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Chapter 58 – The Fallout Begins

 

“I just saw a teaser for the local news and it looks like their lead story is about the preacher at our old church killing himself this morning.”

 

“WHAT!?!?” I yelled as I dropped the phone on the floor.

 

Tom quickly picked up the phone and asked, “What’s going on, Lee?”

 

“Like I just told Max, the preacher at our old church killed himself.  Watch the local news.”

 

“Thanks for letting us know.  We’ll watch, gotta go.”  Tom hung up the phone and cradled me in his arms.  “Sh-h-h, it’s okay, babe,” he whispered while he tried to comfort me.  As I lifted my head back up, six boys rounded the corner and joined us.

 

“What’s going on?” Joey demanded.

 

“It’s nothing, boys,” Tom answered.  “Go back to bed.”

 

“If it’s nothin’, how come Dad’s whimpering like a two-year-old?” Alex asked.

 

“It’s about something Aunt Lee just told us.  Please, go back to bed,” Tom pleaded.

 

“No way, Pops,” T.J. retorted.  “We’re stayin’ right here until you tell why Dad’s so freaked out.”

 

“Fine!  Aunt Lee called to tell us to watch the news tonight.  They have a story about the preacher at Max’s old church killing himself.”

 

“Well, what are we sittin’ out here for?” Joey asked.

 

“Let’s go watch,” Alex added.

 

“You up for this, babe?” Tom asked.

 

“Yeah.  I’m just shocked.  I never meant for anyone to die.  This is all my fault.”

 

No, it isn’t,” Tom replied with conviction.  “They have only themselves to blame.”

 

“My brain agrees with you, but my heart doesn’t.  Okay, everyone, let’s go watch the news,” I said as I stood up, starting the long walk to the theater, dreading what we were about to hear.  Well, it really isn’t that far under normal circumstances, but I don’t know what ‘normal’ is any longer.  When everyone had taken their seat, I turned on the satellite and tuned it to the local network for the first time in years.  We’d waited only two minutes when the station’s talking heads made their appearance.

 

The first head, a pert young blonde woman of about thirty began the broadcast with, “News from a local church this morning as its Pastor has been found dead, the result of an apparent suicide.  Details remain sketchy at this time, but we’ve learned that Pastor Warren Lancaster of the South Shores First Evangelical Church committed suicide in his office this morning, the result of a drug overdose.  Foul play is not expected to be a factor as his body was discovered behind his locked office door and an empty pill bottle was found on his desk.  No word yet as to whether he left a message behind explaining his actions.”

 

The second head, a slightly older man who was obviously supposed to be the more serious of the two continued, “Anonymous sources in the Sherriff’s Department have confirmed that his death may be related to an investigation over allegations of child sexual abuse taking place at the church and possible child pornography.  Nothing has been confirmed at this time as the officer in charge of the investigation, Sergeant Dylan Brock, has remained unavailable for comment.  Department sources have also told us twenty-six church members were arrested last night in what has been described as a sting operation.  It is assumed those arrested are somehow related to the investigation, though no details are available as to any pending charges.”

 

The blonde came back with, “That’s all we have on this story at the moment, but we will keep you updated as future developments occur and details are released.  Now, let’s got to Skip for a quick look at tonight’s weather…”

 

“Oh, fuck, what have I done?” I moaned as I turned the satellite off.

 

Joey whipped his head around in anger and yelled, “Hey, you ain’t done nothin’ wrong, Dad!”

 

“They did!  And now they get to pay for it!” Alex added.

 

“They’re right, Max, you’ve done nothing wrong.  If he was involved and couldn’t live with it, then who are we to judge how he chose to deal with it.  Taking his life was his own choice.”

 

“Besides, he saved somebody a bullet, didn’t he?” Logan asked with a smile.  Despite my feelings at that moment, I managed to give a weak smile to Logan in return.

 

“Boy, I’m glad I’m not on the force any longer,” Tom commented.  “I would not want to be at the station in the morning.  Dylan’s gonna be so pissed off, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t rip new assholes in the whole department.”

 

“Why didn’t he tell us about this when we were there?” I asked.

 

“He probably didn’t think it was that important to us.  The guy wasn’t around when you were, so he probably didn’t think we needed to know about it.”

 

“I guess that makes sense, but I would have rather heard the news from him instead of those two cheery assholes we just watched.”  The phone picked that moment to announce an incoming call.

 

“Boys, back to bed, please,” Tom called out.  “I’ll get the phone, babe.”

 

The boys started to leave, but not without stopping to give me hugs and remind me they loved me.  I thanked them all for their support and sent them on their way with a light swat on the behind.  After they were gone, I joined Tom in the kitchen.

 

As I did, I heard him saying, “No, we won’t be commenting on whatever story you’re writing.  Goodbye.”

 

“Who was that?” I asked.

 

“Nobody important, just the Journal-Register asking for you to comment on tonight’s big news story.”

 

“WHAT!?  How the fuck did they get my name?  And, even more important, our unlisted number?”

 

“I don’t know, babe, but I can tell you one thing for sure, heads are gonna roll in the morning.”

 

The phone rang again and after seeing it was Lee calling back, Tom answered.  “Hey, Lee.  Sorry about being so short earlier.  Max needed me. … Yeah, we saw it. … Damn right, he’s pissed off.  And upset with himself. … He thinks it’s his fault since he talked to the cops. … Sure, he’s standing right here, hang on.”  Tom handed me the phone and added, “She wants to talk to you.”

 

“What’s up, Sis?” I asked in greeting.

 

“Now, you listen to me, little brother.  Don’t you blame yourself for that cocksucker offing himself, you hear me?  That was his decision.  You had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Besides, he’s only been at the church for about a year, so he had nothing to do with what happened to you.  I remember the ‘rents telling me about him when he started.  They were so happy they’d finally found a replacement for the previous scumbag.  And he’s the one you should be pissed at.”

 

“I know all that, but it still doesn’t make me feel any better.  Whatever happened to dear old Donnie?”

 

“He got sent to a new church down around Carbondale or somewhere like that, I think.”

 

“Good, I hope Dylan can track his ass down.  I want to hear what he has to say about all this.”

 

“I do, too, Max, but please stop blaming yourself for any of this.  Remember, you’re the survivor, not them.”

 

“Have you talked to mom and dad?  Do they know what’s happened?”

 

“Yes, I called them before I called you back.  They saw the news, too, and are completely shell-shocked by it.  I don’t know what to tell them.”

 

“I have more information than the news released tonight, but I don’t think I should be sharing it.”

 

“Oh, c’mon, bro, don’t clam up on me now.”

 

“Oh, what the hell.  Get Carl and put your phone on speaker so you don’t have to remember all this.”  We waited a minute until Carl had joined the conversation before I continued.  “Okay, what I’m about to tell you can’t be shared.  I talked to Dylan yesterday morning, here at the house.  I told him about everything the Mullers did to me, where they did it and for how long it went on.  They got a search warrant for the church yesterday afternoon.  Dylan confirmed everything I’d told him, including the location of the room.  They also found file cabinets that hold close to 3,000 files of kids who’ve been abused in the church for over thirty years.”

 

“Holy shit!” Carl exclaimed.

 

“My God!” Lee uttered.  “3,000 over thirty years.  In our church?”

 

“Not my church, sis, not even God’s church.  As a result of the search, Dylan and whole group of other cops arrested twenty-six people who were all church elders.  We didn’t know anything about the suicide until we heard it on the news just now.  So, the news report tonight was basically accurate, even if it was missing a bunch of details.  About the only thing they didn’t tell tonight was why the investigation got started in the first place.  And I’m guessing they don’t have that info or you can be sure they would have.”

 

“What an unholy nightmare,” Lee replied.

 

“I’ve got some good news, though.  You want to hear it?”

 

“Sure, we could use something good right now.”

