Two days later Wednesday, 7:45 A.M.
Sweaty from their workout, Aden and Sandy walked hand in hand toward his car. Yesterday, their heat, and the privacy of his sedan’s tinted windows, led to a fast, hot indiscriminant romp outside Sandy’s condo.
“But not today,” Sandy said.
“Why not?” Aden said.
“I’m bruised from the steering wheel.” Sandy laughed.
“We could always….”
Aden stopped talking. Sandy’s Godfather Seth O’Malley was leaning against the trunk of his car.
“Detective O’Malley.” Aden shook the Denver Police Detective’s hand.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Seth said. “I need to speak with Sandy. I waited outside her condo yesterday morning….”
Blushing, Sandy laughed.
“I figured I’d meet you here before anything started,” Seth said. “You have a home with a private bedroom….”
“Sir,” Aden said. “We….”
“It’s all right, son,” Seth said. “It happens. I’ll take her home.”
Aden gave Sandy a chaste kiss on the cheek then got in his Saab sedan.
“I’ll call you later,” Aden said. “I have Nash’s conference today.”
Sandy nodded. Standing to the side, she watched Aden drive out of the parking lot. They walked to Seth’s dark blue Chevy sedan.
“How about a donut?” Seth said. “LaMar’s is close.”
“Seth O’Malley! Those donuts will kill you! You know what the doctor said about your insulin level and cholesterol.”
“So you want a donut?” Seth shrugged.
“Sure,” Sandy laughed.
They drove to LaMar’s in silence. Seth was not one for idle chit chat. Still happy from her hour with Aden, Sandy enjoyed her post-workout glow in peace and quiet. Seth pulled into the parking lot and got out to open Sandy’s door.
“You’ve been working a lot,” Seth said.
“Just this time of year,” Sandy said. “I twiddle my thumbs every January.”
Out of things to say, Seth nodded. He held the door for her. She ordered a cup of coffee and a cinnamon cake donut. The counter girl knew Seth by name. She prepared what appeared to be Seth’s usual order – two glazed chocolate donuts and a chocolate glazed twist. They had their usual argument over payment. Not wanting to spoil her good mood, Sandy let him pay. She picked up their coffee and was sitting at a table when he gestured that they should leave.
“I need to speak with you,” Seth said. “I don’t want to do it there.”
“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.
Leaning into her, he said into her ear, “It’s about your father.”
Sandy’s face flushed. She nodded. Her great mood evaporated with the mere mention of her biological father. While Seth waved to the women behind the counter, Sandy withdrew in her mind. He held the door for her then opened her car door.
Dazed, Sandy watched the sidewalks fly past her window. Sixth Avenue became Santa Fe. Tiny art studios and authentic Mexican food restaurants zoomed by. Santa Fe became Ninth Avenue. Sagging Victorians turned to well loved homes. He stopped the car on the bend across from the First Mennonite Church next to Sunken Garden Park. Seeing the trees, Sandy’s mind began to return to the car. He left the car idling to keep them warm.
“Donut?” Seth offered Sandy his donuts. She shook her head.
“It looks cold today.” Sandy broke her silence with the obvious. “Aden was going to teach me how to ski this winter.”
“We’re on a cool off period,” Sandy said.
Seth laughed harder. Sandy laughed. Taking a drink of his coffee, Seth’s mood changed. Instinctively, Sandy pulled her coat closer.
“There’s an international task force looking into… you know….” Seth blew out a breath. “I guess, there’s a situation with the UN peace fighters. This group has been tasked to look at anyone who’s selling….”
“Right,” Seth said. “Your Dad….”
“Don’t call him that,” Sandy said. “I only had one Dad, and he’s dead.”
“Ok, ok, sorry Sandy,” Seth said. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think about how to talk to you about this. I’m not good at talking. Especially when I’m pissed off. Why do you think I have so many ex-wives?”
“Ok, Seth,” Sandy said. “This international task force? What do they have to do with the prick?”
“He came up on their radar. He’s got a website with videos for download or play. He has a supplier in China. The videos are shipped from China through Canada, then to Denver,” Seth said. “He’s got distributers throughout the world.”
“I made some quiet inquiries when Jill brought me the cash he’s been giving you,” Seth said. “You knew she did that right?”
“And… well…. I promised your Dad that I would keep you out of the news and out of harms way. I swore to him on his death bed. But… I can’t keep you from this.”
“This international group… they contacted Vice about the prick. Vice has been following him for a few months. They think he’s trying to recruit new girls. He’s spending a lot of time around schools. They haven’t seen anything they can pick him up for, and the international group wants the whole chain, not just your… I mean, the prick.”
