Timeline: December 9th, 2008, 2:30 am
The bar was closed. There were the usual weeknight barflies that hung out through the 1:30 am last call until the 2am closing. Lyla and Rey were the only ones left in the building and they worked through the usual routine of cleaning the bar, stacking the chairs, sweeping and mopping the floor, and all the other mundane tasks of running a business.
They had the routine down by now, of course and by 2:30 am they were finished. Rey went to retrieve her coat when she felt Lyla’s warm hand on her shoulder.
“Rey. Hold on a while.” Lyla looked like she had something on her mind. “I know it’s late and you’re tired, but there’s something I want to talk to you about. Something I need you to be discrete with and not discuss with anyone else. Not Ironclaw, not Grey. No one.
“If you really don’t feel like you can do that, I’ll understand. But we can’t talk unless I have your word on this first.”
“I promise,” Rey said. The young hedge witch knew many secrets; not nearly as many as Lyla did, but secrecy was a matter of survival for her growing up. And some habits were very hard to break.
Lyla pulled down a chair at a small table, placed a manila folder on the table in front of her and then sat down. Once Rey had also pulled a chair down and sat across from her, Lyla began to speak.
“Honoré, I’m sure you know that over most of the past eight months I was in a pretty dark place. I was unhappy that Ramiel left me to find his missing daughter, and you’re aware that I suffered physically, too. You and Chaska helped me, got me to Boston where I could find a way to ease my suffering. You probably also know that many times I went alone.
“As I did, I hooked up with people, some of them not so nice. I began to use my contacts and one thing led to another and yet another. Soon I found out I could make a lot of money transporting illegal goods between New York and Boston. But I could make a lot more by investing in a diverse variety of illicit activities. So I did.
“It’s very hard for a woman to break into this kind of racket. I’m sure you can reason why — it’s a man’s world by and large. But I was able to get a pretty fierce reputation when I needed to, and I was able to do it well away from Eldon Well and any of us here.
“I bought into a piece of drug sales, black market movement of stolen goods. But the real cash cow was when I organized a small group of prostitutes. I got them out of under the harsh thumb of male pimps, even got some training for a few of them so they could defend themselves and run their own organizations. Over the past five months or so, they’ve become very self-sufficient, though they still grant me a cut. They’re afraid that the male-dominated organizations will come down on them unless they have a strong outside benefactor.
“I’m not big business yet. Not big enough for the mafia to bother with. I don’t make waves there, but rather am careful never to undercut them price-wise, and to cooperate with them when asked. I was building a tidy little empire.”
Restlessly, Lyla stood and went to the bar. She pulled down a glass and made herself a martini. “You want anything, Rey?”
“Just some water, thanks.” Rey knew that, as tired as she was, having anything alcoholic would send her to sleep rather quickly. She also got the feeling that Lyla was about to tell her something a bit more important than the fact she was becoming a minor figure in organized crime.
Lyla returned with her drink and a glass of water for Rey and sat back down.
“That’s when our old friend, Bailey Thindle, called. It seems he’d recently been trying to follow my activities. He told me as much and said that if the FBI for some reason decided to investigate me, there wouldn’t be much he could do about it.” Lyla took a drink of her martini. When she set the glass down she looked at Rey levelly.
“But he said he couldn’t think of a reason why the FBI would start an investigation against me unless the details of certain activities were pointed out to them. That was something, the bastard told me, he did have control of. But, he’s not going to do that because we made a deal,” Lyla said.
“It seems that Thindle’s pet project, one he’s been working on for years now, is a lot more important to him than a variety of trafficking, prostitution, and racketeering laws that I’ve broken. I agreed to help him with that if he keeps certain information out of the hands of general FBI investigators. “
“Okay.” Rey realized that Lyla wasn’t happy about the situation. She knew her friend hated being “handled”, and hated being blackmailed even more. But that still didn’t answer one very important question. “Are you telling me this because I’m in his sights too?”
