I've been playing with titles for the books in this series. Yes, again. I've been down this path before but I normally don't pick a title until the book is 100% complete, then I (usually) choose something relevant to the core of the story, the theme or the meta-arc.
For Ze'evi + Mags (Book 1) I'm thinking Banbha: New Beginnings to End. Their stories and the subplots extraneous to Ze'evi and Mags are all about new beginnings needing to be resolved or established. For Lacey / Rainey (Book 2) I'm thinking Banbha: New Deaths to Live. There's a lot of killing in their book, all of which they survive and "live through" because they're both professional killers by trade (duh). I nearly went with A New Life to Live but OMG that sounds like an old soap opera, doesn't it? *bzzt*
I'm not in a hurry on the titles as I have 6 mos or more before I'm even close to needing one, but I'd love to know what you think, especially if you've been following along for a while and heard some of the earlier titles (yes, I'm speaking to the 39 Barflies currently redshirted in this series!)
In the below scene, Rainey (Charles Rainford, "Charlie" to his friends/employees but he thinks of himself as "Rainey" as it's a nickname Lacey gave him years ago) is going to meet a woman named Katerina Sergeyevna Radovas, or Krazy Kate as Rainey likes to call her. She will earn that nickname shortly after this scene, when she tortures Rainey for...no good reason.
It is as a result of this scene's "distraction" that Rainey misses his critical meeting with Radovas in Prague and ends up in the Sofia warehouse to be picked apart, piece by piece, but I think you'll agree with Rainey that the distraction (later called Anastasia) is worth it.
As always with pre-publication snippets, this is an unedited draft which may or may not ever show up in the book. The characterizations are true to form, as my characters are the first things that come to me. What usually changes is just the details about the story or setting. There may be typos, missing or wrong words so read at your own risk! Also, since I copy/pasted directly from MS Word into Blogger's "Compose" screen, there may be formatting issues that are hinky. On the other hand, it's free!
Click through the jump to start reading the snippet.
Prague, Czech Republic
Rainey folded his newspaper in half and angled it to his left so as to avoid blocking the view. He wasn’t reading the paper anymore, hadn’t been for some ten minutes now. He was fully-focused on the spectacle near the Old Town side of Wenceslas square, several hundred meters away from where he sat sipping at his espresso in the Lavazzo café. The girl was probably no more than ten or twelve but the high heels and makeup dolled her up to look sixteen. Maybe they thought she looked older—or rather, old enough—but it was all too obvious for Rainey to miss the reality of the situation. She was here against her will and absolutely no one was going to help her. He was probably the only one around who was even willing to look.
It was hard for him not to look at something like this.
Her clothes were a dead giveaway that she was new to the streets, less than a week from the farm Rainey would wager to guess. Judging from the cuts and bruises on her face mixed with the fire in her eyes, she was nowhere near housebroken but someone had definitely tried hard to break her in the last twelve hours. The two oversized men struggling to contain her were the clincher, of course. The Byki were rank amateurs. If they’d known how to handle a hostage, the girl wouldn’t have been kicking and clawing or using that kind of language so loudly in public. She was attracting far too much attention to them. If they knew how to do their job, she’d be afraid to open her mouth or disobey orders.
This girl, bless her soul, clearly had no qualms at all about disobedience. In fact, Rainey found her capacity to swear impressive, which was saying something given his own talent for it, in several languages. Her young voice was strong enough to carry clear across the open square right to Rainey’s table. She was a fighter, that one was. She’d be impossible for them to break. They’d have to kill her. So young, he thought sadly, and already dead. She just doesn’t know it yet.
Now it was very hard for him not to look.
It wasn’t his problem, of course. He ought to stay out of it, enjoy his free time before he had to be off to his very unpleasant meeting here in Prague with Krazy Kate. Of course, Rainey rarely did what he ought to do, not when human trafficking was involved. It was his one weakness, like Lacey’s for children. They shared the childhood traumas of such things like rape and battering by adults who had no concept of the sanctity of childhood innocence. It was impossible to stand by as an adult and watch new victims in the making, doing nothing to stop it.
