Please remember this story is being written and posted 'live' every day. I am writing today's episode and posting it here without benefit of a read-through, let alone an edit. I don't usually work this way and this experiment is exciting and different for me, not my normal work-ethic at all. To that end, please forgive me any typos, grammar errors and anything that you may think should have been picked up in an edit - it WILL be picked up in the edit.
I've already spoken with a publisher about getting this story published - possibly after Christmas, we'll see how it goes.
They heard your sister shouting, they knew there was a stranger in the house and they didn’t come to see what was wrong?” Justin’s fists clenched on the arms of his chair. He knew the answer and Ash knew he did.
She shook her bowed head.
“Stop that. You stop that right now, Ash,” Justin said in a contrast to his angry tone of seconds before. “None of this is your fault. None of it.”
“But if I hadn’t told Mrs Dunlop about sharing a bed…”
“You’d have been the one molested,” Justin said. “You’d have been his target and I assume you don’t wet the bed?”
“No!” she said, indignant that he should even think it.
“So he wouldn’t have been disgusted, and despite any protests, despite your sister being there, he’d have carried on.”
Ash’s eyes grew wider and she tucked her chin to her chest, covered her ears and closed her eyes. She shut down and closed herself off to any more information. It was a defence mechanism that Justin had seen too many times.
Justin waited, not speaking. There was no point. Ash had heard as much as she was going to allow herself to hear and Justin had to be patient and wait for her juvenile brain to either process the information or dismiss it. He hoped she’d process it.
Justin switched on the television and found a channel with a Tom & Jerry cartoon. The cat was chasing the mouse and the background sounds were exaggerated and Ash didn’t take too long to become distracted.
She opened her eyes first, then lowered her hands. Her head came up a few moments later and she watched the craziness on the television and ignored her brain’s horror at Justin’s words.
“Can I stay here?” she whispered, not looking at Justin.
“Anytime you like,” Justin said.
“I don’t want to go back home,” she said.
“No, I know that and I understand, but you have to go home sometimes otherwise your parents might…”
She interrupted him. “Please don’t say they might worry. They won’t. They don’t care.”
Again, Justin looked at the girl and thought she looked all her nine years.
“No, I wasn’t going to, but you’d be missed because you’re a commodity.”
Justin barked a humourless laugh. “I forget you’re only nine, sometimes. “You’re property, something to be profited from. Your dad, and possibly your mum too, will either be getting money from that guy, or a favour. Something will be gained from allowing him access to you.”
“No… it’s horrible.”
A single teardrop slid down her face but she was no longer looking sad. The expression horrified and fascinated him, she was beyond angry. The little nine-year old, shaved headed slip of a girl was furious.
He was amazed at how controlled she was too. How long had she had to keep her emotions in check? What had she gone through to give her such control? He decided he didn’t want to know because the knowledge would probably break his spirit.
He knew he was no longer the strong, fit and healthy police officer, riding high in the ranks of officialdom with the ear of a good number of even higher ranking officers. Justin was a broken man. Disgraced, sick and powerless, the only thing he had to barter with was a hope that certain people would honour the favours of times past.
As he looked at the girl fighting to keep her own spirit from snapping and leaving her without hope of fighting back, he knew every single one of those favours would be called in and a few more besides if he possibly could.
“It’s gonna be ok Ash. I promise.”
She looked from the television and the antics of the cat, mouse and huge bulldog and she nodded.
“I believe you,” she whispered.
“Oh fucking hell,” he said.
The hardened ex-officer, the ‘been there, done that, seen it ALL’ toughened copper looked at the kid sitting on his sofa and his heart felt like it had plummeted in his chest. The sensation was similar to your stomach when it flip-flops with change of direction on a fairground ride, but nowhere as pleasant. Tears threatened to prick at his eyes and he knew he’d finally got too close to the case he was working.
He’d managed to avoid such things when he was working, but with nothing else to distract him, he had had to become immersed in this one and he realised that he wasn’t as tough as his reputation and he wasn’t such a hard-nosed bastard as he’d liked to think he was for all those years on the force.
“Fuck’s sake Justin are you crying?” Her tone was almost a jeer, a slight hint of derision there, calling him out for being soft.
He looked at her, shocked. He was about to deny it all and then realised that would be a greater disservice to her.
“Pretty fucking close, kid.” He wiped at his eyes, not hiding, not denying, showing that kid there was finally someone who was bothered enough about her to actually give a shit and be upset.
She stood up and though it wasn’t the Hollywood ‘moment of clarity’ where the story turns and you just know the sun will come out and everything will be fine, it was pretty close. She hovered close to his chair.
“You want a hug?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Me too,” she said and leaned over and across him to wrap her tiny, skinny arms around him.
“Fucking hell, Justin, you’re really thin.”
“Yeah, kid, I know.”
Robin passed the window and glanced in. He took a step back to see if what he’d seen was really happening or if he’d imagined it.
He ducked down and went back to the top of the steps to give them time to gather their emotions rather than having to explain and deny what had happened.
If they didn’t know he’d seen, they could keep that moment for themselves.