Thursday, June 9, 2016

Episode Fifteen: The Wisdom of Petaluma

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age. The child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”- Edna St. Vincent Millay, poem (1937)

April 8, 2016,
10:04 local time,
Ian Baker's house,
Warricksville, Birea

When the doorbell rang, Ian Baker, a retired schoolteacher, instantly rose from his couch, excited for his guest. Even though he was watching one of his favourite shows, Baker was willing to discard it, as his guest could change his life.

“Hello,” said Baker, greeting his guest, a dapper English gentleman wearing a suit and a top hat by the name of Anthony Robins. “I’m so glad to see you today,” continued Baker, heartily shaking Robins' hand as Robins smiled in appreciation.

The two entered Baker’s house and sat down in his living room, Baker eager to get on with the proceedings. Robins was there to represent the Order of St. Jasper, part of whose operation was a human trafficking outfit that allowed men like Baker to purchase a wife. Baker, who had never been married, relished the idea that he could find a wife quickly, because his age meant that he did not have too much time to date on his own.

“Thank you for having me today,” said Robins. “If I may, I am struck by the cleanliness and thorough organization of your humble abode.”
“Thank you,” said Baker, smiling widely. “I do try to keep it up.”
“You will get good marks for that, I’m sure,” said Robins smiling.
“So this is the first step, I assume?” said Baker.

“Yes,” said Robins, beginning his interview with Baker. “That is correct. We need to do an extensive analysis of our clients and their needs so that we can better understand your requirements so that we can eventually meet them. However, we also do this to ensure that the wife who has offered herself up for purchase can be assured that she is meeting a husband who will take care of her and treat her with dignity and respect. Unlike other human trafficking organizations, ours only deals with women who are willing to be a part of it, and that requires that the women are treated with care and class.”
“Willing participants, huh?” said Baker, nodding in appreciation. “Strong selling point.”
“We do this for a simple reason,” said Robins, “when the women are unwilling, there are a lot of complicating factors. The woman isn’t as committed to the relationship as she could be, because she will always remember her freedom and will pine for it, so there can be no guarantee that she will not try to escape her capture somewhere down the line. If the woman was kidnapped- and the vast majority of unwilling participants are- quite likely the police in her home are involved in searching for her, as well as her family and friends. So there comes the possibility that, one day, the authorities will come bearing down on your house and rescue the wife you just had, and, since you are dealing with contraband, you’d also likely go to jail yourself. There is also the matter of having to ‘control’ the woman you had just acquired, because when the subject is unwilling, you have to work harder to make her a willing participant- if you are ever able to do so. This can become arduous and frustrating over time, not to mention the fact that it is psychologically and physically draining on the woman, who may lose her ‘will to live’ and never actually recover it. Thus, the enjoyment that you could have had with a wife gets delayed at best and at worst never arrives, because the relationship is constantly one-sided and no one ever derives pleasure from a one-sided relationship.”
“So you’re saying that the woman I get is guaranteed to love me,” said Baker.
“Essentially,” said Robins. “Or at least she will be committed to working towards that goal. That means that you will get to enjoy her company right away, unlike other organizations where you not only have to deal with a disinvested, perhaps hostile participant you may never win over, you may also have to deal with the authorities snatching her away without you knowing, and perhaps putting you in jail.”
“Okay,” said Baker, again nodding but now was beginning to ponder. “How do I know the woman I am getting is committed to this relationship? Usually it takes years for a man and a woman to be comfortable enough with each other so they can get married, yet you can reduce the process to a few hours or even days. How do I know that is possible?”
“Studies have shown that arranged marriages more often lead to love than ‘courtship’ marriages,” said Robins assuredly, “because when the pair is ‘forced’ to be together, they learn to work together to overcome their differences. Obviously, there is still a risk involved for both parties and we make no guarantees that the marriage will work, but we at least provide the starting point where both of you can eventually learn to love each other and live together forever.”
“It still doesn’t sound like it is any better than kidnapping,” said Baker, folding his arms.
“Understand something,” said Robins. “When the woman is not willing to participate in the ordeal, you can be almost certain that the woman will never work to ensure that she will eventually love you. Only in our system, when the woman wants to be a part of the arrangement, can you guarantee that the woman will work to love you- because she has agreed to take the risk and become beholden to you, and thus wants to undertake the challenge.”

“So how long will it take for you to find me a woman to connect with?” said Baker, impressed with Robins’ response, “and then what happens?”
“It varies,” said Robins, “the process can take a number of days to a number of weeks. We have to go through our catalog, upon which you will be provided a list of prospective matches, from whose profiles you will be asked to select a few. Those matches will also be shown your profile, and should they agree to communicate with you, you will be set up for chatting via video communications. After you decide which woman you wish to purchase, we will fly her over to you at no cost to you, with a wedding ceremony to take place one month following her arrival at your home, at which point you will be officially married.”
“Wait,” said Baker, “the women have to approve of me?”
“Yes,” said Robins, “but it is not a difficult process. Your profile will only contain your date of birth, your place of residence and your criminal history, should you have one, so you are almost assured acceptance.”
“What happens if they decide after communicating with me that they do not wish to talk with me?” asked Baker, getting more concerned about the Order’s requirements.
“We have to respect that decision,” said Robins. “However, I assure you that is very rare- our women are very eager to participate in our endeavour.”
“I’ve got an assault conviction,” said Baker. “You know that- you say that will not be an impediment?”
“It could,” said Robins, “however, we’ve examined it, and we’ve determined it is not serious enough to believe you would be a threat to our women. You just had a bar fight in Darwin, if I am correct.”
“Yeah,” said Baker, trying to contain his nerves. “Minor incident.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” said Robins with a smile.

“There is only one provision that could complicate matters,” said Robins, changing gears. “You have requested a female between the ages of 18 and 35, but you are 69 years old.”
“Yeah,” said Baker, “and that’s a problem?”
“Most of our women will not go for such a large age difference,” said Robins.
“…but they won’t know my age,” said Baker.
“Until they see you on video,” said Robins, “and they will see it on your profile.”
“Yeah,” said Baker, sounding annoyed, “you’ve seen women my age…they’re not great looking. Look at me…I work out. I take good care of myself and my body…sure I got some white hairs but I’m just as attractive, if not more, than men half my age…besides, I feel young…I’m a better fit for younger women.”
“Well it’s not a complete impediment,” said Robins, “and you have qualities that will make some of our women overlook your age…but I’m just forewarning you that your process might take longer than if you had requested women more around your age, of which I know plenty who are just as attractive and well-kept as you are.”

Baker pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, pondering his next question. He didn’t like Robins’ responses, and was beginning to wonder if the risks he claimed would occur with the other human trafficking rings was worth getting exactly the kind of woman he wanted. He then concluded that Robins was overstating the risks, but then decided that the lower prices of the Order of St. Jasper- which also carried with it the official backing of the Soldiers of the Lord and Nathanite Patriarch Jesse XII- was worth giving it a second look.

“One final thing,” Baker said. “You charge £10,000 for each wife, and financing is available.”
“That’s correct,” said Robins.
“What happens if I want a girl,” said Baker, “and someone else wants that same girl? Who wins?”
“We notify the woman,” said Robins, “and she decides which one she wants. If she does not have a clear answer, a coin flip is used to determine who ‘wins’ the woman in question. You then default to your second choice, should you have one.”

Baker had heard enough. He bid Robins adieu and informed him he would take some more time to consider his services, but the truth was he opted for another human trafficking ring a friend told him about. It was considerably more expensive, but at least they guaranteed him that he would get exactly the woman he wanted, even if it would take months for the ring to secure the woman.

“Hi Love Juice?” said Baker, calling Love Juice on his phone. “I’d like to inquire about your services. When can we meet?”

April 11, 2016,
06:45 local time,
North American Prefect Office, Niagara River Limes,
Buffalo, Roman New York

It wasn’t a good morning for North American Prefect Eva Avita.

Ever since reports that The Virus movement had reawakened with many criminal acts, Avita faced a constant barrage of phone calls and Emails from concerned law enforcement personnel about how to handle the new miscreants. By many estimates, the first quarter of 2016 saw a significant increase in crime from 2015, but Avita- ever since the apprehension of Maria Castroiti, the “Morta Killer”, caused a diplomatic row between Rome and Byzantium because Castroiti is a Byzantine citizen- did all that she could to suppress that information. She believed that Virtue would use the uptick in crime for their own propaganda purposes, asserting that Roman control in North America was tenuous at best, as they already made a huge stink about Castroiti’s arrest, asserting she was a “political prisoner” and that her conviction was based on bogus information.

Despite her convictions, she had a difficult time trying to get law enforcement officials in line, since many of them were upset that Avita seemingly did not acknowledge the problems they were having. Avita reassured them that she did, however circumstances meant that she had be careful about how she relayed the information. Despite the heinous crimes The Virus was committing, some spaces gave them sympathy, seeing that The Virus was born out of political discontent over the North American situation, making a targeted effort by Rome appear to be an act of political suppression.

Given this, it was important for Avita to contain as much as she could about The Virus and make it appear smaller than it actually was, especially given that 2017 was an election year and she didn’t want outside forces to thwart her boss, Roman Caesar Gnaeus Valerius Maderia, or Valerius IV, in his bid for re-election.

It was under this cloud that the Director of the Foederatio Borealis Indigatores Imperiale (FBII), Lucius Black, paid her an early morning visit.

“Good morning Eva,” said Black as he entered the room and closed the door behind him. “Well, as good a morning as it can be, given the circumstances.”
“I’ve barely slept all month,” said Avita. “This whole ‘Virus’ thing just doesn’t want to stop, and I’m racking my brain trying to figure out the best way to handle it.”

Black strolled to his chair and casually took his seat, leaning forward after he did so.

“I had people who were dedicated to stopping it,” said Black. “We can easily reinstate them.”
“No,” said Avita assuredly. “If we have a dedicated task force, that sends a message to the public that this is a major threat that only a specialized group of people can handle…truth is, based on what I know, The Virus isn’t an organized force anymore and really just contains a large group of people whose only connectivity is the use of a hashtag. They are no more dangerous than your average criminal, and thus there is no reason why our regular law enforcement divisions cannot handle the new spate in crimes. Besides- the AVTF were found to be grossly negligent in their handling of President Reddick’s assassination- they have no more credibility in law enforcement circles. We can’t reinstate them.”
“I understand that,” said Black, “but we can’t expect to keep sweeping The Virus under the rug all the time. Eventually, like Louisville, it’ll rear its ugly head in a big way and we’ll again come out with egg on our faces.”
“You keep bringing up Louisville like it’s some ominous foretelling,” said Avita. “It’s not. We handled the situation quite well after Louisville. We destroyed a major operation by the Soldiers, an operation that our intelligence tells me forced Virtue and The Virus to regroup. That’s why they went with Castroiti, because they wanted to use her to reignite the crimes. However, I’m told that the selection of Castroiti drove a wedge between Virtue and The Virus, meaning their organizational capacity has taken a huge hit. My responsibility is, now, to present this ridiculous request by Virtue to free their ‘political prisoner’ as a last gasp of a desperate organization, and to do that I need to minimize the public impact of The Virus. If I let The Virus appear to be a big deal, then Virtue can continue claiming we’re suppressing actual opposition when that is not what we are doing.”
“Fine,” said Black, “that’s fair. Keep up with appearances and such. However, I have a new problem that has come out- her name is Persephone. She’s come out of the woodwork as The Virus’ leader and she seems to be a unifying force.”
“Disregard her,” said Avita. “Do not give her any credence or press. Downplay her significance.”
“I can’t disregard someone who advocates vigilantism,” said Black, incredulously.
“I understand,” said Avita with a sigh. “However, signs are that this iteration of The Virus are nothing more than a bunch of desecraters and small time mischief. They’re not worth the trouble. If they start murdering, I may reconsider but not now.”

April 12, 2016,
09:08 local time,
Domus Flavia,
Rome, Roman Republic

Even the door opened to his office and was loudly closed behind the guest, Valerius didn’t take his eyes off his tablet. He was too engrossed in the news to be bothered, and wished he didn’t have to entertain a guest this early in the morning but duty called.

“What?” said English Foreign Affairs Minister Jack Kent as he strolled in. “I don’t get a ‘hello’? How rude.”
“For a man like you,” said Valerius curtly but nonchalantly, “there isn’t a term of endearment worthy of your person.”
“Touché,” said Kent with a smug smile, taking a seat anyway.

Valerius put away his tablet and turned to meet his guest, leaning forward with his hands clasped in front of him.

“What do you want?” Valerius asked with obvious disdain. “You know I’m not here to play any of your phony games.”
“This isn’t about one of my games,” said Kent, “but rather one of yours.”
Valerius chuckled. “Oh, I’m shocked!” he said with mock exasperation. “How dare you?” He then gave Kent a look, nonplussed.
“It won’t be me that will have to answer for it,” said Kent curtly, “but you.”
“We’ll see about that,” retorted Valerius.

