Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Sixty-One : The Key


“Did you look in Mom’s storage locker?” Sissy asked.

Everyone in the room turned to look at her. She blushed at the attention and retreated into herself.  Sandy put her arm around Sissy.

“What storage locker, Sissy?” Sandy asked.

“The one she keeps. It isn’t far from the house. She’d go there some times after work before coming home.”

“How do you know about a storage locker?” Agent Tony asked.

“She and Dad had a big fight about it,” Sissy said. “She’s had it… forever. Before I was born for sure and before Dad died.”

“Do you know where it is?” Sandy asked.

“Sure,” Sissy said. “Dad and I went there just before he died. I think he knew he was dying.”

“Sissy you were only four when he died,” Sandy said.

“I know,” Sissy said. “I didn’t remember until was on the bus after ballet and I saw Mom go in this place. I got off the bus and went to see where she was going. Charlie was gone and I was afraid she was going to…”

Sissy swallowed hard and looked from Agent Angie to Agent Tony.

“Going to do what?” Aden asked. “These Agents are here to help us.”

“I was afraid she was going to hurt Charlie,” Sissy said. “She was really mad at him. She and Charlie had a big fight a couple days before and she kicked him out.”

“I remember that. We were barely making it,” Charlie said. “And I kept breaking my glasses. We weren’t supposed tell anyone how poor we were.”

“I had to stop ballet right after that.”

Grimacing, Sandy glanced at Aden. Sandy had paid for every pair of Charlie’s glasses, all of his basketball shoes and every single one of Sissy’s ballet lessons. Their mother’s refusal to let them play their sports or buy Charlie’s glasses hadn’t stopped Sandy from continuing to pay for them. Aden gave her a soft, understanding smile.

“You can you tell us about the storage unit, Sis,” Sandy said.

“Are you sure?” Sissy asked.

“Go ahead, Sis,” Charlie said.

“I saw Mom going into this place,” Sissy said. “I was kind of mad. She wouldn’t buy Charlie what he needed and Charlie had to leave! She’s was going into this expensive place. I got off the bus to yell at her or…”

“Make sure I was all right,” Charlie said. “Sissy did that a lot. She’s amazing.”

Smiling at Charlie, Sissy blushed.

“What happened that day?” Agent Angie said.

“By the time I got to the storage unit, Mom was coming out,” Sissy said. “She was so mad I was there that she went all red and scary. She grabbed my arm and dragged me to the car. She wouldn’t speak to me the whole way home. When we got home, she sent me to my room. She came in before bed and told me she couldn’t tolerate me prying into her private things. How did I expect her to…”

“Survive when she was invaded by you leaches every moment of every day?” Charlie and Sissy finished together.

“You’ll suck on my bones when I’m gone,” Sandy added.

“Yea that too,” Sissy said. “She said that a lot. But I never. I mean…”

“I stole money and stuff from her,” Charlie said. “But I never went through her things.”

“Could you find the storage unit again?” Agent Tony asked.

“Sure. It’s just off Federal,” Sissy said. “I used to see it every day on the bus. It always made me mad because I knew Mom kept that place. It looked really fancy.”

“Would you be willing to take us there?” Agent Tony said.

“I wonder if she could find it on the computer,” Aden said. “You’d find the place and Sissy wouldn’t have to go there.”

“We’d really like to keep Sissy and Charlie away from this,” Sandy said.

“As much as possible,” Aden said. “We’re happy to help with information, but they’ve been through enough. They shouldn’t have to be involved in this case at all.”

“Of course,” Agent Angie said.

“We use Google Maps a lot at Lipson to review work bids,” Aden said. “I bet Sissy would recognize the storage facility from the satellite images.”

“It’s certainly worth a try,” Agent Angie said. “Why don’t you get your laptop Agent Tony?”

“Sure,” Agent Tony said. “Can I get you anything?”

“We’d like to get out of here,” Aden said.

“Nash and Noelle are waiting for us,” Sandy said. “We have one more day of fun things planned.”

“Then it’s four weeks of work and back to school,” Sissy said.

“I’ll hurry,” Agent Tony said.

They waited just a few moments before the agent returned. Sandy moved aside so that he, Aden and Sissy could look at the map. With Aden’s support and guidance, Sissy easily found the storage facility. She pointed to the end of a row on the north edge of the facility.

“Right there,” she said.

“She wears a key around her neck,” Charlie said.

“That’s right,” Sandy said. “It’s under her cross. She used to call it the key to her heart.”

“Wouldn’t she have to remove everything for treatment?” Charlie asked. “I did.”

