Finding Daniel – Chapter 37

During the couple of hours it took for Tess and Freddy to bring her clothes to the police station Sally continued to beg the police to act.  She had written her statement, talked to detectives, trying again to urge them to do something, anything.  They in turn placated her with reference to procedure and privacy laws.  They promised to visit the house, they promised to issue a missing persons notice for Daniel, they promised to keep her informed and then they left her kicking her heels in a dreary visitors lounge.  She drank their weak and tasteless coffee, refused their offer of medical help and all the time railed against the delays and the slow grind of procedure…

“Bloody hell Sally, look at the state of you.  Have you seen a doctor?”  Tess had burst into the little lounge and pulled her friend into a hug.

“No, they wanted me to but I’m not really hurt much.  It looks worse than it is.  It’s cuts and bruises that’s all.  I need a shower though and I need to go home.  I am so glad to see you, and you Freddy, thanks for coming both of you.”

“I feel awful love; we went to your house on Friday night.  When we saw the car wasn’t there we just assumed you’d gone away.  I actually thought that maybe Dan had come back and you’d gone off together.  What happened to you, how did you get so battered.”

“Oh,” Sally blew out her cheeks.  “It’s a long story.  I was stupid for a start but then things got really weird and… …

Look do you mind if we just get out of here.  When we get back home I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Of course.  They know about Daniel now though, yeah?”

“Yes Freddy, they know but they are just going through the motions.  I don’t know whether they just don’t really believe me, or whether their hands are tied by protocol but I can’t convince them of the danger and I’ve tried so bloody hard.  It’s not only Dan either, there was another woman who helped me and someone who was locked up like I was.”

“You were locked up, where?  Locked up!”

“Yup.  Look come on let’s just get home, I’ve had enough of this place.”

Sally stood in the shower with the hot water pounding on her battered body.  At first the cuts had stung and a couple of them had begun to bleed again but she let it happen.

Eventually she dragged herself out and pulled on some pyjamas and her dressing gown.  She trudged downstairs to where Tess had made soup and her friends sat in awkward silence with no idea what to do or say to help.

“Thanks guys.  Okay, so to cut a long and horrible story short, it all started when Braithwaite came here.”  And so, she told them all of it, the hardest part was the attempted rape and as she relayed the event Freddy pushed up from the settee and paced angrily back and forth.

“Bloody hell Sal, and the police won’t do anything?”

“Well, they said they’d go and visit the house.  The trouble is I don’t know how much they believed me.  It does all sound a bit far-fetched doesn’t it.  Plus there is no evidence of that attack, or at least what there was is lost among the rest of it. I accept all that but I didn’t make it up and Dan’s still there and I’m so scared for him.”  She leapt to her feet.  “Sod it, let’s go and get him.”

“What!” Tessa flicked her head back and forth between her partner and her friend.  “No, well what I mean is.  We can’t, we can’t can we?  Freddy, tell her.  We just can’t.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it’s dangerous, and the police told you to leave it to them and…”

“But Tess I can’t just leave him.  I thought he’d gone off with someone else, I thought he’d cheated on me and all that time he was – well – you know with those blokes.”  As she spoke, it crept into her mind, a traitorous and numbing thought.  She didn’t actually know what Daniel’s connection was with the thugs.  She had assumed that he was captive somewhere, locked up as she had been, but that wasn’t the only possibility and as the idea took root it chilled her to the bone.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 36

There were no sirens but two uniformed officers, arrived at the house very soon after Mr Pritchard had swept into his yard.  His wife made strong, sweet tea and wrapped a quilt around Sally’s quivering shoulders.  When the doorbell rang and the old farmer showed the police into the cosy room, Mrs Pritchard plopped down on the settee and took hold of Sally’s hand.

Out in the hallway they had overheard him giving a brief explanation of his part in the drama but, once everyone was settled he took in the scene, gave his wife a brisk nod and left them to it.  Moments later they heard the old van rattle out into the lane.

No matter how she tried to impress upon them the urgency, she could not hurry them, was unable to make them understand the danger.  She had gone back to the beginning, the day that Daniel disappeared and in her panic tripped and faltered over her explanations.  She muddled the timeline and details.  When she told them about following the white van in which she believed Mr Braithwaite had been held captive the glance that passed between them spoke volumes.  It slowed her, made her take a deep breath, and attempt to make the jumbled story believable.

“I know it all sounds far-fetched but look at me.  Honestly do you think I would choose to walk half-dressed through a stream in the middle of the night?”

“Nobody is suggesting that you’re not telling the truth Miss, but we have to understand the whole story.  You say that you didn’t report your boyfriend missing.  Why was that?”

“He’d booked holiday.  But he hadn’t, at least I don’t think he had.”

