CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-THREE
Monday night — 10:20 P.M.
Seth pulled Ava to her feet. Having been through this many times himself, he knew exactly what she needed. Warm water would hold and cleanse her. He helped her out of her stiletto heels, thigh high hose, dress and undergarments.
While she wept, he led her to the bathroom and under the shower head. She slid against the shower wall until she sat on the tiles. He undressed to join her there. He lifted her to her feet and pressed her against the shower wall. Between the warm water and the pressure of his body, she released some of her pain and loss. Soft animal sounds came from her open mouth. Her flood of tears were lost in the steady stream of warm water. He held her until the initial storm of sorrow passed. He helped her dry off and led her to the king sized bed. He wrapped his body around her while she cried.
Speech came slowly.
“I met her in second grade at Stanley. The British Primary. It was very important to my mother… her mother… Oh God, her mother,” Ava said. She couldn’t bring herself to say Beth’s name. “Assigned seating. She’s Baker. I’m Alvin… It was best seat in the house. That’s what we always said when we were assigned to sit together.”
Seth said nothing. He knew her grief would come in fits and starts. Right now, she needed to cry and talk.
“She was brave. I wasn’t.”
Lost in memory, Ava stopped talking. Seth got her a water bottle from the refrigerator. She puzzled at him but drank the bottle dry.
“She was kissed first, moved out first, stood up to her mother first, went on the pill first, told her father to shut up first, had sex first, made our parents buy our condo. She was perfect for me. My perfect friend. She…”
Tears came and Seth held her for a while.
“We had an agreement,” Ava said at last. “We didn’t talk about our relationships until they had been going on for six months. That’s what she wanted. She said it covered the slutty periods.”
Ava let out a tear-filled laugh.
“She met her boyfriend, Dale, the very first day of college,” Ava sobbed. “They’ve been together this whole time. He asked me about buying out my half of the condo. He’s been living there the last two years. Our parents don’t know. He wanted to marry her but she… Poor Dale. This will kill him… kill me.”
Tears came again.
“She didn’t want to be married until I was,” Ava said. “She didn’t want to leave me alone. She’d never had left me alone on purpose.”
Ava became fierce, almost angry.
“She made me finish college early,” Ava said. “She made me go to the FBI. Me, Amelie? I would have stayed home and knitted a sweater. That wasn’t acceptable to Beth. ‘We have to make something of our lives.’ She said that when we were six. What are you going to make of your life? She’d ask me over and over again.”
“What did she make of her life?” Seth asked.
“She was a child therapist. Specialized in rich kids with bossy fathers. She was amazing with kids. Wanted twelve of her own.”
“She went with me to the Cigarette Killer trial,” Ava said. “We read every Nancy Drew book and graduated to every mystery book in the library until I heard about forensics. She said I came alive with forensics. She wouldn’t let me give up when my mom was a bitch or my dad made fun of me. She was so brave… so brave.”
Ava rolled away from him. She curled up in a ball and wrapped her arms around her legs. He spooned around her.
“I haven’t seen her since everything went down at the mansion,” Ava said. “I… She’s always been there. You know, with me, even when she wasn’t with me, like when I was at Quantico. And now she died for me.”
“Is it possible she knew this guy, Saint Jude?” Seth asked. “Even the remotest possibility…”
Gasping, Ava jerked to sitting.
“She did,” Ava’s voice became clear and strong. “I know she did. She used to talk about a guy… She saw a bunch of street kids, rich kids who got thrown out. Oh my God. Her family’s been in Colorado since before it was a state. She has the mitochondrial DNA. I know it. She…”
Seth grabbed her before she moved to stand. For a moment, he held her tight.
“She was my best friend,” Ava said. “She didn’t know about you or where you lived or who you were. She didn’t know about tonight or… She just knew I was in love.”
Terrified by her admission, Ava began talking quickly.
“I loved the symphony,” Ava said. “It was unbelievable. So beautiful. I cried and laughed and felt such incredible pain and overwhelming joy.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I’m sorry. I have to get back,” he said. “I can just get them started and come right back.”
“You should go,” Ava nodded. “I need some… time… you know?”
“I don’t want to leave you here like this,” he said.
“Please. It’s what I need,” Ava said. “How much time do we have?”
