EXCERPTS from The Ancient Whisper

Chapter Four

 Book One of A Whisper of a  Mystery Trilogy 

​   A familiar pain pounds in my head as I try to open my eyes. I’m slumped against a wall on a cold floor, inches away from a commode. There’s a foul taste in my mouth. Sweet Mother of Jesus, I’m so thankful the commode is here, as nausea rises like a thunderstorm up my gullet and out my mouth. It’s a gurgling sound followed by a disgusting splash, as it hits the water. It looks like a restroom stall, my red case is near, and I’m suddenly very angry.
   Those dirty bastards!
   The outer door of the restroom opens, but nothing audible leaves my mouth. Hugging the commode, the vile taste of bile makes me gag.
   “Are you alright, Ma’am?” A woman knocks on the stall door. “Can I help you?”
   “Yes.” I manage to say. The outer door squeaks open and slowly closes. She returns a short time later with another woman. One of them reaches in to flush the toilet while the other tries to help me stand up.
   “Are you alone, Ma’am?” A woman in a uniform has moistened a paper towel and tries to wipe my mouth. “Is there someone waiting for you at the gate? Did you miss your flight?”
   “No.” The hammers in my head continue to pound away. Then many hands reach out to pull me onto a table with wheels. It moves quickly down a hallway into a dimly lit room. A mask is put over my mouth and nose and I quietly drift off.
   "There’s no identification,” a disembodied voice says. “That’s odd,” says someone else. “We’ll check the bag she had and run this through Homeland Security to see if we can identify her. I don’t see an airline tag.”
   A nice young man talks softly as he pricks my left hand. Vaguely aware of movement over my head, people come in and out of the room to lean over me, asking questions. The pounding headache finally dulls, but I’m still a bit light-headed. I know the consequences of sitting or standing too quickly, and will remain motionless until I’m sure the nausea is gone. I’m grateful it’s not as bad as waking up on the pillow/bed.
   “How are you feeling?” The woman who helped me in the restroom leans closer to ask. “Are you feeling any better? The paramedic thinks you’re dehydrated and started an IV drip. You just need to rest now until we can figure out how to help you, okay?”
   “I’m a little better…my family! Did you contact my family?” Tears flow uncontrollably down my face and into my hair. Is this happiness because I’m back to my own universe? Or sad that I feel so dreadful?
   “That’s good you feel better. We’re not able to contact your family. We’ll talk more in a little while.” She turns to leave.
   “What’s the date today and where am I?”
   “It’s June eighth,” she says. “Don’t you know where you are? Did you have a purse? It’s not here and there’s no wallet, airline tickets, or anything else that we can use to identify you, so no, we didn’t contact your family.”
   “What? There are papers in the bottom of the case. They’ll prove who I am. Where is my red case?” I know the consequences of lifting my head and remain horizontal.
   “I’ll get someone who can talk with you. You just rest now, okay?”
   I’m not thinking good thoughts right now!
   After all that talk about promises and trust, my teeth clench as my nails dig into the palms of my hands. They’ve managed to put me back all right, but they could’ve at least given back my purse! The papers are in the red case, but I can’t reach it hooked up to this IV thing.
   Time passes, how much is not clear. When the door opens, two people walk toward me. One is an attractive sandy haired woman in a light green blouse and navy blue skirt, and the other is the young man who inserted the needle for the IV. He’s back to rip off the tape and remove the mask. He smiles as he helps me off the table and onto a sofa.
   “Okay, we’ll take it from here. Thanks so much, Jimmy.” The woman waves her hand and the young man pushes the gurney out of the room. She pulls a chair away from the table and sits down near me.
   “My name is Jennifer Holmes. I’m with Homeland Security. I’m going to ask you some questions.” Poised with a small notepad, one that a police detective would have, she taps her pen on it impatiently waiting for me to answer. “Please state your full name.”
   “Ellen Peters Andress.”
   She scribbles on her pad. “Did you say Andress? Could you spell that for me?”
