I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the sound of a very heavy grown man’s hand land on a pretty young girl’s face, but I can tell you with absolute conviction that it’s the most disgusting sound in the world.
“Where are the files?!” Scott had slapped the girl again.
Watching him brutalize her had made me want to kill him. Over and over again, for a week and a half, I had fantasized about wrapping my hands around this throat and choking the life out of him; of beating his skull with my bare hands until it was in pieces. How did someone become that angry and heartless? Disgusting, miserable excuse for a human being. One day, I’d kill him. That day, I’d had a part to play. That poor, sweet little girl had needed me to play it. So I’d kept my mouth shut, kept my hands to myself, and let Scott beat her.
Except for that night of course. For as long as I live, the image of that night will be at the forefront of my mind. It had been her first night here. I’d snuck to her cell late at night, long after I’d thought everyone had gone to sleep. I’d wanted to offer her a few comforting words, let her know everything would be ok, bring her some decent food and the teddy bear she’d dropped when we had dragged her out of her home.
The sight that had greeted me when I’d stopped in front of her cell had made me want to vomit.
Scott had been no small man – seven feet tall, and I would guess somewhere around three hundred pounds. He’d been built like a wrestler; a complete brute inside and out. We’d called him the garbage man of the squad. Whatever the rest of us couldn’t stomach, Scott had taken care of without blinking an eye.
I’d heard her muffled sobs before I had approached her cell. This hadn’t alarmed me much. Of course the girl would be scared and crying. I’d expected that. What I hadn’t expected was to be greeted by Scott’s bare ass, thrusting back and forth while a tiny, sixteen year-old girl sobbed underneath him.
I’d lost it.
In an instant, I’d been on him, dragging him off of the kid. My fists had taken on a mind of their own then, flying, one after the other, relentlessly into the pig’s face. By the time he’d gained his composure and flung me off of him, his nose had been broken, one eye had barely been visible beneath a bloody mess, and he’d lost a few teeth.
Still, he’d flung me off of him like an ordinary man would fling a fly. The bastard.
“What the fuck Frank?!” he’d exclaimed.
But my gaze had landed on the small figured huddled in the corner of the dirty cell, knees pulled up to her chest, and arms wrapped tightly around them, as if she’d been afraid that she’d fall apart if she let go. Her face had been dirty; there’d been a decent-sized cut underneath her right eye. That’ll turn into a nasty bruise, I had thought to myself.
I’d thought, even then, that she was a pretty girl. Her eyes were a deep, warm, chocolate brown, huge compared to her tiny face, and framed by thick, long eyelashes that gave her face an ethereal, almost angelic look.
Her hair was a long mass of curly blonde locks; even tangled and matted with blood, it had been gorgeous.
She was small, hardly more than five feet tall, with a slight, slender, but still somewhat shapely frame. She’d been a pretty girl, even then.
Of course I’d had no idea, as I’d rushed to her side to wrap her in a blanket and tend to her wounds, that that pretty girl would grow up to be the most beautiful woman who has ever graced my presence; that those big, warm eyes would one day look at me with so much love and devotion that they would pierce my very soul. No, I hadn’t known that one day I’d get to watch those eyes widen and close shut when my fingers tangled into that gorgeous mass of blonde curls.
How could I? She’d been just a kid then, and I wasn’t Scott. That night, all I could do was wrap my arms around her and help her hold herself together.
“What the FUCK Frank?!” Scott had repeated, louder this time.
“Get out of here Scott,” I’d breathed, as calmly as I could. I’d still had my arms around the girl, and I hadn’t wanted to frighten her even more by raising my voice. She had relaxed considerably in my arms.
I’d felt him lurking behind me, tense, trying to figure out if hitting me would be worth the court martial for insubordination. I’d decided to answer the question for him.
“O’dell. Your commanding officer just gave you an order.”
He’d turned and stomped off in an angry huff.
This had released whatever tension that had been left in the girl, and she’d slumped against me, unable to hold herself up any longer. I hadn’t lifted her. One day, she’d be strong enough to pick herself up. She’d have to be. Far worse things had been in store for her than anything Scott could have done. So I’d told her to get up.
“I have to get you to a medic princess, get you checked out. I need you to stand up. Can you do that?”
She’d looked up at me when I’d said “princess.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” she’d whispered, as if she hadn’t trusted her own voice.
This one, I had expected.
