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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR
Tuesday mid-day — 12:17 p.m.
“Hello?” Valerie called out.
She was standing at the entrance of the new Marlowe School. The site managers and crew were currently attending a company vote at the Lipson Construction headquarters. The state had lifted the ban on Lipson Construction and the employee-owners were voting on whether they wanted to take state jobs again. This was a historic moment for the company.
Valerie was supposed to be there for the vote. She’d intended on being there. In fact, she’d arranged to be in Denver specifically for this vote. She and Mike were driving home from DIA when they passed the new school. Valerie had to stop in to see it.
“Hello?” Valerie called again.
“They must be at the vote,” Mike said.
Mike picked up the pacifier Jackie had spit on to the ground. Jackie was riding in a Baby Bjorn on Valerie’s front. Mike wiped the pacifier on his pants and was about to put it back in Jackie’s mouth when he caught Valerie’s face.
“Uh…” Mike said. He tucked the pacifier into his pockets. “Shouldn’t you be at the meeting?”
“I only own five percent,” Valerie said.
“That’s more than most employees,” Mike said.
Valerie nodded and started down the hallway.
“Can you believe that Jake fought that entity here?” Valerie said. She pointed to a mark on the wall that paint and plaster were able to cover.
“It was something out of legend,” Mike said. “That’s what Delphie called it.”
“Mom helped too,” Valerie said. “That’s what Jake said.”
They continued down the hallway to the first door. There was a plaque on the wall that said: “Administration.” Valerie opened the door and they stuck their heads inside. The principal, Helen Siegle, had made sure the suite was perfectly organized.
“It’s really great,” Valerie said.
“Will you have an office here?” Mike asked.
“Oh, I doubt it,” Valerie said. “Helen runs the show. I just find donors and take responsibility for decisions. You know me and my schedule. When am I going to be here?”
Valerie nodded and they closed the door. They went down the hall opening doors. The classrooms were bright and open. The bathrooms were well lit. Everything was new.
“Ooh the kitchen,” Valerie said at the door. “This is where…”
“Jake almost succumbed to the entity,” Mike said.
Valerie wiggled her eyebrows and pushed the door open. The entire kitchen had been updated.
“Wow,” Mike said.
“Want to go up?” Valerie said. “Or down? Up is more classrooms. Down is the new basement.”
“No crypt,” Mike said.
“No,” Valerie said. “The basement is all new. Delphie and Jake destroyed the one in Brighton, after they cleared out the yucky stuff, of course.”
The door to the kitchen moved and Valerie make a surprised squeak. Jackie laughed at her mother’s sound. Jacob’s face peeked around the door.
“What are you doing?” Jacob asked.
“Um,” Valerie said.
“Hey Mike,” Jacob nodded to Mike, and then gave Valerie an intense look.
“We’re fans of that Jacob Marlowe,” Mike said in a high pitched voice. “We’re tracking his amazing adventures…”
Mike squealed and Jacob laughed.
“We need to go,” Jacob said.
He grabbed Valerie’s arm and moved her out of the hallway. Mike followed behind. Jacob put Valerie in the passenger seat of Jill’s SUV and went around to the driver’s seat. He passed Mike on the way. Mike slipped him a five dollar bill.
“Impressive,” Mike said with a nod.
The men got in the car at the same time. Mike leaned forward from the back seat to get Jackie. He put her into her car seat.
“I’m not blind,” Valerie said. “Or stupid.”
“Blind?” Jacob asked in his best innocent voice.
“What did you bet on?” Valerie asked.
“He said he could get you to the meeting by catching you at the school,” Mike said. “I said we weren’t going to stop at the house.”
Valerie turned to look at Jacob. He grinned and started the car. They drove for a few minutes in silence.
“Stop the car,” Valerie said.
“What?” Jacob asked.
“Stop the car right now!” Valerie said.
Jacob pulled the car to a stop at a stop light
“What didn’t you want me to see?” Valerie asked.
“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.
“The only reason you would hustle me out of there is if you didn’t want me to see something,” Valerie said.
“Me?” Jacob pointed to himself. “Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know,” Valerie said. “What’s not done?”
“A couple of things,” Jacob said. “Nothing big or important. We’re on track for the kids to come.”
“Noelle’s going to go there,” Mike said.
“Noelle and Nash are the reason there is a Marlowe school,” Jacob said. “Or one of the reasons. Of course, Noelle’s going to go to school there. Nash, too, I think.”
“You think she’s okay?” Mike asked. “I’ve been worried about her.”
