Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Ten : Brave

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and TEN

One week later Monday mid-day — 11:30 A.M.

“So you know who I am,” Nash said.

He sat down next to Charlie’s bed at Denver Health.

“You’ve got to be the gym guy’s son,” Charlie said. “You look just like him.”

“The gym guy?”

Nash wrinkled his face. He’d spent the entire bike ride to Denver Health pumping himself up for this conversation. He wasn’t going to take any crap from this Charlie guy. Teddy stood near the door to back him up.

“I don’t know his name,” Charlie shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think Sandy ever told me his name.”

“Aden Norsen,” Nash said. “I’m Nash.”

Nash held out his hand and Charlie shook it.

“My Mom and Dad were talking about you coming to live with us,” Nash said. “Sandy… I mean Mom really wants you to live with us. Dad will do anything for Mom, so…”

“I don’t know anything about it, bro,” Charlie said. “I’m supposed to get out of here today or tomorrow. Seth said I could live with him but Sandy wants me to go to rehab. That’s what I know.”

Nash opened his mouth to say something.

“Wow, you look like the pilot,” Charlie said to Teddy. “Who are you?”

“Ted Jakkman,” Teddy said.

“Yea, Jakkman,” Charlie said. “Sergeant Jakkman. I bet he’s your Dad.”

“My Dad’s a Captain,” Teddy said. “He’s the best pilot in the US Air Force.”

“You must be very proud,” Charlie said with dripping sarcasm.

Defensive, Teddy moved forward to hit Charlie. Nash held him back. The boys shared a long look. Teddy went back to the door and Nash sat down again.

“Listen,” Nash held up his hand. “We know you can be a dick. We didn’t come all this way so you could impress us with your vast skills at being an asshole. So knock it off. This is about your future. And our future.”

Charlie looked over at Nash to assess him.

“You’re still pretty sick,” Nash said. “When you get out of here, you’re going to need a lot of help.”

“Sandy wants me to go to rehab,” Charlie repeated.

“What do you want?” Nash said.

“To get laid. Don’t you?” Charlie asked. “I bet you’re still a virgin.”

“I’m not the big loser sitting in a hospital bed with nowhere to live,” Nash said.

“Point taken,” Charlie said. “How did Sandy get to be your Mom?”

“I want her to be my Mom,” Nash said. “And I bet you do too. That’s why we’re here.”

“You have a proposal,” Charlie said. “Lay it out there, bro.”

“Fine,” Nash said. “If you come to live with us, you’ll promise to never bring drugs around me or my sister. If you do, you will deal with me. You will not bring your scumbag friends around me or my sister, but particularly my sister. If you come to live with us, you have to act like family. Not selfish stupid family. Real family.”

“What’s wrong with your sister?” Charlie asked. “Is she a retard or something?”

“Noelle is beautiful,” Teddy said. “You watch what you say about her.”

“I see someone is smitten,” Charlie said.

“Knock it off. You’re being an asshole just to be an asshole. If you don’t care about yourself at all, then go fuck off,” Nash said. “But if you want to live with us, then you have to listen.”

Charlie looked at Nash then at Teddy. He was silent for a moment then nodded.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“My sister and me, we take care of each other,” Nash said. “We don’t use drugs, no alcohol, and we don’t hang around scumbags. If you come to live with us, then you have to act like us. You have to go to school, stop taking drugs, and get your shit together.”

“You think I’m a total loser,” Charlie said.

“I think you’re a dumbass,” Nash said. “Teddy and me, we could have made the same choices you’ve made. We have bullshit families. Parents who suck. But we didn’t give up everything to hang out with losers and scumbags.”

“Hey man, I’m addicted…”

“Oh bullshit,” Nash said. “No one made you take drugs. You chose to do them. You didn’t have to. You’ve been clean before. Sandy said you’ve been to rehab already. You decided to go back to drugs.”

“You don’t know how hard it is,” Charlie said.

