We looked further into the site. “We need locations,” I said, grabbing the mouse off Alex and scrolling down the page until I found a likely paragraph;
‘Jason Sparks was particularly active around the centre of Liverpool, preferring to spend his days in the town centre, picking out targets from the crowds in the shopping centres. This method of selection was so random that Sparks was only identified and connected by his fingerprints being found at the scenes of two of his crimes. Neil Attock on the other hand, seemed to find it amusing to work in London, plucking girls from the region of his own home in Westminster, under the noses of the Metropolitan police.’
Alex, Freddie and I looked at each other.
“Do we have a phonebook here?” asked Alex.
I nodded. “In the study, by the phone.”
Alex exited the room, and returned a few moments later carrying the big book.
“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself. “South East, London, Centre…” He flipped the pages over in a business-like fashion. Fred and I watched him breathlessly, knowing how much hung on what he discovered. Finally he found the one he was looking for.
“A…Atkins…Atmons…Attics…Attock, here we go. Bollocks.”
Freddie and I glanced over his shoulder.
There were four Neil Attocks living in Central London.
“Fuck,” said Freddie.
“My sentiments exactly,” said Alex grimly.
But I scrolled up the computer screen and found the paragraph again.
‘Neil Attock on the other hand, seemed to find it amusing to work in London, plucking girls from the region of his own home in Westminster, under the noses of the Metropolitan police.’
“Where is the Met Police based?” I asked.
“Erm…Scotland Yard isn’t it?”
“And where is that?”
Freddie suddenly caught on. “Westminster! Street called Broadway or something like that.”
“Which addresses have London SW in the postcodes?” I asked.
Alex scrolled his eyes down the list of names. “Only one.” He pointed out the address.
I noted it on a small piece of notepaper. “It’s a long shot,” said Alex warningly.
“It’s still a shot,” I replied. “If we can eliminate this address, then we’re one step closer to finding Steph. One step closer to having this nightmare over.”
Pocketing the piece of paper, I headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Freddie.
“No time like the present.”
Alex got up. “Well, you’re not going alone,” he said in a tone that would brook no opposition.
I shrugged. “Freddo? How about you?”
He shook his head. “I can’t really see straight. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
“So you’d rather stay here than go to look for your best friend,” I surmised.
He frowned. “Don’t put me on a guilt trip Robs. I want to come and look with you too, but I think I’d just slow you down.”
“That’s fine, Freddo,” Alex said.
“Yeah, I know, but I just think we ought to be working together as a team,” I said. In truth I was unhappy about leaving him here by himself, especially in the danger we were, but number one, I thought it would be patronising to tell him so and number two, I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him any longer.
“We are a team,” Freddie rejoined, “but if one member’s feeling down then the other have to step in and cover for them. And,” he went on, almost embarrassed to admit it, “I don’t think I could bear it if she was there and she was dead.”
Well, that made sense.
“Don’t wait up for us,” Alex said as we went out. “I don’t know how long we’ll be.”
“Lovely spot,” said Alex dryly.
“Bloody paradise,” I muttered.
The house looked like it hadn’t been inhabited for years. Given Neil Attock’s lifestyle, it probably hadn’t been. The handkerchief sized front garden looked like a jungle, a confused tangle of dying shrubs, metre high weeds and waist height grass. It had obviously been used by the neighbouring youth as well – the abandoned beer cans and old takeaway cartons strewn liberally in the grass were evidence of that. There was also graffiti all over the walls and worst of all, used condoms hung by some wit out of a window like some gross form of Christmas decoration. It was a house that stood out in a long row of terraced, fairly crummy accommodation, most of which was not that much better than the one we now stood in front of.
The front door had been boarded over, but, like the rest of the house, it was pretty rotten from the recent wet weather and it was no trouble for me, unfit weakling as I am to pull it away from the doorframe. However, the door was a little more solid and I let Alex, karate chopper extraordinaire, do the kicking in.
“What would the neighbours think? Breaking and entering in broad – well, cloudy – daylight? ” I muttered as we went through the black rectangle of the open door into the unlit house.
“That we were deranged burglars who didn’t have a clue what they were doing?” Alex asked sarcastically. “Besides, look at the place. Do you really think anybody cares?”
