Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Ninety-Eight : Vultures

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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and NINETY-EIGHT

Monday afternoon — 2:25 p.m.

“Good Lord,” Tanesha said under her breath.

Seeing her father’s truck, a shout went up among the reporters waiting for her at the Colfax entrance to the Anschutz Medical Campus. The reporters moved into the driveway so Tanesha would have to run them over or speak with them. She decided not to turn into the campus instead. She continued down Colfax, past all the reporters, and turned in the back way. Of course, another group of them were waiting for her at the student parking lot.

She pulled up to the barrier and rolled down her window.

“Miss T! Miss T!” shouted a woman. “Annette is accusing you of stealing Jabari! She’s demanding that the Denver Police to arrest you!”

“What do you say to the accusation …” A man pushed the woman out of the way.

The rest of his question was lost in his argument with the other reporter. Luckily, the ticket printed. She reached for the ticket but a leather gloved hand grabbed it first. A reporter from Fox News held her ticket.

“Excuse me, I need to get to class,” Tanesha said.

“Annette says you blocked her from coming into the courtroom,” the reporter said. “She …”

The car behind her honked its horn.

“The ticket,” Tanesha held her hand out. “Now.”

Someone else screamed another question and someone said that Jeraine looked high on television. Was Jeraine using again? Why would the judge trust her over Annette? Had they paid the judge off?

Tanesha punched the machine, and another ticket began to print. While the reporters screamed, Tanesha waited for the ticket. It had almost finished printing when the reporter tried to grab it again. Tanesha beat him to the punch and got the ticket.

The reporters screamed question after question as the barrier rose and she drove into the parking lot. She went right and down a long row of cars. A woman driving toward her gave her the stink-eye.

“What?” Tanesha mouthed.

The woman pointed to the reporters. Tanesha shook her head and sneered. The woman laughed. Tanesha turned at the end of the row and parked. For a moment, she rested her head against the big steering wheel of her father’s old truck. It was quiet in the truck, safe, and she didn’t have to deal with these vultures.

“Not vultures,” she repeated what Valerie Lipson said. “Just people who have mouths to feed. They need to make their living …”

“Off the suffering of others,” Tanesha said out loud.

She heard a noise and saw the reporters running in her direction.

“Vultures,” Tanesha said under her breath.

She grabbed her backpack and left the quiet comfort of the truck. She jogged to the nearest building, where she knew they couldn’t follow her. She went down a long hallway. Turning, she saw the television was on in the small sitting area.

“Annette states that she was barred from entering the courtroom,” the news reporter said. “She is specifically claiming that Jeraine’s wife, Tanesha Smith, daughter of Rodney Smith who, as you know, spent more than twenty years in prison for a murder he did not commit, has done everything in her power to disrupt her connection with her son. Annette has filed suit against Tanesha and is encouraging the Denver Police to investigate her claim that …”

They ran a piece of video that looked like it was from Annette’s television show. Annette slapped Jeraine. She held a red dagger of a long fingernail in his face. One of those big guys got her out of the way. As soon as they’d passed, Annette went after Jeraine’s back.

Tanesha groaned.

“You sound like an asshole.” a voice came from in front of her. Tanesha looked down to see a young man sitting on the couch in front of her.

“Well, if she says it, it must be true,” Tanesha said.

She gestured to the television. They’d stopped the tape on an image where Annette looked insane — her hair stood on end, her teeth were bared, and you could see the whites of her eyes. Tanesha nodded and continued down the hallway.

She hopped the elevator to a bridge between buildings. If Fin saved her a seat, she’d just make it to lecture. She jogged through bridge and the maze of hallways. She paused at the doorway to the lecture hall to catch her breath.

“Thanks,” Tanesha said when she sat down next to Fin.

“How’d it go?” Fin asked.

“Good,” Tanesha said. “He gave us custody. Jer’s working on the transition plan with Mom and the social worker.”

“But?”

“I just heard that Annette’s suing me.”

Fin gave her a grave nod.

“Should I worry?” Tanesha asked.

“I wouldn’t,” Fin smiled.

“If I can have your attention …” the professor started class.

“Why?” Tanesha whispered.

“She’s going to have her own troubles to worry about soon enough,” Fin said.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

Fin winked at her. He usually winked when she knew the answer. Tanesha thought for a moment.

“She’s not Jabari’s mother,” Tanesha said.

Fin pointed at her and nodded.

“When?” Tanesha asked.

“Sooner than you’d think,” Fin gave her a charming smile.

