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, and she was ready to open her laptop.
The familiar stream of coffee dripping into the pot on the kitchen countertop was a welcome sound with an intoxication 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 question.” His voice was warm and creamy which prompted Clisty to remember the whole milk in the refrigerator. She took her cup back to the open kitchen and poured a little in her coffee.
“Have you been able to do any research on the location of the Freedom Temple?” she asked while stirring the milk into her java. She tried to make a fancy swirl on the top but decided that was a talent better left to coffee shop artists.
“No, not I.” Jason’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? 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 du-jour. She ran her finger over the 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 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 along another line. 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. Each primary school was identified and their “contact us” data as well. After writing it all down on a small note pad, she picked up her cell phone. She began a “rule out” search, by calling 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.
• She would introduce herself and the TV station she represents.
• Her next question would be; was a student, by the name of Pooky Jones, enrolled there recently?
• Then, she would ask if the school had a mascot.
• 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 Falcons. 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 they 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? What was their name, the person who told them they couldn’t stop attending the church?”
“The Guardian. He is 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 far 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 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 was 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 video any images of the children here. 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 avoiding 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 arm. 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 he tried to control his own emotions.
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 large pot,” Jake added—his voice raspy with choked feelings.
Clisty rooted in her purse and pulled out a tissue that she dabbed under her lower eyelashes. She added 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.”