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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE
Sunday early morning — 2:59 a.m.
Sandy woke up with a start. Sitting up in bed, she glanced over to Rachel’s crib. In the last month, Rachel had started sleeping through the night. She had even made it a week in her own crib. Tonight, Rachel was sound asleep.
Sandy glanced at Aden. He was asleep.
Groggy and hung over from her emotional day, she rested her head back on her pillow and almost fell asleep. Something nagged at the back of her mind. More asleep than awake, she got out of bed and slipped out of their bedroom. She went to the end of the hallway and peeked in Charlie’s closet.
It was empty. Charlie’s bed wasn’t slept in. Her heart squeezed with panic.
She went to Noelle and Sissy’s room. Their beds were made. Noelle’s half-open closet door drew Sandy like a magnet. Noelle’s closet was almost empty. Sandy spun around and jogged through the adjoining bathroom and into Nash’s bedroom. His bed was made and his room was clean. Sandy dropped onto his bed.
Something was seriously wrong if Nash’s room was clean and his bed was made. She racked her brain.
Where were her children?
They were somewhere. Her heart told her they were somewhere safe.
Why weren’t they with her?
She heard the sound again in their living room. She ran to see if her kids were sleeping in the living room tonight.
Buster, the ugly dog, was lying in front of the apartment door the way he did when the kids were due home from school. He looked up at her.
With his soft whimper, Sandy remembered.
She had sent the kids away.
Charlie was at Seth’s house. Noelle and Sissy were safely ensconced in Bestat’s palatial New York apartment. Nash and Teddy were in the mountains snowshoeing.
Her kids were gone. And they weren’t coming home anytime soon.
Sorrow overwhelmed her. She fell to her knees next to Buster. He made another sound and she laid down beside him.
One day at a time, they would watch the door in hopes the children would return.
Tonight, they cried.
Sunday morning — 4:59 a.m.
“Is this it?” Yvonne whispered to Dionne.
“That’s the address,” Dionne said.
She pointed to the number on the side of a plain apartment building. The nondescript building was neither too big nor too small. It wasn’t a nice place, exactly, and also wasn’t a dump. It certainly didn’t seem like the kind of place a senior FBI agent would live. The women looked up at the building and then pressed their heads together to look at Yvonne’s phone again.
Yvonne shrugged, and Dionne nodded. Yvonne pulled on the apartment building’s outer door. It opened easily.
“How did you do that?” Dionne asked.
“I thought ‘open,’” Yvonne said with a smile.
She held the door for Dionne and they went inside the apartment lobby.
“You did not,” Dionne said.
“You’re right.” Yvonne chuckled. “I didn’t. It wasn’t locked.”
Dionne gave a soft laugh and pressed the button to the elevator. The elevator doors slowly opened.
“We have to hurry because she might leave for work,” Yvonne said.
“Who might leave for work?” a woman asked as she stepped off the elevator.
The woman gave Yvonne a long look before assessing Dionne. She wasn’t as tall as either Yvonne or Dionne. She had long black hair and light brown skin, like Seth had told them to look for. She wore a dark blue windbreaker, exercise tights, and running shoes.
“What’s it to you?” Dionne said.
“You’re Dionne Wilson,” the woman said, “Doctor Leroy Wilson’s wife, Jeraine Wilson’s mother, and an incredible singer.”
“So?” Dionne asked. “It’s a free country.”
“That makes you Yvonne Smith,” the woman said.
“You are more beautiful than I’d imagined,” the woman nodded. “They told me but …”
“If you will excuse us,” Dionne said, “we have important business.”
“Maybe I can help,” the woman said. “Who are you looking for?”
“We came to see the woman in 431,” Yvonne said.
The woman looked surprised.
“Urgent business,” Dionne said.
“Who sent you?” the woman asked.
“A friend,” Dionne said.
The woman looked at Yvonne and then back at Dionne.
“I thought Art was in hiding,” the woman said.
“You know my handsome agent?” Yvonne smiled.
“Why are you here?” the woman asked.
“Who are you?” Dionne stepped in front of Yvonne. She towered over the smaller woman.
“Angela Muniz, FBI,” the woman said. “I was just going for my run and … You got my address from Art?”
“O’Malley,” Dionne said.
The woman nodded.
“I’m going to let you into my apartment,” Agent Muniz said.
Agent Muniz got back into the elevator.
“Well, come on,” Agent Muniz said. “I’ll let you in and go running. You can eat and freshen up.”
“We need to talk to you as soon as possible,” Yvonne said.
