Friday, February 9, 2018

News at Eleven - Chapter 16



Chapter 16
The Black Castle 

Naperville lay in front of them, a sprawling extension of Chicago along the Burlington North Santa Fe Metro line, just thirty miles west of the city. Clisty could easily see it was no longer the sleepy college town her grandmother had told her about when she met her grandfather there as a college freshman. As she watched the city stretch out its new streets, she wondered what it was like back when her grandparents knew it. Now, red brick sidewalks and streets were enchanting, like something out of an old movie she had seen on TV. Quaint old buildings with overhanging bay windows blended with new stores like Barnes and Noble Booksellers and a fancy Pizzeria with a festive red awning for dining on the sidewalk. She took out her e-tablet and cleared her head by typing in the mental notes she had taken earlier. There was no time for reminiscence.
“Who knows something about Naperville?” Jake asked as he slowly wound through the city streets.
“Nothing really,” Clisty said as she watched for directional clues she knew would not appear. “Faith never left the house and Pooky was outside for only two weeks.”
“We’re wasting a lot of time wandering around. We might not get back to Indiana by the six PM news,” Becca reminded them. “I called North Central College on my cell and took them up on their offer to let us use their studio. If we shoot a segment there, they can send it on to WFT, and the station will air it when the six o’clock news hour comes around.”
“Well, okay, maybe,” Clisty grinned broadly. “But they’ll have to take me without professional makeup on.”
“You are beautiful all the time,” Jake patted her knee.
“I have a little blush in my purse and I’m sure you have lipstick,” Becca offered.
“Where is the college, Becca?” Jake asked.
“Well, it’s one-hundred-fifty years old … so it would be in the original part of town,” she offered as she continued to watch out the window. “They gave me the address and I wrote it all down,” she watched the passing street signs. “Here … turn here, Clint. This street sounds right. Let’s hurry. We don’t have much time. Maybe they can give us some help on finding where The Guardian lives.”
They stopped in front of the building that housed the television station and all four hurried from the van. Clisty buttoned her jacket as the April breeze caught it and blew it opened. Hurrying in, Becca led the way and introduced the entourage to the station manager who was waiting for them.
“I’m so happy you could help us today,” Clisty said as she followed the man into the studio. She whipped out her lipstick and swished the brush to Becca’s blush across her cheeks.
As they approached the door to the studio, the phone on the station manager’s desk rang. “Yes?” he asked into the receiver. “Oh, no.” Then he placed his hand over the phone and spoke to Becca. “I am so sorry. There is a huge breaking story that will have to take your spot in the studio.” He listened again and then spoke into the phone, “Okay, we’ll send a crew out immediately.”
“What happened?” Clisty asked.
“There is a cult on the north side of the county, the Freedom Temple. Someone is actively setting fires out there. According to witnesses who happened upon the compound, new fires continue to ignite. They’re in various parts of the temple and out-buildings.”
Clisty looked from Jake to Becca. “The Freedom Temple is burning. The Guardian’s Lady could be in danger. We have to get to her right away.”
All four of them put their jackets back on and started for the door. Becca turned to the manager, “Thank you so much for your generous offer. We certainly know how quickly the news changes. The fire at the Freedom Temple may have put someone else at risk. We’ll have to get to her fast. Please, feed the video you have of the fire to our studios in Fort Wayne. We’ll share our information about Naperville’s connection to Fort Wayne when we have it compiled. Okay?”
“Absolutely,” the manager said as he shifted into breaking-story mode and notified his people just as Clisty and the group went out the door.
“Oh,” Clisty began as if it were an after-thought, “do you know where the leader of the cult lives?”
“No,” the manager answered as he hurried about the studio, “no one seems to know much about any of them.”
“Thanks anyway,” Clisty said as she waved.
“Okay, people,” Jake announced. “Now where?”
“Pooky said she watched children as they walked home from school. If that’s the case, we’ve gone too far into Naperville,” Clisty began to realize. “We need to be on that north side again.” Clisty touched her cell phone screen and brought up a map of the north side. “We got detoured by our concern over the early newscast.”
“That’s right,” Becca agreed. “The house can’t be too far from the school. Finding the Freedom Temple out in the country led us away from the residential areas.”
“Somehow, I thought the house would be an old Victorian because of the size,” Clisty felt energized by getting back to the facts of the case.  “But, it wouldn’t have to be.”
“That Temple is a mansion. Why can’t The Guardian’s house be a large, new home in one of the northern suburbs?” Becca jumped into the excitement of the hunt.
Clisty searched the passing streets for a clue to the location. “It’s hiding in plain sight.” 
• • • • • 
Jake coasted the van up and down neighborhoods on the north side of town. They trolled from street to street and subdivision to subdivision. “I hope no one reports us for stalking,” Jake cracked.
Clint offered a plausible excuse. “You can call it surveillance.”
“I could if I carried a Naperville Police badge,” Jake said and then slowed to a stop. “Look up there in the next block.”
“Where?” Becca reached for the back of the front bucket seat and searched the block ahead of them.
“Right there,” Clisty whispered. Her voice caught in her throat. She wasn’t sure if she was the hunter or the hunted. She had the persona of a victim hidden in the secret corner of her mind. Most of the time she had been able to keep it locked away from view. Faith’s return, the presence of the bank robber, and the voices of the men at the Freedom Temple were too much for the guards at the gate of her secret thoughts to keep her fears at bay.
