Authors: Mark Edwards
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime
She unbuttoned her jeans and pushed them down. The jeans were so tight it was impossible to squat without toppling backwards or getting urine on her clothes. This was ridiculous. She unlaced one boot and pulled it off before pulling one leg out of her jeans. OK, this would work. She was even more happy that no one was watching her.
As she crouched, she thought about how, despite this hiccup, the situation could still be redeemed. The plan could still work. The cocaine was still in the backpacks, undiscovered. Daniel and Laura had no passports or access to money. They would have to go home. When they reached town they would be able to hitch-hike, or sell that fancy camera to get some cash for train tickets. She would escort the English couple to Bucharest, encourage them to take a plane home and let Camelia know their flight number. It would be Camelia’s job to intercept the couple, enlisting one of her dodgy friends: a pair of muggers with knives. Daniel and Laura wouldn’t put up much resistance.
Yes, it would still work. And then she would have her share of the money. No harm done apart from a truncated holiday for the English couple.
She finished and stood, pulling up her knickers and slipping her leg back into her jeans. She reached out for her boot and heard a noise. Her heart paused.
Was someone there? She peered into the darkness, and heard more noises—a crunch, a rustle, something snapping—but before she could cry out there was a hand over her mouth and another on her throat, breath warm in her ear and a voice whispering that if she struggled or tried to scream, she would die.
here the fuck was Alina?
Back home in Sibiu, Ion couldn’t do anything—couldn’t eat, couldn’t shit, couldn’t sleep—without this question flashing in neon lights inside his head. It had been more than two days now since he saw her standing on the train platform, a figure that grew smaller and smaller as the train gathered pace. The two Brits stood beside her, the backpacks beside them on the ground. He focused on the bags, a knot growing in his stomach
e precious drugs, all that money in powdered form, vanished into the distance.
But, he had thought, sitting down before he attracted the attention of the guards, it would be fine. Alina was there. She would ensure the plan went ahead, that Daniel and Laura got on a plane home. Maybe it would take a while for them to get to Bucharest and onto a plane, if none of them had any money. But Alina was smart. Ion knew, despite his constant references to his own genius, that she was cleverer than him. He wished he’d been chucked off t
too, or had seen what was going on in time to jump
r them, but he’d been too busy chatting with a pretty girl in the buffet car. Still, at least the Brits hadn’t been thrown off on their own. Left to their own devices they’d probably wander into the forest and be eaten by bears!
So Ion waited. He was tired out by all the excitement and slept a lot, like his pet cat. He made sure his phone was charged and beside him at all times. Needing to score some weed, he sold the British girl’s Samsung and spent a happy few hours indulging his herbal side. He watched a lot of porn on his old computer. And he waited for Alina to call or knock on the door.
But she didn’t do either.
So where the fuck was she?
lina woke up and instinctively tried to roll over, but her legs wouldn’t move. Every morning started the same way: she would try again to move her legs and then jerk awake, remembering that her ankles were chained to the bed. And
h daylight creeping through the narrow gaps between the wooden boards that covered the windows, all the other memories, the horror of her situation, would come rushing back.
When she got over the daily shock she always sat up—she was able to do that—and peer towards the cot, checking that little Luka was OK, waiting for the monster to come and take him from his crib and hand the baby to her. And she would cuddle him and kiss his head, that soft, fragile patch beneath his downy hair, and even when he cried she didn’t mind. Despite everything—all the things the monster did to her, the terrible fear that her fate would be the same as Luka’s mother’s—while she had the baby to look after, she could endure.
She heard movement on the stairs and braced herself. Sometimes he would bring her breakfast—bread rolls, water, meat.
he’d trapped in the forest, she assumed. He would inspect the room, wandering about while she ate, browsing the display of Polaroid pictures on the wall like a visitor to a ghastly exhibition. That first night, there had been a little coffin over there, but that was long gone.
The monster was shorter than her, like Ion, with a beak-like nose and stringy hair the colour of a sewer rat. The top of his head was bald and pocked with scars. He had the pallor of a man who never sees sunlight and his skin was always coated with grime. His teeth were yellow and gappy and his tongue was covered with a white layer.
Other times he would come in, ignore her and hand her Luka along with a bottle of milk before leaving the room. He would unchain her and lock the door, leave her to roam the room, to play with Luka. She tried not to look at the Polaroids, the babies and the women who had died here. She knew that Luka’s photo was there. But hers hadn’t been added yet even though the monster had flashed the camera in her face one morning. Perhaps he wouldn’t add her
he wall until she was dead. Maybe that was how it worked.
The monster always left food for Luka, baby food in jars, along with shampoo and creams and nappies. He instructed her to ensure the baby was fed, clean, in good health. She realised very quickly that this was her role: an enslaved nanny. And this wouldn’t have been so bad—terrible, but not the worst fate in the world—if it wasn’t for the other role she had to play.
