Chapter Seventeen X

We’re waiting six miles down the ten mile road to the house. It’s nine thirty in the morning. The Escalade is in the middle of the road with the hood up, Amaya is outside studying the engine. She’s in a pair of tiny snug cut off shorts, platforms and a tank top sheer enough to be a pane of glass. The truck is coming, a white ten year old F-150, dust kicking up behind it. The driver can’t see us because the hood is up, he can only see a vision in front of him, devastating legs, perfect round tush and the girl they belong to needing assistance. It’s Texas, drive friendly.
The truck stops, he’s not a total idiot, he gets out but remains behind the door, “Problem missy?”
Amaya, all Texas tone, frowning pitifully, “Big one mister. Daddy’s gonna kill me fur shore. I ain’t supposta take his Escalade lessen he’s with me. I just got my learners. He’s in Dallas, I thought I’d have me a little ride. Saw this empty road, thought it’d be fun to haul ass down, kick up some dust. The durn thing just stopped. Oh Lordy, I’m in for it now.”
He’s still cautious, “Anyone in the car?”
Amaya, “Just Luella. Neither of us knows jack squat about cars.”
I take my cue and come out of the passenger side, “Sure glad you come along sir. We get this thing cranked, we can have it washed and home fore he gets back tomorrow.”
He’s got his hand resting on his sidearm, but not holding the grip, he steps forward, “Lemme take a look.”
I send three shuriken into his chest and cheek, he stops, not quite grasping the stings in his chest and face, the anesthetic kicks in as he’s fumbling with his pistol. It falls out of the holster, he falls on top of it.
“Man, David Li kicked up the speed of that mix, it’s like injecting it into his brain.”
Janah gets out, we drag him to the back of his truck and lift him into the bed, wrap wire around his wrists and ankles, his arms behind his back, duct tape his mouth. I close the tailgate.
Amaya drives his truck, we follow in the Escalade, she finds a suitable tree and eases the right front fender into it, juices the engine until the headlight pops and the fender crumples. She backs up, checks it out, looks credible, the wheel well is pushed against the tire though, I grab the metal and pull it away far enough to get clearance.
“Good job, you okay?”
Amaya, “Fine, fun to smush things.”
“Let’s get to it.”
A quarter mile from the house, she stops again, I poke the tire under the smashed fender just enough to make a small hole, air whistles out. When it’s near flat she drives up to the gate, clicks the remote, gate opens, we drive in. Janah’s driving the Escalade, they stay inside, engine running.
The second man comes to the door, Amaya and I get out, he asks the obvious.
Amaya, “He hit a tree, guess when his tire blew. It ain’t too bad, but he musta bumped his head. Weren’t wearing no seatbelt, the bag thing didn’t pop up.”
Man, “Where is he?”
“In back, don’t look hurt, but he ain’t woke up yet, just happened.”
He’s eyeing the SUV, the windows are dark but not blackout like the one we have at home, he can see passengers.
“Them’s my friends, we’s on the way to San Antone, decided to have a laugh racing down the dirt road. Good thing we done it.”
There’s a woman at the doorway, I mental, “Nikko, I’m putting shuriken in her, you take the guy.”
Nikko climbs out of the Escalade, starts towards us, “Go.”
Six zips and thwaps later, he’s down and she’s down. Nikko and I keep moving to the house, Chloe and Zi behind us. The front door is open, I don’t see much, no motion.
“What’s inside?”
Chloe moves left, Zi right, to the edges of the house, then back.
Chloe, “Adult in the kitchen,” Zi says, “Two smaller bodies upstairs, the others are out back.”
“Okay, Nikko follow me, but not too close, stay invisible, Janah, you and Amaya wrap up these two.”
I go in the house, through a large living room, big wet bar, TV, lots of leather chairs and a couple of couches, pass a second room on the right, more seating, end tables, a smaller bar, then the kitchen on my left. Wide window opens to the back, kids are outside with baskets, hoes, weeding, picking ripe vegetables.
“Hello? Hello? Anyone here?”
The woman turns as I walk in the kitchen, I decide to skip small talk and stick a shuriken in her shoulder, she staggers forward a half step and falls in a heap.
