Chapter 38 ~ No sex
Erin took well to life on the ranch, but of course she did. Whether it was because she actually liked it or whether, in her condition, she would have seemed content in a garbage dump was anyone's guess. They got in late in the evening and it was after dark by the time Erin got to meet Junior, Martha, and Sam. It was at that exact moment that Mary realized Erin had no changes of clothes, she'd only been wearing the scrubs she'd left the hospital in. Mary literally slapped her palm to her forehead.
"Don't worry dear," Martha said to her, "you and she appear to be about the same size. She can borrow some of yours for now."
Mary was tired, it had been a very long few days. "You're right mom... I'm just not thinking straight."
Erin was a little hesitant with Junior, like Mary had been at first.... but the first time Junior turned on the country charm and winked at her, Erin smiled, just a little. But it was definitely a smile.
Martha.... Erin seemed very interested in. Erin took to her right away, following every word about how happy Martha was to welcome her, and she could stay as long as she liked, and of course, the kitchen was open. She asked if Erin had any favorite foods, and was met by silence. Martha just shrugged it off, "We'll learn as we go, sweetheart." And then she changed the subject, "Mary, have you given any thought to sleeping arrangements?"
Mary looked at her mother for a long moment, "We can put her in my old room with the joining bathroom. I don't think...." she looked at Erin, who was looking back at her. "I don't know if Erin is ok sleeping alone.... but I think she'll be ok. I..." Mary sighed. "I just don't know, mom."
Sam came up beside Mary and put her arm around her, giving her support.
Erin stared at them.
"We'll figure it out, honey," Sam said to Mary, and kissed her cheek. Then Sam went to Erin. "I understand you helped my Mary a long time ago, you helped her get out of a bad life. I just want to say thank you." Sam then wrapped her arms around the wide-eyed bald woman and kissed her cheek.... and after a moment, Erin hugged her back with a small smile. "I... we all are very glad you're here with us, please feel at home." Sam continued. "We should start getting settled for bed though... lots to do tomorrow, and it's going to be a great day," and she gave Erin a smile so big that Erin couldn't help but give it back to her.
Mary smiled as well... she remembered Sam telling her the exact thing on her first night here. It was going to be a great day.... and it had been.
Nurse Janie, off to the side and watching the family reunion, interjected, "If I may.... how about we get settled, and I can stay in Erin's room tonight and keep an eye on her. Mary filled me in on the events of the last few days, and she's right, we don't know how Erin's behavior is going to be, yet. There's no reason to be concerned, but I'm here, so I'll do what I do. Good?" she asked.
Mary took a deep breath. "Yes... thank you. The last few days have been so long, I'm feeling a little frazzled. Let's show you your rooms," and everyone followed her back. They showed Janie her real room for the next couple months, and showed her Erin's room with the adjoining bathroom.
Martha came in, "These are some of Mary's pajamas, they should fit Erin, I would think."
"Thanks Mrs. Donners," Janie answered taking the clothes and putting them on Erin's bed.
"Please, call me Martha."
Sam and Martha didn't want to feel like they were snooping, but they stayed, with the door shut, while Janie helped Erin change clothes and check her dressings. "I don't think you guys will want to see this," Mary warned them as Janie helped Erin off with her scrubs bottoms. By the end both of them wished they'd listened to her.
"Oh you poor dear," Martha whispered, at one point. Erin looked up at her.
Janie gave her a gentle pelvic examination on the bed, she didn't yet know what she was working with. Erin laid there, still. Janie put some cream on her fingers and applied it to the sutures as gently as she could, Erin inhaling sharply and uttering a single squeak somewhere in the middle, but was otherwise silent. "Everything looks good, the doctor did a good job... sewing the tears," she said.
Mary looked, Martha and Sam seemed very upset. She reminded herself that while they were fresh to it, she was in day three... four? of Erin's nightmare. And she was weary.
"When I found her, she was done," Mary said softly, feeling she had to let them know. "If I had been a second slower, a half second, she'd have been gone. She had given up, and I don't blame her." A tear rolled down her cheek.
Sam got to her first, held her. Martha was there next and held them both, Erin just looked at them with almost a look of curiosity on her face as Janie concentrated on applying a new, clean pad, and helping Erin put on her pajamas.
"She hasn't spoken since that night... well, I guess technically it was the morning after that night," Mary continued. "But the night I caught her... when I pulled her back in the window..."
