Chapter 28 – Meeting Savannah

Savannah Velasquez, Black Canyon Retreat, AZ

I am not a big sleeper and can normally get by on only a few hours, but I do need to drink a lot of tea, it helps to detox after long heavy nights and contains many antioxidants which have many beneficial qualities for the human body. The time was around 05:00am, it was still dark as sunrise would not be until around 06:15am, I crept out of the bed, grabbed my shirt and cufflinks which were on the dressing table and snuck through the door to the landing.

I slipped my shirt on and buttoned up as I crept silently downstairs to the kitchen and prepared some hot water. I searched the kitchen units for some tea in any shape or form, teabags or leaf but could not find any. Then I remembered that I always carried a few teabags in my backpack, for those just in case moments and found it on the floor of the hallway where it had been unceremoniously dumped the night before.

I swished some hot water around inside the cute little teapot, then dried it and put two tea bags in, filled the pot with boiling water and let it steep while I used the bathroom at the bottom of the stairs. Cleaned my teeth and the face staring back at me in the mirror was giving me the you need a shower look. There were a couple of giant cotton bath towels hanging over warm rails, so I wasted no more time setting the temperature and stepping into the hot steaming power shower.

The water was refreshing and woke me up, the few hours of sleep had not been long enough, but the evening had been very enjoyable and ended in a very unexpected manner. I wrapped a warm soft towel around me and blasted my hair with the dryer. I really needed a fresh shirt but made do with the old one and thought about the rest of my clothes which were still upstairs on the floor of the bedroom. I could no longer see a reflection in the steamed-up mirror, but my hair was dry, so I went back to the kitchen for the cufflinks and the fresh tea. I scribbled a note on a rough piece of paper and left it under the teapot and a few minutes later I had left the house, minus a few items of clothing which I hoped to retrieve later if possible.

The sun was trying to break through a couple of clouds to the east, a dog barked in the distance as if saying goodbye. I had called a cab on the house landline which pulled up to the house as I reached the sidewalk, perfect timing. I was dropped off only two blocks from the overnight parking facility. As the cab pulled away for another call, I walked towards an early riser diner which had only just displayed the neon open sign. It was just a little too early to move the truck, people notice these things when there is nothing happening.

I was the first customer of the day and greeted by the sad face of a long term, been nowhere and achieved nothing kind of middle-aged woman. I ordered some ham and eggs over easy with toast and strong hot tea. I asked for hot because so many times in USA tea was served lukewarm, or almost cold and that was seriously not how I enjoyed it. I was rolling a cigarette in the booth as the both the food and drink arrived as other customers entered the diner. The usual morning pleasantries were exchanged before the conversation returned to football and the Cardinals.

The men sat at the long counter opposite the chef and continued a long discussion as to the whys and wherefores of the change of name from the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals. They talked about the head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the owner Bill Bidwill, then discussed old plays and other football stuff that I knew nothing about. I sat looking at maps on my smart phone and checked for any local news on the northbound interstate 17 to Flagstaff. There was no shocking world news, just the usual attacks on the president by the Democrats on Fox 10 and the chef was asked to change channels.

The waitress gave me the knowing look for out of towners and gave me a quick political summary. While the city of Phoenix generally leans towards the Democratic Party, along with some other small areas within the county, the rest of the county including this here diner, tends to vote heavily Republican and that every Republican presidential candidate has carried Maricopa County since 1948.

I am not a very politically motivated person, but I understand local history and allegiances, and thanked her for the insight and asked her for the bill. I thanked her for a wonderful start to the day and tipped her heavily before stepping into the warm morning air. The forecast had predicted a warm sunny day and temperatures up to 18°C, an otherwise normal day in this part of Arizona.

The town was waking up and a short walk to the truck before heading to the interstate 17 which is only 146 miles long from Phoenix to Flagstaff and all contained inside the state of Arizona. Glendale to Black Canyon Retreat should take approximately 45 mins and I joined the interstate 17 N from W Northern Ave and followed it to New River, then took the exit 232 onto W New River Rd. The journey was boring, with low traffic volume and the scenery low and flat and only a few clouds in the sky. The desert scrub was sparse, low stature vegetation of shrubs, short trees, cacti and scattered perennial herbs, nothing exciting to write home about!