Janah comes in, goes outside, the girls look up, one says, “Who are you?”
 “Everybody sit down, over here, we need to talk.”
The oldest girl, all of fourteen, says, “You coming to take one of us?”
“No, do people take a girl from time to time?”
She frowns, “Yeah, usually the oldest.”
Janah doesn’t need to ask why, but the girl volunteers, “We get too old for this…business.”
“And how do you feel about this business.”
Girl, “Farming or whoring?”
“Being used for prostitution.”
“Nothing to feel. We’re here and can’t go no place. Make the best of it. I’ve been scared the whole year, I know it’s my time to go, they never tell us what happens when we do, but I can guess pretty easy.”
Janah, “It’s not happening now, it’s never going to happen. We’re here to put an end to it.”
The girl breaks down, a river of tears stream, Janah lays a hand on her neck, she is suddenly calm, “How’d you do that?”
“What’s your name?”
“Sydney, don’t use a last, my family name’s one I’d like to forget.”
 “Okay Sydney, help get the girls inside, we have things to do.”
A panel van pulls in, a sedan behind it. The van driver exits, gets into the sedan, they drive away. While Zi, Chloe and Amaya talk to the children. Nikko, Janah and I stack the four adults in the van. I hear singing, Chloe and Amaya are entertaining. Back in the big room, young girls hold each other, watching Amaya sing a Japanese pop song, while she and Chloe dances in the sort of cheerleader robot way of the girl groups. There’s no music, doesn’t seem to matter to the girls, some try to mimic the steps.
A small bus arrives, sixteen passenger thing, two twenty something women and four seniors come to the house.
Janah, “These people are taking you away from here, take a few clothes you like, nothing else, everything you need will be provided.”
Sydney, “Can’t your people stay? You going to see us again? Where we gonna go? You ain’t stealing us are you?”
“No, you are going to be safe and out of this. It’s better if we disappear. These people know exactly what to do, you are going home, or if that’s a problem for you, you are going to be with people who will take proper care of you and see that you have a normal life.”
“These girls, I mean, we’re all like sisters now. You can’t just yank us apart.”
Janah, “First things first Sydney. Get the girls out of this place,” Janah touches her cheek, “I’m sorry this gets sprung on you, but we can’t allow it to continue, most of these girls have been stolen from a family.”
“Some, some of us was sold by family.”
Janah, “I know, and you won’t be returning to them. None of you is going anyplace you don’t want to be. All I can ask you to do for now is trust me.”
Janah’s touch does what Janah’s touch does, the girl is flooded with oxytocin, convinced things will turn out right, she nods and goes off to collect her belongings.
A bit of turmoil with the other kids, anxiety about the sudden change of circumstances. The younger women and the seniors take two or three kids each and answer questions while they pack up. A few grandparent types around settles them enough to get guarded cooperation. No reason they should just trust us, can’t blame them, they’ve been lied to and used for a long time.

Chapter Eighteen

I drive the panel van, Nikko in the passenger seat keeping an eye on the pond scum in back. Amaya and the others are behind us in the Escalade. We’re back in San Antonio, through town to an empty warehouse.
“I wonder how many warehouses I’ve been in over the years, tying dopes to chairs.”
Nikko, “Apparently there are enough empty isolated warehouses to provide shelter for all the homeless in the country. I know I’m never investing in warehouse space in the suburbs, there’s no return.”
“Don’t we have some?”
“I’ve converted most of it to apartments or commercial retail or office. I don’t want people storing who knows what in our buildings. Bad enough not knowing what they keep in their apartments. Warehouse space we own now is for our stuff, parts and appliances for the apartments. Parking for the maintenance staff, parking for employees.”
“You may be onto something about homeless housing. I mean, I guess it’s used for shelter by the homeless now, but there’s no power or running water.”
Nikko gets out, rolls up the door, I drive in and pull to the rear, the Escalade in beside us. Nikko lowers the metal door, I find lights, we lock ourselves in.
Zi, “I don’t recall Janah saying what her plans are for these people.”
Amaya and Chloe are arranging IV stands, unpacking pharmaceuticals. Nikko and I are hauling our targets to chairs and strapping them in.
