Ozark Retreat - Chapter 1




Chapter 1

Brady brought the Suburban to a halt by the fuel pumps of the Mini-Mart. It had been a long drive down to the Ozarks. He stretched before he began fueling the Suburban with gasoline. He looked around the area with interest. He switched the nozzle to the second tank the Suburban boasted and watched a tourist family take the place by storm. They all wore bright shirts, and khaki shorts. Sandals with socks. Camera straps were around every neck.

With a quick turn, he avoided one of the family from getting a shot of his face as they took pictures of him and the Suburban.

“Hey mister,” said what looked to be a twelve year old boy came up to Brady. “Are you one of them survivalists we heard about down here?”

Brady smiled. “No, son, I’m not.”

“Truck sure looks like it. But it isn’t camouflaged so I guess it can’t be. My daddy says they all drive big four wheel trucks and stuff and run around in camouflage shooting people they don’t like with guns.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Brady said. “I’m just a tourist like yourself.”

“Don’t look like a tourist, either,” the youth said. But he turned around and ran over to his mother, who was holding out an ice cream bar for him.

Brady finished fueling. He’d paid with a credit card at the pump, but he went inside to take a look around after he’d cleaned the bugs off the windshield. Typical tourist area Mini-Mart. He got an Arizona bottled iced tea and went up to the counter to pay for the purchase. A pimply faced high school aged girl was behind the register.

“Hey, mister,” she said as she took his money, “That’s a nice truck. What lift do you have under it? My boyfriend has one with a twelve inch lift. It’s cool.”

“Two inches,” Brady replied.

“That’s not very much,” she said. “You should lift it higher. Be a lot more cool.”

“I’ll keep it in mind. See you around.” He picked up one of the free local maps.

Brady went back out to the Suburban and climbed in. He checked the itinerary Barbara had given him for the address of the hotel she had booked him. After unfolding the map, he found the address and headed for the hotel.

After settling in, and checking a few addresses and phone numbers in the telephone directory, Brady went scouting the town. Branson, Missouri, for a tourist town, he decided, wasn’t too bad. Of course it was based on a down home, rural precept. They did it well, he thought.

He checked in to the Taney County Sheriff’s office over in Forsyth after he checked into the hotel. He showed his detective’s credentials and concealed carry permit. They weren’t particularly happy with the idea, but didn’t raise too many objections about him following up leads on his case. Brady did the same thing at the Branson City Police department. Again, he didn’t get a hearty tourist’s welcome, but the same offer of limited cooperation for cooperation on his part that the county had given him, and admonition to keep things legal.

Neither agency could provide him with any useable information on cults in the area. The only thing that came up was Survivalists. The boy at the Mini-Mart had mention survivalists. The hotel had a good internet connection. He used his computer with it to do some research on Survivalists. Brady found himself time and again leaving the specific search to go off on interesting tangents about the actual survival subjects.

After he logged off and had supper at one of the local restaurants, he decided to see a show. He was smiling when he returned to the hotel. Branson was a nice place to visit.

The following morning he went back to work. It involved casually probing questions of people that would be likely to have any contact with cults. Including Survivalists. They didn’t seem to have any contact with the tourist part of Branson, except for the old time crafts presenters. It seemed a few survival minded people had asked those doing the demonstrations to give some private lessons. Many of the experts were happy to do so, for a fee.

Brady continued to ask questions, concentrating now on the locals. He just wasn’t getting much information. Definitely not about cults. But the subject of Survivalists kept popping up.

Partly out of curiosity, partly from the growing belief that the cult his client had said his daughter had joined was a Survivalist Group Brady began concentrating on that angle. He did two things, starting that second week of investigation. He booked a light charter aircraft at the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport for a flight over the area. He also contacted half a dozen real estate agencies in the area.

He took his digital mini-cam with him on the flight and recorded everything that looked like his recently developed ideas of a Survivalist compound. He included enough landmark shots to be able to pinpoint each one from the ground. It cost a bundle, but Brady felt it worth it. He had lots of possibilities to check out.

He told each of the realtors what he was looking for in the way of land acquisition. It was based on the same ideas he used for checking properties during the flight. One agent immediately asked if he was one of those ‘Survivalists’.

“Why,” Brady asked, “Does it make a difference?”

She shook her head. “No, not really, but it helps me define what to look for, for you. I sold one piece of property much like you say you want. When I asked them if they were, they denied it. My husband is a prepper and he was sure that’s what the land was purchased for.”

“The buyers put in a compound?” Brady asked.

“No, I haven’t seen any development on the property at all. It’s not too far from where I live. I could check with the owners and see if they are interested in selling.”

“Let’s leave that option open, but concentrate on properties already on, or coming onto the market.”

Brady began checking the properties he’d seen from the air. He used the same spiel in each case. “Hi. I’m Brady. I’m thinking about buying a compound up here and wanted to meet my neighbors. Get some advice on wells and such. LaRhonda Richards put me onto the area.” LaRhonda Richards was the woman he was trying to find.

Most of the places had locked gates or looked like they weren’t currently inhabited. The ones with locked gates he knew he would just have to observe until he could catch someone arriving or leaving. He hoped he wouldn’t have to do that. He could, but it was tiresome work.

The realtors began contacting him the third week he was in the area. A couple of them had access to some of the locked properties. They were up for sale. He kept looking. Brady was about to decide to start surveillance on the other locked down properties when he noticed the person he was talking to at one of the sites he’d found from the air reacted to his use of the name LaRhonda.

The fellow didn’t say yea or nay about her, but Brady knew the signs. The man knew her. Brady actually got quite a bit of useful information about building in the area before he used LaRhonda’s name. The man shut down then and made an excuse to go back inside the confines of the compound.

It was only a matter of time now that he had location pinpointed. He could concentrate on this compound. Brady didn’t cancel the realtors’ searches, but he wasn’t quite sure why.

It wasn’t that difficult to finally contact her. All it took was a letter addressed to the street address of the place with his cellular telephone number. Brady decided after the first barrage of cussing that he probably had LaRhonda on the other end of the line.

She finally calmed down. “Your father is only concerned about your welfare. If you are tied up with a cult you could be in danger.”

“We’re not a cult. It’s not like the media portrays us. We’re just people trying to prepare for bad times. Don’t you listen to and see the news everyday? It’s just a matter of time before we have a nuclear war, bio-chemical war, or something.”

Brady watched the voice stress analyzer as she talked. All indications were that she was telling the truth. He trusted his judgment as much as he did the voice stress analyzer. He believed her.

“I’d like to come out there and meet with you, with you friends around you. If I’m convinced you are okay, I’ll tell your father as much.”

“You’re willing to come out here by yourself? What if we are what you say?”

“Then I’ll be right and you lied to me. I believe you, but I owe it to your father to confirm it in person.”

“Hang on.”

Brady could hear discussion going on in the background. LaRhonda came back onto the line and said, “Sam says it is okay. But be warned, they won’t let you take me away, even if you have help.”

“I’m not going to try to take you away, based on what you’ve said.”

“Okay. Tomorrow at 2:00 PM. Someone will meet you at the gate. You’d better come by yourself.”

“I will. You have my word.”

After LaRhonda broke the connection Brady leaned back in the hotel chair and relaxed. He might be running into trouble tomorrow at 2:00 PM, but he was prepared to handle it.

“Prepared,” he thought. “Interesting word.”