Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal : Chapter One Hundred and Nineteen : Frightened souls


Thursday early morning — 3:22 A.M.

“But why can’t I sleep with Mommy?” Katy asked.

Wrapped in a soft cotton blanket, Katy snuggled down on Jacob’s lap. She had no intention of moving. She’d asked the question just to hear him talk. Katy had been fine all evening. When Jill returned from the hospital, she had fed Katy tea and the teething crackers she loved. After a bite to eat, Katy fell asleep on Jill’s lap in the rocking chair. Katy started throwing up an hour later. When Katy started throwing up, Jacob convinced Jill to go back to sleep in their room and brought Katy out here. Jacob and Katy were sitting together at the kitchen table.

“We’re letting Mommy sleep,” Jacob said. “She has her big presentation today for school.”

“You forgot to tell about Auntie Sandy,” Katy said.

Katy’s hand touched the rough stubble of Jacob’s chin.

“I don’t mean to be barfy,” Katy said.

“Of course not,” Jacob said.

“Can’t Mommy fix me?” Katy asked.

“We decided it was better for Katy to fix herself,” Jacob said.

In a dramatic gesture, Katy put her hands on her own stomach. Feeling nothing, she shook her head.

“Doesn’t work,” Katy said. “I tried.”

“From the inside,” Jacob smiled. “Like regular people. For…”

“Immunity,” they said together.

Katy looked up into his face, and then snuggled down on this lap again. She rested her head against his chest. Jacob checked to see if she was watching. Seeing her closed eyes, he beckoned a spiral binder from a bookshelf. The book flew across the loft to his outstretched hand. He caught the book then looked down to Katy. Her eyes were still closed.

Setting the binder on the table, he found her looking up at him.

“I wish I could do that,” Katy said.

“It’s not as fun as it looks,” Jacob said.

Katy nodded against his chest and he opened the book. This binder held full descriptions and financial projections for properties his friend wanted him to work on. The properties were architecturally sound, beautiful buildings with one draw back. There was at least one nasty ghost living within the walls of every one of them.

His friend wanted to buy the buildings for a fraction of what they were worth. Jacob and Delphie would clear out the ghosts. The buildings would be brought to town where Jacob would have a chance to restore them to their former glory. They would sell for five or six times their total investment. If Jacob put a little money in, he’d share in the profits from the sale.

The buildings were a gold mine. He could use the money to buy a larger building for the ever expanding Marlowe School; or create the scholarship fund Honey wanted for her new handicap accessible apartment building; or support one of those wretched friends of Charlie’s, maybe that little guy, Jeffy; or… There was no downside to this proposition.

Except one.

He didn’t want to do it.

He didn’t like dealing with the dead. He always felt they were selfish. They had lived their lives and were now here to steal away the precious hours of his own short time on this plane.

His mother had felt differently, of course. Like the lost people she nurtured, Celia believed that ghosts were frightened souls. ‘They need our love just as much as the living do,’ she used to say. Jacob never saw it that way. More often than not, when he encountered a ghost, he sent it on to the great beyond. He’d done it so often that it was almost an automatic gesture. That’s why the Castle was ghost free.

Of course, once sent there they could always come back. That’s how his mother continued to visit long after her death. And he did enjoy her visits. He looked down at his sleeping daughter. So did Katy.

He hadn’t talked to his mother about this job. Outside of general mumbles, he hadn’t really talked to anyone about this job. It seemed like such a good opportunity.

If only he could figure out why he didn’t want to do it. He began flipping through the pages.

“What’s that?” Katy pointed to the book.

“It’s a book of houses Mommy, Delphie and I might work on,” Jacob said. “They’re pretty. Aren’t they?”

“Scary,” Katy said. “Not pretty. I don’t like them.”

“You don’t?”

Katy shook her head. Puzzled by her response, he continued turning the pages.

“Not any of them?”

Katy shook her head.

“How come?”

