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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE
Rodney felt something — a nudge or some kind of pressure. It was the kind of feeling that, when awake, he couldn’t remember exactly what it was. He only knew that he felt something. More than twenty years in prison had taught that anything that wakes you could easily be a threat. He never opened his eyes until he knew exactly what had awakened him.
He tried to listen to the environment around him, but heard very little. In fact, his ears felt almost waterlogged. Any sound that came to him seemed like it was filtered in some watery way. He was pretty sure that he was not in prison. He waited another minute or so before opening his eyes.
He saw only a goldish-orange hue. He was in the sea of amber. For a moment, he cursed himself for being so trusting.
Throughout all of his life, Ne Ne had been an antidote to his difficulties. She’d come to visit him while he was in solitary confinement and protected him when he was not. He’d assumed that she’d come again because Yvonne was in trouble.
But this woman, this Ne Ne, had betrayed Tanesha and sent him here.
Where was here?
He closed his eyes for a moment and listened again. There were vague sounds, as if someone or something was moving through water. He opened his eyes again.
This was the sea of amber.
He remembered seeing it on Tanesha’s laptop before it caught on fire. He looked around him. There were objects near him, but far enough away so that he couldn’t make them out.
And that sound.
What was it? He listened intently. Oars hitting the water — that’s what he heard. Something was rowing a boat on the sea of amber somewhere above him.
Yvonne was in danger. He knew that Tanesha must be trying to save her. And once again he was stuck, unable to help them.
A wave of despair came over him. The feeling was so intense that he slumped forward with the weight of it.
Then Rodney laughed. Despair didn’t get him when he was in prison and it wasn’t going to get him tonight. Someone thought he should be stuck out of the way. They also got rid of Delphie, Jacob, and that little kid Keenan.
Rodney smiled to himself. Whoever that was that was pretending to be Ne Ne made a big mistake by sending him here. He might not be able to save Yvonne. He couldn’t help Tanesha. But he sure as hell could find Jacob, Delphie, and Keenan. He could save them.
Whistling a “Hello Brother” by Louis Armstrong, Rodney set off into the sea of amber to find the others.
In her tiny fairy corps form, Tanesha flew just next to her mother’s ear. She found flying to be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. Her mother was walking fast. The creature Dionne had called “Gino” walked ahead of them as if he was leading the way.
“You okay?” Dionne asked.
“OK?” Yvonne asked.
“You know, with that guy and all,” Dionne said.
“Oh,” Yvonne fell silent for a moment. “No, no, I’m not really okay.”
Yvonne nodded to Dionne.
“In fact, I feel very… “ Yvonne nodded to herself, “… violated.”
“I bet,” Dionne said.
“What’s Rodney going to say?” Yvonne asked.
“Did you make it out alive?” Dionne asked.
“You don’t think he’ll be mad at me?” Yvonne asked.
“Not at you,” Dionne said. “No, I don’t.”
“What would Bumpy say, you know, if it was you?” Yvonne asked.
“He’d be mad, sure,” Dionne said. “But not at me. He’d figure a way to get his revenge on the guy who hurt me, violated me.”
“Oh,” Yvonne said. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Rodney is your husband, not your owner,” Dionne said.
“Why, that’s right!” Yvonne said with a smile. “We should call him.”
“No phone calls,” Gino said. “Not until we’re out of the building. Sorry.”
“Why?” Dionne asked.
“There’s just some stuff going on,” Gino said. “Some Fed thing. There goin’a try to get Jeff to show them where all of his assets are hidden. If they can get him to reveal everything, he’ll get a better deal. My bets on them not bein’ able to do it.”
“You know Jeff well?” Yvonne asked. Her voice was mild but Tanesha could tell she was angry with this Gino.
“Yes,” Gino said. “We went to high school together. He wanted to be made when we were growing up, but my dad didn’t trust him. When he was in college he realized he could get everything he wanted bankrolling this filth.”
Gino gestured to his right and turned down the hallway. Alex Hargreaves and the accountant looking guy from her team stood in the middle of the hallway. They were deep in conversation. Alex’s brow was furrowed. Tanesha thought she looked worried.
