After a restless night on the hard bunk of the vault, Beth woke feeling wasted. Several times through the night she thought that she'd heard a child crying somewhere in the big cavernous house, but she may well have just been dreaming. Between brief spells of troubled sleep she strained her ears, listening to the nothingness in the dark.
On the way out of the house that morning, Beth had pulled away from Jennifer. She ran along the corridor, flinging open doors and calling out Barry's name. Jennifer scorned her, filling her head with doubts, asking her if she'd really be so stupid as to have the kid lying in the open where Beth could find him so easily. ‘You'd better follow me right now. We're going to do this and if you don't then the blood of that little boy will be on your hands forever.’
‘He'll be scared and hungry. Please, Jennifer, let me just see him. Give me two minutes with him and I'll do anything you ask.’
‘Have you forgotten, Beth, I might not have him at all. He may be at home sitting on his mummy's fat knee inhaling cigarette smoke into his precious little lungs. I'd come now, if I were you.’
Beth abandoned her search and left the house seething. She was furious and for the first time in her life, she was scared of the temper that she felt boiling in her blood.
The drive to the secluded Priory Beach was no less hair-raising than the last time Beth had been in the van with Jennifer. The Goth had gone to extra pains with her appearance wearing twice as much black make-up as normal and had on a long black trench coat with big clumpy boots. She had a new piercing through her cheek which hadn’t been there the night before. She’d done it herself with a needle and the skin around it was red and inflamed. She struck Beth as a Tribeswoman painting herself up to go into battle. They were about to kidnap a man in full daylight hours but if Beth had expected Jennifer to look inconspicuous then this certainly wasn't it.
Jennifer drove fast with the windows wound down and Korn blasting out and drawing attention to them. Beth was trying to think. They were on their way to attempt violence on an innocent man. The psychotic girl next to her might already have the toddler locked away somewhere. She felt the madness spiralling further out of control than it had ever been before. Why were they taking Colin? Jennifer had briefed her on what she had to do to play her part, but no matter how many times Beth asked her, she couldn't get any straight answers about what she was going to do with him, or why she was going to take him. Colin wasn't a big man by any means, but he was strong. What if it all went wrong? What then? She needed a cigarette and lit up, resting her arm out of the window.
‘No smoking in the van,’ snapped Jennifer.
‘Oh, fuck off. I need it.’ Beth's voice was aggressive and her bad mood was evident.
‘Okay,’ said Jennifer, pleasantly, pushing her foot down harder on the accelerator. ‘Your lungs.’ She flung the van into a hard turn and almost made Beth scream out in fear as it slewed across the road.
She had to reduce her speed when they turned off the main road and onto a narrow service road to the beach. This one was little more than a track. Jennifer drove too fast, more than once almost putting them into the deep ditch at the side of the hedgerow. Beth said nothing, but she was blazing. She flicked her used fag butt out of the window.
‘Littering as well. My, how our little goody two shoes is changing.’ Beth didn't grace Jennifer with a reply, she satisfied herself with wondering if it would sizzle if she put her next fag out on Jennifer’s eyeball.
The beach was fed by a single entrance and exit point. At the end of the road, leading onto the shore front, was a solitary house. Only the rear of the two-storey and a few outbuildings overlooked the beach. One car sat on the expansive drive. A moderate rain fell and the skies were grey. Only the most ardent dog walkers would be out today.
Fastening their coats, Jennifer and Beth got out of the van on the rutted track, interspersed with bushes that ran alongside the sand line. Jennifer had parked between two clumps of gorse so that they would be as secluded as possible. On a sand dune some distance away, and in profile to them, a fisherman sat beneath a green umbrella. They could see him through the gorse but the van and the bushes would hopefully be enough to obscure them from his view.
‘Do it,’ Jennifer ordered.
Beth took out the new mobile phone that she’d bought at a supermarket on a trip out to Lancaster. She'd paid cash for both the phone and its credit, making it untraceable.
Her hands were shaking as she rang Colin's number and the tinge of fear in her voice when he answered was entirely genuine. ‘Colin?’
‘Oh, hi, it's Beth.’