“She going to do a mini mind freak, it will take too long to do four in depth. Then Nikko and I are going to demonstrate an introductory version of what happens if they fall into old habits.”
This time there’s no point to voice scrambling equipment and microphones, they’ve heard us already. We’re reasonably disguised, they have no clue who we are, or where we’re from, and soon enough they’ll have a lot more on their minds than us. They’re blindfolded now anyway.
Amaya jacks them up on meth with a touch of LSD. We open the cooler Transportation supplied, sip sodas or bottled water. They thoughtfully included cold cut sandwiches, granola, apples and bananas. We eat a sandwich, Janah a banana and an apple, a fistful of granola. The targets are squirming, attempts to talk are muffled into duct tape. Can’t even squirm much, wire around wrists and ankles, fixed to the chairs facing four different directions. Can’t have them ripping out the IV lines, they might hurt themselves before we hurt them.
She gives them an hour of racing hearts and sweats, Amaya brings down the first woman, Myra. When she’s breathing more or less normally, she rips off the duct tape. We leave the others in Neverland.
Myra, “Who are you, whajou want? You ain’t cops, you ain’t fedral,” fedral, well, she’s from Texas.
Amaya, “Shut up. Or I can reload you, I have a ton of fun to play with. I’d love an excuse to experiment, see how much you can take.”
“I got a bad heart.”
“Maybe, if you play your cards right, you’ll still have it when we leave, although one of my pals would rather we just left your heart in San Antonio, isn’t there a song about that?”
Amaya has shifted persona, she uses contractions she never uses in her normal speech.
Myra, “What in hell you talkin’ bout?”
“Chat’s over, I want details, where the girls came from, how deep the organization runs. If you know it, I’m going to know it.”
“Then what, prison? Just kill me now girl.”
“That’s an option. Here’s how this will go. You do a mind dump, then we let you rest. I take contestant number two and she does a mind dump, then she rests, then the two guys. If the stories match up, everyone gets to live, we go away, you don’t go to jail. If the stories don’t line up, if I have to waste a lot of breath asking questions over and over, well then, I’d just as soon pump you up and watch your heartless heart explode. What’s it going to be?”
“Why shoulduh trust you?”
Amaya sighs, looks to Nikko, “Will you get her mouth jumpstarted please?”
Nikko flips open good old serrated edge, takes the woman by the ear and relieves her of the top quarter inch. We get a nice screech, she cuts into her wrist fidgeting in the chair.
Amaya, “Best settle down or you’ll self amputate.”
Myra, “You’re insane.”
“Only mildly, my friend here though, she’s whack psycho, particularly about people who run child prostitutes.”
“Child what? We got a foster home.”
“Miss Psycho, I don’t think Myra is grasping her role in this conversation.”
Nikko grabs the other ear, yanks hard as hell, Myra gasps, “Wait, wait, wait a minute goddammit, I’ll talk.”
“Start now, I’ve tuned in my bullshit detector, if the story stinks, the ear goes, then we work on fingers and toes. And skip dramatics. I don’t care about your poor childhood, bad husband or lack of educational opportunity. I want to know what you know about how this began and who operates it.”
 “My ear’s killin’ me.”
“My friend can hurry that along, the sooner you spill, the sooner I give you pain relief. Alternatively, I can go on to contestant number two and you can bleed all afternoon, I don’t care lady, get on with it.”
Myra surrenders and tells her version. She was offered money, a place to live, for doing what she did, keep an eye on the girls and keep the customers happy. She’d been doing it three years, maybe a little longer. She starts in on her dire circumstances prior to employment.
Amaya, “Myra, one more time. I don’t care about your problems, you did what you did, wrapping a sob story around it doesn’t help. Keep going.”
She doesn’t know business details, she takes care of the kids, makes sure they work, get cleaned up right, feeds and pours booze for the customers.
 “I ain’t real proud of myself, not trying to justify, just sayin’. The kids get used to it, or seem to leastwise, I got used to it too. We sold them for money, I sold my soul for it. S’how it is.”
Amaya, “Who’s who?”
