Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Six : What about Ava?


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

Tanesha took off across the hallway toward the stranger standing over Rachel’s incubator. Opening the NICU door, she yelled again.

“Get away from that baby!” Tanesha said.

The nurses and parents visiting other babies stared. Tanesha kept moving.

“Who the hell are you?” Tanesha yelled. “You don’t belong here.”

The father of the baby next to Rachel stood up. He said something Tanesha couldn’t hear and the man looming over Rachel knocked him down with a vicious blow.

“SECURITY!” Cam began yelling. He stuck his head into the hallway. “WE NEED SECURITY STAT!”

The man picked up Rachel and started for the door. Tanesha hurled herself at him.

“Put her down! Put her down!” Tanesha’s fists flailed against the man. “I will kill you!”

The other parents began moving across the NICU toward them. Tanesha kicked the man’s right knee over and over again until he began to collapse. As he shifted, Tanesha snatched Rachel from his arms.

The man grabbed at the baby but Tanesha kicked him away. With the parents closing in, the man ran from the NICU. Cam moved to stop him. The man slashed at Cam with the scalpel he’d used to cut Rachel’s air supply. Cam fell back and the man reached the door to the stairwell just as Seth and Sandy ran off the elevator. Cam pointed Seth toward the stairwell and Seth immediately followed the man. Sandy ran to the NICU. The nurses were in action reconnecting Rachel to her air supply.

“Oh my God,” Tanesha clutched Sandy to her. “That man was going to steal my Rachel.”

Over Tanesha’s shoulder, Sandy watched the nurses work to remove Rachel’s breathing tube to replace it with fresh line. A doctor ran into the NICU.

“She’s been sedated,” the nurse told the doctor.

“Sodium Pentothal,” Sandy said.

“Seriously?” the doctor and nurses looked up at her.

“That’s Saint Jude,” Sandy said. “The serial killer. He was going to…”

Sandy began to cry. The doctor and nurses stared at her.

“She’s not lying,” Tanesha said.

Little Rachel gave a cry and the medical professionals returned their attention to her. They continued to work until Rachel had a new breathing tube and was reconnected to her monitors. They took blood samples. The nurse held her out to Sandy.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Tanesha asked. “It’s still my Rachel time.”

Sandy snuggled her tiny baby and kissed her cheek. For a moment, the women looked at each other. Tanesha hugged Sandy.

“You don’t have to,” Tanesha said.

“You saved her,” Sandy said.

Sandy kissed Rachel again and gave her to Tanesha. Tanesha sat down in the chair next to Rachel’s incubator.

“Just stay right here,” Tanesha said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sandy said.

Tanesha took Sandy’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Their eyes held again and Tanesha turned her attention to Rachel. She began singing Rachel a song. Cam pulled up a chair next to her.

“God, Sandy, I’m so sorry,” the nurse said. “I let him in. He said he was a friend of the family. He had a Saint Joe’s badge.”

“Dr. James?” Sandy asked.

“Psychiatry. He wrote that on the sign in sheet. I checked it against his badge,” the nurse said. “He told me you’d asked him to check on her neurological development. I thought it was weird but you have so many people helping out with Rachel. It seemed… possible.”

“He wasn’t on the list,” Sandy said.

“He wasn’t,” the nurse said. “But he had an excuse for that. He told me he ran into you at the police station this afternoon. We all knew you were going today. God, I’m so sorry. If any thing had happened to Rachel, I…”

Sandy nodded.

“It’s wonderful that everyone wants time with Rachel,” the nurse said. “Our head nurse is supposed to ask you how you set that up.”

“I have great friends,” Sandy said.

Seth came into the nursery. He hugged Sandy and leaned over Tanesha to say hello to Rachel.

“Didn’t catch him?” Sandy’s eyes reflected her worry.

“No, he knocked over a couple kids learning how to use their crutches on the stairwell. By the time I got past the mess, he was in his car. On-call doctors parking. The bastard smirked at me as he drove by. If it wasn’t so crowded, I would have shot him.” Seth face and voice were filled with despair. “I called dispatch. They sent it out to everyone, but…”

Sandy hugged him.

“How’s Rachel?” Seth asked.

“She’s a little sleepy,” the nurse said. “We’ll have to monitor her closely to evaluate the effects of the drug are.”

