Operation Valentine - A Short Story by Sherry Bach © 3.1.15
The day was warm enough for shorts and flip flops; eighty two degrees. Tal sat across the picnic table from Nicole, another detective. Tal and Nicole had worked together for the past two years on "Operation Valentine," the sex trafficking project near Washington, D.C. The project just ended and had resulted in many arrests and convictions. The two of them were celebrating the success of the project at a popular park in town along with their Director and eighteen other detectives plus their significant others.
Now that Operation Valentine was complete, Tal let his eyes rest on Nicole and linger there; they were both single. Nicole was simple. Minimal make-up, shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a loose, half done pony tail, a short sleeved white t-shirt and cobalt blue running shorts. He was attracted to her the first time he met her, and had wanted to ask her out, but the nature of their jobs, and the integrity that Tal possessed within his person, would not allow for mixing business and pleasure, and so he had never pursued his interest in her.
Nicole had been brought on only for the special purpose of Operation Valentine. Its completion meant that she was no longer Tal's coworker and she would be headed back to the Pentagon in a week or two once the paperwork was wrapped up.
The covered picnic table area where they sat was in close proximity to the restrooms. As much as Tal wanted to keep staring at Nicole, his training forced him to look away by the mere sight of what he caught out of the corner of his eye.
She looked like she was about seventeen. There was a strange attractiveness about her in spite of her messy blonde hair and wild eyes. She seemed exhausted, confused or lost as she came out of the bathroom and slinked down slowly against the concrete wall, sitting with her legs bent up to her chest. She closed her eyes and let her head lean back against the wall, her face in the sun, arms resting on her knees. Tal thought the girl looked too thin but there were other reasons that she did not look healthy besides that, in spite of her filmed over attractiveness. Her skin color was ashen and her eyes were sunk in with darkened circles around them. Her hair was not exactly clean and it might have been a while since she had had a bath.
The possibilities ran through Tal's trained mind at mach speed…could be a runaway; could be a meth user, or some other drug addiction; could be a victim of an abusive man; could be a hooker…in that case, where is her pimp?
Tal walked over to the girl who lifted her head, opened her eyes and smiled at him; Tal was a young handsome man who was in very good shape and in a tank top and shorts, his defined muscles were obvious. Nicole had ascertained the situation and followed over behind him.
"Hey gorgeous, what's your name?" The girl asked as she looked Tal up and down assuming he might be trying to hook up with her.
Tal did not answer her question. "You look like this girl that interned one time for us a couple years ago." That was not true , but Tal had to create an opening.
Nicole was standing beside him now and played along, pointing at Tal and then resting her first finger on her top lip momentarily, "Oh ya! You're talking about Melanie. I remember her. This girl is not Melanie, I could have told you that."
"Was Melanie pretty?" The girl asked dreamily and with anticipation as if the thought of someone thinking she was pretty could save her that day.
"Melanie was very pretty…and smart. I'm so sorry to bother you, I thought for sure you were her. Hey! Would you like a Gatorade? We've got plenty at our table right there and you look a little dehydrated if you don't mind me saying…" Tal turned around and pointed to their covered picnic area, waited for a second, and then reached his hand out to help the girl up.
The girl hesitated and then reached out for Tal's hand. The three of them walked over to the picnic table. Nicole sat down next to the girl as Tal walked over to the cooler to grab a drink; he also grabbed a sub out of the cooler to bring over to the girl as well, which she gladly accepted and began eating as soon as it was opened. Tal sat on the opposite side from where the women were sitting.
"So what brings you to the park today?" Tal asked the girl.
"I just had to get away for a little while."
"Do you need help?" He did not want to scare the girl off but she did look like she needed help.
"What kind of help can you give me?"
"What kind of help do you need?" Nicole asked.
The girl had been looking at Tal but now she turned and looked at Nicole and leaned in closer to her, although Tal could still hear. "I think I could use some medical attention. I think I might have had a miscarriage…I lost a lot of blood."
"How long ago?" Nicole stared into the girl's eyes.
"Today. I've been in that bathroom for a couple hours." The girl took several sips of the Gatorade and took another bite of the sub.
Tal looked at the girl. "How long have you been away from your home?"
The girl stopped chewing for a moment when Tal asked her that and then answered while she was still chewing, "Home? What home? Can you really call a place that doesn't give a shit whether you're there or not, home? If I never remember it, it will too soon."
"So I take it you ran away a long time ago and you've been living on the streets prostituting yourself?" Tal took a chance and went for the jugular.
"Are you guys cops? Shit!" The girl said, knowing she did not have the energy to run.
Nicole placed her right hand on the girl's shoulder gently, "No honey, we are not cops, we are not going to do anything to you or for you that you don't want us to." When Nicole said that, the girl felt something well up inside of her and she began to cry; soft at first but then it turned to sobbing. The girl was practically curled up in Nicole's arms like a child when she finally settled down minutes later.
"Can we take you to our headquarters? I'm sure you need to get some pads if you're still bleeding. Do you have a bag somewhere?" Nicole brushed the girl's hair away from her face. She had quit crying.
"I don't have a bag, I don't have anything with me. It's been a week. I'm so tired. Really tired."
Tal and Nicole helped the girl get into the truck that they had driven to the park. Tal ran to the Director who was over by the volleyball nets and explained to him briefly what they were doing.
