This is the second of a two-part story. To read the first episode, click here.
It was a Friday afternoon weeks later when I got a call from the Reception Desk. Most of my colleagues had already gone, making sure that they had visits to make which would put them on the right side of the city for heading home fast. Others of us were tidying up paperwork after a hectic week and making calls, setting up strategies in the hope of fending off emergencies which could wreck our own plans for the much needed undisturbed weekend. At this point the thought of an uninvited, unexpected visitor calling at the Office for a personal interview was not welcome. “ Can’t the Duty Desk deal with it?” I asked.
“Says it has to be you, Mrs. Brown. Says no-one else will do. Seems to think you will want to see her. Says her name’s Dawn. Bit of a looker if you don’t mind me saying so.”
I didn’t stop to call the lift. Downstairs in Reception the young man at the desk nodded to the far corner. There was an unbelievable sight. The glossy brown hair was now blonde, the slim, youthful figure was so thin it looked as if it might break, the makeup was thick, but immaculate and the outfit of olive green matching dress and coat, with shoes and bag to match looked as if it had come straight from Vogue. It was certainly not something a seventeen-year-old would pick out for herself, or ever be able to afford. Her eyes were darting around and she tried to keep as far from the door as possible. Her eyes. They lit up briefly when she saw me. But the lids heavy with shadow, liner and false lashes drooped quickly as if she could bear to look at me, or maybe didn’t want me to look into her eyes.
I went forward and hugged her. “Oh, Miss”, she said. In his excitement the young man behind the desk dropped a pile of files. Dawn flinched. “Get me out of here”, she begged. “ Get me safe, Miss. Please. I beg you.”
I did the only thing I could think of. I took her upstairs to the nearly empty office. I drew up a chair beside my desk and took a deep breath.
“God, where have you been Dawn? We’ve been so worried. Your mother has been calling me every day. She’s been beside herself with worry. We all have.
I’m so pleased to see you, but how did you get here? How did you know where I was?” I had a thousand and one other questions, but suddenly Dawn said, “Have you got anything to eat please, Miss?” I opened the desk drawer and revealed my stash of crisps, biscuits and today some rather nice juicy plums. Dawn fell upon them straight away. “Don’t know when I last had fruit, Miss.”
“I have to finish off a few things here and then we’ll go to The Willows. It’s the best I can do on a Friday afternoon. You can think about things and we’ll all get together on Monday. Do you want to phone your mother while you wait?”
She shook her head and the eyelids shut me out again.
It was warm and sunny in the office and next time I looked at her, her head was nodding sleepily. I worked as fast as I could and when I had finished signing off staff time sheets she seemed to be fast asleep. Nevertheless I went to another desk to make a phone call.
The same senior was on duty at The Willows again. I told her the news and arranged to take Dawn there soon. However, I mentioned her response to phoning her mother and we agreed that although I would tell Mrs Jones Dawn was safe, we would not tell her where Dawn was and would arrange a meeting at the Area Office, instead of at The Willows on Monday.
I woke Dawn and told her we were going to The Willows. It had started to rain and she seemed pleased about this, especially when I offered her an old raincoat we always kept on a coat rack in the corner, for emergencies. She asked if she could use one of the several umbrellas which were also left around. As we went down the stairs she asked would I mind bringing the car as near to the back door as possible. Even so she hugged the coat around herself and covered all of her head and face with the umbrella and even more strangely she got into the back of the car and crouched down on the floor out of site. As we drove along, her muffled voice asked if The Willows had a back door and if I could drive to it. It all felt very odd.
When we got to The Willows and in to the office, Dawn hung back away from the window and asked if we could close the blinds. Only then would she sit down and seemed to relax a little. We sat down with a cup of tea and two of us prepared to open discussions about what had happened since we had all three been there all those weeks ago.
Unfortunately the third and most important member of the group, Dawn, seemed unwilling to join in. After her usual charming apologies for running off and worrying us she was very quiet and unresponsive. Until the senior mentioned that her mother had rung up, asking where she was and wanting to see her before the meeting on Monday, that is.
Suddenly the floodgates opened. “I never want to see that woman again. You’ve got to help me, both of you. You’re the only ones I trust. You’ve no idea what she’s really like, or the mess she’s made of my life. I kept thinking you must see it. You’re both usually good at sussing things out. But all those times I messed up your plans you never found out why. You always thought she was the perfect mother. And how could I tell you? I didn’t think you’d believe me anyway. Who would? You want to know where I’ve been and why I want to keep out of sight? That night when I went out of here, to go to the cinema, Ric was waiting for me when I came out. Somebody had spotted me at work and he had me watched until I was on my own in the dark and he grabbed me.”
“Do you mean Ric the Pimp?” I asked. He was the one who had run a bunch of young girls, one of whom was Dawn before she came to The Willows the first time. The time when she was thin, spotty and smelly.
“Why did you go with him? Where have you been? Did he have you on the game again? Why didn’t you get away? How did you get away now? What are you frightened of now? Is he after you? Why is he after you again? How did you get all this posh gear?” The questions all spilled out. Dawn started to cry. I reached to squeeze her shoulder and she flinched again.
“Dawn, are you hurt?” She shifted in the chair. “Just a bit, Miss”.
“Let’s get nurse to check you out and see if we need to get the doctor.”
It turned out that the only parts of her body not severely bruised were the bits that showed and the parts where she had crossed her arms over her breasts and her fingers had reached round and covered the tops of her arms. But somehow nothing was broken and none of the physical injuries required medical attention. At this stage we could not begin to assess any mental or emotional effects.
After Dawn had showered and eaten she asked to see us. “ It was my Mum, you know. She’s sex mad, but no-one she wants goes for her. She wants fit young ones, not the sort of old granddad who’d go with her. So when I got to about thirteen she started to use me to attract men and do three in a bed. How could I tell you both that? That’s how I met Ric in the first place. She somehow persuaded him to come to our house and we did the usual threesome. Then he waited his chance and grabbed me to work on the streets for him. Then I got picked up by the Police and you know a lot of the rest. My Mum kept you all sweet to get me back with her. She’d put up with anything to get me back in bed with her and some bloke. So I had to keep messing up the plans. She used to be furious with me, but she had to keep on pretending, just in case I decided to tell on her.
“Then there was Ric always lurking out there. He’s gone up market and got some massage parlours now, not just bunches of snotty kids on the streets. He made me into a hostess. Gave me the best of everything. Clothes, hair- dos, make-up, the lot. He kept me for himself, which wasn’t so bad ‘cause he couldn’t do it that much. Then he got that he couldn’t do it at all and decided that he needed to spice things up and wanted to do three or more in the bed. I freaked. I couldn’t do that again. So then he locked me up and hit me with the dog chain. Until I persuaded him to let me out and go shopping with one of his goons. I managed to persuade him to park near your office, Miss. I gave him the slip and here we are.”
There was a long silence, as we each thought our own thoughts.
“You see, I was right. How could I tell you that? You don’t really believe me do you?”