“We know she’s afraid of being deported, but if she cooperates with us, we’ll help her. Several agencies have been to visit her. She won’t talk to them either.” Douglas stood. “I’ll take you over to the hospital now.”
They followed the detective to the hospital in their rental car. Twenty minutes later, Douglas pushed the number on the elevator. Lola was recovering in a room on the fourth floor. “How long will they keep her in the hospital?”
Douglas shook his head. “I don’t know. She needs to be detained. It’ll take some time to find a safe place to house her and the other girls.”
“They’re all witnesses.” And in danger. Hannah thought of Sam Arnette and the witness who disappeared before his trial. “I’m sure illegal trafficking victims who agree to testify have gone missing in the past.”
“Yes.” Douglas stopped at the end of the hall and showed his ID to a cop standing guard.
“She doesn’t speak much English, ma’am,” he said. “But I can translate.”
“There’s no need.” Hannah smiled.
“I’ll be right over there.” Brody pointed to a U-shaped waiting area. A flat-screen TV hung high on the wall. “Too many people in the room might intimidate her.”
“Thanks.” She kissed him. Thoughtful man.
She wasn’t looking forward to leaving Brody and going to London next week, but she was fit for work. Staying out any longer felt dishonest. She’d called Royce that morning. He hadn’t been available, but his secretary said he’d be in the New York office for a few days. Hannah was going to see him as soon as she returned from Las Vegas.
But she’d miss Brody, with his quiet strength and old-fashioned manners. And the kisses . . . Yeah. She’d miss those, too. And maybe even New York. Despite the terrible events of the past week, being in Scarlet Falls felt like home.
She followed Douglas into the room. Lola was sitting up in a bed. Her eyes opened wide when Hannah walked in and greeted her in Spanish. But she wouldn’t respond to any of Hannah’s questions. The girl’s eyes kept shifting to the detective with suspicion.
Hannah turned to the cop. “Would it be possible to give me a few minutes with her alone?”
“I guess it’s worth a shot,” he said. “I’ll be right outside the door.”
As soon as the cop left, Hannah pulled a chair to the bedside. “Now it’s just you and me,” she said in Spanish. “Why did you ask to talk to me?”
“Because you helped Jewel,” Lola said in Spanish. “And because I did something bad. I told on her. If it wasn’t for me, she might have gotten away.” She studied her hands twisting in the sheets. “I was a coward.”
Hannah’s heart ached. “I’m sure you were scared.” What had the Arnette brothers done to this poor girl?
Over the next thirty minutes Lola slowly opened up with her harrowing story and enough details to possibly find more victims. Hannah had also determined that the e-mails hadn’t been purposefully cryptic. Lola’s English was too limited to express what she’d wanted to say.
Hannah asked her about that night.
“We worked that place often,” she said in Spanish. “Men coming out of the club were always looking for sex. That night was a private party. Special arrangements had been made.”
Suddenly, Hannah knew. The girls had been hired for Herb’s big bash. Initial shock was replaced with fury. How could Herb do this? She liked him. How could she not have seen what he was hiding under his regular-joe charm? Wait. Maybe she was jumping to conclusions. Surely, other private parties had occurred that night. Carnival was huge. But something nagged at Hannah, an image of Herb squeezing his waitress’s butt. The girl had been at least thirty years his junior, and there was no question that he treated his female employees like sexual objects. How young was his taste?
She smiled at Lola and told her to hang tight. Out in the hallway, she found Douglas. He rose. “Any luck?”
“Yes. Lola told me about a place she was kept, along with dozens of other girls. A warehouse. It sounds like a processing center of some sort. She might be able to give you enough details to find it.”
And maybe Jewel.
If she doesn’t stop humming, I won’t have to worry about the men with guns. I’m going to kill myself.
Jewel rolled onto her side, pressing one ear into the pillow and covering her other ear with her hand. On the cot next to her, Penny hummed something that sounded like a nursery rhyme, not that Jewel had many warm or fuzzy memories of those.
