Carl Woodward, otherwise known as Kirill Fyodorovych, slammed down his office telephone with barely suppressed rage. He ran his fingers through his slightly greying, long, straight black hair and cursed under his breath.
Pushing his leather chair back he began to pace up and down in front of his desk. His face darkened with anger and worry from the news he had just received from his highly paid informant.
Interpol were closing in on him and expecting to take him down within days. After nearly thirty very successful and blood thirsty years they finally had enough evidence to connect Carl Woodward, successful entrepreneur and owner of the Starlit Modelling Agency, with Kirill Fyodorovych, Russian crime lord, human trafficker and weapons dealer.
His mistake had been the last group of Eastern European girls he thought crossly. One of them had escaped whilst filming an adult movie. He knew he should have sold her on immediately after several of his men had warned she was trouble, but one look at her stunning, dusken beauty and he had known she would be spectacular on screen.
He had thought he’d tamed her, after allowing all his men to try her goods, he thought to himself, justifying his own failure. She had appeared compliant and cowed. How was he supposed to know the lying bitch had just been biding her time.
He ran his fingers through his hair irritably. It’d been that bloody Pole’s fault. He was supposed to watch the girls. That’s what he was paid good money for. If he hadn’t already killed him, he’d have slit him from end to end and watched his dog eat the traitor’s entrails, whilst he screamed in agony and even that wouldn’t have been punishment enough for allowing that whore to betray him to the police.
He turned to stare out of the window at his unhindered view of Hyde Park, shoving his slightly shaking hands in to his tailored, navy blue, trousers. He would miss London, he thought sadly but under the circumstances there was only one option. It was time to put his escape plan in to action. For years now he had been squirreling away vast amounts of money for the day he would retire. He already owned a lavish villa in an extradition free country and he’d even selected the changes he would get a plastic surgeon to make to his face when he changed identities again. His new identity was already in place all that was left were the final steps. He would have to destroy all possible evidence, remove any witnesses and slip away.
Having made his decision his nerve hardened and all traces of fear evaporated. He smiled evilly and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He would be alright, he thought practically. The millions he had squirreled away in untraceable offshore accounts would see to that but things might not work out quite as well for his employees.
He strode purposefully towards the desk and pressed the intercom. ‘Send Carlos in. I have an important job for him,’ he ordered quietly. Sitting back down in his chair Carl closed his eyes and began to consider the finer details of his escape plan. It would all require precision timing and most importantly, no loose ends.
Crystal stared out to sea with a bored expression. The photographer had been issuing an endless stream of demands for the last two hours and she had finally had enough. How many ways does he imagine there are to roll around in the cold Brighton sea at 6 am on a bright April morning in a bikini? She thought irritably.
She shook out her long blonde wig, wiggled the tiny navy bikini top in to position over her large breasts, pushed up her well rounded, pert bottom and pouted her lips. She stared in to the camera lens with a smouldering expression.
‘Perfect!,’ exclaimed the portly, middle aged photographer. ‘Make love to me through the lens.’
Crystal hid a grimace behind a sexy pout. Licking her lips, she smiled. I’d rather murder you she thought crossly, hiding a shiver. If she was in the water much longer she’d catch pneumonia. She was so cold that the idea of being tucked up in bed, even seriously ill, was a happy one. Why do I do this? She asked herself cynically.
After a few more snaps the photographer finally declared the shoot finished.
She dashed out of the water and grabbed a towel. Rubbing her body vigorously Crystal tried to return the feeling to her legs. Her skin had taken on a pale blue tinge and small goose bumps were rapidly spreading across her unblemished, porcelain skin. It was just too cold, she moaned silently, pulling on her thick, fleece lined, black tracksuit bottoms. Followed by a baggy grey t shirt and an oversized black hoodie.
She grabbed her trainers and handbag from the deckchair and ran across the cold, damp sand towards the beach side road. She needed a hot shower and several cups of coffee urgently.
