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This story is informed by an experience I had whilst working in London in the mid-nineties. Although enjoying being grossly overpaid for a job I loved doing, my personal life was in complete ruins, and I’d found an emotional low that I never thought existed.

A brief encounter with a beautiful young homeless girl made me think long and very hard about my life, and how I was (or rather wasn’t) dealing with it. Many years later, I realised that it was a true moment of Epiphany for me, both life-preserving and enriching, and one for which I am eternally grateful to her for. As a result I have never forgotten her, and often wonder what would have happened if I’d behaved differently.

Let me explain. I was strong financially, and could have easily supported her, but I stopped myself from becoming involved after realising that my motives were less than altruistic, that it was I who needed her, rather than she needed me, although she would probably not have agreed had we discussed it at the time.

I was in awe and admiration at her sheer determination to survive, and despite her dire circumstances, her demonstration of a defiant dignity and belief in herself that was as inspirational to me, as it was humbling. These things, coupled with an honesty and openness about her motives, together with her beauty, made her almost irresistable to me, and I was deeply smitten.

I’m glad I resisted the temptation, and on the occasions that I now encounter the homeless, I’m minded of her, and as a result a little more charitable in my attitude towards them, and to the selfless charity workers who help them.

This story then, is about a man who has adopted a life of helping homeless and vulnerable girls, and of waging a dark and ruthless private war on the human traffickers and criminals who prey on them. His chance encounter with a young Serbian woman, and his experience of her growing unconditional love for him, reveal to him that emotionally, he is as broken and beaten as the girls he is trying to help.

Up to date, I’ve usually published stories complete, as a single PDF document, and these are indexed on a page in the main menu above. (see The Stories) On this occasion I’m taking the alternative approach of publishing a chapter at a time, rather in the style of the penny weeklies of yesteryear, except that the frequency of publication of each chapter, will not follow a strict weekly pattern. To ease navigation through the story I have given it the category of the title above, simply ‘Svetlana’, and each post will have the title ‘Svetlana’ catenated with the chapter title and number. Links to each published chapter will appear in the left sidebar menu ‘Svetlana’, and at the bottom of each post. At some point, I will publish the story in it’s entirety, as a PDF document.

Warning: The story contains adult subject matter, several explicit scenes of an intimate sexual nature, descriptions of human jeopardy, and is not suitable for minors, or those who are easily offended.

Next Chapter – 2: Metamorphosis »

The Carlson Imperative
Book 1: Svetlana Curuvija
© 2010 J.W.Brown

Chapter 1: Frightened Waif

“Leave her alone.”
He stopped his leering at the girl and looked at me.
He snarled “And what if I don’t?”
“Carry on,” I paused, looking straight through him, “and you will find out.”
He made to move forward towards me, but his friend grabbed his arm. “Leave it Rodge.” then turning to me he said “We don’t want any trouble.”
I nodded, but watched them both carefully.
The troublemaker scowled, and shrugged off his friend’s restraining hand, but turned away from me and the girl.

She had borne his loud-mouthed profanities and uninvited comments regarding her appearance with stoic patience, and had kept her gaze on the floor of the carriage, despite his bating her. I had remained quiet, just watching, until I had seen his hand go slyly to her backside and touch her intimately. Even to this she had not reacted, but was visibly shaking and close to tears, and I had seen enough of his cruel bullying.

The train rattled and squealed it’s way into Baker Street station, and the bully and his friend left the crowded carriage. The train moved off and I remained standing, despite there now being a seat empty near me. I said quietly to her. “Would you like to sit? I’m getting off at the next stop.”

She looked up at me, and there were tears in her eyes. Despite the dirt on her face and short curly blonde hair, she was stunningly pretty, with high Slavic cheekbones, blue-green eyes and a wide sensual mouth.

Since she made no move toward the seat, I stood to one side and gestured with my hand. She nodded slightly and then sat, trying to wipe away her tears with the back of her hand. I held out a couple of clean paper tissues, and she took them, gently pressing the back of my hand as she did. She wiped her face, and then looked up defiantly around the carriage, causing those that stared at her to look away, then she looked up at me again and said “Thank you.” Her accent was thick and mid-European. I smiled back and said “You are welcome.”
The train lurched it’s way across the points and into Edgware Street station, and I nodded at her and said ‘Bye’, then followed the Friday five-o’clock crowd along the platform and out onto Chapel Street.

