Saturday, December 30, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 14

Chapter 14
“Do I have everything?” Clisty mumbled in the middle of her living room. “Maybe I’d better check it all again.” Compulsively, she ticked off her list over and over, multiple times until she willed herself to stop. That didn’t put an end to her anxiety however. “Maybe I’d better—” She stopped herself. “I’m ready. I have to let it go.” She hung her head down, let her hands and arm swing freely, and let the blood rush to her head. She needed energy but not the kind of energy generated from nerves.
The next day was the day the quest was to begin. Clisty spent the evening staging her gear in the living room. She had finally put aside her fear of failure and put on success. Like an alter personality, her confident-self took over more frequently in recent days.
She had packed a zippered binder with all of her hand notes, laptop and iPad. She packed a travel bag with night shirt, make-up, a change of clothes and other toiletries. She was determined to take everything she needed and not stew about what she might have left behind. If they had to stay over, she would be ready.
Clisty heard an assigned cell ringtone. “Good Morning, Becca,” she sang.
“I wanted you to know, I’ve made studio arrangements,” she said excitedly. “I called North Central College’s NCTV17 in Naperville. They have a link to Naperville Community Television. If necessary, you can broadcast from that remote location for the six o’clock news and the news at eleven.” The tone of her voice bubbled. “It feels like this trip is falling into place.”
“That’s great, Becca! Your producer side is producing.” She laughed and said, “I’m ready. I’ll be there shortly.”
Clisty lifted her jacket from the hall tree, gathered up her gear and carried it out to her parking space. She was excited as she loaded everything and hopped in her car that sunny morning and pointed it toward the studio. So much had turned in the right direction. First, Faith was finally home. So far, she was just a reasonable facsimile of the Faith she would have been if she had grown up in Fort Wayne and gone on treasure hunts with Clisty. But, for now, Clisty would celebrate that she was home. Second, a new job came out of a dream she never knew she had. Her fantasy was to be a news anchor at a local station and balance that with a home, husband and children. Third, but certainly not the last of her blessings, there was Jake Davis. She pulled into the station parking lot just as her dream fully formed into the face of the police detective. “Hold that thought,” she told herself. She hopped out of the car and hurried into the building.
“Jake Davis just called before you got here,” Clint told Clisty as she walked into the newsroom.
“You said more in those eight words than I usually hear you speak in a week,” she smiled as she slapped him on the shoulder.
“Then, I’d say …,” Clint paused and thought, “I’m done.”
“Well, what did Jake have to say?” Clisty coaxed.
“Okay, these next words are free, no charge. He said he’d be here in a few minutes. He was just leaving.” Clint threw back his head and laughed. “You and Becca are the only people who think I don’t talk much. My wife says I never shut up.”
“This could be a long trip,” Becca rolled her eyes at Clisty.
“Okay, it’s about a hundred-and-sixty miles over there and should take us three and a half hours,” Clisty calculated. “It’s ... eight fifteen. If Jake gets here in the next fifteen minutes, we should get to Naperville about noon. The school should be nearing the end of their lunch schedule by then.”
“No, the beginning of the rotation,” Jake said from behind her.
Clisty jumped. “You startled me,” she moaned with a smile on her face. She was glad Jake was back to his joking self.
“I heard what you were saying when I came in,” Jake joined in. “Illinois is on Central time, so we’ll get there around eleven o’clock, our twelve, just as they start their lunch cycle.” He held up a dark brown duffle. “I have my go-bag in case we need to stay over. No one’s waiting for me. Are you all ready to go?”
“I think we are, complete with travel bag and two pair of shoes, walking and sitting.” Clisty patted the colorful print on her duffle. “I was thinking,” she admitted as she hoisted her bag to her shoulder, “all of our plans may change, depending on what we find. We may have to leave Naperville in a hurry.”
“Is that a premonition?” Becca asked with measured gaze.
“No … logic. So far, everyone, including my memory as a child, has reported that The Guardian is a very mean and dangerous man.” Her eyes narrowed. “We may have to cut our trip short. We might even have to go back some other time to finish our investigation. For now, let’s agree to error on the side of caution.”
“I agree one-hundred percent,” Jake said and the others added a firm. “Yes.”
The four gathered all their personal baggage and the station gear and took it all out to the van. Becca helped Clint load the camera and other equipment.
“I’ll drive, Clint, so you can get some shots out the window when we get near Chicago.” Becca put the station van keys in the ignition.
“Sure,” Clint nodded. “That makes sense. Besides, you usually don’t relinquish your control
“Are you saying I’m controlling,” she snapped?
“I’m saying I’ll be happy to film the trip,” he said and settled back into his usual elective mute self. He hopped up into the co-piolet’s seat; that left Clisty and Jake in the back.
