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.
Now that the story has established the protagonist’s ordinary world, a villain who is ready to put up obstacles to stop the hero’s progress, and the subplot of a wife who is sure to come into the conflicts, the rest of the journey can continue. Readers are wondering what the hero will do next in his crusade, what the villain will do to stop him, and what Deb will do as a support.
Therefore, the next portion of the story begins answering those questions.
I cruised west on Interstate 90 toward Seattle. Five hours to think. Five hours to dwell on the Candyman. Could he really be the clown who stole Emily? What might he do to get back at me for killing his two lackeys? That is, if he could find me.
I mentally recited my security measures. The publicized route to contact the so-called Guardian Angel was through Mahoney, and that channel passed through multiple layers of anonymous transfers. It would take a genius hacker to follow them all, and since Mahoney switched the layers on a daily basis, the trail would grow cold before the hacker could finish.
The only weak spot was the emergency number I had given Deb, but since no one knew of the Guardian Angel’s connection to her, who would guess to snoop in her phone? Not only that, when it came to keeping secrets, Deb was a multi-walled vault, and Tommy was in the dark about my alter ego. Our bases were covered.
My concerns now alleviated, I turned to the phone. “Bring up the Castillo file.”
A photo of a young brunette appeared—flawless skin, beautiful brown eyes that could pierce the hardest of hearts. In many ways, she looked like Emily—Latina features exemplified in dark eyes and hair along with skin that seemed forever sun-kissed, though smooth and silky. Emily had picked up that look from my father, as if the genetic expression skipped over me and anointed Emily instead. She was a beautiful angel. Truly beautiful.
As tears formed once again, I swallowed and spoke with as much force as my tightening throat would allow. “Read the file.”
The phone’s voice, feminine yet mechanical, replied. “Emma Castillo. Age 14. Went missing four days ago. Last known clothing—blue jeans, white athletic shoes, purple polo shirt, and denim jacket.”
“Purple,” I whispered. “I didn’t catch that before.”
“Last seen at a party,” the phone continued. “Police found date-rape drugs at the house where the party took place, but no source could be found. Witnesses say Daniel, an older male teen, gave Emma a lot of attention during the party, but police ruled him out as a suspect.”
I huffed. Yeah, right. They always have an alibi.
“Meeting arrangements. You are to go to the parents’ house at any time, day or night. If they are not home, you will find a key to the back door under a flower pot at the edge of a patio. The bag will be on a table in the living room, and the scent source will be next to it.”
The Castillo’s home address appeared. I punched it into the GPS, then settled back in my seat and muttered, “Date-rape drugs. More like forever-rape drugs.”
As the cruise-controlled van took me across the rolling grasslands of central Washington, I planned my trek—make sure I can get through Snoqualmie Pass, stop just outside of Seattle for a few hours of sleep, then get a shower and a bite to eat at a truck stop before arriving unannounced at the Castillos’ at about three in the morning. If they followed Mahoney’s protocol, they should be ready at any moment, purple bag in hand.
Although a packed snow layer slowed my progress through the pass, I made good time. My nap at a Walmart parking lot was dreamless, normal for the first night after a rescue, though I’m sure clutching Beans helped.
At the truck stop, the rotisserie chicken and wilted broccoli tasted like a salt-and-grease delivery system, though it filled my belly. The shower felt heaven-sent, like a soaking rain after a ten-year drought. The shampoo and soap aromas bathed my senses in sweet strawberry and luscious lavender. After drying off and getting dressed, I felt more alive than I had in months, as if something in the air invigorated me. Maybe I would soon discover why.
I arrived in the Cedar Park neighborhood at 3:07 a.m. and stopped next to a playground. A few streetlights illuminated the area, providing only a silhouette view of a bird perched at the top of a set of monkey bars, perhaps a small owl.
A rooster weather vane wavered on the roof of a single-story house, one of five homes in view. According to the GPS, the one with the vane belonged to the Castillos. A pickup truck sat in the driveway, a good sign that they were home. An evergreen in the front yard cast a deep shadow over the porch—perfect for a surreptitious rendezvous.
I drove a few blocks away, parked in a dark area, and walked from there with the Beretta tucked in my inner holster. A misty breeze moistened my face. Although the temperature was in the forties, the air felt like a sauna compared to the frigid winds of Spokane.
In spite of the warmer climate, I put on the ski mask—my winter hiding place. It was time for a new chapter in this three-year hero charade.
The number of years sparked a series of thoughts. Not only did Emily and Emma have similar physical features, Emma was fourteen. If Emily somehow survived, she would be fourteen. Also, their names started with the same two letters. And the purple shirt? Could purple be Emma’s favorite color?
Nausea churned in my stomach. A cry of despair tried to punch through. Had I subconsciously blocked these similarities? Had I switched to the Spokane job to avoid my own trauma drama?
I shook my head. Maybe Deb was right after all. This crusade might eventually drive me insane.
Swallowing down the turmoil, I pressed on, whispering, “Every girl is unique. Every girl is loved. Every girl needs a hero.”
As I neared the house, something moved high in the evergreen. I ducked close to a hedge bordering the walkway and peered at the tree. A man straddled a limb. As he scooted along the bark, a streetlight revealed more details. Something dark coated his face, maybe skin paint. He wore camo pants and a black sweatshirt and held a black object in one hand, the other hand braced on the limb.
I narrowed my eyes and searched every illuminated inch. Could the object be a gun? Was he one of The Candyman’s goons? Or maybe it was a video camera, clutched by a media hound looking for a scoop? I reached under my coat and withdrew the Beretta. Either way, I couldn’t let him spoil the rescue of an innocent girl.
Watching him while holding the gun low, I crept along the side of the Castillos’ yard to the back. After finding the key under the pot, I holstered the gun, unlocked the door, and stepped inside, making sure to pull the door in place without letting it click.
I withdrew my phone and turned on the flashlight app, then swept the beam across the interior—a short corridor that led to a living area. Padding softly, I followed the corridor to its end and found the table with a purple denim bag on top. Next to it lay a pair of dirty gym socks.
I squinted. Foot odor again? It worked for Amy, probably because she had a strong affinity for her shoes. Perhaps she was a track athlete. But it wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone.
After grabbing the bag, I doused the light and retraced my steps. Just before entering the corridor, a new light flashed in my eyes.
“Don’t move or you’re dead!” The voice was masculine, strong, unafraid.
I froze, blinded by the light. “Mr. Castillo?”
“Who wants to know?”
The ski mask jerked away. I lowered my head, but probably not in time to avoid their eyes. “The Guardian Angel. I came to search for Emma.”
Categories: Story Development