Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Ninety-Four : Cream of the Crop

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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and NINETY-FOUR

Sandy was looking inside the shop when she heard a sound. Not a quiet sound like you hear on TV, but not a gunshot sound. She turned toward where the sound came from.

Raz dropped to the ground.

Colin fell next to her.

And Sandy knew.

She was in real trouble.

Sandy stepped back. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Detective Red Bear dropping down from the roof. Something hard and cold pressed into her back.

“You’ll do what I say,” a man’s voice said.

“Yes detective,” Sandy said.

“Good girl.” The detective put his hand on her shoulder and pressed the handgun further into her back. “Close the door to the salon.”

Sandy slammed the door.

“Lock the deadbolt,” the detective said.

Seth wouldn’t be able to help her if she locked the door. She hesitated just a moment and the detective fired a shot into the wall. The plaster sprayed at Sandy. She yelped and raised her hands to keep the plaster from hitting her face. She felt blood form from a scratch made by a shard.

“Do it,” the detective said. “I know all about the O’Malley curse. Lock him in now.”

Sandy could smell the fear and desperation on the man. She locked the door. He grabbed her arm and yanked her around. The big guy in the SUV held a handgun pointed in her direction.

“I will not hesitate to kill her,” Detective Red Bear said to the driver of the car. “Her replacement is inside the shop.”

The big guy didn’t lower his handgun.

“I don’t care if the baby is raped,” Detective Red Bear said. “We have twenty guys who paid in full to watch it happen. But I bet you care?”

Horrified, Sandy shook her head at the big guy. The big guy tossed the handgun out of the SUV.

“Stay there,” the detective said. “If you leave the car, I will kill her. If you press on the accelerator, I will kill her. With her dead, you can guarantee that I will use the baby. The fate of the child rests solely with you.”

The big guy took the keys out of the SUV and tossed them out with the weapon.

“Good thinking,” Detective Red Bear said. “I’m going to take this nice young lady down the alley. If you even move an inch, she dies.”

The big guy didn’t move.

“I’ve got nothing to lose, and you know it,” the detective yelled.

The big guy nodded. Sandy gave the big guy a terrified look. As if to say that he’d come get her, the big guy nodded to her.

The detective pushed her from behind and Sandy stumbled. The detective fired at the SUV. The big guy ducked as the window rose. The bullet hit the door with a thunk. Another shot hit the window.

“Shit,” the detective said, under his breath. “Bulletproof.”

He rammed the hot metal into Sandy’s back and put his hand on her shoulder again.

“Get their weapons,” the detective said.

“Whose weapons?” Sandy said.

“Theirs!”

The detective pushed her to where Raz was lying. Sandy took the revolver from Raz’s hand. She gave it to the detective.

“Check his side holster,” the detective said.

“Nothing,” Sandy pulled Raz’s jacket back.

“Do this one,” the detective said.

Sandy went to Colin. She didn’t see any blood, so she thought at least Colin was faking being knocked out. She took the gun from his hand. The detective searched Raz and found another gun. Then the detective kicked Raz a few times in the ribs. Sandy screamed.

“Shut up,” the detective said.

He slapped her across the face and Sandy fell. She landed on her hip and stayed there to catch her breath. He checked Colin. He found another handgun and a knife. He kicked Colin a few times before he grabbed Sandy and pulled her to standing.

“Go,” the detective said.

Sandy was too scared to move.

“I will not hesitate to kill you,” the detective said. “Thanks to you, I have nothing to lose.”

“Yes, sir,” Sandy said.

