by Lady H
"My bedroom looks like one of those dedicated evidence rooms you see in crime dramas."
The Great Escape - Part Three
“Mum please just stop!” I bat away the hands reaching up to fix my hair for the tenth time this morning. It’s 8:40am and my family have assembled in the entrance hall to see me off.
“It’s always just so wild! It looks so untidy Lucy. You need to look respectable!” She cries, and dad wraps his arm around her shaking shoulders, guiding her backwards to stand by him and giving me a little more personal space.
Michael and I don’t comment on Dad’s tender gesture, but it’s not one we’ve seen many times over the past few years.
In fact, my brother hasn’t said anything at all since coming down. He stands awkwardly on the bottom step of the staircase, arms crossed over his chest. Looking to all the world there’s a million other places he’d rather be right now. Upstairs in his room studying probably top of the list.
I’ve dressed in a short smart skirt and a pale blue short sleeved blouse. Because it’s summer, I’ve opted to leave my legs bare, but I hope I look respectable enough. Mum is right though, no matter what I do with my hair, my messy curls still look like I’ve crawled through a hedge.
I suck in a breath, squaring my shoulders. Michael pushes his glasses up his nose. Mum lets out a sob.
“Are you sure you don’t want any of us to come with you?” Dad asks again, concern etched on his face.
“No honestly it’s fine. I doubt I’ll be long; I’ve already told them everything I know.” I’m trying to put on a brave face but inside I’m crumbling. When I pressed Dad last night about the phone call, he said the person on the other end of the line hadn’t given any further details. Was it just an official interview to get my eyewitness account on tape? Had they finally found a lead on the investigation? Did they think I was hiding something? Oh god, did they suspect I had something to do with it?
The doorbell chimes before I can spiral further.
With one last smile at my family, which I hope looks reassuring and not like a grimace, I pull open the door and step outside.
The car journey is short, the grumble of the police radio the only break in the silence. As we approach the station, a gaggle of reporters standing around the entrance jump into action. Once we slide to a stop, I gingerly open the car door, unsure what to expect. Microphones and cameras are shoved my way as they clamber about each other, fighting to get close.
“Miss Jones, can you tell us if the police suspect you’re behind this crime?”
“Miss Jones, is it true you’re the only witness?”
I scramble for the safety of the building.
“Lucy, can you describe to us the fear you felt while you were escaping the club?”
“Lucinda Jones, the people want to know, are you a natural redhead?”
I can’t help but pull a face at the ridiculousness of some of the questions but manage to keep my mouth shut. I’m vaguely aware that I shouldn’t be conversing with the press right now, not without guidance or making an official statement. Even just thinking that sounds surreal.
The two officers I travelled here with usher me through the crowd, they themselves not commenting on the questions either. I keep my eyes locked on the doors and once we’re through they swing shut, instantly muffling the raised voices from outside.
The calmness of the station is a stark contrast to the last few days of madness. It’s welcoming, taking me back to when my life was just schoolwork. Organised, compartmentalised, the same routine each day, over and over for as long as I can remember. A bitter tang of regret surfaces on my tongue. How foolish I was to think my life needed some adventure. I was best at being orderly, dependable Lucy; I shouldn’t have tried to change that. Shouldn’t have leaped out of the damn window. Just look how much trouble that one small act of defiance has caused.
The officers lead me over to a desk where I sign in with the receptionist, who offers a polite smile. The room is light and airy, the décor neutral, and furniture sparse and simple. I take a few breaths, exhaling out slowly. It’s not really what I’d been expecting; more people, more noise – shouldn’t a police station be a hive of activity? Maybe I’d seen too many crime dramas. Whatever the reason for the quiet, I’m thankful for it.
Paperwork complete, I am taken down a long, sterilised corridor and into a smaller room with bare white walls. In the centre, just a table and three chairs. I note with some caution that the table legs are bolted into the floor. Two of the chairs, both on the far side of the desk, have already been taken.
Detective Sergeant Forster stands as I enter the room, extending his hand across the table for me to shake. “Luce. Nice to see you again.”
I’m not sure ‘nice’ is the first word that springs to mind regarding the current situation, but I award him a bonus point for remembering my new preferred name.
After reintroductions with Detective Constable Lee, the two officers who escorted me here leave, closing the door behind them.
I edge onto the empty seat, the smooth plastic reminding me of the easy-wipe chairs you find in doctors and hospitals. My bare thighs squeak as I shuffle backwards, trying to get comfy in the bowl-like contours.
