CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTY
Saturday early-morning — 3 A.M. PDT
Seth woke with a jolt. He’d fallen asleep at his piano again. Or some piano; some really nice piano. Where was he? He looked around the room until he saw the moon reflecting against the ocean. He nodded. He was inLos Angelesto work on the film. Ava had come last night to tell him about Andy. His heart pinched with sorrow. He looked at the piano.
Should he play?
Should he sleep?
Yawning, he knew he had a long day ahead. He put some weight on his feet and gasped. Pain ripped through him. He eased back down on the bench. Thinking the pain might be a sign from God for him to play, Seth’s fingers moved across the keys. His fingers and hands ached.
He’d forgotten his medication and Chinese Medicine supplements. He was going to have to get out of this room to get them. He had to have the pills on board to be able to work today. He had to work or the studio would kill him. His Saint Jude related illness had already delayed the film’s production by almost a month.
He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for strength. Using the metal arm crutches, he made his way to the door. He had no idea where his bedroom was located in this sprawling house. He hobbled out into the hall and looked both ways. His nose picked up the distinct odor of a swimming pool or maybe a hot tub. He had just decided to sleep on the couch when he saw a yellow post-it note on the floor.
“Your room is at the end of the hall.” There was another post-it with an arrow on it.
Seth peered down the hall he was in then turned to look down the connecting hallway. The moist ocean air must have made the post it fall off the wall. Being the great detective, he reasoned that most people put the sticky part at the top. The arrow pointed to his left. His room was on this hall.
Or maybe it was down the other hall.
Chuckling at himself, he began a slow journey across the hall. Along the floor were yellow post-its with arrows on them. The half opened door to his left had a yellow post-it with an X on it. That could mean this was his room or that it wasn’t. Seth smiled. Somewhere in the afterlife, Mitch was laughing at him.
He pushed open the door. Wearing only her underwear and a T-shirt, Ava lay sprawled out on the bed. Her long legs had kicked off the sheet and her arms held her pillow in the embrace of deep sleep. While the reflection off the water danced along her perfect skin, the moonlight held her in a loving caress. Her hair had grown to about an inch long. She styled it in a cute male bob, but tonight, it stuck up to rival Sid Vicious. He smiled at the idea of Sid’s head on her luscious body.
“Seth?” Even thick with sleep, Ava’s gorgeous voice was stirring.
“Just me,” he said. “Do you know where my bag is?”
She rolled over to look at him. He took her extended hand and sat down next to her on the bed. Her eyes were soft with love. He smiled.
“How do you do it?” she asked.
“Do what?” Seth asked. “Focus on my music to the exclusion of normal human interaction? Abandon my girlfriend after she arrives fromDenverso I can feel sorry for myself? Treat people like servants?”
“What are you saying?” Ava shook her head at his words.
“Things I know about myself,” Seth said. “I’m not great at regular human interaction. I do shitty things like walk away from you to play the piano only moments after you have flown all this way and been a great friend.”
“Who did you treat like a servant?” Ava asked. She gestured around the room. “I feel really burdened in this luxury Malibu Colony home after my run on the private beach. And that trip on the private jet? I play with Clara most of the way here. Oh the horror! Did I mention the gourmet dinner? That was sheer torture.”
“You say that now but…”
“I’m not going to have this conversation with you,” Ava sat up. “It’s dumb. If I have a problem, I’ll tell you. And before you say it, I know you love Andy. You should. Schmidty and I talked about her over dinner. She was amazing. If you didn’t love her, I’d wonder what was wrong with you. I love Sandy and the idea that her mother was like her… I love her too. So of course, you’re sad. I’m sad too. The whole world should mourn the loss of such an incredible woman.”
He turned away from her and her words.
“I unpacked your bag,” Ava said. “Let me get your pills.”
Before he could say a word, she hopped up. She came back from the bathroom a few minutes later with a glass of water, his medication and supplements. When he took the pills and water from her, she turned in place and left the room. He used the bathroom and changed. She returned with a glass of green goo and a plate of brown rice, steamed vegetables and spiced chicken.
“You have to eat if you’re going to take your meds,” Ava said. “Maresol sent along your juice recipes.”
She held it out to him. He groaned.
“It looks gross but it’s good,” Ava said. “It was handmade by your personal slave. Don’t be a baby.”
He smirked at her and drank it down. She opened the sliding door to their balcony and set his dinner on a table between two lounge chairs. He followed her out.
“So how do you do it?” Ava asked.
“Do what?” Seth asked.
“Play such incredible music,” Ava said. “You should have seen Schmidty and me. We were bawling out eyes out in the hallway.”
