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The Innocence of Abigail Paddleford

By Leon J. West

“Hey there, hot stuff.” She leans on my van door, head inside my window and mouth close enough to smell mouthwash, giving me a cleavage shot and a tired smile. “You wanna party?”

She doesn't seem to recognize me, and that's good. It'll make doing what I have to do much easier.

I tell her I just wanna talk. She tells me we have to rent a room for at least an hour, and that it's the same price for talking as fucking. That's fine, I say, and she gets into my van. We drive around the block to the hotel, and she doesn't seem nervous around me at all.


“So,” she says as we climb the stairs to her room, “whadda you wanna talk about?”

I take her to the room, sit her on the bed, and show her my scars. I tell her why I spent the last fifteen years of my life in prison. I tell her about how I fell from my own compromised grace. It's stuff she probably already knows.

I tell her about Abigail.


Abigail Paddleford was my neighbor. She was just fifteen when she disappeared, and I was the only person who saw her go. It broke up my home, ruined my life, and made me a monster.

See this scar? She did that. Punctured my lung. Now I get winded just choking the chicken. If I even did that anymore, which I don't.

Not after Abigail.

You see, free porn and a lot of alone time are fringe benefits of e-commuting, and I was taking advantage of both when little Abby got kidnapped, if kidnap is what you want to call it. I was accustomed to having the neighborhood to myself at that time of day, so when I heard a car pull up across the street, I hit pause on my streaming video, freeze-framing a blonde waif, dick in mouth, eyes worship-wide, in faux lust. I quickstepped to the window, dick in hand, cracked the curtains, and peeked outside.

Across the street, Abigail and some girl I'd never seen before, -- a good-looking blonde in a skimpy red sports car and skimpier white sundress -- raced each other to Abigail's front door, giggling and shoving each other playfully. The other girl looked like she could be in her mid to late twenties, but then, so did Abigail, and she was in the same class as my fourteen-year-old daughter Brittany.

I spent about a tenth of a second wondering why Abigail wasn't in school before I dropped the curtain and returned to the matter at hand. I didn't think about Abigail again until three days later when I saw her on a missing person's flyer and even then didn't think to connect her disappearance to what I'd seen. I probably should have cared more, but it's not like our families were close. Abigail's mother put the kibosh on that the day after we moved in.

“Abigail isn't allowed to play with children who aren't in our church.”

Can you imagine that? She's a single mother. Her kid wears makeup and dresses like a streetwalker—no offense—and my shy honor student isn't good enough for them. From that day on, we just kinda said to hell with 'em, and lived our separate lives.

Until about three months after Abigail's disappearance, that is.

All the flyers with her picture had been taken down, and the police had stopped calling. Abigail's mother had moved away, married the older guy who used to pick them up in the church van on Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. Hell, I’d almost forgotten what she even looked like.


You alright? The story doesn't get any nicer from here, so if you don't want to hear any more you should probably mention it now.


Just tell me if you want me to stop.

So, other than seeing Abigail again, June 6th was just another Tuesday.

The week before, a hooker who used to work here named Roxy gave me an Internet address and told me to “check it out.” She said it was a surprise. The site was called Real Pimp Voyeur. It was dedicated to hidden camera pictures and videos of hookers I recognized fucking Johns in the same room I used with Roxy. I even found a few pics of Roxy and me with my face digitally disguised.

It was kind of exciting, seeing my own marital infidelity online, seeing everyone else's, knowing all their secrets. It turned me on. I spent the next half-hour yanking myself to pictures of girls I could have gone into town and screwed for fifty bucks.

Then I saw Abigail.

It took me a few beats to recognize her. She was on the part of the site dedicated to strung-out, thirty-something hookers who look forty-something but pretend to be “barely eighteen.” The “barely eighteen” angle isn't to be taken seriously. It's just a marketing ploy, like saying one kind of macaroni has more cheese. Or at least that's what I thought before I saw my neighbor's missing daughter, tied spread-eagle and face down on a bed, being sodomized by a balding guy with thick gray hair on his back. The guy kept telling her how she had to be his slave if she wanted a place to live, and she kept saying “yes, sir,” while he fucked her. He grabbed her by the hair and pointed her face at the camera.

“Say hello to your daddy, bitch.”

“Hi, dad.”

