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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FIVE
Saturday early morning — 1:35 a.m.
The elevator slowed to a stop, and Otis stepped off the elevator. He took what his yoga instructor called a “cleansing breath” before starting to walk down the hall. As the Bratva had assured him, no one was guarding the door to the suite where his disgusting son and friends were celebrating the capture of Yvonne Smith.
Not wanting to delay, he pushed open the door. He slipped into the only spot in the room that was not covered by the surveillance camera — a corner next to the bathroom.
The room was absolutely silent. Wondering if he was in the wrong place, Otis moved away from his safe corner. There were close to thirty men in the room. Some of them wore expensive suits and had manicured nails. More than half the men looked like hired muscle or bodyguards. The men sat on plush couches, leaned against the wall, or stood in place. Their eyes were open and their jaws were slack. They looked like horrible statues — terrified, alive, but unable to move.
A woman, who looked like Yvonne Smith, stood in the middle of the room. When he took a step forward, she turned toward him.
“Who are you?” Otis asked.
“Yvonne Smith,” the woman said. “We’ve met a few times.”
“No, you are not,” Otis said.
“He thinks so.” The woman gestured to his son.
“He is an idiot,” Otis said.
She laughed. She seemed to glide across the room. His body grew more aroused with every step she took.
“Who are you?” Otis asked.
“How do you know I am not Yvonne Smith?” the woman asked.
She stopped walking when she reached the end of the couch. She looked him up and down.
“She glows,” Otis said. “It’s subtle, but I loved a woman who had the same brilliance. I’d recognize it a mile away. It’s a rare a precious gift.”
“You want me for yourself,” the woman said.
“I did not say that,” Otis said.
“Your body does.” The woman gestured to his crotch and the pressure in his groin increased.
“I am not a teenager,” Otis said.
The woman laughed and continued in his direction. She rounded the couch when he caught her scent.
“Fairy,” Otis said. “Full-blooded.”
“Very good,” the woman said.
“Who are you?” Otis repeated.
“Guess,” the woman said.
Otis raised an eyebrow in a shrug. When she was close enough, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. His capacity to heal negated her spell. The woman transformed into herself. There was a natural resemblance between this woman and Yvonne Smith. This woman’s skin was lighter. Her eyes were fairy — wide and large with inch-long eyelashes. Her hair was dark and straight.
“You’re one of Queen Fand’s children,” Otis said. “You have her look and your father’s bearing.”
“Her youngest daughter,” the woman said. “So far. The queen is pregnant so anything can happen.”
“Mari,” Otis said.
“I met your mother and father when my granddaughter had her twins,” Otis said. “We discussed children and she mentioned you.”
“Hmm,” Mari sniffed. “You are his father.”
She pointed to the financier.
“I am,” Otis said. “How are you involved in this?”
“It’s a family issue,” Mari said.
She started circling him like a shark would an injured seal. He felt her threat but refused to respond.
“My family?” Otis asked.
“Mine,” Mari said. “Your son is a little indisposed.”
“I see that,” Otis said. He gestured to the surveillance cameras. “What about…?”
“Your son had them turned off,” Mari said. “He didn’t want anyone to document the breaking Yvonne.”
“My son thought he could break Yvonne?” Otis raised his eyebrows.
“He is an idiot.” Otis smiled.
When she was behind him, he walked around the couch and stood in front of his son. His son’s eyes flickered with recognition. He felt Mari’s stare.
“If this is a family matter for you,” Otis looked at his son, and then looked at Mari, “then what about Alvin?”
“What about Aaron Alvin?” Mari asked.
“A bullet through the forehead seems far too easy for that monster,” Otis said.
“What would you say if I told you that I very slowly and very carefully created a gap between his skin and muscle?” Mari asked.
“Sounds painful,” Otis said.
Otis raised his eyebrows at Mari. She nodded.
“The hole in his forehead is so obvious that they have missed it,” Mari said.
“And his daughter?” Otis asked.
“Now that’s a shame,” Mari said. “I was so distracted by my work that I wasn’t able to save the child.”
Otis gave her a doubtful look. She moved around the couch to stand next to him.
“I only knew he would be killed in an exact window of time,” Mari said. “If I killed him before, suspicion would fall on… well, any number of people including Yvonne. So I rushed there and barely made it in time. And, for the record, skin gapping takes a lot of concentration especially when you want to make it as painful as possible.”
“Fairies don’t predict the future?” Otis asked.
“We suck at it,” Mari said.
“And the Oracle?”