“Schmidty recorded it. I guess his dad said you play a lot when you’re working but don’t remember what you play. Some of your best stuff comes while you’re working on another piece.”
“The tricky part is that the studio owns whatever I create now,” Seth said.
“That’s what Schmidty said. Did you know his name is James? That people used to call him Jammy?”
“I gave him the name,” Seth said.
“Figures,” Ava said. “Eat.”
He did as instructed. She waited until he was almost done before asking again, “How do you do it?”
“I don’t really know,” Seth said. “It’s the joy of my life, my very soul, and one of the hardest things I’ve learned to live with. Everything in my life is defined by my music. Every relationship, every job, every investigation, there’s not an area of my life that doesn’t blossom because of it and suffer under the burden. I can’t control the well of music that grows inside me. I’ve tried. The only thing that works is alcohol and lots of it. If I’m not drinking, I’m playing.”
“How did it happen tonight?”
“I read Mitch’s letter and fell into whatever came,” Seth said. “I played until the well was empty then I slept. Why are you being so great about this?”
“You mean I’m supposed to be mad?” Ava asked.
“Most women feel slighted.”
“I don’t,” Ava said. “I’m kind of a touch it, feel it person. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about…”
“I don’t have any idea what causes some people to go crazy over what isn’t happening,” Ava said. “So I don’t really know. I try to do my best, be my best, but all I can deal with is what’s right here and right now. And right here, right now, I’m sitting on the balcony of this lovely home with my favorite person in the world.”
“If you need more?”
“I’ll tell you,” Ava said. “I’ve seen Maresol be very clear with you about what she needs. She’s a good role model. Sandy too. They love you and accept you. When they need something they ask and you give them whatever they ask. That’s pretty easy.”
“You don’t think that’s making you do all the work?”
“Of knowing what I want?” Ava laughed. “I think that’s kind of my job. Speaking of jobs…”
“The FBI called,” Ava said. “They want to hire us, the whole team. The CBI wants to hire us. Of course, we’re also now getting our own lab in the new DPD building. My Captain wants to build on our success to create a bigger world class back up lab. You know kind of an FBI lab West. He wants me and Bob to run it.”
“Lots of opportunity,” Seth said.
“I know! What are you going to do about the song?” Ava asked. “Does the studio own it?”
“I don’t remember it,” Seth said. “Jammy won’t remember he recorded it until six months or something after we’re home.”
“Sounds perfect,” Ava said. “What do you think I should do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“What do I want? Anything?”
Ava hopped to her feet and went inside.
“Come see what I want,” she said from inside.
Smiling, Seth went to join her.
Saturday early-morning — 4:35 A.M. MDT
Tanesha stood at the door of Jeraine’s penthouse condo. She’d been staring at the door for at least five minutes. She knew she should leave. She knew the worst thing for her would be to fall for him again. She just couldn’t make her feet work. Tired of her own inner argument, she rested her head against the door.
“You don’t have to leave,” Jeraine’s voice startled her.
She turned around to look at him.
“You love me,” Jeraine said. “I’m an ass. I get that. I’ve hurt you, betrayed you, let things happen while you begged me to do something good for myself, with myself. I suck as a human being.”
Naked, he fell to his knees in front of her. He took her hands.
“Don’t leave me,” he said. “You don’t want to.”
“Then why am I standing here?”
“Why have you been standing there for six and a half minutes?” he asked.
“Why are you like this? You weren’t like this when we were kids. You weren’t. You got that stupid contract and wham. The boy I loved left the stadium leaving Mr. It in his place.”
He took her hands into his. She gazed down at him. There was no defense in his face, no lie, no manipulation. She had the sense that if she wanted to hit him, he wouldn’t stop her.
“Why are you like this?” Tanesha repeated her question.
“I’ve answered that question every time you’ve asked,” Jeraine said.
“You’ve given me a bunch of bull, a bunch of sass.” Bitter, Tanesha mimicked his voice. “’Dem bdtchs don’t have no problem with Mr. It,’ ‘How ‘bout I answer your question after dem fidy bdtchs to suck my d…’”
“Okay, okay,” Jeraine held his hands up as if she was holding a gun.
“Shall I continue?”
“No,” Jeraine said. “Although I’m particularly fond of, ‘You can’t help it baby, you drawn to Mr. It. Now you here and you want It but you can’t handle It.’ Took me six months to come up with that.”
Tanesha slapped at him.
“I thought I’d feel great saying that to you, strong, powerful, on top,” Jeraine said. “You should have seen your face. You shook your head and left me. You wouldn’t speak to me for a year after that.”
“Two,” Tanesha said.
“Two,” Jeraine said.
