Fiction

The Thirteenth Station - Part 1

By Sue Simpson

Johnny Walker was a normal little boy with an unfortunate name. His mother knew little of whiskey, be it red or black. She had never tasted it, but had smelled it once on the breath of a bad man. She hadn't recognized it for what it was, she thought that the awful, bad smell oozing out of him was something fettered lurking within his core, just waiting to pass from his vile mouth to hers. Oh she fought. "Don't let anybody tell you I didn't mamma, I tried to make it stop mama." Mary had fought her attacker long and hard. "But it said in the paper that he was a 'Notorious Sociopath' what could I do daddy. Don't look at me like that, tell me daddy, what could I do?" Notorious Sociopath. Mary read the two words several times, doing the best she could with her limited vocabulary. She didn't quite know what it meant of course, but she knew it was a reason. She knew those two words gave her a valid, cast in stone, tied in the dye, rolled in clover reason for not being able to fight that evil man off her. Some evil was just too strong to be beaten.

Mary took some pills when she was five months pregnant. She just wanted to die. The shame of it was just too much for her long suffering parents. A sin almost as heinous as letting yourself get raped by a Notorious Sociopath.

She had been in the papers. Her startled "Rabbit in the headlights" face looming out from the front page. Her last school photograph. Not a good one. Teeth too big, eyes too big, face too sallow. She was not a pretty child, not the sort of child it was easy to take to.

There had been other photographs too. Naked pictures. Deep shameful pictures. A second rape, feet in stirrups, body spread. Ugly pictures which came back to her often in the night. Came back to make her body burn with shame. Pictures of her hurt face, her small blue/black breasts. The right breast with the chunk of flesh bitten out. Her abdomen bitten, kicked and bruised. Her genitalia, one outer labia not just bitten off but eaten. Chewed and swallowed. Her entire body photographed. The second rape.

She had been poked and prodded, sutured and swabbed. Tested for disease, and for pregnancy. Demoralized and humiliated.

Her parents, strict Catholics, hadn't wanted to listen to the doctors when they mentioned termination. Mary didn't hear the words, they floated above her in the tall white room. Circling her head like so many trapped birds. Mary didn't care anymore what happened to her. The worst had been done. She craved only the sweet relief of death.

The suicide attempt had been the turning point. A month in an institution for the mentally ill. Therapy, counseling. She was allowed to get angry. She was encouraged to get angry. A man dressed in black, fat with padding. She beat him. She beat him. She beat him. That was the last time she beat herself. She wilted to the floor of the gym, and vomited in the corner, retching up the fire of shame. She came out of Willow Glade stronger. Older. On the front steps, she hugged the staff who had become her friends, and promised them she would never be back.

Charlie, her father could never look at her without his upper lip curling slightly at the right hand side. He tried to conceal his disgust but never quite succeeded. It showed in the warmth that was missing from his eyes.

Her mother Betty couldn't look at her at all, kept her eyes averted. Couldn't face the sullied product of her womb. All Betty could do for her daughter now, was increase her daily visits to church from two to three times a day, and maybe say a couple of extra soul saving Hail Mary's.

One day Betty walked into Mary's bedroom. Her daughter stood in her underwear in front of the tall brass mirror. She was muttering soft words of love to her gestating offspring, and running her hands in soft gliding circles over her swollen belly as she looked at herself in the mirror. "You JEZEBEL, flaunting your obscene growth!" Betty was incensed. She flew into a rage the likes of which she had never felt before. "You enjoyed it didn't you? Feeling that animals rod inside you. Accepting his seed. Spawning one of his evil brood. You whore. You disgusting dirty whore. You tempted him. Flaunted yourself and tempted him into sin. You will rot in hell!" Mary had covered her stomach with her arms. Protecting her beloved baby from hearing what was being said. She had tried so hard to bring about forgiveness in her parents. Had gone to mass twice a day until her stomach had shown the signs of her pregnancy. She had gone to confession at her mothers insistence, and had even done her mothers bidding. Sitting cowed in the confessional, admitting to tempting a man beyond endurance. Yet inside she felt no more shame. Only love for her unborn innocent child.

