Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Six : The day after

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY-SIX

Monday morning — 2:25 A.M.

“He’s going down!”

Valerie screamed from her perch in the parking area where a somewhat hostile uniformed police officer had instructed she and Mike to stand. She took off toward the haunted mansion. She wove her way through the sea of Kevlar wrapped police officers and forensic people descending on the mansion’s main entrance. Tiny in comparison to the officers, she made little progress.

Mike barreled through the crowd. Without worry for who or what he trampled, Mike got to Jacob before he hit the ground. He grabbed Jacob and threw him over his shoulder.

“Where do you think you’re going?” a Colorado Bureau of Investigations agent asked. “I was talking to him.”

“You can talk to him later,” Mike said.

Out of breath, Valerie finally reached them.

“Please,” Valerie said. “My brother is ill. He’s not leaving town. You can interview him later, when he’s better.”

“I can easily arrest him if I…” the agent said. “You’re Valerie Lipson.”

“I am,” Valerie said. “This is my little brother, Jacob.”

“Let them go,” Seth said. “I know where to find him.”

“But…”

“O’Malley’s the boss,” the CBI Agent in charge said on his way toward the house. “Do as he says.”

“Take him home,” Seth said. “He did amazing things tonight.”

Mike nodded. He took Valerie’s hand and dragged her through the crowd of officers. At the car, she opened her passenger door and put the seat down. Mike laid Jacob in the back seat. Valerie jumped in and Mike sprayed gravel down the driveway.

“What do we do?” Valerie asked. “He can’t drink this water if he’s passed out. Should we take him to the hospital?”

“They don’t have cures for evil spirit soul invasion at the hospital,” Mike said. “Let’s get away from the place and see what I can do. I’m not as strong as Jill but…”

Jacob groaned.  Valerie shook his shoulder.

“Wake up Jake,” Valerie said.

“I’m awake,” he said.

“Then drink this.” Valerie thrust a bottle of water into his hands. “Do it now.”

“I don’t want to,” he said.

Valerie climbed into the back seat. She only had a second before he could over power her. She plugged his nose and poured the water into his mouth. He coughed, sputtered then sat up.  Seeing her stern look, he knew better than to protest.

“Why am I drinking this?” he asked.

“Because you promised you would when you came up here,” Valerie said. “Do it.”

His face twisted into a sneer, but he drank the rest of the water.

“Oh God, pull over,” Jacob said.

Mike pulled the Mustang to the curb. Jacob flew out of the car and threw up. Valerie rubbed his back until he was done. Mike gave him a hand towel. Valerie held out another bottle of water.

“What is all of this?” Jacob asked.

“Drink it and we’ll tell you,” Mike said.

He put his hand on Jacob’s shoulder. Jacob screamed.

“What the hell are you doing to me?” Jacob pulled his shirt back and an angry red palm print appeared on his skin where Mike’s hand had been.

“Oh God.” Tears began to fall from Valerie’s eyes. “It’s worse than you said it would be.”

“I said?” Surprised, Jacob’s full attention turned to her.

“You told me that you were vulnerable to this thing,” Valerie said. “You told me to get Jill and her family to prepare at least a liter of healing water for you to drink. You said you’d throw it up and if you were really under it had truly invaded your soul this would happen. You told me and Mike to come. You said that I was the only one who could get through to you no matter what.”

Valerie’s cool hand touched his shoulder.

“I said no such a thing,” Jacob laughed. “When did I say that? Why would I say it? I was fine until you…”

“You tell me Jacob Marlowe, when have I ever lied to you?” Valerie yelled at him in her best bossy sister voice. Her index finger pounded into his chest. “You name one time. Go on. Name one time.”

“I…” Jacob looked away from her.

“Look into my eyes, Jacob Marlowe,” Valerie said. “You do it this instant!!”

Jacob turned to face his sister. In that moment, their eyes locked. Valerie sent all the love she had for her baby brother. His pinprick pupil’s bounced wide. Holding her gaze, he snatched a bottle of water from her and drank it down.

He threw up again.

“I can’t… I can’t do it,” he said.

“Don’t give up, Jake. You can’t let this creature take your soul,” Valerie said.

With a nod, he took another bottle of water from her. This time, he didn’t throw up. He took another bottle from her and poured it over his head.

“Did you rent the hotel room?” He shivered in the cold night.

“Yes,” Valerie said. “It’s not far. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

“I better go before…” Jacob lashed out at Valerie with his fists. Horrified, she jumped back and Mike punched him hard behind the ear. Jacob went down in the weeds behind the road.

“I could see him fighting it,” Mike said. He picked up Jacob and stuffed him in the car. “I don’t know what…”

“Just drive fast,” Valerie jumped into the passenger seat.

