Hassie Calhoun: A Las Vegas Novel of Innocenceby Pamela Cory
HASSIE CALHOUN, the first book of a trilogy, is a modern bildungsroman about a lovely, determined and talented teenager from the late 1950s/early 60s rural Texas, who flees a difficult family situation to seek fame and fortune as an entertainer in Las Vegas. Her beauty opens doors immediately, but leads only to a sybaritic lifestyle controlled by her brooding and
HASSIE CALHOUN, the first book of a trilogy, is a modern bildungsroman about a lovely, determined and talented teenager from the late 1950s/early 60s rural Texas, who flees a difficult family situation to seek fame and fortune as an entertainer in Las Vegas. Her beauty opens doors immediately, but leads only to a sybaritic lifestyle controlled by her brooding and dangerous lover, Jake, as well as drawing the attention of the powerful Frank Sinatra. Like the goddess Persephone, Hassie finds herself drawn alternately to the darkness and the light, finding joy and pain in both realms. When the road to stardom requires making some unacceptable compromises, Hassie must make the toughest decision of her life. The trilogy follows a good-hearted woman through her naive and mistake-ridden youth and culminates in a surprising old age in New York City and London.
Award-winning Finalist in the Fiction-General and Fiction-Romance categories of the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards
Award-winning Finalist in the Fiction: Chick Lit/Women's Lit category of The USA "Best Books 2011" Awards
Award-winning Finalist in Fiction-Literary Fiction for the 2011 International Book Awards
Award-winning Finalist in New Fiction for the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards
"Author Pamela Cory delivers the perfect cocktail of hope and devastation in her latest novel, Hassie Calhoun: A Las Vegas Novel of Innocence. With one hand, Cory offers her readers untarnished hopes of the young and uninitiated, and with the other she delivers the inescapable realities of the real world and the people who live there Hassie Calhoun is the perfect protagonist." The Nevada Review
"Nostalgia takes it on the chin in Cory's overdramatic but atmospherically pleasing debut...Cory's alternately gritty and sudsy depiction of early '60s Sin City transports the reader back to a time when the Rat Pack ethos ruled." Publisher's Weekly
"...a gripping story about an aspiring singer in 1960s Las Vegas. Categorized as a modern bildungsroman by the publisher, this poignant novel is a down-to-earth rather than idealistic glimpse of a vulnerable heroine learning how to succeed...and unfortunately, how to stop trusting people...Depicted with realism and tenderness, this exceptional protagonist should enchant readers in NYC and London in the second and third installments of this series." ForeWord Reviews
"[Pamela Cory] creates a riveting tale of Rat Pack era Vegas and the fate of many women driven for success and split by love. Hassie Calhoun is an exciting work of historical fiction, very much recommended reading." Midwest Book Review, July 2011
In 1959, small-town Texas beauty Hassie Calhoun, 17, goes to Las Vegas hoping to sing at the famous Copa Room. With the help of Frank Sinatra, she loses her innocence but manages to cling to her dream of stardom.
The first book in a trilogy,it goes where every other lousy book or movie about Las Vegas has gone. Fleeing a broken family, Hassie shows up unannounced at the Copa Room, thinking the business card a club underling gave her at a talent showcase in Dallas is her ticket to the top. His shady boss, Jake Contrata, quickly swoops in on her, politely backs off, gives her a waitress job and, after she's been pawed sufficiently by the clientele, swoops back in with an offer she can't refuse. Not only does she accept the fact that all the showgirls are prostitutes, she volunteers to become one if that's what it takes to get ahead. A jealous type, Jake seethes over seeing Hassie spend time with Sinatra even before she falls into the sack with the singer. With the help of hotshot New York talent manager Clay Cooper, Jake's half brother, ever-resilient Hassie pursues her music, ending up in Reno after a stint in Manhattan. But violent incidents, betrayals and the assassination of John F. Kennedy put a crimp in her progress. Cory, a former cabaret singer and voice coach, has a tin ear when describing music (she likes the word "jazzy") and musicians. We're told she has never been to Texas, and nothing in the book convinces us she's been to Vegas either. Her descriptions of the scene and its players are devoid of color, and the sex scenes are by the numbers. This may be the first time Sinatra, whom she dutifully gives a heart of gold, has receded from a page. The book plods along for hundreds of pages, offering no hope that the second book in the series will be any better.
A dreary, hackneyed account of a young aspiring singer's adventures in Las Vegas.
- Mighty Media, Inc.