“Delphie wouldn’t help me,” Mari pouted. “She’s was like: ‘Life rights itself, Mari. Don’t get involved.’ Bah!”
“Sometimes life needs a helping hand,” Otis said.
“That’s what I said!” Mari smiled at Otis.
“What will you do with this lot?” Otis asked.
“I haven’t decided.” Mari moved closer to Otis. She stood less than a foot away and looked him up and down.
“What are you doing?” Otis asked.
“Trying to decide if you should join them,” Mari said.
Otis nodded. Mari started circling him again.
“You are evil,” Mari said as she reached the front of him.
“This is true,” Otis said.
Mari made an agreeing grunt and returned to pacing around him.
“You are a powerful healer,” Mari said when she reached the front of him again.
“This is also true,” Otis said. She nodded and started pacing.
“You don’t love,” Mari said when she could see his face.
“I did once,” Otis said. She didn’t move.
“Yes, you have loved — deeply and completely,” Mari said. She stared at him until he responded.
“And many people love you.”
“A few,” Otis said.
“Why is that?” Mari asked and started walking around him again.
“No idea,” Otis said.
“Huh,” Mari said when she reached the front of him. She stopped walking. Her index finger came to her face and she tapped her temple.
“Huh?” Otis asked.
“I’ve never met an evil human who both knew he was evil and was capable of loving,” Mari said with a shrug. “I’ve never met one who is loved by so many people. Many people have dedicated their lives to you. I’ve never seen such humility in one so powerful. It’s confusing to me. Reminds me of someone.”
“Might I ask who?” Otis asked.
“My father,” Mari nodded. “Finegal, my brother. You are not fairy-kind.”
“Not in the least,” Otis said.
“Human-healer,” Mari said. “From Rus?
“Why don’t we have a drink and discuss it?” Otis asked. “Maybe it will become clearer.”
“You’re not afraid of me at all,” Mari said.
“This is true.”
“You should be a little afraid of me,” Mari said.
“I’ll consider it,” Otis said.
They stared at each other for a moment.
“Champagne?” Otis asked. He walked to a cart where four bottles of fifteen hundred dollar champagne chilled. He held up a bottle.
“Why not?” Mari asked.
Otis smiled and opened the bottle.
Saturday early morning — 3:35 a.m.
Jill stood up when the operating nurse come out of the back. Jacob slipped his hand into hers to give her support. Honey rotated her wheelchair toward where the nurse approached. They had been waiting for Heather to get out of surgery. Sam had taken the children to Seth’s house.
“You can come back now,” the operating nurse said as she approached.
Jill glanced at Jacob and Honey. They nodded to encourage her. She gave them a partial smile and followed the nurse. The nurse was moving so fast that Jill had to jog to keep up with her. The nurse made a quick turn into a room filled with beds. She stopped short.
“This is recovery,” the nurse said. “You will only have a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Jill said.
“Now, who are you?” the nurse asked. “You’re not family right?”
“Heather’s husband had a bone marrow transplant,” Jill said. “He’s a few stories up. My husband is his cousin and I’m her friend. Her doctor gave me permission to visit.”
The nurse gave Jill something between a sniff and a shrug. The nurse took off down the center row between the beds. Jill hurried but couldn’t keep up. Finally, the nurse stopped at a bed. She held the curtain back for Jill. Impatient, the nurse shifted from one hip to the next.
“Thank you,” Jill said as she passed through the curtain to the bed.
“She’s not awake,” the nurse said. “We’re evaluating her condition before she’s placed either in the ICU or onto a ward.”
“Yes,” Jill said. She gave the nurse a warm smile. “Thank you.”
The nurse gave her a bored look and left the bed area. Shaking her head at the nurse, Jill turned to look at the bed.
Heather. Jill’s heart jumped to her throat.
Her friend’s chin and throat were covered in white gauze. There was a tube draining fluids like Jacob had had when he was injured. Jill forced herself to breathe. Overall, Heather didn’t look too horrible. Jill thought back to Jacob’s hospitalization, Katy’s bee sting debacle, Delphie’s stroke, Aden’s beating, and even more recently Charlie’s hospital stay. Jill nodded to herself. Compared to all of that drama, Heather didn’t look half bad. Feeling movement, Jill looked up to see a doctor. He introduced himself as the surgeon who had worked on Heather.
“Friend?” the surgeon asked.
“Her husband is my husband’s cousin,” Jill said. “I’m one of her best friends.”
“I’ve heard,” the surgeon said.
“I’m Jill,” she said.
The surgeon nodded but didn’t introduce himself. He came around the side of the bed to look at the machines tracking her vitals.
