Rachel meets Zack, an apparently shy, quiet fourteen year old prostitue. The two of them strike up a friendship which has Rachel's best friend and love interest Lucas scared and confused by what he sees as Zack's sinister presense in Rachel's life.
Why does Rachel want to help Zack so badly?
And who will pay for her naivety and blind desire to use someone else to help her overcome past events in her life?
Life for Rent
Mitch was sick.
Something fucked up his head. Or someone. Or maybe he was just born that way; a twisted mind inside the body of man.
I had never liked him; sheer instinct warned me off him when I first saw him and the menacing shadow lurking behind his lively blue eyes. But the boys he would dance with at parties, ply with alcohol and lightly run his long fingers up their arms and spines like fluttering butterflies didn't see it.
You don't see some of those boys around again.
Some probably drift back into consciousness again the next morning, face down on an unfamiliar bed, bloodied and sore. And maybe some of them don't, I don't know how dark that shadow is behind Mitch's eyes is and I've never been tempted to probe it further to find out.
I stood awkwardly by myself in the kitchen with a drink of punch someone had thrust into my hand to hold while they went and danced. I didn't want to try it; I'd seen Ian earlier that evening spiking the punchbowl with something in a WKD bottle which probably wasn't watered-down vodka.
Ian dealt in drugs; some of the shit he sold was his own special recipe. I guess he figured out what worked and what didn't by whether the kids came back for more and how many times before they suddenly stopped coming back. God knew how many kids he'd bumped off with a dodgy cut of cocaine, so I didn't like to think what he could do with an innocent bowl of punch.
There were three girls I didn't know who were searching the kitchen cupboards, looking for olives: something about a game involving drinking martinis out of someone's navel. Tasteful.
Lucas suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway. He gave me a wide grin as he approached.
"Hey Rach…" he began, taking the glass from my hand.
"I wouldn't drink that if I were you," I told him firmly, gently wresting it from his grasp.
"Ah, of course," he said with understanding. "Good job I bought these then."
He produced two glass bottles of beer from the sack-like inside pockets of his black leather trench coat some cow paid its skin for.
"Nicely chilled," I observed sarcastically.
"At least I can assure you it's clean," Lucas said darkly as he positioned the cap of the bottle against the sideboard and prised it off, something I'd only tried once. I cut my palm gathering up the shards of shattered glass. Clean, meaning not spiked.
"There is that," I agreed as he handed me mine and we chinked bottles.
We stood in companionable silence, sipping the beer which although warm was definitely a lot more comforting than Ian's concoction. We wandered vaguely in the direction of the living area and hung about in the doorway, watching people dance.
"Do you think we ought to warn them?" He lent down near my ear so his breath stirred the loose wisps my hair and I could hear him above the pumping music. As he spoke, he gestured to the kids gathered round the punch-bowl, ladling it liberally into polystyrene cups.
"Their look-out," I said heartlessly.
"You're hard," Lucas said, not reproachfully.
"If they're stupid enough to drink from a communal trough at a party, they can learn the hard way," I said ruthlessly.
A smile curled the corners of Lucas's mouth and he shook his head slightly as he raised the bottle to his lips. But he didn't go over and warn the kids.
About five minutes later I saw him, Mitch.
He was standing by the punchbowl, holding a cup in his hand but not drinking. Instead, he was talking to a boy wearing a blue T-shirt at least five sizes too large for him and scruffy jeans. The sleeves of the T-shirt were bunched at his shoulders, exposing his skinny arms.
"Fuck me, doesn't he ever stop?" Lucas demanded.
I didn't answer. Mitch had just raised a hand to touch the boy's arm; his fingers fell away, trailing down the bare skin of the boy's arm to his wrist, barely touching. The boy didn't even flinch at this light yet intimate caress. I watched as Mitch backed slowly away onto the dance floor and the boy followed like a puppy.
With a start, I realised Lucas was no longer beside me. I backed away from the doorway, and wandered down the corridor to find him.
I had been to too many of these parties. The music no longer stirred any adrenaline in my blood and I'd found out the danger of drinking anything not out of an unopened bottle for myself.
I watched the girls slurping martini from the navels of a guy laid across a table like a sacrificial offering and one boy take a flying leap from the top of the sofa, making a wild grab for the chandelier before crashing to the floor.
"Save me!" whispered a panicked voice in my ear. I looked up to find Lucas standing beside me with a frenzied look dancing in his brown eyes.
"Marianne!" hissed Lucas. He glanced over his shoulder and dived behind him and back down the corridor to the kitchen.
Looking round, I saw Marianne. She was standing in the door which led from the hallway into the spacious living area, dark eyes glaring around her as she searched for Lucas.
Watching Lucas evade her was mildly amusing as Lucas bolted through doorways, slunk past groups of chattering friends like a black panther in his trench coat and skirted round corners as Marianne stalked the house, knowing he was there.
