Abigail had been incredulous that morning during their dispute. It was still his daughter in the video, but she looked different. Her earlier remonstration, her rage, her resentment had been replaced with something else. Sitting tied to a chair, wearing little more than a terrified expression, she looked fragile. It seemed that the slightest hard knock might shatter her world into a thousand pieces.
With his eyes wide and tearful, Dan gritted his teeth. What I wouldn’t give for the chance to speak to her now. He wanted to throw his arms around her. I need to reassure her that she will always be my daughter. Instead, he could do nothing but sit there, shocked at the digital scene in front of him.
Dan’s investigative mind kicked into gear as his eyes focussed on the distressing image on his computer screen. He looked into the background, searching for clues. There was the dull glow of a twenty four hour News channel on a television behind her right shoulder. The definition was clear enough that he could just about make out the date and time. This was recorded around two hours earlier. It was the only detail of note, and it seemed as if it had been placed there purposefully as a means of providing authenticity.
A slightly high-pitched, almost panicked sounding man’s voice could be heard explaining the situation. The accent was strange, east coast American with a British twist.
“I have a few questions for you Abigail Castle. I know what so many girls are like at your age. Little sluts who would do anything to get their own way, and damn the consequences. I want to know if you are like that. I want to know of you are like the others.”
Abigail shook her head frantically, wide-eyed. It was as if she was looking just beyond Dan’s right shoulder. As he watched the scene unfold, Dan slightly shook his head, almost mimicking his daughter. He couldn’t recall a time in her life when she had looked so distressed. Of course, she had never needed to feel the way she was clearly feeling. Her expression was perfectly suited to a situation, fraught with danger, into which she had been forcibly dumped.
“Your dear daddy will be watching this, but despite any hesitations or unwillingness you may have in sharing your personal life with your parents, I still expect complete and unequivocal honesty.”
The man proceeded to ask her personal questions about her interactions with the opposite sex. Abigail could only nod or shake her head in response.
Had she ever had a real boyfriend? Yes.
Had they kissed? Yes.
Had she allowed things to go any further? No.
Had she ever attempted to use her looks as a means of getting what she wanted? No.
Had she allowed physical contact with a boy to reach an inappropriate level? No.
Had she ever bought or otherwise obtained any type of contraception? No.
Dan stared at the video, unable to comprehend the reasons for his eyes and ears being assaulted with such a horrifying scene.
After three minutes of absurd and intrusive questions, a man wearing a mask marched into view. He took up a standing position immediately behind Abigail, placing his hands on her shaking shoulders.
“Mr Castle,” the man said in a light, summarising tone, “Your daughter tells me her virtue is intact. She seems innocent enough. She may be telling the truth… she may not.”
The man paused.
Dan stared at the visible parts of this man, his eyes becoming hot and his breathing shallow. I wish I’d tried to follow the deliverer of the DVD.
Maybe the man that had just abducted his daughter was a matter of feet away only a few of minutes ago. Perhaps the person at the door had been hired for that purpose alone. It was of little consequence at that moment. The person, whatever their identity and purpose, had long since departed.
The tone of voice changed, sounding deeper and more serious. “Society is broken. I aim to fix it,” he said. “Too many girls try to grow up too quickly. They do adult activities before they’re old enough. Sometimes there’s a requirement for me to encourage girls to consider their idiotic inclinations. Sometimes they may feel they suffer, sometimes they’re left alone. The key question is this. Personality or poor parenting? Which is to blame?”
Dan could not take his eyes of the centre of the screen. He had stopped searching for clues, fixated on the forlorn female, tied to a chair like some kind of prisoner of war. He could only hope that his little Abbie would soon be safe from the torment of this crazed kidnapper.
“I will discover the truth about your daughter. Her honesty will buy her freedom, along with a fairly small fee, payable by you. My time and expenses need to be covered as I continue my work. I may ask for an apology payment, begging forgiveness for raising a child who hasn’t learned to say no to a stranger.”
There was a further pause, likely added for reflection. “If she is guilty of lying, there will be consequences. Depending on what I do, you may still be able to negotiate a release fee. In the meantime...” his hands moved from her shoulders, over her chest and settling on her stomach, causing Dan and his daughter to wear grimaces that mirrored each other perfectly. He continued, “Until I decide what happens next, your beautiful daughter will stay in my care.”
The video ended abruptly. Dan breathed out heavily, suddenly aware of the need to relax his body, allowing his lungs to resume their vital work. He was unsure how long he had refused to exhale, but there was a sense of relief throughout his body that its respiratory functions were allowed to continue.
There were no instructions, no contact details. He didn’t know how to identify the man that had abducted his daughter. I need to get Abigail home before this monster does anything to hurt her.
His eyes darted to the clock on the wall. Two hours had already passed. The first twenty four were always crucial.
Dan clenched his teeth again and squeezed his hands into fists so tight that his knuckles were white. Maybe there was a name for the Molotov cocktail of emotions rushing through him. His whole family was suddenly in the snare of an unconscionable man, willing to kidnap and punish in order to play out some kind of sick game.
The words ‘sick game’ stuck in his mind as a sudden onset of molten stomach acid scorched his throat. The ever-present heartburn had upgraded itself to a full-blown eruption of the stomach, leading to a burning oesophagus. Pain shot through his chest as if someone had slammed a red hot anvil into it.
He reached for the antacids in his desk drawer and chewed one slowly for several seconds, letting it get to work. The soothing action concentrated his mind on breathing deeply, calming himself down to the point of being functional, barely.
His shaking fingers found and called his wife. This will rip her world to shreds, but I have to tell her. She had been worrying about the whereabouts of their daughter, who had never been absent from home without an explanation (even if she bent the rules from time to time).
Her worry would be supplanted by paralysing fear. She would be powerless and she would plead with Dan to find their girl. Of course, the pleadings were pointless.
Abigail is my daughter and nothing in this world will stop me from freeing her from this nightmare.