Another adventure in the life of Rollie Chambers and his friends.
Constructive comments, emails, and critiques are very welcome and appreciated.
Jacob Tully waved at Rollie Chambers and Jessica Talbert as they walked into Rigazzi's Italian Restaurant. He stood when they joined him at his table. There were two ladies sitting with Tully.
"Hey guys, thanks for coming," Tully greeted them. He shook Rollie's hand and hugged Jessica.
Julie Colwell also stood. Hi Jessica, hi Rollie," she said and hugged both Rollie and Jessica. Julie was Nurse Colwell, the lead RN at the St. Louis University Medical Center Hospital. She had met Rollie and Jessica when they were admitted to the hospital after a carjacking gone bad. Julie had met Tully at the same time. Over a short period of time she and Tully had become something more than friends with benefits.
"Okay what's the deal Tully? What do you need?" Rollie harassed him with a grin. It didn't matter what his friend wanted, Rollie was there for him and would help in any way he could.
"This is Julie's sister, Victoria Jessup," Tully said introducing the second woman at the table. "She's got a problem with her daughter."
While listening and nodding Rollie held Jessica's chair. "Hello Victoria," he said as he sat down next to Jessica. Over Victoria's shoulder he saw Antonio Rigazzi, the owner of the restaurant. Antonio waved and Rollie returned his greeting. He and Rollie had been friends for years and now Jessica and Tully had joined the friendship. "Tony" grabbed a bottle of a special wine he kept for VIPs and friends. He handed the bottle to his head waiter and motioned toward Rollie and his party. The waiter brought five glasses to the table and poured the wine with a flourish.
After taking a sip of wine and nodding at Tony, Rollie said, "I guess maybe Jess could help you Victoria. She is a psychiatrist; however she's not involved in family counseling."
"No, it's not that kind of problem," Tully interjected. "Well, not totally anyway. I need your help on this Rollie."
"Maybe you should explain," Jessica suggested. "What kind of problem are you having with your daughter Victoria?"
The family resemblance between Julie and Victoria was obvious. Victoria had the same dark hair, gray eyes, and slender build as Julie but looked to be about 36; two years younger than her sister. Victoria's eyes were troubled and she had stress lines around her mouth.
"Call me Vicky please," she said with a sad smile. "I didn't know what to do so I talked to Julie, she talked to Tully, and he suggested we talk to you and Rollie." Taking a deep breath, she added, "My daughter, Roxanne, is being held against her will. She joined a, I guess you'd say it's like a religious cult or whatever. It's called the Church of the One World and now she wants to leave but she can't."
"How old is your daughter?" Rollie asked.
"She turned 18 four months ago, just before she joined the Church of the One World."
"If she's 18, Roxy is considered an adult and free to make her own decisions," Rollie offered. "If she joined this church on her own, there's not much we can do
"Wait," Tully said when he saw the look on Rollie's face. "Vicky got a letter last week from Roxy that makes her think Roxy isn't allowed to leave. She mentioned a poem in the letter and Vicky thinks it's a code from Roxy saying that she's not allowed to leave. The commune has a secured compound but no one knows for sure where it is, so Vicky hasn't been able to visit and talk with her daughter. I, we, need to find her and make sure she still wants to be there."
"And if she doesn't, we'll get her out. Right?" Rollie asked.
"That's about it."
"Why does her mentioning this poem makes you think she's not allowed to leave?" Jessica asked.
"Roxy wrote that she was very happy being part of the Church and the guidance that Father Jeremiah, the head of the church, was giving her. She said they lived in a sort of enclosed campus that has houses and a tall stone fence to keep the evil of the world out. Roxy said that Father Jeremiah encouraged her to continue reading poetry, like she did in school; said he thought it was a good way to learn about the sins of the world. She said one of her favorites is called 'A Lament'."
"And?" Jessica asked,
Well ... Roxy has never been interested poetry, in fact she hated it in school; so I naturally read the poem," Vicky answered. "The poem is by Percy Shelley, and it's sort of a downer." She reached into her purse and pulled out a printed page. "Here; I went online and printed it out."
