CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-ONE
3 weeks later Monday — 6:15 A.M.
Naked, Ava slipped into the shallow end of the pool. Since falling into the river, Seth’s orthopedist had banned running until his bruised coccyx healed. Of course, Seth ignored the doctor’s advice until he almost couldn’t move.
Not sure what to expect, Ava prepared for Seth to join the couch club. She imagined nights in the movie room with bowls of popcorn.
That was before she knew he had a gorgeous Olympic sized lap pool with three lanes in what she’d thought was his carriage house. Turns out, Seth had installed the pool for his father. It had stood empty since his father’s death. Maresol had the pool cleaned, repaired and filled in no time. Seth had been swimming every morning and every evening since then. Fifty-eight years old, injured, and she still could barely keep up with him. Seth continued swimming laps until he finished his workout. She thought he hadn’t seen her when he swam over to her.
“Good morning,” Seth pulled off his goggles and cap. “I like this outfit.”
He stroked her naked back. She smiled.
“You worked late,” he said.
“I’m meeting with a head detective on a big case today,” Ava said. “The lead forensics officer told me I better have all my ducks in a row. This detective is smart and tough. It’s a big deal for someone as junior as me to meet with him.”
“I’ve heard he’s an asshole,” Seth said.
“Indeed,” she laughed. Gesturing to her naked body, she said, “I thought this outfit might ease the tension.”
“Good thinking,” he said. “You definitely got my attention.”
She smiled. He held her close and nuzzled her neck.
“What’s happening today?” she asked.
“I have a big meeting with a junior forensics officer in a few hours,” he said.
“After that,” she said.
“You mean the auction?”
“Sandy’s cutting my hair around three,” Seth said. “My final fitting for my new tux is after that. Your dress will arrive around four with a couple people to help you get ready. You know all of this.”
“I’m nervous about tonight,” Ava said.
“Why?” Seth asked. “I get dressed up, play the piano for a few hours then mingle with some famous people. It’s pretty easy.”
“I heard that you…” Ava stopped talking. Her anxiety kept her from asking what she needed to ask.
“You talked to your mother last night,” he said.
“I’m going with them tonight,” Ava nodded
“What did Vivian say?”
“She said you like ‘animal sex’ after you play a piece for the first time,” Ava said the words in a rush. “She said your agent orders a dozen prostitutes for you to use when you’re done.”
“I don’t want to be with a guy who sees prostitutes,” Ava said.
“Your mother is not the most reliable source of information.”
“You dated a friend of hers.”
“Who?” Seth asked.
“Francine,” Ava said.
“It’s not funny,” Ava said.
“I went to dinner with her ‘friend’ Francine,” Seth said. “With your parents. On a double date. They set the whole thing up. Francine was nice but a little too librarian for me. And seriously, unless something’s changed, your mother can’t stand Francine.”
“You went on a double date? With my parents?”
“When your father worked for the DA,” Seth said. “We worked a couple cases together.”
“That was a long time ago,” Ava said. “Let’s get back to the prostitutes and animal sex.”
“I’m serious,” Ava crossed her arms and shrugged out of his embrace.
“I’ve never even met a prostitute… except on the job, I guess,” Seth said. “Women hang around after I play like… groupies. I don’t know where the animal sex thing comes from. I’m pretty off after I play a new piece. My agent usually whisks me to the hotel room where I chill out, shower, whatever for an hour or so. They start the auction when I return.”
“And the sex?”
“I’ve had sex during that hour, but I doubt it was animal sex. I’ve also eaten dinner, gone running, showered, watched television, lifted weights, slept… Sandy’s been with me a few times. Not for sex. I’ve never had sex with my Goddaughter, if that’s what you’re asking.” Seth shook his head. “I would never spend that hour with a stranger. Never. It’s kind of a sacred time for me.”
“I’m not sure what you’re looking for,” Seth said.
“I didn’t know my mom knew you,” Ava said. “It was weird. Made me feel stupid… childish.”
“I know a lot of people, Ava,” Seth said.
Unable to explain herself, she got out of the pool. He stood in the shallow end watching her.
