CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FOUR
Friday afternoon — 3:15 P.M.
No matter what Seth said, this lady coroner thought Delphie was a nut. Not that Delphie blamed her. Delphie thought of herself as little nutty. She smiled at her own joke. So far, the coroner wanted her to stay out of the way in a small corner of the autopsy room.
“Miss.. uh…” the coroner started.
“Please call me, Delphie. Short for Delphinium.”
“How did you get that name?” the coroner asked.
“My best friend gave it to me when my birth name felt foreign and my use name was toxic,” Delphie said.
“Your birth name?” The coroner lifted the heart from inside the body in front of her. She set the heart on a scale.
“Chastity Bell,” Delphie said.
“Your use name was?” The coroner made a note of the weight and returned to the body.
“The Oracle Taber,” Delphie said.
“I see what you mean,” the coroner smiled at Delphie.
At least she was trying to be nice.
“Is it helpful to know more about me? I live on Race Street. I grew up in Leadville. My boyfriend is Sam Lipson. I’ve known him since childhood. He was my best friend’s husband. My best friend is Celia Marlowe. She died almost ten years ago. I haven’t worked as much since I had a stroke a couple weeks ago. And yes, Valerie Lipson lives with me when she’s in town. And yes, you’d like her. She’s coming home for the weekend tonight.”
The coroner blushed.
“Or maybe you want to know a little about you?” Delphie asked. “Your cat, Princess Fifi the incredible, was taken by your ex-husband,” Delphie said. “He shaves her hair down and calls her Morris so you won’t realize it’s Fifi.”
“Princess Fifi?” the coroner’s eye went to slits. “Where are my…”
“Your keys are in your lab coat pocket,” Delphie said.
“I thought so too, but they aren’t,” the coroner said. “I’ve looked through every coat in the building.”
“Not the one behind your door in your office,” Delphie said. “Shall we get them?”
“Go get them.” The coroner stuck out her chin in defiance.
“How about if I go and you can get to work?” Seth O’Malley asked.
The coroner continued working on the body in front of her until Seth came back with the keys. She nodded to Seth.
“You saw them when you were in my office,” the coroner said.
“No,” Delphie said. “I could tell you other things about you, but I bet you don’t want your personal life spread all over the morgue.”
The coroner grit her teeth. She opened her mouth to say something then thought better of it.
“Can we get started?” Seth asked. “I’d like to catch this guy. If Delphie can help, why do you care?”
“You can start with the other sets of bodies,” the coroner said. “We’ve only identified three of the eighteen bodies we’ve found. We can’t figure out what they have in common.”
“They’re children,” Delphie said.
“I thought that too,” the coroner said. “But they aren’t. Some of them are at least twenty.”
“They’re run aways. Street kids, I think they’re called,” Delphie said. “They seem to be connected to some teen runaway agency. Uh. Urban something.”
“Urban Peak?” the coroner asked. “Does the killer work there?”
Delphie shook her head back and forth.
“I’m sorry but you have to find all the bodies before you find the killer,” Delphie said. “That’s just how this is going to go.”
“How what is going to go?” the coroner asked.
“This investigation,” Delphie said.
“All the bodies?” Seth asked. “Eighteen bodies aren’t enough?”
“It’s definitely enough, but not all of them,” Delphie said.
“Oh,” Seth said. “We’ll find…”
“Yes, all of them,” Delphie said.
“Does he work at Urban Peak?” the coroner repeated.
“I don’t think so,” Delphie said. “But I can’t see him well… yet. Right now, I need to bring some peace to a few families. Do I have your permission to do that?”
“Knock yourself out,” the coroner said.
The coroner pointed to one of her assistants and he led Delphie to an area of body lockers. Fascinated by the process, Seth trailed after Delphie.
“Do you mind taking notes, Seth?” Delphie asked. “I don’t want to hold onto the information. If you take notes or we record it, I can tell you everything. I’ll never remember what I said.”
“I’ll take notes,” Seth said. “Was her cat really called Princess Fifi the incredible?”
“It was a pure bred white Persian cat,” Delphie said. “A total diva. I’m going to start with this one.”
“That’s not one of the bodies,” Seth said. “That body was found…”
“You need to find the others,” Delphie said.
“There are five other bodies waiting for you,” Delphie said. “Buried in the same pattern as under my chapel.”
“Good God, Delphinium,” Seth said. “How many bodies are we going to find?”
“A lot,” Delphie said. “This person has been killing lost children for decades.”
“I’m going to…” Seth said.
“Go ahead,” Delphie said.
“I’ll send in a patrolman,” Seth said.