“The videos on the website…. Those are…”
“Yes,” Seth said. “They are of you. I couldn’t look. My buddy in Vice said they go back to when you were….”
“A toddler,” Sandy said. “Had to work off the child support.”
Not speaking, they sat with the discomfort of their own thoughts. They drank their coffee.
“Aden’s son was beaten up on Monday. Some kid said he has a video of me,” Sandy said. “Sounds like he probably does.”
“He probably does,” Seth said. “Sick fucker. Do you know his name? It’s illegal to have that crap on your computer or in your home. We’ll bust him….”
Sandy began to visibly shake. Seth pulled her to him. He held her until her shaking slowed.
“You have to tell him,” Seth said. “Aden. Sandra, need to tell him.”
Sandy shook her head with such violence that the car rocked.
“I’ll tell him if you don’t,” Seth said. “That man loves you. He’s got to know. He can help you because….”
“There’s going to be a trial. Unless the prick gets more girls, they plan to move on him after the first of the year. They’ll need you to testify. Grand jury first, then….”
“Why would I do that? Destroy my whole life? I should just take the money and move to Paris or Rome or….”
“Sandra, he’s recruiting other children,” Seth said. “It’s only a matter of time. You can stop him, put him away once and for all.”
“What about Mom? This will kill her.”
“Your mother will have to live with what she’s done,” Seth said. “She’s stronger than you think.”
Each listening into their own worries, they fell silent again.
“I need to get to work,” Sandy said. “I have a client in forty minutes.”
Seth put the car into gear and drove toward her home. Pulling to the curb, he stopped the car.
“I’d do anything for you. You know that,” Seth said.
“I know,” Sandy said. “Thanks Seth. I appreciate you giving me the heads up. I’m just not sure what to do.”
“You need to tell Aden,” Seth said. “Tell him by Friday or I’ll tell him Saturday morning.”
“What?” Sandy said. “That’s too soon.”
Seth held out ten tickets to the Denver Zoolights.
“Let the girls take the kids to the Zoolights,” Seth said. “You can tell him while they are out.”
Sandy took the tickets and got out of the car.
“Love you Sandy,” Seth said. “I’ve done everything I can to make this go away. I’ll do anything now to make it….”
“Better,” Sandy said. “I know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s time to stop running and face it. I can’t allow another little girl to go through what he did to me.”
“That’s my girl,” Seth said. “I’ll be in touch.”
Sandy closed the passenger door to his car. On autopilot, she made it to her condo and through her shower. Looking into the mirror, she barely recognized herself.
Just a half hour ago, she’d been happy. The girl in the gym mirrors laughed, smiled, giggled. That girl stole kisses behind the machines. But the girl who looked back at her now looked weighted down by something awful. She nodded to herself. It was time to put this ghost to rest.
Closing the door to her condo, she dialed Aden.
“Hey honey,” Aden said.
“How about a date on Friday night?” Sandy asked. “Seth gave me tickets to the Zoolights. I thought we could get Heather and Tanesha to take the kids and have a little grown up time.”
“YES! YES! YES! I’m in!”
“We can work out the details tomorrow morning,” Sandy said.
“Oh honey, you’ve made my day! Love you Sandy.”
“Yeah, love you too.”
Sandy closed her phone and walked into her salon. Glancing in the mirror, she saw that the reflection looked less haunted. She smiled at herself. For the first time in a long time, she felt brave.
And absolutely terrified.
p align=”center”>~~~~~~~~~ Wednesday afternoon – 2:30 P.M.
“Paddie is going to be so jealous,” Katy said.
“How come?” Delphie set her down on the kitchen counter.
“’Cuz I get to lick the bowl!” Katy grinned. “Do I get to lick the bowl?”
“You’ll have to fight me for it.”
Valerie came in wearing her winter workout gear. She had a knit hat pulled down over her dark hair and was carrying her jacket.
“I’m good at fighting,” Katy said. “I’ve been practicing. Wanna see?”
Valerie laughed. She kissed Katy’s cheek.
“I’m off for a run,” Valerie said. “It’s warmed up a bit. I have five miles I need to get in today.”
“We’ll have brownies when you get back,” Delphie said.
“That’s the kind of inspiration I need,” Valerie said. She kissed Katy’s cheek again then hugged Delphie. “See you in a bit.”
Delphie started getting out the ingredients for brownies.
“How is it to be four?” Delphie asked.
“I’ve been FOUR for two days. It’s pretty great. But so was being three. And some day I’ll be as old as you! How it to be old?”
