CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-SIX
Wednesday morning — 5:05 a.m.
Jill heard a soft knock on their loft door. She pressed the “On” button to their coffee maker and trotted to the door, which she opened just a crack.
“I’m so sorry to wake you,” Tanesha said.
“What are you doing?” Jill asked, stepping back to let her friend into the loft. “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
“I know,” Tanesha said with a nod.
“But?” Jill asked.
Jill gestured to the kitchen where the coffee was brewing.
“There’s a guy at the door,” Tanesha said.
“A guy?” Jill asked with her head in the freezer.
Jill came up with a bag of lemon-blueberry muffins.
“An old guy,” Tanesha said. “Really, really old. Somehow, he got past the fences and knocked on the door. Honey heard them and sent Jabari to get us. Jer’s with him now.”
Jill stuck a plate of muffins into the microwave. The coffee maker beeped and Jill poured Tanesha an inch of coffee. Tanesha hated coffee but since she’d started medical school, she needed a tiny bit of a boost. Tanesha grinned at Jill. While Jill doctored her own coffee, Tanesha drank the coffee down like bitter medicine.
“Thanks,” Tanesha said.
“What’s going on?” Jacob asked.
His hair wet, Jacob came out of his bedroom with his work clothing on. Jill poured him a cup of coffee.
“There’s a guy here,” Tanesha repeated.
“Super old,” Jill said with a nod.
“Why is he here?” Jacob asked.
“He came to see the ballroom,” Tanesha said.
“I know,” Tanesha said. “This guy is someone Jer’s dad knows.”
“Jeraine can take him down there,” Jacob said.
Tanesha smacked her lips and gave him the “You’re an idiot” shake of her head that he often got from Jill’s friends.
“What?” Jacob asked. “What did I do now?”
“Jeraine has a head injury,” Jill said over her cup of coffee. “I doubt that he can remember where it is. Especially after no sleep.”
“Ah,” Jacob said. “Sorry.”
Tanesha raised an eyebrow as if to say, “You should be.” Jacob laughed. His mother had great female friends so he was used to, and rather enjoyed, this kind of treatment from Jill’s friends.
“Do you have time?” Tanesha wrinkled her nose with the request.
“I always have time for you, Tanesha,” Jacob said.
Jacob nodded to Jill — who grinned at his right response. He grabbed a face mask, and followed Tanesha out of the loft. They jogged down the stairs to the Castle kitchen.
Anxious, Jeraine was standing in the kitchen and staring off into space. Jabari was sitting on the table in front of an elderly man. The man wore a lovely blue with white dots face mask and was sitting at the kitchen table. He was thin with age and his skin was the color of almonds. The corners of his eyes showed a web of wrinkles as he grinned at Jabari chatting away.
They all looked up when Jacob and Tanesha arrived. The elderly man stood up.
“Hi,” Jacob said. “I’m Jacob Marlowe. You probably know my father, Sam Lipson.”
“Know him, like him,” the elderly man said. “But not as much as I loved your mother. She was. . .”
The elderly man shook his head.
“She was,” Jacob said.
“This one reminds me so much of his grandfather at this age,” the elderly man laughed.
“Dr. Bumpy?” Tanesha asked with suprise
She picked up Jabari from off of the kitchen table and set him on her hip.
“That boy could talk the paint off the walls,” the elderly man said. “What a delight.”
The elderly man turned to Jacob and sized him up.
“My name is Wretched Jones,” the man said.
“Wretched?” Tanesha asked. “Really?”
“My mother gave me this name,” Wretched said. “And I wear it with pride. Although, honestly, I think it’s the biggest word she’d ever heard.”
He snorted at that.
“You’re Rodney Smith’s daughter,” Wretched said.
“I am,” Tanesha said. “Do you know my mother, Yvonne?”
“Never a finer person than your mother,” Wretched said. “Not ever did I meet one.”
Teary at the compliment, Tanesha could only nod.
“You’re waiting for O’Malley,” Jacob said.
“I’m waiting for O’Malley,” Wretched laughed. “Bumpy said he’d be here too. But I wanted the first look.”
“Oh,” Jeraine said. His mind snapping back to the present. “Dad and Seth are coming here?”
“O’Malley is not going to like you calling him,” the man’s voice changed to tease Jeraine, “‘Seth.’ Especially when music is on the line.”
