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For the Watsons their worst nightmare becomes a reality when their daughter, Ruby, is kidnapped. But that’s only the beginning. When they receive a text message inviting them to take part in a deadly game, things get a whole lot worse.
They learn another girl has also been taken and they must compete against the other parents in a sick challenge to win their daughter back.
There can be only one winner.
One girl will live and one will die.
How far would you go to save your child?
This book is part of the DS Jack Mackinnon Series but can be read as a standalone.
Release date: August 24, 2016
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 350
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BENNY MORRIS STOOD in front of the Rose Hill Community Centre, shuffling from foot to foot impatiently.
They were late.
“Late, late, late,” Benny muttered, slapping his hands together and stamping his feet.
A man walking past gave him a startled look and then hunched his shoulders, fixing his eyes on the ground and giving Benny a wide berth.
Benny was used to people keeping their distance. His size made people go out of their way to avoid him. At six foot five and eighteen stone, Benny Morris was a big man. His brother, Rob, told him his size was something to be proud of because it made people respect him and think twice before taking liberties.
An elderly woman walking towards him with a shopping trolley took one look at him and crossed to the other side of the road.
Benny waved and grinned at her, a nice big smile, showing all his teeth, but that just made her scurry away faster.
Rob, said he shouldn’t worry about people like that, but he couldn’t help it. He wanted people to like him.
He looked down at his freshly polished shoes. Shiny shoes were important to Benny. His trousers swung around his ankles because he kept pulling his trousers up too far. Rob told him off for doing it and said he looked like a simpleton, but Benny wanted to have his trousers high up on his waist, just like he wanted to have shiny shoes.
He looked at the Star Wars watch strapped to his wrist and muttered to himself again, “Late, late, late.”
He looked in the direction the girls normally came from, past the Fried Chicken Palace and the bus stop. He saw the girls every morning, and they were normally here by now.
Rob wasn’t going to be happy. Benny bit his lip as he imagined his brother’s reaction.
He wasn’t usually allowed to work with his brother. “Don’t blow this Benny,” Rob had said that morning.
“There’ll be big trouble if you do.”
He knew exactly what would happen if he did mess up. They wouldn’t go to McDonald’s for tea, and Benny wouldn’t get his present.
He’d had his heart set on getting a new Xbox for ages, and Rob had promised to get it for him just as long as he brought the girls to the alleyway behind Celandine Gardens.
Benny bounced on the balls of his feet. “Come on, come on,” he muttered.
He wished they would hurry up. The sooner they got here, the sooner he could have his Xbox. He grinned. If he was really lucky, his brother might even have time to get the Xbox today. He could spend the whole afternoon playing online.
He smiled and waved to a little boy who walked past with his mother.
The little boy waved back, but his mother yanked on the boy’s hand before quickly crossing to the other side of the road.
His brother didn’t like to be kept waiting. He’d probably get told off now.
The excitement of having a new Xbox faded. If his brother were really angry, he’d forget about Benny’s present, and there would be no trip to McDonald’s, either. It would be beans on toast for dinner. That’s what happened last week when he’d done something wrong, and Benny hated beans. They were too little to stay on his fork.
He broke out into a broad grin when he saw the two girls walking towards him.
“Hello,” he shouted out, unable to wait until they reached him.
He bounded over to them, and they both grinned at him.
He liked the girls. They’d been working in the centre for a few weeks. The staff changed a lot at the centre, and he’d never liked anyone as much as the two girls. They weren’t scared of him. They taught him how to use computers, showed him funny YouTube videos on the Internet and told him how good the new Xbox was.
“Hi, Benny,” they said in unison.
“What are you doing out here?” Ruby asked. “The centre should be open already. You can go in if you like.”
Benny nodded. He knew that. He’d been coming to the centre for years before the girls had arrived. This morning was different. He had something to do.
He licked his lips and closed his eyes, trying to remember what he was supposed to say.
He needed to get the words exactly right. Otherwise, he wouldn’t get the Xbox.
“I need you to help me,” he said. “I found a bag of puppies in Celandine Gardens. I didn’t know what to do, so I left them there. Can you come and help me?”
“Oh, how horrible. How could somebody do something like that?” Lila said. She patted Benny’s arm. “Let’s go and get them.”
“We can call the RSPCA,” Ruby said. Benny nodded and smiled even wider.
His brother would be proud of him. Things were going exactly to plan.
He hummed to himself as the girls chatted about a program that had been on telly last night.
“This way,” he said confidently as he led them across the cobbled courtyard.
He stepped into the alleyway and turned back to smile at them again. “It’s just down here.”
He was so excited he wanted to run to the end of the alley, but he knew his brother wouldn’t be happy if he did that. That wasn’t part of the plan.
So he walked slowly, and the girls followed him.
After they’d been walking for a couple of minutes, Ruby said, “Hang on, Benny.” She wasn’t smiling anymore. “How much further is it? We’re going to be late for work.
Perhaps you should get the puppies and bring them back to the centre.”
He shook his head. No. He couldn’t do that. That wasn’t the plan.
“Are you pulling my leg, Benny? Are you sure you found some puppies?” Lila asked, grinning at him.
Lila was his favourite. She was always telling jokes and making Benny laugh, and she even laughed at his jokes, which Rob said weren’t funny and didn’t make sense.
He turned back and gave the girls a sly smile. He hoped they wouldn’t be angry when they found out he’d tricked them. He thought they would understand if he told them about the Xbox. He didn’t mind sharing. They were welcome to use it any time they wanted.
