Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Four : Reveal

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FORTY-FOUR

Sunday mid-day — 11:20 A.M

Seth pulled into the no parking zone in front of the busy Children’s Museum parking lot. Parents were dropping their children off in front of him. Seth stuck his Denver Police Department card in the window of his blue sedan and got out. Over the general mayhem of children and parents, he raised a hand in greeting to the DPD officer. He stopped short to avoid running over a jubilant three year old trailing her father.

“Need some help, sir?” the officer asked.

“Just looking for someone,” Seth said.

“You need anything, Detective O’Malley, you let me know,” the officer said.

“How often do you work here?” Seth asked.

“Couple days a week,” the officer said. “Puts diapers on the baby.”

“Ever see an old guy, homeless? Shaggy grey hair. Black eyes. Looks like he should smell but his clothing is clean.”

“Lives over there?” The officer pointed toward some bushes near the river.

“Yeah, has a camp just off the river over there,” Seth said.

“Guy looks like a crazy or a drunk but if you talk to him he’s sharp, sharper than I am,” the officer said. “Told me once he lived out because he always wanted to be Huck Finn as a kid.”

“Mike,” Seth said.

“Tunnel Rat Mike,” the officer said. “Well, that’s what it says over there.”

“Where?”

“His memorial,” the officer said. “Sorry Detective, the guy expired last summer.”

His fear confirmed, Seth let out a breath.

“Want me to show you the memorial?” the officer asked.

“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” Seth said. “A good side job is hard to find.”

“Ain’t that the truth?” the officer said. “It’s over there.”

Seth’s eyes followed the man’s arm to the bushes next to the river.

“Where his old camp was?” Seth asked.

“Not exactly,” the officer said. “This is more on the walkway so people can see it and leave their respects. Someone leaves a half empty beer there every week or so.”

“Grolsch?”

“Flip top,” the officer nodded.

“His favorite beer,” Seth said.

“Sorry man, was he a friend?”

“Old friend,” Seth said. “Thanks for your help. I’ll go look.”

Seth moved across the sidewalk toward the South Platte River. He swerved around excited children and their parents. Walking to the edge of the cement, he took the dirt ramp down to the path along the river. Reviewing what the officer said, Seth shook his head. Huck Finn, indeed.

Seth looked back to see if anyone could see him. Lower than the Museum complex above, Seth was well covered.

“Out of the way!” a male voice yelled.

He jumped out of the path of a racing cyclist. Waiting a moment until the biker disappeared down the path, Seth stepped into the brush. The warm summer day retreated in the cool shadow of the bushes and the river. He moved along the edge of the river until he found the spot Tunnel Rat Mike loved.

Stepping through a thin gap in the brush, he entered a small clearing. As his eyes adjusted to the deep cool shadow, he bent down toward what remained of Mike’s possessions – a tightly rolled sleeping bag and an airtight steel munitions container. Looking up, his heart stood still.

A cheap Saint Jude medallion on a steel chain hung from a broken tree limb. Overwhelmed, Seth closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for his friend. Blowing out a breath, Seth controlled his sorrow. This scene was set up for Seth. Saint Jude would have known he’d come looking for Tunnel Rat Mike. Seth smirked. But Saint Jude did not really know Tunnel Rat Mike.

The munitions container had to be booby trapped. The sleeping bag too. Seth looked toward the path then back to the water. Climbing out of the hollow, he walked back to the Museum parking lot to find the officer.

“I need some help,” Seth said. “Can you get a couple uniforms down here?”

“Detective O’Malley requests back up at the Children’s Museum. I repeat, Detective O’Malley requests back up.” The officer called in. Turning to Seth, he said, “That’ll bring them.”

Four police cruisers wailed into the Children’s Museum parking lot. The officers jumped from their vehicles and ran over to where Seth was standing.

“I only need…”

Police Cruisers continues to roll into the Children’s Museum parking lot.

“We’re going to have a riot,” Seth said.

The officer smiled. Seth raised his hand and the officers followed him to the trail. Seth set up four officers at one end of the path and four others at the other end of the path.

“No one gets through,” Seth said. “Period.”

He waved five officers to him. Standing on the ridge overlooking the dirt path, he set the men up in a tight line.

“Sir, are we protecting you?” an officer asked.

“You are covering my actions,” Seth said. “Remember at Sand Creek? He was watching. He’s here… somewhere… watching. I need you to create an effective cover.”

“If he’s here, sir, why aren’t we going to get him?” the officer asked.

