But Nikki went downstairs instead. She wanted to walk. Just for a little bit. Nikki adjusted her bag on her shoulder, though it didn’t need it, and went out into to the glass, wood, and marble lobby. Hypersensitive to whatever invisible clue Eddie had picked up from her, she got the impression that everyone there thought she was a whore, too. They had seen her come in with Eddie, and now they thought she’d done him, gotten paid, and was going home.
She shut them all out, walked as proud as she knew how, walked out of the hotel and halfway down the block.
Nikki didn’t even think about Taiisha until she was grabbed. Taiisha came up behind her, put her arm around her shoulders, and steered her around the next corner, into a narrow alley leading behind the buildings. “How goes it?” she asked as they started down the alley. Nikki smelled garbage and diesel fumes.
It crossed Nikki’s mind to lie, to say Eddie had sent her out to get Chinese or something, but she was a poor liar. She said nothing.
Taiisha’s arm around her shoulders tightened. “So,” Taiisha asked her, “where were you going?” Her voice was nearly devoid of inflection. She was angry. Not even a day had passed, and Nikki was walking away, leaving Edward alive. It wasn’t time for her to walk away yet.
The alley ended in a small, deserted cul-de-sac, which smelled even more strongly of garbage. It was surrounded on all sides by the backs of buildings, one of which was the hotel. There were no windows facing this way, and the loading docks were empty, their doors closed. A good little pocket of nowhere in which to punish Nikki.
“I don’t know. I was just walking.”
“You’ll do as you’re told!” The sudden rise in her tone was all the warning Nikki got. Taiisha brought her arm down hard and tossed Nikki over her hip. She landed flat on her back, her bag bouncing next to her. Taiisha followed her to the ground, one knee on Nikki’s chest, and punched her in the face. Maybe twice. Maybe three times. Nikki lost count. Taiisha was pulling her blows; she could hit hard enough to shatter bones, but these punches were meant to hurt, not kill. Nikki didn’t cry out or scream, instead frantically searching for some place to go in her head, to hide.
Taiisha pulled her to her feet. Nikki’s bag slipped off of her shoulder and fell to the ground. She reached for it instinctively; the motion earned her another shot low in the belly. Stop resisting, she thought mindlessly. Just stop. Do, do do, don’t think. Nikki staggered forward, up steps, against steps, vertical again. Taiisha grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, tilting her body so far backward that the fist in her hair was the only thing keeping her from falling. Nikki flailed at the air as Taiisha stuffed something into her mouth, a rag, a sock, she didn’t know what. It smelled and tasted of gasoline. Her vision was smeared with red. She might have been seeing double. The world was beginning to look like a television with bad reception.
“You’ll do as you’re told,” Taiisha repeated into Nikki’s ear. Nikki felt herself lifted, shoved roughly against a railing. The railing on the loading dock. Taiisha pushed her hard against the railing. It pressed into her ribs, then into her belly. She doubled Nikki over the railing. Her feet and hands swam ineffectually in air.
Nikki tried hopelessly to pull herself back to the ground. She was hanging over the loading dock and the ground was too far down. She was afraid of heights. It was only about an eight-foot drop but her disorientation made it seem like a cliff. Nikki squirmed, and Taiisha hit her fiercely between the shoulders with a palm, knocking her wind out.
Taiisha pushed her skirt up and pulled her underwear down. Nikki felt cool air on the backs of her thighs, and shrank away from the exposure even though there was nowhere to go. She knew what was going to happen. Taiisha had done this before, only once, when Nikki had been stupid enough to try and run to the police for help. The cop she had actually spoken to was still listed as missing.
Nikki moaned desperately against the rag. It was a miserable noise, the sound of her fear.
“And she likes it, too,” Taiisha said, her voice low and tight. As if she’d read Nikki’s mind, she added, “She likes being scared.” Taiisha wasn’t getting any kind of sexual release out of the act. It was strictly terror-making. It was Nikki’s strongest lever, sex. The girl was afraid of it, good or bad, and thus this was the hardest push Taiisha could muster. She’d made Nikki numb to almost everything else, and now was not the time for power struggles. Taiisha had to get her to obey unquestioningly. No entertaining thoughts of vanishing into San Francisco. Taiisha inserted a finger into her protege, then another. Nikki tried to kick at her, and failed. Taiisha tightened her grip on Nikki’s back and pushed her whole hand inside, past the wrist.
Nikki wished she could just close her eyes and let it all happen without having to live through it. But her mind didn’t go anywhere, didn’t offer a place to hide. She tried to scream. It didn’t do any good, with the rag in her mouth. Taiisha was pushing against her, pulling and pushing again. It felt like she was being torn in half. Her screams turned to whimpers inside the rag. She wanted to pass out, wanted to vomit, wanted to do something but her entire body was frozen around the intrusion. She couldn’t even move for fear of making it worse. Some debauched part of her was afraid that if she moved it might get better and knew that such a discovery would have driven her instantly, completely insane.
Assuming she wasn’t already.
Finally it was over. Taiisha let go, tugged backward and she fell off of the railing, back to the concrete. Nikki couldn’t stand up. She was crying. “Now, go back, and do as you’ve been told,” Taiisha said, watching for the inevitable hardening of resolve. It would take some time. Nikki was shattered for now, and Taiisha let her have the moment of paralysis. She looked down at the girl once with sadness in her eyes, and then walked away. She didn’t look back again.
Nikki pulled the spit- and scream-soaked rag out of her mouth and rolled over onto her knees with her chin on the ground. She stayed like that a long time, in a semi-fetal position. Her breaths sounded like sobs, ragged, one after the other. She couldn’t make them stop. She wished she could make the breaths stop, to just quit breathing and die quietly, in this alley turned torture chamber. But that wouldn’t have done her any good either.
Nikki was always afraid to move very much after sex, whether it was one of Taiisha’s assaults or real sex. A childish fear gnawed at her; if she stood up, her insides would push out from between her legs and fall on the ground. They felt like they were trying to push themselves out. The loading dock remained deserted, so she stayed there until the feeling faded a little bit. She saw blood on the concrete in front of her; her mouth was bleeding nicely. Nikki closed it, tasting blood and dirt.
Her first attempt to stand didn’t work at all. She didn’t have the strength, barely had a desire. She lay on her side and pulled her underwear up, then clenched her teeth and tried again, and made it to her feet the second time. Then she threw up peanut butter crackers and chocolate and Sprite, weakly. Nikki got her bag and walked back to the hotel on numb legs.