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Life Game – Chapter 1
There she was again, that girl. She had moved in last week, renting a room in one of the buildings Freddie owned. He had watched her struggling along the path with her boxes, traipsing up and down on her own, from the back of the battered old Astra that was obviously hers. It annoyed him that no-one around had offered to help the girl. If he hadn’t been in the middle of a business meeting in the café across the road, he would have helped her himself. That would soon have put the loitering bums surrounding her to shame and put a fire up their arses! It would be deep shame indeed for them to be seen by Freddie Tyler, doing nothing to help a young girl struggling on her own. Obviously they had no idea he was in the vicinity. But Freddie often preferred it like that anyway. It was a good way to suss out what people were really about.
She had disappeared by the time he’d finished his meeting that day, seemingly only having one car-full to unload. He had scanned the high rise building with a critical eye, wondering who exactly was sub-letting a room out. It wasn’t her own flat she was moving into, not with such a pathetically meagre amount of belongings, and definitely not without Freddie knowing. There wasn’t much Freddie missed in his various businesses. His intelligent head was full of all the details, large and small, and he had a good firm of people in his employ to remember anything that he forgot. The flats were one of his less nefarious businesses, the paperwork all above board. There were too many dwellings to know who lived there exactly, but he would have been made aware of any new tenancy contracts being drawn up.
She was walking up the road towards the same building again now, arms full of brown paper shopping bags, barely able to peek over the top. She wasn’t paying much attention to where she was going, her eyes unfocused as if in a daydream. She most certainly wasn’t aware of the man standing just across the road appraising her. As he watched, one of the bulging bags tore a little at the side and a net of oranges fell out, along with a bag of flour which promptly exploded on the pavement, covering her legs in a shock of white powder. Her eyes flew wide-open and her mouth formed a little O of surprise as she stopped and bent over the bags to check her legs. She looked at the oranges and then back at the bags, trying to figure out how to get them without everything else spilling all over the road. Freddie stifled a grin at the comical scene and quickly jogged across the road. He took some of the bags for her as she bent down to grab the runaway oranges. He squatted down with her and gathered some of them up into the bags that were still intact.
“I think you’ll have to put some of these down to road kill, some of them are a bit past it on the bruising,” Freddie said. The girl laughed, looked up and knocked Freddie Tyler for six. Her dark blue eyes sparkled as she laughed and were cloaked by a fringe of dark lashes. They fluttered against the creamiest skin he had ever seen. He felt himself hesitate, frozen for a second. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen pretty girls before, he had. Lots of them. Of course he had. They were forever throwing themselves at him, desperate for the lifestyle and status that came with Freddie Tyler. But they all looked the same. The fake blonde hair, the fake orange skin, the fake plastic eyelashes and the fake plastic tits. This girl was pleasantly different to the crowd of women he was used to seeing. She was natural.
“Thank you.” Her voice was quiet, melodic. She pushed a stray strand of thick, dark hair behind her ear and continued to pick up the oranges. The sparkle had gone from her face now, and though a smile remained, she looked sad. She looked vulnerable. Freddie searched for something to say to this girl, who had sparked such a bizarre reaction in him, but for once he really couldn’t think of anything. Which was altogether a new sensation for Freddie. He was never lost for words, it was one of the things that kept him on top in sticky situations. He laughed at himself slightly. They stood up together as she dropped the last of the oranges in the bag and loitered for a minute, smiling, under an awkward silence.
“Oh, yeah, of course! I’ll carry these up for you.” He motioned towards the bags in his hand, but she shook her head.
“Oh no, really, thank you for helping me though, I appreciate it. I’ve got it from here.” She smiled up at him again, tentatively, and he realised she probably didn’t want him to know where she lived. It was a sensible move really, he was a complete stranger after all. Single Girl Preservation Guide 101 – ‘don’t show strangers your home address’. He decided he liked that about her. She seemed sensible, careful. The one and only thing he knew about her so far.
