Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Seven : Helpless

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FORTY SEVEN

Tuesday early morning — 6:25 A.M.

Seth looked at his watch and rolled his eyes. The FBI profiler’s snide references to his lifestyle ran though his head. Seth was going to be the last to arrive at the investigator’s breakfast. Again.

Seth jogged down the basement steps, made a quick turn, and then another. He unlocked the door to his piano room, stepped in and closed the door. Flicking on the overhead fluorescent lights, he went to the back of the room. Seth pressed on the wood panel to reveal a small fireproof safe. He spun the dials to unlock the safe.

The contents were arranged in tidy order. There was another safe in the house that held money, passports, his will, and other important documents. Maresol had the combination as did his attorney and Schmidty, his agent. But this safe was private. If anyone knew it existed, they wouldn’t know how to get into it until after he was dead. Feeling paranoid, he looked over his shoulder before he pulled a small velvet box out of the back of the safe.

Setting the box on a table, Seth braced himself against the feelings that arose when he opened it. One day in the middle of his messy divorce from Emily, his mother had arrived at his Capital Hill studio apartment. She’d awakened him from a deep drunk and had fed him coffee until he was conversational. When he was conscious, she’d given him this box. Together, they’d gone through his mother’s treasures: his grandmother’s broach, a locket with a photo of his great-great-grandmother’s first son in it, an antique woman’s pocket watch, a few necklaces, bracelets and a couple rings. Bonita was buried with one of those rings on her finger. Before his mother had left, she’d slipped off a thin sapphire and diamond band. The ring had lived on her finger as long as he’d known her.

“If you ever find your Amelie, give her this,” his mother said. “It was given to me by a man who loved me, who I’ll meet again very soon.”

His mother had died the next day. She was sixty-two years old.

He’d later learned that his mother had been engaged to a man who never returned from war. A man named Seth. He’d tracked the man down to Arlington National Cemetery and scattered his mother’s ashes on this Seth’s grave.

The box opened with a wave of his mother’s rose perfume tinted with his longing and grief for her. She had loved him completely, accepted him totally, and she had been gone a long time. Swallowing hard, Seth picked up the ring and held it to the light.

Saint Jude hated him. He blamed Seth for the loss of his residences and hideouts. Both the FBI and Raz had warned him that Saint Jude would come for him. If they didn’t catch him first, Saint Jude would try to kill him. The closer they got to Saint Jude, the more likely it was that he would lash out at Seth. The FBI profiler set the chances of Seth surviving the week at around thirty-percent. No one was taking bets, but he didn’t like the odds.

Seth closed his fingers around the ring and strengthened his resolve. He delicately placed the box in his safe, closed the door and the panel. He made a quick retreat up the stairs to his bedroom.

Ava was laying on her back sound asleep. After last night’s party, she was completely out. She hadn’t stirred when he’d showered and changed. Unsure of his plan, he hesitated. Catching the time on his bedside clock, he once again heard the FBI profiler’s mocking voice in his head. He strode across the room. With his hand on the door knob, he heard:

“When you meet your Amelie.” His mother’s words.

But she hadn’t meant a literal Amelie. She hadn’t meant this girl, this child. Seth was almost three times her age. This Amelie didn’t need or want a used up old man like him. He was as disgusting as Hefner or that cretin Sheen. She was just too young and intimidated by him to speak her own mind.

“I think you should marry me,” she’d said last night.

Seth sighed. His excuses were stupid. No one had ever stopped Ava from speaking her mind.

Spinning in place, he walked back to the bed. He picked up her left hand and slipped the ring onto her ring finger. Miraculously, it fit. He set her hand back on the bed, and fled the house.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning — 6:25 A.M.

“Take this,” MJ said.

“I don’t need a weapon, MJ!” Honey said. “I’m not in any danger.”

“Please.” MJ held out the small pearl handled automatic they had practiced with. “This one works with your fingers and you can handle the recoil.”

“Where am I going to put it?” Honey said. “This wheelchair doesn’t have its own sidearm holster.”

Smiling, Honey wheeled back and forth in front of him. He smiled at her antics.

“Please.”

Honey sighed. She held out her hand for the handgun. He kissed the palm of her hand then set the gun in it.

“You can keep it tucked next to the seat,” MJ said.

Kneeling down, he helped her tuck it in.

“Now try to get it out,” MJ said.

Honey pulled the gun from the hiding space.

“Remember…” MJ started.

“My safety training,” Honey said. “Check the safety is on before putting it away. Make sure there isn’t a bullet in the chamber so it goes off. Safety first.”

“I wasn’t going to remind you of s-s-s… Ah fuck.” MJ stomped out of their living room. Honey spun her wheelchair to catch up with him.