“I swear to you, one day soon enough, I’ll tell you everything. I’ll get you out of here, and I’ll explain to you exactly what’s been happening.” I’d taken her small face between my hands, looked deep into her beautiful, ethereal eyes. She’d seemed like so much more than a child then. She hadn’t flinched once under my gaze. “But for another couple of weeks, at least,” I had continued, “you’re going to have to stay here, and you’re going to have to deal with Scott.” She’d flinched then, though she had quickly attempted to mask it with a cough.
Brave, strong girl. Even then, there’d been hope for you.
“They’re going to ask you some questions Hailey. Questions you’re not going to know the answers to. And you’re going to keep telling them that, but they’re not going to believe you. They’re going to beat you, and they’re going to torture you. But I’m going to make sure that what happened tonight never happens again, ok? It shouldn’t have even happened the first time. I’m so, so, very sorry for that.”
“Why? It’s not like you’re the one who did it.” Her eyes still fully squared with mine, her tone defiant.
One corner of my mouth had twitched upward. Of course, I hadn’t known then that her strong, stubborn, willful defiance in the face of any adversity would one day be the thing I would love most about her; that the fire I’d seen blazing in her eyes that night could be directed at me, in a whole other setting, an entirely different context, as she wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled my face down to meet hers. All I’d known that night was that Hailey Morgan was going to be ok. And I’d been right.
“Can you stand?” I’d asked her. She had nodded, and had slowly, gingerly pulled herself to her feet. Her legs had been shaking violently, arms had shot out to steady herself; but she’d been determined to stand on her own, so she had succeeded. So like the woman I would grow to love – when she was determined to do something, come hell or high water, she was going to do it.
The medic had been a nervous, nerdy kid, probably around my age; it had been clear from the second we’d walked in that he hadn’t seen too many girls in his lifetime. His knowledge of all things Lord of the Rings, and the very genuine care and concern he had shown her had seemed to put the girl at ease though, and for that I’d been grateful.
He’d given her a clean bill of health and had advised her to “get a lot of rest.” The latter hadn’t been very likely, of course, but I remember how grateful and relieved I’d felt at hearing that no permanent damage had been done to this pretty, strong, stubborn young lady.
After I’d locked her in her cell and given her a pager that would allow her to alert me in case Scott decided to pay her another visit, I had made my way back to the bunker, and tip-toed silently out of the back entrance. Jack had been waiting for me outside, growing impatient, as I had expected.
“What the fuck took you so long?” he’d huffed as soon as I’d emerged from the door.
“Something came up,” I had answered, “we have to get that girl out of here, Jack. Soon.”
“Jesus Christ Frank, are you seriously still on this? We have to get ourselves out of here, ok? It’s only a matter of time before they connect the dots and link us to Chuck. When that happens, we have to be far, far away from here. And without his precious little girl.”
“And what do you think is going to happen to his precious little girl if we disappear and leave here behind?!” I had exclaimed, then had quickly lowered my voice. Jack and I having a secret meeting behind an emergency naval bunker just outside of Los Angeles would have been rather suspicious, and the last thing we had wanted then was to elicit suspicion.
“That sick fucking bastard Scott raped her tonight, Jack,” I had whispered. “I mean I walked in and stopped it, but he’d gotten pretty far by that point. What’ll happen to her if I’m not there to stop him? How many more will be lining up? We can’t just leave her.”
Jack had sighed a loud, frustrated sigh. “Frankie, I know Chuck was like a dad to you. I get why you’re all mother hen now over his daughter. I get it. But we’re no good to her dead. Look,” he’d continued – every time Jack ever said look, you automatically knew that he was about to say something even he knew was fucked up – “life’s not going to be good for her here. They’ll beat her, starve her, rape her, and God knows what else. Eventually, they’ll figure out that she don’t know jack shit. Then they’ll give her to some nice kidless family, and she’ll go back to as normal a life as she was ever going to have in this world. We can’t give this girl anything Frankie. It’s only a matter of time before we become the two most wanted men in this country. What are we supposed to do for her?”
“When they figure out that ‘she don’t know jack shit,” I’d hissed through gritted teeth, “they’ll kill her, and leave her body to dissolve in a tub full of lime in a basement somewhere in South America, like I’m sure her dad’s is doing at this very moment. And I won’t let that happen. You want to leave? Go for it. I’m not leaving here without that girl.”
“You know I’m not going to leave without you. I wouldn’t last two fucking days.” Good old Jack. He’d always been a self-aware man, if nothing else. All these years later, though, I can’t help but wonder if he’d been right then.
God damn it all.
“We’ve got two weeks,” I’d told him then, “two weeks tops, to plan an escape. With the girl,” I’d added for good measure.