“Explain to me, then,” said Kent, “about why a one Zeke Coleman sent me a subpoena to speak about the Heidi Sanderson case. Why would he think that I am a part of that?”
“I don’t know,” said Valerius, nonchalantly. “Are you?”
“You’re clearly just trying to cover your own ass because of Dresden,” said Kent. “I know it.”
“Believe it all you like,” said Valerius, “but we had nothing to do with the Dresden Documents. Furthermore, they’re quite clearly forgeries. At least on our end.”
“That’s so you can cover the expose you claim to have on me,” said Kent, folding his arms.
“What would that be?” said Valerius.
“There’s a claim that states Mark Sanderson deposited money into an Arlynali account that the Documents assert belongs to me. Their proof is spurious, though.”
“I don’t comment on criminal investigations,” said Valerius, “but, to my knowledge, that account is legitimate.”
“I will not deny that,” said Kent, “just my involvement in it.”
“…and you had to come all the way here to tell me that?” said Valerius. “Surely you could have sent me an Email…at least then it’s in writing and incontrovertible. Unless…there is something you need to tell me.”
“No,” said Kent, a tinge of nervousness in his voice not undetected by Valerius. “No, not at all. I have nothing to hide, but there’s nothing I need to say.”

An awkward silence befell the room as Valerius disbelieved Kent. He flashed Kent a look prodding him to continue, but all Kent offered was a contrived smile.

“Well if you’ve got nothing to hide,” said Valerius, “what is it that you are unable to explain?”

April 29, 2016,
18:39 local time,
Galla Claudia’s office, Paul’s Doors,
Pittsburgh, Roman Ohio

Again? Galla Claudia thought as her cell phone rang. Both her cell and her work phone had been ringing incessantly all day- a normal feature of her workday- but what made these calls more unusual was the fact they came from the same unidentified number.

“Galla Claudia speaking,” said Claudia with a sigh, deciding if this caller was this persistent the call must be important.
“Oh hello Galla,” said the female voice at the other end of the line. “How are you?”
“Fine,” said Claudia curtly. “Who’s speaking?”
“We have important business to discuss,” continued the voice.
“I figured that when you called me 100 times today,” said Claudia, “but I will not do business with someone who does not identify themselves.”
“Oh!” said the voice, sounding embarrassed. “I’m sorry! I get ahead of myself sometimes. My name is Lisa Carruthers…I’m a Detective for El Centro Regional Police down in California…I’m working the Coffee Shop Murders and I was told by the Behavioural Analysis Unit that you can help me out.”
“Okay,” said Claudia. “I’m not sure how much help I can provide, but okay.”
“Listen,” said Carruthers, relieved. “I’m in town…perhaps we can discuss things over dinner?”
“Sure,” said Claudia, “although I don’t know if I can devote the time necessary to focus on the case.”
“It’s the Floraila,” said Carruthers, “I understand you have the whole week off.”
“Yeah I do, actually,” said Claudia, who never liked the festival that became little more than an excuse for wanton revelry and debauchery and realized this was a way out of the festivities. “Give me an hour and I can meet you somewhere.”
“Sounds good.”

April 29, 2016,
19:25 local time,
221B Baker Street,
Brampton, Ontario

“What are you looking at?” said James Watson as he walked past Sherlock Holmes silently stewing over her laptop while seated on the floor. “It’s George Foyer, again, isn’t it?”
“No,” said Holmes with a sigh. “Well, somewhat…this is actually the brownstone’s security footage, as well as our network’s server logs. I’m looking for irregularities.”
“Irregularities, madam?” said Watson, coming over and sitting down next to her. “Have we…have we been…hacked?”
“I’m afraid the possibility is pretty high,” said Holmes, who shared Watson’s concerns. “I thought our network was impenetrable but I fear that someone has gotten into it.”
“How?” said Watson, flabbergasted. “We hired the best…no one should have been able to get through.”
“I understand that completely,” said Holmes. “However, even the best can be compromised…I just have to figure out how.”
“Well if we were compromised once surely we can be compromised again,” said Watson. “We’ll need to replace the system.”
“Don’t worry,” said Holmes, “I had it done earlier today when I realized what had happened. However, I fear that with our hacker out loose in society that they may still strike again, so it’s prudent that I figure out who may have compromised our system.”
“There will be other hackers, though,” said Watson, getting back up. “I think what you’re going through is a fool’s game.”
“I wish I could say that,” said Holmes, who closed her laptop. She then got up and confronted Watson.

“I had a realization earlier today,” said Holmes with a sigh. “There wasn’t just George Foyer who was convicted of a crime related to Jimmy Cochrane’s…there were two others that I know of, Rita Johnson of Malibu, California and Remy Morris of Drumheller, Alberta. The other two crimes seemed to have been crimes specifically tailored to their jurisdictions, just like ours, requiring the investigative strengths of the police agencies involved to solve them. In other words…” Holmes let out another sigh. “Someone didn’t just carefully study several people and picked three killers to do their deed…they also studied us and brought us out just so that our methods could be on display…meaning there’s possibly someone out there who is intent on crafting a crime that could cause havoc for us.”

Watson gave his head a shake before looking at Holmes like she was an extraterrestrial.

“With all due respect, madam,” said Watson. “What you have described is absolutely absurd. Maybe one crime could be crafted where a perpetrator is scouted to commit a crime that would require one specialized investigative unit, but three? That goes beyond luck…it defies explanation. It’s the kind of grandiose crime that even someone like you would think is too far-fetched to work. I can’t even believe you would entertain the thought…seriously, madam. Seriously. Have you been reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle again?”
“Dismiss it all you like,” said Holmes, “but you’ll find that truth truly can be stranger than fiction.” She gathered her laptop and walked upstairs, fuming about Watson’s lack of concern.

April 29, 2016,
15:00 local time,
CNN Studios,
Manhattan, New York

“Trouble looms large for the Federalists,” said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, bombastically starting his program, “but could Juan Castro similarly be in trouble? Find out right now! I’m Wolf Blitzer and this is The Situation Room.”

“Earlier today,” said Blitzer, adopting a more subdued tone, “Presumptive Federalist nominee Rodney Dickens got in hot water while addressing the residents of Osage City. This speech normally isn’t big news since Dickens is the only candidate running for the Feds’ nomination, but it became big news when Dickens mocked Unionist nominee Hayley Modine and Jason MacLaren, who announced their separation a few days ago. Here is the clip, but I must forewarn our audience that some of you may find it disturbing:”

The clip then cut to Dickens, visibly intoxicated, on a stage at what appeared to be a celebratory party for the primary vote. The reception hall was crowded, with the patrons turning to pay attention to Dickens as soon as he walked up to the microphone:

“Thank you, Solange County!” Dickens said, stumbling as he tried to keep his balance. “I’m so happy to be here and become your nominee! In honour, I’ve got a story to tell. It’s about our dear friend Hayley Modine…you know, she just broke up with her boyfriend, Jason MacLaren, and I know why!”

The crowd erupted with loud, anticipatory cheers, as many of those gathered were similarly sauced.

“A few nights ago,” started Dickens, adopting a fake Irish accent, “at a wee liddle pub, Jason MacLaren hoisted his beer and said, ‘Here’s to spending the rest of me life, between the legs of me wife!’ That won him the top prize at the pub for the best toast of the night!”

Dickens paused to hear the cheering from the crowd, which only lasted a few seconds.

“He went home,” he continued, slurring as he talked, “and told his wife, Haylie, ‘I won the prize for the best toast of the night.’
“She said, ‘Aye, did ye now. And what was your toast?’
“Jason said, ‘Here’s to spending the rest of me life, sitting in church beside me wife.’
“ ‘Oh, that is very nice indeed, Jason!’ Haylie said.

“The next day, Haylie ran into one of Jason’s drinking buddies on the street corner. The man chuckled leeringly and said, ‘Jason won the prize the other night at the pub with a toast about you, Haylie.’

“She said, ‘Aye, he told me, and I was a bit surprised meself. You know, he’s only been there twice in the last four years. Once he fell asleep, and the other time I had to pull him by the ears to make him come.’ ”

The clip ended with muted applause from the audience, with a manager pulling Dickens from the stage after cracking that Dickens appeared to have way too much to drink.

The camera then shifted back to the studio, where Blitzer was joined at his desk with his top political commentator, Lisa Hartman.

“Before we get to the Unionist reaction,” started Blitzer, “what is your take on this scene? Is there any way back from this for Dickens?”
“Well Wolf,” said Hartman, “it’s certainly not wise, and it goes without saying that Dickens likely enraged a lot of women as a result of his joke. As a joke by itself, it’s a fairly innocuous one, albeit very crude, but when you invoke an unwitting participant into it, there’s definitely no excuse for it. Rodney could have easily said this joke about himself and not caused all this trouble. So when you ask if there is any way back for him…well, his only silver lining is that this is still very early in the primary process so there’s plenty of time for us to ‘forget’ about it and move on, especially after Dickens apologies for this incident. Still, the image of him being drunk and telling a raunchy joke about a potential rival doesn’t reflect well on him, so this could sting for a while.”
“Obviously, we don’t need to mention that there are women’s groups up in arms over the joke,” said Blitzer, “but the Irish have also decried this poor attempt at humour.”
“That’s sort of been getting lost here,” said Hartman. “Lots of attention paid to the sexist angle of the story- as it should be- but not much paid to the Irish angle, because Dickens, in imitating the Irish accent, plays to a lot of destructive Irish stereotypes- namely, the drinking and amorality ones- and I think this deserves focus too. The Irish Association of America have been fighting for years against these stereotypes, since they’ve contributed to record levels of unemployment among the Irish. There’s also been some rumblings that The Virus are the work of the Irish, but the IAA has been insistent that this is not the case.”
“Dickens asserts that because he has Irish blood that he can make fun of the Irish,” said Blitzer. “What is your take on that?”
“I don’t think that makes it acceptable,” said Hartman. “A harmful stereotype is a harmful stereotype, regardless of who says it. It also doesn’t look well on him that he thought to foist the joke upon an unwitting participant- that’s still not very honourable of him.”

“Modine and her chief Unionist rival, Jack Layton, have both released rather convincing statements denouncing Dickens,” said Blitzer, “as we expected, but Juan Castro’s statement was particularly interesting.”
“Modine and Layton spared no expense at denouncing Dickens,” said Hartman, “both called him a misogynist and reiterated that this is proof that the Federalists cannot be returned to power, while Layton also slammed him for the Irish angle. Castro…he didn’t denounce Dickens quite as forcefully…he refrained from calling him a sexist or a misogynist…he just said that what Dickens did was ‘dishonourable’ simply for taking a shot at MacLaren, who Castro asserts was an ‘innocent who didn’t need to be dragged into this. Now, I’ve got a lot of problems with Castro’s candidacy…he’s got a strong reputation for womanizing that isn’t going to go over well with the general population, but I think this just may seal his chances of getting the Unionist nomination…there’s no chance that voters are going to look favourably on him when he can’t call out sexist language for what it is.”
“You’re that certain,” said Blitzer, impressed with Hartman’s conviction.
“I am,” said Hartman. “It’s 2016…sexism doesn’t sell anymore…Castro was walking a fine line and now he’s fallen off it.”

April 29, 2016,
15:32 local time,
Encinitas Police Headquarters,
Encinitas, California

“I’m telling you the truth,” said Encinitas Police Chief Harvey Monroe, frustrated as he was sitting inside an interview room alongside Roman Behavioural Crimes agents Zeke Coleman and Doctor Pascal Yves.
“You know,” said Yves after a wry smile and an exasperated headshake from Coleman, “Harvey this is going to go a lot better for you if you just admit what you did so that we can move forward.”
“You’re asking me to admit that I had a hand in Heidi’s disappearance,” said Monroe. “I most certainly did not.”
“That’s not what the evidence says,” said Coleman. “We have an account tied to known Soldier George Walker that wired funds to you and Robert Yates shortly after Heidi was kidnapped, along with another payment that went out to you after Heidi ‘died’. It’s a pretty big coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Big or not,” said Monroe, “it’s still a coincidence. I had nothing to do with Heidi’s disappearance.”
“So,” said Yves, “what then do you make of your connection to Walker? I can’t imagine you’d funnel over $200,000 in two separate transactions if you two were mere acquaintances.”
“All right,” said Monroe flippantly. “He was a good friend.”
“A good friend, huh?” said Coleman. “One you thought to only call four times in your entire life.”
“Harvey,” said Yves softly but firmly, “let me just put this out there. We can either conduct our own criminal investigation and maybe bring charges against you and your entire career is finished…or, you can help us and maybe we’ll help you. I know it’s not much but you don’t have much of a choice here.”

Monroe breathed in deeply and let out, before wiping his face with his hands. He then let out another heavy sigh and stared off into space before he finally had an answer.

“Four years ago,” said Monroe, “my daughter, Cindy…she desired to leave California. She was always a troublemaker, always…a brat, a teen rebel…I could hardly control her. I found this thing online…sell off your daughter…it was run by George, through Robert. Found the site through a friend, Jeff Briar, who was going to sell his own daughter through the site once he found a suitor. The site told me that it was completely legal and legitimate, that it was about helping the Bireans who didn’t have a wife to marry. Cindy…she wasn’t 18 yet, so I had jurisdiction over her…I Emailed George and I arranged to sell her. Agreed to a price and everything. Then, one night…Cindy was gone. She ran away. I told George but he wasn’t having any of it…he threatened to send the Soldiers after me if I didn’t come up with an alternative…so I had to sell Heidi.”
“How did that come about?” said Coleman.
“George told me he knew the Sandersons,” said Monroe, “knew that Heidi too was a little brat and they were eager to get rid of her…so he arranged with them to acquire Heidi, said it would be enough to repay my debts. Told me that once my debts were repaid he’d help me find Cindy…but I haven’t heard from her still. I don’t know where she is.” Monroe then began to sob. “Please, please…help me! I can’t find my daughter. They lied to me!”
“Kind of like how you kept lying to us?” said Yves.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Monroe, wiping away tears. “They threatened me…they keep threatening me…they tell me they’ll kill Cindy…I keep on having to pay them money…you’ve got to find her for me! I’ve lost all hope!” Monroe then broke down in tears, burying his head in his hands and collapsing his head against the desk, crying.