Martha and Sam looked at her, Mary hadn't mentioned this part.
"At first she didn't recognize me... and when she did..." Mary's voice was cracking, looking at her hurt friend. "When she did, she said she used to know a Mary who needed help and..." Mary sobbed once.... "She was so hurt, but she asked about me. She asked if I was ok, if I needed help." And Mary lost it, sobbing openly in Sam's arms as her wife held her. "...and I thought she was d...dead..." Mary cried, finally getting it out.
Martha stood aside, her hands folded in front of her mouth as if she were praying, crying for the anguish her daughter... and Erin... felt.
She cried for a minute, but brought herself under control. She laughed a little, "Sam I got snot on your shirt," and they all laughed, crying. Mary was still looking at Erin. "I spent that night handcuffed to a bench," and again Sam and Martha just looked at her... so many details Mary had omitted over the phone... "and they wouldn't tell me how she was and I spent all night not knowing. In the morning when dad and Mr. Rollins showed up and started kicking butts I finally found out she'd been asking for me. I finally got to see her, and for a second it seemed like she recognized me, and she said my name, and then she slept for over a whole day."
Erin was just looking at Mary as she spoke.
Mary's voice was getting a little more steady, like she had gotten past the hardest part and now could just talk.
"When she finally woke up... they had been running tests to see if she was in a coma.... she was like this. She's like.... just barely there. I haven't heard her speak since."
Mary walked over to Erin, just standing next to Janie. "Honey, I... know.... what you've been through. I know. And you take all the time you need. If you're in there, and you understand me.... you are safe here. After today everything gets better. I think you're going to love this place. Try and get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a great day," and she was about to hug Erin, but Erin beat her to it.
Mary was surprised... and she wondered if Erin were there, or just repeating what she'd just seen Sam and Martha do to her... but Mary took it, either way. She'd wondered about Erin for so long, since He died, that she would take Erin now any way she could.
They broke the hug, and Janie touched Mary's arm. "Mary," she said softly. "You are exhausted. Go get some sleep, let me take care of Erin tonight. I've got plenty of energy, I haven't been running around the country for three days. Trust me to take care of her for you tonight, ok?"
Mary turned to Janie, "Thank you," she whispered. She looked up at Janie's head, her blonde hair that was currently pulled back in a ponytail. "You know," Mary said softly. "I remember when I first got to the clinic. I remember quite a bit about it. Even when I was drugged, I remember."
Behind her, Sam frowned... Mary talked about when she was hurt sometimes, and it was never a happy story.
Mary touched Janie's hair. "I remember when I met you, your hair reminded me of... I used to call Erin the blonde haired girl. I remember she was one who tried to save me, and that always stuck with me. And then you, your hair. It's why I could only let only you touch me, for so long. And it's because of her, your hair reminded me of hers," she said, looking over at bald, stubbly Erin. "I wish I could have found her before this had to happen to her."
"It sounds to me like she saved your life, and you saved hers right back," Janie said.
Mary blinked at her, looked at Erin, and smiled. "I think that means we're stuck with each other for a while... the Native Americans around here say if someone saves your life, you own them a life debt. And now I guess we owe each other."
Erin just tilted her head at her in almost a gesture of bemusement, but her eyes were still just barely focused, barely there.
Mary sighed. "Ok honey, we all need some sleep," she said to Erin. Mary pointed, "That door is your bathroom.... go in there to go potty." Mary was having a hard time turning it off.
Janie said softly, "I'll show her, reinforce it."
Mary nodded at her. She turned back to Erin, "Through the bathroom is my bedroom with Sam. We are just right next door if you need me, sweetie. We are so close. And we'll see you in the morning and start showing you around, and you are going to love it here." Mary looked at Erin intently. Do I? Yeah, I must. "I love you, honey. I'm so glad you're here. Get some rest." She kissed Erin on the cheek, Erin smiled. "We're right next door," Mary reiterated to Janie.
Janie smiled, she is having a hard time letting go. "Yes Mary, now go to bed. That's an order," and she smirked, Mary returned it. She and Sam left the room, Martha following.
Once in their bedroom Martha closed their shared bathroom door, mostly... and turned down the covers of Mary and Sam's bed. "There seems to be a lot of your trip you didn't tell me about.... like about handcuffs. I want to hear more about it, but not tonight. You need sleep, I've never seen you so tired." Martha came over and kissed her daughter on the forehead, and then did the same to her daughter-in-law.
