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  1. Avenging Angel chapter 1
  2. Avenging Angel chapter 2
  3. Avenging Angel chapter 3
  4. Avenging Angel chapter 4
  5. Avenging Angel chapter 5
  6. Avenging Angel chapter 6
  7. Avenging Angel chapter 7
  8. Avenging Angel chapter 8
  9. Avenging Angel chapter 9

Avenging Angel chapter 9

Categories Fiction, Blowjob, Romance, Slavery

Authror: Clarissa Hendry

Published: 07 March 2017

  • Font:

Not surprisingly, Saturday was fraught. It was too wet for a walk, I couldn’t concentrate on reading or music, and I was all on my own, unsure what to wear, panicking about dinner. Having toyed with the idea of cooking paella I opted for roast lamb with aubergines and carrots and roast potatoes, with prawn cocktail for starters. I didn’t make a dessert but the Victoria sponge turned out quite well. I wished Ken could be with me, or Kathy and May; but since the evening’s conversation would be confidential, any moral support – even from Jen and Nils - would have been de trop.

Time hadn’t healed the wounds Mandy had inflicted, or diminished my gratitude to her. Every few nights I was awakened by the conflict between urges to kill her and hug her. I clung to the straws of superior dress sense and relative pulchritude but resented the facility with which she outthought and outwitted me. And she still knew more about me than I did about her; it was annoying, and slightly menacing. My plans for the evening were therefore simple: look my best, prove I was the better cook, stay sober, and discuss strategy with Sergio, marginalising Mandy as much as possible.

An hour before my guests were due I showered, shaved my armpits and legs, and selected a red tunic with bell sleeves, black trousers and black Sole Diva pointed loafers. The months in the brothel and my subsequent prolonged recovery had slimmed me, so nearly all my clothes were size twelve now, but my shoes would never be smaller than nines. After further reflection I adorned myself with pearl necklace, bracelet and ear-rings, and put on my new Swarovsky Crystal Set silver wristwatch. Attending to hair and makeup and applying a dash of Dior Hypnotic Poison, I sensed mild applause from the mirror. Plumping up my sitting room cushions, I felt more confident.

Mandy and Sergio were bang on time. Sergio was immaculate in a grey Gucci suit; his shoes paled with the anxious reflection of my face. He shook my hand and presented me with a bouquet of fuchsias and a bottle of Chilean Rioja. Mandy took off her Helene Berman large-plaid coat to reveal a Studio 8 Raquel dress and Sole Diva block heel sandals. Her delicate necklace bore a Tree of Life pendant. I hadn’t known she could make herself look so fucking good. She hugged me and kissed my cheek, and her smile said you and I buy from the same store, darling, but my outfit’s more up-market than yours and the difference is obvious. I left Sergio to dispense sherry and open the wine while I escaped to the kitchen to swear quietly and put the finishing touches to dinner. Her hair needs dyeing again, I thought. Grey roots showing. And she’s put weight on around the middle.

Dinner was a success so Mandy’s compliments weren’t forced. Conversation was unchallenging: recent events in our lives, politics, banking, the weather. Devouring a slice of Victoria sponge with his coffee, Sergio mentioned a private company that had taken over Backpage from Village Voice Media, but he gave no details.

“With your permission, Clarissa, we will talk about it later. Now, if you ladies will excuse me I will go out and return” (he consulted his watch) “in one hour. Then we may discuss plans.”

His sensitivity touched me. He knew Mandy and I had unfinished business and needed time for private dialogue. The door closed behind him and the silence thickened.

“Have you any idea how confused I am about you?” I said, finishing my wine and pouring coffee. “No, don’t try to answer. Tell me what’s to be done about that filthy brothel where – ”

“It’s been done, Clarissa. Closed down. Owners in prison.”

My satisfaction was tempered by regret. I wished I’d been there to witness their arrest and trial.

“So Olga Fyodorovna will need another market for her victims. What about her? And what about Hiromi Fucking Takamitsu?”

Mandy professed herself shocked and disappointed by Hiromi, who’d become another of Olga’s puppets and would no longer be welcomed as a castratrix. As for Olga: if she ever dared to sell another upgrade into slavery, sexual or otherwise, particularly an upgrade under Mandy’s protection, then the senior medical staff (Loretta Connelly, Odile Deschamps and others), Bethany McCrimmon (Mistress Dedesa), Zsófia Kurtag, and the remaining pillars of the Castration Festival establishment – including Mandy herself – would all withdraw from participation in the scheme. Not even Olga Fyodorovna Matveeva could afford losses on such a scale or be able to find replacements with the necessary skills and attitudes.

I supposed this assurance would have to suffice. I told Mandy I still didn’t understand why Doug had been abducted, tortured and castrated, since his crimes against women were much less extreme than some men’s, and why I hadn’t been better protected against Olga’s machinations while I was embarking on my new life as a woman.

“What made you choose Doug, of all people? Why do you profess such interest in me?”

She wondered why I needed to repeat those questions. Hadn’t they already been answered? Douglas Hendry had been a solitary male with no close family; he’d been intelligent and educated and had contacts that could be used in the battle against global sexual exploitation; and although his offences were indeed minor compared to some men’s, he was unrepentantly sexist so he merited punishment.

“And I was confident you’d become a successful woman, Clarissa, and a happy one. Wasn’t I right?”

“It’s too early to judge, Mandy. I’m mostly happy, I suppose. Doug would never have believed it, but... The problem is I can’t get into a relationship. Maybe I’ll... Not comfortable with men, that’s the bottom line, but I suppose it’s no surprise after – ”

She nodded and stroked my hand and foresaw a time, not far ahead, when my renewed enthusiasm for sex would override my discomfort with men. To say that Time is a healer is a cliché, but like most clichés it’s true.