Ahead and to the right, a mammoth black stone edifice rose up out of the ground like an ancient giant, imposing and menacing. The windows had some sort of opaque coating that glowed black in the high day sun. Window wells beneath the foundation revealed the obvious presence of a basement. “Complete with dungeon,” Clisty gasped.
“First and second floors, plus an attic,” Jake ticked off the enormity of it. “I’m surprised it sits as close to the sidewalk as it does. Mansions usually hide from traffic, back long paved driveways. This one would invite visitors, if it weren’t so scary.”
“Jake, look,” Clisty pointed. “Along the front fence at the end of the sidewalk, there’s a rock garden, all polished and sparkling. Pooky said, ‘She would leave a note for me under a rock near the end of our sidewalk.’ Jake, she gave us a clue she wasn’t aware she had.” Then Clisty began to remember something else as she pulled another fragment from what Pooky had said. “Leenie Lambert, 1221 W. Benton Avenue.”
“The cross street we just passed was W. Benton,” Jake said with a thumb pointing back over his shoulder.
“What?” Becca asked. “Benton and the rocks?”
“The rocks at the end of the sidewalk. I have to investigate.” Clisty turned and looked through the back window. “The coast is still clear. We’d better hurry though. The Guardian can come at any time. He’s burning all bridges behind him. His Lady may be his beloved wife, but my guess is, she’s totally expendable.”
“The Guardian could get here as quickly as he set those fires. He may not even know that we found him there. But, he seems to believe his cult-kingdom has been threatened with exposure and he’s blaming his home situation,” Jake warned.
“Clint, you get out and take your initial shots of the house from up the street at our present location. Use the zoom lens in case there’s a chance of finding someone in an open window or at the door,” Becca started setting camera angles immediately.
Clint got out and shouldered the camera. “The street is clear,” he observed. “You guys get closer and I’ll start shooting from here. I’ll be able to capture your approach to the house.”
Jake rolled slowly toward the house, watching in every direction, windshield, back and both side windows. He parked in front, where a short wrought iron fence identified the property line. At the corner, the rocks piled on both sides, inside and outside of the marked off area. “I know we look obvious from inside. Even the neighbors can read our station number and logo plastered on the side of the van. We can’t help it. If we have to run to the van, some of us may not be able to keep up.”
“Hey, Detective Skinny,” Becca corrected, “I can run just as fast as the rest of you. I’ve been working out, ya know.”
“I’ll jump out and check the rocks.” Clisty had the door open before anyone could respond. She quickly looked up and down the rock garden that sparkled with an occasional quartz stone. Bending down, she hurriedly lifted a three inch round stone and slowly pulled a small piece of paper from beneath it, careful to touch only the extreme corners.
Becca and Jake got out and gathered around her. “What does it say?” they asked in unison.
“Where are you Pooky?” Clisty read. “Are you okay?” She handed the paper to Jake. “For the evidence bag.”
Jake pulled a small zip lock plastic bag from his shirt pocket and held it out for Clisty to drop the paper in. “Good start,” he said but kept looking out the back for any signs of danger. “Keep your eyes open.”
As Clisty watched Jake zip the bag closed, she thought about Leenie Lambert, who had wondered where Pooky had gone, just as she always wondered where the kidnapper had taken Faith. “I don’t think I’ll close my eyes again until this whole case is solved,” she pronounced.
“Now what?” Clint asked as he walked up beside them as they stood by the rock garden.
“Put the camera in the van and take the segment inside the house, if we can get in, on your smaller one.” Clisty suggested. “You’re a great cinematographer. You would be able to get great video with a child’s toy camera.”
“Amen to that,” Becca agreed. “Or his cell phone. We can’t waste any more time. The neighbors will start wondering what a TV crew is doing on their safe, quiet street. Soon, the Lady inside will see us and might even call her husband. She doesn’t know that things have changed.”
“Okay, let’s do this.” Clisty squared her shoulders, “We aren’t going to doubt ourselves, or be nervous about anything. We’re the news and we’re getting our story. We’re going right up to the front door,” Clisty stated with determination.
They all approached the home in silence as they surveyed the house with the heavy eight foot front door. Clisty took the lead and lifted the brass knocker. Each looked at the other as they waited with rehearsed calm, trying hard to control their impatience.
“Yes?” a tired looking, middle-aged woman said when she opened the door a few inches.
“Good afternoon,” Clisty began slowly as she thought fast. “Is Joselyn home?”
The woman’s eyes grew large as she closed the door to a crack. “How do you know Joselyn?”
“We talked one day ... in the back yard ...,” Clisty stammered as she tried to find an answer that would sound plausible to the woman. “Ah ... I’m Clisty Sinclair. We talked about my daughter, Leenie. She wants to find a time to play with Pooky.”
“Pooky?” the woman asked and opened the door a little more.
“I’m in a bit of a hurry. My friend and I would love to come in your lovely home. I ... ah work for a TV station and we’ve considered a show in which we would tour beautiful homes in the Midwest. Perhaps you would allow the cameras in here. May we come in? I’d like to take a few notes, in case you think you might be interested in the near future.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she hesitated but slowly stood back and let them in. “I am very proud of our home. But, I don’t know what my husband will say.” The entry and grand staircase in front of them had flooring and treads of the same marble that graced the floor of the Temple. A crystal chandelier hung suspended over the foyer from the ceiling and reached the full height of the two stories. Clisty marveled at the polish and shine on every surface, free from dust and smudges.
“Come into the parlor,” the woman said. “You’re not going to film anything now are you? I’ll have to ask my husband first.”
“Clint left the big TV camera in the van,” Becca told her. “He does have a very small one with him and he’ll probably get a few shots.”