“Whatever you have to say, it has to wait,” Agent Muniz said. “I’m running a marathon in a month and a half and I can’t miss training.”
The woman nodded. Dionne and Yvonne got back on the elevator. Before they could say another word, they were standing in Agent Muniz’s apartment watching the door close.
“Well?” Yvonne asked.
“Now we wait,” Dionne said.
Sunday morning — 5:59 a.m.
Sitting on the floor playing with Mack, Heather looked at the entrance to Mack’s room. A voice had just said something. Or at least she thought the voice had said something. No one was standing there.
“Tink?” Heather asked.
“T’nk, T’nk, T’nk, T’nk,” Mack babbled.
He was a saliva dripped, babbling mess. He chewed on his fist. Heather wasn’t sure if Mack had seen Tink or if he was repeating what she had said. She hoisted herself to her feet and lifted Mack to her hip. She went to the door to look.
“Tink?” Heather looked out.
Ivy was standing against the wall next to the door. Heather touched her arm and the girl burst into tears. Well, versed in her own melodramatic ways, Heather used her free hand to guide Ivy to the old leather couch in Schmidty’s family room. She settled Ivy on the couch, grabbed a box of tissue, and returned. She set Mack on the floor so he wouldn’t get fussy.
“What’s going on?” Heather whispered when Ivy’s sorrow seemed to ease.
Ivy shook her head with such vehemence that tears and snot flew off her face. Heather groaned at herself. She had done that, more than once, when she and Blane had first gotten married. She looked at the curtains. Yep. The mess was equal to the ones she’d created. She tried to remember what Blane had done that had helped so much.
“I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on,” Heather said.
She was pretty sure that’s what Blane had said. Ivy gave her a hard look. Heather gave a slight shrug and smiled.
“I don’t have a place,” Ivy said in a soft voice.
“You have a place here,” Heather said.
“In the world!” Ivy’s voice rose with rage.
“Sure, just nod,” Ivy said. “You don’t know what it’s like. You have the perfect house with the perfect guy and the perfect child and friends who lend their mansions to you and …”
“You’re right,” Heather said. “Everything is really good for me right now.”
“I mean look at Mack,” Ivy said. “He’s beautiful and …”
“He looks like his dad,” Heather said.
“Sort of but …” Ivy said.
Heather said the name of Mack’s biological father.
“What?” Ivy asked.
“I thought he was going to rescue me,” Heather said. “My prince had finally come. Real Walt Disney stuff. You know what he did when he found out I was pregnant?”
Ivy shook her head.
“He left me at the swanky romantic restaurant we were having dinner at,” Heather said. “I used the last of my money on the restaurant tab and a cab to his place. By the time I got there, he’d packed up my stuff and left it with the doorman. I had to hitchhike to the airport and then sleep there until my plane.”
“How long was that?” Ivy asked.
“Two days,” Heather said. “When I got back here, my mom kicked me out of her house. I lost my job, so I was couch surfing. No money, no food, and of course, I was too ashamed to even tell my best friends.”
Heather shrugged. She noticed that Tink was standing in the doorway.
“Delphie says Blane and I are soul mates,” Heather shrugged. “Before that, it was just me and my ridiculous mother.”
“Your mother wasn’t great?” Ivy asked.
“She suffered a great injustice,” Heather repeated what the fairies had taught her. “She wasn’t like you. She couldn’t recover from it. She became bitter, whiney, and manipulative.”
Tink picked up Mack from the middle of the room and set him down in front of the couch. She sat down next to Ivy.
“I’m not going to tell you that you’re strong and you are on your way and you have people who love you and stuff like that,” Heather said.
“Why not?” Tink asked.
“Because you know that,” Heather said. “Even if it doesn’t feel like it today, you know that.”
Tink and Ivy looked at each other before looking back at Heather.
“What I’ll tell you is that you have everything you need,” Heather said.
“What do you mean?” Tink asked.
“You went through this horrible ordeal that never seems to end,” Heather said. “On top of that, you both lost your families.”
The girls nodded.
“Rather than giving up, you created a family with Charlie and the others,” Heather said. “Then, when you were able, you found a new forever family.”
“No, I mean, how do we have everything we need?” Tink asked. “I don’t feel like I have anything. Charlie almost died. Noelle’s gone some place far away. Sissy, too. I’m just starting to catch up at school and now I can’t go. That’s if I don’t have another seizure or have to tase some rapist.”
“I don’t have anything,” Ivy’s voice was soft and very sad. “My mom and grandmother and dad and Aunt Gracie and even Delphie, they are all gone. All gone! I just have me.”