Mike sped through the night to the Holiday Inn Express and Suites where Jill and her family waited. Jacob had warned them. If he fought with the evil entity, it was likely he would be invaded by some of its darkness. The darkness would grow until it controlled him.

Valerie just never believed it would happen to her baby brother. She climbed into the back seat and set his head on her lap. Closing her eyes, she did the only thing she could think of doing – she said the loving kindness meditation for him.

“Hang on, Jake. You can fight this thing,” Valerie whispered. “Just hold on.”

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 4:25 A.M.

Aden ran through the hospital. Skidding to a stop, he pushed open Sandy’s hospital door and gasped. Her bed was made. The flowers that had filled the room had been removed. The forest of metallic balloons was gone. Terrified, he stepped backward out of the door. He ran down the hallway toward the NICU.

“Mr. Norsen!” the nurse called after him. “Mr. Norsen!”

Unwilling to stop for even a moment, Aden continued to run through the hospital. His horrible nightmare induced by the evil entity was creeping into his reality. He slid across the waxed floor to the window of the NICU. Rachel’s incubator was empty. Unsure of what to do, he jogged to the door of the NICU.

“There you are,” the nurse said. “Gosh, you’re filthy. You’ll need to change. I have some clean scrubs right here.”

“Is… is Sandy here? Wh-where’s my daughter?” Out of breath, Aden’s words came out in puffs.

“Rachel? She’s resting with Sandy.” The nurse shook her head at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Rachel started to fuss around one o’clock. I hated to do it, but I had the nurse wake Sandy. Of course, she came down right away. They’ve been kangarooing since then.”

“Oh,” Aden said. He felt such an intense rush of relief that he fell forward. His hands caught his thighs. Still unsure if he was dreaming, he looked up to ask, “I thought we couldn’t kangaroo too long.”

“That’s true,” the nurse said. “I’ll probably get it when the doctor gets here. It’s just that every time we tried to put little Rachel back in her incubator, she went ballistic. Sandy even tried to hold her in the incubator. Rachel was so distressed, we decided to try to keep them both warm. They’re over there.”

The nurse pointed to a recliner. Sandy was wrapped in blankets with one over her head. Only her face showed.

“You ran right passed them,” the nurse said. “Let’s get you dressed so you can go see them. I know Sandy’s been worried about you.”

Aden let the nurse help him change into clean scrubs. The nurse put his clothing in a trash bag. She looked him over then led him to Sandy. Sandy’s face brightened when she saw him. She gave a little wave.

“Rachel, you’re Daddy’s here,” she said.

Aden felt like he floated across the floor on her smile. He leaned down to kiss her lips. The nurse indicated a nearby chair and he took it.

“How did it go?” Sandy asked.

“It was horrible,” Aden said. “And… kind of… awesome.”

“Awesome?” Sandy pushed off some of the blankets so Aden could see Rachel’s face.

“Hi Rach,” Aden said.

Rachel opened and closed her eyes. She nestled back into Sandy. Aden helped Sandy put the blankets over them.

“How was it awesome?” Sandy asked.

“You remember me talking about my brother Mark?”

“He was supposed to come to Denver to set the next scam,” Sandy said. “But instead he came here, met a girl, got married and pregnant. When your family arrived, there was nothing set up. Your father was furious. You were six.”

“I like that you remembered that,” Aden said.

She smiled.

“After I got my GED, I decided I’d go and find Mark. He was my favorite brother. I always liked that he stood up to Dad and…” Aden said. “Anyway, that’s how I got to the mansion. Celeste’s father ran a little grocery store near Barr Lake.”

“How did you get to the mansion?” Sandy asked.

“They’re there,” Aden said. “Trapped in the mansion. Mark and Celeste. Delphie says they’re the ‘lovers’. You know, the skeletons found under the Castle. They haunt the mansion in Brighton.”

“Was it nice to see them?” Sandy asked.

“Yeah,” Aden said. “It was really nice. I guess they protected me from the evil thing that lives there.”

“We wondered how you did that,” Sandy smiled. “I thought it was your profound lack of psychic capacity.”

“How’s Jake?” Aden asked.

“Not great,” Sandy said. “Jill called a little while ago. I’ve been here trying to send him love or light. Mostly, I’m saying the rosary.”

“I’m…” Aden’s eyes filled with tears. He sniffed and looked away.

“What is it?” Sandy asked.

“I had this dream or sort of dream, a nightmare really,” Aden said. “I dreamed you spiked a fever and died. Rachel died too.”

“I did spike a fever,” Sandy said.

“You did?” Aden asked. “How…? What…?”

“Blane was here,” Sandy said. “He brought the fever down. In fact, he had just taken the needles out when they came to get me for Rachel. I would have been asleep otherwise.”

