Following the completion of the twenty-part fiction serial, I am presenting all those episodes in one complete story. This is for those who prefer to read it all in one go, and for anyone who may have missed parts along the way. It is a long read, in 21,400 words.
It had seemed like a good plan.
Phil cleaned the windows at the big house, so he had seen inside. They had pots of money. And four cars, all expensive ones. Who needs four cars? You can only drive one at a time. Well maybe two, if your wife is going somewhere different, and knows how to drive. He had a good idea of house prices in the area. That place would sell for close to five million in today’s market.
Rodney had always been a dreamer. He lived life anticipating the next big thing, but that never happened. He was still working at the Zoo, cleaning out the Antelopes and Zebras. The same job he started when he was seventeen. The conversation started as a joke, after a few drinks at Phil’s flat. How could they make their fortune, cleaning windows and tending animals? It was never going to happen. Phil told Rodney about the girl at the big house. She looked to be around fifteen, and had a bedroom bigger than Phil’s flat. There was a horse in the stables, just for her, and she was often just lazing around the swimming pool, looking bored and superior. Her father left for work by helicopter every day, from a special pad next to the tennis court, and the mother never seemed to be around.
Rodney started to fantasise about how they could kidnap her. He could keep her in the disused section of the Zoo, the part awaiting refurbishment. Nobody would know. Then they could ask her family for at least a million, maybe two. It was a fun discussion, taking their minds off the fact that they were going nowhere. When he next met up with his friend for a pizza night and watching the big game on TV, Phil was a little concerned to discover that Rodney had actually taken it all very seriously. He had formulated a plan, and funnily enough, it was quite a good one. Phil was startled to find out that Rodney had been following the girl on his days off. Her name was Marjorie, and she went to the expensive girl’s high school outside the town. The one with the light green uniform. She was dropped off in the morning by taxi, and picked up outside the school by the same company, around four. Phil smiled nervously. Rodney was on it, large. He had even taken some photos of her waiting outside.
They never did get to watch the game. Rodney had lots of notes; times, places, routes, and even maps. He had drawn them himself and Phil was amazed at the detail. It was past midnight by the time it had all been explained. Everything from how long they would keep her, how to arrange the ransom drop, and the fact that they would have to avoid any security cameras, or wear good disguises when they couldn’t. Phil had to admit that his old friend seemed to have covered everything, including how he could get the girl food and water in the old Lion cages where he would keep her. He had free run of the Zoo. Nobody seemed to care where he was at any time, as long as he did his job. And the closed-up section was well away from any public areas too, so no chance of someone discovering their victim. Besides, she was young, so the family were sure to pay up very quickly, so Rodney said.
Phil had trouble sleeping that night. He was worried that Rodney was really considering this. Worried too about his connection to the house. He cleaned the windows, so the police were bound to think of him, to add him to a list of suspects. He had said as much to Rodney, but that had been considered too. “We take the girl on the day before you are due to clean the windows next month. Then you show up to do the work, act surprised that there is stuff going on. The police will certainly take your details, but if you were involved, you would hardly show up at the house, would you?” Phil had to admit to himself that his old school-friend seemed to have thought of every pitfall. But he had seen enough films and detective shows on TV to know that the smallest thing could result in capture. The butterflies in his stomach wouldn’t let him settle. But he hadn’t said yes. It was only an idea, after all.
After work the next day, Rodney called round to the flat. He seemed to have made up his mind without actually confirming that Phil was on board with the plan. “We must stop texting each other from now on. No phone calls either. No activity that could be construed as planning. We should carry on with pizza night, and the occasional trip to a bar or cinema. After all, we are old friends. But keep off the phones, and don’t look up anything on your laptop to do with the family, the girl, or the Zoo. And definitely nothing about anything to do with kidnapping”. Phil nodded. He felt a little cold inside, as he looked at Rodney. The unassuming Zoo attendant had become alive in front of his eyes, enthused, calculating, committed. “Once we have the girl, I will incinerate everything. The notes, maps, photos, memory card, even the clothes we wear for the snatch.The main thing is to carry on as normal. Even once we have the money, we can’t spend any. Life has to go on the same for at least a couple of years. Once we are sure nobody is still looking for us, we can plan where to go. Make it look natural. Change jobs, move to a new city, that sort of thing. By the time we can spend the money, we will still be young enough to enjoy it”.
Phil tried to look calm, and nodded.
Marjorie sat on her bed and checked her phone again. No messages. She had updated her status when she got home from school, but nothing back from her contacts so far. It was her sixteenth birthday next month, and as far as she could tell, it was in danger of passing unnoticed.
Thomas Calder wasn’t her real Dad, though he had adopted her, and given her his name. He had done it to please Mum of course, not because he wanted a daughter. Mum had been lucky to snare him, Marjorie appreciated that. A single parent with a three year-old daughter, working long haul as a stewardess in first class. Granny had brought up the baby Marjorie, with Mum always away flying somewhere. But she had caught the eye of the wealthy businessman at just the right time, and kept him at arm’s length long enough to get him to propose marriage. The timing couldn’t have been better. The wedding was in the May, and granny died shortly after that. Mum didn’t need to work anymore, and the pair of them treated the luxurious house like a playground.
As CEO of a huge tech support company, Calder was rich in the extreme, but he had to keep working to hold onto that wealth. Always out at meetings or functions, flying across oceans to do deals, Mum soon became lonely. The lunchtime Martini soon turned into three, and then turned into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Marta was hired to run the house and look after the toddler Marjorie. The Polish woman was good at her job, but there was little or nothing maternal about her. To compensate, they gave her almost anything she wanted. But by her tenth birthday, she was savvy enough to see the rot setting in. They slept in separate rooms, argued all the time, and most days Mum was so drunk, she could hardly stand. One night, she heard Tom say that the drink would kill her. But it wasn’t the drink.
The diagnosis was cervical cancer. Too advanced to treat, so terminal. Marjorie spent her twelfth birthday alone in her room, and didn’t even bother to open any presents. The next morning, Tom told her Mum had died during the night.
She had always thought that he might marry again, but as the years passed, he didn’t. He hardly spoke to her though, and let Marta assume the role of surrogate parent. She spent all of her free time alone, sometimes chatting to George, the nice old guy who worked in the garden and managed the pool. Marta made sure she went to school, showered, wore clean clothes, and ate her breakfast and dinner. On her fourteenth birthday, she got a horse as a present. But Tom forgot she couldn’t ride, and neglected to include any riding lessons or suitable clothing. She never asked for anything, so just petted the horse now and then, and watched it as George walked it around the paddock. One day merged into another as she did well enough at school, but failed to make any real friends.
By ordinary standards, she was rich. But she had little or no money of her own, and the other girls at the exclusive school were even richer. It was all relative, she knew that. The ten bedroom house felt like living in a museum, when the public had gone home. In good weather, she could enjoy the pool, but she mostly watched TV, wrote in her diary, and wondered what the hell was going to happen to her later on.
Oh how she longed for something exciting to happen. Perhaps find a guy who wanted her, someone who asked her to run off with him and live in the middle of nowhere. Or they could do something cool and exciting, like go and watch the sunset in Thailand, or trek across India. But she didn’t even have a passport. Besides, she was on the big side, and her wiry hair was impossible to do anything with. Maybe not ugly, but not in the league of the girls who the boys whistled at. And the big black-rimmed glasses didn’t suit her at all, but she had never been able to tolerate the contacts. She would look at old photos of Mum, slender, beautiful, flowing fair hair, and wonder where she had come from, to end up so different. She knew nothing about her biological father, but guessed he must have been overweight, with wiry black hair like a chimney brush.
Life wasn’t bad, she knew that. She got enough to eat, too much most days. She wasn’t bullied at school, and she had a lovely home, with all that she needed. But nothing ever happened, and she was lonely. The holidays were the worst, with all the girls talking about beach holidays in the Seychelles, or skiing in Switzerland. She wanted to lie, to say that she was going off to somewhere wonderful with her adoptive Dad. But there was no point, as they all knew better.
Sixteen. That had to mean something, didn’t it? Marta told her that ‘Mr Thomas’ had asked her to see what she wanted as a gift. But she couldn’t think of anything she really wanted. The woman shrugged and said, “I will tell him jewellery then. He will let me get you something nice. Maybe you can come and choose it?” She had nodded agreement, but her heart wasn’t in it. Looking out the widow, she saw George walking along the driveway, heading home. She flopped back onto the bed, and raised both legs into the air, letting out a big sigh.
If only something would happen.
Rodney had a date in mind. Phil had told him when he was next due to spend the day cleaning the windows at the Calder house, and Rod decided they would do it on the Monday, the day before. That left just a couple of weeks to finalise the plans. Phil hoped it wouldn’t be enough time. Maybe Rod would get bored with the idea, realise how hard it would be, and just forget the plan completely. They would laugh about it over beers and pizza, next time they were watching their team.
But he had to give his friend credit for preparation. Rodney had bought some things already. An old laptop which he would use at wi-fi hotspots only, then burn or bury after the job. Cheap pay-and-go mobile phones which would be used to contact the family, then destroyed. Then most impressive of all, he told Phil about the old one-hand crossbow, recovered from a rubbish skip at the Zoo. They used to use it to dart animals with a sedative, but they had upgraded to a specialist rifle now, and had thrown the old crossbow away. Rodney would use it to sedate the girl, with animal sedative taken from work. Just tiny amounts at a time, which would go unnoticed. He had even estimated her weight for the correct dosage.
“It’s like this, Phil. Too much, and we might kill her, Not enough, and she will come round too soon. So I have worked out her weight, based on her height and overall size. I estimate she is something like fourteen stone, so eighty-nine kilos, or two hundred pounds, if you prefer. I sneaked a look at the charts at work, and got the dosage for a two-hundred pound animal. We will only get one shot as I only have the one dart, and it should be in her upper thigh for preference”. Phil adopted an expression of being impressed with his friend’s forethought, though inside he was beginning to realise that this thing was really going to happen. “We will need masks and overalls for the job, because of the CCTV at the house. I can get those from street markets, pay cash, not attract any attention. We will have to find a spot where I can park my car without it being seen. No good using your work van, as it is sign-written. Then we will have to carry the girl to it of course, and that won’t be easy. I will think of something”.
Phil thought for a while, pretending to be digesting the information. “How will you get her into the Zoo without being seen, Rod? His friend smiled. “That’s the easy bit. I can put her in the boot, and just drive into work. There is parking close to the closed-down section, and nobody will think anything of seeing my car there. And there are all sorts of hand-trucks and devices for moving weights around. I can easily get her into the old Lion cages unnoticed. Phil nodded, staring at his battered Converse. “So what do I do? What is my part in this? It’s not as if I can help you out at the Zoo”. Rodney reached over and patted his friend’s arm. “I need you to help me get the girl to my car. Then I will need you to make the arrangements for the ransom, and do the pick-up too. I can’t chance being away from work for too long, as I have to keep an eye on the girl. I have even put down to work extra shifts. I told them I need more cash to get a better car. Anyway, none of this could have happened if you hadn’t told me about the Calders in the first place”.
