Friday, September 30, 2016

News at Eleven - A Novel (Copyright 2015 Doris Gaines Rapp - Twenty-Third Serialized Segment)

Out in the hall, Clisty noticed a man in a black business suit standing off to the side, watching her prepare to interview. She didn’t recognize the on-looker as one of those who frequently waited outside the courtroom during the trial. She put curiosity aside, focused on her job and held the microphone out to Jake. “Detective Jake Davis, if you have time, can you give our viewers your reaction to the jury’s decision?”
Jake moved in close to Clisty. “I think it’s great, and I’m sure we’re all happy that the verdict came in so fast. That was especially good for all those affected by Ezra Stratton’s actions. Sometimes, trials drag on for months and the deliberations stretch on and on some more. That re-inflicts additional pain on the victims involved. Every day they have to sit in the courtroom and see the evil face of the one who harmed them. The brave people in this trial didn’t have to wait.” He paused, looked into the camera lens and pronounced with certainty, “And, justice was served.”
“Thank you Detective,” Clisty said. Jake touched her hand as he stepped away. When the door swung open and Faith came out, Clisty caught her eye and smiled. Faith walked over, within the interview circle.
“As most of you know,” Clisty said as she spoke into the camera, “this is Faith Sterling Stratton, the woman who was kidnapped as a child, and held in an upstairs room in Illinois for eighteen years.” Most of us would demand the most severe punishment for all those involved. She turned to her friend, “Is there anything you would like to say to our news audience, Mrs. Stratton?”
Faith embraced her friend. “Thank you, Clisty.” She reached for the microphone as her brows started to knit together. She cleared her throat and seemed to try to relax her expression along with her emotions. With her hand to her face, she whispered. “I want everyone to know, Clisty, you looked for me when I could only leave a tiny clue that I was back. You remembered enough of the little girl who was lost for so long, that you recognized a frightened woman when she returned.” Faith struggled with tears that caught in her throat. “My parents are wonderful and have pledged to help my daughter and me for as long as we need their help. We will always need their love.” She stopped when Emily Stratton came out into the hall. Faith didn’t flinch, but reached out and put her arm around the woman. “Come over here, Emily,” she said as she squeezed Emily’s shoulder. “I have to let the viewers know, my daughter finally has a real paternal grandmother. Emily was as much a victim of Ezra Stratton as I was, as my husband, Steven was, too.” She kissed Emily’s cheek. “I know, when Emily’s spirit heals, she and Pooky will enjoy many good times together. My parents have told her she is welcome to visit in their home.” Faith kissed Emily again as the woman sobbed.
“I …” Emily tried to speak. She looked up at Faith and patted her on the face. “I know you are Faith Sterling, but you will always be my Joselyn. I love you … and I vow to never use that name again. I am so sorry for everything, Faith” she said as her whole body slumped as she walked on.
Faith looked at the camera and continued. “Today is about justice being served. Some will never receive justice equal to the crimes that have been committed against them. I don’t know yet how many years Ezra Stratton will be in prison, but eighteen years would not be too many for me. The man was depraved-evil at the door, not the guardian at the gate” Then she clutched the microphone, her knuckles taunt and her jaw set, “And, that man needs to know … I am not broken, nor am I silent. I will speak out against emotional and physical abuse any time it rears its ugly head. And, it’s ugly head has just been found guilty!”
Clisty put her arm around Faith and gave her a sideways hug. “Anytime you need a really big voice to share your message of love over abuse, Faith, you have a platform at WFT-TV.”
Faith hugged Clisty again as the Sterlings came out. They met up at the microphone. “We are leaving our sorrow and anger right here,” Ralph said. “We’re going home now to celebrate family.”

The camera lights went out and all was silent for a moment. “That was wonderful, Clisty,” Becca said softly. “That will be great footage during the late night news. But, it’s more than that; it was the right story to pursue.”

Friday, September 23, 2016

News at Eleven - A Novel (Copyright 2015 Doris Gaines Rapp - Twenty-Second Serialized Segment)

