There were a lot of things Caleb couldn’t remember: his birthday, his age, what his name used to be. It didn’t bother him to not remember, though he sometimes wished he knew where he’d grown up so he could avoid it. This small detail had the ability to put him on edge whenever he was forced to visit America for one reason or another. What if he had a mother who thought he was dead? It was his secret horror to fathom a mother elated at the sight of him. Because whoever her stolen boy had been, he was most certainly dead, and Caleb wanted him to stay that way.
The bottle, somehow drained again, rested in his hand, still cool to the touch. He got up as quietly as he’d sat, and silently moved through the kitchen. He rinsed the bottle, listening to the soft glug-glug of the water going down the drain. Then took a soft towel and wiped away any evidence of his presence. It wasn’t the forgetting Caleb didn’t like, it was the remembering.
He needed a shower and a lot more beers. He’d miss beer when it was time to return to dry, spiritless, Pakistan, it was an excellent aid in the forgetting process. He just hoped the bar in this piece of shit town was still open.
Once inside his room, Caleb removed his clothes and walked into the bathroom to take a shower. Setting the temperature of the water, he let the room steam up before he finally stepped inside to put his face under the jets. The water washed over his nakedness, scalding him slightly, but Caleb welcomed the slight pain. He would never admit it, but from time to time, he needed to feel pain as much as he needed to dole it out.
Once again, Caleb envisioned the girl, face down on the mattress, welts crisscrossing the back of her body from shoulder to ankle. It was perverse the way this particular image affected him. It made him aroused instead of sick. It was ironic.
Unable to fight it, Caleb thought of the past and of Rafiq.
Vladek had not always been rich and powerful. Once upon a time, the seedy Russian had been a mercenary and a trafficker of anything that would sell – drugs, guns, people, it didn’t matter. He traveled throughout Russia, India, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey, Africa, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and one fateful day, Pakistan.
Muhammad Rafiq was a young man then, a captain in the Pakistan Army under the direction of a zealous Brigadier. The war against Saddam Hussein dubbed by the Americans as Desert Storm was well under way and Rafiq had been called to assist the coalition forces on the ground.
Rafiq, whose father had just passed, preferred to remain close to home until he could make arrangements for his mother and sister, but it was not to be. The Brigadier was thirsty for rank and nothing elevated rank like a war. Rafiq’s absence was unavoidable and ultimately disastrous, for it was during his two year absence that Vladek set his eyes on Rafiq’s sister, A’noud. By the time Rafiq returned with the happy news that he had earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, his mother had already been murdered six months earlier and his sister was missing.
Assuming responsibility, Rafiq devoted what resources were available to him to discovering the identity of his mother’s murderer. He followed every lead, chased every rumor trying to ascertain if his sister might still be alive.
It took Rafiq three years to hear the name Vladek Rostrovich. After murdering Rafiq’s mother, he’d taken A’noud, but apparently, he’d tired of her after a short while. He had retired her to a brothel, established by him in Tehran.
Rafiq went to Tehran, but like his mother, A’noud had been dead long before he had arrived to rescue her. With his hope of finding her alive scattered like ashes in the wind, his fervor for vengeance only grew. He was going to burn the brothel to the ground, kill every patron and save the proprietor for last. If he was later court-martialed and put to death, it was a risk he was willing to take.
But then, he heard a sound, so unspeakably horrible it gave voice to his own suffering. He followed the screaming to a door that would change everything: huddled in blood and filth, darkness pulled tight around his small, shaking, angry form was a boy in desperate need of a doctor. A boy the proprietor called kéleb – dog.
Pained, disgusted, and mourning his sister, Rafiq recognized the look in the kéleb’s eyes. They were eyes that knew the anguish of being unspeakably wronged. They longed for a death that could not come too soon. Rafiq offered to purchase the boy from the proprietor who warned him the boy was likely near death and he would not offer a refund. Rafiq accepted the terms and carefully wrapped the wounded, mewling dog in linen so he could take him to the hospital.
Kéleb had been incredibly mistrusting at first, unconvinced that Rafiq did not desire from him all the things as the rest. He attacked Rafiq repeatedly, punching, scratching, and kicking wildly with no concern for how he injured himself in the process. Rafiq had felt for him, but he was also impatient and unwilling to suffer the repeated attacks of an angry teenager. Rafiq used force to calm him down, until he could be reasoned with.
It wasn’t until Rafiq offered him a taste of something he thirsted for, that Kéleb became something more than his fear. Under cover of darkness, Kéleb had learned to kill for the very first time. It was too easy, over too fast. While Rafiq stood guard at the door, Kéleb shot and killed the man who had tormented him for most of his life. He had stood over the body, admiring the large hole that was once Narweh’s face. In his hand, he held the .44 Magnum Rafiq had let him borrow for the auspicious occasion.
The gun had been given to him by an American officer as a show of gratitude for Rafiq saving his life. Rafiq said it was “Dirty Harry’s” gun, but Kéleb did not know this man. He only knew that the damn thing had thrown him backward onto the ground. He’d missed the spectacle of Narweh’s face exploding, only appreciated the damage afterward. Whoever Dirty Harry was, Kéleb admired his weaponry.
Later that evening, Rafiq had relinquished ownership of Dirty Harry’s gun to Kéleb and confided in him the story of how he’d come to find him that day in Tehran. Rafiq spoke about his mother and sister, of the futility of his search for Vladek, but mostly, his passion for revenge.
