This Story is works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Chapter 1: The Assignment
I never really wanted this assignment. It was the kind of assignment that was usually reserved for my less experienced and not so popular colleagues. So, when my boss called me into his office and told me I had been assigned to two weeks close protection to a young Russian boy, my heart sank. I had been given close protection assignments before, with clients on the witness protection program, that was not unusual. But here I was, a police officer with nearly twenty years service, about to be reduced to wet-nursing a ten year old kid. At any rate, that was what I envisaged. I had initially expected that it would be more of a diplomatic assignment - after all the Russians were our allies now. We had already agreed to offer our experience and training to help them deal with the rise in organized crime that threatened to overwhelm them. So when the Moscow Police asked for our assistance with Operation Ganymede, we were obliged to provide it. I wasn't told anything about the kid. I just knew that the powers that be had decided he needed to be protected and I had drawn the short straw. Their rationale was that I was the only one in our unit who spoke Russian. It was true, but my Russian was very basic. I wasn't sure if it was good enough to make me the sole candidate for this assignment. The truth is, I didn't really want it. There were so many other exciting and rewarding projects they could have assigned me to. Instead I figured I was going to be engaged in what was basically a babysitting exercise. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. I couldn't possibly have known then what it was going to lead to. I could never have anticipated that this assignment would turn out to be a very powerful and emotional experience and one that would have a profound and lasting effect on me for the rest of my life.
The first inkling I had that this wasn't going to be a straightforward assignment was at the airport. He was arriving on the overnight flight from Moscow, accompanied by a chaperone. I didn't know who the chaperone was. Probably a social worker or perhaps a Family Liaison Officer from the Moscow Police. I was to meet them, take them to a safe location and remain with them to await further orders. I knew nothing about the boy. I had deliberately been told nothing. It was considered safer that way. It was not for me to question. I had been in the Police Department long enough to know that there were times when it was safer not to know - times when you did not ask questions. I would be told what I needed to know when the time was right. For now I just had to follow orders. So here I was at the airport, clutching a sign with the selected codeword: Ivan. They would know it was safe to approach. Of course I was curious about the kid, not having been given any information, and I wondered about his importance and why it was necessary to ensure his safety.
I knew from his demeanor that it was him. I spotted him emerging from the gate with a look of bewilderment and hesitation. The female chaperone was trailing along behind with the luggage cart. He was slim and small in stature, almost delicate looking, but he was an unusually pretty boy, with thick, dark, wavy hair that was almost too long and half covered his ears in little swept back waves, and was sprouting unruly little tails which were threatening to curl upwards at the back. My first, almost subconscious sentiment was that the kid could do with a haircut. He had a very clear complexion with classic features, and most of all, beneath that floppy curtain of black wavy hair, was a pair of piercingly blue eyes. At once they were his most prominent asset. It was difficult not to be struck by his beauty. The chaperone was very tall, slim and blonde, but still quite young, in her mid to late thirties, I guessed. She had that quintessential Russian look about her and her deportment was dignified and noble, but nonetheless looking weary from the flight. I held up my sign and they spotted me. They meandered through the crowd towards me.
As they neared, I could see the apprehension in the boy's face. It was then that I first thought I recognized him. When I first set eyes on the kid close up, somehow his face looked familiar. Where had I seen that face before? Those eyes were certainly distinctive - an almost supernatural shade of blue that would certainly persist in your memory. Then a stab of shock zapped right through me - it was Yura! I had to look a little closer, and secretly caught my breath for a moment, almost gasping to myself. Was it possible that this kid was the same boy that appeared in those child porn videos I had seen some six months earlier? The boy I had observed forcefully engaging in the kind of sexual antics that were almost unknown for a kid of his age? Being in the vice squad, of course I had seen those videos - highly illicit and with content that surpassed anything I had seen in my entire career, both in explicitness and depravity. Looking again at the boy now, I was more certain. It was Yura alright. I would recognize that face anywhere - those big, blue, almond-shaped eyes, that oval face with the aquiline features and those small, round, ruby lips. It was obviously the same boy. There was no mistaking him. Yura's face was well known and his pictures were all over the internet. He had unwittingly acquired quite a reputation in the underworld for those videos, which were generally acknowledged as being the most polished boyporn ever produced. Certainly the most explicit. And despite their tender years, all the boys in those videos were shockingly prodigious in their performances. Their propensity to act out such explicit sexualized behavior in front of the camera, and to do it so well, with the most incredible enthusiasm and passion, was all the more shocking because they were so young.
