CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and EIGHT
“Whatcha you all doin’?” Jeraine asked. He wiped his hands on his filthy jeans.
“He says.” The man spoke as if he was talking to himself. “He says, Get rid of her. I say, What? He says, You heard me, get rid of her. And then boom”
The man made a big explosion with his hands. Jeraine nodded. The man picked Jeraine up by the shirt lapel and pulled him close to his mouth.
“After twenty-four years. He says, get rid of her. Just like that. You know what that means?”
The man set him down. He gave Jeraine a hard look as his head moved up and down.
“He’s gonna get rid of you?” Jeraine gave the man a bruised mouth, broken toothed smile.
“Exactly,” the man said. “We drove around most of the day before I realized my cell phone’s broke. And why do you think?”
“He cancelled it?” Jeraine asked.
“Sure as shit,” the man said. “Fucker.”
The man nodded to himself and started pacing back and forth again.
“You a pimp, right?” the man asked Jeraine and held his fist out.
“Pimp.” Jeraine tapped fists with the pimp.
The words and movement were automatic. He and his friends used the words to feel powerful, in charge, and on top of the whores of the world. But tonight, the words made him feel ashamed and a little sick to his stomach. He’d been so sure he was a pimp, but he’d been a cog in someone else’s wheel, a slave to the music machine, just as this woman lived as a slave to this man and this man a slave to the man who’d cancelled his phone. The whole thing made him feel small and stupid. Jeraine glanced at the street to make sure Rodney’s truck was nearby in case he needed to jump in to get away from this feeling and the man who’d brought it up.
“Yeah, I thought you looked familiar,” the man said as he walked back and forth. He stopped right in front of Jeraine.
“So I brought her here,” the man said. “She loves dis house, loves dis plum tree. Every year, we come here and she eats plums. And look, the tree is full o’ dem. I figure if Ima gonna have to get rid of her, then she may as well be happy.”
The man nodded as if Jeraine should see what a nice guy he was. Jeraine gave him another ugly broken toothed smile. The man paced back and forth again. He stopped right in front of Jeraine.
“Ima ‘sposed to get five thousand dollars but my cell phone broke and…” When the man leaned in, Jeraine was overwhelmed with the smell of his stress soaked clothing and tobacco. The man whispered, “Now what? Do I take care of it myself? If I kill her, I still don’t have the green. Plus, I can’t kill her myself.”
“No sir,” Jeraine said. “You can’t kill her.”
“Not that I ain’t done plenty of killing in my time,” the man said. “I ain’t afraid to do no killing.”
“You ain’t afraid,” Jeraine’s heart pounded in his chest. What the hell had he walked into?
“But… Ima ‘sposed to be in Saint Louis by dawn,” the man said. “I don’t have no time to do no killing and get to Saint Louis.”
Jeraine glanced at the woman and she smiled at him. As his head turned back to look at the man, he recognized her smile.
“What am I gonna do?” The man started pacing again. “What am I gonna to do?”
“How ‘bout I give you some money?” Jeraine asked. “You sell your problem to me.”
“She’s a good woman,” the man said. “She works hard and the mens? They really like her. You make good money offa her and she ain’t too shy to give a sample or two, if you know what I mean. She’s clean. Gets checked by the doc every month like clockwork. You have five thousand dollars?”
“I have this,” Jeraine pulled the wad of money from his pocket and extended it to the man. The man reached out for it and Jeraine pulled his hand back. “We have a deal?”
The man held his hand out and Jeraine shook it.
“What about this guy who wants you to get rid of her?” Jeraine asked. “I don’t want no problems.”
“There ain’t no problems,” the man sniffed at Jeraine. “He asked me, not you. But between you and me…”
The man leaned into Jeraine again.
“If it’s Saturday morning at eight o’clock and some mens named Aaron Alvin shows up, you’re not home.”
“I’m not home,” Jeraine said.
“Ok,” the man said. “I’m gonna take off.”
He went to the woman and hugged her. She was so surprised she dropped her plums. When he turned, she kneeled down to pick up her fruit. The man walked down the path of the house, out the broken gate, and got into an old sedan. The street lights came on with a buzz and the car drove off. The man honked once and was gone.