“The restaurant seems miles away,” Clisty said as they hustled down the marble steps and across the street. They paused and waited for a minute at the door for Clint to stow the camera in the news van and lock up before going in to order. “This is nerve-wracking for me,” Clisty added.
“You’ve been through a lot,” Becca reminded her.
 “Becca, we all have,” she protested. “I’m no different than the rest of you. We all went to Illinois.”
“Clisty, he attacked you, too,” Becca reminded her. “It seems like you don’t believe you have a right to be upset over all of this. You and Faith were inseparable as children. He stalked you both. He broke in on you both. He grabbed you both and dragged you both across the floor. You now have survivor’s guilt that you had gotten away. No, Clisty, you have a right to acknowledge your own feelings,” Becca said as Clint came over from the van. “Remember, Stratton also showed up at Roma and Ralph’s house and threatened you all with a Glock 27!”
“Becca’s right this time, Hon,” Jake joined in. “The difference between you and Faith is where and how you’ve lived these last eighteen years, but there’s no difference in the events of the kidnapping. You were both attacked by a very dangerous man.” He placed his hand on Clisty’s shoulder and massaged in a generous measure of his love.
Clint hurried across the street, pulled on the door handle and stepped back. “You guys haven’t gotten a table for us yet?”
“Just waitin’ for you,” Becca said as she zipped past him.
They stepped inside where others appeared to have the same idea. The packed grill was full of many of the same faces Clisty had seen in the courtroom. The four of them managed to find the last table in the place and settled in to order. Luckily, it was at the far back corner of the dining room. There would be a small measure of privacy, away from the hubbub.
“Do you know what you want, or do you need a menu?” a waitress asked as they all settled and removed their jackets.
“I’ll have soup and coffee,” Clisty said. “The soup is already prepared,” she reminded the others. “I won’t have to wait for it to be cooked. I want food. I don’t care about fine dining right now. It’ll be scooped and served.”
“What kind?” the waitress asked.
“Potato rivel,” Clisty said and placed her napkin in her lap like she had just made a major decision. “Be sure to stir it up from the bottom real good. Don’t just ladle it from the top of the pot. I like plenty of potatoes and a ton of rivels.” Then she noticed the others watching her. “What?” she laughed. “I know what I want and I know how I want it served. Deal with it,” she laughed again. “I’m too tired to eat, but potatoes with rivels just may hit the spot.”
“Make mine the same,” Jake echoed. “I even like the description of how I want it put in the bowl, but I would have no way of repeating the instructions.”
Becca and Clint each raised their index finger, a silent affirmation to order the soup and coffee. Becca made a stirring gesture and then a dipping motion into an imaginary bowl. “I’m sure you get the idea,” she mouthed as she yawned.
Clint just pointed at Becca, Jake and Clisty, nodded and pointed to himself.
“Got ya,” the waitress said as she wrote on her order pad. “Soup, soup, soup and soup.” Then she walked away.
The coffee came first and they each sipped in silence. Clisty looked at all her tired friends as their shoulders slumped and they stared into their cups. She chose not to use the window as a mirror. Whatever she looked like, she knew she was still awake and that alone was an accomplishment.
“Will I ever feel rested again,” Clisty sighed deeply.
“Four bowls of soup,” the waitressed announced as she placed them in front of each one. Then added, “Please notice all the potatoes and rivels. I’ll be happy to receive a generous tip, equal to the number of potatoes you can count.” She winked and walked away.
“This looks good,” Jake inhaled the steam as it rose from the bowl. “It smells great too.”
“Grandma makes rivel soup,” Clisty thought out loud. “I like to mix the rivels with my hands and drop them, little by little, into the potato soup.”
“What exactly is a rivel?” Clint asked as he didn’t hesitate for a moment. He stuck his spoon in the soup over and over, while wearing a grin on his face.
“Rivels are like dumpling dough,” Clisty answered. “Only you don’t roll it out. You mix it by hand and drop it into the soup a little at a time, crumbling the dough with your fingers as you release it.” Then, Clisty’s mind drifted to the dear ones. “My grandparents came home from Florida last week, in time to get regular updates on the case. Grandma kept saying, ‘It could have been you too, Clisty.’ She told me she has prayed for me every day of my life and twice a day since the trial started. She even bought a new prayer angel to replace the one she lost.” Clisty ate a few bites of rivels and potatoes and added, “She said the angel’s face looked like me. I could sure feel those prayers.”
“I know; me too,” Becca agreed in a sleepy tone.
“I think this soup was made by angels,” Jake added.
Clint didn’t look up from his bowl. “I don’t care who made it.”
They finished their meal and were just discussing the merits of sugar cream pie as opposed to fruit pie when Clisty’s phone vibrated on the table, setting off a clatter of spoons.
“All ready?” Clisty stared at her cell.
“I’ll throw down thirty, that’ll cover us all and a good tip. Let’s get back over there,” Jake offered.
They gathered up all their belongings. Clisty, Jake and Becca hurried ahead, while Clint got the camera form the van. While he couldn’t film inside the courtroom, it had to be ready to aim and focus at the point of Becca’s finger.
The three hurried inside and slipped into seats, just as the bailiff announced, “All rise.” Faith and her parents darted in as the courtroom doors started to close and took seats behind Clisty and all.
Jury members entered quietly with bowed heads. None of them looked at Stratton. Clisty thought that might be a sign of victory for Faith and whispered a little prayer that justice would be served. The jury took their seats in heavy silence. The only sound was the squeak of chairs and Roma’s whispered prayer as she clutched Faith’s hand.
Clisty flipped open her sketch pad and pulled a pencil from her bag. The lead flew over the thick paper as she blocked in every juror, their body posture and a suggestion of the tortured emotion that registered on each one’s face. She wondered what it would be like to stand in judgment over someone else. Then, she realized she had pronounced Ezra Stratton guilty every day her whole life, she just didn’t know his name.
“The jury has indicated they have reached a verdict.” Judge Sheldon said. “Will the Foreperson hand the verdict to the bailiff?”
The bailiff walked over to the foreperson, collected the verdict slip and delivered the piece of paper to the judge. Sheldon opened it, read it and handed it back to the bailiff.
The bailiff read, “To the count of Criminal Confinement, the verdict is guilty.” Mumbled voices of relieve and expelled tension were heard all over the court. The judge just looked at the people and waited for silence again. Then he nodded to the bailiff. “To the charge of Accessory to Robbery, the verdict is guilty.”
Judge Sheldon gaveled the court and then added, “Sentencing will be four weeks from today. I’d like to thank the jury for your time.” He gaveled again.
“Court is adjourned,” the bailiff announced.
Ezra Stratton turned and glared at Clisty. “I should have taken you, too,” he growled. “I would’ve taught you to keep your mouth shut.” Lubansky said something to Stratton in obvious anger. Armed guards pulled Stratton away, and as he was led from the courtroom, he yelled, “I would have broken you!”
Clisty stared at the man of evil, her head held high and her eyes fixed on his in righteous defiance, until he was completely out of the courtroom. Then, she turned her back for a moment, and smiled. To Jake, she whispered, “After eighteen years, he couldn’t break Faith Sterling. Why did he think he could break me?”
“I would place my bet on you any day, tough lady,” he said as he laughed.
Faith hurried over to Clisty, smiling a real smile for the first time in, maybe, eighteen years, Clisty guessed. “Thank you, thank you so much,” Faith repeated as she clung to Clisty. “You saw me when no one has seen me for eighteen years, and you remembered.”
Clisty wiped tears from her face as she spoke softly in Faith’s ear. “You have been in my thoughts every day since you were taken. I could never forget those beautiful, friendly eyes.” Stepping back, she studied her friend’s face. “Would you like to be on camera, out in the hall, and give the world your immediate reaction to the verdict?”

Faith looked over at her parents but didn’t hesitate, “Yes, I would.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

News at Eleven - A Novel (Copyright 2015 Doris Gaines Rapp - Twenty-First Serialized Segment)

