It had been nearly six months since she had last seen any of her close friends. Hibernating from the world in a closet full of painful memories, Laura had barely ventured out of the house. The loss had hit her particularly hard. Tonight however, she hoped to put all of that behind her with a toast to moving on.
Laura’s good friend Chloe turned thirty today and had planned a celebratory night out for all of her girlfriends. A local tapas bar would set the scene for what was sure to be a classic girly evening which they had all been looking forward to for some time.
As she added the finishing touches to an already colourful array of make up, the door bell rang.
“Hey trouble!” Chloe came crashing through the door with her handbag in one hand and a half finished bottle of prosecco in the other.
“Are you ready or what?” she asked.
“Yeah give me two minutes to get my shoes on and I’ll be out” Laura replied.
“Ok hurry up babe. The taxi won’t wait forever”.
Laura sat on the stairs and slipped into her four inch heels. She was sure that come midnight she would be taking them off again on the way home but they looked good. She stood up, grabbed her bag and locked the door behind her. She climbed into the taxi and was treated to a competitive surge of hugs and kisses.
On the way to the tapas bar in amidst painfully out of tune serenades to passers by, much to the amusement of the taxi driver, Laura was reminded once again of her past.
“So how have things been since losing Dan?” asked her friend Hannah.
“Yeah okay. I think I’m finally coming to terms with it all to be honest” she replied. “I still miss him like crazy but it’s getting easier”. Hannah placed her hand on Laura’s knee. “You’ll be fine you know. We’re going to have a good night tonight”.
The taxi pulled up outside the bar and they climbed out one by one trying to retain their dignity as they did so. As they walked inside their table stood out like a sore thumb. The ‘Happy Birthday’ banners and ’30’ balloon the big giveaway. A waiter ushered them over and they took their seats. “Someone will be over to take your drinks order in a second ladies” he said.
Ten minutes had passed before he arrived at the table.
“What can I get you girls?”
They each looked at him as if he had arrived from another planet. A Spanish planet.
“Wow” whispered Chloe to Laura.
“I know. Where the hell did he come from?” she replied.
“I don’t know babe but I want to go there on my holidays”. The two of them giggled in unison.
“And what can I get you my..” He paused. Laura slowly shifted her gaze upwards as he stood beside her fixated on her nervous eyes. A confused expression now appearing on his face. “It’s you”.
“Do I know you?” she said. Her friends now waiting in anticipation for his response.
“Oh. Errrr not exactly no” he replied. “You don’t remember me do you?”
“I’m really sorry but no” Laura replied. She was now feeling slightly unnerved by the whole situation.
“How about some drinks instead?” suggested Hannah rather impatiently.
“Oh. I’m sorry”. He took the rest of the orders before disappearing.
A few moments later, the waiter that had shown them to their table reappeared with a tray of drinks.
“Where’s the other guy gone?” asked Chloe.
“Who Ivan?” he replied.
“I don’t know. The fit one” she said.
“He has had to go home. He not feeling very well. You know bad stomach.”
“You have got to be kidding me” said Chloe. “Come on then. Where do you know him from? You kept that one a secret didn’t you?”
“I have absolutely no idea. He must have mistaken me for someone else” Laura replied. ‘Ivan’ she thought to herself. The name just wasn’t familiar to her. No, he must have got it wrong.
The meal was a success and Chloe, although slightly worse for wear at this point, suggested that they go onto a bar. All of them in agreement, they asked for the bill. Laura reached into her handbag to check her phone. Her mother had not been well recently and she had given her an open invitation to text or call whenever she needed too.
‘Oh no!’ she said.
‘What’s up babe?’ asked Hannah.
‘I’ve left my phone at home. I need it in case my mum calls’.
‘You can text her from my phone if you want’ suggested Hannah. Laura knew the number like the back of her hand she had used it so many times. Having to focus more than usual due to the alcohol taking effect, she text her mum as they left the restaurant.
Finding it highly amusing that they had somehow managed to get the same driver as before, the girls picked up where they left off. Windows down, intoxicated and high on excitement, they headed to their favourite bar.
