CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY-TWO
Tuesday morning — 10:10 a.m.
New York City, New York
Seth tapped on Claire’s door. He’d been shooed out of the apartment to get donuts while everyone looked at the insides of the envelope. Claire opened the door and stepped aside. He went straight to the kitchen. He put the donuts on a large serving plate while Claire made more coffee. Holding the plate of donuts, he was rounding the corner from the kitchen when he caught his first look at what was inside the envelope.
He stopped short so fast that the donuts slid close to the edge of the plate.
“What’s that?” Seth asked, as he pushed the donuts back in place.
Bernice and R.J. looked up at him. Claire came out of the kitchen behind him.
“That’s what was in the envelope,” Claire said as she passed him.
Seth set the plate of donuts on a side table. Claire poured coffee for Bernice and was just pouring coffee for R.J. when Seth dropped into a squat next to the coffee table. He picked up a piece of paper and then another. His face flushed red and then went white.
“This was in Di’s envelope?” Seth asked as he held up an empty pack of cigarettes. “You’re sure.”
“They don’t make those anymore,” R.J. said. “I know. I tried to get some.”
Seth nodded and set the cardboard pack on the table.
“I’m sorry,” Seth said. “I need to take this back from you.”
“Seth!” Claire said at the same time Bernice said, “We’ve been through this.”
“I’ve seen that look and it’s never good.” R.J. shook his head at Seth.
“I’m sorry,” Seth repeated. He gave a nod. “It’s not you or even me trying to be controlling. It’s …”
“You know what this is,” Claire said, cutting him off.
“What is it?” Bernice asked.
“Nothing good,” Seth said.
“You don’t need to protect us,” Bernice said. “We’re not children.”
“I’m not trying to protect you,” Seth said. “I’m …”
He looked down at the ground and sighed.
“This is about an unsolved murder,” Seth said.
“Murder?” Bernice asked.
“Unsolved?” Claire asked.
“It’s a case that Mitch and I were called in to consult on, and we …” Seth said. With his shoulders back, he moved his head toward Bernice. “You got this from …”
“Di,” Bernice said. “Before she died.”
Seth shook his head.
“It never occurred to me …” Seth said.
“What never occurred to you?” Claire asked.
“That those murders had anything to do with me or Di or …” Seth nodded. “I need to get this to Ava, and …”
Claire gave Seth a long assessing look; after a moment, she began packing up the envelope.
“You’ll let us know?” Claire asked.
“I am sorry,” Seth said. “I was enjoying our time together. I don’t have a lot of friends now and this has been …”
Seth nodded rather than say anymore.
“Did you solve this case, son?” Bernice asked.
Seth shook his head.
“You sure we can’t help?” Bernice asked.
“You … Uh …” Seth said.
His eyes flicked to R.J. and Claire before turning to Bernice.
“Oh good Lord,” Bernice said. “This is about that poor man who was beaten to death in 1955.”
“Know anything?” Seth squinted at her.
“Not a damned thing,” Bernice said. “Except … well …”
The air in the room became heavy. R.J. watched Bernice out of the side of his eyes. Claire turned toward her and Seth’s blue eyes squinted.
“You remember that case …” Bernice said, and stopped talking.
After a few minutes, Seth asked, “Case?”
“Cigarette smoker,” Bernice said.
Seth reeled back as if he’d been stung. The envelope dropped out of his hands and landed with a thud on the rug.
“That’s was his daddy,” Bernice said.
“Whose?” Seth asked.
“That killer,” Bernice said.
“You’re saying that the Cigarette Smoking Killer’s father was killed here, in New York City, just outside the Savoy where Di was working, Bud was playing, and …”
“Your daddy was there that night, too,” Bernice said, with a nod. “Me, Big Daddy. We were just kids. You must have been…”
“Not born,” Seth said.
“But …” Bernice said.
“But?” Seth asked, when her voice trailed off.
“It wasn’t just him that was beaten to death,” Bernice said. “His sister, too. Right there.”
“She wasn’t in the report,” Seth said evenly.
“She …” Bernice said. “Well …”
“She worked for Di,” R.J. said.
“And the man?” Seth asked. “Did he work for Di too?”
“Not that I know of,” R.J. said. “His name was …”
“Delmer,” Seth and R.J. said together.
“And hers?” Seth asked.