When he was finished, an alliance was formed, a pact so solid, it made everything else irrelevant. That night, after the boy confessed to having no recollection of any name but dog, Rafiq renamed the boy Caleb – the loyal disciple.
Caleb blinked; the water had grown cold against his skin. He stepped out of the shower, feeling as though it had been useless. It had been twelve years since that night in Tehran. Twelve years. Five, since he had last questioned why he was doing one thing or another.
In the beginning, when he’d been a young man shadowing a powerful Pakistani military officer, speculation about their relationship and Caleb’s past had run rampant. Life’s lessons came in ways that were unexpected, though, now, as a man, he knew some of them had been inevitable. Like the day Rafiq had taught Caleb to mitigate rumors by putting the loudest voice to rest – permanently. It had been harder than killing Narweh, but easier than he’d thought it would be. The men who spoke of such things were not good men and it made them easier to kill. But regardless, the hushed whispers, the condescending smiles and speculative gazes told him that there were still those whom doubted his motives and authenticity in their world.
Respect came at a very high price in the criminal world, even more so in the Middle East, and especially for a Westerner like Caleb. There could be no half way, Rafiq would remind him; it was all in, or nothing. If Caleb stood any chance of finding Vladek, he would have to venture into his world. Thus began his journey into the world of training pleasure slaves.
He tossed the towel aside, walking from the far side of his bedroom, past his bed to the large windows. He pulled the curtain aside, staring out. Stars, a dark horizon; the black veil of night and a moon unwilling to show itself.
The journey had not been an easy one. It was easier to kill guilty men than sell innocent women. It was an education in callousness and single-mindedness, and choosing a path that promised obliteration of the soul. Despite all this, Caleb had ventured forward.
He trained them with Rafiq’s help at first, then on his own. And with every slave Caleb brought to auction he gained recognition in the seedy world of sex for sale. With every wealthy, well-to-do, duplicitous business man that boasted of Caleb’s prowess, he gained more footing among the underworld elite. With every success, he delved deeper into the dark and closer, he had hoped, to finding Vladek.
But years went by, and Vladek had remained elusive. Meanwhile, Caleb had become more involved in the world he wanted to destroy. With each act, he traveled toward the center of that world, until one day, when he looked back, he found he could no longer see the way he’d come. He had wanted out. It had been so long, years with no word of Vladek Rostrovich, of where he’d gone or what had happened to him. Rafiq’s thirst for revenge had seemingly never waned, but Caleb had at times wondered, if that too, had become little more than habit. Caleb had begun to formulate his plan, to let Rafiq know of all the turmoil inside him.
As fate would have it, it was in those very days, seven years after Rafiq had pulled him out of that brothel, that someone recognized the twenty-sixth richest man in the world, Demitri Balk, as the former gangster Vladek Rostrovich.
In seven years, Vladek had risen in wealth, privilege, and power. He had used the wealth gained from his underground activities to fund his legitimate business aspirations. He now owned most of the steel and a good amount of oil-rich land in Russia, diamond mines in Africa, and enough stock in large European companies to make the world forget his less than humble beginnings. He was heavily guarded and widely mistrusting.
If Caleb had had any chance of leaving the life he’d created, it evaporated in that moment. He and Rafiq were once again of a single mind, a single objective. They would make whatever sacrifice was necessary to achieve their critical goal. Caleb had gone far, he was now resolved to see it through. He owed Rafiq at least that much, if not more. But after twelve years of waiting, it wasn’t only vengeance that kept Caleb moving forward into the dark. It was the inane hope, that there truly was some metaphorical light waiting at the end of all this.
He let the curtain fall back into place, the view uninteresting as his thoughts turned to the girl sequestered in the room across the wide living area, and down the corridor from his room. Her role was more important than she could ever guess. He’d owe her too, one day. But for now, he needed her. Vladek had not been an easy man to get to, especially masquerading as Demitri Balk, billionaire. It had taken five years for him to return to his roots, to return to the slave trade.
Caleb rolled his head, wincing as a muscle in his shoulder contracted and coiled back into its tense position. He went through his closet. After twelve years of planning, maneuvering, and infiltrating, the moment Rafiq and Caleb had been waiting for was finally approaching. In four months the Zahra Bay' would take place in Pakistan.
The first phase of the plan was complete. As it stood, he was not yet certain of the girl’s virginity, but he’d find out. It would be a small setback if he brought a slave with no ‘flower’ to a flower auction, but Rafiq had maintained that her nationality, coupled with her beauty, as far as Caleb had described it, would secure her status as the most desired slave at the auction.
Caleb, half dressed, pulled on his Armani shirt and began buttoning with deft fingers. At first, he had not agreed with Rafiq, had not seen the purpose in seeking an American, with their loose morals and trademark willfulness. But now, currently experiencing some strange sort of allure, he had to admit Rafiq was right. The girl was somehow different, unique.
He raised his arms and finished buttoning his shirt, leaving his throat exposed. He reached for his cuffs.
When, not if, Vladek bid on the girl, he would have to inquire about her trainer. Then, however the moment unveiled itself, Caleb would offer Vladek the girl as a gift, a token of his admiration, his way of requesting an audience. From there, it was all about the impression he made. Vladek would have to be very impressed, not just with the girl, but with him. Impressed enough to grant him access to his tightly-knit life.