She took a step and then another. They started walking down the dark alley.

~~~~~~~~

Friday night—8:11 p.m.

“Okay, I found the alley next to Sandy’s salon,” Heather said to Blane. She pulled into the alley. “Wow, it’s really dark.”

She’d used masking tape to secure her cellphone to the dashboard so that Blane could see what she was seeing rather than connect the phone through her car’s dashboard. She drove at a snail’s pace up the alley.

“Someone must have turned out the lights,” Heather said.

“It looks like they shot them out,” Blane said.

“Wouldn’t someone hear that and call the police?” Heather asked.

“Not if he did it another day,” Blane said.

“Oh, you mean he planned this all along,” Heather shivered. “Yuck.”

“Yuck,” Blane agreed.

“I’m just passing the garage next to her studio parking lot,” Heather said.

“Can you see into her back parking lot?” Blane asked.

“Yeah,” Heather said. “There’s an SUV. It looks like one of those big guys that works for Alex is driving. You know, they were helping Jeraine?”

“The really white one?” Blane asked. “Or Teddy’s guardian?”

“The white one,” Heather said.

“His name is Chris,” Blane said. “Does he see you?”

“No,” Heather said. “He’s looking at the backdoor to Sandy’s studio.”

Heather pulled into a parking spot behind the store across the alley from the salon. On the way over, she and Blane had strategized that this was the best place to park. By parking here, she would be right there to help Sandy if Sandy needed her. If Sandy didn’t need her, she could just drive away. From where she’d parked, she could see the entire parking lot behind Sandy’s salon.

“There’s Raz,” Heather said. “Gosh, I feel pretty stupid. Raz looks so serious and professional. I mean, he’s a Federal agent and everything. What could I do?”

“You were pretty sure that Sandy might need you,” Blane said. “Let’s just wait and see. If you’re wrong, you can pick up ice cream.”

“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Heather said. “Maybe I’ll get some anyway.”

“Ok, there’s Sandy and Colin,” Heather said. “I think Seth’s there too. Can you see?”

“No,” Blane said.

Heather pulled the cellphone from the dash. She scooted down so just her eyes peeked out over the door. She held the phone so just the camera was in the window.

“Looks like Seth has Rachel,” Blane said. “That makes sense.”

There was a noise and a man got into the front seat of Heather’s car. Heather screamed.

“What! What’s happening? Heather!” Blane yelled.

“Sorry,” Aden said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Aden!” Heather slapped at him. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

“Sorry,” Aden said. “I’m not supposed to be here. Probation and all. But I just couldn’t … I saw your car and …”

“Oh shit!” Blane said.

“What?” Heather turned back to look into Sandy’s parking lot.

“I knew it!” Aden said.

Colin and Raz were crumpled on the ground. The horrible Detective Red Bear had a gun to Sandy’s back. The detective didn’t see them. He was focused on Chris in the SUV.

The back door opened and someone got in the back seat of her car. Heather squelched a scream. Aden swung around. Seth was pushing Blane’s hockey stuff over so he and Rachel could get in the car.

“What happened?” Blane asked.

“It’s Seth and Rachel,” Aden said. “Is that Blane?”

“He’s in the hospital,” Heather said. “Scoot down!”

They slid down in their seats.

“Hi Seth,” Heather said. “How did you …?”

“I heard him. I figured if I didn’t get moving, I’d get stuck …” Seth started. “See she’s locking the door.”

“How did you get out?” Aden asked.

“I heard the handgun and went out the front,” Seth said. “It’s not the first silenced gun I’ve heard.”

“Shh!” Heather said. “Scoot down! He’s going to see you.”

They scooted down further.

“Ok, it looks like he got Chris to get rid of his gun,” Blane said. “And keys. He’s shooting at the SUV.”

“Did he hit him?” Heather asked.

“No,” Blane said. “It looks like Colin and Raz are okay. Colin’s eyes are open. He’s just waiting to see what the detective will do.”

“They wear body armor,” Seth said. “All the time.”

Sandy screamed. Hearing her mother’s distressed voice, Rachel woke up and squealed. Seth tried to calm the baby. Aden reached into the back and took his daughter. Rachel giggled at the sight of her father.

“He saw me,” Heather said.