“I’m sorry,” Honey said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m t-t-t-terrified,” MJ said. “F-f-feel s-s-so h-h-helpless.”

“I know,” Honey said. “I was inconsiderate to make light of this. I’ll keep the gun with me and I’ll remember to use it like we practiced.”

“Oh God, Honey, if anything h-h…”

“Nothing will happen, MJ,” Honey said. “Me and Ralph will be just fine.”

“Ralph?

“Our son.”

“I thought we were waiting to find out,” MJ said.

“You were waiting to find out,” Honey said.

MJ lifted her from her wheelchair and spun her around.

“Wheeee,” Honey squealed.

“I love you so much!”

“I know,” Honey laughed. “Can you help me up the stairs? I’m already late.”

MJ picked up Honey and her wheelchair and carried her up the stairs. One last kiss and she was out the door. Honey wheeled to her van. Settling her wheelchair in the back, she pulled herself into the driver’s seat and breathed a sigh of relief.

She hadn’t told him she’d seen Saint Jude last year. She hadn’t told him how interested Saint Jude had been in her. Glancing back at MJ in her rear view mirror, she swallowed hard.

They were going to catch a serial killer today.

And she was going to be a big part of it.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning — 10:25 A.M.

“Ok, we’re live,” Lieutenant Colonel Alexandra Hargreaves said. “What do you have?”

“Heat,” Homeland Security Agent Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen said.

“Video,” Captain Troy Olivas said.

“And audio,” Captain Matthew Mc Clenaghan said. “They did a great job setting it up.”

“We have radar,” the head of Denver Police team said via intercom.

“There’s Leena.” MJ pointed to Petty Officer Leena Carmichael when she walked by the camera. Tall with the grace of a dancer, they’d decided to let Leena join the tunnel team when a few people didn’t pass the Lipson drug testing.

“I can’t believe those Homeland guys couldn’t pass the drug test,” Troy said.

“I can,” Major Joseph Walter laughed.

“Did you hear the fuss?” Matthew said. “They went ballistic.”

“They did? Must have missed it,” Alex said. Alex raised an eyebrow to let them know she’d dealt with the agents. The team laughed. “What do we have?”

“Nothing on heat,” Raz said.

“Video is clear,” Troy said.

“Audio’s quiet,” Matthew said.

“I thought there was an unidentified tremor?” Alex asked.

“Confirmed as from the downtown cooling towers,” Matthew shrugged.

“Radar?” Alex asked.

“We have a clear picture of the barrier being created,” the head of the Denver Police team said. “We have the vehicles and all those drug free workers. By the way, you noticed there wasn’t a problem with the Denver Police officers?”

“Why do you think that is?” Joseph asked.

“Everyone who lives in Denver knows Lipson’s no drug policy. No one with a possible hot UA would volunteer,” Max Hargreaves said as he came in the room.

“Plus, they were hand selected by Magic O’Malley,” the head of the Denver Police team said.

Everyone laughed.

“Anything?” Max asked.

Alex shook her head.

“Let’s expand our view,” Alex said. “Before you say it, I know we lose quality imaging. I’d love to find even a blurry image of this guy.”

The room fell silent as the men worked with the satellite and on the ground information.

“What’s this?” Troy pointed to what looked like an antechamber.

Everyone came over to look at his computer screen.

“What is that?” MJ asked.

“It’s another room,” Max said.

“Another whole complex,” Alex said. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Please confirm where you’re looking,” the Denver Police radar technician asked.

Max rattled off the coordinates.

“Holy fuck,” came over the radio. “That’s a palace.”

“He’s had thirty years to create it,” Max said.

“I want to talk to that kid Charlie,” Alex said.

“Lieutenant Colonel? Mrs. Alex?” a young man’s voice came over the intercom. “It’s Charlie. You know Sandy’s brother? Uncle Seth brought me and Mrs. Anjelika here this morning before he left to get more bodies. He thought I could help.”

“Have you been in this location?” Alex asked.

“Um…” Charlie said. “I can’t tell. Maybe.”

“Got him!” Raz said. “He’s there.”

“He’s where?” The team came behind Raz to peer into his computer screen.

“There,” Raz said.

“Focus on that location,” Alex said.

The only sound was the click of computer keys.

“We have a human figure moving around in what appears to be…” a man’s voice came over the intercom. “An underground palace is right. I want video feed from every surveillance camera, ATM machine, and intersection within a mile of that location.”

“Um, Alex? I mean Mrs. Alex?” Charlie’s voice asked over the intercom. “I think that’s one of the places Jeffy took me. We didn’t go through the whole place. Just the room Jeffy stayed in. But…”

“But?” Alex asked.