Once she reached the footpath she slid her feet in to her trainers and jogged towards her car. It was unusual for Crystal to have attended a shoot without one of the agency’s many drivers but an unfortunate clash of appointments had left her unchaperoned and she found herself enjoying the unexpected freedom.
She paused beside her pea green Mazda and looked across the road towards a small café. She watched an elderly gentleman shuffle through the door, followed by a pair of giggling students, who looked as though they were still out from the previous night.
Crystal’s stomach rumbled loudly. She checked the contents of her purse before hurrying across the road to get a drink and hopefully something to eat.
The bell above the cafe door jangled as she opened it and entered the old fashioned café. She sat down at one of the small round tables and admired the tartan checked table cloths before picking up the ornate white folder containing the neatly handwritten menu and perusing the list.
Crystal was about to order her usual breakfast of fruit when her eyes drifted towards the full English breakfast listed slightly lower down on the menu. Her mouth watered with anticipation, she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten a carb enriched meal. With a feeling of defiance she ordered the full English breakfast, with a large Coke Cola and sat back to wait.
She looked around the room at the other customers with interest and wondered about their lives. There were two elderly women gossiping at a table by the window. Crystal smiled sadly as she watched them excitedly exchange photographs of their grandchildren. Their apparent joy filled her with melancholy. She hadn’t spoken to her parents for more than ten years. Not that they had cared much for her before that either, she had admitted to herself. She had run away from home just after her fifteenth birthday and her parents hadn’t even noticed she’d gone. They had been genuinely surprised to discover she had been missing, when she had rung a fortnight later to reassure them of her safety.
Crystal sighed, she had always suspected that her mother preferred her heroin and her father his women, but the realisation of their complete lack of care had broken her heart. There and then she had decided to never rely on another person again. Love was nothing more than an illusion for fools and she was nobody’s fool, not any more.
She hadn’t really wanted to become a glamour model but there were few options for a runaway and life was tough on the streets for a young girl with no money or connections. Even so she had been determined not to go back. She had begun by posing for backstreet photographers, who paid cash and then she had met Mr Woodward on the docks. He’d saved her from a beating by a gang of addicts that she had accidentally intruded upon in her search for shelter. He had saved her life. He had offered her a job with the Starlit agency and given her a place to live. She had never looked back.
Now she graced the covers of many of the world’s biggest adult magazines. She had money, fame, a fantastic apartment, more shoes and clothes than she could ever need. Her face clouded with sadness for a moment. She had every material advantage but no real friends, only acquaintances from the agency and no one to claim as family.
Depressed by her thoughts she looked around for a distraction. The drunken students she had seen entering the café were busy trying to build a tower out of spare menus. She smiled, genuinely amused by their efforts. She wondered what it would be like to be free to go to university and to make friends. She had enjoyed school but running away had changed all that. She had no qualifications and now she only had herself to depend on to pay the bills.
She leaned across to the empty table adjacent to her and picked up a discarded newspaper and began flicking through the pages. The news matched her mood and she quickly discarded it.
Maybe not going straight home had been a mistake she thought glumly. She didn’t normally dwell on things that made her sad. After a usual shoot she would have curled up in the back of the car, eating and drinking the food the driver would have provided, followed by a nap, waking just in time to go in to her apartment. Sometimes when she didn’t wake the driver would carry her in and she would wake up in her own bed. Instead she was sat in a café feeling wound up and depressed by her life.
A middle aged matronly woman approached the table with her meal. Crystal smiled gratefully. She stared at the plate, enjoying the sight and smell.
Carefully she cut a small portion of the fat pork sausage. She placed it in her mouth and barely avoided moaning out loud. Pleasure tingled through her body, enthusiastically she shovelled more sausage in to her mouth, followed by bacon, eggs, fried mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns and fried bread.