“Look,” Yvonne said with a bright smile. “It’s Alex and Matthew.”
Yvonne waved and Matthew smiled. Alex gave a slight shake of her head to the empty space next to her. Tanesha gasped. There was a ghost of a military guy floating next to Alex. Tanesha was so stunned that she stopped flying. That’s a ghost. A real live ghost. Matthew glanced at the spirit before starting toward them. Alex scowled at something down the hallway behind them. She shook her head.
“No!” Alex said. “Not this way. You need to go the other way.”
Yvonne turned to look so quickly that Tanesha ran right into her mother’s head. Yvonne flicked her hand at the pain and Tanesha tumbled end over end until she landed in Alex Hargreaves’s spiked up hair. The ghost seemed to laugh. He said something to Alex. Her hand was moving toward her head. Tanesha tried desperately to get out of the hair before Alex’s hand hit her. Her movements caused her to get stuck in Alex’s no-move hair gel. Her fairy protectors tried to pull Tanesha out but she was really stuck. The ghost moved in what looked like a belly laugh.
Tanesha was about to say something sassy to the ghost when the ghost became very still. Alex’s attention turned to something down the hallway.
“Serpents!” Abi yelled. “Fairy corps!”
Alex Hargreaves gave a low whistle and, as if by magic, ten men appeared in the hallway. Alex’s eyes were locked on something at the end of the hallway.
“Gino,” Alex said.
“Drop,” Alex said.
Gino threw himself at Yvonne and Dionne. They tumbled to the ground.
“Fairy corps!” Abi yelled.
Alex started pointed and moving.
“Sir,” a young man said. “I don’t see it.”
Alex pointed to her nose. He took an exaggerated sniff and nodded. Tanesha suddenly remembered that Alex and her team were there right after they’d killed the serpent. She wondered if the serpents planned to take them to the sea of amber as well.
“Fairy corps!” Abi yelled.
“Hang on, Tanesha,” Alex said under her breath. “It’s going to get interesting.”
Alex pulled a handgun from a holster near her pants line, and started running down the hallway. Tanesha grabbed a tuft of hair and held on for dear life.
“Ow,” Alex said under her breath. “Maybe not that tight.”
Alex had just passed the hallway they’d come down when Tanesha saw it. It was a serpent in the shape of a man. Without hesitation, Alex raised her handgun and shot him in the forehead.
“You need fire,” Tanesha yelled. “That’s the only thing that kills them.”
Alex clapped her hands and two men appeared with actual flame throwers. The serpent-man was on fire when Jeff-the-alpha-banker entered the hallway.
“You’re next,” the pretend bodyguard said to Jeff, who started screeching with fear.
“He’s still going to blow!” Tanesha yelled loud enough for Alex to hear.
“He’s going to blow!” Alex repeated.
She turned in place and started running down the hallway. Her team helped pick up Yvonne, Dionne, and Gino. They’d just made it to the doorway when the man started to swell.
“Fairy corps!” Abi yelled. “You know what to do!”
The fairies circled the man with their wands out. They created a clear barrier made of energy around the man. The man exploded in a massive fireball held in place by the fairy-made container. Tanesha watched in fascination as the man exploded in yellow fire and burned with dark smoke, all held inside the fairy magic. When the man was gone, the immature serpents burned in yellow and orange flames. The barrier held in all of the fire and smoke.
When all that was left was smoke, Abi flew in front of Alex’s face.
“Anything else, sir?” Abi asked.
“Thank you for your help,” Alex said.
“Any time,” Abi said. “We’ll keep an eye out in case they sent someone else.”
Alex gave her a curt nod to dismiss her.
“Yvonne?” Alex led Yvonne and Dionne away from Gino. “Sorry about all the drama.”
“What was that?” Yvonne asked.
“Nothing now,” Alex said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“What about…” Yvonne pointed to where Jeff-the-alpha-banker was sitting. “He said he was already starting another site.”
“Wasn’t that nice of him?” Alex asked.
“Nice?” Dionne asked.
“If he hadn’t we wouldn’t have been able to track down every single person he works with.”
“And all his money?” Yvonne asked.
