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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY-SEVEN
Saturday mid-day — 12:15 pm
New York City, NY
Ivan woke with a jolt and thought: “Where am I?”
He had no idea. The stabbing pain behind his eyes indicated that he’d only slept a few hours. He leaned up on one elbow to look around. Shaking his head, he still had no idea. He lay down and stared at the ceiling. He was lying on a soft bed and covered with clean, expensive linens. The room was dark, but daylight shone around the edges of the curtains.
He closed and opened his eyes. Bracing for the light, he flipped on the lamp on the table next to his bed. He gasped against the searing pain. His hand fumbled for his inside eyewear on the bedside table and silently cursed the man who’d done this to him.
Then he remembered. Bruno had said that his boss was on his way to take care of his son. Ivan smiled and wished the boss God’s speed. His mother’s voice jumped into his head the moment he made the wish.
“Don’t let them take your beauty, your light,” his mother had repeated over and over again. “Don’t hope for bad things or you become bad things.”
Ivan smiled. He remembered how beautiful she was that day. It was the first time he’d seen his mother as a beautiful woman. Of course, her bright star was no match for the dark of his sister’s destruction. And who shared the news? The man who’d destroyed his sister and Ivan.
“That’s a thought circle.”
Sissy’s voice popped into his mind. She had been ten and interested in all manners of circles from crop circles to spinning in circles on pointe. She’d told him all about the futility of thinking in circles. Rather than admit she was right, he’d just made her work harder. He grinned at the memory.
And then he remembered what his heart had kept from him.
As if it was happening in front of him, he watched Sissy turn slightly when she threw her heavy bag onto her shoulder. She’d jerked as the bullets went through her. She fell face first onto her bag. His heart constricted in his chest. The tiny cuts on his face burned from the tears running down his face.
He knew where he was. He was at the mysterious Bestat Behur’s apartment in New York City. He’d spent the night by Sissy’s side at the hospital. When she was moved from ICU to a room, he’d returned to this apartment for a few hours of rest.
He sucked in a breath. And then another. Getting up, he took a shower — hot water and expensive soap across his scarred skin; fragrant shampoo through what was left of his hair; a plush towel to dry with; and another to wrap around himself. He glanced at his naked form in the mirror. He’d lost fat since coming the New York. He would have to eat more in the next few days. This automatic assessment rattled unnoticed in his head. He stepped into the room where he’d slept.
There was a fresh pot of hot coffee sitting on the desk. He went to the pot and saw a small white notecard with a letterpress BB at the top.
“She’s improving,” the note said. It was written in a flowing script by a strong hand. “One more day, and she’ll be out of the woods.”
Ivan closed his eyes to say a small prayer of gratitude Sissy’s health and a larger prayer that the evil man who’d paid someone to shoot Sissy would pay a hundred fold for all he’d done.
“Yes, mother, yes,” Ivan said as the mother in his head started up again.
He went to the closet to dress. No ballet today. He put on what he called the ballerino uniform: black jeans, black turtleneck, and black dress boots. He went to the dresser to grab his black socks, but found that, once again, Sissy had stolen his “boring” socks. She had replaced them with vibrantly colored socks adorned with cartoon animals. His hand closed around the bright blue socks with small yellow ducks on them. They were Sissy’s favorite.
Smiling to himself, he pulled on the socks and zipped up his boots. He ran a hand through his hair and went out into the apartment. He found Bestat in the living room with her infant daughter. He wasn’t sure why, but the idea that Bestat could create another being as powerful as herself always made him uneasy.
“Have you heard from…” he started as he entered the room.
Bestat turned to look at him. She nodded to a corner of the room where Seth O’Malley was sitting.
“…Seth.” The word came off his tongue before his eyes processed that the man was sitting in front of him. “Sir.”
“Ivan.” Seth got up from his chair. “What a horrible night.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ivan said. He allowed Seth to give him a fast hug. “I was unable to…”
“I’ve read the police reports and spoken to the guards,” Seth said. “There was nothing anyone could have done.”
“Yes,” Ivan said. “I’ve heard.”
Seth smiled. He looked into Ivan’s face for a moment.
“I understand congratulations are in order,” Ivan said.
