Content warning. This story is designed for adults and mature teens. It involves sex trafficking and mentions rape, drugs, and nudity. There is no “on-screen” sex, but the aftermath of rape is on-screen, including the presence of nude, partially nude, and/or drugged girls as they are rescued by the hero. There is also violence, including bloody killings, as well as rough language.
In this sequence, we come to the end of the rest period, which includes the hero’s reward for success, that is, he is able to deliver Amy to safety. A rest period is a good time to delve into the hero’s psyche and bring troubling issues to the surface. See the questions at the end.
We are still in Mike’s ordinary world, he is doing the same things he has done for a few years, but this scene shows that something big is coming, a crisis event that will change everything. It isn’t quite here yet, but the final sentence lets us know that it is on the horizon.
Let’s see how that works.
We closed in on the rendezvous point, a span of pavement with faded lines, maybe a former metro park-and-ride lot. A woman wearing a trench coat and ski mask stood near a Ford Explorer and waved at us.
When I pulled into the space to the right of the Ford, Amy began stripping off the sweatshirt.
“No.” I grabbed the hem and pulled it back down. “Keep it. Something to remember me by.”
She hugged herself. “Thank you. I love the color.” She pushed Beans into my hand. “So you’ll remember me.”
“But I can’t—”
“Don’t you want to remember me?” Her eyes took on a hurt look.
“Of course I do, but …” What could I say? That she was just another girl like dozens before her? Of course not. “But I couldn’t take something you sleep with.”
“I have your sweatshirt. I’ll wear it to bed every night. I’ll feel like my guardian angel is watching me.”
I laid Beans on her lap. “Really. You need to keep him.”
Her lips tightened as she collected Beans, and she said nothing more.
The handoff tapped on my window, her masked face nearly touching the glass. “Excuse me? Is Amy ready?”
I grabbed my phone, opened the security app, and lowered the window. Cold air blasted in. “Password?”
She rattled off a series of letters and numbers that matched the ones on the screen. Nodding, I said, “We’re ready. She’s barefoot, though, so watch where she steps.”
I closed the window to seal out the frigid air while the handoff hurried around to Amy’s side and opened the door. “Want me to carry you, sweetheart?”
“No. I’m fine.” As Amy got out, she smiled and whispered, “Bye.”
I gave her a nod and watched them pass in front. Amy and I locked gazes, her expression forlorn, yet searching as she held my sweatshirt’s sleeve over her mouth. What was going through her mind? An image of the vile beast who brutally penetrated her? Loss of innocence? Could she ever trust anyone again? Maybe she was hoping for something more than a drive-by hero.
My mantra zipped to mind. Every girl is unique. Every girl is loved. Every girl needs a hero.
Just as the handoff opened her Ford’s front passenger door, I lowered the window and leaned my head out. “Amy?”
She raised her brow high. “Yes?”
I gestured with my head. “Come here.”
She tiptoed toward me, careful to avoid a shard of glass. When she drew close, I took Beans from her and held him to my chest. “I’ll sleep with him every night, and I’ll think of you.”
A broad smile ran across her face. “And don’t forget to watch for my wave.”
Her gait now lively, she retraced her steps and climbed into the Ford.
When the handoff closed the door, she set her hands on my window frame and looked me in the eye, though the ski mask blunted the effect. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m your biggest fan, and I want to be your handoff anytime you’re in the area.”
“Well, choosing handoffs is Mahoney’s department. You do a good job with Amy, and you’ll be at the top of his list.”
“Trust me. I will. I’m a momma bear.” She turned to go, then pivoted back. “And I need to say this.” Her tone turned serious. “You’re a great man. A true hero. I don’t care what some people say about you being a vigilante and killing so many people. Sex traffickers deserve to die.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but …” I nodded toward Amy. “She’s been raped. Probably should go to the ER.”
Her eyes widened. “Raped? Oh, my God!” She rushed around to the driver’s side, threw the door open, and leaped in. Seconds later, the Ford squealed out, leaving a skid mark on the pavement.
As they turned onto the road, I caught a glimpse of the woman lifting off the ski mask. Long, dark tresses fell to her shoulders. She looked youngish, maybe early thirties, much like Amy’s mom. A good fit. Mahoney had done his job well, in spite of the fan-girl display.
I slid my phone from its mount and sent a text to Mahoney—Amy’s handed off. Heading to Seattle. Update when I get there. Just so you know, I gave Amy my sweatshirt. Don’t give me grief about security. It’s fairly nondescript. Hunter green. No logo.
After returning the phone to the mount, I sank low in my seat and blew out a sigh. Another job done. Time to take care of the next difficult duty. I faced the phone and said, “Call Deborah.”
A ringing trill emanated from the speaker, then another, then two more. As usual, voice mail engaged.
“Hey, this is Deborah. Can’t come to the phone right now. If you’re calling to order from the computer store, press one. Otherwise, leave a message.”
A beep followed.
I inhaled and spoke in a resigned tone. “Deb, it’s Mike. Let’s see …” I glanced at the clock—9:30 am. “It’s afternoon there, so I guess you might be with your running group. Or is it weight-training day? Anyway, I was wondering about Tommy’s birthday. It’s a big one. You know, the adulthood thing, so I thought maybe I could come home for that.”
When I imagined Deb’s exasperated expression, I sighed. “Look, I remember the agreement, but I don’t want to miss his special day. When I have to leave again, he’ll eventually get over it, but he might never get over me missing his special birthday.”
I searched for a poignant ending, but nothing came to mind. I couldn’t leave too big of a gap in the recording. “Well, I love you, and tell Tommy I love him. Good-bye.”
I pressed the End button. Something beeped but not from my phone. It seemed to come from somewhere on my body.
Patting my coat, I searched for the confiscated phone, then pulled it out and unlocked the screen. A message alert flashed. When I brought it up, I read the text. I saw your handy work. Great job. Two stupid toads down, a thousand to go. But I’ll get you back. Soon. Very soon.
Another beep followed, and a new message appeared with an attached photo. This lovely pic is going up on all the best websites. A hundred of my friends are going to stare at it. The video is worth a ton of money. No wonder you took it for yourself.
I withdrew the camera from my coat pocket and set it on the passenger seat. The urge to burn it made my fist shake. I had to send it to Mahoney so he could forward it to whoever would need the evidence, but just thinking about anyone, even investigators, viewing that blasphemy made my blood boil.
My hand still shaking, I tapped on the message’s photo icon. A picture of Amy appeared—nude and lying spread eagle on a bed.
I swiped it off the screen. My teeth clenched until they hurt. But why did it upset me so much? This wasn’t the first time I had found one of my rescued girls displayed in porn. And it probably wouldn’t be the last. The pain meant the calluses weren’t quite tough enough. Yet, did I want them to be that tough?
A third beep sounded. Don’t bother tracking this number. It won’t work. I’m using a dead man’s phone. I’m disposing of it.
I cleared the screen and searched the message archives. Nothing.
Next, I brought up the recent phone calls. Again, scrubbed. I then checked the setting for the GPS tracker. Turned off. At least no one could find me that way.
Finally, I brought up the contact list. Besides Rubio’s, only one entry appeared. I whispered the name. “The Candyman.”
In this rest period, Mike’s going-through-the-motions routine is challenged. How? Why didn’t Mike want to take Beans from Amy? Why did he relent? Readers like to see inner conflict and ponder what’s going on, but a wise author doesn’t come right out and explain it.
What do you think? If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Story Development