Authors: Susan Lewis
Tags: #General, #Fiction
About the Author
Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of twenty-two novels. She is also the author of
Just One More Day
, a moving memoir of her childhood in Bristol. She lives in France. Her website address is
Also by Susan Lewis
A Class Apart
Dance While You Can
The Hornbeam Tree
The Mill House
A French Affair
Out of the Shadows
Just One More Day, A Memoir
My love and thanks go to Rose Garcia for her research, translation and support during our extraordinary adventure in Colombia. A time certainly never to be forgotten. Nor will Timothy Ross who so generously shared his great knowledge of Colombia, who introduced us to some exceptionally special young people, and who so painstakingly checked the manuscript – any inaccuracies that remain are solely mine. Thank you to Kelly Rodriguez, Birgitte Bonning and Martha Cardenas de Cifuentes. A very big thank you to Francisco Santos for sharing the experience of his own kidnap at the hands of the drug lords; to Maria Christina Morales, for retelling the story of her father’s kidnap at the hands of the guerillas; and to Miguel Caballero, for demonstrating the fashion and foibles of bullet proof jackets.
Love and affection to Leidy Johana Valle, Diana Perez and all the lovely children at the Fondacion Renancer, in Bogotá and Cartagena.
I also extend my deepest thanks to Dr Barry Heller of St Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach for providing so much valuable medical detail for the relevant parts of the story. Also to Joan Leeds, not only for taking me around Cedars Sinai, but for being such a good friend.
I am extremely grateful to Clive Fleury for helping me with the ‘takeover’ and to all my family and friends who have supplied so much character detail, humour and support.
Nothing had happened, yet the threat, the absolute danger, was a presence even before the car was forced off the road. It rushed in with the wind, a terrifying premonition, an advance notice of something too horrible to imagine.
The omen paused, then with sublime synchronicity it began locking into reality. The car was rammed off the road. The driver was swearing, struggling with the wheel. With a jarring crash another car hit from behind, projecting theirs into a ditch. Within seconds a swarm of slight young men, toting mini-Uzis and M16s, were surrounding the car. Her driver was grabbed from his seat, thrown to the ground and shot through the head. The window beside her was smashed, the door torn open and someone yelled at her to get out.
Her limbs were like sand. Shock was hammering through her body. The terror was so great she couldn’t move. But she had to, or they would kill her.
’ one of them snapped. Move yourself!
In the glaring light of day she stepped out of the car. The countryside around was tranquil and swathed in mountainous beauty. Traffic sped past – no-one was insane enough to get involved.
She was taken to the car in front and pushed into the back seat. She was handed a pair of Porsche wraparounds. They were painted over with nail polish. She
them on and only then became aware of the dampness between her legs. At some point in the last few minutes terror had loosened her bladder.
The car started up. She could smell the grease on the guns, the sweat on her captors’ bodies. Bile rose to her throat. She choked it back. She thought of Tom and tried not to think of Tom. He’d sent her here, to Cartagena in the north of the country, thinking she’d be safer. They were due to leave in a couple of days.
She was a journalist, American. Her agenda was complete, the tragedy of street children and child prostitution in Bogotá, Colombia, was reported. She’d named names: the pimps, procurers, paedophiles and European package-tour agents. Italians, Swedes, French, Spanish, they came here to violate the tender young bodies of children so small it was a miracle they survived. Drugs helped, muted the pain and dulled the senses. Glue, basuco, sometimes smack. But that wasn’t why she was being taken. No-one here cared about those kids.
Tom. How soon would he know they had taken her?
Some hostages were held for months, even years. Most were killed. She was going to die. She would never see Tom again. Her throat tightened with panic. Dank, polluted air shuddered in and out of her body. Someone spoke. She didn’t understand the dialect. Were they talking to her?
Finally the car stopped. She was dragged out. The glasses remained on as she was led forward. Birds were singing, a dog was barking. The scent of flowers assailed her. A sudden image of her dead driver caused her to shake harder than ever. She vomited. It came from her in a bitter, fast stream.
’ one of them muttered. Son of a bitch.
They stood aside and waited as she wiped a hand over her mouth. She took off the glasses. No-one seemed to care. Her captors wore masks – only their eyes were visible.
She was in a dense, tropical garden. They were approaching a house whose former glory was now faded and scarred by neglect.
She was taken up the stairs and pushed into a darkened room. A light was turned on, casting a dull glow over the worn floorboards and old-fashioned bed. Dark, chunky furniture was pushed against the walls, the windows were boarded up, planks nailed across them. She was drowning in fear. It was filling her up like a shadow. Chains were put about her ankles and she was pushed onto the bed. Her lovely face was stained with tears, smeared with dust. The whites of her eyes glowed in the waning light.
She was left alone.