He gestured toward the teacher, who had started lecturing. Tanesha took out her notebook and pen, and settled down to work.

~~~~~~~~

Monday afternoon — 3:25 p.m.

“Thanks for coming,” Sandy said.

She held the door open to her salon to let Seth inside.

“Are you okay?” Seth asked.

Sandy gave a quick nod. She gestured toward the back of the salon and Seth followed her to the back.

“Did you have lunch?” Seth asked as they reached the back of the salon.

Sandy shook her head. He was about to suggest they go get something when he saw the box and stack of bound books sitting on the round table in the back of her salon. He looked at Sandy.

“My Mom, I mean Andy, she …”

Seth’s eyes scanned Sandy’s face. She looked exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

“I haven’t had much sleep,” Sandy said.

She tucked a piece of her blonde hair behind her ear. Seth nodded. He went to the table. He reached out for a book when Sandy came to the table.

“Delphie said I would find what I was looking for, and why Andy was killed, in this box,” Sandy nodded. “Remember?”

“I remember that we talked about a box on Saturday,” Seth said. “We looked at this box when we were in the room.”

“Just the outside of it,” Sandy nodded. “It’s paper for a Fax. Can you imagine?”

“What did you find?” Seth started to ask at the same time Sandy said, “I’m not really sure …”

He stopped talking. His eyebrows pinched together with concern for her. She read his concern and nodded.

“I guess I do seem a little crazy,” she smiled. “They’re journals, I think. Nothing’s dated except for the last one. That’s dated the day I went to see her.”

“The day she died?”

“Day before,” Sandy said. “I think. I don’t know. She wrote and wrote that day. She says that I should read the others and the last one would make sense. So I did.”

Sandy picked up a book.

“I marked them in order and …” Sandy nodded. “Delphie said they would explain why Andy was killed and …”

Sandy set a book down on the table and picked up another.

“I marked them one, two, …” Sandy nodded.

“But?” Seth asked.

“I don’t know what they mean,” Sandy said. “Or how they explain anything and …”

“And?” Seth asked.

“I feel like she wants me to know something,” Sandy said. “She expects me to understand. Me. Her child. And I …”

Sandy shook her head and her eyes welled with tears.

“I’m failing her,” Sandy said.

Seth pulled Sandy to him. She cried into his shoulder for a few moments before her natural defiance returned.

“No,” Sandy said. “No.”

She pushed him away.

“I’m going to figure this out,” Sandy said.

“What can I do?” Seth asked.

“You’re the great Magic O’Malley,” Sandy said. “You can help me figure this out.”

Seth’s eyes scanned her face.

“Please?” Sandy asked.

“What if it doesn’t make sense?” Seth asked. “What if she was crazy? I’m sorry to say it, Sandy. I loved her, more than I can ever know or express. I still love her. I will love her until the day I die.”

Seth touched his chest and Sandy nodded.

“Will you try?” Sandy asked. “For me?”

“Of course,” Seth nodded.

“Show me again,” Seth said.

They turned to look at the table.

“The books were stacked inside the box,” Sandy said. “There were little things tucked into the side — my baby hat, some booties, a photo album, some newspapers and packing stuff.”

Seth nodded.

“I took a picture with my phone,” Sandy said.

“Show me,” Seth said.

Sandy opened the photo application on her iPhone and gave it to him. He flipped through the photos.

“Nice work,” he said.

Sandy nodded.

“I numbered all the books,” Sandy said. “You can see the number on the front and on the back.”

“This is the order you found them in the box?” Seth asked.

Sandy nodded.

“And the last book?” Seth asked. “The one with the note to you?”

Sandy gave it to him. He read the note which told Sandy to start at the beginning. He flipped through the book.

“I read it,” Sandy said.

“And?” Seth asked.

“It’s kind of gibberish,” Sandy said. “Or … well . . “

“Or what?” Seth asked.

“It reminded me of that code you and Dad used to use,” Sandy said. “Didn’t you tell me that …”

“Andy taught it to me,” Seth nodded. “We used to use it when we were in school. Did you decipher it?”

“I don’t remember how,” Sandy said. “Do you?”

“I don’t know,” Seth said. “It’s been a long time.”

“But you’ll try?” Sandy asked.

“Of course,” Seth said.

Seth stacked the books in order and looked at the photo Sandy had taken. He moved a book to the side and another one out to match the picture.

“I don’t think …” Sandy started.

He looked up at her, but his mind was somewhere else. He shook his head.

“No,” Seth said.

He started moving the books around. The first book became the third book. The fourth book moved to the fifth position. He’d move a book and then look at the picture. Just when Sandy was sure he’d moved every book at least three times, he stopped shuffling them.

“This is the first book,” Seth said.

“How do you …?” Sandy asked.

He shrugged and picked up the book. He opened the cover and looked at the page.

“Pretty crazy, isn’t it?” Sandy asked.

He looked up at her, but she knew he didn’t see her. His mind was tracking his thoughts. His mouth fell open, and he became very still. Just when Sandy was sure he was ill, he gave a quick shake of his head. His eyes flicked to look at her.

“No way,” Seth said.

He laid the books out along the edge of the round table and opened the covers. He took his reading glasses from his pocket and bent over the text. He went from book to book. Sandy felt his energy rise as he reached the last book. He flipped the page and continued going from book to book. His face broke into a wide smile.