Swigging some Pepsi from a can, Phil told himself he wished he had never said anything about that house. His life was about to change beyond all comprehension, and he was swept up in events without having the slightest idea what he was doing. But when Rodney had gone home, he went over it all in his mind, sitting in the dark. It might just work.
Rodney lay back in the bath, letting the hot soapy water remove the smell of the animal sheds. He was sure he could count on Phil. They had always been a pair, since meeting at school. They followed the same team, looked out for each other in the playground, and spent every weekend and holiday break together. Neither of them had done well academically, and when Phil had ended up working as a window cleaner, he had got the job at the Zoo to stay in the same town, and be close to his best friend. Though they had both met girls over time, none of them had been special enough to break the bond between the boys. They would do this, and it would work. Because they had total trust, and would never let each other down.
Marjorie had decided not to go to the shops with Marta. The woman returned with a box from the jeweller, and showed her the contents. A heavy gold chain, with a large ‘M’ hanging from the centre. She slid it across the breakfast bar, as Marjorie ate a snack. “You might as well have it now. He is not going to be here for your birthday, so there’s no point wrapping it.” When the girl just nodded, Marta raised her voice. “Its’s expensive, and will look really nice. You could at least be grateful!” Putting down her plate, Marjorie removed it from the box and hung it around her neck, snapping the clasp into place. Marta grinned.
“See, it looks lovely. What did I tell you?”
Before and after his shifts, Rodney had been scouting out the house, and checking the local area. He had found a perfect place to hide his car, a tree-lined lane shielded by the large hedges bordering the Calder property. The house was a long way from any neighbours, which was a positive thing. But that also meant that approaching the grounds had to be done carefully. Using some binoculars he had taken from work, it was easy to spot the CCTV covering the front of the house, and to also discover that the immediate areas like the tennis court, helipad, and stables did not appear to be covered by cameras at all. He had seen an old guy come and go with gardening tools, but other than deliveries from nearby shops, there was very little activity to concern him. On his last reconnoiter, there was a breakthrough that got him excited.
As soon as he opened the door, Phil could see his friend was excited, and Rod was babbling before he had even sat down. “She walks, Phil. She walks from the gate!” Phil handed him a can of Coke, and he relaxed a little, making his point calmly. “The taxi drops her at the gate, and she walks all the way along the driveway up to the house. Same thing every day, the car never drives up to the entrance. The girl walks”. Phil was having trouble with the significance of this, and why Rod thought it mattered so much. His face went blank, prompting another outburst. “Don’t you see? We can take her without anyone noticing, between the gate and the house. The drive is all tree-lined, and the woodland is dense enough to conceal us completely”. The penny dropped.
The most difficult part of the plan hinged on the drop-off of the ransom. Rod had been thinking long and hard, but still didn’t seem to have any concrete idea. He chewed his thumb as he continued, making his speech hard to grasp. “We will insist on used, unmarked notes of course. They are sure to put a tracker in the bundles, or in the bag containing the money, they always do. You will have to swap it all over into something you take along, and undo all the notes. It won’t be tidy, and it will take time. But it must be done immediately, before leaving the drop. That means we need somewhere you can’t be disturbed. But that also means you will be exposed to any police activity. Money weighs a lot in those amounts too, so you will need something like a sack barrow to shift it, as well as easy access to your van”. He paused to drink from the can, and Phil swallowed hard. When Rod said ‘You’ instead of ‘We’, that made him nervous.
After they had both sat quietly for a while, Phil spoke up. “You talk about trackers and police activity. But won’t we say ‘No police’ when we ask for the ransom? Do you think Calder will involve them?” Rod nodded. “For sure we will say all that. No police, no trackers, no marked notes, no serial numbers, no press statements, all the usual kidnapper’s demands. But you know the score, Phil. You have seen the news reports, watched the films and TV shows. They always end up involving the police once the girl goes missing. Even if they didn’t want to, others are bound to notice when she doesn’t turn up for school, or contact her friends. If she doesn’t go on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever, pretty soon people will be asking what’s happened. So we can count on the police being involved from day one, get that into your head now. Anyway, I have to get off, and get into work for my extra shift”.
Phil was relieved when Rod left, as it meant he didn’t have to talk about the kidnapping anymore. But he had to think about it, as he couldn’t stop that happening.
Marjorie felt the weight of the necklace in her hand. Solid gold, must have cost a bundle. Marta was good at spending Tom Calder’s money, but she had no idea what sort of thing a fifteen year old girl would want for her sixteenth birthday. She smiled at the idea that Marta had just bought something she would like to own herself, even down to the huge gold ‘M’ which would of course work just as well with her name. There was a coldness in Marta. Marjorie always felt that she was tended to, rather than cared for. Just as George tended to Prince, her horse. They both wanted for nothing, had food, warmth, shelter, and every necessity of life. But neither of them were ever truly loved.
Inspector Tina Collier filed away the team reports in her small office. Almost eighteen years as a police officer had come down to this, managing a small investigative team in a place where little or nothing ever happened. Nearly six months since her promotion, and the most exciting thing that had happened had been a routine domestic murder, a drunk who hit his wife one time too many. He had pleaded guilty, and shown great remorse. Just a rubber-stamp case that had zero challenge to it. Now her boss had her doing team appraisals to justify her existence. She was appraising people she hardly knew, aware of their resentment and indifference to their new female chief.
Tina unzipped the tight half-boots and pulled them off her feet under the desk. She looked down, wondering how a woman could have been born with such big feet. Her ex-husband had teased her, said she had feet like a Hobbit. He had also said she was never satisfied, and was always going to let the job rule her life.
Well he was right. On both counts.
Hardly able to sit still in the passenger seat, Phil had to admit to himself that he had never been so scared. Rod had got the overalls, and a couple of those masks of the face from the old film ‘Scream’. The hardest part had been getting finished early, and he had rushed the last window-cleaning job to be back in time. Rod appeared to be completely calm and collected. Over the last few days, he had got everything ready, and even though he still had no firm idea about the ransom drop arrangements, he had been adamant that they should go ahead as planned.
The car had all kinds of strange things in the back. A folding canvas stretcher, once used at the Zoo for carrying around large animals that had been sedated. It looked worn out, and was very stained, but Rod said it would do fine for their purposes. Then there was a battered-looking lawn rake, with the handle cut down so it would fit inside the car. A roll of heavy-duty parcel tape lay in the footwell near his feet, and there was an old pillowcase, which Rod said would be used as a hood. The small crossbow looked menacing enough on the back seat, with the long dart and its neon-yellow flight. Rod had covered it with the pillowcase, but it slipped off every time they took a corner too fast.
Behind the driver’s seat was a box of latex gloves, and a few plastic shoe-covers, all filched from the Zoo. There were some medical face-masks too, which Rod said would muffle their voices, making them hard to recognise. Phil wasn’t so sure that would work. They went the long way, skirting the city on the northern route. Using small roads, they would avoid the car being caught on any cameras used for traffic management. When Phil asked if there wouldn’t be lots of home security camera footage to consider, Rod had just shrugged. That was’t very reassuring. As the car entered the lane bordering the house, Phil did have to admit that his friend had chosen a good spot. The car would be impossible to see from the country road at the end. Rod did a tight three-point-turn expertly. He had thought to leave the car facing the right way for their departure.
Once out of the car and carrying the stretcher, Phil didn’t feel quite so nervous. Rod’s confidence, however unfounded, was infectious, and it felt like the school holidays again, two friends off on an adventure in the woods. Their boots were covered with the elasticated covers, so as to leave no footprints, and they were both wearing the blue latex gloves. The old khaki overalls were ex-army, and blended in well with the surrounding woodland. The masks had stayed in the car for now. They wouldn’t be needed until later. Rod checked his watch and smiled. “Fifteen minutes, and she should be walking past”. They couldn’t see the gate from that spot, but they were close enough to the tarmac driveway to see when she was approaching, and far enough from the house not to worry about the CCTV at the front.
With just two minutes to go, Phil felt a sudden panic overwhelm him. The desire to just stand up and run away made him start to tremble. He turned to Rod, who looked as casual as if they were on a camping trip. “Should we think about this, Rod? Maybe do it next month instead, when we have had more time to work out the money drop, and other stuff?” Rodney shook his head. “We are here now, everything’s in place at the Zoo, and there will never be a better time. Calm down, Phil. It will be OK mate”.
Marjorie wasn’t listening to the driver making small talk. She was thinking about the amount of homework she would have to do tonight. An essay about ‘Wuthering Heights’ for English, and her thoughts on the causes of The English Civil War, for History. She knew she could do it. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the academic skill, just that she found long essays really boring. She resolved to get started as soon as she was in her room, knowing full well that once distracted by the TV or her Tablet, she would be up half the night getting it finished. The driver stopped at the gate. “Are you sure this is alright, miss? I am happy to drive you up to the house”. Marjorie couldn’t place his accent. South African perhaps? Maybe New Zealand. She smiled, opening the door. “No this is fine just here. I like the walk”.
Rodney heard her shoes on the path before he spotted her. Big black school shoes, sensibly strong. He reached over and picked up the crossbow, staying flat for now. Phil could hardly breathe, and thought his heart might just stop beating. She was close to the edge of the path, on their side, and she walked past slowly, not noticing them at all. Phil watched her, the heavy shoulder bag on the opposite hip, the typical clothing of a schoolgirl; skirt a little too short, thick black nylon tights, and a blazer unbuttoned. As she passed and the back of her head came into view, Rod fired the crossbow. The dart hit her in the thigh at the back, just below the hem of the green skirt. She didn’t scream or yell. Instead she turned and looked at the dart, with the fluffy yellow flight quivering at the top. Instinctively, she pulled it out of her leg, and then started to run, the school bag falling from her shoulder.
Less than ten paces later, she collapsed in a heap onto the path.
The girl wasn’t moving, and Phil was concerned that they had given her too much sedative. As he unfolded the stretcher, Rodney was going through her pockets. Finding her phone, he turned and flung it as hard as he could, across the driveway, to the opposite side. It landed out of sight, close to a large tree. Phil put the stretcher next to her, and they rolled her over onto it. Rod took the pillowcase from a pocket in his overalls, and slipped it over her head. Then he picked up the school bag, and hung it around his body, before going back to get the dart from where it had fallen onto the ground. He placed the crossbow and dart between the girl’s legs, and nodded at Phil. “Ready? Let’s go”.
Despite her size, the girl didn’t feel too heavy on the stretcher. Two strong men made light work of carrying her back to the car, and they were there in no time. Phil was surprised at how normal it felt, as if they did it all the time. He had calmed down a lot, losing all of that previous panic. Once the dart had hit the girl, there was no going back. And that had made him feel much better, finally committed to what they had done. At the car, Rod wrapped some of the strong tape around her shoes, pinning her legs together so she couldn’t kick out if she woke up. Then he did the same with her hands, moving them behind her back before securing them. When he was happy with his preparations, they lifted her from the stretcher into the car, making sure to lay her on her side, so she couldn’t choke or suffocate. Rod placed the crossbow and dart to the side of her, then wedged the school bag behind her, to keep her in position.
