She wasn't your usual run-of-the-mill street waif, there was something subtly different about her. Firstly, he realised, it was the fact she was wearing a skirt, rather than the ubiquitous jeans. He could see that although her clothes were dirty, they had originally been of good quality, not the cheap stuff from Asda or Tesco, but middle of the range; Marks and Spencers perhaps. Her blouse had once been white, her ragged blue jacket, and the quality of her other clothes, pointed to another existence beyond the steel bench she occupied on the pedestrian area. He didn't often come to the city, mostly because there was no need, he could usually find everything he needed within ten minutes of home. It just so happened though, that today he had an appointment with his publisher, only the city would do, and for once it was bathed in sunshine rather than grey drizzle. Now his business was finished and he was heading for the van, and on his way home, or he had been. Still intrigued by the girl on the bench, he sat on his mobility scooter and lit a cigarette, taking the opportunity to observe her. A much less subtle difference from the usual street waif, other than her clothes, was the fact that she was sobbing as if her heart would break, a bleak and tormented island in a sea of uncaring humanity.
He saw a woman look at her, and make half a move towards her, only to be dragged away by the man at her side. Her husband he guessed. He saw the girl lean forward, her face on her forearms, her chest on her legs, as if the weight of the world was pressing her down, crushing her into the unforgiving steel and concrete of the city. Tears sprang to his eyes and rolled down his cheeks to be absorbed by his beard. He empathised with her pain, an emotional pain far greater than the physical pain he so carefully controlled with drugs. Somehow he had to reach out to this girl. Pinching out the half smoked cigarette and replacing it in the packet, he rolled his buggy in front of her, blocking off her direct line of escape, but leaving room for her to go if she really wished. She never noticed his almost silent approach, she started in shock as he grasped her hand and she looked up into his face, her eyes wide and filled with terror. He couldn't tell if it was the sight of his empathetic tears, his gentle grasp of her hand, or his face that held her, but she didn't immediately bolt for freedom.
'Peace little one, I promise you I won't hurt you, and if I can, I'll help.' He squeezed her hand gently, 'If you want to run I won't stop you, but I hope you can stay and tell me why you're in such a state.'
He spoke quietly, intensely, looking deep into her green eyes as he tried to convince her they were the only two people on that street. He tried to radiate feelings of safety, compassion, love even. Her eyes searched his in return, and whatever she was looking for she must have found it, she started to relax. She looked down at her hand as it lay in his much larger, rougher, paw. She felt the warmth. Her view expanded to take in the disability scooter and the portly frame of its occupant, and then ended at the face. His face was framed by a full white beard, neatly trimmed; his lips were curved in a slight smile. He wore glasses, but the eyes behind them were blue, and seemed to look inside her mind in a kindly way; searching for her soul. He looked like Santa Claus in a leather trilby hat.
'My name's Jon.' His other hand came across to hers, not to grip, but to start stroking the back of her hand gently, 'Tell me what you're running away from. Tell me how I can help you.'
She searched his face, seeing nothing but compassion, she took the plunge, 'They hurt me... '
'Who hurt you little one?'
'My stepfather and his son, they raped me... ' She broke down again into agonised sobs that tore at his heart. In the pit of his stomach anger started to burn.
'Yesterday, a ... after th ... the f ... funeral, they locked me in a shed.' Tears rolled down her cheeks and dripped onto their joined hands.
'Whose funeral?' His heart was breaking, intuitively he knew what was coming, and it came with the inevitability of an earthquake.
'My mother's... ' She whispered.
The anger in his stomach blossomed into a burning rage, 'Have you told the police?'
'I ... I ... d ... daren't, it's my word against theirs, and my stepfather's a county councillor. He's on the police committee.' Even through what little contact she had with his hand, she could feel his rage. She looked at his eyes again, and they seemed to have turned a darker blue.
'How badly are you hurt?'
'I'm bleeding ... f ... from my ... v ... vagina ... I ... d ... daren't get up, my skirt's soiled with blood... '
'Are they likely to be looking for you?'
'They'll find out I'm gone in about an hour, then they'll start looking.'