She tried to remember the procedure now. They would contact Tom, maybe with a phone call, more likely with a hand-delivered note. They would tell him which radio to get and the frequency he should tune to. How long would that take? Hours? Days? But there was no time. This wasn’t a guerrilla operation, so there would be no notes, no radios, no bargaining. Just demands, instant results, or death. Tom would have to back off now. The investigation that he had been working on for six months and more must be terminated, annihilated, expunged from existence. The evidence he had gathered that would blow apart the Tolima Drug Cartel, as well as half the Government, would be written in her blood if it ever went to print.
Hours later the door opened. The man who came in was shoddily handsome, tall and thin with mocking brown eyes and a beak of a nose. A neat moustache crooked over his narrow lips, an expensive suit masked his meagreness of muscle. She’d seen him only once before, but knew instantly who he was. He was the man who used social cleansing as a means to disappear children from the streets and subject them to the perversions of loathsomely sick men. Her reports on his
had been so explicit, and so shocking to the world, that he had been forced into hiding ever since.
He spoke quietly through a smile, the resonance of a Medellín accent curling through his pleasure as he told her what she already knew – who had ordered him to take her, and why. This was about her now, as well as Tom.
There were two others with him, standing in shadow. He came forward and she knew there was nothing Tom could do to save her from this. As each of them took their turn she tried to put her mind in another place: an attempt to rescue it from the driving pain, the blood and tears, the savagery and utter degradation. Everything they did they captured on film, which she knew they would send to Tom. She would rather die than have Tom see this; the world was no longer a place for her once this was over.
For the next two days she saw no-one except a boy who brought her food and water, and stood over her while her body did the things it must. The pain was intolerable. She was broken, bruised, torn and not always conscious. With her mind and soul she talked to Tom and felt him reaching her through the intangible, yet vital bond they shared. She listened for God, but never heard Him. She spoke to death and to life, and felt both embrace her as she tried to climb from the earthly weight of fear.
On the third day he came back with the other two. They unchained her and forced her to kneel. Then he put a gun to her head. She closed her eyes, so afraid she could feel the urine running down her legs. A terrible rushing sound drowned her ears. No-one moved. There was only stillness: a dreadful, cruel stillness.
The hammer clicked. Her lips pulled back over her teeth; her heart was in a stampede. Someone moved. The gun left her. She sank forward, whimpering and sobbing. It was over. She wasn’t going to die now. Air
back into her lungs. Her chest was too tight. She choked. Gasped with relief. She wanted life. Not death. No matter what they did to her, she wanted life. She could survive this. Oh, thank God, thank God. She was still alive.
Then the gun was at her head again, and this time they killed her.
‘AS A SUCCESS
she’s awesome, as a woman she seems to be a work in progress.’
Sandy Paull tossed the magazine aside and tried not to be irritated.
Work in progress!
It made her sound like one of God’s little unfinished jobs. Something he might get round to one Sunday afternoon when he was through perfecting the misery in Africa and temporarily bored with heaping happiness and riches on everyone but her.
Well, OK, riches she had, to a degree, but happiness …
Snatching up the magazine she stuffed it in the bin and rotated her chair to face the computer screen. She was, in fact, perfectly happy and had good reason to be. At twenty-six she was co-owner of the McCann Paull Theatrical Agency, and Chief Executive Officer of World Wide Entertainment. Actually, it was just the London division of World Wide, but it was a pretty crucial part of the international operation, and though she had a team of trusty advisers and experienced industry consultants backing her, she was the one in charge. And that wasn’t bad for a kid from the sticks whose sisters worked at the bus depot, brothers were either on the dole or in the process of getting sacked, whose father had just written to her from clink after a six-year silence, and whose mother worked the checkout at Safeways in between bingo sessions and treatment for her varicose veins.
She was in touch with them as rarely as possible, but sent money every time they asked, which was often, and had even had her mother to stay a couple of months ago which was a disaster. Sandy was a different person now: she mixed with classier people, had opinions that were listened to and a life that was about as far removed from Fairweather Street as her mother’s manners were from good. Not that Gladys, with her powdered cheeks and cheap shampoo and set, was deliberately offensive, she just had to tell it as it was, and if that meant upsetting someone then she was sorry, but that was the way she was and she wasn’t changing for no-one. In truth she had been so way out of her depth during the visit that Sandy, once she’d got over the shame, had ended up feeling sorry for her mother, who was just a simple soul really and certainly no match for all the snobs who were turning up their noses, or laughing at her behind her back. Gladys might not be as well-dressed, or educated, or well-connected as any of them, or the kind of mother who appreciated Quaglino’s or the latest West End show, but she was still a person and there was truly nothing to admire in the way the upper classes looked down on those who weren’t so well off – much like the little she-devil from the over-priced glossy who’d come here to interview Sandy a couple of months ago.