Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Twenty-nine : Fire

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Tuesday evening — 7:25 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Thank you for understanding,” Tanesha said to her teacher.

He was reviewing her experiment. She gave him her lab sheet.

“Crazy night,” the teacher said.

“Yeah,” Tanesha said.

“You did a good job here,” the teacher said while he looked over her lab sheet. “You plan on going into research.”

“Maybe,” Tanesha said. “I followed Dr. John Drayson last summer. He’s involved in a number of research projects. We spent a day a week working on his research projects.”

“Vascular surgeon?” the teacher asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“That wasn’t lab work,” the teacher said.

“Some,” Tanesha said with a smile.

The teacher smiled.

“My dad’s waiting for me …” Tanesha gestured to the door.

“Yes, sorry,” the teacher said. “I was trying to think of something witty to say.”

“About?” Tanesha scowled.

“I like your husband’s music,” the teacher said.

Tanesha grinned.

“Can I call you Miss T?” the teacher asked.

“Are you my father?” Tanesha asked, but she gave him a big smile.

“Point taken,” the teacher said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, I’ll need it,” Tanesha said.

She grabbed her bag and rushed out the door. At this time of day, the stairwells were locked for security. She could get inside them but not out into the building. The elevator was her best solution.

She went down a short hallway to the elevator landing. A woman came from the other direction and stood next to her. The woman wore a long grey pencil skirt with a soft grey cashmere sweater on top. She wore a grey beret over her long natural hair which rivaled Fin’s in sheer volume and length. The woman turned toward Tanesha and looked in her face. Tanesha instinctively looked away. The elevator came and Tanesha let the woman get on first.

When the woman reached the back of the elevator, she turned and for the first time Tanesha saw her face. She felt like she’d seen this woman before. The woman gave her a broad smile. Tanesha turned to the front of the elevator and the elevator doors closed. They took a short trip to the ground floor.

The elevator doors opened and Tanesha rushed to the lobby. She saw Rodney’s truck idling in front of the building through the glass doors. She scooted out of the lobby to the truck. When she reached the truck, the woman from the elevator was bent over, talking to Rodney through the open passenger door. She turned to Tanesha.

“We haven’t been properly introduced,” the woman said.

Tanesha stepped back. She gave her father a doubtful look.

“This is Ne Ne,” Rodney said. “Your grandmother.”

“I know who it is,” Tanesha said. “What I don’t know is why she’s here.”

The fairy smiled.

“Your mother is in trouble,” Ne Ne said.

“So you decided to come now?” Tanesha asked. “My mother’s been in trouble most of her life! Didn’t concern you when she was a sex slave for that horrible man? Or…? And how …?”

Tanesha clamped her mouth closed to avoid screaming at the woman.

“I understand,” Ne Ne said. She gestured to the truck. “Please.”

“Why don’t you just fly where you want to go?” Tanesha asked.

“I’m not that kind of fairy,” Ne Ne said.

Tanesha scowled.

“I know you’re afraid,” Ne Ne said. “I’m actually here to help.”

“Yourself,” Tanesha sneered. “Fairies help themselves first. Then maybe sometime later they get around to helping someone else.”

Ne Ne smiled.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

The woman glanced at Rodney and then back at Tanesha.

“What?” Tanesha repeated.

“You’re perfect,” Ne Ne said with a little nod. Her eyes welled with tears. “Please. We need to get to your friend Sandy’s establishment.”

“Sandy?” Tanesha asked.

“We must help Yvonne, and then save the rest,” Ne Ne said.

“What rest?” Tanesha asked.

“My mother and father,” Ne Ne said.

“Jake and Keenan?” Tanesha asked. “Delphie?”

“The Oracle,” Ne Ne said. “You may not realize this, but everything that’s happened has to do with the Oracle.”

“Hey!” Rodney yelled from the driver’s seat. “Get in the damned truck!”

“But …” Tanesha started.

“This is the woman who helped me into this world,” Rodney said. “She saved me from my own ignorance. She even visited me in prison when I was nearly dead.”

Tanesha thought for a minute.

“Get in the damned truck,” Rodney said.

Tanesha slid across the bench seat. Ne Ne got in next to her.

