Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Forty-three: Old friends and family

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Friday night — 8:15 p.m.
Phoenix, Arizona

Yvonne stared at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She’d expected to look different. This morning, she was a free person — the beloved wife of Rodney Smith and mother to medical student, Tanesha. Tonight, she was owned outright by another horrible man. According to the financier, Rodney and Tanesha were dead. She put her hand on her forehead.

She did not want to live without Rodney and Tanesha.

She couldn’t wrap her mind around why she wasn’t dead. Moments after killing Rodney, the financier waltzed right past the Federal Agents assigned to protect her and Rodney. The financier and his henchmen had taken her by the public elevator to the penthouse suite. Inside the ridiculously palatial suite, the financier gestured toward a rack of high priced lingerie in her size. He’d wanted her to clean up and then model the lingerie for himself and his friends.

That’s it.

He hadn’t asked her what she wanted. He’d just told her what to do. She’d gone from free woman to slave in less than an hour.

She had nothing to live for now. When she’d belonged to the spider, she had counted down the days to when Rodney’s prison sentence ended. Someday, he would get out of prison. Someday, she and Rodney would live together Someday, she’d be able to see Tanesha as much as she wanted.

Someday. Her whole reason for living had been tied up in someday. Her someday had come and gone.

She had no reason for living now.

She knew that the financier had attacked her friends at the Castle. She’d could hear them watching the news report of someone killing Tanesha’s best friend Heather. The financier had arranged for that little painter, Noelle, and the ballerina, Sissy, to be shot in New York City. He’d even tried to attack Charlie at Seth’s house. The evil man was thrilled to learn that Heather and Sissy were on their deathbeds.

There was a knock on the bathroom door.

“Did you get lost?” one of the henchmen asked.

“Want to make sure I look really nice,” Yvonne said to the door.

She swallowed hard. She stared at the bathroom door willing the financier to accept her response without fuss. She heard the henchman relay her response. After a few moments, the henchman returned.

“Hurry up,” the henchman said. “There’s a bunch of men here who need your services.”

Yvonne nodded. The horrible man expected her to have sex with all of the men, probably while the financier orchestrated her every move. She couldn’t think of anything more degrading. Still staring at the door, Yvonne took a step back and ran into someone. Gasping, she whipped around.

She was staring at an exact replica of herself.

Yvonne closed her eyes and wondered if she’d been drugged. She hadn’t eaten anything the financier had offered. She turned down the drinks. In fact, the only thing she’d had to drink was water from the bathroom faucet. She picked up the glass and looked at it.

When she looked back, her double had transformed into a woman about her size wearing a pink tutu and carrying a wand. Her skin was a lighter color. Her eyes were a little bigger and her lips smaller. She had darker hair.

“Mari,” the fairy said. “I’m going to take your place.”

“Shh!” Yvonne pointed to the bathroom door.

“Oh, they can’t hear us,” Mari said. “In fact, why don’t you open the door?”

“What?” Yvonne asked.

“Please,” Mari said. “I wouldn’t lie to you. I’m Fin’s youngest sister so I’m your aunt, well great-aunt, but that makes me seem ancient. Plus, Ne Ne is my best friend. We went to primary school together.”

“What?” Yvonne asked.

“Open the door,” Mari said.

Yvonne went to the door and peeked out. Rodney was standing on the other side of the door. His face was still bruised but he seemed otherwise unhurt.

“Yvie?” Rodney asked. He glanced behind him where Abi was standing. “Is it really her?”

“Go on,” Mari said with a saucy grin. “I’ve got this covered.”

Mari transformed into Yvonne. She gave Yvonne a little push, and Yvonne flew into Rodney’s arms. The bathroom door closed.

“Yvie!” Rodney said and held on tight. “I’ve been so worried! Are you all right?”

“Are we dead?” Yvonne asked.

“Dead?” Rodney asked.

“I heard you get shot!” Yvonne said.

“You heard a shot,” Rodney said. “The police will find a pillow has been destroyed with a shotgun.”

“A pillow?” Yvonne asked.

“Abi was there,” Rodney said.

“I was so terrified and upset!” Yvonne said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’re too honest,” Abi said. “You would have given the whole thing away.”

