CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and NINE
Monday evening — 6:45 P.M.
“You’re his…” the Emergency Room resident said.
Sandy, Jill and Jill’s mother, Anjelika, were sitting in a family waiting area at Denver Health when the resident approached. He was looking for Charlie’s mother. Sandy jumped to her feet to speak with the resident, but he recognized her from the newspaper stories about her father. The resident didn’t want anything to do with her. Sandy wrapped her arms around herself for comfort.
“Sister,” Sandy said.
“Where is his mother?” the resident asked.
“She’s out of the picture,” Sandy said. “I’m all he has.”
“I don’t think I can give you an update. I…” the resident started.
“Listen,” Anjelika smiled her beautiful smile. “The mother doesn’t want her children. And we are paying your bill. In order to pay that bill, we need information to make decisions.”
Taken back by Angelika’s beauty and elegance, the resident stumbled over words.
“Uh… We could get in real trouble. We’re only supposed to release information to legal guardians or…”
“I see,” Anjelika smiled again. “May I speak with your supervisor? We were told that we needed to make decisions right away. That is, of course, after my daughter guaranteed payment.”
“He’s sixteen,” Seth’s deep voice came from the door. “You don’t need a guardian to make his medical decisions. Since I assume he’s unconscious, his next of kin will have to decide for him.”
“Seth!” Sandy said.
Seth hugged her.
“How is Charlie?” he asked.
“We don’t know,” Sandy said. “This… doctor won’t tell us.”
“Detective O’Malley, Denver PD,” Seth said to the resident. “The nurse told me there was a family meeting going on. There is a police investigation into this matter. Will you give me the information?”
“Uh,” the resident blushed then nodded. “The boy’s in pretty bad shape.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“He’s been injecting methamphetamines for some time,” the resident said. “He’s dehydrated and malnourished. He was badly beaten by multiple assailants. His organs are bruised. His spleen needs to come out and possibly a portion of his intestines. His liver is bruised. We won’t know his virus status until tomorrow.”
“What about his head?” Sandy asked.
“He seems to have protected his head,” the resident said. “He has some cracked ribs, one broken.”
“Is that why he has a cough? Was spitting up blood?”
“He has pneumonia,” the doctor said. “His lungs are inflamed from smoking meth. He probably has a bleeding ulcer. Most meth addicts do. We won’t know until we do more tests.”
“Does he need surgery?” Anjelika asked.
“We can’t do anything until he’s stable,” the resident said. “His biggest problem right now is that he’s coming off the meth.”
“Broken bones?” Anjelika said.
“Except for the rib, cracked,” the resident said. “Right humerus, femur, malleolus, couple of spinous processes. His right side saw the worst of the beating. Listen, we see these kids all the time. They get high and beat on each other for fun.”
“For fun?” Sandy’s face reflected the horror she felt.
“They come in beaten up, leave and come back again. It’s like a revolving door.”
“Have you seen this kid before?” Seth asked.
“I haven’t but he’s been here before,” the resident said. “About six weeks ago. High on meth, of course. He’d broken a clavicle, his collar bone. His mother filled out the paper work then left him here. Skipped out on the bill.”
“We’ve already agreed to pay all the bills,” Jill said.
“His collar bone never healed so he’ll need to get that set.”
“We’d like you to take good care of the boy,” Anjelika said.
“Right now, he has to stabilize,” the resident said. “But he doesn’t have much a chance. He’s a street kid, a meth head no less. You need to face the facts. These kids don’t get better. They only get dead.”
“My boyfriend, uh, husband was a street kid,” Sandy said. “He’s the CEO of Lipson Construction now.”
“That was then. You probably don’t have AIDs either,” the resident sniffed at Sandy. “Life on the streets is meaner, harder, and more severe now. Most kids die. We see families here all the time. They get their kid better and a month later the kid is back on the streets.”
“Why do you think that is?” Seth asked.
“It runs in families,” the resident said. “Child prostitutes, street kids. What do you expect? People like you are throw aways, garbage.”
Sandy recoiled as if she’d been hit. As if to protect her, Anjelika pulled her into a hug.
“I think we’d like another doctor,” Jill said. “In fact, since I’m paying this bill, let’s see what your attending has to say. Better yet…”
Jill was about to dial her cell phone when a familiar Englishman stuck his head in the room. Jill smiled at Dr. John Drayson. He was their friend Alex Hargreaves’s husband, and a vascular surgeon. He worked at Denver Health.
“I just heard about Charlie,” Dr. Drayson said in a clipped British accent. He looked at Jill and Sandy. “What’s going on here?”