She was five and a half months pregnant when she left that day. At six months she was due to be taken into an institution for unmarried mothers anyway. One run by severe judgmental nuns. She closed the door quietly in the early hours of one cold morning and walked down the street swinging her carrier bag full of clothes. Having emptied her bank account she had the princely sum of twenty two pounds in her pocket. She was sixteen years old. Five and a half months pregnant and alone. She had to return for the trial. It was an ordeal, but she had suffered worse. She sat in the hard straight seat of the crown court. Her belly distended, the little one kicking harshly. Visible to all as she gave her evidence. Noticeable even through the corduroy material of her maternity smock. A point in her stomach would suddenly protrude, sticking out in a knobby lump, before retracting back to relax in the warm fluid.

The eyes of Barry Holmes burned into hers. No remorse. No guilt, just a biting hatred.

Other victims of Holmes came forward. They looked at Mary with a deep sympathy and a "There but for the grace" look. They didn't know how blessed she was to be having this child.

Holmes was given three life sentences to run concurrently.

Mary walked out of court a free woman. She faced the trial, but not alone. She faced giving birth, but not alone. It was long. It was painful. It was Jonathan. Her sweet innocent Johnny.

She found herself living in Eccles. Home of the cake, land of the impersonal. Those first years hadn't been easy. A young girl with a bastard child. She was barely literate, had no skills and no money. What Mary did have though was one hell of a fighting spirit. "Little Mary, plain and leery" was gone. Her body after giving birth had become that of a woman. Her mind after giving birth had become that of a woman. Her spirit after giving birth had become that of a strong and courageous woman. She found work and lodging on her first day, with a woman in the form of an angel who ran a small bakery. The gods were smiling down on all of them that day.

Jilly had been struggling to keep her business afloat since her husband had died two years previously. Things were not good. She was up every morning at four AM to bake the bread and crust the pies. She was knocking sixty and feeling tired. Having not been blessed with children of her own, she had nobody to help ease the workload.

One day a young lass, heavily pregnant and obviously down on her luck had come into her shop. The girl had a defiant glint to her eye. A look that said "Yes by god I'm down, but I'm not out yet." While Jilly was wrapping her bread the girl had fainted, falling lightly onto the shop floor. Jilly had taken her in. Made it her business to care for the girl, feeding her with nourishing soup and plying her with common sense caring. Mary had been grateful when offered the chance to stay on and work in her new friend's business.

She had happily accepted the woman's kind offer of home and work. She was a good worker, and although heavily pregnant soon became fit and strong, taking on more and more of the elderly woman's burden. They both rose at six and a pleasant routine was soon established. They worked side by side in the shop and then made good company for each other in the evenings. Mary worked until the moment her water flooded the shop floor and washed Jilly's feet. Then laughing the older woman had put a sign on the shop door that said "Closed for hard Labor, back when we have a new worker!"

The relationship between the two women grew strong and sure. Mary's story came pouring out one night a couple of days before Jon was born. Jilly held her to her huge bosom, in a way that her own mother had never done. She made her feel safe. Later she came to feel loved. Jon was the apple of both women's eye. He grew up secure in the knowledge that his mum and his nanna Jilly loved him fiercely.

Ten years past. Ten years of happy Christmases. Ten years of being a happy family. The business thrived. Mary had a knack of breathing new life and fresh enthusiasm into the tired and weary old shop. The women were popular with the locals, and it wasn't long before they had even been able to take on a couple of extras so that Jilly could take more time off. She would sit with Jon, helping him with his homework when he came home from school. Mary would hear the pair of them laughing in the flat above as she served customers in the downstairs shop. She counted her blessings, and blessed her Jilly every single day.

Jon had gone off to the park to play. "Be in by five now lad," Jilly admonished him with a stern voice. "Not a minute after or I'll tek the skin of yer backside with the sole of me shoe!"

