"Anything on the Colonel?"

"The Embassy guys showed up and left with him, his car, and all his possessions. Nothing we could do, Angel. If they tell us anything, it's a bonus."

"They won't say shit. There's no advantage to having an embassy guy tied to child sexual abuse." She opened her eyes and looked over at her partner. "Here's what I know. The autopsy showed traces of ether, which means this guy got close enough to clamp a rag soaked in it over their mouths and knock them out. He had to get both of them knocked out, string them up, and wake them up for his fun. The coroner estimated the time of death as between midnight and two in the morning. He also estimated they took an hour to die of blood loss. Add in thirty minutes minimum to cover from getting into the house to starting his work. That means our killer arrived sometime between ten-thirty and twelve-thirty, and he came prepared with chains, padlocks, alcohol, booties, and scalpel."

"So he had a bag with him," Mark agreed.

"Any cars drive by during that timeframe?"

"No, it was quiet. The neighbors are older, and Daniel's house was at the end of the street." The light came on. "Our man didn't arrive by car."

Angel nodded. "Take a few locals with you and extend the canvas out to adjacent streets he might access through the park or by going through yards. See if there is any more security video out there. Look for any activity between ten PM and three AM."

"You think our guy called it in after he was clear of the area?"

"It would make sense. The guy spoofed the phone number and altered his voice, so the only thing about the call we can use is the time."

"Fine, I'll take the canvas. You get to hang out in the basement."

Angel let out a breath and made sure she had her Vicks Vapo-Rub travel size container in her jacket. They arrived a few minutes later at the crime scene, passing through the gauntlet of video cameras, then Angel went inside. "Just in time," Special Agent-In-Charge Brandon Henderson said as she got to the bottom of the stairway. Crime scene techs, agents, and the assistant coroner waited in a circle a few feet back from the work area. Angel could smell the decay of the body and immediately reached for the Vapo-Rub. A dab on her upper lip helped mask the disgusting scent. "We're cutting through the last of the concrete now," her boss told her. She put on safety glasses and ear protection before the pair walked closer to where the concrete saw finished its cut.

"That should do it," the worker said. They used crowbars to lift the slab on one edge, then hooked it and pulled it aside. The crime scene guys had two cameras going, one recording video, the other taking flash photographs.

The sand underneath the slab had settled in one portion as the bodies decayed away. The excavation was like an archaeological dig; a grid system marked on the concrete showed locations, and the sand they dug out was passed through a screen to make sure they didn't miss anything. They found the first human remains at two feet down.

It took two hours to remove the bones and decaying flesh, all that remained of a girl estimated to be eight to ten years old. The medical examiner wrapped the body parts and placed them in a body bag after each piece got photographed and cataloged.

As he walked up the stairs, we all stood at attention as the young victim passed. Angel let out tears for yet another girl who suffered and died at the hands of monsters she'd been fighting since getting her badge.

Mark checked back in; he'd identified some possibles, but the canvass would take longer. "You guys look like hell," Brandon said. "Go home, get some sleep, and I'll see you at seven tomorrow in the office to go over the next steps."

"Yes, sir," I told him.

Angel texted her brother, who had arrived today while she was working. He was staying with her for a few days before heading out on his motorcycle again. Angel asked him to order something for dinner and that she'd be home in an hour. Mark dropped her off at the hotel. Angel dumped her stuff in the back seat of her car and drove to her townhouse in Rockville. Michael met her at the door, exchanging her gear bag for a glass of white wine. "I saw you on the news," he said. "I got you shrimp pad thai; go eat, then meet me in the hot tub."

Angel leaned into him as the stress of the day tried to break free, taking comfort in the only family she had. Strangers never put the two of them together as siblings since Angel was a five-foot-nine, pale-skinned brunette, and Michael was a muscled, six-foot Hispanic. They were brother and sister by choice, adopted together because Angel wouldn't let him go. They had always been there for each other and shared secrets no one could ever know. Michael kissed her forehead and sent Angel off to eat.

Michael was waiting for Angel in the hot tub on our patio when she finished eating. He bought it as therapy for his back, and the warm jets helped Angel relax as she talked through her day.