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- 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
HASSIE CALHOUNa las vegas novel of innocence
By PAMELA CORY
SCARLETTA PRESSCopyright © 2011 Pamela Cory
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHassie awoke to the noise of two dogs barking in what sounded to her like friendly conversation until one of the dog's owners caterwauled its name five or six times and peace was restored to the neighborhood amid the sound of twittering birds. She felt the warmth of the morning sun through the window while the curtain fluttered feebly in the faint summer breeze. She lay still and closed her eyes until her curiosity drew her to the window where she pulled back the curtain to a bright, blue-skied day. She spotted the dogs' owners and wondered if they were as nosy as the neighbors on her street in Corsicana – sniffing around their house when her mother came home from the hospital with her little brother, asking questions about where her father was and tsking over his misfortune at missing the arrival of his son.
She yawned as she heard the shuffle of feet in the kitchen. The smells of coffee and frying bacon wafted through the beads. She put on the lightly quilted robe that Morty's wife had given her a couple of Christmases ago. She'd thought it strange that this Jewish woman that she barely knew would find it appropriate to give her a Christmas gift, but she'd graciously accepted it as a token of seasonal cheer from her boss.
She went to the toilet before making an appearance, and then joined Henry standing alone by the stove. "Where's Julio?" she asked and looked longingly at the coffee pot on the kitchen counter.
"He's working at one of the studios." Henry reached for a coffee cup. "How do you feel today?"
"A little rough, and I'm starving."
Henry poured the coffee and pushed the cup in her direction. "I was just about to cook some eggs to go with the bacon. Or would you rather have a jelly doughnut?"
"Very funny," Hassie said, stirring sugar into the coffee. "Bacon and eggs would be great. I'll be too nervous to eat anything this afternoon before my rehearsal at the Tropicana." She took the cup and sat down at the dinette table while Henry poured the bowl of beaten eggs into the sizzling pan. "By the way," she said. "If you're not busy today, why don't you come with me? I could use the moral support."
"In case you forgot, I have a job at the Sands. Anyway, Dotty will be there. Does she know you're coming in today?"
Hassie nodded and swallowed a sip of the coffee. "I told her I'd give her a call this morning. La Chanson has really little to do with her but she's offered her support so I'm gonna take it."
"Of course, you are." Henry scraped the eggs onto a plate along with two slices of bacon and a piece of toast. "Here you go." He placed the plate on the table in front of her and bowed. "Show me that big appetite of yours."
She mouthed a kiss at him, and then looked at her plate before saying, "You got any jam or jelly for the toast?" and then took a big bite of the eggs.
Henry laughed and opened the refrigerator door. "I knew you wanted some gooey sugar."
"Yum. This is delicious," she said and ignored Henry's smirk. "Julio told me that he was the cook in the family."
"Yeah, well, that's what he likes to tell everyone. But unless you like enchiladas and beans for every meal, I'd be careful of his offer to cook for you."
She laughed and held up her cup as a signal for more. "Sit down and join me for a few minutes."
Henry brought another cup and the percolator to the table, re- filled her cup and poured some for himself before sitting down. She devoured the plate of food, and after she'd taken the last bite, Henry pushed the plate away from her and watched her stir sugar in her coffee before saying, "You know, I'm not very good at keeping things to myself where you're concerned."
She had felt him looking at her scar several times; now was as good a time as any to broach the subject. "That might be an understatement," she said.
He reached over and gently touched the nubby reminder on her eyebrow. "If I'd had a gun, I would have killed Jake that night."
Hassie took the open pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her robe and laid them on the table next to the lighter. "I don't really remember much about it after he –"
Henry sat still while she lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. "I'll never forget that first sight of you in the hospital," he said softly. "We couldn't recognize your face – between the bandages and the swelling. It was like a bad dream and so scary to realize that Jake was capable of such violence."
"Although the memory is vague, I still relive parts of it in my dreams and keep thinking that it was all my fault – that I did something to set him off – but I also remember trying to apologize to him. He wouldn't listen." She laid the cigarette in the ashtray, put her hands over her mouth and rested her elbows on the table, tears filling her eyes.
Henry took hold of her hands. "You listen to me. You could never have done anything that would have warranted what he did to you. Don't tell me you forgot how long it took you to recover. And I'm just talking about the physical recovery." He touched her scar again and said, "This is nothing compared to what it must have felt like to realize that someone who claims to love you more than life itself can turn on you like a mad dog and, in one destructive moment, basically put your life at risk." He sat back in his chair and breathed deeply. "And the sickest part of this now is that I don't know if Jake is really aware of how badly he hurt you."
"What do you mean?" Hassie wiped her eyes with her napkin. "He never came to the hospital or even called to see how I was?" She picked up the cigarette and inhaled deeply.
"Are you kidding? He was in hiding for days into weeks – ran off to New York or LA or somewhere." Henry stopped and looked at her. "Are you sure you want to talk about this now? Do you want more coffee?"
"I'd like a drink, but that's a bad idea before I go to work."
He gave her a disapproving look and said, "Never mind the fact that it's only ten o'clock in the morning."
