Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Five Hundred and Seventy : View of the stars

CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY

“I was thinking that maybe I would like to look at the stars,” Ivy said.

“Oh?” Delphie asked.

“Uh-huh,” Ivy said. “Kind of expensive.”

“Expensive?” Sam asked from the doorway. “That sounds like my cue. What’s expensive?”

“Looking at the stars,” Ivy said.

She blinked at Sam as if he should know exactly what she was talking about. Sam looked at Delphie.

“I think she’s thinking about getting a telescope,” Delphie said.

“You know who knows everything about telescopes?” Sam asked.

Ivy shook her head releasing the last braid from Delphie’s hand. Delphie managed to catch the braid before it unraveled. Delphie quickly wrapped a hair band on the braid.

“Who?” Ivy asked, her voice rising with interest and hope.

Delphie tapped Ivy’s shoulder to let her know that she was done braiding.

“Mr. Nelson’s father,” Sam said. He looked at his watch. “It’s still early. Why don’t we head over to Nelson’s to see if he can ask his father?”

“Okay,” Ivy said brightly.

Delphie gave a rueful shake of her head. Sam held out his hand, and Ivy took it. With that, they were off. They went down the stairs and out of the Castle. They only walked half a block before they crossed the street to Nelson’s. The big front house was dark and silent, but the light was on where Nelson lived in the back.

Sam knocked on the door. Nelson opened the door. He had a huge bowl of popped popcorn in the crook of his arm.

“What’s up?” Nelson asked.

He looked at Sam and then at Ivy. With his look, Ivy’s eyes went immediately to the ground taking her head with them.

“We were wondering if we could talk to your father about telescopes,” Sam said.

“Are you interested in telescopes?” Nelson asked. He squinted at Sam and then looked at the top of Ivy’s head.

“We were thinking about maybe getting one to play with,” Sam said. “We haven’t looked through telescopes before.”

“Why don’t you come in and play with mine?” Nelson said. “I have it all set up. I was going to watch the transit tonight. Did you want to see the transit, Ivy?”

Ivy’s head nodded. The men stared at the top of her head for a moment.

“We would love to come in,” Delphie said from the pathway up to his house.

Ivy turned to look at Delphie. She gave her aunt a big smile. Ivy then looked back at Nelson and nodded.

“It’s a Saturday,” Delphie said. “We can stay up late. We can sleep in tomorrow.”

“Great,” Nelson said. “I was just settling in to watch. It finishes around 4 a.m. Is that okay?”

“Where should we go?” Sam asked.

“I have a porch that’s set up for star gazing,” Nelson said. “You know what? Why don’t I call my dad? I bet he’ll come over. He always has some experimental, super fancy telescope on loan from NASA.”

“Would it be too much trouble?” Sam asked.

“Not at all,” Nelson said. “I’m sure he’s getting ready to watch this transit too. Plus, he loves to introduce people to the stars. Since there’s four of us, we may as well get his equipment. His advice we’ll get whether we want it or not.”

Laughing, Nelson stepped aside to let them into the house. When Ivy passed, he dropped the bowl of popcorn into her arms. Nelson and Sam went into the house to call Nelson’s father, Pierre. Ivy carried the popcorn inside the house, and Delphie shut the door.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday morning — 3:14 a.m.

Paris, France

“So what do you think?” Lieutenant Colonel Alexandra “the Fey” Hargreaves asked.

“I still don’t understand why you’re doing this,” her biological father, Benjamin, said.

He had been her mentor until he retired some number of years ago.

“It needs to be done,” Alex said. “And done well.”

“Why you?” Ben asked. “Why your team?”

Alex turned her head to look at him. They had been pouring over maps of Poland on his ancient wooden table in his private office in the basement. The fire blazing in the fireplace didn’t cut through the cold seeping in from the miles of limestone below. They were now sitting in armchairs around the fire. They spoke in quick Parisian French.

“Why you?” Ben asked in a near whisper.

She opened her mouth to speak but he held up a finger.

“And don’t say, ‘Why not me?’ because I taught you that bullshit answer,” Ben said.

She gave him a wide grin.

“Why …?” Ben started again.

“Hold your horses!” Alex said with a laugh. “Give a girl a moment to get a word out.”

He grinned.