“You’ve adjusted to every other aspect of womanhood, Clarissa. Rumour has it you’ve joined a choir and you’ve involved yourself in other activities. So I decided I’d challenge you this evening. That’s why I turned up dressed to maim, if not exactly to kill... only to discover you’d outthought and outclassed me. And then, as if you hadn’t put my nose far enough out of joint already with that gorgeous tunic and the pearls, you proved you can cook better than me. Two nil to you.”

She was obviously lying to make me feel good, but it worked. It was the ideal preparation for discussions with Sergio, and I no longer felt impelled to marginalise her. She always was clever.

- - - - - - - -
“Some people said the financing of Village Voice Media was opaque,” said Sergio, “but it was a reputable holding company with a dozen respected media outlets. It behaved responsibly towards the prostitution adverts on Backpage; when the editors suspected an advertiser of involvement in sex trafficking they alerted the police, especially if minors were involved. But Backpage attracted so many advertisers that a few bad ones escaped the editors’ vigilance, so one or two underage girls were prostituted, which was enough for certain pressure groups to twist VVM’s arm until they ditched Backpage altogether. The surrender cut their income by fifteen percent. It also put Backpage into the hands of less scrupulous owners. And there are lots of other prostitute advertising services with dubious owners.” He gave me a folded sheet of paper from his inside jacket pocket. “You might wish to investigate some of this list. There could be interesting connections.”

I unfolded the sheet. The names and websites occupied almost a whole A4 page in single-spaced type.

“The only online sex-advertising site I know is AdultWork,” I said. “They seem responsible: don’t allow under-18s on the site, report illegal activities, investigate complaints, ban anyone who misuses the service.”

“In principle,” said Mandy. “But AW has incomparably more users than Backpage ever had. And AW takes its pound of flesh from users.” She nodded at the list. “See whether the AIM Group can add to Sergio’s collection, Clarissa, and find out what they think about AW.”

They told me ‘The AIM Group’ was the Advanced Interactive Media Group LLC, an interactive media and classified advertising consultancy that published the ‘bible’ of the advertising world.

“AIM said Backpage carried seventy percent of all prostitution adverts, Mandy,” said Sergio.

“In America, maybe,” said Mandy.

The religious groups who pressurised VVM into dropping Backpage ought to have had more sense, I thought. In the modern world of global communication there was no way of stopping sexual services being advertised, so we need to ensure that all such advertising is responsible and law-abiding. Forcing it underground as the critics of Backpage did will achieve the opposite.

“You’ve given me enough to work on,” I said. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

“Good, Clarissa. Thank you. Of course, if we find anything new...”

Not until Sergio and Mandy were leaving did I wonder whether they were an item. Probably not. They were close friends, but I hadn’t detected the chemistry that characterises couples. And I wasn’t sure how much Sergio knew about the Castration Festivals. I doubted whether Mandy had told him much. She was a mistress of dissimulation.

- - - - - - - -
Joe Hinchliffe, my downstairs neighbour, aspired to become a matchmaker. He invited me in for a cup of tea so I could meet his nephew, Henry, while he went into town to bet on the horses. Henry, I soon discovered, resembled a cold steamed pudding: soggy, insipid and inclined to cling. I spent several minutes detaching his hands from various parts of my person; he seemed to have an unusual abundance of hands, all of them pale and pudgy and moist. There was a stale odour about him, like clothes that have been hung in a damp place.

Joe was disappointed to learn how comprehensively Henry had failed to arouse my interest, but he didn’t stop trying.

“He’s a genius with electronics, Clarissa.”

‘Genius’ was an over-statement, but Henry did prove adept at enabling my new computer, television, and DVD and CD players to talk to each other and respond to remote signals. He was aided by a rugged Mancunian called Paddy, who did most of the heavy work and cracked a stream of crude jokes. Henry seemed afraid the jokes would offend me; I had to bite my lip to prevent myself telling worse ones. Paddy hadn’t shaved for three days and I suspected he hadn’t showered or changed his clothes for longer. The smell of his body was ugly and intoxicating. His eyes, light brown with black flecks, glowed in his tanned face and roved over my body without subtlety. I felt myself blushing. If he told me to take my knickers off and spread my legs, I thought, half of me would want to oblige. Fortunately, the other half would stop me. It wouldn’t want Henry to be embarrassed[i]. I brewed tea and coffee for them and surprised Paddy by arguing about football. In Paddy’s world, women were ignorant of football; their purpose was to look pretty, make nice meals and suck cock.

After they’d left I lay on the sofa and masturbated, imagining Paddy’s dick pounding into me, his sour body odour cramming my nose and mouth, his face sandpapering me. After I’d finished I used my new computer to order a couple of vibrators from LoveHoney. Old Joe would have been shocked.

He’d have been even less pleased if he’d seen the looks I exchanged with a young man at the gym. Gareth Holmes was big and blond with strong hands and white teeth and impudent eyes. Over coffee I learned he was a lawyer and had good taste in literature. After three weeks of casual chats his effect on me became magnetic. Every time I saw him, every time my mind pictured him, it felt like a pulled muscle. Studying his Lycra-clad torso was like looking at the sun, so my glances were sidelong; nevertheless I made sure he noticed them - and saw my eyes caressing the bulge in his shorts. Mine weren’t the only female eyes in the gym to pursue Gareth, so to ensure I led the chasing pack I had to be unsubtle.

