A young terrified girl is found on a cold, deserted moorland road late at night. She is fleeing two men who need her dead. For the man who finds her, she’s the last thing he needs in his life.
Dawson Jukes felt utterly drained; it had been a long, hard day, the woman had whined his whole shift long, her every pronouncement beginning with ‘hey, I want…’ or ‘hey, I need…’ or ‘hey, go get me…’ with never a please or a thank you.
The Merc ate up the miles. Another twenty minutes and he’d be home. Dawson took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. Be calm, he told himself it’s over now and there’s an old single malt waiting.
He switched on cruise control now that he was on the long empty stretch of moorland road and hit the Jazz FM button. The car filled with soft notes as a decadent saxophone wailed and a muted trumpet wept softly in the background. A woman with a velvet voice started a Blues-in-the-night number. He felt the tension of the last fourteen hours begin to drain away.
A momentary flash of white on the furthest reach of his headlights brought Dawson to full alertness. So fleeting was the movement that, at first, he doubted himself. A bare leg? Surely not. There was a foot, though, a small white foot rolling into the ditch, wasn’t there?
He braked hard, switching his headlights to main beam, craning forward to the windscreen. Nothing.
Dawson dismissed it as a trick of his exhausted brain. A rabbit, man, you’re too damn tired. He was pressing the accelerator when from behind a tuft half of a small pale face appeared then ducked instantly. In that split-second he recognised terror.
He stopped ten metres short of where he believed he’d seen the apparition. Leaving the headlights on, Dawson 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 from the deep darkness.
Returning to his car, he retrieved a torch from the glove box. Walking slowly back Dawson illuminated the deep ditch with the bright, narrow beam. He heard a frightened yelp and a scrabbling sound, a young girl scurried up onto the road and turned to face him. She was stark naked.
‘Please mister, please’ she pleaded, her eyes wide and her voice trembling ‘please don’t hurt me…please don’t let them get me. They’re going to kill me. I’ll…I’ll do anything… I’ll give you a blow job if you help me to get away.’
Dawson’s face tightened. Shock, pity and horror surged through him, each fighting for precedence. He switched off the torch not wanting to see the naked child before him smeared with filth from head to toe. He wanted to lower his gaze, to turn away, as a sick feeling kicked into his guts. He resisted, forcing himself to see the pitiful sight she presented. The girl’s age he could only guess was somewhere between twelve and fourteen. She attempted to cover her nakedness as she trembled before him. Crossing one arm over her small breasts, she placed the other between her legs. Her chest heaved as she gasped in the cold night air, her large tear-brimmed eyes pleading with him.
His hand went to his head as he rubbed his crewcut in bafflement. It was a moment before he could gather his wits, Dawson’s mind was reeling, struggling to comprehend what he was seeing. He looked around, mystified, 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 as she stood before him, shivering uncontrollably.
Dawson’s head began to clear. First things first he thought, he went to his car and collected his Puffa jacket ‘here, kid, 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.
‘Here, let me help.’ She whimpered and stepped back.
‘I’m not going to hurt you, girl, I promise.’
She seemed to sag then looking utterly forlorn as tears came gushing in silent rivulets, cutting clear paths down her grimy cheeks. He took the coat, draped it around her shoulders and zipped it up before placing an arm around her shoulders and guiding her slowly to his car.
She hesitated as he opened the rear passenger door. ‘Please mister…’
He tried to smile ‘It’s OK, I’m a bodyguard. I look after people.’ It was the only thing he could think of to say and he felt stupid saying it.
She slid in reluctantly and across the seat to cower on the far side sobbing quietly.
Climbing behind the wheel, Dawson killed the music, turned up the heating then took out his phone.
‘Please mister, please, don’t ring the cops, they’ll just put me back into the care home then they’ll get me again, please,’
Her accent was broad and local, Bury, Rochdale or Oldham he guessed but what was she doing out here?
The A635, known locally as the Isle of Skye road, crosses bleak high moorland between the towns of Oldham and Holmfirth in the North West of England. A rush-hour rat-run, it’s a lonely place at 4 a.m. Often lashed by wind and rain or shrouded with fog, on this early March morning it was cold, clear and still. The stars looked huge and bright away from the light pollution of big towns.
Dawson felt frustrated. Christ, I don’t need this he thought but he kept his voice neutral ‘Isn’t care the safest place for you, kid?’ The stricken face in the rear-view mirror told him it wasn’t. He rubbed his chin uncertainly. What the hell was he to do for the best?
Headlights behind him illuminated the car’s interior, throwing javelins of light off the mirrors. 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 lowered his window ‘Can I help you?’
The accent was Eastern European. ‘You broke down?
‘Nope, just stopped for a piss, waiting for you to pass, mate, 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? At this hour?’
The man hesitated. ‘It’s embarrassing’ he said. ‘My niece, she runs away, no clothes, she not good up here.’ He tapped his temple then pushed his hand upward and outward through the window. ‘We look for her, she needs her medicine, urgent.’
Dawson didn’t like the man’s exaggerated hand movements or his glib explanation. Lying bastard, he thought.
‘Sorry, can’t help you, mate.’
He put his seatbelt on and put the Merc in gear to pull away. The guy spoke to his driver and the Toyota pulled sharply forward blocking his way. The man jumped out.
Dawson released his seat belt; his hand going to the door catch. The bloke was big and burly but fat around his middle. He swaggered up to Dawson’s window, chest out, his jaw jutting aggressively.
‘We check your car, mister. 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 cold. The guy growled and launched himself, swinging a wild punch. Dawson sidestepped with the agility of a fox. He grabbed the back of man’s neck, and, using his momentum, slammed his head into the edge of the car roof. The guy dropped to his knees with a groan and Dawson brought his huge right fist crashing into his temple with a force that felled him.
The beeping of a headlight warning behind him told, him the Toyota’s door had opened. The driver was out and holding a baseball bat. He looked nervously from Dawson to his felled comrade then he slowly advanced raising the bat.
Faced with this new threat, Dawson’s anger changed instantly into focused calm. His voice was quiet and emotionless. ‘You come at me with that, pal, and I’ll break your legs with it.’ It was more a statement of fact than a threat. He stepped back, away from the fallen man, his hands clasped lightly over his crotch, eyes of steel, shoulders relaxed.
The driver had seen how easily his comrade had been dealt with and hesitated, then he lowered the bat. He was in his mid-fifties with a deeply lined angular face and the same narrow eyes as the first man.
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 groaning friend stagger back to their vehicle. Once aboard, 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, thanks, you’ve saved my life.’
Dawson grunted and drove off. Whatever her problem was it wouldn’t be resolved sitting at the roadside asking questions and the men might return with reinforcements. But what the hell was he to do with her?