CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-FOUR
Tuesday afternoon — 12:35 P.M.
“Hey,” Aden came into the apartment. “What are you doing home? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
Sitting on the couch, Charlie looked up from the book he was reading.
“They sent me home,” Charlie said. “Is it okay that I…?”
“Of course. This is your home,” Aden said. “Why did they send you home?”
“Sick,” Charlie said. “I didn’t notice but they said I was sick.”
Aden moved across the room to Charlie. He put his hand on Charlie’s forehead.
“You’re burning up,” Aden said. “Why didn’t you call?”
Charlie looked up at him and shrugged.
“Why didn’t they call me?” Aden asked. “They’re supposed to call when a child goes home.”
“I told them not to,” Charlie said. “I know you and Sandy are busy with Rachel.”
Aden wasn’t sure if Charlie was playing a game or using the time to get high or legitimately sick. Noticing Aden’s doubt, Charlie bristled.
“I’m not high,” Charlie said. “I went to my meeting and Pete brought me back here. I’m just sick.”
Aden went into his bathroom for the digital thermometer. He held it out to Charlie.
“What’s that?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a thermometer,” Aden said. “You press this button and put it under your tongue.”
He held it out and Charlie put it in his mouth.
“You haven’t seen one of these?” Aden asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“How…?” Aden started. Charlie pointed to the thermometer. Aden waited until the thermometer beeped.
“Mom told us we were old enough to take care of ourselves,” Charlie shrugged. “So we did.”
“100 degrees,” Aden said. “It’s probably strep. The kids get it every year in the spring. Come on, let’s get you to Urgent Care.”
“Strep?” Charlie blushed.
“You know someone who has strep?” Aden asked.
Charlie nodded. Not sure if he should ask, Aden let the silence lag. Charlie didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you have something better to do?” Charlie asked.
“No,” Aden said. “There’s nothing more important to me than your health, Charlie.”
Charlie stood from the couch and followed Aden out of the apartment. They went down the stairwell and out to Aden’s SAAB. Charlie shivered.
“Where’s your jacket?” Aden asked.
“Jacket?” Charlie asked.
“Ah, crap,” Aden said. “We never got more clothes for you. God Charlie, I’m so sorry.”
“When we finish here, I’ll take you to get some clothes,” Aden said.
“What were you going to do?” Charlie asked.
“I need to get another car,” Aden said. “Sandy needs her own wheels. She doesn’t want one, says they’re a waste of resources so she refuses to participate. But we have so many kids now that we need something.”
“I’d rather go car shopping,” Charlie said.
“All right,” Aden said. “But I’ll tell Sandy we need to do some clothes shopping. She’s really good at that kind of thing.”
Charlie nodded. Aden started the car and pulled out of the Castle driveway. He turned left on Colfax and made his way to York Street. They were passing the Denver Botanic Gardens when Charlie made a sound.
“What is it?” Aden asked.
“Nothing,” Charlie said.
Charlie’s face was bright red and his eyes were cloudy. Unwilling to let it go, Aden turned right on east Ninth and drove into Cheesman Park. Charlie had been through so much, and Aden still didn’t know him very well, he hoped this would be a chance to talk.
“What are you doing?” Charlie asked.
“I thought we could talk,” Aden said.
“I thought we had to go to the doctor,” Charlie said. “Strep or something?”
“This is a little detour,” Aden said. “What’s going on, Charlie?”
Charlie shook his head at Aden.
“Why don’t we walk?” Aden asked.
He grabbed his jacket and a pullover hooded sweatshirt from the back seat. Giving his jacket to Charlie, he got out of the car and pulled on the sweatshirt. Charlie followed him. They began walking on the new concrete path around the park.
“Who do you know that has strep?” Aden asked.
“A girl I know,” Charlie said.
“From rehab?” Aden asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“A girlfriend?” Aden asked.
“Why do you care?” Charlie asked. “She’s not a drug addict or a bad influence or…”
Aden raised his hands. Seeing Aden’s gesture, Charlie clammed up.
“What’s going on Charlie?” Aden asked.
Charlie refused to respond. They walked past the Greek pavilion and continued in silence until they reached the north end of the park.
“They still find bodies here,” Aden said. “You know, from when it was a cemetery?”
Charlie’s eyes showed his attention but his defiant demeanor hadn’t shifted.
“I used to spend a lot of time here,” Aden said. “When I was out. It wasn’t the safest place but it wasn’t that bad either. Mostly it was…”
“Spooky,” Charlie said.
