Operation: Austin – Chapter Two, Gary and Paige Leave PDX

Chapter Two – As Gary and Paige make their way out of the airport, they need to be careful the people who were trafficking Paige didn’t follow them.


As they walked out into the sunlight, they could feel the contrast between the heat and the air conditioning inside. He glanced at his watch; 10:48 a.m. She winced; the sunlight was bright on her eyes, and as she squinted, he saw it hurt. She winced once for the sun, then again because her eye was injured. He waved to a Blue Taxicab waiting in the back of a line. “When we stop to get you some clothes, you can pick out some sunglasses.”


“I don’t have any money,” she said bashfully. “They took my cash. I do have a savings account with some money in it, but John said I shouldn’t get it; someone might find out.” Her vulnerability was written on her face. Beating her was bad enough, but they also took whatever feeling of confidence and control she had while they were punching and kicking the shit out of her. “John said we didn’t have time to look around. I was lucky I saw my purse as we ran from the house, so I just grabbed it. My wallet was still there, but I had $140 in it, and they stole that.”


He gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about that. You’re covered; we’re going to do some shopping on the way home, and I plan on making John pay for it. This is going to be fun. They probably left your documents sitting there because they planned on using it to transport you, maybe out of the country. I’m a bit surprised you had a passport.”


She nodded, “I thought I would need to be able to travel on modeling assignments. Jenny said there were always opportunities for bikini contests and photoshoots. It sounded so exciting.”


“I’m guessing from the start she was planning on filling an order from overseas, and you were the target.”


She looked at him with a new understanding, “They do that? Look for someone specific? They are that deliberate?”


It was his turn to sadly nod. “More than you have any idea, yes. For them it’s a business and they are extremely good at it. They get an order for a girl, or boy, with a specific age, look, shape, and they search social media and start grooming the victim. I’m sorry, let’s change subjects. I’m just happy we got to you in time.”


By that time, the cab had worked its way over to them. Gary put his right hand gently in the small of her back, with the pack in the other hand. “Remember, for the next few minutes, we need to play our parts, ok?”


“Sure. Uncle Gary,” she said in a fake childlike voice. “No problem, I just won’t talk much.” She smiled again.


He found himself thinking he could get used to her smiling at him.


As the cabbie moved to open the trunk. Gary dismissed him. “She just has a bag. I’ll put it in the seat with us.” Gary opened the back door, Paige got in and slid across; her movement was stiff as she transitioned from standing to sitting in the back seat. He followed her into the cab and instructed the driver, “The Radisson, here at the Airport.” The driver was East African, maybe Ethiopian; he noticed Paige’s face and looked at Gary. “At the airport?”


“Yes, the airport.” He smiled. “She is coming in from California, she was down there surfing and fell. I’m her uncle, just here to pick her up.”


Their driver nodded his head, his casual curiosity answered. As a driver, he saw all kinds of things, a bruised girl did not raise too many questions. Paige just sat looking out the window, not making eye contact. The driver spun around in his seat and headed out of the Airport Parkway. The hotel was just a few minutes from the airport; the fare was ten dollars minimum, so Gary handed him a twenty and said, “Thanks,” as they slid out of the cab.


“Welcome. Thank YOU!”


Without further interaction, they closed the car door and walked into the hotel lobby, and as they went inside, Gary suggested she take this opportunity to go to the bathroom. He explained that after the hotel, it might be a while before they would be stopping.


She looked at him with embarrassment. “I really have to pee, but I’m afraid to go alone. Will you come with me and stand outside the door?”


He smiled in return. “With pleasure.”


Asking at the registration counter where the bathrooms were, the young lady absentmindedly motioned them to the other side of the lobby, through the bar. They walked on through, and Paige went inside, but not before touching Gary’s arm.


“Thanks for understanding.”


It was a simple gesture, but it felt trusting. She wanted to make contact. It told him she had not been completely robbed of her ability to connect. He knew he was probably reading more into it than was intended, but that’s how it felt, how he wanted it to feel. He did not even know her, but there was this spark between them which could not be denied. Every logical reason told him to forget it, and yet it was there.


She was back in a couple of minutes. There was a tear in her eye.


“You ok?” he asked.


She nodded her head slightly. “It’s hard to look in the mirror.”