Thinking about him spoiled my concentration on editing and writing and investigating Sergio’s list, and I became distracted during choir practice and literature group meetings. I took to wearing more colourful and revealing clothes whenever I was likely to meet him, and I invested in sexy new bras and knickers in case my burgeoning lust might be satisfied. At the same time, the intensity of my feelings frightened me, and what I might be encouraging in Gareth frightened me more. I’d quite fancied Ken, but (to quote Jen’s delightful phrase) Ken hadn’t made me slaver at the crotch as Gareth did. Katrina’s voice kept echoing in my mind: ‘whore’.

If Gareth hadn’t returned my interest, my new vibrators would have burned out. But he did. A traditionalist, he took me out for dinner and to the cinema before he did what I wanted him to do and feared he’d do. Inarticulate with mingled excitement and apprehension, I hoped he’d know how to take the lead. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried; he proved well experienced.

He laid me down on the sofa and studied me with a small smile as though searching my face for assurance before he continued. He didn’t kiss me immediately, but undid the top three buttons of my blouse and ran his tongue and teeth gently over my collarbones. I sucked in a gasp. Aroused though I was, his mouth stirred me more. My heartbeats echoed in my ears. Outside, birds were singing: a blackbird, a chaffinch, and others that my mind had neither space nor inclination to identify.

He undressed me slowly, pausing for a few minutes to lick and suck my tits. My nipples were so hard they ached. I could feel his cock pressing me through his trousers and was desperate to touch it and feel it inside me. My eyes closed as his hand slid up the inside of my thigh and I raised my hips so he could unfasten my skirt and take off my panties, which by then were soaking. He finished stripping me and touched me between the legs, opening my cunt and murmuring with pleasure. My legs parted of their own volition. He wasted no time in taking off his clothes and climbing on top of me. I took his hard cock in my right hand and put it where I wanted it. As it slid into me I gasped and a little cry escaped my throat.

“Oh, darling, yes, fuck me, fuck me hard! Please don’t cum too quickly!”

My body responded to his rhythm and I didn’t have to act as I’d done with clients. I wanted this, wanted it as I’d never wanted anything. His thrusts were deep and they grew faster and faster, and I wrapped my legs round him and felt his cock swell inside me, and then I was cumming, screaming, my body lifting from the bed, as he gasped and cried out and pumped jet after jet of spunk into my dripping snatch. He collapsed on top of me and my arms wrapped themselves around him, my nose buried in his neck, as our breathing gradually slowed.

I turned my face to one side so I could gulp air, and I heard the birds singing again. Had they been silent while we were fucking? To Gareth’s mingled surprise and amusement my body was rocked by post-orgasmic aftershocks of the kind I’d been experiencing after masturbating. As they subsided I gazed unfocussed at the embossed wallpaper, and then he gently turned my head so he could kiss me.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” I said. “Any time. It was a pleasure.”

We both started to giggle. My whole body was relaxed and happiness flowed through me. But had there been a moment, just before I hit the moon, when I’d been thinking of Paddy, his dark-flecked eyes on me, his callused hands assailing my skin, his stubble scratching me, his body using mine, crude and uncompromising and sweaty?

I wanted Gareth to stay overnight but his work commitments made it impossible. We cuddled and kissed on the sofa, though, and my hand strayed between his legs and I learned how gratifying it is, when you truly want a man, to make him hard by playing with his cock and balls and then being forced to take the consequences. I was placed on the floor on my hands and knees and the consequences were rammed into me so I had to take them to the hilt. I came twice more before he shot his second load and I ended up face down on the carpet, my tits flattened, unable to move for several minutes.

“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” he said, putting his clothes back on.

“Smug bastard. I suppose I’ve had worse.”

He spanked me, we wrestled and giggled, and then we hugged each other into a doze. Before he went home we exchanged mobile numbers and e-mail addresses and arranged another encounter.

“My flat’s a mess just now. Builders. They’re taking forever. I’ll want you to see it when it’s finished, Clarissa, so you can advise me about décor. But not right now.”

“Come here again on Friday, darling,” I said, kissing him. “I’ll make dinner. Phone me if you’re going to be late leaving the office.”

I dreamed of having a baby boy, which I expected to be a miniature Gareth but looked like a miniature Ken. The dawn light wakened me with confused feelings: surprise, deprivation, sadness, bewilderment; and shining behind and through them all, a new-found happiness.

- - - - - - - -
I had a boyfriend!

Jen and Katrina had proved women like us could form relationships, otherwise I’d never have believed it; and Mandy (damn her!) had been right once more, foreseeing [i]a time, not far ahead, when my renewed enthusiasm for sex would override my discomfort with men
. My discomfort hadn’t altogether gone – the months in the brothel had left scars that would take years to repair – but I was now keener on sex than I’d imagined I could ever be. Every time my mind wandered from editing or researching I could feel Gareth inside me and I wondered how women had coped before vibrators were invented. Happiness, pride, ego-gratification, success, triumph – they were all too much for me to contain so I had to pour them out, tell everyone what had transformed my life.

“Oh, Clarissa, that’s brilliant!” Jen hugged me and we danced around her sitting room, overturning a table lamp and endangering a vase. “Who is he? What’s he like? What does he do?” I extolled the manifold qualities of my Significant Other until I was out of breath, coy about intimate details (“Well, I didn’t measure it, but it’s plenty big enough”) and declaring as proof of his virtue that he hadn’t left the lavatory seat up.

To my surprise, May was even more avid for details. I’d thought her staid and had half-expected her to warn me about the sins of the flesh. In the event she seemed to delight in sins of the flesh, at least other people’s, and her line of questioning implied a more imaginative and varied range of experience than might be expected in a church choir stalwart. She came close to embarrassing me, which was an achievement. Kathy’s response to my news was cooler. She was pleased for me, but I had to explain that for personal reasons it couldn’t have worked for Ken and me; we remained good friends but we weren’t right for one another and never could be.

