CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTY-ONE
Saturday afternoon — 2:15 P.M. MDT
Feeling tired but proud, Jeraine picked up his milk shake and turned onto Curtis Street. He smiled. From a block away, he could see the pile of dirt he’d moved that morning.
And then tall muscular man stepped on top of the pile of dirt, his pile of dirt, the pile of dirt he’d spent most of the day creating.
“Who’s that?” Jeraine asked Tanesha.
From a block away, Jeraine saw the man unbutton his work shirt and take it off. His muscles popped under his white tank top and his skin was so black it shone almost blue. When the man turned to place his folded shirt on the porch, Jeraine got a look at his face.
He knew exactly who was standing over his trench. Rodney-Smith. Jeraine swallowed hard.
When he was three or four years old, Rodney-Smith had been arrested for raping and murdering some white girl downtown. Jeraine’s father was sure Rodney was innocent but no one would listen. The police had no witnesses, no evidence, nothing. That didn’t matter. Nor did the fact that Jeraine’s Mom and Dad had taken a second mortgage out on their house to pay for an attorney for him. Rodney-Smith had gone to prison for life.
And Jeraine had never heard the end of it.
“If this can happen to a good man like Rodney-Smith, it can happen to any of you,” she’d say. “They see your guilt all over your black skin.”
If there was one person who’d made him into Mr. It, it was Rodney-Smith. Jeraine was not going to be like Rodney-Smith. No sir. No way. He made sure he kept out of the sun or used sun block so sure his skin would never get so black. He kept his women clean, happy and dark. No white woman was going to tell any tall tales on Jeraine. He had a posse of men who kept his image and business clean.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered hearing that Rodney-Smith had been exonerated. He couldn’t remember when he’d heard that. Didn’t matter. DNA evidence proved that some psycho killed that white girl and a bunch of others. At the time, he’d wondered if his Dad’s cop buddy Seth was involved. But he didn’t think about it for very long. Someone brought him a cocktail and the women were lining up to be in his bed. Who cared what happened to his childhood boogie man Rodney-Smith?
Jeraine pulled the car to the curb and jumped out. He wasn’t afraid of the man. Not him. No way. Pulling himself to his maximum height, he marched across the yard to where the man stood. Rodney-Smith’s head turned at his approach. Jeraine’s mind was a flood of thoughts. He should say… He was going to say… But when he got close to the man, he felt only panic.
“Did you dig this hole?” Rodney-Smith asked.
“What’s it to you?” Jeraine asked.
Rodney-Smith’s eyebrows went up. Jeraine heard a car door slam. Rodney-Smith’s eyes flicked toward the sound before turning back to Jeraine.
“Sure, I dug up the sewer at my fiancé’s house,” Jeraine said. “A man’s got to take care of his woman.”
Rodney-Smith’s eyes filled with amusement.
“You think that’s funny?” Jeraine asked.
Rodney-Smith’s hand moved at lightening speed. Jeraine flinched as if the older man was going to hit him. Rodney-Smith opened Jeraine’s right hand to reveal fresh blisters. The older man shook his head and turned to look at the hole again. Unsure of what to do, Jeraine looked in the hole too. A truck with the radio blasting one of his songs pulled up to the house. The music shut off with the low rumble of the truck.
“Are you going to marry this man?” Rodney-Smith asked someone behind him.
“He’s asked a few times,” Tanesha said.
Rodney-Smith looked at Tanesha and nodded. Jeraine’s mind began chanting: Don’t say it; Don’t say it; Don’t say it. He silently begged Tanesha not to tell Rodney-Smith the truth about them.
“He says you’re his woman,” Rodney-Smith said.
“See an ear tag on me?” Tanesha laughed.
She came around Jeraine to hug Rodney-Smith. Jeraine was so surprised he stepped back.
“You know him?” Jeraine asked.
“We’ve met,” Tanesha said.
Rodney-Smith chuckled at Tanesha’s response. She picked up Rodney-Smith’s work shirt and went into the house. Hearing footsteps behind him, Jeraine turned around to see three young black men coming toward them. Jeraine groaned.
“What’s wrong with you?” Rodney-Smith asked.
“Fans,” Jeraine said. “They follow me everywhere.”
Rodney-Smith looked at Jeraine and laughed. Somewhere between a chuckle and a cough, the laugh came from deep inside the powerful man. Jeraine turned to look at him. Rodney-Smith’s eyes went to the young men walking toward them. He gave them a curt nod.
