Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and Seventy-nine : You're funny


Monday afternoon — 2:25 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Hey,” Jacob said as Blane rounded the corner.

Jacob was standing in the kitchen of the remodel of what was once Nelson’s historic home. There was a television with the sound off on the counter playing the news. Behind Jacob, the top kitchen cabinets hung in the air.

“What are you doing?” Blane asked gesturing to the cabinet.

“Oh, I wasn’t sure about placement,” Jacob said. “I’m not sure if I should put it up higher or lower. How much time do you think Heather and Nelson will spend in this kitchen?”

“Approximately none?” Blane grinned. “I mean, Heather likes to make tea or maybe some cookies. I mean, things could change but it seems like her responsibilities to Olympia keep increasing.”

“Tanesha is taller than you are,” Jacob said. “So’s Jeraine.”

“Tanesha doesn’t cook either,” Blane said. “I mean, I guess if Tanesha’s grandmother decides to cook when she’s here but she’d never going to be here unless …”

Blane squinted.

“Isn’t that O’Malley?” Blane asked.

Jacob looked at the television.

“Looks like him,” Jacob said.

“I’ll …” Blane said, reaching for the television but Jacob had already turned it up. “What happened to not using your ‘powers’ unless you had to, Superman?”

“I gave up on that prohibition,” Jacob said with a shrug. “Especially when no one’s around.”

“Now, I’m no one?” Blane asked.

“Funny,” Jacob said. “You’re funny.”

“Shh,” Blane said, gesturing to the television.

There was a thud as Jacob set the upper cabinets down. Their attention turned to the television.

“My best-friend’s daughter, Sandy, bought a journal at a yard sale for my father,” Seth said. “He speaks a number of languages and likes puzzles. He translated the journal and discovered hints that there might be a tunnel here, in southern Poland. He also uncovered the journal writer’s identity.”

Seth said the author’s name. The reporters began shouting questions. Seth waited until the chaos died down.

“As you likely know, I personally am happy to answer your questions,” Seth said. “But this has turned into … I only have this statement.”

“You’ll be available later?” a voice yelled from behind.

“Hey, Jim,” Seth said. “There’s so many interested parties here that there’s no way to know when ‘later’ might be. When I know something, I’ll make sure that you know it.”

Seth looked up. Grinning to the crowd of reporters, he added, “I was able to get some photos for you but I’m getting ahead of myself.”

“Is that a bruise?” a woman yelled from the front. She gestured to a place where Seth’s starched white shirt buckled near his collar bone.

“I was hit by an arrow,” Seth said. He gestured an arrow hitting him. “Very painful even with body armor.”

The reporters began screaming questions. Seth stood still for a moment before he whistled. The reporters stopped talking and looked up at him.

“This is what’s going to happen,” Seth said. “I’m going to read this. We’ll give you some photos for your publication. Tomorrow or the next day, we’ll update you on the UNs progress. I have to tell you that I am very tired. If we can’t get through this, I’m going to head to bed.”

“With who?” someone called from the back.

There was a sexy whistle.

“Funny,” Seth said with a shake of his head.

“Who else can we ask?” a man’s voice yelled from the center of the crowd.

“Ah Tommy,” Seth said. “Aren’t I your one and only?”

“Not a chance,” Tommy yelled.

“There’s no one else,” Seth said. “Let’s get through this. Agree?”

The reporters seemed to agree, so Seth continued.

“We went back to the seller and discovered that the journal had belonged to her grandfather,” Seth said. “Her grandfather is the novelist’s son. He and his father immigrated to the US days before the Nazis came for his mother. His mother sent this journal with her husband. She knew the Nazi’s were after her. She believed that her son and husband would be safe if they left Poland. She was correct.”

Seth looked into the cameras and nodded.

“She says all of this at the end of the journal,” Seth said. “Our family friend, Nadia Kerminoff, has business ties in Poland. She and her lawyers helped to facilitate the transfer of the land into Sandy’s name. Before you ask …”

Seth looked up.

“We paid the family for the land,” Seth said. “It sounds like we stole the land, but we helped an elderly man take his wife on a long vacation — one he’s still on.”

Seth nodded firmly, his eyes catching those of the original journal owner at the far back of the crowd. The elderly man grinned at Seth.

“It’s taken us a long time.” Seth went back to reading. “Originally we were going to take care of this ourselves. It was decided that the project was not safe. We hired a team of U.S. soldiers to assist in this project.”

Seth looked up.

“We’re going to go through the photos now,” Seth said. “I’ll give you a few minutes to pull them down from the website. Everyone has that?”

He was greeted with a sea of nods.

“We have free WiFi,” Seth said. “Everyone has that?”

More nods. Seth took a drink of water and waited.

“O’Malley, there are dead children here,” a woman said.

“Yes,” Seth said. “I’ll get there.”

He waited a few more minutes before asking, “Are we all on the same page?”

Seeing a sea of nodding heads, he continued.

“I led a team of two soldiers into the tunnels,” Seth started.

