Thorns of a Red Rose is that thriller crime - serial killer book that finally presents an entire family of serial killers. Read chapter one and discover how it all began on a not so fine day.
"Papa, Papa, please don't die… I love you too much for you to leave us now. Mama needs you! You can't leave us," Helena Hererez tearfully begged her ailing father.
"Now, now, Helena, my child. Everything will be just fine. Your Mama, she's a great lady who has stood by my side throughout our life together. We've had many a wonderful day as a family. Raising you and your sister, Brenda, were the most wonderful years. Your mother and I have had a good life, sweetheart,” Jorge commented as he coughed, making his way slowly to a chair. “Please calm down. God will take care of all of you after I am gone. The doctors say that this old body of mine has at least six months left, and I plan on holding onto every one of them," Jorge Hererez smiled as he tried to calm his daughter. Reaching up, he wiped a tear from his daughter's cheeks.
"Calm down!" she interrupted him as she began tapping her foot on the iron rails of the bed. "You admit to me that you're dying, that you might die in six months… then you say that I should stay calm." Tears flooded her beautiful olive skin. Jorge’s oldest daughter's hand clumsily wiped tears away from her rounded cheeks while she studied her Papa's face, a face she had gone to so many times for reassurance.
She had so much to tell him, so much to thank him for, so many questions to ask. Even so, at this moment, she could say little. She was a child again for a brief moment. In the end, she cried, held onto his hand tightly and said; "I love you Papa" repeatedly.
"Send that husband of yours in to see me quickly. There is much to do. I know Geraldo stays busy with the plumbing company and all, but you tell him that I want to teach him how to become the new funeral director of 'El Silencio. The family will be counting on him to carry this load, and trust me, it's not an easy one." Jorge coughed and with a flushed face, drifted into a deep trance.
El Silencio, the Hererez's family-owned funeral home and cemetery, resting on four acres of land and had been passed down for two generations. Jorge saw it as the legacy he would leave his family, though he didn't expect it would be so soon. That's why he was adamant about making sure someone could step in when he was unable.
Jorge's father had chosen the name El Silencio with great deliberation because he loved the reference to 'the silence.' Indeed, as death is the ultimate silence and the name added a sense of serenity and peacefulness as well. The company's survival and success were important to Jorge, Jr. It was his link from the past to the future. Now it would be the link that would forever bind his memory to his children.
The elder Hererez was lost in thought as Helena shook his elbow to get his attention. "Geraldo, working here at the funeral home? You gonna want him to take care of the cemetery, too?"
The faltering patriarch gained new strength. "There's no other way! He will have to run both businesses, in fact, maybe the wedding chapel as well if he does not find traveling another hour each day. We have to think of the family now. The family always come first, Helena, he said as he clasped her arm, and met her questioning gaze."
"Papa, I'm not sure he could do all that, " his daughter explained guardedly. She didn’t want her husband to appear weak, or worse, to make her father believe that she thought her husband was not capable, and she didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the chance to take over the family legacy. A tendril of her jet-black hair fell in front of her face as she pondered just what to say to her beloved father. She decided to take the diplomatic route. Her father stressed family, and so would she.
Before Helena could make her case, Jorge coughed up a small amount of blood. He spit it in a coffee can kept on his bed tray. It shook Helena from her trance-like state that had transported her to the future and what 'might' happen. As she watched her father wipe his mouth today's reality…the here and now… set in.
Jorge noticed his daughter’s temporary lapse, but he tried not to let his face show it.
He tried a different approach. "Helena, I've given all of this a lot of thought. I've always taken care of the family. Haven't I? I know what I'm doing here. You leave all of the details to me. My mind is made up and I don't intend to change it. Your Geraldo runs that plumbing business of his quite well. He has for years. Besides being successful at business, he also takes good care of you and the twins. He'll be successful as a funeral director with the right person to teach him. Have some faith.”
Despite his stern speech, Helena felt compelled to try and reason with her father. "Successful monetarily! But, Papa, I hardly ever see the man as it is. If you give us El Silencio, Geraldo will be even busier. When will we ever have time as a family?”
She stared directly at her father sternly, but with the respect that was expected; given her position in the family. She was Jorge's eldest daughter, but she was a daughter, nonetheless. “You know how all consuming this business is. Is that what you want for me and the twins?”
At the mention of his grandchildren, Jorge began to reflect on all of the years that he would miss seeing the grow up and his right hand began jerking uncontrollably. Helena noticed and in a moment of guilt and awareness of his need both, she rang for the nurse on duty.
