Author: C.J. Roberts

“What will you do?” Celia sobbed.

“Ask him where Caleb is,” I urged.

Celia nodded and slowly crawled toward the door, “I’m in here with Kitten,” she said. Her voice seemed calm and considering her face was puffy with tears, I was impressed.

“Why is the door locked?” Felipe’s angry voice asked through the door.

“Caleb was worried,” she said. “Where is he?”

“Downstairs with Rafiq, open the door,” he said. It sounded like a command.

Celia looked toward me with a pleading expression. I weighed my options for a few seconds and decided to let Celia open the door, but there was no way I was giving up the gun. I put it on the ground next to me. “Open the door,” I said.

“Be calm, Kitten,” Celia said, “Felipe won’t hurt you unless you make him. Trust me.” She waited until I nodded and then turned the lock. She opened the door slowly and Felipe, gun in hand, stepped inside to the side of the door.

“What’s going on?” he asked Celia, but kept his eyes on me. I was still on the floor, taking cover next to the bed.

“Tell her Caleb is alright,” Celia said. She placed herself between me and Felipe.

“Why have you been crying, Celia? What happened here?” Felipe asked. His tone was deadly and calm.

“Nothing, my love. I’ve just been keeping Kitten, company. She’s scared, Felipe. Tell her Caleb is alright. She’s worried about him,” she pleaded.

“He’s fine. He and Rafiq are having a drink. He should be up here shortly. We can all wait for him,” he said, but didn’t lower his gun.

“Why didn’t he come himself?” I screeched.

“He couldn’t, not without raising suspicions. As it was, I suspected something might be happening up here. Why were you crying, Celia?” Felipe asked. His tone hinted at his anger.

“It’s just girl talk, Felipe. Please don’t make a fuss. She was terrified you were coming to hurt her and it made me think about….” Celia’s voice trailed off. Slowly, she raised her hand and caressed Felipe’s face, “Don’t you remember what it was like in the beginning?”

Felipe’s eyes turned sad. He lowered his gun and kissed Celia’s forehead. “I’m sorry she made you remember,” he whispered. “Especially when I’ve tried so hard to make you forget.”

“I have Felipe, I promise you I have,” she whispered.

Celia still stood between us and while I didn’t necessarily trust Felipe, she had proven herself a friend by remaining between me and certain death. I remembered my conversation in the dungeon with Felipe. He had taken Celia as a trophy and by his own admission had not treated her kindly. Looking at them now, it was difficult to picture a time when Felipe was cruel to Celia. Then again, I didn’t know either of them very well. Celia didn’t seem to have a clue as to how much Felipe loved her. It looked fairly obvious to me.

Felipe nodded and pulled Celia into his arms. She sobbed loudly into his chest as he stroked her hair and whispered reassuring things. Seeing them made me ache for Caleb.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to cause any problems.” It was true. I didn’t want to cause problems. The only thing I wanted was a way out for me and Caleb.

Felipe looked up at me, “Go wash up, sweet girl. You’re master should be coming back any minute and I suggest you’re ready for him when he does. You don’t have much time together.”

“What do you mean?!” I blurted.

Felipe gave me a wry smile, “I wish there was more I could do for the two of you. I’ve enjoyed watching your relationship unfold. Good luck to you, Kitten.”

As I sat, stunned and with my mouth agape, Felipe led Celia out of the room and shut the door behind him. I had surrendered my hostage. I had surrendered my guide. I had surrendered to whatever fate awaited me once the door opened.

Chapter Twenty-one

Day 10: 11pm

Matthew had had a sick feeling in his stomach for the better part of the last hour. The feeling wasn’t necessarily new; it had accompanied him many times on certain cases. The world was a sick, fucked-up place and he dealt with it more than most, but this case was shaping up to be a nightmare he’d remember forever. Every agent had a case that haunted them. Olivia and her Caleb would be his.

Some interesting hits had turned up via facial recognition, nation-wide records searches and the Homeland Security database. Matthew, along with a few other agents had started putting the pieces together over the last five hours.

“I think Karachi makes the most sense given the intel,” Agent Williams said. She’d flown in from Virginia once the sensitive nature of the case became clearer.

“I agree. The boys at the FIA aren’t going to like what we have to say, but it looks like Muhammad Rafiq has been making use of military resources to cover-up his human trafficking ring,” Matthew said.

Karachi was a coastal city, accessible by air and sea. It was an ethnically and socio-economically diverse area, capable of camouflaging rich and poor alike. According to information from SSgt Patel, who had access to the passenger manifests and air traffic control documentation, several high visibility persons of interest would be arriving in the next two days. Many were already in the city. Unfortunately, none of the names on the list were Vladek Rostrovich or Demitri Balk. Still, Matthew reasoned, he could be traveling under a different alias. One thing was certain though; Muhammad Rafiq would be in attendance.

He thought about Olivia Ruiz and everything she had been saying over the last several days. She had no idea how deep Rafiq’s involvement in the slave trade ran. Based on the pile of information on Matthew’s desk, he was beginning to suspect, Caleb, had no idea either. Rafiq had been in it for the money for a very long time. The evidence suggested he’d been a key player since 1984.