“And all of his money,” Alex said with a nod. “There’s an interagency argument about who gets him first. Of course, we transferred every penny out of his accounts about an hour ago. I’d be surprised if he survives the day. Of course, we’ll do our best.”
With a smile, Alex took Dionne and Yvonne’s arms and led them away from the people and the mess. Just as they were turning, Tanesha saw another serpent coming out of the ether to attack them. The fairy corps and Alex’s team responded. Alex watched for a moment before leading the women out of the hallway.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Alex said. “We have to get Gino back to prison.”
“Prison?” Dionne asked.
“He’s only out to help us,” Alex said. She nodded to the man. “On his death bed, Gino’s father realized the mistakes he’d made. He made Gino promise that he would clean up the family business and make sure his sons were never in it. Today, he’s accomplished a pretty big goal, and helped us out at the same time.”
She smiled at Yvonne.
“I’d bet you want to call home,” Alex said.
Yvonne smiled and Dionne nodded. Grinning, Alex led them into a locker room for them to shower and change. Alex, with Tanesha stuck in her hair, stayed with Dionne and Yvonne until a Phoenix police officer came to get their statements. Alex left with a wave and a smile.
“Did you hear what they said?” Yvonne asked.
“They say we can fly home tonight,” Yvonne said to Dionne.
“In the morning,” Dionne said.
“Morning, night, who cares?” Yvonne smiled. “It’s over.”
“I sure hope so!” Dionne said. “I sure hope so.”
Wednesday early morning — 3:48 a.m.
Heather was sound asleep when the phone rang. Her heart jumped for fear that something had happened to Blane. She tried to roll over but her round, pregnant belly wouldn’t allow such ease of movement. She scooted on her rear until she could sit on the side of the bed.
“Hello?” Heather asked.
“Heather?” a woman’s voice said on the phone. “It’s Amber. You remember, I’m Blane’s night nurse at St. Joe’s.”
“Blane,” Heather said in a whispered out breath.
“He’s unconscious again,” Amber said. “He seems to be fine. Healing, gaining white cells, I mean, everything’s on track.”
“You don’t know why he’s unconscious,” Heather said.
“That’s what’s weird,” Amber said. “He was asleep. He woke up when you called. After talking to you, he ate a snack, and went to bed again. He was upright, reading a book when he fell unconsciousness.”
“You tried to wake him?” Heather couldn’t keep herself from asking the obvious.
“Of course,” Amber said.
“He’s in a coma,” Amber said. “The doctor said not to call it a coma because we don’t know why it’s happening.”
“But it’s a coma?” Heather asked.
“Yes, yes, I think so,” Amber said. “Unofficially, of course.”
“But he’s alive?”
“He’s definitely alive,” Amber said. “Healing well too, so don’t be disheartened.”
“Um…” Heather said.
“Yeah, easier said than done,” Amber said.
Heather looked at Mack, who was sleeping in his crib in her room, and Tink, who was sleeping on the futon near the door.
“What can I do?” Heather asked.
“We just have to wait it out,” Amber said.
“You don’t know if he’ll come out of this,” Heather said.
“He did last time,” Amber said.
“And this time?
“There’s no way to know,” Amber said.
Heather nodded and then realized Amber couldn’t see her nod.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Heather said.
“We’ll call in the morning and give you an update,” Amber said.
“Oh, and Heather?” Amber asked.
“Yes,” Heather said.
“I’m really sorry,” Amber said.
“Me too,” Heather replied but Amber was gone.
Heather looked at the handset for a moment before setting the phone down in the cradle. She stared at the wall for a moment trying to decide what to do.
“God damned serpents,” Heather said under her breath. “Hera?”
A transparent apparition of the Queen of Olympians appeared.
“I’m ready,” Heather said.
“It’s about time,” Hera said. “What about…?”
She gestured to the children sleeping in the room. Heather went to Tink and shook her shoulder.
“Tink?” Heather asked.
Tink opened her eyes.
“I have to take care of some things,” Heather said. “I’ll be back.”
“You’re sure?” Tink asked. She looked in the direction of Hera, but couldn’t see her with her human eyes.
“I’m sure,” Heather said. “I’ll see you very soon.”
“Okay,” Tink said.
