It's Not Over, Page 3Willow Rose
It was my turn to smirk. I pointed the gun at him again.
“The girl. Now.”
But, of course, the guy wouldn’t give away his source of income that easily. He reached out his hand and grabbed mine, which was holding the gun, then twisted it, probably trying to grab the gun from me. I knew he probably had a couple of guys in there and that they most likely were armed. The shot would lure them out. It was only a matter of seconds.
As he twisted my arm, I lifted the other, clenched into a fist, and slammed it into the man’s jaw so forcefully he fell back against the RV.
I heard commotion from inside the RV and grabbed the guy by the hair, then placed the gun to his face just as the door slammed open and someone else—every bit as nasty as the first one—came outside, armed to the teeth with a rifle, pointing it at me.
“Give me the girl, or he gets it,” I said, hoping the guy I was holding was the brains and not the guy with the heavy gun. I needed him to be indispensable.
“Let him go,” the guy said.
“Girl first,” I said, my heart hammering in my chest. I prayed he wouldn’t notice how badly the gun shook in my hand. Sydney refused to carry a weapon, even on our missions. She hadn’t grown up shooting the way I had since she grew up in London as opposed to me in Florida. I had asked her if I could take her to get lessons, but she didn’t want to. It could have been useful now.
We were in the middle of a power struggle here, and I wasn’t sure I was winning. His gun was a lot bigger than mine, and I wasn’t sure he even wanted to keep this guy at the end of my gun alive. He lifted it to his eye and aimed at me.
“I don’t take orders from little ladies.”
His finger moved on the trigger when I noticed movement behind him. Someone—a young girl—jumped him from behind. Her hands were tied with rope, which she placed around his neck and pulled him back. The gun went off into the air, and he growled loudly as he fell back. I let go of the knocked-out guy in my hand, then rushed to help her. The big guy had managed to pull the rope off his neck and was soon on top of the young girl, letting the punches fall on her face and body. The girl screamed as he rained his fists upon her. I ran as fast I could and threw myself at him, crashing into him. We tumbled to the floor inside the RV. He grabbed my leg and pulled me as I tried to get away. One quick kick caused him to fly to the side. I pulled the girl away from him, still holding the gun in my hand, shaking in anger, while she ran outside to Sydney. I lifted the gun, then turned it and used the grip. I slammed it on his head a couple of times until I was certain he’d stay down at least long enough for us to be able to leave.
Then, we ran for the minivan.
The girl was shaking and crying as we skidded sideways into the road leading to the bridges, then floored the accelerator to get as far away as possible from this place.
Sydney sat with her in the back, holding her in her arms.
“It’s okay,” she said. “We’re taking you to a shelter now. You’re free. They won’t be able to get to you anymore. It’s over.”
I looked at her in the rearview mirror. It was dark now, so I couldn’t see her properly, but she couldn’t be much more than fifteen, the same age as my oldest daughter, Olivia. In the coming days, she’d be nurtured back to life by our staff at the shelter, but it was going to be tough. She’d have to talk and tell us everything about how she ended up where she did, and that wasn’t easy for these girls. Many of them had left their homes voluntarily because they thought that something better was waiting for them, and not really realizing what was happening to them until it was too late. They were broken down, told they were useless and their lives meaningless, drugged up so they wouldn’t feel anything, and it took years to get them back on track. But back on track we were getting them, no matter what it cost.
“What’s your name?” Sydney asked.
The girl shook her head. It wasn’t unusual that they weren’t ready to talk to us right when we brought them in. Gaining trust took time.
“It’s okay,” Syd said. “You can tell us later. My name is Sydney, and this is my sister Eva Rae Thomas. We’re taking you to a safe place. No one can hurt you there. I promise you.”
I smiled, knowing this girl had probably been given all the promises in the world and also had them broken just as many times. They all had the same story; it was heartbreaking.
