Authors: Mark Edwards
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime
ull my boot off,’ Alina said as soon as they heard the old man’s footsteps recede down the staircase. ‘The left one.’
Laura laid the now-sleeping Oscar gently in the cot and did as Alina asked. It slid off easily and Laura was thrown back to a moment in the past, finding this very boot lying on the path among the trees.
‘Now pull out the . . . the inside part.’
She nodded as well as she could. Laura hooked her fingers around the edges of the insole. It was still warm and emitted a faint, unpleasant odour. It made a ripping noise as she pulled it out. Behind her, Oscar stirred in the cot but remained asleep.
‘Be careful,’ Alina said. ‘Under the insole should be a small piece of metal.’
Laura tipped the boot up gently and felt something drop into her palm, then bounce from her grasp and drop to the floor.
‘Please, Laura, you have to find it.’
Laura dropped to her hands and knees, peering under the bed. She spotted the piece of metal straight away. Her heart thumped as she reached beneath the bed to retrieve it, gripping it firmly between forefinger and thumb. ‘I got it.’
‘What is it?’ Laura asked, standing up. The object was the shape and size of a small key, but without teeth, just an oval head and a long flat stem.
‘It’s called . . . I don’t know the English word. A
. You need to unlock my hands first. Hold the round part and slide it into the cuff, where the teeth are.’
Laura knelt on the edge of the bed and leaned over Alina. She took the cuff in her hand and inserted the
into the space between the teeth and ratchet.
‘Now, push down on the teeth as if you are tightening the cuffs, and push the
in at the same time.’
Laura did this and, to her amazement, heard a click.
‘Now, undo it.’
She pulled the cuff open, freeing Alina’s left arm.
‘You came prepared,’ Laura said, as she moved around the bed to work on the other handcuff.
‘It is the first thing I bought when I came here. I spent months chained to a bed. I was never going to risk that happening again.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Laura said, her voice cracking. ‘I . . . we thought he shot you as soon as we left. We tried to report it but . . .’
‘The old man . . .’
‘His name is Nicolae Gabor. I found his name on some papers in the house. Along with the names of all his victims. All the women he and his son raped and murdered in that place. They are here now, with us. Urging me on.’ Her eyes glinted.
Laura looked at the air around Alina. She nodded. ‘I can f
‘I have the names of all the babies too, the families they sold them to. It’s in my back pocket. Take it.’
She lifted her bottom and Laura plucked a crumpled sheet of paper from the back pocket of Alina’s jeans.
‘Look after it, Laura. It’s the only chance those children have for justice. Promise me.’
‘I promise.’ She hesitated. ‘I’m so sorry. That we left you there, in that house. With
Alina shrugged. ‘His son was worse.’
Laura shook her head, continuing to work on the cuffs. This one was awkward, refusing to open.
‘I’m glad I went to that house,’ Alina said.
Laura gaped at her.
‘They’d have gone on doing it if I hadn’t.’
Laura saw it then. Yes. They had been meant to go to that house. She went back to work on the cuffs.
‘When I think about how close we came to
going there.’ Alina shook her head. ‘Gabor gave Dragoș hell about almost screwing it up. I heard them.
‘We made the first part of it easier for them. Dragoș was meant to intercept us at the station, pretend to be a helpful stranger or force us to go with him at gunpoint, I don’t know. But he was slow. By the time he got going, we were already walking along the tracks towards him.’
The second cuff clicked open and Alina rubbed her wrists. Laura handed her the
so Alina could work on her ankle cuffs herself.
While Alina worked, she said, ‘If I hadn’t gone into
ods, I guess he would have intercepted us on the tracks, at the closest point to the house. That’s when it started to go wrong.
abbed me, took me back . . . Gabor was furious that Dragoș didn’t just leave me there, tie me up and go straight back to you. But he was over-excited, started tugging at my clothes, telling me all the things he was going to do to me. He was never that talkative again.’
The third cuff clicked open and she moved on to the final one.
‘He was so busy taunting me that he didn’t hear you and Daniel enter the house. You know what happened next. But he didn’t tell his dad that you were ever there, that you escaped. Too ashamed. Gabor believed that you must have thought I’d run off, and that you didn’t know the house existed. When Dragoș eventually told him the truth Gabor went crazy. I heard him beating Dragoș. He was screaming at him, saying you and
could have gone to the international police. But you didn’t, did you?’
