CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THREE
Friday morning — 4:00 A.M.
As the light began to invade the early dark of morning, Jacob woke with a start. It was time to get his day started. Slipping out of bed, he wandered across the loft. He opened the white shutters Jill had used to cover the East facing windows and sat down in an armchair.
In the still quiet of the morning, he could hear the people below him starting their day. Aden’s low rumble was followed by Sandy’s effervescent laugh. The water turned on for his shower. His father’s usual tuneless whistle moved through the first floor. Jacob even thought he heard Honey and MJ roll to the gym two floors below.
They were getting ready for a day at Lipson Construction.
A week ago, Jacob was among them. He was up at 3:30 or so to grab the first shower. He’d luxuriate in the shower until the water pressure shifted and he knew someone else was up. He had planned his day in the shower. By the time he came down from the loft, he was grounded and ready to take on whatever Lipson Construction had to dish out. Every day for the last five years had started the same way.
Wednesday, he’d started the day this way. But by the end of the day, he was out of Lipson Construction. He’d started yesterday with the usual 3:30 AM shower followed by a brutal five hour meeting with the board of directors.
Today was the first day in five years that he didn’t have to be anywhere.
He’d fought to be rid of Lipson Construction. He’d called it his personal albatross. More than once, he’d wished the company and all its problems would disappear.
But today, he felt lost.
Who was he now that he didn’t run Lipson Construction?
What would he do with his life?
He’d never asked that question. He’d always just done what’s next. High School led to College. College led to his carpentry business in Brunswick, Maine. He’d been certain he would marry his college girlfriend. Or maybe the girlfriend after the college girlfriend. Everything changed when his distraught father arrived in Brunswick. Sam’s plan to sell Lipson to some asshole investors launched Jacob into action. Or that’s what he told himself in the half light of morning.
He’d returned to Denver to save his father. The construction company and the asshole investors were way down the list of reasons he was in Denver. The girl, now his wife, was near the top. Jacob sighed. He came to Denver because he had to.
And now, he didn’t have to live in Denver anymore.
In fact, the moment the news of his ‘problems’ in Denver became public, he’d received job offers from construction companies all over the country. Those who knew Jacob knew he didn’t do the things he was accused of. They also knew he had worked miracles at Lipson Construction. In some way, they hoped he would work miracles for them too. He could step into a CEO position at any of at least ten companies. A couple companies called to see if he would be willing to consult.
“What is it?” Jill asked.
He looked up to see her pad across the hardwood floors in her bare feet and a sexy negligee he’d bought for her. He held his arms out and she sat on his lap. He kissed her neck. She put her head on his shoulder. For a moment, they sat in silence.
“What is it?” Jill repeated.
“It feels weird not getting up for work,” Jacob said.
“It’s what you wanted,” she kissed his lips.
“I know,” he said.
She returned to resting against him. He stared at the rising light.
“I feel lost,” he said.
“I know,” she said.
Friday morning — 8:35 A.M.
Sandy turned left on Locust Street and drove the couple of blocks to where her father’s house had been. After scraping the house, Jacob and his MLR Properties had erected a chain link fence around the property. She pulled Aden’s SAAB sedan in front of the lot.
They were going to finish clearing the lot on Monday. By this time Friday, there will be a foundation for a new house. Because they were getting one of those super green pre-manufactured homes, the house and landscaping would be done in a month’s time. Jacob had already sold the new home to a site manager at Lipson Construction. The site manager would get a great deal on the house. And Jacob would make a lot of money.
Unlike the house her father owned, the new home would be a modern wonder. The plan was gorgeous. The landscaping was going to be gorgeous. By the end of the month, the place where everything awful happened would be gone forever.
Sandy unlocked the padlock with the key Jill had given her. She pried open the gate and shoved her pregnant body through.
The grass her father had tended to perfection had withered and died. The space where the house had been was bare dirt. They’d left the big trees and most of the wild backyard. Her father never cared about the backyard. He was too busy making sure the neighbors only saw perfection. Anything protected by walls or six foot fences was left to its own devices. The backyard had been Sandy’s jungle paradise.
She’d torn down most of the building and found her father’s hidden money stash the last time she was here. Of course, the Feds kept all the money. But that was all right. Sandy didn’t want the money her father made selling her innocence.
But, then again, when Sandy was here last, she was also madly in love with Aden. He’d just beat up her father and their journey through the criminal justice system had just begun. At that time, she believed in him and the promise of their life together. She’d just found out she was pregnant too.
And now? They were getting along. They weren’t arguing anymore. He’d slept over every night this week because he was in so much pain with his teeth. She was guardian to his children. And…
Sandy’s mind went blank. Sigh, she picked her way across the lot.
He’d asked her last night what it would take for them to get back on track again. She’d been so happy just a few months before. Now, there was an invisible barrier between them. She longed to be close to him again, to trust him again, but she couldn’t imagine a way back to loving him again.
