CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FIVE
Wednesday — 10:35 a.m.
“Hey hon,” Blane said when Heather answered the phone. “Are you watching TV?”
“No,” Heather said. “I was getting Mack ready for school. He was a little fussy this morning so I let him sleep after you left. He’s just getting around.”
“Is he all right? Is he sick?” The worry in Blane’s voice made Heather smile.
“I think it’s another tooth,” Heather said.
“No,” Mack reached up for the phone and Heather smiled. “He’s okay. Plus, we’re just going to lunch and hanging out with Sandy. I can always stop by and pick him up if he’s fussy.”
“Oh right, lunch,” Blane said. “That’s why I called. Turn on the TV.”
“Okay.” With Blane on her hip, Heather went into their bedroom and looked for the remote control. “Any idea where the remote is?”
“Next to the window,” Blane said.
“You could just tell me what…” Heather clicked on the television. The screen lit up with pictures of an intense fire burning through a building. “Oh.”
“That’s Tanesha’s mom’s house right?” Blane asked. “We have a crew out in that area vacuuming sewers. They said they heard a gas explosion. The police have cordoned off the entire area.”
Heather took in scene. The picture switched to a live report in front of the blackened four-plex. She could make out four body sized shapes covered with white sheets. Water continued to stream into the charred remains of the building from fire trucks lining Fourteenth Avenue.
“They found bodies,” Blane said. “The guys said no one could have survived the fire. You think…?”
“She’s always there in the morning,” Heather said. “Always. Especially today when she knows I’m coming to get her.”
As she watched, a black limousine pulled up and State Attorney General Aaron Alvin stepped out.
“Who’s that?” Heather asked.
“State Attorney General… um… Alvin.”
“The radio says he owns the building,” Blane said. “Westword is running an article tomorrow saying that he’s run prostitutes out of the four-plex for decades.”
“He’s Yvonne’s owner?” Heather was so shocked that Mack made a surprised sound. She looked down at her baby. “He’s a very bad man, Mack. Not like you.”
Heather watched Ava’s father survey the scene as if he was the injured party.
“I can’t just watch this,” Heather said. “I have to go see for myself.”
She jumped into action. Setting Mack in the middle of their King sized bed, she stuffed her feet into exercise shoes.
“I’ll meet you there,” Blane said.
“No,” Heather said. “You can’t be near the smoke.”
“Ok, but don’t go on your own, okay? They haven’t found the source of the gas yet,” Blane said. “Find our truck and the crew will go with you.”
“Okay,” Heather picked up Mack, grabbed her purse and ran down the stairs. “Oh my God, Blane, I don’t want to have to tell Tanesha that her mother’s dead. She…”
“She’s always hoped her mom would come home,” Blane said. “I know.”
Heather ran through the downstairs and to her car.
“I’ll call you when I know anything,” Heather said.
“You’ll look for our guys?” Blane asked.
She dropped Mack into his car seat and fastened the buckles.
“I will,” Heather said. “Love you.”
“Love you, Heather,” Blane said. “And… I’m really sorry.”
“The bastard is cleaning his tracks,” Heather said. “Fucker.”
Heather clicked off the phone before she went into a complete rant. Blane was only just starting to get better. He didn’t need to hear her rage at the man who’d stolen Tanesha’s mother and ruined her friend’s life. She started her Subaru and drove out Park Avenue to Fourteenth. She was almost there when Mack made a sound.
Stopped at the light at Holly, Heather looked back to see his fist in his mouth. He laughed as if he was caught doing something he shouldn’t. His small gesture and smile wiped the dark thoughts from Heather’s mind. She switched on a music CD he liked and drove to the edge of King Sooper’s parking lot. She had just pulled into a spot on the street when a man from Lipson Construction tapped on her window. She waved and got out.
“Blane said you’d come.” He looked worried. “It’s not a great place for a lady and a baby.”
“My best friend’s mother lives there,” Heather said.
She got out of the car and went around to get Mack. When she stood up, the other two Lipson Construction employees were standing near her.
