CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and EIGHT
Monday early morning — 5:25 A.M.
Jill woke with a start. She wasn’t sure what had startled her, but Jacob wasn’t in bed. She lay there for a moment before remembering that he wasn’t working at Lipson Construction anymore.
Hearing an odd sound, she got out of bed to find him.
Jill checked Katy’s room. Sometimes when Katy had a vision, Jacob would stay with her until she was settled.
Wandering out into the main loft area, she turned off a light in the kitchen. Jacob wasn’t in any of their living areas. She turned to look at the rooms. He’d been so excited to have another child. Maybe he was planning a nursery. She stuck her head in the empty room.
She heard the sound again. Thump, thump, thump.
The door to her office was closed. She always closed her office when she was done with work or school work. Standing at the door, she paused.
What if he was doing something she didn’t want to know about? She’d heard all kinds of stories about men who went to chat rooms or played games on the Internet or maybe he was downloading porn.
She heard the sound again and smiled. The sound was Sarah, Jacob’s Labrador’s tail hitting the floor when she wagged. Thump, thump, thump. Jill opened the door.
Jacob was working on her computer with Sarah under his feet.
Less than a week after being forced out of Lipson Construction and Jacob was working again. Jill laughed.
Hearing her laugh, he looked up.
“Hi,” he said. He held an arm out and she tucked herself into him.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Uh,” Jacob looked at her then at the blueprint on the computer screen. “Downloading porn?”
“Don’t read my mind,” Jill laughed. He kissed her then looked back at the blueprint.
“Where’s that?” Jill asked.
“It’s a new rehab,” Jacob said. “The building is in the middle of nowhere. It was a debtor’s prison for the North Animas valley. A guy I know wants to move it to a lot in Denver. Since the building’s condemned, he can pick it up for a song. He wants us to rehab it. If it works, there will be lots more where this comes from. He’s scouted houses all over Colorado and Wyoming. Old mining houses, these debtors’ prisons, abandoned schools, stuff like that. He secured a parcel of land out on Stapleton to make an old town. You know with the ‘e’s.”
“Olde Towne Stapleton?” Jill asked.
“I think it’s Old-y Town-y,” Jacob laughed. She smiled.
“What does he want from us?”
“You caught that too,” Jacob said. “He’s been bugging me about this for at least a year. I have the same feeling – he wants something. He finally came out and asked.”
“What does he want?” Jill repeated.
“A couple things,” Jacob said. “He definitely needs rehab and design help. He plans to condo everything, even the businesses.”
“But he needs financing,” Jill said.
“No, financing he has,” Jacob said. “He has a banker in his pocket. He even has a board of directors behind him.”
“A lot of people can do his rehab work for a lot less money,” Jill said. “We’re kind of a specialty shop.”
“He wants special services,” Jacob said.
“Ghost removal,” Jacob said.
“Is that all?” Jill shook her head.
“Pretty incredible, right?” Jacob asked. “The buildings are supposed to be haunted. That’s why he’s able to get them so cheap. He’d heard from someone that I’d cleared out some nasties from a rehab and contacted me. That’s why I haven’t done it yet.”
“And this morning?”
“I don’t know. He called yesterday while you were working on the wallpaper,” Jacob said. “I told him I’d take a look at the plans and talk to my associates. Aren’t you glad you got up?”
“He’ll pay double our rates,” Jacob said. “That’s how cheap he can get these buildings. Most of his costs are in moving the buildings. And…”
His voice trailed off as he looked at the building plans.
“Jacob?” She touched his shoulder.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “Mom used to have this thing about ghosts. She said they were tortured, frightened souls who needed our help transitioning. There were a few here when she bought the place.”
“I wonder if they were from the bodies,” Jill said.
“Probably,” Jacob said. “We’ll have to ask Delphie. She and Mom transitioned them.”
“Can you do that?” Jill asked.
“Sure,” Jacob said. “Delphie has a knack for it. Of course. But…”
“You’re better at it? I could see that,” Jill said.
“Why?” Jacob asked.
“You like people and people like you,” she said. “You’re a natural born leader. People feel safe around you. I don’t know why dead people would be any different.”
Jacob fell silent. His attention shifted back to the building plans.
“What’s the problem?” Jill asked.
“I don’t like the work,” Jacob said. “It’s too spooky, too weird. I feel… dirty when I do it.”
“You’d have to come out about your skills,” Jill said. “That feels weird.”