“Thank you Harvey,” said Yves as Coleman patted Monroe on his back. “We’ll keep in touch.”

Outside, Yves and Coleman discussed the case a little.

“Do you believe that George kidnapped Heidi?” said Yves, sounding skeptical.
“It fits with the evidence,” said Coleman, “although it seems way too easy for Harvey to keep blaming a dead guy.”
“Sounds like he’s protecting someone, and they’re using his daughter as leverage.”
“We know what we need to do.”
“Find his daughter- and then he’ll tell us the truth.”

April 29, 2016,
10:02 local time,
English River beach,
Sioux Lookout, Ontario

“She didn’t take it very well, did she?” said The Bactrian as she greeted Milton Roberts when she arrived at the beach.
“No,” said Roberts, a tinge of sadness in his voice, as he had to execute Cindy Marks, who was a “present” for Persephone. “Of course not…but she got the message.” He then wore a huge smile on his face, as he was receiving fellatio from a svelte woman he had just kidnapped from in town.
“What we give her…we take away.”
“Persephone needs to learn that she cannot mess with us.” Roberts then gave his new girl a knowing and devious smile. “Just like this beauty quickly learned.” Roberts’ woman flashed Roberts an uneasy smile but continued her fellating, fearful of what Roberts would do next.

The Bactrian did her best to ignore Roberts’ fellatio, trying to stay focused on the conversation.

“Do you ever think that,” The Bactrian said, “maybe, we went too far with Reddick?”
“No,” said Roberts assuredly as he began to climax. “He had to go. If he were kept alive he’d destroy our entire operation.”
“Yes, but now everyone will be gunning for us…I’m not sure it was too wise.”
Roberts smiled, not sounding worried at all. “Don’t worry.” Roberts then paused to inject his kidnapping victim with a sedative to transport later, as he had finished climaxing. “Reddick sought power over Virtue…he thus sought power over us. Killing him meant that we showed who really has the power in North America. It’s all part of the plan. Killing Cindy Marks brings Persephone back in our camp. The next part is bringing the other broad to justice…that will bring the Global Anarchists’ League in line with us and allow us to rule the underworld, necessary for our operations. By this time next week, it will be Jack Kent who will be the one scrambling for answers…and then we will be the ones who will reign within Virtue.”

April 29, 2016,
19:37 local time,
Southside Diner,
Monroeville, Roman Ohio

“We’re here,” said Murray O’Neil as he pulled up the car into a parking spot at the diner. He was a big, muscular man, clean shaven whose skin was pasty white with flaming red hair. O’Neil worked as Carruthers’ bodyguard, a necessity in California due to the region’s high crime rates.
“Looks like we’re early…I don’t think Galla is here yet.”
“Why not give her a call?” O’Neil then flashed Carruthers an uneasy smile.
“Give her ten minutes…she said she’d be waiting outside…and she’s not there.”
O’Neil’s heart began to race, fearing what this downtime meant. “So what do you want to do?” O’Neil then began to tremble.
“Unzip your pants.” Carruthers folded her arms, giving O’Neil an icy stare. “Come on…I don’t have all day.”
O’Neil let out a huge huff. “I did it for you this morning…come on, how many times do you want it?”
“Don’t argue with me young man. You forget who pays your bills and helps you look after your precious Cecile. Now, if you don’t give me my Juice, I will cut you off right away and have Cecile placed in foster care.”

O’Neil let out a huge sigh and lowered his head, downtrodden. Dutifully, he unzipped his pants and allowed Carruthers to fellate him, knowing he had no choice. He feared that Carruthers would make the demand, but he decided against resisting because of his perilous situation. He was from Gothamton, the capital of the Irish Republic of Gotham, living in California illegally. Cecile was the product of a one-night stand he had with a California woman, a crack addict unfit to care for Cecile. Carruthers met him when she was called to break up a fight at a nightclub, and, realizing O’Neil’s situation, threatened to deport him. O’Neil begged her not to do that, so Carruthers decided to employ him as her bodyguard. Since then, though, Carruthers spared no expense to rub in O’Neil’s face how much power she had over him, and there was little O’Neil could do about it.

After a few minutes, O’Neil climaxed, Carruthers getting what she wanted. She loved O’Neil’s penis and did all she could to get at it, finding sex with O’Neil to be amazing. She was a married woman, but she spent little time with her husband, opting instead to torture O’Neil wherever she could.

A satisfied Carruthers swallowed with glee, looking up and smiling. Claudia arrived soon after, prompting O’Neil and Carruthers to get out of the car to greet her.

“Galla,” said Carruthers, gleefully getting out of her car and greeting Claudia. “Glad you could make it.”
“Justice calls,” said Claudia smiling, before turning her attention to O’Neil. “Nice to meet you too.”
“I’m Murray,” said O’Neil, smiling as he shook Claudia’s hand.
“He’s my bodyguard,” interjected Carruthers to O’Neil’s chagrin. “I’m from California…they’re a necessity.”
“Ah,” said Claudia, picking up on O’Neil’s discomfort. “I see.”

The trio then went inside and ordered their dinner, where Claudia and Carruthers eventually discussed the case.

“You say you have a lead on the suspect,” said Claudia quizzically. “How are you so certain that Cindy was behind this?”
“Cindy Monroe is an activist,” said Carruthers. “She hated Jimmy Cochrane’s, which is why she plotted to destroy Jimmy’s by subverting their promotion. It seems to have worked…Jimmy’s hasn’t run ‘Lift the Lip’ since the murders came about.”
“Okay,” said Claudia, not convinced.
“Look up Cindy on social media,” said Carruthers. “You will see hundreds of posts and pictures denouncing Jimmy’s and their practices, mostly due to the fact they do not engage in ‘fair trade’, essentially employing ‘slave’ plantations to grow their coffee. Cindy has been active in the campaigns to get Jimmy’s to change their minds, and even led an online forum that brought together people who dislike Jimmy’s.”
“All right,” said Claudia, “so she’s got motive…that doesn’t mean that she concocted the crime.”
“No,” said Carruthers, pulling out a document and handing it to Claudia. “You’re right…it doesn’t mean that…but, have a look at that.”
“She’s actually talking about planning the Coffee Shop Murders,” said Claudia. “Right there on her forum. Said she picked up a few ideas from The Virus…especially with regards to masking her computer. I will admit, there’s a level of detail here that goes beyond coincidence. How’d you find it?”
“I found a technician,” said Carruthers. “She examined the computers of the three Murderers in the plot…she had to a lot of digging…but she eventually connected all three back to Cindy. It appears that the three murderers were frequent users of Cindy’s forum, which is how they were recruited. As you can see in the documents, she left all three with detailed instructions on how to commit the crimes, sending them to their phones via burners and proxies so that the authorities would have to do a lot of digging just to find her.”
“However,” said Claudia, “the Murderers each said they did not know who sent them the messages. They all have plausible deniability.”
“Except,” said Carruthers, “As you can see on the documents, the forum discussions came from a sockpuppet account, not Cindy’s ‘official’ account on that forum. It appears she deliberately created another account as a means of crafting the Murders and communicating with the Murderers, so that they could not be traced back to her. However, as you will also see, the path from that account via the proxies leads back to Cindy.”
“Very well then,” said Claudia, “I’m impressed. So my next question is…why do you need me?”
“You see,” said Carruthers, “that’s the next problem…we can’t find Cindy. We checked her house…we asked her father, Harvey. No one knows where she is. We’ve been looking for three years but there isn’t a person I’ve talked to who can figure it out. You are our last hope.”
“OK,” said Claudia with a sigh. “I can help out, but I’m not sure how much…do you have something to work with?”
“All I’ve got is the sockpuppet account,” said Carruthers, “and just the name.”
“The Davis Oracle,” said Claudia. “That’s not a lot to go on.”
“Unfortunately, it’s all I’ve got,” said Carruthers. “Can you help me?”
“Of course I can,” said Claudia with a confident smile.

April 30, 2016,
10:10 local time,
Brampton Police Headquarters,
Brampton, Ontario

“I’m glad you could make it on such short notice,” said Holmes as she greeted the Roman Behavioural Crimes team of Zeke Coleman, Doctor Pascal Yves and Zoe Parkes.
“It wouldn’t be right to deny the world’s greatest detective,” said Parkes with a smile. “When you tell us there’s something urgent, it’s wise to listen.”
“What is the problem?” said Coleman, sternly but concerned.

“I understand that before the Behavioural Analysis Unit was split up, you all worked on the ‘Coffee Shop Murders’ case,” started Holmes, handing out file folders to the RBC.
“Yes,” said Yves, “it was quite the odd case…three murders, seemingly unrelated but all having the same theme and essentially the same modus operandi. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.”
“All were killed out of jealousy,” said Parkes. “Martin Foyer, killed by his brother with the car Foyer had just won from ‘Lift the Lip’. Micahel Carmichael, killed by Remy Morris with the TV he had just won. Jenny Peacock, killed by Rita Johnson with the barbecue Peacock had just won.”
“With Peacock held down having her head roasted on it,” said Holmes.
“Win a barbecue, get barbecued,” said Parkes with a sigh.
“All right,” said Coleman. “I take it you have something new.”
“You would be correct,” said Holmes.

“The file folders you have in your hands are my security logs for my network at the brownstone,” said Holmes with a restrained smile. “Featuring everyone who has accessed my computers or my colleague James Watson’s computers. Direct your attention to page four.”
“All right,” said Coleman, confused. “All I see are a bunch of IP addresses. They all look different.”
“You have a virtual private network,” said Yves.
“That is correct,” said Holmes.
“A what?” said Coleman, confused.
“A virtual private network,” said Parkes. “Or VPNs for short…they’re better known as a kind of ‘proxy servers’.”
“OK,” said Coleman. “I still don’t see where this is going.”
“The way VPNs work is that the servers have a large set of IP addresses,” said Yves, “which are then randomly assigned to the computers connecting to the server. Every VPN is different, but these IPs get cycled through the different computers so that, over a set time period, one computer could be assigned several different IP addresses. It helps ensure privacy since you can’t link one address back to a single computer. It’s mostly used for piracy, but many privacy-conscious people, worried that their government or market researchers may be surreptitiously spying on them and collecting unsolicited data on them, use them to ensure that their computer cannot be traced or tracked accurately.”
“Okay,” said Coleman, losing patience. “This is all good to know…but how does that help our case?”
“You’ll notice that one of those IP addresses is completely unique from the others that my proxy assigns to me,” said Holmes.
“Yeah,” said Parkes. “I do see that. Do you know where it leads?”
“That’s why I’m bringing you in here,” said Holmes. “I can’t figure out where…and the proxy server that address belongs to is from Texas.”
“So you need us to go in and take a look,” said Coleman.
“It’s beyond my jurisdiction,” said Holmes, “so yes.”
“You’re welcome to come along,” said Coleman.
“I just want to understand something,” said Parkes. “How does this tie into the Coffee Shop Murders?”
“If you notice the dates of the hacks,” said Holmes, “it came some 5-6 months before the Murders took place. You may recall that the crimes seemed to be designed in such a way that it would require only the investigators’ expertise in order to solve them…I’m sure if you asked the Albertan Crime Scene Investigators and the California Bureau of Investigation they too would notice a similar hack. Someone didn’t just study the Murderers…they studied us too. It can’t be mere coincidence that Martin Foyer’s murder would be obtuse enough to spur my interest in the case.”
“Looks like we have to head to the Lonestar State to find out,” said Coleman.

April 30, 2016,
15:31 local time,
Prenice Computer Security Services,
Corpus Christi, Texas, Roman American Republic

“You have some nerve to rouse me on my day off,” said Jim Prenice as he opened the doors to his company’s office at the behest of the investigators. “I can assure you that you will find nothing.”
“Like I told you on the phone,” said Coleman sternly, “we could do this the nice way and you co-operate with us or we get a warrant and charge you with aiding a crime. So I suggest you cut out the negativity.”
Prenice scowled and shook his head, but offered no response, thinking better of fighting Coleman.

As Prenice turned on the lights, the investigators followed him into his office, part of the wing of main offices that did not operate on the weekend, unlike the technicians who worked around the clock in the server rooms. As they all took their seats, Prenice pursed his lips and sat with his hands clasped in front of him, offering no comment.

“You’re not going to offer us water or coffee or something else to drink?” said Parkes with mock indignation.
“How rude,” said Coleman, folding his arms and playing along with Parkes.
“I’m not paid to be nice,” said Prenice, “especially when I have the FBII breathing down my neck. I’m not even a part of your jurisdiction.”
“See,” said Coleman, “that’s where you are wrong…we’re not with the FBII…we’re with the Roman Special Crimes division…and Texas is Roman territory. Therefore, you and your company are completely within our jurisdiction. As I said, we can do this the nice way…”
“Shut up!” said Prenice, angrily slamming his fist against his desk.
“Temper temper…” said Coleman as the rest of the investigators laughed.
“All right,” said Prenice, exasperated. “What do you want?”