Her stomach ached from over indulgence as she made her way back to her car. Crystal checked her watch, she was surprised to note it was only 7.30 am. She felt like she had already been up a whole day. Jumping in her car she sped back towards London, relieved for once that she had no more jobs that day. A long soak in the bath followed by curling up on her couch to read her new Nora Roberts novel was exactly what she needed.
The drive was uneventful, pulling up in the car park, below her block of flats, Crystal jumped out of her car and hurried over to the lift. She smiled at a couple she vaguely recognised as living on her floor. She didn’t bother to speak. It hadn’t taken her long to discover that other than the other models who lived in the block the residents considered her occupation to be below contempt and they had no intention of socialising with her, not even to say a polite hello.
Once inside the lift she slumped back against the wall. The effects of an extremely early morning, cold and too much food were taking their toll and she felt completely exhausted.
The lift doors opened and she struggled down the corridor to her flat. She made her way inside, going straight to her bedroom, without undressing she collapsed on to the bed. Closing her eyes she drifted straight off to sleep.
The persistent beep of her phone dragged her from her dreamless sleep. Crystal groped around in her pocket sleepily. She lifted the mobile to her ear. ‘Hello,’ she yawned loudly.
‘We need you to attend Mr Woodward’s club opening tonight,’ replied the clipped professional voice of one of Starlit Modelling agency’s secretaries.
‘It’s my day off,’ grumbled Crystal. ‘I’ve already been to work this morning because it was supposedly an emergency.’
‘Mr Woodward told me to remind you of your responsibilities as the agency’s leading model. We can’t send other models when the patrons will expect to see you.’
Crystal rolled her eyes. ‘You could just not take bookings on my day off,’ she replied sarcastically. She sighed heavily. ‘Just text me the details,’ she continued, there was no point in getting cross with the secretary Crystal realised, she was just doing her job.
She threw the phone across the bed and rolled on to her back to stare up at the ceiling. She needed a holiday she thought glumly. She used to enjoy her job but just lately she’d felt bored and restless. She considered the idea of booking a holiday until she remembered the last time she had tried to take a trip to Italy. The agency had used it as an opportunity to increase her European profile. Reporters had followed her every move with constantly clicking cameras. The agency’s minders had prevented anyone from speaking to her. She hadn’t even been able to eat in the hotel restaurant because the reporters had made it unsafe. She shuddered. It had been the worst week of her life. At least in London she had some privacy even if she had little time to enjoy it.
She looked towards her bedside clock and groaned. It was already 3 pm and she still had a long list of chores to complete before she began the time consuming ritual required to become the glamorous model the clients were expecting.
She wiggled off the bed and made her way in to the shower. As she washed she considered which chores had priority. She needed to go shopping. There was no food left in her fridge or cupboards so that wouldn’t wait and she needed to go to the hairdressers. She always wore wigs to work and her own hair had become a mass of split ends through neglect. She would also need to fit in a manicure, pedicure and waxing.
Rinsing the shampoo out of her hair she wandered back in to her bedroom and began rooting through her closet for something to wear. She ignored the rows of work clothes, pulling out her favourite ripped jeans and cherry red chenille jumper instead. She dressed quickly and pulled her hair into a messy ponytail.
Grabbing her handbag she threw in her phone, purse and tablet before hurrying out of the door. She headed for her favourite café at the end of the street.
After a short internal debate she had decided that she would order her shopping online whilst she got something to eat. With work in mind she ordered a small green salad and grilled, undressed chicken breast. Pulling out her tablet she quickly connected to the supermarket website and began to order her goods.
Half an hour later she found herself sat in a plush leather salon chair being prepared for her pedicure. She didn’t really feel in the mood for Tiffany’s, the bubbly salon assistant, invasive questioning so she closed her eyes and let the salon’s music flow over her.
‘Do you want gems on your toes?’ Tiffany trilled in her overly affected tone.
Crystal opened one eye. She had been about to say no and then she remembered her evening engagement. She forced a smile to her lips. ‘That would be lovely,’ she replied insincerely.