“Have you planned a route?” Becca pulled to the edge of the parking lot and waited for driving instructions.
“We’ll take US 30 northwest out of Fort Wayne,” Clisty thought out loud. “I think that may have been the way they went.” She checked the map again. “Darla said she escaped when her kidnapper got out of the truck before he merged onto I-65, off US 30.”
“I wish I could fluff my pillow and curl into a kitten ball,” Becca sighed. “But, some people say drivers can’t do that.”
In the back seat, there was an uncomfortable silence. Clisty watched the scenes pass by outside her window but nothing caught her eye. Jake was silently surveying the view on the right. So far, Clisty had been very cautious about exposing their rapidly budding relationship. She knew too many workers can flood the garden when they all decide to water it. The longer they sat motionless, the louder the silence between them became.
“I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.
“About what?” Jake questioned from his side of the car, actually a mile away in emotional measurement.
“I guess I was thinking out loud ... never mind.” She didn’t look at Jake, although it felt like he had fixed his eyes on her, even though she knew he had turned his head away.
The energy between them was alive with magnetism. There was a force that neither could deny. Jake reached over and took Clisty’s hand. She wanted to fold herself in his arms and lay her head on his shoulder; but, her own professionalism didn’t permit back seat cuddling. She stole a look at him and his eyes were so full of raw feelings, she blushed. There were things to say, but that was neither the time nor the place. 
• • • • • 
They followed Route 30 West for one-hundred seventeen miles, and then connected to I-65 and drove north to Gary. It would have been a shorter route to by-pass Chicago and go directly to Naperville, but, they weren’t on a family outing. They had video to take to accompany the story of Faith’s journey to freedom.
Gary, Indiana appeared as busy and frantic as usual from the highway that rose up above the chaos. “I know we are taking the long way,” Clisty said as she watched the route out the windshield and side windows. “But, we want Clint to get some good video of Chicago.” In Gary they took I-80/90 toward Chicago.
Becca pointed to a sign down the highway. “Look, at the next exit there’s a Starbucks. Let’s stop there, get something to drink, and Clint can film us and the area.” As she neared the exit, they all straightened up, stretched and cleared their eyes. “I’ll pick something up for you while you film, Clint. What do you want?”
“Straight up coffee, black,” he said as he unpacked his equipment in preparation for filming. He had stowed the shoulder-held camera bag beside him in the van.
When they stopped, Jake jumped out, came around the van and took Clisty’s hand as she stepped out onto the ground, freshly washed by a light spring rain. “Are you tired?” he asked.
“Thank you kind Sir,” she remarked about the gallantry. Then she denied, “No, I’m too excited to be tired. Besides, if I admitted it, I’m afraid I’d fall over where I stand.” She wiggled and twisted as she walked to the door, hoping to fully wake up.
Inside the store, Clisty bought her usual, café mocha. “I’m out of my element,” she said as she sipped a little of the whipped cream off the top. “It feels safer to stick with what I know.”
“And you’re considering a move to New York City?” Becca’s eyes popped. “Illinois makes you uncomfortable and you’re debating the merits of moving to New York?”
“I know,” Clisty sighed, “I hear ya. I don’t want to think about that adjustment right now, but … I hear ya.”
Jake smiled, rolled his eyes and ordered a vanilla cream steamer, made with half-and-half and plenty of whipped cream on the top. Since ten pounds wouldn’t even appear on his slim frame, he ordered a venti. They took their cups and went back to the van.
“Okay, Clint” Becca said as she placed her coffee in the cup holder. “If you took enough video of this area, we’ll press on. We’ll be passing by Chicago in a little while. Have your camera ready.”
As they drank their coffee and moved along toward Chicago, Clint filmed some of the tall buildings of the city before they turned west on I-88. “I got some good stuff,” Clint said.
At I-88 they dropped south on Route 34. “Good,” Clisty said as she checked the map, “this places us on the north side of Naperville.”
They traveled over two-hundred miles, due to their detour into the Chicago area, which brought them to the circular driveway of Principal Mitchel’s elementary school around noon, Indiana time. Becca parked in a student-pickup spot and hopped out. Clint got out and positioned the camera, while Clisty jumped from the van and took a reporters position in front of the double school doors.
Clisty pointed to the sign with the school name over the door. “Make sure that the school name is not in focus and there are no children in the background. We simply cannot invade their privacy. Besides, identifying the school doesn’t advance the story in any way. These people have only been helpful.”
“Okay, Clint, send a link to my tablet so I can see your lens view,” Becca said as she touched the screen on her iPad. Quickly the scene in front of the school popped up on her tablet. “I can still see the school name, Clint. Pan down a little.” She studied the screen. “Good, hold it there.”
