Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Nineteen : Chocolate chip cookies

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINETEEN


Saturday afternoon — 1:37 p.m.

Sandy looked down at her iPhone and back at the address stamped on the curb. She couldn’t see the house through the tall juniper bushes and Colorado Blue Spruces which surrounded the large property. She checked her iPhone one last time. This was the address. She watched the heavy Monaco Boulevard traffic in her side mirror until there was a short break. She jumped out of Celia’s old diesel Mercedes and jogged around the car. She went to old red flagstone front walk.

Even though the day was warm, the dark foliage of the trees cast a chilling shadow. Sandy instinctively shivered against the cold. She went to the low chain-link gate fence and opened it. Stepping through the fence, she felt like she’d stepped into a foreign land. The sun was shining. The grass was at a perfect height. Even the garden beds had the look of having just been attended.

There was a beautiful white marble statue with a fountain and a purple flagstone patio surrounding the fountain just in front of the house. Two teak rocking chairs looked as if they’d just been set there. There was a pitcher of lemonade with at least a dozen fresh ice cubes floating in it. Two tall crystal glasses sat on the low table between the rocking chairs.

Sandy glanced up at the house. Wearing jeans and a deep purple silk shirt, Bestat stood on the porch with her infant daughter, Neuth, on her hip. Bestat waved to Sandy. An older woman wearing the traditional dress of Bestat’s native Egypt came out of the house and took Neuth. Bestat said something to the woman in a foreign language and came down the steps.

Bestat kissed Sandy’s cheeks before gesturing to the chairs.

“It’s warm today, sunny,” Bestat said. “I thought we could pretend it was spring.”

Sandy sat down in the rocking chair Bestat had indicated. Her host sat in the one closest to the path. They had just gotten settled with a young man dressed in traditional Egyptian clothing brought them genuine sheep fleece blankets and another elderly woman came out with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Overwhelmed by the attention, Sandy blushed and smiled.

“Was that too much?” Bestat asked.

“Um,” Sandy scowled.

“Like you, I have a few very close friends. I don’t do …” Bestat waved her hand between them, “ … this … well, ever really.”

“I don’t either,” Sandy said. “But I’m glad I came. Thank you for taking the time.”

“Of course. It is my pleasure,” Bestat said. “Cookie?”

She held the plate out to Sandy. Not wanting to be rude, Sandy took a cookie. She didn’t really like chocolate chip cookies. She thought they were bland. Smelling something divine, Sandy sniffed the cookie and took a bite.

“Decadent?” Bestat asked.

“They look like regular cookies!” Sandy said.

“They do,” Bestat nodded. “Those usual cookies — slabs of salty butter and chocolate …”

Bestat wrinkled her lip and gave a shake of her head.

“I don’t like them either,” Sandy said. “But these … what’s in them?”

“Cinnamon, cardamom, love, oh and that sugar you call ‘natural sugar,’” Bestat said. “Sugar crystals give them crunch.”

“Great ideas,” Sandy said.

“My cook is very good,” Bestat said. “I bring her with me everywhere I go. She has been with me all of her life. Her mother was also my cook … uh … when I was young.”

Sandy smiled and felt a little fuzzy, almost drunk. She rubbed her forehead. When she looked up, Bestat gave her a long lashed bat of her almond colored eyes.

“How is Noelle?” Bestat asked.

“Good,” Sandy said. “My husband is bringing her home from the hospital right now.”

“She is a wonderful girl,” Bestat said.

Sandy nodded. Needing to enjoy a simple quiet moment, Sandy focused on her cookie. Bestat poured the lemonade and let her think.

“I need your help,” Sandy said.

“Yes,” Bestat said.

“Yes?” Sandy asked.

“I will help you with whatever you need,” Bestat said.

“Why?” Sandy asked and then instantly felt embarrassed.

“Because you were my Zack’s friend in one of the darkest moments of his life,” Bestat said.

“He really saved me, not the other way around,” Sandy said.

“Together,” Bestat said. “You could have taken him, kept him, but you let him go — for his benefit and for yours.”

