CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-SEVEN
Wednesday afternoon — 3:15 p.m.
Breathing hard, Sandy leaned on her cane. She was standing at the top of the basement stairs. The stairs had a lift, left over from when Honey and MJ lived downstairs. Today, she decided to take the stairs instead.
She made it up five steps! Five steps!
That’s more than she’d done since she was injured.
Of course, there were five more to go to get to the top. It took real determination to get to the top.
But she had!
She never would have tried it if she wasn’t trying to catch the state archeologist. They had traded phone calls for more than a week. Between moving to the Castle and all of this Covid crap, Sandy had been up to her eyeballs in . . . well, everything.
The state archeologist was here! At the Castle!
So Sandy was on her way to the main Castle kitchen.
If she could ever catch her breath . . .
“Tried the stairs?” Ava O’Malley asked, seeming to appear at Sandy’s side.
Sandy could only nod.
“Maresol would kick your ass,” Ava said.
Laughing, Sandy nodded.
“We’re done in the ballroom,” Ava said.
“And. . .” gasp, “the. . .” gasp, “state. . .” gasp, “arche. . .” gasp, “ologist?” Sandy managed.
“I prefer Heidi,” a woman’s voice came from somewhere near. “Please. Sandy. Can I bring a chair?”
Sandy saw the back of a sturdy, fit woman. She returned with a chair and a glass of water.
“Sit,” Heidi said. “That’s an order.”
Ava laughed at the idea of Heidi giving orders. Sandy collapsed into the chair. When she had caught her breath, she swallowed down the water.
“There,” Heidi said. “Come on, Ava.”
They got behind the wing backed chair and pushed. The chair slid easily across the ancient carpet. Soon, they were in the Castle living room. Ava squatted in front of the fire and lit the kindling. Heidi jogged into the kitchen. She returned with a tray with a pot of tea and some sandwiches.
“We had just made some sandwiches when Ava heard you,” Heidi said. “A woman gave me this tray and the pot of tea.”
“A woman?” Sandy asked.
“I think so,” Heidi said. “She was wearing this gold thing and. . . I don’t know, she reminded me of a statue of Artemis. There’s a wonderful bronze of her in the archeological museum in Athens.”
“Heidi always sees statuary in people,” Ava said with a laugh.
Sandy glanced into the kitchen and saw Artemis waving at her. She grinned.
“Problem of the trade,” Heidi said with a laugh.
Sandy smiled at them. When Heidi and Ava were bent over the sandwiches and tea, Sandy pointed up the loft stairs. Artemis grinned in thanks and went up the loft stairs.
“Thank you for your help,” Sandy said.
“No problem,” Ava said.
With her mouth full of sandwich, Heidi looked up. She chewed fast and swallowed.
“Sorry, I’d just taken a bite,” Heidi said. “I bet you’d like to know all about that head you found. But first. . . Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Sure,” Sandy said, reaching for a sandwich. “What would you like to know?”
“I wondered, well, this is what they asked,” Heidi said. “They being. . .”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Ava said, interrupting.
“Heh,” Heidi grinned. “Good idea.”
“She always forgets that not everyone knows what she knows,” Ava said with a smile.
Smiling, Heidi nodded.
“Okay,” Heidi said. “I’ve always been a little in awe of O’Malley so it was a great treat to go to his house. Ava and I have known each other from college. Dale, too. But I haven’t been there before. I was so excited to see O’Malley’s house that I kind of forgot about the hoard.”
“The hoard?” Sandy asked with a smile.
“Well, isn’t it a hoard?” Heidi asked. “Saved from the Nazis by some ambition and smart Jews?”
“You forgot about the dark objects,” Ava said.
“How could I forget about the dark objects?” Heidi said with a laugh.
Sandy grinned at the woman’s glee.
“I was so focused on the house that I forgot there was even a hoard,” Heidi said. “And then, Ava lead me around the corner and I was like. . .”
Heidi’s mouth dropped open. Ava and Sandy smiled.
“How many items have you returned?” Heidi asked.
“How many?” Sandy scowled a little bit. “A little less than twenty? I think. We’re having a few authenticated — some at the Louvre, some in Israel.”
