Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight : Family Problems


Wednesday night — 9:59 p.m.

“Dog, what did you do with the phone you used to send On-Line the video?” a voice on the phone said.

“I told you,” the boy replied. “I got rid of it Monday night when all those cops came to school. Why you hasslin’ me ‘bout this?”

“They’s sent out a notice to all parents to look for those videos,” he said.

“Shit,” the boy said. He looked at his brother and his brother scowled at him.

“You sure you it’s gone?” the voice on the phone asked.

“I took the battery out and threw the phone in lake,” the boy said. “I tol’ my mom it broke and anyway I was getting lots of wrong numbers. She bought another one at Walgreens with a different number. You calling me on the new line ain’t you?”

“And that phone?”

“It’s clean, dog,” the boy said. “Don’ worry so much. We gots this covered.”

“You’re not going to chicken out and tell your brother, are you?”

“No,” the boy said. “My brother don’ know nothin’.”

“Better stay that way.”

The phone went dead.

“Give me the God damned phone,” his brother said.

The boy gave him the phone he’d used to send Charlie the video.

“You promised me you’d stop doing this,” his brother said.

“They kill me if I don’ go along,” the boy said.

“I’m going to kill you if you do this again,” his brother said. “What’s wrong with you? Can’t get a girlfriend without gang raping and beating them?”

“It ain’t like that,” the boy said. “They’ll kill me if I don’t go with them or if I stop. I tol’ you. I stayed home that time you tol’ me to. They threw a brick through the window and lit our trash on fire. Scared Mom to death.”

“Can’t you just get a girlfriend? Go to a dance?” his brother asked. “You have to hang out with rich white boys playing gangster instead?”

“It ain’t like that,” the boy said. “They ain’t all white.”

His brother raised a disbelieving eyebrown

“Plus, girls like me,” the boy said.

“Girls like you so you rape them with your friends?” his brother screamed.

“They told me they’d take Mom!” the boy said.

“You disgust me,” his brother said. “And if anyone finds out you’re in this thing? I’m going to lose my job. You know what that means?”

“Mom’s gonna lose the house and I’m going back to juvie,” the boy said.

“Is that what you want?” his brother asked.

“No,” the boy said. “It’s just … I can’t roll on my boys! They’ll kill me.”

“The DA’s talking about charging you as adults. Your little brown ass is going to adult prison,” his brother said. “And you can’t roll on your boys?”

“It’s called loyalty,” the boy nodded. “You should try it.”

His brother raised his fist to hit the boy. He punched the wall instead.

“Shit,” his brother stalked toward the front door. “Keep your dick in your pants and stay in the house. If we’re lucky, you’ll weather this thing. If not …”

“We all go down,” the boy said. “I know. You’re like a broken record.”

His brother pointed at the boy and walked out the door. The boy watched Sergeant Aziz walk to his dark blue sedan. He waited for his older brother to drive off before turning into the house. He went straight to his room and closed his door.

He leaned against the door and his phone rang again. Seeing the number, he closed his eyes. He set the phone on the end of his bed.

He went to the desk and wrote a note to his mom. She’d probably find him when she got off work in a couple hours.

He didn’t want her to think he didn’t love her.

Like he planned, he went to the closet and got the belt his father gave him the last time he saw him when he was ten. He put the end over the clothing rod and pushed the end through the buckle. He closed his eyes for a moment before he found the resolve to step on the box. He put his chin in the loop.

He stood on the box with the only present he’d ever received gotten from his father tight under his chin for what felt like an eternity.

He kicked the box out from under him and for a moment he felt only air.

He wished for the box.

He wished for death.

He wished he’d never been born.

Like a television on the fritz, everything blinked and blinked again. He saw his brother rush into his bedroom and scream something.

He was falling. His brother clutched him to his chest. He rocked back and forth.

“Why?” his brother was screaming and crying. “Why would you do this?”

“They’ll kill me,” the boy whispered.

“Don’t you die on me,” his brother screamed. “Don’t you do it. I will come to the gates of hell and kick your ass.”

For the first time in more than a dozen years, the boy began to cry.


Thursday morning — 5:59 a.m.

“Okay,” Heather said. “Yes, I understand. Thanks, Risa.”

“What did she say?” Tink asked. “Can I go today?”

“Not today,” Heather said. “We’ve scheduled a conference with the principal this afternoon.”

“Oh,” Tink said. “Did I get kicked out of school?”

“Like we talked about,” Heather said. “The taser is considered a concealed weapon, and you aren’t supposed to have those on campus.”