Noticing for the first time the recording machine sitting on the table, DS Forster follows my gaze and explains.
“We have the notes DC Lee took from Saturday afternoon, but now that it’s become clear you are truly the only witness, and we have little evidence as yet, we’d like to get everything recorded properly. Is that okay?”
It’s a bit late asking if I’m okay with it now, I think to myself. I nod, not trusting myself to speak yet, but my heart rate begins to slow, and I relax into the chair a little more.
The tape starts rolling, we all introduce ourselves, and DS Forster runs through the opening statement covering my rights. They go through the questions methodically, asking me to recount everything I remember in chronological order. DS Forster takes the lead, with DC Lee speaking only when she has a follow up question.
About an hour in, there’s a knock at the door, and a man in a suit enters before anyone has a chance to say, ‘come in’.
The tape is paused, and the officers called away.
When the door closes behind them, I let out a deep breath. I look around me for a minute or so, but there’s nothing to entertain me.
I reach into my bag, which I’d dumped near my feet when I sat down earlier and pull out my phone. Sunday morning it had arrived on the doorstep; Dad had ordered it Saturday evening after the police had left. He hated the thought of me leaving the house and being unable to contact him. Quite sweet, really, and I was happy to accept the replacement for the one I’d lost. God knows where that one is now. He’d also rang up the bank and cancelled my debit card. I’d been so grateful that he’d sorted out all the important stuff, I think I’d still been in shock Saturday evening and practical things like that hadn’t crossed my mind.
As I didn’t have my old phone to copy all my contacts from, my address book was pretty empty. ‘NO NEW MESSAGES’ the screen flashes at me. I spend a few minutes scrolling through my news app, but nothing has happened since I checked it this morning.
I look up eagerly as the officers’ re-enter, hoping its good news about the disappearance, but their faces aren’t giving anything away.
DC Lee must recognise the hope in my face, “No news on this case, I’m afraid, that was an unrelated matter.” She looks apologetic. I tuck my phone back into my bag and settle into my chair.
Neither of them elaborates further as they take their seats. ‘Play’ is pressed on the recording machine, and the questions begin again.
When we move on to the pills, I try extremely hard to remember every detail. This was the thing that I felt most uncomfortable about that night, and whenever I think about the possibilities and scenarios of what could have happened, I always come back to the tiny white pills. Something just doesn’t seem right about them.
“So, you were told these pills were legal?” DS Forster is leaning forward, resting his forearms on the desk.
“Yes, that’s what I was told, by multiple people.”
“But you didn’t take any?”
“No! The staff were quite forceful about everyone taking them, but I kept saying no.”
“Did they say anything else about them?”
I thought for a moment, trying to remember the exact phrasing. “I was told they were free, compliments of the club. And two separate individuals said, ‘they’ll make you never want to leave’, or something close to that. It sounded eerie, to me.”
“Okay. Thank you, Luce, you’re doing really well.” DS Forster nods at me, then arches his back, stretching it out.
I catch DC Lee glancing at her watch. “I think that covers everything we need for now.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to let us know before we turn off the recording?” DS Forster asks. “We still have nothing on where these people could have gone to.” He sounds frustrated.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t know what else to say.” And I truly am sorry. It seems the police are just as clueless as everyone else, and there’s nothing more I can do to help.
The front door swings open before I’ve even had a chance to grab the knob, and I’m man-handled into the house by Mum. She shuffles me into the living room, Dad and Michael following close behind her, and I find myself back in the spotlight armchair from Saturday morning.
“What did they say? How did it go?” Mum starts firing off questions.
“It was fine, they just asked the same questions as before. Nothing’s changed.”
The following silence suggests they don’t believe my reassurances. I’m not enjoying the tension in the room. Mum’s standing ridged over me, Dad arms folded nearby, both faces covered in frown lines. Michael is hovering, keen to hear any news.
“Shouldn’t you both be at work?” I desperately try to deflect, aiming the question at my parents.
“I phoned in sick.” Dad sighs as he lets his arms fall to the side.
“I explained to HR that I had an important personal matter.” Mum glares at Dad.
“Alright, Alice, why do you feel the need to one-up me all the time?” He turns his attention to Mum.
“Frank don’t be ridiculous. Why are you being so sensitive?”
