CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY-THREE
Saturday morning – 9:12 a.m.
“The property ends just over here,” Jacob pointed to a dirt road on the rise ahead of them.
Jacob, Aden, and Sam were walking Jacob’s farmland to get a feel for whether moving the large construction project made sense. Sissy, Tink, Wanda, Ivy, Charlie, Nash, and Teddy were flying kites in the middle of the winter-bare field in front of the house. From where they stood, the children looked like oil paintings against the bright fall sky.
“We can see the whole expanse from right here,” Jacob said.
He turned around and gestured to the fields and houses behind him.
“The farms on either side are for sale,” Aden said.
“I’m sure everything went up for sale the moment we started the other project,” Sam said. “Most small farmers have one foot out the door.”
“If they can get top dollar, why not sell?” Jacob shrugged.
“Would you buy?” Aden asked.
“I wouldn’t be able to swing it,” Jacob said. “With everything, and the babies coming, we’re pretty tapped out right now.”
“We could probably put our resources together,” Sam said. “Get Val and…”
“Just more to do,” Jacob said. “Don’t you think we have enough to do?”
Sam and Aden turned to look at him. Jacob shrugged. They turned their backs to the open fields and looked at the homes. The oldest son from the Amish family from the nearest farm came out of the barn with a pale of milk. They watched the young man bring the milk to the house. Jill opened the door. From where they stood, they could tell Jill made a fuss. The boy turned to go back but Sissy yelled to him. He nodded and went back to the barn. A few minutes later, the older boy came out with two kites and four younger siblings. The kids joined the teenagers.
“I always wanted this life,” Aden said.
Jacob turned to look at him.
“A quiet, safe place to raise my kids,” Aden said. “No gang rape or whatever. Just land, a farm, someone to love…”
“Open air and sunshine,” Sam said.
“Wake up, deal with what’s right in front of you, work all day, back to bed at sundown,” Jacob said. “Sounds like bliss.”
The men watched the kids play. The oldest Amish boy laughed at something Sissy said. He responded and Sissy laughed.
“It’s a way of life,” Jacob said. “Maybe that’s what gets me.”
Aden and Sam turned to look at him. Jacob collected his thoughts.
“This way of life seems so much better than what we do - get up at the crack of dawn, work until your brain is oozing out of your ears only to have people tell you what a spoiled and lazy son of a bitch you are; and…”
“Honest,” Sam said. “It seems like a more honest way to live.”
“Would you move out here?” Aden asked.
“Jill says she’d move,” Jacob nodded. “But, honestly, I can’t imagine it.”
“I am what I am,” Jacob said. “I’m the guy who works until my brain oozes out of my head. If it’s not Lipson, it would just be something else.”
“I was going to say that we could join you,” Aden said. “It would be really good for our boys to spend their summers on a farm like this and…”
Aden scowled and turned back to watch the kids.
“And?” Sam asked.
“Charlie’s going to have to get out of town,” Aden said. “No one’s said it yet but… After talking to Bumpy, we decided to let Sissy take a ballet contract and Charlie…”
Aden shook his head.
“The kid only tried to help,” Aden said. “He saw those girls and…”
Aden shook his head.
“It’s like he’s doomed,” Aden said. “Doomed to live on the streets; doomed to live in the shadows…”
Sam put his hand on Aden’s shoulder.
“You weren’t doomed,” Sam said. “Why should Charlie be?”
“What’s that?” Jacob pointed to a battered orange work truck as it pulled off the road and a man got out.
“Wade?” a burly man wearing overalls yelled.
“We should go,” Jacob said.
Jacob ran down the hill with Aden and Sam behind him. He saw Sissy push Wanda behind her and Charlie come between the man and Sissy. The Amish kids edged their away back toward their house.
“What’s going on here?” Jacob asked.
“I just want to talk to my son,” the man said. “And this kid won’t…”
“It’s okay, Charlie,” Aden said. “We’ve got this.”
“But he…” Charlie started.
“Why don’t we head back into the house?” Sam asked. “Sandy was baking when we left. I bet she has something wonderful waiting for us.”
Jacob’s eyes fell on Wanda. Her face was blotchy and her eyes cast to the ground. She clasped her hands in front of her. Jacob could see that if she could erase her existence, she most certainly would. She looked at him and ran to catch up with Tink.
“I don’t get to see my kid,” the man was telling Aden . “I haven’t seen him in three years. I was driving to work and I saw him and…”
The man tried to get around Aden.
“Wade?” The man’s voice was almost as desperate as Wanda looked. The man turned to Jacob. “You’re that rich kid, that Jake Lipson, right?”
“I’m Jacob,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“You’re running that job down the road, aren’t you?” the man said. “I’m on the plumbing crew.”
“We run the job,” Jacob said. “This is Aden Norsen and my father, Sam Lipson.”
Jacob gestured to Sam who was walking back from dropping the kids at the house.
