Nick grabbed her and pulled her close. "What's wrong?" Sandy didn't say a word, she just pointed down at a crumpled, bright blue tarp...There were four severed hands under the thin blue covering. They were paired and arranged in a row, all with palms facing up. The hands had been so carefully severed they looked like grisly props, the kind that kids like to leave on the sofa on Halloween night to scare their parents...And on each palm there was a carefully drawn H. The H was faint because it had been put on with blood that was now dry.
FBI agents swelter in the Arizona sun as they wait for cult leader Josiah Hummock and his congregation to surrender. A charismatic fundamentalist, who believes the Federal government is a creation of Satan, Hummock releases twelve children -- and then slaughters himself and his followers in a massive explosion.
Nick Barrows, the FBI agent in charge of the siege, and Dr. Sandy Price, a child psychologist who adopts one of the children, are the first to discover four years later an ominous development: the remaining children have all disappeared from their homes. Government officials brush the coincidence aside, leaving Barrows and Price to investigate alone as, one by one, those who pursued Josiah Hummock are being killed in a hair-raising, sinister rampage.
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1 (TRANSCRIPT/MESA BLANCA, AZ/7.9.94/14:26 P.M.M.D.T CNN CORRESP. T. MASON)
TODAY MARKS THE THIRTY-SEVENTH DAY OF THE SIEGE OF THE PATRIOTS' REDEEMER CONGREGATION HERE IN MESA BLANCA ARIZONA. YESTERDAY, TWO MORE CHILDREN WERE ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE COMPOUND BY THE GROUP'S LEADER, JOSIAH HUMMOCK. THE CHILDREN, A BOY AND A GIRL, WERE THE NINTH AND TENTH TO BE SENT OUT OF THE MILITANT EVANGELICAL GROUP'S HEAVILY FORTIFIED REDOUBT HERE IN THE REMOTE HIGH-DESERT CANYON COUNTRY NEAR THE NEVADA BORDER. A SOURCE INSIDE THE FBI COMMAND POST TELLS US THEY EXPECT HUMMOCK TO SEND TWO MORE CHILDREN OUT SOMETIME THIS AFTERNOON. AS IN THE PAST, THEY WILL BE PICKED UP BY THE FBI SPECIAL AGENT NICHOLAS BARROWS, WHO'S IN CHARGE OF THE OPERATION, AND CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST DR. SANDRA PRICE OF GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY. AGENT BARROWS, ONE OF THE FBI'S SPECIALISTS ON CULTS AND PARAMILITARY GROUPS, HEADS UP THE FORTY-ONE AGENTS WHO ARE DEPLOYED HERE. THE DIRECTOR OF THE FBI, EDWARD TRAINOR, IS FLYING IN TODAY TO CONFER ON THE SITUATION. HE IS EXPECTED TO HOLD A PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER HIS MEETINGS ARE CONCLUDED.
THE TENSION HERE HAS RATCHETED UP DAY BY DAY, AS JOSIAH HUMMOCK, THE CHARISMATIC LEADER OF PATRIOTS' REDEEMER, REFUSES TO ALLOW AUTHORITIES TO INSPECT THE COMPOUND. THE BUREAU AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT MAINTAIN THAT HUMMOCK HAS BEEN GIVING PARAMILITARY TRAINING IN THE USE OF AUTOMATIC WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVES TO THE GROUP'S CHILDREN. WHEN THEY TRIED TO INSPECT THE COMPOUND OVER A MONTH AGO, SHOTS WERE FIRED AND TWO AGENTS WERE WOUNDED. IT IS THOUGHT THAT SEVERAL MEMBERS IN THECONGREGATION, INCLUDING A CHILD, WERE ALSO SHOT. HUMMOCK HAS CONSTANTLY REFERRED TO THE CHILDREN AS "GOD'S LITTLE ARMY." THE CHILDREN NUMBER HALF OF THE CONGREGATION'S SEVENTY MEMBERS.
