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Authors: Richard Parker

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BOOK: Scare Me
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He worked his way back through the row to the opposite end, but none of them were active. What purpose did it have? Why not make demands via phone or text?
Tam had nearly finished deliveries for the day and leaned against the back of the stationary tuk-tuk to finish his cigarette. The motor of the three-wheel taxi had been switched off so he knew he was safe from the sudden belches of oily smoke it occasionally emitted from its exhaust. He sucked the last harsh lungful through the filter and crushed the cigarette under his sandal.
He'd climbed out of the sidecar because his buttocks had gone to sleep for the fourth time that afternoon. He jogged on the spot a few times to get the blood flowing back into them and then rubbed his palm over the sheen of sweat on his shaved scalp. He'd spent Saturday as he usually did, straddling the unsecured wooden bench in the cage welded to the bike. It slid about as they took every corner.
In the morning the cage was full of cooking oil drums, but he'd just helped roll the last one into the corrugated kitchen of one of the many street vendors they delivered to in time for the Sungai Dua night market. Tam looked down the length of the baking main road. It was still deserted, but by 7pm in the evening both sides of it would be full of stalls selling DVDs, handbags and food to a centipede of the rich and hungry.
He examined the black index fingernail of his right hand. A barrel of oil had rolled backwards from a ramp and crushed it last week and although he'd already pricked the pus out of it the nail still refused to fall off. He sucked on it in an attempt to get the blood flowing there as well.
Then he heard the girl scream. Tam slid his finger from his mouth and leaned round the tuk-tuk to see if there was any commotion further down the street. The market area was empty. There was an older white couple, tall and wide, walking arm in arm. No other tourists here yet.
Tam returned to his position between the two vehicles parked outside the Eastern Wish. He gripped the bars of the sidecar and leaned against it, tensing his numb buttocks tight in his shorts. It wasn't a long journey home, but long enough.
The scream came again and this time Tam froze to listen. It hadn't come from the street. He looked to the cafe where they'd just delivered. Beads still swung in the doorway where his father had entered and he could hear the sound of a low conversation. He was positive it hadn't come from through there though. The girl's voice had seemed small, like the echo of someone far away.
His eyes rose to the storeys above. The noise of duelling TVs emerged from open windows. Was that what he'd heard? His gaze descended to pavement level. There was a grille set into the bottom of the chipped, mushroom-coloured wall. He held his breath and listened.
He turned to find his father already cocking his leg over the bike. He immediately jumped back into the sidecar and seated himself on the bench. He knew better than to delay him. Grasping the bars of the cage he braced himself for the ride home to their estate on the edge of Taman Lip Sin. At least in the morning the oil drums stopped him from being thrown around. He was about to get gut ache from straining to stay upright. He looked back at the grill in the wall, but the sound of the bike's engine being stamped to life would have drowned out any further sounds that came from it, if that's where they'd come from.
He thought about telling his father about what he'd heard. But Tam had already been scolded for his imagination. His nightmares woke his parents on a regular basis. Why would anyone believe the word of a six-year-old? The bike pulled away and then turned in the middle of the street. Tam's eyes followed the grille until it disappeared behind the stationary taxi.
Will kept the laptop switched on and started to fill up on black coffee. Adrenaline had briefly waned and his body felt suddenly exhausted. Anxiety buffeted his empty stomach. He got up from his seat, walked around, sat back down and repeated the cycle.
It was when he refreshed the page for the umpteenth time that a photo appeared.
Above the row of houses was an image of Libby naked. A graphic representation of what was happening to her while he was thousands of feet in the air. She wasn't bound, but was obviously drugged. She was lying across a dirty blue mattress, utterly insensible, her eyes rolled back in her head and her lips sticky with soured spittle.
He gripped the laptop screen by its corners; like it was a steering wheel and everything would crash if he didn't hold it steady. There were words below the picture. Even as he tried to read them his brain echoed the detail of what was just above his line of sight – Libby's modesty dismissed and her physical self callously displayed. It was worse than the photo of her bound.
Will moved his cursor to the left of the screen and the row moved until he was looking at the first cut out. It was the facade of a grandiose, mock colonial property with arched fanlights above the windows and doors. The front entrance was a mosaic of glass. Above it was another message.
Will briefly hovered the cursor over the second house, but no red outline appeared. He put it over the first again. Not only did it light up red, but a white box appeared with an address inside it.
1815 North Vine Street,
Highway 193,
He clicked on the activated house and another page of snapshots opened like the ones that had been taken in Easton Grey. There were interior pictures of its downstairs living areas, fitness room, covered lanai and vast island kitchen. But there was one repellent difference; in the middle photo of the lounge the family were seated along a couch. Mother, father, sister and brother; Will couldn't see their faces. The palms of their hands had been attached to them by black tape.
They looked like a grotesque parody of the wise monkeys. Dried blood darkened their skin and their intestines hung jagged from their bellies, flesh hacked and splayed open. He registered coloured beads at the father's wrist.
As caffeine and bile pumped up his throat, a removed voice told him he should prepare never to see Libby again.
Nissa walked into Will's office with the deadpan features of someone who believed they were quite alone. “Jesus!”