"Was your contract good," she asked him.

"Simple and no complications," Michael said. "The best kind." Michael was a former Marine Captain who joined the Diplomatic Security Service when his service obligation was up. He resigned a few years ago mid-tour in Afghanistan. He was now working for a private contractor to supplement his income. He liked the work, and he only worked ten to fifteen weeks a year.

"What are you going to do tomorrow?"

"The forensics will identify the victims, and we'll interview the surviving girl. If she can't tell us anything about our killer, we don't have anything from this. We couldn't even tie it to him in court right now."

"You'll figure it out, Angel. You always do."

Angel fell into bed after her shower and slept like the dead.

Michael waited until her breathing evened out, then went to her bag and retrieved her work laptop. Taking it to the kitchen table, he booted it up while he got her phone. Angel always kept her passwords on the notes portion of her phone so she wouldn't forget it; her phone passcode was the month, day, and year of her rescue. Once he verified the password, he logged in to her computer and opened File Explorer. He removed a flash drive from his pocket, plugged it in, and started transferring files on their recent cases.

Ten minutes later, everything was back where she left it.

Michael loved his sister, and she did good work, but fighting within the system was fighting with one hand tied behind your back. Retreating to his bedroom, he transferred the latest information to his computer and began to search for his next target.

Ch. 4

Angel woke up screaming from her nightmare. She was soaked in sweat and tangled in the sheets, her upper body hanging off the side of the bed.

Michael was in her room within moments, rushing to her side. Her brother lifted her back onto the bed, holding her in his arms as she flailed against him and the sheets until her legs were free. "I've got you, Angel. I've got you."

She looked in his eyes and snapped back to reality, freezing and then relaxing. She buried her face in his T-shirt as the tears flowed. Michael rubbed her back and sang softly to her until she calmed down; this wasn't the first time he'd done this. After their rescue, Angel couldn't sleep for more than a few hours without horrible nightmares. In the hospital that first week, they had to sedate her heavily to get her to sleep.

The night terrors continued after Child Protective Services sent them into foster care. Angel would wake up screaming, would fight anyone who tried to help, and wouldn't come out of her panic for a long time. Three foster homes returned her before they finally listened to what she needed. My foster family agreed to take her in, and they put us in the same bedroom. She would still wake up, but Michael was right there and could calm her down and get her back to sleep. As they grew older, they moved into different beds, then adjoining bedrooms as the nightmares became less frequent.

They were siblings because they needed each other, and Michael was the only one who could reach her in those times. He hummed the lullaby to his little sister, and her breathing started to calm down. It took a few minutes before she sat up. "Thank you."

"The cage?" She nodded. It was her most common nightmare, but not the only one. "How long since you had your last one?"

"Two weeks," she said as she got up. Years of counseling had helped, but the damage would never go away. Michael had the same problems, but they didn't surface the same way. His pain came out in angry outbursts and violence.

It was five in the morning; Angel knew there was no going back to sleep now, not with the alarm set to go off in seventy minutes. "Time for a spar?"

"Sure," Michael said. "I'll meet you downstairs."

He walked back out, and she pulled off the loose T-shirt and panties she had on. Changing quickly into a sports bra and thigh-length yoga pants, she walked into her home gym a few minutes later. A treadmill, rowing machine, and weight bench were under the window and the stairway. The majority of the space was open, with a wrestling mat on the floor and pads on the walls. It was as big as a boxing ring without the ropes.

Michael finished his stretching and smiled at his little sister as she put on her gloves. "Ready?"

"Let's do this," she said. She bounced on her feet, moving to her left with her hands held in front, MMA-style. Their adoptive parents had encouraged them in the martial arts from a young age, wanting them to build up self-discipline and have a safe outlet for their anger. They had started in karate at age six and eight. As they grew, they picked up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in high school and Krav Maga in college. As a result, their spars were MMA-style without a round timer. They would fight to knockout or tap-out.

Michael's hands were up in a boxing style, something he'd trained on while in the Marines. His muscles weren't bulky, but his low body fat made his muscles pop. He had forty pounds of weight on her plus a six-inch reach advantage so he could win trading punches or wrestling. Angel was quick as hell and technically superior; she knew her only chance was to get on his back, forcing his submission or choking him out. She'd worked a lot harder on her ground game for this very reason.

