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Home Sweet Home

UNMASKED_CHAP_2_HEADING

On the short chopper ride from the cartel’s compound to Monterrey where the  Godmother Security company jet waited for them, the three kids huddled together, a strange bond having formed in the past few minutes. The two girls cried tears of relief while Cody sat silently with his arms wrapped around them.  Once the helicopter landed Jack and Gus carried the two girls onboard the plane, then Cindy and Jack bottles of water and protein bars for the teenagers while Gus went into the cockpit and readied the plane for takeoff.

The plane ride to San Antonio was just long enough for Cody to tell Cindy the story of how he’d been kidnapped while the girls silently devoured the food and drinks.

“My roommate at college is from Monterrey and invited me down for summer vacation.  Sounded like fun, I mean, hot Latin babes.”

Cindy rolled her eyes and both Tiffany and Faith groaned.

Cody had the good sense to look sheepish.  “Okay, so maybe thinking like that is what got me in trouble.”

“How’s that?” Cindy asked.

“Hugo and I went out to a club.  Hugo’s family had warned me to stay close to him and not wonder off on my own, but there was this really hot girl coming on to me.  We danced for a while, then she asked if I wanted to go for a ride.”

Both of the girls groaned along with Cindy.  Cody had definitely been taken for a ride that night, but not the kind he’d been counting on.

Cody grimaced.  “I know, it was stupid.  But I wasn’t thinking with my brain.  So, I ditched Hugo and followed her out of the club and down the street to her car.”

“Did you tell Hugo where you were going?” Cindy asked.

“No.  I knew he’d tell me not to do it.  Besides, he was occupied with a girl of his own on the dance floor.  I seriously thought I’d be back before he noticed I was gone.”

That statement verified that Cody hadn’t actually expected anyone to be driving the car during this “ride”.  But it was no less than what she expected from a hormonal nineteen year-old.  But he’d also confirmed what she’d known all along, but still had to check.  Hugo Somoza had not been involved in the kidnapping.

The young man had never really been a suspect.  He’d had the presence of mind to inform the authorities and Cody’s father immediately when he hadn’t been able to find Cody after their night of clubbing.  Because of that, Cindy’s security team had already been by Mr. Peirce’s side when the ransom demand came in.  Unfortunately, Mr. Peirce was a little bit of a bigot and kept insisting that Hugo had lured Cody down there to get his money.  Never mind that Hugo’s parents were the wealthy owners of a multi-national corporation.

“What happened next?” Cindy prodded.

Leaning back and sipping his water, Cody shrugged.  “I’m not exactly sure.  There must have been someone hiding in the backseat of her car.  I got in, then felt a sharp pain on the back of my head.  The next thing I knew I was waking up, my hands were tied and there was a gag stuffed in my mouth.  I think I was in the trunk of a car, but there was a blindfold on me so I couldn’t see anything.”

“Did you ever see any faces?”

He shook his head.  “No.  They took me into a house, and questioned me.  They kept the blindfold on, but I felt a knife at my throat.  Once I gave them my fathers name and contact information they tossed me out in that shack.”  He looked down at his hands, picking at his fingernails.  “I was alone at first, but then sometime, last night maybe, they brought the girls in.  I could only hear them crying.”

There was shame in his voice.  Good, Cindy thought.  He’d acted like an arrogant little shit and it was good for him to learn a little humility.

Before Cindy could respond, Gus’s voice came over the intercom.

“Okay people, get your seatbelts on and kiss your flight attendant.  We’ll be landing in a few minutes.”

Jack, who was bringing everyone more bottles of water said, “I guess that makes me your flight attendant.  I won’t say no to some kisses from pretty ladies.”  He turned to Cody, tossing him a water bottle.  “Except you, dude.”

Laughter filled the cabin, with even a few shy giggles coming from Faith and Tiffany.

Gus had called ahead and two ambulances met them at the airport to take the teenagers to the hospital.  Cindy and her team followed in their rented SUV, calling Mr. Peirce to meet them.

While she waited for the three teenagers to be seen by doctors, Cindy called her aunt, who also happened to be her boss.   Faye Murdoch was the owner and CEO of Godmother Security, the private security and investigations firm Cindy, Gus and Jack worked for.

“I take it you’re back in the states?” Faye asked without preamble when she answered the phone.  “The extraction was successful?”

Cindy couldn’t help but grin.  Her aunt was always straight to the point.

“It was.  I just handed Cody off to Mr. Peirce.  But there was a little hitch.”

“What kind of hitch?” Faye’s voice didn’t change, but Cindy knew her aunt had just sat straighter in her chair and her senses had gone on alert.

“There were two girls in the shed with Cody.  Both Americans, late teens, possibly early twenties, but I doubt it.  From the looks of them they were held a long time, and abused.

“You grabbed them.”

It wasn’t a question, but Cindy answered anyway.  “Yes.”

“Good girl,” Faye said, her smile apparent in her voice.  “Do you know who they are?”

“Not yet.  They are pretty traumatized so I wanted to give them a little time to adjust before I questioned them.  We are at the hospital now and once they’ve been treated for their injuries I’ll talk to them and find out what I can.  I suspect they are college students who were on vacation or working with an outreach group.  Maybe their parents couldn’t afford the ransom.”

“Or maybe their parents were never contacted.” Faye voiced the concern that had been niggling at the base of Cindy’s gut since laying eyes on the two girls.  Human trafficking, selling girls into prostitution or as sex slaves, was a booming business in every corner of the world.

“Whatever it is, their safe now.”