“I don’t want any trouble,” the man said. “I just want to see my kid. He’s had a lot of problems and I didn’t handle it really well. I mean, when I was a kid we didn’t talk about problems. I thought if I was tough with him, he’d toughen up - like my Dad was tough with me. But his mom… I… just want to see my kid.”
Wanda made it to the house before turning in place. She ran across the field toward the men. Sissy and Tink took off after her, but Wanda was too fast. Her Dad barely had a moment before Wanda hugged him tight.
“I…” the man said. “Oh.”
Wanda let go and ran back toward the house. She met Sissy and Tink in the field and the girls ran to the house. The dumbfounded men could only watch.
“He’s always been the sweetest kid,” the man gave an exaggerated sniff.
“He’s a she now,” Jacob said.
“I read that in the report the ex has to send me,” the man nodded. “You think he’ll get over that?”
“No,” Sam said.
The man nodded.
“Is that a problem?” Sam asked.
“Who cares?” the man asked. “That’s what I said the first time his mom talked to me about it. I don’t care if he wants to be a girl or a boy or a Martian. But… that was definitely not the right thing to say.”
Jacob and Aden smiled.
“Listen,” the man said. “You should know, there’s something going down on that project.”
“Oh?” Sam shifted forward. Aden and Jacob took the cue. Sam would handle whatever this man had to say.
“Yeah,” the man nodded.
“Any idea what?” Sam asked.
“Sure,” the man said. “My buddy’s in the middle of it. He says if we don’t get involved, we’ll get screwed; who cares if those rich kids get screwed, you know?”
“Would you like to tell us?” Sam asked.
“Can I see my son?” the man asked.
“Daughter,” Sam corrected.
“Right, my daughter,” the man said.
“I think it’s up to his mom,” Sam said.
“She won’t mind,” the man nodded. “She’s always bugging me to see… what’s his name now?”
“Her name is Wanda,” Jacob said.
“Wanda,” the man smiled. “That was my grandmother’s name.”
“Why don’t we go inside and call?” Sam asked.
The man looked like someone had handed him an ice cream cone.
“Did I mention my name?” the man asked.
“Nope,” Aden said.
“I’m not housebroke,” the man said. “That’s what the ex used to say. Anyway, I’m Erik Le Monte.”
He held out a beefy hand and Sam shook it. Jacob nodded to the house, and the men started across the field. Aden and Jacob fell behind Sam and Erik.
“I think we can manage the farm,” Aden said.
Jacob turned to look at him.
“There’s enough land with the adjoining farms to start the project,” Aden said. “We can create a farming zone like they have in Boulder or just keep the farms. By the time the city is up and running, our kids will be grown.”
Jacob stopped walking to turn and look at Aden.
“Don’t give up, Jake,” Aden said. “That’s what I’m saying. It was only a few angry people. The rest of Lipson just don’t know what to do. You have to lead the way.”
Jacob nodded and they went into the house.
Saturday morning – 10:00 a.m.
“It’s just this way,” MJ said.
He pointed down a long hallway in the basement of a building at Buckley Air Force Base. Gracie had never been anywhere near the building. MJ used his ID card and thumbprint to get onto this hallway. That was after they had gone through a body scanner and given their IDs to the building guard. When she saw the name plate on the door she groaned.
“You’re on the Fey Team?” Gracie said, in a terse whisper. “You don’t think you could have told me? Shit. Shit. Shit. I can’t believe you got me into this.”
Gracie turned to leave, but Honey was rolling behind her. She sneered at Honey.
“You didn’t ask,” MJ opened the door.
The door opened to a small office. The Sergeant at the desk smiled at MJ. The young man looked like he was trying to swallow a laugh.
“This is Dusty,” MJ said. “He goes by Sergeant Dusty.”
“Ma’am,” Sergeant Dusty said. “They are waiting for you. Do you want to wait with me Honey or do you want to go in?”
“Why would she wait with you?” MJ asked.
“Because this is military business,” Sergeant Dusty said.
“It’s probably better if I go,” Honey said.
“Suite yourself,” Sergeant Dusty said.
He got up from his desk and opened the door behind him. From where they stood, they could see a long conference table, a comfortable seating area, and a wide mahogany desk near the windows. There were two people standing and one person sitting. The bright light from the windows make the people look like shadows.
“Please,” Sergeant Dusty gestured for them to go inside.
“You know I…” Gracie said.
“Oh no you don’t,” Honey said. “You started this; in you go.”
Gracie turned in place. Moving further into the room, she could make out the people behind the woman at the desk. A dark haired man who looked like an accountant stood at her right hand. His fatigues insignia tab indicated that he was a Special Forces with the rank of a Captain. His assignment patch was a large black Vivaldi “F”. Gracie glanced at the other man and groaned. Her superior officer was standing on the woman’s left.
“Please come in,” the woman at the desk said.
Gracie looked at her for the first time. She was in her mid-thirties. She had a pleasant kind of face that looked like it was mostly used for smiling. Her short brown hair stuck straight up in military cut. Oddly, her fatigues insignia tab indicated she was in Special Forces. Gracie then noticed she was a Lieutenant Colonel. Gracie popped to attention next to MJ.