Lady, as Faith had called her, directed them to the large, thickly carpeted room to the right of the entry hall. “Please take a seat,” she offered as she sank heavily into an overstuffed chair beside the fireplace.
“I’m Clisty Sinclair,” she introduced herself again, “and this is my producer and director, Rebecca Landers. Clint usually handles the camera, and this is my friend Jake Davis. I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Clisty began as she sat on the sofa. “I have forgotten your name.”
“Emily Treadway. That’s okay, I forget a lot, too.”
“You and Dave have lived here ... “Clisty laid out a prompt for the next answer.
“No, Ezra,” she corrected. “Not Dave.”
“Oh, my goodness, I forgot again.” She apologized. “Of course ... Ezra. Is he home? I haven’t met him yet.”
Emily’s eyes darted back and forth, frightened, tense. “No, he’s not here. You can’t meet him.”
“That’s okay,” Clisty quickly answered and smiled calmly, hoping Emily would catch a little of the peace for herself. “We first stopped at the Temple,” she began cautiously, with no seeming concern.
“You got inside the Temple?” the woman questioned. “How is that possible?”
“Everything seemed fine to us,” she turned to the others. “Didn’t it? Calm, mostly quiet.”
“Oh yes,” Jake said casually. “The front gate was open and welcomed us. The front door, too.”
Clisty continued as if there was no cause for worry or fear at all. “No one seemed to be around though. At first we thought the place was empty.”
“Empty?” Emily asked again.
“Then, we heard a man talking, two others referred to him as The Guardian. They sounded really angry. We didn’t stay long enough to hear all of what they were yelling about,” Clisty said.
“You said no one else was around? But, there should have been hundreds, all over the church, the school and the grounds—janitors, secretaries, teachers ... and all the children.” Emily’s brow creased in worry.
“I remember, one of the men was shouting something about his wife leaving and taking his son,” Becca offered.
“Which one?” Tears formed in Emily’s eyes. “Oh ...” she moaned like one in grief. “It’s all falling apart, isn’t it?”
“What Emily? What’s falling apart?” Clisty hoped she wouldn’t frighten her. She needed a lot more information.
“Everything. Ezra said it might happen someday. He said ... if someone escapes ... if the truth gets out, it’ll all fall like building blocks.” Wiping tears from her eyes, she asked, “Who, who got out?”
What should she say? Clisty had run out of pretenses. “Emily ... Joselyn got out.”
“You know where Joselyn is?” The woman drew her shaking fingers to her lips. “Tell me. I won’t tell Ezra.”
“We can take you there if you want to go with us,” Jake offered. “But, we’d probably better hurry. Clisty has a deadline.”
“I’ll have to call Ezra and ask permission to leave the house,” she responded with a timid, mousey voice. “I don’t go anywhere without asking first.”
“Would you like to see Joslyn and Pooky?’ Clisty asked.
“Pooky too? Yes, yes!”
“I’m sorry, Emily,” she added. “Joslyn and Pooky don’t want to see Ezra, absolutely not!” She looked into Emily’s eyes with a firm and resolute gaze. “And, we‘d better get going.”
“All right, yes,” Emily rattled on excitedly yet confused. “Let me remember. Ezra said if there’s ever any trouble, I should get out and take all the papers with me.”
“What papers?” Jake asked. “Are they easy to get to? We’ve gotta leave.”
“They’re in Ezra’s office, in his safe.”
“In his safe?” Clisty asked. Her eyes flashed to Jake’s for silent confirmation. “They must be really important.”
“Yes, they’re the Temple records, financial papers and our own personal finances,” she shared openly as she led the way into the office. “He said no one should get their hands on any of it.”
Emily Treadway led the way from the living room to the elegant office, in the next room off the main entry. The large black safe sat inside a closet in the walnut paneled room. Everything about the space revealed Ezra’s desire for control and power. Emily spun the dial carefully to the right and to the left several times, then pulled the handle down and opened it. The black, heavy steal-plated box was stuffed full of folders, portfolios, record ledgers, and papers. She pulled them all out, handed the tall stack to Jake and then reached to the back of the safe.
“Ezra said to be sure that I take every piece of gold and silver, every bank account book, and each off-shore banking record. My jewels are in the back.” She pulled it all out. “I can’t forget all of our credit cards and the passports.” She grabbed a large black leather valise from the cabinet next to the safe and piled it all inside.
“Let’s get out of here, now,” Jake ordered.
“Wait, I’d better count,” Emily said as she reached into the case. “Ezra would be furious ...” she looked at Clisty, “... and he could be dangerous if I don’t have them all.”
Clisty smiled and tried to move her along with her hand to Emily’s elbow. “I understand. Let’s hurry.”
Emily pulled out five passport folders, and double counted. “Yes, three for Ezra and two for me.”
Clisty and Jake just looked at each other, nodded and helped Emily with all the materials. Move, move, move, Clisty kept repeating to herself.
Becca picked up an armload of ledger books and as many loose papers as she could hold. “I’ve got these,” she spoke out loud to those around her.
“Lock the safe again, Emily,” Clisty reminded her. “Straighten everything up quickly.”
Emily closed the safe, made sure everything was off the floor, and double checked again. When she seemed satisfied that she had taken care of everything as her husband would want her to, they all hurried out the front door and onto the porch.
“You’d better lock the door,” Jake warned. “You can’t be too careful.”
Clisty knew the closed safe and locked door would slow Ezra for a few minutes. Perhaps he wouldn’t suspect anything if all seemed in order. At least, it might stall him long enough for them to get out of sight before he realized what had happened.
