Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Five Hundred and Seventy-one : Two old guys in Poland


Sunday afternoon — 4:17 p.m.

John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice, Poland

“In a surprise move, the multi-billionaire’s widow arrived at his office early this morning,” the news announcer said. “A source close to the situation told American International News that she barricaded herself into his office and began going through his files.”

The screen shifted to show a picture of Tanesha.

“The widow appears to have shredded the contract her husband and his Casino had with the R&B star, Jeraine,” the news announcer said. “Here is…”

“Seth?” Bernie asked his son, Seth O’Malley. He pointed to the television screen. “Isn’t that Sandy’s good friend? The one who brought the milkshake yesterday?”

“It looks like her,” Seth said.

They were standing in line for coffee at one of those international chain coffee places in the Kraków airport.

“What are they talking about?” Seth asked.

“Something that happened at a casino,” Bernie said.

Seth squinted at the screen.

“You remember Jeraine?” Seth asked.

“Your friend Bumpy’s son,” Bernie said.

“Singer, songwriter,” Seth said.

“Addict,” Bernie said.

“Aren’t we all?” Seth asked.

Bernie grinned.

“He’s married to Tanesha,” Seth said.

“The girl with the milkshake,” Bernie said.

Seth gave him a long look.

“I remember her because I was going to ask her where she got her milkshake,” Bernie said.

“How…?” Seth started.

“My granddaughter gave me some,” Bernie said with a sniff. “Honestly, I felt badly that she wasn’t coming with us. This is really her project. I went to talk to her and…”

“Got some milkshake,” Seth said.

“Exactly,” Bernie said.

They took a step forward as the line moved.

“The boys wish they were here,” Seth said.

“Boys are boys,” Bernie said. “Sandy is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. This project of buying things and…”

Bernie didn’t want to say too much in such a public place. He put his hand on Seth’s shoulder.

“She’s wonderful,” Bernie said.

“Good thing she takes after Andy,” Seth said.

“I was going to say your mother,” Bernie said.

The men laughed. They moved forward.

“You remember that Jeraine asked us to boycott Las Vegas,” Seth said.

“Las Vegas?” Bernie asked. “That place is a pit. Who would want to do there?”

“That’s what you said at the time,” Seth said.

“Well, I said it again!” Bernie said with a grin. “And I remember the boycott. I made some calls myself. I can’t stand oppression, of any kind. You think this is the end of it?”

“Could be,” Seth said with a nod. “No way to know until the lawyers get involved.”

Bernie made a grumbling sound and fell silent.

“She sure does seem angry,” Seth said.

The men looked up at the television monitor.

“Who seems angry?” Alexandra Hargreaves asked. She appeared at Seth’s side like some kind of a magic trick. “Hey Bernie.”

“M’ lady,” Bernie said.

He lifted one of Alex’s hands and kissed the back of it. She gave him a stiff courtesy.

“What do you think?” Seth asked and gestured to the television.

Alex looked at the television for a long moment.

“I think that we have better things to think about,” Alex said. “And better coffee. Do you have your bags?”

Seth held up his carryon. Bernie gestured to his shoulder.

“Great,” Alex said. “Everyone’s waiting for you outside. Zack got a van for all of us. Well Dusty got the van. Zack just picked it up. Come on.”

They followed Alex out of the airport. She stepped into the back of the van.

“You can take the front,” Seth said. He stepped into the backseat and noticed that people were passing Alex money. “What’s this?”

“Nothing,” Alex said, tucking a wad of bills into her pocket.

Seth looked at Alex’s smiling faces. Wondering if he was going to regret going with them, he took a seat and they started into Kraków traffic.


Sunday afternoon — 5:47 p.m.

“We weren’t sure how you would be after the travel,” US Navy Captain Vince Hutchins said. “We got here mid-day. The non-famous of us went on a tour of Auschwitz.”

“Non-famous?” Bernie asked.

They were standing in the living room of the farm that Seth had rented. The farm house was large and warm. The team members shared rooms by partner group. Seth and Bernie were given a room on the ground floor.

“I can’t go,” Alex said.

“If someone sees her or her partner, Raz, they will think that there’s some action going on here,” US Army Captain Matthew Mac Clenaghan said. “Me, Troy — they might start looking for her.”

