Waifs Strays and Throwaways
The opening sequence to my new thriller based loosely on the Rochdale child abuse scandal
A bodyguard’s job may seem glamorous to an outsider, just matter of following some VIP around and deterring people from approaching them with hard stares and the occasional push. The reality is far different. Long hours of constant alertness drain the body and exhaust the mind. Boredom is the stealthy enemy that can kill when you least expect it. He had seen this happen.
Dawson Jukes was more than tired, he was drained. It had been a long, hard day, the woman hadn’t shut up all day with her endless wants and demands. No wonder she was a rap star, she never closed her mouth.
He sighed as his big Merc ate up the miles. Another twenty minutes and he’d be home, and tomorrow was his day off. Great, a whole day away from the whining, coke sniffing bitch.
Ungrateful bastard his inner voice said, it’s a damned sight easier and safer than mercenary work, Jukes. You’ve been bloody lucky. It was true. Four of his colleagues had been killed in as many months and one left a paraplegic. He’d had too many narrow escapes and made too many enemies, One enemy rich enough to pursue him across the globe if they felt like it.
He allowed his thoughts to drift back to Iraq ‘A man can’t be lucky forever, English’ Jacques had told him in his near-perfect English ‘this is my third and final contract. Iraq sucks.’ He laughed in this charming, toothy way, his bright blue eyes sparkling. Jacques had never called Jukes anything other than “English.” ‘Back to Paris for me next week, English, to spend my money on fine wine and even finer whores.’
Next week didn’t come for Jacques, he and a Pole died along with the guy they were protecting when a mine was detonated under their car triggered by god alone knew who. Three separate factions claimed the hit. There were many such factions in Iraq each with their own agenda and the target had made enemies of several of them. Thirty thousand US dollars a month was damned good pay for an ex-soldier, but only if you lived to spend it. Jukes had finished his contract and got out.
Dawson’s attention was drawn back sharply into the present as he saw a flash of white, so fleeting that, at first, he doubted himself. A bare leg? Surely not. There was a foot, though, a small white foot rolling into the ditch two hundred metres away on the edge of his dipped headlights reach. He switched to main beam. Nothing, and then from behind a tuft half a small pale face appeared then ducked instantly. In that split-second Jukes recognised terror.
He brought the car to a standstill ten metres away from where he believed he’d seen the apparition. Leaving the headlights on he walked slowly along the edge of the road ‘hey’ he called down into the ditch ‘whoever you are come out. I won’t harm you’ there was no response and the ditch was deep and dark. He returned to his car and retrieved a torch from the glove compartment, his curiosity aroused. He walked slowly back illuminating the ditch in the bright, narrow beam. There was a frightened whimper and she scurried up onto the road turning to face him. She was very young; a mere child and she was stark naked.
‘Please mister, please’ she pleaded, her eyes wide and her voice trembling ‘please don’t hurt me…please don’t take me back I’ll….I’ll give you a blow job if you help me get away.’
Dawson’s face tightened. Shock, pity and anger surged through him, each fighting for precedence. His knees felt weak and a sick feeling kicked his stomach. He turned the torch off not wanting to see the tragic sight she presented. The girl’s age he could only guess was somewhere between twelve and fourteen. She made no attempt to cover her nakedness as she trembled before him, smeared with filth from head to toe. Her tiny breasts heaved as she sobbed, her large blue eyes pleading with him. It was a moment before he could answer, his head was reeling, struggling to comprehend what he was seeing.
The Isle of Skye Road that crosses the bleak high moors between Oldham and Holmfirth is a lonely place at four a.m. on a winter’s night. Often lashed by wind and rain or shrouded in fog. On this early March night, it was clear and still, the stars looked huge away from the light pollution of big towns. Dawson looked around, there was no sign of anyone else.
‘What the hell?’ He managed at last ‘Jesus, girl, what’s happened to you?’ She didn’t answer, just crossed her arms across her chest and clutched her shoulders, shivering uncontrollably in the chill night air.
