Miami, Present days.
Special Agent Peter Rostoff felt like a walking corpse. After an impossibly long flight from the West Coast to the South, with a layover in LA, he was fatigued to the point of no return . Peter always hated flying and usually tried to use an alternative type of transportation whenever possible. He parked his Jeep in front of the garage in the driveway, managing this task on sheer autopilot, and then just sat there in the car, looking outside of the driver’s window . He noticed tall weeds smothering all the flowerbeds. Bastards grew up like maniacs and were already up to his ass. Peter swore under his breath with more resignation than heat. Damn, he needed to take a couple of days off. If for nothing else but to revive his plants, he thought, looking at the small garden with guilt. He started it from the scratch when he purchased this house a couple of years ago, indulging in his childhood passion of dipping his hands into the soil. His love for all things growing under the sun did not diminish with years. Only his feelings toward humans altered drastically. Considering all the scam of humanity, he met during his ten years with the FBI; it would probably be a small miracle otherwise. Peter knew from the experience the horrific things people could and had done to each other for one thing only: profit. Money.
Finally stepping out of the car, stiff and sore from sitting too long, Peter reflected on and dismissed again the thought that he should’ve taken his father’s offer of a corporate jet. But, hell, for years he had so painstakingly and deliberately separated himself from the Rostoff & Co., rebuffing any notion of his connection with it, had shown no desire to be associated with the famous name or family company whatsoever, so now he felt like he has no right to rely on the amenities it provided such as the comfort and luxury of a private plane. Or family discount at the Rostoff’s, although he couldn’t imagine why he would ever need a discount at the world famous jewelry chain. Peter absently stole a look at the magnificent diamond he wore on his pinkie. It was his father’s birthday present and try as he might , Peter couldn’t remove it or get rid of it. Nor could he hide away from the memories…
Resigned, Peter slowly walked to the door of the one-story bungalow he called home, unlocked it and entered his domain. A tiny foyer opened up to the modest living room furnished Spartan-like with dark leather sofa, a present to himself, glass top coffee table and a single chair. One true luxury that Peter allowed himself was his plush carpet in deep rich mauve, thick and almost ankle deep. Removing his loafers and socks, he sunk his bare feet into it, almost moaning with pleasure. Damn, he sincerely hoped he wouldn’t need to wear this ridiculous excuse for a shoe for a long time to come. Or a suit and necktie for that matter, he thought, wincing. Give him a pair of good running Adidas and old Levi’s every day. Thank God his everyday job didn’t require a formal attire; otherwise, Peter would probably commit suicide. How his father stood dressing up in the suit and tie day after day for so many years was really beyond him. Peter checked his messages first then went into a small room he called the office and booted up his computer. As tired as he was, he wanted to make sure that nothing urgent popped up while he was stuck on the plane. He opened his secured mailbox. Several e-mails needed his attention, but it was the one, in particular, he clicked opened as soon as he saw it. Reading it twice, Peter started to reply immediately, frowning in concentration as he composed it, feeling the same familiar rush of adrenaline and anger heating his blood. Damn, he hated the case this email was referring to with a vengeance, hated with every gut and every last drop of blood in him. Replying on the email from Interpol darkened his mood that was not very light to begin with. After finally clicking the “send” button, Peter plowed fingers of both hands through his hair, a nervous gesture he inherited from his father, exhaling breath he didn’t realize he was holding. Every nerve in his body began to quiver as he tried not to remember and failed. The foul taste in his mouth refused to go away, even after three weeks. God, he thought, just three weeks as this case was closed, but it seemed like a lifetime ago. Or yesterday . And no matter how much he drank or how strong the liquor was, it couldn’t wash that foul taste out. It was one of the most gruesome and tough cases Peter had the misfortune to work on. He had nightmares about it almost every night.
He needed time, he knew, for the memories to dim and pain to dull. Three weeks wasn’t enough– not nearly. He also knew it would never disappear for good. Ever.
Every case had left an invisible scar on Peter’s soul and added one more nightmare to his collection. Peter sighed. He just needed some time for the vivid memories of that brothel on the outskirts of Miami to ebb and faded away. But the images of the girls barely old enough to wear a bra, much less to be exposed to the horrors they endured, and their eyes — those empty, dull, vacant eyes glazed with acceptance and resignation — t hat memory would stay with him forever…
Angrily pushing himself up from the chair, Peter opened a small fridge he kept in his office, took a bottle from the freezer compartment and splashed cold vodka into a lone Baccarat glass. Another habit he inherited from his father: he never poured his vodka over ice, but and drunk it straight and frozen.
