Other than the discovery of the kiddie porn business, there were no other big surprises in the cave," Tim said. "The big surprise awaited the SWAT team. I expected shots to be fired almost as soon as the personnel carrier was away from the gate, but it didn't happen. The SWAT team drove the carrier into the center of the compound without a single shot being fired. At first they decided the cult members had decided to be reasonable, but were confused by the complete lack of any response to their presence. The longer they sat in the carrier, the more worried they became. They simply did not know what to make of the situation."
"Finally, after waiting almost half an hour for something to happen, the carrier was moved behind the assembly building where there were no windows, and the SWAT team got out and moved around the building, protecting themselves as much as possible. As soon as they rounded the corner of the building, they saw the main doors were open and they heard singing. Still they saw no-one and the only evidence of people was the singing. Reaching the entrance of the assembly building, the lead team prepared themselves and rushed the building. Inside they found a room full of dead bodies. I guess we should have been thinking about Jonestown, not Waco. The singing was a tape which had been started, I suspect by Mitchell, just before he took 'communion'."
"That's what they had done. Mitchell and the leaders had passed out poisoned wine in small paper cups. There is a tape of the whole thing, beginning with Mitchell telling the people what horrible things awaited them and their children 'on this wicked and damned earth' if they allowed the Anti-Christ state to capture them alive. He then told them he had a vision 'of wicked and sinful men coming, taking our children, and killing us. But we are The Circle of God's Chosen and God is calling us to paradise, to the gardens of heaven, and we are going.' He then instructed the 'servants of the Lord' to 'give the blood of Christ to our little ones,' and after a short time, he said, 'Our little ones are now with God. Cover their beautiful bodies.'"
"The children were laid in rows at the front of the assembly hall, covered with quilts. Mitchell told the adults, 'it is time to join our beautiful children in heaven.' Apparently he and the leaders waited until all the other adults were dead, arranged their bodies and covered them before making their own 'communion'. He and all the members of The Circle of God's Chosen are dead. All Mitchell's followers are dead..." Tim paused, recalling the horror which confronted all who looked into the assembly hall. "They are all dead except those who, perhaps, should be dead--those who were destroying children in another way in the cave."
Everyone was silent for a very long minute, then Hank said, "Maybe the children are better off dead if they were to be treated as Jonathan was--while he was there and yesterday when they dragged him back. I am not sorry those who have tortured him are either dead or on the way to jail for a very, very long time, not sorry at all."
"Neither am I," I said, "but that's all over and done with. What I am concerned about is Jonathan. I know he's going to need a lot of help and support when he's with us again."
"You are so very right," Wes said.
We all fell silent again and, after another very long minute, Jason said, "And now we have to get ready for a news conference."
We all refilled our coffee cups and went into the den to plan for the next event, all with a sick feeling in our gut, I knew.
"As a public official, I cannot easily ban a reporter or news organization from any news conference I hold," Tim said, "but you can. Since I wasn't in on the rescue, there is very little I can say, except to report on the results. I suspect the reporters are going to be very interested in the deaths in the compound and the child porn business, and your part in rescuing Jonathan will likely be overlooked. In any event, it's up to you who you talk with. I'll call Gertrude and have her tell those who call we will be holding both news conferences in the courthouse. I've commandeered the small court room for those of you who did the rescue and the larger one for my news conference. Anything else before I call Gertrude?"
"Guess not. We can separate the sheep from the goats at the end of your news conference," Jason said.
Tim called Gertrude and then we talked among ourselves about what we would and would not tell reporters. Earlier Tim had suggested we wear the wind suits we had worn the night before. "Sliding down rocks and crawling in sand, among other things, had left them looking well worn, like they might have been involved in a commando raid. May as well look the part," he had laughed.
We talked a bit about that but decided we'd dress as we would for school, just typical teenagers. Stone and Wes, of course, dressed as adults--Wes in his John Wesley Bushyhead buckskins and Stone in khakis and button-down shirt.
Tim had set the news conference at 5:00, much to the chagrin of the TV reporters since they would have very little time to get anything ready for the 6:00 news but, as Tim said, they had footage from the compound and the cave although the SBI had limited filming in both. Only one reporter and camera man were allowed to go in and they had to act for all the press.