Matthew held up a picture of Vladek Rostrovich and Muhammad Rafiq taken in Pakistan that same year. Rafiq wore his military uniform and pointed to a table full of Russian weapons, his arm slung over Vladek’s shoulder.

Matthew’s best guess was that Muhammad Rafiq had acted as Vladek Rostrovich’s arms broker during his missions in other parts of the world, most notably: Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Perhaps guns had begun the connection, but it hadn’t ended there.

Another photograph from 1987 showed Rafiq and Vladek at a Pakistani military dinner. Vladek sat at the officers table with Rafiq, also in attendance was Bapoto Sekibo. He was notorious for razing entire villages, killing men, women, and children in the pursuit of natural resources and valuable territories for corporate projects coming in from other countries. Some of the corporations even had roots in the U.S. In fact, all three men had been photographed at one time or another with U.S. Senators or CEO’s of major companies.

Matthew wasn’t surprised sex, guns, and money were interconnected. Even Vladek’s African diamond mines didn’t come as a shock. No, the most shocking piece of information was an unsolved missing person’s case from 1989 sitting on the pile. He couldn’t resist picking it up and staring at the picture paper-clipped to the file.

“Pretty fucked up, huh?” Agent Williams whispered from across the desk.

The sick feeling in Matthew’s stomach flared and he rubbed his stomach. As he stared at the photo, he wondered what, if anything, he should do with the information. “Yeah. It is.”

“You okay? When’s the last time you ate?” Williams asked.

“Hours ago, and just a salad. Been on a steady stream of coffee since then,” Matthew said and offered a watery smile. It was nice working with someone, even if Agent Williams was a little too young and bright eyed for his tastes. She still got excited about the job and didn’t hide it very well. Matthew didn’t really get excited anymore, solving cases was an obsession, locking the bad guys up, satisfying – but he’d stopped being excited a long time ago. No matter how many cases were resolved, or how many villains were brought to justice, there were always new cases and new bad guys. It was a vicious circle.

“That stuff’ll kill you,” Agent Williams said through a smile. “I still have half a turkey sandwich in the fridge if you want it?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m not hungry,” he said.

“You keep staring at that picture?” she hedged.

Matthew couldn’t stop thinking about Olivia. She was mourning the loss of a man she didn’t really know and for the first time, Matthew was beginning to understand why she fought for him so strongly. “The witness says he died helping her escape. I’m wondering if it should just stay there. I mean, I wish I didn’t know this. I can’t imagine how the mother would feel.”

“I try not to think about that stuff. Not really our priority, you know?” Williams said. “It’s going to be a bitch getting a team into Pakistan. I’m trying to just focus on one thing at a time. Some kidnapped kid who turned out to be a serious prick isn’t really on my radar.”

Matthew looked up at Williams, “How old are you, Williams?”

She stiffened, “Twenty-four,” she answered. “Why? Are you going to give me shit about my age?”

He held up the photograph. “James Cole was a few months shy of his sixth birthday when he was taken. Just try to imagine your life the past eighteen years and how different it was compared to the hell this little boy had to live through.”

Williams stared long and hard at the photograph before she turned away to mess with the files on her own side of the desk. “It’s sad, Reed. I know it’s sad, but there’s nothing we can do for that kid. And the man he turned out to be? He’s better off dead,” Williams said.

“I’m not trying to defend him. Trust me; I’ve spent the last week doing exactly the opposite. It’s just…she has a way of making me think about things. She basically talked her way out of being sold at the auction.” Matthew smiled. Olivia was certainly unlike any person he’d met in his thirteen years on the job. He would never forget her, or Caleb, and the boy he’d been. He would never forget this case and for whatever reason, he felt the need to take a moment and preserve the memory of it correctly.

“Pretty smart girl. Except for the falling in love with her captor part,” Williams said. “Although, if you’re going to fall for any kidnapper, good gawd, he should be as handsome as this son of a bitch.” Williams lifted Caleb’s surveillance photo from a few years back and waggled her eyebrows.

Matthew laughed. “You’re sick. You know that, right?”

Williams shrugged. “I don’t get out much.”

“Why’s that?”

“Eh, the job, I guess. I don’t really get off on dating other agents and normal guys can’t deal.” She shrugged again.

“Do you think we should let his mother know we found him?” Matthew asked.

“It’s been twenty years, Reed. She’s probably thought he was dead for a long time. I don’t think telling her we found her son and he just so happens to be a human trafficking son of a bitch who died in a botched escape attempt isn’t exactly consoling,” Williams said, wryly. She and Matthew sat in silence for a few moments, before Williams added, “She’s better off believing her little boy died innocent, you know?”

Williams had a point. “Yeah. I just wish…I wish I’d been in the bureau back then, maybe I could have found him before it was too late.” He thought about Olivia and her grief. It was sad, knowing she was the only one who would miss Caleb. She was the only who would mourn him.

“Wait!” Williams said suddenly, and startled Matthew.

“What is it?”

“Well, it’s not really relevant, but…” She handed one of her files over to Matthew. “Vladek went to college in the U.S. He went to the University of Oregon,” she whispered.