The Dark Side

The Dark Side

A dull thud resonated through thin wooden walls; Then another, louder, closer. Emily squeezed her moist tired eyes tightly shut and concentrated hard to imagine a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm drifted closer, gaining in volume, until wham! Instantaneous with a flash of bright lightning her world was jolted by the awesome power of nature.

But this was no thunderstorm. The rumbling was different; and there were no lightning flashes, only darkness, utter frightening darkness in this sepulchral tomb-like box.

Adam huddled up closer to his older sister. He whispered, barely audibly, “Can we talk yet Emmy?”

“Sssshhhh, no of course we can’t. We’ve only been here an hour and we were told no noise and no talking before six o’clock or Mummy and Daddy will be really upset. Here, have another biscuit.”

Emily felt very strange. She was just eight years old, with her only experiences of life having always been protected by loving parents. Suddenly overnight she had been thrust into the role of carer. Her instincts told her that she must be the grownup for a while and take care of her younger brother. Emily placed her arm around Adam’s trembling shoulders. She could feel the rising fear in his small body. She kissed him on the forehead and gave a little reassuring shake with her arm. “Don’t be frightened,” she murmured. “It’ll soon be over and we will be home safe. For now we must be quiet, just as the man told us.”

The rumbling noises slowly receded and it became very quiet. Emily propped herself against a large threadbare cushion, of which there were two in the confined space. Adam’s head rested gently on her lap as they both began to drift off into another world. It was a world of simple pleasures. A world where children laughed and played games such as hide-and-seek or dares. Emily saw her mother washing her long hair and combing it before helping her into her pyjamas, sitting with her while she drank her bedtime mug of hot chocolate, finally tucking her in and kissing her goodnight. She slept and purred with Adam also fast asleep on her lap. They were momentarily in a soft cosy world of safety and love.

Emily could only dimly remember Adam being born and how she had giggled as she felt his movement inside her Mummy’s tummy. Now he was four years old and they both had to be extremely brave for their parent’s sake, otherwise the man said they would never see them again.

After some hours the warm silent slumber was abruptly destroyed by loud thunder again. This time it was much scarier. It was the sound of large machines, which shook the wooden surroundings as the volume grew. Before they were properly awake their temporary home was moving and gently rocking from side to side.

Emily looked at her watch. It was six o’clock.

*****

It seemed that their lounge was packed with strange faces. John Roberts and his wife Gill sat in numbed silence. Their two children had been missing for nearly twenty-four hours. Only one day. One day, which seemed to encompass their complete lives. Any events which had happened previously from their children being collected from school yesterday afternoon had been temporarily obliterated from their minds. The headmistress was distraught.

A letter explaining that the two children would be collected half an hour early, a letter which was given to the teacher personally by Emily, had seemed completely genuine. It had stated that Emily’s mother had been taken ill due to severe problems with her baby. The teacher knew very well that Mrs Roberts was in the later stages of pregnancy with her third child, therefore suspected nothing. Her husband, John, was naturally at her side in the hospital and had arranged for Uncle Raymond to collect them. The children went happily with him at the allotted time, even using his name as he arrived to collect them.

Now they were gone.

Sandra Wells, the teacher, was also present, sitting on one of the armchairs, looking anxious and persistently tapping her shoe against the coffee table. Inspector Dolmarsh curled his top lip in concentration as he perused his scruffy notes for the umpteenth time. “Please, I know it is difficult, but can we go through this one more time? Maybe there is a point that we have missed.”

Ms Wells began again. “As I said, Emily came in after the lunch break with a small envelope. She said that the note was from her mother and Uncle Raymond would be collecting them tonight.”

She shifted awkwardly on the wooden chair, glancing from John to Gill Roberts as she spoke.

“The letter was… Oh I am so sorry. I just thought…..,” she managed to blurt out those few words before breaking down into an uncontrollable fit of crying.