 

“I saw a therapist today who’s going to work with me.”

 

“That is good news, Max,” Carl agreed.

 

“I also went to the jail to say hi to my old friends, the Muellers.”

 

“You did WHAT!?” Lee exclaimed.

 

“Yep, I wanted them to know I was the one who put the cops on to them and the others.  Recorded the whole damn thing, including when the son-of-a-bitch threatened the twins and me with rape and murder.  You should have seen their faces when I pulled my phone out stopped my recording.  Absolutely priceless.”

 

“Jesus, Max, have you lost your mind?”

 

“As a matter of fact, I have.  And there’s no telling how long it will take to get it back.  But, by confronting those assholes, I got a big chunk back today.  I haven’t felt this good in years.  Just knowing none of them will ever be able hurt another kid makes it all worthwhile.”

 

“If you say so, I’ll just have to take your word for it.  I’m proud of you, you know, for surviving all that.  And for having the strength and courage to do the right thing now.  I don’t think I could have done it.”

 

“Lee, where the heck do you work.  You deal with this crap all day long and have for years.  You’re stronger than you know.”

 

“Thanks, Max,” Carl replied.  “I’ve been tellin’ her that for years and she refuses to believe me.”

 

“Keep tellin’ her, Carl.  Someday, she’ll actually believe you.”

 

“Well, we gotta get to bed, bro.  We love all you guys and if you need anything, let us know.”

 

“We will, thanks for calling.”  After hanging up, I looked at Tom and asked, “Should we call Dylan to find out what the hell’s going on?”

 

“You really think I want to talk to that pissed off black dude tonight?”

 

“Why not?  What have we got to lose?”

 

“Besides our heads?  You want to talk to him so bad, you make the damn call,” Tom cracked.

 

“Fine, what’s his number?”

 

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

 

“Of course, I am.”  I punched the speakerphone button and said, “Number, please.”  Tom dialed the number while shaking his head in disbelief.  When Dylan finally answered the phone, I greeted him with, “Dylan, old buddy, old pal o’ mine.  Max and Tom here.  How the hell are ya’?”

 

“Madder than a goddam hornet, that’s how I am.  How the fuck you think I am?”

 

“Good, then we’re in the same boat, then.  Want me to make your life even better?”

 

“Just how you gonna do that?”

 

“After the news report on the boob tube, we got a call here, on an unlisted number, no less, from the paper asking for me to comment on a story they’re working on.  Apparently, someone at the paper watches TV.  Who’d a thunk it?  How do you suppose they got my name and number?”

 

“You’re shittin’ me!  When I get my hands on the motherfucker that leaked this shit, I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him.  Or her.”

 

“Let me know if you want help with that, will you?  We knew this wouldn’t stay off the media’s radar for long, Dylan.  The story’s just too big for that to happen.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but for it come just a day later?  Fucking unreal.  We will be having some serious discussions at the department tomorrow, I promise you that.”

 

“Just remember, no castrations.  We don’t want to see that headline, okay.”

 

“Yeah, whatever.  So, now that I’ve had a chance to vent some anger, how ya’ doin’?”

 

“Finer than frog’s hair, man.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.” 

 

I heard a light chuckle from Dylan before he said, “I’m glad to hear it.  You really scared the shit out of me at the church.”

 

“Me, too.  I’m just glad Tom’s strong as an ox and was able to get me outta there.  How’d you do at the church?”

 

“We’ve emptied all the file cabinets and those materials are securely locked in my office.  We counted them as we boxed ‘em up for the move and the official tally is 3,157 files.  There’s going to be a lot of work involved to find all these people.  The desk yielded a computer that was connected to the camera, some ledgers and other materials that will be helpful in tracking down other people involved in this nightmare.  I plan to make a delivery to the FBI tomorrow to have them take it over.  The less I have to deal with this shit, the better off I’ll be.  Mentally, anyway.”

 

“I don’t envy you, my friend,” Tom commented.  “I’m glad I’m not there to deal with that crap any longer.”

 

“So, when do you think you’ll be done with collecting evidence from the room?” I asked.

 

“At the speed Perry and Zach are moving, next week some time.  There’s a lot of area to cover and after spraying luminol everywhere, we really need to get samples from every surface.  It looked like a damn Rorschach test on steroids after they turned on the black lights.  What a fuckin’ nightmare.”

 

“Well, let me know when they’re done, would you?”

 

“Why the hell do you care?”

 

“I want, no, need to see that room again.”

 

“WHAT!?” Tom exclaimed.

 

“I’m with Tom on this one.  I don’t think that’s a good idea, Max.”

 

“I know, and I can’t really explain it to myself right now, but I have to try.”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Dylan replied. 

 

“Thanks, Dylan.  One other thing I wanted to ask is how’s Frank doin’ after his wife got done with him?”

 

Dylan chucked a bit before answering.  “Severely swollen and bruised.  He may still lose his left nut, but the doctor’s gonna give him a few days and see what happens.  Right now, he’s curled up in his cell with ice packs on his balls to help reduce the swelling.”

 

“I hope they end up cuttin’ ‘em both off.”

 

“That may very well happen.  We’ll see.  Well, look, I gotta get some sleep.  Tomorrow’s going to be another long and shitty day.  Thanks for callin’.  I’ll try to keep you updated as best I can.”

 

“Thanks, Dylan.  Talk to you later.” 

 

Tom looked at me with a very troubled look in his eye and asked, “Jesus christ, Max, have you lost your fucking mind?”

 

“Didn’t I just answer that question a few minutes ago?”

 

“Maybe so, but I’m really beginning to wonder.”

 

“Look, I know this is gonna sound stupid as hell, but the best way I can describe it is this; if I walk into that damn place of my own free will and come back out of it, again, of my own free will, I think I’ll feel like I’ve jumped a major hurdle in putting all this shit behind me.  Will it be easy to do?  Absolutely not.  It’ll probably be the hardest thing I’ll ever do in my life.  Will it be a miracle cure?  I’m sure it won’t and I don’t expect it to be.  Will you be there with me to help me get through it?  Damn right you will be.”

 

“I think you need to talk to Dr. Schaid about this next Tuesday and see what she thinks.  I guess if she says it’ll be okay, I’ll make it happen for you.”

 

“I know you will.  Look, I really know what I’m thinking right now may not be rational to others, but for me, it seems like something I have to do.  Facing my fears and the Muellers this morning was healing for me.  The longer we sat there and listened to Frank rant his nonsensical bullshit, the more I felt I was taking control of my life back from them.  I have never felt as powerful and free from fear as I did when we walked out on those two this morning.”

 

“All right, I get it, babe.  I just don’t want you to push yourself too hard, okay.  I’m worried about you.”

 

“I’m worried about me, too, hon.  I’m worried about how having this hanging over me like a thundercloud will affect us, our boys and our families.  I don’t want that and I know you don’t either.  And I’m gonna work my ass off to make sure it doesn’t.  Okay?”

 

“Yeah, okay.”

 

“Good.  Now that we’ve solved all the world’s problems, can we please go to bed?”

 

“Love to.”

 

We headed to our bedroom and after a quick stop in the bathroom, climbed into bed.  After sharing a sweet kiss and I love you, I laid my head on my furry teddy bear’s chest and quickly zoned out.  I was still zoned out when Tom came back in the bedroom in the morning to wake me up.

 

“C’mon, Max, time to rise and shine!” he yelled as he crossed the threshold.

 

“I don’t wanna,” I whined back.

 

“Too bad, we got six kids that need food before they get on the bus.”

 

“You’re not plannin’ on feedin’ me to ‘em, are ya?”

 

“Not a chance.  While they might enjoy the light snack, there’s not enough meat on your bones to fill their bellies.  No, we need real food this morning.”

 

“All right, all right.  And I thought you loved me.”