“Not really,” Jacob laughed. “I can always blame Delphie.”
“Then what?” Jill smiled.
“I guess I wonder why I don’t get into this business,” Jacob said. “The profits are… enormous. Our merry household has the skills.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Doesn’t seem right to profit off the demented dead,” Jacob said.
Jill kissed his cheek.
“Plus, there are plenty of haunted buildings here in Denver,” Jacob said. “The Peabury’s up for sale again. There’s a resident spirit there that Delphie’s had at least one run in with. The Croke Patterson just sold to a guy who’s clueless about the demons in the basement. Hell, those poor girls who died at the Lumber Baron could use some peace. They’re sideshow entertainment for the amateur ghost hunters twice a week.”
“You’d put all those ghost hunters out of business if the girls were at peace,” Jill said.
“That’s actually a good reason to do it.”
“Why not try it and see how you do?” Jill asked.
“Yeah, why not?”
“And?” she asked.
“I’m both intrigued and repulsed at the same time,” Jacob said.
“Sounds like you need more time off.”
“Time off…” Jacob’s attention turned back to the plans. “Yeah…”
Monday morning — 10:25 A.M.
“You sure you don’t want a donut?” Seth asked.
Delphie smiled. They were sitting in his police sedan next to the Platte River.
“Oh right,” he said. “Just had a stroke. No fat or processed food for a couple months. I remember.”
Delphie took a drink of her green tea.
“It’s just hard for me to imagine someone turning down a donut,” he said.
“How do you stay slender?” Delphie asked.
“I like you, Delphie,” Seth said. “Your relationship with that Sam guy. It’s solid?”
“I run,” Seth said. “I used to be addicted to drugs. Alcohol. Women. A buddy and I quit together. We started running together. We used to run marathons.”
“Don’t you know this stuff?” Seth asked. “Can’t you just…”
“I can, but I don’t,” Delphie said.
“It’s not very polite,” Delphie said. “In fact, it’s very rude. Plus, I like listening to people weave their own story. It’s much more interesting.”
“Oh,” Seth said. “My buddy died of lung cancer. He used to smoke a lot of everything before we kicked our mutual vices.”
“Sandy’s Dad,” Delphie said.
“Yep,” Seth said. “Anyway, I run about fifty miles a week. I like it. Gives me time to think. My only vices now are donuts, coffee, and now an odd affection for a woman named after a flower.”
Delphie smiled at him.
“You’ll find true and lasting love from someone who adores you,” she said. “But that won’t be me.”
“I guess I’m getting another dog.”
Delphie laughed. There was a tap on his window.
“You can go in now. I’m to escort you through the scene,” a uniformed police officer said. Nodding to Delphie, he said, “Ma’am.”
Delphie gave the young man a little wave. Seth and Delphie got out of the car and began walking toward the river.
“Ma’am, I hate to ask but could you…”
“Girl,” Delphie said. “You’ll have your boy next.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “That’s a relief for me.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Delphie smiled.
“Ok, this guy, David Craig, was out walking his dogs…” the uniformed officer said.
“Breeze and Chance,” Delphie said.
“Right, Labradors,” the police officer said. “He works at the Teatro so he comes down here early.”
“He doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Delphie said.
“You sure?” Seth asked.
“Positive,” Delphie said.
“So this guy’s walking his dogs and he finds a body,” the officer said.
“A body?” Seth asked.
“The dogs find something,” the officer said. “He doesn’t like the smell. Thinks it’s suspicious and has been around enough to know what can go on down here. He calls 911 then waits for us. You know how few people wait for us? Almost no one.”
“Anyway, he takes the patrol down to the area,” the officer said. “And they don’t like the smell either so they call it in. Whamo, six bodies.”
“Exposed bodies?” Seth asked.
“Oh, no,” the officer said. “They were buried at different times too. In this weird pattern. I’ve never seen anything like it. The guys are saying it’s a serial killer. Is that true?”
“Probably,” Seth said. “Thanks. I’ll take it from here.”
The police officer nodded. Seth and Delphie continued walking until they reached a sandy path. Turning right, they walked under the Fifteenth Street bridge.
“Sandy and Aden just stayed at the Hotel Teatro,” Delphie said.
“Yes,” Seth said. “Coincidence?”
“Probably,” Delphie shrugged.
The slowed down at the open space area where the Coroner and her assistants were working.
“Are you picking up anything?” Seth asked.
“Just that a lot of people don’t want me here,” Delphie said.