“Are you my keeper now?” the woman asked.
“Do you need a keeper?” Jeraine asked.
“Not really,” she said.
“What do you need?”
“I could really use a friend.” Her voice was so sad that he turned to look at her.
“How ‘bout we agree that I’ll be your friend?” Jeraine asked. “I’ll help you get where you need to go next.”
“Will you help me find my Tanni?” she asked. “Tanni’s really smart. She’ll know what’s next for me. I’ve got a few more years until my husband comes home. If I don’t work, things might get really hard for him, you know? Tanni, she’ll know what’s next.”
“I help you,” Jeraine said.
“Then I’d like to be your friend,” the woman gave him a sincere nod.
“Why don’t we pick as many plums as we can and I’ll take you home,” Jeraine said. “You look like you’ve had a long hard day. I bet you’d like to take a bath. I have some nice tea I bet you’d like too.”
“Can we come back tomorrow?” the woman asked.
Her sweet voice and big smile melted Jeraine’s heart.
“Of course,” Jeraine said.
“Then I could use a bath right now,” the woman said. “I got up really early because I was going to see my Tanni today but… You’re right, it’s been a long day. Do friends help friends get something to eat?”
“What would you like?” Jeraine asked.
“My favorite is chicken and I do love chocolate cake,” the woman said. “Is that too much to ask?”
“How ‘bout we stop off at CoraFaye’s and get what we need?”
“CoraFaye’s?” the woman took Jeraine’s elbow. “Why that’s my favorite! But Cora doesn’t make cake.”
“I’ll bake you one myself,” Jeraine said.
“You will?” the woman beamed a smile at him then she stopped walking. Her eyes became huge dark beams of coal. “But you gave him all your money.”
“Nah,” Jeraine said. “He only thinks that.”
She laughed. He opened the passenger door and helped her in the big truck. He went around to the driver’s seat and got in.
“This truck smells like safety,” the woman said. “It smells like home.”
Jeraine smiled at her and started the truck.
“What happened to your mouth?” she asked.
“Got kicked by a donkey.”
“Were you trying to have sex with it?” she asked.
“No,” Jeraine laughed. “Why does everyone say that? Do I look that desperate?”
The woman laughed and they drove over to Colorado Boulevard to find the best soul food restaurant in town.
Wednesday afternoon — 8:17 p.m. MT
“Where is she?” said Rodney as he pushed past Bumpy to get into Jeraine’s penthouse. His eyes were wild with worry brought on by a frantic search along Sand Creek. His clothing was dirty and he smelled of sweat,
“Shh,” Bumpy said. “I gave her a sedative.”
“How…?” Rodney shook his head with confusion.
“Jeraine found her at the old house,” Bumpy said. “He took her to Cora Fayes, fed her chicken, chocolate cake, and that tea they like…”
Rodney smiled in spite of himself.
“Jer called me when she was in the bath,” Bumpy said. “She’s physically fine, but emotionally and mentally exhausted. She doesn’t remember what happened this morning. She just knows that it was horrible. She needs peace, quiet, and sleep.”
“Where is she?” Rodney repeated.
“In their guest bedroom,” Bumpy pointed down the hall.
Rodney ran forward then stopped cold. He spun in place to look at Bumpy.
“Do you think she wants to see me?” Rodney’s face was a mask of panic.
“I know she does,” Bumpy said. “Come on. We’ll go together.”
Bumpy led Rodney down the hallway to the guest bedroom. He opened the door and Rodney stepped in. Seeing Yvonne safe and peacefully asleep, Rodney fell to his knees.
“She won’t wake for at least five hours,” Bumpy said. “You can clean up in there. Jer left a few clean T-shirts and some sweats on the table.”
He pointed to the guest bathroom.
“I’m going home,” Bumpy put his hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “Call me if you need me. Any time.”
When his friend looked up, Rodney’s face was covered with tears. Bumpy patted his shoulder and left the room.
“How did it go?” Jeraine whispered.
“They’re going to be just fine,” Bumpy smiled. “You did a really good thing tonight, son. I’m proud of you.”
“And Tanesha?” Bumpy asked.
