Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Forty-One : Dust


Saturday morning — 3:25 A.M.

Seth felt a bolt of lightning run straight through him.

He knew where Saint Jude was holding up.

Careful not to wake Ava, he slipped out of bed, grabbed his cell phone and went into the bathroom. After dialing the Crime Scene Unit, he closed his eyes in a silent prayer. How else could Saint Jude get around so easily? Avoid detection for so long? This had to be it.

“Crime Scene Unit, Ferguson,” a male voice said.

“Hey Ferg, it’s O’Malley,” Seth said.

“Seth! How’s Amelie?” Ferg asked.

“Alive. Trying to find her footing.”

“Poor girl. We heard what you did about her stuff. Did her parents really sell her house and her car?”

“Politicians,” Seth said. “They’re a breed of their own.”

“After everything she went through - losing her best friend, God knows what… torture… assault, to end up hanging in that horrible barn… You’d just want to go home.”

“I would,” Seth said.

“What bastards,” Ferg said. “We put together a little fund. It’s not much but maybe she can use it for a down payment on a car. I heard a bunch of guys were going to escort her to the funeral.”

“Couple cruisers,” Seth said.

“More than a couple. I think every off duty officer is will be there,” Ferg said. “Are you calling to make sure they get donuts on the way?”

“No, but that’s a good idea,” Seth laughed.

“What do you need, Seth?”.

“I’m wondering if you could send one of your guys out to check something,” Seth said. “It’s an old crime scene. I’m sure you have new cases to work on.”

“Is this for Saint Jude?”

“I think so,” Seth said.

“That bastard killed a cop, kidnapped Amelie,” Ferg said. “There’s not a guy who wouldn’t drop everything to get whatever you need. Just ask.”

“There’s a car in impound. I need a sample taken from the floor mat. It’s a long shot that it’s still there, but…”

“We specialize in long shots,” Ferg said.

“That’s what I thought,” Seth said.

“Blood or body fluids?” Ferg asked.

“Dust,” Seth said. “I need to know what kind of dust.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Ferg said. “I’m about to clock out. Impound is on my way home. I’ll take one of the guys coming on. We’ll get your sample and he can bring it back. You should have your results by six or so. What’s the case file?”

Seth rattled off the letters and numbers of the case file.

“Your wife’s car?” Ferg asked. “Let me check something. Hang on.”

Seth closed his eyes when Ferg put him on hold. His heart raced and his body tensed for action, but his eyes sagged with exhaustion. One minute turned to two then ten minutes. Seth looked at the cell phone to see if it was still connected.

“Sorry that took a while,” Ferg said. “I had to wake up the dust guy. He’s coming in.”

“Can you get the sample?” Seth asked.

“Oh sorry,” Ferg said. “After Amelie’s team found Saint Jude’s DNA in the car, they sent us out to do our thing. We cleaned that car out from top to bottom. We found more body fluids – you know, what you’d expect with two little kids. Let’s see…”

Ferg began listing off everything they found in the car. Seth’s eyes shot to the ceiling with a silent prayer for patience.

“Sorry,” Ferg said. “That was more than you asked for.”

“Front Passenger floor mats?” Seth asked.

“Yep, got that,” Ferg said. “That’s why I called our dust guy in. We have three kinds of dirt and dust. But he hadn’t gotten to the sample yet. It’s an old case and…”

“You guys have had a lot of scenes to process,” Seth said.

“And we’re down Amelie,” Ferg said. “She and her team could power through this crap. Anyway, the dust guy’s on his way in. He should be here in a half hour.”


“I have a photo,” Ferg said. “It’s just a dusty mat but I’ll send it to your phone. Do you want to see the other floor mats?”


“Ok, the photos are on their way. You should have them in a minute,” Ferg said. “Anything else?”

“Nope that’s it,” Seth said.

“I’ll tell you what,” Ferg said. “I’ll stay until the dust guy is done. I’ll call you when he’s finished analyzing the samples.”

“You don’t have to stay,” Seth said.

“I insist,” Ferg said. “I don’t want him to get lost or confused or stuck on something that doesn’t matter. What are you going to do when you get the results?”

