CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-NINE
Bob nodded. Standing in the middle of the dried blood, dust, and decay of an old crime scene, Dr. Robert Parrish looked at his team — Ava, Fran, and Leslie — as well as the young Crime Scene Unit technician, Luther, and Captain Ferguson. Nelson stuck his head out of the bathroom, where he’d been working, to see what was going on.
“Okay,” Bob said. “We have a tenant who moved out in the middle of the month, right?”
“That’s what the file says,” Ava said.
“And we know this door was broken before the party,” Bob said.
“I postulate that the tenant was either being stalked or a battered woman,” Bob said. “We could ask the woman who lived across the hallway. She’d know.”
Jacob and Delphie looked off into space.
“She says that the woman had left an abusive brother,” Delphie said. “Moved in here, but the brother found her.”
“To me, it looks like an abusive and controlling man kicked open the door,” Bob said. “He did whatever he did. . .”
“Beat up his sister,” Jacob said with a nod. He quickly added, “According to our ghostly neighbor from across the hall.”
“. . . and went away,” Bob said. “He came back for his sister and found this party. Bunch of people ran out. He dropped a body there. . .”
Bob pointed to an area near the door. Luther dropped an evidence cone.
“Knocked over the food table,” Bob said. “Then shot someone there.”
He pointed to an area where he was standing. Ferguson put a cone there.
“So he’s looking for his sister, right?” Bob asked. “He thinks that she’s here but he can’t find her. So he’s shooting fairly randomly. He must have decided that she was in the bathroom because he killed someone in there, right?”
“Got it,” Nelson said from the bathroom.
“By that time, the apartment has cleared out enough for him to realize that his sister wasn’t here,” Bob said. “Realizing what he’s done, he went in the closet with his shotgun.”
No one said anything for a moment.
“Did I miss anything?” Bob asked.
“There are a couple of other blood spatters,” Ava said.
“That’s what I was looking at,” Bob said. “He must have shot quite a few people. We need to see if the hospitals have any record of gun shot victims or if the folks were freaked out about the drugs they’d taken that they dealt with it themselves.”
“Where?” Ferguson asked.
“Here,” Bob said. “Here and here. You can see the pattern on this wall. It’s blood but not a lot of blood or an arterial spray. There’s no pool here.”
Bob pointed to the ground.
“Maybe that’s a glancing wound?” Bob shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know — maybe he hit someone with the stock of his shotgun.”
For a moment, they all stared at the wall and ceiling.
“Do we know who the shooter is?” Ava asked.
“No,” Fran said. “Not according to the file. They don’t know the guy by the door and the woman that was shot mid-apartment. They didn’t follow up with the hospitals. Honestly, it looks like they just figured it was druggies and hippies. They didn’t work very hard on this.”
“Okay,” Ferguson said. “I’ll call my team. Ava, can you and your team stay?”
“Sure,” Ava said. “The Evil Wizard will be pissed if we just wander off.”
“I can’t believe you call him that,” Ferguson said.
“You made it up, boss,” Ava said with a grin.
“I will never admit to that!” Ferguson said, firmly, but he grinned. “Alright, out of my crime scene. My team’s waiting for us at Pete’s. I’ll call them.”
“Remind them about the masks,” Jacob said.
“I will do just that,” Ferguson said. “Come on, let’s get some air.”
Ferguson was such a force of will that everyone stopped what they were doing and followed him out of the apartment. He led them out to the backyard.
“Just breathe for a while,” Ferguson said.
He gave them a nod and left to get his team.
“Well?” Ava shrugged.
“That was fun,” Leslie said. She turned to Jacob. “Do you think that the ghosts will go away now?”
“I hope so,” Jacob said. “I really hope so.”
“Nelson?” Ava asked. “That’s four bodies. Do we know where the others are?”
“Sure,” Nelson said. “Do you want to press on or wait for Ferg’s team to finish before we go into a new one.”
Ava looked off into space.
“Why don’t you help us harvest for a while?” Delphie asked. “That’s such grim work. You probably need a break. We can use the help. Alex is over there picking tomatoes. And John’s in the trees. Looks like Alex’s French sister is here! Do you know her Ava?”
Ava shook her head.
“Time to make some new friends,” Delphie said. “You can just set your stuff over there. I’ll let you know when it’s time to look at the other spaces.”