   “A n d r e s s. My husband and I… his name is Ravenalt T. Andress.”
   “Tell me a little about yourself; how old you are, where you live. How did you come to be in the women’s restroom throwing up? Start from the beginning. Take your time,” she says. Ms. Holmes is giving me the impression she’s bored and not at all interested in what I have to say.
   “I’m forty-three. I had a birthday when I was on vacation with my husband.” Choking slightly, at the word husband, it reminds me that Ravi is dead. Jennifer waits for me to resume. “We live at 1734 Elmhurst Drive, Evanston, Illinois; it’s just north of Chicago. Does my name sound familiar to you? Have you been searching for me?”
   Tears spill from my eyes, but Jennifer motions by circling the air with her pen, then hands me a box of tissue. “Please go on.”
   “We have three children…I have three children…my husband is dead.”
   “What happened to your husband? Jennifer asks, looking at me.
   “It’s complicated, you see…”

   Jennifer says she’ll be right back. She returns moments later with a man she introduces as her colleague. “This is Devon Michaels, also with Homeland Security. Would you tell Devon what you just told me?”
   Jennifer hands me a bottle of water, but no longer has an amused expression. I regurgitate my story of who I am in between small, slow gulps of water. Memory flashes and I put the bottle down, determined to have learned from previous mistakes. That lesson being of not to drink too much too fast after being drugged!
   They move to huddle together exchanging words I can’t hear clearly. “We’ll be right back,” Devon says flatly and they both leave the room. A few moments later, Devon returns without Jennifer. “Who are you? You could’ve obtained the information you gave Jennifer from any number of sources. It checks out, but the real Mrs. Ellen Andress is deceased; has been for almost three months, and so is her husband,” he says solemnly, then sits down and nods for me to go ahead, but he doesn’t look pleased.
   “Look, I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but I have proof. If you will let me try to explain. My name is Ellen Andress. I do live in Evanston. I was on my way back home with my husband on March 17th after spending a week here in Kauai.”
   Jennifer steps back into the room and bends to whisper something in Devon’s ear. He makes a sound like agreement, but I can’t hear what it is. Jennifer says to continue and sits down on another chair near Devon.
   “I went into the restroom just before we were supposed to board our plane. I had a stomachache. As you know, the lavatories are...”
   “Can you move this along a little faster?” Devon seems impatient.
   “Well, that’s when someone drugged me. I realize how odd that sounds...”
   “Really, you expect us to believe this story? We have proof Ellen Andress died in an explosion alongside her husband on March 17th at this very airport,” Devon says emphatically.
   Jennifer asks, “What flight number was that again?”
   Are they playing good cop, bad cop?
   “I don’t remember the flight number. Ravi and I we were flying to Newark for a short layover before going on to Chicago O’Hare. Right after I was taken, I work up to see the explosion. I was in a car…hand me my red case, I’ll prove it to you. The proof is in there, I swear it.”
   Devon is reluctant to do this, but picks it up and puts it on the sofa next to me. Jennifer’s cell phone chirps and she leaves the room. Pulling out the contents, I reach the bottom to pull the flap up, but there is nothing there.
   A feeling of trepidation grips me.
   Mortified at this discovery, I practically shout at Devon. “What did you do with the papers that were in here? Why did you take them?” Then realize that Jam ale could have pulled them out when I fell asleep that last night. Why would he do that?
   “We searched your bag, but there was just what you see in there. You’ve really concocted an elaborate story, haven’t you?” Devon utters.
   “I’ll agree that it’s an extraordinary story, but one I did not fabricate! I had proof. It was right here. You must believe me. Someone took it out.”
   Devon sneers, “There were no papers in your case, except those three books and your personal items. There were no airline tickets, no identification, nothing.”
   “What do you know about the explosion?” Jennifer asks when she comes back into the room.  “So far, there’s nothing to substantiate your claim to be this Ellen Andress. Where were you when it happened?”