Seth was silent.

“You’re going to get the bastard. Aren’t you, Magic O’Malley?”

Seth didn’t reply.

“Nope, I’m staying,” Ferg said. “I’ll call dispatch and let them know you’d like some donuts. Lamar’s right? Talk to you in a couple hours.”

Ferg hung up the phone. Seth set his phone on the bathroom counter. For a moment, he stood in the dark bathroom trying to gather himself. He used the toilet, took a drink of water, then crept out to the bedroom. He did his best not to wake Ava when he slipped under the covers.

“Everything okay?” Ava asked.

“Perfect,” he said.

She gave him a slight smile then fell asleep again. Unwilling to give up any more of his life to Saint Jude, he forced himself to sleep. Two hours later, his cell phone rang. Getting up, Seth went into the bathroom.

“O’Malley?” Ferg asked.

“Go,” Seth said.

“You want to talk to the kid,” Ferg said. “He’s pretty proud of himself.”

“Sure,” Seth said.

“Detective O’Malley,” a young man’s voice came on the line. “I have your results. First, I’d like to say what an honor it is to work with you. Particularly on this case.”

“What did you find on the passenger floor mat?”

“What I would expect. You know, clay, potassium, phosphorous, that kind of thing. Regular Denver garden soil,” the dust guy said.

“You’re sure?”

“Not so fast,” the dust guy said. “I also found sand, lime, with a trace of cement.”

Seth focused on slowing his breathing to remain calm.

“You found mortar.”

“Yes, sir,” the dust guy said. “I was just about the say that. Not just mortar. Really old mortar.”

“Thank you.”

He was about to hang up when he heard the young man’s voice still speaking.

“I’m sorry I missed that,” Seth said.

“I was just saying that I found the same thing at the other sites – the one under the Race Street house they call the Castle, the barn in Brighton, the Platte River site… There was even a sample from the old site on Northfield. You know what’s weird?”

“What’s weird?” Seth asked.

“I thought the mortar must have come from the Sand Creek Greenway bunker. There’s so much concrete and mortar there,” the dust guy said. “But my boss told me to make sure for Magic O’Malley. Oh, sorry. Is it all right that I call you that?”

“It’s just a name,” Seth said.

“Oh, okay,” the dust guy said. “At the Sand Creek bunker? There’s mortar and sand and lime and cement, but it doesn’t match these other samples. That’s how I know this sample is old mortar. The stuff at the Sand Creek Greenway bunker is different, newer. They built Stapleton Airport in what…”

“1928, 29,” Seth said.

“Right,” the dust guy said. “This stuff is older than that. I can’t carbon date it but I’d say it’s maybe turn of the century or older. You see, they used to take limestone and burn it in small kilns. You always get a little trace of the wood or coal or coke used as fuel for the kiln. Not to mention the fact that they’d dump the quicklime into a pit or metal trough and soak it for days or sometimes years. From that they made lime putty which they used to make mortar. Lime putty always has traces of metal or whatever in it.”

“Mortar?” Seth hoped to stem the history lesson.

“Right,” the dust guy said. “Mortar is made from sand, lime and cement, well clay too. This lime has tiny traces, really miniscule, I only found it on the spect… If you didn’t have a spect, you’d never find it. Well and you’d have to know what it was when you found it.”

“What is it?” Seth asked.

“I didn’t say?” Seth could almost hear the young man blush over the phone. “Iron. And coke – not like Coca-cola…”

“The fuel,” Seth said.

“Right,” the dust guy said. “It’s in the lime. This mortar was made before the turn of the century.”

“And Sand Creek?”

“They started using hydrated lime products around 1910,” the dust guy said. “It wasn’t until the 1930’s that they came out with pressure hydrated dolomitic lime. We know that most of the mortar and cement found at the Sand Creek bunker was created in the late 1920’s which matches the building of Stapleton.”

“Except you found a sample of this old dust there?” Seth asked.

“That’s exactly right,” the dust guy said. “In the walk areas.”

