Authors: JC Coulton
I can’t believe it took such a short time to turn a person like Carrie into a prostitute. I’m still baffled that she walked up to the car and tried to solicit sex. The only explanation is she’s being forced. It has to be. She must still feel I’m in with Neon too. It seems like she thought I was here…as a john?
My head is a mess of emotion. I want to cry and laugh and scream. This is all my fault. I didn’t protect her when it mattered. I was supposed to look after her, and I failed. The pain she’s in is obvious. Her voice is hoarse, I can tell she’s been crying and all I want to do is hold her.
As she stares at me, I realize she’s completely stoned. Her eyes are hooded, her face is drawn, and the marks on her arms are undeniable. Now that she’s in the car, she’s crying again. I’ve caused this woman so much pain. Everything inside me wants to wrap my arms around her and comfort her, but I’m sure she’ll bolt if I do.
She lifts her head up for a moment and turns to look at me. I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I reach for her the moment the door closes, but she shrinks away from my touch. She is tense, arms still folded to protect her body. She’s shaking as if she’s bracing herself.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Carrie. It’s okay. I’ve come for you. I’ve never stopped looking for you.”
She still doesn’t say a word. I put the car in park for a minute. If someone is watching, it’ll look like she’s negotiating her price before getting down to business. I see another girl standing about twenty feet away. I bet it’s April Lee, but I won’t be able to tell until I take my time and look closely at her face. I won’t screw up twice and leave her behind again. Whatever they do to these girls is horrendous. Carrie’s only been gone for under a week and she already seems like a shadow of her formal self.
I keep one eye on the thug who seems to be staring at us from the edge of the building. What a prick, sitting there in the shelter while the girls are forced to sell themselves in the rain. I decide to drive the car in the alley one block away. I’ll still have a vantage point on what they’re up to, but it’s far enough away. I can’t let them have another chance to snatch this woman from me.
When I park, I turn to Carrie again. “Carrie, I need to ask you some questions, can you look at me?”
She turns to me and nods. She seems so disoriented and scared. I have to get her away from here soon.
“Did you see April’s uncle walk into one of these nearby buildings earlier this evening?”
She doesn’t seem to understand. I peer at her. There are fresh needle marks on her arms. She looks as if she’s been given enough drugs to knock her out. Shaky and pale, she leans back in the passenger seat and doesn’t respond to my prompts or questions.
I take her hand gently and squeeze it. “Carrie, listen to me. Just nod or shake your head if you understand me, okay?”
She doesn’t respond. I’m getting desperate. Anything could be going down inside the brothel. I’m certain it was Jessup going inside, but I want to be sure. If I can prove Jessup is inside, I can call for help.
“Carrie!” I shout. She perks up slightly. I take her face in my hands and look into her eyes. “Honey, was that Jessup?”
I speak slowly and clearly and it seems to get through. Her eyes flick into focus and meet mine with a flash of emotion.
“Yes, it’s Jessup. Jessup and Neon are in the brothel…up the street near where you found me.
It’s enough for me to take action.
“Lock this door behind me. Don’t open it for anyone. Promise me, Carrie. No one but me!”
“Okay. Can you get April too?”
“I’ll try. I promise I’ll do everything I can.”
She nods again and slumps back in the car seat. I leave the keys in the engine, and push down the lock before I close it behind me. I look back to make sure she’s okay. It looks like she’s passed out in my passenger seat. Thank God I have her now. She may never recover from this, but at least she’s safe. I have no idea what she’s been forced to do. I’m never letting her out of my sight again.
Anger flows through me like molten lava. Those bastards have hurt her. I want to put Jessup in a headlock and squeeze until he passes out, or worse. The whole time he was feeding me tiny pieces of information, Carrie was hurting. And Neon has to pay for the part she played in this too. I grip my fists a little tighter and stalk towards the brothel.
I get down the alleyway, and am about ten feet away when the back door is thrown open. The thug who was glaring suspiciously at me is now at the back door. He stands aside and Jessup Lee steps out into the street. Neon Lips follows. They’re both upset about something, and are arguing. Two other guards are behind them, holding large umbrellas over them to shade them from the rain.
There’s a motley crew of scantily dressed women and fit men in black following close behind. The full entourage including the security guy looks like around fifteen people. I’m outnumbered. I have to act smart, so I push down the feeling of wanting to tackle them, and tuck myself behind a row of garbage containers to take a long look.
Jessup is wearing a disgusting little suit. It’s obviously tailored and I’m sure those shiny shoes have inserts in them. He wants to be the big man, but his eye is still blackened from my fist. I get a moment of satisfaction that I’ve been able to do some damage. Neon is dressed in her usual black outfit. Tight and tiny as she is, those heels nearly make her taller than Jessup.
