A Voice from the Field by Neal Griffin is a gripping thriller about human trafficking, following Detective Tia Suarez, who will stop at nothing to rescue the woman she saw bound and gagged in the back of a van and take down the group responsible (Available February 2, 2016).
Gunther Kane and his white supremacist group are using forced prostitution to finance the purchase of automatic weapons. Kane snatches young women off the streets and sells them to hundreds of men. When a victim is used up, she's killed and dumped. After all, there are always more where she came from.
Physically recovered from being shot but struggling with PTSD, Tia Suarez almost doesn't believe her eyes when she glimpses a Hispanic teenager bound and gagged in the back of Kane's van. The look of terror on the woman's face makes Tia desperate to rescue her.
Kane's in the crosshairs of the FBI, who don't want a small-town Wisconsin detective messing up their big gun bust.
Tia Suarez doesn't back down for anyone. Not the department shrink; not the feds who dismiss her; not even her boyfriend, a Marine veteran who thinks she doesn't know what she's getting into. Tia will find the missing teen come hell or high water.
Gangsters call it the blade. The track. The ho stroll. Back in the day it was the red-light district, but by whatever name, the area of downtown Milwaukee hadn’t changed much in twenty-five years. Pimped-out sleds loaded four deep with young men, brown or black but never both, patrolled the dark streets with windows down, bass-heavy music thumping out a steady urban pulse. The latest generation of crack whores wandered the streets or sat listless on the stoops of boarded-up brick apartment buildings, waiting for men who sought bargain rates.
One young woman stood out from the rest as confident, even willing. Damn sure worth the money. She leaned against the shot-out lamppost, listening as the nearby Allen-Bradley Clock Tower chimed out the midnight hour, knowing the corner belonged to her.
A sleek late-model Volvo pulled to the curb and stopped. The midnight blue metallic paint shimmered in the low light and the custom alloy wheels would pay her bills for a couple of months. Nice ride, she thought, shrugging herself off the lamppost, stepping to the edge of the curb. A skintight skirt and tighter T-shirt hugged her slight but chiseled body, leaving little to the imagination. Thick black hair seductively framed her eyes and mouth and curled down her back, stopping just above the silver chain belt wrapped around her slender waist. The night air was heavy with humidity and even at this hour a thin layer of sticky sweat coated her deep brown skin.
She caught the driver’s eye through the windshield and her instincts kicked in. Thirtysomething white boy with a hundred-dollar haircut, manicured hands poised on the steering wheel, and a smug expression of confident superiority stuck on his face. She flashed a grin and sauntered closer, clicking four long, acrylic nails against the window. The driver touched his finger to the center console and the dark tinted glass lowered without a sound. Leather scent mixed with cologne floated out in a blast of cool recirculated air. She leaned in and gave him her best come fuck me look.
“Lookin’ for a date, boss?” She communicated the essentials in a thick accent that said she wasn’t long removed from south of the border.
His hard look moved across her body and the set of his jaw told her he was out to satisfy a desire a typical wife would not abide. “Maybe. You a cop?”
“Shiiiit.… Hell no. Just lookin’ to hook up.” She let her eyes drift down, then back up. Her tone was meant to tease. “Party a bit.”
The driver leaned over and opened the passenger door. “Okay, get in, but hurry up. I want to get out of here.”
She stood up straight. “Do you one better, boss. Room twenty-two. Meet me in the parking lot. We’ll walk up together. You got a fine ride and all, but come on now.…” Her fingers glided down her stomach and past her thigh. “How ’bout we get comfortable?”
She turned toward the motel half a block away. Its neon sign flashed a room rate of thirty dollars for three hours. The car door slammed shut behind her and she cast a glance back over her shoulder, catching the man’s wry smile. “No thanks. Have a nice evening, Officer.”
“Eat shit, asshole!” She stepped off the curb and thrust her middle finger high in the air as the car sped away. A familiar voice came through her earpiece, laced with just a hint of impatience.
“Come on, Suarez. Get nasty with these guys. Try flashing a little up top.”
Maybe that would help, Detective Tia Suarez thought, shaking her head. It had been a while since she’d been out on a vice detail and there was no denying that she was a little uptight. She gave a nervous laugh. The put-on accent vanished as she responded, doing her best to keep the tremor out of her voice, “Yeah, Sarge? Well, if I did, it’d be the closest you ever got to second base.”
“I never stop at second. Always head straight for home.” The corner of Tia’s mouth quirked up at this reply from her assigned cover officer and boss, Sergeant Travis “TJ” Jackson. He was monitoring Tia’s position from the alley across the street, inside a box truck marked “Leno’s Panadería.” The two cops were assisting in a regional vice operation, on loan to Milwaukee PD from nearby Newberg.
Tia stood where she was sure the pole cam would have a good view and threw out her arms in invitation. “Well, feel free to come on out here. Just because the rules say U/Cs can’t get in the car don’t mean a stud like you couldn’t close the deal, right?”
TJ’s voice took on a challenging tone. “I don’t know, Suarez. That gal Shelia from Milwaukee PD, she didn’t have any problems working the corner. She bagged three. Maybe we ought to put her back out.”