“Seth! Delphie!” the Coroner said. “I’m glad you’re here.”
The woman waved them over to her.
“Same pattern, same number of bodies,” the Coroner said.
“But?” Delphie asked.
“Someone unearthed one of the more recent bodies,” the Coroner said.
“You mean it wasn’t buried,” Seth said.
“No, it was buried,” the Coroner said. “Someone unburied it.”
“Why? Would someone do that?” Seth asked.
The Coroner and Seth looked over at Delphie.
“He wants to be in the newspaper,” Delphie said. “He knows that we’ve found his…”
Delphie’s face went white.
“What?” Seth asked.
“He thinks of them as trophies or awards,” Delphie said. “The disgusting creature unearthed a body so he could be on the front page of the Denver Post. He’s furious that his handy work hasn’t gotten the attention he believes he deserves.”
“Then we won’t give him the pleasure,” the Coroner said.
“Any lock on who?” Seth asked.
“Just that he was here… Recently,” Delphie shook her head. “Breeze and Chance were chosen to find this.”
“Breeze and Chance?” the Coroner asked.
“The dogs,” Seth said. “How were they chosen?”
“I don’t know,” Delphie said. “And I don’t know why. This creature has some way of cloaking himself. I doubt even his victims know who he is.”
“Like Jack the Ripper,” the Coroner said.
“Jack the Ripper?” Seth asked.
“Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes, very young women in a highly populated area,” Delphie said. “Four of the murders happened in August and September. It was a particularly hot summer and everyone was outdoors due to the heat. Yet, no one saw him. Not a soul. He just appeared, killed and disappeared. No one knows why he started or stopped.”
Seth and the Coroner gawked at Delphie. Delphie laughed.
“I was the Oracle Taber,” Delphie said. “You’d be surprised at how many people, when faced with a true oracle, ask about Jack the Ripper.”
“And?” Seth asked.
“I personally think Jack the Ripper was Nessie,” Delphie laughed. “You know, the Loch Ness Monster?”
Shaking his head at her, Seth laughed.
“They’ll figure it out soon,” Delphie said. “DNA modeling or something.”
“But you know?” the Coroner asked.
“I’ve been told an answer,” Delphie said. “Which is something that hasn’t happened here. Yet.”
“The victims didn’t know their killer?” Seth asked.
“No, it’s more like they knew the killer but didn’t know he killed them,” Delphie said.
“What does that mean?” Seth asked.
Delphie shrugged. The Coroner leaned into Delphie.
“Is he here?” she asked.
“I can’t tell,” Delphie said. “I don’t think so. Mr. Craig may have seen him though. We should talk to him.”
“Will you help us identify…?” the Coroner said.
“Yes, I’ll be there,” Delphie said. “I’d like to see them… where they lay.”
The Coroner looked at Seth and he nodded.
Seth and Delphie followed the Coroner through the grim scene. When they had seen everything, the Coroner turned back to her work. Seth and Delphie returned to his car.
“This is the biggest case we’ve ever had. And the way these cases go…” Seth said. He turned on the car and put it into gear. “The FBI will be here today. They handle serial killers. That doesn’t mean it’s not our case. They come to assist. They’ll want to meet with you… maybe tonight.”
“Great,” Delphie said. “I don’t think we have plans tonight. Valerie is in LA so our lives are quiet for a moment.”
Seth nodded. They drove the rest of the way to the Castle in silence. Delphie was gathering her things to get out when Seth cleared his throat.
“I really do need your help,” Seth said.
“I know,” Delphie said.
Seth nodded and drove off.
Monday evening — 5:30 P.M.
Molly laughed at something Pete said. Monday was their date night. Since Pete returned from prison, they’d been hot for each other. Something about almost dying had ignited Pete’s passion for Molly. And she responded in kind.
Stolen moments here led to groping in quiet corners there. Quickies led to mad, crazy nights in Pete’s apartment above Sandy’s salon. More than once, Molly was stumbling home as Sandy opened the salon on Tuesday morning. They had started tonight fast and furious. Lose and relaxed, they were on their way out for dinner.
“What’s that?” Molly pointed to something leaning against the salon’s front door.
“Stay here,” Pete said.
Pete opened the glass front door. With his foot, he nudged the pile of clothing. It moved. It was a person wrapped up in layers of clothing.
“You can’t stay here,” Pete said.
