Mother's Blue Dress
Mara never forgot the fat man who hurt her. She spent all of her time weeping and wishing her mother to come. The men usually came at night - but sometimes during the day as well. Most of them smelled bad. Some of them made her drink things that made her feel bad and get sick. All of them hurt her. She had never imagined the things that men could do to her that were so evil and painful. Sometimes she wondered if her mother would think she was bad. Sometimes she believed she was.
The fat man came and told her every day that she was costing him a lot of money. He said she owed him for the room she was in, for the food she ate. But she could not understand it for he gave her very little to eat and she would gladly have left the room except that the door was locked.
One day three man came to her at the same time. They hurt her so badly, she thought she would die. They stayed much longer than other men. One of them kept asking her if she would like to go away with him. She did not know what to say. Will he hurt me more? Maybe I could get away. Finally she said that she wanted to go with him.
He got into a argument with the fat man. Mara was so battered and bleeding that she could not follow most of the talk, but the new man left without her. After he was gone, the fat man came and beat her with a stick screaming that she did not appreciate all he was doing for her. He hit her until he was too exhausted to continue. Between the abuse from the three men and the beating of the fat man, Mara fainted.
When she awoke, she was in a small, dirty room with several other girls. "Where am I?"
"We are going away," an older one commented. "You are coming, too."
"Am I going home?" Mara asked hopefully through her bruised lips.
"I don't know. We will have to go on a big ship and be very quiet. If we are found, they will drown us," the girl's eyes were wide. "But Harold says that we will go to America and make a lot of money."
Mara did not reply.
She could only dimly recall that she had wanted to make money and buy
the blue dress.
Jenny had just started the second pot of coffee for the morning. The first was usually finished before 7:00AM. McGarrett breathed in the nutty aroma of the brewing beans and waited as Kono and Chin settled themselves into the soft white nagahyde chairs of his office.
"All right, gentlemen, what is the latest?" Steve asked them. The smiling pencil-sketch of Tilly haunted him. Although the office was handling six cases right now, this was the one that filled his mind.
"A lead on an address," Chin offered first. "Word is that young girls are sold there."
"Sold?" Steve repeated, contemplating the word and all it meant. He was too familiar with the black market slavery trade of the Far East. It did not take much imagination to know that it would attempt to reach Hawaii.
"Girls come in. They become wives to men to gain citizenship," Chin commented. "The potential husbands pay a broker fee to the management. Some of it legal - some not."
Steve considered an industry that would sell human beings like property. Perhaps the 1860s were not so long ago. "Any word where these girls come from?"
Chin shrugged. "Mostly from Shanghai, Ceylon, India. They come on ships. Sometimes with visas. Sometimes not. Sometimes they are smuggled in, sold quietly. They live secret lives with the men who have bought them. Some of them are pretty badly used. Because they are not legally here, they live in the shadows and have nowhere to go for help. They don't even know there is help. They can end up in prostitution rings - worse."
Kono spoke up. "I got the names of three ships that operate in the transport of human cargo. One of them was in port two weeks ago: A Beleza."
"Portuguese for Beauty," Steve remarked.
"Well, it is a Brazilian registration," Kono added.
"Port-o-call before Honolulu?"
Kono glanced at his notes. "Manila. Before that Sri Lanka."
McGarrett picked up
the forensics report on his desk. "Our young victim had traces of
seed spores under her nails that are consistent with Sri Lanka. The woven
fabric of her dress is consistent with Ceylon or portions of India. It
would appear likely that she was aboard the A Beleza, as either
a passenger - or a slave."
It was just before 1:30PM when Dan Williams climbed the steps to the Iolani Palace for the first time. The wide mahogany stairway inside was impressive, but the high ceilings of the palace provided natural cooling from the afternoon warmth outside. He stopped before the doorway lettered "Hawaii Five-0" at the end of the second floor hallway, took a slow breath, then opened it.
"Good afternoon," said Jenny with a quiet professional smile. "May I help you?"
"I have an appointment with Chief McGarrett," he answered and took a seat in the straight-backed chair by the wall.
Jenny went back to her typewriter. The office was quiet for several minutes, then the intercom buzzed on her desk. She looked up. "You may go in, Mr. Williams."
He entered McGarrett's office, instantly aware of the arrangement of the furniture. The two white chairs grouped in a friendly fashion to one side for comfortable conversation; the large walnut desk and chair for the more formidable confrontations where strong authority was required. And which shall this be?
McGarrett rose from behind the desk. "Is it good to see you again," he said, extending a hand in a shake.
Danny accepted it. The grip was strong. He returned the same, looking McGarrett in the eye.
Steve was not surprised. His study of Williams had told him that in spite of his youth, Williams was not easily intimidated. "I have your application to HPD here - and your range results from yesterday." He gestured towards the white chairs.
Aha, the friendly conversation time. Danny took a seat, Steve the other.
"The results are impressive." Steve fingered the yellow form. "195 out of a possible 200."
"I was distracted by a bee on that one shot," he explained.