THE ADMINISTRATION IN WASHINGTON IS CLOSELY MONITORING THE SIEGE. SINCE NATIONAL ELECTIONS ARE FIVE MONTHS AWAY, THEY DO NOT WANT A REPEAT OF THE LOSS OF LIFE THAT OCCURRED AT THE BRANCH DAVIDIAN COMPOUND OUTSIDE OF WACO. THEY WANT TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THEY CAN HANDLE THIS SITUATION IN A FIRM BUT TEMPERATE MANNER. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS HAVE IMPLORED THE WHITE HOUSE TO BACK OFF FOR A WHILE SINCE JOSIAH HUMMOCK HAS INTIMATED THAT IF THE SIEGE ISN'T LIFTED AT ONCE, "A TERRIBLE CLAP OF ALMIGHTY THUNDER" WILL LAUNCH HIM AND HIS FOLLOWERS INTO HEAVEN. MUNITIONS EXPERTS BELIEVE THAT HE HAS THE MATERIALS NECESSARY TO CONSTRUCT A BOMB THAT MIGHT CONTAIN MORE THAN A TON OF DYNAMITE.
THIS IS TOM MASON REPORTING FROM MESA BLANCA, ARIZONA. AND NOW BACK TO OUR MAIN STUDIO IN ATLANTA.
2 "Good morning, Josiah."
"And a good morning to you, Agent Barrows. Have you prayed today?"
The daily morning phone call to Josiah Hummock always started this way.
"I'm afraid not, Josiah."
"There's still time, Agent Barrows. I've always felt that you basically a good man. But those above you are wicked. Wicked proceedeth from the wicked. When you follow the serpent have to slither in the dirt. It is too late for them, but not for The government in Washington is Mammon's creation. One we will bring it down and crush all who believe they can run lives for us."
"We've been through this before, Josiah. You know I have to do."
"You call it a job, I call it the devil's work. All we ask is to be alone."
Nick Barrows watched the tape recorder on the table spine one spool to the other, recording yet another of his conversation with Josiah Hummock. The agent in charge of communicate earphones on, sat next to the machine, occasionally adjusting levels. How many words he had spoken, and how little they moved this man. Hummock's beliefs, strong as the rocks that up the mesa that his congregation sat on, were beyond his reach. Beyond anyone's. He had been telling this to his boss, Ed Trainor, for weeks, and to anyone else he knew who had any power in Washington. They had lost the battle of reason with Human. Nothing was going to make him give in and let Barrows and his team enter his stronghold. And the longer the siege continue more Barrows saw Hummock becoming irrational and truly dangerous. The man was going to do something terrible to him and all his followers. It was just a matter of time.
"Josiah, I plan to come up at three today with Dr. Price to pick up"
"I had a vision last night, Agent Barrows."
"Dr. Price and I"
"It was a terrible vision. Exodus says, 'The Lord is a man of war.' The destruction of this group of patriots will be the first thunderous crash of this war. Flesh will be ripped from bones, muscle cleaved from tendons. We will return to dust in a mighty roar, but our army will still prevail. The vision was as clear as a pool of water formed by a cloudburst."
"Josiah, what about the two children you said we could pick up today?"
"Be at the gate at three. The children will be ready." Hummock's voice suddenly seemed to be coming from far off, his tone flat as the desert floor.
"As I said before, Dr. Price will be coming with me again."
"These will be the last, Agent Barrows."
"What do you mean 'the last,' Josiah?"
"I have many things to tend to. I will see you and Dr. Price at the appointed time."
"Josiah, you promised that you would send out more"
"Save it, Nick, he's hung up," said the communications chief as he switched off the tape recorder.
"Damn!" Nick shouted, as he slammed down the receiver.
"He's sounding nuttier every day," said the young assistant to the attorney general, who had joined them the week before.
"Can it, will you? You've been here less than a week and now you're an authority."
"I'm sorry, Nick."
"It's okay. But I think you're right. If we don't pull back and give him some breathing room, there's no saying what Hummock will do. The main thing is we've got to get as many kids out of there as we can. As fast as possible."
The trailer that served as the command center was little bigger than the type that cars towed on highways. It was packed with communications gear, and the six agents that manned it at all times barely had enough room to move about, let alone when other agents were present.
"What time is the director coming in?" Nick asked the communications chief.
"ETA is five-twenty. Cheney and Wallach are picking him up. Do you think you can convince him to scrap this op for a while?"
"If I don't, CNN will get quite a ratings boost. Hummock has the potential to make Koresh look like a school crossing-guard."
