Castle Roland

The Concord

by Sequoyah


Chapter 13

Posted: N/A

ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Thirteen--Michael

When we got to the airport I noticed two men in pilot's uniforms standing by the plane ready to stow our luggage. As I took mine and Mary Kathryn's, I asked Marc how we could all go if there was a co-pilot.

"The plane can be configured a number of ways. Since he knew how many would be going back, Captain Kelly has added a seat so there are six rows of two seats. There's room for us all."

When we got on board, the couples just naturally took seats together. Keith didn't hesitate a moment when Marc showed him their seats. Once we were in the air, we all had to re-live the weekend. The trip was uneventful and about half-way to Lexington, most of the gang was asleep. Before I dozed off, I noticed Keith's head was on Marc's shoulder. Keith I was sure was asleep, but Marc was definitely awake. He was stroking Keith's hair and smiling as he looked at the sleeping DJ.

Arriving in Lexington, we got our bags and said our goodbyes to Marc, Janet and Douglas. I guess Keith and Marc had decided what the hell, because they were wrapped up in each other's arms exchanging long, slow, passionate kisses. Finally Douglas said, "Marc, if you want to get home and find out who your step-mother is, we need to be going."

Marc looked up, smiled and said, "In a minute," and went back to what he was doing. Finally Captain Kelly said, "Marc, we have a schedule to keep. Think you have had enough of Keith to keep you a few days."

Marc replied, "Never, but I guess it will have to do". He kissed Keith one more time and said, "See you before long, Soulmate," and turned and ran up the ramp to the plane.

We got our bags and took them to the parking lot, got in the two cars and left for Concord.

Thursday lunch, Keith was the last one to get to the table and, as he did, Linda said, "There seems to be a perpetual smile on your face these days, Keith. Wonder why?"

The smile on Keith's face got bigger as he turned red. Before he sat down, he spread his arms wide and sang, "I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guy," bowed to the applause and sat down.

"I take it you have a hopeless case," Jacob said.

"You could say that," Keith said. "You could even shout that. When I got home last night I told Dad about the weekend and, after I had gone on for fifteen minutes, he laughed and asked if there had been anyone in Ohio other than this Marc person. I guess I turned bright red, because he started laughing and finally he said he was happy to see me so happy. It's wonderful!"

That, of course, started the whole group talking about the weekend again. Finally I mused, "I suppose Marc, Janet and Douglas made it home ok."

"Sure did," Keith said. "Marc called from the airport to let me know they had arrived and then we talked after he got to his place. By the way, he doesn't have a new step-mother, but his dad has a new live-in woman friend. Seems to me it's about time the old man grew up. He can't be in love with a new woman every month or so."

"Marc said he likes 'em young and good-looking," Mary Kathryn said. "Don't sound to me like love enters the picture. I can't imagine having sex with someone you hardly know or even someone you know, but don't really love."

"The difference between making love and fucking, remember?" Bill reminded us.

There were nods around the table.

"Well we had our party, now it's back to work," I said. "I have piles of work to make up. I think every teacher was jealous and doubled the assignments while we were gone."

"It sure seems that way," Jacob said.

"Hey, have you heard the news about Buffy Leister?" Susan asked. "She's still in the hospital, improving, but it will be a while before she's out. The doctors thought they were going to have to remove her leg, it was crushed so badly, but they managed to save it. I guess it's better than an artificial limb, but it will be shorter than her other leg. That must really hurt her since cheer leading was her life."

"But she's alive. Think about the other five. They are dead and gone." Jacob said. "Of course, I guess that's hard for Buffy to even think about. I mean, I don't think I could take it if five of my friends were suddenly killed."

"May happen, you never can tell, but if it does you can be sure it is in spite of having on a seatbelt and driving like I had at least half sense," Bill said.

The weekend came and went with nothing exciting happening. The Fellowship got together Sunday afternoon to get caught up with our school work. Yong Jin had said we could get together at her place so she would be able to help us out if we got stuck on English assignments. Bill was there to pull us out with math problems, and Greywolf to help with any Bill couldn't handle. Jack helped those who got stuck on chemistry and other sciences. I guess most people thought we got together to horse around, but we had promised to get caught up after the party and we really worked hard. When we finished, Yong Jin had cookies and milk waiting. We all sat around talking to the Greywolfs like old times.

School was school again. But Tuesday broke the routine as it was Election Day so there was no school. Mom was home these days--the babies were due any minute--as were the Greywolfs. Mary Kathryn and I went into town to talk with Fr. Tom about how the work on the parish house basement was coming. It was on schedule and we could expect to open the teen club as planned after Thanksgiving, and maybe Thanksgiving weekend.

