Lost in the
On the trail of Margaret Barrish Worthingtonby Dylan Werner
My assignment from the Globe seemed simple enough—if you just got off the boat from Latvia, or someplace. I was supposed to wade through the Sin City slime to somehow verify that old chestnut, that Margaret Barrish Worthington, mother of the Secretary of State, had at one time been a Vegas showgirl.
Now, of course, you’d never suspect it; buttoned-up, silver-haired, almost regal in her pearls, she looked the part of the First Lady’s mother. But early in the campaign, she’d had that famous interview with Leno, during which she’d casually mentioned “my Vegas days.”
The papers went crazy, of course. But the major dailies all whiffed on the story. Even 60 Minutes had failed to turn up any sign that she had ever even visited the place, and so had the National Enquirer, though the tabloid still suggested that she might have been a call girl, as well as a show girl.
As for Margaret, she didn’t do any more interviews after that, but simply smiled and waved, smiled and waved. The rumor had died a decade ago—overtaken by bigger news, you might say—until my editors decided to revive it, probably over a drunken $150 lunch at the Palm. And so, I was Vegas bound.* * *
The Red Angel Motel is a faded stucco mirage on the seedy end of the Strip. Dating almost from the Bugsy Siegel days, it had somehow escaped the hands of the demolition crews who had taken down every other Rat Pack-era building on the Strip (along with all of their employee records).
In its heyday, it had a glittering cocktail lounge and cabaret. Now there was grass growing in the cracks in the swimming pool, and it played host to a different sort of clientele: a motley crew of construction workers, card dealers, and out-of-work bartenders.
From here, I spent the first two days playing it straight. Checking courthouse records, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, property files, casino employee lists, even the census. There wasn’t so much as a parking ticket with her name on it. If anything, the files were too clean.
Vegas is like that, continually cannibalizing its own past. Structures are razed to the ground as if they had never existed. Half the citizens use aliases, and the rest won’t tell you their real name.