Defoe, in his role as Darren Parker, sat in the hospital lobby waiting for Darlene. She had gone upstairs with her friend, Angel. Angel was an ICU nurse. She took Darlene’s phone and purse to the ICU floor where she was working after Darlene had rushed out of the hospital when getting the call from Caroline about Jenna being missing. Defoe’s thumbs flew over the keys of the throwaway phone he used to contact Jonas. He sent him a text about what had just transpired. Defoe didn’t dare call in for fear that someone would hear the conversation and blow his cover.
Two years of undercover work may have just gone down the drain because Michael Matthews was an asshole. Defoe hated working with the guy, hated pretending to be his friend, but it was part of his cover.
The FBI knew Michael Matthews was a recruiter and cleanup man for the Cobra Cartel human trafficking ring operating out of Cincinnati. They used the Ohio River and Interstate Sixty-Four to transport young girls and boys, mostly runaways, to dealers who sold them to the highest bidder. The operation Defoe was working on had been collecting evidence and information for almost four years. They had managed to rescue close to one hundred kids and were very close to shutting down the operation.
Most of the kids came from bigger cities like Louisville, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Occasionally, they would find kids from smaller cities like Owensboro, Paducah, Bloomington, and Lexington. There had only been a few kids from Evansville, but when two of those girls were found murdered it raised a red flag. At first, the murders were considered just random, or drug deals that went badly, until the tattoos on the lower backs of the victims were traced back to the human trafficking group in Cincinnati. That was what initially led the FBI to Matthews. He’d arrested both girls on drug charges. Their investigation uncovered his side job for the trafficking ring.
Other recruiters and handlers from the organization had been caught, but the FBI had never been able to get enough information to cut off the head of the snake. They thought it was run by organized crime, but they hadn’t been able to pin down which particular group was behind it. That’s what they were hoping they were going to find out from Matthews. As a cleanup man, he seemed privy to more information about the leadership than the people they already had in custody.
Both girls from Evansville had been strangled, whether it had been a john, a handler, or an ordered murder couldn’t be determined until they found out more about the group using these girls. The time of the death of the girls had been originally thought to be within twenty-four to forty-eight hours before they were found, but the second girl’s liver was still partially frozen. That led the investigators to believe that the bodies were being kept in a freezer for a while before they were disposed of.
The fact that both girls had been from Evansville, and had both been arrested by Michael Matthews raised a flag. The fact that Matthews had been seen with both girls not long before they disappeared made him look suspicious. He’d been questioned in regard to his involvement with the girls but had been able to prove he was working during the time that both girls had been killed, according to the original times of death. Once the thought had been planted that the girls had been frozen for a time was added to the picture that created new questions about when the girls were actually killed.
The initial investigation revealed that Matthews, and the local drug dealer the girls had been involved with, did not have a storage facility outside of their home. A few more girls went missing, both of which had been arrested at one point by Michael Matthews, and the Bureau decided it was time to get someone close to him to see if he was involved in the girls going missing.
In the two years Defoe had been working with Matthews, the other undercover agent had been working with the drug dealers. That agent found out that the dealer picked the girls based on what the traffickers were looking for and how much family they had. All four girls, who had disappeared from this area, including the two murdered girls, had drug addict parents, had been in foster care, and had drug use issues of their own. These girls were the perfect victims for these crimes. There was little chance their family would be concerned enough about what happened to them to push the police to try to find them. Plus, the people taking the girls had a local sheriff’s deputy on their payroll to make sure the investigations went cold.
The Bureau had another man infiltrating the traffickers. He’d found out that the girls were being taken on party yachts. They lured the girls in with drugs, took them to Cincinnati to be tattooed and vetted by the bosses. They would then be circulated among clients unless one took a liking to the girl, or boy, and bought them for their private sex slave.
