A Piece of Peace on Earth

The three women looked scared shitless, but that was normal.  I was scared too.  Any undercover agent who doesn’t feel fear in situations like this is either nuts or incredibly stupid, and likely to do something that gets him or her killed.  I’d learned how to mask that fear.  Undercover agents who couldn’t do that usually ended up dead too.

I was there posing as a buyer for a guy high up in the Russian mob who was planning upon opening a new massage parlor next to a military base in Tennessee, and I was there to inspect and maybe pick up some merchandise.  The three Asian girls, none of which I figured was much over nineteen, were the merchandise.

The Russian guy and the massage parlor were a carefully crafted scam designed to expose a sex trafficking operation my FBI office had been trying to crack open for two years.  Three years before, an undercover city cop in Houston had infiltrated a ring of six massage parlors in Houston and the surrounding suburbs with the intent of arresting the owner and employees and shutting them down.  

The cop had started as muscle to help uncooperative clients leave and convince them not to come back.  After six months, he had managed to work his way up in the organization high enough he became one of the guys who transported the girls from one massage parlor to the other.  I guess some guys like to get their blowjob or other fun from a different girl each time because they rotated the girls about once a month.

This cop got to know the girls and in the process, discovered the massage parlors weren’t owned by one guy like they’d thought.  The guy with his name on the business permit had a boss.  The cop couldn’t find out the name of the top dog because none of the people he worked with were high enough to have that information.  What he did find out is the main people in each massage parlor talked about being afraid of the crossing their employer - one of the Mexican cartels.  

He also became friends with the few girls who spoke English and learned that all the girls were illegal and all were Asian.  The girls told the cop a very interesting story about how they got to the US and working in a massage parlor, and it was that story that caught our interest.  

Some guy would meet them in Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, or some other Pacific Rim country, seemingly innocently, and then gain their confidence.   He’d sympathize with them if they were poor, like most of them were, or if they thought their parents were too strict.  He’d buy them little gifts and take them out to eat.  Once the girl thought they were friends or maybe even more, the guy would say he had a brother or other relative in the US and had just gotten a letter from him.  He’d even let the girl read the letter.

The letter would have a bunch of crap like any guy would write to his brother, but down toward the end, it would say there were lots of jobs in the US that girls could do and they didn’t need a lot of education.  They were jobs like working in a restaurant or taking care of someone’s house and kids, and the letter would say how much those jobs paid.  

The guy would tell the girl if she went to the US, she could get one of those jobs and start a new life.  Sometimes he’d say he’d pay her way if she’d wait for him to come at a later date.  Sometimes he’d tell the girl he’d heard about a man or a church group, it varied by the girl, who was financed from the US by people originally from her country and who were interested in saving girls from the problems at home.  That man or group would pay for a ticket to some South American country where the immigrations laws were lax or not well enforced.  From there, this same man or group would take them to the US and help them find a job.

Now, to you and I this sounds like one of those “if it sounds too good to be true, you can bet it is” stories, but to a girl living in a one-room shack and having trouble making enough money eat, it probably seems like a dream come true.  

Many of the girls were part Caucasian or Black, the result of the US involvement in Korea and Vietnam, and were the daughters of prostitutes.  They’d been abandoned by their mothers, who were often daughters of prostitutes themselves, and had been raised in orphanages.  When they grew up, they found that marriage and good jobs weren’t available because of their mixed-race status and were living in poverty.  Their only real option was to continue the cycle by becoming prostitutes, and most didn’t want to do that.

All the girls in the massage parlors had bought the story, packed a bag, and let the guy put them on a plane or boat.  When they got to wherever the ticket sent them, they were met by other people who started out being friendly and looked after them.  Once the girls were in a house owned by the cartel, their world changed.

They were taken by car or truck to a staging point near the US/Mexican border and then either crammed in with a semi load of fruit or appliances or something else big enough to hide in, or forced to walk from there to the border.  Along the way, most were raped and beaten to make them do what the cartel wanted them to do.

The US Border Patrol caught some of them, but many still made it across and were handed off to other cartel members in the US.  They’d finally end up in a massage parlor or in some pimp’s stable of girls and were told what was expected of them.  They quickly learned that if they resisted, they got slapped around, and if slapping didn’t do it, the beating they got would change their mind.  Most had accepted their fate or turned to drugs to temporarily take them away from it.  Often the pimp would start them on drugs in order to make it easier to control them.

The Houston massage parlors were massage parlors in name only.  A girl would pick up a guy at the desk and take him back to a room with a massage table.    Once in the back room, she’d show him a menu.  They used a menu because most of them couldn’t speak English.  If they’d landed in Central America, some could speak some Spanish because it took a while to get from there to the US, but not well enough to rattle off what was available.

The menu would list the services she could perform and the price for a blowjob, hand job, and for fucking her on the massage table along with whatever else the massage parlor offered.  The john would point to what he wanted and then pay the girl.  After she took the money to the guy at the desk, she’d come back and fulfill her part of the contract.

The FBI wouldn’t ordinarily have been particularly interested in a whorehouse.  We left that headache to the local LEO’s, and it was a real headache.  Prostitution is illegal in Texas, but as long as there are men and women, there will be some women willing to sell themselves and some men willing to pay whatever it costs to get their rocks off.  

It’s impossible to eradicate.  When I was a patrol cop in Philly, we busted the same street girls at least once a month.  Their pimps would bail them out an hour after they were booked, and we’d see them again the next night dressed in shorts or skirts that showed their ass cheeks and a top that left most of their tits exposed.

The girls also told the cop they thought some girls were sold to other men.  They didn’t know where they went, but they said somebody from the massage parlor would take a girl or two out of the place they lived and they never came back.

The Houston Police Department thought there was more than just a massage parlor involved, and relayed all their information to DHS and they shared it with the FBI.  There were some high-level meetings to plan strategy, and one of those strategies was to get someone inside the organization or at least in a position to identify the low levels of the sex trafficking branch.  We’d take down the low fruit and then convince them to sing until we got the next level.  By doing it this way, we’d eventually get to the top of the heap.

Getting someone into the organization of any of the cartels is very difficult as well as damned dangerous.  If you can even get in at all, the cartel’s way of handling anyone they even suspect of being a cop is a bullet.  Nobody who isn’t Mexican can get higher than the first few levels of the organization, so any undercover agent trying to get to the cartel itself would have to pass as a Mexican native and preferably from the area where the cartel was centered.  

Those guys are few and far between in the FBI and the FBI didn’t want to risk losing one if it was possible to avoid doing that.  They were too valuable for tracking the drug trade.  The decision was to invent a business that needed Asian girls and then have that business try to buy them from the cartel.  I was the agent picked to pose as the representative of the business.  My grandparents were from the Ukraine so I looked the part, and I also spoke enough Russian to fool anybody who didn’t.

That business was going to be more massage parlors because we knew a lot about what went on in them and it would be easier to “talk the talk” without getting tripped up.  The business was located in Chicago rather than Houston, and was in the process of expanding to Tennessee and Detroit.   We knew there were similar massage parlors in Chicago, and figured the cartel would know that as well so the story would be at least plausible.

My assignment was to make contact with the cartel and tell them I was interested in purchasing some girls.  Once I made enough deals some high-priced defense lawyer would have trouble convincing a jury it was entrapment, a team of FBI and DHS agents along with the Houston PD Swat Team would crash the door and arrest everybody, including me.  That way I could stay under cover and maybe get some more information while I was in jail.  As soon as that was done, they’d call the teams watching the cartel massage parlors and bust everybody there.

It took six months to make contact with the cartel.  Buying a prostitute is not like going to a car lot and asking for a particular make and model of car.  Nobody comes to greet you and try to sell you what they offer.  You have to be introduced to the cartel and then get the approval from some higher level to set up a meeting.  That level depends upon how deep they think they need to dive into your past and how much money they think you’re willing to spend.  

If you’re a guy who looks and acts like a small-time hood or pimp, and you want to buy a little coke every month or are looking for a couple of new girls, probably a local guy can make that decision.  If you’re a little more sophisticated and looking for a kilo or more a week, or several girls, that starts to sound fishy and they’ll check you out pretty well before they’ll set up a meeting with you.

