Yellow Mama Archives

Jerry McGinley
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Art by W. Jack Savage 2014

But Not Defeated


By Jerry McGinley



          “Pat, this Shea. Did I wake you up?” I said.

          “Been up since six, going through my tackle box and putting new lines on my reels.  Only two days till we head north.”

          “I’m looking forward to it. But right now we’ve got work to do. I just had a call to head out to the county park just north of the city. Got a caravan of six or eight travel trailers. The men were raising hell at the Women’s Health Clinic over on Bly Street yesterday. Broke windows in a couple of cars in the staff parking lot. Took off before officers got there, but apparently returned during the night and broke several windows in the clinic. We got word this morning there was a group camped at the park that fits the description of the pick-up trucks. Can I pick you up in twenty minutes?”

          “I’m ready now. Just made a pot of coffee so I’ll have a mug ready for you. They sound like gypsies. You plan to arrest them or just run them out of the area?” He said.

          “Just talk to them for starters. But if they’re the ones did the damage, we’ll take them in.”

          “Think they’ll be armed?”

          “Just threw rocks yesterday, but come prepared. Never know with groups like this.  Lieutenant says they may be part of a cult called Sons of the Prophets that have been causing trouble around the Midwest. Started in southern Missouri. Apparently, hell-bent on enforcing the edicts outlined by Deuteronomy and Leviticus in the Old Testament. Big on stoning and burning sinners. I’ll fill in the details in the car.”

          “Can’t wait to meet them. I’ll be waiting in the parking lot.” As always, Pat sounded eager to go.

          When I started teaming with retired sheriff’s detective Pat Donegal, it was sort of off the record and just on special cases. But now that he had official status as police consultant, I pretty much had free rein to bring him in on any case I wanted help with. In spite of our many differences, we somehow clicked and worked well together, and I actually enjoy being with him.  After a recent case, we decided to take a long weekend and head north for some fishing. I haven’t fished since I was a kid, but when Pat talks about it, he makes it sound like fun. Maybe we’ll be at each other’s throats after three days, but getting away from the city should be relaxing. One thing I like about Pat is he quickly learned that just because I’m twenty years younger than he is, with many fewer cases under my belt, not to mention me being a female detective, I am not willing to put up with any patronizing or being treated like a little sister. He also knows better than to ever make sexual innuendos or inappropriate remarks with me. I’m certainly not a prude, but coming through the ranks, I faced more than my share of leers and lewd remarks. With Pat, I’m more likely the one crossing the line of genteel behavior.

          Pat spends summers in a small, rundown cabin on the north shore of Lake Mendota. It’s owned by his old friend Luke who runs a tavern next to the cabin. As I approached the Catfish Bar and Grill, I saw Pat standing with two Packer mugs as promised. His place was only a few miles from the county park where I hoped to find the clinic vandals. 

          “Okay, fill me in on what we can expect.” Pat said as he climbed into the Crown Vic and handed me a mug of coffee.

          “Well, according to reports the Lieutenant read, there have been some pretty serious crimes committed by this crew—if our guys are connected. In Missouri one of their so-called ministers was jailed for setting fire to his own house with his teenage daughter sleeping inside.  Apparently, he found out she’d been sleeping with her boyfriend, and since one of the prophets decreed that if a daughter of a priest should act like a whore or harlot, she should die by fire. So he tried to follow that law. Fortunately, a neighbor busted out a glass patio door and rushed in to rescue the girl. Father got seven years for arson and attempted homicide. Never fought the charges. Made him a real saint among the other followers. Couple months later in Iowa, another member beat his wife almost to death because she filed divorce papers—also punishable by death according to the prophets. He too pled guilty and earned celebrity status among the cult.  Three or four other stories were reported but not confirmed. One was in western Minnesota. Twenty-year-old kid came home from a night of drinking and his father met him in the driveway with a barrage of rocks. Guess disobedient children who come home inebriated also deserve death by stoning.”