Sam helped Mary change into her pajamas... "I need a shower," Mary said as Sam helped her undress.
"Tomorrow," Sam ordered. "Sleep now."
Mary climbed in bed first and watched her Sam change her clothes. "I really missed you," she said softly.
Sam wouldn't look at her for a moment, but finally, "Honey, I don't know if I can do that again. I didn't think being apart would hit me so hard. I've never felt that way before and I didn't like it." Sam turned off the light and crawled into bed with her love. They found each other in the dark and held each other tight.
Mary had her moment when she was talking about Erin, in the other room. It had been raw, and pent up, and she finally got it out to someone. But now, in the dark, with the great love of her life, holding her, being held by her, she relaxed. Her defenses dropped completely for the first time in days. Her soul spilled over. "Oh Sam," she sobbed, and the real crying began. She sobbed so hard into her Sam, for so long. Sam held her, silently. When Mary was finally done... exhausted... spent.... she fell asleep in Sam's arms. Sam kissed the top of her head, "I will love you forever, Mary," she promised quietly, and fell asleep.
For the rest of their lives they never spent another night apart.
Erin made it through the night. She was actually quite easy, as emotionally wrecked victims of severe trauma go.... she could eat, bathe, take care of her bathroom needs, and was generally a happy girl since the only emotion she ever showed... or pretended to show... was a smile.
Of course, in the morning after breakfast Janie had gotten her ready to start the day, Mary introduced Erin to her horses. "No riding yet," Janie ordered. "Probably not for at least 4 weeks. Her stitches." Mary understood completely. But Mary still wanted to introduce Erin to her personal herd.
Erin was immediately intrigued by the large animals, sticking her head over the gate of the first stall they came to, holding out her hand to touch the animals. She smiled when they would nuzzle her hand, perhaps looking for a treat. Mary decided to take Erin's instant liking of horses as a good sign.... nobody was completely lost if they could love a horse.
Mary took Erin to Cindy, her mature, matronly mare. She wondered what name Cindy would give her, Cindy always came up with good ones. Erin walked right up to Cindy and began exploring her face with her hands, Cindy was patient with her, accepting. She sensed Erin and Mary's bond, and that meant she and Erin had a bond as well. Mary found it very fitting when Cindy called Erin 'dreaming one.' Mary told Cindy that Erin was hurt and couldn't ride yet, but when she was ready Cindy would be her girl because she was so good with new riders. That was when Cindy said, I will be easy with the dreaming one.
Libby was also gentle and accepting, Erin made friends with her, as well.
The real boggle was Satan.... Satan couldn't see Erin at all. Mary introduced Erin, "This is my friend, she saved my life once, but now she has a hurt and I am saving hers. She is my sister, we have a bond which means you have a bond with her too." But Satan was agitated, didn't understand what Mary was saying. I see no sister, broken one, he told her. But something was bothering him.
"What's wrong with Satan?" Sam asked.
"I don't know," Mary said... "He's acting like he can't see Erin."
Of course he can not, little one. She is dreaming and he is a stallion, Cindy explained.
Mary turned to Cindy, found her eye, blinked. "Huh," Mary said.
Sam was learning to read these strange little one-sided conversations Mary had with the horses. She thought it might mean Mary was a little touched in the head but she didn't care, she loved Mary anyway. "What did Cindy say?"
"She said...." Mary was still trying to untwist that. "She said Satan can't see Erin because Erin is dreaming and Satan is a stallion. Like that explains something."
"Pretty mystical," Sam said.
"Uh huh," Mary answered.
"Almost like horses are these wonderful magical creatures that come from an enchanted place with a complex society who only wish to spread love and understanding and friendship through the land," Sam teased.
Mary gave Sam a look. She tried to make it stern, but with Sam she could never pull that off convincingly. "Hey, I'm just telling you what they said. If you have a problem with it take it up with them."
Erin was just looking at Mary with that expression, strange bemusement.
Sam actually thought that almost inquisitive look was a good sign something was going on in her head, but didn't want to get up any hopes. She knew Erin could still have a very sad ending.
