Ruth screwed up her nose and looked at herself appraisingly in the mirror. "Do I look like a tart?"
"Oh yes, no doubt about it," said her friend Staci.
"Well thank Christ for that, it took me over two hours to achieve this look."
The two girls giggled, and Staci shook her head in an attitude of mild disapproval and great affection. "You know you get worse as you get older."
"Just wait until I'm senile and gummy, I'll be the biggest slag on the dementia unit."
"You'll be Morticia Incontinence meets Valanrda the Veteran Vamp."
It was a twist of psychological marvel that these two were the best of friends; a classic case of opposites attracting. It seemed that they had always known each other; two little girls in pigtails with chocolate smeared faces eyeing each other with distrust and open curiosity across the nursery school table. Staci had cried for her mummy until she was sick that first day and Ruth had peed her pants, and somewhere along the line the first tenuous roots of friendship had sprouted.
Staci progressed to university while Ruth attended some of the classes taught to become a hairdresser. She attained her diploma by the skin of her teeth and had become successful more by luck than judgement, developing a creativity and style that made her the preferred hairdresser with most of the clients attending the salon.
The girls had remained firm friends, Staci ever the straight woman to Ruth's slapstick personality. Sometimes Staci despaired of her wacky friend. She had gritted her teeth and endured the punk era, of which Ruth had leapt on the bus with psychedelic flair just as it was pulling into the home depot. She grimaced through her friend's rock scene days, and was now mortified by the Goth Morticia before her.
Ruth's natural beauty hadn't been seen much since she rolled on the sheepskin rug butt naked at eighteen months old. Today her hair was black and purple striped. She wore pixie boots and black stockings, a full inch of bare thigh clearly visible below the hem of her short Indian cotton belt which Trade Descriptions would balk at calling a skirt. She wore a black string vest top over a lacy black bra, her navel pierced and adorned with a gold balled ring that any bull would don with pride. Her make-up was creative, bold and demanding of attention. The black lipstick only softened by the delight in her eager and friendly smile.
While Staci undoubtedly walked in her friends imposing shadow, she was no "Mavis the mouse." Staci was stunning; it may have taken people several seconds to close their gaping mouths and notice her next to her friend, but when they did, she left her impression. Staci had a vivacious humour with a laugh that could stop traffic. Her clothes could be described as sedate, but only when viewed in contrast to Ruth's. Staci's skirt was a good two inches longer than her friend's, but it still finished three inches above the knee. Her make-up expertly applied with care, subtle and understated, gave her tanned skin a bronzed healthy glow.
"Lets go knock `em dead kid," Ruth winked exaggeratedly at Staci.
They had already had several drinks by the time they sauntered into 'Blitz.' The smoky atmosphere enveloped them and seemed to pull them into the throng of writhing bodies, as though it had fingers that jostled them along. The dry ice was thick and cloying; cigarette smoke swirled in even more densely opaque spirals dancing to its own beat within the misty haze.
An angry looking young man having perfected his much practised "don't mess with me arsehole" expression lurched towards them.
"Ruth Baby, skin me some mouth," he drawled.
She draped her arms casually around his neck and her lips joined his in a swirling act that could be described as nothing other than aggressive. This was no kiss, it was a clash of the titans. They began to grind ever more suggestively to the beat of the pounding bass. She hooked her leg over his shoulder, exposing her underwear for anyone watching to be shocked by, and ground her purple panties into his body.
Staci pulled her friend roughly away and reluctantly the kissing gourami session was aborted mid synch.
"Put him down Ruth, he might be gangrenous."
"Well if that's the case, I think I've just eaten his tongue," she giggled. "See yer later Snake, You know you're good."
"Just come on back when you want some more sexy," he leered back at them, grabbing his crotch and thrusting his pelvis towards her.
"Charming! That lad is pure class," said Staci sarcastically.
At the bar, after going ten rounds with the heaving mass of sweaty bodies, they ordered two pints of cider and drank deeply before moving out to a side table where they sat watching the scene play out in front of them. After a few minutes they became aware of two men at the next table brazenly giving them the eye. Staci pulled at her skirt, suddenly conscious that with sitting the hem had risen to temperature-elevating heights. The man with the leather cut-off stared openly at her shapely leg making no effort to conceal his interest and admiration. Staci re-crossed her legs and looked away, flustered.
The girls often ended up at 'Blitz' and knew most of the regulars there. These two were strangers; neither of the girls had seen them in the club before.
"Don't look now, but they're coming this way," said Ruth.
"Hello ladies. I don't believe we've had the pleasure. My name's Ben and this ugly git here is Brian. It would be an honour and a delight to buy two such visions of loveliness a drink."
Ruth looked at the good-looking man in denim and screwed up her face. "Hey Stace, was any of that English? Or was it just the ancient language of Bullshit?" She turned on her sweetest smile and lowered her lashes before once again meeting each of their stares and said sweetly, "Sod off tossers."
