Read 31 Days of Autumn Online

Authors: C.J. Fallowfield

31 Days of Autumn (29 page)

‘Yes,’ I whispered, barely able to hear my own
reply.

‘We’ll convene when I’m satisfied I’ve got
everything I can from the tape and see where we’re at. I need to know now
though, who do you trust to handle this if we find them? The police, the
military if they’ll want to protect their tech, or a team handpicked by me?’

‘You could get a team together?’ I asked,
trying desperately not to see the visual of Oliver and Ellie again in my mind
until I’d pulled myself together.

‘One hell of a team,’ he nodded. ‘There’s not
one of James's or Jenny’s old squadron that won’t lay down their life to get
them back, including me and Chris. Never leave a man behind.’

‘I can’t ask that of them, of you. Look at
where James and Jenny are now?’

‘We all know the risks when we take on private
security work. I promise you, no other team will be as invested in their safe
return, because we have something that the police and military don’t.’

‘What’s that?’ I asked, flexing my hands to try
and get them to stop shaking.

‘We give more than a shit about those people.
They’re not just statistics to meet crime targets, projects or defence budgets
about to implode. They’re our friends, they’re our
family
, Sir,’ Andy
stated with conviction, straightening up and pushing his shoulders back.

‘Well said, Andy,’ clapped Lucas. I looked over
at him and he nodded. ‘He’s right, no one else is going to care as much about
getting them back safely.’ I slowly stood up, determined that I wasn’t going to
be a waste of space in this combined effort to save them.

‘You’re a good man, Andy,’ I nodded, surprising
him with a tight hug. ‘I trust you and your judgement. Do it.’

‘Thank you, Sir.’

 

‘You need to rest,’ Summer warned as I finally
flopped back into my seat. She pressed the recline facility and tucked a
blanket around me. I was too exhausted to argue. ‘You’ve done everything you
can for now. We’ll be home soon and Jonas and Eva are going to need you. You’re
no good to them like this. I’ll have Andy drug you if that’s what it takes to
make you sleep,’ she warned.

‘I’d listen to her, or she’ll just nag you
incessantly,’ Lucas warned. I managed a small smile. How the hell had two guys
like us managed to find such amazing women? I closed my eyes and ran through
our progress. Marv had confirmed the call was untraceable. Given they’d claimed
the virus was down to them, probably to keep Andy and I out of the way,
disguising an IP address was low on their rank of skills. While Oliver’s
tracker wasn’t online, I’d seen him with my own two eyes. Andy had worked with
Marv and Chris on the video and they’d deduced from the lack of light, and from
the echo, reverberation, and sound waves of his voice and footsteps, that it
was likely that they were underground and surrounded by concrete. It made sense
that would interfere with Oliver’s chip. Jenny and James appeared to be
handcuffed back to back, their ankles cable-tied. That was probably why Ellie
wasn’t holding Oliver, her hands were tied too. He was the only one who hadn’t
been tied up. I gritted my teeth as I fought against my urge to get angry
again.

James seemed to be the only one who’d been hurt.
Andy reckoned he had a broken nose and a black eye. Jesus, what was I thinking
letting him fight for me? He was a grandfather and only did this as an occasional
duty. He should be enjoying life at his age, not putting himself in danger
anymore. If we got him out of this, no, I corrected myself,
when
we got
all of them out of this, he was getting a massive thank you and a very large
retirement pot. Money was a worry right now. As I’d expected, I could only pull
together twenty million within their timeframe, a mere quarter of what they’d
demanded. Andy had suggested not paying it until just before the deadline,
which made me nervous. His thoughts were that since the police were conducting
their own investigation, as well as some of his team who were already on the
case, we might turn something up that negated the need to pay anything. I could
pull the rest together by Wednesday, but I had no way of telling them that
until they called me back. That made me nervous as hell. I reached for my
wedding ring and turned it around and around, focussing on happier times, making
myself smile as I thought of our wedding day, of Oliver and Jonas’s first steps
and Eva’s first words. We were due all of that happiness and more. We’d had
more than our share of sadness. I had to trust that we weren’t due any more.