“I keep calling her, but it clicks over to voicemail,” Jeraine said.
“Keep trying,” Bumpy said. “It’s time for this family to come back together.”
Bumpy gave Jeraine a bear hug and left the apartment. Jeraine looked at the front door for a moment then went to call Tanesha again.
Wednesday afternoon — 9:17 p.m. MT
Heather and Tanesha held the door for five talking women as they came out of the shop on Colfax. They rushed in before anyone else hogged up the entrance. The shop was full of relaxed, middle-aged women.
“Where is your classroom?” Tanesha yelled to the busy clerk behind the front counter.
“In the far back,” she said. “But the class just got out.”
“We’re looking for Delphie,” Heather yelled. “We’re friends.”
“Straight back,” the clerk pointed then continued ringing up the order.
Heather had to jog to catch up with Tanesha. Over the last two hours of looking for Yvonne, Tanesha had become increasingly desperate. If Yvonne was still out, she had to be dead. But there was no word from anyone. No one had seen her. The police came up with nothing.
Delphie was their last hope. She was standing at the front of the room talking with a few women. When she saw them come in, she smiled at the women and excused herself.
“Where’s my mom?” Tanesha grabbed Delphie by the arms. “Please. Is she dead?”
“Go home,” Delphie said.
“I can’t go home,” Tanesha let go of Delphie. She shook her head. “I have to find her. I won’t let her sit out all night all alone. She doesn’t deserve that. Please, please tell me where she is.”
Heather grabbed her best friend and hugged her to her.
“She’s waiting for you,” Delphie said.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Bell,“ Heather said. “But we don’t really understand… all of this. Tanesha won’t rest until she finds her mother.”
Delphie rubbed Tanesha’s back with her hand.
“Is Tanesha’s mother alive?” Heather asked.
“Yes, thank God,” Delphie said. “It was touch and go for a long time, but she… Yvonne did really good.”
“Ma’am, please forgive us but we don’t… You know, we aren’t…” Heather leaned in to whisper. “Psychics. We don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Can you make it really simple for us… um… simpletons?” Heather asked.
“Yvonne is at Tanesha’s apartment,” Delphie said.
As if time stopped, Heather and Tanesha gawked at Delphie.
“Alive?” Tanesha asked.
“Very much alive,” Delphie said. “Rodney is with her now.”
“What?” Tanesha asked.
“Go home,” Delphie said. “She’s with Rodney and Jeraine in that apartment in the sky.”
Tanesha turned and ran out of the room. Overwhelmed, Heather hugged Delphie in thanks and jogged after Tanesha.
“Did you hear that?” Heather asked Jill on the speaker of Tanesha’s phone.
“Got it,” Jill said. “I’ll let everyone know. Go!”
Heather and Tanesha jumped into Heather’s car. Heather drove as fast as she could down Colfax. When Heather stopped at the light, Tanesha jumped out of the car at Fillmore Street and ran across Colfax. Heather watched her friend go. She said a silent prayer for her friend and drove home.
“How did it go?” Blane asked.
“Delphie says Yvonne’s at Tanesha’s house,” Heather said.
“I’m really glad,” Blane said. “I love how everyone…”
“I’d look for you all night and all day until I found you,” Heather said. “You will never be a lost boy again.”
“I love you for saying that,” Blane hugged her close. “But I’d just ask Delphie.”
Wednesday afternoon — 9:27 p.m. MT
Tanesha bounced on her toes in the familiar penthouse elevator as it rose to the condo. She had no idea what was going on. She had no idea what she would walk into. For the life of her, she couldn’t imagine how her mother ended up in the penthouse. Had Jeraine and his Dad been out whoring around town and found her? Was she alive? Tanesha’s mind reeled at all the possibilities. When the penthouse elevator opened, she paused to listen.
The place was silent.
She heard footsteps and saw Jeraine jog toward her. In a moment, she was encased in his tight arms. His shoulder pressed against her face, her strong, raw emotion came forward. She began to sob.
She wasn’t sure how long they stood there on the elevator. A long time. He held her tight and she wept. There were moments when she would have fallen if he had let go. He didn’t let go. He didn’t say anything or make a joke or try to fix it. He just held her hard and tight.