“Delilah,” R.J. said. “But she went by ‘Raven.’”
“Di’s women went by bird names when they were working,” Bernice said. “Delilah — Raven — went to school with my husband and myself.”
“That’s probably when Big Daddy didn’t want you to have this,” Bernice said.
“Why?” Seth asked.
“Didn’t want to involve you, I guess,” Bernice said.
“But …” Seth bent to pick up the envelope. With the envelope in his hands, he took a step forward. “Why would Di put this together for me? I was 12 years old when she died. I hadn’t met Mitch. The idea of becoming a police detective didn’t come to me until ten years later, or more.”
“You used to read all those mystery books,” Bernice said.
Claire’s head went up and down.
“Now that you mention it, you talked about mysteries all the time,” R.J. said. “You were always trying to figure out the latest murder mystery. I’d get you the papers to get the latest details. You’d read them on the way into the city. You had a real knack for it. You’d solve the crime by the time I was taking you back to school. And you were right every time.”
Seth’s head went up and down slowly.
“I’d bet she thought it was a mystery you’d solve,” Bernice said.
“I need to …” Seth pointed to the door.
“Take a donut,” Claire said.
Seth’s eyes flicked to the plate. Claire got up. She picked up a plain cake with chocolate frosting and set it on a napkin. She gave it to Seth and kissed his cheek.
“For luck,” Claire said.
“Thank you,” Seth said.
He left the apartment. Bernice, R.J., and Claire watched the door for a moment.
“That boy is going to get himself killed,” R.J. said.
“Not if we can help it,” Claire said.
“There’s the truth,” Bernice said.
Tuesday morning — 9 a.m.
“I just feel like we’re never going to get this thing done,” Honey said.
Nodding, Jacob pulled into Jill’s old apartment building parking lot and parked his Jeep.
“I know how you feel,” Jacob said. “But like we talked about at breakfast, the state just wants two more things done and they’ll let us open.”
“That’s what they said last time!” Honey said.
Jacob nodded. He turned to look at her.
“You looked rested. Tan,” Jacob said.
“We had the best time.” Honey visibly brightened with her words.
“Maggie missed you,” Jacob said. “We all did.”
“Yes, poor Maggie,” Honey said. “She’s …”
“Wonderful?” Jacob asked.
“She really is,” Honey beamed.
“You want to go in and do this or shall we …” Jacob looked out the windshield.
“Let’s go inside,” Honey said. “If it’s bad, we’ll head to the bar.”
Jacob gave her an agreeing nod and got out of the truck. He grabbed her wheelchair as he rounded the back of the truck. He opened Honey’s door and helped her out of the truck. When she was situated, they started toward the building. They were near the door when Honey gasped.
“You liar,” Honey said.
“What?” Jacob asked. “What did I do?”
“You, sir, are a liar,” Honey said.
She pressed the door button and rolled into the entrance. A bright young woman in a wheelchair sat at the reception desk.
“Can I help you, Mr. Lipson?” she asked.
“This is Honey Lipson,” Jacob said. “Uh, Scully. Honey Lipson-Scully. She owns the place.”
“Really?” the woman whipped around the desk to greet Honey. “Thank you!”
Honey accepted a sideways hug from the woman.
“Would you like a tour?” the woman asked.
“I’ve been through …” Honey started.
“Not with patients here,” Jacob said.
“Not patients,” the receptionist said. “Tenants. We are a community.”
“Yes, sorry,” Jacob said. “My bad.”
The receptionist whipped back to her desk and pressed a button. A young man in a sports wheelchair arrived at the desk.
“Honey would like a tour,” the receptionist said.
The young man raised a hand in hello.
“You know, Honey Lipson-Scully,” the receptionist said at the side of her mouth. “The owner.”
“I know who she is,” the young man said. “I was with MJ in Iraq.”
“Nice to see you, Rudy,” Honey said.
The young man nodded.
“Why don’t you come on back?” Rudy asked. He pointed to Jacob. “You coming too?”
“I’ll tag along,” Jacob said.
“Try to keep up,” Rudy said.
Rudy took off and Honey easily caught up with him. Jacob ran behind. They wheeled past the wheelchair access gym on the ground floor.
“It was full this morning before work,” Rudy said with a nod to the gym.
The Physical Therapy facility was had a few therapists working with people. The three lane lap pool had swimmers. They took the elevator to the first floor. Right off the elevators, was a round nurse station. Two nurses were working on computers.
