It was 11:30 when Jonathan and I got back to the store. After Jonathan told Mr. Dennison what had gone on at the DDA's office, the band decided to break for lunch. We went to the Busy Bee for hamburgers and fries. While we were eating, Jonathan told the group about seeing Mark Grey and what kids in the compound had said about him. After we had eaten, Tom said he and his dad had always liked to get hamburgers at the Busy Bee even though, as his dad said, you get a month's grease allotment with each hamburger. "But I do love those greasy burgers," he said.
After lunch, the gang went back to the store to practice until Tom was scheduled to go to work at 1:00. At 1:00, he started work and the rest of us debated what to do since it was too early to do the cleaning and too late to go back home.
We all noticed Jonathan was very nervous, but said nothing to him. Instead Hank said, "Let's go by the Y and see who's there. Maybe shoot some baskets."
Jonathan said he didn't know much about basketball but he really surprised us when we started playing. He became quite aggressive and did amazingly well. "You keep that up and Coldsprings will be out to recruit you next year," Jason said.
We played a couple hours, working up a good sweat, and all needed to shower, which we did. When we got dressed, we still had an hour or so before we could really start cleaning. As we walked out of the gym, Bill Kennedy, Ms. Kennedy's husband, walked out with us. He was a CPA and had an accounting office in Clarksville.
"Thought you and Ms. Kennedy would be headed for sunny shores over the break," Hank said. "You know, sunshine, white sand, blue water and bathing beauties."
Mr. Kennedy laughed and said, "Don't I wish. We had planned on it but the state has come up with some new nonsense and Emily either had to work over the break or spend twelve-hour days after the holidays. She chose to work over the break which means she'll get spring break. Spring break usually means work days for counselors, principals and non-teaching staff, but this year we're off to Mexico. You guys taking it easy over the break?"
"Some. We still have our jobs and, of course, have to take care of things at home," Hank said. "And Douglas here is going to Asheville three days a week now for piano. He's a rising star with the Asheville Symphony."
I could feel my face get hotter as I blushed while Hank told Mr. Kennedy about my being asked to play with the symphony. Before I could say anything, Mr. Kennedy said, "Wow. Congratulations, Douglas. Good going. Does Emily know about that?" I shook my head. "She should. Emily is very proud of you guys and you have every right to be proud of yourselves. But I suddenly realize I am being rude. I don't believe I know you, young man," he said, looking at Wesley.
"I'm the one being rude," I said. "Mr. Kennedy, this is Wesley Wilson, my first cousin. He'll be going to Coldsprings if we can get him in. Wesley, Mr. Kennedy's wife is counselor at Coldsprings."
"Nice to met you, Mr. Kennedy," Wesley said, shaking his hand.
"You have some time right now?" Mr. Kennedy asked Wesley.
"Sure. Well we all have to be back here sometime to do our cleaning, but right now we're free."
"Hank, why don't you and your buddies take Wesley over to meet Emily and get the ball rolling getting him enrolled? You up to that?"
"Sure," Hank responded.
"Good, I'll give Emily a call." Mr. Kennedy took out his cell phone and called Ms. Kennedy and talked with her briefly. When he closed the phone, he said, "Emily says she'll welcome an interruption. Go on over. Good luck, Wesley. You're in with a good crowd. Well I'm off to crunch some numbers. Getting ready for the tax season to hit shortly."
We all piled into the Jeep and headed for Coldsprings High. On the way, Wesley asked, "Just how much will I have to tell the counselor?"
"No more than you want to, I guess," I answered. "But if you are worried about her blabbing, we can all tell you she keeps secrets very well. So while you don't have to tell her very much, you can feel free to tell her anything."
"Does she know you are gay? That you and Jason are lovers? The reason Jonathan was beaten and is living with Hank now?"
"Well, no," I replied. "There was no reason for telling her those things. I guess you'll just have to come up with some reason for not staying at home and coming here."
