In Search For Alice, Peter Abel Arrives The US To An Intricate Web Of Female Traffickers

In Search For Alice, Peter Abel Arrives The US To An Intricate Web Of Female Traffickers

Abel walked gingerly through Reagan National Airport. He hadn’t fully recovered from the injuries he received at the hands of the whorehouse thugs. His ribs were still sore and his back ached. The long transatlantic flight hadn’t helped.

Still, being in Washington energised him.


It was the seat of government in the last superpower on earth, a nation wealthy enough to serve all of its citizens well. And yet even here, shoulder-by-shoulder with the opulent and impressive federal city, the extremes of wealth and poverty, or order and chaos, stared one another directly in the face.

On one side of town was the White House, a symbol of world power and national wealth. The Washington Monument glimmered in the sun as well as in the long reflecting pool on The Mall. Lincoln, carved in pristine white, sat grandly in his chair.


Only a few blocks away, within sight of these landmarks, lived the “other” America, the one with the worn project apartments and worn-out houses. These neighbourhoods were, at once, sustained and devastated by the drug and sex trades. Cynicism and distrust infused young blacks, who had watched their parents struggle to make an honest living yet never escaped the systemic poverty.

These disenfranchised youths served as bag carriers, drivers, and in some cases, cannon fodder for the drug lords. They viewed the ostentatious mansions, parks, and monuments with resentment. They all shared a Washington, D.C. address, but that’s about all they had in common.

Alice, the child prostitute, was shuttled between these two starkly contrasting worlds. She would be kept in the ghetto but sent off to work in the land of privilege as she serviced congressman, lawyers and rich businessmen, Abel thought painfully.


After checking into the Chevalier D.C. Hotel, an impressive work of architecture in the heart of the political metropolis, Abel pulled out his black address book. He had one solid contact in the city, a freelance journalist named Maxwell Elliot.

Elliot had remained freelance his entire career. He didn’t like the idea of attaching himself to any single media outlet. In recent years, some members of the media had mutated from voracious journalists, hell-bent on revealing the truth, to corporate shills with ties to big business.

It was this maverick trait that made Abel believe Elliot would be helpful to him. The reporter picked up and immediately recognized Abel’s voice.

“Don’t get too many calls from people with Nigerian accent”, he said, laughing, and greeted Abel warmly. The two men had met a couple of years before when Elliot was in Africa doing a story on the almost unchecked spread of AIDS. He’d concluded, to nobody’s surprise, that were this a European or an American problem, it would be getting a lot more attention and money.


“Where are you, Peter?” he asked. “Stateside?”

“Just got in”, Abel told him. “Some city you’ve got here.”

“It’s even more fascinating under the surface”, Elliot said.

“That’s exactly why I’m calling you”, Abel said.


Abel and Elliot arranged to meet at a place called Murphy’s the next morning. It was a quiet coffeehouse off the beaten path, a place that was too out-of-the-way for tourists, but too expensive for the locals. Nicknamed “FYI” by its regular patrons, Murphy’s had become the unofficial meeting place for people trading information.

Abel glanced up from his coffee cup to see the powerfully built Elliot push his way through the door. It had been quite a while since Peter Abel and Maxwell Elliot were in the same country, let alone the same room. Even so, Abel had no difficulty recognizing his American counterpart. Elliot was only about five-feet-seven-inches tall, but he had the broadest pair of shoulders Abel had even seen. Although he had a touch of a “beer belly”, he didn’t seem overweight. He looked strong enough to hold his own in any altercation. It flashed through Abel’s mind that having Elliot on hand during his London dustup might have been helpful.

“Welcome to D.C.”, Elliot greeted as he approached the table.

“Thank you”, Abel replied. He couldn’t hide his mischievous grin.


“Is something funny?” Elliot wondered.

“Sorry”, Abel said, “but I think that’s the same hat you were wearing when I first met you ten years ago.”

Elliot took off his porkpie, examined it, and then set in on the table.

“It’s part of my persona”, he explained. “Without it, I lose my journalistic allure. I was thinking about having it attached with stitches, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

The two reporters huddled inside the booth, the lighting so dim that they had to lean across the table to see each other’s faces. Abel relayed as much information as he could about Alice’s situation.

“What do you think?” Abel asked. “Can you point me in any good directions?”

Elliot had listened, deeply interested, as Abel spun his tale. He scratched his chin. “I know one woman who used to be in the trade.”

“She got out? I didn’t think that was possible”, Abel said.

“She got old. That’s how you get out”, Elliot responded. “But she keeps in touch with people, hears things. And she’s made a career of trying to help young girls escape the life.”

Abel thought this was exactly the kind of person he needed to speak with. Elliot made a call and arranged a meeting for later that morning.

“That was quick”, Abel said, surprised.

“Mirabelle likes to help when she can. And the prospect of making a little cash was enough to clear her calendar.”