“Did you see ghosts and stuff here?” Aden asked.
“Weird shit,” Charlie said. “Razor and I…”
As if he’d run into a wall, Charlie stopped walking. He gulped.
“I…” Charlie gulped again.
Aden grabbed Charlie as he folded over with grief. Aden negotiated Charlie over to a bench and sat with the boy while he sobbed. Unsure of whether to touch him or not, Aden sat with him. When Charlie began to work to control his emotion, Aden asked again, “What’s going on, Charlie?”
“I killed Razor,” Charlie said. “He was my best friend and I killed him.”
“I know how you feel,” Aden said. “But you didn’t kill Razor.”
“I did!” Charlie said. “If I had told Uncle Seth everything, he would still be alive.”
“You know that’s a lie,” Aden said.
“Are you calling me a liar?” Charlie jumped to his feet and ran off.
Aden ran after the boy. He caught Charlie easily and fell into pace next to him. Charlie stopped running and leaned against a tree to catch his breath. His face was gray. To Aden, he looked every bit the sick child.
“They’re dead, Shi-dai,” Charlie said between pants. “Jeffy. Razor. They’re dead. And I’m still here. Why?”
“I know,” Aden said.
“You know! How do you know?” Charlie asked. “You live this perfect life with your perfect kids. How could you know?”
“I’ve been there, Charlie,” Aden shrugged. “My best friend in the whole world got drunk and froze to death. I was there. I could have saved him. But I didn’t. I can make a list of reasons: I didn’t know he would die; I didn’t know it was so cold; hell, my friend could have easily been poisoned like Jeffy and Razor. Doesn’t matter. In my heart, I know I should have done something, and I didn’t.”
Aden could feel Charlie’s eyes scrape across his face.
“I also know I’m not that powerful,” Aden said. “I’m not powerful enough to keep someone alive. I wasn’t powerful enough to heal Sandy when she was sick. I can’t guarantee Rachel will survive. I’m just me.”
“Your sister would tell you that you survived for some reason, some purpose,” Aden said. “That’s how she copes with everything that’s happened to her. She says she survived to love people and she puts that love into everything she does and everyone she interacts with. But me? I…”
Aden shrugged. He started walking and Charlie joined him. They walked on the cinder running path until it connected with the new cement path. They were almost to his car when Aden sighed.
“I believe we create meaning in our life,” Aden said.
“What meaning does your life have?” Charlie asked.
“To be the best man I know how to be,” Aden said. “To support others so they can be the best they can possibly be.”
“Like Noelle and Nash?”
“Noelle, Nash, you, Sissy, Teddy while he’s staying with us, the people that work for me, the people I work for,” Aden said. “My friends. Sam Lipson taught me this. By myself, I can’t do much. But I can support people so they can create miracles.”
Aden opened the passenger door for Charlie then went around to the driver’s seat.
“You’re not going to get over your friends’ deaths, Charlie,” Aden said when he sat down. “You’ll just get used to it. I’ll tell you what though.”
“What?” Charlie asked.
“I’ll be here to help you find that meaning in your life,” Aden said. “Every step of the way as your Shi-dai.”
When Charlie didn’t respond, Aden started the car. They continued their way toward Urgent Care.
“Who’s the girl, Charlie?” Aden asked.
Blushing, Charlie shrugged.
“Girlfriend?” Aden asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“Do I get to meet her?” Aden asked.
Charlie shook his head.
“Since all of your earnings go toward restitution for stealing the satellite code,” Aden said. “I bet you need some money for dates.”
“And?” Charlie’s head jerked up to look at Aden.
“Maybe we work out a deal,” Aden said. “I get to meet the girl. You get some money and measured freedom to date her.”
Charlie didn’t say anything. They went into Urgent Care and Charlie returned to sullen teenager mode. Aden signed him in and went with him to see the doctor. After a quick strep test and a prescription for antibiotics, they were back in the car. Aden refused to start the car until Charlie had taken his first dose of antibiotics. Charlie whined but took his medicine and Aden started the car.
“Ok,” Charlie said.
“Ok?” Aden asked.
“Money and freedom if you meet her,” Charlie said.
“Measured freedom,” Aden said. “That means I know where you are and what you’re doing at all times. The price of being in a family, Charlie, is that you give up freedom for measured freedom. It’s worth it.”
“Fine,” Charlie said. “Measured freedom.”
“Ok,” Aden said.