 

“Oh, I do.  But I love them, too, and feeding them some gristly old hunk of round steak just ain’t right.”  He deftly dodged the pillow I had tossed in his direction and he laughed at my weak attempt of revenge.

 

“I’ll get even with you for that remark.”

 

“What, you mean this fine specimen of prime rib standing before you.  Never.” 

 

With that, he left the room to start breakfast.  I crawled out of bed and visited the bathroom before joining the rest of the family in the kitchen.

 

“Pop Tarts?” I exclaimed.  “You call that real food?”

 

“Well, no, but it’s about all we got left.  These eating machines have just about wiped us out of everything.”

 

“Hey!  We’re growing boys, not eating machines,” T.J. complained.

 

“Six of one, half-dozen of the other,” I commented.

 

“What’s that mean, Dad?” Andy asked.

 

“That the two, eating machines and growing boys, are pretty much the same thing.”  The boys all gave a hearty chuckle at the comparison and finally agreed we were probably right.  “Okay, after you guys are off to school, I guess we’ll go restock some food.  See if we can keep you from munching on the two of us for a few days.”

 

“I don’t know, Dad, that sounds like it might be fun,” Joey hinted with a little wiggle of his eyebrows.

 

“That’s it boys, go get dressed and ready to roll.  We’ll meet you in the garage.”

 

As they took off across the house, Tom leaned in and whispered, “I have to agree with Joey.”

 

Once the two of us were presentable to the public, we joined the boys in the garage and made the trip to the end of the drive to await the bus’s arrival.  When Carl stopped and opened the door, the boys gave us our hugs and took off for the bus.  As they were climbing on, Carl stepped off and walked over to Tom and me.

 

“Morning, Carl, what’s up?”

 

“I just wanted to ask if y’all are runnin’ an unlicensed home for wayward boys here?  Seems like every couple of weeks, you’re adding to the head count.”

 

Tom and I chuckled.  “It does seem that way, doesn’t it?” I answered.  “No, we’re just helping Logan for a while.  He’ll be going back to live with his dad at some point.”

 

“Who, Charlie?  He’s a miserable guy.  Freakin’ hates the world and everybody in it.”

 

“He’s going to be getting some help with that, Carl.  Don’t write him off just yet.”

 

“We’ll see.  Okay, gotta run.  If I ever have an extra kid on the bus, I know where I can drop ‘em.”

 

Carl turned and ran for the bus while Tom and I stood there and enjoyed a good laugh.  “See, bubba, I told you it was a good idea.  Even Carl thinks so.”

 

“And I still think you’re rushin’ things just a tad, babe,” Tom answered as we climbed in the car and headed to town to do our shopping.  “Let’s get you well first, then we can talk about it.  I’m not disagreein’ with you at all, I just want you in the right frame of mind when it happens.”

 

“Ah-ha, gotcha.  You just said when it happens, not if.  You love the idea and are already on board, aren’t ya’?”

 

“I never said I wasn’t.”

 

“Good, I want to talk to our parents this afternoon, see what they think.”

 

“Oh, crap, there’s just no stoppin’ you, is there?”

 

“Nope, and you better get used to it.  Besides, I told you that having a goal in mind, something to look forward to, something real to be involved in for once will help keep me moving forward.  I’ll be looking ahead at what’s going to happen and not backward at what happened half a lifetime ago.  That’s what’s going to help me heal, put all that bad shit behind me and never look back.”

 

“We’ll see, babe.”

 

 

I thundered into the station and demanded everyone’s attention.  “All right, people, listen up!” I yelled.  “I don’t know who opened their fuckin’ mouth last night and blabbed to the news, but I guarantee you, right now, whoever did it is done with this department.  If you come to me, admit you screwed up and accept your punishment like an adult, I’ll think about letting you keep your pension and collect unemployment while you look for a new job.  If you hide behind your fellow officers like a fuckin’ two-year-old and I have to find you myself, you can kiss your pension and unemployment goodbye.  You have thirty minutes.  Spread the word.  If the asshole doesn’t come forward by then, I start searchin’.”

 

I stormed into my office and slammed the door, amazed the glass didn’t break.  I sat at my desk and started to pick up the phone when there was a knock and the door opened a few inches.  I looked up to see Derek standing there, fear etched in his face.  “Ah, Derek, please tell me it wasn’t you.  You’re too good a man to lose.”

 

“Hell no, Sarge.  I know better than to talk about ongoing investigations.”

 

“Thank God.  At least somebody out there is usin’ their fuckin’ brain.  C’mon in and have a seat.  Tell me what’s goin’ on this morning.”

 

“I’ve sent Henry, Andrew, Zach and Perry back to the church to continue their work.  I figured Henry and Andrew should be there to keep anyone from interfering with Zach and Perry.  I think the sooner we get that done, the sooner we can turn this all over to the FBI.”

 

“Thanks, Derek.  Do me a favor and make sure they hear the announcement I just gave.  I don’t think any of them would have talked out of turn, but I need to know it.  Also, ensure any of the troops on patrol hear it.  I want that leaker out of here.  We can’t have shit like that happening as it compromises all our work.  And I don’t need their help with that as I seem to be doing it just fine, all by myself.”

 

“Consider it done, Boss.  Anything else?”

 

“Yeah, call someone at the local FBI office and get them over here so we can pass this crap on to them to deal with.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a phone call.”  Derek took off to take care of his tasks and I picked the phone up, then re-cradled the receiver.  I decided this wasn’t a call I should make on a department phone.  I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed a number I knew all too well.

 

“Mornin’, Dylan.  What’s up today?”

 

“Mornin’ to you, too, Tom.  Max close by?  I need to talk to him, again.”

 

“Sittin’ in the passenger seat, as usual.  But you keep callin’ and askin’ to talk my fiancé, I might just start to get upset with you two.”

 

“Nothin’ to worry about, Tom, he’s all yours.  He’s just a bit too pasty for my tastes.  Max, got another shitty favor to ask of you.”

 

“Pasty, huh?  What now, copper?” I chuckled.

 

“I have one more tiny problem with your file that I need your help with.”

 

“What now?” I moaned.

 

“There’s this little matter of yours and Tom’s fingerprints, along with mine, being on the file and pictures.  Since neither Derek or I could identify you with absolute certainty, I’d like you to come in so you can go through the motions of doing that.  I’ll regretfully forget to have us use gloves while you, uh, peruse the folder and its contents.  I know I’m asking for a lot, but I’d really appreciate your help.”

 

“Damn it, Dylan.  I swear, this is the last time I’m gonna pull your fat out of the fire.”

 

“And I promise it’s the last time I’ll ask you to do so.”

 

“When do you want us there?”

 

“As soon as you can.  I’m hoping to turn all these files and the other evidence we’ve collected so far over to the FBI this afternoon.”

 

“Well, I guess you’ll be our first stop when we get to town, then.  See you in about twenty minutes.”

 

“I can’t thank you enough.  See you when you get here.”

 

I ended the call and slipped my phone back into my pocket.  Derek was back at my door and I waved him in.  “Tell me good news, Derek.”

 

“First, everyone who wasn’t in this morning knows about your announcement.  By their reactions, it wasn’t any of them.  Second, Special Agent Fix of the FBI’s sex crimes unit will be here this afternoon about two to see what we have.”

 

“Good news on both fronts, thanks.  Look, Max and Tom will be here in about fifteen minutes.  Have them come in when they get here.”

 

“You got it, boss.  What’s next?”

 

“I’d like to have a quick chat with Mr. Mueller.  Can you have him brought into interrogation room one?  And I want you in the room with me to make sure I don’t rip his head off.”

 

“Three minutes, we’ll be ready.”

 

Derek left to retrieve our prisoner while I grabbed Max’s file to take with me along with a copy of his recording.  I walked into the interrogation room to find Frank sitting on one side of the table, handcuffs securely fastened to the ring in the table.  Derek was sitting on the opposite side, waiting patiently for my arrival.  As soon as I entered the room and closed the door, Frank exploded with anger.