When we reached the school, we went to the front entrance and walked in. It was spooky. The building was vacant. "I guess we just walk down to the counselor's office," I said, leading the way. The door to the counseling center was closed and, I soon discovered, locked. I knocked on it and a few minutes later, knocked again. As soon as I had, the door opened and Ms. Kennedy said, "Good to see you guys. Come on in. I keep the door locked while I am here because most of the time I'm the only person around. Hi, I'm Emily Kennedy, the counselor around here. You must be Wesley Wilson," Ms. Kennedy said, extending her hand to Wesley.
"Yes, I'm Wesley," he answered, shaking her hand.
"Let's go to the conference room if you want your buddies in on this," Ms. Kennedy said.
"Sure, let's go," Wesley said.
We all walked down the hall toward the conference room. When we reached Ms. Kennedy's office, she said, "Go on, guys, I need to get some forms." We were all seated around the conference table when she came in and said, "Before we get to you, Wesley, what's going on with the rest of you? Douglas, Bill told me you were moving up in the music world. Playing with the Asheville Symphony, I understand."
"Well it's a possibility, but not definite until I actually practice with the orchestra a couple times."
"You know Douglas, Ms. Kennedy. He'll play humble until it's time to prove himself and he will. You know that, I know that and even Douglas knows that," Jason said.
"But we don't want to give away all his secrets do we, Jason? What have you been up to?"
"May be doing some playing myself," Jason answered. "Jonathan, Wesley, Hank and I are trying to get a group together. There's a fifth member, Tom MacCarter. I think you have met him."
"Yes. Got him enrolled and ready to go as soon as Christmas break is over. How did you get up with him?"
"He came into the store looking for a group to play with and ended up with a job," Hank said. "He'll be working part-time at the store."
"Yeah, and Old Hank has to pay him," Jonathan laughed.
Hank reached over and gave Jonathan a bop on the arm and said, "With Douglas going to Asheville three days a week and maybe playing baseball, he's giving up his job cleaning and I'm taking his place--well I guess Jonathan, Wesley and I are making up a crew for Jason who has added more to his responsibilities, so I am paying part of Tom's wages. Not fair for me to be earning money while Dad and Mom have to pay someone to do my job at the store."
"As I've said before, you're a remarkable bunch. Well, Wesley, tell me your story. Why are you showing up in Coldsprings High? Where have you been?"
"I'm from Charlotte. I went to Myers Park High."
"Did you bring a transcript?"
"No, see... well..."
"Ms. Kennedy, Wesley ran away from home. His family does not know where he is and, well, it would be terrible if they found out," I said.
"Doesn't it stand to reason that they would think he might have come here, to his first cousin's?"
Wesley got a crooked smile on his face and said, "Ms. Kennedy, Douglas' place would, I assure you, be the last place they would think about looking." He then explained why his family wouldn't think of him being in Coldsprings, leaving out nothing so far as the Wilsons' treatment of my family.
"I see," Ms. Kennedy said. "Guess you now know what we all know about how great Douglas and his family and friends are. But we have a real problem here. I can't very well enroll you without a transcript and, since you are a senior, I know you want to be enrolled."
"Ms. Kennedy, if the only choice I have is to make it possible for my parents to find me and not be enrolled, I'll have to not be enrolled. Maybe later it will be ok. I'll be eighteen in ten days and I don't think they could force me back then."
"I sense there is more behind this than just being peeved at your parents," Ms. Kennedy responded.
Wesley looked around at each of us, a question in his eyes. He hung his head a few minutes, looked up at Ms. Kennedy and said, "Ms. Kennedy, I am gay."
I'm sure every eye in the room was on Ms. Kennedy except, maybe, Hank's. She didn't bat an eye and merely said, "And?"
Wesley then told her his story and ended up saying, "So you can see why my parents must not find me."
Ms. Kennedy said, "Sorry that your parents feel they have to try to change you. I don't think it is possible and I am sure not convinced by what I see of Exodus and other groups who claim to change gay men into macho heterosexuals. But that doesn't solve our problem here. I'll have to do some thinking but, for the present, let's see what you were taking at Meyers Park. I'll assume you were on track for graduation this spring and just duplicate here what you were taking there--if it's possible. We certainly do not have the curriculum offerings of a school the size of Meyers Park."
