“I am writing this letter in the hope that it will get to you somehow. After leaving you I was taken in a vehicle with blackened windows to an underground holding facility. I have no idea where I am, or how long they intend to hold me before taking me to trial. I have not talked to anyone in the past two weeks. They don’t seem to be interested in anything I have to say.
“I wish things could have turned out differently, but I have continuing faith in God. I know that He continues to use me, and will use me as long as I submit to His will. I stand faithful as each day I surrender to Him. I ask that you place your faith and trust in Him as well.
“I cherish the few moments we had together in the elevator. They have taken everything away from me, but I managed to keep the photo you gave me of my son. That photo and the few seconds we had together were the best gift I have received in years. With God’s blessing, they will sustain me until this adventure is resolved.
“God bless you. I will write when I can.
“Your loving husband, Harris.”
Seventeen-year-old Ruth waited for a long moment on the phone after she finished reading the letter. She knew that it was hard for Katya to absorb the words, and she secretly hoped that Katya would break the silence. Instead she heard only sniffling from the other end, which she presumed accompanied Katya’s crying. Finally, Ruth decided to speak.
“That letter was smuggled out to us by a sympathetic guard a few weeks ago. When we heard where Harris was being held captive, we planned a prison break. We had everything planned and were two days from execution when we got word from our inside informant that he had been moved to another prison.”
“Where?” Katya asked.
“We’re still working on that. As far as we can tell, it’s off the grid. Bobby, our hacker, can’t find any trace of Harris, or Elijah Brown or any other pseudonym they might have used for him in the Federal Correctional Facility database, in the Homeland Security database, or in the FBI website. But we will keep trying.”
Another sniff. “Ruth, you have no idea how much I appreciate all the work you and the others are doing in finding Harris. I just wish I were closer so that I could help out.”
“You did the right thing in leaving the country as quickly as you did. The way I hear it, Universal and their friends had the borders and airports locked down looking for you within 24 hours. You can’t let them use you or your son as leverage on Harris.”
Ruth waited for more from Katya, but could tell the conversation was winding down.
“What now? What can I do to help?” Katya said finally.
Ruth shook her head, as if Katya could see her gesture 10,000 miles away in Russia. “You’re doing it. Stay out of sight. Keep a low profile. In the meantime, be assured that we will never, NEVER give up the search for your husband. We all owe him too much.”
Ruth flipped the cell phone closed and sighed, looking across the table at the three other Heretics. Her 15-year-old brother Josh sat impatiently, his knee jiggling up and down in a nervous tic. The others, Esther and James, were finishing their plates of spaghetti. They were the same age as Ruth and Josh, and had somewhat the same spotty history of living on the streets, minor police records, abuse and salvation from the hand of Harris Borden and his Heretics.
The Italian restaurant where they had met was empty other than one waiter, who stood patiently in the far corner, and Mac, the owner and chef who worked in back. Mac had become sympathetic to their cause. Not only did they find the usually empty restaurant a convenient place to meet, Mac provided them with all the spaghetti they could eat, free of charge. Ruth looked at the other three, who continued to look at their plates.
“Something wrong?” Ruth asked, raising an eyebrow. She pushed her shaggy blue hair back from her face and leaned forward. “You guys OK?”
“Esther and James have had second thoughts,” Josh said. “This isn’t like any of the other times.”
“You mean you’re nervous because the Boss is gone,” Ruth said sharply. “We’ve already talked about this. Harris wouldn’t want us to sit down and wait for the end just because he is gone. We’re still doing God’s work, after all.”
“Are we?” Esther said, leaning forward over the table, her long black hair spilling forward. “Did God come to you and tell you that we are supposed to hit this freighter? I don’t recall anyone getting messages from God but Harris. Or maybe there’s something you haven’t shared with us.”
“Look, we all voted Ruth in charge,” Josh said. “Just because you guys are getting cold feet doesn’t mean you can change things.”