Laura closed her eyes, shame washing over her.
‘Because you’d been and gone and weeks had passed by the time Dragoș told him, Gabor assumed they were safe.’
‘I have poison,’ Alina said, looking Laura in the eye. ‘Cyanide tablets.’
‘What, like a suicide pill?’
‘Or murder.’ Alina paused and looked at Laura intently. ‘I planned to give them to you and Daniel.’
Laura stared at her. Alina continued to work on the final cuff.
‘Gabor was right. I wanted to punish you for leaving me behind, for not going to the police. The real police, I mean. Not that shit, Constantin. And also . . . I couldn’t bear the shame. You knew what had happened to me. I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I thought if I removed everyone who knew of my ordeal, I would be free. I could start . . . fresh. Be born again. You understand that, don’t you?’
The two women locked eyes.
‘My plan was to kill you and Daniel, then go back to find Gabor.’
‘So why didn’t you do it?’ Laura asked, her voice shaky, as Alina unlocked the final cuff, then reached for her boot and pulled it back on.
‘I was going to. But then I saw Gabor. At the hospital.’
‘He was looking for you. He got your name from Constantin, didn’t he? I think he must have been following you, hoping you would lead him to me.’
Laura shook her head. Of course, she had known Gabor—the devil, as she called him then—had been watching her. She remembered the day she had almost fallen under the Tube train, sensing somebody watching her on the street. Had he pushed her? Or was that Alina? She was too frightened to ask.
‘We were all watching, all circling each other,’ Alina said, reading Laura’s mind. ‘When I saw Gabor, I became fixated on
him. I thought if he kept watching you, if he stayed around, an opportunity would arise for me to get him. But then Camelia fucked everything up.’
Because, Laura thought, when that woman had kidnapped her, tried to get information out of her, she had forced Gabor to act. And when he took Laura back home, he finally drew Alina out of hiding, as he must’ve known he would, and grabbed the opportunity to take them both. With the baby as a bonus.
She was about to speak when she heard another bang in the distance. A gunshot.
Alina jumped off the bed and ran to the door, trying the handle even though she knew it was locked. She dashed over to the window, tugged at the planks that were nailed to the window. They didn’t budge. These had been nailed tight.
‘It might be the police, come to save us,’ Laura said, aware that her voice was shaking.
Alina ignored her. ‘We have to get out of here. Maybe we can start a fire and burn the planks away.’
‘What? Are you insane?’
Alina turned to her. ‘Yes. We both are, aren’t we?’
Laura didn’t know what to say to that. To her relief, Alina quickly gave up on the idea of starting a fire and moved over to the door. She stood facing it for a moment, then lifted her right leg and slammed the sole of her boot against the door handle. The door shuddered in its frame.
‘Hold onto me,’ Alina said. ‘From behind, so I don’t fall.’
Laura hooked her arms beneath Alina’s armpits and put one leg behind her to make herself more steady. Alina lifted her foot high and again kicked at the door. The force almost made the two of them topple backwards. Laura leaned forward against Alina’s back, providing more support. ‘Try again,’ she said.
Alina lifted her foot again and slammed it with all her strength into the door.
abor stood over me, his finger twitching on the trigger, relishing the terror in my eyes. This was it. I was dead. Behind Gabor, Edward lay motionless on the ground. I closed my eyes, wished I believed in God and Heaven and that I was about to go somewhere better.
A crashing sound came from the house. Gabor looked over his shoulder and I opened my eyes, grabbing the opportunity to roll away. He turned back and fired, but only kicked up a great gouge of earth beside me. He swore and opened the shotgun, feeling in his pocket for more shells.
I threw myself at his legs, rugby-tackling him to the ground. He still held on to the gun but it hung open, the shells falling to the grass. He kicked me on the underside of my chin, then kicked again, connecting with the side of my head. I fell flat in the dirt, pain exploding in my skull, and Gabor pushed himself to his f
en bent over to grab the dropped shells. He muttered to himself i
I lifted my head and saw a black-clad figure run around the corner of the house, barely visible in the moonlight, heading towards us. I blinked, unsure if I was hallucinating, if the blow to the head had damaged my brain. It was Alina. She dipped to pick something up as she ran and trod on a stray twig, which cracked. Gabor, who had finished loading the shotgun and snapped it shut, whirled around just as Alina reached us, but Alina was already swinging the rock in her hand with all her weight behind it. The sound it made as it connected with the side of Gabor’s head was dull and wet.