Rescuing a girl like this felt good. It felt really good. But for some reason, it also filled me with such a deep sadness because I knew there were thousands more of them out there, and I couldn’t save them all—no matter how badly I wanted to.
There was nothing legal about what we did, but I didn’t care. I was no longer in the force; I had left all that behind and retired from the FBI. I didn’t answer to anyone. Besides, who would report us? The traffickers? Not very likely.
I drove up to the gate of the property housing the shelter, then greeted the hired security guards, and they let us in. I drove up to the eighteen-thousand-square-foot house that Sydney had bought, and made me co-owner of, then parked at the entrance. A set of staffers came running out. Sydney opened the sliding doors of my minivan.
“We don’t have a name yet,” she said, then grabbed the hand of the young girl. She stepped out cautiously, and Sydney helped her inside with the staffers, holding her arm around her. This was the part that Sydney was really good at. She knew better how the girls felt, having been kidnapped as a child herself. I, on the other hand, was good at finding them and bringing them to the house. The rest, I left to those better suited and who were gentler in their approach.
I sighed with relief as I saw her enter the building, then got out and walked in after them, the adrenalin still rushing in my veins, but slowly subsiding. It was all over. The girl was safe, and my job was done.
At least for now.
The TV was on in the living room while Dad watched the news. He was half asleep by now, but the beer was still in his hand and hadn’t slipped to the floor yet, which usually meant he had passed out.
“Just a few more minutes,” Jessica whispered to her younger sister, Maya. “Then he’ll be out.”
They were doing the dishes as usual after dinner. Mom was upstairs, probably putting make-up on her face to cover the bruises she had received during dinner when Dad blew up over her talking back to him. It was the usual stuff on an ordinary Monday night. Jessica worried about her homework and whether she’d be able to finish it on time since the cleaning up took longer than anticipated—mostly due to the broken glass on the floor, that she cleaned up so her sister wouldn’t cut herself.
Jessica wiped a plate clean and put it in the cabinet when there was a small thud from the living room. She peeked in there and saw the beer had fallen to the carpet, its foaming contents spilling out on the usual spot. Then she smiled and went back to her sister.
“It’s done. He’s out.”
Relief showed on her sister’s face, and her shoulders came down. It was the same thing every day. Once the clock neared six, they knew Dad would come in the door, and they never knew what mood he would be in. Sometimes he was happy, especially on payday, then he went to the pub and had a couple of beers before he came home and sometimes, he’d even grab their mother and dance with her in the kitchen. But that wasn’t on most days. Jessica told herself she could see it on his face once he entered the door what mood he was in and what kind of night it was going to be. But not always. Sometimes, he could be happy when he got home, but then she’d do something to tick him off, or her sister would, and that could ruin the entire evening for all of them.
“If only you would behave nicely, then these things wouldn’t happen,” Mom said over and over again. “We could all have such a great life together. We do really well on the good days, right?”
They did. On the good days, Dad was the kindest and funniest man on earth. He would lift her sister in the air and swing her around until she screamed in joy. He would kiss Jes
sica on the cheek and tell her how beautiful she was.
But then there were the bad days. And lately, there didn’t seem to be enough of the good ones to make up for the bad ones.
“Do you want to play cards?” Maya asked and looked up at her with her big eyes. She was only eight years old, and it tormented Jessica that she had to live like this—never feeling safe, nothing feeling stable—never knowing what might destroy the world around them, or what might set him off.
“We need to finish cleaning first,” she said, looking at the clock, wondering if she could stay up all night and do her homework without her parents finding out. She had done so before. She didn’t want to disappoint her sister, who loved playing cards with her. “We still need to dry all those plates and wipe down the tables.”
“All right,” Maya said, smiling. “Let’s hurry up then.”
They rushed the last plates and put them in the cabinet, and Jessica grabbed the cloth and went to the dining room table to wipe it down. There was still one glass left on the table that she took in her hand. She turned to leave when the broadcast Dad had been watching before he passed out was suddenly interrupted by a breaking news sign.
