2/18/15 **PLEASE READ** Questions and comments in the reviews for this story have made it clear to me that some disclaimers are in order. This is an crime/suspense story, not a romance. If you like smut, fluff or angst riddled romance, I have other stories that fit the bill. This isn't it. There will be violence, both physical and sexual, but I plan to treat the victims of this story and the real world problems this fic is based on with the honesty, gravity and respect they deserve. With that said, please remember that this is still a work of fiction and I am NOT an expert on the FBI, law enforcement, international business, organized crime, sex trafficking, firearms or anything else for that matter. I'm just writing for fun and I think sharing it with you guys is both rewarding and entertaining. If this story isn't for you, I completely understand. Thanks for stopping by!
Added for further clarification 2/18/15: Yes there will be some romantic underpinnings to the plot, but this is not a story I would categorize as a 'romance'. I know there is no clear way to say it, so read at your own risk. But I really, really hope you decide to take that risk. :-)
"Please have a seat, Agent Swan."
"Thank you, sir," she replied, and settled gingerly onto the stiff blue chair.
"I'll be introducing you to your partner in a minute. He's running a bit behind schedule. But while I have you here we might as well go over a few things."
Bella sat with a blank notebook on her knee and a mechanical pencil poised and ready to take notes. As far as she could tell, she was the only new graduate at this field station to be put on an assignment so quickly. She was curious and excited, but also a bit nervous.
Special Agent in Charge Mahardy settled into his chair and leaned back until it creaked in protest. He evaluated her silently for several seconds before giving a small nod as if he had made a decision about how to proceed.
"You had top marks in academics. Firearms, too. You weren't the most athletic female in your class, but you were far from being the worst. I had the opportunity to review your application, and I must say I was impressed. Not everyone who grows up with parents in law enforcement maintains such a clear and determined goal of following in their footsteps. Too many are jaded and embittered. But make no mistake, the assignment you have been chosen for will test that conviction. I'll go into more of our reasons for your selection when Agent Masen arrives. For now, I just want to be absolutely certain of your commitment."
"You have it, sir."
"I'm sure you think so now. But I'm about to throw you to the wolves. In less than two weeks you will be submerged in such filth and horror that you may find it hard to believe it's real. It is. And you and your partner are going to find a way to bring it to an end. This may be the toughest job that has ever crossed my desk. If it weren't for certain physical requirements I would never give it to a green recruit. However, I trust Agent Masen implicitly. He's the best we have. I suggest you listen to him. Actually, that's not a suggestion. Do everything he says. And, no matter where this task takes you, trust him. The success of your mission could depend on it."
Bella shivered. The conversation had taken a very intimidating turn. She still knew absolutely nothing except her partner's name and that she would have two weeks to prepare. She was completely in the dark about the mission objective and parameters. With nothing else to write down, she scratched out:
Trust Masen - Follow his lead
She glanced up and swallowed hard. Special Agent in Charge Mahardy's eyes were an intense, icy blue. They seemed to slice right through her brave front to expose the untempered core beneath. She squirmed inside but maintained eye contact until there was a sharp rap at the door.
"Enter," Mahardy called.
Bella looked up and stifled a gasp. The man who sauntered in and slouched into the chair beside her looked nothing like an FBI agent. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, handsome, but also somewhat unapproachable. He wore torn jeans, a stained long-sleeved t-shirt and a black leather jacket. His boots were black, but dirty and scuffed gray-brown in many places. His face was unshaven, and his hair was an unruly reddish-brown mess.
He looked her up and down sharply, not in the manner of a man checking out a woman, but more like a hunter assessing his equipment. His look was dispassionate, methodical and swift. She felt herself sitting up a bit straighter, stiffening her shoulders and planting her heels more firmly in the tightly woven carpet.
"What's the story, Rick?"
"First let me introduce you to your partner, Agent Isabella Swan."
Agent Masen met her eyes briefly and gave her a terse nod in greeting.
