Jake swallowed his Theakston’s and tried to read the week-end edition of the Evening Herald, while half listening to the couple at the next table. Probably some out of work actors, practicing for a West-End role. The pub was a haunt for them.
‘So that makes it easier then,’ the man replied. ‘She might be the daughter of MacBride, but she’s our hostage, Tora.’
‘She’s a murderer,’ the woman said. ‘You know that’s what we had to do?’
‘Yeah, well, fingers and all that…’
‘Just cool it,’ she said. ‘Keep your voice down. Get another beer if you want.’
‘You want one?’
‘Just get the drinks. Put a Bacardi in it. Make it a large one.’
Jake’s mobile phone vibrated. Incoming SMS. He adjusted his reading glasses. ‘Staying with Sheila for week-end. Little one sleeping. Miss you. XXX Emmy.’
‘Be good. Take care. XXX Jake.’ He clicked the send button. The pregnancy had been difficult; her hormones were all over the place. ‘Bloody boring bookworm’ she had taunted. ‘What sort of father you going to be, living in a dream world half the time?’
He resented that. Dream worlds could be exciting places. He would sit the little one on his knee and he would be the hero, a Harrison Ford, a Johnny Depp or even a Harry Potter. He would slay wicked witches and rescue damsels in distress. The little one would love to listen to her hero. He smiled to himself and picked up the Londoner’s menu. When the waitress passed by with a few empty glasses, he beckoned her over to order a cheese toasty and another drink. Then he started the crossword.
‘Bryn you’ve had enough, time to go,’ said the woman. ‘We’re out of here pronto, or we’ll miss the train. Get the bags, while I flag down a cab.’ Jake watched them go. He finished the crossword and glanced over at their table. A jiffy bag was on the floor under her seat. He frowned, reached across and picked it up. He jumped up and ran to the pub door and opened it. Rain spat at him. Too late, they had gone and it was time he went too. He tucked the jiffy bag into his raincoat, opened his umbrella and stepped outside.
Martin MacBride was the name on the jiffy bag. Sanford House, Teddington, London TW11 3HS. Inside was a disc. On the front was a label. ‘Nicole.’ Nearly midnight, but he was intrigued. Jake put it into the DVD player and switched it on. He wished he hadn’t.
He just made it to the bathroom. The film flickered through his head frame by frame. ‘Nicole’ was naked and tied to a marble table begging for mercy. The hooded person, he couldn’t tell if it was male or female, was holding a pair of secateurs and a metal bowl. Nicole screamed and sobbed as a finger was severed. Fresh blood dripped from the stump. The person showed the contents of the bowl to the camera. The secateurs then caressed Nicole’s nipples. The message was clear.
Nicole heard the clatter of feet coming down the stone steps of the cellar. Both of them. She cringed. It wasn’t food and water. Only the man would bring that. He would do things to her and, if she complied with his demands, he would turn on the electric fire while he used a fork and a spoon to feed her and gave her water from a plastic bottle. ‘You’ve been a good girl, today’ he would say if she pleased him. She shuddered as the light came on.
‘Nicole, time for another photo-shoot,’ said the woman. ‘Your Daddy will be pleased to see his little girl.’
She begged for mercy when the camera started, and screamed when the secateurs closed around her little toe. It plopped into the metal bowl. The camera zoomed in for a close-up.
‘Haven’t you finished it yet?’ complained the woman.
‘I’m making a copy, just in case,’ he replied. Wrong answer.
‘In case of what?’ Her voice rising sharply. ‘You going to lose another one, or maybe give it to Inspector Morse?’
‘She’s just a girl, it makes me sick thinking about what we’re doing to her.’
The woman laughed. ‘Bloody hypocrite. Listen up. She’s a murderer. I don’t care if we’ve got to cut off every last bit, that’ll be too good for the bitch. I want to see MacBride begging for his precious little daughter’s life. And don’t think I don’t know about your cosy chats, the room stinks of male excretions.’
Afterwards, when the woman had gone, the man bandaged her foot and cleaned up the mess. He helped her with the toilet pan and gave her some more pain-killers. The fight had gone and she just lay there shivering and moaning. He seemed concerned. ‘Is my little girl cold?’ he said.
‘Please don’t hurt me anymore,’ she pleaded. ‘I’ll give you anything you want, just let me go.’
He smiled at her. ‘Is my baby going to be a good girl, then?’
Jake thought it through. He could just forget it and no-one would be any wiser. Not an option. Nicole’s terror was real. She needed help. He could go to the police. Who was Martin MacBride? Was he being blackmailed, or was he a client of some snuff ring? If that was the case, would Jake be in any danger? No answers, just questions. Any other clues?
