Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Fifty-three: About that

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-THREE

Tuesday morning — 5:11 a.m.

“Yes you should!” Sandy said in a fierce whisper to Abi.

“You don’t think we should wait for Delphie?” Abi whispered back.

They were sitting on the couch in Sissy’s hospital room. Sandy had waited until Sissy had fallen asleep and Delphie had left for Bestat’s to ask Abi about Aden.

“Would you want to know?” Sandy asked.

“I really shouldn’t,” Abi said.f

“You really should!” Sandy said.

Abi scowled.

“Then just tell me!” Sandy said. “What did they do to Aden?”

“I see when you see it,” Abi said.

“Oh,” Sandy said with her best pleading look.

“Fine,” Abi said.

“You want to know,” Sandy said.

“You’re right,” Abi said. “I want to know. And, I think you, of all people, should know.”

~~~~~~~~

Delphie was sitting in the passenger seat of an old silver diesel Mercedes Benz. The driver was a beautiful woman with short, sandy blonde hair, and a decisive attitude. She had intelligent eyes and an easy smile. She smiled at Delphie.

“Don’t be a baby,” the driver said.

“I’m not being a baby, Celia,” Delphie said.

“You’re mad because Seth caught you in his web,” Celia said with a grin. “You don’t think he’s handsome and totally doable?”

“Celia!” Delphie blushed.

“That’s not a denial!” Celia said with a chuckle.

The two women were clearly best friends. Delphie shook her head.

“He always has some young thing,” Delphie said.

“No, he doesn’t,” Celia said. “And you know it. He’s destroyed by the loss of Bonita and his sons.”

Delphie scowled and looked out the window. They were driving down Colfax Boulevard in the middle of the day.

“So you’re honestly telling me that you didn’t feel a connection with O’Malley,” Celia said.

“I felt a connection,” Delphie grudgingly said. “I still don’t…”

“Like him,” Celia finished Delphie’s statement. “Yes, I see that.”

“I had this feeling…” Delphie sighed and turned to look at Celia. “It was like Seth and I had done this exact thing over and over and over again throughout the millennia.”

“Ooh, past lives!” Celia said with a nod.

Celia smiled at Delphie. The bright Colorado sun white washed the store fronts and boarded u building. They drove in silence for a few moments.

“What do I have to do?” Celia asked.

“You’ve wanted to start a school for your employees kids,” Delphie said.

“There’s nothing more important than early education,” Celia started a familiar rant. “Our employees care deeply about their children but simply don’t have the resources to give them what they need. If we want to change the world, we need to focus on educating children — the earlier the better.”

“Now’s your chance,” Delphie said.

“When would I have time?” Celia asked. “Jake’s just started East High and Val’s at UCLA. With the business and Sam, my hands are full.”

“You’ve talked about doing it for years,” Delphie said. “Unfinished plans are the devil’s playground. You need to complete the things you plan or…”

“Yes, father,” Celia said and Delphie grinned.

“You’ll find the time,” Delphie said. “You always do.”

They fell silent and continued driving. Delphie leaned forward and pushed the tape into the tape player. Subtle jazz came out of the speakers. Delphie sneered and turned off the tape.

“Jazz,” she said with a sneer under her breath.

When Celia grinned, Delphie realized that Celia had set the tape there to annoy Delphie. Shaking her head, Delphie looked out her passenger window.

“You didn’t answer the question,” Celia said.

“Which question?” Delphie asked.

“What do I have to do?” Celia asked.

“Turn here,” Delphie said.

“Here?” Celia asked.

“Here,” Delphie said empathically. “You have to turn here!”

“You could have given me…”

Celia made a quick turn onto a narrow side street. The street was lined with cars parked on either side. Celia had to slow down to inch her way forward.

“Yes, but I wasn’t sure,” Delphie said.

“You said it was near the site,” Celia said. “The site is…”

“Yes,” Delphie said. “He didn’t want to get caught with the kids. He had to park away from the site.”

“What?” Celia asked at the same moment Delphie said, “Stop right here!”

Delphie pointed to a beaten sedan, but Celia didn’t stop soon enough. Delphie turned in her seat.

“It’s right there!” Delphie said.

