“I was amazed as people must be who are seized and kidnapped, and who realize that in the strange world of their captors they have a value absolutely unconnected with anything they know about themselves.”- Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women (1971)
April 19, 2015,
21:29 local time,
RSC Field Office,
Verona, Venetia Province, Roman Republic
This is Roberto Tranquilla. He’s 45 and looks 55. His nickname is Bob. Bob was a veteran detective in Taranto for ten years, working in homicide and anti-trafficking, before he came to the Roman Special Crimes department two years ago. He was recruited to work in the RSC because when the RSC had a case in Taranto, he was instrumental in helping them catch the killer. They were impressed with his abilities and asked him to join them. He disdains the regulations because they “get in the way”, but he follows them anyway, though through his experiences he knows how to cut the necessary corners. He’s married with two kids. His wife is cheating with his best friend. His hair is thinning because he works too hard and the stress has become too much, though he’s too stubborn to admit that. He’s got a dog, Pucci. He drives a minivan. He’s tubby. He can’t cook. He’s got a spot on his tie from when he grabbed a quick lunch from the taco truck on the corner. That doesn't matter. It’s an ugly tie anyhow.
Tonight, he was stuck at the office, but not because he had a lot of work to do. Sure, he found things to do while he was there, but this weekend was all about inventing excuses so he wouldn’t have to deal with his family. His wife told him that she was “away” on business but he knew what that actually meant, and she took the kids with her, no doubt to continue brainwashing them against their dad. At some point, he knew he’d have to stand up to his wife and do what’s best for his life, but lately he had neither the time nor the energy to do so.
Feeling thirsty, Bob got up from his desk and walked across the length of the bullpen floor to the cafeteria, whose only offerings at this hour were an assortment of snack food and soft drink offerings. He rubbed his eyes in a vain attempt to jolt himself awake, before sighing at the machine. There was always too many choices, Bob thought, and since the coin return function never seemed to work, he always had to make a few selections before he was able to come up with something to munch on. After a few seconds, he finally made up his mind and put in his coins.
“Seriously?” Bob said, groaning in his grizzled gruff voice as the machine told him the lime soda was sold out. Frustrated, he pressed the coin return button, thinking that maybe this time the button would work even though it was a fool’s game. After pressing it so many times, Bob kicked the machine in anger before putting his arm on to the machine and leaning his head on it, again letting out another sigh.
His ordeal wasn’t unnoticed. Carla Duke was sitting by herself in the cafeteria when she heard Bob hack away at the machine in frustration. Duke is 27, a recent graduate of the RSC Academy after graduating at the top of her Criminology class at Simon Fraser University. She is a sponge intellectually, able to learn quickly and gather considerable knowledge about anything in a matter of moments. She always smiled and offered many a friendly gesture to everyone she met, often aiming simply to brighten one’s long, often thankless day.
Despite her gifts, she suffered from many insecurities, and second-guessed herself often. Her youth meant that many still doubted her abilities, since she never had quite the experiences many of the veteran agents had. A shapely redhead with ivory skin, she wore prescription lenses along with a loose-fitting, long-sleeved blouse and a maxi skirt, which she wore mainly due to her own insecurities about her own beauty. She has an impulsive streak and is very eager, and her many smiles and general friendliness was a cover for her own feelings of loneliness. At 13, her parents were both arrested for kidnapping the girl Duke thought all along was her sister, forcing Duke to live out her teenage years at the house of her largely indifferent aunt, more concerned with partying than rearing her kid.
So when she had the chance to come to Italy, she jumped at it, since it was an escape from her turgid life, even though it’s been quite the adjustment.
“It’s…um,” said Duke walking up to Bob, slouched over the machine. She nervously cleared up her throat before continuing. “It’s…it’s an old machine…the button’s…um…likely loose.”
“No kidding,” said Bob, grunting as he slowly lifted his head from the machine. He turned his head to look at Duke and acknowledge her presence, but the sight of the scowl on his face and his large frame intimidated the youngster, who stepped back in fear.
“What are you doing here kid?” Bob asked, folding his arms. “It’s Sunday night…shouldn’t you be at home, enjoying life or something?”
“Well, I, uh,” said Duke, stuttering, “I’ve got work to do as well.”
“Really? What kind of work?”
“Oh…oh…it’s nothing.” Duke hung her head in embarrassment before flashing a nervous smile, though she hardly kept eye contact with Bob.
“C’mon, kid.” Bob lowered his arms and flashed his own wry smile, which relaxed Duke a little. “We’re the only two people in the office at this hour…must be something big if you had to come in.” Bob usually scorned the youngsters, but Duke, through their few interactions, always struck a chord with him.
Duke took a deep breath and paused for a moment to regain her composure, which elicited a chuckle from Bob.
“It’s Sergio Sacchi’s case,” she said. “I’ve been following it as much as I can…reading what I could…I have a hard time believing the police’s conclusion…she had to have been kidnapped…there’s too many Birean rumours for them not to mean anything. Something big is going on and the man needs our help.”
“I agree,” said Bob, assuredly.
“Really?” replied Duke with a wide smile.
A sense of relief overcame Duke, with her breathing becoming even more relaxed as she was overcome with euphoria.
“Really?” she repeated to Bob, overcome with excitement.
“Yes,” said Bob, who thought Duke was going a bit overboard but did enjoy her enthusiasm.
“You’re the first person that didn’t brush me off after I brought up the case…everyone dismisses me.”
“I know…it’s sad. I only know bits and pieces, but I never bought that it wasn’t a kidnapping. I worked in trafficking for decades…I’ve seen it all the time…‘missing’ people who get lost in these rings and turn up halfway across the globe…and we lose a step because traffickers are so good at covering their tracks and making things look like something else. Especially the Bireans…right now, they’re desperate enough to try anything.”
“I agree…I agree completely. Conservatively, 15 million Birean men will be unable to find a wife- couple that with Birean Islam’s proclivity for multiple wives and a strong aversion to same-sex unions, and the market for wife-napping could be much bigger, maybe even 45 million.”
“45 million eligible bachelors…that’s a market.”
“Which is why this is serious…but no one wants to do anything about it.”
“If you want my help in this matter, I’d be more than happy to assist you.”
Duke smiled, appreciative of Bob’s offer. “That would be great, thank you.”
“Let’s have a seat and we can talk about it some more.”
“Yes, yes…of course.” Duke then looked behind Bob and noticed something.
“Oh,” she said with a chuckle. “Looks like the machine was nice to you after all.”
Bob turned around and saw that a cola drink had emerged from the machine. He smiled before palming the drink, offering it to Duke (who refused) before opening it himself. He had a small swig before accompanying Duke to a table to talk some more about the case.