“He’s not physically here,” Seth said. “And I don’t have time to wait for the electronic surveillance guys to find the camera.”

“Yes sir,” the officer said.

“The rest of you surround me,” Seth said.

The remaining officers surrounded Seth in a tight circle. Under his command, the circle followed the railroad ties which held back dirt and created the path.

“Stop,” Seth said.

He nudged the officers in front of him out of the way.

“I need a knife,” Seth said.

The officer standing next to him held out a Petzel Spatha knife. He opened the small knife with a 3 inch blade with one hand. Seth took the knife from the young man and stuck it in between the railroad ties. They heard a ‘click’ and a fourteen inch piece of railroad tie popped open. Seth tugged at the wood until a tidy compartment appeared. Putting on latex gloves, he reached into the compartment and pulled out an insulated metal box the size of a large cereal box. There was a metal lock on the top. He indicated for two of the officers to hold the box and took out his keys. Using a small key from his keychain, he opened the box and smiled.

No, Saint Jude didn’t know Tunnel Rat Mike at all. Seth closed the box and the compartment.

“I need to get this out of here,” Seth said. “Saint Jude will kill for the contents of this box. He’s already killed to keep it silent.”

“I’ll take the box,” a tall officer near him said.

“I’ll cover him,” his partner said.

“Get it to my blue sedan,” Seth said. “I’m right behind you. Let’s go.”

Running as a group, the men surrounded Seth. They collected officers as they passed. The officers reached the parking lot and got the box into the trunk of Seth’s sedan.

“I’m late for a meeting with Homeland,” Seth turned to the officer moonlighting at the Museum. “Have you ever been to Tunnel Rat Mike’s lair?”

The officer nodded.

“Can you get CSU there?” Seth asked. “Saint Jude killed Tunnel Rat Mike and booby trapped the site. They need to be super careful.”

“I’ll take care of it,” the officer said. “There’s enough guys here. We’ll get it done. They’re going to want to talk to you.”

“Tell them to call me,” Seth said. “I’m on my way to the Federal Building.”

Seth raised a hand to the troop of men who had showed up to help him. Turning on his siren, he turned out of the Museum parking lot. He was excellerating onto Sixth Avenue Freeway when his phone rang.

“O’Malley,” Seth said.

“Are we going to get that box?” Ferg asked.

“Do you work all the time?” Seth asked.

“Until you find Saint Jude,” Ferg said. “Are we going to get that box?”

“When I’m done with it,” Seth said.

“Good to know,” Ferg said. “The munitions box and the sleeping bag are booby trapped. Bombs. Get this. The freakin’ pendant is booby trapped.”

“Thank God some kid didn’t find it,” Seth said.

“Yeah,” Ferg said. “We found the cameras. They were connected to a wireless router. We didn’t find the receiver. How did you know?”

“Such an elaborate set up? He’d want to watch,” Seth said.

“We’re going to be here most of today and probably tomorrow,” Ferg said. “You want the report when we’re done?”

“Yep,” Seth said.

“Hey, do you think Amelie would come in to help us out?” Ferg asked. “I hate to even call her but the DA’s breathing down our necks. We could use the help.”

“You can always ask,” Seth said.

“Her father got rid of her cell phone,” Ferg said. “She didn’t answer your phone.”

“She’s with Lizzie today,” Seth said. “You want the number?”

“Go,” Ferg said.

“Remember her voice is bad,” Seth said.

“Got it,” Ferg said. “We’re desperate and that girl can do more in an hour than the rest of us combined. Her team said they’d come in if Amelie was here.”

Seth gave him the number.

“Good luck with Homeland,” Ferg clicked off the phone.

Seth got off the highway at Kipling. Stopping at the security gate, he let out a breath. For the first time, he had the sense that Saint Jude was within his grasp.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday mid-day — 1:20 P.M

With a chatting Katy on her hip, Jill and Heather, pushing Mack in a stroller, walked toward the small City Park playground. They were meeting Julie and Paddie here for a play date. While Heather stopped at one of the picnic tables, Jill continued to the sand. Jill set Katy down and Katy ran to the swings. A small child, Katy couldn’t swing as high as she wanted without help. Jill moved behind her child to push her on the swings. After a few minutes, Heather joined Jill in the sand. Sucking on a teething cookie, Mack’s big eyes took in all the playground activity. Giving Katy a big push, Jill’s top lifted up.

“You’re starting to show,” Heather said.

