The Ferocity of the Black Woman- Anthology Submission





 

Say Her Name






 

J. Malone

 

 


 

Say Her Name




 

Alive.

Somehow I’m alive. Running with what little strength I have left, the sun rips sweat from my skin. My combat boots beat into the long-dried sand. Thick clouds of dust swirl around me as bullets fly swift and quiet as insects. I can barely hold onto breath with my comrade’s arm wrapped around my shoulders. He’s bleeding, badly. Every muscle in my body aches carrying him and though I’m on the brink of collapsing, I can’t stop now, too many people are depending on me. 

A few paces ahead, a helicopter awaits. 

“Get ‘em to the helo,” I yell, passing off my comrade to a fellow soldier. 

I turn around and dust hits me in the mouth as I wave to the group of people behind me, instructing them to come aboard. Mostly women and children rush pass me to safety, each of their faces are brown and blackened with ash and bruises no five-year-old should know, yet here they are. Their somber expressions are seared into my memory. 

The ‘copter lifts from the ground and for the first time in 32 days, I can breathe a sigh of relief. The whirring blades above calm me in a strange way, hearing them, I sink into the hot leather chair pressing into my utility vest. Finally, it’s over. 

Scanning the people piled inside the chopper, I can’t imagine the horrors they’ve been forced to consider normal. Most are malnourished, dehydrated, wearing tattered clothes, but above all there’s a look in their eyes. Fear of not being able to go hours without a bomb dropped over their heads, having lost loved ones to a war they weren’t fighting. A look of pure terror. 

It’s unspeakable. 

Then I notice something. A child in the back. A little boy, maybe seven or eight. He stares at me intensely, as though he’s trying to figure out my ethnicity. I’m the only brown one in my unit, the same shade of peanut butter as the little boy in fact. It’s interesting, I’m used to the stares here, being a woman in a country like this you are prone to attention. Except, he’s not trying to figure out my identity, it’s something else. Then, I see it. 

There’s something in his hand, it’s round as a tennis ball, but it is no toy. The sunlight hits it and I find a silver circle attached to the gray-green object. I glance down at my comrade laying on the floor, bleeding, and then back at the boy. The betrayal cuts deep, knowing what that little boy has in his hand. How did I miss it?

He rips the silver ring from the ball and I lose all breath. Instantly, an explosion consumes the inside—

Beep. Beep. Beep.

My alarm goes off, singing at the top of its lungs. Slowly, I wake up in bed. Sweat pours from my forehead and like a knee-jerk reaction, I sit up right, panting as though it happened all over again. I hate going to sleep. Every night I have the same dream of the explosion that took my team. I wish it was only a dream. It’s like my mind enjoys punishing me for that one bad decision I made eight years ago. I keep thinking back on it wishing I did something—anything differently. Maybe I should’ve died that day too. 

I push myself from bed and get dressed for the day ahead. Black shirt, black blazer and dark wash jeans no one can tell aren’t slacks are my go-to choices. I grab my ID badge and head into work. It’s a quick 30-minute commute, but man, I really hate people sometimes. No one seems to know how to freakin’ drive at 7am I swear. 

Scanning my badge, I walk into a high-rise building I call my second home and once more past reception on the tenth floor. It’s a little aggravating to scan so many times, but I get it, rules are rules. 

I take a seat in my cubicle, an hour early. Today is a big day. A day that’ll change my life and hopefully make the Fairfew community safer. Not only that, I have a feeling this case I’ve been working on for the past six months is about to break wide open. I just know it. 

I’m an Open Source Officer for the FDI—Federal District of Investigation. I’ve been digging into a company named Argus. Researching their financials, locations, trends regarding their ever-changing quarterly revenues that don’t add up with their earning statements. I’m convinced the international pharmaceutical shipping company is moving more than supplies. 

“Evie!” Damon says, startling me. I nearly jump out of my skin from his volume.

“I hate it when you do that,” I look up at him and he lays his arms over the barrier between our cubicles, snickering at me.

Most women like Damon, but I’m not fooled by his pretty-boy persona. A fair-skinned, light-eyed man who never gets his hands dirty with work. I still don’t know how he got promoted over me. I guess if you kiss enough ass, someone will like it. 