Hoping to seem causal, Becca opened the double doors in the back of the van and all the papers were quickly stowed. They walked around to the side doors and piled in. Jake drove; Clisty rode beside him with the other three in the back. Jake didn’t slam the van into gear or squeal the tires as he pulled away from the curb. He turned the key in the ignition, looked over his shoulder and slowly eased the van into the street. He wanted no eyes on them. To anyone who might have seen them, it would look like a small group of friends on an afternoon outing—no hurry, no worry.
Once the van began to roll, every head inside the vehicle turned and watched the street behind them. Jake drove the speed limit and kept his eye on the rearview mirror. Hushed tones revealed the tension in the van that no one admitted. As they slowly turned the corner onto W. Devon Avenue, at the next cross street, an expensive SUV drove rapidly into the Treadway driveway. A man jumped out and nearly stumbled as he hurried toward the door. He didn’t test the doorknob first. He tried to jam the key in the lock with shaking hands. Then, he dashed inside.
Emily stared out the window and gasped loudly as she and all those in the van disappeared around the corner. “He’s back!”

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Watch for New Post

Sorry I've been unable to post for a few weeks. I had surgery and am just able to concentrate again. Watch for a new post on Friday my dear readers.

Friday, January 5, 2018

News at Eleven - Chapter 15


Chapter 15
The Freedom Temple 

“Becca, everything is stowed.” Clisty said as she slapped the back door of the closed van. She slid into the second row of seats beside Jake.
“I am so ready for this, I can’t catch my breath.” Clisty rubbed her hands together, like she was ready to tackle a two-hundred-fifty pound football player. “Do you know how long I have wanted to get that guy who took Faith?” She stopped and thought. “I know, eighteen years. But, for me it seems like a lifetime.”
“It has been,” Jake fastened his seatbelt and sat back. “It’s been your whole adult life. You finally got to the age that you felt strong enough to confront your nightmares.”
“Jake, how did you know?” Clisty was amazed.
“When kids have been traumatized and made to feel they are helpless to do anything about it, they say, ‘I’m a weak and awful person.’ Or, they say, ‘No, the offender is wrong and will be punished.’ They bring their monster to justice, within what their moral fiber tells them, and their mental health tempers their revenge.”
As the motor hummed, Clint slowly pulled the van out of the school drive. Jake reached out, took Clisty’s hand and squeezed it. Clisty smiled, watched the world out of her side window, and then gently squeezed his hand back.
Jake pulled his cell phone from his pocket and texted, “Does your hand say we’re still talking?”
She felt her cell vibrate, fished in her pocket and smiled as Jake’s name appeared on her screen. She texted, “Yes–we’re still talking. I just talked to you.”
“Is there a problem?” Becca asked from the co-pilot seat.
“No, we ...” Clisty stopped when she saw Becca smile and glance down at Clisty’s phone. “No, no problem. Mom texted a question about the trip.”
“Your mom? Texted you?” The corners of Becca’s mouth turned up as she took on an impish expression.
“Why don’t you take a nap, Becca?” Clisty shooed her hand and dismissed her friend from the conversation. “It’s five miles to our first turn.”
While Becca turned around and snuggled into her pillow, Clisty ran her fingers over the touch pad. “Is the NY job a deal breaker?” she texted.
“Job? No,” Jake texted. “NY not a prob.”
“Then, what?”
“Hon, it’s the distance that’s the prob,” his fingers entered into the text message.
Clisty put her phone in her pocket, grabbed Jake’s arm and pulled him to her so she could whisper in his ear. Cupping her hand, she said, “As long as I don’t have to choose between us and the job, we’ll figure out the rest of it.” She caressed his cheek and lingered there, close, like someone warming themselves by a fire.
Clint said nothing as he drove. To Clisty, Clint seemed relaxed, but suddenly, his hands tightened on the steering wheel and he pulled himself up straight, to military attention. “Five miles—this is our first turn,” he announced. Everyone in the car tensed.
Clisty tried to prepare herself mentally. They were going to try to get in the Freedom Temple, a place so secret, no one seemed to know exactly where it was. “It’s broad daylight,” she thought out loud. “We can’t sneak through an open door. They would see us approach.”
Clint pulled over. “Don’t you find it a little strange that we hadn’t thought this through first? The TV camera and van have WFT-TV on it. They might easily put Fort Wayne with WFT.”
“Especially if The Guardian has been to Fort Wayne before,” Jake added.
“Well,” Clisty snapped, “I know he has.”
Clint drove several more miles, turned south, then west. “Have a look at that.” His voice dripped with awe.
Out in front, a high, wrought iron fence stretched along the left side of the road.  Since it was April, they were able to see a massive structure in the center of an English style garden of hedges and flower beds, barely awakening from the winter.
“Amazing!” Clisty slowly found words to express what the other stunned crew did not say. “There’s no sign, no boastful declaration that you have arrived at the Freedom Temple. But, this has to be it. What else could it be out here?”
“Will you look at that?” Jake pointed to the gate while everyone else focused on the house. He started to open the van door.
“Where are you going?” Clisty asked.
“The gate ... look ... it’s not locked.” He jumped out and pushed the tall, heavy black decorative iron open. It swung heavily, like an entrance to a deceptively beautiful, yet evil mansion in a horror movie. Clint pulled slowly through the opening and stopped to pick up Jake on the other side.
