Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 April 2013
India Roberts didn’t really want to speak with the reporter from Channel Four. Although she wasn’t much of a viewer of the news or current affairs, India knew Grace Fellows’ work and didn’t like the reporter’s reputation. It had been her father’s idea for India to sit down with Grace and discuss Charlotte Goulbourn’s disappearance, and if she’d had her own way, Grace Fellows would have been dropkicked out of the front door the moment she set foot in the Roberts’ home. Her father, however, believed that it was important for India’s reputation to tell her side of the story and distance herself and the Roberts’ family from any implication of wrongdoing that might come up.
‘I don’t see why I should say anything to you after the way you treated that homeless woman in your last interview. You were a complete bitch to her. A homeless woman and you ripped her to pieces on national television.’
‘Oh, I’m on a roll today where insults are concerned,’ Grace replied to India’s statement of dislike. Andy and Banjo, Grace’s mini film crew, both snickered at the fact that she had been cut down to size by a sixteen year old girl.
‘Just because my father thinks this is a good idea doesn’t mean that I do,’ India said.
Grace looked around to see where the girl’s father was in relation to them, and once she ascertained that he was far enough away, she leaned closer to India.
‘Listen here you snotty nosed spoilt little booger eater, you’re going to tell me what you know about Charlotte Goulbourn, or the next piece I put to air will expose how you were compliant in her disappearance, because I can do that sort of thing. Got it?’
India inhaled sharply; she hadn’t expected the reporter to respond so viciously.
‘You might try that,’ India replied, ‘but don’t forget that I’m a teenager who has a very strong grip on how to use Social Media to the best of my ability. I’ll bring you down online so fast you won’t even realise what’s happened to you. A story on the telly about me? That’s old school, bitch.’
As surprised as India was with the reporter’s comments, Grace was more shocked by the teenager’s reply.
‘Just tell the story, you little brat,’ sneered Grace.
* * * * *
The school day dragged on as slowly as it did any normal day, except in the back of India’s mind was the car that she and Charlotte had seen at the front of the school. Sitting in history in the last period, India switched off to Mr. Day’s monotonous drone as he spoke, as enthusiastically as he was capable, of some distant part of the world and the troubles that enveloped it. Having mentally switched off to him at the start of the lesson, India wasn’t entirely sure what or where Mr. Day was lecturing them on. She casually leaned to her left and positioned herself behind one of the boofhead footballers who was three times her size: Mr. Day wouldn’t be able to see her let alone what she was doing.
‘You really think we were being followed this morning?’ she whispered to Charlotte.
‘Who would do that? And why would they?’
Charlotte shrugged her shoulders. ‘Don’t know. But I really think that there might have been someone across the street this morning, looking into my bedroom window when I pulled back the curtains. I thought I saw something move, but then all I could see was that tree across the road. Nothing else. But what if there was someone watching me and then they hid behind the tree when they saw me looking out of my window?’
‘Makes sense, I suppose. But that doesn’t answer the question of who it was.’
The bell signalling the end of the school day rang out before Charlotte could reply. Mr. Day dismissed the class with the promise of extra homework the following week to make up for the lack of homework this lesson, and the two girls manoeuvred their way through the crush of students all just as eager to get out of the confines of the school. With only the necessary texts and notebooks in their backpacks, India and Charlotte began their usual after-school routine and headed off in the direction of the local shopping mall.
India kept a constant eye on the traffic behind them, on watch for the car that had followed the girls that morning.
‘Can you see it?’ Charlotte asked.
‘Nope. There’s nothing.’
The short conversation was repeated until they had reached the relative safety of the mall.
* * * * *
‘When we got there, we did what we do every time we go to the mall: we window shopped, grabbed a drink, window shopped some more, and met up with a few other friends.’
‘But clearly, something was different about this day, India. Can you tell us what went wrong?’ Grace said in her best on-camera voice.
‘Well obviously something went wrong! Charlotte disappeared.’ India stared at the reporter and tried to comprehend the stupidity of her question.
* * * * *
‘I’ve got to go to the toilet, Indi. You coming?’ Charlotte asked. India shook her head.
‘Nah, I’m good. You want me to hold your bag?’
Charlotte didn’t reply but held her backpack out at arm’s length for her friend to hold. India hooked the straps of Charlotte’s backpack over her right shoulder and smiled.
‘Get a move on. I want to get home before it’s too dark,’ said India. She watched Charlotte walk down the corridor to the female toilets, and noticed the fire exit door at the end of the corridor softly close. No one else was in sight and the alarm that should have gone off when the fire exit was opened was not sounding.
* * * * *
‘It should have gone off. Dad is the local Fire Chief so I know that it should have been blaring out, but it didn’t make a sound. When the police checked it, they were a bit suspicious about things and they called in the fire department guys. When they checked it, they found that the fire alarm attached to that particular fire exit had been disabled. That’s too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? Charlotte goes to the toilet, the fire exit closes, there’s no alarm going off, and then when I check the toilets for Char, she’s gone. Disappeared. Missing.’ India Roberts had nothing more to say.
. . . To be continued . . .