Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Episode Eleven: Tonight's The Night

Are upholding your principles worth it if it means sacrificing everything you value?”- Persian philosopher Farhad Khamid, “The Quest For Truth” (1689)

November 29, 2015,
23:05 local time,
Carter Downey’s House,
Raith, Birea

The doorbell rang and Carter Downey sprang from his couch. He was a grizzly, pasty figure who was muscular but portly, with a full, greying beard and long bushy hair that was a testament to the trials and tribulations his lonely 51 years had given him. He caved in to the exhortations of the Birean matchmakers and his own friends’ glowing reviews and decided to buy a wife for himself. He picked a woman who, in his view looked like a supermodel, and, according to the matchmaker, was a woman who liked pasty Irish guys like himself (as Carter’s grandparents were from Limerick) and loved to cook. The matchmaker also assured him that the woman in question was 45, though he thought that was a stretch given her looks.

When Carter answered the door he was underwhelmed by what he saw.

“So they ring the doorbell and just leave me this giant box,” he said after shaking his head, his voice a gruff baritone, “and nobody here to help me bring it in. £50,000 and they can’t be bothered to give me some service.” After walking up to the box, left at the end of his driveway, he then noticed a keypad that wrapped itself around one side of the box, and remembered the vendor telling him he needed to punch in a code before the box opened. He pulled out his phone and entered the code, revealing the contents inside.

“Well, well,” he said with an ear to ear grin. “They were right. She’s a spitting image of Claudia Schiffer.” The woman was tall and slender but shapely, with wavy blonde hair that laid down nicely on her ivory skin. She was chained, spread-eagle, inside the box fully nude, and was still under the effects of the sedative she was given when Carter opened the box. He grinned again before grabbing the keys to the chains- tucked behind the keypad- and freed her of her bonds before picking her up and carefully bringing her inside, leaving the box outside as per the vendor’s instructions.

After locking the door, Carter then carried the woman in his arms up the stairs and into his bedroom, still grinning with anticipation with every step that he took.

Maybe Angus was right, thought Carter to himself after laying the woman down on the bed spread eagle and chaining her wrists and ankles to the bedposts and affixing a ball gag to her mouth. This matchmaking thing really can pay off. I never thought I could get exactly what I wanted, but…here I am!

It was here that the woman started to wake up from her sedative, causing her to jump once she realized what was going on. She darted her head back and forth, trying to desperately to free herself from her bonds, but Carter adjusted them well enough that it would be a fruitless task. The woman, once she realized this, looked Carter straight in the eyes and was gripped with fear, her body noticeably trembling as she wondered what Carter was going to do.

“Shhh, relax,” said Carter slowly but calmly as he undid he belt and took off his clothes. “I’m going to be loving you for a very long time, so I’m going to treat you very well.” He then got on top of her and started to nibble at her jaw, before setting himself right on top of her and holding her body right next to his as he enjoyed nibbling away at her neck.

As he continued enjoying her body with his hands and his mouth, he couldn’t help but again think of his remarkable luck. She really is everything I could ask for, he thought as he revelled in the woman. Her features are perfect to play with, and I could go all night like this…oh man, none of my other girlfriends could have compared to this, none of them!

Eventually he was sufficiently aroused, allowing him to have sex with her. This was the moment he truly cherished, and did everything he could to enjoy the moment for as long as possible. When he was finished, he dismounted with glee, a full, satisfied smile emanating from his now relieved demeanour. He went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, again smiling with his heart contended.

Man, I can’t wait to be able to get her out of those chains, he thought to himself. He remembered the instructions from the matchmaker, telling him the first night at least required her to be chained to the bed because the slave would not have been “acquainted” with her new surroundings, although the instructions suggested a minimum of a week, with another month of “looser” chains so that she could regain the full mobility of her limbs. It also told him various mind control techniques he would have to use in order for his slave to gain his trust and feel compelled that she could not leave his house, which would then allow Carter to condition her to eventually become his wife.

It would be a lot of work, but for Carter, he felt it was worth it. The slave he acquired was just so perfect for him.

Interrupting his thoughts was the loud wailing of his slave, who, now overcome with the emotions over what happened to her, was crying uncontrollably. He remembered the instructions and grabbed his belt, since the matchmaker told him that the slave crying within the first night was inevitable, and only violence would stop it. He stomped his way to the room, wrapping his belt into a whip, and was ready to strike when emotions got the better of him.

He saw a scar that ran up her arm underneath her forearm, which reminded Carter of his own suicide attempt out of loneliness.

Carter, he thought to himself, what have you done? Look at her…she tried to kill herself. Just like you. Only you’ve got a life of your own to turn to…what kind of life does she have? You KNOW that no matter what, the life she will lead with you will never be her own- is your own happiness worth knowing the other person will never truly be happy?

He put down the belt and stood there, sighing heavily and hanging his head in shame. As she continued to cry he began to get tears himself, so he walked out of the room to stop himself from losing his composure. Knowing he didn’t have any clothes for her, he did the next best thing and grabbed his overcoat, which would at least give her limbs some mobility, and brought it upstairs for her.

“We need to talk,” he said, his tone getting urgent. “Promise me you’re not going to run away.” The woman shook her head for “yes”, which made Carter smile and move to undo her bonds. She then grabbed the overcoat and, since her limbs were still limber because of her lengthy sedation and restraint, Carter helped her down the stairs before seating her in a chair. He then went to the kitchen and fixed her a hot cup of tea which he brought out for her.

“Tea helps me relax,” Carter said. “I don’t know much about you but it’s the best I can do until I do.” The woman grabbed the teacup and sipped it casually, grateful that she was no longer restrained.

“Listen,” said Carter, getting sombre. “This ain’t some mind control trick I’m pulling…just thought I’d throw that out there.” He let out another heavy sigh before continuing. “You’re probably very messed up right now and I just made it worse…look, I know there’s no words or actions that can truly convey how sorry I am, but I’ll at least start by saying it outright- I’m sorry. I want to do everything I can to help you out and catch the men who did this to you, but all in due time. Before we start, can I at least get your name?”

November 28, 2015,
12:00 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“All right,” said Foederatio Borealis Imperiale Indagatores (FBII) Senior Agent and Antivirus Task Force (AVTF) Chief Galla Claudia as she and her guest, criminal informant Danforth Grayson, took their seats in Claudia’s office. “I had a look at your information about The Revenant.”
“Oh?” Grayson said, his eyes widening.
“If you look at the pictures.” Claudia paused to put down the picture of The Bactrian taken by her other criminal informant Max Collins just over a month prior alongside other known pictures of The Revenant, “you’ll see that The Revenant is, indeed, the same person.”
Grayson was disappointed, his face not hiding it. “I kind of already knew that.”
“That’s not what’s interesting.” Claudia then put down a picture of security footage obtained from Salt Lake City, where rumblings of The Revenant surfaced just after Utah reversed its water bottle ban. “It’s hard to tell because the footage is grainy, but you can make out just slightly that The Revenant that struck Utah has a noticeably darker skin colour than the one in Illinois. In Illinois, you were dealing with a Bactrian. In Utah, this person appears South American, and because her skin is so dark, likely Bolivian.”
“Bolivian, eh?”
“I know...doesn’t narrow it down very much...but, at least we can say that we’ve shown that this case is now understanding it’s about catching two people instead of one.”
Grayson nodded his head slowly and pondered the thought. “Two Revenants...interesting. They’ve never had that before.”
“Which means we need to figure out why they’re doing that now.”

November 30, 2015,
12:35 local time,
Carter Downey’s House,
Raith, Birea

“My name is Angelica Pankewicz,” said Carter’s slave, her thick Polish accent coming through as she spoke. “I used to live in Alberta, in Wood Buffalo…I had an abusive husband, and, in 2010 I left him and moved to a women’s shelter, where I was told I would be taken care of and that my husband could not find me. Two years I was there, then, one day, I felt a needle in my arm as I was sleeping. The next thing I knew, I was on a barge, sailing away to a place I didn’t know, before being holed up like an animal inside a cage. The place was dark and damp, with the guards walking around to check on us regularly and keep us in line. We never did go outside, and most of the time we only slept because of the needles…eventually I lost track of time. I couldn’t even tell you what year it was right now.”
“It’s 2015, Angelica,” said Carter.
“Oh man…wow.” Angelica’s eyes blinked wildly as she took a sip of her tea.
“You’re in pretty good physical health though, I gotta say.”
“Yeah...doctors came in and examined us.” She took a deep breath before summoning the strength to continue. “They also subjected us to various exercises and other training programs...we cleaned, cooked, organized, took care of babies.”
Carter nodded his head, listening intently. “Basically you learned how to be a housewife.”
Angelica took another deep breath before soldiering on. “Not just that...every week we were subjected to the ‘house’ of a different male, and ordered to do everything he wanted, being subjected to various different punishments if we didn’t follow along. We were even conditioned on being raped and/or just being beaten for fun...but the worst...” Angelica then began to cry before Carter clutched her hand and told her she was doing great, which allowed for a deep breath and Angelica summoning the strength to continue. “The worst was the mind control...the ‘good’ women, the ones who were obedient and rarely ever questioned what our trainers asked of us, were given privileges, like being able to walk outside and actually sleep in beds, while the rest of the women were holed up in the cages with some suffering terrible beatings.” Angelica’s voice then cracked as tears again formed in her eyes. “We learned very quickly that if we were to survive, we had to be good, obedient housewives...it’s all so degrading.”

Angelica then broke down crying, collapsing her head into her arms against the table. Carter looked at her, stunned at what he just heard. He couldn’t believe that Birean society had come to this, where women were reduced to the mere playthings of their male masters. Sure, Nathanism was about subservience, but it was also about dignity and respect, and there was nothing dignified about what Angelica had gone through. “A man leads, not bosses” was what he always felt, but peer pressure kept him from realizing this.

“Listen, Angelica,” he said after squeezing her hand. “I’m going to help you. I want you to be able to go home...lead the life you deserve to have. I don’t care if it’s not with me...the only thing I care about is your happiness and I don’t want you to be a slave anymore. I may have been lonely my whole life but that’s nothing compared to what you’ve been going through...and if there’s one thing I will not be, are those monsters my ‘friends’ have become.

“I have a family member who’s a Roman citizen...she can help you get on your feet and start a new life in Roman territory, complete with a great job. You can fly out tomorrow if you’d like.”

“You’d…you’d do that?” said Angelica, stunned by what Carter had told her.
“Of course I would,” said Carter without hesitation. His tone became more urgent as he continued speaking, with tears forming in his eyes. “If I can save just one woman…one woman…from those bastards who think they’re humans, let alone my countryman, then by golly I’ll do whatever it takes. You have my word.”

“No,” Angelica said, seeing the passion and sincerity in Carter’s voice. “I want to stay here, at least for a short while. You’re the closest thing I have to a friend, which I haven’t had in decades and I don’t want to lose that. I want to help you, like you have helped me. We can work on this together, save more women.”
“OK,” Carter said with a warm smile and a knowing nod. “We can do that.”

Later that day, Carter perused his social media accounts, shaking his head in consternation seeing the “happy” photos of his friends. He then came across a private investigation firm, Alpha Associates, who pledged to investigate crimes that the police refused to touch. He reviewed the page and sent them a message, hoping they could direct him on a path to take down the ring once and for all.

December 5, 2015,
23:48 local time,
Abandoned warehouse,
Ogden Dunes, Indiana

“Are you sure about this Fitch?” said Behavioural Analysis Unit member Jason Simeon, recently unretired, to his boss, Aaron “Fitch” Fitchner.
“We have to be,” said Fitchner curtly, driving the FBII sports utility vehicle at full speed.
“I get it,” said BAU teammate Claudio Pucci, Fitch’s unofficial second-in-command, “he needs time to be able to complete his rituals...but we can’t be sure we haven’t run out of time.”
“I’m with Pooch,” said BAU teammate Emily Proctor. “We’re cutting it a bit close this time.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Fitchner, “We can’t go back on what we did…we have to trust our instincts and the profile…and the profile says that this ritual is extremely complicated…he won’t have enough time to finish it before we get there.”
“Fitch is right,” said BAU teammate Vincent Chestnut, the doughy but spritely 18-year-old whose expansive encyclopaedic knowledge was only rivalled by his expansive waistline. “For the swelling to bend exactly into the shapes he wants them to bend into, it will take 20 minutes. Multiply that by 26 victims and 40 bruises each, and we’re talking about 20,800 minutes of bruising, which is 346 and two thirds hours and 14.4444 days, assuming he never sleeps.”
“So more realistically, a month,” said Fitch, doing his best to keep his composure as the rest of his team- most notably Pucci- rolled their eyes.

Upon arrival at the warehouse, Pucci, Simeon, Proctor and Fitchner all disembarked from the car, as Chestnut- halfway into his box of 60 doughnuts since starting the car ride an hour ago- stayed behind ostensibly to monitor their progress through their body cameras and the infrared imaging of the warehouse. Right behind the BAU was the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team’s vehicles, with the SWAT soldiers pouring into the compound as soon as they arrived.