A stand of trees in a densely wooded area was on the right of the acreage and also the far left. In the center of the compound, down a slight hill, a castle style building rose up from the basement, to what appeared to be an attic or second story with four dormers. A wide porch stretched across the full expanse of the front of the building. Cement steps, that resembled those of a county courthouse, gave a false message of welcome. There was no welcoming vibration coming from the place at all.
“We’re in; now what?” Becca’s voice shook with excitement.
“Why isn’t anyone around?” Clisty asked; her eyes vigilant. Lights were visible through sheer curtains at windows to the right, the only clue that there might be people inside. Three cars sat alone in the V.I.P. marked parking spaces. The rest of the massive lot was empty.
Becca placed her hand on the dashboard and looked as far in every direction as she could twist. “I thought this was a secure compound. I don’t see guards or even people outside enjoying the day.”
Jake searched the surroundings with a detective’s eye. “Will you look at that,” he whispered. “That front door isn’t closed either,” he searched with intent surveillance. “Be very careful, everyone. There’s something very strange here.”
Everyone in the car adopted a stealth mode. Ducked heads and whispered voices plotted out their next move.
“Before we pull up to the door,” Becca said as she started setting up camera angles, “Clint, you hop out and start filming the building and area. I want the woods, the empty parking pad over there, the front door partially open, and finally, the three of us planning our strategy.”
“Got ya,” Clint shouldered the TV camera and spanned the full scope of the compound. The sky was blue and provided a counter-emotional backdrop for the scene. “Dark clouds or lightning bolts would make a more accurate depiction for the shot,” he protested. “I guess it does show how deceptive it is.”
Clisty itched to have her first look inside. “Let us know when you have what you want, Clint. Then, Becca, let’s all get out and approach on foot.”
“The elevation slopes slightly,” Jake pointed to the terrain. “Once Clint has the camera shots he needs, Clisty and I will get out here. Becca you get behind the wheel and allow the van to coast as far as it will move. Our escape vehicle will be closer if we have to make a quick exit.”
“I like that idea,” Clint agreed as he leaned into the van window. “I have some great footage. You can move.”
Clisty and Jake got out. Those on foot waited while Clint positioned the camera again and took some shots of the wooded surroundings and then panned to images of Clisty, Jake and the moving van.
Clisty looked at the mansion and shook her head. With its open door, it looked like a surprised giant with a gapping mouth. Becca put the van in gear and coasted toward the building. Clint attached a microphone to the camera and checked the connection.
Not knowing how hostile those inside might be, Clisty and Jake walked behind the van, using it as a shield until it stopped rolling. Once Becca was as near the Temple as she could get, she put the van in park, stowed the keys in her zippered side pocket, and followed the others as they approached the front door on foot. Up the steps, tread by tread, like a conquering army, they cautiously entered, with camera aimed. They slipped through the door and assessed the interior.
The floor was glowing white marble. Light coming through the windows, danced off the recrystallized calcite, and sparkled beneath their feet. White columns rose from the floor to the second story balcony above. Through tall, heavy open doors to the left they could see a huge gathering room. Clisty took mental notes of everything she saw. One might call the room a large sanctuary, if there were anything holy about the place.
Jake put his index finger to his lips and pointed to the right. Angry, muffled voices came from a room with the door ajar. Clint aimed the camera and its microphone toward the door.
“What happened, Guardian?” one angry, frightened voice demanded. “They are all gone, even my woman. She took my son.” His words spit out like rounds from a Gatling gun, fast and furious. “My son!”
“Where’s Emily?” another voice demanded.
“Don’t you ask about my Lady, Mister.” A third voice ordered. “She’s at our home where she belongs. She hadn’t asked to go anywhere this morning, so she’s there.” His words were those of authority. “I’ve trained her proper!”
“That doesn’t tell me what happened!” the first one shouted.
“It’s Jocelyn,” The Guardian accused. “She escaped when we were at Steven’s funeral. She took the kid, too.”
“Jocelyn, who is Jocelyn?” one of the men questioned.
Clisty cringed. She knew full well who Jocelyn was. Now, The Guardian was blaming Faith for whatever happened to jeopardize his control over the people of the Temple. The fear she felt for Faith’s safety had grown to near panic. People with so much power, based on some twisted self-created religious conviction, were not only irrational, they were extremely dangerous.
The other one threw in a hostile accusation. “What happen to your clan, Guardian? Don’t they obey you anymore?” The anger in his voice frightened Clisty. She knew how volatile people can be when someone challenges their delusions. Her heart pounded wildly. Those inside the adjacent room could erupt into a violent brawl at any time, or even a battle if they were armed.
“Jocelyn is his daughter,” one said with disgust.
“Your daughter?” the other questioned. The pitch of his voice approached rage. “Why has she never been at the Temple? Why have we never seen her?”
“She’s been rebellious since we adopted her,” The Guardian stated with anger, but with less conviction.
“Tell him about Pooky,” the first one insisted with venom in his words.
“What’s a Pooky?”
“Pooky is a who, not a what.” The Guardian explained.
The volume in the accuser’s voice rose again. “Go ahead,” he shouted, “tell him about Pooky.”
“Shut your mouth,” The Guardian demanded, but his voice had lost its edge of authority. “Pooky is my granddaughter, Steven’s son.”
“What!” One of them roared? “Where have they been ... locked up in your house? Have you held them captive? What if someone saw them?” The questions fired like an assassin’s bullets.
“We’d all be at risk,” the other one gasped.
“No one knows where I live,” The Guardian insisted. “We live on a quiet, shady street like any respectable neighbor. I have been very careful.”
“Are you crazy, or what?” One asked accusingly, his voice cracked with anger. “Everyone knows where the ‘scary man in the black house’ lives!”
