Josh turned slowly. He had dreamed of this moment for seven long years, but in his dreams he always saw a strong, full-of-life, healthy Alex. Standing before him was a lethargic, unhealthy young man he might not have recognized had they passed on the street. His voice choking, he managed to get out, "Alex?"
Alex looked up and said, "Yes, sir."
"Alex, it's me. It's Josh."
"Why have you found a new way to torture me? Why?"
"Alex, it's Josh. I came to take you to Princess."
"Josh, are you real?"
Tears were streaming down Josh's face. "Alex, I'm real and I've come to take you away from hell."
Alex fell to the floor. Nelson picked him up and carried him from the room. Josh turned to the seven men before him and said, "That was the most beautiful and alive boy in the whole world and you have reduced him to that. You better be glad I am more decent than all of you put together or I would take you to the common room and allow those you have held prisoner to do with you what they wished. As it is, each of you who calls himself a nurse will be taken to one of the inmate cells where you will be allowed to make a written statement. What you write will be used in a court of law. The lawyer on our team predicts you will be sentenced to twenty-five years to life for your part in this prison. I suggest your statement be as helpful to the prosecution as possible, as it may be taken into account when you are sentenced. Buck, Bull, if you would get the five squared away with pen and paper in a locked room, I'll see about the so-called doctors."
Nelson came in and said, "I took Alex upstairs. No way was he going back in one of those rooms."
"Thank you, Nelson, from the bottom of my heart."
"You two were gay?"
"Nelson, contrary to what your church teaches, I was born gay and so was Alex. We were gay and we are gay. If you are asking if we were in love, the answer is yes. If you are asking if we had sex, the answer is yes. And, I might add, unlike you, we had sex only after we were in love and we pledged ourselves to each other. Does that make a difference?"
"About you? No. About me? Yeah, maybe. I think it will. What I have seen here today will make a difference in a lot of ways to me. You have gone through seven years searching for someone you love and he has suffered hell because he loved you. Yes, that makes a difference. I think a good difference in me. I hope we can talk more."
"Hope so," Josh said and hugged the young man and said, "Now let us deal with Dr. Shit and Dr. Asshole." He turned to the two men and said, "I hope you make this difficult for I would just love to try your treatments on you, but I don't have time. We have a search warrant giving us access to anything and everything in this building. I need the keys to anything that is locked."
Neither man spoke.
Josh turned to Nelson and said. "Tell Ralph to open everything. If the bolt cutter won't do it, blast it open. Get your equipment ready. Meanwhile, I'm going to set the machines on an hour and power level three and join you."
"You can't do that," one of the 'doctors' said.
"You're right. I can't because you are almost human. What I will do is give you a chance to write a defense of what you have done here and maybe that will give you a break with the judge. I can easily see twenty-four counts of kidnapping as the beginning of the crimes you two will be charged with. I think you will be lucky if you spend one day from now as free men." He put the men in different treatment rooms, fastened them to a desk with restraints and told them he would be back.
While they stewed, he found Ralph had used an ax on the locked offices and bolt cutters on locked file cabinets. Everything was open except a locked safe. It only took a minute to discover the file cabinets held detailed records of the 'treatment' of every 'patient' since the founding of this 'clinic' two years earlier. He also discovered 'Dr. Smith' was actually John Henry Tankard who got a doctor of psychology degree from a mail order university for ten dollars. 'Dr. Young', who was really Galvin Stephen Albright, didn't even make the pretense. He had a high school diploma and a mail order course in electronics. There was no need to sort the records; they should all be taken.
Josh really wanted to get into the safe. He called for Bull. "Bull, what do you know about safes?" He asked. "Are they too hard for us to open?"
"Some are, some aren't, most are. Why?"
"There's one in the office and it's the only thing not open."
"Let me take a look." He looked at the safe's name and said, "Safes, some is "most impossible to open, some ain't, this one is one of the impossible ones. Know a guy in Vegas that could open it, but I can't."
While they were looking at the safe, the sound of sirens started and seemed unending. "We've been so busy here, I have no idea what's happening down the hill and I have heard nothing." Bull pressed the button on his radio and said, "This is Bull. We have this place tied up. What's going on down there?"
Neil said, "We have doctors and nurses coming to check the children and social services is standing by to transport them to temporary shelter. We have served search warrants and located 'marriage records', if you can call them that. Eighteen-year-old boys are married to thirteen-year-old girls. We have several girls who have described the weddings. It is what Nelson and Frank saw and recorded."