“The rest of us are nobodies,” US Army Captain Andrew “Trece” Ramirez said.

“Speak for yourself,” US Marine Sergeant First Class Margaret Peaches said. “I’m not nobody.”

Everyone laughed. Seth found himself grinning with them. He glanced at his father who had a similar look on his face.

“I’ve been to Auschwitz,” Bernie said. “I don’t need another visit.”

The team became instantly silent. Alex had warned them that Seth’s father’s history was cloudy. Most of his files were classified or simply unavailable.

“Were you here during the war?” an older man’s voice came from the stairs.

General Patrick Hargreaves turned the corner and came down the last flight of stairs.

“Patrick,” Seth said with a smile.

Seth turned to his father to introduce the men only to find Bernie giving Patrick a guarded look.

“Why are you here?” Bernie asked.

“My daughter,” Patrick said. He pointed to Alex.

Bernie shook his head.

“Try again,” Bernie said. “That’s Benjamin’s daughter. She and her twin look just like his mother.”

“We share her,” Benjamin said as he came into the room.

Bernie squinted at Benjamin.

“I stopped lying to you in the ’60, Bernie,” Benjamin said with a shrug. “Why would I lie?”

Bernie looked at Seth.

“How are you connected with these people?” Bernie asked.

“Your piano student, Paddie, is Alex’s nephew,” Seth said. “I know the General from …”

Seth sighed.

“Life,” Seth said finally. “Denver. I played at all of his celebrations in winning the Senate. And …”

Seth shrugged.

“Sandy does our hair,” Petty Officer Leena Carmichael said as she came into the room.

Bernie brightened at her presence.

“I didn’t know you would be here,” Bernie said.

“I work for Alex,” Leena said. “Nice to see you, sir.”

“Her daughter takes piano lessons,” Bernie said with a smile. He seemed to let out a breath. “I apologize. I’ve been a little triggered since getting off the plane.”

Seth put his arm on his father’s shoulder.

“I hate the south of Poland,” Bernie said.

“Would you give us a tour of Auschwitz?” Patrick asked.

Bernie scowled at him for a long moment before giving him a vague nod. Patrick pointed at Bernie.

“I want to be clear,” Patrick said. “We are not friends.”

“We are,” Benjamin said with a wry grin as he pressed past Patrick to take a seat on the couch. “Always have been.”

Ignoring Ben, Patrick continued, “That man knows more about what actually happened in the last hundred years that anyone alive.”

Patrick looked at Seth.

“His mind is still clear?” Patrick asked.

“Planning on recruiting him?” Seth asked. He shook his head. “No. Whatever you’re thinking, no. He’s an old man who gave everything he had to his country. He’s here for fun, not as some lab rat for your Intelligence bullshit.”

Patrick opened his mouth.

“No,” Seth said with a shake of his head.

“I wasn’t going to recruit him,” Patrick said.

“Bullshit,” Seth said.

“Okay, I was going to recruit him,” Patrick said.

“I can hear you,” Bernie said. “As you well know, the last thing I was recruited for left me locked in a room with ricen.”

“What?” Leena asked. Every eye turned to Bernie.

“I apologize,” Bernie said. “It’s not my intention to cause an issue.”

“It was my father’s,” Alex said with a laugh. “Dad, chill out. Get some wine.”

Patrick gave her a hard look. She pointed toward the kitchen.

“I’ll go with you,” Margaret said.

Alex sat down next to Bernie.

“Dinner is ready,” their cook said. “I’m afraid it’s a little of this and that. I wasn’t sure when you’d get in. I thought we could just line it up here and you could get what you wanted.”

“That’s perfect,” Vince said. “Thank you.”

“I’ll help carry things,” Seth said. He looked at his father. Bernie nodded.

Taking his cue, the rest of the team went into the kitchen leaving Alex, Ben, and Bernie on the couch. Alex looked at Ben, and he got up.

“I’ll go help Patrick with the wine,” Ben said.

Alex threaded her hand through Bernie’s elbow. He turned to look at her. She gave him a soft smile.

“I want to make sure that you are as comfortable as you can be,” Alex said.

“Why is Patrick here?” Bernie asked.

