CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY
Tuesday evening — 8:40 P.M.
“There she is,” Dale said.
Because Seth was gravely ill and the ICU would only let Lizzie, his daughter, see him. Maresol hugged Lizzie close and lead brought her back to where she, Ava and Dale were sitting.
“How is he?” Ava’s voice was a deep whisper.
“They won’t tell me.” Tears dropped from Lizzie’s eyes. “They say his vitals are good and he’s in great health but that’s all. That’s all! It’s like no one knows anything. That Max guy is hovering from bed to bed, but nothing’s going on.”
“How does he look?” Maresol asked.
“Dead,” Lizzie said. “He looks dead.”
Lizzie cried into her hands. Maresol put her arm around the girl. They fell silent while Lizzie cried.
“I just have my Daddy back,” Lizzie said. “And now he’s…”
Maresol hugged her tight.
“Why aren’t you out there making an antitoxin?” Maresol asked Ava. Her voice was harsh and accusing. “Isn’t this what you do?”
“Me?” Ava pointed to herself.
“I thought you were a scientist?”
Maresol’s eyes flicked up and down Ava. Maresol raised an eyebrow as if to say Ava was too lazy to do anything. Stunned, Ava blinked at Maresol.
“And you want to marry him?” Maresol asked. “You won’t even help.”
Ava opened her mouth to say something but no sound came.
“Marry?” Lizzie asked. “I didn’t know you guys were getting married. Oh Ava.”
Lizzie threw her arms around Ava’s shoulders. Over Lizzie’s shoulder, Ava saw Maresol’s eyebrows rise in challenge.
“Sure, just sit there,” Maresol said.
Maresol crossed her arms and shifted away from Ava. Ava gaped at the woman’s behavior. Feeling someone near them, Ava let go of Lizzie and turned to the newperson. Ava jumped to her feet.
“Any news?” Dale asked.
“I’m sorry,” Max Hargreaves said. “I just got off the phone with the CDC, Interpol and the FBI. He’s been shot with a toxin that has no known antidote. Without it, we just wait and hope.”
“Are they working on it?” Lizzie asked.
“They’re gearing up to start,” Max said.
“What?” Lizzie asked. “Starting? They’re just starting?”
“We’re just collecting information from the previous attacks,” Max said. “The FBI is looking for someone they call ‘Blood Splatter Bob’. He ran a team a few years ago and retired to Denver. No one’s heard from him since. Any of you know him?”
Unable to help herself, Ava jumped from her seat.
“I think I know who you mean.” Ava’s words came out as one big croak. She swallowed hard and nodded.
“Yeah?” Max’s eyebrows shot up. “Who are you?”
“She’s Amelie Vivian Alvin,” Dale said.
“You go by Ava?” Max asked
“They’re looking for you too,” Max said. “Do you have access to a lab?”
“Do you know Blood Splatter Bob?” Max asked
“Let’s go,” Max said.
Before Ava could say good-bye, Max was escorting her out of the room. Ava turned and raised a hand to Maresol, Dale and Lizzie. Maresol was making shooing motions with her hands.
“How did you know?” Dale asked.
“Delphie told me to light a fire under her butt,” Maresol said. “She says Ava’s our only chance.”
“Delphie?” Dale asked. “Who’s Delphie?”
“You don’t know Delphie?” Lizzie asked.
“She’s a good friend of mine,” Maresol said.
“How did she know?” Dale asked.
“That’s a long story,” Maresol said. “When all this is settled, you’d do well to have a long chat with Delphie.”
Confused, Dale simply nodded.
Tuesday evening — 8:40 P.M.
“Boy it’s been a while,” Valerie yelled from the back of the salon.
“I wonder if they’re coming,” Honey yelled back.
“We shouldn’t wait.” Valerie came out with two mugs of hot chocolate. “After all, we’re eating for two. Four all together!”
She gave Honey a mug. They blew over the top of their hot cocoa.
“I love cocoa,” Honey said.
“Me too,” Valerie said. “But if People Magazine asks me, I’ll tell them it’s too full of sugar. After all, I’m having an…”
“Organic pregnancy,” Honey and Valerie said together and laughed.
“Who comes up with this crap?” Valerie laughed.
“Tabloids are crap manifestors,” Honey said. “Poor Mike. You’re driving Mike crazy with your demands.”