"Hum." Steve grinned inwardly. "Pretty high marks for someone who doesn't want a firearm." Danny did not give a reply and Steve changed the subject. "I have an assignment for you." He handed Danny the pencil sketch of the murdered girl.
He looked at the smiling innocent face. "Runaway?"
"She's dead," Steve said bluntly. "I believe she is the victim of a sex slave ring operating out of the Far East. She may have been aboard the A Beleza when it docked in Honolulu a little over two weeks ago. I have two officers following leads here. I need an unknown to act undercover onboard the ship. Seems right up your alley."
Nothing like jumping into the new job. Then he thought about Marjorie. I need to place some distance here until I can figure out what to say to Lew. This undercover will provide that. "When do I leave?"
Although McGarrett had hoped Williams would accept the mission, he had not dreamed it would come this easy. "You'll be on a flight in the morning to Hong Kong. From there to Singapore. The A Beleza is in Sri Lanka now and will leave port in two days. She will begin her trip back stopping in Singapore. Get yourself onboard in Singapore. If you find out anything, do not take action."
"It's a two week voyage from Singapore to Honolulu. A lot can happen," Danny remarked.
Steve nodded. "Still want the job?" He held out the flight ticket.
Danny took the envelope. "See you." He turned towards the door.
Steve followed him.
"Jenny," he called to the secretary. "Have Officer Williams
fill out the employment information. And call the life insurance company
so he gets added today."
Singapore was rainy, dirty and congested. Small battered autos competed with thousands of pedestrians and bikes through the compact streets that smelled of spicy food and rotting garbage. Danny adjusted the gray duffel of possessions on his shoulder and made his way towards the harbor. Most of the faces in the sea of humanity were darker than he and no one did more than glance in his direction before diverting the gaze back to the ground ahead. He did likewise, intentionally wanting to be detached from this place. Two blocks from the wharf, the tattoo shops, cheap souvenir shops, bars and whorehouses seemed to proliferate. He caught his own reflection in a window. Four days beard growth, brown knit cap jammed onto his head, sweatshirt and jeans mildly tattered -- it was a stranger he saw instead of the usually immaculate dresser.
As he passed, a young girl called to him from the open doorway. "American boy, you want to see what I do for you?" Her scanty attire left little to the imagination about what she was peddling.
He glanced at her, guessing her age somewhere around twelve or thirteen. He kept walking.
"Hey, I no pretty for you?!" she shouted angrily.
He did not look back. He reached dockside and continued down to the pier where the A Beleza was berthed. The freighter loomed large, most of her container cargo was already loaded aboard and she rode low almost to the waterline. The deck crew aboard were lashing the containers under the supervision of a short, broad, red-faced man who screamed at them in a mixture of English and French.
Danny entered the small office in the building just off the pier. Inside, a tall man dressed in the freight line's officer's uniform sat behind the desk, a stack of manifest sheets before him, a cigarette burning away in the ashtray on the corner of the desk.
The man did not look up from his paperwork. "You are late," he declared in a heavy British accent.
"Excuse me?" Danny replied, dropping the duffel.
The man looked up, face stiff. "You are late," he repeated.
Danny blinked. "Late for what? I was told three thirty."
"The time was to have been two forty-five," the man snapped back.
Danny relaxed, the code statement finished. This was Strickland's agent. "Do you have a job left? I want passage to Honolulu."
"Depends on what you can do," the man replied.
He nodded. "There is one position left. Report to the first officer. You will work on the forward boiler crew." He extended a hand that Danny took in a handshake.
When Danny drew back his hand, he felt the small key that had been tucked between his fingers. He slipped his hand into his pocket. He pulled the duffel back over his shoulder and left the office. It was starting to drizzle as he made his way up the gangway. He held out his paper to the officer on watch.
The man nodded gruffly. "Stow your gear below in crew's quarters three. Report to the boson's mate in thirty minutes."
Danny stepped up on deck headed for the aft door knowing he was on his own to locate both the quarters and the boson's mate. Not a real friendly bunch. He noticed the captain of the ship standing at the forward gangway and the two men who approached him.
The paying passengers were being greeted with much more hospitality by the ship's captain. There were only two passengers: a large man who seemed to threaten to burst out of his three piece suit, and a tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed American. Steve McGarrett did not allow his gaze to drift to the figure in the brown knit cap at the stern who was stepping through the aft door.
The captain of the ship, Captain Hermano, in dress uniform greeted each of them with a warm smile of hospitality and in his best accented English personally took each to his stateroom informing them that castoff was in thirty minutes and dinner would be at his quarters at eighteen-hundred hours.
As the stateroom door
shut, McGarrett allowed himself to take a deep breath and let it out.
He'd been following his fellow passenger for two days before they had
come aboard. The man seemed ignorant of him until now. But as fellow travelers,
he would now alter his tactic from stealth observation to friendship.
Danny made his way below decks towards the crews' quarters a passing seaman had pointed out to him. The room was tightly packed with two level bunks and housed twenty men. Four men were crammed at one end in a game of cards. A fifth man sprawled across a lower bunk, chewing on tobacco, looking at a magazine. The man turned the journal to get a better view of the centerfold.
