It was seven o'clock in the evening. Outside it was dark and dank. Thick clouds hung heavy, almost static in the night air, shrouding the sky and adding to the blackness of a moonless night. He had waited almost a week for such a night as this. Not long given it was February and such a night was to be expected. A night when few walked the streets and those that did, hurried along with collars turned high and heads sunk into shoulders; night when few would notice a shadow among so many others.
She was home. He could see her standing at the window, washing dishes at the sink. Small slim frame and bob-cut hair that almost appeared to be a halo as the light behind her shone through. He glanced up and down the street. It was time.
Stacey hummed absent-mindedly to the tune on the radio. The letterbox rattled loudly, making her jump. She dried her hands and walked through to the hallway. A large brown envelop lay on the floor. Puzzled, she picked it up. No name was inscribed on the front. She opened the door and peered out into the darkness to find the street deserted.
She carried the bulging envelop through to the kitchen and tipped the contents out onto the table. What greeted her immediately filled her with horror. A small gallery of pictures, good quality pictures by all accounts, if only they had been of anything except her. With a trembling hand she picked up the only piece of paper among the scattered pictures. A note: Meet me at The Lion and Pheasant, on Riverdale Lane at 9 o'clock. Ask for Room 4. If you want your secret to remain a secret, don't be late, I won't wait. COME ALONE. No name, nothing.
Riverdale Lane, a sleazy side of town, and a place she knew only by reputation. Her stomach knotted into a ball of fear. Next came the outrage. At first she was angry that anybody could do such a thing. Her anger turned from the perpetrator of the note to herself. Why had she been so stupid? It was a dumb question really, she knew why — times had been hard back then, really hard. Not much different for any other student in University from a poor background, worse if you were a guy, at least the girls had some options — and some options they were too! Private Escorting, which was just a polite way of saying prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, or nude photography, as she had chosen.
It wasn't supposed to have been a nude photo shoot, had she been approached directly with such an offer she would have turned it down flat. It was supposed to have been a private photo shoot for a Photographic Society, just a club of amateur photographers really. Mostly they took pictures of scenery, people in parks, families, wildlife etc. But then they decided they would like to have a pretty young female pose for them and had been on the lookout for a likely candidate.
Stacey had been sitting on a bench reading a book and enjoying the sunshine in the flower gardens of a local park. It was warm and peaceful afternoon with little distraction beyond the drone of bees busy among the flowers. A shadow had fallen across her, causing her to look up. Stacey found herself looking up at two geeky-looking middle aged men who very politely asked if they might take her picture with the backdrop of flowers. She was flattered by their request and could see no harm in meeting their request, so she agreed.
Later, while they talked to her, praising her on how photogenic she was, she learned of their club. Trying not to blush at their lavish praise, she allowed them to talk her into attending their club for a photo-shoot. It would be nothing pornographic they had assured her, and they even offered to pay her. It wasn't major money, but it was better than nothing. So Stacey had accepted the invitation.
It all started out friendly and innocent enough. There were about ten photographers that night as she recalled, a couple of them were women, which immediately put her at ease. They asked her to pose in various positions, none of which could be described as sexual, and she did indeed remain fully clothed.
They were a really friendly bunch, very courteous and respectable. They made her feel special under the gaze of so many cameras and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Two or three hours later they took her to a pub, treated her to a few drinks and asked her if she would return, with a bikini. She didn't even have to think about it.
The next photo session started out innocent enough, though some of the poses became a little more erotic. They teased her a little, and she joined in the fun, laughing with them and sharing a joke. Before long they were asking her to slip the straps off her shoulder: click-click-click. She turned her back on them and removed her top altogether: click-click-click. And then a daring side profile, a twist of her shoulder here, a turn of her head there. The inevitable happened and she finished up in the buff with cameras whirling away. They paid her, quite handsomely as it turned out, but she declined any further invitations and the incident was soon forgotten, until now.