“She’s okay,” Jacob said. “Not great, but okay. She’ll be better once Sissy is home. She’s sad that Sissy is still so sick.”
Mike nodded. Jacob continued driving down Colorado Boulevard. He turned on Alameda to make his way to Lipson Construction. They were just pulling into the parking lot when Valerie cleared her throat.
“You can’t keep me out of there forever,” Valerie said.
She punched Jacob in the shoulder and stalked into the Lipson Construction offices. Jacob waited for Mike to get Jackie out of the car seat.
“You almost finished?” Jacob asked.
“Did you pick it up from the post office?” Mike asked.
“It’s sitting in your studio,” Jacob said.
Jacob helped Mike put Jackie into the baby carrier.
“Then it’s just touch ups and varnish,” Mike said. “Noelle’s really good at that kind of stuff. You think she can help?”
“She’s already taken a look at it,” Jacob nodded. “She said that it was her job as your mentee to keep the masterpieces on track.”
Mike grinned at Noelle’s words.
“Saturday?” Jacob asked.
“We just have to keep her out of there until then,” Jacob asked.
The men turned to look where Valerie had gone. Mike raised his eyebrows.
“Yeah, I doubt it too,” Jacob said.
“We’ll just have to finish sooner,” Mike said.
They walked into the offices together.
Tuesday afternoon — 2:37 p.m.
Her classmates were grabbing their things and running out the door. But Katy lagged behind. Her mommy had been so busy with school and work and the twins and what her mommy called the-fairy-stupid-stuff, that Katy had barely seen her. Katy’s days were filled with boring old school and boring old Castle and boring old twins and boring old Edie.
Katy missed her mommy. Plus, Paddie had to go with his mommy to the doctor for his brother’s checkup.
She sighed and shuffled to her cubby. She carefully unfolded her jacket and slowly put it on. She grabbed her a-little-too-girly lunch box.
“Time to go, Katy!” her teacher called.
“Okay,” Katy said and slouched to the door.
She shuffled her feet to the front of the school. Standing on the top step, she scanned the courtyard where kids and parents mixed. Her daddy wasn’t there to meet her. The fairy-nanny wasn’t there either. Katy nodded to herself. She’d probably just have to walk home.
She shuffled into the fray. She’d gotten only a few feet when she was swooped off her feet. Despite her bad mood, Katy giggled. She looked up to see her mommy.
“Wha…wha…” Katy was so surprised she didn’t know what to say. A usually happy child, this bad mood somehow didn’t evaporate. Katy looked away. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to get you,” Jill said. “I thought we could spend the afternoon together.”
“Isn’t there something more important you have to do?” Katy asked a question she’d heard one of the other kids say to their parents.
“Pretty sassy,” Jill laughed.
“It is?” Katy looked surprised.
“There’s never anything more important to me than you,” Jill said. “You know that.”
“But…” Katy said. “What about the twins? And the fairies? And…”
“Katy?” Jill asked.
“I know,” Katy said. She sniffed. “I just…”
“I miss you too!” Jill said. “Let’s try to be more…”
“…honest with how we feel,” Katy said with her mom. Katy frowned, “I don’t want to. I want to be mean and hurt. Because…”
Katy touched her heart. Jill’s eyebrows shifted with concern. She moved out of the press of school pickup and found a cement bench near the edge of the courtyard.
“What are you doing?” Katy asked.
Jill sat down with Katy on her lap. She put her hands on either side of Katy’s head.
“That doesn’t feel good,” Katy said. She pushed at her mother. “Don’t.”
Jill scowled and held on.
“What is this?” Jill whispered. She shook her head. She saw the open sea. She saw snowcapped mountains that weren’t in Colorado. Something had latched onto her baby-girl’s mind. She saw something dark and foreign to her daughter.
“Mommy,” Katy said in a low tone. “You have to help me.”
“I am Katy-baby,” Jill said.
“Mommy?” Katy asked.
“Shh, I’m almost there,” Jill said.
Katy’s body began to shake with seizure. It wasn’t like the seizures she had when she had visions. This was something more malevolent. Something was fighting to hang onto Katy.
Jill scooped up her daughter and ran to her SUV. She was only a few blocks from the new Rocky Mountain Children’s Hospital. She threw Katy’s limp body into her booster seat and jumped into the driver’s seat. Pulling into the parking lot, she saw her father standing by the entrance to Emergency. Jill pulled up.
“Don’t ask,” Perses said. “Give me the child, and I’ll take her inside.”
