Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Six : Five thousand dollars

CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and SIX

Wednesday afternoon — 1:25 p.m.

“Hi girls,” Heather’s mother said from her teller station at the Bank of Denver counter.

“Hi Mom,” Heather said.

“Mrs. Fontaine,” Tanesha said.

Heather’s mom gestured for Mack and Heather passed him across the counter to her mother. Heather’s mother fussed over Mack for a few minutes before looked up at them.

“Are you having lunch?” Heather’s mother asked. “How are you feeling, honey?”

“Good,” Heather said. “Everything’s on track.”

“No morning sickness?” Heather’s mother asked. Heather shook her head. “Must be another boy. What brings you ladies by?”

“I need to get some money from my Dad’s account,” Tanesha said. “He said you could call him if you need his approval.”

“What’s the account number?” Heather’s mom asked while she passed Mack back to Heather.

Tanesha gave her the credit card Rodney had given her and Heather’s mom looked the account up on her computer.

“It looks like you’re a co-owner of this account Tanesha,” Heather’s mother said.

“What’s that mean?” Tanesha asked.

“It means you can withdraw as much as you’d like,” Heather’s mother said. “We don’t need your dad.”

“Oh,” Tanesha said. “Great.”

Heather’s mom put a withdrawal slip in front of Tanesha and she filled it out.

“Five thousand?” Heather’s mom asked. “You sure you want cash? That’s a lot of money for you girls to carry around.”

Heather made an impatient sound, but Tanesha smiled.

“I appreciate your concern, ma’am,” Tanesha said. “I’m… purchasing something. With any luck, I won’t have the money long.”

“I just worry,” Heather’s mom said. “Especially since my Heather has another baby on the way and Mack’s such a dear and…”

“You’re good at worrying?” Heather asked.

“It’s my super power,” Her mother smiled. “Okay, give me a minute and I’ll get new bills so it’s not so noticeable.”

“Thank you,” Tanesha said.

“That was easy,” Heather said in a low tone. “Did you know about the account?”

“No,” Tanesha said. “You know I never pay attention to other people’s money.”

“Unless it’s money in the hand, it doesn’t count,” Heather repeated Tanesha always said.

“Can’t count money you aren’t holding,” Tanesha smiled. Heather laughed. Her mother came around the corner with a stack of bills.

“I hope hundreds are okay,” Heather’s mother said. “I realized I didn’t ask when I was back there but…”

Heather’s mother looked at Tanesha just a second too long. Heather squinted at her mother.

“What?” Heather asked.

“When I went back there, the manager told me that Jeraine was here yesterday. He took out almost everything from his account,” leaning forward, Heather’s mother whispered, “in cash.”

“That was for today,” Tanesha said.

“Oh good,” Heather’s mother’s head bobbed up and down. “You know about it. I was worried that it might be doing drugs or…”

“He was going out with his dad,” Tanesha smiled. “He doesn’t have any cards so if he needs money, he has to carry cash.”

Heather’s mother smiled and set to work at counting fifty one-hundred dollar bills in front of Tanesha.

“I always worry that… well, you girls are a lot luckier with men than I was,” Heather’s mother gave a sad smile.

“I don’t know about that,” Tanesha laughed. “You’ve met my squirrely husband? Seen him in the tabloids?”

Heather and her mother laughed. Tanesha smiled.

“Let’s put it in an envelope,” Heather’s mother said. “And… you’ll be careful.”

“Yes Mom,” Heather’s voice was irritated but she smiled.

“And… I’m sorry about your mom, Tanesha,” Heather’s mother’s eyes welled with tears.

Unsure of what she meant, Tanesha nodded.

“They announced while I was at lunch that she lived there and is likely to be one of the bodies,” Heather’s mother said. “The police are looking for a man and…”

Stunned, Tanesha’s mouth dropped open.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“Thanks Mom,” Heather gave her a hard look and her mother mouthed ‘sorry’. She hustled Tanesha out of the bank.

“What was that?” Tanesha asked when they reached the car. “Is Yvonne dead?”

Heather made a fuss over putting Mack in his car seat and went around to the driver’s seat.

“Is my Mom dead?” Tanesha asked.

