The armed thugs pushed Phil and Elijah ahead of them out of the storeroom, through the studio and finally into a long corridor with cells along both sides. Opening one of them, they stripped Phil’s footwear off and shoved him and Elijah inside.
Dressner followed them. He stood in the doorway as they were ordered to sit on the floor. ‘I don’t know how you got in here, Maddox, but I have to assume you had friends with you. I must also conclude our organisation here in Rothenia has been compromised in some way.
‘Let’s imagine therefore that worse has come to worst. Even if that’s so, I still think we must have some hours of fun ahead of us.’ His grin was pure evil. ‘I really do have so much to pay you back for, Philip. I’m willing to make the time.’
He looked over Elijah. ‘Is this one of your students? He’s young enough for a career in our little movie business here. Nice looking, too. What’s your name, cutie?’
Elijah was perfectly collected now. ‘Don’t you recognise me, Mr Dawson?’
The response took Dressner aback. He scrutinised Elijah. ‘You don’t look familiar, no.’
‘We have met.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m called Elijah.’
In the circumstances, his turn of phrase struck Phil as odd. It also seemed to puzzle Dressner, who shook his head. As he did, there was a distraction outside, shouts and scuffles.
Phil heard Ed Cornish shout, ‘Don’t you dare touch him, you bastard!’ His heart sank. The party sent to the car had been intercepted and taken prisoner.
One thug was detailed to guard Phil and Elijah while the rest went to help subdue Ed. The one left behind drew his gun and favoured them with his full attention. Eventually, Dressner returned smiling. ‘This place is filling up. Apparently our search parties have located your associates. You were with no less than the famous young Mr Atwood, darling of the media in Rothenia, and a couple of his hangers-on. It looks like there won’t be any rescue for you after all, so we’ll have plenty of time to do some research as to who betrayed our little setup here in Kaleczyk. I’ll do my best to make it very painful for you.’
He closed the door, leaving Elijah and Phil alone. Phil, by now wearing only a pair of jeans, shivered uncontrollably in the chilly air. Elijah noticed and pulled off his sweater. ‘It’s a bit the worse for wear, but here, put this on.’
Phil took the sweater gratefully. As he did so, he noticed Elijah’s bared arms, which showed deep though healed slashes at the wrists. He looked away, embarrassed. ‘Thanks. Lije, can you tell me why you blundered into this place?’
‘I told you.’
‘And I can’t quite follow what you meant. How did you know about Kaleczyk anyway?’
‘Do you know what they’ve been doing here?’
‘I have a vague idea.’
‘Sexual abuse and violence, exploitation, imprisonment, slavery and murder. Young people tricked and abducted into their worst nightmare, with no chance they’ll ever get free of it. It’s an organised stream of victims for western Europe’s darkest vices and desires. No more corrupt and perverted business has ever been implemented on such a scale. Its stench has risen to heaven. Of course it’s been noticed.’
‘And at the heart of it is Clive Dressner, whom you claim to have met … Lije, are you one of his victims?’
The boy turned to him in the dim light. ‘Oh yes. I was one of his first.’
In the reddish glow of the setting sun, Ben broke the silence on the hillside. ‘Something’s gone wrong, hasn’t it Terry.’
Terry gave him a glance and stood up. ‘I’m afraid you may be right. It looks as if we wuz mistaken. If I had to guess, I’d say the entrance down below wuz poorly guarded this morning because Josseran’s boys were elsewhere on the mountain searching for the girl – that or ransacking the interior. Henry and the others must have walked into them after they switched their search to the road. Our luck ran out, sweet babe.’
‘So what do we do?’
‘We don’t stay here, that’s for sure. They’ll still be searching and they’ll get up here soon enough.’
‘But we can’t get through the opening Phil used.’
‘No, we can’t. So we go down to the front door.’
‘That’d be suicide!’
‘Maybe not. Ready for this, Benny?’