Wesley told her what he was taking at Meyers Park and she was able to enroll him in essentially the same courses. When she had finished, she sat tapping her pen on the enrollment form she had just completed. She finally looked up and said, "Wesley, school doesn't start again until Tuesday, January second. Your birthday is the following week. I'm going to keep the request for your transcript in your file. I don't think there will be any problem with waiting until your birthday. I'll call Meyers Park and ask that they not reveal your address or the school in which you are enrolling and request that they fax a transcript. That should work."
"I appreciate it, Ms. Kennedy," Wesley said.
"And, Wesley, I know some gay young men feel a real need to out themselves. You will, of course, make your own decision in that regard, but I would advise you to give it very serious thought before doing so. Many, perhaps most, Coldsprings students have lived very isolated and sheltered lives. I'm sure many of the students here at Coldsprings honestly believe they have never known a gay person and that there are none at Coldsprings."
"Most of their families are fundamentalist Christians, even more so than the people who advised your parents to send you to St. Paul's. People from cities are often seen as naturally wicked, and homosexuality a wicked choice deserving of death. I am sure your friends here would defend you and try to protect you should you out yourself, but it would be difficult and I am not sure you want to subject them or yourself to the consequences. Basically, I ask you to be honest with yourself and those around you, but I don't think that requires you to discuss your sexual orientation with anyone."
"I understand your point, Ms. Kennedy. I don't think I will be opening myself up to the kind of rejection and hurt I have experienced before, and I certainly don't think my sexuality is anyone's business unless I am in a very, very trusting relationship."
After Wesley was unofficially officially enrolled--or officially unofficially enrolled--we talked with Ms. Kennedy about what we had been doing during the holidays and then said goodbye before returning to Clarksville to do the cleaning. Since I would only have to turn around and come back if I went home while the crew cleaned, I helped out.
Mr. Sharpe, the senior partner in the law firm, had left a note for Jason asking him to replace the light bulbs in the hall fixtures and law library. Seems the maintenance people hadn't done that and they only checked the building once a month unless there was an emergency.
"Mr. Sharpe says he has an account at Ace Hardware and we can pick up the bulbs there. I'll check to see how many we need and maybe you can run and get them, Jonathan. You know where the hardware store is, right?" Jonathan nodded and he and Jason started counting the burned-out bulbs. When Jason finished, he said, "There must have been a power surge or something recently. There were twenty burned-out bulbs. No wonder Mr. Sharpe noticed it."
I was working in the library with Wesley, and while we worked we talked about his meeting with Ms. Kennedy. He felt very good about it and was definitely up. I'm sure he didn't think we noticed, but Jason and I had talked about how he seemed to be up until after Christmas and then seemed pretty down. Jason had suggested it was because he had to do something about getting enrolled in school and was afraid his parents would find out where he was. I guess Jason was right, because now that he had taken care of that, he was definitely up.
When we finished in the library, Wesley headed to the toilets. Jason had said that job would have to be rotated but he hadn't told Wesley, and Wesley hadn't mentioned thinking it was someone else's time to take on the job. Hank came out into the hall where Jason and I were standing, leaning against the ladder Jason had set up to change the bulbs. "I get kinda nervous when I see you two leaning against a ladder," Hank grinned. "But at least this time you're not trying to undress my boss, Douglas."
Jason and I laughed and Jason leaned over an kissed me on the mouth. "Looks like your boss might not object to being undressed," I said, kissing Jason back.
About that time, Wesley came out of a toilet and said, "I'm finished. What's left?"
"We have these bulbs to replace if Jonathan ever gets back, then we're finished," Jason replied.
"Seems like he's been gone long enough to have made two trips to the hardware," Hank said.
It was as if Hank's words froze all of us. Then he said, "Damn! You don't think something has happened to Jonathan, do you?"
"Oh, my God," Wesley exclaimed. "Time to panic!"
Without discussion, all four of us poured down the stairs and out into the street, headed for the hardware store at full speed. I think we all expected to see Jonathan walking toward us and feared we wouldn't. Things got even worse when we reached the hardware store and Jonathan hadn't been there.
Hank reached behind the checkout counter, grabbed the store's phone and dialed 911. When he got the emergency operator, she was unwilling to call out police since Jonathan had only been gone less half an hour. Hank finally broke the connection and dialed the police directly. The desk sergeant was equally unwilling to do anything.