Clisty’s eyes snapped to Jake’s. He gave a wind-up gesture with his finger in the air, and all four of them silently backed out of the house. They had a lead, enough to continue the search in town. Now, they had to move. Clisty was giddy with excitement and nearly overwhelmed with fear.
Without a word, they all tiptoed back to the door, down the front steps and out to the van. Jake got in behind the wheel and Clisty took the co-piolet seat. Becca pulled the key out of her pocket and handed it to Jake from the middle row. When he put the key in the ignition, the engine seemed to roar, but he had to start it. There was no way to coast up hill. A fast escape or a slow one would create the same noise once the van started and speed was their only means of success. They all slammed their doors closed in union while Jake made a one-eighty in the wide drive. Inside the van there was breathless silence however, until they passed the open gate at the entrance. The danger was too great to talk about it until they were on the road again.
“We’re all safe,” Jake reminded them. “Now breathe slowly and your heart will stop racing.”
Clisty thought of the prayer angel on her mantle. She had prayed for Faith and her own grandmother had prayed for her. Peace settled in like sunshine brings joy on a rainy day. She was ready for the next step in their quest. “A single black house on a Naperville street,” Clisty finally announced with determination.  “Lady, here we come.”
“I hope we’re the only ones heading to that house,” Becca announced as she turned and searched the empty road behind them through the rear window. “They’re not back there yet, but they certainly heard us when we left. There was no way to move the vehicle without starting the motor. They may follow and they’ll get there first since they know where they’re going.”
“Then we have to get there fast.” Jake said.
“Are you armed?” Clint asked.
“Of course,” he said and patted the right side of his jacket.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Clisty whispered. “We came to rescue the lady, not get her executed.”

Saturday, December 30, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 14


Chapter 14
Illinois
  
“Do I have everything?” Clisty mumbled in the middle of her living room. “Maybe I’d better check it all again.” Compulsively, she ticked off her list over and over, multiple times until she willed herself to stop. That didn’t put an end to her anxiety however. “Maybe I’d better—” She stopped herself. “I’m ready. I have to let it go.” She hung her head down, let her hands and arm swing freely, and let the blood rush to her head. She needed energy but not the kind of energy generated from nerves.
The next day was the day the quest was to begin. Clisty spent the evening staging her gear in the living room. She had finally put aside her fear of failure and put on success. Like an alter personality, her confident-self took over more frequently in recent days.
She had packed a zippered binder with all of her hand notes, laptop and iPad. She packed a travel bag with night shirt, make-up, a change of clothes and other toiletries. She was determined to take everything she needed and not stew about what she might have left behind. If they had to stay over, she would be ready.
Clisty heard an assigned cell ringtone. “Good Morning, Becca,” she sang.
“I wanted you to know, I’ve made studio arrangements,” she said excitedly. “I called North Central College’s NCTV17 in Naperville. They have a link to Naperville Community Television. If necessary, you can broadcast from that remote location for the six o’clock news and the news at eleven.” The tone of her voice bubbled. “It feels like this trip is falling into place.”
“That’s great, Becca! Your producer side is producing.” She laughed and said, “I’m ready. I’ll be there shortly.”
Clisty lifted her jacket from the hall tree, gathered up her gear and carried it out to her parking space. She was excited as she loaded everything and hopped in her car that sunny morning and pointed it toward the studio. So much had turned in the right direction. First, Faith was finally home. So far, she was just a reasonable facsimile of the Faith she would have been if she had grown up in Fort Wayne and gone on treasure hunts with Clisty. But, for now, Clisty would celebrate that she was home. Second, a new job came out of a dream she never knew she had. Her fantasy was to be a news anchor at a local station and balance that with a home, husband and children. Third, but certainly not the last of her blessings, there was Jake Davis. She pulled into the station parking lot just as her dream fully formed into the face of the police detective. “Hold that thought,” she told herself. She hopped out of the car and hurried into the building.
“Jake Davis just called before you got here,” Clint told Clisty as she walked into the newsroom.
“You said more in those eight words than I usually hear you speak in a week,” she smiled as she slapped him on the shoulder.
“Then, I’d say …,” Clint paused and thought, “I’m done.”
“Well, what did Jake have to say?” Clisty coaxed.
“Okay, these next words are free, no charge. He said he’d be here in a few minutes. He was just leaving.” Clint threw back his head and laughed. “You and Becca are the only people who think I don’t talk much. My wife says I never shut up.”
“This could be a long trip,” Becca rolled her eyes at Clisty.
“Okay, it’s about a hundred-and-sixty miles over there and should take us three and a half hours,” Clisty calculated. “It’s ... eight fifteen. If Jake gets here in the next fifteen minutes, we should get to Naperville about noon. The school should be nearing the end of their lunch schedule by then.”
“No, the beginning of the rotation,” Jake said from behind her.
Clisty jumped. “You startled me,” she moaned with a smile on her face. She was glad Jake was back to his joking self.
“I heard what you were saying when I came in,” Jake joined in. “Illinois is on Central time, so we’ll get there around eleven o’clock, our twelve, just as they start their lunch cycle.” He held up a dark brown duffle. “I have my go-bag in case we need to stay over. No one’s waiting for me. Are you all ready to go?”
“I think we are, complete with travel bag and two pair of shoes, walking and sitting.” Clisty patted the colorful print on her duffle. “I was thinking,” she admitted as she hoisted her bag to her shoulder, “all of our plans may change, depending on what we find. We may have to leave Naperville in a hurry.”
