A Ditzy Girlfriend and Alex
"At five, we saw the men marching out of the clinic, and began snapping pictures even though all we could see were their backs. We were a hundred or so yards apart and when the men were gone, we moved back in the trees to talk. We debated moving to where we could see what was happening in the village but were afraid we'd not be prepared when the men came back. Bull said, 'I suspect all we'd see would be a repeat of the morning.' So we waited a couple hours, then moved back to our observations posts. Half an hour later, the men came back, and the two and a half hours were a repeat of the morning.
"Our cameras were busy when one of the men made a dash for the fence. One of the guards casually Tasered him, dropping his twitching body to the ground. The guard motioned for two of the men in the group and they picked up the man, his body still twitching as he lay on the ground, and carried him between them.
"We knew it was useless to sit waiting at the clinic because once inside, we were sure no-one would be seen outside until the next morning. We moved to where we could keep an eye on the village. It appeared as a perfectly normal small village with boys playing on a field at one end of the main street and girls on the other. At eight-thirty, a bell rang and they went to their respective, I guess you'd call them, dorms. Half an hour later, another bell rang and every light in the village went dark as though someone had thrown a switch. When we moved back to the clinic, we saw lights on in the atrium and seven men, two in white coats, sitting chatting, drinking some beverage, otherwise all was dark. Three quarters of an hour later, all of the men except one left the atrium.
"It was very puzzling. I said 'Bull, we need to get back to San Francisco and have Josh look at what we have and see if he can spot Alex.' It was well after midnight when we got back on the Interstate. Just before we took the ramp, I said, 'Bull, we are too focused on Utah and not thinking very clearly. It's not as far to Las Vegas as to Salt Lake. I bet we would be in San Francisco before we could get to Salt Lake. I'm sure there are plenty of flights out of Vegas, many more than Salt Lake.'"
"'Damn,' Bull said, 'you're right,' and drove up the ramp headed to Vegas. 'That also means some of our other thinking may not be the best since we are too focused on the trees and not the forest.'"
"'Well, we're tired. Let's get home, get a good rest and see where we stand. I'll call Josh in the morning.' Of course it was well past morning when I called, since once my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light for over twelve hours."
"Same here," Bull said. "Gone are the days when I could go twenty-four, thirty-six hours without sleep."
"Anyway, I know you are anxious to take a look at the photos. How about we go to your place, use that setup you used to show the Sentinel Mountain photos and look at the ones of the guys from the clinic, get a good night's sleep and then look at the rest tomorrow and do some thinking about where we go next?" Mr. VanWinkle suggested.
"Sounds good, but we'll all have heads incapable of thinking tomorrow, maybe even incapable of watching photos," Josh answered.
"Mario," Bull called out. A few customers looked at him, but it was pretty clear most were regulars and knew Bull. When the young man -- and Mr. VanWinkle was right, he was handsome, close to beautiful, and well-defined -- came over to the table, Bull asked, "How's the help situation around here tonight?"
"Tony's coming in to relieve me so I can pick up Donna. We're supposed to go to a movie."
"Any movies near your place?" Bull asked Josh.
"There's one within a dozen blocks."
"Valet. Theater ticket stub takes care of it. It's an old theater that was destined to be torn down, but a group got together, purchased it and restored it to its red-and-gold glory. It's so elegant you almost think you should be wearing evening clothes," Josh said. "I don't know whether that has any appeal to you and/or Donna. Same with the movie. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has been playing for a couple weeks so there should be no problem with tickets. I'll call if you like."
"Please do. We've been wanting to see the movie and the theater sounds grand."
"I'll help make this special, you can drive the Rolls," Mr. VanWinkle offered.
"If I don't get something out of this, I'm looking for a new girlfriend," Mario grinned.
Bull's son had met him at the airport in a van and loaded all the equipment in it, but there would be room for five with some squeezing. Mario drove home to take a quick shower and change. "I smell like an Italian joint," he had said.
He was back in twenty minutes, well-dressed and very handsome, definitely smelling better than an Italian joint. Josh didn't think he needed anything special to have women -- and men -- all over him. He then drove down the street to Bull's place and they unloaded everything and took the memory cards from the cameras to take with them. Mario then went by to pick up Donna. She was a very attractive young woman, but on the ride to Mr. VanWinkle's place, Josh found her childish, possessive and more than a bit of an airhead. Mario, Josh admitted, went down a notch in his book. "I guess it's the pussy," he said to himself.
