CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY
Saturday afternoon – 2:15 P.M. City Park, Denver
“Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo.” Paddie shivered from the cold water at the splash fountain. When his Mom, Julie, covered his mouth with the towel she was drying him off with Katy took up the call.
“Zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo, zoo.” Colin covered her mouth with a towel.
“What do you think, Jules?” Colin said. “Should we leave them like this?”
“Dad!” Paddie squirmed out of Julie’s grasp.
Running away from Julie and toward the zoo, he ran right into a man’s legs.
“Paddie NO!” Katy screamed.
The man grabbed Paddie’s shoulders. Trapped in her towel and held in place by Paddie’s father, Katy couldn’t rescue her friend. Paddie spun in place and threw his best punch. He hit the man in the genitals.
“You little shit,” the man raised his hand to slap Paddie.
Katy squirmed to get away enough to help her friend.
“You have to let this unfold,” Colin said in her ear. “We can’t arrest them if they don’t do something.”
“But Paddie!” Katy whimpered. “He’s just Paddie. Without me, he’s…”
Another man stepped over to Paddie and his would-be captor. Before any of the parents could respond, the second man picked up Paddie and started to carry him off.
“That’s my old Daddy’s father,” Katy said. “Mommy thinks he can’t walk.”
“Don’t do anything,” Colin said in her ear.
Katy was too terrified to respond. They watched the man carrying Paddie meet another man. They looked over their shoulder and continued toward the Museum of Nature and Science parking lot.
“They don’t want Paddie,” Katy whispered. “They want me.”
“You and Paddie aren’t the only ones who can make secret plans,” Colin said.
“But I can hurt them really bad,” Katy looked into Colin’s face. Colin smiled anad looked into Katy’s worried dark eyes.
“I thought you could,” Colin said. “I’ve seen your Daddy move all kinds of things when he thinks no one is watching. Let’s watch together.”
“Colin?” Julie, Paddie’s Mom, said. “They are getting pretty far.”
“Please wait. We’re going to get all of them,” Colin said.
“Col? That’s my baby,” Julie said. “If anything…”
With one man ahead, and two men behind, the man carrying Paddie moved up the grass hill toward the sidewalk.
“Can you make them slip?” Colin whispered in her ear.
“I need my hand,” Katy said.
Colin loosened the towel enough for Katy to get her hand free. Her fingers imitated legs walking fast. She made her finger legs slip and the man carrying Paddie fell. Sliding backward down the hill, the man holding Paddie knocked over the men following him. Floating on a cushion of air, Paddie giggled with glee.
“I bet that hurt,” Colin said.
The man walking ahead tried to grab Paddie. Katy made her finger legs fall over. The man fell on his face. He slid down the hill into the other men.
Paddie ran free. Paddie was running toward Katy and his parents when a woman rushed down the steps toward him.
“That’s my old Daddy’s Mommy,” Katy said. “Can I?”
“I think Paddie’s got this,” Colin said.
With the woman on his tail, Paddie ran straight into the splash fountain. The water cannons shot into the air in a random fashion around him. The woman dodged and weaved around the water.
“Go ahead,” Colin whispered in Katy’s ear.
The water cannons under the woman shot up at the same time. Squealing with laughter, Paddie danced into his mother Julie’s arms. She was so happy to have him back that she didn’t care that he was dripping wet. When Katy looked up, there were some familiar-looking men and women in dark blue suits and dark sunglasses picking up the bad men. Katy turned off the water at the splash fountain so that the really big man who was Teddy’s friend could grab Trevor’s mother. Paddie’s mother kissed and fussed over him. He shot Katy a sly look. She smiled at him.
“But why did they take Paddie and not me?” Katy asked Colin. “They want me.”
“They can get money for Paddie then come for you next weekend,” Colin said.
“Like a movie?”
“Like a kidnapping ring. By taking Paddie, it wouldn’t be obvious they were trying to steal you from your Mommy and Daddy.”
“How did you know they wanted to steal me?” Katy asked.
“Your Daddy and Mommy said something to me,” Colin said. “You’re not the only one who’s been watching.”
Katy had worked really hard to keep her Mommy and Daddy from knowing people wanted to steal her. She knew it would really, really, really make her Mommy sad. And that would make Katy really, really, really sad. It just never occurred to Katy that any grown up would deal with these awful people.
“You’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Colin said.
Katy nodded. Colin hugged her.
“You don’t have to worry anymore,” Colin said. “They won’t bother you or your Mommy anymore.”
“Can we go to the zoo now?” Paddie said. Impatient, he squirmed from his mother’s tight clench.
“Let’s go!” Colin said.