As they danced like it was going out of fashion, the painful memories that had stolen Laura’s soul for so long now felt like a distant memory. At 1 o’clock however she was ready to go home. She called herself a taxi home before stumbling through the door. She had enjoyed a great night with her friends but was glad to be home. After making herself a slice of toast which she seemed to chew on for at least half an hour, she sat down on the sofa. Within five minutes she was asleep.
Laura had forgotten all about her mother and was unsure whether or not her text had reached her earlier in the evening. However, as she slept, she was blissfully unaware that her phone lay upstairs on her bedside table, vibrating at short intervals.The text message was not from her mother and the wait until sunrise may prove too late to respond to the sender.
As the light filtered into the room through a small gap in the curtains, she stirred. With her head beating like a drum Laura made her way into the kitchen. Filling a glass to the top with water she turned to look at the clock on the wall noticing that it was nowhere near the time she thought it might be. With two paracetamol in hand she headed upstairs to bed.
As she walked into her room, she picked up her phone from the bed side table. “Damn it” she said to herself noticing the battery had died. She plugged it in to charge and climbed into bed. Just as she was drifting off to sleep, her phone vibrated awakening her with a startle. She rolled over and reached out for it almost knocking her glass of water over in the process. Slowly opening one eye, she noticed the text and a missed call. The call having been made at 01:46am and the text followed shortly after. She was sure as she waited for the voicemail to begin, that it would be one of her friends leaving her a drunken goodnight. What came next made her sit bolt upright with fear. As she listened, a shiver went down her spine and a feeling of panic set in. She played the message again.
‘Laura! Laura! Hello? Please pick up. Please pick up. Oh my god. Laura its Chloe plea…’. The message cut off again. She recognised Hannah’s voice but only just. The panic and fear distorting her normally calm and collected manner. Laura did not know what to do first. She called Hannah but there was no answer. She tried Chloe crossing every bone in her body. The call went straight to voicemail. “Chloe its Laura. Please call me back to let me know you’re ok”. Now wide awake, she jumped out of bed and got dressed. As she paced around her room, it came to her. There was only one thing for it. She had to go back to the bar even if it was only 7.30 in the morning.
As she drove towards the town, she had no idea what she may find or even if the bar would be open. The fear in Hannah’s voice had left her with no choice but to at least try. The twelve minute drive was full of personal torment. Every minute a valid reason would float into Laura’s head as to why Hannah had left the voicemail. However, as she turned the corner coming face to face with the bar, her fears were confirmed.
The bar was surrounded by blue and white tape and 2 police vehicles sat outside. As she parked up and stepped out of her car, she found herself praying for what would now be a miracle. And she knew it. She approached the tape as a policeman came from inside the bar to greet her. “I am sorry but I will have to move you on from this area Madame” he said formally. “Can I just ask what has happened” she asked. Now crossing her fingers that his response would be one she wanted to hear. “I’m afraid a girl was abducted in the early hours of this morning” he replied. Laura’s stomach turned upside down. She felt physically sick. She turned and ran towards her car. “Excuse me” called the policeman but it was too late. Laura had gone. She pulled out her phone to try Hannah again. As she did so she noticed the text message that she had forgotten all about. It had disappeared into her minefield of saved messages that she had stored on her phone. Rather reluctantly she opened the message from the unknown sender. To her horror it simply read ‘Do you remember me now?’.
Laura stood next to her car frozen to the ground with fear. Her nightmare had come alive again but this time it was not her that was the subject of his evil. It was Chloe.
Almost seven years ago Laura had been celebrating her 23rd birthday when she was abducted and held captive for 24 hours. It was a nightmare that she thought would never come back to haunt her. She never saw his face as the mask he so proudly wore overshadowed the troubled soul inside. One thing that Laura did know was that Chloe was out with her that fateful night. She had to return to the bar to speak to the policeman for that may be Chloe’s only hope of survival.