“Good,” Delphie said. “I don’t feel very old.”
“I don’t feel very old either!”
Delphie chuckled. She set the chocolate and butter in the double boiler to melt. She set out the eggs for Katy to crack.
“I saw that man?” Katy tapped an egg against the bowl. “The one who scares you?”
“What man?” Horrified, Delphie’s voice shifted a pitch.
“The one that looks like man but is a monster inside.” Katy gave Delphie the egg shell. “Can I use the mixer?”
“Of course.” Delphie got out the electric mixer and set the blades. “You remember….”
“Don’t touch while they are moving,” Katy and Delphie said together.
Delphie kissed Katy’s forehead.
“Be careful,” Delphie said. “Where did you see him?”
“He was talking to Daddy at my birthday party.”
Katy held her hands out to hold the mixer. Delphie put her arm around Katy so they could blend the eggs together.
“But that’s not the first time I saw him,” Katy said. “I saw him in a dream first.”
“Uh huh,” Katy said.
“What did you see?”
“I saw that man put a trap around your brain,” Katy said. “I didn’t understand it, but it was like he put his hands on your brain. If you left or did something he didn’t like, he would squish your brain.”
“He did it with his mind, Katy. It was awful.”
“Daddy says the bad man can’t do that now,” Katy said.
“No, he can’t do it to you because Daddy fixed your head,” Katy said. “He can only do it to a child now. Like me or maybe Paddie. But he won’t do it to us .”
“Because my Mommy will kill him,” Katy said.
Wednesday – 3:45 P.M.
“I just want to get this straight,” Aden said.
The Assistant Principal’s office was at least a hundred degrees. Nash had stripped to his t-shirt but Aden wanted to appear professional. He was melting in his suit and tie. This beady eyes administrator looked something between the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a blow fish. The man reeked of sweat and fried food. Dark sweat stains formed half moons under his arm pits. His dark eyes flicked back and forth between Nash and Aden.
“You’re saying that, even though the boys were bigger than Nash, and even though your witnesses say that the other boys antagonize Nash every day AND started this fight, Nash is responsible for the fight.”
The Assistant Principal began cleaning his glasses with his rumpled, food encrusted shirt. He’d breathe on the glasses then wipe with the shirt. Breathe on the other lens, then wipe.
“This is not making sense to me,” Aden said. “Help me here. How is Nash responsible for the fight?”
“Nash was defending your….” The Assistant Principal sniffed. “Girlfriend. The boys were merely stating the facts. Your girlfriend is a prostitute. And your son went nuts.”
Nash shifted in his chair. Aden put his hand on Nash to keep him calm.
“She’s a hairdresser,” Aden said. “I could call her at her work right now.”
“That’s what you say,” the Assistant Principal pushed his glassed closer to his face with one puffy hand. “The other boys say she’s in a pornographic movie they own.”
“Have you seen this movie?”
“That is neither here nor there, Mr. Norsen. The point is that your son takes martial arts courses. According to witnesses, he put up quite the fight. In fact, one boy is bruised.”
“One boy who weights a hundred pounds more than Nash.”
“We don’t discriminate here, Mr. Norsen.” The Assistant Principal started working on his glasses again.
Aden stopped himself from saying ‘What?’ again. He felt like he had landed in quick sand. Every time he took a step, he sunk into the sand. Time to get out of here.
“What do we need to do to resolve this issue?” Aden asked.
“Nash will be allowed to return to school tomorrow. I’m barring your….” Slipping on his glasses, the sneering Assistant Principal looked Aden up and down. Aden felt as if the man had stuck out his greasy tongue and licked him from head to toe. “Girlfriend from the grounds. She’s… disruptive to young people.”
“That’s fine,” Aden said. “Will there be anything else?”
“His homework will have to be up to date,” The Assistant Principal said.
“I’ve completed everything for this week,” Nash said.
“Sass. You’re just a sassy little kid.” The Assistant Principal raised a pudgy finger to Nash. “You won’t get a second chance. This is it. Another fight and you’re on the streets. You, sir, need to punish this child. He is too independent for his own good.”
“I’ll consider it, sir,” Aden said.
“Where’s your sass now? Huh?” The Assistant Principal asked.
Aden put his arm on Nash’s shoulder to hold him in his chair.
“Thank you, sir,” Aden said. “I’ll take care of this at home.”
Aden grabbed Nash’s shoulder and pushed him out of the room. With his arm over the boy’s shoulder, he negotiated him through the school to his car. He locked the car doors so that Nash couldn’t escape while he went around to the driver’s side.