3 The jeep slowed to a stop at the fence encircling the base of the mesa. The two highway patrolmen at the gate leaned down to look at the man and woman inside, then waved them on. After a mile, the paved road gave way to a dirt track that was little more than a dusty, rock-filled depression in the desert scrub. As it moved upward, the jeep labored slowly through the long switchbacks that led to the top of the mesa. Nick Barrows and Dr. Sandy Price were silent. Below was the black ribbon of the two-lane highway they had driven on from the command center, ten miles to the south. Sandy Price, watching a lone pickup truck barreling along, stared down at the highway as if it were of utmost importance to her to measure the time it took for the truck to appear at one end of the road, then disappear into the haze at the other end. As the jeep climbed, the dark piñon pines and yellow grasses gave way to stunted bushes and a phantasmagoria of sandstone rock formations.
Nick, who was tall and muscular with dark hair and darker eyes, was in his mid-thirties, but looked older. "How are the kids?" he asked.
"The same. No changes."
"I keep hoping you'll answer that question differently."
"I wish I could, but you know what they're like. The small ones seem calm, unconcerned, as if they just walked out of a playground, not a siege. I can't get anywhere with them. They pay attention to me when I ask a question, but the only answers I get from them are, 'Mary will tell you,' or 'Ask Jebediah.' If they want something I can't give them, they don't argue. They just sneer and walk away."
"What sort of things do they want?"
"To talk to Josiah, for instance."
"Mostly. But that shouldn't surprise you. It seems like Josiah was their life. All their life."
"Yeah, and a horrific life."
"I'm worried about them, Nick, I really am. They're so disciplined, like a marching band, and as cold as can be. Every day they do an hour and a half of calisthenics, sometimes twice a day, whether it's raining or a hundred degrees. They have prayers in the morning and evening. Everyone participates, even the little ones. And with only a nod from the older two they all get down on their knees facing in the direction of the compound. Mary and Jebediah are the absolute leaders. There's never any doubt about that. They have total control over the children, but it's Hummock who pulls their strings. Whenever Mary or Jebediah strike up a conversation, it's just a ploy to pry information out of me."
"Oh, what our plans are for them. How long they are going to stay with us. That sort of thing."
Sandy unconsciously licked her lips, trying to offset the enveloping heat that made everything dry as a matchhead. She was a generously proportioned woman who you knew would never turn soft. Her hair was the color of fine sand and she wore it to her shoulders, framing a long and graceful neck.
"Hold tight," said Nick, pulling sharply on the wheel to maneuver around a rock the size of a hassock. Sandy braced herself against the dashboard. Nick straightened out the jeep and turned to her.
"You haven't overheard anything useful?"
"No. I've told you that."
"Well, you see them. I don't."
"They're infuriating. When they're together, and that's practically all the time, they hardly talk. They even haveI guess you'd call it an exercisewhere they stand in two lines facing each other."
"That's it. Nothing. They just stare at each other. Sometimes for up to an hour. I asked Jebediah why they do it and he said, helps us think of Josiah." But I don't believe that. It's just another technique that Hummock used to control them. They never watch TV or listen to the radio, and the only thing they read is the Bible. And then it's only the passages that must have been marked for them by Josiah. Mainly Revelations."
"Josiah must have sent those two out first to take care of the younger kids. And all we have is a total of ten," said Nick.
"Right. Too few."
"And today, hopefully, eleven and twelve. That means there may be as many as twenty kids still in the compound."
"It's going too slowly, isn't it? Do you think there's a chance the Bureau lifting the operation?"
"I doubt it. The White House is scared shitless of what happened at Waco. Their answer to that is to just plod along, not rocking the boat, hoping it will all work out. Like in a TV movie.
"But it won't."
The compound came into view and they stopped talking. It was made up of half a dozen low cinderblock buildings, connected enclosed walkways and surrounded by a high chain-link fence topped witch coils of barbed wire. If it wasn't for the wooden cross rising above one of the buildings, it could pass for a military base in a third-world country. A scrim of majestic snowcapped mountains in the distance highlighted the drabness of the building Nick drew the jeep up to the gate and pressed the horn twice.