"I'm going to outline the mission in a bit more detail than you are used to as this is Agent Swan's first assignment." Masen's eyes narrowed but he kept his mouth shut. "Our intelligence team has been following dead end trails for the past year and a half and finally got a break in our investigation of a particularly well entrenched human trafficking ring."
Mahardy slid identical cream colored folders across his desk. Bella and Agent Masen each took one and flipped them open to the first page. Bella looked down at a photo of a dark haired girl.
"Mary Alice Brandon was reported missing last September. She was walking home from the mall in Biloxi, Mississippi where she had lunch with friends. She never reached her house. The local police treated it like a runaway case, at first. However, on March 19th of this year the older sister of one of her classmates saw her exiting a hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. She was in the company of a middle aged man. When this acquaintance called out to her, the man shoved her into the waiting vehicle, shut the door and they left rapidly. Several witnesses agreed that she looked scared and did not seem to leave willingly, although many other witnesses claimed they noticed nothing untoward about the incident. The family pushed for an investigation into the owner of the vehicle. The results were a pile of false leads and dead ends. The license plates were fake. The hotel reservation and payment were under a false name. According to the hotel staff, there was never a girl with him at all. His name was the only one on the reservation."
"Have the Biloxi police reopened the investigation?" Bella asked.
"Yes, they have. And that's the reason why we've gotten this far. Her disappearance was not an isolated incident. And, once other cases were reopened, a pattern emerged. Over the last six years there have been at least seventeen similar occurrences along that 120 mile stretch of I-10."
Bella flipped through the pages seeing more faces. All young. All beautiful. All between the ages of fourteen and nineteen at the time of their disappearance. Horror pooled in her stomach like the murky waters of a Mississippi swamp. If the sighting in March was real, Mary Alice Brandon could still be alive, being held against her will. And if the data she was reading was correct, there were possibly dozens of other girls in her situation. Nightmare images flashed through her mind. She wanted to find them and save them. She wanted justice for their lost freedom. For their pain. For their stolen innocence.
Bella blinked back the emotions that threatened to make her cry. She had prepared for this type of case. However, the reality was far, far worse than any case study. Those stories were in the past, picked out to be analyzed, dissected and discussed in a classroom setting. This was real. This was now. Bella closed the folder and looked up into her superior's steely gaze.
"Tell me what we need to do to find them," she said. Her voice only quavered at the very end.
Agent Masen's eyes flicked to her face and then back to the packet of information in his lap. His eyes scanned each page rapidly, collecting and storing names, faces, dates and witness accounts.
"You are the next victim."
Bella blinked but didn't react in any other way. She waited for more details. She wanted to know the entire plan.
"Agent Masen, your new name is Cullen. Edward Cullen is a very successful business man relocating from Seattle to Florida. He is arriving with money, a personal recommendation from a respected connection, and his prize possession – Marie. She has no last name. She has no identity. He acquired her from an associate who was strapped for cash and needed to settle some debts. Edward Cullen is considering selling her, for the right price. But only if he can find a suitable replacement. You see, Edward Cullen prefers blondes and he's heard that the Volturi family can help him find exactly what he wants." Their superior looked back and forth between them making sure they were keeping up.
"All the information you need is in those folders. You have fourteen days to prepare. I want to see you both in here at 9 AM on Thursday with a list of everything you need between now and the 18th to make this happen. Agent Masen, I need to speak with you in private for a minute."
"Wait, is this why you chose me? Because I look young enough to be one of them?"
The realization was a blow to her pride. There was nothing exceptional about looking five years younger than your actual age. She was struggling not to feel insulted. If she was playing a captive, how could she possibly help save those girls?
"You're the right agent for the job. Don't ever doubt that. Just make it true."
Bella wasn't too dazed to realize she was being dismissed. She nodded and stood up, stacking her notepad and the documents together. With a strange pressure climbing up her throat, she left the office and pulled the door shut behind her. It wasn't until she reached her desk that she realized her new partner hadn't said a single word to her. And she was supposed to follow his lead? How? By reading his mind?