As she approached the bar, she tried to piece together her painful memories. Making a mental list of anything the police may need to know. One piece of evidence that she did have was that she had now seen his face. She had even spoke with him. She briefly gave her story to the policeman who was still standing outside the bar. “You had better come inside Laura” he said.
She sat down on the same stool as she had done only hours before, with Chloe next to her. The smell of stale alcohol filled the room making her feel queasy. “I know this is going to be hard for you Laura but we need as much information from you as you can possibly remember” he said. “Let’s start with a description of this man who we now believe to be called Ivan”. Laura described him as best she could before stopping in her tracks. “Hang on. Why can’t we just call him or text him back on this number?” she said. “I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that” replied the officer. “My colleague has tried calling the number back but there was no answer. We are in the process of tracing the location of the phone but this may take a while. Are there any similarities at all with this case and yours that you believe may be relevant? Anything.” “Well it might just be coincidence but it also happened to me on my birthday and Chloe was also with me that night. Whether or not it’s relevant I don’t know” said Laura. “I mean this was 7 years ago. Why would he remember me?”. “I have no idea but we will find Chloe don’t worry. The best thing you can do is to go home and see if you can contact any of the other friends that you were out with last night that may also have information for us. And if he texts again, please do not be tempted to reply. Call me.” The officer handed Laura his card and they said their goodbyes.
As she opened her front door and entered the house, it felt decidedly colder than usual. Even though she lived on her own and was accustomed to quiet, sometimes lonely surroundings, today felt like she had no one. She didn’t know where to turn, who to call or what to think.
Back at the bar, a young officer who’s duty it was to liaise with the station to gain further information on Ivan’s possible whereabouts, stepped out of the bar. “Sir. We’ve got a location on the phone” he said urgently. “Good work Sam. Where are we heading” he said as they climbed into one of the vehicles that sat outside. “11 Sandell Close Sir” he replied. “Say that again”. “11 Sandell Close?” he replied. “That’s Laura’s address. Go!”.
She was unaware of the horrors that lie only feet away as she crossed the hallway passing the living room. As she climbed the stairs towards her bedroom she began to feel like an alien in her own home. She recalled the affect he had on her before and that same affect was beginning to take over once more with every sound startling her nervously. She placed her bag on the bed and started to get undressed. Silence ringing in her ears as she waited for him to make contact. Suddenly she was brought back down to earth with a bump of realisation. Her friend was missing and the only person she had heard from since last night was Ivan himself. She picked up her phone, blissfully ignoring the police officers request and dialled the number. A moment later she felt paralysed. Icy cold with fear as she listened to the ring below trying to make sense of what was happening.
“You have 4 seconds to get downstairs or she dies Laura”.
The fear vanished as Laura counted what seemed to be the longest 4 seconds of her life. She slipped on the final step twisting her ankle in the process. Turning from her crumpled heap on the floor to face the living room, she could just make out a dark shadow behind the pains of frosted glass. Managing to get to her feet, she ignored the pain and limped towards the doors. Pulling them apart, her nightmare became reality. There he stood. The same man, the same mask and the same chair beside him. Except this time it wasn’t Laura who occupied the chair, it was Chloe. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she sat there almost defeated. He had taped her mouth and tied her hands behind her back.
“Your cutting it a bit fine Laura” he said. “This is a lot longer than 4 seconds”. Something about his voice bothered her. She had spoken with Ivan only hours earlier and his Spanish accent was strong. Whoever hid behind this mask was not Spanish. She was sure of it.
“What do you want from us?” she said. A car screeched to a halt outside instantly turning his calmness on its head.
“Who knows I’m here? Who have you told? Sit down!” he shouted. Laura walked over to the sofa and sat down as instructed.
“I’ve no idea. Are you ok?” She looked at Chloe who managed half a nod.
The officers sat in the car waiting for the calvery to arrive.
“Sir we need to do something” said Sam.
“We’re not moving until back up arrives. We haven’t got a clue what’s going down in there Sam. He’s obviously a very dangerous man.”
