Hippokration Hospital, Friday
GLYFADA, SOUTH ATHENS, GREECE, June, 2012
GENERAL ANIKETOS “Nicos” Sotíras cursed softly as he set the phone receiver in its cradle and scrubbed his face with both hands. He’d been brigadier general of the Directorate of Special Crimes of Violence for the Hellenic Police for the past sixteen years. He’d been shortlisted for a promotion to major general, and the arrests he’d made four weeks ago had sealed that promotion and, at long last, given him his hard-earned second star.
When they’d raided the Sanna yacht, they’d expected to find victims of human trafficking. But they’d never expected to find so many. Rather, so many and so young. In all his years working in violent crime, he’d never dealt with anything as utterly monstrous. He wondered for the millionth time why traffickers, more particularly pedophiles, weren’t put to death. They didn’t deserve to live. He sat back in his chair and reflected on how this case began over fourteen years ago. The case that began the suspicion—the suspicion that had slowly burned into a gnawing hatred in his gut over the years.
Though he’d never proved it, he was certain Vasilis Castlios, the richest man in Greece, had his wife and son murdered in a staged car accident. Then, when allegations of abuse and murder made their way to his desk from the waifs who prostituted themselves on the streets, he’d carefully compiled a profile. Vasilis Castlios had become Athens’s worst nightmare, second only to Antonis Daglis, the “Athens Ripper.” Over the years several boys fitting Vasilis’s victim profile washed ashore dead, and many more had simply disappeared. Complaints from the street urchins continued, but the violent pedophile had more than half the police force and judges on the dole. Vasilis’s repeated crimes had always drifted off the radar of Sotíras’s superiors, and he was left to clean up the mess. “Sick” was a pathetic word for men like Vasilis.
Then Sotíras received a telephone call fifteen months ago that changed his life. To everyone’s stunned disbelief, Vasilis’s son, Christophoros, had survived the car accident. Vasilis had stolen him from the hospital and paid people to falsify his death records. Sotíras had saved the boy from Vasilis’s evil clutches, and the High Court ordered Vasilis held without bail until trial. Then the bastard had the temerity to die of a heart attack while in custody, leaving Christophoros the richest eighteen-year-old in Greece.
The news reports of Christophoros’s unspeakable abuse and torture at the hands of his notorious father were unforgivably lurid and vile and proved nothing was sacred to the press. Hospitals, reporters, even some of Sotíras’s own police force had leaked pictures and information. It hadn’t helped that Christophoros’s mother had been a fashion model and he bore her fair hair and beauty. Christy Castle, as he now liked to be called, was terribly photogenic, and the press wouldn’t leave him alone.
Christy spent three months in the hospital last year, then fled to the United States in search of privacy and care at a facility specializing in the treatment of abused boys. The coup de grâce came when Christy told Sotíras that Vasilis had not only abused and tortured him but also pandered him to his business partners. The arrogant and outspoken Greek shipping magnate, Petros Sanna, dared to speak publicly about it as if it had been commonplace and no big deal. Worse yet, Petros Sanna’s son, Yosef, had turned out to be the sickest abuser of them all. He was nothing short of a vicious animal.
Information obtained from Christy led them to surveil the Sanna yacht. Christened the Ékstasi̱, it sailed the Aegean Sea and was nothing short of a floating hell for boys and young men. With the aid of several government officials—or at the very least, their blind eyes—Petros and Yosef Sanna continued Vasilis’s heinous crimes and often murdered victims by throwing them overboard at sea. Sotíras’s gut churned as he contemplated the victims they’d rescued from the yacht.
In spite of it all, Christy had made remarkable progress over the past year. His crushed larynx had healed, he’d found love, attended prom, and graduated high school. To all intents and purposes, Christy had fashioned a life for himself out of a whole lot of nothing and a mountain of horror. His resiliency and determination to live life to the fullest still amazed Sotíras, and he admired Christy and cared about his future more than he should. And all of it, every damn bit of what Christy built for himself over the past year, had nearly been destroyed today.