“Oh thank God,” Seth said.

“Is it true that was the serial killer?” the nurse asked.

“We need to get the Crime Scene Unit here to gather evidence,” Seth said. “Is there another incubator? We’ll need everything for evidence.”

“Yes Detective,” the nurse said. “I bagged everything…”

Sandy put her hand on Seth’s arm. He looked up at her.

“What about Ava?” Sandy asked.


Tuesday night — 5:30 P.M.

Ava had imagined hanging like this. She had processed the forensics from the barn as well as the Sand Creek bunker. She knew that young men and women had died right here. She’d been horrified and disgusted with the method. She and her forensic colleagues had called it torture. The Coroner compared it to water boarding.

Now that she was here, it wasn’t so bad.

Her wrists were tied to a six inch by six inch beam with her hands resting on top of the beam. A one inch round dowel was treaded under her elbows and around her back. The dowel was attached to the beam. Her weight was distributed between her wrists and the dowel. A thick leather strap went under her chin constricting her airway.

When she woke up here, she panicked and almost suffocated. She’d quickly learned to use the yogic breathing she and Beth had learned in college. She could breathe if she took deep, slow, calming breaths. Hanging here, she’d fallen into a meditative state. She was almost peaceful. The drug kept her pain free. Outside of the cold, she had a sense that she wouldn’t mind hanging here forever.

She remembered the Coroner saying that any sudden movement and the hanging person would break their hyoid bone. Death would come quickly after that. She resolved to stay as still as possible.

Of course, she wasn’t awake when he put her up here. Somehow, he’d lowered this beam, attached her to it, and then raised it again. She longed to turn her head to see if there was a mechanism that made it happen. There was no way she was going to risk her hyoid out of curiosity.

Her mother’s oft repeated reprimand repeated in her mind: ‘Curiosity killed the cat, Amelie.’ Not this cat.

“What are you doing?” the woman returned.

“Hanging,” Ava said.

The woman gave her a soft smile. Like a cool wind on a hot day, strains of music drifted in Ava’s direction.

“What is that?” Ava asked.

“Do you remember where you heard it?” the woman asked.

“Seth,” Ava whispered. “It was playing in his car the first time we kissed.”

Ava felt transported to that moment. She was sitting in his warm car. She’d wanted him to kiss her for at least a month. She’d enticed him with breakfast invitations, donuts, and her tight jeans. Finally, he was sitting right there.

She knew her mother would pitch a fit. He was an old man; she was a young girl. Yet, her body ached for him to make love to her.

Ava jerked herself back to the barn.

“It’s all right to let go, Amelie,” the woman said. “To remember for a while. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Will you let me know when he comes back?” Ava asked.

“Of course.”

Ava’s mind drifted to her favorite things: warm brownies over vanilla ice cream; chocolate chips straight from the bag; a cold drink from a high mountain spring on a hot summer day;

And Seth.


Tuesday night — 7:30 P.M.

Filled with rage and sorrow for losing Saint Jude at the hospital, Seth headed downtown. He had been so close, and lost him. He had to help search for Ava but he got no more than two feet into the building before he was turned away. He was too valuable to risk injury or death in this kind of search. Plus, Ava’s father, Attorney General Aaron Alvin was holding a press conference.

And Seth was in the way.

“We don’t interfere when you’re investigating, Magic,” the head of SWAT told him. “Let us do what we do best.”

“I’m just not willing to risk it, O’Malley,” the Chief told him. “Go home. We’ll call you.”

Seth went to an AA meeting, talked to his sponsor and eventually went home to bounce around the empty house.

His mind reeled with the events of the day: Bonita and his children had been murdered; the bastard had tried to take his baby Goddaughter right out of the NICU; his oldest daughter didn’t hated him, she was pregnant; his Julie Ann was a Marine; his daughters had taken his name back; and through it all, Ava was missing.

He tried to feed himself but burned his fingers trying to save the enchiladas from being consumed by flames. He tossed the smoking enchiladas in the sink and turned on the exhaust fan. Settling at the kitchen counter, he iced his fingers and tried to decide what to do with himself. As a distraction, he set the contents of his pockets on the counter. He put his wallet, keys, cell phone and USB flash drive into perfect alignment on the counter. He smiled at the sense of order.