“He wanted to come,” Alex said. “If you’d like him to leave, I will tell him to go.”

“Just like that?” Bernie asked.

“Just like that,” Alex said. “He and I tell each other the truth. We’ve …” Alex sighed. “We’ve had a lot of hard truths in the last few years.”

Bernie nodded.

“How’s your PTSD?” Alex asked.

“How’s yours?” Bernie asked.

Alex grinned at him.

“I can always see it on people,” Alex said. “You?”

Bernie nodded.

“Does Seth …?” Alex asked.

“I don’t think so,” Bernie said. “He’s been through hell but it doesn’t seem to cling to him.”

“Piano?” Alex asked.

“Maybe,” Bernie said. “I was a prodigy as well.”

“I know,” Alex said with a grin. “I’m a prodigy, too. Ciphers. My brother and I figured all kinds of things out.”

Alex nodded.

“Including mine?” Bernie asked.

“Including yours,” Alex said. “Listen.”

Bernie turned to look at her directly.

“Don’t overdo it,” Alex said. “We have people who can do everything you and I can do, just not combined. So, you want to tour Auschwitz, do it. You want to talk to our writer’s family? Do it. You want to stay in bed and eat chocolate? I’m fine with that.”

“And my Seth?” Bernie asked.

“I’ve known O’Malley for a long time,” Alex said. “I’m good at finding people, so I met him early in my career.”

Bernie gave her a look.

“You knew that I was at Fitzsimmons,” Bernie said.

“I did,” Alex said.

His head slowly nodding, Bernie seemed to relax.

“It’s been my experience that O’Malley does whatever he wants to do,” Alex said. “Period. You should take a cue from him.”

He gave her a slight nod.

“Easier said than done,” Bernie said.

“Let’s just promise to be honest with each other,” Alex said. “You tell me if you’re triggered and I’ll do the same. Most of my team has some form or another of trauma induced issues. We try to be honest about it.”

“Do you think I’ll hold you back?” Bernie asked.

“Not in the least,” Alex said with a grin. She nodded to Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen as he came into the room. “I’m going to leave you with my partner.”

“Bernie!” Raz said. “They told me you were here. I didn’t believe them. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

Alex smiled and left them to chat. She went through a hallway where Seth was hovering.

“Should we leave?” Seth asked.

“No,” Alex said. “I’m sorry about my father.”

“I’m sorry about mine,” Seth said.

“Did you know that they had issues?” Alex asked.

“They sniped at each other when Katy and Paddie had their little piano recital,” Seth said. “I just thought it was cantankerousness.”

“Something neither one lacks,” Alex said.

Seth nodded.

“Don’t worry,” Alex said. “We’re going to head to the mine tomorrow. It’s likely to be in and out. Done.”

“We’ll see,” Seth said. He opened his mouth to say something but then shook his head. “Do you think they have history?”

“They have history,” Alex said. “Bernie was the CIA part of a few deals my father’s intelligence team worked.”

“Didn’t end well?” Seth asked.

“Everything went off without a hitch,” Alex said. “They just don’t like each other. Trust each other.”

Seth nodded.

“Let’s just watch out for each other,” Alex said. “He has PTS. I do. Some of my team does. This is supposed to be a fun, non-dangerous trip. So let’s just have fun.”

“Will do,” Seth said with a smile.

“Now, Leena’s dying to know what the Queen of England is like,” Alex said.

She nodded to where Leena was waiting for them to finish.

“You need anything,” Alex said, “you let me know.”

“Same for you,” Seth said.

“Done,” Alex said.

She wandered off toward the kitchen. Seth looked into the living room. The team has slowly filtered back into the room. Raz and Bernie were having a rousing conversation that everyone was soon involved in.

“Dinner?” Benjamin asked Seth.

“You know, I’d love some coffee,” Seth said. “American. Not espresso.”

“Let me get you some,” Benjamin said.

Seth followed Ben into the kitchen.


Sunday mid-day — 1:12 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“I hope you don’t mind,” Abi said to Maresol as she entered Seth O’Malley’s home. “I brought the girls with me. Their dad is studying today and I …”

“They are welcome here,” Maresol said.

Maresol dropped to her knees and held out her hand.

“I’m Maresol,” she said.