“It’s. . . a lot,” Sandy said. “Some people are angry with us — well, me — for keeping their object from them. Some people are angry because. . . I don’t know why. Really, the whole thing is a mess. The Polish government is suing us or was. I think that’s worked out. If you can believe it, some descendants of Nazis are saying that the paintings or whatever belongs to them. And, we haven’t gotten through it all. Sometimes, I wish we’d never opened the tunnel.”
“I completely understand,” Heidi said. “I mean, I haven’t found anything like that but it’s really common in archeology to have this kind of chaos. People always want a piece of whatever you find. Do you have good lawyers?”
“Do you know who Nadia Kerminoff is?” Sandy asked.
“The doctor?” Heidi asked. She nodded.
“She’s handling all of the legal crap,” Sandy said. “Or her lawyers are. We were able to get everything out of the mine through her company.”
“You’re lucky,” Heidi said. “I have a friend who fell into a major find. She was out hiking and literally fell into the cavern. She worked for years and has been in court even longer!”
“I’m not surprised,” Sandy said. “I wish I’d known, you know? There are a lot of things I could have spent money on.”
“Eh?” Heidi shrugged. “It just takes time, Sandy. Give it a few years and you’ll see. People will be joyous at the return of their items, safely preserved by the salt mine. It will bring families together and with it, hope. That’s worth any amount of money.”
“You’re right, of course,” Sandy said. “It’s just. . .”
“Infuriating,” Heidi said. “I know.”
“Exhausting,” Sandy said. “That’s the word I was going to use.”
Smiling in agreement, Heidi and Ava nodded.
“What do you know about the head?” Sandy asked.
“Ah, the head,” Heidi said. “Ava and her team took DNA before they passed the head to me. I passed it to, well, someone more familiar with heads.”
Heidi gestured for Ava to speak.
“We haven’t finished the entire sequence, but we know it’s the head of a woman,” Ava said.
“Since I’m running point on all of this,” Heidi said. “I wasn’t sure who to copy to get a DNA sample from. It took me a while but I was able to find a younger sister of Sophie Scholl. Of course, she’s quite old now, and. . .”
Sandy and Ava watched Heidi for a long moment.
“The truth is that we threw them into complete chaos,” Heidi said. “They thought that they had the remains of Sophie, her brother, and their friend. But if we have a head? What does that mean? They were also interested in all of the paper pamphlets and packing around the head.”
“The whole thing was a stuck mess, as you can imagine,” Ava said. “We took it to my lab. Leslie, well, you know Leslie, don’t you Sandy?”
“I do,” Sandy said. “Her kids go to the Marlowe School.”
“Right,” Ava said. “Anyway, she figured out a way to separate everything without losing integrity of the paper or the head. We have a number of pamphlets from the White Rose. Most of them are lost to history. So it’s a significant find.”
“It also implies that whoever packed up the box was sympathetic to the cause,” Heidi said.
“We’re waiting for a DNA sample from Germany,” Ava said. “They are supposed to be sending one from her sister. We think we should be able to determine if the head is Sophie’s or not. In the meantime, they are trying to determine what remains they actually have.”
“Nadia contracted with a lab in Germany to do that work,” Sandy said. “I guess they’ve done a lot of that kind of thing from mass graves and the like. They said that they should have preliminary data in the next week or so.”
“Oh, good,” Ava said. “That’s really good. I was going to offer my lab to do it but if you’ve found one that’s done it before that’s really better.”
“As far as I can tell, we don’t know anything definitive, but we’re on our way,” Heidi said.
“Have you found anything that says why the head is here?” Ava asked.
“As far as we can tell, it was stolen from the Germans to keep them from parading around with it,” Sandy said. “They considered Sophie, her brother, and their friend as true traitors. They were good Hitler Youth until they turned on the regime. They wanted people to know what happens when you betray the Nazis. Whoever stole the head was likely doing it to disrupt their propaganda machine.”
“Have you found any other heads?” Heidi asked.
“No,” Sandy said, shaking her head. “This was the only crate with the roses burned into it. I think it’s the only one. We’re still working through everything.”
Heidi and Ava nodded.
“How many bodies did you find downstairs?” Sandy asked.
“Three,” Ava said. “Did you meet Wretched?”
Sandy shook her head.
“He said that there was a story that the wife of the owner of the speakeasy was cheating on him with someone from the band,” Ava said.
“A black man,” Heidi said with a nod.
“The owner walled them up into the speakeasy,” Ava said.