He bent over, staggered but did not fall, and then Alina brought the rock down again, using both hands. I heard his skull crack, a loud, splintering sound. He fell forward onto his belly and Alina used her foot to roll him over. He was still alive. He tried to speak, but made a whimpering sound instead.
Alina held out the rock to me. ‘You want to do it?’
From behind her, I watched as Laura came around the corner, walking slowly, a bundle of blankets in her arms. The bundle made a noise and I realised it was Oscar.
‘Daniel?’ Alina asked. ‘You want to?’
I shook my head.
She held the rock in both hands and slammed it down on Gabor’s face.
‘For us,’ she said.
She brought the rock down again.
I looked away, trying to tune out the sickening crunching noises. I focused on Laura coming towards me, and I had tears in my eyes, tears of relief. She was alive, the baby was alive. And so was I. Laura stood beside the coal shed and stared at me. I couldn’t read her expression but could see tears shining in her eyes.
Beside me, Alina dropped to her knees besides Gabor’s body. She reached over and took the shotgun from his limp hands. She held it out to me and, still kneeling, looked up, her face glowing white in the moonlight.
‘I killed your friend,’ she said to me.
‘My friend? For God’s sake, he wasn’t my—’
‘Jake. I killed your friend Jake.’
I gave my head a shake, unable to take in what she’d said.
She offered me the shotgun again and, without thinking, I t
‘I pushed him from that bridge. I knew you had told him about the forest, about what happened to me. I was watching you. I was going to kill you next. Gabor, then you, then Laura. You left me in that place, left me to die. I came here for revenge. I am Mirela.’
I couldn’t speak. Mirela? What the fuck was she talking about? I didn’t even care that she said she’d come here to seek vengeance against Laura and me. All I could think about was that she had killed Jake.
‘But you two don’t deserve to die. You’re good people.’
Behind her, Laura took a couple of steps closer. She said Alina’s name but the Romanian woman ignored her.
‘I hated you for leaving me in that house. But I understand why you did it, and I don’t blame you anymore. You did what you had to do. And now you have to do one more thing.’ She gestured towards the gun in my hands. ‘I want you to kill me.’
Laura said, ‘No.’
‘I killed Jake,’ Alina said. ‘I waited for him on the bridge, pretended I was going to jump. He climbed up onto the railing to pull me down. He offered me his phone, said I could call somebody, that I just needed someone to talk to. And as soon as he ga
e his phone, I pushed him. I watched him fall, and I ran away, l
s broken body lying there. Sent a text to the last person who’d texted him.’ She looked into my eyes. ‘So now you have to kill me. I deserve to die.’
‘Daniel, don’t,’ Laura said. She was shaking now.
I could picture what Alina had described. Could see Jake, good-hearted Jake, trying to help this distressed stranger. He would have had no idea who she was. I could see his body on the road below. My best friend. A young man on the cusp of achieving everything he’d ever wanted. His future stolen away by this woman.
Hands trembling, heart thumping, I pointed the gun at her.
‘Do it,’ she said. She smiled and stretched her arms wide. ‘I am ready to join my sisters.’
‘Daniel,’ Laura said. ‘Don’t. Don’t do it.’
My finger trembled as I caressed the trigger. Tears splashed down the front of my shirt. Beside me, I was aware of Gabor’s body, his face a bloody mess of smashed bone. Alina closed her eyes, a
smile on her face, as if she were facing the sun. In the distance I could hear police sirens. Somebody must have heard th
unshots and called them. The sirens grew louder, closer. I steadied the barrel of the gun. Alina had not only killed Jake and Claudia, she was responsible for Edward’s death too.
And I understood her motivation. When she was dead, there would be no one left who knew about that night in the forest, who had witnessed what Laura and I had done—and hadn’t done. Only Laura and I would remain. Everyone I’d told was dead and Ion didn’t know what had happened after we were thrown off the train. Alina was the last one. With her gone, we could go back to normal, pretend none of it had happened. The earth would be scorched, the forest burned to the ground.
As if from a great distance, I heard Laura say my name. The sirens were very close now.
‘Do it,’ Alina said.
I squeezed the trigger.