“You only need to look at her, Amanda, to know she’s freezing,” the older man added, scanning the room: a toilet, bath and cot, too small for a child her age. “Where’s she been sleeping?”
“I’m not sure she has,” Amanda replied.
Knowing how long the girl had been missing, Amanda battled with what to say to her. She wasn’t trained for this.
As if reading her mind, Ted crouched beside her.
The girl flinched.
“It’s OK love,” Ted whispered, stood up slowly and backed away.
Amanda looked at her. Her clothes, too sheer for the time of year, were threadbare like the room she’d been kept in. “Charlie, you’re going to be fine. You’re safe now.” She knew that was the best thing to say. No point in asking her if she was alright. Even the strongest person in her position wouldn’t be alright. And she looked as thin as a wafer and just as fragile.
“Where is he?” Charlie mouthed.
Amanda looked at Ted. He shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t know,” she answered honestly.
Charlie’s eyes widened.
“It’s OK, we have someone outside watching,” Amanda lied.
Ted looked at his watch. “We should be quick.”
“It’s OK,” Amanda repeated. “Take your time.” She removed her jacket and went to put it round Charlie’s shoulders but she recoiled. “Please,” Amanda said softly. “You’re cold. Too cold. This will make you feel better.”
Those were words Charlie had heard before, many times. After he had been with her, he’d given her some hot chocolate and told her everything would be fine, he’d make her feel better.
She frowned. She did feel a little better; that it wasn’t him, but she didn’t know them either.
“Your parents sent us to find you, Charlie,” Ted said. “They’re worried about you. They want you home.”
Charlie shook her head. He had said that. That her parents had sent him to collect her from school. But he hadn’t known her name. They knew her name. Her real name. She’d told him to call her Olivia, her sister. He’d said it was beautiful and he’d been happy. But then he’d found out her real name and got angry. Beat her. But that was a long time ago and there was nothing to prove that now. No scars on the outside.
She closed her eyes and nodded. At least she’d be with a woman. And women didn’t do bad things to little girls.
“OK, let’s go,” Ted said gently.
Amanda put her jacket around Charlie, it swamping her, then placed an arm around the girl’s shoulders, and escorted her out of the cellar, following Ted up the stairs, past the door with the squeaky hinges, into a kitchen that Charlie had never seen.
She yelped again as the sunlight hit her eyes.
“Got your sunglasses on you, Amanda?” Ted asked.
Amanda went to dip into her handbag.
“No, please,” Charlie begged, releasing Amanda’s grip. “I want to see it, to see it all. Where he lives, where I’ve been living for…”
“We’ll talk about that later, Charlie,” Ted interrupted. “We just need to get you…”
Charlie stopped walking and stared at the hall they were now standing in, then back at the kitchen. Immaculate. It was all perfect. Her grandfather had called her ‘immaculate’. Miss Perfection. Then told her how her parents had waited so long to have her. Her and Olivia. The other half of her egg. That had made her laugh. She’d wanted to have eggs for breakfast for the rest of the week. Share them with Olivia. To make up for stealing her half before she was born.
She had her back to the front door when they heard the key.
Amanda grabbed Charlie’s hand and pulled her behind her, behind the front door as it opened, leaving the two men to stare at each other.
Ted instinctively went for the inside of his jacket, for the gun that hadn’t lain there for over ten years.
John’s eyes followed Ted’s hand and he launched his bags of shopping at him, one of them knocking him off balance.
Charlie screamed and John swung round. “Olivia! What are you doing?”
Amanda, still obscuring most of Charlie, looked over at Ted who nodded.
“John,” Amanda said calmly, “Charlie needs to come with us.”
“That’s not Charlie!” he hissed. “She’s Olivia.”
“OK John,” she said, despite knowing that not to be the case. “You need to let Olivia go, let her come with us.”
“Never!” he snarled. “She’s mine!”
With John distracted, Ted crept up behind him until a floorboard in the 1930’s house gave him away and John twisted back round so the men’s faces were now inches apart.
Charlie tugged on Amanda’s hand and took off the suit jacket. Remembering what he had done to her to get her there, Charlie whispered in Amanda’s ear. With the two men not moving, she knew she had little time. She took the jacket and holding one shoulder in each fist, lunged at John throwing the jacket over his head, pressing down as hard as she could.
With John dropping to his knees, Ted pounced, bearing down on him while Amanda retrieved the mobile phone from her handbag.
“Yes, hello. Police please, and ambulance. 12 Atkinson Street. Please hurry. Thank you.”
Charlie shivered as she leaned against the radiator watching the two private detectives restrain the man she’d known as ‘John’, the man who’d been her father figure for the past three years, the ‘best friend’ in Olivia’s absence, who’d made her hot chocolate not quite like her mother used to make it.
As the radiator kicked into life, she remembered what it felt like, to feel it as well as hear it, feel the warmth she’d been missing, inside and out.
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