“I need to show you something,” Heather said.

“You need to tell me something.”

“Westword is running an article tomorrow saying that State Attorney General guy, you remember Ava’s asshole father, ran prostitutes out of that four-plex. Well this morning, about 9:30, the place caught on fire. They found four bodies. Female.”

“But… but… he said I could have my Mom for five thousand dollars.”

“I know.”

“But…” Tanesha felt her entire world crumble around her. “I have five thousand dollars.”

“Listen. I went down there and found these on the street outside King Soopers.” Heather pulled the yellow tulips from the backseat and set them on Tanesha’s lap. “There’s a receipt with a time stamp. Look. Right there.”

Heather pointed to the time.

“They were in the market when everything happened because the fire started at 9:37.”

“That doesn’t mean he didn’t kill her,” Tanesha said. “I always knew, deep inside, if he would kill her rather than lose her.”

“He always said that when we left,” Heather said. “Bring her back or she’s dead by nightfall. She can’t hide from me.”

Heather gave an involuntary shiver.

“I just try to make it better for her, easier,” Tanesha said. “Because at least she’s alive. If she’s alive, there’s a chance she could get away and… But now…”

“Today maybe her chance,” Heather said. “We don’t know.”

“There’s never been much hope,” Tanesha shook her head.

“You know what I think? I think we should call him,” Heather said. “Let’s see what he says.”

Biting her lip, Tanesha nodded and dialed her mother’s keeper. The phone clicked over to voice mail.

“Voice mail,” Tanesha whispered to Heather. Leaving a message, she said, “I have the money. You tell me where and I’ll get my Mom. No questions asked. No police. I only want my mom so you better take really good care of her or I will hunt you down and make you pay. You will never be able to hide from me. I will find you. Just give me my Mom and you can have your money. If you don’t give me my Mom, you will feel my wrath.”

Tanesha clicked off her call.

“Now what?” Tanesha’s voice cracked with despair. “What do I do now?”

“Let’s go find her,” Heather said. “We know every where he goes, every place he takes her. Let’s go look.”

“You don’t mind?” Tanesha asked.

“Nope,” Heather said. “Let’s go find Yvonne.”

Tanesha pulled on her seatbelt and they started their search.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 12:25 p.m. PT/ 1:25 p.m. MT

When the cab pulled up in front of a building, Ava leaned forward.

“Are you sure this is it?” Ava asked.

“This is the address you gave me,” he said.

Ava paid and got out of the cab. Standing on the sidewalk, she looked up at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center. She took out her phone and called Schmidty.

“I’m here,” Ava said. “But…”

“Great,” Schmidty said. “We’re on the fifth floor.”

“Of Cedar Sinai?”

“The medical center,” Schmidty said. “Seth gets his treatments on Wednesdays.”

“What treatments?” Ava asked.

“The one’s you ordered,” Schmidty said. “Come up and we’ll explain.”

In a flurry of anxiety, Ava jogged into the building. She took the elevator to the fifth floor and went to the nurse’s station. The nurse pointed her in the direction of Seth’s bed. Wearing headphones, his eyes were closed and his body hooked up to a machine which filtered his blood.

“He gets these every Wednesday,” Schmidty said. “So do the other guys. I thought you knew.”

Ava shook her head.

“It’s the only thing that seems to help,” Schmidty said. “The docs think that he can go to every other week after this treatment.”

“Just Seth?”

“The other guys aren’t doing as well,” Schmidty nodded. “But they’re alive, thanks to you. We think they’ll get there.”

Ava nodded.

“Are you all right?” Schmidty asked.

Ava shook her head. Schmidty put a protective arm around her.

“I need to talk to Seth,” Ava said.

“I haven’t told him what happened,” Schmidty said. “We went to the studio and picked up a tape. He’s been listening to it since then. He’s pretty irritated at what he’s hearing, so I didn’t bother him. Best to let him be irritated by himself. Mad artist and all.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Ava bit her lip with anxiety. Her eyes scanned the young man’s face.

“Sure,” Schmidty said.

“Do you think Seth told Westword about…” Her emotions flooded forward. She paused to put them in check. “About my dad?”