"The reporters got film of you all at the hospital, so if any reporter is really interested in what you folks did, she could always show shots of you at the hospital with the promise of "film at 11:00."
We were all dressed and ready to go when Tim said, "It's 4:20. We need to be on our way."
There were seven of us to get into town, so Tim drove his official car and Wes and Stone went with him. Hank, Jason, Wesley and I were in my Jeep, right behind them. Like our departure from Clarksville after Jonathan disappeared, our return was done with few words being spoken.
We were barely inside the city limits when the forest of TV remote antennas appeared. Tim pulled to the side of the road and motioned for me to drive up beside him.
"If we drive straight in, we'll be mobbed by TV people," he said when Jason got his window down so he we could talk. "I've been trying to think of a way to avoid that, and the only thing I can think of is for us to drive to the jail and get in the paddy wagon. We can have the driver pull into the basement of the courthouse and take the elevator up to the courtroom--the same route we use for getting prisoners from jail to courtroom."
"Sounds good to me," Wesley answered, "so long as I don't have to wear striped pajamas."
"Might look good on you," Stone called across Tim. "Besides, Haynes county doesn't have striped pajamas any longer. Our jail uniforms are beautiful day-glo orange jumpsuits with Inmate stenciled on the back. They would look marrrrvelous on you," he continued in his best Billy Crystal voice.
"Approach the jail from the back and drive into the open garage door underneath," Tim said. "I'll call the jail and made arrangements for the door to be open and the paddy wagon to be waiting. As soon as you are inside, I'll close the entrance and we'll get in the van. Right now, I'll go down Garden Street and if you go two blocks over and take Magnolia, paralleling me, we'll not be together and you should arrive close behind me. See you there."
I guess Tim had called Chief Whisnant because, as we were stopped at an intersection, two city police cars and two sheriff's department cars passed in front of us going up Main Street, lights flashing. The people inside were hiding their faces and could have been anyone. The ruse worked and, true to form, reporters scrambled to get to the cars as they pulled up to the side of the courthouse. Meanwhile, we crossed Main and got on Magnolia. We reached the jail just as Tim's car disappeared into the underground area.
As soon as we were parked, we joined the others getting into a closed van. A uniformed officer was standing beside the van's open door and as soon as we were all inside, he closed the door and we were off. The drive to the courthouse took practically no time and when the van stopped, the driver opened the door and we got out, again in an underground area. Tim led us to the elevator which quickly took us to a hallway behind the courtrooms, a hallway judges used going between their chambers and the bench.
Mr. and Mrs. Dennison were waiting in the hallway when we got off the elevator. Hank went over and hugged his parents, something he would not have thought about doing a few months ago. "How's Jonathan?" he asked. Mr. and Mrs. Dennison both looked worn out and, again, Mr. Dennison looked old.
"Physically he's doing ok," Mr. Dennison said. "He's still drifting in and out of consciousness, but the doctors say he's ok. He just had more drugs in his system than they thought, I guess."
"How'd you two escape the hordes outside?" Wesley asked. "We were hauled in like jailbirds."
"Tim had an ambulance pick us up at the hospital. Not sure but what I'd like to be all bandaged up so I couldn't see or hear what's about to happen," Mrs. Dennison said. Mr. Dennison had his arm around her shoulders and hugged her to himself.
When we reached a door marked "Courtroom One", Tim stopped and said, "I suggest when we go in, you all line up behind me. I'll make an opening statement and then will open the floor for questions. None of you need to say a word if you don't want to. I'll serve as moderator and if I think a question is off base, I'll say so. If I think it's ok, I'll look at one of you, but anyone can respond. Ok? I mean, are you really ok?"
We all took a deep breath and nodded.
When we went in, Tim read a prepared statement and passed out copies of it. When he finished, there were questions about the deaths of members of The Circle of God's Chosen, but the answers didn't involve anything we hadn't already been told. Apparently the child porn business hadn't leaked out to reporters since it was not mentioned--until a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times stood and said, "It is my understanding that The Circle of God's Chosen was not above a bit of sin. I understand there was a large kiddie porn operation going on in Sadies Cove."