I was too late for dinner, and the kids had already eaten when I got home. My mom was in the kitchen, doing the dishes with Matt. Elijah was on the couch, feet on my coffee table, watching TV. Olivia was in her room; Christine was sitting in the recliner wearing headphones, watching YouTube on her phone, while Alex was playing with his toy cars on the floor.
“There she is,” Matt said when he saw me.
I threw my keys on the counter, walked to him, and kissed him on the cheek.
“I am so sorry for being late.”
I pecked my mom on the cheek, and she smiled, then looked at me more closely. She moved a lock of my red hair to the side. I hated it when she touched my hair and messed it up.
“You look awful, Eva Rae.”
“Thanks, Mom. Good to see you too.”
“Where were you, Mommy?” Alex asked and approached me. I lifted him in my arms and hugged him tightly, closing my eyes, enjoying the fact that I could still carry him, even though he was getting heavy. It wouldn’t be long before that was over. I wasn’t looking forward to that. My kids were getting so big; I just wanted to stop time. Christine had just turned thirteen, and Alex would be seven soon.
“I was helping your Aunt Sydney with something,” I said and kissed my boy before putting him down so he could run back to his toys.
Matt gave me a look, eyebrows lifted. “You were out with Sydney? Again?”
“There was a girl who needed our help.”
“I see,” he said, then approached me and kissed me. “And just where did you find that girl?”
I looked him in the eyes. Matt was local law enforcement; he was a detective at the Cocoa Beach Police Department. I couldn’t tell him what I had been up to. I never told him how we found the girls. Most of them were brought to us by the police if they were found somewhere or after a trafficking raid, but some of them—like the girl tonight—we liberated ourselves, and I never told Matt how. It wasn’t that we didn’t trust the police. It was more because of being able to react quickly. Often, we had experienced that once we did tell them of a girl being kept somewhere or of trafficking taking place in an area, they had to do their own investigation. By the time the police finally got there, the perps were usually gone, taking the girls with them.
It wasn’t all illegal what we did. We also trained hotel personnel in being alert and spotting potential human trafficking taking place, entering their hotel. We taught them to look out for girls in the company of controlling men who wouldn’t let them speak for themselves, women who didn’t have their own ID or other personal items, and ownership tattoos like Daddy’s girl or branding marks burned into the skin. We instructed them on what to do if they suspected someone was being sold for sex. And I had given presentations to the local sheriff’s department about how to treat potential victims, and I went with federal investigators on raids, taking the girls with me back to the shelter as soon as they were liberated. Our lawyers would then guide them on how to handle police interrogation and interviews. Frequently, the girls were too scared to tell about the many men they had been forced to be with because of the embarrassment and shame involved. And often, it was hard for the police to understand this, why they wouldn’t tell everything they had been through. Many of the girls were foreigners, and we provided them with lawyers to help them get immigration relief. Some of them just wanted to go back home, and we made sure they did that once the trial was over. Every case had its own unique story and a special way it needed to be handled. No two girls were the same.
I knew Matt was acting suspicious because he knew no girl had been taken in today. He knew everything that went on in the area, and he would have heard if a girl was liberated from captivity.
It wasn’t because I didn’t trust him that I didn’t tell him the truth. It was more that I didn’t want to drag him down with me if I got myself in trouble. And I knew he’d be mad at me for risking my life. Of course, he would. I would be mad at me too.
“We picked her up on the streets,” I said, then turned away from him and walked out to my mother.
“Did you eat?” My mom asked. “You probably had nothing but junk all day, if I know you. There’s still some Biryani left. It’s an Indian dish with vegetables and chick-peas, in case you don’t know. It’s the first time I’ve made it. It came out pretty good; don’t you think, Matt?”
He nodded, still scrutinizing me. I knew he wasn’t done with his inquiries, but hoped to be able to avoid his questions. I looked into the pot at the dish my mom had created. It didn’t look too shabby.