“Thank you,” Seth said. He heard rustling in the background.

“Pretty good for a kid, wouldn’t you say?” Ferg asked.

“Amazing,” Seth said.

“Dispatch has taken care of your donuts,” Ferg said.

“Lucky me,” Seth chuckled.

“Hey, you’re not going to go yourself,” Ferg said. “Are you?”

“Go myself?”

“Get Saint Jude,” Ferg said. “In the first place, he’ll kill you sure as look at you. Plus, everyone wants in on this arrest. You’d be unpopular around here if you go kill him yourself.”

“Kill him?”

“That’s what I’d do,” Ferg said. “Bastard. Killed all those kids; hurt Amelie and killed her cute roommate; and killed the policewoman. You know, she took the detective’s test. She wanted to work with you, O’Malley. That’s why she was Amelie’s bodyguard. Poor girl.”

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.”

“But you know where that mortar is from?” Ferg asked.

“I think so,” Seth said.

“Good,” Ferg said. “I’m going to tell the guys. We’ll be ready when you’re ready to roll.”

Ferg hung up the phone. Seth closed his eyes. Saint Jude was in the coal tunnels that ran under most of downtown Denver and to the East. Sound carried in those tunnels making a silent search impossible. He had to know where Saint Jude was before anyone entered a tunnel. Hearing a sound, he looked up to see Ava.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Another puzzle.”

“You remembered what you noticed,” Ava said.

Seth nodded. She put her warm arms around him.

“When are you going to get him?” Ava asked.

“My first priority is you,” Seth said. “We need to get you to and through the funeral. Saint Jude’s taken enough from you. Let’s not let him control today.”

“You’re going to go while I’m at the funeral?” Ava asked.

“I’m going to consult with my team while you’re at the funeral,” Seth said. “No promises.”

Ava rubbed her bald head and turned to go back to bed.

“Join me?” Ava asked.

Ava held out her hand. He took her hand and walked to the bed. She gave him a sleepy smile then fell asleep again. Listening to her breathe, Seth tried to figure out how to get to Saint Jude. His mind spun in circles. Every solution had at least ten problems. He closed his eyes to try to slow his mind.

The next thing he knew, the light was streaming in the windows, his alarm was blaring, and Ava was crying. It was going to be a rough morning.


Two hours later Saturday morning — 8:25 A.M.

“What are you doing?” Ava asked.

“Getting dressed,” Seth said.

He was buttoning the shirt to his dress uniform. After calming Ava’s tears, Seth had left her with Maresol and gone for his swim. When he returned to the house, there were at least fifty uniformed police officers downstairs. Ava was hiding upstairs and Maresol was passing out donuts and coffee. When Dale didn’t appear, Seth looked for him and found the boy incapacitated with grief. Between he and Mike Roper, they got him showered, shaved, and dressed in one of Seth’s suits. Mike was force feeding Dale donuts in the living room.

“I thought you were working during the funeral,” Ava said.

They had decided not to try to hid her bruising. Her face was a mask of purple. She had her big bug sunglasses tucked into her shirt pocket and a package of Maresol induced tissue in her back pocket.

“Change of plans,” Seth said.

“I was hoping you’d find the bastard who killed Beth,” Ava said. “The bastard who hung me in that barn and killed all those kids. You know where he is, why not go get him?”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Seth began tying his tie. “If I ‘go get him’ as you say, he’s likely to disappear. I have to get the DA involved and I need some expert help. My experts don’t keep regular schedules. Especially on Saturdays.”

“Oh,” Ava said.

“The investigative team is going to the funeral,” Seth said. “We wanted to support our fellow officer.”

“Me?” Ava asked.

“You’re a part of the investigation team,” Seth said. “Aren’t you?”

Ava walked to the corner window and looked out. Seth finished getting dressed.

“May I escort you down?” Seth asked.

“I love this room,” Ava said. “From the first time I woke up here. I love the way the light comes in through the trees. This is such a beautiful view through the trees to the garden. I wish Beth had seen this.”

“You’ll say that the rest of your life. It’s hard to survive,” Seth gave her a soft smile. “Come on. It’s time.”