I knew so much more than I wanted to at this moment, but the immediacy of the situation prevented my mind from wandering and remembering too many of the details. At this point I knew I had to be careful. A million questions all crowded into my mind at once. My boss had only selected me for this assignment because I spoke Russian. But he had neglected to tell me that this was one of the boys in the videos. So, what was Yura doing here? And why had I been assigned to protect him? What exactly was I getting into?
As it turned out neither the boy nor the chaperone spoke much English. I struggled at first with my Russian, but soon found we were able to get by quite easily. We greeted each other with a few brief formalities. The boy was introduced to me as Ivan (they pronounced it Ee-van), which certainly explained the codeword, although I knew that Ivan wasn't his real name. It was just a codename. Perhaps they had considered it safer to change his name. I knew him as Yura and it was difficult for me to think of him by any other name. The chaperone was called Elena. I introduced myself as Mark. I shook each of them by the hand, took their luggage, and ushered them out of the terminal to the car.
We emerged from the underground parking lot, and I guided the big black SUV up the exit ramp. I could see Yura in the back looking around admiring the leather interior of the car as we pulled away. He studied the controls, scanning the rows of little buttons and switches, and the digital instruments which were all lit up like a little flight deck.
"What kind of car is this?" he asked, in Russian.
"It's a Chrysler Constellation," I told him.
"Is it new?"
"Fairly new," I said, "You like it?"
"Yeh, it's great," he replied.
He seemed very impressed and raised his eyebrows in appreciation. I didn't tell him the car was armor-plated and bulletproof.
That was the only conversation we exchanged in practically the entire trip. On the drive back from the airport they slept most of the way, no doubt exhausted by the flight. I could see Yura in the rear view mirror, his head nestled on Elena's shoulder, lips slightly parted, eyes innocently closed.
As the big car swallowed up the miles on the freeway, I contemplated my two passengers. It was difficult to believe that this was the same boy who had been rescued from a vice ring that was notorious for the explicitness of their pornographic videos and for the brutality of their regime. I had heard accounts of when Yura was found, and I had seen the photographs. God what a scene! Yura was found broken and bleeding, his body abused almost beyond imagination. His face was pulped, with bruises, burns and lacerations all over his body. He was stained almost from head to toe with blood, his naked body wet with... god only knows what it was. He had been more or less left for dead, and was rescued just in time to save his young life. There was certainly a lot of publicity in the press about it, and that was how I first heard about Operation Ganymede.
Operation Ganymede was the Moscow Police's name for their investigation into that boyporn ring, and their attempts to shut it down, to rescue the boys and bring the pornographers to justice. It struck me as a rather curious, and not altogether appropriate name. After all, Ganymede was certainly known in Greek mythology as the beautiful Trojan youth who was abducted by Zeus and became cup bearer to the gods. Some believe he became Zeus's lover. I could see the connection with Ganymede and his beauty. But I wasn't sure of the wisdom of it insofar as Ganymede was actually granted immortality, whereas most of the boys at the centre of this investigation were now dead. That struck me as something of a glaring inconsistency. According to the Moscow Police, most of the other young boys had all been found dead. All except one, who I think was still missing. Only Yura was found alive, and I guessed was now a key witness at the centre of an intensive investigation involving one of the darkest and most oppressive vice rings ever uncovered. It was an operation that had already been in progress for over six months with very little headway. Thinking this over as we drove back from the airport, I realized that I already knew quite a lot about this little boy.