“You’re a confusing woman.”
“You didn’t tell your parents about us.”
“My mother went on and on. She… I…” Ava said. “I told her I was meeting with you today. It’s a big deal. The Coroner told me it was the first time a junior person has met with the lead detective on a case. My lab team was up with me all night. We’re very excited.”
“You told your mother you were meeting with me and she told you about animal sex?” he asked.
“No!” Ava glared at him. “You don’t understand.”
“I don’t,” he said.
He got out of the pool. Knowing she loved the hot tub, he turned on the bubbles, stepped in and gestured for her to join him. She crossed her arms and shifted her hip at his manipulation. He gestured again. Too tired and emotional to put up a fight, she got in the hot tub and sat across from him.
“Are you saying that you’d like to have animal sex?” he joked.
She glared at him. Shrugging, he smiled. They rested in the warm bubbling water for a few minutes.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Good,” Seth said. “Ready. Sandy gets to come home from the hospital today.”
“Will you have time to see Rachel?” Ava asked.
“I’m not missing my Rachel time. No way, no how,” Seth said. “I’ve been there every day at two o’clock since she was born. I won’t miss it today either.”
Even upset, Ava had to smile at his dedication to the tiny baby.
“What’s really going on?” Seth asked.
“I don’t like it that my mother knows more about you than I do,” Ava said. “My mother and Francine!”
“I’ve been around a lot of blocks. People think they know things about me.”
“I don’t like it,” Ava said. “Makes me feel stupid and small.”
“What matters is what happens, right here and right now,” Seth said. “I want to sit in this hot tub with you… spend my morning with you.”
“But these people know you,” Ava said. “I don’t know you.”
“I don’t think we ever know another person,” Seth said. “Not really. People who think they know other people are fooling themselves. We can only know this moment and ourselves. Even then…”
Ava nodded when Seth shrugged.
“Let’s enjoy today… tonight… together,” Seth said. “We’ll see what tomorrow looks like. You’re off tomorrow?”
“Would you like to spend tomorrow with me?” Seth asked.
“Did you really go to college twice?” Ava asked.
Seth raised his eyebrows at her. Shaking his head, he got out of the hot tub. He grabbed a towel and left the pool room. He walked across the yard and opened the sliding door to the kitchen where he turned on the coffee pot. He went upstairs to shower. He had finished his shower when Ava appeared in the bathroom. He wrapped at towel around his midsection and continued getting ready.
“I want to know you,” Ava said.
“Then know me,” he said. “I’m not my history. I’m me, here and now. Anything else is just a resume that strangers use to evaluate your value.”
“But…” Ava shook her head at the stubborn look on his face.
“Are you happy? Right now. Right this moment,” he said.
“Are you enjoying our time together?” Seth asked.
Ava nodded. Seth started shaving.
“That’s all you need.” He looked at her in the mirror. “When you stop enjoying our time together, you’ll let me know?”
Ava nodded. Seth washed the shaving cream from face. His face was in a hand towel when she said, “But…”
He turned to look at her.
“What if it’s not enough for me?” Ava said.
“Is it enough for you?” Seth asked. “For you – not your mother, not your friends, not Francine, not the man on the moon.”
Ava thought for a moment then nodded.
“It’s a big day,” Seth said. “Your first meeting with a lead detective. Your first designer gown. Your first music auction. Your first animal sex…”
Ava burst out laughing. Seth smiled. He touched her face then went into the bedroom to get dressed. She took a fast shower. Wrapped in a towel, she joined him in the bedroom.
“I was thinking of leaving a few of my things here,” Ava said.
“There’s plenty of space,” Seth said.
“I’ve been here every night since the mansion,” she said. “It would be nice to have a few of my things.”
“Do you want your own room?”
“Let’s look at rooms tomorrow when we have time,” Seth said. “Right now, I need to get to a work breakfast with the investigative team.”
He kissed her and left the room. Ava sat down on the bed. For a moment, she wanted to cry her eyes out. She had no idea why she was so confused and weird this morning.
Smiling at her own childishness, she wrapped the towel around her wet hair and lay down. She grabbed Seth’s pillow and fell sound asleep.
