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Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 19

Jennlynn’s wisecrack lightened up what had been a pretty heavy atmosphere around the kitchen table. Nanci had been thinking hard; Tanisha and Jennlynn had raised a couple of very valid points, and they were indeed something that Nanci had to think about and pray about. She’d never actually been close to any kind of pastoral abuse of power, but she could see how the temptation existed.

As she thought about it, she realized that Jesus had it right when He’d said in Matthew 24, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Talk about hitting it right on the nose! She didn’t need to be a pre-seminary student, or even a Christian, to see that.

For some reason she didn’t feel like she wanted to pursue that line of thinking, at least with Jennlynn. Maybe sometime, but not right now. “So I take it your life was pretty controlled by your father?” she asked to seek an escape.

“Oh, yes,” Jennlynn smiled. “I really had to be a good little girl, and I pretty much was. I had exactly one date while I was in high school and that was at the senior prom. The guy was the son of one of the parishioners of the church, and it was made pretty clear to both of us that he’d be hung, drawn, and quartered if anything happened. We had a pretty chaste little kiss and that felt very daring to us.”

“It must have felt pretty good to go away to college,” Nanci agreed.

“It really was, and to look back at it I feel incredibly amazed that I was allowed to. I mean, my father wanted me to go to some Christian college and become some kind of a missionary or something. Well, not that, maybe a missionary’s wife or something. I wanted to work in computers, not using them but designing them, and the cutting-edge kind of thing I was interested in just wasn’t taught in jerkwater fundamentalist Christian colleges, and pretty much still isn’t for that matter. But then I got a full-ride scholarship to Caltech, clear out in California, and honestly that was the kind of thing that was hard for him to turn down, so I was allowed to go there.”

Tanisha got a grin on her face. “It’s funny, but there’s another way in which Jennlynn and I have a lot in common. It was pretty much the same thing for me, except that my full-ride was to Georgia Tech.”

“Did either of you ever think about becoming a minister?”

“In the Disciples of the Savior?” Jennlynn shook her head. “No way. It would never have been a possibility for me even if it had appealed to me, which it didn’t. A woman pastor? It would never be allowed. Women are supposed to sit down and shut up.”

“Again, it was pretty much the same thing for me,” Tanisha said. “Except that my father would never have allowed it. My brother was the anointed one, the prince, not me. In fact, I’ve come to believe that I was allowed to go to Georgia Tech by my father so I couldn’t become a rival to my brother who would challenge him for the control of the church. After I’d been in school for a while they changed their minds and decided that it would be better if they could keep closer control of me. Well, I literally thank God that I’d met Jon by that time, and he rescued me.”

An uncomfortable realization was starting to settle onto Nanci. This was sounding very familiar. “Your father kept a pretty close control on you, too?”

“Oh, yes. I had to be the perfect little princess who could be married off to someone someday to increase my father’s power, or my brother’s. I wasn’t even allowed to have many friends even within the church, and never any close ones. Someone always was keeping a very close eye on me.”

“Same here,” Jennlynn said. “The exact same thing, except that I didn’t have a brother.”

“But you made your escapes,” Nanci replied soberly.

“Yes, but I could never have done it without Jon,” Tanisha agreed.

“I could never have done it without Magic Carpet, which is what I called my Cessna 150,” Jennlynn agreed. “Of course, Magic Carpet was what precipitated the final war between my father and me. I got into aviation while I was at Caltech, and I bought it for a song to make my lessons cheaper. It wasn’t a purchase that my father approved of, so things got ugly, not that they weren’t already pretty ugly for other reasons. But I can’t say that I made my escape, I was thrown out of the house. Same difference.”

Jennlynn shrugged and went on. “It was a huge liberation at the time, even though I didn’t see it that way. See, I still loved and respected my father and my mother, at least up until that point, but that turned love into hate and I knew I had to slap them in the face as hard as I could. Besides, I knew I’d need money to finish up my college. I still had my full-ride scholarship, but that didn’t cover housing and aviation. Well, I have to tell the truth, one of the reasons I got into trouble with them was that I discovered I liked sex at Caltech, and I have to admit that I slept around a little. Well, more than a little. I’d known this girl who worked at a place called the Mustang Ranch, not far out of Reno. So I flew in there and turned myself out. It worked out pretty well for me.”

Nanci took a deep breath. “I hate to say it, but it didn’t turn out very well for me.”