Jill pulled her top down.

“Have you told him?” Heather asked.

“When?” Jill asked. “He’s been working so much. He’s either asleep or rescuing someone on his time off.”

“You sound angry,” Heather said.

“No, not at all,” Jill shook her head.

“PADDIE!” Katy squealed.

Paddie broke away from Julie and ran toward the playground. Jill stopped the swing to let Katy off. Katy ran to meet her friend.

“You’ve got to tell him,” Heather said.

“After Valerie lost her baby?” Jill asked. “How’s it going to be, ‘Oh by the way, I’m having twins’? Seems mean.”

“Everyone’s going to know soon enough,” Heather said. “You exploded with Katy. Can you imagine with two?”

Jill shook her head. They smiled and greeted Julie, Paddie’s mother. Holding hands, Paddie and Katy ran to the playground.

“I’m always tempted to helicopter Paddie,” Julie said.

“As if any of us could keep up,” Jill laughed.

“How’s Mack?” Julie said hello to the baby on Heather’s hip.

“He’s not sure what to make of all of this action,” Heather said.

“Katy’s either his hero or his demon,” Jill laughed. “He’s not quite sure.”

As was his way, Paddie began stripping off his coat and cotton sweater. He threw them one at a time off the jungle gym and into the sand. Julie jogged over to pick up his clothes.

“What about Delphie?” Heather asked. “She must know.”

“She’s so caught up in this Saint Jude thing, I don’t think she’s given me much thought,” Jill said. “Jake was supposed to go with me to the ultrasound but he was called away. Out of the waiting room. Crazy.”

“Those guys really screwed Lipson when they left,” Heather said.

“They just don’t know if they’re going to replace them,” Jill said. “Aden’s still only working half time.”

“Blane’s only half time,” Heather said.

“Right,” Jill said. “Hey, I never heard how the DNA tests went. Did you find someone who’s a match?”

“Yep,” Heather said.

“Heather!” Jill clasped Heather to her. “That’s wonderful! When will Blane have the surgery?”

Heather shook her head. Julie came back with Paddie’s clothing.

“Sorry did I interrupt something?” Julie asked.

“Heather was just telling me they found a donor match for her husband,” Jill said.

“How wonderful!” Julie said. “Wow, congratulations! Blane was over a couple nights ago to give everyone acupuncture. Colin said they hadn’t found a match yet.”

“So who is it?” Jill asked.

“You know, what?” Heather shook her head. “We decided not to have the surgery, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Jill and Julie turned away from the playground to look at Heather. Heather’s eyes stayed locked on Paddie and Katy. Her face was like a steel trap – guarded and closed for any approach.

“Why wouldn’t you have the surgery?” Jill asked.

“Everyone who took the test gave permission for the surgery,” Julie said. “Isn’t it Blane’s only chance?”

“Liver transplant,” Heather said. “It’s his only chance.”

Mack gave a little cry and Heather walked over to her baby stroller. She took some water and a plastic baggie of Goldfish crackers out of the back. Sitting down at the picnic table, Heather turned her back on them and gave Mack the snacks. Jill and Julie looked at each other for a moment.

“Why don’t you go?” Julie asked. “I’ll watch the kids.”

Jill touched Julie’s arm in thanks and went to Heather. Jill sat down next to Heather. Mack held a Goldfish cracker out to Jill. She took the cracker and gave it back to him. Mack giggled.

“What’s going on?” Jill asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Heather shook her head.

“When you say that, it’s usually the time you…” Jill said

“Need to talk about it,” Heather and Jill said together.

“Before you say it,” Heather said. “I’m being like my mother. I just…”

“After everything we’ve been through, what could be so awful?”

Heather nodded.

“About a month ago, the DNA lady called,” Heather said. “She said that everyone was negative but they got a ‘mixed sample’.”

“Mixed sample?” Jill asked.

“That’s what I said,” Heather said. “I mean the lady and the tests cost a fortune. How could one be mixed? She said it was male and female DNA mixed together but that one of them was positive. The lab was checking the samples again and checking the DNA databases. Blane and I… We were so excited because there was hope… some hope.”

Tears sprouted in Heather’s eyes. Jill put her arm around her.

“We didn’t hear anything,” Heather said. “I called every week. Nothing. A couple days ago there was a message on the machine. And…”

Mack touched Heather’s face and she pulled him close.

“And?” Jill asked. “Who’s the match?”

“Katy,” Heather said.

