Read The Runaway Online

Authors: Aritri Gupta

The Runaway

BOOK: The Runaway
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Dedication

“The wisdom of the ages teaches that each individual, whether believer or not, good or bad, old or young, sick or well, rich or poor, has a personal guardian angel with him or her at every moment of life's journey." -- Janice T. Connell

 

To my guardian angels, I need not put in black and white, the strength you give, the courage you inspire.

Prologue

 

Walhalla, December, 2005

Marco couldn’t believe his luck – it was like having Christmas during the winters in down under. You have a murder next door, and the freaking library on the killer was here in this sleepy town at this very hour. There was an unnatural murmuring all around him – this would reawaken panic in not just this unnamed corner of the country, but everywhere else too. And that is what drove him to stretch wherever he could to get help in any way.

Richard Halden
had been consulted occasionally before on the Dollmaker case– when the latter was on a spree. Richard was an expert – dedicated his life to the twisted mind’s secrets. Marco and Richard had formed an uncanny friendship. It would be a good 6 years that he had last talked to him. He looked up to find that similar ruggedly handsome man wave towards him.

“So, how’d you know your favourite man is back in business?”

He guffawed. Marco noticed he had a nervous twitching nerve near his temple, and he didn’t look his genial self as he was wont to – he had always this arrogant ass air about him that lacked today. Even his forced humour lacked its sheen, looked almost brittle

“Maybe he followed me here.
..  Couldn’t resist staying away from me once he escaped”

There
was that nervous twitch again. Marco could swear that Richard was almost wishing he was anywhere but here – given that the serial killer was an obsession of his – it should have been a birthday gift for him. Shrugging, he asked, “Well, PhD, what do you think?”

“It is
not possible… That he’d strike where I was…” Richard kept muttering. After a while, he noticed an irritated Marco staring at him. The police sirens were wailing. Richard looked around –yes, his setting was immaculate – the forest cover, the remorsefully poised body, those multitude of cuts and torture marks and a chunk of her lush brown hair missing. Yes, definitely Paul Jefferson’s handiwork.  He had after all committed to his memory each of the 11 murders that Paul had carried out– he could even recall his shoe size. It had caused a mighty uproar in the 90’s in this small sleepy town of Walhalla. The peaceful little town had never seen so many people bustling about in their abode since the gold rush days - abundant media coverage, criminal experts and almost all of world’s attention to a gravelly sidewalk leading to a one storey highway gas station. Paul Jefferson’s workplace. And the gateway to his dumping ground. Richard looked around - the broken debris of the gas station still remained - it had been torn apart by the cops to dig out the remains of the 11 girls he had tortured and murdered. Only 9 could be recovered, and Paul had declined to help any further.

Richard walked around the crime scene - it was like reliving all those years of obsessive research, walking, talking and thinking like Paul - relive his life, the small house down the street, the dried gardens with a few shrubs of roses, the mountains by the rocky road, Cooper’s Creek looked the same. He thought of visiting the house again - he could mentally draw the map of his home, and the rooms, the kitchen and rickety stairs. All the elements to fulfil
Paul’s farce of a perfect family. Richard sighed - he had liked the silent town on his previous visits too, it was different - not cold and distant as London could be, it was quiet yet warm, and the sun shone with a pristine innocence. However, this time, he could truly appreciate the marvellous horizon, and the way the deep azure of the sky gradually blended with the rocky steep hills, the dense forest enveloping the friendly world inside, the silent meandering river with its sun washed brilliance and funny whispers of the wind that make you smile stupidly. It was like conversing with your inner self, or not having to talk at all. It was different and soothing to people who lived a deserted life amidst a sea of masses. He breathed in, and walked deeper into the woods - he identified the huge mossy platform of rocks with childish scribbles on it - it triggered memories that tugged at his heart in a rather unfathomable way.

It was getting darker,
as the steel grey clouds rolled in quietly and settled over the horizon. He could hear his name echoing from somewhere behind him - he chuckled, he must have majorly pissed off Marco. He would want a detailed report on the Dollmaker - it did wonders to his career once, he’d like to save his face and be the local hero again. He sauntered back to the now dimly lit crime scene - they had shifted the body, thankfully. He had become rather nauseated by the gory details of Paul’s creativity over the years. He wanted no part of it - especially when his purpose of revisiting Walhalla was entirely different- this reminded him to check on her. Another excuse to see her perhaps!