“I looked into him after you called,” Celia said. “Jerry says he does good work, and he’s smart, but the boy hasn’t kept a job for any amount of time. He smells as if he hasn’t showered in a while and he has two kids! If he was anywhere near Val, Sam would drive him off with a pitch fork. And you think this drug addict is going to be precious Sandy’s one and only?”

“He won’t be if we don’t intervene!” Delphie said and jumped out of the car.

Celia watched Delphie trot down the street. For a brief moment, Celia looked at herself in the mirror. She’d gone along with a lot of Delphie’s crazy schemes, but this seemed like the most complicated and ridiculous plan. In the rearview mirror, she saw Delphie, with he hands on each side of her head, peer into the back seat of the car.

“Either do it or don’t do it,” Celia said to herself. “Don’t linger in the middle.”

With a nod to herself, Celia drove a half a block and parked the car. She jogged back to where Delphie was trying to get into the car.

“The kids are in here!” Delphie said.

“Kids!?” Celia’s voice rose with concern. “There are children in there?”

“Your employees don’t have places to leave their kids,” Delphie said in even tones.

Celia gave Delphie a wry look.

“I can’t get in!” Delphie said with a tug on the door. “You have to do that thing you do with doors!”

Celia sighed. She might not have full blown psychokinetic skills, but she and her then boyfriend Sam had spent years perfecting her ability to get into old cars. She reached out with her mind. Focusing all of her energy and attention, she visualized the lock. One forced out breath and the passenger door lock popped up. Before Delphie could open the door, a tiny hand reached from the back seat to push the button down.

“What was that?” Celia asked.

“There’s a little boy in the back seat,” Delphie said. “He was told to keep the car locked. He’s very frightened but is more terrified of having to go back to his mother. He’s trying to keep his sister quiet so they don’t have to live with their mom.”

Celia scowled.

“You’re sure this is the guy?” Celia asked.

“He’s an idiot,” Delphie said. “Even if he’s not, these kids need our help, and you need to start your school. That’s your destiny, and you know it.”

“I…” Celia opened her mouth. “What?”

“Listen, this kid loves Coca-Cola,” Delphie said. “I’m going to get a soda from the corner to bribe him to open the door. You keep working on him.”

Delphie gave Celia a nod before turning in place and walking down the sidewalk. Celia squinted after her friend. Delphie hated going into new places, especially little stores. All of the ghosts rushed forward to talk to her and she got overwhelmed. There’s no way Delphie would go to a store by herself. Celia was being manipulated. She turned to look at the sedan at the same moment the little boy was looking at her.

“Go away,” the boy said.

That was enough for Celia to fall completely in love with the little boy.

“No,” Celia said. “I’m not going away. Not now, and not for a long, long time.”

The boy’s face was almost entirely blue eyes. They blinked at her.

“Will you open the door for me?” Celia asked in a tone that would encourage him to do what she asked. “I’m here to help.”

The little boy just blinked at her. Celia sighed and unlocked the door again. The little boy pressed the button down.

“Why hello,” a man’s voice came from the sidewalk. Celia turned to see her husband Sam. “What’s a gorgeous lady like you doing here?”

“I’m trying to get these kids out of the car!” Celia said. “One of our employees left them here because he didn’t have anywhere else to bring them.”

“Horrible,” Sam said. He leaned over to look at the boy, who blinked at him. “You tried…?”

Celia unlocked the car door causing the locking nob to shoot up. The little boy pressed it down.

“I see,” Sam said with a laugh.

“What are you doing here?” Celia asked.

“Delphie told me you needed my help,” Sam said pointed toward the work site.

“She told me she was going for soda,” Celia said.

They had both been manipulated.

“So what do we do?” Celia asked.

“Simple,” Sam said.

He raised his eyebrows in a confident “I’ve got this” and took a candy bar from his pocket. He pressed it against the window. The lock shot up and the door opened a little bit.

“Nash?” Sam asked. He held the candy bar out to the little boy. “This is my wife, Celia. She’d like to help your sister.”

The boy grabbed the bar and began stuffing it down.

“She won’t stop crying today, Mr. Sam,” the little boy said with his mouth full of chocolate.

“Mr. Sam?” Celia asked.

Sam nodded to Celia.