“That’s probably right,” Yvonne said.

She looked around, and then scowled.

“You sure we’re not in heaven?” Yvonne asked. “This looks like our nice yellow house.”

“Your house,” Abi said. “I arranged for the Wilsons to wake up at their home as well. They think they flew in last night.”

Yvonne smiled.

“The only catch is that you have to stay here until Mari tells you it’s over,” Abi said.

“That doesn’t seem so hard,” Yvonne smiled and then gasped. “Tannie!”

Yvonne began to cry.

“She’s dead, Rodney,” Yvonne said. “My beautiful, brilliant Tannie is gone.”

Yvonne wept into her hands.

“Yvie!” Rodney gave her a little shake. Yvonne looked up at him. “She was with Fin when the man came to shoot her. She’s fine.”

“Can I talk to her?” Yvonne asked. “Make sure she’s okay?”

“I’m sorry, Yvonne,” Abi said. “You can’t.”

“Because she’s dead and you don’t want me to know?” Yvonne asked.

“Because she and Fin had to go take care of something,” Abi said.

“Something?” Yvonne asked.

“Miss T’s friend Heather was shot tonight,” Rodney said.

“So horrible!” Yvonne’s hands went to her heart.

“They are at Olympia to fight for her life,” Abi said.

“Everyone connected to the case with the financier was attacked today,” Rodney said. “Heather was shot, you were captured and…”

Rodney looked up at Abi.

“You remember Sissy?” Abi asked.

“The little ballerina?” Yvonne asked.

“She was shot,” Abi said. “That’s where I’m going when we’re done here. She needs a little help.”

“I heard that horrible man make a toast to Sissy’s death,” Yvonne nodded. “You should go, make sure she lives, just to spite him.”

Abi hugged Yvonne tight.

“What’s going to happen back… there?” Yvonne asked. “You know, with the guy?”

“Mari hates evil humans,” Abi said. “She never got over not being able to help you before. Whether you know it or not, she sees you as family. She’s going to have a great time with those guys.”

Yvonne gave Abi a confused nod.

“Now, you’ll stay inside?” Abi asked. “Hide out for a while and keep from being noticed?”

“Yes ma’am,” Yvonne said. “Until we hear from Mari.”

“Good girl,” Abi said.

She gave Yvonne a broad smile and shrank to Fairy Corps size. With a wave, she disappeared. Rodney put his arm around Yvonne.

“Well?” he asked. “What would you like to do?”

“Take a long bath,” Yvonne said.

“I get it ready,” he said.

Grinning at her, he took her hand and they went upstairs.


Saturday mid-night — 12:15 a.m.
New York City, New York

The curtain around Sissy’s bed moved and Ivan startled. He’d charmed the night nurse into letting him stay in this chair. He’d felt like a manipulative asshole, but there was no way he was going to leave Sissy’s side. If he hadn’t been drunk on Sake and the promise of Sabrina, he would have protected Sissy. He should have been her savoir, not the pathetic man holding her hand while she fought for her life. After MJ and Noelle left, he’d planted himself in a chair by Sissy’s bed and refused to move.

He looked around to see what had awakened him. Seeing nothing, he took in Sissy. She had surgery for her wounds. They had been able to inflated her lung and put her deep into a coma. The machine force air into her lungs with rhythmic precision. Mysterious fluids dripped in to her veins. And a taunting blue dot bounced along on the screen.

Ivan sighed. When he leaned back in his chair, he saw a large man standing at the end of Sissy’s bed.

“Sorry,” Bruno, the bodyguard, said in Russian, “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Disturb?” Ivan asked in Russian. “I am already disturbed.”

Bruno smiled.

“I would have been here earlier but I was in the middle of something,” Bruno said. “The boss said to tell you that this wasn’t your fault.”

“Why are you here?” Ivan’s voice rose with irritation. He was too distraught and too tired to manage an appropriately respectful tone.

“The boss is in your debt,” Bruno said. “He wanted me to help you to settle some of the debt.”

“My debt?” Ivan placed his hand on his chest. “What?”