“Katy?” Jill asked. “There must be some mistake. She didn’t…”

“Her DNA was mixed with Paddie’s,” Heather said. “Paddie’s DNA went up on the DNA database because his Granddad’s a Senator. Remember Ava used it in her investigation? They identified you and Jake as Katy’s parents.”

“Oh,” Jill said.

“They are one hundred percent sure,” Heather said. “Katy’s the only match to Blane.”

Instinctively, the women turned to watch Katy and Paddie play. After a moment, Jill sighed.

“Well, I guess I have something else to talk to Jake about,” Jill said. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out.”

“We can’t…” Heather started. “We decided to forget the transplant.”

Jill leaned over to hug Heather.

“I’ll talk to Jake,” Jill said.

“Mommy!” Katy ran over to them. “Can we go to the zoo? I promise I won’t touch any bees.”

“I brought our pass,” Jill said. Turning to Heather, she asked, “Is that all right with you?”

Heather nodded.  Jill saw Paddie working on his mother while his mother was working to get Paddie’s clothing back on him. Julie looked up and nodded.

“Come on,” Jill said. “They have chocolate at the zoo. And Giraffes. I know how much you love Giraffes.”

“And chocolate,” Heather smiled.

“It’s settled,” Jill said.

Katy and Paddie cheered and took off toward the zoo. Julie and Jill ran after them. Heather wiped her tears and packed up the stroller. With Mack settled, she looked to see Jill and Katy waiting for her.

“Come on Auntie Heather,” Katy yelled. “We’re missing the Giraffes.”

Smiling at Katy, Heather jogged to catch up. When she got there, Katy reached her hands up to Heather. Heather picked Katy up. Katy gave Heather a big hug. With her mouth next to Heather’s ear, Katy whispered:

“Don’t be afraid. Everything works out.”

Heather pulled back to look at Katy. The little girl nodded.

Katy squirmed and Heather set her down. To surprised to say anything, she watched Katy run to catch up with Julie and Paddie. Jill followed close behind.

Everything works out.

Nodding to herself, Heather ran to catch up.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday afternoon — 3:20 P.M

Ava looked up to see one of her lab techs coming toward her work area. Glancing down, she checked the six DNA gels running in front of her. She reached over to turn down Pink’s F**kin’ Perfect blasting from Pandora on her computer. As he approached, she smiled at the goofy fleece dragon hat on her almost sixty year old lab tech. Her lab techs had gotten these hats for everyone. Stripping of her gloves, she adjusted her own dragon hat. They’d bought these dragon hats, hats with red devil horns, and Mickey Mouse hats as a get well present to Ava. This hat was puke green with burnt orange spikes ending in a tail that hung between her shoulders.

Looking up again, she saw who was following her lab tech. Instinctively, she glanced over at her lab desk. Her desk was filled with photos of her life with Beth. Feeling a tiny bit stronger, she turned back at her older sister.

“Your sister is here from the DA’s office,” her lab tech said.

He held out a travel mug to her. Taking the mug, she nodded.

“Would you mind following Ava to the conference room?” her lab tech asked. “This is an evidence room.”

“Why isn’t she talking?” her sister sniped.

“Her voice is too weak,” her lab tech said. “Would you like me to…?”

Ava shook her head.

“Drink your lemon water,” he said.

With a nod, he left them. Ava pointed toward the glass door and a quiet room. Her sister followed Ava into the room. Ava went to the white board and wrote:

“WHY ARE YOU HERE?”

“Who is that man? And what are you wearing on your head?” her sister asked. “And why are you writing on that stupid board?”

Ava wrote:

“Man = my old professor at FBI retired to be lab tech for Denver Police”

Ava turned to look at her sister. Her sister pointed to her head. Ava wrote:

“This is a hat.”

“Why are you writing on the board?” her sister repeated.

“No voice,” Ava wrote.

“Why does everyone call you Ava?” her sister asked.

“My name now,” Ava wrote. She pointed to the big block letters of “Why are you here?”

“The DA sent me over to ask you why you, a junior technician are doing DNA work and not the DNA lab,” her sister said. “You’ve totally fucked up here, Amelie. This is great evidence but because you’re a total amateur, we can’t use it. Who’s going to listen to rogue Technician Alvin when we have a world class DNA lab?”

Ava rolled her eyes at her sister.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me!” her sister said. “I’m not Mom bitching at you about your boob size. This is a case against a serial killer who killed over forty children.”

