It was in Iwan’s character, at least back then, to run away when he felt ignored. It happened so often in the last year that it drained all the adventure surrounding the idea and it became a routine. Not even his parents or the staff would grow angry or worried for their little master because they knew he will always come back.
But still, Iwan sneaked into the backyard and jumped over the fence into the dangerous world of the outside. Even the fence, which used to tower over his petite figure in an imposing manner, became common. The trees in front of their house were thick and old and very well maintained by the gardener; in his eyes, they always seemed to lower their branches in order to give him better access.
“That old woman, she doesn’t know anything about her own son,” mumbled the boy angrily as he made his way into the downtown. “Why did she give birth to a boy if all she ever wanted was a daughter?”
And there was indeed a daughter in the family, Iwan’s younger sister Eleanor. She represented a pest from the beginning, from before she was born even, and he strongly disliked her. With her cooing and cutesy acts and those innocent baby eyes looking up at everyone and no one in particular, Eleanor was the center of attention in the Andrews house. That naturally led Iwan to become jealous although his family did not act any different to him than before the baby girl was born.
“I’ll be gone for more than a few hours this time. That’ll show them...” he added, stomping his foot on the ground.
From his house to the center of the city was approximately half an hour by foot. The boy was in no rush and took his time, whispering to himself on the way. The trouble did not occur in the suburbs but downtown, where a lot of people were walking around like ants.
Since he was lanky and didn’t pose any threat older and more muscular boys always represented a problem. Iwan was more a child of thought than labor so he was really bad at fighting.
“Oi, Andrews, running from mommy and daddy again?”
Going to a normal school, there were bullies that considered Iwan an easy target.
“I’m just taking a stroll,” was Iwan’s answer as he passed the group of classmates. “No money on me!” He said, showing them his empty hands. “Try another bank this time. And many more times to come since I don’t matter anymore at home.”
His words were partially true, his allowance decreased after another child was welcomed in the family but the manner in which he addressed the boys was the problem, not the money. Iwan was a spoiled child that believed the world was revolving around him and his needs. He didn’t realize it, but that was the main reason he was bullied, not because of his financial situation.
“We’ll have to check ourselves then,” said the bully. At his nudge, the group pounded on the lanky child. It was quite a mess but Iwan became good at avoiding their punches and through some miracle, actually punched someone and escaped.
He ran for a while and didn’t find the courage to look back and see if he was followed. The boy passed another few streets when he got tired and leaned against the wall of a bakery, breathing heavily and sweating all over.
The smell of fresh pastries made his stomach growl. He didn’t eat breakfast and it was already lunch. Checking his pockets, he realized his statement was a lot more realistic than he hoped. He was penny less.
His stomach growled again as his eyes lingered on the window. He licked his lips and gave the most dramatic sigh he could muster.
“Maybe I should just sneak in and take something...”
That was his brilliant idea at the moment and he did give it a go. He entered the bakery as if he was an ordinary customer and looked around while the woman at the counter was busy. As soon as his eyes laid on a baguette, he quickly grabbed it and rushed out. He ran for a bit until he stopped in an alleyway before he glanced at the way he came from. He just stole something and he wasn’t caught. A wide smile spread on his face as a new adventure opened before him.
If only that day didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have been caught in his web.
But Iwan continued to steal, not much and not valuable but just enough to keep himself entertained. And then he tried to steal money. He actually had a plan and a target: a middle aged man that always parked in the no parking zone. He watched him closely for a week and that man’s routine was always the same. Besides, he always left his wallet in the car; what a perfect opportunity.
So next Monday, instead of going to school like he was supposed to, Iwan waited just around the corner for his target, Once he saw him park and rush into the bank across the street, the boy approached the car and just like he saw in movies, he tried to unlock the door.
“It’s harder than I thought.” He groaned as he tried once again. A sudden pop made his eyes widen and heart pound. He succeeded and now all he had to do was open the door and take the wallet.
“Happy to be a thief, aren’t you boy?”
Iwan’s breath hitched as he turned his head very slowly to the man towering over him. His face was a lot scarier now that it was right in front of him.
“Well? Aren’t you going to apologize?” He asked but Iwan could only think of escaping.
“Sorry!” He exclaimed before trying to make a run for it. The man grabbed him by his shirt and with one pull, brought him back into his arms.
“I never said I’ll forgive you. Actually, there’s something you can do for me now that I’m thinking about it.”
“Iwan was the first to be taken to that house.” Ava started, getting comfortable in the furthest table in Starbucks.
