*Warning for rape in this chapter*
"I don't scream, though I know it's wrong. I just play along. I just lie there and breathe."
—The Dark I Know Well, Spring Awakening
Riddle hated small spaces. She had for as long as she could remember. She had always hated rainy days, because rainy days were the days she couldn't go outside. Her mother would lock her in the closet to keep her out of the way of the customers, the men who came in and out without warning and didn't want their well paid for time interrupted by a little kid.
Gypsies don't like being put in cages. Her mother had said that for as long as she could remember, giving her a sad smile as she arranged her hair or painted on rouge and kohl liner. Those words had run through her head when she was small, and they were on her mind now, in the damp, dark room she'd been thrown into, lit only by the light from the hallway that crept under the door and the cold moonlight from a window too high for her to reach. She felt that same cold fear in her stomach now as she did then, sitting on the floor with her legs drawn up against her chest and her head resting on her arms. This place felt evil. Bad spirits lived here.
In her head she heard Hot Shot scolding her. "Spirits ain't real, Riddle," he'd say with a laugh.
"They are too!" she'd argue back. "How else do ya explain that feelin', that chill ya get when you's in a bad place? Or the warm feelin' ya get when you's in a safe one?"
"Insanity?" he'd say with a grin.
Riddle shivered, wrapping her arms tighter around herself. He might not believe in spirits, but she did. And this place had none of the good ones. Gypsies don't like to linger in bad places, a small voice said in her head.
The door creaked open, startling Riddle out of her thoughts. A golden beam of light fell across her face, and she scrambled back away from it until she felt her back hit the wall. Walls are solid. Walls are safe.
"Hello, missy," the newcomer said easily, looking her up and down. It was one of the guards who had brought her in- the one with the slicked-back hair and the wispy, pencil-thin mustache. He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. No, his dark brown eyes were hard and cruel. The cold feeling spread from Riddle's stomach up to her her chest, catching her heart in an icy vice. She knew what this man wanted. She had seen that same look far too often- in the eyes of Blade, in the eyes of Sting, in the eyes of the men who came knocking at her mother's door.
Riddle drew in a shaky breath before lifting her chin and meeting the man's gaze, her own eyes just as stony as his. "Whaddaya want?" She was already considered the resident whore of Brooklyn. She wasn't about to let that title extend to the Refuge.
Out in the hallway, the other two guards were playing a lazy game of poker. About three dollars in change was scattered on the tabletop between them, along with a half-empty bottle of booze.
"Better not let Snyder catch ya like that," a voice said from the doorway.
Both men jumped out of their chairs in a panic, only to relax when they saw the speaker. "Pull up a chair, Bates. Join us!" one of them called, sticking a cigar in his mouth and lighting it.
The newcomer -Bates- folded his arms across his chest and frowned. "Where's Mitchell?"
The man with the cigar jerked his head toward the door as he drew another card. "In there, with the new toy."
The other, blonde-haired man glanced up as the door handle jiggled. "Speak of the devil," he said cheerfully. "How'd it go, Mitch?"
Mitchell slipped out of the cell quickly, bleeding from five slashes down his face. "Not well," he said drily. "Think this one might be a two person job."
Bates scoffed, uncrossing his arms. "You let yourself be bested by a..." He caught himself before he used the word child. That didn't seem right, not for what they were about to do. "...by a girl? A common little wretch off the streets?" He shook his head, rolling his shoulders and unbuttoning his jacket, tossing it to the men at the card table.
"Hey!" one of them protested. The other one threw the jacket off him in disgust, letting it fall to the floor.
Bates ignored them both. "Step aside. Let me show you how it's done." Grabbing the bottle of booze of the table, he shouldered past his fellow guards and unlocked the door to the cell.
Riddle took a deep, shaky breath. Her heart felt like it was beating out of her chest. With a frustrated sob, she collapsed back on the floor, resting her head in her hands. She knew they were coming back. Scratching the first man in the face had only delayed the inevitable. He would be back soon, angry, with his friends... Riddle tugged at her hair with both hands, salty tears stinging her eyes. Knowing that they were coming back, knowing what they would do to her, and knowing she was helpless to stop it was torture.
C'mon Riddle, think! she thought desperately, rubbing away the tears that were soon replaced by new ones. What do I do? I need ta do somethin', so what- do- I- do? She searched frantically, sifting through all the advice she'd ever been given from her mother, Spot, Hot Shot, Jumper...
Sex means nothing, love. It's just a pastime, a way of making money. Thats all.
Don't even botha' comin' crawlin' back inta Brooklyn, not afta' you'se spent the night with half the guys in 'Hattan. Sloppy seconds ain't my style.
I love ya, sorella. Ya know I do. That's why I's stayin' outta your... your private life.
And Jumper... he'd never said anything that even remotely applied to her situation. She didn't even want to think of what he might say if he saw her now, saw who she'd become.
