The dark concrete corridor stretched out before him, smelling of blood and semen and terror.
Roarke had been here before, these stinking hellholes, cellblock rooms barely big enough for a mattress and bed stand. Twenty-five girls to a block, locked in the rooms and drugged to the gills, servicing twenty-five to forty men a day, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Not just ordinary johns tonight: it was a new shipment, private party for the traffickers themselves.
He could hear the shallow breathing of the agents surrounding him, feel the warmth of bodies: four men before him, three in back, encased in camouflage body armor and hoisting riot shields, brandishing an entire armory. Somewhere down the hall there was sobbing, a young girl’s cries. “Mátame. Por favor, mátame.”
Kill me. Please kill me.
The number one man gestured the signal and the team shot forward in formation, then peeled off in a fluid dance, odd men to the right, even men to the left, kicking through doors, shouting: “FBI, drop your weapon! Face down on the floor!” Elsewhere in the corridor, shots blasting, more screaming, heavy thuds and the jangle of cuffs as men were wrestled to the floor.
Roarke covered the agent ahead of him until the tiny room was secure, bad guy kissing concrete. Roarke looked once at the terrified teenage girl cowering naked on the filthy mattress, and said “Es terminado.” It’s over. Then he moved out the door, leading with his Glock, down the corridor, past doorways open to similar scenes of hell.
He kicked open the next closed door and burst in—
A man with his pants half off turned with an enormous, ugly AK 47. Roarke shot twice, straight into his center mass. The man’s chest opened, blooming red, and his body went down, jerking as if tasered.
Roarke stood, his heart booming crazily in his chest.
And then, though the trafficker was as dead as a person could get, Roarke followed procedure and turned the corpse over to cuff him.
As he straightened he saw the girl, tiny and frozen, huddled on the floor against the mattress, her back pressed into the wall, her eyes wide and glazed with fear. This one twelve or thirteen years old at most, dressed in nothing but a cheap, stained camisole. Roarke felt a wave of primal anger he was able to suppress only by telling himself he must not frighten this child any further.
“Estás seguro,” he told her in the softest voice he could muster through the adrenaline raging through his bloodstream. You are safe. Although he wondered if any of the girls who walked out of this place, this night, would ever feel safe again.
There was movement behind him and he twisted around… to see Special Agent Damien Epps in the doorway. Tall, dark, lithe, and righteously pissed.
“All clear,” Epps reported. His whole body was tense. “Thirteen of the fucks in custody, three —”
He paused as he glanced down at the dead man at Roarke’s feet. “Four dead.” And his face and body were suddenly tense in a different way. “Nice shooting,” he added.
Roarke felt the jab. He had twelve years of Bureau service and before two weeks ago, he had never killed in the line of duty. The man at his feet was his third since then.
He gave Epps a warning look, nodding at the girl huddled against the wall. He wanted to help her up, give her the shirt under his vest, but he figured she wouldn’t be wanting any man near her for a very, very long time. “Social Services?” he asked Epps quietly. They had social workers waiting in vans outside to take the rescued girls to hospitals and on to a shelter that specialized in support for trafficking victims.
“On their way in,” Epps said.
Roarke spoke directly to the girl. “Mujeres vienen. Usted se va a la casa.” Women are coming. You are going home.
The girl didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge him. He stood for a moment, helpless, knowing he was not the one to help her. He moved to follow Epps out. And then he stopped, his eyes coming to rest on the bed stand.
Just above the gouged surface of the table there was a small drawing on the wall. Roarke stepped closer… to look down at a figure scratched in the concrete, a crude skeleton wearing a flowery crown. Scraps of food and torn bits of lace were laid carefully in front of it.
Epps was staring, too, stopped in the doorway. “What is it?”
“An altar,” Roarke said. “To Santa Muerte.” Lady Death, Holy Death, protector of the lost.
He looked at the girl, still and silent on the floor, with her old and wary eyes, and wondered if somehow her prayer had been answered and the saint had intervened.
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Genre – Mystery / Thriller
Rating – PG13