Content warning. This story is designed for adults and mature teens. It involves sex trafficking. Rape, drugs, and nudity are mentioned. 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.
For this second installment, I added details about the protagonist’s methods. My hope was to raise more questions. A few quirks in the protagonist become evident, and the back story begins to take shape through the introduction of a new character.
I also decided to change Mahoney from a policeman to the hero’s liaison with the public so the hero can be secret and completely undercover.
I like to give the hero a burden to go along with his passion to achieve his goals. In this installment, that burden begins to be revealed. It remains mostly hidden for now, but it will be fully revealed soon. To reveal a secret bit by bit is more enticing to the reader than to spill it all at once.
I also moved the light source closer to the beginning to allow the physical scene an earlier boost.
The parents gave me a shoe—Nike, size six, typical for a twelve-year-old.
I sniffed the inside. The odor carried Amy’s essence—pungent sweat, a trace of blood … and the scent of her soul.
I exhaled into the frosty night. A breeze beat against the white vapor and sent it skyward through the glow of a neighborhood streetlamp. As I inhaled the crisp air through my ski mask’s breathing hole, my membranes absorbed the elements. The particles of a thousand Amys filtered through, along with a thousand Alyssas, Aarons, and Andrews, but only one matched the sample. The missing Amy was out there … somewhere.
I turned to the weeping mother. I couldn’t remember her name or the name of the father who held her close, both bundled in heavy coats on this dark winter night. No matter. I knew Amy’s name.
I whispered, “I can find her.”
The mother stifled a sob and swiped at a tear on her cheek. “You mean …” She swallowed down another sob as her hopeful eyes sparkled. “She’s alive?”
“She’s alive … for now. But if traffickers got her, she’s living in hell.” I pulled my trench coat close. Even with a sweatshirt underneath, the bone-chilling air cut through to the skin, but I couldn’t risk going inside and exposing myself to too much sensory input or to any security cameras that might be around. “Do you have what I asked for?”
“Right here.” The father extended a small canvas bag. Light from the streetlamp revealed its purple color. “I had to sell my Mustang to raise this money. I know that part’s voluntary, but I had to contribute. Getting Amy back …” His voice faltered. “Well … no sacrifice is too high.”
“Amy’s photo is in there, too,” the mother said. “It’s from just two weeks ago, and we added my mother’s earrings and his grandfather’s pocket watch.”
I took the bag. “And what for Amy?”
“A stuffed bunny she named Beans. She sleeps with it every night.”
“That should work.”
The father’s lips firmed. “Look, I get the sentimental-value stuff, but why the purple bag? We couldn’t find anything purple on short notice, so we had to dye this one.”
“It’s personal.” I gave them a nod and forced a confident tone. “I’ll keep Mahoney up to date. Send all communications through him.”
Just as I turned to leave, the father grabbed my arm. “Uh … just a sec.” He released me and cleared his throat. “I’m not sure what to call you … but …”
I offered a mechanical smile. “The media has several names for me. Just pick one.”
“Guardian Angel,” the mother said as she nudged the father with an elbow.
“Well … yeah. That’ll work.” He averted his eyes. “I just wanted to say that we guarded Amy. Not like an angel would, but, you know. Internet rules. Don’t talk to strangers. No skin-tight or revealing clothes. That sort of thing.” His jaw tensed, and a line of vapor spewed from each nostril. “She was taken while walking home from school.” His voice pitched higher as he struggled to finish. “It’s only three blocks away, for crying out loud! This is Spokane, not Seattle. We didn’t do anything wrong!”
The mother patted his coat sleeve with a gloved hand. “He knows, honey. He read the report.”
“Right. Right.” After a heavy sigh, he made eye contact again, his own tears sparkling. “So … we aren’t bad parents. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
I gave them both the most sympathetic look I could muster. “Trust me. I believe you.” Without another word, I turned and strode down the sidewalk and into darkness, the purple bag clutched by its throat.
As I walked, I inhaled deeply. The cold air froze my nostril hairs, but I needed to keep Amy’s scent in mind. Although it was fresh and easy to detect, it was new, so I had to ingrain it in my mind. In the early days, I had lost others scents. That would never happen again.