Lanchester was the one to come with the idea. After seeing Iwan for the first time, he wanted to find out more about their torture as children.
“We all came from different families with different social statuses but we were alike in one thing: we were craving for attention. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, even a soft look would have been enough.” started the woman, glancing at the ginger from the corner of her eye, “I had two older brothers. My mother never bought me anything ever. Even my clothes were boyish and worn out. They’d go down from my older brother to the middle brother and eventually, to me.” She took a sip from her Caramel Macchiato before she continued, “Iwan was a brat. He ran away from home and got into what was to become hell for us. Lauren came a week after me. We all willingly entered that house...”
She sighed and looked down at her coffee before she prepared to remember.
“One night he told us to go upstairs and enter through particular doors. Men were waiting inside each of them. Lauren cried so loud that I could hear her clearly, Iwan tried to bear it like a man and I...I couldn’t even move. That man, he told me I’m pretty, he told me that my eyes were sparkling, he said I was such a good girl,” Ava’s eyes were swelling up as she remembered. She could literally see him in front of her; see only up to his neck because the light was right behind his head. “He kissed my lips, he kissed my neck, down my chest and-” she stopped, the memory growing vivid in her mind.
Lanchester watched with a frown. He could finally see Ava’s real expression and it was not as he imagined. She was broken, just as Iwan said. There was so much pain behind those brown eyes, terrible and unforgettable.
“How did you escape?” he asked meekly.
“He liked me for some reason. While I kept him busy, Iwan sneaked up to his room and grabbed the keys to his car. We tried before to send letters through the postman but they’d always come back. Once I heard the door opening, I closed my eyes and the next sight I witnessed was a man lying on the floor with blood dripping from his head. Iwan struck him with a can. We ran like never before. We were children but we had seen how a car was driven. Iwan tried...he lost control and he hit another. We entered hospital and that was it...”
“Did they catch him?”
“No.” She said coldly while her eyes darkened. “They never caught him and never will.”
Lanchester rose an eyebrow, curious who was this person that escaped police after kidnapping and abusing three children.
“Is that why you don’t trust the police?” He asked warily.
“I trust a schizophrenic patient more than I trust an official.” She admitted with a look of utter disgust for the men that should have protected them.
Once they left the store, Ava couldn’t help but bath in the sunlight and fresh air. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed in and out, feeling her heart calm down a bit.
Someone came rushing from behind and collided straight into her. She turned to look at the person that woke her up from her dreamy state and noticed a teenager.
“Sorry,” she said as she lent him an arm to get up. He took it gladly but unlike what he expected, the woman did not let him go. “What’s this on your hand?” She asked alerted by the khrismon on his hand.
“No English,” he said.
“Where did you get this?” She asked again, nodding at his tattoo. “Dove hai preso questo tatuaggio?” she asked in Italian, surprising the ginger.
“’C’era un gruppo nel Giardino di Boboli. Potresti prenderli se ti sbrighi.” He said, thinking she probably liked it and wanted one for herself. Ava’s grip lessened and the boy walked away.
“I didn’t know you could speak Italian,” commented Lanchester as he approached her, his hands leisurely in his pants’ front pockets.
“I thought that was implied since I said I come here often.” She said, her eyes glazing over the direction to the gardens. It was late already and the group must have left, if it even had any connection to the khrismon in London.
“Come on, we need to check in. I already reserved two rooms at a hotel.”
The hotel was actually a guesthouse of two levels, very close to St. Trinity Bridge led by a lady who was called zia Eugenia by the other visitors. She was tall and held authority over the whole neighborhood and Ava was sure if she wanted to she could be vicious but not then; zia Eugenia welcomed the two British visitors with a warm smile and stars in her eyes, which was rare nowadays.
“I prepared the rooms for you two, the ones Mr. Ginger liked. They are on the second floor and the sight is fantastico! Signora will be impressed of the view from her room.” Zia Eugenia said, what she couldn’t express with her face, expressing with her hand movements.
It was indeed fantastic. As soon as she stepped inside her room, although very simple, it felt more like home than her apartment in London. Ava has grown into a house of five and limited personal space was just something she was accustomed with but once money started to pile up, her life became larger and intertwined with social needs thus it felt like she was suffocating in a mass of people. Opening the windows for air, she smiled at the sight of the bridge and yet frowned when she saw the Boboli Gardens. It was the second boy she had seen with a khrismon on his hand, moreover on the same spot as her patient. It didn’t look like there was a specific age target, only they had to be young adults.