Jessica took the paper and read the poem with Rollie looking over her shoulder.
O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
When Jessica looked up after reading the poem, Vicky said, "I think her letters are being inspected and censored so she used this poem to let me know she wants to leave but can't. I need your help finding Roxy and getting her out of that commune."
Rollie looked at Tully with a raised eyebrow. "Right now all we have is Vicky's feeling that her daughter wants to come home. We can't go on a search and destroy mission without more information."
"I know my daughter," Vicky objected. "I know she wants to come home."
"Vicky, it wouldn't be the first time that a young person broke away from their parents," Jessica interjected. "It happens all the time." She held up her hand when Vicky started to speak. "I'm not saying you're wrong, but we need to make sure before we turn these two loose on the Church of One World." Jessica smiled as she looked at Rollie and Tully. "My two men are a force of nature, like a tornado. When they get going all you can do is find shelter and wait for it to blow over."
"When I find this Church of the One World's compound, I'll talk to Roxy and if she wants out I'll bring her out," Tully promised with a grim smile. He paused and looked at Rollie with an intense stare. "No matter who gets in the way, I'll bring her home."
Jessica reached across the table and took Tully's hand. "How can we help?"
"I've checked with all my sources but can't find any information on the location of the church compound. I was hoping you'd use your informants and find a lead for me Rollie."
Rollie took a long sip of his wine and nodded his appreciation to Tony. "You're not exactly the most diplomatic person," Rollie responded with a grim smile of his own. Then he returned Tully's stare. "I'll go you one better my friend, not only will we find out about this compound but when you go to talk to her, I'll go with you." He smiled and said, "I can be diplomatic when need be; unlike a certain broken down old Gunnery Sergeant that I know."
"You're going to help my sister and niece?" Julie asked.
"You're special to Tully, Julie," Rollie answered. "That makes you special to Jessica and me; for good or bad you're part of the family now." Turning toward Vicky, he smiled and added, "That includes Julie's sister and niece. Get us a recent picture of Roxy and we'll get started. Don't worry, Chambers and Associates are on the job."
"Thanks man," Tully said. Julie and Vicky got teary eyed and nodded their thanks.
"Chambers and Associates?" Vicky asked with a puzzled tone.
"That's Rollie's detective agency," Jessica answered. "It consists of Rollie, Tully, and me." Turning to Rollie, she added, "You two macho types are ready to go off on a, what did you call it, a search and destroy mission. Maybe there's a better way. What about Ricky?"
"Damn, I forgot all about Ricky," Rollie said. Tully had a surprised look on his face; showing that he too had forgotten about Ricky.
"Who's Ricky?" Julie asked.
"Ricky Willard works for the St. Louis Police Department as a cyber crime specialist," Tully answered. "He was a college student that ran a gambling ring in college. Ricky also hacked into the school's main frame and changed people's grades; all for a price of course."
"When he got caught, among others things, the judge gave him 200 hours of community service," Rollie said. "Major Taylor thought it would be a good idea for Ricky to work for the Department. Ricky's been there ever since."
"I don't know how, but he can find a lot of information using his computer," Jessica said. Turning to Rollie and then Tully she added, "You should call him for help."
"From the mouth of babes," Rollie said grinning at Jessica. "Or in this case a babe."
"I'll go see Major Taylor tomorrow and see if we can borrow Ricky," Tully said.
"We'll go see him Tully," Rollie said.
"The only address we can find on the Church of the One World is the post office box they listed with the city for their license as a nonprofit organization," Rollie told Ricky.
"That's because you're not me," Ricky said with a big grin.
Rollie looked skeptical but Tully said, "Listen to the boy. Go ahead Ricky."
"All nonprofit entities must have an actual address listed with authorities," Ricky explained. "The commission will keep that information confidential and sealed from the public eye, but they must have a physical address on file." The young man laughed and added, "Of course, I'm not the normal public. Who's the head of the church, do you know?"
"All we know is that he goes by the name of Father Jeremiah," Rollie answered. "No last name; we don't even know if that's his real first name."