“He was born that way,” Valerie laughed. In a mock Russian accent, Valerie added, “Haf you met his modder?”
Honey laughed. They both took a long drink of the warm cocoa. Honey was about to say something when the smoke alarm went off in the back. Valerie spun in place and trotted to the back.
“What are you making?” Honey asked.
“Pizza Rolls,” Valerie said.
“Organic,” Honey and Valerie said together.
Honey heard Valerie laugh.
“Oooh I love that song,” Valerie said. “Turn it up!”
Honey cranked the stereo. With her back to the door, Honey drank her hot cocoa. She was just setting her mug down when two strong hands grabbed her shoulders. In one swift movement, the hands lifted her from the chair. Honey screamed and her mug shattered on the floor. Incapable of turning her head, she had no idea who held her. She was carried across the salon to the basement door. The basement door flew open with his kick. A second before they went hurling down the stairs, Honey caught a glimpse herself and the man who carried her.
They plunged into the dark basement.
Tuesday evening — 8:45 P.M.
“Sandy?” Nash whispered into the phone.
“Yes, honey,” Sandy pulled the passenger door to Jill’s Lexus SUV.
“Are you here?”
“No,” Sandy said. “But we’re on our way.”
“Someone’s here. We’d hoped it was you,” Nash said. “We heard someone come in upstairs. Women. Laughing. We heard music then it smelled like burned pizza. And… Wait…”
Nash fell silent.
“Nash?” Sandy asked.
“I think a woman just screamed. The music is pounding upstairs,” Nash said. “What do we do?”
“Nothing,” Sandy said. “We’re on our way.”
The phone went dead. Sandy looked at her phone. Call dropped. She called Nash back.
“What is it?” Jill asked as she turned on Colfax.
“Saint Jude’s there,” Sandy said. “I can feel it in my bones.”
“What did Nash say?” Tanesha asked.
“Shh,” Charlie said.
Rachel gave a mewing cry. Charlie leaned down to rock her car seat.
“Honey helps me with my nutrition,” Sissy whispered. “She brings me smoothies and makes sure I eat all of my food and gives me little snacks and… I’d never be doing so well without Honey’s help.”
Honey screamed again.
“I have to help her,” Sissy said.
“No!” Charlie whispered.
“We only open the door for our Mom and Dad or yours,” Pete’s oldest son said. “Period.”
Honey screamed. Sissy glared at Charlie. Before anyone could stop her, she opened the door and ran out into the open basement.
“Leave her alone,” Sissy yelled. “You leave her alone.”
The man turned to look at her. He sneered at Sissy. Nash, Teddy, and Noelle ran into the room followed by Pete’s children. Charlie opened a cabinet and put Rachel inside. Turning to the ugly dog, Buster, he said: “Stand guard.”
If Charlie didn’t know better, he’d have sworn the dog nodded to him. Buster sat down in front of the closed cabinet door. He gave Rachel’s hiding place one last look before he ran out to help.
“Sissy, go back,” Honey said. “Don’t worry. I can handle this.”
Saint Jude threw Honey in the air and turned her. She landed face to face with him. She spit in his face.
“Go on. Sissy please. You kids go back and lock yourself in,” Honey said. “Sissy please.”
Saint Jude gave a low, malevolent laugh. When he turned back to look at Sissy, the head of a slate gray creature with razor sharp teeth poked out of the collar of his white shirt. The creature’s round black eyes with red pinpoint pupils filled what would have been a forehead.
Screaming, Sissy hurled herself at Saint Jude. She battered his back with her fists. He gave her a vicious kick and she flew backward.
“SISSY!” Noelle ran to where Sissy landed in a heap.
Honey bit Saint Jude’s shoulder. He turned his attention to Honey.
“You think you scare me?” Honey yelled at the top of her lungs. “I’ve known you all of my life. I’ve seen your evil deeds and thoughts pollute my family and my world.”
“Yeeesss,” the creature said.
Honey’s white hair and translucent skin glowed like a pillar of light in the dark basement. Saint Jude pulled her face close to the monster. Honey bashed it with her forehead. The creature chuckled at her efforts.
“You think you can do worse to me than has been done?” Honey asked.
“I can heal you,” the creature purred.
“Same old lies. Same old bullshit,” Honey said. “I’ve beaten you my entire life. You think now will be any different?”