“I really like Ken but we very quickly discovered I’m not the woman he needs. I hope he’ll find someone worthy of him. He deserves the best.”

“You think you’ve found a man worthy of you, Clarissa? How long have you known him?”

I told Kathy I’d known Gareth long enough, he was an educated professional man and extremely fit and healthy, he seemed to have no bad habits to speak of, he had a good income, and he made no secret of wanting me. She seemed satisfied and we returned to sorting the Oxfam Shop donations.

Helen replied to my e-mail: “Naughty girl. I trust you won’t consider sex with him until he’s put a ring on your finger.” The very idea! I responded. What kind of girl do you think I am? She phoned me later in the evening and said how happy she was for me. She obviously meant it, but, like Kathy, she wondered how much I knew about Gareth. I wouldn’t allow the seed of discomfort to germinate, though. I was too deeply in lust.

I smiled at the mirror. Hello, Clarissa Hendry, I murmured. Want to be Clarissa Holmes?

It sounded good. It sounded right.

Kristina’s reply to my e-mail was: “He is a man, so probably he will beat you and fuck other women.”

I’d wondered about Werner. I didn’t write to Kristina again.

- - - - - - - -
Some online sources advertising prostitution services proved much shadier and less transparent than AdultWork and, I imagined, than Backpage. A few were no more than thinly veneered sex trafficking fora. Fearing a police investigation if I probed such sites without permission, I told Mandy I needed a computer expert who could help me identify the companies or individuals behind the fronts, and I needed to tell the police my interest was legitimate. The fronts were ephemeral, which made my task harder. As soon as the law focussed on one of them it vanished, only to be replaced by another, usually with a different server; here today, gone tomorrow. They were mushrooms, bright transient fruiting bodies springing right and left from the same rotten mycelium.

Modern slavery in the UK appalled me not only because of its extent and ubiquity but also because it had come to be half-accepted. Official estimates put the number of slaves in Britain at thirteen thousand, but everyone knew there were more, and no one seemed to be doing much about it. Interviews with slaves who’d been rescued and released revealed the extent of their degradation: filthy, starved, exhausted, humiliated and broken, they’d take years to recover, if they ever did. Most had been homeless people, alcoholics or junkies or simply down on their luck. Courteous, well-dressed gang-masters in shiny cars had ambushed them outside a shelter or a soup kitchen, promising them steady work, free accommodation and three meals a day. In most cases they hadn’t been kept behind barbed wire or locked up and guarded; they’d simply been brainwashed into believing that anyone who attempted to escape would be mutilated or killed. Sometimes those warnings were well founded. Most fascinating were the slaves who refused to be rescued, regarding their abductors as surrogate parents or protectors, notwithstanding the systematic abuse to which they’d been subjected.

“Stockholm Syndrome rears its head again,” I said to Helen.

She leafed through my growing collection of interview reports and data, stroking little Baskerville with her free hand. Rasputin the cat lay on the window ledge and eyed me with distaste.

“Perhaps, in a minority of cases,” she said. “Most have been reduced to mental and emotional wrecks who can no longer form bonds with anyone, so Stockholm Syndrome isn’t possible for them.” She studied my face. “A lot of these slaves are men forced to do menial work for impossible hours and next to no pay. When Sergio and Mandy get enough evidence against the gang-masters they pass it on to the police. That’s fine. But their real interest is in the women forced into prostitution and the bastards who traffic them. How does it make you feel, Clarissa, dealing with that aspect of British slavery?”

How did I feel? I felt a mixture of cold hatred and fascination, fear and disgust, an urge to see the people responsible locked away forever, an equally strong urge to run away and bury my head in the sand. I wanted to reach out to the women who’d been trafficked into brothels, let them cry over me and scream at me, and I wanted nothing to do with them because the mere thought of them unsettled me so much I couldn’t even make love with Gareth. I felt empathy and alienation at the same time.

“But I promised I’d help Sergio and Mandy, and I will. I do need support, though.” My grin felt lopsided. “Any joy with finding a computer expert?”

“I think so, but I’ll need to be sure she’s discreet. As soon as I’m happy about her I’ll put her in touch with Mandy, so she’ll know you’re not flying solo.”

- - - - - - - -
Whenever I managed to detach myself from the investigation of slavery and sex trafficking I found relief and fulfilment in my relationship. Once lust has been satisfied it’s supposed to diminish, but my feelings for Gareth intensified. If his smile, the look in his eyes, even the thought of him, hadn’t made me so wet, my knickers would have caught fire. (Imagine having to explain that to the fire brigade or the hospital.) He seemed no less enthusiastic. He’d walk into my flat, drag me to the bedroom and shag me without a word, without asking consent. His desire was further inflamed when I pretended to resist and refuse. Men don’t take ‘No’ for an answer, they take it as provocation, which is wonderful when you want to provoke them. Kneeling in front of Gareth and sucking his dick proved a very effective way of provoking him. No surprise there, of course, since he was a man; the surprise was how much I enjoyed it, how much satisfaction - and how great a sense of power - I gleaned from making him cum in my mouth, draining his balls, swallowing every drop. He tied me up and blindfolded me and it didn’t bring back bad memories; it was fun for us both. He found my vibrators and cajoled me into playing with them while he watched, and then he took them away and gave my cunt the pounding it craved. He never tried anal sex with me, though. I wanted him to, but of course I didn’t say so. Men who ask their partners to play out their fantasies are just being male; women who ask for the equivalent are slags. I couldn’t refuse him anything, except his wish that I wear a suspender belt and stockings, which would have evoked memories; but I found I couldn’t ask him for anything non-standard.

