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Friday, 27 April 2012

Read My Novel, Free: Chapter 15


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I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January and following chapters appear each Friday. You'll find them via the archive.

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Chapter 15

When I saw her stumbling along the road toward me, I thought I could guess what had happened. Her previous hints should’ve prepared me for his cruelty but they hadn’t and contempt at what the bastard had done to her overwhelmed me. Sadly, even then, I underestimated the reality of Heacham’s brutality.
I made no effort to hide my disgust at her father as I ushered her into the car. Only my immediate concern for her well-being stopped me going straight to that pokey cottage to beat the bastard to pulp for closing her beautiful eye and splitting her lovely mouth.
Her silence in the car was ominous enough but her behaviour, once at Longhouse, was alarming. She stripped so carelessly, showing no emotion and none of her usual fanatical modesty, convincing me far more than those vicious stripes that I needed an expert for her. She was severely traumatized.
Ma took charge of her. I persuaded Doctor Dohan to come over as soon as he could. Ma described Faith’s continued strange behaviour and I went up to see if I could get any sense out of her before Paul arrived.
I knocked.
‘Yes?’
‘I’d like a word, Faith.’
‘Come in.’
I was amazed to find her uncovered, albeit face down on the bed.
‘Let me cover you, love, you must be cold.’
She mumbled something unintelligible in which I caught only the words, ‘Last night’.
I found a light cover and pulled up the sheet to keep the softer wool from sticking to her wounds.
‘Tell me what happened.’
She continued to look away from me, toward the wall. ‘… punished for my sins. … you expect?’
‘Your father…?’
‘… else would?’
‘Why?’
‘… you don’t know, Leigh…’
‘I don’t. Tell me.’
It was difficult for her to speak, her swollen lips distorting her words but I persisted, determined to discover something of what had befallen her after I left.
There was a rap on the door and Ma entered with Paul, who had evidently left his surgery and come straight away, at considerable speed.
‘Paul, thanks. Can I have a quick word?’
I explained what I’d discovered and gave him the background as far as I could. ‘But what worries me is she seems to believe she deserved what he did to her. As if she’s lost all pride and self esteem.’
‘Knowing her background and her father, I’d say that’s hardly surprising, Leigh. I’ll be blunt. Heacham’s a sadist and a bully. Always has been. It’s a wonder the girl’s as balanced as she is. I’m amazed she hasn’t become the imbecile he tells everyone she is. Let me examine her. Of course, she might not let me; he doesn’t like doctors. But he might’ve damaged her internally, not just her skin. That’s why I came over in such a hurry.’
I let him go to her and waited with Ma in the kitchen. He was up there for a very long time and he looked grave when he came down. Ma made coffee.
‘Sorry, it’s difficult to make sense of her speech because of the swelling but I managed to piece it together. I don’t think she’s very impressed with me, but I had to get the facts. You’ll be relieved to know there’s no indication of internal damage and her skin should return to normal with some basic care.
‘But I’ll be frank, Leigh. I know you love women and I know you’re a compassionate man, but I’m not sure you’re up to handling something as complex as that girl up there.’
‘Tell me what you think, Paul.’
‘She’s been brought up to have absolutely no self-esteem. All her thoughts are her father’s...’
‘Were. She’s started to think for herself now she’s working for me.’
‘Possibly. But her self-image is so poor it’ll take more than kindness and a few well-placed compliments to improve it. Her father has left her with no sense of self-worth. He’s told her she’s wrong so frequently that she really believes, regardless of evidence to the contrary, that she must be wrong.’
‘I’ll kill that bastard, Paul. I had her happy and believing in herself yesterday, full of joy and confidence. Christ! She even wanted to spend the night with me. I wish I’d ignored the fact she’d had too much to drink and taken her up on her offer. At least she’d have been spared the beating and this… this relapse.’
‘As I said, Leigh, this isn’t simple. She may require professional help. If you’d bedded her last night, and I don’t doubt she’d have let you, as you’re in the strongest position to supplant her father, as a male figure of authority, she’d have woken up this morning hating both you and herself. No, the beating has hurt her body but at least she’s no additional cause to feel ashamed.
