Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Forty-Six : Starting

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FORTY-SIX

Monday morning — 4:30 A.M. Coal Tunnel near Wynkoop

“I’ll tell you Jake,” State Inspector Barry Radow said. “Our asses are in a sling. My boss’s ass, my ass…”

“Mine too?” Jacob asked.

“No more than you already are,” Barry said. “I saw your sister, Honey. She’s female.”

“And I can’t run the project,” Jacob sighed.

Wearing head lamps, they continued walking along the dark ancient crumbling tunnel. Created in the 1800s, the brick and mortar coal tunnels carried coal by rail to businesses and the mansions east of Downtown Denver. Besides mortar and brick dust, the tunnels were dry and clear. They were walking toward dim lights up ahead.

“Dad’s going to be here in a half hour,” Jacob said. “He’d be here but he’s drug testing some new employees.”

“Listen, I know she’s your sister but your return to work order was clear. No women,” Barry said. “Just sucks when guys like you get in this kind of trouble. Let me ask you…”

Jacob stopped walking to look at the State Inspector. His headlamp highlighted the man’s round face.

“Did you at least fuck her?” Barry asked.

Jacob shook his head.

“Damn,” Barry said. They continued walking. They’d gone another hundred feet before Barry said: “I was hoping you at least got laid.”

Jacob grimaced.

“I was joking, Jake,” Barry said. “I never thought you did anything with that viper.”

“I know,” Jacob said.

On their left, they passed a wide open area. There were lights overhead.

“I heard this was lit by mystery electrical lines,” Barry said. “No Xcel record.”

“Hard to imagine,” Jacob said.

“It’s not even cold here.”

“Mystery gas lines,” Jacob said.

“How does that happen?”

“Who knows?” Jacob asked.

“But they know now?”

“They know now,” Jacob said. “I would hate to get the century old bill.”

Barry laughed.

“Next time I’m on the couch, I’m coming here,” Barry said. “Serve the wife right.”

Jacob laughed.

“Ok, this is it,” Barry nodded to the GPS indicator in his hand.

“No water,” Jacob said. “Our people have checked every year for more than ten years.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Barry said. “I think the Governor is trying to get a freebie from Lipson before he leaves office. Can you guys afford it?”

“We can’t afford not to do it,” Jacob said. “I got a team together last night after you called. They’ll start as soon as we’re done.”

The inspector pulled a can of spray paint out of his pocket. He painted a line on the wall where the tributary was supposed to join the coal tunnel.  He paced off six feet and sprayed a second line.

“You’ll close the tunnel here,” Barry said. “Then work on that tributary.”

“Do you think we need a permanent close or something temporary,” Jacob asked.

“The contract doesn’t specify,” Barry said. “You’re a carpenter, aren’t you?”

Jacob nodded.

“Just put up some plywood,” Barry said. “I’ll sign off on it. You can leave the women on one side and work on the other.”

“Good thinking,” Jacob said.

Barry looked around the warm, dry, lit tunnel. With his hands on his hips, he took a deep breath, then shook his head.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Barry said. “Place gives me the creeps. It’s like a fucking tomb.”

Nodding, Jacob followed Barry out of the tunnel.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 6:30 A.M.

Fully dressed, Seth sat on the bed. Ava was sound asleep laying on her side. He touched her bare shoulder.

“Hey,” she rolled onto her back to look at him.

“Hey.”

“Investigator’s breakfast?” Ava asked.

He nodded. She leaned up to kiss his lips. He held her close.

“I’m hoping you’ll spend the day here,” he said. “Rest and recover. Ferg says your work yesterday put them in good shape. Of course, they’ll be overwhelmed by tomorrow.”

“But today, everything is good,” Ava said. “I’m planning on resting today.”

Surprised, Seth squinted his eyes at her.

“I was going to ask you…” She gave him her most charming smile.

“What?”

“Well… Uh…”

“Just ask,” Seth said.

“Do you have any pull with Dazzle?” Ava asked. “There’s a concert tonight. It’s an invitation only event. I thought if anyone could get in, maybe you could and…”

Ava blushed. She felt like she was asking her father for her allowance.

“And…”

“You won’t like it,” Ava said.

