This is the tenth part of a fiction serial, in 1100 words.
Tina Collier looked at the whiteboard. She had already crossed out a lot, and had little more to add. They had decided not to bring in the housekeeper. She had made the call about the girl, raised the alarm, and seemed genuinely concerned. That didn’t mean she wasn’t involved, but for now Tina was happy that she had given a statement at the house. George the gardener had accounted for his movements. That gave him no sound alibi, but the detective who had spoken to him was convinced he was not up to doing anything. He would remain of interest, but that was that.
The taxi driver had pissed her off though. When his appointed lawyer had arrived, he suddenly provided a decent alibi. Only seven minutes after dropping Marjorie at the house, he had picked up a student three miles away. She hadn’t been in the car, as the student had put his rucksack in the boot, and sat in the back. After dropping him at the train station, Marcus had carried on working until being asked to come in to talk to the police.
The search of the grounds on foot and by helicopter had come up with nothing. The phone had been found, but the only activity was the call and message from Marta. A sweep of all the teenage hangouts in the town had shown no trace of the girl, and she hadn’t appeared on any CCTV since getting into the taxi. The school principal had been asked to search the school, which she had done with her caretaker. But Marjorie had not returned there either. Tina had come to the obvious conclusions. Either the girl’s body would eventually be found somewhere, or she had been abducted. She sent the team home for a few hours, making sure they all knew to be back bright and early the next day.
The man had left without saying when he would come back, and he hadn’t left any more food. So Marjorie was stuck with one banana, and that warm mineral water. He had plugged in an electric heater across the room before leaving, and it occurred to her that she might throw water on it, and short out the electrics. But if that only worked for this room, then she would be cold later on. When the lantern in the cage started to get dim, she shook it. Finding a handle on the side, she realised it was like one of those wind-up torches. After cranking it around for a couple of minutes, the light came back brighter than before. He had left her school bag in the cage too, but she had no enthusiasm for homework, not in that situation. Instead, she took out a plain notebook, and started to write things down on the page.
Phil hadn’t slept well. He had been worrying about this morning, and wanted to make sure he didn’t oversleep. There was very light traffic, so he arrived at the Calder House in no time at all. The outer gate was closed, and a policeman in uniform stood in front of it, holding a clipboard. As Phil applied the handbrake, the cop walked over to him. Phil dropped the window to speak to him.
“What’s your business here sir?” Phil jerked a thumb at the side of the van, doing his best to seem relaxed. The policeman read the sign, ‘City Window Cleaning Services’ and wrote that down on his board. Then he turned to Phil and asked for his name address, and date of birth. Phil gave the requested details, then raised his eyebrows. “This is a bit much officer. I clean the windows every month, and don’t usually have to tell anyone all that stuff”.
The sour-faced man ignored him, and walked away to talk into his radio. When he returned, he had another questions. “When were you last here?” Phil smiled. “Last month. Like I said, I clean the windows every month”. The cop wrote that down too, then walked around to the front of the van and wrote down the number on the registration plate. Walking back to the window, he waved his free hand. “Turn it around and leave, you won’t be needed here today. Someone from headquarters will be in touch. You will need to make a statement later”. Phil shook his head, feigning confusion. “Why’s that then? What’s happened?” He got no answer, and watched as the man walked back to stand at the gate. As he drove back to the main road, Phil was trembling. So far, so good. But he still hadn’t heard from Rod.
Sleeping in a Zoo wasn’t easy. There was a lot of noise. Marjorie had never thought about that before. She presumed the animals just slept peacefully all night. But they sure didn’t. Having to pee had got her out of the sleeping bag, and she had no inclination to try to get back to sleep after. The table lamp hadn’t helped either. He had left that on and the glow had meant she had to lay on her side, away from the light. Once he had left last night, she had tried shouting. Then she had banged the plastic food box against the bars until her arm ached. Nobody had come, and even if they had heard her above the calls of the animals, they probably hadn’t though anything of it.
She was going back over the notes she had written, when the clang of the main steel door made her jump. The man was carrying a McDonald’s bag in one hand, and she could smell the food. He slid the trap open, and pointed to the plastic tray. Marjorie grabbed it, and slid it through. It was a breakfast meal, and there was also a thick shake, and a large cola. The fact that the food was still warm confirmed what Marjorie knew. She was in the City Zoo. There was a huge McDonald’s on the main road that led to it. As she started to gulp down her breakfast, the man returned with a bucket of hot water. He poured that into another plastic tray, and slid it through the opening. That was followed by some shower gel, a towel, washcloth, and a double pack of brand new men’s briefs, size medium. She was just about to swallow the hash brown in her mouth and tell him she wasn’t going to wear men’s underwear, when he suddenly turned and left.
It was going to be a long day. But at least there was an apple pie in the bottom of the bag.