“We haven’t seen Barton in… couple months,” Schmidty said. “Since Seth’s doing music work, I’m with him twenty-four hours a day pretty much. Unless he called while he was in Denver… I mean, you’d know if he called then, right?”

Ava nodded.

“You can’t believe everything people say about Seth,” Schmidty said.

“Even if it’s true?” Ava asked.

“What’s truth?” Schmidty shrugged.

“How’s Lizzie?” Ava asked.

“She’s…” Schmidty’s face flushed with color. Unable to respond, he nodded.

“I’m happy for you,” Ava said.

“Me too,” Schmidty beamed. “We’re going really slowly but… She’s my dream girl. Always has been. Just to have the chance to hold her hand, spend time with her, listen to her talk… It’s… a dream come true. She says the same thing, so that’s…”

He beamed and Ava smiled.

“How long does he have?” Ava asked.

Schmidty looked at his watch and wagged his head back and forth.

“Half hour or so,” Schmidty said. “Then we have to get to the studio where heads will probably roll. You wanna tag along or head out to the house.”

“I need to know,” Ava said.

“Ok,” Schmidty said. “Do you mind waiting for him?”

Ava shook her head. They sat down in some chairs near the bed to wait.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 2:25 p.m. MT

“You need to sleep?” Bumpy asked Jeraine after they’d been driving a while.

“Oh, I probably should,” Jeraine said. His swollen mouth created a kind of lisp. “I’m enjoying the jazz, the drive, and the company. But…”

“But?” Bumpy asked.

“I was thinking about Miss T,” Jeraine said. “And I wondered… How did you and Rodney end up being friends? I mean, for me, it was just a fact, something real, like a mountain or an ocean. But now that I’m grown, I can’t see where your lives would have crossed.”

Bumpy smiled.

“Are you going to tell me?” Jeraine asked.

“You know I used to tour,” Bumpy said.

Jeraine nodded.

“I met Rodney and Yvonne at a rest stop just outside of Memphis,” Bumpy said. “Their car had broken down on the highway. They were driving from Alabama to Denver so Rodney could go to college here. The bus pulled into this rest stop and there they were. Rodney with his coal black skin and frying pan hands with this thin, light skinned beauty. They were like a tree and a butterfly.”

Bumpy smiled.

“You don’t remember Yvonne,” Bumpy said.

“No,” Jeraine said.

“She was gorgeous,” Bumpy said. “The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, especially when Rodney was around. They had this light… It sounds crazy, and I was probably high at the time, but it was like the light of God lived inside of them. Everyone noticed the shine.”

Smiling, he fell silent with his memories. Jeraine thought he was done talking when he cleared his throat.

“People say being beautiful is a gift,” Bumpy said. “For Yvonne, it was a more like a curse. Everyone wanted her, wanted to touch her, know her, she just had this… glow about her. What I didn’t know then was that she only had it because Rodney was in her life. Once he was gone, in prison… It was like the light just went out.”

“Why Alabama?” Jeraine asked. “I figured they were from here. Seems like all of Tanesha’s Aunts are in Denver.”

“Rodney’s from Alabama,” Bumpy said. “Yvonne grew up there.”

“Tanesha’s gran isn’t her… gran?”

“No,” Bumpy said. “Tanesha’s grandmother had Yvonne when she was fifteen. They sent her away to live with relatives to have the baby. Yvonne was raised by the relatives. She and Rodney grew up together. Rodney’s smart, probably brilliant. He could go to school almost anywhere. She wanted to come to Denver so she could get to know her mother. So they packed up and came here.”

“Oh,” Jeraine said.

“I saw them sitting there at that rest stop, and I don’t know what it was, but it was like Rodney and I were already friends. I mean, you know how he looks.”

“Scary as hell,” Jeraine said. “And those hands.”

“They make hub caps look small,” Bumpy laughed.

“You didn’t want Yvonne?”

“No,” Bumpy said. “That’s the weird thing. She was beautiful and alluring even, but… I think that’s when I finally realized that I was done with being on the road. It was time for me to go home and get on with my life. Your mother and I decided to settle down about six months later. I stopped touring full time maybe nine months later and quit all together a year or so after that.”

Jeraine watched memories flow across his father’s face.