 

“What’s the meaning of this!?  I’m not sayin’ a damn thing without my lawyer present!”

 

“That’s just fine, Mr. Mueller.  I hope you’re feeling better today and the swelling has gone down.  I’d like to apologize for our lax security that allowed the assault by your wife to occur.  I’m rather embarrassed about that turn of events.  If you’d like to press charges against her, just let me know and we’ll add that one to all the others we have for her.  Now, even though all of you were read your rights Monday night when you were arrested, we’re going to do it again, just for good measure.  Derek, if you would?”  Derek repeated the Miranda warning for Frank to which he mumbled something unintelligible.  I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of ‘go fuck yourself’, but whatever it was, it wasn’t really that important.

 

“Now, you’ve been apprised of your rights and I assume you understand them.  This little meeting is going be a one-sided discussion, Mr. Mueller.  I’m going to do all the talking, you just sit there and keep your mouth shut like a good little boy.  We wouldn’t want to violate your rights in any way.”  I paused for just a moment before continuing.  “I have something here I’d like to show you and something else for you to listen to.”  I opened the evidence bag and removed the file, then spread a couple of the pictures on the table in front of Frank.  “You see these, Mr. Mueller?  While I’m no expert, I must say that the man in these pictures bears a striking resemblance to you and the woman is almost certainly your lovely wife.  And after judging certain physical characteristics of the second male in these pictures, I’d venture a guess he is most definitely under age.   Unfortunately for the two of you, sexual relations with any person under the age of majority is illegal in this state.  Do you have anything you’d like to say about these pictures?”

 

Frank shook his head in disgust at being confronted in this manner, but he did manage to cough and spit on the pictures.

 

“Now look what you’ve done.  You contaminated evidence in an active investigation.”  I dried the pictures with a paper towel and put them back in their file and then in the evidence bag.  “Now for your listening pleasure, I give you this.”  I set the recorder on the table and punched play.  The recording Max made during his visit yesterday filled the room.  I let it play all the way through before pressing stop.  “Now, as if the pictures weren’t bad enough for you, we have a recording of you and your wife admitting your crimes.  And the threat to Mr. Sanders life and his sons’ lives is what’s going to get you both life in prison, with no possibility of parole.”

 

“You can’t use that recording,” Frank grumbled.  “Our lawyer wasn’t present.”

 

“Your lawyer didn’t need to be present, Frank.  That little chat wasn’t an interrogation.  Neither Mr. Sanders or Mr. Wright are employed by this department, so that was simply a discussion between a victim and his abusers.  And as such, it is admissible and I’m going to make sure your lawyer, the judge and everyone else in the courtroom hears this recording.  So, let’s recap the evidence we have against you and your wife so far.  Photographs of the two of you engaged in sex acts with a minor.  We also have a recording of both you and your wife admitting to the repeated sexual abuse of at least one victim and possibly many, many more, if I believe what we just heard, and I am inclined to do so.  We also have you threatening the life of one your victims and his sons.  All told, Mr. Mueller, you and your wife would be lucky to be out of prison in 500 years or so.  You have anything you’d like to say?”

 

Frank’s only response was a grunt, so I concluded our chat with, “You let all your coconspirators know what they’re facing.  But when you do, I want to make sure you include this in your talks with them.  The first person, and only the first, who agrees to work with us and supply information to our investigation will be treated accordingly.  That is not going to be a get out of jail free card.  What they’ll get in return for cooperating with us is a single life sentence, a chance at parole in twenty-five years and their time will be served at a facility that will protect them during their incarceration.  Everybody else does their time in the general population in the most disgusting prison in the state.  So, a lifetime of relative peace and security with a very slim chance of freedom, or a lifetime and more of the most degrading treatment possible in the most disgusting of places possible.  It’s their choice.  Oh, and one more thing, this offer is not available to you or your wife.  I think we’re done here.  Deputy Timmons, please return Mr. Mueller to his cell.”

 

“With pleasure, Sarge.  Come with me Mr. Mueller.”  I left the room to return to my office to wait for Max to come in.  I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to keep my soul intact, and more importantly, my hands to myself during our little chat.  At least Frank’s head was still firmly attached to his shoulders.  As I passed through the main office, Kelly stopped me.

 

“What’s up, Kelly?” I asked.

 

“One of the dispatchers, Jordy, I think his name is, is waiting in your office for you.” 

 

With a nod of acknowledgement, I continued my trek.  When I entered my office, Jordy was sitting in the chair in front of my desk, bouncing his legs nervously.  I closed the door and saw him jump as it latched.  “And what brings you to my office this morning, Jordy?” I asked more calmly than I felt as I walked around my desk and sat down.

 

“Um, I heard about your announcement this morning, Sergeant Brock,” he answered with fear in his voice.

 

“And …?”

 

“I’m the guy your lookin’ for, I’m the moron who talked to the news.”

 

“Thank you for coming forward and admitting it.  You’ve saved me a bunch of time.  I have two questions before I ask for your department ID and send you on your way.  The first is why?”

 

“Money, sir.  And to help a friend.  He got a job at the news station a couple months ago and he’s tryin’ to make himself look good to his bosses by giving them something they didn’t have any other way to get.  He’s tryin’ to get promoted.  I was giving him information and he was payin’ me a hundred bucks a month to do it.”

 

“The second question is this, did you give your friend, or anybody else, the name and phone number of the victim in this case.”

 

“No sir, absolutely not!  I might not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I’m not a total idiot.”

 

“Then it looks like we have more than one leak around here that needs to be plugged.”  I stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of the scared young man.  “Well, Jordy, I appreciate your honesty this morning.  Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late, to allow you to keep your job.  Since you came forward, the county won’t fight your unemployment.  I need your department ID.  Kelly will escort you outside and good luck with your job search.”  After he handed me his ID, I stepped to the door, opened it and called Kelly over.  “Would you please escort Jordy out of the building.  He no longer works for the department.”

 

I turned around to return to my desk and as I sat down, Jordy said, “Sergeant Brock, I’m really sorry I let you down.”

 

“Me too, Jordy.  Me too.”

 

 

We parked in the lot across the street from the county building and made our way to see Dylan.  Fortunately, our arrival today was a much more subdued affair than it was yesterday with only a few waves of the hand and a quick howdy or two.  When Derek saw us, he came over and told us Dylan was waiting in his office for us.  He led us the rest of the way and knocked on the door.

 

“Come in,” Dylan responded.  Derek opened the door, let us through and then closed it behind us as he returned to his desk.

 

“I would hope we were allowed in since you begged us to come.”

 

“Hidey-ho gents.  Have a seat.”  After we’d sat down, he continued.  “I know you don’t want to be here, but I appreciate it.  Like both Tom and Derek have pointed out, I’ve been a dumbass and I’m doing everything I can to make sure none of these people go free because of my stupidity.”

 

“If we can help with that, we will.  I don’t want them roaming free any more than you do.”

 

“Like I said on the phone, I just need you guys to handle the folder and pictures so there’s a reason for your fingerprints to be on them.  You can close your eyes if you want to so you don’t have to see them, I don’t care.”

 

“Give it here,” I said.  Dylan handed the folder over and as I acted like I was looking at the pictures, I made sure my prints were all over them.  I had just handed the folder to Tom when Derek returned.

 

“Sarge, what the hell are you doing?” he exclaimed after closing the door.

 

“I’m having our accuser verify the young man in the pictures is actually him.  I told you they were coming in to do that.”

 

“But where’s their damn gloves?  I can’t believe you’d be that careless.”

 

“Oh, shit!  I wasn’t thinking.  Tom, give me that.  Wait, better yet, since you’ve already got it, just slip it back in the evidence bag.  Damn, I can’t believe I didn’t have you wear gloves.”