          “I thought I was the one that got us involved in bizarre cases. These guys definitely sound dodgy,” Pat said.

          “Hopefully, we can ticket them for vandalism and get them out of the state. You’re armed I assume.”

          “My friends Smith and Wesson with a 12-round magazine and two eight-round backups.”

          “Better be ready to use everything you brought. Never know with these kinds of groups.  And the shotgun is loaded on the floor of the backseat. I hope I’m being overly cautious, but you never know.”

          The county park had about thirty campsites, each equipped with an electrical outlet and a water spigot. There was a central sewer stall for dumping and flushing holding tanks. At eight o’clock Sunday morning, there was plenty of activity. Kids were chasing each other on bikes and scooters. Adults were stirring the ashes of last night’s campfires and reigniting fresh flames to take the damp chill out of the morning air. Men stood over Coleman stoves, frying eggs and bacon. I eased the squad through the narrow gravel roads looking for a cluster of pick-up trucks and trailers set apart from the family campers. 

          Pat rolled down his window, and the aroma of brewing coffee and sizzling bacon wafted into the car. Pat took a deep breath and sighed, “Ah, the fragrance of camp cooking. Smell that, Shea? Better get used to it because that’s what our camp’ll smell like this weekend—except we’ll add a delicate bouquet of freshly filleted Walleyes frying in bacon grease and onions. I can almost taste them now.”

          “Swell, but you better control your salivating. We got work to do. I’m gonna ask this guy up here if he’s seen any unusual groups around.”

          I pulled up beside an older camper pushing a wheelbarrow full of firewood. From the looks of the load, I guessed he was probably staying for a while.

          “Excuse me, sir, can I ask a couple questions?”

          “Sure, what’s up?”

          “Just wondering if you’d seen a group of campers that doesn’t seem to fit in here.”

          “You mean the gypsies? There’s a big group down in the rustic overflow camping field.  No water or electric down there. Usually saved just for tenters. But I noticed an odd group down there when I was walking the dog yesterday and early this morning. Bunch of old, battered travel trailers, look like they’re from the fifties, and matching trucks that don’t look much newer. I’ve seen the men come and go in their pickups, but the women stay inside most of the time. Seen a couple women and three or four kids walking to the privies down there, but none of them have come to the main bathhouse. None of their kids have come up to the playground. Course, it’s fine with me if they keep to themselves. I made sure I locked everything up before I went to bed last night. Something didn’t feel right about that bunch. They in trouble?”

          “No, not yet. Just want to ask them questions. I appreciate the information, and I’d just as soon you didn’t say anything to the other campers. Don’t want to start a panic here. Good chance these folks are just good campers like the rest of you.”

          “But you’ll tell us, if they might be dangerous? Lots of families with kids here.”

          “Sure, I’ll stop back if there’s anything you need to be concerned about. Thanks again for helping us out.”

          “Just follow that gravel road to the right. Ain’t more than a quarter mile into those tall trees you can see.”

          “Appreciate the help. Enjoy your breakfast.”

          The man grabbed the handles of his wheelbarrow and started toward his trailer.

          “Sounds like we found our suspects,” Pat said. “Now if we can get them to cooperate, I can make it home for a few hours of fishing this afternoon.”

          “Let’s hope.” I said as I aimed the squad in the direction of the tall trees.

          As we approached the camp, Pat checked his Smith and Wesson and then placed it back in his belt holster under his jacket. “Hopefully, I won’t be using it.”

          “Good to be prepared. Those trucks certainly fit the description of the ones seen leaving the clinic yesterday.”

          The caravan was parked in a semi-circle with a large bonfire surrounded by seven men at the entrance to the central area. No women or kids were in view. I counted eight trailers which probably meant at least one of the men was not at the fire. This could present a problem if there was trouble. 

          “Listen, Pat, since I’ll be doing most of the talking, why don’t you have your phone ready to call for backup in case things get out of control. You never know about some of these yahoos.  Could be armed to the teeth and itching for a fight.”