Crystal closed her eyes again and began to mentally scold herself. She didn’t know where the recent dissatisfaction with her life had come from but it had to stop. There was no way Mr Woodward would ever let her leave the agency. Not until she became old and ugly anyway, she thought, snorting with mirth. She had tried to leave before and he had made it plain that it wouldn’t be a healthy choice for her to make.
Tiffany began to work on her finger nails. Crystal could feel her washing her hands with a solution which left a cool tingling sensation. She didn’t bother to open her eyes. Instead she continued to think about the man who had employed her for the last ten years.
His name didn’t fit his appearance. In fact Crystal would have sworn he wasn’t English at all. He was 6ft 3ins of solid muscle with thick black hair and a sallow complexion. He spoke with a slight accent, similar to how the Eastern Europeans pronounced English words. Now she thought about it, a lot of things about her employer didn’t add up. The models weren’t allowed to socialise outside work nor were they allowed to attend clubs, unless it was a paid visit. Dating was prohibited and he specified in which one of his building you could live.
She knew that a couple of the other girls were runaways like herself who had been really grateful for his help in gaining accommodation but it suddenly occurred to her that she had never seen any of the Eastern European models in the agency without one or more of his escorts. She wondered if they wanted to be escorted.
Crystal shook her head, brushing aside her doubts. She would still be living rough on the docks if it hadn’t been for Mr Woodward’s intervention. He had moulded her in to the success she had become and if she didn’t like all the aspects of glamour modelling, well who does like everything about their job.
Her mind drifted back to the three disastrous adult films he had insisted she made. She had hated every second. She couldn’t describe the relief she had felt when he had decided that she just didn’t shine on film. She didn’t mind taking off her clothes but sex with strangers was a step too far and an experience she never wanted to repeat.
Tiffany announced she had finished and it was time to move in to the hairdressing department. Crystal opened her eyes and dutifully praised the nail technician’s skill. Her long red nails reminded her of a bird of prey’s talons. She suppressed a grin. The black gems looked like ugly little bugs.
She waddled over to the hairdressing booth being careful not to dislodge the sponge between her still damp toenails. Sitting down Crystal stared at herself in the large, brightly lit mirror. Without her wig no one would even recognise her, she thought with pleasure. Her own shoulder length straight, purple dyed hair was a far cry from the platinum blonde, waist length curls, she wore in all her photographs.
One day, when she was too old to model she would leave London and simply disappear she promised herself. She’d get a place in the country and a dog. She’d always wanted a dog. She had no idea what she would do there, since she had never once in her life been to the countryside but she had seen photos in magazines and she knew in her heart it was where she wanted to be.
Maybe by then she would have saved up enough to do nothing she thought, contemplating her rapidly increasing savings. She hardly ever spent any money. Her only extravagance was the rusty, fifth hand car that she drove. Her work clothes were provided by the agency and her rent and amenities came out of her wages before she received them.
She smiled to herself. Her food bill was minimal too since they weren’t encouraged to eat often. She was one of the most voluptuous models the agency had at a whopping seven and a half stone.
Trina, the hairdresser announced she had finished. Crystal stared in the mirror in surprise. She hadn’t realised she had been daydreaming that long. She checked her watch and realised she would need to catch a taxi back to the flat if she was going to make it in time for her grocery delivery.
She signed the account book so that the salon could claim their charges from the agency and hurried out of the door, waving for the passing black cab to stop. Much to her relief the car pulled up at the curb and she was able to scramble inside.
She reached her flat seconds behind the supermarket’s delivery driver. Opening her door, she signed the delivery book before beginning to drag her bags inside. She looked down at the large pile of bags on her kitchen floor. Her eyes opened wide in amazement. She hadn’t realised she had bought so much stuff.
