Melinda was in the kitchen preparing soup when Seth left, looking a lot happier than he had the previous morning, Melinda noticed. Almost smug.
He nodded at her again as he passed, although this time he wasn’t so keenly followed by Faith, who appeared a few minutes after he’d gone.
“Everything OK?” Melinda asked as Faith seated herself at the card table. Her frown quickly gave way to her over-confident smile.
“Yeah, just fucking knackered.” She smirked and winked. “Holy shit, Mel. That man is so damn into me, couldn’t keep his hands off me, again.”
Melinda sighed. She was very used to Faith’s brazen talk, but this was far too full-on for first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach, too.
“So I could hear,” Melinda muttered, cringing as she remembered trying to find a place in the house where she couldn’t hear bed springs and Faith’s potty-mouthed bedroom talk. She busied herself with preparing Danny’s breakfast, hoping that Faith would just stop talking but, in a way that reeked of over-compensation, Faith went on.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” she said dismissively. “He wants to see me again tonight, but this time we’ll go fuck outside, give your ears a rest. Is Caleb done yet? I really need a shower. I probably should wash the bedsheets, too…”
April and Caleb had arrived shortly before dawn and Caleb had gone straight up to take one of his hour-long showers and get ready for his job interviews. For the second night in a row, they hadn’t found anyone suitable for the basement and for the second night in a row, it appeared that the two had been arguing; Caleb was wound tightly and April looked miserable.
Although, April seemed to look miserable a lot lately. Melinda really hated to see April sad, but soon she wouldn’t have to see her sad face ever again.
April had gone to lie down in the little bedroom, still feeling sick and now dizzy, too. Faith was not Melinda’s first choice for basement back-up, but Danny really needed to eat soon and, Melinda hated to admit it, but she did too. But before Melinda could ask Faith to join her, she heard the shower stop running.
“About time,” Faith huffed, leaving the playing cards in an untidy pile and heading upstairs.
Melinda watched her go, looking at the soup bowl, her insides gnawing away. Could she eat tomato soup? It was warm, it was red…
She took a spoonful to her lips, but the ashy, acrid taste was all she got as it burned its way down her throat, then immediately burned its way back up again and into the sink with the force of a bullet from a gun.
No, guess not.
Maybe she should just go down to the basement by herself. If Danny was awake she’d just have to immobilise him somehow. Could she bring herself to restrain him and drink from him? Could she even do that by herself? Was she strong enough? She sighed. For the first time ever she was wishing that she was a bit meaner when, thankfully, April appeared.
“Feeling better?” Melinda asked.
April nodded. “A little.” She looked at the hot bowl of soup on the counter. “Are you going to see Danny?”
“Yes,” Melinda said quietly. “It’s breakfast time. For both of us.”
“I should probably go with you, then. Mesmerise him for you,” April said. “Unless you want to feed off him while he’s awake, but I don’t know how Faith can do that. I think it’s really cruel of her. I don’t think I could bite someone without mesmerising them first.”
You bit me without mesmerising me, Melinda thought bitterly.
The two girls made their way down to the basement. The route had two doors that each locked with a combination handle, much like the front door. Caleb had explained that Lilith had designed it this way, for security.
The girls locked the first door behind them and they approached the second door that would lead them down into the main basement chamber; Melinda eagerly listening for any signs of movement.
“He’s by the bed,” April whispered. “We can sneak in now, I think.”
“How do you know he’s by the bed?”
April shrugged. “I just know.”
In any other circumstance, Melinda would have been in awe of this; another thing about April that was just amazing, but the cooling bowl in her hand, the knot of hunger in her stomach and memories of April looking at Caleb like the sun shone from his bum while he mistreated her and made her unwillingly carry his demon spawn were dampening her spirits somewhat.
April gently teased the door open and the two girls entered, as quietly as possible, rounding the corner to see Danny, who leapt out of his skin as he laid eyes on them.
Melinda had expected him to be terrified of them, maybe even aggressive towards them but the look on his face was pure surprise.
“Oh my god! I’m so relieved to see you! Are there any others trapped here? Why are we here? Is there a way out? I’ve been exploring every crevice, poked every brick, y’know? In case there’s a secret passageway or something, but there’s only that door that doesn’t have a handle and… wait, how did you get in? Is there another chamber? Have you been here long? Is that for me?”
