael was just arrested for murder and I thought I’d give you your house keys back.”
“Oh don’t be silly, we did see all the commotion last Friday and knew that something terrible had happened but please keep the keys and let us know if we can do anything for you.”
Dad finally calls from jail, collect, on Sunday night. We scream hysterically into the phone as we all try to explain to him that his partner David turned on him. Dad considered David a close friend, almost a son to him. David spent most holidays with us at the house and even went on some of our family vacations.
“What?” Dad says perplexed, “That’s not possible.” Dad keeps talking about the case and I warn him not to say anything.
“Laurel, you gotta take care of David, he didn’t know what was going on.”
“Dad, shut up, just shut up. Jack says not to talk about the case on the phone, they’re listening to everything.”
“Laurel, I gotta talk about it, make sure David’s got an attorney right away.”
“Dad, David rolled over on you, he was already arrested last week.”
The phone line goes dead. Jack’s last words about not discussing the case are ringing in my ear. Dad’s in jail for murder and still won’t keep his mouth shut.
That night we pretend to have a normal evening – we had just gotten back from dinner with family friends. We watch TV looking for more news segments on Dad and do the dishes. Our parrot Huey is whistling away in the living room, swaying back and forth fluffing his feathers. Family friends begin to call. They saw Dad on the news. No one knows what to say and I don’t trust the phone lines so I don’t offer much. I imagine a white van outside the house listening to and recording every conversation.
Dad has his first court hearing on Tuesday, October 31st, Halloween. Usually my favorite holiday. One Halloween, Dad had bought a Darth Vader helmet. He knocked on the garage door as Kristen and I were watching TV in the den. I opened the door and Darth Vader suddenly appeared breathing heavily. I was so scared that I started to cry because I didn’t who it was. Dad immediately took off the helmet, and was laughing hysterically and hugging me. Then he put it back on and chased us around the house. He’d always make us give him our bags of candy after we were done trick or treating. He said it was to make sure it was safe, but we knew he was poaching our stash.
We leave Mom and Dad’s house at 5am and arrive at the court before 8am to meet the attorneys. I wonder if maybe Dad will be riding back home with us. I order a latte at the coffee cart outside. The guy gives me a large even though I order a small. “It’s because you said please.” Finally, a friendly face at the courthouse.
Vicki said the hearing would be short; it was to ask the judge for a bail hearing. Vicki also told us we were not allowed to make any type of contact with Dad in court. No touching, no eye contact, no motioning. It’s a misdemeanor and we can be arrested.
Nothing prepares you for the first time you see your dad shackled, in an orange jumpsuit, locked in a cage in a courtroom. I can tell Dad is trying to stay strong but his expressions give away his fear and helplessness. The court is full of people I don’t know – investigators, police, Mac’s son and a slew of reporters. Why is Dad’s case such a big deal? I feel violated with all these strangers witnessing such a private moment. The Los Angeles Times reporter keeps trying to speak to us. He even has my parents’ home number. Vicki says absolutely no talking to the press. Dad’s arrest had been all over the news on TV and in the papers. Vicki says it’s a sensationalized case filled murder, sex, drugs, strip clubs and even tales about him being tied to the mafia. To me, it is just my dad.
The hearing lasts less than five minutes. We sit there all dressed up, perfect posture. The judge denies Dad bail and Vicki sets a court date on November 17th for a bail hearing. Dad looks over at us and nods. I smile as my lips stick to my teeth. The court officer takes Dad away as he hobbles in his shackles and handcuffs. I can still hear his chains after the door closes behind him.
Vicki meets us quickly outside. We are looking to her for so many answers. “Don’t worry, we’ll get this all figured out. I’m late for another court hearing in Santa Monica, I’ll be in touch.” And just like that, she leaves. We stand there like deer in headlights, looking around at the Santa Ana Courthouse which, little do we know, we will spend the next year and a half visiting for court hearings and jail visits.
We drive the long ride back home. A five hour round trip drive for a five minute hearing. These drives become a daily occurrence. My entire body is stiff, I feel like I’ve been in a car accident. I can’t move my neck. The mere thought of food makes me nauseous. I am thirsty, parched. All I want is water. Mom told me that when your body is in shock, your kidneys shut down, dehydrating your body. I pace the house nervously, feeling utterly helpless, waiting for the phone to ring.
Dad is on all three major networks for the five o’clock news. They discuss his arraignment and bail hearing. “Mike Woods, ex-cop turned strip club owner with possible mafia ties in Las Vegas…”The newscaster starts out. “Woods accused of murdering his strip club partner for $25,000, and thought he’d get away with it.” The newscaster goes on to talk about Dad being involved in the porn industry and drugs. My dad, my hero.
Innocent until proven guilty? They show Dad’s God awful mug shot picture and then pan to a family photo of the four of us in Hawaii at sunset one Christmas. How did they get that photo? I forgot about that dress in the photo, I used to wear it all the time. I feel vulnerable. We are paranoid and paralyzed with fear. Our private lives have been made public overnight.
That night, I sleep in the same bed with Mom. Every time a helicopter flies by or a siren is heard down the street, we are certain the sheriffs are coming back for another house raid or to seize our assets. It reminds me of when I was a child when there was an earthquake in the middle of the night. I’d lay there in the bed, frozen, holding my breath, heart pounding, unable to move. It takes me years to get over that sensation.
As I lie in bed, thinking about the way the media is portraying my father to the public, I think about Mac threatening Kristen and me. How come Dad never told us? I get a chill thinking about how protective Dad has always been of the family and begin to wonder about the murder charges. It didn’t make sense for Dad to kill Mac for money, because after Mac died, David took over as partner and got Mac’s share of the business. I think about all the wonderful things, big and small, that Dad did for us, his little girls. No newspaper or TV show would report those. I think about The Bionic Woman.