“They are sticky,” Katy whispered. “Like glue. They suck you in and you have to stay there.”

“What?” Jacob asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “That’s just what they are. Are people stuck there?”

“Ghosts,” Jacob said. “Angry, mean ghosts.”

“Angry, mean ghosts,” Katy repeated his words.

“I guess I’d be mean too if I was stuck somewhere,” Jacob said. “That’s a good reason to help them. Delphie and I could unstick the ghosts.”

“Or get glued there,” Katy said.

They looked at the houses together. Some were huge mansions. Others were small and delicately detailed. When he got to the end, he began flipping the pages in the other direction. Katy would touch the photos or pretend to read the pages.

“Wait,” Katy said.

He stopped flipping the pages.

“Go back,” Katy said.

Katy’s little hands tried to move the pages. Jacob helped her flip one page, and then another until Katy patted both hands on a page.

“Read this,” Katy said.

“Let’s read together,” Jacob said.

“I want you to read.” Katy shook her head. She fake coughed into her hand. “I’m sick.”

Jacob shook his head at his manipulative daughter. Happy about her joke, she bounced on his lap.

“Please?” she asked.

“All right,” he said.

“Built in 1847. Location: Brighton.

Square footage: House: 2340 square feet, Outbuildings: 1000 square feet,

Acreage: 380 Acres

The sale must include the acreage and…”

“No, Daddy,” Katy said. “Read it.”

Confused, Jacob pursed his brow.

“With this.” Katy tapped Jacob’s forehead.

“You know that’s not really my gift.”

“Just try.” Katy gave him a stern look that he was certain Valerie had perfected.

“You look like Val when you make that face,” he said.

“Dadddy! Just try!”

He put his hand on the picture of the building. Trying to stretch out his mind…

And got nothing.

He was about to quit when he smelled something familiar. He refocused his attention on the building. There it was again.

Industrial cleaner.

The same kind he’d used to clean the grill at his college hangout. He looked at Katy.

“Noemi told me,” Katy said.

“Why don’t we wait a while?” Jacob asked. “It’s pretty early.”

“You have to call now.”

Not willing to upset Katy, Jacob picked her up and walked toward his Blackberry. He found Detective Seth O’Malley’s home phone number and called.

“Seth? Jake Marlowe. Sorry to wake you but I think I’ve found a lead in your case. I figured you’d want to know right away.”


Thursday morning — 10:35 A.M.

“Just one more step,” Heather said.

“You can do this,” Tanesha said.

With their arms around Sandy, they were standing in the stairwell to the apartment. Sandy wouldn’t stay in the hospital. She just wouldn’t. The doctors encouraged her to stay an additional day or two. One doctor wanted her to say all weekend.

But Nash’s last day of school was Friday. After the difficult year, Sandy didn’t want to miss it. Plus Noelle would transition into the fifth grade on Monday. With Teddy Jakkman moving in this weekend as well, Sandy insisted on coming home.

With the assurance that a nurse, Jill’s brother Steve, would attend to her, and the fact the Castle was three blocks from two major hospitals, the doctors had discharged her. She’d felt fine until they were almost to the Castle. In an instant, Sandy’s pain had increased so much she was almost ready to go back to the hospital.

And still, she’d insisted on getting to the Castle.

Steve would help her, she said. He would know if she needed to get to the hospital. The obstetrician said the baby was fine, not to worry about, she assured them. She couldn’t rest in the hospital. And rest was what she needed.

So, here they were on this stairwell.

“I don’t know,” Heather said. “I think we should call the paramedics.”

“We can’t call them on this stairwell.” Tanesha looked up. They had ten steps to the second floor hallway. “Let’s set her down.”

Tanesha and Heather set Sandy down on a step. She looked up at them with gratitude.

“We were going to drop off her prescriptions after we got her into bed,” Heather said. “She could use one of those pills now.”

“We should try to get her back to the hospital,” Tanesha said.


