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Patrick Quinlan

Smoked

CHAPTER ONE

Nine years had passed since a gang of laughing boys raped Lola Bell at the back of a weedy and trash strewn vacant lot. Pulling a train, they called it.

Now it was about to happen again.

Back then, 16 years old, five of them had grabbed her in the late afternoon as she cut through the lot on her way home from the dance lessons her grandmother had paid for. She knew three of them. Tall, brooding, hostile – Brothers of the Struggle, they thought of themselves, young Gangster Disciples. They’d lounge on the benches, their hoods pulled down low over their faces, drinking out of bottles covered in brown paper bags. They had hit on her before, made comments to her, appraised her as she left her building and walked to the bus stop.

“Hey shorty, where ya walkin’?”

“Honey, I’m liking that big black ass.”

“C’mere baby, wanna make some green?”

Stupid, always taking that shortcut through that back lot, never thinking of the danger. She remembered how the late sun was sharp and savage in her eyes as they held her down and took turns riding her. She remembered how the towering shadows of the Robert Taylor houses grew longer as the time passed. She remembered the sound of cars speeding by on the Dan Ryan freeway. She remembered the smell and taste of cheap wine on their breath. She remembered, after they left, lying there alone, the night coming on, rats starting to move in the bushes.

Now, twenty five years old, she stood in a tiny orange bikini and high heels, in a small, bare office five stories above Congress Street, Portland’s main drag. She cursed herself, her stupidity, that this could happen again. She had come here for a modeling “try-out.” But now the man stood just behind her, holding her, twisting her arm against her back until tears nearly came. His other hand held a chunk of her hair, not quite pulling it, but tensed, ready to pull, controlling her like that.

Mr. Blue Eyes, he called himself. He was tall and good looking with a muscular body. He was clean shaven and blond, and when she met him he was wearing a light blue Polo shirt by Ralph Lauren, and a pair of tan khaki slacks. His teeth, she had thought at the time – he didn’t have model’s teeth. That was what threw off his look. He had the snaggle teeth of a redneck.

“Hey Shaggy,” he called across to his partner. “You should see the tattoo she’s got on her shoulder blade here. Girls Kick Ass, it says, in a neat little curlicue. Well, ain’t that cute?” He leaned close to her ear. “You gonna kick my ass, honey?”

She could feel his erection against her back, pushing against the rubbery fabric of his Speedo shorts. They were standing on a plastic mat and behind them was a fake ocean scene. On either side of them were the bright lights and the black umbrella of a professional photographer. The lights were hot, and both she and Mr. Blue Eyes had a fine sheen of sweat on their skin. She thought of the tattoo, the optimism it had represented for her, the dawning of a new day.

All lost now. All gone.

Across the office from them, maybe ten feet away, Mr. Shaggy hunched behind a video camera on a tripod, viewing the action.

“Easy now,” he said. His words flowed like molasses, and his voice gave a taste of the Confederacy, as if he had come north as a 10-year old boy and never quite assimilated. “Let’s just do this real easy. You’re a beautiful girl, Lola. You got a future in this type of work, if you want one.”

Mr. Shaggy was everything Mr. Blue Eyes was not. A mountain man, husky, bordering on fat, with a bushy beard and long hair. He was a bear of a man in a black Harley Davidson t-shirt. He had been stretched behind the desk when Lola walked into the nearly empty outer office, his feet up on a side table. He had conducted the interview.

Lola had liked Mr. Shaggy. Despite his fearsome appearance, he had a disarming way about him, a gentle manner, one that had put her right at her ease. When she walked in, he had smiled, looked her up and down.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Young lady, I think you’re gonna do just fine.”

Mr. Shaggy and Mr. Blue Eyes. They were a perfect pair of con artists.

And Lola had walked right into their trap.

A week before, she had spotted a flyer tacked up on the public bulletin board in Monument Square. MODELS WANTED. Male and Female. Experience preferred, but not necessary. Fresh or exotic look, enthusiasm, most important.

Lola had done some modeling from time to time. A couple of years had passed since the last one, but she still kept her eyes open for opportunities. She didn’t imagine anything would come of it, but decided to give it a try. A little extra money would come in handy. And with her long curls and brown skin, she figured she could pass for exotic in any case. She pulled the flyer down and stuck it in her bag, glancing around as she did so. People sometimes got funny about it when you pulled down flyers.

That night, she called the number on the flyer. A brisk, businesslike woman’s voice on the machine said to leave a message. Lola did. Two days passed and no one called her back. On the fourth day, a man called her in the evening. He told her the modeling agency was conducting interviews in Portland the very next evening for a catalog shoot. Could she make it? Friday night. She sure could.

He scheduled it for seven o’clock, gave her the address, said they would buzz her into the building. He told her to bring a head shot and a performance resume, if she had these things. She said she did. He told her that would be great.

“No promises,” was the last thing he told her.

“None expected,” she said.

She tried not to get too excited after she hung up the phone. These things had ended in disappointment before. All the same, it might be something.

Now, her moist skin broke out in gooseflesh despite the heat from the lights.

“You cold, honey?” Mr. Shaggy said. “Need somebody to keep you warm?”

Her heart raced. Her breath came in rasps.

Mr. Shaggy looked up from the camera. “Mr. Blue Eyes, will you remove those bottoms for Lola, please? If she’s not gonna do it herself.”

Mr. Blue Eyes brought extra pressure to bear on her arm. He let go of her hair and his hand strayed to the panty of her orange bikini. It was made of tight, grippy latex. He needed two hands to pull it down, but if he released her arm, then she’d be free.

“Come on, Lola, help me out,” he whispered into her ear. His breath smelled like those curiously strong mints, the ones that came in the little tin and used the spaceman in their ads. He smelled like he had eaten a whole handful of them.

“I promise I’ll make this the best one you ever had.”

She had changed out of her street clothes and into this skimpy bathing suit when Mr. Shaggy suggested they take a few pictures, see what they had. She changed in a tiny bathroom. It looked like no one had used this office in months. When she came back out into the office, Mr. Blue Eyes was already packed into his ice blue Speedos. They barely contained him. He had thick neck muscles and a broad chest. His legs rippled with muscle and veins.

She had fanned herself with her hand, feigning a hot flash. “Oh my,” she had said. “I didn’t realize.”

“That’s what I like,” Mr. Shaggy had said. “A girl with a sense of humor. Okay kiddies, let’s shoot a little something, what do you say?”

Now he said, as he looked through the LCD screen that folded out from his camera, “Yessir, like to break me open a little piece of that. Mmmmm-mmmm. That’s what the doctor ordered.”

The things they said made it hard for her to think. The bright lights blinded her. She was in danger of freezing

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