CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY-EIGHT
“Stay close to me, Sis,” Sandy said.
Sissy nodded. With Sissy glued to her side, Sandy walked up to the building. The doors opened automatically.
Her first impression was that the facility was very clean. For all the hubbub and mess of Federal Boulevard, the facility was light and well appointed. An elderly woman smiled at them from behind a desk.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
“Actually, you can,” Sandy peered at the woman’s name tag. “Lois, I’m looking for someone. I believe she’s a patient here.”
“Let’s check,” the woman said. “What’s her name?”
“Andrea Menendez,” Sandy said.
The woman typed the name into the computer then shook her head.
“My Mom was taking care of her,” Sissy said. “Her name is Patricia Delgado.”
“Patty,” the woman said. “Of course. She comes to see her cousin, Andy.”
“Andy Mendy?” Sandy asked.
“That was her stage name. No one knows that here,” the woman smiled. “At one time, she was quite famous. I used to be a big fan; now she’s my best friend.”
“What does she go by here?” Sandy asked.
“Andy Cosgrove,” the woman said.
“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Sandy nodded.
“You must be Patty’s daughter,” the woman said to Sissy.
“Mitzi,” Sissy said.
“You have your father’s height and your mother’s beauty,” the woman turned to assess Sandy. “Are you related to Andy? You look quite a bit like her.”
“Why is she here?” Sandy asked.
“She had a stroke in childbirth,” the woman said. “She’s been here ever since. I guess the baby was early and she was on the road. There wasn’t anything anyone could do for her.”
Unsure of what to say, Sandy nodded.
“Patty takes such good care of Andy,” the woman said. “Andy has a nice suite on the fourth floor, number 427. Why don’t you girls head on up? I know she’d love the company.”
“Is she bedridden?” Sandy asked.
“Oh no. She’s not all here,” the woman made a motion toward her head. “A stroke will do that to you, but she gets around. She very popular here. Entertains. She plays the violin, you know. She has a number of friends and a boyfriend. She’s never married though.”
“She still plays the violin?” Sissy asked.
“Oh yes. Fills the place with music,” the woman said. “She’s quite good.”
Her eyes twinkled as she smiled and gave them directions to the elevator.
“Sandy,” Sissy whispered. “Don’t you think we should call Aden?”
Sandy shook her head and pressed the elevator call button.
“Okay,” Sissy whispered. “I’ll go with you.”
“Thanks,” Sandy said.
The elevator door opened and they got on. They rode in silence until the elevator stopped. The doors opened to the fourth floor.
“This is a really nice place,” Sissy whispered. “How does Mom…?”
“I’m sure Andy’s estate pays,” Sandy said.
Sandy marched down the hallway to the door. She raised her hand to knock then stopped. She glanced at Sissy.
“We can leave if you want to,” Sissy whispered. “I won’t tell anyone.”
Sandy shook her head. She mustered her courage and raised her hand again.
The door slid open. A woman stood in front of them. Sandy stared at the woman and the woman stared at her. Sandy felt like she was looking into her own image twenty or thirty years from now.
The woman’s hair was more gray than blonde. Half of her face was slack but her eyes were sharp and bright. Her clothing was designer made and clean. She was Sandy’s height. Her eyes flitted to Sissy’s taller ballerina frame then back to Sandy.
“Sandy?” the woman asked. Sandy nodded.
“Mom?” Sandy whispered. The woman nodded.
Before Sandy could say another thing, the woman closed the door. Sandy and Sissy stood in the doorway for a moment. Sandy turned to leave when Sissy knocked on the door. The woman opened the door.
“My Sandy’s dead,” the woman said.
“I’m right here,” Sandy said.
The woman leaned forward. The tips of her fingers caressed Sandy’s face before she dropped her hands in a gesture of hopelessness. She nodded to the tiny stain near Sandy’s left breast.
“You’ve had a child,” she whispered.
“Rachel Ann,” Sandy whispered back. “Your granddaughter.”
“She smiles just like you,” Sissy said.
The woman’s hand went to her heart. For a moment, she seemed to breathe in the idea of having a granddaughter. When she opened her eyes, tears slipped down her face.
“Go.” She wiped her face in a way to make sure they didn’t leave a mark.
“No, I won’t leave you,” Sandy said.
“I didn’t live without you for all this time so you could be killed now,” she whispered. “You have to leave. Forget you’ve ever been here.”
“No,” Sandy said. “I just found you. I’m not going to…”
“You must,” she whispered. “Take the stairs to the parking lot. Don’t go out the front.”