After days of testimony, the jury finally retired to deliberate. Clisty didn’t report the daily account of the events in court. She didn’t want any reason for Ezra to have a retrial. There would be time for all of that when the Network wound up filming the whole story.  She decided to release the sketches during that evening’s news. She walked out to the outer hall and stretched, trying to work the anger out of her body that had been stored in her muscles since she was nine.
“I’m here for you, Babe,” Jake said as he came up behind her and rubbed her back. “All we can do now is to wait for the jury to come in.”
“I know,” Clisty said as she turned. She lifted Jake’s right arm and threw it over her shoulder and same with his left. Smiling up at him she surrendered to his safe arms. “It’s been so long. How will I ever do a story every week?”
“You do it all the time now,” Jake encouraged her. “There’s something new on each broadcast, Hon. Every evening you report a new account of the happenings and people of Fort Wayne.”
“I know. I guess it’s still the geography that has me rattled.” She buried her head in Jake’s shoulder and sighed. “It’s this case, having Faith back and at the same time, I have to make a major decision about my career.
“Is the network still waiting for your answer to their New York offer?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “They said, after the trial they’ll want an answer. The trial will be over soon. Now, I’m too tired to think about any of it.”
“Clisty, this story will be far different from all the others you will cover and far more difficult. This one is as personal as it gets. Stratton kidnapped your best friend right out of your own living room and he nearly took you too. He had his hands on you until you got away and he jerked Faith right out of your grasp. It can’t get more personal than that. You are emotionally exhausted, which is a lot harder than physical exhaustion.” Jake soothed her back with gentle hands.
“You’re right, Jake,” Clisty whispered as she remained in his arms. “I can’t ignore how angry, afraid, weak, vulnerable, and happy I’ve felt through all of this. Happy, obviously, because I’m glad Faith is home. But the other stuff, the bad feelings, sometimes, I experienced all those emotions at the same time!”
They clustered in the hall for as long as it took for all four of them to gather, Clisty and Jake, Becca and Clint. Then the Sterlings came out of the courtroom. Clisty put her arms around Roma and kissed her cheek. “Are you two holding up okay? We’re going to film some comments. Can we hear from you two?”
“From Ralph, maybe. I have nothing to say right now,” Roma said. “I am so upset. That man is a monster and his wife was so weak, she went along with his demands.”
“I understand,” Clisty empathized with her. “How is Faith doing?”
“She’s at our home, but I don’t want the TV audience to know where she is. She’s alone. I am still terrified for her. We’re going to hurry home to be with her.” Mrs. Sterling whispered. Then she smiled and her voice cracked. “Faith got Pooky off to school today—her first day in a new school, in any school for that matter,” she brushed a tear from her cheek. “Pooky was so excited. It’s a new beginning for all of us.”
“Sorry to break this up, Mrs. Sterling,” Becca chimed in softly. “I don’t want to rush any of you, but I think we’d better get some video, outside the court room. It’s always good to get immediate reactions if at all possible. We’ll use it for the eleven o’clock news or save it for the News Magazine. We’ll look at all of it and then decide.”
Clint stepped back from the small cluster of us with the TV camera in his hand. After quickly finding a good spot, he raised the camera, adjusted the lens and started filming. Becca stepped behind him, out of his shot, where she could see what he saw in the view finder. She paused for only a second and then made the thumbs up gesture. She put up three fingers, counting down to zero. Clisty knew they were ready.
“We are outside the courtroom where the jury has just received instructions from the judge. They will not be back until they have reached a verdict.” She looked over and nodded toward Roma and Ralph as they stood just beyond the view of the camera. “Mr. and Mrs. Sterling, is there anything you would like our audience to know?”
Ralph took Roma by the elbow and let her over to the microphone. Ralph began. “We are hopeful that justice will be served. Stratton took our daughter’s childhood away from her and our lives away from us at the same time. I want him punished. Mrs. Stratton’s testimony told us that someone in that house loved Faith. I know that no one ever expressed it, but we hope Faith felt it. For that, we will be eternally grateful. Pooky, our granddaughter, loves Emily Stratton and that tells us there was love in their house in spite of that  ... man. We will wait for the jury’s verdict. In fact,” he looked at his watch. “We’re going home to get Faith and we’ll all be right back, in case the jury doesn’t deliberate for very long. Then, we’ll play it hour by hour, day by day, just like we have lived for eighteen years, until this nightmare is over.”
“Thank you;” Clisty said. “We know what this trial has meant to all of you. This is Clisty Sinclair for the News at Eleven.” The microphone suddenly felt heavy in her hands. She handed it to Clint.
“Let’s all go for some supper,” Clisty said. “Mr. Fisher has our cell phone numbers and will call us when the verdict comes in. Maybe a little food will give us the energy to get through this.”
“Perfect,” Becca agreed.
“If we go to the Courtroom Grill across the street, we won’t have far to come back if the verdict comes in fast,” Jake offered.
“During supper?” Becca quipped. “We should eat at the train station if Stratton’s on the fast track to the pen.”
“I think I could eat an entire Thanksgiving feast in the few minutes we’ll be gone,” Clisty said as she allowed herself to pay attention to her body. “I had no idea I was hungry until now.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

News at Eleven - A Novel (Copyright 2015 Doris Gaines Rapp - 20th Serialized Segment)

