Unexpected Ch. 03byThe Wanderer©
As usual my thanks go to LadyC and Techsan for their assistance in bringing this tale of woe to you.
As we drove home that night I thought to myself, "Yeah, we probably have discovered why Anna had left, but we were no closer to discovering where she had actually gone." So you can understand that I wasn't as elated as some folks in the car appeared to think I should be.
John Carpenter warned me not to go anywhere near the Talbot guy until he was ready. "We want to put a little pressure on before we approach him. It's all right for the likes of the Hennessey's to come down hard on little hoods like that Nielson guy, but we can't go treating an apparently upstanding member of the public that way. I had a word with the girls while you were playing snooker and they are willing to help us. By the way, if you happen to see any of them or my people around town, don't approach them. Okay?"
When John said that I had no idea what he was up to, but in the following few days I soon found out. I caught sight of all three of the girls and John's man Bert in the high road on a couple of occasions. It appeared to me that everywhere I looked, one of the girls was about, and Bert seemed to be everywhere as well. Well, to be honest our High Road isn't that big so I assumed the plan was that the Talbot guy would see one of them whenever he came out of or went into the insurance office.
Mind, the girls didn't look anything like the three little tarts that we'd met at the Hennessey's'; those girls had obviously been cheep prostitutes. Now they were dressed like respectable young ladies; whether that was Bobby Hennessey's influence or Helen Carpenter's I didn't know, but I saw Helen a couple of times over those few days.
Apparently Talbot recognised the girls though; I was to learn later that he went to approach all three of them on different occasions. But every time he got close to any of them, Bert would step in between. Bert was one guy Talbot had been trying to avoid talking to.
I was sorry that I missed the best bit though. From what Crystal told me later, I gather that Talbot with his wife and his or her parents went for a meal on the Friday evening at one of the best restaurants in town. The three girls and Bert let Talbot's party get into eating their meal before they sat themselves down at the next table. Crystal told me that she thought that Talbot was going to choke on his soup when he spotted them. Crystal said she thought that Talbot's wife suspected that something odd was going on, because she kept looking between the girls who were smiling in Talbot's general direction all the time and Talbot himself.
By the following Monday morning, John Carpenter decided they'd lent on Talbot enough. Sometime during the previous week, Helen Carpenter had been into the office and made arrangements for Talbot to show her and her husband over an empty property. Apparently Talbot had no idea who Helen and John Carpenter were, or that they had any interest in Anna's disappearance.
The five of us - the three girls, Bert and myself - were sitting in a people carrier with blacked out windows further along the road when John, Helen and Talbot arrived at the vacant property. After a cursory look at the outside of the house they went inside. We five followed them in as soon as they were out of sight.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I heard Talbot demand when he noticed Crystal enter the room.
By the time I got into the room as well, Talbot was looking from one face to another trying to figure out what was going on.
"We just want a word with you about what you know about Anna's disappearance," John Carpenter said. "You have a choice. You can talk to us now or we'll take the girls straight round to tell your wife what kinds of games you've been getting up to with them over the last few years."
"She'd never believe you!" Talbot tried to brazen it out.
"Oh, after Friday night, I pretty much think she will. From what the girls tell me, your wife was itching with curiosity," John replied in a very calm voice.
Some of the false confidence in Talbot's voice began to waver. Reading between the lines I assume his wife had been asking some very pertinent questions over the weekend.
"I don't know anything about Anna's disappearance! She just never turned in to work one day, that's all I know," he declared.
"No, I don't think so," John said. "From what I've heard about the week before she disappeared, there was an afternoon when only you and her were in the office for a while. When the other staff members got back to the office, more than one of them said that Anna appeared distant and upset about something. So just what passed between you that afternoon?"
"Nothing. I hardly spoke to the woman!"
"Okay, Calvin, if that's the way you want to play things," John replied. "Right, Bert, run the girls round to the gym so that they can have a chat with Mrs Talbot, who should be just about to finish her workout. And we'll go down to the police station and let them in on the fact that our friend here had some kind of a disagreement with Anna a few days before she disappeared. You never mentioned to the police that you'd known Anna in the past either, did you, Calvin? Or that you had been alone with Anna in the office that afternoon. I'm willing to bet the police will be very interested in those little omissions.