The women jerked around toward the male voice from the bottom of the stairs. MJ looked up at them.

“I’m looking for Honey. I was going to meet her here but I’m a few minutes late,” MJ said. “Have you seen her? We have a doctor’s appointment and… What are you doing?”

“Trying to get Sandy into her apartment,” Tanesha said.

“What? She’s out of the hospital?” MJ climbed the stairs two at a time. He grabbed Sandy’s wrist and began taking her pulse.

“Steve’s coming to…” Heather said. “What are you doing?”

“I’m taking her…”

“Stop that,” Tanesha said. “She’s very sick and…”

MJ scowled at her.

“I don’t know who you think you are but…” Heather started.

“He’s a Special Forces Medic,” Honey called from the bottom of the stairwell. “Remember. He saved my life.”

Heather and Tanesha looked at each other then at MJ.

“Should I get your kit?” Honey asked.

Without looking away from Sandy, MJ nodded.

“He can’t talk to you,” Honey yelled as she wheeled off. “Just let him do his thing.”

“Well how do you like that?” Tanesha asked Heather. “Psycho boy is saving the day.”

“Haven’t been called… ps-ps-Psycho b-b-boy in ten years,” MJ said.

“That’s not true,” Heather said. “I called you that until we graduated from high school and that wasn’t ten years ago.”

“Ten years this summer. Are you going to the reunion?” MJ’s attention never shifted from Sandy.

“Who do I need to reunion with?” Tanesha asked.

“I need to get my kit,” MJ said. “Leave her here. Honey!”

MJ ran down the stairwell. When he turned the corner, Heather hit Tanesha’s arm.

“What are you doing?” Heather asked. “Don’t harass him while he’s saving Sandy life.”

“Did you hear how clear his voice was?” Tanesha asked. “Keep a part of his mind focused on something neutral and he’s all right.”

“Is that true?” MJ asked as he ran up the stairs with his kit.

“I read it somewhere,” Tanesha said.

“Great field test,” MJ said. “Now get the fuck out of this stairwell.”


“I’ll carry her up,” MJ said. “She’s what? A hundred pounds with the baby weight?”

“One twenty,” Sandy said. “I’m huge.”

MJ looked down at Sandy and laughed.

“Get the apartment door open,” MJ said. “Wait, give me her prescriptions.”

Heather gave him the prescriptions and followed Tanesha up the stairs. He read the prescriptions then prepared a hypodermic needle. In one swift move, he injected it into Sandy’s neck.

“Ow,” she said. “Why my neck?”

“Faster.” He took her wrist and followed her pulse.

“We’re ready!” Tanesha yelled. “Are you coming?”

He rolled his eyes at Tanesha.

“You should know,” Sandy put her hand on his forearm. “I never called you ‘Psycho Boy.’ I was too worried about being…” Her voice slurred. “Ps-yyy-cho… m‘self.”

He picked her up when she passed out. MJ carried Sandy the rest of the way to the apartment. He went through the front door where Tanesha stood. He passed Heather in the living room. And Jill’s Mom, Anjelika, stood at the door to Sandy’s bedroom. He set Sandy on the bed. While he washed up, the women made quick work of changing Sandy into soft pajamas. Without saying a word, he rebandaged Sandy’s surgical wound.

“She has a lot of fluid…” He worked with her drains. “I need a clean towel.”

Heather ran to the bathroom for a clean towel. MJ put it under one of the drains in Sandy’s belly.

“You might want to look away,” MJ said.

He fiddled with the drain until blood and puss shot out of the end. The women moaned with disgust. He worked the rest of Sandy’s drains until they were clear.

“These drains get clogged up,” MJ said. “Keeps her sick. When does Steve get here?”

He set up an IV and a catheter.

“He’s due here at noon,” Heather said. “Why?”

“I need you to tell him a few things,” MJ said. “I have to go. Can you…?”

“I got it,” Tanesha held a piece of paper and a pen. “Go ahead.”