“You spoke to Anjelika about bringing her father to the US. Reunite your family, you said,” Bruno said. When Ivan shrugged, Bruno smiled. “Her husband brought us here because of you and…”

Bruno nodded to Sissy.

“Anjelika was helping Sissy get more drills, more practice,” Ivan said. “I… I just said what was obvious.”

“This is not your fault,” Bruno said.

“Whose is it then?” Ivan asked. He shook his head. “I knew it was dangerous, but I still arranged for us to go out.”

“Why did you?” Bruno asked

“I felt badly,” Ivan said. “She’s young and wants to have fun.”

“Not because of Sabrina?” Bruno asked.

Ivan shook his head. He never quite got used to how the Bratva always seemed to have every detail of every situation they were interested in. Bruno raised his eyebrows. And Ivan shook his head.

“I thought you didn’t mess with ballerinas,” Bruno said. “You used to say they brought you bad luck.”

“I was right,” Ivan gestured to Sissy, and Bruno smiled.

“You should know,” Bruno nodded. “There wasn’t anything you could have done. The job was for a specific time. They would have gotten you no matter where you were. Period.”

Ivan nodded to the information but nothing was going to change how he felt.

“We didn’t know about it,” Bruno said. “Or you would have been told at dinner.”

Bruno moved to sit in the chair next to Ivan’s. Ivan scooted over to give the big man some room.

“The boss — he’s taking care of this as we speak,” Bruno said with a nod. “I asked the boss if he wanted me to take care of it. Given that we were in the gulag together and everything, he insisted I come here to be with you.”

“Saint Petersburg,” Ivan said. “I remember you and the boss from the Bolshoi.”

Bruno nodded.

“I don’t remember much about the gulag,” Ivan said.

“You remember your friend Bruno keeping the violence away from the pretty ballerino,” Bruno said.

“You’ve been a good friend to me, ” Ivan nodded, but didn’t looked at him.

“She saved you from that,” Bruno said with a nod to Sissy.

As if he’d never thought of it before, Ivan raised his eyebrows. He gave a slight nod and went back to staring at Sissy.

“She’s not a baby anymore,” Bruno said.

Ivan didn’t look at him.

“She’ll be a ballerina soon,” Bruno said.

“If she survives,” Ivan said.

“Will she bring bad luck?” Bruno asked.

“No idea.” Ivan gave a sad shake of his head.

Ivan leaned forward to take Sissy’s hand again. Her hand was ice cold. As he had when she was a child, he rubbed her hand between his to warm it.

“You know I have a wife now,” Bruno said.

“I heard,” Ivan said. “Congratulations.”

“She turned thirty this year,” Bruno chuckled. “Ukrainian, but Slavic, of course.”

“Of course.” Ivan said to acknowledge that no Bratva would marry outside of the Slavic race.

“We are more than forty years apart in age, but it doesn’t matter,” Bruno said. “We are very happy. I treat her like a princess and she makes me feel like a real, genuine man. You and I go back so far, and have been through so much, that I’ll tell you what I haven’t told anyone, not even the boss.”

Ivan looked up at the man.

“She’s pregnant,” Bruno said. “After all of this life and death and gulag and my entire life with the boss, I will be a daddy. Me!”

“Congratulations,” Ivan said and Bruno smiled.

“Very happy,” Bruno said. “She is too.”

Ivan couldn’t help but smile at the man. Each lost in his own thoughts, they fell silent.

“Four years,” Bruno said.

“What?” Ivan asked.

“She will be an adult in four years,” Bruno said and nodded.

“And what does that mean?” Ivan asked.

“You can be together,” Bruno said. “You can love her and she can love you — like the Oracle told you.”

As if he had no idea what Bruno was saying, Ivan gave a slight shake of his head.

“The boss said to tell you to stop being stupid,” Bruno said. “But I come here and see that you’re not being stupid.”

“I’m not?” Ivan asked.

“You’re just being patient,” Bruno said.

“Because I’m well known for being patient,” Ivan snorted.

“Boss said to tell you that this man who caused your love to be shot, he is the same man who profited on your sister,” Bruno said. “Same man who made you spy. Same man who put you in gulag.”

Ivan felt his heart constrict with hatred and rage.