‘Er … I suppose I’d better be. Do you think Phil is alright?’
‘If he’s not done anything rash, he’ll be fine.’
It took them an hour to make their way back down the shoulder of the hill into the ravine. Following the stream through the gathering dusk, they came to the sheds and warehouses of the entrance complex. It was now floodlit and a lot busier than it had been in the morning. Terry and Ben walked along the empty road for a few minutes before taking cover in a ditch screened by bushes. Once out of sight of the sheds, they meditated on what to do next.
Ben couldn’t get it out of his head that they were waiting for something. Terry kept looking down the road as if expecting an arrival.
‘Excuse me Terry, but are you on the lookout for anyone in particular?’
Terry shrugged. ‘Maybe. But if I am, he’s very late.’
‘Do you mean Henry, Ed and Justin?’
‘No. Another guy.’
‘Who do you …?’
The sound of an approaching car cut Ben off. It was low, large and dark, and had blacked-out windows. It was not a make Ben recognised.
Terry stood and walked into the road. ‘This is it,’ he said with a rueful smile, ‘or possibly not.’
Ben came up to Terry’s shoulder as the car slowed next to them. They were standing on the passenger side. When the window wound down, Ben saw a bulky figure at the wheel. It leaned over to them and growled, ‘Get in the back quickly, Terry. Who’s this?’
‘One of my people, Hendrik. Thanks for turning up.’ Terry pushed Ben through the back door and followed him in.
Hendrik Willemin passed Terry a gun, butt first. ‘This is not going to be easy. They have your friends. The gun is for your blond guy, because we’ll need all the help we can get.’
Phil stared at Elijah. ‘So you were a boy whom Dressner raped?’
Elijah nodded. ‘One of many, I think. I met him in a park, just wandering around. He had a way of getting your trust and before I knew it he had talked me back to a flat. I was only a kid. He had no mercy. I’m not gay and gave him no encouragement. He just took me, used me and threw me out, bleeding between my legs.
‘What in God’s name brings you here, all these years later?’
‘Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Someone has to summon him, and who better than one of his victims?’
‘Summon? What on earth are you on about?’
There was no answer.
Phil was desperately thirsty. There had been water in his backpack, but that was lost in the tunnels. Noticing a few bottles of water scattered in the corner of the room, he went over and sloshed them around. Although most were empty, two still had a few mouthfuls at the bottom. He offered one to Elijah, who shook his head. Phil gulped one down despite its flat and rather chemical taste, leaving the other one for Elijah if he changed his mind.
The door opened again. Dressner was back, deeply amused about something. ‘I had this great idea, Phil. It’s almost like recycling, it’s so right. I’m going to have your arse, naturally. But it occurred to me we can do this and make money as well!’
Two thugs came in carrying an ominous-looking bench. They placed it in the middle of the floor, then brought a second one. Lighting gear followed and a third man entered with a steadi-cam. They quickly set up as a chill gripped Phil’s spine.
The cameraman began filming the instant the other two pinned Phil against a wall. One of them produced a knife and slit off his few remaining clothes while the other controlled his struggles. Knowing what was coming, Phil shouted and threshed about, but his captors were too strong. They shackled him to the bench, his backside in the air and his legs separated to display his hole. His anal rape was going to be fed into the porn market. When tears flooded his cheeks, the camera focussed on his face to drink them in greedily.
Dressner was flushed with excitement. ‘Now the other one,’ he gasped.
The accomplices pulled Elijah to his feet. Dressner came close, grabbed Elijah around the chin and looked closely into his eyes for several long moments.
‘I don’t know you.’
Elijah replied coolly, ‘Yes you do. It was Basildon, and I was thirteen. You took me back to someone’s flat. You raped me repeatedly over three hours. You threatened to kill me and my parents if ever I told.’
Dressner stood silent a moment, then whispered, ‘It’s not possible.’
‘I never told.’
‘That was at least seventeen years ago.’
‘I never told.’
