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.
â€śCan I get ya anything?â€ť a portly, grey haired woman with a broad smile stands before them
â€śYes, a strong coffee andâ€¦â€ť he turns to the girl â€śClemâ€¦ orange juice?â€ť she nods happily â€śWanna find a hotel round here tonight?â€ť
She holds up her index finger â€śDad, on one conditionâ€ť he raises his right eyebrow, making her giggle â€śI can still watch my filmâ€ť the man looks playfully shocked at the girl and smiles.
â€śGood evening sir, what brings you here?â€ť 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 â€śHi officer, my daughter and I ran into trouble a few miles back, we abandoned our car so it looks like weâ€™re staying in town tonight, could you recommend anywhere?â€ť
He rubs his protruding belly as he ponders the question â€śWell 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, Iâ€™m heading past that wayâ€ť
â€śThat would be great, thanksâ€ť
They finish their drinks and gather their belongings. As they fasten their coats, Clementine looks at her father â€śDad, can we stay at the one by the beach?â€ť
â€śYes my darling anything for youâ€ť Her eyes widen in delight.
The officer returns, accompanied by a younger man
â€śThe names Detective Benningâ€ť The officer extends his hand and it is returned with a virile squeeze â€śand this is my Deputy, Detective Bainesâ€ť
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. â€śPlease call me Jaredâ€ť 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.
â€śNice to meet youâ€ť her father replies â€śWilson Bakerâ€ť, the superiority in his voice surprises him â€śThis is my daughter Clementineâ€ť
After sending his deputy to arrange a room, Detective Benning makes his way outside â€śEnjoy your stay sir, and you too missâ€ť directing his comment at the girl
â€śThankyou for your help Detectiveâ€ť she responds
â€śAh no bother at all, take care now, this isnâ€™t a good time to be around here, stay safeâ€ť
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 Clementineâ€™s 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
â€śReceptionâ€ť Harps a female voice
â€śYes its Wilson Baker in room 34 have seen my daughter? Sheâ€™s 8 with blonde hair andâ€¦â€ť he spots her bag on the table â€śsheâ€™s left her bagâ€ť
â€śIâ€™m sorry sir what was that?â€ť
His tone hardens â€śMy daughter. Sheâ€™s 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€ť his voice wavers frantically, causing the receptionist to focus on his words
â€śYes sir Albert works nights and we do days. I havenâ€™t seen her Iâ€™m sorry. Is there anything I can do?â€ť
â€śYes call Detective Benningâ€ť
Benning stood by the window and scratched his beard â€śWas you aware of this town before you arrived, Mr Baker?â€ť
Wilson shook his head, his voice quavering with emotion â€śno we ran out of petrol a few miles back, we walked and found ourselves here, why?â€ť
He breathed deeply â€ś25 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€ť
Wilsons face pales and he stables himself on a nearby chair. His heart beats loudly in his ear â€śWeâ€™ve gotta get out there and find her, find clues and ask people what they saw. Detective please, youâ€™ve gotta get out thereâ€ť
Benning chauffeured Wilson back to his seat â€śPlease I know what youâ€™re going through and you need to calm downâ€ť
â€śNo you donâ€™t, you have no idea! My daughter has been TAKEN!â€ť He stands, thrusting the chair to the floor â€ś25 years you have let this monster get away with this and you STILL havenâ€™t found him. Donâ€™t tell me you know how I feel!â€ť 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 â€śIâ€™m sorry, I just need you to find her, she is all Iâ€™ve gotâ€ť
Benning rises from his chair and takes some paper from his desk holds it out
â€śThis here is Charlotte Benningâ€ť Wilson takes the file and removes a black and white photo showing a young, sandy haired girl around the same age as Clementine â€ś This is my daughter, victim number fourâ€ť
Wilson stands up â€śI.. Iâ€™m sorry detective, I had no ideaâ€ť he drops his shameful shoulders and hands back the paper â€śI am sorry Detectiveâ€ť he says, sincerely
â€śNow, you donâ€™t have to tell me what you feel right now cos believe me I know but Iâ€™m telling you Iâ€™ll find her and thatâ€™s a promiseâ€ť he points to the suitcase â€śgrab your things and come with meâ€ť
At the station, Wilson sits nervously.
â€śGather round everybody!â€ť Detective Benning bellows â€śAs you now know, our strangler is back and we believe he has this girl, Clementine Bakerâ€ť he holds up her photograph, Wilsons stomach clenches â€śWe 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€ť 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
â€śHey honeyâ€ť he smiles at her, a tear runs down his cheek.
Her throat is dry â€śDad, thank godâ€ť 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.
â€śHow is she?â€ť Bennings old voice showing trepidation
â€śDoc say sheâ€™ll be fineâ€ť Wilson takes a seat â€śThank you for finding her. I donâ€™t know what I would have done if I would have lost herâ€ť
â€śIâ€™m glad sheâ€™s ok, and for the record she gave as good as she got; Baines was pretty beat upâ€ť
Wilson chuckled sadly to himself. Her spirit dumbfounded him and he was grateful for the strong willed genes she had inherited from her mother.
â€śThey 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 heâ€™s been on his own. I never expected it to be him yaâ€™know, I worked with the guy for 20 years and not once did I think he was the stranglerâ€ť he shook his head, closing his eyes in disgust
â€śYou werenâ€™t to know. You got him in the end, thatâ€™s all that mattersâ€ť
â€śYou got that right. Say, you look like you need a break, go get some rest; Iâ€™ll be here for her if she wakes upâ€ť
Wilson recognised the kindness in his eyes. He shakes his head â€śItâ€™s fine Detective, I wouldnâ€™t wanna be anywhere else than with my darling Clementineâ€ť he stands and faces his friend â€śThanks again, How about me and you go get a coffee, maybe you will tell me your first nameâ€ť His eyes light up before the smile appears. Benning throws his head back, laughing loudly and grabbing his bulbous stomach â€śBenjamin, Benjamin Benning at your serviceâ€ť 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 motherâ€™s dark black hair and faraway places.