Listening to the casual conversation, Abigail began to wonder why she had been dragged along to this informal catch-up in a dark alley. At some point in the conversation, she would prove to be the crux of the matter, but she didn’t care.
She shrugged her shoulders at nothing, letting everything drain from her face, leaving nothing but an expression of misery. I could try to run, but what’s the point? Whatever I do I keep trading one scumbag for another one that’s even worse than the last.
Again, had it not been for her dire circumstances, Abigail might have found it amusing that Sergei had sought to enforce every stereotype of dodgy dealings she had ever encountered. They might as well have been wearing trilbies, trench coats and carrying tommy guns, discussing prohibition. These people weren’t gangsters, but they were clearly trying to act the part in every way except their physical appearance.
In fact, the physical appearance of her two new ‘owners’ was as far removed from the gangster look as she could imagine. The taller of the two men was dressed in a blue and yellow shell suit, straight from the Eighties, with scuffs and holes everywhere. He was wearing once-white Velcro fastened trainers. His hair was long and greasy, covering most of his face.
The shorter man wore a grim face with a second-hand tweed suit. He was wearing trainers that were dazzling white and had at least combed his relatively short, thinning hair. She guessed the shorter of the guys was in charge.
She was surprised when the taller man spoke first. “What delights do you have in store for us today?” he asked in a thick East-end accent, looking Abigail up and down, showing his yellowed teeth in a horrible grin.
“This is a girl in very good condition. Practically straight from a sheltered home,” Sergei replied, as if talking about a pet. She rolled her eyes, almost expected him to go on to say ‘She’s fully toilet trained and has had only one careful owner in a smoke-free home.’
She was stuck in hell. Every time she tried to struggle free, she crossed the barrier into one of its inner circles, each more terrifying than the last. There was nowhere left to run. She wrapped her arms tight around her own torso and looked around, up and back down the alley through which they had walked. My father will never find me here.
She had no idea of the course of the incredible, bitter feeling that was overpowering her in that dark, abysmal location. She was deflated, defeated and ready to die. She would rather die than be subjected to every whim of anyone willing to pay to destroy any remaining innocence in today’s young girls.
The shorter man stepped forward and started his inspection of her. He ripped her arms out of the self-soothing hug, grabbing her wrists and turning them palm up towards him. “Not a user?”
He look over at Sergei who shook his head, looking solemn.
The shorter man turned around to face his grease ball of a colleague. “We’ll need to do something about that.” The tall guy nodded.
The man in the tweed suit put a hand on either side of her waist and stared at her midriff. “Is she... experienced?”
“I believe she is still a virgin,” Sergei answered.
The short man smiled widely as a fire seemed to have been lit behind his eyes. He turned back to the tall man who wore a half-smile, half-sneer expression, just about discernible through the matted hair. He turned around again, looking Abigail in the eyes as he spoke. “People pay a lot for girls in your condition.”
She wanted to spit in his face, defy him, injure him, but somehow resisted the urge to do so. Spitting at someone is above me. She couldn’t believe that even in this situation, lessons from her parents still circled around her head, encouraging her to be polite.
His hands moved down to her hips, around to her buttocks, and then up to her chest. It seemed like a well-practised inspection routine. “How old?” he asked, looking towards Sergei.
“I’m fourteen,” Abigail said in reply, reminding all in attendance that she was old enough to speak for herself.
There was a satisfied hum and a nod of the head before he turned to Abigail and asked, “Where are you from?”
“Somewhere else,” she said, looking past everyone to a nearby brick wall.
The man let out a loud, short burst of laughter. “It’s usually the case, yes.” He took a step back, looked her up and down and said, “A northern girl, judging by the accent.”
He glanced at Sergei who nodded.
“And her parents?” the man asked without returning his gaze to Abigail.
“They’re looking for me,” Abigail said with a scowl, almost spitting the words from her mouth.
Two concerned looks were aimed at Sergei, who waved the palms of his hands towards them in a ‘not me Guv’ kind of gesture.
Sergei cleared his throat and said, “Her kidnapper covered his tracks well. Her parents think she is dead.”
Both men smiled and nodded. Abigail knew the truth. Despite her drunken nature at the time, she could have sworn she had seen her father’s face on the television at the hotel, once again pleading for information. Why would he be on the TV if he thought I was already beyond saving? She kept her thoughts on the matter to herself. They wouldn’t help anything.
Both men took a step towards Abigail as Sergei said, “So we can make a deal at our usual price again?”
The shorter man nodded, for the first time looking like something close to a businessman. “You’ll be paid in the usual way within forty eight hours.”
Sergei met the eyes of the short man. If you were prepared to pay me in two days, why did you bring a case full of money with you?”
The man opened his mouth to speak, and then thought again, opting to keep quiet.
