“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, they are 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?” Her smile took on an impish expression.
“Why don’t you take 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.”
“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 on a cold winter’s evening.
Clint said nothing as he drove. To Clisty, he 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 is. “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 stretch along the left side of the road. Since it was April, the trees weren’t in full foliage; they could see a massive structure in the center of an English style garden.
“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 an evil mansion in a horror movie. Clint pulled slowly through the opening and stopped to pick Jake up on the other side.
A densely wooded area stood 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 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 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 strange here. There is something going on.”
Everyone in the car adopted a stealth mode. Ducked heads and whispered voices plotted out their next move.
“Before we get to the Temple,” 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 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 to 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 it’s 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. 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? Didn’t you train them properly?” 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 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 grandmother had prayed for her. Peace settled in like the 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 mirror. “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.”