They traded punches for a minute, neither able to land a solid blow. Angel stayed on defense, using her speed to dodge his jabs and stay out of the corners. Michael shot in once to try for a hip takedown, but Angel managed to spin away. Angel was waiting for her spot, and a minute later, she saw it. Michael extended with his jab a fraction too far, and she ducked under and stepped forward to grab his leg.

The next she knew, she was on her back, wondering if anyone got the license plate of the truck that hit her. Michael held out a bottle of water for her, and she took a drink when she could sit up. "What did you do?"

"I teased you into ducking down, then hit you with a straight right to the back of the head," Micheal replied. "Sorry."

"There's nothing for you to be sorry over; you fought better and won. I should have known you wouldn't be that sloppy with your jab."

Michael refused to continue the spar after her knockout, so they spent the next thirty minutes practicing their grappling holds and reverses on the mat. They stopped when Angel's alarm went off on her phone. "What are you doing today," she asked him.

"I'll hit the weights and head to Pittsburgh when it warms up," he said. "I'll take a nice long ride, catch a Steelers game, and see some buddies along the way. I'll be back sometime next week." It was October, and motorcycle weather wouldn't last forever.

"I wish I had your work hours. I've got to shower and get ready for work." She headed up the stairs while he headed to the kitchen. When she returned, Michael was plating a sausage and cheese omelet and pancakes for her. "Thanks," she said as she ate.

"Are you heading back to the crime scene today?"

"I doubt it. Unless the techs come up with something new, it's a dead-end for our guy. We don't even know how he got in and out of the house; no vehicles went by, and no suspicious activity in a six-block radius. The girl was no help either. She disappeared five days ago from outside her home in northern Virginia. She woke up in the basement and never saw anyone but Daniel."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Look into the two men's backgrounds," Angel replied. "Daniel Jackson was smart and careful; he'd stayed off our radar for ten years, and with that setup, he could have continued for decades without getting caught. We don't have much on the Turkish guy, but there has to be a connection, maybe something on the Dark Web or a mutual acquaintance? If I can figure out the link, I can trace it back to whoever is doing this."

Michael thought about it for a minute. "I doubt if it's going to be easy unless Daniel was doing a lot of sharing. That's the part that strikes me as weird; why would Daniel share? EVERY time he showed someone his setup, he was taking a big risk. That doesn't sound like a guy who spends so much time hiding in plain sight."

"I don't know how helpful the Embassy is going to be. They've already taken his body and are refusing to give us access to his phone records or emails."

Michael took her empty plate to the sink. "The Turk could bring anything in or out of the country using diplomatic privilege. Maybe you've got it wrong. Instead of the Turk coming to visit Daniel's girl, what if Daniel was holding girls FOR him?"

Angel sat back, the full import of that idea hitting her like a ton of bricks. "You think Daniel was part of a human trafficking ring?"

"You said he had two cells down there, sis. You only found one girl alive and one girl long dead. Where did the others go? Did he keep one girl at a time, long term, for his use? Or did he deal in volume, using them until he could put together a deal and move them out? And how did he pay for all this stuff and stay out of sight with no job?"

Angel's stomach flipped, and she had to force herself to relax before she lost her breakfast. "I have to go. Drive safe," she said as she got up.

Angel passed through the security checkpoint at the FBI's Washington Field Office just before eight, making her way up to the Task Force work area. There was a turnover meeting with the night shift investigators, and she raised the question with the group. "Is it possible our Colonel was shipping girls overseas as part of a human trafficking ring?"

"Fuck," Mark said as he leaned back in his chair. "What brought this on?"

"The victim gap," Angel said. "The medical examiner said the remains we found have been in the ground for at least a year. What happened between her death and our rescued girl's kidnapping? Did he go without for that time?"

"You think there was someone else in between we haven't found," one of the agents said.

"No, I think there are MANY someones in between, and he didn't kill them. He sold them, perhaps to a man like the Colonel with diplomatic connections to ship them out of the country to buyers. The girl we found could have been a mistake, one who died in custody."