“Wanda, she’s there just fore I came, the place was just crankin’ up. Them men, Jake and Fernando, they run the money, stand around to keep the customers in line, make sure the girls is scared enough not to try and run off. I don’t know much history on ‘em. Wanda, she was a whore fore she got into this. Told me she’s a whore since she was fourteen, no reason for her to lie to me.”
Amaya, “You two there every day, all day, for three years?”
“Got no place to go, no friends to see. Place is busy, I’m wore out the end of the day. Got no energy for a world cruise. The girls are nice enough, an occasional squabble like young-uns ever-where. Sometimes, if the men was busy, I’d make a grocery run, but mostly, they done it.”
“Who runs this show?”
“Woman has a whorehouse in San Antone, men call her Madam Bitch, I heard Jake say Rose sometimes, no last name.”
“They didn’t like her much.”
“Who knows? They’s men, I took it for badmouthing the boss, workin’ for a woman prob-ly galled them, but they got good money, so they settled for Madam Bitch and do what they’s told.”
“They get any time off, or the same two guys all this time?”
“Man nama’ Geraldo was there with Jake at first, he disappeared and Fernando showed. I asked what happened, Jake only said Geraldo got laid off. I took that to mean he’d done something he shouldn’ta and they laid him out, not off. Jake never said though. They get time when they make a run to San Antone, one runs, one stays, other than that, they’s always around.”
Amaya, “Guys want women, they get to use the women at Madam’s?”
“I spose, they didn’t say nothin’ bout that. They used some of our girls though.”
“All of them?”
“Not Jake, he was with the older one sometimes, Fernando’s the pig, has a playin’ card for each one, pull a card out that hat he wears, tells the girl she’s the lucky winner.”
I feel Nikko’s calm, which means rage in samurai speak. Fernando may not be leaving the warehouse vertical. She wasn’t feeling particularly sanguine about Jake either.
“Anything else?”
“Not lessen you want my recipe for apple pie.”
“Some other lifetime.”
Amaya fills a syringe with Lidocaine, injects Myra’s ear, then drips a sedative through the IV, relocates her brain into unconsciousness.
While Myra is winding down, Janah brings Wanda up.  
Amaya starts in. The process is similar, dancing around, denial, but before Nikko needs to help her focus, Amaya drips out just enough to let Wanda know she has no rock to crawl under. The story unfolds just about like Myra told it, verifies the men’s use of the girls, volunteers her own prostitution story. None of them has much of a conscience, Wanda less than Myra. She felt like she’d been used up and pitched, happens to lots of girls, the ones she handled were just more of the same. Cleaner, some education, healthier, but products for men’s entertainment no different than she’d been. Wanda doesn’t know jack about Madam Bitch either, just that she exists, an ex whore running whores.
At least she doesn’t sugar coat it much.
Amaya dims Wanda’s light while Janah brings up Jake. He’s the brightest one so far, reads and understands his situation almost immediately. His story compliments the women’s but he knows more about Madam Bitch and tries to dodge the subject. It takes a syringe of sodium pentothal, aimless chatter for a half hour, but he starts to unload.
Jake, “I used to enjoy her services, when she was whoring. Damn fine in her day, her day’s over, but she runs a tight ship now. Girls all young, johns like that, pay a lot more. Way the young ones came up was mostly her idea. I was in the army, overseas. In Asia, young girls everywhere, do anything. I admit to having the taste for it, not crazy like some guys, but I did it. I hooked up with Rose, she started talkin’ about men asking about underage. She’d talk about it with me. I told her war stories, when some of them guys started in on young, they couldn’t get off any other way, it was like coke. She knew girls who started when they was young, druggies mostly. We talked back and forth for a year. She calls me one day, says she got a line on developing product, that’s what she calls ‘em, product. I’m drifting around, doing construction work, drinking beer, living in a pay by the week motel. Finally convinced myself America’s no different than Thailand or Cambodia, said fuck it and went into business.”

Chapter Nineteen

Nobody left but Fernando, Amaya takes a break, Janah talks to him.
“Fernando, how did you come to the business?”
Because they had all been jacked up, none of them heard the prior debriefs. Like the others, he has no idea what we know.
