A refrigerator truck had deposited its cargo of hungry bodies, still clad in the filthy sweats that had crossed the Mediterranean and Atlantic with them, a few clutching knotted plastic bags and water bottles. They were younger than the usual trade, uniformly teenaged or just beyond; three dark-clad minders kept them together, punishing intransigence with stock prods and the foaming mouths of mastiffs held on stout, clattering chains. Catchlights flashed in the back of the animals’ eyes as their great heads snapped at the foul air, the same dull flare written on the glasses overlaying the gazes of the more circumspect trio standing aloof by the truck. Their habiliment and manner could not have presented more of a contrast to the battered vehicle or its cargo, turned out with the heartless, faceless polish of a luxury-brand catalogue. Opal chose a chair and Edward sat down slowly beside her as still more of her nocturnal ilk arrived, complaining of the rain.
Siobhan descended the steps on towering wedge sandals, draped in red feathers the weather had pasted into drooping tufts, face screwed in a pinched moue of suspicion. It spat a cackle at the back of Opal’s head as it passed behind her and was lost amid its cronies while the smuggled youths were driven to the margins of the spotlight, their handlers using the dogs to push them, blinking and reluctant, before the arc of seated observers. With the prods they singled out the first selection, a slight young man who might have fled Khartoum or Mogadishu, his red T-shirt sporting the name of a popular softdrink in a stroke of horrible irony.
"So much better than the local garbage, my god... it all comes though Italy, apparently. How much would you love access to this every day?" Opal murmured, unwittingly rhetorical, craning her head toward the guesting Continental procurers in the hope of conveying some sort of acknowledgement. It was obvious to Edward that their superlative supply chain had overcome much of the loudly-stated objection to their presence, at least amongst those susceptible to the persuasion penned in the glare before them. The leathery reek of fear and slavering dogs dragged him back to a hundred such scenes of his own remembrance, from the dust-blown, mud-walled pens of oasis towns to the black filigree cages of French and Ottoman brothels, their inmates regarding him with the same voided expression. His own eye made a dispassionate assay of the faces beneath the lamps, imposing criteria infinitely refined by repetition. “I’ve made some calls on your behalf." Opal remarked. "They're more than happy to set up a meeting and I would seize that day if I were you.”
She leant out from her seat to examine a girl shoved forward for consideration. Having fled the Caucasus, she possessed the dark-eyed parochial beauty discerning princes had once sought for their harams; one of the gangsters groped his way into the spotlight and took hold of her head, prising back her lips and revealing her teeth as evidence of her robust wellbeing. When she kicked him and almost wrested free the guard strapped her with a short black length of hose. Edward tasted the ground with her, knowing every inch and moment of the cut dealt to her shoulder, blinking against the tail end of the blow that lashed around and caught their faces, the cold, remembered burn turning him toward the rain that wept in the doorway. The brindle canine lunged, seizing the girl's thigh in its mouth and wrenching her on stiff, splayed legs across the concrete, her complaints climbing into high-pitched screams. Opal sat back and muttered beneath the gurgling laughter from Siobhan’s contingent.
“I'm sure you're aware the police are looking for Ms Frost as we speak over the small matter of mordida failure, in addition to the recent disappearance of her manager...” Her eyes puckered into slits. "Astonishingly stupid of you at this point in time. So, to recap... dump the callgirl in a waste station somewhere, issue your brother with a trespass order and I want you to get rid of that maid... I don't like the eyes on that one. She was a mistake." Edward did not have to speak over the look he gave her, and Opal shook her head. “That’s a shame for you, it really will be. Expensive, too. I've never liked the police... they're so difficult to manage once they're involved in anything... but sometimes we must do evil to effect good."
He stood and drew his coat together.
"Don't ever come to the house again." he told her. Glancing at Siobhan as the latter strove for a better view of their dispute, he departed alone, glad of the empty night that met him in the lane outside.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce