Darren had never heard any of Talon’s daughters speak, or Talon’s wife for that matter. They all looked the same, with long skirts, blouses, and braided hair. And they always shuffled around with their heads bowed.
The daughter knelt beside Talon and picked up a tray with the remains of his dinner. As she stood, he grabbed her arm and yanked her to him. The tray thudded to the floor.
“Nov jot ia!”
Let her go!
Both Talon and his daughter snapped surprised eyes toward Darren, as if neither could believe someone actually had the nerve to speak up against Talon, to defend a female.
He’d witnessed Talon treat other women harshly, too. And the women never fought back. In one way the subservience annoyed Darren. Why did the women allow themselves to be treated like that? Why wouldn’t they just leave? The reservation had no iron gates, anybody could walk off at any time.
Darren’s mother had.
In another way the situation irritated him. Actually, it ticked him off. What gave Talon or any man the right to treat women like that? Did it boost his ego? It didn’t do that for Darren. It made him physically ill.
With a sardonic chuckle, the chief shoved his daughter away. She quickly picked up the tray and scurried out of the room.
Talon placed a small log on the fire, making the flames grow.
Shadows flickered off his Mohawk and his chest.
, two words Darren had always associated with the chief.
Talon rubbed his fingers over the thick, black stripes tattooed down his chin. “
Auet itipfoavjot uu foif.”
Your grandmother is dead.
“Jot eotooapa uu vaoattay.”
Her ceremony is tomorrow.
Darren wiped a trail of sweat from his cheek. “
Unn do vjoto.”
I’ll be there.
Silence fell between them as they stared at each other in the dim light.
All he wanted to do was get on his horse and ride, fast and hard. Anywhere. Everywhere. His horse had been and would always be his refuge. But out of respect for his mother, he would attend the ceremony.
Talon cleared his throat and spit into the fire. “You will stay here,” he said, switching to English, “in your grandmother’s apartment.”
No way. Darren had already thought about it. He was leaving as soon as Grandmother’s ceremony ended. “I’ve made other plans.”
The chief chuckled low and humorlessly. “What plans? You are seventeen. You have no money.”
It didn’t matter. Darren would live in the cliffs, the mountains, the woods, any place but here. “I’ve made other plans.”
Talon ran his tongue across his teeth. “You have a unique gift. The gods chose you. You must repay the gods by honoring your blood.”
Even in the overheated room, Darren’s body chilled. “What do you mean?”
“Your tongue is magic.”
Darren had never told anyone about his special ability. His grandmother must have opened her mouth. But not even
knew the extent of his gift.
No one did.
You keep this a secret,
Darren’s mother had made him promise.
Not until you’re grown and gone, old enough to have wisdom, do you tell anybody of your talent. People will expoit it if they have the chance.
He remembered how she’d play a tape in another language, and he’d mimic the speech. They’d laugh. It was a childhood game. One he often thought of fondly.
“My tongue is like anyone else’s,” Darren lied.
“I have a job for you. It pays well.”
The chief grunted. “You will be.”
“The Uopoei Nation does great business. International. Thirty-one countries now. You will translate transactions. Interpret the meetings.”
“It’s important business. There’s a lot of honor that goes with being involved.”
Illegal, I’m sure. “
I said no.”
Talon smirked as he took a small poker from the fire and touched it to his pipe. “I know where your mother is.”
Hope surged through Darren. Talon knew Darren would do anything for that information. “Where?”
The chief puffed his pipe three times. “
Aae fu lad. U vonn aae xjoto aaet oavjot uu.”
You work for me, and I’ll tell you where your mother is.
squinting against The venezuelan sun, Darren watched a plane touch down on the deserted runway.
Why did these business transactions always take place in the middle of nowhere?
Two weeks ago he’d been in a Russian forest.
Three weeks ago it’d been the Swedish mountains.
Last week it was a boat in China.
Never once had Darren seen “the cargo.” Nor had anybody called it anything other than “the cargo.” And Talon never came with Darren on these trips.
Something illegal was definitely going on.
Darren cared, sure he cared.