“She is a wonderful girl,” Ivan said. “It is my sincere hope that you will be very happy.”
“Mine, too,” Seth said with a laugh. Ivan grinned.
“Shouldn’t you be with your bride?” Ivan asked.
“Oh, you know me,” Seth said. “I’m not much of a honeymoon kind of guy.”
“He’s cocky enough to believe that every day with him was a honeymoon,” Bestat purred.
Seth burst out laughing. Ivan smiled before looking away.
“Sir, I…” Ivan glanced at the man before looking down at the carpet. This man had had rescued him from the gulag, allowed him to stay in his home while he recovered, set him up as a ballet tutor, and stood by him when he had felt his most alone. “Sir…”
Seth grinned at Ivan.
“So this ballerina,” Seth said. “I understand she’s a screamer.”
The tone of his voice was so irreverent that Bestat gasped a laugh. Ivan gave him a sheepish grin.
“I’m afraid she’s caused us some trouble,” Seth said.
“Sabrina?” Ivan shook his head. He couldn’t image what type of trouble the dimwitted ballerina could cause. “What has happened?”
“She told the ballet that you were married to Sissy,” Seth said.
“So what?” Ivan asked.
“They would like to speak with you,” Seth said. “And me.”
“The usual bullshit,” Seth said.
Ivan nodded and wondered which usual bullshit Seth was referring to — power plays by ballerinas? Money hungry ballet administrations? Horrifying negative publicity? Backstabbing dancers? While none of it was easy, it came with the job. He’d never cared much about this kind of drama. He shrugged.
“They feel the need to separate the two of you,” Seth said. “They are concerned that you lied to them about the nature of your relationship with Sissy. They also say that they cannot hold Sissy’s place while she recovers.”
“It seems so petty,” Bestat said.
“I told them that we understood their position,” Seth said. “After all, we don’t know what condition Sissy will be in when she recovers.”
“If she recovers,” Ivan said under his breath.
“But Delphie…” Bestat said. She glanced at Seth and blushed.
“Unfortunately, the word of an Oracle bears no weight when the ballet company is in a tizzy,” Ivan said.
“They want to keep you, Ivan,” Seth said. “I guess in the short time you’ve been there, you’ve done wonders with the men’s corps. They’d like you to take over the corps.”
“No more young dancers,” Ivan said.
“It’s a promotion,” Seth said.
“I’m no pervert,” Ivan said. “They can trust their young dancers with me!”
Bestat laughed and Seth smiled.
“Why is that funny?” Ivan asked. “You remember what happened when Sissy was in that horrible clinic? The first one?”
Nodding, Seth smiled.
“Why is that funny?” Ivan’s voice rose in indignation.
“Because no one in their right mind would think you were a pervert,” Bestat said. She got up and moved her daughter onto her hip. She went to him and kissed his cheek. “It’s funny because it’s so absurd.”
“You don’t know what has been said!” Ivan asked.
“Humans are so…” As if she was speaking of a species different from herself, Bestat sighed.
“Small-minded,” Seth said.
Ivan gave a curt nod.
“We’ll go together,” Seth said. “My lawyer is meeting us there.”
“I’d prefer to see Sissy first,” Ivan said. “Before we go.”
“Of course,” Bestat said.
“Is there time?” Ivan asked.
“They wanted this drama,” Seth said. “Trust me when I say this: they can wait.”
Bestat hugged Ivan and Seth got up from his seat.
“Will you eat?” Bestat asked.
Ivan shook his head. She gave him a soft smile. On their way through the kitchen, she pressed a cup of black coffee into his hands.
“Thank you,” Ivan said.
He followed Seth into the secure garage below where the limousine waited.
“So,” Mari said.
She swam across the small heated pool to where Otis was lounging in front of massage jets. The pool, surrounded by trees heavy with stone fruit, was fairy-magic. Mari had it created to impress Otis. He was impressed.
“So?” he asked with a grin.
“You’re a healer,” Mari said. “Right?”
“That’s correct,” Otis said. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve been thinking about what to do with…” Mari gestured in the direction of where the suite living area should be.
“Oh?” Otis asked. He intentionally kept his voice curious but without judgment. “What were you thinking?”
“Originally, I planned to give them a fast acting plague,” Mari said. “Something very 16th century.”
