“Hey mom! Oh thank God… Yeah, I know … I know. Dear Jesus, how I know!” Morris was wiping back tears. He leaned over in his chair. Joy looked away while he talked.
“No, of course I would have… I intended to when I pulled out of the driveway. Oh please believe me, believe me … I wanted to come over and kill the bastard, and … mom, I honestly would have tried. But when I started down the road … I don’t know what happened, honest to God, I don’t! But I found myself on the way to Grand Oak…”
“Yes … actually I’m at the hospital … with Joy Brighterday.”
“No, no, just hold on a minute, mom. I swear to God, it o.k. Better than I ever could have imagined… Reverend Brighterday is wonderful, and more than that, mom, she’s going to help us… No, just wait a minute. Mom! Just … wait … a damn … minute. I know what you’ve just been through because I’ve been through it myself with that son of a bitch! O.k.? But we’re not talking anything willy-nilly or slipshod here, o.k.? Reverend Brighterday’s got a damn good head on her shoulders, and … mom … I believe in her. You know me, but… I actually trust her, so you know that’s saying a lot.”
“Yes, I love you, more than anyone in the world,” Morris was freely crying now. “You know I’d give my life for you, but mom … please, I think this is why I’m here now. You need to listen to me. I know it’s hard, oh God! I know it’s hard, but please listen to me. This is important, o.k.?” He paused. “O.k. then. You know you’ve helped me all of my life. I wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for you, mom. Now let me help you … or, at least, as much as I can … in an indirect way. I need you to trust me right here and now. I just need you to trust me…” Another pause. “No, I’m not going to ask you to call the police; not yet anyway. That’s not in the works right now. Right now, this evening, I just want you to talk to two women; they’re both very good friends of Reverend Brighterday, and they’re both around your age, professional, with an awful lot of experience under their belts…”
“Wait, wait … Mom, I know it’ll be tough. This has been absolute hell for me, but Joy tells me, assures me that these two women – Lucent Keener and Dr. Sage Wiseman – are both very friendly, down-to-earth women, not at all intimidating … and Joy is right, mom. It makes perfect sense, even though it’s so painful, but … you need to open up and talk about everything that happened today and maybe more, right now … while the pain is still fresh and the wound is raw. That’s what Joy said, and I believe her. It makes perfect sense, mom… Please do this. Please do this for me, for both of us. I’m doing it, too. And we’re not stopping here.”
“No, mom, we’re not planning anything drastic. Just this evening, mom… just tonight. That’s what we need to focus on. You’re home now from that grotesque swine, and your safe. So now, when these two women knock on our front door, I’m asking you, begging you, please let them in. Have them come in and sit down. Trust me … and trust them.” Why should she trust strangers? “Because Joy Brighterday knows them and trusts them, mom. And if that’s good enough for me, let it be good enough for you, and I swear to almighty God in heaven, sooner or later I’ll have Fen Sloughheart eating his own gonads in public before he’s caned to within an inch of his life. O.k.?”
“Oh God … Thank you mom,” Morris let out a huge sigh of relief. “Thank God… Thank you. I love you so very, very much, mom! I love you more than anything in the world… We’re going to make it through this somehow … together … and with some great help!” Yet another pause. “Yeah … I know it’s gonna be hell, but it’s already hell. I think it’s time for things to get better… I also think it’s time for that bastard to burn in the hell he’s created! O.k., o.k. I love you… I will see you but don’t worry about me. Just answer the door… They should be there shortly.”
Joy had ended up calling Lucent’s house just before Morris placed his call home. She really didn’t expect Sage to still be there, but thankfully she was … along with everyone else. The boys were in their rooms glued to a video game, while everyone else was seriously discussing plans. Then Joy called and bombed all the strategies they’d been analyzing for strengths and weaknesses and whatnot. All that went out the window, and Dr. Wiseman and Lucent suddenly found themselves on the way to Angelica Gravers’ house. Such a glorious name, but now an angel whose very sanctity has been violently ripped away from her, Lucent sadly realized. And her son, too.
“O.k. Good! In fact, thank…” Joy stopped short. “Thank heavens,” she opted for a more non-committal, generic version. “You handled yourself superbly, Morris. You really did, and Dr. Wiseman and Lucent Keener will be absolutely wonderful for your mom … immediately. I just know it. Did I tell you Lucent is both a nurse practitioner and a social worker? She has combined the two into one profession now.”