Ruth held out her hand to hush her little brother. “Nevermind, Josh. You guys want me to step down? I will, in a heartbeat. I never wanted to be in charge.”
Esther shook her head. “You know that’s not what we want. I just want to make sure we are doing the right thing here.”
Ruth nodded. “All our intel says that there are over 200 teenager girls on that Albanian freighter. It sets sail tomorrow morning for Marsailles. Those girls will be sold into slavery and their lives will be over. You want them to live the life that we went through on the streets, Esther? Selling your body for a crust of bread? Is that what you want for them?”
Esther didn’t answer, but looked down, and Ruth knew she had made her point.
“OK, then we strike in exactly two hours. Josh and his team will take out the dock gang and get us through the gates. Daniel’s team will take out the ship’s crew in their cabins and on deck. Esther and I will lead the others below to the hold to get the girls. We will have 15 minutes for the entire operation.”
Ruth gave each of them two sheets of paper; one with the map of the dock area and the two ramps leading onto the old freighter, the other with a diagram of the four levels of the ship.
They spent the next 20 minutes answering all their questions, then stood to leave. Ruth waved to Mac in the back and then turned back to the rest of them.
“Look, let’s pray on this one,” she said. “It’s the first rescue we’ve put together since…well, since.” The others nodded and Ruth led them in a simple prayer. She tried to put forward a look of confidence to the others, but the reality was, she was as frightened, if not more, than any of the others. Like all the others, she had leaned heavily on Harris’ training and confidence. Now the Heretics were without their usual leader, but had just as much of a challenge before them as when he was in charge.
God, protect us all, she whispered to herself.
The foursome got into her black Chevy freight van with the darkened windows and drove to the rally point. It was already a major achievement, she told herself. Heretics from all over the country had come to show their support for this rescue. She recognized a few of them, but most were strangers to her, and were probably known only to Harris as being sheep from the same fold. Fact is, everyone was hurting with the loss of Harris. This rescue was important to show them that they weren’t lost without Borden, and that there was still hope.
The rally point was inside an abandoned warehouse just six blocks from the docks. They drove the van into the opened door and into the middle of the main floor of the big building. The four of them stepped from the van amid cheers from the crowd of Heretics. Ruth waved her hand for silence, and she felt a wave of nausea roll over her stomach as she opened her mouth to speak. Josh looked at her as she shut her mouth and leaned hard against the van.
“You OK?” he asked.
She inhaled through her nose and nodded quickly. She turned back to the crowd and opened her mouth to speak. Instead of words, out of her mouth came an eruption of vomit. She folded in half as the stream of fluid and half-eaten spaghetti flew from her mouth.
“Whoa!” the crowd said in one voice and backed away. Josh grabbed her shoulder and led her around to the other side of the van. Ruth’s stomach twisted within her, and she opened her mouth to vomit and vomit again. Every time she thought the nausea was over and she opened her mouth to speak, another wave caught her and she covered the floor in front of her. After a long fifteen minutes, the nausea started to subside.
“We’re running…running behind schedule,” she got out, speaking to Josh, and to Esther, who had joined them. “I’m OK. I will be fine.” She tried to stand and pushed against Josh, who pushed her back down into a sitting position.
“You’re not OK,” Josh said. “You’re white as a sheet and can’t even stand.” He turned to Esther. “I think we need to scrub the mission.”
“No!” Ruth said, looking up at the other two. “You can’t do that. That ship sails at dawn. You guys are the only chance those girls have.”
“You guys?” Esther repeated to Ruth.
Ruth nodded. “Josh is right. I’m in no condition to lead. I would only slow you all down. I’m putting you in charge, Esther.”
Esther looked at Josh, who paused, then nodded. Esther shrugged and turned back to the others. Josh looked at his sister, who waved him away.
“I’m all right,” she said. “Just leave me. I will listen to your progress on the radio.” Josh nodded, then joined the others.