“You wanna bet,” Nash said. “Teddy, me, Noelle, we’re very sensitive to drugs and alcohol. We could be addicts like that.” Nash snapped his fingers.

“But we’re not,” Nash said. “You made shitty choices, bro. If you want to live with us, you’re going to have to man up to your choices and get your shit together. You’re not bringing me or my sister down.”

“What about that guy?” Charlie pointed at Teddy. “Can I bring him down?”

“Fine, be an asshole,” Nash said. “Loser. You’ll be dead soon enough.”

Nash got up and walked toward the door.

“Would I have to go to school?” Charlie asked. “I’m not good at school.”

Nash turned around to look at Charlie.

“What’s wrong with school?” Nash asked.

“Can’t read,” Charlie said. “I’m good with numbers but I can’t read.”

Nash was so surprised that he blinked. He and Teddy looked at each other.

“Listen, if you tell anyone, I’ll kick your ass. Tell Sandy and I’ll totally deny it,” Charlie said.

“What if we teach you how to read?” Nash asked. “Will you promise not to be an asshole? Not bring your scummy friends around? Make a real stab at getting your shit together?”

“And not bring drugs around us or Noelle?” Teddy asked.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” Charlie said. “It’s a lot easier to live on the streets.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Teddy said. “How many diseases do you have?”

Charlie’s eyes shifted to look at Teddy. He looked like he heard something he’d never thought of before. He opened his mouth and then shook his head.

“I don’t think I can,” Charlie repeated.

“Why not?” Nash asked. “About six months ago my mother tried to sell me and my sister to some men for sex. Then she was all ‘I want my babies’ so we have to see her again. And she breaks Noelle’s cheek bone. Teddy’s Mom is bat shit crazy. Drugs are just the start of it. You can’t imagine the stuff Teddy’s been through to keep his sister and brother safe. What makes your life harder than ours?”

“I only fit in on the streets,” Charlie said.

“Don’t fit in? Welcome to the fucking club,” Teddy said. “I’ll help you with school but you’ve got to get your shit together. You could even take martial arts classes with us.”

“I knew you were spoiled rich kids,” Charlie said.

“We take martial arts classes from a friend of Teddy’s Dad’s,” Nash said. “He doesn’t charge us. We have to do community service to pay for our classes. We’ve been working at the Rescue Mission.”

“I have a sister,” Charlie said.

“Sissy, yeah, we heard,” Nash said. “Do we have a deal?”

“No really, what about Sissy?” Charlie asked. “Seth said she could live with him.”

“You can’t pretend that you care about Sissy,” Nash said. “You didn’t care about Sissy when you were getting high. You didn’t care about Sissy when you let your lame-o friends beat on you or…”

“I get the point,” Charlie said. “Ever thought of being a drug counselor?”

“I’m going to program video games,” Nash said. “Anyway, do we have a deal?”

“We have a deal,” Charlie said.

“One more thing,” Nash said. “If you make my Mom cry, I will personally beat the crap out of you. You think the beating you got was bad? It was nothing compared to what I’ll do to you if Mom cries over you.”

“How did Sandy get to be your Mom?” Charlie repeated.

“I wanted her to be my Mom,” Nash said. “She says she’s my Mom. So don’t make her cry.”

Charlie nodded. Nash gave Charlie another hard look to show his sincerity. Teddy scowled to show that he was the sincere back up for Nash’s plan. The boys looked at each other and left Charlie’s room. Charlie waited a few minutes. Grabbing his crutches, he went after them. He had to crutch fast but he caught them at the elevator.

“What?” Nash asked.

“You won’t tell anyone about the reading thing, right?” Charlie asked.

“Not a soul,” Nash said. “That’s what family does.”

“Oh, good,” Charlie said. “You know I wasn’t always like this. When my Dad was alive, I was like you.”

“So what happened?” Teddy asked.

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I got lost.”

