After a most satisfactory hug, which included a wildly wagging dog, the four of them sat down to Anna’s boeuf bourguignon with softly creamed potatoes, followed by ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce. At the end of the meal, the grown-ups got coffee, and Bill had a mug of warm milk. He patted his little round tummy.
“Thank you Anna, that was lovely. I was very hungry.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. When we’ve had a bit of a sit, you can take Bonnie into the garden for her wees, then we’ll pack the camper and be off. It’s past your bedtime you know.”
“How is that? It isn’t even dark. Your clock must be wrong.”
Anna and Sam drunk their coffee, while Rod explained about the north, with its long days in summer and short ones in winter. Bill was particularly enchanted by the thought of the very far north and twenty-four hour daylight in the summer.
“I don’t really understand it, but it’s most interesting. I’d like to see a night where it stayed day.”
“Well, you shall then. I’ll bring you to see some friends of mine who live at a place called Lerwick on an island called Shetland. They have a daughter of about your age and she can show you all sorts of wild creatures. Would you like that?”
“Oh. I would. I would.”
“Then it’s a done deal.”
Soon after that, they got up from the table and made ready to leave. Bonnie got her play in the garden before Sam, Rod and Anna donned cotton tracksuit trousers and loose tops. “We can sleep and drive in these,” Sam explained. “But you aren’t driving, so Anna has some jammies for you.”
“Good. I was wondering what I was going to wear in bed. Grampa Cracksman sleeps in his vest and pants, but Mummy says that’s unsanitary. Can I have my softy jumper in bed with me?”
“You can,” Anna said. “And Bonnie, and one of us.”
“Oh that sounds fun. Which one of you?”
“We will take it in turns. It will be Rod first.”
Rod looked as if he was about to argue, then changed his mind and yawned hugely. He grinned at Bill.
“You better not snore.”
Bill pulled a cheeky face.
When everyone was ready, they trooped out to the camper. As they were about out of the door, Rod fished in his pocket for something he shoved under the coffee pot on the kitchen table.
“Just a tip for the cleaner,” he said.
“Rod,” Anna sounded a bit scandalised. “That’s a fifty.”
“Oh. And nothing, I suppose.”
He laughed and patted her.
“Let’s get this show on the road. I’m shattered. C’mon Bill. What side of the bed do you want?”
“Me and Bonnie would like inside, please.’
“Good enough. If you want to make wees in the night you wake me up and I’ll help you out of bed. OK?”
By the time Anna and Sam had settled themselves in the camper cab, Rod, Billy and Bonnie were already in bed. Billy had Bonnie by his feet, and was cuddling his cashmere jumper.
“Night Uncle Rod.'”
Billy snuggled his back against his uncle’s side, gave a tiny sigh and was immediately asleep. Rod laid a huge hand gently on the little boy’s head and promptly fell asleep himself.
Anna smiled at Sam.
“I’ll drive first, if you like. Do you need to sleep?”
“Not for a while. I’m not as exhausted as Rod; he had a rough time of it. Worrying about Bill, and holding it together has been hard on him. I had it easier. I was worried and disgusted, but I hadn’t met Bill until we got him out. So I wasn’t as emotionally involved. Until now. You must be pretty wiped out.”
“Not as bad as Rod. He’s a good deal more imaginative than he seems, and he is very, very close to Billy. Me? Life has taught me to hold my emotions in check. Though I expect I’ll have a meltdown after we get the little man home.”
He smiled at her.
“I know. When I think of what could have happened it makes my stomach go cold.”
“Yes. Rod dropped the theory he wasn’t meant to survive in my lap. Do you buy into it?”
“Oh yeah. Not just that, but they intended him to suffer before they ended him. There were all number of nasty things in the room where they had him, plus video equipment to record his suffering. It was vile.”
“Good god. I didn’t know people could be that evil.”
“Oh. They can. I found that out when I was working with Medecins sans Frontiers. I spent two years helping kids who had been rescued from the sex trade. It still leaves a nasty taste. But at least it means I have a good idea of how to look after little Bill.”
“Yes. And thank goodness you do. His parents are hugely grateful.”
“No need. It’s what I do. Though I’m an orthopaedic surgeon by trade, anyone who worked in Thailand can’t help having an interest in children’s health and wellbeing. But talking about Bill’s parents, I do need to talk to them before we get him home.”
“You can call them now, if you like. My phone is on the centre console there. They are in the book as Jim and Pats.”
“I will. Thanks. While those two are very deeply asleep.”
He picked up the phone.
“Hello. Jim Cracksman? I’m Sam Henderson. Bill calls me Doctor Sam. Don’t mention it. But there are a couple of things you need to know before he gets home. First. He just told me how he was taken. Yes. That’s what he said. The au pair. Bitch. Done a runner has she? Oh how surprising. Now. To how Bill is coping. Basically, he’s good, but he will have wobbles. He may seem a bit clingy and babyish for a while, but just cuddle him and accept it. I will wear off. If he needs a cry, you have to let him cry. If he wants to shout and swear a bit, let him do that. If he wants to talk about what happened to him, let him do that too. It’s normal. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not. Your mother is a wise woman, and she’s right about the others. You do need to tell them. Yes. I know you would rather not, but for Bill’s sake you have to. They need to know that he could be wobbling, and why. School? No. It’s only a month or so till the end of term. If it was me I’d not send him back until September. He’s bright enough for it not to matter. Yeah. I’d be more than willing to keep an eye on him. He’s a great kid. Yes. I’ll see you then.”