Morris actually smiled and nodded his head. “Yes, Reverend, I believe that makes the third time.”
Joy laughed and shook her head in mock defeat. “Oh well, this body can only push on for so long, especially under this medication.” Although she still hadn’t used the pump. There were things to take care of now; they couldn’t wait, and her mind was reeling.
“Now, step two. If you’ll look in the top drawer, my cell phone should be in there.” Morris complied and handed it to Joy. “Thank you. I’m going to call an attorney I know well, and trust. Her name is Grace Caring. She and her brother, Suĳnwe – he was adopted by the Caring family – actually work together with two others in an organization they’ve named ‘Phoenix Rising.’ I think that’s pretty cool, personally, but anyway… They inherited their old home place, really a mansion on ten acres, when their parents died. They had the place totally refurbished and landscaped, and it looks awesome! And it’s located about, oh, six to eight miles south, southwest of Splinterbit, so not far … but far enough for privacy.”
“Anyway, as I was saying, Grace is the attorney. She’s beautiful, alert, quick, sharp and always managing somehow to stay one step ahead. Grace is still fairly young, but she’s fierce when she needs to be, and I know her because she’s an on-again, off-again member of my church … well, my church and a little country Methodist church closer to where they live. Anyway, her brother, Suĳnwe, has a Master’s degree in Social Science and a Doctorate in Social Work. He fits well in their team, especially in debriefing, client analysis, and some psychological counseling when necessary. Most importantly for Grace, he’s like her second and better intuition.”
“Then there’s the bull dog of the group, Earnest Drudge – Bachelor of Legal Letters and Bachelor in Criminal Justice – so he’s an educated man, but more importantly, he’s damn street wise. He’s their cunningly discreet investigator. In fact, not many folks know he’s an investigator at all, but he knows law enforcement and some key badges know him. Consequently, he’s one of those rare individuals who ends up getting quite a few truly good anonymous tips, you know? Very important … especially since he’s phenomenal in follow-up.”
“Finally, there is dear Ms. Equity A. Ranger, who has an earned Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration as well as Certification in Legal Assistance. She runs the office, keeps everyone straight and on-track. She’s also the meeter-greeter for Phoenix Rising. She’s the one, and probably the only one, you initially meet when you walk in. The others are either in their offices – and only God knows where their offices are actually located – or they’re out and about business, which is more often the case than not, which is one reason I’m calling Grace now.”
“Wow! You’ve got connections, don’t you?”
“Never,” Joy pinned him with her eyes, dead serious. “Never connections I misuse; in fact, I’ve never before called Grace for any kind of favor … not so much as to bring condiments to a church picnic.” Morris grinned. Joy dialed. “If I can get you in early tomorrow morning, then I’d like you to meet..”
“Hello, Grace?” Joy asked in her most pleasant, raspy voice.
“Joy Brighterday? Is that you?” the query came through loud and clear. “Oh my Lord! Thank God in heaven! We’ve been praying for you everyday!”
“Thank you, Grace; you’re so kind, all of you. Really, thank you. That means more to me than you can imagine.”
“How are you? I guess if you’re calling then you’re in a room now? Out of Intensive Care?”
“Yes, actually they moved me this morning.”
“Ha, ha! Oh how like the Reverend Joy Brighterday! As soon as you get sprung from ICU you’re working! You’ve probably burned that phone up by now!” They both laughed.
“Well … not quite. These meds they have me on tend to really knock me for a loop,” she then gave a hearty “harrumph,” for good measure. “But listen Grace, I’ll try not to keep you long. I’m actually calling in a bit of an emergency situation.”
“Uh oh! About the shooting, Joy?”
“No, no, actually not that … at least not directly.” Joy ran her left hand through her hair wondering how to proceed. “Grace, I know this is going to sound crazy, but … it does involve the shooter, but it involves him as victim. Before you say anything, let me tell you what I’ve told several concerned friends already, and that is I’ve forgiven him completely.”
“Oh dear Joy… Why am I not surprised? Are you’re wanting us to help him, then?”
“Well, yes, actually I am, but Grace … there’s an awful lot going on here with all of this. It’s pretty ugly … and sinister. It involves this dear young man and his mother; it involves gross manipulation; verbal, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse; it involves physical and sexual assault and abuse… I could go on and on, really. I’ve got a really strong gut feeling this whole sordid mess involves many more victims, if that’s ever uncovered…”
“Hmmm, does it also involve Effete Sloughheart as one of the victims?”