‘Listen, you need to know something else. I’ll have to trust you on this, so don’t let me down, Leigh; patient confidence and all that. Her father locked her out of the house stark naked. She spent the whole of last night in the outside loo.’
‘I’ll kill that shit...’
‘Not helpful. She came to you in the early stages of hypothermia. That, together with the beating, put her into a state of shock that shielded her from the emotional aspects of her actions. I doubt she’s fully aware of how she behaved this morning. Be careful, she may feel deep resentment of you and real shame when she understands you’ve seen her body. Her mind is remarkably strong, I don’t really fear for her intellectual sanity. But I’ve serious concerns for her emotional stability. She desperately needs a place where she can learn to be herself, away from the destructive influence of her father.’
‘A flat, on her own, you mean?’
‘Absolutely not, Ma. She needs to have people near to consult and guide her when she’s lost. What she needs, more than anything else, is love and an environment of trust.’
‘There’s plenty of room at Longhouse.’
‘It won’t be easy, Leigh. She may alternate between loving you and offering her all without reservation, and hating you for either rejecting her or for taking advantage of her vulnerability. She knows, deep down, that her father’s responsible for the way she is. If you become the substitute figure of authority in her life, there’s every chance she’ll blame you instead until she’s really found her way.
‘If you love her, Leigh, if you’ve ambitions to have more than a simple sexual relationship with her in the future, it might be best if you don’t take on the role of guide. I’ve no doubt, once she’s found herself, she’ll be willing and able to share your bed. Whether that’ll be good or bad, I can’t tell. But any longer term, deeper relationship is going to require an enormous effort from you and a fair amount of good luck along the way.’
‘You’re so full of good news and easy answers, Paul.’
‘You do love her, then?’
‘I could. I very easily could. She’s by far the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met. Not the sexiest or most beautiful, but something else. She’s quite extraordinary.’
‘Oh, she’s that all right. So, what’s it to be, Leigh? Whatever we decide, we can’t let her go back to that cretin of a father.’
‘Can you cope with Faith as a live-in guest, Ma?’
‘She’s not going back to that cottage after what that bastard did to her. And where else would the poor love go?’
‘I’ll take that as a “yes,” then.’
‘You’re sure about this, Leigh? In spite of my concerns?’
‘Positive.’
‘One last warning, then. Have no illusions about what you’re taking on here. If you love her, Leigh, as opposed to simply wanting her in your bed, you’re likely to be in as much emotional danger as Faith if things get out of hand between you. Take your time and play it gently. I don’t want to have to refer the pair of you for psychiatric treatment in a few months time.’
Paul turned to Ma. ‘Leigh’s going to need considerable support from you and Old Hodge, Ma. And I need a favour. Until you’re certain that Faith is absolutely ready to have Leigh in her bed, for her own reasons and not just because she wants to please him, I want you to make it your sacred duty to prevent them having sex. Will you do that?’
‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Doctor Dohan. This is one maiden he won’t be bowling over without my express permission.’
‘Excellent. Thanks for the coffee.’
I sat for a while after he’d gone. Ma asked me about the job I was supposed to be doing in Bradford but I wasn’t in the mood. I rang and re-arranged it.
Faith was still awake when I knocked on her door, but she was at least covered and lying on her side, facing the door as I entered.
‘Like a cuppa?’
She tried to respond with words but they were so slurred by her swollen lips that I had to make do with the accompanying nod. Judging by the pain that flashed across her eyes as she moved her head, I guessed she had a splitting headache as well.
I arranged tea, and some of the painkillers Paul had left, by shouting downstairs to Ma. Back in her room, I sat on the edge of the bed and managed to take her hand in mine. Tears trickled from her open eye and I passed her a tissue.
‘I won’t make you talk, Faith. Just listen and squeeze my hand once for yes, twice for no. Okay?’
She squeezed once.
‘First of all, you’re safe and in the hands of people who care about you here at Longhouse, so...’
Two squeezes.
‘Who doesn’t care about you?’
She tried to say something but it was unintelligible. I wondered how Paul had gleaned so much information from her and recalled the amount of time he’d spent with her.