“What about…?” Katy nodded toward the men.
“Why should those jerks ruin our nice day?” Colin said. “Piggyback ride?”
He tossed her on his back and she squealed and giggled. Julie helped Paddie climb onto to his father. Colin held his hand out to Julie and they walked to the Denver Zoo.
Saturday evening – 5:45 P.M.
Seth opened his eyes to what had been his childhood play room. As a child, he’d spent long hours locked this room. Even though Maresol had left the door partially open, he felt trapped.
Last night he’d felt find after waking from his long sleep. The doctors had told him he was physically healthy and fit. They’d released him to Ava and Maresol’s care around ten this morning.
He was home for less than an hour when he noticed a pain in his little toe. Within ten minutes, he had felt burning pain in every joint in his body. He was in so much pain, the doctors were afraid to move him back to the hospital. They’d wanted to knock him out again, but he’d refused. Sandy was in Arizona closing the final chapter of her abuse. There was no way he wasn’t going to help her.
Plus, if everything went as well as he expected, the woman who’d pretended to be Sandy’s mother would reveal herself as the head of the child pornography ring. That combined with selling Sissy and Charlie to Sandy, or as the US District Attorney liked to call it: human trafficking, that woman would finally get her due.
And one, two, three, it had all gone down.
Seth would have smiled, but smiling required movement and movement caused pain. His friend and medical doctor, Bumpie had entrusted Maresol with a syringe. The moment the document from Sandy came in his email, Maresol had put him out.
He had no idea what woke him. But he did need to use the bathroom.
He made a slow, painful journey across the room. The journey back to bed was almost worse than the journey to the bathroom. He stopped and leaned against a shelf midway to catch his breath.
God, he hated this room. His father would lock him in here and disappear. If there was one reason he started composing music, it was to get out of this room. He had to get that kid Dale to do something with this room. Taking a breath for courage, he made it back to bed. He was almost to the bed when he saw something on the edge of the white sheets.
What was that?
He squinted. The back end of a brown animal was sticking out of the edge of his covers. Its tail was flying back and forth. There was a scratching sound as if its front paws were going a mile a minute.
“Hey,” Seth tried to say. He got the ‘H’ out before he groaned with pain. It sounded more like ‘H-groan-ay’. His mind chortled at his Zombie impression.
The animal jerked around to look at him. It’s eyes seemed to dance with recognition and laughter. In what had to be a mimic of his ‘Hey’, the animal growl barked. He took the remaining steps to the bed.
“Who are you?” Seth asked.
Beaming at Seth, the puppy barked again.
“All right, all right,” Seth said. “Give me a second.”
He fell more than dropped to the bed. The puppy walked onto his lap and licked his chin. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he rotated the collar to look at the tag.
“Clara?” Seth asked. “Are you Clara?”
The puppy gave another quick bark in agreement.
“Well, Clara,” Seth said. “I’m Seth. It’s very nice to meet you. According to this tag, I own you. But let’s be clear from the start. You own you. I own me. We’re friends. Like all friends, I will honor our friendship by caring for you in my human way. I expect you to honor our friendship by caring for me in your dog way. Does that work for you, Clara?”
The puppy licked his chin again.
“I assume the younger members of the house have fed you and taken you out. You look like you’ve had at least one bath.”
The puppy seemed to nod.
“Good,” Seth said. “I’m not really up to it today.”
Clara rubbed her head against his chest. He sat for a moment lapping up the love.
Seth set the puppy on his pillow. He lifted the covers and Clara zoomed under. He got in the bed next to her. She moved over until she was right next to him. Seth sighed.
He had no idea where this puppy came from, but he couldn’t imagine anything better. Clara took a deep breath and sighed against him. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
“Seth?” Maresol looked in the door. “I thought I heard you…”
Seeing he was asleep, she pulled the door closed.
Sunday morning – 9:45 A.M.
“Are we going to be here long?” Sissy asked Sandy.
She was sitting next to Sandy at a small table. Rachel was sleeping in a sling on Sandy’s lap. Sweating and anxious, Charlie sat in the chair at the end of the table closest to the door. The Arizona FBI had asked Sissy, Charlie and Sandy to come to their offices this morning. Aden had refused to let them go without him. He sat on the other end of the table across from Charlie.
“I don’t think so,” Aden said. “I think they want to update us on what’s going on.”
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.
“Son, you look like a criminal,” Aden threw a handkerchief at him. “You don’t want to look like that when they get here or they’ll think you’re up to something.”
“How do you do it?” Charlie asked.
“I pretend I’m Jake,” Aden said.
