Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Five : Gone

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-FIVE

Tuesday afternoon — 3:05 P.M.

“Sorry I’m late,” Seth said. “I was delayed.”

He gestured to the women standing behind him. One woman was wearing a full dress Marine uniform. The other woman was round with pregnancy. Sandy waved to the Coroner.

“My daughters…” Seth said. “They want to hear what happened to Bonita and the children.”

He turned to Maresol, his housekeeper and Bonita’s mother, and her four adult sons.

“Is that all right?” Seth asked.

Maresol stood to hug Seth’s daughters. For a moment, the room took on an almost festive feel as Maresol and her children greeted his daughters.

“This is my daughter, Lizzie,” Seth said to the Coroner.

“Elizabethe,” the pregnant woman reached forward to shake the Coroner’s hand. “Nice to meet you again.”

“This is my younger daughter, Julie Ann Barth,” Seth remembered to use her step-father’s last name.

“Private First Class Julie Ann O’Malley, ma’am,” Seth’s daughter said.

Seth hesitated at the name change.

“What a pleasure to see you again,” the Coroner said.

“We changed our names back, Dad,” Elizabethe said to Seth.

He nodded to her.

“You know Sandy,” Seth said.

“How is Rachel?” the Coroner asked.

“She’s doing well,” Sandy said. “We think she may be able to go home soon.”

“We hope so,” Seth beamed.

Sandy nodded.

“Please,” the Coroner said. “We know how difficult this is for all of you.”

“We want to know what happened to our brothers and step-mother, ma’am,” Julie Ann said. “We were told there was new information.”

The Coroner smiled at Julie Ann. Even as a young child, she had always taken charge.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” the Coroner said. A uniformed officer who brought in a few more chairs. Sandy sat next to Maresol. Maresol immediately took Sandy’s hand. They braced themselves for what was sure to be a gruesome conversation.

“I believe Detective O’Malley informed you about the man we call Saint Jude and the presence of his DNA on the car,” the Coroner said.

“I don’t really get that,” Maresol’s oldest son said. “How did the son of a bitch’s DNA get on the car? Seth said something about custody or something.”

“We don’t know when the DNA got on the car,” the Coroner said. “When Bonita and the kids were killed, we didn’t do the kind of DNA testing we do now. Our forensics team believes the DNA they found was from his sweat.”

“This dude sweated on little sis’s car?” another son asked.

“Yes,” the Coroner said. “We checked the weather data for that year. It was a very hot summer and the car didn’t have air conditioning.”

“You’re saying he drove Bonita’s car that summer,” Sandy said. “Was he driving when the accident…?”

“We don’t believe so,” the Coroner said.

“Dude knew little sis,” Maresol’s son sitting on the end said. The brothers looked at each other. Maresol shook her head at them. The men’s faces shifted to neutral expressions.

“What were you able to find out about the accident?” Seth asked. He shot a glance down the row of brothers. The men gave him knowing shakes of their heads.

“We found the same drug in Bonita and her son’s systems,” the Coroner said.

“The same as the boys Razor and Jeffy?” Seth asked.

“Yes,” the Coroner said. “As you know, Detective O’Malley, we’ve identified the drug as Sodium Pentothal.”

“Truth serum?” Elizabethe asked.

“It’s a barbiturate,” the Coroner said. “It’s known to weaken the victim’s resolve. In high enough doses, there’s almost nothing a person can do to stop the perpetrator. It’s also the drug of choice for lethal injections.”

“I knew my Bonita would never drive in that snow,” Maresol said. “Never risk her babies. If she needed to go somewhere, she would have called me or the boys.”

“You were right,” the Coroner said. “I’m sorry it’s taken so long to confirm what you already knew.”

Maresol sniffed at the Coroner. Sandy put her arm around the woman for comfort.

“There’s more,” the Coroner said. “We’ve been able to confirm the man we call Saint Jude was the father of Bonita O’Malley’s unborn child.”

Bonita’s brothers stiffened and snuck glances at Seth. Maresol dropped her head in her hands and Seth stared off into space.

“She was inebriated,” the Coroner said. “But we cannot determine if Bonita was in that condition before she was given the… truth serum.”

“And the truck driver?” Seth asked.