"Lehi, whose real name is, I hope you are ready for this, Cary Grant Rich, was converted six years ago. Then he had a vision revealing him to be a, I guess, reincarnation of James Strang, one of the men who laid claim to leadership when Joseph Smith was murdered. He started calling himself Lehi and proclaiming he had been sent to lead Mormons back to the true faith. He gathered a few followers and wandered around until he teamed up with the man calling himself Abraham Strang. Strang teamed up with Tankard and Albright who had a small 'clinic' outside Lyman, where they pretty much squatted on an abandoned ranch with the clinic in the bunkhouse. The three came here and founded New Beginnings after they conned a wealthy woman into believing they had turned her gay son straight. She put up three quarters of a million to get them started and sent them a generous check each month, half of which went to the son to help pay for his very expensive, and gay, lifestyle. Strang met Benjamin Snipes and George Mitchell right after New Beginnings was opened and they became his lieutenants. When their benefactress died, she left them a cool three million and they really got things going. Strang, Snipes, Mitchell, Tankard and Albright are con artists, pure and simple. Rich? I'm not so sure. I think the guy really believes what he preaches and is, in that sense, innocent, but a dangerous nutcase. But the real power here was Abraham Strang, whose real name is Charles Madison.
"We found the guy who our observers witnessed being 'married' since it was recorded the day it happened. He didn't deny anything, but maintained it couldn't be rape since the girl was his wife. He was thunderstruck when Sheriff Rogers told him spousal rape was a crime in all fifty states. He was ready to tell all he knows after he was told that. We'll let the courts sort that one out. By a process of elimination, we figured out the girl in the loft had to be one of three and when we questioned them, she jumped at the chance to nail the guy. Her mother was the one pushing her to the barn. Even some of the child abuse cases will be pretty easy, since there are notes in the infirmary 'treatment result of discipline in the field'. The dates can be lined up with the names of the work crews assigned on that date. There are plenty of warrants being written, but we'll likely never see most of these folks in court, because my hunch is the plea bargaining will start today. The whole place will be declared a crime scene, so no one will be left living here. What do you need?"
"Not a lot of jail space, we only have seven prisoners and enough evidence for seven slam-dunk cases, I suspect at least five will make confessions in an attempt to get lighter sentences. We also have seven men who are seriously ill and need intensive medical attention. They should be airlifted or I don't think they'll make it."
"The chopper took off twenty minutes ago and should be here shortly. They will be airlifted to the St. Francis Regional Medical Center."
"We have twenty-four others who will require medical treatment to one degree or another but, more importantly, extensive counseling and mental health treatment and support. I'd say call their families, but I suspect most, if not all, were put here by family. Which reminds me, did you locate Maria Crimshaw?"
"We did. She was hiding in the barn. We let the kids out to play, they were playing Hide and Seek and several went into the loft and one shouted, 'Ms. Crimshaw, adults don't play Hide and Seek!' and a deputy heard him. Pete's on the phone with the Feds checking on having them charge her with kidnapping, especially since Alex has been held against his will. She could spend the rest of her life behind bars. How is Alex?" Bull told him and Neil then said, "So I guess Josh is incapacitated."
"Hardly. He's taken the lead which, I think, was a surprise to us all when we realized it. Once we were inside, it has been Josh's show. By the way, your son had been as valuable as any two of us. He's busy gathering photographic evidence. Right now we're in bad need of a safe cracker. I have a friend in Vegas who could do it, but that takes time."
"What brand is it?" Bull told him and he said, "We may be in luck. I'll call you back."
Fifteen minutes later, Neil called back and said, "The good Lord is smiling on us today. Met a man, who retired after working for that safe company for thirty years, at a sheriff's conference couple years ago. He lived in St. Francis at the time and I hoped he was still there and he is. He says he can open the safe. The chopper will have to make two trips—you need to do triage—and he will be coming back on the chopper after the first trip."
"Fine," Bull said. "Now what do we do with the other twenty-four?"
"How good are the records there?"
"They are wonderful, a prosecutor's dream."
"Find out who placed the men here. We know we don't want them involved."
"Look at Alex, Neil. His mother put him here, but his father has been trying to locate him."
"I guess you start with those who are with it enough to tell you what they want. Maybe that will take care of most of the cases."
"Good point. I'll get on it." When Bull talked to Josh, he told him a man was coming who could open the safe. "Now we have to sit down individually and talk to the men and see if there is someone they want us to call, some place they want to go and check that out for them." All would have to have a medical and psychological exam before they were released to anyone, unless there were assurances it would be done somewhere else.
"Then let's get on it. Nelson," he called. Nelson came out of the office. "Can you make photocopies of the admission sheets for the men?"
"No problem. How many of each?"
"Just one." He turned to Bull and asked, "Where are the men now?"