Yosef Sanna had traveled to the US and kidnapped Christy with the intention of flying him back to Greece to return him to a life of slavery. With the help of the New York City Police, the FBI, and Christy’s boyfriend, Michael, they’d rescued Christy, but not before he’d suffered horribly at Yosef’s hands.
Today Christy had testified in the US trial to prosecute Yosef. Defense counsel had produced a surveillance video showing Yosef’s abuse of Christy. It had been played in court for all to see and had humiliated, demoralized, and traumatized Christy all over again. He’d run from the courtroom with a single mission in mind—suicide—and climbed to the top of a Ferris wheel to jump to his death. Had it not been for Michael’s daring rescue, Christy might not be alive.
Thank God, Michael had gone after him. Sotíras chewed his bottom lip hard enough to make it bleed and looked forward to Yosef rotting in prison for the rest of his life.
And now there is Thimi, he thought bitterly. Conditioned through starvation and torture to perform, and treated like an unwanted animal since birth, Thimi Sanna had been bartered, sold, or simply given to whoever wanted him. He was a mere wisp of a human being. Yet, as far as Sotíras could tell, Thimi had the same inner strength Christy did. Sotíras remained unconvinced Thimi would thrive as Christy had, but he would take him to the US because that was what Christy wanted.
Sotíras stood from his chair. It was another hot and humid June, and he perspired in the late afternoon heat. The last thing he wanted to do was to button his jacket, but he needed to get to the hospital to speak to Thimi before he saw the news of Christy’s near suicide. There was no time to waste.
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Friday
UPSTATE NEW YORK, JUNE, 2012
MICHAEL WOKE with a start, his heart pounding in his throat. Terror held him in its vicious grip, assaulting his senses like a ferocious miasma. The image of Christy jumping to his death seared his heart as the nightmare clawed at his nerves. He looked at the back of Christy’s long white-gold curls and tried to gather his fractured, panic-stricken thoughts.
Christy is okay, Christy is okay, Christy is okay!
It was twilight. That moment when dawn pressed the sky. The time between full night and sunrise where the sky was still a blueberry blue and the moon still shone somewhere on the faraway horizon. Michael thought of Evanescence’s “My Immortal” and tears began to fall. He squeezed his eyes shut. He’d failed. He’d failed to keep Christy from harm, he’d failed to keep Christy safe, and he’d failed at protecting the life Christy had so painstakingly built over the past fifteen months. He’d failed at everything.
He curled tighter around Christy and looked around the hospital room as he listened to the cardiac monitor drone on. The rhythmic beep skipped every so often, reminding Michael of the damage Christy’s heart had sustained over years of abuse.
The trial to put away Yosef Sanna had gone well until they played the surveillance video. In spite of Christy’s phenomenal courage and strength, he could take no more when Yosef began to taunt and scream at him. Christy had run from the courtroom, intent on committing suicide. They’d rescued him from the top of the Ferris wheel, and he hadn’t stopped crying until he’d been sedated. There was no telling what would remain of Christy’s shattered soul when he woke. Michael had no idea whether he’d be in the here and now or permanently chained in his faraway place. Would Christy recognize him? Even Michael’s dad’s medical intervention might not help. What would Michael do then? The thought terrified him, and his heart ached with profound grief. Christy was everything to him. He couldn’t lose Christy. He wouldn’t survive without Christy.
The image of Christy falling to his death wouldn’t leave his mind, and he worked like hell to remain utterly silent and not move a muscle as he cried even harder. He didn’t want Christy to wake and see him for the emotional mess he was. He needed to be strong for Christy. Christy was the epitome of everything good and right. He was kind and pure of heart, and… fragile. Michael needed to be a rock for him.
Ever so carefully Michael reached for the box of tissues on the bedside table. He grabbed two tissues and dried his eyes, wiped his nose, and willed himself to stop crying. He sighed deeply, held Christy close, and drifted into a fitful sleep.
MICHAEL NEXT woke to the sound of soft sobs coming from Christy. He curled around him, held him tighter, and stroked his hair. A million thoughts swirled through Michael’s mind as he tried to figure out what to say to comfort him.