Monday — 10:30 A.M.
Seeing her Dad’s car pull into the Castle driveway, Noelle ran all the way down Race Street and into the Castle. She’d taken Buster on a walk to kill time until her mom, Sandy, came home from the hospital. Everybody was off school and work today to celebrate Sandy’s arrival. With Buster on her tail, Noelle ran up the Castle stairs and into the apartment.
No one was there!
“Hello?” Noelle asked.
“We’re in here,” her Dad’s voice came from the back.
Noelle ran toward his voice. Nash, Teddy, Charlie, Sissy and Dad were standing in the hall. She skid to a halt. She didn’t want to appear hasty or stupid or…
“Noelle!” Sandy exclaimed. “There you are!”
Noelle threw herself into Sandy’s open arms. The sheer bliss of being loved and loving overwhelmed the girl. Her eyes dripped tears.
“You’re finally home,” she whispered.
“I’m finally home,” Sandy said.
Monday — 11:00 A.M.
“Detective O’Malley?” the lead forensics officer asked. “Have you met the junior Forensics team?”
Seth held his hand out and was introduced to Ava and her lab technicians. Ava was so nervous she felt like she was shaking. Her lab technicians sat down around her. They were as ready and prepared as they possibly could be.
“They’re young,” the lead forensics officer said. “But good. Technician Alvin, let’s start with the good news and move to the interesting.”
Ava cleared her throat.
“With the DNA from the blood collected by my team after the Sand Creek incident, we’ve been able to match alien DNA found on the St. Jude necklace worn by the boy Jeffy as well as DNA from two of the trophies.”
Nervous, Ava cleared her throat again.
“Technician Alvin and her team collected blood from the platform at Sand Creek and off the motor bike. They were able to match the blood samples to other samples collected by CSU,” the lead forensics officer said. “They have the clearest chain of custody on the samples Technician Alvin and her team collected.”
“You have the killer’s DNA,” Seth said. “Fantastic.”
“We believe so, Detective O’Malley,” Ava said. “We haven’t yet found a match in the Federal or Colorado DNA databank. We have however connected this particular DNA to at least one other crime scene.”
“What crime scene?” Seth said.
“We cannot determine what the perpetrator was doing at the other crime scene or when he was there,” the lead forensics officer said. “We can only say that he was there.”
“His DNA was found in the vehicle Bonita O’Malley was driving when she and her children died,” the lead forensics officer said.
“His DNA…” Seth said. “Where?”
“We were able to find the vehicle in a salvage yard,” the lead forensic officer said. “According to the owner of the yard, the vehicle has been in his possession since the accident. Technician Alvin and her team have collected forensic material from the car including the Sand Creek perpetrator’s DNA.”
“Where?” Seth repeated.
“Technician Alvin has created this schematic,” the lead forensics officer said.
Ava pushed a cartoon drawing of the car across the table. They found the killer’s DNA on the seat between the car seats as well as the steering wheel. Ava’s eyes furtively scanned Seth for his reaction. He seemed blank and emotionless.
“But you can’t confirm chain of custody,” Seth said.
“Or when he was there,” the lead forensics officer said.
“It’s something,” Seth said. “We haven’t found any more bodies. Based on the trophies, we’re missing at least twelve.”
“Yes sir,” the lead forensics officer said. “Our senior team has been working overtime to process all of the forensics gathered at the Sand Creek site, the barn and the mansion’s chapel. We’re optimistic that we will find something that will allow us to find the remaining bodies.”
“Thank you for your time and hard work,” Seth said. “The family and I are meeting with the Coroner to go over what they learned from exhuming my… Bonita O’Malley and her children’s bodies. I’ll share this information.”
Seth moved to get up.
“There’s something else,” the lead forensics officer said. “Technician Alvin and her team have found something of interest.”
Seth sat back down in his chair.
“They have DNA evidence that links the victims,” the lead forensic officer said.
“That’s not right,” Seth said. “There is no DNA link between the victims. We also haven’t found any alternative evidence that links the victims.”
