At first sight – Part 7

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon behind. Her abusive former partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon flies to Melbourne and learns that Vikki has disappeared. The police are dismissive, but Dan hacks computer records and discovers Guy’s whereabouts.

At first sight - camper van 170708

“Are you nearly finished with that – what did you call it? – that witness statement? Because we’re about five minutes away from the campsite.”

Jon pressed ‘Send’ on his tablet.

“All done. Can we pull off for a minute, to work out what we’re going to do?”

There was a halt half a mile ahead, and Dan pulled in.

“I’m worried that confronting Guy may cause him to harm Vikki. The last thing we want is for him to use Vikki as a hostage,” said Jon.

“Yeah. What do you suggest?”

“Do you know the registration number of his camper van?”

“C-A-M-P-3-7. He shouldn’t be difficult to spot in any case. It’s the low season. There won’t be many campers.”

“I guess we go in and see if the van’s there, and see whether he comes out?”

“I can’t think of anything better. I’ll park just inside the entrance. We might need to block his way out.”

Jon touched his nose gently; it was still slightly swollen and sore. “He’s quite a handy brawler. Better than me. What are you like?”

“I reckon the two of us can take him, don’t you?”

“I think so. Only be careful; he fights dirty”

Dan nodded, and put the car into gear.

“Got you.”

The campsite was two miles down the road. As they pulled into the entrance, a man came over.

“You got a booking?”

“No. You got any vacancies?”

“No. Cabins are all shut for the winter. Unless you got a tent in the boot?”

“Yeah, that’s it”

“How many nights?”

“Just the one.”

“That’ll be twenty-five”.

Dan pulled the notes out of his wallet.

“You can pitch up through there, straight ahead, ‘bout three hundred yards.”

“You got somewhere we can freshen up before we settle in?”

The man jerked his thumb in the direction of the wash-house, a low, block-built structure.

“Happy camping, fellers”. He disappeared behind the building.

Dan pointed. A camper van stood barely one hundred yards away facing the exit.

“I guess this is it.” Dan leaned across and removed the automatic from the glovebox.

At first sight - baseball bat 170708

They had barely started moving towards the van when Guy emerged from the wash-house. He glanced casually in their direction, and his eyes opened wide. He sprinted towards the camper van, pulling keys out of his pocket as he ran.

“Block him with the car, Dan!”

Jon raced after Guy. He hoped Guy would fumble the keys in the door, but he didn’t. As Jon arrived, Guy was sliding the keys into the ignition. The van’s engine roared. Jon grabbed the door handle but he was too late. The van shot forward, dragging him off his feet. He let go, toppled sideways, and rolled on the ground, winded.

There was a crash and the van lurched sideways as Dan rammed it with his car. The van’s wheel caught Jon on the head, stunning him. He fought to stay conscious, forced his eyes to stay open, saw Guy leap from the camper van swinging a baseball bat. Jon saw the blow coming, tried desperately to dodge, heard a sharp crack, and then an overwhelming pain that plunged him into blackness.

Dan rushed around the van and saw Guy lying, a large red stain spreading through his shirt, a pool of blood on the floor. Beside him lay Jon, face white, still as death, a bloody dent in his skull. Dan pulled out his mobile phone, called for an ambulance and the police. Then he  removed the keys from the ignition, and ran to the back of the van. His chest was hurting where he’d hit the steering wheel in the crash.

He flung open the doors. Vikki, bound and gagged, lay on the floor of the van, struggling to breathe. Swiftly, Dan tore the tape off her mouth, and she took great gulps of fresh air. He pulled out his knife and cut her bonds. Sobbing, Vikki clutched him.

“Oh, Dan, thank goodness you’ve come. I knew you’d find me.”

“Jon’s outside,” he said, grimly. “Badly hurt, I’m afraid. Ambulance is on its way.” Blood welled up into his mouth. He turned and spat it out of the back door.

“Dan, you’re hurt!”

“Hit the steering wheel when I rammed the van. No airbags in my old wreck. Cracked rib or two, I reckon.” He brought up some more blood. “Sorry,” he said, and toppled forward.

Vikki screamed.

“Help! Get an ambulance! Somebody help!”