Looking at Yura again in the mirror, he had recovered from his injuries very well, I thought. In fact he looked quite healthy - still slightly delicate, but nevertheless well cared for. Elena still had her coat on, with a fake fur collar, her head tilted back against the head restraint, both of them rocking gently in unison in the back seat as the big SUV rode over the bumps on the freeway. We drove for miles in silence. Then the next time I looked in the rear view mirror, Yura was wide awake and staring at me inquisitively, catching my eye in the mirror. I could see the silhouette of his head in the reflection, and as I caught his gaze in the mirror, I smiled. But he did not falter once - just carried on staring back at me, expressionless. He had something on his mind, but didn't speak. The next time I looked he had drifted off to sleep again. I could tell this was going to be a most challenging assignment.
We drove to a police safe house outside the city - a sprawling residence with eight bedrooms and five bathrooms; well kept grounds with a pool and terraces front and rear. There was even a level below ground, a sort of basement with a games room, a gym and a cocktail bar. It had high walls and an electronic gate, with surveillance cameras. It was the perfect location for a police safe house. With the car safely ensconced in the garage, Yura and Elena went inside with a minimum of formality. She barely managed to kick off her shoes and instantly poured herself a stiff drink - vodka of course - and was immediately on the phone as though she had just checked into some swanky hotel. She retired to the voluminous sofa in the drawing room, and was deep in conversation with someone whom I could only surmise was a relative. I wondered why she was making herself so at home. She wasn't even staying with us. Yura, on the other hand, was more ill at ease. Apart from his brief exchange when we first left the airport, he had said nothing else for the entire journey. When we arrived, he came in and looked around, distinctly unimpressed. I could tell he didn't want to be here. He immediately ran off to explore the rest of the house, without even taking off his jacket, Elena interrupting her telephone conversation to call after him, telling him to slow down and not be any trouble.
The rest of the day was hectic and taken up with formalities. We managed to communicate quite well. They knew quite a lot of broken English, and in the event my Russian wasn't as rusty as I thought. Yura was quiet and withdrawn most of the time, and kept largely out of sight. Occasionally the phone rang, mostly concerning routine stuff from my unit that needed to be dealt with. It was just to confirm we had arrived safely and to remind me to sit tight. I was to wait until I received further instructions from my unit. I was given no idea when that was likely to be. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. I didn't question anything, just did as I was told. The rest of the time Elena was chatting animatedly on the phone with relatives and officials from the Moscow Police. The Moscow Police were pretty much calling the shots in this operation, and we had to be compliant. We needed their cooperation as much as they needed ours.
Later in the afternoon Elena took her leave. They had arranged accommodation for her elsewhere and a car came to pick her up. Although she was not staying with us, she would continue to be involved in Yura's case as long as he was here. She briefed me fully before she left. Once she was gone, I had sole responsibility for Yura. My duties extended to not only protecting his life, but to also looking after his everyday needs while he was in my care.
Aware that I was now alone with Yura, I did a quick inspection of the rest of the house to see what had been prepared for our arrival. There was plenty of food, and new clothes for Yura hanging up in the closets. Satisfied that all our needs would be catered for as long as we had to stay in this house, I went to check on Yura. I found him upstairs in the bedroom at the end of the hallway, where I had taken his battered little suitcase when we first arrived. The suitcase was still sitting upright on the floor untouched. Yura was asleep on the bed. He was lying face down, with his head turned to one side and his mouth slightly open. He was still fully clothed except for his sneakers which he had discarded unceremoniously at the foot of the bed. His loose jeans and a baggy sweatshirt looked almost too big for him, making him look quite frail. I watched him for a few minutes, concluding that he must have fallen asleep almost as soon as he hit the pillow because the bed was otherwise undisturbed. I contemplated his prone little body, lying there so innocently, and concluded that, whatever this little boy had been through, it was good that he was now safe. Reassured that he was okay, I withdrew back downstairs to the far end of the drawing room where there was a gaming table. There was a very ornate chess set laid out, so I sat down to amuse myself for a bit. There was no knowing how long we were going to be here and waiting was an occupational hazard in my job.