With his unburned hand, he reached over the items to the plate of cookies. His hand was almost to the plate when he stopped moving. Beth’s documents. She’d given her life rather than give up these papers. He’d emailed a sent a copy of the documents to his investigative team but had never looked at them himself. Picking up the USB flash drive, he went to the downstairs computer.

He turned on the computer then went back for the plate of cookies. If he couldn’t have bourbon, he could certainly have a few cookies. He filled a steel water bottle and took his treats to the computer.

This computer was Maresol’s. He had to close her email account, the cumbia  music playing on Pandora, Facebook, rotating pictures of her grandchildren, Google sidebar, and recipe of the day before loading the USB flash drive. Computers were tools, not friends, he always told her. Maresol rolled her eyes at him.

He clicked open the scanned documents and leaned back in his chair to read. As his intern, Beth had seen some of Dr. James’s clients while working to get her hours for her license. She had been the primary therapist for Jeffy and Razor. Listening to the boys, Beth sensed that something wasn’t right with Dr. James. Unsure of what was happening, Beth had tracked some of his activities. Yet for all the fantastic details, details the District Attorney would have paid for, Beth had never connected Dr. James with the Saint Jude murders.

Why had Saint Jude killed her?

CSU had found remnants of these papers in Beth’s office. Saint Jude had taken precious minutes to shred and burn these papers in an ashtray before taking Ava. These papers had to be the key.

What was Seth missing?

Seth went over the documents again. He opened a spreadsheet to track every detail. On one page, he made a list of all of the children who were clients of Dr. James. On another, he tracked the dates. He continued working until he had a spreadsheet for every list of details in the reports. To be certain, he printed out Beth’s scanned documents and crossed off the information he had moved to a spreadsheet.

Then he saw it.

Dr. James had an office in Denver.

Dr. James had an office near Platte Park in one of the homeless shelters.

Dr. James lived in Hilltop.

Dr. James had a cabin outside of Granby.

Since finding the officer’s body in Beth’s office, the police had searched every known residence for Dr. Thaddeus James. They had found nothing to connect Dr. James with the Saint Jude murders. Yet in his bones, Seth knew Saint Jude’s arrogance would dictate a need for more memorabilia from his triumphant killing of these children. They just had to find them.

On the last page Beth had made a notation: Jeffy spent the winters on the high plateau in New Mexico. Charlie had told him that Jeffy wasn’t in town during the cold months. Had Jeffy stayed with Dr. James. Where? There was no evidence of Jeffy at any of Dr. James’s known residence.

Who was Jeffy to Saint Jude? Beth had an answer for that. Jeffy was Dr. Thad James’s foster son. He’d ‘rescued’ the boy from a couple of teenaged parents. He’d used Jeffy, and boys before him, to lure in victims. Saint Jude killed Jeffy because the boy had stopped doing what he was told. Saint Jude killed Jeffy because he had made a friend – Charlie.

Where did Jeffy stay in New Mexico? Seth hadn’t found anything more specific than the reference to the high plateau. He was about to give up when he saw a series of numbers in the margin of the page: 36 52 15, -105 53 10.4. GPS coordinates. Seth typed the numbers into Google Maps and came up with a satellite location. Using Google satellite maps, he peered down on a large Spanish style mansion on the edge of the plateau. He did a quick records check. The home was owned by Jude T. James.

Seth jogged to the kitchen for his cell phone. He called the New Mexico State police and gave them the GPS location. He called dispatch and had an officer sent to the Castle to warn Sandy and Aden that Saint Jude might come for Charlie. Of course, the night commander repeated what the Chief had told him: “Stay home; let the officers take care of this; get some rest; we going to need you tomorrow; you know this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Seth sat down at his piano and played through the initial composition of his new piece. He bit his lip.

Saint Jude still had Ava.

Every cop in the state was looking for her.

Shaking his head at himself, Seth went back to the kitchen. He put his wallet, phone, and USB flash drive back in his pocket. He went to the hall closet. He unlocked the wall cabinet and  an additional handgun and clips for his service revolver. He grabbed his digital camera and 3-D cell LED MagLite from the shelf. He stuffed them in his pocket. Picking up his thick leather jacket, he went around back to the garage.