If possible, the interior was worse. The carpet was industrial grey and looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned since it was laid. Which, in all likelihood, it probably hadn’t. There were more takeaway cans in here and evidence of a campfire in the front room. I wondered why it hadn’t burnt out of control. There was damp running all the way down the walls and a musty smell of dry rot. Used cigarette ends littered the floor and someone had scrawled things across the walls and ceilings, most of which were too rude to repeat.
“No,” I answered.
“Precisely. You start downstairs, I’ll go upstairs. Holler if you see anything.” He started up the creaky, uncarpeted staircase.
I started with the room just to the right of me, a rather dilapidated sitting room with a broken television and which smelt like someone had used it as a toilet. Which, judging by the stain on the disgusting carpet, somebody had. The sofas were all damp and saggy, although there were a few stiff patches which betrayed it’s new use. The other rooms – a kitchen, a cloakroom and a second bedroom - were all in a similar state of disrepair, though without the strong toilet smell. All of them were empty, although I did find large quantities of cocaine or heroin or something similar in the kitchen cupboards. I left them there, making a mental note to anonymously tip off the local police, then remembered the local police was the Met.
No Steph. Not a clue where she might be. Nobody had lived here for months, maybe even years. It was just the drunken hangout for the local drunken kids.
I walked upstairs to find Alex and met him on the landing.
“Nada” I said. I could hear the defeated tone in my voice.
“Admit it, it was a very long shot,” Alex replied.
He followed me back downstairs and out the front door, where we discovered that our presence had been noticed by the ‘local populus’, as my father once said. A girl wearing a tracksuit and hooped earrings was waiting at the gate.
“Nuffin’ worth stealing in there,” she told us through her chewing gum. “My mate already tried. Don’t you touch them drugs by the way. Although,” she added, looking at Alex, “I could make an exception for you.”
“Who says we were nicking anything?” I asked. “You don’t know the guy who lives there do you?” The girl was obviously a gossip and our trip into the house would probably be all over the local youth by the next day, but gossips, like phone books, can be mines of information.
“Not personally, but I know ‘im by sight if that’s what you mean. Greasy looking fella wiv brown hair. He only stays there overnight, like, once a month, and the doors never locked so we get the run of the place. The broken window round the back’s an easier way of gettin’ in that kicking the door down. Although it was good kicking.” She was getting into her stride by now, still talking straight at Alex, which bugged me. “The mums don’t like ‘im – me ma says he works for the sewer company and gropes little kids, and tells scare stories about ‘im.” She would have gone on but Alex cut in hastily.
“Yes, well, he’s clearly not there now so we’ll piss off and leave you to it.”
The girl looked at him coyly. “Well, suit yourself. But if you do come back, I’m Ellie if you wanna look me up.” She winked at him. I rolled my eyes.
“We’ll see,” I said, towing Alex away. I was pleased when he didn’t look back, for some odd reason.
But I logged her information firmly in my mind in case any of it had any bearing on later events.
“So that was a complete waste of time,” surmised Freddie when we arrived back at the flat and told him about our failed reconnaissance mission.
“You could say that,” said Alex.
I saw they were looking at me.
“I’m off duty. You think of some bright ideas,” I said curtly.
“What’s with you?” asked Alex, concern and pacification mingled in his voice.
“I dunno. Everything we try, they seem to be one step ahead. Our only line of investigation has come to nothing and I keep seeing Steph…if we fail…” I couldn’t finish, just slumped onto a chair with my head in my hands. “I’m too young for this sort of pressure. We should be enjoying the long summer holidays, not racing against the clock to save our best friend.”
For a while there was silence in the sitting room. The weight of my confession hung in the air.
At last, Alex spoke.
“We will save her, Robyn,” he said quietly. “We just need to decide what we’re going to do now.”
“We could always look for whatever we took her away in,” suggested Freddie.
“Do we know what they took her away in, or the number-plate?” I asked, still with my head in my hands.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
“I suppose there’s no point in checking out Rabman – he probably lives in a caravan in the middle of a random field, could be bloody anywhere,” said Alex.