A man with a closely clipped graying beard walked out of the school and approached the crew. “I saw the name of your station on the side of your van,” he said as he reached out his hand to Clisty.
“You must be Principal Mitchel, Sir,” she greeted him. “I’m Clisty Sinclair.”
“Mr. Mitchel,” Becca reached out and shook his hand, “I’m Rebecca Landers, producer-director of the six and eleven o ‘clock WFT news broadcasts.” She stepped beside him and offered to share her e-tablet. “I can show you the angle we are taking.” She offered him an opportunity to peruse the view finder.
“Oh, that looks fine,” Mitchel said. “That could be any elementary school in Illinois. When the children go out for recess, they will go out the back doors. All play areas are behind the school.”
“Mr. Mitchel, have you found any other information about Pooky Jones?” Jake asked and extended his hand. “I’m Jake Davis, a Fort Wayne police detective.”
“Detective, I’m glad to meet you.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ve been thinking about Pooky Jones and the Freedom Temple since you called. May I ask what all of this is about?”
“We can tell you what the Fort Wayne viewers have already been told. First, the bank robbery,” Clisty nodded at Jake to let him answer the police questions.
When Jake and the WFT crew brought Principal Mitchel up to date, he was silent. “Right here in our own town ... and no one knew.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Sir,” Clisty empathized. “I’ve blamed myself for many years. The Guardian kidnapped Pooky’s mother right out of my living room when we were both nine years old. He jerked her out of my hand, and all I could do was run and hide.” Clisty cleared her throat and regained her composure. “I’ve learned that evil gets its way sometimes, but when good people can put a stop to it, they do.”
“I’ve noticed you have had the camera rolling for a while.” The principal was thoughtful for a moment. “You don’t need to use my name. The story isn’t about me or this school. It has taught me that we have to be on watch for all of our children. In the building in which I did my student teaching, the teachers made a home visit to each of their student’s homes. I have tried to do that here. When the teacher called to set up a time to make a home visit, the parents of the child in question immediately pulled her out of school. I will instruct my teachers to report any similar incidents that may happen. Social services or a school psychologist should follow up with a home visit of their own. We have to assume the parents have something to hide, until an inquiry proves another cause for withdrawing the child.”
“Can the school psychologist do that, if a child is no longer enrolled?” Jake asked with legal issues in mind.
“That’s a good question. We’ll check with our legal department. I know CPS can make a contact. For the school, at a minimum, a teacher could offer information about home schooling guidelines and perhaps, a list of programs a home-schooled child can participate in, within the public school system. Whether the child is in the school community or not, they could still be part of the educational outreach of the school.”
“So, as a principal, you’re not against home schooling?” Clisty asked, and then pointed the microphone back to Mitchel.
“There are many reasons why home schooling is a better option for a particular child. The neighborhood can still offer group sports, band and choir participation, and many other in-school and out-of-school activities. Classes with science labs also come to mind.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Clisty said then turned to the camera. “That is the first in our kaleidoscope of vignettes that will tell the story from the heartland about a child who was lost and has now been found.”
Once the camera was off, Clisty asked, “Can you tell us where the Freedom Temple is or a good guess as to its location?”
Principal Mitchel brightened, “I am honored to tell you what I know. It sounds like The Guardian is not a protector of children.” He stroked his beard. “There is a plot of land out in the country all of us have wondered about. There are quite a few acres and it sits off the road. The buildings aren’t as visible from the road when the trees are full; but you should be able to see it now since the full foliage isn’t out yet. It has a fence around it.”
“Can you give us directions?” Jake asked.
“Go down about five miles, turn left on Old Mill Road and follow it ... here, let me jot it down.” Principal Mitchel took a business card from his pocket and sketched out the location. “There you are,” he said as he handed it to Clisty. “Now, I have to get back in, so my secretary can go to lunch.”
“Thank you so much,” she said and waved.
After the principal went back inside, Clisty’s was unable to pass as Jake stepped into her space. She looked toward the school and whispered to Jake without looking at him. “There are a lot of kids watching us Jake. We’re the big TV stars, I guess; although, I feel like Grandma’s Pooky who needs a hug.”
“I’ll be happy to provide the arms for that hug,” he said with a smile.
“Don’t forget that offer,” she said as she waved at the excited, curious children at the school windows.
“I plan to always have ready arms,” he whispered low enough Becca and Clint wouldn’t hear.
Clisty took him by the hand and walked around to the other side of the van. She checked the school for visibility then threw herself into his arms. He didn’t withhold a single unit of kinetic energy. Clisty received his love and covered his face in kisses.