London was still like a frying pan, oppressively hot and very sticky, so I walked slowly down towards Edgware Road, letting most of the other commuters overtake me. As I waited at the crossing, I was aware of the girl just behind me and to my left. I crossed the road and made my way slowly down Praed Street, and as I turned left into Junction Place, I could see she was still behind me, following at a short distance. Just before I turned into the ‘Three Keys’ pub I stopped and turned around. She too stopped, about twenty-feet away. I smiled at her and walked slowly back towards her.

She waited as I approached. Her expression and demeanour was an inexplicable mixture of supplication and defiance and she spoke, a tremor in her voice. “Will you slip with me plis? I need money.”

Good manners had stopped me from observing her closely in the train, but she was now standing full in front of me, and she looked desperate. She wore a skimpy, filthy dress, with a dirty silk scarf around her neck, and the straps of a small haversack were over her shoulders. Her long legs were streaked with dirt and on her feet were a beat-up pair of dirty plimsolls. She was a little too thin for her height and was visibly shaking despite the heat.

“Are you hungry?” I said, and not waiting for a reply I pointed at the ‘Three Keys’ and added:
“That pub do lovely sandwiches. Come with me and we will eat.”
I held out my hand.
I’m not sure she understood fully, but she bravely took my hand and we walked the few steps back to the pub.
I opened the door and led her to the counter. The barman nodded at me. “Hi Joe, what will it be?”
“Hi Alfie. Double rounds each of beef, ham, and cheese sandwiches please, with two big side-salads, a jug of water and two large orange juices.”
As I spoke I could see the girl’s eyes taking in the huge display cabinet stuffed with large pieces of cooked meat, cheeses and bread.
Alfie smiled at me, and quipped “And for the lady?”
I laughed, and led her to a quiet side table.
Despite the hour, it was still quiet, with only a few punters. A barmaid set the drinks in front of us, and I said to the girl. “Have a drink, there are some sandwiches coming.”
She lifted the juice glass to her mouth and drank heavily, finishing off the half-pint in one go. I smiled and sipped my own, then put down my glass.
“Како се зовеш?” I said quietly.

I saw her jump, and knew I had guessed correctly. Unfortunately I had also frightened her. Before waiting for her to tell me her name I reassured her, telling her not to be afraid “It’s OK. Не бојте се.”
She clasped her hands together, and her lips trembled with emotion, but she managed to speak.
“Моје име је Светлана.”
I reached out my hand across the table “ Hi Svetlana, it’s lovely to meet you. My name is Joe.” I repeated in Serbian “ Моје име је Џо.”

She grabbed my hand and clenched it fiercely in her own. She started to speak, but far too fast for my grasp of her language and dialect. I held up my other hand and said gently. “Пребрзо. Не разумем.”
She stopped, but held onto my hand and looked at me pleadingly.
I saw Alfie and the barmaid coming across with our food and told her that I’d help her, but first we should eat. “Svetlana, Ја ћу вам помоћи, али прво нека нас поједу.”

Her eyes lit up as the food was laid in front of us. I ordered more juice, and we started on the sandwiches. She was ravenous. The delicious beef, ham and cheese rolls were demolished in rapid succession, together with the salad. I ordered strawberries, bananas and cream, and these followed the sandwiches, this time a little more slowly. Finally she put down her spoon and reached out her hand again. “Thank you. I enjoy very much.”
I smiled and nodded “Good, I can see you feel a little better.”

Despite the warmth, she still had the scarf around her neck, but during the meal I had noticed signs of dark bruising as she moved. On her upper arms too, as her sleeves moved, I could see ominous dark brown and blue patches.

The pub was filling up, and there were one or two glances in our direction due to her appearance, so I settled the bill and we left.

Outside, she grew apprehensive again, and held on fiercely to my hand. “I slip with you now Joe?”