Her vulgarity would have sent many men mewling away with their tail firmly clamped between their legs, but something in Ruth's hungry expression was telling an entirely different tale than the words which came out of her mouth.
Not in the least deterred, the one in the leather cut off with the mercury grey eyes grinned. "'Ey up Ben, we've got us a pair of lively ones here." They took it upon themselves to slump into the two vacant seats. "I think we are going to have to win them over with our charm and overabundance of sex appeal that no woman can possibly resist." Brian's eyes roved over Staci's body, and her cheeks blazed with a varied mix of indignation and excitement. Ben grinned boyishly up at Ruth and she felt herself smiling back at the over-confident men.
"So ladies do you greet all your future sexual encounters in such a warm and friendly way?" asked Brian.
"Only when they are as slippery as a fireman's pole," retorted Staci, her eyes shining.
"Oooh," husked Ruth, "What I wouldn't give for a fireman's pole right now."
The girls laughed raucously at the smutty innuendos. "So big boy," Ruth continued raking her fingertip down Ben's lapel. "Haven't seen you around here before. You must be from out of town otherwise I'm sure I'd have noticed you around."
Over the next half-hour or so they continued to drink and have a good time. The women found that they were enjoying the avid attention of the two chancers. The men were good company. They were out of place in the gothic nightclub and yet oddly refreshing. They seemed to have more conversation and manners than most of the spotty youths that frequented Blitz. The girls were enjoying themselves.
Brian and Staci moved off to the dance floor and soon she was lost in the strength of a warm shoulder and inhaling the heady scent of CK1.
Ben and Ruth continued to talk at the table. Her glass was half-empty; impressively she slugged the final half-pint in a single long swallow. Ben stared at her hard watching the dregs from the glass slip between her pretty lips. He smiled a long slow smile, and Ruth felt a shiver that was almost akin to fear as she looked back at the man beside her. He had something about him, a presence of power and strength. She shivered again, but this time with anticipation. He moved closer to her and draped an arm loosely round her shoulder. She allowed her head to rest into his neck as his fingers entwined and twisted themselves in her long hair. Her lips grazed across the outer sinew of his neck and released an audible sigh of contentment as she relaxed into him.
Ruth was jolted out of her woozy diversion with a sudden jarring of pain. Yet before she could cry out in agony and surprise, Ben's lips ground painfully onto her mouth. His teeth found her bottom lip and bit down harshly. She tasted an iron-sour tinge on her tongue, and felt Ben's breath harshen with excitement as he too tasted her blood. She began to struggle. This only served to heighten his demands on her. He forced her hand onto his crotch and she felt his hardening under her hand. Struggling wildly she tried to pry her fingers out from under his. Needing desperately to break free from his grip on her mouth she shook her head, but he forced her fingertips more firmly onto his erection and grunted before he pulled his face away from her.
"C'mon Darlin' you know you want it. You've been virtually dripping for it all night. I know your type, you like it rough. You've been teasing us since we sat down and you know it. Ha! Do you really think Brian's interested in your prissy little mate? Not a chance girl. She's got just a little too much class for what we have in mind. Brian wants you too, he's just keeping her out of the way so that we can have a little time." He smiled and it resembled the spread of an oil slick. He drew out the last word. "Alone." He moved towards her again. "So baby. Do you think you can handle two hot blooded, well hung men?"
Ruth slapped his face hard, her eyes brimming with tears of pain and humiliation. The first slap had hit home leaving a vivid slash of scarlet on his left cheek, but Ruth wasn't satisfied; she balled her fist and swung forward to drive it into the bastard's smug face. Ben's hand shot out with a lightning-fast reaction; he gripped her wrist painfully, digging his fingertips viciously into her carpal artery. Ruth instantly felt dizzy and sick, the effects of the pain and too much to drink making her swoon. She cried out, trying to attract the attention of someone close by, but the world had lost all its orientation. He still had her in a torturous grip, but as the room spun the pain dissolved into a black noise that rose to a crescendo. The last thing she was aware of before the world collapsed in on her was the glitter ball above her head, spinning on its axis, spinning her into blessed oblivion.
Staci and Brian came back to the table to find it occupied by two necking couples, neither of which contained Ruth. She asked Brian to see if they had gone to dance, while she went to check the bathroom.
The doors to the three stalls all stood open and Ruth wasn't in any of them. A lady stood by the hand basin's repairing her make-up. "Excuse me love, you haven't seen a girl with purple hair have you? She's gone missing and I'm worried about her."
"I'm sorry she hasn't been in here in the last few minutes, but I do know the girl you mean. She was sitting at the next table to us with a man when I came in here."
Staci thanked the lady. Her irritation at not being able to find Ruth was turning into an awareness of gnawing worry. Something didn't feel right.