“Sandy’s still very sick,” MJ said. “She should be in the hospital. I gave her a mixture of a narcotic and an antibiotic. We use this mix a lot in the field.

“Is it safe for the baby?” Heather asked.

“Honey’s taking it,” MJ said.

“Honey’s pregnant?” Anjelika asked. MJ gave a curt nod. “How lovely!”

“That’s why I had it,” MJ gave the prescriptions to Heather. “Get these filled. And I don’t care what Sandy says, she cannot be in pain or have any fever. Tell Steve that. Tell him about the drains too. He’s going to have to watch them. She heals fast which is good, but not so good if you have poison inside you. I’ll call her doctor to see if we can get a course of IV meds for her.”

He focused his attention on Heather and Tanesha.

“If you love Sandy, you will not let her wake up,” MJ said. “She has to rest. That’s her only chance.”

Intimidated, Heather nodded.

“Her only chance?” Tanesha whispered.

“Of surviving. Of the baby surviving,” MJ said. “Lots of pregnant women die from this condition. You saw how much infection is still inside her.”

Tanesha and Heather shared a look then nodded at MJ.

“How long will she be out now?” Anjelika asked.

“Couple hours,” MJ said. “I’ll check her when I get back. If the doc writes another script, I’ll pick it up on my way. If he won’t write something, I’ll see if I can get it from docs who write for me. I’m going to recommend against moving her. I don’t think she’ll tolerate another trip to the hospital. She’s too weak. At this point, we have to manage her here.”

MJ became very intense.

“Sandy is a master faker,” MJ said. “She clearly faked her way out of the hospital. Think of all the years and ways she’s faked being normal. She’s a master. Do not believe her when she says she’s fine. You must love her enough to be super tough. If you let her wake up or get upset in any way, it will kill her.”

Like bobbles, the women’s heads moved up and down. MJ gave them one last stern look and left the room.

“I’ll make some tea,” Anjelika left the room.

“You have to get to work,” Heather said to Tanesha.

“You have Mack,” Tanesha said.

“He’s at work with Blane,” Heather said. “They spoil him rotten when he’s there. He loves going to work with Daddy. I can stay. Anyway, the DNA tester is going to be here this afternoon to test the family for…”

“Blane’s liver. I wish I was a match,” Tanesha said. “This is a big day for all of us.”

“Go to work. And don’t forget to ask. Today is your day.”

“This is a big day for all of us,” Tanesha repeated.

Nodding, Heather sat down next to Sandy on the bed.

“You’ll call me when you hear from Jill?” Tanesha asked.

Heather nodded.


Thursday morning — 12:45 P.M.

“Dear Goddess,” Delphie said almost as a sigh.

Wearing Tyvek suits, booties and hats, they were standing in the middle of the barn on the Brighton property.

“I came here right after Jacob called,” Seth said. “Took me an hour and a half to get out here even with the lights on. There was no one in the house so I wandered the property for another hour or so. I found him hanging right there about dawn.”

He pointed to a wide open space in the barn. Delphie’s kind attention compelled him to tell her the horror of what he found.

“I got him down. He was breathing,” Seth said. “Just barely but breathing. The Medivac got him to Denver Heath but he didn’t last an hour.”

Delphie touched his arm. Seth got out his phone.

“He was hanging from his shoulders. The noose was around his neck just enough to cut of breathing a little bit. Slow suffocation.” Seth showed Delphie the photos he’d taken on his phone. “The coroner said he’d been there at least a day.”

“He was at our house Tuesday night,” Delphie said. “He worked with Aden most of Wednesday. I don’t know what happened to him after that.”

“I guess it was only a few hours then. Maybe he was drugged,” Seth said. “It’s dumb but somehow, thinking he was drugged makes me feel better.”

They stared at the space above them in shock and horror.

“No blood, not fouled in any way that we can determine,” Seth said. “Just hanging there. And get this. The coroner said this wasn’t the first time. That child had undergone this torment at least once before. I…”

“Poor Jeffy,” Delphie said.