“Who is it?” a man’s voice came from inside the room.
“They let another fan up,” the woman said. “I don’t know how many times we have to tell them.”
“Tell them they have to go,” the man’s voice said.
“Of course, of course,” the woman leaned forward. “Now that you have a child, you’ll understand. Some love requires great sacrifice.”
She closed the door once more. Standing next to the door, they heard the man ask a few more questions and the woman laugh. Sandy grabbed Sissy’s arm and they trotted to the stairs next to the elevator. Running as fast as they could, they were in the parking lot in seconds. From where they were standing, they saw two men come out of the entrance and circle Aden’s SAAB.
Grabbing Sissy’s arm, Sandy went around the other side of the building to the street. They jogged to catch the 31 bus on Federal Boulevard. Sandy paid their fare from the change in her purse. They found a seat near the back of the bus. At Colfax, Sandy silently negotiated their way onto the 15 eastbound bus. An hour or so after meeting Andy Mendy, they stepped off the bus on the corner of Race and Colfax. Still wound up, Sandy and Sissy jogged down Race Street to the Castle. Sandy didn’t take a full breath until the side door closed and they were standing in the living room.
Sissy clutched at Sandy. They stood hugging each other until they were able to calm down. When Sandy looked up again, she saw Delphie standing near them. Ava was standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
“I was worried so I called Ava,” Delphie said.
“I called my friend Angie,” Ava stepped aside and FBI Agent Angie appeared.
“What happened?” Agent Angie asked.
“Nothing nice,” Sandy said.
Friday afternoon — 2:20 P.M.
Charlie shifted uncomfortably in the passenger seat of Honey’s van. He knew he should ask her about life and fairness, but he wasn’t sure how. Honey had suffered so much in her life. He bit the inside of his cheek and looked out the window.
“You may as well spit it out,” Honey said.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Whatever it is that’s got you digesting the inside of your lip,” Honey said.
“Oh. That.” Charlie blushed. “I didn’t know you were psychic.”
“I’m not,” Honey said. “I just know the look. You better spit it out soon because we’re almost to the site.”
“Anjelika assigned me to ask people why they think life isn’t fair,” Charlie said.
“Why would she assign that?” Honey asked.
“I was upset because I can’t go to high school next year.”
“Why can’t you go to high school?” Honey asked.
“Because my reading’s not good enough,” Charlie said. “I can’t read because I can’t see and I haven’t had glasses since my Dad died, really, and I was living on the streets and a whole bunch of other reasons.”
“Hmmm,” Honey said. “I didn’t know how to read until my Dad adopted me when I was nine. Dad got me a tutor and stuff, but it was hard to catch up.”
“It’s really hard,” Charlie said. “I feel…”
“Stupid, different,” Honey said. “It’s like everyone else is in this club that you aren’t quite good enough to be in.”
“Right,” Charlie said. “So do you mind answering my question?”
“Why are you worried about asking me?” Honey asked.
“Because compared to you, my suffering is pretty small,” Charlie said.
“Why compared to me?” Honey asked. “My family was messed up. Your family’s messed up. My birth father was a criminal who went to prison; your Dad’s was a cop and a vet who died. And between you and me? Cops and criminals are two sides to the same coin.”
“You’re right there,” Charlie said.
“Plus, my Mom is a passive wispy creature; your Mom is a psycho. If anything Charlie, we have a lot in common.”
“I have a better sister than you do,” Charlie said.
“Bree and Becky are still just babies,” Honey said. “You’ve met them, haven’t you?”
“They stay with Sam and Delphie every other weekend,” Charlie said. “They’re cute.”
“One bad sister out of three doesn’t seem like awful odds,” Honey said. “Plus Valerie is my sister now. Jill too. MJ’s little sister is my sister-in-law. And the wives from his team have this kind of sister thing going on.”
“The odds get better and better,” Charlie said.
“Plus I think my Mom’s met someone special,” Honey said. “Sam says she has. I asked Mom and she hemmed and hawed which means she’s pretty serious. If she gets married again, she’ll have more kids. She’s not that old and she does like babies.”
Unsure of what to say, Charlie nodded.
“So you see, my young friend, my awful sister odds continue to improve,” Honey laughed. “Oof. The baby just kicked.”
“Please don’t have the baby now,” Charlie said. “I get freaked out just thinking about it.”
“I’m not due for a while. Valerie will have hers then me,” Honey said. “Plus with all the metal in my back, she’s not coming naturally.”
“She?” Charlie asked.