“Turn here,” Charlie said. “She’s working at City Floral this summer.”
“You saw her yesterday when you helped Delphie get plants for the garden,” Aden said.
“I might have seen her the day before too,” Charlie said. “Delphie needs a lot of plants.”
Smiling, Aden turned up Fourteenth Street toward City Floral.
“You’ll tell her we were car shopping?” Charlie asked.
“I forgot to shave,” Charlie said.
“Did you brush your teeth?” Aden asked.
After thinking for a moment, Charlie nodded.
“You look fine,” Aden said.
“You won’t tell her I was crying,” Charlie said.
“Never,” Aden said.
“Can I wear the hoodie and not this lame jacket?” Charlie asked.
Tuesday afternoon — 1:35 P.M.
“Oh hey,” a male voice said.
Seth, Ava and her policewoman turned toward the voice. They were standing at outside the door of Beth’s psychotherapy office. The office had already been reviewed by the Crime Scene Unit. They were there to see if Ava could find the secret file Delphie had mentioned. A medium height middle aged man ran up the stairs to meet them.
“I was afraid I’d miss you,” the man said. “Amelie, right? You probably don’t remember me. I’m Beth’s officemate. Thad James.”
“Oh yes, Dr. James,” Ava said. “I’m sorry. This day has been such a blur.”
“I can imagine. You must know how truly heartbroken I am,” Dr. James hugged Ava. Ava patted his back and he stepped back. “I loved Beth like a daughter. This is a tragedy.”
“She was my best friend… a very special person,” Ava managed.
“To say the least,” Dr. James said. “The police said I’d need an officer to go in with me. They said you could help. I just need a few files so I can cancel my appointments for next week.”
“Do you know who Beth left her practice too?” Dr. James asked. “Should I call her patients?”
“She left them to a woman in her supervision group,” Ava said. “The woman called me this morning. I’ve already sent her Beth’s schedule and her client’s phone numbers.”
“Beth was very organized. I’m glad that’s taken care of. You must be Detective O’Malley,” Dr. James held his hand out to Seth. “I’ve read all about you.”
Seth shook his hand then used Beth’s key to get into the office suite. He nodded for the policewoman to follow Dr. James while he accompanied Ava toward Beth’s office. The waiting room was small, clean and brightly decorated. Dr. James and policewoman turned into the first door on the right. Seth and Ava went through the waiting room to a door near the back. Ava took a deep breath, closed her eyes and went in Beth’s office. Seth and Ava pulled on latex gloves. Overcome with emotion, Ava stood in the middle of the room while Seth checked the obvious places.
“She loved this office,” Ava said. “Dr. James was her supervisor for her license. He’s brilliant. That’s what she always said. He knows kids, knows which kid is going to go really bad, and which kid will step right through their troubled life. I helped her paint in here. She was lucky to get this office after his last officemate had a baby.”
Ava stared at the picture of her and Beth on the bookshelf near Beth’s desk. She went over to pick up the picture. Holding the picture in her hand, she noticed the chair was out of place.
“Someone’s been in here looking for something,” Ava said.
“CSU?” Seth asked. He pulled up the cushions to the couch then dove into a tub of toys.
“No,” Ava said. “When we go through places, we’re systematic so we know what we’ve done. This was random. Sporadic. Desperate.”
“We should get CSU back to dust for prints,” Seth said.
“Sure,” Ava said. “I’ll call.”
She picked up the phone and dialed the number. Staring at the pictures on the wall, Ava realized she knew where the folder was. She was so lost in thought that she was startled when the lead forensics investigator answered the phone. After a quick conversation, Ava set down the phone.
“Okay,” Dr. James stuck his head into Beth’s office. “I’m off. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, Amelie.”
Ava nodded. She waved goodbye to the psychiatrist and watched her policewoman follow him out of the suite. Stepping behind the door, Ava removed Beth’s diploma off the wall. The policewoman squeezed in the door. Ava took a key from behind the diploma.
“Can you help me move this?” Ava asked.
Ava pointed to a stuffed armchair. Seth and the policewoman moved the chair. Ava pulled the carpet back to show a locked compartment.
“I found this when we were moving in her stuff,” Ava said. “God knows how long it’s been there. It was empty. Beth’s boyfriend Dale replaced the lock and…”
Ava turned the lock and opened the compartment. Two folders were stuck inside along with a small stuffed giraffe. Ava gave the folders to Seth and took the giraffe. The policewoman put the carpet back and moved the heavy chair over it.
