Ella closed her eyes and enjoyed taking the weight off her feet as she leaned back in the passenger seat of Del’s car. Del introduced his friends, JT and Buzz, both slightly smaller than Del, JT in particular being much more wiry in build, and both in similar rapper/pimp/drug-dealer outfits.
“What you doin’ picking up young white girls off the street Del?” asked JT.
“Yeah. What…” followed on Buzz. But he was instantly cut off by Del.
“Shut your big-ass flappy mouths, the both of you!!!” commanded Del. “Be respectful to our guest. Now, what’s the story, JT? What news?”
“Er. Yeah, Lil’Naza has the Goat. He’s bringing him to the fire pit.” said JT in a more serious tone.
Del nodded. “Hmmm. Good.” he said slowly and he turned to look at Ella. “Wanna go to the beach?”
Ella closed her eyes as Del slammed the accelerator and threw the BMW around the corner, heading west toward the ocean. She took another long drink of the water and then poured a little into her hand and used it to wipe her face; to get rid of the mascara that had run down her cheeks. She thought for a moment about the situation she now found herself in. What would her mother say if she knew where she was? She would be hysterical! The thought made Ella smile. Mom would totally lose her shit! She thought. And Dad? He’d…
Ella’s thought was interrupted as the car came to an almost screeching halt. She looked around and saw that they were in a small parking lot at the base of some cliffs. A wide expanse of beach off to her right and the crashing ocean waves shining under a moon that had pierced through the clouds that had been crowding the sky.
“Here we are!” said Del as if getting to the beach was a major triumph. He looked over at Ella and smiled. “Don’t worry, there’s a good few of us here, but the guys are all solid and no-one will be any danger to you. Just stick with me.”
“Thanks.” said Ella.
They got out of the car and walked across the lot to the steps down to the beach. Ella carried her shoes and was glad to get to the soft wood of the steps and then the cool soft sand. Del stopped at the top of the steps and watched Ella as she also paused on reaching the sand. There was a gentle breeze blowing, sweeping Ella’s hair back from her face and as she took in the cool sensation of the beach under her feet and stared out toward the ocean, Del couldn’t help but notice how incredibly pretty Ella was. At that moment the sounds of the crowd partying by a campfire a hundred yards further down the beach and the voices of TJ and Buzz, yelling to their friends as they scurried across the beach to the fire, melted away to almost silence, punctured only by the soft melody of the waves crashing on the beach. Del felt a calmness and serenity. A vague recollection of a feeling from when he himself had been a kid; of warmth and safety, of belonging and family. He knew nothing about this girl, but he could sense that helping her was bringing something out in him. Something that had been missing for many years.
Ella looked back at Del and flashed a smile. He moved down the steps and instinctively put his arm around her shoulder like they were long time friends. Ella did not flinch, rather she leaned-in to the comforting arm of this stranger. She too felt a sense of calm washing over her. The events of earlier that evening, the anger, frustration, sadness and overwhelming sense of isolation, all fading away.
“Come, meet the rest of the gang.” Del said and they walked off toward the fire.
“You sure they’re not going to kill me? You guys aren’t some devil-worshiping cult, happy to have found a virgin to sacrifice?” she joked.
Del roared a mighty laugh.
“Because, you know, if you are, I’m going to have to kick your ass.” continued Ella.
“Ha! Don’t worry.” said Del. “Virgins are Sunday night.” And then, more quietly, as if to himself only, “Tonight it’s traitors…”
As they approached the fire TJ and Buzz we’re hugging and high-fiving various members of the crowd; getting welcomed back to the group still and trying desperately to make their way to the drinks cooler. In contrast, as she approached with Del she noticed that the crowd was more reverent, standing back a little and acknowledging Del, but with nods and waves. Ella felt a little nervous. She had joked about being sacrificed to the cult, but this was clearly a gang of some sort and she could feel a million eyes on her - all wondering what on earth Del could be thinking in bringing her, a young white girl in a shiny prom dress, to the group. But Ella did what she always did and swallowed her emotion, pushed it down and shut it off once she had picked up it’s immediate message. Her body was ready, her mind clear: if she needed to fight or run she was set. She felt no further worry about all the eyes on her. She did not hear, or did not choose to hear, the whispered comments and the general decrease in activity of the crowd as they all slowly turned to look at Del and her.
