Lesley was shaking her head, “You’ll just have to stop them, don’t let them come. If a police car turns up here then…” she couldn’t finish the statement.
“Okay, Bob said that they would ring first, I’ll tell them that I want to go to the police station. I don’t see how they can complain about that.”
“Be careful Jean, don’t let anyone see you.”
Though she could understand her sister’s reasoning Jean didn’t see how it would be possible to sneak from the house, travel into town, which was quite a way from the village, walk into the police station and all the time be sure that she hadn’t been followed. It was an impossible task, she would have to come up with a better idea.
She made them a drink and, though Lesley said that she felt too nauseous to eat, she warmed them soup and insisted that her sister eat at least some of it. They hardly spoke, until, when she had taken as much as she could, Lesley put down her spoon and moved away from the table. Standing in front of the window, looking through the conservatory and out into the dark, sopping garden beyond she made a sound, half sob, half sigh. “Jean, we have to get my boy back. I don’t know what I’ll do if anything happens to him, he’s the only thing in my life that really matters. I can’t bear it, I don’t know where he is. He must be so frightened, he might be hurt. If they hurt him, whoever they are I’ll track them down and I’ll kill them, I will, I’ll kill them.”
Jean walked over and wrapped an arm around her sister. “We’ll get him back. If it’s the last thing I do we’ll get him back. I don’t know what we can do until we hear from them though. They must be intending to contact us, mustn’t they? I mean why let us see him if they weren’t going to go along with what we asked?”
“But, they haven’t – what’s taking them so long? And, what the hell is this all about?
Jean shook her head. There was no point going over it and over it. What they needed to do was find a way to fix it, though right now her mind was a blank.
When Carl’s mobile rang, they just stared at it as it jiggled gently on the kitchen table and then they both reached for it at once, Jean pulled back her hand, perhaps it was right that Lesley should be the one to speak. She was his mother after all. Lesley picked it up and held it, staring down at the screen.
Then she shook her head. Jean took the phone from her and answered. The voice was quiet, male, and the words were so few that it was impossible to tell if there was any sort of accent, any sort of hint about the sort of people they might be speaking to.
“Reply with a text. Tell us what she said. We won’t wait for much longer.”
How could she tell her sister this? Lesley stood before her, her hands clutched tightly in front of her chest, there was fear and hope and desperation in her face.
Jean prodded at the virtual keyboard. ‘I will meet you. Just say when and where. Bring Carl and I will tell you all I know.’ She showed the phone to Lesley. “We have to be quick, we need to sort this out tonight. I can’t get to the police without being seen and we can’t have them coming here.”
“I’m coming with you then.”
“You can’t. Someone must be here. If it comes to it you’re going to have to call the police. If I don’t come back. If we, Carl and I don’t come back, you’re the only one who can raise the alarm. It will be ammunition for me if I need it, if I can tell them someone else knows what’s going on. No, you stay here, it’ll be better.”
Carl had torn his nails to shreds, the ends of his fingers were sticky with blood, but he had been unable to prise the thin, wooden cover from across the window of the dark, little room he had been locked in. He was standing close to the wall, working almost completely by feel and with his wrists bound it was proving impossible. He had already bruised and cut his hands trying and failing to remove the collection of plastic ties that were around his ankles. They didn’t stretch or break no matter how hard he dragged at them and though he was fit and supple he couldn’t reach them with his teeth, which was the only way he could imaging making any impression on them.
Earlier he had lain on the floor, thundering with his heels on the door, yelling out in frustration and anger. That rebellion had only resulted in his captors coming in and replacing the tape on his mouth, leaving him snorting and desperate for a proper breath. They hadn’t left him long though and when they came back, their faces still covered in black balaclavas, one had stood by the door while the other, smaller and slender, possibly even a woman, had torn off the tape and given him water from a thin plastic cup.
The unspoken message had been obvious and since then he had worked on the thin wood nailed over the window, in silence. Even if he could somehow pull it away, he didn’t think he would be able to climb out, not tied as he was and anyway, it seemed that it would be too small. But, he might be able to attract attention. Just to find out where he was, whether it was still in the village or in the nearby town would be something. Right now, just the feel of fresh air on his face would be worth the effort.
The shock of being bundled into the car had been extreme. He was fit and strong, but it had all happened so quickly that it was over and he was rammed into the rear space, his mouth taped, his head covered with a sack before he had a chance to react. The smaller one had climbed in on top of him and bound his hands and feet with a multitude of plastic ties, pulling them tight one after the other. They had sped away, his bike thrown in with him and then, they had stopped suddenly, he felt the weight dragged away, heard the splash of it and assumed it was now in the canal.
Rolling helplessly back and forth, he had been jolted and smashed against the vehicle sides, and could do nothing but try to tense his muscles, wedge himself with his bent legs and limit the damage. How long the journey was he couldn’t really say. At first, he had tried to imagine the route in his mind, he knew the area well, but either they were deliberately driving round and round to confuse him or the sheer shock of it all had addled his brain. He had no idea where he was.
They had pushed him into this small space, little bigger than a cupboard, empty and dark, and left him there for hours. At first when they had crowded in with him and tried to make him record the video to his aunty, using little more than sign language and a scrawled piece of card, he had refused. But, they had knives, which they pressed against his neck, his face, and they had kicked and bullied him until in the end he had submitted. The card with the message scrawled on for him to read, had been hastily prepared. They had shone a torch long enough for him to read it and then plunged him back into darkness save for the light on the phone, blinding him with brightness, which they used for recording. When he moved away from the script at the end the result had been more kicks, more anger. They had referred to his mother and he when he told them “No, no – she’s not my mum.” He felt traitorous but didn’t know why. The man had simply shrugged.
They had hardly spoken to him, but he had heard their voices beyond the door, over and over they had yelled at each other, sometimes in English but then in a language that he didn’t understand and didn’t recognise.
He had tried to stay positive. Since the recording, at least his mum and Jean would know he was still alive and in trouble, not just hanging out with his mates, forgetful and inconsiderate.
Later when they had blindfolded him again and dragged him out to the car he thought it was over and he would be freed. The torment of seeing the two women on the canal bank, staring up at him, their faces pale moons in the darkness had been exquisite. The smaller one of his kidnappers had sat behind him, twisting the ties on his bound wrists. He had felt the sharpness of the knife blade on the back of his neck and as they had sped away the blindfold was dragged over his head again and he was pushed down between the seats, cramped and confined with something thrown over the top of him. Now, he was here again, scared, helpless and confused.
He had no idea what his Aunty Jean had become mixed up in but he wished she’d hurry up and give them what they wanted. He’d never felt so alone, so scared. He just wanted this to be over.