“I’m not your father,” Seth said. “Spit it out and we’ll sort it out.”

“There’s this guy… He’s hip hop, very cool, one of my favorites,” Ava said. “He killed a girl by mistake, at least I think it was a mistake, and he’s leaving the music business. He did a big farewell tour last summer. Beth and I were going to go to but the tickets were too expensive. Anyway, he’s from here, Denver, and he’s doing one last show as a thank you to people who supported him through his tough time. They were giving away tickets on the radio. I called and called and called and called… but I didn’t win. I thought maybe…”

“I would have tickets,” Seth said. “Who’s he playing with? Any idea?”

“His old crew,” Ava said.

“And who do you think that might be?” Seth asked.

“I don’t know,” Ava said. “People he went to high school with or… Oh. You’re playing with him tonight.”

Seth nodded.

“That’s why you woke me up,” Ava said. “To tell me. You’d never wake me up usually.”

Seth nodded.

“It’s the kind of thing that drives most women crazy,” Seth said. “I’ve been gone working for days. Finally I get a night off and I have a gig.”

“I’m not most women,” Ava said. “How do you know Jeraine?”

“He’s Bumpy’s son,” Seth said.

“I watched his quitting speech. I cried,” Ava said. Repeating what the hip hop star had said: “I’ve hurt two women in my life without doing a thing to make it happen or stop it. The first was a message from God. I did not listen. I’ve regretted it every single day since. I need to listen now.”

Her hand pressed against her heart as she repeated the words. The simple sincerity on Ava’s face made him smile.

“Do you think he killed that woman?” Ava asked. “Everyone does.”

“She killed herself,” Seth said. “He never met her.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I did the investigation myself,” Seth said. “Bumpy asked but he didn’t have to. I would have anyway.”

“Who’s the first woman?” Ava asked. “There’s lots of speculation. Do you think it was Halle Berry or Brandy is acting like it’s her or Perez Hilton says it’s Amy Adams…”

“You’ve met her,” Seth smiled. “Remember the woman who saved Rachel from Saint Jude.”

“Tanesha?” Ava’s shocked face made Seth chuckle.

“It’s a long story,” Seth said. “Anyway, with everything going on, I almost forgot about the gig. Would you like to go tonight? I have VIP tickets – as many as you’d like. They aren’t up close, but they are good seats. Sandy and her friends are going.”

“But not Tanesha,” Ava said.

“She’ll be there.”

“She’s dating this wicked charming doctor,” Ava said. “I took his DNA.”

“She may be dating someone, but she and Jeraine are like magnets. They always end up in the same spot at the same time.”

“What about Saint Jude?” Ava asked.

“We’re setting the net,” Seth said. “There’s nothing for me to do. Depending on how much Jake and his team get done today, I might be involved tomorrow. Maybe. Tonight, however, I need to help an old friend’s son leave the music business with class. Are you upset?”

“Upset? No,” Ava said. “Does it feel weird going out, doing a gig with Saint Jude out there. I mean everyone’s trying to catch him?”

“The monsters are always out there. The best thing to do is to never forget to live your life and do what you love.”

Uncertain of how to respond, Ava nodded.

“Saint Jude has taken a lot from you,” Seth said. “We have to take some back sometimes.”

“What’s he going to do?” Ava asked.

“Saint Jude?”

“Jeraine.”

“He’s going to medical school,” Seth said. “His father did the same thing. Bumpy worked in the business until he had enough money for school. Of course, Jer’s made a thousand times the money his Dad made.”

“What about college?” Ava asked. “He’s been touring since high school.”

“Jer went to college online at CU Denver. He took his practicals and labs when he wasn’t touring. He’s starting at the Health Sciences Center in the fall.”

“So this whole thing was a publicity stunt?” Ava’s face fell in disappointment.

“No,” Seth said. “He’s not that kind of man. He wasn’t sure if he would go. The woman killing herself, his arrest, the grand jury… It made him see what needed to happen in his life.”

“Oh,” Ava said.

“Oh?”

“I get to go?” Ava brightened. “Dale too?”

“I’d love it if you were there,” Seth said. “But don’t feel obligated. It’s not going to be so hip hop.”

