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by Susan K. Droney
Description: Blaine Kirsten unwittingly gets pulled into a prostitution ring when her best friend, Kami Matthews, introduces her to Josh Barnes. When Blaine refuses to become a part of his operation, she faces brutal consequences. Detectives Jane Adams and Casey Jorgan are assigned to the case. Almost immediately, Casey finds herself unable to separate her personal emotions from this case, which jeopardizes her career.
eBook Publisher: The Fiction Works, 2007 http://www.fictionworks.com
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [283 KB]
Reading time: 191-267 min.
Kami Matthews gazed out of the grimy window watching the day slowly fade into dusk. She turned her blonde head and glanced at the clock on the stained wall. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "I didn't realize it was so late! I've got to get out of here." She gave her friend a quick hug. "Don't worry," she said brightly. "Everything will work out. You'll see. Be thankful that nothing worse happened."
"I guess so," Blaine Kirsten mumbled, staring down at her faded jeans. "I wish you could stay a little longer, though." She raised her eyes to Kami's "Please?" she pleaded. "I ... I don't want to be alone. I'm scared, Kami. Please stay for just another hour." She twisted her hands together.
Kami's eyes clouded. "I'm sorry, Blaine, but I really do have to go. I'll see you tomorrow, I promise," she said, moving to the door. She laid her hand on the doorknob, and then turned to Blaine. "It'll be all right. You worry too much." She patted Blaine's shoulder. "Try to get some rest now and I'll bet that things won't look so bad tomorrow."
"I hope so, but I doubt it," Blaine slowly answered as Kami opened the door then slipped into the darkened hallway. "I'm scared," she repeated.
"You need some sleep. Lock up behind me." She looked into her friend's frightened eyes, guilt washing over her. "I'll give you a call later. I promise."
Blaine nodded then silently closed the door.
Kami leaned against the closed door for a few seconds debating whether she should go back inside to comfort Blaine. She hated leaving her in the emotional state she was in, but she had to get home as soon as possible. She'd already been gone longer than she should have. "Damn you, Josh," she mumbled under her breath.
She carefully made her way down the litter strewn stench-filled hallway and hurried outside, anxious to get some fresh air into her burning nostrils. She jumped into her yellow sports car grateful that it was still in one piece and hadn't been stripped, then sped through the run-down neighborhood of southwest Philadelphia, a neighborhood that she'd once called home, passing street after street of run-down row houses, eager to reach her own safe and familiar surroundings in Society Hill in Center City.
She parked her car and quickly walked to her building grateful to be out of Blaine's neighborhood. Being back there brought back many bittersweet memories. Some she cherished, but most she'd just as soon forget.
"Good evening, Miss Matthews," the elderly doorman warmly greeted her as he held the door. "It's a beautiful evening."
"Yes it is. Are there any messages for me, John?" She fumbled in her purse for her apartment key. "Has anyone stopped by?"
"Yes." His thin lips turned into a frown. "Mr. Barnes stopped over and then rang me several times when you didn't answer your cell phone. He insists that you return his call upon your arrival." He peered at her through thick glasses. "He is in a nasty mood," he gently warned. "I convinced him that it wasn't necessary to come over again, but you need to get in touch with him immediately."
Kami sighed tiredly as he held the elevator door for her. John most likely received the brunt of Josh's foul mood when he came over and found that Kami still hadn't returned. As he'd done many times in the past, John stalled Josh with a believable excuse for Kami's tardiness. She liked John, but she'd never understand how Josh's money could warrant him taking this type of position. After the thought crossed her mind, she realized the irony of it. She was doing the same thing as John.
John wasn't just a doorman, but a spy for Josh, as was everyone employed by him. Those who weren't his spies used his perverted services and in return provided him with wealth and power, which he happily lauded over those he controlled. Kami knew that her every move was reported to Josh. As she became acquainted with John, though, she'd gained his trust and respect, even some of her freedom. Many times the elderly man had looked the other way and Josh had never been the wiser for it.
Josh had bought the building several years ago and had converted it into several large luxury apartments, renting them to his own exclusive clientele. If anyone questioned his motives, as several of the local politicians had, his generous contributions soon silenced them. All work was provided by local carpenters and designed by local architects. It became one of the most beautiful buildings in Center City keeping with the architectural style of the older buildings. The landscaping was breathtaking with fountains and tress adorning the spacious sweeping gated lawns.
The building's neighbors were lavish town houses and high-rise apartment buildings filled with only the wealthy or those with occupations affording such luxury. Tourists visiting the city to see Independence National Park, which contained Independence Hall, and The Liberty Bell, also made a visit to The Barnes Towers, which Josh had named after himself.