“Well, yes, certainly. Of course, she has Justin Case working for her on her two cases, but yes. More to the point, Grace, it all involves one Fen Sloughheart. He’s at the hub of this sick wheel, but what’s even more frightening is something I really should have known long ago, and that is that he has his tentacles spread out throughout the town and surrounding area. My God, Grace, it’s like a gang network!”
“Oh yeah, Joy,” Grace answered almost nonchalantly. “Most cults with sizeable numbers living in the same area are like that; the denizens of the cult-kingdom relay anything that might be important to their master-chief, their pontifus maximus. It’s par for the course, and they’re dangerous, of course, which is why we’ve had our eyes on Sloughheart and Ebenezer for at least a couple of years now. We’ve managed to accumulate quite a file, especially more recently when we were able to confidentially interview about three dozen former members who’d fled Ebenezer for Grim Brusque’s church, following the Rally for Righteousness flop.”
“Really? Wow! So Phoenix Rising has already been investigating? What, if I may ask, compelled you guys to take on this project? A client or clients?”
“No, actually, it was a combination of sheer interest and, at least we thought, foresight. You see, at the time it struck all of us that there was an undercurrent of sorts throughout the area, as Dr. Sage Wiseman says. In fact, we talked to her at some length about this, and she’s been doing her own independent research … gladly and very helpfully coordinating that with ours, I should gratefully add. Anyway, suspicions started rising in more than one quarter that this, and many more, independent fundamentalist Bible churches – we call them IBFs for short – were becoming increasingly insular, paranoid and militant.”
“One facet that really grabbed our attention was the permeation of IBFs throughout North America … present in virtually every area, in every region, and not usually as small as we’d assumed before. We have unscientifically averaged the IBF congregation to be about 150 to 180 continent-wide. Of course, there were many other facets that intrigued, and rather frightened us, rampant abuse being one of them. It seems like an obligation on the part of men, in most IBFs, to beat their wives and children … and dogs, cats and other living creatures. Now, this may not be directly and plainly spoken, or commanded, but the message is clear, nevertheless, so consequently if you look closely enough, long enough, you find it … engaged in with appalling consistency and, usually, almost psychopathic pleasure.”
“Well, then, Grace… Phoenix Rising is quite obviously who we need,” Joy responded soberly. “Grace, I know this might be asking a favor, and I don’t usually do this; in fact, it embarrasses me. However, if you will, I’d like to retain your services for Morris Gunner and his mother, Angelica. Furthermore, if you have any time at all tomorrow, I’d desperately like you and your dear brother to meet Angelica and Morris … and anyone else you think might need to meet with them. But if you could do this for me, I’d…”
“Say no more, Joy Brighterday, and there’s no reason in the world for you of all people to be embarrassed asking for a favor! It’s not even a favor; you’re asking us to help two people in dire straights … and that’s just like you; you’re a very precious woman. As I’ve remarked so many times before, you really are your middle name: Emanuella, meaning ‘God with us.’ And I mean that with all my heart, Joy … so you send Angelica and Morris out at, say, about 8:30 a.m. Is that too early?” Morris shook his head “no,” thinking now about Joy’s middle name. Maybe Grace was right? At the moment, he sure felt like it.
“No, that’ll be fine, Grace … and thank you. Thank you so much, and may the Lord bless you, your brother, and Phoenix Rising with much productivity and success. Amen.”
“Thank you, Reverend Brighterday. I’ll share that sweet blessing with everyone here … but now, something tells me you need to rest, so I’m going to bid you ‘good-bye.’ We’ll be talking again real soon, I’m sure.”
“Absolutely, Grace, and thanks again. Good night.”
“Well, that’s one appointment,” Morris sounded relieved and hopeful. “But I think you were going to say something about seeing someone else tomorrow, too?”
“Ah, yes, but what time is it?”
“Hmmm, it’s 9:15 p.m.”
“Can you stick around for, say, about another hour?” Joy asked with her eyes half-closed. “If you could just let me catch a few winks, then wake me up at 10:15 p.m. we can wrap this conversation up for the night, but I really do need to mention a couple …” Joy yawned widely.
“Hey, sure, no problem at all,” Morris chuckled lightly. “You really do need to catch a few winks … so, o.k. 10:15 it is!” Joy was already asleep.