Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-five - In the ballroom (part six)
Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-six - Enter Wretched (part one)

Chapter Six Hundred and Thirty-five - In the ballroom


“Promise?” Jeraine asked.

Nodding, Jacob poured another bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Jeraine shot a scowl at Jacob and jogged out of the building. He drove to Denver Heath and found Tanesha standing outside the Emergency Department.

“Sorry,” Jeraine said, as she got in the vehicle. “I was talking to Jacob.”

Tanesha leaned over to kiss him.

“Eating Cap’n Crunch,” Tanesha said with a grin.

Jeraine smiled.

“I was just waiting a minute or so,” Tanesha said. “Did you. . .?”

Jeraine gestured to the travel mug. She grinned and took a drink of her tea.

“How was tonight?” Jeraine asked.

“Hard,” Tanesha said. “But. . .”

Tanesha sighed.

“I’m doing okay,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Me, Chad, Fin — we’re getting great clinical experience but most of the people in our class are at home sitting on their hands.”

Tanesha paused as she took another drink.

“It’s criminal to me,” Tanesha said. “Doctors and hospitals need help. We show up on time and ask what we can do. We get to work doing what needs to be done. It’s not glamorous but I think we help. It’s good experience too.”

Tanesha shook her head.

“I guess, that’s really because of John Drayson,” Tanesha said, correcting herself. “I shouldn’t be so petty.”

“You’re making a good point,” Jeraine said. “But really — you asked John if you could help and he told you who to contact.”

“I asked John because I know him,” Tanesha said.

“Could you have gone through school?” Jeraine asked.

“I don’t know,” Tanesha said. “Chad said that he talked to someone in our class who said that if he didn’t get course credit, he wasn’t interested. Course credit.”

Tanesha snorted.

“People are dying from a once in a lifetime pandemic,” Tanesha said. “And all he cared about was being the best in his class.”

Jeraine glanced at her sideways. She smiled at him.

“I sound more annoyed than I am,” Tanesha said. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Jeraine said.

“Jabari?” Tanesha asked.

“He’s with Maggie and Mack,” Jeraine said.

“Sleep over at Honey’s ,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine nodded.

“Listen,” Jeraine said. “Jake and I were talking before I left to come get you. You know how I’ve been upset about the Las Vegas thing?”

“You feel cursed,” Tanesha said. “I understand. It’s been really hard. You were so excited when you got the first one and then crushed when that jerk only signed you to a contract to make sure you didn’t perform.”

“Round number one,” Jeraine said. “We were so close this time.”

“You could still do it,” Tanesha said.

“Yeah, and kill everyone,” Jeraine said. “Annoy my wife.”

“There’s that, too,” Tanesha said.

“Jake was saying. . .” Jeraine turned off of Colfax into the new car lot. He pressed the keys to open the gate. “. . . that we should be more flexible.

He waited until the gate closed to move the car.

“Why are you. . .?” Tanesha asked.

Jeraine pointed to the crowd of paparazzi running in their direction.

“Oh,” Tanesha said. “I completely forgot. Did Val have her baby?”

“Yes, it’s a girl,” Jeraine said, perfunctorily. He only had a moment before they were confronted by the paparazzi waiting to catch a glimpse of Valerie and her baby. “Jake said that there’s a ballroom in the Castle.”

“Ballroom?” Tanesha asked. “I think I remember being there at Jill’s wedding but. . .”

Tanesha shrugged.

“Do you want to go?” Jeraine asked.

Tanesha nodded.

“Ready?” Jeraine asked.

Drinking her tea, Tanesha nodded. Jeraine waited a moment and got out of the vehicle. The flashes and screaming was overwhelming. Jeraine waved, and they jogged up the stairs. They were inside the Castle side door in no time.

“Uh, crazy,” Tanesha said. “Should we call the police?”

“They’ll be back as soon as they are cleared,” Jeraine said. “Best not risk someone getting shot.”

“Good point,” Tanesha said.

They went into the Castle living room to find Jacob staring into the fire.

“What are you doing?” Tanesha asked.

“Talking to my mother,” Jacob said.

“Of course you are,” Tanesha said. “Congratulations on a new niece!”

“She’s very beautiful,” Jacob said.

“All of Val’s kids are lovely,” Tanesha said.

“No child is cuter than Jabari,” Jacob said with a grin.