“Me too,” Teddy said. “My Mom was doing drugs. Dad was in Afghanistan. I used to stay home with her to make sure she didn’t burn the house down or whatever. I missed a couple years of school. But I found my way. You can too.”

Charlie nodded. He turned and crutched back to his room. He was almost here when he turned to them again.

“Nice to meet you,” Charlie said.

“You too,” Nash and Teddy said.

The elevator bell rang and Nash and Teddy got on. Charlie nodded and went back to his room.

Lying down on his bed, Charlie thought about calling Sandy and telling her that Nash was here. Sandy would be pissed that Nash wasn’t in school. Charlie smirked at the idea of little perfect Nash getting in trouble. With his hand on the phone, Charlie changed his mind.

He couldn’t help but like the little guy. Nash and his friend were tough and smart. Charlie leaned back against his pillow. He could always ride this out and leave when he wanted to. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt a burst of hope.

As soon as hope appeared, he squashed it down with the cynicism he’d learned as street smarts. Good things didn’t happen to Charlie. Charlie’s life would be one long string of crap until he died. That was the truth. No way around it. His hand reached for the phone again.

“Hey Charlie,” Sandy said as she came in the room.

She was wearing a bright yellow top covering her bulging belly. Just seeing Sandy made his mood shift. He smiled at his sister and she beamed back. She leaned over to kiss his cheek.

“Whatcha doing?” she asked.

“Waiting for you,” he said.

“Oh great,” Sandy said. “The doctor said you can leave today.”

“That’s good news,” he said.

“Listen Charlie, I have a proposal for you. Now hear me out before you say no.”

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 3:20 P.M.

“Did you pick up anything?” Seth asked.

“From this site? Or from the other one?” Delphie asked.

Seth had asked if she would tour all the places they’d found bodies before she left for her first ever Mexico vacation. He was hoping she would pick up something about the killer. While they had established most of the identities of the victims, they still had no leads on the killer.

The killer was fastidious. After he killed each victim, he shaved off all of their hair and bathed them. He even made sure to clean under their fingernails. Then the killer wrapped each body in butchers block paper and moved them to the burial sites. The police had gone over the victims with microscopes and found no physical evidence. They had sifted through tons of dirt and found nothing. There were no fibers, no DNA, and no physical evidence linking back to the killer. Even the butcher’s block paper, what little hadn’t decomposed, was ordinary.

The police had no leads, no evidence, and the bodies were piling up.

“Are you avoiding the question?” Seth asked.

“No…” Delphie bent down to touch the ground. “I’m not.”

“Then…?”

“It’s funny because Jake said something about this when they were taking the bodies from the Castle,” Delphie said. “In fact, would you mind if I called him?”

“No, go ahead,” Seth said. “Anything you can give me…”

Delphie took her cell phone and her reading glasses from her purse. She looked at her phone with a whiff of suspicion.

“What’s wrong?” Seth asked.

“I don’t know how to find the contacts,” Delphie said. “The whole phone thing is new to me and…”

“Let me help,” Seth said. “These things are confusing to me too. You wanted to call Jake? Did he set up the contacts?”

“He’s on my speed dial, whatever that is,” Delphie said.

Seth pushed a few buttons then gave the phone back to Delphie. She smiled.

“Jake?” Delphie yelled into the phone. “Are you there?”

“Hi Delphie,” Jacob said. “You don’t have to yell. It’s a cell phone not a tin can.”

“Oh, that’s right. Sorry,” Delphie said.

“What’s up?”

“Remember when you were watching the police at the Castle? You said something about a smell,” Delphie said.

“Sure,” Jacob said. “Still smells like that down there.”

“Like what?” Delphie asked.

“It smells like the detergent we used to clean the grill at Bowden,” Jacob said. “Remember I worked at that burger place on campus for a year.”

“I remember the ‘hot chick’ that worked there,” Delphie said. “I was afraid she was going to become a permanent fixture.”