Zoe looked into Maresol’s face. The child touched Maresol’s chin before smiling. Maresol took Zoe’s hand and shook it. Zoe giggled.

“Zoe,” the toddler said.

“I’m Zaidy,” the other child said.

Maresol took Zaidy’s hand and shook it. Zaidy smiled at Maresol and Maresol felt like the room lit up just a tiny bit more. Maresol looked up at Abi.

“They are so beautiful,” Maresol said. “Smart.”

“They are happy girls,” Abi said. “They absolutely love …”

“Zoe!” Noelle said. “Zaidy!”

Grinning from ear to ear, the girls toddled over. Noelle took one child in each hand and walked them into the den area. Abi and Maresol watched them go.

“Noelle,” Abi said. “They have missed not having her there at the Castle.”

Maresol smiled at Abi and nodded.

“I always feel like I should kneel in your presence,” Maresol said. “O’Malley told me that you hate that.”

“I do indeed,” Abi said. She put her hand on Maresol’s arm. “It’s a great gift for me that my friend Sandy is safe and healing well. I’m sure it’s a lot of work for you.”

“She’s Seth’s daughter,” Maresol said with a shrug. “She’s family.”

“Yes,” Abi said. “Thank you for that.”

Maresol wasn’t sure why, but she felt a surge of warmth coming off this woman. Maresol smiled.

“Come in,” Maresol said. “Seth and his father are in Poland.”

“Yes, the big trip!” Abi said.

Maresol grinned. They walked into the kitchen together. Maresol was wondering what Abi might like.

“I would love some tea, thank you,” Abi said.

“Tea it is,” Maresol said.

“Would you mind terribly if I stepped in to see Sandy?” Abi asked.

“I think she’s asleep,” Maresol said.

“That’s okay,” Abi said. “I just need a moment.”

Maresol looked at Abi for a moment. She had the sense that something was going on, but she wasn’t sure what. She remembered something Delphie had told her.

“I wondered …” Maresol said.

“Yes?” Abi asked.

“Delphie told me to ask you about my son,” Maresol said. “She said that she is too close to the situation but that you might be able to figure it out.”

“Figure it out?” Abi asked.

“He is very angry with me,” Maresol said. “It started when he turned twenty.”

“So it’s been a while,” Abi said.

Maresol nodded.

“I’m afraid that I will die and never know why he’s so angry with me,” Maresol said.

She sucked in a breath. She had no idea why she was telling this woman her deepest sorrow and her most horrible fear. It came out of her almost without much conscious thought. Maresol was relieved when Abi gave her a soft smile.

“How old was your husband when he died?” Abi asked.

“Twenty,” Maresol said. “See I thought it was that, but why is it my fault?”

“It’s not,” Abi said. “He’s not angry with you.”

“What do you mean he’s not angry with me?” Maresol shook head. “He …”

Abi nodded, and Maresol realized if she kept being defensive, she’d never learn what she wanted to know.

“He misses his dad?” Maresol asked.

“No,” Abi said. She sucked in a breath and hummed for a moment. She let out a breath. “When he calls, tell him that you are not angry with him.”

“When he …?” Maresol asked. She felt angry and unheard. “What are you talking about? Except for that time about his sister, and really that was Seth, he hasn’t spoken to me in nearly twenty years! He …”

Maresol’s cell phone rang. She turned it over, and it was her son’s phone number. Maresol looked at Abi, and Abi nodded.

“Hello,” Maresol said.

Abi watched while Maresol listened.

“No, son, I am not angry with you,” Maresol said. “Not ever. I have just felt confused and hurt because I love you and you withdrew from me. You wouldn’t let me love you.”

Abi winked at Maresol. While Maresol was distracted, Abi walked into Sandy’s room. She opened the door and found Sandy alone. Sandy’s eyes tracked Abi as she walked into the room.

“Jill tells me that your injuries are stubborn to healing,” Abi said.

“T’ m-ch,” Sandy said though her wired jaw.

“Yes, there’s a lot here,” Abi said. “How can I help?”

Sandy looked at Abi. Her eyebrows went up and down as she tried to work out what Abi was saying.

“We’ll start slow,” Abi said.

Abi snapped her finger, and Sandy fell asleep.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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