          “Got 911 on speed dial.  Let’s just keep it friendly till we know if these are our guys.  Then we’ll bring in support. It’s too early in the day for a fight.”

          I pulled the car up to about thirty feet from the campfire and shifted into park without shutting off the engine. If we needed to make an abrupt exit, I wanted to be ready. I had my 40 caliber Glock in my belt holster and a 25 caliber in a holster at the small of my back.

          As we approached the camp, the men stood and faced us. A square-shouldered man who looked to be in his early forties moved toward us. The rest of the group flanked him, three on each side. They were all dressed in work clothes, overalls and flannel shirts. Most wore baseball caps, though the man in the lead was bareheaded with a closely cropped crew cut. 

          I spoke first to establish alpha dog status, “Gentlemen, my name is Detective Shea Sommers. I am with the Madison Police Department. This is my associate, Pat Donegal. We are here to ask some questions about some trouble reported at the Women’s Health Clinic yesterday.  You know anything about that?”

          “I know it’s a sin to work on the Sabbath,” the leader spoke calmly. “Bible says, They found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. ... And the LORD said unto Moses, the man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones....” The group took three or four steps toward us before waiting for my response. “Figure that pertains to cops the same as anybody else, so maybe you should go home, Detective, and come back tomorrow.”

          “Maybe you could tell your Lord that if he’s willing to make criminals take Sundays off, then my boss might let me take off as well.”

          “In our society, women know their place and stay out of men’s business. Come back tomorrow with a man willing to speak to us, and perhaps we’ll cooperate.” He turned to walk back to the campfire. The other six followed in lockstep. 

          “Sir, I asked you a question, and I have no plans of waiting until tomorrow to get an answer. I’d like to know what you had to do with the attack on the Women’s Clinic yesterday and early this morning. Speaking of this morning, does your religion consider vandalism a violation of the Sabbath?” As I finished my sentence I realized I might be crossing a line of unprofessionalism.

          The man with the crew cut turning to face me responded without emotion.“The Lord said, I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

          “Sir, I did not come here to listen to Scripture or hear about your religion. I am here as a representative of the Madison Police Department investigating a crime. I will appreciate your cooperation. If you are unwilling to cooperate, then you will be arrested and taken to the police station for questioning.  Is that clear to you?”

          “I’ll say again, the Lord said, I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. I will not answer questions asked by an employee who does not respect the Sabbath. And I will not answer questions asked by a woman.”

          “Does your group have a problem with procedures performed at the Women’s Clinic? Is this about abortion? Is that why you attacked the clinic and threw rocks at the cars in the staff parking lot?”

          The leader faced me, his stoic expression about to explode. His goons waited to see his reaction.

          “I will tell you this, people who murder unborn children are sinners in the eyes of God.  Deuteronomy said, Cursed be he that taketh a bribe to slay an innocent person. Accepting payment to terminate an innocent life is exactly what the workers at the clinic are doing.  Whoever attacked that clinic was simply doing the Lord’s work.”

          “I am hired to enforce civil law, not Biblical law.”

          “There is no other law than God’s law.”

          “Pat, it is time to call for backup. Ask for as many units as are available.”

          The leader turned his stare toward Pat. “Sir, why do you take orders from a woman? She has no authority over you.”

          After completing the call for assistance, Pat spoke for the first time. “Because she’ll kick my ass if I don’t do what she says. And believe me, she’ll kick yours too if you refuse to answer her questions.”

          “You are both blasphemers. You will both suffer the wrath of the almighty!”

          I should have held my tongue, but I did not. “Sir, your idea of religion is much different from mine. Now I have been very patient asking for your cooperation, but now Pat and I are going to return to our car and wait for backup officers to arrive to arrest you.”

          As I turned to walk to the car, I heard the leader shout loudly, “Blasphemer!  Sinner.”

          When I turned around I saw him pointing at me. His faced had suddenly lost composure and had grown burning red. As if his shout was a signal, I spotted two young men, probably still in their teens, rush from behind the trailer parked closest to the campfire. Each one was carrying, more accurately dragging, a white plastic five gallon pail full of stones, some as large as a softball. 