“Don’t worry, I can record into my phone,” Delphie said.
Delphie took out a brand new Blackberry.
“You’re using your cell phone? A Blackberry?”
“Jacob gave it to me a while ago,” Delphie said. “Sandy taught me when I thought I was dead. She said dead people needed fancy gadgets. I never figured out why dead people need fancy gadgets. But she seemed to know what dead people need, so I believed her.”
Seth smiled at his Goddaughter’s manipulation.
“She’s a good girl,” Delphie said.
“You’re all right here?” Seth asked.
Delphie nodded. She gave him a little wave when he left the room. Taking out her reading glasses, Delphie pushed button after button on her phone until it started to record. Smiling at herself, she set to work identifying the bodies.
Friday afternoon — 6:15 P.M.
“I’m home! I’m home! I’m home!” Valerie said. “I’m home! I’m home! I’m home!”
Driving his Bronco, Mike turned onto Race Street. He pressed the button and the Castle gate opened.
“You’ve been saying that since we landed,” Mike laughed.
Valerie jumped out of the car.
“I’m so so so happy,” Valerie spun in circles.
Scooter came around the corner from the garden. He gave a sharp bark and took off toward Valerie. Sarah hurled around the corner and quickly passed Scooter to greet Valerie first. Buster followed the other dogs. Sarah and Scooter barked and jumped with the joy of seeing Valerie. Buster stopped to say hello to Mike before joining Sarah and Scooter. Valerie and the dogs danced in the sheer bliss of each other’s presence.
Hearing the dogs, Jill looked out to see what was going on.
“Valerie and Mike are here!” Jill yelled.
Katy ran out of the open door to join the dance. Valerie picked up Katy and spun her around. Jill ran out to greet Mike. Sandy, Honey, Noelle and Nash came out to join in. Trying for calm, the men, Aden, Jacob, MJ and Sam, sauntered over to say hello.
They heard a sharp whistle and Valerie squealed. Delphie was standing at the door holding a chocolate chip cheesecake. Valerie set Katy down to run across the concrete to Delphie’s arms.
The family was complete.
Friday afternoon — 9:15 P.M.
“The lawyer said you called,” Aden said. He reached out for his soup bowl. “I’ll take it.”
Taking his soup bowl from her, he went into the kitchen. She followed him in with the rest of him plates.
“I gave him a spreadsheet of all the money I spent while you were in prison,” Sandy said. “I included everything I spent as well as what Sam and Delphie spent.”
“Good,” Aden said.
Aden began rinsing off the dinner dishes and putting them in the dishwasher.
“He came by and I signed the forms,” Sandy said. “We have a joint account now.”
“Good,” Aden said again.
Sandy began rearranging what Aden put in the dishwasher.
“The account is for the kids,” Sandy said.
“Sure,” Aden said. “Is that necessary?”
“You put them in wrong,” Sandy said. “Do you want a full accounting?”
“Of the dishwasher?” Aden asked. “How is there a right way to load the dishwasher?”
“There is a right way to get the most dishes clean,” Sandy said. “An accounting of what I spend. Jill showed me a program that would help me.”
“No, I don’t need an accounting. Whatever you need to spend is all right with me,” Aden said. “Will you knock it off?”
“What?” Sandy asked.
“Rearranging the dishwasher,” Aden said.
“Sure,” Sandy said. “It’s fixed now anyway.”
Aden gave her an irritated smile and finished the dishes.
“I’m really glad you set up the joint account. You’ll get reimbursed for all you spent too,” Aden said.
“Great,” Sandy said.
“Have you thought about going to an Alanon meeting?”
“Because I rearranged the dishwasher?”
“Frankly? Yes,” Aden said.
“If you asked a hundred women, they would all say their men load the dishwasher wrong,” Sandy said.
Sandy raised an eyebrow. With a flip of her hair, she left the kitchen with two pieces of pie. Aden sent an irritated look in her direction.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Aden said as he entered the dining area.
“Which question?” Sandy asked.
Aden sat down next to her at the small dining table.
“Alanon,” Aden said. “It’s a great…”
“I’ve been to a couple meetings,” Sandy said. “Don’t get all up in my program.”
Flushing, Aden turned his focus to his pie. Sandy laughed.
“That’s what my client said to tell you,” Sandy said.
“I have a client who has been in Alanon for years,” Sandy said. “She goes to a women’s only group at lunch. She said she would take me to her meeting. Molly wanted to go. So Molly and I went with my client to a meeting at Trinity Church downtown. Do you want a note?”