Fitchner was first inside, his heart pounding as he quickly moved forward with his head on a swivel staring menacingly into the sightline of his gun. His breathing began to get heavier as he anticipated the showdown with the UnSub, whom the BAU had profiled was a middle aged but determined man with sadistic impulses that was determined to make the FBII’s standoff with the Branch Davidians in 1993 look like “child’s play”. It was this fact that Fitchner kept repeating in his head, knowing that this would be the UnSub’s final play and it meant that the victims ultimately had to be alive.

When he finally came to the door leading to the warehouse’s main holding area, he took a deep breath and momentarily closed his eyes, the finality of his journey having dawned on him. He quickly dismissed thinking about the gravity of the situation any further and burst open the door, deciding he was going to give the UnSub the blaze of glory that he wanted.

Except that, when he got there, all he could see was the decayed, mutilated bodies of the 26 women, all of whom had been dead anywhere between several weeks to a few days. Several who were the first to be killed were decomposed almost beyond recognition- as if the rips and beatings done to their bodies wouldn’t be enough to delay recognition- while the others, though still dismembered, weren’t decomposed enough so that their humanity was completely taken away, though no one body was in one piece.

As soon as he saw the carnage, Fitchner slumped to his knees, his gun falling down in front of him and banging on the floor, which caused a bullet to jam. He was overcome with emotion, crying heavily and audibly, as he tried valiantly to come to terms with what he just saw. The more he thought, the more he sobbed, causing him to bury his head in his hands and bang the floor with his fists in frustration, staying there and continuing his loud crying for quite some time.

Equally dismayed were his teammates, who also had no words to convey the horrors of what they saw. Pucci took his earpiece and slammed it with disgust onto the floor, breaking it on the hard concrete. Proctor could only hold her mouth wide open, shaking her head and putting her hand on her heart before she too was overcome with tears.

Simeon, though, had no expressions other than wearing that weary long face of his whenever he was overcome with disbelief, of which the scene displayed plenty. He took a few deep breaths and pursed his lips before shaking his head and walking towards Pucci.

“How long have they all been dead for?” he said, still trying to make sense of the scene.
“Judging how badly the bodies are decayed,” said Pucci, “We missed this at least by a few days.” Pucci then audibly coughed before grabbing his belly, all in an attempt to stop the nausea from the stench from taking over his body.

“Guys,” said Proctor, looking around and taking a walk down the warehouse floor littered with blood, guts and body parts. “Where are the SWAT guys? We never told them to leave.”
“What are we going to need them for?” said Pucci with consternation. “Eaves clearly isn’t going to be here…he’s done his work.”
“Do you know that he’s gone?” said Simeon with concern.
“He’s not stupid,” said Pucci curtly. “If he left us this, he’s not going to come back and ‘challenge’ the FBII…he’d be long gone. He’s probably sipping some tequila in Hermosillo right now, laughing at how well he ‘fooled’ the FBII.”
“He doesn’t need to get to Hermosillo,” said Simeon with a mocking chuckle, “Cisco, Utah is only 19 hours away.”
“Semantics!” Pucci said, throwing his hands up in disgust. “Fact of the matter is, we lost him.”
“Guys,” said Proctor, exasperated, “arguing now will do nothing. Yeah, this sucks but if we can figure out where he is, at least we can find a way to bring him to justice.”

“Don’t bother,” said Simeon, reading an alert on his phone. “SWAT commander just told me that they picked up Ben Eaves at the construction site he works at in Gary.”
“Work?” said Proctor, surprised. “I thought we profiled that he didn’t work…I mean, he couldn’t work, because he just wouldn’t have the time to well…” Proctor’s voiced trailed off as she turned the attention back to the bodies, “…do all this.”
“Why didn’t they tell us?” said Pucci, putting his hands on his hips. “Those jerks!”
“Glory, maybe?” said Proctor.
“Says here our SWAT guys had a bright young mind who studied the evidence herself and came to a different conclusion than we did,” said Simeon. “Apparently she’s been paying attention to the case and found something we didn’t.”
“Did she say what it was?” Proctor asked.
Simeon sighed. “I’ll find out,” he said. “Just understand that this ride home will be much longer than we’re used to.”

December 5, 2015,
23:58 local time,
Senor Goat’s Pub,
Albuquerque, Desert Republic

Carter surveyed the bar. It struck him how, on a Saturday night, a place like this could be as barren as the Sonora, but here he was, alone with his thoughts, reflecting to himself while enjoying his Cuba Libre and vaguely paying attention to the television that was on just across from the bar rail.

Not that being alone really bothered him. He dealt with people all day, and it felt nice that, for a change, he could have a quiet night to himself with quick bar service instead of having to deal with the incessant din of ignorant youngsters who never knew the meaning of “subtlety” or any kind of manners, with the pack of them preventing him from getting more than a few drinks every hour. Tonight, at least, he could have a few drinks every few minutes, and with all the stresses passed his way, the stings of his drinks came with it the cold satisfaction of bliss.

After another Cuba Libre- a drink he enjoyed, although he always contended he could make them better than anyone else- Carter nonchalantly gazed at the TV, casually reading the byline as it struck a chord with him.

“Anna Rattu,” said Carter, “where do I know that name?” His thoughts were interrupted when the next person took over the news report.

“I understand that the people are very concerned about what happened in Illinois,” said Roman Emperor Valerius IV. “Let me say in no uncertain terms do I condemn this attack, and condemn this attack wholeheartedly…what happened to the Markses was sheer depravity at its finest and will not be tolerated. Believe you me, we will do everything we can to bring the culprit to justice.”

“Yeah,” said Carter to himself, chortling. “Sure you are…just like you’d have America back and running in ten years. Look how that has turned out.”
“Well,” said the bartender, Javier Campos. “The problems in North America are much bigger than he likely thought…I didn’t think we’d ever get back to where we were under Reagan. That was a period long gone after the Second Revolution…you can’t rebuild hundreds of trillions in infrastructure in months or even years. Truth is, we might never get back. I’m just glad there’s someone out there who’s actually caring.” Campos took a look at his credit card reader right next to his cash register and smiled with glee, the reader bought via a small business grant that the Romans under Valerius had made available throughout North America.
“That’s the thing, Javier,” said Carter, his gruff voice getting more energetic. “The guy shouldn’t be making promises he can’t keep…and besides, the Caesar, like the rest of the Romans, like to over-think everything and keep missing the obvious solutions that stare at them right in the face.”
“That may be true,” said Campos calmly. “However, when are we going to take to task all the North American politicians who bicker and argue all day and do nothing except expect a handout from Rome every day? When are we going to hold them accountable? People like Reddick…those are the guys we have to be angry with, not Caesar Valerius, because we’re actually voting for the Presidency. That’s the problem with this society…we always blame someone else for our problems, be it Rome, the Jews, the Hispanics, the Blacks, the Nathanites, the Muslims, the liberals, the conservatives, the Coffee Conspiracy, The Revenant…and it goes on and on. I mean, when are we going to start looking in the mirror?”
Carter let out a deep breath and took a sip of his drink. “You got a point there, partner,” he said. “The good part is…no matter how bad it’s gotten, at least North America is still trying to cling to some hope, however faint, that things are going to get better. It’s not like Europe where everything is in chaos and ruins and everyone’s out for themselves and fighting for the few scraps their ruthless dictators decide to give them…I mean, it’s not like North America’s Elysium, but you’d be hard-pressed to think that Europe isn’t the transplanted Tartarus.”
Campos sighed, his smile replaced with a noticeable grimace. “You know,” he said, “there are times where I think we’re almost at that place here, if we haven’t gotten there already.”
Carter chuckled. “I hear ya.” Carter then pulled out a card and gave it to Campos. “Listen, I signed up with Alpha and was told that if I came here you’d be able to help me find this man. Can you find him?”
“Sure. I know exactly who he is.”

December 7, 2015,
09:12 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“You know why you’re here,” said FBII Director Lucius Black sternly as Fitchner took his seat after closing the door, “and you know how this is going to go. So don’t give me excuses Aaron...just give me the truth and maybe I’ll go easy on you.”
“Lucius,” said Fitchner, sighing heavily and doing a poor job of hiding his nerves. “I did everything I could...you said it yourself, sometimes you go through a bad streak...maybe that’s what this was.”
Black shook his head and let out a huff. “Seriously, Aaron, is that what you’re going to throw at me? This isn’t just a ‘bad streak’...this is grade school level incompetence. I’m sympathetic towards mistakes...everyone makes them. However, I still expect the job to get done, and when it doesn’t, I want answers.”
“Believe me, I’m just as disappoint-”
Black threw his arms up in the air, letting the files on his desk fly everywhere. “Oh, you’re ‘disappointed’...well that’s great!” Black then got up and paced around the room, his tone getting louder and harsher as he spoke. “Me? I’m more than disappointed...I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m apoplectic. I’m...I’m every kind of synonym for ‘angry’ that’s in the book! And you know what? You should be too. ‘Disappointed’.” Black let out another huff. “What kind of an agent are you?”
“Lucius, I...I...I used, um, the...the wrong word. You know I’m just-”
Black hurled a book towards the floor and stomped his way back towards Fitchner. “Oh you’re ‘just as upset as I am’...well I don’t believe you agent. You just tried to write off the worst massacre in Indiana’s history as just a mere ‘bump in the road’, assuming that tomorrow is just going to be ‘hunky dory’ now isn’t it?”
“Well, Lucius, you yourself said that you can’t let the scope of the incident allow you to forget that an incident is just an incident.”
“Seriously? This isn’t just ‘an incident’...it’s a catastrophe.” Black then got into Fitchner’s face, which caused him to recoil. “26 women were hacked and mutilated! 26! That’s no ‘drop in the bucket’!” Black stepped back and took a few deep breaths to regain his composure, his eyes still wide and seething with anger. “Not that any number would be okay.”
Fitchner continued to sit in stunned silence as Black regained some of his composure.
“Look, if Jeff was killed and the police couldn’t solve it, is that just a ‘mistake’? Doesn’t your own son merit an outrage?”

Fitchner again sat in silence, understanding Black’s point but refusing to allow the conversation get personal.

“Lucius,” Fitchner said before pausing in an attempt to corral the words he needed to say. “If I may, we’ve had cases where the victim count was much higher and you’ve had nothing but praise.”
“That’s because,” said Black after slamming the palms of his hands on the desk with a loud thud, “the deaths caused were beyond your control and your methods managed to save more lives and bring the culprit to justice...in this case, your incompetence allowed Ben Eaves to hack and mutilate women at will right under your noses. I don’t care what the victim count is- that’s inexcusable!”
“We applied our methods the best that we could...we didn’t have much to go on...just the videos of his attacks and those cryptic messages. He left no witnesses.”
“Hogwash Aaron! Hog. Wash. The evidence was right there, in plain sight. The clamp used to rip Jennifer Robinson apart bit by bit bore the badge of RMC, the construction company that won the bid to work on the repairs Interstate 65...and you dismissed it outright, without bothering to share it with the authorities you were supposed to help..”
“I didn’t think the badge was clear enough...so I made that choice.”
“Annika Bjorn thought it was clear enough...as soon as she shared it with the detectives they caught Eaves immediately.”
“How did Bjorn get the tape?”
“She didn’t need to see the tape, moron, she saw it with her own eyes at the warehouse! She texted Vince about it and Vince blew her off, saying you dismissed that lead. She smartly decided to defy you, because she’s not a gloryhound like you guys at the BAU are.”
“I resent that.”
“Oh yeah? Well tell me it’s not different. Show me a case where you guys didn’t take over, shove the local police to the side and then move in on the suspect with your guns blazing, showing a wanton disregard for ethics by taking matters into your own hands if you have to. Just show me one case where that doesn’t happen...just one...I know you can’t do it. You wanted to do it here with Eaves so you could again be the hero and it wound up biting you in the a**.”

Fitchner sat in silence and stared blankly in front of him, letting the gravity of Black’s words sink in.

“I’m putting you and your team under review,” said Black sternly. “You will be required to write reports on every aspect of your cases, and I will follow up on them just to see if you really are crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s. Furthermore, the OPR will drop in and inspect your progress, and you will be required to file periodic reports.”
Fitchner quivered as he talked, tears forming in his eyes. “The Office...of Professional...Responsibility?”
“Yeah...that’s what ‘OPR’ stands for. Thought you knew that.”
“How...how long will it be...for?”
“As long as it takes...which means...you better start closing some cases or else you’ll be looking for something else to do.”

December 7, 2015,
09:59 local time,
Pip’s Coffeehouse,
Rockford, Illinois

“Welcome,” said Kwame Arko, heartily speaking extending his arms out and waving them about as if he was inviting the whole crowd to come to him. “Welcome, welcome everyone! Today...today is a new day! Today is a special day! Because today is the day that I am announcing that Pip’s has officially come to North America!”

As thunderous applause roared from the gathered audience- several dozen people, almost all paid actors with the rest being carefully screened members of the press- Arko beamed his pearly white smile wide, basking in the glow of adulation before he continued.