Jacob laughed.

“Yes, I’m glad she isn’t a permanent fixture either,” Delphie said. “Do you remember anything about the detergent?”

“You bought a case of it on some super sale,” Jacob said. “You wanted me to use it to clean all the stoves but I couldn’t handle it.”

“You threw it out,” Delphie said. “Yes I remember. Can you do me a favor? Are you at the Castle?”

“I’m at home,” Jacob said. “We’re leaving in an hour. Can I help?”

“Is Jill or Sam there?”

“They aren’t here,” Jacob said. “Jill’s with Katy at her sister’s and Dad’s at work.”

“Is there any other normal there?”

“You mean a non-psychic?” Jacob asked. “I think MJ is here. They got in late last night. I think he’s off this week. Why?”

“Can you see if he smells it?”

“Sure. Just a second.”

Delphie listened to Jacob jog down the stairs to the basement. She heard MJ’s good natured laugh and their movement around the Castle.

“Ok, we’re here,” Jacob said.

“What do you smell?”

“Same thing,” Jacob said.

“Ask MJ,” Delphie said.

She waited while Jacob asked MJ what he smelled. She heard the men talk back and forth for a moment before Jacob got back on the line.

“He smells sand, dirt and moisture,” Jacob said. “He said he can smell burned concrete from when the police cut out the subfloor to get the bodies.  He said you never forget the smell of something that blows up in your face.”

“That’s what I thought,” Delphie said.

“Is that it?” Jacob asked.

“Yep, thanks. And thank MJ too.”

Delphie heard MJ laugh as she clicked off the phone.

“What was that?” Seth asked.

“Jake and I both smelled this industrial cleaner when we were watching the police clear out the bodies from under the chapel,” Delphie said.

“And?”

“I smell that cleaner here and at the other site,” Delphie said. “Do you?”

Seth made an exaggerated sniff and shook his head.

“That’s what occurred to me,” Delphie said. “It’s a psychic smell. We smell it because we’re psychics. It’s not a real smell.”

“What does that mean?” Seth asked. “Come on Delphie. Give me something I can really use.”

“Your killer works in food preparation,” Delphie said. “I bet if we test the bodies, they were all washed in a cleaner used for food preparation.”

“So?” Seth asked.

“That’s not very normal is it?” Delphie asked. “If I went to get enough cleaner to clean all these bodies, someone would notice. Your guy has it around…”

“Because he cooks food,” Seth said. “That’s very good.”

“Greasy food,” Delphie said.

“Greasy food.”

“Jake used the cleaner at a burger joint,” Delphie said.

“I’m going to make a call. Get one of these kids to track down all the distributers in Colorado,” Seth said. “Do you think we’re looking for a restaurant cook? Or …”

“This guy is a loner,” Delphie said. “There’s not even a shadow of another soul in his life.”

“Shadow of a soul?” Seth asked.

“People leave imprints on our hearts and minds. We carry them around with us,” Delphie said. “I can see the souls people have around them. Like you have Sandy, her Dad, your kids… Charlie’s there, me, your dogs…”

“Okay, okay,” Seth said. “And this guy?”

“No one,” Delphie said.

“That’s two more pieces of information we didn’t have this morning,” Seth said. “Let’s try the other sites. Are you game?”

“I’m happy to help,” Delphie said.

“That’s one of the things I like about you,” Seth said.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 4 P.M.

“Ok, so you’re going to…” Jill started.

She spun in place and walked back toward her sister’s kitchen.

“Jill!” Megan, Jill’s oldest sister, said. “We’ve got it. You’ve said everything three times!”

“Oh,” Jill said. “You won’t forget to get more sunscreen?”

“I have it on my list,” Megan said. “And I’ll make sure to get the non-cancer causing kind.”

“Oh,” Jill said.

