For a moment, I compared the two women. Elyse had been auburn, thinner than Riley, taller. But they had the same bright smile, complete with dimples. Same wicked sense of humor. They would have gotten along. They would have been friends. Not that that situation would have ever occurred. Without Elyse, I wouldn’t have been at Atlantis. Wouldn’t have been in the position to approach Riley in the casino. I would have been back home in Fort Lauderdale. Would never have even known this alternative lifestyle. One of blood money and violence, of redemption and fight, of rescue and rehabilitation. Of Riley. And with that final item, the rest faded.
This weekend was a big sale. An annual event where hundreds of women would be bought and sold. I was expected, women were being brought specifically for my purchase. But I could send one of the guys. Didn’t have to physically be there for the exchange. But I should be close. I could fly out with Riley. Make sure the guys got into the house and had it ready for the girls. Make sure they had the cash and protection. And I’d work on Riley and our relationship. Make sure that that was in order. Maybe I’d go to the sale. Maybe I’d let the men handle it. I’d play it by ear.
And next week, once the new girls were safely back in the States, I’d examine my life. Make a decision about Riley and stick with it. Either tell her the truth, or kill this part of my life altogether. Abandon the cause. Abandon Elyse’s memory to save my future.
I typed a final response to her.
I love you.
Once I sent the text, I stared at those words, ones I never thought, after losing Elyse, that I’d say. I never thought, after her death, I’d be able to love, to care, for another individual. Not when I saw what love did. How it exposed a part of your heart for destruction. A part that just lay, vulnerable and exposed, and waited for the pain that would eventually come.
I opened my desk drawer and pulled out the velvet box. Flipped it open and stared at the ring.
I was, with Riley, vulnerable. Open for destruction. But the vulnerability was worth it. I flipped the box shut and returned it to the drawer. The proposal wouldn’t happen this weekend. I didn’t want that precious moment to come on a weekend of work, in a city where so many lives had been destroyed.
We had a hundred more trips ahead of us. Next week, after I made my decision, after I either told her or left the life, then I’d plan the perfect trip. Maybe to Sydney or Paris. A city where I’d never seen a beaten woman, where I’d never touched a collar or set of cuffs, where I had never traded cash for a human life. A fresh city where we would begin the second half of my life.
I shut the drawer and rolled forward in the chair. Paused, in my reach for the mouse and picked up the framed photo of Elyse that sat on the desk. Studied the image, one of the two of us at a twenty-first birthday party, her head thrown back in a laugh, my arm around her shoulders. It was my favorite picture of her, one that perfectly captured her spirit.
“I love you,” I murmured, closing my eyes and sending the message upward. “I miss you so fucking much.”
Then I opened the drawer, and gently set the frame inside, next to the black ring box.
“Boss.” The voice made me push the drawer shut, wiping my eye with a brusque hand before turning.
“What’s up?” I met the eyes of Joe, my right hand, both here at Betschart Yachts, and in our underground endeavors.
“We’re all set for this weekend. House is booked, the travel and security is ready. Jana says we’ve got room for eight at the house.”
“Then we’ll get eight.” An unnecessary statement, but the man simply nodded.
“Yes sir.” He hesitated. “Will you be traveling alone, sir?”
“No. I’ll bring Riley. But I’ll be on the black cell. And I’ll most likely attend the party.”
That gave the man pause. “Most likely, sir?” he arched an eyebrow. For Joe, who’d served in four tours of duty before coming to me, it was tantamount to insubordination.
“Yeah. Most likely. If not, you guys can handle it.” I turned back to the computer.
Most likely. Probably. I’d have to wait and see.
2 days before
The entire week was a battle to act normal. It was actually easier than I thought. I just allowed the weak feminine part of myself that swooned over every word the man spoke to run lead in my brain. I let her plan weddings on Pinterest during my lunch break, let her gush over his texts, babble to him about her boring day. Hell, on Wednesday, I even let her bring the tulips back from Anita’s desk, the woman shooting me a pleading look that almost got her them back.
So, I acted the part. And he bought it. And I held my panic and insecurities till late at night, when I’d gorge on peanut butter ice cream and talk Miller’s ear off. Flip through every outfit in my closet and lament what to pack. I was going into an impossible situation, knowing nothing about when and where to go. I wore the keys on my laptop out, Googling every angle of the Puerto Vallarta drug market I could find. Update: There’s nothing to find online. I was hoping for a giant “We Sell Drugs Here” ad, but got nothing. I did discover that taxis swarm our hotel like locusts, so I was able to cross “surveillance vehicle” off the list.
By Thursday, I had a brand new pair of black jeans and a black turtleneck in my suitcase. Bought a pair of low heels that would both fit into a club and allow me to jog with some degree of efficiency. I know, I practiced. Back and forth on my front porch. I could even jump over Miller’s body in them if I got a running start. I had withdrawn three hundred dollars in cash, which I figured was enough to get me a cabbie for as long as I needed it, along with extra in case I had to follow Brett inside a club.
I remembered the last club experience, when I had lasted about ten minutes before saying “fuck it”. I’d do better this time. I had a reason, it wasn’t like before, when I was being nosy and didn’t really have a dog in the fight.
My final nights in Quincy, it took me hours to fall asleep. I finally succumbed to the comforting thought that, in Puerto Vallarta, I’d finally have some answers, resolution either way. Soon I’d have enough information to make a decision about whether to walk away from this man.
(adj.) changing direction abruptly
“a tight turn”
I didn’t have a mirror in my cell, but my self-perusal was encouraging. I didn’t know how many days have passed, but I’d showered four times. Eaten every bit of food that he had brought. The first day, I vomited half of it up, my stomach unused to the large amount of food. After that I did better, eating smaller meals slower.