‘Okay. Merv?’
Two.
‘Ma?’
One.
‘Old Hodge?’
One.
Last, and the one I was dreading, ‘Me?’
One, two.
‘I care. I care more than I can say. You’re very special to me.’
No response, just that wet, wide eye staring and full of misery. Paul had said it wouldn’t be easy.
‘I’m going to the cottage to collect your things.’
Two squeezes.
‘I am. It’s not a request; I’m just letting you know. And, until you decide where you want to go, you’ll be living here.’
One. Two. One.
I got the message. ‘Okay, three for “don’t know,” okay?’
One.
‘I’m off for your stuff now, as much of it as I can find. When you’re better, we’ll go back together and collect the rest. Okay?’
Two.
‘Why not?’
She made a desperate effort and I caught on. ‘You want me to go to the job in Bradford?’
One.
‘I’ve postponed it. I’m going next week. Okay?’
One.
Ma came in with tea and painkillers and took over whilst I went to her father’s cottage.
There was no sign of life as I walked up the steep track. Only the wind sounded in that isolated spot. Outside the door, I hovered, aware I felt so violently disposed to the bastard that I might kill him if I were to lose it.
An odd noise came softly through the door. A strange, regular keening that seemed full of distress. I was about to knock but I thought the coward might run for it if he saw me. And that sound reached into my subconscious and told me something was seriously wrong.
I opened the door into a nightmare. Across the sitting room, through the kitchen door, Heacham stood naked with his back to me. Face down across the scrubbed wooden table, Hope lay with her legs spread wide, Heacham’s hands gripping her hips. She shuddered with each thrust into her limp unresisting form and, as he shoved, the girl emitted her keening whimper of distress.
I crossed the room and dragged him out of her before I had time to think. He almost fell with the force of separation and his hands went instinctively to guard himself. I kicked viciously, displacing his hands and feeling the satisfying thud as my shoe crushed his balls. He screamed and bent double. I brought my knee up into his face, knocking him to the floor. He lay there moaning. I used his hair to yank him to his feet and smashed a straight left into his face, cracking the line of his nose. He fell against the door of the ancient cooker, smacking his head. The handle scored down his back. I hauled him up by his throat. Kicking, shoving and punching the bastard, I forced him to the back door until he crashed into the woodwork.
‘Open it or I’ll kick you through the fucking door!’
He scrabbled for the handle as I thrashed him with fists, feet and knees. With the door open, I launched him into the garden with a final vicious kick. He stumbled barefoot over rows of growing cabbage and landed face down in the carrots and potatoes and stayed there.
A dry-stone wall some five feet high surrounded the back garden. A wooden gate beside the outhouse gave access to the lane.
‘Don’t even think of moving, Heacham. If I have to come and get you, I’ll nail you by your prick to the coal-shed door! Stay there or you’re fucking dead.’
I locked the door, washed my hands under the kitchen tap and paused to catch my breath. Hope lay quiet on the table, her keening done.
I made her bed ready. As gently as I could with her dead weight, I picked her up and lay her on the mattress before covering her with the light quilt. I thought of Faith, so small and fragile, lugging her in and out of the house twice a day and marvelled at her strength and dedication. Hope was so vulnerable, helpless, I could have wept at the way he’d violated her.
I looked for something to bind him and took the belt from his abandoned trousers, the respectable tie he’d removed so he could be naked as he raped his helpless daughter.
Fortunately for him, he was still on the ground, though face up, when I returned to the garden. I kicked him back onto his face without a word and bound his wrists together, tight as I could, with the tie. I thought of leaving him on the lawn but, instead, I opened the loo door in the outhouse. It was where he’d made Faith spend the previous night and seemed an appropriate makeshift prison. The thought of her shivering in there had me smacking Heacham’s face again.
‘You filthy, fucking shit ball!’ I discovered I couldn’t lock the door securely so I shoved him in the coalhouse and tied it shut with his belt. I wrenched the rusting washing pole out of the grass and wedged it against the door as insurance. From within came the satisfying sound of Heacham vomiting.