He smiled and handed over the bags, realising he had assumed she was single. Maybe she was the bird of one of the men living in the building. That would explain why he didn’t know about her. Birds didn’t really count. He really hoped that wasn’t the case. Not that it mattered, but she had something about her that the rest of the girls around here didn’t. She spoke differently too, more gently somehow, like she’d been brought up with a bit of class. His eyes flickered over his surroundings. She definitely didn’t grow up around this gaff. It showed, even in the cut of her clothes. They were decent, well-made, fitted, skirt not too short, not showing too much cleavage. He realised that this was the biggest difference. She was so out of place. ‘What is she doing in an area like this?’ He watched her walk away and raised his hand as she glanced round to smile before walking through the front door of the building. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it round here, he wasn’t ashamed of it or anything, but this area was for a different cut of people. Harder people. People used to a certain way of life. The kind of life a girl like that certainly would never have been introduced to. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to the silver Mercedes parked across the road. It was parked on double yellows. That wasn’t a problem. There wasn’t a parking warden in the whole of east London who didn’t know his car and who would have the bare-arsed stupidity to give him a ticket. He opened the door and slid down behind the wheel. Maybe he was wrong about the girl, maybe appearances were deceiving. Either way, she was gone now and he was more than a little annoyed at the effect that one tiny little bird was having on him. He firmly put her to the back of his mind and started off to one of his bigger clubs. He had a lot to do tonight.
Anna closed the front door of the tiny two-bed flat she now shared with a girl called Tanya and exhaled wearily. She called out to see if the other girl was home and went through to the kitchen when there was no answer. It was small up here but she had to admit, it was cosy. And that was all she needed at the moment. In a way she really didn’t care where she was. Just as long as it was somewhere new, somewhere that she could start again and forget everything.
Just over a week ago she had been in her car driving blindly for hours down roads she didn’t know, with no idea where she was going or what she was doing. Her heart had been pounding and her eyes sporadically filled up with tears of anguish. That she had even gotten as far as getting lost was an unexpected achievement. Half of her had expected to be dead already. The other half had at least expected to have been caught. Somehow, through the twists and turns of traffic and fate, she had ended up here. There had been nothing special about it, it looked grey and dreary to her, just like any other part of London, but after hours of driving aimlessly her petrol gauge had moved into the red, so she’d pulled into a petrol station to fill up before moving on.
She had paid for the petrol and was walking back to her car when she heard a row going on between a young couple in one of the other cars. As she unlocked her door she saw the woman, who seemed to be around about her own age, jump out of the car and slam the door. The driver screeched off, leaving her yelling colourful expletives at a pair of fading tail lights. Anna paused, anxious, and wondered if she should ask the girl if she was ok. The stranded girl stopped and felt her pockets, swearing again – to herself this time.
“Shit! My bag! Oh Christ…” Anna looked around worriedly, then deciding she couldn’t ignore the situation, walked briskly over to the girl.
“Are you ok?” The girl glanced up at her, running her manicured hands through her long red hair, clearly agitated.
“Not really. That was my bloke, well, ex-bloke really. Stupid arse has buggered off with my handbag in his car, I ain’t got my purse, phone, nothing!” she sighed heavily. “It’s gonna’ be a long bloody walk home!”
“Well…” Anna didn’t know this girl from Adam, but she couldn’t just leave her here, she could be attacked or anything. “Do you live far from here?”
“Not really, only about ten minutes away. Driving that is, walking is another matter.” The girl’s thick East End accent shone through her irritated tone.
“Well, I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere. I could drop you off if you need a lift.”
The girl looked her up and down warily, as if trying to figure out if there was an ulterior motive.
“I’m not an axe murderer or anything,” Anna laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners “I just feel bad leaving you here and it’s no skin off my nose driving an extra ten minutes.”
“Well.. if you’re sure you don’t mind, that would be really helpful then, thanks mate.” The girl smiled then, brightening up her face and showing small, white, even teeth behind the carefully applied lip gloss.
“I’m Tanya by the way.”
And that was where it began. Tanya had invited her in for a cuppa to say thank you for the lift. At first Anna had thought it best to refuse and continue her journey, but the thought of a comfortable seat and a hot drink was too tempting after being in the car for so long. The pair got chatting easily and before long, Anna had explained that she was looking to relocate.
“Um… actually, I don’t really know yet.” She stiffened up, worried that she had said too much. She didn’t want to have to go into the whos and whys, she didn’t want to share that with anyone, least of all a stranger. Tanya saw the panic run across her face and rushed to calm her.
