Author: C.J. Roberts

Doesn’t matter, he thought. The important thing was the auction, everything else was inconsequential. So why couldn’t he get it out of his head? Why did the story seem relevant? It was motive, sure, but how did it lead to the location of the auction in Pakistan?

Matthew let out a deep sigh and got up to pour himself another cup of coffee. He’d heard the local cops gripe about the coffee on an almost daily basis, but unlike them, he actually enjoyed the coffee in the office. It was likely true the coffee machine had never been cleaned, but maybe the grit added something. He smirked. Back at his desk he grabbed his notepad and started digging through his notes to find a starting point for his research.

Olivia’s jerk-off story didn’t provide much of a jumping off point, but he did manage to learn min-fadlik meant ‘please’ in Arabic. Caleb apparently spoke Arabic with so much ease he used it in private. He would guess people typically spoke their native tongue while alone and certainly while engaged in that particular activity. Lord knew he’d never yelled out in Mandarin while in the throes of ecstasy. Of course, he didn’t speak Mandarin.

He flipped through more of his notes and found Caleb also spoke Spanish and his English was spoken with a strange accent, one characterized as “…a mix of British, Arabic, and Persian…maybe on the Persian.” Matthew pulled out a map of Pakistan and tried to narrow down an area with such a mix. It seemed highly unlikely he would find it. Still, an accent meant Caleb was either born or immersed long-term in an area where he’d have heard those languages on a daily basis. Afghanistan, India, and Iran all surrounded Pakistan and each of those would certainly have similarities in demographics and social conventions. The Brits obviously had influence in each mentioned country, but he knew their influence would be more pervasive in India. Caleb was obviously not Indian, and if he had grown up there, he would have picked up the dialect.

He needed to narrow the list of possible locations for the auction and he had little more than experience, old case files, and the internet to work with. Pakistan was making strides toward reducing or eliminating the number of human trafficking crimes committed within their borders, but they were very much a long way from succeeding in any way as to impact their society or their politics. Slavery was very popular there, though most of it came from an indentured work force made up of women and children.

People were bought, sold, and rented in an almost casual way in Pakistan and it was about time the U.S. Government started to take notice and work with the U.N. to do something about it. Matthew was not naïve; he knew the reason the U.S. had decided to take point on the change throughout many Middle Eastern regions had more to do with the resources abroad. Still, if it meant less women and children were sold into sexual slavery or bonded labor, then he was all for it. Oil and freedom for everyone.

The Sindh and Punjab provinces were large hotbeds for human trafficking activity, but he temporarily opted to exclude them, as the area was mostly agricultural and the slavery predominately bonded labor. Certainly not the location for the world’s elitist playboys and terrorists to arrange for a lavish pleasure slave auction.

Fuck! It was going to be a very long night.

Matthew checked his watch and decided to order his dinner before his favorite Chinese restaurant closed for the night. He was practically salivating over the thought of garlic noodles and crunchy eggrolls. There had been a time when he’d have ordered for two, but it had been nearly a year since he’d had a partner to share the long investigative hours with; these days, he worked alone. It was just as well since he wasn’t really good with people. He was much too honest and people just didn’t appreciate him for it.

He was good at his job and people respected him, but it didn’t mean they jumped at the chance to work with him or wanted to go out for beers after work. Still, they did what he asked them to do and he couldn’t fault them. If he’d asked one of the analysts to stay behind and help him do some research, they’d have begrudgingly done it and kept their disparaging remarks to themselves until the next time they found themselves in better company.

Matthew had asked for a special task force to assist on the case. There was a potentially short turn-around and the possibility of an international incident if they had a raid in Pakistan. Still, his boss refused to get a decent task force together unless Matthew had concrete proof suspected terrorists and political targets would be at the auction.

If he didn’t know any better, he’d accuse the Bureau of purposely letting this case fall between the cracks. Olivia Ruiz’s face was splashed all over the news, complete with grainy surveillance and camera-phone videos of her standoff with the border patrol. Something like that didn’t go away easily.

He scrolled through the information he had available on Muhammad Rafiq and his accomplices. He was a Pakistani military officer and a high ranking one. He had fought beside U.S. forces as part of the coalition during Desert Storm. He was highly decorated and was rumored to be very close to the former Major General who assisted in the 1999 coup that overthrew Pakistan’s president. In short, the man had some very powerful people in his circle.

If he wanted someone dead, he couldn’t imagine it would be difficult for him to carry it out. Of course, he would have to do it without embarrassing himself or his superiors in front of the international community. Could his involvement be the reason the Bureau was hesitating on attacking this case full force?

Matthew picked up his pen and wrote down a list of things he needed to gather information on: military bases in Pakistan, air strips near or on such bases, customs locations and refueling stations. One thing was for certain, Rafiq wouldn’t be flying in or out through commercial means, he’d need a private plane, one that wouldn’t have to contend with customs officials. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

The intercom buzzer startled him. His food had finally arrived. He took the elevator to the first floor and met the delivery guy, gave him a healthy tip and trudged back upstairs to enjoy his greasy, delicious treats.