“Is that a premonition?” Becca asked with measured gaze.
“No … logic. So far, everyone, including my memory as a child, has reported that The Guardian is a very mean and dangerous man.” Her eyes narrowed. “We may have to cut our trip short. We might even have to go back some other time to finish our investigation. For now, let’s agree to error on the side of caution.”
“I agree one-hundred percent,” Jake said and the others added a firm. “Yes.”
The four gathered all their personal baggage and the station gear and took it all out to the van. Becca helped Clint load the camera and other equipment.
“I’ll drive, Clint, so you can get some shots out the window when we get near Chicago.” Becca put the station van keys in the ignition.
“Sure,” Clint nodded. “That makes sense. Besides, you usually don’t relinquish your control
“Are you saying I’m controlling,” she snapped?
“I’m saying I’ll be happy to film the trip,” he said and settled back into his usual elective mute self. He hopped up into the co-piolet’s seat; that left Clisty and Jake in the back.
“Have you planned a route?” Becca pulled to the edge of the parking lot and waited for driving instructions.
“We’ll take US 30 northwest out of Fort Wayne,” Clisty thought out loud. “I think that may have been the way they went.” She checked the map again. “Darla said she escaped when her kidnapper got out of the truck before he merged onto I-65, off US 30.”
“I wish I could fluff my pillow and curl into a kitten ball,” Becca sighed. “But, some people say drivers can’t do that.”
In the back seat, there was an uncomfortable silence. Clisty watched the scenes pass by outside her window but nothing caught her eye. Jake was silently surveying the view on the right. So far, Clisty had been very cautious about exposing their rapidly budding relationship. She knew too many workers can flood the garden when they all decide to water it. The longer they sat motionless, the louder the silence between them became.
“I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.
“About what?” Jake questioned from his side of the car, actually a mile away in emotional measurement.
“I guess I was thinking out loud ... never mind.” She didn’t look at Jake, although it felt like he had fixed his eyes on her, even though she knew he had turned his head away.
The energy between them was alive with magnetism. There was a force that neither could deny. Jake reached over and took Clisty’s hand. She wanted to fold herself in his arms and lay her head on his shoulder; but, her own professionalism didn’t permit back seat cuddling. She stole a look at him and his eyes were so full of raw feelings, she blushed. There were things to say, but that was neither the time nor the place. 
• • • • • 
They followed Route 30 West for one-hundred seventeen miles, and then connected to I-65 and drove north to Gary. It would have been a shorter route to by-pass Chicago and go directly to Naperville, but, they weren’t on a family outing. They had video to take to accompany the story of Faith’s journey to freedom.
Gary, Indiana appeared as busy and frantic as usual from the highway that rose up above the chaos. “I know we are taking the long way,” Clisty said as she watched the route out the windshield and side windows. “But, we want Clint to get some good video of Chicago.” In Gary they took I-80/90 toward Chicago.
Becca pointed to a sign down the highway. “Look, at the next exit there’s a Starbucks. Let’s stop there, get something to drink, and Clint can film us and the area.” As she neared the exit, they all straightened up, stretched and cleared their eyes. “I’ll pick something up for you while you film, Clint. What do you want?”
“Straight up coffee, black,” he said as he unpacked his equipment in preparation for filming. He had stowed the shoulder-held camera bag beside him in the van.
When they stopped, Jake jumped out, came around the van and took Clisty’s hand as she stepped out onto the ground, freshly washed by a light spring rain. “Are you tired?” he asked.
“Thank you kind Sir,” she remarked about the gallantry. Then she denied, “No, I’m too excited to be tired. Besides, if I admitted it, I’m afraid I’d fall over where I stand.” She wiggled and twisted as she walked to the door, hoping to fully wake up.
Inside the store, Clisty bought her usual, cafĂ© mocha. “I’m out of my element,” she said as she sipped a little of the whipped cream off the top. “It feels safer to stick with what I know.”
“And you’re considering a move to New York City?” Becca’s eyes popped. “Illinois makes you uncomfortable and you’re debating the merits of moving to New York?”
“I know,” Clisty sighed, “I hear ya. I don’t want to think about that adjustment right now, but … I hear ya.”
Jake smiled, rolled his eyes and ordered a vanilla cream steamer, made with half-and-half and plenty of whipped cream on the top. Since ten pounds wouldn’t even appear on his slim frame, he ordered a venti. They took their cups and went back to the van.
“Okay, Clint” Becca said as she placed her coffee in the cup holder. “If you took enough video of this area, we’ll press on. We’ll be passing by Chicago in a little while. Have your camera ready.”
As they drank their coffee and moved along toward Chicago, Clint filmed some of the tall buildings of the city before they turned west on I-88. “I got some good stuff,” Clint said.
At I-88 they dropped south on Route 34. “Good,” Clisty said as she checked the map, “this places us on the north side of Naperville.”
They traveled over two-hundred miles, due to their detour into the Chicago area, which brought them to the circular driveway of Principal Mitchel’s elementary school around noon, Indiana time. Becca parked in a student-pickup spot and hopped out. Clint got out and positioned the camera, while Clisty jumped from the van and took a reporters position in front of the double school doors.
Clisty pointed to the sign with the school name over the door. “Make sure that the school name is not in focus and there are no children in the background. We simply cannot invade their privacy. Besides, identifying the school doesn’t advance the story in any way. These people have only been helpful.”
“Okay, Clint, send a link to my tablet so I can see your lens view,” Becca said as she touched the screen on her iPad. Quickly the scene in front of the school popped up on her tablet. “I can still see the school name, Clint. Pan down a little.” She studied the screen. “Good, hold it there.”