My mom was vegan and had been for years. Usually, I hated every part of it and wanted my meat, but ever since she moved in with us, I had slowly learned to enjoy it. It wasn’t too bad. And on top of it all, I had managed to lose like six pounds since she started cooking for us, and that made me feel pretty darn good about myself.
I filled a plate and sat down at the table to eat. Matt sat down in front of me, a beer in his hand. He was fiddling with the sticker, ripping it.
“Apparently, there were reports earlier of shots being fired in Rockledge. Around seven o’clock, they said, some neighbors heard shots being fired by the parking lot at the old abandoned strip mall by US1. There was an RV parked there,” he said, then sipped his beer. He continued as he put the beer down. “Our colleagues at the Rockledge Police Department went to check it out. They found two guys there, both of them needed to go to the ER, but wouldn’t say how they got so badly messed up.”
He paused, his eyes scrutinizing me. I kept eating, pretending like I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Strange, isn’t it?” he said. “On the same day that you bring back a girl that you found on the streets?”
“Sounds like it’s drug-related,” I said and poured myself a glass of my mother’s iced tea that she left on the counter. I sipped it, my eyes avoiding Matt’s.
“I take it you don’t know anything about what could have happened out there?”
“Me?” I asked. Then added, sounding appalled at the mere suggestion, “No.”
I sipped more tea, trying to suppress the blushing of my face, cursing myself for not having inherited the talent for acting my sister had. I couldn’t lie if my life depended on it. Luckily, Matt didn’t dig deeper because I would have given in if he did. My savior was Elijah. He was done watching TV when he came out to us in the kitchen and sat down next to Matt. He put his prosthetic arm on the table. He had been shot last year and lost the arm from the elbow down. He was being a real sport about it, and I was proud of him for never complaining or being bitter about it. My sister had sponsored a bionic arm for him, with fingers he could move and everything, but he hadn’t gotten it yet.
“Dad, I’m tired,” he said. “Can we go home now?”
Matt smiled and
ran a hand across the boy’s hair. “What happened to the movie you were watching?”
“It stopped because of some breaking news or something.”
Matt nodded. “I’m beat too, son. Let me just finish this beer, and then we’ll go back to the house.”
Somehow, it had always been like Roy and his mother knew their time together on this earth was limited—even before she got sick. He couldn’t explain how he knew; he just did. And he could see it in her eyes as well when she looked at him with such deep compassion while her hand gently stroked his hair. It was like she wanted to take all of him in while she still could.
Roy suffered from Asthmatic Bronchitis as a young child, and his mother would let him sleep with her in her bed to be able to keep an eye on him at night. Even when he outgrew his asthma, and the attacks stopped, she still insisted he sleep with her. It didn’t stop until he was eleven, and that wasn’t because of him. The only reason it stopped was that she could no longer get up the stairs to her bedroom.
Her respiratory system was failing her. The cancer was growing in her lungs.
From that day on, she slept in a chair in the living room, and Roy moved to the couch. From there, it was now his turn to keep an eye on her at night, and he’d stay awake, watching her breathing, afraid she’d slip away in the night.
On the day she did pass on to the great unknown, they were watching TV together. Roy had noticed her eyes kept rolling back in her head. It was a Saturday, and he had slept in, eaten some cereal, and then he had found a bag of chips that he devoured on the couch while staring at his mother’s hands. Roy had always loved his mom’s hands. Throughout his childhood, they had been used for soothing him when he was upset or hurt. They had stroked his hair and cheeks so much or had held him when he was sad or scared. When much younger, he’d sometimes play with them in his, measuring the length of his fingers against hers, or sometimes just hugging it close to his cheek to feel them close. Throughout the years, he had watched her hands grow bonier, the skin sagging, and the veins popping out on top. He remembered the first time she passed out in the living room, and he found her face down in the carpet. When she was taken to the hospital on the stretcher, her hands had been dangling by the sides of the stretcher, limp, lifeless.