Brady was prompt. He showed up at the gate right at 2:00 PM.
Of course, he’d been parked down the road quite a ways and had scouted the compound from the cover of the forest surrounding
He saw six houses, a barn, large outdoor garden, an orchard, and a greenhouse, a couple
other outbuildings and people working here and there. There was no sign of armed guards circulating. All the men and most
of the women he saw did have holstered handguns.
“Clever,” Brady thought when
he noticed the blackberry bushes surrounding the compound. He wouldn’t want to try to push his way through those.
The man was curt at the gate. It was the same one he’d talked to previously. He too was wearing a holstered
pistol. “You Collingsworth?” At Brady’s nod, he unchained the gate and swung it open. It put him on the
driver’s side of the Suburban.
A rather begrudging “Nice truck,” passed
the man’s lips as Brady drove past. “Just follow the road. Someone will meet you at the compound.”
There was a welcoming committee. Brady judged it to be half the population of the compound. No children. He
stopped the Suburban next to a small line of vehicles. He noted that they were all older models.
he said as he got out of the Suburban. “I’m Brady Collingsworth.”
Fellows,” said what was obviously the leader of the clan. He just had that look about him, to Brady. “Excuse me
if I don’t shake hands.” Sam crossed his arms when Brady held out his hand for a handshake.
Brady shrugged. “Can’t really blame you. Am I going to be allowed to talk to LaRhonda?”
“She said she would,” came a voice from the back of the small crowd. “That means she will.”
The voice was tinged with anger.
“Come on in to the house,” Sam said. The
group parted and Sam led Brady to the closest of the six houses. He had to force himself to turn his attention back to the
matter at hand. The construction features of the house had caught his eye.
Brady saw LaRhonda
sitting stiffly in an upholstered chair in the small living room of the house when they entered. He recognized her from the
photos her father had given him. “Hello, LaRhonda,” Brady said. He didn’t even try to shake hands with her.
“I’m not leaving,” she said, staring at him. “I’m safe here.
Safer than out there. She made a vague motion, indicating the world outside the compound. “Don’t you watch the
“Mind if I sit down?” He didn’t move until LaRhonda finally
nodded. Sam silently left the room, going into what Brady figured was the kitchen. No doors opened and closed so Brady assumed
Sam was hanging close, to lend a hand, if need be.
“Would you expand on that a little?
Tell me not only why you want to stay, but also why you don’t want to go back. I think there are several different issues
He almost wished he hadn’t asked. Brady got LaRhonda’a life history.
And quite a bit of world history and especially US history. She was lucid and forceful in her speech. No signs of it being
by rote, like she would have if she had been programmed. It was all by her own design. By the time she finished, Brady felt
like he’d just attended a cross between an Oprah show and a seminar on preparedness.
Brady said, “I’ll tell your father you are where you want to be. You aren’t under any constraints and you
could leave whenever you wanted. You just choose not to go back to your father’s home.”
eyes widened. “That’s it? You’ll tell him to leave me alone?”
can’t tell him that. That’s his decision. But it will be a strongly voiced report that he shouldn’t pursue
trying to get you to go back.”
“You sound honest. You aren’t just telling
me this to get my guard down so you can take me by force?”
not. You’ll only be convinced after enough time passes with nothing happening. Then again, I can’t say what your
father will do after he gets my report. He may hire someone else to try. I would stay on my guard, if I was you.”
“I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. If he indicates
to me that he will do that, I’ll let you know. A letter might be too slow. Can I call?”
don’t want to give you our phone number. You might give it to him.”
reeled off two of the phone numbers the compound had.
“You already have it,”
LaRhonda said, disappointed. “Well, I guess you can call. But it’s hard to get through sometimes. Be better if
you send me an e-mail. We have satellite internet service here. I’m the computer person for the group so I’m online
quite a bit.”
“Very good. I’ll do that. I think I’d better be
going. I don’t want to cause any more commotion than I already have.”
immediately came out of the kitchen. He walked with Brady back to the Suburban. There were three men checking it out. “Nice
truck,” one said.
“Too bad it won’t run after an EMP attack,”
“How’s that?” Brady asked, intrigued.
“EMP will probably fry the computers. These new Suburbans are nice, but I’ll take my old model,”
Sam said. “No computer or engine electronics to fry.”
The third man spoke.
“Be a sweet rig though, with a non-electronic turbo diesel. Where did you get the snorkel?”
“Came with it,” Brady said. “I bought it at a government auction. It was a drug mule’s
border crossing vehicle.”
“Sweet,” said the first man. “Hope he
“Actually,” Brady said, rather grimly, “He got death.
Tried to fight it out with the Border Patrol.”
Brady started to get into the Suburban,
but hesitated, one foot still on the ground. “Any chance, under the circumstances, of getting a tour of the place? I’m
“No way,” chorused the three men.
Sam was shaking his head. “We keep to ourselves. Visitors aren’t all that welcome. And we don’t
give away our secrets.”
“I understand,” Brady said. He climbed the rest
of the way into the Suburban, buckled up, and started the engine. “Non-electronic diesel, huh?” he said softly
as he backed up and turned around to leave. He saw Sam take a radio from a belt pouch and speak into it.
The man at the gate had it open already. He did do a small wave as Brady passed. Brady waved back. When he
got back into Branson he contacted the Branson police and county sheriff’s offices that his business was concluded and
he would be leaving the area.
He decided to stay one more night and catch another show.
After he had returned to the city and given LaRhonda’s father his report, he e-mailed
LaRhonda with the message, “Stay on guard.” Her father wasn’t going to give up yet.
Brady had a high profile courier case waiting on him when he returned. While he was doing that, he had Barbara
checking on engine swap specialists, on a whim. She found three and had reports on each of them when he completed the delivery
“I’ve been wondering all week.” Barbara handed Brady the
files. “Is something wrong with the Suburban? I drove it this week and everything seemed all right.”
“Nothing wrong,” Brady replied. “Just an idea prompted by the research on the cult case.”
He started to turn away, but stopped and asked Barbara. “You’re always on the ball. What do you do when the power
“Oh, I’ve got plenty of candles. Why? You thinking about
becoming a survivalist?”
Brady grinned. “Definitely not one like the media
“Of course not. But I’ve heard you say you don’t
keep much in the fridge, much less the pantry. You eat out all the time. What would you do if the power went out? Or the stores
ran out of food?”
Brady realized she was quite serious. She’d never broached
the subject with him before. “I don’t really know,” he said slowly, staring off into the distance.
“You should think about it,” Barbara replied. “Just listen to the news.”
“LaRhonda said essentially the same thing.” Brady’s eyes refocused on Barbara. “Are
you a survivalist?” When Barbara looked a little sour, Brady added, “Or whatever the term is for people that prepare,
but aren’t wackos?”
“Preppers. That’s what I consider myself.
Some one who prepares for the worst, but hopes for the best.”
That does sound better. I’ll give it some thought.” And he did. A lot of thought. When he wasn’t actively
working on a case he continued the research he’d started doing during LaRhonda’s case. He found the more he learned,
the more he wanted to learn. He was a good detective. He learned much.
Brady began to
watch the news with a different eye. He also looked for alternate sources of news. He began visiting several preparedness
related websites and forums, including those that FEMA sponsored.
Then one day one of
the realtors he’d contacted in and around Branson called him. She had found a piece of property in which he might be
interested. Brady didn’t tell her he was no longer in the market. He decided on the spur of the moment to go look at