“If you’d like, I can take Mack, ma’am,” a young woman said.
“Oh, no…um…” Heather looked up the street at the police, fire trucks, and media circus. She swallowed hard. “Can you just go with me? Would you mind?”
“Not at all,” the crew chief said. They started walking along the edge of the chaos on Fourteenth Avenue. The crew gathered around her and Heather. “We were working around the corner. Lipson employee owners wanted to try some smaller jobs to see if they were profitable, so Jake got the contract to clean and check the sewers in this area. We’ve been working up here for three weeks.
“We were just around the corner,” the young woman said.
“It’s a risk, with the sewers, you know,” the crew chief said. “If the gas builds up in the sewer, it can explode.”
“Our work can make that happen,” the man she’d met at the car said.
“These sewers are a mess,” the young woman said. “Either they weren’t done in the spring or…”
“We’re choosing to report that this area has heavy usage,” the crew chief said.
“But we think they weren’t done,” the young woman said.
“We heard the sound and thought it was from us!” the man she’d met at the car said. “From the sewer!”
“We checked everything real quick,” the crew chief said.
“Reported in immediately,” the young woman’s eyes became big. “Then I saw… and…”
As fast as they’d begun chatting, the Lipson crew fell silent. They continued walking until they were standing under the trees across the street. The water from the fire trucks poured into the building. The police directed traffic into the lane in front of them. And State Attorney General Alvin paraded around like an indignant peacock.
“I’ll tell you, Heather,” the crew chief said in a low voice. “The police told us not to talk to anyone, but since you’re Lipson family, I’ll tell you… We were here, right here, not thirty seconds after the explosion and…”
He swallowed hard.
“Everyone was dead,” the young woman whispered. Even with the wind and sirens and cars, Heather heard her whispered words like they were shouted from a bull horn next to her ear.
“There was a woman lying on her face…” the man she’d met at her car pointed to the apartment next to Tanesha’s mom’s place.
“The fire, not a minute after, was already burning the entire roof,” the crew chief said. “We used hoses but…”
“They were already dead,” the young woman whispered.
Heather lowered her head and put her hand over her eyes to block the view for a moment. She felt the young woman lift Mack from her hip. Heather sighed and opened her eyes.
As if they were placed there just for her to see, two cellophane bundles of yellow tulips sat in the gutter just east of where she was standing. She walked over to them and picked them up. The receipt was tucked into the cellophane wrapper.
“When did this happen?” Heather asked.
“9:37,” the crew chief said.
Heather’s finger traced the time stamp on the receipt. 9:23 a.m.
“Do you think your friend’s mom…?” the crew chief asked.
“No,” Heather shook her head. “I mean, I don’t know for sure but… I don’t think so.”
“Oh that’s good,” the young woman said. “That’s really good.”
“I think we all feel better,” the crew chief said. “I mean, the whole thing is horrible, but if a Lipson friend was killed…”
“That makes it personal,” the man she’d met at the car said.
“We can stay with you as long as…” the crew chief said.
“Thank you,” Heather said. “But you can go do what you need to. Thank you for being here for me. I appreciate it.”
The Lipson Construction crew walked her back to her car and helped her with Mack. When they left, Heather sat with the car idling.
If Yvonne wasn’t here, where was she?
She’d better get to Tanesha before she found out. Nodding to herself, she started toward the University of Colorado Medical School.
Wednesday — 10:55 a.m.
Tanesha pushed her way through the door into her Nervous System lecture and started down a row of seats near the middle of the auditorium. She nodded to a young man sitting in the row, set her book bag in the empty chair next to her, and sat down. Pulling out her notebook and pencil, she noticed that her cell phone message light was flashing. She flipped through the list of calls she’d missed – Jeraine, Sandy, Heather – probably to confirm lunch, Jeraine, and… a number she recognized. Without thinking, she dialed back the number.
“What?” she asked.
“You want her, you can have her,” her mother’s keeper said. “Five thousand dollars.”