“What is so important?” I say flipping through a few pages on my desk. 

He clears his throat. I wish he would just say it already, I don’t have the patience for his shenanigans today. 

“I just wanted to say, I like the razor cut pixie hairstyle you got going on. It’s a good look.”

“Thanks.” Last year I cut off all my hair and at first I didn’t know if I’d like the change. My whole life I’ve played it safe so it was a step out of the comfort zone. Strangely, I love it. Shorter hair gives me more time to do other things. I’m impressed that he noticed it, but his flattery usually comes with a price. “I’m sure that wasn't what you actually had to tell me.”

“You should give yourself more credit.” He smiles. “But, anyways, the not-so-average morning meeting with the board is about to start.”

Brushing off his sarcasm, I look at the time and it’s already 8:25am. Dang it. I sigh hard through my nose. That’s my problem with my work. I have a tendency to get lost in it. 

I gather my research with haste. This is it. I’ll make my case in front of the board, more importantly the Director, and they’ll have no choice but to provide funding to go after this fraudulent company full force. No telling the lives Argus has already ruined. 

. . . 

“Alright Ms. Johnson, I’m going to stop you right there,” a pale-skinned man with hardly any hair on his head says, interrupting me 30 seconds into my presentation. 

“Are you suggesting that Argus, a well-respected shipping company, is not only responsible for the rise in the human trafficking issue, but also may have involvement with the recent bombing in downtown Fairfew?” He shouts from across the crowded boardroom, laughing almost.

“Absolutely. Terrorists don’t exactly work at Wal-Mart sir,” My words are full of charisma, garnering a few chuckles from the seated audience. Confident I still have their intrigue, I continue. “One funnels money for the other and I have the data to prove it. Argus opened six branches in the past year alone. The company financially supporting them is Indigo Industries, and in the ten years since Indigo became a corporation, only one company has conducted business with them. Argus. If that’s not enough to raise suspicion, in the most recent branch since its opening missing women cases have quadrupled along with their profits and that’s not all...”

“Anyone would chop both those theories up to, one, Indigo practices exclusivity for a reason, and two Argus is thriving as a result of a successful business model.” 

“And the missing persons cases? All victims were last seen within a 30 mile radius of the Argus branch,” I cross my arms, waiting.

“A fallacy. One does not prove the other.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t deny the possibility of his rebuttal, but I know for certain that is not the case. The evidence points elsewhere. 

“Sir, if you just give me a moment to explain—”

“You had your moment. Now it’s gone,” he gestures for me to find a chair. 

Disbelief hits me in the stomach. How does he decide anything if he only gives someone all of half a minute to sell him on the next threat to national security? It’s ridiculous. Fuming, I walk over to my seat. 

His cavalier tone to such a serious topic turns my skin hot. I can feel anger brewing in my chest. If I don’t get funding for this task force, who knows what will happen to all those missing women. No, this has to work. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t.

“In America alone, 64,000 black women have vanished.” My words are cold and blunt, stopping all side-conversations. I know I have everyone’s attention. “They’re gone and the nation is silent. And when there’s proof right in front of you that their bodies are being used for illicit purposes that directly affect all of us, even then, you don’t want to hear about it.”

The room is quiet. So quiet I can hear the subtle breeze of the air conditioning. Good, I’m glad. That means they heard me. 

I make direct eye contact with him. The Director. A thick wall of a man who’s probably believes all lives matter and yet doesn’t give spare change to homeless vets. Looking at his jowly chin makes me sick. 

“Johnson,” My supervisor interjects. 

She gives me a look and I know by her expression I’ve gone too far. I don’t care though. Topics like these ought to make everyone uncomfortable. Still, for the sake of keeping my job, I take my seat—again. Strange, I didn’t even realize I was standing up. 

“Because of my deep respect for your work and the fact that if I let you go we’ll be short on our diversity quota, I’m going to act like I didn’t hear that... Johnson.” He sends daggers with his gaze and I swallow back my pride. 

“Alright, I think we’re done for the day, meeting adjourned.”

Everyone takes to their feet and waits as the Director leaves first, his escorts behind him. Suits pour out of the room in front of me, but I stop when a voice catches me from my peripheral. 

