Nothing else happened, they sat together staring at the screen. They were quiet, only the muffled noise of cars in the road outside, and the distant shouts of children marked the passing of the long day. Lesley abruptly pushed her chair away from the table and began pacing around the kitchen. “Come on, come on. Check the connection?”
Though she had already done it Jean made a performance of confirming that the modem was working and communication wasn’t impaired.
“It’s all fine.” Her stomach growled and it occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten anything all day. She made toast and hot chocolate and forced Lesley to sit and at least try to eat something. Neither of them made much of an impression on the food, but the drink helped.
The day began to fade and as lights popped on in the road outside Lesley verbalised what they had both been thinking. “It hasn’t worked has it. We’ve annoyed them.” She dashed into the hall and picked up the blue sweater, dragging it roughly over her dishevelled hair.
“Are you cold, shall I turn the heating up.”
“I’m going out there. We’ve annoyed them and they’re going to hurt him. I’m going to look for Carl. They might already have done…” The final words were filled with horror.
“No, you can’t. Where will you look? We have no idea where they’ve got him. You can’t just go – out.”
“I’m going on the canal bank. That’s what they said wasn’t it. That he’d join ‘our friend in the water.’ So, I’m going to start there.”
“It’s nearly dark Lesley…” Jean stopped when she saw the look on her sister’s ravaged face. “I’ll come with you.”
“You can’t. Somebody has to be here.”
“No, Carl’s phone’s got 4G, we can take it with us.”
Lights were coming on in the other houses, ordinary lives were illuminated in rooms not filled with dread and tension and, as they scurried towards the end of the road, Jean felt divorced from reality. Alone in the world except for the desperate woman pacing beside her.
They descended the flight of damp wooden steps and at the bottom Lesley threw out her arms, “Which way, which way?”
Jean turned and retraced the route of two days ago and, in single file now because of the narrow footpath, they splashed through the puddles and slid on the muddy patches. Lesley spoke again “How far is it? Where did you find her?”
“Round the bend, before the bridge. Look there, you can see some of that tape still in the trees.” They were driven by the need to find him, but riven with the unspoken dread of finding him as the girl had been, a piece of jetsam in the dirty water.
As they rounded the corner they saw a figure in the distance. He jogged towards them, the regular thud of his trainers on the compacted soil changed now and then as he splashed through standing water. He came on just a few yards and then stopped, central on the bank and staring in their direction. It was nothing specific that Jean recognised, blue hooded top, lycra running pants, nothing special but it was the shape of him, the gait and measure of him that she recognised. Jean reached out, she stopped her sister’s forward movement. The jogger turned and ran up the steps, through the gate and to the centre of the bridge where a small car was parked illegally, on the wrong side of the road. The jogger dragged open the door and slid inside. Moments later, the interior light was switched on and they saw Carl, his face pressed against the side window. Though it was nearly dark, the light inside the car illuminated the figure brightly and there was no doubt who he was. Lesley screamed his name and stepped forward her arms reaching. A dark flight of steps was between her and her son and before there was time for anything more, the light flicked off, and the car drew away.
They ran to the bridge, clattered up the steps and galloped to the far side of the canal. Of the car there was no sign. Jean ran back to the middle of the bridge and peered down to the canal bank, it was deserted.