“That was unpleasant,” Aden said.
“IT’S TOTALLY UNFAIR!” Nash yelled. “I didn’t do anything. Sandy didn’t do anything. I’m responsible for the fight! That’s going in my permanent record. That’s what he said. I’ll never get into college now and….”
“No one cares about your permanent Junior High record.” Aden pulled out of the parking lot. “At least no one cared about mine.”
“Oh,” Nash said. “Do I have to go back?”
“You have to go back,” Aden said. “Life isn’t fair sometimes. Everyone gets the shaft sometimes. It’s good to learn not to let it get you down.”
“But do I have to go back?”
“I mean really, Dad,” Nash said. “It’s not the best environment for my mental and emotional development.”
“Talking to Mrs. Helen from the Marlowe school?” Aden asked.
“She came into the office while I was stamping envelopes for Blane,” Nash said. “How did you know?”
“She called,” Aden said.
“Are you mad at Sandy? Because I don’t think….”
“Mad at Sandy? Because of that toad?” Aden laughed. “Everyone has a past, Nash. I don’t know what they’re talking about and I don’t really care.”
“Even if she was in a movie?”
“What’s it to me? I know it’s confusing. Your age is all about ego – how cool or not cool you are, what you listen to, how you dress.” Aden laughed.
“Mr. Colin talks a lot about ego.”
“I bet he does,” Aden said.
Nash was quiet for a while.
“Really, Nash, think about it,” Aden said. “I know she’s been with other people. So have I. I don’t need to own her. Why should I care if she was in a movie?”
“You’re not embarrassed?”
“I’m not embarrassed.” Aden laughed. “I’m not embarrassed of you and I’m not embarrassed of her. I love you both.”
“But doesn’t that make her a whore?” Unable to let it go, Nash pressed on. “You’d want to date a whore?”
“Think of it this way,” Aden said. “If you were going to pick someone to play soccer with you, would you pick the person with some experience or the person who’d never played before?”
“Oh,” Nash said. “Why is it such a big deal then?”
“Because no one you know has had sex,” Aden laughed. “If some girl has had sex, there must be something wrong with her. Or worse. She’s not having sex with them.”
“But it’s different for boys?”
“Most of the time, yes,” Aden said. “Now that’s unfair.”
“I like Sandy, Dad,” Nash said. “I don’t think she’s a whore.”
“I love Sandy,” Aden said. “Let’s pick up Noelle and go to Liks for malts.”
“Aren’t you rewarding me for poor behavior? My independence?”
“I hope so,” Aden said.
Wednesday night – 11:50 P.M.
“I should go,” Mike said. “I want to go.”
With her legs wrapped around his hips, he carried Valerie into the kitchen. To help build muscle, she had to drink protein shakes every four hours, including one at midnight. For the last month, he’d carried her down to the kitchen. Sometimes, they were dressed like tonight – he in his boxer briefs and she in a tank top and tiny lace panties. Frequently, they were naked. They never saw anyone on their midnight protein feeding.
“You’ll be so bored,” Valerie said. “Fourteen days in the Czech republic? With me working sixteen hour days?”
“So? I can draw or paint. Plus who’s going to make your protein shakes?”
Mike set her on the counter then began getting out the ingredients for her protein drink.
“What about your showing? Your first ever art show? Here at the Denver Art Museum?”
“They’ll have all the pieces by the end of the year. I can just show up for the event,” Mike said. “That’s what the movie stars do.”
“Why should I miss you every moment of every day for almost a month?” He dumped measured scoops of chocolate protein powder into the shaker then poured ice water over it. He was dropping in ice cubes when she said,
“No, Val,” Mike said. “I’m serious. I don’t….”
She put her hand over his mouth.
“Do you hear that? Sounds like someone calling for help.”
Behind her hand, Mike shook his head. His eyes puzzled then he nodded. Valerie jumped down from the cabinet. Creeping into the Castle living area, she tilted her head to the side to listen. She walked toward the side door then shook her head. Mike pointed toward the hallway where Sam and Honey’s rooms were located. Valerie crept to the door then ran to Honey’s door.
Mike kicked the door open.
“Honey?” Valerie called
“Honey?” Mike’s face concentrated on hearing the sound. Pushing past Valerie, he walked into Honey’s living room. Valerie peeked into her bedroom.
“She’s in the bathroom!” Valerie said.
Honey lay in a heap on the bathroom floor. She looked like she’d fallen off the toilet. There was blood underneath her. Valerie touched Honey’s shoulder and she moaned.
“I’m losing my baby,” Honey mumbled.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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