Many times, as she entered or exited the property, Kami saw the tourists oohing and aahing over the beauty and serene atmosphere of the grounds and expressing the desire to someday be rich enough to live there. A sickening lurch in her stomach reminded her of the price she had paid for that honor.
If only people knew what really goes on inside of this building, she thought as she turned her attention back to the doorman who stood slightly stooped holding the elevator for her.
"Thank you, John." She pressed a few bills into his palm.
"No, thank you, Miss Matthews." He pushed the button for her floor, and then released the door.
Once inside her apartment, Kami flicked on the lamps in the entrance hall and the living room, then sank wearily into a chair as she grabbed the phone. She dreaded making the call and took her time pushing the numbers, hoping he wouldn't be home, but instead tracking down one of his other girls. She needed time to gather her thoughts, but he, unfortunately, answered on the first ring. She braced herself for his angry tirade which she knew would be forth coming. The angrier he became, the more violent he became.
"Hello, Josh. This is Kami," she said in a low, but soft voice.
"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to reach you for hours! You'd better have a damned good explanation!" he roared.
"I was with Blaine. Where else would I be?" she innocently answered.
"Why didn't you answer your cell phone? I left about fifty messages!"
"I turned it off because I needed to talk uninterrupted to her."
"You know that your phone is to be on at all times! I need to be able to reach you at a moment's notice!" he shouted. "And?"
"Don't play games with me, Kami. If you value your lifestyle, you'll cut the act!"
She chewed her bottom lip. "I couldn't do it, Josh. It wasn't the right time. You should have seen her; some creep roughed her up and almost raped her last night. She's in bad shape. It was bad enough driving through her neighborhood at night while I'm safe in my car, but I can't imagine how she can even bring herself to venture outside any time of the day." She shuddered.
"If you did as you were instructed, then your friend wouldn't have to live in squalor. Besides, have you forgotten so soon your own roots? You could be back there with a snap of my fingers. You have twenty-four hours to convince her to come to work for me--no more, no less. Do I make myself clear?"
"Josh, there's no way Blaine will go for it. She's different ... you know what I mean ... too innocent. I can't force her to do this. She doesn't even know the truth about where my money comes from. When I tell her, I doubt she'll want anything to do with me ever again."
"She'll be given the opportunity to willingly join the organization and if she doesn't cooperate, she'll be forced into it. I want her one way or the other and that's final. Don't be getting all sentimental on me now. Twenty-four hours!" he snarled. "Or you'll be the one in bad shape!"
The line went dead in her ear. "Dammit! Now what do I do?" Her hand shook as she placed the phone in the receiver and then leaned back in her chair. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her head pounded and she prepared herself for another in a series of, what were rapidly becoming daily, headaches. How had she allowed herself to get into this mess and how could she keep Blaine out of it? She needed time, but time was the one thing Josh Barnes would never give her. Patience was not one of his virtues; in fact, she wondered if he had any worthy virtues at all. Money motivated him. He never had enough. God help the person who stood in the way of his desires. Anything he desired, was to be immediately granted and she painfully knew from experience how severe the consequences could be if his demands were not met. * * * *
Blaine locked her apartment door and slid a straight-backed chair under the doorknob. She sat on her worn sofa drawing her knees to her chin. She was grateful that Kami had spent the entire day consoling her and knew that it was selfish to expect Kami to stay any longer. After all, Kami had taken the day off from work and canceled her after work activities to comfort her in her time of need. She'd even called the department store where Blaine worked as a sales associate and sympathetically told her manager what had happened to Blaine the night before. She'd even convinced the usually stern woman to show some compassion and give Blaine the rest of the week off. Kami was a true friend and the only person Blaine felt close to.
When Kami had taken off for greener pastures a few years before, Blaine had been devastated. Now Kami was back in her life and even though she'd moved up in the world, she still treated Blaine as her equal. Blaine had been to Kami's apartment a few times and even with all of its elegance and beauty, it was cold. Blaine preferred the simpler things in life. Yes, she longed to live in a decent safe neighborhood, but she never cared for all of the trappings of the wealthy. And Kami was wealthy. Blaine had asked her how she managed to live in such luxury on her salary, but Kami only gave her an evasive answer so she quit asking. All that mattered was her childhood friend was back in her life.
Blaine had always been somewhat of a loner never quite feeling that she fit in anywhere. At the age of twenty-two, she realized that her feelings likely had to do with the loss of her biological parents when she was an infant. She'd been adopted and given a happy and secure upbringing by the Kirstens, but a part of her yearned to know all the things that made her who she was. The Kirstens, if they knew any details of her life before they adopted her, never shared that information with her. She longed to know what her birth parents had looked like and what their lives had been like. What hopes and dreams had they held? Had they been happy and contented and deeply in love? Did she have any brothers and sisters? All the unanswered questions haunted her dreams as she prayed for a way to remember the first few months of her life. What would her life have been like if they'd lived and she'd never been raised by her adoptive parents? How different would her life be today? * * * *
Detectives Casey Jorgan and Jane Adams sat across from one another at their desks, using their lunch hour to review cases between bites of food.