As Rod went to close the lid of the boot, Phil reached in. He felt uncomfortable that he could see up her skirt, and pulled it down to cover her up. Rod smiled and shook his head. “She won’t know any different, mate. She’s out of it”. As the lid slammed, Rod handed the keys over. “You drive. Go slowly, and stop as you reach the tarmac road”. Rod reached inside the back, and took out the lawn rake. As Phil crept the car forward in low gear, his friend walked backwards behind it, moving the rake back and forth. You had to give him credit for thinking about that. No tyre tracks, and any possible footprints erased. Once the car was on the proper road, Rod jumped back in, all smiles. He clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Well, we did it. And it went without a hitch”.
Phil drove back to his flat before handing the keys back. Rod slipped into the driver’s seat, looking incredibly relaxed. “Now don’t forget. Tomorrow, you go to the house as normal, intending to clean the windows. Act calm, act surprised if they say anything, OK? Don’t overthink it, leave the thinking to me”. Inside the flat, Phil opened a can of beer and switched on the TV. He changed the channel to rolling news, and waited.
George checked on the horse before he left work. It took him almost an hour to walk home from the Calder house, but he didn’t mind. It was a good job, and he was left alone to do it. Wandering up the driveway that afternoon, he enjoyed gazing at the trees lining it. There was no chance he would notice a mobile phone lying next to one of them.
When Marjorie wasn’t home by five, Marta telephoned the taxi company. They called the driver on the radio, and confirmed that she had been dropped off by the gate as usual, at her own request. So Marta rang Marjorie’s phone, and after six rings, it went to answerphone. She left a message, asking where she was, and what she was doing. Twenty minutes later, she decided to walk around the house and grounds. Maybe the girl was in the stables, or hanging around by the pool? Could she have crept up to her room without being noticed? Marjorie’s room was empty, and she wasn’t in any of the bathrooms, or other rooms in the house. The horse was in its pen in the stables, and the pool area was deserted too. Marta was concerned, mainly because that had never happened before. The girl always came into the kitchen after school to get a snack. Before she ever did anything else, that was a routine she never changed. She phoned George’s mobile. He sounded a little out of breath, still walking home. No, he hadn’t seen Marjorie. He had settled Prince, then closed up and left for home as usual.
Marta checked the clock in the hall. It was almost six.
She dialled the emergency number, and asked for the police.
By the time the first officers responded to Marta’s call, it was getting dark. They did a search of the house and surrounding areas, ignoring Marta’s protestations that she had already done that. As she insisted that they should use more men to search, and that Marjorie had never been late, ever, they continued to write down the names and addresses of her school, and any one else Marta could think of. They asked for a photo, but the only one Marta had was from the girl’s eighth birthday, so useless. The two policewomen didn’t seem to be taking it very seriously. They kept suggesting that Marjorie might be with a boy, or have gone home with a school-friend. When she told them about the taxi dropping her at the gate, they just shrugged, and said that didn’t mean she had actually come to the house.
It took some time for Marta to sort out how to view the CCTV on a computer in Mr Calder’s office, but that at least confirmed Marjorie had not approached the house after the taxi left. When the two women just kept exchanging bored looks, Marta finally lost her temper. “We are talking about a fifteen year old girl here. She left school, and was dropped at the gate by a taxi. After that, she disappeared, and anything could have happened to her. Stop asking me about boys, she never had any boyfriends. And stop asking about friends at school, she never had any of those either. Mr Calder is an influential man, and you are putting his daughter in danger by not taking this seriously”. The older policewoman looked at the young one, and shrugged. “OK, call it in from the car”.
The first thing Marjorie noticed was the smell. Heavy, musky, and something else. Sour shit. She opened her eyes, and ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. It was dry, really dry. Her arms and legs felt heavy too, unresponsive, sluggish. Then a loud sound startled her. Something like a maniacal cackling, rising to a crescendo. Chimpanzees. It was chimps, she was sure of it. Had she gone to sleep, and left the TV on? The memory suddenly kicked in. Something sharp had hit her leg, and it felt like she had been kicked, hard. She remembered something; a syringe, perhaps, and then running. She reached out a heavy hand, and found the end of a thin mattress. She was definitely lying on something soft, and she could feel a dull ache in her left leg. Trying to rub it, she watched her hand move up and down her thigh, but had no sense of actually feeling the fingers. Her eyes felt heavy, and try as she might, she had to surrender to the sleepiness that overwhelmed her.
Tina Collier was tidying some files when a uniformed officer knocked on her office door and walked in. He was holding a sheet of paper. “This has just come in from a patrol car, boss. A missing schoolgirl, fifteen. Her name is Marjorie Calder, daughter of Tom Calder, that rich guy. She left school on time, and never made it home. Do you want to take it?” Tina grabbed the paper and scanned it quickly. “Yes that’s for us, leave it with me”. The officer looked pleased, and left. Marching out into the main detective office, Tina could see that there were only three who hadn’t already gone home. She raised her voice, grandstanding the moment. “Listen up! We have a missing teenage girl. Get on the phones, and get everyone back in. Call down to the uniform Duty Officer and tell him I said to keep everyone on for a search. Someone contact County Headquarters and tell them I need the helicopter and dog teams, maybe the underwater search team too. Get hold of the patrol car officers and tell them to stay at the house until relieved”. The three detectives were still frozen to the spot. One had his outdoor coat half on, and another was putting her shoes on. Tina walked forward, and clapped her hands. “NOW!”
As they reluctantly started to do as she asked, Tina walked over to a large whiteboard on the wall. She wrote Marjorie’s name, age, and address at the top, then added ‘Time last seen 16:30’. Without turning, she yelled, “She was dropped off by a taxi. Someone find out the name of the taxi company, and tell them I want the driver in here within the hour. Sooner if possible”.
When the girl started to stir, Rodney grabbed the mask and pulled it over his head. He had forgotten to tie the clinical face mask first, so quickly pulled the Scream mask off, and did that before putting it back on. He waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. The night duty staff were putting the chimps inside for their evening meal, and they were making one hell of a racket. Rodney wondered if that had woken her up, and braced himself for the inevitable confrontation. But she just kept trying to rub her leg where the dart had gone in, and though her eyes were looking straight in his direction, she didn’t appear to be able to see him. When she slumped back to sleep, he took the mask off, settling down to wait for a bit longer.
There was nothing on the news. Phil had watched it for almost two hours, and was on his fourth can of beer. No reports of a missing girl, on either the national or local bulletins. Maybe they hadn’t missed her yet. He put a spaghetti bolognese into the microwave, and turned the dial. Although he didn’t actually feel like eating, he knew he had to have something. All he could think of was Rod and the girl, and those old cages in the Zoo.
He hoped it was all going to plan.
It was an elephant. Undeniably, the trumpeting of an elephant. Marjorie stirred, and this time she was awake. Across the room, Rodney pulled the mask on hurriedly.
There was that smell again. Unfamiliar, yet familiar, overwhelming her senses as she came round. Marjorie pushed up on one arm, and sat crossed-legged on the thin mattress, suddenly aware that she didn’t have her shoes on anymore. Her left hand moved to her thigh, rubbing the dull ache once again. As her vision cleared, she could see the bars a few feet in front of her, a padlock securing what seemed to be a sliding door. Across the room, there was someone sitting on a chair, a man, his arm resting on the table next to it. He was wearing a mask, the face from the film ‘Scream’. It took no time at all to realise that she was in an animal cage, and that the person opposite had obviously put her in there. A familiar feeling lower down her body told her something else. She badly needed to pee.
Looking around, Marjorie could see that the caged area was quite large. In the corner opposite the mattress was a big white plastic box. It had a lid on it, and a roll of toilet paper to one side. On the mattress were two pillows, one much larger than the other, resting on a folded sleeping bag. And on the floor to her left, three two-litre bottles of mineral water. An old-fashioned lamp was throwing out some light next to the bottles, and next to the man, a table-lamp illuminated the other side of the room. When he didn’t say anything, she spoke up instead. “Is that mask supposed to scare me? Well, it doesn’t. I watched that film when I was much younger, and just laughed at it. Why have you brought me here? Are you going to rape me? I can tell I’m in a zoo, so I presume it is the City Zoo. That wasn’t a very clever choice on your part, was it?” She pushed her glasses back firmly onto the bridge of her nose before continuing.
“And I need to pee, like now. Or I will just wet myself”.
Rodney had expected her to scream, to be terrified, to have to reassure her she would come to no harm and be released once the ransom was paid. He hadn’t expected her to be talking nineteen to the dozen, and acting as if she got kidnapped on a regular basis. He pointed to the box in the corner. She wasn’t impressed. “What, you want me to piss in a box, with you looking?” Rodney cleared his throat. “I will stand with my back to you until you have finished”. He pronounced each word slowly, doing his best to sound like a robot, and to hide his local accent. She heard him, but wasn’t about to make life easy for him. “You are going to have to speak up. I can hardly make out what you are saying through that stupid mask”. Rodney stood up, walked into the corner by the steel door, and faced the wall. Marjorie needed to pee so badly, she was past caring anyway. She hitched up her skirt, and lifted the top off of the box. Sliding down her underwear, she squatted over it, and relieved herself, not even remotely embarrassed at the noise of the fluid rattling against the plastic.
Inspector Collier was writing on the whiteboard. She loved to outline everything on a big board, then stand back to get an overview. Everyone had turned up by now, and she was allocating tasks constantly, making sure nobody was sitting idly. She had the taxi driver waiting to give a statement downstairs, and the patrol car was bringing in the housekeeper. One of the guys was on the way to interview the gardener, and if he didn’t have an alibi, he would be coming in too. Thomas Calder was in Australia, doing some big deal. They hadn’t been able to speak to him, but an assistant had taken a message, then promised her boss would call back soon. Danielle hadn’t bothered to put her shoes on after all, and she called out from her desk. “Boss, the Chief Constable is on the phone, he will only speak to you”. Tina walked over to the desk. Before hitting the button to take the call off hold, she spoke to the young detective. “Get on to the pizza place. Order enough for everyone, I will pay when they arrive. We won’t be going home tonight, that’s for sure”. Danielle nodded, and Tina clicked the button. “Collier here sir”.
Marjorie was surprised that the man hadn’t turned to look at her when she was squatting over the box. He had kept his word about that, and she wasn’t sure whether or not to be offended that he hadn’t wanted to look. She shook that strange thought from her brain, and spoke again. “I’m very hungry. Did you not think to bring me any food then?” He reached under the table and slid a container out. Walking over to the cage, he opened a slot in the bars, and slid the container in. It fitted the gap exactly. Watching him move around, she estimated he was quite young, probably under thirty. He was not that tall, and his slim build showed in the bagginess of the overalls. She leaned forward and looked into the open box. There was a sandwich in a plastic wrapper, two packets of crisps, a chocolate bar, and two bananas. Under the food she could see a selection of magazines, mostly fashion and pop music stuff.
