Saturday 14 – Sunday 15 January 2012
Despite her best attempts to relax, Amber could not, and the tension wasn’t helping to reduce the throbbing in her head caused by the solid smack to it, with what she thought might have been a piece of wood. The door at the top of the stairs opened, just a crack, and sent light filtering to the room below. Having been in darkness for what Amber considered was an unmeasurable length of time, the sudden introduction of light hurt her eyes, and made everything see looked at a blur. Her hearing wasn’t as affected though, and she made out two sets of footsteps coming down the stairs. One seemed light of foot, the other slower and more cautious. She had an idea of who she was about to deal with.
A strong hand grabbed her under the right arm and dragged her backwards, sitting her up against something large, cold, and metallic. Amber thought it might have been a washing machine that provided her much needed support. Blurry vision and hurting eyes did not prevent her from now recognising her abductors. She half-heartedly laughed to herself.
‘I was right then. You had something to do with her disappearance,’ she said, looking at the older of the two men. ‘How’d you do it?’
He stepped forward and looked down on her, his face expressionless and cold.
‘People,’ he said, ‘are easily distracted. I merely seized an opportunity that was presented to me. With a little forethought, anything is possible.’
Amber shook her head in disbelief. His arrogance made her skin crawl, as it appeared to her that he genuinely believed that he had done nothing wrong.
‘So, what exactly are you planning on doing with me?’ she asked.
The younger man spoke. ‘Well, ultimately I guess we’re going to kill you, just like we did Stephanie. But until then, you’re here to replace her, and I personally, intend on having as much fun as I possibly can with you, for as long as I possibly can. I’m sure he’ll enjoy himself too.’ He motioned to the older man who leered in response.
‘I don’t want to sound as arrogant here as your father, Ben, but what you do with me and how long you keep me here is irrelevant. John knows everything I found, and by now, he’ll have passed it on to Dylan. And I’d hazard a guess as to say that Frank Barber knows too. You kill me, you don’t, either way, you’re screwed. Both of you.’ She laughed, in part at the helplessness of her current situation.
Amber Carlson was now at the mercy of Ben Tollard, senior and junior, and she thanked God that she’d had enough sense to tell John of her suspicions. What she hoped now was that he took her seriously, and had the brains to tell Sheriff Barber. The two Ben Tollards had held Stephanie Partridge captive for years without drawing attention to it. These men were sneaky, manipulative, and intelligent enough to get away with child abduction right under the noses of the locals and law enforcement. Her disappearance would pale in comparison with that of Stephanie Partridge’s given that her body would most likely have already been discovered. Right now, she was banking on Sheriff Barber’s feelings for her, John’s loyal friendship, and one or both of them figuring out that she had been forcibly taken from her home.
Knowing that the outcome of her abduction was not going to have a happy ending, Amber intended to push the boundaries as far as she could. She pressed for information.
‘How did you do it, Mr. Tollard? How’d you take Stephanie?’
Tollard senior snickered again. ‘I think, Miss Carlson, that you may have figured that one out already.’
Amber nodded. She had formulated a theory when she began investigating for Dylan Partridge, and had planned to pass on the information to him that day. She doubted now that she would ever have the opportunity to inform Dylan, and hoped that John remembered everything she’d told him about her discoveries.
‘My guess is that your ice cream cart came in very handy the day that Stephanie went missing,’ she started. ‘I’d say that you probably removed the majority of the cooling unit in the storage compartment, and when you saw an opening, you got Stephanie and bundled her in there.’
It was Tollard senior’s turn to nod. ‘You’re very smart, Miss Carlson, very smart indeed. A little sedative mixed in with her ice cream and she didn’t make a sound. Of course, everyone in the vicinity was too busy watching the boys practice baseball to notice that sweet, little Stephanie was there one minute and gone the next. It really was too easy. The hardest part in all of that was getting junior here to keep his yap shut.’
Ben junior blushed in embarrassment.
‘Still,’ continued senior, ‘when he understood that Stephanie was for him, he became adept at keeping secrets, as you can tell. We got away with it for a very long time, and had it not been for you poking your nose into our business, Stephanie would still be here with us.’ He stepped closer to Amber, his old, frail form towering over her. She contemplated, for just a second, kicking out with her legs, striking him in the knees, bringing him crashing to the ground. Tollard junior, however, was also standing too close to her, and she feared that he would be the one to retaliate should she choose that course of action. Thinking better of it, Amber drew her legs closer to counter the urge to fight that was building up inside of her.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘whatever you do to me, Dylan Partridge will know the truth.’
‘Dylan Partridge,’ laughed the senior man, ‘Dylan Partridge is of no threat to us.’
‘He may not be,’ she replied, ‘but Sheriff Barber will also know of your involvement in Stephanie’s disappearance. And while they might not put together that you’re behind my kidnapping, sooner or later, you’ll pay.’
She wasn’t expecting Ben junior to react, and was surprised when he viciously struck out and slapped her hard across the face, bringing a trickle of blood from her lip, ripped open by the force of his strike.
‘And that, Ben Tollard junior,’ she snarled, ‘is why you’re still unmarried.’ It was the best insult she could come up with in the situation. His reply was to strike her again, this time twice as hard.
Ben Tollard senior simply smiled and said, ‘Be careful with the merchandise, son.’
. . . To be continued . . .