With around fifteen minutes to spare until her next shoot, having just finished shooting with a girl the same age named Veronika, Abigail had been given permission by Sergei to take a shower. The photographer had found a large, fluffy white bath sheet that was probably big enough for Abigail to wrap herself in at least twice.
She retreated into the bathroom, locked the door and started the shower running. For a moment she leaned against the back of the door. Privacy at last, even if only for a few minutes.
She almost ran to the sink and turned on the cold water. She splashed her face and then raised cupped handfuls of water to her mouth, slurping it like someone who hadn’t seen water for days.
A knock on the door startled her before she heard David’s voice. “Everything okay in there?” he asked.
“Fine thank you,” she replied. “I’m getting in the shower. I’ll be out in ten minutes.”
After several seconds of silence Abigail removed her ill-fitting clothes and stepped into the shower through a cloud of steam, pulling the curtain closed behind her.
The water was hotter than she could usually stand, but today it felt right. Today things were different.
She knew medical implements were sterilised with boiling hot water. I need to feel clean again.
After a minute or two of furious scrubbing under the scalding water, she felt anything but clean. In fact, the more she scrubbed, the more despicably dirty she felt, as if every layer of dead skin exposed something of her shame about the girl she was becoming. A girl who would whore herself out for the camera in order to stay free from the very real threat of actual, physical abuse.
Trying to think about anything else, she could not refrain from remembering the incidents of the past few hours. She tried to shake the mental images from her head again to no avail. I’ve been kissed by another girl before I’ve been kissed by a boy. I’ve been touched in places I shouldn’t have been touched. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
She forced her hands to slow down from a more abrasive to a more gentle scrub. Part of her realised that no amount of scrubbing could remove the filth that had been flooding her mind. Four days ago she was a normal, innocent schoolgirl. Now she felt years older in all the worst ways. Her constant tears were indistinguishable from the thousands of drops of water streaming down her face. I only hope my dad can save me. Only rescue and the passage of time could heal her unseen wounds.
As the hot water hammered down on her skin, her own shame, guilt and self-loathing quietened, causing her to become aware of another sound. She froze, considering turning off the water. Someone else is in here.
Before she could do anything else, the curtain was drawn, bringing her face to face with David, the photographer, holding a camcorder and wearing a leering grin.
As a reflex Abigail covered herself with her arms and hands as well as she could manage. “What are you doing?” she almost shouted. “Get out!”
There was a shake of the head and a wink. The photographer seemed far less friendly than he had done earlier in the day.
“Get out!” she screamed at him in a trembling voice. She reached for the curtain and tried to tug it back into position, to no avail. She let go and tried again to cover her body. “Leave me alone!”
“Get some soap on the go, girl,” he said. “Make a show of it. A request from the boss.”
“No, I won’t!” She turned away as the curtain was released. She spun around, almost slipping, and closed it.
At the moment she let go of the curtain again, David’s free hand reached through and stroked her midriff. As the hand started to move up her body she forced it away and pushed through the curtain with all of her strength.
She could hear him slip over and crash into the door. She heard the crunch of plastic on tile and realised that the camcorder was no longer a threat to her privacy.
There was no angry reaction. There was no wrenching of the curtain and slapping. No shouting. Instead, David, the once kind photographer, spoke in a low and threatening voice. “You’ll pay for that. Sergei won’t be at all happy.”
The door closed for a moment and Abigail turned off the water. She made a rushed job of drying herself and had replaced her underwear when the door flung open and whacked against the wall.
With a furrowed brow and a booming voice, Sergei said, “Alicja, come with me.” He didn’t give her the chance to refuse, grabbing her arm and dragging her from the room.
She was brought to a forceful halt a few feet into the next room, standing next to Sergei, awaiting her punishment.
Everyone stared, as if they had seen this a hundred times before. Like they knew what was coming.
David walked past saying, “Bye Alicja. Nice while it lasted.” She was certain he had been smirking as he spoke.
Abigail’s heart pounded in her chest. She felt dizzy again, to the point of feeling as if she would pass out. One question continued to circle around her head with no clear answer to go with it. Just the same question over and over again. What’s going to happen to me now?
Sergei was not the patient type. There was a sense that he didn’t want her there anyway. Every model seemed surprised at the induction of someone ‘so old’. The general impression from the people in front of her was that her departure was simply a matter of time. It seemed as though her time had come within a day of her arrival.
In the moment of Sergei’s silence and indecision, Abigail looked into the faces of the people staring at her. No one’s surprised. How many other girls have been kicked out so quickly? What happened to them?
She would have her answer soon enough.
David approached and handed Abigail a dressing gown, which she wrapped around herself, feeling it stick to her still damp skin as she struggled. David returned with a plastic cable tie which was placed around her wrists and pulled tight until it hurt.
“Alicja,” Sergei said, as if launching into a speech he had given numerous times, “You try my patience, but my patience has a limit. It is time for you so be somewhere else.”
