The Cup Bearer
At that moment, Don arrived back and Sandy watched the expression on his face change from worry to one of stark horror as Perquita told him what had happened. The man gave a groan of despair and slumped down on the chair by the hall telephone with his head in his hands. "Oh My God no! Please, no!"
Perquita stood nearby, clutching Jose and Ramon to her, as Sandy knelt in front of Don and shook him gently. "Don, you know somethin'; what is it, man?"
Don's head came up suddenly. He stared at Sandy for a moment then reached for the phone and dialled a number he waited a short while then said into the receiver, "Rudkin, please, this is urgent ... Clooney. … I don't care if he's with the Chief Constable of England or what you've been told; you get him on the phone now. Tell him it's about the Diaz kid. … Rudkin? They've got him. …Yeah. I know he phoned to tell you my car was stolen but it must have been a ruse to get me away from him. Can you get here fast? I can give you a load of details. ... Because I know what's gonna happen to him; damn it. ... Just get here." Putting the receiver back, he grabbed Sandy, pulled him close and whispered in his ear. "He had a premonition. He told me this was going to happen and I didn't believe him. Phone your mother and play Big Bro with these kids till she gets here. Keep 'em calm and keep 'em in the house. Lock the doors and don't let anyone in except your mother and the police. Understand?"
"Yes, but what are you goin' to do?" Sandy whispered back.
"I'm going after them." Don rose to his feet and looked around. "I don't see Mrs. Sykes, where is she?"
"Disappeared," Perquita replied in a tight voice. "We found a note saying she'd gone to the cinema but she went out too early for that and should have been back ages ago."
"Damn the woman! I've never known a housekeeper have so much time off and have so many of her chores done by the kids she's supposed to be looking after." Turning to Ramon he hunkered down in front of him and took him gently by the arms. "Ramon, you're the only one who can help find your brother. Could describe the van you saw, and the men who kidnapped your brother?"
With tears still rolling down his face Ramon nodded and allowed Don to lead him into the front lounge. At that moment, Maria arrived home with Lucia, and Sandy had his hands full comforting Jose while Perquita told Maria what had happened.
When Rudkin walked in, Don had just finished writing down everything Ramon had said, and let his sisters lead him away. Quickly Don related Gypsy's premonition almost word for word. "Ramon was waiting at the church gate when he saw Gypsy hobbling down the road on his crutches. He started walking to meet him and waved to Gypsy. But before his brother could wave back these two guys came out of nowhere. One snatched his crutches and the other knocked his legs from under him, then they grabbed him and threw him into the back of a white van. Ramon yelled to try and attract someone's attention but there was no one around. He gave chase but the van drove off at speed. He said it skidded as it took off and narrowly missed a green car coming the other way. There may be some tyre marks on the road. From the description I'd say it was a box transit, none too clean. It drove off before Ramon could get the number. He said there were more men inside the van but he doesn't know how many. One of the men outside the van was dark skinned; Asian maybe, wearing torn jeans, a black bomber jacket and a black baseball cap on back to front. The other wore a grey tracksuit and black trainers, he was Caucasian with blonde hair. They were both taller than Gypsy."
Rudkin nodded his head appreciatively as he quickly read the details Don had written down. "Quite an observant lad, that Ramon, but these descriptions could fit a thousand suspects. We'll find out if any biker gangs have been seen in the area and put out an APB for this van and the green car. Then we'll have a chat with all the local farmers. Those needles must be thorns of some kind, and his difficulty in finding a foothold could mean he's falling down a gully or an irrigation ditch. If I'm right and he slides too far we won't have much chance of finding him. With all the rain we've had these last few weeks those gullies are going to be in full flood."
"Let's get moving then." Don led the way out looking ready to do someone some serious injury.
It was well after nine thirty when an alert member of Don's group spotted Mrs. Sykes getting off a Liverpool bus, loaded down with bags of shopping, and insisted on transporting her home. Jean and Evan Roberts had already taken charge of things at Visick Street when she wandered unsteadily through the front door on the gentleman's arm, smelling of drink; a situation which confirmed Perquita's suspicions about the woman after finding an empty gin bottle in the bin the previous week. Evan shook his head in disgust, and Jean had to clamp her mouth shut as she prepared to get the Gomez family to bed. Perquita wisely phoned Rudkin and two police women arrived to escort Mrs. Sykes to the police station.
Don looked at his watch for the hundredth time before dropping his weary head on his folded arms on Rudkin's desk. It was ten thirty and he felt brain dead from trying to think of anything he had missed from Gypsy's premonition. He had gone over it again and again but nothing seemed to come. All he could see was the knife slashing and slashing. He'd been out with Rudkin and other group members, scouring irrigation ditches, matching as close as possible the description derived from the nightmare. There were so many of them and Rudkin had told him there was a strong possibility the boy had been taken out of the county. His beloved Rover had been found burning in a ditch just over the Derbyshire border, giving more substance to Rudkin's fears. Don had chased it as far as Knutsford but had lost it on the motorway when he'd had to stop for diesel and had handed the task of finding it to the police. Now they were looking for the kidnap van, which would probably have had a re-spray by now and put to bed in a remote garage.