When we got back, Mary Kathryn and I decided to take the risk of going to her place. I did drive all the way down the driveway which meant the Tracker couldn't be seen from either the Greywolfs' or our place. We went to Mary Kathryn's room where we started with hungry kisses. We were standing when I started undressing my wild woman. I dropped her blouse and then her bra to the floor, and started kissing her breasts and flicking her nipples with my tongue. Mary Kathryn grasped my pullover by the hem and slipped it over my head. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled our bare chests together. Her nipples were hard and she managed to rub them against my own erect nipples while her tongue found my mouth and invaded it.

Mary Kathryn started to remove my pants, but I stopped her long enough to get a condom from my pocket and then dropped my pants to the floor. As they fell, I unsnapped Mary Kathryn's skirt and it dropped to the floor as well. I then scooped my panty-clad lover into my arms and laid her on her bed. I slipped her panties from her body. She then removed my boxers, releasing my hard cock. As she did, I flipped her the condom. She caught it, tore it open with her teeth, shaking her head and growling. We both laughed as she rolled a bright pink sheath onto my cock. In a flash, I was on top of her, kissing her body, giving her breasts a tongue bath. Finally she reached down, took my cock in her hand, stroked it a few times then guided it into herself. I lay very still, prolonging the feeling of just being inside my lover. Slowly, very slowly, I started moving in and out of her in long, slow strokes. Soon Mary Kathryn's breathing changed and I knew she was experiencing an orgasm. We took our time and it was great. I do think that women have an advantage over us guys when it comes to having sex. I mean a couple times separated by a recovery time and I'm done for a while, but Mary Kathryn could have three or more orgasms each time we had sex and be ready for more.

I continued moving in and out of Mary Kathryn, slowly. I covered her mouth with mine and she sucked my tongue into her hot mouth. She was breathing through my mouth which made me even hotter. As much as I wanted to have our love-making last for hours, I finally reached the point of no return, pushed deeper inside her and yelled as I started shooting load after load of cum inside the woman I loved. I saw stars and skyrockets as I continued discharging my man's seed. When I finished, I collapsed, being careful not to crush Mary Kathryn under me. When I became limp, I lay beside my wild woman, looking into her eyes as she kissed me gently. "Michael Jacob Andrews, I love you, my medicine warrior. You are the very center of my universe. I love you so much it hurts sometimes."

"Mary Kathryn Larsen, you are the center of my universe as well. God, I love you, Woman!" We lay quietly, for a while longer, then got up and took a long shower together, stopping frequently for kisses.

Wednesday, Mary Kathryn and I told the gang that the opening of the teen club was a definite go Thanksgiving weekend if we wanted to open then. "We need to decide if we want to give up part of our Thanksgiving holidays for that. When we decide we need to remember the Florida and Ohio troops will be here," Mary Kathryn warned.

"I think that would be a good time to get it off the ground," Bill said. "You know the Ohio couples will be there as well as Keith and Marc, Chris and Dan. I don't know whether or not the Concord members will want to out themselves, but you know Eugene and Larry, Luke and Matt will be obvious couples. Should get said what we want said."

We talked about the pros and cons of opening Thanksgiving weekend and decided to open only one night, Saturday night, that weekend. "Ok, we need to get new stickers for the posters," Linda said. We decided we'd get them printed and put them on the signs Friday after we told Fr. Tom our decision.

When the end-of-school bell rang, Mary Kathryn and I piled in the Tracker and headed for home. "I think we need to get a snack and then hit the books," she said. "You're right: it seems the teachers ganged up on us while we were gone and haven't let up since."

"Just unhappy because they didn't have a party," I laughed. Mary Kathryn started to say something when my cell phone rang. She took it from the glove compartment and answered it.

"Really!... When?... Everyone is ok?... See you in a very few," she said as she closed the phone. "We need to make a detour, Michael, to the hospital. Seems Margaret decided today was the day and you have two new sisters."

"Mom's ok, isn't she?" I asked, as it was the first thought in my head.

"She and the girls are all fine, excellent in fact. They were born a couple hours ago. David said we could come by the hospital and see all three."

I was ready to make a U-turn in the middle of the road when Mary Kathryn said, "No you don't! Being a new brother doesn't mean you can drive like you are the only person in the world."

Obediently I pulled into a side road and turned around and drove to the hospital.

As we walked in, I saw Dann... Dan at the end of the hall. I started to yell at him and remembered where I was. Instead I ran down the hall toward him. I was about half-way to him when he turned and started walking toward me. "Hey, I see the big brother has arrived. Just saw your mom and the girls. They are all great. Your mom said they were waiting for you to come and name them. How did you get the honor?"

I told Dan about my bet with Mom and how I had won. "So I get to name them anything I like. You busy?"

"Not this minute."

"Come with us." The three of us took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the hall to Mom's room. When we got there she was lying in bed, of course, looking absolutely great with a baby on each side. They looked... well, they looked like babies. What can I say? "Which one is which?" I asked.