"And, of course, if your wife is as jealous as she's reputed to be, I'll bet she has you out of the house before nightfall. The police might be interested in her reactions to your infidelity as well."
"How do you know what I told the police?" Talbot demanded.
"Calvin, we've been looking at you very closely for some time now, and you'd be surprised what we've found out. We know about those kerb crawling cautions as well. Does your wife know about them by any chance?
"And!" John said, quietly, pausing for effect. "Of course there's your other son, the one you pay maintenance for every month. Are your wife and family aware of his existence?"
Talbot hadn't had much colour in the first place. He lost all colour in his face completely when John mentioned this other child, whom I'd never heard of before either.
Talbot suddenly got physically shorter. I'd never seem a man shrink in front of my eyes before.
"I just asked her if she was still looking to turn a few tricks on the side, that's all."
"Bollocks!" Crystal exclaimed. "Sarah would have told you to piss-off, she was married and out of the business!"
"Oh, she did. So I left it at that," Talbot replied.
"Then what scared the shit out her so much that she ran away…?" Crystal demanded; she was angry and for a moment I thought she was going to lay into Talbot.
"All right, Crystal, calm down," John interrupted. "No, Calvin, we can't believe you just asked Anna if she would turn a few tricks for you. I very much suspect that you told her that she would, otherwise you threatened to tell her husband here that she'd been on the game.
"Now it really isn't worth lying to us, Calvin, because your marriage and life as you know it is on the line here. Besides all that, do you know there are some rather violent people in London who are very angry about Anna's disappearance? They've only got to suspect that you had something to do with it, and well… You'll tell them the truth, of that I can assure you!
"Calvin, did you know that Paul Nielson has left the country, because those guys became upset with him? Now you tell us exactly what went on between you and Anna and no one needs be any the wiser, okay?"
I had to marvel at the calm quiet voice that John was using. I had to admit it did sound very menacing.
"Look, I just asked her if she would go with me now and again," Talbot finally exclaimed.
"And?" John asked in that calm tone of his.
"Yeah, well, I might have hinted that I would tell her husband about her being on the game. But as the girl said, she just told me to piss-off. I don't think she'd recognised me until I spoke to her about it…."
"Yeah, we never take much notice of little pricks like you!" Crystal butted in. She still sounded extremely angry. Possibly more angry than I was at that moment.
John raised his hand to silence Crystal and nodded to Talbot, telling him to carry on.
"Look, I didn't recognise her when she first came to work in the office, although her face was familiar. Then I remembered I'd seen her with Paul Neilson so I figured I'd take a chance and see whether she'd play ball. Well, she told me to sling my hook!"
"Did you mention Paul to her?"
"Yeah, well, sure I did."
"And did you by any chance tell Anna you'd tell Paul where she was?"
"Now look, I wouldn't have actually told him!"
"But you mentioned him and you no doubt knew that Paul was looking for Anna?"
"Yeah, well, so what, that doesn't mean I would have told him where to find the girl. To be honest, she was a nice girl, not the sort you'd expect to find on the game."
"They are all nice girls, Calvin. It's just that some of them don't make the right choices on who to be friends with when they are young," John commented. "So after that day you never brought up the subject again, or threatened to let on to anyone that Anna wasn't her real name or that she'd worked as a prostitute?"
"No, look, the moment I said it to her, I wished I hadn't. I tried to apologise to her a couple of times over the following days, but she blanked me. And then suddenly she was gone! I thought that Neilson guy had tracked her down or something."
"You didn't think it would have been prudent to tell the police about Neilson then?"
"Well, how could I without telling them how I knew him? Look, if my wife finds out that I've been visiting…. Well, you're a married man; you understand…. If Karen finds out, she'll divorce me."
Talbot didn't look a happy man standing there.
"Then you'll just have to hope that we find Anna in the long term, won't you? I'm sure if her husband here doesn't find Anna before too long, he's liable to lash out at the man who gave her cause to run."
"But I didn't…!"