“Where to?” Rodney asked.

“Sandy’s salon,” Tanesha said.

“And you’re going to help Miss T?” Rodney asked Ne Ne.

“Of course,” Ne Ne said.

“She’s not like those other fairies,” Rodney said.

“She’s better,” Ne Ne smiled. She put her arm around Tanesha so her hand could touch Rodney’s head. “It’s wonderful to see you, dear.”

“You too, Ma,” he said. Rodney’s eyes welled with tears. “You too.”

He gave Ne Ne a quick nod before taking off down the street.


Tuesday evening — 7:55 p.m.
Phoenix, Arizona

“Yvie,” Dionne whispered and nudged Yvonne.

Yvonne was so focused on peeking out from behind the table that she didn’t hear Dionne. She turned to look at her best-friend when Dionne nudged her.

“Look,” Dionne whispered.

Dionne pointed to the phone on the table a foot in front of the conference table they were hiding behind. Yvonne shook her head. Yvonne didn’t know anything about phones, especially office phones. Dionne told her the phone in there wouldn’t work, so she’d ignored it.

“There’s finally an available line!” Dionne whispered.

Yvonne shrugged.

“We can call someone,” Dionne said.

“Who?” Yvonne asked.

“The police,” Dionne whispered.

“They’re outside.” Yvonne pointed to where someone was yelling on a bullhorn outside the building.

Dionne scowled.

“You know any phone numbers?” Yvonne asked Dionne in a soft whisper.

Dionne was a wonderful singer, an amazing songwriter, a fabulous nurse, a great friend and an even better wife. But she did not have a head for numbers. She carried a phone book — which they’d taken with her purse — and had numbers programmed into her phone. Dionne shook her head.

“You?” Dionne asked.

Yvonne thought for a moment. Even with her better memory, Yvonne still struggled day to day to remember anything. Then it occurred to her. She knew one number! She gave a slow nod and held up one finger.

“Could they help?” Dionne asked.

Yvonne shrugged.

“It’s worth a try,” Dionne said in a fierce whisper. She pointed to Agent Angie, “She’s going to die if we don’t do something.”

Yvonne knew Dionne was avoiding the obvious. They were both going to suffer a lot and then die if they didn’t do something. Yvonne nodded.

“Can you get it?” Yvonne asked.

Dionne nodded. For the last year, she’d been in a fitness class run by an ex-military guy. She’d bugged Yvonne to go, but Yvonne didn’t like to sweat.

“You should be able to as well.” Dionne couldn’t resist saying.

“Sweat,” Yvonne shivered. “Ew.”

Dionne grinned at her friend and Yvonne smiled.

“Use your fairy-fu to cover me,” Dionne said.

“What’s that?” Yvonne asked.

Dionne shrugged. Yvonne scowled for a moment before nodding. Just like she did in fitness class, Dionne belly crawled out from behind the desk. At that moment, someone in the office suite screamed. People ran in a direction away from them. Dionne got to the table and pulled the phone down. She dragged it over to where Yvonne was sitting.

“Go ahead,” Dionne said. She pressed the free button and gave Yvonne the receiver.

Yvonne dialed the number she remembered. There was a fast-busy signal in her ear. She held it up for Dionne to hear. Dionne took the receiver and put it back in the cradle.

“Press one,” Dionne said.


Dionne gave Yvonne an irritated scowl. Yvonne raised her hands in acquiescence. Dionne gave Yvonne a quick, hard hug.

“You can do this,” Dionne said in Yvonne’s ear. “You can save us.”

For a moment, the best friends held on tight. The women ducked down behind the table when someone ran in front of their conference room. They peeked out to see a man running past the conference room with a fire extinguisher.

“Did you set the place on fire?” Dionne asked.

“Probably.” Yvonne looked embarrassed.

“We’d better hurry then,” Dionne said with a firm nod.

Dionne picked up the receiver and held it out to Yvonne. Dionne gave Yvonne a fierce look and Yvonne nodded. Yvonne dialed one and then the only phone number she knew.

The number rang once.

It rang twice.

“O’Malley,” a man’s voice said.

The automatic sprinklers came on.