Charlie nodded. Wiping his face, he tried to think about what Jake would do in this room. Nodding to himself, he sat straighter in the chair. Aden nodded to his hands where he clutched the handkerchief tight. He put them under the table.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, “ a young woman came into the room. She had long dark hair. Her face bore the remnants of a First People’s Native American ancestry. “I’m Senior Agent Angela Montiz.”
The woman looked at Charlie and Sissy. She smiled.
“You can call me Agent Angie,” she smiled. Her white teeth gleamed against her tan skin. “I’m Senior Agent in this office. We’re waiting for…”
“Sorry,” a young man came in the office. “I didn’t know you were…”
She smiled. The reprimand was in her nod. With the movement of her head, Sandy saw a woman who was not only smart, but older than she originally thought. Sandy smiled. She could trust this Agent Angie. When Sandy smiled, Sissy and Charlie seemed to relax a little.
“You have to forgive, Agent Yi,” Agent Angie said. “He flew all the way from Hong Kong to speak with you. He’s terribly jet lagged. Would you like to introduce yourself, Agent Yi?”
“Sorry,” the young man said. “I’m also out of practice with US customs. I’m Special Agent Antony Yi.”
When he smiled, his eyes reflected kind thought and intelligence. He held his hand out for them to shake. He shook each of their hands ending with Aden. Sandy felt the strong desire to cut this young man’s shaggy hair away from his face. Sandy knew that meant she instinctively liked him.
“I’m usually in these rooms to interrogate subjects,” Special Agent Yi said.
“These are children,” Agent Angie said. “What can they call you?”
“Oh, right,” Special Agent Yi blushed. “You can call me Agent Tony or hey you, really. Here’s my card.”
He passed a card to each of them.
“This is my case,” he said. “It’s been my case for a long time, long before everything happened in Denver. I usually work with Detective O’Malley in Denver. That’s why we haven’t met. Detective O’Malley wouldn’t allow contact between the FBI and the vic…”
Agent Angie cleared her throat. He flushed bright red.
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Norsen,” he said. “It’s rare to meet a woman who is as strong as you have been. You are a real hero to me and my team in China. We understand through Detective O’Malley that you want to help other victims. I want you to know that you already have. You inspire our team with your resilience. You give the young girls we rescue hope.”
“Sandy’s amazing,” Sissy beamed at her.
“Is that Rachel?” Agent Tony leaned over the table when Sandy held the sling open. “She is more beautiful that the picture Detective O’Malley sent.”
“She’s a hero in her own right,” Charlie said.
“We didn’t think she’d make it,” Sandy said. “But Rachel is tough as nails.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” Agent Tony sat down across from Sissy.
“You need to tell them why you’re here,” Agent Angie said.
“Oh right,” Agent Tony fumbled for a moment with a briefcase and brought out a file. “I’ve spent every moment since I’ve been here with a Vere Morgan, Dr. Jeanette Smyth and Patricia Delgado.”
Sissy gasped. Charlie’s eyes popped open with surprise.
“Agent Tony?” Agent Angie asked. “The children don’t know anything.”
“I see,” Agent Tony said. “What do you know?”
“We told them this morning about their mother wanting to make sure she was supported even if Sissy and Charlie came to live with us,” Sandy said.
“She signed documents,” Sissy said.
“Ones that Sandy brought and ones that they had,” Charlie said. “Sandy showed us the documents.”
“She emailed them to Uncle Seth,” Sissy nodded her head. “Uncle Seth is really sick right now but he wanted to help us and help Sandy.”
“You don’t seem surprised by your mother’s actions,” Agent Angie said.
“Oh no,” Sissy said. “I mean, Mom has a job but the money she gets from Dad’s pension is how she pays the rent and stuff.”
“For us,” Charlie said.
Agent Tony glanced at Sandy. She was staring straight at him. He gave a slight nod and glanced at Agent Angie. Agent Angie didn’t need Sandy’s prodding. She was willing to go with what ever the kids said.
“I think it’s confusing,” Agent Tony said. “But the law calls that type of interaction human trafficking.”
“How come?” Sissy asked.
“Because Mom sold us like cows, dummy,” Charlie said.
“Charlie,” Aden gave a low warning which Charlie understood.
“Sorry, Sis,” Charlie said. “I just hate this.”
“That’s okay,” Sissy said. “It’s just confusing. If Mom doesn’t get that money, how will she live? Are you going to take care of her too?”
Sissy turned to look at Sandy and Aden.
“Mom’s going to jail,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Sissy’s face clouded. “Why? I don’t understand how Mom taking care of herself is illegal.”