“I’m Lieutenant Colonel Hargreaves,” the woman said. “This is Captain Mac Clenaghan.”
MJ bristled at the formality in his superior’s voice. Even though he knew this formal rouse was designed to cut through bullshit, he found the whole thing unnerving.
“I believe you’ve met Captain Handon?” the woman asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Gracie said.
“Sir,” Captain Mac Clengahan said. “You will address the Lieutenant Colonel as sir.”
“As you may have noted, we are a highly classified intelligence team,” the Lieutenant Colonel said. “In order to maintain the classified nature of our work, personal disruptions require our immediate attention.”
“Yes, sir,” Gracie said.
“At ease,” the Lieutenant Colonel said.
“You may be seated,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said.
Gracie and MJ sat down in the chairs in front of the desk. Honey rolled around to MJ’s side. He glanced at her and she smiled.
“Hi Honey,” the Lieutenant Colonel said.
“Alex,” Honey said.
“Sergeant Scully?” the Lieutenant Colonel said. “Can we get directly to the point?”
“Gracie and I went out for a while before I was injured,” MJ said. “I think you’ll remember that I went from Walter Reed to Mologne House and was assigned from there.”
“I remember,” the Lieutenant Colonel said.
“I think you’ll remember that I joined the Marines…” MJ started.
“You what?” Gracie’s voice rose with surprise.
“Second Lieutenant, being at ease is no excuse for being disrespectful,” her superior officer said.
“Yes, sir,” Gracie said. “Sorry, sir.”
“I joined the Marines just after being assigned,” MJ said. “I met Honey while on assignment after returning from basic training.”
“Yes Sergeant,” the Lieutenant Colonel said.
“I forgot a few things along the way,” MJ said.
The Lieutenant Colonel nodded. She looked at Gracie. The LC’s brown eyes seemed to scan her very soul. Gracie instinctively put her hand over her heart.
“Second Lieutenant?” the Lieutenant Colonel said. “Would you like to tell us what this is about?”
“From the beginning,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said. “That’s the best place to start.”
Gracie’s eyes flicked to her superior officer. He gave her a look that reminded her to do what she was told. She nodded.
“I met MJ at my brother’s funeral,” Gracie said. “He tried to save my brother when he… he…”
Gracie cleared her throat.
“Do you remember that?” Honey asked MJ.
MJ shook his head.
“That would be Ivy’s father,” Honey said and Gracie nodded. MJ shook his head.
“Sergeant Scully has a traumatic brain injury,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said. “He has blank spots in his memory. I can assure you that if he says he doesn’t remember, he does not.”
“I don’t know if that’s not worse,” Gracie looked at him.
“I remember you,” MJ said. “I don’t remember your brother or his injury. How did he die?”
“Sniper through the helmet,” Gracie said. “You kept him alive all the way to the field hospital then… he… he didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry, Gracie,” MJ said.
“Anyway, we dated for a while,” Gracie said. “We talked about getting a place but he was SF and I was a pilot. We spent leave together all over the world for about a year. Do you remember that?”
“We were supposed to meet in Greece,” Gracie said. “No phones, no computers, just the beach. I didn’t find out about your team until a month later. I thought you’d stood me up. You’d done it before. I figured you were freaked about settling down. Then I thought you were dead. Now, come to find out, you’re not dead but you have settled down. You’re not dead. You’re settled down.”
She gestured to Honey. MJ shook his head.
“What happened?” Gracie asked.
“As near as we can put together, his team hit an IED, probably some kind of land device,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said. “MJ helped save his teammates but on a trip back to the Humvee, the second explosive blew. He placed a tourniquet on his own leg and went back to working on the rest of this team.”
“You lost your leg?” Gracie looked horrified.
MJ gestured to his calf.
“After that, he was in Germany and then Walter Reed,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said. “During the time MJ was there, the wards were extremely overcrowded. A lot of things fell through the cracks. That may be why you weren’t notified.”
“We had twelve guys in our room,” MJ said. “When I first got there, I couldn’t talk at all so they let me be. I couldn’t tell anyone to call you Gracie. With all the pain and trying to walk and get another job and stuff, I forgot almost everything.”
“After Water Reed, he was placed in Mologne house,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said.
“We recruited him from his hospital bed,” the Lieutenant Colonel said. “He’s been on active deployment since then.”
“Honey why are you here?” Captain Mac Clenaghan said.
“MJ and I really like Ivy, Gracie’s niece,” Honey said. “I want to make sure we resolve this without a problem so MJ can keep his job and we still get to see Ivy.”
“Why would MJ lose his job?” Gracie asked.
“We are an elite intelligence team,” Captain Mac Clenaghan said. “This kind of interpersonal strain is disruptive to our work and leaves us open to security risk. We either work this out today or MJ will be replaced.”
“Sir,” MJ said. “May I say something?”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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