“Okay, why me?” Alex asked. “Why my team?”

“It’s the first non-US military project that you’ve taken since …”

“I promised John I would stop saying ‘everyone died,’” Alex said.

“How long has it been?” Ben asked.

“He bet me that I couldn’t go a month,” Alex said. “That was three months ago. I haven’t …”

She shook her head, and Ben laughed. She smiled.

“Yes, this is our first civilian contracting since everyone died,” Alex said.

“My lips are sealed,” Ben said.

“Until you decide to rat on me,” Alex said.

They laughed. He took a sip of his cognac before continuing.

“You own a portion of a military contractor,” Ben said. “You sit on the board.”

“I am aware of that,” Alex said.

“Why not send them to do this?” Ben asked. “Why take the Fey team? It’s not like you don’t have enough on your plate with your children and home, not to mention the Factory.”

Alex nodded. She fell silent as she dove deep into herself to come up with something honest that he would accept. She shook her head.

“I don’t believe that you do not know,” Ben said. “I won’t believe it.”

“I can tell you what I told the team,” Alex said. “And, you should know that we voted on it. The entire team chose to take on this project. Every single vote a ‘yes.’”

“Fair enough,” Ben said. “Let’s start there.”

“I told them that there were three reasons to take this job,” Alex said. “The first is personal. We all know and love Sandy. We would help her in any way we possibly can.”

Ben grunted and nodded his head.

“I am concerned that the rise in white nationalism in Poland,” Alex said. “Sites like this are protected by people not knowing they are there. That’s bound to end. The site survived the Nazi. It would be awful if it was looted by this new brand of Nazi. The families deserve more than that.”

Ben grunted.

“There are still more than a hundred thousand missing works of art that were stolen from Jewish people by the Nazis,” Alex said. “According to the journal, as well as the records Sandy and Bernie have found so far, this tunnel is bound to be full of it.”

“Is that number three?” Ben asked.

“Still two,” Alex said. She paused for a moment. “The third and most obvious reason is that the money is good. Sandy was one thing, but now Nadia is pitching in. There’s a lot of money on the table. They are going to hire someone. It may as well be us.”

“What will you use the money for?” Ben asked.

“Body armor,” Alex said with a nod. “Recent changes to our budget have cut our body armor budget in half. The fee from this job will more than support new body armor.”

Alex nodded.

“Body armor,” Ben said softly. “How plush.”

Alex grinned.

“Depending on what we find, we may get a finder’s fee or two,” Alex said. “We’ll use those to repair some of our off gear.”

“Makes sense,” Ben said.

“The Fey budget’s been slashed,” Alex said. “We need to make up the difference or stop our cushy lifestyle.”

Ben grinned at her. They fell silent. Ben got up from his seat to refill their glasses with cognac.

“What’s your reason?” Ben asked when he sat back down.

“I think it’s cool, in an Indiana Jones kind of way,” Alex said. “We get to enter this mine. No one has been inside since it was sealed and the owner shipped to a concentration camp. We get to right a true wrong. Bring justice to some people as well as ease the mind of a dear friend who happens to be injured right now.”

Ben looked away from her for a moment before nodded.

“Relieve some of your guilt,” Ben said.

Alex sighed, “Honestly, I have so much guilt that this thing does little more than nudge it a bit.”

“You shouldn’t,” Ben said.

She took a breath to speak but he continued.

“I understand. You’ve been asked to do difficult things in horrible circumstances,” Ben said. “You feel guilty because you’re not a psychopath.”

“Maybe not a very good psychopath,” Alex said with a grin.

Ben laughed.

“You forget that I’ve seen your tests,” Ben said.

Alex shrugged.

“I will accept your answer to all of this under on condition,” Ben said.

“Oh yeah?” Alex asked. “What’s that?”

“That you take me with you,” Ben said. He gestured to himself. “I am an original Indiana Jones.”

“Bernie said the same thing,” Alex said of Seth O’Malley’s father.

“He taught me,” Ben said with a laugh.

They laughed.

“You are welcome to come,” Alex said. “It should be fun. Honestly, it’s a great training exercise for the team. We’ve mixed it up so that the people at home haven’t worked that side of things and some of our weaker members get field time.”

“In an Indiana Jones kind of way,” Ben said.

