Jonah (Chicago Blaze #7) - Brenda Rothert
My heart races but my hands remain steady on my weapon. A Phoenix Police Department officer pounds a steel front door with a hand-held battering ram and the hinges rattle, nearly breaking free. Another strike with the ram and the door bursts open.
“Hands in the air!” my colleague Adrian shouts, entering the rundown three-bedroom ranch-style house. “Police! Hands in the air!”
I enter the house, overcome by the smell of pepperoni pizza and pot smoke. The sound of gunfire heightens my senses as I move behind a wall for cover.
My bulletproof vest isn’t enough protection for a mad dash through this room while bullets are flying. My job isn’t to fire on these guys—my colleagues have that covered. I’m here to find the victim.
“Get back in here, you piece of shit,” another Phoenix officer shouts, hauling back a man trying to flee through a window by pulling on the belt fastened around the waist of his jeans.
I poke my head around a corner and it’s clear enough that I’m able to crawl to the hallway. There are four doors in the hallway, all closed. With a deep breath, I stand up and call out my arrival before opening the first one.
It’s a dimly lit bathroom, all but one bulb in the light fixture above the sink burned out. The smell of rubber draws my gaze to a trash can in the corner of the room, and my stomach turns at the sight of used condoms, some hanging over the edge of the can, others dropped on the dirty linoleum floor.
I repeat the process at the next door, which is a tiny bedroom with dirty clothes scattered over the stained carpet and the giant bed that nearly fills the room. Keeping my weapon aimed in front of me, I approach the double closet doors and lower one hand to the handle, opening it.
There are several guns, including a semi-automatic rifle, on a shelf. I also see a pile of cash, a bong and more dirty clothes. There’s no one in this room, so I move on.
At the next door, I announce myself and open the door. When I flip the light switch on the wall, I see that this room is a lot like the last one. Smelly, with dirty clothes piled in a corner. There’s an empty pizza box on the floor and empty alcohol bottles crowding a small table. The big bed has no sheets and a stained, sagging mattress. The one window has plywood nailed into its frame.
Gun leveled, I make my way around to the side of the bed. There’s only about a foot between the bed and the wall, and a girl is huddled in the corner there, hugging her knees to her chest and shaking.
I exhale hard, relieved she’s alive. Then I lower my weapon.
“My name is Reyna Diaz,” I say gently. “I’m a federal agent, and I’m here to help you.”
She lifts her head from her knees to peek up at me, her dark eyes filled with terror. I stay where I am, knowing from my training that any sudden movement or getting too close could scare her even more right now.
“We’re clear,” Adrian says over the radio. “Two suspects deceased, one in custody.”
Knowing it’s safe to holster my gun after getting the all clear, I do so. I make sure the girl can see my empty hands in front of me, and I repeat, “I’m here to help you. I’m a federal agent. Okay?”
She lifts her head higher and I get a better look at her face. I scroll through my mental rolodex of missing children cases, but I don’t recognize her. We got a lead on the dirtbags in this house from an undercover agent monitoring the internet. What they call “sex with young girls” I call rape and kidnapping.
“Are there any other children here?” I ask her.
She shrugs, and I radio Adrian to check the final door for me.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I ask the girl, who looks maybe thirteen. “I have food if you’re hungry.”
I take a Snickers bar out of my pocket and her face lights up. I always bring a candy bar and some crackers to raids, because I learned the hard way that when I’m looking at a traumatized, hungry kid, it helps to have something to offer them.
“Do you have water?” she asks, her voice hoarse.
I push a button on my radio and speak into it. “I need a bottle of water