“Maggie,” Jeraine said.

Jacob, Tanesha, and Jeraine nodded in agreement.

“Does she have a name?” Tanesha asked.

“They haven’t announced,” Jacob said. “I think they’re going to name her after my mom or maybe Delphie. But they aren’t talking about it.”

“Sounds like they have some good choices,” Tanesha said. “Jer said that you were going to show him the ballroom?”

“I thought maybe he could run his show from the ballroom,” Jacob said.

“You mean, have the bands here and broadcast over the Internet?” Tanesha asked.

“Something like that,” Jacob said. “I don’t know how we’d sort out keeping people from getting infected by the virus but I’d guess that Jammy could figure it out.”

“Does it have outside access?” Tanesha asked.

“It did,” Jacob said. “It was a speakeasy. I haven’t opened up access because I thought it made us more vulnerable to people entering from there unnoticed.”

“Good thinking.” Tanesha said. She looked at Jeraine, who was oddly quiet. “What’s up with you?”

“Just wondering what Jake’s got to say,” Jeraine said.

“Come on,” Jacob said. “I’ll show you.”

Jacob stood up. They started moving toward the wall next to Abi and Fin’s apartment. As they neared, Abi came out carrying her two toddlers.

“Where are we going?” Abi asked.

“To see the ballroom,” Tanesha said. “Jake thinks that Jer can have his show here.”

“That would be a good thing,” Abi said with a nod. “As long as it didn’t infect the rest of the house.”

“Exactly,” Jeraine said.

“Carry on,” Abi said.

Tanesha took a sleeping child from Abi. Jacob neared the wall. He pressed hard on the corner where the wall met the adjacent wall and a door opened on a spring.

“That’s cool,” Tanesha said.

“It was here when we moved in,” Jacob said. “Now, listen carefully — you can get in this way but you cannot get out. The door swings closed automatically. If it’s blocked there’s a siren that I haven’t figured out how to turn off.”

“Got it,” Jeraine said. “We can get to the ballroom from here but not go out from here.”

“Right,” Jacob said.

They went along a narrow hallway with doors on one side.

“What’s in there?” Tanesha asked.

“I’m not sure,” Jacob said. “I wasn’t ever able to get the doors open. We haven’t needed the space, so I have just left them for another time.”

Jacob patted the wall on his left hand.

“This is Abi and Fin’s apartment,” Jacob said. “It’s pretty large — larger than most of the second floor apartments.”

“We like it,” Abi said.

“I’m glad,” Jacob said.

They continued down the hallway until they reached a cross hallway.

“This is mostly for maintenance,” Jacob said. “It runs under the second floor hallway.”

“And the doors there?” Tanesha asked.

“No idea,” Jacob said.

“I always wondered what was under the second floor wing,” Jeraine said. “Why didn’t you develop this first?”

“We didn’t find it until recently,” Jacob said. “Val loves to find new rooms and clean them out. Now that she’s had her baby, she’ll probably start that project again.”

“I thought she had a film,” Tanesha said.

“Right,” Jacob said with a shrug. “Let’s see how she is.”

Jacob gave a sincere nod. Tanesha stopped on the hallway below the second floor.

“Oh,” Tanesha said.

Jacob came back to where she was standing.

“I get it,” Tanesha said. “This was a two story apartment building. What’s that?”

Tanesha pointed to the end of the hallway.

“The kitchen,” Jacob said. “Before you ask, on the other side of the kitchen is likely one of the original buildings. It’s more like a mansion or a very big house. On the other side is another two story apartment building. That’s Honey’s apartment and what’s our basement. The building was built in a hill.”

“So the basement is actually just at the bottom of the hill,” Jeraine said.

“Right,” Jacob said. “Our basement is at the level of where our cars are parked now.”

“Huh,” Jeraine said with a nod.

“And the living room?” Abi asked. “Where we first came from?”

“It was built to combine the buildings,” Jacob said. “When Mom bought the building, the hallway with Honey and Dad’s rooms was closed off. The only thing open was what was built to combine them. Delphie says that the buildings were combined more than a hundred years ago. There’s at least another building here. We haven’t found them yet.”

Tanesha gave him a long look.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“What is this place?” Tanesha asked.

“Good question,” Jacob said.

“But you have built out much of what we live in now,” Abi said as a statement.