"Not a problem. Give minute."
Ricky cracked his knuckles, dramatically shook out his hands and started typing on the keyboard of his computer. His fingers moved at "warp" speed and shortly he turned the monitor toward them. "Here you go; Father Jeremiah is really Jeremiah Foster Sullivan. The church has a four house compound at this address on Clermont Lane; it's in the high dollar district of Creve Coeur."
"Thanks Ricky," Tully said.
"Here, read this bio of Sullivan," Ricky suggested and handed Tully a print out of the information he'd found. "According to this information, Sullivan had been involved in a "church" in Oregon four years previously. He was arrested and had left town under suspicious circumstances."
"What happened?" Tully asked.
"The records are sealed," Ricky answered. "Seems some kind of deal was made; Sullivan left town and no public records were made available."
"Well ... I would like to know why he had to leave," Rollie said. "But with the court records sealed, I guess we'll never find out."
"Oh ye of little faith," Ricky replied with a smile. He handed Rollie another print out. "That's the official record."
"How did you get this Ricky?" Tully asked as he began to read the arrest records.
"Don't ask. Just remember, if it's on a computer somewhere, it can always be found." Ricky smiled and sat back in his chair; he appeared to be very pleased with himself.
"You were right Jessica," Tully said. "Ricky found the church's address for us and some information on this Father Jeremiah."
"Father Jeremiah was run out of Oregon," Rollie told her. "It seems he used his 'church' to extort money from his disciples' parents and seemed to be involved in some home robberies."
"Does Vicky have money?" Jessica asked.
"Now that you mention it, she and Julie just got a large inheritance when their parents died last year," Tully answered. "Somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars."
Tully started toward the front door. "I'm gonna take a drive out to Creve Coeur."
"Hold on Tully," Jessica requested. "I've read some psychological reports on cults or religious groups of this kind. Seems if anyone wanted information about certain members or wanted to see them, they would be sent to a different area; the churches said they left to do missionary work and were unreachable except by monthly mail runs. Father Jeremiah, if he's who you think he is, might hide Roxy from us."
"I won't give him a chance to send Roxy away. I'll raise hell until I get to see her; I'll force my way in if I have to."
"I'm with you," Rollie said to his friend. "If that's what you want to do Tully. But think about the innocent people who might get hurt. Think about the collateral damage."
"What innocent people?"
"Not all of the people in that compound are part of the, I guess you'd call it the inner circle, and they'll be the ones Father Jeremiah calls on to stop you." Rollie caught Tully's eye and asked, "Are you prepared to drop some 19 year old girl standing between you and Roxy?"
The former Gunnery Sergeant had spent a career going to war zones and into harm's way, but Rollie's comment about innocent people got to him. Tully hesitated; he knew Rollie had a plan in mind. "What's your idea?"
"Let me turn my CI Calvin "The Fence" loose and see what he can find out for us," Rollie suggested. "Worst case scenario, we wait a week and then we storm the beaches like you said.
"CI means Confidential Informant, doesn't it?" Jessica asked. At Rollie's nod, she said, "See, I'm learning all that cop lingo."
"What'da you say Tully?"
After several seconds, Tully answered, "Okay, but no more than a week and then we go on a search and destroy mission."
"Hey Rollie, come see me," Calvin's message on Rollie's phone suggested. "I've got some information on those religious freaks."
It had been six days since Rollie had first talked to his CI. During that time, Chambers and Associates hadn't been idle. Ricky had found some interesting information about the finances of the Church of the One World. Its accounts had extremely large balances; Father Jeremiah claimed the accounts weren't profit but operating costs for the church and its missions. Bull, Tully said.
Tully and Rollie both talked to some friends in the St. Louis Police Department. Father Jeremiah and the Church of the One World were implicated in several home robberies. The church ran a house cleaning and landscaping business using its disciples for a work force. There had been complaints from several of the church's customers about valuables and expensive items missing from some of the homes. There wasn't enough proof to charge the church but it and its members were persons of interest now.