“A client using your servers hacked my computer illegally,” said Holmes assuredly. “Several times, in fact.”
“…and that is my business, how?” said Prenice, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms.
“This client of yours,” said Yves with a smirk, “helped co-ordinate the murders of Martin Foyer, Michael Carmichael and Jenny Peacock, while also spying on the investigative units assigned to solve those cases.”
“I thought they were all unrelated,” said Prenice, “that’s what the news said.”
“That’s what Jimmy’s said,” said Yves, “but not us. See, we’re smarter than that. We can see patterns when others can’t…and three murders that utilizes the various different facets of the prizes Jimmy’s awards as well as the investigators assigned to solving those crimes is a pattern we can’t ignore…our friend here, Sherlock Holmes…she traced the perpetrator back to your servers…and now we need to know who that individual is.”
“Well,” said Prenice, clapping his hands and sounding eager to get rid of his guests. “I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.”
“I know you can,” said Parkes. “You just don’t want to help.”
“Look,” said Prenice, “there’s nothing I can do. The way our server system works, the IP addresses are assigned randomly each hour and we don’t record what websites our IP addresses visit…we just log which computers have logged on to our systems each day. You’re looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“That’s the thing,” said Yves, “we’re not looking for the needle…we’re looking for the haystack.”
“I’m sorry,” said Prenice, “our customers value the privacy our service provides them…I can’t just give you a customer list.”
“May I remind you,” said Holmes firmly, “that we’re not after someone who downloaded the latest album from Within Temptation…we’re talking about someone who has committed murder. Surely that is serious enough for you to go past your obligations to protect them, wouldn’t it?”

“What’s in it for me?” said Prenice, starting to quiver. “Besides this warrant hanging over my head.”
“I’ve noticed that while you seem agitated by our presence,” said Holmes, “you haven’t asked us to leave. Why is that? Who are you afraid of? There has to be a reason why we’re still here.”

The investigators sat patiently, waiting intently for what Prenice had to say. He hemmed and he hawed, letting out several sighs before he started.

“A few months ago,” said Prenice, “someone…I don’t know who she was…she didn’t tell me…she came to me asking me for the same information that you have requested. I told her I couldn’t provide it. She harassed me several other times, but I kept rebuffing her. Then…one day…” Prenice’s eyes began to water as sadness overcame him. “One day,” he continued, his voice cracking and tears now flowing down his face. “I came home…and my beautiful pup…my poor little Pomeranian…Fido…a dog I had loved for over nine years…” He covered his head with his hands and cried audibly for a moment before recovering his composure, with Parkes grabbing hold of one of his hands to encourage him to continue. “Fido had been stabbed through the heart, with an envelope attached to the knife. I took a look at it…and inside…was a message.”
“It’s okay,” said Parkes calmly and softly, “you’re doing great. What did it say?”
“It was just a question,” said Prenice. “She asked me…’where’s Cindy?’ I don’t know who Cindy is…but, whomever it is, the writer was looking for her…and she probably knows you came here and she’ll come after me now too…you gotta help me.”
“Thank you Mr. Prenice,” said Coleman, shaking Prenice’s hand as the investigators all got up. “We’ll assign agents to your home and your business to keep you safe. In the meantime, can you please provide us with your client information?”
“Give me the dates and we’ll go from there,” said Prenice, relieved.

April 30, 2016,
15:45 local time,
Seaside Hotel,
San Diego, California

“Papers, please,” said the hallway guard as Claudia approached him on her way to her room.
“Yes,” said Claudia with a smile as she handed the guard her documents. She was frustrated with all the checkpoints she had to go through, with the hallway guard being the third one she had to pass, but understood that given the situation of near anarchy in California, it was a necessary annoyance.
“You’re good to go,” said the guard handing back her documents as Claudia thanked him and proceeded to her room.

Once inside, she decided to do some digging. She would have to do it by herself since Carruthers said she was tied up at police station, but Claudia didn’t mind. The only way she was going to discover where Cindy Monroe is hiding is by getting inside her head, so Claudia hunkered down and examined Monroe’s voluminous social media history. Fortunately for Claudia, Monroe was an active user of social media before her disappearance, so she had quite a bit to work with.

Typical teenager, thought Claudia. Lots of posts about how ‘unfair Daddy is’…I’ve never met Harvey but I’m sure he’s at least a good father…Cindy on the other hand…quite the troublemaker…how many times does she whine about being suspended? By Jove…

Claudia then noticed something.

Cindy loved Polly Klaas…she’s her favourite actress by the looks of it…actually this seems to be more than a love…this is an obsession…there doesn’t seem to be a thing Polly did that Cindy didn’t notice. Lots of love, lots of defending of Polly…man, Polly can do no wrong by Cindy’s account…wait…the two of them seem to have met…many times. Polly has even posted on her social media profile…there’s a lead here.

Claudia then noticed a picture of Klaas, Monroe and Reddick together, and suddenly more gears turned in her head. She then went back to the forum posts and put some things together.

This Oracle account discussed things with a ‘Presneck’…that has to be Reddick…sounds a lot like him too. Oh…he has a daughter, Reaghan, he says…killed in a fire…and he blames Virtue for it. She reached out to him, apparently. There’s Persephone too, who says Reddick picked her up as a runaway, but it seems clear that the Arameans brought Persephone to Reddick…then they say they have Aram’s help and now they need ‘something big’ to get Virtue to notice them…hence why they plotted the Murders. Reddick seeks leverage with Virtue, so he enrolls Persephone into the Global Anarchists’ League and asks Ralph Solace to assist Persephone in taking away The Virus from Danny and Omega, so that GAL can win the North American underworld, which they eventually do…Reddick also talks about retiring, saying that the stress over his daughter is eating at him and Aram has promised him a getaway and that they’ll help fake his death. Then there’s something about the Pope dying and how that didn’t work…are they referring to Adrian? The timeline makes sense, plus Adrian and Reddick never saw eye-to-eye anyway.

Claudia then noticed some pictures and posts of Harvey Monroe, Cindy’s father, and the timestamp to the first post by the Oracle account as well as other posts by Cindy.

Harvey fought the GAL…he was quite extensive about it. In fact, he seemed to be the only one who actually cared about it. Cindy disagreed with her father, and showed quite the support for GAL before she disappeared. Doesn’t look like Cindy’s support was reciprocated, though. I also noticed that the Oracle account began after Cindy disappeared, and the day it was registered was the day Lisa picked up the case. Does this mean that Cindy was kidnapped or taken in by GAL as leverage over Harvey? Where did they get the name? Ah…I see. It’s the name of Cindy’s fifth most popular article but it’s her most expansive, discussing Polly’s rape…she doesn’t say where it happened, though I know.

Eventually, Claudia put it all together.

It’s starting to make sense…Virtue had their spar with Omega so they turned to GAL…which is why they started to look for Cindy, because having Cindy gives Virtue power over the GAL since Cindy removes the one obstacle to the group’s existence, Harvey. This, thus, gives Virtue control over the GAL and thus leverage over Omega in the North American criminal underworld. Virtue knew what Reddick was looking for and waved it in his face, so they decided to manipulate him because he was tied to the Arameans, giving them further leverage in North America’s political affairs...it was under Virtue’s watch that the Milner Report came out and gutted the police system in the North American Union, after all. They played along with Reddick as long as they deemed he was useful- and he proved very useful, because Persephone won The Virus for Virtue- before they killed off Seth Marks, which they knew would drive Reddick to actual suicide since it showed him that Virtue was really in control of him. Reddick’s death as well as Marks’ further sends a message to the NAU that Virtue has power over them, which helps turn the NAU towards them and not Rome, who is largely indifferent to North America. I guess that’s why Lisa is so adamant to get Cindy…GAL is in revolt and Virtue needs Cindy to remind the group that Harvey still hangs over their heads, because her ‘being on the lam’ isn’t good enough now. It’s a strange plot…but somehow, it worked.

Claudia’s thoughts were interrupted by a text from Carruthers, who informed her that she would be “a little while longer”. It was then that something clicked in her mind.

Whomever is playing Cindy is playing me…so I have to stop Lisa somehow.

“Hello?” said Claudia on her cell phone, calling Aaron “Fitch” Fitchner of the Behavioural Analysis Unit. “I think I know who committed the Murders.”
“Which ones?” Fitchner asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.
Claudia spoke with urgency. “The Coffee Shop Murders.”
“Who?”
“That’s the thing…I can’t tell you over the phone…I need you to come here.”
“Oh…you’re worried you’re being…”
“Yeah.”
“Where are you?”

Before Claudia could respond, there was a loud knock on her door. Unbeknownst to her, her cell phone had cut out, abruptly hanging up on Fitch, as the hotel’s service had been interrupted.

At the door was O’Neil.

“Have you figured it out?” he asked.
“I’m getting there,” said Claudia, who couldn’t help but notice the coincidence of O’Neil’s arrival.
“My boss says she wants to get Cindy right away…she is worried Cindy will be a flight risk.”
“Oh really?” Claudia was disbelieving, getting further stunned when she saw O’Neil casually walk in and take the file folders and her notes.
“I’m just the messenger. Anyway, we need to go. We fly out in thirty minutes.”
“Let me get my phone…”
“Don’t bother. Cell phone towers are out. Just been informed.”
“Yeah…but I guess yours works just fine, right?”

O’Neil then showed Claudia his phone, which was also not receiving any signal.

“See?” said O’Neil. “I told you my network is out.”

Claudia was satisfied with O’Neil’s explanation, leaving the hotel with him and leaving her phone behind.

April 30, 2016,
14:00 local time,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

Fitchner wiped his head with his hands before letting out a breath, sitting at his desk anxiously in await. He called Holmes and told her that Claudia was not answering her cell phone and thus he feared the worst. Holmes and the RBC would call his office from the RSC office in Texas, and together Fitchner hoped they could brainstorm where Claudia might be.

He didn’t have to wait long, as the phone call came with Coleman’s booming voice breaking the silence meaning that Fitchner’s help had arrived.

“So good to hear your voice,” said Fitchner as he greeted Coleman and then the rest of the group. “I’ve been worried all day.”
“Galla Claudia has gone missing,” said Parkes, “is that what happened?”
“Yes I’m afraid,” said Fitchner with concern. “I had been talking to her on the phone and it appeared that she was in some kind of danger…but before she could tell me what it was, her phone cut out. I’ve been trying desperately to call her back and figure out where she is, but her phone is not on…I’m fearing the worst.”
“Where is she right now?” said Holmes.
“California,” said Fitchner. “I traced her cell phone there, in San Diego, but there’s no way of knowing that she’s still there.”
“Not to be callous or anything,” said Coleman, “but those cell towers in Cali go off quite a bit…how do you know that didn’t just happen this time?”
“You’re probably right about that,” said Fitchner, “but, given her tone of voice on the phone, I can’t take any chances. Did you get anything from Prenice’s servers?”
“Unfortunately no,” said Yves, “I’ve scanned them ten times…no names jump out as to her possible whereabouts.”
“All right then,” said Fitchner. “We’re going to California…I’ve got in touch with Teresa Gibson of the California Bureau of Investigation…she will help us out with the jurisdictional matters. Once we’re at her hotel we can investigate where she might have gone.”

April 30, 2016,
18:12 local time,
Seaside Hotel,
San Diego, California

“Teresa Gibson, CBI,” said CBI Chief Teresa Gibson as she approached the guard who overlooked the hallway to Claudia’s room, flashing her badge in his face.
“Do you expect me to just let you through just by shoving your badge in my face?” said the guard, agitated by Gibson’s brusqueness.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Gibson curtly, “but I have probable cause to assume that the occupant in Room 317 is in some danger and requires our assistance. We don’t have time to discuss the particulars.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not going to do,” said the guard, folding his arms. “Do you have a warrant?”
“We don’t need one in this case,” said Coleman. “She’s in trouble, didn’t you hear?”
“How do you know she’s in trouble?” said the guard. “The occupant left her room over an hour ago…she was rushing but she did not seem to be in distress.”

Out of the blue, Holmes made a statement after consciously examining the area.

“Your post,” she started, “it’s not here, but five feet behind us, right?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” said the guard.
“…and those marks on the wall near the ceiling,” said Holmes, “ones that have left imprints of circles…there used to be a beam there, right?”
“Yes,” said the guard. “Yes there was.”
“The flooring here,” continued Holmes, “right in front of you…the sheen looks uneven. Is that because it’s been painted recently?”
“Yeah,” said the guard. “Yes it was.”
“…and you keep rubbing your right cheek,” said Holmes, sounding more confident as she continued. “Right in the middle between your eye socket and your jawbone…and you’re doing that despite the fact there’s nothing there, right?”
“Yeah,” said the guard, nervously. “Well, it tingles.”
“That’s because you still feel the sensation, don’t you?” said Holmes with a knowing smile.
“Yes,” said the guard, downtrodden. “Yes I do.”
“So it’s true then,” said Holmes with a smirk. “That’s where the blood first hit you…and you keep on replaying it in your mind. Am I right?”
The guard, defeated, lowered his head and let out a huge sigh. “Yes,” he deadpanned, his heart pounding as he feared the worst.

“So why did you kill him?” said Holmes. “Who did you fail to protect?”

“Um,” said the guard, who breathed in and out deeply. “It was a Tuesday night…I was on my break. It’s normally a quiet night so I didn’t bother to man my station…I didn’t feel like I needed to. So I left for five minutes to go to a vending machine and grab a drink…next thing I know, as I walk back to my station, in front of me I see this guy who’s got his dog in a noose…I was so enraged. I have a Yorkshire at home and I couldn’t imagine what I would do if that was my dog. Anyway, before I could intervene, the dog lets out its final whimper, having been strangled by the perp with a cloth. I just lose it…so I tackled the perp from behind…we punch each other a few times before I finally subdue him…I then rip off his shirt and his pants and fasten a noose for him to hang over the beam he had just strangled the dog with. I’m standing there, tightening the ligature around his throat as hard as I could, watching…waiting to see the life come out of his eyes. As I do it, I feel this sudden rush of blood in my body, as I get more and more excited as this man’s life was being wrested from his body…and all at my hands. When he finally dies, I let out a maniacal laughter that I had never let out before, ecstatic that I had done this…but then, after a few moments I realized that I had become a monster and that I did the dog no favours by killing his murderer. So I stand here…right where that beam was…to remind myself that if only I had been honourable…if I never left that station…I wouldn’t have become a monster.”

