Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal - Chapter Two Hundred and Twenty-six : Pan

CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and TWENTY-SIX

“I’ll get his lawyer now,” Uncle Seth’s friend said.

Mustache Cop nodded.

“Don’t say anything until I get back,” Uncle Seth’s friend said.

Charlie nodded and Uncle Seth’s friend left the room. Charlie sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. Mustache Cop leaned over and said something to the younger cop. The younger cop got up and left the room. He came back with three bottles of water.

Charlie drank his bottle dry. The younger cop pushed another bottle at him and Charlie drank it down. He heard a harsh woman’s voice coming down the hallway toward him. He had to force himself not to smirk.

“Yes, your lawyer is upset,” Mustache Cop said.

The door opened and Samantha Hargreaves waddled into the room. Charlie instinctively stood up.

“I’d like some time alone with my client,” Samantha said.

“I’d like a present from Santa,” Mustache Cop said. “Neither one is going to happen.”

“But…”

“Sit down, Ms. Hargreaves,” Mustache Cop said. “We have a lot of ground to cover.”

Charlie pulled out the chair next to him and Samantha sat down. He sat down next to her. Under the table, she reached for his hand. She gave his hand a squeeze and let go. Charlie sat up a little straighter.

“Did you at least introduce yourself?” Samantha looked at the friend of Uncle Seth’s. He shook his head. Samantha gave Mustache Cop a threatening look. He cleared his throat.

“See the problems I have,” Mustache Cop said.

“Therapy works,” Charlie said.

Mustache Cop laughed.

“I’m Detective Ben Red Bear,” Mustache Cop said. “This is Sergeant Aviz. We work in Major Crimes.”

“What major crime did these girls do?”

As if to protect them, Charlie moved his hand over the photos and pulled them closer to him. They were photos of girls he’d known on the streets. While he had some idea of the crimes they may have committed, he didn’t like the fact that these cops might too. Detective Red Bear noted the response.

“Nothing,” Detective Red Bear said.

“Then we can go.” Samantha started to get up.

“No,” Detective Red Bear said. He looked down at the table and up at Charlie. “I have a problem.”

“I think we went over that,” Charlie snapped.

“In the last three years, eleven girls have been brutalized, raped, beaten, and humiliated,” Detective Red Bear said. “Their assaults were videotaped and photographed. The images sold.”

Charlie grit his teeth and stared at the man.

“Not unlike…”

Charlie jumped from his seat.

“Don’t you ever say anything about my sister,” Charlie raised his hand to point at the man.

For a moment, everything stopped. The cops on the other side of the table looked up at Charlie. Samantha Hargreaves tried to pull Charlie back into the chair. Detective Red Bear nodded and Charlie sat down.

“What is the problem that you believe my client can help you with?” Samantha asked. “I remind you that he is sixteen years old. He hasn’t eaten a thing after a difficult workout. He needs to be home with his family.”

“A couple of the girls…,” Detective Red Bear turned to look at Sergeant Aviz. He held up three fingers. “Three girls said that ‘Pan’ and his friends fought off their attackers and took them to the hospital. A couple others said that ‘Pan’ took care of them while they were healing.”

“So?” Charlie shrugged. “What’s that to me?”

“Until today, I’ve had no leads, zero,” Detective Red Bear said. “The girls are too terrified to say a word. So I’ve been looking for this Pan.”

“Why?” Samantha asked.

“Because I think he can help. Maybe he saw something. Maybe he can stop…” Detective Red Bear pushed two photos toward Charlie. “These two girls killed themselves.”

Charlie swallowed hard.

“These other two,” Detective Red Bear pushed the other two photos forward. “These girls are in a residential treatment program out of state. But those girls? They’re not great, but they’re not killing themselves either.”

Charlie didn’t say anything.

“And couple of the girls, like your girlfriend Tink, have really nice haircuts,” Detective Red Bear smiled for the first time. “What do you think of that?”

Charlie locked eyes with the police detective.

“I’m wondering how much we’re going to sue the Denver Police Department for,” Samantha said. “I think a jury would easily see the imprisonment of a sixteen-year-old boy without representation or due process for three hours as… what do you think Charlie? Three million?”

“Why don’t you just go after the guys in the video?” Charlie asked.

“Their faces are altered, wiped out, not even the FBI can recover their images,” Detective Red Bear said. “Until today. Did you send your brother Nash a video?”

“No,” Charlie said.

“To his phone?”