Sandy blushed and looked at the gorgeous white statue and fountain in front of her. There was a ribbon of mable fabric around the woman’s middle and between her legs. She held a basket above her head and the water dribbled off the side of the basket into a pond filled with Koi. The fish peeked over the edge of the pond to look at Sandy.

“He is handsome, funny, and loves you,” Bestat said.

“He and I aren’t meant …”

“Yes,” Bestat said. “It takes an old, wise soul to know something like that.”

“I never really thought about it …” Sandy stopped talking when she saw Bestat smile.

“I always help the old souls,” Bestat said.

“And the young ones?” Sandy smiled.

“Make sure they don’t interfere,” Bestat said.

Sandy smiled and took a drink of her lemonade. She wrinkled her nose.

“Good too?” Bestat asked.

“Amazing,” Sandy said. “Not too sweet what’s …”

“Honey,” Bestat said.

“Honey?” Sandy asked. “I’ve never thought of it.”

“I get it from Alex,” Bestat said. “But Delphie’s is wonderful, as you know.”

Sandy smiled and took another drink.

“How might I help?” Bestat asked.

“Noelle needs to leave Denver,” Sandy said. “Nash probably too. They are in danger here. Here they have big lives, friends, family. They need to become invisible until this trial is over.”

“Yes,” Bestat said. “I believe you’re right.”

“Charlie and Sissy too,” Sandy said. “But that’s another matter.”

“Oh?” Bestat asked.

“Sissy will be an apprentice at the American Ballet Theater in a month,” Sandy said. “She will be staying at my father’s apartment in a big anonymous city. We believe she will be safe there.”

When Bestat didn’t say anything, Sandy pressed on.

“We found an art school in New York City,” Sandy said. “Mike has been mentoring Noelle. He says that it’s a great school for Noelle. My father called last night and Noelle can start there now. She can live with Sissy.”

“And Charlie?” Bestat asked. “He is the one in the most danger.”

“Charlie will live with my father, um, I think you know him — Seth O’Malley?” Sandy asked.

“I know your father, Seth O’Malley,” Bestat smiled. “That’s a good idea. Charlie will have fun with them.”

Sandy nodded.

“How might I help?” Bestat asked.

“Teddy has lived with us the last two summers,” Sandy said. “I’m wondering if Nash can stay with him, with you.”

“My son, Teddy, lives here at the house during the school year and with you in the summer,” Bestat said.

Sandy squinted her eyes. She wasn’t sure what Bestat was saying.

“I guess, I’m confused,” Bestat said.

“Nash needs a place to live and …” Sandy started.

“Noelle is in danger,” Bestat said. “Sissy too, correct?”

Sandy nodded.

“Why don’t they live with me in New York?” Bestat asked. “I have a full staff there and an office at the consulate. We can make sure Sissy gets a good start at the ABT. Noelle can get settled in her program.”

“But …” Sandy started. She closed her mouth to keep from expressing her frustration.

“Nash, yes,” Bestat said. “As you know, Teddy and Nash are boys. They can live in sleeping bags on the floor of an unheated hut for a year and think that was cool.”

“Yes, but …” Sandy started.

“They can live with Alex,” Bestat said.

“With Alex?” Sandy asked. “I can’t … I mean …”

“Teddy loves it there,” Bestat said.

“Nash does too,” Sandy said. “They work the boys like dogs too. They have to do their homework, chores …”

“Workout,” Bestat said.

“No excuses,” Sandy said. She shook her head. “And they love it! I can’t get them to …”

“I can’t either,” Bestat said.

“Are you sure Alex wouldn’t mind?” Sandy asked.

“She has already offered,” Bestat said. “Those Irishmen need some help with their bakery.”

“Is that safe?” Sandy asked.

“They should be okay,” Bestat said. “You know almost everyone in the house fought in one war or another. They keep themselves safe, so the boys should be safe as well.”

Sandy cleared her throat and drank her lemonade.

“What is happening?” Bestat asked.

“You have it all figured out and …” Sandy started.

“Not really,” Bestat smiled.

Sandy looked at her.

“We want to help,” Bestat said. “That is all.”

“Thank you,” Sandy said.

“What about Ivy?” Bestat asked.

