‘Hello.’ Odd how light and pleasant his voice could sound, how free of menace. No wonder everyone thought he was so lovely. Michelle wasn’t fooled though; she stood her ground and folded her arms.
Anna said nothing.
‘I thought I’d find you here.’ Still pleasant, two friends passing the time of day. A couple went by on with their dog, didn’t even glance over.
For the life of her she couldn’t speak. She stood rooted to the pavement, willing one of the staff to come out of the shelter. She went to reach for her phone and he took a step nearer.
‘Don’t come any closer.’ She found her voice and Michelle took her arm in solidarity.
‘Or what?’ He was still smiling pleasantly but the menace was creeping into his voice.
‘I’m going to phone someone,’ she warned.
‘I really wouldn’t.’ He took another step forward, pulling out a cricket bat from behind and holding it in both hands, like a batsman readying to take a swing. Waiting for a full toss.
Now or never. She screamed at the top of her voice and ran out into the road, causing a car to stand on the brakes – then she ran back, grabbed Michelle’s arm and charged past him to the shelter, hammering on the door as if her life depended on it.
Susan came, took in the situation and quickly ushered her inside, saying to him calmly, ‘I’m calling the police. Right now.’
‘Well done girl!’ Michelle was full of admiration but all Anna could do was collapse into a chair, her breath going like a steam train. ‘Is he gone?’ She could barely get the words out.
Susan was scanning the CCTV. ‘He’s getting into his car.’
‘He could just wait round the corner.’
‘You need to be careful when you go out. And take an alarm.’
‘I can’t believe he found me.’
‘You’d be amazed, we’ve had guys from all over, from Scotland, Cornwall, we even had one fly over from Spain. They come to get their property back.’
‘That’s what they think of us, you know ?’ Michelle laughed mirthlessly. ‘We’re their property, like a bike what’s been stolen. They come to get us back.’
Anna started laughing, she hardly knew why and they ended up falling about like idiots, all three of them in the office. But the decision was made now, in the chambers of her heart, in the corpuscles of her blood, in the silent cells of the bone. There was no going back.
Leave means leave. End of story. And the beginning of a whole new story, the story of Anna.