“No,” Charlie said. “I had an assignment due. I worked on it until I went to basketball.”

“Let’s cut the crap,” Samantha said. “What video are you talking about?”

“This afternoon, Nash Norsen received a video on his phone,” Detective Red Bear said.

“How do you know that?” Samantha asked.

“It was forwarded to me by a Homeland Security Agent.”

“My brother Colin?” Samantha asked.

“Uh…” Detective Red Bear blushed and looked down at the folder in front of him.

“I was at basketball,” Charlie said.

“Nash Norsen indicated that you sometimes send things to his phone because it’s the only number you remember,” Sergeant Avis said.

“So?”

“Did you send something to something to Nash’s phone?” Detective Red Bear said.

“No,” Charlie said. “I was at basketball.”

“Did someone else send something to Nash’s phone?” Sergeant Avis asked.

“Like what?” Charlie asked.

“Like a video of your girlfriend being gang raped,” Detective Red Bear said.

“What?” Charlie felt his face flush bright red. He had the immediate urge to cry or throw up. And for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he wanted Aden. “Tink?”

~~~~~~~~

Monday night — 8:32 p.m.

Flushed from her walk, Heather waited at the front door for Blane and Mack to finish their last sprint. Mack liked Blane to face to the house and come to a screeching halt. Heather cheered her heroes.

“Is that your cell phone?” Blane asked. “Sounds like… Rescue me.”

“It’s our social worker,” Heather rushed to get the door open and ran into the house. Her hand was almost to the phone when it stopped ringing. Blane came up behind her. “Missed it.”

Fontella Bass belted out “Come on and rescue me” and Heather answered.

“Hi!”

“You sound awake,” Risa, their social worker said.

“Just walked in from our walk,” Heather said.

“Well, I can’t say I’m sorry you’re awake,” Risa said.

“What’s going on?” Heather asked.

“I need a huge favor,” Risa said. “I want to say first that you can say no. I won’t hold it against you or think you’ve done something wrong. It’s late and…”

“Has something happened to Tink?” Heather’s hand went to her heart. She pointed to the phone. Blane picked up Mack and leaned closer to listen in. Heather moved the phone so they could both hear.

“That’s part of it,” Risa said. “Tiffanie is hysterical. She’s been crying since you dropped her off. Her counselor came in to help and he called me to ask if Tiffanie could come back to your house. I was there when…”

“When?” Blane said.

“One of her friends from the streets was picked up tonight,” Risa said. “She’s at Denver Health right now. It’s going to freeze tonight so there aren’t any free beds anywhere in town. Even if Tiffanie comes to your house, her bed will be taken by one of the kids in sleeping in the lunch area. The woman who dropped Ivy, that’s her name, at Denver Health said she can come home with her but…”

“They’re not approved,” Heather said.

“That’s exactly right. Because of the cold, our emergency homes are filled and…” Risa seemed to sigh. “I wondered if you could take the girls tonight.”

“Girls?” Heather asked.

“Tiffanie and her friend,” Risa said.

Heather and Blane looked at each other.

“The girl goes by Ivy. Her legal name is Anna-Marie McDonald,” Risa said. “I have to tell you that she’s filthy and coming down from being high. She asked for Tiffanie and…”

Blane nodded and Heather smiled.

“Of course,” Heather said.

“You won’t have to keep Anna-Marie,” Risa said. “She has an aunt and some grandparents who have been looking for her. We’ll have to research the families, do home visits and stuff, but we expect them to pick her up… probably next weekend. The longest she’d stay with you is three months. We’ll find a more permanent placement if she’s there that long.”

“They’d have to share a room,” Heather said.

“One of them will have to sleep on the air mattress tonight.”

“That’s fine,” Risa said. “I was with Tiffanie when I got the call about Anna

-Marie. We went to Denver Health to see if Tiffanie could help Anna-Marie. This was Tiffanie’s idea.”

“Sounds perfect,” Blane said. “We can leave right now.”

“Why don’t I drop them off?” Risa said. “That way I can review the room and make sure they’re settled.”

“Sounds great,” Heather said. “We’ll see you in…”

“A half hour,” Risa said. “And thanks. You really saved my bacon.”

“Blane made cake,” Heather said.

“I’ll start a pot of coffee,” Blane said.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Risa said. “See you in a bit.”

Heather looked at Blane and he beamed.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Heather asked. “You’ve been sick and…”

“Perfect!” Blane said. “Can you start the coffee?”

She took Mack from him and he ran up the stairs to get the other room ready. Smiling, she went into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

~~~~~~~~

Monday night — 8:32 p.m.