"Rollie, that bastard Jeremiah is cuttin into my business," Calvin said when Rollie called him.
"Got a little competition in your fencing operation do you?"
Calvin was a fence for stolen property. The crooks and robbers would bring their loot to Calvin and he would sell it for them. Depending on the items he would usually get about 50 cents on the dollar for them; then he would give the crooks about half of the selling price. The other half was his charge for arranging the sale.
"Yeah, his people do jobs and steal things. Instead of bringing it to me to fence, he does it himself and cuts me out of the profit. "It's not fair," Calvin complained.
"My heart bleeds for you Calvin," Rollie said with a small grin. "What else did you find out?"
"This so called Father Jeremiah sends some of his trusted members to the houses; they must be part of his core group because they're the ones that do the stealing. Not all the houses are hit, just the ones in high dollar areas. He also sends people out to hand out pamphlets and brochures about the church and to panhandle for money. That group probably isn't part of the inner circle."
"The robberies must bring in a lot of money considering the church's bank account," Tully remarked.
"I'm sure it does, but I hear the begging and such brings in two to five thousand a day, every day, including the weekends," Calvin said.
"Where do these people do their begging?" Rollie asked.
"There are two areas they concentrate on. Around the city government buildings of the more exclusive cities, like Creve Coeur, Clayton, and Frontenac and at the malls and shopping centers; also in these high dollar areas."
Calvin looked at some notes he'd made and added, "The people getting hand outs are usually young, good looking men and woman. They look to be no more than 20. It's easy to get businessmen to give money to pretty girls."
"Thanks Calvin," Rollie said. "This info helps a lot. I owe you one."
"Just get rid of this Father Jeremiah; he's cutting into my profit margin," Calvin replied with a smile.
Back at Rollie's apartment, Tully said, "Maybe Roxy is one of the beggars. I could just walk up to her and talk to her. If she wants to come home, I'll bring her out."
"What if she's not at the site you go to?" Jessica asked. "What if they work in shifts and you miss her?" She walked over and put her hand on Tully's arm. "We need to go watch them for a while. What do you call it, a reconnaissance mission?"
"Makes sense to me Tully," Rollie said. Then in a low voice that only Tully could hear he said, "We'll make a reconnaissance in force. If we see her, we'll grab her and bring her home. She wants to go back to the church; we'll give her a lift."
"Now you're talking," Tully softly replied with a big grin. "I thought you were goin soft on me."
"What's that you said?" Jessica asked.
"Nothing," Tully answered. "Good idea Jessica. We'll start tomorrow."
Over the next few days, Rollie and Tully did a recon mission. They each had the picture of Roxy that Vicky had provided and staked out each of the municipalities that Ricky had mentioned. The city government centers were covered in the mornings and at lunch time; their afternoons and early evenings were spent in the two or three malls in the area.
"Jess was right," Rollie admitted after five days. "It's hit or miss of finding Roxy this way; so far it's been miss."
"Maybe we should have a look see at the compound," Tully replied. "We could check it out early morning to see who leaves."
The next morning they drove around the church compound. The property was one of the forerunners of a gated community. It was surrounded by a high stone wall with only two large decorative iron gates into the property; they were opposite of each other on a two block road from one side of the compound to the other. The wall encompassed a complete city block. The top of the wall and the gates had wrought iron bars topped with spear shaped sharp finials. This made it difficult for anyone to scale the walls or the gates.
Rollie and Tully parked in a borrowed white van with a plumbing company's logo on the side about a hundred yards south of the main entrance to the Church of the One World's compound. Rollie fired up his laptop and compared the images from an online map site to what they could actually see.
There were four large brick and stone houses inside the walls. Any one of the houses, in normal times, would have been worth three to four hundred thousand dollars. But because of the economy and the real estate market, Ricky had found out that Jeremiah and the church had been able to purchase the compound for less than a million dollars; a real steal. For two days they watched but never saw Roxy. The third morning there was a commotion at the security gate.
