anyone suspected he was here. But he had no reason to think they didn’t either. He imagined these men lived their lives full of suspicion.

Just as he did.

After the bomb went off at Lampert’s house they would have to proceed with caution. Calling off tonight’s shipment might have been tempting for them, but apparently the allure of a mountain of dollars was too much. And the boat was probably already on its way when the Bentley had been blown up.

So the show went on.

These folks wore the color-coded clothing of the previous group. As he observed them Mecho concluded that tonight was heavy on drug mules and prostitutes, by far the most profitable. The simple laborers, the ones who silently mowed grass in nice southern suburbs or mutely hefted cartons in warehouses in the Midwest, brought the least amount of money.

But the profit margins were still excellent, just not off the scale like those associated with the drugs-and-hookers revenue streams.

The fourth RIB turned and headed back out to the mother ship.

Mecho turned his attention to the truck in which the eighty people had been placed. The rear door came down and was bolted shut. The back of the truck would be soundproofed, of course. No screams would be heard, though Mecho imagined the prisoners were probably too terrified to utter a sound.

He hustled to his scooter and climbed aboard. When the truck started off with its two-SUV motorcade, Mecho fell in behind it, keeping about eight hundred yards back. He did not worry about losing the vehicles. He had placed a tracking device on the underbelly of the truck while the first shipment of passengers was arriving on the beach. The guards had made the mistake of moving away from the vehicles to draw nearer to the beach, never thinking that leaving their rear flank exposed would be a problem.

Yet it was a problem, a big one. But one man’s problem was another man’s opportunity.

They traveled east for four miles, their route gradually leading away from the Gulf as they did so.

The destination was not surprising: a warehouse in the middle of a decrepit industrial park. This was far away from the tourist traps and nowhere near the pristine white beaches or the emerald green waters.

This had the look and stench of the real world. A world where people toiled away for crap wages doing shit work and wondering when their ship was going to come in.

Mecho understood that very well. He had wondered that very same thing. Only far away from here. A universe away from here, in fact.

Where is my damn ship?

Well, maybe it was a RIB with human cattle on it.

After the truck drove through the open overhead door of the warehouse the door rattled down behind it. One SUV had driven in with the truck. The other had stayed outside. Mecho had a good idea what was happening inside the warehouse.

It was like U.S. Customs’ processing in a way, and in a way the farthest thing from it. The folks in the truck were being led off, dressed in different clothes, and given certain documentation, a bit to eat, a few ounces of water to drink. They were being told things. Things that would further demoralize their spirits.

Such as, “You will do exactly as we say.”

And if you don’t, not only will you die, but your entire family, back in the little village or town or city where we took you from, will die too. No exceptions. Ever.

The instructions would be given. They would be able to sleep for a bit. They would be segregated according to their ultimate function. The future prostitutes would be given the best accommodations and rations. Their looks and overall health mattered, at least for now; later, they wouldn’t. And then they would be discarded, most drugged beyond rehab, and they’d shuffle away and die alone.

The drug mules would be given things too, things that would allow their innards to receive more bags of drugs than they would have thought possible. Ten percent of them would suffer ruptures of these bags while they were still inside them. All ten percent would die from it. Heroin or coke pouring into one’s bloodstream in such profound doses is not something the body was built to endure, because nowhere in the evolutionary chain did humans have to adapt to such treatment.

That was good for humanity, bad for the ten percent.

The ten percent was known, in the industry, as a reasonable and acceptable cost of business. Indeed, like credit card companies that jack up interest rates to cover losses from hackers and deadbeats, the slavers upped their chattel rates to cover these losses.

Businesses always passed the costs along, whether they were selling hammers or humans.

Again, there was nothing Mecho could do to help the eighty people in the warehouse tonight. That was not why he was here.

He sat on his scooter just outside the gate of the fence that surrounded this industrial park and waited.

He took a photo out of his pocket. While it was dark and he had killed his scooter light before approaching the warehouse area, Mecho could see, in his mind’s eye, the image of the young woman in the picture he held.

She looked a lot like Mecho. There was a reason for that.

Family was family.

Her name was Rada. In his language her name meant “joyfulness.”

And she had once possessed it in abundance.

But no longer. That he knew without knowing it for certain.

Sometimes Mecho wished that Rada were dead.

Being alive and doing what she was doing must be worse than being dead.

He had no idea where in the world she was.

He had come here to get an idea.

But that was not all.

There were other pictures in his jacket pocket. All women. All young.

These women were not related to him.

But that did not matter. There was another connection, a strong one. That was enough for him.

He had no idea where in the world any of them were.

And it was a big world.

He needed help.

Tonight would begin his attempts to find such help.

An hour went by and the overhead door opened. The SUV zipped out and the door closed once more.

The second SUV stayed where it was while the first SUV approached the gates. They automatically opened and the SUV sped through them.

Mecho knew there were four men in the SUV.

As he started up his scooter to follow them it didn’t matter to him which one of the four would provide the assistance.

He would work through them all until he got it. To him, they were no longer human. Just like they treated the people in the truck.

They were there for him to use, in any way he chose, to achieve his goals.

In a way he was a businessman too.

Only his incentive, his profit, was not measured in money.

It was measured in justice.

It was calculated in revenge.

And in Mecho’s case, those two things were exactly the same.