She was pretty sure her mother had never acted like Penny. She stopped herself from speculating about the girl. She was not getting to know her roommate. She glanced toward the closed and locked door. Cellmate.
The muffled sound of boots running came through the door. Jewel sat up.
“What’s happening?” Penny asked.
Jewel ignored her. She got up and pressed her ear to the door. Men were running.
“Get the girls,” one yelled.
Sweat broke out under Jewel’s arms as she backed away from the door. Something was going on. Penny sat up on her cot. Her belly fell between her open thighs. Had it gotten bigger in one day? Her belly button was popping through the T-shirt. Penny cradled it with one hand and pushed off her cot with the other. She waddled to stand next to Jewel.
The door banged open. A man with a rifle passed. “Everybody out. Move it.”
Jewel shuffled toward the door. Penny hung behind her. In the hallway, girls paused, eyes wide. A few clung to each other.
“Move it!” a man shouted.
Girls flinched. They shuffled in a pack down the halls. The men herded them into the loading area like livestock. A truck was backed into the cavernous space, the tractor portion extending through the open bay door. A cool breeze blew under the vehicle and chilled Jewel’s bare feet. She looked past the truck at the darkness outside. It was night.
The back door of the vehicle gaped open. The engine was still running. Jewel froze. A man pushed past the girls, not looking at them. Instinct stopped her feet.
She could not get into that truck. Her gaze was drawn back to the darkness. She gave her surroundings a furtive scan. The men seemed distracted. One ran by, carrying a gas can in each hand. They were going to burn the warehouse down.
They were cleaning up loose ends.
Jewel watched the first of the girls climb the ladder into the trailer portion of the eighteen-wheeler. There were at least thirty loose ends right there.
She sidled to the edge of the group. Penny grabbed her arm, her grip tight and scared.
A girl fell off the ladder.
The man in charge of loading the girls reached down to haul her to her feet. “Move it.” He changed position, moving to the base of the ladder to shove each girl into the truck as she hoisted herself up the ladder. His back was to Jewel.
She slipped along the side of the truck and peeked around the doorframe. No one was outside. She glanced back at the group. Penny was looking for her. There were no other men in sight except the one with his back to her.
No. The massively pregnant girl would slow her down. Jewel took a step through the doorway.
She slid back to the group, grabbed Penny by the arm, and tugged. She pulled her through the doorway with her. Outside, she put a finger to her lips. Penny nodded. The moon shone from a clear black sky. Jewel backed into the shadow of the building, frantically scanning for a hiding place or avenue of escape. The warehouse was on a large slab of pavement. A hundred feet away, another building loomed dark in the sky. They’d have to cross a football field of open pavement to get to it. They’d never make it. She glanced at Penny. No way.
Two big SUVs were parked parallel to the warehouse. Beyond them, what appeared to be random construction debris littered the cracked concrete.
She tugged the girl toward a stack of pallets and collection of concrete barriers, the kind used by construction crews, scattered on the blacktop twenty feet or so from the warehouse. They hurried across the ground, gravel and other bits of debris digging into the soles of her feet.
In the center of the barriers, they dropped to the ground, crouching in the shadows.
The cold night air washed over her bare skin. Her feet went numb. Not a bad thing, considering. The truck pulled away and rumbled off into the darkness. A few minutes later, smoke plumed out a broken window.
Jewel held her breath. Next to her, Penny shivered.
A half dozen men ran out of the building and climbed into the SUVs. One paused, his foot on the running board, his eyes scanning the lot around him.
Jewel shrank into the shadow, closed her eyes, and hoped.
“Thank you for coming with me.” Hannah opened the car door.
“Like I’d let you come here alone. I’ve got your back, counselor.” Brody shut off the car. He got out of the rental, rounded the front, and opened Hannah’s door. His chest tightened as he gazed up at the giant club, Carnival. The surrounding area looked industrial, empty and flat, the nearby businesses closed. “This is where it happened?”
“Yes.” Hannah pointed. “Over there, closer to the motel. The lot was full that night. I guess no one goes out clubbing this early in Vegas.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com