The Doll Collector

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Chapter 22

Dan realised that constantly rushing from one moment to the next was becoming something of a habit. As he bounded towards his own front door he considered that, in the current circumstances, running everywhere made perfect sense.

Three girls had been taken. One was lying dead in the rented house and one had been returned home safely and she was now sitting in his front room. The third and final girl, his own Abigail, was still missing. If the current kidnappings are true to form, if I do nothing, I’ll never see my daughter again.

Every moment, and every small detail would be essential in finding his daughter. The hunt for the man responsible was about to pick up pace, and Dan wanted to be there to save his daughter when the time came.

The failures of Dan’s past continued to haunt his present. He was not only doing this for his family and for his own daughter. He was doing it for something else: Redemption.

As he entered his living room, the scene in front of Dan could easily have been described as a Socially Awkwards Anonymous meeting. Three hunched figures were staring at their feet amid the silence, broken only by the tick of the clock.

He introduced himself to the father and then to the daughter. He was surprised at the girl’s willingness to shake hands with and speak to strangers after her ordeal. Either she is a very strong girl, or her ordeal has not yet caught up with her. If she slowed down, if she thought about her torment, she would slowly retreat within herself. His past experiences, as well as his knowledge of the kidnapper, had shown that some children had never returned from such a retreat.

He knew human beings to be resilient creatures. When things went wrong they adapted to their new circumstances and surroundings. The survival instinct was strong, especially in the young. Sometimes survival meant striving to continue as normal. It was only normalcy that would enable rather than disable Bethany Wiles, the young girl who had been abducted, and who had probably witnessed the rape and murder of one of her peers.

It was possible that Bethany would not struggle with her recent ordeal until she was forced to relive it through her own words. She would, of course, relive it every day in her head, but Dan was aware that he would be amongst the first to force her to confront her own memories by verbalising them. Perhaps the very act of communicating it all to her captive audience would cause her distress that might be compounded in the coming days, weeks and months. I have no choice but to force her to relive it. There’s no other way of finding our daughter.

He listened as Bethany told of the things she could remember.

“It’s difficult to remember every detail,” she said, “but it’s also difficult to forget some of them.”

Dan nodded, as if understanding, all too aware of the kind of psychological damage inflicted on girls like Beth.

“It was a new house, and the three of us were tied to beds in separate rooms.” Bethany continued.

“Did he have his own bedroom?” Dan asked.

Bethany shook her head. “I only ever saw two bedrooms, but I know the girls had a room each. He said it.”

Dan nodded, knowing that now was not the time to push for irrelevant details, especially when he had already walked around that house.

“I remember…” She paused for thought, looking uncomfortable. “I was given food whilst lying on the bed. I remember waking up to a bright light in a dark room and hearing a scratching noise.”

“Like an animal?” Jennifer asked, furrowing her brow.

“No,” Bethany answered, picking at her fingernails for a moment. “Like he was doing something near me, but I don’t know what he was doing.”

Dan was expecting Bethany to launch into a tearful recounting of the horrors involving the red-haired girl, still lying in that house. Instead, and unsurprisingly, she seemed to skip over the rest of her time as a prisoner and told of waking up in Abigail’s uniform.

Bethany withdrew the note and handed it to Dan. “This was in the pocket. I found it when I checked for tissues.”

Dan placed the small hand-written note on the coffee table and took a picture with his phone. The style of the note, the wording, and the handwriting might all prove to be useful in finding this man.

He handed the note back to Bethany. “You should hand this to the police, along with Abigail’s uniform.” He advised. “The more information and evidence they have, the easier their chances of finding this man.”

Without warning, Jennifer started her own line of questioning. “Could you describe the man to us?”

Bethany shrugged. “I can try,” she said, “but he didn’t look any different to most of the men I see walking around.”

“Did he have a tattoo?” Dan asked.

Bethany looked confused for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I think so, on his neck.”

The girl’s eyes grew wide and glazed over as she stopped talking for a minute, no doubt remembering something that she would give anything to forget. She had seen the tattoo when she had probably seen more than she had ever wanted to see.

“Did he have an accent?” Dan continued.

The distant look in her eyes disappeared. After creasing her forehead slightly, she answered, “I don’t think it was obvious at all. Just a normal English accent.”

There was silence in the room for a few moments, everyone shifting slightly in their seats, no doubt wondering who would speak next.

Dan was certain that Bethany would have more to say. He tried one last question about the kidnapper. “Did he say anything about his reasons for taking you, or about where he was going?”

Tears started to form in Bethany’s eyes. This was all starting to get to be a bit too much for her. “He said that he wanted to find the most beautiful, innocent girls… and that he would punish girls who weren’t… innocent anymore. The girls who had…”

Bethany’s voice trailed off in a high-pitch whine as tears started to roll down her cheeks with increasing frequency. Dan looked over at his wife, who was reaching for a box of tissues.

The girl tried to wipe the tears from her eyes and cheeks using her fingers until Jennifer thrust the box of tissues in her direction. The girl took a single tissue. There was a thank you in her eyes that didn’t make it as far as her lips. She frantically wiped her eyes, reaching for another tissue, and then another.

It was as if the girl saw her tears as an outward sign of an inner torment. If she could keep it all inside, she might be able to contain her feelings. In some warped way of thinking, if her anger, her hatred, her confusion wasn’t seen by others, then maybe it didn’t exist.

