The sound of running feet in the yard roused Jill from her musings. Tom appeared, panting in the doorway of the outbuilding.
“Come quick,” he was gasping for breath. “You have to see this.”
Without waiting for her reply, he turned and ran back into the house. Jill leapt up from the straw and followed. When she got inside, he was standing in the hall and looking in the sitting room. She heard the droning television and followed his gaze to the news programme playing.
“Oh, God,” she gripped Tom’s arm to steady herself, as the image of her son filled the screen.
“Where did they get the photograph?” He looked at her in wonder.
Jill was unable to answer; her eyes were drawn to Toby’s sparkling eyes and cheeky grin.
“Oh God,” she groaned again and brought a hand up to still her cries.
How could anyone hurt someone as small and helpless as her son? The ringing of the phone startled them, and though she was nearest it, Tom pushed past her to answer. The image of her son faded and was replaced with another report, but still her eyes remained glued to the set.
“That was Paul,” Tom said. “The village is being overrun with new crews and reporters. He said it will be only a matter of time until they come out here. We have to leave at once.”
“Okay,” she switched off the TV set.
She was still wearing her coat, so all she needed was to pick up her phone and the bag she packed for Toby.
It was just a little after noon, but the grey, snow swollen clouds cast their shadows over the land and made it seem later in the day. The interior of Tom’s car was freezing, as she slipped the seatbelt across her body, and the buckle felt like ice against her fingers.
“It shouldn’t take long to warm up,” Tom turned the dial for the car’s heater up as high as it would go.
Jill nodded and clutched the bag closer to her chest. She realised, as they drove out of the yard, she had forgotten to lock the dogs in, but she knew they would be all right, as Bess would guard her pups with her life. She does a better job than I ever did, Jill thought and swallowed hard, trying to dissolve the lump that formed in her throat.
“There’s no sign of anyone,” Tom sighed with relief when they drove out to the main road.
He knew how close to breaking Jill was, and the last thing she needed was some reporter pushing a microphone in her face and asking how she was feeling. Paul suggested a place they should park the car and wait for his call. It was a remote spot well away from the village, where they would be safe from prying eyes.
“Why are we stopping here?” Jill asked, as he pulled into an indent made by a passing tractor.
“Paul suggested this would be as good a place as any to wait.” He could see the man’s reasoning now.
From the condition of the road, tufts of grass grew down the centre, he realised there would be little traffic. The trees, stripped naked by the winter wind, lined both sides of the road and reached across to form an arch that would in summertime be a sight to behold.
“We might as well try to relax,” Tom knew the suggestion was ludicrous, as Jill sat beside him like a tightly coiled spring. “It could be hours yet before we hear from Paul.”
“You don’t think he would betray us?” Her eyes were filled with fear when she looked at him.
“Betray us, what do you mean?”
“Well, he is a detective. Perhaps he’ll chicken out and go to his superiors after all?”
“No, he won’t do that,” Tom said. “I think he sees this as his last chance to redeem himself. I know how deeply it affected him, not finding the missing children, I mean. He’ll not lose this opportunity.”
“God, I hope not,” Jill nestled deeper into the seat.
They were both exhausted from worry and lack of sleep and the warm air from the car’s heater was soothing.
The wind was icy, and l felt it cut through the heavy wool of my coat the moment I stepped outside the door. For the first time, there was a traffic jam in the main street of the village as the vans and trucks of the news crews vied for parking spaces. Crowds thronged towards the school as the villagers made frantic attempts to gain their five minutes of fame. I hope the boy’s all right. He was alone longer than any of the others and the small heater we left for him will offer little warmth. The cellar is cold even in summer, but that’s never been a bother to us as we work up quite a sweat during out time there. Do you still hate me? I imagine you do, and I do not blame you in the least, but I cannot help wondering if you have found any redeeming feature in my character? I sometimes think about you and the others like you who will read this long after I cease to be. In the beginning, I got quite a thrill imagining your horror, but now, I admit feeling a sort of sadness at what you endured. It’s not easy taking a trip through the mind of a Paedophile. Perhaps the police in their wisdom won’t release the diary and it’ll be read only by those in authority. Well, if that’s the case I bid you a cheery hello from a soul in hell.
I’ve arrived at the cottage in case you’re wondering and I’m writing this final entry on a notepad. Did you think I was stupid enough to bring the diary with me? That would’ve spoiled my plan and I couldn’t risk Christy or Freddy finding it and destroying it. I’ll not go inside until the others arrive, so I’ve nothing else to do but write. The drive up here was uneventful and while the landscape in this part of the country is sparse and depressing, it didn’t bother me too much. Ah, the headlight of an approaching car. The show is about to start. I’ll leave the notepad in the glove compartment as I’m sure someone will find it. Would it be too much to ask you to offer a prayer for my soul? Ha, I thought so. Well goodbye, stay safe, but remember we’re all around you. When one monster dies, there’s always another waiting to take its place.
