|Primary Characters:||Lilly, Scotty|
|Warning:||adult themes, m/m sex|
|Description:||Stillman’s kids go missing and Lilly agrees to look for them. Her search leads her to an odd sect on a farm in the woods. Scotty comes to help her, but ends up in trouble.|
“Hey, the hero is back!”
Jeffries and Vera were standing up and cheering as Scotty walked in.
It was his first day back on the job, and he was meeting his colleagues for the first time since the hostage situation when he’d been shot. A self-conscious look spread across Scotty’s pallid features. He was feeling fine, but he’d been indoors during the sunniest and hottest days that summer, so he had failed to developed his usual tan.
“Thanks, guys, but Lilly’s the hero here, not me. I just got myself shot and was forced to hand over my gun to the perp. No big deal, really.”
Vera’s amiable face didn’t lose the wide grin.
“Of course you’re a hero. You were injured in the line of duty. Who says we can’t have two heros working for the department? Some of the guys from Vice were saying only the other day, that they all wished they could have seen our Lil all dressed up like in the movies and shooting that Vietnam vet.”
Jeffries laughed at his friend’s admiring tone. Personally, he wouldn’t put it quite that way, though naturally it was nice that their department got a chance to shine.
“So what are we talking about here? Gone with the Wind? The Titanic?”
“More fifties. Lil told me it was a genuine fifties dress.”
“Which just happened to be lying around conveniently for her to play dressup in?”
Women’s dresses were a complete mystery to Jeffries. Besides, he preferred them without dresses any day.
“Yes. Excuse me. Where is Lil? Isn’t she here yet?”
Scotty looked around the room, but couldn’t find his partner anywhere. After his injuries had healed, he was back at his old place, feeling lonelier than ever. There hadn’t been any good reason why he shouldn’t live on his own, now that he was completely recovered. He hadn’t imagined he’d experience this feeling of emptiness. Since he’d been forced to look after his ex-fiancee, during her illness, he’d never been alone for more than a few nights at a time, and he didn’t enjoy the silence.
While Lilly was at work, he’d still had the cats. They’d really warmed up to him during the weeks he’d been staying with his partner. Even sleeping on the couch had felt pretty intimate, and in any case they’d shared breakfast, dinner, a quiet hour in front of the tv. Now there was nothing. He was even considering getting a cat of his own, but he didn’t feel his neighborhood was a good place for a pet.
“No, she hasn’t come in yet. Stillman’s back though.”
“Stillman? Where’s he been?”
“Don’t know. He’s been gone for two days, no explanation. We had to manage on our own.”
“I see. Anyway, it’s great to be back. I’ve had too much time on my hands. Any interesting cases?”
“Nothing really. Just the usual.”
Scotty sat down behind his desk and considered the empty desktop. Without the papers accumulating there pending a final report, it looked – abandoned. It had been several weeks since he last set foot here and for a while, he still felt like the newbie he’d been not so long ago.
He heard a woman’s footsteps coming towards him and he looked up. Lilly. His face lit up with a warm welcoming smile. They’d last seen each other last night, when Lilly drove him back to his place, but it already felt like a week.
“Hey, Lil. How are you doing?”
“Oh, you know, great.”
Scotty felt she looked concerned somehow, but he wasn’t sure if she wanted to discuss whatever it was with their colleagues overhearing, so he didn’t ask. It could wait. He probably couldn’t hope that she might already be missing him, so he made himself stop guessing.
“I’m going to check in on Stillman. He’s been gone for a few days. Did you know that?”
“Yes, Jeffries told me. No one seems to know why.”
“Maybe he’ll tell me. I’ll be right back.”
Lilly could see Stillman sitting behind his desk, seemingly not working, so she knocked on the partially open door and caught his eye. There was such a somber look on his face and she wondered what could be wrong. She hadn’t heard anything about some work related trouble, but it might be something personal.
“Are you ok, boss?”
He studied her intently, hesitating. They were a team. There was no reason why his people shouldn’t know what was going on. It might be best anyway. And somehow, Lilly had his full confidence.
“No. It’s the children. Jenny and Matt. They were away at college and doing well, or so we thought. We hadn’t heard anything for about two months. Not really unusual, as you can imagine, but still – we were beginning to wonder. Then suddenly we got a call asking us where they both are. Turns out they hadn’t been to any lectures for nearly a month. Jenny’s fiance, Andrew, is gone too.”
A concerned look crept into Lilly’s eyes.
“Missing. No one’s seen or heard from them for at least three weeks.”
“I’m really sorry, sir. What’s being done about it? Have you reported it?”
“Yes. The police over there have sent out a nationwide appeal, but you see, they’re all adults. Matt is 20, Jenny is 22 and I think Andrew is 23. If they want to go off on their own on some joyride, there isn’t a lot we can do about it. At least that’s what people would say. Except they wouldn’t. Not my kids. They’ve never been unreliable. This is totally unlike them. My wife’s been in touch with Andrew’s parents, I mean before now, and he’s the same. A very reliable young man. We’ve never had any trouble before.”
“How is mrs Stillman holding up?”
A look of pain passed across Stillman’s features.
“Not well. She’s at her sister’s. The doctor had to sedate her. She’s convinced that they’re both dead.”
“Oh. Did anyone question their friends, professors – anyone who might have known them at college?”
“When the college staff found out that their absence had been reported to the police, they did ask around. Apparently, Jenny and the boys have been keeping to themselves this semester. No one had any idea they were even missing. I found out that they’d dropped out of most subjects and as you know, they stopped going to lectures and seminars weeks ago.”
“Would you like me to look into it, sir? Privately.”
Stillman rubbed his eyes, which did look red, hinting that he hadn’t had much sleep in the past couple of days.
“I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“Nonsense. This sounds serious. Better be safe than sorry. I could fly over there and check out what’s being said among the students and if there’s anything out of the ordinary, I’ll report back to you right away.”
“That would be very kind of you, Lil. I’d really appreciate it.”
“I can take some days off, for personal reasons, right?”
“There shouldn’t be any problem about that. I’ll clear it with upstairs and now that Scotty’s back, I’m sure we’ll manage. You have no idea how much this will mean to my wife – and myself.”
“Of course I can’t promise I’ll find anything, but I’ll do my best.”
Stillman nodded. He knew that Lilly Rush’s best was usually more than enough. The shortness of breath he’d experienced since the full import of the situation had dawned on him, left and for a moment at least, he felt more himself.
Scotty was watching their conversation and had a hunch something was wrong. He couldn’t guess what it was, but somehow, he didn’t think it had anything to do with him. Ever since the crisis he’d been going through after his ex-girlfriend Elissa had attacked him and put him in the hospital, he’d been dreading the fallout from his – indiscretion. Not that anything he’d done had been illegal. It was just that in his line of work – but now Lilly was back, interrupting his brooding.
“Stillman’s kids are missing. They’ve been gone for at least three weeks and no one has any idea where they are or what they’re doing. I’m going to get over there and look into the situation. Maybe someone has some idea of where they might be.”
Scotty wanted to ask if he could come too, but he knew that if Lilly would be gone for a day or two, he’d need to cover for her.
“Aren’t I always? You be careful, too.”
“Actually, if you like, I could stay at your place and look after the girls.”
Lilly hesitated. If they got into the habit of living together, even without sharing a bed, they would soon have to face the fact that they were entering a relationship. That would change everything. Was she ready for that? Was Scotty? They both, in their different ways, had issues to deal with and a relationship would be tricky, even apart from the fact that they were working together. But there was no point worrying about any what ifs. They’d deal with the situation as it unfolded.
“Ok, great. You know I love to have you there. The girls too, of course.”
“Will you – keep in touch?”
“Of course. I’ll check in with you too. I mean, apart from Stillman.”
“I*m really sorry about that. It must be dreadful, losing both kids like that, at the same time. Even if they’re grown up.”
“Let’s hope I can get them back safe and sound. Besides, I don’t think it matters how old your children are. They’ll always be a part of you.”
Scotty couldn’t help wondering if Lilly was speaking from personal experience, or if she was merely more wise in matters dealing with relationships between people. Of course, she would always be a daughter, so the personal experience might simply be in that.
She returned to her place and packed up a few necessities, then hesitatingly dug up the spare key. Was she ready to hand it over to Scotty? Or should she simply let him have her own and ask for it back later? In the end, she pocketed the spare key and decided to make up her mind on the way.
When she was facing Scotty again, she knew she’d somehow come to a decision, without thinking about it. She found herself handing over the key, after glancing around the room to make sure no one was paying attention.
Scotty took the key and closed his hand about it, feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Her spare key. It was almost like he was moving in for good, even if he knew that wasn’t what she was suggesting.
For a second, Lilly read something in his eyes which set her own shining in a special way. But she was too busy to dwell on her personal life. Her first priority would be to find out anything she could concerning Stillman’s kids, then if possible, finding them.
“I’ll drive you to the airport. Did you make reservations?”
“Yes, I did that at home. I need to be there in – 45 minutes. Better get a move on then. What about the case, though?”
“Vera and Jeffries have it covered for now. I’ll be typing reports for all of us tonight, but that’s ok. I’d much rather see you off, than interviewing a creep about a three-year-old case.”
Stillman seemed to be looking straight at them, but if he registered what they were doing, or merely stared at nothing, they couldn’t tell. In any case he didn’t have any objection to Scotty’s leaving with Lilly.
The college stirred up emotions in Lilly. Her college years had been good, mainly, but inevitably those memories set her thinking about the time before she came to college and her time at the Academy. It was hard to imagine that she, of all people, had been able to enjoy such a carefree lifestyle for a few years.
Her first move was to visit the dorm where all three kids had been staying. She found out that Jenny had been sharing a room with her fiance and that her brother was in the same corridor. It seemed she’d picked a bad time to show up. Everyone was heading out for lunch or for their next lecture, or were already out. Eventually, she was able to dig up a girl who claimed to know Matt.
“Yeah, I know Matt Stillman. I dated him for a while last year. He’s sweet. And kind of cute. Oh, you wanted to know when I last saw him. Hm. I’m not sure. Maybe it was about a month ago. We had a series of seminars and he only came to the first one. I got the impression he was more or less thinking of dropping out.”
“Didn’t he do well in his studies?”
“Yes. He was a straight A student, it seems. Always studying at the library, always in time for lectures. He had time to party too, a bit, but I think he was serious about his studies. That’s why I was so surprised he didn’t seem to care anymore.”
Lilly hesitated. She wouldn’t want Stillman to know she was asking this, but if she was wrong, which she was hoping, her boss would never know.
“You don’t think he was taking drugs?”
“Matt? Are you kidding? No way. We had this friend, Doug, who was into drugs, I mean, not seriously, but he always had these pills, you know. Matt really gave him a hard time about that. He was saying a friend of his from high school OD:d maybe three years ago, and after that Matt was really down on anyone who was taking drugs.”
“Ok. So I guess he wasn’t drinking either?”
The girl seemed to hesitate a little. Lilly had introduced herself as a friend of the family, but she knew that most people had no trouble identifiying her as a cop, anyway. If she wasn’t in disguise, of course. Still, the girl seemed to decide to go on with what she’d intended to say anyway.
“Sure. We all drink a bit. Didn’t you when you were at college? But if you mean did Matt have a drinking problem, no way. It was the same. He didn’t believe in that sort of thing.”
“Ok. Thanks. So you have absolutely no idea what could be causing their absence?”