“Alive?” Sandy asked, horrified.
“They were definitely alive when they were walled in there,” Heidi said with a nod.
“The sad thing is that there were two other remains there,” Ava said. “Wretched thinks that one of them was his wife. She worked at the speakeasy so was likely working when the owner walled off the area.”
“Too horrible to imagine,” Sandy said.
Ava and Heidi nodded.
“Jacob said that they are the twelfth remains he’s found in walls in the Castle,” Ava said. “Not counting Saint Jude.”
“They were in the floor,” Sandy said.
A shiver went up her spine.
“It’s pretty creepy,” Sandy said.
“Just history,” Heidi said. “We give life to these people and their suffering. Imagine — if they had lived, they likely would have died in World War II.”
“Or lived whole lives,” Sandy said. “We don’t know.”
“Either way, they’d likely be dead,” Ava said.
“It’s still pretty creepy,” Sandy said.
Heidi and Ava looked at each other and then nodded in agreement.
“My team and the group from Denver Police are getting forensics,” Ava said. “It looks like one of the people is of native origin so that’s a whole other thing.”
“It’s going to take time to unravel all of this,” Heidi said.
“Is the owner of the speakeasy still alive?” Sandy asked.
Heidi and Ava’s heads went up and down.
“Wow,” Sandy said.
“Yeah,” Ava said. “Wow.”
“They were ‘going to see him,’” Ava said.
“They who?” Sandy asked.
“The Denver Police,” Ava said. “Armed. So before you ask, O’Malley did not go with them.”
Ava turned over her wrist.
“My guess is that he’s in custody by now,” Ava said.
The women looked at each other. Not wanting to say anything, they simply drank their tea.
Wednesday afternoon — 4:35 p.m.
“Is he asleep?” Pete whispered.
Jacob was sitting in a wooden chair which was leaning up against the wall of the trailer. His eyes were closed. He seemed completely out.
D’Shawn nodded. Jason scowled. Before the other two men could do something dumb, Jason went to Jacob. Jason touched Jacob’s shoulder and stepped back.
The three men were an improbable team which managed complicated sites. They’d originally met through crime — D’Shawn was a drug dealer; Pete bought drugs from D’Shawn; and Jason was a master burglar and D’Shawn’s last cellmate. Together, they kept each other on track, clean, and on the straight and narrow.
Jacob opened his eyes.
“Sorry, man, you were asleep,” Jason said. “You never know what these fools are doing to do.”
Pete and D’Shawn gave loud guilty laughs. Jacob shook himself and sat up.
“It’s about time,” Jacob said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
The men howled with laughter. Jacob grinned at them.
“Sorry,” Jacob said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I heard about Jeraine and the ballroom,” D’Shawn said.
“Crazy shit,” Pete said. “Do you know what they found?”
“I haven’t paid any attention to it,” Jacob said.
“Four bodies,” Pete said.
“One’s a lady kind of huddled around a teenager,” D’Shawn said. “My buddy at DPD says that the teen is a Native American. The other two are a man and woman.”
“Any idea how. . .” Jacob started.
“Some kind of gas,” Pete said. “They think they walled them in and then set off the gas.”
“Gas?” Jacob asked.
“Something from W-W-I,” Jason said. “Pso-something. Used by the Germans.”
“Psogene?” Jacob asked.
Jason pointed at Jacob.
“Jeez,” Jacob said, shaking his head. “That’s. . .”
“Yeah,” D’Shawn said.
“You think there’s more bodies in that house?” Jason asked.
“I always hope not,” Jacob said. “But where there’s people, there’s cruelty or stupidity.”
“We know all about that,” Jason said.
D’Shawn and Pete laughed so hard that Jacob and Jacob joined in. Jacob stretched.
“Val had her baby last night?” Jason asked.
“How’d you know?” Jacob asked.
“I follow her on Insta,” Jason said. “Saw the announcement.”
D’Shawn and Pete sniggered.
“They’re pretending that they don’t,” Jacob said with a nod. “They do, too.”
“She’s very beautiful,” Jacob said. “Five fingers and toes.”
“What’s the deal with the name?” D’Shawn asked.
Jason pointed at him and laughed. Jacob grinned at the young men.
“I’m not sure,” Jacob said.
“Oh come on, man,” Pete said. “You can tell us!”