She began to unpack each bag. There was dozens of bags of crisps, packets of biscuits, chocolate bars, bread and an assortment of food that she hadn’t eaten since she was a child. She filled the cupboards and the fridge, wondering if she would or even should eat the items she bought.
Since time was running away from her, she hurried in to the bedroom and grabbed the first dress her hand reached. It was a tight fitting, short, wrap over dress with a low neck line. Crystal held up the hanger, admiring how the sequins made the black dress sparkle under the lights.
She threw the dress on the bed and sat down at her vanity table to apply her wig and make up.
An hour later she twirled in front of her full length mirror checking her appearance from all angles. The dress clung to her body in all the right places. Her blonde hair was full, flowing down her back in loose gypsy curls. The false eyelashes emphasised her green eyes and her lips looked luscious and full, covered in deep red lipstick.
She slipped on a pair of black stilettos and checked the effect. She smiled at herself. This was the Crystal she recognised. Glamorous, sexy, confident, she wasn’t sure who the discontented person was that had inhabited her body all day but it wasn’t who she was meant to be.
Her door bell rang. Picking up her purse she hurried to answer it, before she opened the door she checked through the spy hole. She was greeted by the image of a 6ft tall and almost the same width, bald, heavily bearded man. It was Paulo, one of the agency’s Polish drivers.
Crystal opened the door and offered a friendly greeting before following him down to the company limousine.
Paulo held the passenger’s door open and waited for Crystal to climb inside. They drove to the club in relative silence, since Paulo spoke almost no English.
Crystal was surprised and more than a little apprehensive when they pulled up outside a seedy looking club close to the Tower Hamlets estate. It was far scruffier than the usual venues that paid for the models’ appearance.
‘Are you sure this is it?’ she asked sceptically.
Paulo showed her the address he had written down, which she checked against the one the agency had text to her phone. They were both the same. Having exchanged a puzzled expression with Paulo they both got out of the car and headed for the door.
They could hear two men’s voices raised in anger as they approached. Crystal cautiously opened the door and called out, ‘Hello.’
No one answered so they continued in to the foyer, following the sound of the voices.
There was something unnerving about the atmosphere in the empty club, it sent clammy shivers along Crystal’s spine. Paulo indicated for Crystal to stay behind him as they made their way towards the main bar area.
From what Crystal could see she was certain that the club wasn’t new. The floors were discoloured and sticky, wallpaper peeled off the wall in damp patches and the velour covered chairs were stained and patchy. There was a distinct scent of sweat and vomit in the air.
‘We can’t possibly be in the right place,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘There must be another place with the same name somewhere round here.’
She wrinkled her nose and grimaced. There was a strange metallic smell permeating the air that she just couldn’t place.
‘Hello, is anyone there? My name is Crystal D’lite. The agency sent me for an opening but I think we might be in the wrong place,’ she called out nervously.
It was pitch black in the main bar and she couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of her face. A shot blasted through the air, echoing in the silent room. Crystal screamed. Paulo slumped to the floor. She tripped over something on the ground and landed with a thud on the pressed concrete floor.
She crawled towards where she thought Paulo’s body had landed. Shaking him gently she asked, ‘Are you ok?’
There was no reply. Something sticky covered her hands. She looked at her fingers but it was too dark to see.
Someone was moving towards her. She crawled backwards through a swinging door. Her heart pounded with terror.
Crystal found herself in an overly bright bathroom. Blood was splattered across the walls. On the floor, tangled together were two lifeless bodies belonging to the club’s dancers. Their faces were frozen in terror, glassy eyes stared towards her.
Crystal covered her mouth with her hands, pressing down hard to stop herself from screaming. Bile rose in her throat and her stomach clenched with fear.
She could hear someone searching for her in the main room. She looked around wildly, desperate for somewhere to hide. Above one of the cubicles she spotted an air vent. She quickly crossed the room, trying hard to avoid looking at the bodies and blood. She entered the cubicle and stood on the white, grimy, porcelain toilet. She pulled at the metal cover willing it to open.