As she opened the sandwich, she shook her head.
“This will do for a snack, but I will need something more later”.
Tina Collier tapped her foot impatiently as she listened to the Chief Constable ranting at her. She had overstepped her authority, spent too much money on overtime for officers, and was out of order requesting specialist units. She was only going to get the helicopter for thirty minutes, and the crew would do a thermal camera search. Search dogs would not be available until tomorrow, and she could forget any underwater teams unless she had some good reason to suspect the missing girl was in the water. Blah blah. He stopped talking, and when Tina said nothing, he finished with, “Don’t forget that most of these cases are solved by looking closely at the home life. Concentrate on the suspects you have already, and let’s not get over excited until we are sure she’s not out sitting in some burger bar somewhere”. Tina shook her head. The Chief will be sorry, she was sure of that. She barked, “Thank you, sir” into the phone, and hung up.
Phil’s head was spinning. A combination of too many beers, and too many hours of rolling news. Still nothing. No reports of a missing girl, nothing more exciting than a bad traffic accident on the motorway, and the visit of a foreign minister from China. He felt edgy about tomorrow morning, deciding that he would get out to the Calder house early, and get it over with.
Marjorie had finished all the food except for one banana, which she saved for later. After swigging some of the lukewarm mineral water, she turned to look at the man sitting next to the table. “This water is horrible. Couldn’t you have got me some Coke, or apple juice?” He didn’t reply. “So what’s this all about then? Why did you drug me and bring me to this crappy room? Is it a sex thing, or are you just a weirdo? If you intend keeping me here you should have got me a change of clothes. I am going to need clean underwear tomorrow, and somewhere to wash. I bet you didn’t think about any of that, did you?” Rodney preferred it when she was eating. At least she wasn’t firing questions at him when her mouth was full of food. The girl tipped over the open box, spilling the magazines onto the floor. “And these are rubbish. They’re all out of date too, like I would be interested in reading this crap anyway. At least give me back my school books, so I can do something useful while I’m sat here”. He hadn’t expected her to talk so much, and his head was beginning to ache.
Danielle put down a wobbly slice of four seasons pizza, and answered the phone. She nodded a few times, then hung up. “Boss, they have tracked Marjorie’s phone. It’s close to the house”. Tina nodded. “Good, tell the patrol officers to make a search for it, I’m going to talk to the taxi driver”. Marcus Weber had been sitting in the room for a long time. A uniformed officer stood by the door, a very bored expression on his face. The same door opened, and a grumpy looking woman entered, accompanied by a tall young man who didn’t look old enough to be a cop. They sat opposite, and she began to read from a file, without looking across at him. “Marcus Weber, born in South Africa, living here for the last fifteen years. Thirty-eight years old, divorced, no children. Formerly managed a cycle shop, and now a taxi driver”. He saw no need to reply, he knew all that anyway.
Tina suddenly looked up, a strange knowing smile spreading across her face. “So tell me Marcus, do you like young girls?” Marcus swallowed hard. He had come in voluntarily, to help out. But he didn’t like that question, or the tone of it. He sat back, and looked around the room. “I am answering no questions without a lawyer. Please arrange to get one for me”.
Rodney hoped the girl would stop talking soon. What was most annoying was that she was right. He hadn’t thought about clothes, or underwear. He expected her to wash in the cage, and had brought shower gel and a cloth for that. Hot water was easy enough to find around the Zoo too. But she wasn’t acting anything like he had imagined. No tears, no pleading, no apparent fear. In one respect, that might make things easier, as he wouldn’t have to keep trying to comfort her that nothing bad was going to happen. But he was at a complete loss as to why she was acting so calmly, and that confused him completely. He stood up, and walked closer to the bars. “You will not be raped, or harmed in any way. All we want is for your father to pay a ransom, and we will let you go. Until then, you will get food, be kept warm and comfortable, and nobody will touch you. If you cooperate, nothing bad will happen to you”. It was wearing to keep trying to talk in such a stilted fashion, pronouncing each word slowly and clearly, and he was aware that he had let it slip a few times.
Marjorie had noticed that he had said ‘We’. That meant he wasn’t acting alone. Despite her outward appearance and attitude, she had never been so terrified. Nobody knew where she was, and she was at the mercy of this man, and whoever was helping him. Her mind envisioned all manner of awful things that could happen to her, and now she knew it was a straightforward kidnapping, she was even more worried.
She couldn’t imagine Tom Calder paying so much as one pound to get her back.
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.
When he finished work, Rodney went round to see Phil. As his friend started to fire questions at him, he raised a hand to stop him, then spread out some maps he was carrying onto the carpet in front of the small sofa. “I think I have found the perfect spot for the drop, I’ll show you on the map. Oh, and I will post the ransom demand tomorrow, once I have some evidence from the girl. Don’t worry, I will wear gloves, and I won’t lick the envelope or stamp”. Phil wanted to ask him what was happening at the Zoo, but his friend was already showing him something on the map.
The call had finally come in from Tom Calder. He wanted to offer a reward for any information leading to finding Marjorie. He also wanted them to mount a televised appeal, spread the story to the newspapers, and get it all on social media too. When Tina asked how much reward he was offering, he suggested she use the word ‘substantial’. She tried to caution him against any reward, as she knew only too well that would bring out the cranks, and stir up a rat’s nest of chancers, giving her team too much work. But he said if she didn’t say it, he would just issue his own press release. And he wasn’t coming back from Australia anytime soon. He told her the deal was too important, and he couldn’t do anything practical if he came home anyway.
Tina had got a photo from the school. It was only a few months old, and showed the girl face-on, in school uniform. Perfect.
Phil had to agree that the drop site looked promising. Rod had driven past it many times, and it wasn’t until the kidnapping that the idea of using it had come to him. He had finally answered Phil’s questions too. Yes, the girl was alright. No, she wasn’t screaming and crying. Yes, she had used the box-toilet. No, she hadn’t refused the food and was starving herself. No, Rod hadn’t attracted any attention at the Zoo. As Phil thought of his next question, Rodney stood up. “I have to leave and get back to her, take her some food. She’s been on her own all day while I have been working”. As he tidied up the maps, Phil told him about the cop taking his details, and saying he would have to give a statement. Rod picked up his car keys and tried to reassure his friend. “Come on mate, we knew that would happen, and you know what to say. Right? They can’t tie you to the girl, or anything to do with the kidnapping. Just brazen it out”. Phil nodded and smiled. Inside, he didn’t feel so certain.
As soon as he walked back through the heavy door, the girl started nagging him. “Where have you been all day? I’m hungry now, and it’s past my dinner time. And I had to use that box for a poo, so you had better get it emptied or I won’t be lifting that lid to use it again, I can tell you. Did you not bring me any clothes? I can’t believe that, I’ve been wearing these forever, and had to sleep in them”. Rodney waited until she calmed down. He felt like someone coming home to a nagging wife in one of those old comedy shows on TV. Not at all like returning to the secret location of a supposedly terrified kidnapped teenager.
Marjorie had used the water to wash in as soon as she had finished eating breakfast. She had stripped off in the cage, and stood with her back to the door in case he returned. Afterwards, she had enjoyed the fresh feeling of being clean. Also, the men’s underpants had been surprisingly comfortable to wear, and not a bad fit either. She hadn’t bothered to put the tights back on though. The feet of them were dirty from where she had no shoes on, and there was no way she was wrapping them back around her clean body. The day had really dragged, even with going over all the ideas in her notebook, and adding some new ones. By the time she had worked out it was really late, she was beginning to look forward to his return, if for nothing else but to be able to complain. As well as the fact it would mean she hadn’t just been left there to die.
Rodney slid the Chinese food through the trap, along with a new man’s-size sweatshirt bought in a cheap shop on the trading estate. There were also two pairs of thick sports socks, new in a packet. Marjorie disarmed him with a sweet smile. “Before I eat the food, could you please change this toilet-box-thing? I really don’t want to eat in the same room as my poo”. She watched as the man walked to the side of the cage, and opened up a larger gap in the bars. It was big enough for a lion to walk through, so she could easily have slid through it. But there seemed little point. She pushed the box through, and he closed the gap up, snapping a small padlock into place. She picked up the two cartons, and the plastic spoon and fork next to them. As she walked back to the mattress, he spoke to her. “I need your hairbrush. I won’t keep it, you can have it straight back”. From the corner by the door, he produced a big bottle of Pepsi, at least a two-litre. “You can have this if you give me no trouble over the brush”.
Reaching inside her bag for the brush, Marjorie thought fast. Why did he want it? Hair of course. DNA. Proof that they actually had Marjorie Calder. She smiled as she turned around holding it. “Here, you can have it. But it won’t do you much good. He’s not my real father you know, he just adopted me. So they won’t get a DNA match”. She couldn’t see his face under the mask, but as he didn’t respond, she knew she had guessed right. “You didn’t know that, did you? He married my Mum, and adopted me later”. Rodney thought about that for a minute, wondering what to do next. The girl put the brush on the mattress, and reached both hands up to her neck, feeling under the collar of her shirt. They came back holding a gold necklace, with a large ‘M’ dangling from the centre. She walked forward and held it though the bars.
“Send them this. Then Marta will know it is really me that you have”.
As Rodney reached out to take the gold necklace, Marjorie spoke again. “Before you send this, and start everything in motion, I have some ideas that you might want to listen to. Why don’t you sit down and let me explain?” Rodney took the necklace into his gloved hand, wondering what she was going on about. But it couldn’t hurt to hear what she had to say. He nodded, and walked back to sit at the hard chair next to the table. Before she started talking, the girl opened a notebook on the floor, and started to spoon some of the Chinese food into her mouth.
No suspects. Tina Collier couldn’t believe that. Suspects were all you really had to go on, with cases like this. If it was an abduction, there was no ransom demand. If it was a murder, there was no body so far. She had started to wonder if the girl had gone off on her own accord, just run away perhaps. The press release would start a scramble, but it also might flush out the girl, if she was hiding somewhere. Tina also thought about the chances of domestic or sexual abuse. An adoptive step-father, a teenager with no friends, brought up by a hard-faced housekeeper. The permutations were many, and all possible. She straightened her jacket, slipped on her ‘TV shoes’, and walked into the room. Sitting in front of a large projection of Marjorie’s school photo, she waited until all the flashguns had stopped, and started to speak.
It would make the evening news, just.
Swallowing some noodles, Marjorie began. “It seems to me that you haven’t planned this very well. You obviously have a partner, as you said ‘We’. I don’t know how reliable that partner is, but I hope you can count on him or her. You know nothing about me it seems, except where I live, and that my father is presumably rich. I expect you intend to ask for a lot of money, and that will have to be dropped off somewhere?” Rodney crossed his legs and nodded. She took the chance to stuff in some more of the chicken, and carried on with her mouth full. “That’s never going to work. The money will be tracked or marked, whatever they say to the contrary. And it will be a huge parcel, however it’s packed. They will either catch you trying to collect it, or find you later. You will never be able to spend the money, don’t you see that?”