What made sex with Gareth was so wonderful, so emotionally and physically satisfying, was that although it was a major part of our relationship it wasn’t the whole of it. We cooked and ate dinners and drank wine together, watched television and read poetry and listened to music together. He took me out for meals, to the theatre, to Paris for the weekend. I met some of his distant relatives and friends in London and Glasgow, and we enjoyed convivial evenings with Jen and Nils and with Helen. Sometimes he was busy for a few days, or abroad on business for a fortnight, but whenever we couldn’t be together he phoned or texted every day, and we made up for the separation when he returned. Oh, how we made up for it!

I missed him, but I didn’t cavil at his absences because I sometimes needed my own space. Solitude never palled on me. In that respect I was like Doug. In any case I needed time to pursue my hunt for the financial muscle behind the traffickers behind the adverts. Gareth knew nothing about that project; I hadn’t wanted to tell him. And intuition warned me that he and Elise, the computer expert Helen had recommended to Mandy, wouldn’t have been comfortable with each other. Gareth had voiced contempt for lesbians. Elise was brilliant, and in the end she helped me find the information I needed, but she spent hours on the phone to her girlfriend when she was supposed to be working. There were moments when I could have throttled her.

- - - - - - - -
“What I did,” I told Mandy, “was to follow the money – with Elise’s help. You and Sergio can identify the traffickers and groomers and arrange to have them arrested. And when the police aren’t able to act, you arrange for the rapists among them to be cured - permanently. But if you can root out the source of the money, the international trafficking enterprise will collapse.”

“That’s what we wanted to hear, Clarissa. There’ll still be rapists and abusers in the world and they’ll have to be neutered, but dealing with individuals is far easier than tackling industrial-scale abuse.”

I grinned.

“I think your life will always be dedicated to vengeance on men who abuse women. That’s why women see you as a Godsend.”

Mandy demurred but looked pleased.

“Oh, it’s true, Mandy. I call you The Avenging Angel. Far more dangerous and edgy than a fairy godmother, more vengeful than angelic for the most part, but - ”

She laughed.

“Acquiring a partner has done wonders for your self-confidence, Clarissa. You’d never have spoken to me like that last year, or even a few weeks ago.”

I nodded.

“True. I was in awe of you and for a long time I hated you. But even if I didn’t say it I thought it. I knew you were The Avenging Angel when you destroyed the brothel where I’d been held captive and when Magda’s abuser met with the fatal accident. But this isn’t to the purpose. The money...”

I explained my reasoning; in the end, it wasn’t rocket science. Sex trafficking was lucrative; very lucrative. To conduct it internationally, and discreetly enough to avoid prosecution, required heavy investment, but there were handsome returns for the investors. So who could afford to make major investments in the abduction, marketing and prostitution of women, and saw nothing wrong with the trade because they made huge profits from it?

Mandy shrugged. Anyone with a lot of money and no morals, she suggested.

“Try Wall Street,” I said. “Olga Fyodorovna has money in more than one New York investment bank. A lot of money. So do the other major traffickers we’ve identified.”

It took a minute for the message to sink in. Then Mandy wanted to know whether I was one hundred percent sure, whether I had cast-iron evidence. I handed her a printed copy of my report. It was all in there, I told her. Any of the major investment banks could be implicated: J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Barclays Investment Bank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank.

“I can’t be sure about any particular one of them, though Goldman Sachs previously had a sixteen percent share in Backpage and they jumped a mile when that became public knowledge. Maybe they’re staying clear of the sex industry now they’ve had their fingers burned with Backpage, but I wouldn’t bet my flat on it. Anyway, what you now have in your hand is a hornet’s nest that you can drop into the heart of international finance any time you please. Sex trafficking is at the core of western capitalism, Mandy.”

She needed a drink, so I took her to the pub and bought her a vodka and coke. I still didn’t like to see women drinking vodka and coke; they’d always remind me of Linda. But sometimes one has to accept personal displeasure for the greater good.

She thanked me for the work I’d done, thanked me for the drink, hugged me, and went away to share my report with Sergio. I was confident they’d act on it.

- - - - - - - -
The church choir was rehearsing Haydn’s Te Deum. I’d never heard the work before but I found it magnificent, a real joy to sing. Ken told us that old Josef Haydn had written it in 1799 to a commission by the Empress Marie Therese and it had first been performed the following year at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt in the presence of Lord Nelson – and, of course, of Lady Hamilton. The music is pure eighteenth century classicism, yet it’s underpinned by a Gregorian plainchant of the Te Deum. It challenged us, but we rose to the challenge and made the vaulted roof echo and the stained glass windows rattle. Ken was pleased with us.

There was a trace of longing in the way he looked at me. I felt flattered but melancholy. He’d never have been able to carry me to the heights of sexual passion the way Gareth did, but there was a solidity about him, a trustworthiness, that made his solitary life sad to contemplate. What a waste, I thought. He’d be a wonderful life companion for the right woman.

After the rehearsal, May, Kathy and I went for a late meal with Ken and two of the tenors; Gareth had told me he was going to Holland on business. I was on cloud nine, a state of chronic elation: I was among friends, I’d completed the investigation for Sergio and tracked the money to its sources, I was in love with Gareth, and at last I’d become Mandy’s equal in confidence and savoir faire. Happiness radiated from me and my companions sensed it. We ordered food and wine, chatting and laughing, and life was perfect.

Until I noticed another pair of late diners at a distant table and my world came crashing down. The restaurant started to spin around my head and there was a humming in my ears. My mouth went dry and I was on the verge of vomiting.