"We got them upstairs. They wanted out of the downstairs, not that I blame them."
"How many rooms upstairs, Bull?"
There's the large common room where the twenty-four guys are…"
"Has anyone checked on these from Level Zero? Damn! I forgot about them."
"Ralph, Frank and Buck have been giving them juice and saltines for the last while. Last I checked with them, three were definitely improving and all were responding to one degree or another, but all are still pretty sick puppies." As Bull spoke, they heard the helicopter overhead. "I need to check them to see which four need to go first. The chopper's just arrived." Bull went downstairs and asked Ralph about the Level Zero men. The three who had been improving had maintained their progress, but had made no more. The other four were still in really bad condition. "Then let the medics know who they are and help them get the men to the chopper."
The medics arrived and said they had got as close to the clinic as they could, but the men would have to be carried to the chopper. "There are three guys down the hall ready to help," Bull said. "You might want to check, but I trust their triage."
The medics had brought two stretchers and they carried one, and Buck and Ralph the other. They were back in a few minutes. One of the medics told Bull, "You guys have done a damn good job with those men. They were extremely dehydrated as well as malnourished. They have managed to get enough water and fruit juice in them without making them sick to start rehydrating them and the saltines are helping their electrolytes. Blood sugar as well."
When Buck and Ralph came back, Buck said, "It'll be an hour before they are back, but they started IVs on the three left and said they'd be ok, just check on them every half hour. They did give them a shot in their IV so they are already asleep. What next?"
"I think Josh needs us all."
The four men walked into the common room upstairs where they found Josh staring out the window, his mind a thousand miles away. "Josh," Bull said softly.
Even at that, Josh was startled and when he turned, his face was wet with tears. He wiped his face and said, "We need to find out what to do next. Nelson has made copies of the admission sheets of the twenty-four guys upstairs. As you said, they are in various degrees of physical and mental health. We can't just put them on the street or hand them over to the people who put them in this hellhole. Insofar as possible, we need to interview each man and find out if he has someone who cares about and will care for him. Also, if possible, find out how he got in this place. Even if they were adults when they were placed here and, in any shape, form or fashion were brought here against their will, the person who brought them here, June tells me, may be charged under federal law with kidnapping. If they came here willingly, even to fulfill some requirement to gain a benefit, that's different. Since all have said they were not permitted to leave—and we know that—then the charges will be against this establishment and the courts can sort that out. There are five of us—Nelson's still very busy photographing—and twenty-four of them. Since I know the beginning of Alex's situation and probably what comes next, I'll talk with him. We'll each take four admission forms and as soon as someone finishes, he can take one of those still left. Who has the admission sheets? I have Alex's already." Ralph had them and passed them out.
Upstairs, Josh said, "Guys, four of those in Level Zero who were in the worst shape are being airlifted to St. Francis Regional Medical Center. The chopper will be back for the other three in an hour or so. Meanwhile, they have been put on IVs and given a shot in it, so they are asleep. Now we want to get to you. We each have four admission sheets. When your name is called, go with the person who called it and he will help find out what we need to do to get you out of here and some place you want to be." Josh nodded at Frank who called out his first name. The others did the same. Some were so out of it they didn't respond to their name at once, but gradually realized their name was being called. Josh intentionally saved Alex's name for last because he knew, regardless of what had happened since they last saw each other, it would be an emotional time.
When Alex came in, he sat down, his head hung down, his shoulders drooping. It was all Josh could do to keep from crying. "Alex," he said, "your mother was served with a warrant for her arrest today and is in jail or will be shortly. There is an outstanding warrant for her from seven years ago. You father had skip tracers searching for you for several years without results. He had given up hope of ever seeing you again. I tried to forget you because I was sure I'd never see you again, but I didn't forget you, not for a day, not for a minute.
"A man I have come to love as a Granddad suggested I hire an old friend of his to find you. The two are in their seventies and you will definitely meet them both. Anyway, Bull, that's the tracer's name, was making centimeter by centimeter progress until your father got a notice about unpaid child support—apparently you graduated high school and did one semester of college. The letter stated that your mother asked it be sent directly to her rather than through the regular channels. When the canceled check was returned, it had been endorsed and deposited in a bank in Kanarra. It was a clue, but there's a lot of space here in southern Utah.
"One night I was thinking about your mother and how she was a bit on the extreme side with her religion and wondered if she had gotten more extreme. I told Bull and he and June kinda disappeared. Found out a couple weeks later, they had been in southern Utah driving back roads looking for Mormon splinter groups. When they showed your mother's picture to the guard here, he denied ever having seen her, but Bull saw his reaction and thought otherwise.
