Four Below the Floor
A story about a pharmacist, the girls he kept in a basement, and a teen on the verge
Years later, we would still talk about the girl who jumped out of a window. That was the summer the town pharmacist was found with four girls in his basement. Chained to a king bed, their bodies fanned out. Picked clean, they dried damp in the dark. Some of the men joked about how they could feel the bones of the girls’ ribs when they held them. Other men didn’t register the girls at all.
And they were young girls, knobby-kneed and soft-skinned, their faces the color of first-degree shame. The youngest was 13 and she was prized because she didn’t have the bleed. The bidding started at $2,000, and it was ferocious how the men bid in $10 increments. She ended up being passed between two men we knew and loved for $5,000. They came for her with suckers in their lap. Mouths puckering like silverfish. After, her stock plummeted as a cold product tends to do.
These men were fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. They coached soccer and wrenched pipes, taught AP English, sold insurance, and policed our pristine streets. One was a social worker, a do-gooder gone bad. The papers went borderline vampiric on that one. Back then, we only had papers and the radio — the age of the somnambulant perched over their glowing phones hadn’t arrived yet. It got heavy when the FBI flew in like the dust devils they were, film crews and boom mics in tow. Got a photo of the social worker cuffed up, belt unbuckled. The smell of one of the girls still on his skin. He tried to make a run for it. Streaked through the trees until two of the mothers wrestled him to the ground and the cops came with a pair of cuffs. Saving the day as men in uniform tended to do until we knew better.
“Thoroughbreds,” the pharmacist once called them. Purebred. He even had cards printed with an equine emboss, and circulated them to the 30 men who came to the house. The basement became a revolving door of their wants — what their wives wouldn’t willingly give, what they were ashamed and terrified to ask for, places they wanted to explore if only they had permission to — desires too undignified for dinner table fare.