“Why don’t we let Ms. Celia help,” Sam said. The boy looked at Celia for a minute. “She’s really good with kids. I even let her raise mine.”

The boy looked at Celia for a long minute before he nodded. The boy held his arms up and Sam lifted him from the car. Celia climbed in the back seat where the little girl was strapped to a car seat. She unhooked the child and passed her to Sam. The little boy was sitting on the hood of the car, and the daughter was snuggling in Celia’s arms when they heard footsteps.

“Hey!” A young man raced down the sidewalk. “Those are my kids!”

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday morning — 10:17 a.m.

“You want to know about me and the gulag?” Ivan looked genuinely surprised.

Sissy nodded.

“Sissy wanted to know how you became her dance teacher,” Sandy said. “Delphie shared her experience with my dad and Seth.”

Even though Delphie was having breakfast with Seth and his new wife, Ava, Sandy gestured to where Delphie usually sat. Ivan nodded and glanced at Abi, who was standing next to Sissy. She smiled.

“I wish I had been here,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened.”

“We haven’t gotten to the details yet,” Sandy said with a conspiratorial nod. “But I’m sure we’ll pry it out of Delphie soon. Would you like to be here when we do?”

“Oh…” Ivan gave a little shrug. “It doesn’t matter so much.”

He glanced at Sissy.

“Maybe when you are well, you can tell me the whole story,” Ivan said.

Sissy smiled and nodded. She groaned at the pain caused by her actions.

“Can you tell us about the gulag and getting rescued by Seth?” Sandy asked.

“I can tell you what I know,” Ivan said with a shrug. “I don’t know everything, but I know what I know.”

Sandy nodded.

“I was ten when Soviet Union started to dissolve,” Ivan said. “My mother and father were born in Lithuania but moved to St. Petersburg so that I could dance. With the end of communism, my mother and father went home to a free Lithuania leaving my sister and me in St. Petersburg with my mother’s aunt.”

“What was she like?” Sandy asked.

“I have no idea,” Ivan snorted a laugh. “I only cared about ballet. My whole world was in ballet and my sister in her schooling. We rotated in and around my aunt’s house. She kept us fed and clothed and she made sure we met the right people.”

Ivan shrugged.

“Democratic Russia was formed when I was sixteen,” Ivan said. “I was already signed at the Bolshoi. My sister was in the best private school. We spent summers with our parents, who were so happy. But…”

Ivan nodded.

“The rise of Democracy brought about the rise in the Bratva,” Ivan said. He wagged his head side to side. “The bratva has been around since the days of the tsars. But suddenly, there is not government. Everything is Bratva. The man you call Otis was at the center of everything. I knew him from growing up at the Bolshoi.”

As if he’d told them something significant, he nodded.

“Ballet was everything to me,” Ivan said. “Is everything to me. I didn’t paying attention to anything but ballet. Turns out, my aunt was involved in the bratva, and soon Otis’s sons had taken over. My aunt was killed. My sister was forced into prostitution and I became principal dancer and spy.”

Ivan’s face was etched with pain. He took off his clear light protecting glasses to rub his eyes. He didn’t speak for a while. Finally, clearing his throat, he nodded.

“I was twenty-four when it all came apart,” Ivan said. “The government was cracking down on corruption and the Bolshoi was part of the investigation. My sister died, my mother died, and I was sent to gulag for being Bratva.”

“Was it awful?” Sissy asked.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “The gulag was in the farthest most north of Russia. There were no fences and few guards. The vast frozen wilderness was our prison. Everyone was housed together.”

“Women too?” Sissy asked.

“Men only,” Ivan said. “This gulag was men only, mostly bratva. The prisoners made their own culture. It was like cavemen times. The biggest and most vicious were in control. I am not big. I am not able to fight, so I was in trouble.”

“Sexual violence?” Sandy asked.

“No,” Ivan said. “We had barely enough food to stay alive and it was very cold. I’d grown up in the ballet where there are lots of gay dancers. I was able to steer clear of that kind of trouble. But the violence and cruelty was pervasive. The pressure of the cold, lack of food, and endless violence brought out people’s most basic animal nature. It was like a zoo, only worse — there was no one to feed us.”