'Then we have to get you away.' He squeezed her hand gently, 'I know it's asking a lot after everything that you've been through, but can you trust a stranger? I won't hurt you I promise. In fact I can't hurt you the way those animals have.' She saw a look of pain and loss flash across his face, 'But I can help you, are you willing to give it a try?'
'I ... c ... can't m ... move, everyone will see the blood on my skirt.'
'Can you walk if we can cover your skirt?'
'Y ... yes, I don't know how far though, I'm really, really sore.'
Jon got off his buggy and opened the box bolted on the back of the seat, he drew out a fleece jacket. He closed the box and handed the jacket to the girl. 'Tie this round your waist, that'll hide the back of your skirt. It's not far to my van, I'll take you to my home, and we'll get you sorted. Trust me little one, I promise I won't hurt you. What's your name?'
She looked into his eyes again and saw truth, 'I trust you Jon. My name's Felicia, my friends call me Fliss.' She pulled the arms of the fleece around her waist and knotted them. It was enormous on her tiny frame, almost big enough to cover her skirt completely, and hanging down to mid-calf.
It was obvious to Jon from the start that Fliss wasn't going to be able to walk far. She hissed with pain as she stood, and every step seemed to be an exercise in agony. Jon reached under his seat on the buggy and pulled a lever allowing the seat to slide back.
'You're going to have to sit on my knee Fliss, this thing's designed to carry nearly two hundred and thirty kilos, so it should cope with both of us with no problem. If anyone asks, you're my great niece, you've twisted your ankle, and we're only taking you to the car. It's not far though; it's parked in the next street.'
Fliss stepped onto the buggy deck and settled herself on Jon's knee, struggling to find a position that didn't cause her more pain, smoothly they rolled down the crowded street, an incongruous looking couple, a portly old man and a small teenage girl riding an electric scooter, but as usual, nobody took any notice. Fliss felt Jon's arm behind her as she perched on his lap, and for the first time in weeks she felt safe. The warmth from his leg beneath her seemed to ease the soreness in her loins. Tension drained from her slight frame, and Jon felt her relax all her weight onto his thigh. She laid her head against his shoulder and whispered, 'I trust you Jon, I trust you with my life.' She sobbed quietly against his shirt. She didn't see the tears streaming down his face.
Within a few minutes, Jon pulled his scooter up behind a van. It was a Ford Transit, but unlike most vans, there were no double doors at the rear, just a single one that looked as if it opened like a tailgate. That proved to be true. Jon pressed a key fob to unlock the vehicle, then pulled a remote control from a small compartment on the scooter. He pressed a button and the rear door started to lift. It wasn't the fact that the van was customised that drew Fliss' attention though, it was the fantastic airbrush designs that illustrated it. Fantastic creatures crawled around it, sometimes treading on human skulls, often held at bay by heroes, and heroines, with swords.
The tailgate reached maximum height, and a tail lift started to extrude from the load space. Fliss made to stand up, but a quick squeeze from Jon's arm held her in place. Once the tail lift was on the ground, Jon drove the scooter onto it. Another press of the button, a kick from the van's suspension, and it lifted smoothly until it was level with the load space floor. Jon drove the scooter inside, the tail lift folded in behind, and the rear door closed. The interior of the van was boarded out, but there was an extra row of seats behind the seats in the cab, like a crew cab, obviously accessed via a side door, and with windows either side. There was space between the seats to allow access from the rear to the cab, and carpeting in the load space that matched that in the rest of the van; it was luxuriously finished.
Jon urged Fliss to get off the buggy and go to sit in the passenger seat. He pulled a couple of straps across and secured the buggy for travel, pushed a plug into the scooter's recharge socket, then followed Fliss to the front of the van, and dropped into the driver's seat. He was panting for breath. His breathing settled down and he took a couple of blasts from an inhaler before starting up the engine. He didn't drive off immediately; he turned slightly in his seat and looked at Fliss.
'You do realise they're going to have to be punished, your stepfather and his son, they're going to have to pay?'
'I don't know how. He has too many contacts; too many fingers in too many pies.'
.... There is more of this story ...