“This creature just told us that Charlie was a throw away,” Jill said. “Like Sandy.”
“He did?” Dr Drayson gave the resident a hard look.
“Why don’t you give me a minute?” Dr. Drayson asked. “I’ll check in on Charlie and get you another doctor.”
Grabbing the back of the resident’s jacket, Dr. Drayson pulled him out of the room. They could hear their terse conversation as they walked down the hall.
“What do we do?” Sandy asked.
“We trust our friends to help us,” Anjelika said.
“And we wait,” Seth said. “Can I bring anyone coffee?”
“Please,” Anjelika said. “For everyone.”
“It’s going to be a long night,” Anjelika said.
Jill, Sandy and Anjelika settled in to wait.
Monday evening — 7:30 P.M. PDT Hollywood, CA
Expecting to find Mike on the other side of the door, Valerie came out of the bathroom without a towel. She’d just taken a quick post-set shower. His eyes were full of promise when she laughed and closed the bathroom door on his face. He’d promised to order dinner while she showered.
And she was starving.
They were staying in six hundred square foot garden cottage at the Chateau Marmont. Puzzled, she peeked into the bedroom.
Her bare feet left moisture marks on the dark wood floors as she padded around the little cottage. He wasn’t in the living room watching hockey. She knew he wasn’t in the kitchen. Turning in place, she trotted back to the bedroom for her clothes. She grabbed a pair of jeans. Unable to button them, she grabbed a pair of workout pants and a T-shirt.
Mike had spent the day painting in the hotel’s gardens. Maybe he’d returned to see the gardens. She was about to leave the cottage when she saw Mike’s art supplies tucked away in his usual military neat stack.
Not sure what to do, she sat down on the couch and waited. She was just about to call home when she heard Mike’s key in the door.
“Oh you got dressed,” he said. He looked genuinely disappointed. “Sorry.”
“I was worried.” She ran to his arms.
“Yeah, sorry,” he said. “I heard Wes was in the bar here and decided to go have it out with him.”
“How did that go?”
“He’s on his way to the hospital,” he said. “I guess the police will be here soon.”
She pulled back to look at him and he laughed. She slapped at him until he pulled her back into his arms.
“I went to call for dinner and I realized there was a message,” he said. “I wasn’t in the room all day. After you called, I dropped my painting supplies and went to get you. Anyway, the front desk said they signed for a letter for me. It was in their safe.”
“Right,” Mike said. “I should have realized it would be a cluster fuck. I did see Wes on the television while I was waiting. That guy is a real tool. What did you see in him?”
“He wasn’t you?”
“Ah,” Mike laughed. “I was waiting at the desk so long that they’re going to serve us dinner on the porch. It’s not sushi though. Do you mind?”
“What are we having?”
“Burgers,” Mike said.
“I was just craving a burger,” Valerie said.
“I know,” Mike said.
“Mind reading?” Valerie asked.
“Listening to you talk to yourself in the bathroom,” he said. Mimicking her voice, he said, “Now Valerie, you cannot have a burger or you’ll never fit those pants.”
“Well I won’t!” she laughed.
“You’re pregnant, Val,” Mike said. “At some point, you’re going to look pregnant.”
“Hmm,” Valerie said. Trying to avoid talking about her expanding size, she said, “What did you get?”
“Burgers,” Mike said. “Fries, beer for me.”
“You got burgers from the hotel safe?” Valerie asked.
“Oh, I got the check from the Denver Art Museum,” Mike said. “Wanna see all the zeros?”
Valerie nodded. Mike pulled the check out of his back pocket. They ogled the amount.
“They took twenty percent,” Mike said. “I thought that was worth it.”
“Totally worth it,” Valerie said. “What are we going to do with it?”
“Well…” Mike looked away from her and shoved the check back in his pocket.
“What?” she asked.
“Since we don’t really need the money,” he said. “I mean, you’re making great money, and we live in the Castle, and with the sale of Lipson Construction, and the increase in rehab business work and…”
“We have plenty of money,” Valerie stepped back from him. “What’s going on Mike?”
“I was thinking of giving the check to Otis, my grandfather,” Mike said.
“Why?” Valerie asked.
“My step-dad took all that money from him,” Mike said. “Even though this is only a fraction of what he stole, I thought maybe if he had some of it, he wouldn’t be so mad at Mom.”
“He doesn’t seem mad at Anjelika,” Valerie said.
“Mom told me the money is a big issue in their relationship,” Mike said. “It’s not like he blames her. He’s still trying to make up the loss to his partners.”
