“It’s great to see you looking so good,” Clisty stood back and held the door to WFT-TV.
“Hi Clisty,” Faith hugged her friend and stepped into the reception area of the TV station.
“Carol and Ralph, come in. We’ll make room for everyone.” Becca directed them to the chairs and took their jackets. “Jake Davis is coming too. Brenda, our receptionist, will watch for him.”
“Oh, I didn’t know,” Faith recoiled emotionally.
“It’ll be okay, Faith. You and I talked about it yesterday when I stopped by your parents’ home,” Clisty reminded her. Then she turned, “Hi Pooky.” She took the time to hug Faith’s daughter, hoping Faith would have enough space to remember their conversation.
Roma reminded her softly. “We all sat around the table, Faith, remember?”
“Let’s go into the studio and look it over. It’s just a room with special equipment in it.” Clisty led the way, through the news room and into the studio.
“Maybe,” Faith’s voice trailed off as she stared with wide eyes around the room.
“I know it must look very foreign to you, but it’s really just a work room, like the kitchen in your home. We make TV news programs in here, and you prepare food in your kitchen.”
“Where is the microphone and camera?” Pooky asked as she stepped out of the background and into light.
“It’s there on the news desk.” Clisty pointed.
“But we—“ Becca started.
“Aren’t quite ready for that stuff,” Clisty jumped in. She knew Faith didn’t want Pooky’s picture out in the public so they would need to take that slowly. On the other hand, Jake would need the interview on film so there could be no question later about whether we led her into saying things she would not have said on her own.
“Faith,” Clisty pointed at the large, floor-camera, “Clint can film Pooky on this camera, strictly for police use. It will not be broadcast into viewers’ homes. Or, he can use the shoulder camera if you think Pooky would be frightened by the big one.” She hoped if she gave Faith a choice, she may feel less vulnerable.
Faith’s shoulders dropped and her eyes shifted to the floor. “Maybe we’ll not film it at all,” her words tumbled out of her mouth in rapid succession. “What’s important is what she says, not what she looks like.”
“That’s right. You’re absolutely correct,” Jake added as he came into the studio. He stopped just a few feet inside the door so Faith and Pooky wouldn’t feel cornered. “The choice is yours, Faith. You’re the mom. It’s just that ...” he paused, slipped into the room and leaned casually on the wall. “If you decide not to have her filmed at all, when we catch your kidnapper, his lawyer could claim that we put the works in Pooky’s mouth. With the film, we can prove she said it all on her own. What do you think?” He paused and gave faith time for the words to catch up to her.
“Faith, I told you about my telling your story, using your words and Pooky’s memories too, on a news magazine. Maybe there’ll be something in the story that will help another child stay safe from kidnapper.”
Faith looked at her daughter. Her sad eyes studied the cherished face.
“Please Mama, please,” Pooky formed her hands into a prayer and jumped up and down.
Clisty saw Faith smile, something she had not witnessed since they were both children and her heart warmed. “I will do the interview myself. Jake is here only to take his own notes. As we take breaks from time to time, he may offer some questions I had not thought about. Does that seem reasonable to you?”
“Faith,” Roma said softly, “it sounds to me like Pooky will be even more safe if they can find the kidnapper.”
“The Guardian won’t be found.”
“Why do you say that?” Clisty asked. “We have to be positive.”
“I am, Clisty. I am positive you will not find him. He told me he wouldn’t be found, what seems like every day of my life,” her voice dropped off and she appeared to shudder, like a snake had slithered across her path.
“He told you lots of things, Faith, like you said, every day of your life. He probably said, ‘You’ll never get away,’ didn’t he?”
Faith’s eyes brighten, a positive sign Clisty had not yet seen. “He said it nearly every day, at least for the first ten or twelve years of my slavery.”
“I hate that word, Faith,” her mother set her jaw.
“I hate that life,” Faith answered, a little stronger than before.
“Hey, I thought this was about me,” Pooky insisted.
“You are absolutely right, Honey,” Becca agreed. “I’m going to be your director, so ... let’s place you on the interview set here, face to face with Clisty.”
“But, where’s the microphone?” Pooky asked as she studied the cluster of chairs.
“Right here,” Becca pointed to the little clips she held in her hand. “You wouldn’t be at the news desk, with all the equipment over there. Both you and Clisty will clip a tiny microphone onto your clothes. You can move around and we can still pick up you voice.”
“Well ... okay,” she said as she scooted back into one of the side chairs.
As Clisty took her seat facing Pooky’s, she attached her lapel mic. “Hi Pooky. It now occurred to me that I don’t know your last name.”
“What do you mean?” Pooky’s eyes blinked and she said no more.
“I’m Clisty Sinclair. I have a first name, Clisty and a second name, Sinclair. Your first name is Pooky. What is your last name?”
“I don’t have another name.”
Clisty stopped. She lost her next question, but gathered her thoughts again quickly. “Your daddy’s first name is Steven. What was his last name?”
“I don’t know.” She looked over at her mother and shrugged.
“Steven had no last name,” Faith answered in a flat tone, as if last names were rare.
“You said he went to school,” Clisty continued to question Faith where she sat off camera.
“He used the last name Jones. But, that wasn’t his real second name.” Faith seemed to chill for a moment. “No one was to speak the name of The Guardian.”
“So, did you use the name, Pooky Jones, when you were in school?” Clisty asked.
“Yes, Pooky Jones,” she remembered. “But, I wasn’t in school very long,” she said as she leaned her chin in her hand on the chair rest. Her expression had slipped into a pout.