Fernando, “What business?”
Janah, “Fernando, we know what the girls were used for, we know you and Jake deliver money to Madam Bitch.”
“I want a lawyer.”
Janah giggles, “We aren’t the justice system, you aren’t being interrogated to be charged, you’re in a private court, our court, you don’t have rights, you don’t get counsel, you’ve already been convicted. The only thing you get is one of two verdicts, life or death.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I am Life, my friend Death is just behind you, want to meet her?”
Fernando is stymied, shrugs.
“Fernando, you have five seconds to unload everything you know about this. I’m not asking again.”
“Fuck you bitch.”
Nikko takes his little finger, it drops to the floor, looks lonesome down there without its pals.
Fernando is screaming, it must be weird, he’s blindfolded, he’s just come down from a meth high and LSD hallucinations, then there’s a very nasty pain shooting up his arm. His blood drips from his wound, pooling on the floor next to his lonesome digit.
Nikko pokes her pointed blade into his neck, “Talk asshole, before my Parkinson’s twitch kicks in and I cut your throat.”
Fernando trembles, things aren’t going his way, “I knew a guy, he was working with Jake, said he was making a ton of dinero working for a whore in San Antonio, told me about young girls. I figured his boss might want to know he was running his mouth about her business, so I went to see her. She wasn’t happy.”
“And you volunteered to shut him up and take his place.”
“She tell you that?”
“Not too hard to figure out, guy named Geraldo, guy named Fernando, he thinks he can trust a fellow countryman, bad decision.”
Fernando doesn’t respond.
“Keep going, you aren’t done yet.”
“I took the job, guarded the girls, ran money back to San Antonio, kept my mouth shut.”
“And you took advantage of easy access to the girls.”
“I didn’t…,” Nikko cuts his neck, not deep, enough to get his attention, “Shit, yes, alright? They already whoring, what’s one more for girls who might do three, four guys a night?”
“I think it’s the cards in a hat, sticking it in their faces that they have no choice, one more humiliation for girls you treat as personal entertainment.”
Fernando doesn’t admit or deny, which doesn’t matter.
“What do you know about Rose?”
“Madam Bitch. Nothing but orders. She likes me okay, I saved her ass from the bigmouth. But once you working for her, she don’t ask nothin, she tells. We take our cut, bring her end, she already knows who comes and goes, can’t rip her off, she make that plain from the start. The woman, Wanda, she collect the money, put it in a bag, phone Rose with the count.”
“And you never tried to talk her into shorting the money?”
“No point, Rose knows who comes and what they pay.”
“Didn’t guys buy additional services once they got there?”
“Sure, but Wanda, she keep track, knows Myra and Jake are watching her. Besides, we got paid good. Raking off a few thousand more a month don’t make sense, wind up dead.”
Honor among pervs, who’ da guessed?
“Aside from Rose, is there anyone else up the line, is she part of a larger organization?”
“Nothing I know of.”
“Then how does she get the girls?”
“Buys ‘em.”
“Guess my next question.”
“Lady, if I knew that, I could have started my own business and kept the money myself. We talked about it, Jake and the women. They don’t know neither.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“We talked about starting up on our own, but no one knew anything about how, who steals girls and sells them, and we would have to find our own customers or take them from Rose. The business was in place, and again, for all her bullshit, she paid good. She’s also connected, half the politicians and most of the cops either get freebies or cash. We’d have to deal with all that, create our own protection.”
At least he makes sense. And Janah knows he’s telling the truth, Chloe confirms it.
Fernando, “What now?”
Janah, “I’m thinking that over.”
“If you’re going to kill me, do it. If you aren’t, can I get some help with my hand, anything, ice, a bandage, anything.”
Janah nods to Amaya, she injects his hand with Lidocaine, pressure bandages his stump.
Fernando isn’t valedictorian, but he’s not an idiot either, he thanks her.
Amaya anesthetizes Fernando, we have four unconscious pervs. Time for an exit strategy.
Janah, “We can’t cut them loose until we’ve dealt with Rose. We need to know who her source is and decommission both she and them.”
Nikko, “Daphne and I will get her, bring her here, we’re already set up.”