A man with a closely clipped graying beard walked out of the school and approached the crew. “I saw the name of your station on the side of your van,” he said as he reached out his hand to Clisty.
“You must be Principal Mitchel, Sir,” she greeted him. “I’m Clisty Sinclair.”
“Mr. Mitchel,” Becca reached out and shook his hand, “I’m Rebecca Landers, producer-director of the six and eleven o ‘clock WFT news broadcasts.” She stepped beside him and offered to share her e-tablet. “I can show you the angle we are taking.” She offered him an opportunity to peruse the view finder.
“Oh, that looks fine,” Mitchel said. “That could be any elementary school in Illinois. When the children go out for recess, they will go out the back doors. All play areas are behind the school.”
“Mr. Mitchel, have you found any other information about Pooky Jones?” Jake asked and extended his hand. “I’m Jake Davis, a Fort Wayne police detective.”
“Detective, I’m glad to meet you.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ve been thinking about Pooky Jones and the Freedom Temple since you called. May I ask what all of this is about?”
“We can tell you what the Fort Wayne viewers have already been told. First, the bank robbery,” Clisty nodded at Jake to let him answer the police questions.
When Jake and the WFT crew brought Principal Mitchel up to date, he was silent. “Right here in our own town ... and no one knew.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Sir,” Clisty empathized. “I’ve blamed myself for many years. The Guardian kidnapped Pooky’s mother right out of my living room when we were both nine years old. He jerked her out of my hand, and all I could do was run and hide.” Clisty cleared her throat and regained her composure. “I’ve learned that evil gets its way sometimes, but when good people can put a stop to it, they do.”
“I’ve noticed you have had the camera rolling for a while.” The principal was thoughtful for a moment. “You don’t need to use my name. The story isn’t about me or this school. It has taught me that we have to be on watch for all of our children. In the building in which I did my student teaching, the teachers made a home visit to each of their student’s homes. I have tried to do that here. When the teacher called to set up a time to make a home visit, the parents of the child in question immediately pulled her out of school. I will instruct my teachers to report any similar incidents that may happen. Social services or a school psychologist should follow up with a home visit of their own. We have to assume the parents have something to hide, until an inquiry proves another cause for withdrawing the child.”
“Can the school psychologist do that, if a child is no longer enrolled?” Jake asked with legal issues in mind.
“That’s a good question. We’ll check with our legal department. I know CPS can make a contact. For the school, at a minimum, a teacher could offer information about home schooling guidelines and perhaps, a list of programs a home-schooled child can participate in, within the public school system. Whether the child is in the school community or not, they could still be part of the educational outreach of the school.”
“So, as a principal, you’re not against home schooling?” Clisty asked, and then pointed the microphone back to Mitchel.
“There are many reasons why home schooling is a better option for a particular child. The neighborhood can still offer group sports, band and choir participation, and many other in-school and out-of-school activities. Classes with science labs also come to mind.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Clisty said then turned to the camera. “That is the first in our kaleidoscope of vignettes that will tell the story from the heartland about a child who was lost and has now been found.”
Once the camera was off, Clisty asked, “Can you tell us where the Freedom Temple is or a good guess as to its location?”
Principal Mitchel brightened, “I am honored to tell you what I know. It sounds like The Guardian is not a protector of children.” He stroked his beard. “There is a plot of land out in the country all of us have wondered about. There are quite a few acres and it sits off the road. The buildings aren’t as visible from the road when the trees are full; but you should be able to see it now since the full foliage isn’t out yet. It has a fence around it.”
“Can you give us directions?” Jake asked.
“Go down about five miles, turn left on Old Mill Road and follow it ... here, let me jot it down.” Principal Mitchel took a business card from his pocket and sketched out the location. “There you are,” he said as he handed it to Clisty. “Now, I have to get back in, so my secretary can go to lunch.”
“Thank you so much,” she said and waved.
After the principal went back inside, Clisty’s was unable to pass as Jake stepped into her space. She looked toward the school and whispered to Jake without looking at him. “There are a lot of kids watching us Jake. We’re the big TV stars, I guess; although, I feel like Grandma’s Pooky who needs a hug.”
“I’ll be happy to provide the arms for that hug,” he said with a smile.
“Don’t forget that offer,” she said as she waved at the excited, curious children at the school windows.
“I plan to always have ready arms,” he whispered low enough Becca and Clint wouldn’t hear.
Clisty took him by the hand and walked around to the other side of the van. She checked the school for visibility then threw herself into his arms. He didn’t withhold a single unit of kinetic energy. Clisty received his love and covered his face in kisses.
“Does this mean that you have changed your mind about the network’s offer?” Jake’s voice was raspy with the strength of his passion for her.
She pulled back and studied his face. “No. I haven’t decided. But, are you saying you won’t accept my love ... unless I turn the network down?”
“Are you two ready?” Becca asked as she got into the van.
“Yes,” Clisty snapped as she pulled away from him.
“No, we’re not,” Jake insisted and took her arm.
“Jake, don’t,” she sighed.
“Honey ... okay,” he threw up his hands in surrender. “Just know, I did not say that at all, because that’s not what I meant.”
She stopped and placed her hand softly over Jake’s heart but could not meet his eyes. She didn’t move on but stood there for a moment.
Jake put his hand on top of hers and caressed her fingers. “Can we at least say this conversation isn’t over?” Jake asked.

“You bet your shinny badge it’s not over,” she said, looked into his eyes and felt his fire.