As they drove with the girl, she told them about what her life had been like for the past two years and how it had started during the time when she wandered the streets at fifteen; a pretty, young, vulnerable and confused teenager.
A man approached her and offered her a place to stay, a hot shower, dinner with wine, and her own room in a penthouse until she could figure out what she wanted to do. He said he would help her find a job so she could make her own money and make her own way in life. She felt like she did not have a choice but to accept his offer. It would give her some time to figure out what she was going to do and he seemed nice enough.
For weeks, she thought she had won the lottery! The nice man bought her new clothes; pajamas, dresses, high heels, fancy bras. He took her out to affluent restaurants or had his chef cook gourmet meals at the penthouse. She was living the life! Then, it started. The man had a party one weekend. It all seemed so innocent and the girl felt like she was helping, giving back a little for the man who had helped her. Her job was to make sure everyone had a drink and was having a good time. There was plenty of food. There was music…the man could play the piano and sing and entertain his friends. There was dancing and laughing.
Later in the evening, close to midnight, the girl walked down the dark hallway to the bathroom. She had had to go to the bathroom for a while but did not want to step away in fear that the man would think she was not doing her job.
When she came out, the man was standing there. He said she looked pretty. He had never said that before and she smiled. He grabbed a strand of her hair and let his fingers run down to the bottom of it, then he put his hand up around the back of her neck and kissed her. He had never done that either. He took her hand and led her back out to the living room.
At this part of the girl's story, they arrived at the headquarters. Tal and Nicole looked at each other. They knew exactly where the story was going. Tal opened the door for the girl, "Hold that thought and we'll hear the rest when we get inside." Nicole had been recording the whole thing and did not want to miss any of it.
Once inside, one of the three doctors on staff checked the girl over. He verified that she indeed had had a miscarriage and lost a lot of blood. He immediately placed the girl on bed rest in one of their private suites and hooked her up to IV's. Tal and Nicole rejoined the girl in her room with ok from the doctor; they had to get the rest of the story.
She told of a life of sexual slavery but that it did not feel like slavery at first because of how cascaded the activities were rolled out. In other words, that first night was just a game of spin the bottle. The girl had kissed ten men by the time the evening was over. So what? Kissing was no big deal. The girl had done more than that for food. Then there was nothing more until the next party, where they played strip poker; then nothing after that until the next party where they played sexual charades. During that party the girl had to kiss another girl while standing half naked in front of everyone in the room. A couple weeks after that party, the girl noticed there were two other girls there that night, who had not previously been there, about a year younger than her. During that party, the three of them had to do a strip tease show for the people in the room. It was during this party that the girl noticed that the men had begun to masturbate and things turned all sideways. The girls had been allowed to drink at the parties but that night someone had slipped drugs into their glasses and they were overly easy to manipulate. She said her memory was fuzzy of some of the details but that the parties continued for over a year and basically became a sexual ring of young girls and older men who sometimes brought their wives with them.
"Why did you stay so long?" Tal asked the girl. He knew the answer but wanted to see if her answer was consistent with the statistics.
"Where was I supposed to go? As far as I was concerned, I didn't have a home and I didn't have any money. I felt stuck."
"That is typical brain programming in these cases honey, it's not your fault. You were fifteen, hardly an adult; it's ok." Nicole caressed the side of the girl's head. "But know this, usually when a man twenty years older than a teenage girl seems interested in her, or interested in helping her, not all of the time but most of the time, his intentions are not good."
The girl continued to defend herself, "Monday through Friday it was as if we were just children within a normal home life. There were no parties or sexual activity. We had chores. He took care of us, treated us with respect. We swam in the pool, worked out in the gym. He fed us, and bought us nice things. Then things got really weird. The group, which the man called, The Senate"…
"The Senate?" Tal asked with surprise and in a loud voice. He had heard of them before but nobody had been able to uncover any information about them. Now, right here in front of his face was a girl who had been lured into the group by the rewards given.
"Yes, that was what they called themselves. I think it was a code word or something. Anyway, things got weird and I just had to get away. I didn't know what else to do. Now I'm here."
The doctor stepped into the room. "Tal, Nicole, it's time to let this girl rest." Tal and Nicole said good-bye to the girl and stepped into the hallway with the doctor. "Some of her blood work doesn’t look good; I just wanted to let you know."
"What does that mean?" Nicole asked.
"I can't say yet, we need to do further testing. The two of you may as well go back to the park and finish celebrating a hard earned victory for Operation Valentine. I will call you as soon as I have more information."
Tal and Nicole rode silently back to the park. Once the truck was parked, Tal looked over at Nicole. "I know Operation Valentine was successful, but after talking to this girl, I feel defeated, like we are never going to get a handle on this."
"Remember your training. You just took one girl out of the pool and regardless of whether or not, more girls are recruited into the pool, you must count the girl you just helped. One life matters Tal, and you are responsible for helping that one life. You cannot allow yourself to feel defeated."
"Thank you. I needed to hear that." He smiled. "Beat ya in a game of volleyball?"
"Ha! Not hardly." Nicole got out of the truck and ran to the volleyball nets with Tal not far behind her.
Later that night, the doctor called Tal. "You and Nicole should probably come down here as soon as you can." Tal hung up the phone, called Nicole and told her to meet him at the headquarters.
When Tal saw the young girl, he crawled up into the bed with her and held her in his arms, weeping.
"It's ok, don't cry." The girl said. "I'll be fine. It's so beautiful. So beautiful. The light is so warm on my face."