He couldn’t sit here any longer, calmly drinking coffee and reading the paper, as though he didn’t know what would happen to the girl. In fact, given this was Prague, he knew exactly what her next hour would entail—her virginity would bring a hefty price. By sundown, if she were lucky, she’d be on the streets when they filled up with seasoned whores, much to the chagrin of tourists and shopkeepers.
If neither customers nor competition killed her before dawn, the police would have picked her up overnight and put her behind bars. Of course, that assumed the Byki getting increasingly impatient with her resistance didn't beat her to death before she could be sold off.
If neither customers nor competition killed her before dawn, the police would have picked her up overnight and put her behind bars. Of course, that assumed the Byki getting increasingly impatient with her resistance didn't beat her to death before she could be sold off.
Not his problem, he told himself again, then ignored himself and tossed back the shot of espresso as he stood up. He was going to regret this—deeply—but he couldn’t just walk away, doing nothing. The wounded five-year-old inside of him insisted someone do something to help the girl.
He left a tip on the table and tucked the newspaper up under his left arm, taking an extra moment to push open the clasp on the holster he wore under his suit coat. Just in case the amateur thugs were amateur enough to pull out weapons in broad daylight. Committed to the cause, he started towards them, calculating how much money it would take to separate her from them, quietly and quickly. He needed a better look at her to put a realistic price on her—and then he’d double it. The Byki looked hungry, tired and low-level enough to be bribed. His confidence rose with each step. Then again, he was about to buy a child. Was he out of his fucking mind?
As he wove slowly through the tables, the wind shifted and their voices carried more clearly, enough that he could recognize full sentences. They were definitely speaking Russian, but one of the men had a distinctly Chechen accent. Lovely. He hated Chechens, at least the ones who chose to work the sex slave market. The Chechen wore a dirt-brown suit, ill-tailored and possibly second-hand with mud caked around the trouser cuffs. The mud-encrusted work boots seemed more like the man’s style than the suit. He was definitely the muscle of the pair. His gun was stuck into his waistband against a trim stomach, no doubt because his suit coat was too tight across the back to wear a holster. Maybe Rainey would be lucky and the Chechen would get over-excited and shoot himself when he pulled out his weapon. Rainey could hope for small miracles, anyway.
The other man was the one in charge. He wore a well-cut light grey suit and a charcoal grey woolen overcoat. His gun was clearly visible holstered under his left elbow. His suit coat was open and he had his hands in his pants pockets, holding his coat back so as to make a point of letting the girl see the weapon. Idiot. If the girl had any chance at all, she certainly had the guts to make a grab for Grey Suit’s gun. Rainey would have to be careful he didn’t instigate any ideas in the girl’s head or weapons would most definitely be drawn. Explaining a dead body in Wencelas Square was going to be a damned inconvenient delay. He was on a tight enough schedule as it was. He resisted the temptation to look at his watch, not wanting to take his eyes off the trio now.
As Rainey got closer, he lost any doubts that the girl was from a farm. He could distinguish the weave of her skirt. It was a regional pattern he’d seen before and knew it was from a scenic countryside south of St. Petersburg. The smaller, family-owned farms in the area were worked by people who mostly suffered from poverty conditions but who had worked out a system for getting through the harsh winters. Generally, they were good people, known to have lots of children and upstanding family values, but they were also prone to selling off one or two of their offspring to compensate for early frosts. It was a hard life if you turned out to be a pretty little girl, like this one probably had been a week ago. It was actually worse for the pretty little boys, as Rainey well knew from his own years growing up on the streets of Dublin, walking the Monty.
The girl had long black hair that was wildly knotted up on one side from being tousled about and her dark eyes flashed with anger. Her face was wide and flat with high cheekbones but she looked sallow rather than hardy. He wondered when she’d had her last meal. Days ago, probably, could even be a week or more since she’d had anything hot or fresh to eat. Fuck. He was going to have to feed her before he set her free back into the wild. That was going to completely fuck his schedule for the day.