A man about 40 was yelling through and kicking the gate. Rollie and Tully couldn't hear what he was yelling, but he appeared to be very angry. Two large men who were guarding the compound opened the gate and confronted the angry man. One of the guards pushed the man, hit him with several punches and knocked him to the ground. It was over before Rollie or Tully could get out of the van. The beaten man slowly got to his feet, then to his car, and drove away.
Rollie followed the injured man until he stopped at a convenience store. The man went inside and returned with some bandages and was trying to clean and bandage a cut high on his cheek and one over his left eye.
"Let me give you a hand," Rollie said as he walked up to the man. "Looks like that guard got in a couple of good shots.
At first the man was suspicious but Rollie's open manner and smile calmed him. As Rollie bandaged the cuts, he said, "Hell there was two of them." Then he chuckled. "As big as they were it only took one though."
"What were you trying to do?" Tully asked.
"I'm Ted Summers; my daughter, Sally, is living at the church or commune or cult or whatever you call it. I wanted to talk to her and try to get her to come home." He shook his head. "Guess the church doesn't want visitors."
Rollie patted the man on the shoulder and said "Hang in there buddy. Maybe a new day is coming." He and Tully went back to the van and drove to Rollie's apartment.
Those guards are ex Special Forces," Tully said as entered Rollie's.
"Or Marine Recon. They've had training." Tully scratched his head and asked, "Now why would a church hire ex military for guards? I mean any security company could guard the compound. So, why Special Forces?"
"Maybe they're just trying to find God in their own way."
"The only God that type worship is Mars."
"The Roman God of War."
"It's nice to see how much smarter you've become hanging around me Tully."
"Isn't you that's made me smarter, it's Jessica."
"What's Jessica?" She asked as she came down the hallway, into the living room, and kissed Rollie hello.
"Tully says the reason he's gotten smarter is because of you," Rollie answered with a grin.
Jessica walked over to Tully. "Mama's little boy is doing good," she said patting him on the shoulder.
He nodded and smiled at her; she meant almost as much to him as to Rollie. "We saw something interesting today," Tully told her. "A man named Ted Summers tried to get into the church compound to see his daughter, her name is Sally; He didn't have much success."
Rollie explained to Jessica what they had seen and what Summers had told them later. "He even said he was afraid that Jeremiah would send his daughter to another location now that he pushed to get in to see her."
"Makes me glad I didn't try to talk to Roxy about coming home," Jessica said. Laughing at the surprised looks on her man's face, she added, "Oh by the way, did I forget to mention I saw Roxy today?"
"Where? When? How" Rollie asked in surprise.
"I've been going to different city centers while you've been at the compound. I found Roxy today at the Creve Coeur city hall." She held up her hand before Rollie or Tully could ask the question. "There she was, handing out pamphlets and asking for money."
"Does she want to come home?" Tully asked.
"I couldn't ask her because there was a young man standing with her." Jessica looked at Rollie and said, "I didn't want to alert them to our interest in her."
"Good thinking Jess," Rollie replied. "The last thing we want is for Jeremiah to send her away; we might never find her then. We'll be there when Roxy shows up tomorrow. Between Tully and I, I think we can deal with a couple of the disciples."
"Won't work," Jessica answered. "They never send the novices to the same place two days in a row. Roxy was able to tell me that without alerting the man with her."
"What are you planning Jess? What's going on in that devious mind of yours? " Rollie's question was delivered with an "Oh No" laugh and a grin.
"I've got to hear this," Tully said.
"Well ... I hope to convince them that I'm a disillusioned, grieving widow with a lot of money and I'm interested in finding a refuge from the world at least until I get over my husband's death." She chuckled. "The young man standing with Roxy was very interested, especially when I mentioned the money, and told me that an elder, Brother Samuel by name, would be happy to meet with me, so I set up an appointment. I'm going to meet him at the coffee shop across from City Hall at 10 in a couple of days." Jessica gave Rollie and Tully an almost evil grin. "I'm going to show an interest in joining the Church of the One World and hope to be invited into their compound; at least for a tour anyway."
"And then what?"