“Maybe another ten minutes or so,” he said. “Will you stay here? I can get your parents.”
“The chief ordered me to stay here. You too,” Ava said. “I’m going to be brave. Beth would want me to be brave.”
“Be brave tomorrow,” Seth said. “Please… for me. It’ll give me great comfort to know you are here, safe and sound.”
Ava nodded. While Seth got dressed in the designer suit created for the auction, Ava put on his pajamas and picked up her clothing. She hung her dress in the closet. When he was dressed, he held her close.
“Please stay here,” Seth said.
“I have no where to go now,” she said. Tears filled her eyes, but she pushed them away.
Unsure of what to say, he held her close. There was a knock at the door and Seth’s agent poked his head in. His agent took in Ava’s distraught condition and began talking a mile a minute. One buyer wanted exclusive rights. Sony and Warner Brothers were competing against each other or maybe joining forces he wasn’t sure. The agent went on and on.
Ava gave Seth a wave and they left the room. She was just laying down when there was a tap on the door. Ava’s parents were let in by her policewoman.
“Amelie,” her mother said. She held Ava close. “You must be destroyed.”
Biting her lip to keep from bawling, she nodded.
Ava’s mother shifted back to review her daughter’s face. She took in Ava’s swollen red eyes, her dry cracked lips and the pajamas. Without saying a word, she held her daughter.
“What are you wearing?”
“Detective O’Malley gave me his pajamas,” Ava said. “The Chief has ordered me to stay here. There are two bedrooms.”
“You will come home with us this instant,” Ava’s mother said.
“He wants me,” Ava said. “The man who killed Beth is looking for me. I would only put you in danger.”
Ava’s father scanned his daughter’s face. His jaw set in a grim line and he gave a fierce nod.
“We are going home now,” he said.
“I’m safer here,” Ava said. “You’re safer without me.”
“I will not leave you here with that man,” Ava’s mother said. “Don’t you ask me to.”
“She’s right, Vivian. She is safer here. There are guards at the door and two bedrooms. She’ll be all right here,” Ava’s father said.
“You can’t make me do this,” Ava’s mother said.
“We have responsibilities to the public, Viv,” the Attorney General said. “We need to speak to Beth’s parents. There’s press to handle and… I need to get involved with this task force to get this bastard once and for all.”
For a moment, Ava’s father was caught on the career politician treadmill. He stopped himself and gave Ava a nod.
“You won’t take even one risk,” he said to Ava.
“I won’t,” Ava said. “I’ve been assigned my own policewoman. She’ll be with me all the time.”
He held his daughter close. With a nod, he took her mother’s hand and dragged her from the room. Ava could hear them arguing all the way down the hall.
She sighed and got into bed. Worn out by the roller coaster of emotions, she fell sound asleep. She woke up a few hours later to see Delphie sitting by her bed. The woman’s kind smile brought everything back.
“Oh God, Delphie,” Ava began to cry.
“Come now,” Delphie said. “Let’s get you some dinner.”
While she cried, Delphie helped her to sit up.
“I made a sandwich out of the steak they brought,” Delphie said. “I think it’s quite good.”
She held it up. Ava shook her head.
“How about some chocolate cake?” Delphie held up a large piece of chocolate cake.
Ava took the plate from her. Without saying another word, she ate the cake. Delphie held up the sandwich and Ava wolfed it down.
“I thought you’d be starving,” Delphie said. “My Valerie is like that. Never eats the day of a big event then is starving afterwards, especially if she’s upset. Would you like the other?”
“What about Seth?” Ava asked.
“He ate at the auction,” Delphie said.
She held up the second steak sandwich and Ava took it from her.
“Will you tell me about Beth?” Ava asked between bites.
“What do you want to know?” Delphie asked.
“The policewoman said she suffered horribly,” Ava’s eyes welled.
“She didn’t suffer,” Delphie said.
“How can you be sure?” Ava started. Not sure how to form the question, she focused on finishing the second sandwich.
“She told me, of course.” Delphie shook her head. “It’s complicated but she didn’t feel a thing. It’s always true when good people experience extreme violence. They are protected.”
“She has a file on Saint Jude. She’s been doing her own Nancy Drew detective work on him,” Delphie said. “The file is in her ‘usual hiding place’ in her office. She said you’d know exactly where to find it.”