Heather sagged her eyelids. She held her hands to her lips like she was smoking marijuana. She opened the window of the car a little bit as if to let the smoke out. Reaching into the ashtray, she found a nub of moxa stick that Blane used in Chinese medicine. Seth leaned forward to hold a lighter. They lit the moxa stick. She held it to the window so the smoke would go out.

“Good thinking,” Seth said. “You should be a detective.”

“No thank you,” Heather said. “I don’t have the nerves for it.”

“Ok. I think he bought it,” Blane said. “What’s Sandy doing?

“Taking Colin and Raz’s weapons,” Seth said.

“Shit,” Aden said.

With just their eyes at the window, they watched in tense silence. The detective and Sandy started walking toward them.

“She sees the car,” Heather said in a whisper.

Sandy eyes blinked and blinked.

“Is she saying something?” Aden whispered.

“Morse code,” Seth whispered. “Mitch taught her when she was a kid. She’s saying … Stay there. No move. He’ll k …i …”

Sandy and the detective turned down the dark alley. Heather turned around to watch her go.

Every step took Sandy away from Heather.

Every step took Sandy further into harm’s way.

Heather’s mind repeated what Abi had said, “You wield the most powerful force in the universe.”

“Heather …” Blane said. “Don’t do it … Call Alex. You promised to call Alex.”

Heather looked at the phone and set it on the driver’s side floor. As if she’d practiced it all her life, she reached behind her for Blane’s hockey stick and a puck. Seth ducked to avoid Heather hitting him in the head with the stick. She hopped out of the car.

“I love you hockey puck,” Heather said under her breath. “Now, go brain the guy.”

She’d done this move a million and one times with Blane. It was something she was naturally really good at it. A lot better than Blane. No matter how much he practiced—which was the point of them playing with the puck and stick—she was still a lot better than him. She hadn’t missed her target in the last year. Not even one time.

She dropped the puck and pulled back. She whacked the puck with all her might.

The puck flew straight and true. Heather bit her lip and tried to will the puck to hit the detective.

Thack!

The puck hit the detective in the back of the head.

He fell forward onto his face.

Sandy screamed at the top of her lungs.

Heather heard Seth and Aden get out of the car behind her, but she ran as fast as she could toward Sandy. Colin and Raz passed her in the alley. The men got there before Heather. When she got to Sandy, the men were talking a million miles a minutes. Raz was handcuffing the detective.

Sandy saw Heather and ran to her. Sandy held her tight. Heather’s shoulder was wet with Sandy’s tears.

“You’re okay now. It’s okay,” Heather said.

Heather felt something and looked up to see Aden.

“It’s Aden and Rachel,” Heather said. “Seth too. They were with me.”

Sandy started crying in earnest. She let go of Heather and grabbed Aden. Seth hugged her too. Heather stepped back for a moment to watch.

When she heard a police siren coming in their direction, Heather walked back to the car. She picked up her phone from the floor of the driver’s side. She got into her Subaru.

“Sorry,” Heather said to Blane. “I just had to.”

“I know,” Blane said.

“Did you see?” Heather asked. “I creamed him.”

“Back of the head with the puck?” Blane asked.

“Damn straight,” Heather said. “Ice cream?”

“Chocolate,” Blane said.

“How ’bout Chocolate Brownie Cream?” Heather asked.

“From Liks?”

“Is there any other?” Heather said.

“Not a chance,” Blane laughed.

“I’ll be right there,” Heather said, and hung up the phone.

She looked in the rearview mirror trying to calm her beating heart. A police cruiser flew by her and then another. She saw a ladder roll down off the one story garage behind Sandy’s parking lot. A couple of tall, thin people dressed in all black slipped down the ladder. They had compound bows and looked scary dangerous.

One of them saluted Heather and the other clapped. Embarrassed, Heather waved. She started the car and drove to get ice cream. By the time she reached the hospital, the television and newspaper reporters were waiting outside the hospital for news from the ER about Sandy.

“Rescued by a hockey puck,” one television news reporter said as Heather walked past. “If the police know who hit the hockey puck, they aren’t saying. It’s a puzzling who dun it that created this wonderful ending. Both the mother and child are safe.”

Heather grinned to herself and went upstairs where she knew Blane was waiting.

