When the camera lights went out, the night seemed even darker to Clisty than it had been before the spotlight shone on the little house on North Gramercy. The stand-off between the suspected bank robber and the police was over. Firearms were quickly stored in the SWAT van and protective vests removed and stashed. Faith Sterling had walked out of the house on her own, finally free from a past she had endured for eighteen years. But, was it possible she had escaped her nightmares that easily?
Becca sighed deeply and blew the fresh air out slowly. “Wow! What a story,” she said as she started to help Clint, the camera man load the equipment. “Not so sure I’m ready for another one of those, though. I think my heart stopped beating twenty minutes ago.”
Clisty still held the WFT-TV microphone in her slender fingers when she grabbed Faith in her arms and sobbed. “You’re home! Where have you been?” She pulled back at arm’s length to look at her lost friend. Clisty gasped loudly, the shock was more than she could silence. She felt chilled from the penetrating night wind. What she saw when she searched Faith’s face for the friend she use to know, frightened her.
Faith’s beautiful eyes were lost in sunken, dark gray pools of fear and emptiness. With trembling hands, she tried to brush matted hair from her forehead, leaving streaks of smeared perspiration behind. She looked at Clisty with a flat, glassy stare and then stiffened as she stuffed her hands in the pockets of her long, faded cotton skirt. A rumpled, heavy knit sweater hung open around her wrinkled peasant blouse. Her clothes smelled like musty socks.
“Oh Faith,” her mother cried as she approached her with open arms. “Thank God! Thank God!” Her words dissolved in the tears that streamed down her face. She too clung to the daughter she had not seen since she was nine years old. “How can it be? Only God could have brought you home.”
Pooky stood behind the three women, outside the circle of love. She patted the small of her new grandma’s back. “What’s wrong with Mama?” she whispered as she tried to get close to her. But, her mother said nothing. Faith seemed frozen except for her hands. “Why are your hands shaking, Mama?”
Faith’s glistening eyes darted to her daughter. Her tears seemed to refuse to stop flowing and she fixed her expression on some distant memory. “Shaking?” she asked, seemingly unaware of her surroundings, lost in the fear and trauma of hours of staring into the end of a revolver.
“She’s a little overwhelmed right now, Honey,” Roma explained as she turned and bent down to her granddaughter’s level. She touched the soft cocoa smudged cheek of the grandchild she didn’t know existed.
“Did Miss Sinclair say you’re Mama’s mama?” Pooky asked with a puzzled expression that began to grow stern. “Mama said to find you. Where have you been?”
“Yes, Sweetheart,” her grandmother said as she finally started to shed eighteen-year-old tears. “I’m your grandma and,” she clasped the tips of her husband’s fingers, “and this is your grandpa. We have been right here, waiting for you. We didn’t know where you were.”
“Grandpa?” Pooky asked, quickly jerking back a step as her eyes grew large and fearful. A dog’s distant bark caused her to startle.
“It’s all right, Pooky,” Clisty soothed. “I have known your mama’s daddy all my life and he’s a good man. He has waited a long time to be a grandpa. I’ll bet he’s rehearsed it over and over.”
Pooky eyed the man who would be Grandpa. “Like, when I played Red Riding Hood at school?”
“Just like that,” Clisty patted her head. “Where did you go to school?” Like any broadcast journalist, she began to collect the details she would need to pursue the full story of Faith’s abduction. But, the news story was only part of it. She had to know where her friend had been. She had imagined every possible location in the years since she was gone. Except for a twist of fate that freed her from the grip of the man who captured Faith, she too would have vanished those long years ago.
Pooky folded her arms and closed herself off to the people around her. “I don’t go to school any more. I only went there a couple of weeks. Daddy said I could go, but then Grandpa said, no.” Her voice faded as she turned her chin up, defiantly, at Ralph. “I never got to be in the play after all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Clisty said as she tried to think fast. “Can you remember the name of the school or anything you saw?”
