Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Fifty-Two : Fire

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

Tuesday evening — 9:40 P.M.

State Attorney General Aaron Alvin made his way to the front of the crowded room. As if he was a bride walking to the alter, the reporters and television crews stood and turned to watch him walk the aisle. This was his show and they were waiting for him.

“We are here to discuss the Saint Jude serial killings,” Attorney General Alvin said.

Before he could say another word, a voice from the back yelled:

“We were instructed not to talk about the serial killings.”

The reporters began talking at once. The noise was deafening.

“Please!” Attorney General Alvin raised his hands over his head. “I have a statement and then I will answer all of your questions.”

The reporters settled down to listen.

“A serial killer has been working the Denver streets for over three decades,” Attorney General Alvin said. “He has preyed upon homeless children. So far, the Denver Police Department and the Coroners office have recovered forty…”

“Forty-six,” the Denver Police Chief said.

“Forty-six bodies of young people ranging in age from ten to twenty-two years old,” Attorney General Alvin said. “You may remember when my own daughter, Amelie, was taken. She was held by the cretin the police are calling Saint Jude.”

The reporters began hurling questions like grenades. It was a few minutes before Attorney General Alvin was able to speak again.

“In a desire to maintain a level of secrecy necessary to apprehend this criminal, the Denver Police asked me to keep quiet about this case. Even when my daughter was taken and tortured.”

“I have chosen to break my silence today,” Attorney General Alvin cleared his throat. “Earlier this evening, Saint Jude was within the reach of a joint task force which included Homeland Security and the FBI. I had hoped to be able to tell you that this serial killer, this monster, was in custody.

“However, due to significant errors on the part of the officer in charge, Saint Jude is at large.”

Attorney General Alvin looked out across the reporters. He was going to bury everyone involved in this case. Sure, when they’d asked, he’d kept his peace about their investigation. No longer. Saint Jude’s arrest and prosecution would ensure his reelection in November. This was now his investigation.

“Sir! Baxter Gaston, Westword,” the young man said. “Are you referring to Detective Seth O’Malley?”

“O’Malley asked me personally not to write about this case,” a reporter from the Denver Post said.

“Me too,” the Denver reporter for the Huffington Post said.

“He asked us too,” the Denver News Bureau chief for CNN said. “When Magic O’Malley asks, we obey.”

The reporters nodded and murmured their agreement.

“Detective O’Malley was in charge of the investigation,” Attorney General Alvin said. “His errors in judgment resulted in Saint Jude’s escape. He has been relieved of his duties.”

“By relieved of his duties, are you referring to Detective O’Malley being in critical condition at Denver Health?” Baxter asked.

“O’Malley’s at Denver Health?” The CNN bureau chief asked.

“Yes,” Attorney General Alvin said. “I am aware of that. In his absence, my office is taking over the Saint Jude case. We are working with the FBI to ascertain the whereabouts of this dangerous criminal. We will bring him to justice. And we will do it quickly and efficiently.”

Baxter got up. The video team for 9 News began packing up. When the Denver Post reporter opened the door, a uniformed police Captain made his way across the room to the Denver Police Chief. The two men pressed their heads together.

“We’ve prepared details of this case,” Attorney General Alvin said. “I will go through the details in a few minutes. If you have questions at this time, please feel free to ask them.”

“Denver Post,” a man stood up. “We’re supposed to believe Magic O’Malley botched this case?”

“CNN,” the grey haired man sitting next to her stood. “O’Malley has a national reputation. He solved the St. Louis bomb for hire case, the New Orleans lost boys, the…”

“Isn’t it more likely the FBI screwed up?” a young man near the back jumped to his feet.

“All I can say…” Attorney General Alvin started.

Desperate for a break, he turned to the Denver Police Chief when he approached. The Denver Police Chief spoke in his ear.

“Really?” Attorney General Alvin asked.

The Denver Police Chief nodded.

“Saint Jude has been apprehended,” Attorney General Alvin said.

The reporters jumped from their seats. There was a general press at the door as reporters and crews jostled to get out of the room. Attorney General Alvin turned to the Denver Police Chief and smiled.

“That went well,” Attorney General Alvin said.

The Denver Police Chief glanced at the politician’s face. He gave him a curt nod then left the room.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday evening — 9:40 P.M.

Delphie kneeled down beside Saint Jude. In spite of his history and evil deeds, Delphie’s heart went out to the broken man. She touched his shoulder.

“Henry?” Delphie asked.

Henry James opened and closed his eyes. When the creature sloughed off Saint Jude, it had broken almost every bone in his body. He was in tremendous pain.

