***Warning – This chapter contains graphic depictions of child trafficking and prostitution. While no acts are portrayed, the emotions in this story are strong and may trigger PTSD in some who have been abused. Please seek support and do not read if such things bother you.***
BeBe LaToya Mae Jefferson looked at the image in the mirror. She used the threadbare washcloth to scrub her body. But it made no difference. She would never get the stink of this place off her. Not even when her ‘shift’ ended, and she had the luxury of standing under a hot shower. No amount of soap or water would ever remove the stains of the past three years.
She had believed this was her only future. That there was no hope. Until Bobby. She had known who he was. Hell, she had been trying to attract his attention for months. From the moment she gave up her dreams of escaping this life and returning to her dreams of Harvard, law school, and becoming the first black woman to be President. But who would ever vote for a whore?
Her throat tightened even thinking that word. She washed the unshed tears from her eyes. She had given enough time to those. Not one tear, not one plea to her Grandma’s god, none of it had delivered her from that auction stand. Or the endless nights, and occasional days, to follow. Hell, she had lost count.
This place – a whorehouse – was all she knew. Occasionally, one of her… Someone spoke about things that were happening out in the ‘real’ world. Esmerelda, the older woman who was Diego Garcia’s pimp in this place, had told them about this new virus. Bebe supposed that was one good thing about this place – they looked out for the health of their ‘girls.’
Because all of the women and more young girls, like herself than she wanted to count, were the top of his offerings, Garcia enforced strict rules, including condoms. That’s how she knew…
“Bebé,” even her name had become an endearment on Bobby’s lips.
She ran the cloth over her face, making sure that the residue of those tears was gone. Then she plastered a smile on her face and turned to face her lover. “How did it go?”
Bobby smiled, but it was incredibly tight. Something was wrong. He could not hide it. Not even his words reassured her, “We just got back. My stupid brother wanted to bring the girl here.”
She shook her head, her heart pounding with fear. It always did whenever they brought another little girl. And that was way too often. Their high-end clientele demanded it. They forced her to work the auctions. All the girls there were young, not merely the virgin they auctioned off like real estate or some celebrity’s castoffs. Diego wanted to ensure that even those who did not win the auction had their perverse appetites satisfied.
Bebe felt her stomach roll and fought back nausea. Just as she had been doing all night long. Before she could turn around to the small bathroom, Bobby’s hands gripped her arms. She looked up into those dark eyes that had captured her heart from the beginning.
She had set out to attract Roberto Garcia’s attention because everyone knew that his ‘girls’ received privileges and gifts that no one else did. They were also excused from some of the more onerous demands of the ‘job.’ So, once she had finally accepted that this was to be her life, however brief, she had decided that this man could make it less crushing.
Except she had been the one caught in her own trap. No man had ever treated her kindly, actually listened to her, or held her as Bobby did. She knew that she was stupid for falling in love with the brother of a drug lord and pimp. But how could she not? His next words only confirmed that.
“I made sure that he didn’t. Callie McBride is safe with my sister and your cousin. For now, anyway. But, Bebé, we need to talk…”
Here, it came. She had known that something was wrong. Hell, she had a pretty good idea what that something was. Or, more accurately, someone. Constanza Dominguez and her father had arrived this morning. That was why Esmerelda had insisted that she ‘get her black ass back to work.’
Even as she went through the motions, her mind was elsewhere. It always had been. That was the only fucking way to survive this shit. Hell, Esme had been the one to teach her that trick. But instead of fields of bluebonnets or the quiet corner of a library that had once been her safe places, Bobby had become that over the past months.
Now all that was endangered. Why now of all times? Why did this fiancée and arranged marriage have to threaten the only future that she had dared to dream of? Steal away the only man that could possibly ever care about a whore. She dreaded his next words, though she stiffened her spine and waited for them to come.
“I think you already know that Rafael Dominguez is here, don’t you, Bebé?”
She nodded her head because that tightness in her throat prevented words. “He brought Connie with him. Diego has arranged for Tio Manuel to perform the marriage ceremony in three days.”
There it was. The truth that she had feared all day was out. The words said, there was no denying it now. Even as she shook her head, that tightness spread to her chest. She should have known better. Should have realized that even this man would never keep his promises. Hell, not even Garcia’s hired killers did more than use girls like her for their bodies. Then went home to their ‘madonnas’ or chose a ‘good’ girl from the village to marry and have their babies.
She had been a fool. But even then, what other future did she have? None. Sure, Will had come for her. And she would forever be grateful for that. To know that her family had not given up looking for her. She fought back those tears again. But he did not understand. His woman did not either.
She could not go back there. She could not live with their pity. Or worse, their disdain about what she had become. A Jezebel. Harlot. Stained woman. All the words that her father had preached from his church’s pulpit each Sunday, Bebe knew them all. They had pounded in her head like ceremonial drums. No, this was the only place she had…
She shrugged as casually as she could. These years had crafted her into an Oscar-worthy actress. She painted on a smile and pushed out the words she had been practicing all day before she chickened out. “It doesn’t matter, Bobby. Marrying Constanza. We’ll just continue as we have been.”