That first meeting and maybe one or two more are just “getting to know you” meetings.  You won’t get close enough to actually see anything until they think you’re real and trust you a little.  They’ll never trust you completely, so at each meeting there will be at least one other guy hanging around seemingly doing nothing.  He’s watching you for any signs that say you aren’t what you claim to be.  They’re always armed, and if they suspect anything’s wrong, you’ll end up rotting away somewhere miles away.  If you’re lucky, they’ll bury you in a shallow grave and you won’t become an easy food source for the coyotes and foxes.

The Houston PD had a confidential informant who claimed he knew a couple of low-level guys in one of the massage parlors and who was willing to trade my introduction to the organization for a reduction in charges from aggravated assault to simple assault.  When he got out on bail, he told the guy he knew of a Russian guy looking for some Asian girls if they were interested.  One of the guys took that information to his boss and then told the CI the cartel was thinking about it and he’d get back to him.

While I was waiting, the FBI worked with the Chicago PD to raid a couple massage parlors run by the Russian mob and they made sure those raids made the national news.  In a televised interview, the Chicago PD was careful to state they’d learned the Russian mob had plans to expand into other states and were forwarding that information to the states involved.  That was to give some credence to the sting and also to warn the cartel not to mess with it.  The cartels know the Russian mob is just as brutal as they are.  They’re not really afraid of the Russian mob, but the do respect them, and since both organizations do business in some of the same cities, they didn’t want to start a war.

The first meeting was in a small Mexican restaurant, and when I got there, there were two guys waiting outside.  One guy was short and dark with black hair, and was obviously Latino.  The other guy was tall and had blonde hair, but that wasn’t all that unusual.  With the money the cartel has, they can buy anybody who’s buyable if they need a particular type of person to do something.

As soon as the guy and I walked inside, everybody else left including the waitress and the cook.  We sat down at a table and the guy spent almost a full minute staring at me.  Then he cleared his throat.

“I hear you’re looking for some lambs for your farm.”

I nodded.

“Yeah.”

“What makes you think I have any lambs for sale?”

I smiled.

“Well, let’s just say the man who owns the farm, my boss, was looking into buying some new lambs.  He asked around and was told of another farmer who had lambs from Asia.  My boss said he’d like to meet with the farmer, and the guy said the farmer lived in Houston and didn’t usually talk to anyone except the people who work on the farm, so maybe my boss could talk to one of them instead.

“My boss doesn’t do business that way.  He wasn’t about to talk to some jack-off  who couldn’t make the deal without approval.  He still needed some lambs though, so he told the guy he’d send a person who works on his farm to talk to the farmer’s person.  He asked me to do that, so I asked a friend of a friend of a friend if he could make the introduction, and here we are.”

“Where is your farm?”

“The main farm is in Chicago, but we just bought another farm in Tennessee. If they’re nice lambs, I’ll be looking for maybe fifteen or twenty for another farm in Michigan later on.”

The guy stared at me for a while, and then said, “I have to think about it.  How much would you pay me for my lambs?”

“My boss thinks two for each lamb is a good price, no more unless she’s special in some way.”

“I always get four for my lambs because they’re very good lambs.”

I replied I’d have to see them before I paid that much.  The guy stood up.  

“I’ll see if the farmer wants me to sell any of my lambs.  You have a phone number where I can call you?”

A week later, the same guy met me at the door of a house in the Houston suburbs with another guy who was definitely Mexican, and they obviously didn’t trust me.  They both opened their jackets to show me the handguns they were wearing.  It was a dangerous situation to be in, but if I could pull off this meeting, I’d probably be able to get close enough to find out some real information, though I’d start that information gathering with this first meeting.  Even if I couldn’t get closer, we’d at least have these two guys to bring in for questioning.

The way I was going to do that was the tiny little video camera and transmitter in my ball cap.  The lens was hidden in the sparkly graphics on the front and the tiny, thin battery and transmitter made with surface mount electronics on a mylar circuit were sewn into the band at the back.  I knew it was there, but I couldn’t feel it.  Even if they looked and felt it, they wouldn’t either.  It would just feel like any other band on a really good ball cap.

Across the street were two agents in work clothes with bright yellow vests and hard hats.  They were talking to each other in front of a bucket truck with “Hanson Lighting Contractors” on the door.  I knew under their yellow vests were tactical vests with ceramic inserts and the word “FBI” on the front and back.  Their sidearms would be tucked into shoulder holsters under the yellow vest and on the floor of the cab would be a military issue M4 rifle and a twelve-gauge shotgun in case they needed more firepower.  Their earmuffs were really wireless headphones communicating with the receiver and recorder in the truck cab, so they’d hear everything that went on inside the house.  The primary reason for them being there was the recording equipment in the truck cab, but if all hell broke loose, they’d be my backup.

The .380 Sig loaded with expanding rounds I had strapped to my ankle was my ace in the hole until they made it inside the building.  It was small enough to not be easily seen under my pant leg, but would be deadly at close range.  I knew the cartel guy would probably find it because I’d be searched, but I had a story about why I was carrying.

They did search me, and once they’d pulled the .380 out of the holster, told me I better have a good explanation for that.  I just grinned.

“Hey man, I got twenty grand out in my car.  You really think I’m fucking dumb enough I’d carry that kind of cash without some way to keep some asshole kid from taking it?”

The tall blonde guy stared at me for a while and then grinned.

“I think you’re a fucking cop.”

I looked him in the eye.

“Look, you dumb son of a bitch, you think I’m a cop, go ahead and blow my goddamn ass away.  My boss’ll have your cock and balls cut off and shoved down your throat.  If you’re lucky, he’ll tell the guy who does that to shoot you in the head while you’re bleeding to death.  If he’s really pissed about something, say, like maybe his bitch is on the rag or a bird shit on his BMW, he’ll tell the guy to shoot you in the guts so it takes you a couple days to die.”

The guy shrugged.

“I still think you’re a fucking cop.  Why don’t I just cap your ass, take the twenty grand, and dump you somewhere?  This boss you claim to have wouldn’t know nothin’ except you disappeared.”

I grinned.

“Yeah, and I suppose you think those two guys across the street are getting ready to work on the street lights too.  There’s something in the case besides that twenty-grand – half a pound of C-4 and a remote detonator.  You walk out there by yourself and pick up that case, the cops’ll be scraping your sorry goddamned  ass off the building for a month trying to get enough fucking DNA to figure out who you fucking are.  

“If I don’t walk outa here, well…Sergie, he’s the one with the black beard, he really likes hearing guys scream when he cuts off each finger a little piece at a time with his wire cutters.  The other one, Vlad,  well, Vlad has this thing about testicles.  He has a collection of over a thousand in jars of alcohol.  After he cuts your balls off, he’ll probably stick you in the throat just enough it’ll take you ten minutes or so to bleed out.  That’s what he usually does anyway.

“Neither of them like using a gun.  They prefer a knife, and they like to watch people die slowly while they slice them up.  Maybe you heard about the guy in New York.  He met Sergie and Vlad one night, and it wasn’t for a drink.  Sergie was laughing when he told me it took the guy an hour to stop screaming and another hour to die.  Now, we gonna do business, or do I just tell you to go fuck yourself and then walk outta here?”

The guy smiled and handed my .380 back to me.

“Just had to make sure you were what you say you are.  I’ll bring in the girls now.”

He opened the door and yelled “ven aqui”, then turned back and scowled.

“None of the dumb bitches speak English, but one does speak a little Spanish.  The rest’ll follow her.”

Three girls walked in and then stood in a line in front of a table.  I hated what I was going to do next, but it was the only way to keep my cover.  I walked up to the first girl, lifted up her T-shirt, yanked her bra up, and looked at her breasts.  She flinched when I fondled one, and stood there shaking while I pulled up the hem of her skirt and pulled down the front of her panties.

“Tit’s are OK, not too big and not to small.  Too much pussy hair though.  Our clients like ‘em with just a little.  How many guys has she fucked.”

“Not sure.  I’ve only had her a week and before that she was fresh off the boat.  Maybe a dozen or so here.  I don’t know about along the way.  Some of ‘em have some bush, but you can make ‘em shave if you want.  The bush don’t matter cause they’re all tight.  That’s why we have ‘em in the parlors, ‘cause these slant bitches, they’re all tight.  You wanna fuck her and find out for yourself?”

I shook my head and grinned.