“Why are you so freaked out?” Megan asked. “You act like you’ve never spent a night away from Katy. We’ve taken care of Katy since she was an infant. We just haven’t seen as much of her since you and Jacob got together. And we’ve missed her. The boys are really excited to get to spend a week with her and Paddie.”

“Oh,” Jill said.

Lost in thought, Jill stood still in the middle of Megan’s kitchen. Her hand went instinctively to rub the button held on her wrist by a simple bracelet.

“What’s going on?”

“I… Well…”

“Jillian Roper,” Megan said. “You’re going on your first real vacation since you were a kid. And it’s exactly how you wanted it. We’re coming along tomorrow. The rest of our family will be there this weekend. Delphie and Sam will be there when you get there. Was there someone else you wanted to go on your honeymoon with? Because I’m sure Jake will make that happen too.”

“No, Sandy, Heather and Tanesha can’t come,” Jill said. “They have stuff they have to do here. We’re planning a trip in August before Tanesha starts med school.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“You remember when I was in Santa Monica before?” Jill started. She blushed.

“I remember,” Megan said.

“It was the best night of my entire life,” Jill said. “We’re going there tonight. What if… You know, it’s not that great or…”

Megan laughed.

“Maybe it’ll be better,” Megan said. “You can be more honest, more yourself. I bet you’ll have a wonderful time.”

“What if I don’t get pregnant?” Jill asked.

“What if you don’t?” Megan smiled.

“Jake really wants a bigger family,” Jill said.

“You have lots and lots of time Jill,” Megan said. “You’ve been married less than a year.”

“But if we don’t have another baby then maybe he’ll find someone else.”

Megan laughed at Jill’s confused, heart broken face.

“This is why you’re not pregnant,” Megan said. “You’re too worried about him leaving.”

“You don’t understand,” Jill shook her head slightly. “You and Tim have been together forever.”

“Listen,” Megan said in her older sister voice. “I completely understand. You guys have been through a lot. This secretary thing is really awful. I know why you have doubts. If Tim had this kind of scandal, I’d be freaked out too.”

“You would?”

“Sure,” Megan said. “I have a big life – three kids, nice home, good job, everything I could want – but Tim is the cornerstone of everything. If some woman said all the crap that secretary said about Jacob, and text messages and whatever else, I’d be really freaked out.”

“What would you do?”

“I’d take a page out of my brave sister Jill’s book,” Megan said. “I’d talk to my husband. I’d listen to my heart and I’d move on. What is it that you told me? ‘I can always leave later.’ That’s what I’d do. And who knows? Maybe it would turn out to be really good. Like it has been for you and Jake.”

“Really good?”

“You’d never take this vacation if this hadn’t happened,” Megan said. “Jake would still be working crazy hours. In some ways, the secretary did you a favor.”

“She did?” Jill’s eyebrows rose with doubt and surprise.

“Yes, she got Jake out of Lipson so you guys can really have a life,” Megan said. “It’s what he’s always wanted. Now you can build a life together.”

Biting her lip, Jill nodded. The doorbell rang.

“That’s Jake,” Jill said.

Megan hugged Jill.

“Go and have a great time,” Megan said. “Some things are meant to be. Why don’t you get the door?”

Megan called Katy while Jill opened the door. Jacob stood at the door holding a single white rose.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

With her hand pressed to her heart, Jill nodded. Katy ran up to say good-bye. After lots of kisses and hugs, Katy wiggled away. Laughing, she ran back to playing with her cousins. Megan gave Jill a knowing smile and closed the door behind them.

With one last look at the door, Jill followed Jacob to the car. He opened her passenger door. The slip of tulle she wore as a mask the last time they went to Santa Monica lay on the seat.  Picking it up, she sat down in the seat. Jacob went around the back of the SUV. When he got in the car, he was wearing his mask.

“Are you ready?” he repeated.

Seeing him in the mask, her heart all but exploded in her chest. All anxiety and fear disappeared. She was ready. When she put her mask on, he laughed.

~~~~~~~~

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