What I wanted more than food and water was a smile or a gesture from a clean normal person. Instead, some stared; some looked away as they passed anything to avert their gaze. It was as if I were a leper daring to be seen in public. Is this how Amy felt after six months? The cold winter's night was drawing in. Remnants of brown slush froze under foot.
I intended to spend another night under a bridge overlooking a busy roundabout. Only tonight, I wanted it to be different. Tonight, I hoped to be a little closer to finding Amy.
'Cold night again.'
'Fukkin freezing.' He said, blowing on his hands.
Walt was the first person I'd met. Our long chats together gave me comfort and hope. He was a Falkland's veteran but couldn't adjust to civilian life; his medal, his only treasured possession. I'd worked hard to build his trust and felt honoured to have met him. 'Ya decided to use the bridge again?' He said, placing his hands under his armpits.
'Don't mind do you Walt?'
'Nar, could do wit` company. Got no money today. Had to nick a sarnie, how degrading is that.'
Walt was in his fifties, his beard patchy and grey, eyes sunken. His smell made me nauseous on an already delicate stomach. I sat next to him. Our backs to the wall. Walt covered us with a blanket. Cardboard surrounded us like a shroud. 'You found a blanket Walt?'
'I av. People throw stuff in bins`, I take it out. It's not stealing.' 'Can you remember the chat we had about Amy? You said you might know were she could be.'
'Ay, I remember. The girls have it tougher than us. They're used for sex `n that. Beaten, bullied.' 'I know Walt, that's why I must find her. If she's in trouble I may be able to help. Keep her safe…' 'What, on the street?' Walt shivered. It looked like his whole body ran on batteries.
'Ya know the old mill? That's where they go. I moved from there. They kicked me `n that….chased me away. Few girls there mixed up with wronguns. They're kind to them at first but like I said, the girls are desperate ya see, they've nowhere to go.'
'Cheers, I'll check it out tomorrow.'
The bridge was a fly-over that fed the city. It offered shelter from the bitter wind but the rumble off traffic kept us awake.
'Ya asleep Paul? Be good to have a drink. Help keep the cold out…get some sleep too.' His beard trembled as he formed the words.
I agreed. Eventually the traffic subsided and we were able too sleep. The roar of rush hour traffic woke me. Walt stirred. 'I`m off now Walt. Would you like some company tonight?' 'I'd like that. You be careful at that mill, thal hurt ya!'
'I will. Bye Walt.'
'Aye, till later.'
I circled the derelict mill. Overgrown shrubs and nettles surrounded the building. Weeds grew in the cracks of the car park where a burnt out Fiesta smouldered. Debris lay everywhere; a tipping ground for lazy locals. Bins` concealed the entrance. The door stood ajar. I squeezed through.
Machinery lay rusted. The windows boarded up, the only light came through holes in the roof. Old tables covered in tattered linen were pushed together like kids` dens. A cluster of desperation and poverty. Amber flames flickered from an oil drum. I was grateful for the heat. Two of the dens were occupied, their residence drugged or drunk. I found a bottle of whisky. I kept it for Walt. To my right, an empty mattress and a few belongings. Squatting down, I recognised the bag. It was Amy's. The contents missing apart from a wallet containing a family photo. I took a deep breath. All I could do was wait.
Hearing a noise behind me, I stood and turned. A man watching me. Large blade in his hand.
'WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?'
I turned and ran. Before he could move, one of the girls rose. He slapped her back down. His phone rang. I`d lost him. Making my way back to the bridge was exhausting. The temperature had dropped again. I felt Walt's whisky in my pocket. As I neared I saw he had company. The man from the mill. I heard a scream. The man ran off. I raced to Walt. Cradling his head in my lap, dark blood seeped from his stomach. The wound looked deep. His soul ebbed away. Covering his frail body with his blanket, I squeezed his shoulder and put the bottle in his coat. 'Sorry mate, I'll get the bastards that did this.' I left him.
I made my way back to the mill and waited patiently before entering. This time she was there. My pulse raced. Amy lay quiet and still. Her hair matted, face dirty. A blackened eye, purple and swollen. Hands covered in grazes. The same clothes she had worn when they took her covered a thin under nourished body. I shook her arm. She pushed herself to sitting position. Amy didn't recognise me at first.
'Dad! How did you find me?' She started to cry. I knelt to meet her as she tried to stand. Our arms enveloped each other. I felt her breath on my neck. Her shoulders jerked as sobs left her body. I kissed her forehead. 'Amy, listen to me. We have to leave right now.'
'Dad, I'm sorry. They forced me into a car, Gave me drugs, I couldn't…'
'We can talk later, can you stand?'
'I sprained my ankle they push…'
'Shhh… When will they be back?'
'They'll be gone a while. They wouldn't like it if they knew you were here.' 'I know Amy. Come on hold on to me.' Touching the floor with her bad foot and our arms around each other, we made it out and back to the main road. 'Wait Dad, stop.'
'What is it?'
'Those boys over there… they're the lookouts.'
'We have to move fast.' 'Where are we going?'
'To the police. They cannot get away with this.'
'Don't you think I've tried?' She started to weep.
'I tried too. They had no leads so I spent the last six months on the street trying to find you. I need to tell them about Walt too.'
'A brave man that I had something in common with once.'
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