“Yes, yes,” he said as the crowd allowed him to speak. “Today is a bright day, not just for the people of Rockford or Illinois, but North America in general. Because today marks the first of 1,000 stores that will be opening across North America before the end of February, with more planned in the future!” He raised his voice, his baritone getting more emphatic as he continued, loudly gesturing as he spoke, “What this means is that I am bringing you jobs, thousands of jobs, that will revitalize the economy and make North America the proud continent that it should be.” The crowd again cheered loudly for quite some time as Arko continued basking in his glow. “So be proud North America! Be happy for what you’ve gained, because...finally, after all these years, the Phoenix will rise again!”

The crowd let out its loudest cheers of the day as Arko again smiled widely and gestured wildly as he took in the applause, before going into the crowd to receive the appreciative high fives and hugs that he was due. A pretty blonde woman- another actor- even greeted Arko by planting her mouth on his and making out passionately with him, causing Arko to joke that “someone must be really happy they got a job!” which elisted loud belly laughs from the crowd.

After his show of affection, Arko stepped away from the crowd to make a phone call.

“Yes Kwame,” said English Foreign Affairs Minister Jack Kent at the other end of the line. “I saw the feed...wonderful performance you put on today.”
“Why thank you, Jack,” said Arko with a smile. “How’d it go with Reddick?”
“The man’s a stubborn fool...he’s alienated the Romans but refuses to acknowledge our superiority...I do not know why he seems to think he can ‘go it alone’ in this world.”
Arko chuckled. “Yeah, me neither.”
“Don’t worry...we’re going to break him. As I said, his constituent republics are getting restless and it’s only a matter of time before everyone abandons ship. He will be isolated...alone, with no one to turn to...and by the time they can formally do it in 2019, each state will have voted their way out of the Union and into our waiting arms.”
Arko smiled. “That’s good, that’s good.”
“In the meantime, I’m going state to state, securing ballot measures on our behalf. Iowa has promised us support, and so has Ontario. Momentum is clearly on our side.”
“Good work Jack! Anyway, keep me posted...I need as many places as I can to open these coffeeshops...we need to strike soon before the damage to Jimmy Cochrane’s reputation goes away.”
“Don’t worry, I’m on it.”

December 7, 2015,
08:11 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Well, no, Agent Rollo,” said Claudia on her phone in her office, “a body shouldn’t do that- that’s not the way the appendage works.” She then paused to hear the reply before offering a response herself. “Thank you...no, no, don’t feel bad...sometimes the answer escapes us because we overthink things, so a fresh set of eyes are necessary...no problem, always glad to help.” She then bid him adieu before hanging up the phone. The success of the AVTF meant many agents came to Claudia and her team to ask for advice, advice that Claudia was only so happy to give. However, it did come at a cost, and it meant that her own cases piled up, but despite her own needs- and her own suspicions that her colleagues were lazy- she felt that if she didn’t help out, her fellow agents would not be too inclined to help her out.

A knock on her door stopped her from moving on to her paperwork.

“Agent Fitchner,” said Claudia, smiling warmly at Fitchner before shaking his hand. “How are you today?”
“Not good,” Fitchner said as he took his seat after closing the door. “The rent-a-goons are after me.”
Claudia grimaced. “Because of the Ogden Dunes Massacre?”
“Yeah...Lucius thought I should have closed it sooner...but...I didn’t...so the OPR is going to review my team.”
“Fitch, you and the BAU have been here for over a decade and a half...you’ve closed numerous cases...I know you’ll be fine.”
“Yes, but I’ve never failed this badly before. Usually we wind up saving the victims...we have a policy of trying to catch them ‘in the act’ because our methods don’t always stand up in court...I mean, how many juries will accept that we deduced the UnSub because he smacked his victims with an uppercut to the jaw because he was remembering what his own father did to his mother? So we’re stuck for evidence...which is why we needed to take our chances.”
“...and your chance ran out this time.”
“Yeah...it did. I should have trusted the chain of command...picked him up at his work area and then secured the search warrants...I mean, we found everything at the factory.”
Claudia let out a heavy sigh, understanding Fitchner’s concern. “Fitch...maybe this is an opportunity to re-evaluate what you’ve been doing and change for the better...you yourself admitted that maybe it’s time to change tactics...so maybe it is time to change tactics.”

Fitchner let out a deep breath before he responded.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’ve never asked for help on a case before...we’ve always done it, sink or swim, on our own. So I’m coming to you.”
“Oh,” said Claudia with a forced smile. She resisted the urge to joke to Fitch that she seemed to be the only FBII agent able to close a case now, but that wasn’t going to help the situation.
“We have this case...the Coffee Shop Murders, we call them. Three murders, committed by people who used the Jimmy Cochrane’s prize against the winners. They all seem like separate cases...but the similarities are too coincidental to be actually separate.”
“OK.” Claudia nodded her head understanding the case. “So what do you know about the case.”
“Here’s what we’ve got.” Fitchner then pulled out a USB stick with the cases files on Claudia’s desk. “Listen...um.” Fitchner let out a breath before continuing. “When we write the case report, because of this whole review thing, can you leave your name off the report?”

Claudia’s stare became purposeful and her relaxed look soon turned terse.

“Oh,” she said sternly. “So you want me to do the work while you get the glory...I see how this works. Well Fitch, I’m sympathetic to your needs...but I’m not solving this case for you.”

Fitchner angrily took his USB stick.

“I thought you’d be helpful,” he said, curtly.
“I am going to be helpful,” Claudia said firmly. “I am not going to be your slave.”

The two stared at each other for some time before Claudia broke the silence.

“Give me the stick,” said Claudia with a sigh. “Your emotions are getting the better of you, so I’m going to let this go. However, I want to know you’re going to hold your end of the bargain.”
“I will,” said Fitchner, returning the stick somewhat relieved. “You have my word.”

December 8, 2015
10:10 local time,
NAU Presidential Palace,
Buffalo, Roman New York

Joseph Reddick sat calmly at his desk, in front of him his tablet where he was perusing the day’s headlines, and beside him was a bottle of rum, which he drank out of as he was reading. Despite only having read the news for 15 minutes, Reddick had already finished half of the bottle, and was well on his way to finishing it. Keeping order in the quagmire that was North America was tough enough as it is, but after the murder of one of his closest friends, Seth Marks, his spirits hit an all time low.

He took another huge gulp of his rum and muttered the headlines to himself:

“Police use water cannons on homeless protesters in Evansville.”
“Unemployment continues to climb in Oklahoma.”
“Millions march against minimum wage decrease, Governor unmoved.”
“Porn star killed in Calgary, suspect arrested.”
“Wife of jailed rapist continues to insist victim’s story is bogus.”
“Rootes to lay off thousands at Virginia factory.”
“Neglect finally claims Passmore Bridge, motorists stranded.”
“Looting still rampant in Long Beach as power still not restored since Hurricane Pablo.”

Oh gosh, thought Reddick to himself as he read another headline, I can’t believe this- this is the last straw! He downed the rest of his rum which caused him to fall asleep at his desk. When he woke up an hour later, he made a phone call.

“Yep,” he said, after several deep breaths. “Tonight’s the night...yes I’m sure.” He scratched his eyes and wiped the tears that were beginning to form. “I’ve never been more sure of it in my life.”

Reddick said his goodbye and hung up the phone, before having more drink out of his bottle. He then let out a long gasp, feeling the sting of his drink. He then took another drink, gulping down his bottle and finishing it, taking several deep breaths after he did, before the wooziness of his drinking got to him making him fall fast asleep.

December 8, 2015,
11:28 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Well that’s not surprising,” said Pucci as he looked at the notice board set up in his floor’s break room, getting there after he nearly tripped over a passed out agent. “I bet it’s Ronnie...he never seems to learn some dogs you just don’t pet.”

Other notices also caught the agent’s eye.

“ ‘Please don’t print anything that is inessential’,” he said, scoffing. “Paper’s inexpensive, why’s that the one thing we always need to cut down on.” He shook his head reading another notice. “Janice needs to stop leaving her groceries in the fridge...we’re not supposed to live here.” He continued reading. “Gotta be Agrippina...how many times have I given her my stapler?” He read another and laughed. “Septimus never quite did make any sense to me...he thinks he’s a prankster but he doesn’t have the flair.”

Finally, one notice caught his eye, taking him aback.

“Those AVTF bastards!” Pucci said loudly, shaking his head in disgust.
“Pooch,” said Chestnut, entering the room. “Is everything okay? I heard you from my desk.” He then waddled his way eyeing the full coffee pot, emptying a container full of sugar into it and drank the resulting coffee straight from the pot.
“President Reddick is getting them to be his security detail for an announcement at the White House! A quick, ten minute job that will have no stress, since the President’s got his own guys anyway...meanwhile, we have to be stuck with those nosy OPR jerks who fuss over one ‘t’ that isn’t crossed. How is that right?”
“Well, they are the only ones closing cases these days...I don’t blame them for getting a plush assignment.”
“They’ve been here for little over a year...I gave my life to the FBII...and this is the thanks I get? Do know how long it took for me to get a plush assignment? Ten years. I’m still waiting on my next one.”

“I’ve never had one,” said Proctor as she walked in, “and I’ve been here since 1998.” She sat down at one of the tables and opened the flask she carried with her in her blazer pocket, downing quite a bit of it’s contents in a few gulps.

“Ah,” said Proctor, letting out a deep but satisfied breath. “That’s what I needed!” She laughed loudly and licked her lips, leaning back in her chair and drinking again from her flask before letting out another sigh of relief.

“Is that the bourbon I gave you?” Pucci asked with a smile.
“It sure is!” Proctor said with excitement. “Gosh, it’s so good!”
“You’re,” said Chestnut with a gasp. “You’re...drinking...on...the...job? With the...OPR...around?”
“Do you think I give one whit what those birdbrains think?” Proctor said, sneering at Chestnut. She then took another drink while Pucci laughed.
“I know, but,” stammered Chesnut, slurping down the pot, “we...we could lose our jobs...you’re taking on a very big risk.”
“Do you think,” said Proctor, her words starting to slur, “do you think I’m worried about zat?”
“Yeah,” said Pucci, “what’s Black going to do? Fire everyone? We’re far from the only ones who’ve failed recently...practically the entire department is under review.”
“Ezatly,” said Proctor with a laugh. “He wouz has no vorkers lev.” She then slumped to the desk laughing, before downing her flask and falling asleep on the table.

Pucci took Proctor’s flask and put it in his pocket before walking to Chestnut.

“Vince,” he said, putting his hand on his shoulder. “There’s a lot of stress going around...morale’s pretty low. Truth is, Galla’s the only one who has closed a case in months. Besides, look around you...do a tour of this floor some time...everyone has their face buried in some kind of drink. It’s not just Emily.”
“I know,” said Chestnut with a sigh. He wanted to mention that it was still wrong to drink on the job but he realized what does it mean to “do the right thing” when no is getting anything right?

December 8, 2015,
13:02 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Hi,” said Claudia as Collins walked in to her office. “Close the door.” Collins did so and calmly took his seat.

“Heidi Sanderson’s remains were reportedly found today,” said Claudia, leaning forward with her hands clasped in front of her.
“ ‘Reportedly’?” said Collins. “You don’t believe the report. Any reason why?”
“A few weeks ago, a woman by the name of Regina Goldman contacted me stating that, alongside her police officer friends Tyler Kuang and Ernest Madnis, she had suspicions regarding the legitimacy of the investigation into Sanderson’s disappearance. Madnis and Kuang brought in the butler who worked at the Eternal Sunshine Resort for what they thought was questioning, but their captain, Harvey Monroe, insisted on pinning the crime on him. The butler, Robert Yates, reportedly played along but coded his message to reveal what he actually saw, and this person may be the one who kidnapped Heidi.”
“How do you know that Yates didn’t do it? They have his DNA on Heidi.”
“I took a look at the report…noticed that the remains that were stated to have been Heidi’s are in a state of decomposition that is further along than they would be if Heidi were killed when Monroe said she would be. Furthermore, surveillance footage at the resort shows that Yates didn’t even get close to Heidi’s room- in fact, he worked in another room at the time of Heidi’s abduction.”
“What about Yates’ contact records? Heidi’s kidnapper could still have ties to Yates.”
“As far as I can see through his records he made no contacts with anyone suspicious. He only calls his wife, isn’t on social media…I don’t think he has many friends.”
“It still doesn’t preclude him.”
“Yeah…but I also found out that Monroe received a $20,000 payment from an Arlynali account, which had the same serial number of the account George Walker used.”
“The Soldiers…they paid Monroe to look the other way so they could kidnap Heidi without interference.”
“Looks like it...but, that’s not where it gets interesting.”
Collins’ eyes perked up with interest. “It’s not?”
“Another Arlynali account also paid the Arlynali account that paid Monroe.”
“So someone sold Heidi to the Soldiers, and paid off Monroe to have him frame it as a crime.”
“Hide evidence of the ring.”
“I’m not sure why they would hide it...Birea’s marriage problem is no secret, and ‘those in the know’ sure believe it exists.”
“True, but there must be something about the ring- or just Heidi- that would make her kidnappers take an extra step to frame her kidnapping as a murder.”
“Yes...because why go through all that trouble to hide Heidi’s kidnapping.”
“So...we need to figure out who kidnapped Heidi. If we can find her...well, I think you know how the rest of that sentence goes.”
Collins chuckled. “Oh yes I do...and I can’t wait to get that started.”

