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, café 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.

Friday, December 22, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 13


Chapter 13
Research 

The April sky greeted Clisty when she finally awakened the next morning. She stretched until the tiny kinks that stiffened her back gave up, let go and surrendered to her rhythmic twists.
“Good morning, day,” she said as she shifted her feet off the bed and onto the floor. It would be an exciting day. She was confident that their research would find a clue that would lead them to The Guardian and his Lady, or the devil and his consort, which she thought was a much better description.
Even though she still wore her sleeping shorts and oversized t-shirt, she was compelled to get at her quest. A splash of water on her face and a tooth brush across her teeth, a habit she was unable to break no matter how much she wanted to skip it on busy mornings at home, and she was ready to open her laptop.
The familiar stream of coffee dripping into the pot on the kitchen counter was a welcome sound with an intoxicating aroma. The timer on the maker had been set the night before and now the fragrance was filling her apartment with a heavenly perfume. She used the seconds it took for her computer to boot-up to slip across the room and fill her cup. She was just putting it down on the end table beside the couch when her cell phone rang.
“Hello,” she spoke into her smart phone, a little annoyed by the interruption—annoyed until she heard Jake’s voice.
“Well, you’re up earlier than I imagined.”
“If you thought I was still asleep, why did you call?” she teased.
“I’m at your mercy, My Lady. I have no come-back for that logical question.”
His voice was warm and creamy which prompted Clisty to remember the whole milk in the refrigerator. With her phone tucked under her chin, she took her cup back to the open kitchen and poured a little milk in her coffee.
“Have you been able to do any research on the location of the Freedom Temple?” she asked while stirring the creaminess into her java. She tried to make a fancy swirl on the top but decided that was a talent better left to coffee emporium artists.
“No, not I,” Jake’s voice dropped off with a sigh. “The Captain has me working on the bank robbery case. We want to make sure we can charge our man, Melvin Dean Fargo, with armed robbery in addition to kidnapping and Criminal Confinement. Rhodes is searching old files first. Then, he’ll hit the computer.”
“Okay, Jake. If I have a question I’ll call the station and talk to Jeremy.”
“Jeremy? Are you two on a first name basis now?” His voice was light and digging.
“Yes, Jeremy and I go way back ... almost a week now.” She laughed and picked up her cup.
“It’s not too early for your coffee, I hear by the sipping sound,” Jake said. “I’m sitting here at my desk, doodling coffee cups on a post-a-note. Now, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking of Faith’s eyes, so sad, so empty and alone.” He stopped. “Well, maybe not. She does seem to be stronger every time I see her.” He paused, “How about ... I meet you for an early lunch, about 11:30? Maybe ... that new place we saw over near Jefferson Point Mall.”
“That sounds wonderful.” She placed her cup on the end table and smiled. There was a light layer of dust on the dark wood, not a lot, but … it was there. The more amazing point was … Clisty didn’t care—not a whit. With the tip of her finger, she drew a happy face and laughed.
“You sound happy.” Jake had a smile in his voice.
“I am.” Her finger drew a curled mustache on her artistic dust-face. “I think I have just conquered an old fear,” she shouted with glee, and turned her attention to the research. She ran her finger over the computer mouse pad and logged on. “I’ll tell you what I find at lunch. See you there.”
They said their goodbyes as Clisty turned to her glowing screen. First, she typed in the name, Melvin Dean Fargo. One site listed his age, fifty-seven; towns he had lived in, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and a couple of small towns in Tennessee; where he worked, where he studied and people to whom he was related.
“Chicago,” she spoke into the empty apartment. “Okay, not west of Chicago, as Darla’s driver/kidnapper had said.”
“What about schools in Wheaton and Naperville,” she continued to talk aloud as she changed her search input information and started along another thread. She quickly came upon each of the elementary schools in the two towns, their addresses and phone numbers. She jotted down the names in Wheaton and contact information. Next, she typed in research parameters for elementary schools in Naperville. She identified each primary school and saved their “contact us” data. After writing it all down on a small note pad, she picked up her cell phone. Beginning a “rule out” search, she called each school, in the order she had written the data.
Using a methodic research method, she wrote out a short script so she was sure to ask the same questions of each school.