He didn’t reply, so she finished the food before continuing. “And I know that you work at the Zoo. How else could you get in and out so easily? You are slim, probably under thirty, and from the smell of you I am guessing you work with the animals, not in the administration. So you won’t be able to let me go, as it would take no time at all for the police to work out which Zoo employee was responsible. You will have to kill me, you see that, don’t you? You might just as well take off that mask and talk to me normally, because based on your plan, I am never getting out of here alive”.
Rodney was pale-faced behind the hot mask. She was right of course. Collecting the money was always going to be a huge problem, even though he was well-aware they wouldn’t have been able to spend it for a very long time. And using the Zoo had been flawed, as she would easily have been able to tell the authorities where she had been held captive. Even if he and Phil had left the city to live elsewhere, it would be a life on the run for them, forever. The girl’s voice shook him from his gloomy thoughts.
“I have a much better plan. One that doesn’t involve me getting killed, you getting caught, or even involving the police. Do you want to hear it?” Rodney nodded, and she opened another page in the notebook. “Take me away from here, removing the chance of me being discovered somehow. I will go willingly, and hide in the boot of your car, which is how I presume you brought me here. Take me to your house, or one where your partner lives, and I will just stay there, and bring no attention to myself. In a couple of weeks, I will be sixteen, so legal in the eyes of the law. Meanwhile, I will be able to get you a lot of money, and some for myself too. I know how to access the Trust Account set up for me by my mother. There is around five million in there, and I am not supposed to be able to get any of it until I am eighteen. But she gave me the password years ago, and they don’t know that. Can I have that Pepsi now, please?”
He walked over with the bottle, and passed it through the slot. He was trying to take in what she had said, as she opened the top and started to gulp down the cola. After a very satisfied and rather startling burp, she started again.
“So, it’s like this. I wait at your place, or wherever. No ransom demand, no police, no discovery, no collecting money. And no need to kill me. The day after my sixteenth birthday, I reappear. I say I was unhappy at home, lonely and neglected, and ran away to stay with a friend. I refuse to tell them where I stayed, or who with. I say I am sorry for all the fuss, but I feel better now, and it won’t happen again. Meanwhile, I will need a good Internet signal, and a laptop. I will create an account for you, and transfer money from my Trust Fund into it. You can take it out from whatever the bank we use. It will be a gift, not extortion. Then when I am eighteen, I get the rest anyway, as well as being the official next of kin of one of the richest men in the country. I go back to the house, bide my time, and wait for the fortune to come in the future. What do you say?”
Rodney spoke normally through the mask. “Why would you do that? You will get the money anyway, so why would you just give some to us, and then not tell anyone about us after?” Marjorie smiled. “Yes that’s true, I could do that. But I want to stay alive, and this is the best way I can see of doing it. Even though you may not have set out to kill me, if you go down the ransom route, you will really have no choice. This way, I will give you a million each, and still have enough to last my entire life. Think about it. No police involved, no worrying about having to hide me, and no real need to rely on your accomplice. And if later on I decided to say it was a kidnap, and I played along by illegally transferring money before I was entitled to it, I doubt that would go down too well with Tom Calder, believe me”.
He wasn’t convinced, but he could see the girl’s plan had been thought through, and it was better than his, undoubtedly. Her tone was matter of fact, as she spoke again. “I will need a clean toilet box soon, whatever you decide. Thanks for the Pepsi, and I enjoyed the Chinese food. You have to work out if you can trust me, I understand that. But as you don’t know me, I guess you will have to go with your gut feelings”.
After a few minutes in complete silence, Rodney took off the mask.
Marjorie looked at her captor. With or without the mask, he wasn’t remotely scary. In fact, he was very ordinary. Unattractive, tired-looking, and maybe not much over twenty-five.
She pressed her advantage.
“You might as well take me away from here tonight. There’s nobody around at the Zoo at this hour, and you could pick me up something to eat on the way. We could soon clear up this cage, and the room, then there would be no trace of me ever being here”.
Rodney handed back the necklace. He didn’t want to be accused of taking it for no reason, and besides, he could ever chance trying to sell it. Unlocking the main door of the cage, he was still unsure if she would just try to run. But she didn’t. She just tidied up her stuff, and slid out the mattress and lantern. A quick check to make sure that nothing of hers remained in the cage, and she walked out, standing next to the young man.
“I will need my shoes. Can I have them back?”
He slid them out from under the table by the wall. “I just didn’t want you kicking anything, and hurting yourself”. Marjorie smiled inside. He was already apologising, and she was still in the room at the Zoo. She grinned, acting in a friendly manner. “What could I have kicked? I just ended up with cold feet”. His expression was sheepish. “Sorry. I didn’t think. Hang on here for a minute, and I will come and get you when the car is turned around and ready. OK?” She nodded, clutching her school bag as she awkwardly struggled into the heavy shoes. He stopped at the metal door, and turned. “Just get your personal stuff. I will sort out everything else tomorrow”.
Tina Collier thought she might just as well head off home. All sorts of nut cases were ringing in with information, trying to claim the reward. They had supposed sightings in London and Glasgow, and one as far away as Vienna. She shook her head in frustration, and spoke to the room, her voice flat and angry. “This is all bollocks. I told Calder what would happen. Now we are tucked up with dealing with close to six hundred sightings that are going to all be fictitious. Or I will eat my very large shoes!”
The man moved her quickly into the car. It was parked surprisingly close to where she had been held, in an area that appeared to be derelict. As she rolled into the boot, she heard an animal cry that she didn’t recognise at all. It must have been at least ten minutes before she smiled, and spoke to herself. “Gibbons”.
Phil hadn’t been called into the police station yet, and was shitting himself waiting for the call. He hadn’t seen Rod since the maps thing, and wondered what the hell was going on. But he couldn’t call or text. That was the arrangement, part of the plan. And he had to stick to the plan. He had another can of beer, and checked his watch. Was it too early to go to bed? Sleep might be hard to come by, but it might quieten his whirring thoughts.
Rodney drove the car around in circles deliberately. No need to let her work out the route, just in case. He still wasn’t sure if he should take her to his place, but a hotel would want a credit card deposit, and might well think something funny about such a young girl checking in with him. If he was going to go with her plan, then he might just as well take her to his flat. If she was going to grass them up, it made no difference either way. After completing a second turn around the ring road, he pulled the car to a halt outside his block. As he waited for the coast to clear, all he could think of was that his small flat was like a tip. It was two weeks since he had changed the bed, and there was at least five day’s worth of washing up in the sink.
After fifteen minutes of waiting until the street was clear, he opened the boot of the car and helped her out. Ushering her into the entrance at some speed, he hoped she wouldn’t remember enough about the location to think to bring the authorities there. She had her bag with her, and had left nothing in the car that could be construed as evidence. At least as far as he could tell.
The first thing that Marjorie noticed was the smell. Musty, unwashed, unfamiliar. Then when he put the light on, she took a sharp intake of breath. Turning to look to him, she put her hands on her hips, and shook her head. “What a shit-hole! Don’t you ever clean up around here? For God’s sake, don’t you have any self-respect?” Rodney forgot that he was the kidnapper, and blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were coming, did I? Sit down a minute, and I will tidy up. Then I will phone up and get us some food delivered”.
Marjorie sat on the sticky, shiny sofa, and wrapped her arms around her bag, trying to look scared and upset.
But try as she might to do that, she could only manage to look pleased with herself.
Tina Collier was looking at an almost blank file on her desk. Danielle stood on the other side, waiting for instructions. “Philip Harper, twenty-four, window cleaner. No arrests, no convictions, no known associates, not even a speeding ticket”. Tina looked up at Danielle. “So the only reason he is in for questioning is because he cleans Calder’s windows? Talk about clutching at straws, Danni”. The younger detective shrugged. “Well boss, he would know the house, the layout and such. But there is no real reason to suspect him otherwise. His neighbours confirm that his work van was parked outside all night, and he claims to have been home watching TV and drinking lager. Nothing on his laptop or phone worth chasing up, and his movements since the girl went missing can all be confirmed by the window cleaning company. He’s just a boring young bloke with not much going on in his life”.
Tina sighed. “Well, as he’s here, I might as well talk to him. No, in fact, you interview him. I really can’t be arsed. As it is I will probably be here half the night, sorting through all the bogus sightings generated by that bloody press conference”.
Phil was sitting in the small room trying not to look too nervous. A little bit nervous was OK. After all, he was in a Police Station. He had declined legal representation, and they had told him he would have to wait until a detective was free. On the phone, they had asked him to come in, and to bring his laptop and phone, if he gave permission for those to be looked at. He had said he would come in after work the next day, but they said tonight was good, if he was free. He felt it was important to cooperate, so had arrived as arranged. The girl walked in with a tall skinny bloke. She was good-looking, and seemed to him to be too attractive to be a policewoman. But he didn’t really know any, so had nothing to base that on. She said it was an informal interview, nothing taped, and no need for a caution. Phil nodded.
Ten minutes later, he was back outside, walking to his van. He had sat around for a couple of hours, then all she asked him was more or less what she already knew. They had returned his laptop and phone, sealed in big plastic bags, and thanked him for coming in. When the girl finished talking, Phil hadn’t been unable to stop himself blurting out, “Is that it, then?” She shuffled her files and nodded. “For now, but we may still want to question you again later. Please let us know if you intend to move house, or leave the city”.
In Rodney’s flat, he was watching Marjorie, amazed how much the girl could eat. She had asked or a twelve-inch stuffed crust pizza, plus garlic bread, dough balls, and ice cream for later. It was all gone except for some crispy crust edges, and she was now swallowing down almost half of a two-litre bottle of Pepsi. In between bites, she had rattled off a list of things she said she needed, as well as things she thought he should do.
“You had better write this down”. She waited until he got a pen.
“I will need panty-pads by tomorrow night, as my period is due.
You had better go to a big supermarket outside the city, buy them with lots of other stuff so they will just be unnoticed on the conveyor.
You can get me some more of those men’s briefs too, I don’t mind them.
Also some jogging trousers, or pyjama bottoms, so I don’t have to sit around in this skirt.
Make sure you get plenty of Coke or Pepsi too, I am not going to drink tap water, I assure you of that. And get lots of easy meals, you know, microwave stuff. I don’t fancy eating anything cooked in your kitchen, it looks absolutely filthy”.
She paused, swallowing a dough-ball whole, then carried on talking.
“And you will need one of those pre-paid Mobile Internet dongles. You don’t want to be using your home broadband once I start with the transactions, it will be too easy to trace later. We won’t need too much credit on it, and you can just destroy it later, or throw it in the river.
And get a basic pack of duvet cover, pillowcase, and sheet. Even your supposedly clean bed-sheets look yukky, and I won’t be spending more than one night on those, I can tell you”.
Don’t forget to get me lots of crisps, I like the ridged ones.
And some chocolate too. It helps me think straight”.