‘You can’t be that boy. He’d be …’
‘It was a half-term holiday. The flat had posters of the Clash. The duvet cover was blue with white stars.’
Dressner dropped his hand and recoiled.
Phil managed to twist his head in his restraints. As exposed and scared as he was, he could not take his eyes off the exchange between Dressner and Elijah. Elijah was pinned to the wall by two thugs, despite being delicate enough for that to look excessive. Dressner had stepped back, seeming hesitant, though indeed he held all the cards. Elijah stared back at him calmly, apparently unafraid.
‘What do you want?’
Elijah dropped his head, then raised it again. ‘Peace, I think.’
‘Stop talking in fucking riddles. Why are you here?’
Elijah’s face froze into an expression almost as impassive as a stone sculpture. Speaking his words with deliberation and care, his voice seemed to deepen. ‘All have the chance to repent before it is too late. You’re not a psychopath, Clive. You’ve deliberately decided to satisfy your lust through brutality and abuse of power. You may still choose the other way. Say you are sorry now and – in time – there will be forgiveness. This is your last opportunity.’
There was something compelling in Elijah’s words. But Dressner shook his head and laughed. ‘A religious fucking nutcase! So it sent you mad, did it, our intimate encounter in the park? I remember you now, you were a juicy little cherry to bust. You cried all the time I was shagging you, wet as a bath sponge. I’ve got no more time to waste on you.’
‘You’ll never see another sunrise,’ Elijah stated, with the same deliberation.
‘Nor will you.’ Dressner nodded to one of his henchmen, who plunged a knife into Elijah’s stomach, twisted it and then pushed up. The boy squirmed, gurgled horribly and collapsed to the floor as hands let him go.
Phil screamed in horror. One of the thugs hauled Elijah’s broken body out of the room by the arms.
Dressner spun to his next victim, his face alight with excitement. There was no conscience in it, only enjoyment. ‘Let’s get on with this. You take him. Make sure it’s painful for him and make it last.’
Behind Phil, clothes rustled to the floor and a belt clattered. He felt the warmth of another man between his spread legs. There came the slick squelch of lube being applied to himself by his designated rapist, and a sudden pressure at his hole. He tensed. There was nothing he could do to stop this.
At that moment the bulbs in the studio lights hummed and popped, all three together. ‘Fucking Jesus,’ snarled Dressner. His accomplices cursed incomprehensibly. Phil’s assailant backed off and zipped up after replacing his trousers.
In the meantime, Dressner was damning the technical equipment to hell. ‘Get this fucking sorted! Leave him here. He’s not going anywhere. I’ll be back in ten minutes.’
Phil strained uselessly at his bonds. The thugs ignored him. They removed the bulbs and tried to check the sockets, but with only the light spilling in through the open door, it seemed the cell was too dark for them to work usefully. With a few more curses, they left.
Phil lay quiet in shock. He had seen a friend killed in front of his eyes and could do nothing about it. His own death, which could not be far off, was likely to be very painful. He thought of his Benny and how much he loved his life with him, the way it had just been getting better every day. How could it all have come to this? How could he bargain his way out of such a predicament?
Then in the dark he heard breathing close to him, and felt a cool hand on his bare back. He was not alone.
‘Who’s that?’ he whispered.
Benny weighed the gun Willemin had given him. ‘Do you know, Terry, I prefer editing action novels to being in one.’
Willemin chuckled. ‘He’s a cool one.’
‘Sorry, Benny, but this was not supposed to happen. Just stay behind me and wave it, you might put someone’s eye out with it at least.’
‘What is Mr Willemin doing here? I thought he was one of them.’
‘Well he is, but not quite as much as they think. Hendrik may be a crook, but he’s not a sadist, a people-trafficker or a murderer. Josseran brought him into this business because he got hold of a DVD of Hendrik in a very compromising position.’
‘The one with Justin?’