‘Yes, Beth Armstrong. You know, Maggie’s mate? Sorry, I know it’s been awhile. The thing is –’
‘Oh, Beth. Yes, um, how are you? How's things?’ Beth could tell from Colin's voice that he was trying to work out why Beth would be ringing him after all this time.
‘The thing is,’ she went on, ignoring his salutations, ‘my van's broken down and I wondered if you'd be able to come and help me. I'm at Priory Beach.’
‘Oh, I'm sorry, hun, there's no chance today. I'm snowed under here and I'm at work on my own. Listen, ring Mason's garage. Hang on, I'll get you the number. Tell them I sent you and they'll look after you.’
Beth had been prepared for this. ‘Oh, that's good of you. Thank you, Colin. Who do I ask for?’ Beth gave a half scream and moaned. ‘Oh my God, he's back.’ She raised her voice and began to scream, though not loudly enough to draw the attention of the fisherman. ‘Don't come any closer. I'm warning you. I'll ring the police.’ She began to cry and plead. ‘Oh, please. Leave me alone. What do you want?’
‘Beth. Beth!’ Colin was shouting down the phone. ‘Beth, get in your van. Lock all the doors and ring the police. Then sound your horn until they come. I'm on my way.’ The phone went dead.
‘He's coming,’ Beth said.
They watched a man with a black Labrador turn the corner into Priory Wood and disappear from sight. ‘I hope he's not planning a return journey in the next half hour,’ Jennifer said from the coverage of the gorse bush in front of the van. She was in position and ready.
Beth, in a state of agitation, paced up and down until she heard a van coming fast along the track. ‘This is it,’ she murmured. ‘Stay out of sight.’
Colin pulled to a screeching stop behind their van. Without turning the engine off, he ran towards Beth. She cast a nervous glance towards the fisherman along the beach in case the sound of Colin’s approach had carried that far. He was paying them no attention.
‘Oh, Colin, thank God you’re here.’ Beth ran to him and flung herself into his arms. ‘It was horrible. I thought he was going to hurt me.’
‘Where is he? Where's he at?’
‘It's okay, he's gone. I did as you said and the sound of my horn scared him away. Thanks for coming out.’
‘Did you ring the police?’
‘Yes, yes, they're on their way.’
‘Huh,’ remarked Colin. ‘They're taking their time. You could have been raped and murdered by now.’
‘Oh, don't. It's too horrible to think about.’ She buried her head into his shoulder and gave a couple of little dry sobs for good measure.
Colin, embarrassed by this display of emotion, cleared his throat and moved her gently away. ‘Come on, then, let's have a look at this van. What's the trouble? What’re you doing driving that thing, anyway? Where’s your car?’
‘I don't know what's wrong with it, it just won't start. I think the battery might be flat?’
‘Okay, pop the lid and let’s have a look. If we can't get her going, I'll give you a lift home and come back with the tow truck.’
He already had his head under the bonnet so Beth didn't feel the need to answer him. She heard him wiggling things and clanking things.
‘What are you doing out here?’ he asked.
That was a question that she didn't have an answer for. She signalled to Jennifer who came out of the bush, hunkering low to the ground. The plan was that Jennifer would get the pad of Chloroform over his face while he was still well under the van's bonnet. This would render his greater weight and strength useless. They hoped the chloroform would take effect before he could manage to shrug Jennifer off his back.
Jennifer ran at him from behind. She was all but silent despite her heavy footwear and obstructive clothing. As she rose from her crouch to attack him her shadow passed across the front of the van. Beth watched in horror as he reacted. The shadow, coupled with instinct, and possibly a warning whiff of the chloroform, alerted him to the fact that he was in danger. Jennifer flew at him and, as rehearsed, clamped the pad over his mouth and nose. In the same instant, Colin straightened, banging his head hard on the underside of the bonnet. He let out a muffled yell.
Far from being compliant, he came out from under the van fighting. Jennifer was clinging hopelessly to the back of his jacket with one hand while still clamping the rag to his face with the other.
Once out from the restraints of the van, he shook Jennifer off easily. She went flying backwards, stumbling over the uneven ground and her own feet, and came to a stop in a muddy puddle on the track.