But he cared more about finding his mother.
Darren reminded himself. That was what he and Talon had agreed upon. Six months and he’d know where his mother was.
The big guy beside Darren adjusted his dark sunglasses. “
Esta supuesto ser el mejor cargamento.”
Supposed to be the best cargo yet.
Darren didn’t know the guy’s name. Nobody knew anyone else’s name. All Darren knew was what languages to speak. Today it’d be Spanish and German.
The plane pulled past them, pushing a warm, fuel-scented gust of wind across the runway. Holding on to his cowboy hat, the South American guy led the way over the packed dirt to where the plane stopped.
The back of it slowly lowered, and a man and a woman walked out, both blond and dressed in white business suits. Behind them in the plane’s belly sat a huge silver crate, big enough to hold livestock.
Cowboy-Hat Guy nodded to the man and the woman. “
¿Todo está listo?”
Is everything ready?
“Wilkommen. Ist alles fertig?”
Darren translated to the German couple.
The woman glanced beyond him to the semitruck that Cowboy-Hat Guy had driven and the motorcycle Darren rode. “
Haben Sie unser Geld?”
Do you have our money?
As soon as the money and the cargo exchanged hands, everyone would go their separate ways. Darren never knew where “the cargo” ended up.
“¿Tienes nuestro dinero?”
He interpreted for Cowboy-Hat Guy.
Cowboy lifted the brown leather duffel bag he held in his left hand.
The woman descended the metal ramp leading from the plane and took the duffel bag.
And then everything happened in a blur.
Cowboy threw the woman to the ground and drew a gun on the blond man. “
¡Policía! No se muevan.”
Police! Don’t move.
The doors to the semi banged open. Out jumped a squad of guys with machine guns. They raced across the tarmac and up the ramp into the plane.
A squad guy handcuffed the blond man.
Cowboy handcuffed the woman.
Before Darren had time to think, move, or breathe, he was thrown to the ground and handcuffed, too.
Two guys smashed the padlocks on the silver crate, opened the doors, and stepped back.
Nobody said a word.
Darren kept his gaze glued to the crate. From the shadows stumbled a young girl, maybe twelve, dressed in ragged clothes. Then another came out, even younger, dressed the same. And then another.
Darren’s stomach rolled on a wave of nausea as girl after girl stepped from the crate. Some crying, others wide-eyed with fear. Some clung to one another while others used their hands and arms to shield the bright sun. There were about thirty in all.
A squad guy ran up the ramp carrying blankets. The girls cowered. “
Dígales que está bien. Somos la policía. Van a regresar a sus padres.”
Tell them it’s okay. We’re the police. They’re going home to their parents.
“Es ist O.K.,”
Darren translated to German. “
Das ist die Polizei. Sie gehen nach Hause zu ihren Eltern.”
The girls began sobbing as the police wrapped blankets around their tiny bodies. Darren swallowed as he watched the guys escort the scared girls down the ramp.
Even though he suspected the answer, Darren asked anyway,
Who are they?
“Ahora son niñas incocentes, pero esta noche habrían sido vendidas a la esclavitud.”
Right now they’re innocent little girls, but tonight they’d have been sold into slavery. Darren’s lunch shot a burning path from his stomach. He turned and threw up.
The cop unlocked The cell and shoved Darren inside. He’d never been in jail before, never even seen the inside of a police station. For that matter, he’d never been in a squad car before.
Without looking around, he sat on a wooden bench to the left. As long as he kept to himself and didn’t seem scared, everyone should leave him alone.
That’s what he’d told himself a hundred times since being handcuffed forty-five minutes ago.
A skinny man dressed in red long johns rolled out from under a bench on the other side of the cell. His wispy black hair stuck out in a million directions.
He trotted around the place, waving his arms. “
Another cell occupant shoved the skinny man, and he stumbled across the cement straight into Darren.
His heart slammed his ribs. “Get away from me,” Darren ordered in Spanish.
With blurry eyes, the skinny man grinned. “Hee-hee-hee.” A rotten stench seeped from the man’s mouth.
Darren held his breath.