Rodney waited until he was sure she had finally stopped talking, and started to check the list. He had never realised that one person could go on so much, and he could easily believe that they might not have wanted her back at all.
Although it was close to eleven at night, Rodney sent a text to Phil. It was deliberately informal, chatty. ‘Phil mate. Pop round here after work tomorrow. We can have a couple of beers and a chat, be good to see you’. He knew he had to let Phil know what had happened, and decided it was best if he just came and saw for himself.
Marjorie was shouting from the sofa. “I can’t get Netflix on this stupid TV! And make sure there’s enough hot water, I will be having a bath before I go to bed”.
He was beginning to wonder if her being there was such a good idea.
The next morning, Rodney was surprised to find the girl was still there, fast asleep in his bed. He had spent an uncomfortable night on the sofa, fully expecting her to try to escape, or perhaps scream, smash a window, anything to alert the outside world to her presence. He had intended to lock her in when he went to work, but as she seemed happy enough not to try any funny business, he just shut the door as he left at the usual time for an early shift.
Once at work, he zipped through his own regular duties, then took an early break. In the old Lion house, he removed the new padlocks he had used, and put them in his pocket. Then he grabbed the mattress, box, lantern, and any trace that the girl was ever held there. He loaded it all onto one of the carts they used, and took it off to the incinerator. Once it was all consigned to the flames, he finally relaxed.
Marjorie slept late. When she was up and about, she checked the front door. Not locked. Interesting. Then she picked the post off the mat behind it. She shook her head at how stupid this young man was. In her hand, she held a letter addressed to him. And not just any letter, a bank statement. She walked back into the bedroom, and put the letter into the bottom of her school bag. Now she knew his name, bank account details, and the address where she was staying. She sat back on the bed, and wiggled her toes. To the empty room, she said, “How dumb can you get?” And laughed out loud.
The Chief Constable was on a roll. Tina decided she must get more sleep, if she was going to put up with being told off by him at that volume, for so long. She waited until he stopped to catch his breath, and interrupted. “That’s correct, sir. We have no suspects as we don’t even know if we have a crime. There is no body, no trace of the girl anywhere, no ransom demand, and nothing on CCTV. My best guess is that she has run away, and I think we need to focus on possible abuse in the home”. He didn’t like her tone, or her answers, and told her so. Tina took a large breath, and replied. “To be honest sir, if you don’t like my handling of this case, then by all means give it to another team. I really don’t know what more I can do. If you have any direct orders for me, or even one suggestion on how I can progress this beyond a missing person case, then I am happy to hear it”.
The phone went dead. He obviously had no idea either.
Cleaning the windows at the private school was always a drag. There was a caretaker who followed him around, a real jobsworth. But Phil managed to get finished by three, and the bloke signed his form to agree that the job was satisfactory. He knew Rod would definitely be home by five, so he would go straight round after getting changed out of his work clothes. He was excited to hear how things were going, and pleasantly surprised that he hadn’t been called upon to deliver a ransom note as yet.
There had been nothing about her on the lunchtime news on TV. Marjorie was a little surprised by that, and decided she should feel neglected that she wasn’t the headline story. It might be on the regional news later. She brushed her hair, put on some make up, and got dressed. No point letting her standards slip, or allowing the kidnapper to think she was slovenly. Rodney Church, that was his name. But she wouldn’t let on that she knew it. Not yet. After eating some corn flakes left out for her, she did a good search of the flat. It was only living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a small kitchen, so it didn’t take too long. In a jumble of paperwork stored in the bedside cabinet, she found a death certificate in the name of Margaret Ann Church. She guessed that must be his mother. There was a rental agreement for the flat, at an agreed price of £475 a month, and a few old mobile phone bills. With nothing much else to interest her in the pile, she opened the bank statement. He had less than two hundred in the bank, and it was a while until payday, according to the transactions.
No wonder he had kidnapped her. The guy was almost broke.
Finding her still there when he got home was strangely reassuring. And she didn’t start talking straight away, which was good. Rodney had got the shopping she had suggested, and the Internet thing too. A young girl in the phone shop had known what it was, and he was in and out of there in five minutes. He had also brought back some McDonalds, to save messing around that evening. When she spotted the Big Mac meal and shake, the girl took it without saying anything, and sat down on the sofa to eat it. As she was munching away, he spoke to her. “Someone is coming around soon. A friend of mine. The man who helped me”. She nodded, mumbling through a mouthful of burger. “Your accomplice”. He smiled, and continued. “Whatever, but I don’t want you to say too much about things. Let me explain what’s going on. Maybe you can stay in the bedroom when he arrives? I just want to put him in the picture, let him now that you are going to sort out the money. He might freak out if he sees you here as soon as he walks in”.
Marjorie finished the milk shake with an unladylike slurping and bubbling sound. She put down the cup and looked up at Rodney, giving him her best sweetly disarming smile.
He immediately knew there was something wrong. For one thing, Rod’s flat was tidy. And his friend was smiling too much, grinning like a chimp. Maybe he was spending too much time at the Zoo.
“Phil mate, great to see you. Come in, take a seat. Fancy a beer?”. He accepted the cold can, getting in quick before Rod started talking again. “So what’s happening with the girl, Rod? Has she said much? Is she causing trouble? I went to see the police, but they just asked me a few questions and let me go. There’s nothing on the news about a ransom. What are you doing about the note?” He cracked the ring pull to sip the beer, and a voice from behind made him almost drop the can.
“The girl is fine, and causing no trouble”. Phil spun around and his mouth dropped open. Marjorie stood in front of him smiling. She didn’t have her glasses on, and her make-up looked heavy. Her skirt was even shorter than when he had helped to put her in the car, and she was wearing a white T-shirt, with quite obviously no bra on underneath it. He guessed it was one of Rod’s T-shirts, as it was very tight on her. He snapped his head back to look at Rod, but his friend was holding his head in his hands, and shaking it from side to side. Still staring at the shaking head, he put the can back on the coffee table and his mouth moved slowly as he spoke. “Well, I’m waiting. Let’s hear it”.
Marjorie watched carefully, taking in this new guy. He was quite good-looking, with a mop of blonde hair, and a square jaw. Fitter-looking than Rodney, with strong arms and wide shoulders. He looked smart too, with a clean-shaven face, and wearing a fashionable polo shirt and chinos. Even his brown loafers were polished. She slipped down onto the sofa next to him, crossing her legs to make sure he got a good look. When he turned to look at her, she flapped her false eyelashes, and smiled. “Why don’t I tell you what’s happening? Sorry, I didn’t get your name. Rodney forgot to tell me”.
Tom Calder was on the phone to Marta, asking a lot of questions that she didn’t know the answers to. There had been no sightings of Marjorie, she had told him that. The girl didn’t have a boyfriend, she had told him that too. No, the school couldn’t help, and no, there had been no bodies of teenage girls found anywhere in or around the city. After a long silence, his voice came back on the line, softer. “She will be sixteen soon, did you get her something, as I asked”. Marta told him about the gold necklace, and pretended that Marjorie had been thrilled with it. He hummed a little, as if not knowing what to say, then added, “Do you think she has run off, hiding somewhere maybe? Perhaps she is feeling lonely again, or trying to get attention. What do you think, Marta?”
It was unheard of for Mr Calder to ask her opinion, so Marta took full advantage. “She has nothing to run away from, Mr Calder. Her life is very comfortable here. Admittedly, she has no friends, but I cater to her every need, and she has everything a girl of her age could ever want. I am convinced something has happened to her. Perhaps she has been kidnapped. After all, you are known to be very rich. Then maybe it went wrong, and they can’t ask for the money. We are doing all we can here, I promise you. But the police are tied up with following leads about Marjorie, because you offered a reward. As far as I know, nothing has proved to be useful so far”. After another long silence, he came back, speaking in his usual tone, more businesslike. “I will be home in a few days, then I will make some calls, get things moving”. He hung up before she could say goodbye.
He listened to the girl explain the change of plans. It wasn’t easy to concentrate, as she kept wiggling her legs around, and he was trying so hard not to look up her skirt. When she finished talking, he looked over at Rod. “And you go along with this, Rod? You reckon this will work, and she won’t just keep all the money?” Rodney shrugged. “Phil mate, if we are not prepared to kill her, what else can we do?” It hadn’t even sunk in that she had used his name, or that Phil was using it now. Or that he had just called his friend Phil, in front of the girl. Marjorie chipped in, keeping the momentum going. “You might as well trust me, Phil. We all stand to gain when I turn sixteen next month. And I won’t be able to get you two in trouble, without incriminating myself. It’s only a few days until I am the birthday girl, not long to wait”.
Phil picked up the can of beer and swallowed it all in a series of gulps. Looking back at the girl, she was smiling so hard it was like she had eaten a whole bag of sweets. Across the room, Rod was grinning and nodding, still looking like a chimp. What really hurt was that Rod hadn’t got him involved, just gone ahead without consulting him. He had taken this sassy teenager at face value, and put both their futures at risk. He kept his expression grim, but inside he knew there was nothing else to do. It was too late to go back now. He also admitted to himself that he was pleased to not have to sort out delivering a ransom note, then trying to arrange picking up the money. A million each was more than enough, especially as they didn’t have to hurt anyone, or even keep them imprisoned. After pretending to mull it over for a while, he nodded. And sounding suitably aggrieved, he said, “OK then. I agree”.
Marjorie looked at the strong back, and the firm thighs. This close, she could smell his aftershave. She turned to look at Rod, still smiling. “One thing though. A change of accommodation, I think. I’m sure Phil’s place is cleaner and tidier than this dump, so I will be staying at his from now on, until things are sorted out”.
Phil looked at Marjorie, watching as she recrossed her legs, lifted both arms, and ran her hands through her hair. Without a glance at Rodney, he stood up.
“Yeah, why not? Go and get your stuff”.
After two days in Phil’s flat, Marjorie still couldn’t work him out. Despite flaunting herself at every opportunity, including walking around naked under a short towel after having a bath, he hadn’t tried anything. He certainly noticed. She could see him looking, and feel his eyes following her. But he had said very little, and left her to do most of the talking. At least she had been right about the flat. It was much cleaner, and he had given her the bedroom, choosing to sleep on an inflatable camping mattress that he put behind the sofa. She had travelled there in the back of his van, which was full of cleaning chemicals, buckets, cloths, and long poles. It had ladders on the roof, and she had easily spotted the name of the company on the side too. Like Rodney, he had left her alone in the flat when he went to work, and she had got his name from his post that came through the door. At least he brought plenty of food home, and even cooked some decent meals.
Tom Calder was home, and still asking the same questions. Marta couldn’t help but get the feeling he blamed her for the girl going missing, and he had been in a bad mood since he got back. She had heard him shouting at the Chief Constable on the phone, acting as if he ran the police force. Marjorie’s case had dropped off the news reports, and Mr Calder made some calls to his press contacts to urge them to keep the story going. He had shouted at George too, and really upset the elderly gardener. Marta had made George some tea after the encounter, and he was visibly shaking. “I don’t need this, I can tell you. I’m old enough to retire, and for two pins I would just go. It’s only looking after Prince that keeps me here”. Marta had given him a slice of cake, and told him to take no notice.