A sob caught in Riddle's throat, pure fear mixed with panic. It didn't matter anyways. None of them were here. She could hear the men outside talking, their voices drowning out the ones in her head. The talking quieted, and she heard the key turn in the lock.
And she was so, so alone.
Spot paced back and forth, agitated. Four days. Not a word heard from Riddle since midnight four nights ago. "The Refuge ain't that bad," he muttered mockingly.
I know what i said. Doesn't mean I want Riddle there. Brooklyn takes care a' their own.
Quit your gripin'. What, are ya goin' soft on us? it's jus' the Refuge. We's all been there before, an' we's all survived a helluva lot worse.
Yeah, but Riddle ain't like us. She's... she's different. Don't ask me how, she just is.
She's a goil, idiot. 'Course she's different.
Oh, you know what I mean.
He couldn't stop Riddle's words from playing in his head. "Do it. Hit me. Turn inta him, I dare ya." A low growl ripped from his throat. She hadn't been through what they'd been through. She was different. The Refuge would break her.
Hiding under the bed in the dark. Hearing Mama cry, and his father hurting her. She always made him go under the bed when his father came home. He must have escaped the worst of it, because he was still here and Mama wasn't.
He growled again, whipping around and punching the wall. The scabs on his knuckles split, oozing blood, and he set his jaw, driving his fist into the wall again and again.
Some time later —hours, minutes, hell if he knew— Spot came down the stairs, his face clear and stony and both hands dripping blood. He tipped his hat to Crawley, tossing a nickel onto the counter and turning in his heel, heading up to bed.
Hot Shot was already seated on his bunk, unlacing his boots. Spot jerked a nod when he saw him, heaving himself up onto the top bunk. "Here," he said gruffly, fishing in his pocket.
The Italian boy glanced up, catching the tin of tobacco Spot tossed his way. "Thanks," he muttered, tucking it into his pocket.
Spot lifted one shoulder in a shrug, unbuttoning his shirt. Slipping it off, he tucked it under bis pillow, his fingers brushing against something hard. A pack of cigarettes. He allowed the barest hint of a smile to cross his face. "Thanks." His fingers plucked at his blanket absently. "Max sentence for loitering at night is a week," he said finally. "She'll be back."
Hot Shot just shrugged, rolling over in bed and pulling the thin blanket up to his ears. "'Night."
Riddle wandered down the hall in her long white nightgown, her fingers skimming over the wall and the closed doors. She let out a soft sigh. Her mother had promised her it would only take ten minutes, and had unceremoniously turned her out of the room. Ten minutes seemed like forever when she was this tired.
A door creaking open caught her attention, but it wasn't Mama. A tall man came out of room two, smiling at her with crooked yellow teeth. "Hey there, pretty thing," he said, crouching down to her level. He held out a hand. "Come on."
"She's not for sale," a sharp voice said. Juliet stood in the open doorway, her arms crossed over her chest, pulling her dressing gown closed. "She's eight, Mark. Leave her be."
The man got to his feet, muttering under his breath, and Juliet held her hand out to Riddle. "Come with me, Eva." Riddle went to her willingly, reaching for her hand. "Your mama is with a difficult customer tonight, cherie," the young woman told her, ushering her into her room and closing the door. "Come sleep in here with me."
"Why does the difficult customers hurt Mama?" Riddle asked, looking up with big violet eyes.
"They don't hurt her," Juliet said, stripping the sheets off the bed. She dropped them into the laundry, and took a fresh set out of the closet.
"They do," Riddle insisted, fidgeting with a ruffle on her sleeve. "She has bruises after. She has them here," she wrapped a hand around her own neck, lifting her chin. "And here and here." She touched her chest and her hips. "And sometimes she's crying."
Juliet sighed, sitting down on the bed. "Come here, little one." She held out her arms, inviting Riddle to sit in her lap. "We all need money, Geneva," she explained. "When Franny need extra money, she does some sewing. I do laundry. And your mama... she takes the difficult customers."
Riddle bit her lip. "I don't like it when Mama cries," she said, burying her face in Juliet's ample chest.
"I know, Geneva," Juliet said softly, wrapping her arms around the little girl. "She doesn't like it when you cry, either."
Tears streamed down Riddle's face at the memory. She drew her knees to her chest, resting her forehead on her folded arms. A new wave of pain washed over her as she thought of her mother, and what she'd say if she could see her. If she knew her daughter was just like her.
Hell. At least she got paid.
(A/N): I'm sorry this chapter took me so long! Life is crazy right now, as you all know. But I'm back in the swing of things and I'm writing again!
Anna W: Your reviews and messages make my day every time I get them! I added the little scene with Spot in this chapter just for you!
coveredinbees14: Thank you so much! You were worried about Riddle for a reason 😬 My bad. Reading Below Your Feet when it first came out is what inspired me to start writing about Brooklyn, funnily enough!
SomedayonBroadway: Secret 😉
Thank you all for the lovely reviews!