Delighted, Aden shook his head and smiled. This was the first real sign that Sandy wanted to continue a relationship with him. He didn’t want to push or pry, but he couldn’t help but want to know more.
“What did you think?” Aden asked.
“I think it’s interesting,” Sandy said. “Molly and I decided we need to go to those meetings. That’s why I asked for the money. I’m going to stop being such a martyr.”
“I don’t know what that means, but okay,” Aden said.
“To that end, I want to be legally married before I have my baby,” Sandy said.
Shocked, Aden looked up at her. Without saying a word, he stood up and held his hand out to her.
“Let’s do it right now,” Aden said.
“Now,” Aden said. “I don’t want to miss my chance. You could change your mind tomorrow.”
“You want to get married,” Aden said. “You want to do it before the baby. Why not do it tonight?”
“Fine,” Sandy said. “How is that going to happen?”
“Delphie can marry us tonight,” Aden said. “I’ll get the license in the morning.”
“Don’t think this gets you out of a big ceremony,” Sandy said. “I want everything. Very expensive dress. Big flowers. Everyone we know in the audience. A hand-frosted, elegant made, four tier wedding cake with purple and pink flowers. And lots of flowers. I mean lots. And I want my baby to be there.”
“Our baby,” Aden said.
“Right now, she’s my baby,” Sandy said.
“You know the technician said we were having a boy,” Aden said.
“She’s wrong,” Sandy said.
Not wanting to argue, Aden took Sandy’s hand.
“Let’s see if we can find Delphie,” Aden said.
“What about the kids?” Sandy asked.
“They can sleep,” he said. “I’d like this to be just you and me.”
“Let’s talk to Delphie,” Sandy said. “She may be asleep.”
Under Aden’s subtle pressure, Sandy followed him out of the apartment. They went down the stairwell to the first floor and into the kitchen. To Sandy’s surprise, Heather, Tanesha and Jill were standing in the kitchen.
“There you are!” Heather said. “I kept asking why you weren’t here with us. Delphie said you were taking care of the kids. I was just about to go get you.”
Heather hugged Sandy.
“What are you doing?” Sandy asked.
“Delphie invited us over to learn how to arrange flowers,” Tanesha said. “Her spring garden is just coming in. She bought a bunch of flowers at a stand downtown this afternoon.”
“I made this bouquet,” Jill held it out for Sandy. “See, I told you it looked just like Sandy.”
Confused, Sandy looked at her best friends, then Aden.
“Did you plan this?” she asked Aden.
“No, how could I?” Aden asked. “You brought the whole thing up.”
They looked over at Delphie. Delphie was humming to herself and working on a floral display of tulips. Feeling their eyes, Delphie looked up.
“I asked Jill after dinner,” Delphie said. “She called Heather and Tanesha. They’ve built the most beautiful flower arrangements. Just perfect for a wedding. Don’t you think Sandy?”
Sandy squinted at Delphie.
“Wedding?!” Jill exclaimed.
“Sandy said she’d marry me and I didn’t want to miss the chance and…” Aden started.
Heather clapped her hands and laughed.
“Did you get the license while you got my wedding flowers?” Sandy asked.
“Now that’s the odd thing,” Delphie said. “I was downtown visiting with the coroner and the license office was just across the street. I thought I’d pick one up in case we needed it. That’s what living people do.”
“We were all played!” Tanesha said.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jill hugged Sandy.
“This doesn’t get anyone out of the big ceremony were having next year,” Sandy said. “Church, dress, cake, everything.”
“We’ll make it happen,” Heather said.
“Now where should we do this?” Delphie said. “The living rooms still a mess. The chapel is… unavailable. That’s what I couldn’t figure out… where.”
“Why not right here?” Sandy asked. “I love this big kitchen. It always smells like flour and love. I guess getting married here is kind of lame.”
“Sounds perfect to me,” Aden said. “I get to marry my baker in the kitchen.”
“I’m not even dressed up?” Sandy looked down at her jeans and T-shirt. “I mean…”
“We’ll do all of that next year,” Aden said. “Please. Let’s just do this.”
Sandy nodded her head. Tanesha and Heather moved the kitchen table to the side of the room. Jill set the vases of flowers around then pressed the bouquet of flowers into Sandy’s hand. Delphie directed Aden and Sandy to stand in the shaft of light coming in through the transom window.
Sandy got lost somewhere between ‘Stand right here’ and ‘You may kiss the bride.’ Every word, every thought was drowned out by the pounding of her heart. Ten minutes after she said ‘I want to be legally married before I have my baby,’ she was married.
Just like that.
And Sandy wept with joy.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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