“Johnson,” My supervisor, Delilah, gestures for me to stay behind. 

Crap. I know she’s upset. I can’t imagine the earful I’m about to get. She pulls me to the side near the wide-framed windows and lets me have it.

“What the hell was that?” She practically shouts at me, but she keeps her voice a low whisper. She runs a hand through her long brown waves, tossing her hair to the other shoulder. Oh, she’s pissed.

“Look I know, okay? I know, but c’mon the Director was never going to hear me out. You know that.” I take one glance at Delilah, she’s not buying it. “Okay, my bad, I was wrong, but it’s people in his position doing nothing that allow for this to continue.”

“When you said the word but the first time I stopped listening.” I hate her dry sense of humor, it feels more condescending than anything else. “Evie, I need you to be a team player. Don’t complain about the suits who sit on their hands, get me some god damn evidence so I can at least cover my ass before you go off the rails.” Delilah makes lingering eye contact with me. She’s concerned, but not about to stick her neck out for me. I get it. I’d do the same. Sure, we’re both women of color, but that only makes us allies, not sisters. Delilah pats me on the shoulder and leaves. In her absence, I realize a harsh truth.

She’s right. 

I need something so concrete even someone as thick-headed as the Director can’t deny it. But how?

. . . 

THE NEXT MORNING, I head to work on my usual route. At a stop light, I notice a girl. She’s pretty, brown-skinned, slim, probably on her way to work waiting for the train to arrive based on her professional attire. A part of me wants to offer her a ride, but that would be creepy right? Even though I’m a woman too, still, it’s a little strange and I’d be on guard if I was her. So, when my light turns green I pass by her. 

I continue my commute and come to another red light. Dang it. It feels like the universe wants me to be late this morning. I keep hitting every single light. And then a sound catches my attention. 

I look to my left and what I find drops my heart into my chest. 

It’s her. 

The girl waiting for the train. 

She’s in the backseat of a car screaming at the top of her lungs yet the glass silences her voice. Her fists are banging on the windows, turning her knuckles bare hoping for the glass to shatter. But it doesn’t. Tears fall from her face. I’m so shocked I can’t even think. Is this real? Then someone puts a white cloth over her mouth. She disappears. 

Oh. My. God. Someone took her. 

The driver and I exchange glances. I know. Now, he knows I know. Instantly, he takes off, stopping oncoming traffic from both sides.

I turn on my red-blue light and engage in pursuit. He’s only got a few seconds on me. This bastard is not getting away. Not today. 

He speeds down a four-lane parkway, switching between lanes at high speeds. I’m right on his tail. The trees and metal railings mesh into one green-silver blur. Countless horns go off as the mad man dives between openings and carelessly cuts through traffic. Given the early morning rush hour, he’s going to hit somebody, I can feel it coming.  

“I’m headed east on Claventine, two suspects, one hostage.” I call for backup as my speedometer flirts with one hundred miles per hour. 

Suddenly, the parkway splits from four lanes to two. I follow him as he takes an exit. I’m gaining on him, I’m close enough to see the chips in the paint on his bumper. 

His tires screech, burning the asphalt as he makes a hard right up the ramp. This idiot doesn’t have a clue where he’s going. 

In the distance, a stoplight approaches. It’s red, but I know that’s not going to stop this guy. He’s going way too fast to brake. Instead, he increases speed and selfishly burrows through the intersection with ease. Still a few seconds behind him, I speed up, but something happens. 

A bright red ball bounces into the road; a boy following behind it. He grabs the toy in the middle of the street. If I could go left or right, believe me I would, but there are cars blocking me on both sides. I have only one path and this little boy is right in the middle of it. 

I’m going 80 miles an hour. My heart stops knowing it’s too late. I punch my foot onto the breaks as hard as I can, putting all my weight down. I close my eyes. I don’t want to see what’s about to happen. 

The smell of hot rubber burns through the air, my tires sear into the concrete until they come to a raw stop. I blink, several times over, hoping I stopped in time. Dear God, please let me have stopped 

before. . . Looking up, I find no one. Only cars around me. 

No. This can’t be happening. I keep blinking, hoping this is all a dream. There’s no way this can be real. Did I just kill... a child?