   Devon adds, “We asked for anyone who witnessed it to come forward, but that was months ago. We talked with everyone. You don’t appear to be who you say you are.”
   The sharp pain in my chest suggests that fright has progressed to a full-blown panic attack. I catch myself blinking back tears of rage. “I am Ellen Andress! Please, if I can just call my mother, she’ll tell you. Call her, 775…wait a minute. Yes, it’s 775-992-8970.”
   Jennifer’s cell phone rings, she looks down at it, clicks her tongue, and says, “I have to take this.” In the meantime, Devon looks blankly at me.
   “Please, call my mother. Call my dentist and check my dental records. You have to believe me. I was drugged. They kept me there all this time. I don’t know why, except his name is…Prince Abdul. His name is Prince Bla Bla Bla Abdul something, something. I’m begging you to believe me!”
   “Jennifer is making calls right now and will be back in a little while.” Devon is not smiling. I’m so choked up I start to cry, then sob and can’t catch my breath. I’m overwhelmed that my proof has vanished. Devon moves toward me and hands me a box of tissues.
   Why would they believe me? Abdul and his people must have been watching me more closely than I thought. Yet, they gave me the books. Why would they do that? Is this Abdul’s way of paying me back for ruining them?
   Jennifer returns, her face is ashen, “May I see you out in the hall, Devon?”
   “Sure,” he says. Devon moves to the door and looks back at me, motioning to someone outside in the hallway. “Don’t leave her alone. Stay with her until we get back.”
   The door closes after the woman in the uniform comes back in to sit down next to me. “You must be scared right now, honey. I’m sure we’ll get this all straightened out soon.”
   Jennifer and Devon step back into the room and excuse the woman. “Try to answer our questions as honestly as you can, Ma’am. Who did this to you? You said a Prince Abdul abducted you. We aren’t able to find a Prince Abdul anywhere. Do you know the rest of his name and the country you were being held in?” Devon asks.
   “He told me his whole name the first time we met, but it has maybe four or five names. The Abdul part is near the end of it. I couldn’t write it down. They took everything in my case except some clothes and makeup. They took my laptop and sketchpad and I had nothing to write on except the pages I tore out of some books I took from his library. You mean you believe me?”
   Hope returns...
   “That might be a premature assessment.” Jennifer glances at Devon. “We’re not saying that just yet,” she says.
   “Then, what are you saying?”
   “We called in the authorities,” Devon mutters. “They advised us not to contact your family at this time. We have been instructed to just sit tight until the Cavalry gets here.” Devon is abrupt while Jennifer sits down next to me on the sofa.
   “Is there anything else you want to tell us? What does this Abdul person look like? Are you able to describe him?”
   “Let me think. He looked tan, wavy dark hair, about 5 foot nine or six feet tall. They held me in some kind of fortress or palace that was very big, like a hotel or castle. It had stone type walls, marble floors.”
   Neither Jennifer nor Devon is writing anything down. “Do you know what country it was?” Jennifer asks.
   “They never told me, but it was some arid climate, desert maybe. I don’t know exactly where it was. They forbid me to go outside, the papers…I wrote everything down. They would have proven everything.” Weeping again, I grab for the tissues.
   “Okay,” Jennifer says. “No one touched your case in the restroom. We’ve already gone through it twice and there are no papers in it.”
   Devon turns my arm, notices the faded pinholes. He motions to Jennifer and says, “We’ll be right back.” I get the distinct impression that they think I’m a junkie and have imagined my little adventure. Could they toss this up to some hallucinogenic drug I gave myself?
   They could be right and I’ve already lost my mind!
   How could Abdul and Jam ale just dump me here? I’ll file this away, close to my grief for Ravi. Closing my eyes, I lean my head against the back of the sofa as the pounding returns.
   “Ma’am, can I ask you some questions?” Someone says quietly, touching my arm. “Ma’am, can you hear me?”