Stay home?

Leave it to the officers?

Not tonight.

Seth clicked off the security system to the dark blue Bugatti Veyron his agent insisted he buy. This car topped out at two hundred and fifty three miles an hour. Pulling out of the garage, he set the police bubble on the roof.

Tonight, he was going to check Dr. Thaddeus James creepy hideouts.

Tonight, he was going to find Ava if he had to drive all the way to New Mexico to do it. He took Colorado Boulevard to the 270 and let the car go.

First stop, Brighton and the evil barn.


Tuesday night — 8:30 P.M.

Sitting on the couch next to the fireplace in the loft, Jacob clicked off his phone call and looked at his Blackberry. Glancing up, Jill waved for him to come say good night to Katy. Katy had only wanted her Mommy to put her to bed tonight. Once in bed, she wanted Jacob to tuck her in. Jill felt Katy was being excessive but Jacob didn’t mind. He went across the loft to give Katy kisses and wishes for a good night’s sleep. When he was done, he closed her door halfway and went to find Jill waiting for him in the kitchen area.

“I just got the weirdest phone call,” Jacob said.

Jill looked up from the tea kettle.

“I’m not sure what to make of it,” Jacob said.

As if it held answers to his questions, he looked at the phone again

“Did you get some dinner?” Jill asked.

“Delphie gave me a plate of left over casserole on my way up,” Jacob said. “It’s on the counter.”

“So you didn’t eat?” Jill asked.

Puzzled, Jacob looked up at Jill.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“Food?” Jill asked.

“Oh,” he said. “Right. Uh… Delphie said the oddest thing too.”

Jacob tapped his phone against his bottom lip. Jill laughed at his distraction.

“I’m going to heat up your dinner,” Jill said.

“Dinner?” Jacob asked. “Wait, I have to talk to you about this and I’m not getting anywhere.”

Jacob furrowed his brow and looked up into Jill’s amused eyes.

“I’m out of it?” he asked.

“You think?” Jill laughed.

Katy cried. Jill touched his arm and went to check on her. Jacob took a seat at the counter. After a few minutes, Jill came out carrying a weeping Katy. Half asleep, Katy was stringing words together and crying. She’d been speaking this nonsense language for about a month. Her pediatrician thought it was a kind of sleep walking for the super verbal child. Tonight was the first time she’d cried.

“The two people I love most in the entire world are not making any sense,” Jill said. “I bet they need each other’s comfort.”

Jacob held out his arms and Jill set Katy in them. Continuing her nonsense talk, Katy tucked into him. Jill finished making their tea and set a cup in front of him.

“What about dinner?” he asked.

“You said you wanted to tell me something,” Jill said.

“Did something happen today?” he asked.

“Saint Jude tried to take Rachel from the NICU,” Jill said.

“That’s horrible,” Jacob said.

“Sandy is beside herself with worry. She, Aden and the rest of us are taking turns at the NICU,” Jill said.

“Do I have a turn?” Jacob asked.

“Four,” Jill said. “After me. I go in at three. We thought Rachel was safe because Charlie didn’t have that special DNA the guy wants, but it turns out that Sandy was adopted.”

Jacob nodded. To cover his face, he took a drink of tea.

“You knew that,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“I didn’t,” Jill said.

“And Sandy?” Jacob asked.

“She’s Sandy,” Jill said. “She thinks it’s kind of funny. Charlie and Sissy are upset because now they aren’t siblings or something like that.”

“I’m sure they’ll work it out,” Jacob said.

Jill squinted at him.

“What do you know?” Jill asked.

“About what?” Jacob asked.

She mock hit him.

“Ow,” he said. “No violence young lady.”

Jill sniffed at him then returned to her tea. He winked at her.

“What would you say to a drive to Brighton?” Jacob said.

“Tonight?” Jill asked.

“I think so,” Jacob said.

“What about Katy?” Jill asked. “I don’t want to leave her here when she’s like this. It could be some weird psychic thing. She needs our help. And Jacob… you’ve been working a lot. I was hoping for a quiet night in. Can’t you do this tomorrow?”

“Work?” Jacob asked. “This isn’t work.”

“Okay, what is going on?” Jill asked. “Spill it.”

Denver Cereal continues next week…


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