CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY-ONE
Friday early morning — 3:05 A.M.
“Sam!” Delphie sat up in bed. She reached over to shake him awake. “Sam.”
“Wh…what?” He rolled over to look at the clock. “It’s only three. I don’t have to be up for…”
“Sam,” Delphie said. “Something’s terribly wrong.”
Friday early morning — 3:05 A.M.
In deep sleep, Aden heard a baby cry. He roused toward waking. Nearly awake, he remembered there were no babies in his life now. He was slipping back to sleep when he felt pressure along his body. He reached out to touch Sandy’s cat, Cleo.
Cleo bat at his hand with her razor sharp claws.
He jerked his hand away and rolled onto his back. He was drifting back to deep sleep when he felt Cleo’s soft fur against his arm. He heard Cleo cry. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he realized he’d only heard Cleo cry was when she was talking to Sandy. He opened his eyes just in time to see Cleo’s paw come at his face.
He jerked his face away. Her nails grazed his chin. Cleo cried again.
Cleo cried and raised her paw at him again.
He jerked to sitting up.
And heard Sandy moan.
Jumping to his feet, he flew to the bed. He touched her face. She was burning up. Her body was covered in sweat.
“Sandy!” Aden tried to wake her.
“What is it?” Noelle asked.
Ever the light sleeper, Noelle stood wide awake at the side of the bed.
“Go get, MJ,” Aden said. “Go Noelle. Now.”
Noelle jumped at the intensity in his voice. Afraid, she shook her head.
“Go,” he said again. “Now!”
She turned in place and ran out of the bedroom. Buster ran after her.
“Charlie,” Aden said.
“What?” Charlie asked from the floor.
“I need ice,” Aden said. “As much as we have.”
When Charlie didn’t move, Aden nudged him with his feet.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Ice,” Aden said. “Sandy’s sick.”
Charlie jumped up and ran out of the room.
“Nash,” Aden shook his son’s shoulder.
“Dad?” Nash asked.
“Sandy’s sick,” Aden said. “Can you get some water? No, a wet towel?”
Nash rolled into the bathroom.
“Sandy, Sandy,” Aden shook her shoulder.
Hearing movement, he saw Delphie run into the room.
“What is it?” Aden asked.
“The baby,” Delphie said. “She’s in labor.”
“Oh my God, I’m going to lose them both.”
“Not yet,” MJ said on his way into the room.
He was wearing pajamas with a pajama clad Honey hanging on his neck. She had his medical kid slung around her neck. He set Honey and the kit on the bed. He picked up Sandy and carried her into the bathroom.
“Fill the tub, Nash. Turn on only the cold water,” MJ said to Nash.
Nash ran to the tub and turned the water on. MJ set Sandy in the tub.
“Ice,” MJ yelled.
Charlie appeared at his side with a plastic grocery bag full of ice.
“We need more ice,” MJ said. “Charlie, run and get Jill. We need their ice and we need Jill. Sam, go wake up Valerie and Mike.”
“Should I get them here?” Sam asked.
“Get them here,” MJ said. “And…”
“Get their ice,” Sam ran out of the room.
“Nash,” MJ said. “Call her friends. We need everyone praying this morning.”
Nash scrambled to grab Sandy’s iPhone.
“Honey!” MJ called.
“It’s ready,” she said. “Noelle has it.”
Noelle ran in with a syringe. MJ injected it into Sandy’s IV line.
“Antibiotics,” MJ said.
“Oh my God,” Jill ran to Sandy. She put her hands around Sandy’s head.
“Our ice,” Jacob gave MJ a white trash bag full of ice. MJ poured the ice into the bath. Jacob shifted a sleeping Katy to his other hip. “We have an ice maker so we’ll have more in about fifteen minutes. Should I go to Walgreens?”
“Go,” MJ said.
“I’ll go with you,” Charlie said.
Jacob nodded to Charlie. He laid Katy on the bed next to Honey.
“I’ve got her,” Honey said.
“Thanks,” Jacob said. Jacob and Charlie ran out of the room.
“Mama?” Jill called.
Anjelika pressed into the crowded bathroom.
“Oh my God,” Anjelika said.
“Can you get her feet?” Jill asked. “Sandy’s fever is high. The toxins from the appendix are affecting the baby. She wants out.”