“Even if guys are going to be creeps?” Tink asked.

“Sadly, there are rules about tasers but not rules about guys being creeps,” Heather said.

“Why is that?” Tink asked.

“I think everyone expects guys to be creeps,” Heather smiled.

Tink laughed.

“Go back to bed,” Heather said. “I’ll wake you and Ivy in a little while. We have to check in with your doctor first and then we’re meeting Gracie for lunch. If we have time, we can go shopping.”

“What about your work?” Tink asked.

“I have the day off,” Heather said. “Blane took Mack to school so we would have some time together.”

“Because of me?” Tink asked.

“You had a medical emergency yesterday,” Heather said. “You need to see the doctor.”

Tink nodded and went back up the stairs. She was near the top when she panicked. She ran back down the stairs.

“I’m not in school,” Tink said. “I broke our agreement!”

Surprised, Heather blinked at Tink.

“You’re sending me back! Just say it. You’re sending me back!”

Tink grabbed Heather by the arms.

“You’re sending me up to bed so you can call them.”

“Uh …” Heather started.

“I didn’t mean to do it. I really didn’t. He was grabbing me and you saw the bruises on my privates and …,” Tink said. “Don’t send me back. Please. I’ll try harder. I’ll …”

“I was going to make some coffee,” Heather said.

“Don’t lie to me,” Tink said. “You’re going to call as soon as I’m up stairs.”

Heather held up the coffee filter in her hand.

“Coffee,” Heather said.

“You can’t have coffee!” Tink said. “You’re just covering up …”

“Decaf. I’m making decaf,” Heather said.

“Oh,” Tink looked at her.

While Tink watched, Heather got the beans out of the cabinet and filled the grinder. She ground the beans and put them in the coffee filter.

“What are you going to do when the coffee’s done?” Tink crossed her arms over her chest.

“Drink it,” Heather said.


Tink turned on heel and went upstairs. She slammed the door to her room. Ivy groaned. Heather listened until she heard Tink get in bed.

“You get the child you deserve,” Heather chuckled and went to read her email.


Thursday morning — 6:59 a.m.

“How was dinner?” Jacob asked Aden.

He leaned against the seat of the restaurant booth.

“Dinner was food,” Aden said. “After dinner was heaven. Thanks for the suggestion.”

Aden waved Blane over to their booth.

“What’s a friend for?” Jacob smiled. “And the apartment?”

“God, I love that place,” Aden yawned.

“Mmm,” Jacob smiled.

“Why do you look like the Cheshire Cat?” Blane asked.

“I had a date night with Sandy,” Aden said.

Blane took Jacob’s coffee cup away from him.

“It’s decaf,” Jacob reached for the cup. Blane took a drink.

“It’s not,” Blane said.

“Ok, it’s not decaf,” Jacob smiled. “But …”

Blane gave Aden a sly look and Aden laughed.

“Any ideas why we’re here?” Blane asked.

“None worth sharing,” Jacob said. “There’s Dad.”

Jacob stood up so his father could see him. Sam came over to their booth. The waitress appeared to take their order.

“What’s going on, Dad?” Jacob asked.

“You know I asked our site managers to ask their employees and get back to me personally,” Sam said.

“I remember you fired a bunch of site managers,” Jacob gave him an irritated look.

“Yeah, I guess that caused a crunch,” Sam said. “But your mother …”

He glanced at the men’s faces and laughed.

“Oh hell, they were assholes,” Sam said. “You’re just irritated you didn’t get to fire them yourselves.”

They laughed.

“So, as the kids say, here’s the word,” Sam said.

“I don’t think anyone says that anymore,” Jacob said.

Sam scowled at Jacob and he shrugged.

“I’m sorry Dad,” Jacob said. “Too much coffee.”

“Coffee or no, you’re going to want to hear this,” Sam said. “The employees out at the site are saying they’ve been approached by a couple other contractors and offered jobs.”

“Doing what?” Aden asked.

“Their same job,” Sam said. “That’s what’s crazy. They’ve offered our employees their same job on the same project. They were told we were going out of business.”

“Us?” Jacob looked at Aden and at Blane. “Know anything about this?”

“No,” Aden said.

“Nothing,” Blane said.

“Anyway, we’re meeting with everyone in a couple days,” Sam said. “I just thought you should know that people are pretty … mad, I guess. They feel like we’re going to pull the rug out from under them.”

“Why wouldn’t they just ask me?” Jacob asked.

“That’s the thing,” Sam said. “These other companies tell them they won’t hire them if they talk to you about it.”