Dolmarsh handed her his handkerchief and looked across at John Roberts. “Tell me again exactly what they were wearing as they left for the afternoon at school.”

“Well, they were in school uniform. Just like hundreds of other kids. For Christ’s sake man; shouldn’t you be out there looking, rather than keep asking such bloody stupid questions? Our children, wherever they are, are frightened out of their minds. They have never been away, not even for one night.”

He hesitated and continued more calmly. “Please? I’m sorry; I know you need to go over it again. I have seen enough films.”

At that moment a young energetic man, with a remarkable rakish appearance came charging into the room and whispered something urgently into Dolmarsh’s ear.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I will be right back.”

*****

Adam began to whimper. After three days cooped up in the confined space he was slowly drifting into a catatonic state, with just the occasional, ever weakening pleas for his parents. Emily began her ordeal with a strong heart and will, managing to keep Adam occupied by using word games or recalling memories of party events such as birthdays or Christmas. They had almost used up the food and water, which had been left them by the man in a blue hat. Emily was gradually beginning to realise that Uncle Raymond was not such a good uncle. He had put them in this place without enough to eat and drink. Worst of all was the smell. The putrid reek of excrement emanating from the corner of their confined space caused them to gag and wretch during moments of lucidity. It became a blessing when such moments became less frequent as they slept most of the day.

Emily played the recent events over in her mind. She thought about the times that she had met Uncle Raymond. It was only a week or so ago that he first appeared during a P.E. lesson at school. The children were running round the track and he was on the far side. He offered Emily a drink, saying that he was glad to see her again after so much time, as she was only a baby when he last saw her.

He appeared again in the supermarket while her mother was at the fish counter. He spoke quietly and gave her a lollipop. He appeared two or three more times at different places until her confidence had grown and she believed that he really was her Uncle Raymond. She wanted to talk to her mother about him, but he had told her it should be their secret. She remembered the pleasure at having her very own secret, just like in one of her story books.

But now she began to doubt. She realised that Uncle Raymond was never present with either of her parents. What kind of Uncle does that? It began to dawn on her, sitting in the dank, smelly wooden box that Uncle Raymond was no Uncle at all. He was probably a wizard who was trying to make them disappear.

She held tightly to Adam and cried herself back to sleep.

*****

Inspector Dolmarsh stormed back into the Roberts’ lounge. He had a stern, flinty glare on his weather-beaten countenance. His manner was abrupt and he exuded the air of a man who had no time to waste.

“Mr and Mrs Roberts, I have been given some information by my deputy. A man has been picked up for questioning in relation to missing children. Apparently he was overheard talking in a pub about children and exportation. The landlord was made aware of it by the barmaid and he thankfully decided to contact the local police station. It is a thin lead at this stage, but I need Ms Wells down at the station for an identity parade.”

“God Almighty! Exportation? John, what’s going on? Please tell me someone. Where are my children?”

All John Roberts could do was to try console his wife. But he had no idea how.

*****

“Ms Wells, I would like you to concentrate. I want you to look at the six people in the line. Please do not speak to any of them. If you are sure that one of them is the person who called himself Uncle Raymond just touch him on the left shoulder and move on. We will be right behind you.”

Sandra Wells was sweating profusely as she began the long path in front of the six people. At that moment the few yards seemed to her as a long endless road. She had spotted the man instantly and needed great self-control in order to move slowly along the line. As she came face to face with the scarred unshaven face of ‘Uncle Raymond’ , wearing the same taupe overcoat as that day in the school, she held back a scream, which was bubbling inside and touched him softly but surely on the shoulder. She then held her breath until she was back out and into the interviewing room, before letting out a torrid mixture of sobs and expiration of air.

“Well done madam,” said Inspector Dolmarsh.

The interrogation lasted well into the following day. Dolmarsh became quite despondent after realising that ‘Uncle Raymond’, whose real name was Jeffery Hutchins, had little information which could help them find the children. The organisation for the abduction of children was extremely well established. Links in the chain were only fed the minimum of information, in order to protect the ring leaders.