“Bullshit.” There was no way Tia was getting shut out, not to mention shown up, by a rookie MPD cop working her first undercover detail. “Just keep your eye on the screen and tell the Milwaukee PD boys to be ready to roll in.”
Tia’s reputation was that of not only a first-rate detective but also a talented undercover operative who could slip into the role of “wet hooker” pretty quick. The average john figured she’d just recently crossed the border and never suspected she might be a cop. But tonight the fish just weren’t biting. Or was it something else? After all she had been through, Tia couldn’t help but wonder. Is it me? Is it too soon? Again the buzz in her ear.
“All right, but remember. You’re representing Newberg PD.” His voice was firm and Tia knew the chiding was only partially lighthearted. “Gotta show these city cops we can hang with the big boys.”
She made sure she sounded unconcerned. “You know, maybe you should come out here, Jackson. I’m starting to think you’d make a better queen-whore than I do a straight-up hooker.”
“Bullshit, girl. You make a great hooker. Hell, if I was driving by I’d be all over your tight little–”
In mid-sentence, TJ went from somewhere beyond flirtatious to dead serious. “Okay. Get in character. You got one slowing down. He’s looking at you from the parking lot on your six.” Tia picked up on the tension as well as the excitement in TJ’s voice. “He drove off camera, but he’s back there somewhere.”
She turned and saw a man standing just outside an idling panel van, taking a hard look at her. She set her hands on her hips, putting out the attitude of a working girl who was all business. Looking her up and down, the man kept his distance. Tia sauntered half a dozen steps toward him and the earpiece crackled. TJ’s voice was no-nonsense. “Okay, I got no visual on him and you’re right at the edge of the window. Bring him to you, Tia.”
The john took a few steps in her direction and Tia looked him over, glad she wouldn’t have to actually touch the guy. Bald and pasty white, he was wearing a sweat-soaked flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves. Tia guessed he was way north of three hundred pounds. His thick red beard could use a good combing. He didn’t strike her as a guy who showered with any frequency and just the thought of physical contact caused a shudder of revulsion that was hard to hide.
He stopped and called out, “Slide on over here, girlie. Let me talk to you.”
Tia walked forward a few paces but kept her distance. With her fake accent back in place, she put out the standard bullshit line that would tell anyone listening she had made contact with a john and was trying to reel him in. “What up, big man? You lookin’ for a date?”
The voice in her ear was edged with frustration. “You’ve gone offscreen, Suarez. Move back into the op area.”
The john closed in. “More than a date, honey. You work for somebody or you out here on your own?”
Tia ignored TJ’s warning and edged closer to her intended target, making sure she maintained the attitude of a girl ready to get on her back. “I don’t peddle this ass for nobody. Now, you wanna get with me or not?”
Her ear buzzed with an angry whisper. “Damn it, Suarez. Get back on camera, now.”
She knew she’d hear about this later, but she also knew TJ wanted the score as much as she did. After a pause, he continued, this time addressing the rest of the team. “Okay, guys, stand by. Suarez is working the john. I’ve got no visual but good audio. Sounds like he took the bait.”
The big man walked toward her, taking a hard look around the parking lot. He didn’t show the typical apprehension of a john, more the menacing disposition of a seasoned crook. Tia decided she was out far enough—she’d reel him in from here or cut him loose. He stopped about five feet in front of her. The heavy odor of his perspiration wafted through the air and his gaze darted over her body, sizing her up.
“Where you come from, darlin’? You just get in from Mexico or further south than that?”
“Just tell me what you want, boss man. You’re lookin’ for something special, I think.”
Without taking his eyes off her, he flashed a yellowed grin, raised one arm above his head, and waggled his fingers. Tia heard the van drop into gear and looked up to see it driving forward. The van stopped just behind the john and the driver, a skinny, pale-faced loser with a scraggly ponytail, stepped out. The deep red speed bumps of a hard-core tweak coated his face. Forget this. Game over.
“No go, man. I’m not doing two guys.” She ran both hands through her wig to signal distress, then remembered she was a good ten feet off camera. She managed one step toward the safety zone, but that was as far as she got.
One vise-like hand circled the back of her neck and another clamped down over her mouth. Meaty fingers pinched off her nostrils and the sudden lack of oxygen filled her with a drowning panic. The big man pulled her by the head, nearly lifting her off the ground, pushing and dragging her toward the van. Her four-inch stilettos put her at a distinct disadvantage and he was able to get her within two feet of the vehicle despite her struggles. His partner flung the side door open and stood by, wearing a shit-eating grin that made Tia wonder exactly what they had planned. The fat man spoke up. “In you go, girlie.”
Another shove and Tia stumbled toward the open door that now looked like a gaping mouth ready to swallow her whole. Yellow light from the streetlamps framed a shadowed image inside the vehicle. A face. A young girl. Dark brown skin. Brown eyes. A six-inch piece of heavy cloth duct tape covered her mouth from cheek to cheek. Long wisps of gray thread hung off each end, rising and falling in rhythm with her rapid breathing. Tia got her wits about her and pushed back, pulling hard at the hand across her mouth.