“Why you?” a reporter yelled. “You’re a piano player, composer, rich guy. Why are you involved?”

Seth turned to look at the young reporter.

“What’s your name?” Seth asked.

“Elvis Johnson,” the young man said. “New York Music Magazine.”

“How old are you?” Seth asked.

“Read O’Malley’s fucking Wikipedia page!” Someone yelled from the back.

Seth looked up and grinned.

“So that we’re all on the same page,” Seth said. “How old are you?”

“25,” the young man yelled.

“My agent, my father, and my step-father fought in Guadalcanal. My father was a part of the war effort in other ways,” Seth said. “My older brother was SF in Laos. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t head into the service. That’s what young men of substance and honor did. When I was seventeen, I went to Vietnam with my best friend. We spent two years in the tunnels …”

“Chi Chui!” someone yelled from the back.

“Exactly,” Seth grinned at the person. “I was a kid, 8 years younger than you. 17 years old. Most of the guys in our team were older by ten years or more. I’m one of the few who didn’t get sick from the Agent Orange or kill myself. By a process of elimination, I’m an expert at tunnel warfare. Does that answer your question?”

“Why not send the guys from Afghanistan?” Elvis Johnson asked.

“Who do you think taught them?” another report asked.

“Go on, O’Malley,” a woman said. “We’re with you.”

Seth nodded to the woman and started with the sanitized update.

“A team of us went into the main tunnel only to find the main entrance to the salt mine blocked. In order to get in the mind, we’d have to open the door from inside the mine. That’s common in this kind of situation,” Seth said. “We looked and found the separate entrance. I led a team of people into the smaller tunnel that I had read about in the journal. There’s a mention about a root cellar. We found the entrance to the smaller branch. There were three chambers. Each chamber was booby-trapped.”

Seth looked up to find reporters listening and taking notes.

“Your first picture shows the first chamber,” Seth said. “These children were living in the tunnel. You have an image of their execution order.”

“But that’s the Minister of Arts and Sciences,” a reporter said.

“Exactly,” Seth said.

“Why are they pressed against the wall like that?” a reporter asked.

“We made the assumption that they were gassed. They were pressed up to the fresh air vent,” Seth said. “The bodies smells like onions which could be either mustard gas or arsine which were both readily available in this region of the world at that time. We moved the bodies of the children and continued through two more chambers. We found young men, Nazis — teenagers really — killed upon the booby traps.”

Seth gave a nod.

“You have an image of these men as well as their identification,” Seth said. “I’m not sure what your publications can print. The photos are pretty gruesome. Our hope is that you will put the word out so we can put some families minds to rest. Someone’s been waiting fifty years for these young men to come home.”

Seth waited until the reporters looked up at him.

“When we finally reached the chamber, we discovered …” Seth looked up to see the reporters flipping through the photos. “Look for the man in a lab coat.”

He waited until they caught up.

“U.S. Intelligence operatives told us that there might be a nuclear detonator in this mine,” Seth said. “There is a story that a Jewish scientist stole the detonator and took it into a ‘mine.’ You’ll see that’s exactly what he did.

“He also managed to hold open the door to the mine,” Seth said. “The images you have are our first looks into the mine.”

“Whoa,” Blane said.

“Didn’t Nelson’s father go with them?” Jacob asked.

“He did,” Blane said. “I had breakfast with Nelson this morning. He said his dad called. He wants Nelson to look some things up. I guess they have a claim to some of swords and stuff.”

Blane shrugged.

“That’s an adventure of a life time,” Jacob said.

“It brings up that story that Nelson is the key to some treasure,” Blane said with a roll of his eyes.

Jacob turned around to work on the cabinets again.

“What do you think?” Jacob asked.

“About Nelson as the key to some bullshit Templar thing?” Blane asked.

“The cabinets,” Jacob said.

“Higher,” Blane said. “That’s perfect.”

Jacob marked the top of the cabinets before setting them to the side. He turned around to look at Blane, but Blane was lost in thought.

“What’s up?” Jacob asked.

“I … um …” Blane scowled.

Valerie came in the door.

“Hi baby brother,” Valerie said. She put her arm around Blane and kissed his cheek.

“What’s this?” Jacob asked.

“This is an intervention,” Valerie said.

“Didn’t you already do this?” Jacob asked. “Tell me that I’m not living my life right and I should follow your glorious example?”

Valerie laughed.

“I’m working,” Jacob said. He gestured around him.

“You have four men who could do this easier and faster,” Valerie said. “You’re wasting your time.”

Jacob looked at Blane.

“Anything to add?” Jacob asked.

“You seem kind of lost,” Blane said. “We’ve had to figure out what we’re going to do with our lives. You took over for your dad and just … did what was next.”

“You’ve never had to figure out what you want to do with your life,” Valerie said.

“I am a carpenter,” Jacob said. “I own a remodeling business. What about that isn’t ‘figuring it out’?”

Valerie and Blane looked at each other for a long moment.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“Sam’s a carpenter,” Blane said.