Work at the Zoo was going on as normal for Rodney. He was pleased to have the girl out of his place, but a little miffed that he had hardly heard from Phil since. Just one text, the night he had taken her home. ‘Home safe’. That was it. He was reluctant to go round there, or to ring Phil. If things were going to start to happen in a few days once she was sixteen, he wanted to be sure to keep contact to a minimum. Just in case.
One good thing was that Phil had Netflix. Marjorie had to watch it on his laptop, but she was able to catch up with all her favourites, and it made the time pass. She had sent him off that morning with a shopping list, first asking if he had enough money to get what she needed. He had argued about buying girl’s clothes, especially in her size, in case that attracted attention. But she told him to go to a big superstore branch of a supermarket. “They have clothes there, I’m sure. Probably crap clothes, but they will do. I can’t sit around in these man’s briefs and joggers forever you know. Just buy them with food and stuff, and no checkout lady will take any notice”. He had looked at the list, noting that she had even drawn outlines of the sort of dresses he should buy.
After eating two ham rolls and a bag of crisps for lunch, Marjorie plugged the dongle device into the laptop, and clicked through the screens to activate it. Once she had the mobile broadband confirmed, and wasn’t using his wi-fi, she logged into the Trust Account set up by her mother. On a new tab, she created a new online bank account for Rodney, making up a date of birth, then did the same for Phil. She knew both addresses, and also that Phil’s surname was Hollister. She had got that from his post. Feeling frivolous, she used Tom Calder’s name and date of birth for the password on one of the accounts, and Marta’s name and a made up number for the other. She then transferred one million pounds into each account from her Trust Fund. Allowing herself a huge grin, she spoke out loud. “Let’s see how long it takes them to notice that these two sad guys have suddenly come into a million each”.
Phil had got back with the shopping, and also brought back some takeaway pizza, to save cooking. After wolfing down the food, the girl disappeared into the bedroom with the bags. He was tidying up the pizza boxes when she appeared in the kitchen. Her perfume was so strong, he could smell her before he turned to look at her. The short black dress was tight on her, but definitely showed her curves. She twirled around, lifting one leg clad in the striped black tights, smiling at him over her shoulder. Pausing for effect, she murmured, “Well, what do you think?” He didn’t know what to say, so she did the talking. “I feel so much better wearing girly underwear, Phil. Thanks so much for getting me all the stuff. I was worried that this dress might make me look fat, but I’m pleased with it. Do I look alright?” She put her leg down and pointed her foot, watching his eyes follow the movement. “It’s not too short, is it?” He shook his head. “You look nice. Classy.” She smiled. “Classy. I like classy. Why don’t you go and sit down with a drink, and I will show you the other outfit?”
He watched the curves of her body as she turned and headed back to the bedroom, and called after her. “OK, I’ll be waiting”.
When she came back, Phil stopped in mid-sip from the can. The crimson dress had a low v-shaped cutout at the front, leaving little to the imagination. And it was even shorter than the black one. Marjorie spotted his reaction, and was very pleased with herself. “I’m surprised how well they fit, considering how cheap they were. I might buy more clothes from supermarkets in future. So as it’s my birthday next week, I was hoping we might have a small celebration. Perhaps you could buy a bottle of champagne? Something cheap will do. Then we could have dinner here, and I will dress up. It’s not everyday a girl turns sixteen. Which one shall I wear?”
He cleared his throat, and put down the beer. Raising a hand and extending the index finger, he pointed at the girl.
Tom Calder sat opposite the female detective. He was annoyed that she really wasn’t showing him due deference. He had asked for an update on Marjorie’s case, and when he was told he would have to come in to meet the Inspector, he was surprised that she hadn’t considered driving out to the house to see him. And now she was sitting looking through some files, hardly acknowledging his presence. The young woman sitting next to her was eyeing him up and down, a look something like distaste on her face. He was just about to start shouting, when the older woman spoke.
“Do you want a lawyer to be present, Mr Calder?” Tom leaned forward, his legs open, his posture aggressive. “Why the hell would I need a lawyer? I just want to be appraised of what is happening in the search for my missing daughter”. Tina Collier turned to Danielle. “Please note that Mr Calder has declined legal representation”. The young woman nodded, making notes on a pad. Tina shuffled the files for effect, then slapped them down on the desk. Leaning back and crossing her legs, she spoke in a matter of fact tone. “I am currently working on the theory that your daughter has run away from home. That she has absented herself voluntarily, and is probably staying with a friend or confidante who is hiding her. I am also assuming that she had good reason to leave such a nice house, with servants, a horse, and all the trappings of wealth that go with that. Is there anything you want to tell me about your relationship with your adopted daughter, Mr Calder?”
He stood up so quickly and violently, that his chair fell over. “So that’s it, is it? You can’t do your job in finding the girl, so you insinuate it has something to do with me. I wasn’t even in the country at the time, and I resent your inferences. I am going to leave now, and I suggest that if you want to talk to me again, you had better be prepared to arrest me, and charge me with something”. He stormed out of the interview room, and Tina heard him shout “Unbelievable!” as he left the main office. She turned to Danielle, and raised her eyebrows. “I think we hit a nerve there, Danni”.
Phil sent a reply to the short text message he had received from Rod. ‘Everything fine mate. Will be busy for a few days, but will come round and see you soon’. Rodney read the text, and shook his head. He was wondering what his friend was playing at. But he wasn’t going to risk asking direct questions in a text, or going round to his flat. It was close to the end, and he hoped Phil didn’t mess it up at the last minute.
He came home from work with a bottle of champagne. Showing her the label, he said, “Is this one OK?” Marjorie had never had champagne, but studied the bottle. “Moet and Chandon, yes that’s a good one. Put it in the fridge for when we need it. As he loaded other things into the small fridge, Phil spoke without turning. “I got some steaks too, nice ones. Sirloin”. Standing up, he walked back to look at her. In her pyjamas and slipper-socks, wearing no make up, she looked younger than fifteen. And much younger than almost sixteen. But when he had seen her in that red dress, he had thought she could pass for eighteen, maybe even older. She smiled a fond smile at the man. “Steaks sound lovely. Steaks and champagne for my birthday. Sounds wonderful, I can’t wait”.
He walked back to the kitchen, pleased with himself for choosing the right things. “Oh, I got some lasagna for tonight, with garlic bread. Is that OK?” He couldn’t see her replying, or would have noticed that her expression was dark, despite the sugary tone in her voice. “Lasagna? Yummy”. As they ate the food a little later, Marjorie chose the right moment to drop her bombshell. “Phil, I am going to be sixteen, so you know what that means?” He looked confused, but smiled as he replied. “Yeah. You will be sixteen. So?” She wrinkled her eyes and mouth, contriving to look both painfully shy and seductive at the same time. “Well, I hope you have some condoms in this place”. Phil paused as if time had stopped, his fork not quite into his mouth. Marjorie continued. “Come on, don’t look so surprised. I have seen you looking at me, and you must know that I fancy you too. I will have a lovely birthday, and you can help me celebrate by making me a complete woman”.
Marta retreated to the kitchen, and pretended to be busy with some baking. Mr Calder had returned in such a rage, she had never seen the like of it. He was stomping about the house, screaming into his phone, and swearing like a drunken sailor. She had waited outside the door of his study for a while, but when she heard him say ‘The bitch as good as said I was abusing her”, she scuttled off to her bowls and flour. As she absentmindedly played around with the ingredients for a fruit tart, she thought about what she had heard. Could the girl have run off because of something like that? Mr Calder was hardly ever here, and Marjorie was always in her room, except at meal times.
But you never knew…
Tom Calder took the call from Ron Goldman. He was the family accountant, managing all funds unconnected with the tech company. “Hi, Tom. Something has come up, and I need to bring it to your attention. I’m aware that there’s a lot going on with Marjorie’s disappearance, but this is important, and I feel it may be connected too”. Calder sat down at his desk. “Of course, Ron, what is it?” He heard some typing from the other end, then Goldman continued. “There were two transfers from Marjorie’s Trust Fund yesterday. The account was accessed using your late wife’s password, and two separate electronic deposits were made into online bank accounts. Each one was for one million pounds. Do you happen to know if anyone else has access to your wife’s password?” Calder shook his head as he replied. “As far as I know, that died with her. She never told me, and Marjorie would have been unlikely to have been told either. She was too young at the time”.
There was a pause. Ron seemed to have been thinking of his next question. “Should we notify the police? They can get names and addresses for those accounts with a court order, and trace the location of the computer that was used. Meanwhile, we can either recall the transfers, or put a stop on the account so that nothing more can be taken”. Calder mulled it over. “Stop any more going out from the account, but don’t recall those transfers. And let’s not involve the police for a couple of days, until we have had time to think what this might mean. After all, there’s a chance that Marjorie has taken her own money, and put it in those accounts. Thanks for telling me, Ron, and keep me updated”. Tom hung up, and swivelled his chair around. He was wondering what the girl was up to, and was convinced she knew her mother’s password.
On the morning of her birthday, Marjorie waited until Phil had left for work, and sat writing in her notebook. She made a detailed account of everything, from the moment she had got out of the taxi, until her arrival at Phil’s flat. Satisfied it was all there, she packed the book away in her school bag, and went into the bathroom to get ready. It would take hours today, as she had to look her very best. The best she had ever looked. Her irresistible best.
That same morning, Tom Calder phoned the police, and asked to speak to Tina Collier. There had been no transactions on either of the accounts, so whoever had them was not coming out of the woodwork to get their hands on the money. He told her about the unexpected money transfers, and gave her the account details too. Other than that, he was surly and unhelpful, acting as if he was doing her a favour. When he finished talking, Tina was curt in her response. “It would have been useful to know this earlier, Mr Calder. Now I have to get a court order for the bank details and trace the computer too. That will take time, and drag things out even longer”. When she heard the buzzing, she realised he had hung up whilst she was still speaking, and slammed the phone back onto the receiver.
By the time Phil got home from work, Marjorie was made up like a film star, and dressed in a skimpy thong, with fishnet hold-up stockings on her legs. She wasn’t going to bother with a bra. Wrapped in Phil’s toweling dressing gown, she sat on the bed, making some last-minute adjustments around her eyes. She shouted through the door of the bedroom. “I will be a while yet, you might as well get started on dinner”. He called back, unaware how normal and familiar this all sounded. “I will just get a quick shower, then I can change when you come out”. Marjorie shook her head. He was acting like she was his girlfriend. Had he already forgotten that him and his mate had shot her in the leg with a dart, trapped her in a stinking cage at the Zoo, and made her fear for her life? She was trembling with rage, but knew she would be able to compose herself when it mattered.