I had been at the chess game for just over an hour when Yura peered around the door. He scanned the room briefly, and spotted me sitting at the chess table. Tentatively, he came in, still in his loose jeans and socked feet, and now shirtless. He had evidently discarded the sweatshirt and seemed more comfortable that way. I could tell immediately that walking around shirtless was his default mode. I liked the fact that he was now at ease enough to walk around the house so freely. Seeing the chess set, he approached, padding softly across the parquet floor, and plopped down in the armchair opposite me, still saying nothing. His big blue eyes shone out from beneath his thick black head of hair, which was slightly mussed up from his sleep. I sat back, distracted by his semi-nakedness, and waited to see what he would do. He took one all-encompassing look at the chessboard, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. As he was busy surveying the chessboard, I watched him closely. He reached out and made a move with the opposing pieces, then looked up at me with a smug look. He caught me looking at him. I was stunned by his astuteness and quick-wittedness. It was a good move. I smiled, not only to acknowledge his cleverness but also to acknowledge that it was the first time he had chosen to interact with me since coming into the house. He was good for a couple more moves, to the point where I thought we might get a decent game going, but he quickly lost interest. I could see in his eyes that his heart really wasn't in it, but I admired his effort just the same.
Yura got up and went over to the French windows as though distracted by something outside. The drawing room opened out onto a ground floor terrace, beyond which was the swimming pool. Through the windows the garden furniture looked quite solitary and abandoned. Standing there shirtless, in his socks and blue jeans, his diminutive figure looked quite vulnerable and forlorn. For a long time he was very still and quiet and I wondered what was going through his mind. I got up and followed him over to the window and stood just behind him, a little to one side, staring out of the window above his head. At the same time I couldn't help noticing how his jeans were hanging slightly down below his hips, as seemed to be fashionable these days, and the waistband of his black underwear was clearly visible. I noted that his small stature barely reached chest height next to my six foot two frame. I was curious to know what he was thinking.
I was first to break the silence.
"Would you like me to help you unpack?" I offered.
He turned to face me, looking up at me with his hands dug firmly into his pockets and shrugged indifferently. It was more acceptance than affirmation, but that was probably as much as I could hope for at this point.
I gently took his elbow and offered to lead the way. He turned and followed me readily enough.
We went upstairs to the bedroom at the end of the hallway. I had picked this bedroom because it was one of the biggest. It had an ensuite bathroom and a window which overlooked the pool. I thought it would be ideal for him. He was distinctly unimpressed however. He was out of sorts, probably still a little disoriented and still looked very scared.
He sat down tentatively on the bed, looking to me for guidance on what he should do now. I lifted his battered little suitcase onto the bed and he watched me open it. He looked almost ashamed when I slipped the latches and flipped open the lid. There was very little in it, and what clothes he did have were in a very sorry state. His jeans were tattered and torn at the bottom. His t-shirts were faded and looked a little too small for him. His socks and underwear had holes in them. Even his few personal effects looked cruddy and soiled. He had a toothbrush with worn-out bristles that was obviously past its useful life. Inwardly, I almost cursed the Moscow Police. Couldn't they even have bought the kid a decent toothbrush? Looking at his pitiful array of stuff, I felt so sorry for him. It was incredibly sad because it was the first tangible evidence I had that there really was no one looking out for this kid.
"Don't worry," I said, reassuring him, "We've got lots of new things for you."
I opened the drawers and showed him the brand new, neatly folded clothes that had been so carefully put away. The closet also had new stuff hanging up, most of it with the labels still attached.
"There's a new toothbrush and everything you need in the bathroom."
He continued sitting on the bed and gazed down at his feet, hunched over protectively, his bare back curved over, his arms pulled into his lap. He looked up at me briefly, as though to seek the reassurance that I was still there, and for a moment it appeared as though there was something he wanted to say. But he didn't. Either he didn't know how, or wasn't sure whether he should. His silence worried me. I recognized the signs. Elena had warned me that he had been rather reticent and stoical on the journey from Moscow. He had not said much, and had hidden his distress very well so far. It was likely he would not hang onto his sadness in silence for much longer. He was still deeply traumatized. Knowing the nature of what this boy had been through was enough to understand a little of his pain. At some point it was going to well up and overwhelm him, and I was very good at recognizing the signs.