"Yeah Yeah nanna," The cheeky lad retorted, "You could no more hit me than hit the sun in the sky!" He was a bright lad with an answer for everything. Ten going on thirty. Wise beyond his years, with his mothers quick mind and her thirst for knowledge. Jill had watched both her children grow over the last ten years. Mary was as much her daughter as if she had given birth to her herself. She had shed her gawkiness and filled out. Her self conscious attitude, replaced with an open smile and a jaunty air that exuded happiness. Although she would never be a ravishing beauty, she was pretty in a wholesome way. Fresh looking, with shiny brown hair and blue eyes that had long ago lost their haunted look. It never took much to make her eyes crinkle at the sides. Mary was always finding something to laugh at. She had her share of offers from the local fellas too. Jilly was sad that Mary had never felt enough at ease with a man to become serious about him.

"Ahh Jilly, you and Jon are all I'll ever need. What do I want with some big soft fella?. When I feel the urge to be slobbered on, I'll get mesen a dog." She'd laugh. Occasionally she'd accept an offer to go out with a man. Sometimes more than once. But they never went out more than a handful of times. Jilly suspected that as soon as the man's fancy had turned to romance Mary had given him short shrift. She was far from lonely though, she had lots of friends both male and female, and both women were happy with their lot in life.

By five fifteen Jon had not returned home.

At five eighteen when Jilly walked into the shop , Mary was cashing up. "I see our Jon hasn't shown up Mare? Its not like him to disregard my instructions. I'm a bit worried he's normally in bang on the nose, I'd best tek a gander out and have a look for him."

"He'll be all right , he's probably just got chatting to some of those dopey mates of his. Warm his backside for me when you find him." She grinned fondly as Jilly walked out of the front door of the shop.

By six o clock they had called the police. Mary spoke to a Sergeant on the front desk. Ahe was patronizing and unhelpful. "Don't you worry love they always come home when they're hungry, he's probably just lost track of the time, come on, he's barely an hour late yet. Tell you what, you ring back in an hour if there's been no word of him, but I'm sure you won't need to."

"I'm sorry Sergeant I didn't catch your name and would like to make a note of it for future reference."

"Boyd, Ma'am. Sergeant Melanie Boyd."

"Thank you Sergeant Boyd. Now. You seem to be having a little trouble understanding me here. I'm not talking about some feral kid, who's left to walk the streets until all hours. I'm talking about my ten year old son Jonathan, who has never been late more than ten minutes in his life. If there was a problem he would have rung me. He has not rung me, he has not come home. So Sergeant we have more than a problem. I would be grateful if you could send someone round as soon as possible. In the meantime I will of course ring you with my apologies if he turns up."

Mary's voice had just begun to loose some of its cool composure. Jon was now one hour and two minutes late home. She felt the tide of panic beginning to claim her.

"Mrs.?"

"Miss ... Miss Mary Walker."

"Right, ok. Miss Walker I'm just making some notes about Jonathan. Tell me his name, address and date of birth please."

Mary reeled off the information, She fought back the tremor in her voice. Knowing already that something was badly wrong. Realizing that her best chance of helping Johnny now, was to keep a calm head. "Can you give us a brief description of Jon, Please Miss Walker, and we can radio it through to the patrol cars. They will be able to start looking out for him immediately, and an officer will be round to interview you as soon as we have one free."

"My son is five foot four inches, a tall lad for his age. He looks older. He has light brown/blonde hair. He needs a haircut." Her voice broke slightly "I'm sorry," She despised this show of weakness and sniffed back the tears before they took hold "Johnny has brown eyes. He has two scars. One running down his right cheek to the side of his nose, it is about an inch long and one on the back of his right hand, about three inches long."

Melanie was impressed with this one, she could hear the woman's torment, but was also conscious of her resolve to hold it together. She believed that this was no neurotic mother and that when she said it was out of character for her son to be an hour late, she meant it. The woman didn't even bother to try and justify her son's scars, something that most parents automatically do as a reflex defense in front of a police officer. Melanie was having to write furiously to keep up with the description. She told herself that Miss Walker would make a good witness, "Let's hope that she never has to," she thought as her pen flew across the page.

"Jon is wearing a pair of blue jeans, and a blue fleece top with the stitched logo 100% Radical on the front in large white machine sewn lettering. He's wearing black non-branded trainers with a blue trim. He's also wearing a commando force watch." Most parents didn't have a clue what their kids had on. This lady was thorough.

