In the five minutes since her introduction to Sergei, Abigail emerged from the en-suite bathroom. She had been handed a thin red satin top, denim shorts and black stockings, all of which were a size too big. The only advice offered by the bikini-clad girl who accompanied her were words of warning. You don’t want to upset Sergei.
Having changed into the less-than-comfortable clothes, she was led by the hand by the other girl to the set of the first photo shoot of her life. In order to avoid the wrath of either Sergei or Joshua, she cooperated with the requests of the photographer. She gulped as she walked. I don’t want to find out what happens if I don’t listen.
Abigail’s legs felt unsteady. Her stomach was in knots. She was light-headed to the point of making her situation surreal as she approached and took a seat in an armchair. There was a disapproving look from the photographer, standing in front of her. She looked down and realised that she had assumed a defensive pose. Her arms were folded and her legs were crossed.
The photographer walked closer and crouched in front of her. “I know this is a different experience,” he said in a soft cockney accent, “but I promise I’ll make this as easy as possible for you.”
Abigail nodded, noticing that there were tears lurking at the base of her eyes.
The man reached into his pocket and withdrew a tissue, which he used to dab her eyes dry. “My name is David. I hope we can become friends.”
Abigail looked him in the eyes. There was a sincerity there she had not seen in anyone’s face for days. She cleared her throat and replied, “I’m Abigail.”
He nodded, and then stood up, turned and walked back to the camera. “Now, Abigail, the plan is to take a simple set of photographs, nothing to make you feel uncomfortable, just to see how you get on.”
“If you feel uncomfortable at any point, if you need to stop for any reason, just say the word.”
“Okay,” Abigail said as she nodded again.
There was a pause for a moment before David said, “Could you please lower your arms and rest them on the chair? If you could give me a smile as well, that would be great.”
Abigail did as directed and heard the heavy clunk of a camera shutter three or four times in less than two seconds as the large lights around her burst into life, basking her for a brief moment in brilliant white light.
“Perfect,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think you’ll do very well.”
Abigail let the tension fall from her shoulders as the smile became more natural, less forced. There are worse things in life than feeling like a model, being complimented constantly.
Under the instructions of David, the photographer, Abigail became more and more at ease with her surroundings and the modelling she was required to do.
During an almost endless string of compliments, interspersed with the clicks of the camera and the illumination of the flash bulbs, Abigail moved gradually from one simple pose to another, resting on her right arm, and her left, leaning forward, and then back.
She was persuaded to uncross her legs and point her feet as if standing on tiptoes. She looked at the camera with a straight face. She caught a glimpse of that look in the lens and found it hard to believe that such a seductive look could have been generated so easily. She felt a chill run up her spine. Is that really my reflection?
Abigail started to sit back, straightening up as she heard the soft footsteps of someone approach the back of the chair. Abigail started to tense up. It’s the other girl. What’s she going to do?
The camera shutter moved more quickly with a constant stream of clunks and clicks coming from it.
She could feel the girl’s hands on her shoulder and she froze. The camera kept snapping away. The girl moved her hands down past Abigail’s collar bones, and still kept lowering them. What on earth is she doing? So much for feeling comfortable.
Abigail tried to move, to fend off this girl, but she once again found herself unable to do a thing. Her mind started to drift. She thought about home. She thought about her parents. A mother that was worried sick. A father that was trying in vain to find her. A younger brother who would not know what to make of it all. She thought of her own bedroom, and how she missed her own bed, her own things. She thought of anything that would take her mind far away from the hotel room in which she was sitting.
As her mind begrudgingly returned to her current setting, she noticed that the other girl’s hands were sliding down her chest and onto her stomach. The girl leaned in to her ear and whispered, “You’ll find out what this is really about in three… two… one…”
The palms of the girl’s hands turned into fists and all at once the red top was wrenched upwards, exposing Abigail stomach to the world, and it was still moving up, about to expose much more.
In a shot, Abigail broke free from her fright, yanked her top down and stood up. She spun around and glared at the girl. “What are you doing?!” she screamed at her.
She could see the nonchalant shrug of the girl’s shoulders through her tears as the girl in the blue bikini looked towards the camera and said, “Maybe she can’t do it.”
The stomp of heavy feet grew louder and Sergei appeared from behind the camera. He wagged a finger at the girl and said, “Anastasija, you know you do something far too much.”
He turned to Abigail and said, “I’m sorry, my girl. This is not normal for a first shoot.”
Before Abigail could ask when such things would became normal, Sergei had diverted his attention back to Anastasija, who was smirking. “Girl, you will feel the force of my hand if you do such things like that again.”
He walked off, muttering something about going too far, too soon.
Anastasija, pouting, said, “They usually start younger. I was just helping her… catch up.”
David ran to Abigail and offered her another tissue. He took her by the hand and led to her a seat the other side of the camera where she sat down. “Ana would not have lasted one day here if someone had done that to her,” he said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
From her seat, across the room from the two matching Chesterfield sofas, Abigail could see and hear Sergei in conversation with Joshua. It was possible that the photographer was still talking to her, but she was focussed on the deal that was apparently being done.
“We always start the girls clothed,” Sergei said in an annoyed tone. “Anastasija knows as well as anyone how we operate here.”
Joshua nodded, a look of sympathy in his eyes. “It will have all been a shock to Abigail’s system, I’m sure.”
Sergei tilted his head and said, “Yes, I see potential there though.” He wagged a finger again, this time at Joshua. “You, my friend, are right. I think I can work with this girl.”
Joshua smiled. “I’m sure you won’t regret it.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will,” Sergei said with a chuckle, “but it will be a fun experience for us anyway. The girl is different to most. I will see where this goes.”
Joshua shrugged and smiled again. “I suppose all that’s left is for me to name my price.”
Sergei held out his open palms, keen to acquire Abigail’s services. The fact that both were about to barter for her made her shudder. I’m some kind of prized animal. I’m no longer a girl but a possession, something of worth, livestock.
“I don’t expect to be able to come here and set my own price, but I think you’ll find my terms reasonable.” Joshua said.
“I’m sensing it is not money you want,” Sergei said in response.
“I need to get out of the country. I hear you have ways of doing that.”
“I assume you do not wish to involve customs or passport officials?” Sergei asked.
Sergei responded with a nod of his own. “I think I can help you, but the country where I send you will not save you from extradition.”
Joshua nodded. “The country where I land will not be my final stopping place.”
“I also need to know that you will not tell anyone what I have done for you. You will also need to keep quiet about this place.”
Joshua nodded again. “Of course,” he said.
“I think I can call one of my contacts. Arrange for you to leave tomorrow evening.”
Joshua smiled. “That sounds perfect.” He looked around the room in a casual manner. “What are the chances of throwing in a one night stay here?”
Sergei chuckled. “I would expect you to stay here. I know you’re a wanted man, Mr Billings. I don’t want someone seeing you leave.”
Joshua wore a cheeky smile and asked, “What are the rules on my being permitted to watch the photoshoots with your girls while I’m here?”
Sergei smiled and held his arms out as if he was about to receive a hug. “My friend, you hope for a lot.” He paused and looked away for a moment before returning his attention to Joshua. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you do not make noises or distract in some ways.”
Joshua leaned forward in his chair and held out his right hand. “Then I suppose we have a deal.”
Sergei leaned forward and shook his hand. “I suppose we do.”
Abigail felt her flesh crawl. Just like that, they’ve bartered over my freedom. Her shoulders slumped. How is my father supposed to find me now?