Anjelika reached into the cold water and held Sandy’s ankles.
“Mama?” Jill asked.
“We won’t be able to stop the birth,” Anjelika said. “That baby either joins us or she dies.”
“They’ll both die,” Jill said.
Jacob and Charlie ran in with two full bags of ice. They poured them into the bath with Sandy.
“Can you clear the room?” Anjelika asked.
“Out,” Aden commanded.
Familiar with his no-nonsense tone, Noelle and Nash retreated. Mike pushed past Aden into the bathroom. Sam stood at the door. MJ shook his head at Sam. MJ gave one last look at Sandy and left the room. When the door closed, Jill let go of Sandy’s head.
“We can’t fix everything,” Jill said.
“We don’t have the time,” Anjelika said.
“What’s the issue?” Mike asked.
“Fever? Baby? Or… Or… Sandy?” Jill hiccupped when she said her best friend’s name.
Mike put a hand on Jill’s shoulder for comfort.
“Mama, what gets all three?” Mike asked.
“Fever,” Anjelika said. “We get the fever and get her to the hospital.”
“I c-c-can’t decide… I…”
“We work the fever first,” Mike said. “Jill, go with her in the Ambulance. I’ll deal with Aden.”
Mike stuck his head out of the bathroom.
“Call an ambulance,” Mike said. “We’ll be ready when they get here.”
“Got it,” MJ said.
They heard Aden argue with MJ through the door. MJ, Anjelika, and Jill looked at each other.
“I’ll start,” Mike said.
Mike took Sandy’s hands. Anjelika took her feet. Jill kissed Sandy’s forehead then put her hands around Sandy’s head. A few moments later, Steve came into the bathroom followed by their sister Candy. Steve put a hand on Anjelika’s shoulder and his other hand on Jill’s shoulder. Candy put a hand on her mother’s shoulder and another on Mike’s shoulder. Megan joined them a few minutes later. Megan put a hand on Mike’s shoulder and one on Jill’s shoulder. For five full minutes, Sandy absorbed their entire focus.
“They’re here,” a male voice said. There was a tap on the door.
And they continued to focus on Sandy.
“They’re on their way up,” the male voice said.
Their focus stayed razor sharp on Sandy.
“They’re on the second floor,” the male voice said.
“Reverse order,” Mike said.
Megan let go of Mike and Jill. Candy let go of Mike and Anjelika. Steve let go of Jill and Anjelika.
“Jill!” Mike said.
Megan took Jill’s hands off Sandy’s head. Anjelika let go of her feet and Mike let go of her hands. Mike opened the bathroom door. He, Megan and Candy went into the bedroom. Led by MJ, the paramedics got Sandy out of the bathtub and onto the stretcher. Mike physically restrained Aden to keep him from going with her. Jill ran behind the stretcher.
An unhappy parade, they followed the stretcher out of the Castle and to the sidewalk. After Sandy was loaded, Jill hopped in. She’d already taken Sandy’s hand when the ambulance made a squealing journey turn out of the Castle driveway. They stood in stunned silence watching the Castle gate close.
“Delphie?” Aden asked. “Can you take care of the kids? I have to get to the hospital.”
“I’ll take care of the kids,” Delphie said.
“We’ll take care of them, Aden,” Valerie said.
“I’m sorry, Aden,” Sam said. “You can’t go.”
He pointed to Aden’s ankle bracelet.
“You’re supposed to get it off today,” Sam said. “They’ll never let you…”
Aden collapsed to the ground. Delphie helped Valerie herd Noelle, Nash and Charlie into the house. Anjelika went with Megan and Candy to their cars. Aden didn’t look up.
“Come on, man,” Mike said. “She still needs you to be strong.”
“Who’s going to be there with her?” Aden asked.
“Heather and Tanesha,” MJ said. “Jill.”
“What if she has the baby?” Aden asked.
“She’s having the baby today,” MJ said. “That’s a certainty. The question is whether either one of them will survive.”
“Oh my God,” Aden said. “I…”
“Come on,” Mike said. “Let’s get some cereal. Delphie’s going to want to have one of her ceremonies. We may as well eat while she sets up.”
“I need to get Honey,” MJ said.