He rolled his eyes and handed over the case. Without another word, Sergei turned around and walked back in the direction of his car.
The taller, greasier man grabbed her arm as if grabbing the leg of an escaping dog. She could feel pain from each of his bony fingers pressing into her skin. “Time to come with us girl. We need to keep you hidden, I suppose.” His cockney accent was as thick as any she had ever heard stereotyped on TV and radio.
The other man leaned in, grabbing the other arm, saying, “People will pay a lot to do a pretty little virgin like you. They might pay more for a private room.” He put his mouth next to her ear and said in a loud, coarse whisper, “Then they can really make you scream.”
Abigail started to shake, gently at first, unable to stop the shaking from taking over. There was terror in her eyes and a scream choked in her throat. Without noticing the terror written all over her features, they dragged her until her shakes relented sufficiently to allow her to walk, flanked on each side by the latest lot of people claiming unfair ownership over her.
Her mind spiralled into thoughts of the inevitable. The final fragments of her frailness, her innocence, would disappear. Within minutes she was likely to be forcibly introduced to drugs and prostitution, entering a vicious circle from whence there was no easy path to freedom.
Half walking and half being dragged, she was taken a short distance to a new-looking row of three mews style houses, built in a secluded location and seemingly unfinished.
As they approached, the shorter of the two men let go of her arm, took a few quick steps to get ahead, and opened the door for Abigail as well as his colleague. “We’ve been living here, rent and mortgage free for months.” He said. “We was quite lucky to find this place just after the building company went bust.”
Abigail walked through the unpainted hallway, her feet collecting dust from the bare concrete floor. The usual furnishings and décor seemed to be absent. Due to the layers of dust on the wooden steps and the dull grey floor, the house, from her limited viewpoint, looked both old and new at the same time.
She walked through a doorway to her right to see an open plan lounge and dining area leading to a kitchen. If the condition of the hallway needed work, the room in which she was standing looked ready to be condemned.
Cracks were spread across filthy walls. A single lightbulb hung from a mould covered ceiling. The windows had accumulated a thick layer of grime that seemed to work as a natural screen, preventing anyone who might pass by from peering inside.
About to take a step forward, Abigail turned her attention to the floor and noticed that it was littered in used syringes.
Despite the appalling condition of the room, the contents of it were far more disturbing. The only things that could be called furniture were mattresses, old, stained and torn, pushed up against the skirting, barely leaving any floor space for walking between each. Several metal shower curtain rails were hanging from the ceiling, looking as if they could fall at any moment. At one point in time, these might have held curtains that would have offered the user of each mattress a modicum of privacy.
She counted the mattresses, all but one with at least one occupant. Seven. One laying empty. She felt a shudder run through her. I’m guessing I’m the new occupant of that empty mattress.
Six other girls, all under sixteen, probably under thirteen, were lying there. Two were trying to please their overweight, hairy, fifty year old clients, wearing nothing but a fake smile. One girl, lying alone, has something tied around her arms and a needle against a vein. Two girls were lying still, staring into nothingness with red puncture marks covering their arms as if they had the measles, like their arms had been used as pin cushions.
The remaining girl, not content with the provision of injected psychotropic substances, was snorting a line of white powder from a TV tray with a bean bag base.
Each girl looked as if they had been in this situation for some time, and each seemed to know exactly what they were doing.
One of the girls, eleven at a guess, was lying very still at first, and then the shakes started. At first they were enough to cause the girl to open her eyes wide with shock. After a couple of seconds her hands clenched into tight fist and her toes curled. Then the shaking became more violent.
The taller man knelt next to her and put his mouth next to her ear. “Beth! Beth! Can you hear me?” he said. There was concern in his voice, but most likely for the effect this would have on profits, rather than genuine concern for the girl.
Abigail cast her mind back to the girl she had met at the start of all this. I wonder what happened to her.
She took her eyes from the girl, still unresponsive, and looked at the shorter man, standing at a distance and looking on. His face wore the look of resignation, like a football fan whose team had been accustomed to losing more matches than they were winning. The whole scenario was treated as if it happened all too often.
Without her noticing, the shorter man had moved closer until he stood next to Abigail. Leaning over, he said in a hushed voice, “Overdose. Some girls try too much too soon.”
Abigail felt herself welling up in tears. For a moment she was probably the only one in the world who genuinely cared about this girl. “What’s going to happen to her?” she asked.
“Is she lives, she carries on in a few hours. If she dies…” He shrugged and paused before asking, “Do you really want to know what we do with the bodies?”
Abigail felt her stomach turn. She was about to be violently sick. As if expecting such a reaction, the man said, “Bathroom is top of the stairs, first door you see.”
Abigail nodded before dashing out of the room and up the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. There must be some way out of this nightmare.
All she could do was to try to hold herself together, hoping that by some miracle her father would find his way to this little corner of hell.