She returned to find that Brian had also disappeared.
Staci bent down and picked up the shiny trinket that lay by the chair where Ruth had been sitting. She recognised it instantly; it was the thick balled ring from Ruth's navel.
The tires of the black BMW screeched like a lone hunting eagle as they fought for traction on the loose shingles in the club car park. Two men occupied the front seats. They whooped likes coyote that had taken down a fawn. The unconscious girl slumped across the backseat and whimpered in whatever hell she found herself.
Staci hammered frantically on the door of flat three for a third time. "Ruth, please answer the door if you are there." She was aware that in her panic her voice came out as a keening whine. "Please Ruth answer the bloody door!"
She heard movement from within, something fell to the floor with a loud crash, and she felt weak with relief when she heard Ruth curse. The door opened a crack and she gasped in shock at the sight of her friend. "Oh Sweetie, what the hell happened?"
Ruth didn't answer. She stood immobile staring ahead of her. Staci had to force the door open, knocking Ruth backwards, to get in. Once inside she gathered Ruth into her arms and while she made no effort to resist the pitiful woman with the purple and black hair stood rigid, not yielding to the comfort her friend was trying to offer.
Staci had a sickening lurch of dread. "Oh baby, what has that fucking bastard done to you?"
She half pushed half carried Ruth to the sofa and had to force her back into it to make her sit down. The astringent smell of strong bleach permeated the air and stung the back of Staci's throat. A pile of smouldering ash lay in the middle of the living room carpet. Only the little beads that had hung from the tassels on Ruth's skirt gave any clue to what form the pile of cremated cloth had previously been. An outer ring of burning hessian-backed carpet gave off a foul smell that mingled sickeningly with the overpowering smell of bleach.
Ruth sat immobile, seemingly unaware of the blistering to her hands or the swelling around her pretty face. She had on a night-shirt with two cute bunnies and a caption that said "Snuggle time." It seemed obscenely inappropriate on the beaten and bruised body of the broken woman.
Staci went to embrace her friend again, needing to receive some comfort almost as much as she needed to impart it. She gasped in horror as her friend's night-shirt rode up high onto her thighs. Staci brushed away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks, and took in the sight before her. It was all beginning to make sickening sense. "He raped you didn't he?"
Ruth's inner legs were streaming with blood where something had been raked repeatedly across her tender skin. The furious crimson rash to her angry flesh highlighting the white plasma-filled blisters, where she had obviously poured bleach directly onto her most sensitive parts. Some of the blisters had already burst, leaking clear fluid onto her sore thighs.
Staci had to leave her friend. She leaned over the pan of the toilet and emptied her stomach repeatedly onto the white porcelain. The bathroom itself told its own tale. Two empty bottles of bleach lay discarded on the floor. A six-inch long scrubbing brush had been flung aside; it's cruel bristles pointing almost accusingly towards the shower stall. The glass panels were still steamed up; traces of splattered blood glared lewdly at her from the peach tiles. She slid down the wall, needing a few minutes to compose herself before ringing the police.
At the hospital Ruth told the police officers she couldn't actually remember anything of what had happened after she entered the Blitz night-club. She had woken the next morning in her own bed, bruised and battered with her face swollen and her genitals stinking of a stranger's load.
The police were sympathetic. "Rohypnol poisoning is like that," said Sergeant Davis shaking his head in a sympathetic nodding dog impression. The sergeant's voice remained professionally calm as he spoke soothingly to the two women; only the look in his eyes belied his composure and gave some hint to the fury he felt at the cowardly and brutal rape.
"It is a clear drug," he continued, "without taste, odour or colour that when slipped into someone's drink causes them to loose all rationale and consciousness. Large expanses of time can be lost, with no memory of what occurred during the fugue. I promise you that everything possible has been done, that can be done. I also vow that we will not close this case until the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Unfortunately with your meticulous ablutions and burning of the garments, little forensic evidence was found. I just wish you had felt able to come to us sooner Ruth. I know you have been through a phenomenal ordeal, and that it was an added shock to find you'd been repeatedly raped and tortured by not one but two men. The DNA results will be kept on file, and checked against any sexual offender in the County. I just wish we could do more to help you." His eyes clouded over with ill-concealed rage.
Ruth made a good physical recovery. But she was never the same girl again. Her spirit died that night. She wears her hair in a severe mousy bob these days, and clothes of mostly grey. Her husband's a good man who is gentle and makes little sexual demand on her. He says her scarring is merely a mark of her suffering and the strength she had shown in overcoming it. He holds her close when she wakes screaming in the night.
And Staci? Oh I'm fine thank you. I try to support Ruth on her bad days when she can't face the stairs from her flat that lead to the outside world. But everyday I remember the old Ruth, the whole Ruth, and nothing but the Ruth.