Two Hours Ago
“Would you just…sit still.” Blair looked over at the driver’s seat, taking in the exasperated look on Bowser’s face. She slid back in her seat as she placed the phone on the seat beside her to stop fidgeting with it. “She said she would let us know when he got back. Until then, we just need to wait.”
Blair sighed. “We’re just sitting here literally five minutes from where Sterl could be. We should be in there already.”
“We need to be smart about this. We have no evidence that proves he has her so we can’t call the police in.”
“We don’t need evidence.”
Bowser shook his head. “Well, no we don’t but it won’t do nobody any good to rush in and potentially create a volatile situation. Rule one: Always know what you are walking into.”
A silence descended upon the vehicle while the two occupants sat looking out the windscreen, watching as the sun slowly set. Bowser had parked his truck a few minutes out from the lake house while they waited for the confirmation that John Stevens was back at home. From the moment that April had hung up the phone, Blair had been ready to get on the road. She didn’t want to wait another minute if the blonde was somewhere they now potentially knew. These past two days had been the longest that the pair of them had been separated in their whole lives and the thought of prolonging that for even a single second longer than necessary was almost too much for the brunette to bear. The thought of who potentially had kidnapped the blonde certainly did nothing to alleviate the gnawing anxiety in the pit of her stomach.
As Blair stared down the dark and empty road, her mind drifted back to what led them to this point. Their first day as bounty hunters. When they had heard Bowser name the skip he was after as John Stevens, she had jumped at the chance to put one over on April. Thinking back to that interaction now, she could recall how Sterling had not agreed with her view on taking him down to make April squirm. Instead, the blonde had changed the topic, not that Blair had let that stop her. From that point things had just happened so fast that there hadn’t been a chance to really talk about what they were getting into. Both of them getting caught up in the adrenaline rush of chasing down a skip. Now Blair was faced with the possibility that her initial exuberance to help Bowser with taking down John Stevens was the catalyst for the whole situation they were now in.
“Do you think…” The words caught in her throat as she tried to voice the question that had been playing on her mind since they realised the blonde was missing. “Do you think that she’s OK? That we’ll get her back?”
Blair watched as Bowser turned in his seat to face her, his expression shifting to one that betrayed the affection he felt toward the pair of them. “Almost all of them do.”
“Almost all?” Blair knew that her consternation was written plainly across her features.
“Come on now baby girl, you need to stay positive.”
“How can I when someone has Sterl? And you hear about it on the news, how they didn’t find them until it was too late.”
“Yeah, well, the news doesn’t report everything. For every kid who doesn’t come home that you see on the news, there are many more who do. If April is right and that was Sterling in the background, then that’s good news.”
“How?” The word came out harsher than she expected but the idea that John Stevens having her sister captive was somehow good news certainly didn’t correlate in her mind.
“That was this morning. The majority of cases where they don’t come home alive, it was too late after the first three hours.”
Blair studied Bowser’s expression, looking for any sign that he was hiding something or downplaying the situation but all she saw was genuine concern and honesty. She nodded her understanding of what he said, trying to focus on the hope that Bowser was offering. Hearing her phone ping, Blair grabbed it off the seat next to her to open the message.
Bowser started the engine on the truck. “Let’s go get our girl.”
April watched the notification on the screen change from delivered to read before locking her phone and tucking it back in her pocket. Safe in the knowledge that while she occupied her father, the bounty hunting duo would be searching the lake house to hopefully bring Sterling home. The thought of having to spend the next hour or two in close proximity to someone who had potentially kidnapped another human, her girlfriend, made her feel nauseous. It wasn’t like their relationship had been exactly filled with positive interactions since his return from prison, but they had been tolerable. Her views on her father and his indiscretions had been almost detached from their everyday lives. It is one thing to know that he assaulted a sex worker and another to see the photographs of the harm he caused. When those images were coupled with the possibility that he had kidnapped Sterling, then the images blended together to form a mental image April would rather not have ever had enter her mind. Certainly one that meant she was unable to consider the possibility that there was any form of future for their relationship as father and daughter.
April was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of the front door opening. She took a deep breath in order to try to settle the emotions coursing through her body. The one thing she had to make sure of was that there was no reason for her dad to suspect anything was amiss. She needed to make sure Blair and Bowser had enough time to search the whole house. As she heard his footsteps approaching, she just hoped that she could pull it off.
“Hey there little Padawan.” She looked up as John walked into the room, a casual smile on his face like he hadn’t a care in the world.
April reminded herself to smile. “Hi daddy.” She was surprised when he stepped closer to her and wrapped his arms around her. On instinct, she felt her entire body tense before reminding herself she had to play her role of perfect loving daughter that bit longer. Knowing that she couldn’t afford to let on that she suspected anything, she forced her body to relax and brought her arms up to return the hug. Every second felt like an eternity, every point of contact felt like her skin was blistering under his touch. She wanted nothing more than to recoil from the touch but she knew that would raise questions. Thankfully, he released her from the embrace and stepped back.