I’m suddenly very aware that somehow, at some point, my home life has disintegrated. The shock is like a punch to the stomach. It’s been crumbling for a while, perhaps even the last few years, but somewhere along the line I pushed the knowledge to the back of my mind and refused to revisit. I chose to focus on school instead. We were such a close, happy family during my childhood. Okay, Michael and I occasionally fought, but that was normal sibling behaviour. Yes, our parent’s rules were pretty strict, but it worked for us. Now, I can’t remember a recent dinner where we all sat down together and had an intelligent or humorous flowing conversation. It’s hard to recall a time Michael and I weren’t on edge, ready to jump in and diffuse an angry exchange between our parents. Slowly, we’ve transitioned from a loving family to four people who co-habit and exist around each other. I feel like I’ve just been told Father Christmas isn’t real. Since when did I become so naive?
Mum and Dad’s relationship has become so volatile, and Michael spends most of the year at university, or what little time he has in the house shut in his room. The drama with the police hasn’t helped the situation, but our family has been drifting apart long before I climbed out of my window. I’m no longer sure if my outing to Castle was usual teenage rebellion, but I’m not in the mood to self-analyse.
With my parents still arguing, I silently excuse myself and make my way upstairs.
I feel a stab of guilt as I hear Michael finally intervene but can’t bring myself to turn around.
I close my bedroom door gently, shutting out my family’s raised voices, and sag against it. Whether in despair or relief, I’m not too certain.
Once I’ve summoned enough energy, I cross my bedroom to my desk and pick up some of the extracurricular reading Cambridge University has forwarded me in the post. I flop onto my bed, more than ready to immerse myself into a more comfortable activity and calm my racing brain.
By Friday afternoon I’m beginning to lose my mind. I’m barely one week into the longest summer holiday of my life, with no schoolwork, no pressure to do anything. It’s every young person’s dream, isn’t it? Three months to do anything you want; get a job, travel, write a book, start a business, the possibilities are endless.
Instead, I feel adrift, floating aimlessly. I’m lost without school to focus on, having already devoured every piece of correspondence Cambridge University has sent. I’ve been trying to remain inside as much as possible; since my police interview my picture has been released to the public, and I’m being hounded by the public for information. Not that I have any more information. No one does, not even the police.
I’ve had to delete my social media accounts. I never posted much anyway, but strangers started messaging from all over the country, some questioning, some angry. I quickly realised I wasn’t dealing well with my newfound fame. Before I deleted them though, I trawled through the pages of my classmates, accessing other school students, older brothers, and sisters, basically any local adults that I could view. I’ve started compiling a victims list, looking for anything that might be a clue to their disappearance.
After five days of vigorous research, my bedroom looks like one of those dedicated evidence rooms you see in crime dramas. Pretty much every wall is covered in paper, hand-written notes, printed sheets, newspaper articles. On top, there’s string and post-it notes to show my thought process. Consequently, my parents are banned from my bedroom. They’d definitely worry if they saw it. I know every time I pause for a moment and take a step back, that my actions are crazy and pointless. But I can’t seem to stop.
It’s the only thing I want to do right now. As the only witness, and the only worthwhile piece of evidence, I need to do anything I can to help. Our town isn’t that big, and almost everyone knows someone, a friend, a daughter, a brother, that is missing. It’s tragic. There’s a general opinion that wherever they all are, they’re still alive. There’s still hope and positivity. I’m scared that if nothing else is found soon, this momentum will begin to dwindle and soon be replaced with despair and resignation that they’re never coming back.
My excitement to start university is wanning. If this mystery isn’t solved by September, will I be able to leave it behind and move away? I’m not sure. University has always been the plan, my whole school life was a rehearsal, preparation for university. This path was written long ago, and I’ve never wanted to stray from it, never even wanted to consider any alternatives. It’s like I’ve been blinkered, happily so, until Castle. Now, I’m confused.
On top of all of this, my frazzled brain is still flashing at me like a warning sign. Mum and Dad. I know there’s nothing I can do to help the situation, but the knowledge of this doesn’t stop me worrying. They’ve been sleeping in separate bedrooms all week. Focusing on the investigation, although frustrating, distracts me from my concerns about my future and my families’ future.
After being couped up inside for days, I need some fresh air.
I crack my bedroom door open, glancing out onto the landing. There’s no one in sight. I can hear the muffled sound of the TV coming from the living room downstairs, suggesting the door is closed.
Shaking my head in frustration at myself, I realise I feel more apprehensive now than when I left the house through my bedroom window that night. Maybe the window would be a better option here, too. But I don’t want to cause my family alarm; at least if I leave through the front door, they have no valid reason to be angry. I’m scaring myself slightly at how much I’m overthinking this. It’s just a bloody walk!
Mind made up, I step out onto the landing and close my bedroom door softly behind me. I’ve already got my converse on; I just need to get downstairs and then I can be out into the fresh air in seconds.