Jimmy had been on vacation fishing with friends in Louisiana when Mary had gone to Nebraska, so he didn't met Erin until she'd been there a few days and was up and about. They had her in the barn, Erin was sitting on some hay bales watching Mary and Sam give baths to horses.
"Oh no," Sam said with fake exasperation when she saw her brother coming down the stall. "Jimmy's back, now he's going to talk Erin's ear off and confuse her even more."
"Howdy, ladies!" Jimmy said from half-way down the stable. "How are my two unfortunate-looking sisters doing without their brother to help them survive? And who's your...." but then he saw Erin's face, "friend...." he trailed off. He just stared at Erin with his mouth open. And as he stared, she stared back at him. Both Mary and Sam expected something from him... a wise crack, and joke, hell, even flirting like he did with Nora.... but for the first time that either of them could remember, Jimmy didn't have a thing to say.
Even without her hair Erin was a beautiful girl.
After another few moments of just staring at Erin, Sam said, "Ok Jimmy, this is getting embarrassing. You're going to scare the poor girl."
Jimmy blinked once, twice. "Scare... the girl..." he repeated, it wasn't quite penetrating. He was lost.
"Earth to Jimmy," Mary said to him.
Finally he managed to pull his gaze from Erin's face to Mary's. "Who... is she?" but then he looked back at her.
"A friend from Mary's past," Sam said. "And there's a lot you need to know about her."
Acting more clumsy and tongue tied than Sam had ever seen, like every word was a heavy burden, he said to Erin, "H... hi.... I'm... James," and he held out his hand.
Erin took his hand and actually smiled at him.
Sam and Mary looked at each other, silently mouthed James? at each other, shocked both for Jimmy's sudden lack of game, and for Erin actually responding to him. Until now the only male on the ranch Erin had smiled at had been Junior. "Huh," they both said at once.
Sam dropped the water hose and grabbed Jimmy's arm, dragging him away, almost falling over because his feet didn't want to leave and he didn't want to take his eyes off Erin's face. She explained to Jimmy what Erin had been through, and why she wasn't speaking. Jimmy actually looked shocked and concerned, yet another first as far as far Sam knew.... he had never shown a sad emotion even when as a child their father used to beat him.
"Jesus Jimmy, it's like you fell in love at first sight or something," Sam said to him.
Jimmy just looked at his sister with wide eyes. "She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life," he responded with desperate sincerity, looking back at Erin who was examining a long piece of straw from the bale she was sitting on. "Tell me how I can help her. I'll do anything."
Mary had overheard, and she and Sam just looked at each other, again.
When Mary and Sam had other work to do, Erin was happy... or seemed happy... to follow Martha around, helping her. Martha showed Erin how to take care of the chicken flock, which actually caused Erin to giggle one day when Martha showed her how to feed the chickens from her hand, and their little pecking beaks gently pinched her fingers. On skype that night Linda agreed that a giggle... and improvement... was a good sign.
Linda's water broke during the call, and she apologized and said she had to go. Everyone understood, smiling, waiting to hear some good news from Florida, soon. Linda had a little girl that night, 7 pounds 6 ounces, perfect in every way, and they named her Rebecca.
Soon Erin's hair was visibly growing out and her head again had her golden halo when the sunlight would strike it just so. Mary would smile when she saw it.
After a month, Janie, after another pelvic exam, gave Erin permission to ride. "The last of her stitches are dissolving away," Janie said. "Everything is healed up and there shouldn't be any danger from riding.. but keep it gentle. Very gentle. And short, the first day. Ride for just a little bit then I will examine her again. In fact...." Janie thought, "Maybe I should come with," and smiled.
Mary nodded, smiling back at her, "Ok, excellent idea."
Janie had finally gone home, there had been no complications with Erin at all, and she apologized for not really having had anything to do.
Mary hugged her, "You were here... I would have been uncertain every day without you. Thank you."
Mary flew her home private... she now had an open account with Executive Aircraft Rental of Plano, Texas. The helicopter would be returning later in the day with a different guest.
Mary had a long trail ride planned for them the day Janie left, they all agreed Erin was ready for it. The silent, blank woman had taken to riding immediately. Sam even mentioned Erin was nearly as natural to riding as Mary herself had been... but thankfully Erin listened when they asked her to keep it to a slow walk. Unlike Mary, Erin could follow directions. Cindy seemed to understand Erin's limitations, but Mary was sometimes confused when Cindy seemed to be responding to something Erin said, even though Erin never said anything.