“Where’s my mom?” Tanesha whispered when the rawness of her emotions eased.
“Asleep in the guest bedroom. Dad gave her a sedative so she could sleep,” Jeraine said. “Your Dad’s with her.”
“Oh God.” Tears flooded forward and this time Jeraine kissed her neck, her face and finally her lips. Stirred by her own emotional release, she kissed him hard and he flinched.
“What happened to your mouth?” she leaned back to look at him.
“I got kicked by a donkey,” he said. “And not because I was trying to have sex with it.”
“Sex with a donkey?” Tanesha laughed. “You say the craziest things.”
He laughed. Taking her hand, they walked to the guest bedroom. Tanesha opened the door a crack and peeked in. Her mother was lying on the bed and her father on the floor. She closed her eyes tight and when she opened them again, her mother was still asleep on the bed and her father on the floor.
“She’s still there,” Tanesha whispered and pulled the door closed. She stood with her eyes closed and her hand on the knob for a moment. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I called you about 30 times tonight,” Jeraine said.
“Oh,” Tanesha said. “You did?”
“I did,” Jeraine nodded. “First, I couldn’t call you because well… everything that happened and she was… upset. We got CoraFayes, ate, and Dad came over to check her. There’s some chicken and cake left for you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “This is my dream… come true. Thank you.”
Jeraine smiled. He took her hand and led her into the kitchen.
“I bet you haven’t eaten all day either,” he said.
Tanesha shook her head.
“After I made the cake?” Jeraine cut a piece for Tanesha. She picked it up with her fingers and began to eat. “She kept telling me I should meet someone named Tanni. Tanni this and Tanni that. She thinks me and Tanni are soul mates.”
Her mouth full of cake, Tanesha choked a laugh.
“Just so you know,” he said. “You are not your mother’s first pick for me.”
Still choking and laughing, Tanesha got a glass and filled it from the tap. When she finished drinking, she smiled at him.
“What is my name?” she asked.
“Tanesha,” Jeraine smiled. “I call you Miss T.”
“Tan-E-sha,” she said.
“You’re Tanni?” Jeraine asked.
“Only to my mother,” she said.
“That’s very good,” Jeraine said. “We’re perfect for each other.”
“I don’t even know how you found her. You will tell me every detail, right?”
“Why don’t you go sit down?” Jeraine asked. “I’ll warm up the chicken and bring it out to you. Come on.”
He took her hand and led her to the couch in the living room. Pictures flashed across their flat screen television.
“Who’s that?” Tanesha asked.
“Um…” Jeraine picked up the remote to turn up the sound. “That’s the State Attorney General… uh… Alvin? He’s supposed to own that building your mom lived in. I think that’s a retrospective on his life in politics. The Denver Police expect him to arrest him tomorrow morning.”
As if drawn by a magnet, Tanesha floated to the screen. Her eyes glazed over. Jeraine rushed to her side.
“That’s him,” she said.
“That’s the man who…” Tanesha stopped talking. “And Mom…”
She gestured to the guest bedroom.
“I thought you didn’t remember what happened,” Jeraine said.
“I didn’t,” Tanesha said. “But that picture, the one that was on when we came in? That’s him.”
Jeraine felt a surge of rage for the man who’d hurt her so deeply. Tanesha stared at the television like she’d seen a ghost. Seeing her pain, and knowing his anger wasn’t what she needed, he put it away.
“They’re going to arrest him tomorrow,” Jeraine repeated.
“What do we do?” Tanesha asked. “Because…”
“We call Seth,” Jeraine said.
“No,” Tanesha said. “We call Sandy and she calls Seth.”
“You’re sure,” Jeraine said.
“Dead sure,” Tanesha said. “100%.”
“Whatever you want, whatever you need,” he said. “I’m here for you.”
“And the donkey,” Tanesha laughed.
“Oooh look at your teeth!” Tanesha said.
“Dad’s gonna loan me the money to fix them.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Nah, he gave me antibiotics and stuff,” Jeraine said. “I’ll go get dinner and you call.”
Tanesha nodded and dialed her phone.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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