"What do you mean which one is which?" Dad asked.

"He wants to know which one is which, David," Mom said.

"Well, since he hasn't named then, what does he mean which one is which?"

"I mean who's the oldest."

"Since there's less than twenty minutes between their births, I don't know that it makes a lot of difference," Dad answered.

"Dad, you have been around Luke and Matt for over eighteen years and you think it doesn't make a difference? Matt has never let Luke forget he's older by a few minutes. So which one is which?"

Mom looked to her right and said, "She's the oldest."

"Well, she's Elizabeth Kathryn and we'll call her Elizabeth. No nicknames. You," I said as I lifted the corner of the blanket from the other's face, "are Mary Margaret and we'll call you Mary. Glad I got that done. Naming babies is hard work," I laughed.

"Try having one or two if you want to find out about hard work," Mom laughed. "I thought your dad would not survive."

"Everything is all right, isn't it--with the babies? I mean they have the regulation number of fingers and toes and you are too... all right I mean?"

"We're all fine," Mom said. "Called your dad about noon and by the time he got to the house, everything had started and was going fine. He assisted and I gave birth at home. He then got the EMS to come for us and insisted we come to the hospital. Think it would have been fine for us to stay at home, but you know your dad. We'll be home when you get there after school tomorrow."

Dan had been standing back and I had forgotten he was behind us. When I remembered, I said, "Dan, don't you think they are perfect? Babies, I mean."

He laughed and said, "Yea, I thought they were babies, but until you said so, I wasn't sure. Of course, I saw them earlier. They were babies then as well."

I had told Mom and Dad about Wounded Hawk and about Dan and Chris being a couple, so they knew why he was no longer Danny. "Dan, I think I like the name change," Dad said. "Wounded Hawk and Chris are right. You deserve a man's name. I meant to tell you last week, but never ran across you: we have an opening on the EMS team. Starting pay is not great, but it's better than the aide's pay you're getting from the hospital now. Also, you would get paid for taking most of the classes you take toward your LPN [Licensed Practical Nurse] license. Should give you more time and more money and you'd be training for a specific task. Think by the time you have your LPN, you'd also be certified for EMS. Then you could move straight into completing your work to become a registered nurse. Give it some thought and let me know."

"I think I can give you an answer now, but I need to know about working at the hospice. I have an obligation there, you know."

"I talked to Chelsea and Gladys and both think you should take the EMS position even if it means giving up hospice altogether. But since you'll automatically get the night shift with EMS, a privilege reserved for the low man on the totem pole," Dad laughed, "you will be on three twelve-hour shifts and off three. You could work at the hospice one or two of the nights you are off if you wanted to. Most nights when you are on EMS duty, you'll get about as much sleep as you would at home. Of course there are other times when you will be running like wild fire all twelve hours, and sometimes won't get to leave when the twelve hours are up because you will be out on a run or someone will be late for work and you'll have to take a call."

"It certainly sounds good to me. I do feel I need to talk to Gladys and Chelsea before it becomes official. They have done so much for me, I wouldn't ever do something which involves them in any way without checking first.

"As I said, I talked to them last week when I thought about mentioning it to you, but you are right. It's only fair that you talk with them."

"Thanks, Mr. Andrews. I really appreciate it. I'll see Chelsea and maybe Gladys tomorrow but, unless you hear otherwise, I'd like the job. What do I need to do about it?"

"Pick up an application in the EMS office before you leave tonight, fill it out and turn it in. Be sure to give me, Chelsea and Gladys as references. After you talk to them, of course."

"Thanks again for thinking of me. And I do think the girls look like real babies," Dan said to me. "Now you have to start acting like a big brother and setting a good example," he laughed.

"I always set a good example," I replied.

"Yea, well just keep it up. See all of you later," he said and left.

"Michael, David called the Larsens and Greywolfs and told them about Mary and Elizabeth. Also called the kids at Oberlin. I thought they would like some good news with the trial going on. Yong Jin is having all of you for supper. You might go on now and help her. You can come back this evening if you like."

I leaned over and kissed Mom on the forehead, looked at the girls again and said, "Guess this will take some of the strain off of Mary Kathryn, but it will be fifteen or sixteen years before these two start reproducing."

"It better be more like twenty or twenty-five or there will be some dead daddies around," Dad said. I don't think he was joking!

Mary Kathryn and I left the hospital and drove to the Greywolfs'. Yong Jin and Greywolf were just getting home when we pulled into the driveway.

"I guess you have seen your new sisters," Yong Jin said.

"Yea, we went by the hospital and saw them and Mom," I answered. "And I officially gave them their names. Are babies always red? They seemed very red and wrinkled."