At the edge of my hood, a head pops up. 

It’s his. 

He stands and brushes his pants off. As he lifts from the ground, all breath in my body returns. Knowing he’s alive, I sink into the driver's seat.

A woman, I’m assuming is the boy’s mother, runs and scoops him up in her arms. I’m relieved that he’s safe. I don’t know if I could live with myself knowing I took a life, especially one that young. 

But now I have another problem.

I lost the car. 

Fuck. 

I hit the steering wheel with my fist. I don’t know what I will do if that girl turns up like another missing person. Gone. Then found with her organs ripped from her body. I need to find this woman. I owe her that much. 

. . .

I ARRIVE AT WORK, still hot with the failed pursuit in my mind. The late 90’s model car with the chipped paint. I force myself to remember every detail. Her life depends on it. 

Like clockwork, Damon stops by my desk. 

“You’re staying late tonight?” He asks, but it’s hardly a question. 

“You know I am,” I respond, keeping my attention on the screens in front of me. 

“Let me help.” 

Irritated, I sigh, “Sure.”

Late into the evening with papers scattered everywhere, laptops and double screens surrounding us and ramen noodle cups in hand, I search for clues with only one item. A license plate. 

Racing against time, I sift through anything that comes to mind. Tunnel tolls, street cams, social media footage and any image-related software that can lead me to her. Tawnya Smith. That’s her name. She’s a recent college grad, accounting major, only 22 years old. She doesn’t deserve this. No one does.

“Why do you care so much?”

My guess Damon is asking because we’re alone and it’s well past midnight. I really don’t like conversations while I’m working, but fine, I’ll bite.

“Hm? What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re here before any of us. You leave later too. Evie, you have a drive, a passion, I’ve never seen in my life in this field.” 

He’s being kind. I don’t trust it. Last time he and I worked on something together, he stole the credit and it jump-started his career. Good for him, I guess. 

I stop working for a moment and bring my eyes to his. I’m not sure if I should tell him this, but maybe it will stop him from asking so many questions. 

“A few years back, before I got my car, I was at a bus stop waiting to get to work.” I pause, this is the hard part of the story. It pulls at a memory I’d rather forget, yet it’s the reason I even joined the FDI. Strange, how the past drives the present. “A car stopped beside me. Some dude poked his head out of the window and asked me something very weird. He asked if I ordered an uber.”

I stop the story, waiting for Damon’s reaction. 

“Oh, okay interesting… did you?”

“If I ordered an Uber why would I be at a bus stop? No, of course not. I said no, but later on I confided in a friend and she informed that he tried to traffick me. That’s the thing, they look for women that way.” I run my hand through my scalp, frustrated and stressed. “I should’ve just gave the girl a ride, what was I thinking?” I whisper to myself. 

Damon says nothing, so I take his absence of words as a means to continue. 

“So, to answer your question, Damon, that's why I care so much. Had it not been so much traffic, and so many witnesses while this guy was beside me a few years ago… I don’t know where I’d be. I owe it to these missing women to search until I’m blood and bone to find them.”

His eyelids flutter as he tries to make sense of everything. I get it. This is a lot to take in, it was enough for me to fully wrap my head around the whole thing. 

“Damn, that’s crazy.”

“No,” I interrupt him. “It’s reality. It happens everyday, I just got lucky.”

It falls silent between us. Only clicks of our keyboards and casual sip of a drink have a conversation. And then it happens. A break.

“I think I found something,” Damon yells. Always so dramatic.

“You said that before—”

“I know, but check this out.” He says, his eyes wide with either amazement or shock. 

I stand over Damon’s shoulder and I see why. This discovery changes everything. Or at least one little red symbol does. 

“Isn’t that Argus’ trademark?”

“Yea, it is,” I lean further into his screen. “Even more than that. Click here. Enlarge that.” 

In doing so, the image blows up filling the entire screen. An industrial warehouse near a port, full of machinery, hard hats, and late model cars. Finally, we’ve got proof. Now we know where she is, or at least where she could be. 

I collect a file and send it off via email. Quickly, I grab my keys and head toward the elevator. Damon shoots from his seat and blocks my path. 

“What are you doing?”