Minutes later with their sirens whaling, 2 police vans and an unmarked vehicle pulled up beside them. One of the officers immediately jumped out of the marked car.
“We’ve got a problem” he said. “Listen to this”. He passed them his phone which they put on loudspeaker in the car.
“Start the voicemail” he said.
“Hi. This is a message for officer Stephenson. It is Ivan here. I have been asked to call you. I am at the restaurant now if you need to talk. Please call me back. I don’t understand why you need me. Thanks”.
“We’ve got the wrong man. That message was left 5 minutes ago as we were driving here”.
“Shit!” shouted the officer as he hit his steering wheel in frustration.
“If that’s not Ivan in there, who the hell is it?”.
Chloe looked at Laura in desperation with tears still rolling down her cheeks.
“What do you want from us?” asked Laura again. “Who are you?”.
“I am that same man that you met all them years ago. I knew I would never forget your face and I haven’t had to forget Chloe’s as I’ve been keeping an eye on her for the past 2 years”. Chloe tried to scream but the tape over her mouth silenced her.
“I don’t understand. You held me for 24 hours without laying a finger on me. And now Chloe. Why?” asked Laura. She had longed for this opportunity to question him ever since her ordeal and never thought she would get the chance to do so.
“Well ever since that night 7 years ago when you and Chloe joined me on the ride into town for your birthday, I haven’t looked back”. He began to walk slowly around the room, circling Chloe whilst not averting his gaze away from Laura. “Those few minutes were not enough. I needed more. Time goes so quickly in our world Laura. The 24 hours I spent with you were perfect. How could I resist having the same with Chloe? I must admit, I do feel a bit greedy having both of you with me this time”.
“Hang on. What do you mean ‘ride into town’?” Laura asked.
‘Well you didn’t think it was just coincidence that we managed to meet twice tonight do you?” he said.
“Twice?” she replied.
“Does this help?” He slowly lifted the mask that had hidden his face for so long.
“I knew i recognised that voice. How could you?” Laura asked. Before her stood the man that had only hours earlier been laughing and singing with them on the way to the restaurant.
“I even came to dinner with you and sat only a few tables away unnoticed. When I saw you speaking with the waiter it was the perfect opportunity to somehow hide my actions. I knew my text would immediately put him in the picture but now you know my true identity it makes me feel even closer to you. And to you”. He stroked Chloe’s hair making her turn in disgust.
“All I wanted to do was spend more time with you both that’s all. My wife and I were robbed of time when she was taken from me almost 8 years ago”. Laura looked at Chloe trying to offer some gesture of comfort but failed to find one.
Police now surrounded the house and it had turned into ‘operation unknown’ with them having no idea who the abductor was.
“Sir we have a man on him now. He has been described as approximately 6 feet, dark short hair with a moustache. Possibly of Middle Eastern decent”.
“Get Ivan here now. We need to know how he has got caught up in all this” replied the officer. A car left the scene in pursuit of Ivan.
Fifteen minutes later he was back and a confused looking Ivan climbed from car to car shuffling across the back seat nervously.
“Ivan I take it?” asked the officer.
“That’s right yes. What is happening here?” he asked.
“Two girls have been taken hostage inside this house and until now, we believed you to be our man Ivan. Can you tell me what may have made us think that?”
“I honestly have no idea”. The officer showed him a relatively blurry still image that they had managed to capture.
“Any idea who this man is?” he asked.
“No. I remember him coming into the restaurant though just after the birthday girls came in. He sat at a table on his own and just had coffee. I left the restaurant shortly after that”.
“And why did you leave the restaurant so early?” the officer asked.
“Oh er, I was not feeling well. I had a bad stomach”. The officer turned to his colleague with a look of disbelief on his face.
“And do you know these two girls?”
The officer passed Ivan a photo of Chloe.
“I recognise her from last night but I do not know her. Who is the the other girl?” he asked. The officer passed him the photo of Laura.
“Oh please Jesus no”.
The officer looked at Ivan in surprise.
“Do you know this girl Laura?”