At Mr. VanWinkle's they traded cars. Mario almost pissed himself when Mr. VanWinkle handed him the keys. He was as excited as a kid at Christmas. When he asked Donna how she liked riding in a Rolls, she replied, "It's crowded" in her little girl, pouty voice. Mario turned red under his dark-skin. When they reached Josh's place, Josh told Mario there would be tickets waiting in his name, Josh Taylor, and slipped Mario a couple hundred-dollar bills. "Have a good time," Josh said and winked at him. Mario's face was split by a grin. "Damn, he is something," Josh thought, then remembered where he was and what was about to take place.
Inside, Mr. VanWinkle and Bull headed for the bathrooms. When Mr. VanWinkle completed his business, Josh hit the bathroom, emptied his bladder and returned to find Bull sprawled on a loveseat and Mr. VanWinkle making coffee. It took no time for Josh to have a laptop connected to the flat screen in the room and Mr. VanWinkle served coffee as Bull slipped the first memory card in the reader. The images of men walking away from the camera began to flash on the screen. "Slow the photos down, Bull, I need to take a close look," Josh said as the first men walked into the camera's view. The photos were sharp and clear, but the men were walking, head down, their baggy clothes hiding their bodies to the point that it was impossible to tell whether they were built, skinny or flabby. They were also all moving in a kind of shuffling march, so none could be identified by their walk. Yet Josh asked that the photos be stopped many times so he could take a close look. All the men wore baseball caps, but it was possible to see their hair color, so maybe half could not have been Alex who was a blond. If he had been in the clinic except for the walk to the church, it was likely darker since the sun lightened it quickly, but it could never be as dark as at least half the men had.
When the last man had disappeared, the three were all half asleep. As anxious as Josh was to see the other photos, he suggested they call it a night and start again in the morning. The other two agreed and all three were asleep when Mario arrived at one.
"Where's the date," Bull asked.
"At her place where she can stay. We've been dating for three months and I thought she was special. She is a special bitch. She complained because the car was crowded driving over here. She complained because she didn't like the theater seats -- which were clearly the best in the house," he nodded at Josh. "She has hounded me about seeing Two Towers since we started dating and I told her we'd have to wait until it wasn't so expensive. When I reminded her of that, she said I could have brought her here to see it since it didn't cost much to get in. When I showed her the price of our tickets, she said I had paid too much and should have waited and gone to a good restaurant and then see it in Oakland. I just gave up and took her home. Maybe she's turned me gay, because when she rubbed all over me at her front door, I got hard. Hell, I would've gotten hard if a dog rubbed me like that, but the thoughts of doing anything with her made it a wet piece of spaghetti."
"Manicotti, not spaghetti," Bull laughed.
"Well, yes," Mario said, grinned and turned bright red.
"Son, you have been letting the little head do the talking. Pretty natural at eighteen but, take it from an old man, you need to be asking yourself, 'Do I want this woman to be the mother of my children and would I want to be with her fifty years from now? You saw a pretty girl and your little head started yelling 'Pussy, pussy, pussy,' drowning out her whining and complaining. She didn't just start that tonight. Then there's la tua mamma. 'You need a good Italian girl,' yo'mama keeps harping, and Donna was one and the daughter of a friend from high school. How hard did you get looking at Josh?"
"Why would I get hard looking at Mr. Taylor?"
"Well, I bet Mr. Taylor rose a little bit looking at you. It's because he's gay. You're not or you would have been trying to get in the pants of that hunk who is your best friend instead of Donna. Sex education for tonight. Take me home."
Mario looked at Josh and said, "Yeah, Granddad, I can see that if I were into men, that one would have my pants looking like I had stuffed the Tower of Pisa down them."
"That's bragging, Manicotti."
Within minutes after the three had gone, Josh had showered, taken the maximum dose of OTC pain killer with a huge glass of water and hit the bed and was asleep by the time his head settled on the pillow.
He expected to awake with a head the size of a beach ball, but was surprised by how little effect he felt from the night with Bull and Mr. VanWinkle. "I guess the water bit helps," he said to himself. He was not, however, up to his usual breakfast and had a couple pieces of dry toast and coffee. He had just finished showering and shaving when Bull and Mr. VanWinkle rang and he buzzed them in. Both were as chipper as they could be, but ready for another cup of coffee. They sat down with coffees and Josh started the photos again. This time it was of the men marching back to the clinic.