Again, the girl hesitated, but this time, Lilly didn’t get the impression she was eager to hide something. It was more as if she was trying to figure something out, and eventually, it seemed she was successful.
“I’m not sure this has anything to do with it, but there’s been these people from a sect or cult or something hanging around campus since last semester. They’re handing out fliers and leaflets about their – church – and they’ve even had some meetings in the city. It’s pretty weird stuff, I think, but then I’m Catholic. Anything too different will strike me as odd.”
“Weird in what way?”
“You know, about sex and leaving society and how men should have more wives than one. Like the Mormons and Muslims. Some of us had a laugh at it, but I felt offended. I mean, society is the way it is, right? I can see that someone might want to leave it and live – more naturally – but all that sex and men having more wives, well, to me that’s just a sin.”
“Right. Do you know if Matt and his sister and her fiance had any interest in all that?”
“That’s why I said I wasn’t sure. It’s a bit hard to tell. If you’d asked me last year, I’d have said absolutely not. But I saw them talking to one of their recruiters about the same time they disappeared, if it was then. They seemed to be really friendly. The guy was very – hands on. Hugging Jenny a lot and I don’t know, it looked a bit creepy.”
“And did the guys seem to be as impressed as Jenny seemed to be?”
“Yes. They didn’t argue with her or anything like that. I think they were smiling. Looking happy, like they trusted that creep. There was a woman too, but she didn’t show up all the time. We have these militant feminists here and they really gave them both a hard time, and I think the woman got uneasy about it. There were a few demos against them. I mean, both Christian and feminist ones. Some people were talking about running them off campus. Since these two didn’t even study here. I think that some students from here joined them in the past, and that might be why they came. To recruit more zombies.”
“Did they seem more eager to get girls?”
“No, I think they wanted anyone they could get.”
“Ok, thanks. Oh, do you know where I can find any of that material they handed out?”
“I’m not sure – oh, yeah, I think they leave it around the cafeteria. Come on, I’ll show you. If those creeps have Matt, I hope you can get him back. He’s too sweet to end up with people like that. And I think his sister was ok too. She’s older, so I didn’t really know her or her fiance.”
Lilly found plenty of the material the girl had mentioned and she took a couple of each leaflet and flier, thinking as she did so, that anything removed from the pile might help some insecure college kid to stay in school and not drop out and become some dirty old creep’s fifth young wife.
One guy Lilly had been dating had had been seeing more girls at the same time, but he’d never been stupid enough to let them all know about each other. When she found out, she’d left him, with no regrets, even if the guy had come around a few times, trying to excuse himself. She’d sent him packing and after that she’d had no more contact with him.
It was time to call back to the boss and let him know what she’d uncovered.
“Hi, boss. It’s Lilly. Listen, I think I have an idea of where your kids may have gone off to. It’s some kind of sect or cult.”
“Cult? My kids? Oh. I guess you never know. Tell me what you’ve got.”
Lilly recited the facts as she knew them, giving Stillman the relevant facts, including the web page address, the email address and the phone numbers.
“I’ll get right on this and if I find out more, I’ll get in touch right away.”
“In the meantime, I’ll -”
“No, wait, Lilly. I’d rather you came back if you can’t find anything more on campus. We’ll need to know more before we tackle the sect.”
“Ok. There’s a plane leaving about nine fifteen. I should be able to catch that and be back before ten. I’ll spend the night at home and drop by the office tomorrow morning and see if you have any new facts for me then. In the meantime I will ask around some more. Maybe someone will have more to tell me.”
“Ok, but don’t try to talk to the people from the sect.”
Lilly managed to dig up another girl who for a while had been tempted by the lifestyle of the sect, but the polygamy had finally put her off. She was packing her things as Lilly walked into her dorm room.
“Yes, I found this commune that is just what I’ve been looking for. You’re the lady who wanted to know about the – sect?”
“Yes. What can you tell me about it?”
“In a way, it seemed like what I’d been looking for. You see, my parents died when I was fourteen and I’ve been living in different foster homes until I came here. It was never like home, you know, so I was hoping that I could marry my boyfriend, and we could get a home together. He didn’t want to though, so I thought I’d move to some commune. But this sect – it was a little weird. I mean, that polygamy crap was so transparent. You know? Like this old guy – one of the leaders – or priests or whatever they call themselves. He’s got like four wives, and I think he’s sleeping with many of the other girls too. I went out there once and he was looking at me like he was undressing me with his eyes. After a while, I got mad and said I wanted to leave, and they let me. They said I wasn’t ready yet. Like I’ll ever be. This other place – it’s not religious at all. We just live together and help each other and grow our own food.”
“That sounds nice. About that cult – do they only recruit kids, or are they after anyone?”
“I saw people your age, if that’s what you mean. The men were older, usually, but the women were all young – eighteen to – maybe forty. Some of the men are a little older than that and the leaders are like close to sixty, I think.”
“Thanks. Did you get an impression something was – wrong? I mean apart from the fact that the men liked young women?”
“You mean like something illegal? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. Maybe they were all so high on their god or gods or whatever it is they worship, but I got the impression they were doing drugs. And I didn’t get to see everyone. Mainly some of the women and the older men. The young men were always kept away from me. They looked – I don’t know – like they were zombies. Seriously. Very docile and – almost stupid. And many of the women were pregnant. It’s important to them. No contraceptives allowed. No abortions. But I didn’t see that many babies either. I think – some of the women were kept away from me too. Only the ones who were really buying into that polygamy crap were allowed to talk to me. How wonderful it was to be like sisters and love the same man who used his masculine strength to guide us females. Bla, bla, bla. All that crap. It made me so angry.”
“I can imagine. How many people are out there, do you know?”
“I saw those two leaders, their four or five wives each and maybe three or four other women. But there were more people there. At least as many more.”
“Right. Thanks. Good luck. I hope you’ll be happy at the commune. So you’ll be dropping out of college now?”
“No. It’s just a few miles away. I’ll be going in every day. Some of the other members study or work here, so I can get a ride. It’s great.”
“Sounds like it. Thanks again for the information. I hope it’s going to be useful.”
“Me too. Are you a private investigator or one of those deprogrammers?”
“No, just a friend of the family of some kids who disappeared.”
“Oh. Well, good luck, you too. I hope you find them. Any girls?”
The girl made a face.
“Then I really hope you find them, before she’s pregnant.”
Lilly frowned worriedly. This sounded like the worst kind of hippie era nonsense. Sisterhood. How could anyone be insecure and naive enough to fall for that crap? She was glad the girl she’d just talked to had seen sense and left. But the information had been useful. If Stillman’s kids and the girl’s fiance were there, someone would need to go under cover and figure out what was going on, and hopefully get all three of them out of there. If something illegal was going, it was even more important to find out and put a stop to those men and their accomplices.
It was time she caught her plane back. Now she’d already invited Scotty over – again. Maybe it would be easier if they just admitted they were attracted to each other and dealt with it. She wasn’t sure either of them was ready for a relationship and she’d hate to lose him as a friend, but in the end, the only way of testing if their feelings were enough would be to try.
She phoned Stillman on the way to the airport, and informed him about what she’d learned. He had some information for her too. Some witnesses had seen his son and daughter and her fiance, or people matching their description anyway, getting into a minibus and that minibus – painted with the church’s logo had been seen driving into the woods outside of the city.
He’d also uncovered more about the sect, but he told her he’d get confirmation from another police department and tell her more in the morning.
After she’d terminated the call, she called Scotty to tell him that she’d be back the same evening. He sounded pleased, but didn’t offer to return to his own place. Instead he told her he’d be at the airport to pick her up. Why did she get the feeling they were moving too fast? Or were they? Perhaps, considering how long they’d been hiding their true feelings for each other, it was more than time to test their love for each other in some more decisive way than hugging and kissing the way they had.
Scotty was waiting for her at the airport when she arrived. It didn’t seem at all awkward to run straight into his open arms and hold him for – a little longer than strictly necessary.
“Welcome back. Did you find out anything useful?”
“You could say that. At least it seems the kids are still alive.”
“But you think they’re in danger?”
“Not in danger of being killed. It’s just that -”
Scotty picked up her overnight bag and began to carry it towards the car. Lilly broke off and was about to tell him to drop it, but somehow, she didn’t. Not tonight. She was too happy to see him and knowing they were heading back to her place to spend the night together, she didn’t want to worry about unimportant details. Later, she’d explain that he didn’t need to carry her stuff for her, especially when he’d just recovered from a gunshot wound. She was perfectly fit and could easily carry her own luggage.
She hurriedly explained what she’d found out, adding that she didn’t like any of it, and especially the reference to all the pregnant women, but no large number of babies.
Scotty frowned. He definitely didn’t like the sound of that. Were they sacrificing babies? Or was that jumping to conclusions? Were they selling them to – the highest bidder? Where else would the babies be?
“I’m concerned about Jenny. I’ve never met her, but mrs Stillman is a lovely person and you know the boss. A girl I talked to referred to Matt as sweet. And cute. So I can imagine he’s a nice kid too.”
“I hope there’s a way to get them back.”
“Me too. So, have you been at my place yet?”
“No, I was just packing a few things at my place when you called, so I just went shopping. Tonight I’ll definitely cook dinner for you. If you’re willing to take the chance?”
“Didn’t you tell me you’re a great cook?”
“I hope I didn’t brag like that, but actually, no one’s complained so far.”
“Ok. I’m willing to take a chance.”
Scotty turned to face her, his eyes boring into her. There had been something about the way she’d said that, which made him hope she was really referring to something else. If that something else was what he was hoping it was – was he ready to go to the next level in their relationship?
She knew all about his sordid little secret, but it hadn’t seemed to faze her much. Then again, he was her partner, not her boyfriend. He imagined it might be a quite different matter actually being involved with a person who had briefly gone to gay clubs to find his one-night stands.
If she meant what he was hoping she did, he’d let her make the first move. On the other hand, tough and mature as she seemed, there was something about Lilly suggesting that when it came to love, she was more – fragile – than she seemed to be in other ways. He was wondering what was behind that. She’d told him about being involved with older men when she was very young. Barely legal, as she’d put it. Perhaps that was the explanation. Maybe a couple of unhappy relationships had burned her and after that she’d been reluctant to let anyone close.
In a way, he’d been burned too and no matter how you looked at what he’d been doing for the past couple of years, he hadn’t been in more than one relationship. It would be odd if he was the more experienced one, after just one relationship, than she was, after so many, if her vague hints were anything to go by. If some creep had hurt her, he was hoping he could be the guy who finally gave her back her trust in relationships. Then again, was he really the right guy for the job? A couple of months ago, he’d been cruising gay clubs for pickups.
No, he was going to let her make the first move. Anything else would be unfair to her.
Back at her house, they were greeted by two hungry and insistent cats, who demanded their share of their attention. Lilly fed the cats, while Scotty made himself at home in the kitchen. He’d been staying with her for several weeks, but she hadn’t let him do much to help. She’d been adamant that he use the time to convalesce. All she let him do was keep her company. Maybe now she’d let him do more.
When they sat down to dinner, the cats were fast asleep on Lilly’s bed, and Scotty began to tell Lilly about the day’s work. There wasn’t much to tell. Vera and Jeffries had dumped a load of paperwork on his desk and disappared on various excursions, presumably related to the case they were investigating.
For once, Scotty didn’t find the work particularly fascinating. It was a singularly uninteresting case and it was amazing that the officer in charge of it three years ago had made no progress with it. Of course there were two obvious explanations for that. The first being that the officer in question was only marking time until his retirement less than two months later, and the second that one of the main suspects had since died, leaving the rest of the people involved less scared and thus free to talk about the case.