“I gave her this,” Ava said. Her eyes welled with tears. “When we were kids.”
Staring at the giraffe, Ava plopped down in the armchair.
“WAIT,” Ava yelled. “STOP!”
“What?” Seth asked.
“Chain of custody,” Ava jumped to her feet. “Beth gave her life to protect these papers. We need to make sure we can use them.”
Seth gave the folders back to Ava. She counted the sheets in each folder then gave them to Seth. He counted the papers then initialed her evidence notes.
“I’m going to scan these,” Seth said. “Her system is all set up. That way we can use the documents while they move through evidence. I’ll email you a copy.”
Ava nodded. She sat back down in the armchair. While Seth scanned the contents of the folders onto a two gig pen drive from his pocket, Ava continued staring at the giraffe. Seth put the folder into a large plastic evidence bag.
“I need to get to Rachel,” Seth said. “Do you want to come with me? It’s really okay if you want to spend some time here with… Beth’s things.”
Teary eyed, Ava looked up at him. She nodded.
“I’m going to see Rachel then meet with the Coroner about Bonita around three,” Seth said. “We’ll meet up after that to review these files? Say four?”
“Why don’t I call you?” Ava asked. “I’d like to spend a little time here.”
“You’re supposed to stay at the suite,” the policewoman reminded Ava.
“We’ll go there next,” Ava said. She smiled to reassure Seth. “I’ll call you and we can figure out where to meet.”
Seth nodded. Not wanting a display of affection in front of the policewoman, he took Ava’s hand and squeezed it. She smiled. With a nod to the policewoman, he left the office.
“I think he likes you,” the policewoman said.
“I like him,” Ava said.
“God, Amelie, you should go for it,” the policewoman said. “I mean, he’s a little old but he’s cute, funny, rich… I’ve heard he’s amazing in the sack. He treats women like…”
Ava was looking up at the woman’s face when the woman’s right eye exploded. Blood and brain matter showered onto Ava. Screaming, Ava jumped to her feet and fumbled for her gun. The policewoman fell forward onto the chair Ava had been sitting in. Dr. James appeared in the doorway.
“Oh my God,” Ava said. “Dr. James! Someone’s killed… I…”
“Yes, I know.” Dr. James held up a silenced handgun. “I hated to do it but she was in the way.”
Ava held her handgun out in front of her. Without hesitation, Ava pulled the trigger. The gun clicked and Dr. James laughed. She pulled the trigger again. The gun clicked again.
“Empty clip? Oh no,” Dr. James mocked her. “How was that symphony last night? To bad your handgun didn’t match that lovely dress.”
He gestured with the weapon in his hands. Ava lowered her weapon.
“Why?” Ava asked. “Why Beth?”
“I need those files,” Dr. James said. “Please.”
Ava gave him the evidence bag with the files in them. He walked over to Beth’s shredder and shredded the papers, folders and stuffed the bag in his pocket. He took the pieces of shredded paper and set them on fire in the Welcome to Vegas ashtray Beth used to hold paperclips.
“Thank you,” he said. “We have somewhere we have to be.”
“I’m not going with you anywhere,” Ava said. “You want to kill me. You have to do it here.”
Dr. James laughed off her bravery. He made the slightest movement with his hand and she felt a prick on her arm from an autoinjector. She blinked as his smiling face blurred. Her resistance waned.
“That’s a good girl,” Dr. James said.
He grabbed her arms and negotiated her through the suite. Using Beth’s key, he locked the suite door. She tried to speak to the uniformed police officer at the door but couldn’t make her voice work. He laughed at something Dr. James said. Ava blinked and she was sitting in the passenger seat of his BMW sedan.
“Why don’t you rest a little?” Dr. James’s voice was kind and sticky sweet. “We have quite a drive.”
Unable to fight it, Ava slumped against the passenger door. Her mind screamed. Her soul wanted to jerk out of her body. But she could do nothing over the drug induced calm. What was this drug? What had the Coroner said? In the back of her mind, she heard the Coroner’s voice say, ‘Sodium Pentothal. It’s a barbiturate that calms the subject and defeats all resistance. They used it for lethal injections.’ Crap.
She felt the car move through the stop and go traffic of downtown Denver then the steady, fast motion of the highway. Desperate, tears streamed down her face as the Denver landscape shifted north.
They were going to the barn. She was going to hang for her mitochondrial DNA.
And there was nothing she could do about it.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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