“Yes, thank you,” the Coroner said. “We also exhumed the truck driver’s body. As you know, it’s highly unusual for such a large truck hauling such a heavy load to be in the center of the city. The detectives at the time couldn’t determine why he was in town or where he was going, or why he was driving eighty miles an hour. There was a lot of construction downtown at that time. They was assumed that he was lost.”

“And?” Julie Ann asked.

“He was also drugged with the sodium pentothal,” the Coroner said. “The company he worked for demolished his truck so we don’t have it for testing. We only have his body plus the forensics taken at the time.”

“What does that mean?” Maresol’s oldest son asked.

“We can’t determine if Saint Jude was there,” Seth said.

“My team has reconstructed the accident using a computer simulation program,” the Coroner said. “We’ve determined that the truck driver wasn’t alive when the accident happened. The vehicle was in cruise control.

“At the time, our vehicle team determined that the cruise control had been modified,” the Coroner continued. “We found the cruise control in an evidence warehouse last night. We’ll test the device for DNA when it gets here tomorrow morning. But we feel confident we’ll find the perpetrator’s DNA on the cruise control.”

The family sat in stunned silence.

“You’re saying that this man not only drugged Bonita and got her drunk, but arranged for the truck to kill her,” Sandy’s shaky voice broke the silence. “And his child.”

“And Pablo,” Seth said. His voice was soft, caressing the words. “And Gabriel. My babies.”

The family and the Coroner turned to look at Seth.

“I knew about the affair,” Seth said. “I knew about the baby. We all did. Bonita was a lot of things but she was no liar. I didn’t care who the father was. We were working through it. We were…”

Elizabethe choked back a sob.

“Why?” Seth asked. “Why would he…?”

Sandy got up. She put her arms around his shoulders to hold him. Maresol’s oldest son hugged his mother.

“Is there anything else, ma’am?” Julie Ann asked.

“No,” the Coroner said.

“We’re going home,” Maresol’s oldest son said.

He helped his mother to her feet. Maresol touched Seth’s back. He looked up at her. She kissed his cheek then left the room with her sons.

Seth stood to shake the Coroner’s hand and they left the building.  At Seth’s insistence, they went back to his home for tea and pie. Even with the gruesome news, Elizabethe and Julie Ann were excited to see their father. But after an hour, the mini-reunion stalled. The Coroner’s information was too dark to keep at bay. Julie Ann needed to return to her unit and Elizabethe offered to take her.

“I guess I understand why you were avoiding us,” Sandy hugged Elizabethe.

“My step-dad threw me out,” Elizabethe said. “Illegitimate child and all. After he threw Julie Ann out, I figured there was no way…”

“You and the child are always welcome here,” Seth said.

“Thanks Dad,” Elizabethe said. “I…”

“Yes, let’s find some time to get to know each other,” Seth said.

“Yeah,” Elizabethe said.

“Me too?” Julie Ann asked.

“Of course,” Seth said.

Julie Ann and Elizabethe hugged Seth good-bye. Sandy and Seth stood in the doorway until their car was out of sight. Seth sagged and Sandy guided him inside.

Seth checked his phone and found no messages. He wondered if he should call Ava, but decided to let her rest. She would call him when she was ready.

“Why don’t you go for a swim?” Sandy asked. “It will give you time to think.”

Without responding, Seth nodded and made his way to the lap pool.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 3:55 P.M.

The cold wind woke her. Naked, Ava lay on the floor of the frigid pole barn. Her arms were trapped behind her back in her own handcuffs. She rolled over to throw up.

She heaved until her stomach was empty.

She tried to control her breath so she could listen for him. Blowing out a breath, she closed her mouth and listened.

Nothing. She gasped a full breath.

The wind blew through the wretched barn. She tucked her knees into her chest against the cold.

She realized she was wet. Her nose picked up the distinctive smell of the industrial cleaner.

And she had been shaven.

Her long hair was gone. Her arms stung from razor burn. She’d had her public hair, legs and arm pits waxed for the event, and Seth. She was completely hair free.

And naked in the wind.

Hearing a noise, she stiffened. He’d returned. She closed her eyes tight to pretend she was asleep.

He wasn’t fooled. How could she fool him!? He’d done this very thing more than forty times! She heard his feet scrape across the bare ground as he walked over to her. He lifted her leg and gave her another injection.

Ava was slipping away again when she heard a sound.