Carla rose from her position in front of the computer. “I'm sorry.” Carla had felt so isolated since she'd got to the eighth floor, but now having to present an exterior of normality for someone else was the last thing she wanted to do. “I didn't mean to startle you.” She didn't elaborate further and realised it made her look as if she didn't have any business there. She'd been away for so long it was probably odd finding her at Will's desk, particularly so early in the morning. She hovered between standing up and sitting down.
Nissa studied Carla through her slim, rimless glasses, the edge of a concerned frown dipping into the magnification. “Is everything all right?” Her Northern Irish inflection made it sound as if she wouldn't believe her even if she said it was.
Carla opened her mouth to reassure her, but the words stalled. Momentum built behind them, the anxiety inside about to burst from her. She had to confide in someone. “Fine.”
Nissa cocked her head to one side; her jagged fringe of wheat blonde hair covering one half of her face. “I thought you and Will were off to…” She stopped herself suddenly.
Had Will planned a surprise anniversary getaway for the three of them? If he had, Nissa would have made all the arrangements. “Change of plan; I need to work. Water Aid Alliance has officially annexed my love life.” She surprised herself with the speed of the lie.
It briefly disarmed Nissa, however, and a smirk broke through the bewilderment on her face. She was Will's long term PA and was meant to know his itinerary inside out. Will had told Carla she was manning the telephones for the Remada op while he was away, but Carla knew her unexpected presence would be an affront to her. Will's office was Nissa's domain.
Nissa was five foot eight, but still wore precipitous heels that necessitated her ducking through most doorways. She was slim, intense and almost anaemically pale. She was also a decade younger than Carla. Her only concession to cosmetics was the carmine lipstick she wore which drained the last of the colour from her complexion. She'd worked for Will at home and abroad.
“Thought I'd get an early start. We're having security cameras fitted at home and it's a nightmare trying to work there.”
“So Will is…”
“At home, supervising. He got the short straw.”
Nissa nodded uncertainly, but picked up on Carla's desire to have the conversation over with. “Fresh coffee?”
“No thanks.” Although caffeine sounded like a good idea she hadn't been able to swallow one mouthful of the cup she'd made herself earlier.
“Just give me a shout if you need anything, Mrs Frost.” Nissa made for the door.
Carla had given up on trying to get Nissa to address her by her first name like she did Will. She assumed it was Nissa's way of distinguishing their different roles. “Wait.” A thought occurred to her. “I may need you to pull some files for me.”
Another thought. “And can you arrange to have the dogs picked up from the house and taken to the kennels in Hounslow.”
Nissa frowned.
“I'll give you the number.”
“I have that…But can't Will…”
Of course, she'd just said that Will was at home. “No. Will has to make a trip. He'll be leaving soon.” Carla watched Nissa trying to slot the misinformation together in her head. She'd also told her that Will was supervising the installation of the security cameras.
“Sorry, Mrs Frost… I don't mean to ruin any surprises, but is Will not taking you and Libby to Cawley Manor?”
So, a surprise trip had been planned. “No. He has had to make an alternative business trip.”
Nissa seemed mortified to have been left out of the loop. “Business?”
“Urgent family business.”
Tam couldn't sleep. He listened to the circulation in his ear scratching at the pillow. Across the narrow passage between his room and the kitchen he could hear his mother and father at the sink and the muffled impacts of plates and cutlery as they put them away.
Nine storeys below nighttime kick-started like his father's bike. Taxi motors buzzed, horns beeped and he could hear the low murmur of adults and occasional words he recognised bubbling up like his mother talking in her sleep. There were yells and screams, but none of them sounded anything like what he'd heard today at the grille. These were mixed with laughter and chatter – voices that were supposed to be heard.
If he didn't get to sleep in the next hour he knew he'd be lying awake listening for Songsuda. He hadn't seen his older sister since his fifth birthday. It had been almost a year ago. His mother and father had told him she'd gone to live with his aunt and uncle in Kampung Keladi. He'd seen her once after when he was making deliveries with his father. Tam had pointed her out to him. She'd stood under an umbrella with a man he didn't recognise, but he knew it was his sister. His father had scarcely glanced in her direction, told Tam he was mistaken and ridden on.
On the night of his fifth birthday she'd come to visit with a present for him. She'd looked strange, suddenly older. His father had dragged her out of the block and he'd heard her screaming to be let back in. She'd returned the following evening, but he hadn't even been allowed to go to the window to see her. He remembered how they'd all sat in the kitchen like statues and the way his mother blinked every time Songsuda screamed up at the window. That night his father had said she'd been given enough chances, told Tam she was lazy and didn't want to work honestly.
Tam remembered when she'd worked at their father's hotplate in the night market in Batu Ferringhi. He used to sit at her feet, watching her painted toenails, while she chatted and served the customers with his mother and father. Yum pla dook foo and moo satay for 25 baht each. He made himself sick on Catfish, red pork and dragon hair sweets.
He missed being at the market. He hoped if his father decided to let Songsuda in they could go back to the way it used to be. He knew it wouldn't happen. He dreamt of her out there and had as many nightmares about what had happened to her. His father had pointed out the bad, nighttime men as they drove round. Those were the men that cast a net over Songsuda when he closed his eyes.
BOOK: Scare Me
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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