Chapter Thirty Six
Mary looked at the bank manager then at the checkbook she held in hands that shook so badly, she’d almost dropped it twice. “But, what ever will I do with all this money?” she stammered for the umpteenth time.
“Do whatever you want with it. It’s yours. Every single penny of it belongs to you and more besides. Why, that’s less than one sixteenth of the money your grandparents put in trust for you the day you were born,” said the smiling bank manager.
“What do you say, Mary,” said Michael, grinning from ear to ear, “Do you want to go hog wild on a shopping spree?”
“Why, whatever for? I don’t need anything,” said Mary, looking at Michael and laughing.
“Sure, you do,” he said.
“Like what? Mary asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, how about a whole new wardrobe? I realize you’re quite attached to the clothes you’ve been wearing. But, they were you’re mothers, just like the clothes Kimmey now wears belonged to you, when Kimmey’s room was yours.
The clothes in Billy’s room belonged to the little boy your parents were adopting before they died. Don’t you think you and the children deserve some new duds? Things that weren’t handed down literally from mother to daughter?”
The minute they walked into Beasley’s the manager hurried over to them. “Thank heavens you’re here!” he said. “The hospital in Gilfords Falls left an urgent message for you to contact them the minute you came in. They’ve called six times in the last twenty minutes, so it must really be important!”
“May I use your phone?” asked Michael. Then turning to Mary he said, “I’m sure it’s nothing, and has something to do with Harriet’s condition. I forgot to tell the nurse I’d be with my future wife, and to call Dr. Allen if anything came up. Now, why don’t you do some browsing, while I call and see what’s going on,” he said, giving her a quick kiss, before hurrying away.
“Gilfords Falls memorial Hospital, how can I direct your call,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“This is Dr. Patterson.
“Oh Doctor! Thank heavens you called, you’re needed at the hospital, stat! The sheriff brought in two patients about twenty minutes ago, one of them is in critical condition. Doctor Allen is with her. The patients name is Casety Crowley. She’s already been bathed and prepped. Doctor Allen also gave her something for pain. The poor girl is semi-conscious, and in the last stages of labor. I overheard the sheriff telling his deputies to get Mr. and Mrs. Crowley, just in case the girl doesn’t make it.”
“We’re on our way, we should be there in about ten minutes.” said Michael, hanging up the phone. “Sorry to cut your special day short my love,” said Michael. “It seems that Dad and his deputies just brought in a couple of young ladies that you might know. One of their names is Casety and I’m willing to bet the other’s name is Casey.”
Ten minutes later, they were sitting in the emergency room parking lot. Michael had insisted that Mary go to the Gilfords Suite to change and rest, while he went to the emergency room, to see what he could do for the new arrivals.
“Are you the doctor?” asked a very pregnant, worried, young lady with a cast on her arm.
“Yes, I’m Doctor Patterson,” he said. “You must be Casey. Mary’s told me so much about you and your sister, that I feel I already know you.”
“You know Mary?” she asked.
“I do,” Michael said, “and as soon as I talk to Dr. Allen about your sister’s condition and she checks you out, I’ll have one of the staff take you to see her.”
At that moment a woman in her mid-thirties came up to them. “Oh, doctor, I’m so glad you’re here!” She said. “Casety’s in room three C.” Turning to the girl, she said, “You must be Casey. I’m Dr. Allen, if you’ll follow me I’ll have you checked out in no time, then I’ll take you to see your friend.”
The minute Michael walked into three C, he knew they were in trouble. Casety was so skinny Michael could count every one of her ribs from across the room. Upon doing a thorough exam, he realized she was definitely in the last stages of labor.
“How’s she doing?” asked his father, knocking before poking his head around the door.
“If she makes it through the birth, she might just have a chance. Right now, she’s so undernourished and weak that it’s going to be touch and go. I’d prep her for a C section, but I don’t think she’s strong enough to undergo the surgery.”
“Casety! Oh Michael! It’s my friend Casety!” Cried Mary pushing open the door and entering the delivery room. “What are her chances Michael?” Mary asked as tears filled her eyes.