Jill’s mind screamed with warning. Before she could think it through, she drove away from her father and the Emergency room. She drove as fast as she knew how to the Castle. Able to move via magic, her father was standing in the Castle driveway. She drove around him to the back and climbed into the back seat of the SUV.
Jill wrapped herself around Katy’s now limp body.
“Katy-baby, come back to me,” Jill whispered. “Katy-baby. Katy-baby.”
“Jillian!” Her father commanded. “Open this door right now.”
“Mommy,” Katy whispered.
“Katy-baby,” Jill kept up her chant. She kept her focus on the part of Katy that was hooked into whatever this thing was. “Come back to me. Katy-baby.”
“Jillian!” her father yelled.
“Hey!” Mike’s voice came. The SUV rocked with what sounded like the spray from a garden hose. “Get away from there!”
“You heard him!” Honey’s voice came from the other side of the SUV.
Jill opened her eyes to see a stream of water cover the SUV. Katy moved in her arms, but Jill held on fast.
“You are loved, Katy-baby,” Jill said. “I love you. Daddy loves you. Paddie loves you. The boys love you as does everyone who knows you. You are so loved.”
“Mommy?” Katy whispered.
“Yes, Katy-baby,” Jill said.
“I don’t feel so good,” Katy said.
She threw up all over Jill, but Jill didn’t let go. Outside the SUV, she heard what sounded like Mike chasing someone or something off. Through the window, she saw Honey trying to open the door of the SUV. Jill rolled down the window a tiny bit.
“How did you get use of your hands?” Jill asked through the crack.
“Fairies after the twins were born,” Honey said. “I have a daughter named, Maggie, and my mother, Tiffanie, is ridiculous.”
Jill opened the door. Jill gave Katy’s limp body to Honey and climbed out of the SUV.
“What was it?” Jill asked.
“Crows,” Honey said. “They were trying to get into the SUV. You didn’t see them?”
“I saw my father, Perses,” Jill said.
“What does that mean?” Honey asked.
“Nothing good,” Mike said as he walked toward them from the back of the garden. “We need to talk to Delphie.”
“She’s in New York with Sissy,” Jill said.
Mike nodded. Without saying another word, he stalked back to his studio in the garage. Jill raised an eyebrow to him and turned to Honey.
“Let’s get her inside before something…” Jill nodded.
Honey took off wheeling. Clutching Katy to her, Jill jogged toward the Castle. Honey opened the door and they got inside. Jill carried Katy upstairs and settled her into her bed. Rather than leave her alone, Jill lay down in bed with Katy. An hour or so later, Katy shifted in bed.
“Katy?” Jill asked.
“Mommy?” Katy asked.
Jill put her hands on either side of Katy’s head. The darkness was gone. She clutched Katy to her and wept.
Tuesday evening — 7:05 p.m.
New York City, New York
“Will you share the rest?” Sandy asked.
Sissy’s eyes pleaded with Delphie. They were sitting next to Sissy’s hospital bed.
“We heard from Ivan the bare minimum of what happened at the gulag,” Sandy said. “I’d love to know how you put the whole thing together.”
“There isn’t any more to tell,” Delphie said. “I found Ivan and Seth arranged for his retrieval. He had surgery and came to Denver.”
“It feels so…” Sandy said.
“Cold,” Sissy said in a croak. Sandy went to her bedside and gave her a few ice chips.
“We want romance, Delphie!” Abi said with a grin.
“It is kind of cold,” Delphie said with a nod. “Give me a minute. Let’s see if I can find something that will pull it all together.”
No one dared to say a word while Delphie stared off into space. Finally, Delphie gave a nod.
“Let’s try this,” Delphie said.
The bright Colorado sun shone through the window in a small kitchen. The marble floor, expensive cabinets, and granite counters indicated the kitchen was in a beautiful apartment or possibly a condo. A thin woman wearing only a skimpy lace thong moved into the kitchen. She leaned against the counter and took a drag on her cigarette. The sunlight and smoke created ribbons of white in the kitchen. An exaggerated cough came from somewhere in the kitchen. The women went to a small table and leaned over. She kissed someone the light and smoke had made invisible.
“I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” Ivan’s voice said.
“I know you do,” she said. She gave him a sarcastic smile. “I wish you would stop teaching that child, but do you?”
Trailing the cigarette, she turned away from him. She leaned against the wall near the entrance to the kitchen.
“Katia,” Ivan said.
“Kate,” the woman said between her teeth. “My name is Kate.”
“Your name is Katia,” Ivan said. While he remained at the dark table, they heard the amusement in his voice.