"All are not, but most are. They will look more like humans and less like little old ladies every day," she answered. "But you were never red and wrinkled. You looked a couple weeks old the minute you were born. The day after you were born, you were lifting your head up. Pretty remarkable start in life."

"And he hasn't slowed down since," Mary Kathryn said, and kissed me on the cheek.

We went inside and helped Yong Jin get supper started. "I know I have objected to cooking at times," I said, "but after this weekend, I'm glad I have learned. Paula, Eugene and Larry didn't know how to cook and are still learning. Larry told me there had been some pretty bad meals while they were discovering how to boil water."

Jens and Gabrielle came in about 6:00, having been by the hospital, and Dad was right behind them. "Understand you were the midwife today," Jens said.

"Yea, I had expected Margaret to be in labor for several hours, since the twins were her first, but she started having regular labor pains and then, Bingo! There were the twins--very easy births."

After dinner, Mary Kathryn and I went back to the hospital with the Greywolfs.

Thursday, all the Fellowship were excited about the babies and I guess I was acting more like a proud father than a brother. The girls were important to me and the thought crossed my mind once that, in eight months or so, Mary Kathryn and I would have been parents had she been correct in thinking she was pregnant. I was glad Mom and Dad had the responsibility of two new babies and not us.

During lunch an office runner found me in the cafeteria and said I was wanted in the office for an important phone call. "Ms. Norman said you could take it in her office and Mary Kathryn might like to come with you."

When we got to Ms. Norman's office, she pushed the phone across her desk, but did not leave the room. I noticed Ms. Jones was standing outside the door. I picked up the phone, pushed the button to take it off hold and said, "Michael here".

"Michael, it's your dad. I have some bad news. One of the girls has disappeared."

"Disappeared? How can a day-old baby disappear?"

"It's obvious someone has taken her. When we got ready to go home, a nurse went to bring the babies and one was missing. Your mom would like for you to come home. Well, I would too. I know there's no danger of someone running off with you, but we'd like to have you home."

"I'm on my way right now." I hung up the phone and said, "Someone has kidnapped one of my girls." I felt myself losing control and everything went black. When I came to, Ms. Norman was bathing my face with a cool wet cloth.

"Are you all right now, Michael?" she asked.

All I could do was nod "yes".

"Your dad had told us what happened; that's the reason Ms. Jones and I are here. I told Mary Kathryn what has happened and she is with Ms. Jones. I don't think you should be driving. Mary Kathryn is in as bad shape as you are. I have sent for Bill to drive you two home. He should be here any minute."

Bill and Keith came into the office and both told me how sorry they were that someone had hurt me and my family, then Bill said, "I'll drive your car and take you and Mary Kathryn home. Keith will drive my car and bring me back. We're ready when you are."

"Let's go, then," I said.

When we got home, I thanked Bill and Keith and promised I would let them know anything I learned. Inside, Mom grabbed me and kept hugging me. She was clinging to me as if she feared I might disappear as well. "What happened?" I was finally able to ask.

"We know little more than what your dad told you. After I was discharged, I got dressed and rang for the nurse to bring the babies. When she got to the nursery, there was only one of the girls there, Mary. Of course people started searching immediately, thinking someone might have taken the wrong baby to a new mother, but it was soon clear that all were present and accounted for except Elizabeth."

"Hospital security called the police and the FBI since it is a kidnapping, even though there have been no notes or phone calls demanding ransom or anything else. The video tape from security cameras was checked immediately. The person taking Elizabeth was seen, but was wearing operating room garb, including a surgical mask, so the tape was not much help. It was obviously a woman but, beyond that, there's not much to go on."

Mary Kathryn and I debated calling the Oberlin crew and decided against it since there was nothing they could do

Mom's doctor had give her a prescription for a sedative and Dad insisted she take one. I think he probably needed it more than she did because he was worried about Mom and Elizabeth. Jens and Gabrielle brought supper, but none of us really felt like eating. The Greywolfs came after supper and the whole Family sat, waiting for the phone to ring.

At two in the morning it did ring. Dad answered it and talked to the person calling for a few minutes and hung up. "That was the police chief. They found a baby, apparently still-born, in a dumpster near the old cotton mill. It was wrapped in a hospital blanket, but didn't have a hospital identity bracelet. The FBI agent advising the task force handling the kidnapping told the chief he suspected a woman had a still-born baby--she delivered it without help he guessed--and took Elizabeth as a replacement. If that is true, he has more to go on now than he did. They are searching records to see if they can locate someone who might have delivered in the last few days. That's some progress, I guess," Dad said.

"Don't you think if a woman were pregnant and gave birth by herself, she wouldn't have wanted anyone to know she was pregnant?" Mom asked. "I don't think there will be any record of her. It just wouldn't make sense otherwise."

I hated to think Mom was right, but what she said really made sense. "Isn't there some other way she might be traced? Surely she needed attention after she gave birth."