“Mary? Mary, is that you?” the words were spoken so softly they almost missed them.
Instantly Mary was at her friend’s side. “It’s me, Casety,” she said taking her friend’s hand. “I’m here and you’re going to be alright. You’re safe! Now we have to make sure your baby is safe too!”
“I’m here and I’m going to help you, just like I did before,” said Mary, gently pressing down on Casety’s stomach as a contraction caught her in its merciless grip. “That’s right!” said Mary. “I’ll help, but you have to help me! Now push!”
“That’s right!” said Michael, surprised that Mary had taken one look at the situation, and waded in with both feet.
“Again, push, good girl, he said, you’re almost there, now once more, push, push, push!”
“I can’t,” said Casety closing her eyes, “I’m just too tired.”
“Oh no you don’t, Casety Anna Snippet, you open those eyes right this minute!” snapped Mary. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to just let you give up! Michael said push, and by golly, you’re going to push! Now push.”
Michael glanced at Mary, startled at such authority in her voice, that Casety immediately and without question did her bidding. He suddenly realized that if Mary had anything to say about it, they’d both make it.
Casety opened her eyes and looked at the blurred image of Mary standing over her screaming at her to push and with one last supreme effort, she pushed with all her might, as Mary too pressed down, helping Casety push the baby from her body.
“It’s a girl,” said Michael, as he laid the tiny infant onto Casety’s stomach to cut and tie the cord.
“Name her Cassandra Olivia, after my mother,” said Casety falling into a deep peaceful sleep.
Caroline, unable to deny her granddaughter anything, immediately gave Mary permission to have Casey and Casety installed in the suite with her. The second thing she did was to have Jenny Tomlyne whip up a batch of Chicken and dumpling soup to take to the girls.
“I couldn’t believe it when the hospital called Michael, and told him the two of you were here!” said Mary. “You’re pregnant too. Casey, why didn’t you tell me?”
“You never would have left, had you known,” said Casey.
“After you left we prayed you’d find your family and send help,” said Casety. She was feeling much better after a huge serving of the delicious soup and hot dinner rolls, that Caroline had asked Dennis to deliver. A good night's sleep had also helped.
“Knock. knock.” said Michael entering the kitchen nook where Mary, Casey, Casety and Wanda-Ann sat around the table drinking hot chocolate topped with vanilla ice cream. At the sight of Wanda-Ann setting there talking with the girls, he quirked his left eyebrow at her, then looked at Mary and smiled.
“If you and your guests feel up to company, there are several people here hoping for an audience. Dad also has some questions he’d like to ask. He asked me to tell you, that he’d be by later this afternoon.”
Minutes later several people, all talking at once and vying for spots close to them, had surrounded Casey and Casety.
Everyone was so excited at seeing the girls, that they never realize they were frightening them, and although Ben saw their discomfort, he was at a loss as how to relive the situation.
Michael immediately realizing that the noisy crowd, not only overwhelmed the girls, but was frightening them as well, found the perfect solution.
“Why don’t you take everyone except your parents to the nursery, to see the baby?” Michael asked Ben. “Your parents can then have a nice fifteen-twenty minute visit with the girls, before joining everyone in the cafeteria for lunch, my treat! Then, after lunch, everyone else can visit the girls, two or three at a time in ten-minute increments.”
Three hours later, the girls, having heard several versions of how the whole town had kept searching and had never given up hope of finding them, were exhausted but happy to be home.
The girls had eaten a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, milk and coffee, at seven fifteen that morning. Then they’d been given hot chocolate at around ten o‘clock.
But, because it had been so hectic in the suite, the kitchen staff had waited until after one to bring the girls their lunch. They had then piled their trays full of thin slices of roast beef, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli with cheese sauce, garden fresh salad, an extra-large piece of cheesy apple pie topped with whipped cream, orange juice, milk and wonder of wonders, another cup of deliciously hot coffee.
“You’re kidding!” said Casey.
“We’ve eaten more here in two days, then we’ve had to eat in all the months we spent as slaves, in our prison at Campbells Corners!” Stated Casety digging with gusto into the food on her plate.