“Instrumental, that’s what the radio said. Once in a lifetime chance to hear Denver’s finest,” Ava said. “I want to go.”

“Great,” Seth said.

“The Coroner is going to be there with her husband. Sandy and her friends, Maresol, of course, Lizzie, and a few other’s you know. I’m getting the bar tab, so have a good time.”

Ava fell back to the bed and closed her eyes.

“Are you all right?” Seth asked.

“I have to rest so I can party tonight,” Ava said.

Seth laughed. He leaned over and kissed her.

“It should be fun,” he said.

With her eyes closed, Ava smiled. He got up to go. At the door, he turned to see her.

“See you tonight,” Seth said.

Ava was asleep. Smiling to himself, he left to meet with the ever expanding Saint Jude investigation team.

~~~~~~~~

Monday mid-day — 12:30 P.M.

“Thank you for seeing me,” a bean pole of a young man with thinning reddish-blonde hair perched on the doorstep. “I know it’s last minute.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Emily O’Malley Barth said. “Please come in.”

The young man stepped into a McMansion tucked between Parker Boulevard and South Quebec in Aurora. A fit middle aged man came to the top of the stairwell.

“Geoffrey, it’s Jammy Schmidt,” Lizzie’s mother said to her husband. “You remember, Seth’s agent, Schmidty?”

The man trotted down the stairs to shake Jim’s extended hand.

“James Schmidt,” Schmidy said.

“You have some information on the lullaby?” Geoffrey asked as he gestured toward an archway on the left.

The couple walked out of the entryway. Schmidty followed Geoffrey and Emily into a spacious living room. As they entered the room, a Hispanic woman wearing a maid’s uniform arrived.

“Lupe, can you get us some…” Emily stopped talking. She looked at her husband then Schmidty.

“Champagne to celebrate,” her husband said.

“Schmidty?” Emily asked.

“Tea would be great,” Schmidty said.

“What kind?” Lupe asked.

“Just regular tea, maybe some milk.” Schmidty smiled and Lupe nodded.

“You heard what my husband said, Lupe. Champagne and some tea for our guest,” Emily sneered at the woman.

Lupe gave her mistress a curt nod. Her eyes caught Schmidty’s as she turned. He smiled at the woman’s slight roll of her eyes before leaving the room.

“Frankly, I’ve been a little surprised that you’ve done so little to sell the lullaby or any of our catalog,” Geoffrey said.

“I work for Mr. O’Malley, sir,” Schmidty said.

“Our catalog includes Mr. O’Malley’s best works,” Geoffrey said.

Schmidty cleared his throat. Lupe returned with a porcelain a tea pot, cup and saucer and a matching cream pot on a delicate tray. She set his tea down on the granite coffee table in front of him and left the room.

“You have information for us?” Emily asked.

“Have you sold any of our songs?” Geoffrey asked. His face held the lusty look of a starving man standing over food.

Schmidty focused on his tea to keep from screaming ‘Your songs? Your songs? These songs don’t have anything to do with you,’ at the man. He let out a breath. He was a third generation music agent. He wouldn’t let this prick throw him off his game. After all, he had begged Seth to let him come today.

“I have a potential buyer for two of the songs you have the rights to,” Schmidty said. “Glee wants to use ‘Like a rainbow’ in one of their shows and Disney has requested use of the lullaby for one of their summer tours.”

“Fabulous!” Geoffrey clapped his hands together. He leaned over to give Emily a wet, loud kiss on the cheek.  “That’s wonderful news.”

“It’s about time,” Emily said. “I thought you’d forgotten all about these songs.”

“Oh no. There’s no way I’d forget about these songs.”

The simple honesty of the statement startled the Barth’s. Lupe came in with a bottle of champagne in a silver champagne ice bucket and stand. She set the stand near Geoffrey and left the room.

“Let’s have a toast,” Geoffrey said.

He took the bottle from the stand and opened it with a luscious pop. Looking around, he noticed there were no glasses.

“LUPE!” Geoffrey screamed.

Lupe trotted into the room with three crystal champagne glasses. Geoffrey snatched one from her hand making her lose her balance. She almost fell but Schmidty jumped to his feet to right her. Stable, she set the glasses down. Nodding to Schmidty in thanks, she left the room.

“It’s hard to find good help these days,” Emily said.