Ivy plucked at her shirt.
“And this shirt,” Ivy said.
Heather gave her a soft smile.
“How do I have everything I need?” Ivy said.
“You know how to love,” Heather said. “That’s really all you need.”
“Love?” Tink snorted. “That’s just dumb.”
“It’s the most powerful force on the planet,” Heather said with a silent nod to Abi, who said the same thing. “It heals every injury and wound.”
“That’s why I know that you’re going to be okay,” Heather said. “You can love.”
“Iv, Iv, Iv,” Mack said. He came over and gave her a hug. He kissed her cheek and Ivy started to cry again. “Don’ cwy.”
Mack patted her cheek. Ivy pulled him onto the couch between her and Tink.
“Maa-maa,” Mack said. “Beck-fst?”
He patted his tummy.
“Hungy,” Mack said.
“That’s right!” Heather said. “Let’s see what we can find for breakfast.”
She got up and went into the kitchen. After a few minutes, the girls followed her. They were staring at the refrigerator when there was a knock on the door.
“Stay here,” Heather said.
She gave Mack to Tink and went to the front door. Terrified, she peered through the peephole.
No one was there.
She opened the door a crack and saw no one. She was about to close the door when her cellphone rang in her purse in the kitchen.
“I’ll get it,” Tink said.
Heather closed and locked the door. She was almost to the kitchen when Tink yelled.
Heather took the phone from her.
“I hope it’s okay, but I signed you up for my usual meal service,” Schmidty said without saying hello.
“Hi Jammy,” Heather said. “What’s your ‘usual meal service’?”
“Food will be delivered morning, midday, and night,” Schmidty said. “I get it for my clients who use the house when they’re in town.”
“Does that happen a lot?” Heather asked as she made her way back to the door.
“A fair bit,” Schmidty said. “When they play at Red Rocks or the Pepsi center, most of them have been on the road a while. It’s nice to get out of the bus. It’s easier to relax at the house than another hotel. Plus, they can do their laundry.”
“Makes sense,” Heather said.
She opened the door. There were two thermoses for hot liquids and a box of pastries. She waved to Ivy and Tink.
“The fridge is full so you can also make anything,” Schmidty said.
“But we … I mean, we don’t have money to …?” Heather started. “Blane’s in the hospital and …”
Tink picked up the thermoses and Ivy retrieved the box of pastries.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Schmidty said. “We want to help.”
“Lizzy and I,” Schmidty said. “If you’ll die without paying for it, I can always take it out of Sandy’s commission.”
“Sandy’s commission?” Heather asked.
“For the piece her mother wrote,” Schmidty said. “Last bid was in the low eighties.”
“Millions,” Schmidty said. “I think it will top a couple hundred, but that’s just me.”
“And your cut?” Heather asked.
“Fifteen percent,” Schmidty said. “That’s a lot more than all the food you could eat in six months.”
“Then, thank you, James Schmidt the fifth,” Heather said. “I appreciate your support.”
“No problem,” Schmidty said with a laugh. “How’s Blane?”
“I’ll go after breakfast,” Heather said.
“Send him my love,” Schmidty said.
“Yeah,” Schmidty said. “It’s the most powerful force in the universe.”
“I’ve heard that,” Heather said.
“I figure he could use it,” Schmidty said. “Just try to relax, Heather. You deserve a little support. Tell the girls I said hi.”
He clicked off the phone She looked at the phone and tucked it in her pocket.
“Well?” Heather asked Tink who was peering into the box.
“It looks really yummy,” Tink said.
“He’s going to drop off lunch and dinner too,” Heather said.
“That’s good because …” Tink winced.
“I can’t cook,” Heather laughed. “I was afraid we’d starve too.”
The girls laughed. Heather smiled. A lot of love and a little laughter and they would get through this one day at a time. She impulsively hugged Ivy and Tink.
Mack didn’t want to be left out. They turned and Heather picked him up. They stood in Schmidty’s kitchen hugging each other for a few moments before Mack squirmed and the girls moved away.
“I can make eggs!” Heather said. “How ’bout some eggs?”
Sunday morning — 6:59 a.m.
“You’re sure about this,” Agent Muniz asked.
She took a drink of the coffee that Dionne had made and a bite from the omelet Yvonne had made.
“We’re sure,” Yvonne said.
“You and Sandy,” Agent Muniz said.
“Those boys are into some freaky shit,” Yvonne said with a nod. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they did kids too.”