They had a hard time focusing on their everyday work, which was totally unlike them. Lilly’s mind kept wandering to the sect and the three kids and the others already there, who were in danger of – what exactly? She also couldn’t help glancing at Scotty, out of the corner of her eye. Each time she gave in to that impulse, she caught him gazing at her, with such a devoted look in his eyes, she had to force herself not to smile openly.
“Thanks. That was delicious. I guess you really were telling the truth about being a great cook.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
But they both had too much on their minds to really enjoy small talk.
In the end, they gave up that struggle. Lilly’s face relaxed into a smile. Scotty’s solemn expression lifted and he too, smiled. They moved to the couch, where they turned on the news, for want of a better occupation. When it became obvious that neither of them were watching, or listening, Lilly turned the tv off and turned to face Scotty.
She’d come to the realization that they might as well give it a try. It had been years since she’d felt this way about a guy and that in itself told her this might be different. Kite had had to push and prod her into accepting him in her life and now it turned out he’d most likely been after a fling. For him, it couldn’t have been more than a physical thing. Of course, she couldn’t say for sure if that was Scotty’s problem, but she did know that in the past, he’d never agonized over that kind of thing. He’d gone out and picked up a girl – or lately – a guy. His behavior towards her suggested a different kind of interest.
That led her to wonder why he hadn’t made a move sooner. The impression she’d formed of him had been that he never had a problem taking the initative. For a moment, she experienced a sinking feeling. What if she was wrong? Maybe it would be better to just leave things as they were. They were fine, like this. Anything else might simply ruin everything.
On the other hand, she’d seen how deeply disgusted he’d been with himself after the gay phase. She’d noticed how he’d reacted to anything vaguely gay-related in the past, so she knew he wasn’t comfortable with any of that. Was he holding back out of fear of her reaction? She’d embarrassed him by asking if he’d been tested for STD:s and she knew he was healthy, so that couldn’t be his problem. Reminding herself that she was older, she decided to put her natural shyness around men on hold and make a start. If the worst came to the worst, she knew she’d survive the embarrassment of having read him wrong.
At that point in her tedious brooding, she shut her thoughts up and leaned over to place a light kiss on Scotty’s lips, just to see how he’d react. This had a very favorable effect. He pulled her into his arms, and this time she couldn’t complain about the lack of passion he put into the kiss. Her own reaction took her by surprise. She hardly recognized herself. It had never been this way with Kite.
Matters progressed to the point that they were both half way to her bed, with garments trailing onto the floor, when Scotty pulled back and shot her an inquiring gaze. After only a moment’s hesitation, she pulled him closer and kissed him again, letting her actions speak for her.
The second she woke up, she knew something had changed. For a disoriented moment, she couldn’t tell where she was or when. It seemed like a dream from more than ten years ago. She’d never been so happy before or since. That was just before – but this wasn’t the same. The man who was breathing calmly beside her was Scotty Valens. Her partner. Her boyfriend? In any case, for now, her lover. In sleep his face looked less – intense, less serious. He looked younger and more carefree than she’d ever seen him before. As she was looking at him, his eyes opened and a smile spread across his face.
“Good morning. Slept well?”
“Better than for years. You?”
“Yeah, me too. How about breakfast?”
“Mm. What did you have in mind?”
He leaned over and kissed her again. She wasn’t that hungry anway.
Sharing the shower almost made them late, but they made up for that by driving a little faster than usual. After a silent exchange of looks, it was decided that Lilly would be the one who arrived first. Scotty drove a couple of times round the block to give her time to establish her presence before he showed up.
By the time he walked in, she was in Stillman’s office, gravely listening to what he had to tell her. Scotty could see Stillman pointing to a couple of computer printouts or faxes lying on his desk, to emphasize his words. After a while, Scotty got the impression they were arguing about something. Stillman was trying to convince Lilly of something, but not having much success. That didn’t surprise Scotty. Lilly had to be the stubbornest person he’d ever met. In the past, with Elissa, he’d always been the one to take charge, to take responsibility. Now, with Lilly, he didn’t have a problem letting go. Letting her lead was actually – very attractive.
Now Lilly walked back to her desk, and Scotty faced her, hoping she’d offer some explanation of what had just gone down. After she’d collected her thoughts, she did.
“I’m going to see what I can find out from inside that sect’s farm in the woods. Stillman was reluctant to let me go, but I convinced him it was the only way. He’d found out some pretty disturbing facts – or at least – disturbing hints. There was a case two years ago of a young woman who’d managed to call her parents. When they arrived, the cult leaders claimed she was there of her own free will and when pressed about it, the girl confirmed it. The parents could tell she was being coerced and they got their attorney to work on them. When they got a court order which made the sect give the girl up, suddenly she wasn’t there anymore. She only resurfaced last fall, with a baby, but emotionally traumatized. The parents took her in but she’s still not in good shape. Her doctor won’t let her talk about what happened to her.”
“Oh. But Lil, why does it have to be you? I’m sure there are experts who can handle this sort of thing.”
“Maybe. But Stillman is out of his mind worrying and his wife is in really bad shape. She’s been sedated, but – if this goes on, it might seriously affect her health. Someone has to find out what’s going on in there, and I think they’ll accept me as a member.”
“I don’t like it. You’re putting yourself at too much risk. I could do it. You did say there were men there too? And – since it’s not a question of – polyandry, I should be safe enough.”
“If they don’t make you. Do you have any experience of working under cover?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes. When I was in DC I worked under cover as a drug dealer.”
“As a drug dealer?”
“Why not? Did you think I’d look better as a prostitute?”
“Of course not. It’s just not the first thing you think about when you hear the word drug dealer. I mean, a woman.”
“Not that kind of drug dealer. Someone higher up. I was posing as some guy’s girlfriend. There. Does that fit your preconceived ideas about how a woman should come across?”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. I know there are female gun runners and hitmen – hitwomen – and pretty much everything else. Ok. So you have some experience, but his has to be different.”
“Maybe, but you wouldn’t do any better than I would, so I think for the time being, it will be just me. I might need backup, and in that case, you could come in later. The boss says he’ll pull Vera and Jeffries off the case for now and set them up in a motel nearby. They’ll be monitoring my movements. I’ll be reporting to them, when I can.”
“What about me? What can I do?”
“Stillman said you should close the current case, then he might consider using you on this one. He’s talked to the people upstairs and they’ll let us handle the case for now. Actually, it might be a case for the feds, but so far, they’ve given us a green light.”
Scotty looked unhappy. He didn’t like this at all. Lilly placing herself at risk again. He had an uneasy suspicion the boss didn’t fully trust him anymore, after all the bad luck he’d had lately. Even if the boss knew nothing about his – crisis – and the time when Ryan Henderson had been stalking him, what he did know was bad enough. He’d been hospitalized twice this year, once when Elissa had stabbed him during a violent episode and only recently, when he’d been taken hostage by a man desperate to hold on to his position, even after committing a felony.
“I’m going to talk to him. Maybe he’ll let me help too. It would feel terrible just waiting around here, without being able to do anything, if you get in trouble.”
“I won’t get in trouble. Don’t worry about me. I’ll miss you, but I’m really worried about the boss’ kids and Andrew.”
“I’ll talk to him anyway. Just a minute.”
Scotty entered Stillman’s office, glancing anxiously at his boss, who looked stricken.
“I suppose you know what’s happening?”
“Yes, sir, Lil told me. I was wondering if you’d let me help too. Sitting here, while Lil’s in danger over there, just doesn’t feel right.”
Stillman cast him a penetrating look. Scotty was hoping he didn’t blush under that scrutiny. He felt awkward, knowing what had happened between him and Lilly only last night. The department policy might not be spelled out clearly like in others, but he knew their type of relationship was frowned upon. Usually, one of the parties would be forced to ask for a transfer.
“I can understand that, son, but for now, I’d prefer you to just stay here and close the case.”
“We might have to reconsider later. I’m hoping this will be resolved soon and if it is, then we’ll have Lilly back safe and sound before long. Bringing my kids, I hope.”
“I hope that too, sir. I’m really sorry to hear about what happened.”
“I appreciate that, Scotty.”
Once back at his desk, Scotty unhappily recounted his discussion with Stillman. Lilly smiled sympathetically. She moved her hand, then put it down again. Scotty had a feeling she had been about to place it on his, to reassure him.
“He wouldn’t let me help. Lil, do you think he might feel that I’m – not reliable anymore? I mean, after the shooting recently and the stabbing.”
“No. I think he’d rather have one of us here. Can you imagine how it would feel to be sitting here, waiting for the outcome? If anything, I think he relies on you more now.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Lilly joined Vera and Jeffries at the motel first. She changed into a pair of old jeans, she’d had for years and only used when she was spring cleaning or anything else messy, and a washed out old t-shirt. On her feet, she had worn old sneakers, she used for running or walking, when she had time for that. Instead of washing her hair, as she would have otherwise, she deliberately left it as it was, giving the impression of untidy, not quite clean hair.
She was striving to look like a young woman who hadn’t found her place in life, someone who had bad judgment when it came to men and had a hard time trusting them. No acting needed there, she told herself wryly. The person she was trying to be, would have had a bad relationship with her parents too. That wouldn’t be too hard to affect. There was nothing to it, really, this under cover work, she told herself. Just let yourself show your less desirable traits and it all worked like a charm.
She reminded herself that she hadn’t even met the people she would have to convince. Maybe she’d better wait until she’d seen them before she made up her mind about how easy or hard it would be.
For a moment, she stood in front of the mirror, wondering if there was still too much of the self-assured cop about her, or if she was ready. Only one way to find out, she thought.
She stepped out of the bathroom and let Vera and Jeffries take a look.
“Well? Do I look ok?”
Vera stared at her, a look of wonder on his face. Jeffries smiled in a way she hoped was approving. She suspected that he was also having a laugh at her expense, but maybe she was being oversensitive.
“Amazing. No dress this time?”
“No dress. I think this is better for this type of woman.”
She took one last look inside her shoulder bag, and determined she hadn’t left anything incriminating there, only a few changes of clothes and a toothbrush and toothpaste with a few other odds and ends that even this kind of person would bring. Mainly makeup but also a cheap cell phone, a couple of worn paperbacks – bestsellers – and some cheap jewelry. The cell phone might not be left in her possession for long, but she was prepared for that. If they suggested she turn it over to them for – safekeeping? – she’d agree.
She had a feeling someone like she was trying to be, would agree to most things. That was the main drawback. If that old guy demanded that she prove her loyalty to the sect by sleeping with him, what would she say? That she was recovering from a case of the clap? That she’d just had an abortion? That she was a lesbian? Not the latter. With all those women there, she didn’t want to risk being pushed into sleeping with one of them. The abortion might be the best option, but she didn’t want to. It just felt too – painful. She’d deal with the problem if and when it arose, she decided.
Jeffries got up from his chair to approach her. Lilly was hoping he wasn’t going to shake her hand or anything sentimental like that. It wouldn’t be his style somehow. Vera maybe. He might even hug her, if he was worried enough. She might hug him back, but she didn’t think he’d dare, so it was hardly likely.
“Your fake ID, young lady. Didn’t your mom warn you about the dangers of using fake ID:s?”
“No, quite the opposite in fact. Back then I would definitely have been busted if I’d used my own. Thanks.”