“And young adults are the future,” she mumbled, her thoughts getting mixed up into theories she did not want to take in consideration. But Anonymous were still out there preparing for their next move.
Sour music filled the halls of the university, full of emotions that cannot be translated into words or images. It was a music that brings to life unpleasant memories, which have always been pushed in the deepest corners of the mind of a young man whose life has been mutilated by a pervert. The song he played was one of many songs that never ceased to haunt him.
Sonata No. 1 in E minor for Cello ... a song he heard in a music hall a long time ago, where he first began to take cello lessons, where he sang this song with a good friend accompanying him on piano ... and still the same song he heard that night when Iwan lost his desire to live.
“Please, no! Stop hurting us!” little Iwan screamed, tears falling down his rosy cheeks as the man that captured him tied his hands to the bed. The boy squirmed, kicked with all the force he had left and yet the man was stronger and taller and could easily restrain a 12 years old.
“Stay put and wait here. You have already done your part tonight. Let others enjoy our game too.” He gave a crooked smile, one that sent chills down Iwan’s back.
And then the man left, his heavy steps echoing in silence as he walked down the stairs. From what Iwan could tell, his senses heightened ever since he was brought into this Hell, his kidnapper turned the music on. It was a song Iwan knew, that he played before when he was still the apple of his mother’s eyes. It started with Allegro non troppo, his heart breaking with the first measure evolving into beautiful music. It was loud but Iwan could hear him walk into the girls’ room and could picture him grab Ava. She was the middle child in this dysfunctional game and their kidnapper loved playing with her for some reason. But not tonight, he could tell.
Looking up, he noticed the door was open. The man walked past his room, Ava squirming in his tight grasp. Iwan’s eyes caught the way that pervert’s hand slid up her thigh, making the girl cry out and kick him in the ribs. The man flinched but not once faltered. Another man followed the two, one whose eyes were glinting with desire for a girl that could have been his daughter.
Iwan shuddered when he heard a door being closed and locked. The boy closed his eyes and shuddered, realizing he was half undressed from his own torture just a few hours ago. The demon with human face returned a few moments later but did not enter; instead he closed the door and went downstairs. The volume of Brahm’s Cello Sonata turned louder but the boy could hear Ava’s torment.
Now, playing the same piece, Iwan couldn’t help but feel stone cold. There was nothing left of his soul, nothing left to believe in and the only person who could understand him was Ava. Only they were forced to go back and venture into the wide world while Lauren, the youngest of the three, checked herself into a mental hospital after she turned 18 years old. Lauren suffered the less because Iwan fought to keep the girls safe. It didn’t work, not entirely because after all he was a boy. Ava helped, drawing men to her rather than have Lauren go through the same abusive acts. But that didn’t work either, not entirely.
Iwan put his bow down and opened his eyes when he felt someone put a warm hand on his shoulder. He heard her sigh before she bent and cupped his face in her hands, turning him to her. Those brown eyes of hers were mirroring his, full of the same feelings and memories that he was trying to bury. With a soft smile, Ava wiped his tears off.
Back at the guesthouse, Lanchester was drying his hair while humming to himself. It was a song his wife loved and forced him to listen to on several occasions. It was a nice feeling until his phone rung and disrupted the atmosphere.
“Detective Lanchester? Something happened, sir,” only Leo could be so polite with the ginger, “Anonymous sent us something unexpected.”
“They sent something to the Interpol?” Lanchester asked, surprised they became so bold. Leo was silent on the other side, thinking how to give the message as not to alert the detective.
“Well, not the Interpol. It is addressed to-um-well, to you.”
“I’ll send you a picture. Please show it to Dr. Atkins too, she might know more than any of us.”
Marvin Lanchester was stunned. If he believed, and he did, that there was a connection to Ava then suddenly the tables were turned and he found himself in the same position. His phone vibrated as sign that he received the message and with stupor opened the file. It was a picture and on its back was written something that he had never read before.
I write this letter to you, the one whose eyes are starting to open and ears are starting to hear. It's a world where dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree. You must be aware, Marvin Lanchester, that they never forgot, that even the martyrdom must run its course. On a pond at the edge of the wood...
“What does it mean?” Lanchester asked knowing Leo could still hear him.
“I’m not sure but it’s not from the Bible or from the Divine Comedy. This might be more personal but then again, I don’t know. After that present sent to Dr. Atkins, it seems you’re next.”