Our latest fiction work is a collection of short stories titled “Fifty Shades of Faithful.” The following comes from the last story, called “Family Plan.”
“Hi, um … my wife and I want to get some photos taken, but she’s running a little late. Is it okay if I wait for her here?”
“Of course.” Calvin Weeks, the receptionist, swung around his desk and led the young Asian man over to the comfortable waiting area. “You can just sit here and relax, or you can start filling out your information here–” he indicated a touchscreen “– and you can even look at packages and prices by touching this, here. You have great cheekbones, by the way, and Viv will love working with you. I can’t wait to see your wife. I am just nuts about – are you Chinese? What’s your name?”
“Alan Chang,” the young man said with a nervous blush, looking at the touchscreen. Calvin swept back to the counter as someone else entered.
“How much for family photos?” Alan Chang looked up and tensed as the group entered Living Images Photo Studio. The blond male receptionist smiled at them and got to chatting and typing on his console. Alan’s eyes widened as he took in the number of children the couple had, and how young the mother looked. All of them looked strikingly attractive. The man had perfect gray touches at his temples and wore a pure white and red silk jacket. The woman had her hair wound into two braided buns fastened with ivory sticks and lacy white and gold ribbons. Her top and capri-length pants were gold and white silk with little fingerless mitts, socks, and sandals.
Four children stayed close to them; two girls and two boys, the youngest seeming to be fraternal twins under the age of five, and the whole crowd looked like cosplay characters. Everything about them was perfect. Too perfect. Chang waited until the photographer, a striking redheaded woman who seemed to favor animal-hide clothing, had ushered them behind a curtain. He jumped up to the desk.
“Don’t let those people leave,” he hissed at the receptionist, freezing the young guy’s fingers in mid-stroke and showing him a badge.
“Can I see that ID?” The receptionist, whose nametag said Calvin, had recovered his composure quickly. Chang reluctantly handed over his wallet. Calvin studied the picture. “That’s terrible. Viv can do a much better job for you.”
“I’m serious,” Chang snapped.
“I can see that you are. Hey, Sam, I am so glad you’re here!” Calvin waved at the big, uniformed police officer with a dark mustache who entered the shop at that moment. “Viv is back shooting this adorable oriental family and this gentleman seems to want us to try to keep them here.”
“I don’t need local police,” sneered Chang. “You can walk right back out of here. In fifteen minutes I’ll have Homeland Security wedged in here so tight you won’t be able to breathe.”
“Homeland Security?” Sam gradually backed Chang away from Calvin’s counter and into the waiting area. “Simmer down, friend. What’s all this about?”
“Child trafficking,” Chang finally said, when Sam had backed him into a corner and he had nowhere else to move to. “We believe the man is a sex trafficker and his ‘family’ is being photographed for sale online.”
“You have some proof of that?”
“I have images in this file,” Chang answered, showing the corner of a file folder tucked in his jacket. “They match general descriptions of those people.”
“General descriptions. Calvin, pull up the security photos and show me this happy family, please.”
Calvin spun his monitor and Sam glanced at the Oriental family. Chang surrendered the file after Sam held out his hand for a solid minute. Sam spent a few more minutes in study.
“How can you be sure these are the same kids? They’ve been worked over like poodles at a dog groomer.”
“This is not your business,” Chang insisted.
“You’re not Homeland Security,” Sam said. “Who are you?”
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