“I get confused too,” Agent Tony said. “We originally thought we’d have your Mom on human trafficking but Sandy and Aden actually found something else.”
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Mom was involved in my father’s pornography business,” Sandy said.
“Dr. Smyth has decided to cooperate fully,” Agent Angie said.
“That’s Mom’s therapist,” Sandy said.
“Dr. Smyth provided us with evidence that Patricia Delgado was the brains behind the pornography business,” Agent Tony said. “Ms. Delgado is not cooperating. She insists that she’s done nothing wrong. Outside of the therapy notes, we don’t have any hard evidence.”
“You don’t seem surprised, Sissy,” Agent Angie said. “Charlie?”
“I wondered how she could afford to buy all that stuff,” Charlie said. “When I was in school, I wanted to play basketball. She said she couldn’t afford to get me good shoes. She even showed her bank account and the records. Dad’s money wasn’t a ton of money and she had accounted for every penny.”
“She had to for Dad’s union rep,” Sissy said.
“So where’d she get the money for all the crap she bought?” Charlie asked.
“She filled Dad’s house with stuff she bought online or on QVS,” Sandy said. “Every room, every closet, everything. I hired a hoarding expert to go through it all. They were going to help her…”
“Did she sell all of that too?” Sissy asked.
“We told the kids about their Mom selling their old house,” Aden said. “And yes, Sissy, I think she did.”
“Her creepy lawyer said he sold all of her assets.” Remembering the college fund, Sandy grimaced.
“We’re wondering if you kids know of anything that might link your mother to the horrible crimes that happened to your sister, Sandy,” Agent Angie said.
“Anything, even the smallest thing, can be really significant,” Agent Tony said.
“Like what?” Sissy asked.
“They’re looking for some gold,” Sandy said.
“Like what you have?” Charlie asked.
“Charlie helped Pete and I move it,” Sandy said to Aden. “When he lived there.”
“We carried it for Uncle Seth. They’re really heavy,” Charlie said. “He took it.”
“Detective O’Malley had the gold evaluated,” Agent Angie said. “We were hoping we could get fingerprints off the coins but the gold is clean. Someone buffed every coin.”
“Someone really loved on that gold,” Agent Tony said. “It was cleaned, polished and placed in those jars. Would you mind telling us how you got the gold, Sandy?”
“My father gave me one of those two gallon jars every Christmas,” Sandy said. “He said it was my college fund. I buried them in his backyard and dug them up the day they were rebuilding the house.”
“That’s what Detective O’Malley said,” Agent Angie smiled at Sandy. “Thank you for repeating it.”
“We found cash, but not gold among your father’s possessions,” Agent Tony said. “I know you’ve worked with Detective O’Malley, Sandy. But can you think of a place where your father might have had hid another supply of gold?”
Sandy shook her head.
“You mean Mom had the gold?” Panicked, Charlie’s voice came out loud and high.
“Why does that freak you out?” Aden asked.
“I just… I mean…” Charlie licked his lips. “I just know it’s true. That’s all.”
“What’s true?” Aden asked.
“Mom was involved in this crap,” Charlie said.
“Why does that freak you out?” Sandy asked.
“I…” Charlie shook his head.
“What is it Charlie?” Sissy asked.
“She tried to get me to…” Charlie cleared his throat.
“Me too,” Sissy said.
“You know what?” Aden stood up. “We don’t know anything about this and I’m not willing to have the kids bear their horrors here.”
Sandy got out of her seat and walked out the door. Sissy and Charlie started to stand.
“Please wait,” Agent Angie said. “While we want to hear about your experiences. Of course we do. We need your help today. But we don’t need to hear this today.”
She met them at the door.
“Please,” Agent Angie touched Sandy’s shoulder.
“I’ll sit down,” Sandy said. “But there’s no way I’m putting Sissy and Charlie through any more than they’ve been through. These kids have been through hell. We’ll will talk about this as a family and decide together what’s best for us. First.”
Agent Angie stepped back from Sandy.
“You have me,” Sandy said. “You have my testimony and almost a decade of films and stills. That’s enough for a hundred criminal cases.”
Sandy went back to her chair and sat down. Sissy and Charlie followed her lead. Agent Angie went back to her chair. For a moment, the room was silent.
“We really need something that links your mother to this case,” Agent Tony said. “Without evidence, she will leave here tonight and disappear. We need your help. We have to find something solid that links her to the business.”
“Like what?” Aden asked.
“Ideally?” Agent Angie asked. “Even one gold Krugerrand.”
“That’s a gold coin,” Sandy said. “It’s a little bigger than a quarter and a lot heavier.”
“Did you look in Mom’s storage locker?” Sissy asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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