“Let me out!” Emily Stratton yelled as we cleared the corner, her hands shaking as she reached for the handle of the van door.
“Emily, wait,” Clisty soothed intently. “Becca will hold your hands until we stop. It could be dangerous if you opened the door while the van is moving.” She looked at Clint. He was filming it all.
“Ezra will see that I’m gone! I shouldn’t have left,” Emily sobbed.
“I’ll pull to the side of the road so we can talk,” Jake offered in a smooth strong voice. “But, remember, the Freedom Temple has fallen. Ezra’s scheme he worked to build so hard over the years, is crumbling around him. He may be in a rage, looking for whom to blame. Our head start is to our advantage. Are you sure you want Ezra to catch up to us?”
“No, no, drive on!” She rubbed her hands across her eyes and buried her face in the palms. Her head suddenly popped up. “He’ll search the house for me first, in the kitchen, upstairs in our bedroom, in Joslyn’s room. He knows how much I’ve grieved since Joslyn and Pooky left.” She looked at Clisty with fear in her eyes. “He won’t have to go in the office though. When he sees I’m gone, he’ll know. With the Temple abandoned, he’ll be in escape mode.”
“There weren’t any other cars in your driveway at your house. There was no one else around,” Jake observed. “Where were you supposed to meet him? How would you get there?”
“Ezra told me to put the files in a wheeled suitcase, but that was upstairs. So I took the valise. I know I did wrong,” she sobbed. The others waited until she could pull herself together. “I was to walk to the Metro line, take the train into Chicago and meet him at the station there.”
“So ... maybe he’ll go to Chicago first before starting a search elsewhere,” Jake thought out loud.
“It will never occur to him that I won’t be at the station,” she said weakly. “I’ve never disobeyed him before.” She wiped some more tears from her eyes. “It was poor Joslyn who got all the beatings for disobeying The Guardian.”
Clisty’s voice caught in her throat. “She was beaten?” Anger and grief rose up inside her.
“Many times,” Emily whispered.
“Why didn’t you stop him?” Clisty demanded. She tried very hard to not let her anger come through her voice. She was sure Emily would not cooperate with them if she became critical. Clisty suspected the woman had been criticized enough to last a lifetime.
“How could I stop him? He thought I rebelled one time because I had protected Joslyn. He twisted my arm until it broke.” She rubbed her upper arm as pain-memory seemed to return. “He’s big and he’s strong.”
“We can put you in a safe house. We’ll make the arrangements when we get home,” Jake assured her.
“Where? Where is home?” Emily had turned again, her eyes fixed on the empty street behind them.
“Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Becca said.
“Fort Wayne?” Her eyes brightened; her body straightened. “Will Joslyn and Pooky be there? Ezra adopted Joslyn in Fort Wayne and brought her home to me after our Rosie died,” her eyes glazed as though she had drifted into her memories. “Ezra prayed and prayed that Rosie would live. When she didn’t, he was never the same. He became mean and controlling. Why did God take her?”
“He didn’t take her, Emily. He welcomed her,” Clisty assured her with words she believed. As she thought, some pieces fell into place. “So ... you didn’t know how Ezra came to adopt her?” she asked as she continued to build the news story and Jake’s case.
“No,” Emily whispered. “He said he called a friend in Chicago to go with him to Indiana because a little girl was ready to be adopted.”
“It sounds like he was going to pick up a puppy,” Clisty quipped sarcastically.
“Was his name, Melvin Dean Fargo?” Jake asked as he gripped the steering wheel.
“It’s been so long ... he was a childhood friend of Ezra’s. But, yes, I think that was his name.”
“Do you know if Ezra has heard from Fargo in the last few days?” Jake asked.
“Yes and ... I thought it was strange. I don’t think Ezra had heard from him in years. Melvin did call. He said he was in jail in Fort Wayne. I forgot that,” Emily reported.
With fear and foreboding, Clisty watched dark clouds gather in the east, “Then, Ezra knows where Faith is.”
• • • • •
They pulled into the parking lot of WFT at 5:30 p.m. Clisty had prepared for the six o’clock news before she left in the morning. A dress shirt, suit jacket and makeup kit waited in her office. “Becca, Clint,” she said as she hopped out of the van, “we made it in time.”
Jake got out and came around to Emily’s door. “Mrs. Stratton, if it’s alright with you, I’ll take you with me to the police station where I will arrange a safe house location for you.”