“We are outside the courtroom just minutes before the trial of Ezra Stratton will begin.” Clisty stood in front of the camera in the hall with large, closed wooden courtroom doors behind her. “The judge has ruled against television cameras inside the courtroom. However, he does allow reporters. I’ll take notes and sketch the scene as I see it. They may look like stick figures to another artist, but I’ll do my best to bring the story as accurately as possible.”
Inside the courtroom, the bailiff pounded the gavel on the strike plate. “All rise,” he announced.
“I need to take my seat,” Clisty signed off, opened the door, hurried midway up the isle and sat down beside Roma and Ralph just as all those present took their seats. She opened her e-tablet and poised her hands to list the charges.
The bailiff read the charges pertaining to Ezra Stratton. Clisty quickly brought up the meaning of each charge on her touch screen. She always did her research completely and well in advance of a hearing. That research came up immediately on Clisty’s tablet and she followed the words as the bailiff spoke.
“Kidnapping and/or Criminal Confinement:” Indiana Code – Section 35-42-3-3 Criminal Confinement:
a.      A person who knowingly or intentionally:
(1)    confines another person without the person’s consent; or
(2)    removes another person by fraud, enticement, force, or threat of force, from one (1) place to another;
commits criminal confinement. Except as provided in subsection (b), the offense of criminal confinement is a Class D felony.
(a)    The offense of criminal confinement defined in subsection (a) is:
                       (1)   A Class C felony if:
(A) The person confined or removed is less than fourteen (14) years of age and is not the confining or removing person’s child;
(B) It is committed by using a vehicle;
“Got ya!” she screamed inside, her hand pumping a fist in triumph. Clisty brought up her notes for the next charge.
“Accessory to Robbery.”
“Those who aid in the commission of a crime before or after the actual act are called accessories to the crime. Any person, who willingly and intentionally helps a person before a crime is committed, is considered an accessory before e fact. For example, the person who provides the principle with maps of the bank, security information, and other details may be considered an accessory before the fact.
“That fits,” she entered a large number (2) beside Accessory to
Robbery. “One more to go,” she mumbled and looked around to see if anyone heard her. Next the bailiff read:
“Accomplice in a Crime.”
“Accomplice in a Crime” Clisty clicked on that tab. “One who intentionally and voluntarily participate with another in a crime by encouraging or assisting in the commission of the crime or by failing to prevent it though under a duty to do so.”
Clisty knew it would be the courts in Illinois that would charge Stratton with fraud, embezzlement of funds, child abuse and whatever else lay incriminating at the bottom of the satchel.
The Allen County Prosecutor, Albert Fisher’s opening statements included a reference to Clisty. Her hands froze on the keyboard. “Ezra Stratton committed kidnapping and criminal confinement of Faith Sterling, and the attempted kidnapping of Clisty Sinclair. These children were only nine years old when this man snatched Faith Sterling out of the Sinclair home, and held Faith from the time she was a nine-years-old child until she was twenty-seven years old. That’s eighteen years out of her life! Her parents sit here in the courtroom, praying for justice for their daughter. We are here to see to it their prayers are answered!”
The defense attorney fed the jury lie after lie that Stratton had told them. Ezra Stratton was a master manipulator and he had fed his lawyers a believable story that was shot full of holes. It would be the witnesses that would influence the jury though, not the lawyers’ rhetoric.
“I’d like to call Melvin Dean Fargo to the stand,” Fisher announced.
Fargo came in wearing slacks, a sport shirt and sport coat. He was clean shaven and his hair trimmed. It didn’t matter how much the Prosecutor’s office made him appear to be a respectable citizen, to Clisty, he was still one of the monsters that haunted her nights. She had not seen him the day Stratton nabbed Faith; he was supposed to be waiting in the truck. But, Clisty remembered that she had heard a man’s voice at the front door, “Hurry up! I wanna get out of here.”
“Mr. Fargo, let the jury know that you have already pleaded guilty to the robbery of Fort Wayne Bank. Is that right?” Fisher questioned.
“Yes,” was Fargo’s single response.
“Did the Prosecutor’s office offer anything to you in exchange for your testimony?”
Stratton sat at the defendant’s table, his profile within Clisty’s gaze. She kept her iPad in her lap where she entered data as attorneys began their opening statements. She also began to draw in the sketch pad she had brought. What appeared on the paper was the side view of the man who, as far as Clisty was concerned, personified evil. As she listened to the testimony and mechanically penciled in details of the man—Ezra—she was suddenly aware of all the multitude of frowning, angry lines that filled his face. She decided to finish his sketch later. Flipped the page over, she began to sketch Fargo.
“In your own words,” Mr. Fargo, “please tell the jury the terms of the deal you made.”
Fargo turned slighted to look at each jury member, and then looked away. “I agreed to testify against Ezra Stratton in exchange for a reduced sentence for bank robbery.”
Stratton grabbed the side of the table, growling as he lunged across the surface, “You what?” he roared.
“Mr. Lubansky, please control your defendant,” the judge ordered.
“Sorry, Your Honor,”Lubansky said as he whispered to Stratton.
“What do you know about the kidnapping of Faith Sterling?” Fisher asked Fargo.
“Ezra and I were having coffee at Mary’s Coffee Place on the west side of Chicago, when he started crying. I asked him what was wrong. He said his little girl had just died.”
Lubansky stood up, “I object. Your Honor, what does the death of a child have to do with a kidnapping or bank robbery?”
“Mr. Fisher?” Judge Sheldon raised his eyebrows.
“Mr. Fargo was just about to tell us how all of this connects.” Fisher answered then turned back to his witness. “Mr. Stratton was upset over the death of his daughter?”
“Yeah ... yes. He said, his wife—“
“Objection,” Lubansky said again, “hearsay.”
“Withdraw,” Fisher responded. “Mr. Fargo, just tell us how the death of Mr. Stratton’s daughter affected you.”
“Ezra said his wife was so upset—”
“Your Honor!” Lubansky objected again.
“I’m going to let the witness finish. Then I’ll rule if it’s admissible. Continue Mr. Fargo.”
“Ezra asked me to go with him to Indiana to find another daughter for his wife. He said, his grandparents lived in Fort Wayne and he knew his way around.”