He knew he had to do it though. She was a special purchase. The usual trafficking route, through Belarus and the Ukraine down to the Black Sea, would only detour up to Prague of she were a very special purchase for a very special customer. She was young enough to be a virgin, and that might also explain why they hadn’t housebroken her. Prague tended to cater to expensive delicacies in the rougher markets. She might even be a fuck-and-snuff sale. He was definitely going to miss his appointment with Krazy Kate.
He gave the girl another once-over. Someone had simply torn off the lower length of her skirt to expose her legs. The hem edge was left uneven and frayed several inches above her knobby knees, showing thin, but well-muscled thighs. She had the legs of a child in the midst of a growth spurt, fast on her way to becoming a teenager. She didn’t quite yet have breasts or a waistline but she would soon, within a year or two. There were fresh bruises on her thighs, high up, barely visible above the new hemline. She’d clearly put up a fight. He couldn’t detect anything particularly salable about her—or no more so than any other girl in the child sex trade. Unless they’d taken her in the ass to preserve her virginity for sale. That would leave marks on the front of her legs like these, and make her a valuable asset worth two guards. At least, until the guarded asset had been sold. Then, she’d probably be abandoned in one of the lower-end houses over in Old Town. If she was lucky.
He had no fucking clue what he was doing—or going to do—but the closer he got, the more determined he was to walk away with her in hand. Could he just buy her outright? He slipped his right hand into his pants pocket and mentally sorted through how much cash he had in there. That’s when the girl noticed him approaching. Her eyes went wide, wild with a mixture of fear and anger. Not a good frame of mind but at least she was still alive in there. She was salvageable. He sorted through his collection of accents the way his fingers were counting his cash, and chose a Russian accent with a southern dialect, close to St. Petersburg. He spoke to the Byki in Russian as though she weren’t able to hear him.
“How much for one hour?” He kept his eyes on the girl but both men swiveled their attention to his approach. She struggled harder against their grip and spat at Rainey, calling him a fat pig. He had to stop himself from issuing a Porky Pig stutter, but knew little Robbie would have just loved the chance to show off his ability to do an imitation. Of course, little Robbie would also have just shot the two men, the four year old not quite understanding one cannot go about shooting people in public. The children on the island were getting a very unhealthy world view, he suddenly realized.
“She is not ready for sale.” The Chechen told him. “As you can see.” He shrugged at the girl still swearing about Rainey’s inadequate anatomy.
“Yes,” Rainey said, deliberately injecting a darkness into the amusement in his tone, “I can see. This is why I have an interest.” He chuckled as the girl pulled harder against her human restraints. Rainey peeled off two bills from the inside of his cash wad, two five-hundred euro notes. The girl was worth fifty euros, tops, so he knew ten times her value would get their attention.
Grey Suit was answering him, “We have another, same age, if—“ He broke off when he spotted the purple banknotes.
Rainey said, “I will pay for the pleasure of breaking her myself. I save you the work. I have one payment for each of you. No one needs to know and you have an easier time with her after.”
He held the money up and rubbed the two crisp bills together so they’d catch light in their metallic security strips. Cash is always so alluring to amateurs like these. Brown Suit did not disappoint. He was completely focused on the money, practically drooling over it. The girl also stared at the colorful bills, probably never having seen a bank note before, but she looked horrified, not transfixed, as she clearly knew what type of sale was being discussed. Apparently, she didn’t want to spend any alone-time with Rainey and his inadequate anatomy. He’d correct that misconception once he got her alone. Grey Suit was the immediate problem. No, doubt, Grey Suit was worried about explaining the time delay to his boss, so Rainey provided him with an explanation.
“You would be expected to stop for food and drink, no?” Rainey asked and fanned the money in front of his face. “I take a room here on the square.” Rainey nodded vaguely in the direction of a building behind him, hoping it rented out rooms by the hour. “I pay for just one hour and I come back in time to pay for your lunch. Extra, as gratuity for your hard work.” Rainey bared his teeth in a feral smile.
