As it turned out, sitting at home and waiting had proved to be an almost impossible task for Jennifer.
She had cleaned every surface at least twice in an effort to keep her anxious hands busy. In doing so she realised that no amount of physical exertion could concentrate her mind on anything else.
Their daughter was, at that moment, being collected by her husband. He had taken a risk in paying a much lower ransom than requested, but it seemed to have worked. He had called from somewhere in Norfolk with the news. Her initial concerns about the low ransom seemed to be unwarranted.
She looked at the clock on the wall again. It was still half past one in the afternoon, just as it had been the last five times she had looked at it. She felt herself grind her teeth as she had a habit of doing when the stress was getting too much. It’s been more than half an hour since he was supposed to get there. Why hasn’t he called?
She picked up her phone from the coffee table she had wiped time and time again. Still no messages. No missed calls. How could there have been? She hadn’t been more than five feet away from it all day.
As she put it down, resigning herself to the reality that Dan might never call, it started to ring, showing his smiling face on its screen. These days, it was the only time she ever saw him smile.
“Dan?” she said, unable to calm the panic she could hear in her own voice. “Is everything okay? Did you get to her?”
There was silence for several seconds, punctured only by the barely audible waves hitting the shore.
Jennifer’s shoulders slumped. Something’s wrong.
“Dan, are you there?” she asked. She could feel his sadness without a word escaping his lips. “Tell me what happened.”
“Jen…” Dan’s voice trailed off in a sob of sorts. “I tried. I did everything I could…”
With her hand shaking so much that she nearly dropped the phone, Jennifer took a deep breath. I don’t know why I let myself believe this would have any other outcome. “Dan, honey, tell me what’s happened. What’s gone wrong?”
“I got here…I found the car…” The man’s emotions had rendered him all but useless when having a phone conversation. “When I got there, it blew up in front of me.”
“Oh my God!” Jen said. She didn’t know what else to say, so she said it again.
“He was watching, Jen. He was waiting for me.”
“Was Abigail…?” Jen didn’t have the words to finish her sentence.
“There was a body… blonde hair… in the car, burning.” There was another pause. “I got her out, but she was dead.”
“No!” she shouted. “This can’t be right! You were supposed to save her!”
She could hear his sobbing on the other end of the line. The man was in despair, and shouting at him would do nothing to help, but she needed someone to blame. Her daughter was dead.
“What have the police said?” she asked.
There was a break of almost a minute until Dan was able to reply. “They think it’s her.”
“Did they catch him?” she asked, hoping she could exact her revenge on the monster who took their daughter from them.
There was another pause. “He got away. They don’t know where.”
She wanted to be furious. She wanted to launch into a scathing verbal attack on her waste-of-space husband. You’ve been trying to ruin our lives for years, well, congratulations, Dan, you’ve finally done it.
“I’m sorry,” came gentle, quiet words from the broken man by the beach. “I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
Tears were dripping from her cheeks with a frequency to match a leak in a poor roof in a bad storm. She shook her head. This can’t be happening. Not to us. She could do nothing to stop the crying. She would probably be crying for days, weeks.
“The police say I can be on my way home soon. My injuries have been treated, and they’ve got my statement. I’ll come back in a day or two to make arrangements for her…” Dan couldn’t finish the sentence. It would confirm to both of them the horror of their situation.
Jennifer wiped tears from her eyes, knowing more would take their place almost instantly. “One way or another, you’ll bring our girl home.”