Joshua couldn’t help but stare at the man sitting opposite. Sergei, one of the most successful child pornographers of recent years, did not fit the mental image. He realised that he had expected to see someone matching Nabokov’s description of Quilty, the near-impotent but fiendish child-snatcher. This man was almost Joshua’s height, substantially overweight, and had a distinctive face, covered largely by thinning brown hair, hanging down and ending near his shoulders.
Joshua resisted the urge to ask about the scar that twisted his lip and ran up diagonally towards his right ear. He could not, however, keep his gaze away from the scar as the man spoke in his broken English.
“This girl,” he said, “is called Abigail. She hails from the North West.”
Sergei nodded. The girl to the man’s side seemed to be staring daggers at him.
Joshua felt the need to continue, resisting the urge to follow the pattern of a brief bio often spoken at beauty pageants. In his mind, he said, she loves reading, all-night conversations and long walks along the beach, but aloud he said, “Her parents believe her to be dead, thanks to my own ingenuity.”
Sergei’s expressionless face changed to wear a frown as he spoke. “My girls work best when they have no attachments. No family. No one they could run to.”
Joshua nodded, feeling beads of sweat form on his forehead. “I understand that, but if you take the time to look at this girl you’ll agree that she is very special.”
Sergei’s frown turned into a look of puzzlement. “What makes her special to me, to my subscribers, and not just to you?”
Joshua cleared his throat, feeling a trickle of sweat running down his back. “She’s the only girl I have abducted that can truly capture the interest of your subscribers.” He looked into Sergei’s eyes. He needed more. “She has a gift to look beautiful and innocent in any situation, and a smile that captivates.”
Sergei looked at Abigail and smirked. “He speaks highly of you.”
Abigail returned a nervous smile.
Turning back to Joshua, Sergei asked, “She is not young. I find that if they don’t start young they become… difficult.”
“You talk a lot about understanding, my friend,” said Sergei, wagging a finger at Joshua, “but you do not show me that you know what to understand.”
Joshua nodded again, “I know, but-”
“My customers want to see my girls grow, develop over time,” Sergei interrupted again, waving his hands in a dismissive gesture towards Abigail. “This girl is in the end of that process is she not? She is stubborn too, yes?”
“She is, but she had softened over the past day. Given more time I think she will prove to be an asset to your organisation.”
Sergei grunted, sounding amused. He sneered as he said, “Stand up then girl, let me take a look at your assets.”
Abigail shot Joshua a worried look, seeming to almost request his permission. She stood up and spun in a quick 360 degree turn before sitting back down again.
“I agree that she is good,” he said, “but I have rejected many girls that were just good. How old is she? Fourteen?”
“She will have her own experiences, will she not?”
He nodded again.
Sergei lifted his hands in a half shrug in a ‘nothing more I can do’ kind of a gesture. “Then she will not change.”
The girl by Sergei’s side smiled and looked at Abigail, who squirmed in her seat.
“Mr Grekov,” Joshua said, “I’ve always understood that you are a man that can profit from any girl, young, old, stubborn, whatever.”
Sergei clapped his hands together, startling everyone seated around him, as he let out a loud laugh. “My friend, you are right!”
Joshua felt his shoulders relax.
“I need to see more of this girl,” Sergei said, turning his head and speaking to the other man in the room. “David, please get this girl an outfit. We will put her in front of the camera and see how she does.”
Something lit up behind the eyes of the girl to Sergei’s left. She looked far too young to be wearing such a revealing bikini. “I will do a set with her,” she said smiling. “We’ll see what she can do.”
Sergei clapped his hands again with delight. “We have a show to watch!” He leaned forward in his seat and wagged a finger at Joshua in a playful manner. “My friend, you have at least brought some new entertainment.”
The man leaned back, webbing together his chubby fingers and chuckling.