Adam Quinn waited outside the house. He waited until Charley and Eddie finally left, Eddie waving happily to the dark-haired woman at the door, Charley grunting his goodbyes to the balding man just behind her.
He waited until he heard the muttering stop. He waited longer still until all the padding around on the landing and toilet flushing has stopped. He waited until the house was dark and silent.
Adam had seen Charley enter his house to find the mantis cages upset, the computer still on, and his books in disarray. Charley had panicked and shouted, until the woman – Eddie – had managed to calm him down. They had talked about whom it could possibly have been. Was it Adam? They weren’t sure… Then they checked the computer’s history and they were very sure… They just had to go to Valorie’s house and warn her…
Adam followed them in his own car to her house, and concealed himself behind another house, and waited.
Now, here he was. Here was Valorie. Here was his hostage.
Adam crept up to the front door, and knocked quietly on it, so quietly that nobody could possibly have heard it.
‘How odd. Nobody’s home,’ he grinned, and proceeded to walk through the door as if it wasn’t even there.
He stood in the hallway, examining his surroundings. He always liked to do this when he broke in. There was a place for hanging up coats, an alcove under the stairs, where a very ugly armchair was tucked away, and a banister leading upstairs.
He placed a hand on the banister and slowly walked up the stairs. He crept along the edge of the stairs, the least creaky part of the stairs. He counted the steps – eleven, twelve thirteen – until he reached the landing.
Adam crept along the landing, examining the doors, looking for any telltale signs of a young person residing within. Sure enough, the nearest room to the bathroom was Valorie’s – a picture of a Goat eating a dandelion was pinned up on the door, below a sign bearing the legend ‘Enter if you dare.’
Adam entered, grinning. Again, he examined the room. Posters that had been printed off the Internet, drawings of goats and a few past games of consequences hung on the wall. Adam read a few of them with amusement. Then he looked at the drawers with the alarm clock and half a dozen books resting on top. A bin bag, full to bursting with more rubbish piled on top. A squashy chair that became a futon when it was rolled out. A bed, with a fourteen-year-old girl snoozing away.
Adam approached her side, and poked her arm.
‘Wake up, Valorie,’ he said in a singsong voice. ‘Wake up.’
Valorie rolled over and opened her eyes. She opened her mouth to scream, but Adam shoved a hand over it. Valorie tried to bite him. Adam grabbed her hair.
‘Make another noise and I tear off your scalp,’ he said menacingly.
Valorie shut up.
‘You’re coming with me,’ Adam said. ‘You’re going to be my hostage until I can persuade Charley to make the Government see sense. Behave and I’ll treat you well, but make a fuss and you’ll be very, very sorry. Is that clear?’
Valorie spat into Adam’s hand. He merely smiled.
‘Charley did that to me when he finally got rid of me,’ he said, and spat back. It landed on Valorie’s face, and she moaned and struggled to wipe it off, but Adam wouldn’t let her.
‘Before we go,’ Adam said, ‘you’d like to write a note to your parents, explaining why you had to run away so suddenly. Which hand do you write with?’
Valorie’s right arm twitched. Adam linked his arm through Valorie’s left, gripping her wrist, and tugged her painfully out of bed. She fell to the floor. Adam made her crawl over to her drawers, and then he pulled out some paper and a pen.
‘Write,’ he said.
Valorie slowly picked up the pen and began to scrawl. Even in the darkness, Adam glimpsed the words, ‘help me’. He smacked Valorie around the head for her trouble.
‘Write it again,’ he said, tearing up the paper and shoving a fresh one towards her.
Valorie wrote something out, sniffing. Adam read it, and saw that it was clean, so, still keeping one hand over Valorie’s mouth, he dragged her from the room.
They walked down the stairs, through the hallway and out the front door. The night air was cold, but Adam paid no attention.
Adam’s nails cut into her wrists as he dragged Valorie down the street. She kept trying to stop walking along with him, but every time she did, Adam just dragged her along. Her feet became grazed and bloody.
They approached his car. It was a smooth black thing. No student could afford that, so Valorie surmised it was stolen. Then she found that Adam was shoving her into the back seat of the car. He slammed the door behind him. Valorie’s hands instantly went to her face to clean off the spit. It was in her hair, too. She wiped it all off onto her pyjama sleeve, then tried the door.
No such luck. Child-locked.
Adam swung the front door open, slid in, and then shut it again in one fluid movement. Valorie examined her cold, scraped feet.
‘Put your seatbelt on,’ Adam said. Valorie obliged.
‘So where are we going?’ Valorie said moodily. ‘Your place, is it?’
‘No,’ Adam said. ‘The police could trace me back to my house. I’m going somewhere else I know. An old friend used to live there.’
‘Well, whatever works for you.’ Valorie folded her arms and looked extremely grumpy. Just her luck. Every time something good happened to her or Charley or Eddie, something bad always had to come along to spoil it all.
Adam checked his mirrors, turned the lights on, and then they quietly drove away.
Valorie looked out the window, trying to remember the route, but after twenty minutes or so, she gave up. She thought moodily about how, if she’d slept with her mobile phone in her pyjama pocket, she could have called for help by now. Logic told her that anyone who slept with a phone in his or her pyjama pocket was considered overly paranoid, but still. It would have been a tremendous help in this situation.
Adam stopped off at a petrol station to refill his tank. When he returned her had a bottle of cola and some chocolate. He took a swig from the bottle as he climbed in, and threw the chocolate at the back seat.
‘Thoughts you might be hungry,’ he said as he started the car up again.
‘I’m not,’ Valorie protested. She looked at the chocolate bar. The chocolate bar looked back at her. She kept on looking at it as they drove. Her stomach started to rumble, and Adam glanced back at her.
‘Fine,’ she grumbled, and bit into the chocolate. ‘You win.’
Despite herself, Valorie found herself eating the whole thing – it was very nice chocolate.
‘I used to eat that stuff all the time when I was your age,’ Adam said, trying to be chatty.
‘Couldn’t care less.’
‘Oh. You’re very stubborn.’
‘Everyone says that.’
‘And with good reason.’
They passed a few more moments in silence, and then Adam spoke again.
‘I’m only trying to be nice to you,’ Adam said. ‘I like you. If you’re not even going to talk to me, then why should I bother being nice to you?’ He glanced at her in the mirror. ‘I’m sure you know what I’m like when I get angry.’
‘Big deal,’ Valorie said, wriggling further down into the seat.
Adam laughed. ‘You’re not easily scared either. Sophie was like that. She didn’t even seem scared when I leapt forward to kill her.’
Valorie put a hand on her head. ‘OK, could you stop talking about your girlfriend, please? She’s dead, I get it.’
Adam frowned. It hurt to hear someone who was so like Sophie saying bad things about her. It was mixed up and wrong. He hit the steering wheel, making Valorie jump, but then carried on driving.
‘You’re exactly like her,’ Adam continued. ‘I think we’ll get on very well, if you give us a chance.’ He stopped the car, and looked up at he flat, where Joe used to live. ‘We’re here.’