Ruth retched again. “Mac, what did you feed me?” Then she remembered that Mac had recommended his new mushroom sauce and she had been the only one who had ordered it. “”I’ll never eat mushrooms again,” she moaned.
She listened to Esther giving a quick overview to the others, and realized that she had made the right decision. She felt proud when Josh took over and told the others that they would be using a combination of homemade tear gas and stun guns to immobilize the guards and sailors they would meet. Bobby was there as well, letting them know that he would go to the bridge to search the ship logs and make sure they didn’t leave anyone or anything important behind.
“They’ll be fine,” Ruth told herself, as she watched the teams leave the warehouse and head for the docks. Yet she wasn’t sure if the queasy feeling in her stomach was from the food poisoning or from a feeling of apprehension.
A few minutes later, she used the side of the van to help support herself as she walked/crawled around to the driver’s seat. She climbed inside and switched on the CB radio.
“Team one in place,” she heard James’ voice say finally. “Resistance is futile. I mean, taken out.” Ruth rolled her eyes at the last comment, knowing that James was a big Star Trek fan.
“By the numbers, Team One,” she heard Esther say to James. In other words, get serious, Dude.
“Team two in place,” she heard Josh say a few minutes later. “Minimal resistance. Be aware, they have Uzis.”
Uzis? Ruth thought. Why would Armenian sailors in San Pedro Harbor be carrying machine pistols? Something’s not right, she thought.
“Team three and four proceed below decks,” Esther said. Ruth tried to visualize the rescue teams taking the stairwell down below decks and to the forward compartment where the captives were supposed to be held.
“Be aware that the radio probably won’t work below decks,” Bobby said. Ruth knew that he was headed for the bridge as he spoke. There was a long moment of silence, and Ruth waited for any signal that they had been successful. In the meantime she continued to think about the automatic guns they had found. What did this mean?
As she thought, she heard the sound of trucks outside. She opened the door of the van and stepped carefully over to the half-opened door to the warehouse. When she got there, she saw that a line of Humvees and black sedans was driving outside on the street in the direction of the dock. It’s a trap, she realized. Someone knew their plan.
Forgetting her nausea, she ran back to the van and tore open the driver’s door. She reached for the microphone on the CB and pushed the button.
“All teams,” she shouted. “This is Ruth. Abort! I say again, abort. It is a trap!”
There was no response from the CB. Instead, she began the hear the sharp crack of automatic rifle fire coming from the freighter. Her stomach went up to her throat, and not because she had been vomiting. She jumped into the front seat of the van and slammed the door shut. She turned the key and started it, shoving it quickly into gear. Then she floored it.
The black van hit the half-opened door at the edge of the large entrance. The door responded by ripping from its hinged and tearing away. Silver metal screamed around her as it folded over the top of the van. Ruth pushed the accelerator harder and the van leaped out into the street.
She made a quick left and then a right onto the street where she had seen the Humvees pass by. She saw two vehicles pulled across the street ahead of her, blocking her way. She realized that she would have to go on foot.
She stopped her engine and shut off the engine. She listened on the CB channel they had set aside for communication, but all she got was static. She realized that someone was purposely jamming that channel, so she switched to other channels. She finally found some voices on channel 2.
“Get off the ship,” she heard Esther’s voice say. “Get to the deck and jump off the ship. It’s your only–.”
Esther’s words were interrupted as Ruth heard a strange, deep whumping sound. It happened twice, and then she saw a huge fireball rise in the sky from where she knew the freighter was docked. A second later, she felt a blast of hot air, and the whumping became a kaboom.
The shock wave that followed next shook the van she was in. As she watched, two men, apparently Federal officials of some sort, were thrown to the ground behind the Humvees. Another fireball, this one many times bigger, rose in the sky, lighting the night like the Fourth of July.
Pieces of burning debris flew through the air. Ruth watched as a burning chair fell out of the sky and landed just feet in front of her van. And two thoughts came into her mind.
First, no one could have survived a blast like that.
Second, her brother was on that ship.