- Author: Jane Renshaw
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No Place Like Home
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THE CHILD WHO NEVER WAS
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Also by Jane Renshaw
They had wrapped nylon twine around his wrists and then around his ankles to hog-tie him, so he couldn’t do anything, he couldn’t use his arms or legs to brace himself as the van swerved, rolling him around like a pinball, flinging him against its metal sides. And every time he slid across the floor he slid, naked, through the rotting vegetables and pig shit they’d got from somewhere and piled in the middle of the otherwise empty space. There was shit on his face. In his eyes.
He could hear them in the cab, laughing.
And then one of them shouting: ‘You okay back there, Owen?’
He tried to shout back through the gag, over the whine of the engine: ‘Please! Please, let me out of here!’
And maybe they’d heard him, maybe they thought they’d made their point, because suddenly the van braked and there was nothing he could do to stop himself flying forward and crashing into the divider panel between the cab and the back of the van, his head cracking off it.
The next thing he knew there was cool air on his bare skin and one of them was saying, ‘Here we are. Out you come.’
He managed to open his eyes. He could see one of them, silhouetted against the bright white light of a torch moving in the dark beyond the open rear doors. He could see them as they jumped up into the van, hear them complain, raucously, about the stink. He tried to wriggle away, to slide himself around so his back was turned to them.
What the hell were they doing?
They were tying more twine around his ankles. More twine around his wrists. He could smell strong aftershave, cutting through the stench of pig shit. And then, in the gloom, there was the flash of a knife, and the original twine that had tied his wrists to his ankles had been sliced away so that now, thank Christ, he could straighten his body, but before the relief of it had transmitted from his muscles to his brain he was being hauled by rough hands, dragged across the floor, through the shit and out into the cold air and he was falling, his face was smacking on tarmac, and pain was screaming through his head.
His nose had bust.
There was blood in his nose, in his throat.
He was screaming, he was trying to scream but then he was just trying to breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he was choking on the blood-soaked gag, trying to heave in just one breath –
The gag was whipped away and he could breathe, but he didn’t scream. All he could do was sob. All he could do was gasp. All he could do was repeat, over and over: ‘Thank you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!’
One of them grabbed his legs and one his shoulders and they lifted him, and the torch went out but there was a bright harvest moon, and for the first time he could see where they were. In the wash of moonlight, he could see that they were parked up against the bollards that closed off the Old Bridge of Spey. The bridge was closed to traffic because a structure built in 1754 for carts and wagons and marching soldiers wasn’t up to carrying modern traffic. He knew it was built in 1754 because he was into that stuff, he was into military history, he knew all about the network of military roads and bridges constructed to pacify the Highlands after the Jacobite Rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that.
They carried him, quickly, half-running, through the bollards and up onto the hump of the old bridge.
‘Aw, no!’ he sobbed through the blood. ‘Christ, please, no!’
He had wet himself.
‘Up we go,’ said a cheerful voice. ‘Up and over!’
They dropped him.
And then his back exploded in pain, and thank God, they’d dropped him not over the edge but onto the stone parapet, and he was squirming away from them, he was begging: ‘Please… Please!’
They were laughing.
The absolute bastards.
But he was laughing too, weakly, hysterically. They weren’t going to drop him over the bridge into the water below, into the River Spey, into that swift-flowing mass of water he could hear roaring under the bridge and away. They weren’t going to kill him. All they were doing was putting the fear of God into him.
‘I’m sorry,’ he choked. ‘I’ll go. I’ll go and I won’t come back.’
‘You’ve got that right.’
And now they were manhandling him again, flipping him onto his stomach, his head and shoulders out over the edge of the parapet so he could see the black water moving below, black touched with silver where the moonlight caught the churned-up surface as it roiled and swirled its way past the massive stone supports of the bridge. There had been rain. There had been a lot of rain in the last two days, and the river was swollen with it.
He tried to find a purchase with his hands, with his fingertips, on the rough wet stone of the parapet. He tried to cling on as his legs were hauled up over his head but he couldn’t, he couldn’t get a proper hold, and then his fingertips were ripped away and he was tipping right over and past the edge of the parapet until he was dangling, blood dripping off his face and down, down onto the roiling black water.
‘Don’t let go! Don’t let go!’ he shrieked.
As the hands holding his