CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTEEN
Monday morning — 10:08 a.m. MT
Careful to put on her mask, Tanesha opened the door to Seth O’Malley’s house. Jeraine’s ex-wife was standing on the other side.
“Here,” she said with a sneer.
She pushed Jabari into the house. She sniffed at Tanesha.
“You look like shit,” she said.
“Where’s Jabari’s mask?” Tanesha asked.
“I threw it out,” she said, turning in place and started back down the walk where a limousine waited. “He’s ain’t no weakling. He don’t need it.”
Tanesha swung the heavy door closed. Jeraine’s ex was on a reality television show. The lawyers for the show had sued Jeraine for a chance to use the boy on the show. They’d fought for two years to keep the child off the program. Eventually, Jeraine lost the case. The producers promised that they would guarantee that the boy was well cared for. Clearly, they were mistaken.
She bent down to look at Jabari. The boy looked exhausted and filthy.
“How are you?” Tanesha asked.
“Tired,” Jabari said.
“Dirty,” Tanesha said.
“I’m so sorry,” Tanesha said.
“Me too,” Jabari said with a nod. He looked around the entry way. “Why are we here?”
“I have to help Sandy with some things,” Tanesha said. “Maggie and the other kids are coming over later. I thought you’d want to play in the pool, but you look exhausted.”
“Sandy’s in the pool right now,” Tanesha said. “Doing her PT. We can get you cleaned up in her room.”
Jabari had grown in height but was still slight. Tanesha easily picked him up. He instinctively nestled close to her.
“I want. . .” Jabari looked up at her. “Will you take pictures?”
“Of what?” Tanesha asked.
“Of me,” Jabari said.
Tanesha sucked in a breath.
“Why?” Tanesha asked.
Jabari pushed up his sleeve. His wrist had red chaff marks from being restrained.
Furious, Tanesha put the child down and started ripping off his clothing. Bruises — some deep and purple, others a few days old — were apparent through the child’s dark skin.
“Did you do this to yourself?” Tanesha asked.
“No, Mama,” Jabari said.
He held his arms up for her to hold him again. She picked him up. Not knowing what to do, she jogged through the house to the sliding glass door and went out into the yard. She ran fast, hoping the precious package in her arms wasn’t affected by the cold. She got to the carriage house and opened the door.
Sandy was standing in the shallow part of the pool with Otera, the physical therapist. They were doing slow squats in the water.
“I need help,” Tanesha said.
Sandy and Otera stopped immediately. Otera hopped out of the pool and went to Tanesha’s side. Unable to get out of the pool unassisted, Sandy went to the edge of the pool.
“What is it?” Otera asked, in her thick Belarus accent. “What has happened?”
“Jabari’s hurt,” was all Tanesha could say before starting to cry.
“Child,” Otera took the boy from Tanesha. “You will show me where it hurts.”
Jabari pointed to his behind. Tanesha hadn’t removed his underpants. Otera looked at Tanesha for a moment. Tanesha set down the boy. The three women peered at the boy’s underpants. Tanesha pulled them down and closed her eyes.
Otera and Sandy gasped.
“I must report,” Otera said. “Required by law.”
Without hesitation, she went to the landline phone hanging on the wall of the carriage house and called the police.
“What’s going on?” Dale, the O’Malleys’ handyman asked, as he came out from the tool room carrying a pipe wrench.
“Jabari’s hurt,” Tanesha said, weeping.
Dale took a look at the boy.
“Come on, big man,” Dale said. “Let’s let the grownups do grownup things.”
“Aren’t you a grownup?” Jabari asked.
Otera reported the abuse she’d seen on the boy’s body.
“You’d think so,” Dale said with an affable grin. “I know we have some cool board shorts over here.”
“In my size?” Jabari asked.
Dale pulled open a drawer with labeled “O’Malley.” Otera gave the phone to Tanesha.
“You mean this size?” Dale asked, holding up a pair of Seth O’Malley’s trunks.
“No,” Jabari laughed. “That’s too big for me!”
“How about this one?” Dale asked, holding up one of Ava’s bikini bottoms. “It’s definitely smaller!”