“I only wish my Kathrine Abigail and Clarence John and Casety’s, Zelda Marie, Alisha Nichelle, and Gage Alan could be here to enjoy this bounty with us!” said Casey with a gut- wrenching sigh.
“Do you know where your children and the rest of our group are being held?” asked Mary.
“Before our rescue we all lived at the same place. We were all virtually slaves to the crooks lining the road for a mile in both directions. Their small shops and stores circle the place we lived. See, it’s easier for them to keep an eye on us, if they surround us, instead of scattering us all over. They use their stores, restaurants, or other business’s as a front for drugs and other petty crimes.” Casety said.
“When the children, and almost everyone at the commune, suddenly became ill, a judge quickly ordered the closing of the commune.” Casey told her.
“A group of us, with our children, were lucky. We found a friend and a place to hide.” said Casety.
We even had a job, and for the first time in years, we were happy! Casey replied.
And for over six months we were safe!” Casety said.
“Zachadiah, angry that they’d arrested Zachariah, had paid his brothers bond. He had then ordered his guards to keep a low profile as they observed everyone from the southern commune, while planning their next move.” Casey said.
“When everything quieted down, they quickly gathered up everyone they could find. Using threats and fear tactics they forced us to return to our new prison!” Casety said, with a shudder.
“That’s when it really got bad, they’d already decided to sell us into slavery, because they suspected us of helping you run. Don't forget, it was our turn to do the shopping that day.” Casey said with a grin.
“Then,” sighed Casety, “when you and the children disappeared that night, and because no one blew the whistle on you we were imprisoned in the dungeons, below the southern!”
“Then after everyone became sick, and we were safe for months, we were recaptured, and because we really didn’t know where you were, they retaliated by taking our children from us. We haven’t seen them in over six months,” said Casey sadly. Thankfully some of our group managed to escape recapture! In fact, their husbands are the new owners of the PLAY AND EAT in Beasley!
“The good news is, we think we know where they’re keeping our children, for all the good it’ll do us,” Casety said with a sigh.
“Who’s got your children and where are they keeping them?” asked Henry entering the room.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you! You were saying someone took your children and that the others from your group live on the same road you had lived on?” asked Henry.
Both girls shyly nodded their heads to indicate that the answer to his question was yes.
“Do you think they’d still be there?” Henry asked the girls.
“Probably,” said Casey hesitantly.
“What hours did you have to work and when were you allowed to return home?” He asked.
“We were forced to work from six-thirty in the morning until ten-thirty at night. It didn’t matter how sick, tired, or pregnant we were, anyone late for work, not working hard enough, or breaking their zillion rules, was severely punished.” Casety said.
“Punished how?” asked a tight-lipped Henry.
“Usually we were forced to work with little or no food,” said Casey. That’s why Casety was so weak. She’d gone into labor around ten or ten-thirty the night before our rescue. The man we called rat and you called the weasel, told her to stop complaining and get busy or he’d lock her in the ice house. He was tired of her constant complaining.”
“I tried, I really did! I was so tired and in so much pain. I couldn’t have worked any faster if my life had depended on it,” said Casety. “Casey tried pleading with him, but he just laughed and cuffed her, saying if she knew what was good for her, she’d shut up and get back to work.”
“Anyway, she’d only been in the icehouse for approximately three minutes when Sheriff Alice Mackley came by and asked for Casety. When told she was in the ice house, the Sheriff immediately ordered him to get her,” said Casey.
“The rat never knew that Alice was sneaking me prenatal pills and packets of dehydrated meats, fruits and other things that could easily be hidden in a large pocket in my clothes.
Sometimes the contents of those packets were all we’d have to eat for days at a time,” said Casety. How much we ate depended on how often she stopped by and how closely the rat was watching us.”
“Do you think the girls will be home around eleven tonight?” asked Ben, who’d slipped unnoticed through the door while they were talking.
“They should be,” said Casey, “if they’re not being punished, because we escaped.”