"The director is flying in today. I'm seeing him after this," continued. "I tell him every day that Hummock is getting weird and weirder, but I'm afraid that might make him think now's the time to put the screws to him. They've got to understand: We had to back off. This whole thing started because the state was worry about how the children were being treated. Well, we got a lot more to worry about now."
Sandy nodded, pushing her hair away from her forehead. She and Nick climbed out of the jeep. Almost at once, a door in the building opened. There, framed in the doorway, dressed in fatigues, was Josiah Hummock. He was a big man, at least six-two and weighing close to two hundred and fifty pounds, with gray eyes that burned with a feverish brightness. Around his neck was an immense cross. It was as wide as the span of a man's hand and studded with precious stones. Though Josiah was only in his thirties, his hair, pure black and worn long, almost to his waist, coupled with a dense beard laced with white streaks like lightning bolts, thrust him into the timeless role of patriarch. If Hollywood wanted to remake The Ten Commandments, he would be perfectly cast as Moses.
"I'm glad to see you, Josiah," said Nick.
"You know I honor my promises, Agent Barrows."
"I'm seeing the director later today. I'm going to try to persuade him to lift the siege and give us all some time to cool off."
"You know that won't work. The money changers would still be plying their trade if the Lord hadn't chased them out of the temple. Your chief is in the employ of Satan, as are the others."
"The others?" Nick pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. The only relief from the sun was in the shadow of the building Hummock had stepped out from.
"You know who they are," he said, as his voice rose. "There's the attorney general, a loyal worker in Satan's vineyard. He will reap the vengeance the Lord has instructed me to mete out. And don't forget the media, particularly those two black-tongued reporters who spread falsehood to the unknowing. And, of course, there's the archfiend of all."
Hummock reached down and cupped the cross that hung down on his chest, and kneaded it in his hand as if it were made of clay. It was a movement he repeated frequently, a gesture he seemed to use to calm himself.
"Who is the archfiend, Josiah?"
"Don't play the innocent, Agent Barrows. It's a role that doesn't become you. You know who I'm talking about. The man you call president. Benjamin Wesley Harpswella godless man who will be punished severely. Life will be taken from him."
"A threat to the president, Josiah, is a federal offense. A serious one. But I'll pretend I didn't hear you say it. And I'm sure Dr. Price will maintain her silence, too. I'll do it if you release the rest of the children. That's all I want. That will satisfy everybody. People all around the country are concerned about them."
"No, Agent Barrows. I will handle this the way the Lord, my Father, has instructed me to. We know our enemies and we know how to deal with them. The accounts will one day be tallied. We have God and we have time."
Hummock looked up and stared at a hawk riding an updraft over the top of the mesa. "The Lord is like that red-tailed hawk. He watches us quietly from above, and when he has to, he strikes furiously and suddenly without warning or apparent reason."
"Josiah" Nick started to say.
"How are my children, Miss Price?"
"They're fine. Very well behaved and friendly."
"I expect that. They embody both the goodness of the Lord and his righteous rage. They are the seeds from which my crusade and empire will grow."
"Can we expect two more children tomorrow?" asked Nick.
"No, Agent Barrows. I don't think there will be any more children for you to collect. All of us, the children and the rest of the congregation, are preparing For a new beginning."
Hummock turned his back on Nick and motioned toward the compound. The door opened and out came two men, each holding the hand of a young boy.
"These are two of my closest and most trusted disciples. Enoch and Gabriel." The two men nodded gravely. Hummock looked down at the two boys. They were both about nine. "This is Caleb and Seth. Two beautiful and fierce young warriors for God." The two boys, as if on cue, walked over to Nick and Sandy and shook their hands.
"I will call you tomorrow morning at our regular time," said Nick.
"Good-bye, my children," Hummock said to the two boys. They ran to him as he opened his arms and then bent down to embrace them. "Remember my teachings, boys. You have the knowledge. Follow it and it will protect you. And remember, I am always with you."
Hummock smiled to himself, then abruptly turned and walked back to the compound with the two men. None looked back. Sandy helped the two boys into the back of the jeep. As they began their slow descent to the highway below, Nick whispered to Sandy, "He's right, you know, about the president and the rest of them. In a way, they are his enemies. They won't give an inch to him. Not with the election just ahead. They need to appear in control."