“Rodney has been the best friend a man could ever want,” Bumpy said.

“Seems like you’ve been a good friend to him too,” Jeraine said.

“That’s how it works, son,” Bumpy said. “With some people, you get what you give.”

He fell silent and they drove for a while. Jeraine was about to say that he should sleep when Bumpy made a sound. Jeraine turned to look at him.

“Rodney and Seth,” Bumpy said. “You need to find friends like that.”

“I don’t have any luck with friends,” Jeraine said. “My so called friends have stolen from me, fed me drugs, and… I don’t know. I’m pretty discouraged.”

“Give it time,” Bumpy said. “When you’re more whole, you’ll find people or they’ll find you.”

“Doesn’t sound like you were so whole when you met Rodney,” Jeraine said.

Bumpy chuckled.

“Well?”

“I think you have to give it some time, son,” Bumpy said. “The pace you’ve been living at… You’re just catching up with yourself. Give it time.”

“Mmm,” Jeraine expressed his doubt.

“You ever notice how Tanesha glows?”

Jeraine looked away from Bumpy.

“Oh come on,” Bumpy said. “You have to have noticed.”

“Noticed?” Jeraine smiled. “Every man in a mile notices her when she lights up. Those movie guys are smitten.”

“You ever think she might light up because of you?”

“No, not even I’m that vain,” Jeraine laughed. Bumpy glanced at him and laughed with him.

“Get some rest, Jer,” Bumpy said. “We have another hour or so. You want to be refreshed for your shining girl when she gets home from school.”

“Thanks Dad.”

“For what?”

“For telling me,” Jeraine said.

Jeraine curled up against the passenger door and fell asleep. They’d gone another fifty miles when Bumpy laughed at his memory of Rodney and Yvonne at that rest stop all those years ago. He reached over and turned on the radio.

“You’re listening to Colorado Public Radio,” the cool voiced announcer said. “Four women’s bodies were found in State Attorney General Alvin’s rental property where Westword reports the State Attorney General ran a prostitution ring for more than a decade. Mr. Alvin went on the defensive at this afternoon’s press conference:

“Do I own the four-plex? Yes,” State Attorney General Alvin’s voice had the practiced echo of a seasoned politician. “Have I owned it for a long time? Yes. But running some kind of whore house? Decades of profiting from the sale of sexual favors? I have three daughters for God’s sake! These ridiculous claims can only be the fictional work of a bitter man who was incapable of solving the Saint Jude serial murders. If I hadn’t stepped in to resolve that situation, the vicious serial killer would still be killing Denver’s sons and daughter…”

Bumpy switched off the radio.

“What is it, Dad?” Jeraine asked.

“Nothing,” Bumpy said. “Just an evil spider spinning his web of lies to cover his own ass.”

“Hmm…” Not asleep, but not quite awake, Jeraine looked over at Bumpy. Seeing how angry his father was, he sat up and repeated, “What is it, Dad?”

“Nothing,” Bumpy said. Feeling his son’s eyes on his face, Bumpy glanced at Jeraine. “It’s just that there’s a bunch of us who know the truth. All of us, everyone who loves Yvonne, we’ve busted our asses to support her where she is because lord knows, he’d kill her rather than let her go.”

“Dad?” Jeraine shook his head. “I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”

“May you never be in the position to support someone who is forced to live her life as a slave,” Bumpy said. “You think, ‘As long as she’s alive, there’s a chance she could get away, to live again, come home.’ And she’s a young woman. But she has to live that life day in, day out while you sit on your hands. It’s not a good place for a man like me. Did you know Tanesha fights with her keeper every single month?”

“She doesn’t talk about her mom,” Jeraine said.

“Every month he tells her she’s lucky Yvonne’s not dead. He never fails to add, ‘Next time you come, she just might be dead.” Bumpy shook his head. “Your wife is tougher than I am. Rodney says she tells him she’ll skin him alive if she comes and her mother is dead. And you know what? I believe her.”

“Me too.”

Bumpy shook his head.

“What?” Jeraine asked.

“Seth’s going to be furious,” Bumpy said.

Jeraine laughed.

“Have you seen him mad?” Bumpy asked.

“More than once,” Jeraine said.