“Right,” Jacob said. “I made the loft out of the top of Dad and Honey’s rooms and the original house. Abi’s apartment was just open space. The second floor apartments were rented out when mom bought the building. We had a heck of a time getting everyone out.”

“I bet,” Tanesha said.

“Let’s take a look at the ballroom,” Jacob said. He sighed, “Tomorrow is going to be a crappy day. I need to get some rest before dealing with everything.”

“Got it,” Jeraine said. “Where do we go?”

“Take the hallway all the way to the end,” Jacob said. “There’s a stairwell.”

Jeraine reached the end of the hallway.

“There’s a light switch on your left,” Jacob said.

Tanesha and Abi reached the end of the hallway.

“I remember this,” Tanesha said. “This is a long stairwell. The door’s under the stairs down from the second floor. There was something here — a table with flowers on it. I didn’t even notice the hallway”

“I don’t think anyone did,” Jacob said. “We could have come this way, but you’ve been asking about the building. I think it’s cool that there’s all of this uncharted space.”

“It is cool,” Abi said with a nod.

“And more than a little creepy,” Tanesha said.

“Right,” Jacob said. “Let’s head down to the ballroom.”

They continued down the stairs until they reached a door. Jeraine tried to turn the door handle.

“Just push,” Jacob said.

Jeraine pushed the door open and went into the space. Tanesha stopped at the door as she passed.

“This wasn’t here,” Tanesha said.

“The door at the top is locked,” Jacob said. “We don’t really need a door here. I just put the door here because I had an extra door and it fits.”

“Makes sense,” Tanesha said.

Tanesha and Abi past Jacob on the stairwell and went into the ballroom. Jacob followed them inside. The room was partially lit by the waning moon shining through the windows high on the wall. Jeraine was standing in the middle of the room. Jacob opened a panel in the wall and turned on the lights.

“Whoa,” Jeraine said. He turned in place. “Whoa.”

The space was cavernously big. The ballroom’s gleaming pale wood floors reflected the light of the brilliant crystal chandelier overhead. The walls were wallpapered a pale pink. The ceiling was split into square panels with gold leaf on the seams. Inside the panels were painted cherubs and angels.

As if intimidated by the space itself, they stood close to each other.

Jacob walked across the floor to the end.

“Can you help me here?” Jacob asked.

Tanesha and Jeraine jogged to his side.

“These are panels,” Jacob said. “They are very old so we have to be super careful.”

“What happens with them?” Tanesha asked.

“They fold on hinges,” Jacob said. He touched what she’d taken for a line in the wall and pointed to the end. “These were made when the room was made. They go into that cabinet. It closes behind them. When they are folded up, you’d never know that they were here. When they’re out like this, you’d never know that there’s a stage behind them. It’s very clever.”

Tanesha gave Jacob a worried nod.

“Stand here,” Jacob said, pointing to where he was standing. “Jeraine? Can you go here? I’ll work the hinges. Ready?”

Jacob pulled on the hinges while Tanesha and Jeraine pushed on the panels.

“They’re heavy,” Tanesha said.

“They are solid mahogany,” Jacob said. “I think that’s why they’ve lasted.”

They pushed and Jacob pulled until the wall stood like a zig zag.

“Okay, push,” Jacob said.

Together, they pushed the panels until they were nestled in their cabinet. Jacob pulled the cover closed.

“Wow,” Jeraine said. “That’s. . .”

Jacob pointed toward Jeraine’s right. Jeraine turned to look. His mouth fell open in shock.

“Oh my goodness,” Tanesha whispered.

They were looking at a gorgeous stage with a white scalloped band shell behind it.

“What is this place?” Jeraine asked.

“Good question,” Jacob said.

“You said that it was a speakeasy?” Jeraine asked.

“It was,” Jacob said. “There are bars along the walls under the windows there and across the hall over there. When we found this hall, there were casks of ancient bourbon in the back and some foul other stuff.”

“Do you still have the bourbon?” Abi asked.

Jacob gave a slight nod. Tanesha and Abi laughed.

“Would you like some?” Jacob asked.

“Yes,” Abi said.

Jacob glanced at Tanesha, who looked at Jeraine.

“Not for me, man,” Jeraine said. “I’m. . . I think I’m in love!”

Everyone laughed.

“Give me a minute,” Jacob said.