“Will Joslyn be there?” Emily asked.
“At police headquarters?” Clisty turned before going into the TV station.
“No,” Emily said. “Will she be at the safe house?”
Clisty looked at Jake for an answer. The wording had to be right. “She is safe someplace else,” Jake explained. “We will make arrangements for you three to get together tomorrow, if Joslyn and Pooky want to see you.”
“Why wouldn’t they want to see me? She’s my daughter and Pooky’s my granddaughter.” Emily’s expression was confused. She seemed to be totally unaware of what Ezra and Fargo had done eighteen years ago.
“It isn’t you, Emily. Fa— Joslyn has been very stressed emotionally for the last few days.” She looked at Jake. “Emily, Joslyn had been held captive, as a hostage, by a bank robber during a standoff with the police. She was in the hospital for several days.”
“Oh dear God!’ Emily gasped. “Is she alright?”
“Yes, well ... she’s improving,” Clisty said. “I have a newscast to report right now. Jake can take you to the safe house, and then pick me up after the program and we’ll come over and see you.”
“You can watch Clisty’s broadcast at the station while we set things up for you, if you want to,” Jake offered.
“That would be nice. While we’re at your police station, can you find a place to safeguard Ezra’s papers? He wouldn’t want me to lose any of them,” she said. “If I can leave them with the police, that would be great.”
“Jake and I will read them over and see if we can figure out what happened at the Temple,” Clisty said casually. But what she felt inside was a mixture of excitement and revenge. Mixed together, they frightened her.
• • • • •
“Today, the Mayor announced a new schedule for a vital spot in our community,” Clisty spoke into the camera toward the end of the broadcast. “Beginning May 1, the Historic Old Fort will be open every Saturday from 2 pm to 4 pm through July. An influx of volunteer re-enactors and requests from the community, have made it possible.”
“Any additional volunteers should contact the Historical Society,” Dan Drummond added.
Clisty continued. “We are continuing to gather information regarding the suspect and the circumstances around the robbery of Fort Wayne Bank. The news crew and I traveled one-hundred sixty miles to investigate other threads to the story that began at the bank. As you know, there was a possible witness to the crime, who Melvin Dean Fargo later held as a hostage. The network has asked me to pursue the details and history of this young woman. That is what we began today. I will bring you her story when we have all the facts collected. In the meantime, we will protect the identity of that woman and the people around her. I am happy to say, she is home and safe. We continue to uncovered important leads in the case and will report them as it is safe for all those involved. Be sure to tune in each evening. As we find information, we will bring it to you. Catch the first glimpse of our research on the News at Eleven. Thank you for watching. That’s the early news from the Fort.”
“Good job everyone,” Becca announced. “Thanks for another great newscast.”
Dan paused at the news desk. “Do I have to wait until eleven to hear what you found out today, too?”
“Yes,” Clisty teased, “but that’s only because we haven’t planned what to say first, and on what kind of schedule we’ll release it. This whole thing has grown far beyond what we knew we would find so quickly.”
“You had a three hour drive back to Indiana. Did you all sleep?” he joked.
“No, we had someone with us. The wife of the man who kidnapped Faith was in the car during the entire trip. It appears she didn’t know anything about the whole thing. She thought her husband had come to Indiana, all those years ago, to adopt a girl to replace the daughter they had just lost. I don’t know what kind of person she was before she met Ezra Stratton, but, right now, she is an empty shell. She only does what he tells her to do and only goes where she has asked permission to go. She doesn’t drive. She doesn’t even answer the phone at home unless the caller ID shows it’s her husband.”
“What? How can that be?” Dan shook his head. “What century does she live in?”
“Emily lives in the Century of Ezra and Ezra’s whole world is about him.” Clisty removed her lapel mic and stood up. “She is so fragile we couldn’t discuss the case in front of her. Becca is coming over to my apartment and we’ll write the news story for tonight.” She stopped and turned back to Dan. “There are many twists in this story and we’ve already turned a very dangerous corner. Please ... say a prayer for us.”
• • • • •
“Come in Becca,” Clisty said. “Jake will be here in a few minutes. We have to know what we can report before Ezra is caught. We can’t accidently give him information that would aid him in finding Emily, Faith and Pooky.”
“Clisty, that’s right. We have to balance our news story with the prosecutor’s ability to nail this guy.”