Saint Jude raised his hand to strike Honey. Before he could plant a blow, Nash launched a Muay Thai kick at his lower back. Saint Jude fell forward. Charlie punched Saint Jude in the face. Teddy followed with a swift karate kick at his waist. Saint Jude wobbled to the side. Distracted by the kids, Saint Jude’s attention on Honey slipped. Honey pulled her handgun from the pocket of her skirt. She pressed it against his heart. She looked up to see Charlie moving the kids out of the way.
“I can’t die,” Saint Jude chuckled.
“I’m willing to chance it.”
Honey pulled the trigger. Saint Jude recoiled.
She fired again.
Tuesday evening — 8:50 P.M.
Ava pushed open the door to her lab and turned on the lights. Disappointed, she closed her eyes. She’d asked her lab techs to come in. Most of them worked this shift because they had other, more important things in their lives. Fran was the only parent to four of her grandchildren. Nelson was a bodybuilder and slept, ate, and worked out during the days. Leslie was seven months pregnant and had two children at home. And Bob was remodeling their Park Hill bungalow house.
They weren’t here.
She turned to say something to Max Hargreaves when Fran passed her. Fran held out her hand. Ava put a plastic bag with twenty wooden spikes in it. Without stopping, Fran continued into the lab.
“Papers?” Nelson pointed to Ava. “Where’s your lemon water?”
“I knew you’d forget,” Nelson put a travel mug in her hand. “You’re welcome.”
Ava took a drink of the warm liquid and cleared her throat.
“Max?” Ava asked. “Nelson takes care of all things internet and technical.”
“In this case, I do the technical research,” Nelson said.
“When he’s done, he sets up connections with other labs – FBI, CBI, UN, Interpol. Do you have information on this being used before?”
“I have some information…” Max held up a folder.
Nelson tugged the folder out of Max’s hand and walked to his station in the lab.
“Sorry I’m late,” Leslie said. “I was cleaning the kitchen floor. Yes, Ava with a toothbrush.”
“Leslie is nesting,” Ava held up her finger and thumb. “Just a bit.”
“Until we have the analysis, there isn’t much we can do,” Max said.
“There might be nothing you can do,” Leslie said. “I, however, can do my job. We’ve trained for an event like as this for the last year. We’re ready to get the job done. Do you have the autopsies on the people who died? I also need the medical files for the men.”
“They’re on the Denver Health server,” Nelson said. “Their union rep just got us access to their medical information. Do you have your log in?”
“Excuse me,” Leslie said to Max. She went to her station.
“They’re faxing the hand written notes,” Nelson said. The fax machine rang. “Right now. Ava, do you think you can still do the press and public health?”
“I’ve got it. She can work the spect,” Bob said.
“I just requested the blood samples from Denver Health,” Nelson said. “And… looks like the CDC is bringing samples from the other events with them when they arrive in… three hours.”
“We’ll be ready for them,” Ava said.
“I understand you were looking for me?” Bob asked.
“You’re Blood Splatter Bob?” Max assessed the man in front of him.
“I’ve been called worse,” Bob said.
“You’re an anti-toxin specialist?”
“I’ve cooked up a few,” Bob said.
“Son, we don’t really have time for that do we?” Bob asked. “Why don’t you come with me and leave these guys to do what they do?”
Max nodded. Bob put his arm over Max’s shoulder and led him toward the door. They were almost out of the room when Bob stopped. He turned to Ava and said:
“I think we need to harness the power of the mouse,” Ava said.
Her lab techs began digging around in their stations. One by one they put their Mickey Mouse ears hat on.
“Good choice,” Bob stuck his on his head. “Now, Mr. Hargreaves let’s talk about this toxin.”
Ava let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She ran a hand over her bald head then put her on Mickey Mouse ears. One last glance at her lab techs and she turned on the spectrometer.
Tuesday evening — 8:55 P.M.
“Where’s Honey?” MJ caught Jacob in the Castle driveway.
“I thought she was with you,” Jacob said.
“She got a call! From you!” MJ’s voiced bordered on hysterical. “You told her to meet you at the salon. You were regrouping there!”
Jacob spun in place and jogged back to his Lipson Construction truck. At the truck, he yelled for Aden and he ran to the truck. Jacob started the truck.
“What?” MJ asked.
“We’re regrouping here,” Jacob yelled and drove the truck out of the parking lot. Driving Celia’s Mercedes Benz sedan, Delphie pulled into the parking lot.