When they arrived at Mirabelle’s decrepit apartment, it became obvious to Abel that Elliot’s remark about clearing her calendar had been totally facetious. Mirabelle turned out to be a sickly woman, who admitted up front she was constantly in and out of rehab clinics. And that made her the exception. Most ex-hookers were unapologetic junkies.

Mirabelle greeted them wearing an old cloth robe. Even though it was past noon, she had made no effort to bathe or dress herself since she got out of bed. Abel could see she had once been a striking-looking woman with a lush figure and blonde hair. Now, her hair was thin and straggly, her figure gone to seed. She was heavy and puffy and her skin was yellow.

As they talked, Mirabelle brewed coffee.

“Runners bring in girls from all over the world. I came from Denmark. They treated us real nice until they got us hooked on drugs. Then we can’t afford to leave. We’re slaves for the pimps because we need them to feed our habit.”

Mirabelle served them coffee in cracked cups, but it smelled good enough. Abel watched her, feeling pity for this wasted life in front of him.

“And when you get older?” he asked.

“Well, when us girls get old – as human beings tend to do – we’re not as valuable. The johns only want pretty young things, you know, especially the high rollers. The pimps stop giving the older girls the good dope and start feeding them bunk, the fake stuff. The girls get the shakes and the rest of the horrors. They don’t generate income, so the pimps kick them out. After that, they just vanish.”

Mirabelle sat down and joined them.

“But you’re here.”

“Yes. And I’m trying to do what I can, but I’m not much good at being a saviour. Shit, I can barely save myself.”

Elliot sat forward. “My friend is looking for one specific girl. Her name’s Alice. He has a picture.”

Elliot nodded to Abel who showed Mirabelle the picture he had been carrying around with him all over the globe. She squinted at it.

“So, this girl”, Mirabelle said. “What’s her name again?”

“Alice. The last contact I had with her was in London.”

Mirabelle clearly knew something. “I don’t know the girl. But if the network who owns her moved her from Nigeria, through Europe, and then to the States, she must be a money maker.”

Abel nodded. “Apparently she’s popular wherever she goes. Is that why they brought her to D.C.?”

“No doubt. See, this is a town with money. Lots of money and very weird taste. Kinky sex. Sick, really. But it’s full of politicians. What do you expect?  Your Alice is, what? Fifteen?” She studied the picture.


“Okay. Someone that young who’s that good, it’s like finding a star. You get your stars to the spot where they can generate the most cash. Washington is the place.”

“How do I find her?”

Mirabelle studied Abel. “You sure you want to find her, Peter?  Because these folks aren’t gonna appreciate your gallant knight routine.”

“I already found that out.”

Elliot chimed in. “Peter was almost beaten to death the last time he tried to rescue the girl.”

Mirabelle laughed, not at Abel’s pain, but at the irony. “Man, I woulda done anything for a guy who’d tried to save my ass. Where were you fifteen years ago, honey?”

“Can you help me find her?” Abel asked, not wanting to derail the discussion. “The information’s worth good money.”

Mirabelle looked at him, offended. “Now you’re making me feel cheap.”

Abel looked at Elliot who had assumed this is what she was after. She caught the look.

“Oh, I get it. Elliot here has a low opinion of me.”

“Not at all, Mirabelle.”

“I’ll tell you what I know. You can pay me what you think it’s worth. Fair enough?”

Abel, feeling slimy, nodded.

Mirabelle wrote something down on a pad of paper. She handed it to Abel.

“Call this number. Ask for Dennis, Luud Dennis” Mirabelle explained. “Say you’re the assistant to a visiting African dignitary and your boss needs a little entertainment. Tell him he’s homesick. Maybe that will convince him to hook you up with an African girl.”

“Then I’ll actually become the dignitary, right?” Abel asked. Mirabelle nodded. “That’s the game, sure.”

“Who is Dennis?”

“He runs the most profitable stable of girls in D.C. Most of them come from abroad. If your Alice was high-priced coming out Africa and Europe, she’ll work for Dennis. That doesn’t mean he’s got her, but it’s the best place to start.”

Abel folded up the paper and stood up. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. He counted three hundred and handed Mirabelle the money.

“I want you to know, I take twenty percent and put it away for any girl who needs help. I use it to buy bus tickets, plane tickets, new clothes, new hairdo for a disguise. I’m not a whore anymore.”

Abel put a hand on her shoulder, moved by the woman’s attempt to attain some dignity. “I never thought you were, Mirabelle. Thank you. And God bless you.”

Mirabelle shook her head. “Too late for that. All I want is from Him now is to quit throwing shit my way.”

After dropping Elliot off at his apartment and agreeing to keep in touch, Abel booked himself into a different hotel—one that would more likely serve as the lodging location for a visiting African dignitary. Elliot had suggested the Hotel Cornelius, located only a few blocks away from the Capitol building.