“Clarissa, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

May’s voice echoed from a distant planet. Everyone stopped eating and drinking and stared at me.

“You’re as white as - ”

Ken bit off the cliché, whatever it was: white as snow, white as paper, white as a sheet. Try ‘white as innocence’, Ken. Try ‘white as naïveté’.
I excused myself, grabbed my handbag and ran to the loo, the standard refuge for stricken women. I retched, wept, battered my fists on the wall, and tried not to scream. My guts churned. Struggling for control, I was washing my face with cold water when Kathy came to check on me. Her anxiety on my behalf poured out in conjectures: unsuspected food allergy, period pain, migraine? Her periods gave her a day of agony almost every month, she told me, and her aunt had suffered the most dreadful migraines...

“No, I just felt unwell. Don’t worry, Kathy. I’ll be fine in a few minutes.”

I opened my handbag and started to repair my makeup. My reflection’s face was still white, streaked with remnants of mascara. I cleaned it up and made constructive use of blusher and eye shadow, then combed my hair. My fists were going to be bruised from their encounter with the wall but at least the skin wasn’t broken. The nail varnish was chipped, though, and I hadn’t the wherewithal to mend it. Not that I’d have bothered.

“Ken’s concerned about you, Clarissa. He cares. He’s very fond of you.”

A spasm of anger shook me. A remnant of my rational mind told me I’d good cause to be angry, but not with Ken, because Kathy was right: he was caring and gentle and kind. But anger wasn’t my dominant emotion. For ‘dominant emotion’ try shock, or disbelief, or devastation, or humiliation.

“He needn’t be,” I said.

I didn’t deserve Ken’s fondness.

It wasn’t only that the man at the distant table was Gareth, who’d obviously changed his mind about Amsterdam. It was that his companion, the woman with whom he was exchanging caresses, intimate whispers and private jokes over a sumptuous meal, was Laura. And she wore a wedding ring.

And they’d both seen me. Everyone in the restaurant must have noticed my dash to the ladies’.

- - - - - - - -
Isn’t ‘on cloud nine’ a stupid phrase? It has nothing to do with cloud classifications or Buddhism, and probably not with Cloud Cuckoo Land either. As far as I know it became popular during the 1980s. Before that, the height of blissful happiness was cloud seven, as in seventh heaven, not cloud nine. No idea what happened to cloud eight. I suppose it had been squashed flat between its two neighbouring apogees of bliss, which was pretty much how I felt as I returned to the table and tried to eat what remained of my dinner. Drinking was a lot easier. The distant table had been vacated; Mr and Mrs Holmes had left, taking my insides with them.

How stupid I’d been. How blind. Gareth had seldom stayed overnight at my flat despite my blandishments because of work. I’d never been to his place because of the builders. He’d often had to go away for a few days or a week or two on business. I’d been introduced to some of his distant relatives and far-flung friends but none of the closer ones. In other words, all the evidence for his duplicity was right there in front of me. So why hadn’t I suspected anything? Both Kathy and Helen had expressed reservations about my relationship and I’d ignored them, fool that I was. Laura probably believed Gareth had been abroad on business when he was spending time with me, but the likelihood that he’d deceived us both in the same way was scant comfort. I’d been as susceptible to love-blinding as Doug ever was. It was infuriating. The irony of Laura’s involvement didn’t amuse me: the man she’d once deceived and betrayed had undergone a forced sex change and had then - unwittingly - become her husband’s mistress. Hilarious.

Everyone’s concern about me was putting a damper on the evening so I told them I’d caught a bug from someone in the literature group and I was sorry to be such a misery, then I cracked a couple of jokes and got the conversation back on to music. It seemed to work. I didn’t talk much after that but I pretended to follow what the others were saying and let them attribute my silence to indisposition. I don’t believe May and Kathy were convinced, and Ken certainly wasn’t, though they went along with my act to avoid embarrassment. How British, I thought. But when the party broke up they all wondered whether I’d be okay on my own. May offered to stay overnight with me; Kathy invited me to stay at hers; Ken said he’d drive me home. I refused all their offers as graciously as I could. I wanted to walk in solitude so I could cry my eyes out without anyone witnessing the tears.

It almost worked. After the goodnights, hugs and assurances I set off home on foot, cutting through the park behind the new houses, glad I’d worn moderate heels. But I hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before someone approached me out of the darkness and spoke. It was Laura.

- - - - - - - -
She didn’t accuse me of anything. Indeed, she apologised for accosting me. She’d noticed me running out of the restaurant during dinner so she was glad to see I was well enough to walk.

“It’s so worrying when someone’s taken ill in the restaurant where you’re celebrating your first wedding anniversary.”

My heart pounded and I felt faint. Her calf-length dress seemed to float in the night air; navy blue, I think, though it looked black. Her hair shimmered in the moonlight. I wondered how she could walk in those shoes.

“Oh, your anniversary?” I said. “Congratulations! Thanks for your concern. Picked up a bug, I think. Hope I don’t pass it - ”

“Thing is, I thought I’d recognised you in the restaurant. Sorry, should have said - I’m Laura Holmes. Are you by any chance related to Douglas Hendry? You look very like him.”

I feigned surprise.

“Douglas? Yes, he was my cousin. We didn’t see much of each other so I didn’t know him well, but I believe he died abroad a year or two ago. I take it you know him? Knew him, I should say?”

She nodded.

“Ah. His cousin. Yes, I knew him. He fled the country during a murder investigation. Did you know that? No one can say where he went but there’s no doubt he was guilty. May I ask your name?”

She was as courteous and subtle as a cobra. I smiled with my mouth.