Several hours later, Matthew decided to call it a night and drive back to his hotel. He planned on getting up early in the morning and going to visit Olivia in the hospital again. She’d be expecting news on her request to join the witness protection program and he had no additional news to offer, but he still needed to get the rest of her statement.

If her information delivered the results he had proposed to his superiors, her request would likely be granted, but not for the right reasons. What the girl needed was justice. She needed the men responsible for her kidnapping, rape, and torture to pay for their crimes in the public arena. She needed for those men to be judged and found wanting of basic human decency, only then could she pick up the pieces of her life and move forward.

However, if he was correct in his assumptions, the Bureau would be more interested in the national security elements, rather than justice for one eighteen-year-old girl. There would be no official arrests, no public trials, because the information she could provide and the covert op that would garner evidence of involvement in human trafficking by wealthy and powerful military leaders, heads of state, and billionaire moguls would be an invaluable asset in the hands of the U.S. government.

It was somewhat of a moral conundrum as far as Matthew was concerned. Olivia was running away. She didn’t want to face her former life or its inhabitants and it was a sentiment Matthew understood well, but couldn’t agree with. At the same time, he was the last person to give advice on how a person should move beyond their personal traumas. He was still damaged, still sick in the head, no matter how many therapists he had talked to as a teenager. His records had been sealed and for all intents and purposes he was fit for duty, but he knew his own mind. He knew his own limitations and biases. He supposed it counted for something, his knowledge of his own shortcomings afforded him the semblance of perspective when dealing with his job.

He entered his hotel room and set his briefcase down on the table provided. He emptied his pockets, careful to stack any loose change by denomination and place them in a row by size. His keys, wallet and watch were also placed with care. He unbuttoned his suit jacket and hung it up in the closet. Next, he sat and removed his shoes and socks, followed by his shirt and tie. Finally, he removed his belt, wound it, and placed it on the table with his other things before he removed his underwear. He lined up his shoes under the bed and placed the other items in the hotels dry-cleaning bag. It was his nightly routine and he took comfort in the repeated actions. Order was important.

He stood naked in the warm, slightly humid, Texas air and ignored the tingling sensation of his penis becoming more erect. He knew why he was getting hard and he wished he weren’t. He’d been unable to resist the temptation of perusing his interview notes, despite the promising information he’d garnered through researching Rafiq in greater depth. That much of the girl’s story was filled with violence was regrettable, that the violence was a direct result of sexually charged circumstances was contemptible, but the way she recounted the story with such devious and manipulating zest and obvious arousal was enough to put him over the edge. It pushed all of his buttons and on the heels of his distaste was the undeniable quickening of his pulse.

He wouldn’t do it though. He wouldn’t fantasize. He wouldn’t masturbate. He wouldn’t seek out sexual gratification. Doing so, would be a step in the wrong direction for him because he knew it would lead to the debilitating guilt that inexorably followed.

Instead, he got down on the floor and proceeded to do as many push-ups as he possibly could. He was tired and his muscles protested. Two in the morning was not the time for exercise, his muscles screamed at him, but it was better than the alternative. He pushed himself until sweat ran down his back and his stomach quivered, until his arms threatened to give out…until there was not a chance in hell he could inspire his lust. Then he took a shower and got in bed.

He slept peacefully and without dreams.

Chapter Seven

Caleb couldn’t sleep. He’d done everything he could think of, he’d taken a hot shower, he’d masturbated, and he’d sat in Rafiq’s library and looked through his books. He couldn’t read, but some of the books had pictures in them. He’d walked around the house and discovered the snacks in the kitchen. He’d eaten all the gulab jamun and even now, his fingers and the corners of his mouth were sticky. He still couldn’t sleep.

Where was Rafiq, he wondered? His heart began to race at the thought of the older man. What if he didn’t come back? What if something had happened to him? Caleb’s stomach hurt. He’d never been alone before. There was always someone near him, if not the other boys, then Narweh, if not him, then perhaps a patron.

Caleb stood and pushed his pillow and blanket onto the floor, his bed was too soft. He lay down on the thick carpet and swaddled himself in the blanket he’d been provided. Outside, the wind howled. Why would Rafiq leave him alone? He drew his knees up to his chest and rocked. He wished RezA were with him. RezA was one of the British boys that often shared his bed. If he had a friend at all, it was probably RezA.

For the first time in a week he let himself think of someone other than himself. With Narweh dead, what had happened to the others, to RezA? It was true they often fought and sometimes threw one another into Narweh’s angry path, but it didn’t mean there was not affection there. Whenever one of them was mistreated by a patron or after a particularly savage beating, they would often comfort each other by applying bandages or offering arms that consoled instead of harmed. Caleb was smaller, younger probably, but he was a fighter where as RezA was more amenable and easily manipulated.

“Why do you anger him so often, Kéleb? You know what he will do,” he’d often whispered to Kéleb in the dark and applied ointment to his skin.

“I hate him. I’ll let him kill me before I become his little lap dog. A dog I might be, but not his.”