“You told me about school. Do you want to tell the people about school?”
“I played Red Riding Hood in the school play. Daddy said I could go to school, but when Grandpa found out, he said I had to quit.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Why did he have to find out?”
“Do you know who told him you were going to school?” Clisty asked. “Where was your grandfather during the daytime?”
“He was at work.” Pooky swung her feet back and forth.
“Work? Where did he work?”
Pooky looked at her in disbelief. “I already told you. He’s the Head Master of the Freedom Temple.”
“That’s right, you did,” Clisty admitted, allowing the child to have the superior hand. “I guess I forgot.” She slowed down and looked away, sneaking up on the next question from the side. “Your mother told me that The Guardian smelled bad.” She looked back at Pooky, like someone in need of help. “How could a leader in an organization ... stink?”
“He wasn’t supposed to eat cookies or candy. When he did, he’d act funny, sweat and stink.”
“Did you hear Grandma warn him about sugar diabetes?”
“Yeah, that was the word.”
“So, he worked at the Freedom Temple? What is the Freedom Temple?” Clisty asked, careful to use low, non-demanding tones.
“It’s like a church, Grandma said.”
“Didn’t you ever go to that church?” Clisty tried not to shake her head. Everything Pooky told her sounded preposterous. A smelly, swearing, evil man who would kidnap a child and hold her as a slave, was the spiritual leader of a congregation?
“Grandma said no one was to know that Mama was Daddy’s sister. So, Daddy went to the Temple on Friday night, but not Mama or me. She said, Grandpa brought Mama home for her, to be Grandma’s little girl and then, when she was old enough, she’d be Daddy’s wife.”
“Wow,” Clisty exhaled slowly. “You remember all those relationships?” She felt sick inside. The Guardian planned Faith’s life even before he took her. Then, he controlled her so it would all work out as he planned.
“Sure,” Pooky said. “I had to remember about Mama and Daddy. We rehearsed it like my part in the play. Grandpa said I had to always remember, ‘cause if I didn’t he could lose Mama and me.”
Clisty smiled at her to reassure her. “You have a very good memory. Do you know why your grandfather took you out of school after your daddy said you could go?”
“It was my teacher’s fault,” she pouted some more. “She said she had to make a home-visit to all the kid’s homes in her class. She’d already gone to the other kids’ houses ‘cause they had started school before me. Grandpa said she couldn’t come and pulled me out of school.”
“I bet you miss the friends you made at school,” Clisty said as she remembered the wonderful times she had with Faith as a child. Her heart ached for Pooky and her lonely life.
“There was one girl. Her name was Leenie. She was my dearest friend,” her words seemed to drift off to a memory that hid from her grandfather in a secret corner of her mind. “In the afternoon, I would sit by the front window, behind the curtain I could see through, and listen to the kids as they laughed and played on their way home from school.” Tears slipped down her face and she brushed them away with her sleeve.
“I’m glad you had a friend, even if you couldn’t keep her.”
“Oh, I kept her,” she perked up. “She would leave a note for me under a rock near the end of our sidewalk. I’d sneak out at night and get it and leave a note for her.” Pooky turned up her chin in defiant satisfaction, folded her arms and sat back.
“That sounds like a dangerous system. What if you were caught?”
“I never was,” Pooky turned her head back and forth in an exaggerated no. “She’d tell me what she did at school during the day. Then, she’d sign it, Leenie Lambert, 1221 W. Benton Avenue.”
“You have a really good memory, Pooky.” Clisty’s pulse raced. Would she be able to get the information she needed?
“I remembered the nickname, something about a big dog.”
“Those are good words to remember, Pooky,” Clisty said as she reached over and patted Pooky’s knee. “I was wondering ... if your daddy didn’t want to lose you and your mother, why did he let you go?”
“Let us go?”
“Well, he didn’t come with you. Did he say goodbye? How did you two get away when you came here?”
“Mama and I put a few things in two pillowcases and walked out the front door. No one was at home. So we walked until we came to a gas station and found a man with a truck who was going to Indiana. Mama said we wanted to go to Fort Wayne and he said, ‘Perfect. I’ll call someone I know over there and he can find a place for us to rest when we get there.’ Mama said she would just find her home and he could drop us off there. He said, ‘Sure lady,’ but I didn’t like how he sounded. That’s the sassy way Kevin Ledbetter would talk on the school playground when he was lying. But, Mama believed the man with the truck. When we got here, he wouldn’t let us go.”
“You said you left when everyone was gone? Where were they? Where was your dad? Did he kiss you goodbye?”
“He kissed me goodbye three days before that. I remember. They were all gone ‘cause Grandpa wouldn’t let us go.” Tears again came to her eyes and filled them to the brim.
“Where wouldn’t your grandfather let you go, Pooky?”
“To Daddy’s funeral,” she stopped for a moment and sobbed. When she rubbed her eyes on the full length of her shirt sleeve, she continued. “He got really sick. Grandpa wouldn’t let him go to the hospital, so he kissed me and Mama goodbye and died at our house.” The salty tears streamed down her cheeks again. “He whispered in Mama’s ear, ‘Take Pooky and get out of here. Promise me.’”
“Mama said, ‘I love you Steven. I promise.’” Pooky looked over at her mother where she and her new grandparents stood crying. “Mama had never been out of the house before. At first it was so scary. We didn’t know where to go. But, when Grandma and Grandpa left for the funeral, Mama and I walked right out the front door and didn’t look back.”