“I’m Clarissa Hendry. Did you know Douglas well? If you did, I suppose the police pestered you about him. They always question a suspect’s close friends.”

She gave a bright little laugh.

“Oh, we weren’t that close. It seems you know my husband, Clarissa. You and he noticed each other in the restaurant, just before you were so suddenly taken ill. You both looked startled.”

“Gareth Holmes? He’s your husband? Yes, we go to the same gym. We’ve met there a few times. You’re right, I was surprised to see him tonight. The last time we chatted in the gym coffee room he said he was going abroad for a while. What a shame for a man to have to go abroad and leave his lovely wife at home so close to their anniversary.”

I supposed Gareth had told her the same story: I was a woman he’d seen at the gym, Clarissa Something-or-other, he hadn’t realised I was in with the church choir crowd...

“Well, Clarissa, a word of warning: Gareth said you tried to pick him up at the gym. Don’t try it again. He’s mine, and he knows it, and you’d better know it too unless you want trouble. Big trouble.”

She turned on her heel to march away. Doug’s fury at the slut reawakened in my guts. My fists clenched. I took two deep breaths and laughed.

“Oh, dear, I can’t imagine what gave your husband that impression. It isn’t at all likely I’d try to pick him up. My taste runs to sexy little brunettes like you, sweetie.”

She stopped dead and turned to stare at me, jaw sagging. I’d quoted Doug word for word.

“Stay away from me, you bitch,” she hissed. “Stay away from both of us.”

“With pleasure. So nice to have met you, Laura.” I let her make twenty paces along the path before calling after her, “By the way, Douglas once told me he’d had a girlfriend somewhere around here but he dumped her because she turned out to be a prostitute. You didn’t know her, did you? Didn’t see him with her? Maybe Gareth knows who she was. I’ll bet the police would like to talk to her about Douglas.”

I went home feeling better, but I still cried myself to sleep.

- - - - - - - -
Dreams.

Gareth making love – no, not making love, fucking me. The brothel owners. Jagoda accusing: Why did you let me die? Laura, knife in hand. Food blender. Hiromi grinning.

Didn’t wake in a cold sweat but eyes were sore and throat was sore and heart pounded fit to choke me. Staggered to kitchen. Need tea. Had to fill kettle. Filled it, put it in sink, stared at it. Maybe a shower. Where was the bathroom?

More dreams. Woke on the sofa, sitting where I’d been when Mandy drugged me. Never drink Nuit St George again. Found the bathroom this time. Threw up. Thought my throat was bleeding.

Men just cum and go. I’d cracked that joke in the brothel. Women are the constant, men are ephemeral. Love them, lose them. Gareth hadn’t loved me. Cum and gone. Used me as a whore. Maybe Katrina had been right. That’s what I was. All I was. Worthless. Hollow. What’s constant about a whore?

I started to cry again and couldn’t stop. It was daylight. What business had the sun to rise? The phone rang and I let it ring until it stopped. Dozed again. Then the doorbell, insistent. Then May’s voice calling through the letterbox. Panicking. What’s wrong with May? Made it to the door, managed to open it. Had to lean on it to stop knees giving way.

“Oh, Jesus,” said May.

We were in the sitting room, May hugging me, me sobbing on her shoulder while she made the phone call. Then the doctor came.

Sedative.

They were so kind, all of them: May, Kathy, Jen and Nils, Ken. Especially Ken. A week passed, two weeks. Drives out into the country. Flowers, birds, walks. Ken held my arm until I could manage unaided. By then they all knew I’d had a passionate affair before discovering my so-called lover was married. But only Jen and Nils knew about Laura.

“Tell Mandy,” said Nils. Jen said the same.

I went to stay with Helen for ten days, and with a blend of professional skill and pure friendship she talked me back into sanity. She knew about Laura, too.

“Tell Mandy,” she said.

So I did. I told the Avenging Angel.

- - - - - - - -
“What are you going to do now, Clarissa?” said Jen. “How’ll you pick up the pieces?”

We were in the café at Debenham’s after a shopping spree. Weeks had passed since the night in the restaurant. After I’d returned from Helen’s I’d cleaned my neglected flat from end to end, thrown out everything that reminded me of Gareth, had my hair cut and styled, and treated myself to a manicure and pedicure. Now I had three carrier bags full of new clothes, there was a steaming cup of coffee and a calorie-rich bun in front of me, and I was feeling more or less in control.

“Start living again, Jen. Back to choir, lit group, Oxfam. Go to a different gym. Spend time with friends. Catch up with editing. Write a story.” I thought for half a minute. “Maybe write my life story, Doug’s and mine. Perhaps no reader would believe it, but it would give some guys a hard-on and make a few women angry.”

“Do it, Clarissa,” said Jen. “Not many of us can tell a story like yours, and none of us could write it as well as you would.”

I told her not to do herself down. She had every bit as much literary skill as I had, probably more. Maybe, she said, but I don’t have the commitment to write anything novel-length. I wondered whether I had. What the hell, I thought, at least I can try.

We went to the theatre that evening: Sheridan’s The Rivals, with Shelley Carter as Mrs Malaprop. Good production, lots of laughs. Nils would have enjoyed it if he hadn’t decided to go to the pub with the lads.

- - - - - - - -
Sergio invited me to his wedding in London; he was marrying his long-time Congolese boyfriend Valdano. Sometimes I’m thick; I should have guessed he was gay when we first met. Jen and Nils and Helen were invited, too, and we all went. It was a simple but affecting ceremony, and it was a joy to witness the union of two people who loved each other. I’d never seen Sergio so happy. Helen cried.

There were two hundred people at the reception but we managed a chat with Sergio. Jen begged permission to kiss the bride and then kissed both him and Valdano, to general amusement. Sergio took me aside for a quiet word.