The guard then broke down in tears, sobbing profusely for a while as the rest of the group looked on. The guard’s raw emotion struck the investigators, even though none of them supported what he had done. The group thought better of admonishing him, though, knowing it would only hinder their ability to conduct their current investigation.

“It’s okay,” said Parkes, who put her hand on his back and started to rub it, feigning her support. “You did what you had to do…I’m sorry this happened…as long as you’ve learned from it.”
“Please,” said the guard through tears, “please don’t charge me. I’m a good man…I…I just snapped. You would have done it too if it was your dog.”
“If you let us go through,” said Gibson, “and let us get to our station so we can protect our friend…I’ll make sure the DA goes easy on you. You’ve been beaten up enough.”
“Thank you, thank you,” said the guard, grateful. “Of course, right this way.”

Once inside Claudia’s room, the investigators started their work.

“She left her phone behind,” said Fitchner, noticing Claudia’s phone on her desk. “No wonder she didn’t answer it.”
“Her bed’s made,” said Coleman, “nothing else is out of place or destroyed.”
“Galla left on her own free will,” said Holmes, “which is good.”
“I would expect to see some file folders here, though,” said Yves. “Yet all I see is her suitcase with her clothes.”
“Cell phone’s on,” said Parkes, examining Claudia’s phone, “and it’s not locked…looks like she was typing an E-Mail.”
“What does it say?” said Coleman.
“The Davis Oracle,” said Parkes. “That’s all it says.”
“The Davis Oracle?” said Fitchner. “What’s that?”

“Richard Allen Davis,” said Holmes, assuredly.
“The one who kidnapped and raped Polly Klaas,” said Coleman, “and would have gotten away with it had Joseph Frolik not alerted the cops when Davis had a flat tire.”
“That’s the one,” said Yves as Holmes nodded.
“How do you figure that?” said Coleman.
“She was raped on Pythian Road,” said Yves, “just outside of Santa Rosa in the Napa Valley.”
“…and Pythians were the priestesses who operated the Oracle of Delphi,” said Holmes. “Hence, ‘Davis Oracle’ has to connect back to ‘Pythian Road’.”
“How do you figure Claudia is there?” said Fitchner.
“Didn’t our dear old friend Jim Prenice say something about a ‘Cindy’?” said Yves.
“Yeah,” said Coleman, “Yeah…yeah he did.”
“As in, perhaps, Cindy Monroe,” said Holmes. “Harvey’s daughter?”
“Cindy was obsessed with Polly,” said Yves, “if I recall her social media profiles…she’s even met her. So that could be the Cindy that Jim was referring to.”
“Do you think Claudia deduced that and went to go look for her?” said Coleman, trying to keep the brainstorming session going.
“She’s a smart woman,” said Fitchner. “If we’ve figured that out, she has too.”
“So we gotta go up there,” said Coleman with urgency.
“Jet will take us two hours,” said Fitchner, his voice filled with concern. “On a trip I didn’t have clearance for…plus, Lucius will ask questions about the mileage I’m sure.”

Coleman grabbed Fitchner by his shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.

“What’s more important?” Coleman asked pointedly. “Worrying about what will amount to little more than a ‘talking to’ or saving your friend?”
“You’re right,” said Fitchner, nodding in agreement after thinking about Coleman’s words. “Let’s go.”

April 30, 2016,
19:00 local time,
Pacific Coast Highway Northbound,
San Quentin, California

“So the exit should be coming up soon,” said Claudia as she rode with O’Neil and Carruthers along the freeway. “The third one.”

Carruthers nonchalantly looked ahead as both ignored Claudia, which became apparent after the car whizzed by the exit Claudia told them to take.

“Okay,” said Claudia, trying to stay calm. “Don’t you guys want directions?”
“Wasn’t Polly Klaas abducted in Petaluma?” Carruthers asked.
“Yes,” said Claudia. “So?”
“So why would we be going to San Quentin?” said Carruthers, pointedly.
“Because we’re after Cindy Monroe,” snapped Claudia. “Not Polly Klaas.”
“No,” said Carruthers. “You were going to drive us to the police station just so you can have Murray and I arrested, because you think you have evidence to put us both away. Right?”
“So you openly admit that you knew all along where Cindy was,” said Claudia, “and that this whole thing was part of your ruse to bring the GAL back in line. Am I right?”

Carruthers snickered, shaking her head at Claudia’s assertion.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” said Carruthers, though she was unconvincing.
“I saw everything,” said Claudia. “Everything the Oracle posted. I saw how Virtue played Reddick, and how you are using Cindy to keep the most influential opponent of GAL, Harvey Monroe, in line. In fact, I suspect you posed as Cindy, tricking everyone into thinking they could enact their plan only for you to turn around and use them for yours. Then you called me in, knowing I’ve become a threat and you failed to defeat me when you evicted me from the FBII.

“So now you are going to drive me to where Cindy is,” continued Claudia, “and somehow frame me for her murder. Is that what is going to happen?”

An awkward pause befell the car before Claudia broke the silence.

“What changed,” said Claudia. “What did GAL do to make you chase Cindy so urgently?”

More wheels started to turn in her head.

“Oh I get it,” said Claudia, with mock surprise. “This is about Maria Castroiti…because the Byzantines are upset you picked a descendant of Skanderbeg as a criminal agent…so, to make it up to them, you’re going to bring them Cindy because you’ve told them it was really ‘her fault’…am I right?”

Carruthers then let out a restrained smile, which was enough for O’Neil to make a decision. He cold cocked her to her nose, knocking her out and bloodying up her face profusely. He then punched her a few more times so her cheeks would bruised, her jaws bloodied and her eyes would be blackened.

“That should keep her quiet for some time,” said O’Neil as Carruthers let out a satisfied chuckle, continuing their drive.

April 30, 2016,
19:11 local time,
BAU Jet, Tarmac, San Diego CBI Field Office
San Diego, California

“Once we land again,” said Parkes as the plane began to speed up in order to take off, “Depending on traffic it will still be another hour or so to get to Pythian Road.”
“…and then we’ll have to find the right house,” said Holmes with a sigh. “There’s more than one unregistered house along that street.”
“We’ll go in teams of three,” said Coleman. “One team will take one house and the other will take the other one…one house will be inconvenienced but that’s a small price to pay when there’s a life at stake.”

Suddenly, Gibson interjected, a thought having come to her.

“Guys,” she said with purpose. “I remember what it was like with Maria Castroiti. We thought we were on the right track only to find out that Maria had tricked us. If this is another Virtue plot, they’ll do it again.”
“Come on,” said Coleman. “Maria was lucky…Virtue is good, but not that good.”
“I think she’s on to something,” said Fitchner. “Virtue are not known for their simplicity…they have always tried to ensnare every angle. Leaving us one breadcrumb and misdirecting us shouldn’t be out of the equation.”
“So what are we missing?” said Yves.

Fitchner then noticed Gibson reaching for her satellite phone and dialing a number from a card.

“Who are you calling?” he asked with interest.
“I worked with Polly for The Transit of Saturn,” said Gibson. “She became friends with Cindy…she might know something.”

May 1, 2016,
16:23 local time,
Polly Klaas’ Private Resort,
Kiritimati, Kiribati, South Pacific Coalition

“Hello?” said Klaas, whose pleasant nap in the warm Pacific sun was interrupted by Gibson’s call.
“Hi Polly,” said Gibson. “It’s Teresa Gibson from the California Bureau of Investigation.”
Klaas’ voice perked up when she heard that. “Oh hey! How’s it going? How’s Ryan doing?”
“We kind of have our differences right now, so we’ve separated for the time being.”
“Oh that’s too bad.”
“So what are you up to right now? I hope I haven’t woken you up.”
“Oh no, you haven’t. I’m in Kiritimati…it’s four o’clock right now. I’m just having a lazy day, on my own resort, away from all that…madness.”
“Yeah, I know it can be a lot.”
“I chose it…I just need a break every now and then. There’s only so many times I can tolerate the media thinking I’d date a Backstreet Boy.”
Gibson laughed. “Can’t say I’ve ever had that experience, but I can imagine it’s not too fun.”
“I know, eh? I want a guy with a brain, not some living Ken doll. Is that too much to ask?”
Gibson chuckled, but offered no response as she needed to move on to other topics.

“Listen, Polly,” Gibson said, “I’m calling because I need your help in an investigation…it’s pretty urgent. I’m going to put you on speaker so the rest of my team can hear what you have to say. Is that okay?”
“Of course,” said Klaas cheerfully as she sat up and adjusted her bikini top.
“Hi Polly,” said Parkes. “Agent Zoe Parkes here. First of all, I want to say that I appreciate all the effort you’ve put in with your scholarship programs for underprivileged girls around the world, as well as your sexual assault advocacy and your well-reasoned feminist activism…it’s great that you devote so much time and energy to such worthwhile causes.”
“Thanks Zoe,” said Klaas. “I don’t get enough credit for that…it’s like Hollywood didn’t think I could be more than just T & A. Who knew?”

“Anyway,” said Klaas, turning serious, “what are you guys discussing?”
“Doctor Pascal Yves here,” said Yves, “we need your help with regards to an erstwhile friend of yours, Cindy Monroe.”

Klaas took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh, but offered no response.

“I understand it’s a very difficult subject for you,” said Yves, “but a friend of ours was investigating the Coffee Shop plot and we believe she might be in some danger by the same people who are pursuing Cindy.”
“Who’s pursuing Cindy?” said Klaas, “and I thought the Jimmy’s murders were unrelated?”
“That was the ‘official party line’,” said Holmes, “but there was an obvious pattern and we connected them…unfortunately, it seems like someone else did that too and is interested in harming our friend, and maybe even Cindy.”
“I don’t think Cindy could ever do something like that,” said Klaas. “The few times we talked in person, she told me that her father was investigating people known as the ‘Global Anarchists’ Union’ or something…a very strange and shadowy organization that no one really knew a lot about. Cindy told me she sympathized with them, but she didn’t agree to some of the more extreme things that they did.”
“The Global Anarchists’ Union?” said Yves, taken aback before putting things together. “You mean the Global Anarchists’ League, right?”
“Yeah,” said Klaas, a bell going off in her head. “That’s the one.”

“It’s funny,” continued Klaas, warming up to the topic, “Cindy went on at length how she felt some in the GAL were trying to imitate her and sully her name…she became pretty popular online and the GAL…they were getting some positive press for a change. I guess there were some people who didn’t like that so they posed as Cindy and portended to commit all kinds of horrible crimes in her name.”
“Could someone have done that to Cindy and commit the Coffee Shop Murders?” said Holmes.
“Maybe,” said Klaas before momentarily shifting gears. “Hey, I don’t know your name!”
“Oh, my name isn’t important,” said Holmes.
“Sherlock!” said Parkes playfully albeit with indignation.
“Sherlock Holmes?” said Klaas with a smile. “The Sherlock Holmes?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Holmes, reluctantly admitting her identity. “I really am descended from the great detective, but please, don’t read anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote…it’s rubbish.”
“I like those stories,” said Klaas. “I played Irene Adler once…they’re very cerebral.”
“Yeah,” said Holmes, deadpanning. “Except that those stories made everyone think the original Sherlock was a demigod…he was human. He knew a lot of things, just not everything. Just like me.”
“Ah,” said Klaas, “fair enough.”

“So Polly,” said Coleman, getting the conversation back on track, “Zeke Coleman, RBC. Do you think someone is framing Cindy Monroe for the Coffee Shop Murders?”
“Possibly,” said Klaas. “What do you guys know?”
“We only have one clue,” said Gibson, “and, I hate to bring it up but I have too…it’s called ‘the Davis Oracle’.”
“As in, Richard Allen Davis?” said Klaas, who let out another huge sigh, struggling to keep her composure.
“I’ll understand if you don’t want to talk anymore,” said Gibson, “but it’s all we have.”

Klaas put her phone down and took a few moments to collect her thoughts. Davis committed suicide awaiting trial, which caused Klaas to get hate mail from people who claimed she fabricated her rape to destroy Davis. Though most of the public sided with Klaas, the mail was the driving force behind Klaas’ decision to star in her own movie regarding the night of her kidnapping, Petaluma Polly.