“Was that a particularly good era for plague?” Otis asked.
Mari grinned, and he smiled.
“Any era is a good age for plague,” Mari said. “Except maybe this one.”
“Why is that?” Otis asked.
“Vaccination has taken the punch out of a good plague,” Mari said.
“Yes, I imagine that’s true,” Otis said. “Of course, in America, it’s becoming common not to vaccinate children.”
“It gives me hope,” Mari said.
“For a good plague,” Mari said. “You know, the Antionne plague was likely to have been caused by the measles virus.”
“Ah,” Otis said. “I get your point.”
“Two thousand deaths a day in Rome?” Mari smiled. “Every day! More than nine million dead all together. It wiped out their entire armies and two emperors!”
“Sounds awful.” Otis shook his head at Mari.
“It was,” Mari’s smile fell. “Horrible. But apparently human beings want to return to plague days. Imagine, a third of the population is…”
“At least two billion people,” Otis said.
“Were you… there?” Otis asked.
“Oh, God, no,” Mari said. “Mother would never let me that near sick humans. Plus, truth be told, that kind of thing breaks my heart. All those dead children. I’m not as heartless as I pretend to be.”
She shook her head and looked away.
“Yes,” Otis said. “Breaks my heart, as well. I’ve never been able to tolerate the suffering of children.”
She glanced at him and smiled. She gave him a nudge and he moved over to share the massage jets. He reached for her hand and interlaced their fingers.
“I’m enjoying our time together,” Otis said.
She leaned against him.
“Why plague?” Otis asked.
“This hotel allows horrible things to happen under its roof,” Mari nodded. “A good plague would shut it down for a while.”
“Oh, I see,” Otis said. “The plague would draw the authorities who would, in turn, uncover the depravity.”
“I like the way you think,” Otis said.
“It occurred to me that your son…”
“Yes, he would quickly overcome a plague,” Otis said. “Which one were you thinking?”
“Bubonic,” Mari said. “Disgusting disease. Bloody too. I could enhance it so that those men die in a couple of hours.”
“Rather than a day?” Otis asked. “That is fast.”
“Exactly,” Mari said.
“My son would not be affected,” Otis said.
“Even an enhanced virus?”
Otis shook his head.
“Shoot,” Mari said.
She stared at the wall in front of her for a moment.
“If I cut off his…” Mari gestured below the water.
“Heal back,” Otis said.
“Even if I take it or destroy it?” Mari asked.
“Even if,” Otis said. “Trust me. The Bratva tried all of this on my older sons. Outside of a bit of pain, there was no long-term consequence.”
“Of course, that was more fun for the Bratva,” Otis said. “But a fairy princess such as yourself has better things to than kill and torture a human for a few years.”
Mari scowled and looked away. After a few moments, she sighed and looked at him.
“What finally worked?” Mari asked.
“Worked?” Otis asked.
“With your sons,” Mari said.
“They quartered them, and then chopped off their heads and gutted them like pigs,” Otis said. “Then, they took the entrails and head away. It was too much trauma for any healer to overcome.”
“Messy business,” he said. “Brutal.”
“It doesn’t sound like fun,” Mari said.
“I was hoping to have fun,” Mari said.
“I do have an idea,” Otis said.
Otis glanced at her. She scowled for a moment before giving him a “go ahead” nod. He smiled and told her his idea. She grinned. The next thing he knew, they were standing next to a table laden with his favorite foods and a bounty of wine. He was dressed in a tux and tails, and she was wearing a sheer maroon lace evening gown.
“What’s this?” Otis asked.
“A little celebration,” Mari said.
He held out a chair for her and she sat down. He went around the table to sit across from her. She smiled when he sat down.
“So it is done?” Otis asked.
“Not yet,” Mari said. “But soon.”
“You’ll let me know?”
“Of course,” Mari said and poured the red wine.
“You would deny Heather’s children their mother simply because you dislike Eros?” Jill’s voice rose with disgust.
“Of course he would,” Jill’s grandmother, Eurybia said in a low tone.
“I am Zeus,” her twin, Crius, said in an imitation of Zeus.
“I am Zeus!” the man on the throne yelled. “I can do as I please.”