“But the people at his place of work told you he had arranged time off.”

“Yes, but I don’t think  he had.  Well, if he did he never came back.  Oh God.  Look I know it’s confusing but for now all you really need to know is that I escaped.  I was nearly raped and the guy in the suit threatened that if I didn’t behave he would take it out on Daniel. Please can’t you just go to the house?  Go and see if he’s there – well no, I don’t mean that.  He is there, I’m sure he is and then there’s Dolly.  If they find out she gave me a key I don’t know what they’ll do to her.  Please just go to the house, please!”

“We will, someone will go and take a look but we need to know just what we’re looking for and where.”  Stella squeezed Sally’s fingers and  leaned forward to speak directly to the young officer who had been writing in his notebook, occasionally glancing at his colleague, frowning and shaking his head in confusion.

“David,” A deep blush crept up from the collar of his blue tunic as he cleared his throat and looked over at the elderly woman.  “Look lad, this young woman is obviously in trouble.  She has told you that it’s urgent for you to do something and all this to-ing and fro-ing isn’t getting us anywhere is it.  Now, from what Sally has said, the house must be what was the old Carters farm. It’s the only one round here that’s been done up.  It was sold last year to some foreigners I believe who threw thousands of pounds at it, tarting it up and so on.  Now, why don’t you just arrange for someone to pop up there and see what’s what and the rest of it can wait.” He turned and spoke to Sally.

“But Ms Laker we need information.  We can’t just invade people’s privacy without good cause.”

“Good cause, good cause.  For heaven’s sake lad look at her.  She’s a mess, how much cause do you need?”

“Yes, but she has said herself,” he glanced at Sally a frown creasing the skin of his brow, “most of the injuries were caused by her walking along the brook.  She undressed herself and threw away her clothes.”

“How are you going to feel if you prevaricate and mess around here while over at the Carter’s place there is a young man in danger and possibly another young woman?”

“Yes, and there was the person who was tapping on the wall.”

“Tapping on the wall?”

“Yes, while I was in the room someone was tapping on the wall and then after Andrei attacked me I heard someone crying.”

“Look, I think the best thing that we can do is to take you in to the station and get a doctor to have a look at you.  Just to be on the safe side.  I’ll make my report and then well, we’ll take care of it all.”

“Can’t you just take me back there, can’t you?”

“I’m sorry Miss but that’s just not possible.  We have to do this the right way and taking you back there is not the right way.  My colleague is going to get in touch with the station and let them know what has happened.  It could well be that by the time we get back there they have already visited the house.  Come on.  Can she borrow that quilt Mrs Laker?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake lad, you make me despair.  Yes, she can take the quilt. Sally do you want me to come with you?”

“Oh thanks Mrs Pritchard, you’ve been lovely, you and your husband but I’m okay. I’ll call Tess when I get to a phone and she’ll come and she can take me home after.”  Now, at the thought of her friend and her home Sally lost the last vestige of control.  With her grimy hand she swiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks, smearing more soil across her bruised and dirty face.

“Do you want to use my ‘phone?”  In an effort to redeem himself in the eyes of the older woman, David, the younger of the two officers held out his mobile.  The diffident, almost apologetic gesture just served to bring forth more tears.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 35

The trees lined the southern side of a farm lane.  Across the potholed, stony tyre tracks there was a ditch and beyond that another field, this one filled with stubble and weeds. She needed to follow the same direction as the flow of the stream because it must take her further from the house.  Sally turned left and forced herself onwards.

It was almost full light now and she scanned left and right praying to see a building, a car or any sign of habitation.  Her wet shoes rubbed blisters on the skin of her heels which burst and bled. Exhaustion wanted to take her down, to leave her dumped at the side of the road but she kept on because there was no other choice.

The faint rumble didn’t register in her fogged brain at first, but it heralded the approach of a small van, heading towards her.  Long before it reached her, she was standing in the middle of the path waving both arms high above her head.

“Stop, stop, please stop!”

He was never going to go past her; she knew that from early on. He was slowing well before he was alongside.  If she had any idea of her battered and bedraggled appearance she wouldn’t have been so surprised, but the sense of relief was overwhelming.

“Bloody hell love, what’s happened to you.”

The elderly man was out of his car and at her side seconds before her wobbly knees let her down.  As she began to crumple he wrapped one arm around her and reached to open the passenger door to his beaten, untidy vehicle, shepherding her into the seat.

“The police, I have to call the police.  Have you got a mobile?”

“Yes love ‘course I ‘ave.  It’s on the dash, can you reach it?”

“Yes, yes.  Thanks so much.”