“We’re investigating the story and have every right to report it. But, Becca ...” Clisty wrung her hands, “I want him caught so bad I can’t stand it.”
The door buzzer rang. “If you’ll make some coffee, I’ll get Jake,” Becca offered.
“Sure,” Clisty agreed and had the pot on by the time Jake had his jacket off. “Go ahead and sit down. I’ll be right over,” she said.
She got some mugs out of the cabinet and smiled. Her dirty cup from breakfast and cereal bowl still sat on the black granite. A week ago, she would not be able to tolerate dirty dishes anywhere. Something or someone was freeing her from her obsessions. “You like a little milk in your coffee, right?” she asked Becca.
“Hi Babe,” Jake went over and kissed Clisty on the neck while her head was down preparing the cups.
“I’ll spill this stuff if you keep that up,” she laughed.
“I’ll clean it up,” he joked. “It’ll be worth it.”
“Hey you two,” Becca teased, “save the play for later.”
Clisty was embarrassed and felt her cheeks grow warm. Carrying Becca’s cup to the conversation area, she tried to shake off her self-consciousness and nearly spilled the coffee. “Here,” she handed Becca the cup. “Let’s get busy. I’ll get you a napkin. I splashed a little.”
“That’s okay. Oh, I forgot, you don’t want a drop on your table,” Becca apologized.
“Don’t worry about it,” Clisty said as she wiped up the spot and left the crumpled napkin on the table. She looked at it there on her high-shine polished table and laughed to herself.
“First, how long do you want the segment for the eleven o’clock news?” Jake asked. “And, do you plan to use any of the video Clint shot today?”
“Let’s back up,” Clisty began. “I was thinking about all of this in the van on the way home. There are several stories here that are interconnected. There’s the bank robbery; Faith’s kidnapping; Fargo’s connection to Ezra; the abuses at the Stratton home; and the corruption at the Freedom Temple.”
Jake took out his small notebook and pen. “Actually, there are only two cases we have jurisdiction over. The bank robbery and Faith’s kidnapping. The other offences will be charges in Illinois since that is where they happened.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Clisty whispered.
“First, we have to keep Faith, Pooky and Emily safe,” Jake began. “For now, Emily is being settled into a safe house. She’ll have an officer with her at all times. Faith and Pooky are at the Sterlings’ home.” He thought for a moment and then added, “I would think it best for you not to show pictures of Ezra or Emily. I can’t tell you what to do, freedom of the press and all. Maybe Ezra will think that our case is still about Fargo, his bank robbery and holding Faith as a hostage at the time of the police standoff.”
“Okay,” Clisty processed, “If we focus on Fargo for tonight’s broadcast, we can use the pictures of Chicago Clint took as we drove through. We can ask questions more than give answers for tonight’s broadcast.”
“Right,” Becca agreed and opened the e-tablet she had brought. “Why was this Chicago resident, Fargo, in Fort Wayne?”
“Did he know the woman he held captive before coming to Indiana?” Clisty added to the list.
“Was there any connection between Fargo and Faith’s abduction eighteen years ago?” Jack offered.
Clisty looked up from her thoughts, “Will that jeopardize your other charges and investigations?”
“No,” he answered, “We already know he’s connected by helping Ezra abduct her so long ago. You don’t have to get ahead of the story. You can ask the question.”
“That helps Jake, thanks,” Clisty said. “We can show the clip of Fargo coming out of the house behind Faith. Becca, please write this down. ‘We went to Chicago seeking information about the bank robbery suspect, Melvin Dean Fargo.’ Then, we show the clip of the city and some of the scenery from Fort Wayne to Chicago. Next, we ask our questions. That’s a beginning.”
“Great,” Becca continued to enter data and smiled. “The video showing the burning of the Freedom Temple that came in from the NNC station can wait for the entire News magazine story to be completed.”
“That sounds good,” Clisty began, and then slowly formed a new thought. “Jake, Indiana can’t charge Stratton for crimes in Illinois, but can we dig up the information and present whatever we find in the final broadcast?”
“If you’re careful, you don’t want to taint the jury that will hear the case over in Illinois. If you document all your findings I would think that would be alright.”
“I didn’t think about that,” she drew out slowly. “We have all of that material that Emily had you lock away in the police station. We’ll comb through any of that and develop a second Heartland story, centered on the charged in Illinois.” She jumped up and paced back and forth. “We haven’t even started yet and we already have two great programs for Stories from the Heartland.”