Henry glanced sideways at Ben, nodded a hello and scratched thoughtfully at his chin where the afternoon growth of whiskers was beginning to irritate the bee-gee’s out of him.
“Do you ladies feel like answering some questions?” Henry asked. “How many of the ladies are pregnant and when are they due?”
“Well, let’s see, said Casey. I’m guessing that like me, Martha’s due any time now. Mari-Lou, hum, she’s due in about a week, week and a half, and Clara’s due in about two weeks.”
“What happens to the babies after you have them?” Asked Henry dreading the answer.
“He comes and takes them. He then decides whether they get to live, or die.” Casey said.
“We’re never allowed to keep our babies,” said Casety sadly.
“We don’t even know if they’re alive,” said Casey, as tears ran unbidden from her eyes.
“Who is the ‘he’ you keep referring to?” asked Henry. “If you’re referring to Jeremiah, Caleb, Jedidiah or Zachariah, they’re all dead. I can assure you they’ll never bother you again!”
“They may be dead, but, Zachadiah, our husband’s twin, is still very much alive.” Said Casey.
“We were told by one of our guard friends that all of Zachariah’s old, useless, unwanted, baggage, was sent to Mulligans Corners, which is about twenty miles from where you found us.”
“These poor people are given starvation rations, then made to care and discipline the children taken as punishment from disobedient mothers. It’s our guess that if our children are still alive, that’s where they’re being held.”
“Is that right!” said Henry, angry enough to have chewed sawdust and spit a house. “Do you think you could tell me where Martha, Mari-Lou and Clara live?” he asked.
“We all shared the basement of the first burn out you come to on the road. The blanket tent was our punishment for burning a pie. The rat was going to make us live there for a month, rain or snow, to teach us a lesson,” said Casety.
“Why didn’t the sheriff do something about your situation?” asked Henry, “The more I hear the madder I get.”
“She tried, but the judge is related to several of the low lives that were holding us as their prisoners,” said Casey.
“Is there anything else we should know before we leave?” Ben asked.
“No, not that I can think of,” said Casey.
“Oh, wait!” said Casety, as the men were leaving, “I just remembered Red telling us that every once in a while, Zachadiah sent his snoops around at night just to harass the old people and to make sure they hadn’t escaped, as if those poor people had anywhere to go!”
“Come to think of it, I’ve seen them snooping around our place a time or two myself,” said Casey.
The angry volunteers surrounding the compound were armed to the teeth and ready. Henry cautiously looked around for signs of the guards Casety had mentioned, but nothing moved.
Quietly shifting positions, he noticed that, even with the heavy black, one-piece insulated coveralls he’d insisted everyone wear, the cold from the ground was slowly seeping into his bones.
Thankfully, the night was pitch black except for a few scattered stars that did little to relieve the darkness. The waiting men finally heard what they’d waited almost twenty minutes for, as the sound of a hoot owl came loud, clear and distinct.
Quietly the men closed in on the dilapidated little buildings where eighty-two children and fifty adults lay shivering in their beds. It was one-fifteen, and they couldn’t sleep for the hunger that racked their bodies. They’d been denied food, heat and blankets, ever since eleven-year-old Naletta Amber had stolen a blanket to wrap one of the newborns in. Zachadiah had sentenced the baby to die of starvation and the cold, as punishment to the child’s mother for disobeying a direct order.
“Ssssh,” said a voice in the ear of every child, infant, and adult as the men covered their mouths to stifle their screams. The men had then quickly carried them from the cold compound to the hidden school buses that Henry and his men had painted black in anticipation of this exact moment.
The minute everyone was safely on board, the two elderly drivers, Timothy Crowley and Fletcher Hodges, waited impatiently for the chunks of wood under the back tires to be moved and for everyone to settle down, before easing off the emergency brake and shoving the gearshift into neutral so they would slowly coast down the hill. They then turned on the lights, gunned the engine and quickly sped away.
The busses passengers had stopped struggling the minute they realized they were safe. The children had all received a cup of cream of chicken soup, a box of animal crackers, a chicken salad sandwich on a bun, a pudding cup, and a cup of hot chocolate. The babies, were given bottles of a warm milk with a vitamin mixture added.