The girl suggested something for Rainey to eat and he was pretty sure it was anatomically impossible, even with his alleged inadequacies, but he had to give her credit for creative insults. He was really beginning to like this girl.
The Chechen looked hungry and not just for food. He was probably ready to get rid of the girl for a bit of peace and quiet. “Sit, relax, eat,” Rainey urged the two men, “I take her. No one will know.”
Grey Suit’s expression was hardened but he was contemplating the pros and cons. “She’ll try to get away. She’s been trying to run since the minute we picked her up. Are you prepared to pay the purchase price if she escapes?”
Rainey knew a full purchase of a girl this raw wouldn’t top more than five thousand Euro, but he wanted to play the sucker for these guys so he suggested, “How much? Ten thousand if she runs?” He pointedly raked his eyes from her head to her toes and back up again. “It would be worth it to see her try,” He took in the bruises on her thighs again, “But she will not. These little legs are not for running, and I make one thousand down payment,” He waved the bills at Grey Suit. “I have no interest to drag this bitch across town with me all day. I have business to make soon. I just want one hour, to work off my meal,” Rainey smiled and patted his stomach with his free hand, letting the newspaper fall to the ground. The girl watched the paper fall and Rainey saw a strange look come over her face. She’d seen his gun in that instant when he moved his arm. He needed to move this transaction along. Rainey put on his most evil hungry face. “Yes? We have deal?”
“Vitoly,” Brown Suit urged his counterpart, “We should take his money and enjoy a meal. We can always take what he owes us later if he lets her run.” Brown Suit tapped his index finger on his gun grip meaningfully.
Grey Suit sighed and took both bills from Rainey’s outstretched hand. “We’ll bring her to your room and come back to get her in one hour.”
Rainey gave them a Cheshire Cat smile. He’d have to pay for a room he didn’t need or want, but so be it. He had what he wanted. He’d have paid them the full ten thousand right here and now if that’s what it took. He did have to wonder why they were letting him take her for an hour if she were still a virgin and then he thought better of asking about it. The bruised thighs told their own story after all. Something had happened. He’d ask her directly himself once they had some privacy—and an understanding.
Rainey bowed them vaguely in the direction of the hotel behind them and the two men dragged their reluctant charge toward it. Rainey walked behind them, sizing them up. He could take them both, but only if the girl calmed down. He might have to just knock her out in order to manage the situation long enough to save her. She was small enough he could toss her, unconscious, over his shoulder and still fire off a good retreat. But then what? Was he going to cart her along to his meeting with Radovas? Krazy Kate was not known for a tender heart. It was starting to hit him as they struggled to get the girl through the front doors that he had no fucking clue what he was going to do with this girl once he’d separated her from these thugs.
Obviously, he couldn’t keep her—could he? Maybe he could. No, Tony would never let him, but Terri would understand. So would Lucinda. Especially Lucinda. He could put the girl to work in the kitchen. No, too many knives and other potential weapons in the kitchen and Lucinda might bash the girl’s head in by accident if she got out of line. When she got out of line, he corrected himself. She could clean the barracks. Weapons weren’t allowed in there. Of course, she might be a thief. He’d have to warn the teams to protect their personal property. No, maybe she could tend the goats. Ninny did a great job but the Tibetan Mastiff was just a dog, after all. He’d been needing someone to look after the livestock. She was a farm girl. She could “farm” for him. That would work.
In the lobby, the clerk took in the three men and the girl and told them it was fifty euro for a room for an hour. Rainey thought that was twice what the room would be worth but he paid the man and took the key for a second-floor room. He’d always hated places like this when he’d worked the streets. They were filthy, usually bug-infested and rarely had a door that actually locked, but they became a symbiotic partner for the street whore’s business.
The door opened on a tiny room with a grey-striped mattress on the floor—stained, no sheets. In the corner was a filthy sink he wouldn’t touch even he were dying of thirst. A mirror crazed with age hung on the wall over the sink. There was nothing else in the room. No toilet or tub, presumably there being a loo to share with other guests somewhere down the hall. Based on his prior experience with places like this, he wouldn’t advise going in unarmed—bug spray and bullets in equal measure.