“You stay with Janah, anything goes sideways, Zi might need some help. I’ll take Amaya, we can get her easy enough.”
Janah, “She has a bouncer in the place, you have to get through him.”
“Yep.”
“Then get moving, I don’t want to wait another day.”
Amaya drives me to the outskirts of San Antonio, the house has a long drive through a stand of trees, almost invisible from the road, solitary. Surveillance said she has a hundred acres, pond in the back, no neighbors in viewing distance, not even in walking distance unless you’re up for five miles of hike.
I decide on the direct approach, Amaya stays in the car, I knock on the door. A guy answers, big guy too. After two shuriken in the chest and my foot in his groin he’s still big, but horizontally not vertically.
A girl comes down the hall, not dressed in whorehouse lingerie, a skirt and blouse, friggin flip flops, I have a thing about flip flops, they suck. She spots beefcake with two stars sticking out of his chest, turns to run, I stick a shuriken in her back and she’s horizontal, face down. She’s not hurt, the shuriken are laced with anesthetic, not poison, the cuts will heal, leave a small memento scar. I take the ones in beefcake, then the one in her, wipe off the tips on her blouse and return them to the leather pouch hanging from my belt, take out a couple of fresh ones.
The place is practically empty, johns come during the day, but not much. The girls don’t live here, they drive to work like everyone else. Surveillance said that a couple of girls are sometimes around for daytime action, but customers come by appointment, none are here now.
I find Rose in an office on the second floor, rear of the house. Obviously she hadn’t heard me knock or two bodies thumping to the plush carpet of the downstairs hallway.
She looks up, “Who are you? Where’s Bruce, how did you get in?”
I’m not up for snappy rejoinder, I stick a shuriken in her shoulder, throw her unconscious self over my shoulder, grab her purse and cell, haul her to the Escalade.
Forty minutes later, we’re back at the warehouse, Rose has joined her management team, wired to a chair. The others are still out of it.
Amaya inserts the syringe and Rose’s mind leaves for parts unknown, then tapes her mouth shut, puts Bose headphones on her and cranks up the volume on our favorite recording of noises from hell, screeching metal, Satanic voices, piercing alarms, bells, all in a random jumble. The only thing worse would be listening to Taylor Swift whine about her boyfriends, or maybe it would be worse if it was Kenny G, I’ll have to think it over and get back to you.
We take a refreshment break, Janah and Amaya stretch out on the cots.
Chloe and I take a walk around the exterior, there’s nothing out here, the warehouse isn’t air conditioned, there’s a big fan in one wall that makes a breeze, the air is warm, but it’s not stifling. Temperature is eighty or so outside, it’s overcast.
Chloe, “What are we going to do with them?”
“There’s no sense that the women physically abused the girls, nothing to indicate they were particularly hard on them otherwise. The men did, one with Sydney, one with all of them. They have to be adjusted. The women will get some physical reminder and will be monitored for a time, Rose will be deconstructed.”
Chloe, “Nikko wants to kill her and the Fernando guy.”
“Janah’s not going for that, Nikko knows it. She also knows what we do will be permanent grief versus death. The men and Rose will be walking dead.”
“What happens with the girls?”
“DNA, get them back to their families, the ones who were sold by family will be placed in a good home and supported by Rose’s money, if that’s not enough then Society money.”
“I want to ask who would sell their child, but considering my young life and what I’ve seen from our work, I already know plenty of people are sick.”
“In China and other places, it’s fairly common practice. Why women continue to get pregnant knowing they can’t support another child is baffling. They want boys, who they see as their retirement plan, girls are a nuisance in their minds. Don’t ask me why women, once girls themselves, think of girls as a nuisance, that’s too convoluted to explain.”
Chloe, “It’s all money in the end.”
“There’s that.”

Chapter Twenty

A couple hours riding the mind rocket, Amaya brings down Rose, smoothes her out with pentothal and lets her surf in a dream. Then she spritzes our newest fun thing in her nostrils, oxytocin, the trust hormone. It’s not clear that oxytocin automatically makes you trust everyone, she’s giving it a go as an experiment.
Janah talks to her about mundane things for a half hour, then, “The kiddie business must rake in money.”
Rose, “You have no idea, honey. The college girls are good, guys pay through the nose. The kids are a printing press, I wish I had a half dozen places around the country but you need connections, keep the locals paid off, reliable people to handle the girls and the customers. It’s not something you can cookie cutter, and you have to know who you’re doing business with. Getting tagged for running a brothel is one thing, running kids is a whole different problem.”
Janah, “Plus you have to get the kids. The college girls sign up, that’s understandable, kids have to be coerced.”
“Connections, honey, connections. I pay for quality, and they’re broken in before I get ‘em.”
“Wow, where’d you hook up with that?”
“You wouldn’t be trying to set yourself up, would ya?”, she laughs, “young girl like you, be in over your head in a week. The Russians would eat you alive, have you turning tricks.”
“The girls are Russian?”
“Some, or from former Russian countries. They also got no qualms about buying American, or just snatching them.”
Janah probes her mind, dulls her amygdala, lets her gel for a while, then, “A Russian outfit operates out of San Antonio?”
Rose laughs, “Hell no, the big guys are in New York, don’t know ‘em. They got guys around the country looking for buys or grabs. Lots of pretty little girls everywhere. A fake adoption agency sends girls from Russia. People selling their kids over there for next to nothing, beautiful girls. They peddle boys, but not that many, people want to hang on to boys.”
“You deal with the top dog?”
Rose, “No, my guy trains the girls, he and a coupla others, the big guy is their boss.”
“What’s his name?”
“Dmitri don’t tell me that.”
“Dmitri rich?”
“He don’t say, drives a big ass white BMW, silk suits, diamond ring with lots of carats, Rolex. He ain’t hurtin’.”
“So he’s local.”
“Naw, lives in Houston, some fancy subdivision, talks about his house, but don’t give an address. It’s not like I’m going over for dinner.”
“Dmitri got a last name?”
“Karpov, says it’s like some chess guy, I don’t know from chess.”
“You see him often?”
“Not since we set up our deal. One of his goons delivers the product. Haven’t bought a girl from him in six or seven months, I’m full up. But one is fourteen, time sell her off and buy a replacement.”
“How’d you meet him?”
“Guy comes to my place through an introduction. Customer don’t say nothin’ about kids, just a guy he met looking for a high end brothel. He comes a few times, we talk, he asks if men ever show an interest in underage girls. I say sure, but I don’t handle ‘em. But I’d been kicking around the thing with Jake, so we talked some more. I bought property out in nowhere for a song, remodeled, knew some women wanting high paying work and willing to do most anything to get it. He found Geraldo, I had to cancel him for running his mouth, hired Fernando.”
“Dmitri’s number is on her cell.”
Janah, “Call it in, find out where he lives and get Surveillance on him.”
“Ask if she has a security system. Make it easier to have the code.”

Janah, “You don’t live where you work do you?”
“Nope. I got a nice house on a cul-de-sac, quiet, big yard, pool and cabana.”
“Cool, I just bought one. Got a security system and everything.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I just coded it one two three four, I guess that’s kind of dumb.”
“You gotta make it a little harder than that. I used my birthday in reverse. Figure a burglar ain’t gonna know my birthday, then decide to enter it backwards.”
“Smart.”
“Can’t be too careful.”
“Birthday’s on her driver’s license, two nine sixty.”
Janah, “So, all your business is cash of course. What in the heck do you do with it?”
“My expenses are cash too, bribes don’t work payin’ by check. The rest I keep at home, buy most everything cash, stick some in banks a little at a time.”
“Don’t use a safety deposit box?”
“I got a safe better than that, and I ain’t gotta drag ass to the bank, show ID, fiddle with keys. Plus I’d have to bring the bills, takes up space carting it around. The bank ain’t stupid, me going in and out with big bags all the time.”
“Yeah, I can see that. I need to get a safe, where’s a good place to put one?”
“Easy, in the floor. Got me a wall safe with a little money in it, just in case there’s a break in they try for that. I keep a couple hundred grand at banks, eased in it a little cash at the time, gets me credit cards, checks when I need ‘em. One of the bank managers is a customer, long as I don’t get over ten grand a deposit, they don’t ask no questions. I spot him a freebie once in a while.”