"They came back here with cameras and shot photos of some pretty terrible things. One was of a young man who broke out of the line coming back from down the hill, headed for the fence. He was tasered and you and another fellow helped get him back in the so-called clinic. I saw your face for the first time in over seven years. June, my adopted Granddad, contacted a lawyer in Provo who dislikes extreme Mormon sects and got us connected with the Sheriffs of Copper and Jefferson Counties. We showed them the photos and the result is today's raid here and on the compound. I tell you all of that to let you know that as horrible as your time here has been—and I cannot really imagine it—your time in this hellhole is the reason four men, who likely would have died, are in the hospital now and three others will be soon. It also has resulted in the other twenty-four left leaving soon, and that includes you, and finally this place will be closed forever. And all of that is because you were here and you are loved."
"The man who ran for the fence was Billy Washington. He has not been seen since. He was a really great guy," Alex said, lifting his head slightly. "We all missed him."
"He was one of those just airlifted out. His record indicated he was placed in Level Zero after that incident. He is in the hospital. The medics said he wouldn't have made it much longer, but our guys got juice and saltines in him so he was better when they left. He has a way to go, but he's alive and has a chance to live life again. Now let's talk about Alex. I don't want to make decisions for you or unduly influence you…"
"You mentioned Princess downstairs, I think."
"I did. Jack found her at a sale and bought her. He called and asked if I wanted her and I did. He kept her for me, and she and Prince had twins last season. They look like their parents." There was almost a smile on Alex's face.
"Are you still in Wellsburg?"
"No. Alex, I was excommunicated…"
"I was disfellowshipped, that's why I am here."
"Well, you'll not be here long. Your dad lives in New York and you can go there to live. I live in San Francisco and you can live there. I'll soon be living in North Carolina and you can live there. Your grandmother would love to have you live in Vic House…"
"Would we have the same room?"
This time when Alex spoke, Josh realized he was trying to recreate a time when life was good and probably hadn't been since. Josh thought, "I can't enable that, but I can't crush his dreams just when he is showing some life." Josh stopped to think; he needed time to think. "Alex, we are being selfish," Josh said. "Your father and Gertrude do not know you have been found. Let's call them, then talk some more."
"Let's call Gertrude first!" he said, more alive than he had been.
Josh pulled out his cellphone and remembered. No signal. He wondered if a landline was free. "Let me check on a phone," he said. "I'll be right back."
As he stepped out of the room, Bull stepped out of his. "Son, I have done a lot of hard things in my life, but this caps the stack."
"Try it when it's the man you have been in love with for over half your life."
"I can't imagine," he replied.
"How are we for phones here?"
"Apparently there are five lines which surprised me, but they had to go through a switchboard so calls could be restricted and censored. Neil got a crew working on eliminating the switchboard right away and they have all five lines free and working. We have been assigned three. You dial nine and if there is a line free, you'll get a dial tone."
"Where's the phones?"
"There's only two. One in each doctor's office."
"Better than none I guess. "Has everyone finished?"
"I guess, except for shepherding them through phone calls. Three of mine have already called lovers who were happy to discover they were alive and are coming for them. It will be very late tonight or early morning before they arrive, but I talked with each of them. I told them the men from here had a hard row ahead of them, but they seemed to be sincere in saying that they could hoe it together. Pete plans to get all the men out of here and into motels in St. Francis to wait for someone to get them. The fourth one was a similar case to Alex. His military father kidnapped him and brought him here. He's already in the stockade and his mother is sending a chopper for him, so he'll be taken directly from here. Anyway, you need to get a phone."
As Bull was talking, Josh's eyes were wandering and he noticed a phone jack in the wall. When he checked, there were jacks in every room, just no phones. He pointed that out to Bull and he went exploring and found a locked closet in the kitchenette. He called, "Ralph, if you're not busy, we need the bolt cutters."
Ralph cut the lock and sure enough, inside were eight phones. The three wondered why they were locked up. Ralph asked one of the nurses and was told they were restricted to a certain time when they could phone. Josh grabbed one and headed back to Alex and as he did, said over his shoulder, "Tell the guys we have phones for the rooms." Josh plugged the phone in and dialed nine and got a busy signal. He tried several times before he got a line and when he did, he handed the phone to Alex and said, "Call Gertrude."
He dialed the number as if it was an everyday thing. When she answered he asked, "Gertrude, can Josh and I have our old room back?"
"Maybe it is worse than I thought. Maybe he'll always live in those golden days," Josh thought. As he listened, Alex talked about wanting to bring the horses, ride in the parade, see the fireworks. He was fourteen again.
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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