“I did too,” Sissy pulled on the tiny gold cross she wore around her neck.

“Good thinking,” Agent Tony smiled like they’d given him the golden goose.

“I’ll tell you what,” Agent Angie stood. “Why don’t you go back to the resort? Agent Tony and I will keep Sandy and Aden updated on what we find.”

Aden hopped to his feet. Charlie stood and Sissy followed. At the door, Sandy turned back to the agents.

“Thank you for your sensitivity,” Sandy said. “I know this could have been a lot worse.”

“We don’t want to harm them,” Agent Tony said.

“I know,” Sandy said. “Thanks.”

She waved a hand and trotted to catch up with her family.

“Well?” Agent Angie asked.

“She’s better than I could have ever imagined,” Agent Tony said. “I can see why O’Malley is so protective of her.”

“They’re all amazing. Did you know Aden’s a Gilmore?” Agent Angie asked.

“Of Gary Gilmore?” Agent Tony asked.

“His nephew,” Agent Angie said.

“Wow,” Agent Tony said.

“They’re all pretty wow,” Agent Angie said. “Come on, let’s go close this case.”


Sunday mid-day – 11:45 A.M. Denver, CO


Seth clicked the wireless headset off to end another phone call with another FBI agent. Much to Maresol’s disapproval, the phone had been ringing off the hook. In fact, Seth had been on that ‘stupid phone’ for so long she had to set up a charging station for the moments in-between calls.

“If you take one more call,” Maresol had said an hour and four phone calls ago. “I’m going to call Bumpy and ask him for something stronger!”

Maresol was a woman of her word.

Bumpy was suddenly standing in the doorway. His eyes flicked to the side as if to say that Maresol was standing behind him. She gave the big man a little shove and he entered the room. Maresol followed.

“This man is very sick,” Maresol was so rattled she was speaking rapid Spanish. “He’s on leave from that stupid job that he doesn’t need to keep and I can’t keep him off the damned phone!”

Bumpy put his hand on Maresol’s shoulder causing her to look up into his eyes. Seth watched the two old friends assess each other. Maresol gave a slight nod and looked away.

“You want to tell me why you’re worrying my dear friend Maresol,” Bumpy raised an eyebrow at Seth.

Seth opened his mouth and the phone rang again.

“I’m going to throw that stupid thing out,” Maresol grabbed his Blackberry and turned it off.

Seth raised his eyebrows to Bumpy and Bumpy nodded. As if he was wondering who to treat first, he looked from Seth to Maresol then back to Seth. Seth raised his eyebrows in anticipation of the question

“Whacha doin’ Seth?” Bumpy asked.

“Lying here,” Seth said.

“Yes, you are acting like a thirteen year old child,” Bumpy said.

Seth laughed then groaned.

“From what I understand you’ve generally been a pain in this nice woman’s ass,” Bumpy said.

“How’s that different from any other day?” Seth asked.

“He does have a point,” Bumpy looked at Maresol. She crossed her arms and looked stern.

“Sandy’s pornography case is coming together,” Seth said. “It’s the case of the century and it’s about Sandy. I’ve failed her in so many ways. How can I not be involved?”

“So you’re telling me that this is the case of the century?” Bumpy raised his eyebrows at Seth. “What was that Saint Jude thing you chased around for more than twenty years? Or clearing my internationally famous stupid son’s legal issues in Saint Louis?”

“Or the Cigarette Man? Or the killer before him or the one after?” Maresol blurted out. “Or the creature of the year last year? The Jogger Killer? Remember him? He ran over those poor women in his car?”

“Or the year before that?” Bumpy asked. “What about that big-assed case you and Mitch worked on that left you both shot and stupid for a year?

“The Mount Evan’s terror,” Maresol dropped her head into her hands. “I forgot about that nightmare.”

Much to Seth and Bumpy’s horror, Maresol’s shoulders dropped as if she was going to cry. They both held their breath against the impending thunderstorm of emotion. Instead, her shoulders pushed back and her right index finger came up.

“You… you…” Her finger wagged for a moment before she burst into tears. Bumpy put his arm around her shoulder. Maresol leaned into the big man for comfort. When her breathing evened out, he looked up at Seth.

“You’re making your friends crazy, Seth,” Bumpy said. “You and the other men are the only; and when I use the word only I mean every last one of them younger, prettier, smarter, and better human beings died; you and those boys are the only people to be any days away from this murderous cocktail of poison. And you are in this rare and unusual position because a pretty young thing, who for some crazy reason loves your sorry wrinkled ass, and her team worked night and day for a week to make it happen. And this kind woman: who has stood by your side through thick and thin, sorrow and joy, death and life, knowing full well that you’re an asshole; is trying to nurse you back to health.”