“Or he,” Honey said. “We didn’t find out. I tease MJ by saying she or he randomly.”
Honey smiled. They drove in silence for a while.
“You were going to ask me something,” Honey said.
“Oh, right,” Charlie said. “Why do you think life isn’t fair?”
“What did everyone else say?” Honey asked.
“I haven’t asked everyone,” Charlie said. “I asked Aden and he said life was just life. Like the mountains, life isn’t good or bad it just is. Or something like that.”
“Sounds like Aden.”
“Sam told me that he didn’t worry so much about why life wasn’t fair, but what he could do to even the balance sheet.”
“Sounds like Sam,” Honey said. “That’s all you’ve asked so far.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “What do you think?”
“Honestly, Charlie, I don’t think about it a lot,” Honey said. “I mean I felt sorry for myself after I was paralyzed. Really sorry for myself. You can ask MJ.”
“You’ve never felt like your life wasn’t fair?” Charlie asked.
“I feel kind of dumb now that you ask me, but I haven’t really thought about it,” Honey said. “I don’t compare myself to other people. I think it’s a survival thing.”
“I don’t really know what you mean.”
“Well, we were living in a motel, right?” Honey asked. “My Mom married Dad, you know Sam? We were able to get out of that life when I was about nine years old. But there were lots of kids who never got out. They probably grew up to have kids who live in motels and… I mean fairness is kind of a mind fuck.”
“I don’t really know what you mean,” Charlie repeated.
“Was it fair for me to get out and those other kids not to get out?” Honey asked. “My sister feels like it’s really unfair that she’s in prison and I live this great life.”
“She tried to kill you,” Charlie said.
“And I’m mostly paralyzed, I know,” Honey said. “But the way she looks at the world, my life is really great. I’m married to a man who adores me. I live at the Castle. I have a great job and all the money I want. I get to go to college. All of that’s true. I have a really great life. She lives in prison by herself and will for the rest of her life. I don’t think even Mom goes to visit her anymore.”
“I don’t understand,” Charlie said.
“Right, I guess I don’t understand either,” Honey said. “When I couldn’t read and I had a chance to go to school? I didn’t care about fairness. I just tried as hard as I could to learn to read. That’s what I do, Charlie. I leave the fairness and unfairness to people who have time to think on it. I spend my time and my life trying to live the best as I know how.”
“Seize the day kind of thing,” Charlie said.
“I guess so,” Honey said. “It’s worked really well for me. Like going to college. I don’t have to go. MJ’s in the Marines. He has to support me and the baby whether we’re married or not. That’s just how the military works.”
“So why do you go?” Charlie asked.
“Because I want to learn,” Honey said. “I want to be the best person I know how to be and college is a step in that direction. When I’m done with college, I might decide to go to medical school like Tanesha or dental school or whatever. Maybe I’ll get an MBA like Aden and become one of the bosses.”
Honey pulled into the job site. She waved to Aden. Charlie moved to get out of the van then stopped.
“I guess I don’t really understand,” Charlie said.
“Life is short and precious,” Honey said. “I don’t know how much time I have. But I’ll tell you Charlie, I don’t have time to waste thinking about whether life is fair or not. I can’t get that time back and it doesn’t get me anywhere.”
“Does that make more sense?” Honey asked.
“Do you think you felt that way because you almost died?” Charlie asked.
Honey’s face went still. Her light blue eyes moved over Charlie’s face.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“I know where you’ve been,” Honey said. “I’ve been in many of the same dark places. You’ve seen death on a daily basis. You’ve seen evil. You’ve even see the worst human curse – despair – and what it does to good people. I think you’re asking the wrong question.”
“Oh yeah?” The sullen sneering teenager came out in Charlie’s tone.
“Yeah,” Honey matched his sullen sneer with her tough girl voice.
“What question should I be asking?” Charlie asked.
“Why am I wasting my precious time wondering why life is fair?” Honey asked. “Why aren’t I just getting on with it? What’s it going to take for me to get my life in gear? Life waits for no one. You wait and you’ll miss everything.”
“Think about it,” Honey said. “I give you those questions as an assignment. When we talk next, you’ll give me an answer.”
“Are you mad?”
“Not at all,” Honey said. “Come on. Aden’s waiting. He might be your step-dad, but he’s my boss. At least right now.”
“Do you need help getting out?”
“Not really,” Honey said. “But I’m learning not to turn it down. That was my New Year’s resolution.”
Smiling, Charlie grabbed Honey’s wheelchair and helped her into it. He hopped out of the van and went around to help her with the lift. She smiled her thanks, brushed her hair, and went forward. Charlie stopped for a moment to watch her go.
