Monday 15 April 2013
Any hope, any chance she had of escaping had all but disappeared. Charlotte Goulbourn, at sixteen years of age, had resigned herself to an early death. He had kept her weak, barely fed or hydrated, and completely unable to fend for herself should she miraculously manage to break free of the bonds that held her on the chair in the basement.
‘Just kill me. Please,’ she whispered as he bent over to give her a mouthful of water.
‘Not yet, Charlotte. There’s still plenty of publicity left in your story. Soon though.’
‘Coward,’ she replied.
* * * * *
No matter how the footage was edited, no matter how many hours they spent working the interviews, Cameron was still unhappy with the end result. Charlotte’s story, as desperation-filled as it was, was not going to be a headliner.
‘Grace, are you sure there’s nothing else you can get out of this story?’ he asked the reporter. She looked just as unhappy as Cameron and shrugged her shoulders.
‘I don’t think so. The mother has no charisma, no personality, and the best friend, well . . . I doubt that I know enough profanities to cover what a horrible little monster she is. There’s nothing at all likeable with either of them.’
‘What about Charlotte’s father?’ Cameron asked.
‘As far as I know, he’s been off the scene since the kid was three. The mother thinks he’s either in jail or got himself a new family. Can’t find a trace of him anywhere.’
‘Maybe it’s him?’
‘Maybe it’s him what?’ Grace replied.
‘Maybe he took Charlotte.’
For a moment, Grace considered Cameron’s suggestion of a suspect. It was entirely plausible: parents had disappeared from their kids’ lives and then returned on the scene some years later to claim back their parenting role. But it all seemed a little off to Grace, whose instincts had been well honed over the course of the twenty or so years she had been a television journalist. She’d seen cases come and go, some resolved, some still under investigation, and her instincts told her that Charlotte Goulbourn’s father was not at the centre of her odd disappearance.
‘I doubt it, Cameron,’ she said, ‘because if it was him there’d be a message to her mother somewhere in all of this but there’s nothing. The kid has vanished without a trace.’
She fiddled with Charlotte’s journal, which was conveniently resting on her lap. Cameron tapped his fingers on the computer and monitor-laden desk of the editing suite. She was going to push it again.
‘Do you think that now might be a good time to check out her journal? There might be some spicy information in that. I mean, even if it’s nothing about a boyfriend, we might shed some light on her personality. If we’re lucky she might not be such a goodie two shoes, might have a dark and twisted side to her.’
‘Jesus Christ, Grace. She’s sixteen years old. What kind of dark and twisted side to her personality do you think you’ll find?’ Cameron snapped.
‘I said might, we might be lucky. You’re the one who said the story is boring and we need to find something to spice it up. I’m only suggesting that we could do our usual and extract information and polish it up a bit to suit our needs.’
Cameron’s face relaxed from a contorted and grotesque mask to his normal soft expression.
‘Sorry. I’m sorry, Grace,’ he said, ‘ it’s just that I’m under a lot of pressure with this one, and I can’t afford for it to fall flat. There’s a lot at stake for all of us.’
Grace offered him one of her well-practiced screen smiles. She hoped that it hid her concern at Cameron’s unusual behaviour.
‘I know, Cameron. We’re all up shit creek here. Look . . . you were the one who said that we make the news. So, why don’t we do just that? Let’s give the editing a break for a couple of hours; I’ll go through the journal, see if I can find anything that we can use. If there’s nothing, the boys and I will go back to the mother and stir her up a little more.’
He nodded quite vigorously at Grace’s suggestion.
‘Good. Okay. Let’s do that.’
Sweating profusely and unable to sit still, Cameron rose from the chair and strode to the door.
‘I’ve got to get out of here for a while. You do the journal thing, and I’ll be back after I clear my head. Don’t let me down, Grace. You really don’t have any idea what’s at stake with this story.’
She nodded and watched the producer leave the editing suite.
* * * * *
The door to the basement opened and Charlotte watched the stairs for her captor’s appearance. He hesitated near the middle before slowly walking the rest of the stairs and across the floor to her chair. This time it was different. This time he wasn’t wearing the mask.
‘So that’s what you look like,’ she said. ‘I’ve seen enough crime shows to know what happens next.’
‘And what happens next, Charlotte, do you think?’ he asked.
‘If you’re not worried about me seeing your face, then it’s time for me to die.’
He nodded and she began to cry.
. . . To be continued . . .