“Exactly,” Alex said with a laugh.

She smiled at him, and he grinned back. They finished their cognac in silence.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday morning — 6:01 a.m.

In her drug induced slumber, Sandy heard the door open. She roused to near waking. Whoever or whatever had opened the door hadn’t moved.

She fell back asleep.

There was a sound of quiet scratching across the floor. Cleo lifted her head to look at whoever had entered.

Sandy stirred.

There was a jumping sound.

Once.

Twice.

Third time a small body landed at the end of the bed. A short woman, she could just feel something at the end of her feet. Sandy opened her eyes.

There was a kind of scrambling on the bed. There was a weight near her feet at the end of the bed.

Unable to look because of the neck brace, Sandy attempted to say, “Hello?”

She heard Aden get up off the smaller bed.

“Rachel!” Aden said. He walked to the bed. “How in the world?”

“But Cleo can be there!” Rachel said, her voice choked with tears. “I won’t bother her.”

Aden lifted their daughter off the bed. The little girl stayed in her curled up form. Sandy tried to smile.

“I just want to be close,” Rachel said. She sniffed back her sorrow. “Noelle and Nash and Teddy and you and everybody, Charlie, but not me … I won’t be a nuisance! I won’t! I just want to be close!”

Aden’s eyes caught Sandy’s. She nodded. Aden set the little girl back on the bed.

“Stay away from her broken foot or ankle,” Aden said. “Even the slightest movement causes pain.”

“I will,” Rachel said. “I promise.”

“I was going to show you,” Aden said, leaning over so Sandy could see his face.

He held a chunky knitted blanket and draped it so that Sandy could see it.

Rachel knitted this for you,” Aden said.

“W-aaw,” Sandy said.

“Uh huh,” Rachel said. “I love you, Mommy. It was made with love!”

Sandy’s hand stroked the soft blanket.

“Delphie blocked it,” Aden said.

“Be-ti-fl,” Sandy said. “S’ Sfft.”

She stroked the blanket.

“Th-nk yu,” Sandy said.

Rachel sniffled. Her head nodded against the bed. Sandy’s eyes drifted shut.

“Let’s rest of a while,” Aden said. “Breakfast will be soon enough.”

Sandy was asleep. Aden touched Rachel’s shoulder. He pulled the new blanket down a bit so it covered his daughter and went back to bed.

He rolled on his side to watch Sandy.

Their daughter was tucked in a ball at her feet. Her cat was tucked in a ball above her head. He smiled. She was well protected, well loved. He drifted to sleep with that thought on his mind.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday morning — 6:21 a.m.

When the apartment door closed, Tanesha rolled onto her side. She squinted at the clock and then got up. She wandered into the bathroom.

Since they’d lived in the Castle, Jeraine took Jabari so that Tanesha could have time on Sunday morning to herself. Initially, the idea was that Jeraine would have time some alone time with Jabari. But living at the Castle, Jeraine had bragged to Jacob, Blane, and Aden about being such a great husband for creating this space for Tanesha. Sure enough, the other men refused to be left behind. Soon, the men and their younger children joined him in these early morning adventures. When MJ found out, he refused to be outdone by the other husbands. Mike followed suit as soon as he saw the men leaving together with their kids.

Her girlfriends, including Honey and Valerie, each had quiet Sunday mornings now. Of course, that wasn’t as true for Sandy now, but Aden would get on the ball soon enough.

Tanesha liked to spend the time reading the goodies and extras in the weekend New York Times and the LA Times over a few pots of tea and something yummy. She peered into her freezer to see what she had this week.

It had been Heather’s turn. Heather had promised to ask her grandfather’s cook to make them something out of the honey from Ares’ hives. This thing had sat in Tanesha’s freezer for the last few days. Smiling, she took the treat out of the freezer. She filled and turned on the electric kettle.

There was a knock on the door. That was Jacob psychokineticly sending her newspapers from the front of the house to outside their apartment door. She waited a moment and then opened the door.

There was no one in the hall.

She tossed the newspapers on the couch and went to make her tea. Jeraine had cleaned her tea pot and filled it with fresh tea. Smiling, she made a mental note to thank him for helping her quiet time. She filled the pot with water and carried it to the couch.

She sat down in the glorious middle of the couch.

The room was completely silent.