“We could lose our entire crew,” Aden said.

“We could. The employees said they asked their site managers, you know those guys I let go of yesterday? You know what they said?” Sam looked from face to face. “They told the employees to keep their mouths shut.”

Jacob, Aden, and Blane were quiet as they thought it through. The waitress bought their breakfast and they started to eat.

“You know what I think we should do?” Jacob asked.

The men looked up from their plates at him.

“I still own around fifty percent of the company,” Jacob said. “Val owns about fifteen. Dad, how much do you own?”

“About ten,” Sam said.


“Maybe two percent,” Aden said.


“About the same,” Blane said.

“So that’s enough, I think,” Jacob said.

“To do what?” Sam asked.

“I think we should pull out of the job,” Jacob said. “Tell the state ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ we changed our minds. If we want to, we can tell them about our concerns over fracking and the fault lines.”

“And then what?” Aden asked.

“And then we build the same job on my land,” Jacob said. “After I move those houses, of course.”

“What about the employees?” Aden asked. “We’ve killed ourselves this year trying to teach everyone how to run a company and sell them shares. If we do that, we really are pulling the rug out from under them.”

“No we’re not,” Jacob said. “We need to ask them what they want to do, but only after we know what we can do.”

“What?” Blane asked. “You’re not making any sense.”

“We send out our teams to the other site, where the original city was planned,” Jacob said. “We survey, map out, and get everything set. We can do that based on our ownership of the company. When we have the information, we can present it to the employees.”

Aden and Blane nodded. His father scowled.

“We don’t hide anything from anyone,” Jacob said. “We do it all out in the open – clear communication and transparency, like we promised. We tell the site managers that we’re looking into an expansion project, something a little extra. That site is not so far from this one so eventually it would be developed anyway.”

“We line up every duck, have a meeting to vote, and pull the trigger,” Jacob said. “We’ll be out of this project before those other guys know what hit them.”

No one responded. Jacob scowled.

“We have to do something,” Jacob said. “We’ve wasted a lot of time, energy, and resources in this stupid conflict that gets us nowhere. We have to get out of the cycle. This is a way.”

“It just might work,” Sam nodded.

“Aden?” Jacob asked.

“It’s crazy,” Aden said. “But it’s worth a try.”

“Blane?” Jacob asked.

“It’s going to look like you set the whole thing up,” Blane said.

“Who cares? I will set it up so Lipson could make a killing,” Jacob said. “What do you think? Are you in?”

“I am,” Sam said.

“Me too,” Blane said.

Aden stared off into space.

“Aden?” Jacob asked.

“It’s so Aikido,” Aden said. “We’re kind of sidestepping all this hostility. I like that. So I’m in.”

“Great,” Jacob said. “So you’ll tell Tres?”

“No,” Aden said.

“Not me,” Blane said.

Sam gave Jacob a long look.

“Oh fine,” Jacob said. “I’ll tell him when we get back.”

“Good man,” Sam clapped Jacob on the back.

Jacob swallowed hard and concentrated on eating his breakfast.

“What’s hard for me is that they always seem one step ahead of us,” Blane said. The men turned their attention to Blane. “I mean, what if the whole point was to pick off the high stock owners or …? I don’t know. I guess, I’m tired of playing a game I don’t know I’m playing and I never seem to know what the rules are.”

The men went back to eating their breakfasts. After a while, Jacob looked up.

“You know what? You’re right,” Jacob said. “Let’s come up with our own plan based in our own ideas and our own values.”

“Going back to us making decisions and everyone following is just us owning the company again,” Sam nodded.

“Right,” Jacob said. “I’ll talk to Tres. Dad, you can call a meeting of the employees this afternoon. We’ll get their ideas and make our own plan.”

“It’s risky,” Aden said.

“Blane’s right. We’re losing the business as it stands,” Sam said. “If we don’t make our own plan – not what the state wants, not what we think someone else is going to do – we’ve already lost.”

On that grim note, Sam got up and left the restaurant. Jacob grabbed the check, nodded to Aden and Blane and left.

“You ready?” Blane asked.

“I don’t know if I can get out of this booth.”

Laughing, Blane got up and dragged Aden to his feet.

“Sandy give you a tough workout?” Blane asked.

“Oh yeah,” Aden said.

Blane laughed.


Thursday mid-day — 11:59 a.m.

Sandy’s last client hugged her and left the shop. On her own cloud after last night’s adventure, she wandered to the back of the shop to get her lunch. She’d just pulled a yogurt container from her little refrigerator when she heard the bell to the door.