“Does this mean that you have changed your mind about the network’s offer?” Jake’s voice was raspy with the strength of his passion for her.
She pulled back and studied his face. “No. I haven’t decided. But, are you saying you won’t accept my love ... unless I turn the network down?”
“Are you two ready?” Becca asked as she got into the van.
“Yes,” Clisty snapped as she pulled away from him.
“No, we’re not,” Jake insisted and took her arm.
“Jake, don’t,” she sighed.
“Honey ... okay,” he threw up his hands in surrender. “Just know, I did not say that at all, because that’s not what I meant.”
She stopped and placed her hand softly over Jake’s heart but could not meet his eyes. She didn’t move on but stood there for a moment.
Jake put his hand on top of hers and caressed her fingers. “Can we at least say this conversation isn’t over?” Jake asked.

“You bet your shinny badge it’s not over,” she said, looked into his eyes and felt his fire.

Friday, December 22, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 13

Chapter 13

The April sky greeted Clisty when she finally awakened the next morning. She stretched until the tiny kinks that stiffened her back gave up, let go and surrendered to her rhythmic twists.
“Good morning, day,” she said as she shifted her feet off the bed and onto the floor. It would be an exciting day. She was confident that their research would find a clue that would lead them to The Guardian and his Lady, or the devil and his consort, which she thought was a much better description.
Even though she still wore her sleeping shorts and oversized t-shirt, she was compelled to get at her quest. A splash of water on her face and a tooth brush across her teeth, a habit she was unable to break no matter how much she wanted to skip it on busy mornings at home, and she was ready to open her laptop.
The familiar stream of coffee dripping into the pot on the kitchen counter was a welcome sound with an intoxicating aroma. The timer on the maker had been set the night before and now the fragrance was filling her apartment with a heavenly perfume. She used the seconds it took for her computer to boot-up to slip across the room and fill her cup. She was just putting it down on the end table beside the couch when her cell phone rang.
“Hello,” she spoke into her smart phone, a little annoyed by the interruption—annoyed until she heard Jake’s voice.
“Well, you’re up earlier than I imagined.”
“If you thought I was still asleep, why did you call?” she teased.
“I’m at your mercy, My Lady. I have no come-back for that logical question.”
His voice was warm and creamy which prompted Clisty to remember the whole milk in the refrigerator. With her phone tucked under her chin, she took her cup back to the open kitchen and poured a little milk in her coffee.
“Have you been able to do any research on the location of the Freedom Temple?” she asked while stirring the creaminess into her java. She tried to make a fancy swirl on the top but decided that was a talent better left to coffee emporium artists.
“No, not I,” Jake’s voice dropped off with a sigh. “The Captain has me working on the bank robbery case. We want to make sure we can charge our man, Melvin Dean Fargo, with armed robbery in addition to kidnapping and Criminal Confinement. Rhodes is searching old files first. Then, he’ll hit the computer.”
“Okay, Jake. If I have a question I’ll call the station and talk to Jeremy.”
“Jeremy? Are you two on a first name basis now?” His voice was light and digging.
“Yes, Jeremy and I go way back ... almost a week now.” She laughed and picked up her cup.
“It’s not too early for your coffee, I hear by the sipping sound,” Jake said. “I’m sitting here at my desk, doodling coffee cups on a post-a-note. Now, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking of Faith’s eyes, so sad, so empty and alone.” He stopped. “Well, maybe not. She does seem to be stronger every time I see her.” He paused, “How about ... I meet you for an early lunch, about 11:30? Maybe ... that new place we saw over near Jefferson Point Mall.”
“That sounds wonderful.” She placed her cup on the end table and smiled. There was a light layer of dust on the dark wood, not a lot, but … it was there. The more amazing point was … Clisty didn’t care—not a whit. With the tip of her finger, she drew a happy face and laughed.
“You sound happy.” Jake had a smile in his voice.
“I am.” Her finger drew a curled mustache on her artistic dust-face. “I think I have just conquered an old fear,” she shouted with glee, and turned her attention to the research. She ran her finger over the computer mouse pad and logged on. “I’ll tell you what I find at lunch. See you there.”
They said their goodbyes as Clisty turned to her glowing screen. First, she typed in the name, Melvin Dean Fargo. One site listed his age, fifty-seven; towns he had lived in, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, and a couple of small towns in Tennessee; where he worked, where he studied and people to whom he was related.
“Chicago,” she spoke into the empty apartment. “Okay, not west of Chicago, as Darla’s driver/kidnapper had said.”
“What about schools in Wheaton and Naperville,” she continued to talk aloud as she changed her search input information and started along another thread. She quickly came upon each of the elementary schools in the two towns, their addresses and phone numbers. She jotted down the names in Wheaton and contact information. Next, she typed in research parameters for elementary schools in Naperville. She identified each primary school and saved their “contact us” data. After writing it all down on a small note pad, she picked up her cell phone. Beginning a “rule out” search, she called each school, in the order she had written the data.