“Oh Jake,” the nurse said. “The WiFi’s been in and out today.”
“Got it,” Jacob said with a nod. “Thanks.”
Jacob leaned into Honey.
“We need to hire someone to take care of this kind of thing,” Jacob said.
“Noted,” Honey said.
“Everyone’s moved in,” Rudy said.
A corgi came running up to them. Jacob leaned down to pet the yellow and white dog. The dog’s owner rolled down the hallway a moment later.
“Sorry,” the woman said. “He needs to go out.”
“You know where the grass is?” Rudy asked.
“I thought I’d take him for a little walk,” the woman said. “Take a look around a bit.”
“The neighborhood’s not great,” Jacob said cautiously.
“That’s okay,” the woman said. “My vicious dog will protect me.”
She waved and got on the elevator. They waved back. Rudy picked up where he left off.
“There are a few whiners on the top floor who say the elevator’s too slow,” Rudy said.
“Slow but safe for every level of non-ambulatory person,” Jacob said. “It’s a state requirement.”
“That’s what I tell people,” Rudy said. “I’ve been running these tours non-stop. Seems like a lot of folks want to live here.”
Jacob nodded. For a moment, they looked down the long hallway. The walls were painted a nice shade of sunny yellow and someone had put up oil and watercolor paintings.
“That’s Margo’s work,” Rudy said. He looked at Honey. “She asked Jake and he was okay with it. She sold a couple paintings when people were moving in. There’s a few of artists here — seven, I think. They’ve already arranged to rotate the work.”
“People are getting along?” Honey asked.
“So far,” Rudy shrugged. “I just tell the complainers that they can move out. Shuts them right up.”
“That doesn’t seem smart,” Jacob said.
“Trust me,” Rudy said. “Everyone who’s here wants to make it work. Whatever problems we have, we’ll bring to our monthly meeting with you, MJ, and Honey.”
Honey and Jacob smiled.
“It’s so quiet,” Honey said.
“People who have jobs are at them,” Rudy said. “The van to downtown left about fifteen minutes ago. A bunch of people are in the computer lab looking for jobs. The artists are sorting out of the storage space in the back.”
“Storage space?” Honey looked up at Jacob.
“The empty storeroom behind the gym,” Jacob said. “Margo asked if we had space. Blane got Tink and Charlie to paint it and the other kids cleaned out the junk. Margo and a couple other people want to work there. We haven’t decided if we should rent the space to them or have it be a perk.”
“We can talk about it,” Honey said.
“It’s really a perfect for wheelchair bound and people with mobility issues,” Rudy said. “One guy even got his old job back. The big problem was that he couldn’t get to work on time reliably. With the shuttle, he can get there on time every day.”
He beamed at Honey.
“Shall we head up?” Rudy asked.
Honey nodded. They spun around and went back to the elevator. Rudy pressed the button and they waited.
“Okay, it was me who complained about the elevator,” Rudy said.
Honey and Jacob laughed.
Wednesday late afternoon — 4:32 p.m.
“You’re quiet,” Sissy said to Ivan.
They were changing into their warm dance gear. Wanda had asked if they would dance in City Park like they had in Central Park. Ivan looked up at her from his spot on the bed. He shrugged and went back to pulling up his fleece tights.
“Has something happened?” Sissy asked.
“Besides our friend Wanda changing her entire life?” Ivan asked. He gave her a slight smile.
“That is a big deal,” Sissy said. She stepped into a long sleeved leotard. “I’m glad she’s doing okay.”
“More than okay,” Ivan said. He looked at Sissy and shook his head. “She’s so brave and strong. I am very happy for her.”
“I couldn’t believe it when we opened the door,” Sissy said, as she wiggled the leotard up and stuck her arms through the sleeves.
“And she was laughing?” Ivan asked. “Talking. Happy. She seemed so very happy.”
He gave Sissy a soft smile.
“It’s nice to see,” Ivan said.
Sissy smiled. She had her hand on her head and her hair in a clump when he turned to her.
“Let me braid your hair,” Ivan said.
Not sure what was going on with him, she nodded and sat down on the bed. He got her brush and brushed her long light honey colored hair.
“Your hair is getting darker,” Ivan said.
“I was going to have Sandy do it while we were here,” Sissy said.