“Why would you need to feel on top?” Tanesha asked. “Look around you. You’re literally on top of this building, on top of the charts, on top of the financial markets, on top of everything anyone can see.”
“I’m happy to talk to you about this,” Jeraine said. “But I don’t want to talk about this here.”
“In your house?” Tanesha’s voice pulsed with exasperation. “Where’s the perfect place? YourAspenchalet? Your mansion inDubai? On some reality TV show? Your flat in Hell’s Kitchen? Maybe the Moon?”
“The hallway, the door, right here! God damn it! Either leave or give me a chance. The in-between is killing me.”
“And I should care what’s killing you!? You selfish prick. This is about me, about Tanesha, about the girl you sing about, the girl you say you love. This isn’t about what’s comfortable for you.”
Tanesha’s rage fired up.
“Love isn’t something you only do when you’re comfortable, Jeraine. Real life is uncomfortable. Where are you going to be when something uncomfortable happens? Where are you going to be if our baby gets sick or heaven forbid dies or I get sick or we lose everything to fire or tornado? You’ll be telling me that you’re uncomfortable! You can’t live like this!”
“Okay, I deserve that.”
Tanesha was so angry she was out of breath. Gulping air, she stood over him. She’d never intended on saying all of that. She’d never intended on being so honest. But here she was, standing in his doorway, unburdening her heart to the man who had broken it.
“My Gran almost lost her house,” Tanesha said. Surprised, he looked up at her. “Remember my Gran’s house? The house that you were going to buy with your record money? I had to work four jobs to keep it and even then, we had the foreclosure notice on the door. I almost lost my spot at medical school. I lost my car. All of six of us would have been on the streets. And where were you?”
“Wha… what did you do?” The words tumbled out of his mouth. They were the first heart honest words he’d spoken in a very long time. His stomach wrenched at the sound of them.
“Jill asked for my Gran’s house as her wedding present,” Tanesha said. “Jacob Marlowe bought it. We can live there until Gran dies. He’s helping us fix up the place. We spent the summer redoing the yard. You should have seen crazy Aunt Phy planting flowers in her big hat and wild house dress. What a sight.”
“Now it’s almost as nice as the fixed up places on our block. Jacob’s going to paint the house this fall. Gran’s picked the colors to match the neighbors.”
“J-Jill knows how to stand up for you in hard times,” Jeraine nodded and looked down.
“Why can’t you?” Tanesha whispered.
“I don’t know.” Jeraine looked down. His stomach heaved again. He held his breath for a moment to see if the world might end, if she’d leave, but her feet didn’t move. She was still there. He let out his breath. “All I ever wanted was to impress you.”
His words were so quiet that Tanesha wasn’t sure she’d heard them correctly.
“Impress me? What the hell are you talking about? I’m nothing.”
“You’re everything. Your mother is a crack ‘ho… an addict and look at all you’ve done in your life. You have great friends. You’re so beautiful, so smart and so, so strong. Fierce. You’re the most amazing human being I’ve ever met.”
His head moved in a nod.
“I was in prison inSt. Louis,” Jeraine said. “After that girl… died. They held me. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to get me out. No amount of money, big money lawyers, record company pull, nothing was going to get me out of that prison. In fact, the judge said that. The black judge said I was just the kind of thug who made all black men look bad. They kept me in isolation because of my fame. A white gang was going to kill me because I supposedly killed a white woman. I was alone almost twenty-four hours a day.
“I paced the cell like a caged animal. I made deals with God. I promised myself if I ever got out, I’d make this right with you. But… I couldn’t get my black ass out of prison.”
Tanesha’s hand went to her heart.
“I realize, kneeling here, that I didn’t do half of what I promised God I would do,” Jeraine said. “If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one I break my promises to.”
“How did you get out?”
“Seth. He looked into the whole mess. The first real investigation anybody did,” Jeraine said. “After the first week, he came to see me every day until I was released. We talked. I always thought him of as my Dad’s honky cop friend who played music on the side. But he’s been on the road since he was ten years old. He was the only person I’d ever talked to who understood what it was like for me.”
“You mean the money and the girls?”
“No, everyone says that,” Jeraine dared to look at her for the first time. “How can it be hard for you, It? You gots everything. Well, what I gots is a whole lots of nothing.”
“What do you mean by that?” Tanesha took a step toward him.
“You ever go to McDonald’s when just cashed your check and you’re hungry?”
“How do you feel when you’re done stuffing yourself?”
“Sick and hungry.”