“You’re not a very good liar,” Rodney-Smith said. “Lying is a full time job, son. If I were you, I’d give it up. Come on, I have gloves and bandages in my truck.”
Rodney-Smith pointed the young men toward the hole and walked to a battered red Chevy truck. Jeraine was too intimidated by the man not to follow him. The older man opened the passenger door. Jeraine stood on the sidewalk while the man dug through the back of his truck.
Another truck pulled up. A male voice yelled something in Spanish. Thinking the man was talking to him, Jeraine was about to yell: ‘Speak English. This isAmerica,’ back, when Rodney-Smith responded in Spanish. Four Hispanic men got out of the truck and grabbed shovels.
“What are they doing?” Jeraine asked. “I worked all morning on that hole!”
Rodney-Smith turned around to look at Jeraine. He opened his mouth to say something. Seeing Jeraine’s belligerence, he chuckled and began lancing Jeraine’s blisters. Rodney-Smith put something on the blisters then wrapped gauze and tape around his palm. Jeraine was amazed at how much better his hands felt. Used to being served, Jeraine didn’t bother to thank the older man. Rodney-Smith chuckled.
“A man’s hands are his most important tool,” Rodney-Smith said. “You’ve got to learn to take care of your hands first.”
“Why do you care?” Jeraine sneered.
“Because you say you want to marry my daughter,” Rodney-Smith said.
“You’re her father?” Jeraine snorted. “Some father. You let her live in those disgusting places with that ‘ho of a mother. She…”
“How many kids do you have?” Rodney-Smith’s face shifted to prison yard hard.
“Two.” Jeraine was so surprised by the question the words just popped out.
“Know their names?”
“It ain’t like that,” Jeraine said. “Them bitches tricked me into getting pregnant so they could take my money.”
“Some father,” Rodney-Smith said. “You see these men?”
Rodney-Smith grabbed Jeraine’s shoulders and turned him around. Jeraine looked into the yard. He was keenly aware of Rodney-Smith’s huge muscular hands just inches from his neck.
“They’ve just worked an eight hour shift,” Rodney-Smith said. “You know why they’re here?”
Jeraine shook his head.
“My boss asked me to stop by and take a look for him. He’s at the doctor with his baby. I told these men I was coming here after work. They came to help,” Rodney-Smith said. “They have families. They have children. They worked damned hard today. I didn’t ask but they’re here because someone they trust might need their help.”
Jeraine watched the men talk to each other then set to work.
“My family was robbed of me,” Rodney-Smith said. “My wife felt like she had no choice but to sell herself to take care of our child. We might sit here on this sunny day, all these years later, and discuss all of her options. But at that time, in this place, my beautiful, loving, kind wife believed her only option was to sell her body.”
Jeraine watched the sinew on the older man’s neck shift as he ground his teeth at the words.
“Your father tried to talk her out of it. I tried to talk her out of it,” Rodney-Smith said. “But she was done trusting people to help her family. She knew that she and Miss T were on their own in this cruel world. Our baby lived in those awful places, saw horrible things, and suffered unspeakably until I manned up and called my mother-in-law for help.”
“By that time, my wife was too far gone. The woman I loved with every breath in my body was gone.” Rodney-Smith gave a kind of cough to cover his sorrow. “My mother-in-law could only take Tanesha.”
Before Jeraine’s eyes, his mess of a hole transformed into a tight and tidy trench. In five hours of digging, Jeraine had uncovered five feet of sewer line. These men dug a foot of trench apiece in the five minutes he’d been standing here.
“I was in prison,” Rodney-Smith said. “What’s your excuse?”
“You’re not hearing me,” Jeraine said. “They don’t want me to be a father. They only want my money.”
“And what do you want?” Rodney-Smith asked. Jeraine had never considered the question.
“Sounds to me like you’re the one in prison,” Rodney-Smith leaned close to him. “You better man up, and right now, if you want a chance with my daughter. Put those gloves on, let these young men show you what to do, and get this job done.”
The older man’s deep black skin glinted. Jeraine could smell Ivory soap on the man’s skin. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered flying up into the sky only to come down into the safe strength of this man’s hands.
“You and Miss T were an item when you were babies,” Rodney-Smith said. “She’s been waiting for you to grow up. But she’s near done waiting. She’s going to medical school in a few weeks. You know how many men live their whole lives dreaming of meeting a woman like Tanesha? A beautiful, smart, doctor woman like her?”