Once Defoe got close to Matthews and found out about the locked monster freezer in his garage, he knew where the bodies were being frozen. The agent working the drug end had the drug dealer in his pocket. The agent working with the traffickers had names and connections. It was all falling into place, and then Jenna called the FBI and told them her father had a dead body in his freezer. It was perfect! Defoe was so thankful that Jenna had not trusted the local authorities because of her father’s connections.
The operation should have been easy. Defoe’s job was to get to the Matthews’ house, confirm the body was there, and get Jenna and Darlene out of the way. He knew Darlene would be at work. All he had to do was get Jenna out of the house. Then, all hell broke loose. Jenna called back and said Matthews’ had moved the body, but Defoe and his team were already in route. When dispatch told him Jenna said that her father moved the body with her mother’s car, Defoe knew they had to follow through with getting Jenna.
Matthews would never have used his wife’s car to move a body. It was too risky. Something had to have changed. Defoe had the sick feeling that Matthews knew Jenna found the body. That made it even more important that he get to Jenna, but they had been too late.
He dropped his head in his hands as he sent off his text. Defoe prayed he had not been too late for Jenna. She was in pretty bad shape when he took her out of her room. His team would have to take her to a different town, probably Louisville unless the medical team deemed her injuries critical. In that case, they would take her to Owensboro. Damn! If only he’d gotten there ten minutes earlier.
Darlene came into the waiting room, and Defoe stuffed his phone into his front pants pocket and went back into his role as Darren Parker.
“I’m going to take my car back to the house,” she said. “I’d grabbed a city police officer that just happened to be in the emergency area when I got the call and asked him to rush me to the house. I think I thanked him.” She shook off the thought. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some of my clothes now. I’ve made arrangements to stay with my friend for a few weeks until I figure out what I’m going to do.”
“Okay. I’ll walk you to your car,” Darren said standing. “Then I’ll follow you home. If you don’t have enough room in your car, we can put some stuff in mine.”
Darlene just nodded. Darren felt so bad. He couldn’t tell her that he knew her daughter was safe. All he could do was continue pretending to be the friend of the family they thought he was.
They walked in silence to Darlene’s car that was parked in a back parking lot. She looked back toward the front of the hospital where Darren’s car was parked. “You want me to give you a ride back to your car?”
Darren followed her gaze to the parking area close to a block away. “If you don’t mind.”
Darlene got behind the wheel of the beige Ford Taurus and buckled her seatbelt. Darren got in the passenger seat but didn’t bother to buckle up since he was getting out before they left the parking lot. Darlene pulled up behind Darren’s car and then turned to him. “What do you think really happened?”
“You and I both know that if Michael walked in on Jenna and Cara kissing, he would have gone nuts,” Darren said. “According to Cara, he was punching Jenna pretty hard. I don’t know if she could have gotten away from him, or if Cara came back and hit him with the chair. Who knows? I think she got away from him, hit him with her desk chair, and ran away.”
“I hope you’re right,” Darlene said. “If she did run away, she won’t show her face around the house again for a long time. I need to find a way to get a message to her and let her know that I’m leaving.”
“Did you try her phone? Maybe, Cara can send a message to their friends that might be hiding Jenna,” Darren suggested.
“Her phone goes straight to voicemail, but that’s a good idea. I’ll call Caroline and ask her to have Cara try to get a message to Jenna. I hope she contacts me soon,” Darlene said. She looked up at the ceiling of the car and said a silent prayer.
Darren reached across the car and squeezed Darlene’s arm gently, before opening the car door. “I’ll follow you back to the house. They took Michael away, but he might find a bondsman that will bail him out tonight.”
“Can he do that after he hit me right in front of all those policemen?” Darlene asked, horrified.
“It’s a misdemeanor battery charge,” Darren said. “He won’t be in there long.”
“Well then, let’s get going. I want to be out of there by the time he gets out,” Darlene said.
Darren got out of Darlene’s car and went to his own. He stared at the trunk as she drove away. Someway he had to get into that trunk.