“I am an asshole,” Seth said.

“You can’t help how you are made,” Maresol sniffed.

Seth gave her a wry smile.

“I’m acting like my father?” Seth asked Maresol.

Oh no!” Maresol’s finger came up to wag at him. “I would pack my things and never return if you were even one spec like that man.”

“Then?” Seth asked.

“You… You… You act to your self like… like.. that evil man treated you!” Maresol spit out.

Seth closed his eyes in a silent acknowledgement of the truth.

“I had to stand by and watch that evil man torture you and your brothers and your mother. Now I have to stand by and watch you torture yourself! And…”

Maresol began to weep in earnest. Bumpy looked up at Seth. In the silent conversation of men, Seth knew Bumpy was trying to get him to listen to what was the truth.

“We have this chance,” Maresol continued in Spanish. “This chance for babies, for happiness, for love, and you’re working, working, working. This girl, this Ava, she won’t be here forever. She loves you. She gave up everything to be by your side. We… we have this other chance, a chance we never thought we’d get again, and you…”

“But this is Sandy,” Seth said.

“Don’t you dare bring my Sandy into this,” Maresol said in English. “That filth was happening for years and years. It will be years and years before it is over. You don’t need to be in the middle of it today, tomorrow…”

“Or a week from now,” Bumpy said. “Sandy’s the first person to tell you to take care of yourself.”

“When are you due in LA?” Maresol asked.

“Two weeks,” Seth said. “See I have to get this done before I go work on a movie!”

“You have two weeks to get well and you’re spending your energies on nonsense!”

Seth gave an irritated sigh.

“Don’t sigh at me like that,” Maresol said.

“You know she’s right,” Bumpy said. “Be a man. Admit you’re wrong.”

“I’m wrong,” Seth said. “I know I’m wrong. I know it but I can’t seem to help myself!

“I feel awful about this crap. I knew that woman was toxic and I let Mitch marry her. I knew he was furious with her a few days before he died; and I let those kids live there. I saw Sissy wither away and Charlie become a hoodlum and I did nothing!

”Mitch was my best friend, the best person I’d ever known in my entire life. He saved my ass over and over again and when he and my own daughter needed me most, I had my head up my ass! I let them suffer!

“And you want to start over? So I can fuck it all up again? Get Ava and any children we have killed by some psychopath? Or worse - treated like a blow up doll so other disgusting creeps can watch it over and over again?”

If anyone had asked Seth, he wouldn’t have admitted to being angry with himself. But at this moment, in the company of his two oldest friends, he vomited his rage and self loathing.

From behind Maresol, the tiny brown Clara came running in the room. She gave Maresol and Bumpy a bark then took a flying leap onto Seth’s bed. She dropped on her belly and pushed her nose into Seth’s shoulder.

“I see you made your standard agreement with Clara?” Maresol asked.

Caught in the wave of his own intense emotion, Seth could only close his eyes and pet the puppy.

“I know you feel awful,” Bumpy said. “I know you have a lot of pain and certainly I understand your rage. I’ve been there. You’ve seen me there! I know the ins and outs of the crimes we hold against ourselves. But you never let me linger in that court; and we won’t let you linger  either.”

“Plus, Ava said to expect this,” Maresol said.

“Your body is rejecting the toxin,” Bumpy said. “Your mind tries to make sense of the toxin by rejecting everything toxic in your life. Sissy and Charlie’s horrible mother, Saint Jude, what happened to Sandy, it’s all horrible and toxic to your system.”

“You’re making it worse,” Maresol said.

“By working,” Bumpy said.

“Fine, I won’t work,” Seth said. “What am I supposed to do? Wallow in my own filth and rage? That sounds smart.”

“No,” Bumpy said. “You need to detox.”

“We’ve been over this!” Seth said. “Blane is in Arizona.”

“Turns out, Ma Bell got to Arizona,” Bumpy said.

“You called him?” Seth asked.

“I pushed dem little numbers on dat tiny devil object and heared voices! Dat’s right voices came over dat black demon device,” Bumpy gave Seth a dark look.

“I hate your stupid, black man act,” Seth said.

“Then don’t treat me like I’m an imbecile,” Bumpy said. “Blane is coming over when they get back. In the meantime, he gave me simple instructions that even my feeble, un-Godlike mind can understand.”

Seth scowled.

“You have to get the toxin out,” Maresol said.

“Ava and Dean spent the entire morning setting up an infrared sauna next to the hot tub,” Bumpy said. “I want you to spend the afternoon either in the sauna or in that hot tub. Thirty minutes in one, thirty minutes in the other.”