"Not necessarily," Mom said. "I could have gotten up and walked after the girls were born. I couldn't have run any races, but I could have walked. I looked at the security tape. The woman who took Elizabeth wasn't up to running races either. She moved in a way consistent with having recently given birth. I don't know but I'm willing to bet, when she is found, there will be no record of her ever seeing a doctor or showing up at the pre-natal clinic at the hospital, but she will have given birth within the last day or so. I'll bet money on that."

"Sure sounds solid," Greywolf said. "A high school girl pregnant and afraid of her parents?"

"Not likely, Greywolf. She has a baby. A high school girl afraid of her parents wouldn't be likely to show up with a baby would she?" I asked.

"Sounds reasonable, Michael, but is she acting in a reasonable manner?" Greywolf asked. "I don't think we can rule that out."

"But how is she going to explain a baby?" Mary Kathryn asked. "If she has kept being pregnant, giving birth and discarding her still-born child secret, why would she show up with a baby? It doesn't make sense."

My cell phone rang, surprising us all. I took it from my pocket and opened it. "Michael, Luke. We're all here. Dan just called us with the bad news. Why didn't the family call us?"

"Mom wanted to wait as long as possible since there was nothing you could do and she didn't want to interfere with school."

"When this is over we may give your mom a spanking. We're family, Michael."

"We know that, Luke, Matt, all of you, but there's nothing you can do. We didn't want you to worry."

"We'll decide about worrying," Matt said. "Any developments?"

"Not really, just some speculation." I then told the Oberlin crew what we had been talking about.

"Wait a minute," Kent said. "You're assuming she took Elizabeth home. What if she is hiding her the way she hid being pregnant? What if she really wanted a baby, but couldn't let her parents know?"

"Hey, that makes some sense." Paula said. "We were discussing something like that in psychology last week. Girls who have nothing and are not loved--maybe abused--want desperately to have something to love so they get pregnant. That would fit the facts, wouldn't it?"

"But she can't take a baby home," I answered.

"Right, so you need to look for a hiding place and find a girl getting formula," Eugene said.

"I think you all may be on to something. Going to hang up and see what we can do with your suggestions." I told the Family what the Oberlin crew had to say. "Where can you buy baby formula, bottle, diapers, that sort of baby things?" I asked.

"Anywhere," Mary Kathryn said, "the grocery store, convenience stores, drug stores, just about anywhere."

"Not much, but I'll call the task force working on this in case they haven't thought about that possibility," Dad said, and dialed the number and talked to someone.

One by one, people were falling asleep. Yong Jin and Gabrielle insisted Mom go to bed by reminding her she couldn't get exhausted or she might not be able to nurse Mary, and she was real gung-ho on breast feeding.

At 6:00 in the morning, a car pulled up outside. It was Bill and Linda bringing breakfast. They went to the kitchen and made fresh coffee--I didn't think any of us really needed more--and started fixing a real breakfast. As tired and upset as we all were, we put away a pretty good breakfast.

After breakfast the four of us--Bill, Linda, Mary Kathryn and myself--were sitting around the kitchen table drinking even more coffee and talking about the speculations of the night. "I'd be willing to bet she's poor," Linda said, "and probably has only one parent--a father."

"How did you come up with that?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Ok, if she had both parents, she wouldn't be feeling so totally unloved and lonely--I mean maybe she would, but it would be less likely. And why do I think she is poor? Kinda the same reason. If her family had money, she'd have things--pets, dolls, things to love--but if she is dirt poor and has nothing..."

"Well, she did discard her still-born baby near the old cotton mill and that's sure a poor section of town. I mean really poor," Bill said.

"If our speculations are correct, she's not going to have money for what Elizabeth needs," Mary Kathryn said, almost in tears.

"How do you get what you need when you don't have money?" I asked. "You shoplift. The police need to alert the grocery store and convenience store in the old mill area. If we're right, she'll have to attempt to shoplift formula, diapers, that sort of thing."

"And shoplifting diapers will not be easy. The packages aren't small," Bill said. "We may be all wet, but I think someone needs to tell the police what we have been thinking."

"I'll get Dad," I said, and went to the family room where he and the rest of the Family were. "Dad, I think you need to come in the kitchen and hear what we have come up with."

When Dad got to the kitchen, Bill told him what we had been talking about. "May not be worth a damn, but it's something," he concluded.

"Sounds like good reasoning to me," Dad replied, reached for the kitchen phone and was soon talking to a member of the task force. When he hung up, he said, "The head of the task force didn't think your speculations were very wild. In fact he thought you had a better hold on the situation than they did. They will be keeping a careful watch out for someone shoplifting baby things. Now I think it's time all of you got some rest. Michael, Mary Kathryn, go to bed."


"If you like, but no hanky-panky."