“We got there from the street,” Charlie said. “And once from under an overpass. And another time from an old stairwell.”

“What are you saying Charlie?” Alex asked.

“It’s okay Charlie. You’re not in trouble,” Anjelika’s accented voice came through the speaker. “Just tell them what you know. That is all they want.”

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t really connect the tunnel and that place. I… was high a lot and I…”

“Charlie! What are you saying?” Alex yelled over his stammering.

“There’s at least five other entrances to that place,” Charlie said. “Probably more.”

The com link filled with both team’s curses.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning — 10:25 A.M.

After a long shower, Ava got dressed and left the bedroom. Her eyes were red slits of pain. She’d been drawn awake by the wafting odor of coffee. It was the first scent she had been able to smell since her nose surgery. Following her nose, she went into the kitchen. Ava walked around Maresol to the coffee pot. Ava poured herself a cup of coffee, added milk that miraculously appeared in front of her and drank the cup down. When Maresol filled her cup again, Ava managed to wave her right hand.

Maresol laughed.

“Big night,” Maresol said.

Ava nodded.

“Hung over?” Maresol asked.

“Tired mostly,” Ava’s voice croaked and Maresol took the coffee cup away from her. Ava mock cried. Maresol replaced the coffee cup with warm water, lemon and honey. Ava took a drink and said, “I feel bone crushing tired.”

“I’m sure everything is catching up to…”

Maresol grabbed Ava’s left hand and stared at it.

“Where did you get this?” Maresol asked.

“I don’t know,” Ava said. “I woke up with it on my hand.”

Maresol dropped Ava’s hand and turned her back to her.

“What is it?” Ava touched Maresol’s shoulder. When Maresol turned, her eyes were glazed with moisture.

“I blamed that evil man for the rest of his life,” Maresol said. “And here it is. All along.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” Ava said.

Maresol turned and hugged Ava tight. When she pulled away, Ava saw tears fall from Maresol’s eyes before Maresol swiped them away.

“Seth’s mother wore that ring the entire time I knew her,” Maresol said. “She was… the kindest, nicest, gentlest, most loving woman I have ever met in my entire life. She wasn’t wearing this ring when she died. I thought her monster of a husband had taken it from her.”

Ava looked at her hand then back to Maresol.

“Seth must have had it all this time,” Maresol said.

“I thought you worked for Seth’s father,” Ava said.

“Never,” Maresol said. “I’ve always worked for Seth. He hired me to help his mother with this big house right after he returned from college the first time. He was… fourteen or fifteen. I was… well, a bit older. I stayed after she died because Seth begged me to.”

“How did I get this?” Ava asked.

“Seth must have given it to you,” Maresol said. “You don’t remember?”

Ava shook her head.

“Did you talk about getting married?” Maresol asked.

“I don’t remember,” Ava said. “He sang that amazing song to me last night. And Jeraine…”

Maresol leaned forward to look deeply into Ava’s face.

“Do you want to marry him?” Maresol asked.

Ava nodded.

“Then we must consider this a proposal. I doubt you’ll get more,” Maresol pulled Ava to her in a tight hug. “Congratulations!”

“You’re not jealous? Or mad? Or…?”

“Me?” Maresol laughed. “Seth is somewhere between my best friend and oldest child.  I want him to move on from all the sorrow and pain. I want him to be happy again.”

“And Bonita?”

“Bonita loved Seth from the time she was a wee child,” Maresol said.

“Sandy said they met when they were drinking,” Ava said.

“I was pregnant with Bonita when I started working here,” Maresol said. “She was three or so when Seth left for Vietnam. She was a teenager when he married what’s her name.”

“Lizzie’s mother?”

“Her,” Maresol said. “She was about your age when they met again. It was like an explosion for both of them. And they were drinking. A lot. Trust me, Bonita would only want him to find happiness again.”

“Oh,” Ava returned to drinking her hot water and lemon. “You don’t think I’m too young or stupid or…?”

Maresol waved a hand at her then stopped. She gave Ava a stern look.

“You won’t want to take over this house will you?” Maresol asked.

“Never,” Ava said. “I’m a forensic scientist, not a house take over person.”

Maresol laughed and added, “Then we’re fine.”

“What should I do?” Ava asked. “You know about….”

Ava pointed to the ring.

“You call him and tell him you will marry him,” Maresol said. “Go on.”

“Have you seen my purse?” Ava asked.

“It was on the floor,” Maresol said. “I put it in this closet.”

They went to the closet. Ava tried Seth. His phone rang until voice mail picked up.

“Message,” Ava said.

“Don’t leave a message,” Maresol said.

“Kind of tacky,” Ava said. “I could text him.”

“I like that,” Maresol said. “Just something simple.”

“How about Yes?”

