In the back of the Ford Transit, Karam was cold, wet and bloodied. His heart beat in his throat. Every bump in the road hurt. The gaffer tape binding his wrists and ankles cut into his cold gooseflesh. The gag choked, forcing his breath through his nose. Only able to sit upright until the next corner or when the van braked, he rolled, braced himself.
The van came to a stop. Karam shuffled to the back doors. Lined with plywood, covered in paint and dirty scuffs, the windows were covered in reflective foil. He looked down the length of his body to work out what was causing the pain. His black bomber jacket was pulled up to his shoulders, his fingers and hands covered in scrapes and scuffs, his jeans wet in large patches. He was grass stained and mud spattered. One foot was colder than the other, his right foot shoeless and sockless, throbbing with pain.
Tariq’s face was bloodied and wet from tears. He looked across at Karam, who shrugged.
In the cab, spindly roll-ups were lit and passed between the occupants of the bench seat. Amidst the tobacco fug, they exchanged congratulations, slapped one another on the back.
‘Can tell you’ve been working out mind…picked him up like a frightened rabbit, that skinny ‘un. Clean and jerk. Thought you about to press him up above your shoulders!’
‘I’ll do it for you when we get there. Always happy to get the guns out.’
‘Where now? Should I follow Billy’s Golf?’
‘Nah. Take the A38. MacDonald’s anyone? Carbs for when we get there?’
‘What about the, erm…cargo?’
‘No full English for them tomorrow morning, I’d be thinking.’
Flashes of blue light illuminated the motorway. The patrol car slowed, pulling onto the hard shoulder. Raindrops on the grass were picked out by its headlights. Reflected light skimmed the wet tarmac. Every nobble and bump in the surface, visible. Beyond the guard rail was a drop, sudden and steep. Opening the vehicle door, the officers put on their caps and silently surveyed the scene. Sharp shards of rain furrowed their brows, their eyes narrowed in the darkness.
The police radio on Burden’s lapel crackled and spat.
‘Charlie-delta-six to base. Exact location of this incident please?’ he asked. He looked at his colleague, whose eyes darted around, scouring beyond the guard rail. Plumes of frozen breath unfurled from the officer’s nose and lips.
‘Incident reported beside emergency phone, ID 767. Four IC1 males handling two IC6 males on hard shoulder. One vehicle nearby, red VW Golf, index November-delta-one-five-golf-yankee-foxtrot. Believed stolen plates. Running checks on ANPRs in vicinity to locate vehicle. Report when checks made please.’
‘Weird,’ muttered Malik, his warm breath funnelling from the raised collar of his service waterproof. ‘We’re in the right place. And only one person rang it in? A scuffle at the side of the motorway?’
Approaching the guard rail, the officers shone their torches across the grassy drop in front of them.
‘No tyre marks. Bit of road rage between boy racers?’ speculated Malik. ‘God, my stomach is rumbling. Is it buttie o’clock yet?’
‘But just the red Golf? For six guys? Must’ve been a second car, especially the way they’re built around here. You and your stomach. Like that plant, Audrey! Feed me now! I don’t have a good feel about this. Let’s look down the slope. We’ll call time if there’s nothing else.’
Slicing the soles of his boots into the incline, Burden smiled.
‘This is how mountain sheep feel,’ he muttered. ‘And, by the way, it’s your turn at The Greasy Spoon when we’re done.’
Malik disappeared, landing with a bump at the bottom of the slope. His grunt echoed through the darkness. Burden smiled, until the cold hurt his teeth.
‘Yes, I can confirm that I am OK, thanks mate. Found this, tripped over it.’
Malik produced a black Puma training shoe. A man’s, worn and muddy, its laces still tangled in a tight knot.
‘You were right mate. Looks like we’ve just missed our Cinderella.’
When the engine stopped, the van was in total darkness. Karam could hear the hoot of an owl close-by. Tariq cried beside him. The padlock securing the back doors rattled against the outside as the key was turned. The door-handle creaked, the door opened. Karam squinted out into the darkness.
Moonlight illuminated skeletal trees lining the brow of a distant hill.
And the silhouettes of his captors.
About the Author:
Alwyn Bathan was a teacher for 39 years before deciding to return to formal learning through the MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She works for Unicef UK, promoting children’s rights in education settings. She is a keen on social justice and work-life balance, not necessarily in that order! She won the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition 2019 and is considering her post-University options, but is certain that creative writing and the persistent purchase of stress-related handbags will feature in her plans. This story featured in the Bridges 2019, published by Bandit Fiction this February.