The team kicked the idea around for a few minutes until the boss ended the meeting. He called Angel and three others over and assigned them to follow up on the Turkish leads. "We don't have his phone, but we have his phone number. Get a warrant for his cellphone records, and talk to our colleagues at the NSA. I want to know who he was talking to and what he was saying."

"The State Department won't like that," an agent said. "He was part of the diplomatic mission."

"Like we don't spy on diplomatic missions," Angel said with a laugh. "Fuck them. If they raise a stink, they're protecting a pedophile."

"What she said. Now get to work."

Ch. 5

Michael pushed through his arms and chest routine, feeling his muscles burned as he finished the sets. Now that Angel was gone, he could get back to work.

He showered and dressed in the extra bedroom Angel kept open for him to use when he was in town. He'd never been married, never had a serious girlfriend, and he didn't need much more than one could fit in a backpack. After their adoptive parents died in a car crash while he was in the Marines, Michael had never found a reason to settle down.

He would always be thankful that Frank and Mary Johnson had adopted them out of the foster care system. Frank worked for Wisconsin Energy, supervising the electrical transmission system from Illinois to Northern Michigan and Minnesota. Mary was a substitute school teacher in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield, where the couple had a large ranch home in a private neighborhood. When they found out they couldn't have children, they were certified as foster parents. Michael was the first child placed with them, a troubled eight-year-old only a week removed from a horrific situation.

He had night terrors, sometimes two or three a night. He would wake up screaming, yelling for someone to stop, telling the dream 'he'd be good.' If Frank tried to touch him, he'd fight and beg him to leave him alone. Mary tried to comfort him, but he didn't respond like other boys. He froze at the contact, not accepting the love she was giving him. During the day, it wasn't much better. A word, a noise, even a smell would set him off, either lashing out or retreating into a crying ball.

The Johnsons had their hands full with Michael when the desperate social workers brought Angel for a visit. She wasn't adjusting, she wasn't eating or sleeping, and she wanted her "Mikey." The two rushed to each other, and they were as inseparable as rare earth magnets from that point forward. They would maintain some physical contact with each other at all times, grounding each other by the touch they couldn't have in captivity. No one else could touch them without a strong reaction.

Frank and Mary agreed to take Angel into their home to the relief of all involved. After speaking to their doctors, Mary took a leave of absence to stay home and provide them the constant care they needed. From that point on, the doctors and therapists came to them.

There was a lot to unpack, and bombs lay everywhere. Michael had trouble remembering any life that didn't involve daily sexual abuse; he'd been held captive and prostituted for almost half his life. He didn't show up in the system, and his real name and parents were unknown. Angel's father died before she was born, and her drug-addicted mother traded her for drugs before she was four. She didn't get rescued from that pedophile brothel until she was six.

Therapists helped, but love healed. Michael and Angel loved each other and grew to love their parents. As the years passed, the memories faded, and Frank and Mary were justly proud of the young people they'd raised. Mary homeschooled them for three years until they were socially ready for public schools. In addition to their martial arts, Michael played soccer, and Angel played basketball. They never let anyone get that close to them, and neither dated. Angel was beautiful, but Michael scared away her suitors.

They moved on, but they never got to see their captors brought to justice. The man who sold access to the two died in the raid, and not enough evidence linked the other names to the pedophile ring to get indictments.

When Michael was fourteen, he came the closest. His traveling soccer team attended a tournament in the north Milwaukee suburbs, and he recognized one of the assistant coaches on another team. He snarled, bull-rushed the adult to the ground, and started to beat the crap out of him MMA-style. It took four adults to pull him off, and the cops got involved.

Mary was in the room with the detectives as he told them who the man was and why he attacked him. He gave his statement, and then he sat next to Frank and listened to the Assistant District Attorney. "I believe you, son, but that's just me," the prosecutor told them. "The man you attacked is a pillar of the community; married twenty years, two daughters, a deacon in his church, and a respected volunteer and business owner. I have your statement, but I have no DNA evidence, no witnesses, no firm timeline, nothing."










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