The early morning shift had begun duty on all six floors of the hospital. Nurse Blair, all crisp and proper in her whites, sauntered into Jorge's room. After checking his vital signs, she set up a new bottle of glucose. Leaving as quickly as she arrived, she grunted, “How did you get in here? Have you been here all night?"
Neither Jorge nor Helena had spoken while Nurse Blair had been in the room. As she exited the room, they smiled at one another. Helena leaned over and kissed her father's forehead. In those few short minutes, the deal had been cemented. Family takes care of family. What else could matter?
Helena reached for her father's thinning, gray hair. She stroked it gently Helena whispered, "Papa, if it is us you want to take over operating El Silencio, then that’s what we will do.”
Relieved at his daughter's acceptance of the idea, and tired from the strained discussion, Jorge released and let the medication take affect.
Geraldo, not being heartless man, even if it was a good businessman, was unable to say "no" to Helena's father when offered the company. Over dinner, he tried to explain to his wife that he wanted desperately to hang on to his plumbing company as well as begin to learn a new trade. To do so, he was going to need her constant help. "Helena, sweetie, your mother has explained to me that you and I will be going through a training course at the funeral home. I don't mind that, and surely yes, it is needed. But let's try and pay attention to detail and rally up as many responsibilities as possible for you to do instead of me."
"What are you saying, honey? That you aren't going to do the work?"
"No, that is not what I'm telling you. I'm sure I will have no trouble working with the part of the business that requires me to bring in the bodies and place them in the areas needed for investigation or even in the autopsy areas. In fact, I think it would do me some good, to learn as much as possible about performing an autopsy as I can. I'm just saying, I want you to take care of the administrative portion of the business and yes, of course, take care of the prettying up of them for the funerals. See if you can get the twins to help you with that. You know, the small stuff."
Helena had watched her husband intently as he explained his ideas of how the switchover would take place. She was suspicious. He actually had a gleam in his eyes when speaking of the dead bodies… she only hoped it was a business look and not one of excitement in having the actually handle the dead.
After their meeting, Helena phoned her father who had been resting on his patio with a cup of warm tea. "Papa, the details are working themselves out, albeit they may be slowly coming to a close, they are being settled. Geraldo and I are deciding what each of us will do. However, I have been unable to get him to consider getting out of the plumbing business. So, his plan is to juggle all duties. Just as I thought, the kids and I will see less of him. But that's ok Papa, I'd do anything to honor your last wishes."
A couple of weeks after his release from Santafé Foundation, one of the most prestigious hospitals in Columbia, Jorge became irritable. Each day, he took less and less of the prescribed Valium and each day, he'd argue with his employees over the telephone. It wasn't the same as being on site though. The business wasn't going to run itself just because he was sick. So, each day, as he became more lucid with the decreased medication, he would draw back the heavy velvet curtains in his bedroom, and long to get outside for a while. Jorge bade up his mind that despite the protests of his wife and children, he would find a way to check on the funeral home. Jorge also wanted to be certain that his beloved cemetery was being kept manicured. The chauffeur gladly drove him where he needed to go, wheeling the oxygen tank along as they traveled.
While at El Silencio, Jorge instructed his staff to get prepared for a new boss. New changes would be coming soon. He decided to take some of the $15,000 that he had made by selling his stocks and spruce up the place a bit before Geraldo took over. His father would be quite proud of him for turning over a thriving, newly remodeled business to his daughter and her husband. This way, he felt that his daughter would be well taken care of and safe.
He walked the grounds of the cemetery, viewed the funeral home from the outside and made plans for the future. Ironic, he thought, given his future was to be no more than six months. "I have my work cut out for me," Jorge sighed, motioning for his driver. If he was lucky, he thought, maybe the family hadn't missed him yet.
Jorge's wife, Angelina, was accustomed to working alongside him on a daily basis. "Angie, my dear," Jorge began his instruction, "tomorrow, you will begin a special training program. The training should involve showing Helena some of the things that have always been a part of our arrangement in taking care of the deceased. Our daughter and I have struck an agreement."
"What agreement is that?" Helena, unlike her mother, was not known to be graceful and quiet. Her eyes grew wide and biting her lip. She waited for the answer.
"Well… he started tentatively which made Angelina anxious because Jorge always spoke with such a decisive voice, "Helena visited me a couple of weeks before I was released and I asked her to have that husband of hers to come see me about taking over the business." Another coughing attack interrupted his thought pattern long enough for his wife to further question him.
"Don't you think it would have been compassionate of you to ask me if I wanted Geraldo to operate our business?"