"I can make contact with Roxy; I'll see if she wants to come home and let you two know. If possible you guys can meet us and take both of us home. If not we can get Frank Wends and the police involved." Jessica smiled, proud of her idea. "I told the young man that I'd feel better if there was a woman at the meeting. I didn't mention Roxy but I smiled at her when he agreed to have one of the Sisters at the meeting."
"If they do have Roxy there, we'll be close by and we can talk to her," Rollie said.
"We'll have an intervention and innocent church members, elders or security be damned; if she wants to leave we'll bring her with us," Tully added with conviction. "No matter who's with her, I'll take Roxy home."
"I set the meeting for two days away on purpose," Jessica continued. Turning to Tully she asked, "Just in case Roxy's not there, can you get Ricky to set up an identity for me that will back my story about being a rich widow? I'm sure Jeremiah or one of his people will check me out before they offer me a place in the church."
"Sure, I'll call him right now," Tully answered and took out his cell phone. Walking out onto the patio, he made the call.
"What did you mean a place in the church Jess?" Rollie asked; but he had a pretty good idea what his lady had planned.
"Well ... I thought that I might have to become a Sister of the Church of the One World to get to see Roxy."
"No Jess, no. It could be dangerous," Rollie protested. "I won't let you do it."
"Really?" Jessica said putting her hands on her hips and facing Rollie. "When did you become the one that decides that I can do or not do something that might have a little risk involved?"
She looks like Super Girl, Rollie thought. All she needs is a cape. He took Jessica's hands and pulled her close to him. "When I fell in love with you Jess; that's when I became the one that protects you."
Jessica gave a small nod, leaned into Rollie, and kissed him. "I know Rollie, but I'm a big girl now. I think I can outwit some self proclaimed Messiah. Please, I'm part of Chambers and Associates too and I want to help Vicky and Roxy."
"She makes a lot of sense, if you ask me," Tully said coming back inside from the patio. "Ricky is giving you an identity as we speak, Jessica. He's using this address, setting up false bank accounts, and planting stories about the untimely death of your husband. Oh, by the way, your name is Jessica Tully, widow of Bill Tully, a prominent real estate broker." He grinned at Rollie and Jessica. "I think it has a nice ring to it, don't you?"
Rollie stared at Jessica as he held her and after several seconds, he sighed and nodded his head. "You told Vicky there was no stopping Tully and me; I guess there's no stopping you either." He gave her a quick kiss and asked, "Okay, what's the plan."
Jessica was a little nervous as she entered the "City Hall Coffee Shop". A dark haired man rose from his seat at a back table to greet her. His face was pocked marked and his complexion was pasty white. As he stood, she could see that he was three or four inches over six feet and very thin. The young man that had been standing next to Roxy was with him as was a woman about Jessica's age.
"Mrs. Tully, I'm Brother Samuel," he introduced himself and his companions. "I'm an elder of the Church of the One World. You've already met Brother Michael and this is Sister Sarah."
"Mrs. Jessica Tully," she answered and shook Samuel's hand. She was using a put on somewhat snooty accent mostly heard in the high brow society of the northeast part of the country.
"Please sit down Mrs. Tully. Would you like coffee?"
"I prefer tea please."
"Michael, tea for Mrs. Tully and myself."
Brother Michael jumped to comply with Samuel's orders. He soon brought two cups, two small pitchers of hot water, and a selection of several types of tea bags. Michael and Sarah already had coffee in front of them.
"So different from the continent, so American" Jessica remarked.
"You mean Europe?" Samuel asked. "Have you spent much time there?"
"Just some summer trips, you know. When my late husband and I spent two months in England we became used to the way tea is served there." Jessica busied herself fixing her tea.
"And what can our church do to help you Mrs. Tully? I understand from Michael here that you're looking for sanctuary."
"Actually it was the young lady who was with him that I mostly talked to. I'd rather hoped she would be here today."
"Sister Roxanne had other duties to attend to this morning," Samuel replied.
"I see. Well to answer your question, I would like someplace to collect my thoughts for a few months. Mr. Tully, my late husband, always protected me from the, shall we say, the ugliness of the world. Without him I'm at a bit of a loss."