He disappeared behind a door in the wall.

“How are you doing?” Tanesha asked Jeraine.

“I’m. . .” Jeraine put his hands to the side of his head and moved them away. “Boom. Mind blown.”

“Do you think it will work?” Abi asked.

“I. . . I don’t know,” Jeraine said. “I’ll take some pictures and send them to Jammy to see what he thinks. We have a contract so we’d have to do it through the Casino, but I’d bet we could. . .”

Jacob came out carrying three glasses with a small layer of brown liquid along the bottom. He gave one to Abi and another to Tanesha. They took a sip.

“This is really good,” Abi said.

“Weird, isn’t it?” Jacob asked.

“How many casks do you have?” Abi asked.

“Six,” Jacob said. “There’s a couple with gin, but I don’t drink it. I wouldn’t know if it had turned or not.”

“It’s likely worth a fortune,” Abi said.

“That’s why I keep it a secret,” Jacob said with a shrug. “If we ever need a booze fortune, we have it.”

“I like that about you,” Abi said.

Jacob grinned at her compliment.

“You think we can get people in here from outside?” Tanesha asked.

“Sure,” Jacob said. “I guess it depends on how many people we’re talking about.”

“We can’t have a crowd,” Tanesha said. “That would be ridiculously irresponsible.”

“No super-spreader events,” Jacob said. “That would just be embarrassingly stupid.”

“But we could get the bands in here?” Jeraine asked.

“We could,” Jacob said. “We get WiFi down here, so you could broadcast from here.”

Jacob shrugged.

“I don’t know what you’ll need,” Jacob said. “But it might work. Maybe.”

“Why is it so clean?” Tanesha asked.

“Rosa and her team come down here every quarter or so,” Jacob said. “Last week was their yearly deep clean. In fact, that’s how it occurred to me that Jeraine might be able to use it. Rosa asked for help moving the screen.”

Shrugging, he sighed.

“I’m sorry to cut this short,” Jacob said. “It’s probably the bourbon, but I’m just wiped out. You can stay down here if you’d like. Just take the stairwell straight up to the kitchen. I’ll unlock the door.”

“One more question,” Abi asked.

Jacob looked at her.

“Where are we?” Abi asked. “By my estimation, we are no longer on the property.”

“Good guess,” Jacob said. “We’re under the land between the Castle and the house to the north.”

“But. . .?” Tanesha asked.

“You own that one as well?” Abi asked.

“Delphie,” Jacob said. “My mom bought it for me, Val, or Blane. She thought if something happened — economic crash or whatever — we could move in there.”

“Who lives there now?” Abi asked.

“We’ve rented it out to the same family since I was in high school,” Jacob said. “They do a great job keeping it up. I doubt Delphie’s raised the rent. I go in every six months or so and fix something that’s broken. Delphie’s been giving them eggs.”

Jacob shrugged.

“I always wondered why they never complained about the paparazzi,” Tanesha said.

“Now you know,” Jacob said. “I’m off to bed.”

“I’ll go with you,” Tanesha said.

“I’ll stay,” Abi said.

“Is it okay if I stay?” Jeraine asked. “Take some video and send it to Jammy?”

“Of course,” Tanesha said. “I just need to shower and get some rest before Jabari wakes up.”

“Good point,” Jeraine said. “I’ll be up by then.”

Tanesha kissed him, and followed Jacob out of the ballroom. They went up the stairwell. At the hallway, Jacob clapped his hands and a wooden screen appeared. He pulled it into place so that it would be unmovable for Jeraine.

“That’s handy,” Tanesha said.

“It’s better than losing Jeraine down here,” Jacob said. “I’m so busy that I’d likely forget about him until the weekend. You’d miss him but figure he was off in his usual bullshit.”

“You know me so well,” Tanesha said. “And Abi?”

“It’s Abi’s world,” Jacob said.

“We just live in it,” Jacob and Tanesha said together as they reached the kitchen.

They laughed. Jacob raised a hand in goodbye to Tanesha. She went to their apartment in the basement. She showered and went to bed. When Jeraine arrived two hours later, she was sound asleep.

Jeraine slipped into bed. Lying on his back, he whispered a quiet prayer that this actually work out for him. The last thought he had before he went to sleep was that he hoped that Hecate wouldn’t show up so he could sleep.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


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