“I’m glad Blane was here,” Aden said.

“Me too,” Sandy said. “Did Seth find his killer?”

“They found his ‘trophies’ in the crypt,” Aden said. “Forty trophies, one from each of his victims.”

“Then they haven’t found all the bodies?” Sandy asked.

Aden shook his head.

“So sad. Those poor families. Poor Seth,” Sandy said. “He must be crazed.”

“He and Delphie will find them,” Aden chuckled. “They’re quite a team. Like brother and sister.”

Sandy smiled.

“Shall we try to set Rachel in bed?” Sandy asked. “Seems like she’s finally out.”

Aden nodded. He helped Sandy with the blankets and lifted Rachel from her chest. Rachel yawned. He kissed her face and gave her back to Sandy. Sandy and the nurse put Rachel back in her incubator. They watched as she fell sound asleep.

“I bet we’ll be able to take that CPAP out in the next day or so. She doing great,” the nurse said. When Aden began taking the scrubs off, she said, “Why don’t you bring them back after you clean up? I think you should burn these.”

The nurse held up the trash bag with his filthy clothing. Nodding, he took it from her. Sandy hugged the nurse and thanked her for everything. With Aden’s arm around Sandy, they left the NICU.

“Buy you a cup of coffee?” Aden asked.

“I’d like to pray for Jacob,” Sandy said. “He’s done so much for me, and the kids and…”

“Let’s go to the chapel,” Aden said.

Smiling, Sandy nodded. She’d been worried he wouldn’t want to join her. She was glad he was the kind of man who’d want to pray for their friend. They turned down the hallway toward the hospital’s chapel.

“What happened to your flowers?” Aden asked.

“A nurse took them to a women’s shelter,” Sandy said. “I get so many every day. I thought…”

“And the balloons?”

“Children’s Hospital,” Sandy said. “One of the docs was on his way there. He asked. You were there when he came by.”

“I forgot,” Aden nodded.

“Why?”

“I thought you were…” Aden shook his head unable to finish the sentence.

“Dead? Not yet. You better keep sending those flowers,” Sandy laughed.

“I will,” Aden said.

“You had some night,” Sandy said.

“I had some night.”

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 5:30 A.M.

Delphie set the last of her white daisies down on the final grave. Standing on the hill above the mansion, next to the barn, she looked down the row of nineteen graves. She bowed her head to pray for the souls she had rescued. Her hand went to her heart when she thought of it.

They all died within hours of each other. One child became ill, her mother had said. Just one child. They didn’t think anything of it. By morning, they were all dead. No one in the house survived the Spanish Flu. The only survivor was the youngest son. He was away at Harvard. When he couldn’t reach his father, he sent the postal clerk to the house. They’d been dead for three days. The son came home, cleared out the house, locked it and never returned. How could anyone expect him to?

Delphie sniffed back her sorrow at the sad story. Hearing footsteps, she turned to look.

“Seth said you were here,” Sam said.

“These poor souls died within hours of each other.” Delphie said. “Can you imagine? One child got sick and they were all dead by morning. Every single person.”

“God, how awful,” Sam said.

“These souls have been trapped in that house since 1918,” Delphie nodded her head toward the mansion.

“Did you set it right?” Sam asked.

“As much as I could,” Delphie said. “But, Sam, what’s going to happen to these poor people’s graves? They aren’t marked on any map and all of this land will be tract houses by the middle of next year.”

Sam lowered his eyebrows.

“We have to do something,” Delphie said. “We can’t let them build on top of the  remains of these poor souls.”

“What do you suggest?” Sam asked.

“We move them somewhere,” Delphie said.

“Sounds expensive,” Sam said.

“Why do you care?” Delphie asked. “Sam… Oh, you’re joking.”

Sam smiled.

“Should you be at work?” Delphie asked.

“Jacob’s pretty sick,” Sam said. “I gave everyone the day off.”

“Can you afford that?” Delphie asked.

“I can’t afford not to… Oh you’re joking,” Sam smiled at her. “Come on, let’s get you out of the cold. You need to eat and rest. Jake’s going to need our help today.”

Delphie nodded.

“You promise, you’ll look after these poor graves,” Delphie said.

“I don’t have to promise,” Sam said. “I have you to remind me.”

Delphie smiled. Sam held her close.

“I heard it was an awful night,” Sam said.

“Horrifying,” Delphie said.

“Come on,” Sam said. “There’s a warm hotel room very near by. You can take a bath, eat some warm food and recover from the horror.”

Delphie smiled. She let him take her hand and lead her to his car. He turned on the seat warmers and the heat. They were about a half mile from the house when Delphie sighed.

“I just hope that never happens to me,” Delphie said.

“Your remains will probably be revered as spiritual relics,” Sam said. “People will fight over the care of them.”

