Author: C.J. Roberts


“So, check the date,” she added grimly.

“He didn’t finish. He was there ‘80 to ‘82.” Realization was slowly dawning on Matthew, and he felt bile crawling up into the back of his throat. “James Cole was born in 1983. In Oregon.”

“You don’t think?”

“Olivia Ruiz mentioned Rafiq wanted revenge against Vladek, something to do with his mother and sister. Apparently, Vladek killed them, or so Rafiq says. I’m starting to think everything out of the guy’s mouth is bullshit.”

“Do you want me to pull James’ birth certificate?”

“Yeah, do that. Did you already call the Deputy Director to let him know we think the auction is taking place at the military cantonment in Karachi?”

“I told him an hour ago, figured he could get started on organizing the op. That, SSgt Patel, doesn’t seem like the cooperative type. Holy fuck, Reed…do you honestly think Vladek, would sell his own fucking son?!”

Matthew wanted to start punching things, “No. I think he was collateral damage.” It was all starting to come together. The pieces of the puzzle were slowly forming in Matthew’s mind. There were still huge pieces missing, but Matthew thought he could make out the picture just the same.

“Well, we already know where the auction is. Everything else is just gravy at this point. Let me finish pulling these records and then I say we pack it in for the night. If we get the green light, we could have Rafiq in custody in the next seventy-two hours. We can get our answers straight from the source,” Williams said.

Matthew could hear the anger and determination in Williams’ voice. He admired her fire, but he’d been around long enough to know fire could get you burned. “I doubt we’ll even get a crack at him, Williams. Be prepared.”

“What do you mean? We have a mountain of fucking evidence and a witness,” Williams spouted.

“What we have, is a high ranking military official from a foreign government, accused of crimes in a completely different country. I want this guy. I want him bad, but I’ve been here before, Williams. Sometimes…they get away.”

“Then why are you here, Reed? Why have you been working this case so damn hard?”

“Olivia Ruiz was the original perpetrator. She caused an international incident when she decided to cross the US-MEXICO border waving a gun. She didn’t become the victim until later. I had no idea this case was going to become the juggernaut it is. I’ve worked the case, Williams. It’s all any one of us can do,” Reed said.

“Yeah, well…it’s not over yet, Reed.”

“Never said it was, Williams.”

“Ugh!” Williams sighed.

“What is it?”

“I have James Cole’s, birth certificate. His father is listed as ‘Vlad’, with no known last name. There’s a death certificate here too, seven years after James disappeared. That’s pretty standard, I guess. Let me see what I can find on the mother, Elizabeth Cole,” Williams shook her head, “She died in 1997. Coroner’s report reads self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”

Matthew’s heart felt like it was sinking. James Cole had been kidnapped when he was five and sold into slavery. It had most likely been an act of revenge against his father, Vladek Rostrovich. He’d been beaten and abused most of his life and according to Olivia Ruiz, the only person he had ever trusted, had been the one to ruin his life in the first place.

“This is depressing the hell out of me, Reed,” Williams whispered.

“Yeah,” Matthew cleared his throat, “Me too. I just thought I could give the poor woman some peace, but it looks like she found it on her own.”

“We should get some sleep. Chances are, we’re going to have a full day tomorrow. If everything goes well, you’ll be on a plane to Pakistan to lead the raid. Do try, to remember the little people when you’re promoted,” she smiled impishly and fluttered her lashes for effect.

Matthew managed a short laugh, “I’ll try, Agent…?”


“Right. Williams.” Matthew continued to go over the stack of files on his desk as Williams, got ready to leave. He knew he should be doing the same, but he couldn’t let it go quite yet.

“Why do I get the feeling I’m going to see you sitting there when I come back in the morning?” Williams said, as she slung her laptop bag over her shoulder.

“I’ll be out of here soon. I just want to poke around a little more. I couldn’t sleep right now anyway – been drinking coffee all night, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah, likely story. I’ll be in around seven if we’re not called up sooner. I’ll bring you something to eat and maybe some coffee that won’t eat through your stomach,” she said.

“I like the coffee.”

“Suit yourself,” Williams said, as she stepped into the elevator.

Matthew stood up and grabbed the files on Williams’ desk. He’d done his job. The rest would fall to the bureau and the justice department. Regardless, the puzzle wasn’t solved, and he couldn’t stop putting it together. Olivia deserved to know the truth.

Three hours later, Matthew had a list of events and possibilities. He’d learned a lot of things about the major players in the case, but had just as many new questions as he did answers:

1960 AKRAAN Arms Co. Est. in Russia - Vladek's Father?

1961 Vladek Rostrovich, born - youngest child of 3

1963 Muhammad Rafiq, born - eldest son (younger sister?)

1980-1982 Vladek, UofOregon (no major)

· Meets Elizabeth Cole (could have been student? Next of Kin?)

Father and siblings die in car accident (Dec of '82 - Vladek heir)

Aug 3, 1983: James Cole, born. Why not list Vladek on birth certificate?

1983-1988: Vladek and Rafiq - arms dealing, trafficking

· Diamonds? 1987 (something happens between here and 1989)

Mar 14, 1989: James Cole, kidnapped from home. (No suspects)

· Kidnapped by Rafiq? Why?