Shortly after Jacob and Aden had arrived, a Denver Police officer had stopped by to investigate a report of gunfire. Jacob had let him in and explained what was going on. The police officers took one look at the basement and began calling for back up. MJ tood control of the premises to keep the officers from tearing Saint Jude apart. He flashed his Department of Defense identification badge, called his team for back up and escorted the officers out of the salon.

There were at least fifty Denver Police officers standing outside the salon waiting to get their suspect. The wall of officers bodies and their bloody intentions kept the paramedics from entering to assist Saint Jude.

Another siren raced up to the salon and Delphie looked up. Henry James touched her arm.

“I’ve lived a horrible life,” he said. “I’ve been a horrible man.”

Delphie’s eyes took in his pain and remorse.

“I never wanted this,” he said. “I never wanted this to happen.”

“You must have asked the creature to come inside,” Delphie said. “It can take over a host when it’s injured or dying but it cannot stay without permission.”

“I wanted to protect myself from… my father… bullies…” he said. “I never meant to hurt anyone.”

His eyes pleaded for understanding.

“That thing… “ Saint Jude gasped. “I’ve looked for the one who would set me free. The scripture says only a child could do it. I looked for the child.”

“Why did you have to kill them when they didn’t?” Delphie asked.

“Kill them?” he said. “Kill who?”

“You’ve taken more than forty human lives,” Delphie said. “Children. You killed your officemate Beth and tortured her roommate, Amelie.”

The man looked baffled. Shocked by his denial, Delphie couldn’t help but bring up his greatest loss.

“You killed Celeste.”

“No,” he said. “No, not Celeste. Never Celeste. I love Celeste.”

Delphie shook her head in disbelief.

“I would never hurt Celeste,” Saint Jude said. “She’s everything to me.”

Every fiber in her being said he was telling her the truth. But every fiber in Delphie’s being rarely agreed on anything. She looked up to see Sandy staring at them. Sandy’s beautiful face reflected her revulsion for this broken man. She gave Rachel to Charlie then walked over to Delphie.

“I bet you remember me,” Sandy said.

There was no mistaking the look of recognition and horror on Saint Jude’s face.

“Filthy bastard!”

Sandy pulled her foot back to kick him but Aden pulled her away before her foot landed. Delphie jumped from where she was sitting.

“Get away from him!” Delphie screamed. “Get away! Get away!”

As Delphie pushed Sandy and Aden away from the man, he began to laugh.

“Everyone!” Sandy yelled. “On the other side of the room!”

“Grab the dogs!” Delphie yelled.

The children and adults scampered away from the man. Jacob grabbed Sarah’s collar and Aden took Buster’s collar. Jill whistled for Scooter and he came to her side.

The man continued his deep and evil laugh.

Mid-laugh, he gave a single cough. Then another.

Saint Jude vomited up hundreds of eggs.

Before their eyes, the eggs turned into tiny black male and slate grey female creatures. The baby monsters raised their snouts in the air and sniffed. A few began to move toward the people. Saint Jude continued vomiting eggs until blood poured from him. He collapsed into his own vomit and blood.

“They will take anyone as a host,” Delphie said. “Once they’ve grown they will escape into the world. We cannot let them.”

The eggs continued hatching. The hungry parasites sniffed began to shuffle toward the nearest human.

Jacob scooped up Katy.

“Not a fucking chance,” Sandy said. Pointing to Jill and Jacob, she said, “Keep those things there.”

With Tanesha on her heels, Sandy ran into the hidden apartment. She dug around in a cabinet until she came up with a case of hairspray. Cam pulled open the box and Tanesha yanked out the canisters.

“Charlie! We need your lighter,” Sandy said.

“I don’t have a lighter,” Charlie said. “Why would I have a…”

Aden pinched and poked him until Charlie came up with his lighter. Charlie tossed the lighter to Sandy and Aden ruffled his hair. Tanesha began throwing cans of hairspray to the adults.

“Not the children,” Sandy said.

“I’ve lit hairspray on fire before,” Teddy said. “Lots of times.”

“I have too,” Nash said. “With him.”

“I’m not a child,” Charlie said.

“I’m not a child either,” Pete’s oldest son said.

“If they can do it,” Noelle said.

“We certainly can,” Sissy said. Pete’s daughters nodded.

“Plus, I know where there’s another case,” Charlie said.

Jacob created a mental circle and worked to hold the creatures within it. Beneath his concentrated focus he felt Jill doing the same.

Charlie ran toward the hidden apartment. The kids followed him into the space. A few seconds later, they reappeared with canisters of hairspray.

“Look what I found,” Charlie flicked a lighter on. “They’re child proof.”

He tore open a box of plastic cigarette lighters. He passed them to the kids near him and threw them to everyone else.

“Ready?” Valerie asked.

She looked from person to person.

“Get them lit!” Sandy said. “Just spray and light.”