"That may be true , my dear, but I also do not want you to have to work your beautiful little fingers to the bone trying to do everything, either," Jorge explained.
Angelina wanted to be angry. How dare him make such a life altering decision for her. Still, she knew in their fifty years of marriage that he had always put her first, so although she didn't approve of his method, she knew it came from a loving place. Moreover, she had lived long enough to know just how rare that was between a man and his wife. Besides, as she watched her husband, trying to control his very breath, how could she be angry with him?
Jorge continued without breaking stride after that, and Angelina let him. "As I was trying to tell you, Geraldo spoke to me last weekend and accepted the position. He will take my place as head of El Silencio, at my death."
She averted her eyes to the floor, letting her thick black mane fall forward a bit so he would not be able to see her tears? She felt guilty for her initial anger, but Jorge's illness was taking a toll on them all. If he did something that bothered her, she felt inhumane for being aggravated. At the same time, she knew he'd want her to be honest with him. In the end, whenever a big issue arose, she found herself sticking a toe into the water, rather than jumping in headfirst which was her nature. It was what Jorge had always loved most about her. In these last days they would share, Angelina found herself fighting to stay true to herself and to her husband.
"How will he learn the business? Jorge, you can only stay out of bed for small amounts of time. You'll use up all of your energy…" She was not ready to talk about the subject, but she knew her husband would not be appeased after he had made up his mind.
"Oh, I'll stay out of bed all right." He countered. You must promise to let them have what they need when they need it. I'm depending upon you," Jorge said, his voice weakening.
"I promise," she answered quietly.
Angelina spent two months teaching her daughter all the funeral details of the funeral trade. She hadn't realized how much of what she did had become just a normal part of her daily life.
Helena learned quickly, and even took the initiative to attend a special night school class in order to brush up on her English skills. More and more, English speaking people were moving to Santa Marta and she felt it would improve her ability to work with the customers. After scoring a B+ in the class, she decided to go even further in her education. She enrolled in a funeral director's school so she could be ready to help Geraldo. Learning the family trade was going to help her for the rest of her life, she believed. Helena had high aspirations to make their family-owned business even better than it had ever had been for her parents, or for their parents, for that matter.
Gerald, busy trying to find a competent right hand man to manage his plumbing business that he was unwilling to sell, became every day more obsessed with learning the makings of a well-run cemetery and efficient funeral home. He would make it a point to increase his training with Jorge an hour more each day. Maybe he would be able to handle a deceased person soon.
Helena had never taken an active role in Geraldo's plumbing business. With two small children, she had enough to worry about these days. Still, she had meant what she had said to her father. She wanted to keep her relationship with her husband strong, like the one she knew from her own parents. Hence, it was settled in her mind: she would learn the family trade, and work side by side with her husband. It would be good for her. It would be good for them.
Helena aspired to make their-family-owned business even better than it ever had been for her parents, or for their parents, for that matter.
Visitors came around the clock to visit Jorge. Some brought flowers, while others favored him with casseroles, cakes and pies. All of the local business people took time to stop in and bring Jorge news about the community. Indeed, Jorge's peers respected him highly, both as a businessman and as a member of the community. Still, gathering round and taking active roles when family members become ill was not unusual service work for this town. Santa Marta was a town showing favor to Geraldo because of his assisting them with plumbing problems, but when he takes on even more of a community business role, he will be even more respected by the elite. In some ways, Geraldo was looking forward to receiving more attention and in some ways, he was dreading the focus being placed on him. There were many days and many nights that his mind did not seem to be functioning normal. He feared the day he would have to explain to someone what all transpired in his thoughts at night.
As time went on, Angelina spent more and more time by her husband's side. While he slept, she spent time instructing the servants. Each day she took her daughter through the training program and watched her learn. Angelina felt pride in her daughter's ability to adjust to new knowledge.
Watching her daughter fold the sheets used for the caskets, Angelina stated, "You know, as usual, I was not allowed to persuade your father about any of his recent decisions. I wanted to tell you that I feel Geraldo is too busy to take over the company, but he would have just ignored me. So let's just make the best of this. Each day for at least an hour, you'll be shown the parts of the trade that your father feels is going to be your responsibility."
The folded sheets were placed on the top of the beautiful bronze lid of casket number 331. Helena knew it was her cue. She followed her mother's lead, grabbed a flat beige sheet, and started folding it. What she really wanted to do was throw it against the wall. That old feeling of 'it's never enough' flooded her mind.