1.     She would introduce herself and the TV station she represents.
2.     Her next question would be; was a student, by the name of Pooky Jones, enrolled there recently?
3.     Then, she would ask if the school had a mascot.
4.     Finally, she would find out if there is a church, named the Freedom Temple, anywhere in the area.
She got through the first two Wheaton schools with no success. Now, the phone was ringing at the third. She introduced herself and then asked her first question.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We do not give out the name of our students over the phone. If you want to bring in a written request, our principal may release that information since you said the child no longer attends here.” The school secretary sounded sympathetic but could not bend the rules.
“Does the school have a mascot? Or, can you give me the mascot of the high school?”
“Wheaton North’s mascot is the Falcon. Wheaton Warrenville South’s mascot is the Tiger.”
That doesn’t line up, she thought. Then she asked, “Is there a church called the Freedom Temple in your area?” She held her breathe.
“I wouldn’t call the Freedom Temple a church,” the secretary drew out.
“So there is an organization called the Freedom Temple in Wheaton?” Clisty wondered if she had heard correctly.
“No, it’s not here. A group by that name has been in the news from time to time.”
“The news?” Why didn’t I research that so-called church first?
“There have been newspaper and TV stories about several people, I think two women and a man, who told police they had wanted to leave the church and were told they couldn’t.” The secretary talked in hushed tones, like someone would if they were sharing gossip.
“Do you know why they couldn’t just ignore whoever told them they had to stay? What was their name, the person who told them they couldn’t stop attending the church?”
“The Guardian. He’s called, The Guardian. He manages to have all his followers sign over their home, their bank accounts, even their retirement investments to the Freedom Temple. If they quit attending the church, they forfeit everything.”
“And, you said the Freedom Temple is there in Wheaton? Where exactly?” Clisty had her pen poised to write it all down.
“No, not here. It’s someplace south of Wheaton. They are very secretive. They’re out in the country on many acres, and back off the road.” She spoke to someone in the office and then returned to the conversation. “That’s really all I know and the principal needs me to look for a file. I hope that helps you,” she said.
“That’s a great help, thanks,” Clisty touched the screen on her phone and ended the call. “That helps a lot,” she talked to herself as she dialed the number of the first Naperville school. A computer generated map of that area of Illinois showed that Naperville lies in two counties. The northern part is in DuPage County, which allowed her to identify the northern edge of the school system and a probable school, positioned “south of Wheaton.”
“Hello,” a male voice at the school answered.
“This is Clisty Sinclair. I’m a news anchor with WFT-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”
“Good to talk to you, Miss Sinclair. I’m Roger Mitchel, the Principal here. What can I do for you?”
“I’m researching a story that appears to have a connection in your area. First, do you know if there is a church called, the Freedom Temple in your area?”
“Yes, there is a group ... no one knows much about them. Their church is off the road in a very remote, rural setting.” Principal Mitchel also whispered into the telephone receiver. His muffled words sounded like he had cupped his hand around the mouth portion of the receiver for privacy. “Their teachings are very different from those in our area. Their leader is both charismatic and controlling. As long as you obey his every command, including turning over all your money, property, everything, to The Guardian, you’ll stay on his good side. If you refuse, he can get really mean. I’m sorry, but I think it’s a cult.”
“I have suspected the same thing,” Clisty agreed. “I’m also asking the schools I contact what the school mascot is in their area.”
“Mascot? Sure, we’re Huskies up here,” he said with pride.
“Big dogs,” Clisty thought out loud.
“That’s right. I guess we’re all big dogs,” he chuckled as he spoke.
“Now a question that may go beyond the bounds of confidentiality,” she crossed her fingers as she asked. “I need to ask about a child who attended there for a really short period of time, for about two weeks. She was in a little school play, Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Yes, the children did that play recently.”
“Her name is Pooky Jones,” Clisty reminded him.
“How could I forget a name like Pooky? I never heard that one before.”
“I certainly have. That was my nickname when I was a child. Thank you so much. The TV crew and I will be in your area soon. May we stop by the school?”
“Certainly, I’d be happy to meet you. Please, make sure you don’t film any of the children. That would breach their right to privacy–confidentiality rules and all.”
“Certainly … thank you Mr. Mitchel.” They said their pleasant goodbyes and Clisty touched the end call on her phone. “That’s it! Now, I have to talk to Jake!” 
