The Sixth Call
Just as I'm heading to the door with a hastily-packed suitcase, I hear my laptop beeping again. I almost run straight out to the bus stop, figuring that there can't be anyone important trying to reach me via Skype at such a late hour, but at the last moment I hurry over and look at the screen.
Katie's trying to call!
“Katie!” I stammer, hastily hitting the button to accept. “Katie, what -”
Suddenly the screen fills with a shot of my daughter's sobbing face. She's leaning so close to the camera, I can barely see anything of the rest of the room, but a moment later I spot a dark shape moving behind her.
“Mum!” she whimpers. “Mum, I don't know -”
As suddenly as it appeared, the image goes blank and the call is over. I try frantically to reconnect, but with no success, and it's clear that she's gone again.
“I'm coming!” I whisper, trying not to panic as I turn and hurry to my suitcase. “It's okay! I'm coming to find you!”
As I hand some money to the driver and climb out of the taxi, I see that there's no sign of a police car outside the apartment building. I spoke to a man from the local police force on the phone last night, and again this morning. He said someone would drop by to check on Katie, but he clearly didn't take me seriously, and I doubt very much that they've sent anyone yet.
As the taxi drives away, I step toward the building's front door and look up at the windows above. My little girl is in here somewhere, and I have to make sure she's okay.
As soon as I get to the top of the stairwell, I see to my horror that the door to apartment 2 has been left ajar. Stepping closer, I can already see that the interior is dark, and that there appear to be clothes strewn across the floor. When I push the door open, I find that Katie's backpack has been left jammed in the way, and I have to shove the door a couple of times. Now, as I step inside, I realize there's a foul smell in here, and flies are buzzing through the air.
“Katie?” I call out, trying not to panic. “It's me! Katie, are you here?”
A fly momentarily lands on my face, and I brush it away as I step across the gloomy hallway. More flies fill the air, and a moment later I see why. Old plates are piled high on a desk in the corner, with rotten food having apparently been left out for several days now. Some of the food has slipped down to the floor, congealing in a foul, semi-liquid puddle that looks to be slowly soaking into the carpet. There's even something dark, perhaps jam, smeared across the wall.
This isn't like Katie.
She's always been clean and careful.
“Katie? Sweetheart, it's Mummy! Can you please say something, to let me know you're okay?”
Reaching another half-open door, I push it all the way and look through into the bedroom. Katie's bed is a mess, with dirty, stained sheets hanging over the edge and touching the floor. I slip into the room, although the smell in here is absolutely awful. There are dark patches on the sheets, mostly brown and yellow stains but also a few splashes of red. Down on the floor, there are piles of dirty, soiled underwear, while more food has been left not only on plates on the nightstand but also on the bed itself. There are flies crawling across the walls, and the curtains look to have been taped against the windows, as if Katie was determined to block out as much light as possible.
Several used sanitary towels have been left on the floor.
Suddenly I hear a bump from somewhere in the apartment, and I turn to look back through at the hallway.
“Katie?” I call out. “Katie, where are you?”
Stepping around the piles of clothes on the floor, I head out into the hallway and then through to the front room.
Immediately, I spot Katie's laptop on the table. The screen has been left up, and as I make my way over to take a closer look I realize there are old plates and cups piled high all over the place. Feeling something bump against my foot, I look down and see that I've knocked over the stub of a candle, and there are more candles dotted around the room, some in ornate holders and some just left on the carpet. Something seems to have stained the carpet's fabric, too, and I can't help but notice a disgusting smell in the air, even worse than the stench in the bedroom. Sure enough, there are some dirty clothes on the floor next to the desk, along with the gray blanket Katie was wearing the last time her webcam was working.
And more sanitary towels, thick with dark blood.