The john tightened his grip around her neck and called out to his partner, “Get over here. This bitch is strong.”
Her wig slid down the side of her head and the earpiece dangled loose around her neck. Tia did her best to scream. TJ’s frantic voice could be heard by everyone.
“Officer under assault. All units, code three response. Move, move, move!”
Engines and sirens fired to life, splitting the silence of the night. Fifteen seconds, she thought. Twenty seconds, max. That’s all I need.
Tia pulled her arm back and turned her body, delivering a full-strength elbow strike against her attacker’s windpipe, sending him to his knees. She sucked in a desperate breath and turned her attention to the second man, who came at her in a rush. She aimed a kick at his crotch and felt the stiletto heel pierce deep into the skin of his groin. He screamed in pain and joined his partner on the ground. The fat one clutched his throat but managed to speak. “She’s a cop. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Staring into the van, Tia kicked off her shoes. Her plan was simple. Grab the girl, hunker down, and wait for the cavalry. But Tia couldn’t see the captive anymore. She reached into the van, fumbling until, there. She grabbed hold of what felt like a foot. The skin was young but weathered and Tia could feel the years of work under the sun.
“Come to me, mija. Get out!”
Tia pulled until a massive weight knocked her to the asphalt. The fat man was on his feet, slamming the door shut. His partner, already back in the driver’s seat, dropped the engine into gear. The would-be john staggered for the passenger door as Tia pulled herself up off the ground. She spoke in perfect English, the accent gone. “Not so fast, fat boy.”
She launched herself onto his back, landing as if he were a plow horse. She encircled his neck in the crook of her arm and clamped down with a perfect carotid restraint. He threw his body backward, slamming her flush against the side of the van, but she maintained her hold. He called out in a weak voice, “God damn it, Jessup, get this bitch off me. Don’t leave me here.”
The tires chirped loud against the pavement as the van sped from the parking lot. Still riding his back, Tia watched as the van turned a corner, and the taillights winked good-bye. Her backup closed in, sirens wailing. She heard the final acceleration of sixteen cylinders and the scraping sound of the undercarriage against pavement as the cop cars sped into the parking lot from all directions, ignoring the marked exits and entrances. Red and blue light bathed the air.
She looked up to signal her exact location and in that moment of distraction the suspect flipped her off his back. Tia landed hard and the big man dropped on top of her, all three hundred plus pounds pushing her flat against the asphalt still warm from the day’s heat. His mouth was right up against her ear. “Out here playing cops and robbers, bitch? That’s gonna cost ya.”
The sound of opening car doors was followed by pounding boots. The first baton struck him near the head, barely missing Tia. More strikes began to rain down on his arms and legs and Tia was caught with a few glancing blows. “Watch out, guys. I’m right here.” Tia’s voice was now in command. “Get him off me and then you can beat his ass.”
A Milwaukee PD officer who looked like he could play linebacker for the Packers rolled the suspect away from Tia and the tune-up continued for considerably longer than necessary. TJ, who didn’t have the luxury of lights, siren, and 310 horsepower, arrived last. He worked to establish control over the chaos. “All right, guys, that’s enough. Get him cuffed.”
Still a little breathless from the thirty-second battle, Tia got to her feet. She grabbed Travis’s patrol radio, her voice steadying as she spoke. “Dispatch, this is Newberg Unit David-Fourteen. One in custody. Second subject fled in a white panel van. No visible plate. Last seen westbound on Lincoln Avenue. Possible kidnapping victim in the rear of vehicle.”
TJ took Tia by the shoulders and looked hard into her eyes. Tia saw the relief flood across his face, but his tone seemed almost condescending when he said, “Calm down, Tia. We’re here. Are you all right?”
Tia kept looking in the direction the van had gone. “There was a second guy. He took off. There was a girl in the back of that van. A teenager. Tied up and gagged. She … Damn, Travis. We need to find her.”
“Take it easy, Tia. We got this. Just take it easy.”
The suspect was now handcuffed and on his feet. Tia strode forward and delivered a full-force palm strike to his solar plexus. The air ran from his body as he dropped back to his knees. Tia followed up with a hard slap across his face with an open hand.
“Where’s your partner headed in that van? Who’s the girl?”
The man ignored Tia and looked at TJ. “This chick is crazy. I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
Tia drew back her fist to deliver a more meaningful blow that she figured might loosen his tongue. A hand grabbed her wrist. She turned, her face hot with adrenaline.
“He’s had enough, Tia,” TJ said.
Tia pulled her hand away and stepped back. She stared down the empty road, then closed her eyes. Tia knew where this was going. She knew what was in store. But it was real, she thought. Damn it, she was real.
Copyright © 2016 Neal Griffin.
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Neal Griffin is a twenty-five year veteran of law enforcement who grew up in the kind of town he writes about. He often speaks about law enforcement issues and police ethics to civilians and fellow cops. Griffin has participated in special training at FBI headquarters. Currently serving in a department in southern California, Griffin is married and has four children. His first novel was Benefit of the Doubt.