"He really got to me this time," said Sandy. "That line about 'a new beginning' ... I was worried driving up here. Now, I have to admit, I'm terrified."
4 The Gulf Stream II banked gently over Page, Arizona. The plane was at twenty-nine thousand feet and the Colorado River below looked like a snarled green cord set against the red stone floor of the immense plateau that straddled it. They would be starting their descent within a few minutes and Ed Trainor, the director of the FBI, was almost finished going through his briefing book on the Hummock siege.
The Bureau, like most federal agencies, had a number of business jets at their disposal. Ed Trainor preferred this one for long trips because of its size and the fact that a small office was set up for him in the back. There was a partition in front of it so he also had some privacy. He was traveling with his secretary, two public affairs people, Laurie Abbottan official from the ATF who was friend of Nick Barrowsand Phil LaChance, his head of investigations. He hadn't planned on taking LaChance, but Clayton Bosworth, the attorney general, called at the last minute and ask to include him. LaChance had been briefing the attorney general on the siege so the request was not out of bounds. He knew that LaChance was in Bosworth's pocket, the same relationship he had with a dozen other important senators and congressmen. He was about to close the briefing book when Laurie Abbott came to the back of the plane.
"Ed, do you have a minute?"
"Sure. Come on in."
Laurie Abbott was a short, slender woman with a turned-up nose and lively green eyes. She looked as if she worked out daily and moved with the ease and economy of an athlete.
"I don't know if anyone mentioned it, but Nick Barrows and I have known each other for a long time. A very long time."
"I never heard that."
"Law school. We were best friends from first year on."
Ed smiled. "You have something on your mind, don't you, Laurie?"
"I guess I do. It's not easy to reach Nick these days but I final got through to him last week and he sounded ... well, I'd pretty stressed out. We used to talk to each other all the time maybe every other week. I know he's got a lot on his hands but didn't seem like the Nick I know."
"You are a good friend. But rest easy. I'm keeping a close was on the situationand on Nick. Maybe I haven't known him quite as long as you have. But I know him pretty well. And I care for him a lotlike you. Believe me, everything is going to work out fine."
"Ed, it's important," said Phil LaChance, sticking his head in the office doorway. "It's the president," he said, with a self-important look. "He wants to talk to you. He's on the yellow phone."
Laurie Abbott got up from her chair and started to leave but LaChance was blocking the way. He seemed ready to stand there while Ed took the call, but Ed would have no part of that. "Thanks, Phil. I'll see you when I'm finished."
"Sure, Ed," he said reluctantly.
"Hello, this is Ed Trainor," the director said, when he picked up the phone.
"One moment, Mr. Director," answered one of the operators who handled the White House switchboard. A moment later the voice that even a schoolkid could identify came on the line.
"Hi there, Ed. How you doing today?"
"Fine, Mr. President. What can I do for you?"
"I want to share something with you," said Benjamin Wesley Harpswell, President of the United States. "I'm sitting here with the vice president and Murray Saltzmanyou know, my head of polling. I'm looking at the numbers on our handling of the Hummock business. What do you think they look like, Ed?"
"I have no idea."
"Well, Ed, these numbers are as good as they get. They're just about bouncing off the damn page. Only a beautiful virgin with a rich daddy could look better."
Ed Trainor could hear the laughter of the other two men in the background.
"The country feels we're dealing with this fruitcake Hummock exactly the right wayfirm and responsible; nothing rash, but just strong and sensible action. That's what the American people want, and that's what we've been giving them. And that's the way we have to continue to handle this thing. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. But my man in charge, Nick Barrows, believes that Hummock is becoming more irrational and we should back off"
"I'm sure Barrows is a good man, Ed, but these numbers are gold. They smell like a lot of votes and the election is right around the corner. You just tell your agent in charge to just keep the operation going the way it is. Our fellow countrymen believe we're doing the right thing. We don't back off but we also don't provoke. You're on the same page as I am on this, right Ed?"
"Yes, Mr. President. I understand."
"One last thing, Ed. Next month we're having a little dinner in the White House for the prime minister of England and his wife. I sure hope you and Marge can attend."
"We'd be honored, of course, sir."
"That's great. Now you have a great day, Mr. Director, and keep up the terrific work."