Sally struggled, trying to make sense of her situation to someone sitting in an office miles away.  She tripped on the words and explanations. Daniel’s disappearance, the stupid mistake of following the van and then the horror of the house and the attack.  She rushed to tell them all of it and the result was a jumbled and garbled narrative.   In the end the operator tried to take control.

“Caller do you require an ambulance?”

“No, I don’t but someone has to go to the house.”

“How badly are you injured?”

“Not that much, I’m just a bit battered but that’s not the point.”

“Where are you now caller?”

“I don’t know.  I just don’t know.”  At this point the van driver simply took the phone from her and she let it go willingly.  Covering her face with her filthy hands Sally concentrated on handling the panic and frustration, just trying to keep it together.  Just a little while longer she told herself, just a little while.

“Listen love.  I’ve just picked up a young woman at the side of my track.  She looks ‘alf dead, some of ‘er clothes are missing and she is very upset.  I don’t know what ‘er story is but I do know she needs ‘elp, right away.  I am going to take ‘er back to my house and you send someone now – right now do you ‘ear this is an emergency.  It’s Landbrook Farm and the local officers know where that is.  I expect to ‘ear them sirens pretty soon.  Thank you.” He switched off the mobile and tossed it back onto the dashboard. There was a blanket stuffed behind the seat which he dragged out.  It was covered in dog hair and bits of dried grass but when he wrapped it around her she felt the prickly warmth ease some of the shuddering and dragged it close.

“Thank you.”

“Bloody protocols and procedures, stops ‘em reactin’.  Not their fault I s’pose but they need tellin’.  They’ll be ‘ere soon.  I’m takin’ you to my ‘ouse, that alright.  Missus is there so you don’t need to worry.” As if the words had nudged his memory he picked up the ‘phone again and poked at one of the buttons. “Aye Stella, I’m comin’ back.  Picked up a young lass on the track, been in a bit o trouble.  Per’aps you could put the kettle on love.  Police are on their way.”

With a neat three point turn he spun the van to head back the way he had come.  As she laid her head back Sally had to acknowledge that for the moment at least she had done all that was possible, and it seemed far too little and far too late.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 34

The gods had heard her! They must have done because she didn’t break her ankles.  Sally landed in a heap in the weed and mud, but was able to push to her feet again quickly.  She couldn’t detect any serious injury, though the knocks and bangs promised plenty of deferred pain stored up for later.

Gritty liquid swam in her shoes and the soft material of the trousers soaked it up like a wick, leaving them dragging at her legs and tangling round her ankles.  Her hands and finger ends stung in memory of the slide from rough concrete, and the freezing rush of the stream caused her to gasp with shock.

She struggled downstream, for no other reason than it was easier than trying to fight against the flow.  Though it was shallow it was fast and the sopping trousers, her slipping, soaking shoes and the rough and difficult stream bed was hard enough without fighting against the water. The sound of the dogs was much fainter now and so it seemed they hadn’t followed her tracks.  From the ditch she couldn’t see the house or road or anything other than overhanging branches, and grass and weeds growing up the banks. She limped, and hobbled and scrabbled onwards, at times almost on all fours, all the time shivering and whimpering.

The weight of the trousers was sapping too much of her strength and they were contributing nothing to keeping her warm. She leaned against the muddy walls and dragged them down, pulling them over her shoes and then stuffed them into a hollow in the banks.  Now she moved more quickly without the hindrance of waterlogged fabric.

She had to get out of the water.  But, the banks were steep and slippery, and so she kept on through the slowly growing dawn.  Her eyes flicked back and forth continually searching for a place to clamber out while she fought to remain on her feet.  Every trip, and there were many, made her colder and brought more pain to her battered and bruised body.

As the birds began to stir and sing she spotted a pile of rocks which had tumbled down the banks.  At last, the chance to struggle to dry ground.  Reaching the top Sally threw herself full length onto damp soil, then rolled to her back to catch her breath and try to organise her thinking.  All the while her teeth chattered and limbs quivered and shook with the effects of the cold and shock. A small breeze skimming over the ground raised goose bumps on her naked legs, and as tiny hairs prickled she sat up and rubbed at dirty, blood-smeared skin.

It came to her like a body blow and once the thought had implanted in her mind it was difficult to believe it hadn’t been there all the time.

Daniel!

It was possibly safe to assume that the occupants of the farmhouse didn’t know what had caused the lights to flare and the sirens to scream, but they would know soon enough.   Maybe Dolly would raise the alarm, to protect herself.  Maybe she would hold her tongue for a little while, but then why should she.  The quiet woman had already gone out on a limb and to expect her to do more was unreasonable.  So, when she brought the breakfast tray she would probably feign surprise and puzzlement and the events of the night would all make sense.

Then what of Daniel.

The threat had been clear, behave or your boyfriend will suffer.  Well she hadn’t behaved had she?  In her break for freedom she had possibly brought down terrible retribution on his head.