Shaking her head at herself, she moved through what used to be the backyard. The landscaping crew cut back much of the wild brush. They left the towering trees near the back: an ancient Elm and a regal Cottonwood tree.
Sandy went to the back of the lot where the fence had been. She used to hide back here for hours at a time. When Frisky, the cat who loved her no matter what, died, she’d buried him here. In the moments when all her hope was lost, she’d buried her sorrow here. She was confident her father had never been back here. And in all the intervening years when her father was in prison, no one else seemed to come back here.
Sandy sat down on the big boulder between the two towering trees. She touched the popsicle-stick cross she’d placed for Frisky, the cat who loved her no matter what. In all those years before her step-father saved her and she met Jill, Frisky had been her only friend. She used to bring Frisky back and forth between her Mom’s house and this hell-hole.
Frisky died one night at her father’s house. She wasn’t exactly sure how Frisky died. She’d always thought her father had killed him. A tear dropped splashed on the ground for Frisky.
She’d asked Jill whether she should move Frisky. But Jill thought, after almost seventeen years, Frisky would be sad to leave the trees. She suggested they create a nice place to remember Frisky. Jill had asked Delphie if they had a place. Delphie took them to the area of the garden, near the bees, where they’d buried their dogs and cats. They did a little ceremony and Delphie had created a lovely cross for Frisky, the cat who loved Sandy no matter what.
But Frisky’s body was buried on this property. Before another family moved in, Sandy had wanted to say ‘good-bye.’
She touched the cross one more time then went to Aden’s sedan. Opening the trunk, she took out the long pink jacket she used for dying hair, a pair of work gloves, long handled digging shovel and a tarp. She looked down the street one way then the other and returned to the lot. She walked to the boulder at the back of the lot again. She paced off three steps to the south and four steps to the west. She laid out the tarp, put on the work gloves and the pink jacket. Leaning down, she brushed the leaves from the spot.
Sandy began digging. One full shovel. Two full shovels. Three full shovels. She set the loose dirt on the tarp. Her fourth stab into the earth with the shovel made a ‘chunk’ sound. She looked from side to side. No one could see her behind the tall bushes. She dug the rest of the dirt from the hole and pulled out a rusty metal box. She set the box on the tarp and laid down on the ground. Reaching into the hole, she pulled a two gallon pickle jar out of the ground. She shook the dirt off the jar making the coins inside rattle against the glass. She laid down again and pulled out another pickle jar. Moving quickly, she filled the hole with the dirt on the tarp.
She took four steps to the north and began digging again. After she retrieved two large pickle jars full of coins, she took four steps to the east. She add two more large pickle jars to the growing line of coin filled jars. Breathing hard, Sandy moved the dirt around until all three holes were filled in. One at a time, she carried the heavy jars to the car. Returning to the back of the lot, Sandy looked from side to side to see if she could find the last spot.
She sat down on the boulder next to Frisky, the cat who loved her no matter what. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there before she realized two things.
First, she expected Aden to act like Frisky or Cleo, her cats who loved her no matter what. But Aden was not like them. She touched her belly, and the baby inside, for the obviousness of his non-catness. She expected too much from him. She nodded to herself and thanked Frisky for always giving her wisdom.
She also realized where to find the last coin stashes. She went over to a bush near the very back of the lot. The construction people had driven over this entire area when they were clearing the brush. Sandy fought against the hard packed dirt until she was able to retrieve a jar. She went two feet and dug up another jar. One at a time, she carried the heavy jars to the car. Aden’s sedan sagged against the weight of the jars.
She refilled the remaining holes and checked that all the holes were filled. She jumped up and down on each hold to compact the dirt. She added the remaining dirt to the holes and jumped on them again. Finally, she carried the shovel and tarp back to the car. She went back to put a layer leaves and grass over her digging sites. Looking up, she saw the heavy snow clouds coming in. After the snow, no one would know she’d taken something from here.
She went back one last time to say good-bye to Frisky. Crying, she told him that a new family would arrive and that he would bless their lives. She took the popsicle cross for Frisky’s new memorial at the Castle. With one last, ‘I love you’ and ‘Thanks’, she walked to Aden’s car. She took off the long pink coat and drove to her hair studio. When she got there, she asked Pete if he would help her unload. Pete followed her to Aden’s sedan.
“What is this?” Pete asked when she popped the trunk.
“Gold coins,” Sandy said.
Pete backed away from the trunk.
“Is it stolen? I can’t be around anything illegal, Sandy,” Pete said. “You know that. I won’t risk losing Molly and the kids again. One more time and…”
“It’s mine,” Sandy said. “I earned it when I was a kid. But you can’t tell anyone.”
“Why?” Pete asked.
“The Feds will think it’s my father’s money,” Sandy said. “No one knows this is mine.”