“I’ve missed you. I hope I didn’t miss much these past couple of days.” He started to make his way to the kitchen. “Why don’t you tell me about what you have been up to while we get some snacks sorted.”
April reluctantly followed her dad into the kitchen. “How’s school?”
“It’s good. I have an exam coming up in math.” She kept her reply as short as possible to reduce the chance of her voice betraying her unease.
“I hope you have been studying.”
“Yes sir.” The reply automatic. If anything had been ingrained into April from an early age, it was that anything less than one hundred percent effort was not good enough. That you have to earn every mark, every medal through hard work and dedication. The medal hanger her dad had bought her to display her medals on even stated it, ‘always earned, never given’. The similarities between the messages drilled into her from an early age on achievements and the love her parents gave her were glaring clear now. Much like her awards, the love her parents had for her was to be earned, not given.
“That’s my girl. Can’t have those grades slipping if you are going to be valedictorian. How about your extra-curriculars? It’s important not to ignore those if you want to stand out when it comes to college applications.” Her dad went to the fridge to retrieve their usual drinks for their daddy-daughter time.
April felt herself tense at the mention of the extra-curricular activities as the memory of her last time with the blonde was interwoven with the only activity she had participated in during the past couple of days. Forcing those feelings back down, she walked over to the pantry and rummaged through for the popcorn to avoid having to make eye contact. “Forensics is going well. I have revised the research that is in the dossiers for the team so we will be prepared for both offence and defence.”
“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” April emerged from the pantry and set about opening the bag to prepare their go to snack for Star Wars nights. “Is that Wesley girl still the weakest link on your team?” Hearing her dad reference Sterling caught her off guard, the shock of hearing him mention her led to her tearing the bag further than expected, unpopped corn spilling out over the side and onto the floor. “Woah...steady on there kiddo. Looks like someone has spent too much time in the gym lately.” The smile on her dad’s face was unexpected. Ordinarily, any form of mess was greeted with a stern reproach and the instruction to clear it up.
“Sorry...I’ll clean it up.” April quickly stepped out of the kitchen to retrieve the dustpan and brush, taking the moments away from her dad to get herself back in check. It was just a question about forensics, not a targeted question about their relationship. It wasn’t like she had spoken highly of Sterling’s forensic prowess in the past. In fact, she had spent a considerable amount of time bemoaning the blonde’s readiness to concede to her opponent in the past. She certainly hadn’t been sharing the fact that the blonde had placed higher than her during their last big competition.
“April? Everything OK?” She grabbed the dustpan and made her way back into the kitchen, plastering a smile back on her face as she re-entered the room.
“Fine daddy. Sorry, just couldn’t find the brush.” April set about clearing up the mess while her dad made a start on preparing the rest of the snacks.
“So, the Wesley girl?”
“Oh...no. She has improved over the past year.” She hoped that the answer would satisfy his curiosity and not lead to further questions. She wasn’t sure that she would be able to maintain a conversation about Sterling without letting her facade slip and the concern she had for her welfare shine through.
“Well must be down to having some good leadership in that team.” He smiled at her. April just nodded, opting to just agree with her dad’s assessment of what had led to the improvement in the other girl’s performance.
“Did you manage to sort your issue at work?” April held her breath as soon as the words passed her lips. Hoping that her question would allow the focus to be taken off her interactions with the blonde. There was also the distant hope that he would say something that would give her a hint as to where he had been the past couple of days.
“Not yet. You know how it is...some of these problems, you just need to take your time. Play the long game. That’s not to say you can’t take pleasure in the small things along the way, those moments where you get to put the other side firmly in their place but that final win...it’s worth waiting for.”
The words were nothing new. Many times over the years she had heard her dad talk about his business dealings in a similar way. However, now with the additional knowledge of what he was capable of and the uncertainty surrounding the whereabouts of her girlfriend, they took on new meaning...a much darker meaning. One that made April want nothing more than to run from the house and drive to the lake house herself. She emptied the contents of the dustpan into the trash and took the time to squeeze her eyes tightly closed. Hoping the action would somehow repress the images now flashing in her mind as what small things her dad could have taken pleasure in inflicting on the blonde.
“You go ahead and load it up. I’ll be through in a minute.” Her voice sounded distant to her own ears but her dad didn’t seem to notice as he left the room. April made her way down the hall to the bathroom and closed the door, clicking the lock in place as she leant her forehead against the cool wood. She pulled her phone from her pocket and opened her messages.
Tell me you have found something.
April stared at the phone screen. Watching as the message changed from delivered to read before the three little dots appeared.
