The Doll Collector

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Chapter 55

Having raced to the scene, Dan had a feeling of tranquillity as he approached the red car. Everything was as he had hoped to find it. Traffic had delayed his arrival, and had slowed him down to the point where his entrance was anything but dramatic.

He had parked his car and checked the back of the only red car in the car park, four spaces to the left of his own. Having verified the license plate, he stepped towards the back of the car.

He paused. Something is wrong. This is too easy.

This man had received a fifth of the money he wanted. A fifth. An insulting amount. He wouldn’t just give in. The history of the man didn’t suggest a man that would ever give up until he had received exactly what he wanted.

He remembered Joshua saying over the phone, ‘I don’t have time for your games. I’m in control of this situation, not you.’ He was short on time, but he was also unwilling to relinquish control.

He was about to shrug off his doubts and move closer to the button on the rear of the car when he was struck by a powerful smell of petrol. He could hear it trickling to the tarmac near his feet and gasped. It’s a trap. How could I have been so stupid?

He didn’t have time to reprimand himself before the car erupted in front of him in a fireball.

The explosion threw him backwards as if he was a sweet wrapper caught in the wind. With his mind racing, the fall to the ground seemed to take forever. Eventually Dan and tarmac were reintroduced with each other with enough force to cause his neck to snap backwards and his head to hit the floor.

He lifted his head, feeling too dizzy to move. The feeling seemed to match that of his worst drinking binges at his lowest ebb. This time, the feeling of nausea had several causes. His own injuries would be superficial compared to anyone who might have been in that car. I need to get up. I need to see if she’s there.

Rolling on to his side and pushing himself up with his hands. The rise to his feet was gradual, but even when his daughter’s life depended on it, he could not move any quicker. He shook his head as the dizziness refused to depart, accompanied now by a loud ringing in his ears. I need to get to the car.

Turning around and stepping, zombie-like towards the burning wreckage of the red car, he could see a body. There was a schoolgirl in there, wearing a black school uniform, being consumed by the flames.

Running towards the car, he was forced back by the intense heat. Police would have heard the explosion and they would be on their way, but Dan had to get to her. Every second counted.

In a flash an idea came to mind. He ran to his own car, put on his thick winter coat and gloves and retrieved an emergency blanket.

Knowing he was putting his own life at risk, he rushed to the burning body and threw the blanket around it, picking it up, despite the searing pain in his hands and arms.

He took five steps before the pain became too much and he collapsed in stages to the floor, yelling, laying the girl down. He patted himself down, putting out a couple of small fires burning on him, and did the same with the girl.

Lying there, lifeless, was a young girl, the uniform almost completely gone, and most of the skin charred to the point of making her face unrecognisable. The burnt hair contained the occasional wisp of golden blonde hair, untouched by the flames. It was the colour of Abigail’s.

He felt tears streaming from his warm face, not as a reaction to the heat he had endured, but the as a show of some of the emotion bursting out of him. Have I failed her? Is my daughter really dead?

He knelt next to the body of the school girl, frozen with fear and shock. He didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to say. The girl was dead, and there was no denying it. Smoke was still rising from all over her, where flames had taken her life.

A police car approached, which Dan hadn’t noticed until there was a tap on his shoulder. He was moved away from the body, despite his protests. No amount of screaming at them would bring back Abigail.

He watched on as one of the police officers approached the body and checked in vain for signs of life. I had no chance of saving her. I never had a chance.

He collapsed to the ground into a sitting position. Eventually he would need to move. He would need to declare to the world that he had failed. He would need to tell his wife that he had gambled with their little girl’s life and that the house had won. The paltry percentage paid as a ransom had fuelled this man’s rage, rather than aiding his daughter’s release.

He wanted to look around for witnesses. He wanted to get up and find this man. He wanted to hunt for clues that could help him find Joshua Billings and to destroy him, like he had destroyed the Castle family. Despite his rage, at that moment he was incapable of moving from the tarmac, watching the police drape the same blanket over his daughter that he had used in his pathetic attempt to save her life.

There was nothing Dan could do but to sit there, in the midst of debris, wishing he was sitting there with his daughter, instead of regretting throwing her life away for a measly twenty grand.

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