Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Thirty-Four : Down by the river


Wednesday evening — 8:12 p.m.

“I’m not going,” Ivy screamed. “You can’t make me!”

Tink and Ivy had begged Heather to take them to the Castle to help Charlie show the Logans where their daughter had been attacked. After dinner with Tim and his parents, when the niceties were over, Ivy had become more and more belligerent.

“Okay,” Heather said. “That’s okay. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Tink and Pan are going to help the Logans. They could use your help.”

“No,” Ivy screamed so loud that she woke Maggie. The baby gave a screeching howl. Ivy looked horrified and ran off down a passageway into the Castle.

Tink started after her.

“Stay here,” Heather said to Tink.

Heather looked at Sandy who encouraged her to go. Heather ran after Ivy. They ran down a long passageway and into an area of the Castle that Heather had never been in before. She turned the corner to find Ivy sobbing into her knees at the end of the corridor.

Heather started toward her. Before she got there, Katy come out of nowhere and sat next to Ivy. Katy looked up at Heather and smiled.

Katy put her hand on Ivy’s knee and Ivy looked up at the little girl. Almost six years old, Katy and Ivy seemed about the same age. The two girls looked at each other for a moment.

“Are you okay?” Katy asked.

“No. Do I look okay?”

“Not really,” Katy said. “Did something bad happen?”

Ivy nodded. Katy’s head moved up and down in empathy.

“Right now?” Katy looked at Heather.

“No, before,” Ivy’s voice echoed with fear and sadness.

“Hmmm,” Katy said. “Moooooooommmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyy!”

Heather scowled at Katy. The child shrugged. Jill came around the corner.

“Anna Marie has an owie,” Katy said.

“How did you know my name?” Ivy whispered.

Katy shrugged. Jill leaned down to Ivy. Heather followed Jill’s lead.

“Where does it hurt, Ivy?” Jill asked.

Ivy put a hand to her heart.

“Heather knows just the thing,” Jill said.

“I do?” Heather gawked at Jill.

Jill scowled at Heather.

“Mommy means that Delphie’s making brownies,” Katy said.

“Oh!” Like a light going on, Heather brightened. “Owies of the heart are best fixed with brownies.”

Ivy looked from Heather to Jill.

“I don’ wanna go,” Ivy said.

“You don’t have to,” Heather said. “You can stay here with Katy and Jill.”

“I’ll go with you,” Nash came around the kneeling adults to stand by Ivy. “My friend Teddy’s meeting us there. We’re training to be Ninjas. Our teacher’s going to be there too. We’ll keep you safe.”

Ivy looked at Nash and then at the women.

“You aren’t mad?” Ivy asked.

“About what?” Heather smiled.

“I just … and yelled … and … unacceptable,” Ivy gave a sincere nod.

“We’re like that all the time,” Katy said.

“Katy!” Jill held her arms out and Katy let her pick her up.

“We are,” Katy gave a conspiratorial nod.

“You’re not unacceptable,” Heather said.

“Not to me,” Jill said.

“Or me!” Katy said.

The women looked at Nash. He flushed bright red and nodded.

“Let’s have some brownies to gather our strength,” Heather said.

She held out a hand and helped Ivy to her feet. Heather hugged Ivy and they started back down the hallway. Jill and Katy walked next to Ivy and Heather.

“Have we met before?” Ivy asked Katy.

“No,” Katy said.

“You’re so familiar to me,” Ivy said.

“That’s just because you know Naomi,” Katy said.

Jill stopped walking to let Ivy and Heather pass by. Nash followed them into the main Castle living room.

“Does she know Naomi?” Jill whispered to Katy.

“How do you think Anna Marie got here?” Katy smiled at her mother.

Jill kissed her forehead. Katy squirmed and Jill let her go. She leaned against the door to watch Katy. Her daughter ran to talk to Ivy and Noelle. Sissy came over and the girls laughed. In her years of living at the Castle, Katy had gone from being a small, lonely girl to a well loved, vibrant child. Someday in the not too distant future, Katy would be Charlie and Sissy’s age.

Jill felt a breath of cold air on her back. She shivered and Katy turned to look at her. Katy smiled and Jill left her corner to join the preparations for the trip downtown. All the while, Jill couldn’t shake the feeling that something was coming that would change everything for Katy and the girls at the Castle.

After all that had happened, Jill knew they would get through it. She only hoped it wouldn’t scar them forever.


Wednesday evening — 8:42 p.m.

