by Lady H
“The police are here to see you. They won't tell me what it's about.”
The Great Escape - Part Two
“Lucy. Lucy. LUCY!” I groan and roll over, realising too late that I have been balancing on the very edge of my bed. I hit the floor with a thump as there is another loud bang on the door, pain shooting up my already aching palms and knees. Although I'm groggy and my head is still throbbing, the memory of last night is as clear as anything in my mind.
“LUCINDA JONES GET UP AND UNLOCK THIS DOOR NOW!” It's Dad. And he's angry; he hardly ever calls me by my full name. He starts knocking on the door every few seconds, a quirk that I've had little experience with myself but seen him use many times on mum when she’s locked herself in the bathroom. Dad only stops knocking when he hears the lock click and I pull the door open.
I realise too late that I hadn’t changed when I got back last night, and now Dad is goggling at my appearance, eyes wide in shock. It’s clear that whatever he’s angry about, it isn’t that I snuck out last night. Well, he hadn’t been, until now. Which begs the question, what is he so furious about?
“The police are here to see you. They won't tell me what it's about.”
I draw in a breath, and then frown. I’m unsure if I heard correctly but the look on my dad’s face suggests that I did. What did the police want with me? Me, Lucy Jones, who has only ever been in detention once, and that was for insisting that I stay tidy the classroom after the teacher had ordered everyone to file out for assembly. What had I done that was so bad that the police were involved?
“Hello, Miss Jones. I'm DS Forster, and this is DC Lee.” The bear of a policeman in my living room stands as I enter the room and holds out his hand for me to shake.
I manage a polite smile at him, and then another at his petite, blonde haired colleague sitting on the sofa behind him.
DS Forster resumes his seat beside her, and I fall into one of the armchairs opposite, not trusting my voice to say anything. What is this about?
“Can you tell me where you were last night, Lucy? Is it all right if I call you Lucy?” He gets straight to the point. I can't bear to look at Dad, who's standing in the doorway, bracing himself on the inside of the door frame. I wish he'd sit down. No, I wish he'd go away. I wonder absently if my mum decided to return home last night, or if she's holed up in a travel lodge somewhere.
I nod in response to the officer's second question, but then shake my head and clear my throat. Twice. I’ve got the image of a nice cold glass of water in my head, and I’m staring into the kitchen as if I believe that if I focus hard enough, one will come floating out. I’m glad I had the foresight last night, even in the state I was in, to gulp down three glasses of water and take some paracetamol. God knows what state I’d be in if I hadn’t have done that.
A discrete cough from DS Forster pulls me back to the present and I drag my eyes away from the kitchen and up to his face, replying “It's Luce.”
“Luce, can you tell me where you were at around two am this morning?” He changes the question slightly, as if it makes it easier to answer. It doesn't.
I'm not looking up at anyone in the room, instead I'm staring and picking at the dried-up scabs on my knees, causing fresh blood to dribble out of the cuts. It doesn't really hurt and gives me something to give my attention; anything but concentrating on the conversation I'm about to have in front of my dad. I feel like a naughty child, not a future university student.
“I, ah... um....” I glance at Dad, but he won't meet my eye. He thinks I've done something terrible. But I haven't, have I? Yes, I've snuck out of my house without telling him, but that's not illegal, is it?
“Take your time.” DS Forster smiles kindly. His colleague nods alongside his words.
“I was, ah, at a club. Castle.” I finally reply. I hear my dad gasp, and think he's going to say something, but he's silenced at a look from DS Forster.
“And what time did you leave Castle?” The officer continues.
“I don't know.” I reply honestly.
“What time did you leave the complex?” DS Forster begins his grilling in earnest. I wonder if they’re going to do the good cop bad cop routine, or if that’s just for the movies. His colleague hasn’t uttered a single word yet.
“I don't know that either, I lost my phone.” As soon as I say it, I wish I hadn't. Dad really is going to kill me, but I feel like I need to offer some explanation for my lack of knowledge.
“Can you give me a rough estimate?”
“Erm,” I start, clearing my sandpaper throat again. I think I need some more paracetamol. “I'd say I left Castle at about three o'clock, and the complex ten minutes after?” I don’t have much experience with the police, but I know enough to know you’re not supposed to answer questions posed with further questions.
The male officer nods once, and I watch as DC Lee scribbles onto a notepad on her lap.
Amid the silence, I finally start to wake up and realise that none of this is making sense.
“I’m sorry,” I start “But why are you here? How did you know I was there? How did you find me so quickly?” My brain is firing out questions so quickly my parched mouth can barely keep up.
The officers share a look.
“It’s not illegal to go to a club, is it? I’m eighteen! I haven’t done anything wrong I swear. Why have you come to my home?” I can’t control the words coming out. Then it suddenly occurs to me, “have you found my bag? Is that why you’re here?” But police don’t make a habit of returning lost items, do they?