Colin took two steps towards Beth. He shook his head and Beth watched in wide-eyed horror as he tried to assemble the details of what had just happened to him. He mumbled incoherently. His eyes were streaming and although the chloroform hadn't knocked him out as planned, it had seriously impeded his judgement. He shook his head again, as if trying to clear it, and the motion knocked him off balance. He fell forward onto his hands and knees. His arms refused to support him and shook beneath him. Beth just stared as he tried to regain his footing. His leg wouldn't come out from under him despite three attempts.
From the corner of her eye Beth saw Jennifer creeping up on them. She turned to look and saw that Jennifer had a large rock in her hand. She was almost level with Colin now. She raised the rock, aiming to bring it down on the back of his head.
‘Jennifer, no!’ screamed Beth. She made a lunge towards Jennifer. Colin turned around and, retching from the effects of the chloroform, he wrapped his arms around Jennifer's legs. This took him off balance and the pair of them rolled on the track in a tangle of arms and legs. The rock fell from Jennifer's hand and Beth leant over and picked it up.
Colin and Jennifer were wrestling in the mud. Because of Colin's weakened and half-conscious state they were evenly matched. He aimed a punch at Jennifer's face, but his motion was slow and she easily saw it coming and deflected it. He used his weight to pin her to the ground and, lying on top of her, brought his arm back again. This time she couldn't move to escape his fist.
‘Beth, do something,’ yelled Jennifer. She turned her face to the side as much as she could when Colin's bunched fist came at her. The punch was weak and lacked any real power but it was still enough to bust her nose and blood ran from her nostrils as she struggled beneath him.
He was regaining some of his senses. With each breath of fresh air, his movements became more solid, his focus more aligned. He was bringing his fist back again. If he seriously hurt Jennifer, Beth would be left alone with him. How would she explain the unprovoked attack? She had to do something. All the tension, all the stress, the feeling of weakness and the fury built within her in a seething mass of rage. She'd never felt this feeling before. Her body was tense and trembling from the static of pure adrenaline borne of aggression. Her fingers curled around the rock, the weapon, and she could feel the blood boiling in her veins as her world turned red. She wanted to smash and smash and not stop smashing until she was unable to raise the rock again. She wasn't seeing, wasn't thinking. She had no awareness of what she was doing.
Taking a tighter hold of the rock in her hand, she cleared the two steps that distanced her from the twisting bodies on the ground. She took her arm behind her, the momentum of her fury carrying it back with force as she brought the rock down hard on his head. She didn't know or care who the head belonged to, she just had to expel this fury inside her with violence.
Colin slumped onto his face unconscious, a gash in the back of his head pouring blood that diluted on contact with the rain-wet path and spread in a darkening stain. Jennifer was already climbing out from underneath him as Beth raised her arm for the second blow.
‘Beth, stop. Give me the rock. You're going to kill him.’ The roles were reversed. Now Jennifer was calling for Beth to come to her senses, but Beth was beyond seeing the irony.
She wheeled around to face Jennifer. ‘You want the rock? You want the fucking rock?’ she yelled, continuing the arc of her slam, this time with the rock directed at Jennifer's head. Jennifer rolled and scrambled to her feet. Beth was already preparing her next swing. She had never known a feeling of power like this one. Her body was electrified. She felt super human, stronger than she had ever felt before. She was hard and invincible. She was unyielding. She was feeling powerful without having the capability of rational thought to bring her back under control. She wasn't aware of what she'd done to Colin or of what she was about to do to Jennifer. She only knew that her entire body was tingling and that for the first time in her life she felt big. It felt good. It felt primal and a kind of violent ecstasy overcame her. It was akin to the strongest orgasm she'd ever experienced and she exulted in the thrill of the sensation. Without thinking she reacted only on impulse. Her mouth was open. She was gasping. A line of spittle dripped from her chin and her eyes were wild and unfocussed. She let out a yell of rage and lunged towards Jennifer.
Jennifer scuttled out of her reach.
‘Barry,’ she screamed. ‘Beth, we have to get Barry, now. Think of Barry. Think of Maggie’s little boy.’
