(Excerpt from Chapter Two of IN WOLVES' CLOTHING)

 

 

Guadalajara.

The guys and I ogle the dozen or so pre-teen prostitutes being led into our villa by three slim, scowling men. Each of the men is wearing a different soccer jersey that looks the same. Each of the girls is wearing whatever discount-rack party dress the pimps forced them into. The room smells like Drakkar Noir and sweat mixed with Cotton Candy and fear. Some of the girls look at us and try to smile. The rest of them probably aren’t aware we exist.

We offer the girls some sodas as they plop onto couches and chairs in the huge open living room. Barrett says something silly in broken Spanish and several of the girls giggle. Even one of the pimps is smiling. I pour myself a glass of tequila and wink at a ten-year-old.

The trick to looking excited when children are presented to you for sex is to remember you are saving their lives. If you don’t look excited, the pimps will get suspicious. Show your anger and disgust, and you ruin everything.

I take a sip of tequila and grin at a child and would kill for an oxy. The one I ate an hour ago is losing its luster. But two on the job, that’s a no-no.

For help getting into character, think about the biggest douchebag frat guy you’ve ever met, imagine him with several million dollars, multiply his money and demeanor by ten, and then act like that guy. Right up until the cops remove your handcuffs and thank you.

This mission is a little bigger than the one in Acapulco yesterday, so there are six of us. Barrett, Malik, Drew and I have been joined by Anders and Scott from Seattle, who arrived in Guadalajara two days ago to get everything set up. Anders and Scott look more refreshed than the rest of us right now because they’re not finishing up a doubleheader. None of us at Operation Emancipation like doubleheaders—shooting off to a city to complete a jump immediately after finishing one in the same or similar time zone. Doubleheaders may be practical from a cost and logistics standpoint, but they’re never fun. For one, fitting a second pseudo-designer suit inside a valise is next to impossible. Secondly, if you play a pedophile too often, your face might stay that way. But Fynn makes the schedule, and you don't fuck with Fynn or her schedule.

The guys and I are chatting and laughing with the girls, warming up to them slowly with a “Qué guapa!” here and a “Muy bonita!” there, making sure not to lock eyes or look at their mouths or do anything else that might invite a kiss. If one of the pimps sees any of us rejecting an advance, they’ll know something’s up. Fortunately, these girls, just like all the other girls in all the other cities and countries we work in, almost never make the first move. They may be smiling and giggling, but they’re not. Sadly, their terror works in our favor. They think they’re about to be raped for the tenth or hundredth or thousandth time, so they aren’t in any rush to get things started. They’re waiting on us.

I’m not wearing a watch, what with my wrists still sore from yesterday, but the cops are a little late. We can stall only so long before the pimps will start getting nervous. And you don’t want a nervous pimp. Anders and Scott may have asked them nicely the other day not to bring any weapons to the party, but the thing about pimps is you can’t always trust them to respect house rules. The good news is these three clowns aren’t even paying attention to us. They’re too busy marveling over the size of the place, trying to fathom its value in their heads, wondering what knickknacks they might be able to nab when nobody’s looking. It’s not often they get to see the inside of a house on this side of town. We are in Puerta de Hierro, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the greater Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. A twenty-minute drive and a million miles away from the pimps’ brothel on Avenida Chapultepec, where Anders and Scott went to arrange this party two days ago.

Another sip of tequila. Less winking and grinning. And we’re running out of stupid, flirtatious phrases to say to the girls. The watch I’m not wearing tells me we should definitely be getting arrested by now. It tells me it’s time for what we at OE call the tourniquet.

“Okay boys, let’s get busy!” I shout with glee at the guys.

You never get used to nearly throwing up in your mouth.

I grab the hand of one of the youngest girls—she’s not a day over nine—and place my other hand on the back of another girl who isn’t much older. Their forced smiles fall to the floor as we head toward the wide granite staircase. The other guys follow my lead, each picking the two girls closest to them and guiding them to the stairs. We look like teachers on a field trip, collectively accounting for all the children in our charge as we tour an historic home. If only it were that simple.

In about a minute, the girls will wonder why we aren’t removing any of our clothing or theirs. Our lack of sexual interest and aggression might even make some of them more uncomfortable than usual. We’ll just tell them we like it slow. What we won’t tell them is we’re here to rescue them. All it takes is one doped-up eleven-year old with a confused allegiance to her pimp to ruin a perfectly planned emancipation.

In this job, you learn to ignore the urge to comfort those you’re protecting.