“That’s how I felt every single day.” Jeraine dropped his head to look at the ground. “Mom’s pissed at me; she won’t speak to me even when we’re in the same room. She didn’t raise me to do all those women, all those drugs, all that booze, all this crazy crap. My parents have been married almost forty years. I used to think my Dad was stupid for giving up the life to come home and live with Mom. But sitting in that cell? All I wanted was to spend forty years with you, to be the man you once thought I’d be.
“But I’ve stuffed myself so full of all that crap that I am that crap,” Jeraine said. “You are what you eat. That’s what Seth told me. I spent so much time around blood suckers eating up their false adoration, I become false. The only way a man can become true and healthy is if he knows his flaws and holds them close to him. Seth said that too. And what flaws does Mr. It have?”
For once, Tanesha didn’t know what to say.
“I’m flawed Tanesha,” Jeraine said. “Badly, deeply flawed. And I have a long way to go. A long way. But I love you. I always have. I thought all of this would impress you. But plastic crap only impresses plastic people. Seth says that and he’s right. He’s right about everything.”
Tanesha tilted his head up so she could see his face. His face was wet with tears. She touched his cheek. These weren’t tears of sorrow, but tears of relief for finally speaking his truth.
“I won’t ask you to marry me again,” Jeraine said. “How about if I make you breakfast? Will you stay for breakfast? I took cooking classes at theInstituteofCulinary EducationinNew York.”
Tanesha scrunched her face up.
“Yeah,” Jeraine said. “I can cook a lot of disgusting food.”
“Do you have any food here?” Tanesha asked.
“I don’t know,” Jeraine jogged into the kitchen.
“You don’t know?” Tanesha asked.
“Not ‘til I look,” he yelled. He stuck his head into the hall to say, “Nope, no food.”
“Get dressed,” Tanesha said. “Gran will be up in a few minutes. You want to eat real food? Be real people? You should eat my Gran’s breakfast. See how you feel. She’ll serve it to you with a slab of humble pie, but you deserve it.”
Smiling, Jeraine jogged back to his room to change. When he came out in jeans and a T-shirt, she shook his head.
“Uh huh, you’re going to my Gran’s house,” Tanesha said. “You better get dressed.”
Shaking his head, Jeraine went back to his bedroom. He came out in a blue suit, shirt and tie. Tanesha nodded.
“I’m not driving in your pimp mobile,” Tanesha said.
“How are we going to get there?” he asked.
“I’ll drive,” Tanesha said. Catching his look, Tanesha added, “My junker is good enough for you and your fancy suit.”
Smiling at her back, he followed her into his private elevator. When they reached the garage, he felt a flood of panic.
“You will marry me though? Right?”
“Let’s just start with seeing Gran again. You know she’s going to want us to go to her church.”
Before she left the elevator, she kissed him. She hadn’t intended to, but she kissed him. His eyes looked over her face and he kissed her.
“Come on,” she said.
She took his hand and led him to her car.
Saturday afternoon — 1:45 P.M. MDT
“Ready?” Jacob asked Jill.
She glanced at him then continued staring at the building. They were sitting in her Lexus SUV outside Blane’s doctor’s office on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Katy sat behind them in her car seat turning the pages of a new picture book.
“We came to get answers to any and all what ifs,” Jacob said.
“How did you get him to come in?”
“He likes Blane and said he’d do anything to help,” Jacob said. “We’re also major donors to his foundation that provide transplants for people with no resources – kids, homeless people, foster care.”
“As of two hours ago,” Jacob said.
“Did Jeraine really spend the day digging up the sewer line at Tanesha’s Gran’s house?”
“After escorting Tanesha’s Gran to church, he sure did,” Jill laughed. “That’s where we went before we came to get you. I had to take a picture of Mr. It in his fancy suit up to his eyes in dirt.”
“They know that’s kind of what I do for a living?”
“Oh trust me, Gran knows. She wanted Jeraine to do it,” Jill smiled. “And he did without question. He came inside, showered, and took them all to lunch. He’s going to call you this afternoon to get the parts to repair the sewer. Tanesha is beside herself.”
“What about that doctor?” Jacob asked. Their eyes turned to stare at the building again. “Wasn’t she dating a doctor?”
“Cam? You remember he showed up the night Saint Jude… died?”
“He was looking for Tanesha to tell her that he had been relocated,” Jill said. “Turns out he’s in Witness Protection. That was the answer to all theCammysteries. TheU.S.Marshals came and took him away that night. Tanesha hasn’t heard from him since.”
“That’s weird,” Jacob said.
They continued to stare at the building.
“I thought we were going inside,” Katy said.
Jacob took Jill’s hand and kissed the spot on her hand next to her thumb.
“Ready?” she asked.
He nodded. They got out of the SUV. With Katy between them, Jacob and Jill went inside.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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