Frantic now, she struggled to her feet and turned a full circle.  The only hope was to get the police to the house as quickly as possible.  To bring the authorities and hand over to them the responsibility of sorting out what was going on there, and if possible to do it before the breakfast tray was delivered.

She had been stupid.  Stupid to follow Mr Braithwaite to his home, rather than telephoning or going into the office.  Even more stupid, beyond idiotic to follow the white van and now stupid to run and think only of her own preservation.

She was standing at the edge of a huge field, there was a nascent crop underfoot, and the ground was ridged and furrowed.  To the right and away from the stream was a line of trees, in front of her was endless country and behind her, well she didn’t dare to think of what was behind her.  The trees held most promise; perhaps they bordered a road or path. So, she set off across the ploughed field with her fingers crossed and her heart in her mouth.  She had perhaps an hour, maybe a little more to find help and get to the police and for the police to get to the house and there yet another horrible truth hit her.  How could she tell them where the house was when she had no idea herself of the address?

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 33

Instinct urged her to turn right, to go back down the road she had driven a bare two days ago.  She flicked her eyes that way.  It was straight and paved and open, and there were dogs howling somewhere and feet pounding towards her.  She shot across the gateway and ran left, and then veered from the road, towards the hedgerow and the field beyond.

It was a short hop across the ditch and into the grasping, stinging, tearing of the old shrubs.  She closed her eyes and curled her hands into fists, pushing with her forearms and stamping with her feet to crush the undergrowth.

It had been a bad decision, she saw that now.  She was caught in the thorny branches and hadn’t realised what an impenetrable barrier a well-made hedge could be.  She glanced back.  From her place in the relative darkness she could see the floodlit front of the house. Figures moved back and forth across the yard, so they hadn’t yet worked out what had happened, thank God.  But here came the dogs, great beasts straining at the end of chains held by the burly figure which was possibly Xander, or maybe another man altogether.  He led them round the side of the barn and past the front of the house and, as he reached the gateway he leaned to set them free.

If they were loosed now they would see her for sure and she was lost.  Whimpering with terror she pulled away and dropped into the ditch.  There was a couple of inches of water in the bottom and underfoot was slippery and treacherous.  She staggered forward, bent at the waist and reaching out with hands that were fast becoming torn and bloody.

Then she saw the light.  Weaving and bouncing along the narrow road heading towards the house.  With every part of her being she wanted to crawl from her hiding place and stand in the middle of the roadway waving her arms.  She turned and leaned into the sides of the ditch, dug her toes into the soft soil and prepared to clamber out.  And then she stopped.  If she revealed herself now, the dogs and the men at the house would see her for sure.  It was amazing that she had evaded them this long.  If the car was driven by an innocent passer-by, what were the chances that he would stop for a wild woman leaping from the roadside.  In his place she wouldn’t, she would get the hell out of there as fast as she could.  Then, if the vehicle belonged to someone connected with the house all was lost. So, she ducked back into the damp darkness and scurried on, hunched down, panting, terrified, and waiting for the rustle and splash of the dogs as they came after her.

She heard the shout, “Hold Xander, wait!  Car!”  Yes! They couldn’t let the dogs loose with a car coming straight for them, she had a few moments reprieve, she must use it.  She ran on, splashing and sliding and then spotted the drainage pipe.

It ran from the edge of the field, under the road and she could hear the sing of tumbling water. Did it emerge into a stream, or a river?  It was wide enough for her to slide inside; she could see that immediately, but what of the other end.  There could be a gate across it, to hold back branches and debris from the field and hedge, or perhaps the drop was sheer and sudden.  It was dark and running with water.  The car was alongside and past in an instant and then the dogs set up their howling and she heard the thud of feet on the road, and they were after her and all choice was gone.

Ducking low and stretching onto her stomach she wormed and wriggled into the wetness of the pipe.  Dragging forward on elbows, pushing with her feet and squirming from side to side she moved forward, sobbing with terror and panic.  It was longer than she had thought, but she could make out the faint glow at the end.  The sound of water dashing and dancing over rocks was louder now.  The barking of the frantic dogs was muffled by the concrete, but they were near and she knew that if she could get into the pipe then so could they and the thought drove her on.

There was now just a couple of yards left.  The water flowed from the end of the pipe and cascaded out of sight, and so she slithered more slowly to the exit and leaned her head from the outlet.  It wasn’t bad, a small drop into a fast flowing stream.  The dogs still hadn’t found her.  Perhaps the water had covered her tracks, the films, television always showed that, but whether or not it was true she had no idea. She didn’t want to drop head first out of the pipe and so she rolled onto her back and, using her heels and buttocks for forward motion reached up to the rim of the drain, curling her fingers over the vine-covered concrete. Now she pulled with her arms, taking the weight as she bent her knees, moving backwards until she was able to stand with the balls of her feet on the curved and slimy floor of the tube.  With a quick prayer to any and all deities that might be watching she straightened her knees and stood momentarily balanced on the edge and then she let go with her fingers and dropped into the dark flow beneath her.