“His mafia partners.”
“I guess it’s dumb,” Mike said. “I want Mama to feel free, happy. That’s all. I know she feels bad.”
“You’re a very sweet man,” Valerie said.
“Otis is coming to Denver to see us before the baby is born,” Mike said. “I thought we could give it to him then.”
“Sure,” Valerie said.
“Sure,” she said.
“You think it’s dumb,” Mike said.
“I think you’re a very sweet man. If you want to give this money or all of our money to your grandfather, I don’t really care.”
“What do you care about?” Mike asked.
“Food,” Valerie and Mike said together. They laughed.
“When did you say dinner was coming?” she asked.
As if to answer her call, there was a knock at the door. Room service had set up dinner on their private patio. Surrounded by blooming flowers, their conversation about money disappeared in a pregnant woman’s delight for a well cooked burger and the pleasure of each other’s company.
Monday evening — 8:35 P.M. MDT The Castle, Denver, CO
“If I do this, I’ll need your help,” Jacob said.
“Clearing ghosts?” Delphie laughed. “You do not. Celia was always better at it than I ever was. You need to practice.”
Jacob poured another glass of wine. Holding up the bottle to Delphie, she nodded. He poured a glass for her. They were sitting at the kitchen table talking about the proposal to rehabilitate haunted houses.
“Practice?” Jacob asked. “What’s that?”
“You’re lazy with your psychic skills,” Delphie repeated what she’d said a thousand times. “When was the last time you meditated?”
“Today,” Jacob said. “With my daughter.”
“I think that’s called ‘taking a nap,’” Delphie said.
“Ok,” Delphie said. “I’ll teach you what to do. We can practice clearing a few houses and see how we do, how you like it.”
“That’s the point,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll like it.”
“I don’t think you’ll like it,” she said. “In fact, I think you’ll hate it.”
“You really like the present,” Delphie said. “You’re not even a big fan of reminiscing about old times or talking about traumatic memories. Ghosts are all about who they were, what they did, and what happened to them. It’s part of why they’re stuck here. They’re stuck in their own memories and past.”
“Hey speaking of what happened to them,” Jacob said. “Didn’t you and Mom clear a few ghosts out of here?”
“Four or five,” Delphie said. “After you opened the second floor, I did a few more.”
“Did you clear the ghosts of the people buried under the chapel?” Jacob asked.
Delphie’s eyebrows shot up with surprise. She nodded to Jacob.
“I bet you’re right,” she said. “I never thought of it. Your Mom did most of the work. She had a real knack for it. She felt like she was helping souls.”
“Didn’t she keep a ghost journal?” Jacob asked.
“She did,” Delphie smiled. “Jake. I wonder where those are.”
“All of her journals are in a chest in the basement storage,” Jacob said. “Want to go look?”
Delphie nodded. With Jacob leading the way, they went to find Celia’s ghost journal.
Monday night — 9:35 P.M.
“Hey,” Dr. John Drayson gave Sandy’s shoulder a little shake.
“Sorry, I must have dropped off,” Sandy said.
“You’re here by yourself?” he asked.
“Jill had to go home. She has to work at Pete’s tomorrow night and…” Sandy said. “I made her go home. Anjelika will be back with Jill’s car. Seth walked them out. He had to let his dogs out. They’ll be back.”
Dr. Drayson nodded.
“How’s Charlie?” Sandy asked.
“He’s stable,” Dr. Drayson said. “For now. He has a long way to go but he’s young and strong. The drugs are out of his system and his body is rallying.”
“He’s awake,” Dr. Drayson said. “He’s asking for you. Would you…?”
“I’ll take you back. You’ll only have a few minutes. But I thought you’d want them.”
“Of course,” Sandy said.
Sandy followed Dr. Drayson to Denver Health’s Intensive Care Unit. Walking back, she remembered taking a similar walk to see Aden when he was in a similar condition. In that moment, she wondered why she spent so much time at the ICU. Was it God’s curse on her? Was it the men in her life?
Like a voice screaming inside her head, she heard, ‘It’s the drugs.’ In her heart, mind, body and soul, she knew drugs were at the root of Charlie and Aden’s trouble. Aden had gotten clean. Aden had created a full life filled with opportunity and love.
Unwilling to answer the question, Sandy swore she would take her Alanon meetings more seriously. She reminded herself that she could only work on herself.
But she wanted Charlie to live! She wanted Charlie to be clean! She wanted Charlie to grow up! She stopped walking to catch her breath.