Using a methodic research method, she wrote out a short script so she was sure to ask the same questions of each school.
1.     She would introduce herself and the TV station she represents.
2.     Her next question would be; was a student, by the name of Pooky Jones, enrolled there recently?
3.     Then, she would ask if the school had a mascot.
4.     Finally, she would find out if there is a church, named the Freedom Temple, anywhere in the area.
She got through the first two Wheaton schools with no success. Now, the phone was ringing at the third. She introduced herself and then asked her first question.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We do not give out the name of our students over the phone. If you want to bring in a written request, our principal may release that information since you said the child no longer attends here.” The school secretary sounded sympathetic but could not bend the rules.
“Does the school have a mascot? Or, can you give me the mascot of the high school?”
“Wheaton North’s mascot is the Falcon. Wheaton Warrenville South’s mascot is the Tiger.”
That doesn’t line up, she thought. Then she asked, “Is there a church called the Freedom Temple in your area?” She held her breathe.
“I wouldn’t call the Freedom Temple a church,” the secretary drew out.
“So there is an organization called the Freedom Temple in Wheaton?” Clisty wondered if she had heard correctly.
“No, it’s not here. A group by that name has been in the news from time to time.”
“The news?” Why didn’t I research that so-called church first?
“There have been newspaper and TV stories about several people, I think two women and a man, who told police they had wanted to leave the church and were told they couldn’t.” The secretary talked in hushed tones, like someone would if they were sharing gossip.
“Do you know why they couldn’t just ignore whoever told them they had to stay? What was their name, the person who told them they couldn’t stop attending the church?”
“The Guardian. He’s called, The Guardian. He manages to have all his followers sign over their home, their bank accounts, even their retirement investments to the Freedom Temple. If they quit attending the church, they forfeit everything.”
“And, you said the Freedom Temple is there in Wheaton? Where exactly?” Clisty had her pen poised to write it all down.
“No, not here. It’s someplace south of Wheaton. They are very secretive. They’re out in the country on many acres, and back off the road.” She spoke to someone in the office and then returned to the conversation. “That’s really all I know and the principal needs me to look for a file. I hope that helps you,” she said.
“That’s a great help, thanks,” Clisty touched the screen on her phone and ended the call. “That helps a lot,” she talked to herself as she dialed the number of the first Naperville school. A computer generated map of that area of Illinois showed that Naperville lies in two counties. The northern part is in DuPage County, which allowed her to identify the northern edge of the school system and a probable school, positioned “south of Wheaton.”
“Hello,” a male voice at the school answered.
“This is Clisty Sinclair. I’m a news anchor with WFT-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”
“Good to talk to you, Miss Sinclair. I’m Roger Mitchel, the Principal here. What can I do for you?”
“I’m researching a story that appears to have a connection in your area. First, do you know if there is a church called, the Freedom Temple in your area?”
“Yes, there is a group ... no one knows much about them. Their church is off the road in a very remote, rural setting.” Principal Mitchel also whispered into the telephone receiver. His muffled words sounded like he had cupped his hand around the mouth portion of the receiver for privacy. “Their teachings are very different from those in our area. Their leader is both charismatic and controlling. As long as you obey his every command, including turning over all your money, property, everything, to The Guardian, you’ll stay on his good side. If you refuse, he can get really mean. I’m sorry, but I think it’s a cult.”
“I have suspected the same thing,” Clisty agreed. “I’m also asking the schools I contact what the school mascot is in their area.”
“Mascot? Sure, we’re Huskies up here,” he said with pride.
“Big dogs,” Clisty thought out loud.
“That’s right. I guess we’re all big dogs,” he chuckled as he spoke.
“Now a question that may go beyond the bounds of confidentiality,” she crossed her fingers as she asked. “I need to ask about a child who attended there for a really short period of time, for about two weeks. She was in a little school play, Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Yes, the children did that play recently.”
“Her name is Pooky Jones,” Clisty reminded him.
“How could I forget a name like Pooky? I never heard that one before.”
“I certainly have. That was my nickname when I was a child. Thank you so much. The TV crew and I will be in your area soon. May we stop by the school?”
“Certainly, I’d be happy to meet you. Please, make sure you don’t film any of the children. That would breach their right to privacy–confidentiality rules and all.”
“Certainly … thank you Mr. Mitchel.” They said their pleasant goodbyes and Clisty touched the end call on her phone. “That’s it! Now, I have to talk to Jake!” 