“Are you coming?” Honey asked.
Smiling, Charlie jogged to catch up.
~~~~~~~ Friday evening — 5:45 P.M. PDT
“You’re sure about the women,” Schmidty said.
With the help of the limousine driver, Schmidty was able to get Seth into the back seat. They were on their way to theMalibubeach front house the studio had rented for Seth.
“How long have we worked together?” Seth asked.
“Two years,” Schmidty said.
“Have you seen me surrounded by a lot of women?” Seth asked.
“No, but Dad was very specific,” Schmidty said. “’O’Malley likes his women. Make sure there’s a few around at all times.’”
“Why did you laugh?” Schmidty said.
“Think about it,” Seth said. “Is it me or your father who likes sweet, soft, young women?”
“Your girlfriend is twenty-three,” Schmidty smiled.
“Key word is ‘girlfriend’,” Seth laughed. “I love the ladies, only one at a time.”
“One at a time,” Schmidty said.
“One at a time,” Seth repeated. “I never had the temperament for the disconnect of ‘free love.’ My brothers were the same way.”
Schmidty’s phone indicated a text message. He looked at it and smiled. His fingers flew across his phone in response.
“You’ve been on that thing all day,” Seth said. “New girlfriend?”
“Something like that,” Schmidty cleared his throat and glanced at Seth. “Lizzie.”
“My Lizzie?” Seth’s expression was somewhere between surprised and amused.
“What’s your father say?” Seth asked.
“She’s not Jewish!” Schmidty waved his hands around like a Muppet. “She’s not Jewish!”
Seth laughed at Schmidty’s antics.
“It’s like I’m going to cause the extinction of the entire Jewish race,” Schmidty said.
“You are his only son,” Seth said.
“So far,” Schmidty rolled his eyes and Seth smiled.
“You probably never met your father’s mother,” Seth said. “His father?”
“My Dad was in his sixties when he had me.” Schmidty shook his head. “His parents were long gone by then.”
“You know the story right?” Seth asked.
“From my Dad?” Schmidty shook his head. “If it’s not a detailed list of my screw ups, I never talk to him.”
“Ah,” Seth said.
“You’re not upset about Lizzie?” Schmidty asked.
“If I was upset about you and Lizzie, I’d have to have been upset about twenty years ago,” Seth said. “You two were always peas in a pod. I thought you’d date, but…”
“We should talk about Lizzie and her step-father,” Schmidty said.
“I’d rather not,” Seth said.
Schmidty turned to look Seth in the face.
“Not that I don’t want to know,” Seth said. “I do. I just don’t want to know while I’m in LA and can’t do anything about it.”
“Gotcha,” Schmidty said.
“I’m having a tough time, Jammy,” Seth said. “I can’t believe this pain is still here. I want to drink. No, I really want to drink. And I have this symphony to work on and a movie that desperately needs it. Thank God they got my conductor.”
“And the orchestra is talented,” Schmidty said.
“The orchestra is wonderful,” Seth said. “The conductor’s been working with them for a month on the same piece. They’re excited and ready to go. What a joy.”
“We’ll see how they are after working this weekend,” Schmidty said.
“My guess is they’ll be OK, happy even,” Seth said. “Musicians are like that. They’re happiest when they’re playing. Good community, great food, and interesting instruction help, but it’s the music that makes their world go ‘round.”
Schmidty nodded. While the limousine fought the Sunset Boulevard traffic, they lapsed into companionable silence. They traded Sunset Boulevard creep for the Ten Freeway crawl. The Ten Freeway crawl turned into a stop and go up thePacific Coast Highwayuntil they reached the gated community, Malibu Colony, and the beach house. There was a small American made car in the driveway.
“Girls?” Seth asked Schmidty.
“Not on my accord.”
The limousine driver got out to let help them out of the back. Leaning heavily on forearm crutches, Seth stood to the side while Schmidty found the keys to the house. The driver went to the trunk to get their luggage. Seth’s attention was so focused on managing his pain that he missed the young woman walking up to him.
“Seth?” Ava asked.
Seth turned toward the sound.
“Ava!” Seth said. “What are you doing here?”
He held out an arm and they hugged.
“The Chief sent me,” Ava said. “Am I interrupting?”
“Only the usual post-music animal sex,” Seth laughed. Shaking her head at him, Ava smiled.
“What does the Chief want?” Seth asked.
“Andy Mendy jumped off a building this afternoon,” Ava said.
Denver Cereal continues next week….
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