Because on the worst mornings, once or twice a week, he would pull the covers off her, tie her wrists to the rusting bed posts and, after squirting some kind of lube onto himself, he would climb on top and push himself into her. She would close her eyes and tried not to inhale his stinking breath, the stench of body odour that came off him. After he came and hoisted himself off her, she would be desperate to wash in the basin in the corner of the room, to use a little of the baby soap on herself. But he wouldn’t let her. Instead, every time, he lifted her bottom and pushed a cushion beneath h
vating her so his semen remained inside her. He always left her like that for an hour, naked and exposed, hands and feet chained to the bed, before returning and untying her. Sometimes, flies would land on her body, crawling about on her skin, and she would buck and thrash, unable to shift them as they sipped at h
Every time, she would lie and sob for hours, clutching little Luka to her, praying to God that the monster’s seed would not find fertile ground. That her body would reject it.
on stepped off the bus, wrapping his coat around him, and looked up and down the street at the prefabricated buildings, the grim-faced women pushing prams, the cars with ancient licence plates. He’d looked it up online: Breva used to be a prosperous gold-mining town, and there was even a museum of gold here. He laughed humourlessly at the thought of tourists visiting this place. Ha! He bet Daniel and Laura didn’t have this ghost town on their fancy itinerary.
After a few days had passed and Alina still hadn’t called, Ion began to get really worried. He called Camelia in London and asked her to check if Daniel and Laura were home. Rather bad-temperedly, she had agreed and called back to report that there were lights on in their flat, that she had seen people moving around inside. She hung about until someone matching Daniel’s description came outside to put some trash out.
So they had gone home.
‘I’ll post you the keys,’ Ion said to Camelia, ‘and you can go inside, check their backpacks. They must have found the stuff by now—’ He was paranoid about mentioning the drugs on the phone. ‘Can you check the English news? Any reports of tourists finding, um, stuff in their backpacks?’
Camelia had laughed in a way that made his balls crawl up into his body. ‘Ion, I can’t believe you.’
‘You really think your
’—the word dripped with
—‘would have followed your original plan? What would you do if you were her? You’d take the
and vanish. Sell it and keep all the money yourself.’
‘Well, I would. And that’s exactly what Alina would do. She’d take the money and use it to buy pens and pads so she could work on her stupid comic books. I bet you a thousand pounds—shit, I’ve been living here too long—that’s what she’s done. She wouldn’t risk the English couple taking it through customs which, let’s face it, was a ludicrous idea, probably the worst you’ve ever had, and that’s saying something.’
‘Hey. It was genius.’
Camelia laughed at that for a while. He amazed himself: even when she was mocking him, he found it impossible not to picture Camelia’s lovely breasts, which she’d showed him once in exchange for an eighth of weed. ‘Face it, Ion. The drugs—’
‘What? Who is this?’
is long gone. Your punk princess has taken it and you’ll never see her again. And after you promised me a share of that money, I’m stuck here pole-dancing for limp-dicked perverts. Thanks a lot.’
She hung up.
The more he thought about it, the more he realised Camelia was right. Hell, Alina had probably planned to get herself, Daniel and Laura kicked off the train. Cause a big fight with the guards, make them so angry that they would feel compelled to stop and eject her and the Brits. Then she would sneak the stuff . . . the coke—it was safe, he reminded himself, if it was only in his head—out of their backpacks and find someone to buy it.
Furious, he went into the bedroom where Alina had left some of her artwork, the comic book she’d been working on for months, and tore it into shreds. He didn’t feel any better so he punched the wall, but that hurt like hell. He yelled, making the cat shoot out of the room, and then looked around at the dump where he lived. He needed that money. He’d planned everything he was going to buy. The new TV, the gaming chair, the bearskin rug. He had been robbed.
She wasn’t going to get away with it.
He found a small, cheap room in a Breva hotel that smelled of cabbage and cabbage-induced farts and threw his bag down on the bed. He felt like a bounty hunter, retracing Alina’s steps.
He had already been to the station where Alina and the Brits had been kicked off the train. It was a spooky place, not a soul in sight, unless you counted the little pack of dogs that were hanging around. One of them growled at him and he chucked a stone at it, making it yelp and run away. He spotted a map pinned up inside the abandoned waiting room and kicked in the door so he could go inside and take a proper look.
Where would they have gone from here?
He wandered out to look at the abandoned village, the quiet road. It was possible they’d hitched a lift, but how much traffic would there be in the middle of the night? None. Surely they would have headed towards the nearest town, Breva. He imagined them sitting here, waiting for first light, then walking into town along the road. That’s what he would have done.
So here he was, having trekked through the forest, lovely in the morning light. Alina had been here. He could sense it. He had a photograph of her and he took it around town, going into bars and shops, asking if anyone remembered her. No one did. They all looked at the photograph with blank eyes. The young people asked him what it was like in the big city and he told them about the great riches there, how it was a place where dreams came true. He took a local girl with haunted eyes back to his fart-stinking room and showed her his genius beneath the sheets until the guy in the next room banged on the wall. The next night there was another girl, and the night after that there were two. He had intended to stay in town for a few days, until he either found some useful information about Alina or failed. He ended up staying for over a month.
Back home he was a nobody. An ant in the colony. Here t
s the exotic stranger, the man from the big city, he was a somebody, and he liked it. Maybe he could stay here forever, sleep his way through all the girls in town, although that was risky. He’d already had to hide out for a few days after the boyfriend of one of the girls he’d slept with found out about them and came looking for the out-of-towner. Despite his pumped body, Ion was a yellow-
chicken when it came to violence; it was one of the
the gangs back home wouldn’t let him join. And on top of the danger from jealous boyfriends, he was running out of money, and there were no jobs here even if he wanted one.
He needed the money he would get from selling the cocaine. And if Alina had already sold the coke and spent the cash, he would make do with revenge.
But he had no way of finding her, no leads. Until he met the policeman.