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Chapter 43

Henry stood in Shaun’s kitchen, alone. Shaun had insisted on carrying Essie up to a bed in the spare bedroom. This had been an interesting development for all of them, but they had to tread carefully. Essie was clearly traumatised by the kidnapping, but they needed to stay hidden until Liborio Fragale had fallen for good. At that moment, Shaun entered the room, and sat down at the table in the centre of the large kitchen. He hung his head in his hands. “Henry, this is bad.”

Henry sat opposite him. “What’s wrong?”

Shaun didn’t look up. “She is so thin. Even that blonde ninja would have no trouble carrying her. What do we do?”

Henry thought for a moment. “We need to introduce food slowly. From what Shyla managed to tell me, they fed her mostly bread for the last month, possibly to starve her to the point of breaking. It is an interrogation technique that is used regularly. But we need to be aware of possible damage that may have taken place. Maria examined her, and says she is just undernourished. But we can reverse it. We just need the time and patience.”

Maria was not only a trained ninja, but she also had a doctorate in Medical Science, specialising in sporting injuries. It came in handy in the environment of the ninja school, and she had examined every student at least twice.

Shaun nodded, glancing up at Henry. “Saline?”

Henry picked up the backpack by the door. “Maria told me Essie needs to have a good long soak in a bath, and then we must administer the saline solution she provided for at least twenty-four hours.”

At that moment, Shyla appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Where’s Essie?”

Henry inclined his head towards the stairs, and Shyla vanished without another word.

Upstairs, Essie surfaced and sat up. She was in a strange bed, and felt a moment of fear. That passed when Shyla appeared at the door. Essie turned to her. “I need to get clean, Shyla.”

Shyla nodded. “I’ve just run you a bath. You need to get clean, and then take a saline drip to replenish what you lost. It has nutrients in it, to help boost your system.”

Essie nodded and tried to stand up. Her thin frame wobbled, and Shyla supported her gently under the arm. They moved together to the bathroom, and Shyla shut the door behind them. Essie blushed. “I don’t need help, Shyla.”

Shyla looked at the proud girl in front of her and nodded. “You need anything, you yell.”

Essie nodded and Shyla left the bathroom. Essie looked down at her clothing, and realised it was hanging off her shoulders and hips. She looked up into the mirror, and felt herself gasp. The thin girl looking back at her was not what she had expected. The Esther she knew didn’t have such prominent cheekbones, or scrawny shoulders and arms. She suppressed a shudder, allowed herself to feel the horror of the last month, and knew it wasn’t over. After a moment, she began to strip down for her bath.

Henry looked up at Shyla as she came back into the kitchen. “How is she?”

Shyla sat at the head of the table and rested her head on the surface. “She will be okay, but I can count her ribs through her t-shirt.”

Shaun glared at her as she raised her head to look at him. “She wasn’t that bad.”

Henry raised an eyebrow. Shaun was clearly in a form of denial over Essie’s condition. It was understandable, but not really helpful at that stage. “She is thin though.”

Shaun nodded. “Maybe, but we have a way to get her back to how she should look.”

Shyla nodded. “Maria’s instructions are clear. She knows what she’s doing.”

Shaun stood up and strode around the table to the counter against the far wall. He gazed through the blinds into the night. Shyla knew he was angry, but couldn’t place why. “Shaun,” she said, looking at Henry, “she will be okay. There’s a ninja on the roof, you have both of us, and we will protect her.”

Shaun turned to face them. “Yes, but she is so thin…”

Shyla looked sharply at him. “You’re worried. Genuinely worried. I didn’t expect that from you, Shaun.”

Shaun glared at her. “I’m not a heartless bastard, Shyla. I might seem like it after the way we’ve clashed over the years, but I genuinely care about a girl who is treated the way she was.”

Henry nodded. “Nobody doubts you, Shaun. Shyla – I think – is surprised. Neither of us expec-”

Shaun inclined his head as Henry froze, and both ninjas heard the same thing. The sound of a body hitting tiles.

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