The only information of any help in the investigation was that the children were passed onto a middle-aged heavily built man wearing white t-shirt, jeans and a blue baseball cap. Hutchins had been easily convinced to be as helpful as possible. Facing a prison term for child abduction and possibly other more serious crimes if anything tragic happened to the children, he was ready to do anything which might ease his sentence. A breakthrough came when he was shown facial pictures of known criminals. He recognised the face of a man named Jack Barnaby, recently released from prison after serving eight years for extortion.

Jack Barnaby’s home was raided two hours later. He was found drunk and in possession of a significant wad of banknotes. In his drunken state he was of no direct help except for the fact that he was found with a mobile phone. Tracking the position of the mobile over the previous 72 hours revealed that he was in Southampton docks three days before. A rapid check of ships leaving Southampton on that day turned up only three possibilities, one passenger liner and two cargo ships, one of which gave Dolmarsh a well-known nauseous feeling in his gut. So many years as a policeman had given him an instinct which was to be trusted.

*****

Emily tried to hold Adam’s head up enough to get him to drink some of the remaining water. He spluttered as he tried to keep his lips shut and shook his head wildly. Emily persisted, Adam must drink something.

“Are we dying Emmy?” Adam asked suddenly wide awake.

Emily hesitated. “Of course not. Don’t be so silly,” she responded, although she had been thinking along similar lines.

They were into their fourth day in the dark room. The loud noise of the big diesel engines was throbbing continually through the ship.  Both children had been violently sick and were weakening rapidly.

They both closed their eyes for the last time, huddled as closely together as they could. They lay there, oblivious to their predicament, for many more hours until unfamiliar noises entered their world.

Emily was suddenly startled by a loud banging on the roof, wrenching of wooden panels and the cracking sound of breaking timbers.  This was quickly followed by a blinding light. After so long in the darkened place she was unable to open her eyes due to the bright light. She heard someone say “Here are two more. One looks to be alive.”

She was being lifted by strong hands. She instinctively tried to hold on to Adam, afraid that if she let him go she would never see him again.

A reassuring voice said gently, “It’s all right now. You are safe. We will have you with your parents in no time. Here, take this. Your Mummy asked me to give it to you.”

Inspector Dolmarsh handed Emily a scruffy old teddy bear with one eye. She took him by one ear and nestled it under her chin, taking comfort from the knowledge that she would be safe. Adam was trying to wake up but his exhaustion was far too advanced for him to respond. He slumped into the arms of a policewoman, unaware of being carried out to the waiting helicopter.

*****

Dolmarsh breathed heavily but with a tremendous feeling of relief as he called John Roberts and his wife to let them know that their children were safe. They would be taken to the hospital in New York, as this was now the closest route. The ship had crossed more than halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, before being searched after a joint FBI and Scotland Yard collaborative effort. Arrangements were being made to fly the parents out to be with their children.

The policewoman carrying Adam turned to Inspector Dolmarsh before she walked away. “Emily and Adam were just two of the lucky ones. There are so many who never get to see their family again.”

Dolmarsh nodded in thoughtful agreement. Tomorrow would be another day.

*****

In the US, poverty, deprivation and exploitation draw thousands of its own children down into a dark underworld that offers few ways out. It is a world few Americans are aware of. But tens of thousands of American children are thought to be sexually exploited every year.

It’s believed that every night hundreds are sold for sex.

The FBI says child sex abuse is almost at an epidemic level, despite the agency rescuing 600 children last year.

“Trafficking” often conjures images of people from other countries being smuggled over land and across the sea and then forced to work against their will in foreign lands. People are trafficked into America from Mexico, Central and South America. But the vast majority of children bought and sold for sex every night in the United States are American kids.

Source. BBC website – 30th July 2015

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