“The name? No.” She twisted back and forth and wrinkled up her nose.
Becca watched her and coached, “You’re a good observer. When you’re as old as I am, you’ll need glasses to see what’s around you. I’ve noticed you see everything. Did you see anything that would remind you of the school?”
“There was a sign out front with a big dog on it,” the child’s eyes shone with pride. “I remembered some. That was good, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. I wouldn’t have noticed that, I’m sure,” Becca encouraged her.
“That was very good.” Clisty put her arm around Pooky’s shoulder.
“You smell good,” she blurted out as she nuzzled a little longer in Clisty’s arm.
“Thank you. I’ll share a little bit of my perfume with you and your mama in a few days.” Things were going too fast for Clisty’s tired mind. She wondered how a young girl could possible keep up. “Your mother is going to go to the hospital in the ambulance now. I’m going back to the studio for the last newscast of the day.” She looked up at Faith’s parents and smiled. “You can ride with your grandparents.”
“No!” Pooky announced and pulled out of Clisty’s embrace. “I want to go with Mama.”
The first responder reached out and took Pooky’s hand. “That’s okay. You can ride in the ambulance with your mother. Your grandparents can follow us in their car. You’ll see Grandma and Grandpa when we get to the hospital.” He guided Faith onto the gurney.
“I’ll stop by after the newscast and make sure everyone is all right,” Clisty whispered as she leaned down to hug the young girl. “Okay?”
“Okay.” Pooky’s eyes darted from her mother to all the new faces around her.
“It’s okay, Honey,” Faith’s words escaped from her mouth like they were riding on the last breaths she would take. She turned to her old friend and motioned for her to come closer.
Clisty leaned down toward her. “I love you, Faith,” she said and rubbed the back of her hand against her cheek.
“I … I ...,” Faith stammered, as her chin quivered and her voice choked.
“I know, Honey,” Clisty tried to help.
“I have to ... ah ... ah ...,” she rattled in aimless monotone, “... tell you.” She closed her eyes hard and slowly warned. “He’s coming, you know. He’s coming ....”
“Who, Faith ... who’s coming?”
“I’m sorry, Clisty,” the EMT worker urged. “She needs to be evaluated.”
“Evaluated?” Faith mumbled. Her voice was thin and weak. “Like a test? I ... don’t like tests.”
“You rest,” the attendant said as he patted her shoulder. “We gotta go,” he warned Clisty again. Faith lay back on the gurney and seemed to disappear on the mat, like she had eighteen years ago, a ghost among the living.
“I know,” Clisty watched with shock. “I can see.” Bending near her friend’s ear she whispered, “I’ll go to the studio and finish the broadcast. This breaking news tape will roll again on the eleven o’clock news. Then, I’ll stop by the hospital and check on you.”
“That will be terribly late,” Becca reminded her, then shrugged. “Maybe sleep is over-rated.”
“I’ll stop by,” Clisty repeated. “It can’t possibly be too late for me. I promise I won’t awaken you.”
• • • • •
Clisty slid into her chair behind the news desk at WFT and quickly clipped on her lapel microphone, racing the clock. It was ten-fifty-five. Her hands trembled. She took a deep breath and held it in her lungs for a few seconds. She didn’t have stage-fright. She had been running on one-hundred percent adrenaline since the six o’clock news exposed the grainy ATM video of her friend. Faith had been lost so long ago she remained the pigtailed girl in summer cotton shorts and stripped t-shirt in Clisty’s mind. When she closed her eyes, she could still hear the faint laughter of two nine-year-olds on a sunny afternoon adventure.
“Two minutes, team,” Becca called from behind the camera.
The junior anchor exhaled slowly, blowing the air silently through her lips. She had to keep her wits about her. She had to tell the story without telling it all, to keep details about Faith’s rescue for police use only, without the public’s awareness of the lack of transparency.
