Author: C.J. Roberts

I put the gun to my head and demanded to be let through.

The fucktards shot me.

I thought I would die, bleed out as they wrestled me to the ground and handcuffed me. I didn’t know they had shot me with rubber bullets.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Day 14:

Matthew sat across from the former Miss Olivia Ruiz. She looked like hell. Her long dark hair was pulled away from her face into a severe bun. She had dark circles under her eyes and she hadn’t been eating much. Her lack of food intake had kept her at the hospital an additional 72 hours, but they couldn’t keep her once she had decided she wanted to leave.

Agent Sloan was also in the room. The revelations of the case had been difficult for her to swallow as well and Matthew wished there were some way to comfort her without leading her on. She had come to his room after visiting Olivia at the hospital and learning about his and Olivia’s last conversation. They spoke about the case for a while, but then she had wanted to talk about the night they’d had sex and he had to let her know in no uncertain terms it had been a one night affair. She’d called him a coward. He’d called her worse.

“Is this the last piece of paper?” Sophia Cole asked.

“Yes,” Matthew said. “Once you walk out of this room, you’ll be Sophia Cole. In exchange for your silence on the events of the last four months, the Bureau has dropped the charges against you and given you a new identity. We will cover your accrued medical expenses and you will be provided with the airline ticket you requested. In addition, your mother will receive the sum of $200,000 to be paid over five years. You understand, should you violate the terms of your agreement with the U.S. Government, you may be treated as a terrorist under the provisions of the Patriot Act and subject to a $250,000 fine and potential imprisonment. As a suspected terrorist, you may not be granted access to a lawyer or formally charged. However, your case will be reviewed every three years to make a determination on whether or not you pose further threat. Do you understand the terms of this agreement?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sophia whispered dully.

“Do you agree to the terms of this agreement?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sophia said. “It’s not like I have much of a choice.”

Matthew sighed heavily and his eyes briefly met Sloan’s. She shook her head slightly, letting him know how much she hated what was happening. Matthew hated it too, but his hands were tied on the issue. “The U.S. Government has given you all the things you’ve asked for, with the exception of returning into your care the S&W Model 29 revolver confiscated when you were first apprehended,” Matthew said.

“And the bad guys go free. Don’t forget that part, Agent Reed,” Sophia said coldly.

Matthew was just as pissed off about that, but he’d done his job and he’d bent as far as he could. “Your assailants were never recovered at the auction in Karachi, Miss Cole.” It felt wrong to call her by that name, but it was the one she had chosen and Matthew would respect it. “The U.S. Government sees no need to damage its relationship with Pakistan based on unsubstantiated allegations. However, it will be mentioned in the report that your statement led the joint task force to the auction and resulted in the freeing of over 127 human trafficking victims and the arrest of 243 potential traffickers.”

“Whatever, Reed. Are we done here? I’d like to go,” Sophia said. Matthew didn’t take her disdain personally. He knew the real reason for her distress and it had little to do with the deal she was making – the deal she’d asked for. She was still grieving over Caleb’s—James’ death.

Matthew suspected he was still alive, but as far as he, or the Bureau, was concerned, James Cole had died in Mexico of gunshot wounds he sustained while aiding in Olivia’s escape. The shooter, Khalid Baloch, was still at large. Matthew had closed James Cole’s kidnapping case as well, but not before he reached out to Demitri Balk’s personal assistant and was told Mr. Balk had ‘no surviving children’. Mr. Balk himself was unavailable.

“Yes, Miss Cole, we’re done,” Matthew said. He could almost feel Sophia’s sorrow from across the table and it seemed to work its way into his own frame of mind. He had wanted things to end differently. Not just for Sophia, but for him as well. He’d been losing his faith in the system for quite some time. He had hoped by solving this case and putting the bad men in jail, he might regain some of the fire he’d once had for his job. Instead, the victory had been bitter sweet. Over a hundred women were free from sexual slavery, but only a fraction of their traffickers would see the inside of a jail cell. Most of them would simply pay fines and go free. ‘Bitter sweet’ was a lackluster description of what had happened in Pakistan.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Sloan said to Sophia, “I’ll walk you out.” She stood and gathered up her papers, putting them into her briefcase.

Matthew watched Sloan intently. Her red hair was gathered in a French braid and her face was scrubbed clean of all make-up. She wore a grey suit that covered up all her sexy curves. She was somewhat of an enigma. Matthew wondered how she was able to change like night and day. As a social worker, she seemed empathetic and somewhat devoid of interesting facets in her personality, but Matthew knew, first hand, what she could be like when she took down the mantle. He almost regretted not taking her up on her offer of more sex. He’d never been with a woman so attuned to his needs. Then again, she terrified him a little.

Matthew stood and offered Sophia his hand, “Goodbye, Miss Cole. Please know…you can contact me if you ever need anything. You have my card and I’d be offended if you didn’t use it.”

Sophia smiled at him, but tears shone in her eyes, “Thanks, Reed. I know you did your best.” She shook his hand.

“Thank you, Miss Cole,” he said. It didn’t feel like enough. It probably never would. Matthew turned toward Sloan and extended his hand, “Thank you for all your help too, Agent Sloan.”