What did you say to someone who’d been retraumatized after being tortured and abused for thirteen of his nineteen years of life? What did you say to someone who had gone through utter hell in order to prosecute his abuser? What did you say to someone who had gathered the courage to relive the nightmare he’d endured with no guarantee that it would put his abuser away? For a damn maybe. What did you say to someone who wanted to take his own life because he’d been brutalized, degraded, and utterly humiliated all over again—in front of everyone in a courtroom?
He wanted to say something, anything to take Christy’s pain of the past twenty-four hours away. “Shhh. It’s over.”
Christy didn’t respond, and Michael continued to hold him and whisper comforting words for what seemed an interminable time. Michael finally propped himself on an elbow and gently turned Christy to face him. Christy looked up at him with bloodshot, swollen eyes, and Michael’s heart nearly broke in two. Christy seemed to have withered to a small, frail person—smaller and more fragile than he already was—and he looked absolutely crestfallen and outright destroyed. Michael cupped his face with a gentle hand and rubbed his damp cheek with a thumb. “It’s over. You’re safe now.”
Christy looked at him, and tears welled again. At that moment Michael knew Christy was in the here and now, and relief washed over him.
“I am the filth,” Christy said in a hoarse voice.
Michael quickly put fingertips to Christy’s lips and shook his head slowly. “No. Everything about you is new and fresh and clean. You’re my kind, pure, perfectly pretty Christy. You’re my angel.” He kissed the tip of Christy’s nose. “You were so brave yesterday.”
Christy brought the sheet quickly to his lips to stifle a sob.
“Shhh,” Michael whispered as he stroked curls back from Christy’s forehead. “It’s all right. It’s over,” he soothed again.
Christy breathed a stuttering breath, the breath of a young child exhausted from crying. “You cannot love me now.”
“I’ll always love you. You’ll always be my precious Christy, no matter what.”
“I am filth,” Christy repeated.
Michael shook his head slowly again. “There is nothing filthy about you. You did what you had to do to survive. That’s all.”
“You cannot want me now.”
Michael put fingertips to Christy’s lips again. “Listen to me. You did what you had to. If you hadn’t, you’d be dead. You’re everything to me, and I’d be lost without you.”
Christy looked at him, searching, seeming to verify the veracity of his words. “What happened to the face?”
“Bumped it. It’s only a bruise. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.”
Christy seemed to accept this. “Sophia….” His voice trailed off as tears welled again.
Michael nodded slowly. He didn’t know what to say.
“Why?” Christy whispered on the air.
Yosef had spewed venomous words at Christy in the courtroom, and that was how Christy learned Sophia, a girl he believed all his life to be his cousin, was his sister. When Christy and Sophia were very young, their mother had given Sophia to their aunt in an effort to protect her from their abusive father. Sadly, it had only caused the bastard to set his sights on abusing Christy.
Michael gently brushed a rogue ringlet from Christy’s forehead with a fingertip. “We’ll never know the answer to that. But I think I know why. Your mom thought Sophia was safer with your aunt and you were safer with her.”
Christy’s one brow dipped in a half frown as tears continued to fall. “This is how you think of this? Yosef said I am the disease and pus—”
“Don’t believe a word that bastard said. He knows he’s going to prison for the rest of his life, and he wanted to hurt you one last time before he was sent away. You know your mother loved you. You know that in your heart. Even I know it, and I never had a chance to meet her.”
Tears streamed Christy’s cheeks faster now, and he buried his face against Michael’s chest.
Michael put an arm around him and held him tightly. “Your mother loved you more than anything in the world. I know it because you have her beautiful heart.”
Christy nodded against his chest and issued a convulsive sigh. “She did.”
Michael rubbed Christy’s back in long soothing strokes. “That’s why she kept you close to her.”
“I hate my father.”
“Me too. I’m glad he’s dead.”
“I will hate him forever.”
“I will too.”
“I must talk to Sophia. I wish to know if she knew.”
Michael winced. Sophia had confronted her aunt, and her aunt had admitted that Christy and Sophia were siblings but had been vague about the reason they’d been raised as cousins. Michael toyed with the idea of telling Christy the truth and decided he should stay out of it. “You can talk to her when she gets back from court today.”
