The story so far:
January 11, 2009 (addendum)
I’m so shocked, my hands are shaking as I write this. I thought by now I’d seen it all. The lowest of the low, the worst of the worst. All of it. I didn’t even think I had the capacity to be surprised anymore.
Clearly, I was wrong.
I had just finished packing my things and finalizing my flight details on the phone when I realized I had left all my paperwork at the precinct here. Never have I been so tempted to just skip the paperwork, but rules are rules. As much as I hated the thought, I would have to walk back into that precinct, retrieve the papers, and leave before anyone could say anything.
I swung by the precinct on my way to the airport, figuring it would give me a good excuse to be fast. The magehunters there seemed rather preoccupied, which satisfied me plenty. I sure didn’t want to talk to any of them. I headed straight for Grif’s desk, found the paperwork I’d left, and scooted back to the exit as fast as I could go while still looking nonchalant.
I cringed at the sound of the boss’ voice. Did he really have to compound my humiliation by calling me out in front of everyone? The man had no tact at all.
I turned just as he strode past me, shrugging his coat on as he went. “Come on. You’re going to want to see this,” he said as he continued toward the exit.
It took me a moment to confirm that he really was talking to me, then double-stepped to catch up with him. “Sir, I really don’t think there’s any more I can do here. She’s escaped, and she’s probably already halfway to her next destination by now. Some other city’s problem.”
He paused and eyed me. “You came all the way to Riventon just to let some other precinct take jurisdiction?”
“I gave it my best shot. She escaped. Someone else will catch her.”
He shook his head and resumed walking. “You want to tuck tail and run, go for it. But Grif tracked down the warehouse she bought during her brief stay here, and it’s big.”
“She bought a big warehouse. So?”
He eyed me again. “It’s not the warehouse that’s big, kid. It’s what she’s keeping in it.” With that, he climbed into his car and revved the engine.
I immediately bristled at being called “kid,” but I couldn’t resist the tug of curiosity. I never had found out what her illegal secret was in the first place. Maybe I could at least know what she was up to before I left. At least it would give me some sense of satisfaction—perhaps. I climbed into the passenger seat of the boss’s car, and we were off.
“I told Grif the trail would be too cold to track at this point, but the kid’s determined,” the boss said, weaving in and out of traffic without taking his eyes off the road. “Picked up a little of that from you, I think. Good to know who to blame for the headaches he’ll be causing me later. At any rate, he looked into it, and sure enough, not a lick of evidence linked to the name she’d been using here. She tied things up pretty neatly before meeting you this morning.”
The pride I’d felt at the compliments soured quickly. “So what’s the point?”
“The kid’s determined, like I said. He ran a facial recognition on Willsey’s buddy in the café. Nothing there, either. But it turns out she had a friend out back, too, in the alley. He kept our guys back there disabled so her buddy could get in and drop the network on you. Get this—one of the stores across the street has an outdoor security camera, and it got a great shot of his face. Turns out he’s one of our usual suspects here. He’s long gone, of course, but Grif started leaning on some of this guy’s pals, and it didn’t take long before they got chatty. Gave up the address to this warehouse. I guess she kept it under a phony name so she could come back for its contents.”
“And what might those contents be?”
He shrugged. “Grif wouldn’t say on the phone. Sounded pretty shaken up, though.”
I stared out the window, processing this new information. If the contacts gave up the warehouse easily, then it’s likely they had more to give up under a little more pressure. We’d have to check them out a bit more thoroughly.
Rubbing my forehead, I looked down at the file of paperwork in my hands. No. I was done with this case. Willsey had proven that she was smarter than me. She was someone else’s problem now.
“We’re here,” the boss said as the tires bumped over the curb.
I stared as the disco scene of flashing lights quickly differentiated into dozens of emergency vehicles, mostly ambulances. “What in the-”
Grif trotted up as the boss and I climbed out of the car. He almost smiled as he looked my way. “You’re still here. Good. You’ll want to see this.” He turned and walked back to the warehouse without waiting for a reply.
I glanced at the boss, but he was already following Grif, so I fell in line behind him. A couple of medics passed me, wheeling a stretcher with a young woman on it. An oxygen mask covered her face, which was so pale it was almost white. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I didn’t have time to ask questions. Grif was waiting, holding the door for me.
The inside of the warehouse was nothing spectacular in and of itself. Secured metal boxes lined the walls, filling almost a third of the total space. Most were around the same size, though a few were a little larger. They stacked almost to the ceiling in some areas.
Aside from the boxes, bare beams supported the structure, and large windows were covered with black plastic. Small tears in various places let in faint flashes of colored lights from the vehicles outside, but most of the lighting came from dim, poorly wired bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling at various intervals.
The emergency workers were everywhere, tending to people on stretchers on the floor, talking in hushed tones. I eyed a very still man, then turned to Grif. “You want to tell me what’s going on here?”
Grif silently walked over to one of the metal boxes, pulled out a desealer, and deactivated the lock on the side. He paused briefly, then pulled open the top.
A man was curled up inside the box, as still and pale as all the others in the warehouse. A few pillows had been propped up around him, and an air tank of some kinds had been fastened to his face.
I stared uncomprehendingly at him for a moment, then took a step back, letting my gaze drift over the thousands of boxes in the warehouse. “You—you don’t mean…”
Grif nodded, his face grim. “Every single one.”
The boss was also staring, his fingers lightly tapping on the edge of the box. “Trafficking?”
“I don’t think so,” Grif replied. “These boxes are expensive. Traffickers don’t go through all this trouble for their slaves. Besides, there’s too much of a variety here. Men, women, old, young… Anyone. Traffickers are usually a little more selective.”
It took a moment before I could find my voice. “So what is she doing?”
“I don’t know. They’re all still alive, just in some sort of biological stasis. The medics will call us as soon as they start waking up. Maybe they’ll be able to give us some answers.”
Someone bumped into me from behind, and I stepped aside as a medic passed, mumbling his pardons as he and his partner wheeled a girl who couldn’t be older than fourteen past me. I was interrupted from watching her by a tug on my sleeve. Grif ushered me out of the way so the medics could tend to the man he’d just uncovered.
“Crazy, right?” he asked, staring at the stacks of boxes.
“Crazy.” It was all I could say.
A sensation in my hands caught my attention and looked down to see that I was starting to crumple the edges of my file. I’d been so distracted by all the activity that I hadn’t realized I was still holding it. I took another look around the area, then silently dropped the paperwork into one of the nearby unoccupied boxes. I wasn’t going back home tonight. I wasn’t going back home at all, not until we’d gotten to the bottom of this. Whatever it took, we were going to track Willsey down.
She was going to pay.