“Boss said it’s all over,” Bruno said. “Boss finishes it tonight.”

“Why would the boss end this?” Ivan asked. “His own son!”

“Last of sons,” Bruno said. “Evil, every one. It will end tonight. I wanted to do it myself, but the boss insisted on doing it himself. His son, his responsibility. You know what they did to Anjelika?”

Ivan nodded.

“The boss finishes it tonight,” Bruno said.

He gave Ivan a chilling smile and Ivan gave a slow shake of his head.

“You can go,” Bruno said. “I will watch and keep guard.”

“I’m not leaving her,” Ivan said.

“Good,” Bruno nodded. “We will watch together.”

Ivan looked at the man for a moment before turning back to Sissy. When he looked back, the curtain was moving and Bruno was gone. He fell asleep wondering if the entire interaction had been a dream.



Tanesha swallowed hard and glanced at Fin. They were standing at one end of a large oval room. Every surface shone brighter than gold. The floor was made up of white puffy clouds on a baby blue sky. At the front of the room, there were two seats with a man she knew to be Zeus, and the woman Heather had called “Hera.” A host of about a hundred beings were seated around the oval in what could only be described as stadium seating. Near the front of the room, there were twenty or so human forms standing on either side of Hera and Zeus. The court wore golden fabric.

“Where are we?” Tanesha whispered.

“Olympia,” Fin said.

“Is a real place?” Tanesha asked.

Fin gave her a cocky grin and held out his arm. She placed her arm over his and they took a slow step forward. They moved with slow, even grace across the clouds. The room got wider as they moved. People in the stadium seats stood as they passed. Fin nodded in “hello” to creatures on either side.

“What are they?” Tanesha whispered.

“Gods,” Fin said. “We are in Olympia.”

Tanesha peaked out the sides of her eyes at the magnificent creatures. When they saw her, they turned to whisper to the creature next to them. As they approached the throne, the beings in the stadium seats began to look more like human beings.

“Curtsey when I bow,” Fin said out of the side of his mouth.

“Prince Finegal!” Zeus said. His voice echoed in a sharp bellow. “Princess Tanesha.”

Fin bowed. Tanesha gave a deep courtesy.

“How?” Fin asked under his breath.

“Sissy had to learn when she was ten,” Tanesha said. “We practiced for a month.”

She felt her heart constrict with worry for Sissy. She felt movement near her. She saw Heather, dressed in golden finery, had moved into the crowd near the throne. Tanesha threw her a bright smile. Heather didn’t respond.

“What’s wrong with her?” Tanesha whispered.

Fin guided her to face their right. He bowed and Tanesha curtsied.

“She is still alive in Denver,” Fin said. “Barely.”

Tanesha swallowed hard. He guided her to the opposite side of the court. He bowed and she curtsied. He led her around to face the throne.

“Why are you here, friend?” Zeus asked.

“We’ve come to ask a favor,” Fin said.

“After all you have done for us, Prince Finegal, what favor could Olympia do for you and your kind?” Zeus asked.

“We ask for Hedone to be returned to Earth to finish out a long human life,” Fin said.

“You have asked for something you cannot have,” Zeus said.

“I ask that the matter be brought to vote in the full court,” Fin said.

“It will make no difference,” Zeus said. “Hedone was given one human life by a Titan to live as she sees fit. She has lived that life. She will now return to her duties in Olympia.”

“And if the Titan Perses was to agree to Hedone returning to live out her human life?” Fin asked.

“I…” Zeus blustered and the court crowd began to whisper to each other. “I would need to hear it from himself.”

Fin gave a partial bow.

“Perses?” Fin asked.

Jill’s father appeared beside Tanesha.

“Great Perses,” Fin said, “would you allow Hedone to live out her life on earth before returning to her duties?”

“Her life is not over,” Perses said. “My wife is at the hospital right now. She is alive! Her life is not over! I would allow Hedone to return to her life. I ask great Zeus to honor my agreement, release her spirit, and allow Hedone to live out her life on Earth.”

“NO!” Zeus bellowed. The words echoed around the room and silenced the whispering crowd. “I say Hedone returns! I am Zeus. My word is law!”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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