• • • • • 
Clisty entered the café to meet Jake on the glorious April day. She looked around while her eyes adjusted to the dimer light inside. Maneuvering past other diners, she slipped into a chair at his table. “You look good, Jake.”
“I thought it was my job to say that to you,” he said as he laughed. “You are enchanting.”
“Well, you are supposed to say that I look good. And, I like enchanting even better. But, you, my laced up detective, live in the wrong century. Women can say how scrumptious their men look, too.” She kissed him on the cheek, removed her jacket and placed it on the seat next to her.
“Their men? Your man?” His eyes shone.
“Yes, my man. Is that okay with you?” she narrowed her eyes like she was dodging a follow-up jab.
“Okay? It’s far more than okay.” He placed his hand on hers. “I’ll admit I’ve been worried about you going to New York.”
She started to open her mouth to speak, but he continued without yielding to the Gentle Woman from Fort Wayne. “I’m not saying I don’t want you to succeed or have some fantastic opportunities. I’m saying ... I don’t want to lose you.”
Clisty put her hand on Jake’s shoulder and leaned her chin on her hand. As a TV personality, she had a taboo about displays of affection out in the public. Actually, she was trying to hide the tears that had started to drown her. “I don’t want to lose you either,” she swallowed hard. “I guess I have been wondering if you will let me rise in my career, even help me to succeed.”
“Let you? Don’t ever think I might hold you back. I want to give you all the space you need,” he choked on his words as his voice shook with emotion.
A waitress had walked past the table a few times until she finally interrupted softly. “Can I bring you two anything?”
“Coffee, black,” Clisty responded quickly. “And, the pot too.”
“Make that another cup and a really big pot,” Jake added—his voice raspy with feelings.
Clisty rooted in her purse and pulled out a tissue that she dabbed under her lower eyelashes. She swallowed a little sip of water to flush out some emotional gravel from her throat. “I have some great news.” She flashed a fresh smile and changed the subject.
“I am way overdue for good news,” Jake said and patted Clisty’s hand.

“I think I found the general location of the Freedom Temple—in Illinois, on the north side of Naperville. Pooky had attended school in that northern part of DuPage County for a few weeks and the principal remembered her.” She sat back as the waitress placed two steaming cups of coffee in front of each of them. “Jake—we have him.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 12

Chapter 12
Torn Between the Good and the Good 

“This has just come into the news room,” Clisty reported from the prompter as the eleven o’clock news program neared sign off. “Authorities tell WFT-TV that a woman came into police headquarters less than an hour ago. She said that a man had kidnapped her over eighteen years ago, just like the woman who was the hostage during the recent standoff between the accused bank robber and the police. For her safety, authorities are not releasing her real name. They are calling the woman, Darla.” Clisty read calmly into the camera with the same confidence she had before she froze on TV when Faith first re-appeared.
“Darla told police that she managed to escape,” Dan Drummond added to the report. “When the man stopped to use the restroom, before merging onto I-65 N, he forced her to stay in the truck. He told her she would never be able to get out. She said the doors weren’t supposed to open from the inside. The only way you could get out was when the motor was still running. He would open the door, then turn off the engine and remove the key. She believed him—she wouldn’t be able to get out of the truck because she had tried when he filled the gas tank closer to Fort Wayne. It was different at the intersection of I-65 N. This time he had failed to close his door all the way.”
“That’s right, Dan,” Clisty tag-teamed the story. “She said she was able to get the driver’s side door open, escape and jump, unseen, into the back of a truck going east. Luckily, the driver was going all the way back to Fort Wayne. She climbed out of the truck when the east bound driver stopped before entering the clover leaf at Goshen Road. The traffic was heavy as she walked along the berm of the road. Then, she came upon a patrolman who, with his lights revolving, pulled a car over. She walked over to the officer, tugged his pocket and said, “I want to go home.” At police headquarters, they quickly contacted her parents. With her mother and father present, she told her story to police.”
“At the time of the attempted abduction, Darla was able to give the authorities a clue to the town in which the perpetrator probably lived. However, they were never able to find who had kidnapped her.” Dan smiled and looked at Clisty.
He’s giving me the last word. She smiled confidently and put on her professional, neutral, balanced face. “My investigation will include several threads of this tangled story: the background of the robbery suspect who was apprehended after the stand-off with police; the backstory of the hostage he held in the house; the details of an unsolved kidnapping nearly twenty years ago; and how the information which Darla was able to remind police may answer questions to all facets of this story. All of these will be the focus of my expanded report in a new segment, Stories from the Heartland. I look forward to bringing you along as we follow the trail of clues to a hopeful resolution of this case. From the Fort, this has been the news at eleven.”
“Great show people,” Becca clapped her hands together as the network took over the feed.
