“What the hell is going on?” Lesley had burst through the door in a fury, her face was red and puffy with crying. She wore a short cotton dress over opaque tights, obviously, her outfit for the cinema and drinks with her friends. Over the top of this she had pulled on an old blue sweater. Her normally sleek blond hair was tangled and tucked messily behind her ears. Mascara streaked her cheeks and as she looked at the disaster area that her smart and glamorous sister had become, Jean felt her brittle heart fracture just a little more. She stepped forward, arms outstretched and Lesley collapsed against her, giving way to gulping sobs. Her body shook with emotion and all that Jean could do was pat her back, hold her tight and murmur soothing noises, while she waited for the storm to pass.
“Where is he Jean? Where’s my boy?”
“Come in love, come in and sit down. We have to talk but you need to calm down.” They walked awkwardly into the kitchen, holding each other, and Jean pulled out a chair. Lesley slid onto it and for just a moment she laid her arms on the table and rested her head on them.
Jean poured them both a good measure of whisky and sat in the chair opposite to her sister. She took a gulp of the drink and then leaned forward to clasp Lesley’s fingers in both of her hands.
“Some things have been happening with me over the last few days. I didn’t tell you about them because I didn’t want to worry you.”
“You, things happening with you. What’s that got to do with Carl? Look, you might think that I’m overreacting here but to be honest, Jean, I didn’t come to talk about you. My son is missing, you do understand that, don’t you? Have you any idea how I feel right now? No, you can’t or you wouldn’t start straight in talking about yourself. Christ Jean…”
“No, no – you need to listen to me. I am just as scared and worried as you are. Possibly more to be honest, but that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I need you to listen to me. It’s not about me, well not really, it’s about Carl and where he is. But, I need you to listen and please love, please try and keep calm.”
As she began to recite the events that had led to this moment, Jean was aware of the weight of the mobile phone in her pocket. At some stage, she was going to have to show the messages to her sister. She couldn’t let her see the dreadful picture of Carl, gagged and frightened. But, if she didn’t show her that, how could Lesley ever understand the messages?
The phone vibrated, it burbled and Lesley looked at her sister, a frown creasing the pale skin of her forehead. “I thought you said your mobile had been pinched?”
“So, what’s that then? That was a mobile.” Jean reached into her pocket and pulled out Carl’s phone. The tiny light on the front told her that there had been some sort of incoming message. She didn’t want to look at it but knew she must. She didn’t want to open it here in front of her sister, but didn’t Lesley, who was now staring at the device, have a right to know exactly what was happening. As she struggled with the inner turmoil, Lesley pointed across the table.
“Jean, is that Carl’s phone?”
“Why have you got that? Why are you holding Carl’s phone? I’ve been trying to ring him, you told me to yourself, I’ve been trying over and over and all the time you had it here. Are you mad?”
“I didn’t have it all the time. It was pushed through the letter box. That’s why I couldn’t come to you. In case there was something else.
“The letter box? Who did that and how did they have his phone?”
In the face of the perfectly reasonable question, Jean made a terrible decision. She pulled the phone from her pocket and clicked the button to bring it to life.
Lesley’s reaction was instant and extreme. The chair tipped and fell backwards as she jumped from the table. She reached out and grabbed the phone from her sister’s quivering fingers and lifted the screen closer to her eyes, unbelieving and appalled.
“Oh God, Oh God. Carl.” She bent towards Jean. “What the hell is this? What’s this? How long have you had this? Oh, my God.”
Jean had moved around the table and tried to wrap her arms around Lesley but she moved away, still holding out the phone, still screeching. Over and over the same questions, the same horrified tone, until there was no other way to ask where her son was and what her sister knew about it. She stood glaring down at the picture, she shook her head and then, tears streaming across her cheeks, she crumpled and fell into Jean’s arms.