She snatched the plastic card from Jeffries’ fingers and shoved it into her worn wallet. That was her own, but one she’d stopped using years ago and thought she’d thrown away. Instead, she’d found it at the back of a drawer and since it didn’t contain anything that might give her away, she’d decided to use it.
She didn’t like the fact that Jeffries had caught her slipping like that, this early in the operation. It didn’t bode well for the rest of it.
She walked all the way into town, glad that the weather was good. It wasn’t too hot, like it could be this time of year, but somehow it was less balmy in the bush. Some cars passed her on the road, but no one stopped to offer her a lift. Once she saw a bus, but mainly the traffic consisted of SUV:s and jeeps and even tractors.
Finally, when she was beginning to feel rather hot and sticky, she arrived at the address the fliers and leaflets had specified. It wasn’t the farm, just some information office. The place looked dingy and shabby.
Lilly opened the door and walked in. There was an information desk and to the side a couple of mismatched chairs and a table. That was pretty much all there was. Two young women and a slightly older man was standing behind the desk, talking among themselves. As she walked in, they stopped talking and turned towards her. It was eerie how they automatically put on identical, impersonal smiles.
The man greeted her.
“Welcome. Can we help you?”
Lilly pulled out the folded and worn flier she’d picked up at the campus. She had decided that she’d admit to having found the flier there. Her cover story would include a brief stunt as a waitress at the cafeteria, though most of the employees were students. She would be scraping a meager living jumping from one temporary job to another. Placing the unfolded flier on the desk, she tried to look confused and pleading at the same time.
“I found this at the cafeteria at the college where I’d been working for a few weekends. It says – I read about how you help people and show them a new life. It sounds nice. Can you tell me more about that?”
“Of course. Would you like to sit down? Marie can get you a cup of tea, if you like. Or would you prefer coffee?”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Nonsense. What will you have?”
His voice was so commanding, Lilly wanted to get up and yell at him. Marie wasn’t his slave, for crying out loud. Then she checked herself. Perhaps that was how it was. All the more reason to bust the bastards and close them down.
“Tell me about yourself -”
“Jennifer. Lovely name. Jennifer, I think you have had a rough time, but now your troubles are over. Just trust us and place yourself in our hands, and you can have a brand new life.”
“That sounds -”
Like a load of crap, Lilly thought, but she forced herself to smile hesitantly.
“Go on, tell me about your life.”
She recited the story she’d come up with, after consulting Stillman and the others, making it sound as if she was reluctant to give away too much. Her partial distrust seemed to go down well.
“Jennifer, you’ve taken an important step today. Later on, you’ll look back on this day as the beginning of your new life. I’m so happy for you.”
He got up and took her hand, pulling her to her feet. Lilly made no move to stop him, when he placed his arms around her. He didn’t try to paw at her and she was grateful for that. When he let her go, the two girls hugged her too. Lilly decided not to thaw out all at once, but smiled faintly at him. She felt she had him hooked by now, even if he probably thought it was the other way around.
Despite that, a vague feeling of discomfort settled over her. Wasn’t it a bit too easy? But for all she knew, they weren’t a suspicious bunch. Maybe they’d never been infiltrated before. Stillman’s research had revealed that they’d been in existence for just over ten years. That wasn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of things. Maybe they’d managed to stay below the authorities’ radar until now.
They took her out to the farm in their minibus. She noted that it wasn’t all that far from the town. If the worst came to the worst, she thought she could probably walk back in maybe two or three hours. While trying to look sleepy, she did her best to memorize the way out there, so, if necessary, she could find her way back again on her own.
To her surprise, no one searched her bag, but she was prepared for the possibility that they might do it later, without her knowledge.
She was shown to a large, sunny room with six beds in it.
“You’ll be sharing this room with the other unmarried women. Do you think you’ll be ok here?”
“Yes, thanks. It looks fine.”
“Right now, there are only three other women staying here. The rest are now married. Maybe you’ll find love here too.”
“I doubt it. I’m not having much luck with guys.”
“You never know when your luck might change. Maybe – you’ve looked in the wrong places before.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
She tried to sound carefree, as if she didn’t realize how much emphasis they placed on their polygamous marriages. The girl who had talked to her, giggled as if she felt she’d been too forward. Lilly thought she might be about twenty or so. She was hoping they wouldn’t all be drafted into the same marriage soon.
During the afternoon, she was introduced to some of the other members. She was especially alert when a young woman or man showed up, but so far she hadn’t seen either of Stillman’s kids or the fiance. At dinnertime she finally met the two founders. Stillman’s research hadn’t uncovered much about them, except that they had been involved in various churches since their youth. The brothers were in their late fifties and both had a way with words which led Lilly to believe they’d also been salesmen or marketers, or perhaps worked in advertising.
They made a big show out of ‘blessing’ the entire community – or ‘family’ as he put it. So they styled themselves as some kind of paternal figures. Really nice and cozy, if you liked that kind of thing, Lilly thought. She forced herself to look unperturbed, if not overenthusiastic. This was a person who had been looking for a place to belong. She wouldn’t be overly critical.
After dinner, the oldest brother asked Lilly into his private quarters and she was wondering if this was it, when he began to make a pass at her. She was wondering what she’d do then. There still hadn’t been any trace of Jenny, Matt or Andrew, and she couldn’t blow it this soon. She was hoping she’d be able to put him off temporarily. After all, he couldn’t expect to convince her after five minutes.
The man, who introduced himself as Christian Renfrew, shook her hand, while – quite unashamedly – evaluating her physical appearance – and welcomed her to his flock. He didn’t actually say so, but Lilly felt she could hear all that hype in his voice.
She remained quiet and shy, but she smiled briefly, to show that she was grateful for his acceptance of her.
“Jennifer, you have made a significant step forward in your personal evolution today. Soon, I hope you’ll have liberated all the fine qualities you have inside you and that you’ll be walking among us, as a free, happy individual. I hear you’ve been working as a waitress? Would you mind if we put you in the kitchen for now? We might have something more meaningful for you to do later.”
“No, working in the kitchen is ok with me. I’m no great cook though.”
“You won’t be cooking, my dear.”
“Oh. That’s ok, then.”
“Come here, my child. Let us rejoice in your good fortune.”
Oh, boy, here we go, Lilly thought.
The old man embraced her and though she could hear him panting a bit, he didn’t go beyond pressing his body against hers. His hands remained somewhere around her neck and shoulders. Despite that, she felt soiled somehow. She thought he might have detected some of her reluctance, but he didn’t comment. Instead, he pushed her away, and nodded to her in a way he probably thought of as amiable. She noticed that like every other man in a position of authority here, which seemed to be every man she’d met so far, he took for it for granted that he’d be obeyed instantly.
There were other buildings on the property, so she guessed that the other young women – the ones who were pregnant? and the remaining young men – might be in one or several of them. She was hoping she’d be shown around the place tomorrow, so she might get a better overview.
Time to check in with Jeffries and Vera. She was wondering if they kept her under surveillance. If so, she’d try not to be too obvious about her reporting. She’d keep it brief, mainly letting them know she was ok. They’d even agreed on a code word for emergency, in case she was being overheard. The word was weather. She didn’t recall who had thought of it, but what could be less remarkable than weather? In fact, it had been agreed that if she couldn’t work that actual word in, she’d use any type of weather, like rain, sunshine, cloudy etc. If she mentioned anything like that, Vera and Jeffries would be out there, followed by the local sheriff and his deputies within half an hour. That was a long time, but it was the soonest possible, and Lilly was hoping it wouldn’t come to that anyway.
She decided to ask one of the three girls she would be sharing her room with, about where to find a restroom. That should be private enough for her purposes.
They’d already been introduced, so she knew the girl with the blond ponytails was Maddy. She was the only one already there. This girl was one of the youngest, probably still a teenager.
“Maddy – that’s right, isn’t it? – do you know where I can find the little girls’ room?”
“It’s out back.”
“Sort of. It’s a real toilet and there’s a shower and a washing machine, but it’s in a small shed outside.”
Lilly decided to sound a bit reluctant, as if she really just wanted to use the facilities.
“It’s not far. I could show you if you like. And it’s all fenced in, as you might have seen it when you arrived. No wild animals or strangers can get in.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
Or not so good, if those strangers were her colleagues.
“I think I can find my own way. Go on to bed. I don’t want to be any trouble.”
“It’s no trouble, but you can’t miss it. Look.”
She pointed to the smallest of the buildings on the land.
Lilly hesitated. Would she be acting suspiciously if she was a little bit curious about the other buildings? Actually, she thought it would be more surprising if she didn’t ask a few questions.
“What are the other buildings?”
The girl looked as if she wasn’t sure she was supposed to discuss them. It took her a while to make up her mind, but in the end, she replied.
“Some of them are for the machines. We grow our own food out here. Two of them are like dorms. One for guys and one for the other women.”
“What other women?”
“I – don’t know really. Just others.”
“Ok. And what about the guys? Why are they out there?”
“They’re not married.”
“Oh, I see. But you and I and the other two girls here are not married. Why aren’t the unmarried people in here all together?”
“I don’t know. It’s – they say it’s better that way. We’ll get to meet them sometimes, but we’re not supposed to – you know – hang out.”
“Ok. I don’t mind. Guys – you know – they can be -”
The girl sounded so sad, Lilly had a feeling she’d run into some bastard or maybe more than one recently, or even earlier. No wonder she’d been drawn to this type of place. At that age it had to be easy to be sucked in by people who seemed to be so sure of themselves.
Lilly picked up her bag and went outside. No one tried to stop her, but she felt herself being watched from each lit window and maybe some of the others too.
She opened the door and went inside. The girl – Maddy – had been telling the truth. It looked quite decent actually. Clean and adequate. She pulled out the phone and punched in the number to Vera’s phone.
She felt foolish for using his name like that, but they’d agreed to do that, in case she was overheard.
Vera sounded as if he was amused at the deception.
“So how is my little brother doing?”
“We’re fine. What about you?”
“I’m ok so far.”
“Make sure it stays that way.”
“Are you kidding? You don’t need to tell me that. Good night, little Nicky.”
“Good night, sis.”
Lilly put away the phone and used the facilities. With the only available bathroom out back, she’d definitely use it whenever she could.
When she returned to her room, the other two girls were already there, getting ready for bed. At least one of them fit the general profile, looking just as sad and dejected as Maddy. Lilly was wondering if they had been that way when they came or if life with the cult had made things worse.
One of the girls stared at the newcomer with a great deal of curiosity.
“Hi, I’m Emily. You’re new here.”
“Do you have like a nickname or does everyone call you Jennifer?”
“Well, my friends call me Jen, or Jenny. What about you? Do you have a nickname?”
“No. There’s this other girl here who’s called Jenny.”
The oldest girl flashed Emily a warning look, which Lilly caught, pretending she was looking at the closet.
“Jenny? I don’t think I met her. Is that all the storage we get? That closet?”
“Yes, we don’t really need all that material wealth in the outside world.”
“Too true. I didn’t bring a lot either, but I was just thinking, with four of us here, it could get crowded, you know?”
“It’s ok. I don’t think we’ll be here for very long.”
“Why not? I just got here. Are you guys leaving already?”
Again, there was that odd look exchanged between the girls. Finally, the oldest girl spoke up. She seemed to be in her mid-twenties.
“We might get married soon. At least I will. Christian has agreed to take me as his fifth wife. It’s a great honor so I’m not going to refuse.”