Dawson’s head began to clear. First things first he thought, he went to his car and collected his car coat from the back seat. ‘Here, put this on.’ The girl took the coat hesitantly, her shaking hand brushed his, it was icily cold. She held the coat beneath her chin seeming uncertain as to what she should do with it. ‘Let me help’ she stepped back, her eyes once again terror filled ‘I’m not going to hurt you child, I promise.’
She seemed to sag then looking utterly lost and forlorn and then her tears came gushing in rivulets, cutting clear paths down her grimy cheeks. He took the coat and draped it around her shoulders and guided her towards the car. He put her in the back seat where she sat shivering violently and sobbing quietly. He got behind the wheel, turned up the heating and took out his phone.
‘Please Mister, please, don’t ring the cops, they’ll put me back into care then they’ll get me again, please.’
Her accent was broad and local, Bury, Rochdale or Oldham he guessed but what the hell was she doing out here, naked at four in the morning?
‘Isn’t care the safest place for you?’ The stricken look on her face told him it wasn’t. He rubbed his chin uncertainly. What the hell to do for the best? Then headlights behind him turned the situation even more bizarre. The girl flung herself on the floor between the seats whimpering in terror.
The lights slowed as they approached, the black Toyota four by four drew alongside and stopped. The window went down, and a swarthy face leaned out. He was in his mid-forties, unshaven with dark narrow eyes under black, unkempt hair. Dawson didn’t like the look of the guy one bit. He lowered his window ‘Can I help you?’
The accent was Eastern European ‘you broke down?’
‘No, just stopped for a piss, waiting for you to pass, I hate headlights in my mirror.’
The guy seemed to consider this for a second then nodded ‘you see anybody walking up here?’
Dawson feigned surprise ‘walking up here? At this hour?’
The man hesitated ‘It’s embarrassing’ he said, ‘my niece, she run away, no clothes, she not good up here’ he tapped his temple ‘we look for her, she needs her medicine urgent.’
Dawson had had plenty of experience with liars and this guy was lying through his teeth. ‘sorry, can’t help you, mate.’ He put the Merc in gear to pull away. The guy spoke to his driver and the Toyota pulled sharply forward blocking his way. The guy jumped out. He was big and burly but running to fat around his middle. He came to Dawson’s window ‘We check your car, so many perverts about.’
Dawson flung the car door open with lightning speed hitting the man even as he desperately tried to leap back. Then he was out of the car his fists clenched, his anger boiling. The guy gave a growl and launched himself. Dawson sidestepped with the agility of a fox. He grabbed the back of man’s neck using his momentum to slam his head into the car roof. He went onto his knees and Dawson brought his right fist crashing into his temple with a force that felled him. The beeping sound of an opening car door made him look at towards the Toyota. The driver was out and holding a baseball bat. He looked nervously from Dawson to his felled comrade then slowly advanced raising the bat.
Faced with this new threat, Dawson’s anger changed instantly into a focussed calm. His voice was quiet and emotionless ‘you come at me with that and I’ll break your legs with it.’ it was more statement of fact than threat. He stepped back a pace, his hands clasped lightly over his crotch, eyes of steel, shoulders relaxed.
The driver had seen how easily his mate had been dealt with and hesitated, then he lowered the bat. He was in his fifties with a deeply lined craggy face, a lifetime of cigarettes and cheap vodka had taken their toll. He was not a brave man and had no reason to doubt this big hard looking bloke he was facing.
He pointed at his companion ‘I just take my friend’ he said, his voice uncertain ‘we go, we leave you alone, OK?’
Dawson nodded ‘drop the tool and take him’ he retreated a further pace allowing the man to help his now groaning friend back to their vehicle. Once inside they drove rapidly off until they disappeared over the horizon towards Holmfirth.
Back in his car, the girl was now weeping with relief ‘Oh, thank you, Mister, thank you, you’ve saved my life.’
He drove off. Whatever her problem was it wouldn’t be resolved by sitting at the roadside asking questions.