But Abigail didn't have a daddy. He'd run out on the family before she was born from what I understood. She only had her crazy bible thumping mother and that creep who drove the church van.

I suddenly felt responsible for her, as if just knowing her and knowing she had no one else somehow made me her surrogate father. And as her surrogate father, I no longer felt like yanking my chain. I felt like taking a baseball bat to the old fucker with the gray back hair.

And since I recognize the hotel room they were staying in—right down to the crappy, scaled down reproduction of Monet's “Water Lilies” above the queen sized bed—I figured I should do something about it.

Yeah, you guessed right. It was room 220. The room we're in now.


I called the police from a pay phone but refused to give my name. And really, what could the police do? Maintain a stakeout at the Pony Express Lodge for who knew how long, on the off chance that one runaway might show up there? Shit. Half the hookers on Fourth Street were, or had been, runaways, and the cops knew it.

After the call, I went home. I pulled all the crap out from under my bed, found my 9mm, loaded it, and sat on the floor looking at it. I put it back under the bed and lay down, rubbing my eyes to try to exorcise the images stuck deep in my brain.

The door downstairs opened and slammed shut.

“Dad!” called Brittany. “You there?”

I sat up and found myself looking into the mirror on the bathroom door. Middle-aged keyboard jockey with glasses and a spare tire, looking frail and a little frightened. “Up here,” I yelled.

She appeared in the doorway, her eyes a little red. I hadn't even heard her walking up the stairs.

“You okay, Hon?”

She shook her head. “Do you remember that boy I said I liked?”

“The one who plays guitar?”

“Yes.” She nodded her head and a tear fell from her eye. “He asked Brenda LeVay to go to the dance with him.”

I stood up and she ran to me, burying her face in my chest and sobbing. It felt good to hold my daughter, to know she was safe and that the biggest problem in her life was an unrequited crush on a guitar player.

“Does he even know you like him?” I asked. Brittany was painfully shy, which most people mistook for snobbishness due to her intelligence.

“I only stare at him every day, Dad.”

“But does he

“I don't know.” She burrowed her face further into my chest and sobs made her thin frame shake. “I hate boys, and I hate school, and I hate Brenda LeVay.”

“No you don't.”

“Right now I do.”

“Come on,” I said. “Let's go get some ice cream before mom gets home. You can tell me all about that Brenda bitch.”

“Dad!” she said covering her mouth and smiling.

“Made you smile.”

She punched me in the arm. “It's a date.”


That night I couldn't keep my mind on Sandra's prattle about all the petty bullshit going on between her and her coworkers. She noticed and pointedly ignored me while all three of us sat at the table stuffing fast food burgers into our mouths. Brittany sensed the tension and asked to be excused with half a burger still cooling on its wax-paper wrapper.

It was like that a lot, back then; the smallest disagreements spawned week-long, sullen silences. I was beyond caring too much. I usually just watched TV until midnight, then crawled into bed, Sandra snoring like a chainsaw beside me.

But I couldn't sleep that night. Everywhere I looked I saw Abigail, talking into the camera in a voice three months dead, watching me with eyes that had seen too many ugly things. When, at about 4AM, I finally did sleep, I had a nightmare that it was Brittany who had been abducted, my own daughter who had been defiled.

I slid out of bed without waking Sandra, feeling guilty for the things I'd dreamt. Snapshot stills of naked girls in obscene poses kept flashing behind my eyelids. Someone's daughter, every last one of them.

Say hello to your Daddy, bitch.

Hi, Dad.

I pulled on my robe and crept out of the bedroom like a cat burglar. I checked the locks on all the doors and windows. Across the street, Abigail's old house remained dark and vacant. The real estate agent said the abduction made the place hard to sell.

Sandra's voice startled me. "I thought I'd find you on the computer." Her insinuation angered me more then she could know.

I let go of the curtain and wiped the welling tears from my eyes. I glared at my wife, but in my mind I saw Roxy on her knees. I wondered if I'd ever be able to talk to my wife, or—even worse—my daughter, without seeing the pictures.

“I think we need a break, Wade.”

I wasn't surprised; I'd been anticipating it for months. Now that she'd finally said it, however, the words hurt more than I'd expected. And the pain, at least, was good. It proved I still had some of my soul left to lose.