Jeraine smiled at the man. Jacob turned to Jeraine.
“Can you make us a pot of coffee?” Jacob asked.
“Coffee?” Jeraine asked.
“Maybe some of those muffins?” Tanesha asked.
“Muffins?” Jeraine gave a slow nod. “I can do that.”
Setting Jabari down, Tanesha went into the kitchen to help get Jeraine started. Jabari ran back to Honey’s apartment to be with his friends.
“Where’d the boy go?” Wretched asked.
“His best friend is my sister Honey’s daughter,” Jacob said.
“They were having a sleep over,” Tanesha said. “He doesn’t want to miss out on the wake up part of the sleep over.”
“Makes sense to me,” Wretched said. “All this belong to you, Marlowe?”
“It belongs to. . .” Jacob said.
“Me,” Delphie said, turning the corner from the second floor stairs.
“Oh my Lord,” Wretched said. “Delphinium.”
“Wretched,” Delphie said with a grin.
They went to hug but remembered the pandemic and stopped.
“In the middle of a pandemic, I find the finest blue flower,” Wretched said.
They laughed. Through his mask, he kissed her cheek.
“Are we going to the ballroom?” Delphie asked.
“Why don’t you take them down?” Jacob asked. “I’ll stay here and wait for O’Malley.”
“Hmm,” Delphie said. “I’d bet that Wretched has a few things to show you.”
Jacob gave Delphie a long look. She waved him downstairs. Jacob unlocked the door.
“Can you make the stairs?” Jacob asked.
“I’ve got two new knees and two new hips,” Wretched said. “I can do anything.”
“After you,” Jacob said.
They started down the stairs into the dark. Midway, Jacob turned on the light switch to the ballroom stairs.
“I never been down that stairway before,” Wretched said.
“Oh?” Jacob asked.
“That’s how the whites came in,” Wretched said. “We negroes had to go through the back.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to go in any door in this house,” Jacob said.
“I thought it belonged to Delphie,” Wretched said with a twinkle in his eye.
Grinning, Jacob opened the door to the ballroom.
Wretched took two steps inside and stopped walking. His hand went to his heart.
Jacob turned to look to see if the man was sick, and saw tears stream down his face. Jacob turned away from Wretched and went to turn on the lights. When Jacob returned, Wretched was walking with confidence toward the stage.
“I never thought I’d ever see this place again,” Wretched said. “I dream about it. In fact, I doubt my son thinks it actually exists.”
“Did you spend time here?” Jacob asked.
“Son,” Wretched said. “I cleaned floors and took out the trash here when I was ten; played bass in the band here when I was fifteen; met my wife here when I was twenty; she ran off with a guy she met here when I was 22, and then. . .”
Wretched’s hands opened as if letting something go.
“Prohibition ended,” Wretched said. “The economy was better. We were playing bigger and better places. I had kids to raise. By the time I had a chance to get back here, this place had vanished. Bumpy looked for it.”
Wretched shook his head.
“I left my stuff here,” Wretched said. “You know, how you do when you go somewhere so often. A suit, in case I had to change here; even an old bass I’d bought at a pawn shop. I always thought that I’d be back here. The next thing I knew, no one had heard of the ballroom. Everyone involved was dead or were chased out of town by the racists after that Grand Dragon was convicted.”
“Grand Dragon?” Jacob asked.
“Klan. Man named Dr. Locke,” Wretched said. “Ben Stapleton was mayor, too. Now-a-days you’d call them ‘white supremacists.’ But in my day, they were the law. Deadly to anyone they didn’t like. Met a lot of racists in my life, but none of them as mean and loathsome as that Stapleton. He had all that power too. He hated Jews and blacks and anyone he could get away with. And. . .”
Wretched shook his head.
“I could talk all day,” Wretched said. “I came here to look. This was a golden place where people of all colors could come to dance. Most of the bands were Negroes but so were lots of the dancers. People had fun — laughing and dancing. Outside, racism was the law of the day; but in here, it was nearest to race-free I ever experienced. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
The elderly man sighed.
“And then it was gone,” Wretched said. “Like it never happened. I think those boys of mine don’t think it ever did.”
“Let’s see if we can’t find your stuff,” Jacob said. “That might give you some proof.”