After a few short tugs it swung open on hinges to disclose a metal tube. It would be tight but Crystal was fairly sure she would fit.
She pulled herself up and scrunched her body so that she could close the cover behind her. For a few seconds she debated between staying were she was or crawling down the pipe in the hope of finding an external exit.
Her heart pounded violently against her chest. She could hear the men’s voices getting louder. She began to crawl along the pipe. Her arms and legs shook with fear, making movement painful and slow. The air seemed thinner and the metallic smell almost choked her.
Suddenly the pipe was flooded with light. Crystal could see another vent cover just in front of her. She slid forwards slowly, trying desperately not to make a sound. She peeked through the vent. Someone had turned on the main lights.
Crystal barely smothered a gasp. From her vantage point she could see the main bar area was littered with bodies. Her eyes almost popped out of her head when she realised she recognised many of them from the agency. She clasped her hand over her mouth and bit down on her lip to stop herself making a sound. Tears formed in her eyes, she blinked, trying to clear her view.
Two men were angrily searching the back of the room. Crystal stared. There was something familiar about the men. Turn round, she willed them silently.
The taller man began issuing orders forcefully. Crystal recognised his voice instantly. She had heard that voice every day for the last ten years. Mr Woodward turned in her direction, confirming her worst fears.
‘She’s got to be here somewhere,’ Mr Woodward insisted. ‘She’s too stupid to escape. She can’t even get out of bed without instructions. Keep looking.’
The smaller man turned to face her employer. It was Carlos, his personal assistant. ‘I don’t think she’d guess it was us even if she does. It was pitch black in here and she doesn’t know anything anyway. She’s the one person in the whole company who never asks any questions.’
‘They all have to die,’ replied Mr Woodward. ‘I don’t want any loose ends that can identify me.’ He raised his gun and shot his assistant where he stood. ‘That includes you unfortunately.’ He told the lifeless body belonging to Carlos.
Turning away from the rapidly growing pool of blood he began to shouting aggressively, ‘Crystal, where are you? Get out here you brainless bitch! It’ll be worse for you if I have too look for you!’
Crystal dropped her head on to her hands. She was completely stunned. ’How could things possibly get any worse?’ she asked herself silently. ’If I come out I will die if I don’t I’ll probably die.’
She continued to lie unmoving in the tunnel. Her brain wouldn’t function. She couldn’t gather her thoughts enough to propel herself into motion. All that kept running through her mind was why? She couldn’t think of a single reason a modelling agency boss would need to kill all his staff and all those other people. She had no idea who they were or why they were all there. It was all just completely insane.
Mr Woodward continued his destructive search for his missing victim. Tables and chairs were flung to the ground in his wake. ‘I will find you and when I do you’ll pay for making me wait,’ he bellowed. ‘No brain dead bitch is going to hinder me!’
Now wasn’t the time to dwell on his reasons, she realised. If she didn’t find a way out quickly she would be joining the numerous bodies littering the large building. She slid forward continuing her slow journey through the duct.
After a couple of dead ends she finally found the external vent. With fingers crossed on both hands she gave it a push. The cover came off easily, crashing loudly to the ground. Crystal winced. Waiting with bated breath she listened for the sound of Mr Woodward running towards her.
She peered out of the opening and found herself looking down at a long drop in to a large metal skip full of empty boxes and rubbish. Crystal wrinkled her nose in disgust. Hearing her employer shouting her name, she took a deep breath before launching herself out of the gap.
Her arms and legs flailed around as she free falled towards the skip.
Landing with a thud amongst the garbage Crystal struggled to reach the side. She slung her leg over, noticing for the first time that she was missing a shoe. With a large groan, she slid her body over the edge and landed in a heap on the roadside.
She dragged off her other shoe and began to run down the street searching for help. Fear drove her onward, she could hear someone running behind her, but she daren’t turn and look. She tensed, waiting for the shot which would end her life.