~~~~~~~~

Friday night—9:17 p.m.

“Are you Tannie?” the nurse whispered.

Jeraine and Tanesha were standing at a nurses’ desk at Children’s Hospital.

“Tanesha,” she said.

“Jabari’s been asking for you for hours,” the nurse said.

“They just called!” Tanesha’s heart sank. She had no idea Jabari wanted to see her. “We rushed right over.”

“Well, it took us a while to figure out what he was saying,” the nurse chuckled. “Then we had to get permission from the social worker and … Well. You of all people know what a mess this is.”

Tanesha nodded.

“Anyway, you have fifteen minutes,” the nurse said.

She turned to look at Jeraine. Her eyes squinted while she tried to figure out where she’d seen him before. The nurse pointed to him.

“You’re Jeraine,” the nurse’s finger bounced up and down. “Jabari is your son?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jeraine said.

“I sure hope you sort out this mess,” the nurse said.

“We’re doing what we can,” Jeraine said.

“Are you Miss T?” the nurse asked Tanesha.

Tanesha nodded.

“That makes a lot of sense,” the nurse laughed. “Jabari kept alternating between Tannie and Miss T.”

The nurse shook her head.

“We were completely lost,” the nurse said. She came out from behind the desk. “I’ll take you to him.”

They walked down the hallway. The nurse stopped at an open door.

“He is a very sick little boy,” the nurse said in a low voice.

“I thought he was better!” Jeraine said.

“We were hoping to take him home tomorrow,” Tanesha said.

“He is better,” the nurse said. “He’s still very sick. He’ll need to stay with his guardians until …”

The nurse made a gesture with her hand to indicate the custody situation.

“My parents,” Tanesha said.

“Your parents,” the nurse nodded. “You look just like Yvonne.”

When the nurse turned into the room, Tanesha made a face to indicate that the nurse was insane. Jeraine smiled. They followed her into the room. Little Jabari was tucked in the center the big hospital bed with a pile of stuffed animals on either side.

“Jabari?” the nurse asked.

She leaned down to his hospital bed. Jabari opened his eyes and looked at the nurse. He had an oxygen cannula in his nose. His eyes had dark slashes underneath them. He looked sick.

“We brought Tannie,” the nurse said.

The nurse stepped aside and gestured for Tanesha to come to the bed. Jabari looked at her.

“Hi Jabari,” Tanesha said.

She kneeled down next to the bed. Jabari held his hand out to her and she took it. Tanesha smiled.

“How are you, buddy?” Tanesha asked.

“Sick,” Jabari said. “Again. But …”

The boy gestured for Tanesha to come closer to him. She hopped up and leaned over the bed.

“I heard your wish,” Jabari said.

Surprised, Tanesha leaned back to look at him. The child nodded.

“I’m going to get well so you can be my mommy,” Jabari said. “Do you want to be my mommy?”

The nurse’s breath caught at his request. Teary, she moved to the door.

“I do,” Tanesha said.

“You wished I was better,” Jabari nodded.

“I do,” Tanesha said. “With all my heart.”

“Then it will be done,” Jabari said. His eyes glanced at Jeraine and he smiled. “Hi Dad.”

“You know what?” the nurse came toward them. “Why don’t you get in the bed with him?”

“Can I?” Tanesha asked.

“I don’t see why not,” the nurse said. “In fact, I’m on until six tomorrow morning. If you want to, you can stay. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Sure,” Jeraine said.

“I just have study group tomorrow,” Tanesha said. “I can walk from here.”

“Then it’s settled,” the nurse said. “I’ll wake you up before I get off shift.”

“I’d really appreciate it.” Jeraine gave the nurse his charming smile. She blushed.

“Go on,” the nurse said and left the room.

Tanesha sat on the side of the bed and took her boots off. Jeraine pushed the stuffed animals out of the way to make space for her. She climbed into bed to snuggle Jabari. He beamed.

“You sleep,” the nurse pointed to Jabari. “No mischief.”

“I will,” Jabari said.

Tanesha lay on her side with the little boy in front of her. She stroked his hair and willed her strength into his tiny form. Jabari fell sound asleep. When she looked up, Jeraine was smiling at her.

“What?” Tanesha mouthed.

“Just a nice picture,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha smiled and held out her hand to him. He kissed her hand. They held hands until long after Jabari fell asleep. Jeraine let go to settle into sleep. Sometime after the nurse check Jabari at midnight, Tanesha fell asleep next to her blessing, her little Jabari.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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