“It’s all Dad’s ever wanted to do,” Valerie said. “Outside of being with Jill and having kids, what have you ever wanted to do? And I don’t mean what you want to do for me or for Dad or for Mom or for Delphie or anyone else. How do you want to spend the rest of your life?”

Jacob scowled.

“I …” Jacob sighed. “I gave myself a year to figure it out.”

“You’re getting depressed,” Blane said. “You might not notice it but the rest of us do.”

“You’re moving at half-speed,” Valerie said. Her eyes welled with tears. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Jacob looked at his sister and then at Blane.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” Jacob said. “Right now, I need to finish this remodel so my cousin and his family can move in.”

“And then what?” Valerie asked. “Another remodel?”

“That’s likely,” Jacob said.

“You’re slowly drifting away,” Blane said.

“When was the last time you felt really alive?” Valerie asked.

“When the cherubim were working on rebuilding my body?” Jacob shrugged.

“Funny,” Blane said.

“You’re funny,” Valerie said.

Jacob gave her a big grin.

“I talked to Jill,” Valerie said. “She agrees with us, by the way.”

“What did you talk to Jill about?” Jacob asked.

“We think you need some time to yourself,” Blane said.

“You mean like I had in the golden cottage?” Jacob asked. “Trying to save your ass?”

“Something you did,” Blane pressed his hand into his chest, “for me.”

“And?” Jacob asked.

“What do you want to do for you?” Valerie asked.

Jacob scowled at her. His hands went to his hips.

“What did you talk to my wife about?” Jacob asked.

“Jill agrees that you seem aimless,” Valerie said.

“You’re getting depressed!” Blane said.

“And your solution?” Jacob asked.

“When was the last time you went fishing?” Blane asked. “Spent a week at the cabin?”

“Jill and I …” Jacob started.

“You used to go once a quarter,” Blane said. “You said it was necessary for you to hear yourself think.”

“Life changes,” Jacob said with a shrug.

“Katy is in school,” Valerie said. “The twins are at school most of the day. Jill’s in school full time. Edie’s here to fill any gaps.”

“And you’re installing cabinets,” Blane said.

Jacob squinted at them.

“What?” Blane asked.

“What will it take for this conversation to end?” Jacob asked. “For you to go away?”

“Huh,” Blane looked at Valerie and she nodded. “That’s cranky for you.”

“And?” Jacob asked.

“You’re isolating,” Blane said.

“So your solution is for me to go off by myself and …” Jacob said.

“Actually, our solution was …” Sam said as he came around the corner, “ … for me to drive you up to the cabin. Make sure you have everything you need and come home.”

“Right now?” Jacob asked. “What about?”

Two men came in the room. They nodded to Jacob and started installing the cabinet. Jacob gawked at them.

“Come on, son,” Sam said.

Sam put his arm over Jacob’s shoulder and walked him out to Sam’s truck.

“What about my gear?” Jacob asked.

“Jill packed it last night,” Sam said. “I grabbed your fishing gear. Blane got your camping gear. Satellite phone.”

Jacob stood at the door to the truck’s passenger seat. He noticed that his yellow Labrador, Sarah, was in the back seat.

“But …” Jacob said.

“You know what convinced me that you needed this?” Sam asked.

“How?” Jacob looked at his father.

“You stopped having breakfast with Blane, Aden, and me,” Sam said.

“I had breakfast with you …” Jacob looked offended.

“That was a month ago,” Sam said.

“Really?” Jacob asked.

“Really,” Sam said. “Get in the vehicle.”

Jacob got into the passenger seat. Sam started the truck and pulled out from Nelson’s driveway.

“We need to fix this driveway,” Sam said.

“It’s on the list,” Jacob said.

Sam nodded. After watching traffic, he was able to pull out. He started toward the highway.

“Will I be stuck there without a vehicle?” Jacob asked when they were on the I-70.

“No,” Sam said. “The boys will meet us there. You remember, from Leadville? My brothers?”

Jacob nodded.

“I’ll leave you my truck,” Sam said. “They’ll take me back. But if you come right back, you’ll really mess up.”

“Your need to control me?” Jacob asked.

“A lot of people have gone out of their way to create this space for you,” Sam said. “Coming right back is a big fat f-you for all of their efforts.”

Scowling, Jacob focused on the forest passing the window.

“My son would never do that,” Sam said.

“Your son?” Jacob asked.

Jacob looked at Sam and he grinned. Shaking his head, Jacob turned to look out the window. When Jacob didn’t say anything, Sam looked at him.

Jacob was sound asleep.

Sam knew that Jacob hadn’t been sleeping well. According to Jill, he didn’t seem to be sleeping at all. There was clearly something heavy on his mind. Sam knew that this trip was exactly what Jacob needed. He couldn’t help but worry.

Sarah, Jacob’s dog, made a sound as if to agree with Sam’s thoughts.

“I know, I know,” Sam said with a nod.

He continued to driving into the mountains.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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