“What about her?” Sandy asked.

“They tried to shoot her as well,” Bestat said.

“They did?”

“Yes of course,” Bestat said. “She is the youngest of the girls. Her testimony carries the greatest penalty.”

“Colin Hargreaves was shot too,” Sandy said.

“He’s gone into hiding with his family,” Bestat said. “Art Rasmussen too.”

“Wow,” Sandy said.

“It must be done,” Bestat said.

“And Ivy?” Sandy asked.

“You won’t be able to keep her safe here,” Bestat said.

“I’ll talk to Delphie,” Sandy said.

They lapsed into silence. The gorgeous fountain’s gentle, burbling water seemed to scream at Sandy now. She watched the placid look on the woman’s face and wondered why her burdens seemed so light.

“You haven’t mentioned yourself,” Bestat said.

“Me?” Sandy asked.

“Much of what is going on revolves around what happened to you when you were a child,” Bestat said.

“No one’s tried to shoot me!” Sandy said.

“Yet,” Bestat said.

“I don’t have to testify,” Sandy said.

“Yet,” Bestat said.

“But …” Sandy felt her lip move in and out with her breath. She leaned forward. “What do I do?”

“About Ivy? Talk to Delphie,” Bestat shrugged. “She already has it in her mind. She just needs a nudge.”

Sandy’s eyes began to well.

“They will kill you,” Bestat said.

Sandy nodded and stood up from her rocking chair. When Bestat didn’t move from hers, Sandy sat back down.

“Do I need to accept my fate?” Sandy asked.

“What fate?” Bestat asked. “I’m sorry. I’m not helping you. I’m not good with questions. I either answer what people are actually asking but not saying, or I don’t understand the question. Either way, I’m not of much help.”

Sandy gave a slight smile.

“Have you ever seen Yvonne’s book?” Bestat asked.

“Yvonne’s book?” Sandy gave Bestat a vague look. “Uh …”

“I happen to have a copy of it,” Bestat said.

“You do?”

“Alex thought I might be able to put names to faces,” Bestat said. “I asked for the entire book and she gave it to me.”

Sandy scowled. She had the feeling Bestat wanted her to do something important but she couldn’t figure out what.

“Um …”

“If you find him, he cannot kill you or the children,” Bestat said.

Or at least Sandy thought Bestat had said it. When she looked at Bestat, it didn’t look like she’d said anything.

“Who?” Sandy asked.

“Why don’t we go and find out?” Bestat asked.

“And the kids?”

“All taken care of,” Bestat said. “My staff is already preparing for Sissy and Noelle. Your father is planning on taking them there tonight. I will meet them in New York.”

“But Zack’s other children!” Sandy said. “You can’t just leave them here!”

“Brittney and Sam?” Bestat’s face broke into a wide smile. “They are refreshingly flexible. Of course, I share mothering duties with Zack’s mother.”

“Um,” Sandy said. “What will they do?”

“They will come with me to New York.”

“How …?”

“They are home schooled,” Bestat said. “They were behind when their mother went to rehab. Because we live in many places, they’ve never gone back to traditional school. Their tutors travel with us. They are fluent in Arabic, Spanish, English, and are working on their French.”

“Nash has been studying Arabic,” Sandy said.

“With Teddy’s tutor,” Bestat said.

“Oh,” Sandy said. “Sorry.”

“We have a very complicated life,” Bestat said. “There’s no reason you should know all the details.”

Sandy gave an embarrassed nod.

“And Charlie?” Bestat touched Sandy’s arm to help her get back on track.

“Maresol’s taking Charlie from the hospital this afternoon during the nurse change over,” Sandy said. “Honey will help him get settled at Seth’s home.”

“Teddy and Nash were already planning to stay at Alex’s tonight,” Bestat said.

“Full moon snowshoeing,” Sandy said. “And Ivy?”

“Delphie will know what to do,” Bestat said.

“And me?” Sandy asked.

“With my help, you’re going to end this thing once and for all,” Bestat said.

Bestat stood up from her seat.

“Come,” Bestat ordered.

Unsure of what else to do, Sandy got up and followed Bestat into the house.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon — 3:07 p.m.