I struggled to explain to her, in a mixture of English and Serbian that I would help her, and she didn’t need to sleep with me. I explained I lived nearby and she was welcome to stay for a while.
“Светлана, ви сте лепу девојку, али очигледно невољи. Ја сам у близини куће, где можете остати за неко време.”

At this she smiled, but seemed still uncertain and a little afraid, and I guessed my mangled Serbian wasn’t cutting it.

We walked down towards the bottom of Sussex Gardens, and down the steps to the basement door of my house. I let us in. It was blissfully cool compared to the hot pavements outside. I opened the lounge windows, put on the coffee pot, and grabbed a pile of fluffy towels from the airing cupboard. She had stood in the middle of the spacious lounge, looking around, her mouth a little open in surprise at the room’s size, but said nothing and taking my offered hand followed me into the guest bedroom.

I threw back the bed cover on one of the two single beds, then showed her the carefully chosen contents of the drawers, and cupboards. I showed her into the bathroom, demonstrated how the mixer tap on the bath worked, and then tried to explain to her slowly and carefully in Serbian. “This is all for you. I will find you a change of clothes.”
Then I added what I hoped was re-assurance.
“You are free to stay here as long as you need, and no-one will hurt you, nor make you do anything you do not want to do. You can leave whenever you wish.”
I paused then added “Do you need a Doctor?”

When I finished my halting speech, she took hold of both of my hands in hers and looking up at me with tears in her eyes she said softly: “Хвала ти Џо. Ви сте веома љубазни и посебан човек. Не треба ми доктор.”, then in halting English “Thank you Joe. You are very kind man. No Doctor.”
She moved forward and brushed her lips gently on my cheek, then stood back again to look at me.

I thanked her, and left her to bathe. I poured a large coffee then picked up the ‘phone and called Zee.
It was answered almost immediately. “Hi, Joe.”
“Hello Zee, Are you very busy?”
Her laughter tinkled down the line. “Not especially, can I help?”
“I’ve brought a young woman home, and she badly needs a change of clothes. She’s a little taller than you, but a mite skinny.”
“Ah, OK. I’ll sort out and bring down a few things – twenty minutes OK?”
I laughed and thanked her. “Thanks Zee, that’s fine. It’ll give me a chance to talk to you while she’s in the bath.”
“OK then, Bye.” She hung up.

I sat and sipped the coffee and thought long and hard. Then dialled ‘9′ for an outside line and rang Katya Salinskya’s number. I heard her quiet “Katya. Who’s calling please?” and greeted her in her own tongue.
“Хелло Каћа. То је леп да се поново чују твој глас!”
She laughed and replied. “Hi Joe, your Serbian is as bad as the last time I heard it!”
I laughed, and she continued. “It’s lovely to hear from you, what can I do for you?”
I explained about Svetlana, and that I was worried that she might need medical attention, but may not talk to an English doctor.
“Are you available tomorrow afternoon, around tea-time?”
“Of course, and it will be a pleasure to help.”
“OK Katya, and thanks. Perhaps you will have some tea with us?”
“I’d love to, see you then.”
We said our goodbyes, and shortly after, I heard a discreet knock on the internal door leading from lift to the house upstairs.
“Come in Zee.”
She smiled at me as she entered, and placed a pile of clothes neatly on the sofa, then sat down beside them. I poured her a coffee and related the past hour and a half to her.
“How old is she?”
I shook my head “It’s hard to tell, but my estimate is in her middle twenties.”
“Oh” she said, “not a kid anyway.”
“No. She’s Serbian and I suspect she may be illegal. As well as showing signs that she has been brutally beaten, she looks, and acts half-starved and she badly needs help.”
She smiled at me. “Well, that’s what we do.”
“Any sign of drugs?” she continued.
I shook my head. “She looks clean. But..” I shrugged my shoulders.
Zee nodded. “Doctor tomorrow?”
I nodded. “I’ve arranged for Katya to call around 4.00pm to interpret, can you arrange for Millicent Courtney to call about 5.00pm?”
“Consider it done.”
We both looked up as we heard the door from her bedroom open, and seconds later she stood in the room.

It was all I could do to stop my mouth from falling open. I had seen she was very pretty, but now, with the filth removed from her face and hair, she was staggeringly beautiful.
“Wow!” I heard Zee mutter under her breath, as we both rose.