“She came through well,” the surgeon said. “It was touch and go for a while.”
The surgeon nodded his head but didn’t look at Jill.
“She may have a bad scar,” the doctor said. “That’s if she…”
Rather than finish his statement, the surgeon left Heather’s bedside. Jill grimaced at his back. The curtain moved and another nurse stood in the gap between the sides. She was middle-aged and plump. The smile on the nurse’s face was bright and kind.
“He can be a little abrupt,” this nurse said. “I’m Linda. I’m Heather’s recovery nurse.”
“Jill,” she said.
“Nice to meet you,” the nurse said.
“Yes,” the nurse said. “I was just upstairs talking to him. There’s an order to keep him up to date with what’s going on.”
Jill nodded and looked at Heather.
“She looks worse than she is,” Linda said. “Her vitals are good and the operation successfully stopped the bleeding.”
Jill nodded but didn’t look at the nurse.
“The bullet missed her spine,” the nurse said. “In fact, she was very lucky to not to be paralyzed. The nurses were saying that she seemed to rally back on the table.”
The nurse looked at Jill.
“Is there anything you want to know?” the nurse asked.
“Will she survive this?” Jill asked. “Is her mind okay? Why did they shoot her?”
“I don’t think anyone knows the answer to any of those questions,” Linda, the nurse, said. “I’m sorry. You just have to love her.”
Jill’s head jerked up with surprise.
“What did I say?” Linda, the nurse, said.
“You just have to love her,” Jill said. “My friend Delphie said that before she left for New York.”
“The psychic?” Linda, the nurse, asked. “You’re a friend of hers?”
“She’s amazing,” Linda, the nurse, said. “If Delphie told you to love, that’s exactly what will work.”
The nurse smiled at Jill.
“If you’re a friend of Delphie’s, you’re a friend of mine,” the nurse said. “Now, sit right down there. “
The nurse pointed to a chair wedged between the bed and the wall. Jill sat down and set her purse under her chair.
“Can I take her hand?” Jill asked as she sloughed off her thick jacket.
“You sure can,” the nurse said. “Here, I’ll move this.”
The nurse unclipped the heart rate monitor from Heather’s right hand. She reclipped it to a finger on Heather’s left hand. Jill took Heather’s hand with hers.
“How about some water?” Linda, the nurse, said.
“‘I’d love that,” Jill said with a smile.
“Delphie always says that hard times deserve clean water,” Linda, the nurse, said. “I’ll bring a bottle.”
“Sounds perfect,” Jill said.
The nurse gave her another nod and left the bed. Jill put her hand on Heather’s chest. She felt Heather’s strong pulse of power. The nurse returned with a bottle of water. She gave it to Jill and left the area. Jill put the bottle of water between her arms and held Heather’s hand again.
“Heather,” she whispered.
She felt her own healing power rise and begin to flow into Heather. She was just starting her breathing when she felt as she’d jumped feet first into a deep pool. She closed her eyes to clear her head. When she opened her eyes, she was standing in a golden hall. The man Heather had called Zeus was sitting on a throne with Hera at his side. Dressed to the nines, Tanesha and Fin were standing in the middle of the giant golden hall. Perses, Jill’s father, stood near Tanesha as if to protect her.
“No,” Zeus said.
Tanesha’s shoulders pressed back, her feet set on the ground, and her spine lengthened. She opened her mouth.
“And who are you?” Zeus’s words cut off Tanesha.
Jill noticed for the first time that the court was full of people and creatures when they gasped in unison. Zeus pulled his hand back and threw a lightning bolt in her direction. The lightning bolt glanced off a barrier around Jill and fell to the ground. It let out a pop before sizzling out. She took a step forward only to realize that, like Tanesha, she was now wearing a floor length velvet gown. Her gown was royal blue. Tanesha grinned at Jill as she walked toward her.
“That is my daughter,” Perses growled at Zeus.
“How was I to know?” Zeus asked. He shrugged. “She intruded in my court.”
“She’s my daughter,” Perses said.
“You’d to the same,” Zeus said.
“I’d at least ask who she was!” Perses said.
“Sorry,” Zeus shrugged. “Any idea why that didn’t work?”
“You’ve been healed by her,” Perses said. “You cannot kill the one who heals you.”
“When was I healed by that…” Zeus started. “Why she’s human! You have a human wife?”
“A healer,” Perses said.
Zeus shook his head.
“Although, I will say that I do love human-titan weddings,” Zeus said. “So much ceremony. So much cake. Was I invited?”