He retrieved the DVD and examined it. No identifying marks, just a bog standard Re-Write disc that could be bought from any high street store. The bag, though, had Richmond upon Thames Post Office embossed on the back flap under the seal. Narrowed the field to two hundred thousand residents or so. Martin MacBride and the couple could have been neighbours. Interesting concept. Well he had the whole week-end, since Emmy was away. The only factual clue he had was the address. First stop then, Mr. MacBride.
There was a high wall surrounding the grounds and a guard stood by the main gate with an Alsatian growling at his side. The man mountain waved impatiently at Jake as he pedalled up the lane to the gate.
‘Private property, son, didn’t you just see the sign. Now just backtrack up to the main road, or my dog will give you a taste.’
Friendly sort. They liked their privacy undisturbed that was for sure.
‘Look it’s important I see Mr. MacBride,’ he said.
‘Yer man doesn’t live here. Now feck-off.’
‘Tell him it’s about Nicole.’
The man grunted something incomprehensible and called someone on his cell phone. Jake waited.
‘Follow the drive. Any fecking funny business, son, and you’ll be dealing with me, okay?’
Jake nodded, adjusted his helmet, and rode the BMX through the gates and up to the house.
The grey haired man had piercing blue eyes and spoke with a soft Irish accent. ‘We are wary of blow-in strangers, there’re those that’ll steal the shirt from your back and there’s always the troubles.’ He frowned and looked upwards as if remembering darker times. He took Jake by the arm. ‘What’s your name son, and what is it you want from me? My man Gregor tells me you know my daughter… would I be hearing him correct?’
‘Mr. MacBride, I’m Jake, and there’s something you need to see.’ Jake gave him the DVD. ‘The girl in the film is being tortured.’
‘Better we see for ourselves then,’ he said in a quiet voice, as if pain and suffering was a cross to bear. Perhaps it was. He led Jake to a room and pointed to the seats.
‘Take the weight off your legs.’
Jake looked around. Austere, a picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall. Tiled floor supporting a coffee table and a black leather sofa with two matching chairs. TV and DVD player resting on a small wooden cabinet. He chose one of the chairs and stifled his nausea as MacBride started the film.
He played it through twice. Afterwards, he turned to Jake. “Have you told anyone else, or spoken to the police?”
Jake shook his head. ‘Not yet. Nobody else has seen it. I figured you would know what to do.’
The man couldn’t have phrased it better. ‘You’re a good man yourself, but you shouldn’t have got mixed up in this,’ he said. ‘It’s private business.’ He got up and ejected the DVD and put it on the coffee table. ‘Now what are we going to do about you?’
He looked like a vulture about to descend on its prey. Beads of sweat broke out on Jake’s forehead, his breath quickened and he felt even more uneasy when MacBride phoned Gregor.
‘Can you shoot a gun, son?’ asked Martin. Jake nodded slowly. His father, cast from the Hemingway mould, had enrolled him into a West London shooting school when he was a teenager. For a while he could be a James Bond, a Tom Cruise or, even better, a Jason Bourne, but he lost interest when his father died in a shooting accident on the Scottish Moors.
The gun, lying in a cellophane bag on the table and used by Military and Police agencies, was a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm pistol. Next to the gun were the contents of Jake’s pockets and photos of Emmy and the baby. Gregor had been thorough.
Martin put on a paternal look. ‘Thing is Jake, we know who you are. You have a wife and a little baby girl. We know where you live and work.’ He picked up Jake’s ID card. ‘Librarian is a good trade. Shaw’s a forgivable sin. If only he was Catholic he’d be revered. You read any of his work?’
‘What do you want from me?’ Jake’s stomach churned.
‘Retribution. We know who they are. It is time to end it.’
Jake was puzzled. ‘Why not go to the police?’
Martin spat into his hand. ‘The police will not be involved,’ he said. ‘This justice is personal, but I cannot be connected at all.’
Jake’s voice rose. ‘You expect me to shoot two people and rescue Nicole, you’re crazy. It’s impossible. No way.’
Martin pointed out of the window. ‘We have a pig sty in our orchard. It’s not large, but sufficient for our needs. Pigs will eat anything and everything. There will be no trace.’ Jake felt cold sweat running down his spine. Martin continued, ‘Gregor can show you, if you like.’ He sank back into the sofa and waited.
‘Blackmail,’ said Jake, his whole body trembling in anger and fear.
‘That would be about right, my son. Blackmail it is. You know too much. Desperate measures.’
‘And if I do what you want?’
‘You’ll be seeing your daughter growing up.’
‘And if I go to the police?’
Martin scoffed. ‘Come here. What have you got? An untraceable gun, a fairy story. Nicole would die if the police were involved, that’s no blarney. And you can’t hide from us.’ He picked up the gun and offered it.