At the junction with N 27th Ave took left turn to go north then had a roundabout route to finally reach the house in N 21st Ave. A sprawling property that blended into the landscape and two women appeared on the front porch as I pulled into the driveway at the front of the house. The older woman was waving and indicating to go around side of the house, which I did and parked in an extensive garage and the large overhead door closed behind me. The two women appeared through a side door and instructed me to follow them through to the house.

Savannah was around 5ft 2in tall and 120lbs in weight, she was slim and attractive with long blonde hair that had been tied up into a ponytail. I knew that she was still only twenty-four, in good health, with a good set of teeth and no known life-threatening ailments. She was also straight sexually with no known or reported relationship with anybody since her escape. Martina had been allocated for her protection, entirely due to her close protection skills and not her social graces or intelligent conversations. Her records indicated a cold psychopath underneath her hidden but obvious lesbian attributes. Quite a mean looking, and formidable woman and I knew that I needed to give her a wide berth, yes, a very wide berth indeed!

Why is it that every detective novel or movie has drop dead gorgeous female villains and I always or very near always had to deal with dragons from planet hell? Not only that, but in my very humble opinion most psychiatrists did not have one clue on how to deal with the real problems of the world. One of my own rules on self-preservation, and I seemed to be accumulating quite a few during my short spell on planet Earth was, never trust anybody who sits on their backside all day and pontificates on other people’s woes or illnesses while doing so!

Do I need a visit sometime soon, because my language was becoming semi-professional on the bullshit front and I was analysing too many people too often for my own good? For one thing I really thought that the name Savannah was absolutely drop dead beautiful, with all the alluring features of deep sex appeal with hints of mystery and suspense!

Back in the real world, I wanted to know what had really happened to Savannah and to record her every word so that I could corroborate the details with other data that I had accumulated over the past few months. Savannah simply introduced her companion as Martina who had the aura and characteristics of a Russian shot putter from the Cold War days of the old Soviet Union. There were no other details forthcoming as we sat down in the spacious living area that was seriously devoid of character or warmth and a deeply depressing ambiance. Savannah spoke slowly and softly and did not gesticulate any other emotions with her hands or arms.

To all outward appearances she had been crushed as a result of her own personal experiences which had subsequently been exacerbated by the recent abduction of her twin sister. She gave a description of her life and how she had been separated from her sister during their early teen years. Savannah had drawn the short straw and ended up with a family of losers which had fallen from middle class corporate security to dead beat unemployed failures in a California trailer park in only a few short years. Her sibling had been far more fortunate and lived with a wealthy family from the political elite and enjoyed a life of considerable luxury and privilege in Washington, DC and New York.

Savannah talked about her early years and the unfortunate and untimely death of their parents in a road traffic accident in up-state New York. The police never found the vehicle which had hit them from behind and shunted their Dodge SUV across the highway into an oncoming heavy loaded freight truck approaching from the opposite direction. The parents were killed instantly according to the coroner’s report and the truck driver had been too preoccupied adjusting frequencies on the radio to notice how the incident had occurred and there were no other eyewitnesses so the case was never solved and the state services took over the welfare of the two orphaned girls.

This part of my report is kind of open to interpretation, it appeared very vague at how Savannah ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and abducted by the wrong people. But more to the point was how she escaped because that was what I was particularly interested in. The Zodiac Program was all about details, rules, compliance and money. Money did not like or tolerate mistakes or failures in compliance and security measures.

Savannah gave me details on how she had been abducted in California, during that year over 80,000 runaway children were reported to have left home without the knowledge or permission of parents or guardians. Every year across California and the rest of the United States hundreds if not thousands of similar kids are subsequently abducted for the slave trade and the sex industry.

Quite frankly the authorities did not, and still do not have the resources to monitor every case and most of those cases are never successfully closed. The numbers across the whole of America are substantial and disturbing in that so many people can disappear or live off-radar in this technical age where it is almost impossible to move or function without some kind of identification background that can be verified on government and non-government databases.