December 8, 2015,
20:41 local time,
NAU Presidential Palace,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Joseph,” said Persephone, kissing Reddick on the lips as she greeted the President in his suite. “We’ve got everything ready. We’ll get the fake body into the Library along with the FBII weaponry as soon as you say the word.”
“Of course,” said Reddick, who let out a euphoric smile and looked happily around the room, with no cares left in the world it seems. “You know...it just feels right doesn’t it?” He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes momentarily, before unleashing another big smile.
“Are,” said Persephone, “are you okay?”
“Me?” Reddick said, grinning with glee. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Uh,” said Persephone, giving Reddick a weird look. “If you say so...” Persephone then left the room, which allowed the President’s media team to set up their equipment.

In a few minutes, Reddick would begin his speech, which would announce from his desk. He would be flanked by the AVTF, who were simply there for show as Reddick already had a security team around him.

“I’m glad we got this gig,” said AVTF junior agent Thomas Bartlett, watching as the President set up his desk.
“I guess I am too,” said AVTF senior agent Phineas Malcolm, who was quite bored. “Sure beats having to examine a dead body, I suppose.”

Eventually, Reddick would begin his address, looking right into the camera. It was a rudimentary message to the Union, broadcast live, explaining to its citizens that Reddick was proud of North Americans and was happy that, despite all the hardships the continent was going through, the people still stuck together and helped each other out.

“We could have made this like Europe,” he said with conviction, “where it’s a free-for-all where the people have nothing and fight over every last morsel that becomes available…but we in North America did not. We have said that despite our struggles, we will struggle together, and that gives me hope that one day we will again rise as a formidable force in the world. I want all of you to cling to that hope, and cherish it, for I promise one day it will be realized.

“I have done what I can- now it’s your turn. I want all of you to continue my legacy and do not let this hope go to waste. There are people that want to divide you but do not let them do that- because division only leads to chaos and destroys hope.”

“He sounds like he’s saying goodbye,” said Clauida to herself. She then texted her team to warn them that Reddick might be suicidal but only junior agent Julia Pearl responded, the two men not paying the message any heed.
“I’ll keep an eye on it,” Pearl said, writing back to Claudia.

After Reddick closed his address, Claudia and Pearl walked with him, making small talk as they went, until they came to the Presidential Library. There, the agents were stopped by a Presidential Guard, whose nametag was conspicuously absent and whose body camera was conveniently not working.

“Sorry,” said the Guard, stopping Claudia and Pearl cold. “Just the President enters here.” It was Guard Roberts, whom Claudia had issues with a few years earlier in Toronto but it didn’t strike her then. Roberts, though, clearly remembered her.
“Sir,” said Claudia, wondering about the absence of his nametag, “I have reason to believe the President might hurt himself.”
“Well that’s not really any of your concern,” said Roberts. “Your job was just to provide backup…we’re supposed to do the heavy lifting…we’ve got the President covered.”
“You don’t seem to be troubled at all that the President read a suicide note on air, do you?” said Pearl, giving Roberts a look.
“Suicide note?” said Roberts, scoffing.
“He talked a lot about legacy,” said Pearl, “and even said that he’s ‘done his job’ and now it’s the public’s turn to finish what he started.”
“Sure he did,” said Roberts curtly.
Claudia and Pearl turned their heads to look at each other, puzzled by what Roberts said. “Surely you heard the same speech we did,” said Claudia with her arms folded.
“ ‘Surely you heard the same speech we did’,” replied Roberts, mocking Claudia’s voice.
“Hey!” Claudia said, angrily waving her finger at Roberts, “that’s uncalled for! We’re on the same team!”
Roberts chuckled. “Are we?” he said with a smug smirk.

Just then another Guard, also not wearing a nametag nor having his body camera working, emerged from the Library, whispering in Roberts’ ear.

Pearl suspected something wrong, so she pushed the Guards out of the way and opened the Library doors.

There was Reddick, lying on the ground, motionless, a knife stuck in his chest and a gag on his mouth. Blood was oozing out of his body, but his breathing had stopped and his skin was lightening into a pale husk. Some books had been strewn all over the floor and a small window was open wide, but other than Reddick’s body, the scene was unremarkable.

“Great,” said Roberts. “An assassin broke through. At least we know it wasn’t The Revenant.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said the Library Guard. “The AVTF were supposed to secure the windows and they didn’t do that. Now the President is dead.”
“Um, excuse me?” Pearl said sternly. “We weren’t supposed to do anything- we’re just here for backup, remember? You guys were supposed to handle the windows...not us.”
“Guys,” said Claudia, trying to be a cooler head. “Playing the ‘blame game’ will get us nowhere. First of all, the crime scene shows no obvious signs of a struggle, and the ‘mess’ isn’t very broad or uncontrolled- it seems obvious to me that Reddick committed suicide and tried to cover it up by opening the window- which isn’t big enough for a person to fit through anyway- and throwing some books on the ground. Look at his desk- it’s spotless.”
“What were you doing when Reddick was killed?” Pearl asked, turning to the Library Guard.
“I don’t know,” said the Library Guard, rubbing his head and wincing, though Pearl and Claudia didn’t believe the actions to be genuine. “I got clubbed by the assassin.”
“I’m sure you were,” Claudia said, deadpanning. She examined the room before shaking her head and continuing. “My question now is, what did he expect to gain doing this?”

December 9, 2015,
08:11 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“I don’t understand this,” said FBII Director Lucius Black in his office to his guest, North American Prefect Eva Avita. “The AVTF would not allow this to happen. Joseph Reddick set them up.”
“I have no reason to believe that,” said Avita curtly. “The Guard’s Report was thorough, and the scenario they have plotted is plausible. The AVTF grasped at straws. Therefore, they need to be held accountable.”
“Seriously, Eva...have you not seen the crime scene? The window our assassin supposedly jumped into is way too small for a human to fit through, unless the human was a dwarf in which case I find it hard to believe Reddick would be overpowered and stabbed, which requires a close proximity. Books were randomly tossed everywhere, instead of in some kind of sequence which you would expect with a struggle. Furthermore, the only blood Reddick shed was after his stabbing, when you’d expect to see it all over the room.”
“The cameras were not operational,” said Avita, “which the Guards said the AVTF were supposed to ensure would operate and they didn’t. They also told me the state of the room was due to them having cleaned up a bit before Claudia and Pearl took their pictures. Lastly, no gloves were found on Reddick’s person and no fingerprints were left on the knife...how could that happen if it was a suicide?”

Black took a deep breath and sighed, trying to think of a response. Before he could, Avita interjected.

“I don’t care what you have to say,” Avita said, tersely. “Here’s what I do know- the President of Illinois is dead, the Kentuckian Government was compromised and now, while he may have had little actual power, the only man capable of keeping this continent’s wits about itself- Reddick- is dead. That was all this year, Lucius, and all due to the failures of the AVTF that you said would stop all this. So don’t go and tell me that they’ve had ‘a rough patch’ or that ‘they need more time’- no, Lucius, their time has run out.”

Black sighed. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “However, the AVTF was there to stop crimes, not look over corrupt government officials. Louisville was a weird case, but we got the job done. We also couldn’t anticipate The Revenant striking in Illinois- who could? As for Reddick...you know what my position is.”

“Let me put it this way,” said Avita sternly. “If you don’t fire them, I will- and then I’ll fire you. Choose your path wisely.”

December 9, 2015,
09:35 local time,
Outside the FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Hi Galla,” said Black sombrely, greeting Claudia as she exited the shuttle bus that took her from the FBII Clearance Zone at the nearby subway station.
“Hi Lucius,” said Claudia, readjusting her parka, confused at the sight of Black flanked by two security guards. “What’s going on?”
“There’s no easy way for me to say this,” said Black, “but I have to relieve you and your team of your duties.”

“What?” Claudia said, her heart sinking at the news. She wiped her faced and took a deep breath, trying her best to stay composed, but there was no way that she could. “Surely there must be some kind of mistake,” she said through tears. “We...we...we did everything that we could...Lucius...no!” She turned around and buried her head in her hands, which muffled the sounds and hid her tears as she cried, relentlessly.

“Galla,” said Black, overcome with emotions himself. He walked over and put his hand on Claudia’s shoulder. “Galla, I-”
Don’t touch me,” snapped Claudia, shirking away from him. “I don’t know who you are anymore! All I know is that you don’t deserve to comfort me anymore! I know what you did...you sold me out.”
“Galla...”
“Ms. Claudia to you now!”
“Fine...Ms. Claudia...there was nothing I could do. The Presidential Guard Report was thorough...I had no evidence to corroborate what you gave me. The Guards told me they cleaned up the scene and you and Pearl barged in, without authorization I might add, midway through that process. I had no choice.”
“Whatever...you are far from a man of your principles!” She angrily took out her gun and her badge and gave them to Black, who accepted them in stunned silence. Claudia then stormed off to walk back to the shuttle bus, not even looking back at the offices of her former employment.

Black too looked on, forlornly, his heart breaking for Claudia. He had grown fond of her, seeing how tirelessly she worked and how she wouldn’t let things- nor cut corners- in her pursuit of justice. Abrasive, yes, and her maverick tendencies with her fellow law enforcement officers left her with few allies, but few in the competitive LEO world could be expected to be genuinely friendly. He looked on as she left, hoping and wishing that sooner, rather than later, she’d get back on her feet, perhaps one day back at the FBII.

The rest of the firings he did the less formal way through Human Resources, since he wasn’t personally connected to the rest of the AVTF. This would include ending his relationship with Omega, since they were informants with the AVTF. He, though, declined to press any charges or issue any warrants against them, since Omega had been granted immunity for its criminal activities in exchange for participating with the AVTF and figured “firing” them would send them the message that they failed him too. Not that this would really harm Omega in any way- with Collins’ investments and Polina Nikolaevna’s pull as a philanthropist and a (legitimate) business owner herself, the organization was in fine shape. They just could no longer rely on the FBII, which stung a little in terms of pride but Omega wasn’t going to let pride get in the way of their activities.

Shortly after being informed of his “dismissal”, Collins received a phone call.

“Hello?” he said briskly.
“Hi,” said the caller. “I have a Carter Downey who wishes to speak to you.”
“As I expected,” Collins said. “I vetted him yesterday, he can speak to me.”
“Hello?” Carter said, taking over the phone conversation.
“You’ve finally figured it out,” said Collins. “Congratulations, Mr. Downey.”
“Yeah, well, it was a pain in the neck,” said Carter, audibly frustrated. “How many background checks do you really need?”
“As many as we need,” said Collins, curtly.
“Apologies,” said Carter. “I understand...so can you help me or not?”
“Yes I can,” said Collins. “Are you in Buffalo?”
“Yes,” said Carter.
“Meet me in Depew,” said Collins. “Your handler will tell you where to go. You are to arrive alone, though.”
“No problem,” said Carter, relieved but nervous about the cagey nature of the process. “I’m looking forward to our arrangement.”


“Treachery is not a trait of the lowest common denominator- rather, it is a trait of the highest.”- Guardino, “The Power of Reason” (1666)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Episode Ten: The Price of Love

The Virus Episode Ten: The Price of Love

“Capitalists profess that there is a price tag for everything. What, then, is the price of love?”- Frederick Wolfenburg, Hessian activist, 1974 editorial

November 8, 2015
11:25 local time,
The Docks,
Helene, Borneo, Birea

“Greetings, Roger,” said billionaire Derek Glengarry in his thick Glaswegian accent, bowing his head to his visitor, as he docked his yacht on the harbour.
“Greetings Derek,” said Roger Milton, a distant descendant from Aberdeen, returning the bow from his perch on the harbour. He came with his henchmen, bringing Glengarry a large crate kept closed with a large metal padlock.

“Open it up,” Glengarry barked, who wanted to waste no time to inspect his latest purchase. Upon orders, Milton started the process of opening up the box, as Glengarry watched with baited breath.

“Wow,” said Glengarry, smiling with glee. “That is a wonderful speciman.” He then docked his boat and climbed up on to the dock to further inspect his new product- an 18-year-old girl, Anna Nyquist, kidnapped from the streets of Stockholm seven months ago. She was a nubile blonde with her hair in a ponytail and stood in the crate naked, attached to the box in chains loose enough to allow some movement, with a ball gag affixed to her mouth.

Glengarry, 36, started to run his hands on her body. Nyquist started to squirm before Glengarry slapped her violently in the face, which caused her to stop. By this stage, Nyquist knew better, as Milton beat her regularly to obtain her obedience and it wasn’t the first time she had been examined by a prospective buyer, though it didn’t change the fact that she was still being violated. Glengarry, though, had soft hands, which made the violation easier to take but not by much.