Each adult was given a cup of hot chicken soup, crackers, two chicken salad sandwiches, a pudding cup and a choice of hot chocolate or coffee.
The Play and Eat, had provided each bus with six gallons of their delicious, creamy hot chicken soup, one hundred fifty chicken salad sandwiches, plus egg custard, hot chocolate, coffee, and all of the cups, plates and eating utensils. It wasn’t long before every morsel of food had been devoured.
With their stomachs full, the passengers had snuggled down into warm fluffy blankets and were asleep in minutes, as the bus brought them closer and closer to Gilfords Falls, a three and a half hour’s ride away.
Casey and Casety hadn’t returned from work, and as the hours passed Clara, Mara-Lou and Martha had fervently prayed that somehow, someway they too had escaped and had made it safely home.
The Rat, scared out of his wits by the sheriff and his deputies, hadn’t taken the time to stop and warn the other crooks at Campbells Crossing that the Feds had finally caught up with them. Therefore, there was no one to inform Zachadiah about the man’s sudden disappearance.
“Old man Hodges had dropped Henry, Ben, Karr, Doctor Michael and six other armed men, beside the smaller school bus that had also been painted black. It was setting on a slight hill in a copse of trees about fifty feet from where the girls called home.
Stealthy the men crawled toward the burned out shell of a house where they waited impatiently for the signal to advance. Upon hearing it, they quickly scurried down the broken uneven steps and silently stood in the dark, listening to the night sounds around them.
Henry was the first one to enter the cellar where a small fire was burning. The fire did little to heat the cold barren little room, where the three pregnant women huddled together on a tattered mattress, with rags for covers.
Henry instantly recognizing his daughter, went to her, and covered her mouth with his hand, to keep her from screaming and giving them away.
The minute he clasped his hand over her mouth, she struck out at him, petrified that some new torment had been devised just for them.
“Hush, baby girl! It’s okay, papa’s got you! Its papa, we’ve come to take you home!” Henry said picking her up and holding her close as he carried her up the stairs, swiftly making his way to the bus. Tommy, carrying Mara-Lou, and Hershel hugging his daughter Clara tightly to him, followed close behind as men with rifles protected them from all sides!
“Papa, oh papa, is it really you!” The girl said as she hugged his neck.
“Yes baby, its papa!” Said Henry, using the name she’d called him as a child. Suddenly the tears he could no longer hide, were coursing down his face and dropping silently out of sight.
They were almost halfway home when the pains started pounding at her, “Papa, Papa, I hurt, papa,” she said, as one pain after another slammed into her, making her gasp for breath. She suffered the waves of pain in absolute silence, as they‘d all been forced to do at the commune.
“Michaaaael, Carrrter,” roared Henry. His heart beating a tattoo in his chest, “I need some help over here, I think Martha’s baby is trying to be born! Michaaaael!”
“Bring her back here,” said Michael quickly scrutinizing the situation, as he headed for the back of the bus where he’d set up a small examination area, for a just in case, in case scenario.
Carter, go tell Dennis to step on it! Tell him Martha’s in labor and it sure looks like she’s going to deliver breech. We’ve got approximately one hour to make it to the hospital before the baby arrives. Michael said inserting an IV line with a pain reliever into her arm, while he introduced himself.
The staff rushed to help them the minute the small bus pulled up to the emergency room entrance. Within less than ten minutes of their arrival, Martha had given birth to a baby boy that she promptly named Henry Charles, after her father. A baby girl born minutes later was named Crystal Sand, which was Myrtle’s middle and maiden name.
The girls comfortably installed together in a room, were enjoying a breakfast of ham and eggs, a stack of fluffy pancakes, home fries, orange juice, milk and coffee.
Mary, upon learning of her friends’ rescue, had insisted they too be moved in with her and the rest of the gang. The eighty two rescued children, ranging from newborn to eleven years old were taken to the children’s ward, where a special staff was waiting for them. The fifty elderly rescued men and women were placed ten to a room, and made as comfortable as possible.