She laid the cigarette on the ashtray. "I can talk about all this now, Henry. I'd actually like to fill in some of the missing pieces that have haunted me since I left Vegas. What happened right after the – fight?"
"To be honest, I don't know how you got to the hospital. Julio was in the Copa Room and heard that you'd been hurt and that Donnie had been called to get you to a doctor. Julio found me and we called Donnie's office and learned that you'd been taken to the hospital. When we got there, you were in the emergency room and we weren't allowed to see you. Donnie was there. He said you'd be okay and that we should go home and wait for a phone call. You can imagine our response to that suggestion. We made a few calls and paced around the waiting room for a couple of hours until I was finally able to coerce a nurse into telling us what was going on." Henry finished the coffee and then took his cup and the percolator back into the kitchen.
Hassie stubbed out the cigarette and followed him. "I was unconscious all of this time?"
"I would think so," Henry said and plugged in the percolator to brew a fresh pot. "By the time we were allowed to see you, you were heavily sedated, which was a good thing because Julio and I completely fell apart." Henry cleared the emotion from his throat and put his arms around her. "I hate Jake for what he did to you. And I don't ever want to hear you say again that anything about that night was your fault." He pulled back from her and held her forearms while looking into her eyes. "There will never be a valid excuse for his brutality. And you must never forget it. Stay away from him and get on with your life and this great new opportunity."
Hassie's throat ached; she knew that everything Henry said was right. His mention of the emergency room and the bandages brought back flashes of memory of waking up under the fog of drugs and swathe of gauze; the agonized faces of people around her, calling her name and holding her hand. She leaned back against the kitchen counter and wiped the tears from her face. "I had forgotten how bad it really was."
Henry handed her a tissue and said, "Well, I'm not gonna be an 'I told you so' now, but I'm here to make sure that you remember and that you'll remember no matter what happens where Jake is concerned. In his own distorted way, he loves you. And I won't be surprised if he tries to make it up to you."
"He'll have a tough time with that because I won't be going anywhere near the Sands. Anyway, he's got enough going on with a wife and child." She studied him for a few seconds and then said, "You told me on the telephone that Jake has changed. What did you mean by that?"
Henry took a step back and checked the percolator. "After everything else I've said, this is gonna sound strange. But in a perverse way, his treatment of you turned him into a nicer guy – after you left, of course. He's more rational and patient where the rest of us are concerned. And, needless to say, he surprised the universe by his responsible handling of the situation with Natalie and the kid. That's why I'm fairly certain he'll try to make it up to you. Somehow, some way."
Hassie crossed her arms over her chest and said, "I don't care what he says or does. Jake Contrata is ancient history. And that's a promise."
"Good," Henry said. "I'm gonna hold you to that. So. Why don't we get off this dreary subject and talk about the rest of your day?"
Hassie took a cup of coffee and walked into the living room, motioning for Henry to join her. She furtively relocated the ashtray and lighter to the coffee table, her cigarettes tucked back into the pocket of her robe. They sat on opposite ends of the sofa and for a moment, everything was strangely normal. She was in the safe company of her best friend who knew her so well and always had her best interests at heart.
Henry held the coffee cup with both hands and said, "What time is your rehearsal?"
"I'm not exactly sure, but it's not until the afternoon so I think I'll go over to see Dotty around lunchtime. When are you going to the Copa Room?"
Henry looked back at the clock on the dining room wall. "Technically, I'm late. But there's nothing pressing me today so I'll go over soon. I'd offer to drive you to the Tropicana but don't think you'll be ready to go yet. Did Morty work out something for transportation in your contract?"
"Yeah, I think so," she said. "I need to sort out all those details today so maybe I can just take a taxi over."
Henry set his cup on the coffee table, walked over to the telephone on the sideboard and located a small pad of paper. He jotted something on the top sheet, then tore it off and came back to the sofa. "Here's the number for Casino Cabs. Call them with a fifteen-minute warning and they'll pick you up and take you anywhere you want to go. And that's our address."
"Thanks, Henry. I'm so glad I decided to stay here with you guys." She sat on the edge of the seat and pulled her hair off her neck. Her skin oozed sweat, and she wanted another shower. "I think I'll make a couple of calls and then organize my room. My room," she said, smiling at him.
"It's not much but it's yours for as long as you need it," Henry said and cleared the cups from the coffee table. "Something tells me Dotty will be on a campaign to coral you into the Tropicana. Do whatever you want to do, honey. You know you're always welcome here."
The taxi dropped her at the front entrance to the Tropicana. It had been quite a long time since she'd been inside the imposing building. The abrupt termination of her last stay in Vegas had prevented her from seeing most of her friends outside of her hospital room before she left for Reno. Dotty had called her once a week for a couple of months after she got there, which meant a lot to her and made her wish she'd stayed in closer touch with Barbara. It was also a painful reminder of the lost relationship with her mother.