 

Not one to miss a chance to act out a scene, I tossed out, “We’re sorry if we screwed up anything, Sergeant Brock.  I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt you,” I added with a sly grin.

 

“It’ll be my fault if it does.  Well, thanks for coming in this morning.  The department appreciates your help in this matter.  If we need anything else, we’ll be in touch.”

 

“When will they be going to court?” Tom asked.

 

“Preliminary hearings will probably be next Friday.  After that, who knows.  Depends on the court’s docket.”

 

“I want to be there when the Muellers are.”

 

“Mr. Sanders, there’s absolutely no reason for you to be present in court.  We have your sworn statement, your file and your recording.”

 

“Maybe not for you, but there is for me.  I started all this, and I intend to finish it, right on through to the bitter end.”

 

“That’s your decision.  We’ll try to keep you updated with what’s going on.”

 

“Thank you.  Anything else you wanted from us today?”

 

“No, Mr. Sanders.  Thanks, again.”  I watched as Max and Tom left to continue with whatever plans they had for the rest of the day.

 

After Derek closed my door, he looked back at me and asked, “Okay, boss, I know you might be addle-brained right now, but you never forget gloves.  What the hell is going on?”

 

“Sit, Derek,” I commanded.  After he was comfortable, I continued, “Max, Tom, and I all handled that folder and the pictures inside it.  It hit me last night that that would be a problem as the FBI checks all these damn things for prints.  I needed to have some semi-plausible excuse for why there may be traces of us on the thing.  When Agent Fix comes over this afternoon, I’ll explain Max’s file is separated from all the others since he’s our only complainant at the moment.  Then I’ll plead temporary insanity for contaminating the evidence with our prints and Mr. Mueller’s saliva.”

 

“You just keep digging that hole deeper and deeper, don’t you?”

 

“I can’t seem to help it lately, Derek.  I think it’s time I considered other options.  This job, much as I love it, is starting to really wear on me.  This case in particular.  Part of that may be the fact a man I consider to be a friend is involved in the worst possible way.  Once this is all turned over to the FBI, I’m putting in my papers.”

 

“You can’t do that!” Derek exclaimed.  “Who the hell else we got around here that is qualified to take your place?  I can’t think of one person out there I’d want to work for.”

 

“That may be, but do you think they’d be willing to work for you?”

 

“WHAT!?  You think I want your job?”

 

“I don’t know if you want it or not, but I’m going to request the county board appoint you to finish out my term.  If you want to run for the position after that, that’s up to you.  You’re a good cop, a good leader and you have excellent instincts, Derek.  I can’t think of anybody else I’d rather see have the job.”

 

“Holy shit, boss.  I don’t know about this.  I gotta talk to Suzy, see what she thinks.”

 

“Well, the hours aren’t all that different from what you’re doing now.  You won’t have to go out on patrol any longer, and you get better pay and this office.  So, talk to Suzy and let me know.  I’d like to make the recommendation for my replacement when I turn in my papers, just so the board knows they’ll have a qualified person to take over.”

 

“I guess I should say thanks or something, but I gotta think about it.  This place won’t be the same without you here.”

 

“That should be a good thing, Derek.  Now, get outta here and go do some real work, would ya’?  And let me know when Agent Fix arrives.”

 

As Derek walked out of my office, I brooded on the fact I still had another leak to find since whoever it was seemed to be too much of a chicken-shit to face the music like a man.

 

 

Lunch with Tom was rather quiet for once.  I was lost in my thoughts of everything that had happened in the last week and I’m sure he was, too.  I finally broke the silence between us with, “A penny for your thoughts.”

 

“A penny?  My thoughts are worth a whole more than that.”

 

“Okay, a nickel, then.”  After a quick shake of his head, I upped the ante, “Okay, how ‘bout a quarter?  Will that loosen your tongue?”

 

“I still think you could do better than that, but I’ll take it.  Look, I know you want to move forward and I’m more than willing to do anything I can to help you, but I’m really uncomfortable with you tryin’ to go back to the church and goin’ back in that room.”  I started to interrupt, but Tom kept going.  “Hang on there, Skippy, let me finish.  I understand what you told me last night, really, I do.  I’m just not sure you’re ready for that.  I saw the terror in your eyes yesterday afternoon.  You couldn’t get any closer than thirty feet to that hellhole.  You’re no more ready to go back there than I’m ready to go live on Mars.  I can’t let you do that to yourself, to us.”

 

“You done?”  After a quick nod, I plowed on, “Good.  Because I think you’re absolutely right.”  I could see the wave of relief wash over him.  “See, this is why I need you in my life.  To keep me from doin’ stupid shit that would hurt more than help.  I do want to go back there at some point, but I realize it’s way too soon.  After thinking about it more since last night, I know I’m not ready for it.   What else are you thinking?”

 

“That we need to finish our lunch, get our shopping done and get home.  We have guests coming this evening, you know?”

 

“I do remember that.  It should be interesting, don’t you think.”

 

“Without a doubt, babe.”

 

After we crawled out of the booth, I leaned in to give Tom a kiss and asked, “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

 

“Actually, no.  But I never get tired of hearing it.”  We strolled out of Red Lobster, locked arm in arm, like a couple of giddy teenagers out on their first date.

 

 

I stuck my head out the door of my office and called out, “Derek, Kelly, you two have a minute?”  I returned to my desk and after both had taken a seat, I said, “Okay, I want your thoughts on something.  Jordy admitted to feeding information to a friend of his at the local news station and Jordy is now gone.  But he told me he never gave his friend our accuser’s name or phone number.  Yet, somehow, our victim received a call from the paper asking for his comment on a story they were writing, presumably about the church and our investigation.  Any idea how the paper would have gotten his name and unlisted phone number?”

 

“It almost has to be someone in the department or the judge’s office, boss,” Kelly offered.  “I know you and Derek talked to the victim Monday morning and went straight to the judge to get the search warrant for the church.  Hell, I was at the church with you Monday afternoon and I still don’t know who you got your information from.”

 

“Derek?” I asked.

 

“Well, you and I know who he is, the judge knows, his bailiff might know, depends on what the judge might have told him after we left.  Then you add in all the other people who helped get the arrest warrants for us Monday afternoon, they might have seen or heard our victim’s name, also.”

 

“Well, I highly doubt Judge Corgan or his bailiff would have talked to anyone at the paper, so let’s rule them out.  I know I didn’t, and I’m fairly confident I know you two well enough to rule you out also.  That leaves us with whoever helped get the arrest warrants, and Zach, Perry, Andrew, Henry and Barry who were at the church with us.  Any of them could have had access to our paperwork or could have overheard something.  I want to talk to every one of them, sooner rather than later.  Let’s get ‘em all in here for a little chat.  When you call Zach, tell him to make damn sure that office is locked before they leave the church.  GO!”

 

As they disappeared to contact everyone, I settled back in my chair to think about how I would approach this discussion.  I had a pretty good idea who the culprit was, but I wanted to see if he had the balls to admit it to my face.  I decided to spend my time waiting for everyone to arrive by checking on my lead suspect.  By the time everyone I wanted to talk to was assembled half an hour later, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt who it was.  Time to test my acting skills, again.

 

“I want to thank all of you for dropping whatever you were doing and coming to this little meeting.”

 

“Didn’t seem we had much of a choice, Sergeant,” Zach replied.  “It certainly wasn’t my impression from Kelly that attendance was voluntary.

 

“You’re right, Zach.  You all know what this meeting’s about, so I’ll get straight to the point.  I’ve already ended the career of one leak this morning and I’m about to deal with the second one.  Sitting in this room right now is a traitor.  That person talked to a reporter at the paper last night and divulged information that should have never been shared with the press.”  As I let my eyes wander over the group, I noticed my choice of suspect looked away from me when our eyes met.  If I had had any doubts before, they were quickly dispelled.  “As if this case isn’t bad enough, already, our victim’s name and unlisted phone number were given to someone outside this department.  That is a serious breach of ethics and shows me that person has no loyalty to this department or his fellow officers.  That ends today, right now.”