“It’s ok, you don’t have to tell me anything. We all have our secrets.” She smiled quietly and busied herself tidying the coffee table. Anna immediately felt bad. This girl had been nothing but kind to her and she must sound terribly rude.
“Sorry, it’s not you, I just don’t really like to talk about certain things. It’s silly really.”
“No it’s not, mate. Seriously, don’t fret about it.” Anna relaxed a little and sipped at her tea.
“So, forgetting all the previous crap, you must have somewhere in mind that you wanna’ go? Somewhere near family or friends?”
“No.” Her voice a little too strong, she softened it, “No, I want to try somewhere new. Nowhere too special. Or expensive,” she added. “Just somewhere I can be a little independent.”
“And you have absolutely nowhere in mind? Not even short term?” Tanya’s face looked comically appalled at the idea.
“No,” she laughed. “Not exactly the best thought-out plan in history is it!”
“Where’s all your stuff?”
“In my car. You’re lucky, the passenger seat is the only one free to sit on, another bagful of stuff and you’d have been walking home!” They laughed together.
“Well, ok then,” Tanya paused and pursed her lips. After a moment she nodded to herself. “I guess you’re lucky too. My spare bedroom is, well, it’s going spare. Can’t let you sleep in your car. ‘Specially not filled with all that junk.” Anna stopped and put her cup down on the newly cleared coffee table.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, why not? It’s empty. And I need to rent it out really. My previous flat mate only went and got herself engaged and moved out, leaving me on me Jack Jones, so why don’t you stay tonight, have a think on it and if you want the room, you can move your stuff in tomorrow.”
“Wow, Tanya, that’s so generous of you—”
“—no, not generous mate, just sensible. You’ll have to pay half the rent and bills – you are good for the money, aren’t you?” she asked as it suddenly occurred to her.
“Yes, yes,” Anna replied quickly, “I have a comfortable amount saved up, so I’m fine for a while, but I will need to find a job locally within the next month or two.”
“Well that’s not a problem” Tanya waved her hand dismissively, “I can find you one of those easy. How about we go week-on-week to begin with, make sure we rub down together ok and just see how it goes, yeah?”
Luckily for both of them, they had rubbed down together pretty well so far. Anna was the perfect housemate, and Tanya respected Anna’s wish not to discuss why she had turned up in an unknown part of London, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a car full of clothes. Anna busied herself putting the shopping away and started on making a meal for the two of them, putting her pinny on as she checked the calendar on the kitchen wall. Yep, Tanya was working tonight, so it would just be her. She would leave a plate to warm in the oven for when she got home. Tanya was always ravenous when she got home and was the number one fan of Anna’s cooking. She was constantly remarking that she had never eaten so well in her life. This Anna had to believe, as within just a few days of her cooking, Tanya’s wan complexion became rosier and her face less drawn.
Anna looked out the window nervously at her car. It worried her that it was in full view while it was parked, though she had gone to painstaking lengths to ensure he wouldn’t be able to track it to her. Having gone over and over her limited options of escape from her previous life – from him – she had finally plucked up the courage a few weeks ago and visited an old friend she knew from school. It had been years since she’d seen Ellen, so he didn’t know she even existed.
“So what I’m asking El, is for you to keep this car under your name and put me down as a named driver. I’d take the car – and look after it, you wouldn’t have to worry. And I’ll give you ten grand to buy yourself a better one. No catch in it. I know it’s been years and I can’t tell you why, but I desperately need your help,” Anna had asked her, shaking in hope and in fear that this would work. El put the coffee down and studied her.
“You don’t need to tell me Ann. I’m still in touch with the others and I’ve heard the rumours…is…is it really bad?” she asked softly, touching Anna’s knee, concern on her face. Tears began to run unbidden down Anna’s face, but she held back the sobs. She held her voice in check.
“I need to get away El, and I need for nothing to be traceable to me. That’s all I can tell you. And you can never, ever tell a soul that I was here. Ever.”
Anna left the saucepans to bubble away as she turned the heat down in the pastel blue kitchen and poured herself a hot chocolate. She pushed the memories away and looked out the window. It was cold out tonight. Winter was coming in fast this year. She was considering pulling out her big overcoat and it was only early October.