"Dad, I don't think I could hanky-pank if I was paid to do so."

"You might be able, but not with me. I'm going to sleep," Mary Kathryn said.

"Guess we better head for school, Linda," Bill said.

I was barely undressed before I just passed out but, even at that, Mary Kathryn was asleep before I was.

It was noon before I knew I was alive. I got up, showered and dressed and went downstairs. No-one was stirring, so I went to the kitchen and got a glass of juice and sat down at the kitchen table. "Boy, life sure is uncertain," I thought. "A week ago six Independence students were out on a joy ride and now five are dead and Buffy, who lived to cheer lead, will never cheer lead again. We all had an absolutely fabulous time in Ohio and Keith seems to have met someone worthy of his love. Dan and Chris are developing their relationship. We get back and the eagerly awaited twins come into the world healthy and Mom is fine and then... Wham!... our world is shattered. But Elizabeth has to be found and be well."

In the middle of my reflections, Mary Kathryn appeared. God, how I loved that woman! She walked over to where I was sitting, put her arms around me and gave me a gentle kiss. Just as I was about to return it, the phone rang. I grabbed it and, before I could speak, Bill said, "Michael, at lunch today we were talking about the kidnapping and Keith had a great idea. If a high school girl took Elizabeth, she couldn't just leave her all day. We got Mr. Stevenson's absentee list and looked for students we knew lived in the old cotton mill village who were absent. Turns out none we knew were. Then Chris said the student wouldn't have to be absent. She could check in late after caring for the baby and check out at lunch or maybe check out early. Several girls from the village checked in late. Ms. Jones said there was nothing unusual about that but, get this, there were three who were checking out early. We tried to get a look at them all to see if maybe there was some indication they had given birth recently, but we didn't see any of them. Ms. Jones thought it was worth investigating so she called the task force. They are sending people over to follow the three. Maybe something will come of it. No news there I suppose?"

"None. Thanks for your thoughts and efforts. Tell the Fellowship we appreciate it."

"Just helping the extended family," Bill said. "Later."

Dad came into the kitchen looking like death warmed over. "How's Mom?" I asked.

"She's holding up well considering. We are both worried because Elizabeth has been gone for twenty-four hours now. Unless she is getting care, she could be harmed."

"I'm sure she's getting care," Mary Kathryn said. "I just worry that her care-giver doesn't know how to properly care for a baby. But I am sure she is doing the very best she can."

I told Dad Bill had called and what he had said.

Dad called the task force to see if anything new had come up. They told him about the suggestions from the school. Two of the girls had left school before they arrived and the third one had gone to the dentist. Dad learned that the two who had not been followed both fit the poor, one parent--father--profile. "They said they they were following up on both as soon as they could be located. When they checked with the two fathers, neither knew his daughter had left school. Both threatened to beat the life out of her when she came home. Sounds like two lovely families," Dad concluded.

Mary started crying and Dad went to get her. While he was changing her, Mom came out of the bedroom looking very haggard. When Dad brought Mary into the kitchen, Mom took her and started nursing her. She became very quiet and was nursing like a little pig. "I hope Elizabeth is being fed properly," Mom said, and big tears started running down her face.

Dad put his arm around her and said, "I'm sure she is, Margaret, and will be here for you to nurse soon."

"Right now I'm just concerned that she is all right and being cared for," Mom replied.

"If you don't need us, I think Mary Kathryn and I will take a little ride."

"Be careful," Mom said. Dad nodded.

Mary Kathryn and I got in the Tracker and drove toward town. "Where are we headed?" she asked, "as if I didn't know".

We drove to the old mill section of town and drove up and down the dirt streets. The mill had once supported several hundred workers. Well, supported was probably too strong a word. The wages were very low and mill workers lived in the mill village and bought everything from the mill store. The low wages and high prices in the mill world meant most workers were forever in debt to the mill and couldn't leave if they wanted to. Their life was hard and as soon as a kid, especially a boy, reached sixteen, he was expected to quit school and go to work in the mill. Since he couldn't operate or be around machinery, he was paid practically nothing. Of course, having dropped out of school, there was no future for him except the mill, if that could be called a future.

Then cotton fell out of favor and the mill struggled to stay in operation. It managed to survive until natural fibers came back into fashion, but didn't last long because foreign textiles could be produced much cheaper. The company finally folded and the mill was shut down and abandoned. Several times people had tried to do something with it, but nothing ever materialized. The mill houses were sold at auction for practically nothing--which was about what they were worth. The people living in the village now were very poor since they were uneducated and hadn't tried to get training or anything. Some, I think, believed the mill would start up again any day. So they took part-time jobs, worked at menial labor and many spent much of the little they earned on alcohol. The younger crowd saw no hope for the future and scraped together enough for grass now and then.