He shook his head - his cowardice was touching new bases altogether these days. He wished he’d know what to say to her, what he could do that would break all those carefully built walls to guard her hurt, those years of shattered trust that remain locked inside her. What could heal her? He sighed
again. He had spent so much of his waking hours trying to find her whereabouts, and just as he was about to meet her…

Well, t
he night had almost set in, he noticed – the skies had turned an angry red, storms in this part of the country weren’t that pleasant. All that plagued his mind was to get done with the consultation, hand it over to Marco and never come back here – irrespective of what tomorrow brought to him. Cooper’s Creek was the origin of a lot of nightmares – and he saw no point in making himself and others relive it over and over again. It was time to let the past go – for a lot of people. He found Marco talking to the local police, giving them directions to increase the patrol in the town roads.

“That wouldn’t help!” Richard chimed in.

“Finally! Enlighten us Rick.”

He knew another bloody saga had started, and that he might be the cause of it. Paul and Richard were equally obsessed with each other. There w
as no knowing what the story would lead to this time.

Chapter 1

 

Somewhere in Scotland, Two years ago

Richard looked up to the sky. It was chilly but awfully humid. Of all the places that she could have chosen to hide, she chooses Applecross! It was almost inaccessible, he grumbled to himself. Although, logically, when you come to think of, someone on the run might as well select a place so impenetrable to the outside world. He prayed that his car would survive the assault on its wheels by the famous twisting, single-track mountain road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula, in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands, he thought right off the webpage from his Google search. Bealach na Bà was the third
highest road in Scotland. At least his geography was correct.

The scenery was breath taking – if he
didn’t have this huge assignment weighing down on his mind, he would come up here for a vacation – it’s truly away from the din of life, literally. He stopped for a smoke, and looked around lazily. The roads had a dangerous seduction about it and Richard was one for adventures – though a broken neck at the mountain’s abyss was something he would truly avoid. It was another hour’s journey to the small town. He hoped his lead was a little less unreliable than the previous one – or he would have headed to West Africa. Somehow the equatorial climates didn’t seem like the place to be for a young woman. He had ferreted further for information. Little Miss Brooke Jefferson aka Brooke Scott had done a wonderful job of disappearing from the world – no records showed any existence of a Brooke Jefferson anymore. It was through a sheer streak of luck that he had come across Brooke’s photo in the Yard’s files and made the connection. It did well to have friends in the right places. Of course she was under witness protection – well sort of.

However, Brooke should have selected something other than her mother’s maiden surname to assume a different identity – it was kind of predictable. It hardly took him
half a day to connect the dots and find her whereabouts. He wondered what sort of a person Brooke would have grown into – born to the notorious Paul Jefferson. Paul had been somewhat of an infamous celebrity in the crime circles not more than 6 years ago – with the mayhem he had caused in the solitude of Walhalla, Australia. Very little was available about his personal life. Records showed a deceased wife on childbirth, Anne Scott, and a daughter Brooke, who would now be 24. Few knew Anne was well alive even after Brooke was born; so he wasn’t sure how correct the database files were. He did get his facts straight from his visits to Cooper’s creek. He found the cottage by the highway, and a lush garden that Brooke took care of mostly – especially the rose shrubs. There was nothing on the exterior that could suggest the hellfire within the four walls. Yet, he couldn’t imagine growing up in an environment where your father’s favourite hobby was to rape and murder women in your backyard. He just hoped he would be able to get through to Brooke to get the invaluable information first hand for his next project. He went over his files again, and all the collated notes over the years from witnesses, victims’ kin and the police. Paul was a simpleton yet he was an artist in his own twisted way.

He had less than an hour to check in with his nosy publisher – or she would go nuts. It was a different aspect of his job description altogether – to keep his maniac publisher’s temper in control, or her emotions or both perhaps. Richard was not looking for relationships as of now – and the brief fling with Natasha had her hoping it would mean more. Relationships with your boss are always a pain, and
they never really work out. And now she would breathe down on his neck to keep a watch on his every move, every social meet. He was drunk and in need – how difficult was it to understand why that night had happened between them? Women! Confounded him in every turn of life.