"Excuse me one moment please Miss Walker. I promise not to keep you long." Mary tapped her fingers impatiently on the table as she tried not to listen to the irritating hold music. True to her word Sergeant Boyd was back within a couple of minutes. "Right Miss Walker" I've personally radioed a description of your son and what he was wearing to our patrol cars, they are looking for him as we speak. I'm going to get someone to see you right away. They should be with you within about quarter of an hour. Please have a recent photo of Johnny ready to give them, and if you hear from him in the meantime please let us know immediately and we can all breathe a big sigh of relief."

"Thank you Sergeant Boyd, you have been most helpful."

The two women on either end of the telephone smiled at each other. One in unseen gratitude, the other in unseen sympathy.

Melanie straightened her pants and smoothed her shirt before she knocked on the DI's door. She was ready for a fight. She rapped slightly more urgently than she normally would. "C'min."

Detective Inspector Phil Donnan glanced up from his paper work as she strode confidently into his office, He knew that walk. Invariably it meant trouble. "Sir," Mel proceeded to fill him in, giving him all the information she had. Donnan continued to mark off names on the list of in front of him. He glanced at her irritated and impatient. "Boyd, why have you come to me with this?. The kids been missing what? An hour? And you're bothering me. Can't you see how busy I am? What's the problem? Get Taylor to deal with it."

Sir I have a bad feeling about this one."

Boyd was his best officer. She had a canny and astute perception. He trusted her judgment. Now she had his attention. He pushed the papers away and looked at her properly for the first time since she'd entered his office. She had that look about her that said, "There's no point in arguing with me, I'm going to get my own way on this. Even if I do have to persuade my superior to see sense."

"What do you suggest Boyd?"

"Well Sir, I'd like to put Taylor on the desk and take this one myself... And as you are going to be taking it in twenty four hours anyway, I'd like to suggest Sir that you come with me."

"Out of the question Boyd ..."

Mary jumped up to answer the doorbell almost before it had finished ringing. "Miss Walker? DI Donnan and Sergeant Boyd." Phil held out his ID and Mel followed suit. "I take it he hasn't shown up?" As Mel stepped over the threshold she grabbed the other womans hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Mary smiled at her. Some barrier had already come down between the two women. Mary knew the Sergeant had used her influence to be there. It mattered and it also brought home again the seriousness of the situation.

Jilly flapped about making tea and producing delicious cakes that Mel eyed with something akin to lust but resisted admirably. Not so Donnan, he only managed to stop himself after a strawberry tart and a Chocolate eclair. They went over and over the course of events leading up to Jon's disappearance. Had they had a falling out? Was he worried about anything? How was he getting on at school? They wrote down the names and addresses of all Jon's closest friends. "And what about Jonathan's father...ER Miss Walker...um where is he?" Donnan looked down at the crumbs that had fallen onto his knee and started picking them off one by one. Now he found that he had a handful of crumbs to deal with. Leaning forward he dropped them onto his discarded side plate. There was a five second pause before Mary answered. Four seconds too long.

"Jonathan's father is in jail Inspector."

Boyd snapped her head up to scrutinize the other woman. "Something not right here, something she's not telling." Mel could feel that Mary's hackles had risen. "Hmmm. Is there anything. Anything at all, you feel might be helpful to our enquiries Miss Walker? Anything you haven't already told us?"

Mary snapped, then softening slightly "Please call me Mary. No nothing I've told you everything that I can think of." Mel's instinct told her that Mary would say if there was any concern over Jon's disappearance, but still there was something she was hiding. "Hmmm no you haven't lady," She thought. The two police officers left with Jon's picture and every assurance that they would soon find him.

Mary was amazed when night turned into morning. Somehow she thought that it wouldn't. How could things go on as normal with Johnny missing? To say they had come through the night trivialized it. Somehow they had survived the night. Somehow they were kept from being driven insane by thoughts of where John was. Who he was with. How he was doing. Was he all right?

Mary thought she was going to break in two the following morning when she picked up the brown envelope from the doormat. It was addressed to "Mary Walker" and was in Johnny's neat hand. She ripped the envelope open savagely and pulled out the single sheet of paper to read what was written. Reading hungrily through it, as though she were someone starving who had been given a life saving bowl of rice.