“Not a chance.  My boss would feed me my balls if he even thought I was sampling the merchandise.”

I let the girl’s skirt fall and then did the same thing to the other two.  The second  flinched like the first.  The third just stood there and looked like she was going to cry.”

I looked back at the guy.

“This one has saggy tits and her ass is too big.  She’s not worth four, one maybe, but not four.”

The guy grinned again.

“Yeah, her ass is bigger than the others, but I know that pussy is tight ‘cause I fucked her last night.  I guess she does have floppy tits though.  How about three?”

I shook my head.

“Can’t go three.  I might go two, but that’s it.”

The guy smiled.

“I can do two.”

“Ok.  Now, where’s the other two?  We agreed on five.  That’s why I brought twenty with me.”

The guy shrugged.

“The boss said give you a sample, I gave you a sample.  You pay for these three and if everything goes OK - no cops show up and all the money is there - I’ll call you and you can come look at a dozen more.  You pick which ones you want and I’ll keep the rest.”

I was getting pissed.  He was talking about these girls like they were just commodities, like corn or pork bellies, but I couldn’t show that.

“So, I get these three for ten and my pick from a dozen more?”

The guy nodded.

I walked out to my car, pulled the aluminum case out of the trunk and walked back to the door.  That was a signal to the agents by the bucket truck that the deal was going down.  I stopped for a second at the door and then moved my head from side to side as if I was looking up and down the street.  That was the signal that everything was OK and they should stand down but stay alert.

When I sat the case on the table and opened it, the guy said, “Fuck, man, I figured you were shittin’ me about the C4.”.

He’d seen the block of modeling clay in a paper wrapper that said “C4” in big black letters and “EXPLOSIVE”  in white letters on a black field, and the aluminum tube with two wires that led to a small black box taped to the lid.

I looked at him with the best pissed off look I could manage.

“You fucking asshole, don’t you know who I work for, or are you just as fucking dumb as you look?  I told you, you don’t fuck around with my boss.  He’ll be pissed as hell that I’m only bringing three girls when I told him I was bringing him  five. When he sees that last one, he’ll be pissed about that too.  He always tries out each new girl and he hates saggy tits.  

“You said next time you’d have a dozen.  It better be twelve, not ten or eleven, and they better be healthy.  No VD or druggies.  If I don’t see that, I walk away, and in a day or so, you’ll be lucky if you ever walk again.  Understand?”

The guy gulped a little then said “Yeah.  Gotcha.”

I pulled ten stacks of a thousand each from the case and handed them to the guy.  All the serial numbers had been recorded before I got them so they’d be evidence of the sale in court.

“Count ‘em if you want, but there’s ten there.  I’ll be taking my girls and going now.”

I didn’t wait for an answer.  I just grabbed the first girl’s hand and motioned for the others to follow.  In less than a minute, I had them in the back seat of my car and I was driving away.  In my rear view mirror, I saw the two agents getting the bucket truck secured and ready to move.

Ten blocks away was an empty warehouse owned by one of the FBI’s fake corporations.  It that warehouse sat an older black panel van.  The side door opened just as I got there and I pulled inside. The two agents inside quickly pulled the girls out of my car and pushed them into the van.  The girls were on their way to a safe house where they’d be checked out medically, fed, and then interrogated.  I drove back to the hotel where I was staying.

I got a call from the guy the next afternoon.

“Everything went OK.  I’ll have your lambs ready tomorrow at the same place.”

When I drove up to the house and parked at the curb, the blonde guy was standing there with two more Mexicans and the bucket truck was in place again.  The blonde guy smiled.

“Couldn’t get all twelve here.  We have to go to the farm.  You follow me there.”

I didn’t have any choice but to get back in my car and follow the guy. I saw one of the agents by the bucket truck pull a mike from his vest while he was working the levers to get the boom back on top of the truck and the support legs pulled back in.  I knew there was no way they could get the truck ready to roll before we drove out of sight.  They could track me by the GPS tracker hidden in my car, but that was going to take a while.  I was pretty much on my own until they did.

The place was out in the country south of Houston, and actually was an old farm house.  When we pulled into the drive and stopped, I got out, got the case from my trunk, and followed them inside.  

In the living room stood twelve Asian girls.  All except one looked pretty young, maybe eighteen or nineteen.  That one looked older, maybe about twenty-five or so.  It was hard to tell her age for sure because Asian women don’t seem to age like Caucasian women, but she was definitely no teenager.  Her face was more mature and her curves were fuller.

Another woman sat in a chair off to one side beside a table with a marble statue of a nude woman on it, and as soon as I saw her, I swore under my breath.  She was Hispanic and had red hair, and I was sure I’d arrested her when I was a patrol cop in Philly.

The blonde guy pointed to the girls and said, “Here they are.  Pick which two you want.”

I started doing the same examination I’d done before, and as I looked at each girl, I kept glancing at the woman in the chair.  It was her all right.  I remembered the mole on her upper lip and the little scar on her right cheek.  Her name was Tiffany, and the reason I remembered her was she seemed a lot smarter then the rest of the hookers we’d arrested that night.  Tiffany was also a violent bitch.  She bit one of the arresting officers and almost took his ear off, and kicked another in the nuts before they got her in cuffs.

She was looking at me too, and that bothered me.  It had been almost ten years and I had a beard and longer hair now, but sometimes that doesn’t work.  I tried to look like I was concentrating on the girls, but I was also keeping her, the blonde guy, and the two Mexicans in my peripheral vision.  

I’d looked at four of the girls when the redhead motioned to the blonde guy.  As he walked over to her, I knelt down, lifted the skirt of the girl in front of me, and held it up with my left hand.  I let my right drop down to my ankle.  A second later, all hell broke loose.

The blonde guy yelled, “He’s a cop”, and started to pull the nine mil from his belt.  I’d pulled my .380 and thumbed the safety as soon as he turned around and he went down with the first slug in his chest and the second in his throat.  I was turning toward the Mexicans and got off one shot before the bullet slammed into my right shoulder and spun me sideways.

That was fortunate, because the shot fired by the other Mexican missed me.  I fired four more rounds at them.  One caught the Mexican on the right in the forehead and two put the other on the floor with one in his shoulder and the other in the center of his chest.  The fourth round missed because I fell over when I tried to lean on my right arm.

The girls had all run out of the room during all this, all except for two, the redhead and the Asian woman who looked older than the rest.  I’d turned to where I thought the redhead would be, but instead of sitting in the chair, she was standing over me with a pistol in her hand.  Her face was a sneer.

“Thought I recognized you even with the beard.  You’re that fucking cop from Philly.  You bastard, I sat in that fucking jail cell for two hours with two dykes who beat the shit out of me when I wouldn’t let ‘em feel my tits.  The bitch cop who was supposed to stop them just stood there and laughed her ass off.  I’d show you how that feels if I didn’t have to get back and tell Roberto what happened here.  Instead, I’m gonna shoot you in the balls and then the gut.”

She was aiming at my crotch when I heard a shrill scream.  Tiffany started to turn her head at the same time the older Asian woman hit her on the back of the head with the statue from the table.  The redhead went down like a sack of wet dog shit and then rolled over on her back.  There was another scream from the Asian woman as she hit Tiffany with the statue again, this time in the face.  I heard a crunch and then a gurgle as the redhead started choking on her own blood.  I could see the Asian woman then, and her face was a mask of hate.  There was another crunching sound when the Asian woman brought the statue down on the Tiffany’s face again.  Tiffany didn’t move or make a sound after that.

The Asian woman dropped the statue then, and knelt down beside me.  The hate had left her eyes and had been replaced by concern.

“Lay still so I can see how bad you’re hurt.”

“You speak English?”

She started unbuttoning my shirt.

“Yes.  Now be quiet so I can concentrate.”

She got my shirt unbuttoned, but she wasn’t strong enough to roll me over.  By that time the adrenaline was starting to wear off and I was feeling pain like I’d never felt before so I couldn’t help her much.  

“I have to roll you over”, she said.  “I can’t do it by myself.  You’re too heavy so you’ll have to help.  It’s going to hurt, but I have to see if the bullet came out or if it’s still in you.”

She was right about it hurting.  She was trying to lift my shoulder and that hurt like hell.  When she said, “roll over”, I tried again and that hurt a lot more.  I groaned and fell back down.