Christy’s face crumpled. “Who does the speaking if I am not there?”
“Mr. Santini said there were only formalities in court today.”
Christy looked up at him. “I do not wish to see Yosef again.”
Michael looked into his beautiful blue-green eyes. “I don’t think you’ll have to see him again. The trial part is over.”
Christy’s eyes went wide. “I do not go back?”
“Nope. It’s over.” Michael rubbed Christy’s back again.
“It is a good enough trial to send Yosef to the prison?”
“Jake’s dad thinks so.”
Jake Santini was Michael’s best friend. Their parents had known each other since the caveman days, and Jake was like a brother to him. Nero, Jake’s dad, had been Christy’s attorney since his abusive father had died over a year ago. While Nero wasn’t the prosecuting attorney for Christy’s kidnapping case, he’d managed the trials of Christy’s abusers here and in his native Greece.
Christy’s face crumpled again. “There is the trial in Greece.”
Michael wasn’t sure what to say to that either, so he made it up as he went. “That trial is over what they found on the yacht, not only your abuse, and your paintings will be perfect. That’s why General Sotíras wants them, remember?”
Christy issued another shuddering sigh and rested his head against Michael’s chest again.
A nurse entered the room. After Christy’s kidnapping, they’d stayed in this hospital for two weeks and had come to know Carol well. She’d long given up on lecturing Michael about crawling into Christy’s bed to hold him at night. Her shoes squeaked softly as she approached the bed and walked around to Michael’s side to take his vital signs.
Next she silently walked around to Christy’s side of the bed and took his vital signs. “How are you feeling, Christy?” she asked softly.
“Okay,” Christy answered, his voice still hoarse.
“What time is it?” Michael asked.
“Almost ten. Jake said to tell you he and Sophia went to court with your mom and Jake’s mom.”
“He went to court with Mr. Santini. He wanted to give the judge an update on Christy’s health.”
“Did he say when they’d be done?”
“Mr. Santini said court would end early today. Sometime between eleven and noon, so the jury would have a chance to deliberate.”
“Okay,” Michael said tentatively as thoughts of Yosef’s fate flooded his mind.
“Do you feel like eating something?” Carol asked.
Christy shook his head.
“Not even red Jell-O?”
Christy shook his head again.
Christy was addicted to Jell-O, cherry being his favorite. So much so, it had become a bone of contention between Christy and Mac, Michael’s dad. Christy was too thin, Mac was constantly asking him to eat more than mere Jell-O, and it was a dark day in history when Christy refused it. Then Michael remembered the only bit of good that shined through yesterday’s misery.
“I have some good news, babe.”
Christy looked at him, clearly disbelieving. “What?”
“Thimi will be here tomorrow.”
Christy’s eyes went wide, and a small gasp left his lips.
Unbeknownst to everyone until a few weeks ago, twelve-year-old Thimi had survived the horrible night that had nearly sent Christy to his death. Having endured the same near-fatal horrors and annihilation of human worth that Christy had, Thimi was a young mortal Castor to Christy’s Pollux. They were the brothers Dioskouri, and Christy would stop at nothing to bring him to the US.
Michael smiled. “And I think General Sotíras and Dr. Jordanou are coming with him.”
Christy fought to sit up. “I must leave the hospital. I must be ready for Thimi.”
Michael carefully pulled the covers back to keep Christy’s legs from tangling in them. “Hang on. You can’t go anywhere until Dad discharges you.”
Christy finally made it into a sitting position. “Okay. Okay,” he said, excited, his mood diametric from two seconds ago. “I wish to have the Jell-O.” He looked down at his hands. Though the bandages had been replaced, his fingers were stained with grease from climbing the Ferris wheel the night before. “I wish to have the bath to be ready to leave.”
Michael chuckled. “With or without marshmallows?”
Christy looked at Carol. “Does the hospital have the marshmallow?”
She smiled. “I bet I can scrounge some up. But Dr. Sattler asked that you wait until he returns before you take a bath,” she said firmly.
“Why?” Michael asked.
“He didn’t say.”