   When I open my eyes, it’s not Jennifer, but someone else. The young woman is pretty, has shoulder length brown/blond, highlighted hair. She’s wearing a smart blue suit and white blouse. Her name tag identifies her as Special Agent Andrea Simmons, FBI. She smiles, however, it doesn’t look sincere. She is holding a manila folder.
  "Yes, I can hear you.”
   “Are you able to talk with me?” I nod yes and she sits down. “Can you help me understand something? You told the Homeland Security agents that you can’t remember some things, is that correct?” Andrea asks
   “Yes, I was drugged. Can I contact my family now? They’re…”
   “Just answer my questions so we can move this along quickly, all right?” she says.
   Her demeanor seems a little rough around the edges. “It sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure. We’re in the process of running your fingerprints and photo through our system to see if there is a match.”
   “Why would you run my fingerprints? I’m not a criminal. I know who I am…I’m Ellen Andress. I live at 1734…”
   “Just hold on.” She opens the folder and thrusts a photo in my face. “Here’s a recent photo of Ellen Andress, married to one Ravenalt T. Andress, on May 20, 1987. That doesn’t look much like you, does it?” Ms. Simmons then shoves the photo into my hands.
   Oh, they are good!
   Whomever is behind the original mystery concerning my husband’s death has somehow managed to cover their tracks so well that now I’m starting to doubt myself. This is just unbelievable! Although the person in the photo looks like me, it’s clearly not me.
   “I don’t know how they did this, but this is just wrong. Agent Simmons, please help me. I am Ellen Andress. This woman is a phony. She’s the one who drugged me! I’m sure it was her. How can I prove it to you?”
   “Frankly, I don’t know if you can.” Agent Simmons says flatly. “Our records indicate that she died in the explosion.”
   “They took everything that would have helped me prove who I am. Can you please contact my family? My mother will vouch for me. She’s probably staying with my children.”
   “Who are they, Ma’am? We can’t contact your family just yet.”
   For the next hour or two, we go back and forth; Andrea questions as I repeat my story, pausing to drink the water she hands me. I continue to tell her as much as I can remember, all the way up to and including when the woman found me in the restroom. Without my notes, it’s impossible to recall everything, but bits and pieces emerge the longer she persists.
   Agent Simmons stands, “Okay, that’s enough for now. By the way, there is no record of your fingerprints. There is no record of you, anywhere,” she says in a smug tone.
   “I told you, I’m not a criminal.” Taking another swig from the water bottle, the door opens as three men walk in. They are all dressed in dark suits, sunglasses, and they remind me of the movie Men in Black.
   “Hello Lenard, Gene, these men are from the FBI, Special Agents’ Unit. They’ll be taking over the investigation from here. You will tell them your story, again.”
   “Thank you Agent Simmons, catch you later, okay?” Andrea leaves the room and the one named Lenard throws a manila folder on the table. “I am Special Agent Lenard Casings, this is Special Agent Gene Thornburg, and that’s Agent Tom Spalding.” As he says this, he dramatically takes off his sunglasses, planting himself on a chair opposite me.
   Special Agent Lenard flashes his badge in my face, but doesn’t hand it to me. He licks his lips in a repulsive manner, and I notice a negative vibe coming from all of them. Something is just not right about their demeanor. Special Agent Lenard is about five nine to five ten in height, has short, neatly trimmed dark brown hair, a narrow nose, and is clean-shaven. He has brown eyes, semi-bushy eyebrows and a noticeable scar on his upper lip. Lenard looks like he works out some, his obnoxious mannerisms will be difficult to overlook.
   “We’ve been called in to assist Homeland Security deal with your situation,” he murmurs.
   “So you believe me? You believe I’m Ellen Andress and I can go home now?”
   “Not just yet. The local office here couldn’t locate certain information about you so it raised a red flag.” Agent Lenard leans back in the chair. “We followed the reports for some time. They had you highlighted from the start.”
   “What are you talking about? What reports? What exactly does this mean?”
   “Don’t get excited. Highlighted is a term the local authorities use to contact our office. They are duty-bound when there is a threat to National Security. In this case, you don’t exist anywhere on the planet. We call this a breach in security and a clear threat to our National Security.” Agent Lenard smiles.