Casey picked up a napkin and dabbed at her mouth. "I think we can wrap up this Booker case," she confidently stated. "It's a piece of cake."
Jane's eyebrows shot up. "I'd like to know how. We're no closer now than when we started." She warily looked at her eager colleague. "Unless you know something I don't?"
"I have a plan," Casey said, stretching. "If I wouldn't be imposing, I'd like to come over to your apartment tonight and fill you in. I'll even bring a bottle of wine." She grinned widely.
Jane made a face at her. "I don't like the sound of that, Casey. The last time you came over with a bottle of wine, we ended up staying awake the whole night going over theories." She rolled her eyes. "As I recall, some of your theories when you're filled with wine are the stuff Hollywood movies are made of."
Casey laughed. "Not this time. I promise." She held up her hand. "Scout's Honor."
"Since when were you ever a scout?"
"I could have been." She took another bite of her sandwich. "Don't look now, but we have company," she said looking over Jane's shoulder.
Lieutenant Richardson, smiling broadly, briskly walked to their desks. "I'm pleased to see my two favorite detectives enjoying their work."
Casey cocked a suspicious eye. "It's our lunch hour, Sir."
He checked his wristwatch. "Late lunch hour."
"We were running leads all day," Jane explained. "This was the first chance we've had to grab a bite, but we're going over our cases while we eat."
The balding, thin man leaned over Casey's desk. "I think that you two will be perfect for this case. Read it over tonight, then go see this woman first thing tomorrow morning." He threw a file on her desk. "Enjoy your lunch."
Jane nodded as she pulled her chair over to Casey's desk. She picked up the clean manila folder knowing that in a couple of days it would be worn and grimy due to the handling it would inevitably receive from the both of them.
"What is it? Another drug case?" Casey sighed. "Or a gang shooting? It never ends."
"Blaine Kirsten," Jane read flipping through the file. "Looks like an assault and attempted rape. I wonder why we got it. It seems pretty open and closed."
"Who? Who did you say it was?"
Jane looked quizzically at her. The color had drained from Casey's face. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Do you know her or something? You look like you've just seen a ghost."
Casey drew a deep breath. "No," she quickly answered, reaching for the folder with trembling hands. "I think my sandwich didn't agree with me. I'll take an antacid later." * * * *
Blaine took a long, hot bath, then climbed into bed with a romance novel, hoping to escape the terror of the previous night for a little while. She opened the book, but her mind refused to concentrate on the words, but instead took her back to that terrifying incident. She still felt her attacker's hot, smelly breath on her neck and his sweaty hands clawing at her flesh as he ripped her clothes from her body. She shuddered. This dread would never leave her. Thank God for the passerby who had come to her rescue and called 911 when she screamed .God only knew what would have happened to her if he hadn't shown up at that exact moment. She might have been murdered and then become just another murder statistic on the police blotter in a part of the city that was overrun with crime and for the most part, in her opinion anyway, not a top priority in the police department. Having her life hanging in the balance, not knowing whether she would live or die, brought out a new fear in her, her destiny had been in that bastard's hands. She'd never forget how cold and clammy his hands were. She'd been helpless and it had choked her with fear. The anonymous passerby had changed her destiny and she hadn't even gotten his name. He disappeared as soon as the police arrived.
After the police had relentlessly questioned her about every tiny detail, then in the end acted like she was partly to blame for being on the street, she came back to her small apartment where she sat trembling in a chair all night until the first rays of sunlight filtered through her windows. That was when she called Kami. She couldn't stand the aloneness and fear any longer.
Tears welled up in her eyes. She knew that her adoptive parents had planned for a good and happy life for her. How would they feel if they knew how she was living today? They'd lived very modestly in a neighborhood not too far from here, but still better than this neighborhood. They had been hard working, but happy and used to regal her with stories of how West Philadelphia used to be a respectable, if poor section of the city. Neighbor helped neighbor until the gang bangers infiltrated the neighborhoods and took over several of them, driving out those who could afford to leave, and terrorizing, robbing and destroying the property of those who were forced to stay.
Money was always a problem, but they'd provided her with a good life nonetheless. After their deaths' there wasn't much left after the funeral expenses and Blaine heartbroken, realized she couldn't afford to maintain the modest apartment she'd been raised in and took a minimum wage job in a department store, then reluctantly moved to the only section of the city she could afford. Instead of moving up in the world, she was moving down.