“Why didn’t I go?” Zeus asked.
Perses’s eyes shot daggers at Hera. She caught his look and sighed.
“Husband?” Hera asked.
Zeus turned to look at her.
“We should talk,” Hera said.
Saturday morning — 5:35 a.m.
New York, New York
“Daddy?” Noelle asked.
Her voice was filled with panic.
“I’m here,” Aden said.
He clicked on the bedside lamp. He was lying on top of the covers in her bed. She had been in a drugged sleep when he got in. With Bestat’s encouragement, he’d joined her in bed. She rolled onto her side. Her arms went around his waist.
“You’re here,” Noelle said.
“We were locked in,” Aden said. “We left Denver the moment we were able to get out.”
“And Mommy?” Noelle asked.
The word “Mommy” always confused Aden. He opened his mouth to respond that Noelle’s mom was in prison before his brain kicked in to remind him that Sandy was Noelle’s “Mom.”
“She’s with Sissy,” Aden said. “Delphie too.”
“And how is…” Tears fell down Noelle’s face. “I dreamed she was dead.”
“She just got out of emergency surgery,” Aden said.
“She’s not dead?” Noelle asked.
“It was touch and go,” Aden said. He and Sandy had agreed to be honest with Noelle. “But you know Sissy.”
“She’s really stubborn,” Noelle said.
“I was going to say tough,” Aden said.
“That too,” Noelle said.
Her head nodded against Aden’s waist and he looked down at her. MJ and Bestat had taken Noelle to see Sissy last night. Noelle had gotten so upset that the doctor had sedated her.
“Do you remember seeing her last night?” Aden asked.
He felt Noelle’s head nod against him.
“She seemed so…” Noelle stopped talking.
“Well, according to Sandy, she’s in recovery,” Aden said. “The doctor is hopeful that they’ve found all the places she was leaking.”
“Why did she leak so much?” Noelle asked.
Her voice was sleepy but her arms held on tight to his middle. He closed his eyes before thinking of a way to respond.
“The bullets hit her ribs,” Aden looked down at Noelle and she nodded. “The little pieces of bone went everywhere.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Noelle said.
“They said what we’d expect them to say,” Aden said.
“Sissy is healthy and strong,” Noelle said.
“She’s in excellent health,” Aden said.
“They said that crap when we were there,” Noelle said.
“Crap?” Aden asked.
“Sorry,” Noelle said with a sigh. “Artists swear a lot.”
“Does Noelle Norsen swear a lot?” Aden asked.
“Sometimes,” Noelle said with a snot filled laugh.
Aden held her tighter. He felt his shirt get wet from Noelle’s tears. Knowing his daughter, he didn’t speak. He held on tight until she came up for air.
“I don’t like that ballerina.” Noelle’s voice was bitter.
“What ballerina?” Aden asked. He stroked her sleep rumpled hair.
“That one Ivan was going to screw,” Noelle said.
Aden leaned back to look at Noelle. Her left eyeball looked up at him and she shrugged.
“Sorry, Daddy,” Noelle said. “I’m too upset to use polite words.”
Aden had to look away to keep from grinning.
“He was going to screw her!” Noelle said.
“I’m sure that’s true,” Aden said.
“According to Sandy, Ivan is quite popular with the ladies,” Aden said.
“I’m sure he is!” Noelle said.
Noelle became quiet. After a few minutes, Aden looked down to see if she was asleep. She was staring straight ahead.
“What’s going on?” Aden asked.
“When everything awful happened, you know, on the sidewalk?” Noelle asked. Aden waited for her to continue. “The ballerina screamed at the top of her lungs. The guy shot at Ivan and Sissy and then me. Bang-bang and spssh. The bullets sprayed pieces of rock all over Ivan. And the ballerina screamed, you know. And then, bang-bang and Sissy went ‘gagagah’ and fell down. And the ballerina was screaming, screaming at the top of her lungs! Then bang-bang. But MJ turned me around and the bullets went into his clothes. Thump, thump. And the ballerina was screaming. And the guards came out and ran after the guy who shot us. And the ballerina kept screaming. And MJ dropped me down so he could help Sissy. I held Sissy’s head, you know?”
“And the ballerina kept screaming?” Aden asked.
“Yeah,” Noelle said. “From like way over there.”
“She wasn’t in any danger,” Aden said. He held onto her shoulder.
“Uh-huh,” Noelle said.
Noelle fell silent again.
“What is it?” Aden finally asked.
“Why did Ivan say he was Sissy’s husband?” Noelle asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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