After settling in, Abel unfolded the paper on which Mirabelle had written Dennis’s number and called him. Giving the same false name he used when checking into the hotel and speaking as his own assistant, he requested an evening of bliss for his employer with a girl from his homeland, with a special order for a girl in the age range of 15 to 17. He didn’t dare ask specifically for Alice, for fear of making the man suspicious.

“I’m sure I can be of service to your employer”, Dennis replied, all business. “You can meet her in the hotel bar at eleven. Are you the one handling the fee for services?”

Abel rolled his eyes. Fee for services? Did this guy really think he was running a legitimate business?

“Yes, I’ll handle the fee.”

“Cash”, Dennis stated flatly. “American dollars only.”

The conversation ended with an assurance the girl would be to his boss’s liking.

At precisely 11 p.m., Abel entered the hotel bar. As he looked around, praying Alice would be waiting for him, he was approached by an attractive young African girl wearing high heels and a cocktail dress.

“Good evening, Mr. Aboku.” She greeted him softly, using the false name he had given her pimp. “Mr. Dennis sent me.”

Abel forced himself to smile. His heart sank.

“Let’s get a table.”

He guided the girl to a corner table where they would have maximum privacy. She was a far cry from the everyday streetwalker, yet her youthful features didn’t match the maturity of her fashion statement. Abel studied her face. He recognized her features to be Sudanese, but her swagger was undeniably American-influenced.

The girl studied Abel’s face in return, confused by his expression. “Is everything all right?” she asked quietly. “You look disappointed.”

Abel shook his head and let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Nothing is wrong”, he assured her. “I was simply expecting someone else.”

“Had you requested someone else?”

“Not exactly.”

The waiter came by and they ordered drinks, the girl a Tom Collins and Abel a double scotch. After the waiter departed, the girl put a hand on his arm and leaned closer to him. “I’m sure I can help your employer forget about everyone else.”

“Look, I’m sure you could under ordinary circumstances. But the truth is, tonight, it’s just me, and I just want to talk”, he said.

The girl sighed involuntarily, as if she were preparing for an unpleasant but necessary task. Abel caught the attitude. He also saw the resignation in her manner. Apparently she felt it was her job to “entertain” him and if that meant tedious conversation, that’s what she’d put up with.

Or perhaps she was reacting to his disappointment. Abel internally admonished himself. What made him think that out of all the prostitutes in Washington, D.C. he could just summon Alice by asking some faceless pimp for an African woman?

But he knew that in certain circles, large cities like D.C. had a way of turning into small towns, if one were to ask the right questions.

“What’s your name?” he began.

“Marcy”, the girl said flatly.

“How old are you, Marcy?”


Abel looked at her. Right, he thought. If this girl is twenty, I’m seventy-three.

She was seventeen at the most, but probably younger than that. This kind of life tended to make young ladies age quickly—and this girl still seemed very young. But he had more important matters to pursue.

“Marcy”, Abel continued, “I won’t need your usual services tonight.”

Marcy was about to protest, but Abel cut her off.

“Not to worry”, he assured her. “You’ll get paid for your time. In fact, you’ll receive a very generous gratuity if you can help me.”

Marcy looked interested. “What do you want to know?”

“I’m looking for a girl”, he told her. “She is very much like you. In the same line of work, shall we say.”

“I know lots of girls.”

“This one is from my country.” He showed Marcy the photograph.

“Alice. She’s fifteen and originally from Nigeria.”

As they sipped their drinks, Marcy told him she knew Alice. She said Alice worked for Dennis. But then she fell silent. Abel took the hint, reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. He peeled off a $50 bill and handed it to Marcy. She snatched it out of his hand and slipped it into her dress. Abel held up the money clip.

“What else can you tell me?” he pressed.

“I’m not sure how long she’s been here. Not long, I don’t think. I haven’t really spoken to her. From what I can tell, she’s been introduced to some very important clients.”

“Of her own free will?” Abel asked.

Marcy winced. “Nobody is here willingly.” Abel realised Marcy was right. It was a stupid question.

“Sorry. Look, I need to find her. It’s very important.”

“The most I can say for sure is that Dennis watches her closely. She is of great value to him or someone he knows.”

“So, she won’t be leaving town anytime soon?”

“That’s up to Dennis. She’ll only disappear if he chooses to make her disappear. And that could happen if he runs into some kind of trouble.”

Abel pulled open his money clip, peeled two hundred-dollar bills off the roll, and handed them to Marcy. Once again, she snatched the cash out of his hand.

Abel paid for their drinks and stood up. “I think we’re done for tonight”, he said.

Abel walked her to the lobby, thanked her for an informative evening, and headed for the elevators. The girl left without comment. Abel had no idea if she was insulted or relieved he hadn’t slept with her. It was probably all the same to her.

