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Maurice was on the way to the pub when his mobile rang. “Damn, I swear she has eyes everywhere!” he complained then answered the call. “Hi, love, everything all right?”
“Yes, although I have to go out now. Sam is running a temperature. I’ve booked an appointment at the doctor’s for this evening at six.”
“That’s a shame. Will your mum take you?” Maurice rolled his eyes at the men around him as they neared the pub.
“I was hoping you’d be home long before then, Maurice. Would it hurt you to miss a night at the boozer if your child is ill?”
“I’m not at the pub. The gaffer has asked me to stay on awhile to oversee a delivery of urgent supplies. He’s had to leave work early himself, you see, love. You know I’d be there in a shot if I could, babe.”
His wife tutted. “You’ve always got some excuse not to be at home nowadays, Maurice Barratt. Let this snippet of information sink in while you’re downing one of your many pints this evening. I’ve spent the day packing my bags… I’m leaving you.”
The line went dead, and he stopped walking and stared at the phone.
Ted elbowed him. “What’s up, mate?”
“She’s leaving me.”
“Nah, she’d never leave you. She knows better than to do that, mate. Come on, I’ll buy the first pint.”
Ted pushed open the pub’s large wooden door and entered The Rose and Crown. As they approached the bar, Maurice switched off to everyone around him to contemplate the magnitude of his wife’s words. No matter how much she nagged him, deep down, he idolised her and the kids and would do anything to make them happy. So, why the hell am I standing in the pub with my workmates?
One of the other men opened Maurice’s hand and placed a pint of beer in it. “You’re miles away, man. Sup up! We’ve bloody earned this pint tonight. What’s wrong with you?”
Maurice’s mouth stretched into a strained smile. “Sorry, guys. Think I’m only going to have the one tonight. I need to get back to the missus. You don’t know her like I do. She’s not one for making idle threats. I don’t want to lose my kids for the sake of a few pints.”
“Nah, I bet she’s all talk. Mine’s always threatening, but she never follows through on that promise, more’s the pity. My life would be a darn sight quieter—I know that much,” Taff joked in his broad Welsh accent that a lot of the men on the site had trouble deciphering most of the time.
Ted prodded Taff in the arm. “Give the lad a break, man. Don’t you go filling his head with daft ideas now. Not everyone has a Rottweiler of a wife like you.”
Maurice turned sharply to look at Taff, who by rights should have been offended by Ted’s words.
Instead, the Welshman roared with laughter. “You’re not wrong there, Ted. You know what? I might jest about her being a pain in the rear, but if she was to take off, I’d miss her like mad. I mean, who’d bloody do me ironing and cook my meals then? Not me! I know that much.”
The group of men roared, all except Maurice. His mind was back at home with Tina and the kids. Every evening, the minute he stepped through his front door, the three of them surrounded him. The kids wanted to play with their dad after missing him all day, and even Tina seemed to crave his company. So why do I always come to the pub with this mob, spending money we can ill afford?
Because I’m selfish! Ma always said the same the day I started work and refused to go home until I’d downed five pints or more at the pub. That didn’t last long before she kicked me out. He shook his head, the shame of his actions making him want to run home and apologise for letting his family down. However, he knew if he backed down and left the pub before he’d drunk his first pint, the men would rib him about it for days, if not weeks. He loved working on the building site—the camaraderie was second to none most days—but there were times when all he wanted to do was knuckle down and do an honest day’s work. But that sort of behaviour would make him stick out like a sore thumb on-site. Not worth the hassle at all. Another jab to the ribs brought him out of his reverie.
“Sorry, what was that, Ted?”
“You should go home, mate. Your mind is there anyway. It’s obvious you’re worried that Tina will make good on her threat.”
“I am. Would you guys mind? I’ll make it up to you either tomorrow or the next day. I’ll leave some money to buy the next round.”
“Get away with ya, lad. It’s not about the money. Look, there’s no point in you hanging around here if you’re going to be as miserable as sin.” Ted turned to the others. “Agreed, lads?”
The men all nodded and raised their glasses. Maurice gulped down the rest of his pint and smiled at the group. “I swear I’ll make it up to you, guys. I promise.”
He left the pub through the back door. His home was a few streets away, and there was a shortcut down a little-known footpath at the rear of the pub. During the walk, he rehearsed his sincere apology, knowing he would have to grovel to Tina to make her reconsider. He also knew that he’d been pushing her to the limit for months, and she had a right to be peeved with him.
He reached the end of the alley and stopped dead when he found two masked men blocking his path. “What the fu—”
One of the men swung a short metal bar at his chest, knocking the breath out of him.
He grunted and doubled over in pain, then everything went black. “What do you want? Take my money if that’s what you’re after,” he shouted through the cloth hood they’d placed over his head.
They wrenched his hands behind him then wrapped rope around his wrists. He gulped and tried to speak again, desperate for answers, but the men started punching him in the stomach and the head. Dazed, he staggered against the fence of one of the nearby gardens before the men took hold of his arms and marched him away.
“Please… what do you want from me?”
“Shut the fuck up, man. Stop whining and accept the punishment we’re going to dish out,” a gruff voice warned him.
“Punishment? For what? What have I done wrong? I don’t even know you… do I?”
The bar jabbed him in the stomach, smashing against his bottom rib. “I warned you to keep your mouth shut.”
He heard what sounded like a car being unlocked. “We’ll put him in the boot.”
