The night was stormy and dark with whistling winds playfully whipping the sodden autumn leaves. Blekeford was a small town idyllically located around an alcove, with peaceful views of the bay. The empty streets echoing with camaraderie emanating from The Harbour Inn, injecting light and life into the lanes; like a centrepiece standing proudly in the centre of the town filling the air with joyous commotion and merry voices.
As the handsome dark featured man and his bedraggled young companion enter the premises, they welcome the warmth of the open fire. Happy smiles and random outbreaks of rapturous singing greet them. They reach the bar and begin to relax.
âCan I get ya anything?â a portly, grey haired woman with a broad smile stands before them
âYes, a strong coffee andâŚâ he turns to the girl âClemâŚ orange juice?â she nods happily âWanna find a hotel round here tonight?â
She holds up her index finger âDad, on one conditionâ he raises his right eyebrow, making her giggle âI can still watch my filmâ the man looks playfully shocked at the girl and smiles.
âGood evening sir, what brings you here?â a gruff voice interrupts them. A towering man with riotous grey hair, a tweed suit expertly matched with a neatly pressed egg shell shirt and tweed waistcoat introduces himself, the corner of his waistcoat falls away revealing a Police Officer badge.
The man lifts his hand âHi officer, my daughter and I ran into trouble a few miles back, we abandoned our car so it looks like weâre staying in town tonight, could you recommend anywhere?â
He rubs his protruding belly as he ponders the question âWell now, you should find a room at the Jennings Hotel or the Littoral Guest House overlooking the bay, the views are great. If you need a ride, Iâm heading past that wayâ
âThat would be great, thanksâ
They finish their drinks and gather their belongings. As they fasten their coats, Clementine looks at her father âDad, can we stay at the one by the beach?â
âYes my darling anything for youâ Her eyes widen in delight.
The officer returns, accompanied by a younger man
âThe names Detective Benningâ The officer extends his hand and it is returned with a virile squeeze âand this is my Deputy, Detective Bainesâ
They shake hands, Wilson feels his sweaty weak hand in his and immediately lets go. Unlike his superior Baines was of a slight frame, with muscular shoulders, conflicting with his slim legs. His black crew cut hair and thick eyebrows frame his hawk like eyes and chiselled face. âPlease call me Jaredâ he looks focuses on the girl and gives a snowy toothed grin. His dull toned voice unusually paired with piercing blue eyes making her instantly dislike him but shrouds it with a courteous nod.
âNice to meet youâ her father replies âWilson Bakerâ, the superiority in his voice surprises him âThis is my daughter Clementineâ
After sending his deputy to arrange a room, Detective Benning makes his way outside âEnjoy your stay sir, and you too missâ directing his comment at the girl
âThankyou for your help Detectiveâ she responds
âAh no bother at all, take care now, this isnât a good time to be around here, stay safeâ
They part ways, and once settled in their room, Wilson watches his daughter fall to sleep. His heavy eyes drawing to a close as he submits to the comfort of slumber.
In the morning, sunlight pierces through the window and onto his face, warming his rested skin. Feeling exuberant and ready for action Wilson heads to the bathroom and notices Clementineâs neatly made bed. He leaves his room and descends to the dining area but with no sign of his daughter he hurriedly returns. A sickly feeling of dread creeps through his veins and he picks up the phone
âReceptionâ Harps a female voice
âYes its Wilson Baker in room 34 have seen my daughter? Sheâs 8 with blonde hair andâŚâ he spots her bag on the table âsheâs left her bagâ
âIâm sorry sir what was that?â
His tone hardens âMy daughter. Sheâs missing. I thought she was having a look around the hotel but she has left her bag. Do you have security at this hotel?â his voice wavers frantically, causing the receptionist to focus on his words
âYes sir Albert works nights and we do days. I havenât seen her Iâm sorry. Is there anything I can do?â
âYes call Detective Benningâ
Benning stood by the window and scratched his beard âWas you aware of this town before you arrived, Mr Baker?â
Wilson shook his head, his voice quavering with emotion âno we ran out of petrol a few miles back, we walked and found ourselves here, why?â
He breathed deeply â25 years ago at Halloween, Gwennie Finnigan was taken from her home, her mother discovered her neatly made empty bed. She was found on bonfire night just outside of town by a rambler. She had been strangled. That was the first and there have been 15 since then. All at Halloween and all found on bonfire nightâ
Wilsons face pales and he stables himself on a nearby chair. His heart beats loudly in his ear âWeâve gotta get out there and find her, find clues and ask people what they saw. Detective please, youâve gotta get out thereâ
Benning chauffeured Wilson back to his seat âPlease I know what youâre going through and you need to calm downâ
âNo you donât, you have no idea! My daughter has been TAKEN!â He stands, thrusting the chair to the floor â25 years you have let this monster get away with this and you STILL havenât found him. Donât tell me you know how I feel!â Turning his back, Benning returns to his desk. As the silence in the room grows louder, Wilson exhales and picks his chair up. He sits and glances at the detective âIâm sorry, I just need you to find her, she is all Iâve gotâ
Benning rises from his chair and takes some paper from his desk holds it out
âThis here is Charlotte Benningâ Wilson takes the file and removes a black and white photo showing a young, sandy haired girl around the same age as Clementine â This is my daughter, victim number fourâ
Wilson stands up âI.. Iâm sorry detective, I had no ideaâ he drops his shameful shoulders and hands back the paper âI am sorry Detectiveâ he says, sincerely
âNow, you donât have to tell me what you feel right now cos believe me I know but Iâm telling you Iâll find her and thatâs a promiseâ he points to the suitcase âgrab your things and come with meâ
At the station, Wilson sits nervously.