At the door, the Chechen took a firm grip on both of the girl’s arms and Grey Suit whacked her hard across the face then instructed her to behave herself. These idiots didn’t have the first inkling of how to go about this. That slap was going to leave marks on her face, lowering her price, but then again, Rainey had no intention of allowing this girl to spend the rest of her life as a street whore, especially not under the care of whomever was running these two as their muscle.
Grey Suit asked Rainey, “You are sure you can handle her?” Rainey met the man’s gaze and curled up one side of his mouth, letting out a dark and deliberately menacing laugh that said I can handle you, too, if it comes to it but he didn’t say anything else. Grey Suit got the message. He cleared his throat and said, “One hour. No more.”
Rainey took the girl’s throat in a vice grip and slammed her face-first against the wall just inside the door. He held her there with a crushing grip and grinned at the two men before he said, “Yes, yes, one hour. Now you leave. Good bye.”
He slammed the door closed in their faces and pressed a foot against the bottom of it so he could give the girl his full attention without any surprise visitors. He spun the girl back around to face him, taking her by the shoulders and immediately covering her mouth with his hand, fingers and thumb digging into her cheeks. He cuffed a wrist low against the wall. It had all been too fast for her to take in but her eyes still blazed defiance. He imagined the string of expletives flying through her head—he’d’ve thought the same in her position—but she couldn’t speak with his fingers crushing her face and his palm jamming her jaw back into her skull against the wall. His only worry was that she might just try to bite him. It was her only defense in this position and she certainly did seem unafraid to use whatever she had at her disposal. He’d need a shot to stave off an infection if she bit him.
He met her eye-to-eye and said in the same St. Petersburg Russian, with all the sincerity he could muster, “I’m sorry. I had to make them believe I can handle you. I didn’t want to hurt you. I still don’t want to hurt you but I will hurt you—very much—if you scream when I let go. You don’t want that, do you?” He shook her head by moving his hand back and forth. “Can I take my hand away? Will you stay quiet?” The defiance shone in her eyes and he knew she’d scream or try to bolt—or both—as soon as he let go. He could see tears starting to glisten on her eyes but they were angry tears. He had to put a stop to this before it began.
“That’s not…the answer I wanted. You see, I can’t have you screaming, so I’m sorry for having to do this, but you’re really leaving me no choice.” He slipped his hand from her mouth and down around her neck, gripping her throat under his large hand, expertly finding her trachea then squeezing but not quite crushing it. She was so small it was almost startling to realize he could definitely strangle her with just the one-handed grip. Christ, it was hard to believe children this small faced this sort of thing every day—but he’d lived through it. He knew it happened. His forty-year-old self had just forgotten how defenseless a child was compared to an adult.
She made a small gagging sound then one of distress so he lessened the pressure on her throat slightly but kept a tight lock on her wrist as he leaned in closer, becoming an imposingly large presence in her personal space.
“Now,” He lowered his voice to add to the menace in the air and said, “As you can see, I can kill you very quickly, before you even breathe enough to scream, so…will you be quiet?” She nodded within the constraints of his grip. “Good. I’m not sure I believe you yet but I can tell you this. I’m not going to rape you and I’m not going to return you to those…” He rolled his eyes toward the door and loosened his grip, resting his hand on her collarbone, “Men, but I’m not sure what to do with you now that I’ve got you.”
She rasped out, “You could let me go. I run, and they never find me.”
He looked down at her shoes. “Not in those shoes you won’t. Take them off.”
Her face went blank with confusion momentarily but then she kicked off her shoes and dropped four inches in height, making his grip on her difficult. She was such a small child once you took off all the trimmings. Without letting go of her throat, he instructed her, “Slide down the wall and sit on the floor.”