“Her breasts are nice and firm,” said Glengarry, examining the body. He then put his mouth to her breasts and started playing with her nipples. “I really love her nipples...so nice and hard. Mmmmnnn.” He then put his hand to her genitals and rubbed her clitoris, which caused Nyquist to squirm once more.

“Enough!” Glengarry said, slapping her. “You’re going to enjoy this whether you like it or not!” Nyquist wanted to cry, but she knew it would be no use, so she just hung her head and let Glengarry do as he pleased. As she complied, he kept rubbing her genitals, noticing how quickly she got wet. He then put a few hands inside Nyquist’s vagina and wiggled them around.

“Ooohh...nice,” said Glengarry with a smile. “Nice and tight.”
“She’s a virgin,” said Milton.
“Just the way I like it,” replied Glengarry with a grin.

He then felt his way through her arms and legs, noticing how strong she was. Nyquist was a swimmer and worked part-time as a handywoman, so despite her slender physique, she was well-built, something Glengarry was truly impressed with.

The last thing Glengarry did was extend his arms out and wrap them around Nyquist, giving her a warm embrace. At first, Nyquist wanted to squirm, but although she still met the menacing eyes of her slave owners, she felt genuine warmth from Glengarry, making her start to reciprocate the hug even more. Glengarry enjoyed the hug, holding on to her longer than he usually did.

“Such a warm, warm person,” said Glengarry, holding Nyquist tight. As they embraced, Nyquist began to cry, overcome with the emotions of her situation, and, although overall the situation still registered as a nightmare for her, the way Glengarry held her, it gave Nyquist a brief sense of genuine compassion and love, something she hadn’t experienced since she was kidnapped. Although Milton did enough to keep up her shape by feeding her well and allowing- and sometimes forcing- her to exercise, he still treated her very callously, never failing to remind her who was her slave boss. Glengarry, though, seemed like he wanted to treat her well, even though she knew she would still be his slave.

“I think I’ve seen enough,” said Glengarry, satisfied. “You were right, Roger, about having a top quality girl and she is TOP quality. What’s your price?”
“£70,000,” said Milton, with slight hesitation.
Glengarry scoffed. “No no no...I’d only pay that if there was a middleman...come on...don’t play games with me.”
“Okay fine...£65,000.”
Glengarry was curt in his response. “£45,000.”
“£55,000, but that’s it.”
“Deal!” Glengarry then pulled out his chequebook and wrote Milton the cheque for Nyquist, as well as an additional £8,250 in tips and another £200 to cover the shipping fees for a total price of £63,450. A cleric was on hand to officially wed the couple, although Glengarry planned a more formal gathering at a later date.

The two men then bowed and said their goodbyes, each satisfied they completed the deal. Nyquist was then grabbed by two henchmen who held her as they released her bonds and applied handcuffs to her wrists behind her back, before pushing her towards Glengarry, who led her into his boat. Glengarry hastily ushered her into her new bedroom, putting her into a new set of chains that made her lay spread-eagle on the bed. Glengarry took another glance at Nyquist’s naked body, admiring what he saw.

“You know what I’m going to call you?” said Glengarry with a smile. “Kiki. Do you want to know why?” He then adopted a playful tone before continuing. “Because you’re so kinky!” He then chuckled as he removed his fez and began undoing his shirt.

Nyquist, realizing what was about to happen, lost her composure on the bed, beginning to whimper and cry.

Glengarry noticed Nyquist’s tears and took pity on her. “Oh…Kiki…don’t cry,” he said, softly. “It’s going to be fun, I promise. I know…your first time…it’s a little scary but I’m going to make sure you enjoy every minute of it.” Nyquist, though, quickly realized how fruitless it would be to undo her bonds, so she took a deep breath and decided to make the most of the most unfortunate way for her to lose her virginity. With Nyquist calmed, Glengarry decided to take off his pants and his underwear, and proceeded to start having sex with her.

November 8, 2015,
13:09 local time,
Market Square,
Helene, Birea

“Come on Carter,” said Angus McNaughton to his friend, Carter Downey. “Everyone is doing it...there’s no other way to get a girl now.”
“It doesn’t matter, Angus,” said Carter, as he grimaced from the sunburn his pale skin received on this hot day. “You don’t buy people…that isn’t love. It’s fake...you didn’t earn it. Besides, what does it say about our people if the only way our men can obtain love is by buying it?”
“Carter, Carter, Carter.” Angus sighed and grimacing slightly. “It’s noble of you to want to do the honourable thing...but one day, you’ll realize that reality isn’t noble.”
“Perhaps...perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I’m just naive and see the world in rose-coloured glasses where doing the right thing always gets you what you want...but, you know what? I’d rather die alone than know that I gained something that compromised my morals.”
Angus then put his hand on Carter’s shoulder and sighed. He had recently bought his wife and found so much happiness afterward that it pained him to see his best friend so downtrodden because he was alone. “Sometimes I worry about you buddy…I don’t want to see a nice, kind, religious man like yourself die alone. Many women would kill to have a guy like you, and you know there are many men who have gotten married that don’t deserve it. You know this buddy…so why deny it? Plus you’ve heard the statistics.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know- 15 million Birean men are going to be unable to find a wife if they stay in Birea…”
“There you go…you know ‘the normal way’ will not work.”

Carter sighed, thinking that Angus had a point, but decided against arguing further. Carter then left his friend and continued his shopping through the marketplace. He was 51, never married, though he had two brief girlfriends in his past. Debates like these enraged him, because he hated thinking about the lack of romance in his life, even though everywhere in Birea he would be reminded of it. Every second billboard he would pass would advertise some kind of matchmaking service, and it seemed like everywhere he turned there was a man offering him a chance to meet a beautiful wife. The pursuit of love in Birea had become ubiquitous, and with the addition of each new service to procure a wife, Carter often wondered how many of them were legitimate and how many were scam artists looking to exploit a lonely man like him.

At this stage of his life, he’d been through the gamut of dating agencies and practices, and, having failed to secure love each time, he started to wonder if his pursuit really was worth it. In recent years, he began to realize that his many friends- including Angus- had provided him the companionship a romance would have provided him anyway. Still, he wasn’t getting any younger, and women did seem much harder to find in Birea, confirming the statistics. It was here that a shop billboard caught his eye- and perhaps changed his ideas for good.

November 8, 2015
20:39 local time,
Encinitas Beach
Encinitas, California

Regina Goldman loved the waves. At 21 and a graduate of History at nearby San Diego State University, Goldman decided that before she settled down to enter the dreaded “9-to-5” working fray, she needed to have some quality time to herself and her surfboard. After all, once she started working her days of surfing could be numbered, and she was still on the cusp of her prime physical years.

Right now, though, the wavy, slender brunette sat on the beach, clad in a flower-printed bikini, sunglasses and wearing her trusty bracelet, an embroidered one she made herself featuring one smiley face giving the other a side hug. She sat there, feeling the sea breeze, and felt at peace.

November 8, 2015
20:44 local time,
 Eternal Sunshine Resort,
 Encinitas, California

Down the street from Goldman was a beachside restaurant connected to the luxurious Eternal Sunshine resort. Staying there was the family of Mark Sanderson, the CEO of auto giant British Leyland, who came traveling with some friends, mostly other workers from BL. At this hour, Sanderson was having a late dinner with his wife, Marta, and five of his friends, and, remembering that he had put to bed his kids- five-year-old Heidi, a blonde girl whose left eye had a mark called “coloboma”, and three-year-old twins George and Robert- a little over an hour and a half ago, he excused himself to check up on his kids.

Upon arriving to his suite, he opened the door and found nothing out of the ordinary- the kids were sound asleep, the windows were shuttered and everything was in its place. He then noticed one of his suitcases seemed a little off kilter, but he attributed that to the wind that sometimes howled in when the windows were open and thought nothing of it. Satisfied with the appearance of the suite, Sanderson left to rejoin his family at the dinner table.

November 8, 2015
21:23 local time,
Encinitas Beach,
Encinitas, California

It was at this time Goldman decided to head for her car so that she could go home. A teenaged boy with a thick Aberdeen accent, a tan and swimming shorts pulled up past his belly button noticed Goldman and tried to strike up a conversation with her.

“How are you doing lassie?” The teen asked, flashing a warm smile.
“I’m doing good,” said Goldman, who returned the smile but kept her pace walking to her car. The teen, not caring that Goldman paid him no heed, started to follow her as well.
“What’s your name?”
“Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but it’s late and I really need to get home.”
“I really need a favour from you...my car’s broke down and I need some help.”
Goldman felt something was off about the teen. “Well, I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do about that.”
The teen then grabbed her, and pleaded again.
Goldman angrily ripped his hands off of her. “Listen, punk, if you don’t leave me alone you will leave me no choice but to call the police!”
“I’d really like to know how you can do that when your cell phone doesn’t work.” The teen then pulled out his cell phone jammer, and, almost instantly, ten other men had come from Goldman’s car and surrounded her.

Goldman wasn’t fazed though, adopting a battle stance. She was a trained fighter, although eleven athletic men was something she never faced before. She still welcomed the challenge, knowing she had to- she was literally fighting for her life.

“You guys know I won’t go quietly,” said Goldman.
“Come on lassie,” said the teen as one of the attackers drew a gun. “You don’t want to play games with us. If you play along and come with us, you’ll make it out alive.”
“Oh yeah? So you want me to be submissive, so you can rape me and beat me and then possibly kill me after luring me into a trap. Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
“We can make a lot of money together.”

Though the last statement struck Goldman as odd, she decided there was no point reasoning with these men. Seeing an opening, she kicked the man holding the gun in the jaw, making him drop his gun and sending him to the ground. Goldman then tried to run, but one of the other men caught her and threw her back into the circle.

It was here the fight really began. Once back in the circle, one of the men jumped on her back, causing her to grab the man’s arm and flip him over top of her and onto the ground, hitting two other assailants to the turf in the process. Goldman was lucky, as the flipped man had pulled out a syringe and was ready to use it if Goldman didn’t act quickly enough. The syringe flew well away from the melee and got forgotten, and Goldman never realized it was even there. After the flip, she then got kicked in the back of the head, sending her to the ground, but she instinctively swung her leg behind her tripping the man that just levelled her. She then backflipped herself back upright, facing a man who attempted a punch that Goldman managed to block. Goldman, though, then got grabbed from behind with her arms incapacitated, allowing the man whose punch she blocked to get a few hits to her face. Goldman then flung her head at the attacker that was behind her, headbutting him, before delivering a roundhouse kick that levelled the man who had been getting free shots at her.

A few more waves of fighting- with Goldman holding her own- followed, eventually reducing the fracas to just herself, the teen and another man, the rest having been knocked unconscious. The man remembered the gun that had been drawn but lost in the melee, and picked it up, pointing it at Goldman. He decided he didn’t want to mess around, and cocked the gun in preparation to shoot Goldman. Goldman realized what was happening, so as soon as she saw the man brandish the gun at her she found a nearby rock and chucked it at his head, knocking him to the ground and forcing him to drop the gun again. This left just Goldman and the teen, who picked up the gun.

“You’re a resilient one, aren’t you lassie?” The teen said, holding the gun and pointing it at Goldman. “Don’t play around now...I may just be 15 but I received first place at the Birean Youth Marksmanship Academy. Now...this is your last chance...come with me or you will get hurt.”
“You’re 15, eh?” said Goldman with a smirk.
“Yeah…are you mocking me?”
“No…I just think you’re pretty cute.” Goldman then flashed a playful smile, which caused the teen to get redfaced.
The teen, not expecting the compliments, began to stutter and loosen the grip on the gun. “Well…uh…wow…um…thanks.” He then hung his head, sheepishly, while babbling incoherently, smitten by Goldman’s comment. The distraction was all Goldman needed, delivering a roundhouse kick to the teen’s head, knocking him out cold. She then made a beeline to her car, and, after inspecting it to make sure it was safe, drove off as fast as she could, finding a safe spot where she called police about the incident.

November 8, 2015
22:15 local time,
Eternal Sunshine Resort,
Encinitas, California

At the restaurant, the Sandersons were thoroughly enjoying their night. Time seemed to flow just like the wine did, and what had once been a strict regimen of going back to the room to check on their kids became a “once-in-a-while” thing before the parents, in their drunken stupor, had forgotten to do it completely.

By 22:30, the Sandersons’ forgetfulness irked Ira Bushell, the only member of the group who wasn’t drinking. She decided that if the Sandersons weren’t going to care for their children, she had to, so she went up to the Sandersons’ suite to check up on the children. As she walked up, she thought she saw a middle aged man with a fez carrying what appeared to be a blonde girl in pajamas fast asleep in his arms, but, since she couldn’t get a good look at the girl, she dismissed the find.

Immediately alarm bells went off. The door to the Sandersons’ suite was open, and, immediately after she opened it, Bushell saw that the door to Heidi’s room was open as well. A draft also appeared to be coming into the suite, felt strongest at Heidi’s room. Bushell, sensing something was wrong, walked to Heidi’s room and opened the door.