Hendrik groaned and grated out in his Americanised English, ‘You know about that? Apparently the whole world does. Why do I worry about being blackmailed? It’s on everyone’s DVD Christmas list.’
‘So all the liquidation of your business assets was for blackmail payments?’
‘No, it was something more subtle. Through his Italian contacts, that cheap bastard Dressner found Josseran, who has this scheme for producing industrial-scale pornography of the nastiest kind, tied into slave trafficking. They even intend to start harvesting organs from their victims soon. The profits he anticipates are beyond belief. It needs a lot of capital, however, and Dressner wanted a partner who could provide it, rather than putting it up himself. He also wanted a partner under his close control. He likes control.’
Terry grunted. ‘I know Hendrik well. As soon as I got an inkling about the nature of the business he wuz supposed to be involved in, I knew it wuzn’t by his choice. So I made contact wiv him in Strelzen. He wuz desperate to talk, weren’t you mate?’
‘Terry’s my last hope of getting out of this shit intact. He can protect me, if anyone can. It’s a promise, right?’
‘You know me, Hendrik. So let’s get started. How many men will be there?’
‘Josseran is out of the country at the moment, but he’s left a team of about a dozen Albanians working the current crop of captives. Maybe fifty kids are being kept here, the first big consignment, drugged up to the eyeballs. Dressner is inside being a hands-on partner, needless to say. He likes to take free samples of the goods.’
Terry nodded. ‘There’ll be guards on the gate and the tunnel entrance. There’s no room for hesitation at this point. But we don’t want shooting if we can avoid it, or it’ll alert those below. So we use the element of surprise. That’s you, Hendrik. Drive into the compound while we keep out of sight in back.’
The car pulled up a couple of minutes later at the chain-link fence surrounding the sheds. A guard with a shotgun was lounging beside the gate. Willemin lowered the driver’s window to exchange a few words with him in Rothenian before driving on into the yard and parking as close to the main entryway as he could. He said over his shoulder, ‘There’s just two, Terry. I’ll call one over and deal with him. You take care of the other. Your boy here can help me.’
Willemin shouted to the man by the gate, who slung his shotgun on his shoulder and strolled across. As he reached the car, Willemin slammed the door into his gut. Terry burst from the other side.
The guard Willemin had flattened looked up to find Ben holding a gun in his face, and doing so quite convincingly. Willemin picked up the shotgun and smashed it down. Ben winced and looked away.
Terry had the other man covered, hands in the air. They tied him up with rope from the boot of the car, then gagged him with his own socks.
‘That’ll teach him,’ growled Terry. ‘You OK, Ben?’
‘Bit shaky, but so far I’m alright. What’s next?’
‘We go underground and start picking the bastards off. Eventually we’ll get to Dressner. When we do …’
‘Terry, you aren’t contemplating killing the man?’
‘I have to say, Benny, it’s a pretty tempting option at the moment.’
‘You know what I think about summary justice.’
‘If it’s him or me, I know which one’s going to get it, sweet babe.’
Willemin waddled up. He was not built for speed. ‘I think, Terry, we had best try to find reinforcements. Your friends have been captured, but if we can let them loose, and if they’re in any condition to help us, they would turn the odds a bit – especially Ed and Justin.’
‘Where will they be?’
‘There’re a lot of holding cells below. The stairs are this way. Best to take them rather than the lift, which will be noticed. Goddam. I must lose some weight!’
Terry sniggered before leading off. Ben followed, doing his best to assume a double-handed 007 pose with his gun. After all, he thought, if the best I can do is look dangerous, then I can do no better than to copy James Bond. What drew him on, though, was fear for Phil. It seemed to swamp any fear he might have felt for himself.
Willemin toiled after them. He was wheezing by the time he got to the bottom of the stairs, a few minutes after Terry and Ben. Once he’d caught his breath, he pointed to a door. ‘It’s through there, and to the left.’
Terry silently and carefully opened the door. ‘Off we go then, sweet babes.’