“Good thinking,” Wretched said with a grin.
“I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much here when I found it,” Jacob said.
“Did you go in the back?” Wretched asked.
“I found some casks of rum and gin,” Jacob said.
“No, the employees side,” Wretched said. “Over here.”
Wretched gestured to the other side of the stage. Jacob followed him. They were standing in front of a blank wall.
“There was a door here,” Wretched said, shaking his head.
The elderly man walked back to where they came inside. He went around the other way and ended up back at the blank wall. He backed up and went the other way.
While Wretched tried to figure out where the door might have been, Jacob looked at the wall. He felt around the wall itself.
If there had been a door here, it was one of the best covers that Jacob had ever seen. He felt around the wall until he thought that he’d found a seam. He turned to look for Wretched. The elderly man was talking to himself in another area of the ballroom, Jacob reached out with his senses.
He took a step backward and shook his head. He was taking out his cellphone when his father entered the ballroom. He watched Sam greet Wretched. While the phone dialed, he saw Wretched explain his dilemma.
“O’Malley,” Seth’s voice came from the phone. “We’re in the car. Bumpy needed some coffee. Not my coffee. Not Maresol’s coffee. But special coffee from the special place.”
Bumpy’s laughing voice came from the background.
“We have a body,” Jacob said. “At least one. Likely two.”
“What?” Seth asked. “In the ballroom.”
“Yes,” Jacob said. “Behind a wall.”
“So it is true,” Wretched said.
Jacob jerked with surprise. The elderly man was at his elbow.
“I’ll take care of it,” Seth said.
“Thanks,” Jacob hung up the phone. Turning to Wretched, Jacob asked, “What’s true?”
The elderly man shook his head and walked away from him. Jacob shot a worried look after the man. He glanced at his father.
“Why don’t you head up?” Sam asked. “I know you have a lot on your plate today.”
“You’re still recovering!” Jacob said.
“I’m okay to sit here,” Sam said. “You do have a chair down here, right?”
“In the back,” Jacob said, pointing to the door.
“Perfect,” Sam said. “I’ll pull out a few chairs and a table. We’ll wait for the police and whoever shows up.”
“You’re sure?” Jacob asked.
“Absolutely,” Sam said. “I can do this.”
“You’ll be careful?” Jacob asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Sam said.
Jacob gave him a worried nod. As he was leaving, Wretched was showing Sam where the tables were stored. Jacob jogged up the stairs to the kitchen.
“Where’ve you been?” Blane asked. “We have to go.”
Aden gave Jacob an annoyed look. Jacob followed them out of the Castle.
Wednesday morning — 10:25 a.m.
“Hey Uncle Nelson,” Noelle said as she came into the kitchen.
Nelson looked up from his laptop and smiled at the girl. She grinned back at him.
“How are you feeling?” Noelle asked.
“Good,” Nelson said. “Better than I was when I got home.”
“That’s awesome,” Noelle said. “We were really worried about you. We tried to track you as long as we could but everything went out.”
“I was kind of out of time,” Nelson said. “I guess. I don’t really know.”
“I bet. What are you doing here?” Remembering her manners, Noelle added quickly, “Can I get you anything?”
“What do you have?” Nelson asked.
“Looks like Jeraine made some muffins,” Noelle said. “Coffee? Tea? We have some fruit. I don’t know, you’ve lived here. We always have about the same stuff.”
Nelson grinned at the girl.
“You look. . .” Noelle held her arms out like she had big biceps.
“I gained some weight while I was gone,” Nelson said.
“Killing infidels is a lot of work,” Noelle said.
Nelson sputtered with surprise.
“We’ve been on homeschool since we were all sent home,” Noelle said. “We decided to read about the Templars, you know, because of you. We each took a book to read and then we told each other what they said. You look thin, too.”
“No food,” Nelson said. “Water. Soap. Many infidels.”
“Ew,” Noelle said.
“Exactly,” Nelson said. “To answer your question, I would love a muffin and a cup of black tea.”
“I’ll make a pot,” Noelle said with a nod. “Milk or alternative?”
“Milk,” Nelson said.
Noelle set the plate of muffins on the table and turned on the electric kettle.
“I’m here because Jacob found a body,” Nelson said.
