Squall’s End, Essex countryside
Major Charles Banwell sat back in his seat and sipped from his own glass of whisky. The story that Alexandria had told him after she’d stumbled through the door struck him as both strange and entirely plausible. As a retired senior officer that had served in both the Korean war and Northern Ireland there wasn’t much that surprised him but this seemed more than just a straightforward case of kidnapping for ransom. He didn’t know Alexandria or her husband very well; he’d invited his new neighbours to dinner when they’d moved in to get to know them but he knew the politeness of first meetings often hid people’s true personalities, natures and backgrounds. Even so, they weren’t overly wealthy or famous which were the usual reasons for the sort of so-called ‘express kidnapping’ that required a quick pay out of a sum of money for the release of a loved one. But Alexandria was clearly terrified and it was that fear and her description of the events that had transpired that morning that cemented the plausibility of the story for him.
Alexandria had been right to ask him to call the Police straight away. While the Major didn’t have any experience of kidnapping himself he did know that time was usually of the essence and indeed a police car had arrived within the hour. Inspector Brian Crowl had wasted no time taking Alexandria’s statement and was currently talking her through the process that they followed when a kidnapping was reported.
‘Ok, Mrs. Baxby, is there anything else you’d like to tell me before we wrap this up?’ Inspector Crowl asked, his pen poised above his regulation issued police notebook.
‘No, I don’t think so.’ Alexandria replied, shaking her head gently and rising from the sofa. ‘How long do you think this will take? To find them I mean?’ She asked him.
‘Our team will start working on it immediately,’ The Inspector replied, closing the notebook, standing up and placing his black and white checker board rimmed hat under his arm. ‘I’ll be in touch with you this afternoon to give you an update.’
‘I’ll see you out Inspector,’ Major Banwell said, standing up himself and walking the policeman to the front door.
Back in the drawing room Alexandria’s head was in her hands.
‘I just can’t believe that this is happening.’ She said, the desperation clear in her voice, as the Major came back into the room.
‘Well it is happening, Alexandria, and the sooner you accept that the better you’ll be able to deal wit’h it. Believe me, I know.’ The words were harsh perhaps but he meant them kindly and looking up into his face, she could see that too.
She was just about to ask him what he meant by those last words when a buzzing from her jacket pocket stopped her. She grabbed at the phone hoping it was Simon or some good news at least. On glancing at the screen the caller’s number had been withheld and when she answered the call, she realised immediately why.
‘My dear Alexandria,’ a man said. ‘What a frightfully busy morning you’ve had.’
Alexandria didn’t recognise the voice. ‘Hello? Who is this?’ She replied.
‘My name is Stephen Charles,’ the man said, ‘I wanted to call to let you know that your Mother and daughter are just fine. For now. In fact we’ve been having a marvellous time getting to know each other over the past couple of hours.’ His ultra politeness was completely out of place yet at the same time it rendered him chillingly calm.
‘Who are you? Where are they? What do you want?!’ Alexandria rose out of her seat as she shouted into the phone and the Major immediately joined her standing close enough to the phone so that he could hear the caller as well.
‘Now, now, don’t distress yourself Alexandria, or is it Alex? No matter. I didn’t call to upset you. No, I called to make one thing perfectly clear to you.’ All politeness left his voice as he completed the reason for his call. ‘There is absolutely no point in you trying to find me or them. I am a powerful man with powerful friends throughout the length and breadth of this fair country, including, as a matter of fact, that nice Inspector Crowl who just came to visit at your neighbour’s house.’
Major Banwell felt his sense of unease increase exponentially and slipped his arm across Alexandria’s shoulders both to comfort and support her as she started to slump back down onto the sofa.
‘Am I making myself understood? He is by no means my only friend in the Police force either in case you were thinking of calling again.’ The man paused to let his words sink in before continuing in a lighter more jovial tone. ‘Now, I’m sure Aryanna would like to get back home as soon as possible, even if she isn’t particularly looking forward to your skills as a cook my dear, so why don’t I just explain what I need from you.’
Alexandria sat motionless on the leather sofa trying not to think about how much this man knew about her family, and how he might have gone about finding it all out.
‘What I’m looking for is a small box. It won’t be much more than six or eight inches across and it will probably be wooden. Perhaps your husband gave it to Aryanna as a toy? She doesn’t seem to remember it at the moment, although I shall of course be asking her again very shortly…’ his voice trailed off slightly for a moment before continuing. ‘Bring the box to me and I will release your family immediately and, of course, compensate you for the inconvenience. I’m sure the mortgage on a new property such as yours is a but of a millstone around one’s neck? Perhaps I can do something about that for you. In any case, you have twenty four hours to find the box. I will call you back then. Goodbye Alexandria.’
Alexandria dropped the phone on the floor and couldn’t stifle the sob that exploded from her chest. Major Banwell held her tightly as the panic gripped her but she pushed him away and he realised that she wasn’t shaking with fear but with anger.
‘How DARE he do this to us, to our family!’ She roared, letting all the pent up frustration and fear that had been building inside of her out in one go. ‘Who the hell is this man?!’
Rather than replying Major Banwell picked up the extension phone on the sideboard to the right of the leather sofa and dialled a number that he knew by heart. It took less than three rings for the call to connect.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Are you busy right now?’