CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and SIXTEEN
“Get in the last stall!” Agent Rasmussen yelled to Yvonne.
Scrambling on her hands and knees, Yvonne shimmied into the small stall near the end. A tall, thin woman, she stepped between the toilet and the tile wall.
Someone hit the bathroom door.
Someone hit the door again.
Feeling something drop on her, Yvonne looked up. A tiny brown skinned woman’s face peered at her. The woman held her finger to her mouth and Yvonne nodded. The woman lowered a rope to Yvonne and demonstrated with her hands what to do with it. Yvonne clipped the rope around her middle and was pulled up into the ventilation system. Hands, lots of hands, pulled her into the duct. She scooted on her back until she reached some kind of a cot.
The cot whisked through the ducts like an amusement park ride. Terrified, she closed her eyes tight. The cot jerked to a stop.
“Yvie!” he said.
She opened her eyes and saw Rodney’s face.
“Oh Rodney, you always make the worse day better,” she said.
Laughing, he helped her up. She was standing in a room surrounded by Denver Police Officers and military people. Men and women in blue suits were working on computers. She recognized drawings from her journal on more than one computer screen. Standing in front of four computer screens near the center of the room, General Hargreaves’s daughter Alex waved to her. Someone dropped a blanket over her shoulders and it seemed like everyone was talking at once.
She heard a laugh and saw Samantha Hargreaves lifted out of the air conditioning duct with that cute Agent Rasmussen crawling out behind her. They held each other for a moment before looking around.
Yvonne threaded her finger through Rodney’s and looked up at him.
“I guess this is it,” she said.
“This is what?” Rodney asked.
“We get to live happily ever after now.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, Rodney held her close.
Friday mid-day — 12:15 p.m. PT (1:15 p.m. MT)
“Where would you like to go to lunch?” Seth asked.
He held the door of the concert hall open for Ava and followed her through it. With his phone pasted to his ear, Schmidty followed them. They were almost to the limousine when Seth’s phone vibrated. He stopped to open the door for Ava before checking. He smirked at the text and got in the car. Schmidty slipped in behind him and closed the door.
“What’s with you and your phone today?” Ava asked.
“What do you mean?” Seth asked.
“Usually Schmidty has your phone,” Ava said. “At least when I call, I always get him.”
“I had a few things I wanted to keep an eye on today,” Seth said.
“Redoing the sound tracks has screwed up our schedule,” Schmidty said. “We’re already starting to get ready in Denver.”
“Uh huh,” Ava said. “You know, you smile like that whenever you lie.”
“You do,” Seth said.
“Oh,” Schmidty said.
“What’s so important that you have your boy here lying for you?” Ava asked.
“Your father,” Seth turned to look at her.
“Should I go up front?” Schmidty asked.
“No,” Ava said. “Whatever my father’s doing, I’m sure it’s all over the news and if it’s not? I should know anyway.”
Seth turned and took Ava’s hands.
“Your father said he would go in witness protection in exchange for his testimony in the prostitution matter,” Seth said.
“He did?” Ava asked. “I wonder why Mom didn’t call to tell me.”
“Just him,” Seth said.
“Just him,” Ava scowled. “You mean he’s going into witness protection and the rest of us are on our own?”
“And?” Ava asked. “I know by the look on your face there’s an ‘and’ so you may as well spit it out.”
“His deal includes one of his… women,” Schmidty looked at Seth and he nodded.
“One of his women…” Ava’s voice drifted. She sat up straight when she understood what Schmidty was saying. “You’re saying he made a deal to live happily ever after with Tanesha’s mother?”
“I’m sorry,” Seth said.
“Against her will?” Ava shook her head as if it was impossible.
“Oh wow,” Ava said. “Really?”
“And my Mom? My sisters? Me?” Ava shook her head.
“He turned in his mob connections in exchange for witness protection and Yvonne Smith,” Seth said.
“But…” Ava’s mouth opened and closed. She leaned forward and whispered, “What about us?”
“He’s ensured that you don’t know anything,” Seth said. “The Marshalls have assessed that you, your sisters and your mother are most likely not in any danger.”
“Most likely…” Ava said. “Does Mom know?”
“No,” Schmidty said. “I spoke with her this morning. She thinks your dad is on a business trip.”
“It gets worse, right?” As if she couldn’t accept what she knew was true, Ava shook her head. “Has to be worse.”
“He made a deal for all of his money,” Seth said.
“All of his money…” Ava’s eyes went wide. “You mean he cashed in our life, our entire life, for Yvonne and witness protection.”
“Seth had me go over the documents,” Schmidty said. “He gave them everything and what he couldn’t give them, the Feds will take soon enough.”