Jake stood outside the studio window and watched. With his hands in his pockets, his tall slender frame exposed a leather cross-body gun holster. His eyes flashed brighter each time he looked at Clisty. “Ditto that,” he agreed as soon as the studio door opened.
“Hi Detective,” Clisty teased. “What brings you here so late in the evening?”
“You, of course,” he spoke softly and stepped closer to her.
“Then, you are most welcome.” Clisty slipped into the news room and started to pour a cup of coffee.
“Hold off on that last cup of the day,” Jake warned. “I’m taking you out for decaf. It’s late.”
“Good idea,” she agreed.
“But first, I brought in my Atlas. Come over here,” he pointed to a table and spread out the book of maps.
“What’s going on?” Becca asked as she joined them over the Rand McNally.
Jake was excited as he pointed to the map. “I read Darla’s old file and found two details that add a lot to our quest.” His index finger followed U.S. 30, north and west out of Fort Wayne. “She told police, her kidnapper said, ‘only seventy more miles but first, I’m going to hit the head.’ So ...” he traced the route that the man must have taken with his finger. “He was going to take route 65 north-west for seventy miles. He also said something about their destination being thirty miles west of Chicago.” He targeted Chicago on the map, and then drew an imaginary line directly west of the city. “Wheaton, Illinois is ... twenty-eight mile west of Chicago ... Naperville is thirty miles.” He thumped his finger on the spot between Wheaton and Naperville and drew a circle. “The place where Faith was held, is somewhere in this area.” He grabbed Clisty in a side hug and didn’t let go.
“The Freedom Temple,” Becca hammered her fist into the palm of her hand. “If authorities in that area are aware of the Freedom Temple, maybe we can close in on the precise spot.”
“Yes,” Clisty snapped to attention from her cozy niche tucked under Jake’s arms. “And, if we can find an elementary school that had a child named Pooky Jones for only two weeks, we will nail down the neighborhood.”
“The last name she used, Jones, may be too general to track,” Jake ran his hand over the back of his neck. “But, the first name, Pooky, sure isn’t.”
Clisty smiled. “It makes my hair stand up, too. It is so exciting.”
“We are all tired, Honey,” Jake said. “Let’s start the computer search and telephone calls early tomorrow morning. It’s not like Faith is still being held and we have to rescue her. It will do no one any good if we’re too tired to think clearly.”
“You’re right; you’re right; I know you’re right, but
“No buts about it,” Becca joined in. “I agree with Jake.”
Clint had listened and watched as the three had inspected the map. A quiet guy, he turned and reached for his hoodie. “Just point me in the right direction, so I can aim the camera there. I’m going home and fall into bed.” He zipped it up and started for the door. “I’ll be here at the usual time, or whenever you tell me different. Just let me know if we’re going to leave on a road trip so I can make arrangements for my cat. My wife has been visiting her mother.”
“Bad Kitty?” Becca asked. “I don’t know how you discipline that cat when you call, ‘Bad Kitty’ to give her a treat.”
“She does seem a little neurotic at times,” he admitted with a flip at the corner of his mouth. “Bye for now.”
“Are you ready to surrender for the night?” Jake asked as Clisty continued to study the map.
“I guess,” she drew out slowly. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep.”
“Cocoa ... warm milk will help,” he reminded her.
“I make cocoa with water,” she corrected him and patted her stomach.
“I don’t know what you have to worry about,” Becca quipped. “You’re so thin, I’m afraid to get a side view of you on camera. You might disappear altogether.”
“Becca, don’t be silly. You know as well as I do, if I were to gain ten pounds the station would replace me with a newer, slimmer model.”
“Can’t get much newer,” Becca reminded her. “You’re pretty young yourself. Beside, you know Fort Wayne viewers wouldn’t put up with that. The station reflects the community’s values of appreciation for hard work and family ties. You are family, Clisty.”
“Thanks Becca. It’s nice to be reminded.”
“Then, ten pounds it is,” Jake teased. “We’ll stop at a grocery and pick up some milk. Made with water, it isn’t cocoa at all. That’s just chocolate flavored water.” He took her by the elbow and started to steer her out of the news room. “Then, we’ll go to your house and I’ll make a cup for you.” He stopped. “You do allow milk in your house, I hope.”
“Fat free, of course.”
“I’ll think about that.” 
• • • • • 
“But, Jake, whole milk? Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Clisty complained as she took the milk and cocoa mix from the sack he had just carried into her apartment.
“Extreme will come when we put the whipped cream on the top,” he said as he waved the squirt can in the air. He opened several cabinet doors until he found the measuring cups of various sizes. “Here we go.”