“Are you still there?” said Gibson, sighing.
“Yeah,” said Klaas, picking up her phone. “I still am.”
“Cindy said something about Davis perhaps kidnapping you for a human trafficking ring,” said Holmes. “You mentioned it briefly in Petaluma Polly but you never got into specifics. Do you think Cindy was investigating the ring Davis belonged to?”
“She never said so specifically,” said Klaas, “but it would make sense given what I know about her. She did hint at a trafficking ring once in an E-Mail…but I don’t know a lot of the details. Something about how ‘Agnes’ was leading children astray.”
“Davis prayed in a Church in the movie,” said Yves. “Do you think maybe you’re referring to St. Agnes, the patron saint of young girls, the one for whom girls need to perform rituals for in order to ensure a future husband?”
“St. Agnes,” said Klaas, a light going off in her head. “Yeah…that was it. That was in the E-Mail…something about how the traffickers were using St. Agnes as a cover. I’ve tried looking for it myself but I haven’t found much. Other than that, I don’t know much.”
“So she never gave you any names or places?” asked Fitchner.
“No,” said Klaas, disappointed. “I don’t know why, we were very close…or at least I felt that way.”
“I wouldn’t disagree with that,” said Parkes, “but she likely felt that her Emails and phone calls were being recorded, so that’s why she was cagey. She probably thought she was being followed very closely, especially if people in the GAL were making things up about her.”
“She did feel like someone was watching her,” said Klaas. “She was paranoid…very paranoid. I guess none of her other friends were of much help.”
“No,” said Gibson, “sadly. Many of them flat out refused to assist me…you are the only one I’ve been able to reach.”
“Probably because I’m the only one of her friends that actually trusts the police,” said Klaas sardonically.
“Yeah,” said Gibson with a chuckle, acknowledging what Klaas had said.
“I can’t really think of anything else,” said Klaas. “I’m sorry. I hope you find her though…and let her know that I miss her.”

Klaas’ wistfulness struck a chord with the investigators, who shared similar sentiments.

“We’ll find her and we’ll let her know you miss her,” said Gibson. “Anyway, I think we may have something to go on. I’m sorry we couldn’t reconnect on better circumstances…and I’m really sorry for bringing back bad memories.”
“It’s okay Teresa,” said Klaas. “I know you mean well. Next time I’m in Cali we’ll do lunch.”
“Sounds good,” said Gibson with a smile.

April 30, 2016,
19:23 local time,
Beachfront,
Venice Beach, California

California may be a f***ed up place, thought Danforth Grayson as he lay on the beach enjoying the hot Los Angeles sun, but a place like this makes visiting it worth it. As it was near dinner time, Grayson enjoyed the bareness of the beach as everyone else started to leave, as well as the breeze as the cooler night air began to set in.

He had with him a satellite phone, given to him by his employers, the vigilante Omega Collective, just in case he had any emergencies, but he wasn’t expecting any phone calls.

Which is why he was irritated when his phone actually did go off.

“No,” said Grayson in a sarcastic tone, “my penis is big enough as it is.”
“Well that’s good to know,” said Grayson’s colleague, Max Collins, on the other end of the line.
“Oh!” said Grayson with a chuckle, “Max! Sorry, I’ve been getting that spam text for quite some time.”
“I see,” replied Collins, deadpanning.
“So,” said Grayson, “what do you need to talk about?”

“We found Angelica Pankewicz’s kidnapper,” said Collins assuredly. “Someone who claimed to be working for the Order of Saint Maria Goetti lured Angelica from the Bethany Margaret Women’s Shelter in Edmonton, Alberta and kidnapped her to Birea.”
“So you brought him in, then,” said Grayson.
“No,” said Collins. “We found him dead at a port near Turtle’s Bay in Western Papua. It was there that we meant a band of Soldiers of the Lord.”
“…and you are living to tell the tale?” said Grayson, sounding impressed.
“They turned out to be allies,” said Collins. “Some of Diego Diaz’s men.”
“How in the world could Diego Diaz be an ally of us?” said Grayson. “Wasn’t it his men who orchestrated the attempted kidnappings in Louisville?”
“No,” said Collins. “That was George Walker all on his own…Walker was going against orders. Diaz explained that the Soldiers do not engage in human trafficking with unwilling participants, of which, quite obviously, Jasmine Farhar was one. Walker had his own cell of Soldiers, all rogue, only tangentially connected to Diaz. In fact, Diaz himself explained to me that he didn’t know the extent of how many rogue groups of Soldiers were working against him and the plans of Jack Kent.”
“Jack Kent?” said Grayson, surprised. “Kent is leading a human trafficking ring?”
“In conjunction with Diaz,” said Collins. “Kent created a ring over thirty years ago, both to engage in social engineering in Britain and to assist the Bireans with their social problems. Kent’s ring is run through the Order of Saint Jasper, Birea’s patron saint. The OSJ, though, had strict rules, only taking in people who were willing to participate and never set prices for their brides or their grooms at a greater rate than £10,000, or US$20,000. They even engaged in outright donations to poor people who wanted to marry but couldn’t.”
“Wait,” said Grayson, “Brides and grooms?”
“Yeah,” said Collins. “They didn’t just operate in Birea- they operated worldwide. In fact, they still do.”
“So,” said Grayson, “who infiltrated the OSJ?”
“It appears that the Order of St. Maria Goetti is a rival ring, having separated from the OSJ,” said Collins. “I have yet to figure out who runs the OSMG, but whomever they are, they are running it counter to the principles that the OSJ set. You had to figure that with Birea’s social problems worsening, there would be people who would pay big money to secure the wife that they wanted, and you’d be right. Furthermore, you were beholden to what the OSJ offered…you didn’t have too many choices. With something like the OSMG, being able to kidnap women, you were guaranteed a higher degree of choice- but you had to pay a premium for it. Now there are enough customers willing to do it.”
“Kidnappings aren’t sustainable,” said Grayson. “Eventually you’d have to start raising kids yourself.”
“That’s where St. Agnes comes in,” said Collins.
“St. Agnes?” said Grayson.
“Yes,” said Collins. “Agnes of Rome…died at age twelve at the hands of men working for Emperor Diocletian.”
“That’s well and good,” said Grayson, “but what does Agnes have to do with any of this?”
“She’s the patron saint of young girls,” said Collins, “for whom rituals are performed so that the girls could eventually land a husband later in their lives.”
“Sounds like it plays exactly to Birean fantasies,” said Grayson, “and you said Angelica was put to sleep…it’s perfect, because then she’d be told she’d ‘wake up’ and find a husband…just not one that necessarily she wants.”
“Carter Downey proved to be a great man,” said Collins. “They’ve become great friends and I’m having them flown to Vancouver so that they can start their lives anew. Carter has expressed a desire to find his former girlfriend, Sarah Gilmore, because we suspect she was kidnapped…probably by the rival Order. There’s also a series of orphanages in Birea called the Order of St. Agnes that trains girls to be obedient wives for their husbands, and, after Heidi Sanderson was kidnapped, I suspect they’ve expanded their operations and they’re feeding the OSMG.”
“Do you have any leads on either Order?” said Grayson.
“A one Milton Roberts,” said Collins. “He was a part of the Soldiers team that burned down the Ingrid Fjallsdottir dormitory that Diego once led…Diego explained to me that Roberts went rogue after the two of them had a fight…Roberts had kidnapped Sarah against Diego’s wishes and fled the gas station Diaz had used as a cover for his operations, taking a one Anna Rattu with him. Diaz explained to me that Roberts liked Agnes’ tale, and Rattu even swore by it…he noted a few years after St. Jasper’s Fire that a series of orphanages opened up with St. Agnes’ name…he suspected Roberts was behind them all but he never got proof…that’s why he closed down the gas station and left the evidence there, because he’d hoped Carter would come by…but he was too depressed after Sarah left him to do anything about it, conned by Roberts into it.”
“Of course, now he believes that Sarah is alive and never actually left him,” said Grayson. “We’ll need to find her. So Milton is leading the OSMG…through GAL?”
“Possible,” said Collins, “but Roberts is likely affiliated with the OSA as well, and he’s a part of the Randy Joe Killers association…Reddick was its leader before his ‘assassination’…looks like Roberts had Reddick killed to assume his position, and I suspect he’s now making a play for Cindy Monroe to win over GAL.”
“How does he expect to do that?” said Grayson, confused.
“Cindy’s father,” said Collins, “was investigating GAL…and GAL is the main conduit that Virtue is using to get a foothold in the North American underworld. If Roberts has Cindy, he has power over Harvey and he can ensure that the GAL can operate. Thus, he winds up with extraordinary power over the GAL…effectively taking them over.”
“So we have to find Cindy too,” said Grayson. “Do you think Harvey knows about the OSA or the OSMG? He did orchestrate Heidi’s kidnapping after all.”
“It’s possible, though I don’t know for sure,” said Collins. “Certainly Heidi’s kidnapping spooked someone at the Orders, which is why, as I understand, they’re looking for Cindy with a bit more urgency now, because Heidi’s kidnapping brings all that out into the open. Where’s Galla? She can help us.”
“Galla told me she was going to El Centro,” said Grayson. “Said a policewoman from San Diego needed her help. She hung up the phone before she could explain much about the case.”
“A policewoman, from San Diego,” said Collins. “Do you know her name?”
“Lisa something?” said Grayson. “I don’t remember much.”
“Lisa Carruthers?” said Collins with extreme conviction.
“Yeah,” said Grayson, suddenly remembering. “That’s the one.”
“Danny,” said Collins, concern oozing through his voice, “Galla Claudia is in grave danger.”
“Whoa buddy,” said Grayson, taken aback. “Dial down the hyperbole…what are you talking about?”
“Lisa Carruthers is an associate of George Walker’s,” said Collins. “I assume that since Farhar was a mother that Walker works with Roberts…Carruthers is kidnapping Claudia…or, at least, she’s going to frame Claudia for Cindy’s death.”
“I don’t know if I can gather the troops quickly enough,” said Grayson, getting up and beginning to gather his things.
“The FBII are already working with her,” said Collins. “They’re at the Los Angeles CBI Field Office…I just checked myself…You need to go there and direct them to Claudia. I know where she’s headed.”

April 30, 2016,
17:00 local time,
Order of St. Agnes Children’s Sanctuary,
Bodega Bay, California

“Now as we look at the beautiful lilies,” said Sarah Gilmore as she toured the Sanctuary’s lush gardens with the six girls she was teaching, “I want you to note the various insects that are visiting the flowers, helping them pollinate.” Gilmore was one of the Sanctuary’s many teachers, specializing in science, and she assisted several of the other women on site to raise the children in their care, all of whom were girls. The Sanctuary at one point had over 80 girls in number, some being as young as infants, while others were as old as 16. Gilmore’s girls were all seven years old, tasked to her because she was once a second grade teacher.

The Sanctuary had several buildings, all enclosed by a wall and kept watch by a team of over 200 militiamen. The Sanctuary was one of several owned by the Order of St. Agnes, all through front corporations and all baring some connection to the St. Agnes mythos. They were places where the Order could park the girls they were raising, girls they hoped to groom for millions of men worldwide so that human traffickers could simply buy their products from the Order and not have to engage in dangerous kidnappings themselves. Some of the girls were the products of women kidnapped and forced to become “mothers”, like Gilmore, while most were kidnap victims themselves. A small number- 10 in total- were babies who were the product of four women groomed from birth at the Sanctuary, with one of the women being 18 and the others being 17. Eventually, the Order hoped, all the girls would be “raised” entirely from birth at the farm, completely groomed in Nathanite subservience, so that customers would no longer have to worry about a wife they couldn’t “control”- because the wife would have no recollection of any other kind of life.

The California operation was one of the first the Order opened, and it was a perfect location. Given the relative anarchy of California and being well away from the urban San Francisco Bay Area, the operation in Bodega Bay was able to operate well away from the eyes of the authorities. Though there were a few scares, no one ever seemed to trouble the Order.

Then, in February, things began to change.

Cindy Monroe was known to be in the area, as she ran away to the town with Tom Reasoner, her boyfriend, having been brought up there because Cindy knew Klaas was transported by car and Davis was heading away from the airport, so Cindy scouted the area for a suitable port. Reasoner then worked so that Cindy could stay at home, protected from her enemies. She was watched, but she never troubled the Sanctuary very much, because- although she saw, psychologically, the “kidnapped” look on the children’s faces when she observed the group known as “St. Agnes’ Children” in town, she knew she didn’t have enough information to convince the authorities to investigate. Reasoner, also a member of GAL, raised Cindy’s concerns online but didn’t get much of a response- until he alleged to have hacked the computer system of the Sanctuary.

It was just a ruse, but the Sanctuary themselves took no chances. They didn’t know where Cindy lived, but they investigated Reasoner and found him with a picture of himself and Cindy online, making Sanctuary officials suspect that he was with her. They thought Prenice’s computers was responsible for the hack, so they killed his dog as a warning, but they soon learned that Prenice’s computers didn’t commit any kind of breach. More security scans were made, showing that the Sanctuary’s computers were not breached at all, but Order officials couldn’t take any chances- they feared that Reasoner might know something, so they researched him, finding out where he lives some two weeks ago.

Thus, the scene at the Sanctuary had been chaotic, as the Order did everything to whisk away sensitive documents and transport the 14 girls who were raised completely at the Sanctuary to another location. The Order wasn’t yet sure that the police were on to them, but killing Reasoner would certainly send the police after them- so they had to leave.

At first, Gilmore was scared for herself and her students, as now there was a lot of uncertainty over where the slaves would go. All kinds of different rumours were floated around, many of them planted by Order officials to keep the slaves in line through fear, but, as the weeks passed and more slaves left but she didn’t, Gilmore had a sense that the end was coming. A week and a half ago, after an evaluation of what was left, Gilmore and the rest of the slaves received letters tattooed on to their necks, which Gilmore surmised was to indicate who would be saved. Trucks came by in the days ahead, with slaves being transported according to their letters. By this day, some 16 remained, with some marked with a “D” and others marked with an “N”. They were told that the letters marked the camp the girls would be moving to but the Sanctuary was evasive when asked to elaborate. Thus, there was a lot of uncertainty, but Gilmore couldn’t help but feel she already knew her fate.