“Um, Jacob?” Leslie asked.
“How can I help?” he asked.
“I wondered. . .” Leslie said. Delphie looked up at her. “What do you think the ghosts are? Souls that were once embodied? So some kind of bodily essence? Something that is foreign to the body — kind of like gasoline to a vehicle. The vehicle needs the gasoline to run, but it’s really a foreign substance.”
Leslie peered at him to see if he understood her question. Jacob nodded.
“Or is it a memory,” Leslie said. “Something generated between you and me and whoever was there at the time they died. The memory can act out what happened but doesn’t really have power in its own right. Then there’s the idea that a creator gives the soul and. . .”
Leslie shook her head.
“You probably think I’m crazy,” Leslie said with a slight laugh.
“I think you are asking interesting questions,” Jacob said. “I can tell you what I know but honestly, I’m not sure anyone knows. Do you, Delphie?”
Delphie shook her head.
“I’ve always taken them as a creature of this earth,” Delphie said. “Humans, animals, plants, ghosts, angels. . .”
“I wonder if they have mass,” Leslie said.
Jacob grinned at her. She shook her head at him.
“What?” Leslie asked.
“You’re really smart,” Jacob said, evenly.
Leslie blushed so red that her scalp showed red under her white blond hair.
“I didn’t know that,” Jacob said. “I’m sorry. I guess I underestimated you.”
“You know about Nelson, right?” Leslie asked.
“The Templar thing?” Jacob asked.
“Sure,” Leslie said. “But he’s. . . an incredible ER doctor. He’s come up with techniques that save lives.”
“I had no idea,” Jacob said.
“Bob basically developed blood splatter technique,” Leslie said.
“I was blown away by what he did in there,” Jacob said.
“Fran’s the best lab tech I’ve ever worked with,” Leslie said. “We’re all weirdos. And we love working together.”
“That’s all that matters,” Jacob said. “Why don’t we sit down and talk about this ghost thing?”
“Okay,” Leslie said with a nod.
“Delphie?” Fran asked. “I wanted to ask. . .”
Fran stopped talking. Delphie put her hand on Fran’s arm.
“Your children are happy,” Delphie said. “They want you to know that they love you and don’t blame you for what happened.”
Tears rolled down Fran’s face. She gave Delphie a nod.
“Why don’t we sit for a while in the shade?” Delphie asked. “You can ask what you need to know.”
Fran nodded and followed Delphie to the chicken yard. They sat in the shade and talked. As the day began to fade, Harvest Day got underway.
Friday night — 10:05 p.m.
“There you are!” Heather said as she jogged down the stairs to their main kitchen. “What are you doing? How come you didn’t come over?”
Tanesha turned to look at Heather. Her eyes were moist as if she’d been crying. She shook her head at Heather and went back to staring straight ahead from where she was sitting at their kitchen table.
“Did something happen?” Heather asked.
Tanesha looked at her best friend.
“You should go back to the party and have fun,” Tanesha said.
Heather snapped her fingers and a bottle of her grandfather’s expensive wine was sitting in her hands. She opened the wine and poured two glasses.
“Come on,” Heather said.
“I just. . .” Tanesha said.
“I know,” Heather said.
Tanesha got up from her seat and followed Heather to the soft couch that face the wall of windows to their sunken backyard. Heather gave Tanesha a glass of wine. For a few long minutes, they sat out on the couch staring at the yard.
“I was thinking. . .” Heather started at the same time Tanesha said, “I just can’t. . .”
“Tell me,” Heather said.
“It’s so hard,” Tanesha said. “Today, we had this kid — four years old.”
“Jabari’s age,” Heather said.
“He had to be hooked to a ventilator,” Tanesha said. “He’s got the stupid virus. His parents are in the middle of a divorce. They swear that they have no idea why he picked up the virus, but the dad was in India last week and. . .”
“These variants are going to kill everyone and we’re going to be right back in the mess of it or worse,” Tanesha said. “I don’t know if I can handle all of the death.”
“What did your resident say?” Heather asked.
“I didn’t tell her,” Tanesha said. “She’s not like me. She just shrugs and says ‘Oh well, next patient.’ I. . . It’s so hard.”
“It is,” Heather said.