But I didn't lose my soul. I threw it away. I flushed it down the toilet. That's why you and I are here, after all.

I got room 212 over there, on the second floor, cattycorner across the parking lot from us, and I watched this room for three weeks. Room 221 was for straight porn, people who knew they were being filmed. Room 220 was the room they used to secretly film hookers with their johns. I saw nearly half the male population of Reno go in and out of 220 or 221 with different hookers under their arms, only to appear as Internet porn stars a few hours later.

It became my addiction, watching them go in the room, speculating about what they might be doing, then watching the streaming video an hour or two later. I was the ultimate fly-on-the-wall voyeur, seeing everyone and seen by no one. I wasn't even masturbating to it anymore. It was just exciting.

The “camera crew,” consisted of two long haired men, alike enough to be twins, and a bull dyke who always wore a rolled up bandana on her head. They came every afternoon about 2PM, and worked all evening until sometime around 2AM, the hardest working people in porn. The moneyman came on Sunday afternoons, a clean-cut, middle-aged, blonde man in pressed white shirts, silk ties, and patent leather shoes. He always stopped in the front office first. Then he checked rooms 220 and 221, talking to the camera crew for a bit before leaving for another week.

I don't know what I'd been thinking when I left my home in the middle of the night—perhaps that I'd find the bad guys, save the girl, and be home in time to watch my own interview on the evening news—but it didn't work out that way. Instead I got a phone call from Sandra about two weeks later.

“I know where you are, Wade. I know what they do there. Don't bother coming home.”

“You don't underst—” I said to the dial tone.

You might think the reason my wife left me had something to do with the fact that I recognized room 220, and you'd be right. Sandra gained a lot of weight when she had Brittany. I was okay with it, but she became self-conscious about her body. We stopped having sex with the lights on. Eventually, we stopped having sex. She took up quilting. I took up hookers and Internet porn. The marriage had been staggering along like a reanimated corpse in a B-grade horror movie ever since.

Don't misunderstand. I loved my wife, even without the sex, and I guess I still do. Not that it matters. Sandra married a short, pudgy, balding tax accountant who looks like he'd be scared of his own erection, and Brittany hasn't talked to me since I went to prison. They seem much happier without me.

I'd barely ended my sixteen-year marriage by hanging up the phone when I heard talking in the parking lot, went to the window, and peeked out. A young redhead hooker with an unfortunate complexion led an angry looking young man with no hair and lots of tattoos to room 221.

I recognized the hooker. A regular. Real freaky. Liked it rough.

I turned on my laptop and waited for the download.


The next weekend, my third Sunday on watch, I was ready and waiting for the moneyman. I'd already loaded my pistol, put a bunch of plastic zip-ties in my pocket, and thrown up my lunch, twice, by the time his blue Mercedes pulled into the parking lot.

I put the gun in my waistband and ran to the bathroom to throw up again. When I returned to the window, the moneyman had just entered room 220.

I took a deep breath, and opened my door. On the street below, a man and a woman argued loudly, not paying me any attention. I was so wired up on fear I felt the second-floor cement walkway vibrate beneath my feet with each step. Boom, boom, boom goes the Jolly Porn Giant with a gun.

I stopped outside room 220. I put my ear to the door. Muffled voices, muffled laughter. I slid the gun out of my waistband and held it between myself and the door, where it couldn't be seen from the street. With my other hand, I slowly turned the doorknob, trying not to make a sound.


I pushed the door open, raised the gun, and stepped into the room yelling. “Alright motherfuckers,” my voice cracked at “fuckers,’ “face down on the beds, now!”

The long haired twins put their hands up and babbled, falling all over each other in an effort to comply with my demands. The dyke smirked and took a step towards me, reaching for my gun.

“Back off, bitch.”

“You ain't gonna do...”

I kicked her in the gut, and pistol-whipped her. It didn't work like it does in the movies, and she landed a grazing blow on my temple. I had to hit her with the gun three times, opening a big gash on her scalp, before she finally lost consciousness.

One of the twins lay down on the bed as instructed, the other one raced past me as I dealt with the woman. I slammed the door on the others and brandished my bloody gun.

“All I want is some information,” I said, my voice a bit stronger now. “Give me what I want, and no one gets hurt.”