"There was. As soon as we realized what had been going on, Mr. Grant of the SBI called in the FBI. Federal statues on kiddie porn are much tougher than the state ones."
"Can you tell us who was arrested in regard to that operation?" someone asked.
"Knowing that they are innocent until proven guilty, Abel Mitchell, son of the leader of the cult seems to have been in charge of that operation, but that's about all I can say at this time."
Finally a reporter asked, "Mr. Anderson, I understand a young man had been kidnapped by The Circle of God's Chosen. Is that true?"
I was very nervous when the question about Jonathan came right after the one about the kiddie porn. But Tim is smart and quickly got the focus on Jonathan pointing away from the porn business.
"Yes, it is true. A few months ago, Jonathan Henderson was physically abused by his father--a member of the cult--and by Silas Mitchell, Brother Leader of The Circle of God's Chosen. He was severely beaten then turned out into the snow to die. He was rescued by three students from Coldsprings High, who are standing behind me and who, by the way, were on the teams who rescued him last night, early this morning."
"When my office started getting child abuse reports connected with the compound, I issued an appeal asking that he come forward prepared to testify against leaders of the cult. He was terrified but brave, and in fact did come in. We talked, then later the same day he was abducted, drugged and taken to a bunker inside The Circle of God's Chosen's compound, where he was again abused. He was rescued by his brother and friends under the leadership of Mr. John Wesley Bushyhead and Mr. Stonewall Jackson Sharpe IV, who are here with me."
The next half hour, Tim answered questions, occasionally tossing one to us. There were a few more questions about the deaths and the kiddie porn story, but mostly the reporters were interested in Jonathan's rescue. Tim finally said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Bushyhead and Mr. Sharpe and the young men who rescued Jonathan have agreed to photo ops and questions. However, as Mr. Talltree announced earlier, WHNS and reporters for the Fox Network will not be allowed nor will those of you who hounded my poor secretary after being told to contact my office after 4:00."
As soon as a reporter started something about the public's right to know, Tim said, "And it is a reporter's job to find the facts. So while your colleagues are in a news conference, you can be out there digging for a story."
Tim then read from the list Gertrude had prepared and said, "Those whose names I have just called will not be admitted at Mr. Talltree's request. If the rest of you will move, in an orderly manner, to the courtroom next door, the men will answer your questions."
The next hour was spent answering questions and posing for pictures. Nothing really important and I was very glad when Tim finally said, "Thank you very much. Now I think we need to let these young men go home and get some rest. Thank you."
Of course there were still reporters pushing for just one more shot or question, but Tim herded us out through the judge's entrance and we were finally finished with that ordeal.
On the way home, we stopped by the hospital to see Jonathan. He was still groggy, but awake. He asked a lot of questions, but fortunately we were able to dodge most of them. He still was not as alert as I thought he would have been.
We were just about ready to leave when Jonathan suddenly said, "Look! It's you on TV."
Jonathan's TV had been on when we walked in and he had pushed the mute button, but left it on. Sure enough, filling the TV screen was a picture of us at the hospital earlier and a brief shot of us at the news conference.
I'm sure we all wanted to turn the TV off, but the damage had been done. Jonathan turned the mute off just as the anchor said, "We will have film from the Clarksville news conferences at 11:00." She then started another story and when she did, Jonathan turned off the TV.
"Wesley, your picture was on TV. Everyone will see it and they will send you back to that awful place," Jonathan said as the tears started flowing, "and it's all my fault."
I guess Wesley remembered what Jason had told him about getting Jonathan to fight to live and took a similar approach. "Bullshit, Jonathan! First of all, none of the crap which has gone down the last two days is your fault. In fact, you were trying to stop it. And I can tell you: no-one, but no-one, can make me go back to that place. Any effort to make me go back, or even to go back to Charlotte to live, will be met with stiff resistance. I learned one thing last night. I learned I am a lot stronger and have a lot more guts than I thought I had--than I had--before mountain magic made a man out of me. Anyway, we all have a lawyer now and I am sure Stone can give Mother and Father fits if they try, so forget any bullshit about you being to blame for anything that may happen to me."