Schmidty forced the edges of his lips up in a smile to hide his disgust. Geoffrey poured three glasses of Champagne. Schmidty moved his to the edge of the coffee table. While Geoffrey and Emily toasted their success, he opened his briefcase and pulled out a file.

“Is that the offers?” Geoffrey beamed. He held his hand out for the documents. Schmidty scowled and his hand retreated.

“I’ve only brought one offer for you today,” Schmidty said. “This is a copy of the divorce decree between Seth and Emily O’Malley.”

Schmidty gave Emily and Geoffrey a copy of the divorce decree.

“If you turn to page three, you’ll see the details for the property allocations.”

A little stunned, Emily and Geoffrey obeyed and turned to page three.

“You’ll see under the column titled ‘Songs’ that Emily O’Malley held the copyright of these fifteen songs under two conditions : 1. The minor children Lizzie and Julie Ann were in the household and/or 2. said minor children were being supported or in need of financial support from their mother.”

Emily and Geoffrey read along with Schmidty then looked up at him.

“I think we can agree that Julie Ann and Lizzie are no longer receiving financial support from you,” Schmidty said. “And, for that matter, haven’t in a very long time. Even though you adopted the girls, Mr. O’Malley paid for all of their expenses including boarding school and college.”

Schmidty had to stop to let out a breath. He hadn’t realized how furious he was about this until just this minute. Schmidty fought to keep his face in neutral.

“That was a very tough time, financially,” Geoffrey said. “The market was down…”

“Seth has plenty of money and lots of songs,” Emily said. “What does he care?”

“If you had been doing your job and actively sold the songs, we wouldn’t have had these problems. We could have supported our children.”

“Remind me,” Schmidty said. “What exactly do you do for a living?”

“I manage my wife’s investments,” Geoffrey blustered. “Of course.”

Geoffrey looked at Emily who gave him a smile. Her razor sharp eyes shifted to Schmidty.

“Why do you have my divorce decree?” Emily asked.

“The copyrights to your portfolio should have returned to Mr. O’Malley…” Using their terror, Schmidty drew out the conversation. “Four, five…maybe six years ago.”

Reaching into his briefcase again, Schmidty came up with another folder.

“We are prepared to file in Superior Court to have Mr. O’Malley’s property returned to him.”

Geoffrey and Emily started speaking at the same time. The more they talked the louder they became. Schmidty watched the household staff peek into the room to see what the commotion was all about. Lupe gave Schmidty a sly smile. Schmidty drank his tea and let them vent their rage. He’d learned from his father, who’d learned from his father, the way to control a negotiation was to tune out the bullshit. And these two were bullshit. After a few minutes, Schmidty set his tea cup down and leaned forward.

“There is another option,” Schmidty said.

Geoffrey and Emily fell silent. Schmidty retrieved a third file from his briefcase.

“But only one option and it’s only available until one o’clock today,” Schmidty said. He held the papers out to Geoffrey. “Mr. O’Malley is willing to allow you to maintain copyright on this set of songs if you sign this document.”

He set the paper in Geoffrey’s hand. It infuriated him that these cretins would keep any of Seth’s songs, but Seth was insistent. Schmidty would do anything for Seth. He’d do more than anything for Lizzie. Silent, Geoffrey read the documents.

“What is it?” Emily asked Geoffrey.

“This is a release of parental rights,” Schmidty said.

“What? For the child Elizabethe is surrogating  for us?” Emily’s eyes became huge and indignant. “That bastard. Who does he think he is? Geoffrey and I haven’t been able to have our own children. When Elizabethe offered… well, it’s been a Godsend. We’ve been getting the nursery ready and…”

“It’s customary, in surrogate situations, for the biological parents of the child to pay all the medical bills of the surrogate. Do you have any evidence that you’ve paid even one medical bill?” Schmidty couldn’t help himself. Venomous, he spit the words out at them. “Where is the surrogate agreement? What is Lizzie getting from this?”