No one says anything. My dad lets out a deep sigh.
“Look, what is this about?” I burst out, unable to hold it in any longer. I look from officer to officer as silence follows.
The officers share another meaningful look, then with a quick glance at my dad still in the doorway, DS Forster rolls his shoulders back, sitting a little straighter, before speaking again. “Everyone that went into that club last night, except you, never came out.”
I blink. I might even stop breathing for a few seconds. My brain starts churning a mile a minute but before I can decide on what question to ask first, DC Lee finally pipes up.
“When you left the club, how many people were still inside?”
“It was full.” I answer without hesitation, pushing down a shudder at the memory of myself pushing my way through the crowds after Blue Eyes grabbed me.
“And when you returned ten minutes later?” She prodded. So it had been ten minutes later. Last night on the long walk home I managed to convince myself I’d blacked out while sitting on the floor. Out cold for an hour or two, by the time I woke up it made sense the club was locked, and no one was about. But now I know that’s not true. They knew more than they were letting on, they seemed to know my answers before I spoke.
“It was locked up. Looked empty.” I replied.
Without another word to me, DS Forster slides a DVD out of a small plastic wallet, moves over to the TV, and with a 'May I?' directed at my dad, slides the DVD into our player at my dad's nod.
We all stare at the screen as the TV comes to life, and a picture of me, bursting through the glass front doors of Castle, pops up. I wince as my dad watches his daughter cast up the contents of her stomach on CCTV footage from the carpark outside Castle, then as I disappear off around the corner.
The screen flicks for one millisecond, and when the picture reappears, the lights of Castle are off, the doors locked.
With a grim look on his face, DS Forster rewinds the tape so that we can watch the magic act again. This time I watch the time stamp in the bottom corner, but it doesn’t change. The tape hasn’t been cut; no footage is missing. What the security camera recorded appears to be exactly what happened.
At that moment it dawns on me that I am the only witness to the disappearance of over 1800 students.
We’re not sure who leaked the story, but by the time the officers leave, there are small town news vans already setting up camp in the street outside. We watch through cracks in the curtains as the officers are ambushed on the way back to their patrol car.
My older brother Michael materialises downstairs as we twitch the curtains shut. His look of annoyance is directed at me, just like it always was before he left for Oxford University two years ago. “What’s going on? Why is it so dark in here? I’m trying to get ahead of next year’s reading list, and I can’t concentrate with all these raised voices.”
Dad marches over and flicks on the light switch. Nothing happens, and with a groan, he swings instead to turn on the large standing lamp beside the armchair I’m sitting in. I’m immediately plunged into artificial light. “Lucy can explain.” He folds his arms across his chest as his whizzes around to face me and remains standing.
Michael’s eyes also swivel towards me, and he pushes his glasses back up his nose – a tell-tale sign of Michael irritation.
Unlike the police interview, which turned out quite friendly, I now feel like I’m under interrogation. The spotlight aimed at the top of my head doesn’t help the situation. Amid the drama, I’d forgotten I’d disobeyed house rules the night before. I start to sweat.
“It’s rather complicated.” I stall for time.
“Why would you do this, Lucy? Is this because of your mother’s outburst last night? Are you trying to hurt me even more?” Dad pulls the sympathy card. “And what’s with this whole ‘Luce’ thing? Is this the ‘new you?’ He finishes, exasperated.
Ironically, he’s right, but I’m not about to admit it. Now doesn’t seem like a good time. I answer his first point and ignore the Luce comment. “No Dad. I wasn’t trying to upset you, you know that.”
“It’s because she’s adopted. She didn’t inherit your good genes like I did.” Typical Michael. My parents have always been open about my adoption and it’s never been a sore subject, but in a situation like this I’d rather Michael hadn’t have bought it up. He must be seriously miffed about us interrupting his studying.
“Michael, you know I never break house rules, just like you. I’m always home on time, just like you. I help out with the house chores, I finish my homework on time, and I never complain about anything. It was just one night.” I’m exasperated and attempting to appeal my brother’s good nature; a side I must admit I rarely see anymore. If I can make him understand, Dad will go easy on me. Dad’s always been the soft touch, it was mum that we had to be careful around.
“But a club Lucy, why?” Dad is surprisingly not angry. Instead, he looks like he’s about to cry.
Michael senses dad backing down and takes over the interrogation. “You went to a club? But you don’t have any friends. You didn’t go on your own, did you?”
“I do have friends!” I feel the heat spreading across my cheeks. “Anna’s moved now, but I’ll be starting Cambridge in a few months.”
