I wouldn't have taken any notice if it hadn't been for the laughter. It wasn't merry or even cruel. It was the barbarous laughter of evil and vicious darkness and it chilled the marrow of my bones. Turning my head to look down the dim alley, I saw them: a semi-circle of four men focusing on their entertainment for the evening—namely, a fifth fellow and what I assumed was merely a cheap piece, some drugged up doxy earning a wage for her next fix.
Oh God, how I wish she had been a whore. Some pathetic moll who let herself be roughed up and down for a few bucks, but this was no whore. I wasn't innocent; I'd seen plenty of cocottes and the looks in their eyes that craved money or men or both and I'd witnessed the haunting desperation for something better, along with a resignation to what they had. This woman—so very young—this wasn't a two-bit cyprian, down on her luck, trying to make a dollar and feed a habit.
Bruises marred her ashen, swollen face, some of them obscured by disheveled strands of dirty, titian hair. One dirty, muscled hand kept her small, thin arms pinned above her head, so they wouldn't swing limply, getting in the way of his business. In the dim lamplight of the alley, I saw the glint of a silver bracelet, the kind with charms and bangles. The other five fingers dug into her backside, kneading her flesh roughly as his body kept her pinned up against the abrasive, damp wall of the building. Her white dress was shoved up around her hips and a sandal, one of those wedge heel types with a floral print, dangled half off her left foot while its partner lay discarded beneath her.
She didn't make a single sound, not even the smallest whimper, as he forced himself into her again and again. The criminality of it all roused something in me. I had nothing on me, not even cash to attempt to pay them off, and certainly no weapon to threaten them away. Still, I had to make an attempt.
"Hey! What are you doing?" A foolish question, but I was a fool, after all.
"Back off, friend." One of the men—tall, swarthy, Herculean type, the sort that would have had women swooning if it weren't for the meanness in his eyes and the emptiness in his soul—turned towards me, the other three observers flanking him on both sides. "This isn't any of your concern—unless you want to make it yours." A nasty switchblade flicked out to back up his veiled threat and I hesitated, my feet pausing in their approach. No knife or gun on my person, and my ideas of justice and aiding her began to falter. I glanced over to the fifth bestial man and the battered figure he continued to hold against the bricks.
A forceful thrust jerked her head, causing it to roll to one side and just for a moment I thought her eyes met mine, but they didn't see me. Once upon a time before this one, they had been green. I imagined a green like the fresh hues of spring, when everything is new and young and innocent—much like she must have been. Now her eyes were the dead, dull shade of grass in the winter, glazed with denial as she had long retreated into the depths of her mind. She couldn't see me or my cowardice and I was ashamed to know it selfishly made me feel better about myself. If she couldn't see me then I, too, could deny what was happening. I could walk away and pretend it was a figment of my imagination, a nightmare that I had conjured up and was of no consequence.
Another bruising jerk of the fifth man's hips sent her eyes off in another non-direction and I was released from her distant stare. Who was she to me? No one. Why subject my life to death and my organs to theft when she was already broken? And in a town like this, reporting a crime was just the long route to having your very own death certificate. I took another step back, every bit as criminal as the coterie in the alleyway.
"That's right, friend. Nothing to see here."
I turned my head back to the main street, shoving my hands deep within my coat pockets—perhaps if I reached deeply enough, I might find salvation—and I walked on.
There was nothing to see.