Mrs Greenhough let me use her phone. I didn’t attempt to hide my words from her or the two middle-aged women customers. Heacham’s rape would be the talk of the village before the end of the day.
Social Services said they would send someone when they could, though they weren’t sure they had a vacancy at a place suitable for a quadriplegic in Hope’s condition. I told them he’d rape her again if she remained in Heacham’s care and the newspapers would be interested in the story. They decided to send someone straight away. The police offered to meet me at the cottage within the hour.
It was all remarkably simple and, by mid afternoon, Heacham was on his way to the cells and Hope was en route to a residential care home in the Harrogate area. Heacham signed the release papers there and then. The police were happy for me to have the keys to the cottage when I explained about Faith. They mentioned my assault but thought, on balance, self-defence would rule out any charges. The fact that one of the coppers had placed his size twelve boot on Heacham’s already swollen balls whilst his other had unaccountably made contact with his head, probably had something to do with their lenient view of my attack.
‘You’d be amazed just how much damage can occur to a naked man who accidentally falls down the stairs and then trips and falls against the kitchen table whilst trying to resist arrest.’
‘Amazed, I know.’
‘Child abusers and rapists; have this thing about the bastards, you know?’
I knew. ‘I’ve always wondered why we accord the same rights to criminals, who put themselves outside the law, as we do to those who remain within the law. It’s their choice to cross the boundary; I don’t see why they should expect to be protected by the laws they’re so willing to break themselves.’
‘Couldn’t agree with you more, Sir. Shame the wimps in government and the courts don’t see it that way. Make our job a good deal easier, I can tell you.’
They left and the house fell into an unnatural peace that provoked me to action. I gathered the bundle of clothes from Faith’s bedroom and realized she’d clearly intended to leave home after her beating, regardless of what had happened afterwards. That, at least, was encouraging. I realized that her defiance dissolving by the time I met her on the road, illustrating Paul’s assessment of her as a complex case.
There was nothing else identifiably Faith’s that I could find. A quick search of the other rooms, once the police had left, revealed a pile of singular pornographic magazines devoted to female bondage and pseudo-rape, imported by post from Scandinavia, in his wardrobe. They were opened but stored in their plain brown envelopes. I burnt them in a corner of the garden, wishing I could have the bastard’s balls to roast on the flames.
Under Heacham’s bed, I discovered a large suitcase and opened it to disclose a large amount in bank notes. I was unsure of the legal position regarding that so I left it where it was. A small wooden box next to it got the better of my curiosity. When I discovered it contained letters to Faith from her mother, I wanted him back for another hiding.
Back home, amongst the mail, I found a hand-written letter for Faith. It was a nice coincidence, a touch of serendipity balancing some of the distress, and I put the new letter from her mother with the collection of older ones from the cottage.
‘How is she?’
‘Sleeping.’
‘Good.’
‘You look shattered, Leigh.’
I poured myself a large Glenlivet and sat at the kitchen table as Ma prepared the evening meal. Old Hodge came in and I poured one for him as he was taking off his boots in the utility room.
‘What’s up wi’ your hand, Leigh? It’s swollen and skinned.’
I told them what I’d found at Faith’s home. They listened in stunned silence until I’d finished.
‘Can’t have been an isolated incident, too much of a coincidence, you walking in on the beggar like that.’
‘When we brought him in from the coalhouse and questioned him with Social Services and police present, he just collapsed. All pretence went. He’s been at it for years, since the girl was about twelve or thirteen. When Faith was home he just waited till she was asleep or sent her out into the hills for a walk. It’s why he insisted on Hope sleeping naked downstairs.
‘Said it started when he thought he could “inspire” her to come out of her vegetative state by stimulating her. Once he’d begun, it became an obsession and he couldn’t stop himself. Like fuck, he couldn’t. Obsession! The man’s a filthy shitball pervert. That’s why he sent Faith off to work. So he could rape Hope all day every day without the danger of discovery.
‘I asked him if he’d ever tried anything like that with Faith. He swore he’d never touched her. But he admitted bringing her up without privacy and making her walk around half naked because it turned him on to have her in his power like that. Can you imagine? His own daughters.