“Fifth wife? What’s up with that? I kind of wanted to go out here to get away from all those guys in my life. So we’re just supposed to get married?”
“Marriage is the truest fulfillment for a woman. Outside of a marriage a woman can’t realize her full potential.”
“What does that mean?”
“I think it means that only when we’re surrounded by a man’s love can we be truly ourselves and be happy.”
“So this is like the Mormons? Guys get to have as many wives as they like?”
“You don’t understand. It’s better to be married. You’ll see. When you’ve been here longer, it will begin to make sense.”
“Do you guys think so too?”
Lilly glanced around the room, including Maddy and Emily in her question.
Maddy looked unhappy, Emily blushed and looked away. Eventually, Emily nodded.
“You’ll see. Having a husband to protect you is better.”
“Protect us from what?”
Lilly allowed a little fear to creep into her voice. She thought it was a valid question. Out here, where they were supposed to be so well protected by a fence, keeping the outside world out, and – the members of the community inside? – what could threaten them here?
Again there was an awkward silence. It was broken by the oldest girl, with a finality, which told Lilly it would be best to drop her questions for tonight.
“From the evil that surrounds us.”
“Time to turn out the lights.”
She added a quote that sounded vaguely biblical, and Lilly was far from an expert, but she had a hunch this could have been made up by this particular cult, rather than actually being from the bible.
Rather than attracting any unwanted attention, she feigned a fatigue she didn’t feel. Quite the opposite, in fact. She wanted to continue searching for Stillman’s kids and the other young man and try to find out what was happening to the missing babies. The odd silences hinted at secrets she’d definitely need to uncover before she left, but she’d have to continue in the morning.
The following day she was kept busy from the early morning until relatively late in the evening. Again, there was dinner in the main dining hall and afterwards, private meditation and prayer with the younger Renrew brother, Thomas. She was half-expecting him to make a pass at her, but to her astonishment, she was forced to spend the next forty minutes on her knees, her hands pressed together, in silent prayer or reciting some prayer or blessing Thomas taught her.
After that, she was allowed to sit down, but was told to keep quiet and meditate on – her life’s course until now and the course she wanted it to take from now on. If that was the best they could do, she was amazed they managed to keep so many people spellbound. Of course, she might not have been quite as good at exposing their transparent lies when she was a kid. Maybe the main recipients of the Renfrew brothers’ wisdom were young people or – someone like her own character who had been treated badly by life.
Spending such a long time alone with this old guy, without being visually undressed or groped, made Lilly question her earlier assumptions about the cult. It might be shallow and derivative, but maybe there wasn’t anything sinister to find here. If she ran into the Stillman kids and Andrew Welch, she might simply be able to explain to them their parents were concerned about them and tell them to call home.
But she didn’t really think it would be that easy. There were too many suspicious circumstances.
All the hard work and the meditation late into the evenings made her exhausted. It also seemed the older girl in her room, Michelle, was constantly keeping an eye on her. Lilly knew the type. She must have been a cheerleader in high school, an A student and the Homecoming Queen. Lilly was wondering what could have happened to turn her into this collaborator who watched over her fellow sect members and presumably reported every single step they took, to her superiors, meaning the cult leader Christian Renfrew or one of his henchmen.
Only once during the following week was Lilly able to sneak out to report to Vera and Jeffries. Jeffries – “Billy” – had sounded just as concerned as Vera and he’d passed on a message from Stillman. He was concerned about her and wanted her to finish her assignment as fast as possible and get out. If she uncovered anything which might convince a judge to sign a search warrant, she was to get out right away and leave the rest of the work to others.
She wished she could do that. After that first night, Michelle, had been watching her like a hawk, and apparently, she was being kept under close supervision by the males as well. One evening, she met Christian, instead of Thomas, during her prayer and meditation session. There was more pawing, and ogling, but he didn’t go any further than that.
The reason for that turned out to be that Michelle was to be married to him the following evening, a Sunday. Apparently, he was too preoccupied by his upcoming wedding to really get into her. At least Lilly was hoping he’d keep his hands off for a while longer. She never had a chance to get close to the mysterious buildings on the land.
It turned out one of the other wives was heavy with child and was about to give birth any day now. Perhaps it was the reason for Christian’s interest in Michelle. The young woman was huge, and Lilly wouldn’t have been surprised if she was about to give birth to twins.
On the day of the wedding, everyone was expected to help out, everyone, except the men, naturally. There was hard work enough for each woman, except for the wife who was close to giving birth. She lay on her bed, sweating and looking deeply unhappy.
The wedding itself turned out to be even more strenuous than the acual preparations. Apart from some slightly fancier food, there would also be dancing. The people who had previously been kept away from the main building, were now allowed inside the largest hall, where the wedding celebrations would be held.
This finally gave Lilly the chance to see Jenny and Matt Stillman. What immediately drew her attention was the fact that Jenny was pregnant. At least four months gone, which meant she had to have been pregnant already when she arrived. Matt looked thin and oddly passive, as if he was getting totally apathetic – or – Lilly recalled the girl who had told her that she suspected the members of the cult were doing drugs – he might have been on some kind of downer.
There was no trace of Andrew Welch anywhere and until she was able to get closer to one of the Stillman kids, Lilly couldn’t get any information about him. She had to be careful not to give herself away. Michelle might not be spying on her anymore, but there were others. She couldn’t even be absolutely sure about Emily or Maddy. Who knew what pressures they were subjected to?
It turned out the single women would not be allowed near the young unmarried men. Instead, the married women would be dancing with their husbands – one at a time, or all wives together. The single women were supposed to dance on their own, as were the single men – separated by the married men and their wives.
Lilly was considering faking a headache or fatigue to get out of the celebration, but it occurred to her that this might be her only chance of getting close to Jenny Stillman, so she forced herself to get out on the dance floor.
How tough could it be? She remembered dancing at clubs during her teens and early twenties. Looking around, she noticed that the dancing skills were extremely varied. Some were completely unable to get any of the steps right. A few girls and one or two of the young men could have been professional dancers, and there was every other type of dancer in between.
Cautiously, so she wouldn’t be noticed, Lilly edged closer to Jenny, who was more or less standing still on the dance floor, anxiously staring after her younger brother at the other end of the room. Once closer to her, Lilly decided to fake a faint. Jenny was the one who was pregnant, but she’d worked hard all day and it had been extremely hot and clammy. Why shouldn’t she pass out? To her relief, Jenny, who seemed to be just as nice as her dad, immediately put out a helping hand and supported Lilly over to the wall, where she helped her sit down.
“I think – I need the bathroom. Do you think you could walk me out there? I don’t know what’s wrong. I suddenly felt so faint.”
“It’s the heat. You’ve been working all day, right? Come on. I’ll help you.”
Lilly pressed a hand to her mouth, in a way she hoped was convincing, and to her relief, she didn’t seem to attract too much attention. Two other women were already half sitting, half lying by the wall, exhausted or pregnant. It was hard to tell from a distance.
Jenny’s face never lost her worried expression, but she did her best to guide Lilly safely to the outhouse. Once inside, Lilly had to make a quick decision. Was Jenny to be trusted or – would she sell her out? In the end, she decided she’d take the chance. Making contact with Jenny was her highest priority after all.
“It’s ok, Jenny, I’m not sick. Listen, we’ll have to do this really fast. I’m not really – a member. Your dad sent me to find out if you were ok. What’s going on here? And where’s your fiance? I haven’t seen him. Your dad provided a photo of each of you, so I know I should be able to recognize him.”
To Lilly’s alarm, Jenny burst into tears. Lilly looked around for a tissue and when she found one, she handed it to Jenny and, watching her anxiously, she tried to stay alert, in case of any eavesdroppers.
“I heard – that he’s dead.”
“Matt told me. He wouldn’t say what happened, but I think – they killed him.”
“You haven’t a clue what brought it on?”
“No, but I think Matt knows something. He’s stopped talking to me. Not that we ever get to see each other that much. But he’s my brother. According to their twisted rules that makes it ok, officially, to see him.”
“Have you noticed that Matt’s changed – physically?”
“So you see it too? He’s lost weight and he’s acting like a – drone. Have you come to get us out of here?”
“Yes, if I can. They’ve been watching me closely ever since I arrived, so I haven’t been able to make contact with – my colleagues, but -”
“There’s someone out there watching over us?”
“Sort of. They’re in the town. Don’t they ever let you out of here? For medical checkups and so on?”
“No. They wouldn’t let me. And I know the others aren’t allowed to either. There’s something really weird going on. There are only two children here. Christian’s sons. The others just vanish. I don’t know if they – kill them or take them away. We’re not supposed to ask. Please get us out of here. I’m worried about my baby and about Matt. These people murdered my fiance. I want them punished.”
“I know. Are you ok? Physically? Did anyone try to -”
“I know what you mean. You were going to ask me if they’ve raped me? I think that’s what they do. To the girls anyway. But I was pregnant, and at first – I told them I was married to Andrew, just so they’d keep their hands off me. No one’s touched me. But – I think most of the others are raped regularly.”
“The so called married women?”
“No, the others. The wives are ‘protected’. That’s why everyone wants to get married. Only the husband’s allowed to touch them.”
That placed Lilly herself in a risky situation, which she hadn’t been fully prepared for. If someone – and she guessed it might be Christian himself – tried something, she’d be forced to blow her cover and hope that she’d be able to get her hands on her phone and call for backup before they were on to her. She’d better not let her phone out of her sight. It had already been tricky enough to get it recharged, but so far she’d been able to.
“Listen, we never had this conversation. I was fainting, you helped me. That’s it. You’ll have to get back inside. Me too. I’ll go and lie down. Take care. If I can get my colleagues out here, I will. Otherwise – if you can get away, walk into town. It shouldn’t take more than two hours, three, if you get plenty of rest. Don’t wait for your brother. Go to the motel and identify yourself and my colleagues will help you and us too.”
“I don’t think I can get outside. They watch us so carefully. But I’ll try. I’m not letting them have my baby. Besides, once the baby’s born, I’ll be fair game too.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
On the way inside, Jenny supported Lilly again. Lilly let her head trail down a little to the side as if she was completely exhausted or dizzy. Jenny left her outside the main hall, leaving Lilly to make her way back to her own room on her own. She lay down on the bed, and fumbled in the bag under her bed. Just as she found her phone, two of the men walked in. They took the phone from her and looked at it, as if they couldn’t quite make up their minds about it.
“Hey, that’s mine. Give it back.”
“We’ll give it back to you if you leave. The point of living out here is to leave the so called civilization behind. What do you need it for anyway?”
“I have two younger brothers. I need to make sure they’re ok. They don’t have anyone else.”
“They have each other. Listen, you can call your brothers later, but for now, we’ll keep this for you. You might want to invite them here. They’d be better off here anyway.”
“I was thinking about doing that. But I want my phone. It’s not fancy or anything, but I had to work for months waiting on tables and scrubbing floors to get it.”
“It’s alright Jennifer. You don’t need it anymore. You’re home.”
“Yeah, but -”
“It’s god’s will, Jennifer.”
On the way out, Lilly overheard them commenting on her and her body. Obviously all the single women were up for grabs. She was wondering if she could block the door from the inside during the night, or if that would attract unwanted attention.
When Lilly didn’t get in touch, Vera and Jeffries found themselves facing a dilemma. They could blow the whistle and go in and risk screwing up Lilly’s work. Or – they could report back to the boss and let him decide. In the end, neither one of them felt up to making the decision on their own.