• • • • • 
Clisty entered the café to meet Jake on the glorious April day. She looked around while her eyes adjusted to the dimer light inside. Maneuvering past other diners, she slipped into a chair at his table. “You look good, Jake.”
“I thought it was my job to say that to you,” he said as he laughed. “You are enchanting.”
“Well, you are supposed to say that I look good. And, I like enchanting even better. But, you, my laced up detective, live in the wrong century. Women can say how scrumptious their men look, too.” She kissed him on the cheek, removed her jacket and placed it on the seat next to her.
“Their men? Your man?” His eyes shone.
“Yes, my man. Is that okay with you?” she narrowed her eyes like she was dodging a follow-up jab.
“Okay? It’s far more than okay.” He placed his hand on hers. “I’ll admit I’ve been worried about you going to New York.”
She started to open her mouth to speak, but he continued without yielding to the Gentle Woman from Fort Wayne. “I’m not saying I don’t want you to succeed or have some fantastic opportunities. I’m saying ... I don’t want to lose you.”
Clisty put her hand on Jake’s shoulder and leaned her chin on her hand. As a TV personality, she had a taboo about displays of affection out in the public. Actually, she was trying to hide the tears that had started to drown her. “I don’t want to lose you either,” she swallowed hard. “I guess I have been wondering if you will let me rise in my career, even help me to succeed.”
“Let you? Don’t ever think I might hold you back. I want to give you all the space you need,” he choked on his words as his voice shook with emotion.
A waitress had walked past the table a few times until she finally interrupted softly. “Can I bring you two anything?”
“Coffee, black,” Clisty responded quickly. “And, the pot too.”
“Make that another cup and a really big pot,” Jake added—his voice raspy with feelings.
Clisty rooted in her purse and pulled out a tissue that she dabbed under her lower eyelashes. She swallowed a little sip of water to flush out some emotional gravel from her throat. “I have some great news.” She flashed a fresh smile and changed the subject.
“I am way overdue for good news,” Jake said and patted Clisty’s hand.

“I think I found the general location of the Freedom Temple—in Illinois, on the north side of Naperville. Pooky had attended school in that northern part of DuPage County for a few weeks and the principal remembered her.” She sat back as the waitress placed two steaming cups of coffee in front of each of them. “Jake—we have him.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 12


Chapter 12
Torn Between the Good and the Good 

“This has just come into the news room,” Clisty reported from the prompter as the eleven o’clock news program neared sign off. “Authorities tell WFT-TV that a woman came into police headquarters less than an hour ago. She said that a man had kidnapped her over eighteen years ago, just like the woman who was the hostage during the recent standoff between the accused bank robber and the police. For her safety, authorities are not releasing her real name. They are calling the woman, Darla.” Clisty read calmly into the camera with the same confidence she had before she froze on TV when Faith first re-appeared.
“Darla told police that she managed to escape,” Dan Drummond added to the report. “When the man stopped to use the restroom, before merging onto I-65 N, he forced her to stay in the truck. He told her she would never be able to get out. She said the doors weren’t supposed to open from the inside. The only way you could get out was when the motor was still running. He would open the door, then turn off the engine and remove the key. She believed him—she wouldn’t be able to get out of the truck because she had tried when he filled the gas tank closer to Fort Wayne. It was different at the intersection of I-65 N. This time he had failed to close his door all the way.”
“That’s right, Dan,” Clisty tag-teamed the story. “She said she was able to get the driver’s side door open, escape and jump, unseen, into the back of a truck going east. Luckily, the driver was going all the way back to Fort Wayne. She climbed out of the truck when the east bound driver stopped before entering the clover leaf at Goshen Road. The traffic was heavy as she walked along the berm of the road. Then, she came upon a patrolman who, with his lights revolving, pulled a car over. She walked over to the officer, tugged his pocket and said, “I want to go home.” At police headquarters, they quickly contacted her parents. With her mother and father present, she told her story to police.”
“At the time of the attempted abduction, Darla was able to give the authorities a clue to the town in which the perpetrator probably lived. However, they were never able to find who had kidnapped her.” Dan smiled and looked at Clisty.