"Look, we are not going to get anyone excited about a 14-year-old's disappearance on the way to the store half an hour ago unless we get someone in authority as concerned as we are. Mr. Anderson, the deputy district attorney, saw how frightened he was this morning. Let's see if we can reach him," I said. "See if you can find his number."
Hank asked the cashier, who had been standing behind the counter wondering why a teenage mob had invaded, for the phone book. When he got the book, he found Mr. Anderson was not listed.
None of us was thinking very clearly--beyond imagining what terrible things might have happened to Jonathan. Finally Wesley said, "I'm sure the lawyers we clean for know how to contact Mr. Anderson."
"I'm a dumbass. Why didn't I think of that?" Hank said, slapping his forehead. "I mean we had dinner and a movie with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Sharpe. Certainly they know each other."
"Call young Mr. Sharpe," Jason said. "He's been very interested in this case and is single, so he's not likely to be think we shouldn't be disturbing him. Besides, as you said, he and Mr. Anderson are friends. Old Mr. Sharpe is a nice man, but he is at an age where he doesn't like his routine upset."
Hank handed Jason the phone book and Jason dialed the number and said, "It's ringing... Damn, the machine's picking up. Mr. Sharpe, this is Jason Talltree. Jonathan's miss... Thank goodness you picked up," Jason said. He then explained why he had called. "Yes sir, we'll be right there." Jason hung up the phone and said, "Mr. Sharpe said for us to wait at the law office."
We had been back at the office ten minutes or less--it only seemed like an eternity--when young Mr. Sharpe and Mr. Anderson came bounding up the stairs. The two were about the same age--thirty, I guess.
Mr. Sharpe is tall and slender and always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln. Well he's better looking, but not too much. Mr. Anderson is built like a football player, very blond. Unlike what you might expect, he moved quickly and with purpose. Mr. Sharpe seemed to take plenty of time for every move and always seemed kinda tentative, even now, but both were in overdrive. Any tentativeness on the part of Mr. Sharpe was just appearance and, I suspect, fooled a lot of lawyers who didn't know him.
Young Mr. Sharpe was Stonewall Jackson Sharpe the fourth, a name he didn't like used very often, and all his friends called him Stone. Mr. Anderson's name was Joseph Stanley Anderson, but his friends called him Tim. He was called Tim because his dad was in the army and his mom was moving from post to post with him when he was born. "He was conceived in Tennessee, quickened in Indiana and born in Missouri so he's Tim," she told everybody.
"Guys, have you called Jonathan's family?" Mr. Sharpe asked.
"Yeah, I called Dad. He's on his way," Hank answered.
Mr. Anderson began, "Fellows, I'm not going to tell you everything is ok and not to worry. It wouldn't do any good in the first place and, I won't lie to you, I am more than concerned. I called the police chief directly, as soon as Stone called me, and told him to get moving and get his men moving. Right now I need everything you can tell me."
"There's not much to tell," Jason said. "We were cleaning and Mr. Sharpe senior had asked that we replace the burned-out bulbs. His note said we could get them at the hardware store. We were all working and Jonathan had finished what he was doing and, without thinking, I asked him to go for the bulbs. When he didn't come back in a reasonable time we all realized we had let him out of our sight, panicked, raced to the hardware store and found what we had feared was true."
"Having seen Jonathan this morning, I am sure you realize he hasn't just wondered off in a daze. I'm just surprised he left the office without reminding us he was frightened. It's really my fault. I should have remembered," I said.
"We all should have," Wesley said.
"No-one's to blame since you were doing what you would normally have done, and simply forgot. Beating yourselves up not only won't help, it'll also keep your minds occupied with something you can't change when you need to be thinking clearly," Mr. Sharpe said.
"He's right," Mr. Anderson agreed. As he was speaking, the police chief and another officer come in the door. "Let's go to the conference room and sit down and see what we need to do."
We all sat around the conference table except the officer who came with the chief. She stood in a corner with a notepad and her radio. "Mr. Anderson tells me Jonathan was the fourteen-year-old beaten and left for dead last November. That right?"