Once again, they were shuffle/marching, heads down and their faces almost completely hidden. "It's hopeless," Josh said, as tears formed in his eyes. Suddenly his attention was caught when photos of a man breaking rank and running toward the fence filled the screen. "If he hits that fence, he'll be killed," Josh exclaimed. The words were barely out of his mouth when one of the guards shot the man with a Taser, sending him to the ground, jerking and twitching. He motioned for two men who stepped out of the line and lifted the man to his feet, and supported him as the line moved toward the clinic. Josh was totally focused on the Tasered man. His heart was in his mouth as he went back a couple of photos. When the man burst from the line, his face was still half hidden and Josh thought it might have been Alex, but he couldn't be positive.
When he said so, Bull said, "Maybe the photos from the other camera will show more."
Josh removed the memory card after noting the photo number and inserted a card from the second camera. Since the two men had taken photos of what each considered important, the photo numbers from one did not correspond to those in other, but were generally close. When he clicked on the same number, the photo was of the two supporting the third, headed for the front of the clinic and soon hidden from view. Josh moved back until he reached the point where the man was ready to break away and run for the fence. The man's mouth was open and Mr. VanWinkle said, "He was yelling like a banshee. Go back one. See, everyone is turning to look at him."
Josh took his eyes off the running man -- he could see it was not Alex, as hard as that was to accept -- and looked at the other men as the two came out of the line to pick up the Tasered one who was still twitching on the ground. His eyes had been so glued on the fleeing man that he had not noticed them. One of them was Alex! Josh gasped and called Alex's name as tears started streaming down his cheeks. He was surprised when Bull put his arm around his shoulders and held him until he regained control. "Ok," he said, "we know Alex is there, virtually a prisoner...."
"When you have a choice of complying or being Tasered, I think it's safe to say he is a prisoner," Mr. VanWinkle said.
"True," Bull said. "We also have photos which clearly show child abuse and a sex crime."
"Then let's look at some of those and put together a presentation for the authorities. It needs to be powerful enough to convince them the place needs to be raided and shut down," Josh said.
"Good thinking," Mr. VanWinkle said. There were literally hundreds of photos making up dozens of sequences of criminal acts. They went through them -- it took so long, they broke for lunch and were back at 1:00 to go through more. They realized there were simply too many for them to sort and it would be overkill to present too many to an authority. They finally settled on three sequences: the boys being beaten, the girl being raped and the man being Tasered. They used photos from both cameras, picking out the best from each, to make a presentation of sequences which were essentially time-lapse movies of the three events.
When they finished, they played the sequences. When the one of the girl being raped in the hay loft was shown, Josh said, "Maybe she's not being raped. She may have been forced, but that girl may have been married to that man," Josh said.
"It's possible, but not likely. She would have to be sixteen or seventeen, which I doubt she is, and her parents have to sign for her to be married. If she's younger, it takes a ruling by a juvenile court. Let's look at the photos again," Mr. VanWinkle said, "but it really doesn't matter. That was clearly sex against the young girl's wishes and that is rape. If they are legally married, that is spousal rape, a crime in all fifty states. I'd bet my last dollar that child is not sixteen," he added, "and the man is certainly ten years older. He's looking at serious jail time if he's convicted."
After the last photo of the Tasered man was shown, all three were literally sick at their stomachs. "I've seen enough," Josh said, "if those three sequences do not convince the authorities, I say we go to the media."
Mr. VanWinkle and Bull agreed and Bull asked, "So what do we do? You know how some authorities protect groups like that."
"Let's give them a chance first," Mr. VanWinkle said, "then if nothing's done we'll give the state a crack at it after we send the photos -- and we certainly have others as well -- to TV and newspapers."
"And how do we go about that, June?" Bull asked. "Giving the authorities a crack at it, I mean."
"I'll handle that."
"What about Alex?" Josh asked. "I don't want another minute to go by with him in that hell hole."