He held out his elbow and she tucked her arm in his.

“You look very handsome in your uniform,” she said as they walked to the open stairwell. “I have a thing for guys in uniform.”

“Lucky me,” Seth laughed. “Ah, shit. There’s a hundred guys in uniform here.”

Ava chuckled. When they reached the top of the stairs, the police officers clapped for Ava. Surrounded by her friends and colleagues, Ava let go of Seth’s arm at the bottom of the stairs. The officers kissed her cheek and hugged her. Seth watched Ava laugh and cry. Dale appeared at her side. For a moment, the two friends looked deep into each other’s faces before holding each other tight. Holding hands, they made their way to the limo. Seth helped them both into the back seat then sat in the passenger seat. He waited until Mike raised the privacy glass before speaking.

“Tell me everything you know about the coal tunnels,” Seth said.

“Jake and I spent days, and nights, wandering those tunnels,” Mike said. “I don’t think anyone knows them as well as we do.”

He continued down Montview to Colorado Boulevard and sat in the turn lane.

“Did you ever see him?” Seth asked. “I think he’s been living in the tunnels for decades.”

“We saw a lot of shit,” Mike said. “There’s miles and miles of those tunnels. I’d have to ask Jake about it.”

“Does anyone have a map?” Seth asked.

“Not that I know of,” Mike said. “You’re a cop. Don’t you have one?”

“No map,” Seth shook his head. “The tunnels were built by the railroad and the coal companies. If there ever was a map, it’s lost somewhere.”

“Did you ask Charlie?” Mike asked.

“No, but I will,” Seth said. “I have some experience in tunnels. I want to know what I’m getting into before we go down there.”

Stopping the limousine at the light on Seventeenth, Mike turned to assess Seth.

“Tunnel rat?” Mike asked as he continued forward through the light.

“Something like that,” Seth said.

“Aren’t you a little big for that?” Mike asked.

“I’ve always been pretty skinny,” Seth said. “You’ve seen Sissy and Charlie. You can guess what their Dad looked like.”

“Skinny. Yeah, I can see that,” Mike said.

“It was a volunteer brigade,” Seth said. “By the time we got there, they were happy to have fresh recruits.”

Mike nodded. They continued driving down Colorado Boulevard. Stopping at the light at Eighth Avenue, Mike turned to Seth.

“Listen, let’s talk to Jake and Charlie,” Mike said. “Between the three of us, and Delphie of course, I bet we’ll figure out where he is. I’ll tell you, man. We saw some weird shit down there.”

“I bet,” Seth said.

“Yeah, you’d know,” Mike said.

“I see Rachel at two,” Seth said.

“I’ll call and see what I can set up,” Mike said. “Might have to be tomorrow.”

While Seth’s head nodded, his face shifted to a scowl. He rubbed his short salt and pepper hair.

“What?” Mike asked. The limousine continued through the light on Eighth Avenue.

“I have an old friend who knows those tunnels,” Seth said. “I haven’t seen him in a couple years. Lives outdoors. God, he’s got to be at least seventy now.”

“You want to find him first,” Mike raised an eyebrow.

“Probably should,” Seth said. “I should probably get my ducks in a row before we meet.”

Mike nodded his head to the back seat. “What about…?”

“Duck,” Seth said.

Mike nodded. They continued on to Temple Emanuel.


Three hours later Saturday morning — 12:05 P.M.

“Who are you?” Charlie asked the woman sitting in the main Castle living room.

“I’m Anjelika Katherine,” the woman stood to shake his hand. “I’m Jillian’s mother and Katerine’s grandmother. You may call me Mrs. Anjelika.”

“What do you want with me?” Charlie curled his lip at her.

“First, you will not take that tone with me,” Anjelika said. “I am an adult and you are a child. You will treat me with respect if this is going to work.”

“What is this?” Charlie worked to keep his usual surly out of his tone.

“You requested a tutor,” Anjelika said. “I’ve agreed with Sandra to help you. I will work with you to get caught up in school. I think we can make a good stab at it this summer. We will probably need to work next year as well.”

