Wrapped in a blanket, perched on a sofa in front of a large gas fire, Abigail felt, for the first time in a while, that things were looking up.
Her fingers were gripped around a mug of steaming hot chocolate, as if it was some precious possession, priceless and worth guarding with her life.
Every sound still put her on edge, and the movement of the living room door caused her to dart her head around to see it. She felt comfortable, but she was still hyper-alert to everything that could be considered another threat to her safety. She knew she was far from being home and dry.
The short, rotund man entered, carrying a bundle of clothes that were not his. “As promised, I’ve found you some clothes. He placed them in a neat pile next to her, offering a warm smile. “I have a daughter only a little bit older than you. She hasn’t visited much since the divorce.”
Abigail nodded and said, “Thank you” for around the tenth time.
He nodded with his head bowed, looking towards the floor as he took a seat on the opposite side of the sofa. “Her mum lives a couple of hours away. I see her during holidays, but it’s never for long.” He turned to look at her, his eyes glistening as if he was about to break down in tears.
Abigail smiled at him and blinked, realising that the heat of the fire was making her eyes sting when she was in such close proximity to it.
He slapped the palms of his hands against his lap and moved to stand up. “I’ll leave you in here to change. It’s the warmest room in the flat.” He walked towards the door and as he had hold of the handle said, “Let me know when you’re dressed.”
The door closed as Abigail raised her voice to say, “I will. Thank you again.” She thought for a moment and said, “Actually, I have a question.”
He opened the door and popped his head through. “Yes?”
“Are you going to call the police for me?”
He nodded with a smile that looked a little bit crooked. “I’ve just been using the phone. You just need to get dressed and wait for someone to collect you.”
The door closed again and Abigail set her hot chocolate on a small table to her left and felt a shiver run through her as she stood up and removed the blanket from her shoulders. She lifted up the items of clothing a looked at them, front and back. They weren’t new or in perfect condition, but they would cover her, which was more than she could have said for most of the clothes she had worn that day.
The dressed as fast as she could and walked to the door. She opened it and peered out. No sign of the man. “I’m dressed now,” she said in a sheepish voice.
The man’s face, looking nervous, appeared from around a corner at the end of the short hallway.
“I’ll be with you in a minute. Just making a phone call.”
An uneasy feeling erupted from the pit of Abigail’s stomach, filling her with a seemingly irrational fear, increasing her heart rate and causing her to feel ever so slightly nauseous. I’m not sure I’m safe here. I don’t know who this man is, or where I am, or really anything.
She closed the door, shook her head and retreated to the sofa. Her heart started to pound a little less and her head cleared. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. He’s done everything he can to help me.
She stared in to the fire, watching the flames constantly licking the fake coals and shrugged. Maybe he’s not used to company. Maybe he’s nervous on account of having just brought a near-naked fourteen year old girl home.
She looked around the room, trying to find some evidence that this was the home of a family man, someone who could be trusted. She looked above the fireplace. No photos. She looked along the walls. Nothing but prints of funky, modern art. If this man has a daughter that he misses so dearly, then were are the pictures of her?
He said he was recently divorced, so maybe most of the pictures of his daughter also showed his ex-wife, someone of whom he might not want to be reminded.
There was a magazine rack by the side of the sofa, filled with papers and letters. She withdrew a letter, still sitting in an opened envelope. It was addressed to Benjamin Marchant in a flat in London, and it was a utility bill from over a year ago. Maybe he’s been divorced for longer than he wants to admit.
She replaced the bill in the envelope and put it in some random position amongst other opened envelopes in the rack. It was becoming a challenge to give this man the benefit of the doubt, especially when she had been in the company of so many terrible men in recent days. If nothing else, at least she knew her location.
The man, whom she believed to be called Ben, re-entered the room with a confident smile on his face, but a nervous look in his eyes. “So,” he said with enthusiasm, “how does a young girl end up running through the streets of London in winter with barely a stitch of clothing on her?”
Abigail cleared her throat, lowered her head and fidgeted with her fingers. “I’ve just escaped from a man at a hotel near here,” she said, as if owning up to some terrible crime after a parental grilling.
Abigail nodded. “I was being kept prisoner. I was forced to… wear different clothes and have pictures taken. It was horrible.”
He took a seat next to her on the sofa and put an arm around her as he let out a sigh and shook his head. “There have been rumours about that place. I see this sort of stuff on the news. Girls like you, no parents or family, end up working in the sex trade somewhere.”
“I suppose I’m different to a lot of them then.”
He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
Abigail shrugged as she said, “I suppose I’m one of the few with parents who are still looking.”
Ben recoiled and withdrew his arm, looking at Abigail with wide eyes. “Your parents are looking for you?”
Abigail put on a sheepish smile. “They’ve been looking since I was taken almost four days ago.” She paused and looked around at nothing in particular. “Wow. Has it really been less than four days?”
Ben seemed to be doing his best to hide his surprise at something she had said. “Forgive my ignorance, but how do you know they’re looking for you, and that they’re going to know where to look?”
Abigail wasn’t sure why this man was asking such strange questions. She would surely be found anyway, now that he had rescued her and called the police. She turned to meet his gaze and said, “My Dad’s a Private Investigator. Used to be a police officer. I’ve already seen myself on the news on TV.”
If he looked shocked before, Ben now looked aghast. His mouth had opened so wide it could’ve been mistaken for a train tunnel.
She looked at the fireplace, turning her attention away from his face and said, “My Dad’s the kind of person who keeps going until he gets results. He’s told me before about the times he’s wanted to make someone pay for what they’ve done.” She looked back at him as he gulped. She put on a smile and said, “But you’re one of the good guys, so he’ll be thanking you instead of hunting you down.”
She let out a slight laugh. Ben didn’t join in. He cleared his throat and said, “Yes, of course. You’re safe here.” He glanced away and said, “Excuse me a minute.” He stood up and walked to the door.
Turning her head to face him she asked, “Do you mind if I watch some TV?”
Pausing whilst opening the door he said, “Err, sure. That’s fine.”
He exited the room like he was trying to avoid contamination from some deadly, airborne virus. Abigail had spooked him with the talk of her parents, especially her P.I father who would stop at nothing until he found her.
Abigail turned on the TV and raised the volume. She stood up and listened at the door, hoping to catch some spoken word that might explain what was really going on. If he retreated down the hallway for long enough, and if she felt confident, she could make a break for the door.
She tutted and shook her head again. “I’m being crazy,” she whispered to herself. “There’s no way I just happened to have been saved by some other sex-crazed maniac, is there?”