"There's an outstanding warrant for his mother. Additionally, she kidnapped him then hid him. The men in the clinic, at least some and I'm sure Alex is one, are being held against their will. I'll contact a lawyer in Utah and we'll get our ducks in a row and Bull and I will approach the sheriff and feel him out. Maybe he's already trying to do something, but has his hands tied by lack of evidence."
"Or maybe he thinks what's going on there is ok," Josh said.
"Josh, I can understand and appreciate your agony, but we need to not blow this and if we rush in, that's what will happen," Bull said. "June, can you do everything from here or do we need to go back to Utah?"
"Utah would be better. You call and get us a flight."
"You have a flight anytime you are ready to leave," Josh answered.
"Pack business attire, hiking gear and casual clothes. We'll be gone at least three days," Mr. VanWinkle said.
It was an hour and a half before the three were airborne and Mr. VanWinkle was still working the phone via radio until they landed in Provo. He had talked to a non-Mormon lawyer in Salt Lake he knew and got the name of a Mormon lawyer in Provo who was really down on the splinter groups that gave the LDS a bad name. When he contacted him, he said he could clear an hour for Mr. VanWinkle at four-thirty. They were cutting it close, but they walked into his outer office with two minutes to spare.
When they were called inside, Bull set up the laptop ready to show him photos of the three events they had chosen. While Bull was doing that, Mr. VanWinkle, in his lawyer-to-lawyer style quickly covered the high points of why they were involved and what they had witnessed. Mr. Richards, the lawyer, started asking question and making notes. "You have photos of those three events?" Mr. VanWinkle nodded and Bull started the photos. Ten minutes later, Mr. Richards was sitting quite still, clearly enraged. He then excused himself and when he came back, he was pale. "Gentlemen, I have seen some terrible things in my life and any one of these I could have handled, but taken together, one right after the other, I'm afraid I lost my lunch. What I realized, as I was watching the three events, was that all that happened in one day and the way it happened, it clearly was not something new."
"These are only three events we picked to make our case. There are others, literally dozens of others," Mr. VanWinkle said.
"I wish I knew exactly where that compound is so I would know who's sheriff there. From your description, it could be one of three. One would be ready to call out the troops and raze the place, another would be enraged, but move methodically and the third one probably is aligned with the group and, if not, certainly supportive of it."
"I can give you the coordinates," Bull said.
When he had, Mr. Richards picked up the phone and placed a call, gave the person who answered the coordinates, listened, looked up and said, "Well, it could be worse. The point you gave me is very near the county line, just inside Sheriff Neil Roger's jurisdiction it seems. I guess the compound can be in either of two counties."
"We parked north, northwest of there," Bull said and gave him those coordinates.
Mr. Richards spoke into the phone again, "Extend a line in a south, south east direction through the two points," he said. He listened for a minute or two then said, "Thanks, Hank," and hung up the phone. "Fellows, we're in luck, we will be dealing with two sheriff's departments, but they both hate what these splinter sects are doing to our church, the LDS church. The clinic seems to be entirely in Neal Rogers' jurisdiction while the village is definitely in Pete Newcome's. Neal is the more level headed of the two and I think we need to approach him first. He and Pete have known each other at least since high school and Neal can keep Pete in check sometimes. This time I'm not sure. Anyway, let's start with Neal. When can we leave in the morning?"
"Can you take off a day?" Mr. VanWinkle asked.
"I would have told you 'no' before I saw those photos, but yes. I've asked my secretary to clear the next three days."
"Is there an airport near the county seat where Sheriff Rogers is?" Josh asked.
"Yes, a regional one. What are you thinking?"
"I flew us into Provo, so we can fly. Leave here at nine in the morning?"
"Sounds good. Should I pick you up?" Mr. Richards asked.
"Would be a help," Josh said.
"Where are you staying?" Josh told him and he said he could drop them there on his way home. "And it's on my way to the airport."
When the three had arrived at Mr. Richard's office, they were in expensive business attire and as they were getting ready to leave, he said, "You fellows have more casual clothes? They all nodded. "Good, a notch or two above jeans is what you need when you're talking to Neal Rogers." Later Bull said he knew we had a good man when he paid attention to dress and who he was meeting, adding that being too dressed up was as bad as going in the other direction.
The next morning they were waiting in the lobby when Mr. Richards showed up at nine on the nose. As they greeted each other, he said, "Boys, this mister business is ok here, but not where we're going. I'm Dick."