He crouched with her as she complied. He kept his grip on her throat loose but unrelenting the whole way down then lessened the pressure as they settled in eye-to-eye again. Her eyes dropped to his Glock then jumped back up to meet his gaze. So he’d been right, she’d noticed it earlier. She’d probably make a grab for it if she got a chance. She was not only observant but he suspected, a lot smarter than the two goons had realized. He tightened his grip on her throat slightly and reached his other hand down to refasten the gun into the holster then pulled his suit jacket forward over it. He pressed his hand against the wall next to her head and purposely invaded her personal space. He saw in her eyes that his message had been received. She wouldn’t go for his gun—or not yet.
Looking over her face, he could tell she’d spent a lot of time outside, probably more time working on the family farm than indoors in a school. He asked quietly against her ear, “Have you had any schooling?”
Her voice shook when she replied but her tone was strong. She was still scared but it was probably more adrenaline now than anything else. “I can read.” She told him quickly. “And write. And do my maths. I not finish school to do work on the farm. We have great farm, very big, very good money all the—” She choked off when he tightened his grip again.
“Stop. The farm is dead to you.” He paused then quietly asked, “Did your father sell you to those men?”
She nodded and her face drooped a bit, her gaze dodging his now. “To the local man, who give me to these two, but I am not whore!” She looked up again to glare at him. “They want to make me whore but I—”
He squeezed off her tirade. “You can never go back to your father’s farm, but I agree. No, you are not a whore.”
“But you pay money for me. You think I’m whore.”
“Yes, I paid money but not for whore. For girl.” He stroked his thumb up to her chin thoughtfully. “So what will you do instead? How would you live if I let you run?”
“I can work. I—I—I am cook and clean house and help with…” She dropped her gaze back to the floor boards, as if searching for something to say to validate her existence. Her voice very small, she added, “I am do whatever you need, except…”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Rainey asked her.
Her eyes shot up. “Many. I am oldest of six. I take care of them all.”
“Yes? And did you enjoy this part of life? Taking care of the younger children?”
Her head bobbed against his grip. “Sure, I can do this for…you have children?”
She sounded a little surprised at the idea which both amused and vaguely insulted him. “Not exactly,” He told her, and wondered why it was so hard to believe him capable of being a father. He was a good father. Surrogate father. Adult male role model in lieu of a father. All right, he was the man in charge of the island but he could be a father if the situation called on him to do it. Couldn’t he? He provided a home to over fifty people and half a dozen children already. That was a father figure, if not a father.
He told the girl, “There’s a woman where I live who has many children. She could use some help looking after them. She’s about to have another, in a few weeks.”
“That is me! I can work for you, for her. I take care of the children so she—she is not your wife?”
Rainey laughed ruefully. “Noooo, no, no! Absolutely not. Mother Theresa is no man’s wife, not for lack of trying on the part of many men, but she is not marrying anyone at the moment. She does have many children, however, and they’re all very important to me. She is very important to me. I love her like my own blood, like a sister.” He rolled his eyes and thought of Terri’s eldest daughter, Rebecca who had his face and half of his DNA, and corrected himself, “Distant sister many times removed. If you can help Terri,” He went on slowly, thinking aloud, “Now that might just work better than tending Ninny and the herd, but we’d have to get you there and I’m not sure how to get you out of here without—”
“There is door in the back, beyond stairs. I see when we come up.”
Rainey chuckled. “You are observant. Yes, I saw that door and I can get us out of this building. I meant I’m not sure how to get you out of Prague. You’ll need traveling papers and—do you have passport or other papers?”
“No proof of your identity at all, correct?”
She shook her head.
“Right. Perfect. No one knows you exist. I could take you anywhere.” He started thinking about her new fake identity and all of the documents he’d need to purchase, bribes to be paid before he got a hold of documents. He’d definitely miss his meeting with Radovas, but he’d just have to ask Tony to reschedule, maybe in Dublin tomorrow. Radovas was in Dublin often enough to annoy Rushenko; she could stop by to annoy Rainey. Without thinking of his little audience, he muttered to himself, “So you will cost me much money but no one needs to die today after all. This is good.”