“You need to look into them,” Dionne said in a firm, get going voice. “I’d bet you’ll find all kinds of stuff out about them.”
“Oh,” Agent Muniz gave Dionne and then Yvonne a long look. “We’ve been looking at these guys for ten years, probably more.”
Agent Muniz devoured her omelet.
“That was really good,” Agent Muniz said. “And this coffee is amazing. But, you know you didn’t have to.”
“Because you were going to make something?” Dionne asked. “With what supplies?”
Agent Muniz laughed and then shrugged.
“I work a lot,” Agent Muniz said.
“What are we going to do about these guys?” Yvonne asked. “They already shot a little girl and tried to kill another. They beat up Charlie and …”
As if it was all too much, Yvonne gave a quick shake of her head.
“I have to think,” Agent Muniz said. “Can you stay here today?”
“In Phoenix or in this apartment?” Dionne asked.
Her lip curled tiny bit when she mentioned the apartment. Agent Muniz laughed.
“My husband made a reservation for us at the JW Marriot.” Yvonne looked at her watch. “We have spa appointments in a couple of hours.”
Agent Muniz smiled, and Yvonne shrugged.
“He loves me,” Yvonne said.
“What are you going to do?” Dionne asked.
“We have to be smart about this,” Agent Muniz said. “If I go in and blab that you’re here and the evidence you, and Sandy, can give …”
Agent Muniz shook her head.
“You won’t make those appointments,” Agent Muniz said. “My best bet would have been your sexy agent, Rasmussen. But he’s in hiding.”
“Then what are you going to do?” Dionne asked.
“I’m going to think,” Agent Muniz said. “Yvonne and Sandy didn’t go through hell to have these guys get off.”
“There’re others,” Yvonne said.
“Others?” Agent Muniz asked.
“Other girls, other women, others,” Yvonne said.
“Can you make a list?” Agent Muniz asked.
Yvonne nodded. Agent Muniz got up. She was gone a minute before she returned with a pen and paper. She watched as Yvonne wrote down names, dates, and places.
“That’s what I remember,” Yvonne said as she pushed the paper to Agent Muniz.
Agent Muniz looked at the list and then back up at Yvonne. She nodded.
“We have something to go on,” Agent Muniz smiled.
“You’d better be careful,” Dionne said. “These men, they don’t play nicely. They will kill you, even if you’re a federal agent.”
“I know,” Agent Muniz said. “Why do you think I live in this dump?”
“Honey, I have no idea,” Yvonne said.
“They took my house,” Agent Muniz said. “Took my car. Took everything I owned – my savings and my retirement. Some kind of ‘mistake’ with the bank. Even though the bank admitted they screwed up, I still don’t have the house back or the payout. They found my retirement money, but lawyers’ fees took my savings.”
“Wow,” Yvonne said.
“So, yes, they are dangerous,” Agent Muniz said. “But then, with your help, so am I.”
Unsure of what the agent was saying, Dionne and Yvonne simply stared at her.
“I’ll call you a cab,” Agent Muniz said. Got up and left the room. From her bedroom, she yelled, “Don’t want you to miss your spa appointments.”
“Thanks,” Dionne yelled back. Yvonne shrugged.
“One day at a time,” Yvonne said in a low voice.
Sunday evening — 6:01 p.m.
“Any word from Jake?” Sandy asked Jill when she came into the kitchen with Michael in her arms.
Sandy set a stack of cloth napkins on the counter. Jill gave a quick sniff to hold back her tears and shook her head. Edie came in the kitchen carrying Tanner.
“I haven’t heard anything either,” Edie said with a smile. “But I think there’s some kind of mist or fog around our Queendom. My father used to generate it around our land, and my brother …”
Edie’s eyes flicked to Jill.
“He said they were protected from the rot inside the kingdom because they were here,” Jill said. “So Jake …”
Jill gave a quick nod of her head. She picked up the stack of cloth napkins and left the kitchen.
“Her father’s with them,” Edie said. “He’s ruthless, fair, and … I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“But you don’t know,” Sandy said.
Edie’s eyes expressed their worry and sorrow.
“I don’t know either,” Sandy said. “That’s life. Can you carry the bread to the table?”
“Of course,” Edie said.
Sandy stared off for a moment. She whispered a quiet prayer for their loved ones, who had scattered to the wind. One day at a time.
“Just come home,” Sandy whispered. “Please.”
“What can I do?” Aden asked.
Aden appeared in the kitchen. Honey rolled in right behind him. As Sandy’s prayer floated to the heavens, dinner was served.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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