The girls with them are young. They may not be hookers, and I wonder if they’re just unlucky women, out for a good time with bad people. I have no way to tell. I have Ryan’s number on speed dial, and he’s waiting for my call. He answers on the first ring and I whisper, “You were right. It’s time.” I hang up and step into the light.
The light reveals me to Neon first. The bouncer at her side sees me next. He widens his stance and turns to Neon, waiting for her direction. She glares at me, probably because this is the first time I’ve caught her off guard. I know the truth now, thanks to what Ryan figured out, and Jessup’s insinuations. Neon is in a secret partnership with Jessup Lee. Together, they’ve caused a world of pain for April, Carrie and possibly hundreds of other innocent women.
They’ve been deliberate and merciless. They’re masterminds who have kidnapped and tortured young girls across the country. They snatch them, abuse them, feed them drugs and force them onto the street. Then, when the women are finally broken, they send them across the border in trucks to be used as play bait for anyone who can spare the money. It sickens me, but tonight is the beginning of the end, at least for this arm of Jessup’s business.
I look at the sneer on Neon’s face. She has nothing but contempt for me. It’s the polar opposite of the way she used to greet me, years back when we were each other’s only support. I still find it hard to believe that someone could change so fundamentally. She’s gone from a funny, smart girl, to a hardened criminal capable of unspeakable acts against women.
I had a hard time accepting it, because Neon herself was once rescued from the street. She knows only too well the pain prostitutes go through. It baffles me she could turn around and do the same to others. Before this goes any further, I’m going to give her a chance to defend herself from this mountain of evidence. With all of the years of history we share, I at least owe her a few minutes to have her say. It’s a courtesy at this point, because now that Ryan has connected the dots, I have little doubt about her guilt.
“Erica.” I say her real name calmly. I need to bring her back from the edge. She needs to step away from Neon, a character she’s created for herself. “It’s me, one of your oldest friends. Please, talk to me. Tell me you didn’t do this?”
I stand there on the street with my palms up, waiting for her response.
“Don’t be such a child, Blake. You never knew me. As usual, you’re on some hero mission to save your girlfriend. She’s gone, Blake. She’s fucked and there’s nothing you can do. I own these girls. Hell, I own all of these bitches.”
She gestures around at her entourage, not noticing the look on Jessup’s face.
“These people do what I say, they think what I want them to think. I’ve never been more satisfied. Just face it, Blake. The Erica you used to know was weak. I’m Neon now. I have money, power, influence, and I’m protected Blake. Can’t you see? I’ve outgrown you and most men.”
She flicks her wrist dismissively in Jessup’s direction. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but his demeanor changes.
“You self-righteous little bitch!” he says to her, seething with anger. “I’m the one who made you. You think you’d be anything without me? You’re a dog trainer, Neon. Nothing more. And there’s no way I’ll let you work around me like you were planning.”
Neon pulls back her palm, preparing to slap his face. Jessup blocks her easily. He grabs a fist of her hair and pulls down on it sharply. She’s lets out a screech of pain, forced down to her knees in front of him. The people around her don’t react. Her security guy braces, but does nothing.
Still on her knees, Neon begins to scream at him. “Get your hands off me!”
Jessup is cruel, twisting chunks of her long hair and she’s on her knees sobbing and humiliated. Something about the pain in her voice spurs me to act. Crazy or not, I can’t stand by and watch anyone get hurt.
In my heart, I know that she’s not the woman she once was. I should leave now, take what I’ve discovered and walk away while I still can. Logic has me stepping backwards, but then I remember the old Erica. The girl I once rescued. She was there for me at one of the most difficult times in my life. That’s why I can’t leave her here with Jessup. No matter what she’s become in recent years, Neon was once like family to me. Realizing this, I don’t think about it for another second. I pull out the gun I’m carrying and point it directly at Jessup’s forehead.
“Let her go, Jessup!” I grit my jaw and cock the weapon, holding it steady and looking him in the eye. “You know I’ll do it. Let her go now.”
He looks up at me. “Go on. Do it. This is the best move you’ve got?”
He reaches down and slaps Neon’s pale face. This time she doesn’t cry out. She may be on her knees in front of him, but she tugs her head back and bares her teeth at him, hissing her refusal to be dominated.
“I mean it, Jessup. I said let her go!”