Jennlynn looked surprised. “You worked in a brothel?”

Nanci took a deep breath. It wasn’t something she was exactly proud of, although she was not too proud to admit it, especially to this woman. “No, Jennlynn. I worked the street.”

“I didn’t know that,” Tanisha said. “I mean, I knew it was tough for you, but I never knew that. How did that happen?”

“It wasn’t something I wanted,” Nanci said. “I mean, I didn’t really have any choice at the time. It was either do it or worse things would happen to me. I was traded for drugs and used for sex by two different guys, so I guess that makes me more than just a street hooker. I was a sex slave.”

“Holy cow,” Jennlynn shook her head. “We’d hear stories like that around the Redlite, but virtually never from the girls who work there. It always seems to be someone they knew or heard about or something. How long did you do that?”

“Close to a year,” Nanci admitted. “But like you two, I made my escape. It wasn’t as pretty or as clean, and a girl had to die to help me.” By now, tears were running down her cheeks.

“Nanci, I knew you had it rough, but I had no idea it was that rough. What happened?” Tanisha asked gently.

Nanci told them the story. It was the same story she’d told down at Havasu Creek on the first Christian trip, although she left out the run-up to it, and what had happened after she’d managed to get the Camry out of Chicago. What was left was the story of how Reggie had traded her to Rich, who pimped her out, and then was traded to Curt for even worse things. She told them about the drugs, and she had to tell the story of Allie, the sad little girl who had killed herself, and how Allie had inspired her to make her escape, either alive or dead. “As it worked out,” Nanci said, still crying hard, “I wound up living, but it was a long shot. Tanisha, you know what happened after that, since you were there.”

“Nanci, I never knew any of that,” Tanisha said. “I mean, you literally looked like hell when I met you, but I had no idea things had been that bad.”

“I couldn’t admit it to everybody then,” Nanci replied, trying to pull herself together. “I mean, everybody thought badly enough of me as it was. I didn’t even want to admit it to myself. It’s been long enough now that I can be honest about it, but I couldn’t have been when I met you and the others. I could barely admit it to myself.”

“When we met you, how long had it been since Allie died?”

“A little over two days,” Nanci admitted. “I spent most of that time driving and wondering how much longer I’d be alive. If you guys hadn’t taken me in up there at Lee’s, I probably would have been dead long before you got off the trip.”

“Nanci, does anyone but us know about this?”

“Oh, yeah,” Nanci said, brightening up a little. “The whole group on that first Canyon Tours church trip. We got down there to Havasu, and, well, I don’t know how to say it, but I gave my testimony about what I just told you and a lot of other stuff. I mean testimony in a Christian sense too, like how I was saved, the part you and Kevin and Preach played in it, and how God had been so good in saving me. That was what led Preach to suggest I look into being a minister in the first place. Mom and I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m pretty sure Crystal and Preach gave her the whole story.”

“Uh, yessss,” Tanisha said, letting it drag out a long time. “Not quite like that, though. There’s quite a bit about you that makes sense to me now when it didn’t before,” she said. “That sounds like a powerful testimony you made, Nanci.”

“I don’t know why I did it, I just, well, I felt compelled to say it, and I knew I had to say it there,” she replied.

“That’s quite a powerful testimony indeed,” Jennlynn agreed. “I still feel like I should have made a much more positive statement after what happened back in February, but I just couldn’t bring myself to make it.”

“You mean the hijacking, and you landing that airliner?” Nanci asked, grateful to get away from the subject of her own past a little.

“Yeah,” Jennlynn nodded. “I mean, in one way, it really wasn’t that big a deal. I mean, I do know how to fly a jet, after all, even though it’s a little one like Skyhook, which is what I’ve named my Learjet. That Airbus was a great big hog by comparison, and it flew like one, too. But as soon as the news media got hold of the word ‘prostitute,’ everything went out the window, and that was all they could think about. I mean, most prostitutes I know don’t have their minds that far in the gutter.”

“I remember seeing some of that on TV,” Nanci smiled. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“It still isn’t pretty. I mean, I’ve had my photo on the cover of at least six supermarket tabloids that I know about.” She grinned and went on, “The funny thing about that is that none of the photos were actually of me, just someone who looked like me, or faked up to look like me. And the stories are pure trash. I mean, no truth whatsoever.”