· Look into Rafiq mother/sister death (revenge motive)

1992-1994: Rafiq, Desert Storm

· Stash kid instead of kill? Ransom? Collateral? What the fuck am I missing?

· James Cole kept in brothel (Narweh - deceased) Check years 1989-?

· Narweh (no known last), death cert? Pakistan? Review Olivia statement for other possible countries.

1997 James Cole (Caleb) 'rescued' by Rafiq

· Olivia statement: Caleb seeking revenge for 12 years.

· Why would Rafiq come back for boy? "Caleb" age 14

2002 Balk Diamond's goes public

· Why the delay 1987-2002? Vladek Rostrovich: reinventing or hiding?

· Knows about son? No current offspring. James Cole sole heir?

2009 Olivia Ruiz kidnapped

· James Cole "Caleb" deceased?

· Balk suddenly interested in slave trade? Motive?

· Balk - location unknown. ????????????????

Chapter Twenty-Two

Caleb swirled his scotch in his glass, but didn’t take a drink. His thoughts were with Livvie. Felipe had gone upstairs, despite Caleb’s best efforts to stall him and get there first. Fifteen minutes had passed and he hadn’t heard a gunshot, or any screams. Good news, but his worries were far from dispelled. He wanted his wits about him if things suddenly took a turn for the worse. In many ways, they already had.

Caleb’s mind felt ravaged over how to deal with Rafiq. Their relationship had always been complicated, but it remained the closest Caleb had to family or friendship. Rafiq had been Caleb’s salvation and so many other things over the years…and now he contemplated killing him.

Caleb knew he couldn’t run away with Livvie. Rafiq would hunt them down to the ends of the earth and while Caleb could take care of himself, it was no life for Livvie. She deserved better. He had considered separating himself from her, but he knew if Rafiq couldn’t find Caleb, he would find Livvie again and use her to get to him.

Rafiq deserved his revenge. Livvie deserved to live her life. That left Caleb thinking about what he deserved: nothing. He’d fought so hard to live, to survive, and he didn’t relish the idea of ending it all, but he would…for Livvie, he would. He’d lived a meaningless life that would culminate in him destroying every meaningful relationship he’d ever had. At the very least, he thought, he could have meaning in his death.

“What has you so troubled, Khoya?” Rafiq asked in Arabic, now they were alone. He had sent Jair away once he’d regained consciousness, and Felipe had used the opportunity to excuse himself from the room. Nancy remained, but she seemed unaware of her surroundings as she huddled on the floor and supported Rafiq’s legs on her back.

Caleb gestured toward her with his drink, “Is that really necessary?”

Rafiq smiled, “No, but she’s here, so why not make use of her? Answer my question, what has you so troubled?”

Caleb’s heartbeat accelerated and heat traveled down his spine, but he attempted nonchalance, “Things are moving quickly now. I keep going over things in my mind.”

“Yes, it’s been a long battle. I don’t know which of us has sacrificed more to see Vladek suffer. The auction is only the first step. It will be up to you to earn his trust, but it will be worth it when everything he has belongs to us, even his very life,” Rafiq said. He took another drink of scotch and Caleb noted it was his third.

“Yes,” Caleb replied, but his tone hinted at his unease.

“You’ve been strange these last few months, Caleb. I would have thought you’d be happier to have your vengeance so close at hand,” Rafiq said. He sounded irritated.

“Why can’t I just kill him, Rafiq? I would do it. Gladly and in front of everyone, I would kill him. We’re wealthy men. We don’t need his company, or his money,” Caleb said and instantly regretted it.

“It’s not about the money, Caleb! It never has been. I want it because it’s the only thing he loves as far as I can tell. If you knew of the things he’s sacrificed for his precious billions, it would be all you could do not to find him now. Tonight! He has no wife, no children. He trusts no one! And he has taken everything from me. Death is not enough. Torture is not enough. I thought you of all people would understand!”

Hadn’t Caleb said something similar to Livvie? It seemed like ages ago, the night he’d rescued her from the bikers and informed her of her fate. She’d asked him why?

“I have obligations, Kitten.” He swallowed deeply. “There’s a man who needs to die. I needed you…need—” He paused. “If I don’t do this now then I’ll never be free. I can’t walk away until it’s done. Until he pays for what he did to Rafiq’s mother, to his sister, until he pays for what he did to me.” Caleb stood abruptly, his chest heaving. He ran angry fingers through his hair and fisted his hands at his nape. “Until everything he loves is gone, until he – feels it. Then I can let it go. I’ll have repaid my debt. Then, perhaps…maybe.”

“I do, Rafiq. I do understand. For twelve years, my life has been nothing but our quest for revenge. I’m just tired, Rafiq. I’m tired and I want it to be done. I want him dead and I can’t wait for him to die slowly, but I’m ready to move on,” Caleb said. It was the truth. He was ready to move on with his life and he wanted it to be with Livvie. He wanted what could never be.

Caleb stared at Rafiq, the man wasn’t well. His hair seemed grayer, his face harder, and his eyes lacked the slightest glimmer of compassion. In the entire time Caleb had known him, he had never taken a slave for his own, trained them, yes – kept them, no. The fact he’d kept Nancy alive this long and broken her down so thoroughly spoke volumes about his mental state.