She gasped in terror. “Oh my…”

Heidi’s bed had been disturbed, with her covers completely removed. The child was nowhere to be found, with a note that simply said “Thank You!” put in the bed in Heidi’s place. There were footprints coming from her bedroom window- which was wide open- with the prints belonging to an adult. There were also skid marks found on the floor, most noticeable by Heidi’s closet. Scared at the sight, Bushell ran from the room to the restaurant, yelling “Heidi is missing!” Immediately she was confronted by a security guard, Rodrigo Fernandez, as her yelling disturbed and confused many of the guests.

“Ma’am, calm down please,” said Fernandez, whose sunny demeanour and large frame evoked a “teddy bear” sense to him.
Bushell babbled incoherently, too distraught to properly form a reply.
Fernandez spoke softly. “Take a deep breath.” After Bushell did so and regained a bit of her composure, the guard continued. “Now, tell me what happened.”
Bushell spoke with a noticeable quiver, although she was coherent this time. “Okay, so I’m here with some friends, among them is Mark Sanderson and his wife…we were all having a great dinner but at varying points in the evening we all agreed to check up on his kids at regular intervals…however, everyone got drunk except me, because I hate beer. Anyway, I went up to check up on the kids and I noticed the door to the Sandersons’ room was open…and there was a draft…and the window to Heidi’s room was open…and…” Bushell by this point couldn’t keep her composure and buried her head in her hands, starting to cry uncontrollably.

Fernandez realized that he couldn’t get any more information out of Bushell so he looked for Sanderson, eventually spotting his table. To Fernandez’s consternation, Sanderson and his group were beyond sanity, laughing and guffawing uncontrollably because of their intoxication.

“Lightweights…” muttered Fernandez before deciding he had to talk to the Sandersons anyway.

He walked imposingly to Sanderson, which caught the drunkard’s attention, but not in the way he had hoped.

“Hey It’s Mr. Burly Man!” shouted Sanderson, who got up and put his arm around Fernandez, who let out a loud groan. “What’s up Mr. Burly Man?” Sanderson then patted Fernandez’s noticeable gut. “Say, when are you due Mr. Burly Man? You seem quite far along.”

Fernandez snapped, grabbing Sanderson’s arm and twisting it behind his back, making Sanderson let out a loud yelp. Fernandez kept his grip, allowing the pain in Sanderson’s arm to throb uncomfortably all over his body.

“Listen,” said Fernandez, menacingly, “I don’t care who you are or what you can do to me…your child is missing and, for once, I want you to give one wit about her!”
“My child is wha?” said Sanderson, slurring his speech and still grimacing from the pain Fernandez was putting him under.
“Your child is not where she is supposed to be.”
“Huh?”
Fernandez was exasperated. “She’s gone…vanished…disappeared…gosh, do I need to spell it out for you?”
“Well, maybee if yaw dint crush maw shoulder blade I migh be abil to understan wha’s gon on.”
Fernandez, realizing that Sanderson was being genuine, released his grip, causing Sanderson to fall over and clutch his shoulder in pain.

After about a minute Sanderson got up and started to stumble towards his room, drawing a crowd. As he opened the door to his suite, Fernandez walked right behind him, allowing the members of his party into the room but stopping other people in the crowd from coming in behind.

Instinctively, the Sandersons began milling about their room, looking for Heidi even though both were stumbling badly through it.

“Waw…dis wine sure iz strong,” slurred Mark. “It can make kids disappear!” Fernandez buried his face in his hands and shook his head at the statement, as Marta made an important discovery.

“Markie,” she said from the twins’ bedroom, also slurring. “The twins are missing too!”
Mark bolted from inspecting Heidi’s bedroom to meet Marta. “Wha?” he said, confused. “The twins weren’t part of the-” He stopped when Marta gave him a look, a look that Fernandez took notice of.

“I saw a man,” said Bushell, joining the group in the twins’ bedroom. “He was carrying a little girl in pajamas that looked a lot like Heidi…it was before I entered the room to check on Heidi…he was too far away for me to get a better look…oh gosh, I’m sorry.” Overcome with grief, Bushell began to cry again, as the Sandersons collapsed to the floor and just fell into a deep sleep. Fernandez let out a deep, frustrated sigh and left with the rest of the group and organized a search party. It would last well into the night, but none of the kids would be found.

November 9, 2015
11:58 local time,
Encinitas Police Headquarters,
Encinitas, California

“I can’t believe how stupid you are man!” yelled Constable Ming “Tyler” Luo Kuang, to his boss, Captain Harvey Monroe, Tyler’s eyes wide with anger.
For the last time,” said the burly, clean-shaven Monroe, waving his hands by each other, frustrated. “We are not bringing in the Sandersons. End of discussion!”
“Sir,” said Tyler’s partner, Ernest “Reefer” Madnis, softly but sternly, “the Sandersons’ stories just don’t hold up…there are a lot of inconsistencies and abnormalities…I think they qualify for a further round of questioning.”
“I’m sorry,” said Monroe, exasperated, waving his arms wildly. “Who’s leading this investigation? You puny rookies…or me?”
“With all due respect sir,” said Reefer, his thick Surinamese accent in full display, “but your views are short-sighted. Are you afraid of the Sandersons?”
“No,” said Monroe, scoffing at the suggestion. “If they were viable suspects, then I would bring them in…but they’re not, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Okay then,” said Tyler, putting his hands on his hips. “Who is the suspect then? You’ve spent the whole day telling us who isn’t a suspect…tell us who is!”
“Exactly,” said Reefer, calmly. “I don’t know how you can dismiss the guy with the fez…I mean, the child he was carrying was a dead ringer for Heidi.”
“Fez guy,” said Monroe in a sardonic tone, “wasn’t carrying three kids…remember, three kids are missing, not one. Three.
Tyler waved his hand at Monroe while replying. “Who’s kid could that possibly be then?” he said, frustrated.
“I don’t know,” said Monroe waving both of his forefingers across the air, “but it ain’t Heidi.”
Reefer let out a sigh as Tyler shook his head at the suggestion. Monroe thought for a second before continuing.
“Okay,” he said, “you know who I think did it? The cleaner. The only one who could have access to the room without needing a key. Besides, the cleaner went into the room after Mark Sanderson checked it but before Ira Bushell checked it.”
“Seriously,” said Tyler, deadpanning sarcastically. “You’re telling us the butler did it? What are we, some terrible mystery novel?”
“Not the butler, the cleaner,” said Monroe, incredulous.
“What difference does it make!” said Reefer, angrily.
“Whatever,” said Monroe, “this ain’t a novel to begin with this is real life…if the butler actually did it, then we’re bringing him in. No questions asked.”
“I can’t believe you man!” said Tyler, throwing his hands up in frustration and beginning to walk away. Reefer also gave Monroe a look and shook his head.
“You know what?” said Monroe, indignant. “I’m suspending you both. Don’t come back until tomorrow!”
“Fine then!” said Reefer, angrily, as both he and Tyler left in a huff.

Just before they got to their lockers, they met Goldman, turning in a form to reception. Tyler, as was his style, couldn’t help but be taken by the fair-skinned brunette, clad in a camouflage-style tank top and green Capri pants, much to Reefer’s chagrin.

“Hey pretty lady,” said Tyler, casually strolling up to her and leaning against the desk, flashing a smile when he got there.
Goldman gave him a disapproving look, scoffing at his advance.
“Oh come on,” said Tyler, tapping his chest before outstretching his arms. “Don’t you love a man in uniform?”
“Yeah I find police officers sexy,” said Goldman with wry smile. “When they please the greater good. Not when they just try to please themselves.”
Reefer chuckled behind Tyler, though Tyler pressed on. “Oh come on,” scoffed Tyler. “Today I helped looked for a missing child.” Tyler then smiled, believing his deed was righteous enough for Goldman to be impressed by it.
“Great!” said Goldman, giving a mocking clap. “You did your job! Do you want a gold star or something?”
“Now I was on an important investigation that could change the world,” said Tyler, smirking. “Gotta give me some credit for that!”
“So you think that because you went on some grand investigation it makes you a worthy person,” said Goldman sardonically, “and you don’t seem to think that’s the slightest bit narcissistic about yourself?”
Tyler stuttered, trying to figure out an effective comeback.
“Do you know how many times I’ve said that to him?” said Reefer, jumping in. “He never gets it that women aren’t impressed by what you’ve done but rather what you can do for them. He never understands that.”
“Oh yeah?” said Tyler, scoffing. “What do you know about picking up women? You’re gay.”
“I sure know more than you do,” said Reefer, “besides, haven’t you forgotten- gay guys get all the chicks.”
Goldman laughed at Reefer’s remark, as Tyler conceded the point.

“Well,” said Goldman, flashing a smile with a hint of awkwardness. “I probably should get going. It was nice talking to you both.”
“Wait,” said Reefer, sensing some distress in Goldman. “What brings you to the station?”
“Oh last night I was attacked by eleven men,” said Goldman. “I’m not quite sure what they wanted out of me but I had to kick all of their asses in order to get home last night.”
“Wait,” said Tyler, surprised. “You took on eleven men and won with barely a scratch?”
“My jaw got it good,” said Goldman, “and I’ve got some bruising on my gut, but…yeah, I beat up eleven guys.”
“Damn girl!” said Tyler, excitedly.
“I grew up with all boys,” said Goldman. “Plus I had a boyfriend in high school who tried to rape me, and the principal did nothing about it…so I had to learn how to fight to get by.”
“I’m impressed,” said Reefer.
“Yeah,” said Goldman. “Today I had to write a deposition…the police didn’t do much at the scene, and the officers I reported to today didn’t seem all that interested…everyone seems to want to talk about that Sanderson kid, when I think there’s something much bigger going on. I can’t be the only one that’s noticed how many Californian girls have gone missing lately? With reports of them being last seen with Birean nationals? That can’t be coincidence.”
“We were just on the Sanderson case actually,” said Tyler. “We just got suspended by our boss because he dismissed our observations- one of which was a Birean holding who we think was Heidi.”
“You guys got suspended for that?” said Goldman, shocked.
“Yup,” said Reefer, frustrated.
“I’m Regina Goldman,” said Goldman, shaking hands with Reefer and Tyler.
“I’m Ernest Madnis,” said Reefer, “but,” he said, pointing to his hair before continuing, “because of my dreads, I go by ‘Reefer’, even though I don’t touch any of that stuff. It started in high school.”
“I’m Ming Luo Kuang,” said Tyler, “but you can just call me Tyler.”
“There’s a Jimmy Cochrane’s down the road,” said Goldman. “We should talk about this…I think we’re on to something.”

November 27, 2015
00:02 local time,
Cargo Holding Quarters, Cargo Ship,
102 nautical miles en route to Port Moresby, New Guinea, Birea

“I’m cold,” said Heidi Sanderson, waking up from inside her crate. Alongside her, in other crates, were 334 women, all between 12 and 32 years old, along with 51 girls aged from 4 to 11. Everyone was unclothed, aside from the blankets they were periodically given which helped a little in combating the cold, damp conditions of their confinement. They were in the cargo den of a cargo ship, destined for a converted prison in Padang that held other slaves like Heidi, slaves that would be sold to eligible Birean bachelors hoping to land a wife.

“Hey there little fella,” said Paige Hutton, 22, in the crate across from Heidi, with a small quiver she tried to fight as she spoke. “Where are you coming from?”
“I was in California,” said Heidi, “but I’m from Dover.”
Hutton chuckled warmly, hoping it would ease the fears of Heidi. “Oh nice. I’m from Freemantle, in Australia. My name is Paige.”
Heidi replied, thankful for a warm soul like Hutton, although she was still scared at the ordeal. “I’m Heidi. It’s nice to meet you. How did we get here?”
Hutton sighed. “Well, I was walking home from my job at the bar when these guys came from behind me and stuck a syringe in my neck…next thing I know, I’m here in this crate, naked, with some of my piercings removed, though they let me keep my nose stud and my bellybutton barbell. What about you? How did you get here?”
Heidi, still scared at her surroundings, was quivering. “I was sleeping…and I felt a needle…and then I woke up here…and I don’t know why.” Heidi then began to cry, which shook Hutton, though she tried her best to stay composed for Heidi.
“Aww…muffin…I wish I could hold you right now. Truth is, we’re all scared. We don’t know where we’re going. All I know is that we’re going to get sold.”
“Sold?”
“Yeah…some bad people, who can’t find a mommy for their kids have to buy one.”
“Buy me? Mummy always told me that I can’t be bought.”
“Good people know that…but these aren’t good people. The good news is, I don’t think they want to hurt us…they want to love us…but we can’t forget no matter how nice they are they’re not good people.”
“I’m not old enough to be a mommy though.”
“They probably won’t make you a mommy right away. Whoever buys you will raise you to be a mommy when you are old enough, where you’ll likely get sold off again. Me...I’ll likely be a mommy right away.”
Heidi then began to cry again, a realization striking her. “Am I going to see my mommy again?”
Hutton sighed with tears welling in her eyes, but put on a brave face. “Yes you will. Yes you will. Always remember that, no matter how tough things get.” Hutton couldn’t fight it anymore and cried, realizing the significance of her own words. “Never forget her…she will be the one who will get you through this.”