She tensed and he could tell she was reassessing her situation. That’s when he realized she was probably recalling the last man who’d told her she “owed” him money. Quickly, he noted, “You don’t owe me the money for this. Today, I have bought you. I own your freedom now and I give it to you. In exchange, you will work for me, but not as whore. I have the money to buy this for you, more than enough money for this, and you will help me greatly if you cook and clean and take care of Terri’s children when you come to my home. That is how you will pay for your food and a place to sleep, by working, helping with the children. Maybe you earn extra by helping with cooking if Lucinda decides she likes you. Today is a gift from me to you. This is okay with you?”
“I think…I—where is your home?”
“It’s on an island called Banbha. I own it. The island. All of it—well, forty-nine percent of it. Lucinda and Tony and the twins own equal shares and then,” He laughed, as he always did whenever he rattled off the shares of the Consortium, “Then there’s a very good friend of ours who owns a magical three percent.”
“Yes. His three percent ownership of the island is more powerful than any of the rest of ours. Don’t worry about it, just know that some of the people on this island own a part of it, but everyone who lives on the island works for me. I’m in charge day to day so if I say you can do this or that, no one can say otherwise. There are many people who live on Banbha, so you will not be alone—not with me or anyone else. In fact, you will want to be alone but it will be hard at first to let you go around unguarded. We need to get to know you first, to trust you.” He had her attention now and was tempted to drop his hand from her throat but he wasn’t done with the hard part of the conversation yet.
“You will not mind to cook and clean for many people? For strangers who come and go and treat you like a maid?” She shrugged. “You will be a maid, you know? This will be your job. It is not a bad job and it is better than whore but it is different than what you thought growing up—”
She scoffed. “I knew growing up I have no life but the farm. My father would have sold me to marriage if he could not sell me to…this. I knew this from very young.”
It was better than some got, Rainey thought, better than the childhood he’d had for instance, but it still seemed so sad that a child so young should know this was her fate.
“On Banbha, you will need to do school again. Languages—wait, do you speak any other languages?” He switched to French. “Do you understand what I am saying?” She shrugged. He shifted to German and asked but again got another negative shake of the head. Then he shifted into English, and using his Irish accent, asked, “Or have you ever spoken English?” She looked up at him perplexed and he switched back to Russian, then told her, “You will need to learn three languages, at least: French, German and English. Everyone on Banbha speaks French, most German, some English, some Japanese but only a few can speak Russian with you.”
“But you are Russian.”
He chuckled. “No, I’m not Russian, I’m Irish.”
“Yes! But, thank you, I think.” He leaned back and smiled at her. “I still speak well enough to pass for a local?”
“Like someone from city. You are Russian, maybe from St. Petersburg?”
He added his native brogue to his Russian, which wasn’t easy, and insisted, “I’m Irish to me bones.” He gave her a toothy grin, and made her giggle, which was a good sign. “But I learned Russian from soldiers in Afghanistan. Maybe they were from St. Petersburg. The older children speak Russian, sort of. Well, they swear in Russian. Rebecca learned the language fluently from me during her first two years but Mary Margaret seems to be the one who’s really taken to it. Mary Margaret’s Mat…ahh, you’ll like her. You can help them both work on their Mat, though I’m not sure how well their mother will like it.” He smirked at the thought of her trading swear words with Mary Margaret, who was collecting swear words in every language on Earth, not that the five-year-old actually understood what they meant. She just liked to shock the adults with new curses. And Rainey had to admit it was fun to teach her a new one and wait for her to dance it out during the middle of lunch.
“Enough about me and mine. I need to ask you more questions.” No time for sentimental weakness if he wanted to move her out of the country in the next half hour. He firmed up his grip on her trachea and told her, “I need to ask about something unpleasant. I apologize for asking but once you tell me, you will never speak of it again. We can forget about it forever, and it will be our secret, so you will be honest with me, yes?”
“Sure.” She said, distractedly, obviously still thinking about his accent and origins.
“I need you to be honest with me. I will know the truth later if you lie. Terri will examine you and she’ll see the truth and she will tell me. Then I will know you are a liar, and never be able to trust you. This would be very bad for you, never to be trusted. Do you understand?”