She stood still, wrapped in the fleece bathrobe and watched us approach. I gestured to Zee and spoke, first in Serbian followed by English.
“Hi Svetlana. This is Zee – she works with me here at our Refuge. She is my best friend and she is here to help you.”

Zee moved forward and kissed Svetlana on the cheek. The girl’s arms closed around her and held Zee tight. Zee’s arms went around her and they hugged each other. Svetlana was facing me and I watched as floods of tears sprang into her eyes and she wept uncontrollably.

I turned away, tears beginning in my own eyes, and poured another coffee. Zee held her, stroking her head and murmuring low assurances as she would have to a distressed baby. Eventually the tears and sobs subsided and they sat together on the sofa, Zee with her arm around Svetlana’s shoulders, Svetlana grasping Zee’s other hand in a tight grip. I poured us all a coffee, and explained my intentions for tomorrow, as carefully and slowly as necessary, in both English and Serbian, until I was convinced that Svetlana understood.

Tomorrow, Zee would take Svetlana shopping for clothes of her own, and any other necessary personal items she needed. We would all have lunch upstairs and Svetlana could meet the other Refuge staff and some of the girls. Then at tea-time Katya would arrive and talk to Svetlana in her own language. If she wished, she could then see a lady doctor, with Katya acting as interpreter.

I stressed again that no one was held here against their will, and that she was free to leave whenever she wanted, but I hoped she would stay and let us help her. I told her that she would be kept safe from harm, and that no-one would inform the Police.

In the course of my long and sometimes laboured speech, Svetlana relaxed visibly and when I finally sat back in my chair, she got up, crossed over towards me and planted a big kiss on my cheek.
She whispered “Thank you Joe.” then sat back down beside Zee and kissed her too. Zee gestured to the clothes, and they both picked up a bundle and left for Svetlana’s bedroom.

I felt emotionally and mentally exhausted. Translating on-the-fly, and being all-too-aware of the effects of making a bad mistake would have on her, had left me completely drained. I was also aware of the beginnings of conflicting personal emotions regarding her, and that worried me. I crossed to the ‘fridge and grabbed a bottle of German lager, sat down with it and switched on the TV.

I kept my eyes on the box but heard only the chatter of the girls, and I smiled wryly, knowing that despite the cacophony of Zeena’s occasional Portuguese, mixed with her perfect English, and Svetlana’s Slavic overtones, they both understood each other perfectly, and it gladdened my heart.

It was my turn to say “Wow!”

She stood just inside the lounge, Zee by her side, and gave a twirl, a delighted grin on her lovely face.
I recognised the dress immediately, it was three-quarter length and of powder-blue chiffon, and fitted her slim body perfectly. She wore no Bra and only a thin slip under the dress and her nipples stood proudly against the material. On her feet were a matching pair of kitten-heel slippers, again in powder-blue.

I stood up and walked over smiling, telling her in Serbian “You look beautiful Svetlana.”
She blushed. I looked at Zee. “A lovely choice Zee, truly delightful.”
She looked steadily at me. “You don’t mind?”
I leant forward and kissed her cheek. “No, it’s as if it was made for her.”

She gave me a quizzical look, but I just smiled. I noticed that Zee had very successfully hidden most of the bruises on Svetlana’s neck with make-up foundation, and on a sudden wild impulse, I moved over to my wall safe, and removed the small velvet box I kept there. I took out the gold chain and pendant, and walked back to the girls. I went behind Svetlana and fastened the chain around her lovely long neck, then walked her over to the full-length mirror. She gasped, and her hand reached up and held the exquisite opal-decorated Lalique pendant up to the mirror for a closer look.

I stood and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Zee touched my arm and said quietly. “Are you sure you want her to wear that?”
I turned my head and replied evenly “As sure as you are that she should wear the dress.”
She answered, a tremor in her voice. “I’m so sorry Joe, I hoped that you would be pleased to see that beautiful dress again.”