She thought back to the single-minded way he had reviewed the dossier. Bella took a long drink from her water bottle and settled down at her desk to commit the contents of the folder to memory. If she was going to be any use to these girls, she needed her emotions under control and her wits about her.
Fifteen minutes later, she was feeling dizzy and her head ached. This was harder than cramming for the tests back at Quantico. There she could at least guess at the format of the evaluation and prepare accordingly. All she could tell so far was that she was going to be forced to pose as a sex slave to allow Agent Masen, AKA Edward Cullen, to infiltrate the Volturi crime syndicate. According to the plan as she read it, she was little more than a prop. That didn't sit well with her at all.
With a fine-tip red pen, Bella began scribbling furiously in between the lines and in the margins, brainstorming every possible way that her position could be used to increase their intelligence on the history and extent of the human trafficking operation and the players involved. One thing she could tell right off the bat, these people had money and power in abundance. SAC Mahardy hadn't said it, but her instincts told her it was the truth - if they messed up or were caught, it wasn't just the success of the mission on the line. Their lives were too.
"Agent Swan, can you join me in Conference Room 3?"
Bella looked up in surprise, startled out of her musings by the abrupt interruption.
"Absolutely," she replied to her new partner, jumping to her feet.
"And bring your notes."
Bella looked down and was shocked to see almost all the available white space was filled with red scribbles. She gathered up the scattered sheets, stuffed them back into the folder and hurried after his retreating form.
She sat down at the conference table and waited for him to speak. His folder lay on the table and he had one foot up on the chair beside him. His posture was almost languid, but she didn't mistake it for relaxed. His frame positively hummed with potential energy, as if he could blast to his feet and subdue any threat without blinking.
"My name is Edward Cullen."
"Um. . . Hello, Edward."
"And you are Marie." Bella shifted uncomfortably. She thought they were going to discuss the case, their plans and strategies. He was already immersing himself in the character. The tyrant. The slave owner. She swallowed heavily and nodded.
"You have no family. No home. No possessions. No rights. You belong to me."
"I. . ."
"You belong to me."
"Yes. . ." she whispered, intimidated and confused.
He dropped his booted foot to the ground with a thud and stood up. He towered over her, his face a mask of fierce aggression. "And you will obey everything I say at all times. Or else I will hurt you in ways you could never imagine, not even in the depths of your most psychotic nightmares. Am I clear?"
He never raised his voice. He never raised his hand. However, the barely contained violence of his presence sucked all the air from her lungs and Bella gasped and cowered before him.
They hung in suspended animation for several seconds before he plopped back down into his chair with a satisfied grin. "Excellent. Okay, let's get to work."
Bella shook her head violently as if shedding the vestiges of a powerful spell. The man before her kicked his feet up on the chipped and coffee-stained table, pulled his copy of the mission file into his lap and started whistling under his breath.
She didn't trust herself to speak or even move.
"I saw you made a bunch of notes. Let's go over them together and see if we can turn this crock of shit into a real plan before these desk jockeys manage to get us both killed."
Bella pinched the inside of her left thigh sharply to snap herself back to the present, flipped open her folder and started outlining her ideas. She was hesitant at first, wondering when the cruel businessman would make another appearance, but with Agent Masen's gentle prodding she gained confidence and their strategy quickly took shape.
She jumped when he slapped the table with both hands and interrupted her. "Enough. I'm starving. Let's get something to eat and pick up again after dinner. My place or yours?"
"Do you want to stay at my place or yours?"
"Are you crazy?"
"Nope. Just short on time. Two weeks. Hah! Mahardy is a fucking clown. We're going to be living together for the foreseeable future. I'd rather get to know you on our terms, not while we're sitting under a microscope."
"Um, okay? My place then, I guess."
"Perfect. Lead the way."
Bella headed back to her desk to log out of her computer and gather her things. Her life and career were about to take a very sharp corner. She just hoped she could keep her seat.
A/N: Please note, I am not a member of the FBI, nor do I know anybody who is. There will be errors. Just roll with it. I plan to. Thanks!