Thirty minutes later, she came out of the bedroom. Phil was messing around in the kitchen area, a towel wrapped around his waist. He turned to her, smiling. “Wow! You look great, you really do. Happy Birthday by the way. I will just go and get changed, then fry up the steaks. There are some nice wedges in the oven to go with them”. Marjorie sat down, then leaned forward and crossed her legs. She was sure he would get a good view of her cleavage, and her thighs too. Lowering her voice into something resembling a husky growl, she said. “What about the champagne? I wouldn’t mind a glass while you get ready”. He struggled with the cork, but eventually brought over a full glass of the fizzy drink. It was a normal wine glass of course, he wouldn’t have known about flutes. She watched as he blatantly stared down her dress, and looked at her legs. Sipping the sour-tasting wine, she nodded in the direction of the bedroom. “Go on then, I’m getting hungry”.
The meal was surprisingly good. He cooked the steak just how she liked it, and although she had discovered she didn’t like the taste of champagne, two glasses of the stuff had lowered her inhibitions to the required level, without being too much to make her lose focus. When they had eaten, she stood up, and sat on the edge of the sofa, patting the cushion next to her to indicate he should sit there. Phil suddenly looked awkward. “I’ve got some ice-cream in the freezer. I thought you might like some”. Marjorie gave him her ‘best face’. “I think we can both enjoy something sweeter than ice cream. Come and sit down”. He blushed, but as looked at that smile, he sat down quickly.
Marjorie had no experience in making love. Other than some pretend kissing with other girls at school, she hadn’t so much as kissed or touched anyone. But she had watched so many love scenes in films and TV shows, she managed to give a convincing performance that might well have earned her a ‘Best Newcomer’ award, in other circumstances. After some fumbling on the sofa, she led Phil by the hand into the bedroom, and allowed him to unzip her dress. He had been surprisingly gentle, so she had to urge him on. “Harder, I like it rough”. Phil was too far gone to even think about why a girl like this would say something so slutty, and did as she asked. After the big build-up, he hadn’t lasted very long, and that was a relief to her. Happy with his performance, he rolled over, and smiled, dropping the condom into the waste-basket by the bed. A long day at work, a busy evening, and two glasses of champagne had all taken their toll. He was soon asleep, still dressed in what few clothes he had left on in his excitement.
She waited until he was snoring peacefully. Walking around the bed quietly, she retrieved the condom from the small bin, and wrapped it carefully in two tissues, walking back to put the small bundle inside her make up bag. Then she stretched out on the edge of the bed, away from any possibility of their bodies touching.
But she didn’t intend going to sleep.
As Phil rushed around getting ready, Marjorie pretended to be fast asleep. She hadn’t slept a wink of course, and felt shattered. But that was all part of her plan. The sounds of the door closing and his van starting up spurred her into action. Standing up, she put on the red dress, tearing at the front until one breast was almost completely exposed. Then she reached down to the saggy fishnet stockings, and tore a hole in one, high on her left thigh. Retrieving the wrapped condom from her make up bag, and holding it by a tissue, she slipped it inside the front of the thong, then up inside her body. The feel of the cold liquid entering her made her shudder with revulsion, but she bit her lip and carried on. When she was sure it was empty, she flushed it down the toilet. Then she slipped on her clumpy school shoes, picked up the school bag, and headed for the door.
It was more than a mile to the main police station, and Marjorie was running. She didn’t need to run, but that puffed her out, made her eyes water, and her face and neck red. People looked at her as she ran past, her clothing in disarray, and a terrified look on her face. She saw them looking, but didn’t stop, or acknowledge them. The more witnesses, the better. And it would all be on CCTV too. By the time she crashed through the door into the main reception, she looked in a terrible state. The young policeman manning the desk was startled to see the girl trembling in front of him. She suddenly shouted, making him jump. “Can somebody help me please? My name is Marjorie Calder, and I have been kidnapped and raped!” With that, she collapsed onto her knees, sobbing loudly. The policeman rushed from the desk to help her, shouting behind him as he ran. “Get an ambulance, and get Inspector Collier down here. Now!”
Tina Collier ran downstairs without even bothering to put on her shoes. Standing next to the slumped girl, she shouted, “Cancel the ambulance. Get a car round to the front now, this girl will be taken to the rape suite”. Turning to the young policeman, she shook her head. “Let her go. Don’t touch her anywhere else, and go to the locker room. Bag your clothes, and get changed. We don’t need any contamination of evidence”. Looking back at Marjorie, she softened her tone. “Can you stand up honey? We need to get you to somewhere safe, and someone has to examine you. I promise it will be OK”. Marjorie nodded, and started to stand. As she did, she caught sight of Tina’s feet protruding from the bottoms of her trouser legs. It occurred to her that if her feet were that huge, she would never show them in public.
The examination was as she had expected, just like she had seen on films and television shows. They took lots of photos, carefully removed and bagged all of her clothes, then photographed her intimate areas, before taking swabs. She was given a grey jogging suit and some gym shoes to wear, after being allowed to shower once the tests were complete. A kind looking man brought her some weak tea, and a stale-tasting sandwich, then the woman with the big feet came in, thankfully now wearing some shoes. There was a younger woman with her, a concerned look stamped firmly on her face. Tina sat opposite the girl, perching on a small sofa. “Do you feel up to talking, Marjorie? Can you tell us where you have been, and what happened?” Marjorie reached inside the school bag that she had kept close, and removed the notebook. Handing it to the older woman, she tried to sound upset and afraid. “It’s all in here. I was tranquilised and kidnapped, then shut in a cage at the City Zoo. Then one of them took me to his flat, and another one came, and made me go with him. He was the one who raped me on my birthday. He said it was legal, because I was sixteen”.
Danielle made some notes as the girl talked, shaking her head sadly at the story. Marjorie gulped hard, and carried on, pretending it was difficult to talk. “They made me dress up in those tarty clothes, and wear lots of make up too. At the Zoo, I had to go to the toilet in a box, and one man watched as I did it. Then they made me transfer money from my Trust Fund into their accounts, and talked about having to kill me if they didn’t get any money. They must be stupid, as the Trust Fund will never let them take the money. I tried to cooperate. I acted like I was their friend, so they wouldn’t hurt me, but the blonde one raped me anyway. Their names are in there, and where they work and live”. Tina gave the notebook to Danielle. “Danni, get on the radio, and put out a broadcast. I want those two arrested, either at home, or where they work. Check their records too”. She turned back to the girl, and smiled. “Don’t worry Marjorie, as soon as those two are under lock and key, it will be safe to get you home to your father. He will be pleased to see you”.
The girl lowered her eyes. “Please, not back there. He touches me, comes to my room when he is back from business. He has done it since my Mum died, but I have been to afraid to tell anyone, as they would never believe me. I can’t go back there, please, not there”. Tina shook her head. “Don’t you worry darling. I will find you somewhere safe, and make sure Tom Calder never touches you again”. Marjorie managed a weak smile. “Thank you, Inspector. I’m so afraid. It has been a terrible time for me, and I really can’t face what my adoptive Dad might do, if he’s angry with me”. Tina leaned forward and clasped her hand. “Leave that bastard to me, Marjorie”.
They took Rodney at work, right in the middle of mucking out the Zebras. He saw the three people walking toward him, and his team leader next to them, pointing him out. There was no point running, so he just dropped the rake, and stood still. Phil was driving between jobs when the police car overtook him, then swerved across the front of his van, forcing him to brake violently. For just a moment, he wondered what was happening. Then he slumped in his seat as the two uniformed officers ran up to the van, shouting for him to keep still. At first, Tom Calder refused to go with the two detectives, and he was amazed when one of them suddenly grabbed him, and the other handcuffed him. As they hauled him in the direction of the front door, he screamed at Marta. “Get my lawyer on the phone. Tell him to come to the main police station. Now!”
The statements had taken a long time. Marjorie had put a hold on adding anything concerning her accusations about Tom Calder. She said she was tired and hungry, and wanted to eat something, then sleep. Tina Collier got her to sign the statements, telling her that they were the best and most thorough she had ever seen in all her years of police work. After taking a phone call, she smiled at the girl. “Marjorie, we have charged Tom Calder with child molestation, based on what you told us. He has been given bail with conditions, including not being allowed to return to the house, or to contact you. I understand he has checked into a hotel. Are you happy to go home now?” Marjorie nodded. Tina continued, as the girl gathered her things. “Rodney has been charged with aggravated kidnapping, endangering the life of a minor, and conspiracy to commit a kidnap. Phil the same, with the addition of rape. I reckon they will each get at least fifteen years for the kidnap, and Phil will get a minimum of seven more for the rape. Will you be up to testifying next month?” Marjorie didn’t smile. “Oh yes”.
Danielle took her back to the house. Marta was overjoyed to see her, apparently. She made her some food, and told her there would be fruit pie for after. Marjorie had just finished eating when there was a caller at the front door. Marta went to answer it, then came back into the dining room. “It’s Mr Goldman, the family lawyer. Do you want to see him?” Marjorie nodded. “Show him in, then leave us alone”. Ron Goldman didn’t even mention the kidnap, and came straight to the point. “Marjorie, this business with Tom. It won’t stick you know. He will get off”. Marjorie shrugged. “I know what will stick, Mr Goldman, mud. How are the company share prices tonight, I wonder?” The friendly old man saw her in a new light, and that sent a shiver up his spine. “You can have the Trust Fund money early, Marjorie. Tom won’t stand in your way. That’s five million, once the police investigation is over. Enough for a new life, a place of your own, and your education too”. He held out some papers.
Marjorie sneered at the papers. “You will need to re-write those. Tell Tom I will drop all charges for twenty-five million, paid next week. Oh, and I want this house too. He can afford to live anywhere, and my mother would have wanted me to stay here, where we were once happy. Tell him that, and get it down in writing, then I might conveniently forget him touching me. Maybe it was all a dream, made worse by the trauma of my kidnap. I can be very convincing, Mr Goldman. Either way”. Ron Goldman stood up, looking at the young girl with a new respect. “I have an idea that will be agreeable. I will be back with the papers tomorrow at nine, if that suits you?” She turned away from him, so he didn’t see her smiling. “Suits me fine”.
After showing him out, Marta came into the room. “Can I get you anything else, Marjorie?” The girl looked at her with a set expression. She shook her head, deep in thought. Could this woman have forgotten all the jibes about her weight? Telling her her clothes looked too tight, that being overweight would mean she would never have any friends, let alone a boyfriend. All the snide remarks every time she wanted a snack, or had an extra slice of cake. And walking around in Tom’s absence, acting like the lady of the house, telling Marjorie what to do. Could she really have forgotten that so soon?
As Marta’s face adopted a quizzical expression, the girl’s face turned to stone. “Anything else? Yes, you can do something else for me, Marta. You can pack your bags and be out of here by first light. You’re fired”. She walked past the stunned looking woman, and sauntered upstairs to her room. George’s wife would make an excellent housekeeper, and she was a good cook too. She would tell George the good news tomorrow, once Marta had gone.
There was nothing like your own bed. She flopped down heavily onto the familiar soft mattress, and allowed herself a quiet chuckle.
She was going to sleep well tonight.