Danny glanced around, trying to determine which bunk might be unclaimed.
"That one," the man with the magazine said, spitting into a coffee can.
Danny dropped the duffel on a lower bunk. "Thanks." He was mildly pleased a lower bunk had been available.
The men in the card game looked up at the doorway. A large, muscular black man was stooping to step over the doorsill into the quarters. One of the card players snickered and elbowed the sailor next to him.
The large man set an angry gaze on Danny, stopping directly in front of him.
Challenging a man who both outsized and outweighed him two to one did not seem like a wise choice. Danny tried not to look at the large black biceps that were flexing inside the stark white t-shirt. Without taking his eyes from this silent threat Danny commented to the tobacco-chewing crewmember: "Thought you said this bed was open."
The older man gave a grin and spit into the can again. "Hell, that's just Mbutu. Ain't his sack - he's jest tryin' ta' put one over on ya'. Ain't a'scared of a nigger are ya?"
Danny lifted his eyes to meet those of the man before him. "Is this your bunk?" he asked the man.
"He don't speak English," the first man declared. "He's one of those real Africans - speaks Swahili or something. Jest look 'em in the eye and make 'im git. You gotta keep 'em in their place - like a dog, you know? Show 'em who's boss."
Danny's eyes remained fixed on the deep eyes of his would-be aggressor. "So this is your bunk?" he asked. He slowly reached over with one hand and pulled the duffel from the bunk. "Sorry."
The tobacco-chewing sailor cursed and spit into the can disappointedly.
Danny extended a handshake carefully, still maintaining eye contact with the large newcomer.
Mbutu's nostrils flared slightly, then he slowly enveloped Danny's hand in his large one as he accepted the shake. Taking Danny's duffel, he lifted it up onto the mattress of the upper bunk. He patted the bunk once, gave a nod and walked away.
Danny glanced again
at the man with the can. The man issued a single grunt and looked away.
Danny hoisted himself up onto the upper bunk, careful not to hit his head
on the bulkhead above that cleared the top of bunk by less than 18 inches.
Steve's fellow traveler had the small stateroom immediately across the hall from him. By the time he had squeezed his way down the narrow corridor and through the small doorway, he was out of breath.
"You okay?" Steve asked him.
He gave a brief nod. "These places have not been well constructed for convenience," he commented, pulling a handkerchief and wiping the sweat from his face. "But for the entrepreneur who would like to oversee his cargo - priceless."
Steve managed a small smile.
The man stuck out a hand. "Harold Sizegate."
Steve accepted the hand. "Steve McGarrett," he replied quietly.
"I trust I will see you at dinner then." Harold commented, turned into his room and shut the door.
Steve went into his room and placed his small bag on the bed. He was relieved for he had suspected Harold would have been a talker. There was the feel of a salesman about him. He and I are the only two paying passengers aboard. Strickland's people say that the A Beleza is carrying human cargo. I am in the right place.
He sat down on the one hard chair in the room and pulled the large envelope from his bag. It had been given to him by Hong Kong agents when his plane had landed. He looked at the first photo. It was of a filthy, mud-spattered room. There was a bug-infested mat in the corner and a steel spike driven into the dirt floor with shackles attached to it. The picture was not of great quality and the darkness contributed to the sullen despair of the small prison. A second picture was a two young girls, no older than twelve, dirty, matted hair, soiled worn clothing, huddled in a corner, clinging to each other. But the haunted look of pain in their eyes was wrenching. On the back was scrawled - "occupants, names and ages unknown. Note marks on wrists of girl on left." Steve turned the photo back and could see the bruise marks that matched the shackles from the first picture. The brief report explained how detectives in Hong Kong had broken the slavery ring in their city, but too late to retrieve the other four children they suspected were being smuggled out to either Asia or America. The smugglers had fled and disappeared.
Steve felt the emotion rise in his chest as he struggled to contain the horror of human beings that would bring such atrocities to children. He knew that men who preyed upon women and children had existed since time began, but it made the crime no less heinous. He thought about Harold Sizegate and the power such a large man could flaunt over a mere child. The longer he considered the thought, the blacker his emotion became. Unexpectedly, the plastic pen he had held in his hand cracked and snapped, smearing ink on the small table. The event shocked Steve back to the present and he scrambled to get a towel to contain the black sticky ink. I need to sit with this barbarian and hold pleasant dinner conversation with him in an hour. It will take the acting of a career to contain what I'd like to do to this monster. Where is his precious endangered cargo? Somewhere on this ship there are young girls like the ones in that photo. Where? I have been told by Strickland that the captain is trustworthy, but is he reliable? I have never known Strickland to fail, but there is no margin for error here. It would be a simple business to vanish overboard forever. I will need to depend on Williams to locate the girls. Can he be trusted? He considered what he knew to be true.
A deal? It sounded
like Camp had been bartering a human life like a cattle sale or new car
purchase. Life is cheap to Camp. And to Sizegate? It must be worth much
more on the black market. Steve stared out of the small porthole and
listened to the sound of the engines as the ship made its way out to sea.