Best Served Cold
Click on image to enlarge.
by A.W. Lambert
Description: Anonymous, threatening telephone calls prompt Theo Stern to ask the question: genuine or just a crank? The answer becomes clear when Annie, Stern's wife, is abducted and the terrifying demands begin.
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [437 KB]
Reading time: 280-392 min.
It had been a horrible night. Annie's hands and feet were completely numb and the cold had totally encompassed her whole body. Most of the time she'd remained fully awake, sitting propped against the wall in the total blackness, holding back the terrifying sobs that repeatedly rose to her throat, desperately trying to understand why this was happening to her. Why her? When she did sleep, when pure physical exhaustion overcame her and she dozed fitfully, the nightmares had been so real she'd thought she was losing her mind.
Several times she had been startled by the muffled tone of her mobile springing to life somewhere in the darkness to her left; her bag, she remembered seeing carelessly thrown into one corner when she had initially regained consciousness. She'd known who it would be. It could only be one person. It would be Stern, she was sure of it. For some reason he had tried to contact her and hadn't been able to. That would worry him, it always did. He would keep trying and the more he failed, the more he would worry. He wouldn't relax until he had made contact, been sure she was okay. In the past she had berated him for it. It was maddening, like having a permanent minder, as if she were constantly under surveillance. She had reminded him more than once they were no longer married; she was no longer his responsibility. Now it was different. Now if there was one person she yearned desperately to talk to, to have with her, it was Stern. And there he was, so near and yet so out of reach.
She had tried, of course, dragging herself across the rough concrete floor, trying to manoeuvre herself into a position that would enable her to pull the phone from her bag. But it was hopeless. With her hands bound behind her she was having to go by feel and her hands were numb and useless from hours of being bound. After several fumbling attempts, sobbing with frustration, she had given up, the frustration enhanced by the knowledge that even if she had managed to retrieve the mobile, manipulate the buttons, the tape binding her face and mouth would have prevented her from making a sound.
Tears coursing down her cheeks, she hauled herself back to where she had been, telling herself her captor must not know of her futile attempt. While the phone was there, in her bag, thrown in the corner, there was hope. Maybe not now, but sometime later, there might just be that chance.
She had no idea what time it was when suddenly she heard the door at the top of the stairs open and the overhead light was burning into her unsuspecting eyes. She flinched and closed her eyes, opening them again, but only partially until the pupils, slowly contracting, became accustomed to the light. He stood for some moments at the top of the steps looking down at her, before closing the door behind him and making his way carefully down to stand in front of her. He was holding the rucksack at his side.
"Did you have a pleasant night?" He smiled down at her.
Annie stared up at him, unable to speak, unable to move.
He crouched down in front of her and unwound the tape around her head, the last layer pulling painfully at her cheeks and lips. She gasped, sucking in precious air through her mouth.
"There," he said. "I'm sure that feels better now, doesn't it?"
Head bowed, it was some seconds before she was able to speak. Finally she raised her head and looked into his smiling face. "Would you please release my hands and feet," she pleaded. "I am in so much pain."
He nodded. "Yes I am sure you are." He pushed himself up and strolled to the far wall where he collected the upturned crate he had been sitting on the previous evening. He put it down in front of Annie and again crouched behind it. "Breakfast table," he said, again smiling broadly. "Now, a couple of ground rules. Before I release you, you must give me your word you will behave." He inclined his head questioningly to one side. "Agreed?"
Annie nodded obediently. She would do anything just to have the feeling back in her hands and feet. "Yes."
"Good." He reached into the rucksack and withdrew a long, black handled kitchen knife. He laid it nonchalantly on the crate. "It's only coffee and biscuits, I'm afraid. It was the best I could do. Better than nothing, though." He sought her eyes. "Now." The smile had vanished and the single word was accompanied by the lifting of the knife from the crate top, its tip hovering an inch from her face. "If you so much as make one silly move I will stab you to death." He waited, watching her closely, studying the effect his words had engendered. Eventually, satisfied, he said, "Is that understood?"
Annie, already terrified beyond belief, unable to speak, shrunk back.
The knife hovered ever closer, its gleaming tip now touching her cheek. "I said is that understood?"
"Yes, yes I understand," she whispered.
Again the smile. "Good. We wouldn't want any silly misunderstanding to spoil our breakfast, would we?"
Ten minutes later they sat on the floor either side of the upturned crate on which stood a large flask of coffee and two open packets of biscuits. With the removal of the duct tape from Annie's arms and legs the pain had got much worse, the blood surging again through relieved arteries and veins, before it had receded. As soon as she'd been able to walk she had begged to be taken to relieve herself. He had escorted her up into the house at knife point, allowing her privacy only when she was secured in a windowless toilet, even then instructing she must talk to him throughout.