Sloan raised an auburn brow, but took Matthew’s hand and shook it, “No problem, Agent Reed. Let me know if you need any help with the final report. I’m leaving for Virginia tomorrow night, but until then…my phone’s on.” She smiled and Matthew felt his face heat up.

“I should have everything, but thank you,” he said stiffly.

“You two should just fuck and get it over with,” Sophia said without humor.

“Livvie! I mean…. Let’s go,” Sloan said.

Matthew didn’t have a chance to respond before the two women left the room. He smiled to himself and shook his head. He was definitely going to miss Livvie and her crass sense of humor. He hoped she would seek the help she needed and make a full recovery one day. It would be a shame for such a beautiful, intelligent, and brave person to lose faith in the future.

Matthew picked up his recorder and turned it off. It was an archaic contraption and completely unnecessary considering everything in this room was recorded by the surveillance cameras, but he liked to maintain his own evidence. Things had a way of getting lost. He put it in his briefcase along with his files and headed out the door.

As he walked toward the elevator, he glimpsed ‘Sophia’ exchanging a tearful embrace with her mother. Matthew didn’t exactly like the woman after all he’d learned about her, but he was happy she was finally getting the opportunity to see her daughter and perhaps apologize for everything she’d put her through. As part of the agreement, Sophia’s family would be relocated and her mother would be offered her choice of training and employment. It was more than she deserved in Matthew’s estimation.

Matthew would be heading back to an empty apartment in South Carolina until he was assigned to a new case. He hoped it would differ greatly from this one and he was fairly sure it would. In the meantime, he’d decided he wouldn’t give up on getting in touch with Demitri Balk. The guy was dirty and despite all evidence to the contrary, he wasn’t untouchable. Perhaps, in time, he would also lead him to Muhammad Rafiq and the rest of his cohorts.

James Cole deserved justice.

“I don’t want revenge, Caleb. I don’t want to end up like you, letting some fucking vendetta run my life. I just want my freedom.” – Livvie

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Day 287: Kaiserslautern, Germany

He’d learned the hard way that there was no future when all he could see was revenge. The only thing revenge had ever given him was a brief moment of satisfaction, followed by an empty abyss. He was through with revenge. He wanted to feel full instead of empty, loved, instead of feared.

Love, Caleb reminded himself. Love was the purpose of all this. He’d been dreaming of this moment for nearly a year, but now that his moment had arrived, he hesitated. Was it the right thing to do? Should he take his own advice: leave and never look back? He wasn’t sure.

As a slave trainer, he had trained at least a score of girls. Some had been willing, offering themselves as pleasure slaves to escape destitution, sacrificing freedom for security. Others had come to him as the coerced daughters of impoverished farmers looking to off load their burden in exchange for a dowry. Some had been the fourth or fifth wives of sheikhs and bankers sent by their husbands to learn to satisfy their distinct appetites. He had trained so many, he had forgotten their names.

He knew them all by heart now. Ojal Nath had ended up in Turkey; her master had died and passed her off to his son. Caleb had paid a king’s ransom to set her free. She was safe at home with her family now, and she had enough money to support herself and her young daughter.

He’d been too late to save Pia Kumar, she had been dead for nearly five years. She had been beaten to death by her master’s new wife. Caleb had made sure to bury the both of them together. Alive.

Isa Nasser, Naba Mazin, and Jamila Awad, had refused their freedom. They had come to him willing from the first and they lived happily with their respective masters/husbands. They’d been more terrified of Caleb than of remaining in their servitude. He’d wished them well and vowed to keep an eye on them.

His years spent with Rafiq had built him a reputation and Caleb took full advantage of the fear he’d cultivated as Rafiq’s ‘loyal disciple’. A lot of blood had been spilled in the last ten months, some of it even belonged to Caleb, but it didn’t buy redemption. Caleb knew he could never be redeemed and he’d made his peace with it. He couldn’t right the wrongs, but he could offer a better future to those he’d wronged for the sake of his own selfishness.

It wasn’t about revenge. Caleb had had enough revenge to last him several lifetimes. The things he’d done to Rafiq and Jair in Mexico hadn’t given him solace. They’d given him nightmares. For Caleb, it had become about love. He loved Livvie. Through her, he’d learned what love could make a person do and it drove him forward. She had given him a gift and while he didn’t deserve it, he tried to make sure it had not been wasted.

His work was far from over and he remained dedicated to his task, but the road was long and Caleb was only human. There was a hole in his heart and each day it grew, threatening to pull him into a pit of despair.

Caleb, from his vantage point diagonally across the street, glanced at the girl he’d been observing for the last thirty minutes. Her hair was pulled away from her face, a heavy frown played across her mouth as she stared intently at the laptop sitting on the table in front of her. She fidgeted sometimes, alluding to a sense of restlessness she was unable to hide. He wondered why she seemed so anxious. As he eyed her beautiful face, he felt himself bursting with hope and burning with shame.

After Mexico, Caleb had traveled farther and farther south, until he could book passage to Switzerland. He liked Zürich, he liked its diversity and wealth, and he knew no one would notice him there. He’d been putting his investments into commodities and he had enough money now to live as he pleased and travel the world to free the women he had wronged. Still, it wasn’t in his nature to pursue being miserable, and so, he’d looked for Livvie.