"Oh, you sure did, Calvin! Anna was happy living a new life and you set about smashing that safe little world she'd built for herself. You had the choice to say nothing to her and let sleeping dogs lie, but you thought you could turn the situation to your own advantage. You know, you're one hell of a man," John said with a sarcastic tone to his voice. "I'm afraid that what happens next is up to Anna's husband here."
Talbot turned and looked at me with pleading eyes.
"Please don't tell my wife."
I didn't answer him; I turned and walked out of the room. Two wrongs don't make a right and I could see no sense in smashing two marriages. But I held any revenge that I might take in abeyance; Talbot would have to pray that I found Anna in the end.
"Are you going to tell his wife?" Crystal asked me, when she climbed into the people carrier.
"I doubt it, but it won't hurt the bugger any to worry about whether I will or not for a while. What's the point in upsetting his wife and family? Where are you girls going now, by the way?" I asked her.
"Saffie has got to got back to the rehab clinic; Bobby Hennessy set it up for her. You know, we were terrified of the Hennessey's, but they are being so kind to us."
"Perhaps they want you to work for them?" Bert suggested.
"Oh, they do, but none of us are going on the game for them. Once Saffie gets herself clean Jerry's promised her that if she stays off the drugs, she can go work as a croupier in one of their gambling clubs. Jerry Hennessey reckons that with her looks, the customers won't mind losing their cash so much. And Debbie here is going home to her folks; Helen Carpenter went up to see them the other day and they are keen on having her go back home."
"And you, Crystal?" I asked. "What are you going to do? Go home to your folks or work for the Hennessey's?"
"I don't know that I've got much choice. I can't go back to my family and I'm not as good looking as Saffie or anywhere near as clever."
"Why can't you go back home? Your folks aren't dead or anything, are they?" I couldn't understand why Crystal wasn't even contemplating trying to reconcile with her family. But then Debbie, who obviously knew Crystal very well, broke her usual silence to answer that question for her.
"Because her stepfather raped her when she was little and when she told her mother she was accused of seducing the bastard. Her stepfather was put in jail and Crystal finished up in care. Is that a good enough reason, for you?" Debbie sounded pretty pissed that I'd even suggest that Crystal went home. I believe I understood her anger, but I didn't know the details of Crystal's early life or how she'd finished up on the game.
"I ran away from that council home when I was twelve. It was like they'd put me in prison for what happened." Crystal didn't sound as angry as Debbie, just maybe a little sad. "I didn't finish school or anything. The Hennessey's said I could be a waitress at one of their places if I wanted to. But, oh shit, lying on my back isn't as hard work as being a bloody waitress."
"So you'd prefer to stay on the game?" I asked.
"No, I'm just too thick to do anything else," Crystal replied.
"Balls!" Bert said, joining the conversation. "Get yourself back to school girl and get some education behind you. You aren't dumb, girl. I'd say you're pretty clever to have lived on the street from the age of twelve!"
Crystal seemed to think for a little while before she replied.
"Easier said than done, Bert, I got to have money to live on. Perhaps I could study part time and pay for that by turning a few tricks."
"Do you really think that you'd be able to do that, Crystal?" I asked. "After all, you've been on the game for how long now, and you've never taken time out to study in the past, have you?"
"I don't have much choice really, do I? That's the trouble: I'm fucked, whatever I try to do."
I'm not sure why I said what I did next. It could be that I was feeling sorry for the girl or I could have been that I felt Crystal really did want out of the business, like her two friends were obviously going to get. But Crystal needed a little help.
"Well, you could come to live at Anna and my house and study from there. You know yourself how dangerous being on the game is, Crystal," I suggested.
"Are you nuts? Why would you want a hooker living in your house for?"
"I don't want a hooker or an ex-hooker. But I'm happy to have another reformed one, living in my house. And I've got a friend who I'm pretty sure will help you with your studies."
"I do believe that you mean that!" Crystal said turning to look me in the eye. "But what's Anna going to say when she comes back?"
"Well, if we ever find her, I should imagine that she'll be pleased to see her friend again. I'm assuming you were her friend," I said.