"Yes, and he agreed to testify if he's needed," Jason said, "even though he was terrified of what some members of The Circle of God's Chosen might do to him."
"He's a brave kid and we've got to see that he is safe," the chief
said. "What did he have on?"
"Tan cargo pants, a white and red rugby shirt and a dark blue parka with yellow on the collar and cuffs," Wesley said. "All pretty ordinary."
"His shoes were not ordinary," Jason chuckled. "They are nearly new weird Nikes, bright red and white. Not your usual-looking shoes."
"And he left here headed for the hardware store? Ace Hardware?" the chief asked.
"Yes, and he never reached the store," I said.
"And he left, what, an hour ago?"
"More like three quarters of an hour. Yeah, that's about right, I think," Jason said.
"And you said he was frightened, fearing something from the Sadies Cove crowd?" We all nodded.
"Yes, he was. He was in my office this morning when some of the sheriff's men brought in two people from up there and he just about passed out. He's terrified of them," Mr. Anderson said.
"And that's the reason we should never have sent him out by himself," I said.
"Seems reasonable to me you could send anyone the four blocks down Main Street in broad daylight regardless," the chief said. "You hardly expect Clarksville to be a hotbed of crime." He turned to the officer on the radio and said, "Betty, get two officers going over the route between here and Ace Hardware. Have them go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Talk to anybody, everybody that may have seen Jonathan. Then get the sheriff up here. Mr. Henderson disappeared in Clarksville, but I don't think you could find anyone who wouldn't suspect the Sadies Cove crowd was behind it. We need to be as tight as Siamese twins on this. Tell him to come here. Then call the local radio station and have them broadcast a request for anyone seeing Jonathan or anything suspicious to give us a call. Also call the Asheville TV station and have them broadcast the same on the 6:00pm news, if not before."
"Sam," Mr. Anderson said to the chief, "I know the sheriff's men have been over the compound with a microscope, but don't you think another search is in order?"
"Absolutely. Tim, can you get a search warrant?"
"I'll get right on it," Mr. Anderson said. He took out a cell phone and made a call. When he finished he said, "Judge Patterson is the one who will have to issue a warrant and he is always reluctant to do so, regardless of the situation. And in this case, he is convinced everyone is persecuting innocent Christians out there. I'm damn sure he's not going to like the idea of issuing one to search for a missing teenager who has been gone less than an hour. Especially if he learns Jonathan ran away from up there. He'll just see that as evidence the boy needed to be disciplined. I'll have to try some other route to getting a warrant."
"Tim, you know what happened to Jonathan earlier and why he's living with the Dennisons?" Mr. Sharpe asked.
"I do. He told me about it this morning. That's why I wanted his testimony. It would be very damning. Of course, that's why he was scared and was reluctant to agree to testify. I should have given him 24/7 protection, but I never imagined anyone would make a move on him in broad daylight on a city street--a Clarksville street."
"He had reason to fear what members and leaders of the compound might do, and to believe he was in imminent danger. Do what is necessary to get a warrant. We can worry about legal niceties later. Right now, let's worry about Jonathan's safety," Mr. Sharpe said.
Mr. Sharpe had barely finished speaking when the chief told Officer Betty to get a search team organized. "Have the dispatcher call in as many off-duty officers as she can locate." The words were hardly out of his mouth when the sheriff and Hank's dad burst into the conference room.
"Tommy, get your dispatcher to get deputies in for a search party," the chief said to the sheriff. "All you can get ahold of, off-duty as well. Have them assemble at Coldsprings High. I'll ride out with you and fill you in on the way. Betty, drive my patrol car out. Let's go."
Mr. Anderson asked, "Stone, can you handle things here? If so, I'll ride out with the chief and sheriff. We want to make sure Mr. Henderson is safe first and foremost, but if we find any evidence I'd like to see if we can keep it from being thrown out on technical grounds."
"Hit the road, Tim. You have my cell number, right?"
Tim kinda grinned when Stone asked and said, "I think I have it somewhere. You coming out?"
"As soon as we get things settled here. I'll give you a call. Be careful."
"Not to worry."