Dan reached out a hand and touched Bethany on the arm. The girl jumped, looked upset, and then looked on at Dan apologetically, red-faced and sheepish.

“Bethany, you don’t need to explain your fears to me. To be honest, they make perfect sense.” Dan said before he stopped talking for a moment, attempting to let the silence sooth the troubled soul of the girl. In a quiet, sombre tone he added, “I know about the other girl.”

Bethany continued to cry, with no attempt to mask her emotions with further tissues. If she had tried, she might have found herself to be fighting a losing battle. Her tears seemed as if they would overrun a multitude of tissues.

“Did he make you watch?” Dan asked.

Bethany nodded, tears dripping steadily from cheeks and chin as she did so.

“We need to find this man before he can hurt anyone else.” He paused, and met the girl’s gaze. “We need to find him before he can hurt Abigail.”

Again the girl nodded, unable to speak.

“Was Abigail okay when you last saw her?” Jennifer asked, the question bursting out of her.

Another silent nod, shaking tears from her cheeks.

Dan looked over at Jennifer, who wore a look of sorry resignation on her face. For now, it seemed that they were not about to get anything more from the girl, which didn’t add anything to the data Dan held in his head.

Dan looked back at the girl, hunched in her seat. He met her gaze again. “Bethany, this is not your fault. None of it. This man needs to be caught and stopped from destroying lives. I will make sure that that happens. Okay?”

She wiped tears with from her eyes whilst nodding quickly. “Okay,” she said in a voice barely audible above the quiet tick of the clock on the wall.

“Mr Castle,” the girl’s father said, standing and raising the girl to her feet. “I’m sure you appreciate that Bethany would like to get home and rest. It’s been a very long couple of days.”

“Of Course,” Dan responded. “If any of your family need anything, you know where we are.”

“You’re very kind, but I think we’ll be fine.” The father put a hand around the shoulders of his daughter, who seemed to flinch slightly at the contact of anyone, known or unknown to her. “If we learn anything else we will let you know.”

Dan nodded as he walked with them, a few small steps to the front door. “Thank you.” he said.

After seeing them out of the house, Dan and Jennifer were alone in their living room.

It didn’t take long for Dan to update his wife on the headlines of his evening’s activities (leaving out the illegal portions for fear of another reprimand).

As much as he could guess at Jennifer’s reaction, she needed to hear about the red-haired girl lying in that rental home. She needed to know that the man was on the run, this time with their daughter, held captive. She needed to be prepared for the very real prospect of not finding Abigail alive. The crucial first twenty four hours had already lapsed. The odds on the girl surviving and returning home would decrease almost exponentially with every passing hour.

Jennifer disappeared upstairs, clearly not prepared to stay awake and to consider the destructive destination to which their family was hurtling.

As utterly exhausted as Dan felt, flopping on to his sofa, he knew that he would be unable to sleep. He would keep turning things over in his mind, trying to unearth clues buried deep in his subconscious.

He reconsidered the facts as he understood them, following Bethany’s revelations. The man had swapped the school uniforms of Bethany and Abigail, no doubt an indication of his own personal preference. He shuddered as he thought of the way in which this man was thinking about his little girl, despite her not being so little these days.

There was no indication that any previous girl had been taken by the man when he had left an area, but with so many girls still missing, no one could say one way or the other.

He shuddered as he thought that Abigail was either already lying in a shallow grave in a remote area, or she was still with her captor. The fact that she had been changed into another uniform suggested that she was still alive, and still had something that her kidnapper found appealing. In any case, he had not received the promised ransom request.

Abigail had remained a level-headed girl, despite the hormonal changes that every girl experiences. There were small rebellions, as would be expected from so many others of a similar age. There was, of course, the occasional argument, but in general she was sensible, mature and clever beyond her years. More than any of that, she had inherited Dan’s stubborn streak. Dan hoped that every part of her personality, working together, would assist her in finding a way out of this situation.

Sitting on his sofa, Dan clenched his hands into tight fists. Despite the girl’s visit, and her story, I’m no closer to finding Abigail.

It would take a few hours for the police to catch up to Dan’s discoveries. They would find the rental home. Bethany’s evidence would be bagged and sent away for forensics to process. Further details would emerge about the man, but most would be useless and out-dated. The man was gone.

Dan could only cling to hope. Maybe he hasn’t taken a girl away with him before. His face wore a combination of a smile and a scowl. With any luck, he’ll have no idea how difficult it is keeping a prisoner whilst on the move, especially someone as strong-willed as Abigail.

Dan’s heart started to pound again. What if she upset the man? What if any one of a hundred or a thousand things happened to frustrate him? He would have to use a weapon of some kind to keep Abigail in fearful obedience. Although there was no sign of a weapon when he had used his hands to extinguish the life from the red-headed girl, it would make sense to keep one to hand by means of a threat.

Abigail is clever. She will make life difficult for the kidnapper.

However Dan looked at the possibilities, the outlook continued to look grim for their family. Jennifer had gone quiet, no doubt struggling to sleep. He knew he was destined to lie awake, thinking, plotting and searching his memories for clues he had missed. Sleep was about as realistic as reaching a rainbow. Forever fleeting and out of reach.

I’m not moving from this seat until I have a plan to rescue my daughter. People like her captor deserved to be caught, whatever the price, and Dan would devote his life to doing just that. He hoped that in doing so, his daughter wouldn’t lose hers.

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