“I know, but it will get better. We will get you to my place, and you can just lay around in the sun for a week or two. That will help heal the bruising.” What he didn’t say, was the emotional bruising might heal slower, but at least after a couple of weeks, every time she looked in a mirror, she would not be reminded of the abuse she experienced. “I have an idea which might help!” he smiled at her. “I’ll take down all of the mirrors in the house for a month!”


“Thanks, but it would still be a reminder. Besides, I would probably be bugging you for a mirror to see if I’m getting better.”


That got a chuckle out of them both, they were making progress. While she was in the washroom, Gary sent for an Uber, and a lady in a Prius was eight minutes out, so he accepted. Gary and Paige walked out the hotel entry, the car pulled up, and the driver motioned them into the back seat. Paige walked around to the driver’s side, and Gary opened her door; the driver did not notice Paige’s condition. Gary walked back around and got in the passenger side, then closed the door and mentioned the destination. He had put into the app they wanted to go to the WinCo in East Portland, and without conversation, the driver pulled out. She made some idle chatter, and Gary mentioned his niece was coming in from Cali where she was down surfing. He explained she took a fall, so he was here to take her to his home to let her rest. Not much more was said, and again, Paige played the part perfectly.


As the driver dropped them off at the store entrance, she asked him for a good referral. Gary said yes, and he would give her a tip also. As the small car came to a stop, Gary touched Paige on the leg and asked her to wait there for a minute. He got out with the pack and walked around to help her out of the car, having seen her struggle to get in. She looked at him oddly, but he let it pass. They started walking toward the store until the driver was safely out of sight, then he motioned across the parking lot. “My Cadillac is over here. I know you are probably hungry; I have some food in the car so let’s hit the road if that’s ok? I want to get out of town without any more contact.”


“Yeah, me too,” she agreed.


The further they got from the airport, the more relaxed she became. Although still unsure what was happening, or where she was going, she was losing the nervous ‘rabbit-eyed’ look.


Gary was still alert. Scanning the parking lot to see if anything looked out of place, or if anybody was watching. They had not been followed, he was sure of that, but when on an assignment, they are always aware of the surroundings, defense angles, and withdrawal paths. Nothing seemed out of place, and nobody was paying attention to a couple walking to their car from the store. His plan was lined out very deliberately ahead of time; where he would park, the types of transportation they would use, the distances apart. Every element was intended to create serious challenges to anyone trying to track an abused girl escaping a trafficking ring.


He knew John did the same thing in Las Vegas, brushing out every track, leaving as little as possible to be found. That would be why her clothes were new; John would have been thorough. It’s their nature; in their business, a small mistake can kill you or someone on your team.


As they approached the car, he opened the trunk, grabbed some food out of the cooler, a towel, and tossed in the backpack. The trunk closed, and he opened the passenger door for Paige.


“It’s going to be hot inside,” he said. “Just a minute and the AC will cool it off.”


She paused before getting in. “You always do that.” It was not a question.


“Do what?” he asked.


“Open my door for me.”


It was a simple gesture, but it seemed to have significance to her. “Oh, yeah, it’s something my dad always did for my mom,” he explained. “If it bothers you, I will try to be less courteous.”


“No, I like it. Nobody does that. It makes me feel special, like you appreciate me.” She slid into the leather seat. “OMG, this is a great car. It smells fantastic.”


With a smile, he handed her the food and drinks, closed the door, walked around to the driver’s side, and got in. Starting the car, he turned the music down and the AC up, looking at her apologetically. “I’m sorry. I grabbed sub sandwiches in the store before I left for the Airport. I didn’t know about your mouth. They might be hard for you to eat, maybe you can pull them apart and eat something to get you by a couple of hours? We will stop in Yakima and do some shopping; we can grab something else there if you are hungry.”


“It will be fine,” she replied. “The juices are great, thanks.”


When she talked, she did not move her mouth completely, like someone who just got out of the dentist. With the towel on her lap, she started to pull apart a sandwich.


She’s tough, Gary thought. This isn’t the first hardship she has seen in life.  “You eat first. I’ll get us on the road, and when you are done, you can help me.” Pulling out of the parking lot, he headed for the highway.


To Be Continued!