“That won’t work!” Jabari laughed. “That’s for girls!”
Dale continued to charm and entertain the little boy until the phone call was over. They were settling in to wait when Maresol came in. She saw Jabari just as Dale was pulling the board shorts onto him. Maresol started cursing and swearing. Maresol and Jabari’s grandmothers, Yvonne and Dionne, were her lifelong friends.
“Want to help me with my plants?” Dale asked, throwing Maresol a dark look.
Maresol hugged Tanesha, and Otera got back into the pool to help Sandy out of it.
“No funny plants,” Jabari said. “I’m too little for that.”
“Mr. Bernie would be pretty pissed if you mess with his weed,” Dale said.
Jabari laughed. Dale took the little boy into the greenhouse next to the pool area. Maresol went into the house to wait for the police.
Sandy dried off while Tanesha told her about their struggles to keep the boy safe. Even though she knew most of the story, she let her friend talk because Tanesha needed to talk. Tanesha was almost there when Hedone, Heather’s Goddess self, appeared. She wore a pure gold knit gown that accentuated her curves. Her hair hung in golden curls that made her brown skin look golden.
“What has happened?” Hedone asked.
“That stupid cow hurt Jabari,” Tanesha said. “His bottom has bleeding sores on it from a switch or a whip, something like that.”
“Heather should be here,” Hedone said. “She’s just brought Nelson home. He’s doing all right so I’ll go get her.”
She started to disappear.
“Wait,” Tanesha said. “I have one question.”
“Can you smite someone?” Tanesha asked.
“I’m not sure,” Hedone said. “Honestly, Jeraine’s ex is bereft of friends and lovers. Her children have limited or no contact with her. She has no one, just a big empty house. Everything she touches fails. She’s not successful in any area of her life. Would smiting be worse than that?”
“How do I protect Jabari?” Tanesha asked with tears running down her face.
“That’s a human thing,” Hedone said. “We have to win in the courts.”
“Can you make that happen?” Tanesha asked.
“I can add luck, but I don’t think there’s a way for any of us to directly affect human affairs,” Hedone said. “And anyway, you don’t need me too. You just need to step through the hoops.”
“Hoops?” Tanesha asked.
“Jabari needs to see a doctor,” Hedone said. “Not his grandfather either. You need to call his grandparents and Jeraine. You need to call your lawyer and social services. There’s no reason to do all of this by yourself.”
“Oh, right,” Tanesha said. “I know this.”
“Yes, you do,” Hedone said. “Heather will call Jabari’s grandparents and your lawyer. She’ll be back with Jeraine.”
“Thanks for coming,” Tanesha said.
“You needed me,” Hedone said. “Sandy? You look a little green.”
“Pain,” Sandy said. “Just finished PT.”
Hedone took Sandy’s hand and the pain drained from Sandy’s body. Hedone nodded and disappeared. They knew that she would return in the human form of their friend from childhood, Heather.
“Do you remember what you need to do?” Sandy asked, kindly.
Tanesha shook her head and blew her nose into a tissue.
“You need to call your social services caseworker,” Sandy said. “The police will be here soon. We’ll need to talk with them and show Jabari to them.”
“Are you up for this?” Tanesha asked. “You just finished PT.”
“Hedone took my pain,” Sandy said. “I’m okay. I just need to get dress. Can you help me?”
“Of course,” Tanesha said.
“Why don’t you call your case worker first?” Sandy asked.
“You don’t mind?” Tanesha asked.
Sandy shook her head. Tanesha called the number she knew by heart. She spoke with their caseworker who said she would come out immediately. When she was done, she helped Sandy into warm clothing.
By the time they were done, the Denver Police had arrived. The caseworker was not far behind. Jeraine was there about fifteen minutes later with Heather. Tanesha’s and Jeraine’s mothers arrived right after that. The caseworker arrived and then. . .
“You need to eat something,” Maresol said. “You haven’t eaten all day.”
Tanesha looked up from her computer to see that it was dark.
“What time is it?” Tanesha asked.