He’s giving me the last word. She smiled confidently and put on her professional, neutral, balanced face. “My investigation will include several threads of this tangled story: the background of the robbery suspect who was apprehended after the stand-off with police; the backstory of the hostage he held in the house; the details of an unsolved kidnapping nearly twenty years ago; and how the information which Darla was able to remind police may answer questions to all facets of this story. All of these will be the focus of my expanded report in a new segment, Stories from the Heartland. I look forward to bringing you along as we follow the trail of clues to a hopeful resolution of this case. From the Fort, this has been the news at eleven.”
“Great show people,” Becca clapped her hands together as the network took over the feed.
Jake stood outside the studio window and watched. With his hands in his pockets, his tall slender frame exposed a leather cross-body gun holster. His eyes flashed brighter each time he looked at Clisty. “Ditto that,” he agreed as soon as the studio door opened.
“Hi Detective,” Clisty teased. “What brings you here so late in the evening?”
“You, of course,” he spoke softly and stepped closer to her.
“Then, you are most welcome.” Clisty slipped into the news room and started to pour a cup of coffee.
“Hold off on that last cup of the day,” Jake warned. “I’m taking you out for decaf. It’s late.”
“Good idea,” she agreed.
“But first, I brought in my Atlas. Come over here,” he pointed to a table and spread out the book of maps.
“What’s going on?” Becca asked as she joined them over the Rand McNally.
Jake was excited as he pointed to the map. “I read Darla’s old file and found two details that add a lot to our quest.” His index finger followed U.S. 30, north and west out of Fort Wayne. “She told police, her kidnapper said, ‘only seventy more miles but first, I’m going to hit the head.’ So ...” he traced the route that the man must have taken with his finger. “He was going to take route 65 north-west for seventy miles. He also said something about their destination being thirty miles west of Chicago.” He targeted Chicago on the map, and then drew an imaginary line directly west of the city. “Wheaton, Illinois is ... twenty-eight mile west of Chicago ... Naperville is thirty miles.” He thumped his finger on the spot between Wheaton and Naperville and drew a circle. “The place where Faith was held, is somewhere in this area.” He grabbed Clisty in a side hug and didn’t let go.
“The Freedom Temple,” Becca hammered her fist into the palm of her hand. “If authorities in that area are aware of the Freedom Temple, maybe we can close in on the precise spot.”
“Yes,” Clisty snapped to attention from her cozy niche tucked under Jake’s arms. “And, if we can find an elementary school that had a child named Pooky Jones for only two weeks, we will nail down the neighborhood.”
“The last name she used, Jones, may be too general to track,” Jake ran his hand over the back of his neck. “But, the first name, Pooky, sure isn’t.”
Clisty smiled. “It makes my hair stand up, too. It is so exciting.”
“We are all tired, Honey,” Jake said. “Let’s start the computer search and telephone calls early tomorrow morning. It’s not like Faith is still being held and we have to rescue her. It will do no one any good if we’re too tired to think clearly.”
“You’re right; you’re right; I know you’re right, but
“No buts about it,” Becca joined in. “I agree with Jake.”
Clint had listened and watched as the three had inspected the map. A quiet guy, he turned and reached for his hoodie. “Just point me in the right direction, so I can aim the camera there. I’m going home and fall into bed.” He zipped it up and started for the door. “I’ll be here at the usual time, or whenever you tell me different. Just let me know if we’re going to leave on a road trip so I can make arrangements for my cat. My wife has been visiting her mother.”
“Bad Kitty?” Becca asked. “I don’t know how you discipline that cat when you call, ‘Bad Kitty’ to give her a treat.”
“She does seem a little neurotic at times,” he admitted with a flip at the corner of his mouth. “Bye for now.”
“Are you ready to surrender for the night?” Jake asked as Clisty continued to study the map.
“I guess,” she drew out slowly. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep.”
“Cocoa ... warm milk will help,” he reminded her.
“I make cocoa with water,” she corrected him and patted her stomach.
“I don’t know what you have to worry about,” Becca quipped. “You’re so thin, I’m afraid to get a side view of you on camera. You might disappear altogether.”
“Becca, don’t be silly. You know as well as I do, if I were to gain ten pounds the station would replace me with a newer, slimmer model.”
“Can’t get much newer,” Becca reminded her. “You’re pretty young yourself. Beside, you know Fort Wayne viewers wouldn’t put up with that. The station reflects the community’s values of appreciation for hard work and family ties. You are family, Clisty.”
“Thanks Becca. It’s nice to be reminded.”