“God Lucy you’re pathetic. I’m going back to Oxford as soon as my accommodation becomes available. I can’t stand this house.” Michael, clearly losing interest in the conversation now, turns to head back upstairs. “Is Mum not back yet?”
“No.” Dad’s morose reply is enough to send Michael fleeing up the stairs.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I won’t sneak out again, I promise.” I give him a hug. “Shall I make bolognese for dinner?” It’s a small peace offering but accepted happily enough.
“This conversation isn’t over.” Dad warns as he scoops up the TV remote and slouches into the sofa.
I leap out of my interrogation chair, not wanting to encourage any further exchange.
Escaping to the kitchen, I fill a pint glass from the cold tap, down it in one, and then refill it. The cooling liquid instantly soothes my aching throat. I pop two paracetamols into my mouth as I return to the living room.
Dad is staring intently at the TV. “… where 1800 students and young people disappeared overnight…” I slip passed him and climb the stairs up to my room. Taking a sip of water before placing the glass on my desk, I sit and fire up my laptop.
I begin to read the news articles popping up, scouring social media pages for clues of the missing and researching into the club history. I save shortcuts to pages and print out others, slowly starting to build a picture of the mess I’ve found myself in.
Over the weekend, none of us leave the house and the curtains remain drawn. Dad’s walks the house like a ghost, sometimes red-faced and angry, looking like he’s about to shout at me or hand me a prison sentence as punishment, other times he’s pale with a wrinkled forehead, watching me as if I’m about to disappear too. He’s barely uttered a word since he turned on the TV Saturday afternoon.
At some point on Sunday mum returns, clearly regretting her outburst at Friday dinner claiming she wants a divorce. We don’t ask her where she’s been this time. She shadows Dad, keeping everyone plied with cups of tea. Most go undrunk.
Michael and I keep mainly to the privacy of our own bedrooms, him presumably carrying on with his university reading, me continuing with my investigation. My two notice boards, previously filled with exam and revision timetables, have been stripped and now look like something out of a police drama. I’d even managed to find some green gardening string in a kitchen draw so have pinned lines connecting bits of my evidence. While obviously not assisting the real police investigation, it’s given me a purpose while everyone is stuck in limbo.
After Officer Forster and Officer Lee had showed us the tape, they explained that the town station had received a volume of calls early that morning from worried parents and housemates, all concerned that their children or friend hadn’t returned last night and weren’t picking up their phones. It quickly became clear that there was one consistency with each phone call; each person had plans to go to Castle the night before. Wasting no time, the police quickly arranged a permit to seize all the CCTV footage from the council cameras stationed around the complex. They’d trawled through hours of footage until they’d found me stumbling out of the club. As luck would have it, their Sergeant has a son in my year at school and recognised me from past school events. It only took a few phone calls to find my address, and by 4pm they were surprising my dad on our front doorstep, and I was about to wake up in this nightmare.
Sunday dinner, cooked by mum, is eaten on trays in front of the TV in the living room. An extremely rare occurrence in my house. By now the story is headline news on national TV. But it’s just the same facts being repeated; nothing at all has been found since the CCTV was recovered before the police visited my house.
Everyone has a million questions, but no-one has any answers, and there’s no reasonable explanation for the disappearance of so many at one time. Nothing like this has been seen before. A glitch in the CCTV? It hadn't been tampered with. Mass suicide? Yet there are no bodies. Runaways. Murders. Kidnappings. Even aliens - every avenue is visited, but there is no evidence to support any of the theories. There’s no evidence of anything at all. The internet quickly becomes awash with conspiracies, fuelling the determination to get these people found and returned safely as soon as possible.
The chains on the doors of Castle were cut away with bolt croppers, the building searched extensively, but it’s now just an empty carcass. No dance floor, music system, no lights. Everything has been stripped bare, just as it had been before the building had been leased. Tracing of the purchaser’s phone number and address came to nothing. It had been paid for in a cash lump sum, so there are no credit cards, no identities.
There are no trap doors, no secret rooms, no way that many people could have left without being seen. No reports from taxis, airplanes of any other mode of transport to take them out of the town, out of the country. The same question echoed around the world; how can a 1800-strong body of people just completely disappear overnight?
Despite the police releasing an official statement saying they’re following leads, it’s clear they’re bluffing. Those initial questions they’d asked me when they visited; Were the people acting strangely? Was someone spiking the drinks? Did anyone say anything weird? Haunt me daily. I relive the night again and again but can’t think of anything I haven’t already told the police.
At 9pm, the landline phone rings, and Dad hurries out into the hallway to answer it. He’s gone for a few minutes, and when he re-enters the living room, he’s the palest I’ve seen him yet. He calmly resumes his seat on the sofa, looking around at each of us in turn.
“That was the police. They want Lucy in for questioning first thing in the morning. They’re sending a car at 8:45”.