In the meantime, Scotty had been badgering Stillman to be allowed to join Vera and Jeffries at the motel, if not actually going under cover at the cult. After gravely listening to Jeffries’ report, Stillman reluctantly agreed to let Scotty pose as a potential sect member. At this point, he felt Lilly would need a backup inside the community.
Stillman told Vera and Jeffries to stand by and on Scotty’s order, they’d call in the local Sheriff and his deputies and raid the place. If Scotty failed to get in touch, they’d go in anyway, if a week passed without word from either Lilly or Scotty.
Scotty had been staying at Lilly’s place during her absence, getting better acquainted with the cats and getting used to the place. He missed Lilly terribly, and as time went by, he began to worry more and more. When he was given the order to leave, he realized he had a problem. Who would look after the cats? He wasn’t sure if Lilly would approve of his leaving the cats at a boarding place. Who could he trust to take care of the cats?
In the end, he decided to ask Elissa’s sister. He was reluctant to do so, but in the end, he felt he had no choice. At least he was successful. Elissa’s sister agreed not to tell Elissa about it, and she promised she’d go and feed the cats and clean out their litter boxes as well as bringing in the mail and watering the plants.
That done, Scotty got on the plane, ready to put his own plan into action. He decided to do what Lilly had done once, borrow Elissa’s story, if not her name. His persona had been released from a mental institution and was now at a loss how to function in society. Scotty felt he knew enough about Elissa’s condition to be able to fake a recovering scizophrenic’s behavior, enough to fool some non-experts. He wouldn’t actually have to have any episodes. All it took would be to present a vulnerable front to the world. Exactly the sort of person a cult or sect would be likely to prey on.
His plan worked better than he’d imagined. Wearing a tracksuit, sneakers and a baseball cap, he walked into their recruitment office and told his story. The man in charge smiled and accepted the story as truth. At least Scotty hoped so. He didn’t really think they’d play along just to catch him unawares. It would have been more likely that he’d have called his bluff right away and put him off. Instead, Scotty found himself riding in the minibus that had taken Lilly out to their farm. They left him in a building which seemed to be populated entirely by other young men.
Unlike the man in charge at the recruitment office, neither of these young men were in a position of authority. It looked as if they were all passive, slow and apathetic. Scotty was wondering what had caused that behavior and if he would be able to avoid sharing their fate.
Once on the inside, he didn’t feel nearly as confident. He didn’t see Lilly or Jenny anywhere, but he recognized Matt from Stillman’s photo right away. Considering the kid’s odd behavior, Scotty decided to hold off making contact until he’d seen any sign of Lilly. For the time being, his job would be to establish himself as an ordinary member of the cult.
That first night, the two leaders of the sect dropped by to inspect the newcomer. At least it seemed that way to Scotty. For all he knew, they might have been in the habit of looking in a couple of nights a week. He was treated to a little speech about how right he’d been to come and what a lucky guy he was to have found his spiritual home and would now forever be on the right track etc etc. Scotty couldn’t help thinking they might have come up with something better.
After that, he was taken into a small, dark room, with only one small window high up. He was wondering if he would be subjected to an interrogation, but instead, he was supposed to pray and meditate.
While he was faking a concentration he didn’t feel, he noticed the older man staring at him in an unnerving way. Scotty hoped he was just being oversensitive, but he recognized those looks. The guy was obviously attracted to him. That was an unexpected complication. There had been nothing in the background information he’d received about any sexual assault of the male members, so he was hoping this guy was just going to look.
In the morning, he was taken into the fields, to learn how to farm the land. That wasn’t anything he’d expected, but he did his best and no one commented on his lack of skills. The other young men didn’t show any particular skills either. They were allowed back inside their house to have lunch, then sent back into the fields until early evening.
Now followed another type of instruction. The man who preached this time was much better, Scotty thought. Afterwards, he couldn’t recall what words the man had used, but to his own astonishment, Scotty felt he could relate to what he was saying. He might not be mentally ill himself, but he had felt lost and empty for a long time. It was as if the preacher’s words were speaking to him, personally. He tried to remain focused on finding Lilly and Stillman’s daughter, but he felt a strange lethargy which he thought might be explained by the hard work and the heat.
Every night, the preaching seemed to improve and soon he was actually looking forward to hearing the hopeful, joyful message. Unlike his own Catholicism, this seemed to address his personal problems. Every single word seemed to be an answer to his own questions and insufficiencies. He could see that many of the other young men were likewise uplifted by the preaching and he felt joy at being a part of this group of people who were working towards the same goal.
Within a few days, he began to forget his purpose in coming there. Surely, Lilly and Jenny were safe? Why would anyone harm them? These people were loving, gentle and supportive. For the first time in years, he felt truly at home.
He hadn’t seen the Renfrews for nearly a week, but that night, Thomas, the younger brother, came back, asking for Scotty – or – Sean – as he called himself, and Matt Stillman. They walked back to the main building, where Thomas, just like his brother, had a comfortable suite. Thomas asked his two guests to sit down and make themselves comfortable and vanished into the bathroom.
He returned, wearing some kind of dressing gown, in black silk. Gesturing for the two young men to get on their knees, Thomas led them in prayer. The prayer didn’t last long. Now he led first Matt, then Scotty to his bed, which was king sized.
“Lie down and close your eyes. Join me in meditating on the love and community we share here.”
Without protest, they did as they were told. Meditation already came naturally to Scotty and he gave himself up to the dizzying sensation of entering his own mind. For a while, he wasn’t aware of anything else.
“It’s time. Open your eyes.”
The lights were dimmed and Thomas was now lying on the bed in between them, reclining against his pillows. His dressing gown was open and he wore nothing underneath it.
“Shed your clothes and prepare to experience the true fulfillment of love and unity. Let us commune with the highest being. Join me.”
Slowly, Matt removed his clothes and moved closer to Thomas. Apparently, he was used to this ritual and no longer questioned it. Scotty, frowned slightly. At the back of his mind, something was beckoning to him, but he no longer knew what it was. He looked into Thomas’ eyes and saw only the guidance he’d been seeking for so long. It was impossible not to trust this man. He too, undressed and moved closer to Thomas, to follow his instructions and receive enlightenment.
Thomas smiled and reached across to his bedside table. He opened the drawer and pulled out a small package, placing it conveniently close at hand. One hand now trailed across Scotty’s face and lingered on his lips. He felt himself smiling expectantly. The other hand touched Matt’s chest,
Lilly was worried about the young woman who was about to give birth. She didn’t look well and she thought she noticed others casting concerned glances at the pregnant wife. One night, she was sure the delivery was under way. The single women were told to remain in their rooms and only a handful of selected women were allowed inside the room where presumably the delivery was to take place. Not much sound escaped the delivery room and this concerned Lilly more. She knew that at this point, the woman giving birth would be screaming in pain. Especially if she received no kind of pain killer or anesthesia.
She couldn’t help asking Maddy and Emily about it, but the two girls apparently knew nothing and were terrified. Maddy’s face was chalky white and she was so hysterical Lilly was afraid she’d draw attention to herself. Trying to calm the girl down as best she could, she asked her what was so alarming her.
“Take it easy. There’s nothing for you to worry about. Come on. Sit down. Head between your knees. Like that. Breathe. Good.”
While she was talking, Lilly gently patted the girl’s hair. How old was she anyway? 18? 19? She should have been at home, not in some sick cult’s barracks, worrying about childbirth and polygamy.
“What’s wrong, Maddy? Can you tell me what’s worrying you so much?”
“I think I’m pregnant too.”
“Oh. I didn’t think the single women were -”
“They come for us when they feel like it. Not the Renfrews, the others. They can have anyone they want, except the ones Christian has picked.”
“Maddy, did he rape you?”
“Yes. Not just one of them, both of those – guards. They usually share me between them, but sometimes they bring Emily too.”‘
“Maddy, you’re not supposed to tell. Shut up. You’ll get us in trouble.”
“It’s ok. I won’t say anything.”
“My period stopped – I didn’t get it last time or the time before that.”
“You might not be pregnant, Maddy. It could be the hard work and your nerves. Happens all the time. Try not to worry, ok?”
“You’re so nice. But they’ll come for you too. Don’t fight them. They’ll beat you and -”
The door opened and two of the men Maddy had mentioned showed up.
“What’s all the noise in here? You should be quiet so that Maggie can focus on giving birth. Be quiet, both of you. You – Jennifer. Come with us. The Master wants to see you in his suite now.”
The Master? That guy really fancied himself. Lilly took a deep breath. Maybe in his quarters, there would be a phone she could use. If she had to, she’d knock the pretentious fool out, but she’d have to get help now. Things were getting out of hand.
“Ok. Emily, try to calm Maddy down, ok? I’ll be back soon.”
“Don’t count on it. If the Master wants to – instruct you – you might be there all night. Now be quiet.”
Instruct? She’d teach him a lesson or two, before the night was over. By now, Lilly was totally fed up with faking a meekness she didn’t feel. It was time she did something. Jenny was counting on her and Matt too. Not to mention these two girls. If she had any say in matters, she’d make sure neither girl was ever raped again by these hypocrites.
Christian Renfrew met her inside his luxurious suite. It was the only place, apart from his brother’s rooms, that was anything but basic. Typical how the leaders of these sects always feathered their own nests.
“Jennifer. I have sent for you to instruct you. You seek enlightenment and I will guide you. I have sensed that you’ve been lost and wandering the world without any purpose or goal. Let me show you the way.”
Lilly was wondering if any reply would be necessary and it turned out none seemed to be required. Christian didn’t wait for her to say anything. He patted the side of his bed, welcomingly and Lilly walked over and sat down. She didn’t like having to expose herself like this, but she needed to figure out what he was after before she made her move.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, my dear.”
The door opened and Michelle looked in. There was a look on her face which was decidely discontented.
“Why do you want her? She’s much older than me and -”
“Michelle. Do not question me. Leave me alone. I am – thinking of taking another wife. Maggie is – not well. You know I love you too, Michelle, but – it’s time I introduced Jennifer here to our true teachings. Would you really grudge Jennifer a place under my protection? Now go. I’ll send for you when I’m finished with Jennifer here.”
Casting a poisonous look in Lilly’s direction, Michelle backed out and closed the door.
Amazing. She was actually jealous. Lilly wanted to call her back and tell her to go ahead. She certainly didn’t want her old husband. But she couldn’t blow her cover just yet. If she couldn’t call for backup, she’d be toast. Time to put on her little show again.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to be the cause of any -”
“Forget about Michelle. This doesn’t concern her. Come here. You’re very lovely, do you know that? I’m seriously tempted to make you my wife.”
“Your sixth wife?”
“There’s no limit to the number of wives a man can take. You haven’t been with us for very long, so you don’t know yet, how – liberating it can be for you to cast off your pretenses and to just be a woman.”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“You don’t need to know, just listen to me and obey.”
Ok, this had gone far enough. She decided to let the old creep get a little closer before making her move.
His greedy old hands moved across Lilly’s knees and trailed up towards her thighs. She suspected he was going to unbutton her jeans next, but he never got that far. Cleanly and neatly Lilly knocked him out. There was a look of extreme bafflement on his face as he passed out. Finally.
This made her feel liberated, not that crap about allowing herself to be a woman. As far as she was concerned this was being a woman. Knocking out old creeps, defending herself. So much for receiving instruction or enlightenment. Swiftly, she moved off the bed and began to search for a phone. There had to be one somewhere. Surely he wouldn’t sit out here in the middle of nowhere with no means of communication.