By the time he had reached his room, he’d made a plan. If Alice was Dennis’s “girl of the moment”, she’d be servicing his most powerful johns. Somehow, Abel had to get a look at Dennis’s client list. No easy feat. It was bound to be his most carefully guarded possession.

Abel picked up the phone beside his bed and punched out a few numbers.

“You’ve reached my voice mail”, Maxwell Elliot’s recorded voice garbled. “Leave a message and make it quick.”


“Max, it’s Peter Abel. I have a lead, and need to talk to you. There’s a great story here for both of us if you can help me. Call my cell as soon as you pick this up.” Abel left his number and hung up.

Now all he had to do was wait for Elliot’s response. Abel wasn’t patient by nature and this waiting for a call-back was the thing he hated most about journalism.

He finally climbed into bed and tried to read a paperback he’d picked up in the London airport. It was a thriller about Vegas gambling and a security expert who busted cheaters. He liked the breezy style and the feel of authenticity. But he couldn’t concentrate.

Abel found himself reading the same paragraph a fourth time. When he still didn’t know what it said, he gave up and turned out the light. But he couldn’t sleep either. He looked at the clock around three and was tempted to call Elliot again but thought better of it.

When he was finally about to drift off, a siren broke through the night air. Abel cursed under his breath. This always happened when he travelled to large cities. Hospitals, fire companies and police, seemed to do their best business when everyone else was trying to sleep.

At six o’clock Abel gave up. He got out of bed, threw on some clothes, went for a walk.

After wandering aimlessly for an hour, Abel decided he needed something to eat. He entered a diner and took a booth near the front.

By the time his breakfast of eggs, ham and orange juice had arrived, he had finished the morning Post. Abel fretted about how he was going to get at Dennis’s client list. He was counting on his fellow journalist to help him. If he didn’t come through, Abel was sunk.

Abel glanced up just long enough to notice the diner staff gathering to watch the TV mounted in the corner above the cash register.

The busboy pointed up at the screen. “This stuff doesn’t usually happen in this neighbourhood.”

“Yeah, it does”, the hostess countered. “It just doesn’t get reported much. It’s bad for tourism.”

“Turn it up”, the waiter said.

The hostess reached up and adjusted the volume.

“The body was discovered in the early hours of the morning near the service entrance by a truck driver making a delivery to the hotel”, the reporter announced.

Abel was suddenly alert. He recognized the hotel immediately. He had been lying awake in a bed in one of its rooms barely an hour earlier. And he recognized the alleyway as the one behind the hotel. Paramedics were wheeling a gurney down the alley with a covered body strapped to it.

“The young woman had been seen in the hotel lobby earlier that evening”, the reporter continued. “Hotel workers identified her as a regular visitor, but so far investigators have been unable to officially confirm her identity.”

Abel slumped back in his booth and rubbed his eyes. He was sure the dead woman was Marcy. And he was sure her murder had something to do with their meeting the previous night.

His heart ached for the poor girl. She had done nothing wrong. Why did these thugs have to kill her? Was this supposed to be a warning to him? Were they preparing to do the same thing to Alice?

What he saw next stunned Abel. His face, a grainy image, filled the TV screen.

“Investigators have released this videotape taken by a hotel lobby security camera late last night”, the reporter explained.

The image being beamed across the country — and perhaps other parts of the world — was one of Marcy walking alongside Abel through the hotel lobby.  Able knew it had been recorded as they left the bar.

“The young woman was seen with a tall, thin man believed to be in his mid-thirties”, the reporter continued. “A hotel employee said he was a guest of the hotel, however, he was not in his room when police raided it just moments ago. Several objects, some said to have shown evidence of blood, were allegedly found among the man’s belongings.”

“Damn!” Abel muttered under his breath. He checked his pocket for his passport and was relieved to find it. It held his true identity. His shoulders sagged as the truth hit him.

The whole encounter had been a setup. He should have insisted on meeting the girl in his room. He’d been told to meet her in the bar so intruders could salt his room with her blood, and he’d walked right into the trap.

“Records with the hotel desk do not confirm the man’s identity, and investigators believe he was registered under a false name. Police describe this man as a ‘person of interest’ in this young woman’s murder and are actively searching for him.”

Abel’s first instinct was to jump out of his seat and charge for the door, but that would have been dangerous and stupid. He was barely two blocks away from the scene of a crime for which he was the prime suspect. The last thing he could afford to do was appear guilty.

He nonchalantly pulled his hat down lower over his face and took another swig of coffee. He waited until the news broadcast switched to a story about some disaster in South America before leaving money for his meal on the table and exiting as surreptitiously as possible.

He carefully wove his way into the human traffic that was moving along the sidewalk, melting into the throng of congressional staffers rushing to early breakfast meetings.

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