She yelled at me then.

“Do you want to die?  Roll over or you will.”

I felt something grating in my shoulder when I finally managed, and then a lot more pain when she pulled my arm up so she could get the sleeve off.  She put my arm back down and then pulled the shirt away from my back.  Her voice got calm and soft again.  

“I know it hurts but don’t you give up.  Just stay with me.  The bullet went all the way through, but it doesn’t look like it hit any arteries or veins.  You’re going to be OK.”

I heard the ripping of fabric and then more pain hit me even harder when I felt something being pushed into my chest.  A few seconds later I felt the same thing on my back.  I must have blacked out then because that’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up because somebody was doing something to my shoulder and it hurt.  I heard a voice say, “Goddammit.   Jack, he’s starting to tense up.  Give him a little more to relax his muscles again.”  Then everything went black again.

The second time I woke up, it was because somebody was wrapping something around my arm and that made my shoulder hurt.  When I opened my eyes, I saw a woman in blue scrubs.

She smiled.

“It’s about time you woke up.  You feel OK?  The doctor OK’d some meds if it hurts too much.”

I had some pain, but it wasn’t all that bad, and ever since working Narcotics for a year in Philly, I’d been hesitant to take anything more than aspirin.  I’d seen too many junkies who’d started on prescription painkillers because of some kind or injury or surgery and got hooked.  They’d changed to heroin because it was cheaper than the meds and the guy on the corner didn’t ask for a prescription.

“It hurts, but I can manage.  A few aspirins might be nice though.”

She finished taking my blood pressure, then brought me two aspirins in a cup and made me drink half a glass of water to swallow them.  She said breakfast would be in about an hour and then left.

I was still pretty groggy, but over that hour it mostly went away.  When the same nurse brought me a tray with two eggs, a sausage patty, and a cup of coffee, I wasn’t really hungry.  I ate one of the eggs and half the sausage, and was finishing the coffee when a guy in a black suit and tie walked into the room and closed the door behind him.  He pulled the chair from the corner up to my bed, stuck his sunglasses in his inside pocket and sat down.

“You’re a luck man, Agent Hicks.  It took us half an hour to find you.  If that woman hadn’t known what she was doing, you wouldn’t have made it.  She kept you from bleeding to death.

“You’ll be happy to know that between the video from your camera and what she and the other women told us, we had enough information to start taking down the trafficking operation.  Agents arrested some of the minor players this morning, and they’re talking, well, the Americans are talking.  The Mexicans aren’t saying a word.  Can’t say as I blame them.  They won’t be safe anywhere if they do.  There are enough cartel members in prisons around the US that they’d only live a couple weeks no matter where we hold them.  Right now they’re in solitary for their own protection.”

He stroked his chin, then scratched his bald head.

“There is something else, John.  We uh…when we went over that house in the country, we found something that we didn’t expect.  The place was wired and had video cameras like we figured it would.  We have what happened on a DVD we found in the recorder, and we know the Asian woman came to your rescue so she isn’t going to be charged with anything.

“We didn’t figure there would be a microwave transmitter for the video and audio feeds.  Our tech guys were able to find the location of the receiving antenna, but by the time we got there, the place was deserted and all the equipment except the antenna was gone.  What that means is the cartel has you on video and they have your voice.  They also have the redhead saying you’re a cop.”

He shook his head.

“You can’t go back in the field, John.  There’s no way the cartel is going to forget about this.  You can’t go back to being an agent either.  We’ve already found one clerk here in Houston who was bought off by the cartels.  As soon as you show your face, there’ll be a target on your chest and they won’t stop until you’re dead.”

I asked him what I was suppose to do then.  He scratched his head again.

“We’ll need you to testify at some of the early trials about what you saw.  There won’t be a trial for the blonde guy and two Mexicans or for the redhead.  You killed the guys and the Asian woman killed the redhead, but you still have information we can use in the trials of some of the minor players.  After that…ever considered living in Montana?”

“No.  Why?”

“We’re going to put you in the witness protection program.  You’ll get a new identity and Montana’s big enough it will be easy for you to stay out of sight.  We’ll set you up in a house with some job references so you can find work.  You’ll go on with a new life.”

“What the hell would I do except be a cop?  I don’t know anything else.”

“Oh, I think you do.  You worked your way through college in the dorm kitchens, didn’t you?  Maybe you’d like to be a cook, or maybe start your own restaurant.  We can help you do that too.  

“Well, I have to get back to the office.  They’ll have finished interrogating the batch they brought in this morning, and we have to figure out which ones to go after next.  You think about that restaurant thing, OK.”

I said I would, and then asked him about the Asian woman.

“That Asian woman.  Can I talk to her?”

He looked at me for a few seconds and then frowned.

“After we interrogated her, we put her in a safe house and even I don’t know which one.  I’ll see what I can do, but she’s on those videos too and they know her name.  She’s in as much danger as you are.”

A doctor came to see me that afternoon.  He said the bullet had busted my collarbone, but other than that, hadn’t caused that much damage.  He said it would hurt to move that shoulder for a while, but they’d fixed my collarbone so in about six months, I’d be about as fit as before and in a year I probably wouldn’t know it had happened except for the scars on my chest and back.

He left then, but said he’d check on me every day and when he thought I was doing OK, would release me.

He did release me after a week, but I wasn’t really released.  As soon as I got dressed, the two agents who’d been outside the door to my hospital room since I got there walked me down the stairs and out the back of the building.  We got into an unmarked van and after about a hundred turns, stopped at a huge house in one of the exclusive Houston suburbs that had a nine foot wrought iron fence around the entire lot.

There was a guy in shorts and a flowered shirt sitting in a chair on the lawn in front of the house with a crossword puzzle and a soda.  Most people wouldn’t have noticed the tiny ear bud in his ear or the way his shirt seemed to have a crease on the right side just above his waist, but I did.  The ear bud meant he was listening to somebody in the house.  That crease was the shirt pulled a little too tight around the butt of a Glock .40, the standard FBI issue sidearm at the time.

I also saw video cameras all over the place, front door, each corner and each side of the house, and even in the trees around the house.  There was an “ADT” sign by the front step, but I knew all those cameras weren’t sending anything to anybody.  I figured inside there’d be a room filled with video displays and at least a couple people sitting there monitoring them.  When we went past the door, I saw there were four, not just two.  I figured I was in a lot more shit than I thought if the FBI was that concerned about me.

The agents wouldn’t tell me their full names.  After making the rounds of the house, all I knew was Bob, Jack, Willard, Kimberly, Susan, and Rocky, and I wasn’t sure those were their real names.  Rocky was the guy in the front yard. Bob, Jack, Willard, and Kimberly manned the video room, and Susan was both a guard and the cook.  When I shook her hand, she said dinner would be at six.

At ten ‘til six, I walked downstairs from my room and into the dining room.  There were two places set at the table.  I assumed one of the agents was going to eat with me because except when I was in my room or the john, I hadn’t been out of their sight.

I sat down to wait, and about five minutes later, the Asian woman from the house in the country walked in.  She smiled at me.

“How’s your shoulder feel?”

I smiled back.

“As good as can be expected, I suppose.  I hear I have you to thank for just having a sore shoulder.”

She looked down at the table.

“I couldn’t let you die.  You were the only chance I had to get out of that place.”

“The agent who talked to me a few days ago said if you hadn’t known what you were doing, I’d have bled to death.  How did a pros…how did you know what to do?”

She looked up at me.

“It’s all right.  You can say it.  I didn’t want to be that way, but I was.”

Susan brought two trays into the dining room and sat one in front of each of us.

“It isn’t filet mignon but it’s steak, and it turned out pretty good.  I’ll be back with your drinks in a jiff.  Sodas or iced tea?  I have both.”

Once she brought my iced tea and the woman’s Pepsi, she left us alone again.  I was hungry and the steak was good, but I also wanted to know more about the woman who had saved my life.

“Miss, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself.  I’m John Hicks.”

She looked up from the steak she’d been cutting and smiled.

“My name is Kim Lee Sun.  In Korea, Kim is a last name, but you can call me Kim if you want.  That’s what the other agents call me.”

“I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

She smiled.

“Not as happy as I was when that Tiffany woman said you were a policeman.  I’m sorry you got shot because she said that, but I was hoping you’d get me out of that mess.”

