Ten years ago she was a high dollar call-girl working for the most vicious thug in the Magic City. Back then she needed Derrick Olin's help escaping from a life that was going to kill her one day. A decade later, Nina Neetor is a leading voice in opposition to human trafficking and sexual slavery and those who profit from it. Now she's coming back to the place where her nightmare all began. She's coming home. But not everyone is happy because Nina is a woman with a past full of enemies with long memories who never forgive or forget. And once again she'll have to call on Birmingham's Best Bodyguard to act as her shield, and maybe her savior, when the wolves on two legs come for blood.
Rod Riker stood holding his wife's hand as she held onto the hand of a dear friend whose broken heart would never heal, and at the moment her suffering was masked by a numbness that few could understand if they never had the misfortune to experience it. Grief takes many forms, and for someone who loses a child, it takes the form of a living hell. Rod had never been a father, so he could not fully appreciate the experience of losing a child, but he did fully appreciate anguish, and understood, at least to some degree, the torment that the woman on the other side of his wife was enduring. And her husband.
Their daughter had been nineteen. They had not seen or heard from her since she was sixteen and ran away from home. Police, and later private investigators, confirmed that she had become involved with some very bad people, drugs and prostitution soon followed. By the time they were able to locate her Mississippi, she was already eighteen and there was nothing the police or courts could do to make her come home, something she was adamant about not doing.
A string of arrests for minor offences in several states, theft, prostitution, possession of illegal narcotics, minimal jail time, and she always ended up going right back to the same activities and the same people when she got out. One in particular, a twenty-five years old male out of Memphis that every law enforcement agency throughout the south knew to be an interstate pimp who ran a string of girls from Texas to Tennessee, and some suspected even further. The young lady in question, Quintina Lucas, was a favorite of his, had run away to be with him when she was sixteen. Despite all the beatings, all the drugs, all the tricks he made her turn, Quintina always went back to him, and he always took her back, continuing to use and abuse her.
Two weeks ago in Memphis, something had gone wrong, and a simpledisciplinary beating had ended with Quintina's skull being fractured in several places. She was in a coma for a week before her parents were located. All the doctors were in agreement, Quintina would never regain consciousness. Her body was being kept alive by machines and for all intents and purposes, she was already gone. Then the hardest decision of their lives was upon them, and they chose to let their daughter go for a final time.
Today, the parents and family and other friends and loved ones gathered in the small Presbyterian cemetery in the heart of Houston to pay their final respects to a young woman who had been lost, but now in death was home. For the religious, she was in heaven and at peace, and for those not, she was no longer suffering. That was left to those who loved her.
Sandi Michaels Riker whispered something into the mother's ear, squeezed her hand. Then she turned to her husband. Rod was wearing dark shades but turned when Sandi looked at him, removed them with his left hand. He could see the despair in his wife's amber eyes, the sorrow. She had never known the girl, her friendship with the mother only beginning after the daughter had run away. However, Sandi was a good friend, a very empathic person, and she had the capacity to feel the loss. Rod, on the other hand, had spent most of his life not letting feelings affect him, an unnecessary distraction to his chosen path through life. One of the major reasons he did not marry for the first time until he was over fifty, and had no children. Since he and Sandi had fallen in love, he had tried to change somewhat, to become more of what he imaged a normal human being should be. Still a work in progress. He did not share the grief that his wife did, but he did understand it. Or thought he did.
He squeezed her hand and offered a small smile of encouragement. Sandi tried to smile, too, leaned over and kissed his cheek before refocusing her attention on the other woman as the coffin started to lower into the ground.
Rod took a deep breath and looked around. He hated cemeteries, hated funerals, but more than that, he hated jackals who corrupted and fed off the innocent, then discarded or murdered them before moving on to the next meal ticket. For a good portion of his adult life Rod Riker had been on the front lines of stopping people like that, first as a federal agent, then as a private investigator. He had given all that up when he and Sandi married, opting to move to Houston and make a fresh go at something far less dangerous. But there were times, times like today, when he wished he was still doing what he used to do. If that were the case, then maybe he might be on his way to Memphis to find the subhuman piece of fecal matter who had beat to death the nineteen year old woman whose coffin was now being covered with dirt before his very eyes.
And when he found him...
Anger was still one emotion that had not been mastered after many years of martial arts training and meditation. Another work in progress. Deep breaths.
Both parents were in tears now and being consoled as best as was possible. Sandi had released her husband's hand so that she could hold the mother closely. Rod stepped back and stared as the dirt continued to pile onto the coffin, thoughts of Memphis surging through his mind.
Then, for a fleeting moment, his mind locked on another city, another image, another man. A kindred spirit. A friend. And somebody who hadn't yet hung up his guns.
"Humph," Rod mused softly, thinking some more as the anger that had been building began to subside. "Now what a completely terrible idea that would be."
Despite the circumstances, Mr. Riker found himself feeling a little lighter of heart right now. But only a little because when he looked over at his wife, he saw the tears in her eyes as she held her sobbing friend.
It broke his heart.