I turned fully towards her “My sweet, sweet Zee. I am pleased, no-one is more deserving nor fitted than Svetlana to wear it, or the pendant.”
I took her in my arms and hugged her.
We both turned around, but Svetlana was oblivious to our exchange, admiring herself in the glass in every possible pose.
“She’s beautiful.” Zee said wistfully. I squeezed her hand and said quietly but with some force “And so are you.”
She looked up at me, a little unconvinced. “I have to go, Tomas is waiting for me. Be careful.”
“I will.” I murmured and we kissed each other lightly on the lips. “Nine tomorrow morning? “ she said. I nodded and she let herself out quietly.

Svetlana heard the door close and looked around. “Zee?”
“She lives upstairs with her husband.” I repeated it in Serbian and she smiled. “Just me and just you.”
I grinned “Yes.”
“Unhook plis.” she turned and offered her back to me, and I unhooked the pendant. I gave it to her, and she left the room.
I had just finished washing up the coffee cups, when she came back dressed in a long warm nightie, with the bathrobe over her shoulders.
She caught my mood. “You are sad Joe?”
“No, Svetlana, I am glad – Драго ми је.”
We sat down in front of the TV and she nestled her head against my shoulder, ignoring the TV, having eyes only for the pendant.
She rolled it carefully between her fingers, the light bouncing off the beautifully cut stones.
“It is most beautiful thing I see ever.” she paused then added more slowly, “It is special to you?”

Now that she felt calm and safe, her English, though still halting, was at least as good as my bad Serbian.
She held the pendant in front of me.
I turned and faced her, looking straight into her beautiful eyes. “Please,” I paused “I want you to have it now.”
“You are too kind man – I cannot accept. If say I borrow while I stay OK?”
I nodded and smiled “Yes, OK then.”
She seemed satisfied, and again curled up beside me, but I could feel that there was something more. As if reading my mind, she took a photograph from her bathrobe pocket and handed it to me.

I looked at the two girls together – they looked like twins – beautiful twins, except one twin was inexplicably larger than the other, but I knew. The smaller girl was Svetlana’s sister. She had been watching my face, and knew I understood. She took my left hand and said quietly.
“Katrina. Is 13. I follow to England.”
I nodded in encouragement, but her emotions threatened to overwhelm her again.
“Many bad men..”
She stopped and shivered and I squeezed her hand gently, and she told me briefly, but haltingly, of how she had left her teaching job in Titov Vrbas, where they had both lived, and began her long journey to find her missing sister. How she had ended up in London, with very little money, but at last finding her sister, only to be made prisoner with her. She became more agitated and upset as she continued, especially as I could not understand some of what she said.
Finally, I hushed her, saying the words in English, then in Serbian.“We will find her, together, and very soon. But tonight you must rest. Ми ћемо јој наћи заједно. Али, вечерас морате одмора.”
She nodded and smiled, and I handed back the photograph.

We sat quietly together watching the TV. She had chosen a delicate scent that was most hypnotic in it’s effect and I found the warmth and touch of her body so close to me both pleasing, and not a little disturbing.

In a while I felt her breathing deepen, and my own head was feeling very heavy. I carefully lifted her into my arms and carried her into her bedroom, placing her gently on the sheet, and carefully removing the bathrobe. The Lalique on it’s chain was still curled around her fingers. I gently extricated it and placed it on the bedside table, together with the photo from her pocket. I filled a water jug and placed this and a glass on the table, and then I stood looking down at her beautiful head on the pillow, and a great sense of that which I had lost came over me. I turned down the light and left the room, leaving the door partly open.

I brushed my teeth and fell into my own bed, my mind churning. Not the useful, planning, insightful thoughts that usually accompanied my pre-sleep doze, but the events of the evening, and that of other evenings long ago, mixed and meshed, until they formed a surreal other-world, in which I blundered about blindly.

I did sleep eventually, but it seemed that the tormented brain-twisting of the evening gave way almost immediately to the bright sunlight filtering in from my French windows, and high on to the bedroom wall.

Next Chapter – 2: Metamorphosis »

Svetlana – Index of Chapters.

Book 1 of The Carlson Imperative is now available as a PDF download here: The Carlson Imperative – Book 1

The Carlson Imperative is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between characters in the story, and real persons, either living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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