“Go on,” Fisher directed.
“When we got to Fort Wayne, we drove around for a while and finally spotted two girls out exploring alone. We followed them to a house and Stratton waited for a little while to see if he could tell if any adults were at home. He told me to get out and go around and look in the windows while he went to the front door. If I didn’t see anyone by the time I got back around to the front, I was to go to the truck and be ready when he came out. I saw him burst through the front door and come out a few minutes later with a girl tucked up under his arm. He threw her in the truck cab between us and we got out of there,” Fargo didn’t look at Stratton but kept his focus on Fisher.
“Now, can you tell us Stratton’s connection to the bank robbery?” Fisher asked.
“When I needed money I’d go over to Naperville, to Ezra’s place and get another payment for keeping my mouth shut about the kidnapping.”
“Did you know that Faith Sterling was still held captive in one of the upstairs rooms?”
“I didn’t want to know.”
“How did Mr. Stratton pay you?” Fished asked.
“Cash,” Fargo said and smiled. “I would only take cash so I didn’t have to endorse a check.”
“Do you know how much he gave you over the years?” Fisher asked and looked at the jury.
“Ezra knows every penny. He would take a book out of his big safe and write down every dime. I asked him where all that money came from and he said, ‘I’ve got a really good scam going. The Freedom Temple is as good as Fort Knox.’ He said everyone just hands over their money to him.”
“Hearsay,” Lubansky shouted.
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Lubansky,” Judge Sheldon spit back in a well-rehearsed tone. “We’ll check all his statements against the facts.”
“Do you know of any proof of your statements?” Fisher asked.
“Sure, Stratton loved to count his money over and over. He had it all written down in those books he kept.”
“So, each time you went to him, Stratton gave you cash for your silence?” Fisher paced back and forth in front of the witness stand like he was pondering the depth of Stratton crimes.
“No, not every time. A few times, he said he was getting tired of handing over his money to a taxi driver.”
“A taxi driver?” Fisher snapped back.
Fargo stole a glance at Stratton and quickly looked away. “Yeah, because all I did was drive the car. He said he’d planned out some robberies for me to pull to save him his cash.”
“Hearsay,” Lubansky objected with his hands spread in surrender.
“It’s not just my word,” Fargo protested. “I saved Ezra’s diagrams and instructions.”
Fisher took a manila envelope from the defense table and withdrew three pieces of paper. “I would like to enter these into the record as Exhibits A, B, and C.” He held up Exhibit A for Fargo to see. “Do you recognize this document?”
“Yes, Sir. That’s the first robbery Ezra planned for me.”
“Let the jury be aware that experts have analyzed the handwriting and are ready to testify that the handwriting matches Ezra Stratton’s,” Fisher said and handed the paper to Fargo.
“This paper shows the directions to a hardware store owned by Ezra’s uncle, Wade Dunlevy. Ezra said he had spent a summer in Fort Wayne with his grandparents and worked at the Hardware store. The writing says:
1. Payroll in store by Friday noon.
2. Most employees go to lunch between 1 pm and 2 pm. Store traffic down.
3. Money available to cash customer’s payroll checks.
4. That cash is in a vault in Dunlevy’s office.
5. This last set of numbers is the combination to the vault.
Fargo testified, “I was able to get in the store, ask Dunlevy to find a part I thought would be back in the store room, slip into the office while he was gone, open the safe and was out of there in minutes. I got five-thousand dollars with that job.”
Fisher looked at the jury. “So that paper is a complete instruction for the robbery at Dunlevy’s Hardware Store,” he repeated. “Again, let the jury be aware that all handwriting on the paper belongs to Ezra Stratton. The fingerprints are those of Stratton and Melvin Dean Fargo.” He placed the sheet of paper into evidence on the bar of the court.
“What about the robbery at Fort Wayne Bank?” He pulled out another exhibit and showed it to Fargo.
“Yes, those are Ezra’s directions to the bank, when to hit it and which teller to approach,” Fargo said with growing confidence.
“Why did Stratton identify a specific teller?” Fisher questioned.
“Because, she’s his cousin,” Fargo pointed accusingly at Stratton. “She had already been through a robbery at the bank before and Stratton said she was rattled. She had told the family if she was ever held up again, she wouldn’t be able to get the money to the robber fast enough and get him out of the bank,” Fargo sat back and finally relaxed a little.
Fisher faced the jury and waved the evidence in the air. “Let it be known that the facts of previous robberies and the name of the teller in both cases is indeed the second cousin of Ezra Stratton. All handwriting and fingerprints have been checked and corroborated.” Next, Fisher presented Exhibit C. “Tell us about this small piece, Mr. Fargo.”
Fargo took the three by five card in his hand and flipped it with his fingernail. “This one’s old, but I remember it.” He squirmed a little in the witness chair and cleared his throat. “See there, at the top, there’s a date. The date we drove from Illinois into Fort Wayne, Indiana to snatch Joslyn Stratton.”
“Let the court be aware that Joslyn’s name at the time of her abduction was Faith Sterling.” Then he turned back to the witness. “Go ahead, Mr. Fargo. Tell the court what the rest of the card says.”
“It’s a list,” Fargo explained. “It says:
1.       Leave - 9 a.m. sharp
2.      Take your gun
3.      Gas up the truck – it’s a long way to Fort Wayne
That’s it. Ezra liked to make lists and keep notes. It makes him seem more in control than others,” Fargo added.
 “Thank you. I’m finished with this witness,” Fisher said.
“You may step down, Mr. Fargo,” Judge Sheldon announced.
“I would like to call Faith Stratton,” Fisher announced.
Faith was sworn in, sat down, turned and caught Clisty’s eye.” She smiled faintly and refused to look at Stratton.
“Mrs. Stratton, tell us what happened to you when you were nine years old,” Fisher’s tone was calm and soothing.
“I was playing at my friend’s house, Clisty Sinclair’s, when the front door burst open and The Guardian broke in.”
“The Guardian?” Fisher questioned. “Is The Guardian here in this courtroom?”
Faith kept her eyes on Fisher, and then turned to the defendant. “That’s The Guardian, Ezra Stratton.”
“Will you tell the jury why you refer to Stratton as The Guardian?” Fisher asked.
