Sonja pulled into a gateway. Beyond the rusting metal fence and the chained gates was a dilapidated industrial unit and car park. Weeds and buddleia pushed through the cracked concrete. It was quiet here, away from the main road, at the rear of rows of shops and little terraced houses. Jean parked her car behind the Renault.
Sonja clambered from her vehicle, glanced around then walked back to lean in through the window to speak to Jean and Lesley “It’s not here. Where I will meet him. I didn’t want to frighten him away. I have to walk now a little way. I will tell him what I did. I’ll tell him how good you have been and make him believe me. Please, will you just wait here?”
There was nothing else to do but to comply. Jean waved to Carl, twisting round in the passenger seat of the other car. He turned back, and they watched as he slid down lower resting his head against the window.
“Poor Carl,” Lesley sighed as she watched her son, “He’s exhausted and he needs his hands cleaning up and dressing.” She turned to Jean, “And you, look at you, you’re starting to shiver. This is all wrong.” Jean pulled her jacket tighter around herself, leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She wanted this to be over, she wanted to be clean and in bed. She dearly wanted her sister to stop moaning and complaining.
She felt herself begin to drift away, it was so tempting to let the warmth of the car and the relative peace indulge her. She sat up straight, rubbed her hands over her face. Now, wasn’t the time for sleeping. Soon, she hoped, but not yet. Lesley turned to watch as she wound down the window, letting in some cold damp air. “Are you okay, Jean?”
“Yes, I’m okay. I was drifting off and I didn’t want to go to sleep just yet.” She opened the door as she spoke and swung her legs round, perching half in and half out of the car. It was becoming very uncomfortable to breathe. For now, though, she had to keep going. She rubbed at her chest. Maybe if she walked to the corner she would shake off the horrible muggy feeling and clear her head. “You wait here. I’m going to stretch my legs. I’ll just be a minute.
There was no-one around, it wasn’t an area she was familiar with, and it was run down and sad looking in the grey light. There was a solitary car parked around the first corner, the engine idling. She couldn’t see in, but there was someone, texting or taking a call, setting a sat nav, whatever. Head down, face averted. Apart from that no-one walked on the dirty pavements, and the other small units looked deserted. She turned back in time to see Sonja running down the road. She waved a hand.
They reached the cars at the same time. Sonja was breathless and agitated as she gasped out her news, “I have seen him. He was angry. I knew he would be, but I have explained and I think he believes me. A friend called him, that is why he left, with you alone in the store room. He said he didn’t have time to explain when he called me. Anyway, none of that matters now. Omar, a neighbour from the old days, was here. He was with the people who brought Suzanne and Rima. But now he has gone back to Syria. When he knew what had happened to Suzanne he ran away. He called Paul from Turkey and told him where they were keeping Rima. He is going to hide, but Paul thinks that he is in great danger. He thinks Omar will be killed. Rima is still there, with two other women. It’s horrible, there is much more but I can’t tell it to you now.”
Jean nodded her head, she leaned against the top of the car. At last they had information, “So, what is Paul doing?”
Sonja pointed in the direction she had just come, “He is down there. There is an old hotel, mostly closed I think. That is where they are, the women and the men who are holding them. He has been watching and trying to work out what to do. He has seen Rima, through the window but she doesn’t know he was there. He didn’t want her to be upset and alert anyone. We have to go now and help him to get them out.”
“Woah, hang on!” Lesley had clambered out of the car during the conversation and she held up a hand as she spoke.” We don’t have to do any such thing. We have to just let the police know and then we have to go away and mind our own business.”
Sonja was shaking her head, “No, no police. You can’t, I promised Paul. I’ve already told you why. No.”
“Christ.” Lesley let out the one word in exasperation and then stormed away. When she reached the other car she knocked gently on the window, attempting to wake Carl, who was fast asleep.
Jean asked Sonja if Paul had a plan, whether he had told Sonja what he wanted to do.
“No, he is so upset, he won’t come away from there and he wanted us to just force our way in, try to get the women. I told him it was crazy. The men are inside, I don’t know if they have guns, maybe they have. Jean, what shall we do?”
Somehow it was all falling into Jean’s lap, okay, maybe in a way she’d asked for it, but she didn’t have a clue what to do next.