“Got an address for Dmitri.”
“Find out if he’s home. Maybe we can skip going back to Manhattan then back to Houston.”

Janah’s pretty much wrapped Rose. Time to reset everyone and get over to Rose’s for some private shopping.
Janah, “Let’s divide this up. We have the panel van. You, Amaya and Chloe take the Escalade to Rose’s, get the money and any trinkets of value, she can pay for the girls’ relocation. Nikko, Zi and I will finish up here, meet us at the hotel.”
I have Rose’s purse so I have her house key, we go in, I punch in the security code, the alarm blinks off.
Chloe and Amaya are rummaging around in Rose’s bedroom, Amaya finds a fair amount of expensive jewelry. Mostly gaudy, but the stones are good quality. While they shop, I locate the wall safe, use my sensitive touch and hearing for the tumblers kicking into place, it pops open in two minutes. There’s a bag of mixed diamonds, sapphires and emeralds, forty grand in cash. I sweep it into a bag I found in her closet.
The house is carpeted in the bedrooms, there’s no spot where it appears to have a seam that’s been opened and closed frequently. I move to the more obvious, Persian rugs on the hardwood living room floor. Nothing, nothing, then a piece of flooring that is clearly removable under one of the rugs. I pry it up, slide it to one side, bingo.
On my stomach, ear to the dial, I roll it around, then in a burst of inspiration, I dial oh six, nine, two, click, I turn the handle and the dang thing is open.
“I am a genius.”
Amaya, “A genius would have tried that first.”
I hear Chloe giggling.
This sucker is two feet deep, two by two. A million in hundreds is six hundred ninety cubic inches, the safe is twenty thousand plus, it’s hardly full, more like a quarter way. I’m guessing the hundreds take up less than a third, that’s still maybe five million. There are bags as well, sitting on the bills. Heavy, I open one, gold American Eagles, one ounce each. Six bags, must be fifty coins per, maybe a half million.
“Hit the mother lode. Come in and pack up.”
Amaya comes along with a rolling suitcase behind her, I throw the money in one duffel, stack the gold in the suitcase. We roll out the front door, don’t bother resetting the alarm.
I tap into Janah, “Three or four million, a half mil in gold coins, some jewelry.”
“We’re wrapping up. Woke the women, gave them the talk, Nikko took a reminder finger from each. We further sedated and castrated the men. Rose’s new IQ is maybe ninety, she has a very blurry memory, her identity is being co-opted by the Society. Get rid of her phone, purse, cards. I’m leaving everyone here except Rose, she’s going to be driven to another state and left in a motel room. When we leave, the Society will arrange for the rest to be dealt with. See you soon.”

On the way back, I toss her cards in a runoff drain, roll over the phone, kick the smashed pieces around and ditch the contents of the purse in a dumpster, the purse in another dumpster. Rose isn’t Rose anymore. Maybe the college girls can run their own whorehouse, they must have learned something in school.
We’re in our suite, Janah comes in, Nikko and Zi to their suite for showers, it’s been a long, long day. It’s already eight, time flies when you’re saving kids, torturing people and stealing money.
Janah, “Order room service for your girls, I’ll do the same for us. I have to eat and crash. Tomorrow we’ll get a handle on Dmitri.”
I look over at the suitcase and duffel, “What about that?”
Janah, “Transportation is coming for the van, put it in there. The key is under the passenger floor mat. I’ll tell the Society, give them a general inventory.”
“I’m going to lock the key in the van, they always have another one, but tell them it’s locked just in case this is an exception and they need to shim it.”
Janah, “Will do.”
I haul the cash and gold, make sure the doors are locked, return to the room.
By the time I’m out of the shower, the food is on the dining table, they have a movie on, a bottle of wine open and a Diet Coke for me. We eat shrimp cocktails, share grilled fish and steak, creamed spinach, baked potato, it’s either really good or we’re really hungry.
It’s nearly eleven and we’re in a sleepy haze. Chloe takes the middle, Amaya and I on either side, kisses goodnight, out in five minutes.

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