Squall’s End, Essex countryside
Alexandria sat on the floor of the hallway with he head resting in her hands. As she breathed in and out she counted slowly in her mind from one to ten and back again. Slowly she felt the panic that had gripped her after the phone call from her Father starting to subside and she looked up, almost surprised to see that the house was just the same as it had been before the strange events of the morning. Standing up she grabbed her phone and dialled the only number she knew that could possibly help her - 999, for the emergency services. As she waited to be connected she heard the crunch of tyre on gravel that signalled a car pulling into the driveway. With the phone still stuck to her ear she walked from the hall into the dining room, one of two rooms at the front of the house and peered out of the window. A black SUV was parked diagonally behind her own 4x4, pointing at the front door and blocking her in.
Alexandria’s phone beeped to tell her that she was out of signal range in that particular room of the house. ‘Damn it,’ she said taking her eyes off the window and looking at the screen. She often cursed the bad reception in the countryside that had never been a problem for her in London. She turned back to the window and watched as two men wearing black jeans and black bomber jackets climbed out of the car, one from the passenger seat, one from the back. They walked round to the boot of the car and pulled out two large bags before starting to walk towards the front door.
Alexandria froze. Simon had told her to get out of the house. Her Father had told her that men were coming for her. While her rational mind told her to go to the front door to find out what the men wanted, her instincts told her to do the complete opposite and run. Stuffing the phone into her pocket she ran back into the hallway, grabbed her coat and small leather holdall that she had packed ready to go to her parents house and made her way through the kitchen and utility room to the back door. She fumbled with the key for a moment before it connected and she wrenched the door open almost overbalancing with her own adrenaline-fuelled strength. Luckily they had replaced the flimsy back gate that used to connect the main house to the garage and roof store with a solid brick wall immediately on moving in, the contractors arriving the same day that they did and completing the job quickly and cleanly much to Alexandria’s surprise. You almost couldn’t see the join and there was no way of telling that it was just a simple wall and not an extension. She was so grateful that Simon had planned the work in advance after buying the property and reasoned that it should slow down anyone who might try cutting off her escape route.
Once outside she ran down the long narrow garden that was hedged on both sides, past the crooked wendy house that had been a surprise but welcome addition not mentioned in the particulars of the property and through a wooden gate in the middle of the hedge at the end of the garden. The gravel path that sat between her garden and the wall around her neighbour’s house was wet from overnight rain and she almost slid straight into the bricks. Recovering quickly she followed the path until she reached a set of huge wooden gates and ran straight to the intercom panel that was attached to the brick on the right hand side, pressing the call button frantically. While she waited she alternated between glaring into the small camera mounted above the intercom and glancing backward down the path to see if she had been followed.
Suddenly there was a whirring noise and the gates started to open. She slipped inside as soon as the space between the gates was wide enough for her to pass through sideways and ran down the gravel path that led to the front door of her neighbour’s house. Major Charles Banwell was already waiting at the door for her and pointed her straight into the wide oak panelled hall where she finally stopped to catch her breath. The Major didn’t speak or even look at Alexandria until he was certain that the gates were shut again. Then he turned and fixed her with a strong, confident gaze that was at odds with the casual, almost jaunty tone in his voice.
‘Looks like you’ve had an interesting morning, my dear,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you tell me why you’re shaking like a leaf and pale as a ghost, eh?’
‘Major, we have to call the police right away, Aryanna, my Mother…’ Alexandria said, but before another word could come out of her mouth the panic she had felt just a short time earlier welled up again and she started to gasp for air.
Almost immediately she felt big hands gripping her arms and sitting her down on one of the antique chairs in the hallway. As she started counting again, as she had been taught to by her Mother as a little child whenever a panic attack gripped her, she felt a brown paper bag being placed in her hands. Gratefully she placed it around her lips and breathed in and out of the bag, feeling the carbon dioxide flow back into her lungs, correcting the imbalance caused by her hyperventilation. After a couple of minutes, although a little dizzy, she felt able to put the bag down and breath normally.
The Major put down the receiver of the hall telephone and led her into a drawing room with two comfortable sofas facing each other and sat her down on one of them before moving towards a table at the other end of the room and pouring a small measure of amber liquid from a cut glass decanter into two crystal tumblers. He handed one of the glasses to Alexandria and placed the other on the table between the sofas before sitting down opposite her.
‘Drink that down in one,’ he said sternly.
Alexandria did as she was told and drained the glass. The whisky burned her throat but she immediately felt a warmth spread through her that distracted her from the thoughts racing through her mind.
‘Ok, the Police are on their way.’ he said more softly, ‘So while we’re waiting why don’t you just start at the beginning and tell me exactly what’s going on.’