"Who are you talking to, Cindy?"
To the dreaming one, of course.
Mary dared to hope.
But today Mary had something she wanted to show Erin, and hopefully by the time they got back in the late afternoon their guests would have arrived.... both Pete Rollins was expected from Arlington, TX, and for some reason the state was paying for Chief Hawkins to fly in from Florida. Mary was looking forward to seeing them both, she hadn't seen Mr. Rollins since the trial of Ben Schmidt up in Nebraska, where she had testified as a witness.
Schmidt almost gotten off, his lawyer claimed that while professor/student relationships were against college rules, there wasn't a crime against it and it should be left up to the college to decide his punishment. He said since the so-called victim never actually reported any crime this was all he said/she never said. But then Schmidt's wife stood up in the gallery and made quite a show of stating her husband had been raping her and the students for years, and he was a monster, and he would never stop.
The prosecution asked for a continuance, and received it. The wife of Ben Schmidt was deposed, and she had plenty to say on the stand against her husband. Mary didn't stay for the sentencing but was happy to hear the 52 year old man got 35 years.
What his wife said on the stand regarding her own time at the Oklahoma Compound for Wayward Children was sealed by the FBI. Pete Rollins had gotten his boss to make a friendly call to the judge in Nebraska, and they cleared the gallery and kept that part of the trial out of the media, for now.
Mary didn't know, but another guest who was arriving at the ranch that afternoon was the Deputy Director of the FBI.
They packed lots of water and snacks, both for them and their horses, for where Mary was taking them was about five miles out.
After a couple hours they finally arrived, a strange bridge at the bottom of the valley, a place Junior had stopped the first time he was bringing Mary to the ranch, so long ago.
They all took a drink from their bottled water. "Stretch your legs honey," Sam said to Erin. "I think I know why we're here," giving Mary a long look.
They all stretched their legs and loosely wrapped the reins of their horses to one of the railings.
"Erin," Mary began, looking out over the valley, and the almost nonexistent trickle of a stream winding through a crack in the bedrock. "My dad brought me here on the first day. I was so scared and broken and I was just a mess. And he told me a story about this creek, and how he used to swim here with his brothers, when he was little. But one day there was a flood, and it washed away all this land down to the rock.... he called it scraped clean, right down to its bones...."
Junior greeted them all as they came in, bemused that he now had two helicopters parked in his front yard. Martha entertained, she loved guests, she'd made lemonade as they all waited for the last arrival who had been the Deputy Director of the FBI.
Finally everyone was there, Junior, Pete Rollins of the Texas Rangers, Martin Lang of the FBI, and Chief of Police Larry Hawkins who was sad to be away from his four week old daughter, if only for two days.
Pete Rollins had called this meeting, so he began. "Martin, Larry, thank you for coming today. Junior and Martha, thanks for your hospitality and a bit of shade."
Junior just nodded and made the clicking sound out of the corner of his mouth.
"Martin," Pete continued, "I know I kept it light on details when I called, that's because what I have to talk to you about.... is sensitive, even among your own ranks. There's a place where they are hurting children, and they are organized, and we have evidence that there are people sympathetic to them at high levels all over the country, even in the FBI."
Martin raised his eyebrow at his old friend. "Ok, I get it. So what is this place?"
"It's called the Oklahoma Compound for Wayward Children, and as far as we can tell they've been torturing children for at least 50 years."
"And you say my people... what... cover for them?" Martin asked.
"I would never come to you without evidence," Pete answered. "This man is Lawrence Hawkins, a Chief of Police in central Florida. I'll turn this over to him."
Larry picked up a thick binder from the floor next to him and began pulling out papers, organizing them. "There's a lot to this, please be patient," he said. After a moment he had everything where he wanted it, and began. "Years ago I was involved in uncovering a child sex ring in my city, but one of the girls slipped away... a girl named Erin Banks." He went on, telling his long story, showing evidence where he had it, putting the puzzle together for the Deputy Director of the FBI who listened patiently, asking a question for clarification here and there. "So Erin Banks was gone," Larry continued, "and I had strong reason to believe she was at this 'compound.' I started looking into it, and it's a black hole.... it doesn't seem to exist anywhere on paper except for a land deed in Oklahoma, and it doesn't even appear on google earth. I took it to the FBI, the regional field office, figuring they would have jurisdictional investigative authority that I just didn't have.... and the next day I got called into the mayor's office and was told to drop the case, or it was my ass." Larry sat back in his chair, and met the gaze of Martin Lang.