“What?” Tanesha’s heart raced. She’d begged and pleaded with this man for years to let Yvonne come home.
“You heard me,” the man said. “You give me five thousand dollars and she’s all yours. Call me back when you have the money.”
The line clicked. He was gone. Tanesha stared at her phone.
“Ok, let’s get started,” the teacher on the stage below said.
Tanesha stuffed her phone into her bag and started taking notes. In the back of her mind, she heard – “My Mommy’s coming home today!” – repeated over and over again. Tanesha smiled and settled down to work.
Wednesday — 12:55 p.m.
“Yeah.” Driving to work, Ava hit the button on the blue tooth headset she called the fallopian tube or f-tube for short. She was late and assumed that Nelson was calling her to pick up coffee.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” Her elder sister’s voice was mean and loud. Ava turned the sound down on the f-tube.
“Uh… when?” Ava asked. “Are we talking about something I did when we were kids? Or the Saint Jude thing? Or… I’m late to work?”
“Dad is livid!” Her sister’s voice rose with hysteria. “Mom was so upset the doctor had to give her something. And…”
Ava showed her badge to the parking attendant while her sister rambled off the status of her family’s most recent drama.
“Mom’s so upset that I’m late to work that she had to be sedated?” Ava pulled into her parking spot and got out of the car.
“Your boyfriend lied to Westword about Dad!”
“Uh…” Ava said as she opened the trunk to get her backpack. “My boyfriend?”
“O’Malley told that horrible Barton Gaston lies about Dad,” her elder sister said. “The DA told me to go home for a few days while everything cools off.”
“Seth’s in LA dealing with some crisis,” Ava flung her backpack over her shoulder and started toward the door. She saw Seth’s friend, Captain Ferguson, waiting at the door. “I’m about to go in. Would you like to tell me what we’re talking about?”
“Westword is printing an article saying that Dad has made a fortune off of prostitutes at the four-plex. And it’s all your fault.”
“That he owns on Fourteenth? God, Amelie, you’re such a child. The world just floats around baby Amelie.”
“Well, I’m paying attention now and you’re not making any sense, as usual,” Ava said. “Dad’s running for office. The newspapers print stupid crap all the time. So what?”
“This one has photos of Dad and some whore,” her elder sister said. “Plus, the apartment blew up this morning. Gas leak. They’re saying Dad did it to cover up his prostitution ring.”
“Ok, so Dad’s been pimping out of a four-plex on Fourteenth Avenue,” Ava said. “I guess that explains how he paid for our private schools.”
“And the building blew up! Women died!”
She reached the door where Captain Ferguson was waiting. She held up a finger to him and he nodded.
“So there’s a crime scene,” Ava said. “Outside of letting me know where I’ll probably be working today, how does any of this have anything to do with me? Or Seth?”
“Seth O’Malley lied to Westword about Dad,” her elder sister said. “And, just so you know, Dad says Seth owns prostitutes all over town. And…”
“I have to go,” Ava hung up her phone. She looked up at Captain Ferguson.
“What do you know?” he asked.
“My sister says that Westword’s reporting that my father has been prostituting women out of an investment property he owns,” Ava said. “I know he owns buildings, rentals, all over town, but… She says that my father says that Seth owns…”
She looked up in to the Captain’s face and saw that he knew all of this.
“There were four bodies, Ava,” Captain Ferguson said. “Four females. The coroner thinks their throats were cut. The fire inspector found enough evidence to believe that the fire was staged to cover up the evidence. I guess there was a construction crew nearby. They used garden hoses on the fire until the fire department got there. If they hadn’t been there…”
“The fire was hot enough to destroy everything,” Ava said in a low voice.
“Crematorium hot,” Captain Ferguson said.
“Sounds like a professional hit,” Ava said.
“Seems that way,” Captain Ferguson said. “As it is, identification is going to be tough. The coroner has already called Seth’s friend Delphie to help out.”
“And they think my dad…?” Ava was so shocked she didn’t know how to complete the sentence.
“I’m giving you the rest of the week off,” Captain Ferguson said.