Suddenly, the door burst open and four younger men rushed in and surrounded her. Behind them, a smugly smiling Michelle was standing. When she caught sight of her elderly husband lying on the bed, she shrieked in alarm and made a big show of running to his side.
One of the men – Eric – fixed Lilly with an icy stare.
“I told you she’s asking way too many questions. She has to be a spy. We’ll get her to talk. Grab her.”
Lilly knew four men were just too many for her to take on, but she wasn’t going to give up without a struggle. She looked around for something to defend herself with, but there was no time. All four ganged up on her and grabbed her arms brutally.
Eric began to punch her face until her head was swimming and her vision came and went. It seemed he enjoyed it. Once or twice his fist made contact with her abdomen and if she hadn’t been held up, she would have doubled over. As it was, she was coughing and retching, feeling dizzy and nauseous. Damn. It was over. She’d screwed up.
Through the red haze, she heard Eric’s voice ordering one of the others to go and get Thomas Renfrew.
“Get Thomas. And as if this isn’t enough, one of the other girls are missing. Maybe this one put her up to it. We’ll need to -”
The rest of his sentence was lost to Lilly as she faded out.
Thomas Renfrew was dozing on his bed, his two current favorites partially draped across his body. The knock on his door caused a frown to appear on his face. He let his hand trail across his newest lover’s skin and reluctantly pushed the two young men off. After wrapping himself in his dressing gown, he answered the door.
“Master, we’ve caught a spy. Jennifer Singer.”
“Ah, the blonde. A little older than the rest. I know who you’re talking about. Are you sure? She didn’t strike me as suspicious in any way. Very docile and suggestible.”
“She knocked out your brother, Master.”
“Oh. I’ll be right with you. We’ll need to do something about her. A shame. I know my brother had special plans for her, but I suppose it can’t be helped.”
After the door closed again, Thomas considered his course of action. He got dressed while he figured out the next step. When he was done, he had come to a decision. He bent over his newest lover and shook him lightly.
“Wake up, Sean. Come with me. I have need of your – assistance.”
Scotty looked up and for a second he had no idea where he was. He wasn’t wearing any clothes and – something was wrong. But Thomas’ eyes bored into him, willing him to obey and he began to relax. It was ok. Nothing to worry about.
“Get dressed. Hurry.”
Scotty found his clothes and put them on and followed Thomas outside. He didn’t have far to go. Apparently, they were only going as far as Christian’s suite.
Scotty felt calm and at ease. Everything was fine. He was even happy. His master, Thomas, wanted his help. He would be given a chance to prove himself.
But what he saw inside Christian’s room caused the haze inside his mind to disperse and instantly, he was himself again. The shock made him see clearly and recalling what had just happened, he felt sick.
Lilly was lying on the floor, apparently unconscious. Lilly. How could he have forgotten about her? The woman he loved, had been badly beaten and was in serious danger. While these nutcases were attacking her, he’d been in bed with two men. He swallowed hard and forced himself to stay quiet and wait for his next order. They mustn’t suspect anything. Until now, apparently, they’d had no doubts about him. He couldn’t do anything to change their opinion of him.
Thomas nodded approvingly.
“You can leave. All of you. Send some woman to care for my brother.”
“Yes, master. But what about the spy?”
“I’ll deal with her. Go on.”
The door closed behind the men and Michelle, who reluctantly found herself being sent outside. She protested loudly that she wished to look after her husband, but Thomas didn’t pay attention. He turned to Scotty and caught his gaze.
“Can I count on you, Sean?”
“Good. That spy over there – she’s come here to destroy our community. We can’t let her do that, can we? I want you to – eliminate the threat. Can you do that? You’re a big, strong boy, it should be easy. Do you know what I’m saying?”
“The bible says ‘thou shalt not kill’ but it also says to protect oneself from evil. This woman is evil. Destroy the evil. Do you understand now?”
“Good. Take her outside and – when you’re done with her, bury the body outside among the trees. You’ll find a clearing about five minutes’ walk in that direction. Do you see that large oak out there?”
“Beyond that, you’ll find the clearing.”
Scotty lifted Lilly up, marveling over how light she was. To his relief, he felt her breathing and though he hadn’t been able to examine her closely, he had a feeling she wasn’t as badly hurt as she looked. He had some trouble opening doors, but eventually, he was able to find his way outside. Trying to recall where they’d left the minibus, he kept walking in the direction he’d been told to go, in case someone was watching from inside the house. He was surprised Thomas wanted him to do this on his own, but guessed it might be some kind of test. If he passed, he might even have become one of men in authority. If he’d stayed on.
Once out of sight, he began to circle back towards the houses, taking care to stay out of the light and always keeping an eye on the ground, in case there would be traps or alarms hidden in the shrubbery. Even if Lilly didn’t weigh much, as time wore on, he began to feel tired. It suddenly occurred to him that he must have been drugged. That was the only explanation he could find to his behavior last night.
But he didn’t think the drugs could explain how he’d been taken in by their brainwashing. He’d bought into their nonsense about love and community, and because of his stupidity, Lilly had almost paid with her life. It was bitter to realize that not only had he screwed up his job, he’d placed Lilly at risk as well. Not to mention spent the night having sex with a sect leader. Maybe he should hand in his resignation.
Finally, he found the minibus and looked around furtively. Would it be guarded? He had to put Lilly down on the ground, to try and open the door. It wasn’t locked, but the key wasn’t in the ignition. Swearing under his breath, he fumbled under the steering wheel and pulled out the two wires.
They didn’t teach you how to hotwire a car at the Academy but fortunately, he’d learned that earlier on, while still in junior high, if memory served. He’d never actually been joyriding in a stolen car before, but he’d had to hotwire his own once or twice when he’d forgotten the keys so it was a knowledge that had already come in handy. Just like tonight.
The engine roared and Scotty hastily picked Lilly up and placed her in the back. He jumped in behind the wheel and turned the minibus around. So far there hadn’t been any signs of pursuit, but he couldn’t be sure how long it would take. He wasn’t going to stick around and wait for them to catch up anyway.
About halfway to town, he caught sight of a young woman walking beside the road. Her silhouette suggested she was pregnant, so Scotty slowed down to offer her a lift. The girl cast him a panicked gaze, turned and made for the bushes beside the road.
“Hey, wait. It’s ok. I’m not one of them.”
The girl didn’t stop to listen to him. A low moaning from the back made him turn around.
“Scotty? Is that you?”
“How are you doing?”
“Give me a minute. What happened to me? Oh, right..”
“They must have beaten you pretty badly.”
“Yeah. Michelle was spying on her ‘husband’, Christian. He was just about to ‘instruct’ me on how to become his sixth wife and I -”
“My head hurts, but I’ll be ok. It looks worse than it is.”
“I sure hope so, because it looks really bad.”
“Where was I? Oh, I knocked the old creep out but Michelle brought his goons and they knocked me out.”
“I see. Thomas – Thomas wanted me to finish you off and I – didn’t contradict him. I couldn’t believe they’d let me go off on my own with you like that. I guess – he felt he could trust me.”
Something about Scotty’s voice was making Lilly feel uneasy. Something was wrong, and not only the fact that she’d been knocked about. He was hiding something from her. It was hard to focus, with her head feeling like it did, but Lilly knew she’d need to talk to Scotty alone, before they got back to Jeffries and Vera. Suddenly she recalled what had woken her up in the first place.
“Who were you talking to?”
“There was a girl, a pregnant girl, walking beside the road. She must have thought I was one of them, because she ran into the bushes.”
“One of them escaped tonight. I remember Eric saying so before – We have to find her. She can never walk that far on her own. I think it’s Jenny.”
“Ok. It’s just that she doesn’t trust me.”
“I know. Help me up.”
“No way. You have to lie down.”
“Scotty. Help me up.”
“What if you have a concussion?”
“I don’t. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing. Besides, I’m not going to run. I’m just going to shout.”
Scotty put his arm around Lilly and helped her outside. He didn’t let go of her while she was trying to find her balance, and even afterwards, he held on to her, making sure she didn’t fall.
“Jenny? It’s ok, it’s me and a friend. Come on. We’ll give you a ride.”
“I can’t stand around like this, Jenny. They caught me tonight and I’m not going to wait around for them to find me again. Jenny. It’s ok. Come out.”
“Is that you? The one my dad sent?”
“Yes, your dad sent me. Hurry.”
Jenny peeked out from behind a tall bush and recognizing Lilly, she walked across the road and got into the car.
When she caught sight of Lilly’s injuries, she gasped.
“Who did this to you?”
“Eric and the others. Never mind. It looks worse than it is. Go on, Scotty, we’re ok now.”
Jenny helped Lilly lie down before she continued her questioning.
“Have you seen my brother?”
Scotty glanced uneasily backwards at the young woman.
“He was in my building. I recognized him from the photo your dad showed us.”
“You work for my dad too?”
“Yes. I’m Scotty Valens.”
“Oh, the prodigy.”
“That’s him. I’m Lilly Rush.”
“Of course. Dad talks about you all the time. You’re like his best officers.”
“It’s very kind of him to say so. Your dad talks about you and your brother too. He’s a really nice guy.”
“I know. We – screwed up. Going off with these people was a big mistake. And now Andrew’s dead.”
“Yes. Matt wouldn’t say what happened, but I know they killed him.”
Scotty thought he could guess what was behind Andrew’s death, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he focused on getting the women into town so they could finally get help.
The town was too small to have a hospital but there was a clinic at the other end of town. Lilly insisted on making contact with Vera and Jeffries first. When their colleagues saw her injuries, they both expressed concern.
“Never mind me. It’s not as bad as it looks, honestly. You have to go in and get Matt and the others out. There are four men who work for the Renfrew brothers. The rest are mostly victims. There’s a girl called Michelle, and, well, let’s just say don’t trust her, but the others are probably ok.”
“Ok, Lil. Here. Take my phone. The boss will be worried out of his mind by now. When Scotty stopped keeping in touch too, we were ready to send in the cavalry.”
“Do it now. Hurry. There was a baby born tonight. At least I hope so. Find out what happened to it. Be careful. At least one young man has been killed by them.”
“Ok. Now get her to a doctor, Scotty.”
Vera looked as if he too wanted to make sure Lilly was ok before heading out to the farm, but after awkwardly patting Lilly’s hand he followed Jeffries out to the car.
Scotty drove the women to the clinic in the sect’s minibus. They could try charging him for stealing it, but he doubted they’d have much luck. After what they’d done to Lilly tonight, they’d be lucky if they still owned anything by next week. Then there was the little matter of what they’d done to Matt.
Scotty felt a hard knot form at the pit of his stomach. If that went into the report, what he’d done would have to as well. He might as well hand in his resignation right away. If what he’d done became known, he’d be finished as a cop. No one, except possibly Lilly, would want to partner with him and he could imagine what Jeffries would have to say, in the locker room or anywhere else for that matter.
It turned out Jenny was fine, physically. Lilly let her use Vera’s phone to call her dad. They left her alone, so she could talk in private. That left them some privacy, after the doctor had seen to Lilly’s injuries. Just as Lilly had kept telling them all, it really wasn’t as serious as it looked. She was pretty badly bruised and a rib or two had taken a beating, but according to the doctor, there was no internal hemorrhaging and no fractures or a concussion.
“Told you so.”
“I know. It’s just that when I saw you lying on the floor – for a second, I thought you were already dead.”
“I had no idea you were there.”
“When you stopped keeping in touch, the boss felt you might need some backup.”