Director Lang, after a moment, spoke. "So you took this evidence to... what... Tampa?"
"And the next day your investigation was killed."
Hawkins nodded again.
"Do you remember who you spoke to, there?"
Hawkins looked at the papers in front of him, found a pile to his right, rifled, found his notes, slid them across the desk. Martin glanced at it, and put it down. "If your evidence checks out, then there does seem to be something here, and it does seem we have a mole problem, in at least that regional office."
"Martin, there's a lot more." Pete cut in. "We think there might be friends of this place even in at least three state houses."
Martin looked at him steadily.
John Branch held his son. Mia had a difficult delivery, she was slight and her hips were narrow, but the Navajo midwife helped her through it. Mia nursed the baby as the midwife checked her and cleaned her, and then she fell asleep with the baby at her breast. They named him George and he already had a lusty cry. Mia did great, but was exhausted.
Little Rosalita had been there all the way with the midwife, watching, learning, smiling as she witnessed the so-called "miracle" of birth. John was happy with his son.... he was feeling all sorts of emotions he'd never felt before... but if truth be told, he'd have preferred another little girl in the house.
He was in the family room with the baby sleeping on his chest, tired Mia asleep in their quiet bedroom. He thought about Mary Donners. He thought about the aerial images from Homeland Security of the ranch she lived at, and the spot in the desert next to the river where she was camping that night. He thought of the statement she had made on the witness stand against those two Coyotes she had savaged... he'd wanted to be there for that, to see her, but was afraid she'd recognize him. In a courthouse. Surrounded by law enforcement. He'd read the transcripts of her testimony, though... "We were out there camping, me and Sam go out there almost every weekend," she had said.
Almost every weekend.
What still gave him pause was the answer she'd given under cross examination, when the counsel for the defense asked if she'd thought that completely severing the man's penis with her teeth was an appropriate response to the situation. She had answered, "I don't know, let's see some guy try to rape you and your best friend and see what you think your appropriate response is." There were many activists in the courtroom that day, some of them from an anti-rape group. The judge had to call for order after that, and that statement had ended up in some newspapers.
Fact of the matter was, the broken girl he'd remembered from Florida was now apparently capable of ripping off a man's penis with her teeth when she felt threatened. He didn't know how that could possibly be. That gave him a chill... he remembered cumming in her mouth, himself. Many times. And he was also a little proud of her... he had never approved of Crazy Ed or what he'd done to his nieces. He was glad Mary had outlasted her uncle, and moved on.
He dug around one more time.... and news of The Circle still never made any news articles, online. He suspected it may be because of the age of the girls... but even so, usually there was some leak. But not this time, apparently.
He didn't think to search for Erin's name one more time. He'd already done it hundreds of times over the years since he'd left her, always disappointed.
He was stuck on wondering if Mary knew where Erin was.
He thought again about that map, and the river, and where she and her friend camp almost every weekend.
They fell into a routine with Erin, as her blonde hair grew longer. She was always up with them at daybreak sharing breakfast with the family, the girls chatting but Junior always quiet, considering Erin. Sam and Mary would kiss her cheek before they started their daily work on the ranch, and Erin would fall in with Martha, helping with dishes, or cleaning, or the chickens. Just whatever needed to be done, Erin was there to help.
"Have a great day, sweetheart," Junior would always say to Erin before he kissed his wife's cheek and started his long days.
And then there was Jimmy. Every day as soon as he was free he would be around asking "Miss Erin," as he called her, how her day was. As soon as he'd gotten comfortable in her presence his garrulous personality came out swinging. Mary and Sam would sometimes walk into the stables and find Erin sitting on a bale of hay watching Jimmy clean stalls, with Jimmy just chattering away at her about work, or his childhood, or movies he liked, or how bad of a sister Sam actually was, with Mary not much better. Erin would just watch him, listening, following him with her eyes. Sometimes smiling, sometimes giggling a little if he was saying something about Mary and Sam, teasingly. Sometimes, Mary noticed, Erin didn't even want to look at Mary like she always had, she wanted to watch Jimmy. Mary wasn't sure how she felt about that, and Sam definitely didn't like it. Sam had warned Jimmy more than once to keep his hands to himself.