“Um no,” Lyla said. “In fact, this has nothing to do with you, so if you don’t want any part of this, then I wouldn’t blame you. Thindle wants me to help him crack an international slavery ring.”
“Slavery?” Rey frowned, and Lyla recognized the look on her face. Rey’s background made her particularly — upset when it came to that kind of thing.
Lyla nodded. “It’s more common in Eastern European countries, Russia and in asia, but it’s really bad also in Mexico and other South American countries. Worse, it even occurs here. What happens is that typically girls and young women are kidnapped off the street. In many countries the most likely candidates are runaways, but in more troubled countries, they can be taken out of their homes, one their way to school or work, anywhere. In places like Russia it can happen when an indebted family owes money to the Russian mob and they try to pay it by selling their daughters into slavery.
“From there, these girls are taken places and abused — often sexually but torture and drugs are usually used as well — to break their will. I’m talking about not just young women, but also girls. Some just kids and others just teenagers. Once they’re wills have been broken they are sold into prostitution rings where they spend their lives broken and without hope as cash cows for criminals. These people will sell these girls to anyone, anywhere and they have a lot of ways to sneak them into the country.”
Now it all made sense. Lyla had been shocked when she’d learned Ramiel’s missing daughter had turned up at the Manchester Youth Shelter Services. She must have contacts at the shelter, and other ones in Boston, possibly across the state. Rey could only imagine how worried Lyla might have been that Serena had somehow been taken or otherwise involved with the slavers. And relieved that she wasn’t. “And you think I can help in some way?”
“Yes. But more important,” she said, “would you want to? Things are progressing here and I need to maintain my reputation and dealings or the people I deal with will get suspicious I’m working with the government. Then all kinds of bad things happen. I’d lose support from both my underworld contacts as well as the FBI. After all, the FBI is under no compunction to help me if I’m exposed. All I’ve got is a loose promise they won’t purposefully get into my business.”
Lyla sighed. “Anyway, in order to move forward, I need to maintain an image of a ruthless, up and coming crime boss. Someone whom these slaver assholes will deal with. We’re not after the small fish on this end. Thindle wants to coordinate with INTERPOL to track down and destroy the ring leaders. The only way I’m going to get close to those guys is by being shrewd and by looking powerful. I can’t look like either one doing everything myself. I need assistants. An enforcer I’ve got. Contacts, I’ve got. Money, I’ve got that, too. I don’t have a consigliere. I don’t have a right hand.
“Rey, there’s a lot of money in this business. It also requires some pretty shady dealings. That’s part of the risk. I never intended to tell you any of this because even just knowing this stuff and not telling anyone — that makes you a co-conspirator, doesn’t it? An accessory?” Lyla sighed. “I know I’m asking a lot but I’m also asking you to look at the big picture. I’m using all the money and influence I’ve been gaining to save these girls and women from a living hell, and I want you to help me do it.”
Despite how serious the situation was, what Lyla was asking of her, Rey couldn’t help but giggle. “Me? A consigliere?” Her manner sobered instantly. “Of course I’ll help, but what can I do? I was raised by a pair of two-bit con artists. That hardly is right-hand man material.”
“Business is a confidence game when it comes right down to it. Especially business that lies outside the law. We need to present a certain face, show a certain kind of confidence — and make the right kind of impression in order to get what we want, what we need. And that’s something you do know how to do – very well,” Lyla said confidently.
Rey couldn’t help but smile at Lyla’s faith in her. “What do you need me to do?”
“I’ll need you to represent me to these people,” Lyla said. “It won’t be easy. Sometimes you’ll have to purchase human beings and you’ll need to be tough enough to make hard choices. We can’t save everyone. We have to keep our eyes on the goal — bringing down international rings. So we have to save the ones that will put us on the trail of whoever we are currently going after. “
Lyla tone was dead serious. She was really worried about Rey and while she believed Rey could help, she couldn’t disguise the concern in her voice. Rey was pack, and she was deliberately putting a pack member in danger. That wasn’t an easy pill for Lyla to swallow. “Payment is often in cash, but I don’t always have the sum they’ll want in cold currency. We will sometimes have to buy these girls with drugs.