“Yeah.  I recognized her and was afraid something was going to happen.  I arrested her for prostitution about ten years ago.  I was hoping she wouldn’t remember me, but she did.  I don’t know why she was there unless somehow she got herself hooked up with the Mexican cartel.  I figured she’d still be back in Philly if she was even still alive.  I don’t know how to thank you for what you did back there.  I was hurt too much to use my right hand very well and I couldn’t have shot her before she shot me.”

Kim frowned.

“She was at that house when they brought us there and she stayed there all the time.  She made us call her “Madam Tiffany”, and she liked to hit us.  She was a very mean woman, and when I saw she was going to shoot you, I picked up the closest thing I could find and hit her so she wouldn’t.  I don’t remember doing it but they say I hit her two more times after that and that I killed her.  Is that true?”

“That’s what the agent who talked to me said and I believe it because I saw you do it.  He also told me you saved my life by stopping me from bleeding so much.   How did you learn to do that?”

Kim smiled again.

“Let’s eat first and then I’ll tell you.”

We were finishing our drinks when Kim said there was a nice couch and some chairs in the living room and we’d be more comfortable there.  When we walked into the room, she took a chair and motioned me to the couch.  

“You might want to lie down, so you take the couch.  Now, you want to know about me, so I’ll tell you.

“I never knew my mother or my father.  That’s because my mother was a prostitute, or at least that’s what they told me at the orphanage in Suwon.  You probably don’t know this, but in Korea, it’s very important that you have pure Korean blood.  In school we learned that’s because for so many years Korea was invaded first by Japan and then by China, over and over again, and the women they raped had mixed-blood children.  You aren’t Korean if you don’t have pure Korean blood.  You’re an outcast.

“I was just one of many children at the orphanage.  Our mothers were either prostitutes around the military bases or other women who had gotten pregnant by a soldier.  Most of our mothers were the same as we were.  They had a Korean mother and a white or black father.  Our mothers couldn’t afford to take care of us, so they put us in an orphanage.  The people who ran the orphanage were nice to us and made sure we went to school.  They also made sure we learned English so we could get jobs on the American military bases.  That was more important than I thought.

“When I got out of school, no Korean business would hire me because I’m not of pure blood, and there were no openings at the Army base.  I kept looking, though, and finally found a Korean man who had gone to the US to become a doctor and then came back to Korea to treat people there.  He needed someone to help him, and he didn’t care that I wasn’t pure.  

“At first, I just took down the patient’s complaints and took their temperature, but one day a man came in who had cut himself really badly with a sickle.  The doctor asked me if I was afraid of blood and I told him no.  He had me help him while he cleaned the man’s cut and then stitched it together.

“When we got done, he said I’d done a good job and should study to be a nurse.  I said that was almost impossible because I had a white father.  He said it was too bad we weren’t in the US, because there, it wouldn’t matter.  He said he’d teach me himself if I was willing to learn.

“He did teach me a lot over the next two years.  I learned how to deliver babies and how to stitch up cuts and how to stop bleeding and how to bandage wounds.  I was happy for the first time I could remember and I wanted to learn more.

“One day I was in his office when a man came in with a cut finger.  The doctor looked at the cut and told me to take care of it by myself because it wasn’t that bad and he needed to see another patient.  I cleaned the man’s finger like I’d been taught.  It wasn’t a very bad cut so I decided it didn’t need stitches.  I put a bandage on his finger and told him if it got pus in it to come back.

“He looked at me and said I was as good a doctor as the doctor and that I was prettier.  I laughed and said I’d never be that good, but I would like to learn how to be a nurse.  He said if I went to the US, I could do that, and he could help me.

“I was twenty-one at the time, but I was still thinking like I was sixteen.  It sounded so good and he made it sound so easy.  He said people in the US wanted people from all countries to come there and I’d be welcome.  I’d go to the US, go to nursing school, and then be a nurse in a hospital.  

“The man bought me a plane ticket to Honduras.  When I landed there, there were people who met me and they knew why I was there.  They said they’d get me to the US and pay for the nursing school.  I rode for a week in the back of a truck with a bunch of other girls until we got to a little house in Mexico.  It was then I realized what I’d gotten myself into.

“The men in the house took each of us into a bedroom and…it wasn’t my first time.  A boy in the orphanage and I had done it, but it was for most of the girls.  They’d come out crying so I’d try to make them feel better.  That happened for three days.  After that, they drove us to the border and we had to walk through the desert.  When we got to the other side, more men put us in the back of a truck and took us to that house, and every night, the same thing happened.  Sometimes Tiffany would watch and laugh at us.  Once, she even made me touch her…down there…while the man was on top of me.

“You couldn’t run away.  Tiffany was always there and she carried a gun and a whip.  If you did anything she didn’t like, she’d whip you.  I treated the cuts from her whip on two girls who tried.  Tiffany wouldn’t let me have anything except rags, but I boiled the rags in water before I used them so the cuts wouldn’t get infected.  

“I never tried to escape, because by then, I realized I was trapped and running would only result in getting brought back and then whipped. I was happy when you came to the house.  I didn’t think things would get better if you bought me, but at least I’d be out of that house and away from Tiffany.  When she said you were a policeman, I knew that was my only chance to get out of everything.  There weren’t any other policemen around that I could see, so if something happened to you, they’d still have me.

“You shot the three men, but Tiffany was still there.  I heard your pistol click when you pointed it at her, and knew she was going to kill you and I’d be back in the same situation, just with different men.  That’s why I hit her with the statue, so you could get me out of there.”

Kim looked down at her lap.

“I’m ashamed that I did it for me more than for you.”

I smiled.

“I don’t remember pulling the trigger at Tiffany, but things were happening pretty fast.  I don’t care why you hit her with the statue.  I’m just glad you did.”

“Well, it was selfish, the reason I did it.”

I shook my head.

“Nah, it was just surviavl.  No need to feel bad about trying to stay alive.  So, what are they going to do with you now?  Since you’re here in this safe house, I figure you’re headed to witness protection just like I am.”

Kim nodded.

“That’s what they told me.  They’re going to send me to Chicago.  There’s a big Korean community there and they say it’ll be easy to get lost in the crowd.  I don’t look like I’m pure Korean, so they probably won’t like me there either.  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe by myself again.”

The Federal attorneys didn’t need either me or Kim for the grand jury hearings.  The video and audio recordings, and the statements of the girls were enough to get indictments on the guys they’d caught so far.  Kim and I stayed in that safe house for three months before the first trial.  If Kim hadn’t been there, I’d have gone nuts.  There was nothing to do all day long.  We couldn’t go outside, we couldn’t look out a window, and we couldn’t make any phone calls.  It was like being in prison, except the people in prison have a lot more freedom.  

The only break in the monotony was when Kim changed my bandages every day.  Susan had started to do that, but Kim told her she’d do it because Susan had enough to do already.  I have to admit Kim was a lot more gentle than the nurses in the hospital had been.  They were very efficient, but also pretty painful.  They’d just rip off the tape and take some of my chest hair with it, then pull off the bandage, clean anything that needed cleaning, and then slap on a new bandage and tape.  Kim always put the tape back where the hair had already been ripped out, and the touch of her fingers on my shoulder did things to me the nurses in the hospital never did.

We talked, or course, but after a couple of weeks, you know pretty much everything there is to know about the person you’ve been talking with.  We watched a little TV, but what really helped the time pass was the deck of cards Kimberly brought us one day.

Kim wanted to play rummy.  Apparently the doctor she’d worked with in Korea taught her the game and they’d played rummy when there weren’t any patients.  I hadn’t played rummy for a couple of years, but I still remembered how, so we did.

Rummy is a card game of both luck and strategy and Kim was an expert at that strategy.  We played hundreds of games and she beat me as often than I beat her.  She’d just grin at me, make her discard and then lay down the rest of the  cards she’d been holding until she got the one that finished out the last group.

I didn’t mind her winning so much.  I liked seeing her smile when she did.  I found I also liked being with her.  Kim wasn’t like many of the women I’d known.  She didn’t have any of the hang-ups about the way she looked.  She didn’t just get out of bed in the morning, put on something, and then come down for breakfast, but she didn’t spend an hour on her face and hair either.  I don’t think she used makeup at all, but her long, black hair was always combed straight and shined like it had just been washed.

