28 Nov After freeing Alice from traffickers in the US, Abel returns in Lagos
“So, this is what you’ve been up to. It’s a good series, Peter. Well worth the time and expense.” Abel’s boss raised his head from the copy in his hand and smiled.
Abel should have felt good about the stories, which would run on consecutive days over the next week. But he knew the trafficking in children for sex would not stop because of anything he wrote. People would pay attention briefly, there would be an outcry from the public, politicians would say the right things, and the police might even arrest a few bad guys. But in the end, it would be business as usual. The demand for the sex trade was too great and the people who worked in it too unscrupulous.
In prior cases, Abel’s stories had served as a catalyst that set investigative wheels in motion. Results were rapid. Corruption was cleaned up, criminals were arrested, victims were compensated, and entire hierarchies, some powerful and longstanding, came crumbling down. This time Abel felt the results wouldn’t be so rapid, but he knew he was making an indelible point.
“You don’t seem particularly happy”, the boss said.
Abel shrugged. “I managed to help Alice get out”, he said. “And that was well worth the effort.”
Benson studied Abel, and Abel could see the concern on Benson’s face.
“Yet, something is troubling you”, Benson said.
Abel wasn’t sure how to put it into words. He slumped into a chair and stared between his knees at the carpet under his feet. He sighed.
“Did you know”, he said, “that in the end, Alice saved me? If Alice hadn’t taken it upon herself to call Elliot, you would be attending my funeral instead of reading my by-line.”
The boss scratched his chin and grinned. “This isn’t your first brush with death, Peter”, he remarked. “Are you suddenly getting a taste of your own mortality?”
For the first time since he’d gotten back to Africa, Abel allowed himself to laugh.
“No”, he said, “It’s not that, not exactly anyway.” He shook his head and shrugged. “Well, yes, maybe it is that. But I also can’t help thinking about all the other girls just like Alice who are still out there, the ones that came before her, and the ones that will never be saved.”
“Well”, Benson said, “Take the small victories where you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t control. At any rate, the paper will make out well.”
Abel looked at him, surprised. “The paper?”
“Forgive me if I think like a businessman for a moment, but this story has everything. Sex, crime, worldwide locales, power, and more. It’s unbelievable. We will sell a hell of a lot of papers with this. And we need to, given what your expense account looks like.”
“Duly noted.” Abel was reluctant to agree, but Benson had a point. “But I would object to selling this story with even a hint of titillation.”
“That never crossed my mind”, Benson said, slightly defensive. “I will see that our marketing department does not sell your series for its prurient interest. Fair enough?”
“Will you be paying a visit to Alice’s mother – or to her father?”
Abel headed toward the door. “I’ll be seeing her mother”, he said, “at least for the time being.”
As Abel waited on Mrs. Udor’s doorstep, he felt a sense of pride, despite the work left undone. Here was the one concrete accomplishment he could point to. He had saved this woman’s daughter.
Alice’s mother smiled broadly when she saw Abel. “It is so wonderful to see you”, she said, hugging him impulsively. “I have received so many letters and calls from Alice. My goodness, she sounds happy! She and I are both grateful for everything you’ve done for us.”
“It’s my honour and pleasure”, Abel responded with a slight bow of his head.
Mary invited Abel inside her humble home. The place was clean and well-kept, even if the furniture was old and the carpets worn. The surroundings reflected the woman perfectly. She was tidy in her manner of dress and her hair was done in neat cornrows. Signs of pride. But she could not hide the age which her daughter’s ordeal had added to her appearance. Her face betrayed deep lines, the dark circles under her eyes had become permanent fixtures, the result of endless worrying and sleepless nights. And her hair had turned completely white. Like the furniture in her home, Mary Udor was old and worn.
Even Mary’s voice sounded damaged. She spoke in a soft, raspy whisper. “I spoke to Alice last night”, she said, her voice crackling. “Right now, she is learning CPR and emergency first aid. She was talking about recognizing symptoms of a heart attack and how to tend to a patient who has a broken limb. I’ve never heard her so excited about anything. She seems mature and professional. I’m so proud of her.”
“So am I, Mrs. Udor.”
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