Tanesha put her hand over her eyes and cried. Heather rubbed her shoulder.
“What am I going to do?” Tanesha asked. “I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a little kid. Now, here I am and. . .”
Heather waited a moment to see if Tanesha has anything else to say. Tanesha just shrugged.
“You’re still a medical student,” Heather said. “You have two years before you graduate and then residency and. . .”
“I’m thinking about quitting,” Tanesha said. “I can’t handle it. Truly. They’re saying that there will be a huge winter surge and. . .”
“I don’t remember you ever saying that you wanted to be an ER doctor,” Heather said.
Tanesha turned in her place and stared at Heather. Tanesha’s mouth opened and closed. Heather shrugged.
“But. . .” Tanesha said. “I’m really good at this.”
“You’re really good at a lot of things,” Heather said. “It doesn’t mean that you need to spend your life doing it.”
Tanesha looked down and then out at the garden.
“When did that happen?” Tanesha asked, gesturing to the garden.
She got up and slid open the sliding door to the back patio. She crossed the white rocks to the large cement patio with the table on it. She walked to the grassy area along the retaining wall and knelt down at the koi pond Jacob and Blane had dug. Heather followed after her.
“They are so beautiful,” Tanesha said gesturing to the water lilies. “Pink and white and. . . Oh look! The fish!”
“Would you like to feed them?” Heather asked.
Heather held out the fish food. Tanesha took the food and put a tiny bit on the top of the water.
“Do you think that they’ll get big?” Tanesha asked.
“I think that we’ll have to keep them alive in the winter,” Heather said. “But otherwise, they will get big. They live a long time.”
Tanesha gave Heather a broad smile and turned back to the pond again.
“I know you’re right,” Tanesha said facing the pond. “I never wanted to be an ER doc. ‘You told me that you wanted to deliver babies.’ ‘You could work with Jeraine’s dad.’ ‘You could be a plastic surgeon for that matter.’ I tell myself the same things, I just. . .”
When Tanesha turned to look at Heather, she was crying again.
“I’m good at this,” Tanesha said.
“You’re good at everything you do,” Heather said.
“I can’t cook worth a shit,” Tanesha said.
“That’s why we have men in our lives,” Heather said.
“I wonder if I might show you something,” Heather said.
“I’m so tired,” Tanesha said.
Heather looked at her friend. Tanesha shook her head. The two looked at each other for a long moment.
“Oh, fuck it,” Tanesha said. “I need to be home in time for Jer’s show.”
Heather gave her a kind of bowing nod. Heather reached out for Tanesha, and Tanesha grabbed onto Heather. The world began to whirl.
“Where are we?” Tanesha asked.
“Modern Day London,” Heather said. “This is East Sheffield road.”
“Why are we here?” Tanesha asked.
“They recently found two plague cemeteries here,” Heather said. “I wanted to show you what modern day looked like so that you could see.”
“Okay,” Tanesha said.
“Watch,” Heather said.
They stood on the edge of open space. Heather nudged Tanesha aside as a horse drawn open carts drove over where they had been standing. The driver and passenger got out of the front and went to the back.
Tanesha gasped when they threw off the covering.
Human bodies were neatly stacked six across and five or six high. The men carried the bodies one at a time to a deep hole. They swung the body and let it fly. It landed at the bottom of the pit with a thud. The men walked back to the cart to carry the next body. They continued working until their cart was empty.
They were just pulling out when another cart, equally as full, pulled up to the pit.
“This is the 14th century,” Heather said. “These are victims of the Black Death.”
They watched another cart unload its dead. As the cart pulled away, another full cart appeared. This time, one of the men jumped into the pit and began organizing the bodies.
“I can’t believe them,” the man complained bitterly. “They are so lazy.”
When the bodies were stacked, the man got out of the pit and helped the driver to clear their cart. Another cart pulled up before they finished.
“Between 1346 and 1353 — less than ten years — 30-60% of Europe was dead,” Heather said. “History reports that it’s something like 75 million people or possibly 300 million people. I’ll tell you that it felt like 300 million people.”
“There wasn’t anything anyone could do for people,” Heather said. “Once they were sick, they died. No one knew how the disease was transmitted. Or even what caused disease. It was such a hopeless time.”
“I know that fleas bites gave it to people, but I don’t know how it spread,” Tanesha said.