“He kidnapped me and took me to his home in Naperville, Illinois. I never knew his name. I could call him, The Guardian and his wife, Lady. They forced me to live in one of the bedrooms upstairs. I never went outside. No one knew I was there except for Melvin Dean Fargo, but I didn’t know his name at the time either. I had a pillowcase over my head most of the way to Illinois and only got a glimpse of Fargo.”
Faith was on the witness stand for a long time. Then, she was cross examined by Lubansky.
“Mrs. Stratton, Ezra Stratton is your father-in-law isn’t he?” Lubansky asked with hostility in his voice.
“Yes, I guess he is.”
“You guess? Are you that confused?”
Fisher jumped up. “Your Honor, I object to the tone Mr. Lubansky is using. Faith has been through enough.”
“I’m sorry,” Lubansky apologized, and then turned back to her. “If you’re going to accuse a man of something he has a right to face you.” His voice rose and grew louder. “Take another look at the defendant. Can’t you face him?”
“Yes!” Faith hissed as she turned. “I can look at him, even though I was his child-slave, a phantom in his presence. He rarely talked to me except to yell and berate me. He never touched me except to beat me or slap me across the room, just as he did my daughter, his loving granddaughter, recently. I was a prisoner in his home. I never went to school or to the church he was the so-called Spiritual Leader in.” Her eyes flared and her cheeks grew red with anger. She stuck out her finger the full length of her arm. “There’s the man, my kidnapper, the man who illegally confined me for eighteen years and ... the guardian of ... nothing,” she yelled and stared Stratton down.
The people in the courtroom whispered between themselves. “He’s evil,” one of them said. “I’d like to get my hands on him,” a man muttered. The judge gaveled the room to silence.
“I have no more questions of this witness,” the defense attorney surrendered.
Faith stood up and waited for a few seconds while the anger, that had set her body shaking, settled down. She said nothing but held her head high and stared at Stratton as she walked passed him, touched Clisty on the shoulder as she passed and walked out of the courtroom.
“Would Mrs. Emily Stratton come to the stand?”
“What?” Lubansky jumped to his feet. “Side bar, please.”
Fisher and Lubansky came to the well of the court. “A woman cannot be forced to testify against her husband,” Lubansky protested.
“She isn’t being forced, Your Honor. And her words are not to accuse Ezra Stratton as much as they are to validate Faith Stratton’s testimony. Since Ezra would not allow anyone else in the house and Faith wasn’t permitted to go anywhere, Mrs. Emily Stratton, Faith’s little daughter Pooky, and Faith’s husband, who is now deceased, are the only people who could testify to her existence for the last eighteen years.”
Judge Sheldon ground his teeth and shot a side glance to Ezra. “If it is Mrs. Stratton’s desire to speak, I am certainly not going to stop her. Let the record stated that she is not required however.”
Emily Stratton came to the witness stand for swearing in. Her long hair, swept back from its peasant style, was fashioned into a soft cluster of curls gathered into a loose bun. As she sat down, the judge addressed her. “Mrs. Stratton, I need to ask you again if you have been forced or coerced into testifying against your husband, Ezra Stratton.”
“I was not coerced at all,” she said with her chin held high and defiance in her whisper-soft voice. She locked eyes with Ezra and did not release him from her gaze.
Stratton’s face grew hard and dark. His brows furrowed with deep menacing lines. Emily expression was defiant in the face of his silent intimidation.
“Tell me why you volunteered to testify today, Mrs. Stratton,” Fisher asked. He stood back from the witness stand. Both the jury and Ezra Stratton himself were within her gaze.
“I must testify to the presence of a wonderful child and beautiful daughter in my home. No one ever saw her ...” she started to sob and then swallowed hard regaining her voice. “But, I have to let everyone know she was there, hidden away, in our upstairs.” She looked at Ezra and snapped, “That hateful man, Ezra Stratton, brought Faith into our home, saying that he had adopted her in Indiana. He named her Joselyn and she never heard the name Faith again. In fact, Ezra never told her what her new last name was, Stratton. But, I’ll have to admit, once Joselyn came out of the shock of ripping her from her home and parents ... she told me something.” She looked back at Roma and Ralph. They were crying. “Joselyn did tell me that she had a mom and dad and that her name was Faith. I thought, or I wanted to think, that Jocelyn was just wishful-thinking, that she hadn’t gotten over the grief from the death of both of her parents. That’s what Ezra had told me.” Emily blew her nose and wiped tears from her eyes.
She continued. “Joselyn was a good girl, an inquisitive and smart girl. But, if she spoke up about anything ... that she didn’t like cauliflower for supper, Ezra would hit her, or even beat her. She was a prisoner in our home. Ezra called her his slave-child. A few times he told her that her parents didn’t die, that they had sold her to him. I cried myself to sleep many nights.”
“Why didn’t you protect her or get her out of there?” Fisher asked.
“I tried a couple of times. I was beaten and he told me that if I ever tried to run away with Joselyn, he would throw me out and keep Joselyn ... if I tried anything. Our own son Steven, who became Faith’s husband and Pooky’s father, could not stand up to him. If Steven said anything to anyone, his schooling would stop and he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. I had to get Ezra’s permission to leave the house every time, or even go out in the yard. I had no car. I didn’t know how to drive.” She cleared her throat and whispered. “Really, I guess we were all held captive by Ezra Stratton.”
Emily sipped from a glass of water, the prosecutor provided, and then handed it back. “Ezra wouldn’t let me call the doctor when Steven had a heart attack ... he was so young. Ezra said no one was coming in the house. He said, all we had to do was pray and if Steven died, it was our fault because we didn’t pray hard enough.”
“Were you at fault, Mrs. Stratton?” Fisher asked. “Did Steven die because you and Faith didn’t pray hard enough?”
“Of course not,” Emily stated with a small measure of confidence. “God has plans beyond anything we can understand. It was only because Steven died, and Ezra and I were at the funeral, that Joselyn and Pooky were alone in the house for a few hours.  God used Steven’s death to free Faith and my dear granddaughter. They were able to escape even though I couldn’t set them free.” She straightened her back and glared at Ezra Stratton.
The court buzzed again with whispers and tears. The judge did nothing to silence the room. Lubansky sat at the defense table and flipped his pen back and forth in his fingertips.