She opened the New York Times. The top story was some other chaos created by the chief nonsense maker.

“Tsk,” Tanesha said.

She flopped the paper over so she could see below the fold and sucked in a breath.

The headline read: “Casino owner found dead late last night.”

There was a picture of the casino owner who’d refused to release Jeraine from that ridiculous contract. The article’s second paragraph mentioned Jeraine and the threatened boycott of Las Vegas.

Her mind ran circles around the news. Just because this man was dead didn’t mean that the contract would be voided.

“Shit,” Tanesha whispered.

It meant that the entire Vegas thing was a big mess.

Her life had just become a lot more complicated. She tossed down the paper and went to get her phone. She needed to check Black Twitter to see what this was about. It took her a moment to log in.

Black Twitter was abuzz about the death of this man. Jeraine and his friends had enlisted the prominent African-American thought leaders on Twitter to help promote his threatened boycott of Las Vegas.

Everyone had an opinion about this billionaire’s death.

Some said he’d died because of the pressure he felt from the boycott. Some white nationalist said that Jeraine should be in prisoned for “murdering” this man.

“As if,” Tanesha said.

She continued reading Twitter. The general consensus was that no one was going to miss this jerk.

She saw a clip of his forty-year old wife teeter around on five inch heels and skin tight clothing while dragging their two young children into the hospital last night.

“Someone’s going to miss him,” Tanesha said out loud.

She pressed on the video of the Police Chief press conference and tried to glean the details.

They believed the billionaire had died of natural causes.

He was 84 years old. His arteries had more stents like pins in a pincushion. The heart attack wasn’t a surprise to anyone.

Because he was so wealthy and influential, they were going to do an autopsy.

Tanesha sighed.

“What a mess,” Tanesha said out loud.

She looked at the phone for a moment and wondered if she should call Jeraine. She instinctively shook her head.

This was the kind of thing that could send Jeraine into one of his anxiety induced freak outs. His brain would blink out. He would completely fall apart.

Her phone pinged.

She looked to see a photo of Jabari and the other children chasing Sarah and Buster at the dog park. She smiled at the photo.

He didn’t know. Yet.

She was pretty sure that Jeraine’s agent, Jammy, would know better than to call him. She bit the inside of her lip.

Maybe she should call him.

Her phone rang. She was so lost in thought that she did what she almost never did — she automatically answered her phone.

“Hello,” Tanesha said, her mind was still focused on the death of this billionaire.

“Is this Miss T?” a woman’s voice asked.

Tanesha pulled the phone away from her ear to look at the number. It was blocked. She thought for a second and then shrugged.

“Some people call me that,” Tanesha said.

“I always liked you,” the woman said. “You were grace under a lot of crap.”

“Okay,” Tanesha said.

“These men,” the woman’s sorrow came through the line. She sniffed. “They put us through hell and then they …”

“You’ve got that right,” Tanesha said. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I just wanted you to know that …” the rest was lost as the woman began to sob.

“Is there someone I can call for you?” Tanesha asked.

“No.” The woman took a breath. Her voice was laced with rage. “That bastard died on top of some floozy. I should have expected it but … I… and now I’m humiliated.”

“I know what that’s like,” Tanesha said.

“I know you do,” the woman said. “This is between you and me.”

There was a sound of ripping paper.

“That’s Jeraine’s contract,” she said. “Fuck them. You tell Jeraine that Jeanie took care of it.”

“Wait, what?” Tanesha asked.

“I’ve got to go,” the woman said. “I’m going to buy out the front row for a year. You tell Jeraine that.”

“Who is this?” Tanesha asked.

The woman said the name of the young wife of the billionaire.

“I don’t get all of it,” she said. “But I get a lot.”

She blew out a breath. Her emotions were packed away.

“Now starts the rest of your life,” Tanesha said.

“Damn right,” the woman said and hung up the phone.

Tanesha looked at her phone. She went back to Twitter to see if any of the things the woman said were on Twitter. The first thing that came up was a photo of shredded paper from the wife of the billionaire.

The post said: “Jeraine’s contract. Setting things straight. Love you, Miss T. #Jeraine #Freedom”

Tanesha clicked the heart and retweet the post. Grinning, Tanesha poured herself her first cup of tea for the day.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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