Crius and Eurybia snickered.
“I can make sure that you are not Zeus!” Tanesha held up the juice bottle full of serpent dust.
“Husband,” Hera said.
She put her hand on his arm and he looked at her. The court fell silent. While the rulers gazed at each other, Jill’s grandparents moved closer to Jill. Hecate, Jill’s step-sister, shifted to stand just behind Tanesha and Perses’ first wife, Asteria, walked to his side. Asteria and Hecate shot Zeus of look of sheer loathing.
“Why are they so…?” Jill whispered.
“Zeus tried to have his way with Asteria,” Crius said.
“Ever wonder how he ended up in the sea of amber?” Eurybia asked.
Jill glanced at her father’s parents and they were pointing at each other. Noting Jill’s surprise, the twins laughed. Hera shot them a dark look at they stopped laughing.
“Sire,” Hera said. “It’s a small thing to allow Hedone to return to Denver. As you said, human life is short. She will be back before you even miss her.”
“What if she lived in both worlds?” Jill asked.
“Now who’s a meddling elf?” Eurybia asked in a gleeful voice.
Zeus turned his attention to Jill.
“Love does belong in the world, nephew,” Crius said.
“If we hide it away here in Olympia, the human world will be without love,” Eurybia said with a sly smile.
Jill scowled. She was reasonably sure the twins were involved in this hearing primarily as a way to antagonize Zeus. The ruler cleared his face in such a way to indicate that this fact was not lost on him.
“You remember what happened the last time you took love out of the world,” Hecate said.
The entire court turned their attention to Perses’ oldest daughter. As if he was looking at a bug, Zeus squinted at the Goddess.
“I do,” a voice came from the crowd.
“Who said that?” Zeus’s head jerked up to review the crowd.
“I remember,” a young woman stood up from the crowd.
She had a quiver of arrows strapped across her chest and she carried a bow. Eurybia gave her a little wave and the woman returned with a slight courtesy.
“I remember what happened the last time you took love from the world,” a young man said.
He stood next to the woman. They wore the same orange color of clothing. When he shifted to her, it was clear they were lovers.
“Orion,” Eurybia whispered to Jill. “He’s incredibly handsome, don’t you think? A real star.”
Jill squinted. The woman with the arrows and her lover looked oddly familiar to her. A man with a laurel wreath on his head like a crown stood. He and the woman with the arrows exchanged a grin. Also wearing orange clothing, he was an identical replica of the woman. He raised a handsome eyebrow at Zeus and a nod to say that he remembered what happened when Zeus had taken love from the world.
“Which time?” a Scottish accented voice came from the end of the crowd. A muscular man carrying a trident stood. “And you do too!”
He shook the trident at Zeus, who looked away.
“Come on, ya cowards!” the man said. “You, Dionysis, cried on me shoulder for years until the twins took care of it!”
One at a time, the Gods and Goddesses rose to their feet until they stood together.
“War, strife, suffering!”A woman jumped from the stands to the floor of the court. Both sets of twins applauded her effort. “Human beings killed each other in droves while we sat idle because you were sick of Eros.”
“Athena!” Zeus rose from his seat. “You dare to confront me in open court?”
“I dare!” Athena said.
“You love war!” Zeus said.
“War without love is butchery,” Athena said. “There is no wisdom or honor in it.”
The entire court erupted. Angry voices shouted each other. The man Eurybia had called Orion grinned at his lover. She and her identical twin smiled back at him. They sat down in unison.
“And you?” Zeus asked. He pointed to the Titans.
“We understand your dilemma,” Cronus said.
“But disagree with your decision,” Crius, Jill’s grandfather, said.
Zeus howled with rage, and the court yelled back. Jill felt a hand on her arm.
“He won’t notice if you…” Eurybia nodded toward where Hedone’s spirit stood.
“Go on, dear,” Crius said.
“This is your chance, sister,” Hecate said.
“Go with her,” Fin said to Tanesha.
Tanesha nodded to Jill. Together, they went up to where Hedone’s spirit stood. Jill stood in front of her friend. Heather was nowhere to be found. Her spirit’s placid face looked right through Jill and Tanesha. Jill touched Hedone’s elbow.
And the Goddess Hedone gasped a breath.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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