***

 

(Excerpt from Chapter Three of IN WOLVES' CLOTHING)

 

I can't remember if I took an oxy during the flight, so I eat two. They pair nicely with the scotch.

It’s good to be home.

I should be upstairs sleeping, especially since I didn’t catch a single wink on the flight from Guadalajara. But there’s something I have to finish first.

An eight-letter word for gradually losing one’s edge.

Slipping.

I fill in each box of 27 Down with my black pen and take another sip of scotch. It’s times like these I turn into God. The crossword squares fill up by themselves in a secret blurry code. A few of the answers might even be correct.

The black pleather couch makes love to me as I solve 32 Across.

A four-letter word for spouse.

Neda.

She’s leaning on the banister, wearing a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants that might have fit me when I was ten. Her eyes, almond-shaped during waking hours, are half open.

“You’re home?” she says, pre-dawn gravel in her voice.

“Hi, baby,” I say while trying to conceal the nearly empty lowball glass in my hand. “Sorry to wake you. I’ll be up in a sec.”

Neda yawns and combs her hand through a shining cascade of black hair. “What time d’you get in?”

I scratch my shaved dome, feeling the perspiration forming, and say, “Uh, a little after one maybe.”

Neda opens her eyes the rest of the way. “You’ve been here for nearly two hours? Why didn’t—”

“Baby, I just needed to unwind a bit before bed.”

Neda’s eyes open wider than the manual recommends. “Why must unwinding always involve single malt and a crossword?” she asks. “You know, some men unwind by spooning their beautiful wife. Especially when they haven’t seen her in four days.”

I ponder the answer to 36 Across.

“Zero!” Neda shouts.

The sound knocks the pen from my fingers, and I go, “I didn’t want to wake you.”

“And look how that worked out for you,” says Neda. “At least if you’d come up when you got home you wouldn’t be getting yelled at.”

I tell her not to be mad, then get up from the couch as gracefully as a man two drinks and twenty milligrams in can. “I knew if I woke you right when I got home, you’d want to talk about the mission.”

I realize this is not what God would say. I can tell by Neda’s face.

“And would that have been so horrible?” she asks. “Us actually talking? About something other than your dry cleaning and where you’re flying off to next?”

 What I want to say is, “Yes.” What I actually say is, “Baby, come on. I don’t want to get into it.”

“I know, I know,” says Neda, pulling on the banister railing like she wants to replace it. “You never want to ‘get into it.’ I stopped asking you to ‘get into it’ a while ago, Zero, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

I tell her let’s talk about it in the morning, and she says we already are. Then she says, “You know what, forget it. Come up whenever. Or pass out on the couch. I don’t really care.”

Neda stomps up the hardwood stairs like gravity has doubled. I inhale in preparation to call out to her, but swallow the words. Neda has stormed off in similar fashion countless times before, but right now I can’t remember the protocol. Leave her alone for a while until she cools off? Go after her immediately and talk her down? Go after her immediately and just hold her? Wait a few minutes and then tear her clothes off?

There’s a good reason why I can’t remember the rules: They keep changing. I’ve tried each of the aforementioned approaches an equal number of times in the past, and was successful with each roughly half the time.

I feel like a bomb defuser who’s received minimal training. Do I snip the red wire first or the green one? Or the yellow one or the blue one? If I choose right, I’ll be a hero, saving the day and winning the heart of the princess. If I choose wrong, I’ll blow the whole goddamn kingdom to bits.

Or at least ruin breakfast.

I go with the red wire and pour another two fingers of scotch. The couch is softer than before, the crossword clues easier. If only the little boxes would stop blurring and bending, I’d be able write my answers inside them instead of somewhere over in the sports section.

The girls. They’re still screaming, only now no sound is coming out of their mouths.

I wonder how many of the girls from the two Mexico missions will stick around their safe houses long enough to be reunited with their family, or at least to learn a trade that doesn’t entail being raped thirty or more times a day. Hopefully more than half of them. Unfortunately, that would be considered a success. If only nine or ten of the girls we liberated in Acapulco and Guadalajara end up running off to find another brothel where they can get their daily fix of the drugs their previous pimp got them hooked on, victory would be ours.

You can imagine what losing looks like in my line of work.

Good thing I don’t lose when I’m two-and-a-half drinks and twenty milligrams in. I’m cozy and invincible. I’m satin wrapped in Kevlar. I’m—

“Zero, what the fuck are you doing?” Neda shouts from the top of the stairs. “Get your ass up here now and hold me!”

Damn it. I knew it was the yellow wire.

 

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