The gentleman in the impeccable Armani suit watched the images flash by on the screen, a glass of Macallan single malt on the gold inlay table beside him. Two additional men, shrouded in darkness and unknown to each other, were also taking part in the video conference from different areas of the world, watching the same images. Several times one or the other would raise his hand, platinum or gold watch flashing in the darkened rooms, signaling for the Seller to pause the presentation so they could look more closely at the photographs.
The Seller was visibly sweating in the air conditioned comfort of the massive hotel suite. If he didn't make the sale this time, these clients would look elsewhere for their pleasures. His reputation as the go-to guy in the business was balancing on a knife's edge. Ever since the fiasco with the televangelist two months prior, he'd kept a sharp eye on the operational side of things.
One of the executives was fidgeting, apparently bored, and the Seller's anxiety level skyrocketed. He didn't have to find a mirror to know his appearance was giving his discomfort away. He could feel the cold sweat flowing down his back and armpits, running between his buttocks. What the hell do these guys want? Am I losing my touch? Usually it wasn't this hard to match the client to the product.
The Seller was down to his last two photographs when all three men simultaneously motioned for him to stop. The client in Saudi Arabia rose from his chair and walked to the screen, gazing at the delicate visage.
The Seller's shoulders relaxed. He shouldn't have been worried, should've known the eyes would close the deal: jade green flecked with gold surrounding deep black pupils. Everyone who saw her stopped in their tracks. She'd reminded the Seller of a famous photo he'd seen years before in an issue of National Geographic. She wore the same enigmatic expression. The silence of the buyers signaled it was time for the hard sell.
"Gentleman. I see you have exquisite taste. Mara is newly acquired and in pristine condition. I guarantee she will delight you with her generous charms. As I'm sure you'll agree, she has no equal. I always save the best for last. Mustn't trot out the most sublime too quickly, eh?"
There were murmurs of agreement between the men. The Seller's anxiety morphed to excitement as he prepared to set the hook. My God, look at them. They're practically salivating. A bidding war would be a welcome relief.
The client in the room waved him to his side. His unusual gold pinkie ring flashed, catching the Seller's eye. He'd seen the symbol before, but was unaware of its significance.
"Her age?" he asked.
The Seller turned and glanced at the picture of the girl. Her expression still held a trace of innocence, although churning through the American foster care system for two years had taken its toll. The photographer had captured the picture before Mara realized she wasn't going home.
"Twelve years, sir."
The man nodded his approval. He glanced back at the screen and steepled his fingers, bringing them to his lips to mask his words.
"Make sure she's mine," he whispered.
The quiet statement held the promise of a lucrative payday tinged with strong warning. The Seller's mouth ran dry. He nodded as he straightened and walked to the front of the room. The cameraman panned with him, framing his head and shoulders with Mara's photograph in the background. The other two clients would see only the Seller with the girl's face behind him on screen. Taking a sip of water from a glass nearby, he cleared his throat.
"Shall we start the bidding at fifty-thousand?"
Genre – Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13