The plastic chair creaked as Heather collapsed around the baby in her abdomen. Her arms wrapped protectively around him and she stared off to the side.

“What is it?” Blane asked. He was sitting in the armchair across the glass wall that kept his room sterile.

“I’m scared,” Heather said. Her head tilted up so she could look at him. “Everything in my life is in flux.”

“I’m in the middle of treatment,” Blane said. “Tink is not yet our daughter and …”

“She has to go hide somewhere,” Heather said. “I’m ready to pop, but the baby’s not here yet.”

“Mack’s started the early child program at the Marlowe School,” Blane said.

“Which he loves,” Heather said.

“Everything is in flux.” Blane nodded.

“Scary,” Heather said. “Feels like everything in my life is up in the air.”

“And you’re just waiting for it to fall,” Blane said. “Yeah. I know that one.”

“I know you do,” Heather nodded.

“I wish I could hold you,” Blane said.

“I wish you could too,” Heather gave him a slight smile.

He nodded. Heather looked at her watch.

“Noelle and Sissy are leaving for the airport in a half hour,” Heather said.

“They’re flying to New York?” Blane asked.

“With Seth,” Heather said.

Blane nodded.

“Tink can’t go with them because Raz thinks that it’s dangerous to keep any of the girls together,” Heather said. “That way if they get caught, they only catch one.”

Heather swallowed hard.

“Like their deer or elk,” Heather said. “We don’t want the hunter to bag too many young girls at once.”

Blane eyes spoke his disgust at the entire thing.

“Maresol is sneaking Charlie out of the hospital in an hour or so,” Heather said. “He’ll go to Seth’s house here in Denver.”

“Is that safe?” Blane asked.

“They think so,” Heather said. “The problem is that Charlie’s still too sick to travel any real distance. He should be in the hospital for at least another few days. Seth’s house has a lot of security — video cameras, sensors, a staff of guards on call, stuff like that.”

“But is it safe?” Blane asked.

“No one really knows,” Heather said. “Are the kids being hunted or was the shooting a crime of opportunity? No one knows.”

“Because the police are being jerks,” Blane’s voice was sour and hard.

“No one knows because no one knows,” Heather said. “There are a lot of defendants in this case. Lots. People are so angry now. Its ease to think that people would just pop off.”

She shrugged and sat back. The last thing she wanted to do was upset him and affect his treatment. Seeing her assessing look, he nodded.

“I’m okay,” Blane said. He gave her a smile to convince her but Heather shook her head. “Nash and Teddy?”

“They’re staying with Alex,” Heather said. “They were already planning that for the weekend.”

“Full moon snowshoeing,” Blane said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“I know,” Heather said. “Maybe we can take the kids next winter.”

“I hope so,” Blane said.

“That leaves Tink and Ivy,” Heather said. “Bestat told Sandy that Delphie would know what to do, but Delphie just freaked out. She had no idea what to do. We thought Val could take Ivy, but Val’s new movie already has a bunch of press attention.”

“Hiding in plain sight,” Blane said.

“Or advertising your whereabouts to millions of people,” Heather said.

“Ivy’s aunt?” Blane asked.

“She’s ‘in country’, I think that’s what they call it,” Heather said. “Delphie can’t even get in touch with her. They told her that she could expect contact sometime next month.”

Blane shook his head.

“We’re avoiding talking about Tink,” Heather said.

“I think you should take her and go,” Blane repeated what he’d said before.

“I’m not leaving you,” Heather repeated her argument. “You need me here.”

“I’m just sitting here!” Blane raised his voice.

Heather’s eyes scanned his face. He looked angry, but she knew he was scared too.

“The girls are talking about heading out,” Heather said.

Blane groaned.

“I think Jill convinced them that the streets are the worst place possible for them,” Heather said. “But they’re scared too.”

“They want to control their situation,” Blane nodded. “Makes sense.”

“Aden can’t leave Lipson,” Heather said. “Jill has the twins. Tanesha has school.”

“Sandy’s in danger too,” Blane said.

“How’d you know?” Heather asked. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Just figures,” Blane said.

