“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.