 

The assembled group took a quick look at everyone else in the room, trying to figure out who the guilty party was.  All, that is, except for my suspect since he knew.  He started to raise his hand and I called him out, “Something you’d like to say, Barry?”

 

“It was me.  I talked to the newspaper and gave her Mr. Sanders’ name and number.”

 

“I already know that, Barry.  The rest of you get out of here and get back to work.  Barry and I need to have a heart to heart.”  The rest of the group filtered out of my office, trading whispers as they did.  When Barry was the last one remaining, I closed my door and sat down next to him.  “Was it just about the money, Barry?  Or did you have more pressing issues?” I asked calmly.

 

“Money, mostly, but other issues, too.  I got a wife that can’t work, three kids and a gambling problem.  I’m in deep to a loan shark and he’s threatened my family.  I had to do somethin’ to come up with what I owe him and sharing some anonymous information seemed like the only way to do it.” 

 

“I wish you’d have come to me and told me what was going on, Barry.  We could have figured out another way for you deal with your problems.  The first thing we would have done was set up a sting on your loan shark so we could bust his ass and lock him away.  Then, with him out of the picture, we would have arranged some counseling to help with your gambling.  But now, it’s too late for all that.  You’ve broken all trust you ever had with anyone in the department.”

 

“I know, Sarge.  I was fuckin’ stupid, but I couldn’t let them hurt my family.”

 

“Of course, you couldn’t.  Here’s what we’re going to do.  Your last official act as a member of this department is to help us arrest the man who threatened you.  We’ll get the money you owe him and you set up a meeting with him.  You’ll be wearing a wire so we can hear everything that’s said.  I need you to get this person to admit what they were doing and, if possible, the threats against your family.  Once we have that, we can arrest him.  Think you can do that?”

 

“I’m sure I can.  He’s never been shy about his threats.  Actually, he seems to enjoy it.  Way too much.”

 

“Good.  That should make doing this a lot easier.  You help us collar this guy and you can keep your pension and unemployment while you search for a new job.  You understand why I can’t let you continue in the department, don’t you?”

 

“As much as it sucks, yeah I understand.  I knew this was gonna happen, sooner or later.  I did it to myself, so I can’t really complain about it, can I?”

 

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, Barry, I really am.  But by giving that reporter a victim’s name and phone number, you compromised his privacy and his family’s safety.  I can’t let that happen again.  Give me your badge and gun, then go call your shark and set up the meet.”

 

Barry did as I demanded and walked out to a desk in the main office to make his call.  He made three people who have exited the department in the past few few weeks and I was going to be the fourth, and hopefully, the last for long time to come.

 

 

Tom and I had finished our shopping and were headed out of the store when we walked by a newspaper machine.  Glaringly obvious through the window on the front of the machine was the headline that read ‘LOCAL CHURCH ROCKED BY CHILD SEX ABUSE CHARGES’.  I kept walking but soon noticed I was all alone.  When I stopped and turned around to find Tom, I discovered he was feeding quarters into the machine to get the paper.  Needless to say I was surprised, but as he rejoined me at our cart, he said, “Might as well see what they’re saying.”

 

“Why?  Don’t you have an inside source?”

 

“Sure I do, but I’d like to know what rumors are being floated out there.  I’d rather be informed of what’s being said than blindsided by some outright lie.”

 

“I guess.  I hope you can wait to read it until we get home.”

 

“Since I’m drivin’, that seems to be the logical thing to do.”

 

We loaded our purchases into the trunk of the Shelby and hit the road for home.  Once there, we got everything inside and put away.  After that was accomplished, we got comfortable and settled into the living room.  Tom grabbed the paper and opened it with a flourish.

 

“You want me to read it out loud?”

 

“Oh, why the hell not?”

 

“Okay, here goes:

 

Springfield’s South Shores First Evangelical Church has been rocked by charges of sexual abuse of minors and child pornography.  The church becomes the latest to join the ranks of other churches implicated by similar stories of rampant abuse that have come out in recent years. 

The charges have been leveled against the church by local author Maxwill Sanders.  Mr. Sanders alleges the abuse against him took place in a room in the church’s basement approximately twenty years ago over a period of three years.  It is unknown at this time if any other children may have been involved before or since that time. 

Ground was broken for construction of the church on May 5, 2002 and completed August 15, 2003.  First services in the church were held August 17, 2003.  A search of building permits and plans filed for the church at the time of construction show no such basement exists. 

Anonymous sources in the Sangamon County Sherriff’s department have confirmed twenty-six people were arrested at the church Monday evening as the result of a sting operation.  None of the people arrested have been charged with any crimes at this time. It is believed all will be charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse and child pornography, among other unspecified charges.  It is possible more arrests will happen as the investigation continues.

The scandal comes on the heels of the church’s Pastor, Warren Lancaster, committing suicide inside his locked office at the church.  It is unclear whether the Pastor’s death is in any way related to the charges by Mr. Sanders and the resulting investigation. 

The man in charge of the investigation, Sergeant Dylan Brock, of the Sherriff’s department, has been unavailable for comment.  A call asking for comment was placed to Mr. Sanders residence as this story was being developed.  The call was answered by a man who refused to comment.  It is unknown if the man was Mr. Sanders or someone else.  This story will be updated as more details become available.

 


That’s all they have.”

 

“I’d say it’s plenty.  Nice of them to publish my name without asking, don’t you think.  I guess I should be happy they didn’t print our phone number.”

 

“If they had, it’d be ringing off the hook.  I guess I’m getting my fifteen minutes of fame as the unknown man who answers your phone,” he chuckled.

 

“It’s a good role, enjoy it while you can.  Too bad I didn’t get that part in this psychotic play.”

 

“Oh, you could never pull it off.  You’re definitely the leading man type.  No B-roles for the star.”

 

“Gee, thanks.  Makeup!”

 

 

Barry came back and knocked on my door.  After I let him in, he took a seat and I asked, “Everything set up with the shark?”

 

“Yes, sir.  We’re supposed to meet in forty-five minutes at a bar on Highland.”

 

“Which one?”

 

“Harry’s Adult DayCare.”

 

“God, what a dive.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but that’s where he wants to go.”

 

“Okay, go get changed into your street clothes.  I’ve made arrangements to get the cash we need and it should be here any time.  Once you’re changed, come back here and we’ll get you setup to record your meeting.”  Barry stood and headed to the locker room.  As he did, Derek came back in my office.  “You got everything set up?” I asked.

 

“Two cars are waiting to roll.  They’re just waiting to find out where they’re goin’.”

 

“Harry’s Adult DayCare on Highland.  Between 2nd and 3rd Streets.  Our guys should be able to wait on Summit or Maple, south of the bar.”

 

“I’ll let them know so they can be in position before the suspect shows up.”

 

“Barry’s changing clothes, then he’s coming back so we can get him wired, then he’s on his way.”  Derek returned to his desk to pass along the location and while he did that, Barry came back.  “Okay, Barry, here’s what I have for you.  This pair of glasses has a camera and microphone that will transmit about half a mile.  I need you to make sure he says the threat to your family is over.  It would also be good if you can get him to say something about the agreement you had with him.  The more you can get him to say, the better off we’ll be.  We’ll be waiting a block away from Harry’s and when we hear you say, ‘Thanks, I’ll be leaving now’, we’ll move in.  Any problems?”

 

“Only one that I can think of, Sergeant.  I don’t wear glasses.”

 

“Well, tell him you lost a contact this afternoon and haven’t had time to go home or something.”