“Poor Jeffy.”


Thursday morning — 2:45 P.M.

Jill was the last person called to present her project. When she’d posted the first slide, the class had gasped. She thought that was a good thing, but she wasn’t sure. After touring the class through her design, she was questioned by her teacher, Mr. Rosa, for over five minutes. He wanted to know why she’d changed her design. He wanted to know why she picked every detail of the room.

“Thank you, Ms. Roper. You may sit down.”

Jill swallowed hard and made it to her desk.

“It’s time to vote,” Mr. Rosa passed voting forms down each of the aisles. “Quickly. We only have a few minutes.”

The class scribbled fiercely.

“Pass them forward,” the teacher said. “I need two minutes. Then I will announce the top three.”

While the teacher worked, the class chatted with each other. Too nervous to chat, Jill texted Heather to see how Sandy was doing. Sandy was still asleep. Steve was due back in an hour. The kids would be home in a few minutes. No word on Tanesha. She looked up when the teacher called them to order.

“Top three: Mr. Anulnamon”

Jill smiled as the man who’d designed a jungle paradise stepped to the front of the class.

“Ms. Cornielle.”

The awful woman knocked Jill’s shoulder as she passed. She’d created a room that looked like a post apocalyptic garden with robot attendants. Cool, if you were punk rockers, but two middle aged lawyers?

“Ms. Roper.”

Jill flushed. She tried not to skip to the front of the room.

“I will decide who wins our little competition by their answer to this simple question: What is the most important aspect of interior design?”

“Mr. Anulnamon?”

“The most important aspect of Interior Design is form and color. The color must hold in the form. A room must capture the eye and imagination…”

Jill was so nervous she didn’t hear the end of his answer. She had no idea what the most important aspect of interior design was. Every aspect seemed important.

“Thank you, Mr. Anulnamon. Ms. Cornielle?”

“The most important aspect of Interior Design to me is being able to take beauty and make it functional…”

Holy crap. Jill bit the inside of her mouth. What did that mean? She never felt so stupid or unprepared in her life. She didn’t know anything about art or beauty or form or function.

“Thank you, Ms. Cornielle. Ms. Roper?”

“Sir,” Jill said. “I’m a little confused by the question.”

“What’s the most important aspect of Interior Design?” Mr. Rosa squinted at her. “Why is that confusing?”

A snicker came from the back of the class.

“I’m not sure what you’re looking for,” Jill said. “I didn’t see that in our reading.”

“It’s not in the reading, Ms. Roper,” he said. “I’m asking your opinion.”

“My opinion. Uh. Okay. To me.” Licking her lips, Jill touched her chest with her right hand. “The most important thing is what the customer wants. I can help them figure out what they want, but it’s their room. They have to live and love in their home. It’s their home.”

Jill swallowed hard and closed her mouth. One thing Jacob has taught her was to say what she needed to say, then stop talking. He always said, If you say too much, you sound desperate. She wasn’t desperate. She just wanted to win. The silence dragged on.

“Ms. Roper is absolutely correct,” Mr. Rosa said. “The most important aspect of design is your customer’s wishes, desires, dreams, and more importantly, who they are. Ms. Roper was the only person who asked questions about the owners of this home. Then again, she’s the only one with experience with real customers.”

“Congratulations Ms. Roper,” he said. “Next week, I expect every single one of you to know everything there is to know about the people who are going to live in your next room. In the meantime, see you tomorrow on Broadway at noon. We’ll carpool out to the Biatchi’s to view the room.”

Jill dropped into her seat to catch her breath. She couldn’t believe it. She, Jillian Roper Marlowe, had won! She smiled. The awful Ms. Cornielle bumped into her. Turning as she walked by, the woman glared at Jill and stormed out of the room. Jill smiled.

Game on, Ms. Cornielle. Game on.

Denver Cereal continues next week…


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