As the giant washer and dryer both hummed, Helena looked their way. She looked at the overall layout of the room and thought of how nice it would be to create a playroom for Anna and Stan to play in while she worked. After all, although she was complaining, the truth was she would probably see more of Geraldo once they began working together more. All of her life, death had been in their blood and death had been the family business. 'I'm just going to make the best of it,' she mused. She thought it ironic that her first client might be her own father.
"Hush, my dear," Angelina said with the last bit of patience she had left for the day. "Let's just get started. Your father's health is worsening daily and I want him to be able to see his last wishes happen soon. Let's all pull together to make certain that he's content in his final days."
Angelina taught Helena the art of death: how to groom the corpses, fix their makeup, comb hair, and polish the fingernails that one last time. As final touches, she groomed her eldest daughter in the fine art of making certain that the deceased's clothing was perfect and the shoes were shined.
Once she had covered the day-in, day-out technicalities of the job, she started on the finer points. Helena, determined to make her Papa proud of her, soaked up every piece of information, no matter how trivial. "I want you to learn to read reactions of the loved ones," Angelina said.
The next instructions took Helena aback, if only for a moment. At first, she was certain that she had misunderstood when her mother said, "We must wait until the family members have said their last 'good-byes,' shortly before the burial before slipping a ring or necklace off them. Up in the attic, there is an antique chi-fa-robe. In it, we shall place the items that are removed from the corpses," Angelina instructed Helena.
"Mama, that's terrible! That's against the law isn't it?" she asked her mother.
"Nobody really notices," Angelina waved her hand as if it was almost an afterthought. "They don't catch us. The body is covered and buried to stay. Not once in over forty years, has our family ever been asked to account for any missing items. Besides, some of them are fun to play dress up with at night."
For all the frivolity, she seemed to be enjoying describing her spoils; Angelina turned serious for the first time in her daughter's schooling. "We must be mindful of the dead and their needs. We are their final physical contact with this world," she said.
"I want us to make certain they have an enjoyable passage to the hereafter. In the mornings, before the funeral services, when I play the Victrola," she said to her daughter, "I sing to whomever is in the different caskets. It's like I sing to them until their soul passes up to heaven."
Despite this heartfelt outpouring from her mother, Helena could not get past the previous statements.
"You keep the items upstairs? Do you ever sell the stolen goods, Mama?"
"No, precious, we are smarter than all that." Angelina smiled as she said it, as evenly toned as if she were simply inhaling and exhaling, a natural process. "You see, if we went that far, we'd get caught. We don't wear any of it outside the house either, for fear it would be recognized."
Angelina's daughter frowned. Now it made sense on almost every level. She started slowly for hear her mother would simply close the lessons for the day. "Why, Mama, why are we gathering all of these things?"
"It's become almost a tradition at this point, my dear. Your father has kept an account of everyone he has buried, as did his father and his father's father."
"Mama, that sounds ghoulish, not at all like a tradition."
"It's all in how you look at it. To your father, it is a way to keep his grandfather's business alive for the deceased and how to keep something of the deceased's alive."
"It don't feel right, Mama, maybe this is something we could stop doing now that Geraldo and I are taking over the business." She caught the disapproving look in her mother's eye.
Still, Helena forged on; "The deceased will always live on in the minds and hearts of their loved ones. Isn't that their place, a private place that belongs to the family; isn't our job is to make their grieving as painless as we can, if that's at all possible?"
She was on a roll, and the momentum made her forge on though she knew her mother was not happy that her eldest was interrogating her. "I'd rather take the business to a new level. We are rich, you are rich, and the Hererez family has enough money to buy all of Santa Marta, there's no need to take things from our clients."
"Is that all?" Angelina asked, half amused at her daughter's newfound zealous nature.
"No, that's not all, Mama."
"Let's take some of our money and hire people from America to come in and run the companies?"
Amused or not, Angelina had had enough of her daughter's ideas. Who was she to question the traditions of their ancestors? "Yes, Helena, we do have all the money we could ever need or want, but it is not the money that is important to your father. What is important to him and what should be important to you, if you love him, is that fact that El Silencio, and what has transpired within the cemetery and the funeral home is kept silent forever. Now, can you promise me, your loving mother, that you will see to it that you and Geraldo will preserve both the family business, and its secrets as well?"
"Yes, mother. What you've told me will stay hidden and go no further. Still, I do not want to continue robbing the caskets. I doubt Geraldo will want to do it either, but I'll let him make his own decisions."
"Whatever," Angelina threw her hands in the air and walked across the room, "all you will need to take is one item."
"El Silencio's real heritage will continue, Mama, I promise."