“What?” Charlie felt his face flush bright red. He had the immediate urge to cry or throw up. And for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he wanted Aden. “Tink?”

Charlie swallowed hard and looked down. He knew this was the kind of moment that he needed to “be a man.” He heard the words in Anjelika’s accented voice and he felt better. He could do this. He looked up.

As if to start a rant or a lecture, Detective Red Bear took a deep breath. He took a look at Charlie’s face and let out the breath. He glanced at Samantha Hargreaves.

“The guys on my basketball team don’t like me very much,” Charlie said. “They call me On-Line and tell everyone I’m stupid. They saw me with Tink and said they were going to prove to me that I didn’t want to be with her. I didn’t think anything of it because they’re assholes and Tink, well…”

Charlie shrugged.

“Tink was a street kid,” Charlie said. “These girls were all street kids. The only one who’s still out is Ivy.”

He pointed to the picture of Ivy.

“You mean Anna-Marie McDonald?” Sergeant Aviz asked.

“Who?” Charlie shook his head.

“That girl,” Sergeant Aviz said. “Her name is Anna-Marie McDonald.”

“I don’t know anyone’s real name,” Charlie said. “They take fairy names out on the streets. You know, fairy names?”

The detective looked puzzled.

“From Disney?” Charlie asked.

“Anna-Marie is from North Dakota,” Sergeant Aviz said. “Her mother died when she was a baby. Car accident. Her Dad left her here with her grandmother when he was called up. He went to Iraq and didn’t come back.”

“Her grandmother died a few years ago,” Charlie said.

Sergeant Aviz nodded.

“She was a good friend of Jeffy’s,” Charlie said. “You know the one Saint Jude and he…”

Charlie dropped his head for a moment. The longer hair on the top of his head fell forward and covered his face. He had to breathe hard to keep from crying.

“What’s so important about this video?” Samantha asked.

“It hasn’t been digitally altered,” Detective Red Bear said. “We can see the faces of at least five of the perpetrators.”

“Was my client on the video?” Samantha asked.

“No,” Sergeant Aviz said.

“Why are we here?” Samantha asked.

~~~~~~~~

Monday night — 8:42 p.m.

Sissy waited until she thought Noelle was asleep before she crept from the room. She slipped out into the hallway and dug around in the hall laundry bag until she found one of Charlie’s smelly basketball jerseys. She pulled it on over her head and tiptoed to his closet at the end of the hall. She slipped into his bed and pulled the covers over her head.

A few minutes later, Nash plopped down almost on top of her.

“What are you doing?” Nash said in an angry whisper.

“Sleeping,” Sissy asked. “What are you doing?”

“Uh…” Nash said.

He laid down on Charlie’s futon and closed his eyes. Sissy settled in between him and the wall. They lay there for a few minutes before Noelle lay down.

“What are you doing?” Nash sat up. He nudged Noelle over.

Noelle gave him a shove.

“What are you doing?” Nash pushed her back.

“She’s doing what you’re doing – missing Charlie and hoping he’s all right,” Sissy said. “Now shut up or we’ll get caught.”

Nash lay down between Sissy and Noelle. A few minutes later, Sandy stuck her head in Charlie’s room. The children pretended to be asleep. She smiled and left. She came back with a large comforter to lay over the worried children.

“He’s going to be all right,” Sandy said.

“How do you know?” Sissy’s heartbroken voice came from near the wall.

“I just know,” Sandy said. “Should I wake you when he gets home?”

“Yes,” Nash said.

“Okay,” Sandy said. “Sleep tight.”

She went out to the living room. After fifteen minutes, she crept back to Charlie’s room.

The kids were sound asleep. Smiling, Sandy went to her room. She picked up Rachel in her bassinette and carried her to the kitchen. For a moment, she closed her eyes and smelled – flour, sugar, a touch of cinnamon that escaped Aden’s morning coffee.

“What should I make Rachel?” Sandy whispered to her sleeping baby.

She opened the refrigerator and saw the apples.

“Pie it is,” Sandy said and set to work.

~~~~~~~~

Monday night — 8:42 p.m.

“Was my client on the video?” Samantha asked.

“No,” Sergeant Aviz said.

“Why are we here?” Samantha asked.

“I need a chain of custody for the video,” Detective Red Bear said.

