Mountain Magic by Sequoyah


Chapter Twenty-three


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.