The five women stood, not looking at each other. A car door slammed. It didn’t clunk. It just banged: It wasn’t the limo. It was the passenger door of a green Series II Land Rover with a canvas tilt. It had seen better days.
A dark brown Labrador fussed around the driver’s feet. He gestured at the dog and she sat at his heel, tongue-lolling. It was the guy in the cap. He hadn’t been on the train.
“Welcome ladies, I see five of you made it. Well, it could have been worse”.
He reached into the pocket of his well patinated Barbour and pulled out a number of plain red lanyards, each linked through a swivel to a plain white card.
“For the remainder of the time you spend here you are a number. Not a name. This is for your anonymity and my pleasure. I do hope none of you have introduced yourselves yet. If you have, try to forget”.
Minny looked down, the number pressed into her hand was five. The man went on down the line, looking at the girl, giving her a number. Until he came to the woman in black.
“You brought luggage. It’s bad enough that most of you have brought bags. The letter you received said bring nothing”. He looked up at the woman, tottering on her heels: “You may think yourself a vision of submissive loveliness. But you are disobedient and you think you know what I want.
“Here is your return ticket. The next train is also the last train. It leaves here (he glanced at his watch) at 20:15. Quarter past eight”. He passed on and gave the last woman. little miss Lawyer, a lanyard.
“Come with me…”, he dropped the tail gate on the faded bronze green Land Rover and gestured them forward. “Not you” he raised his hand to the woman in the corset. “You have your ticket home”.
She protested: “Shit man – you can see I’m the best here”.
“You assume you are. Which means you are not”. He gently pulled Minny forward: “Which leg is it – both?” he asked. “My right said” Min, biting back “you just have to bloody look”. He took her crutches and opened the driver’s door, handing them to someone inside the cab. He took her arm and escorted her to the rear of the car.
“What about me” weedled the princess. “Get your train” said the man. “I’ll freeze” she said. “Here take this”. He grabbed a dog blanket from the truck bed and threw it at her, not ungently. “have it as a souvenir or leave it on the platform. Digger will miss it”. She let it lie on the damp shingle and stared at him, red-polished nails on one black lycra-clad hip. “You won’t get better” she bawled.
Minny cursed her ankle. One vodka and coke too many and a frozen front step on the way out to the takeaway. A phone that was out of credit and a housemate who couldn’t, at first, be bothered to see what her shouts were about. An evening in casualty and a week in bed. Her leg was damn sore now and she cursed it as one more thing that set her apart from these pretty, confident women.
“Number one” he barked “give number five a hand.” He motioned the pretty woman with the plait and, Minny noted, no bag, into the back and together they hoisted Minny onto the tailgate. The inside smelt of damp canvas, motor oil, and dog.
“The rest of you – in and secure yourselves”.
There were rudimentary black vinyl benches running along each side of the back of the truck but no sign of any seatbelts. Instead, along the centre of the milled aluminium floor lay a heavy galvanised chain padlocked to a a u-bolt at each end and running through another in the middle. Four smaller chains extended from this laterally, with a brown, well-dubbined, cuff at the end of each. The chains weren’t long enough to extend up to the girls’ wrists.
Number one took off one of her soft brown fleecy boots and attached the cuff to her ankle. Gently she leaned over and motioned to Min to raise her leg. Min did, her left, and soon she was “secured” too. The man looked on silently whilst numbers two and three did likewise.
The man reached into another pocket and brought out pairs of cheap sunglasses which he passed up to Min. “Put a pair on and pass the rest around”. Min did so, finding that the inside of the lenses were sprayed matt black. She could see stuff out of the corners of her eyes, but she was sure none of them could have any clear idea of where they were going.
The guy slammed up the tailgate and secured the tarp. The light was still on in the cab behind her and, looking down and to the left, Min could see that his hands weren’t those of a young man. They heard the passenger door open, shut and then the engine start. The fume curtain was down, but, squinting, Minnie was certain she could see wisps of long blonde hair blowing around the back of the driver’s seat.
They drove away into the winter gloom.
Min could hear the woman they’d left shouting obscenities as they rolled away. They turned left. Gravel turned to tarmac.