 

“Yeah, that ought to work.”

 

“You don’t have to do this, you know.  You’re off the job.”

 

“Yeah, I do.  Even though I fucked everything up, I need to prove to myself, and to you, that I know what the right thing is and I can still do it.  I also owe it to you for giving information to that reporter.  I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I couldn’t see another way out of my problems.  With Rollie out of my pocket, I think we’ll be okay until I can get another job.”

 

“Good man, Barry.  You better get out of here and be there when Rollie shows up.  We don’t want to keep him waiting.  Remember, ‘Thanks, I’ll be leaving now’ is our cue.  Say that and then get the hell out of there, you got it?”

 

“Yeah, I got it.  See ya’ later, Sergeant.  Nice workin’ with ya’,” he answered flatly.  After Barry left, I called Derek in.

 

“What now, boss?”

 

“I’m not sure.  Barry’s attitude just kinda put me off a bit.  I think he’s planning something we don’t know about and it’s makin’ me nervous.  Do me a favor, get changed into your street clothes and get over to Harry’s.  I want you inside to keep an eye on things.  And make sure you’ve got an ankle holster.”

 

“On my way.  I’ll let you know what happens.”

 

“Thanks, Derek.”  I sat there and stewed on the problem and my concerns longer than I should have.  If this kept up, I was going to develop an ulcer.  After about twenty unproductive minutes, Kelly rang me.  “Yes, Kelly,” I answered.

 

“Special Agent Fix is here to see you, sir.”

 

“Send him in, please.  Thanks.”  I stood and was just turning the corner of my desk when a broad-shouldered man about six-foot-tall and 250 pounds filled my doorway.  “Special Agent Fix, I presume.”

 

“Yes sir.  And you must be Sergeant Brock.”

 

“Come in, Agent Fix, and have a seat.  Would you like something to drink?”  After he stepped inside, I closed the door so we could talk in private.

 

“No, thanks for the offer, though.  Since it sounds like we’ll be working together for a while, please call me Joel and if it’s okay with you, I’d like to use Dylan.”

 

“That works fine for me, Joel.  You ready to hear what we have?” I asked.  After receiving a curt nod from Joel, I gave him a quick description of how the case got started and what we had done so far, including Zach and Perry continuing their work at the church to collect evidence from the hellhole.  When I finally wound down, I paused and waited patiently for Joel to ask his first question.

 

“It sounds like you’ve done good work so far.  I’m wondering why you’re calling us in for help.”

 

“To be blunt, Joel, we simply don’t have the manpower or facilities to deal with the number of different cases involved.”

 

“You said you boxed up files from three file cabinets, right?  Just how many files do you think you have, three to four hundred?”

 

“You’re way short in your estimate.  We counted as we boxed them up and our final total is 3,157.”

 

“Oh, my God.  You can’t be serious.”

 

“See those twenty-four boxes stacked along the wall over there?” I asked while pointing towards them.  “That’s them.  We didn’t see any duplicate names as we emptied the drawers.  I’ve only looked in three of them, and then, just to verify my suspicions of what they held.  We also had our complainant come in and verify the pictures contained in the folder bearing his name were actually him.  He did that this morning.”

 

“So, what do you want from the Bureau?”

 

“I want you to take all twenty-four of these boxes, scour them for fingerprints and DNA, if you can, and start locating the other 3,156 kids these people abused.  Every single one of them deserves to know that we’ve finally caught their abusers and they will all be going to jail.  Next, I want twenty-four of those scumbags out of my jail and in federal detention until you can prosecute them so nobody goes free.”

 

“That’s a mighty big request, Dylan.  Why do you think we would want to do that for you?”

 

“Because it’s your damn job, that’s why.  Those kids could be anywhere now.  This was obviously a major child pornography ring that’s been in operation for over thirty years.  And as such, it crosses not only state lines, but international ones as well.  We don’t deal with anything out side this county.  Here, you want to see what those animals did, take a look at this.”  I pulled Max’s file out of the evidence envelope and handed it to Joel.  I watched as his face lost all color as he flipped through the pictures.  After he handed the folder back to me, I added, “That’s just what they did to one kid.  You hear me Joel, ONE!  And there are over 3,000 more out there just like him.  I happen to know this man today and the shit he’s dealing with right now would blow your fuckin’ mind. 

 

“Thanks to his courage in coming forward, we’ve shut down a very large and, I’m sure, profitable ring.  His story checks out from top to bottom and I have no doubt when you start finding the others, you’ll hear the exact same story from them.  I also want a full accounting of where these people hid their money.  I don’t care if it’s in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Belize, wherever.  I want it all brought back to this country and a fund set up to help these kids receive any medical help they need after what they’ve been through.  Now, pull your goddam government issue Special Agent cell phone out of your damn pocket, call your fucking office and get someone over here to get these files and start working on them.”  I stared him down for a few seconds and he finally did pull his phone out and make the call.

 

“A van and two more agents will be here in fifteen minutes.  I apologize for reacting the way I did.  I think the sheer size of this nightmare has me a little out of sorts.”

 

“Welcome to the club, Joel.  We’ve been out of sorts around here for several days, now.  And my friend, Mr. Sanders, who knows if he’ll ever be normal again?”

 

“Why don’t we get his file in with the others?”

 

“No way.  I’ve changed my mind on that and I’m keeping his file and his case right here.  The two scumbags that did this shit to him are all mine.  He’s in my county, the defendants are in my county and their gonna get tried in my county.  The other 3,156 victims and twenty-four abusers are all yours, now.  You use those files to make your cases against the other twenty-four people and put them out of circulation, permanently.”

 

“We’ll do our best, Dylan.”

 

“I know that, Joel.  All I ask is you keep us updated on your progress.  I want a weekly report delivered to this department detailing the people you’ve found, the money you’ve found and how close you are to prosecuting the suspects.”

 

“Why are you demanding to keep Mr. Sanders’ file and the prosecution of his abusers?”

 

“Because I’m personally involved in that case.  As I said, Mr. Sanders and his family are friends of mine.  The man who abused him has threatened his life and the lives of two of his sons.  I’m going to make sure he never again sees the fucking light of day.”

 

“Anything else we can do to help?”

 

“You could send a forensics team out to the church to complete the work there.  We need our guys back so they can deal with our other cases.  We’ll turn over everything they’ve collected so far for you guys to process.”

 

“Consider it done.  I’ll have a team out there this afternoon so your guys can tell them what they’ve already done so we don’t duplicate that work.  Once my people know where to pick up, you can have yours back.”

 

“Thank you, Joel.  Oh, it appears your helpers have arrived, why don’t you bring them in and get them started on loading these boxes.”  Joel opened the door and flagged his guys down.  They came in with two hand dollies, so they were prepared for the work ahead of them.  Fifteen minutes later, all the files and other evidence we had were loaded up in their van and on the way to be processed by others.

 

“Well, Dylan, I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure to meet you, but I’d be lying to you.  With what you’ve dropped in our laps, this will keep us busy for a long time to come.”

 

“It certainly will, Joel.  We thank you for taking this nightmare off our hands.”  We shook hands and Joel left the station to get to work.  I didn’t envy him or the work he was facing.  As I sat back behind my desk, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Now that I’d passed the majority of the work to someone else, I decided it was time to write that letter to the county board.

 

 

Tom and I had been reading quietly for a while when I suddenly remembered something I’d wanted to do.  I put my book down and said, “Hey, let’s call the ‘rents and see what they think about my idea.”

 

“You’re just not gonna give up, are you?”

 

“Absolutely not.  And I’d like to do it before the boys get home so they don’t hear the call.”

 

“Okay, let’s do it,” he acquiesced.

 

“Great.  I’ll call my mom and dad on this phone, you call yours on the kitchen phone and then I’ll conference them together here.”  Tom headed to the kitchen to make his call while I did the same in the living room.  In no time at all, all six of us were tied together.  After all the greetings and niceties were out of the way, I brought up the reason for the call.

