In those first few moments after the apparent explosion, Abigail’s heart had pounded in her chest as she laid in the car, her prison on wheels.
She had heard flames burning amid the cries of distant people. She had worried and wondered about the cause of the loud bang and the terrible wailing she had heard in its aftermath.
The phone next to her head had gone dark hours ago. The call had long since ended. Somehow she knew that her hopes of a rescue had faded with that LCD screen.
Her fears of being left alone or remaining undiscovered in the car had gone when she heard the whistling of her kidnapper, who seemed pleased about something. He had climbed into the car and driven away.
That had been hours ago. She could not judge the time in such a disoriented state, but she knew it had been a very, very long time since she had dared to hope for freedom.
Eventually the worries had worn her out, and she had slept for an unknown period of time.
Now, she was awake again, hearing nothing but the drone of the tyres on tarmac and the average voice of her kidnapper as he sang along to the latest hits on the radio.
She cast her mind back over the conversations that she had shared with Joshua. He promised that he would let me go. When will he keep his promise?
Abigail had never needed to consider the reliability of the word of a criminal. It had never crossed her mind that people who claimed to care would deliberately mislead. Was he as good as his word? Would he continue to feed her with hope until he shattered her world by dashing it? How long would she live a life of broken promises and vain ambition before finding her own way out?
In a way, she was glad to have been locked away in the car, unable to see the scene that had caused the distress of so many by that beach. I don’t know how much claim I can lay to innocence, but I’m glad I didn’t have to witness another horrible event.
The cheerful mentality that she had developed through the years had held strong during the difficulties of her parents. Despite their arguments and their worries, she had clung to hope. She had felt vindicated when life returned to normal and her parents started to act more like the people she had known all of her life.
This time, it was bordering on impossible to keep her spirits up. The cheerfulness of her captor, singing and whistling without a care in the world, seemed to drag her mood further from its natural level. His happiness seems to indicate an increase in my misery.
As she considered the polar opposites of their moods, the car slowed and stopped. It had started, stopped, sped up and slowed down countless times during the journey, but the killing of the engine indicated that this stop was longer.
Footsteps grew louder and the lid opened, letting in a duller daylight than she had seen earlier.
Loosening the tape that bound her, Joshua said with a smile, “I’m not expecting your father to look for you for a little while.”
Abigail wanted to ask why, but she did not want to know the answer. There was, however, no way of stopping him from telling her anyway.
“I think you noticed the other girl.” He said in a hushed voice. “You were safe in the back of this car, but she wasn’t so safe in the back of my old one.”
The rag prevented her from talking, but she didn’t know what she would have said anyway.
The man was straight-faced, as if everything that was going on was matter-of-fact. It was as if he was telling her about bumping into an old friend in a coffee shop. “Your father was directed to the other car, and his timing was… unfortunate.”
Abigail’s eyes widened so much that they hurt. Has he just killed my Dad?
Joshua grinned and waved his hand in a dismissive manner. “He was hurt a little bit, and he made a valiant effort to save the girl, but there was nothing he could do.”
He had finished removing the tape and then removed the gag.
Abigail didn’t wait for an opportunity to speak.
“What was her name?” she asked, her voice shaking.
“It was Abigail, like you,” he said in response.
She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He turned around as he said, “Probably not. In reality, I have no idea.”
Abigail felt a shudder run down her spine. This man allegedly cared for her, but he seemed to have no regard for the lives of others.
Joshua spoke up and as she climbed out of the boot. “I just found the first girl that could be mistaken for you.”
Abigail put her feet on the ground, feeling unsteady. She leaned on the car for a moment. “I vaguely remember the girl. She didn’t look like me.”
“Abbie, one burned body looks much like another. Anyone would jump to the obvious conclusion.”
Abigail shuddered at the plainness with which Joshua spoke about the atrocities for which he was responsible. Soulless, unconscionable, evil. The man had seemed like an individual who had made unfortunate choices, who was in over his head. He had changed her perception of him. He had no problem destroying the lives and the dreams of others, as long as his own deplorable demands were met.
More people, old or young, would no doubt lose their lives before her ordeal ended with her death or her release.
After a moment of sombre silence, Abigail cleared her throat and spoke. “So my Dad thinks I’m dead?” she asked.
“So what are you going to do with me?”
He smiled. “My dear, it seems our relationship is drawing to an end.” He shrugged before adding, “I can’t carry on like this anymore.”
Her heart started pounding harder than it had done in several hours. “So that’s it?” She could hear the panic in her voice. “Are you going to…?” She didn’t have the words to finish the sentence.
A loud laugh by Joshua caught her off-guard. “Oh, Abigail,” he said in a soft, patronising voice, “You’re an innocent girl. I couldn’t kill you.”
“You’ve killed other innocent girls.”
He stuck out his bottom lip for a moment. “How do you know she was innocent?” he asked.
“How do you know she wasn’t?” Abigail responded.
Joshua’s eyebrows raised for a second and then his face relaxed again. He started to walk away saying, “There are times when you have to accept the possibility of collateral damage.”
“Collateral damage?!” Abigail asked in a loud, passionate voice, taking several angry steps towards him. The anger she felt had cast aside any feelings of being unsure on her feet.