“My sister…” a male voice came from under the hood of a jacket. “Waiting for my sister…”
“The salon is closed on Mondays and Sundays,” Pete said. “Scram.”
“Pete!” Molly said. “That’s just a kid.”
“Molly, go back in the shop,” Pete said.
“Oh my God! That’s Sandy’s brother.” Molly kneeled down to peer at the face hidden in the hood. “Charlie?”
“Molly,” Pete groaned.
Molly gave Pete one of her fierce ‘stop it’ looks. He raised his hands and stepped back.
“Charlie,” Molly peered at his face again. “Pete, I don’t think he’s all right.”
“He smells like meth, pot and filth,” Pete said.
“I remember when you’d come to my bed smelling just like this,” Molly said.
“Molly…” Pete grabbed at his head. “I…”
She shook her head at him.
“Don’t be an ass,” Molly said. “Let’s try to get him inside.”
Pete dropped down next to Molly to take a real look at the boy. He pulled up one of the boy’s sleeves. Track marks and…
“He’s been beaten,” Pete raised his shirt. “Kicked. We’d better not move him.”
“Pete! I will not leave this child here.”
“I’m not saying to leave him,” Pete said. “We need to call 911. You go call. I’ll get some blankets for him.”
“Stay with him, Pete,” Molly said. “Don’t leave him alone. I can bring blankets.”
Charlie began a deep chest rattling cough. The boy began spitting up blood and vomit. Dropping down next to Charlie, Pete leaned the boy over his lap. He patted the boy’s back while he vomited between Pete’s legs.
“Go call!” Pete said.
Molly pulled her cell phone from her purse. Within minutes the police, ambulance and fire department were there. Sandy and Jill arrived just as the paramedics were loading Charlie into the ambulance. Sandy went into the ambulance with him.
“What happened?” Jill asked.
“We don’t know. We found him,” Pete said. “He was waiting for Sandy.”
“I’m going to meet Sandy at Denver Health,” Jill said. “Molly?”
“We can’t,” Molly said. “We used our out time.”
“Do you want to come?”
“I’ll stay with Pete,” Molly said.
“Good,” Jill said. “I’ll let you know what happens.”
Jill hugged Molly. With a wave to Pete, she got back in her SUV and drove off.
“Dinner?” Pete asked.
“We used our time,” Molly repeated.
“We can order something,” Pete said. He watched her face. “What’s going on?”
“I’ve never seen you… take care of someone… anyone,” Molly’s eyes filled with tears.
Pete pulled her to him. He held her for a moment.
“You’ve really changed,” Molly pounded on his chest. “Why? Why now? After everything that’s happened, why now? Why not for me or the kids or…?”
“All of this is for you,” Pete said. “The workouts, the meetings, the job, the sobriety, every moment of every day… it’s all for you.”
“What are you talking about? None of this is for me!”
“No Molly, everything I’ve done is for you,” Pete said. “I had this experience and…”
“Just tell me,” she said. “I can handle it.”
“I remember… They were doing surgery on my brain. I had to be awake or sort of awake. The doctors were talking to each other. One doctors telling some story. I don’t remember what. And this creature came. The doctor told me it was a hallucination but I…”
“It glowed white but looked…” he shivered. “It was a cross between a demon and an angel. Maybe it was both. It asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted my life back.”
“You always say that,” Molly said. Mimicking his voice, she added, “I want my life back so I can piss it away again.”
“That’s exactly what the creature said,” Pete said. “Were you there?”
Molly gave him a tearful smile.
“We argued,” Pete said. “The creature asked me, ‘Why should I give you your life back?’ I had no answer for him. None. And I was fading. Finally, I said ‘I want to spend every day making Molly’s life good’ or something like that. The creature said, ‘How?’ And my mind flooded with all the things you love – the kids, pink roses, spicy green chili, your friends, the smell of morning rain, numbers and…”
He stopped talking. Molly looked up into his face.
“And?” Molly asked.
“Me,” Pete said. “I finally understood how much you loved me. I don’t know why it took so long. I don’t but… “
Molly clasped him to her.
“I want to be the man you need me to be,” Pete said. “I can be loving. I can be strong. I can build things. I can be loyal, dependable, even reliable. Whatever you need, that’s who I’m going to be.”
Molly held him close.
“Well as much as an asshole like me can be,” Pete said. “I can’t really change that.”
“Come on,” Pete said. “I’ll show you my incredible Chinese food ordering skills.”
With a nod, Molly followed him back into the salon.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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