As soon as the law officers and Mr. Anderson left, Mr. Sharpe said, "Mr. Dennison, can I get you a coke or something? We'll just have to wait here a bit, and while we're waiting I'll fill you in." Before Mr. Dennison could answer, Mr. Sharpe said, "Jason, get us all a coke."
He continued, "Mr. Dennison, I'll kid you not, we have a serious and frightening situation on our hands. I think you can depend on everything possible being done and I hope and pray that all will turn out ok. What have you been told about the situation?"
Mr. Dennison told us what he had been told which was everything we knew.
"I know it's a damn foolish question, but I need to ask it anyway: was there any reason Jonathan might have decided to run away, to go back to his parents, just wander off?"
"As you said, it's a damn foolish question. Jonathan was terrified of his parents and others of The Circle of God's Chosen."
"I don't think anyone who has gotten to know the lad would think otherwise, but I want to make sure we cross all the Ts and dot all the Is we can, because I can tell you The Circle of God's Chosen seem to have piles of money to hire lawyers, and what is about to happen is not strictly kosher. Tim and the law officers are moving ahead without a search warrant. I doubt they'll actually enter the compound, but they'll button it up tight until they do get one. He'll try to make sure we don't lose evidence. But, at the same time, no- one wants to wait around while Jonathan's missing."
"I can't imagine why it would be needed, but I have another question. Do you have someone to look out for Jonathan's interests? What I mean is, do you have a lawyer you'd like to notify to look out for Jonathan? Someone who could be a friend of the court on behalf of the boy? Protect his interests regardless of what comes up?"
"I guess I thought that might be one of the benefits of his employment," Mr. Dennison said, with a sly look at Mr. Sharpe.
"So it is, I guess I forgot," the young lawyer grinned back. It was clear to all that Mr. Sharpe had found a way to make sure he was included in whatever would happen, making sure Jonathan's best interests were protected. "Excuse me, I'll be right back," he said, leaving the room.
A few minutes later, he came back with a fist full of papers. "Here's that part of the employment contract," he said. "I meant to get it signed earlier, but there's a clause in the contract which takes care of that. I'll need all of you to sign it since you are all employed by Jake and working here. I'll get Jake's John Henry as soon as I can. Mr. Dennison, you sign it as Jonathan's guardian."
As soon as that bit of business was taken care of, Mr. Sharpe said, "I guess we need to get out to Coldsprings. Let's see, you fellows live in Deep Cove. That's between Coldsprings and Sadies Cove, right?"
"Right," several of us answered.
"Then let's set up shop in Deep Cove so we can be available to the law officers as needed. Besides, if I remember from spending summers on granddad's farm, it's almost milking time. But I guess you young whipper-snappers get your milk out of a carton."
"You don't think we milk?" Jason asked.
"You do?" Mr. Sharpe asked, amazed. "I would have thought milking was a thing of the past."
"Don't try to tell the cows that," I said.
"Mr. Dennison, I know you and your family will be very concerned about Jonathan and waiting for news. I'd like to suggest that we set up shop at your place," Mr. Sharpe said.
"We will take care of your chores and ours, prepare supper and do anything else that you need done," I offered.
"That's not necessary," Mr. Dennison said.
"I know it's not, but I know how upset Hank is and how all of you are on needles and pins. Not to say we're not, but I do think you need to just hang by the phone."
"It's nice of you to offer."
"Fine, and don't worry about your evening chores or supper. We'll see to that," I repeated.
Half an hour later, the three of us were at home, Wesley and I taking care of the chores, Jason working on supper. Wesley had been working hard at learning to milk, but he didn't have it down well enough to get one cow done by the time I could finish one, so I suggested he take care of feeding the animals and I would do all the milking.
When we got back to the house and had taken care of the milk, Jason had things ready to take to the Dennisons' for supper. "I just got things together, since it is a lot easier to take things and prepare supper there," he said.
When we arrived at the Dennisons', we took Jason's supplies to the kitchen. Hank followed us and when we asked if there was any news, he said they had heard nothing. "I'll start getting supper ready," Jason said. "Hank, it might speed things up if you went with Wesley and Douglas to take care of the chores.