For Stacey the problem laid not so much in the photographs, but more about what was behind the note. Was it a threat? Probably, even though the note didn't indicate that. Could he, assuming it was a 'he', harm her? He most surely could, and undoubtedly knew it if he had gone to the trouble of finding her home address after all this time, if he had done that, it stood to reason he knew she could be got at. The bigger questions were who, and what did he want? Well in forty minutes time she would find out — forty-minutes!
She fled upstairs, quickly showered and changed. She never paused to ask herself why she showered, and may not have liked the answer if she had. She knew what was almost certainly going to happen when she arrived at The Lion and Pheasant, the pictures said it all, but what choice did she have?
Twenty-minutes later she was on the road, cocooned against the dark night in a bubble of metal and glass as she drove anxiously. With a racing heart and a blank mind as she tried not to think of what lay ahead, but concentrated on finding The Lion and Pheasant.
The car slowed as she squinted through the screen, peering at street names, moving on, finding another. She stopped and reversed a few feet. Riverdale Lane. She swung the car into a narrow back ally of a road with few streetlights. The street looked deserted as she crawled along, heading toward the one sign of life.
Stacey parked across the road with mounting trepidation. A dark, grime covered building towered before her. A place that had definitely seen better days. Her foot falls reverberated ominously around the street as she crossed the road and entered. The small reception hall was deserted and poorly lit. The place stank of stale beer and tobacco smoke. A narrow little counter occupied a corner beside the stairs. She glanced at the stairs and for a brief moment considered going straight up. It would be better if someone, anyone, knew she was here.
She rang the bell on the counter. A heavyset man walked out of the bar, he looked her up and down, surprise evident on his face. He was unused to seeing clients so expensively dressed, much less a woman.
"Can I help you miss?"
"Room four please."
His expression changed. He understood. A prostitute no less, he should have known. Still, they rarely appeared in his establishment looking so upmarket.
"Straight up the stairs darling," His tone changed, more of an equal, "You'll find four on your left."
Stacey thanked him politely and climbed up the stairs, glancing back once quickly to find him at the foot of the stairs, peering up at her as she climbed. Her footfalls intruded on the stillness surrounding her, adding to her frayed nerves. Rounding the top of the stairs, she heard a telephone ring somewhere down the corridor. It was answered. Maybe it was the Landlord announcing her arrival to the guest in number four.
She paused, peering down the dimly lit corridor. If she thought the excuse of a reception was poorly lit, the corridor was another matter. A single bulb provided the only light down the narrow landing space. The walls were grubby with peeling wallpaper and heavy cobwebs. She walked the landing, checking the rooms. Number four stood with the door slightly ajar. She knocked, once, and the light door swung back easily. She pushed it open nervously before stepping inside.
A single lamp lit the room. The room was bigger than she expected. An old wardrobe stood against one wall, its door missing. An ancient bed that sagged heavily in the middle took centre stage and on it were several enlarged pictures of Stacey in pose. There was a dresser on which sat the lamp. The curtains were closed at the window and in the darkest corner someone was sitting in a big old chair. Eyes were all that she could see.
"What do you want?" Her voice quivered, unable to disguise her tension.
She shuffled nervously. Not knowing what else to do or say.
"Strip!" The word sliced through the air like a sharp razor.
"What? No — I won't. I'll give you money, but I won't do that. Who are you anyway?"
"I said strip, you slut."
"How dare you call me a slut..."
"Mick... ?" His voice rang out loudly.
Stacey whirled; scared as a door across the landing was flung open and an obese man wearing a stained t-shirt ambled across into the doorway. He was a little too quick, a little too eager to appear at the door. It was staged. He had been expecting the call.
"See them pictures on the bed — pick one of them, anyone you like."
Stacey stepped back as Mick shuffled across to the bed. Her eyes darted sideways, at the figure she couldn't see in the shadows.
.... There is more of this story ...