“You have no right…” Looking at her husband, Emily gaped. Geoffrey was signing the documents. “Geoffrey! What are you doing? Oh my God!”

With his eyes on Emily, Geoffrey gave the papers back to Schmidty.

“Now get out of my house,” Geoffrey said.

Schmidty packed up his briefcase and headed toward the door. At the door, he turned.

“One more thing,” Schmidty said. “If you change your mind or try to contest this in anyway, we will take the copyrights back and will not hesitate to pursue legal action for the back royalties.”

Geoffrey’s face went red with rage. Emily flew at Schmidty with her nails. Schmidty blocked her attack with his shoulder and jogged out the door. The door slammed shut. As he ran to his car, he could hear Emily’s shrill voice followed by Geoffrey’s rage. He used his automatic token to unlock his car. He was starting the car when Lupe slipped into the passenger’s seat.

“You take me to Lizzie?” Lupe asked.

“I think Lizzie would really like that, Lupe,” Schmidty said. “She’s been very alone.”

“That man forced Lizzie,” Lupe said. “More than one time. Since she was in high school. Awful, awful man.”

Schmidty held out his hand. Lupe took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

“Mr. O’Malley,” Lupe said as the tires to Schmidty’s BMW left the gravel driveway for pavement. “He crazy?”

“Yes,” Schmidty said in Spanish. “But not like that.”

Lupe raised an eyebrow at Schmidty. He shrugged and she laughed.

“Will he hire me to help Lizzie?” Lupe asked in Spanish

“Si. Es esta clase de loco,” Schmidty said.

Lupe smile.  With a nod, Schmidt turned onto Parker Boulevard for the quick trip back to where Lizzie was staying.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 2:48 P.M.

“What are you doing here?” Nash sneered at the tall, rail thin boy lingering in the hallway outside Sissy’s therapist’s office.

“I…” The boy swallowed hard and glanced around. As if to help him find what he was looking for, Nash looked around too. The boy’s face turned to look at Nash. “Is Sissy here?”

“What’s it to you?” Nash asked.

“What’s it to you?” The boy stood up a little taller.

“Sissy is my sister,” Nash said.

“Your sister is Noelle. You can’t trick me. We went to Smiley together,” the boy said. “You’re Nash Norsen. And…”

“Ward!” Sissy’s voice came out more as a squeal than a voice. She trotted out of the office to the boy. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” the boy swallowed again. Behind him, a sagging dishwater blonde woman walked down the hall toward him.

Sissy’s voice brought Sandy, Aden, Noelle and Charlie. Sissy’s ballet instructor Ivan stood in the doorway of the office.

“Ward?” the woman walking down the hall said.

“I heard you were here and wanted to say Hi,” Ward said.

“Hi!” Sissy said. Unable to stop herself, Sissy repeated, “Hi!”

Sissy’s enthusiastic Hi made brought color to Wade’s cheeks. He stammered.

“Okay kids,” Aden shoved Nash and Charlie away from Ward and Sissy.

“That’s my sister!” Charlie said.

“That’s my sister!” Nash said.

“Noelle and Sandy will take care of this,” Aden said. “Let’s go find some of those amazing brownies.”

He pushed the boys down the hall.

“How are you?” Sissy asked.

“I’m doing all right,” Ward said.

“I have to wear this thing now,” Sissy held up a Body Media Kit. “It’s supposed to help me not get sick and stay on my program.”

“I have to wear one too,” Ward indicated his arm. “Is this your…?”

“This is Sandy,” Sissy said. “And my new sister Noelle. This is my ballet instructor Ivan.”

“Wow, everything you wanted,” Ward said. “And ballet too? I’m not allowed to wrestle anymore.”

“Ward struggles to keep his weight up when he wrestles,” the dishwater blonde woman said.

“That’s my Mom,” Ward said.

“We’re trying it out to see how I do,” Sissy said. “That’s why I have to wear this thing to make sure I’m eating enough.”

“Me too,” Ward said. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Ward? Are you ready?” The therapist poked her head around Ivan. She smiled at the boy. Ward nodded. He slipped past Ivan and went into the office. His mother lingered in the hallway.

“Sissy! Come on!” Charlie called. Sissy and Noelle ran to catch up with him.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Ward’s mother said. “I’m Edith Stiefel.”

“Nice to meet you, Edith,” Sandy said.

“Ward told me all about your appendix. Is this your baby?”