          One of the teens shouted, “Leviticus said, he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”

          “Death to the blasphemer!” The other boy shouted as he reached into the bucket and took out as stone the size of an apple.  Before I could make it to the car, the kid hurled the rock at me catching me squarely in the shoulder.  As I ducked to clutch my shoulder, another rock grazed the side of my skull.  I experienced a shocking explosion of colorful lights.  I fell backward and apparently lost consciousness.  When I came to, Pat was lying on top of me sheltering me from a barrage of stones.  As I fought through my groggy fog, I heard a sickening shower of stones thudding against Pat’s body.  Blood poured from his head and ran across my eyes and face.  I struggled to clear my thoughts.  I considered pushing Pat off of me and rolling on top of him to protect him.  But then my police instincts kicked in, and I grabbed Pat’s weapon from his holster resting directly against my right hand.  My reflexes took over and I loaded a round into the breech and blindly squeezed off three rapid shots.  I heard screams and realized the stones stopped flying.  I eased out from under Pat’s weight and wiped the blood, both mine and Pat’s, from my eyes.  Through the bloody blur I made saw several shapes retreating.  I also saw two mounds lying lifeless on the ground in front of me.

          I staggered over to Pat. I heard him moaning as he lay curled like a fetus on the ground. I fell beside him and put my hands on his face. He was covered with blood, but he was alive. As I cradled my arm under his head, the sirens crept slowly closer. I was certain he was going to die in my arms before help arrived. 

          “Pat, stay with me. Help’s coming, but you need to stay focused, Pat.” I could see his eyes rolled upward into his sockets. “You’re going to make it, Pat. Look at me! You’re doing fine. Just hang on till the EMT’s get here. You’re going to be fine.”

          I placed my face directly in front of his. His eyes seemed to focus. I thought I saw a wry smile on his lips, or maybe it was just a silent grimace from the pain of countless contusions and broken bones. He moved his lips, but there was no sound, just a weak breath of air. 

          “That’s it, Pat. Stay with me. Talk to me.You’re going to be okay. Just hold on a couple more minutes till help comes. You’re going to be fine.”

          He squeezed his eyes closed, perhaps from pain but maybe trying to gather the strength to speak. He was fighting to stay alive. He tried to speak again, but it was a faint whisper I could not understand.

          Then I heard what I thought sounded like “fishing.”

          “Yes, Pat, we are going to go fishing. As soon as you’re feeling better, we’re going fishing. We’ll have Walleyes for breakfast, lunch, and supper.”

          Then I knew he was looking at me. His eyes were focused. The wry smile, or grimace, returned. He spoke again, “A man can be destroyed,” he paused, “but not defeated.” He closed his eyes and I’m sure this time he was smiling. He opened his eyes. “Spencer Tracy,” he whispered.

          “Spencer Tracy said that in a movie?” I asked.

          “Fishing,” he whispered.

          “In a fishing movie? You’re going to make it, Pat. I see the ambulance. The flashing lights are coming down the gravel road. I got two of the bastards that hurt you, Pat. The rest ran back to their trailers. We’ll get them all.”

          He nodded slightly. The pain seemed to leave him. His face looked almost peaceful now.  My face was inches from his. I was afraid the uncertainty in my expression would betray my words. 

          A fleet of squad cars screamed close by, and officers swarmed the trailer park. Gun shots were fired. The ambulance crew arrived with two stretchers.  The men on the ground would not need them.  They loaded Pat first.  I stayed beside him until he was placed in the back of the ambulance.  Then they put me on the other stretcher and loaded me right next to Pat.  I took his hand as we lay next to each other.  As the sirens screamed and we raced through the campground, I was certain I felt my hand being squeezed in a slow but rhythmic cadence.

Author of five published novels and over a hundred published poems, stories, and articles, Jerry McGinley is the founder and editor of Lake City Lights Online Anthology (

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