"It's ridiculous a six-foot four guy's frightened of Marianne," I remarked as he reappeared by my side for one brief moment.
"When you find yourself the quarry of a predator like Marianne," he murmured, "you will understand…"
Catching sight of Marianne drawing dangerously nearer, he dodged out of sight again leaving me still smiling.
By ten o'clock, with Lucas not daring to stay in the same spot for longer then a few snatched seconds, I was nearly ready to jack it in altogether and go home.
A couple of glazed-eyes guys sprawled haphazardly across the settees were passing a joint around. I'd smelt weed a hundred times before but, for some reason, the pungent fumes which smelt of shit went straight to my head. I felt the room tilt and swayed on the spot. Still a little unsteady on my feet, I pushed my way out of the living area, through the kitchen to the back door, seeking fresh air.
As soon as I had opened the door and the blast of frosty November air hit me I stopped and breathed in deeply. Even the air out here had the taste of stale smoke but it was infinitely better then in there.
I sat on the shallow stone steps leading down onto a small rectangular lawn with a greenhouse at the far end, set against the rough brick wall. Pushing my fingers through my hair I thought how I really should take up some kind of hobby or activity in the evenings to stop me aimlessly wandering into these places.
That was when I heard the soft sound of voices.
The voices, or voice, were very low and coming from the other end of the lawn. I was about to stand up and go back inside, maybe find Lucas to say goodbye before I left, when I heard the sinister chuckle of Mitch's unmistakeable laughter. Immediately I stiffened.
"Really? I wouldn't have guessed. No… I thought you were much older."
I'd heard him say much the same to boys who were so young they'd need to be accompanied by their parents to see a 12-rated movie.
He said something I couldn't hear then I saw a shadow emerge from inside the green house.
"I'll be right back," I heard him say over his shoulder and then he began to swiftly cross the lawn towards me. Bolting wasn't an option, he saw me almost at once. He faltered for a moment, then I saw the smile warping his lips become just that little more twisted and he came on.
"Well hello there, missy," he said. "What are you doing out here alone?"
He stopped in front of me before I'd managed to stand up. Doing so now meant putting me within very proximity of him and I didn't like that idea.
"Air," I replied shortly.
He gently patted my hair and his touch sent a shiver of disgust and fear down my spine.
"See you soon, missy," he said, stepping over me and going inside. Only when the door had closed did I allow myself to shudder violently until I felt I had rid my skin of his touch.
My eye caught sight of movement and I saw a dark figure standing in the open doorway of the green house. There was a flare of light, which dwindled to a small blue flame and vanished as he cupped a hand around it to shield it against the breeze and raised the lighter to his lips.
In the gloom, I saw the smouldering orange butt of a glowing cigarette in his mouth.
The figure took a step towards me, and then stumbled. Staggering sideways he put out a hand, which found empty air and he toppled onto the grass. He didn't even try to catch his fall.
A quick glance over my shoulder at the back door and I stood and crossed the lawn to him. Close-up, I could see it was the boy Mitch had been talking to earlier. I rolled him over onto his back and he feebly raised a hand. The cigarette had fallen out of his mouth and been extinguished in the damp grass.
"You all right?" I asked.
"I…" his voice faded and he frowned, as if struggling to collect his thoughts.
I couldn't tell whether he was just drunk from the spiked punch or whether Mitch had slipped him something.
It sounds odd, but I didn't want to touch him. Knowing that Mitch's hands had been on him, caressing his skin…
"Can you stand up?"
"I think so."
He managed to crawl to his knees and hands. As if this gave him vertigo, his head dropped, his lank brown hair flopping over his face. His shoulder blades, visible through the T-shirt which, now wet from the grass, was clinging to his flesh, rose sharply and fell as if he took deep breaths.
I placed an awkward hand under his elbow and helped him to stand. He was at least a head shorter than me.
"I'm OK," he mumbled. Tentatively he looked up at me. I had the odd sensation that was he was looking over my shoulder. I figured he was seeing double.
"Hey," I said. "Listen to me. Go home now, OK? Don't wait for Mitch."
"No," he said. "No. I have to…"
"You'll thank me in the morning," I told him grimly. "Just go home now."
"No… he said he'd pay... I…"
It clicked. Rent boy.
I don't know why I helped this kid. He was a rent boy out looking for people like Mitch.
I'd seen Mitch leave parties with boys who had just been there wanting to get hammered and maybe pull. They hadn't gone looking for Mitch. Who, with an instinct honed by years of preying on young boys, selects victims drawn to them by their vulnerability, their naivety and lack of experience which fails to set alarm bells ringing in their ears when he approaches.
I'd seen all this and never felt driven to warn the boys so there was no logical reason why I felt a strong inclination to help this kid.
This kid who was going to be the death of me, one way or the other.