Beth hesitated. Her arm was in the downward swing. She looked confused. Her eyes came into focus and she stared at Jennifer. It was as though she was awakening from a dream. Her arm was tired so she dropped it and let the stone fall harmlessly to the ground. She had no idea what was happening to her but that wonderful feeling of being powerful and invincible was gone. She felt sad, as though she'd lost something very, very important to her. She looked over at Colin for the first time since he fell to the ground. She saw him lying face down in the dirt and asked in a tired voice, ‘Is he dead?’
Jennifer eyed her warily. She risked taking her eyes off Beth and glanced around the beach. The fisherman was looking in their direction. He had one hand up on his forehead shielding his eyes, he'd heard something. Jennifer waved at him and shouted, ‘Hello,’ at the top of her voice. Then she began to jump around and laugh very loudly. She was shouting ‘You're it, you're it.’ She ran around the van. Beth just stood there. Confused.
‘Is he dead?’ she asked again. ‘I need to know if he's dead.’
‘Shut up,’ hissed Jennifer. ‘That bloke’s looking over. Now start jumping around as though we're playing a game.’
A game, thought Beth. Yes, that's it, just two kids playing a game. She wanted to play, she wanted more than anything for the power to come back to her, but it was gone and Colin was lying in a bleeding heap on the ground and Jennifer was jumping and laughing and Beth was so very tired.
Jennifer stopped laughing. She looked at Beth again, before dropping to her knees beside Colin. She tried to turn him over but he was too heavy.
‘Oh you shouldn't do that,’ muttered Beth. ‘Shouldn't move him. Need to wait for an ambulance to get here.’
‘There is no ambulance, stupid,’ Jennifer shot back at her. And then, realising that she'd insulted Beth, she looked up at her sharply, gauging her reaction. ‘Sorry, I mean… Look, you're the nurse. Can you, like, sort of snap out of it for a minute and come and see if you've killed him?’
Beth sank to her knees on the other side of Colin. She’d killed a man before. This time it wasn’t as bad. She felt the world returning to her and she was beginning to feel more normal. ‘I want to kill you, too,’ she said in a dry voice, ‘But I'm too tired now. You’ll have to wait.’
‘Well, thank God for that,’ muttered Jennifer. ‘So, is he dead, or what? What are we going to do? Either way, we're going to have to stick to the original plan initially, we can't leave him here like this.’
Beth tried to focus on what needed to be done but her thoughts were still fuzzy and blurred as though she was the one who'd been clunked with a boulder. She took off her scarf and wrapped it firmly around Colin's head in an attempt to close the wound, keep dirt out and stem the bleeding. She waited for nurse mode to click in and to feel the little buzz that a professional emergency always brought on, but what she really wanted was the dark super power with an ability to crush bones in her bare fist. Or even with the aid of a rock, it was still a thrill.
Between them they managed to turn him onto his back. Beth checked his airway and ensured that it was open and clear of blockage, put her ear close to his mouth to check his breathing, and felt for his pulse to see if he had circulation. ‘He's alive,’ she said to Jennifer, but she didn't feel anything about it, one way or the other. She looked down on him and tried to remember that he was a human being, that they'd once been quite friendly, flirty even, although she'd never had a great deal of time for him. But she'd seen death and she'd seen cruelty and she'd inflicted hurt and nothing really seemed to matter anymore except that one day she might feel that power again.
‘Right let's get him loaded and get out of here. Grab his legs and we'll get him to his van,’ Jennifer said. ‘We'll leave our van here and hide his at the house. With a bit of luck he won't have told anybody where he was going and the fisherman won't remember anything about a breakdown service later.’
By the time Jennifer had finished speaking amidst much grunting and groaning as they lifted Colin, they had him in the back of his van.
Jennifer hastily moved some tools and boxes to get him in. ‘You get in the back with him and do your best to keep him alive until we get back.’
As an afterthought, Jennifer bent down and picked up the rock, still sticky with Colin's blood, and held it in her hand for a second.
‘Beth, you are one psychotic bitch, do you know that?’ She threw the rock in the back of the van beside Beth. ‘I'm just glad that there's a wall between you and the driver's seat in this thing.
Jennifer slammed the back doors of the van shut.
Beth prayed to God as she used to do when she was a little girl. Jennifer held all the cards again.