As she pushed through the heavy brass and glass door, she half expected to be greeted by Jimmy; a flash of her arrival at the Sands brought the image of Jake to mind. "Get outta my head, Jake!" Then she saw Dotty coming toward her from across the casino lobby. She waved and rushed forward to greet her in the smoke-filled space.
"Hassie," Dotty said as they embraced. "Honey, you look just great." Dotty pulled back from her, and Hassie could tell that she was trying not to look at her scar.
"It's wonderful to see you, Dotty," she said. "I can't believe I'm really here."
"And to work in this great lounge!" She took hold of Hassie's arm and started back through the casino. "I'm so proud, I could pop."
Hassie laughed and followed Dotty's lead. "Do you know the musicians in La Chanson?"
"Do I know 'em?" She suddenly lengthened her stride. "Make a note, honey. Dotty knows everybody at the Tropicana."
"So, you know a man named John Jacobson?" Hassie asked, practically running to stay in step with Dotty.
"'Course, I know John. I believe he's the reason you're here." Dotty veered around another corner as she said, "Now, hurry up. I just ran into the music director and he says they'll all be waitin' for you."
"But I thought I would have a little time to talk to you first." Hassie had half convinced herself that she would never see John Jacobson again – that his role in getting her to Vegas had been accomplished and he'd have moved on to some other unsuspecting target. Now, it sounded like she was destined to see him.
"We'll talk later," Dotty said and pulled open the door to a small, dimly lit space. "Go on in. I'm right behind ya."
The room was something of a cross between Felix's and the Copa Room with an ornately decorated ceiling and crystal chandeliers meant to conjure up the feeling of something French. The stage was small, with barely enough room for the baby grand piano, drum set and two stools; the double bass lay in the floor beside one of them. A lone microphone stood far downstage, which had been extended at two strategic points to hold the sound monitors.
"Go on, Hassie," Dotty urged her from behind. "I see the boss over there." She pointed to the tables closest to the stage entry.
Hassie spotted several men clumped around two of the small tables and immediately recognized John Jacobson. She picked up her pace a little as Dotty called out, "Wake up, guys. Miss Calhoun's here."
Hassie reached the tables just as the men turned around to face her. They stood up; Jacobson walked over to greet her, stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome." She shook his hand as he said, "Can we call you Hassie?"
"Of course," she said and smiled. "It's nice to see you again, John." The man standing to his right was short and slight with thick, black hair that was graying at the temples and wore round, black-rimmed glasses that made him a dead ringer for Poindexter from the Felix the Cat cartoons. Jacobson put his hand on the man's shoulder and said, "This is Daniel Forrester, your keyboardist, arranger and generally the glue that holds this wild bunch together." The man seemed unimpressed by it all but shook her hand and nodded politely.
"Yep. Dan's the man – our fearless leader," one of the other men said. "My name's Tony. I'm the drummer. And that there's Art. He's our horn blower."
The man he'd referenced hit him on his arm with his fist while the others laughed and cajoled, then turned to Hassie, offering his hand, and said, "It's nice to meet you, Hassie. We've heard a lot about you."
Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and studied her before addressing Jacobson, "Are you sure someone who looks like her can sing?"
"Oh, for Chrissake, Danny." Dotty had worked her way into the middle of the group. "Give the poor girl a break. She just got here. Where's your fiddler?"
Jacobson took hold of Hassie's arm and led her away from the guys while they mouthed off at Dotty and chatted about the missing player. With a half-serious expression, he looked at her and said, "I know you've worked with lots of lounge musicians so I'm sure you can hold your own. But you might like to know that the act preceding you was a hairy Latino bongo-playing songster who smelled like rum and thought he was Desi Arnaz. So you can imagine how the appearance of a beautiful, young woman would make the guys act like half-witted apes."
She laughed and tried to relax before saying, "I'm sure we'll be fine. I'm eager to go to work."
Excerpted from HASSIE CALHOUN by PAMELA CORY Copyright © 2011 by Pamela Cory. Excerpted by permission of SCARLETTA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Pamela Cory, born in Charlotte, NC, graduated college Summa Cum Laude with a degree in music, and spent 15 years as a cabaret singer, model and voice coach in the Southeastern U.S. before an interest in interior design led her to establish a business in London to source interior furnishings and artifacts around the world. HASSIE CALHOUN follows a young girl from small-town Texas whose dream is to see her name in lights. Although Pamela is not from Texas and never met Frank Sinatra, Hassie is deeply rooted in the author's own struggles and ultimately reflects her love of music and her strong ties to the entertainment industry. She is married to architect Steven Miller and divides her time between New York City and Dubai, UAE
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