Jake felt a blackness descend, his nightmare. He took hold of the gun, hoping that Martin would relent, but he didn’t.
‘Bryn and Tora Wilcox live in an old Victorian house along the Kew road. There’s more than enough shrubbery to give you cover. There’s a cellar off the kitchen at the back of the house, they’ll keep Nicole there.’ He gave Jake the address and looked at his watch. ‘It’s past the time you should be making a move, son, while it’s still light… and I mean what I say. If you value your daughter’s life, don’t go bringing the police round here.’
Nicole felt the bump on her head with her bandaged hand. It still hurt. They must have watched the house for days, maybe weeks. It was so stupid of her to walk down the lane alone. Back from night school, she didn’t see who had hit her.
It would have to be the man. No choice really, he was the one who washed her, fed her, and abused her. If she could get him to untie her, she would have a chance. If he wore his hood, his sight would be hampered, and she would use whatever she could grip to disable him. She waited for the sound of his footsteps. It would be soon.
She shivered in the gloom, heard the condensation dripping off the cold stone walls onto the concrete floor. They weren’t going to release her, were they? They wanted revenge. She had to escape somehow.
If she said she’d do it, he’d offer to untie her hand. Gain his confidence, she thought. Don’t rush; one hand at a time. She laughed inwardly at her macabre joke. But it had a malevolent edge. Next time she would encourage him further until she could reach the fork.
She heard him coming down the cellar stairs. Was it food time already? She had lost track of time. He opened the door, moved over to her and put the dinner tray on the bedside table. He whispered. ‘She wants another photo shoot later, Nicole.’
Nicole sobbed, her chest heaving. He watched her breasts.
‘There, there baby, Daddy will take care.’ He sounded concerned.
‘Can I hug you Daddy?’ she replied between sobs. ‘And touch you where you like it.’
‘OK, baby,’ he said, untying her hands and releasing her legs. She saw him unzipping his trousers, pulling down his jockey shorts and exposing himself. She sat up and patted the bed beside her. As he lay down she reached up and grabbed the fork, and with a cry of rage she thrust it deep into his groin, twisting and goring into his flesh.
He screamed and stared at the dark blood pumping from the wound. Femoral artery. Panicking, he tried to stem the flow, but she fought him, jabbing at his hooded eyes with the fork. ‘No please don’t,’ he begged. ‘Don’t hurt me, please Nicole, it wasn’t my idea to…’ At the end he glared disbelievingly at his sodden genitals. Nicole watched him look up at a shadow. Maybe he saw a dark spectre beckoning him to the underworld.
The kitchen door was open. Jake saw the cellar light and heard screams of pain. He gritted his teeth and, holding the gun in front of him, descended the stairs into a bloody hell. The woman was slashing wildly at the girl with a knife. Nicole and Tora. Fresh blood streamed down Nicole’s face. Tora was screaming incoherently as Nicole tried to avoid the blade.
He briefly closed his eyes. Upon opening them again he saw the man lying in a pool of blood on a marble table. No movement, nothing. His eyes were staring into space.
Jake fired a shot into the women’s leg. She staggered and spun around. The knife clattered to the floor.
‘Get away from her,’ he shouted, the adrenalin kicking in hard. ‘Now, or you’re dead.’
She dropped to her knees as Jake took careful aim. His finger tightened on the trigger.
Retribution, it is time to end it.
The women held up an arm. ‘Wait,’ she pleaded. Her eyes filled with tears as she begged for mercy. The words gabbled out. ‘You don’t understand. She - killed - our - baby. Our little girl, Josephine. No-one believed us, especially not her precious Father.’ She reached out to touch the dead man’s leg. ‘Now she has murdered my husband. Both gone. I have no-one. No-one.’ The dam broke. All the pent up pain. She wrapped her arms around herself, rocking and weeping.
Jake hesitated and looked questioningly at the young girl staring in wide eyed shock. ‘Babysitting,’ she mumbled in a mono tone. ‘First time. I didn’t know what to do.’ Anguish showed on her face. ‘The baby wouldn’t stop bawling. I couldn’t hear the TV. The pillow, it was so peaceful, like a dream.’ She started to move away from the gun. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt her, only send her to sleep, it was an acc…’ Her voice trailed off as he took aim. Jake pulled the trigger.
Jake pedalled along the road, not believing what he had done.
It was horrendous. He cycled past a graveyard, the headstones grey and menacing. He looked up and focused on the name plate. St Nicholas. This was it. Sanctuary. No-one could touch him there. The church door beckoned and he found it was unlocked. He went inside. The priest was on his knees. Jake moved up close. ‘Father,’ he mumbled.
‘…Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.’ The priest finished his prayer and got to his feet. The blue eyes pierced into Jake’s soul. ‘You’ll be wanting confession then,’ said Reverend Martin MacBride.