The rows of stern Victorian buildings that rose all around them formed a stark contrast with the bustling night life on the street level. The pedestrian ways were packed with a crowd of all colours and all languages, chatting, cheering, drinking, smoking, some even chanting, bathed in the vibrant neon lights of the pubs, the restaurants, the clubs, all packed with even more people. At night, the streets of Soho were never quiet, resounding of music and the clatters of hundreds of voices, amidst the lights of all the bar and pub façades merging into a formless, ethereal purple hue. Soho, Zoo, sometimes it was hard to tell.
Rebecca and Sally moved nervously among the crowd, pressing their bags against their chests, trying to avoid eye contact with the adults all around. They were not supposed to be there, night was falling and this was no place for kids at night. Worse, they realized only too late that they had been so caught up in their investigation that they didn't even bother to change from their school uniforms, which made them even more noticeable. Soho was long the hotspot for sleazy entertainment in England, and although the district had for years turned mostly into a neighbourhood of fashionable restaurants and venues, one could still find, in the darker back streets, the most "specialized" shops and the clubs where the weirdest practices were rumoured to take place. And, of course, the address led right to a sex shop, with a colourful display furnished with an asortment of... what the hell were those things? they wondered, before they realized they probably didn't want to know.
"Um, hello?" Rebecca asked hesitantly as they walked in. The inside was stacked with even more terrifying objects, and rows of DVDs whose covers curiosity compelled her to look at, only to instantly turn her eyes, blushing.
"Yuh?" the owner raised his eyes from his magazine. He was a slender lad with a bald, tattooed head and a sleeveless leather vest. He was chewing a gum and seemed completely unfazed by the presence of two teenage girls in his shop. Rebecca tried to speak but he cut her off as he shouted at someone in the back of the shop: "Davy? You ordered some schoolgirls?"
"What?" the other man shouted back.
"I got two chicks in school uniforms, here for you?"
"No, don't think so. What are they like?"
"Oh, well..." he cast a quick look at the two girls who were getting increasingly nervous. "The brunette's okay, I guess, and the ginger's kind of cute. Hey, chicks," he now addressed them, "you gotta tell me how you do that. It's amazing, you really look like you're fourteen!"
"Um, that's because we are fourteen, actually," Rebecca said. "We've just come to ask you about..."
"What?" he shouted, turning aggressive all of a sudden. "No! No minors in my shop! This is a respectable establishment here! Go home!"
Thus expelled, the poor girls were back outside quicker than they had come in. "Okay," Sally said, "I know I said I would help you, but I am so not going back in that disgusting place!"
"Don't worry," Rebecca panted, "me neither. So... I guess we've had enough for the night. I'll think about something later, let's go home now."
They tried to make their way back to the main artery, but navigating the maze of alleys was a daunting task, and they got a bit lost. They landed in a street crowded with punks and metalheads, the studs on their jackets shining in the night. They seemed to be standing in line next to the door of a club, maybe there was a concert in there. The girls didn't feel so comfortable in that crowd and they couldn't wait to be back in their beds safe, when a group of blokes who reeked of cheap booze surrounded them.
"Hey, pretty, schoolgirls get naughty tonight? Wanna join us?"
"Err, no thanks, we have a bus to catch."
The men positioned themselves in a way that made it obvious they wouldn't let them go. "Oh, come on," the one who seemed to lead the pack said, "come to my place, I got beer, good music... and acids. You're gonna have so much fun..."
Rebecca, in panic, put her hand on her chest. She felt the hard edges of the Cross under her shirt. She was about to unbutton it, when she felt her friend's soft grip on her wrist. She looked at Sally, who signaled to her not to do it. Not here, too many people could get hurt.