When her parents died, she found herself all alone in the world. Most of those she'd known and loved had already left the neighborhood and now she had, too. The loneliness suffocated her a little more with each passing day. She desperately ached to be part of a family; she wanted to belong somewhere. She filled herself with the dream that someday she would meet the perfect man and they would produce children that would give her the security and family she craved. Her children would be an extension of herself and she would cherish them always letting them know how much they were loved. So far, that perfect relationship had eluded her and all she could do was try to survive with the empty hollowness inside of her heart. * * * *
Kami climbed into her large bed and pulled her comforter to her chin, then put her hands beneath her head and stared up at the ceiling. She needed to come up with a plan, but she had to be cautious with Blaine, enticing her without letting her know it was a trap. Josh wouldn't be put off any longer. If only she could think of something, anything, to stall him for just a little longer. Her hand stroked the silk sheet. Her apartment was lavish compared to the rattrap Blaine called home, but if she made one wrong move, she'd be back in the gutter and all of this would be gone in a flash. But was all of this really worth the sacrifices she had made? She'd sold her soul to the devil and that devil was Josh Barnes. If Blaine was someone she didn't care about it would be so much easier, but she did care about her. She was her best friend and Blaine trusted her. Kami loved Blaine like a sister and treasured their friendship, but how would Blaine feel when she learned the truth? More importantly, Kami wondered how she would be able to live with herself after she betrayed Blaine in the worst imaginable way. Tears stung her eyes and her breathing became raspy as the threatened tears brimmed, then fell from her eyes. * * * *
Josh Barnes sat at his desk poring over his records of the past week. He was pleased with the results, but still it wasn't enough. It would never be enough. He stretched his tall muscular frame, and then focused on the neat columns of figures. His insatiable appetite for money and sex was what had led him to this lucrative business years ago. He smiled knowing only too well the price a man would pay for a good piece. His business wasn't founded on the cheap street walking prostitutes any idiot could buy for a few bucks, but a business with a bevy of the most beautiful, intelligent and sophisticated women he could find. He prided himself on his girls' immaculate hygiene and grooming. After a thorough medical examination and drug screening, only the best were employed. Every inch of their body was scrutinized and whatever cosmetic surgery Josh deemed necessary to further enhance their appearance was performed. He spent a fortune on clothing and housing for them in his extravagant building. He owned them and that was a fact they had to live with in exchange for wealth and comfort beyond their wildest dreams. They sold their bodies to him to use for any purpose that suited him.
He'd used his natural charms to convince a young beauty, who caught his eye, to become a part of his exclusive organization. It was strictly understood, though, that once in, never out. Anyone who was foolish enough to betray him soon regretted the decision. His girls knew the consequences if they tried to deceive him and the few that had tried, regretted their actions. Most of the girls joined his organization of their own free will, but those he wanted who didn't, he preyed on until finally they, too, succumbed. Once in his web there was no escape unless they were willing to sacrifice their lives and few were willing to make that ultimate sacrifice.
He was a self-made millionaire and he'd be damned if anyone would destroy his empire; he'd worked too long and too hard to get where he was. He never feared legal repercussions smug in the knowledge that a vast majority of those in power were the ones who sought the services he offered. He was as cold as he was passionate. There was no middle ground and that was the way he liked it. He despised weaklings and long ago learned that to make it in the world one had to throw away the preconceived ideas of morality and go after what one wanted at any cost. Otherwise, someone else would come along and grab the opportunity.
Blaine Kirsten was different from his usual girls, though. Her innocence and overt beauty had captivated him from the moment he first laid eyes on her. He wanted her no matter what it took and when he wanted something, it was only a matter of time before he got it. Anything or anybody could be bought for the right price Kami Matthews would come through for him. She always did; she had no choice. Blaine would soon be his. He could barely hold his emotions in check as he imagined how it was going to feel to hold her delicate luscious body in his strong arms. Yes, soon she would be his. He had big plans for her.
His thoughts took him back to his own meager beginnings. His parents had both been drug addicts and he'd been raised on the streets. Looking back, he sometimes wondered how he had even survived. But he had. He'd been taken under the wings of the dealers who had profited from his parents' addictions and had lived off and on with them after his parents' drug induced deaths. He'd seen the gritty cold haunted faces that swarmed the neighborhoods searching for a way out of their misery if only for a little while. As he held his mother's hand for the last time, at the age of fourteen, he vowed that he wouldn't let drugs destroy his life. But he had succumbed to them and one day realized that he was tired of living on the streets and scrounging for his next high.
Girls had always swarmed to him like bees to honey and in time he realized that the key to his success had been right before his eyes the whole time. He could have everything his heart desired and he would.