“We’ve acted on your report, Clarissa, at some cost to prices on the New York Stock Exchange. So far, the banks have stopped information about certain investors from reaching the media, but there have been rumblings in Congress. Look out for shock-waves in the global economy.”

“I hope it won’t come to that, Sergio, but if all the major sex traffickers end up behind bars it’ll be worth a financial trauma.” I squeezed his hand. “Forget the world’s evils for today, you lovely man. And have fun tonight!”

Mandy was wearing the same Studio 8 Raquel dress and Sole Diva sandals she’d worn when she and Sergio came to my flat, but at least she’d had her hair done (the roots no longer showed) and changed the necklace.

“Your ex will be in trouble when his wife sees the photos,” she told me.

“Gareth? What photos?”

“Him with his girlfriend. Some of the pictures are intimate.” She chuckled at my expression. “Oh, not you, Clarissa. It’s amazing what you can do to photos with modern-day software. And as you know, Laura’s a jealous woman.”

My insides curdled and I wanted to cry again. Instead, I sniggered, thanked her, and told her she was a very naughty avenging angel.

“I don’t work alone. I work with people I trust.” She handed me a small package, to be opened in private. “We’ve identified another college lecturer who bribes and blackmails young women students into sex. He’s arranged to take the latest to the Malmaison Hotel a fortnight on Saturday. I think we can leave this one to you.”

- - - - - - - -
Ken’s interest in me had intensified. He was too sensitive to harass me but he increasingly sought my company and wanted to meet my friends. When he took me to a concert at the Bridgewater Hall he introduced me to his brother and two of his university colleagues. However, knowing about my break with Gareth, he didn’t try to talk me into bed. His restraint made him even more attractive.

Having discovered my taste for Thai cuisine he took me to a top-class restaurant on Portland Street and during the meal he returned to the subject of children.

“I’d like my own, of course, but I’d be just as happy to adopt. Refugee kids, for example. Do you think I’d be right to adopt a refugee, Clarissa?”

I could have answered ‘It isn’t my place to judge’, which would have told him to back off, or ‘That would be a lovely thing to do’, which might have seemed like a come-on. I did neither. A tough decision was needed.

“There are things you don’t know about me, Ken, things I wouldn’t want anyone else to know. If I told you it would change how you feel about me. Drastically.”

He smiled and placed his hand over mine, as he’d done the first time took me out for dinner. His touch burned. I couldn’t meet his eyes.

“Perhaps you underestimate me,” he said. “I understand human foibles and I’m not judgmental. I keep secrets and respect confidences. And whatever you tell me, you’ll still be you.”

I’d burned my boats now. I’d have to tell him at least part of my history. And if I wanted a full relationship with him I’d have to tell all of it, sooner rather than later. Honesty.

“If I’m to tell you, Ken, it will have to be in private. Not here.”

He came to my flat and sat with a drink, the epitome of patience. I needed several drinks before I could talk, but at length the story was told: I’d formerly been a man, I hadn’t sought a sex change but I’d been forcibly feminised somewhere in Eastern Europe, I’d been sold to a brothel, months had passed before my freedom had been bought...

“When I said I can’t have children because I don’t have the working parts I told you the truth, though not the whole truth. In all other respects I’m unequivocally female and wouldn’t want to be a man again. And you know I can have sex like any woman.”

He gave no sign of shock. For a while he was quiet, absorbing the information, and then he smiled.

“Tiresius,” he said. “After he’d been transmuted to a woman for seven years he declared it was better than being a man.”

She declared. But I’m not Tiresius. I’m not blind and I’m not a prophet.”

“No, you have beautiful eyes. And you can foresee enough for mortal needs. Thanks for confiding in me, darling, but your past doesn’t matter. Only our future.”

“Ken, I - ”

“I Know. You’ll have to think about it, talk to your friends... But let’s make sure there’s no chance of misunderstanding.”

He went down on one knee, took a little box from his pocket, opened it to reveal a diamond ring, and asked me to marry him. I longed to let him slip the ring on my finger but I gently closed the box again.

“The chances are I’ll say yes,” I said. “But you’re right, I’ll need to talk to friends and I’ll need to think. Please allow me a couple of weeks, Ken. Then I’ll give my answer.”

He agreed, too gracious to make his disappointment visible, and then kissed me and went home.

- - - - - - - -
The package Mandy had given me at Sergio’s wedding contained a set of door keys and a remote control, a map showing the location of the private cinema, and a photograph of Richard Tarbatt. Tarbatt, target. A note told me that Richard’s taste in pornography was similar to Doug’s.

I sat in a corner of the lounge at the Malmaison and waited, nursing a soft drink; I expected to be driving soon. I watched the young woman – girl, rather – run from the lift and out of the hotel, hair in disarray, tears streaming. The glass I was holding cracked in my hand and my teeth clenched, but Mandy was waiting outside so the girl would be reassured and comforted.

Tarbatt came down a few minutes later, sauntered to the bar and bought a whisky and soda. He sat some distance away from me but when he realised I was watching him, smiling, he raised his eyebrows and came to sit opposite me. His mouth shaped the question “Do I know you?” but I forestalled him.

“Enjoy her, Richard?”

My handbag contained the business card I’d give him after he’d watched the film. It stated only my e-mail address - and the name ‘Clarissa Hargreaves’.

THE END

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Avenging Angel chapter 9

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Comments (1)
mature gina — 10 March 2017 07:28
It was definitely grotesque in parts, but it was very interesting and well written. I read an article years ago about female castration. Apparently in third world countries removing a girls clitoris decreases her sex drive.
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