 

Day Twenty One

Sunday 13
th
September

Ellie

I guzzled the water from the plastic bottle as the
quietest of our captors held it to my lips. James had told me that his name was
Bravo. Each of them had letters on their chests from the phonetic Alphabet, to
avoid using their real names. They’d initially left duct tape on our mouths to
stop us talking, but given they’d shown some mercy and not tied Oliver up, they
soon realised he was capable of pulling it off. Thankfully, they’d not punished
him for it. They’d left us with two single mattresses on the floor, so James
and Jenny sat on one, opposite to Oliver and I. James had told us to position
ourselves with our backs against the wall, but I’d left a gap and made sure to
tell Oliver if he heard anyone coming, he was to squeeze behind me. If they
wanted him, they were going to have to drag me out of the way, kicking and
screaming and biting. They only ever visited two at a time, from what we could
hear from the voices before the door was opened. One came in and cut our cable
ties, one at a time, allowing us to use the toilet in the corner, hidden behind
what looked like an old medic’s screen. We’d been warned that the other would
come in and shoot one of us if he heard any sounds of a disturbance. It had the
desired effect of no one attempting anything.

I’d lost track of time since we’d been taken.
We’d been down here, with virtually no light, for what seemed like days. The
LED lanterns they’d left us with were pathetic. Maybe it was because I was too
scared to sleep much that the hours seemed longer. I wanted to make sure I was
there to reassure Oliver whenever he needed me. He was petrified and it made me
so angry. I’d screamed abuse at my captors when I’d come around and seen the
state of him. He told me that they hadn’t hurt him, but scaring him like this
was just as bad. I’d earned myself a backhand across the face. Bravo pulled a
tissue out of his pocket and wiped my chin where water had spilled down it. I
smiled up at him, though inside I wanted to tear his blue eyes out of his head.
James and Jenny had told me to try and endear myself to them, to make them feel
some sympathy for us. It would make it harder for them to harm us if they saw
us as human beings, not hostages. He smiled back and craned his head, trying to
see Oliver, who was trembling behind me.

‘Does he want a drink?’ he asked. I felt
Oliver’s fists clench my jumper tightly as he started crying again. He didn’t
want to come out, but he was going to get dehydrated. ‘Does he ever stop
crying?’

‘He’s a child, what do you expect?’ I uttered,
aghast at his lack of empathy.

‘Bravo, Oliver’s scared to death. He’s only
four years old. He needs his mother and you have her cuffed so she can’t even
comfort him,’ James called from his side of the bunker. Bravo slowly turned his
head and I grimaced, hoping he wasn’t going to hurt James for speaking up.

‘No one asked for your opinion, old man.’

‘Well you’re getting it for free. You’ll have
done your homework, you know that we’re the ones with military training.
Ellie’s just a mother, a housewife. You’re seriously telling me that you think
a slip of a woman like that could take you down? I promise you, if you at least
free her hands so she can hug him, he won’t be so scared and he’ll stop
crying.’

‘You know what else would stop him crying?’
came Alfa’s voice as he swung the rusty metal door open. ‘This,’ he laughed,
waving a gun.

‘No,’ I cried, pressing back against Oliver.
‘Don’t you dare touch him. He doesn’t understand what’s happening. He needs to
eat and drink and he won’t while he’s so scared. He needs my reassurance.’

‘I’m assuming he’s your ace,’ Jenny chipped in.
‘James and I are both expendable, but you need Ellie and Oliver well enough to
reassure Mr. Davenport to pay the ransom.’

‘They have a point, Alfa,’ Bravo added. ‘Not
like she could do much damage to any of us.’

‘You’re questioning my leadership skills now?’ Alfa
shot back, striding over towards us, making Oliver start whimpering. Even he
was more scared of Alfa than any of the others.

‘Close your eyes, baby, it’s ok,’ I whispered.

‘Of course not, boss. But he’s even getting on my
nerves and I’m the most placid one. What harm can she do?’ Bravo shrugged. Alfa
looked from him to me, then back up to him. I froze as they just stared at each
other, wondering what was going to happen. He looked back down at me and
pointed his gun at me. I closed my eyes, my chest heaving as I started to shake
as much as Oliver.