 

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 32

With great care she pulled back the door.  The landing was dimly lit by a lamp standing on a semi-circular table opposite the top of the stairs.  The room she was in gave her a clear view of all the other closed doors. It was quiet here but the thought of an alarm activated by movement held her poised on the threshold.  If a siren or bell sounded she could jump back into the room and lock it behind her.  There could be a silent alarm, cameras, perhaps there was CCTV – shit she had never even thought of that.  Even now there might be someone watching in a dark room elsewhere in the rambling house. She had to decide, go back into the room, and wait until her fate was decided by the bloke in the suit or even worse by Andrei or Xander.  She knew what that would mean.

Or, she could find some guts and move.  Come on wuss, move.

She stepped forward and all remained calm.  Hugging close to the wall she darted towards the staircase.  As she reached the top step she took a moment to lean over the banister and peer down into the gracious space below.  Again there were table lamps spilling gold pools onto the floor and she could see, through the window above the front door that there was a lantern outside.  Another clutch of terror grabbed at her as she imagined the outside of the house flaring into brilliance if there were intruder lights.  So many things that she hadn’t considered, so many ways for this to end in disaster and yet now she was committed, yes she was committed and so she stretched out her foot.

She clutched the banister, trying to take some of the weight on her upper body, to make her impact on the silent surroundings lighter.  She was four steps down and leaning towards the fifth when it happened.  A sudden flood of light across the hall floor, the gust of sound, music, and the call of a voice.  She froze, instinct closed her eyes.  But of course she must see, she opened her eyes.  Now, twisting round she thought to run back up and into the nasty little room, back to her cell.  She waited, breathing suspended, heart pounding.

A figure crossed the hallway to disappear beyond the staircase, a door opened and closed.  Wait, run, how could she know?  Frozen by indecision Sally tried to unscramble her panicked brain.  As she struggled to form coherent thought she heard the flush of a toilet, the door clicked open again.  She crouched into the shadows, but he didn’t look.  Whichever of them it was simply thumped back across the polished wood and with a momentary resurgence of the light and sound he went back to join the others.

Now, she took the last half of the flight much more quickly, curling round past the newel post and across the softness of a rug.  Luck was with her and the door to the small sitting room stood ajar.  The intimate space was lit by wall lights and was deserted.  Once inside she pressed against the wall and took a moment to calm her breathing and give her heart the chance to slow.

The next hurdle would be the kitchen.  From where she stood the room was partly revealed but it was large and the entrance was in the corner.  It was brightly lit and the door to the outside yard was clearly visible.  She waited, people didn’t just sit about in kitchens, surely if there was someone in there they would make some noise.  There was nothing and so it was time to take a chance, yet another leap of faith, leap of hope.

The kitchen proved empty and her trainers made little noise on the flagged floor and she was there.  Standing with a hand on the door to the outside, to escape.

It wasn’t locked.  She didn’t allow time to wonder at the gift but dragged it open and stepped through.  The night air was cold with a beautiful dampness and there was the smell of green things.  She pressed back against the wall but to reach the gate she would need to cross the gravelled yard and if there were alarms and lights that would probably be the most vulnerable time.

She took a deep breath, bent her knees and rocked forward onto the balls of her feet.

“One, two.” She launched forward and sprinted on the loose gravel.  The world exploded into a blare of sound as lights flooded the night, illuminating the front of the house, the barn and the road beyond the gate.  She heard the frantic barking of dogs, she ran skidding and sliding towards the exit as the main door flung open and the sound of feet thundering down the front steps joined the chaos.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 31

This had to work.  There was absolutely no option of it going wrong, there would be no second chance.  Sally waited and wondered and fretted.  How long after the automatic lights flicked on should she wait?  Emerging onto the landing just as someone was making their way to the kitchen or the dining room, wherever that might be would be disastrous.  Similarly to step out when the occupants of the place were going to bed would foil the escape before it even started.

The middle of the night should be the goal but when time crawled by like slow-flowing treacle it was so hard to judge.  She stood beside the sealed window, listening for signs of life outside.  A couple of vehicles rumbled past, she heard a shout and the yell of answer.  So, people were still out there, she must wait longer, much longer.