When she got to the safe house, all she had on was a simple dress, a bra, and some panties.  Susan had given her some of her own clothes to wear, but they didn’t fit very well.  Susan went shopping for us both the day after I got there and brought back six pairs of jeans and some tops for Kim, and jeans and shirts for me.  The first day Kim pulled on a pair of jeans and a top and then walked down the stairs was the first day I realized she had a very small and slender, but very sensuous body.  She wasn’t big anywhere.  I doubt she weighed even a hundred pounds, but every one of those pounds was feminine and inviting.

After that, I started looking at Kim a little differently, well after that and our card games.  Before I thought she was just another woman who’d gotten herself into trouble by doing something dumb.  Kim wasn’t dumb at all.  She was very intelligent.  She also had a sense of humor, and most importantly, she had a sense of humor about herself.  I’ve always thought a person who can’t laugh at themselves is a person you want to stay away from.  They’re too concerned with themselves to really enjoy life and they probably won’t let you enjoy yours.

We didn’t always play cards.  There were a lot of magazines of all sorts in the house.  Kim read the women's magazines and once in a while would ask me about something she didn’t understand.  I’d explain as best I could, though I shied away from the sex stuff.  I told her to go ask Susan or Kimberly about that.

I read hunting and fishing magazines and the do it yourself magazines we had.  By the time the trial started, I knew how to hunt about any type of animal, catch any fish, build my own house, and raise all my veggies in a home garden.

Once the trial started and we had to spend the days in court, they moved us around in case somebody figured out where we were staying.  

They’d have four or five identical panel vans in the parking garage under the courthouse, and nobody came into that parking garage unless one of the agents guarding each entrance and exit let them.  Once we’d testified, they’d put us in one of the vans, and then all the vans would leave at the same time.  As soon as we hit the street, each van would take a different direction.  Only one would have me and Kim inside and every day, that van took a different route.

It took another month for those trials to get over.  I’m happy to say all those arrested were convicted of sex trafficking and went to prison.  Kim and I were the main reason that happened.  The other girls couldn’t really tell much about what happened to them other than they were seduced into coming to the US and abused when they got here.  It was also difficult to get the juries to understand exactly what the girls were saying because they didn’t speak English.

When the prosecutor or defense attorney asked a question, the court appointed interpreter would repeat the question in the girl’s native language.  She’d answer in that language, and the interpreter would then translate it to English.  It got really tedious, and the defense attorneys kept pointing out there was no way to know if the interpreter was asking the same questions and interpreting the answers correctly.  Even when the judge let them bring in their own interpreters they still objected.

Kim did a great job.  She explained everything in really good English, from how she got to Honduras to how she got to the house outside of Houston and everything that happened up to the time the FBI and Houston PD got there.  I could see the jury nodding as she spoke.  The defense attorney tried to trip her up a few times, but she was too smart for him.  At one of the trials, he smiled at her and asked if she really just didn’t enjoy having sex and that was why she came to the US.  I could tell Kim was pissed, but she stayed calm and asked him if he’d been raped every other day for two weeks, would he still have the nerve to ask her if she liked it.  The judge instructed the jury to disregard that remark, but I saw how the jury reacted.  They weren’t going to forget.

The night of the last day of the last trial, Kim and I had dinner and then sat down on the couch in the living room of the house where we were staying for that night.  Kim looked at me and smiled, but it looked like a fake smile to me.

“I guess this is the last time we’ll see each other.”

“Yeah.  I’m headed for Montana tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t know where yet, only that it’s in Montana.”

Kim sighed.

“Susan told me she’ll be going to Chicago with me, but once they get me into a house or apartment, that’s the last time I’ll see her.  I’ll have to find a job on my own and try to blend in.”

“Same here.  I don’t know what I’ll do yet.  I’ve been thinking, but I’ve never done anything except be a cop.  It’s pretty hard to stop being a cop.  You get used to looking at everything and everybody to figure out if there’s a risk.  A lot of people would be uncomfortable working around somebody who acts like that.”

Kim sighed.

“I wish I could just go somewhere where nobody lives.  It would be so much easier that way - no job to find, no people to worry about, nothing to do except live like I want to live.”

I chuckled.

“I thought you wanted to be a nurse.  You can’t do that if there’s nobody around to take care of.”

Kim shook her head.

“I can’t be a nurse.  I know that now.  To be a nurse you have to go to school and I can’t go to school because I don’t have the money.  Chicago probably has all the nurses they need anyway.”

I smiled.

“Nah, I doubt it.  Everybody needs nurses.  I’m sure Chicago does too.”

Kim looked at me.

“Do you think they’d send me to Montana instead of Chicago?”

“Well, I don’t know.  I suppose you could ask and see what they say.  What would you do in Montana that you couldn’t do in Chicago?”

I saw Kim’s eyes fill with tears.

“I could be with you.  I’d feel safe with you.  I won’t feel safe in Chicago.  I’ve read about Chicago and there are so many people there I wouldn’t be able to tell if someone was watching me or following me around, and I’d worry about that all the time.”

It was strange that she’d brought that up, because I’d been thinking the same thing.  I knew a lot about the cartels, probably as much as most agents in the FBI and DEA.  They always settled their grudges and they weren’t dumb.  If they didn’t have somebody who knew something, they’d find someone who did and either pay them enough or beat the hell out them so they’d talk.  Most people have a price.  It’s just a matter of finding out how high that price is.  I was confident most of the men and women who ran the witness protection program were dedicated to their jobs, but it would only take one who needed some extra cash to give the cartel an address.

Several articles I’d read in the magazines we had were about people who move out of society and live on their own.  Usually they were doing that because they thought the world economy was going to collapse or there’d be another civil war  or some other stupid shit.  They’d become self-sufficient and didn’t need anything from anybody.  When I’d read those articles, I figured most of them had some really loose screws, but when Kim said what she did, I realized they weren’t just self-sufficient.  They were basically untraceable.  They didn’t use credit cards, didn’t have any type of phone, weren’t connected to the electrical grid, and because they had no income, didn’t pay taxes.  There was no paper trail to them of any sort except the deed on the property where they lived.

I got up and went to find Jack, the senior agent who’d been with us since the start.

He came back into the living room three hours later.

“John, are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Does Miss Kim agree?”

“I didn’t ask her yet.  I wanted to know if it was possible before I did that.”

He turned to Kim.

“John has asked if we would change his location to somewhere in Montana near the mountains.  He wants at least a hundred acres with a house in the middle of it.  He also asked if you could come with him.”

Kim looked at me and I saw a tear trickle down her cheek.

“You’d take me with you?”

“Yeah, if that’s what you want, but it won’t be easy on you.”

I explained to her we’d have to raise our own food and hunt and fish.  I said we wouldn’t be around anybody, but that would make it easier to know if somebody had found us and easier to defend ourselves if they did.  She listened, and then smiled.

“At the orphanage, we raised all our own food.  One of the military bases close to Suwon gave us money, but that went for clothes and things for school.  We had a big garden and raised chickens and pigs.  It won’t be any harder than that.”

She looked up at Jack then.

“If I can go with John, that’s what I want to do.”

We spent another week in a safe house in Billings, but at the end of that week, Kim and I took another black panel van to a building on the edge of town.  Kim and I changed from the van to an older four-wheel drive pickup.  I drove the pickup and followed the van out towards the mountains.  Two hours later we pulled up in front of what had once been a hunting lodge.  It had a small barn in the back and a hundred feet from the cabin was a stream almost wide enough to be called a river.

Bill Walker, the agent assigned to us by the witness protection program, got out of the van and grinned.

“This far enough out for you?”

“Yeah, it looks great.”

Bill smiled.

“It’s not as rustic as it looks.  The lodge has solar panels on the roof and a battery bank in a little shed behind the house, so you’ll have some electricity.  There’s a radio in living area, but it doesn’t pick up much way out here.  The short wave in the bedroom is your best bet if you want to find out what’s going on in the world, not that it’ll make any difference to you.  

“You can transmit on it, but be careful about telling anyone where you are, even the state.  You never know who might be listening in.  The frequencies the witness protection program monitors are written on the front of the radio.  Don’t use them unless it’s life or death, OK, and use the codes in the book beside the radio. They’re unique to you and Miss Kim.   We know the cartels monitor those frequencies.