   Special Agent Gene Thornburg interjects, “One we take seriously, Ma’am.” Special Agent Gene is as blond as Agent Lenard is dark, but shorter and heavier. His southern accent is skewed, some twang and something else unidentifiable. His eyes are hidden by the sunglasses, but when he removes them, he blinks a little too often as if he is wearing the old hard-type contact lenses. It doesn’t look like he works out, as his midsection suggests.
   Agent Tom remains at the door with his hands clasped in front of him. His sunglasses remain on his face. Unlike the other agents, Agent Tom is bigger and broader and his suit is tight in certain places. His eyebrows are bushy over his dark sunglasses; his mouth is a tight line.
   “What kind of security breach have I caused? I want to talk to someone who can help me. I’m a US citizen! Call someone at the Pentagon. Call the Attorney General. Call my mother! I’m real!” My legs are wobbly as I try to move toward the table. The words The Andress Document is hand lettered on the manila folder. “What’s this?”
   Agent Spalding moves to grab the folder before I can open it, then returns to his position near the door, cradling the folder in his beefy arms. He reminds me of a bouncer in a nightclub, or worse, Jam ale.
   “Why is my name on that?”
   “That doesn’t concern you right now,” Agent Lenard says, licking his lower lip. “Care to start from the top?” For the next 45 minutes or so, the story is repeated, of who, what, where, and the whole of my previous dissertation, while Agent Gene paces around the room occasionally interjecting little snippets.
   Agent Lenard’s cell phone rings and he steps out of the room, but returns a moment later. He signals to Agent Gene and Agent Tom. “Let’s go,” he says without explanation.
   I hate surprises! What should I expect from these total strangers?
   Fear replaces panic. “Where are you taking me?”
   “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
   “Unless you’d rather go with Homeland Security, we’re taking you to a hotel,” he says briskly. “They don’t believe a word you’ve said, but we do.”
   “Does that mean you know that I’m Ellen Andress and you’re going to help me get home?”
   “It’s quite possible that the people who took you are watchin’ your family right now, Ma’am.” Agent Gene says.
   Agent Lenard takes my arm and escorts me out of the room, down the hall, and out of the airport so fast, there’s no time to wave to the woman who was so nice. She looks up in surprise when we pass. There’s no sign of Agent Simmons, Jennifer, or Devon. We exit the building and walk toward a shiny black limousine that is waiting near the curb. The trunk opens and Agent Tom throws my red case into it, as Agent Gene holds the rear door open.
   Agent Tom gets into the front seat and drives us to a hotel located within or near the airport grounds. Bypassing the lobby via a side door, we go up the stairwell to a room on the third floor where Agent Gene opens the door with a plastic key card. It’s a typical hotel room with a single queen-sized bed, dresser, TV, etc. and it looks comfortable.
   Agent Lenard doesn’t miss the opportunity to go over the rules he recited in the limo, insisting that I repeat them back to him until he’s satisfied I won’t breach them. “This is a matter of National Security. You need to be patient while we work out all the details.” Then he eyes me sternly. “You will stay here tonight. We will have more information in the morning to go over with you.”
   “Can I contact my family?”
   Agent Gene smacks Agent Lenard on the arm. He turns to say, “Mrs. Andress, it’s imperative that you do not try to contact your family. After all, they are still trying to recover from your funeral. Until we get things in place, we ask that you refrain from the urge to use the telephone, except to order room service.”
   “Wait a minute. How do I know you’re real FBI agents? How about I just call them and ask.”
   “That is not advisable. It isn’t safe for any of you. Do you understand the severity of the situation, Ellen? Any slip ups could spell disaster. You know what happened to your husband. Do you want the same thing to happen to your family?” Agent Lenard’s compassion has vanished.
   “Yes, I understand. May I ask what the significance of the folder might be that you brought with you today? It had The Andress Document written on the cover. What does that mean?” They look from one to the other reminding me of Abdul and his giant sidekick, Jam ale.