Ava fell silent. She shifted away from Seth and looked out her window. Schmidty tapped on the window and talked to the driver about lunch. He had just chosen a restaurant when Ava gasped. She grabbed Seth’s arm.
“But Seth, what about Yvonne? You have to do something. She can’t live her life as a hostage to my father’s obsession. Seth, what about Yvonne?”
“She’s safe,” Seth smiled. Seth took out his phone and showed her the last text he’d received. It said, “Safe and sound.”
“They got her to come downtown on the pretense that she would testify against Alvin… uh… your father,” Schmidty said. “They greased the wheels to have her collected by a few of their friends. The plan was to grab her and slip away into Witness Protection.”
“The plan was…” Ava said. “What happened?”
“Yvonne and Rodney are not without friends,” Seth smiled.
“Tanesha started it,” Schmidty said. “She beat up that rapist.”
“What?” Ava asked. “Tanesha was raped?”
“She was supposed to be beaten and raped, brutalized, to convince her not to testify against your father.”
“Wow,” Ava said.
“She beat the guy bad,” Schmidty chuckled. “And her dad scared the shit out of him. He told the police everything he knew, which was enough to get some of the wheels moving.”
“Maresol is one of Yvonne’s best friends,” Seth said. “She said she would be damned if she was going to lose her friend again. So we’ve been in the loop from the beginning. We’ve worked the Denver police…”
“Homeland Security, the NSA…” Schmidty smiled. “That’s what I was doing last night.”
“Is Tanesha okay?” Ava asked.
“Her jaw is broken,” Seth said. “But otherwise, she seems okay.”
“God, poor girl,” Ava said.
“I’m glad you say that,” Seth said.
“Rodney and Yvonne want to get remarried tonight,” Seth said. “Late. We’re invited, but I’d understand if you…”
“I’d like that,” Ava said. “I want to see her and tell her how sorry I am.”
“It’s not your fault,” Seth said.
“I went to private schools, lived in big houses, had as many shoes and dresses as I wanted, went to train at the FBI, lived in my posh condo with Beth and Dale… I mean everything, all of my life, happened because he kept her as his slave,” Ava said. “I might not bear all of the blame but I share the responsibility. And… Does my mother know?”
“Not yet,” Seth said. “Remember Schmidty talked to her this morning.”
“Oh, right,” Ava said. “When will she find out?”
“Soon,” Seth said. “But not right away.”
His phone vibrated.
“What was that?” Ava asked.
“Before we look, there’s something you should know,” Seth said.
“They’re preparing a case against your father for what he did to Rodney Smith,” Seth said. “They’re not sure the DA will take the case, but the evidence is compelling.”
“What did he do to Rodney Smith?”
“He prosecuted Rodney in order to get Yvonne,” Seth said.
“But there was a trial! There must have been evidence…” Ava said. She shook her head. “Unless he paid off jurors and… Fuck.”
“He made up evidence,” Ava said.
“Lost evidence. Left a serial rapist and murderer on the streets…”
The limousine pulled over to the restaurant Schmidty had picked.
“Listen,” Seth said. “We don’t have to go in here but I do have to work this afternoon. Schmidty can…”
“Are you kidding me?” Ava asked. “My father just traded my life away like it was worthless, like I’m worthless. I’ll be damned if I won’t live every single day to the fullest just to spite him.”
They got out of the limousine and walked into the restaurant. They were almost to the table when Ava slumped.
“What is it?” Seth negotiated her to the semi-circle maroon booth.
“Tell me he’s not getting off easy,” Ava slid around to the back. “Tell me he’s not just going to live well on some pile of money he hid.”
“He’s not,” Seth said. “He’ll have to get a job, a real job. He’s been assigned somewhere where it’s cold and dark most of the year. My guess is that he won’t last a year, but the people he’s sold out are pretty dangerous.”
“My money’s on a year and a half,” Schmidty said.
“Plus, there’s Yvonne,” Seth said. “One thing is for sure, he’ll never see Yvonne again. It doesn’t sound big, but it will surely kill him.”
“It’s not enough,” Seth said. “I know.”
“It’s only enough if I live well, really well, and help my mom and sisters do the same,” Ava said. “In fact, what’s the most expensive thing on the menu?”
“Lobster,” Schmidty said.
“Nasty bug like bottom dweller?” Ava asked. “Yuck.”
“Maybe you get even by just living your life in the way you’d like to live it,” Seth said.
Ava nodded. They ordered their lunches and the conversation shifted to the rerecording of the movie score. Their meals had just arrived when Ava’s phone rang. Looking at the phone, her eyebrows pinched.