She scrambled to her feet, pushed past Dan’s unconscious form and jumped clear of the van. The campsite owner was some twenty yards away, too frightened to approach closer.

“Please,” called Vikki, “they’re all out cold. Please help me.”

“This one first,” panted Vikki, leading him to Dan, who was choking. Bloody froth streaked his chin. “Help me get him into the recovery position.”

Together they lifted him out of the van, and laid him on his side. A trickle of blood ran out of his mouth. He groaned, but breathed more easily.

They moved around to Jon. He lay perfectly still and silent, the blood from his head wound already coagulating. Vikki let out a howl of despair. “No!”

She knelt down and leaned over him, feeling for the pulse in his neck. It was faint, but regular. She clutched his hand.

“Stay with me, Jon. Stay with me!”

There were flashing blue lights, and sirens. Vikki hardly noticed, until a policewoman laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Come on, madam. You’re obstructing the paramedics. Let them look after the casualty. Come with me now.” Gently, talking, cajoling, guiding, she led Vikki away from Jon.

The senior paramedic shook his head at the severity of the injuries, even as he busied himself with the task of stabilising the patient’s condition.

“Can you spare a minute to look at this feller? He looks bad.”

Dan was wheezing, and his legs were jerking.

“Get him on oxygen right away. He’s got a perforated lung. Let’s get him into the wagon; we might need to insert a drain.”

Police had cordoned off the scene. Guy lay still, his corpse already cooling, while the pathologist did her job. Not that there was any doubt about the cause of death; a bullet through the heart is unambiguous.

Dan and Jon were loaded into the ambulance, which set off, sirens blaring, for the hospital.

“Please, can I go with them?” Vikki begged.

“We’ll take you in a few minutes. The officer in charge needs to talk to you first. Both your friends will be getting the best possible care.” The policewoman handed Vikki some tissues. “Here. Dry your eyes. Everything will be okay, I’m sure.”

 

 

Friday Fictioneers – Change of Fortune

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields sets a microfiction challenge every week. You can find this week’s photoprompt on her page here https://rochellewisoff.com/

PHOTO PROMPT © Claire Sheldon

Trevor dangled another paperclip from the magnet and cuddled his lucky toy penguin. He always lost those he loved. He felt sad about his mum, who’d died in childbirth; angry towards his dad, who’d raped his mum and disappeared; but he felt loss more keenly than either.

He’d passed through the hands of a succession of foster parents; he’d never been adopted. Now his girlfriend, Liz, had told him he’d have to move to Australia if they were to stay together.

He threw the penguin into the bin, looked at the computer screen, and bought the one-way ticket to Sydney.

In the moment – power to choose

Let me start this week’s post with a “Health warning”; it’s not written for those suffering from clinical depression.

There are some effective therapies for clinical depression. If you suffer from persistent, long-term unhappiness, please seek medical advice.

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What are you feeling at this precise moment?

Stop reading, and feel.

Okay.

Are you feeling happy? Sad? Bored (oh, I do hope not!)? Frustrated?

If you have a negative feeling, ask yourself the question, “Do I want to feel like this?”

Don’t misunderstand me. Feeling negative is okay – when there’s something to feel negative about. But we often persist in negative feelings for much longer than we need to, and this can become a bad habit.

What we feel is, to a certain extent, our own choice. We can choose to feel happy rather than dismal. We can choose to feel tranquil rather than worried.

When you recognise that you have a negative feeling, the first thing to do is to relax physically. Take a few deep breaths and let your tense muscles relax on each exhalation. Let your shoulders drop. See how the simple act of relaxing has made you feel better?

Now that you’ve relaxed, ask yourself why you have a negative feeling.

Often there is a specific reason. For example, perhaps somebody has been thoughtless and rude, leaving you feeling angry. Or you had a row at breakfast with a family member, and you’re feeling fed up.

If you can identify the reason for the feeling, ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do about it. Doing something positive helps deal with the negative feeling. Can you forgive the person who was rude, for example? You’ll feel much better if you do. Can you, perhaps, plan a shared treat with the family member with whom you had a row?

Sometimes there’s no obvious reason for a negative feeling. That’s okay. It’s not a problem.