“Don’t stop spraying,” Valerie said.

“Let ‘em go,” Aden said.

“Here we go,” Jacob said. He moved Katy to his left hip. “I’ll keep them from running off. Go!”

The people attacked the small creatures and the few remaining eggs. The hairspray flamethrowers caught the baby monsters’ wings on fire first. They screeched with pain as the fire spread to their tiny arms and legs.

“No mercy!” Delphie yelled over the roar of hairspray and fire. “They will kill anyone in their path if we give them a chance.”

One at a time, the creatures burned. In moments, the air reeked of burned hairspray and seared flesh. The cement floor was littered with smoldering carcasses of the creatures offspring. While the boys stomped on them, Honey ran over them with her wheelchair.

Unable to stop herself, Honey began to giggle. Charlie shouted and the boys began to cheer. Sissy squealed and danced around when she lit one on fire. Pete’s children shouted out the number of creatures they’d burned. Emboldened by the other children, Noelle ran up to a black male creature. When it growled at her, she screamed and ran away. Teddy torched it.

“Is that it?” Sandy asked.

Panting hard, Sandy surveyed the scene.

“There’s one by you, Honey!” Sandy yelled.

Honey leaned over and burned the creature. She hooted and everyone cheered.

“Quiet down!” Valerie yelled. “Quiet! We have to see if they’re all gone!”

For a moment, the basement was silent. There was no movement on the floor. No movement in the air around them.

“Mommy!” Katy screamed.

A black male creature flew above her head. Jill used her mental energy to swat the creature away from her daughter. Katy held out her arms. While Jacob gawked at her, Jill took Katy from Jacob.

Sandy, Aden and Charlie caught a skulking serpent in their flaming streams. The last baby monster screeched and fell to the ground.

“Is that it?” Sandy asked.

Everyone looked around. Delphie ran to Saint Jude. Pulling on his hair, she lifted his head from the pool of blood where it was resting in.

Nothing.

Catching movement out the corner of her eye, Valerie spun in place. Valerie and MJ blasted the last of the creatures as it passed overhead. The burning carcass hit the wall and slid to the floor.

“Henry James is dead,” Delphie said into the silence.

“Can we play with these for a while?” Nash asked.

“Put them out,” Sandy said.

She held out her arms. Nash dropped the hairspray to hug her. Noelle grabbed on then Sissy joined in. Charlie wrapped around all of them. Noelle grabbed Teddy’s shirt collar to include him in the hug.

“My team just texted. They’re here. I’ll go let them in,” MJ said.

Wearing digital fatigues, skull hats pulled down on their heads and dark glasses, Alex Hargreaves and the rest of their team entered the salon. Captain Andrew ‘Trece’ Ramirez and Captain Christopher ‘White Boy’ Blanco took control of the entrance to the salon with their sheer bulk. The rest of the team came down the stairs. When Alex’s team had control of the scene, they let the Denver Police into review the aftermath. When Attorney General Alvin arrived to ‘supervise the interrogation’, Alex led him down into the basement then escorted him to the nearest toilet for him to throw up. Alex convinced the Denver Police to let the witnesses to go home once they promised not to talk about the night. By the time Crime Scene Investigation teams arrived, the weary warriors were on their way back to the Castle.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday evening — 10:40 P.M.

“I’m sorry, Amelie,” Ferg said. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m kind of busy. The CDC landed at DIA and are on their way here,” Ava said. Nelson hooked a blue tooth head piece over her ear so she could keep working. “Isn’t there someone else?”

Ava was reviewing the analysis of the Denver toxin sample and comparing it with the analysis of samples found in other incidents. Bob had taken the call. He’d tried to take a message but Ferg was insistent on talking to Amelie.

“No,” Ferg said. “We need you to identify Saint Jude.”

“Bring him over,” Ava said.

“I wish it was that simple,” Ferg said.

“How complicated is it?” Ava asked.

”Weelllll…”

“I can’t go anywhere,” Ava said. “I’ve got gels running. We’re video conferencing with the team in Geneva in an hour. The London First Responders Forensic Team and the UN techs are calling at two. The Israelis sent someone who’s going to be here with the scientists from Geneva in the morning. I have to get this stuff done. Seth and the other guys lives are on the line.”

“Yes I know but…”

“Seth always says that Saint Jude shouldn’t control what we do,” Ava said. “Saint Jude took enough from me. If I delay…”

“I know, I know,” Ferg said. “Did you see the press conference?”

“Was it in my lab?”

“No, but…”

“Then what do you think?”

“Your father had a press conference,” Ferg said. “His office took over the entire investigation. He says Seth screwed up and that’s why Saint Jude went free.”

Seething, Ava had no response.