“What do you think? We have hard evidence of that car linked to a location, which happens to be owned by Argus. Yea, so what it’s 4am, I’m not waiting ‘til tomorrow to find that girl’s body in a ditch or worse. You and I both know how it works. They don’t keep victims in the same city for more than 12 hours. We’ve already lost ten. I’m going now.”

I walk around his lean figure. 

“Wait,” he says. 

Out of respect for his help tonight, I pause for a moment. I turn around and step into his face, tilting my chin up to meet his light gaze. 

“If you do that... I can’t help you.” He whispers and his soft tone catches me by surprise. With our lips inches apart, I can’t help but notice something about him. The low lighting makes him far more attractive. Still, this is Damon, his nice-guy performance is just that. An act. 

“And when have I ever truly needed that?” 

With that, I take my leave.

. . .

Click.

I twist the keys to my car switching off the engine. Adrenaline surges through my veins as I lay eyes on my target. An abandoned building with barbed wire fences protecting utility vans, eighteen wheeler trucks and shipyard containers. Engraved in the gray concrete building is a red logo, a circle encasing a falcon’s silhouette. Argus’ logo. Its intense glare stares down at me. All my research has led me here.

“Hey I’ve got eyes on the target. . .” I say into my communication device in my ear. 

“Stand down Johnson.”

I know that voice. Right now I probably should listen to it, but I’m already here. I should at least run reconnaissance.

I grab a few necessities and make my way toward the warehouse behind wired gates.

Crouching low, I run across the roads, slick with fresh rainfall. I keep my movements swift and concise, I know there’s no back up and the last thing I need is for anyone to spot me. 

I ease along the chain-linked fence, running my fingers against the cold steeI. The sky is a blend of burnt orange and midnight, like the night is fighting the dawn, and winning. Quiet ocean waves rest on the horizon, bringing an icy spasm of air every few minutes. This setting reeks of criminal activity. I know I’m at the right place, hopefully I’m not too late.

I find an opening and slip through, I’m officially inside their territory. Strange, I feel like I’m in a horror movie, maybe I should wait, I have no idea what I’m walking into—She flashes in my mind. That pretty brown-skinned girl who was only trying to get to work. I see her face as a white cloth steals consciousness from her in the backseat of some early 2000’s vehicle. Knowing she’s in danger, thoughts of my own concern slip out of my mind. She needs my help. Nothing else matters.

A rustle behind a container startles me. It could be a deck worker, but I’m not that lucky. I duck behind a wall, scarred with rust, as a flashlight approaches. 

 

Have you checked the far right? 

 

I hear a voice say, it’s masculine and heavy, and based on the thud of his feet he’s not a small man. 

 

Yea, yea I hear ya.

 

Another man responds, and I notice something else. There are more footsteps than voices. I count three, no wait, maybe four people. Then I hear them decide to split up. This just got interesting.

In my peripheral, a light hits the wall beside me. Alone, a man my height steps into my view. He’s terrible at surveillance, leaving his back to me. I catch a glimpse of a shiny object on his hip. Without thought, I make my move. 

I cover his mouth with one hand and wrap my bicep around his neck, blocking off his larynx. I pull as hard as I can without breaking his neck. I’m not proud of the skills I’ve learned in the military, but right now I bare no shame in them either. Slowly, he drops one knee and then the other into the ground. He’s out like a light.

I search his jacket and find two things out of place. The shiny object wasn’t a box cutter like I first thought, but a knife. And on the back of his belt—a gun. What does a fisherman need with a pistol?

Dragging his body into a corner, I press onward, zigzagging between rusted walls and rigging machinery. The ground moves beneath my boots as I try to keep quiet. Gradually, I come across more containers and several multi-colored doors rotted with corrosion. Argus is a billion dollar a year company, but they can’t afford new equipment? This doesn’t make sense. Unless they’re investing their money into something else.

From my left, I hear voices both small but noticeable. A door is cracked open and a light pole rests by the opening revealing a hint of the inside. My heart is beating so hard I swear it’s making noise outside my chest. I don’t know if what I’m doing is brave or stupid anymore, but it’s far too late to turn around. With caution and a gun drawn, I take my time moving towards it. But when I pull the door further open, I’m terrified by what I find. 