“If I knew, I would,” Jacob said. He sighed, and added, “We had a lot of kids for a while. Val and Mike were teaching; managing toddlers and teens. It’s been nuts. I think they just didn’t get there.”
“Makes sense, man,” D’Shawn said. “I couldn’t hear myself think while I was home. I never appreciated all my woman does.”
The other two men nodded.
“We’re glad to be back at work,” Pete said with a snort.
“Your kids are in college!” Jason said.
“They came home,” Pete said, shaking his head. “It’s. . . madness.”
The men nodded in support.
“What are we doing here?” D’Shawn asked.
“We don’t get the funding,” Pete said. “Aden said that the money is promised but not exactly here. What does that mean for us?”
“We’d like to get this and another site ready,” Jacob said. “Get the equipment here. Make sure you have a crew that can start.”
“You mean, make sure our guys can pass the drug test,” Pete said with a nod.
“We going to hair test them when they get here?” Jason asked.
“No,” Jacob said. “Let’s give everyone a few weeks to clean up.”
“Good thinking,” D’Shawn said. “I had more than a few guys ask me where to get stuff.”
“They can just go to Colfax,” Pete said. “I mean, not that I go.”
“We’re going to piss test you first,” Jacob said pointing to Pete.
Pete looked offended, but Jason and D’Shawn laughed.
“Nah, man, we’ve been keeping each other straight,” Jason said. “We won’t let you down, Jake.”
“That’s not to say that we aren’t thrilled to be called back,” Pete said with a laugh.
The other men nodded.
“When do you think the money will get here?” D’Shawn asked.
“Two weeks?” Jacob asked. “It’s a gamble. But the governor’s serious about getting folks working. So we have to trust that they will get it together.”
The men nodded.
“Is this what they’re doing at the other site?” Pete asked.
“Yes,” Jacob said.
“I’ll coordinate with them,” Pete said. “Bambi and Honey are running the other sites?”
“We weren’t sure how to make it work so Bambi suggested combining teams,” Jacob said. “Jose and Javier combined their teams. Bambi and Honey combined theirs. You and Mark will be the first single teams to try the job sharing.”
“I’ll talk to Bambi and Javier,” Pete said. “They probably have a lot to say about all of this.”
“Honey’s been working from home. I know it’s really hard, but they’ve managed to do it,” Jacob said. “Tres set up a spreadsheet that will help. We have four full teams rotating now. You’ll get two more going. The other site will two teams which will bring us close to full employment. Close. So if you have some wiggle room, remember that there are people waiting and wanting to work. They’d rather be here working than getting paid at home. So bring them here — even if it’s just to get supplies, sweeping, or whatever.”
“Got it,” Jason said. “Our team is set up in teams, so I’ll call the team leaders. I’ll get the other team set up that way as well.”
“Can you help Mark if he needs it?” Jacob asked.
“The black man. . .” Jason put his hand on his chest, “. . . has always helped the white man.”
“Right,” Jacob said. “But we’re talking about Mark. I’m not sure he’s a man.”
Pete, D’Shawn, and Jason laughed.
“Don’t worry, Jake,” Pete said. “We’ve got this.”
“Just let us know if you need anything,” Jacob said. “Dad’s still a little weak, but he’s free of the virus. He can help some. Blane, myself, and Aden are only a phone call away. Tres and his team, too.”
“What about schools?” Jason asked. “My kids miss their friends.”
“We’re working on it,” Jacob said. “We have crews working on the air systems. Our lawyers are negotiating with the state.”
“Right, but what do I tell my wife?” Jason asked.
“Since she’s one of our lawyers, you can tell her that you believe in her ability to work this shit out,” Jacob said. “And, if the kids drive her crazy, she can bring the kids to the Castle. Delphie’s teaching kids about planting and growing.”
“Good to know,” Jason said.
“You want to nap here for a while?” Pete asked as a joke.
“I do,” Jacob said. “But Blane would. . .”
“Oh good, you’re done,” Blane said, sticking his head in the trailer. He nodded to D’Shawn, Pete, and Jason. “We have to go.”
Jacob grinned at the men and left the trailer. D’Shawn, Pete, and Jason went to window to watch Blane talking to Jacob. The men laughed at Jacob and Blane until they got into an SUV. For a moment, they just looked at each other.
Then they got to work.
Denver Cereal continues next week...