“Technician Alvin and her team have, sir,” the lead forensics officer said.
Seth raised his eyebrows. His demeanor was somewhere between prove it and what are you talking about. Ava decided to dive right in.
“Sir, you know that there are two kinds of DNA,” Ava said.
“Sperm and egg?” Seth asked.
“Sort of,” Ava’s mouth was dry. She looked over at the lead forensics officer. He gave her an encouraging nod. “There’s DNA that defines the cell’s function and DNA that helps run the cell. The DNA for the cell can only come from the egg because the egg is the original cell.”
“Okay,” Seth said.
“Why don’t you draw it?” the lead forensics officer said.
Ava nodded to one of her lab technicians. The woman jumped to her feet and ran to the white board. She drew a large circle with a smaller circle and a kidney bean shaped object inside. (Map of Cell)
“The DNA we usually track, what’s in the database, is from the nucleus,” Ava said.
The lab technician drew a bunch of squiggly lines in the smaller circle inside the circle.
“The cell needs power to function,” Ava said. “Every cell needs energy. That energy is created in the mitochondria.”
The lab technician pointed to the kidney bean shape inside the circle.
“The mitochondria has its own DNA,” Ava said.
The scientists all looked at Seth to see if he understood. The lab technician drew squiggly lines inside the kidney bean shape. Seth nodded.
“Because it’s handed intact from mother to child, in an egg, this mitochondrial DNA changes very little, if at all, over time,” Ava said. “We were looking at the DNA from the victims and… well… The victims’ mitochondrial DNA are identical within a ninety-five percent margin of error. All but one.”
“The victims have the same mother?” Seth asked.
“The same maternal line,” the lead forensics officer said. “They have a common female ancestor.”
“Really?” Seth asked.
“Yes sir,” Ava said. “We were so surprised that we tested each other to make sure the test worked like we thought it did. I have the same mitochondrial DNA as the victims but these guys don’t share it. You don’t have it, Detective O’Malley, nor does the Coroner or any of her staff including the other forensic officers. Bonita O’Malley and her children all have the same mitochondrial DNA.”
“Which victim doesn’t have this DNA?”
“The male skeleton identified as Mark Gilmore,” Ava said.
“You’re sure?” Seth asked.
“Yes. You asked us to test the children, Katherine Roper Marlowe and Patrick Hargreaves? We did a variety of blood tests and a DNA test,” Ava said. “Patrick has the mitochondrial DNA but Katherine does not.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“We believe most of the victims, and Patrick Hargreaves, are from families that have lived in the Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico region for a long time,” the lead forensics officer said. “For example, Bonita O’Malley’s mother’s family has lived in the front range for over a hundred years. The child, Patrick Hargreaves? His mother’s family moved here when Denver was a fort.”
“Razor?” Seth asked.
“Roger Hampden has identical mitochondrial DNA,” the lead forensic officer said. “Your Charlie does not.”
“But Charlie’s Dad’s family is from Denver,” Seth said.
“Doesn’t matter, sir,” Ava said. “This DNA can only come from his mother. Charlie’s mother is from Cleveland.”
“Seriously?” Seth couldn’t get over his surprise. “And you came up with this yourself?”
“Technician Alvin and her team did sir,” lead forensics officer said. “She thought it was worth testing. Since the lead forensic team is so overloaded, they encouraged her team to pursue this line of inquiry.”
“We were struggling to find a reason why some victims were picked over others,” Ava said. “Now we know.”
“Does the killer have this mito-whatever?” Seth asked.
“No,” Ava said.
“No?” Seth shook his head. “How would he know about the mito-whatever?”
“That’s the million dollar question,” Ava said.
“Wow,” Seth said. “This is… brilliant. I’ll share this with the investigative team. And… Thanks.”
Ava and her lab technicians stood while Seth and the lead forensics officer left the room. When the door closed, they cheered. Ava looked at her watch.
“I have to run,” Ava said.
She hugged each member of her team then raced out of the building. She had a full afternoon of waxing, hair appointments, and nails to get ready for tonight. She was all the way to the car before she let out her own little cheer.
Score one for Technician Alvin!
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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