The flight took thirty minutes and they were in a conference room in the sheriff's department twenty minutes later. Again, Dick insisted they 'dress down' so they rented a SUV.
After introductions were over, Dick said, "Neal, do you know anything about New Beginnings?"
"Very little since it's in Sheriff Newcome's jurisdiction."
"Part of it is and part is in yours," Dick said. "They have a clinic there, we suspect, to make homosexuals change their lifestyle, to make a new choice." Both Bull and Mr. VanWinkle shot Josh a warning glance, but he was already biting his tongue. The goal was to rescue, not debate the homosexual issue. "Now if that can be done, I'm all for it as I am sure these three are, but the methods being used are, I suspect, illegal and I know holding someone against their will is. I'm not sure what those methods are, but if they are bad enough to make a man attempt to run into a charged fence to end his life they are bad. Bull is a skip tracer...."
"You are Bull from San Francisco?" Neil said in an excited voice. Bull nodded. "Let me shake your hand! My old man kidnapped me and carried me off to a compound in New Mexico which claimed it was the only remnant of the true LDS church. My mom hired you and you found me and brought me back to Mom. Bull, you saved my life!"
"How lucky can you get?" Josh thought and was sure the other two felt the same way.
"That puts a different light on things," Mr. VanWinkle/June said. "We are dealing with a kind of reverse of that." He then told Neil the situation, omitting the reason Mrs. Bledsoe had kidnapped Alex and Neil didn't ask why he was in the clinic.
"Ok, let's get to the heart of the matter," Dick said. "Bull, show Neil the photos."
Neil flinched each time the man struck the boys with the strap and Bull stopped the photos after that. Neil had tears in his eyes. When he could speak, he said, "That kid is about the same age as my youngest."
"As we said earlier, that happened in Pete's jurisdiction," Dick said. "I know Pete and I was afraid to show him those before talking to you. He'd probably call out the tanks and level the place."
"I feel like doing that myself. And they call themselves Mormons. So what's the next step?"
"I'm afraid there's more before any next step," June said. "Bull."
When they had shown the photos of the girl being forced to have sex, Neil said, "Dang good thing you didn't spring that on Pete. He has girls that age, thirteen and fourteen. He would have charged the place with his bare hands and strangled that man. There can't be more. How long did it take you to photograph those two events?"
"Same day, as was the third one."
"Oh, my good God," Neil said, and it was not profanity.
Bull started the third set of photos and Neil appeared calm until the young man bolted. "Stop on that slide," he said. "Can you magnify that sign on the fence?" Bull did. "I guess that's just a warning, surely it's not lethal."
"We found a dead deer at the base of the fence the day we first found the clinic. Could have died of other causes, of course," June said, "but there was no question how the coyote who hit the fence while chasing a rabbit died; we saw it. We smelled his burning fur. No, the sign is a warning all right, but it means every word it says."
Neil sat in silence for a few minutes, then nodded. Bull started the photos again. "Stop," he said, "that fellow is headed for the fence. He intends to kill himself."
"That's the way I read it," Dick said.
"I hope someone stopped him."
"They did," Bull said and moved to the next photos.
As the young man fell to the ground, Dick said, "That's in your jurisdiction, Neil." As the photos finished, the tough cowboy sheriff ran to the waste basket and emptied his stomach. He took the waste basket out of the room and came back a few minutes later. "Fellows, it's not that being Tasered is worse than the beating the kid took or the rape, it's just that each one piled on the others was too much. I've witnessed some really rotten and sick things in my life and career. As that young man fell, I remembered you said you photographed these events all in the same day and no-one involved acted as if they were exceptional. Ok, I need to get Pete over here where I may have a bit of control over him. Don't get me wrong, he's a good man, it's just that his sense of justice sometimes pushes him over the edge. This -- and we -- will need his help and resources, not his bull-in-a-china-shop approach which he sometime uses." Neil picked up the phone dialed a number and said, "Sheriff Rogers here. I need to speak to Sheriff Newcome yesterday." He waited a few minutes and said, "Yeah, Pete, I need you here now. Blue lights and siren to my front door. See you in an hour."
He hung up the phone, reached over and started the photos again. He wasn't ashamed of the tears flowing down his cheek as he watched the boys being beaten. He did have to run to the bathroom as the girl's dress was ripped from her body. Josh was crying as well.
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