Bakos laughed. "Why would I do that?" he asked. "I won't talk. I'd rather die knowing you'll spend the rest of your life in prison for trying to ruin my business."
"Your business?" Josh asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Yes, my business. Where there is money, there is business."
"You're a piece of human garbage, you know–"
"Josh," I warned, "don't waste your breath on him. Let's just get what we need."
Josh looked back at Bakos, studying him. "We didn't figure you'd talk to save your own sorry ass, but maybe this will convince you," Josh said, taking his cell phone out of his pocket.
Come on Dylan, I thought. If he had been successful, there'd be a video streaming to Josh's phone right now.
He held it up in front of Bakos. Bakos' face paled.
And I knew we had been right. Even a sick f**k like Bakos, who sold human beings for a living, would try to protect his own family. We were bluffing, but by the look on his face, it was working. And in that moment, I knew that we had won.
Josh continued, "Recognize her? Cute, isn't she? See that little red dot that moves wherever she does? That's our sniper's gun. Start talking or he takes her out right now. The guard you have posted in the next room won't even be able to blink before we take them all out."
Bakos narrowed his eyes, a look of hatred on his face. Josh clicked on the tape recorder and after a long pause, Bakos started talking.
"I was in that old warehouse the night you came in. My men and I were going over plans to ship the merchandise out in the morning. While you were taking my guards down, I was able to make it to a hidden room with a trap door I had installed, with one of the girls as a hostage. The bitch cried and I heard you coming toward the room, so I watched out the peephole until you turned around, and then I opened it and hit you over the head with a rock I found on the floor. Simple. I dragged you inside, gagged the girl and waited until your men left. Then I executed the bitch with your gun, put some of her blood on your clothes, and left the rock in her hand. I dropped you off in an abandoned house. Easy. I barely broke a sweat." Bakos went silent, glaring at us.
Josh clicked off the recorder, his eyes never moving from Bakos. He sent the file to Dylan, and his phone dinged a second later saying Dylan had gotten it and that the file was good.
None of us moved as Josh watched Bakos, a storm of disgust moving through his eyes. I glanced down to his hand and I saw it fist, but I didn't stop him. Josh moved forward like lightening and punched him in the face, Bakos' head whipping back, and blood flying out his nose. His head lolled on his neck–he was out cold.
Josh turned around, his jaw clenching as he shook his hand out. "Holy shit. Hidden rooms with trap doors? He got me with some Scooby Doo shit." He ran his hand through his hair, letting out a small, humorless laugh.
I shook my head. I was sure he was affected by hearing how the girl we had come to rescue, had ended up shot in the head. So was I. I clapped him lightly on his shoulder. "Let's go, Shaggy. I believe we have a delivery for the head prosecutor on your case. Call the police and give 'em the address where they can find this waste of space." I indicated my head back towards a now unmoving Bakos. "Let's move," I said quietly.
Ten minutes later, we were pulling around the corner as we heard the sirens moving in the direction of the warehouse.
Two weeks later
I pulled my dress up my h*ps and smiled into the mirror. The last two weeks had gone by in a whirlwind. A happy whirlwind, but an intense one.
After presenting the videotape evidence to Larry, we brought it to the judge and the murder case against Josh was dismissed a couple days later. Bakos was taken into custody. Although he attempted to recant what he had said on tape, claiming it was taken under duress and he had lied to save the lives of his family, the evidence found in the warehouse and his computer system was far too overwhelming. The murder he had framed Josh for was only one of the charges filed against him.
Larry, my boss, the D.A., had come to me the next day and asked me if I would trust him to present an idea to his contacts and good friends, higher-ups in the police department.
And so on a cold, drizzly Sunday in the beginning of January, Carson, Josh, Leland and Dylan had sat behind closed doors for three hours, while I chewed my nails to the quick and jumped every time my cell phone rang.
Finally, when I was so wound up, I didn't think I could wait a second longer, there was a knock on my door and when I swung it open, Carson was standing in my doorway, grinning at me.
I had squealed and jumped into his arms, kissing his face again and again. "They agreed?" I asked.
"Yup. You're looking at not just a member, but also the leader, of the Vegas P.D. Sexual Trafficking Task Force. First of its kind."
I sucked in a breath and tears came to my eyes. Larry had listened to my story about how I had come by the tape and although I didn't say that I knew the names of the group members other than Josh, he didn't ask. A couple days later, he had come to me and asked me if I thought I could contact them with an opportunity. People he trusted wanted to talk to them.
It turned out that the police department didn't have a budget for their own task force, but they were very interested in getting behind one that took care of its own training and own budget. They wanted to do more in the world of trafficking but their hands were tied. And so Carson and the guys now had the full support of law enforcement behind them, without having to strictly work within the guidelines of the police department. That last part may not have been spelled out exactly, but it was understood.
Carson and the guys would still focus on rescuing the victims, and they would still put them up at the hotel while their transport home was being arranged. But now they could also focus more energy and effort on tracking the location of the people in charge of the crime, and turning them over to the police without raising questions. It was still a dangerous job, but I would rest easier knowing that it was a legitimate operation, and although there were plenty of risks, a possible prison sentence wasn't one of them.
Trafficking crime in Vegas was already lower because of their team. Word had gotten around that Vegas wasn't the best place to do business if human beings were your commodity. But unfortunately, it would never stop completely. It was a sad truth that where there was money to be made, there would always be someone to sell their soul to the devil.
But my heart belonged to one of the good guys, and his heart belonged to me.
Work had picked up for me too. I was given the case of prosecuting Bakos, my first actual murder trial, or at least the first one that would end up going to court. Once the trafficking charges came to light, the case was suddenly thrust into the limelight, both on a local level, but also on a national level. I didn't necessarily love being involved in something high profile, but I was glad that human trafficking was being discussed. People needed to know the reality of it, if they were going to be inspired to help the cause.