As we drove through the mill village, there were knots of guys and girls my age standing on corners smoking--tobacco or grass, it was hard to tell. Men and women, looking twenty years older than they were, shuffled along the streets or sat on falling down porches, gazing ahead vacantly. "Remember Sam Crawford?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Yea, he graduated the year we started high school. Why?"

"He was from the mill village," she said. "His mom had died when he was very young and his dad was a drunk."

"I didn't know that," I replied.

"He worked in the office for Dad as a janitor," Mary Kathryn said. "He escaped mill village life by working his butt off. Dad encouraged him and he got a full scholarship to State. He has had all sorts of internships and will graduate this year. He had taken AP courses and managed to work and go to summer school at the same time, once he was in college, so he's done four years in three. Some can escape from the trap fate has given them, but it's not easy. Hey! Michael! There's Billie Sue Loggins. Wasn't she one of the two the police missed at school today?"

"She sure was! Wonder where she's headed?"

"Well don't get too close. We don't want her to see us."

"Take my phone out of the glove compartment and call the task force. Tell them we have spotted her."

"Michael, we don't know the number."

"Call Dad then and ask him. She's headed for the old mill, I'm sure. It's about three blocks from where she is and I don't think there's anything between the intersection she's crossing and the mill."

Mary Kathryn got the task force number from Dad and called them. They thanked her and said they thought they had the person who had taken Elizabeth. "The agent told me they had picked up Roxanne Simmons for shoplifting at the mill grocery. She had taken a couple cans of formula," Mary Kathryn said.

"I know Roxanne and I just don't think she would take someone's baby. I have no doubt she would shoplift if she knew of a hungry child, but I just don't think she would hurt anyone and especially hurt a mother by taking her baby. We'll let them deal with Roxanne and we'll follow Billie Sue."

We were staying about a block behind Billie Sue and it was soon obvious she was headed to the old mill. When she reached it, she stuck her arm through the broken glass on a door and pushed it open and disappeared inside.

"Now what do we do?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"We follow her," I replied. I hoped Billie Sue would ignore the sound of the Tracker as we drove up to the side of the mill where she had entered. We got out of the car and went through the door she had used. Inside was dark and dusty, with cobwebs everywhere. We took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust and then looked around. Billie Sue was nowhere to be seen. We stood very still. The only sounds were what you would expect in an abandoned factory--a slight breeze rattling the loose metal roof sheets and birds flying about. We stood very still and then heard, very faintly, what could be a baby crying somewhere ahead of us. We walked cautiously toward the sound. The floor was covered with bird shit, lint from when the mill was in operation, and pieces of junk of all kinds.

As we walked across the floor, we were being very careful not to make a sound when, suddenly, Mary Kathryn tripped over something and started to fall. I grabbed her arm and held on. While we were struggling to regain our balance, we heard the sound again. Mary Kathryn whispered, "Michael, that is definitely a baby crying". We started walking across the floor again. At the far side of the building, I saw a door slightly ajar. "There, she's in there," Mary Kathryn whispered.

We walked very, very carefully to the door and looked in. Billie Sue was holding a bundle, rocking back and forth, singing softly. I walked in and said, "Billie Sue".

"Michael. Michael Andrews, she said. "I'm glad you came to see my baby. Want to hold her? She's beautiful, Michael."

I motioned for Mary Kathryn to stay outside. "Sure, I'd like to hold your baby, Billie Sue. What's her name?"

"She's Jessica... Jessica Curran."

"Jessica Curran? Curran?"

"Yes. Her daddy's Philip... Philip Curran. Here, hold her and see how beautiful she is." I was not an expert at holding babies and, when I was struggling with getting it right, Billie Sue laughed and said, "Not too good at holding a baby are you? Here, do it this way." Having said that, Billie Sue took my arms and placed then around the bundle which was Elizabeth. "That's right. You learn fast. What I'd really like is to have a pretty little dress for her and some beautiful little shoes." Billie Sue had a dreamy look on her face. It was clear she thought this was her baby and she wanted something nice for her. I thought she should have a little pleasure before whatever happened to her did.

"Billie Sue, Mary Kathryn is here with me. We'd like to take you shopping for something for Jessica. A nice, pretty dress and some pretty little shoes."

"Would you do that? Would you really do that?"

"Sure we would. Come on, let's go shopping."

Billie Sue jumped up and called, "Mary Kathryn, want to go shopping? Michael is going to take me shopping for Jessica."

"Sure. It would be fun," Mary Kathryn said.

When we got to the Tracker, Mary Kathryn said, "I need to call Mom and tell her we're going shopping. If I don't and Dad finds out, he'll beat me black and blue."

"Your Dad beat you too?" Billie Sue asked.

"Yea, if I don't let him know where I am."