“After eight,” Maresol said. “You’ve been talking to people and writing emails for hours.”
Tanesha looked to where Jabari was sleeping.
“I should go home,” Tanesha said.
“Why don’t you stay tonight?” Maresol asked. “Let me take care of you. Tomorrow, you have the hearing and all of that chaos. You can get some rest and quiet here. Plus, Jabari is asleep.”
Tanesha looked at Maresol for a long minute before nodding.
“Jeraine is coming back,” Maresol said. “He told me to tell you that your lawyers think that you can move forward to a complete termination of her parental rights.”
“That’s already happened!” Tanesha said. “It’s those damned producers that got the courts to hand him over.”
“His lawyers have sent the photos to the producers of the show and the judge who allowed Jabari to go to her,” Maresol said. “Needless to say, they are upset and aware of their responsibility. ‘The lawyers are on a rampage.’ That’s a direct quote from Jeraine.”
“Jabari’s lawyer told Heather that he was abused as a kid,” Tanesha said. “I bet he’s upset.”
“I’m sure Jeraine will tell you everything when he gets here,” Maresol said. “I told him to come for dinner.”
“It’s very kind of you,” Tanesha said.
“We all need help sometimes,” Maresol said. “I know that you have a lot of support at home. But I know that when we’re in crisis, it’s hard to even get there. Stay here for the night. You can go home tomorrow.”
Maresol gave her a curt nod before leaving to start a meal for Jeraine and Tanesha.
Tanesha sighed and went back to her computer where she was documenting everything that happened.
Tuesday morning — 7:08 a.m. MT
“You’re sure about this mask thing,” Honey Lipson-Scully, now a junior site manager, said.
“Yes,” Jacob said. “We wear masks and socially distance. That’s a mandate from the state. But more than that, that’s got to be our rule. We need to try to keep our people safe from this thing. We’ve always been a safety first company, regardless of the cost. We need to continue in that tradition.”
“It’s not going to be popular,” Rodney Smith said.
“I don’t care,” Aden said. “If people don’t want to wear a mask and socially distance then they can get another job.”
“Why are you so firm on this?” Bambi, the six foot tall, assistant to Aden asked.
“What did Delph-I say?” Jerry Siegle asked.
The site managers fell silent. They were talking via video conference.
“First, it’s an insurance thing,” Jacob said. “Right now, these masks are the only thing we have to prevent people from getting sick. The insurance company doesn’t want all of us coming down with this new virus.”
“And second?” one of the longest term site managers asked.
“Delphie says that the virus will run through our company and our families — unchecked — unless we wear our masks,” Jacob said. “We can’t have the N-95s because they are rightly reserved for the doctors and medical personnel. We just have these cloth ones. According to Delphie, they will not only protect other people but us too.”
“Don’t you think they make us look a little. . .” Mark Mc Daniels, a site manager with a thick New York accent asked. He shrugged. “You know, girly. Weak. We’ve got all these tough guys on our teams. Real men. Guys guys.”
“Hey,” Bambi said.
“And women,” Mark said. “Tough broads. You know, what I mean Bambi?”
“Our employees aren’t morons, Mark,” Bambi said. “You can be tough and still be careful. That is the Lipson tradition.”
Everyone started talking at once.
“It seems kind of weak to me to not take precautions,” Rodney said, his deep voice breaking into the general noise. “This disease is killing people all over the world. It’s only a matter of time before it’s here at Lipson, if it’s not here already. We’re smart to take precautions. That’s just smart.”
“I agree with Rodney,” the notorious hothead, Jasper Jacobs, said. “I’d rather look smart than worry about someone else thinking I’m weak. My kid has asthma. According to the docs, he’s at risk of dying if he gets this thing. If I get it and give it to him, it won’t matter how tough I am, he will die.”
“But what will people think?” Mark asked.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone else thinks,” Jasper Jacobs said. “Your wife had cancer, Mark. She’s at risk too. Don’t be an asshole.”
“I am what I am,” Mark said.
Everyone laughed. Jacob nodded to Aden. They were making some progress.