âGather round everybody!â Detective Benning bellows âAs you now know, our strangler is back and we believe he has this girl, Clementine Bakerâ he holds up her photograph, Wilsons stomach clenches âWe have 5 days. I want search and rescue teams are to take the cliffs, beach and streams. Team two meet me in the hotel in 30 minutes, Baines you make your way to the hotel and interview the staffâ the deputy jumps up gathering his gun and keys as he leaves.
A few miles away, blindfolded and gagged, Clementine sat listening. She could hear the sea. Her hands and feet were bound behind her back with ropes that cut into her pallid skin. She had been crying and could taste the saltiness of her tears. Having not heard anything for a few hours she starts to fidget, but unable to move from the radiator that she was attached to she sat back and respired. She adjusts her position and feels the noose slack around her ankles, pushing her feet back to where her hands are tied she pulls at the rope. As her feet free she uses her shoulder to brush the cotton from her eyes and mouth, stretching her face as she readjusts to unrestricted freedom. Wriggling her hands out she stands and looks around, finding herself in a barn decorated with garden instruments and hand tools. She takes a pair of shears and tucks them inside her jeans. Opening the door she tentatively looks out, her eyes fighting the sunlight. She snakes her way around the barn across the courtyard and finds shelter behind a tractor. Headlights appear along the track leading to the barn and she hides further out of view. The car pulls in and a man steps out, looks around cautiously and enters the barn. After a few painstaking seconds she hears him shout her name. She stays, watching through a gap in the wheel.
Opening her eyes she looks at her father and feels her hand tighten in his grip
âHey honeyâ he smiles at her, a tear runs down his cheek.
Her throat is dry âDad, thank godâ her croaky words make her weep and he embraces her. The stay, cuddled and safe until she drifts back to sleep.
Wilson tucks his daughter in and leaves the room.
âHow is she?â Bennings old voice showing trepidation
âDoc say sheâll be fineâ Wilson takes a seat âThank you for finding her. I donât know what I would have done if I would have lost herâ
âIâm glad sheâs ok, and for the record she gave as good as she got; Baines was pretty beat upâ
Wilson chuckled sadly to himself. Her spirit dumbfounded him and he was grateful for the strong willed genes she had inherited from her mother.
âThey searched his place, found loadsa videos of him talking to himself about how he hated the freedom these kids had, how he should have been like them. His old man messed him up pretty bad until he and his ma died in a car crash. He was 16 and since then heâs been on his own. I never expected it to be him yaâknow, I worked with the guy for 20 years and not once did I think he was the stranglerâ he shook his head, closing his eyes in disgust
âYou werenât to know. You got him in the end, thatâs all that mattersâ
âYou got that right. Say, you look like you need a break, go get some rest; Iâll be here for her if she wakes upâ
Wilson recognised the kindness in his eyes. He shakes his head âItâs fine Detective, I wouldnât wanna be anywhere else than with my darling Clementineâ he stands and faces his friend âThanks again, How about me and you go get a coffee, maybe you will tell me your first nameâ His eyes light up before the smile appears. Benning throws his head back, laughing loudly and grabbing his bulbous stomach âBenjamin, Benjamin Benning at your serviceâ he bows, playfully
The two men shake hands and move to the cafeteria, a firm friendship built in a painful few hours. As they walk away, a brave 8 year old girl dreams of the sea, her motherâs dark black hair and faraway places.