Flesh of all skin tones covered with bruises. Hair of all textures. Thin female bodies trembling in the cool breeze. They’re barely clothed and some have needle marks on their skin. I can’t even count how many there are crammed in here. I-I’m speechless. And then I spot it. A miracle.

There she is. 

Against the wall, in the fetal position. Her hair has been disheveled and her clothes ripped bare. She’s here. She’s okay… well, alive at least. 

“Hey, I’m here, help is on the way.” I tuck my gun on the back end of my belt and step inside. My words bring no relief to their expressions, like they’ve removed the idea of hope from reality. 

“No, you have to get out of here,” One woman says, begging me almost. “They said they’ll be back. With more.” 

Her words are coated with a Spanish accent, dominican it seems. 

“Who?” I ask. I have to get a description, a name at least. I need to know who I’m looking for. I only caught a glimpse of the man’s profile from the driver’s seat. His skin was racially ambiguous. Either way, he was definitely not the man in charge.

“Xander.” She goes on, still shaking from both the cold and from fear of this man. “He’s dangerous and said he’ll kill us all if one of us tries to leave.”

“Xander.” I repeat in a whisper. I’ve got a name. For now that’ll have to wait I need to get these women out of here.

I step down from the entrance. Before I can help the first woman down, I hear noises. 

—Click, clack.

I know that sound too well.

“Don’t move,” A masculine voice says, I turn and find a gun pointed at me. “Hands.”

I throw my arms to the sky. 

“It’s not what you think,” I say with far more confidence than I should have. “I’m a federal agent with the FDI, killing me will sentence you to life in prison. I don’t think you want that.”

“How did you get here?”

“That doesn’t matter, it’s over.” I’m not sure about what I’m saying, but he doesn’t know that. “If you put the gun down and talk, I can see about cutting you a deal.” He still doesn’t move. “Look I can show you my badge,” I say, reaching for my ID.

He pulls the trigger. A shot rings out. 

A bullet rips through my left shoulder. The sheer force alone nearly knocks me from my feet. It burns like hell and blood pours from my blazer. The sudden jolt forces a scream from my throat as I cover the wound with my hand. This guy isn’t playing games. 

“I said, don’t move.” He takes a few steps closer to me. “Turn around.”

If I reach for my weapon, he’ll shoot again only this time he’ll have better aim. I know I shouldn’t, but I do as he says. 

“Drop to your knees.”

Everything in me tells me to fight, but he takes my gun and I’m wounded. I do the only thing I can at this point. Survive. 

He comes from behind me and a thud hits the base of my skull. Darkness consumes me. 

. . . 

I WAKE UP. My wrists and ankles are bound to a steel chair. The cold cuts through my jacket, it’s beyond freezing in here. A light sits above my head. Around me there are eight, maybe ten, men standing where the light ends and darkness begins. My shoulder throbs with pain I can’t bear. I look down and my shirt is ripped down the middle. The pervs. 

“Good to see you’re awake, beautiful.” A man with a thick accent says. He talks as though every word requires the use of the back of his throat. Middle eastern, maybe. 

“Where am I?” 

“Tsk, tsk, American women, always wanting to be in charge these days. What’s with that?” He walks into the light, smiling at me. He’s well-dressed, better than these henchmen standing against the walls. Dark hair smoothed down his skull, it looks wet in the light. My skin crawls as he leans down, hovering my face. 

“How did you find us?” Leisurely, he moves away from me, walking toward one of his subordinates. One hands him a gun. My throat clenches seeing him retrieve it from the man’s grip.

“Easy, one of these idiots led me to you.” I say, smirking. “Where are you taking them? Those women.”

He laughs a sickening laugh that turns into a cough. Must be a smoker. 

“And then Jesus said, let my people go.” With one click of his weapon, I know it’s loaded. He eases back toward me, taking his time. His refined dress shoes tap against the stone floors. “Is that who you’re trying to be? A savior?”

He leans down and places the barrel under my chin. His fingers dancing along the trigger. The anticipation is the worst of it. 