Throughout the exchange, the moneyman just stood there beside the bathroom door, expressionless, watching me. At the mention of terms he sat at the room's little card table. “How can I be of assistance?”

“You made a video, three months ago, of an old guy and a young girl...”

The blonde man smiled. “I make a lot of videos. Almost all of them fit that general description.”

“The video I'm talking about doesn't feature any of your regular hookers. It features some old pervert and an underage girl.”

“Are you sure the girl was underage? Many of these working women try to appear younger than they truly are, in order to attract more business.”

The dyke rolled over and moaned, still unconscious.

“I'm sure, motherfucker,” I pointed the gun right between his eyes and took another step towards him. “And I think you know exactly who I'm talking about.”

“You aren't a police officer.”

“What was your first clue?”

“I'll tell you what I know if you go away.”

“That was the deal.”

Moneyman picked up a pack of cigarettes from the table, knocked one out, and lit it. “You don't mind if I take one of your smokes, do you Dale?”

“No, boss,” said the long haired man still face down on the bed, his voice muffled by the pillow. “Help yourself.”

Moneyman took his time lighting the cigarette, drawing the whole process out as slow as possible, stalling.

“You think I'm bluffing, don't you?”

He shrugged.

I dropped the barrel, squeezed the trigger, and put a hole in his leg, right above his knee.

He slid off his chair and fell to the floor, his half lit cigarette smoking on the carpet beside him. Spit bubbles popped in the corners of his mouth as he babbled on about his friend, Hank, from church, where I could find him, when to find him. He didn't hold anything back.

“Can you walk?” I asked him.

“Not far.” He winced, held his leg, and rocked.

“Good.” I pointed the gun at his forehead. “You won't be going very far.”


I watched them from across the street. A white, two-story church surrounded by desert. Well-dressed, smiling people filed out the door. Everyone stopped to shake the hand of the gray haired monster named Hank. And beside him, Abigail's mother, beaming at each member of the congregation.

Moneyman sat beside me in my rented sedan, his hands bound behind his back with plastic zip ties. A single droplet of sweat rolled down his cheek and fell from his chin. Blood soaked his slacks and squished on the upholstery when he moved. He looked scared, eyes wide, breath ragged. He had a blackened eye, but I didn't remember hitting him.

“You could let me out here,” he said.

I could tell he was afraid I was going to kill him. I didn't do anything to ease his mind.

I followed the Unity Valley Church van until Hank dropped Abigail's mother off at a cute little house beside the freeway. I waited half an hour, and Hank reappeared driving a little red convertible—the same one I'd last seen Abigail in. I let him get a bit ahead of me and followed.

He drove to a double-wide trailer in Sun Valley, Nevada, the world's largest trailer park. I parked in an abandoned mobile home lot about half a block away, sagebrush and scrub trees growing up through the rusted out shells of abandoned cars.

I pointed the gun at the moneyman. “You're going to have to wait in the trunk.”

“Look fella,” he said.

I dropped the barrel until it pointed at his crotch, thumbed back the hammer, and he squealed.

“Alright, alright.” He thrashed in the seat, but the seatbelt and his bound hands wouldn't let him move very far. “Fuck. I'll do it. I'll do it.”

Time seemed to slow down after I put him in the trunk. Each step away from the car and towards Hank's trailer seemed harder than the last. The gun pressed into my belly flab, making my already queasy stomach churn and ache. I lifted my shirt and shifted the gun, now slick with my nervous sweat, to a more comfortable position. I watched the trailer as I approached and could see no sign of the occupants, no moving curtains, no sounds, nothing.

I opened the chain link gate as quietly as I could, and walked across the small square of sun baked, weed-choked, dirt that served as front yard. The cool shade of the porch was a welcome reprieve from the sun, and I leaned against the doorjamb, listening and letting my stomach calm down.

I heard nothing, but my belly never calmed. I just stood there, panting and holding my sides for about ten minutes. Cars went by on the dirt road. A little boy without shirt or shoes, maybe six years old, rode by on an undersized motorcycle. Nobody saw me.

I grabbed the doorknob and turned it slowly.


I was scared as hell, but I never considered not going through with it. Leaving and staying sane were mutually exclusive options. Save the girl from the monster, or become the monster.