November 27, 2015,
00:02 local time,
Detention Room,
The Cargo Ship En Route to Port Moresby

“Explain it to me,” said John, one of the cargo ship hands, helping another ship hand, Scott, bring a slender but curvy blonde woman, 18-year-old Silke Dubois, onto a table. “What he’s doing is very novel.”
“It basically works like this,” said Scott, as they placed Dubois on the table spread-eagle, clamping down her wrists and ankles and affixing a cleave gag to her mouth. “Before, when women did this voluntarily, you had to pay the woman fair value before you got her as a slave.”
“Shut up!” John said, punching the frightened Dubois in the jaw, hoping it would stop her squirming. He then took out a wire with clamps on both ends, affixing the clamps on her nipples. The wire was then looped through a knot connecting it to a loose strand of rope and another rope that was tied to a rope-like device at her waist. The device had one loop that fit snugly around her waist, and another loop that ran along the centre of her body, the loop just tight enough so that it could be placed right inside her genitals and her butt crack and press inside against both, especially when it got tugged. Though it officially had no name, informally they called it, “The Fixxer”.
“She really needs to learn how to behave, doesn’t she?” Scott said with a wry chuckle.
“You always get a few ‘problems’,” acknowledged John, as he added some oil to a large spindle right next to the table. “That’s why we fix them.” He then looped the loose rope through a hook on the ceiling and then threaded the loose rope through the spindle, making The Fixxer tug at its strings and fit “just right” on the petrified woman.
“So anyhow,” continued Scott, inspecting the rope as Dubois panted frantically in terror. “Obviously, to make a profit in that case, you needed to charge the buyer something extra on top of what you paid...and no one was going to tack on simply an extra dollar, since you’d earn nothing.”
“So if a woman charged £20,000 for her services as a slave,” said John, as Scott approved The Fixxer for its torturous duties, “the slave trader would have to charge the buyer £40,000 for the girl, to recoup his losses.”
“Exactly,” said Scott, starting to turn the wheel pulling at the wire and the device, causing The Fixxer to clamp down on her nipples, stretch out her breasts and start penetrating into the openings of her genitals and butt crack. This made Dubois scream in pain, screams the two men ignored.
“So this way,” said John, “we only charge the £20,000, keeping the prices down.”
“Well, we still need to charge a little extra,” said Scott, “because we are still breaking the law...but, you are right, costs are not as high because we no longer need to pay the woman.” He continued turning the wheel, pressing even further on Dubois’ sensitive spots, causing even more pain. “Of course, in some areas, we’ve bribed government officials, allowing us to operate without worry, and bribes are still cheaper than paying the woman. Especially when you can provide shares in our budding venture.”

John then walked over to Dubois, breathing frantically, her eyes wide in pain and in terror.

“Have you learned your lesson?” John asked, rubbing the woman’s forehead. He then pulled down the gag, which made her decide to spit in his face.

John then reapplied the gag and wiped the spit off his face. He then twirled his hands in a clockwise motion, signaling to Scott to turn the wheel some more, which he did. By this point, the pressure applied to Dubois was so great that she was lifted off the table, pressing her extremities right against the chains. The rope penetrated into her vagina and anus as deep as it could go, and her breasts were stretched as far as they could go, the clamps applying tremendous pressure onto her nipples. Dubois screamed in pain right from the outset, and kept on screaming the longer John and Scott kept her up.

“You know,” said John, as both men paid no heed to Dubois’ distress. “I really get this venture...it’s trailblazing. Seedy, but trailblazing.”
“You have to look at it this way,” said Scott. “The Romans, the North Americans, the Europeans, Britain, even our colonial fathers the Scots...heck, the rest of the world...they all took from us. Stole from us. So we steal from them...and why not take their most prized possession...their women?”
“Especially when we need them,” acknowledged John.
“Exactly,” said Scott. “Besides, the Romans still celebrate The Rape of the Sabines...so what we’re doing is all fair game.”

By this point, they had bothered to turn their attention to Dubois. John again rubbed her forehead.

“Have you learned your lesson?” John said, as Dubois frantically shook her head “yes”. John then tested it, pulling down her gag and kissing her, open mouthed. Dubois, despite hating it, reciprocated, hoping it would make them take pity on her and release her from The Fixxer, though John and Scott had no intention of that.

“I think I need a shot of rum,” said John.
“I agree,” said Scott, smiling.

The two men then departed, leaving Dubois stretched out agonizingly, the pain getting more unbearable with each passing minute. She fought the urge to faint, but she got close several times. Ten minutes later- an eternity to Dubois- John and Scott came back to lower her to relieve her pressure, but they didn’t take her off the table. Eventually, she passed out on the table, upon which they released her from The Fixxer and raped her, before contorting her still sleeping body into a small box.

November 9, 2015,
12:19 local time,
Jimmy Cochrane’s Coffee Shop, beachside location,
Encinitas, California

“Okay,” said Goldman, joining Reefer and Tyler with her coffee in hand. “So California typically sees about 2,000 women go missing each year.”
“Yeah,” said Tyler. “A good number of those are runaways and absent-minded seniors...only a fraction are ‘stranger abductions’.”
“So what do we know about Birea?” asked Reefer. “I think we need to figure that out before we go further.”
“Right,” concurred Goldman, “we need to know our enemies.” Goldman then pulled out her cell phone, a jerry-rigged Blackberry Q10 that also had the Android and Apple software available to it.
“Hey,” said Reefer with a look of suspicion “is that phone legal?”
“Designed it myself,” said Goldman. “In fact, I’ve fool-proofed it so that all my software is technically legal…took me about a month to do…lot of long nights. It’s worth it- I can access any database that I want.”
“Oh man, that definitely is illegal,” said Reefer.
“…but so useful,” said Tyler, nodding his head in appreciation, to which Reefer eventually agreed.
“Anyway,” said Goldman, without looking at her phone. “In 1707, England, Wales and Scotland were united as the ‘Kingdom of Great Britain’ via an act of Parliament. The Scots begrudgingly accepted this, since by that point their economy was in shambles and the English could actually help them.”
“…but, at the first chance,” said Tyler, “in 1779 they left Britain.”
“Yeah,” said Goldman. “The British, in the middle of the American Revolution, were in no capacity to be able to defend against that secession, so Scotland, rejuvenated, formed its own powerful kingdom.”
“The French helped them out too,” said Tyler, “let’s not forget that.”
“Right,” acknowledged Goldman. “Two years later they establish a colony in Africa at Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, but that wasn’t when the fun started.”
“The Coffee War,” said Tyler with a smirk, “Lot of fun on both sides…Scotland won the East Indies, or Indonesia, from the Dutch in 1787 after replacing Javanese coffee shipments with Scottish tea. Although by that point Scotland had turned the tide and started to win the war, it was only after the Scots replaced the coffee with the tea the Dutch hated that the Netherlands eventually relented.”
“…and so began the Scottish East Indies,” said Goldman.
“Now,” said Reefer, listening with keen interest, “as I understand, the Nathanites were essentially rewarded the East Indies for their loyalty to the Scottish Crown.”
“Yeah, basically,” said Tyler. “The Nathanites were initially English, but were expelled from England after the Spanish Armada was defeated since the Nathanites were spies for the Spanish. Scotland saw their usefulness and allowed them to come to the kingdom as refugees, but repeated incursions by England meant the Scots had to find a new home for them. They found one in Florida- where the Nathanites eventually influenced other Christian sects and evolved into the ‘Nequissimi’- but Nathanism didn’t really take off until the East Indies were captured by Scotland, as it gave them substantial territory in which to settle.”
“…and they called his country ‘Birea’,” said Goldman.
“After a misunderstanding of a local word for ‘unity’,” said Reefer.
“Anyhow,” said Tyler, continuing the discussion, “the Bireans, as they came to be called, became known as the ‘Crown Jewel of the Scottish Empire’, and they were a willing colony for over 200 years, although English subterfuge tried to undermine this, since England realized they’d be good allies too. It was only after World War II, when Scotland’s reserves were depleted fighting for the Allies, that the Bireans gained their independence, although Scotland still tried to fight it. The Romans were the ones that brokered the peace, allowing both countries to co-exist and even co-operate nicely.”
“That was in 1952,” said Goldman, “and, predictably, the Bireans were excited.”
“They were f***ing like crazy,” said Tyler with a wry smirk causing Goldman to roll her eyes and shake her head.
“So that’s why the Bireans have their one-child policy,” said Reefer, “because they had too many babies after independence.”
“Yeah,” said Goldman. “They didn’t get around to it until 1974, which the population more or less followed rigidly. Alarm bells were sounded almost as soon as the policy went into effect, but they went unheeded…until now when we can actually see the effects of it.”
“True,” said Reefer, nodding his head. “Birean society, due to the restrictions placed on working, tends to favour men over women, although not to an extreme degree. Add to that the fact that Bireans are more apt than other Nathanites to have multiple wives, and you have a recipe for disaster.”
“Birean emigration for a wife is no secret,” said Goldman, looking at her phone. “It’s estimated that 34% of eligible Birean bachelors went abroad to find a wife, although those were voluntary wives.”
“Of course, with the imbalance increasing,” analyzed Reefer, “it’s only a matter of time before someone starts thinking about kidnapping a wife outright, especially if you’re in your late 30s and desperate.”
“That’s what’s happening here then,” said Tyler. “Women are getting kidnapped by Bireans to be married off.”
“This brings us back to the number of missing women,” said Goldman. “I could quote the statistics, but we all know some don’t get properly reported missing.”
“From what we’ve seen around here,” said Reefer, “the number is higher than it usually is…but the government doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it.”
“Looks like we’ll need to,” said Goldman, firmly.

November 20, 2015,
17:08 local time,
Derek Glengarry’s house,
Thompsonville, Borneo, Birea

“Crap,” said Nyquist in frustration, looking over a frying pan in the kitchen. After her first night she was given clothes, and fitted with an ankle bracelet that had a tracker on it. “No matter what I do it seems like it can never come out right.” She was trying to make haggis for Glengarry for when he arrived, but the special seasoning she applied to the potatoes just didn’t seem to simmer right, among other things that went wrong that day. She angrily shut off the stove and placed the potatoes with the turnips and the haggis anyway, before putting a cover on it and putting it in the fridge to warm up later. She then walked to the couch and slumped onto it, crying, with all the frustration of her failed cooking experiment boiling over.

A few minutes later, Glengarry, a stock broker, arrived home with a large box and a bouquet of flowers. As soon as he heard Nyquist crying, he hurried to the couch.

“Kiki,” said Glengarry, putting his arm around her and pulling her close. “What’s wrong?”
Nyquist didn’t respond and just reciprocated Glengarry’s action, wrapping her other arm around him so that she could be hugged and cry on his shoulder.
“Aww,” said Glengarry, kissing the top of her head. “It’s okay...did you have a long day?”
Nyquist nodded “yes” on his shoulder before speaking. “I was trying to cook you dinner,” she said, “but nothing I did seemed to come out right.”
“Kiki,” said Glengarry softly, looking into her eyes and wiping away tears, “I’m sure it came out fine...besides, what matters to me is that you’re okay...as long as I have you, then I don’t care if you make a mistake on the stove. It happens.” He then spoke with a wide smile, excitedly. “I got you flowers...and I remember you told me you love the XBox, so I got you one with all the fixins and your favourite game.”

Nyquist then got up, putting her hands to her face, still crying and wiping away tears.

“Why?” Nyquist said, still bawling. “Why are you so nice to me? I’m just a slave...I really mean nothing to you. I’m from Stockholm...I know all about the Stockholm Syndrome...you just want to control me by making me like you.”
“No,” said Glengarry, protesting. “No...why would I want to do that? I love you. I really do. Every minute that I’ve known you I have grown that much more fond of you.”
Nyquist reacted angrily. “Then why did you make me wear an ankle bracelet? Are you that afraid that I will run?”
“Your slave masters suggested I do it so I was just following procedure but you don’t have to wear it, Kiki.”
Nyquist got even more upset. “My name isn’t Kiki. It’s Anna. I wish you would know that.”
Glengarry patted the air, trying to signal to Nyquist to calm down, understanding the importance of the situation. “Okay...okay...I’ll call you Anna then. I’m sorry...I should have asked for your name.”
“One other thing.”
“Anna...anything. I would give you the Moon if I could.”
“We need to start over...have our first date...fall in love like we’re supposed to.”
Glengarry had a look of worry on his face, afraid of what this might mean for him.
Nyquist caught the look. “Look Derek, if you can’t trust me that I’m doing all that I will to make this work...then I’ll know who you really are, that you’re someone who doesn’t actually love me and just wants to control me. If your feelings are true...you must trust me.”
Glengarry sighed and pressed his tongue to his cheek, concerned. He thought about it for a moment before responding. “Very well then,” he said. “I’ll leave the guest house for you...and we’ll do this the right way. When can we have our first date?”
“Tomorrow evening. I’m exhausted right now.”
“As you wish.” Glengarry then spent the rest of the night setting up the guest house for Nyquist, even giving her a set of keys all for herself. In the back of his head, he hated acquiescing like he did, but he wanted Nyquist to be happy, so he accepted the turn of events.