Alex had decided to take the job in San Francisco after all. We had sat down and talked, and he had assured me that it wasn't solely because of our break-up, but that he thought it would be a good thing for both of us anyway. I wished him nothing but happiness. He was a good man–he just wasn't the man for me.
I took a deep breath and finished my hair and makeup. As I was putting on my charm bracelet, I heard a knock at my door.
I opened it and there he was, standing before me in all his masculine beauty. I leaned my head to the side, and rested it against the open door as I held it steady. I sighed in appreciation as I took him in; gray, suit pants, black, dress shoes, and a light blue, dress shirt.
He grinned. "You look beautiful, Buttercup."
I smiled back. "Thank you, Agent Stinger." I winked, opening the door wider for him to pass through.
I closed the door and he gathered me in his arms and kissed me as I brought my hands up to his hair, a little longer now, more like it had been the first time we met. I felt its silky texture under my fingers and thought about the first time he had kissed me, on that elevator, a million years ago.
I pulled my lips away from his and gazed up into those hazel eyes, thinking about who he had been, and what he had become, a fierce pride swelling in my heart.
"What?" he asked, his eyes moving over my face.
"You," I said, my face growing serious. "You're stunning. On the outside, but even more so on the inside. The world is a better place with you in it, Carson Stinger," I whispered.
His eyes glittered down at me. "I love you, Grace Hamilton."
I smiled at him. "I love you too."
He smiled back. "Ready to go celebrate?"
I grabbed my purse off my counter. "Yup."
Twenty minutes later, we were walking into the bar at the Bellagio where I had walked away from Carson Stinger, Straight Male Performer, all those years ago.
Josh was there, busy hitting on a pair of blondes sitting at the bar, and Leland and Dylan were sitting at a table, chatting.
Carson started pulling me and as we approached the table, the men turned and smiled, calling out to me and Carson, Dylan saying, "Hey Prosecutor!"
When the first round of drinks came, Leland raised his glass first and looked around at the guys. "To Ara," he said, "Always."
"To Ara," they all said. And we all raised our glasses and toasted in memory to the girl whose life and death inspired a whole group of good men to go to radical lengths to save others like her. It was her legacy, her last gift to the world. And it meant that she hadn't died in vain.
We laughed and talked and celebrated that night. Celebrated all they had accomplished, all they had overcome, and all that they would always work to vindicate.
As Dylan was in the middle of telling a story, I caught Carson's eye and I smiled. As he smiled back, his eyes warm and happy, I thought back to our first exchange in this very bar, and how I had thought I hated him. I looked at the same man in front of me now, the man I knew I never wanted to live without. And I thought to myself, life is wild.
I hung up the phone and sat at my desk thinking about the call I had just been on. I had spoken with the Houston Chief of Police. He wanted us to organize a similar task force in their city, as human trafficking was a growing crime demographic, and they simply didn't have the resources to address it.
I'd have to talk to Leland, but I thought it was a good possibility that we could get something going there, maybe not just in Houston, but in other cities as well. He had a lot of contacts–wealthy contacts–that would have the means to fund an operation like ours.
Leland was out today, and so I opened my computer and started composing an email that he would see tomorrow morning, outlining all my thoughts on the proposal, making sure I wrote it all down while it was still fresh in my mind.
Twenty minutes later, I heard a small knock on my door and called, "Come in."
Grace peeked in and smiled and I grinned back at her. "Hey baby, this is a nice surprise."
"I brought lunch." She smiled, holding up a couple of takeout bags. "Hot dogs."
I laughed. "God, that sounds good. How'd you know I love hot dogs?" I asked teasingly, as she placed the bags down and walked around my desk to sit on my lap.
"Oh, I know everything about you, Carson Stinger," she said, a glint in her eye.
"You think so, do you?" I asked, smiling and kissing her neck.
She laughed as I tickled her ear with my tongue. "Hmmm hmmm," she said.
"But," she paused, "you don't know everything about me."
I pulled away from her ear, raising one eyebrow. "Oh really?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No. I have a secret."
"A secret? Ah, well how about we play a little game then? A shot for a secret?"
She grinned and tilted her head. "Well, okay." She leaned forward and took the pens out of the cup on my desk and moved it to the far edge. Then she reached into her purse, next to the takeout bags, and pulled out a dime.
She held it up to me and I took it out of her hand. "Last time I made a shot and got your secret, my whole life changed."
She just looked at me, her face going serious. But then she smiled, nodding her head in the direction of the cup.
I raised an eyebrow again. What was she up to exactly? But I lined up my shot and threw the dime. Solid dunk. Yup, I still had it. I grinned at her.
"Give it up, Buttercup," I said.
She nodded and licked her lips, looking serious again. "So, as it turns out, your boys are really good swimmers too," she said quietly, her eyes studying mine.
"My boys?" I asked, confused. She just kept looking at me.
And then I suddenly understood and my whole body froze beneath her. "You're pregnant?" I breathed out.
She nodded her head yes, still studying my eyes warily.
"You're pregnant," I repeated, letting it sink in. "We're having a baby."
"Yes," she said.
I couldn't help the grin that spread over my face. She blinked at me.
"You're happy?" she whispered.
I nodded. "Yes, Buttercup, I'm happy." I smiled. "Very happy."
She laughed, but it sounded like there was a small sob beneath it.
"Did you think I wouldn't be?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I thought you'd be happy, but I wasn't sure… the timing… I know you have a lot going on and we're…"
"Grace," I said, looking into her eyes. "I'm happy," I repeated, letting her see in my face that it was true.