Joshua stopped walking and turned to look at her. “It’s where-”
“I know what it is!” she said. “You needed a way out, and you sacrificed a young girl to buy a few more minutes of freedom.”
Joshua smiled. “It’s not just a few more minutes, Abbie. They’ll not catch me now.”
Abigail furrowed her brow. “Why not?” She spun her head around, taking in the dimly lit streets surrounding them. “Where are we?”
“We’re here to make a deal for my freedom.” He linked his right arm with her left and dragged her as he walked towards a large, Victorian Era building in front of them. “You, my girl, are now a living, breathing bargaining chip.”
Abigail made a fist with her right hand. I could fight this, she thought. I could hit him and make a run for it. I don’t know where I am, but I’ll find my way home.
Joshua cleared his throat in a manner designed to get her attention. She looked at his face. He was nodding towards his left hand. He was still carrying his gun. He met her eyes and said, “I thought it would be prudent to remind you that I have this, and that you should make sensible decisions.”
Abigail’s shoulders slumped again. Never mind.
Halfway across the car park, Abigail asked, “So you’re trading me in? What for?”
Joshua stopped, rolled his eyes and looked at her. “I told you. You’re going to buy me my freedom.”
He shook his head. “I’m not telling you any more than I have done already.”
Abigail moved to brush her hair back with the fingers of her right hand, before remembering that her hair was now much shorter. “You know someone with an illegal way of getting out of the country, and you want me to willingly let you swap me for a ticket, like some kind of object?”
Joshua turned his head to at her, squinting slightly. “What happened to you? For a fourteen year old, you’re too worldly” He put the gun away and stopped, turning his whole body to face her. He raised his left hand and made his own attempt to brush the short red hair back from her face. “Where’s the purity that I should be seeing?”
Abigail felt something dancing along her spine like an excited spider before a severe shiver rippled through her upper body. She had rarely felt more uncomfortable in this man’s presence.
The soon-to-abscond-abductor looked concerned. “I should get you inside so you can warm up.” He had completely misread the reason for the shiver.
As they walked the last few yards to the door, Abigail considered his questions. How had she come to lack the child-like qualities displayed by others her age? Boyfriends, drugs, alcohol and sex were buzz words in the vocabularies of many a little older, but she was yet to involve herself in any such activities. Somehow she had taken in so many details of the world around her that she had unknowingly prepared herself to handle her current predicament.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Joshua continued. “You still maintain a modicum of innocence, but you’re not as oblivious as most of the girls I’ve collected.”
She continued to reflect on her past life, one that seemed a million miles away from her unknown location. Her cynicism had been inherited, or learned from her father. Her mother was also a natural sceptic. They weren’t untrusting, they had just experienced enough of life to know that a lot of situations needed to be approached with caution.
Abigail, having been moulded by her parents for the past fourteen years, had barely been emerging from the shadows of her parents, becoming her own person. Her journey from childhood to adulthood had become more fraught with danger, courtesy of her kidnapper, exposing her to sexual activities, violence, death and obsession. She gritted her teeth. I’m not letting this monster remove any more of my perceived innocence.
She thought she could see Joshua holding back a tear or two. He opened his mouth to speak, but then shook his head and closed it without saying a word. This man had done his best to destroy her life. Has he really learned to care for me?
Joshua seemed to be in a reflective mood. He seemed content with considering his recent history, and to let go of the only girl who had challenged him, managing to inexplicably win his affection in the process.
Finally he spoke as they were within reach of a solid wood and glass door that looked as old as the building. He raised his eyebrows, and with a pathetic look on his face said, “I started all of this on my own. It’s time to finish it on my own.”
Joshua had made a big deal of exclaiming his control of the situation, but he was starting to sound like a troubled teenager, seeking emancipation from controlling parents. He sounded desperate, lonely, somewhat defeated.
Without his dominion over young girls, Joshua was timid. He was weak. He needed to control those girls to feel as if he had not been lowered to the lowest class of humanity and dignity. With each abuse, the feelings would ease, but his deplorable acts had ruined any genuine sense of decency in him.
How could a man so besotted with her have taken another child’s life without a second thought? How could a man that had tortured and abused many people even remember how to feel affection for another human being?
The same hands that had built and detonated a bomb to kill a young girl were now holding open a door and stroking the small of her back as Abigail entered the building.
She attempted to absorb every detail of the building. Its large windows, ornate fixtures, cornices, guttering, its blackened sandstone construction. It was four storeys tall, and wider than its height. The building, now a hotel, had been built when land was far cheaper, or by someone with money to spend.
She had been trying to find any identifiable landmarks on the short walk. She had not seen Edinburgh Castle, the London Eye or the Liver Building. She had not seen Birmingham’s train station or Manchester’s old textile chimney stacks. She was in a big town or a city, but she had no idea where. I just have to hope my Dad can still come and rescue me.
An uneasy feeling swept over Abigail as she walked next to Joshua to the front desk. What if I leave Joshua and end up in the hands of someone worse? What kind of person trades in the lives of teenage girls? Not a good person, surely.
She started to fidget, picking at invisible loose skin around her fingernails. What’s going to happen to me now?