Wesley was standing close to Jonathan's bed, close enough that Jonathan could reach him. Jonathan pulled Wesley to himself for a long hug.
We were getting ready to leave, when a whirlwind rushed through the door. "Jonathan, my hero!" Cody Andrews had arrived!
We left the two freshmen together and went on home. On the way Hank said, "Very good of you to try to keep Jonathan from blaming himself for revealing your hiding place, but what he said was true, you know. With all the publicity, everyone who knows you will know where you are."
"Yeah, well, I hadn't thought about that until Jonathan mentioned it, but I meant what I said. No-one is sending me anywhere I don't want to go. And, to be on the safe side, I'll talk to Stone tomorrow or as soon as he's back in his office."
"Speaking of Stone," Jason said, "is there any doubt in anyone's mind that Stone and Tim are lovers?"
"I suspected as much early last night from their phone conversations--at least Stone's side of them," Wesley said.
"Wesley, you were out of it when Tim called the waiting room. Stone was out of his gourd completely--to use Tim's word, shit-faced--from the happy juice you two had been given. When Tim called, Stone couldn't hold his phone. I took the call from Tim. Stone told me to tell Tim he was in fine shape and still in love with 'Timmy boy'. It was pretty obvious that if the two aren't lovers, Stone is suffering from unrequited love, and then some," I said.
Mrs. Dennison had insisted on preparing supper for all of us, so we went to the Dennisons' as soon as we had taken care of the evening chores. Wesley insisted he was going to help with the chores, but Jason reminded him he had a wound and that the barn is not a place you need to be if there is even a remote possibility of contaminating a wound.
I was surprised Stone, Tim and Wes were at the Dennisons' when we arrived, but I don't know why I should have been. I had heard Mrs. Dennison invite them to supper as well. We had a great supper, but we left as soon as we had helped clean up. Both Mr. And Mrs. Dennison were looking pretty haggard and had promised Jonathan and Hank they would go to bed and get some rest. Dr. Alexander had given them sleeping pills with strict orders to take them.
Hank joined the rest of us when we went to our place. As soon as we were inside, Wes said, "I don't suppose you fellows would know where Gerald keeps his snake bite medicine would you? I'm not sure but what this Indian got snake bit last night."
"As a matter of fact I do," I answered. "I suspect Stone got snake bit too, although I didn't see him handling snakes."
"Spirit snakes," Tim said, "one of them got me as well."
"With or without?" I asked.
"A splash and a cube," Wes responded.
Jason and I went into the kitchen and fixed three Jack Daniels and poured grapefruit juices for us younger folks. We got back to the living room just in time to hear Wes say, "We may as well be upfront with each other here. You are in good company, Wesley, so let's do some serious talking, especially since you have free legal advise, a rare commodity I might add."
"Upfront, good company, serious talk---what's going on here?" Jason asked.
"I was telling them why I am here, why I ran away from home," Wesley responded. "Well, actually all I said was that I ran away because I was gay."
"And there's more to it than that?" Wes asked.
"Yeah, there sure is," Wesley responded, and told them his whole story.
"Well, I'm surprised you don't want to sue the hell out of St. Paul's Clinic," Stone said. "I think you could, but that's not what concerns you."
"No, I'm not really concerned about it UNLESS someone tries to send me back. But, Wes, you said something about good company."
When Wesley said that, I glanced quickly at Stone and Tim, but couldn't tell whether or not they reacted.
"You mean you, don't you? I asked. "You and Andrew were lovers, weren't you?"
"Yes, we were. We never let on to the other until we were about your ages, juniors in high school. We had spent most of our waking hours together, practically from the time we could walk, so we were great friends who then fell in love. I suspect Bill Simpson found out about us--I don't know how--and that was what happened between him and Andrew, but I'll never know for sure."
"I guess if we are going to be honest and upfront, you all may as well know Stone and I have been a partners since we were sophomores in high school. We have lived in a 'don't ask, don't tell' world since then and still do. Both sets of parents know it, but won't admit it. I guess most of Haynes county knows, but ignores it. Probably a lot of the county ignores it because they have known us forever and 'don't want to think about it' as Mom says. It's the one reason I've never run for public office. I'm sure it would become a real dirty political issue and I don't think it's worth bothering with, so long as I can remain deputy district attorney and sure wouldn't subject Stone to all the shit which would be thrown our way."