Savannah had been exceedingly fortunate in that so many factors were very much in her favor on the day of her escape. She had, quite by chance managed to stay hidden for a short period of time by the timely intervention and assistance of an elderly couple who had mistaken her for the home help from a local charitable organization. They had not expected her to live in the property but were happy to allow her to stay. It was a large property, with several bedrooms on three floors.

The old couple remained on the ground floor which had a large bedroom with en-suite bathroom facilities, an extensive modern kitchen, a dining room and other reception rooms. It was a substantial property and very well furnished with many contrasting styles. Savannah could not believe her own luck, which came to an untimely end as the result of a random house call from the local police department relating to an incident that had occurred on the premises next door.

State services provided her with refuge in a local safe house while other authorities checked out her details. After a few weeks she came to the attention of the agency which was given clearance to assist in her recuperation and safe rehabilitation which in many cases proved almost impossible. However, the agency used many techniques to get Savannah to talk about what had happened to her, where she lived, what she did, who she met and finally how she escaped.

It was important to get the full picture of her past and to understand the people involved in her abduction, imprisonment and enslavement. The fact that she had been enslaved by a member of the Zodiac Program had been a revelation and a bonus. Every ounce of knowledge would be vital in making possible any kind of infiltration into their networks. Sometimes the smallest piece of luck can change the dynamics of a situation and that piece of luck was Savannah and she would never really understand the significance of the information she provided and the insight the agency gained from that knowledge that would inevitably lead to a significant breakthrough into the world of slavery in the USA.

A plan had been formulating since the last meeting with the director and to succeed it would require the full co-operation of Savannah. She had to know the full picture and that she would be the bait, simply put, without her there was no plan. Her life would very much depend on her following instructions and trusting Max to deliver on the other mixture of promises.

The plan would take Savannah back to her past and the life in a trailer park. I started telling of the some of the aspects of the plan and tried to be slow, considerate and humane about it, but it was proving incredibly difficult and after each few minutes I would open the wounds from the past and give her some of the haunting statistics that were now embellished in my brain gnawing away at my own very soul.

Trailer-park America is vast — about 18 million people lived in a mobile home in 2018. In most counties, trailers outnumber apartments. In some, mostly in Florida and Georgia, they even outnumber standard single-family homes. For the most part, the outline of this often-marginalized swath of America conforms to stereotype. It’s rural, and it’s poor. The highest share of mobile homes is in the rural South and Southwest, in Sun Belt retirement communities, and on Indian reservations. They attract residents of every race and origin (with more American Indians and fewer African Americans than the population at large) and, outside of cities and densely populated coastal areas, they’re everywhere. Everywhere, that is, but the Corn Belt.

The trailer park was a stepping-stone and probably the best shot at getting to access into the secretive world of the Zodiacs. I could tell that Savannah had severe reservations about what was expected of her and how it could seriously impact on every aspect of her being so I carried on with my strategy and the time drifted and the language and atmosphere of the room changed many times and had all the attributes of the mission from hell.

The shouting, the terror, the dreaded panic and so, so many other feelings and emotions were blasted around the room. Martina stood solid as a rock beside her holding her hands when required and said nothing, she just sat and stared with eyes of deep black sorrow at me as if I was the angel from hell and not the angel of mercy and compassion. She was however professional and was doing the job she was paid well for and was also giving Savannah the unconditional support that she very much needed. I was not sure if the strategy was going to work and when I had finished divulging all the information that I was prepared to release, the conversation came to a sudden halt and the suffocating atmosphere cleared like a heavy smog rising from the ground.

I hope my words reflect and convey seriousness and gravity of the situation and the feelings of both parties to the situation. I could have written a lot more words, but their significance and relevance would not have changed the situation or the point we had reached.

My notes and remembrances of all the details during that conversation are only vague and a little lacking in substance but I felt they would be a complete waste of time and waste of ink! I apologise to anyone reading this who wished a little more depth and I can only hope that you appreciate the humility of my words!