‘You try
anything
, one of your friends
will suffer, understood?’ he barked.

‘Understood,’ I whimpered.

‘Do it, fucking soft git,’ his voice muttered.
‘Hurry up, deadline’s approaching.’ I gasped for air as I heard his heavy
footsteps echoing on the concrete floor as they moved away from me. I opened my
eyes and saw Bravo looking down at me.

‘Thank you,’ I whispered.

‘I need to get to your ties,’ he replied
flatly.

‘Oliver, Mummy needs you to go and see Uncle
James and Auntie Jenny, they need a big cuddle and kiss, just like the ones
you’ve been giving me, ok?’ I called over my shoulder.

‘Too scared,’ he moaned.

‘You don’t need to be scared. Bravo here hasn’t
hurt us, has he? He’s going to let Mummy give you the biggest kiss and cuddle
in the whole wide world if you do as I say.’

‘Promise?’ he sniffed.

‘I promise, darling. You’re such a brave boy,
you need to share some of that bravery with James and Jenny, they need some
too, as well as some love. Go for me now.’ I smiled when I felt his little
hands squeeze my fingers. I squeezed back as hard as I could, then let him go.
He bolted out like an Olympic runner and threw himself into Jenny’s lap,
wrapping his arms around her waist.

‘Hello gorgeous, have I ever told you that you
give the best cuddles?’ she asked, dipping her head to kiss him.

‘Yes,’ he nodded.

‘Then keep cuddling. James can wait for his, I
need plenty.’ She nodded at me and I smiled back until I saw Bravo pull a
pocket knife from his trousers.

‘Relax, it’s for cutting the cable ties,’ he
advised, pushing my shoulder to make me bend forward. Jenny and I had our hands
tied behind our backs, James’s were in front. They seemed to trust that they
could handle Jenny or I one-on-one, but James’s hands were kept tied all the
time. He could go for a pee himself when they undid his feet, but if he needed
to do more, they’d pull his trousers down. I didn’t ask how he was cleaned up,
it was humiliating enough as it was. I sighed with relief as the tight band was
released and I flexed my fingers and rotated my wrists to get some life back
into them. Bravo quickly headed for the exit and the door was slammed shut, the
sound of the external locks being put into place.

‘Darling, come to Mummy,’ I called, holding out
my arms.

‘But I haven’t cuddled James yet,’ he said,
making us all laugh for the first time.

‘You can cuddle me later, go to your mum,’
James told him. Oliver looked over at me and saw me holding my hands out to
him. He smiled and ran over, throwing himself against me and I started sobbing
as I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed him so tightly. I hadn’t been able
to hold him since he was pulled out of my arms the day they took us.

‘I love you, so much,’ I whispered in his hair.

‘I love you too, Mummy.’

‘Let me look at you.’ He sat up in my lap and I
clasped his face, rubbing my thumbs over his cheeks and checking he didn’t have
any bruises or damage. Other than being extremely dirty, like we probably all
were from being in this dank, musty, and moss-infected hole with no proper washing
facilities, he looked ok.

‘Is everyone ok, all things considered?’ James
asked.

‘I’m good,’ replied Jenny.

‘Me too, especially now. Thank you so much,
both of you,’ I called, pulling Oliver down onto my lap and giving him another
hug. I never wanted to let him go again. ‘What’s going to happen if Dan can’t
come up with all of that money within their timeframe?’ I asked, not sure if I
wanted to know the answer.

‘A threat against one of us with an extended
deadline would be my best guess,’ James answered.

‘Pretty standard,’ agreed Jenny.

‘How are you both so calm? I’m so close to
breaking here, I can’t begin to tell you.’ I looked down as I felt Oliver’s
body go softer in my arms. At last, he was relaxing a little bit. Hopefully he’d
fall asleep in no time.

‘Trust me, I’ve been in worse situations than
this,’ Jenny replied.

‘Me too,’ James added.