She peeked out of the back to see who it was.

Sergeant Aziz stood at her door. He cupped his hands and peered in to try to see her through the mirrored glass. She scowled and was about to go back when she saw a young man peer out from behind his back.

She’d always liked his little brother. Groaning to herself, she went to the door.

“What do you want?” Sandy asked.

“You have every right to be like that,” Sergeant Aziz said. “But … we need some help.”

Sandy caught a look of desperation on his face. She stepped back and let them in.

“It’s my lunch hour,” Sandy said.

“I know,” Sergeant Aziz pushed his brother forward. “We brought you a salad.”

When the boy got close to her, Sandy saw the bruising around the boy’s neck.

“What’s going on?” Sandy took the salad and guided them to the back.

“Tell her,” Sergeant Aziz said to his brother.

In a low tone, his brother told Sandy his whole story from going along the first time to trying to get out to the last time to sending Charlie the video.

“Why are you telling me all of this?” Sandy asked.

“Because I don’t know what to do,” Sergeant Aziz said. “I’ve been trying to protect him, but by saying nothing, I’ve left him … in the hands of these … monsters.”

“It sounds like he’s a little monstrous himself,” Sandy said.

“Yes ma’am,” the boy said.

“Why do you think I know what to do?” Sandy asked.

“Because you’re O’Malley’s Goddaughter and you know that Homeland Security guy, the big one, and the blonde guy,” Sergeant Aziz said. “Nothing would be happening if he and the blonde guy hadn’t gotten involved.”

“Why is that?” Sandy asked.

“Red Bear is a weirdo,” Sergeant Aziz said. “And I …”

He gestured to his brother.

“You’ll be suspended,” Sandy said.

“Better than,” Sergeant Aziz gestured to his brother’s neck. “And I don’t care anymore. He’s really in trouble. He tried to tell me, but I was too scared of losing everything to listen.”

“And now?”

“I’d rather lose everything than lose my brother,” Sergeant Aziz said. “He screwed up and this is bad, but he can’t get out of it. Not on his own, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Why should I help you?” Sandy asked. “Why should my friends help you?”

“They gonna kill me, Sandy,” the boy looked up at her. “I know I deserve it. I tried to stop, I really did, … ever since the first time. And I don’t … you know, I can’t …”

He gestured to his lap.

“I just take the videos,” he said. “I’m still … monstrous.”

“Why not tell Detective Red Bear?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t trust him,” Sergeant Aziz said.

Sandy looked at Sergeant Aziz and then at his brother.

“Think of it this way, if I hadn’t been such an asshole, you wouldn’t be married to that Aden guy,” Sergeant Aziz said. “So you owe me a favor.”

“That’s just pathetic,” his brother looked at him and shook his head. Sandy scowled.

“Please,” Sergeant Aziz said.

“I’m only going to do this if you call your Mom,” Sandy said. “She deserves to know what’s going on, and to be here when it happens. I won’t do it otherwise.”

The Sergeant Aziz looked at his brother and he nodded. Sandy raised her eyebrows and Sergeant Aziz called his mother. When he was done, she got her iPhone and placed the call.

“Raz?” Sandy asked.

“Hey Sandy,” Raz said. “Sami was just reminding me to make an appointment.”

“Yeah, it’s about that time,” Sandy said. “Um, something’s come up and I wondered if you and Colin could come over to the studio.”

“One of the boys contacted you like we talked about?” Raz asked.

“Uh huh,” Sandy said.

“Should we come guns blazing?” Raz asked.

“Hearts open,” Sandy reached out her hand and touched the boy’s shoulder.

“You’ll call O’Malley?” Raz asked.

“I will,” Sandy said.

“Give us a half hour,” Raz said.

“Come on,” Sandy said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“But …” the boy said.

“You want to change your life,” Sandy said. “The first thing to change is how you look. You want a different life right?”

The boy nodded.

“Come on,” Sandy said.

She guided the boy out into the salon. She helped him out of his cap and his gangster coat.

“Wow, when was the last time you showered?”

“Couple a days,” the boy said. “Maybe a week.”

“Go get cleaned up,” Sandy pointed to the shower. The boy slunk toward the bathroom. “I have some clothes here. Toss yours out and your brother will wash them.”

Sergeant Aziz took the clothing and went into the back. Sandy brought the boy a pair of Pete’s jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt. When the boy came out, he looked like a tiny boy in grown man’s body. She knew that he was going to be the key to ending these brutal crimes. She only hoped he was up for the task.

Sandy smiled to encourage him and began cutting his hair.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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