“This is Rachel,” Sandy opened the baby sling to show Rachel. Rachel yawned when Edith leaned in to look at her.

“She’s tiny,” Edith said. “And so perfect.”

“She was a preemie,” Sandy said. “But she’s growing.”

The women looked at Rachel for a moment before Ward’s mother shifted away.

“Listen, I have to go,” Edith said. “I wanted to say that Ward’s been in this eating disorder’s clinic three times. I almost lost him last time. The only thing that’s kept him here, on the planet, you know, is Sissy. He’s very fond of her.”

Having not heard about Ward from Sissy, Sandy could only smile at the woman.

“Would it be all right if they got together sometime?” Edith asked. “For a meal or…”

“He has the body structure of a ballet dancer,” Ivan interrupted. “I bet he has talent.”

The women looked at him. He shrugged and followed the kids down the hall.

“I’ll talk to Sissy,” Sandy said. “To be honest, Sissy hasn’t talked about Ward. But that’s not unusual. She usually plays important things very close to her chest. She was excited to see him today.”

“Seeing Sissy will make Ward’s week,” Edith said.

“Why don’t you give me a chance to talk to Sissy?” Sandy asked. “I bet we could set something up. Her dance and work schedule are intense but I bet we could find time. Would you like to call me?”

Sandy dug in her purse to find a card.

“I know who you are,” Edith said. Expecting the usual judgment about her past, Sandy’s head jerked up to meet the woman’s eyes. “Are you doing hair again?”

Relieved, Sandy smiled.

“I just started a few hours in the afternoons,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we schedule something? You can bring Ward and I’ll make sure Sissy is there.”

The woman’s face brightened before a shadow fell over her face.

“Are you expensive?” the woman asked. “It’s just Ward and me. This is all paid for with my Ward’s Dad insurance. It’s all he gives and I… I mean…”

“Let’s just see what you have in mind,” Sandy said. “Family is always free. And the way Sissy reacted, I bet Ward’s going to be a part of our family soon.”

Edith smiled. They heard Ward call her from inside the therapist’s office. She shook Sandy’s hand and went in the room. Sandy smiled and went down the hall to find her family and a brownie.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning — 3:12 A.M.

“I had a wonderful time tonight,” Ava repeated. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful time.”

Drunk, Ava staggered against him. Seth had his arm hooked around her to hold her up. He raised a hand to say goodbye to Dale. He nodded to Seth and stumbled down the hall to his room. Seth flipped open the door to their room and set Ava on the bed.

“I had a wonderful time tonight,” Ava repeated. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful time.”

Seth smiled. He began taking her clothing off.

“Did you really write that song for me?” Ava hummed a few bars of the song. “Jeraine called me up there and you sang that song, my new song, and then Jeraine sang my old song. I didn’t know there were words to my old song…”

Ava sighed and fell back on the bed. One at a time, Seth pulled off her cowboy boots. He lifted her to standing.

“When I find my Amelie,” Ava sang. “I pray she’ll be with me. I pray she’ll be my wife. I know she will be my life. Only Amelie can set me free.”

Seth unzipped her jeans and helped her shimmy out of them.

“I think you should marry me,” Ava said.

“I think you may be right,” Seth laughed.

Ava’s eyes filled with tears. He pulled her top over her head and helped her into the bathroom. She brushed her teeth with her eyes closed. She flipped off her bra and it fell to the floor. Seth picked it up and added it to the pile of her clothing. When she zig-zagged back to the bedroom, he put a T-shirt over her head and helped her into bed. He took a quick shower and joined her.

“I had a wonderful time tonight,” Ava said when his head hit the pillow. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a wonderful time.”

Seth rolled onto his side to look at her. Her eyes were closed. He could get loaded from her breath.

“Seth?” Ava asked.

“Yes?”

“I had a wonderful time tonight,” Ava said.

He waited for her to finish her statement, but she was sound asleep. Chuckling to himself, he rolled over and went to sleep.

~~~~~~~~

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