This case has burned a hole right through his gut and his heart because all the victims were young girls, almost kids. It was hard when Peter had to deal with the victims of sex crimes; it was unbearable when it was children.
Very young, often educated and intelligent girls from poor Eastern European families were lured from their home by promises of good jobs by unscrupulous con artists of the worst possible variety. Peter called them soul thieves. These monsters were bringing in young unsuspecting girls into rich countries, like the United States, but instead of promised jobs, they were stealing their innocence and humanity by selling them into sex slavery.
Peter and his Special Unit busted huge sex-trafficking operation after two-and-a-half years of hard grueling work, giving many girls their freedom and lives back. But their souls and their spirits were damaged forever, Peter thought with grief. He swore in Russian and finished his vodka in one gulp. There was absolutely nothing he could do about it or about other girls living in the similar hellish nightmare in other countries: Austria, Germany, Hungary to name a few… This organization was like a giant octopus. They managed to severe only one tentacle out of hundreds. The FBI was constantly sharing all the information with Interpol. Just now he had sent another e-mail with the most current information he managed to get while on the plane. And he could only hope that it would help. Somehow. Anyhow. The rest was up to Interpol and its agents. But it fails to make Peter feel any better or less impotent. Damn it all to hell. Sometimes frustration was greater than satisfaction. In this particular case, it was humongous. He suddenly remembered one particular girl. He later learned she was from Ukraine, and her name was Olesia. She was barely thirteen…
Three weeks have passed since that bust, but Peter still broke in icy chills just thinking about it, about her. Clad in a flimsy garish dress, her face painted so heavily her own mother wouldn’t probably recognize her, she was standing in the middle of that hell-hole, abused and molested, looking oddly like the Botticelli’s Madonna with her detached grey eyes and that beautiful long reddish-blond hair. And when she lifted those vacant eyes and looked straight at him, Peter froze to the spot because suddenly he could see his Katie in her. A different shade of gray in the eyes, wrong color of hair, but some similarities just grabbed him by the throat and almost stopped his heart.
One thought that in her place could be his baby sister sent him in a state of a such a murderous rage it took three other agents to restrain him or he would easily kill the bastards already arrested and in handcuffs, with his bare hands. And damn all the consequences.
Peter gulped the remaining vodka in one swallow and wished he could get his hands on the honcho bastard right now. He wouldn’t be breathing, the animal. He didn’t deserve a fair trial– he deserved to die. Slowly, painfully, mercilessly. Peter fisted his hands, feeling the tremor in them. He wasn’t surprised. Rage. He was quivering with it, from head to toe. Recently it became a very familiar feeling for him. The beast from within was trying to get free. If not for his famous– or infamous- Rostoff’s control, a family trait he inherited from his father, Peter would probably be a burnout case by now. But one day, he was afraid, the beast will get past the barriers of his control and get finally free. And then… then … his eyes traveled around the room and finally found the single picture on his desk. Framed in gold, five by seven photo was of a teenage girl, beautiful in her budding femininity, smiling shyly in the camera. Hair of true platinum color, a rare Nordic shade, long and silky, and the eyes of the color of a sky before the rain. Katie… His beautiful princess, his baby sister… No, not a baby anymore. Peter sighed, looking at her picture. Ekaterina Rostoff, a famous artist, sculptor, and beautiful woman. She was his salvation. And his curse.
Just thinking about her made him melt with absolute happiness. And burn with shame. Both became his constant companions. He lifted his hand toward the picture, but at the last moment dropped it down without touching. Cursing, Peter turned away from the smiling girl on the photo, raked his hair again, more defeated than ever. Seeing her these past two days was hard on him. It would be difficult under any circumstances but specifically at their grandmother’s funeral, at that place, Zolotoe Selo, where both of them grew up. That estate held such a special place in his heart. That manor, that monstrosity of the big, opulent house and all its surroundings both repelled and attracted him in equal measures. For her it was simpler: she hated Zolotoe Selo.
With a vengeance…