Jeraine had some idea of how many men would kill for a woman like Tanesha.
“Are you going to stay in your own prison? Or you going to join us men in the free air?” Rodney-Smith looked him up and down. “Trust me, you don’t want to face every day without the only woman God meant you to love. You don’t want to live with that kind of pain.”
Rodney-Smith walked around him and across the yard. Jeraine watched the older man laugh at something the young black man said. They both looked over at Jeraine and he blinked.
This was the moment.
He could walk across the yard and spend the day doing ‘slave work’ with ‘low lifes.’ Or he could call a cab and return to his penthouse life. His eyes flicked to the house. Tanesha and her grandmother were watching from the front window. For a moment, he longed for the cozy comfort of a long hot shower, an hour in the hot tub, a massage, and a woman or two. He glanced to the street.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tanesha leave the window. He didn’t have to look to know he’d failed her. Again.
He closed his eyes.
“Hey, It, whatcha waiting for?” one of the young men asked.
“I’ve got a shovel right here,” the other young man said.
“Don’ worry,” a Hispanic man said. “We left plenty of dirt for you.”
Laughing at himself, Jeraine went across the yard.
Saturday afternoon — 3:35 P.M. MDT
Jacob shook Blane’s doctor’s hand. He nodded to the transplant expert and tissue typing doctors. Putting his arm around Jill, they walked to the elevator. Katy was sound asleep on Jill’s hip.
“Would you like me to take her?” Jacob asked.
“Katy?” Jill looked down at her sleeping daughter. “There aren’t going to be many days of this. I’m trying to enjoy it while I can.”
“Because of the liver transplant?”
“No,” Jill smiled at his worried face. “Because she’s due for a growth spurt. Mom told me I sprouted up at five and seventeen.”
“Paddie’s already about a foot taller than she is,” Jacob said.
“His Dad is six-five!” Jill laughed. “Julie’s at least two inches taller than me. Paddie is always going to always be taller than Katy.”
Jill kissed Katy’s forehead. Katy’s hand swatted at her and she smiled.
“I’m kind of glad she’s still little,” Jill said.
“What did you think of today?” Jacob asked.
The elevator stopped at the ground floor and they stepped out. They walked across the lobby to the parking lot.
“I’m not sure what to say about today,” Jill said. “I was glad they explained the DNA and tissue typing thing.”
“They used DNA to separate Katy and Paddie’s samples,” Jacob said. “They determined who Paddie was when his DNA was posted to CODIS after he was almost kidnapped.”
“But they looked at their sample because it was a tissue match.”
“Right,” Jacob said. “Tissue first, genetics second.”
“Right,” Jill said.
They walked in silence to the Lexus SUV. He opened Jill’s side and took Katy from her. He settled Katy in her car seat and went to the driver’s seat. Putting on his seat belt, he started the SUV.
“So what did you think?” Jacob asked.
“What’s to think?” Jill asked. “They retook our samples. They explained how a transplant would work. They gave us the up side and the down side. We’ll see if we’re a match.”
They drove out of the parking lot and started down Colfax toward their home. Stopping at the light atPeoria, Jill turned to look at him.
“Any psychic impressions?” Jill asked.
“None,” Jacob said. “You?”
“None,” Jill said. “I guess we wait.”
“I guess we wait.”
Saturday afternoon — 4:51 P.M. PDT
Ava slipped into the back of the auditorium where Seth was working. He’d called around lunch time and asked her if she wanted to ‘go out’ tonight. Not sure of what he meant, but not wanting to miss anything, she’d said yes.
She wore a casual summer dress that matched the suit he was wearing and some cute flip flops. Entering the back of the auditorium, she felt immediately under dressed. The men and women in the orchestra were dressed to the nines. Intimidated by the grandeur of the auditorium, the orchestra, and the music, she was sorry Schmidty hadn’t come with her. But Schmidty was working on Andy’s estate. The poor man was up to his eyeballs in lawyers. He would meet them later.
Later. Ava looked at her dress and the door. Maybe she should go change. She was looking in her purse to see if she had her credit card, when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“You can sit over there,” a young man said to her. About her age, he smiled at her.
“Thanks,” Ava said.
She found a seat in a row and the man sat next to her.
“Waiting for someone?” he asked.
Ava gave him a slight nod. Her mind drifted to her worry about what she was wearing.
“Me too,” he said. “My Mom plays in the orchestra here. We’re going to see Harry Connick tonight.”