   “Let’s just say there is more to this than we can share with you right now. We will be back in a little while. We still have information to check out, and there is much preparation to do for tomorrow. Why don’t you order yourself some dinner? Make yourself comfortable until we return.”
   The agents let themselves out. When the door closes, there is an unmistakable CLICK.
   I’m furious. I’m so irate that I can’t focus. How does this differ from Abdul’s fortress? Racing to the door, I pound with one hand and pull with the other, but the door remains closed. Flipping the deadbolt, because there is one, we’ll see how this game goes. When I pick up the telephone on the desk, I fully expect to punch in numbers, when a female voice answers. “May I help you?” The voice sounds familiar, then remember Agent Lenard’s words of warning that this could be a deal-breaker where my family is concerned.
   “Is this Room Service?”
   "Yes, what would you like to order?”
   A clock next to the bed reads three thirty. I order a steak dinner to be delivered around 5:30. Removing my sneakers, I start to laugh when I remember pulling my clothes on over my pajamas when Jam ale came to get me that last night. Pulling down the comforter, I flop down on the bed and fall fast asleep.
   Loud pounding on the door wakes me; the clock reads 5:45. “Room Service!” Looking through the peephole, a young man is standing in the hallway looking rather annoyed. He knocks again and yells, “ROOM SERVICE!”
   Since I can’t open the door, I ask him to leave the tray out in the hallway. The server stammers that he needs a signature, but finally relents, leaving the tray on the floor. If I’ve learned anything, albeit too late, it’s to wait, listen, and not respond until it’s necessary. I’m having trouble remembering this little tidbit as anger clouds my judgment, because I like my food hot!
   Still in my pajamas, I open the closet to find a terrycloth robe. Ten minutes or so later, there is a knock on the door. “Ellen, can we come in?”
   The door handle turns as I release the deadbolt. Agent Lenard strolls into the room while Agent Gene holds my dinner tray. “Aren’t ya gonna eat your dinner?” Gene asks, setting it down on the desk.
   Is the third agent guarding the hallway?
   “Why don’t you eat while we tell you about our plan?” Agent Lenard says as he flops down on a chair. Suddenly, déjà vu strikes. Did Agent Lenard just say he has a plan?
   As I savor my dinner (it remained hot under the dome), I listen as the agents take turns like the Bopsie Twins reciting a poem on an invisible stage.
   “It was something you said during the conversation with Agent Simmons yesterday.” Lenard says, taking a paper out of his pocket.
   Gene adds, “It triggered a computer search and we ba’lieve most of what ya say, but I have to tell ya, little lady, there are some big holes in your story,”
   “Oh, my God, you believe me? I can go home now. Can I call my mother?”
   “That won’t be possible,” Lenard says frowning.
   “At least not yet…anyway,” Gene adds, smiling.
   “Why isn’t it possible? I need to let my family know I’m alive!”
   Lenard walks toward the window, peaks through the closed curtains. “There are things that need to be in place before you can see your family again. It really is a matter of National Security.” His eyes flicker, as if he’s not telling the truth. “After all, they think you’re dead.”
   My body starts to quiver with alarm. “I know, but I need to talk with my mother. I need to know my children are all right. Are they in danger?”
   Lenard turns toward me. “They are if you try to call them! There are dangerous people out there, Ellen! You, of all people, should know that!”
   “Look, if it’s a matter of identification, just call for my dental records or exhume that woman’s body. That’ll prove she’s not me!”
   Gene's face flushes, “We can’t do that.”
   “Why can’t you do that?”
   “B’cause what was left of the bodies was cremated,” Gene says quickly, glancing at Lenard. “Actually, there wasn’t much left of ‘em to begin with.”
   “Oh, that’s horrible.” Shock tries to creep in, but I squelch it.
   “Look, Ellen, we are working on the details, but you have to be patient.” Lenard seems frustrated and I’ve already decided they’re going to give me a hard time with or without all the notes written during my incarceration with Abdul.