A police officer waved for Mike to stop his Bronco on the Market Street bridge over Cherry Creek and the Cherry Creek trail. Sandy pulled up behind them with Ivy, Tink, Sissy, Noelle, Nash and Teddy. The Denver police had blocked off Market Street and Fourteenth Avenue all the way to Little Raven. Their forensics team was sitting on the tailgates of their trucks waiting for Charlie to lead them to the scene. The darkest corners were lit up by halogen lights and the hum of generators filled the air.

Charlie got out of the passenger seat of Mike’s Bronco and looked over the railing. These few blocks had been home to Charlie and his friends. They would work the parking lots of the Pepsi Center for change. If they had to, they sold sex for money to buy drugs and food. They’d sleep under the railway bridge behind the cement pylon or in the culvert under Market Street. As long as the urbanites in the condos up above didn’t spot them on their way morning jog, they weren’t hassled.

Charlie wrapped his arms around himself.

“You cold?” Mike asked.

Charlie shook his head.

“Come on,” Mike pointed to where Tim and his parents were getting of their sedan. “They’re waiting for you.”

Charlie turned toward Fourteenth Avenue and saw the mustached cop with the great hair talking to Sandy on the corner. Sandy waved to Charlie. When he got near, she tucked her arm into his elbow and held on. He looked down at her.

“We’ll do this together,” Sandy said in a low tone.

Charlie let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Sandy always knew when he was freaked out or afraid. He realized for the first time how terrified he’d been the entire time he’d lived down here. When he talked about it, living on the streets sounded so fun. He glanced at Sandy again. Sandy really understood how awful it had been.

“We’re on the wrong side,” Charlie said to the mustache cop.

“I’d like it if you walked us through how it all unfolded for you,” the mustached cop said.

His voice was so reasonable. He gave Charlie a big smile like he was Charlie’s friend. Charlie scowled. He and Sandy walked ahead.

“You know he’s a dick,” Charlie said under his breath.

“I know,” Sandy said. “But he’s better than that twerp Aziz. Now he’s a real asshole. I could tell you stories … At least this one makes some effort at being honest.”

Charlie chuckled and Sandy smiled. They caught up with Tim and his parents at the down ramp to the Cherry Creek Trail from Fourteenth Avenue.

“We’d just finished working the Pepsi Center,” Charlie said. “There was some game there – Avalanche, Nuggets …”

“It was a concert,” Tink said.

Surprised, Charlie turned to see Tink and Ivy walking with Nash, Teddy and Noelle just behind him.

“One of those bands you hear in the grocery store,” Tink said. “Springsteen or the Who or …”

“Rolling Stones?” Tim’s dad asked.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Charlie said. “How’d you know?”

“We went to the concert,” Tim’s Dad said. “Barbara was supposed to meet us here afterwards. She dropped us off for the concert and took the car. Are you’re sure it was that night?”

“No,” Charlie looked at Tink and she shrugged. “We just work the parking lot. The concerts were good because people get real drunk and high. They give us more money. Sometimes, the guys get belligerent with the girls, you know …”

“They had their music, now they want to get off,” Tink said.

“We just try to get what we need and get out,” Charlie said.

“Was the concert over?” Tim’s Dad asked.

“I think so,” Tink said. “Remember, we had enough money for pizza?”

“Someone gave us their tickets and we got a discount at that place next door,” Charlie said. “We had enough for two extra pizzas. That’s food for two days. We were pretty happy about that.”

Charlie’s words were matter of fact. But the fact that two pizzas were food for two days registered on every adults’ face. Sandy squeezed Charlie’s arm.

“We were coming down here,” Charlie said. “Ivy had her skateboard.”

Ivy ran ahead to show them where she was. Nash ran after her.

“So we had to go down the ramp,” Charlie said. “We usually don’t use this side because it’s the bike side and people are assholes. There’s always some chunky guy on a fancy bike swearing at anyone who gets in his way.”

“I know what you mean,” Tim said.

Charlie nodded.

“I was about here when I saw something on the other side,” Charlie said. “The drainpipe over there is a great place to sleep. It’s quiet and pretty safe. I was checking it out because I wanted some place to put the pizza while we slept. Somebody might take it, you know?”

“I was behind you with the other girls,” Tink said. “Like now. But Ivy was way up ahead. Pan said we should go check out what was there because maybe it was something good.”

Charlie nodded. When Tim’s Mom let out a little sob, Charlie looked over at them. Tim’s Dad put his arm around her and she cried into his shoulder.

“Um …” Charlie couldn’t take his eyes off Tim’s parents. Sandy squeezed his arm and he looked at her.