“That can’t make you feel any better about it,” Nanci observed.

“It doesn’t,” Jennlynn sighed. “In fact, it’s taking a lot of the fun out of my weekends at the Redlite. I can’t use my old work name of ‘Learjet Jenn’ since I’m afraid some reporter is going to show up and make a huge headline story out of it. I can’t even fly Skyhook into the airstrip by the Redlite anymore, and that used to be a part of why I was a huge headliner there. I’ve only been to the Redlite three times since the hijacking, and each time I had to fly into Las Vegas and rent a car to drive out there, and then I used the work name I turned out with, ‘Rebecca.’ That’s my mother’s name, and it ought to give you an idea of how I feel about her, too.”

Tanisha shook her head. “I knew that, and it’s sure not the same old Jennlynn we knew and loved. Nanci, the Redlite is a really nice place. Jennlynn took Jon and me there once.”

“That was funny,” Jennlynn laughed. “We went back to my room, and I got Tanisha all dolled up in hooker clothes, then Jon came in and took her out back. It was a scream.”

“I almost died when that guy hit on me before Jon could do it,” Tanisha shook her head. “That really made it seem real.”

“I got the bartender to fake being a customer,” Jennlynn laughed. “Tanisha turned the reddest she’s ever going to get, and that isn’t easy with her being as black as she is. That was, what? Must have been three years ago now.”

“You and Jon really have a reputation for having your fun,” Nanci smiled, “but I hadn’t heard that one before.”

“Well, we don’t like to talk about it that much,” Tanisha grinned. “But I mean, it is just between us girls, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, that was one of the good times,” Jennlynn said. “But like I said, the good times aren’t quite as good any more. Nanci, the reason I stayed with being a house hooker was that I have a pretty strong sex drive, and it was an easier and safer way to get what I wanted than hanging around some bar looking to pick up guys. Now, even the fun is going out of that. But I have Will most weekends now, and he’s taking up the slack.”

“Are you going to see him this weekend?” Tanisha asked.

“Yeah, I’ll crank up Skyhook after work Friday, and we’re going to stay with some friends in Biloxi like we do most weekends when I’m there,” Jennlynn replied.

“He sure seems to be a nice guy,” Tanisha smiled, and turned to Nanci. “Jennlynn never let on that she had a boyfriend until we met him on the plane out of Biloxi when we snuck her out of town.” Nanci knew about that part of the story; Jon and Tanisha had to fly to Chicago on Jennlynn’s plane with her chief pilot flying. They went a long ways out of their way to pick her up in a dark part of the airport at three in the morning so the press wouldn’t notice.

“Yeah, he is. We go back a long way. I met him clear back when I was working weekends at Bettye’s. His grandmother was running the place back then.”

“We’ve met Shirley,” Tanisha said. “She’s pretty neat, too. Nanci, do you remember the Marlboro man commercials? Will looks like he just stepped out of one.”

“He’s a Nevada cowboy at heart, looks like and sounds like it,” Jennlynn said. “He’s a sergeant in the Air Force and was the public information NCO after the hijacking who kept me from gutting a couple reporters like they were fish. We can’t be very open about our relationship since it would hurt his career in the Air Force, but we’ve got something special going. Last winter he even gave me a little cabin up in the desert north of his folk’s place. It’s become our home, even though we don’t get to go there very often. He keeps telling me I ought to get my side of the story on the record. Maybe, Nanci, I ought to be as honest as you were with us and do it.”

“Jennlynn,” Tanisha said. “I hadn’t heard that before.”

“I’m thinking about it,” she replied. “I had to fly back from DC commercial the other day, and I ran into this reporter from WNN. She recognized me, and I had a good talk with her, off the record, of course. She seems like an honest reporter, and she wants to do an interview with me. I mean, one-on-one with the option of my not saying anything I don’t want to say. I’m thinking about it real hard, since there are a few things I think I ought to say. I still don’t know if I’m going to do it, but I’m planning on talking about it with Will this weekend.”

“That could be a good idea,” Tanisha said. “I’ve often thought it sad that only a handful of people know the real story, and most of them work at Lambdatron.”

“You’re right, and you and Jon are at the head of the list, Tanisha. Most people don’t know that I still think of myself as a Christian, although I’ll bet that I’ve been called a walking, breathing Satan from a pretty solid percentage of the pulpits in this country. To them, what I did with that airliner last winter means nothing. Who I am and the other things I’ve done mean everything. It gives some pinheads something new to rant about, so they rant, whatever the facts are. It would be nice to set the story straight from my point of view, but I could never do it in a news conference since there would be some idiot who would have their nose in the gutter.”