Erin's riding improved, Mary was thrilled to see. When she was well and truly mended Erin, with Cindy's help, graduated from walking her horse to trotting, cantering, and then running. Erin and Cindy moved well together, Mary noticed, and she was happy for Erin. Erin always seemed to have a smile on her face when the wind was blowing back her ever-growing blonde hair, hanging out from under her new cowgirl hat.
Erin started joining them on their weekends to the spring. They were hesitant about the skinny dipping with her, but when Mary explained it was just the girls, Erin stripped down and joined them in the spring, squealing a little with the cold of it. Mary and Sam didn't display their sexual relationship with each other in front of Erin.... they assumed Erin might have issues with it.... but they still enjoyed being away from the boys at the ranch every weekend, getting in touch with their femininity. Sometimes when they sat around the fire at night Erin seemed enchanted by the songs of the coyotes around them, sometimes almost swaying to a rhythm they couldn't quite hear. Mary would lean against Sam and they would just watch Erin, just as enchanted, hoping for her.
Erin seemed happy to be there, anyway. Erin always seemed happy. Mary hoped it was true. Erin was still so blank, otherwise.
Erin still slept, but was dreaming a lovely dream of the desert.
Junior had given up and just installed a helicopter landing pad, his daughter seemed set on flying out once a month taking Erin to see doctors, so he gave up and had a slab poured. With landing lights. He didn't want his daughter landing at night in the dark. But he chuckled to himself as he again looked at four different helicopters in his front yard, and over a dozen black box vans that had pulled up with personnel and equipment. He went back inside, off the porch.
Everyone who was needed had arrived, and as Junior entered Pete Rollins met his eye and addressed the very full kitchen table at The Second Chance Ranch. "Ladies and gentlemen," the Texas Ranger began, quickly making eye contact with everyone in the very full room. "Thank you for joining us here in easily accessible west Texas," and they all chuckled at that. "We chose this location exactly for this remoteness, I think everyone here..." he again scanned the room, "....understands the necessity of keeping the investigation compartmentalized, until now. No one knows about this ranch, so it doesn't have any eyes or ears. I'll turn this over to Deputy Director Lang. Sir?"
Pete sat, Martin Lang stood. "You are all regional directors, and you know we've been conducting a mole hunt, but not for the reason you think. You were all cleared. You will notice that not all of your regional director peers are present... those who are not have been found suspect and are about to fall under official investigation." Those at the table turned left and right, they all knew someone personally who was not present. "In 7 days the FBI, in a joint operation with the Texas Rangers, are going to raid a compound in Oklahoma. We have concrete evidence that this facility, under the guise of a boarding school, has been physically and mentally torturing children for at least 50 years. We have eyewitness accounts of sleep deprivation, physical abuse, intentional starvation, isolation cells, and straight brainwashing, for lack of a better term."
"Excuse me sir," the regional director of the northeast corridor asked. She continued, "How did we get these eye witnesses only now, after 50 years?"
Director Lang looked her in the eye. "This compound has friends all over the country. They keep the children silent with the mentioned brainwashing, and whenever law enforcement or other officials start smelling something funny this compound gets ahead of it and cuts it off." He glanced at Chief Hawkins, sitting down near the end of the table in his uniform. "Here's the short and skinny of it, people," he said. "In 7 days, we raid this compound simultaneously as we raid the state houses... the governor's offices... in 14 states. The shit storm from that alone is going to be category-5, shit-hurricane." Some of the people at the table smirked at his imagery. "But also the offices of five FBI regional directors, one mayor's office, and one county courthouse. A small town will be blacked out, no communications in or out. And somehow, we have 147 children to extract safely from a place we know next to nothing about. Our person inside gave us floor plans and ledgers, but he could not definitively say whether or not there were any armories behind the doors he couldn't access."
"Sir, who do we have inside?" Ohio asked.
The director looked at him steadily. "There's always a sympathetic janitor who needs a cash infusion," he said simply.
"These raids will all be done at exactly the same time, to the minute. No one is getting advanced warnings, everybody gets hit at once. This will be one of the largest FBI sweeps in history." He looked at them again. "Make no mistake, this is going to be a black eye. We are hitting our own as well, and we aren't going to hide it. But let's not forget the big picture, here. Everyone we are hitting is complicit in the ongoing torture of 147 children, and thousands of others who have gone before. This has to be done, and I don't want a single innocent casualty." He paused. "Not ONE. Am I clear?"
