Children’s laughter rang out across the school playground, mingling with the shouts of the boys playing football and the raised voices of juvenile dispute. The children milled around and eventually made their way out of the school gates, jostling and pushing.
Carl waited patiently, looking for the fair head of the child he was waiting for.
He’d been waiting here each play and home time for weeks, trying to psyche himself up for what he knew he had to do. He knew it was wrong but still, he had to do it, couldn’t not do it.
Still no sign of the little girl with the golden hair. Carl bit his nails. What if she wasn’t in school today? He’d have to come back tomorrow if that was the case. One more day wouldn’t make any difference to him.
Carl made his way home to the squalid bedsit he rented. Well, he wouldn’t be here for long. He wasn’t anywhere for long and as soon as he got her, he’d be on the move again, preferably somewhere far away.
The black and white portable t.v he’d picked up in a junk shop had quite a good picture and he had no difficulty at all in recognising himself on the news magazine programme that was on. He didn’t look like that now, however. A bottle of hair-dye, a razor and a pair of glasses seeing to that. He looked years older with his pate shaved and the glasses on, his remaining hair dyed grey.
He hoped his trip to the school the next afternoon would produce a more satisfactory result than today’s He didn’t know how long it would be safe to be around here.
Carl switched off the t.v. and stretched out on the grubby bed. He might as well read one of his collection of special books. There was nothing on t.v. and it was better he stayed away from the pub - it would be dangerous for him to risk drinking even a little too much in his present frame of mind – he might do something rash. He knew where she lived, he had followed her home once and it wasn’t that far away from this place.
He exhausted his supply of reading material and fell asleep on top of the covers until the cold, grey light of dawn intruded between his eyelids.
He rose and drank coffee and ate some toast. He couldn’t face anything more substantial before a snatch. He would eat later, after he’d done what he had to do.
He dwelt on what he was going to do today and felt a strange but familiar mix of excitement and nerves. He felt almost sick. He was always very nervous beforehand but this time it was worse than usual.
He thought maybe it was time for him to give it up. It did seem to be starting to get to him a little too much, the looking over his shoulder all the time, the nervous tic at the sight of a police uniform. But he knew also, how good it would feel once he had the girl. Nothing could erase or beat that elation, but nothing.
She wouldn’t be too much trouble to bundle into the car, she was quite a small girl for her age and he was quite confident there would be no problem on that score, provided he could find a nice quiet spot with no witnesses. Of course, once she was in his car, he’d be home and dry.
He spent the day making preparations, packing his few things into his holdall. He’d leave the t.v. for the next tenant, it might draw attention if he was spotted carrying it and he planned the route to his next stop.
He’d have to be careful to clean the flat thoroughly – including the t.v – and to remove all traces of the girl from the car afterwards, otherwise a police spot-check could cause him serious problems.
The girl came out of school a little late today, which suited his purposes as there were fewer people around.
He saw her take leave of her friend, who went off in the opposite direction, and heard the call their goodbyes.
“’night Jane,” he’d heard her call to her friend.
“See you tomorrow Tess,” the dark girl had called back.
Carl smiled. He liked the name Tess. His gran’s name was Therese, but his granddad had always shortened it to Tess.
Following her in the car was easy, although he’d get rid of that at the first opportunity too, just in case it was seen. He was sick of driving bangers, but you couldn’t afford to dump a good car.
He saw his opportunity ahead. There was a pillar-box on a deserted part of the road, so he parked up, leaving the engine running and the passenger door open. He intended standing by the post-box with some envelopes in his hand, so he’d look like he was posting letters and when she walked by, he’d grab her, put the pad of chloroform over her face and bundle her in. It would take seconds. He’d done similar enough times now to have it off to a fine art.
It went exactly to plan, except he thought he’d been spotted by an old woman looking out of her window but she wouldn’t have seen much even had she been looking, so smoothly it went.
It took about two and a half hours to reach their destination. Time for the final and, to him, best part of it. He stopped the car in a clearing in a wood and got out. He got out and went to the passenger side where he opened the door and lifted out the still sleeping form of the child. He carried her deeper into the wood where there was another car waiting. a woman stood anxiously smoking a cigarette. As soon as she saw them she stubbed out the cigarette and hurried towards them.
“You got her!” Excitement sparkled in her eyes, “I didn’t think you’d do it!”
“It took a while, but yes, as you see, I got her. I just hope your husband never finds either of us. I think he’ll be quite peeved when he finds his daughter gone!” Carl looked at the sleeping child, taking in the bruised legs and a fading yellow mark on the girl’s forehead. “He’s still hitting her then.”
“Not any more,” Tess’s mother took her daughter into her arms and kissed her tenderly on the bruised forehead, “ No, not any more.”
“Where will you go?” Carl asked.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got it all planned out. We’ve got tickets on a ferry to Ireland in an hour. He’ll not find us. What about you?”
“I think I just completed my last case of abduction. I can’t do it forever and my face is getting known now too. I was on telly last night! Not much good for a so-called private detective!” They both laughed nervously.
“We’d better go. We’ll miss the ferry.”
“She’s a beautiful child. I hope you find peace in Ireland.”
“Thank you again Carl. You’ve been a good friend to us. If you ever come to Ireland, come and see us.”
Carl looked at her with longing. “How will I find you Cathy? You don’t know where you’re going yourself.”
She shifted the child’s weight on to her other shoulder and said slowly, “You could always come with us.”
Carl grinned a slow grin. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the Irish....."