“But my lab can’t afford a week off!” Ava said. “Leslie’s just back and Bob is saving to take his wife on a cruise for their anniversary and Nelson…”
“Just you,” Captain Ferguson said. “Most labs are run by civilians. We’ve asked Bob to take over for the rest of the week.”
“You took my lab?” Ava felt her sister’s hysteria begin to rise in her chest. “I lost my lab?”
“No,” Captain Ferguson said. “No one is taking anything from you.”
“We’re trying to protect you,” Captain Ferguson said. “I called Seth. That boy who follows him around is arranging for you to fly out there for the rest of the week. Seth said to just come.”
“I’m going to drive you home,” Captain Ferguson said. “I’m off shift.”
“To make sure I go?”
“To make sure you’re all right,” he said. “I don’t know how you’ve missed this shit storm so far today, but it’s spreading fast. I want you out of town when this explodes because it’s nasty enough and smelly enough to stick to anything it lands on.”
“I was getting my hair cut,” Ava said.
The Captain glanced at her inch long hair and nodded as if he understood. She was about to press past him, to go to her lab, and stake her claim, when she saw his concern for her. She nodded. They walked together back to her car.
The big man held his hand out and she gave him the keys. When he drove out of the parking lot, she saw what she’d missed driving with her sister ranting in her ear – news reporters lined the street. When they saw her car, they started screaming and yelling her name. Over the bevy of sounds, Ava heard: “Did Seth set up your father?” “Does O’Malley have grudge because your father solved the Saint Jude case?” “Is your father…” Captain Ferguson revved the engine. A police cruiser was waiting for them on the corner to lead the way. Another cruiser followed behind. With lights flashing, they sped to Seth’s house.
Avoiding the reporters at the house, he went around the back and ducked into the garage. The garage door was almost to the ground before the vultures with their microphones came running toward them. Maresol met them on the back lawn.
“It’s been crazy here,” Maresol said. “Dale is staying to make sure the house is all right.”
“We’ll have a detail out front,” Captain Ferguson said. “They should be here by now.”
Maresol ushered them into the house.
“I packed a bag for you, Amelie,” Maresol said. “You should go change.”
Dazed, Ava nodded and went upstairs. When she returned, Captain Ferguson was gone and Dale was sitting at the counter.
“Did your talk to your family?” Maresol asked.
“My sister called,” Ava said. “I… Do you think Seth…?”
“The truth always finds a way to come out,” Maresol shrugged. “Seth? Someone else? It doesn’t matter. La verdad es hija del tiempo.”
Ava nodded. Maresol was right, the truth is time’s daughter.
“Am I a pimp’s daughter?” Ava asked.
“Come on,” Maresol said. “Let’s get out of here.”
At the garden gate, Ava hugged Dale and thanked him for staying. When the gate closed, she felt more than heard the wall of sound from the reporters. A uniformed Denver Police Officer took her and Maresol by the arm and led them to the back of a white Denver Police Department SUV. In what felt like a second, Ava was sitting in first class on her way to LA.
Feeling something on her ear, she reached up and touched the f-tube. She took the Bluetooth device off her ear. Looking at the device, her ears rang and a wall of emotion hit her.
Ava began to cry.
Wednesday afternoon — 1:25 p.m.
There was a solid “Whump” and Jeraine screamed.
Bumpy sprinted across the open plain in the direction of the sound. Turning the corner, he saw Jeraine on his hands and knees. Blood poured from his mouth.
“What happened? What happened? What happened?” he yelled as he ran. Jeraine shook his head. As he neared, he heard a braying and a donkey’s head peered from behind a tall Cottonwood tree nearby.
By the time he reached Jeraine, his son was sitting up and holding a handkerchief to his mouth.
“What happened?” Bumpy dropped down to Jeraine.
“That thing kicked me,” Jeraine said.
“What were you doing? Trying to mount it?” Bumpy asked.
Even in pain, the absurdity of the question made Jeraine laugh.