The only reason I had chosen the vice squad was because of my involvement with young street kids before I joined the Police Department. That was what made me decide to become a police officer. I knew only too well what gritty, chaotic, disjointed lives those kids led, and was all too familiar with the violent, sordid and dangerous world they inhabited. I should do: I was once one of them, before John picked me up out of the gutter and taught me how to be a proper human being. Alas, John was long gone now, but his legacy was still with me. I later went on to help hundreds of those kids, and in the process acquired a knack for being able to relate to young, damaged, directionless little boys. I owed it all to John. He was motivated by an almost obsessive interest in helping those lost boys. His enthusiasm for it was, I think, compounded by the indifference of the world around us; the casual acceptance that this was just the way it was, and that angered him. He despaired at the way those kids were so readily consigned to the trashcan of society. But he taught me that they were not completely feckless and without hope. I was living proof of that. There was love and reward there if you looked for it. For me, there had always been affection and fulfillment amongst all the filth and disenfranchisement. That was how I knew how to recognize the signs. There was a certain look those boys carried around with them - a hungry, needy, haunted look that was ever-present in their eyes. Perhaps that was what John had seen in me: the look of fear, insecurity and disorientation, the mirror that reflected the certain knowledge that you were surplus to requirements, that no one really wanted you, that you had grown up never having known real love and affection. That damage, that scarring, that brokenness was always easy to spot. If you saw it enough times, you recognized it much as you might recognize an old enemy - the enemy that, even now as a police officer, twenty years later, I still battled with every day on the streets of our city. What worried me was that I now recognized that same look in Yura's eyes. Beautiful though they were, Yura's eyes betrayed that sadness and neediness, that absence of real affection. He was not a street kid, but I could still see the irrefutable evidence that he had suffered deeply, in the same way that I had suffered, and that he had been left profoundly damaged and hurt, physically and emotionally. I knew what it was like to carry that pain and suffering around with you for so long, and to know that it was so deeply ingrained in your soul that it became almost as familiar to you as your own shadow.
That was when it happened. I turned around to say something to Yura, having just put some of his things away in the closet, and I saw that he was not where I expected him to be. He had moved, and was now curled up on the bed. He had thrown himself across the middle of the bed awkwardly, his face buried into the comforter, and was sobbing silently. His diminutive little body was drawn up, his hands clutched into fists, pulled up tight to his chest, and his little body was shuddering violently with stifled grief as he lay there. It had finally hit him.
I took a deep breath and tried to fight back my own emotions. My fleeting memories of John faded and were soon forgotten altogether. I went and sat down, sinking onto the bed next to Yura. There was no certain way of knowing how he would react to my touch, but I reached out a tentative hand anyway.
"Hey little buddy..." I said softly, touching him on his bare shoulder.
His little sobs were muffled by the comforter, and I knew that he was already so deep into his grief that he couldn't stop now if he wanted to.
I scooted across the bed and pulled him up. He did not resist. He allowed me to pull him towards me. I gently and ever so carefully maneuvered this little bundle of grief onto my lap, and comforted him like a baby. He was surprisingly receptive and snuggled into me and cried onto my chest. His eyes were awash with tears. Seeing those beautiful blue eyes glazed with tears, and his diminutive little body shuddering with his sobs was strangely unsettling. In the back of the car on the way back from the airport earlier he had been innocent and curious. Now he just looked fragile and dejected. I suddenly realized just how much I genuinely cared about this little boy, and it actually shook me deeply to see him in distress.
"Don't cry little buddy," I reassured him, in low, whispered tones, "Everything's going to be alright."