“Then, ten pounds it is,” Jake teased. “We’ll stop at a grocery and pick up some milk. Made with water, it isn’t cocoa at all. That’s just chocolate flavored water.” He took her by the elbow and started to steer her out of the news room. “Then, we’ll go to your house and I’ll make a cup for you.” He stopped. “You do allow milk in your house, I hope.”
“Fat free, of course.”
“I’ll think about that.” 
• • • • • 
“But, Jake, whole milk? Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Clisty complained as she took the milk and cocoa mix from the sack he had just carried into her apartment.
“Extreme will come when we put the whipped cream on the top,” he said as he waved the squirt can in the air. He opened several cabinet doors until he found the measuring cups of various sizes. “Here we go.”
“Do you really think we’ll be able to find him and bring him to justice?” Clisty asked as she spooned some cocoa mix into the cups. Moments later, the microwave announced the hot milk.
“Find The Guardian?” Jake poured the steaming hot liquid into the cups, stirred in the cocoa and took them over to the coffee table ottoman. “Sure, I think we’ll find him. But, I don’t know when justice will be served.”
“What does that mean?” Clisty followed him to the couch, folded her right leg under her and sat down on it.
“Justice usually takes time, Babe. Not your kind of time, as measured from one news headline at 5 PM, to a verdict on the 11 o’clock news.”
“I know. That’s why I’m glad the network is giving me all the time that I need with the news magazine.” She sipped the hot, bone warming, sleep inducing liquid and smiled. “This is good.”
“Thank you,” he said softly, stirred his cup again and drank a little of the sweet brew. There was tense silence for a moment until Jake asked, “When do you leave for New York?”
“I don’t know,” she sipped noisily. “I guess, the truth is, I don’t really want to know.” She reached over and took Jake’s hand. “I just found Faith again and I know we’re going to find her captors. But ... I also just found you.”
Jake was quiet a while longer. “Have you talked to your grandmother about praying for you over this network business?” he asked and looked at the mantle. “That’s your prayer angel, right?”
“No, I haven’t called her yet … I had to talk to you first,” she sighed as her body reminded her of how tired she was.
“I appreciate that,” he said as he smiled.
They finished their cocoa in silence, except for the soft music that streamed in the background. A deep baritone was spreading musical notes on the evening air like warm butter on toast. Jake reached over and traced gentle figure eights on Clisty’s arm. Taking her cup, he placing it on the ottoman; then, he took her hand in his, all with the smooth gestures that matched the rise and fall of the melody.
“Faith just came home, Clisty, and that is wonderful. For me personally however, the real miracle is that I just found my home in you.” Jake didn’t stop. He continued, interrupting Clisty’s effort to speak. “Now, don’t misunderstand,” he said softly. “I’m not saying—don’t move to New York. That is an opportunity that very few people ever get. I wouldn’t try to stop you for a minute. I’m just saying, with you in the east, will there be a place for me in your life?”
“Jake ... I am so torn,” she began.
“Don’t be, Honey. I’d never ask you to choose between New York City and me. That’s not even a contest I want to enter. I guess I don’t want to know who the winner would be.” He caressed her hand, silently put his arm around her and drew her to his shoulder.
Clisty sat up quickly. “No, Jake, I admit I’m torn, but not between you and New York. The tug of war is between New York and Fort Wayne. See ...” she turned excitedly toward him and bubbled as she continued. "Since Faith came home; I’m seeing what really matters in my life. Yes, a job I love is important. But, the people I love, people Mom used to call my lovelies, are more valuable than anything else.”
“I’m not sure if I fit in as a lovely,” Jake laughed.
“You do, Jake Davis. You are the loveliest of lovelies,” she laughed as she snuggled back under his arm.
“What I don’t know,” he admitted, “is how can you be in both places at the same time?” His eyes, cast down like a warrior who had just surrendered, didn’t meet Clisty’s.
“I can’t Jake. But, that’s all-or-none thinking. Just because I can’t be in the TV studio and here in my apartment with you, does not mean there is no solution to this.”
“That’s good enough for me tonight,” he said as he looked up with a sparkle in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her, and surrounded her with his love.

“This is where I want to be, Jake—in your arms. I know that. Somehow, and I don’t know how yet, I’m going to figure out how to do both. It’s an old idea to think I can do everything. But, I can choose where I spend my time. I do know I’ll have to do one thing at a time.”