When Jim Cracksman received a ‘get your ass home now’ text, he grinned good-naturedly and climbed into his beloved muscle truck. As it turned out, that was to be the last time he smiled for many hours.
When he strolled into the house, it was to find his wife and his oldest son awaiting him with white, strained faces. He pulled Patsy into a one-armed hug and looked a question at Jamie.
“It’s Will. He ain’t in France with the school party. Mum got the heebie jeebies because he hadn’t called and got me to do some checking. He never got on the plane. I activated the locators on his stuff and it’s in a locker at the airport. Then I did a naughty and activated his personal locators. He is in Scotland. Stopped moving about an hour ago at some place called Castle Ellan. Which actually is a castle. It’s let furnished, but I can’t find out who to.”
Jim held out his other arm and the boy came and buried his face in his father’s chest.
“He’s only seven years old Dad. We mustn’t let anyone hurt him.”
“We won’t. And you did good work. Now. Who do we know in Scotland? It’s time to call in some favours.”
Patsy lifted a tear-stained face to look at him.
“Rod’s in Scotland. Him and his buddy Sam are doing a distillery tour. And Anna and her motorhome are at some place called Garlieston.”
“Right. You call Ma and tell her somebody has got at Will. Ask her to look after Charlie and the twins while we sort it. Say she can tell the twins if she must, but not little Charlie. Jamie can stop here with us, as he’s already in it up to his neck. But I want the others out of harm’s way.”
“Yes. I should’ve thought. I’ll get right on it. And I’ll make tea while I’m at it.”
She picked up her phone and headed to the kitchen.
Jamie looked at his father with haunted eyes.
“They are going to start hurting him soon, aren’t they?”
“Not if Rod gets there first they aren’t. And he will get there first. We have to believe that. Now. Quiet. I need to make some calls.”
The conversations were all brief, but Jim looked a little less grim when he finished the last call. As he did so, Patsy came back into the room carrying a big tray with a brown teapot and milk jug, three mugs, and a plate of biscuits.
“Pete is fetching the kids from their schools, and Ma will keep them for as long as it takes. Pa said not to forget Geordie Jackson, plus he knows a guy in Edinburgh who makes boomers if we need.”
“I already talked to Geordie. He has a couple of boomer boys, and they are on their way to a field where they’re going to be picked up by a helicopter what is already on its way to collect Rod and his pal, who I forgot is a doctor, and who insists on going along to take care of Will when they get him out. Anna is packing up the camper and moving to a place Geordie owns on the outskirts of Glasgow. It’ll take her about three hours to do the drive, she says. So she’ll be in position when they bring Will out. Geordie knows who is at the castle, and he says they are not nice people. He also tells me the main man is currently away from home. Expected back tomorrow. Which’ll be why we’ve heard nothing yet. With only average luck, we’ll get the wee man out before the end of today.”
Patsy looked him in the eyes.
“Now what aren’t you telling me?”
“Actually. Nothing. But I’ll admit to being very, very worried.”
“Fair enough. Me too. But the three of us will support each other through it. Now. Tea?”
Jim swallowed a huge lump in his throat, and Jamie just buried his head in his mother’s breast. She patted one and smiled at the other before pouring mugs of tea so strong it would have fought its way out of a delicate cup.
“Sit down and drink your tea. It’ll help.”
They sat, and there was silence for a while before Jamie spoke.
“Has Anna got enough stuff with her to pick up Will’s locator?”
“Yes. She already called it up. She says good work Jamie. She and I think Will is probably drugged, because he isn’t moving. So it’s good there’s a doctor in the rescue party.”
“But. Isn’t he a surgeon?” Patsy asked in worried tones.
“He is, which is all to the good, apparently, as he knows lots about unconscious people. He says William will be fine with him.”
Jamie spoke up.
“Is there any more we can do Dad?”
“Nope. Now is the hard bit. We sit tight. Man the phones. And wait.”
Five hundred miles north, things were moving at an altogether faster pace. Two men, a couple of small suitcases, and a black leather holdall, waited by the helipad at the Gleneagles hotel. The larger of the two looked at his companion.
“You sure about this, Sam? It’s going to get nasty, and some people will get hurt, or worse.”
“Yes. I’m sure. They have kidnapped a seven-year-old boy. If they have kept him drugged for thirty-six hours, he could be in a bad way. He might need me, and I might need the stuff I asked for.”
“It’s on the chopper. And how bad?”
“I honestly don’t know, Rod. Worst case scenario is brain damage, but at best he is going to be confused, feeling sick, and dehydrated.”
“Right. So we do need you.”
“And we need to hope.”
They fell silent as the sound of a big helicopter engine came closer.
“Why a Sikorsky?” Sam bawled in Rod’s ear as it came in to land.
They picked up their stuff, ran across the helipad and leapt aboard. A big man in a jumpsuit pushed them into a pair of seats and handed them headsets.
“Welcome aboard Rescue One,” he said.
“Thanks,” Rod grunted. “My friend here wondered why a Sky Crane?”
“Easy. These bastards fly in and out of the target area all the time. Nobody will think twice about another. Has anybody thought about what sort of condition the kid will be in when we get him out?”
“Yes,” Sam said tersely. “I’ve given the matter a lot of thought. Is the stuff I asked for on board?”
“Yeah. You know how to use it?”
“I do. But let’s hope I don’t have to.”
“What don’t you want to have to use?”
“Mostly: tracheotomy kit. I’ve had to do it in Thailand to kids that were sedated for too long on the underground sex trade routes. It ain’t pleasant, but it can be the only way to get air into the poor little sods’ lungs.”
“Fuck. Will it really be that bad?”
“Probably not, but I wanted to be sure I had all the bases covered. But the poor little bugger is going to be confused and frightened, and that’s why going home in his friend’s motorhome, where he can rest and feel secure will be better for him than a plane flight where he is surrounded by strangers, or the noise and smells of a chopper.”
“Yeah. I get that. And we can take it in turns to drive. So we’ll get him back to his mum pretty soon. Now I find I’m feeling murderous. Nobody should get between me and anyone I’m beating up.”
The man in the jumpsuit grinned.
“Fine. We’re all fathers here, and nobody is feeling particularly gentlemanly right now. About half an hour till we collect Geordie’s boomer boys. Then an hour from there to this fucking castle. Any orders?”
“Apart from getting my nephew out and demonstrating the family’s annoyance? No. Just do what needs doing.”
“Will do. By the way. This one’s a freebie. Geordie is providing the hardware and the fuel, we’re giving our time. Nobody liked having the Russian Mafia on our turf. But as long as they kept their noses clean we could tolerate them. Taking people’s kids is a big no-no, so we are handing down a lesson.”
“How many are we?” Sam asked.
“You two. Geordie’s boomer boys. Twelve fighters. Pilot, co-pilot and radio guy. Why?”
“Because I have a bad feeling about what they might do to the kid when we tip up. I want to get to him fast.”
“Good thinking. Six of us will escort you right to him. We have his location on screen.”
The two men bumped fists.
They seemed to have covered all the bases, and the men sat in silence until the helicopter dropped down to land briefly. Three men jumped in carrying obviously heavy bags. Once they were seated the chopper took off and headed north. The men put on their headphones and their leader gave Rod a grim wink.
“Got enough stuff to flatten this fecking castle. Geordie says you have to agree, though.”
“Oh yeah. Let’s show them our fist! But we have to get little Bill out first. And if they’ve hurt him…”
The smallest of the boomer boys spat eloquently.
“Aye. There’s examples to be made.”