“Where did you get it?” Pete asked.
“From my father. He gave me a jar every Christmas. Said it was my college fund.” Sandy shrugged. “He thought it made everything even. It didn’t.”
“You’ve been so against your father and his money,” Pete said. “Why did you get this?”
“I don’t know,” Sandy shrugged. “I guess I wanted it for the baby.”
“You work, Aden works,” Pete said.
“I just had to get it,” Sandy shrugged. As if to explain it, Sandy said, “They’re building a house on the site next week. Someone else will live there by the end of the month.”
“Sandy, this is filthy money,” Pete said. “And very bad karma.”
Biting her lip, Sandy nodded.
“And so unlike you,” Pete said.
“I’ve been thinking about helping kids that are, right now, in the position I was in,” Sandy said. “It’s something Jill’s mom, Anjelika, said to me. And after seeing the baby yesterday, I felt I should go ahead and do it.”
Nervous, Sandy glanced at his face to see his reaction. Pete laughed.
“That’s the Sandy I know,” Pete said.
He helped her carry the jars into the studio. Sandy locked them in a secure filing cabinet in the back.
“I’m in,” Pete said. “In on your thing.”
“To help kids in child pornography and prostitution?” Sandy asked.
“That,” Pete said. “Whatever you need, I’m in. I know Molly will want to do your books. I bet Aden would be in. Jill and the girls will want to help. This is a great idea Sandy.”
“I’m too scared to ask them,” Sandy said.
They heard the bell indicating a client was at the door to the salon.
“Don’t tell, okay?” Sandy asked.
“Not a word,” Pete said. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“I’m sorry for a lot of things,” Sandy said. “Do you think Aden is like a cat?”
“A cat?” Pete asked.
“Never mind,” Sandy said.
“Sandy?” Pete said.
Sandy turned to look at him.
“You have a smudge of dirt right…” Pete pointed to her left cheek.
“Thanks,” Sandy said.
Wiping the dirt from her face, Sandy went out to start her work day.
Friday afternoon — 2:46 P.M.
“Right this way,” the uniformed officer said to Delphie.
He led her into the Coroner’s office.
“The Coroner will be right with you,” he said. “You can sit there.”
Delphie nodded. She felt pretty stupid. While Seth had asked her to help with his investigation, she was sure the Coroner would think she was some creep. She blushed and looked down at her hands in her lap. A police station wasn’t a place for a woman named after a flower who wore flowing gauze dresses. She was about to leave when Seth O’Malley came into the office.
“Oh great,” Seth said. “They told me you were here. The Coroner is downstairs doing the autopsies. I’ll take you.”
“She’s doing all of them?” Delphie asked.
“Everyone is doing one or two,” Seth said.
“I didn’t tell you?” Seth asked.
“Tell me what?”
“There were six bodies,” Seth said. “Each body seems to have been placed one at a time. Except the two that were together. Those are the oldest. Coroner estimates they were killed in 1972.”
“So many,” Delphie said.
“And Delphie, you should know that this is the third stash of bodies six bodies we’ve found. The other sites were exactly the same. Bodies laid out together. Buried one at a time over decades.”
“So many souls,” Delphie said. Realizing she had just said something flakey, Delphie blushed. She added, “I mean, that’s a lot of work for everyone.”
Seth’s eyes scanned her face. He smiled at her.
“Don’t be intimidated Delphie,” Seth said. “The Coroner is very forward thinking. She’s said she was excited to meet you.”
Standing at the door to an autopsy room, Seth stopped to look at Delphie.
“Plus, we need all the help we can get. I told her you were willing to help out. Of course, I had to do a background check on you, Chastity Bell.” Seth winked at her. “But you check out.”
Delphie gave her most sincere nod and Seth laughed.
“You let me know if it’s too much. This is pretty gruesome work.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Help us identify the bodies,” Seth said. “If you can.”
“If I identify a body, I make a contract to follow this until it’s resolved.”
“A contract?” Seth said.
“With the soul. That’s how it works,” Delphie said. “Will you let me follow this all the way through?”
“Of course.” Seth touched her arm. “And I will protect you as much as I can. No one will know you’re helping us.”
“You let me know when you’ve had enough?”
Seth moved forward through the doors. She heard him greet the people inside. For a moment, her fear kept her on the other side of the door. Stepping through the door, she would be agreeing to help them determine who killed all these people. This would be the biggest project she’d taken on since Celia died. Maybe the biggest project she’d ever taken on. Sam thought it was a great idea. But Sam would.
She would do this thing. She would use her gift for the benefit of victims like herself. She would have to be brave, but she had Sam, Jacob and everyone else to support her. Plus, Valerie was coming home for the weekend. Delphie smiled at how great her life was now.
She heard Seth call her name and stepped into the next phase of her life.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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