“Perfect.”

Ava texted ‘Yes’ to Seth’s phone.

“Now, let’s get you back to bed,” Maresol said. “You’ve had way too much activity for my taste.”

A little overwhelmed, Ava nodded and went up the stairs.

“I’ll bring you a bagel Mrs. O’Malley,” Maresol said.

“I didn’t say I’d take his name,” Ava said.

Realizing what she had said, Ava floated up the stairs on the idea she might marry Seth. She was near the door when she heard Maresol laugh at her. Smiling, she went back to bed.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday mid-day — 11:25 A.M.

“If we take that in there, we’ll lose video and audio.” Raz pointed to the electromagnetic disruptor in her hand.

“We don’t have a choice,” Alex said. “We have to make sure we knock out his audio.”

They were sitting in a mobile surveillance van on Wynkoop Street.

“We have to move – one, two, three,” Alex said. “Disrupt electronics, close off the entrances we’re aware of.”

“What’s three?”

“Capture the bastard,” Max said.

Alex put the electromagnetic disrupter in MJ’s hand. With a nod, he left the van. They watched him cross the street to where Honey was having lunch. They laughed and kissed. In the process, she took the disrupter from him. With a wave, she rolled down to the entrance of the tunnel and inside.  MJ reluctantly walked back to the van.

“He hasn’t moved,” Raz said. “He must be watching television or reading.”

There was a flicker to signify Honey turning on the disrupter.

“NOW!” Alex said.

With blowtorches to metal doors, wood blocks and a variety of other basic methods, members of her team and the Denver Police closed off the five known entrances to Saint Jude’s underground residence. Saint Jude’s only exit would be through the tunnels.

They hoped.

“He hasn’t budged,” Raz said. “Oh wait… He’s on the move.”

They watched Saint Jude’s heat profile move through his underground rooms. Within a few minutes, they saw him work his way through what they had previously thought was solid ground to where they were working on the tunnel. He entered the tunnel near the entrance.

“What’s he doing now?” Max asked.

“He’s talking to Honey.” Raz pointed to the metal outline of Honey’s wheelchair.

MJ ratcheted a bullet into his automatic weapon and moved to get out of the van again.

“Wait,” Joseph said. “Just wait. Honey’s dealt with a lot of psychopaths in her life. Give her a chance.”

“Leena’s there,” Alex said. “What’s she going to tell him?”

“They have to disrupt all electronic transmission in order to cut into the tunnel wall,” MJ said.

“No way to know what’s under the brick,” MJ, Max and Alex said at the same time.

“That’ll work,” Joseph said.

The orange heat signal of Saint Jude appeared to crouch down to Honey. The tension in the van increased a hundred fold. They leaned in to watch the screen.

“Who’s that?” MJ pointed to a second heat signal.

“Leena.” Alex pointed to the block of heat around her mid-section. “You can see the body armor.”

“What are they doing?” MJ asked.

“Laughing,” Raz said. “Leena must be walking him off the job site.”

“She’s armed?” MJ asked.

“Leena knows what she’s doing,” Alex said. “Try to breathe. That’s an order.”

“My Honey’s down there,” MJ said. “You can’t tell me to just breathe. I almost lost her twice and…”

“He’s out of the tunnel,” Raz said. “And…”

They all leaned in again.

“He’s returned to his residence,” Raz said.

“Now what?” MJ asked.

“We wait for Jake and his people to finish the tunnel,” Alex said.

“If anything happens to Honey, I…” MJ said.

“No one would blame you,” Joseph said. “No one.”

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 4:25 P.M.

“Jill?” Tanesha asked.

Tanesha had knocked on the door to the loft. When Jill didn’t answer, she stuck her head in.

“Jill?”

Unsure of what to do, Tanesha puzzled for a moment. She knew there was no way Jill would miss meeting her. Jill was one of the few people who really understood about Jeraine. Heather and Sandy were great but they both thought Jeraine was an asshole. Since Jill knew what it was like to love an asshole, Tanesha always de-Jeraine-briefed with Jill.

Thinking Jill must be in the house, Tanesha started to turn when she heard something.

“Jill?”

Hearing the same sound, she entered the loft and began looking for her friend. She had checked the bedrooms and bathrooms when she heard the sound again. She pushed open the door to Jill’s office.

Jill was sprawled on the floor. Lying on her back, her eyes were closed as she writhed back and forth. Crying, Katy was sitting at her mother’s head.

“Oh my God,” Tanesha dropped to her knees.

“Mommy’s having a dream,” Katy said.

“A dream?” Tanesha asked.

“Like what I get,” Katy put her tear stained face against her mother’s.

“A psychic vision,” Tanesha said.

“A bad one,” Katy said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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