“Thanks. You really came through for me.”
Lilly studied Scotty’s face intently. There was something about him that suggested he wasn’t happy. After tonight’s work, he had every reason to be content, yet he looked – devastated.
“How long have you been here?”
“I’m not sure. A couple of days.”
“Where were you? Out among the single men?”
“Do you think – they were drugging you?”
Again, she was struck by his tense face and the expression in his eyes, which hinted at a hopelessness she couldn’t understand. To her alarm, now his eyes were filling up with tears and his face crumpled up. Ignoring the pain in her ribs, she reached for him and pulled him into her arms.
“Hey. Take it easy. It’s over. We’re fine. Any minute now, Vera and Jeffries and the others are going to get Matt out and the girls and everyone else. You did great.”
“No, I didn’t. Lil, I – sold out. I was taken in by their preaching. Until I saw you lying on the floor, I was like the others. It all seemed to make sense. I felt like I was finally home.”
Lilly frowned. She had been hoping that being with her was making him feel at home. Obviously, the drugs had been stronger than she’d assumed. No wonder most of those young men looked like zombies.
“It’s not your fault. They drugged you. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You saved my life tonight. You did great. Scotty, I love you.”
To her alarm, that only made Scotty cry harder. She pulled him closer and held on to him, speaking softly to him, stroked his hair and did everything she could think of to comfort him. Eventually, the sobbing stopped. Lilly pulled back a little and brushed a few of the drying tears away. He cowered back as if she’d hit him.
“Did someone hit you too?”
“No. It’s nothing. We’d better get back to the motel.”
“Ok. I’ll check if Jenny’s ready to go.”
“No, I’ll go.”
Lilly worriedly followed him with her eyes, until she lost sight of him. Something definitely wasn’t right, but for now, there was nothing she could do about that.
Scotty returned, with Jenny in tow. She had been crying too.
“Is everything ok with your dad and your mother?”
“Yes. Now I just want to see Matt and make sure he’s ok too.”
Lilly sensed rather than saw that Scotty tensed up. What did he know about Matt? She had to ask him as soon as they were alone together again.
At the motel, the room was still empty and there was no sign of Vera or Jeffries. Lilly insisted on Jenny lying down for a while. After some persuasion, the girl gave in. She seemed to know that she would need plenty of rest, to make sure the baby was ok. While Lilly argued with Jenny, Scotty vanished into the bathroom, and to Lilly’s surprise, he seemed to be taking a shower. That gave her a really bad feeling, but she realized that at the moment, she couldn’t do anything about it.
Finally, Jeffries and Vera returned, bringing Matt and a few of the young women. All the pregnant women had been taken to the nearest city to be hospitalized. The young men had been sent with them for testing.
“What about the baby?”
“It’s still alive, but it wasn’t looking very healthy to me. Not like my kids did when they were born.”
“And the mother?”
“The same. I think she’ll live, but I’m not sure about the baby.”
“Did you get the Renfrew brothers and their henchmen?”
“Thomas and one guy called Eric got away. We found that Michelle you were talking about. Boy did she put up a fight. Look at Jeffries. He’s got scratches all over his hands. A real hellcat.”
Jeffries smiled grimly.
“You wouldn’t think a young woman from a religious group would have such a vocabulary. She threw every curse in the book at me.”
“I can imagine. It was her fault I ended up like this.”
“In the bathroom.”
Jeffries was looking a bit uneasy and Lilly knew he had some bad news.
“Did you find Matt?”
“Yes, he’s on his way over to the hospital with the others, but he looked as if he was ok.”
“Lil – they were saying Scotty was kept with the others in the same building. You know, among the single men.”
“I know. He told me that too.”
“Tonight, Thomas asked for him and Matt. He brought them over to the other house.”
Something clicked inside Lilly’s mind and she thought she saw what had been distressing Scotty so.
“Oh, that. He did that to me too. I think he’s the ‘devout’ one of the brothers. We sat there praying and meditating for hours. I almost fell asleep.”
“So he didn’t rape anyone?”
“He never tried anything with me, and I think the girls said something about it just being Christian and Eric and the other underlings.”
“Right. Scotty should get some blood tests taken too. In case he’ll need medical attention, after taking that drug.”
“I’ll tell him.”
As if the mention of his name had brought him, Scotty appeared, rubbing his hair with a towel.
“Hi. It’s awfully hot tonight. I had to carry our Lil all the way to the minibus.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my fault they knocked me out.”
Lilly could tell Jeffries and Vera were staring at Scotty disconcertingly and she had to find a way to distract them. She couldn’t leave Scotty exposed like that.
“Did you bring any of the women here?”
“Yes. The hospital in the city couldn’t take everyone, so we’ll have to move them out to another hospital.”
“I think most of them were raped repeatedly.”
“Some of them told me.”
“Oh. How are we going to get them out of here?”
“The Sheriff and his deputies are going to arrange transportation. For now, the girls are put up here at the motel.”
“Right. I’d better go and check on them. One of the girls in my room was pretty shaken up tonight. If she’s here, I’ll talk to her.”
“I think I know the one. She was asking about Jennifer and wanted to know if you were ok.”
“Ok, I’ll go and take a look. Scotty, do you think you could get us something to eat? Chinese, Italian, whatever they have, at this hour in this town.”
That should get him out of the way. Lilly walked around, checking in to see if any of the girls were in need of any help, but it seemed the ones in worst shape had been sent to the hospital already. She found Emily and Maddy in the same room.
“There you are, Jennifer. Oh, look at you. Did he hurt you that badly? I warned you not to fight back.”
“He didn’t do that to me. It was Eric and the others. I – knocked the old creep out before he -”
“Oh, good for you. I hope you hurt him real bad.”
“It was for all of you.”
“Thanks. Who are you? You’re not really one of us, are you?”
“No, I’m a cop.”
“I knew it. Didn’t I tell you, Emily? She’s a cop and someone sent her here to get us out.”
“That’s right. My boss is the father of one of the girls here and he was worried so I said I’d take a look around.”
“You’re so brave. Right, Emily?”
“Yes. I would never have dared to fight back.”
Something told Lilly those girls had been abused before. She sighed. So what else was new?
“Everything’s going to be ok now. I promise. We’ll contact your parents or – we’ll make sure you have somewhere safe to stay.”
“Your colleagues said we’d have to testify.”
“Someone will need to take your statements, but I don’t think everyone needs to testify. We’ll see. If you’re really too scared to testify, I’m sure we can arrange something. Don’t worry about that now. It’s going to be a while anyway.”
“Did they get you food and – anything else you might need?”
“Yes. We’re fine now. Thanks.”
“Good. I’ll get back to my colleagues now.”
Rather than spending the night out in the bush, Lilly demanded to be transported back to Philadelphia. She and Scotty flew back in a small private plane and arrived around lunchtime back home. They brought Jenny along and Stillman met them at the airport.
Lilly and Scotty hung back while Stillman and his daughter were reunited. After he’d hugged Jenny for what seemed like half an hour, he walked over and examined Lilly’s injuries. He gently pulled her into his arms for a quick hug, a concerned look on his face.
“If I’d have known this would happen, I wouldn’t have let you do it. I’m really sorry. But thank you for saving my kids. My wife will want to meet you, both of you, and thank you in person. Just tell me about Matt. Is he ok?”
“As far as I know. I only saw him once. Vera and Jeffries will know more.”
“Ok. Thanks again. You and Scotty are on sick leave until further notice. Go home and go to bed. That’s an order.”
“Thanks, sir. I’ll do that.”
Stillman dropped Scotty off at Lilly’s without even asking which led Lilly to believe he had a hunch about what was going on between them. Or maybe he just didn’t want her to be alone. In any case, it suited her just fine. Now she was finally going to find out what was wrong with Scotty.
The second the door closed behind Stillman, Lilly turned on Scotty and cornered him.
“Now you’re going to tell me what’s wrong. You know something about Matt, don’t you? Is he really ok? Are you?”
Again, it looked as if Scotty was going to burst into tears, and Lilly was beginning to regret her direct approach. Maybe it would have been better to wheedle it out of him a little at a time. Too late for that now. She’d been too worried to wait any longer.
Scotty looked as if he was going to turn and run, so she reached out and pulled him into a hard embrace. He tensed up and for a while, she thought he might actually break free. Then all at once, the fight seemed to go out of him and he slumped down against her shoulder. She dragged him towards the couch and made him sit down.
“Go on, you can tell me. I have to know.”
“I told you, I was taken in. All that crap – I just bought it all.”
“Yes, you told me that. But there’s more, right? Tell me everything. Start with Matt. What’s happened to him? You know, don’t you?”
“Thomas – like his brother is partial to young women – Thomas likes young men. He – brought Matt to his bed last night.”
“Ok. How bad is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“What will they discover at the hospital?”
“I see. Is that what he did to you?”
Scotty’s eyes avoided hers and she didn’t need a verbal reply to know the answer to her question. So that was it.
“Ok. Are you hurt?”
“Is there any risk of infection?”
“Tell me the truth now.”
“There’s no risk of infection.”
Lilly forced him to meet her gaze and she held him like that, until she was satisfied he was telling the truth. She nodded sadly. It could have been worse.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea. When Thomas brought me to his rooms, he just made me pray and meditate. I never suspected he was like his brother, except -”
“How could you guess? I didn’t see it coming until it was too late. I was – I don’t know what they gave us, but I wouldn’t have refused him anything.”
“Except to kill me and get rid of my body.”
“Except for that.”
“We’ll have to get you to a hospital and have you tested. Whatever that drug was -”
“Or later today.”
“Ok. Lilly, what if Matt – tells his dad what Thomas did to him? If Stillman finds out I was there – I might as well hand in my resignation.”
“Matt is twenty years old. He’s not going to tell his dad he had sex with a guy who’s older than his own dad. Stillman’s not going to find out.”
Scotty thought about it and finally, he allowed himself to relax a little. When he was twenty he would rather have died than tell his dad if he’d been forced to have sex with a man. Maybe no one had to know after all. Except Lilly. With everything she knew about him, it wouldn’t be surprising if their relationship died. What woman would want a boyfriend who had sex with men? Another thought occurred to him, and Scotty’s agonized gaze sought Lilly’s.
“I never touched Matt.”
“I never said you did.”
“I’m just saying – ”
“I know. It’s ok. We’re ok. As long as you are.”
Scotty smiled bitterly. Of course he was ok. What he’d done last night was only one step further than what he’d experienced during his recent crisis. No big deal. Except it was. He shivered and suddenly, he felt sick again. Alarming Lilly by pulling free, he ran across to the bathroom and threw up.
When he was done and had rinsed his mouth about a dozen times, he left the bathroom and walked into Lilly who was waiting outside.
“Come on. Let’s go to bed. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
She placed her hand on his forehead, moved it to his cheek and finally, pressed her own forehead to his. Somehow, it made him feel safe, despite everything.
“You’re so cold. I’ll have to do something about warming you up.”
She took his hand and dragged him towards the bed and made him lie down. After getting out of her jeans, with an effort, she decided to leave the t-shirt on, despite the blood on it. She’d shower and change in the morning. Stretching out on the bed, she somehow managed to inch closer to Scotty without wincing in pain. That sadistic Eric must have really enjoyed punching her.
When she held Scotty, he didn’t resist her. They fell asleep, holding on to each other, Scotty’s head resting on her chest. Like this, with him so close, at least she knew he was safe and from now on, she wouldn’t let anyone hurt him again.