“Well, God bless Aaron Alvin,” Bumpy said. “Maybe he’s gonna finally get what’s coming to him.”

“Why’d you speed up?” Jeraine asked.

“We’d better get back,” Bumpy nodded. “There’s going to be a firestorm and we’d better be there to make sure it doesn’t plant any burning crosses on your Mom’s front lawn.”

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 4:25 p.m. P.T./ 5:25 p.m. MT

“Sorry, it’s taken so long,” Seth said as he came out onto the porch at the Malibu house. Lying in a chaise lounge with her toes pointed at the ocean, Ava looked up from her magazine. He sat in the chaise lounge next to her.

“What’s going on, Seth?” Ava asked.

“Jeraine picked up a sound in our recording,” Seth said. “It’s a long story, but it looks like Jer spotted a faulty recording device. None of the men can hear the sound, but the women can. It’s subtle at best and easy to miss, but the sound may be responsible for tanking more than a few good movies.”

“Sounds like lawyers will get involved,” Ava said.

“Probably,” Seth smiled. “What it means to me is that we need to re-record everything we’ve done so far. That’s not such a huge deal since the orchestra knows their parts and the whole machine is working well. It’s just that…”

He reached a hand out to her which she caught midair. She smiled at him.

“I want to go home.”

“I bet,” Ava said. “How long do you think it will take to re-record everything?”

“Couple weeks, tops,” Seth said. “Especially since Jeraine’s on board. I guess they set up everything at his apartment. We can get him the sound every night, they’ll mixed it and add the sound track to the movie. We’ll know what we need to redo in the morning.”

“Is that different from other times?” Ava asked.

“That kind of turn around is unusual,” Seth said. “It can take months or years even, but since they’ve been through it and Jeraine is there, it should be pretty straight forward.”

Ava smiled.

“Schmidy said you were upset about something,” Seth said.

“Did you tell Westword that my Dad had prostitutes at apartments he owns on Fourteenth?” Ava asked.

“Of course not,” Seth said. “That would be really bad for Yvonne. Why?”

Stunned by his words, Ava’s mouth dropped open and her eyes flooded with tears.

“Wha… What are you saying?” She rocked herself back and forth.

Seth jumped over to her. She let him pull her to him and cried into his chest. He held her as her tears became sobs and her sobs slowed to tears. He continued to hold her after the storm had passed and she clutched onto him like a life raft. When the words came, he shifted back to let her breathe.

“It’s like an answer to a question I didn’t know I had,” Ava said. “Where did all the money come from? Why did we have such a big house? Private schools? Plastic surgery? It’s like I’ve always known and never known at the same time.”

Her face was a wash of sorrow.

“What happened?” Seth asked.

“Barton wrote a story about Dad that says he… did that and…”

“Did?”

“The building caught on fire,” Ava said. “There was a construction crew nearby, Jammy says it was one of Jake’s, they sprayed the building with water so the fire never got too hot so they found… bodies.”

“How many?”

“Four,” Ava said. “Ferg said the women were killed before the fire. If that construction crew hadn’t been there, no one would have ever known.”

Seth’s face showed so much concern that Ava leaned back to look at him.

“What?” Ava asked.

“Nothing,” Seth said.

“Dad had a press conference saying you told Westword because you’re mad that he solved the Saint Jude thing,” Ava said.

“Politicians,” Seth said. “They will and do say anything.”

“You know all about this?” Ava asked.

Seth nodded.

“Will you tell me everything? Not leave anything out?”

“Are you sure?” Seth asked.

“I need to know,” Ava said.

“I’ll tell you everything,” Seth had the sinking feeling that when he was finished, their relationship would be finished too. She was too young to understand the dark side of love. It would take her decades to understand what he was telling her. “Let’s go inside where we can talk in private.”

Ava got up from the lounger and went inside.

For a moment, his heart constricted with pain and sorrow. Looking out over the ocean, every cell in his body longed to go back to this morning when they’d made love in the shower and laughed through breakfast. He closed his eyes to hold onto the memory for just a moment longer.

Seth had never backed down from anything in his life. The woman he loved completely needed him to be that man today. He followed her inside.

The Denver Cereal will continue next week

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