“I have no questions for this witness,” Lubansky said boldly. Stratton seethed, with his shoulders raised, like a mad dog, ready to attack. Lubansky didn’t even look at him.

Friday, September 2, 2016

News at Eleven - A Novel (Copyright 2015 Doris Gaines Rapp - 19th Serialized Segment)

“Oh,” Clisty grabbed Jake’s arm as her legs wilted under her.
“Are you alright?” Jake asked, as he put his arm around her before leaving Ralph and Roma’s house. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.
“I’m okay, I guess. But, I feel like I’m rattling inside.” She felt safe in Jake’s arms. All of the fear and adrenalin rush had reached its peak inside her mind and body, and hadn’t yet slipped down anywhere near a normal range. She didn’t want him to leave.
“You’ve experienced a traumatic event, Honey. Not many people have a Glock’s laser beam zeroed in on their forehead, especially not in a town where the only target is within the goal zone at the Coliseum. You’re going to be rattled for a while, shaken but not broken.” While still holding her in his arms, he rubbed her back and breathed with her, gradually slowing his pace, which steadied her panic-breathing.
While Jake comforted Clisty, Roma and Ralph reached out to Faith and Pooky. Becca directed Clint to film the moment.
“I’ve gotta go,” Jake whispered. “I need to start the interrogation and begin the paper work. Have dinner with me at seven?”
“Absolutely,” Clisty reached up and kissed him. It felt good to be open about the feelings she had hidden from herself and others. She felt released from the love-phobia, as she called it in her quiet moments alone, released from the need to control everything and everyone close to her. Would it last? Would control dictate her new position with the network, or would love finally win?
“Absolutely,” he winked and it sent a warm ripple down Clisty’s body. She knew his response had nothing to do with supper.
Becca placed Clint to the side of the group where he could get an angle shot on everyone. “Is everyone okay?” she asked. “As the producer, I’d like to film the deprogramming we need to do now. But,” she turned to Faith, “it is all up to you, Faith. I will not push you in any way.”
“I think we’re all okay,” Roma answered. “Faith, if you want to tell everyone what happened today, yesterday and all the yesterdays we lost, that is up to you. Talking about it might help you release some demons that continue to hold you captive. I will support anything you choose. And, yes, my dear, you do have choices.”
“Choices ... wow. I have choices. I can’t remember having a choice in anything. Not since Clisty and I tried to decide which bike path to take to the park. It feels like I can stand up a little taller. Or, ride a little farther,” Faith exhaled heavily, slowly and smiled at Clisty. She sat on one of the side chairs and pulled Pooky onto her lap.
“You were both very brave today,” Roma said as she went to them and kissed their cheeks.
“Okay, Clint,” Becca directed, “you can film. As much as you can, Faith, just ignore the camera ... you too, Pooky.”
Clisty sat on the couch and leaned on her knees. “Faith, when you first came back to Fort Wayne, you were nearly empty, helpless, hopeless, and weak. Today, you were on the attack. How did all that change so fast?”
“I could feel the difference. When I was in that other house, in that other town ... what did you call it?”
Clisty looked at Roma and Ralph. Baffled by so many inconsistencies, she struggled to understand Faith’s word-gaps. “Naperville, Faith. You lived in Naperville for eighteen years.” She shook her head as she tried to understand.
“I was never in Naperville, though,” Faith reminded her. “I was never out of my upstairs room, then two rooms with my husband, Steven, except an occasional meal downstairs. When I left the black house, I was completely confused, disoriented, lost, both emotionally and physically. I had just lost Steven.”
“How did you know what direction to go when you got to the end of the sidewalk outside your front door?” Clisty asked.
“I didn’t. Steven had driven Pooky to school for two weeks, and he had gone the same way each time. She remembered how to get to the highway. I like to think her Daddy was showing her the way out.”
Clisty was proud of Pooky. “You helped save yourself and your mom, Pooky. You remind me of your mother when she was your age. Full of adventure, ready to take on the world.”
“I do?” Pooky asked with wide, smiling eyes.
“You sure do.” Clisty thought for a moment and directed a question to her. “Pooky, your grandma and I haven’t been with your mom for a long time. Have you ever seen her act with such courage before?”
“Sure. She was always talking back to The Guardian—to Grandpa. He used to hit her for not minding him or for sassing him, but she never cried. It scared me, though.” Pooky started to cover her face, and then she grabbed her mother’s arm and squeezed it as those memories still seemed to have the power to frighten her.
“Why do you think she sassed him?” Clisty asked while Clint adjusted the lens for a close up.
“Daddy was so sick and The Guardian wouldn’t call the doctor. Daddy kept holding his chest. He wrinkled up his face and it looked like he hurt. I cried, but Mama screamed at Grandpa.” Pooky’s eyes filled with tears.
“Did your daddy get well?” Clisty asked, while Pooky’s grandparents showed their own sorrow.
“No. Grandpa said to pray for him. He said if Mama didn’t pray hard enough, Daddy would die and it would be her fault.” Pooky collapsed in Faith’s arms. “Daddy died,” she sobbed.
“You both know it wasn’t your mother’s fault, don’t you?” Clisty asked with an edge of anger to her voice. She could not understand how anyone could put so much guilt on someone else, especially a child.
“I know,” Pooky looked up. “It was Guardian’s fault!”
“Do you accept that, Faith? Do you know it wasn’t your fault?”
“I know it wasn’t my fault,” Faith said as she smiled. “Mama Roma taught me to pray and prayed with me since I was a baby,” she smiled at her mother. “I know how to pray. God must have had other plans for Steven, other than mine.”
“Why didn’t you go to his funeral, Faith?” Clisty continued her interview.
“I was never allowed to leave the house. The funeral was just one more place I couldn’t go to, as far as The Guardian was concerned. But, it would have meant a lot to Pooky and me if we could have said our goodbyes.”
Clisty knew she had to ask the hard question. “Faith, for the ride back to Indiana, how did you happen to accept a ride from Melvin Dean Fargo, of all people?”
“Because, of all the people, his was the only face I recognized. In the whole world outside the stone house, there was only one face that looked familiar to me. It was Melvin Dean Fargo’s face. Pooky and I had walked up to the main road and saw a filling station. There was a man inside a pickup truck, and I recognized him. I didn’t know how I knew him. He just seemed familiar. I asked him if he was going to Indiana and if we could ride. He said okay, but first he’d have to make a phone call. He called from a small phone in his hand but he said no one was home,” Faith recalled, as if she saw the pictures in her head.
“He may have been calling Stratton, but his cell phone would have been off due to the funeral,” Clisty said as she began to put some of the threads together.
“He tried to call several more times.” Then she remembered he had talked to her a little. “‘Do you have any money?’ he asked. I said no, we have nothing. He said, ‘Then, I’ll have to go to the bank again in a few days?’”
“Again?” Clisty asked. “Are you sure he said, ‘again’?”
“I heard him too,” Pooky assured her. “I know he said, again.”
“Do you remember having seen Fargo before?” Clisty hoped to pull another piece of the case out of the back of Faith’s memory. Each clue seemed to reach like centipede legs back to the original kidnapping, so long ago.
“No, I just knew he looked familiar,” she said with growing confidence.
“Faith, Emily Stratton, the woman you called Lady, would like to see you and Pooky. The important thing is, are you ready to see her?” Clisty looked from Faith to Roma. She hoped she had not alienated Roma, a solid supporter for the Heartland story. The full telling of the tale expanded far beyond the bank robbery. “Roma, what do you think?”
“Faith ...” she started slowly, “this morning, I’ve seen how strong you have become. It sounds like you always were—standing up to Stratton.” She took Ralph’s hand. “Here in our home, your home, you are free to go anywhere you want to go. And ... if you want to see Emily and if you want us to meet her, your dad and I can go with you.”
Faith took a deep breath and words tumbled out. “Yes, oh please yes. That would be wonderful.” She stopped and rubbed her hand together. “Mama, I have to make you believe that I always called that woman, Lady. You were, and always be, my only mother, my mama. I thought about you and Daddy every day of my life.”