“The solar system also powers the closed-circuit cameras that look in all directions around the house and the pump that brings your water from the stream to the holding tank and filter system.  You’ll have to cut wood for heat in the winter, but I doubt you’ll run out of trees.  This place sits on two hundred acres and half of that is trees.

The monitoring computer for the surveillance system is in the bedroom too, and it’s the latest we have.  It creates a mask of what the view is supposed to look like, and if anything shows up that’s not in that mask, it’ll sound an alarm.  You’ll probably get some false alarms from coyotes or if one of you is outside, so don’t start shooting until you know for sure.

“Everything you asked for is in one of the bedrooms.  It should tide you over for a long time unless you get crazy.  There’s enough canned goods to last you two a couple years so you’ll have time to put in that garden you talked about.

“John Bule owns the property.  That’s who you are now, John, John Bule.  John Hicks was killed yesterday when a small plane owned by the FBI crashed ten miles from a little town between Houston and Dallas.  The plane caught fire and burned almost completely before the local fire department could get there, so it was impossible to visually identify the remains of the occupants.  The FBI pilot and John Hicks were identified by dental records.  The woman with him couldn’t be identified, but sources close to an FBI investigation into sex trafficking said she was a Korean national who had been cooperating with an investigation into sex trafficking.  That’s the story we leaked to the press.

“Since John Hicks is dead, had no relatives, and didn’t leave a will, his checking and savings accounts and his 401k will be taken by the State of Texas as soon as the paperwork is processed.  It’s probably just a coincidence, but John and Kim Bule have the exact same balance in their checking and savings account in The First National Bank of Billings.  John Bule doesn’t have a 401k, but he has some CD’s with the same bank, and they total to the same amount as John Hick’s 401k.  

“Miss Kim, you’re now Kim Bule, John Bule’s wife.  You’re an American citizen John met while on vacation in Chicago, and you were married in Las Vegas three years ago.”

Bill handed me a legal-size manila envelope

“More of your histories are in this envelope and you need to memorize them.  There’s also a driver’s license and Social Security Card for each of you, three copies of your marriage license, two debit cards with PIN numbers for the First National Bank in Billings, and life time fishing and hunting licenses for both of you.  Don’t worry about an IRS audit because you’re not filing an annual tax return.  Social Security has a file on you both, but the IRS doesn’t and won’t unless one of you gets a job.  

“The registration for the pickup is in the glove box.  You have a mailbox in that little town we went through, but you won’t have to check it very often.  Neither of you is on any mailing list, so all you’ll get are bank statements and the annual license renewal for the pickup.

“There’s a small tractor in the barn with mower and tiller attachments, and there are twenty jerry cans of gasoline and a case of oil with it.  You can buy about anything you might find you need at either the hardware store, grocery store, or filling station in that little town we drove through, but don’t go spending a lot of money and don’t buy anything on credit with your bank cards.  That’ll just make people wonder about you.”

Bill stuck out his hand then.

“Well, that’s about it.  You’re pretty much on your own out here.  If you call for help, it’ll take us a couple of hours to get to you, so keep your heads down and don’t attract attention.  Good luck.”

Kim and I watched the black van drive down the drive until it reached the road about half a mile away.  When it turned off toward Billings, Kim put her hand in mine and smiled.

“I feel safe now.”

I squeezed her hand.

“Kim, I’ll do my best to keep you feeling safe.”

She grinned then, the same little grin she made when she was going to beat me at rummy.

“Are we really married?  I don’t remember getting married.”

“No.  It’s just a cover to explain why we’re here together.”

“But the marriage license is legal, isn’t it?”

I opened the envelope and looked at the three copies.  Each one was notarized by some notary in Las Vegas.

“Well, they look legal, but I don’t want you to think that means anything.  Like I said, it’s just a cover.”

Kim stroked down my chest with her index finger.

“But it does mean something doesn’t it?”

“Well, yeah.  I mean, the license makes you legally my wife, so you have all the rights and privileges of a wife.  You can withdraw money from our bank accounts and do anything else a wife could do.”

Kim grinned again.

“Bill said we shouldn’t spend much money in town, so I wasn’t thinking about that.  I was thinking about something else husbands and wives do.”

“You mean …”

Kim nodded.

“I’ve wanted to for a long time. Susan said it wouldn’t be good if the defense attorneys thought we were doing something together, so I didn’t say anything.  If you don’t want to, I understand why. The doctor who examined me and did all my tests said I’m fine, but those men made me do things and you probably don’t want me after that.”

I stroked Kim’s cheek.

“You only did that because they forced you to.  Don’t think I’d ever hold that against you, because I won’t.  

Her finger slipped between my shirt buttons to my bare chest.

“Then, do you suppose maybe we could try it out sometime, just to see if it works for us?”

That slender little hand was causing some feelings I thought I probably shouldn’t have had.  I mean, once we got to know each other, I’d found I was attracted to her, but a woman who’d gone through what Kim did was bound to be a little messed up where sex is concerned.  I hadn’t said anything to her about how I felt because of that.  Now, she was telling me she felt the same way about me as I felt about her.  I looked down at her grin.  

“I thought you’d probably not want to do anything like that for a long, long time because of what happened to you.”

Kim unbuttoned two of my shirt buttons and slipped her hand inside my shirt.

“I wouldn’t, not with anybody who forced me to do it.  You aren’t forcing me to do anything except feel about you like I do, and you aren’t really forcing me to do that.  You’re just making it really hard for me to feel any other way.”

I grinned.

“Should I apologize for that?”

Kim ran her fingertip over my left nipple, and I felt my cock lurch.

“No, but according to that marriage license you have three years to make up to me.  You’ll have to apologize if you don’t do that.”

I guess you could say that first week was sort of a delayed honeymoon, or at least that’s what it felt like to me.  We walked into our new home that day, and as soon as I’d shut the door, Kim put her arms around my neck.  She’s only about five feet tall, so she had to stand on her tiptoes to do it, and in the process she pressed her firm breasts into my belly just below my chest.

I kissed her for the first time right after that.  It was a clumsy sort of kiss because she’s so short, but that didn’t make it any less arousing.  When Kim eased her lips from mine, she looked up and grinned.

“I think this is going to work out just fine.  Shouldn’t we go in the bedroom now?”

I cupped her ass with both hands, picked her up, and walked into the bedroom with her arms still around my neck.  When I tried to sit her on the bed, Kim leaned back and pulled me down on top of her.  I was afraid I was going to mash her and tried to push myself up.  After she’d kissed me until I had to stop to breathe, she finally let me.

Undressing her was both fun and a little of a shock.  I knew Kim wasn’t very big, but naked, she looked tiny.  I’m a little over five eleven and weigh about one ninety, and I was afraid I’d hurt her.  I didn’t get the chance to tell her that though.  Once I had my clothes off, she pulled me back down on top of her and wrapped her arms around my back to keep me there.

Kim kissed me on the cheek, nibbled my ear lobe, and then whispered, “Korean girls are taught how to be good wives.  I’m going to show you how a good wife makes love with her husband.”

That little woman, the woman who had the courage to whack Tiffany with a statue before Tiffany could shoot me even though she looked so small and frail - that little woman turned out to be more woman than I’d ever experienced.  

For a while, she held me on top of her and stroked my back while we kissed.  I was holding myself up with my arms as best I could so I didn’t crush her, and during one kiss I felt Kim’s small, slender fingers stroke down my back, around my waist, and then between us.  She was trying to reach my cock, but her arms weren’t long enough, so she whispered, “roll over”.  When I did, she climbed on top of me and sat on my thighs.  That same small hand circled my cock and started to stroke it at the same time she pulled my hand to her left breast.

Kim’s breasts weren’t very big, but her nipples were, and when I stroked the left one with my thumb, it got a lot longer and thicker and her dark nipple bed wrinkled up.  Kim moaned a quiet little moan, and kept stroking my cock.  I’d have been doing fine even if she hadn’t been doing that.  Just the sight of her big nipples and the way her breasts swayed when she moved her arm would have kept my cock rock hard.  