Tink picked up Mack and carried him to the futon. Heather cleared her throat and Tink startled.
“Sorry, I forgot you’re still here,” Tink said.
“Blane’s in a coma again,” Heather said. “If I’m not back by dawn…”
“I’ll call Jill and Sandy,” Tink said.
“See you later,” Heather leaned over to kiss Tink’s cheek. She touched Mack’s soft baby cheek. She helped Tink make a little nest for Mack on the futon.
“It’ll be okay,” Tink said.
“Everything,” Tink said. “You don’t see it, but I do. Everything is in order. Just remember that boats float.”
“In order?” Heather scowled. “Boats?”
Tink gave her a sleepy smile.
“Did you say something?” Tink blinked at Heather.
Heather shook her head.
“See you when you get back,” Tink said.
“Love you,” Heather said. She kissed Tink’s cheek again.
“Me too,” Tink smiled. Heather started out the door when she heard Tink say, “Bye Hera.”
Heather stopped and turned but Tink was clearly asleep. She glanced at Hera.
“She’s a special girl,” Hera said.
“Special?” Heather asked.
Hera smiled. She took Heather’s arm and they disappeared.
Wednesday early morning — 4 a.m.
The phone beside Jill’s bed rang. She sat up in bed.
She fumbled for the light and managed to knock the phone off the table. She heard her sister’s voice coming from the floor. Jill hopped out of bed and dropped to the floor. She grabbed the receiver from under the bed.
“Hello?” Jill asked.
“Jilly?” Megan’s voice sounded panicked.
“What’s up?” Jill asked.
“Do you have Katy?” Megan asked.
“Katy?” Jill asked. “No! I left her at your house!”
“She was here,” Megan said. “Her friend, Paddie, came over for a while with his dad, Colin. They played with the boys until it was bath time. Paddie left and I gave Katy a bath.”
Megan let out a little sob.
“I put her down in the boys room, but …”
“But what?” Jill asked.
“She’s not there!” Megan said. “Ryan got up to use the bathroom and noticed she was gone.”
“Katy’s gone?” Jill’s heart was beating so fast she could barely speak.
The phoneline clicked indicating that there was another phone. Jill scowled at the phone. Jacob had insisted they keep this landline, but Jill didn’t really know how to use it.
“Is that another call?” Megan asked.
“Yeah but …”
“Just click the button,” Megan said. “I’ll hold on.”
Jill clicked the phone.
“Jill?” a woman’s voice asked.
“This is Jill,” she said.
“It’s Julie. You know, Paddie’s mom?”
“Julie, I’m on the other line with my sister. Can we …”
“Do you have Paddie?” Julie asked.
“What? Paddie’s gone, too?” Jill asked.
“You mean you don’t have him?” Julie asked.
“My sister said he and Colin came to her house to play tonight,” Jill said.
“No, I don’t think so,” Julie said. “I mean he and Colin went out but … Colin?”
“I’m going to talk to my sister,” Jill clicked over to Megan. “Meg? Paddie’s gone, too.”
“How is this possible?” Megan asked. Her voice was filled with panic and tears. “The boys didn’t hear a thing. It’s like she vanished into thin air.”
Hearing a noise, Jill looked up. Her father was standing in the doorway.
“It’s time,” Perses said.
“Time?” Jill asked. “What about Katy? Paddie?”
In an instant, she was standing on the shore of a burnt-orange sea. The sea of amber was placid with only a ripple of a wave across the surface. Jill looked up at her father and he pointed. Heather and a woman she didn’t know were standing on a boat at a dock about a hundred feet from her.
“Is this it?” Sandy’s voice came from Jill’s left.
Jill turned to gawk at her.
“The sea of amber,” Sandy said with a nod to Perses. “You ready?”
“I am,” Perses said. “Jill?”
Jill’s mouth moved up and down as if she were a fish out of water.
“That’s a yes,” Sandy said.
Sandy walked toward Heather.
“You ready?” Sandy asked.
“All set,” Heather said.
Jill followed Sandy into the boat. When she turned, she could have sworn she saw her father waving to someone. He gave her a curt nod and stepped into the boat. They pushed off into the sea of amber.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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