“You’ll sweat it out,” Maresol said.

“On my way over, I picked up everything on Blane’s list of foods and things to drink,” Bumpy said. “You drink and eat everything we give you. Use the toilet and sweat.”

“But we can’t do that with you on that phone,” Maresol said.

“Fine,” Seth began dialing his phone.

“Have you not heard a word we said??” Maresol looked like she was either going to kill him or start crying again. He held up a finger.

“Tony?” Seth said into the phone. “Yeah, it’s Seth. Listen, I’m not feeling well. Seems like you’ve got this under control.”

There was a long pause. Maresol sat down on the side of his bed.

“Got it,” Seth said. “Probably tomorrow. Oh Wednesday? I’ll let you know Tuesday night.”

There was another long pause. Maresol put the puppy on her lap to pet her.

“Great,” Seth said. “I’ll be there if I can. I’ll ask Sandy when I see her. Yes, I’d like it if you didn’t bother her again.”

Seth laughed. He listened for a moment.

“Talk to you then,” Seth said.

“And the voice mail!” Maresol demanded.

“Yes ma’am,” Seth punched a few buttons then said, “You’ve reached O’Malley. I’m out until Tuesday. Leave a message and I’ll call you then.”

“You done?” Maresol asked.

“Done,” Seth held out the phone. Maresol tucked it into the pocket of her apron.

“Ready?” Bumpy asked.

“Give me a second.”

Seth closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. For all his working bravado, he was in tremendous pain. The journey from his room to the pool was going to be horrible. He gave a slight nod. Maresol set Clara on the floor. Bumpy carried more than helped Seth out of bed. Maresol helped him change into swim trunks.

With Bumpy on one side, and Maresol on the other, his two most beloved friends helped him move. After a few steps, automatic tears fell. But as they’d always done when things were impossibly hard, Bumpy and Maresol part dragged, part badgered and mostly supported Seth through another painful life journey.

They stopped at the sliding glass door to the back for Seth to catch his breath. Clara gave a yip of encouragement and they continued forward. One painful step at a time, Seth moved toward Ava. As if crossing the entire Sahara desert in the blistering heat, Seth felt like he was making a spiritual journey that would change his life forever. And somehow, with Bumpy and Maresol’s support, he made it to the pool house.

Wearing a bikini, Ava sat in the hot tub waiting for him. Dale supported him step by step into the hot tub.

“He’s very ill,” Maresol said.

Ava nodded.

“Thirty minutes,” Bumpy said. “No excuses. You’ll have to be tough.”

“I think we’re in this together,” Ava nodded.

“Amelie and I… We need to detox from…” Dale nodded the words he couldn’t say. He looked down to tie the string on the swim trunks he’d borrowed from Seth.

“Yes you do, son,” Bumpy said.  “Old Seth will always take you where you need to go.”

“I’ll be here all day,” Maresol said. “I’ll bring food, water, towels, tissues… whatever you need you ask. There are journals and pens for you to write.”

“But you should talk if you can,” Bumpy said.

“You’ll be a lot closer when this is over,” Maresol said. “If you get sick, I’ll call the doctor. Otherwise, you get the poison out of you.”

“If I don’t hear from Maresol, I’ll check in after you’ve completed 5 rounds,” Bumpy said. “Let it happen. Cry, yell, talk, write, and draw. Even though it’s toxic, your bodies and minds want to hold onto this garbage because it’s normal, comfortable and safe. You will fight yourself at times. Don’t give up. If you need to rest, sleep or meditate, take a swim in the pool or a walk in the yard. But come right back. You will want to quit the most just before you let go of the deep and toxic.”

Ava and Dale nodded. Seth groaned. Bumpy put his arm around Maresol and picked up the puppy. Although they were worried, they knew better than to display anything other than complete confidence in Seth, Ava and Dean. At the sliding door, Maresol gave one last worried glance.

“Here we go,” Ava rotated an old fashioned egg timer.

“Here we go,” Dale said.

Bravely, Seth and his two young companions began a journey of release.


Sunday afternoon –4:25 P.M. Undisclosed location

Dressed in all black including a black balaclava, Colin Hargreaves sat down in a chair across from Katy’s old Daddy’s, Trevor’s father. Dangling from a cord, a 60 watt incandescent lit the pitch back room. Trevor’s father whimpered at the sound of Colin sitting down. His ankles were tied to a wooden chair. His hands were handcuffed behind him. He was terrified, but otherwise unharmed.

“Hello scumbag,” Colin growled.



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