“Are they going to take me to one of the apartments where they’re holding the women and children?” He was rushing his words out.
“Yes. But there won’t be anything you can do. Seven properties like this all over the city. Maybe more. Even if you get some evidence and convince the police to get into one of the buildings, the harm they can do at the others will be catastrophic. You think you can do something to stop this, but you can’t. They’ve thought of everything. They have everyone in their pocket. Cops. Judges. Child Protective Services.”
“That’s ironic. They aren’t protecting anyone.”
“I think you should leave this alone. We get to see our kids. If we do what they tell us, the kids, they eat, they learn. They get clothes. It could be so much worse.”
“You aren’t free to leave. You’re prisoners, forced to come to places like this at night and risk your freedom to sell drugs for them. Who cares if they give your kids a new pair of pants or toss them a box of cereal? What they are doing is criminal. You can’t live like this forever.”
“There is no forever here,” she bit out angrily. “You’re here and then you disappear. Maybe because you caused problems. Maybe because they were tired of you. All I know is some days we wake up and someone is gone. We take care of their kids. We do what we can. But they are just gone. I don’t want to be one of the girls that’s gone in the morning.”
“Darlene, where do I look when I get in this building? Where’s the worst of it?”
“The basement. He’ll never let you down there, but that’s the worst of it. Punishment. For the kids. For us. That’s where we all try to stay out of.”
“Who runs all of it? Does everyone on the board know what’s going on?”
“They come. Walk around. Some look worried, but most look impressed. The amount of money we make them every night with no risk to them makes it all worth it. Victimless crimes in their mind. Most of us already had nothing. We were already only trying to survive. Who cares what happens to us?”
“I promise you, the people I work with care. And they are powerful.”
“You really have a hundred thousand dollars?” She narrowed her eyes at him, tears forming in the corners. “If I had that money I would run away with it. You should just leave here.”
“That money is meant for this. For things like this. I’m not running. I’m not leaving until we help you, and everyone else caught up in this. And if we need to bring down the people in charge...”
“They’re kings and queens of their own little worlds,” Darlene said in a far-off voice.
“Then it’s time for a revolution.”
Goosebumps raised on her arms as she listened to the conviction in Mick’s voice through their coms. He’d made contact, gotten more information, and now there was a plan. Action they could take.
The car idled in the darkened street near the nightclub, its engine purring softly. The time seemed to stretch on endlessly, and she knew danger was ever present. If this man began to doubt Mick, he could turn on him quickly. Surely the guards were armed. Angry. Ready to defend their lies and control by taking out a man they thought might threaten their power. Mick was in the lion’s den and Charlize wished there was a way she could be in there with him.
"Heading back to the car. Be ready to move,” he whispered as he stepped out of the club and finally the thumping music disappeared. She knew she had to hide. There was a chance the man would come back to the car, but they’d planned for this.
Charlize jumped to the third row of the SUV and pulled a blanket over her body. She remained hidden beneath it for another long few moments, her mind racing.
Mick had handled the situation with finesse, but if she were spotted, it would all go up in smoke. Their roles in this were so different, and his seemed far riskier at the moment. But the payoff was bigger. Nothing was happening in the office that would bring them any closer to shutting this down. Mick was their best hope of gaining access to the inner workings of the organization.
Minutes stretched into what felt like hours, and Charlize's anxiety continued to mount. She checked her phone repeatedly but he still hadn’t made his way to the car. It would have only have been a minute or two walk. He must have gone to talk more with the guy, but his coms weren’t picking up any conversation. She was in the dark. Literally and figuratively.
Her heart leapt as her phone buzzed with a new message.
“Had to pee. Be right there.”
“Idiot,” she whispered to herself, holding her hand over her pounding heart.
As he opened the door she could feel the night air was cool, a light mist clung to him as he stepped in. The entire atmosphere was eerie, thick with anticipation.
“Seriously, you had me freaking out here.”
“I didn’t think you wanted me leaving my coms on while I watered some plants over in the alley.”