“I’ll help,” Steve said to MJ.
“We can take care of Katy, Jake,” MJ said. “Why don’t you…?”
MJ nodded toward Aden. Jacob nodded.
“Cereal will help,” Jacob said.
Jacob helped Aden get up from the ground. He gave Aden a genuine man-hug and thumped him on the back. As they separated, Jacob gently touched the back of Aden’s neck as huge tears rolled down his face. They turned and followed Mike and Sam into the house.
Friday morning — 6:05 A.M
Refusing to be dislodged, Jill had to run behind Sandy’s stretcher through the hospital. The Emergency Room doctors gave Sandy a cursory examination and moved into action. They prepped Sandy on the way to a neonatal birthing center. A team of doctors and nurses waited for them. Jill pulled scrubs over her pajamas then joined Sandy in the room. Within minutes, Sandy’s little girl was born by cesarean section. Sandy was rushed from the room and into a surgical suite.
Unwilling to leave her best friend’s tiny two and a half pound little girl alone, Jill stayed with the nurses and doctor caring for her. For the next hour, she stood to the side while the professionals worked to keep the baby warm and alive. She watched them inject her with a cocktail to mimic the nutrition from her umbilical cord and set up an IV. They struggled to get the moist air set in the squirming baby’s nose. The babies small mewing cries brought tears from Jill’s eyes.
“She’s going to make it,” the nurse said. She set up the ventilator. “This kid is tough as hell.”
The nurse let Jill hold the tiny bundle for a moment before setting her into an incubator. Jill followed the baby through the corridors and into NICU. Jill stood outside the window staring at the child when Heather and Tanesha arrived.
“Where’s Sandy?” Heather asked.
“Surgery,” Jill said. “MJ knows one of the ER docs. He told him there’s another pocket of toxins and infection. They missed it in her original surgery because of the baby.”
“And the baby?” Tanesha asked. “Did she…”
Jill pointed through the window to the tiny child in the incubator near the back. The women stared at the baby.
“She’s beautiful,” Heather said. “So many wires.”
“And so tiny,” Jill said.
“Like Sandy,” Tanesha said. “How are her lungs?”
“Not quite developed yet,” Jill said. “The nurse said she was tough as hell. I…”
“Come on. No blubbering,” Heather said. “Let’s find out about Sandy.”
“I’d like to go to the chapel,” Jill said.
“I’ll find out about Sandy,” Tanesha said. “You guys find the chapel. We have some serious praying to do.”
Jill nodded. Heather steered her to the information desk. Tanesha met them a few minutes later. She confirmed that Sandy was in surgery. They left word for the doctors to find them in the chapel. Together, the three girlfriends went to the chapel to pray for their beloved Sandy and her small addition to their family.
Friday morning — 6:05 A.M
While the kids collected all the candles in the house, Delphie and Valerie set up the main Castle living room with comfortable pillows. Delphie created a makeshift alter with the candles and began calling the spirits, Gods and Goddesses to the room. By the time Honey, MJ and Katy came down, the Castle living room was a comfortable meditation area. Jacob lit a fire in the fireplace.
“What about school?” Nash asked. “It’s my last day.”
“You want to go?” Aden asked.
Shaking his head, Nash’s pained eyes told more than he was willing to say.
“Charlie has to get to rehab,” Aden said. “He missed yesterday and…”
“I’ll take him in an hour or so,” MJ said. “You have to be there at nine, right?”
“I don’t want to leave…” Charlie started.
“You’re going,” Aden said. “You need to be there today more than ever. You want to use today, don’t you?”
Charlie grimaced then nodded.
Aden stared into Charlie’s eyes, then said, “Me too.”
MJ helped Honey onto a comfortable pillow on the floor. He gave Katy to Jacob and then sat next to Honey on the floor.
“Most of you have done this before,” Delphie said. “When someone we love is in trouble, we send them love, strength and compassion. We pray for them. In this case, it’s Sandy and the baby.”
“What’s happening?” Valerie asked.
“Sandy’s in surgery,” Delphie said. “The baby’s born, healthy, but very small.”
“Tiny,” Jacob said.
“Should we split? Some of us focus on Sandy and others on the baby?” Mike asked.