“How interesting? Your country imprisons your people, feeds them crap that gives them all types of diseases. Not to mention your own people kill each other. Yet, here you are interfering in my business. Fascinating, no?  When all I’m doing is giving these women a purpose in life. Sharing their beauty with men who will appreciate them. Is that so wrong?” He lowers his gun down to my bosom, playing with the fabric of my shirt. This man is sick. 

He returns the gun against my cheek. I close my eyes. I dare not shed a tear. Instead, I launch the fiercest amount of spit toward him, it lands on his nose.

Taken aback, he pulls out a handkerchief and wipes his face. 

“Feisty. I like it.” He smirks at me. “I’m truly sorry things had to end this way for you. I’d kill to have you for one night,” he says, lustful. “But I don’t lie with pigs.”

He presses the gun into my temple, forming an icy circle right above my cheekbone. I hate this. How this man pirades his power over women. I close my eyes one last time. He places his finger on the trigger.

—A shot goes off. 

Screams of bullets follow. 

Yelling in both English and a foreign language sound off on both sides of me. I feel a cutting at my wrist, then my feet. What the hell is happening?

I open my eyes. 

The entire room is bright with lights from the ceiling. Figures in all black take cover behind wooden crates and industrial equipment. Flashes of lights from gun fire ring from various angles. 

I freeze, unsure of reality. 

“Evie.” 

Boy, am I glad to hear my name. 

I find Delilah in full tactical gear helping me out of my restraints. She throws my right arm over her shoulders and we find a spot behind a pile of crates. It all happens so fast.

“How did you know where to find me?” 

“I had a feeling you weren’t going to listen.” She screams over the barrage of bullets behind us. “That file you sent over was solid. Bottom line, you were onto something. And the higher-ups agreed.”

I knew it would work. Anyone with a brain could see the mountain of evidence. About time.

Delilah glances over her shoulder. “This way,” she says. As I follow her lead, I spot the logo. The door. Those girls. We can’t leave, not yet. I place a hand on her arm and stop her. 

“No, we have to head towards the container yard.”

Even with a hail of bullets, a painfully wounded shoulder, and my shirt split open, I can’t think of anyone but those girls who are still trapped. I’ll get the help I need eventually, they need it now. 

A barrage of gunfire hits the crates backing us. Black holes form a trail just above my head and Delilah’s too. 

“We’ve got to get you out of here.”

“I’m not leaving without them.”

Delilah checks both pathways. She says something on her ear communication device, but I can’t make it out. She has to see that this is the only way. Those girls need us. 

She moves closer. “Alright Evie, lead the way.”

. . . 

 

MONTHS LATER, I wait at a coffee shop. Red umbrellas hover the patio and the smell of fresh brew lingers in the air. Professionals on their phones as they walk briskly across the stone tiles of downtown. It’s peaceful here. I take another sip as I await my guest’s arrival. 

In the distance, I see her. High heels, honey brown skin, a purse across her shoulder, she walks with a certain confidence. It’s astonishing to see her, she struts toward me like she hasn’t been through hell and back.

She takes the seat in front of me. I’m at a loss for words, still unsure what I should or can say to her. 

“Thank you for coming,” She says.

I can hear nerves in her voice. Seeing me must bring back the memory of that day.  I’m sure this can’t be easy. I don’t blame her. 

“No, thank you for the invitation,” I say, eager to express my gratitude. 

“Well, let me just start by saying… um… thank you,” her voice cracks. She’s a sweetheart, I feel it from her words and it hits me like a wave pulling warmth behind my eyes. Dang it. I told myself I was not going to cry. 

“Thank you for not giving up on me. I was so, so scared and I had never been in any situation like that before. I remember you. I saw your face when I was in that backseat, clear as day. I thought I was imagining things when I saw you and your team come through that door. I thought I would...I thought I....” she stops, tears fall down her face and her eyes turn fire-engine red. 

I feel every emotion. Fear, pure terror of the unknown, having the thought that she was going to die before someone found her, but another feeling I get from her surprises me. Strength. 

I place a hand on her wrist. I can’t hold it any longer and now we’re both crying, balling our eyes out on a tuesday at 2pm on the most gentrified part of town. But I don’t care. I would give my life for this moment. Seeing her face, crying happy tears. Women like Tawnya, they’re the reason I can’t quit.