“Yeah, Dad, I got so horny out here in the middle of nowhere. Since you were over there by the house, I thought I’d get me some donkey,” Jeraine laughed. “Don’t tell Tanesha, okay?”
Sitting back, Bumpy laughed, and then he saw Jeraine’s mouth.
“Oh lord, your mother is going to kill me,” Bumpy said.
“Why?” Jeraine asked.
“Your girlfriend broke some of your teeth,” Bumpy said.
“Oh,” Jeraine put his hand to his mouth. Two of his incisors had broken off near the gum. “Shit.”
He spit out a glob of blood from his mouth.
“Shit?” Bumpy asked. “You don’t seem so upset about it.”
“You remember when I had gold teeth and a diamond right there?” Jeraine asked.
“I remember when you looked a fool,” Bumpy said.
“Turns out all that gold weakens your teeth. This one on the right broke when they took the diamond out,” Jeraine said. “They capped the teeth. I guess I’m going to have to spring for implants now. Wanna loan me the money?”
“Sure,” Bumpy said. “How’d it happen?”
“I must have I startled the donkey-beast,” Jeraine said. “It was lying in the shade under this tree when I came around from the river. It hopped up and gave a little kick.”
“And caught your mouth,” Bumpy put his head back and laughed.
“That donkey was fast,” Jeraine said.
“Let me take a look at you,” Bumpy said.
Jeraine let Bumpy look at his mouth and lips.
“You’re mouth is going to swell up. You’ll be pretty bruised; nothing looks broken though,” Bumpy said. “Jeez, you’re filthy. How did you get so dirty?”
“Hanging out with you?”
Bumpy looked down at his own clothing.
“We’re a match,” Bumpy said. “I have some ice in the truck. We’d better get back.”
“You want to stay out here?” Jeraine asked. “I don’t want to spoil the day.”
Bumpy turned to look at him.
“I’m enjoying spending time with you,” Jeraine said.
“Me too,” Bumpy said.
“If you want to stay for more…”
“No, it’s all right, son,” Bumpy said. “There isn’t much more to see here.”
“I like it,” Jeraine said. “I tell you sometimes I wish I could move out to a little cabin in a place like this – only dirt roads in, no way out in the winter, not press, no phones, no Internet, no cops, no drugs, no noise. In the middle of the noise and people and press and… this would have been paradise to me.”
Bumpy put his hand on Jeraine’s shoulder and nodded. He got up and held out a hand. Jeraine took it and hopped up. They started walking back to the truck.
“You going to do it, Dad?” Jeraine asked. “You going to let the oil people have the mineral rights?”
“We’re in the middle of this part of the Niobrara oil field,” Bumpy said. “If we don’t, the other’s won’t be able to either.”
“We don’t need the money,” Jeraine said.
“I thought you were broke,” Bumpy said. “Needed to borrow money for your teeth.”
“I am, but…” Jeraine pulled a wad of money out of his pocket. “I have this.”
“What are you doing with all that money?” Bumpy scowled.
“I thought you were in trouble,” Jeraine shrugged. “I didn’t know what, but I figured I’d get as much as I had in case you needed it. If we needed more, I’d sign a loan or call Schmidty.”
Bumpy’s eyes became moist. He nodded to Jeraine and cleared his throat. They were silent for a moment to let the emotion pass.
“Itth not enoutth for teeth,” Jeraine’s mouth had started to swell.
Shaking his head, Bumpy chuckled. They walked in silence.
“This land belongs to your Grandmother,” Bumpy said when they neared the truck. “She’d get the proceeds from anything they pulled out of the ground here. Outside of buying her a house, she’s never let me… help. Maybe with this…”
He shook his head and got into the driver’s side of the truck. When Jeraine got in, Bumpy held an ice pack out to him. Jeraine pressed it against his mouth and grimaced.
“You ever owe someone everything and have no way to repay it?” Bumpy asked.
“Yeth,” Jeraine nodded and looked into his father’s eyes. Bumpy started the truck.
“There sure is a whole lot of nothin’ out here,” Bumpy said.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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