“Do you really think we’ll be able to find him and bring him to justice?” Clisty asked as she spooned some cocoa mix into the cups. Moments later, the microwave announced the hot milk.
“Find The Guardian?” Jake poured the steaming hot liquid into the cups, stirred in the cocoa and took them over to the coffee table ottoman. “Sure, I think we’ll find him. But, I don’t know when justice will be served.”
“What does that mean?” Clisty followed him to the couch, folded her right leg under her and sat down on it.
“Justice usually takes time, Babe. Not your kind of time, as measured from one news headline at 5 PM, to a verdict on the 11 o’clock news.”
“I know. That’s why I’m glad the network is giving me all the time that I need with the news magazine.” She sipped the hot, bone warming, sleep inducing liquid and smiled. “This is good.”
“Thank you,” he said softly, stirred his cup again and drank a little of the sweet brew. There was tense silence for a moment until Jake asked, “When do you leave for New York?”
“I don’t know,” she sipped noisily. “I guess, the truth is, I don’t really want to know.” She reached over and took Jake’s hand. “I just found Faith again and I know we’re going to find her captors. But ... I also just found you.”
Jake was quiet a while longer. “Have you talked to your grandmother about praying for you over this network business?” he asked and looked at the mantle. “That’s your prayer angel, right?”
“No, I haven’t called her yet … I had to talk to you first,” she sighed as her body reminded her of how tired she was.
“I appreciate that,” he said as he smiled.
They finished their cocoa in silence, except for the soft music that streamed in the background. A deep baritone was spreading musical notes on the evening air like warm butter on toast. Jake reached over and traced gentle figure eights on Clisty’s arm. Taking her cup, he placing it on the ottoman; then, he took her hand in his, all with the smooth gestures that matched the rise and fall of the melody.
“Faith just came home, Clisty, and that is wonderful. For me personally however, the real miracle is that I just found my home in you.” Jake didn’t stop. He continued, interrupting Clisty’s effort to speak. “Now, don’t misunderstand,” he said softly. “I’m not saying—don’t move to New York. That is an opportunity that very few people ever get. I wouldn’t try to stop you for a minute. I’m just saying, with you in the east, will there be a place for me in your life?”
“Jake ... I am so torn,” she began.
“Don’t be, Honey. I’d never ask you to choose between New York City and me. That’s not even a contest I want to enter. I guess I don’t want to know who the winner would be.” He caressed her hand, silently put his arm around her and drew her to his shoulder.
Clisty sat up quickly. “No, Jake, I admit I’m torn, but not between you and New York. The tug of war is between New York and Fort Wayne. See ...” she turned excitedly toward him and bubbled as she continued. "Since Faith came home; I’m seeing what really matters in my life. Yes, a job I love is important. But, the people I love, people Mom used to call my lovelies, are more valuable than anything else.”
“I’m not sure if I fit in as a lovely,” Jake laughed.
“You do, Jake Davis. You are the loveliest of lovelies,” she laughed as she snuggled back under his arm.
“What I don’t know,” he admitted, “is how can you be in both places at the same time?” His eyes, cast down like a warrior who had just surrendered, didn’t meet Clisty’s.
“I can’t Jake. But, that’s all-or-none thinking. Just because I can’t be in the TV studio and here in my apartment with you, does not mean there is no solution to this.”
“That’s good enough for me tonight,” he said as he looked up with a sparkle in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her, and surrounded her with his love.

“This is where I want to be, Jake—in your arms. I know that. Somehow, and I don’t know how yet, I’m going to figure out how to do both. It’s an old idea to think I can do everything. But, I can choose where I spend my time. I do know I’ll have to do one thing at a time.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

News at Eleven - Chapter 11

Chapter 11
A Sad Backstory

“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. “I’m feeling a little better.”
“Roma 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 time and 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.
“The mic is 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 take that slowly. On the other hand, Jake would need the interview on film so there could be no question about the process later. Pooky could not appear to say things she would not have said on her own.
“Faith,” Clisty pointed to the large, floor-camera, “Clint can film Pooky on this camera, strictly for police use. We won’t broadcast it 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 words 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 choices 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 a kidnapper.”
Faith looked at her daughter. Her sad eyes studied the cherished face.
“Please Mama, please,” Pooky steepled her fingers into a prayer and jumped up and down.
Clisty saw Faith smile, something she had not witnessed since they were both children. 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 safer 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 reptile 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 producer-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 won’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 your voice.”
“Well ... okay,” she said as she scooted back into one of the side chairs.
As Clisty took her seat facing Pooky, 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.” Pooky 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 tell me,” 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 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 to our house 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? “Can you remember anything else?”
“I remembered the school’s 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 where?”
“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 some 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. “Daddy 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 to 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.”