Lesley was still sniffing and tears overflowed now and then from her reddened eyes, she dashed them away with a wadded tissue. They were back at the kitchen table; the phone lay on top, the screen, mercifully darkened. They were trying to draw together the courage to look at the new message. It loomed between them as the next horror in this procession of dreadful happenings. Jean had given her sister a quick verbal account of the strange messages and assured her over and over that she had no idea what they meant. She picked up the phone and glanced across the small space. “Ready.” Neither of them was ready for what was to come but they knew there was no choice.
It was a video file. They clasped hands and Jean, her jaw set, face pale, tried to steel herself. They struggled with thoughts of ghastly films of beheadings and murders and yet they had to look. It was unbearable, but they had to bear it.
“Jean, wait.” Lesley reached out, “We should just call the police.”
“They said we shouldn’t.”
“But we don’t even know who they are. We don’t know what they want or anything. This isn’t something that we can handle. I don’t think I can do this. I’m too scared”
“I’ll do it. I’ll do it on my own. Do you want me to go through to the living room? You stay here?”
“Yes. No, no. Oh look, just do it. Just play it.”
After the video had played, the sisters sat in silence. Eventually Jean spoke. “I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can say.”
Lesley pressed the button to replay the short film. Occasionally a small branch would obscure a corner of the screen but apart from that, the picture was clear. In it Jean crouched on the muddy bank of the canal. Her head was lowered but the camera they had used was of high quality, it zoomed onto her face. The girl was partly laid in Jean’s lap, the water spread and soaked into her dirty trousers as she stroked at the sodden hair. This was the scene depicted just as she remembered it. It was obvious from the film that Jean was speaking, she bent now and again near to the girls face, her lips moved and she stroked the pale cheek.
Text scrolled across the screen. All I want to know is what she told you. Tell me what she said and the boy will be released unharmed. No Police.
“What do you mean you can’t. Of course you can. Shit Jean you have no choice, this is Carl. Just tell them what she said and this can all be over. You didn’t know her, you don’t know them, it doesn’t matter what it is, what it means. That’s not our concern. Just tell them and let me have my boy back. I can’t believe I am even having to say this to you.
“No, no. That’s not it. I can’t tell them what she said because she didn’t say anything.”
“How do you mean?”
“She was dead. She was dead when I dragged her out.”
“But you were talking to her. You weren’t trying to do mouth to mouth, you weren’t struggling to save her or anything, you were just talking to her.”
Jean shook her head. “I wasn’t. Well yes, I suppose I was, but she couldn’t hear me. I didn’t do any mouth to mouth or anything because I knew she was dead. Her eyes were empty, I knew, I just knew.”
“So, why were you talking to her?”
“Because I felt so very sorry. She had died alone in the water, at least I thought she had up to then. I was so very sorry and I wanted to try and make it better. I wanted to offer some comfort.”
“To a dead girl?”
“Yes, to a dead girl.”
“You said there was a picture of you pushing her in?”
“Yes, but I didn’t. You can’t think for a minute that I did that. It was fake.”
“And this, is this fake?”
“No, I don’t think it is. It’s not fake exactly but it’s not true either.”
“So, make me understand?”
“How can I do that when I don’t understand it myself?”
“Try – just try.”
“Lesley, I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t know who the girl is or was, I had nothing to do with what happened to her. You must know that. And she didn’t say anything. The picture of me pushing her in was to scare me I suppose. It did as well, I was really worried that it might be posted on the internet, just imagine what people would say, what they would think. Now that doesn’t matter, not with what has happened since. But whoever is doing this can’t have known about Carl, they can’t have known that I would call him. Maybe they just thought they would scare me, threaten me, try to find out what she said using that picture and the break in and all of that. But then Carl came along and… “she stopped.
Tears filled her eyes there was so much that she didn’t know and so much that she was afraid of. Lesley was already on the edge of panic. She wondered if she realised that they might be, being watched, that maybe they were all in danger. And if they were, then there was nothing she could do because she had nothing to bargain with. She didn’t know how to put these thoughts into words and so she gave up and sat in silence staring at her sister, her heart torn with guilt, fear and confusion.