I never considered that I could save her and still become what I hated. The thought never crossed my mind.

Once inside, I could hear muffled talking coming from one of the two back rooms with the doors shut. My feet made no sound on the brown carpet as I crept through the living room.

When I was still a dozen feet from the doors, one of them opened, and I found myself looking at Hank.

“Hey, boy,” said Hank. “Abby's busy. Get lost.”

I fumbled my gun out of my pants. My hand was still smarting from punching Moneyman, and the gun was slick with sweat. I dropped it.

Hank moved fast for an old guy, running right at me, fists balled. I dropped into a crouch and grabbed the gun, but Hank stepped on my gun hand with one foot and raised the knee of his other leg into my chin.

My vision went black for a split second, came back to a spinning room. I couldn't focus on anything, but I could feel the gun still in my hand. I raised it at the spot where I thought Hank would be, and pulled the trigger.

The ringing in my ears seemed to go on forever. I tried to stand but the room spun crazily and I had to stop when I got to my knees, bracing myself with my free hand. The ringing in my ears became a woman's scream.

The room slowed its maniac carousel act. I saw her, Abigail Paddleford, my maiden so recently rescued from the monster, racing across the room with a skillet in her hand. She hit me and my lights went out, but I was not fully unconscious. I could still hear her calling an ambulance and tearfully comforting Hank, her abductor.

At some point before the ambulance arrived, she must have realized Hank was dead. I heard her stop crying, felt her take the gun out of my hand.

“If Hank's not going to make it, neither are you,” she said.

I never even heard the gunshot.

You still awake? Yeah, I guess I'm pretty tired too. All that talking. You know, when you're asleep, without that wig, you don't really look that much like her.


I watch her slide out of bed and collect her clothes from the hotel room floor, curtain filtered moonlight her only illumination. She glances my way but doesn't seem to notice me watching her through half-lidded eyes.

When she's done dressing, she takes a couple handi-wipes from her purse and wipes down all the dustable surfaces. She checks the rest of the room thoroughly—getting rid of evidence—takes a little gun out of her purse, and comes to stand beside the side of the bed where I'm feigning sleep.

I'm not sure if she can see that my eyes are half open when she puts the barrel of the gun a few inches from my face. Her blank expression says she probably can't. She thumbs back the hammer, and I let my eyelids fall completely closed.

I wait.

For a very long time.

When I open my eyes again, she's no longer standing beside the bed. She's walking towards the door, replacing the gun in her purse.

“Hey,” I say, and my voice makes her jump, then stand very still with her hand on the doorknob and the door cracked open just a few inches. “Why didn't you do it?”

She doesn't move or say anything, and the seconds drag on, red neon blinking in the gap between door and frame. She takes a cigarette out of her purse and lights it, shrugs, and blows smoke.

“I might not get away with it this time.” She puffs smoke and shrugs again. “I can't go to jail. I need to take care of my mother.”

“How is she?”

“She has mental issues and the neighborhood kids are always stealing her medication from the mailbox.” The girl sighs. “Why did you say I don't look like . . . her . . . like Abigail?”

“I thought you were asleep,” I say. If she leaves without killing me, I'll die. “But it's true, you don't really look like her now that I think about it.”

“Oh.” She wipes her eye with the back of her hand, and I'm not sure if she's wiping away a tear or not. “Did you want me to shoot you?”



“Do you deserve to be shot?” She says it in her hooker voice, cocking her hip and vamping, like she's selling death as well as sex.

“Yeah.” I nod.


“Once I knew where she was, where Hank was keeping her, I could have called the cops. I could have hired a private investigator. I could have done a hundred better, smarter things to save her, but I didn't.”

“Why?” She sounded breathless, her hooker persona gone for a moment as she hung on my every word.

“I was saving her—” I shrug because I realize I've never actually said the words, not even after fifteen years. I shake my head and feel tears welling in my eyes. “I was saving her, but I think, maybe, I was saving her for myself.”

Neither of us says anything for a long dark minute.

“Well then,” she says as she drops her cigarette on the cement walkway outside and crushes it out with her high-heeled boots, “maybe next week.”

“Yeah,” I say, and I'm crying too much to say any more.

She closes the door and leaves me in the long dark week I need to live through if I want to see her again. And I want to see her again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Until she finishes what she started.

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