“I think we can do both,” Delphie said. “You can say a prayer you’re familiar with or just focus on sending love. You kids know the metta meditation, right?”
Nash and Noelle nodded.
“We’ll do that,” Nash said.
“What should I do?” Charlie said.
“I say the rosary,” Mike said.
Charlie nodded. Leaning into Mike, he whispered, “I never remember the order.”
“Me either. Jill usually tells me,” Mike said. “We’ll just do our best.”
Delphie gave them each a set of rosary beads.
”It’s not about being perfect,” Delphie said. “It’s about sending love. You can also just think of Sandy and the baby. That works. Why don’t we get comfortable?”
With Nash lying on one end, Noelle took the other end of the couch. Charlie leaned up against the couch and Aden sat next to him. Jacob sat with his back to the fire. He nestled his sleeping daughter on his lap. Valerie and Mike sat down on a pillow near Honey and MJ. Sam sat down next to Jacob.
“Let’s begin,” Delphie said.
Friday morning — 8:05 A.M
Seth had been sitting at his desk at the downtown Denver Police station since four-thirty that morning. Charlie had called him to tell him about Sandy around four. The only place he could think of to store his worried body and mind was his office. He’d hoped this murder case would occupy his mind. Once at work, he had to lock his cell phone in his car to keep from calling Jill or the hospital every ten minutes. He would have just gone there but he didn’t want to inflict himself on Sandy’s friends.
Who’d ever heard of a two and a half pound baby? He couldn’t imagine any baby so small. He’d never given a thought to his wives’ healthy deliveries. That’s what women do. They have babies and divorce you.
But this was Sandy.
Seth rubbed his forehead and looked at the clock. How long could surgery last?
“Oh great you’re here,” a technician from the Denver Crime Scene Lab said.
He looked up at her with blurry eyes.
“Long night?” the technician said.
“I heard,” she said. “I also won ten bucks.”
Seth raised his eyebrows at her.
“I knew you’d be here,” she said. The woman held out a folder stuffed with paper. “We’ve gotten through about half of that barn. The Director wanted me to drop off what we have so far.”
“And?” Seth asked.
“There’s a lot there,” she said. “Seriously, there’s so much there it’s hard to determine what’s important to this case and what’s… historic. The Director called in all the trainees and any spare techs from around the state. We need the help. You’re supposed to be getting a team from Major Crimes to help you.”
“What do you mean ‘historic’?” Seth asked.
“I know this guy might have been killing people for last thirty years or whatever,” she said. “But we found stuff that’s like fifty, sixty years old. We’re calling the Museum of Nature and Science to take a look at one area.”
“There’s dessicated tissue and artifacts there from a hundred years ago or more,” she said. “It’s weird. And we haven’t started on the house yet.”
“Artifacts?” Seth asked.
“Scalps,” she said. “Real cowboys and Indians crap.”
Seth shook his head.
“That’s my response.” The woman gave him a sweet smile. “How’s your Goddaughter? Sandy, right?”
“Right. She’s in surgery,” he said. “The baby’s still alive, which I’m told is a big deal.”
“Well, good luck with it. We’re all pulling for her.”
Seth watched her as she walked out of his office. Shrugging to himself, he opened the file.
“Oh hey, I forgot,” the woman said. She jogged back into his office. “We found this. Can you check with that kid Charlie to see if this is the victim’s necklace?”
She held out a plastic bag with a stainless chain with a medallion on it. He took it from her.
“St. Jude,” he said.
“The patron saint of lost causes,” she said. “Poor kid.”
“I’ll check,” Seth said. “Thanks.”
“You wanna get a bite to eat?” she asked. “I’m off.”
“Nah,” Seth said. “I should wait to see how…”
“Sandy is doing,” the woman finished his words. “Yea, that’s what I like about you.”
The young woman winked at him and gave him another sweet smile. Knowing she had his attention, she spun in place and swished out of his office. He watched her high firm rear end retreat from his view. In another time, on another day, he would have accepted her invitation.
He sighed. Today wasn’t that kind of a day. He took one last look at where the technician had stood and began flipping through the evidence folder. He’d gone through the evidence from start to finish when his desk phone rang.
“Yeah?” Seth asked.
“She’s out of surgery,” Jill said.
“I’m on my way,” Seth said.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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