Placing the slightly bruised oranges in the fruit bowl in the lounge, she sat down in the comfy armchair, musing over the man who’d helped her. He had swooped out of nowhere like a guardian angel, big, well-dressed, handsome and ready to rescue her when she had no hands. She knew she stuck out here. That’s why she tried to keep herself to herself, not drawing any attention to herself. She knew she was probably an easy target for anyone looking to take advantage. A ‘greeny’, so to speak. But that man – yes, he talked just like everyone else around here, but he also looked ‘different’, like she did. He was wearing a sharply cut suit, his hair was styled nicely, his aftershave was expensive. Odd for this area. This area was not a wealthy or well-to-do one. It was an interesting mixture of things, this place: colourful people and businesses led it through the day and then it would thrive on its nightlife and the creatures that lurked only in the dark. Hmm. Well, whatever the story, it was nice of him to help her. She couldn’t help but notice how his easy smile made little creases at the corner of those piercing, laughing eyes. It was a beautiful effect… She caught herself smiling and shook her head. She had no business thinking about men right now. She was definitely not in the right place in her own head for men of any kind. Especially after all she’d been through with the last one. It would be a long time before she could be convinced to trust anyone like that again. Anna picked up her book and slowly but surely lost herself in the world of another, forgetting about Freddie Tyler completely. The dreams she had that night reflected nothing of her encounters that day.
A few weeks later the two young women sat comfortably at the kitchen table, enjoying another of Anna’s culinary creations. Anna wiped her hands on a dishcloth and picked up her fork. Tanya’s voice took on a carefully casual tone. “I reckon we should go out. Hit the dance floor tonight. It’s not often I get a night off at the weekend, what do you think?” Tanya picked at the creamy carbonara in front of her, watching Anna through narrowed eyes. Anna didn’t look convinced.
“Come on mate…” she wheedled. “You haven’t been on a good night out, not once since you came here, and we would have a wicked time! I know the best clubs, we can dress up nice, find ourselves some more-than-willing dance partners…”
Anna sighed heavily. “Oh, ok. I’ll come—” Tanya clapped her hands in delight, “—but no men. I just want a girls’ night, alright? Oh, and another thing, if you think I’m wearing something as skimpy as you do on a night out, you have another thing coming. I’ll go shopping this afternoon and find something – and yes, you can come – but you’re NOT getting me into anything that short.” She laughed, “some of us don’t have the body for it anyway.”
“Oh you do!” Tanya protested, “Come on, you’ll look shit-hot in one of my dresses, you don’t need to go shopping.”
Anna threw the dishcloth at her. “You have no shame, missy!”
Freddie slipped into the kitchen silently, through the back door. He pulled off the bloodied shirt and tutted in annoyance. He hadn’t expected company tonight. Vince had been a man short on the ground and had asked Freddie to collect a large amount of money from one of the bookies under their protection. And for once, Freddie Tyler had been met with the sort of resistance that actually gave him a challenge. He chuckled under his breath. It had almost been fun really, after the initial surprise. Only ‘almost’ though. And it had been a surprise, too. Freddie was known as one of the hardest men in the East End. It wasn’t often someone went up against him. The funny thing was, if Benny had just paid up there would have been no unpleasantness at all. If he couldn’t pay due to financial stupidity, Freddie would have left him with a warning and 24 hours in which to raise the money. Freddie knew exactly what the business took and that their fee for all the protection they had given him over the years was more than affordable. Now though, with that stunt he’d pulled tonight, Benny had practically signed his own death warrant. The bookie was now safely tucked away in intensive care along with two of his men. Whether they had a chance at life or not, Freddie would decide later. Right now though, he had to clean up, get back to his club and sort the money out for Vince.
Freddie had gotten involved in this way of life when he was nothing but a kid. He was well-built and ripped with muscles from various labour jobs he had picked up around school, to bring in a few quid at home. He came from a big, loud and loving family, which rarely had two pennies to rub together. He had two younger brothers and a younger sister, all of whom hung onto every word he said back then. His father had died when he was just ten, leaving a gaping hole in all their hearts, but, as was the only way, his mum Mollie had carried on and done the best she could. It didn’t matter how poor they were, she always made sure they had food in their bellies and a clean bed to sleep on. They moved into a dingy two-bedroom flat with no windows at the back and cockroaches crawling in the corners. Mollie had waged war on the insects and managed to keep them to a minimum, but they were never gone completely. It had pained him deeply to see his poor old Mum washing other people’s clothes for a few measly quid each week, going out at the crack of dawn to scrub floors. It wasn’t right. He knew it was his job to change things, to look after her like she had looked after them.