“It couldn’t make people think any worse of you,” Tanisha pointed out. “And it might at least set the record straight for a few of them.”

“My concern is that it might stir up the pot all over again,” Jennlynn shrugged. She looked at Nanci for a moment, not saying anything, before she went on, “But maybe that’s not all bad, either. Nanci, I think most people think of prostitutes in the terms of things like you went through, the drugs, the forced sex, working the streets. Really, that’s how it happens most of the time. It wouldn’t exist if the market weren’t there, but there is a safe and relatively honorable way to do it. I’m proof of that. Maybe I ought to think about that angle a little, too.”

“It’s worked for you,” Nanci said thoughtfully. “I can look back at a time in my life when it might have worked for me, but those days are long gone now. But Jennlynn, I think you might have a point.”

*   *   *

After a while, Barbara woke up, and Tanisha had to go tend to her. Since the kitchen chairs were getting a little hard, Nanci and Jennlynn went into the living room, where Tanisha joined them to feed the little girl.

They sat there in the living room and shot the bull for hours. Jennlynn told some funny stories about things that had happened at the Redlite Ranch, and some of the other things she had done. She talked about flying, too, and not just her Learjet. Nanci had some stories to tell too, but she didn’t tell them about the streets of Chicago, but of some of the things she’d done on the river during the last two summers. Jennlynn and Tanisha didn’t talk much about the things they did at Lambdatron, and Nanci understood why, since she knew that much of the work the two did there was classified.

Eventually Jon got home from whatever he was doing, and the conversation continued through a fun evening. By the end of it Nanci could see that Jennlynn was on the way to being a close friend – after all, they had something in common that even Tanisha couldn’t share despite her brief role-playing experience at the Redlite years before. It seemed likely that there would be other discussions in the future.

Jennlynn even offered to take Nanci for a ride in Skyhook some time; that seemed exciting, since Nanci had never been on any kind of airplane before. It certainly seemed like it would be pretty different from rowing a raft.

It got late after a while, and Jennlynn had to head back to her apartment – “home” for her was the cabin she shared with Will up in the Nevada desert. Only then did Nanci discover that this millionaire several times over, who owned two airplanes, one of them a business jet, normally drove a very ratty old ’79 Chevrolet Monza that she’d owned since high school! “It’s not a plane, but it gets me where I want to go,” Jennlynn said before departing in a cloud of oil smoke. It was just another unique thing about this unique woman.

After Jennlynn left, Nanci finished up her chores in the kitchen, and went to her room downstairs. The Christian Social Ethics textbook she’d been reading still needed some study, but she wasn’t in the mood for it right now, at least partly because she felt she’d had a lesson in the subject that Dr. Nelson probably wouldn’t get to in class, and probably wouldn’t appreciate anyway. At least, he probably would not appreciate who the lesson had come from; he was a little straight that way.

But God would appreciate it, she knew. The floor of her room was linoleum laid over the concrete of the basement, and it was hard, although perhaps not as hard as some of the rocks up in the Canyon. But there was no point in being too ascetic, so she pulled out a rug and knelt upon it in her normal way of praying, hands on her knees, palms up to show that she was coming to Him with open hands and open heart, and she prayed.

She prayed for Allie once again, as she almost always did. She gave thanks that Jennlynn and Tanisha had been able to wait until they were around twenty before they made their escape from their families, rather than feeling they had to do it as young teenagers. She prayed for Jon, Tanisha, and Barbara, and her mother and Al. She prayed for the White Team, which was still out on the river somewhere. She prayed that she would absorb and understand the lesson that Jennlynn and Tanisha had been trying to teach her, and she prayed for Jennlynn, that she and her parents might lose some of the hardness of heart they had toward each other. It almost seemed like too much to pray for a reconciliation, but then, she’d made up with her own family, even her father, so she prayed for it as well.

And once again, she prayed to God to lead her in the decision she had to make, which seemed a little more difficult now than it had before. And she prayed that if God were to lead her toward being a minister, that she would be a good one for Him, that she would always put Him before herself, and that He would lead her to always do the right thing in His eyes.

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To be continued . . .

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