He pointed to the bowl in Melinda’s hand; she could hear his stomach growl.
Melinda so wanted to explain to poor Danny. Ideally, she wanted to take his hand and run off up the stairs with him. But every plan she’d made in the distant rooms of the house evaporated in the proximity to the boy in the basement. She could see Danny’s lips moving, remember her plan, but all she could focus on in the dark, echoing room was the painfully loud thudding coming from his chest.
She swallowed back the lump in her throat, placing the bowl of soup on the floor and stepping back. “Yes, um… we…”
Was it her imagination or were her fangs suddenly sharper? She pressed her tongue against one, felt the brief pain as the cusp of the tooth pierced the flesh as easily as a hole punch does to paper. It felt like penance so she did it again. The blood that welled forth was thicker than she remembered, heavier almost, reminding her of that night in April’s bathroom.
Ah. And she thought she couldn’t feel any worse.
“Um… we’ve been trapped in here for days,” April interjected, giving Melinda a funny look. “We’ve been kidnapped.”
“We have?” Danny said, looking confused. “Why?”
“We don’t know,” April said. “All we know is that we were given this soup and told to bring it to you then to return to our chamber immediately and await further instructions.”
Melinda threw April a look that clearly said ‘he’s not going to buy that!’ but April didn’t even blink.
Danny rested his head on his shoulder, fixing April with a suspicious stare, before he picked up the cold soup and ate the lot within about a minute. He belched and looked over at the two girls, focusing on April in particular.
“I know you; you’re April Moss! And you must be her friend, um, something Bucket, right? Where’s the other girl? Woah, so the news was right, you have been kidnapped! Was it that Wangshaft guy everyone thinks it is? Is he the one holding us here?” Danny began pacing and the girls followed. The way he walked, the way he talked – it suddenly hit Melinda how young he was. “What does he want with us? I get what he’d want with you two, but me? I’m nobody.”
“I don’t know, Danny,” April replied.
“We need to get out of here. I’ve tried calling my mum but I can’t get any signal in here and my phone’s dead now. Maybe if we work together,” Danny whispered, looking around as if he expected the kidnapper to stroll in any second. “Where does the soup come from? Is it like a dumbwaiter kind of deal? Through a hatch in a door? Maybe we can ambush them, next time they bring you soup?”
“Maybe,” April said quietly. She lifted her arm, no doubt to unleash some green wriggles, but Melinda slapped it back down, shook her head.
“Wait,” Danny breathed, turning sharply on the spot. “How do you… I didn’t tell you my name. Did he tell you my name? Wangshaft?” Danny looked between the two girls, panic starting to take over. “Are you… are you two involved with the kidnapping plot? Are you holding me for ransom or something? Oh, shoot! Have you mistaken me for someone else? Look, my folks are just teachers, they’re hardly loaded! What do you want with me? What’s going on here? Why are you just staring at me and not saying anything? Help me find a way out!”
“There isn’t any way out, Danny,” April said.
“No. There has to be a way out. There has to be!” Danny cried. “I’m supposed to be starting college in the summer; supposed to be training to be a sports therapist not locked in some weirdo’s dungeon. There has to be a way out. I can’t be trapped here forever! I can’t! I—“
Danny stopped mid-sentence; his arms dropped to his sides and his breath lingered in the air.
“Just like that, huh?” Melinda whispered as April lowered her hands.
“Just like that,” April replied. “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t handle him talking about being trapped.” She gently slipped her hands into his pockets in turn until she had located and removed his phone. “This prisoner thing is a super bad idea, isn’t it? Please don’t tell him I said this, but I…” she lowered her voice so much that Melinda struggled to hear her. “I… I think Caleb has lots of bad ideas.”
Melinda nodded, looking at poor Danny who was clearly no longer with it.
“I can’t do this,” Melinda said, even as she felt her form slipping. “I think he’s even younger than we are.”
“He is,” April confirmed. “But not by lots.”
“I… I guess we can’t let him leave now. He knows too much,” Melinda sighed.
April nodded and Melinda stepped towards Danny. She lifted his hand gently, looked at the tiny, neat, barely-there puncture holes in his wrist and hesitated.
“You have to drink, Mel,” April whispered softly. “Please. I can’t lose you.”
“I’d never forgive myself.“
Yesterday had been quite the day.