“You still there?”

“I am.”

“Homeland Security has control of the crime scene,” Ferg said. “I guess the first cops who showed up were a little… zealous. Is Homeland there?”

“Max is here,” Ava said. “He’s working with Bob.”

“Good,” Ferg said. “We can say Homeland Security has taken control there.”

“I don’t think he’s DHS,” Ava said. “He’s more like… Intelligence or CIA or… something.”

“Good,” Ferg said. “It’ll keep your father away. But…”

“You still need me to identify the body,” Ava said.

“DHS won’t release the body to the Attorney General’s office until there’s confirmation that it’s actually Saint Jude,” Ferg said. “And you’re our only hope.”

“Yeah, like I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

With her attention still on her work, the words just came out of Ava’s mouth. Fergusan was a superior officer. She held her breath in case she’d offended him. Ferg laughed.

“They have it set up electronically,” Ferg said. “It’s very high tech but they said you could see it via Skype. You know that internet thing?”

“Nelson?” Ava asked.

Her bodybuilding technician looked up.

“I need to get on Skype,” Ava said.

He nodded and started working on her laptop.

“He’s working on it,” Ava said. “While we wait… Um… You wouldn’t happen to know…”

“Seth’s holding his own,” Ferg said. “A couple of the guys have spiked a fever. The docs think it’s some kind of allergic reaction. But Seth? He’s hanging in there. Julie Ann got there about an hour ago. So both of his kids are there.”

“And?”

“No one knows, Amelie,” Ferg said. “I think everyone’s hoping you’ll pull a miracle out of your… uh…”

“Mickey Mouse Hat?” Ava asked.

“I was thinking Jedi robes.”

Ava laughed for the first time today.

“All set,” Nelson said.

“Nelson has Skype up on my laptop,” Ava said. “We’re DPD Backup Lab. All one word. You can go ahead.”

The tones rang as a call came in from ‘SuperSpook’. Nelson clicked the video call button. Captain Troy Olivas, one of Alex’s team, came on the screen.

“Hi Ava,” Troy said. “We’re going to show you a body and you’ll let us know if that’s him. Okay? Don’t hesitate to tell us if it’s too much. We’re on your side here. We agree there’s no reason to do this tonight, but there are forces beyond our control that…”

“Got it,” Ava said.

“Get this over with,” Alex’s voice came from behind the webcam.

“Ok, here you go,” Troy said.

He moved the laptop so she could see the figure on a stretcher.

“It’s dark,” Ava said. “I can’t really tell.”

“Light,” Alex’s voice ordered.

A couple of flashlight beams shone on a man’s face. The webcam moved over his face and neck. Ava blinked.

“I’m sorry,” Ava said. “I can’t tell. He seems kind of… flattened. Can I see his eyes?”

As blue glove covered fingers appeared to press open the man’s eyes, Ava gasped. She turned away from the computer to throw up in the sink. Her entire body began to shake. She hadn’t remembered that Ferg was still on the headset until she heard his voice on the scene.

“That’s enough,” Ferg said. “I don’t care who wants this body identified. We can’t do it, at least not tonight.”

“No.” Ava took a stack of paper towels from Bob to wipe her chin. “No, it’s all right. Really.”

“Is that him?” Troy asked.

Troy’s handsome face appeared again on the screen. Ava nodded.

“Great,” Troy said.

“Get him the fuck out of here,” Ferg’s voice buzzed over the laptop mic. The phone made a click in her ear as Ferg hung up. “I’m serious. Get him that piece of trash out of here.”

Ava was about to click off the laptop when Alex Hargreaves face appeared. She looked so much like Max that Ava felt a warm familiarity as if she’s spent they had spent the evening together.

“Amelie?” Alex asked. “You okay?”

Ava shook her head.

“These people take so much from us.” Alex gave Ava a soft smile. “They block us from doing what’s important to us. They create chaos in our minds and hearts.”

“Chaos? Yes, that’s how I feel.”

“Don’t let him. You have to fight it,” Alex said. “It’s my understanding that you’re leading a team to find an anti-toxin for the First Responders Toxin. Is there anyone else who can do that?”

Ava shook her head.

“Then get to work,” Alex said. “You’ll feel better. When we’re done here, we’ll bring you some coffee. Valerie Lipson, you know her, the actress? She makes the best brownies. I’ll call and see if she can make you some. Chocolate helps. A lot.”

Ava nodded.

“You are more than this,” Alex said. “More than this asshole. More than your trauma. Right now, you have to force yourself to be that.”

Ava nodded.

“Go throw up again,” Alex smiled. “Then get back to work. You’ll see. You’ll feel better.”

Ava gave her a smile.

“See you in a few hours,” Alex waved and the screen went dark.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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