“No, please. I don’t want to go in the boot. I won’t be able to breathe in there.”
“Fucking wimp. He loves the sound of his own voice, don’t he? Shut the fuck up!” one of them shouted in his ear.
He felt disorientated when his feet were taken away from him and the men lifted him and dropped him heavily into the boot of the car. All he could think about was the pain he was in. Every part of his body was screaming in agony. Why are they doing this to me?
He couldn’t think of a plausible reason for him to be in such a dire situation. To his knowledge, he hadn’t wronged anyone in recent years. Even though he’d asked, they clearly weren’t keen to supply him with answers.
As the car sped away, several items in the boot hit him in the head, adding to his pain. Thoughts of Tina, Sam and Fiona rushed through his mind, along with several dozen regrets about not being a better husband and father to his wonderful family. Tears sprang to his eyes in the darkness of the boot. Fear was biting hard as he tried not to think of what the men had planned for him. Their intentions so far had been to hurt him. And, boy, had they succeeded in that.
The car seemed to drive for ages. Then he felt the road they were travelling on become rougher. Could it be some kind of track?
Finally, the car stopped. Two car doors slammed. He gulped again when he heard the boot open. Then the men grabbed him.
“Please… why are you doing this? I don’t understand.”
“You will,” one of the men said before both of them laughed.
Standing on either side of him, they marched Maurice across uneven ground that turned his ankle now and again, adding to his mounting discomfort. He pricked up his ears, trying to figure out where he was. The air was silent apart from the faint sound of traffic in the distance. That’s unusual in the middle of London. He didn’t think they had travelled that far in the car, though. His mind was all over the place, confusion raining down on him. Suddenly, all around him seemed to be echoing. Are we inside a building?
A hand touched the top of his head, forcing him down. His bottom hit a chair, and his hands were crushed behind him when one of the men forced him backwards. “Ouch! What the heck are you doing to me?”
The men laughed.
“If you think that’s bad, you’ll be screaming this place down in a few minutes,” one of them said close to his ear.
“Just tell me why? Do I know you?”
“Oh, yes, you know us all right. Now shut the fuck up, and let us get on with handing out your punishment.”
“There you go again—punishment! What punishment? As far as I know, I’ve done nothing wrong,” Maurice pleaded, his voice trembling as his fear rose to another level.
He cried out when a fist connected with the side of his head. “Why don’t you learn to keep your mouth shut? Just sit there and be quiet.”
He heard the two men walk away from him, and he listened as they conducted a mumbled conversation for a few minutes. He caught one word—tools!
What tools? My tools? Is that what this is about? It can’t be. If they wanted to rob my tools, they would have taken my van, which I left at home today.
The grating sound of metal brought him down to earth. “Untie his hands,” one of the men instructed.
They’ve changed their minds and are going to set me free. Maurice’s heart pounded against his ribs. But his jubilation was short-lived when one of the men grasped his right hand in both of his and placed it on some kind of table beside him. The man’s strength nullified any fight Maurice was able to muster. The grating sound of metal was close to his ear again, then he felt something cold wrap around the middle finger on his right hand. “Hey, what the fuck is going on? What are you—?” His words were drowned out by a scream—his scream.
Severe pain shot through his body at the speed of an Exocet missile.
The men laughed. “One down, only seven fingers and two thumbs to go.”
Maurice sobbed. He didn’t care if the men thought he was a wimp. The pain was impossible to bear. “Please, tell me what I can do to make things right? What have I done to deserve this? I won’t be able to stand much more…” he pleaded between sobs.
“Aww… he won’t be able to take much more. We’ll just have to test that theory, right?”
The cold metal wrapped another of his fingers, and Maurice braced himself. “No…” he shouted before the pain erupted through his hand and travelled swiftly up his arm. He felt light-headed, as if he was going to pass out, and he considered giving in to the urge. The men had already made their intentions clear. He wondered if his heart would be able to take the strain if he remained awake during the torturous ordeal. After the fourth finger had been amputated, Maurice gave in and passed out.
When he regained consciousness, the pain had intensified tenfold. He listened as the men debated their next plan of action. He gasped when he overheard them deliberating how to kill him.
“So you’re awake, are you?”
“Please… don’t kill me. Think of my family. They need me. They wouldn’t be able to cope if you killed me. I don’t understand what I’ve done wrong. Please, if you let me go now, I promise I won’t go to the police.”
“You won’t get the chance, Maurice.”
“You know me? Do I know you?” He knew he was talking gibberish, but the pain was overwhelming, and he was slurring his words. His saliva dried up long ago. His screams had scratched the lining in his throat.
“Oh, you know us all right, mate.”
“Why? Why would any friend of mine do this to me?”
The men laughed. “Did I say we were friends of yours?”
Unsure what to say next, Maurice fell silent. He heard the men shuffling and moving something heavy, then he heard an engine start up. It didn’t take him long to twig what the noise was, but his thoughts remained jumbled. What were they going to do with… a chainsaw… that’s what I heard, isn’t it? His bowels emptied as his fear increased.
“The bastard just shat himself,” one of the men shouted.
“Filthy bastard. Right, I’ve had enough of this messing about. Let’s finish the job off.”
Maurice wriggled in his seat. He attempted to stand with the intention of running away, but two hands clamped his shoulders, fixing him in place.
He screamed, hoping that someone would hear his cries for help as he felt the chain cut through his lower leg. Blackness descended.