“Slave ships,” Heather said. “Rats on the ships would pick up the disease, get on the ships, and off to the world.”
“Horrible,” Tanesha said.
“Shall we?” Heather asked.
Heather hugged Tanesha. When Tanesha grabbed on, the world spun for a moment.
“This is Paris,” Heather said. “Sissy lives just above us.”
“Where are we in Paris?” Tanesha asked.
“We’re in the original limestone mines under the city,” Heather said. “They cut out the limestone to build the buildings.”
“Mom told me about this. They went here on their second honeymoon,” Tanesha said. “They dug up old bones and brought them here so that they’d have room for plague victims.”
“They did it many, many times,” Heather said.
Tanesha walked up to a wall made entirely of skeletal bones and skulls.
“I wanted you to see. . .” Heather said.
They were standing on a street corner. An open cart driven by two men and two horses was driving toward them.
“Bodies?” Tanesha asked.
“Skeletons,” Heather said. “But look. . .”
Heather gestured around them. People were out on the streets celebrating the macabre parade of carts and bones. Some people threw down flowers while others danced behind the carts.
“Wow,” Tanesha said.
“Death was common place,” Heather said. “You brought out your dead every morning. Most children didn’t live past the age of three. Disease was rampant.”
Heather gestured for Tanesha to step back. A large man carrying a stoneware gallon jug of wine danced past them.
“They seem so happy,” Tanesha said.
“Death is a part of life,” Heather said. “Millions of people died in just a few years. He’s dancing for his own life as well as his ancestors.”
Heather reached out and touched Tanesha’s hand.
“This is Mexico City,” Heather said. “The year is 1520.”
“What do they have?” Tanesha asked.
“Small pox,” Heather said. “5 to 8 million people died, which was more than 25% of the population.”
Tanesha nodded. Heather touched her arm and the world whirred again. They landed in a beautiful villa with an open field behind them.
“Where are we now?” Tanesha asked stepping out of the way of a body laden cart.
“My grandfather’s house,” Heather said. “I wanted to give you a minute to think and talk.”
Tanesha nodded. They fell silent. A woman came out of the house with a bottle of wine and glasses. She poured the wine. Another woman brought a plate of cheese, grapes, and olives. Tanesha and Heather watched the scenery in silence.
“You’ve told me — ‘Everything that lives has a virus,’” Tanesha said. “And I know that’s true. It’s just. . .”
“Heartbreaking,” Heather said.
Tanesha nodded. They drank wine and sat in peaceful silence. Tanesha sighed.
“I don’t want to be an ER doctor,” Tanesha said with a sigh. “I don’t know what kind of doctor I want to be, but I can’t handle this.”
“Okay,” Heather said.
“But I still have two more months,” Tanesha said.
“You do,” Heather said.
“I can change my mind,” Tanesha said.
“Shall we?” Heather asked.
“Sure,” Tanesha said.
The world spun, and they were standing in their backyard. Tanesha hugged Heather tight.
“Thank you,” Tanesha said.
“Any time.” Heather shrugged. “Go shower. I’ll walk you over.”
Tanesha nodded. They went inside. Heather waited in the kitchen while Tanesha showered and changed.
“What do you think?” Tanesha asked. She was wearing a beautiful, bright blue dress that hit her thighs. “It was in my closet. Jer probably. . .”
Heather pointed to herself.
“Where’d you get it?” Tanesha asked.
“Those women who brought us wine?” Heather asked. “They’re seamstresses. They made it for you. They wanted you to know that anything you do — everything you do — makes a big difference in the world. The color is only available in Olympia. It is gorgeous on you.”
Teary, Tanesha shook her head at Heather.
“There you are!” Jeraine came running down the stairs. “I’ve been looking for you forever.”
He scanned Tanesha’s face.
“What’s wrong?” Jeraine asked.
“I’ve decided to grow my hair out,” Tanesha said. “I’m going to grow an afro.”
“Whatever you like,” Jeraine said. “You grow a beautiful afro.”
“See,” Heather said. “I told you he wouldn’t be upset.”
Jeraine hugged her. He grabbed her hand and they walked out of the house. Heather followed behind. Tanesha stopped to grab masks and the three of them left to house to join Harvest Day.
Denver Cereal continues next week...