Tuesday evening — 8:25 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

Tanesha was so agitated and angry that she jumped out of her father’s truck as it rolled to a stop in front of Sandy’s salon. She stalked toward the salon. Seeing what looked like a party inside, Tanesha stopped a few feet from the salon.

“That looks fun,” Ne Ne said as she walked up behind Tanesha.

Scowling at Ne Ne, Tanesha walked to the door. She pressed the code and open the door.

“Tanesha!” Heather yelled from across the way.

“You’re having a party?” Tanesha asked. Her voice reeked with irritation.

“It just happened,” Sandy said. She hugged Tanesha. “Honey forced Charlie out of Seth’s house. They came here because it’s safe. Heather, Tink, and Ivy were going to Seth’s for dinner.”

“We ended up here,” Maresol said. She held out her arms and hugged Tanesha. Under her breath, she said, “I see the wicked witch is here.”

“Mm-hmm,” Tanesha said.

Maresol gave Ne Ne a dark look and moved away.

“I see some people remember me,” Ne Ne said in a light voice.

Tanesha glanced at her grandmother.

“I did what I could,” Ne Ne said.

“You …” Tanesha started.

She stopped talking when she saw Jill and her sister Candy outside the salon. She gestured toward the door and Rodney let them in. In the welcome of Jill and Candy, Rodney took Tanesha’s elbow and moved her to a quiet corner of the salon.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“I just want you to know that I understand how you feel,” Rodney said.

“But?” Tanesha asked. “Just spit it out.”

“No buts,” Rodney said. “I understand.”

“What do you understand?” Tanesha crossed her arms in front of her.

“I understand that I went to prison,” Rodney nodded. “I made my own choices. I took my own chances. I lived the hand that I was dealt. It wasn’t fair or right or just or anything like that, but I was a grown man. Your mother was in the same boat. But you …”

“What about me?” Tanesha asked.

“You had to live with the consequences of what happened to us and our choices,” Rodney said.

Tanesha scowled and looked away from him.

“I get it, Miss T, I do,” Rodney said. “It’s all fine and well for me to say that you shouldn’t be hard on Ne Ne, but I wasn’t there.”

Tanesha shifted to look at him.

“I get it,” he said. “And she’s …”

“A fairy,” Tanesha said. “I hate them.”

“You and Fin are close,” Rodney said in a mild tone.

“Fin doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is,” Tanesha said. “He knows he’s got it good; he’d tell anyone that.”

“And everything’s about him,” Rodney said.

“He’s a man, isn’t he?” Tanesha nodded.

“You don’t trust what she’s going to say,” Rodney said.

“All I can say is that she’s here and my mother’s in danger,” Tanesha said. “Again. Mom was fine a little while ago. Fairy shows up, and Mom’s in trouble. That can’t be a coincidence.”

Tanesha watched Sandy answer her cellphone. Sandy gestured to turn the music down.

“What is it?” Rodney asked.

“It’s Mom,” Tanesha said.

“Tanesha!” Sandy said.

Sandy waved Tanesha over to her. Everyone watched as Tanesha moved in her direction.

“Seth says that your mom called him,” Sandy said. “I guess she knows his number from before her head injury.”

Tanesha nodded.

“She’s trapped in the office with the guys who …” Sandy nodded. “They are saying they will trade your Mom and Dionne, you know Jeraine’s mom …”

“I know who Dionne is!” Tanesha said.

Sandy hugged her. Under her breath, Sandy said, “It’s going to be okay.”

“What do they want?” Tanesha asked.

“They have told the FBI that they will trade them for me.” Sandy gave a quick nod and swallowed hard. “The FBI called ages ago.”

Tanesha scowled at Sandy’s bobbing head and the phone.

“Your mom says they don’t plan on trading them,” Sandy said. “They plan on using and killing them.”

Tanesha felt a wave of rage rise up from her belly.

“Oh, and your mom set the building on fire,” Sandy said.

Tanesha felt rage rush through her. Tink must have said something funny because Charlie, Ivy, Jill, and her sister burst out laughing. Tanesha glanced over to them. When she glanced back at Sandy, she realized that time had stopped. She looked for her father. He was standing with his ear close to Maresol’s mouth and his arm over her shoulder.