She seemed to know somehow when she was going to far.  She’d stop then, stretch out on top of me and push those big nipples into my chest, and then lock her lips to mine.  I’d feel her little tongue searching for mine, and when they met, she’d moan and my cock would lurch.  She’d let me coast down a little, then raise back up and start stroking my cock again.

As nice as all that was, I couldn’t just lay there.  My arm was long enough to reach Kim’s little black bush, so I stroked the inside of her thighs and then slipped my hand down until I felt hair.

Kim shivered when I touched the soft lips under that hair, and caught her breath when one fingertip slipped between them.  I felt her tummy roll a little when I moved that fingertip up to the little hidden button at the top of her slit.  She moaned again, a little louder this time, then leaned down and started trying to lick my tonsils.

That lasted until I slipped one finger into her entrance.  She was so slippery inside, that finger went in all the way to my hand.  Kim gasped and rocked her hips into my hand, then raised up and grinned at me.

She moved her body up and my cock down until I felt her stroking the head between her lips.  She’d move it down and sort of push it against her entrance and then slide it up until it stroked over her clit.  Then it was back down between her soft, puffy lips and back to her entrance.  By the time she pushed my cock to her entrance and then pushed down a little harder, I was going crazy and I told her that.  Kim just grinned and then started pushing her body over my cock.

I’d never felt anything like that in my life and I reacted like any man would.  I tried to push my cock in her by lifting my hips.  When I did, Kim just raised up with me and my cock stayed in the same place.  Once I’d relaxed, Kim would ease my cock back out and then start the process all over again.

It wasn’t until she started to breathe faster she let me help, and when I did, she leaned over on her arms and rocked her hips as I pushed my cock inside her.  When I felt the base of my cock against her thighs, I started to pull back out.  Kim lifted her hips a little and then pushed her breasts into my face.  She shuddered when I sucked her right nipple and it felt like she got wetter inside.

After that, it was like I remembered with the other women I’d been with, except they sure as hell didn’t help like Kim was.  For a while, I didn’t know if I was fucking her or she was fucking me.  She met every one of my strokes, and sometimes got ahead of me.

She wasn’t grinning now when I looked at her face.  Her soft lips were open in a little “O” shape and her eyes were closed.  She’d sink down over my cock and her mouth would open a little more because she’d inhale quickly, then make that little “O” shape again as she moaned and pulled her body up off my cock.  

After a while, those strokes and moans got closer together, and if I touched her nipples, Kim would gasp and slam her body down over my cock.  She’d stay that way and rock her hips up and down and side to side, then raise back up again.  Between that and the way I kept feeling little contractions around my cock, I was getting to the point I couldn’t hold on any longer.

I whispered, “Kim, slow down a little.”

Kim groaned, “I can’t. Touch me…here”, and pulled my hand to her right breast.

When I pushed her right nipple down against her breast and let it pop up again, Kim shuddered and rammed her body down fast.  I pinched that same nipple and then tugged gently, and Kim started to shake.  When I pulled a little harder, her legs turned to quivering jelly, she ground her lips into the base of my cock, and then shrieked.

She shrieked again when I groaned as the first shot raced up my cock, and when I pulled out and then pushed my cock inside her again just before the second, Kim shrieked a third time.  The fourth time, she made a little cry, dropped down on my chest, and her rocking hips stroked my cock so fast there was no way I could keep up with her.  I’d shot my last anyway, so I just laid there and let Kim take herself the rest of the way.  After crying out again and then becoming rigid for a few seconds, her body jerked three times.  Kim sighed then, and eased down on my chest.  I felt her heart beating furiously against my chest and her panting breaths against my neck and shoulder.

For a while, Kim just laid there on top of me.  From time to time, she’d catch her breath and I’d feel a contraction around my cock.  Those started to get farther apart, and when one pushed my limp cock out of her passage, Kim giggled.

“Did I do that?”

“Yeah, but he’s not hurt.  He’s just resting a little.”

“How long will he have to rest?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe half an hour or so.”

Kim put her arms around my neck and kissed me, then looked at me with another grin.

“Let’s just stay like this until he wakes up.  I want to make him go to sleep again.”

That first week together was one hell of a week.  It didn’t seem to bother Kim all that much, but she fucked me to a frazzle.  I don’t think she came every time and I don’t think she intended to.  She was just showing me what she’d been taught.  Kim doesn’t want to ever go back to Korea, but if we ever do, I’m going to find that orphanage and thank the woman who taught Kim how Korean girls please their husbands.

That summer, I taught Kim how to shoot the weapons I’d asked for and Bill had delivered.  She was pretty good with the semi-automatic, civilian model M4 rifles, and could hold her own with my old backup pistol, the .380 Sig.  She couldn’t rack the .40 Glock, but the .380 had done a good job that day at the house and it’ll do the same if she aims it right.  She usually doesn’t miss if the target is closer than about fifteen feet away.

The AR-15 lower with the .458 SOCOM upper was pretty heavy for her to shoot offhand, but if she has a rest of some sort, she won’t have any problem taking down a grizzly if one should want to visit us.   The Remington .308 kicks too hard for her, but that’s my deer and elk rifle anyway.

While the twelve gauge pump shotgun was too much for her, she was able to handle the twenty gauge pump and hit what she aimed at. I was pretty convinced unless somebody sent a whole bunch of people to get us, they’d wish they’d stayed home.  

Thankfully, we didn’t have to prove that that year, and it’s been the same for the last five.  Judging by the news we heard on the shortwave, the FBI and Houston PD pretty much broke up the sex trafficking thing in Houston.  They ended up finding only fourteen people involved with the massage parlors besides the four Kim and I took care of at that house.   Apparently the massage parlor business was just a trial because the top guy still wasn’t very high in the organization.  He did give them a couple of names of cartel members who were in charge of the trafficking operation, but when the agents went to arrest them, they were back in Mexico.

Every fall, we hunt deer and elk for the pantry.  We don’t have a refrigerator, but winters are so cold here that we don’t need one.  We hunt after the first freeze and hang the deer or elk in the barn.  It only takes a night to freeze the carcass solid and it’ll stay that way until spring.

Summers are for fishing and the garden.  The second summer, we made a trip into the nearest town for seeds and plants after I put the tiller on the tractor and tilled up a big garden.  We raise most of the common vegetables like green beans and sweet corn and potatoes, but Kim also plants hot peppers, cabbage, garlic, and onions.  The summer kimchi she makes from beet tops or green onions is pretty great, kind of like a really hot and spicy salad.

Once she knew she was coming with me, she asked Susan if they could give her some big clay pots with lids.  I buried those pots in the ground outside the kitchen door, but I didn’t know why until Kim started filling them with cabbage, garlic, onions, hot peppers and salt.  It quickly starts to ferment, like sauerkraut, and because of the ground heat, it doesn’t freeze and will stay edible even over the Montana winter.

That’s the winter kimchi Kim makes and…well, I eat it and once you get accustomed to the smell it’s actually pretty good.  The only really bad part about eating winter kimchi is it gives you breath that can strip paint.  I don’t notice it much anymore because Kim and I both smell the same, and there’s nobody around to complain anyway.

I don’t know how much longer it will be before Kim wants a baby.  She’ll be thirty one this fall, and she’s been talking like she’s wants that.  I think we’re safe enough now.  I just don’t know how she’ll manage unless I can take her to the hospital in Billings.  When I told her that, she just smiled and said she’d teach me what I needed to know, just like the doctor in Korea taught her.  

I should know by now not to underestimate her and what she can do.  I would never have guessed she’d come to my defense that day outside of Houston, and I’d never have guessed Kim would be the lover she turned out to be.  

Well, I’ve been fishing our little stream for about an hour now, and I have three trout to show for it.  I’ll take them in the house to Kim.  She’ll grin that grin I’ve grown to love and start cleaning them in the sink.  After we eat, we’ll listen to the short wave for while, and then turn out the lights and go to bed.  She’ll snuggle up close, hook her thigh over mine and kiss me.  That means she’s going to show me how good wives treat their husbands again.  She seems to like doing that a lot, and far be it from me to complain.

We live in our own little world, and Kim makes that world a whole lot better than the one I came from.  She says I make her world better too.  We don’t have a lot, but we have each other.  We both know where we came from too, and that’s a lot more than some couples I used to know.  Where we came from was a hard life full of trials and pain.  Where we’re going is our own piece of peace on Earth.

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