Forty-five minutes later, we had finished the chores and Jason was ready to serve supper--bowls of hot homemade soup and a good salad. When Mr. Sharpe hung back, Jason urged him to join the family. "You don't know how long we will be waiting here," he said.
We finished supper and were having coffee when Mr. Dennison asked, "What do you know about this compound, Mr. Sharpe?"
"Call me Stone, Mr. Dennison...."
"Several years ago, about this time of year, a man named Silas Mitchell showed up in Clarksville looking for a piece of property. He said he needed at least a hundred acres--secluded, he said, because he was planning a religious retreat. He was shown lots of property in the area, but none satisfied him. He left and was soon forgotten."
"In late spring, early summer, he came back and started developing what had been the property of old Bill Simpson. The old man lived alone. His only child, a son, had died several years before, as had his wife. It turns out Silas Mitchell placed him in a nursing home in exchange for the hundred acres Simpson's grandfather had settled. The property came cheap since Simpson died a few weeks later."
"Mitchell had started in LA, just an ordinary TV preacher, but gradually his sermons became stranger and stranger and he started gathering a group around himself. He purchased an apartment complex which was transformed in to a commune. Kids were allowed to attend school if they were school age, and adults worked. But aside from being in school or at work, they lived in the commune or if they left the commune, all left. Because of complaints from neighbors, the commune finally can under scrutiny by city inspectors. Violation after violation piled up, until the conflict with city officials resulted in the commune being given sixty days to correct the violations or be closed and locked."
"Only when the complex was put on the market did people find out Mitchell and his group had left the city, disappeared. Nothing was heard from them until they turned up in Montana and, again, because they managed to get into a conflict with county commissioners. An unlikely event since the people of Montana are generally live and let live, and there so much space it's hard to rub your neighbors the wrong way, but Mitchell and his group did. That's when he showed up here. As soon as he had the mobile homes, the rest of the members moved in. The mobile homes were quickly replaced by McMansions, really. The mobile homes have been moved and are being renovated and turned in to classrooms, as the group has already announced this will be the last year members' children will go to public school. Some time ago, the entire one hundred acres were fenced."
"The people in the compound kept to themselves. Occasionally some would go into Clarksville for something, but they seemed to buy most anything they needed through wholesalers who delivered to the compound. I was told by one of the delivery men that he called into the compound from the front gate and drove directly into a basement unloading dock, never seeing anyone except the man who directed his unloading."
"Occasionally I have heard tales about what goes on up there, but Jonathan was, to the best of my knowledge, the first person who left and stayed out. Then the stories of child abuse started trickling out and you know the rest."
Mr. Sharpe had just finished speaking when his cell phone rang. He opened it, said, "Hello," and listened for a good long time. "What do you make of that?" he asked, and nodded his head several times while he listened. "Keep us posted and take good care of yourself, Tim." He listened for a minute or so more and then said, "Me too. Bye."
When he had folded the phone, he looked up and said, "The chief and the sheriff have had some news. The officers assigned to go over the route Jonathan would have taken think they have something. Two kids who were supposedly in karate ditched school and were hiding in the alley beside the old five and dime, smoking. They hid behind a dumpster the first time the officers passed, but weren't quick enough to escape them the second time when they were doing a good search of the alley. When the officers described what Jonathan was wearing, they immediately remembered the red and white shoes. 'We saw a fellow wearing shoes like that,' one said. 'Yeah,' the other added, 'he was walking along when a Humvee pulled up beside him. Two men got out, grabbed him, put something over his face, then dragged him into the car and hightailed it out of town.' No doubt in the officers' minds that the kids had witnessed Jonathan's abduction. I think we can safely assume he was abducted by members of The Circle of God's Chosen."
We all nodded in agreement as, I'm sure, we got a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
"Tim said the chief and sheriff are going into the compound just to have a look around, if they can. Nothing official since they haven't gotten a search warrant yet. We'll wait until we get some report before making any decisions about what to do next," Mr. Sharpe said. "One of the sheriff's deputies is also trying to get a fix on the Humvee. The two kids didn't get a tag number, but a camouflage- painted Humvee in Haywood county can't be one of many. Even if they have to search all the western counties there couldn't be too many.