• • • • •

“Thank you for arranging our meeting with Emily Stratton, Detective Davis,” Clisty spoke into the camera in a conference room at the police station. “As we have reported over the last few evenings, our story began when the image of Faith Sterling appeared on the ATM surveillance camera outside Fort Wayne Bank. Recognized as the woman, kidnapped from Fort Wayne at nine years of age, by Ezra Stratton, Faith Sterling escaped and made her way back home.  Melvin Dean Fargo, the self-confessed robber of Fort Wayne Bank, was the accomplice to the kidnapping and was a friend of Stratton’s. Faith lived in Illinois as the captive-daughter of Ezra and Emily Stratton.” Clisty walked over to the large table, opposite Faith, so they could both be in the scene. “We have met here today in a neutral setting so Faith can have the opportunity to confront Emily Stratton. She is the person Faith called ‘Lady’ the entire eighteen years the Strattons held her captive. Faith’s parents, Ralph and Roma Sterling are here with her. They will join us in a moment.” Clisty turned from the camera to Emily.
Clisty faced the woman who sat on the other side of the table from Roma and Ralph. “Thank you for coming, Mrs. Stratton. I know you have wanted to see Faith and her daughter since you came to Fort Wayne. Will you tell the audience what you called Faith during those years?” Clisty was warm yet professional.
“We called Faith, Joselyn. Of course I wanted to see her. She’s my daughter,” Emily stated with a sweet smile on her face.
“I understand that’s what you think, Mrs. Stratton,” Clisty said firmly. “You do know, however, if you call Faith, ‘your daughter,’ or use the name, ‘Jocelyn,’ she will leave the room.”
Emily looked down at the table. “Yes, I hear you.”
Clisty was ready when Jake brought Roma and Ralph into the room. “Mrs. Stratton, Faith wanted her parents to be with her. They have come in first so you can meet them before their daughter comes into the room. This is Roma and Ralph Sterling.”
Emily looked at both of them, her mouth open in apparent surprise. Stunned, she said nothing at first and then stood. “I ... am so sorry.” She started to explain. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know that Joselyn had living parents ... that she had been kidnapped.”
“We understand that,” Ralph said, his body tense. “Her name is Faith. It always has been. Faith was kidnapped; Faith was missing; and, Faith has returned, on her own, not from anything you did to help her.” He and Roma sat down at the end of the table.
“Yes, Mr. Sterling,” Emily spoke with humility. “I am sorry to say, I agree. I didn’t help her,” she hung her head and didn’t make eye contact, “even though she told me she had parents in Fort Wayne.”
“You knew?” Roma lunged in the woman’s direction. Ralph tugged gently on Roma’s shirt sleeve and patted her back as she settled again in her chair.
“Yes, I knew what the child told me, but my husband said something else.” Her body grew tense and she wrung her hands. “I didn’t know who to believe and … I wanted to keep her,” she whispered.
Jake opened the conference room door. “Are you ready for Faith?”
“I don’t know,” Clisty spoke with control and authority. “You all tell me. Are you ready for Faith to come in? I will demand that she not be upset or I will shut this meeting down. Any uproar might make good TV, but I will not permit it at Faith’s expense.”
“Yes, yes,” Emily begged. “Please, don’t blame me for Ezra’s crimes. I was his captive, too. Now, I just want to see her.” Her voice broke under the emotion that was evident in her tears.
“Alright,” Roma answered and stared at the broken woman beside her.
Faith came in the room, hesitantly. She looked at her parents and then at Emily. “Mama, Daddy,” she said as she sat opposite Emily and beside her parents. “Lady,” she nodded an acknowledgement. “Are you alright?”
“I’m okay, Jos—” she stopped quickly, “Faith. Are you okay? How is Pooky?”
“She’s fine. She wants to see you.” Faith twisted a childhood handkerchief she held in her hands. Embroidered little red roses were in one corner, a symbol from her lost childhood she could hold onto.
“Pooky wants to see me?” Emily started to reach for Faith’s hands then pulled back. “Faith,” she looked at the woman she had called daughter for eighteen years, “I want you to know, I had absolutely no idea that Ezra had kidnapped you. He told me he had adopted you.”
“I told you!” Faith whispered forcefully. “Why didn’t you believe me? Why did you pretend to love me but not let me call you Mom? Why did I have to call you Lady?” Faith had sadness in her voice, not anger. Those were surprising emotions to Clisty. She didn’t think she was past the anger herself and she had only lived the memory. Faith had lived the tragedy.
“You wanted to call her Mom or Mother?’ Clisty asked.
“Not Mother. I had a mother. And, not Mama,” she looked at Roma and took her hand. “But, I needed to have someone who claimed me. I needed a mom, even if she wasn’t my mom.”
“I know, Faith. You’re right,” Emily admitted. “Lady was all you could call me. Ezra said I had to keep a wall between us. He said you might die like our first daughter did. He said it wouldn’t hurt us as much if it happened again, if we didn’t get close to you. Ezra was so controlling. He controlled you, me, Steven, everyone and everything.”
“Was I actually married to Steven?” Faith asked, shaking her head in disbelief. “Lady, I had no last name.”
“Yes, Ezra had a license to marry people. You and Steven were married and your marriage license was filed and recorded properly.”
“Did I sign it? I don’t remember,” Faith threw her head back in frustration and confusion.
“Yes, you signed it,” Emily said. “Don’t you remember? Ezra always had a way of manipulating people so they didn’t know what they were doing. You signed, Joselyn and then Ezra spilled some water on the document. He said, ‘That’s okay. When it’s dry, you can finish it.’ He put it in his office and signed Stratton for you the next day and mailed it in.”
“But my name has never been Joselyn Stratton. The wrong name is on my marriage license,” Faith put her head in her hands and leaned on the table. “If the authorities agree that I was Joselyn Stratton at the time I signed the marriage license, then my real name would be Faith Stratton. Is it all a lie?”
“We’ll contact our attorney the first time his office is open, and see if we can get it all straightened out,” her dad assured her. “You loved Steven and Pooky loved her daddy. That’s all you need to know now. None of that is a lie, Faith.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sterling,” Emily said as she turned to them. “That means a lot to me that Steven is honored. He loved them both so much.” Again she had to blot tears from her eyes.
“It’s not for you, Ma’am,’ Ralph barked. “It’s for the girls.”
“I know,” Emily said apologetically.
The door opened a crack and a small voice came from the other side. “Can I come in?” Pooky asked softly as she stuck her head through the small opening.
“Are we ready for the little miss?” Clisty asked Faith.
“Sure,” Faith said as she turned around and reached out her arms to her daughter. “Come on in, Honey.”
Pooky hugged her mom and sat down beside her. She looked over at the Sterlings. “Grandma!” she squealed, jumped up, ran around the table and embraced her. She stepped back a little, still holding on to Roma. “Did you see her? My other grandma is here, too?”
“Yes,” Roma answered her granddaughter. “We’ve been talking.”
“Do I need to hate her? I will if you want me to,” she asked with probing eyes. “Or, is it okay if I love her too?” Pooky asked without turning toward Emily. “’Cause if I’m supposed to hate her, I’ll pretend she isn’t here.”
Roma choked and cleared her throat as tears streamed down her face. “There has been enough living like a ghost, Baby. It’s like people look right through you,” she patted Pooky’s cheek. “Yes, sweetheart, as long as your Grandma Emily loves you and treats you right, it is perfectly alright for you to love her, too. We can never have too many people in our lives who love us.”
“Oh good,” Pooky squealed as she ran to Emily and threw her arms around her. “I missed you Grandma.”
Emily could not control her emotions and dropped her head into Pooky’s shoulder. “I missed you too, Baby,” she cried.
Faith smiled at the closeness of her daughter and Lady. She didn’t join in the embrace. Instead, she went around behind her own parents and embraced them with eighteen years’ worth of love.
“Cut, I think that’s enough for now,” Becca said as she wiped her own eyes.
As soon as the filming stopped, Clisty’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and decided she needed to take the call. She got up from the table, went over to the window and put a finger to her free ear. “Hello, Clisty Sinclair.”
“This is Bradley Funderbird in New York,” a voice said. “Your local station was able to connect the interview you just had with Faith, her parents and Mrs. Stratton.”
“Oh yes. Becca was hoping that the feed would be able to reach you without actually broadcasting at this time,” Clisty said. “How did it come through?”
“It was great. Our offer to you is firm. Regardless of how Ezra Stratton’s trial turns out, and we do want you to be there to report it, we are offering you a weekly segment on our Network News Magazine, titled, Stories from the Heartland. We would feed story ideas to you that come in to our New York office from the middle of the country, with an emphasis on wholesome, upbeat, down-to-earth people and how they manage to overcome the difficulties that are present in today’s society.”
“Sir,” she gasped, “that is wonderful.” She looked at Jake, “Can you give me a little while to decide?”
“Of course. I’ll have to admit, I don’t know what you have to decide. This is a promotion, Clisty. You have to seize the opportunity when it comes. It may not come again.”
“I know, Sir, but so much has happened.” Clisty studied Faith’s face and looked again at Jake. She had been afraid to love and let people get close enough for her to experience messy, complicated relationships since Faith disappeared. Now Faith was back and Clisty’s emotions were set free to experience feelings she wondered if she would ever have. With Jake, maybe—
“I think a good time to respond would be after Stratton’s trial,” Funderbird said with a voice of authority. “That will wrap up that first network story you are doing. Here in New York, we’ll start gathering the story leads. The segments will run, with you or with someone else, Clisty.”
“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Funderbird,” she said as she looked up and saw Jake listening to her end of the conversation. “Please, go ahead and send the ideas as you receive them. I would like to have the opportunity to see if I can relate to any of them.”
“I certainly will do that, Clisty,” Funderbird said. Clisty pressed “end call” on her screen.
Jake threw his hand to his chest in a disclaiming gesture. “I was not eavesdropping, Babe. You were talking in front of us and—“
“Honey,” Clisty laughed,” I know you weren’t trying to listen in on my conversation. You couldn’t help but hear it.”
“Funderbird? Interesting name. Who’s he, if I may ask?”
“That’s okay.” She leaned into Jake and rested her head on his chest. “Bradley Funderbird is the president of the network.”
“In New York?”
“In New York City,” she said and kissed his cheek.