“No way,” Seth gave a little chuckle.

“Was she crazy?” Sandy asked.

Seth was smiling when he stood up to look at her.

“Not in the slightest,” Seth said.

“Then what is this?” Sandy asked. Her eyes welled with exhausted tears.

“This is a symphony to you,” Seth said.

“A what?” Sandy asked.

“A symphony,” Seth said.

“A what?” Sandy repeated.

Seth chuckled.

“Andy was a wonderful composer,” Seth said. “She taught me most of what I know about the science of structuring music and creating composition from …”

Seth waved his hand over his head in a gesture to the ether.

“This is …” Seth nodded. “Let’s take it to my house. I think I can play it for you. I don’t know, but I think so.”

“But why was she killed?” Angry tears streamed down Sandy’s face. “I’m trying to find out why my mom … and that horrible man …”

Seth gestured to the table.

“This is worth a fortune,” Seth said.

“What is?” Sandy asked.

“This work,” Seth said. “Andy didn’t write much. Three pieces total, I think. This is … a masterpiece, to you. I mean, we won’t know until we get into it, but it’s either a full symphony or a series of pieces or … I’d guess he killed her because she wouldn’t tell him where it was. He thought he could find it on his own.”

“But …” Sandy started.

“Call Schmidty,” Seth said. “Ask him.”

“Ask him what?” Sandy asked.

“What an Andy Mendy full orchestra symphony is worth,” Seth said. “Never mind. I’ll call.”

Seth took out his cellphone and placed a call. Sandy sat down at the table while he had a quick conversation with Schmidty.

“Priceless,” Seth said when he hung up the phone. “He’d have to auction it like we do for my longer pieces. He said it’s worth at least a hundred times anything I can write.”

“What?”

“You’re used to me,” Seth said. “I’m more prolific than most composers. I create a piece every year or so.”

“When you’re sober,” Sandy nodded.

“Exactly,” Seth said. “Most composers are lucky to write a few good things in a lifetime. Andy’s work is …”

He leaned over to look at the journals again.

“This is breath taking,” Seth said. “You’ll have to hear it.”

“You can transcribe it?” Sandy asked.

“Probably,” Seth said. “My guess is that you can transcribe it or we can do it together. It’s a piece of music written for you, to you, Sandy, a message from a mother to her beloved child.”

“And he killed her for it?”

“Delphie’s almost never wrong,” Seth said. “When she is, it’s a matter of timing. Red Bear killed Andy for this — and there’s something in here to prove it. Something will point the way.”

Seth nodded.

“He’s not dead, is he?” Sandy asked.

“Why do you ask?” Seth gave her a long look.

“Did you see his body?” Sandy asked.

“No, but …”

“Do you know anyone who did?” Sandy asked. Seth shook his head. “They rushed him to …”

“Denver Health,” Seth said. “But surely …”

“We thought he was going to take me to do something horrible,” Sandy said.

“He was going to take you or Rachel.”

“What if that wasn’t the reason he was involved?” Sandy asked.

“We were able to dismantle Patty’s entire network,” Seth said. “ICE swooped in and arrested them all. Because of you, they shut down half a dozen child pornography distribution sites, confiscated entire warehouses of material, and … It’s the largest bust of its kind. Period. And Charlie and Sissy’s mother is never getting out of jail.”

“What if he went along with all of that to appease Patty?” Sandy asked.

“He thought she had this work.”

“Right,” Sandy said.

“He grabbed you to give to Patty in exchange for this,” Seth said. “But you had the box. I mean, you have everything of Andy’s.”

“In exchange for something,” Sandy said. “Something Patty said was this.”

Seth looked at Sandy for a long moment before he nodded in agreement.

“He’s still alive,” Sandy said. “I just know it.”

“Then he’s going to be looking for this,” Seth said. “Do you want to …?”

“Do you mind if we take it to your house?” Sandy asked.

Seth nodded. Sandy went to the closet to retrieve the box. She started packing everything into the box.

“Did you read this newspaper?” Seth asked.

“The packing material?” Sandy asked.

Seth held a page out to her. The paper had a picture of Tanesha and Jill at the Colorado State track meet. Sandy and Heather were in the background. Someone had drawn a heart around Sandy’s face.

“She knew I was alive,” Sandy said.

“Looks like it,” Seth said.

Sandy finished packing the box and Seth picked it up. They were halfway across the hair salon when Sandy said, “Why do you think everything is so weird?”

“No idea,” Seth laughed.

“I mean, first I hear that she didn’t know I was alive,” Sandy said. “Then I hear that Dad knew her and she helped him buy the condo. Then Red Bear says she killed herself because she knew I was safe and then …”

Sandy cleared her throat.

“Lies,” Sandy said in a low voice. “Tangle of lies.”

“Exactly,” Seth said. “We have to sort the lies from the truth.”

“At least I know …”

They went through the salon door and Sandy locked it behind her.

“Know?” Seth asked.

“That my mom loved me,” Sandy said. “A lot.”

“She did,” Seth said.

Sandy smiled. He put the box on the jump seat of the truck and let her in. He went around to the driver’s seat.

“Ready?” Seth asked.

Sandy nodded, and they drove to his home.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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