Sitting in the police station, yet again, Dan reconsidered the words of Joshua Billings again and again. He made a mental list of the facts as he understood them.
Joshua still has Abigail, who is presumed to be alive and well
The kidnapper has made it clear that he plans on leaving the country
Irrespective of his location, Joshua has promised to divulge Abigail’s location on receipt of the remaining twenty grand
If I do not come up with a new plan in the next few minutes, my wife will pay the money anyway.
From a financial point of view, Dan was concerned. The new business isn’t going well enough to subsidise another loan secured on our home.
The acid reflux returned as he dwelled on the need to make a decision now. He grimaced as he reached for his pocket and discovered that he didn’t have any antacids. His saving grace at that moment was a plastic cup of water that had been placed on the desk in front of him. He took a sip and let the cold water provide a brief moment of relief from the burning in his chest and throat.
Jennifer was resourceful when she wanted to be. She would have the money within twenty four hours, and she would wire it to the account in the email without a moment’s hesitation. Dan, however, was still dubious. So far, I’ve paid five grand for an all-access pass to an exploding car, with a few cuts and bruises thrown in for good measure.
There had to be another way to get their daughter back, but neither he nor the local police could dream up an idea that would work.
A full background check for Joshua Billings was of little use, as the man had ceased using that identity for any genuine purpose some years ago.
He looked at DC Brokes as he resumed his previous position the other side of the desk. The man was tall with a gaunt face, despite the expanded waist line. His face looked like it had worn the worry of several thousand cases. His hair was becoming a patchwork of an unnatural light brown and silver. He looked like a man more concerned with seeing out his career than concentrating on his own looks. He said, “We’ve done everything that we can do up do this point.” The man’s eyes said, ‘pay the money’.
Dan gritted his teeth with his lips pursed, resisting the urge to squeeze the plastic cup. I’m not giving up. They can’t expect me to hand so much money over to a child kidnapper, rapist and killer.
DC Brokes looked at his watch, and then at the clock on the wall. He fidgeted with files on his desk before looking at the clock again. Dan was aware that he was about to be politely asked to return home and to consider his choices. He would probably hear that the chances of finding their girl ranged from fifteen per cent to zero after forty eight hours.
The officer cleared his throat. “Mr Castle, at this point, it might be worth considering whether you can trust this man to comply if you give in to his demands.”
Dan shook his head. “I just don’t know.”
“I would invite you to speak to your wife and to decide on a joint course of action.” He looked sincere. He meant what he said. He had a get-out if they paid the money and got the girl back. None of this would come back to hurt him, probably months from receiving his police pension, unwilling to take a chance in the twilight of his career.
As Dan started to get to his feet, the words of Joshua came flooding back.
As I agreed, you will find a pretty blonde school girl in the boot of my old red car.
A realisation dawned on Dan that the man had not lied. His words had been open to interpretation, but in some sort of twisted way, Joshua had not lied to him at all during the past few days. He shrugged as he walked towards the front entrance, feeling like a footballer who had lost a hundred cup finals. I’m starting to think I’ve got no other option than to trust him.
He had a choice to make. Either he paid the money, risking the financial security of his family, or he became one of those parents in denial, always believing that their little girl could be alive, trying to find her way home.
Exiting the building and walking towards his car, the cold night air hit the back of his throat and caused him to cough. He hurried into the car, slamming the door.
He clenched his hands around the steering wheel and shouted, “I don’t know what to do!” He let go of the wheel and punched the parts his hands had been gripping. “I want to know where she is! I need to know she’s alive! How can I trust the man that kidnapped my only daughter?!”
His words reverberated off every hard surface in the car and he heard a ringing in his ears for a brief moment.
He took a deep breath, and then another. His shoulders relaxed and his hands unclenched. “I need to contact this man again before he leaves the country forever.”
He started considering the man’s options for leaving the country. Routes by road, tunnel, flight and boat would be out, assuming passport control were any good at their jobs. How were so many people smuggled into the country every year, and could their mode of transport be reversed to help people leave?
He scowled and stared ahead at nothing in particular. Wondering aloud, he said, “What kind of people would be smuggled out of the country? Who does it, and why?”
The thought shot into his mind: Child trafficking. It makes sense.
Links between the trafficking and abuse of children had long since been established. He had hardly made a significant breakthrough with that particular leap of logic.
Another bout of panic hit Dan as another thought came to mind: What if Joshua plans on escaping the country, taking Abigail with him? He could still live up to his word by telling Dan the exact location of his daughter. He did not promise that she would remain in the country. He shook his head. Surely he wouldn’t do that, but how can I know for sure?
His heartburn returned, this time with no glass of water to cool his throat and chest. I need to find out where and how he’s leaving the country, but how?
He considered calling every agency that might have intelligence on child trafficking. CEOP officers would politely tell him that they were working hard to stop such things, and that he should mind his own business. Any other self-respecting organisation would do the same. His chances of finding Joshua’s mode of transport were slim.
He folded his arms across the steering wheel and buried his head in them. “I’m no closer to solving any of this,” he said to himself in an angry whisper. “How can I know that I’ll be able to get to Abigail if I pay him this money?”
The next thought charged through his mind like an electric shock, causing his head to snap to an upright position. “I can’t expect an email to get through. I can’t call him…” He leaned back in his chair. “But I know he saw my last police press conference. I need another one. I need to provoke him into contacting me to give assurances. He just might drop another clue or two.”
Dan moved to undo his seatbelt before realising he hadn’t fastened it since taking his seat. He bolted out of the door and back to the desk of DC Brokes.
The officer looked up, his face painted in a patchwork of disdain and pity. “Yes, Mr Castle?” He said.
Dan rested his palms on the desk and leaned forward. “I have an idea. I think I can get more from this guy, but I need your help to do it.”
“Okay, Mr Castle,” DC Brokes said, looked intrigued. “I’m listening.”