State of Emergency – Chapter 15

March 9, 2011


Everything was quiet when he pulled up to the house. Derek had driven around the streets of this so-called city for an hour, waiting for darkness to fall, getting to know the lie of the land, then driven through the tunnel under the river and to the house his agent had found and pulled right up to the front door.

It fit the spec. Fairly isolated. Cheap. Absentee landlord, so no surprise visits. Good security system.

And a cellar.

It had to be a fast deal, of course, but three months’ rent up front in cash had answered a lot of questions the letting agency might otherwise have had. And it seemed like they were more than used to the occasional “questionable” deal. If this was San Paro, he’d have made a point of going back to visit the guy later, but this was England. Not his beat.

He put the handbrake on and listened for a moment. All quiet. He picked up his duffel bag from the front seat and got out to dig through the litter of cracked plant pots housing dry, dead weeds until he found the key, then let himself in to the house to look around.

The front hallway was stuffed with crap. Free newspapers, bills and threatening collections letters for a variety of people he’d never heard of, takeaway menus for Chinese and Indian takeaways, kebab shops and fried chicken and some place serving the most depressing cardboard pizzas he’d ever seen. He pushed the front door wide, shoving it all back into a corner and cleared up the stray real estate leaflets that had slipped under the door.

The thought of slipping and fucking up his back while carrying a kidnapped woman inside made him chuckle.

A quick sweep of the rest of the house told him the rest of what he wanted to know – no hobos, no squatters. A few boarded-up windows, but the boards were tight and intact. The beds were without linens and the mattresses were cold and damp, but he didn’t care. There was hot and cold running water and it looked clean enough to drink, the electricity was on and when he found the thermostat, the heating went on amidst a chorus of groaning and screaming pipes.

Dusting his hands with a satisfied little nod, he went to check the cellar.

Access was via a tiny door he had to crouch to get through and the stairs down were shaky, with uncomfortably long, open gaps between the treads and no handrail. They seemed to have been crudely mended in places, replacing broken steps with solid planks of chipboard he suspected were left over from some other DIY project. The only light came from a single bare bulb in the ceiling, too high to reach without a long ladder – the only switch that he could find was back in the kitchen, by the door.

The room down there was surprisingly spacious. There were bundles of old newspapers; some British rag mostly concerned with what they called “football” here and women with impressively huge tits. He laughed to himself. “Already got one of those in the trunk.” He took the papers out to the back yard and dumped them, along with a reeking bag of garbage. There was also a workbench and a set of rusty, long-unused tools that made him smile grimly. He packed them away, then unfolded the camp bed he’d found in one corner. He had to kick one of the legs a bit to get it to lock into place; one of the springs was broken, all were rusty, and there was a patch of mildew growing on the mattress the size of his head, but it would do.

The coal chute bore examination – he had to climb up, awkwardly bracing his feet against the opposite wall and shuffling along sideways with his knees almost against his chest, dragging his bag along behind him. The outside entrance seemed solid – two metal leaves held closed by a triple set of long, steel bolts on the inside. He opened his bag, feeling around in the darkness of the chute and locked them in place with three large, sturdy padlocks. He’d weld them closed later in case the girl had a knack with lock picks and managed to find something to pick with.

He slid back down the chute and returned to the car.

***

Ian drove like a man possessed, expressing his anger through the accelerator. He’d torn the house apart, some part of him hoping she was just…. hiding somewhere in some misguided prank. Then he’d found the footprints outside the window – a man’s boots and a woman’s bare feet. But only the boots walked back to the drive, indenting deeply in the grass as if the wearer bore a burden.

If he hadn’t had the curtains shut to hide the interrogation of the ginger cop, he’d have seen her.

He’d called all his contacts. The fight to keep his rage in check made him chilly, commanding… and desperation had made him promise a lot. They were searching, through the various means available to them.

He hadn’t called the police yet. Too much risk. And they might get in the way, when the time came that he could do what needed to be done.

And with those things done, he was left with… nothing. The neighbors had found his questions… unusually strange. Some had simply shaken their heads, unable to help, but others had looked at him as if he’d gone mad. He’d finally managed to get a description – a red Audi – from a grinning real estate suit who kept asking if he was on TV.

A red Audi. In Liverpool.

Why were her footprints on the ground outside the window? Why was the window unforced?

He kept driving, turning, driving. Searching. Waiting for the phone to ring.

When it finally did, he braked so hard his chest thumped against the steering wheel. A buzzer went off and he managed to lean back before the airbag hit him. Swearing, he got out of the car and pulled his phone from his pocket, fumbling it open to look at the screen.

A text. Dolly’s number. Heart hammering with relief, he opened it and watched in bafflement as an e-card furled open on the screen.

A pale blue picture frame decorated with white storks, each carrying a bundle in a sling. Some tinkling little tune from a nursery rhyme played as a photo started to render fuzzily in the middle of the frame.

The boot of a car, a polythene sheet spilling over the lip of the trunk. There was blood on it. A lot of blood. Smeared and spattered and lurking in thick clots.

Dolly lay in the middle of it. Her hair was plastered to her skull with sweat and there was a red stripe up her cheek that he couldn’t, in that moment, understand. Her eyes were closed. Her wrists and ankles were tied with plastic binder strips and Ian never heard the pleading “No!” he whispered as his eyes picked out the blistered and bloody welts they’d left. Then his eyes followed her legs up and the phone fell from numb fingers, clattering to the tarmac of the empty street.

The image was still in front of him.

The blood had painted her thighs red. Caked the crotch of her shorts. The caption.

“Congratulations on the birth of your baby boy!”

Carlyle clenched his fists and screamed to the sky.

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