“God, that’s worse,” Delphie laughed.

“It’s nice to hear you laugh,” Sam said. “It was really horrifying?”

“Worse.”

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 6:30 A.M.

Ava woke to the sound of delicate piano music. Unsure of where she was, she closed and opened her eyes. She smiled.

She was at Seth’s house.

When they’d finished the preliminary forensics work in that awful mansion’s awful crypt and had catalogued all of the disgusting ‘trophies’, Seth had asked her what her choice was. Exhausted, she shook her head then slept most of the way back to Denver. He woke her when they neared Denver and asked again. She’d said she wanted to go to his house.

She’d told him she didn’t care if it was messy. She didn’t care if it was small. She just wanted to be safe and warm. Seth had given her a long look then turned off Colorado Boulevard onto Montview. He parked his car in front of one of those huge mansions that had been split up into apartments. She was so exhausted she didn’t bother to look around. He’d led her up the stairs to his bedroom. He’d gently undressed her then tucked her in. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

She reached out for Seth, but he wasn’t there. Sitting up in bed, she saw that he hadn’t slept in the bed. In the dim morning light, she looked around the large room. She was lying in an antique four poster bed. The room was spotless and beautiful. Large antique mullioned windows were framed in dark oak. The wood floors were covered with antique Turkish rugs. She picked up her clothing to put it on and realized it was filthy. Spotting a door, she went to use the large bathroom. She slipped on the white bathrobe hanging on the door and went to find Seth. He couldn’t be far in this small apartment.

She opened the door to the bedroom and gawked.

This wasn’t an apartment.

She shrugged. She didn’t care if he rented a room here. Careful not to wake the other residents, she slipped down the wide oak staircase and down to the main level. Her feet padded on the shining oak floors. She followed sound of the piano until she found carved double hung sliding doors. She pressed her head against the door. A cell phone rang.

“O’Malley,” Seth’s gravely voice came through the doors.

She opened the sliding doors to find a wide open drawing room. The morning light was just beginning to filter in through the sheer curtains. Delicate Queen Anne antique furniture was grouped in sitting arrangements around the large room. The focal point of the room was a Grand Piano. Seth was sitting on the piano bench. Hearing her, he finished his conversation and looked up. He smiled.

“Did I wake you?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“What is this place?” she asked.

“My home,” he said. “You wanted to see it.”

“The whole thing?”

“The whole thing.”

“But…” she started.

“How can I afford all of this on a cop’s salary?” Seth returned to playing the piano. “It’s amazing how much money a cop can make by pulling the right strings and losing the right evidence for the right people.”

Gaping, Ava stood in the middle of the room. Seth continued playing. When he looked up at Ava’s shocked face, he laughed. He played and laughed until she turned to leave the room.

“I inherited it.”

He raised a shoulder in a shrug. Unsure of what to do, she sat down next to him on the bench.

“Seriously?” she asked.

“Serious as a dirge,” he said.

“What are you playing?” she asked. “I feel like I’ve heard it before but…”

“You might have,” he said. “It’s something I wrote when I was a kid. After last night, I needed something comfortable and familiar.”

He continued to play through her stunned silence.

“The Colorado Symphony play this concerto in their Colorado composers series. It’s been in a couple movies. You know those preachy, too-serious documentaries? My work is popular with the independent film makers.”

Ava’s surprise kept her silent. He continued playing.

“My mother used to say that I was born playing the piano. I’m glad she missed the time I stopped playing when I was high all the time. It would have killed her. I still wrote music but mostly because I have to.”

“Have to?” Ava asked.

“That’s how it feels,” Seth said. “The piano is one of the gifts of sobriety. I love to play. I think it’s the only time I’m truly at peace with myself. I write music when I’m working on a big case.”

“But…” she started.

“What?” he stopped playing to look at her.

Embarrassed, she didn’t say anything else.

“You thought I lived in some junked out house filled with take-out containers and trash. Cop’s lifestyle.” He leaned forward to kiss her nose. “I might have but Maresol, my housekeeper, hates messes. She runs this house like a well oiled machine. She’ll be here in a little more than an hour. Would you like some breakfast? She makes the most amazing pancakes. If we ask nice, she’ll even make donuts.”

Seth fingers moved across the keyboard in the quick and lively Mozart Concerto 11.

“How many people know about this?”

“About what?” Seth asked. “The house? Or the music?”

“Any… All…”

“Not many,” Seth said. “It’s not a secret. I just don’t bring people home.”

“Why?” Ava asked.

“Too much to explain,” he said. “It’s still your choice. What would you like?”

“We have an hour?” she asked.

Ava raised her eyebrows. Without saying another word, he took her hand and led her to his bedroom.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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