“Harry Connick?” Ava asked. “That sounds fun.”
“He’s playing at the Hollywood Bowl,” the young man said. “I guess that guy O’Malley knows Connick. Got everyone tickets. Maybe if you ask you could go too.”
“Maybe so,” Ava smiled.
She felt a wave of relief that they might be going to such an informal setting. Out of habit more than anything, she reached in her bag to call Beth to tell her the cool news. She had already pressed send when she remembered that Beth was dead. Ava could feel the blood drain from her face. She hit end before she got the disconnect recording. Seth had figured out a way to transfer her contacts to her new phone. She didn’t have the heart to remove Beth from her speed dial. Ava bit her lip to keep from crying.
Seth glanced up at her. His face showed his concern. She mouthed that she was all right. He smiled and held up a hand. Five more minutes and he’d be done.
“O’Malley has quite a reputation,” the young man said.
“Oh yea?” Ava asked. “What kind of a reputation?”
“Let’s just say, he’s always with the hottest girl in the room,” the young man said.
“He comes out here every year or so,” the young man said. “Mom tries to get in his orchestras because she says he invents the most interesting music. She says it’s her chance to work with a master. Of course, it’s great money. But I know it’s because she likes him.”
“Your Mom dates O’Malley?” Ava asked.
“She did,” the young man said. “When she was a hot young thing. Or so she says. Personally, I can’t imagine her being a hot anything but she’s my mom.”
Ava felt the young man look her up and down. She glanced at him and turned her attention back to Seth. He was talking to a female clarinet player. By the way he was acting, she knew they must have dated at some point. Watching them chat, Ava realized she and Seth had never had the ‘Who have you dated conversation.’
Ava thought for a moment. She started tallying the women she knew he’d dated: the Coroner for sure, that girl in Traffic, maybe her Commander, and… Her mind went blank. Ava sighed. She didn’t care enough to hang on to the thought. In fact, she couldn’t think of one reason why she cared who Seth had dated. She smiled.
“What’s funny?” the young man asked.
“Nothing,” Ava said. “I was laughing at myself.”
“When I sit up here, I wonder who O’Malley nailed last night,” the young man said.
“Who do you think?”
“I picked the buxom trumpet player,” the young man said. “I bet she has some skills he’d like.”
“Like what?” Ava tried to think of what Seth liked.
“You know trumpet?” the young man wiggled his tongue. Surprised, Ava snorted. He seemed pleased to make her smile. “Anyway, Mom said he looked like hell this morning. He told the orchestra that someone he cared about died yesterday. He apologized for being out of sorts.”
“Andy Mendy,” Ava said.
“That’s what Mom said. But you’ve got to hand it to the old guy. What a great way to get into a women’s beds! On top of it all, he’s sick with some thing he caught from a serial killer who killed kids. Women love that crap. I bet he’ll nail all of them before the month’s out.”
“Has that worked for you?” Ava asked.
Uncomfortable, the young man cleared his throat.
“So are you waiting for your Mom too?” the young man asked.
“Nope,” Ava said.
The orchestra was breaking up. The conductor was giving them instructions for tomorrow. Everyone seemed excited to be going to the concert. For people who’d worked all Saturday, they vibrated with a kind of musical energy. Using his canes, Seth made his way to her.
“Who are you waiting for?” the young man asked.
“Him,” Ava pointed at Seth. “Oh, and don’t worry about who he’ll nail tonight. That will be me. Last night too.”
Ava got up and ran down the stairs to Seth. He hugged her tight and kissed her neck.
“Are we going to see Harry Connick?” Ava asked.
“You’re going to see him,” Seth said. “I’m going to play.”
“Where ever Seth is, musicians come out of the wood work to play with him. We maybe going to see Connick, but before the nights out we’re bound see just about every musician in the city,” the conductor said. He shook her hand. “You must be Ava. Thanks for saving our Seth.”
“You don’t mind going?” Seth asked Ava.
“Sounds fun,” Ava said. Leaning close, she whispered in his ear, “You have to eat and take your meds.”
“Yes, let’s get some dinner,” Seth said. “If you’ll excuse us?”
The conductor nodded. Seth led her to the elevator where he kissed her.
“Thank you for helping me with what’s best for me,” Seth said. “But you don’t have to play nursemaid for the old man.”
“Don’t worry,” Ava said. “I’m not making sure you feel good for your benefit.”
Laughing, Seth followed her to the limousine.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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