 

“Okay, I know you’re wondering why we called and wanted all of us to talk at the same time.  Here it is; Tom and I have been thinking about it and we don’t want you to build a new house here.”

 

“WHAT!?” Bill exclaimed amid similar protests from the others.

 

“Hang on, people.  I’m not done.  We want to give you our house after we build a bigger one for us.”

 

“Have you lost your mind, son?” Jim asked. 

 

I laughed and answered, “You’re the third person to ask me that question in less than twenty-four hours, Dad.  I’m beginning to believe you all think I’m insane. 

 

“What the hell do you need with a bigger house?” Rose asked.

 

“Well, we picked up another kid on Sunday, so now we have six.  And we’ve also hired a young guy to come live with us and help us out with things.  It’s starting to get a little crowded around here and I think we need more space.”

 

“Max,” Jim began, “You do know that filling your house and life with kids won’t fix your shitty childhood, don’t you?”

 

“Sure, I do, Dad, but I’m not worried about my childhood any more.  I’m worried about all these other kids’ childhoods.  And they are all kids who need help.  Carol said they have a severe shortage of space for kids, especially gay ones, in this part of the state.  I intend to help fix that problem.  And Tom’s with me on this, aren’t you?”

 

“Well, to be honest, I think Max is pushing things a bit, but yeah, I’m with him.  If we can help more kids, I’m all for it.  I’d like to wait until he’s had a little bit longer to deal with things, but it does seem silly for you four to build a new house when you could just have this one.”

 

“Why don’t you just add on to the house you already have?” Estelle asked.

 

“Because the layout we have isn’t really conducive to doing that.  I’d want to add four to six more bedrooms, space for a gym and some other things.  There’s just no easy way to do all that and make the new flow with old.  It’d be easier to just start over with a blank sheet of paper.  I think if we get John on board with this quick, we’ll still have the bigger place for us built by this fall and you folks can still be here before Thanksgiving.  What do you all think?”

 

“If that’s what you want to do, I don’t have a problem with it,” Jim answered.

 

“I say go for it, son,” Rose replied.

 

“I think it’s a great idea, boys,” Estelle added.

 

“I think if we combined two of the bedrooms the boys are using into another Master Suite, it’ll work out great,” Bill agreed.

 

“Glad to hear you’re all on-board with my crazy ideas.  We’re gonna need your help when you get here.”

 

“I still think we’re rushing into this, but I seem to be outvoted,” Tom relented.  “I’m in.”

 

“Great, everyone.  I swear, this will be great.  I can’t wait to start helping more than we already are.  And this is just the first step.  There’ll be more to follow.”

 

“What’s that mean, babe?” Tom asked.

 

“You’ll see.  I’ve got all kinds of great ideas.  Well, look, the boys should be home soon, so we gotta go.  Thanks for your support and we’ll talk to y’all later.”

 

“Bye, sons,” Estelle said, “Take care of our boys and tell ‘em we love them.”

 

“Same for us, son,” Jim added.  After everyone had said goodbye, we disconnected the call and I let out a loud whoop of satisfaction.

 

“Whoa, tiger, calm down.”

 

“I can’t, bubba, I’m too fuckin’ happy.”  DING!  DING!  DING!  “Whoops, looks like the boys are here.  I’ll be back with the herd in a minute or two.”

 

“I’ll steel myself for the stampede.”

 

 

I was sitting at my desk waiting for Derek to call and turning over our case against the Muellers in my mind.  I was trying to make sure we hadn’t missed anything and my fuckups had been corrected.  I’d just decided we were in good shape when my phone rang.  I picked up the receiver and answered, “Talk to me Derek.”

 

“Good news, bad news, Sarge.”

 

“Not too surprising, what’s happened.”

 

“Well, Barry was waitin’ at the bar when Rollie came in and once he showed up, they moved to a table in the corner.  Barry did what he was supposed to do, got Rollie to admit everything, including the threat against his family.  That’s when he went off script.  Instead of giving the signal for the others to move in and leaving, he tried to arrest Rollie, himself.  Everything went to shit after that.”

 

“Just spit it out, what the fuck happened?”

 

“Rollie pulled a gun and shot Barry.”

 

“Oh, Jesus, how bad?”

 

“He’s didn’t make it, Sarge.  Never had a chance.  Bullet went right through his heart and he was gone before he hit the floor.”

 

“Aw, fuck!  That’s not how this was supposed to go down.  What the hell was he thinking?”

 

“I wish I could tell ya’, boss, but I ain’t got a clue.  Ambulance is on the way, though we know it’s a waste of time and effort.  Rollie’s in my car waiting for a ride to the station to be booked on first degree murder.  Since there was loan-sharking involved and Barry’s a cop, he’s looking at a lethal injection in ten to fifteen years, if he survives that long.  A lot of guys are gonna want to kill him outright for what he did.”

 

“Fine, get that fucker’s ass back here and lock him up.  I gotta go talk to Barry’s wife, give her the bad news before word gets out.  Damn it all to hell!” I yelled as I slammed the receiver back on the phone.  I took a few minutes to regain my composure and get my priorities in order.  The first thing I did was complete my letter of resignation and seal it in an envelope.  I’d already decided I was done with this shit, but Barry’s death further solidified my resolve and told me I’d made the right decision.  His death is my own damn fault for pushing him into facing his shark and I was gonna have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.  Before leaving my office, I located Barry’s address and on my way out the door, I let Kelly know where I was going and why.  I could see she was fighting the same breakdown I was.

 

I pulled out of the parking lot and made the turn that would take me to his home where Helen was waiting for him.  I hated having to make the trip, but I wasn’t going to have her hear the news from anyone else.  After the fifteen-minute drive to the west side of town, I pulled in the driveway and slowly climbed from the car.  I made my way to the front door, dreading the conversation I was about to have, and rang the bell.  As soon as Helen opened the door, she knew something was wrong and my asking to come in didn’t make it any better.

 

I spent the next half hour consoling Barry’s widow, letting her know that she would receive his pension, tax-free, for the rest of her life, along with the proceeds of the county’s life insurance policy they provide for all the department’s employees.  One clause in that policy doubles the payout to survivors if the employee’s death happens in the line of duty.  I neglected to mention why Barry was involved in this arrest as I saw no reason at this point to sully his memory.  Helen’s life with three kids was going to be hard enough without Barry around, it just didn’t make sense to make it even harder.  When I finally left Helen, I was at loose ends and really didn’t know where to go from here.  So, I got in my car and wandered aimlessly for a couple of hours, trying to put it all into its proper perspective.

 

 

We were just finishing our supper when Tom and I told the boys about our call to their grandparents and what we’d decided.  They were thrilled with the idea of having more room for more kids to live with us.  Of course, they wanted to help us design the new house, and I was more than willing to have their input to make it a place that would be functional for everyone.  They loved the idea of a bigger pool, along with the gym so they could play basketball.  I think the part they loved the most, though, was having the chance to help kids in trouble.  When we were done with our supper cleanup, we retreated to the living room to await our guests for the evening.  Tom, Logan and I picked up our books to read during our wait while the other five decided a rousing game of Uno was the perfect way to kill some time. 

 

After about twenty minutes, the drive sensor announced a car pulling in the drive.  I looked at the clock really quick and said, “Looks like Rick’s a little early.”

 

“No big deal,” Tom commented, “that’ll just give the boys more time to have some fun.”

 

I made my way to the front door and was surprised to find a seemingly lost and shell-shocked Dylan standing on our front porch.  “Dylan, what the hell are you doin’ here?”

 

“I’m not sure, Max.  I guess this is the place my car thinks I need to be right now.”

 

“Tom,” I called across the house, “Get over here!”

 

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