“In the ballroom,” Noelle nodded. “What does that have to do with you?”
“I work for Ava O’Malley in her forensic lab,” Nelson said.
“That’s right,” Noelle said. “Sorry, I forgot. I knew that you were working in the ER since you’ve been feeling better.”
“Just to help out at the ER for the pandemic,” Nelson said. “I work for Ava.”
“Really?” Noelle asked. “One of my topics is to see what it would be like to be a forensic artist. Ava’s setting me up with someone to talk with them about it.”
“That’s interesting work,” Nelson said.
“What do you do?” Noelle asked.
“I have a lot of experience in ERs,” Nelson said. “I’ve seen a lot of violent crime, so I know what violence can do to a body. I can tell by looking at someone’s remains what’s happened. Sometimes, not all the time, but that’s what I bring to the table. Also, I handle all of our computer research, forms, stuff like that.”
“Is there a lot of computer stuff?” Noelle asked.
“You’d be surprised,” Nelson said. “I’ve been sitting here trying to see if I can find a missing person’s report from the 1930s. Or a report of a riot or some kind of violence in this area.”
“That’s interesting,” Noelle said. “Did you find anything?”
“It’s tricky,” Nelson said. “The ballroom was an illegal speakeasy, so it’s not like they would have called the police if something happened.”
Noelle nodded. The electric kettle clicked off and Noelle set about making the pot of tea. Nelson followed her with his eyes.
“I haven’t found anything,” Nelson said. “But that doesn’t mean that, when we find someone who will talk to us, I won’t be able to track their story through official channels. At least that’s how it usually works.”
Noelle nodded. She set the full teapot on the kitchen table.
“What are you up to?” Nelson asked.
“It time for me to do art,” Noelle said. “I can just go out there, but Joey’s still here and Mike was working with him. Mike will be mad if Joey and I work, but it’s art time so we have to do something. Have you seen Mike?”
“I haven’t,” Nelson said.
“Hmm,” Noelle said. “They had a baby yesterday.”
“I heard,” Nelson said. “Baby girl?”
Noelle nodded. She squinted her eyes and looked at the second floor stairs.
“I should go check,” Noelle said. “He just might get annoyed, and I don’t want to annoy him.”
Nelson looked up at her.
“You don’t have any special powers do you?” Noelle asked. “You know, like Jacob and Katy do?”
“Other than being a Templar?” Nelson asked with a laugh. “No.”
“Well, here goes nothing,” Noelle said and went up the stairs. “Good luck with your stuff.”
Nelson nodded and went back to his computer. A few minutes later, Ava O’Malley came in with the state archeologist, Dr. Heidi Miller, trailing behind her.
“This is a great place,” Dr. Miller said. “Do you live here, Nelson?”
“I lived here while our house was being finished,” Nelson said. “We live across the street.”
“Can we have the muffins?” Ava asked.
“Sure,” Nelson said, shifting the plate toward here. “We have a fresh pot of tea, too.”
“Where’s O’Malley?” Ava asked.
“He’s not here,” Nelson said. “I mean, he was here. Then he left to drop off Dr. Bumpy.”
“That’ll take a while,” Ava said.
Ava pulled out a seat for Dr. Miller and took one across the table. Nelson got up to get plates and mugs. They had just poured tea when Mike and Noelle came running down the stairs. Mike’s hair was wet and he was pulling on a long sleeved T-shirt. Noelle was talking so fast that none of them could catch a word. Joey Drayson flew down the loft stairs and ran after them. They left the building together.
“Any idea what that was about?” Ava asked.
“Art time?” Nelson shrugged. “Val had her baby yesterday so Mike’s not on the ball. They have this complicated schedule. If they get behind, then everything’s a mess.”
“Wow,” Dr. Miller said. “Can I bring my kids here?”
“Ours are with Heather upstairs,” Nelson said with a grin. “It’s toddler play time.”
They ate muffins and drank tea until Seth came running into the building.
“Come on,” Seth said.
He waved at them and ran down the stairs.
“You guys go ahead,” Ava said. “I’ll clear.”
Nelson picked up his bag and gestured for Dr. Miller to head down the stairs in front of him. Ava picked up the cups. She set them in the dishwasher and followed them down into the ballroom.
Denver Cereal continues next week...