Jill jumped up in her seat as the ringing of the mobile phone resounded in the quiet of the car. The warmth of the car’s heater had lulled her to sleep and she was forced to wipe her eyes to see the number calling.
“Hello,” she listened for a few moments to the voice on the other end, then. “Yes, I know the road. We’ll leave right away.”
Tom, who also dozed off, was now alert and anxious to hear what Paul had said.
“He’s on the move,” Jill said, “He left the village a few minutes ago. Paul said he passed close by here.”
Tom wiped the condensation from the fogged-up windows before steering the car out on the road. As they drove Jill gave him directions and soon, they saw the familiar number plate of Paul’s car ahead of them. He warned that they should stay well back, so as not to arouse the man’s suspicion, but Jill’s stomach was in knots worrying they would lose sight of him.
The first hour passed quickly as they drove through towns and villages, but soon the landscape became more barren and desolate. Not realising the chase would take so long, Tom had not topped up with petrol and they were forced to stop at a filling station.
“I have about a hundred kilometres left in the tank,” he informed an anxious Jill when she begged him not to stop. “But we don’t know how far he is going, and this might be the last chance we get, if the landscape is anything to go by.”
It seemed to take forever for the petrol to flow from the ancient pumps and she watched the gauge as it slowly counted the amount. Christ, she wanted to scream at Tom, just leave it will you? But she knew she was being unreasonable, and they would need fuel to find her son. While Tom went inside the shack that served as a shop and pay station, she phoned Paul and told him what happened.
“No problem,” he said. “I’m right behind him.”
When Tom came back from paying, she gave him the instructions she had got from Paul. He handed her an energy drink he’d bought.
“This will keep us going,” he said, unscrewing the cap and drinking half the bottle.
Jill looked at him in amazement.
“Will you just drive? she screamed at him.
“All right, take it easy.” He stashed the bottle in the side pocket of the door and pulled on his safety belt.
“Jesus, anyone would think we’d got all day the way you’re acting.” She twisted the bottle between her hands.
“Paul is right behind him,” Tom muttered, as he steered the car out of the forecourt.
“Yeah, but we’re not, are we?” She gritted her teeth.
“Ok, ok, take it easy.”
“If you tell me to take it easy one more time,” she warned. “I swear I’ll hit you.”
He thought it wiser not to reply and instead concentrated on the road, that was becoming narrower and more winding. He understood her frustration and knew she was worried to distraction.
It was now a little after four o clock and darkness was setting in. He avoided, at Paul’s suggestion, turning on the car headlights, but soon he’d have no choice. Twice he swerved to avoid the scuttling shape of some small animal crossing the road, and he couldn’t take the chance on hitting something.
“What are you doing?” Jill asked when he turned the lights on low beam.
“I can’t see the road properly,” he explained.
“Paul said you were to leave them off.”
“No, he said to leave them off for as long as possible,” Tom said. “It’s too dark now and I’m afraid of hitting something.”
“Christ,” she exclaimed, before turning away and muttering to herself.
He tried to ignore her ranting, but it was difficult, especially when she called him a blind fucker.
Like Jill, he was aware why Paul instructed them not to put the light on. In a remote area such as this, headlights would be seen for miles. Still, Tom reasoned, there was no sight of Paul’s car and he would have had to turn his lights on by now. As though reading his mind, Jill asked, “can you see anything?”
He knew she was thinking the same thing as he was. They should have been in sight of one of the cars by now. In the last half an hour, nothing passed them on the road. The barren, rock-infested fields spread out for miles on either side of them, and there were no welcoming house lights to break the darkness. They had left civilisation behind and were descending deeper and deeper into the countryside.
“Ring Paul,” Tom said.
Jill pressed his number into the phone, but instead of a ring tone, there was a long silence followed by a message saying the customer could not be reached.
“What does that mean? She told Tom what the disembodied voice had said.
“Shit,” he took the phone and stared at the screen. “We have no coverage here. We’re too far away from a mast.”
“Oh, no.” The tears that were threatening overflowed.
It was a heartrending sound and before Tom could reach across to offer a comforting hand, the car headlight fell on something in the distance.
“Jill, look, a village,” he said. “We can stop there and find a land line.”
Jill wiped her eyes and looked at the buildings in the distance. The rising fog made it difficult to see, but the outlines looked like small cottages. She managed a watery smile of relief at Tom.
“We’ll soon be back in contact with Paul,” he returned her smile and breathed a sigh of relief, as they moved closer to the village in the fog.