Audrey wasn’t considered beautiful.
Dale’s anxiety kept him from keeping a regular job.
She was straight.
He was gay.
They’d been friends forever and they loved each other as much and as completely as any two people could.
At the end of the day, that was what mattered.
She was the head of a fraud investigation division for a major credit card company and he was a stay-at-home dad to the dogs they considered their children. They traveled together, grocery shopped together, and never stopped laughing.
Their marriage wasn’t traditional but neither were they. She lived vicariously through the characters in romance novels to get her fix and he watched gay porn once in a while.
It shouldn’t have worked.
Somehow, it did.
They’d been married for seventeen years and had known each other for almost thirty. Best friends since sixth grade when she beat up a boy who made fun of the way Dale talked.
She was tall, broad-shouldered, and knew most people thought she was a man from a distance. He was ginger-haired with big blue eyes, and a body that never seemed to gain fat or muscle.
She loved him.
He loved her.
The only thing they didn’t share was sex.
It was not a loss.
Most people either wouldn’t or couldn’t understand the life they lived and she didn’t give a single damn.
What she knew to the deepest part of herself was that she and her best friend were together to the last. Neither of them would be alone or afraid as the years passed and body parts stopped working properly.
It was comforting on the rare occasion when she felt sorry for herself and wondered what life would be like with a boyfriend. Those moments were always short-lived because she knew there wasn’t a person on Earth who could ever give her all the things Dale did.
Keying herself into the elevator for her floor, she smiled at the young women who worked in the fraud division call center. They smiled or waved but quickly went back to their computer screens and the calls streaming through their headsets.
There was a chance Audrey hadn’t gotten all the dog hair off her clothes in her rush to leave the house. Ah well, it was part of having pets just as it was part of the child-rearing experience.
In her corner office, she put her coffee down and started her computer. There were several emails from the girls on the graveyard shift. Something they’d never seen before.
Frowning, she opened their screenshots and instantly knew what the large purchases were for.
She removed her cell phone and found a contact she only reached out to once or twice a year. Someone she met a decade before who didn’t fit in any of the normal boxes either.
The woman answered the phone on the first ring. “Audrey? Are you alright?”
“Fine. I’m fine, Sylvia. I have some odd activity.”
“One moment.” There was rustling and then typing. “Go ahead.”
Clearing her throat, Audrey said quietly, “Seven separate purchases made in three different states. All of them are going to the same UPS Store address.” She repeated it. “Dozens of shock collars for large dogs and-and small dogs. About sixty feet of electrified dog gates. Padlocks.”
“Jesus,” the woman on the other end of the line asked several questions rapidly. “Wait an hour before you submit the paperwork to the Feds. We have a team that can get recon before and keep the victims out of the system.”
“I can give you two hours.” Audrey asked quietly, “If it’s what I think it is…will you leave the criminals for the police?”
“No. There is no gray area in the Organization when it comes to people who do this.”
Nodding, Audrey said, “Good. If you find any animals, call me back. I’ll home them until we can get them adopted.”
“You’re a good person, Audrey. I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for the heads up.”
“Thank you for always answering.”
“Tell Dale I said hello.”
“I will. Thanks, Sylvia.”
There was a chuckle on the other end. “You can’t get used to calling me Vi…”
“I met you as Sylvia. It’s hard to shake.”
There was a long pause. “Call me whatever you like but never hesitate to call me.”
The call disconnected and Audrey sat down at her desk. She pulled up the multiple emails and started a draft that would be sent to the authorities exactly two hours later.
She met Sylvia Truing when she was thirty-three and the girl was barely fourteen. She was a natural stunner, tall for her age, who’d passed Audrey in a jog on a residential street in Pennsylvania. Audrey was walking her dog and the girl smiled cheerfully as she ran by.
Moments later, there was an odd sound and her dog growled. Looking behind her, the teenager was nowhere to be seen. Tugging gently, her Rottweiler immediately went back the way they’d come.
She walked fast, looking along the side of the trail. Beside the pavers, there was a spot that showed someone had been dragged. The recent rain made it easy to spot.
“Milo,” she whispered, “we have to find that girl.”
Swallowing hard, she walked off the trail and into the heavily wooded area beside it. Another muffled cry and Milo’s back ridged up. She reached down to remove his leash.
Milo charged through the trees and Audrey ran behind him.
Two men held the statuesque blonde on the ground. Her pristine running clothes were covered in mud and her own blood. It took her attackers too long to notice they were no longer alone.
Milo leapt at the bigger male with a horrific growl and Audrey whipped the other in the face with her dog’s leash. Then she tackled him to the ground and landed three of the punches her dad showed her how to throw when she was eight years old.
“Hold him, Milo!” she called. The huge dog had the other piece of shit by the throat and the man was crying and begging her to call off her dog. “Hold him, boy.”
Beating the man beneath her unconscious with her bare, heavy hands, she bound him with the leash and stood up. Ripping the belt from her coat, she tied up the other one.
He immediately released his prey and Audrey hit the fucking real animal on the ground as hard as she could in the temple. Audrey dragged the other one over and dropped them side by side.
“Good boy, Milo. Guard.” Her sweet Rottweiler stood over the unconscious men with terrifying intensity.
Walking to the girl who was sitting up, bleeding from her lip and the corner of her eye, Audrey crouched. “It’s going to be okay. Let’s get you off the ground. I’m so sorry you had to go through this.”
“You-you beat them with your bare hands…”
“I wish you hadn’t seen that.”
“Are you a b-boxer or something?”
Audrey smiled. “No. My daddy was. He didn’t believe in only teaching boys to fight.”
The girl dragged her arm across her mouth. “Will you teach me?”
Tilting her head, Audrey frowned. “How to fight?”
“Teach me how to punch like that. Please.”
“After you talk to the police and are back on your feet, you can call me. If you still want to learn, I’ll show you what my dad showed me. Okay?” The girl nodded. “Let’s stand you up, make sure you can walk.”
Six weeks later, young Sylvia arrived at Audrey’s house escorted by a nun of all things. “This is my aunt. She’s scared to let me out of her sight since everything happened.”
“I understand that. Come on through. Ignore all the animals. I foster for several shelters in the area.”
That day was one of many when Sylvia arrived to learn how to throw punches that didn’t leave a person wondering about intent. They were meant to incapacitate.
The girl grew bigger, stronger, and better at fighting than Audrey could ever be. It wasn’t a surprise when she made it her life’s work to rescue people. She was meant to be a fighter.
Audrey’s life was unusual, atypical for most women of her demographic. It shouldn’t have worked.
It shouldn’t have been fulfilling.
Somehow, it was.
Smiling, she went to grab coffee and sent a little prayer into the universe to protect Sylvia and the people she worked with when they raided a suspected human trafficking location.
Then her assistant came in with the list of staff up for reviews and Audrey got back to work.
© Shayne McClendon
Author’s Note: This is Sylvia Truing’s origin story. You’ve met her often in “The Barter System,” “Quiet,” and “Hollow” stories. I’ve always been fascinated by her. You’ll see more of her in the future!