Once we were both certain that enough time had elapsed for the two Police officers to actually be gone, we turned to each other, Andrea poised to speak as I gave her a look that while warm and kind, I hoped, conveyed in no uncertain terms that this was not the time and place for her questions. Thankfully she read my face correctly and we fell into easy conversation about how we never got that drink and where I would take her for dinner once I was liberated from my incarceration. A few hours later a different nurse came bustling through and amongst other things reminded Andrea politely but firmly that she would not be able to stay past the end of visiting hours. I gave her my house keys and some cash – after some investigation we had found my wallet, keys and phone in the bedside cabinet, as if they had been transferred there by some unseen valet – and encouraged her to head back to Cromer and make herself at home in my loft. We said our goodbyes and I was left alone to wonder if there was anything remotely predictable about my having been attacked, and if so who had I angered that much, or if indeed I had been the victim of a genuinely random act of violence.
It was cold in the dark, she could feel what she assumed was a metal floor under her legs where they protruded from under her skirt. It took a few more moments, but fear was the next thing that she experienced. As her awareness grew she realised that she was gagged and restrained, her hands tied behind her back and her ankles tied together, and she also knew that she was not where she was supposed to be. She reached back for her last memory; she was walking down the street, on the well-lit side, away from her mother’s house and towards Hampstead Tube, and then, nothing. She tried to calm herself, to control the urge to scream and thrash around; something in the back of her mind was telling her that it would do no good and that she would need her strength.
She closed her eyes, not that it made much difference as it was already completely dark, and started to use her senses more precisely in order to try and understand her situation. The metal floor was a good place to start, what sort of places had a metal floor? Was she in a shipping container, or on a boat of some kind, or in a tractor trailer? She was mulling over the options one by one when this first question was answered for her. She heard the sound of a car door being pulled open and then a couple of moments later the same door being slammed shut. Finally after a few more seconds she heard the van being started and then the engine idling and the metal floor that she was resting on began vibrating gently. She was in the back of a van. Suddenly light streamed into her field of view as what looked like an inspection hatch opened and she saw the outline of a face. Her sense of smell was suddenly assaulted by the pungent odour of a takeaway kebab and she was suddenly experiencing pangs of hunger. She waited, expecting the outline of a face to either become easier to see, or for whoever it was to speak to her, but as quickly and unexpectedly as the hatch had been opened, it snapped shut again. She felt the van pull away and they were on the road.
She tried to count, to have some idea of how long they had driven for, but it was too difficult to focus on the counting with all of the questions and fears roiling in her mind. She tried to listen out for any kind of audible cues that would give her some sense of where she was or where she was being taken, but again she found it hard to concentrate and equally hard to hear anything at all beyond the dull hum of the engine and the sound of the road under the tyres. By the time the van came to a complete stop and the engine was turned off she had lost all track of time and had given up all hope of knowing where she was.
She had expected to be removed from the back of the van pretty much immediately, but even after she was certain that the vehicle was parked somewhere time dragged on as she was left lying there alone. Her mind wandered. She wondered what time it was, whether or not Caine had realised that she was not going to be at home on time, or even that anything was wrong. She started to wonder what this person, who had clearly abducted her, wanted, but she backed away from that line of speculation pretty quickly and tried to focus on what she would do when she finally got home. She was thirsty and tired and increasingly she was aware that if much more time passed she was going to need to use the bathroom; she had not “been” before she left her mother’s place. Her mother! Caine would definitely have realised that she was not home and his first course of action would have been to call her mother to confirm that she had left as usual. Her mother was going to be descending into the madness of worry that can only be experienced by a parent. She felt guilty that her husband and mother would be suffering with the concern and worry of her absence, but that guilt was quickly replaced with anger against her abducter and sadness of her own that she was not with Caine.
It was at this point that the fear crept back in. She started to be unable to prevent her mind from wandering down terrifying avenues of possibility as she started to imagine the horror that might await her. Every woman has their own personal, private fear about being at the mercy of a man who wishes to hurt them and take advantage of them and now all of the horrifying scenarios that she had banished to the darker recesses of her mind were rushing to the surface and spilling over into her thoughts, like a saucepan boiling over. As she wrestled with her own mind, trying to put certain things from her mind and recover control, she realised that she had involuntarily adopted a foetal position despite the discomfort of having her hands tied behind her. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes and trickling down her face completely unbidden and uncontrollable and as the weight of all that fear and anticipation broke her she started to convulse with muffled sobs, which had the gag been removed would have been loud and plaintive, like the keening of the bereaved.
She did not know how long she had been crying there, in the dark when the side door of the van was opened and once more light streamed into the van and over her face.
“Hello Mrs. Foster. I see you are under no illusions about what is happening to you. That’s good, it is far harder to deal with women who have not accepted that I am in control and that I control their destiny.”
His voice was like treacle, soft and rich and dark, but there was an unmistakeable edge of menace that set her off into another fit of sobs and her body shook, inflicting new and terrible pain on her wrists as the cable-tie cuffs started to bite and actually cut into her flesh as her body was contorted by the hand of fear. She could feel the blood dripping down over her fingers and she started to feel sick.
He reached into the van and towards her body; every fibre of her being was screaming inside her head to resist, to kick or head butt him as soon as he came close, but already the fight was gone out of her. Her body went limp, quite against her will and he easily dragged her towards him and then lifted her onto his shoulder. Her vision swam and she passed out.
When she came to she was no longer gagged, but she was duct-taped to a bentwood chair, wearing only her underwear in a cold and dimly lit space that looked like a workshop. There was small table about five feet directly in front of her with a computer monitor standing on it, the picture was a freeze frame of another woman taped to the very same chair in nothing but her underwear. Off to her right there was a tripod atop which, staring at her with its unblinking cyclopean eye, was a camcorder. She could hear the man moving around behind her, but she could not crane her neck far enough around to see what he was doing.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Foster, you will see what I am doing soon enough, please don’t put yourself to any further discomfort by trying to turn around in the chair. I promise you that I have made certain that you are quite secure. Why don’t you watch a film I made a couple of weeks ago while you wait.”
With that the screen in front of her burst into life, the image breaking from its frozen state and the film ran. A frightened looking woman in her mid to late thirties with a healthy figure and long wavy red hair was tied to chair. She was looking around in dismay and Fran could hear the sounds of someone moving around out of shot. The woman was frantically trying to move her arms which her secured like her own with duct-tape, and trying to crane her neck around to see the person making the noises off camera.
Fran was surprised by the sound; for some reason she had not expected dialogue.
“Please! Please, just let me go? I won’t tell, I promise, just please let me go?”
The woman was breathless and, like Fran, had obviously been crying.
“PLEASE! Look, please don’t hurt me. I have kids, you know? Two little boys and they are going to be so scared, they won’t know where their mummy is… PLEASE!”
Fran wanted to turn away, wanted to close her eyes but she could not. She was watching her own fate unfold and despite the tide of fear that was riding once more within her she could not look away.
A man entered the frame from the shadows, behind the woman on the chair. In what looked to be a deliberate choice his head was cropped out of the frame, but the rest of his body was visible in all its naked horror. Flabby and pale, and sporting a hard but unimpressive erection he sidled up behind the woman and placed his left hand on her right shoulder. Then the voice that Fran had heard before, soft and almost sweet yet dark and intangibly unpleasant;