‘Dear Mum and Dad. Although it pains me to tell you this, I have decided to run away. Don’t ask me when I’ll be back, because I seriously don’t know. All I know is that living here is too difficult for me right now, and I need to clear my head. Much love, Valorie.’
The tears rolled down Mrs Morse’s face as she read the note her daughter had left. ‘Oh Carl, I can’t believe it. She seemed so happy yesterday. What did we do?’
‘I don’t know. Lord knows I tried to be nice to those people.’
‘Where should we search first?’
Mr Morse stood up suddenly. His wife, sitting on Valorie’s bed with the letter crumpled in her hands, looked at him in surprise.
‘I think we ought to ask Charley Wotsit about this.’
‘Why? You don’t think he -’
‘Well, probably not. But think about it. He comes over one day to talk to us about impending danger, and our daughter goes missing the next? This isn’t coincidence.’
‘How do we contact him?’ Mrs Morse said, wiping her nose. ‘Do you think he’ll be in Val’s phone?’
Mr Morse nodded as he looked around the room, looking for Valorie’s phone. ‘Could be. Meg, go and get the house phone, call her mobile on that.’
Mrs Morse rushed from the room. She returned barely twenty seconds later with the phone, and dialled the number.
Then, from under the bed, came a ringing. Mrs Morse got on her hands and knees, looking for it. She found it in the pocket of a pair of jeans. She saw some of the rubbish hidden under the bed, but said nothing.
‘OK. Here’s Charley here,’ she said, handing the phone to Mr Morse. ‘Here, you talk to him. I, er, wouldn’t really know what to say.’
Valorie stepped into the flat, Adam leading the way. The inside was plain and uninspiring. The walls were a plain and boring white, the furniture was old and sunken. The only slightly interesting thing about the room was the painting hanging over the mantelpiece, under which there was no fire. The painting was of a bald woman picking flowers in a field.
Adam turned back to shut and lock the door behind him. He then got out his black rod, pointed it at the door, and the lock and handle disappeared. He replaced the rod.
‘How are you going to get out?’ Valorie asked.
‘I’m not,’ he answered. ‘We’ve got enough food to last us a few days.’
Valorie shuffled over to the sofa and fell back into it. It wasn’t insanely comfortable, like Charley’s infamous purple sofa. It was sunken and full of springs. It felt like a bag on coat hangers.
‘OK. This is where you’ll be staying until we get through to Charley. The bathroom’s over there,’ he said, gesturing ‘kitchen there, dining room slash living room here. The windows remain locked, the doors remain locked, nobody leaves without my permission. Any questions?’
‘No,’ Valorie said sarcastically. ‘I think you’ve covered just about everything.’
‘Good. I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire, as long as you don’t do anything stupid, like try to escape. Oh, and the phone doesn’t work, so don’t bother calling anybody.’
‘Try it out if you don’t believe me.’
Valorie looked patronisingly at him. ‘I believe you.’
‘Fine.’ He turned around, looking out the window, and then sat on the sofa next to Valorie. She shuffled further away from him, and was sure she saw him scowl. He reached into his pocket again, pulling out the rod.
Valorie peered at it. ‘Magic wand?’ she said deliberately.
‘No,’ he said, glowering at her. He pointed it in her face. ‘This is my rod. This is how I let out my immense power. If I didn’t have this, I’d be out of control.’
‘You mean more so.’
‘Oh, I’m in control. I know exactly what I’m doing.’
Adam put his face closer to Valorie’s, and the end of the rod flashed. Valorie shrieked and ducked, but the flash of light streaked past her and hit the wall. Valorie’s head came up. She twisted round. Behind her, a fireplace, which hadn’t been there before, was alight. The fire was crackling cheerfully.
‘I don’t want to have to hurt you,’ Adam said, tucking the rod away again. ‘But please have respect for me, and do as you’re told, like a good girl, or bad things will happen to you. And maybe your family too.’
Valorie looked in his eyes, and saw that he meant it.
She bowed her head.