Gilmore did her best not to think about her likely doom, teaching the class as if everything was okay, even though it wasn’t. Towards the end of her lesson came the emergency bell, telling every slave to go back to their quarters. Gilmore knew what it meant, so she was depressed, but the girls sounded excited, as they were told that when the bell went off that they would “go on a trip”. Gilmore sighed, as little did any of them realize it could be their last one.

So, after an hour waiting in her cell, when she saw the guard tasked to take her away to her death, she instinctively spat in his face, which resulted in the guard grabbing the back of her head and driving her face into the wall, smashing her nose in the process. He then threw her on to the bed in order to deliver a few more punches before he was stopped by a voice.

“That’s enough,” bellowed Roberts as the guard backed off Gilmore. “There’s been a mistake…she needs to come with me.”
“Um, okay,” said the guard, confused.
“A clerical error, okay?” snarled Roberts as he took his handcuffs and affixed them to Gilmore’s wrists, behind her back.

“Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” said Roberts as he looked into Gilmore’s eyes with a devious grin. “You were always a troublemaker, weren’t you?”
“Kiss my ass,” snapped Gilmore, defiant as ever despite the blood streaming down her face.
“Oh believe me, I already have,” said Roberts with another smirk as he cupped Gilmore’s buttocks and squeezed them hard several times.
“Sir,” said the guard. “Are you sure there was an error? She’s quite the troublemaker.”
Daddy determined there was an error, and Daddy’s rule wins out,” said Roberts. “besides, she is one of the best teachers I’ve ever known. I’ll sort her out. You focus on your job…and leave the decision-making to the ones who are supposed to make them.”
“Yes sir,” said the guard, who then left to assist the others to round up the remaining girls.

Meanwhile, as Roberts clutched Gilmore in his hands, he made a phone call.

“It all concludes tonight,” said Roberts. “We’re going to get the girl and we’re shutting down this place…the police might be getting involved, I can’t take any chances. I’ll need you here…you can come in an hour? Great. I’ll leave then and leave the shutdown to you. Don’t worry about the police…they won’t find anything…anything they’d like, anyway.”

April 30, 2016,
19:41 local time,
CBI Field Office,
Los Angeles, California

“St. Agnes,” said Coleman, pondering what Klaas had just said. The jet landed in Los Angeles as Gibson determined it would be best to figure out where they needed to go first before sending the plane in that direction. “There’s got to be a hundred places with that name.”
“257 to be exact,” said Yves without skipping a beat, “all across North America.”
“We’ll need to narrow it down to just the Bay Area,” said Parkes. “Davis wouldn’t likely be driving Klaas along the Pacific Coast Highway from Petaluma if he wasn’t taking her to a port.”
“It’s probably not a port,” said Yves. “At least not in the traditional sense. We’re probably looking for a Church with an outreach program.”
“I don’t think we’re looking for a Church,” said Holmes. “We need something bigger, something that draws kids in…it’s got to be a sanctuary or an orphanage.”
“I also doubt it’s on the grid,” said Fitchner.
“The port, yeah,” said Coleman, “but the sanctuary would have to be- they can’t attract kids if they don’t have a legitimate business to fall back on.”
“Who said anything about the kids being willing?” opined Parkes.
“There hasn’t been an uptick in missing children,” said Yves. “If there was, there wouldn’t be an investigator unwilling to pursue the case…nothing get the public going more than missing children. Heck, Heidi Sanderson’s case has caused quite the stir.”
“Maybe that’s another reason why Cindy is being targeted,” said Coleman. “Harvey’s decision to kidnap Heidi exposed the operation.”
“Which means whomever is running it is doing all they can to destroy the evidence needed to convict them,” said Gibson with concern.
“We need to narrow it down, and narrow it down quickly,” said Parkes.

The team struggled with finding the answer, knowing that there were a million different possibilities for the port of operation. An eerie silence took over the room, as everyone was stumped.

Holmes would break the silence.

“A big part of the reverence of St. Agnes is the Eve,” said Holmes, “taking place on January 20. The rituals of the Eve suggest that if a woman goes to bed without supper, undresses completely to sleep and sleeps with her eyes towards Heaven and her hands underneath her pillow, she will have a dream- or a premonition- that she will meet her future husband, who will kiss her in the dream.”
“The Bireans have been looking for wives for a while,” said Fitchner. “That plays right into their fantasies.”
“Meaning our sanctuary will be a Nathanite one,” said Coleman. “Not too many of those in California.”
“All right,” said Yves, “that means we’ve got to look for a Nathanite Church bearing St. Agnes’ name or one for the Nequissimi, the Christian group the Nathanites inspired here in North America.”

Meanwhile, entering the office’s reception area was a visibly irate Grayson, who bellowed that he needed to talk to someone.

“Sir,” said the officer at the reception desk. “If you keep yelling and screaming, we can’t assist you.”
“I have a friend in trouble,” said Grayson, still yelling. “My tone doesn’t matter at this point!”
“Sir,” said the officer, doing his best to stay calm. “Just relax and we’re going to help you out.”

At that point, Fitchner, having heard the commotion, walked into the reception area.

“Mr. Grayson,” he said, surprised at Grayson’s presence. “What are you doing here?”
“Tell me you’re looking for Galla Claudia,” said Grayson intensely. “Just tell me.”
“That’s what we’re here,” said Fitchner. “We’re working on it right now.”

Grayson let out a huge sigh of relief.

“Let me in there,” he said. “Let me help you out.”
“I’m not sure,” said Fitchner. “You’re not cleared…you’re just a civilian.”
“Look,” said Grayson, giving Fitchner a steely glare. “Galla could trust me…why can’t you?”

Fitchner let out a sigh, knowing that Grayson was right.

“All right,” said Fitchner. “Come this way.”

Grayson then entered the building and met with the investigators in their break room.

“Danforth Grayson?” said Yves, shocked to see him and being apprehensive about it. “What brings you here?”
“Same thing that brings you, genius,” said Grayson, as if the answer was obvious. “Galla.”
“Well, unless you’ve got something we don’t,” said Gibson. “Your presence here isn’t needed.”
“How welcoming of you,” said Grayson angrily.
“Guys,” bellowed Coleman, “He’s an ally now…I know, hard to believe, but Grayson is on our side. Fitch wouldn’t bring him in if he thought he was a threat.”

After the room calmed down, Grayson smiled, appreciative of Coleman’s words.

“I do have something,” said Grayson, breaking the silence. “Claudia is investigating something called ‘the Order of St. Agnes’. They’re a series of orphanages in Birea that train girls to become obedient wives, and my colleagues at Omega believe that they’ve expanded their operations into North America, seeking girls they can similarly train. They suspected this after Heidi was kidnapped…which is why they’re looking for Cindy Monroe, because they want to make an example of her.”
“Do you think Harvey used Heidi to expose the Order?” said Gibson. “He had to have known a high profile kidnapping would have this effect.”
“Harvey was fighting the GAL,” said Grayson. “So perhaps this is an indication that the GAL are tied with the Order.”
“I’m not sure,” said Coleman. “Harvey told us that Heidi was kidnapped to pay off a debt…I’m not sure he knew of the Order.”
“He did sound like he was trying to protect someone,” said Yves, “and whomever it is, they’ve using Cindy to control him…he kept on telling us to go find her. So who’s controlling him?”
“Milton Roberts,” said Grayson assuredly. “He’s likely running the Order of St. Agnes…Collins said he loved the St. Agnes mythos, and running the GAL would allow the OSA to operate freely.”
“There’s gotta be someone else, though,” said Parkes. “You don’t have a ‘farm’ without expecting customers.”
“A rogue ring is operating in Birea,” said Grayson. “There was once an ‘official’ one run by Jack Kent, the Order of St. Jasper, but they only used willing participants. This rival ring, the Order of St. Maria Goetti, could be what feeds from the OSA. Or at least plans to.”
“Maria Goetti?” said Fitchner, intrigued.
“She’s the patron saint of rape victims,” said Holmes, “because she was killed defending her virginity from her attacker.”
“Who leads that Order?” asked Gibson.
“I don’t know,” said Grayson, with a sigh. “That my colleagues weren’t able to figure out.”

“Guys,” Coleman said forcefully. “All this stuff…it’s interesting…but it’s not helping us find Galla. Danny…do you know where she is?”
“She’s working with a Lisa Carruthers,” said Grayson. “Who is employed by the San Diego Regional Police. Her father, Kyle, though, runs a business north of San Francisco, but I couldn’t get a name. The interesting part of that, though, is that her father has been dead for ten years.
“Okay,” said Parkes, looking up businesses on the CBI database, “The Early Ignition Knight Service Association, ostensibly an electronics store, is in Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco.”
“That’s an awkward name,” said Fitchner.
“That’s it,” said Yves, piecing it all together. “That’s where the Order of St. Agnes is operating.”
“How do you know?” said Grayson.
“Look at the second letter of each word,” said Yves. “What does it spell?”
“Agnes!” said Holmes, who was still in a state of disbelief.
“It’s also on the client list that Jim Prenice gave us,” said Yves.
“You’re right,” said Holmes, double-checking the list of Prenice’s clients. “I’m impressed, Doctor.”
“Through that store has to be a passageway to wherever the orphanage is,” said Coleman with urgency. “Looks like we’re headed to San Francisco anyway.”
“That’s probably where Claudia is,” said Yves. “We need to get the jet ready.”
“Already made the call,” said Fitchner, “wheels up in thirty.”
“Why is it always thirty and not twenty-nine?” said Holmes quizzically.
“I like round numbers,” Fitchner said, shrugging.
“Anyway, it’s twenty-eight minutes now,” said Holmes, checking her watch.

April 30, 2016,
21:02 local time,
Order of St. Agnes Children’s Sanctuary,
Bodega Bay, California

The guards had quite the time corralling the remaining girls at the Sanctuary.

Even though they were numerically superior, several of the 16 girls that were left were hard to control, as they were distracted easily and found the trip to the tractor trailer- which required going up a hill- to be tiring on their bodies. Some of them wanted to take a breather and wait a few minutes before continuing the arduous journey, but the guards- supported by some of the girls swayed by the guards’ insistence they were going to travel to a “magical place”- were having none of it, continually pressing the girls onward and giving anyone who didn’t move the butt end of their shotgun.

Near the top of the hill, one of the girls in the pack, nine year old Jessica Parker, decided she had enough of the climb.

“My feet hurt,” she complained, as she sat down on the ground and started to pick at the flowers on the ground.
“Get up,” said a guard menacingly, as he grabbed her arm and tried to get her to stand back up.
“No,” said Parker, as the guard lost his grip. “I don’t wanna go…I’m too tired. I need to sleep.”
“You don’t get to make that decision,” said the guard, trying to prod her up after she laid down on the grass.

Parker was defiant, refusing to get up and pretending to fall asleep. The guard pulled at Parker, dragging her in the hopes that she would get up, but Parker continued to lay limber on the ground. The other girls started to see this, and the rest of them stopped their movements too, giving the other guards more grief as they now had no one continuing their move up the hill.

Another girl, Brianna Fawcett, who was only eight, decided she had enough of the climb and decided to walk back down the hill, with a guard forced to chase after her.

Everything was stopped after two shots were heard, with Fawcett and Parker slumped to the ground with bullets drilled into their heads.

“Daddy!” said several of the girls, some quivering in fear as they saw the shooter (though others were excited), a well-built but older white man, the one who really ran the Order of St. Agnes and whom they only knew as Daddy.

“Now,” said Daddy, speaking in a commanding gruff baritone and holding his gun aloft, “you all have orders. You are not to continue disobeying them. I’ve killed two of your friends…any more of you want to join them?”

The girls all cowered in fear, crying profusely, scared into submission after what Daddy had done.

“Good,” he barked. “Now keep moving.”

After another fifteen minutes, the girls finally reached their destination, a large tractor trailer with its doors already opened. Each girl was ordered to disrobe completely, with each complying despite shivering due to the cool breeze of the night and the nausea that was induced by the fear of what was going to happen next. Some of the guards decided that with the girls leaving it was time to rape some of the girls one last time. Twenty minutes later, the girls were all shepherded into the trailer, every one of them trembling and glancing back and forth with each other, a mixture of excitement and fear rolled into the murmur of voices that were packed into the trailer. Panic turned into loud crying, which soon reached an annoying crescendo.

Daddy then addressed the group, but not before shooting another girl dead whose crying had irritated him.

“Next one who talks gets a bullet in her head,” snarled Daddy, whose actions immediately quieted the rest of the dozen girls present. “Now,” he continued sternly, though his tone grew more positive as he continued, “if you behave and stay absolutely quiet, you will be transported to a magical place, where you will no longer need to be afraid. You will be taken care of, and you will all reign in a kingdom of innocence and bliss forever.” The girls all smiled and nodded in excitement, their fear being replaced with joy as a small murmur erupted before Daddy quieted them again. “However, you have to stay quiet.”

He then closed the trailer’s doors and locked them tight, as the sounds they made had the girls struggling to contain their giddiness, although none of the murmurs got too loud as there was always a girl there to remind the others they needed to be quiet. More excited awes could be heard as the truck’s engine began, and as the motors began to kick in, the excitement level increased. Some even decided it was the right time to fall asleep, blissfully in peace knowing they were on their way.

April 30, 2016,
22:11 local time,
Petaluma CBI Field Office,
Petaluma, California

“How are we going to do this?” asked Grayson as the investigators landed. “These guys…they’re not stupid…they know Claudia likely called for help…the kids, they could be in danger.”
“We’ll go in two teams,” said Gibson, acknowledging Grayson as the investigators headed towards their cars. “Since they are framing Claudia I’ll go with Fitch and Holmes. There’s a house nearby, it could be where Cindy is. The rest, go to the Sanctuary. Sound good?”