The third from bottom stair creaks under my tread as I pass, giving away my location. How could I have forgotten the third from bottom stair creaks?! The house immediately falls silent; someone’s paused the TV.
“Lucy, is that you?” Mum calls from the kitchen. She must be in their preparing dinner.
“I’m just going out for some air!” I reply, not pausing as I stride to my exit.
“Not going out to any clubs again, are we?” Michael shouts from his room upstairs.
I hear two sets of footsteps approaching, one from the kitchen and one from the living room. Before my parents make it out into the hallway, I’ve slammed the front door and am halfway down the garden path.
Shoving a headphone in each ear, I block out the world and head to the right, towards the lake. It’s one of my preferred routes, and as it’s nearing dinner time, I’m hoping there won’t be many visitors.
Within minutes I realise I’ve made a grave mistake.
As I emerge through the bushes and onto the footpath that leads around the outside of the lake, I’m accosted by a woman in her fifties or sixties, with greying hair, mouth a firm line.
“You’re Lucinda Jones, aren’t you?” She locks eyes with me.
“Oh, yes, I am.” I try to look flustered as I step to go around her. It’s rude, but this conversation isn’t going to go anywhere.
“Is there any update?” She twists her head, following me as I pass.
“No, I’m sorry, there’s not. When there is, I’m sure it will be on the news though.” I’ve paused my music, but I’m unwilling to remove my headphones, or she might take it as encouragement to continue.
She grabs my upper arm, fingers tightening so I can’t take another step away from her.
“It’s my son though, my Frederick. You’re doing all you can to help, aren’t you? You must have seen something. There must be more you know, something that will help. Why aren’t you talking with the police?”
“I’ve already told them everything I know, there’s nothing more I can do.” My pulse rate is increasing, and I can feel myself reddening. I glance around; people are beginning to pause and watch. A couple of them head towards us.
“But you must know something!” I can hear the desperation in her voice.
I swallow painfully, eyes tearing up in frustration. Avoiding her gaze, I mumble “I’m sorry but there’s nothing.” I wrench my arm out of her grip and turn away, heading back towards home.
“Please!” She shouts after me. She continues to speak but I un-pause my music and turn up the volume.
I lengthen my stride, putting distance between myself and the lake. When I hit the road, I break out into a steady jog, and the tears start to fall. I choke back a sob, trying to keep the tidal wave at bay. I’m so frustrated.
It’s been the same every time I’ve attempted to leave the house this week. It doesn't matter that I’m under a confidentiality agreement and I can't discuss the case with anyone anyway, I’m still questioned countless amounts of times by anyone that knows or recognises me.
By the time I reach home I’ve composed myself slightly. I’m in no mood to socialise so don’t pause near the living room or kitchen, but as I climb the staircase, I can hear Dad’s irritated knock on the bathroom door.
“Alice don’t do this again. Come out and we can talk about it.” It would seem Mum’s locked herself in the bathroom. She’s started doing this more and more frequently after her and Dad have had a particularly bad argument.
I squeeze past him on the way to my own room, giving Michael, who’s poked his head out of his doorway, a weak smile. His face is a mixture of concern and defeat, mirroring Dad’s own expression. They have the same facial features, particularly the overly drawn eyebrows, and floppy hair the same chestnut brown.
When I was younger and we went out as a family, people would comment on how I must be a throw away gene from way back, with my flaming hair and pale skin. My parents were always quick to correct them; they try to be open about the adoption and don’t like me to feel uncomfortable. I think sometimes it worries them far too much; they’re all I’ve known my whole life and I’m okay with that, they’re enough.
Catching sight of my investigation all over my bedroom walls and remembering the pain of the conversation at the lake, I kick off my converse and climb under my duvet, pulling it right up over my head. I’m not hungry, and decide I’ll skip dinner. I’d be surprised if anyone eats anything tonight anyway.
My earphones still in my ear, I pull up the app on my phone and select a podcast. ‘The use of alliteration in 19th century British poems‘ by Professor Catherine Jacobs of Cambridge University. I’ve listened to it twice already this week. It’s not long before I’m lulled into a restless sleep by the monotone voice.
I’m woken by a rhythmic thud and stare blearily at the red lights of my bedside clock glowing through the darkness. 03:26am. Blinking twice, my ears focus, and I recognise the sound of Mum’s suitcase thumping down the stairs. Unfortunately, I’ve come accustomed to her late-night escapes. I guess they didn’t manage to sort it out then.