I wound up the session and felt like a complete and utter shit expecting Savannah to go back into the world she had escaped from only too recently. She sat almost comatose beside Martina, and I felt almost too embarrassed to move or do anything else. We had said all there was to say and so I raised myself from the chair and placed a card with my cell number in-front of Savannah and just said thank you and then left the two women in the silence that had been with them when I had arrived those long hours earlier.

I made my own way to the garage area, I had not noticed the sun was setting and the darkness was drawing in, the temperature was dropping and a creepy chill was surrounding the house in a Stephen King kind of way that was very discomforting considering the last few hours and what had been discussed. I climbed into the truck, the door of the garage opened as if by magic and headed for the interstate and boy, did I need a drink or two?

I drove around aimlessly for a while, maybe for an hour or so, before ending up in the parking lot outside the 007 Pub in W Union Hills, Glendale, AZ and had a few more drinks than I should have. The psychiatrist always said it was hard to be good and even harder to be bad. I am to this day not sure what she had meant by that, because my old agency appraisals had always indicated an F minus in being good skills, so I was kind of pleased with my upgrade occasionally.

Less of the bull because I had found a night haven and stopped for a quick one which turned into a slow few more and a few more besides. My coping mechanisms had been shot to pieces a long time ago and sometimes I had to hit the long, slow and mellow routes and tonight was one of those. But hey, did I need some Irish, whiskey that is, and some! However, my don’t be totally stupid head kicked in and I called Charlotte on my cell, no luck first time around, so I ordered another shot with an ice-cold beer. It was crowded and friendly with a fun atmosphere and the bar staff were cool, they will never remember me or so my dark side always tells me.

The bar was very friendly and I should have eaten earlier because there was no kitchen, oh well, that could wait and I snuck out for a quick cigarette and shared a smoke with a couple of regulars who were talking baseball and fishing, both of which I knew little or nothing about, so I just listened but not hard enough to either learn or remember anything useful. The regulars were smoking the typical packet cigarettes and I rolled a few fresh ones in the tin, put one to my lips and hit the zippo.

A long draw later and blowing a couple of rings, I was asked by the other non-fishing expert to my right if she could try one, she had seen people rolling before and thought she might like to do the same but wanted to give it a try first. I tossed over the tin and said help yourself, and the lighter followed. Well she enjoyed the cigarette and took a photo on her cell, then wrote down the details of the tobacco and the paper on a piece of scrap paper. I did not want to part with either the cigarette box or the zippo lighter. I had very few things from the past and they reminded me of both the good and the bad times gone by.

They were nice folks and easy to talk to and then a call from Charlotte and I explained where and what I was doing and if she could join me for a drink. I needed somewhere to stay and a ride because I had no intention of driving.

I waited inside for Charlotte and hugged a small Irish while thinking of Savannah and if she would be willing to be involved with the plan, she had most to lose, maybe everything and was not sure at all if should would return my call with an answer of one way or the other. I was certain that if she did not respond within 24 hours that she would not be interested at all. That was how it normally worked, I just had to keep my fingers crossed and wait.

Charlotte arrived and looked amazing, wearing a simple red and white checked cowgirl style shirt, black leather shorts, high boots and a warm smile. She tossed her long auburn hair over her shoulder and sat down on the next stool and said that she had just called a cab and come straight over. You left kind of sudden this morning and we never had the chance to say goodbye or swap some details and I was thinking of you all day. Connie served the iced cold beer she had requested and then she asked if I fancied shooting some pool. She was good company and we had some laughs over the terrible shots that we had played, and the game of darts was no better.

We stayed for another hour then a cab back to her place, it had been okay to leave the truck in the parking lot as I had been well over the limit to drive. Charlotte had to work the next day and needed an early night, so did I but after a long hot bath and Charlotte even managed to prepare a delicious pot of tea while I soaked in the mass of bubbles. Breakfast was hot croissants, butter and strawberry jelly and fresh hot tea. Charlotte dropped me off at the pub to pick up the truck and we made casual arrangements that may or may not happen later.