Suddenly, the hot lights flooded Clisty’s face and the newscast began. She looked down momentarily while the film from the remote broadcast ran again and was amazed to see she was still wearing what she had on at 6 pm. It had only been five hours, but a lifetime had caught up to her in those few hours. Her mussed skirt hid under the desk but the collar of her shirt that should have stayed beneath her suit jacket, refused to lay flat. She quickly tried to give it a finger-ironing.
Clisty began on cue. “The stand-off between the police and the person, who may have held up the bank, lasted for more than hour. The police have identified the man as Melvin Dean Fargo. As you saw from the footage that just re-aired from our on-the-scene breaking news report, the woman who came out of the house ahead of the suspect, probably saved Fargo’s life,” Clisty reported. “She warned the police that he was surrendering, which avoided a barrage of bullets if authorities believed the woman was still a captive.”
Dan Drummond fidgeted in the chair beside her; his hand was itchy on his pen as he anxiously flipped it up and down. “Yes, Clisty, and—”
“... and, the police consider her a hero, Dan,” she smiled into the camera.
Dan began, “She is the woman, who, eighteen years ago—”
“I’m glad you brought that up,” Clisty deliberately interrupted. “Police are keeping the woman’s identity from the public at this time.”
Dan paused and shook his head slightly. “In case the suspect had accomplices?”
“That could be a reason for withholding her name,” Clisty suggested, then quickly added as Drummond opened his mouth to say more. “I pledge to bring you the entire background surrounding this event in the days to come.” Clisty was afraid, if permitted to speak Dan could have given too much information and would have hijacked the story from her capable hands.
Dan’s jaw dropped. With a skillful recovery he added, “We will all be waiting to hear the details of these remarkable events.”
“And, in other news,” Clisty began again, “the Park Service has announced a new member of the lion pride at the Fort Wayne Zoo. A male cub named, Scruffy, was born at eight-twenty this evening, a fitting addition to our evening of new beginnings.”
Dan stared into the camera with a forced smile and set jaw. “Thank you for watching. That’s the News at Eleven.”
• • • • •
“Well,” Dan started cautiously as he jerked the mic from his shirt, “it sounds like you have scored quite a story for yourself.” He pulled his tall lanky legs from under the desk and unbuttoned his suit coat from around his middle-aged belly.
“Dan,” she began slowly to maneuver around the minefield of news-room protocol. Clisty knew that the senior-anchor has first chance at significant stories. A junior anchor simply does not grab stories from the top of the pile and run with them. “I am sorry,” she started again, “but the backstory of this woman’s life is my story as well.”
“Your story? I thought that was up to—“
“No, I didn’t mean it that way.” She fumbled with words to express the unique situation she was in. The set cleared, Becca waited in the back of the studio. “Dan, you don’t understand,” Clisty tried to explain.
They left Studio-A silently and walked into the outer hall. Dan collected his hat and coat with a snap and an attitude. “I can easily see I don’t.” Then he turned, “How is it that this woman’s story is magically yours?”
“Dan,” Clisty looked around her cautiously, to see if other ears could hear. “The woman is Faith Sterling. She was my childhood friend-of-the-heart. A man kidnapped her right out of my grasp, in my own living room, when we were both nine-years old. Then ... she just vanished. While the police apprehended the suspected bank robber, they haven’t tracked down and brought to justice the man who took Faith all those years ago. She is very confused and fragile right now, and may be in danger from her captor. The police want to keep the circle small of those who have contact with her. They hope she will remember me and trust me, since we were inseparable as children. So, I will be getting her story. I hope you understand.”
“Clisty,” Dan removed the hat he had just put on and crumpled it in his hand. “I understand now. Her backstory is indeed your story, too. If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know. I’ll be praying for both of you.”
“Thanks Dan. You’re the second person who said that to me tonight.” Her mind followed a tangential path back to the Christmas angel that sat on her spotless mantle. “I appreciate your prayers.”