Big as he was, and hungry to better his family’s way of life, at the age of 18 he had been the perfect candidate for Vince to mould. He’d started out breaking a few arms or legs here and there, when money owed wasn’t paid, and in return he got paid very well. He blocked his conscience about what he did: it was survival. It was how it had to be. After a while he didn’t have to even think about it anymore. It was business. Proving himself solid and dependable, everyone was happy. After a while, it became apparent that he not only had the strength and the mental capacity to do what he had to, he was very intelligent too. And he used that intelligence to the best of his abilities. Vince had watched him slowly crawl his way up through the ranks, never putting anyone’s nose out of joint so much that he was put on any big shit lists, but working damn hard and making himself valuable. Over time he gave the boy different responsibilities, testing him out in different areas of the business. Each time, some way or another, the boy found a way to do it better, to make the work more lucrative. This pleased Vince no end and over time, Freddie had taken his place as Vince’s right hand man.
Today, eleven years on, Freddie was one of the biggest East End barons in his own right. He had his own credentials, his own loyal group of men and his own businesses to run. These various businesses were all either created with the hard-earned money he’d made from Vince, or ones he had bought into alongside him, as equal partners. As soon as he’d started bringing in a regular wedge he had moved his family out of the dingy slums and into a detached house in one of the nicer estates. It wasn’t too posh, his Mum wouldn’t have liked that, but the houses were bigger, nicer and there was lots of space and greenery around. It was a much better environment for his siblings to grow up in. As time went on he had refitted every room for her, no expense spared, so that she had the best house in the street, and so that it was something she could be proud of. He knew this was important to her. He had paid for his brothers and sister to go to good schools and had made sure that his family never wanted for anything again.
He splashed water over his face and the back of his neck, then reached for the towel. Mollie came down the stairs quietly. He thought she couldn’t hear his sneaking about when he came in late, but she could. She was a mother for God’s sake, it was her job to hear these things. She stood staring at her eldest son leaning over the sink and a rush of affection washed over her. She loved each of her children with all her heart, but this one… this one had done so much for the family, so much for her that she could never repay him. She would always try though, every day, in all the little things she could find to do for him. Her smile faded a little as she saw the bloodied shirt and she quietly went to the linen cupboard and brought a fresh one out, ironed only a few hours before. She knew enough about what he did by the rumours and by the utmost respect she was given by everyone. She knew he was a face. She was grateful for everything he had done for her, so in return she didn’t ask him about it, never tried to scold him about it. She knew he didn’t want that. And she didn’t want to know the details.
“Here you go son,” she said quietly, passing him the shirt.
He smiled down at her.
“You don’t miss much do you?”
She winked jovially and set about making some of the strong Italian coffee he liked so much. Whilst everybody else was settling down for the night, Freddie’s night was only just beginning. They both knew that.
“Can I get you some cake, son? I made that fruitcake you like so much today, oh, or there’s some angel cake too if you like. Thea made it earlier. She’s getting to be alright at baking now.”
“I’ll have some of that then Mum, thanks. Though I do love you for it, I couldn’t manage the fruitcake this late, it’ll sit on me all night.”
He sat quietly with his cake and coffee, watching as Mollie turned up the fire on the huge Aga he had fitted in the kitchen. She bent over and peered in, making sure the flames were high, then picked up the bloodied shirt with the end of a wooden spoon and tossed it in. She unearthed a bottle of bleach spray from underneath the sink and scrubbed where it had been sat on the side, though it hadn’t really left any marks. That done, she checked there was nothing left of the shirt and turned the heat back down to low again.
“Another one bites the dust,” Freddie joked and got a disapproving look from his Mother.
“I’ll pick you up some more tomorrow. You’re going through them like a baby does nappies!” she tutted and shook her head, “Where are you off to tonight anyway, one of the clubs?”
“Yeah, got to get some graft in, these shirts don’t pay for themselves!”
“Oh, go on with you,” she bustled him out the door with a kiss on his cheek as he shrugged his jacket back on.
