Jean shrugged her shoulders, “I suppose the only thing we can do is go down there and see what’s, what.” Even to her own ears this sounded feeble but standing at the road side was achieving nothing.
The small hotel didn’t look as though it had ever been anything other than a cheap stop over for traveling salesmen. It likely had its heyday when the industrial units were occupied and producing. Now, the windows were backed by grubby curtains, many of them drooping from the rods. The paintwork on the doors was peeling and the concreted car park was cracked and litter filled. It was difficult to believe that anyone would choose to stay here. But, lights in a few of the rooms on the top floor were lit and, as they peered from behind a damp and crumbling concrete wall, they could see movement in the entrance hall.
They heard the thud of feet behind them and turned to watch Paul running from the unit next door. He bent low and gestured to them to follow him back to where he’d been hidden.
It was awkward, there was no way for it to be anything else. Paul tried a couple of times to speak. A half-murmured apology, backed with residual anger and confusion. Jean laid a hand on his arm. “Paul, I am really sorry for what happened to your sister. I know you thought I had something to do with it,” They were clustered together in the corner of the building, he couldn’t meet her gaze. “Look, you made a mistake. What you did was wrong. But, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t hold a grudge, I am not going to take it further with the police. I’ll tell them it was a misunderstanding if I have to.” She heard Lesley huffing and muttering behind her. “I can’t speak for Carl. That’s up to him. But for now, what we need to do is work out a way that we can help your wife.”
He was unable to answer her and pressed his fingertips into the corners of his eyes, overcome for the moment.
Jean decided that the best thing was to move on, there was no time for emotion. She asked him to reiterate what Sonja had told them. He repeated the story about Omar and his flight after Suzanne had died.
“I’m so very sorry about what happened to her. It’s bad enough that you lost her, but the other things, well it’s just dreadful.” Jean had never been afraid of bringing difficult subjects into the open but Paul’s response wasn’t what she had expected.
“Other things. What other things.”
“The drugs, and the things that had happened to her.”
Paul spoke. “Drugs. I don’t know anything about drugs. Suzanne wouldn’t take drugs, she had nothing to do with anything like that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. She died, when they got her from the lorry she was ill, very ill. She just didn’t get better and they didn’t know what to do. They took her to the canal and left her there. She was weak, she must have fainted or something, I don’t know what. But, no she would never take drugs.” He looked angry now, his voice hard hardened.
Either Omar had chosen not to tell Paul the truth or – well, or what?
They were all looking at her and Jean didn’t know what to say. She could keep her mouth shut for the time being or she could blurt out the awful truth now and risk inflaming the situation. Sonja hadn’t spoken.
She stood in silence for a moment replaying in her mind the dreadful things Eileen Rather had told her. There could be no doubt, surely. She spoke quietly, told them that she had it from a fairly reliable source that Suzanne had been raped, made to smuggle drugs and it was this last thing that had led to her death.
Before she had finished speaking Paul was shaking his head, denying it all. Omar had been sure, had been specific, Suzanne had become dehydrated in the lorry, they all had. They had been delayed at the port. He refused to consider any other suggestion and he was so sure, so convincing that Jean found her own certainty eroded.
Could it be that Eileen Rather had been wrong, she was a gossip no doubt about that, but why on earth would she say such things if they weren’t true. And Bob, what had Bob said. She could question Lesley, pull apart all she had been told. She would have to and then she acknowledged that, for the moment, it wasn’t important. The first thing was to try and reunite Paul and his wife.
“Why did you lie to me Jean?” Sonja was staring at her now, “You told me those terrible things, why would you do that?”
Jean shook her head, “I didn’t lie to you. Not deliberately. I told you what I understood to be the truth. It’s very confusing. Look, later all this will be sorted out, I know it will. For now, let’s just try and help Rima.” She turned back to face Paul. “Have you any idea what we can do Paul?”
He outlined what he knew, that Rima and another woman, maybe two, were in rooms on the top floor. That he had seen the traffickers in and out of the hotel. He pointed to a black four-wheel drive car parked in the corner of the shabby grounds. “They are both there now. I don’t know how many there are but I have seen two.”
“Are the women in a room on their own?”
“I don’t know. I have only seen a glimpse of them walking about. I saw Rima at the window, up there.” He pointed to the first floor, “But she was only there for a moment and then she went back inside and someone pulled the curtains closed. Maybe they are all in there together. I just don’t know.”
“Well one of us needs to get inside at the very least. Lesley?” Jean turned to her sister and the other woman stepped back a few paces, shaking her head.
“No way. I’m not going anywhere near there. Not a chance.”
“I’ll come with you Aunty Jean. It’ll look funny you on your own but get your hiking bag from the car, that’ll pass as luggage at a push and then I’ll come in with you.”
Paul placed himself in front of them. “No, we are going to go in now. We are going to bring my wife out. Why would you go, I will bring her out.”
In the face of his anguish Jean spoke calmly. She was finding each breath a struggle and couldn’t have raised her voice if she had wanted to but she reached to him and croaked out a response. “If you do that the police will come. The people in the hotel, the receptionist or whatever may have no idea what’s going on, and if you cause a furore,” Paul frowned at the word, “A fuss, if you cause a fuss they will call the police. Let me go in and see if I can reach her quietly first. If the men in there recognise you it could make things much worse. They might hurt Rima. It’s going to be better it we can find a way to do it quietly. At least let me try.”
Paul remained in front of them for a few moments, breathing heavily, a frown on his face and then he stepped to one side. “I won’t wait long. I won’t go home without her.”
Jean nodded, glanced at Carl and they began to walk back down the road towards the cars. Lesley ran to catch up. “What are you going to do Les? Will you wait in the car, wait with the others? what?”
“No way, I’m not staying with that maniac,” she pointed behind her to where Paul and Sonja sat on the step of the abandoned unit, out of sight of the hotel. “He’s a nut job.”
“So, what then?”
“I’m coming with you. For a start, you look really ill and anyway I’m not letting the two of you off on your own. I’m the only one with any sense. I warn you now, if things get dangerous, huh, what am I saying – even more dangerous, I’m calling the police, and you won’t stop me.”