I rocked him comfortingly for a while and he responded to that by hugging me. I stroked his bare back. His skin had turned cold and clammy to the touch, and he clung to me tightly, shivering slightly as he sobbed. I hugged his little body and sat with him for a good few minutes. I could sense how frightened and vulnerable he was. From what I had already pieced together myself, and from what Elena had told me, it all started to crystallize in my mind. This was the manifestation of the fear and trepidation he suffered from this drastic and sudden change in his life. Probably for the first time the full magnitude of Yura's situation hit me with a clarity which I found at once dizzying and scary. Here was a little boy who had suffered terrible abuse, abduction and rape. He had been held captive, then rescued in the most dramatic circumstances. And now he had been taken away from everything that was familiar to him, flown halfway around the world to a strange country because there were people out there wanting to kill him. This little boy was now a key element in a major international police investigation which involved the police forces of two of the most powerful countries in the world. An investigation which centered on a vice ring that was evil and deadly, whose activities were extensive and all-encompassing, and involved drugs, pornography, prostitution and homicide, and which had produced the darkest, most depraved and explicit pornography ever conceived. It frightened the hell out of me, and I was a seasoned police officer with nearly twenty years service. So as I sat there on the edge of the bed, with this stricken little boy trembling in my arms, I couldn't begin to imagine how he must have felt at this moment.
I sat there patiently and let Yura cry himself out, all the time stroking his smooth back and nuzzling his sweet head. His sobs were quiet and stifled, and his little body heaved with grief. Every now and then his shoulders would shudder involuntarily, until the tears subsided and eventually stopped altogether. He stayed curled up in my arms, for the moment safe and comforted. As the streaks of his tears dried on his face, I wiped the hot, salty liquid away with my thumbs, and he brightened up a little. Silently, he stayed like that, totally immobile on my lap, for a good long time.
We were both deep in our own thoughts, for the moment not feeling the need to say anything. Eventually, he stirred, shifting sluggishly in my lap, and looked up as though trying to read my thoughts. I smiled down at him comfortingly. He bravely attempted a smile, and I knew the worst was over. At that moment, in such close proximity to him, I was profoundly overawed by his beauty. I noticed how clear and smooth his complexion was. It almost had the texture of porcelain - a stark contrast to his raven-black hair and those cobalt-blue eyes. He was an exceptionally good looking boy. I felt very drawn to him, quite protective of him, and really wanted to know what was in his heart. In fact, there were so many things I wanted to know about him - so many questions I wanted to ask about what he had been through, why he was here. I hoped that during the course of this assignment I would have all those questions answered. As he was looking up at me, his big blue eyes were almost supernatural, still awash with the remnants of his tears, they were like little glazed crystals, glinting transparently as they caught the light from the window. There was a lot of mystery and wonder in those eyes. He was a complex little boy for sure.
As he quieted, and his grief ebbed away, I sensed that he was aware of me surveying his features with more than a passing interest. He looked up at me again curiously, as though trying to gauge my expression, his eyes still moist with tears, then he did something which I shall never forget: he reached up and put his little hand gently against my cheek. Then he left it there, resting warmly on my face. He didn't press, or squeeze or stroke. He just left his little hand there on my cheek, still looking up at me meaningfully. He licked his lips with a lean and hungry stare, allowing the briefest glimpse of his pink little tongue, and he closed his eyes, resting his head against my chest. I had seen that look many times before. I recognized it from the faces of the street kids I had been involved with. He said nothing. He just carried on staring into my eyes with a deep and thoughtful expression. Then, quite unexpectedly, I saw a small smile creep across his lips and he snuggled deeper into my embrace, for now comforted and enjoying the closeness of our valuable little intimate moment. That really melted my heart. He had a beautiful smile. I smiled back reassuringly, feeling that a connection had been made. It was what I like to call a perfect boymoment - one of those rare moments of tenderness that sometimes pass between men and the young boys they are close to. At that moment, I was sure that we were going to hit it off. I started to relish the prospect of getting to know this wonderful little boy and I decided that maybe this assignment wasn't going to be so bad after all.