“My mom’s gone,” Heather said. “Yvonne has Jabari. Jill’s mom said she’d take Ivy but …”

“Ivy won’t go without Tink,” Blane said. “Right?”

Heather nodded.

“But it’s not safe to keep them together,” Blane said.

“That’s the problem,” Heather said.

“We need to make a decision about Tink,” Blane said.

“Right,” Heather said. “If we decide that we’re willing to take the risk, then Ivy and Tink can go together.”

“Way to shift the responsibility,” Blane shook his head.

Heather nodded.

“What are our options?” Blane asked.

“We have three, really,” Heather said. “Delphie can take the girls to Sam’s cabin in Delta.”

“Isn’t Colin hiding out with his family at Patrick’s cabin?” Blane asked. “Isn’t that outside of Delta in the national forest?”

“Less than a mile away,” Heather nodded.

“That’s not going to work,” Blane said.

“No one thinks Delphie can keep the girls safe,” Heather said. “She’s no soldier. It’s too much for her.”

“Didn’t Doc Bumpy buy Jeraine’s Aspen place?” Blane asked.

“Rented for the year,” Heather said.

“And you won’t take them?” Blane asked.

“No way,” Heather said. “If I leave you now …”

“I know,” Blane said. “I wish you were wrong, but as usual, you’re not. If you leave, I’ll be so worried about you that I won’t get better.”

Heather nodded.

“I need you,” Blane said.

“I need you to get well,” Heather said.

They fell silent while they thought.

“I have an idea,” Blane said. He thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, I think this will work.”

“What?” Heather asked.

“What if you …”

“No,” Heather shook her head. “No.”

“Hear me out,” Blane said.

Heather crossed her arms over her chest.

“What if you take Ivy and Tink and move into Sandy’s condo?” Blane asked. “We just need them to do something different. They’ll stop going to school and hanging out at the Castle or whatever.”

“Schmidty’s house,” Heather said.

“Schmidty’s house?”

“He had a big house in Crestmoor,” Heather said. “He’s in LA with Lizzie. The girls and I could live there and no one would ever notice. Mack could stay too.”

“Yeah, but you’d have to call Schmidty and we don’t know if everything is monitored,” Blane said.

“Your hospital room isn’t,” Heather said. “It goes through the hospital switchboard.”

Grinning, Blane pointed at Heather and nodded to her brilliance. He got up from his chair and shuffled over to the bed. Plopping on the bed, he picked up the phone.

“What’s the number?” Blane asked.

She gave him the number, and he dialed. She bit the cuticle on her thumb while he talked to Schmidty. Blane laughed and gave her the thumbs up. She watched him thank Schmidty. He rested for a moment on the bed and then hefted himself off the bed. He shuffled over to her.

“Turns out that one of his step-mom’s is a Deputy DA,” Blane said. “She’s talked to him about this case. In fact, she called him after Charlie was hurt and said that if he knew any of these girls, he should get them in hiding. She thinks there’s something funny going on in her department or maybe the police.”

“Funny?”

“Something to do with why the kids are in danger,” Blane said. “Anyway, he’s going to call this step-mom. She’ll meet you and the kids at the house this evening. He also said they haven’t been home in a while. He has a service that cleans the house and fills the refrigerator. He’ll get the house ready for you.”

“Wow,” Heather said.

“He’s very wealthy,” Blane said. “And very happy.”

“You think it will work?” Heather asked.

“I think it’s a good plan,” Blane said.

Heather nodded.

“He said the house is surrounded by high walls and has great security,” Blane said. “It has to since he often entertains the celebrities he represents. Seth has the same security.”

“Sounds secure,” Heather said.

“It has cable and great snacks,” Blane smiled. “My guess is that you’ll love it.”

Heather nodded and looked down at her hands.

“I should probably …” She gestured to the door.

“Yeah,” Blane said.

She looked up at him. His face wore a bright smile but his eyes looked as scared as she felt. She smiled, told him she loved him, and left the room. With practiced determination, she walked out of the hospital. She was in her car before she let out a tiny sob.

“I can do this,” she said.

Nodding to herself, she drove to the Castle to get Tink and Ivy.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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