‘Seriously?’ I couldn’t imagine anything worse
than this. I’d never been so scared in my life. I missed my babies, I missed
Dan, and I dreaded what this was doing to him. He didn’t handle stress well,
not when it came to his family.

They tried to take my mind off our dilemma by
telling me some of their best war stories and competing with their list of
scars from combat. I felt my eyes starting to droop, my head rolling back to
the damp wall behind me. Oliver was fast asleep in my arms. If you could call
this happy, it was the happiest I’d been since I’d come around from the
tranquiliser.

 

My sleep seemed short-lived when I was startled
awake again by the sound of the bolts on the door being opened. Oliver was
still asleep, but I tightened my grip on him as Alfa strode in and made a
beeline for us. It was hard to make out their emotions with only their eyes and
lips showing, but I could feel the anger radiating off him.

‘Give me the kid,’ he growled.

‘No,’ I shot back. ‘If you want him for
something, I go with him.’

‘Fine with me,’ he bit, pulling his gun out and
aiming it at us.

‘Stop,’ ordered James, sounding an awful lot
calmer than I was right now. I could feel nausea clawing at my throat, bile
swirling in my stomach. ‘What’s the problem? Maybe we can talk this out. There’s
no need to threaten the woman and child.’

‘No need? No fucking need! Do you have any idea
what this bitch’s husband has done?’ he hissed, glaring over at James.
‘Charlie, set it up,’ he bellowed. Oliver woke up at the noise and his little
body went tense in my arms when he realised Alfa was standing so close to us.

‘It’s ok, baby,’ I soothed.

‘Ok?’ Alfa shot back at me, his eyes narrowing
with anger. ‘It’s so far from ok. Well, he’s about to learn a valuable lesson.’

‘You have a problem with my husband, then you
deal with me, but I’ll be damned if you take it out on my son,’ I bit. He
laughed and started pacing the room. When I was satisfied he was leaving us
alone for now, I looked over to the door to see what Charlie was doing. I felt
like I’d just fallen into the freezing loch again. He’d covered the floor by
the door with plastic sheeting. I’d watched enough action movies with Dan to
know why. I flipped my eyes over to Jenny and James, not at all reassured to
see the worry on their faces as well.

‘Ready, boss,’ Charlie called.

‘Undo their feet and move them,’ Alfa replied.
‘Either of you don’t do as you’re told and I take it out on the bitch and her
brat.’

‘What’s … what’s happening?’ I stuttered as
Charlie marched over to James and Jenny.

‘What’s happening? I gave your husband
twenty-four hours and his time is up.’

‘He didn’t pay you anything?’ I gasped,
stroking Oliver’s hair, rocking him, doing my best to keep him from
antagonising this lunatic any more than was necessary with his sobs.

‘O he paid. Twenty million, exactly a quarter
of what he was supposed to.’

‘He told you that he needed more time, I heard
him tell you that. His assets are in property, bonds, stocks, and shares. You
can’t just get a sum like that together in such a short period of time. Trust
me, I know him, he’ll do whatever you ask to make sure we’re all safe and
unharmed. He’s a good man, he’s the … he’s the best man,’ I pleaded, looking
over to see Charlie had undone James's and Jenny’s foot restraints and was
dragging them over to the plastic sheeting. ‘Whatever you’re thinking of doing,
please don’t. Just give him more time!’

‘I gave him time, not my problem that he didn’t
honour his end of the deal.’

‘Ready, boss,’ Charlie called, tossing a video
camera over to Alfa. He caught it with his free hand and secured it with the
elastic strap around his palm. The red LED started blinking as he pointed it at
me.

‘Ok, tough girl, you wanted me to deal with
you, I’ll deal with you. I got a quarter of what was owed to me and my team, it
seems only fair that he loses a quarter of what I owe him, wouldn’t you say?’

‘I don’t understand, what are you asking me?’
Charlie had pulled out his gun and had moved behind Jenny and James, who were
kneeling on the sheet. I wanted to wake up. This was a horrible nightmare, the
sort of thing you only saw in films. This couldn’t be happening.

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