A woman was humming.

“What is that?” Ava asked.

“My favorite lullaby,” the woman said. “I thought it might give you courage.”

“Beth?”

“Will you hum it with me?” The woman gave Ava a sweet, kind smile.

The sound buffeted her, strengthened her, and became her. Ava slipped away.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 4:55 P.M.

“Hi,” Sandy said to Seth.

She was plating cookies when he came down the stairs from his shower.

“You should be home with your family,” Seth said.

“This may not be my home, but you are my family,” Sandy said. “Maresol left some chicken enchiladas. Want me to warm them up?”

“I can’t eat,” Seth said.

He picked up his telephone. Looking at the dial, he puzzled. Still no message from Ava.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“Ava was going to call me at four,” Seth said. “Did she call the house?”

“Not that I heard,” Sandy said. “She’s probably resting.”

“Probably. How are you feeling?” Seth asked. “You’ve only been out of the hospital a day and…”

“Sick,” Sandy smiled. “But better. Every day, I’m a little better. Thank God. It does me good to be at home with the kids, and here with you. Nothing’s more healing than making a batch of chocolate chip cookies.”

Smiling, he took a cup of coffee from her and a cookie from the plate. They ate cookies and drank their coffee in companionable silence.

“I heard the Coroner say something about Saint Jude,” Sandy said.

“We call the serial killer Saint Jude,” Seth said. “He gives the kids Saint Jude necklaces.”

Sandy nodded and sipped to her coffee. He reached for another cookie, then had to ask the obvious question.

“Why?” Seth asked.

“There was a guy that I used to see,” Sandy said. “You know, when I was a kid and seeing men for money?”

Seth nodded.

“He used to talk about saving souls,” Sandy said. “He was a real perv. Didn’t want to see me after I got pubic hair.  Dad made me shave my peach fuzz because he was such a great customer.”

“Sandy, you don’t have to…” Seth started.

“No, let me finish,” Sandy said. “I saw him later. You know, after Dad and you rescued me.”

“Where?”

“I didn’t sleep at first. Dad thought some medication would help,” Sandy said. “I went to see a psychiatrist. The school referred me to the pervy guy. He was a psychiatrist. Unbelievable. Dad took me to see him.”

Stunned by her words, Seth stared at her.

“You have to remember because it was a big ass deal. I pitched a fit and wouldn’t see the perv. Mom was furious because we still had to pay him. But Dad never made me do anything I didn’t want to do,” Sandy said. “I used to call that guy Saint Jude. You can ask Jill.”

“I paid for your acupuncture treatments,” Seth said.

“That’s right,” Sandy said.

“So you could sleep,” Seth said. “Psychiatric acupuncture or something like that.”

“I knew you’d remember.”

Sandy refilled their coffee cups. They ate cookies in silence.

“Didn’t Bonita see a psychiatrist?” Sandy asked. “Remember, you were sober. You’d heard there were meds to help people who couldn’t stay sober. She went to that guy for months. Told me I should go. What was his name?”

Shrugging, Seth shook his head.

“Would you remember where his office was?” Seth asked. “The pervy psychiatrist?”

“I could find it again,” Sandy said. “Why?”

“I met a psychiatrist today,” Seth said. “Dr. Thad James.”

“Thaddeus James?” Sandy asked. “Thaddeus is another name for Saint Jude. They call him Jude of James or Judas Thaddeus. I can’t believe my own Godfather didn’t get anything from Catholic school.”

“Oh my God,” Seth said. “Ava!”

His nagging worry for Ava turned to a full blown panic. He picked up his phone and dialed her number. No answer. He called the hotel room. Nothing. He dialed CSU.

“Hey did you guys ever get over to that therapy office?” Seth asked.

“Not yet,” the CSU head said. “Sorry. We’re backed up on this Saint Jude thing from last night. The DA’s on us to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ for evidence.”

“Ok, thanks,” Seth said.

He called the dispatcher and gave the address to Beth and the psychiatrist’s office. Sandy hugged him. They waited ten minutes before the call came.

Ava’s policewoman was murdered.

Ava was gone.

Seth made two quick calls to get his team looking for Ava. When the missing officer alert had been sounded, he grabbed his wallet and keys and ran toward the door.

“Seth!” Sandy yelled.

He turned to look at her.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“We have to get to Rachel,” Seth said.