Charlie set down his backpack and assessed the woman in front of him. She was more elegant, than beautiful. Her accent was Russian or maybe French. Her casual clothing cost more money than Charlie had ever seen. When he looked into her eyes, he saw a knowing kind of steel that only came from surviving a difficult life.

“Okay,” Charlie said. “You started with the rules. What else?”

“You will treat me with respect,” Anjelika said. “I never tolerated attitude from my children and I won’t tolerate it from you.”

“I’m kind of rusty at respect,” Charlie said.

“You will learn,” Anjelika said. “You will show up for our meetings on time, bathed and wearing clean clothing. Nothing will block your progress faster than a lack of punctuality or hygiene.”

“I’m just learning hygiene. I’m not very good at it,” Charlie said. “Aden makes me brush every tooth.”

“This will be good practice,” Anjelika said.

“What else?”

“You will work and work hard. We have a long way to go and not much time,” Anjelika said. “You will complete your assignments regardless of how mundane or stupid you think they are. You have met my children?”

Charlie nodded.

“They are polite, kind, interesting and well read,” Anjelika said. “By the end of our time together, I expect you will be the same.”

Charlie gulped. He secretly worshiped Anjelika’s son, Steve. Steve was tough, strong, looked great and was a real man. And he was deeply kind. Ever since Charlie moved in, Steve had stopped Charlie to ask him how he was, then listened intently to Charlie’s response. Charlie knew Steve helped Honey get ready in the morning and that’s why he was at the Castle every day. But when Steve talked to Charlie, Charlie felt like he was the only person in the world. Charlie wanted to be just like Steve. Charlie wasn’t sure what to say so he nodded again.

“This will not be easy,” Anjelika said. “But nothing worthwhile is easy.”

“Anything else?” Charlie asked. “If we’re going to start today, I should go shower.”

“You will continue working,” Anjelika said. “You have a responsibility to your reparations and you will repay them.”

“How can I study and work?” Charlie asked.

“How did you manage to get high and do anything else?” Anjelika asked. “You got high because it was your number one priority in life. Your school will need to become that priority or you will fail.”

Charlie squinted his eyes at Anjelika. For a moment, the two sized each other up.

“You are not my first addict,” Anjelika said.

“You’re not my first mother,” Charlie said.

Anjelika laughed. Charlie smiled at her laugh.

“That’s all I can think of right now,” Anjelika said. “I reserve the right to add more rules.”

“Fair enough,” Charlie said.

Charlie stuck his hand out and Anjelika shook it.

“I’ll wait here,” Anjelika said.

“You can come up,” Charlie said. “We can work up there.”

“We’re not doing book work today,” Anjelika said. “I have something else in mind.”

Charlie looked puzzled but was too intimidated to ask. He pointed upstairs. Anjelika nodded and he ran up the stairs. Sandy came out from the kitchen with Rachel in a baby sling.

“What do you think?” Sandy whispered.

“You’re right. I like him,” Anjelika said. “We can do this.”

Sandy hugged Anjelika.

“How come you adopted me without all of those requirements?” Sandy asked.

“You are already kind, interesting, thoughtful and polite,” Anjelika said. “Plus you make the cutest babies.”

Sandy hugged Anjelika again. Anjelika retrieved Rachel from the sling and played with her. Hearing Charlie leave the apartment, Anjelika gave back Rachel and Sandy scooted back to the kitchen. Charlie trotted down the stairs wearing clean clothing. His long hair was wet.

“Much better,” Anjelika said.

“Where to?”

“Today we are going to the Museum of Nature and Science,” Anjelika said. “I want to see what strikes your fancy. You have your glasses?”

“Yes ma’am,” Charlie said. “Can you wait one more second?”

“Will you wait for me?” Anjelika corrected.

“Will you?”

“Of course,” Anjelika said.

Charlie ran into the kitchen to Sandy. He hugged her and kissed her cheek.

“Thanks,” Charlie said to Sandy. Spinning in place, he ran out to Anjelika. “I’m ready.”

Denver Cereal continues next week…


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