“Thanks mum,” he hugged her and flashed her a winning smile, “you’re a diamond.”
Mollie sighed as he disappeared into the darkness and the house was quiet again. She tidied up and lingered by the Aga, tracing her finger across the shining lead front. She worried about him, that son of hers. She sighed again and turned off the main light, leaving one on for when he got home. She pushed all the bad thoughts from her mind. There was no point worrying about things beyond your control.
Anna took a deep breath as she looked in the mirror. Her eyes looked dark in her small face with the little bit of makeup she had put on. She didn’t plaster it on like Tanya did, all glitter and colour, but just enough to accent her features. She couldn’t shake off her nerves. This was her first time properly out in public since… she didn’t let herself finish that sentence in her head. She avoided going out to places where there were a lot of people. Where there was a chance that someone might recognise her. She had toyed with the idea of cutting and dying her hair, but she couldn’t make herself do it. Besides, she would still look like herself. It would be a pointless exercise.
Tanya came in with a glass of something in each hand.
“Here, get some of this down you,” she passed one to Anna, “It’ll calm you down a bit. Honestly, anyone would think I was taking you to your own funeral!” she laughed and sat down at the mirror, adding more blush to her already pink cheeks. It was a stark contrast to her deep red hair, now wild with big curls and volumiser, but not an unattractive one. Anna laughed internally at the irony of Tanya’s comment. ‘Her own funeral’. Tanya had no idea how true that would be if she was recognised. Anna gulped down the drink in her hand quickly, hoping – as Tanya had prophesied – that it would calm her nerves. Tanya looked at her strangely but said nothing. Anna could understand if Tanya thought she was a bit odd. She had been here nearly two months now and apart from going to the supermarket to get food, or to post the one letter she had sent, she hadn’t left the house. She didn’t need to get a job just yet. The rent and bills had been cheaper than she had thought they would be, and the money she had saved had stretched a long way. She could still go on comfortably for a while longer, though she knew she’d have to get back out there sometime. Tonight was just a positive step in that direction.
The one letter she had sent had been to her mother. She missed her mother terribly and wished she could see her, or even speak to her on the phone, but she couldn’t. The guilt of leaving her mother so in the dark, worrying, had made her write the letter in spite of her fears. She had sent it the day before yesterday, so it should have got there today. She hoped it had reached her without any issues.
Finished with her makeup, Tanya put Anna’s coat and bag in her arms and propelled her towards the front door.
“Woops! Easy Tanya, you nearly had me over then!”
“Haha, you probably will be later if you keep drinking like that gal, come on, we are going to have a night to remember!”
Leslie Davis sat down in her lovely cornsilk-coloured lounge and stared at the letter in her hand. It was Anna’s handwriting. She had to stop for a minute as relief hit her like a sledgehammer. She had been so scared. She was terrified he had killed her. She was terrified that if he had, they would never know. Her darling Anna, gone forever without a word. All these weeks, waiting. But she had known that she’d get in touch. She’d known that, if she was out there still, she’d find a way to contact them. Anna thought Leslie didn’t know what went on behind closed doors, within closed meetings. But she did. Leslie always listened, never commented. Knowledge was power, and so she always sought it out. But the more she had found out, the more she had feared for her daughter. Then one day, she had disappeared. He had come round then, appearing grief stricken. Such an extraordinary actor if she ever saw one. She had played along, had comforted him even, outwardly keeping the peace while she waited to find out what was going on.
After agonising and thinking the worst for a few days, Leslie thought over the last few times Anna had visited. They had turned out to be special times, they did a few things that they had always said they would. Anna had been a bit more emotional than usual when she left. Like she’d known she wouldn’t be back. Or maybe just not coming back for a while. Maybe she’d run away? Thinking logically, that might have been the only way out for her. The more Leslie thought about it, the more certain she had become. If he hadn’t killed her, which – please God – he hadn’t, then she must have run away. And she mustn’t have said anything to keep everyone else safe too. They posed no threat to anyone if they knew nothing in the first place. He wouldn’t stop looking for her though, Leslie knew that much. He just wasn’t built that way.