Abigail could have pleaded to stay. She could have begged for another chance, but in her heart she knew she didn’t want one. Not here. She looked across at Joshua who was trying to find anything else on which to concentrate his attention. He was only interested in avoiding a confrontation with the man who had given him a free pass out of the country.
She was escorted out of the suite by Sergei and led down the stairs, still wearing very little. There was a complete disregard for her exposure to the elements. In Sergei’s mind she was no longer his concern. The least he could’ve done is give me some clothes. I’ll freeze outside.
As she walked alongside the angry Russian, she looked in hope at every passageway, doorway and exit, wondering if there was any chance in breaking free within the confines of the hotel.
Led out of the backdoor, away from prying eyes, Abigail felt as if the cold air hitting the back of her throat was choking her, and that the bright winter sun was only hanging in the sky to blind her. She winced as she let out a cough. Sergei didn’t even alter his stride, dragging her along with him.
In a space reserved for him near the door, the lights flashed and three beeps sounded as Sergei remotely unlocked his silver BMW. With one hand on Abigail’s back, he opened the rear passenger door with the other.
Feeling the freeze more with every second, Abigail wished she was better dressed to cope with the bright but cold conditions. Notwithstanding her lack of adequate clothing, she was very aware that Sergei had been left alone to take her somewhere else. She glanced around as the car door swung open. No one else is here. Now’s the time to escape.
Sergei let go of the door and moved to put his hand on her head, attempting to guide her into the back of the car in the same way she’d seen on police TV shows. As his hand raised, Abigail ducked out of the way of it, straightened up in front of Sergei and swung her head backwards as hard as she could.
There was a sharp pain on the back of her skull as bone collided with bone. The hand on her back was removed and Sergei stumbled backwards, clawing at her as he moved.
She spun around to see Sergei holding his face, blood escaping between his hands. His eyes were closed and still watering. She wasn’t about to waste the opportunity. She swung her zip-tied hands, clenched into fists, until they met his stomach, causing him to hunch. She finished him off by moving to his side, backing up, and charging at him, knocking him into the open car door, his head meeting with the top of the metal frame.
As Sergei hit the ground, Abigail turned around and ran as fast as she could with bound hands.
Her bathrobe had become loose and was flapping in the cold November air, catching much of the breeze like a kite, slowing her down. She needed to move quickly to stay ahead of the man. He was down, but he would be up again, and fury would fuel the man’s chase.
In a moment or two Abigail was darting in and out of small streets between buildings, getting lost in a maze of alleys and intersections. She could’ve been heading back towards the hotel. She could’ve been increasing the distance between Sergei and herself. In the disorientation she had no way of knowing for sure. All she knew was that she needed to keep moving.
Tripping and almost falling twice on old cobbles, Abigail had dashed along long alleys until everything looked completely different from the building immediately around the hotel. By the time she stopped she guessed there was half a mile between her and the hotel, although she was still unclear on exactly how long a mile actually was.
After emerging onto a busy street lined with shops, this was her chance to get someone to offer some real help. It was not normal, as far as she knew, for a fourteen year old girl to be running and walking around the streets in her underwear. The eyes of every passer-by were upon her, and most seemed uninterested or disgusted. She caught sight of reflection in a shop window and stopped walking. I wonder what they all think of me.
An old woman walked past. She tutted and shook her head. A couple of older teens walked past, giggling at something and whispering to themselves.
Abigail spun around and started looking for someone that might be able and willing to help. Approaching was a short, man in a perfect fitting dark blue suit and a thick wool dress coat. His waist seemed to be expanding as quickly as the hair on the top of his head was thinning. He looked as if he’d just walked out of a tailors.
She took a step towards him, realising that he was her height and said, “Excuse me sir, can you help me?”
The man seemed to notice her for the first time as she spoke. He turned to look at her and his mouth fell open as he stopped dead in his tracks. After a moment’s pause he said in a nasal voice, “My goodness girl. What on earth has happened to you?”
With relief and distress rushing through her, she said, “I need…” She had no idea what to say.
“The man took a step closer and said, “You need to get out of the cold and get some clothes. Come with me. I’ll take you somewhere warm.”
The man took off his coat and put it around her shoulders, fastening the top two of three buttons. He put an arm around her and walked by her side.
All Abigail could think to say was, “Where are you taking me?”
The man pointed down the street. “I live in a flat at the end of this road. You can get warm, get dressed and tell me how else I can help you.”
After a few steps in silence, Abigail said, “I… I know what this must look like, but I’m not-”
“It doesn’t matter to me what you are and what you are not,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s a chance for me to look after a girl in need, not a chance to pass judgement on anyone.”
Abigail’s shoulders relaxed as she walked. She felt warmer and safer than she had felt in a few days. It seemed that she was finally in the care of a decent human being. Someone who could keep her safe until her father arrived.
After her ordeal of the past four days, Abigail had often pondered how it would feel to be rescued. How she would react when all of this reached its conclusion.
She felt an odd feeling rising from the pit of her stomach, as if the escape had been too easy. She refused to dwell on her fears, choosing to believe that she would end the day in the arms of her father, on her way to her own happy ending.