As they rounded the fire an older figure came into view. Sitting in a beach chair and looking very kinglike, flanked by minions and lit up in the golden glow of the fire. He rose slowly and ran a hand down the length of his goatee beard - as if thinking about whether or not he was pleased to see Del. Ella was quick to appreciate that this was the leader of the gang and that Del was clearly a senior member, more trusted and more competent than Buzz and TJ.
“Del.” said the old man, stretching it out over several seconds. “Glad you could make it back; thought you might miss out on the fun.” he said in a tone that made it sound like a threat rather than a welcome.
Del stopped just in front of the old man. His arm had fallen from Ella’s shoulder and he somewhat ushered her behind him.
“Always good to come home and help deal with the trash.” replied Del, also very seriously.
“Yes, yes. And what is this you have brought us?” the Boss said looking Ella in the eye. And without letting Del respond, “I didn’t know we were taking mall-rats as payment these days…”
“Ah. Yes. She was a damsel in distress Boss. Just doing my bit to be a good person, you know, keep her safe.”
The Boss let out a hearty laugh.
“Safe? And you brought her here!? To us?” and he laughed again. A somewhat nervous laugh rippled through the crowd. The Boss turned to the crowd and like an Oscar winner, feigned shock and incredulity. “He wants to be a good person!” he said, preaching to the crowd around him as opposed to talking to Del or Ella. “Del thinks he’s a good person!” he said and again let out a mighty laugh.
This time the crowd laughed a little harder, but still apprehensive as to what the Boss might do next. Swiftly the Boss turned back to Del and grabbed him by the hair, bringing Del’s head in close to his own. He was no longer laughing.
“WTF Del?” he said in a quiet menacing tone. “She’s a kid! What the fu…, hell are you doing with, what are we going to do with a little kid at 2am in the morning??”
Ella was ready for action still, nothing had been said to ease the tension and reduce her elevated senses, but the reference to being a little kid had caused her emotions to rise back up. Ella hated being called a kid; especially a ‘little kid’. It was her mother’s excuse for denying Ella almost everything she ever wanted. The lazy excuse of a parent who doesn’t want to deal with the youngest child. It was what the teachers at school and all the other ‘grown ups’ said when Ella had shot down all their arguments or when they wanted to control her. Her anger flared up and instinctively she stepped forward from behind Del.
“I’m Ella.” she stated loudly and petulantly. She looked the Boss in the eye and said “It’s not his fault. I made him bring me here. Don’t worry, I’m not hanging around, I just wanted a ride because my feet hurt. But I’m good now, so I’ll be off.” And she made to move off to the right as if to start to walk away.
“Well, well!” said the Boss, letting go of Del’s hair and putting out his other hand to block Ella’s intended path. “Ella, eh? Nice to meet you Ella.” he said in an OTT English accent. “Your a feisty one aren’t you? What’s your rush young lady? You should at least stay and have a drink princess.”
That riled Ella up even more. Princess! Really? Do I look like a friggin’ Princess?! she wanted to say, but instantly she realised that she did, in fact tonight look like a princess.
“Someone get this girl a beer.” called out the Boss.
Del found his voice, “Boss, I don’t think she’s old enough for a…”, but he wasn’t allowed to finish.
Everyone’s attention was suddenly diverted by the panicked pleading of a man being dragged across the beach toward the fire by two other young men. There was a murmuring from the crowd and both the Boss and Del seemed to relax as they recognised who was being dragged toward them. He was a short, wiry young man, who appeared to be quite aptly named.
“Ah. The Goat.” said the Boss. He turned back to look at Del and grabbed his shoulder. “Since you brought a spectator, you can put on the show for her.” And he glanced over at Ella; looked deep into her eyes and smiled as he said “Well, welcome to the ball Cinderella. Your Prince Charming here is going to give you one hell of a show, so stick around.”
Looking back again at Del and in a voice loud enough to be sure Ella could hear he issued his chilling command: “You know what to do; don’t kill him, he’s a more effective message alive.”
And then as he turned to return to his seat, “…And we’ll deal with Cinderella here after.” And he patted her on the head as he walked past. Ella fumed silently.
Del looked over at the man now kneeling on the sand in front of the fire with the two goons standing next to him, one of them ready to smash him with the baseball bat in his hands if he tried to run. He gathered his thoughts and then looked at Ella. “It’s ok, go with those guys, sit. We’ve got some business to deal with. Won’t take long. And don’t worry, Boss’s not going to hurt you.”
Ella felt a hand on her shoulder. One of the girls from the crowd ushered her back away from Del and into the crowd, stuffing a bottle of beer in her hand as she did. She didn’t hear Del add the word ‘Probably’ to his last sentence.