“Is she here? Can I talk to her?” Ava asked.
“She’s moved on. For now,” Delphie said. “But she said to tell you that she’ll be back to haunt you in a ‘mean-assed’ way if you don’t get this guy and…”
Delphie smiled. She shifted a strand of Ava’s hair behind her ear.
“Beth wants you to marry Seth,” Delphie said.
“I don’t think I even have a chance.”
“Give it time,” Delphie hugged Ava. “Tonight, you need to rest. Would you like me to stay with you until Seth gets back?”
“You don’t have to.”
“He’ll be at the auction all night,” Delphie said. “They have him play this section or that. It’s really a big event. You’ll see when you go to the next one.”
Ava lay back against the pillows. The thought of being alone was almost more than she could bear.
“Would you mind staying with me?” Ava asked.
“Not at all,” Delphie said. “Let me tell Sam. He’s waiting in the hall for me.”
On her way to the bathroom, Ava heard Delphie’s voice and Sam’s deeper voice. Delphie came to the door of the bathroom.
“He’s going back to the party,” Delphie said. “He loves to people watch. Plus Val is there. They’re peas in a pod. They’ll have a grand time. Now come on, let’s get you back in bed.”
Delphie fluffed the pillows and held the covers up for Ava.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep a wink,” Ava said.
Delphie smiled and began to hum.
“What is that?” Ava asked.
“It’s a lullaby Seth wrote for his children,” Delphie said.
She hummed the entire lullaby.
“It’s been my favorite since…” Delphie started.
Ava was sound asleep. Delphie pulled a stuffed armchair by the bed and settled in to meditate. Seth arrived a few hours before dawn. Delphie hugged him and left to find Sam.
Seth removed his suit, showered and lay down next to Amelie. She made a noise, rolled on her side to nestle on his shoulder, but didn’t wake up. He reached up to shut off the side lamp. He kissed the top of her head.
“I love you Amelie,” he whispered and fell sound asleep.
Tuesday morning — 7:20 A.M.
Katy grabbed her shoes and climbed onto her bed. She slipped on her black Mary Janes and waited for her Mommy to come in to buckle them. She liked a little time to watch her shiny Mary Janes and her stripy purple tights when she swung her feet against the yellow bed spread.
“You think I don’t see you there,” Katy said to the female ghost who came into her room. “But I do.”
She continued swinging her feet against the bed.
“My Daddy says I don’t have to talk to any ghost. Not one,” Katy said. “If you don’t leave me alone, my Daddy will send you away. He doesn’t like ghosts.”
“I don’t care if you’re here for some reason,” Katy continued to ignore the ghost.
“Who are you talking to?” Noelle asked as she came into the room.
“Some ghost,” Katy said.
“Oh,” Noelle climbed onto Katy’s bed. “How is it to have school without Paddie?”
“All right,” Katy let out a big sigh. “Nobody likes me very much.”
Noelle nodded. Katy giggled.
“This is Noelle,” Katy said. “Not Nuala! Silly ghost.”
Noelle looked around the room to see Katy was talking to.
“Katy!” Jill called from the loft. “Are you still getting ready? We don’t want to be late for school.”
“Yes, Mommy,” Katy yelled. She turned to look at the ghost again and said, “Noelle’s Mommy is my Auntie Sandy. You are very silly.”
Katy turned to Noelle and smiled.
“Noelle is very pretty,” Katy said. “Are you happy now that those mean girls are gone?”
“Me?” Noelle asked.
“I’m ignoring the ghost,” Katy whispered. She swung her feet with extra flair to accentuate her point.
“Nobody likes me either,” Noelle said. “Daddy says it’s because he’s a boss at work. That’s probably true for you too.”
“At least we have real friends,” Katy said. “Paddie and…”
“Teddy,” Noelle brightened.
“And you!” Katy said.
“And you!” Noelle repeated.
“Charlie and Sissy are my brother and sister now,” Noelle said
“Stop that!” Katy yelled.
“I feel funny,” Noelle said.
“That’s because the ghost is touching you,” Katy said. “She keeps crying and saying, ‘my baby’ and calling you Nuala.”
“Nuala is my real mom’s name,” Noelle said. “You remember, she broke my cheekbone.”