“Sandy’s setting up a list of people who are okay with making masks,” Aden said. “We’re asking for help from anyone who has a sewing machine and some fabric.”
“These will be washable,” Blane said. “They should be comfortable enough.”
“The cloth masks will tide us over until we can buy something for the company,” Jacob said.
“Something manly,” Blane said. “For Mark.”
Everyone laughed uproariously. Mark, who never minded being the butt of jokes, laughed along.
“Okay, review the list,” Tres Sierra said when the laughter died down. “I need your changes tonight. We will post the list tonight. Be back to work tomorrow. Any delay on your part means your team won’t work. Got it.”
When everyone nodded, Aden, Blane, Tres, and Jacob said their good byes.
“That went well,” Sam said.
“Let’s see if they turn in their lists,” Tres said.
“Good point,” Sam said. “Can we go fishing now?”
“Why not?” Jacob asked.
The men gathered their gear, said goodbye to their families, and headed out into the mountains.
Tuesday evening — 6:10 p.m
Nelson’s eyes fluttered open, and he was looking at. . . He wasn’t quite sure.
“Where am I?” Nelson asked out loud to himself.
“You are home,” Blane said.
Nelson’s head jerked to the side to see Blane sitting next to the bed.
“What are you wearing on your face?” Nelson asked.
“It’s a face mask,” Blane said. “They kicked you out of the hospital to keep you from getting the coronavirus, currently killing people around the world. We had to agree to wear face masks around you.”
Nelson touched his face and felt a mask
“Yes, you are wearing one too,” Blane said.
“Why?” Nelson asked.
“Well, you returned with a variety of old world infections,” Blane said. “Some were bacterial. Some were viral. You were locked away in a special room for people with unknown illnesses. Abi told me that she was able to help you out but you are very weak.”
“Why?” Nelson asked.
“You’ve had a number of surgeries,” Blane said. “You had a sword wound in your side. Your feet look like they have gangrene. They were going to take the ends of your toes, but Abi intervened.”
“Feel sick,” Nelson said. “Tired.”
“We were told to keep you pumped full of narcotics so you’d stay quiet,” Blane said.
“They needed my hospital bed,” Nelson said.
“Yes, they did,” Blane said. “We also wanted you home.”
“Where am I?” Nelson asked again.
“This is our new home,” Blane said. “Or what’s completed so far. You’re in the basement where Tanesha and Jeraine will live.”
Nelson looked around the room at the dry wall and noticed the cement floor.
“It’s not even painted,” Nelson said.
“It’s not,” Blane said with a nod. “You needed a place to be where you could heal and not be around people for fourteen days. There’s a full medical team here — nurses and med techs around the clock. Your doc is on call. Plus me.”
“Why so long quarantine?” Nelson asked.
“That’s the length of time they think it takes to get sick,” Blane said.
“Novel virus,” Nelson said.
“Yep,” Blane said.
“Airborne,” Nelson said.
“Yep,” Blane said.
“Nightmare,” Nelson said his energy lagging.
“I’ll let you sleep,” Blane said. “You need sleep. Days and days of sleep. If you don’t feel better, then it’s back to the hospital. I think just being home will help.”
Nelson grunted in agreement.
“How’s my dad?” Nelson asked with what remained of his energy.
“The same,” Blane said. “No change. He’s in your old house. We didn’t want to put you together because you’ve had all of these infections.”
“Makes sense,” Nelson said.
“I’m just glad you’re home,” Blane said. “I know that you have to go out again. But it’s a relief to see you safe and sound.”
Nelson smiled but then realized he had the mask on.
“Missed you,” Nelson said. “The kids. Heather. Even Tres. So glad to be home.”
“We missed you too,” Blane said. “So you have to work hard on healing. We have a big life and you’re a major part of it. So work hard at healing.”
Nelson mumbled something but was unconscious. Blane left the room. He nodded to the nurse and she went back inside the room.
Blane looked around at the construction. Progress had been made. He didn’t know what would happen now that there was this pandemic. Certainly, Sam and Jacob had committed to moving this project along.
So far, so good. Smiling to himself, he left their new home and returned to the Castle.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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