He stalled Natasha’s nagging for the moment with
thoughts on Brooke’s files – it must have been difficult for her. She was merely an adolescent when Paul was caught for the heinous murders. The household showed all the signs of a dysfunctional family – distraught and disturbed mother, a psychotic father and a very withdrawn daughter. He half expected Brooke to be similarly a bit, let’s say, touched in the head! No one would blame her though- how can you survive such an ordeal without being affected by some adverse consequences. Yet, Brooke was the last and major hand in his novel – it had to pan out well. He hoped that she was humanly stable for the volley of questions he had.

He stopped at the gas station on his way – he had to refuel his car and his empty grumbling stomach. He asked the storekeeper about Applecross – he
chortled and said it took much more than an hour to wade through the rocky paths and ridges to reach that quiet little village. The road was treacherous. Richard mildly inquired about the people in Applecross, and other generic questions about places to live, food joints. The storekeeper seemed a jovial person – all too ready to divulge as much as information as he could. He wanted to make his background story credible – a nosy bestselling author isn’t someone who can get the more intricate stories from a scared young girl.

Joe, the store owner checked off names from his invisible list –

“There’s Bob the baker, Simon the carpenter, and little Rudy helps him. Sam helps Bob in his business, and their son James just returned from Edinburgh.

And we have the twins Lisa and Leo – they own the grocery store down the lane. Martha has the best café in Applecross – her croissants are to die for…”

Richard was getting more and more irritated by the minute –he just wanted an overview, not the bloody encyclopaedia on Applecross. But he decided, the more he knew, the better, and it would be easier to interrogate Brooke if she was comfortable. He waited to see if Joe would take her name too. Unfortunately, the past 20 minutes did not feature it, but given the unusual circumstances of her living in the village, he guessed she would prefer anonymity or at least a low profile. Travellers passing the gas station couldn’t be just handed away the whereabouts of the daughter hiding from his criminal father.

“Big fella…are you listening?”

Richard was jolted back to his continuous ramble, and he shook his head in affirmation. The list was now talking of some Inspector Hardy who was a very helpful man. That struck his ears – he had heard the name before, but he just couldn’t figure out where. After the payment and casual conversation had finally ended, Richard went through his documents again. Hardy had to be somewhere among these.

“Here’s your change
… Hey! Is that the girl from up in the woods?”

Richard shoved his files inside. He didn’t want his purpose to be known as of yet.

“Any idea where I can get hold of this Hardy fellow?”

“Ta! You go straight till you get Martha’s café. That’s where the
woods start. You can ask anyone in the café. Or else you go straight ahead, take the first left up until you reach a cluster of cabins – that’s our sheriff’s office. You’ll find Hardy there. How’d you know him?”

Richard had no answer to that – well not an answer that he could publicly deliver in any case. He couldn’t just say that the Scotland Yard
’s case files had Hardy’s reference for Jefferson’s whereabouts! It seemed he was the only one who knew where Brooke was. Joe was eyeing him suspiciously. He foraged for a plausible explanation to his series of disconnected queries, and the fact that he was carrying Brooke’s photo. He thought of changing tact altogether. He would be lying by omission in any case.

“Ta! I’m writing a documentary on a local story based on the nearby village folk – I was referred to meet the sheriff. I assume Hardy can show me around?!”

“Anyone here would happily do that for ya! You city folks always get a lot to write on us about- especially about ‘em trees... You hardly see that in London anymore.” he laughed merrily.

T
hat rich Scottish accent – it sounded bright yet raspy. Richard waved goodbye and started his engine and set off on the last miles left for his unknown journey, hoping what lay ahead can put his obsession to rest too. He checked his cell phone – some more voicemails awaited his attention. He was beyond glad for the poor reception up here. He appreciated complete isolation when he was researching or working at all, and the last thing he needed was Natasha’s superficial nagging and underlying innuendos. What he required the most of was a stroke of inspiration. His book based on the murders that Paul committed wasn’t coming along that well – he had his facts, his figures, witness statements, medical records and everything that could shed some light on the psyche. Yet there was this chunk missing that could add a seasoned flavour to the book – it wasn’t just about personal history that Richard wanted to talk about to Brooke , it was to gain another perspective, a biased perspective perhaps, of not the monster Paul, but the human Paul. He wanted to understand what his diurnal schedule comprised of, what he did on Sundays and why he attended the Mass, when he had a severe God complex. Or maybe, he just wanted to talk about the whole idea of his book to a completely unknown yet objective third party.

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