“If you like,” Ivan said. He began to separate her hair into clumps for braiding. “It’s very beautiful, as are you.”
Sissy blushed. He kissed her neck.
“You asked why I was quiet,” Ivan said.
Sissy didn’t say anything in the hopes that he would feel comfortable enough to tell her what was going on.
“I had a powerful dream last night,” Ivan said. “Crazy. I was here, in this place, just outside our little basement apartment and I saw this … creature. Delphie told me that it was a Chiron.”
“You talked to Delphie?” Sissy asked, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.
“Yes, I, myself, am surprised,” Ivan said. He began braiding her hair. “The creature was horrifying. I have not felt that kind of fear since I was in gulag and before when I was a child. When the creature bowed to me, I felt the fear just flush out of me. All of it. Every bit of anxiety, fear, every need to control, everything. Then I was in bed dreaming of golden light and peace.”
Sissy nodded but held her tongue.
“I had to ask Delphie about this … thing that happened,” Ivan said. “This morning. First thing.”
“You did?” Sissy asked.
“I did,” Ivan said. “She said that my sister and parents were waiting to speak with me and … My mother … My sister …”
Ivan stopped talking. Sissy felt more than saw his eyes well up. He cleared his throat. She turned around as the first tears rolled down his face. His eyes flicked to catch hers.
“They want me to be happy,” Ivan said. “They want me to live to the fullest without fear or pain or … My sister said that she moved the bullets so you didn’t die and the knife missing my spine. She saved us and …”
Sissy watched his face. For the first time in all of the years she’d known him, his face was open and free of the control he usually held over himself.
“I believe her,” he said softly. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
Sissy had to use extreme self-control not to fill up all the gaps with words about his sister and mother. She needed to keep silent to really hear him.
“I don’t have words to say,” Ivan said. He tapped her shoulder for her to turn around. “Please.”
Sissy turned away from him and he went back to braiding. They sat in silence for a moment while he worked.
“Delphie wouldn’t let me go until we had processed everything that happened,” Ivan said. “It was a great kindness to me. She stayed with me while I cried. She read cards and held my hand. Ivy was there. We drank tea and ate cakes. It was … lovely.”
With her back still to him, Sissy smiled.
“I wasn’t there long,” Ivan said. “So much in such a short time … I feel like a new man. Whole, or I should say more whole. I am more sure of you, of me, of our life. I feel like I can step forward in ways I’ve never been able to do since everything that happened.”
He finished her braid and kissed her cheek.
“I went back to this room and slept until you returned from taking the children to school,” Ivan said.
“You slept most of the day,” Sissy said.
“I am still tired,” Ivan said. “Sleeping off years of … self injury.”
Sissy smiled and went back to getting dressed. They had agreed that she would wear a sweater that Delphie had knit for her. She was getting it from the closet when he spoke again.
“I always thought it was just you,” Ivan said. “You had this eating disorder. You had this problem. And me …”
“I was just Ivan,” he said. “I see that all of those crazy women … The emptiness of my life before Nadia moved in and … even after. I held myself so far apart for fear of … Well, I’m not quite sure now.”
He sighed. She watched him under her long eyelashes.
“I am exhausted, my love,” Ivan said. “I need rest. Quiet. Peace. You. And then, I need to get on with my life.”
Sissy looked up at him. He nodded.
“What do you think?” Ivan asked.
“It sounds good to me,” Sissy said.
“You need to be dancing,” Ivan said. “Go back to school.”
Sissy wagged her head.
“What is it?” Ivan asked.
“I want to apply again,” Sissy said. “When I got in last time, it all seemed weird and terrifying. I felt like it was magic that I got in at all. Now, I have you and Schimdy, and a lot of life experience. I’d like to look at all of my options.”
“Good idea,” Ivan said. “I still have a contract with the ballet company.”
“Do you wish to keep it?” Sissy asked.
“For now,” Ivan said. “I will go back to work when we return, if that is all right with you.”
“I’m tired of sitting around,” Ivan said. “Life is so short, so precious. We know this more than most people.”
Sissy tipped her head at him.
“Let’s get on with it,” Ivan said.
“Let’s,” Sissy said.
She moved toward the door and he followed her out. They went upstairs to meet Teddy, who was ready with his camera. Noelle came down with Nash and Chet. Tink came out of the back with Charlie. They took Sandy’s car to the park.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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