“That’s risky, Rey. Damned risky. If you get caught with them, you’ll go to jail. For a very long time. If you get caught buying people, you’ll go to jail and they’ll probably throw away the key. But those are minor risks compared to the real risk. You’re young, unattached, and female. A misstep could result in you being dragged away, your mind and will broken, and your body owned by someone else for the rest of your life.
“Or until I murder the sonsofbitches that would dare do that to one of my friends.”
“I can’t say I’ll be happy with what we have to do, but you know I can’t turn my back on these people.” Rey spoke a quiet determination Lyla knew well. She was one of the few who knew how far Rey would go to accomplish something once she’d set her mind to it, what she was willing to risk to do what was “right”.
Lyla nodded. “Good.” She fished inside the apron she still had on from cleaning up and withdrew a thick envelop. “This is for you. Use it to buy some outfits suitable for business.” She handed the packet to Rey and then smiled. “But first go home and get some sleep. I’m going begin teaching you what you need to know to be my consigliere starting tomorrow after close.”
Rey peeked inside the envelope and her eyes widened. “Wow.” The last time she’d seen that much money in an envelope was during one of her parents’ last big cons. “I’m going to need to go into Concord, or possibly to Manchester. How businesslike do you want?”
“Manchester,” Lyla said. “I don’t trust Concord.”
That was very true. From what Rey knew, it was an incident in Concord that had Lyla — before her change into a werewolf — kidnapped by a greedy vampire intent on adding her to his harem of addicted slaves. That eventually triggered her change and ended the lifestyle she’d had before all this. This didn’t mean Lyla hadn’t gone back to Concord for other reasons. She was never one to run from her fears. However, she knew that Rey could be vulnerable to the same kind of manipulation and although the odds were very remote that Rey might be picked up by the same twist of bad luck that she’d had, Lyla wasn’t willing to test fate. Reason would dictate that she was sending Rey into even more danger, but reason didn’t always have a place in such decisions.
“Don’t look to pretty,” Lyla continued. “You need to look professional, not desirable. I need them to pay attention to what you say, not how you move your ass, something I personally seem to have a lot of trouble with in certain settings.”
“Gotcha,” Rey said with a nod. “Can I borrow your car tomorrow, or did you want to come with me?”
Lyla nodded. “You can borrow it. I need to set some things up, so I won’t be able to go with you.”
“What time do you need me back in town,” Rey asked, her mind already working on what she’d need to get. This was one of the rare moments she was thankful for everything her mother had drilled into her about the important of appearance. She didn’t have the striking looks Lyla had, so she wouldn’t have to tone things down, just not emphasize too much. Attractive, because men don’t pay too much attention to plain women, but not beautiful; beautiful women are mistresses, not for doing business with. Especially not beautiful given what she was getting into.
“Let’s see,” Lyla mused. “I’ll try to get things going for Thursday night. So that gives you two days before our first meeting together.”
“Okay. Unless the suits need to be significantly altered, I should have everything I need by tomorrow night. I can show you what I got, and then if you want me to change anything, that’ll give me the time to do so. Sounds good to you?” Rey’s figure was pretty standard, luckily, so most off the racks suits would fit her well.
“Perfect,” she replied. “And if you wanted, you could get something that would do for the short term, and having something nicer tailored for you.”
“That was the plan,” Rey said. “No use in ordering something special only to find out it’s not appropriate. Nothing flashy, but say “right-hand woman”, should be easy to find. And I probably ought to check out what you’re wearing. You don’t want the help outshining the boss.” She smiled, knowing it simply wasn’t possible, given Lyla’s looks, but the image was what was important. The help didn’t often dress better than the boss – unless the boss wanted them to.
Lyla seemed to take the consideration seriously. She looked thoughtful and then said, “I’d be happy to show you the ward robe I tend to use. Tomorrow morning, then?”
“Let’s do ten.”
“See you then.”