"I always thought she was my friend and she did ask me to go with her when she ran away from Paul. But I told her that she'd have a better chance of disappearing if she was on her own."
"Well, there you are then. When we find her, you just being around will hopefully tell her that I don't care what she has done in the past. Crystal, it's what all of you do in the future that counts."
"Peter, if you weren't Sarah's husband I would kiss you," Crystal said with a big smile on her face.
"Just you keep remembering that I am Anna's husband and we can't go too far wrong, Crystal," I replied.
"You mean it! You really do mean it!" Crystal exclaimed. "Yes, please, Peter, I'll keep house for you and find a proper job so that I can pay my way. And I'll study as best I know how!"
Crystal lent over and kissed me on the cheek, then I noticed that all three girls were hugging each other.
When we arrived back at my house, we told John and Helen of the plan for Crystal to move in with me for the time being at least. Helen did take me to one side and asked me if I was sure I was doing the right thing.
"I don't know, Helen. But I can only hope that someone is looking after Anna as well as I am going to look after Crystal. She seems like a nice kid who got a rotten start in life. I'd like to make sure that she doesn't spend the rest of her life as somebody's plaything," I replied. "I'm not convinced that we're ever going to find Anna again."
"Hang in there, Peter. You know we've got people looking all over the country for her." Helen told me.
"Thank you, Helen. I know that you and John are doing everything you can. But I'm beginning to get the suspicion that if Anna doesn't want to be found, she won't be. She made a mistake and settled too close to her old stomping ground when she ran from Neilson. I wouldn't be surprised if she hasn't left the country completely," I replied.
Crystal moved into my spare room a couple of days later. As I thought she would, Marie-Lise took Crystal under her wing and became her personal tutor. There are minimum standards of literacy required to get anywhere in further education and Marie-Lise was adamant that Crystal would make the grade.
For a while Crystal did little but spend her time studying and looking after the house. Although once Marie-Lise persuaded her that all work and no play makes for a dull life, she started to join my friends and myself when we went out in the evenings. I think she'd been living at my house for about a month when one evening as we left a club to walk home she took hold of my arm. Once we were alone and couldn't be seen by any of the others, she lent towards me and kissed me on the cheek.
"What was that for?" I asked
"For being a nice man and a faithful husband to Anna," she replied.
I stopped walking and looked at her. I think the look on my face must have been asking the question.
"Peter, I'm sorry for not trusting you, but I'm going to unpack tonight!" Crystal said with a big smile on her face.
I'd never been into Crystal's room since the day she'd moved in. But Marie-Lise had told me that most of her meagre gear was still in the two suitcases she'd arrived with.
I still said nothing, so she went on.
"Peter, the last few years have taught me to be weary of all men. So when you invited me to move in, I wasn't sure what to make of it. At first I rejected the idea, but when you said I should remember that you were Anna's husband I thought I'd take the chance. You know I've been jamming a chair under the door handle every night, don't you?"
"No, am I that untrustworthy looking?"
"No, you're not. It's me. I'm paranoid about peoples - mainly men's - true intentions. Now I'm feeling very silly and I want you to forgive me for not trusting you."
"You're forgiven, Crystal. I think I can understand the sort of fear that you've lived in for the last few years. And to be honest I really don't blame you for being reticent to trust anyone. So you haven't unpacked so that you could make a quick run for it."
"I'm sorry, yes!"
"Crystal, if you ever want to leave, you don't have to run. I'll drive you wherever you wish to go."
"Thank you, Peter. I know that now." Crystal lent forward and kissed me on the cheek again. "Please, god, that we find Sarah before too long. She doesn't know how lucky she was when she found you."
It was week or so later that I came home from work one day to find Crystal sitting at the kitchen table filling in a form with Marie-Lise's help.
"What you got there, girls?" I asked, just out of interest.
"A Criminal Records Check. I need it for my new job," Crystal replied.
"Er, have you got a record?" I asked, trying to sound casual. "And what job is this, anyway?"
"I'm going to work part time in a children's nursery for a while to see how I get on. It's a friend of Marie-Lise's, and she says that my Police Cautions for soliciting won't be taken into account because I was under sixteen at the time."