Ivan gave a curt nod.

“You know Bruno?” Ivan asked.

“He’s the bodyguard for Jill’s grandfather, isn’t he?” Sandy asked.

“He was,” Ivan said. “About a week after I got to the gulag, he found me. I was bullied into dancing like one of those little dolls in the music box. Spin around and around. Jump high, no higher. He fought for me and won.”

Ivan’s eyes welled with tears.

“You don’t know him,” Ivan said. “He is a good friend, very loyal. He gave me protection and asked only that when we were out, I would dance on stage again. He said he’d never seen anything as beautiful as the ballet. After some months, his boss, Otis, arrived with some of his men. This Otis still had access to lots of money. He is also a great healer. He set up a hierarchy and Bruno made sure I was a part of it.”

Ivan smiled.

“I sponsored Bruno to come to the US,” Ivan said with a nod. “Otis came with Perses. Without Otis, Bruno would have been killed in Russia. I paid for him to come to this country. Bruno stayed with me until Otis was released by the government.”

Ivan raised an eyebrow.

“That was the gulag,” Ivan said. “Horrible. I still have nightmares.”

“How did you get out?” Sandy asked.

“Seth O’Malley,” Ivan said. “For a long time after the fall of the Soviet Union, everything was for sale in Russia. You want to own something, someone, anything, you just need to make an offer. People were sold from the gulag all the time.”

“Sold to do what?” Sandy asked in a horrified voice.

“Anything you want,” Ivan said with a shrug. “Whenever a military helicopter flew overhead and the prisoners rushed to see who was leaving. Bets were placed — were they leaving for something better or something much worse. It was thirty below and still everyone ran out. I could only hobble, so I stayed behind. When I was first there, I’d injured my with a stress fracture leg and it had never healed.”

Caught up in the memory, Ivan’s gaze softened.

“There were some military people,” Ivan said. “They had been to the gulag before to take a few people from Poland, I think. Diplomats or maybe spies, soldiers. This day, the military surrounded O’Malley. They moved through the prison like old time movie stars. People threw themselves at them. Begged to go with them. Many, many people would rather be slaves than continue to stay in gulag. But the military could only take what they’d paid for. Otherwise, they would lose their ability to get any more. They found me in the cell.”

“Because of your leg?” Sissy wheezed.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “One man, their leader, I think, put me over his shoulder and walked out of the gulag. The military people and Seth folded back into the helicopter and we flew away.”

Ivan raised his eyebrows and nodded.

“Like that,” Ivan said. “One moment, I am starving in filthy, violent gulag, and the next I am pumped full of morphine and flying on a US helicopter.”

Ivan snorted and shook his head.

“Life is amazing,” he said.

“I had that experience when I went to live with my dad,” Sandy said. “Sissy’s father Mitch. One moment, I’m wondering if I can survive and the next…”

“Everything is different,” Ivan said. He gave Sissy a fond look. “That’s my story of the gulag.”

“What did you do after that?” Sandy asked.

“We flew to a military base where they did surgery on my leg,” Ivan said. “I stayed there while the Americans tried to assess if I was a spy. Eventually, O’Malley arrived to bring me to Denver. Some twelve hours later, I met Sissy and my life started, probably for the first time.”

As if he hadn’t intended to say the last words, Ivan blushed and looked down. After a second, he looked up at Sissy and said very simply, “Thank you.”

“For what?” Sissy asked.

“For saving me,” Ivan said with a smile. “Without you, I would probably still be in the gulag.”

Sandy caught Sissy beaming at Ivan.

“Ivan, I need to use the restroom,” Sandy said. “Would you mind staying here with Sissy until I get back?”

“Certainly,” Ivan said.

Sandy leaned over to kiss Sissy’s cheek. She nodded to Ivan and left the room. Smiling to herself, she looked at her watch. She would give Sissy a little time alone with Ivan before Sandy returned. She glanced at her watch and realized that she would finally be able to talk to Aden. She went out on to a patio and dialed.

“You will never believe what I have to tell you,” Sandy said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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