"CLEAR SIR," the room responded as one.
"Very well," he answered. "Junior Donners has offered us the use of his ranch as a base of operations for the next two weeks. He has a ward here who came out of that place. If you see a teenage blonde woman who doesn't speak, remember what we're about, here." He turned to Junior, "Do you have anything to add, sir?" he asked.
Junior simply said, "Welcome aboard, god speed, Martha cooks two big meals a day, and I wouldn't wear any shoes you really like. This is a working ranch."
At that the group chuckled, and Junior tipped his hat to them.
Martin Lang finished up. "Seven days, people. The clock is ticking. Move."
Five days until the raid, and Director Lang had just returned from Washington DC. It was 3am, Junior was in his kitchen pouring a cup of coffee for the Director, Pete Rollins, Chief Hawkins, and himself. Larry was taking a flight home in the morning to see his family, and would be busy the night of the raid. He'd gotten the assignment he requested and he was happy.
Lang leaned back in his chair. "DC is on board. She doesn't like it but I convinced her she'll like it less if the public finds out this all went down without her support. She's a political animal and is always thinking about how her own ass looks on the tail end of it."
The men nodded.
"We still don't have a plan for the compound," Pete said.
Lang took one more sip of his coffee, sat forward. "Every plan I've seen... we can't guarantee the safety of those children. We have five more days. Let's keep at it."
Pete Rollins looked at his old friend. "Have you made a decision about what we discussed?"
Lang responded, "I have. But you might not like it, because you're getting everything you want."
"Why wouldn't I like that?" Pete asked.
"Because the reason the Texas Rangers are running the assault on the compound is because the Director of the FBI thinks this is going to be a Waco-sized clusterfuck, and she wants to make sure the Texas Rangers get the blame, this time."
Pete was quiet. Finally, "I can live with that."
"What's the situation with the safety of those kids?" Junior asked softly. He spoke so rarely in these meetings that everyone was always a little surprised to find him still there.
Lang took a deep breath, and another slug of black coffee. "There are 147 children in that compound, and it is sprawling. There are 10 dormitories, approximately 10 private rooms slash cells, and at least 1 sensory deprivation isolation room. In the middle of the night children could be in any or all of those locations. We need, somehow, to infiltrate an advance team.... the spearhead before the spearhead... to secure those children and keep their heads down in case there is gunfire.... or, possibly, to protect them from being taken hostage. And we just don't have a plan or people for something like that, not in this kind of frontal assault."
Junior continued, "So you'd need at least 20 people who would be able to get in there quick and quiet without raising the alarm, and find those kids and keep them safe."
"Pretty much," Lang responded.
Everyone was quiet for a moment, Junior putting his head back, looking at the ceiling. Finally he looked at Lang, and then Pete. "You're in charge of the compound raid?" he asked the Texas Ranger.
"It appears I am," Pete responded.
"I may have a solution to your problem," Junior answered.
Pete looked at him for a long moment. "Junior, if you tell me you sell horses to Seal Team Six and they owe you a favor, I'm going to retire right now and let you be in charge."
It was about an hour before sunrise, Lang wanted to get a couple hours of sleep before the inspection of the preparations started. He and Pete walked toward the large tent the FBI had set up for sleeping quarters. "I can't believe you're considering his plan," Martin said.
"Neither can I. Maybe it's just the 4am talking, but Christ, it's an interesting plan," Pete responded.
"Yeah, it really fires the imagination," Martin said sardonically. "Pete.... it's your call. But think it through."
"Oh, I defiantly will," Pete answered. "I'm going to consider it one more time in the daylight before I give it a thumbs up." He went into the tent, keeping his voice down, it was full of sleeping agents. "But hell... they probably won't go for it, anyway. We've never exactly been on friendly terms."
Martin grunted, "You can say that again."
Copyright 2017: "Marissa Banks." Rights reserved. Not for reuse without express written consent of the author. All content is purely fictional; any similarities to actual persons or events is pure coincidence. Reader must be of legal age in the judicial area he/she resides. Reproductions of the fiction contained herein or linked from here may not be used in whole or in part without express permission from the author.