C A I N
I knew as soon as I saw the loft hatch open that she was there. Andy’s house was crawling with police, but I got to the loft first. I drag the ladder down, shouting her name.
I hear a soft whimper, and my soul sings.
“I’m coming,” I call out, heaving myself into the loft. It was a converted loft, with brightly painted walls and skylights. It was bare though, the only item in the room was an iron bed, which someone had tied Max to.
“Medics!” I yell, hearing Harry relaying the message for me.
Max’s hands were zip tied, her fingers flopping helplessly. She was wearing the same clothes I’d last seen her in, her hair matted with dried blood.
“Max, baby, it’s me.”
Someone hands me scissors, and I carefully release her hands one by one. She’s unresponsive, but conscious. Her lips are cracked and dry, her skin pale.
“Medics!” I roar again, hearing feet pound across the floor. I’m trembling, stroking her face with my fingers delicately. My body is coursing with relief as I press my lips to her forehead, which is clammy and cold.
“We’re here,” barks a voice, and I feel myself tugged out of the way by Harry.
“Cain, you need to see this,” Harry grunts, tugging me towards the ladder.
I look back at Max, who is being looked after by two paramedics.
“She’ll be okay, Cain,” Harry murmurs. “Let’s get justice.”
I nod, turning towards the ladder. I feel stronger now, knowing Max is alive. I follow Harry to the master bedroom, to see countless photos pinned to his wall.
“Jesus,” I whisper, my eyes dancing across the wall of images. “It’s surveillance.”
“You’re not kidding,” Harry says with disgust. “Plus, guess what else we found.”
I swallow, following his finger to a tan leather satchel in the room's corner.
No fucking way.
“This makes no sense,” I exhale, glancing back up towards the loft. “How did he even get her from the alleyway? You know that car was Yan’s, Harry. We followed it from the alleyway!”
“We did, and there was no sign of Max or the money.”
“But they released Alex! This can’t be right,” I argue, my voice dangerously calm. “This has to be Yan’s doing.”
“Look, I’m not sure what’s going on, but until Max is lucid, I don’t think we’re going to know. Why would Yan frame Andy? Think about it,” Harry says, tapping his finger against his temple. “He doesn’t have any connections to him.”
“Because he would let an innocent man take the heat!”
Harry narrows his eyes at me before shaking his head. His hands move to his hips, his body twisting as he looks around the room.
“You’re convinced it’s Yan, aren’t you? You aren’t looking at the evidence, mate.”
I know he’s got a point, but I’m refusing to ignore my gut.
“Let’s just agree to disagree for now, “ I sigh, watching as the paramedics bring Max down the ladder attached to a stretcher. An oxygen mask hides most of her face, but my heart still lurches at the sight of her.
I couldn’t imagine Andy doing anything to hurt her. I just couldn’t.
“We find Max in his house,” Harry moves closer to me. “A bunch of photos dictating her every move adorn his fucking walls. Photos of you, me, even my fucking wife are up there,” he points his finger at the wall with gusto. “Week’s worth of photos, Cain. You don’t find it odd that she met him online just before she went missing and ends up here?”
I count to ten, refusing to answer until the pounding in my ears subsides.
“Alex George,” I lick my lips. “Why would he take her, yet have no photos of her?”
Harry studies me, his jaw clenching.
“None that we’ve found, yet. But Alex isn’t talking, so until we find evidence that links him to Alex, then this is about Max for now.”
“This is bullshit!” I roar, stomping away from Harry.
I head down the stairs, refusing to look back at the house. Neighbours are congregating around, whispering to one another as we walk out.
“I thought he was always too nice,” pipes up someone, hoping to get our attention. I avoid her eyes, wishing people would give the poor fucker a break.
Seems to me they have set him up- and even my partner couldn’t see the wool for the trees.
Yan was a shitty human being; an excuse for a man. His criminal record stretched out longer than my arm, but lately he had been reasonably quiet. There had to be something else going on.
“Cain, would you ever fucking listen to me?” Harry hollers from the door of Andy’s house. I get into my car, starting the engine before meeting his gaze.
“I rarely say this, Harry, but you’re wrong. You need to listen to me this time.”
Harry sighs with irritation as I pull off, leaning him staring after me.
I was praying Max could help clear Andy’s name.
M A X
My body felt like it was humming. Pain seared through my head, causing a moan to escape my lips.
“Baby, we’re here.”
My mother’s voice cuts through the blanket of fog, and I open my mouth to talk. My tongue feels too big for my mouth, and I cough. A hand slips under my back, lifting me up slightly. They press a paper cup to my lips, and cool water soothes the sorry state of my mouth.
“Can you open your eyes, Max?”
I try, but they feel like they’re super-glued shut. I lift my hands to my eyes, trying to prise them apart. My forefinger has something attached to it, so I use my other fingers. The brightness in the room makes me wince as soon as my eyes open, and I instinctively close them.
“Drink more water,” my mother instructs, and I obey, sipping again from the cup.
A doctor comes in, his loud booming voice making me cover my ears.
“Good to see you’re awake, Max. You took quite a bump to the head there.”
I have no idea what he is talking about. He continues to talk, but I lean back against the bed, exhausted. The voices fade, and I sigh.
I just need to sleep, then I’ll be alright. Sleep helps. Sleep is the only thing that helps.