“Rachel?” Sandy asked. ”Why? If Charlie doesn’t have the mitochondrial DNA, I won’t and Rachel…”

The look on his face made her stop talking. She grabbed her purse and followed him out to his car.

“She’s not my mother?” Sandy asked after he started the car.

“They’re not your biological parents,” Seth said.

“Well,” Sandy put on her seatbelt. “This has been an interesting day.”

Shaking his head at his tough Goddaughter, Seth started toward St. Joseph’s hospital.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 5:15 P.M.

“Get out of my way,” Tanesha said.

Dressed in surgical scrubs, Tanesha tried to get around Dr. Cam Morgan. Every time she moved, he stepped in front of her. They had started arguing outside the surgical suites, continued arguing in the elevator and were now standing in the hallway in front of St. Joseph’s NICU.

“You have to talk to me,” Cam said.

“I do not,” Tanesha said.

“Please,” Cam said. “Last night was…”

“A mistake,” Tanesha crossed her arms over her heart. “One that won’t happen again.”

“Last night was amazing,” Cam said. “The symphony was unbelievable and you…”

“I was high on the music, Dr. Morgan,” Tanesha said. “You took advantage of me.”

“I distinctly remember you taking advantage of me,” Cam chuckled. “In the car. At my apartment, in the shower, this morning and…”

Tanesha gave him a strong look and tried to get around him.

“You can’t deny this,” Cam said.

“I can too,” Tanesha said. Leaning back on her right leg and crossing her arms again, she added, “You’ll deny it soon enough when your wife gets here.”

Cam startled then furrowed his brow.

“What about the five children?” Tanesha asked. “What are you going to tell them?”

Cam grabbed her arm and dragged her down the hallway to a family bathroom. Tanesha kept talking.

“You’ll deny me soon enough,” she said. “I don’t know this woman. What date? Music. I’ve never seen her before. Deny, deny, deny, deny, deny.”

“Please stop talking,” he stuffed her into the bathroom. He locked the door then stood in front of it.

“I will not,” Tanesha said. “You kidnapped me. I have some bad ass friends who rescue hostages. Maybe I should call them.”

“We cannot have this conversation out there,” Cam said.

“Fine,” Tanesha said. “You were telling me about your wife and children. They’re…”

“A cover,” Cam said.

“A what?” Tanesha asked. “That has got to be the lamest thing I’ve ever…”

“Plus, you’re the one who has a boyfriend,” Cam’s voice raised in anger.

“I have a friend with benefits,” Tanesha said. “Tres knows all about this. We don’t keep secrets.”

“Please,” Cam backed off his anger and tried a new tack. “My life is complicated. I was placed here. The woman and her children are listed as my wife and kids. They aren’t. Trust me. We’ll get a very public and very messy divorce in a few months.”

“What are they a cover for?” Tanesha asked.

“I can’t tell you,” Cam said.

Tanesha scowled at him.

“I can’t,” Cam said. “I never expected to feel this way. I have never felt this way about anyone. Ever.”

Tanesha’s eyes moved across his face.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Cam said. “It sounds crazy to me! But…”

He sighed.

“I have a mate who lives here part of the year,” Cam said. “His children live here. He said it was a great place to live. I applied to move here and was accepted. By some miracle, I even found a job. Then wham. My first day, I run right into John Kelly and meet you.”

“John Drayson?” Tanesha asked.

“Yeah, him,” Cam said. “Listen, I… can’t stop thinking about you. I want to be with you every moment of every day. I’ve memorized your schedule so I can be in the hall when you are. I lie awake at night thinking about you. Good Lord, I feel like I’m twelve years old.”

Tanesha flushed.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Cam said. “Not on anything. But give me a chance. I had an amazing time last night. Did you?”

Tanesha nodded.

“Will you go out with me again?” Cam asked. “Just a date – dinner or whatever.”

“All right,” Tanesha said. “But that cover story is lame-o.”

“Good,” Cam smiled. “That’s really good.”

“I need to go,” Tanesha said. “I’m missing my Rachel time.”

Cam stepped away from the door. He touched her arm as she passed. She turned to look at him and their eyes held. His lips brushed hers.

She opened the door.

“HEY!” Tanesha said. “Who the hell are you? Get away from my Rachel!”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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