I stare at the laptop for a moment, before turning and seeing that the bookshelves have been torn down and dumped on the floor, apparently so that shapes and symbols could be daubed all over the wall. There are triangles and stars, and pentagrams, and intricate drawings of glowing eyes, and it looks as if an utter lunatic has been let loose in the apartment. Even Katie's books – her precious, precious books, the most important items in her possession – have been left tossed aside, and some have even had their covers and spines ripped away.
Meanwhile, the figurine has been left all alone on the shelf, as if Katie valued it more than all her books combined.
Reaching up, I take the figure so I can give it a closer look, and I see that it's made of two wax cylinders that have been twisted together to form a crude human shape. The figure seems to be female, with huge, wide hips and exaggerated breasts. After a moment, feeling something sticky on my hands, I realize that the figurine is covered in some kind of dark substance. I set it down on the desk and turn my hands toward the blacked-out window, and I'm just about able to make out a faint hint of something red.
I think it's blood.
There are more sanitary towels in the corner, pushed against the wall.
Suddenly there's another bump, and this time I turn and look toward the door at the far end of the room. There's someone in there, and I quickly make my way over.
“Katie?” I call out as I reach the door. “Katie, this is your mother and I insist that you let me in!”
The door is already partway open, and I can definitely hear someone on the other side, but I hesitate for a moment, not wanting to burst in on her. I look at the crack, and sure enough I spot a figure moving in the brightly-lit room.
“Katie!” I continue, with tears in my eyes. “What's going on here? Why have you let this place become an utter mess? Katie, answer me this instant!”
I wait, but all I hear is the sound of someone splashing water. A moment later, there's an annoyed grunt.
“I should have come sooner,” I stammer. “I'm so sorry, Katie, but I thought you were okay!”
I take a deep breath.
“I'm coming into the bathroom, okay? Make yourself decent, because I'm going to open the door.”
I take a moment to prepare for whatever horror I might be about to witness, and then finally I push the door open.
Suddenly I let out a gasp as I see that there's a naked man standing with his back to me, washing himself in the sink. I make eye contact with him in the mirror, and I realize that this is that awful Fernando person I saw over the video.
Before I can say anything, he turns to face me, and I'm shocked to see that he's washing blood off his huge, swollen penis.
“Give me some goddamn privacy!” he yells angrily, grabbing the door and slamming it shut so fast that it almost hits me in the face.
Already, I can hear him muttering something to himself as the splashing sound continues.
Startled, I step back, and a moment later I realize I can hear a furious scratching sound over my shoulder. I turn, and at first I can't see any sign of movement, but finally I spot something in the far corner. I honestly don't know if she just came into the room, or if she was there earlier and I somehow didn't notice her, but there's a naked girl curled up on a pile of dirty old clothes. Blood and other fluids are smeared on her flesh, and the scratching sound seems to be coming from her hands, which are hidden between her legs.
Stepping closer, I realize that it's Agnes.
“Where's Katie?” I stammer, with tears streaming down my face. “Where's my daughter?”
When she fails to reply, I make my way around her. She seems furiously focused on something between her legs, and the scratching sound is getting louder. Finally, I stop in front of her and see that her bloodied fingertips are digging into the flesh of her crotch, as if she's trying to pull something out. Strips of ragged, pulpy skin hang down between her fingers, and she's already gouged several meaty chunks from the most intimate part of her anatomy.
Shocked, I step back until I bump against the wall.
“We had to send her to them,” she gurgles, her eyes wide with excitement as she continues to tear flesh from her crotch. “They demanded it. We had no choice. She didn't know. I don't know how, but she didn't!”
“Where's my daughter?” I stammer, my mind racing as I try to work out what on earth this awful girl is talking about. “Where's Katie?”
“We sent her away,” she hisses, barely able to speak as she starts laughing. “We sent her to them! How could she not have known?”
“Where is she?” I scream, grabbing her shoulders and hauling her up. “What have you done to my little girl?”
“Okay, Mrs. Wren, calm down,” the police detective says as he takes a seat opposite me, in the farthest corner of the crowded, noisy office. He has a strong estuary accent, and sweat is already glistening on his forehead. Every word from his mouth so far, every gesture and every sigh, has suggested he just wants to get me out of here. “I just need to take down a few details.”