Whether or not you know the cause of the negative feeling, the next thing to do is to accept it. Don’t try to push it away, imagining you’re strong and can overcome it. There is no shame in having negative feelings. It is emphatically not a sign of weakness. Accept it; recognise it; it’s your feeling, and you own it.

But do you want to go on experiencing it? No. And you don’t need to. You’ve recognised and accepted it, and that gives you the power to make a choice. You can choose to feel positive. So you might choose to replace frustration during a difficult day with acceptance that some days are like that – and in any case the evening will be pleasant. Or you might choose to replace anger with forgiveness – and, hey, let’s get on with the day!

Then relax again. A few deep breaths. Drop the shoulders. Let the muscles of your back relax. Let the new, positive feeling have space. And then move on, in a happier state of mind.

Have a good week!

At first sight – Part 6

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon in London. Her former abusive partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon must move fast. He has scraped together the air fare and flown to Melbourne. Dan meets him at the airport and tells him Vikki has disappeared…

At first sight - Great Ocean Road 170701

“Missing!”

“Yeah. She set off to the bakery this morning early and never came home. Here, do you need to sit down? You don’t look too good.”

Jon shook his head.

“Did she leave a note?” he asked

Dan took the handle of Jon’s luggage.

“Here, let me. Car’s this way.” He gestured. “Note? No, she didn’t. Margaret – that’s her mum – told me to bring you straight to the house.”

“You’ve told the police?”

“Yeah. They can’t list someone as missing until they’ve been gone twenty-four hours.”

“Where might she have gone? You know her well, don’t you?”

“The only place I would expect her to go would be home. I’ve never known her go walkabout, and I’ve known her since we were both little kids.”

Dan dropped the luggage into the boot of the car.

They sat in silence as he drove, slickly, as though he thought of himself as a racing driver.

“Here we are.”

A short woman, with dark, curly hair, burst out of the front door, and ran down the path. She was at the yard gate even before Dan had applied the handbrake.

“You must be Jon!” She grabbed him, as he climbed out of the car and hugged him fiercely. “I’m so glad you’re here. Did Dan tell you about…?” She looked up at him.

“About Vikki going missing? Yes.”

“Come in, come in! I’ll make you a cup of tea – that’s what you English drink, isn’t it? Dan, be a love and bring his case would you? No, Jon, you’re staying with us. I insist.” Her voice was unemphatic but decisive.

“I’ve been through Vikki’s stuff with a comb,” she announced, as they sat in the kitchen, Margaret at one end of the long table, Dan and Jon on her right and left. “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest she was going to run off. All her clothes are there.” Her voice quavered; her lip trembled. Dan put his arm round her shoulders.

“Keep your spirits up, Ma,” he said quietly. “We’ll get this sorted.”

“Did she tell either of you about the man she used to be with?” asked Jon

“You mean Guy? Yes, she did.” Margaret’s face became pinched and hard.

Jon moistened his lips.

“Did she tell you that he had taken a flight for Melbourne? He would have been here a few days ago.”

Dan and Margaret glanced at each other.

“She didn’t tell me. Did she tell you, Dan?” Dan shook his head. “How do you know, Jon?”

“The police told me. I was burgled and they thought it might have had something to do with Guy. When they checked, they found he had flown to Melbourne. I wrote and told Vikki.”

“If that bastard does anything to Vikki, I’ll kill him.” The words were a shocking contrast to the quiet voice in which they were uttered. Both Jon and Margaret stared at Dan.

“Now, Dan, there’s no need for threats. Our job is to get my girl back.” Margaret put an arm around both young men.

“Jon. You say the English police are investigating Guy? That gives us enough to go back to the police here and insist they take Vikki’s disappearance seriously. Will you two boys do that for me?”

At the station, the desk sergeant was anodyne.

“Do you fellows know how many people officially go missing in Australia every year? Thirty-eight thousand. That’s more than one every fifteen minutes, every day of the year.”

Jon leaned forwards.

“Look, sergeant. One,” he raised a finger, “Vikki has been the subject of threats from a man in the UK. Two,” he raised a second finger, “He has a record of violence. Three, he made it plain he was determined to obtain her address in Australia. Four, he’s flown to Melbourne, and five, Vikki’s disappeared. How much more do you need? With every moment that passes it will be more difficult to trace and catch him, and rescue her.”