Reading those words made her heart sink. She knew that they hadn’t had long to search and the lake house was extensive but a small part of her had hoped that maybe, just maybe she wouldn’t have to spend an extended period of time playing this part. April stepped over the the sink and checked her reflection in the mirror. She could see the way the spark that had been ignited inside her by the blonde had faded in her eyes. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and right now, her eyes certainly reflected the turmoil within. The one saving grace was that her dad wouldn’t be looking in her eyes as they watched the show. With a final glance to make sure the rest of the image was in place, she turned to return to the den and buy Blair and Bowser the time they needed.
30 Minutes Ago
Blair opened another door on their search through the expansive property, she flicked on the light switch as she looked around the room. The knowledge that John Stevens was at least an hour away and the secluded nature of the lake house meant that they didn’t need to worry about alerting someone to their presence through using the mains lights. A fact that Blair was thankful for as searching the large space using torches would have taken even longer. She could hear Bowser opening a door further down the hallway. So far they had searched the upstairs rooms to no avail before making their way back downstairs to search through the various reception rooms and other spaces. The process was made slower by the thorough method of checking behind every door contained within the rooms on the off chance that there were hidden spaces. As much as April had given them a run down on the layout of the property, there were many rooms that she didn’t frequent that could have easily been forgotten.
Blair walked over to the door on the far side of the room, pulling it open to to reveal yet another storage closet. She slammed the door shut in frustration letting out a loud groan. She slumped against the door and brought her hands up to rub her eyes. They were running out of rooms to check and there was no sign of the blonde. They hadn’t even found anything to suggest she had ever been there.
“You OK kiddo?” Bowser appeared in the doorway of the room she was in.
“What if she’s not here?” Blair could feel herself becoming despondent with the situation. Every room they checked that was a dead end just made it feel like Sterling was slipping further from their grasp.
“We’ve not finished checking yet. Why anyone needs such a large property for a small family I have no idea.” Bowser walked over to stand before her. “I know how hard it is to stay positive when we haven’t found Sterling yet but she could still be here. We just need to keep looking while we can.”
Blair nodded in response. She knew that what Bowser said was right. She just hoped that the next door they opened would bring this nightmare to a close. She pushed herself up from the door and walked out of the room to continue the search.
By the time the last door closed with no sign of the blonde, they were starting to run out of options. The pair of them met back in the entrance foyer, each looking as dejected as the other. Blair pulled out the paper that April had sketched an outline of the property on with various instructions. “That’s it for in here. We’ve got these areas outside to check.” She pointed to the locations on the sketch.
Blair stepped back outside and waited while Bowser reset the alarm so that there would be no evidence of their search. “Come on.”
The pair walked round the back of the property and headed towards the first location, the maintenance room. Bowser pulled out the set of keys that April had given them for the outbuildings to unlock the door. As the door opened, they were once again greeted by nothing but a collection of tools. He pulled the door closed, clicking the lock back in place.
Finally, they approached the last door, the pump room. As they opened the door, they were greeted by nothing more than the typical pump equipment. Blair walked across the metal grates on the floor to check behind the large machinery but was greeted by nothing more than a concrete wall. She returned to stand in the middle of the room where Bowser had remained. “What now?”
“We head back. Either it is John Stevens and he has another location we don’t know about or it isn’t him. We need to let April know.”
“I’ll do it.” Blair pulled her phone out reluctantly to send a message admitting they had nothing.
Sterling jumped at the sound of an alarm echoing from down the hall. She quickly grabbed the knife she had found and followed the sound, not willing to venture anywhere without some form of defence. She headed back down the narrow corridor and into the master bedroom. The TV in the entertainment area was now on, the screen illuminated the room casting shadows from the furniture that extended across the floor. What Sterling saw on the screen made her heart skip a beat, the knife tumbled from her hand as she stumbled forwards. She searched the table for some kind of control but there was nothing except a regular remote. She grabbed it anyway to examine, in the obscure hope that there was a button that would reveal a method of communication. Throwing the remote down when there was nothing to be found, she turned and ran back down the hallway to the steel door. She slammed her fists against it, over and over again, as she screamed as loud as she could.
“BLAIR! BOWSER! I’M HERE! I’M IN HERE!”
She placed her ear to the door after a while and strained to hear anything but was greeted by nothing but the blood rushing through her own ears. “Fuck!” She sprinted back to the bedroom to see if there had been any sign that they had heard her. As she skidded to a halt in front of the screen, she reached her hand up to place against the screen resting against her sister’s form. She could feel her own tears fall as she watched Bowser place an arm round the brunette’s shoulders and guide her towards the door. “No, no, no. Don’t leave. Don’t go.” Her voice was hoarse from the yelling as she spoke to the images on the screen. As Blair stepped out of view, she watched as Bowser turned to look into the room once more, his head dropping in defeat. “Please don’t leave me.” Her voice was barely above a whisper as she watched Bowser step out and the door closed. The screen fading back to black as the alarm stopped, leaving her in the dark with only the sound of her own ragged breathing echoing off the walls.