I smiled. Mary Kathryn was giving Billie Sue a reason for calling home which she could understand. I felt sorry for a teenager who knew that if her father was upset, she would be beaten. Mary Kathryn took the phone from the glove compartment and called my number. When someone answered she said, "Hi Mom. Michael and I are taking Billie Sue and her baby Jessica Curran shopping. We're going to buy her a beautiful dress and some pretty shoes." She turned to Billie Sue and asked, "Where do you want to go shopping, Billie Sue?".

"Can we go to that new baby store in the mall? I have gone again and again looking at pretty things for when my baby came."

"If that's where you want to go, that's where we'll go," Mary Kathryn said. "Mom, we're going to Bundle of Joy in the mall. I'm driving because Michael is holding Jessica for Billie Sue."

I noticed Mary Kathryn just laid the phone on the dash without turning it off. From time to time one of us commented on what we were passing. Billie Sue started doing it as well, pointing out things she liked or disliked.

Minutes before we got to the mall, I said, quite loudly, "I think Billie Sue should be allowed to shop for as long as she wants, don't you Mary Kathryn?"

It took a minute for her to realize that I was giving Billie Sue a few minutes of pleasure before heaven-only-knows-what would happen to her, and informing Mom what I planned to do, and Mary Kathryn answered, "Indeed she should. She needs to look and look before she picks out a beautiful dress and pretty shoes."

When we reached the mall, I was still holding Elizabeth. When Billie Sue reached for her, I said, "I'll hold her while you and Mary Kathryn look at dresses and shoes."

"Ok, because I want to find a very, very beautiful dress and some pretty little shoes, so you take good care of her while we look."

As we walked into the store, I saw Zack and his partner Irene who were standing at the door like security guards. "Zack, Irene, we're here with Billie Sue to pick out a dress and some shoes for the baby."

"Look as long as you want, Billie Sue. We'll be right here if you need us," Zack said.

Billie Sue and Mary Kathryn went on into the store and when they were far enough away, I said to Zack and Irene, "Everything's ok, as ok as it can be. Billie Sue is completely out of it, I think, so let her have the joy of picking out a dress and shoes before you take her."

"Sure," Irene said.

Half an hour later, Billie Sue and Mary Kathryn came back to where I was still standing near Zack. "Look what we found, Michael," Billie Sue exclaimed, holding up a very frilly dress and a pair of tiny black patent leather shoes. "I want to put them on her."

"She's comfortable right now. Given them to me and I'll dress her," I said. She gave me the dress and shoes and I started to put them on Elizabeth when she made a noise which sounded very much like she had messed her diaper. "I think she needs changing," I said. Billie Sue had a small bag with her. She reached into it and handed me a diaper. I put Elizabeth on top of a counter and, awkwardly, changed her diaper--it was just wet, no mess--and then got her dressed. When she was dressed, I held her for Billie Sue to see, then nodded to Zack.

"Billie Sue, you need to come with us for a while," Irene said. "Michael will take care of the baby."

"Now you take good care of her, Michael," Billie Sue said.

"I sure will, Billie Sue. Don't worry."

She left with the two officers without protest, stopping to wave as she got into the police car.

As soon as they left, Mary Kathryn started crying. "What in the world, Mary Kathryn? What's wrong?"

"Michael, you are one of the kindest, sweetest people I know. I am so glad you gave that poor girl a half hour or so pleasure." She then managed to kiss me full on the mouth in spite of Elizabeth.

Before she broke the kiss, Dad came from the back of the store with a couple of men who introduced themselves as members of the task force. One of them said, "The next time we have a case, I think I'll call on some students from Independence. We were busy chasing a shop lifter who had lifted a couple cans of formula for a neighbor's sick child while you two were finding the baby."

"We wouldn't have done it without the help of our school buddies," Mary Kathryn said. "I'm just glad it's over. And I feel so sorry for that poor girl. I guess I should be angry at her for taking our sister, but I'm not and I am very sorry for her."

"She's definitely in need of help," Dad said, "and you can be sure, she'll have a much easier life where she's going than she had at home. Speaking of which, that's where we need to be headed. I called Margaret and told her we had Elizabeth and she was safe, but she'll not believe it until she sees her. I'll take her now, Michael."

"Don't think so, Dad. I think I'll take her home. She's asleep and happy in her new dress and shoes. Which, by the way, you need to pay for."

Mary Kathryn and I walked to the Tracker and she said, "I guess I'm driving and you're holding the baby."

"Yea, and you know something, Mary Kathryn, it might not have been so bad had you been preg... Holy shit! This baby has just shit all over me!"

"What were you going to say, Michael?" Mary Kathryn laughed. "In case you haven't guessed it, you'll have to have lessons in putting on diapers before WE have one of our own. Elizabeth, you may well be better birth control than anything on the market," Mary Kathryn laughed then added, "especially with the perfume you are wearing--Bundle of Joy."

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