The Doll Collector

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Chapter 68

Joshua had expected to enjoy watching the photographing of his girl, but in truth he was far from comfortable with the things he had seen.

Abigail, dubbed Alicja by the man paying for the suite, looked more and more uncomfortable with every new outfit, every new photo set.

He had watched on as Sergei offered her vodka. She had taken it and swallowed the contents of the small glass, no doubt unaware of the alcoholic content. The girl emerged from the en-suite wearing an outfit she had been handed, swaying and propping herself up on walls as she walked. It was becoming increasingly rare, but this girl, at fourteen, had never tasted alcohol. She had certainly not gone near hard stuff like Russian vodka.

Abigail had done her best to work through the dizziness, but her mind seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes wore a glazed look. Her head continued to move in slow, deliberate ways, as if she was scared of it falling from her shoulders.

In addition to her physical symptoms, Abigail’s fight and determination had evaporated. She could not say no to the other girl, approaching and leaving her half-naked before kissing her.

Physically, at least, Joshua should have been enjoying the scenes being acted out in front of him, but his emotions prevented him from doing so. Abigail was innocent, but she was being paraded around in revealing clothing like every girl he had found unworthy of his collection.

Abigail had been standing firm against Joshua’s advances for several days. Everything seemed to have changed with the calming of her fighting spirit and the addition of alcohol. Her previously protected purity was being eroded by wave after wave of attack. It seemed she couldn’t survive pernicious people and their own peculiarities indefinitely.

Turning his head away from the scene, too graphic for his liking, and he noticed a familiar face on a muted television. Dan Castle seemed to be staring at him, sitting surrounded with police emblems, mouthing words that Joshua could not make out.

Joshua’s attention was drawn to the text scrolling along the base of the screen.

FATHER OF KIDNAPPED ABIGAIL CASTLE SENDS MESSAGE TO KIDNAPPER.

He walked to the television, crouched in front of it, and turned the volume up so it would have been discernible only by him. He listened to the words of the father of the girl, standing drunk and disdainfully dressed to Joshua’s right. He smiled. He’s asking for proof before he agrees to my ransom.

It was understandable. Joshua, whilst having been recognised as having avoided lying, had not exactly been forthright. The man had almost been blown up trying to save a girl he believed to be his daughter. He needed something definite, something that would prompt him to take action. Joshua smiled again. I’ll send him something he can’t ignore. He’ll be throwing money at me to get his precious little girl back.

As he reached for and powered on his laptop, Joshua noticed a new email. Sergei had sent through the details of his transport out of the country. Soon he would be out of the reach of the UK police, living on his savings. He hoped to supplement his own funds with the ransom money for the Castle girl, who only moments ago was standing semi-naked a few feet from him.

He watched as the photographer moved lights, checked camera flashes and adjusted furniture. The man seemed to be accustomed to the gradual degrading of girls such as Abigail. As he undertook his various tasks, he seemed unconcerned, untroubled by the work in which he was involved. There were moments when the man’s face was either wearing a grimace or a wicked smile. With some people it was difficult to tell the difference.

As Joshua watched him, an idea struck him, accompanied with a beaming smile. I know the very thing to get Abigail’s father to pay up.

He crept towards the photographer, keeping an eye out for Sergei, who was still sitting in a back office. He crouched next to the man’s seated position on the floor and said, “Could I perhaps make a request that I’d like to keep from the boss?”

The man looked out of the side of his eyes towards him, his interest perked. “I’m listening,” he said in a hushed voice.

Joshua cleared his throat and almost whispered, “How would I go about obtaining the photos of Alicja… unofficially?”

He looked away. “You could subscribe like everyone else.”

“Or I could cut out the middle man and offer you something for your troubles.” Joshua held out a handful of banknotes, a total of around three hundred pounds.

The photographer looked over, unimpressed.

Joshua added another couple of fifty pound notes.

Without looking at Joshua, the man pocketed the money and placed two memory cards in Joshua’s palm whispering, “These need to be back in my hand as soon as the copy has finished. No more than half an hour. No one can know. Understand?”

Joshua nodded and stood up, trying to suppress a smile as he walked tall to his laptop. After ten minutes of watching progress bars, feeling beads of sweat run down his back, Joshua had finished with the memory cards, which is managed to sneak into the photographer’s hand whilst feigning assistance with a light.

He took up a seat on the opposite sofa to the one he had been sitting on for the past hour or so. In his new position, there was nothing behind him but wall. No one would catch a glimpse of his screen, and no one would go running to Sergei.

Before composing his email, he needed to select at least two photos to include. These couldn’t be average modelling shots. They couldn’t show Dan’s darling daughter smiling or seeming to tolerate her surroundings. They needed to show her in distress, her eyes screaming out for help that was not due to arrive, at least not until Joshua had his ransom money.

After perusing the photos, looking for those that would fuel the father’s fury, Joshua had selected two. Both images, full-sized and unedited, showed Abigail being undressed, touched and kissed by other models. After typing a brief introduction to the photographs, he hit the send button. A wicked grin spread across Joshua’s face. He wants proof. He’ll be begging me not to send him more.

Dan would no doubt show or discuss the email with his suffering wife, dutifully by his side during their press conferences. She would insist that he cooperate, for their daughter’s sake.

Joshua closed the lid of his laptop and stashed it in his bag. He then sat back and folded his hands behind his head. All I need to do is wait for the increase in my bank balance.

Abigail’s next photo shoot was about to begin. He glanced at his watch. Twelve hours to get to Dover. Nothing to do but to watch the further degrading of the girl now known as “Alicja”.

He leaned forward, made up a drink from the various alcoholic beverages on the table, and made himself comfortable.

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