Round and round she paced, back and forth.  She sat but couldn’t settle.  She even lay on the bed and closed her eyes. Perhaps if she could sleep for a little while the time would pass more quickly, but of course sleep was impossible. Lying like a stick under the duvet, arms by her sides and legs stretched towards the bottom of the bed she made pretence of relaxation but it was all just subterfuge and kidology.

Then she heard the owl.  Surely that meant that it was true night.  She searched her memory for what she knew about them – did they call only when it was late or at any time, she didn’t know.  They hunted at night surely, and flew in the darkness but that didn’t mean that it was midnight.  She would wait longer, just a bit longer.  But then, perhaps what she could do was hold on until the pale line showed again at the casement.  That would be very early morning wouldn’t it.  That might be better, if it was early in the morning and she made it to the main road.  She would have to run for it; though she believed that her little car was locked in the barn she mustn’t waste valuable time trying to liberate it.  No, she would run for the road, keeping to the hedges and then she would have to flag down a car, or a truck.  Another spike of fear jagged through her stomach.  It wasn’t safe these days to hitch hike but she was going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers wasn’t she.  Perhaps she’d be lucky and there’d be a mail van or something.

Yes, she would wait until the night was almost past and then she would go.  That was best.  Wasn’t it?

She ran the scenario through her mind.  Down the landing and stairs, left at the bottom and through a sitting room, into the kitchen and out into the yard.  The door would be locked!  Well of course it would be, the key would be there.  Everyone left the keys beside the door. Maybe on a hook, perhaps even still in the lock.

Shit, what if there were burglar alarms, what if she stepped out onto the landing and the house erupted into a cacophony of noise, lights flashing doors banging open.  What if there was a guard of some sort in the yard.  What if there was a guard at the bottom of the stairs.  She ran to the bathroom just in time to reach the toilet bowl before the contents of her nerve ravaged stomach erupted.

She was so very scared.

Cool water dashed onto her face helped to ground her, a little.  It was time to go.  No matter the decision about waiting until morning, if she left it any longer she would be a jabbering wreck by daylight.

It was time to go.  She walked back into the room and glanced around.  There was nothing to pick up, nothing to take.  She moved to the door and slid the key into the middle of the knob.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 30

God, what a day it had been.  Sally felt battered, was battered physically of course but she was mentally drained.  This nightmare went on and on and really the worst was the feeling of complete helplessness.

She had lowered to the floor, back against the wall and knees drawn up.  Sitting on the bed made her feel weak, an invalid, the mean little stool just made her back ache and so the floor was best.

The tiny line of light visible at the edge of the window was fading from white to grey so another day was just about done.  A day that, later when this was all over, would be important in her history, the day she was nearly raped.  The day she fought back, and won.  Though of course she hadn’t really and if the tall guy hadn’t intervened then – well – life had changed but it could have been made unrecognisable as her own.

Was she truly now looking on the bright side, she let out a small gust of a laugh, small mercies indeed.

A few years ago she would be wearing her watch, was hardly ever without it, but nowadays; well, her phone, her computer, her car dashboard they all recorded the passing hours and so without any of those things, she didn’t know the time.  It was late summer, so maybe about six o clock but then, what s0rt of a day had it been.  Dull and overcast or bright and cloudless?.  The white line of light told her only that it was not yet dark.  As the thoughts meandered through her mind she felt panic begin to build.  Claustrophobia had never been something she gave any thought to.  It had always been easy to move outside if she wanted to, even when she didn’t need to, when it was cold and the indoors seemed more sensible, the choice was there.  It hadn’t been important, not until now.

Her throat dried and sweat popped onto her forehead, she felt her heart begin to race, what if there was a fire. What if they all just went away, these thugs and suits and waitresses, what if they just went away and left her?  She struggled to her feet, tried to walk off the growing anxiety.  She dragged at the door knob, went to the window and clawed at the wooden frame. She didn’t want to be here, couldn’t be locked in, and so the fear built and built.  She kicked at the dresser.  She picked up the tray and flung it across the room.  Even that was unsatisfactory it was a light thing, made of cardboard and the paper plate and plastic cup didn’t break.  She picked up the other cup, the one with the rose propped in it.  Dolly must have left that there, did she really believe that leaving a dying flower made up for locking her inside this bloody room.

Sally lifted it and sent it across the room to follow the other debris.  As it turned in the air and the flower drifted with a fall of petals to the carpet she caught the glint, a flash of silver and then she heard the tinkle against the wood of the door.

She moved across the room, crouching as she went.  There, on the floor beside the door was a key.  She reached a quivering hand towards it.

Gingerly she slid it into the lock on the handle.  It was a modern one with the lock and knob combined, strange really to think that this room that was so much a prison, had a lock on the inside.  But of course it was so that the door could be locked when the meals were brought, the bedding changed.  It was strange but wonderful because the key slid softly into the groove.  Sally began to turn the key, one hand steadying the knob.