“I’m named after my stupid Russian grandmother,” Kate said. “She was Katia. I am Kate.”
“You are in a mood today,” Ivan said.
They heard the sound of folding newspaper and he got up from the table. He walked through the stream of sunlight and smoke to put his arms around her shoulders. He wore a dark T-shirt and his briefs. His bare tights were thick with muscles marred only by a pattern of grey scars.
“Are you nervous about your exam today?” Ivan asked.
“Where were you last night?” Kate asked.
“I was at the hospital last night,” Ivan said. “You know that. I woke you when I returned.”
“That’s right, you were at the hospital visiting that child,” Kate said. “The child you are obsessed with.”
“Kate,” Ivan said in even tones. “Sissy is very ill.”
“Oh whaa,” Kate said. “The little ballerina has an eating disorder. Big deal. Welcome to the club.”
Ivan deftly plucked the cigarette from Kate’s mouth. He went to the sink and put out the cigarette under a stream from the faucet. On his way back, he opened the window. The ribbons of smoke dispersed into a unified fog. When he neared her, she jumped on him. She wrapped her legs around him and he caught her. They kissed for a few minutes before he pulled back from her. He smiled, stroked her hair, and set her down. He poured himself a cup of coffee from a percolator and sat down in the dark corner. There was a sound of rustling newspaper. Kate stared in his direction
“Be obsessed with me,” Kate said in a low tone.
“What makes you think I am not?” Ivan asked.
“I know it,” Kate touched her heart. “You and the child… You don’t even notice it. But you light up every time she is around.”
They could almost hear Ivan scowl.
“She enters the room and you…” Kate said. “You’re a different person. A happy person. A brighter, more beautiful person. You love her.”
“She is my student,” Ivan said in the same even tones. “I love my students.”
“But you don’t love me,” Kate said. “Is it because I am not your student?”
“Katia,” Ivan said.
“What is this about?” Ivan asked. He got up from the table and walked to her. “We have a nice life. We live in this beautiful place. You go to school and I work at the ballet. Someday, you will finish school and I will still work at the ballet.”
“Is there something missing in our life?” Ivan asked.
“Are you not loved enough?” Ivan asked.
“Is there something you want that you do not have?” Ivan asked.
“What is this problem?” Ivan asked.
“I’ll finish school next term,” Kate said. She straightened her shoulders and stuck out her chin defiantly. “I want to get married, have children…”
“While you are in law school?” Ivan asked.
“But what?” Ivan’s voice rose with frustration.
“Why do you love that child?” Kate asked.
“What?” Ivan asked.
“Why won’t you marry me?” Kate asked.
“Marry…” Ivan groaned. “Is that what this is about? Marriage?”
“You don’t love me,” Kate said.
“You don’t,” Kate said. “Just say it.”
“I love our life,” Ivan said. “I love being with you. I love the way you laugh and I love your wide-eyed innocence. I love this life with you.”
“But you do no love me,” Kate said.
“I…” Ivan sighed. “Since gulag, I feel nothing… for…”
“The gulag,” Kate sneered. “It’s like your mistress.”
Ivan raised his eyebrows in agreement.
“The problem is…” Kate said. Her voice became very sad. “You love the girl. You don’t even know it. The only person you love completely is ten years old.”
“I am no pervert,” Ivan said.
“This is what you have me for,” Kate said. “I’m the substitute until she is old enough for you to be with.”
“That’s not…” Ivan said.
“It is true,” Kate said. “I’ve known it for a long time. And trust me, I’ve enjoyed being the substitute.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. She looked him up and down.
“There’s a lot to enjoy,” Kate said.
“But?” Ivan said with a sigh.
“But I’m applying to law schools,” Kate said. “I don’t expect to stay in Denver.”
“I see,” Ivan said.
“You could come with me,” Kate said.
“I have the ballet,” Ivan said.
“Yes, your other mistress,” Kate said. She gave a little shrug. “It’s okay, really. You’ve paid for school and all of this. You’re incredible in the sack. I’ll keep my clothes?”
“Of course,” Ivan said. “Whatever you’d like.”
“And law school?” Kate asked.
“You might need to find another,” Ivan said.
“Easy enough,” Kate smiled.
She turned in place and left the kitchen. Ivan watched her go. When she was gone, he gave a slow sad shake of his head. He rubbed his eyes and went to sit down again.
“That was Kate,” Sissy said. “They lived together for a while. She always smelled like cigarettes and perfume. I thought she tried too hard and thought too little.”
“There’s more,” Delphie said. “Can we…?”
“Sure,” Abi said.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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