The man does not move an inch. He’s challenging me. The group around him tenses at the showdown. I tell him I’m taking him in if he doesn’t let her go in three seconds. As I slowly start counting down, one of Neon’s security detail reaches behind his back for what I have to assume is a concealed weapon.
The moment stretches out. Jessup glowers at me and does not let go. It’s a classic show down. Neon begins to sob as Jessup drags her up from her knees and pulls her away from the group. He stretches his free hand under his suit jacket.
“Don’t even think about it, Jessup. I’ve got you covered. Don’t you dare reach down.”
As Jessup continues to defy me, I see a familiar form exit from the same doors where Neon, Jessup and her entourage came from. Everyone pauses. Even Jessup turns to look. A smile rises from his face. He releases Neon’s hair and helps her to her feet.
If I didn’t see with my own eyes, I would never believe it. I didn’t believe it when Ryan told me, but God, he was right. It’s Lieutenant Jacob. She’s been covering for Jessup’s illicit activity, apparently for years. Ryan had discovered her account being used to pass information to him. And it was her department phone number that was found in the call logs to Jessup’s phone.
When Ryan first told me, I didn’t believe it. I thought someone at the precinct might be using her credentials to cover their tracks. Finding her here now, I can only believe she’s the one who’s behind it all.
She walks through the crowd, a hand on her gun holster as she approaches me.
“Put the gun down, Detective Anderson,” she orders. “I have this under control.”
“Lieutenant, what are you doing here?” I ask.
I can’t afford to take the risk of accusing her. She outranks me, and I’m suspended, she could easily pin it all on me. All I have going for me is my smartphone in my pocket. Thanks to Ryan, I’ve had the voice recorder going since I called him for help. The sound quality may be muffled in my pocket, but it’s better than nothing at this point.
“Detective, this information is above your pay grade. I said, put the gun down.”
Jessup pipes up. “Yeah, Detective. This isn’t your concern. Now leave the adults to take care of business and get the fuck out of here, will you?”
My eyes are only on Jacob now. “You aren’t involved with Jessup or Neon, are you, Lieutenant?” I ask.
“Anderson, you’re the last person I expected to see here since your suspension. I’m giving you a direct order. Put the gun down now.”
I begin to lower the gun slowly. I have no intention of letting it touch the ground. There are too many weapons here, and Jacob’s won’t be friendly fire tonight. Not when she’s been the one insulating Jessup’s crime ring all this time. I try to get more from her. “I just want to know why, Lieutenant. Why would you help these people when we’ve been after them for so long? Was it the money?”
“There are a lot of things you won’t understand, Detective. It’s never been about the money. When you’ve been on the force as long as I have, you begin to realize that the only way to make it through the ranks is to forge alliances, to align with power. And long after you’re off the force, I’ll still be here. You want to know why? Because it doesn’t stop with me. I may have been point person, but this arrangement goes way above my rank. And if you’re smart, Anderson, you’d drop the gun now, turn around, and get back to New York where you belong. You don’t want to become collateral damage tonight.”
The Lieutenant is telling me she’s not the only one on the force involved in this scheme. More importantly, she’s not at the top of the food chain. I wrack my brain to think of how high this goes, but there’s no time right now. This alleyway is a livewire, and no one is backing down. My gun is to my side now, and as I’m debating whether I should back off and fight another day, everything goes to shit.
One of Jessop’s security team comes running toward us from the limousine, and one of Neon’s guys dives at Jessup to defend her. Jacob steps back and draws her weapon as Jessup goes down with Neon and her security guard. The next thing I know, the three of them are sprawled on the pavement, rolling around.
Jessup starts to pull his gun, and without warning, a shot goes off. Chaos ensues. I drop to one knee and shield myself as more gunfire rings out from Jessup’s and Neon’s men. Jacob must have gone back inside, because I don’t see her anywhere in the crowd. Neon and Jessup’s entourage disperses, running and hiding in every direction to protect themselves. Neon breaks away from Jessup’s grasp, but as she turns to run, one of Jessup’s men elbows her in the face. He puts one arm around her neck, and the other presses a handgun to her temple.
I want to follow Jacob, but there’s no clear path inside; not without risking a direct hit from all the gunshots ringing out. Instead, I deal with the imminent issue at hand. I brace myself, find the right angle and take a shot at the guy who’s got Neon. He turns at the last moment, and it whizzes past him. Someone returns fire at me. I feel my shoulder jerk back, but there’s too much going on for me to lose focus.
Jessup is still fighting Neon’s thug, struggling to twist the weapon from him. It goes off, and Neon drops off Jessup’s side, panic in her eyes. She’s been shot in the throat, and clutches at her neck with bloody fingers, choking on her own blood.