He stepped back, and in the process, he pushed her. She would have fallen had she not caught hold of the doorway. His next words sent chills through her whole body. “You don’t understand. They will never allow that. They know I care about you.”
‘Care about.’ Not love. Her fingers gripped the wood tighter. Her mind only half paying attention to his words as the heart that she swore had died broke. She felt each word like a knife to it.
“Mama practically said as much tonight, Bebé. ‘Your whore has to go.’”
It was like a punch to her gut. She slid to the floor. How had she ever dared to forget what she had become? Even to a murderer. Yes, she was not that naïve little girl they had kidnapped from the bus stop. She knew that the man she loved had blood on his hands. How had she forgotten what he was capable of?
He had killed his best friend. With his own hands. Not leaving the dirty work or the vengeance to anyone else. He had switched places with a guard and killed Stephen McBride himself. Though he came back to her arms, half-drunk afterward, he had bragged about the way his friend had begged, pleaded, and promised he would not betray them.
She could not hold back the bile any longer. She barely made it on her hands and knees to the toilet. Though Esmerelda kept these places clean, after all these were their best clients, she could smell it all – urine, sex, death. She was not sure how long she spent bent over the porcelain god. But when she finished, when there was nothing left but dry heaves, he held out that old washcloth.
“I’m sorry. I know I promised…” He could not even look her in the eye. “At best, they will send you to one of the houses in the city.”
Bebe knew what that meant. That was where they sent everyone. When they were too old, no longer pretty enough, or too much trouble. She also knew that they were not nearly as careful of those girls. Esme said that most died within a year, two tops. Disease. Drugs. Perhaps just despair. It was the threat the woman used to keep them all in line.
Bobby finally met her gaze, “I think Mama plans something more permanent. You have to understand they have worked hard to arrange this marriage. Diego and Mama think it will give them control of Dominguez’s operation when he dies.”
“But it won’t, will it, Bobby?” Though she could not deny she still loved the man, this night had reminded her who he was, what he was capable of, and how silly she had been.
He shook his head, “No, Bebé, it will not. Connie and I have spoken. Not even Diego or Mama know this, but her Papa is not well. He has cancer. That’s why he took her from that convent. Why he arranged this marriage.”
“I will go back to Moctezuma with them. I will take over from her father. And when he dies, my family will discover that I am more than capable of holding what is mine. And should my brother die…well, he does not even have a daughter to marry off to someone like me.”
She nodded her head, glad there was nothing left in her stomach to come up. That look of avarice on his handsome face softened just a touch as he knelt on the floor in front of her. “I really am sorry. Maybe I should never have… Your cousin certainly thinks so.”
He exhaled, and in that single breath, the mask of the stone-cold killer was back in place. “But I can do one thing for you to make your life better. I can get you out of this place. Away from all this.”
He smiled as if that made everything alright. “You can go back to school. Harvard isn’t such a bad place. I promise you’ll have the money.”
She wanted to cry. Need to. But not in front of this man. This monster. But that was not right. There was more to him than that. The tender lover that had touched her as no one else had was not an act. That man was in there too. It was just that he was not strong enough to overrule this…
His hand gently caressed her cheek, and for just a second, she lost herself in the softness of those brown eyes, that gentle lover. “But I need you to do something for me, Bebé.” She found herself wordlessly nodding her head. As hypnotized as always by this man, “Do not eat or drink anything that does not come directly from my sister or me. Do you understand me?”
She frowned, “I don’t understand.”
“My mother. She has her ways.” He looked away as he spoke, “I know that she has tried to poison Anna once.” He turned back to face her as he brought her hand to his lips, “Promise me, Bebé. Until I can get you, that girl, and my sister out of here, you won’t eat, drink, or take anything that anyone else gives you.”
She nodded her head. As easy as it might be to just let it all go, she knew she could not. Not now. At least, this man had given her reason to live. Though, she did not know what kind of life or where. “I promise, Bobby. But how will you get us out of here? When?”
He shook his head and looked away as he stood up, “I don’t know. But I will. I’ll speak to Esmerelda before I go. Tell her that Mercy needs you to help settle the new girl.”
He turned back to as he opened the door, and again those dark eyes softened. “Never doubt, Bebé, I did care for you. As much as I can anyway. I’m sorry if I’ve caused you more pain. And I promise Connie and I will do what we can to make your life as easy as possible.”
Bebe was glad that he closed the door behind him before he saw the tears fall or heard her sobs. She knew that all the tears in the world never changed anything, but she was powerless to stop them. She curled into a ball on that cold tile floor and cried until she fell asleep.
And in her dream, she felt her grandmother’s arms wrap about her, cradle her, and Bebe could have sworn she heard her grandmother’s deep alto voice singing, “Go down Moses. Way down in Egypt land. Tell all pharaohs to let my people go!”