That got her attention. She swallowed, her throat jumping under his fingertips, then she bobbed her head once.
“Those men,” He paused and looked pointedly down at her bruised thighs, “Did they rape you?” She moved one shoulder up in a half-shrug. “Before your father sold you to them, were you ever with a man?” She looked away. “Maybe you had a boy back home?” She shook her head and kept her eyes averted. He shifted his grip to force her to look up at him. “You were virgin before…those men.” She shrugged, obviously not wanting to talk about this, certainly not with this stranger who had bought and paid for her and now held a deathly grip on her throat. He loosened his grip slightly and quietly said, “Tell me.”
She didn’t say anything or meet his eye so he waited. And waited. Eventually she said, “My father, he—they would not pay enough money for me so he—”
She choked off and he knew what her father had done. It was standard practice for these people. Either you got a premium price for a virgin or you sold used goods, but no man would sell an untouched daughter for a cut rate. A father willing to sell his daughter into sexual slavery in the first place had to have more than enough evil in him to take for himself out of spite what he couldn’t sell.
Rainey asked her now, “How many after that?”
He lifted her chin up again and she spat out, “All of them, okay? Five, I think. Why? What difference it makes now? I will die before I let you do this to me.”
He loosened his grip and stroked his thumb over her chin. Quietly he told her, “I will not do this to you. No one will ever do this to you again, I swear it. I just wanted to understand what they did.”
“There is nothing they did not do—and then they do again and again until I pass out. I wake up and I am with those two on the train coming here.”
He was shocked. He’d thought she’d been on the road at least a week. “Today? This just happened today?”
She nodded against his hand. “Yesterday.”
The bruises on her legs were older than a few hours so that had to have been her father who’d put them there the day before yesterday. The news of it clutched his heart even though it wasn’t the first time he’d heard this kind of story. He let go of her throat at last and dropped his ass to the floor without a thought for the filth clinging to his dark suit.
“Don’t move.“ He warned her, almost as an afterthought.
She rubbed at her throat but didn’t make a move to get away. He sat there in front of her, trying to resist the flood of memories but couldn’t stop it, even after all these years. A lifetime had gone by and he still remembered the first time he’d been raped on a back street in Dublin. Even worse, he remembered the next day, when he’d woken up and realized, this was his life now. He’d sat there for hours, crying, wishing, praying to just die, to be with his deceased parents, but he hadn’t died. He’d gone to hell but he hadn’t been lucky enough to die first.
And he’d come back from it.
He knew it was possible. Hard, but possible. He looked at her now, small, scratched, beaten inside and out, but she hadn’t given up the fight. Could she come back from this? Probably. Maybe. With his help, definitely. She would. He’d see to it.
She asked him, “Why do you want to know this?”
“I wanted…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. It’s over now. No one will ever do that to you again. I promise you this. I’ll kill anyone who tries.”
The look on her face said she believed him. And it only scared her more. “Why would you kill for me?”
“It’s selfish really. When I was half your age, my parents were killed and I was alone on the streets. It’s not a good place to be where I come from. The police, they pick you up and send you…it’s never good after that. I wasn’t going into the System without a fight. Almost by accident, I became a whore. They didn’t pay me at first, they just took it. Like those men did to you. And no one came to save me. Not until Timmy found me. He was seven—two whole years old than I was. He was amazing but—” Rainey’s voice choked off. He was surprised how much it still hurt to have to say it aloud, even though a lifetime had passed. “He’s dead now, died saving me. Everyone I ever loved is dead. I guess I want to save you for all of them, for me. For the part of me that remembers all of that.” She clearly didn’t understand what he was saying, but he could save her. He would save her.
“You are…” She dropped her eyes to his holstered gun again. “You are not a whore.”
“No, not anymore and neither are you. Starting right now, you’re an au pair. Sit still. I need to use my phone. Don’t speak. Just sit there and be quiet, yes?”She was rubbing at her throat but she nodded and still didn’t make any move to get away, despite the doorknob being within her arm’s reach. It was a good sign, he thought.