Back in the cellar, again sitting on the floor her back propped uncomfortably against the rough stone wall, the pain in her arms and legs had eased to little more than uncomfortable pins and needles. She was grateful for the coffee, but was finding it difficult to deal with the biscuits. He, on the other hand was having no such difficulty, having already devoured several from each pack. As he ate, his eyes never left her, drifting from head to foot, hovering worryingly on her legs and breasts.
"Don't you like biscuits?" he said, his gaze finally settling on her face, holding her eyes.
She nodded, conscious of the knife lying close to his right hand. "Yes, but it's difficult..."
He nodded. "Yes I suppose under the circumstances it would be. Still you must try. If you don't eat everything will seem an awful lot worse you know."
"Yes, I'll try." She reached for a biscuit.
Though trying not to make it obvious, Annie studied him closely. Earlier, his sudden change of mood had terrified her. It had convinced her she was being held by a very unstable individual. This, combined with the way he looked at her, his dark eyes seemingly absorbing her body, frightened her to death. But she needed to know, needed to understand why this was happening to her. Dare she question him again? How would he react if she did? Would he change, maybe even become violent? Again Suzy Lamplugh drifted into her mind, her stomach knotting at the thought. Was the same fate awaiting her? In years to come would people still be asking what had become of Annie Reynolds? And without her body, would they eventually be forced to declare her dead, too? Was she destined to lie somewhere, undiscovered, forever? God, she couldn't bear the thought. She washed down the biscuit with the last mouthful of cool coffee and held out the flask beaker toward him. "I'm so parched."
Without a word he lifted the flask and poured her more coffee.
Annie sipped tentatively, swallowed and took a deep breath. "Can I ask you something?"
He said nothing, but leaned his elbows on the crate and looked intently across at her. There was something about the eyes she hadn't noticed before; a flickering from side to side. It was slight, but now, as he leaned closer, she noticed it even more. It gave the impression his eyes were somehow out of control and as he stared across at her she couldn't help thinking maybe it wasn't just the eyes. Butterflies took flight in Annie's stomach, but she knew, if she wanted to find out what this was all about, she had to get him talking. She also knew she had to be very careful. Start with something easy.
"Is my car okay?"
He nodded. "Yes you don't have to worry. This house has everything including several garages. Your car is safely tucked away."
She took another sip of coffee and summoned the courage. "Can I ask why you are holding me like this?"
He held her gaze for what seemed an eternity, his face an expressionless mask. Then, as if he, too, had made a decision, he picked up the knife and got to his feet.
Annie held her breath as he again stood over her, twisting the knife handle between his fingers. Suddenly he swung away and started to pace up and down.
"Do you know what it's like to love someone?" He paced, head down, his eyes fixed on the floor, the words harsh and demanding. "I mean love someone so much you were prepared to give up everything, even your most devout calling?" He stopped, turning again toward her. "Do you?"
She hesitated, unsure, frightened by his gruff, confrontational tone. Finally she said, "Yes, I have been in love."
He looked at her for a long time, the intense silence bouncing ominously off the cold brick walls. "You call that love?" His face had twisted into a contemptuous sneer. "I know all about you, ex Mrs Annie Stern." The words were spat out like a bad taste. "That facade you laughingly called love lasted for just as long as it suited you. Like all the other treacherous whores you just walked away, didn't you?" He strode back, again standing over her, his eyes ablaze now. "You call that love?" He was shouting now, the words crashing into Annie's face, making her draw back in terror.
"Your ex-husband is an imbecile, it is true, but he had more love, more devotion in his little finger than you possess in your whole sorry soul. Like a puppy he followed you here, ever hopeful you might find it in your heart to show the love for him that he still had for you. The problem is you have no heart, have you? If you had, if you truly loved him, you would have stayed with him in the first place." He stared down at her scornfully. "Is that not so?" He turned and began to pace again. "No, you can tell me nothing about true love. You have no idea. But you are no different, are you? You are no different from her." He stopped again and spun back toward her. "And it's because of her you are here. It's because, despite my love for her, despite the fact I was willing to give up everything, my whole life, she deserted me." His flicking eyes were wide now, a thin dribble of saliva trickled down his chin. "And she didn't just desert me. Oh no, that wasn't enough. The bitch also betrayed me and condemned me to what I am now."
Petrified, Annie cowered against the wall. She had no idea what this man was trying to tell her, but she did know she was terrified beyond belief.