"Give Stone some more happy juice and he'll announce it to the whole world," I laughed.
"Sometimes I feel like doing just that," Stone said.
"Well, since it seems to be true confessions time, I may as well admit it," Hank said, "there's no use hiding it any longer. As hard as it is for me to say..."
Jason, Wesley and I were all staring at Hank, mouths open.
Yeah, I'm very tired of hiding. I am the token straight guy in this crowd."
We all cracked up laughing and when we had stopped, Jason said, "I think you know Jonathan's gay and that's the reason he was beaten."
Tim said he had suspected as much, but didn't know why, and neither Stone nor Wes knew, so Jason told them about the boy. We also told them neither Mr. nor Mrs. Dennison knew about Jonathan and neither they nor the grandparents knew about Jason and me.
We talked about being gay in Haynes county and Coldsprings High School and it was good to know we had three very strong, very good, very caring gay men supporting us. Stone and Tim did most of the talking about the possible results of Wesley's location being revealed by the events of the past twenty-four hours. After talking for a while, Tim said, "You guys have a lot of goody points right now. Now would be a good time for you to take action, Wesley. You can do that here in Haynes county where you are now well-known and respected and with a decent judge. By the way, I guess you missed it, but Judge Patterson resigned this afternoon--for health reasons his office said. Judge Alton Akins was appointed to take his place. He's pretty young, a great lawyer and nice guy. Plus he has made some rules which definitely show he's gay friendly. Anyway, he will surely be understanding. I suggest you be proactive in regard to your family."
After talking for a while, Stone and Tim came up with a plan to get a restraining order against Wesley's parents. They also planned on asking for an accounting of the education trust fund left by Grandmother Wilson.
"While we're talking about your parents and what they allowed to be done to you," Stone said, "I'd like your permission, Wesley, to go after St. Paul's Clinic. If you don't want the money, I suggest it be used to establish a fund to help young men who get thrown out of their home or who are physically or mentally abused because they are gay."
"You think that's possible? Getting them to have to pay up?" Wesley asked.
"Good possibility I think," Stone said. "What do you think, Tim?"
"It's a possibility," Tim mused. "Will depend, I suspect, on whether there is a doctor on the staff but, hey, who cares? I mean so long as Stone is doing it for free, it will at least expose the clinic for what it is, and that's a good thing. Right?"
We all agreed, then Hank said, "Wesley, I guess if St. Paul's is sued, you can't hide being gay. You up to that?"
"Good question," I said.
"Guess we're about to find out whether I am up to it or not. Sue away, Stone."
Finally, talk returned to Jonathan. "I doubt very seriously that the charges again the remaining members of The Circle of God's Chosen will ever go to trial," Tim said. "Child porn is a federal offense and it is not taken lightly. If they are wise, that scum in the cave will jump at any plea bargain the government offers. If they do, that'll settle the whole mess since the government seized the property, claiming it was paid for with money earned by criminal activity. It will be sold at auction, I suspect," Tim said.
"I want that property," Wes said. "I can think of a thousand things to do with it--after the no-good spirits are driven out."
"Might be a place to invest some of the money from suing St. Paul's, if there is any," Wesley said and Wes nodded.
It was early, but I could see all of us just running down. Hank finally said, "Look, you are wise and wonderful people, but I'm still going to sleep on you. I'm heading for home."
"So are we," Tim said. "Talk to you all again soon. Come on, lover, look alive," he said to Stone. Both were pretty washed out as they headed for home, but were obviously happy to be together after our adventure.
"Think I'll take advantage of Gerald's guest room again," Wes said. "This old Indian is ready for sleep."
When Jason and I got to our room, we undressed and slipped into bed. We made very gentle love, slow love, savoring every moment. I guess the past twenty-four or so hours had taught us--again--just how precious and fragile life is.
As I hovered on the brink of sleep, Jason said, "Doug, we now have some adult gay friends. We have adults we can talk to about anything that bothers us or we want to know about. I like that. It's a nice feeling."
I agreed, just before slipping into delicious sleep.