“I’ve met him,” Ava wrote on the board.

“Oh poor Amelie. She was in the wrong place again and got in trouble. Boo hoo.”

Ava shook her head and walked toward the door.

“You’ve ruined the entire case. That guy who hurt you so badly is going to get off,” her sister said. Ava turned around to look at her. “Once again Amelie does something rash and everyone suffers.”

Ava shook her head and continued toward the door.

“The DA is furious! He yelled at me, like it’s my fault you’re such an idiot,” her sister said. “My career is on the line because you couldn’t help but butt into something with your Nancy Drew girl scout kit.”

Ava sighed. There was nothing her sister hated more than being humiliated. The DA must have forced her to come here. Ava gave her sister a smile.

“Don’t smile at me,” her sister said. “Give me something I can take back to the DA.”

Ava held up a finger. She left the room and returned with a framed certificate and her lab tech. She nodded to her sister and her sister repeated the problem.

“I understand the DA’s concern,” her lab tech chuckled. “I’d worry if I was in his position.”

Ava’s sister glared at the man.

“Ava has a certificate in DNA analysis from the FBI lab in Washington,” her lab tech said. Ava held up the certificate. “She’s certified at the highest level for DNA processing and analysis. There are only two other people in Denver who have her qualifications.”

“Why isn’t she at the DNA lab?” her sister sneered.

“Ava took a course from an old man at the FBI,” her lab tech smiled. “He convinced her that every forensics lab needs a backup lab, people to catch the overflow. Every lab in the country gets backed up. A premium overflow lab would have an expert in every field. When Ava was assigned to this lab, she wrote a grant to create such an overflow lab. She was able to trained a few old timers and hired a few experts. We now help CBI and DPD with their work. Right now, Ava’s working on DNA from pending cases because the DNA lab is overwhelmed with Saint Jude. The rest of us are working on the Saint Jude case.”

“Oh,” Ava’s sister said. “So the results are for real?”

“If I were her sister, I’d be really proud of Ava and her work,” her lab tech said. “She’s here today because our team can do more work than any team here. So, I wouldn’t let that DA run her down.”

“Why do you work here?” her sister asked.

“My wife and I can’t make it on my government retirement,” he said. “I thought we could, but we can’t. And, this is a dream job. I get to continue my work, blood splatter patterns in case you care,  in a great lab with nice colleagues. I even get to wear this awesome hat.”

“This is MY dream job,” Ava wrote on the board.

“Oh,” Ava’s sister said.

“Anything else? Because we have a lot of work to do and your sister should be in bed.”

Ava’s sister shook her head.

“I’ll show you out,” her lab tech said.

Ava’s sister hugged her and followed her lab tech. At the door, Ava’s sister raised her hand in a kind of apology. Ava waved her good-bye and wiped off the white board. Turning toward the door, Ava whispered: “Bitch” and got back to work.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday evening — 6:20 P.M

“We’re ready to meet.”

Alex Hargreaves yelled into the speakerphone to Seth. She was patched into the radio frequency of the helicopter racing Seth and Homeland Security Agent Arthur ‘Raz’ Rasmussen back from their visit to Saint Jude’s home in New Mexico. When Seth had arrived at the Federal building, Raz was waiting with a helicopter ready to take them to Saint Jude’s home in New Mexico. Raz felt unable to get a clear picture of the man without going there in person. Seth was delighted to tag alone. Outside of travel time, the men had spent the afternoon reviewing the room filled Saint Jude’s trophies and photographs.

“Do you copy?” Alex yelled.

The helicopter noise made conversation almost impossible.

“Copy that,” Raz said.

“The map’s done,” Max Hargreaves said. “Jake, Mike and Charlie have gone through it with a fine tooth comb.”

“We’ve come up with some possibilities,” Jacob said.

“I’ll have the profile ready,” Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen’s voice came over the phone.

“I transcribed Tunnel Rat Mike’s notes on the tunnels as well,” Sergeant Margaret Peaches said. “We have his microscopic detail on every segment.”

“Valerie and I are ready,” Delphie said.

“What’s your ETA?” Alex asked.

“We just crossed into Colorado,” Seth’s voice came over the phone. Speaking through the intercom on the helicopter, Seth’s voice was barely audible.

“ETA one hour, sir,” the pilot said.

“See you in an hour,” Alex said and clicked off the phone.

“You think we’ll find him?” Valerie asked.

“We’ll find him,” Alex said.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday…

~~~~~~~~

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