   A cloud of silence hangs in the air.
   Lenard signs heavily. “Ellen, we are doing everything as quickly as we can. There’s a team of Special FBI Agents working on it right now. They will be at it into the wee hours if need be. It’s…”
   Gene takes over. “It’s just gonna take some time. We were just aware of your situation. It probably seems like an eternity to you, but just be patient. Just trust us, okay?”
   As those words reach my brain, I laugh at the absurdity of this. “Yes, his Royal Highness and General-Pain-In-The-Ass said those same words. And you expect me to believe and trust you, perfect strangers with what’s left of my life?”
   Gene looks sympathetic. “We are tryin to solve what must be an unbelievable ordeal for you, Missus. Our teams are not done yet.”
   “I just want this to end! I want my life back! This is a freaking nightmare!”
   Lenard’s face reflects the seriousness of the matter. “Your old life is gone, Ellen. What we can offer you is a new one.”
   “What do you mean my old life is gone? I don’t want a new life, I happen to like the old one, thanks very much, and I want it back! Abdul said those words, too.”
   “Just what we said Ellen; in order to protect you and your family, we have to put certain things in place.” Lenard glances at Gene and he takes over.
   “We’re gonna have to put you in a program to shield you and your family from the fallout that’s sure to happen if we don’t get this under wraps soon.” Gene smiles, blinking a little too often.
   “What if I don’t want your help?”  They both look a little stricken when I say this.
   “It’s too late for that Ellen, you asked for our help,” Lenard says brusquely.
   “And we’re givin’ it to ya,” Gene adds.
   “There were things that were set in motion when that plane exploded. We have some damaging information that points to…Well, we won’t go into that now,” Lenard stops talking.
   “Say whatever you need to, Mr. Lenard. What information are you referring to?”
   “I really don’t want to get into that now,” he says turning toward the window, reaching out to fidget with the wand. “There will be time to talk tomorrow.”
   Apparently wailing, not realizing how intense it sounds, “What about my children? You don’t mean to leave them out of this, do you? They have to be part of my new life, too! I think I know how this works, but maybe I don’t want to go along with your plan. I need to know what your plan is before I agree to it!” I wish for the get-a-grip attitude my mother instilled in me to show up.
   “Ellen! For Christ’s sake get a hold of yourself!” Lenard is clearly irked now, licking his lips a little too often. “You have created a nightmare for our people!”
   “How exactly did I do that?”
   “We’re still working out the details. At some point, your children will be allowed to join you…” As I grip Lenard on the arm, he looks embarrassed and pulls away. “But we don’t have a definite timetable for that yet.”
   “Thank you, oh thank you. You do believe me, thank you!”
   “We’ll contact you tomorrow,” Lenard says moving toward the door.
   “Do you have to lock the door? They did that where I was being held and it makes me crazy.”
   Lenard sighs, “It has everything to do with National Security and your safety and it’s just for tonight. Good night, Ellen.”
   A strange panic washes over me when I hear that sound.
   What if there was a fire in the building? How would I get out? Lenard’s attitude is getting on my nerves. He seems impatient, not as concerned with my welfare as he first did. How can either of them be trusted? The people who I have encountered in the last day are the ones who really scare me. Aren’t they supposed to be my people!
   I bolt the door from the inside, because it makes me feel more in control. Then I leave the TV on for background noise and chuckle to myself, because all that’s missing is microwave popcorn!
   It’s been a long day (or days) so a hot shower will feel good. I notice there’s a large bluish/yellow bruise on my left thigh where it rubbed against the horn of Jam ale’s saddle. Climbing under the comforter, I fully appreciate the softness of the mattress, but sleep does not come easily. I’m still a long way from home.
   How will Mother and the children react once they know I’m alive? Will I have the strength to keep things together? Or will I fall apart without Ravi? Where will we end up if we can’t stay in Illinois? I must think more positively, and pray for guidance we’re all going to need!​​