‘There were six of us; men and women, in the room with that bastard and not one of us would’ve stopped any of the others killing that shit.’
The following day, Faith slept through, helped by the medication Paul had left. She was still asleep in the afternoon when I returned from a job on a local farm. Ma and Old Hodge raised the issue of Hope again and we all expressed our disgust at what had happened.
‘God alone knows how I’m going to tell Faith.’
‘Don’t tell her. She needn’t know.’
I shook my head at Ma and reminded her about Mrs Greenhough at the Post Office.
‘Whole village’ll know by now.’
I agreed with Old Hodge. Somehow, I had to break the news to Faith.
‘Think she knew?’
I wished Ma hadn’t raised a question I’d been avoiding. ‘I hope not. But I don’t see how. I mean, the signs must’ve been there. She looked after Hope; washed her, cleaned her. How could she not know?’
Old Hodge shrugged. ‘Mebbie. But this is Faith we’re talking about. Faith; not some normal young woman brought up in a normal family. Lass ‘as no idea about most of life. Knows nowt about sex. Happen she might’ve seen the signs and not understood.’
‘I’d like to think that was possible.’ But somehow, it seemed unlikely she could have remained ignorant, in the same house, whilst it was going on. ‘Even if the bastard had gagged Hope whilst he raped her, how come she never found out? There must’ve been some residue, some soreness…’
‘Personally, I’d give Faith the benefit of the doubt.’ Old Hodge faced me as he spoke but his eyes flicked to the open door behind me.
I turned to discover Faith standing there, dressed in a towelling robe one of my models had stolen from a good hotel and left behind.
With difficulty, through lips that had lost only a little of their earlier swelling, she managed to make herself understood. ‘Benefit of the doubt about what?’
‘Not now. I’ll explain later. I promise.’ But it wouldn’t be that easy.
She wanted to know what we’d been discussing, why there should be any doubt at all about her, I suppose. ‘Tell me now.’
‘We were just wondering how much of a fight you were able to put up against your father, that’s all.’
‘He’s bigger than me. Stronger; for all his bad back. And, when he loses his temper, he seems to have the strength of three men.’
‘Bad back, my foot. Not bad enough to stop him...’
I glared at Ma and she immediately regretted her comment. ‘Anyway, love, how are you feeling?’
‘Pretty much as I look, I suppose. What do you mean, Ma?’
‘I just… never believed your father had a bad back, that’s all.’
‘I always thought you were above the village gossip, Ma.’
Ma struggled against the urge to defend herself. ‘Perhaps. Anyhow, it’s not important. Come an’ sit and have a bite of supper. You’ve had a deal to cope with and we’d all be better off discussing happier things.’
It was obvious that talking was a real effort for her. She started to protest again and then gave in and sat silently at the table between Old Hodge and me.
The meal was awkward with extended silences and half-expressed sentences; all of us aware how easy it was to say too much. I found myself considering Faith and wondering again, what she knew of her father’s treatment of Hope. Clutching at straws, so that my picture of her could be left as unstained as possible, I recalled her protestations that her father couldn’t even carry a bucket of coal, let alone lift Hope. How she’d been genuinely shocked that I could suggest he might’ve touched her sexually. Perhaps she really was ignorant of the rapes. But how could she have avoided the physical evidence, the redness I’d witnessed and the residue of Heacham’s ejaculations? Hope had no pubic hair to hide either piece of evidence and Faith, I knew, would be fastidious in her care of the girl. How could she fail to recognize such glaring signs?
She sat with me in the sitting room after the meal. Old Hodge and Ma returned home to their cottage, on the other side of the garden, after the meal and left us alone in the house. Faith’s injured mouth made conversation too difficult and I was weary.
I resorted to the idiots’ lantern and sat beside Faith on the sofa watching Morecambe and Wise and finding they had the power to raise laughter even under those circumstances. Faith gurgled a few times as well and we went to our beds feeling just a little lighter.
I knew, however, that morning would bring its own trials when I told her of her father’s arrest and explained how and why it had come about. It was only as I lay my head on a pillow, devoid for once of feminine perfume, that I recalled the box of letters sitting on my desk.

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