A hand on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie and he found Rudkin standing by him with a paper cup of coffee in his hand. There was another on the desk. "Drink up; it might be a long night. At least when we find him he'll have a team of experts waiting to go to work on him. Grafton's on his way by helicopter from London, with Percival Rosscroft Junior. According to Grafton, he's a brilliant plastic surgeon. It's his helicopter they're travelling in."
Don had taken only two sips when phone rang. Rudkin grabbed it and almost immediately said, "Right, we'll be down there right away." Putting the phone down he said flatly, "They've found him, and it's not good."
The farm was just over the Derbyshire border, mostly grazing land with several small areas the owner rented out for fairs and gymkhanas. The fire brigade was already on the scene, and the farmer, an old, gruff 'salt of the earth' type, waited to talk to them. "Bikers are always a nuisance, parking on my land uninvited. It were my wife who spotted the fire from our top bedroom window and I came out 'ere with my lad to chase 'em off. Got to the top of the rise back there and couldn't see no sign of 'em, just the fire. We come over to put the fire out and came by way of the bottom field and had to come across the old dike. Not used no more now we got the new one dug. As we climbed across, I 'appens to look down and I see this white thing, looked like one of them shop window models. Then it moved and I thought I was seein' things at first. Then it moved again, so I sent my Tom back to call for 'elp, 'im been' faster'n me, like. Then the fire men and the ambulance came."
"Modest, isn't he?" a voice spoke behind the farmer, and the fire chief stepped forward to shake hands with Rudkin. "It's a pity you and I only meet when there's a nasty piece of work afoot. This one's really nasty, and if Mr. Fairhold hadn't climbed down, to help the boy, he would have been a goner. There's a sheer six foot drop below him into the gully and it was only the boy's hair caught on the thorns that held him up till Mr. Fairhold got to him. That was a brave thing you did tonight, sir. How you did it I don't know. One slip and you would have been in the gully as well."
Frozen with panic, Don found he couldn't ask the question he dreaded hearing the answer to, and heard Rudkin voice it. "How is he?"
"Not good. We've got to cut back all the bushes before we can winch him up, that's what's taking so long. We've had to cut most of his hair off. It was too badly tangled. I've tried to stop people trampling around the immediate area, and your men have cordoned it off as best they can, but we've had to bring the winch up as close as possible in order to lift him. Sorry if it's destroyed possible evidence; couldn't be helped." Even as he spoke the winch roared into life and the Chief excused himself to supervise the careful raising of the stretcher and its occupant. Rushing forward, Don resisted Rudkin's attempts to stop him and was at the Chief's side as a group of yellow helmets bobbed their way up beside the stretcher, hauling themselves up on several ropes. Dreading the face he would see, but knowing already what to expect, he was nevertheless shocked, and almost screamed out in reflected pain as the firemen lowered the stretcher onto the ground for the paramedics to take over. Don caught a brief glimpse of a wispy cap where before there had been a mane of black curls, and beneath it a face swollen and criss-crossed with bloody lines above the neck brace, but with an expression of peace upon it. Then the paramedics obscured his view as they got to work on him. Quickly they wrapped him in blankets and foil and transferred him to an ambulance where Don threatened mayhem if he wasn't allowed to ride with him, and Rudkin had to smooth things over for him. They ran the stretcher into A&E and transferred Gypsy onto a gurney and straight into the operating theatre area where Don's determination to stay with the boy was thwarted at last by a green clad nurse who apologised and pushed the door shut in his face. He leaned his face against the nearest hospital wall and wept.
Friday 7th June 1995
It wasn't the waiting that Sandy found hard to cope with, but the way everyone kept him in the dark, treating him like a school kid instead of a responsible teenager concerned for his mate. Don Clooney seemed too cut up to talk. Sandy had never seen a guy reduced to tears for a second time so much as Gypsy's minder was. To see a brawny giant like him aimlessly pacing the ICU reception area, with nothing to say and a whole lot of anger to get rid of, was a pitiful sight indeed. Sandy knew Clooney was blaming himself for what had happened but how could he have known that the pinching of the Rover was a hoax to get him out of the way? In Sandy's book, the guy was a nothing short of a hero.
Sandy watched him pacing up and down past the reception desk under the scowl of the duty nurse, waiting for someone to come and tell them what was going on and unable to sit for more than a few minutes before pacing again. Sandy knew Edward Grafton was somewhere in the building, probably talking to the doctors. Gypsy had been in theatre more than three hours and Perquita had been at his bedside ever since. If only they would tell them something; anything. Even when MacCaffrey put in an appearance and tried his official status on the staff nurse, he couldn't get anything out of her either, and had to sit down beside Sandy and wait.
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