“It’s my older sister,” Ava said. “Hello.”
Her sister’s steady stream of words were loud enough for everyone to hear. Ava put her hand over the mouthpiece.
“Friend at the DAs office called,” Ava whispered.
“So they know,” Seth said.
Ava nodded. Her eyes echoed the pain and rage she heard on the phone.
“I need to…” She whispered and pointed to the phone.
Seth nodded and she went back to her call.
Friday afternoon — 2:15 p.m.
Rodney got into the driver’s seat of his truck and turned to look at Yvonne.
“Well,” he said. “We have a few hours before your hair appointment. What would you like to do?”
Yvonne looked at him for a moment and then shook her head.
“I never thought of it,” Yvonne laughed. “Never. I only thought of getting you back and…”
“Me too,” Rodney laughed and starting the truck. He waved to Reverend White and his son as they left the parking lot.
“Are you hungry?” Yvonne asked while she pulled on her seat belt.
“I had a sandwich,” Rodney said. “You?”
“I want to see your house,” Yvonne said. “You don’t live in our old house anymore?”
“Nah,” Rodney started toward the little yellow house.
“How come?” Yvonne asked.
“I couldn’t handle it,” Rodney said. “Just couldn’t live there and not have you. It’s been hard enough facing every single day without you. I don’t think I would have survived it.”
Yvonne gave him a sad smile. She took his hand and held it to her heart. He smiled.
“Where do you live?” Yvonne asked.
“I’ll show you,” Rodney said. “We can take Mr. Chesterfield for a walk.”
“Who’s Mr. Chesterfield?”
“My dog,” Rodney said. “He’s a big old black dog. I got him when I was in prison. They let prisoners raise puppies as service dogs. They let me keep him when I got out. He and I, we’ve been through a lot together.”
“Do you think he’ll like me?” Yvonne asked.
Rodney laughed and Yvonne smiled. Animals had always liked Yvonne. Rodney drove and Yvonne looked out the window. She didn’t feel the need to chatter or talk. Rodney glanced at her. She was just enjoying the ride. He pulled onto Stout Street and came to a stop in front of a large yellow house.
Watching Yvonne, he waited for a moment.
“I love this house,” Yvonne said. “Remember how we used to come over here and dream of buying it.”
“I remember the time you talked the owner into letting us look around,” Rodney smiled.
“Such a pretty house,” Yvonne said. “Why did we stop here?”
“This is my house,” Rodney said.
“No really,” Yvonne said. “I want to see your house.”
“Then you’d better get out,” Rodney opened his door and got out of the truck. “Notice the color?”
“Yellow,” Yvonne smiled. “Can’t go wrong living in a yellow house.”
“Brings you luck,” he repeated what she always said.
“Yes it does,” Yvonne said.
“Well, I feel pretty lucky today,” he said.
Rodney opened the knee-high black metal fence.
“You sure this is your house?” Yvonne asked.
“Well actually…,” Rodney said.
Yvonne followed him down the walkway. She watched him take a key from his pocket and open the door. Before she knew it, he’d swept her off her feet and carried her across the threshold.
“This is your house,” Rodney said. “I bought it for you.”
Yvonne didn’t know what to say. Her eyes shed tears but her mouth smiled. She wanted to hoot and sob at the same time. In his strong arms, he gave her a tour through his home. He’d left the walls white in the hope that she would one day paint them. He carried her up the stairs and showed her the small but comfortable bedrooms. Everything was spotlessly clean and beautifully restored.
He was carrying her downstairs when Yvonne gave a yelp and pressed her face into his shoulder.
“What is it?” Rodney stopped on the landing next to the antique stained glass window. “Yvie, what is it?”
“There’s a man in the house,” Yvonne said. “They’ve come for us.”
She raised her head to look at him.
“I can smell him,” Yvonne whispered.
“Stay here,” Rodney set her down. “Don’t move.”
Yvonne slumped into the corner of the landing. She tucked her knees up to her face. Rodney leaned down to stroke her face. For a moment, their eyes held. He nodded to her and went down the stairs.
Yvonne’s anxiety rose. From where she was sitting, she could only hear murmurs and rumblings. She had no idea what was going on. She heard Rodney’s voice and another man’s voice. There was a kind of slapping which she assumed was them fighting. There was a slam and a bang. As the minutes dragged on, she started to shiver with fear.
Just then she felt something soft sniff at her. A wet muzzle nudged her hands until she looked up. She was staring face to face with a big, black dog with a friendly white face. She was tucked into a ball and the dog had to forced himself past the barrier of her legs to lick her face.
Yvonne let out a giggle and her hands went around the dog’s neck. She pet the dog and the dog licked her face. After a few moments, he turned around and sat in her lap. She rested her head against his shoulder.