Now, she paused.  What if they were out there, Andrei and Xander or the man she had come to regard as their boss. Or Dolly, yes it must have been Dolly who left the key but if it came to it would she stand silently and let Sally go?  She pressed her ear to the wooden panel.  There was no sound she could make out but what did that mean.  She closed her eyes and re-imagined the interior of the house, the central staircase, the landing.  Rooms to the left and right, open spaces and danger of discovery.  Then again, if she was to run now there was still light in the sky, there could be people about, in the yard, the lane.  No, she would have to wait until it was full dark.

Clasping the key tightly she went back to sit propped against the wall.  She nibbled at a finger nail, nipping at a loose piece of skin.  She ran her hand through her hair, stood and paced, sat and fretted.

She waited for the night.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 29

Someone was tugging at the quilt but Sally coiled tightly beneath it.  She hugged it to herself and inside the downy nest, squeezed her eyes tight closed and breathed more shallowly to minimise the movement.  She tried not to be there.  The gentle pulling continued and then a hand touched the hump that was her shoulder. The pressure was light, it held no threat and so when fingers appeared inside her cocoon and grasped at a corner of white fabric Sally let it go.

The woman who had brought food and run the bath previously stood beside the bed.  The hint of a smile had been replaced by a look of genuine concern, brown eyes large and gentled with sympathy searched for signs of hurt.  As Sally unwound from the foetal position the other woman leaned in and straightened the duvet.  Now, she touched a finger to the bruise on Sally’s cheek and shook her head causing the long fall of hair to ripple like silk in the dim light.  She turned to a tray resting on the stool and there she took a facecloth from a bowl of ice water.  Squeezing out the excess liquid she brought it to where Sally had pushed up against the pillows clutching the cover close.

“Sorry, it is cold.  But cold is good.” She lifted Sally’s hand and had her hold the soothing cloth in place on her swollen cheek and then took a swab of damp cotton wool and dabbed at the blood crusting where her lip had split.

At the hiss of small shock the young woman laid the other hand lightly on Sally’s shoulder and murmured under her breath.  Not words but gentle soothing sounds, and with the cold and the care and the quiet Sally felt her nerves begin to settle and the ghastliness of the last hour subside.  Tears threatened but she beat them back, after all there was no point crying now, it was over, finished.

The cold cloth was applied again a couple of times until the ice was melted and the water began to warm.

“I am Dolores, people call me Dolly.  Now we will put some cream on your face.  It will help. It is Arnica, you are not allergic?”

“I don’t think so.”

Gently the lotion was smoothed onto her cheek and Sally closed her eyes and let the tender fingers slide across her skin.  It felt good and when Dolly brought up her other hand and expanded the application into a facial massage Sally let it be.  Comforting pressure moved smoothly across her cheeks, around the eye sockets and her brow, it was mesmerizing and relaxing and, as finger ends tapped against her forehead and down to her jaw knotted muscles eased and softened.

“Now I will make your bath.” … … As Dolly withdrew and moved a step away it came, through the wall.  The rhythmic tap-tap and the scratch against the plasterwork.  Sally froze, praying that her neighbour wouldn’t try to attract attention again.  But there it was the tap, the scrape.

Dolly tipped her head to one side, pursed her lips and listened.  She didn’t speak but carried on with the chores, running the bath and pouring in lotion.  She gathered up the torn blouse and laid a pair of soft, grey trousers and a dusky pink top on the end of the bed along with some underwear.

Though the attack had never become rape, as Sally understood it, she felt violated and abused.  She felt dirty.  So, in spite of everything the thought of a warm bath, clean towels and then the soft clothes and clean undies were irresistible.

She lowered stiffly into the scented water and lay back as it soothed her battered body.  There were bruises on her legs.  On her calves where his fingers had dug into the flesh and at the top where he had pulled and dragged at her jeans.  On her shoulders there were wheals from the tearing of her blouse and her hands were bruised, nails broken from the defence she had tried so hard to mount.

As she examined each insult she began to shake again but fought back the surge of self-pity.  She wouldn’t give in, he had gone, she had fought him and he hadn’t raped her.  Though she felt violated physically there was no way he was going to do her even more harm.  She must push it aside and concentrate on getting away.  Once she was free then maybe there would be a chance to report him to the police to make him pay but for now it must be relegated to the back of her mind.

Dolly would surely help her now, when she had finished in the bath she would persuade the gentle girl to let her go.  Maybe she should take her along, for safety.  Well, they would talk and now it would all be easier, she had an ally.  She listened to the noises from the other room as the bed was made and the things used for her treatment were gathered together.

Sally pushed from the water and wrapped the soft white robe around her.  She tied her damp hair in the turban and went out to talk to Dolly.