“Are you all right?” Dr. Drayson asked.
“Just a little emotional,” Sandy smiled to reassure him.
“Addiction is heart breaking.” His kind cobalt blue eyes seemed to know her pain.
She nodded. They continued walking through the ICU. Dr. Drayson pointed to a bed near the front of the hospital. In the dim light, her mind played a trick on her. She saw her little brother as he’d been when he was three or four. He used to have terrible nightmares. He’d cry out in his sleep and she’d go in to comfort him.
Sandy blinked and Charlie’s broken body appeared. He had tubes and drains coming from every direction. Like Aden had, this tall, strong boy looked small and broken. Dr. Drayson nodded toward a blue plastic chair and Sandy sat down. He gave Sandy a soft smile and stepped away.
Sandy picked up Charlie’s hand. He opened his eyes to look at her. She smiled at him.
“Mom?” Charlie asked.
“Jill called her,” Sandy said. “I’m sure she’ll be here in the morning.”
Charlie chuckled at her lie. His chuckle became a deep chest rattling cough. A nurse arrived. She injected something into Charlie’s IV and waved Sandy onto the bed.
“Feel really sick,” Charlie said.
“You’re pretty sick,” Sandy said. “The doctor told me you were strong and young. Are you strong, Charlie?”
“I’m not strong, Sandy,” Charlie gave her an ironic smile. “I want to die.”
“I know,” Sandy said. “I hope you don’t.”
“Why?” Charlie asked. “I’m a total fuck up. Everything I’ve ever done is fucked up. At least if I die, I’ll be with Dad.”
Sandy wiped a tear from his face.
“I’d miss you,” Sandy said.
“You haven’t seen me in months,” Charlie said.
“I’d still miss you,” she said. “Sissy would miss you.”
Charlie closed and opened his eyes at her.
“You can name your baby Charlie,” he said. “And the baby will have a fresh start.”
“You can have a fresh start, Charlie,” Sandy said. “You can completely reinvent yourself. People do it all the time.”
“Who? Who do you know that fucked up as bad as me and did all right later?”
“Me,” Sandy said. “And I was fucked up worse than you.”
Charlie looked at her for a moment. His eyebrows twitched as he tried to work out her words. Then, a dawning realization worked across his face. He nodded.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” Sandy said. “Will you try?”
“I’ll try, Sandy,” he said. “I don’t want to die.”
“Did I want to die before?” he asked. “I go back and forth. Try me in another minute. I’ll want to die again.”
“Do you think Daddy loved me?” Charlie asked.
“I do,” Sandy said. Hearing a noise, she looked up to see Seth. “Do you think Dad loved Charlie, Seth?”
“Your father adored you, Charlie,” Seth said. “The day you were born was literally the best day of your father’s life. He fought cancer for years just to spend the time with you.”
“I miss him,” Charlie said.
“I do too,” Sandy said.
“Me too,” Seth said. “But we have to soldier on together. That’s what your Dad would have wanted. For us to be together.”
Charlie nodded slightly.
“Listen Charlie,” Seth said. “I was thinking. When you get out of here, why don’t you come and live with me? I have enough room. I was thinking your sister could move in too.”
“What about Mom?” Charlie asked.
“Maybe we’ll get her some help,” Seth said. “We’ve all been grieving your father too long. It’s time to live with his memory instead of hiding from his ghost. What do you say, Charlie? Would you like that?”
Charlie nodded. Sandy looked up to see a doctor and nurse standing next to Seth.
“Time for sleep, baby Charlie,” Sandy said.
“Will you sing for me?” Charlie asked.
Sandy began singing ‘Hush little baby’ like she did when he was a baby. Charlie smiled. The doctor injected medication into Charlie’s IV. Charlie sighed. With a slight smile on his face, he went to sleep. Sandy leaned down to kiss his cheek.
“Love you, Charlie,” Sandy said.
Seth helped Sandy off the bed. They hugged and began to walk back to the waiting room. Once there, they settled in for what was surely going to be a long night.
Monday evening — 10:05 P.M. MDT The Castle, Denver, CO
“Found it!” Jacob said.
Covered in dust and cobwebs, he and Delphie had spent the last hour and a half going through the storage area looking for Celia’s ghost journal. He gave Delphie the journal.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked.
“This is it, but…” Delphie said.
“The pages are torn out.” Holding the book up, Delphie touched the ragged edges of the torn pages. “The ones about the ghosts in the Castle.”
“What?” Jacob asked.
“What exactly,” Delphie said.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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