“Please you must do something. She is not who you think she is. She will kill him”. The officer could see that Ivan meant every word. His mood dramatically changing in an instant. He motioned to his colleague to move to the back seat.
“Hang on, slow down. What do you mean?”.
“This girl Laura. She will kill him”.
“Ivan, please. Calm down and tell me what you know”.
“I have only met her once before. In the restaurant last night was the second time. I knew her brother Dan through one of my friends” said Ivan.
“Okay. Go on”.
“Dan was a soldier. As far as I know he used to teach in martial arts. Some time ago he was posted to the USA to assist in teaching new recruits the art of unarmed combat. He was a big deal amongst our group of friends. A hero”.
“Where are we going with this Ivan? You’re not making sense” replied the officer. His impatience growing by the second.
“One thing I do know is that after Laura’s first ordeal with this man, Dan promised her that he would teach her everything he knew in case she ever met him again. I am aware that she has been waiting for or even looking for this opportunity. This is no abduction Sir, this has been set up”.
“Do you know where this Dan is?” asked the officer.
“Yes” Ivan replied. “He is dead and has been for months”.
“Great! This gets even better. Why didn’t we do a background check on Laura for crying out loud”.
“Why would we Sir? Until now we hadn’t any reason to suspect she may be involved” replied his colleague from the back seat of the car.
“Please tell me you won’t let her kill him” pleaded Ivan.
He continued to pace up and down the lounge stamping his authority on what he thought was his situation to control. Laura shifted along the sofa as he turned his back on her for the first time. An action that she took note of. He was becoming too comfortable and his concentration was slipping. Dan had said that this may happen. Chloe had brought him here and that she was grateful of. Now she just had to finish the job. Part of her sympathised with his story but it was not enough to spare him from what he was owed. It would end here and now, she thought.
“Now this time we have a problem Laura. The police are outside and as far as I am concerned I am a dead man walking. It’s time to put these years of misery behind us. The three of us will go quietly. Together”. Laura looked at Chloe knowing that whatever happened now, they were in this together.
“Kneel down beside Chloe”. Laura didn’t move an inch.
“Now!” he said. She fell from the sofa onto the floor and knelt perfectly still beside her friend. He bent down to retrieve what Laura knew would be a weapon. “Anything but a gun. Please” she thought to herself. From his bag he pulled a small knife and Laura’s mind went blank. She needed Dan now more than ever. She could see his face before her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Chloe’s fearful eyes burning through her. She made her move grabbing his right leg from behind whilst bringing her left leg around in a sweeping motion taking his left leg clean out. He fell to the floor dropping his knife in front of him. Laura climbed to her feet and mounted him sliding her right arm underneath his chin cutting off all hope of an escape. Chloe looked on with muffled screams continuing to grow in volume.
“All these years I’ve been waiting for this moment and I don’t even know your name” said Laura. He said nothing.
“Your name!” shouted Laura. He could hardly breathe her grip was so tight. Dan had taught her where the pressure should be applied.
“Im… Imran” he said.
“Why us Imran?” said Laura.
“Why you? Why any of you?” he replied.
“There was more?” she asked.
“A lot more Laura. You’re not as special as you think”.
“Well I’m afraid Imran that there will be no more. Goodnight”. Laura reached for the mask and placed it over his face before looking to the sky and ending her nightmare. It was over in a flash. She let go of him and he fell to the floor motionless. Laura turned and removed the tape from Chloe’s mouth before untying her arms. They embraced each other in tears. Neither of them moved for five minutes.
“Laura what the hell are we going to do now?” asked Chloe.
“He fell down the stairs whilst chasing me okay? Come on I need a hand”. Laura removed the mask from his face and they pulled the body to the bottom of the stairs. With her ankle now a swollen mess, she took Chloe’s hand.
“It’s over Chloe. He’s gone. I have so much to thank you and Dan for. I couldn’t have done it without you both”. She looked up and smiled.
“Come on”. They walked towards the door hand in hand and as it opened, light filled the hallway with what felt like a heavenly beam of light. “I love you too bro”.