“I see you met Mr. Chesterfield,” Rodney said from the bottom of the stairs.
Yvonne looked up to see Rodney standing next to a sweaty young man.
“This is Akeem,” Rodney said. “He staying in the carriage house out back while he’s getting on his feet. He’s been watching Mr. Chesterfield and taking care of the house these last couple days. They just got back from a run so Mr. Chesterfield probably doesn’t need a walk.”
Yvonne nodded and went back to snuggling the dog.
“Akeem is very sorry he startled you,” Rodney knocked the young man’s chest with the back of his hand. “He’s used to me being gone during the day. He promises to be more careful, more polite. Don’t you Akeem?”
“Yes sir,” the young man said. “I mean, I’m sorry I startled you, ma’am.”
When Yvonne looked up, the dog turned around to lick her face again.
“Dat your wife?” the young man whispered to Rodney.
“Wow!” He mouthed. “She’s…”
Akeem shook his head. His hand rotated back and forth over his chest. Rodney nodded.
“You still getting married tonight?”
“Yvie?” Rodney asked. “Are we getting married tonight?”
“I don’t know,” Yvonne looked up and smiled. “I never got asked or a pretty engagement ring.”
“Tanesha told you?”
“My handsome Homeland Security agent,” Yvonne said. “He said my ring was very pretty. He also said my dress would be done tonight, but it would probably be tomorrow by the time it all happens. I don’t have a ring so it won’t happen for me…”
She gave him a big smile and went back to petting the dog.
“There goes the surprise,” Rodney smiled. “You going to come down here?”
He glanced at the young man standing next to him.
“Don’t you have something else to do?” Rodney asked.
“Not a chance,” Akeem said.
Rodney scowled at the young man but Akeem stood his ground. He waved Rodney forward.
“You want to do this here?” Rodney asked. “What about Miss T?”
“She said she’d rather miss the engagement than never have a wedding,” Yvonne smiled.
“You talked to her?”
“After we got done with the police,” Yvonne said. “Hasn’t been more than an hour so I remember.”
He smiled at her.
“I don’t know what your problem is,” Yvonne gave him a sassy smile. “The last time you asked me to marry you, we were in a barn under a bunch of hay.”
“After you ran off crying,” Rodney smiled at her.
“They killed my chickens,” Yvonne looked into Mr. Chesterfield’s eyes and scratched his head. “Isn’t that the most horrible thing you’ve ever heard of?”
The dog made a happy guttural sound and seemed to agree.
“Plus, that was a long, long time ago,” Yvonne said.
“We had to wait ten years to get married,” Rodney said.
“Eleven,” Yvonne said. “But you were worth the wait.”
Rodney jogged up the short flight of oak stairs to reach the landing. He pushed Mr. Chesterfield out of the way and kneeled down to her.
“Yvonne, will you marry me?” Rodney asked. “I know I haven’t been a good husband. I didn’t save you and…”
She put her hand over his mouth.
“Don’t say that again,” Yvonne said. “Don’t you see? We don’t have time to play the ‘It’s my fault game’ and I’m not going to waste my happily ever after on guilt and shame. I worked too hard to get here.”
As if to absorb her words, he shut his eyes for a moment.
“I’ll marry you,” Yvonne said. “I’ve always been married to you. My soul has belonged with you the moment I came into this world; it’s never left your possession.”
He wrapped her in his long arms and held her tight.
“I love you, Yvie,” he said in her ear.
“I love you too,” she said.
He kissed her hard on the lips. Digging in his right pocket, he came up with a ring box. He opened it showing three diamond crusted bands of yellow, pink, and white gold.
“We’ve had three lives,” Rodney said. “When we were kids, when we were imprisoned, and now. We need three rings for three lives, three chances to breathe the same air together, and only one never ending love.”
Yvonne threw her arms around his neck. Rodney buried his face in her shoulder. They heard a sniffle and looked to see Akeem wiping his eyes.
“But I can’t wear this!” Yvonne pushed away from him. “Tanni would have a fit.”
“They’re Canadian diamonds, no slaves,” Rodney said. “Plus, her friends figured out how to get it. Your handsome agent stopped in New York to pick up the ring for me on their way here.”
He took the ring out of the box and slipped it on her finger next to her thin gold band. She hugged him again. Not to be left out, Mr. Chesterfield nudged his way in between them. Akeem cleared his throat.
“I was just going to make some lunch,” Akeem said.
“Yes, let’s eat,” Rodney said. “Come on Yvie, let’s tour the kitchen.”
He picked her up again and they went off to the kitchen for lunch.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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