When I neared my rental minivan, parked as far away from streetlights as possible, I reached into my pocket for the key fob and pressed the unlock button. The door’s click brought relief. These fobs sometimes didn’t work in cold weather.
I got in, fired up the engine and heater, and set the bag in the passenger’s seat next to a bottle of Excedrin. After glancing around for any onlookers, I peeled off my ski mask and laid it by the bag.
As I drove toward the neighborhood access road, I set my phone on the dashboard’s mount and said, “Call Mahoney.”
Within seconds, Mahoney’s distinct New-York-flavored voice punched the air. “Mike? You got the Castillo girl already?”
“No, I skipped to number two on the list.” I heaved a sigh and mentally recited my mantra. Every girl is unique. Every girl is loved. Every girl needs a hero. “Amy Horowitz. White. Twelve years old. Blonde. Blue eyes. El primo target.”
“Then they’ll find customers quick.” Static crackled through a short pause. “I’ll add the new info to the file, but what about Castillo?”
“Horowitz is younger. It’s my call.”
“As always. But Castillo was last seen in Seattle, and now you’re in … Here’s the file. … Spokane? What is that? Three hours from Seattle?”
“More like five. Still close enough to head back after I find Horowitz.”
“Okay, boss, I’ll see if I can rustle up a handoff in Spokane.”
I glanced at the GPS screen and followed its directions toward Interstate 90, the main east-west artery through Spokane. “You got anything else for me to do while I’m here?”
“Just a suspected ranch. The address is in your mission list.”
“A ranch? That’s police work. Why don’t they raid the place?”
“They did. No one there. That’s why I said suspected. Someone might have tipped off the traffickers.”
“So I’m supposed to sniff out the girls.” I nodded. “All right. Maybe after I find Castillo.”
Mahoney yawned. “What time is it there? Four something?”
I stopped at the side of the road near a junction to the Interstate and glanced at the dashboard clock. “Four twenty. So it’s seven twenty there.”
“Too early for me.”
“Did I interrupt your beauty sleep?”
“Don’t need it. I’m already drop-dead gorgeous.”
“Gorgeous?” I snorted. “I always pictured you as a beer-bellied troll.”
“No way. I have washboard abs. I’ll send you a selfie if you’d like.”
“Not thanks. Not before breakfast.”
“Suit yourself.” Mahoney cleared his throat. “Just give me a buzz when you get her. I’ll have a handoff by then.”
“No fan girls this time.” I inhaled and looked both ways. The scent led to the right. As usual, the sensation wasn’t truly olfactory, though the essence entered through my nostrils. “Any other news?”
“The usual overnight load. Five more super-urgent pleas to find kids, including a boy.”
“When will they learn that I can’t find boys?”
“No idea. It’s in all the gossip rags. Anyway, you also got fifteen interview requests. Sixteen thousand alerts on your media nicknames. Someone created a Guardian Angel sweatshirt and wants your permission to market it.”
“Yeah, Guardian Angel is your number one nickname. It’s even trending on Twitter.”
“More like Squawker.” I turned the van onto the Interstate access ramp, accelerated to the speed limit, and locked in the cruise control. “I don’t care about the sweatshirts. Email me the info on the girls. Do the usual with the interviews.”
“You sure? One’s for an audience with the Pope. If you can’t trust him to keep a secret, then—”
“You can’t trust anyone. I know.” A sharp pain stabbed through my skull—a migraine ready to pile-drive my brain. “Listen. I have to go. Just send my regrets to all of them. You know the boilerplate.”
The tricky part is using the dialogue to give hints to the back story. The dropping of clues (my students and I call it dropping popcorn) needs to be naturally motivated. The two guys wouldn’t naturally talk about things they both already know, so it’s a challenge to provide information this way, and doing it wrong can really get ugly.
Another option would be to simply tell the reader about the back story, but that halts the story. I want to do this popcorn-dropping method while the story progresses so the reader won’t be assaulted by a boring narrative.
Feel free to comment with questions or suggestions.
Categories: Story Development