Katy’s full attention jerked to Noelle. Katy’s dark eyes scanned Noelle’s face.
“What?” Noelle whispered.
“This ghost says she’s your grandmother,” Katy whispered. She pointed to the ghost.
Shocked and a little scared, the two girls turned to look in the direction Katy pointed.
“MOMMY!” Katy yelled.
Jill ran into the room.
“What?” Jill asked.
“This ghost keeps touching Noelle,” Katy said.
In one quick motion, Jill buckled Katy’s shoes, picked her up and held her hand out for Noelle.
“You will leave these children alone.” Jill stood as tall as she knew how. “They are children and don’t need to be involved with you or your problems. We are leaving now. I expect you to leave us alone.”
Carrying Katy and holding onto Noelle, Jill stormed out of the loft. They ran into Delphie in the kitchen.
“She just wants to see her granddaughter,” Delphie said. “She didn’t know about Nash or Noelle. Can you give her a moment?”
“She scared Katy and Noelle,” Jill said. “I will not tolerate that. Whatever else they might be, these girls are small children!”
“She’s very sorry,” Delphie said. “They’ve been looking for their daughter since they were killed.”
“They?” Jill sniffed.
“She and her husband, Mark,” Delphie said. “They’re the lovers. You know, from under the chapel?”
“And Nuala?” Jill asked.
“Their daughter,” Delphie said. “I guess that’s why Saint Jude never found her. She’s been in jail a good portion of her life.”
“What about me?” Noelle whispered. “Will he find me and Nash? Kill me and Nash?”
“I’ll kill him first,” Sandy said. Returning from kangarooing Rachel at the hospital, she walked into the kitchen from the living area.
The women and children turned to look at Sandy.
“No one’s going to hurt you or Nash,” Jill said. “No one.”
Tuesday morning — 10:45 A.M.
Seth woke slowly. In his mind, he reviewed every detail from last night. This pre-waking review was part of his sobriety. He went over the previous night until he got to the morning. Realizing Ava should be in bed, he reached an arm out for her.
The bed was empty. His heart seized with anxiety.
“Ava?” Seth called.
He heard movement. Rolling to the side table, he slipped his handgun from its holster. He ratcheted a round into the chamber and crept from bed. Standing against the half open door, he heard someone moving in the suite.
“Ava? Are you here?”
He closed his eyes for a brief second to implore God that she wasn’t already dead. He pushed open the door.
With his weapon out, he stepped into the hallway. The other bedroom and the bathroom were to his right. The bathroom fan buzzed like the propeller to a B-52 bomber. The open area of the suite stood in front of him. All three doors were half open. The suite door was to his left.
He pushed open the door to the second bedroom. Empty. He closed the door.
He stepped to the bathroom. With his back at the door, he pressed the bathroom door open. He flipped open the shower curtain. Empty. He shut off the fan and closed the door. He listened for movement. Hearing a rustling sound in the main suite area, he slid along the wall. He rotated into the doorway of the open living area.
And saw Ava.
Naked, she stood in front of the three full length mirrors next to the windows. Oblivious to him, she rotated back and forth to look at herself. The brilliant diamond necklace reflected sunlight around the room. When she rotated toward him, he saw her iPod earbuds in her ears and tears streaming down her face. He lowered his weapon and walked toward her.
“You brought your gun to a shoot out?” Yelling over her music, Ava tried to make a joke.
Seth pointed to her ears. She looked surprised then pulled her earbuds out.
“I was afraid for you,” he said.
She held him close. He kissed her wet cheek.
“I’m trying to decide where to get a tattoo,” Ava said.
He gave her a soft smile.
“I don’t ever want to forget Beth,” Ava said.
“You won’t ever forget Beth,” Seth said. “That’s impossible.”
She tucked her head into his shoulder. She kissed his shoulder then his chest. He stepped back to look into her face.
“Please make love to me,” Ava said. “I feel numb and so alone. Please…”
“I did promise you animal sex,” he said.
She smiled. He took her hand and led her back to their bedroom. Setting his weapon on the side table, he took her iPod from her and laid her back. Very slowly, very gently, he made love to her and she cried. She wept when they joined. She screamed and hit against him when they moved toward climax. She called out for him when she slipped into ecstasy. He kissed her face until she caught her breath.
“Again,” she whispered.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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