“Before my client comments on anything, I want, in writing, an agreement that my client has immunity from any crimes he might admit to during this investigation,” Samantha said. “And by any, I mean any and all crimes.”

Uncle Seth’s friend stepped forward with a folded sheet of paper. He held the form out to Detective Red Bear. The mustached man gave Uncle Seth’s friend a searching look. Uncle Seth’s friend nodded. Detective Red Bear took the paper, looked it over, and signed it. He passed the paper to Samantha Hargreaves. She read it and signed it.

“Charlie?” Samantha asked. Charlie turned to look at her. “They need you to tell them everything you know.”

“You’re saying those guys beat up Tink? Raped her? Broke her teeth and gave her seizures?” Charlie’s face flushed. He stared at Detective Red Bear. “She almost died!”

“I need you to help me,” Detective Red Bear said. “Did you ever beat up guys who were assaulting your friends?”

“Sure,” Charlie shrugged.

“How many times?”

“Maybe three, no four times,” Charlie said. “Me and some of the guys. I didn’t do all the beating up. I’m not much of a fighter. I just don’t have an interest in it. I mean, I’m taking martial arts now because Aden wants me to, I mean we all have to, even Sissy. And… never mind. The other guys usually did most of the fighting ‘cuz they like it. I mean I’d throw a punch or two and I’m big so I can toss people around, but I’d usually take the girl away.”

“So you could get laid?” Sergeant Aviz asked.

“I don’t need to trick girls or beat them up or whatever to get laid,” Charlie said.

“Answer the question,” Detective Red Bear said.

“No,” Charlie said.

“But you had sex with all of these girls?” Detective Red Bear asked.

Charlie turned to Samantha Hargreaves. “Do I have to answer that?”

“Why is that question such a big deal?” Sergeant Aviz asked.

“Because a gentleman never speaks about his sexual encounters,” Charlie sniffed. He wasn’t sure why but he felt really indignant. “Whatever you think of these girls, they’re good people. It’s none of your business what we do or did in private.”

Sergeant Aviz smirked and Detective Red Bear gave him a long assessing look.

“Do I have to answer that question?” Charlie asked Samantha.

“No,” Samantha said.

“Why did you help these girls?” Sergeant Aviz asked.

“Why wouldn’t I help these girls?” Charlie asked. “You’re really pissing me off. I saw my friends in trouble and I helped. And I didn’t just help them because they were my friends. And I didn’t help them because I was going to get something from them. I helped them because they needed help. What kind of a person do you think I am? What kind of a person are you?”

Charlie got to his feet.

“I want to go home,” Charlie said. Samantha Hargreaves got to her feet. “You don’t want my help. Scum like you… You really should work on yourself. Maybe if you were a better person these girls would tell you what you want know.”

“Do you still want to help these girls?” Detective Red Bear asked.

“You don’t have to do anything, Charlie,” Samantha said.

Charlie didn’t say anything.

“Or you can let these guys keep terrorizing young girls,” Sergeant Aviz said. “They prey on virgins.”

Charlie gave an involuntary shudder. He turned to look at them.

“What do I have to do?” Charlie asked.

“Help us identify the boys on the tape,” Detective Red Bear said. “Give a statement about what you saw in situations you broke up. Get your friends to talk to us – the guys who broke up the fights and the girls – the ones you helped and the… others.”

“Let us know where it happened and when – time and day,” Sergeant Aviz said. “We might get lucky and get security video.”

“Can I think about it?” Charlie asked.

“What’s to think about?” Detective Red Bear asked.

“If I do this, I have to quit basketball,” Charlie said. “I really love basketball. Sometimes it’s the only thing that’s good about being sober and… everything I have to do now.”

“You can think about it,” Detective Red Bear said. “But every hour you’re thinking, they’re planning their next attack.”

Charlie swallowed hard.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Samantha Hargreaves said. “We’re going home. You’ll have our answer tomorrow.”

With that, she walked to the door. Uncle Seth’s friend opened it. Charlie turned one last time.

“You’re Sandy’s Detective,” Charlie said.

Detective Red Bear gave a slight nod.

“That’s why you don’t like my Dad,” Charlie said. “He used to ride you to find out who was involved, to get you to solve her case. You never did. Uncle Seth solved it last year.”

Detective Red Bear gave a slight nod.

“Huh,” Charlie said and walked out of the room.

Samantha Hargreaves held onto his arm. He felt her hand as they walked through the maze of the police station and into the lobby where he walked into Aden’s arms.

“We’re going home,” Aden said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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