“Would you like to come with me?” Delphie asked. “Hurry now, the police, FBI and other folks are going to be here in a second. We’ll be stuck.”
MJ jogged around the vehicle and got in the passenger seat. She peeled out of the parking lot and turned toward the salon.
Tuesday evening — 8:55 P.M.
Valerie stopped singing. That was a gun shot.
She dropped the pan of pizza rolls on the counter and ran to the front room. She recoiled in horror at the sight of Honey’s empty wheelchair.
Hearing movement downstairs, she went to her purse and pulled out her collapsible baton. She poked her head in the basement.
She flipped on the basement light.
And saw the children surrounding Saint Jude.
“Valerie! Run!” Honey yelled.
“Let her go, shithead!” Valerie yelled. She ran down the stairs. With a flick of her hand, she unfolded her baton. “I said leave her alone.”
Saint Jude, and the evil creature inside him, laughed at Valerie.
And Valerie struck.
After six months of martial arts Eskima training, and three months of filming, Valerie attacked with everything she’d learned. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Charlie, Nash and Teddy surround to help. Using her baton, she smacked Saint Jude’s left leg out from under him. She continued her swing and attacked his left wrist. His wrist broke with a satisfying pop and he let go of Honey.
Sissy grabbed Honey before she hit the ground. They landed together in a heap. Scooching on her rear end, Sissy pulled herself and Honey into a safe, dark corner of the salon basement.
Before Saint Jude could right himself, Charlie, Teddy and Nash were on him. Saint Jude and the creature easily repelled them. Valerie watched in horror as Saint Jude’s wrist and leg healed in front of her.
“Nash! Noelle! Join me!” Valerie called.
Noelle and Nash ran to her side. Valerie collapsed the baton and tucked it into her pants pocket. She gave them ear plugs.
“Remember what Delphie told us,” Valerie whispered. “Like in Harry Potter.”
Nash and Noelle nodded to Valerie. Noelle pushed up her shirt sleeves. When they’d put in the ear plugs in, Valerie took their hands.
“You want us,” Valerie said.
Saint Jude spun away from Charlie and Teddy. His face brightened.
“You want me,” Valerie said. “I know you do.”
“I’ve been looking for you for a long time,” Saint Jude said.
“You’d be surprised at how many people say that to me,” Valerie said.
Noelle, Nash and Valerie began to pulse with white light. Saint Jude beamed at their brilliance. He began walking toward them.
“Ready?” Valerie whispered. “Remember he’ll feel it through his clothing.”
“We’re ready,” Nash said.
The children and Valerie ran forward with their palms out. They placed their hands on Saint Jude. Valerie pressed her hands against his face. Noelle pressed their hands against his arm and Nash pushed against his legs.
Their pulsing bright light encompassed Saint Jude.
The creature screeched. Protected by the ear plugs, Nash and Noelle held on.
The creature screeched again.
“Hit him NOW!” Valerie screamed.
Charlie, Teddy and Pete’s kids attacked Saint Jude. Weakened by their touch, Saint Jude’s knees crumpled. Valerie, Noelle and Nash pressed their hands against his torso and neck.
The creature had enough.
As if sloughing off a dead skin, the monster slithered out of Saint Jude and took to the air. Saint Jude collapsed and fell against the brick side wall.
Not quite the size of the creature in Brighton, this evil slate gray colored twin flew under the basement’s ten foot ceiling. The children ducked when it flew over their heads. Charlie tackled Nash and Noelle to protect them. Valerie stood like a pillar of light.
“Holy Crap!” Sandy said from the top of the stairs. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It’s a female like the creature in Brighton,” Jill said. “Go”
Jill nudged Sandy down the stairs. Heather, with Mack strapped to her back, followed Sandy. Tanesha stopped to collapse Honey’s wheelchair before taking it down the stairs with her. The yellow lab, Sarah, and Jill’s dog Scooter went down the stairs with Katy. Jill was about to go when she saw a figure outside the window. She ran to let him in.
“Good,” Jill said to Tanesha’s boyfriend, Dr. Cam Morgan. “We’re all here.”
“I saw Tanesha come in here and I…” Cam looked out over the basement. The creature flying just over the children and Valerie’s head. “That’s a new one.”
“It’s up to us now,” Jill said. “If we don’t kill this thing, it will take another host.”
Cam looked deep into her eyes then nodded. They took off down the stairs.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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