Smoothing her golden, perfectly made-up hair, she took a deep breath, then stopped as she turned the envelope over. It had been opened and resealed, this much was obvious. She went cold. He had opened it before it got to her. It could only have been him, it wouldn’t have been anyone else. Which meant he was watching the house. Waiting for Anna to make her move. The phones were probably being listened in on too, she was sure he would easily be able to fix that up. Please God, Anna, don’t have said anything in here that you don’t want him to know! She opened it up with trembling hands and began reading, scanning the lines quickly to make sure there was nothing he could have used.
I’m so sorry to have disappeared as I did. I can’t explain why, though I think you know a lot more than you let on anyway. I have to go away for a while, but I will come home to you one day. Hopefully not too far in the future.
Please don’t worry about me, I’m safe. I’ve got money and I’m renting a room in a nice flat with another girl. I’m ok.
I can’t tell you where I am right now, I know that this must be so confusing for you and I beg you, please don’t be hurt. I’ll tell you everything one day. Just know that I love you and Daddy more than anything and that I really am safe and well and ok.
I will find a way to contact you again. Keep me in your heart. You’re both in mine.
Your Anna xx
Her heart rate slowed down as she re-read it, more slowly this time. Squinting her eyes, she tried to make out the postmark. God must have been on Anna’s side the day she posted this letter. It was smudged beyond recognition. There was nothing in there he could use to find her. She folded it neatly and put it back into the envelope. Sitting back in the chair and absentmindedly biting one perfectly polished burgundy nail, she pondered over what to do next. She had been right. That in itself was obvious. She had run away from him. And had left no tracks by the looks of it, or he wouldn’t be rifling through her parents’ post. Good girl. She let a ghost of a smile escape. The girl had a lot more strength than she gave herself credit for and now she was using it. How to keep her safe though? That was the more pressing question. She couldn’t go to the police. If the gossip was anything to go by, he had more of those on his payroll than off, so that would do her no good. Maybe a private investigator, but then he would know she was doing that, and what’s to say he wouldn’t just buy him off too? Then again, she couldn’t do nothing, because that would be suspicious… What to do?
The phone rang shrilly and made her jump. She hadn’t realised how quiet it was. She picked up the receiver quickly, half hoping and half dreading it was Anna.
“Mrs Davis, how are you?” It was him. She swallowed a lump in her throat and tried to hold her voice as steady as she could.
“Tony, hello. How good of you to call.”
“Of course Mrs Davis, I’ll call every day until we find our Ann. I worry about you two, sitting there fretting… I’d like to think my parents would have people who care about them if anything happened to me.”
Oh, if only… she thought darkly.
“Really, we’re both fine. Worried of course, but we’re ok. Tougher than we look,” she added. She heard him hesitate on the line.
“Have you heard anything from her, Mrs Davis?” he asked politely. Too politely.
Damn him. Of course he knows, he went through my post… She sighed with resignation. She could either play along or be seen as the enemy. And anyway, there wasn’t anything in the letter he could use.
“Actually, yes, sort of….,” she perked up her voice in an attempt to sound eager, “I was just about to call you actually, I’ve just finished reading a letter she’s sent home!”
“Really? A letter?” his fake astonishment came down the line.
“Yes, isn’t that good news, she’s safe!”
“That’s fantastic news Mrs Davis, so where is she, did she say?”
Leslie rolled her eyes.
“No, that’s the sad part of it Tony, she says that she’s safe, but it sounds like she doesn’t want to be found right now.”
“Oh right, I see. Well, I don’t agree. I’m worried. I think it’s too dangerous out there for a girl, all alone, with no family or friends around her. I worry about her mental state too, going off like that for no reason. Anything could happen to her. It’s not safe.”
Safer than anywhere near you, she thought, but said nothing.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll send one of my boys to come and collect it, we have people working on finding her, perhaps it will help.”
Leslie stayed quiet for a moment, wondering what to say, searching the letter over frantically for anything she might have missed.
“Not at all. That’s fine. Anytime tomorrow morning before 11 is good for me.”
“They’ll be over around 10 then. Good day then Mrs Davis, have a good one.” His silken voice made her want to tear his face off. But her own voice betrayed nothing.
Leslie hung up the phone and let the tears fall silently down her face. She walked wearily up the stairs and opened the door to her only daughter’s childhood bedroom. Rocking back and forth in the chair, holding Anna’s favourite teddy bear, she sat staring into the distance for the rest of the day, until her husband came home from work and led her away.