“I've given you everything you need!” I hiss, frustrated as much by his lethargy as by his apparent belief that nothing is really wrong. “Why aren't you out there looking for my daughter? Why aren't you with those two awful people, forcing them to tell you what they did?”
“Because I'm talking to you first,” he replies, opening a notebook and letting out another faint, tired sigh. “So I have your daughter's details, but what I'm not understanding is why you came rushing up here from Shropley today.”
“I told you! Something's wrong, she was in distress the last time I spoke to her online and now she's missing! Why can't you get that through your thick head?”
He sighs a long, drawn-out and rather theatrical sigh.
“I'm sorry,” I add, “I didn't mean to be rude.”
“Quite alright, M'am.”
“My daughter is missing!” I continue, shaking with rage.
“So you claim.”
? If she's not missing, where is she?”
He checks his watch. “Down the pub?”
“It's not even lunchtime!”
“Well, she's...” He pauses, staring down at the scan of Katie's passport, before glancing at me. “Well, I hope it's not inappropriate for me to mention this, but your daughter's a very attractive young lady. She's the kind of girl who...” He pauses again, before offering an awkward smile. “How can I put this? She's the kind of girl who wouldn't find it too difficult to make friends.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Oh, just an observation. And, you know, attractive young women tend to get involved with attractive young men. It's the way of the world.” He leans back, resting his arms on his beer gut. “That's what I have observed, anyway. From a distance. So maybe she woke up at someone else's house this morning, if you catch my drift.”
“You're not listening to me,” I mutter, feeling as if I'm about to explode with frustration. “My daughter was upset when I spoke to her last night. She was sobbing, and she clearly needed help. I called someone before I left Shropley, but evidently none of you lazy fools could be bothered to go and check up on her. If one of you had just done what I asked, we might not be sitting here now!”
“Lazy?” he asks, raising a skeptical eyebrow. “Fools?”
“Why didn't you go and check if she was okay?” I ask. “All of this could have been avoided!”
“Let me tell you what's most likely going on here,” he continues, already sounding bored as he leans forward and rests his elbows against the desk. “Your daughter Mary -”
“Katie! Her name is Katie!”
“Katie. I'm sorry. Your daughter
has more than likely met a fella.”
“There was a man in her apartment when I got there!”
He checks the paperwork. “That would be... Fernando Royas, yeah? The Spanish chap?”
“He must know what's happened to her.”
“Must he?” He pauses, before scrunching his nose up. “Nah. I doubt that.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“He's nothing special. Your daughter probably just let him and that French bird use the apartment while she went off with someone else. It's so obvious, I'm surprised I'm even having to tell you. This is just what young people are like these days.” He pauses, as if he's waiting for me to tell him that he's right, and to admit that I'm making a fuss over nothing. “They've probably gone for a long weekend and they'll be back on Monday or Tuesday morning,” he continues, leaning back again. “If there's no sign of her by then, then we can think about looking into things a little more. But my resources are already -”
“Two days?” I stammer. “You want me to wait another two days?”
“She's probably on a beach somewhere, and -”
“Check the Skype logs,” I continue, interrupting him. “Check the video, and then you'll see!”
“Do you know her password?”
“Hack in! Isn't that what you people do? Hack into it and see for yourself!”
He sighs. “I can't just check the video with the snap of my fingers. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get the necessary warrant, and then to obtain the files and process them? The whole process is a bloody nightmare.”
you do?” I ask, before hearing a flurry of voices over my shoulder.
Turning, I see Agnes and Fernando being led by two police officers toward an interview room. They're fully clothed and cleaned now, and my blood begins to boil as I see that they're laughing and joking with one another. Agnes nudges Fernando and whispers something, and then they both glance at me. Clearly they find the entire situation to be a source of great amusement, and I barely manage to restrain my anger as they're taken into a side-room, the door to which then swings shut. A moment later, another police officer carries a tray of tea and coffees into the room, after which the door swings shut again.