“We went back to the top,” Tink said. “Ivy wanted to go down to the crossing but Pan wouldn’t let her.”

“It’s not a great time of night,” Charlie said. “When the concerts out, the bars fill up … It’s just not great … for any of us, but especially girls.”

“We were always careful,” Tink nodded. “There’s enough trouble without asking for it.”

“I knew he was right,” Ivy said. “But I was grumpy about it.”

“What else is new?” Tink laughed. Ivy smirked and pretended to be grumpy for the reenactment.

When Charlie started up the bridge, he saw Colin Hargreaves at the top. Charlie could see his handgun in a side holster and Colin’s Homeland Security badge on his belt. He wasn’t sure why, but having his martial arts teacher there made him feel a little better. Colin held a video camera and was taping the whole thing. When Charlie got to the top, he saw his lawyer’s boyfriend, Art Rasmussen. The tall, muscular man nodded to Charlie like he was doing a good job. Charlie blushed.

“So we got to the top and realized we couldn’t go down on the other side here,” Charlie said. “We weren’t really thinking straight. Then somebody said …”

“Jeffy,” Ivy said. “It was Jeffy.”

“That’s right,” Charlie said. “Jeffy was little. He kneeled down over there and said we should go back because it was a person. We all ran back.”

Charlie ran across the bridge and down the path. He forded the river before Tink even got to it. Tim and his parents reached Tink by the time Charlie was near the storm drain.

“It was about like that,” Charlie said. “I’m fast so I got over here before anyone else. Jeffy stayed up on the bridge.”

Charlie pointed to where Ivy and Noelle were standing.

“I stayed with Jeffy,” Ivy said.

“Can you wait for us?” Tim’s father asked.

“Sure,” Charlie said.

Tim and his father helped Tim’s mother across the stream. The mustached police officer reached him about the time Tim got there.

“I found her right here,” Charlie pointed to a three foot wide sandy triangle just below the large drainage pipe. He stepped from one large boulder to the next until he jumped down into the sand. “She was in a crumple right here.”

“Did she say anything?” Tim’s mother asked.

“I don’t think she could,” Charlie said. “I knew there was a blanket there so I grabbed it and put it over her. I don’t know anything about medicine or whatever, but the girls caught up with me. We checked to see if she was really hurt.”

“I put pressure on the cuts on her belly,” Tink said.

“I know you guys say that I saved her or whatever,” Charlie said. “But mostly we didn’t know what to do. She was pretty hurt. Um …”

Charlie touched his face next to his chin and between his legs.

“We didn’t want to leave her,” Charlie said. “The pizza was still warm, and she was really cold, so I put the box on top of her. I think one of the girls got down and held her. But we were super scared.”

“Why Charlie?” Sandy asked. “Why were you so scared?”

“Because it wasn’t the first time we’d seen this,” Charlie said. “And she was …”

Charlie glanced at Tim’s parents. Tim’s Mom had turned into her father and was weeping.

“Ivy flagged down a car and begged the lady to take her to the hospital,” Charlie said. “We didn’t think she could wait for an ambulance. We helped load her in the back of the lady’s SUV.”

“Did she have her purse?” the mustached cop asked.

“Um …” Charlie scowled and looked at Tink.

“It’s okay if you took it,” Tim’s Dad said. “I probably would have.”

“I don’t really know,” Charlie said. “We were really scared.”

“Just go through it like it happened,” Art said.

Hearing his voice, Charlie jerked up to look at him. He walked to Charlie and put his hand on Charlie’s shoulders.

“You mean act it out?” Charlie asked.

“Try to be as exact as possible,” Art said. “Sometimes that jogs things loose in your memory.”

Art nodded. Charlie grabbed the clipboard from a uniformed police officer nearby. He ran across the river to the other side. He jogged up the ramp and onto the bridge.

“I’ll be Jeffy,” Ivy said. Nash ran over to stand by her. Ivy artificially lowered her voice, “Hey, that’s a person.”

“What do you mean?” Charlie asked.

“Some girl,” Ivy’s lowered voice said. “Nobody we know.”

“Where?” Charlie asked and leaned over.

He ran across the bridge and down the ramp. He splashed across the river. The people moved aside and he went to the sandy bank. He set the pretend pizza on the ground and pretended to grab a blanket from the dark pipe. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the mustached cop signal the forensics team to check out the pipe.

Charlie kneeled down and pretended to throw a blanket over the girl. Tink pretended to pull off her sweatshirt and pressed it onto the sand.