“Doesn’t look like there’s much we can do,” I said, endeavouring to hide my utter exhaustion and defeat. Without much success.
“We can’t give up now-’’ Freddie started to say.
“We’re not giving up, I think what we’ve gotta do is backtrack a bit,” I said, pacifying.
“I don’t think we have time to backtrack,” said Freddie grimly.
* * *
They had taken her bindings off, but she was so sore and weak that she could barely move anyway. She was also hungry, as all they had given her was a plastic wrapped sandwich and a bottle of water, the sort of thing one got cheap at Wilkinsons or Tesco Express.
Instinctively Steph shrank away as the piece of wood over the door was pulled away.
It was Rabman, and he was alone.
He moved fast, so fast she didn’t have time to scramble away. In a short time he had hauled her to her feet and slammed her against the pole in the middle of the room. He chained her hands around the pole with handcuffs. She couldn’t move and inch. The cuffs cut tightly into her wrists.
Rabman took a length of grey duct tape and taped it over her mouth. Then he began unbuckling his jeans a smile on his face which made her feel physically sick.
He enjoys this, she thought. He wants to drag this out, make it slow. Make it worse.
Steph shut her eyes as he began taking his jeans off. It didn’t stop her feeling the pain as he forced himself into her. It didn’t stop her smelling his breath, which smelt more strongly of alcohol this time.
She didn’t open her eyes one inch though. That was giving in, if she let him see the fear in her eyes.
How many girls did you do this to, you sick fucker, she wanted to say. Was this what you did to her? The fear in her was suddenly replaced by fury, which boiled within her and she wanted to scratch his eyes out, gouge his face, rip his balls off and shove them down his throat. But she was chained up, so she couldn’t.
When he’d finally had enough, he moved away. She kicked out hard, aiming for his bollocks, letting some of her fury show. Unfortunately she missed, and he just laughed hard.
“I like ‘em feisty,” he said, grinning, enjoying her discomfort. But he did remove the gag from her mouth and uncuffed her hands, shoving her back down on the mattress.
“Why?” she gasped, “Why are you doing this?”
He turned to her, and his amusement had turned to hard anger.
“Because I don’t like people who put me behind bars,” he said, menacingly.
She spat at him. He laughed again and walked away, replacing the wood over the door.
It was then that she realised that the hard object beneath her knee was Rabman’s mobile phone, which must have fallen out of his pocket while he raped her.
Knowing she would never get another opportunity like this one, she seized and dialled Robyn’s mobile number.
She sat there in the darkness, praying that she would pick up. Then, with a sense of relief she hadn’t felt for what seemed like days, something clicked on the other end of the line and a guarded voice said, “Hello?”
“Robyn? Robyn it’s me,” Steph whispered.
There was a gasp. “Oh my God, Steph are you okay?” She sounded panicked.
“Not really, but we’ll pass over that bit. I nicked Rabman’s phone, it fell out of his pocket when he…”
There was silence on the other end. Then, “Has he raped you?”
Steph said nothing and Robyn understood. “Oh Jesus.”
She seemed to take a deep breath, as though swallowing tears, and then said, “Do you know where you are?”
“Nope. It’s dark, very wet, and smells like a drain, but that’s all I can tell you. Listen Robyn,” Steph was suddenly urgent – she knew that Rabman would miss the mobile soon. “Robyn, I think he’s going to kill me, to try and get to you. Don’t take the bait, whatever you do. If I don’t get out of this alive, I love you all, and tell Freddie…I…I…I love him, in the true sense of the word.”
“We’re going to find you, girlie.” She said. “You’ll be okay, we won’t give up until we do.” Robyn’s words gave Steph a life buoy to grab onto, and she allowed herself to be comforted by them.
A step in the passage outside warned her of someone approaching.
“Shit” she muttered, as a way of warning Robyn. Steph hung up the phone and shoved it away from her across the floor, just in time.
Rabman entered, clearly on the track of his missing phone. He found it where she had shoved it away and dangled it in front of her with a smug grin on his face, as if to say, look what you missed. Steph tried her best to look defeated as he left with it, but it was hard. Although she was praying that he wouldn’t check his call history, she felt something she hadn’t felt for a while.