The date went ahead as planned, with the two going out for dinner at a fancy beachside resort. The jasmine tea flowed freely, although the conversation did not. The date was a classic example of why Glengarry had been single for so long in the first place- a crippling fear of rejection that stopped him from making any kind of move or stumbling in his sentences. Still, Nyquist was endeared to him, and they saw each other for a few more dates.

After the fourth date, Nyquist and Glengarry found themselves strolling along the Mahakam River, after attending Church together. Nyquist, in her favourite blue keybaya, and Glengarry, in his fez and a batik shirt and pants, were walking side by side each other but were careful not to display too many signs of affection, lest a jealous man jump Glengarry and try to steal Nyquist from him. Glengarry, knowing the area well, found a little nook in the buildings and walked Nyquist down it, so the two could be secluded.

“Thank you for this, Anna,” said Glengarry, giving Nyquist a hug.
“No, thank you,” said Nyquist, reciprocating and rubbing his back. The two of them then parted a little so they could look in each other’s eyes and hold each other at the waist.

“Anna,” said Glengarry wistfully, looking down.
“What’s wrong Derek?” asked Nyquist, concerned.
“I was such a disaster…and yet you kept coming back to me. Why?”
“Because I know who you really are…I knew, deep down inside, you are a great person that any woman would be lucky to have. You just let your insecurities get the better of you…you’re so scared of screwing up that you aren’t yourself, and that’s why you failed with all these women. I knew you needed some time to get you out of your shell, and I was right- and the results have been fabulous.”
“I’m sorry I put you through all that…I wish I didn’t have to buy you.”
“I understand…you did what you needed to do.” Nyquist then brushed Glengarry’s hair with her hand. “I didn’t like how this started either, but I knew, deep down inside, that you were a good man.”
“You just wanted me to prove it.” Glengarry lifted his head and flashed a warm smile.
“Prove it you did…and I couldn’t be happier for it.” The two then locked lips and began a romantic kiss, their first genuine one, leading them to kiss well into the night.
November 27, 2015,
16:08 local time,
The Muirhead Household,
New Ayr, Celebes Province, Birea

“Hey buddy,” said Alan Muirhead, to his son Alex.
“Hey,” said the 14-year-old Alex, excitedly.
“I’ve got something for you,” Alan said with a smile, using his finger to tell Alex to come with him. The birthday boy followed, his mouth agape like Pavlov’s dog.

At sea level of their seaside hut sat Alan’s yacht, with a large crate inside it. Alex’s eyes widened more with excitement as Alan took his time (on purpose) to open the padlock.

“Oh that’s so awesome!” Alex said excitedly. Chained and gagged inside the box was Dubois, her body still showing the scars of her torture even though her handlers took great care to fix up her health and beauty. Alex took no time to walk up to her and start feeling around.

“Wow,” said Alex, feeling her up, “she’s a real girl!” He continued groping and feeling, giddy like a schoolboy with his new toy. “She’s all mine?” Alex asked, disbelief at his new treasure seeping in.

“Yes, yes,” reassured Alan, his face bearing the widest smile. “She’s all yours.”
“Awesome,” said the still wide-eyed Alex. “Does that mean I get to punch her in the gut?”
Alan smiled, not hesitating one bit. “Of course.”
Alex responded by laying a haymaker right into Dubois’ stomach. “Oh man, that was awesome! I need to do it again.” Alex, giddy over his newfound possession, punched her a few more times in the stomach, causing her to cry. “Hey b****!” Alex called out to her, punching her in the face a few more times, “you’re my toy now! My toys don’t cry!” He then punched and slapped her a few more times before Alan, chuckling at his excitement and happy for his son, stopped him.
“Now now, son, you don’t want to hurt her too much...she will be your wife when you’re old enough. So don’t treat her too badly.”
Alex acknowledged the point, his giddiness still not subsided. “Okay daddy.” A thought then came to Alex. “I can have sex with her, right?”
“As many times as you like. We’ve given her a bed in your room with chains on it so you can restrain her there and f*** her as many times as you like.”
“Awesome! This is the best birthday ever!” Alex gave his father a big hug as the two of them closed the crate and moved Dubois (after Alex again punched her in the gut) to her new spot in Alex’s room- a spot whose terror she wouldn’t be able to begin to imagine.

November 27, 2015
13:21 local time,
Jakarta District,
Warricksville, Java, Birea

“We charge an average of £150 a month and £50 a week,” said Martin Riggs, manager of the Warricksville Dating Services shop in downtown Warricksville, to Gary Strudwick, who wanted an “attraction” for a heavy metal-themed nightclub he had just opened. “We usually have around 50 women for you to choose from, and, if you decide you want to marry the woman you’re renting, you’ll be required to purchase her at cost, which is 20 years’ worth of rentals minus what you’ve already spent.”
“Interesting,” said Strudwick, standing in front of the service desk. “Do I get a test drive, though?”
“We allow you to communicate with her for one hour before deciding on a rental. You are free to do whatever you like with her provided you are not violent and cause her physical harm. This includes sex with the woman, if you’d like, unless the woman is a virgin where we ask that you respect that and restrain your activities to everything that does not require vaginal penetration.”
Strudwick was perplexed. “Some of your women aren’t virgins?”
Riggs did not skip a beat. “Not everyone around the world follows the Birean way of life. However, I assure you sex is not forbidden...the clerics have been more understanding of our societies ‘troubles’ and thus knows that finding a woman is much harder these days than it used to...so it allows these ‘test drives’ just to make sure that a man is not stuck with a wife he does not desire. Furthermore, once the woman is rented, a cleric is on hand to grant a temporary marriage, which becomes permanent should you decide to purchase the woman.”
“If a man can have sex with a woman without renting her...it sounds an awful lot like prostitution.”
“Well, we can’t control what our customers come in for, but we do charge £100 if all the customer does is have sex. We also forbid customers from having sex with the woman again unless he decides to rent her, and we charge for additional ‘test drives’ anyway. Believe me, we have gone through great pains to make sure we are not a brothel.”
Strudwick nodded in approval. “All right...give me a tour.”

Riggs showed Strudwick around. At the moment, Riggs had 55 women for the customer to choose from, all of which were kept in cells that were furnished like a small bachelor pad. The women were all naked, kept with a chain attached to their necks that started at the wall overlooking the bed, loose enough so that they could walk around somewhat freely in their cell. The women were forced, on a rotating basis, to work at Riggs’ other establishments, Warricksville’s chain of luxurious Crescent Hotels and its upscale restaurants, where they could be observed in their more ‘traditional’ roles of cooking and cleaning.

As Strudwick looked around, he saw many that caught his eye, but only one piqued his interest.

“Interesting,” said Strudwick, noticing a woman. “When did you get Lolita?”
“Oh she’s one of our best,” said Riggs, acknowledging the customer’s interest in Paige Hutton. “Don’t let all the tattoos and piercings fool you...she’s an excellent cook and cleans up very nicely. She’s also as sweet as jasmine tea...thus, we charge top dollar for her.”
Strudwick had a ploy to reduce her price. “All those piercings are not proper...they’re forbidden. She may be nice but she should not modify what God gave her.”
“All my other customers love her piercings though.”
Strudwick liked them too, but decided to continue the charade. “I find it interesting that she hasn’t been sold...if the piercings were that good, then someone would have paid ‘top dollar’ for them, would they not?”
“Yes, but not everyone has ‘top dollar’.”
“So all of your top women have troubles being rented, right? Eventually, if they stay here long enough, people are going to start wondering about them. Besides,” Strudwick paused to examine her body, “she’s not a virgin...that’s not top dollar right there. Any true Birean knows that.”
Riggs grimaced, letting out a sigh without offering a response.
“I’ll tell you what...I’ll give you £200 a month for her. No questions asked.”
“Deal.” Riggs agreed reluctantly, hoping she could fetch £400 for her, but had to concede that the customer was right. He arranged for the cleric to come with traditional marriage clothes for Hutton, as she was officially married to Strudwick in a hasty ceremony before being spirited off with him.

November 27, 2015,
14:09 local time,
Encinitas Police Headquarters,
Encinitas, California

“Do we really need to lead this interrogation?” Tyler asked Monroe, frustrated.
Monroe was curt. “May I remind you who is paying your salary, Tyler?” Monroe said. “The butler did it...now go in there and get it out of him.”
Tyler took a deep breath before going into the interrogation room with Reefer, reluctantly.

As they were in the interrogation, Monroe fielded a phone call.

“Yes, they’re in there,” said Monroe on the phone. “We got the butler...now we’re working on getting that confession. You’ve got a child’s remains with Heidi’s and the butler’s DNA on it? Nice lab work. That should do the trick...we got this guy dead and buried...what’s that? Well, what more do you want? I’m getting a phony confession with planted evidence and a diversion away from the Sandersons...oh okay, I’m sorry, thanks for that. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Monroe then closed his phone. After an hour, Tyler and Reefer emerged from the interrogation, satisfied.

“We got it,” said Tyler to Monroe.
“Good,” said Monroe, flashing a wide smile. “See, you should never doubt your captain…it’s why I got the job.”
“We’re going to get this transcribed,” said Reefer. “He told us he had some help but couldn’t remember the details so we’ll need to talk to him later.”
“That’s fine.” Monroe’s smile was wider than the Pacific. The captain stood triumphantly basking in his glow as Tyler and Reefer left to write out the tape. Before they did, they fielded a call to Goldman, who made another call.

Hi,” said Claudia, picking up her phone. “This is Agent Galla Claudia. Who’s calling?”
“Listen,” said Goldman, “I know this is weird...my name is Regina Goldman...I live in Encinitas, California, just outside of San Diego. I’ve been working with the Encinitas Police on an investigation that I believe you have ties to, so I found your number and gave you a call.”
Claudia was still perplexed. “Okay...so you illegally obtained my phone number. You do realize I can turn you in to your own police and have you jailed, right?”
“Oh they’ll probably jail me and my co-investigators if they found out what we were doing.”
Claudia was intrigued despite her confusion. “What are you doing?”
“We’re investigating the Heidi Sanderson abduction...we believe there are a few irregularities that Encinitas Police are covering up, so myself and two Encinitas Police officers are investigating covertly. We’ve interrogated a suspect and it led us to you. Can you help us out?”
“Absolutely. I’ll pull some strings…we seem to have the same goals.”
“Thank you Agent Claudia.”
“You can call me Galla if you’d like.”
“...and I’m Regina.”
“We’ll touch base soon. Bye for now.”

November 27, 2015,
23:19 local time,
Warricksville Riding Services,
Warricksville, Java, Birea

“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,” sang Paige Hutton quietly to herself. “Hmpf! Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” Hutton took in a gulp, starting to feel a pain inside her that commenced with her being rocked back and forth.

“And if that mockingbird won’t sing,” she continued, before wincing in pain once more, “Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. Ouch! Ooooh...ah...” She panted heavily several times before catching her breath and continuing the song.

“And if that diamond ring turns brass,” Hutton sang, a quiver entering her voice, “Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.” Hutton then let out a loud scream. Oh dear, she thought to herself, trying to recover from the pain, please let this be over soon. The man on top of her wouldn’t relent, though.

“And if that looking glass gets broke,” she sang before screaming again, “Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat,” she sang, with tears now starting to come out of her eyes. As she breathed to help her relax, the man’s actions renewed her fear. Oh no, she thought, doing her best not to recoil at the horrors of the man’s hands rubbing themselves all over her breasts, he’s so filthy...what did I get myself into?

“And if that billy goat don’t pull,” she continued her song, quivering and tearing, with deep breaths so she could endure the ordeal, “Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.”

“And if that cart and bull turn over,” she sang before letting out another yelp, “Mama’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover.”

“And if that dog named Rover won’t bark,” she sang, before starting to pant heavily again, letting out many short breaths, as the man’s movements became more intense. “Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart,” she continued, before the feelings inside her body started to overwhelm her. Oh no, oh no, oh no! Hutton thought, with her moans starting to get progressively louder before reaching a crescendo with a loud scream that shook the entire house.

She took a deep breath before the man got up from on top of her, wearing an extremely satisfied grin. After the man left the room, Hutton curled up in her bed and finished the lullaby her mother always sang to her after she had a nightmare.

“And if that horse and cart fall down,” she sang, crying uncontrollably, with the singing by now reduced to a barely audible whisper, “You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.” Hutton continued her crying, angrily punching her pillow several times and kicking her feet up and down, before getting so tired from the emotional distress that she fell sound asleep.


“Love is the only thing in life that nourishes us and strengthens us. It is also the only thing in life that can deplete us and weaken us at the exact same time. Yet, no matter how many times it lets us down, we keep coming back for more.” -Isla Broderick, “The Quest for Companionship” (1936)