The room was empty.  A tray, covered by a white cloth stood on the dresser and a single rose was propped in one of the plastic beakers but of the dark haired young woman there was no sign.  Sally ran to the door, rattled at the knob and dragged at it but it was locked fast.

She slid to the carpet, her back resting against the wood.  Outside, in the hallway was the slam of wood on wood, shouts and higher pitched yells and then a thud reverberated along the walls as the door of the room next door slammed hard against its frame.  For a brief, brief moment she heard the sound of sobbing, the thump of feet on carpet and then nothing save the drip, drip of the tap into the cooling bath water.

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Finding Daniel – Chapter 28

Andrei’s lips were curled in a smile, but as he turned to lock the door behind him the truth in his eyes chilled Sally to the bone.

“No.”  She struggled to form just that one word as she backed away from the dresser and towards the tiny bathroom.  He was quick and reached it before her, slamming the door and taking up his position in front of it; legs braced and fists clenched at his side.

“So, you thought maybe that I had forgotten you?”

“I didn’t, no I didn’t think about you.  I mean, I haven’t been thinking about anything except getting out of here.”  She gabbled and backtracked and tried to hold her nerve but Sally’s hands were trembling and the soup was curdling in her stomach.  The sense of threat was overwhelming.  She drew in a breath but he saw and he knew and before she had the chance to let out a yell the big man had his hand clamped over her mouth and his arm around her body, pinning her against him.

He leant towards her as he had done out in the road on the first night and he hissed into her ear.  “You would be better not to shout, no screaming.  Just be still, be quiet.”  She nodded her understanding as  tears filled her eyes.

He pushed her across the room towards the bed.  When she stiffened her legs and dug her feet into the carpet in front of her he lifted her bodily and carried her for the last few steps.

In spite of the fear she wasn’t going down without a fight.  As her body landed on the bouncy mattress Sally twisted and rolled trying to slide from the side of the bed.  He reached down and grabbed at her legs, his fingers digging into the flesh of her calves and causing her to gasp in pain.

He dragged her back into the centre of the bed and before there was any chance of escape he had straddled her, knees either side of her hips.  Movement from side to side was impossible and when Sally made a desperate attempt to gain purchase with her heels, to push up towards the pillows he leaned down and pressed into her shoulders with the great hams of his hands.

His face was inches away, his eyes boring into hers, his breath hot on her cheek.  He tipped his head to one side.  A sinister grin twisted the fleshy lips and, as his lids narrowed he crept his hands towards the opening of her blouse.  She tried again to twist away, crying now, frightened sobs stealing her voice.  All her effort was concentrated in trying to squirm away from him.  He grabbed a handful of the fragile material of her top and, with a vicious tug tore it away from her shoulders leaving her bra and midriff exposed.  Now his hand found her breast and squeezed hard.  She squealed with the pain and shock of it and still tried to buck and roll from under the weight of him.

“No, no – oh god please no.”  But she knew he was lost to reason.  He was breathing heavily, his eyes wild with excitement and his knees clamped tighter and tighter as he pawed and mauled her.

Sweat dripped onto her chest as he reached now to drag her hands upwards.  He clamped them both in one of his own, above her head, stretching her towards the headboard.  He moved his free hand again, down towards her waist and the band of her jeans where he wrenched and tugged at the button and zip.  When she twisted from his fingers he paused and struck with a backhanded blow which rang in her ears and jerked her head sideways, wrenching her neck and filling her eyes with darkness.

The sounds escaping from her throat were animal and desperate, pleading without words for it to stop.  Still he dragged at her clothes and now the horror was complete as he reached to his own pants and began to unfasten his waistband, unzip his fly.

He lifted his thighs and dragged down her jeans and reached to the inadequate covering of her knickers.  She squeezed her eyes tightly closed, all she knew was horror and pain and fear.  She could hear nothing save his breathing and see nothing save the red lights flashing on the insides of her lids

And then.

It was over.

The weight left her abdomen, her hands were freed and the resounding crash of his body as it landed against the wall rattled the window frame and threw the plastic cup from the dresser splashing water across the carpet.

She didn’t understand the angry words but she understood the meaning.  The tall man in the suit stood over Andrei where he lay sprawled against the wall.  As Sally grabbed the quilt and wrapped it around her shaking body her saviour leaned down to grab a handful of shirt, hauling the big thug to his feet and then once, twice, and again and again the thud of flesh on flesh as he was beaten around the face and head.

With a glance back to the bed the tall man propelled Andrei bodily from the room.  The shouting now reduced to a low roll of angry words and as she heard the key turn in the lock Sally pulled the duvet above her head, curled herself to a ball and sobbed out the horror of it all.

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