“It’s unnerving, isn’t it?” a voice asked.

Tanesha turned in a circle. She saw Ne Ne standing near the stairwell to the basement.

“Whatever is going on here, I’m not doing a damned thing without my girls,” Tanesha said. “Not a damned thing.”

“Of course,” Ne Ne said.

“Put everything back then,” Tanesha said.

“I didn’t do this,” Ne Ne said.

“If you didn’t, who did?” Tanesha asked.

“You did,” Ne Ne said. “That doesn’t mean that I won’t use it for my purposes. I am a fairy after all.”

“And what might that be?” Tanesha asked.

“Would you show me around the basement?”

“What do you want from the basement?” Tanesha asked.

“I’m not sure,” Ne Ne said. “Mostly, I figured while you quieted everything, you could give me a tour.”

“A tour?” Tanesha asked.

“This space is quite infamous, you know,” Ne Ne said.

Ne Ne started down the basement stairs. Tanesha had to move fast to keep up. Tanesha clicked on the light at the bottom of the stairs. Ne Ne moved to stand in the middle of the room.

“Do you mind?” Ne Ne took out a camera and took a dozen or more digital photos of the basement. “It’s for our library.”

She walked from one burnt rafter to the next, only to kneel at a spot on the floor.

“Where did it die?” Ne Ne asked.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“The serpent,” Ne Ne said.

Tanesha walked toward the wall where Saint Jude had lain. She pointed to the floor. Ne Ne shook her head.

“Not there,” Ne Ne said.

“The serpent kind of exploded,” Tanesha pointed to a spot near the front of the basement, “ … there.”

Ne Ne went to the spot. She took a photograph and carefully put her camera away. Then, without ceremony, she opened her hands so they faced the spot where the serpent was destroyed. Tanesha saw a kind of dark mist or fog come off the wood. Ne Ne held out a vial and the liquid went into the vial.

“Now we can save them,” Ne Ne said.

“Who?” Tanesha asked.

“Those caught in the sea of amber,” Ne Ne smiled. “Of course.”

Tanesha’s mouth dropped open.

“You don’t give a crap about my mom,” Tanesha’s voice held her disbelief. “She’s in terrible danger, like she was the entire time you lived here. And once again, you’ll do nothing.”

“Oh?” Ne Ne’s voice was mild. “You didn’t mind it before.”

“I was a child!” Tanesha said.

“Maybe you should remember that,” Ne Ne said.


“It’s you that holds the whole mess against yourself,” Ne Ne said. “You blame yourself for what happened to your mother. You blame yourself for not doing more.”


“You were a child,” Ne Ne said. “And the rest of us, we did as much as we could. Was it perfect? No. But your parents are here, alive, in love, and happy. Do you have any idea how unusual that is?”


“They have extraordinary love for each other, that’s true. But even that kind of love is not enough in most cases,” Ne Ne said. “If you want to know what I did, I made it so that could happen.”

“But …” Tanesha started. “Who’s going to save her tonight?”

“The same person who saved her last time,” Ne Ne said.

“No one saved her last time,” Tanesha said.

“That’s not entirely true,” Ne Ne said.

“Fine,” Tanesha said. “Who saved her last time?”

“Why you, of course,” Ne Ne said.

“Wh …?” Tanesha started.

“Wasn’t it you who negotiated to purchase her from that horrible man?” Ne Ne asked. “Didn’t you do the year in and year out work of making her keeper trust you so that when the chance was available, he called you? Wasn’t it your husband who actually bought your mother’s freedom? Why did he do that?”

“But …?”

“We should get back,” Ne Ne said. “Your friend Jill is half Titan. They get a little hostile when they’re in a time lock. And Hedone … Well, let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t me who locked her down. Shall we?”

With that, Ne Ne went up the stairs, leaving Tanesha to stare at her back. In a moment, the music and noise returned to upstairs. Tanesha saw Heather at the top of the stairs.

“Fairy crap?” Heather asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“Thought so,” Heather said. “Should I come down?”

“I’ll come up,” Tanesha said.

There was a cheer for someone else joining the party, and Heather turned to look.

“Jeraine’s here with Jabari,” Heather said.

Tanesha stomped up the stairs.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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