“Purse,” the mustached cop said.

Charlie shook his head. Tink looked up and shook her head. Charlie looked up at Ivy.

“Did you see it?” Charlie asked Ivy.

“I remember there being something over by those rocks,” Ivy said. “But I don’t know if it was a purse.”

“I only remember seeing her,” Charlie said. “I was kinda freaked out, because I didn’t know her and she was in really bad shape. The cops had already bugged us about all of these … episodes and I figured they’d think we did it. And she was so hurt.”

He looked at Tink and shrugged.

“Did you see anything?” Charlie asked Tink.

“Maybe,” Tink said. “But I don’t think it was her purse. It was more like …”

Tink looked at Charlie. He nodded.

“Her underwear and stuff …” Tink said.

“Where?” the mustached cop asked.

Tink was so surprised by his voice that she shook her head. She looked at Charlie.

“Over there,” Ivy pointed.

Charlie got up and went to where Ivy pointed.

“Here?” Charlie yelled.

“Over there,” Ivy said.

Charlie walked over to where boulder sized jagged rocks stood straight up in the sand.

“Here?” Charlie asked.

Ivy nodded.

“She says it was here,” Charlie said. “But …”

“Did she say anything?” Tim’s Mom asked again.

“She wasn’t really awake, ma’am,” Charlie said. “She looked like she’d been bashed … I mean there was blood on these rocks and stuff. She opened her eyes … She just looked at me. That’s all. Tink?”

“Pan said something like wake up,” Tink said. “And she opened her eyes. I mean, her face was all puffy and blue and she’d lost some teeth. Like me I guess.”

“She wasn’t afraid of you?” the mustached cop asked.

“No, why would she be?” Charlie shrugged. “But …”

Charlie looked down at the sand next to the rock.

“I didn’t come back here after that,” Charlie said. “I was too …”

He looked at Tink.

“It was hard on all of us,” Tink said. “I think we avoided the area. I mean …”

Tink gestured to Ivy.

“She … happened here …,” Tink looked at Charlie. “I was inside then. Did you find Ivy too?”

Charlie nodded.

“Here?” the mustache cop’s voice sounded really surprised.

“It’s not far from where I … I mean …” Tink shifted uncomfortably.

“Look around,” Art said. “Do you see a light? Those are broken out. There’s no surveillance cameras. This piece of sand? That culvert? You could do anything and no one would see you.”

“We used to come down here all the time. No one was here,” Charlie said. ”As long as we stayed away from the urbanites at rush hour, no one bugged us.”

“How did you find Ivy if you didn’t come here?” the mustached cop asked him.

“I was looking for her,” Charlie said. “I thought she might have gone with Saint Jude, but Jeffy said no. We went looking for her.”

“And Tiffanie?” the mustached cop asked.

“Charlie was already living with us then,” Sandy said.

“How did you get away?” Charlie asked Tink.

“I climbed in there when I woke up,” Tink said.

“Woke up?” the mustached cop asked.

“They drugged me with something,” Tink nodded. “Ivy too.”

They looked up at Ivy and she nodded.

“They probably drugged your daughter,” Tink said.

Tim’s Dad looked surprised.

“I didn’t know what was happening,” Tink said. “Not at all until I woke up. I’d bet that your daughter didn’t either.”

“Tink?” Charlie waved her over to where he was. “Look.”

He pointed to the rocks. They were all equally spaced a part except for the one he was standing over.

“They weren’t like that before …” Charlie said.

“Come on out of there,” Art said.

Charlie looked up at him. Art waved Charlie and Tink away from the rock. He held out his hand and pulled Tink up to the cement walk way. He pulled Charlie out next. He pulled on latex gloves and jumped down to the sand. Squatting down, he lifted the rock.

Everyone gasped. Under the rock lay purses and wallets and other trophies of the assaults.

“That’s it! That’s it!” Tim yelled.

Charlie looked up to see Sissy standing next to Tim. Charlie sneered at her and she gave him a smug look. Tim pointed to a gold necklace on the side of the stash.

“That’s Barbie’s necklace!”

He tried to get down to the sand, but a uniformed cop stopped him.

“Get them out of here,” the mustached cop said.

Sandy and Mike hustled Tink, Sissy, Tim, and Charlie away from the sand bar. Charlie didn’t say a thing until he was buckled into the passenger seat of Mike’s old Bronco.

“What do you think?” Mike asked.

“I think there’s a lot more girls,” Charlie said.

“I think you’re right,” Mike started the car and drove back to the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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