“We’ve heard nothing from the English police. If she’s still missing tomorrow morning, you know what to do.”

As they trailed home, a fine rain started. The droplets made halos around the streetlights. Jon walked with his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

Dan strode freely.

“Looks like we’ll have to go unofficial then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Better you don’t know the detail. Like I said, unofficial. Do you know Guy’s surname, and roughly where he lives?”

“He’s Guy Northcott. I think Vikki said he had a house in Luton.”

“Okay. Might be enough. You see, if I were going to kidnap someone and I didn’t live here, I’d rent a camper van. We might find him that way.”

Dan stopped, and Jon realised that they were back in front of the house where Vikki lived.

“I’ll be round in the morning, about eight,” said Dan. “We’ll go and see if we can stir up some action from the police.” He drove away. His car was dirty, and one of the rear lights had failed, Jon noticed.

Margaret welcomed him warmly, fed him, chatted to him about Vikki, but it was a melancholy evening. She was troubled at what Dan might be planning.

“He’s very fond of Vikki, Jon. He always was, even when he was an age when boys don’t like girls. I’d always thought Vikki would probably marry him. So did he, I think. This is hitting him very hard. I’ve never heard him threaten anybody like that. I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Jon excused himself early, and went to the bedroom Margaret had prepared for him. It wasn’t large. There was a single bed and a bookcase filled with novels, all well-worn. He sat on the bed and phoned home.

“I’ll see if I can help,” offered his father. “I have one or two senior contacts in the police. They might be able to encourage liaison with the Australian force. Call me in eleven hours and I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that. I’ll put a reminder in my mobile.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you would. Okay. Chin up, Jonathan. Chances are that everything will work out. Till this evening, then.”

Dad always knew someone. And never knew how people felt inside. “Irritating old bastard,” Jon said to himself.

Despite the fatigue of the journey, and the comfortable bedroom he slept badly.

Dan was early next morning, and Jon was still on the phone to his father.

“So I need to email Bedfordshire police, and complete a witness statement for them, and then they will contact Melbourne with a formal request for help with tracking Guy?”

“That’s it. I should give the locals twenty-four hours after you submit the witness statement before you contact them.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Dan greeted him with a wolfish grin. “Maybe we won’t need the jacks after all. I found something last night. Come on; I’ll tell you about it in the car.”

“Hang on while I grab my tablet. I can do the witness statement on that while we drive. Are we going far?”

“Couple hundred miles maybe.”

“We’d better tell Margaret.”

“All done, mate, while you were chatting to your dad.”

And even as he spoke, Margaret entered the room with a large bag.

“Breakfast, lunch and probably dinner too if you’ve not been able to stop.”

She hugged them, first Dan, then Jon. As she held Jon close she whispered, “Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.”

Dan had been driving for about ten minutes, and Jon had been typing on his tablet. He pressed send.

“Okay. I have to wait for a reply before I can do anything more. So. What did you find out last night, and where are we going?”

“Guy Northcott rented a camper van in Melbourne. He picked it up two days ago. Last night he was booked into a site about a hundred miles up the Great Ocean Road. And that’s where we’re going.”

He paused, and added, “We’re going ready for trouble. Look in the glove pocket, but don’t touch anything.”

At first sight - pistol 170701

Jon opened the glove pocket. Lying on an oily cloth was an automatic pistol. It had a long barrel, and a large magazine. It looked, to Jon’s inexperienced eye, to be very deadly.

“Is that legal?”

Dan laughed.

“No, of course not. Do you have a problem with that? Because if you do, now’s the time to say so. I’ll drop you off, and you can take a taxi back to Margaret. I’m sure she’d understand.” His scorn was obvious.

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The two of them drove on in silence.

 

 

Friday Fictioneers – The Old Way

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The wall had protected the town for centuries. Each arched stone entrance had been defended by strong oak gates, a heavy iron portcullis and a dozen warriors. Towards those outside the city, the king and his council were implacable. Towards those inside they were placatory, rewarding their cronies with favours.

Now the ancient wall is almost lost among younger dwellings, and the king’s council has been devoured by local bureaucracy. But some things haven’t changed. The electrical cables to the mayor’s house should be protected by conduits. Instead, they are slowly fraying against his shutters.