"To the virgin Mary. I am all right. Put ten thousand pounds in used tens and twenties, in a large brown envelope, put the envelope in a black holdall. Bring it to the THIRTEENTH STATION at Two P.M. Thursday. No Police or you'll never see me alive again. You will be given instructions of what to do next when you get there."

There were three more letters. An I, a space and then Lo. After the O the pen had been dragged across the paper ripping it along part of its path, as though the pen were snatched out of his hand. Mary got the message though. "I love you too Johnny," she sobbed. The kidnapper could easily have made Johnny re-write the letter on a clean sheet of paper. But Mary realized as the tears streamed down her cheeks that the kidnapper would have wanted her to suffer the maximum psychological effect of seeing the cut off "I love you." Of seeing that her sons hand had been forced with the snatching of the pen from him. Mary was about to hold the paper to her breast, knowing her baby had touched it since she had last seen him. She stopped herself in time to drop it onto the table before she touched it any further. Maybe she had already destroyed vital evidence from the paper or even the envelope. Though less likely with the latter, as it had passed through the postal system and would have been handled by several people since it left the kidnapper's hands. If indeed he had ever touched it. She told herself that if she wanted to help Johnny, she had to start thinking with her head and not pandering to her emotions. There would be plenty of time for tears when Jon was returned to them. Or...

She managed to ring Melanie Boyd before she fell apart.

The four of them were seated around the dining room table, endless mugs of hot steaming coffee and plates of untouched cakes were brought at regular intervals by Jilly. Donnan, Boyd, Mary and Jilly had their heads bent over the maps and timetables, working out the various connotations. The officers had taken the letter when it had arrived. They had gone over the rail routes at the police station. Bringing in experts both in railway travel and criminal psychology. Now they wanted to involve Mary and Jilly in the discussion, making them feel part of the investigation. Allowing them to feel that they were actually doing something other than brewing coffee. Donnan tapped his pen on the Map of Manchester's Metro link routes. He circled Bury with red ink "Right if we take Bury as station number one. The metrolink will take us through to Victoria as station number ten, and ending up at Piccaddily as station number thirteen. Its straight through the busiest part of Manchester and its going to be anonymous and easy for him to melt back into the crowd after the pick up has been made."

"Hmmm," Mel looked thoughtful. "On the other hand if we look at the metro map. The natural starting point would be Glossop, Now assuming we by-pass Hadfield as its not a major station anyway, that still makes piccaddily number thirteen.

"What if it wasn't a random kidnapping? What if he knew who we were all along?" Mary interrupted. Boyd looked at Mary her brow furrowed in concentrated interest. "Well" She continued. "We are assuming that who ever has Jon, picked him at random from the park, and that he got our address from Johnny. What if he didn't? If he had taken Jon purposefully, wouldn't it then be natural to assume that station number one would be Eccles station. The closest one to here?" They fell silent, each of them weighing the pros and cons of what Mary had just suggested. It made things a whole lot easier if Jonathan's kidnapping hadn't been random. It meant that the kidnapper was probably someone known to them. Donnan traced the stations from Eccles. That tracing made station number thirteen St. Peters Square.

"Two stations. Piccaddily or St.Peters, What do you reckon Boyd?"

"My money's on Piccadilly, Sir. I reckon it wasn't a random kidnapping, but we can't take any chances, its still a gamble, and if we get the wrong one..." Her sentence trailed off, and she looked down awkwardly.

Jilly reached for the last tissue in the box and blew her nose loudly. She spoke for the first time.

"It's Piccadilly."

The other three all looked at her.

"Trust me, whoever took our Johnny, took him on purpose. I feel it, but whoever took him will still use a larger mainline station. They'll be counting on total anonymity. The more people there are milling around, the less likelihood there is of one individual being recognized."

"I agree," said Boyd The three women looked at each other. Mary nodded her head in agreement.

"It's decided then. Mary, You do the drop at Piccadilly and we have a back up team in St. Peters Square just in case."

Donnan looked around the table. All were in agreement.