Ralf took his coffee in to his dining room. He would usually savour every sip with the current newspaper laid upon the table before him, taking his time over every article and column, until his watch insisted that he get dressed for work.
Ralf had no intention of going to work this morning. He was exhausted. After the grim task of identifying the body of his nephew and deputy, Chase Crooks aged only twenty-nine, he had spent the night consoling his sister and his niece who had both clung to him in their grief and begged him not to leave. He was the stability they needed even though his own knees were failing him. Their rock made of crumbling mud. Their hero composed of lies.
To hell with the fly-tipping reports and whatever other petty crime was going on today; Ralf would be visiting his sister again. He would sit with her until he saw her smile if it took him all darn day.
The sharp rap at the door was the sound of fate coming to take a dump on his plans.
Ralf briefly considered running out the back door, in his robe and slippers, or hiding in the bathroom but he knew that neither of those were viable options. There was really only one option available where Wilbur Wangshaft was concerned.
True to form, the octogenarian did not offer a greeting, instead inviting himself into Ralf’s house and seating himself on the sofa.
“You’re making house calls now?” Ralf said, trying to keep it light-hearted. He took a seat beside, being careful not to flash; he hadn’t anticipated the company or he would have put some shorts on.
“I came to see how you were,” Wilbur replied, although neither his face, voice or body language conveyed any of the care his words suggested.
“Really? I- I thought maybe I wouldn’t go in today. I need to go and see my sister—“
“Why?” Wilbur asked, sharply. “Is this still about Deputy Crooks?”
Still? Not ten hours ago, Ralf had been weeping over Chase’s waterlogged corpse. He tried not to sound as ruffled as he felt as he calmly endeavoured to explain the nuances of grief to a Wangshaft. “He was my nephew—“
Wilbur sighed in an impatient way that clearly conveyed his disinterest. “Was being the operative word. What is the point in dwelling? Crying won’t bring him back. Do you have an acting deputy? Don’t tell me you’ve left that Spoon girl in charge.”
The way Wilbur said Jessica’s name made Ralf’s skin crawl. It was getting more and more difficult to bite his tongue and remain calm. “I have no one else and Jessica is very efficient.” He knew Wilbur wouldn’t see that as a positive, so he hastened to add, “I’ve limited her access and she’s inexperienced. Oh, you should hear some of her theories.” Ralf laughed, a little too hard and a little too long.
Wilbur didn’t blink until Ralf had fallen silent, then he asked. ” Theories? Elaborate.”
Great. Ralf tried to think through all of Jessica’s ideas; which one sounded the most bizarre and least likely to be correct? “Ah, well after her séance with the Truth Society at the bar yesterday morning, she’s convinced there’s a cover up involving ghosts and vampires.”
“Truth Society?” Wilbur enquired, his eyebrow twitching the tiniest bit. “Vampires?”
“Yes,” Ralf laughed, uneasily, wondering how much more he could embellish Jessica’s quirks and keep her off Wilbur’s radar without making her sound like a liability. “She was always a bit doolally, talking to her knitted turtle. She’s harmless. Kooky, but completely controllable.”
“Was she close to Chase?”
Ralf hesitated. “They, um… had their moments.”
“I see,” Wilbur leaned forward, looking unusually thoughtful before returning to his unreadable demeanour. “Call Spoon and tell her not to go in today—“
“—Then get dressed and head down to the station. I’ll find you a replacement for Deputy.” Wilbur continued, ignoring Ralf’s question entirely. Ralf knew better than to ask it again. “I have someone in mind.”
“I’m sure you have,” Ralf mumbled. “You know I really am quite upset about what happened to Chase and I—“
“I’ve told you what I require from you, Ralf. I assume we don’t have a problem?”
“No. No problem at at all,” Ralf choked around his integrity. He fought back tears. “Have you heard anything from your boy?”
“No,” Wilbur answered crisply, rising to his feet, completely unbothered. As if he was a discussing losing an eyelash rather than his only son he gave his reasoning, his tone monosyllabic, “Four days without a single word. Media at our door day and night, harassing Bethany and Gloria. I’ve been forced to close the mill so that’s losing me money. He knows better than to come crawling back now.”
“He’s your son, Wilbur.”
“He was,” Wilbur replied coldly as he opened the front door. “Everyone is disposable, Ralf. There is no point in dwelling.”