The team nodded in agreement as they went on their way.

April 30, 2016,
21:30 local time,
Tom Reasoner’s house
Bodega Bay, California

Carruthers and O’Neil arrived at Reasoner’s house, wasting no time getting to work. O’Neil- wearing latex gloves like Carruthers- took a sedated Claudia and wrapped her fingers around a gun, ensuring they were firmly pressed onto the trigger as well as in gripping the gun. Then O’Neil handed the gun to Carruthers, who put it back into her holster, while O’Neil left to find an entrance at the back, walking quietly and hiding where he could.

Carruthers engaged in no such stealth activity, grabbing her badge and walking with purpose to Reasoner’s front door.

“Tom Reasoner?” Carruthers said as she knocked. She then banged a little louder and repeated his name again.

“Yes?” a groovy Reasoner said as he opened the door.
“I’m Lisa Carruthers,” said Carruthers with authority. “I’m with the San Diego Regional Police…we’ve received word that a wanted fugitive is in your area and I wanted to know if you’ve had any encounters.”
“Can’t say I know anything,” said. Reasoner, stretching and scratching the back of his head. “I can’t say I have come across anyone…it’s lonely here, and I live alone.”
“You live alone?” said Carruthers, intrigued by the response.
“Yeah,” said Reasoner nervously. “Should I be concerned? Is this fugitive dangerous?”
“Fugitive is only wanted for three murders across the country, said Carruthers with a smirk.
“Oh,” deadpanned Reasoner.
“You don’t seem concerned,” said Carruthers.

Suddenly, a scream from upstairs jolted the house.

It was Cindy, as O’Neil was having his way with her. Reasoner turned around and tried to head upstairs before the sound of Carruthers’ gun being cocked stopped him.

“Don’t try to be the hero,” snarled Carruthers. Her and Reasoner locked eyes, with Reasoner breathing heavily in a vain attempt to keep his composure.

“Now,” said Carruthers, “you are going to follow me and walk upstairs.” Reasoner nodded dutifully, but then his eyes lit up in horror, “and you are going to watch.”

As Reasoner walked up the stairs, he tried his best to rain stoic, despite his blood boiling the more he heard Cindy’s helpless screams. As he got up the stairs and the screams got louder, Reasoner couldn’t help but cry. He took a few deep breaths as Carruthers pushed him along, thinking if he could stay calm, he might be able to talk out his assailants from further punishment.

When he got to the room, he tried to run to save Cindy but Carruthers grabbed him and held him back. Meanwhile, he watched as O’Neil was holding down Cindy, face down, by her throat as he was taking her in from behind. Cindy wanted to resist, but every time she did, O’Neil would tighten his grip around her neck.

Eventually Reasoner had enough.

“What do you guys want?” he said, exasperated. “I’ll…I’ll…I’ll do anything! Just make it stop!”
“Oh, there’s nothing you can do,” sneered Carruthers. “Just stand and watch, so you know exactly what it’s like to cross Virtue.”

Reasoner’s eyes lit up, deciding he has enough. He clenched his fist and tried to take a swing at Carruthers, but Carruthers deftly avoided it, dodging it and then swiftly putting a bullet in Reasoner’s brain.

Cindy screamed in horror, but it didn’t stop O’Neil. In fact, it got him even more excited, as Cindy could feel O’Neil’s penis get larger and his thrusts get deeper and faster. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t scream, as O’Neil left her gasping for air as he tightened his grip around her neck.

Eventually O’Neil climaxed, an explosion Cindy felt every second of, but O’Neil wasn’t done with the choking. In a fit of rage, he grabbed Cindy’s throat as hard as he could, applying a tremendous amount of pressure on her airwaves, eventually cutting off her breathing. After several more moments choking her, O’Neil let go, relieved to see her dead.

“That,” he said, catching his breath, “was for my cousin, Martin Foyer.”

While O’Neil was pleased, Carruthers wasn’t.

“What happened to bringing her in alive didn’t you understand?” said Carruthers, with her hands on her hips looking sternly at the sheepish O’Neil.
“She orchestrated the death of my cousin,” said O’Neil. “I had to take it out…besides, all we need is the body.”
“Then how are we supposed to continue bribing him with Cindy’s messages if she is unable to deliver them?” said Carruthers, giving O’Neil a steely death glare.

O’Neil took a few deep breaths, wiped his face due to stress and let out some more heavy sighs, pacing a bit though offering no response.

“Yeah, I thought so,” said Carruthers, angrily.

Before Carruthers could continue admonishing O’Neil, she heard a siren in the distance. She wasn’t aware that it was just a local ambulance heading to another place, but Carruthers determined she couldn’t take any chances. She took a picture of the crime scene and left behind the gun that had killed Reasoner- complete with Claudia’s fingerprints- before drawing a gun from her ankle holster, ordering O’Neil to pick up Cindy Monroe’s dead body and marching him back towards her car, where they drove off via a back road towards the coast.

April 30, 2016,
22:45 local time,
Early Ignition Knight Service Association store,
Bodega Bay, California

With a Special Weapons And Tactics team in tow, Coleman, Yves, Grayson and Parkes descended upon the Early Ignition Knight Service Association (EIKSA) store. They opened the door quietly and began looking around for the passageway that would lead them to the Sanctuary, lifting books and examining crevices looking for the hidden entrance.

Eventually, Yves spotted a large painting of a woman seated with stones in her lap.

“It’s behind that painting,” said Yves with conviction as the SWAT commander looked at him with a puzzled look.

“That’s a depiction of Saint Emerentiana,” said Yves, “who is said to be Saint Agnes’ foster sister. She was stoned to death after she was seen mourning Agnes following her death.”
“These guys,” said Coleman, “they’re into St. Agnes’ mythologies…that’s right up their alley.”

The SWAT commander nodded and dutifully took down the painting. Behind it was a door that led to some stairs leading to an underground passageway that would lead to the Sanctuary.

After opening the door, the team wasted no time getting down there. One SWAT officer remained at the store to ensure no one came down to follow them as well as to secure the store for evidence, but the rest of the team hurried towards the Sanctuary. Time, they knew, was of the essence, since the investigators were certain that the Order’s strike against Cindy meant that the Order was in the process of moving the girls- and thus their evidence- to another location.

As Coleman and the rest of the team rose from the ground into the lot where the Sanctuary was located, he received a phone call from Gibson. He wasn’t pleased when it was finished.

“What happened?” asked Parkes, as she and Coleman slowed down their march towards the Sanctuary.
“A one Tom Reasoner is dead,” said Coleman. “Claudia is being charged with his murder, as her fingerprints were found on the gun used to kill him. She’s being arraigned as we speak and there’s nothing Gibson can do…she has no evidence that Claudia didn’t do it.”
“…but who’s Tom Reasoner?” asked Parkes. “He must have a connection to Cindy because Claudia wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for that.”
“I figure that too,” said Coleman. “Gibson hasn’t been able to contact Harvey…he’s likely fled…a private plane of his is no longer at its hangar.”
“Virtue probably told him to do that,” said Parkes. “Told him to leave or they’d do something to Cindy.”
“Yeah,” said Coleman, “but they’re already doing that. Something happened to Cindy and they need Harvey to get away from North America to stop him from finding out what really happened.”
“Harvey is falling for their game way too easily,” said Parkes.
“Yeah,” said Coleman, “but it’s his daughter…no way you think rationally in that situation. He’s already lost enough.”
“Maybe they got to him too,” said Parkes.
“I don’t know,” said Coleman. “Anyway…we couldn’t save Claudia, but we can save these kids, stop them from taking them to another location. We need to move.”

The two of them quickened their pace after Parkes nodded in agreement.

After a few more moments, the group emerged on the buildings, deserted as they believed they would be. The complex’s gate was open, which made the SWAT team fear they would be set up for a trap, but those fears soon dissipated after they realized there was no one there. The team moved around the complex quickly, giving every room they could a cursory examination to see if there were any signs of life. The commander repeated to his group that their focus was on finding the children alive- tearing down the complex for evidence could have to wait.

As the team descended upon the holding cells, they found evidence that the girls had been there- strewn before them were unravelled bedding, toys all over the floor and numerous plush animals that were discarded, some on the floor having been knocked out by a hurried occupant while others were still beside the pillow of the child that had once slept there. Some traces of blood could be seen on the floor of some of the cells, but it did not appear that many of the children resisted leaving their cells.

The cells were empty, leaving the investigators scratching their heads about where to turn next. Whimpering was then heard in the distance, which caused the investigators to focus their attention to the sound in the hopes that it could be the children.

“This way,” Jeb Simpson, the SWAT commander, barked as the team followed. Their hearts, though, sunk as they sound found out it was just a racoon whose tail had been caught by an overturned garbage can.

“There you go little buddy,” said Parkes as she lifted the can, allowing the animal to scurry away. She then saw a hill and what appeared to be two bodies laying down on it.

“The hill,” said Parkes with urgency. “There’s two of them right there. This could be something.”

As the team rushed towards the hill, they noticed a few other skeletons strewn along the ground, with each marking a different path up the hill.

“Looks like they had no patience for stragglers,” said Parkes with a sigh. She began fearing the worst and found it hard to keep her emotions in check, but she did her best to keep her composure, knowing the vast majority of the girls were still unaccounted for and she focused on saving them.

After a long climb up the hill, the team soon descend upon three trucks, one of which appeared to be running. Coleman wasted no time and ran towards the driver’s side.

“Zeke Coleman,” Coleman hollered, his voice booming with rage, though it quickly tailed off. “Police…?” he continued, rather meekly.

He opened the door and examined the interior, only to realize that no one was inside. He turned off the ignition and then opened the hood of the engine and examined inside there, only to again shake his head in disbelief.

“No one is here,” he said, very confused. “Why start it and then leave?”

Soon, Yves marched up to him.

“Checked the other trucks,” said Yves. “No one was in those vehicles too.”

“Gotta check the trailers then,” said Coleman. Coleman gave the signal to the SWAT team to open the trailers and examine their contents.

Nothing could prepare the team for what they would see.

Everybody was aghast, struck with sadness and shock, horrified about what they saw. Parkes collapsed to her knees, burying her head in her hands and crying uncontrollably. The entire SWAT team put their guns on the ground and removed their helmets, placing them on their hearts. Every one of them cried, while some continued to stand at attention while others, overcome with emotions, gave each other embraces.

Even Coleman, who never liked to show his emotions in public, couldn’t help but let out a few tears at what he saw: five dozen girls, all dead and in various different stages of decomposition, strewn across the floors of the three tractor trailers, all killed by carbon monoxide.

“They’re just…” said Coleman, at a loss for words as he began to cry. “They’re just piled…all over the floor…human lives…as if they were trash.”
“I’ve been in this business for 23 years,” said Simpson, his voice cracking and doing very little to maintain his composure. “Never seen anything like this.”
“They were all so innocent,” said Parkes, sniffling, “so precious…how could they be so callously discarded?”
“I’ve got two daughters,” said Simpson, “and three granddaughters. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I saw them here.”

Meanwhile, Grayson stood by himself, getting pensive at what he saw and grieving inwardly. A member of the vigilante outlaw Omega Collective and a criminal defence lawyer for years, Grayson thought he’d seen everything, especially when it came to Virtue. To him, it became clear this incident meant that this was no ordinary war he’d be fighting, because he never thought Virtue could be so low as to harm children so recklessly. He chose not to get too upset about it, since anger would accomplish nothing. His way of dealing with the tragedy was to make sense of it, but very little progress was made in that regard.

He eventually saw Yves, pacing wildly and crying as well, as Yves began to think about his niece, Juliette, who lived in his hometown of Montreal. Grayson saw it and put his hand on the shoulder on the man Coleman liked to call “the boy genius”.

“Kid,” said Grayson, strongly but warmly. “I know you’re upset…and you’re trying to make sense of this…but there’s no way you can do that.”
“I keep on thinking,” said Yves. “Juliette…what if she was here? What would I do?”
“I get that,” said Grayson, “and they knew it too. This is a message they’re sending you…taunting you…telling you that you can’t protect even the weakest in society…but you can’t give in to that.”
“It’s funny,” said Yves, his voice quivering. “I’ve seen many kids killed…often brutally at the hands of serial killers and they never struck me. This…I just don’t know what to say. At least serial killers found purpose in their victims…these guys…they just discarded the girls as if they were nothing.”
“They hunt the weak because they’re weak,” said Grayson. “They hit at your morale because they know they can’t get at you with substance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- these guys you’re fighting…they won’t fight with honour, they won’t fight with dignity. There is no low too deep enough for them to go through. Know this and know…this is just the beginning. Only once you can prepare for that…can you prepare to strike back.”

Yves wiped his face of his tears and looked longingly at the scene of the massacre again, observing, cataloguing and analyzing again the travesty that lay before him. For the first time in a long while Yves could do little to make sense of what happened, because he was witnessing an enemy for whom there was no line they wouldn’t cross. Worse still, the more Yves thought about it, the more he realized there was absolutely nothing the investigators could have done- not in a million years did Yves think a human trafficking ring would so brazenly discard their own product, but there he was, looking right at that result. The Sanctuary was several steps in front of the authorities, and this was their way of rubbing their noses on it.

He blinked his eyes a few times and let out a heavy sigh, trying but failing to regain his composure. A million thoughts went through his head and a million more scenarios unfolded…but, for once, there was no way he could piece his thoughts together.

All he could come up with was one simple question.

“Who are we dealing with?