“Yes, they are,” Faye replied.  “Keep me informed.  I’ll start making a few calls to smooth out some of red tape headed your way.”

“Thanks.” Cindy hit the end button on her phone and went to find out what was happening with the kids.

Both girls were admitted to the hospital to be treated for dehydration.  They’d been treated for minor cuts and bruises.  The doctors were concerned about Tiffany’s ankle, but didn’t want to do anything further until the girls had rested and recovered some.

Once they were settled into a room Cindy was able to question the girls.  She found out they’d been in Mexico on a church mission trip.  Their church group had gone into Monterrey for an afternoon of shopping and sightseeing.  When they got separated from their group, they decided to take a taxi back to where the group’s truck was parked.  They had been kidnapped by the driver, and delivered to the cartel.  Instead of ransoming the two girls, they had been kept for entertainment.  They didn’t go into details, but they didn’t need to.  Cindy could imagine the horrors they’d been forced to endure.

Cindy waited at the hospital with the girls while Jack and Gus took the jet to Salt Lake City to pick up their parents, reuniting the families six hours quicker than if they had waited to get a commercial flight.

Neither of the girls had been sure how long they’d been held captive, but when their parents arrived Cindy had learned the girls had been missing for over three months.  Both families had flown to Mexico to look for the girls, but there had been no luck. After two weeks the money the church had raised to help had ran out, and they’d been forced to go home.

Due to the nature of their injuries, the hospital notified the police when the girls’ were admitted. So, while Jack and Gus napped in the hotel room they’d rented earlier in the week while planning the rescue, Cindy stayed with Faith, Tiffany, and their parents while they gave the police their statements.  She also had to deal with the legalities associated with the rescue.  But, true to her word, Faye had made some calls from New York to help with that, and it had all been tied up fairly quickly.

A little more than sixteen hours later Cindy dropped her travel bag and mission utility pack onto the entryway floor of her Upper West Side apartment.

“Home sweet home,” she mumbled to the empty apartment.  Her one-bedroom was barely larger than a studio apartment, but it was cozy.  She’d picked every detail in the décor herself, from the bookshelves that lined the sage green walls in the living room, to the multi-colored throw pillows stacked in her favorite reading chair. Her job often required long hours and travel, so she didn’t spend a lot of time at home.  But when she did, she it was her retreat from the world.  She’d designed it that way.

At that moment she thought it had never looked more welcoming.  Dirt and grime from the Mexican desert still covered her skin and she hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours, unless you counted the catnap on the plane ride home, which she didn’t.  She was looking forward to taking advantage of the amazing water pressure in the tiled shower and queen size, memory foam bed.

She kicked off her dirty boots entry then padded into the kitchen.  She stripped off her dirty t-shirt, tossing it in front of the door of the closet that housed her tiny washer and dryer combo. Her jeans joined the shirt, and Cindy was halfway to the bathroom when her cell phone rang.

Groaning, she stalked back to the door and fished her phone out of the side pocket of her bag. She tapped answer and barely had the phone to her ear when a smooth, cultured voice said, “Welcome home.”

“Faye, are you tracking my phone’s GPS?” Cindy asked, smiling.

“Honey, my computer is always tracking your phone’s GPS.  It’s my job.  But, as it happens, I don’t have my computer in front of me just now.  I actually bribed your doorman to call me the instant you got home.”

Cindy laughed.  “Remind me to reduce Albert’s Christmas bonus this year.”

Faye gasped in mock horror.  “Don’t you dare!  If you do I’ll have to double my bribes.”

Cindy laughed again.  “So, what was so important that you had to bribe poor Albert to spy on me?”

“I thought you’d want to know Tiffany Stokes’ mother called me while you were on your way home.  Tiffany’s ankle won’t need surgery, but they want to keep her a couple of days to keep an eye on the infection.  Faith will be released tomorrow but has refused to leave Tiffany so the Lucas family will be staying on as well.  I’ve arranged for hotel rooms for both families near the hospital for as long as they need them.  And I’ll take care of their flights home when they are ready.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Cindy said.

“It’s not much, really.  They’ve been through a lot, and have a lot more to go through.  Their parents are missing work, and both girls will have medical bills and therapy to contend with.  Mrs. Stokes said their church is already planning fundraisers to help with some expenses. Neither family is destitute, but every little bit helps.”

Cindy smiled at the phone.  Her aunt was a savvy business woman and had been, at one time, a ruthless killer; but she had a soft side a mile wide. “Both families seemed very nice, and it was very sweet of you to take a little worry off of them so they can focus on their girls.  Thanks for letting me know.”

“Oh, there’s one more thing before I let you go,” Faye said.

“What’s that?” Cindy asked distractedly.  Her mind was already back on the warm, soothing shower she had planned.

“I need you in the office first thing in the morning,” Faye said, all business now.

Cindy groaned.  “It’s Saturday.  You don’t even go into the office on Saturday.”

“This is a special case.  I’ve got a job for your team.”

“We just came off a job, like half an hour ago. Don’t you have other employees, including five other alpha teams?  Let one of them have it,” Cindy groused.

Godmother Security was a large firm that employed security specialists at every level, from basic security guards to personal body guards for celebrities and other VIPs.  But only the alpha teams took on the high profile or special cases like the rescue mission Cindy’s team had just executed.

“All of them are on jobs, except Grant’s team.  You are more qualified for this particular job.  It’s local, you’ll be okay.  Go get some rest, and I’ll see you in the morning.”  She hung up before Cindy could complain anymore.

 

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