I turn to Detective Potter.
“They're under arrest, aren't they?” I ask.
“They're here for questioning.”
“They were in my daughter's apartment!”
“Which is why we want to ask them about -”
“They were covered in blood!”
“A doctor has -”
“Didn't you see what that girl was doing to herself?” I hiss, shocked that he's
so nonchalant. “She was cutting her body, and...”
I feel a shudder pass through my chest as I think back to the sight of Agnes naked on the apartment floor, digging her fingernails into her own flesh. The whole thing was quite abhorrent and clearly a sign of deep-rooted depravity. Katie would never comport herself with such people. Not
“I know what Agnes did to herself,” Potter mutters, “and that's why I made sure she saw a doctor before she was brought here. I suppose he must have patched her up and cleared her to come to us.”
“Patched her up?”
“Some of these parts bleed a lot without there actually being much damage.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I'm not an expert in these things,” he continues, rather unnecessarily. “My colleague is interviewing the pair of them right now, and if they have anything to tell us, they -”
they have anything?” I ask, getting to my feet. “Are you insane? They were in my daughter's apartment, covered in blood, and now she's missing!”
He nods. “I'd be surprised if they couldn't tell us a few things.”
I open my mouth to argue with him, before realizing that there's no point. The man clearly enjoys acting the part of a buffoon, so I quickly turn and make my way across the office, squeezing between desks as I head toward the door at the far end. If these utter fools aren't going to do their jobs, I suppose I shall just have to take matters into my own hands.
“Mrs. Wren!” Potter calls after me. “Where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” I mutter as I reach the door. “I'm going to -”
“No!” he says firmly, stepping past me and grabbing the handle. “I'm afraid I can't let you go in there, Mrs. Wren. There is a formal police interview taking place.”
you'll arrest them?”
“For what? Being naked in an apartment?”
“For whatever they've done to my girl!”
“This is just a preliminary investigation so far,” he replies. “Unless your daughter is missing for seventy-two hours, or there's some sign that she might be hurt, we really don't have any reason to take action.”
“Her apartment had been ransacked!”
“She's a student.”
“I haven't heard from her since last night!”
“Again, she's a student.”
“There was blood all over the floor!”
“And the blood belonged to Agnes,” he replies. “That much, we've already established. None of the blood was from your daughter. It looks like maybe Katie just let her friends use the apartment for a few hours.” He chuckles to himself. “For, you know, the kind of games young people like to play. Young people with too much time on their hands, too much imagination, and a complete lack of shame. Katie probably just stepped out for a few hours to give them a little privacy.”
“You can't possibly believe that,” I stammer. “What about the Skype calls? She was sick!”
“Probably just flu.”
“It was more than that! And there are those strange markings on the wall in her apartment!”
“My advice to you is that you should come back on Tuesday,” he continues with another sigh. “Until then, if you insist on staying in London, you should take a look around and see the sights. I'm sure a nice rural lady such as yourself can find ways to entertain herself. Is this your first time in London?”
“First and last,” I mutter, taking a step back. “I shall be going straight to another police station, and I shall make sure that your lack of cooperation is mentioned far and wide. And when I find my daughter safe and well, no thanks to you...”
I pause for a moment, keenly aware that he seems not to give a damn.
“I'll have your badge for this!” I add finally, turning and hurrying away. My legs feel weak, as if they might buckle at any moment, but I have to get out of here. I'm sure someone will help me once they find out about a missing girl in the heart of London. And once they swing into action, we'll find Katie. I know we will. She's still alive, she has to be. I just need some help to find her.
“My hands are tied!” he calls after me. “Mrs. Wren, do you know what it'd be like if we investigated every student who doesn't call home and lets her room get messy? Mrs. Wren, there's nothing wrong! Your daughter'll show up! She's fine!”