He opened his mouth to tell them the truth when his brother’s voice sounded at the end of the alleyway.
“Good job, Benny. You’d better get yourself off home now.”
He smiled, but when he turned back to the girls the smile slid from his face. They looked scared.
“It’s all right,” Benny said and started to explain about the Xbox, but his brother cut him off, and Benny saw another man step out of the shadows.
The man had a big nose and wore a baseball cap. He lunged forward, shouting and swearing, and Benny took a step back, not sure what to do.
He looked to his brother for help as he always did. Rob was clever and would know what to do, but his brother didn’t say anything. He didn’t even tell the man off for shouting at Benny.
One of the girls screamed, and the nasty man grabbed her by the throat.
Benny looked at them in horror. “No, don’t hurt her. Let her go.”
“Stay out of it,” his brother ordered.
Benny’s hands were shaking as he lifted them and pressed them hard against his ears to block out the sound of the girls’ screams.
“No,” he sobbed. “This wasn’t the plan.”
“Go home, Benny,” his brother shouted at him.
Benny didn’t like shouting. It scared him. He began to moan and shake his head.
The nasty man laughed as he punched Lila on the side of her head, and she fell to the floor in front of Benny.
The man in the baseball cap turned to Rob and said, “He’d better come with us. The bloody fool will probably run off and tell somebody.”
Benny watched in horror as the man put a hood over Ruby’s head. She was wriggling, trying to escape when the man in the baseball cap punched her in the stomach.
Benny’s lip wobbled. “Stop hurting her.”
“Shut your gob and make yourself useful. Carry the other one,” the man in the baseball cap snapped.
Benny looked down at the floor. Lila, the girl who’d laughed at all of his jokes, was laying motionless in front of him. There was blood on her lip.
Benny’s eyes stung with tears as he looked at his brother for help.
“Come on, Benny,” Rob said. “Pick her up.”
Benny’s hands were shaking as he leant down and scooped the poor girl up. He lifted her as gently as he could, and her head lolled back against his arm.
With tears streaming down his face, he followed his brother and the man in the baseball cap.
JACK MACKINNON MUTTERED a curse under his breath as the lawnmower came to a dead stop. He’d thought a cordless, battery-operated mower was a good idea, and it was fine, apart from the fact it ran out of juice after twenty minutes.
He took out the battery pack and headed towards the house to put it on charge.
It was his last day of leave, and he’d been intending to enjoy it. Unfortunately, his idea of enjoyment and Chloe’s didn’t go quite hand-in-hand. So far he’d had to mow the lawn, fix the shower screen and repair a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink, and he still had to go and buy a replacement light for the main bathroom.
Chloe had gone out with her daughter, Katy. They were having a girls’ day, a treat for Katy because she’d done so well in her end of year exams.
When he entered the house and put the battery on charge, he heard a noise in the sitting room and realised he wasn’t alone. There was someone else in the house.
Chloe and Katy weren’t due back for another couple of hours. He noticed a bag of laundry dumped on the kitchen floor by the washing machine and realised Chloe’s eldest daughter, Sarah, had come home.
She’d been at university in Kingston and had told Chloe that she wouldn’t be returning for the summer because she got herself a job as a club promoter. That hadn’t gone down very well with Chloe, who thought her eldest daughter should have more ambition and should be planning a long-term career.
“Sarah?” Mackinnon called out as he walked through the kitchen and into the hallway.
Sarah wandered out of the sitting room. She had dyed her hair dark auburn, almost purple, and wore a pair of jeans and a loose top that slipped down off her shoulders.
“Oh, Jack. I didn’t realise anyone else was home.”
He looked over her shoulder into the sitting room and noticed that one of the cabinet drawers was open. For a long time, he and Chloe had kept cash there. Not much, but enough for things like paying the window cleaner or the pizza delivery driver, but they’d stopped doing that after the money had started disappearing. They both knew it was Sarah, but she’d denied it.
He knew she was lying now, too. The lawnmower may have been battery-operated, but it was still bloody noisy, and she would have heard it as soon as she entered the house as all the downstairs windows were open.
“Is Mum not here?” Sarah asked, sounding bored as she walked back into the sitting room and plopped herself down on the sofa.
Mackinnon shook his head. “She’s gone out for the day with Katy.”
She saw him looking at the open drawer and smirked, almost daring him to mention it.
He took a deep breath instead and said, “Do you want a cup of tea. I was just about to have one.”
She nodded. “Yes, okay. Do you know when Mum and Katy are due back?”
“Probably not for a couple of hours,” Mackinnon called over his shoulder as he walked towards the kitchen.
He was surprised to see Sarah follow him in. She leant against the kitchen counter, watching him as he filled the kettle.
He switched it on to boil and then turned to face her. “Is there something wrong?”
Sarah bit down on her lower lip as though debating whether or not to trust him. Then she took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “I suppose you could say that.”
Mackinnon put the two cups he’d just taken out of the cupboard down on the kitchen counter.
There was something about Sarah that put him on edge. He was always expecting her to get into trouble. He supposed it was the job that made him expect the worst of most situa‐ tions. He sensed something was wrong.
He knew Sarah had got herself into trouble. He just didn’t know how bad it was yet.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Sarah twisted her hands, staring down at her fingers.
He thought she was going to say it was none of his busi‐ ness, and he wouldn’t have been surprised, but she didn’t.
“I need money,” she said. “Can you help me?”
“What do you need the money for?” Mackinnon asked.
He thought it was a reasonable question, but obviously, Sarah didn’t. She scowled at him.
“I know what you’re thinking.” “Really?”
“Yes, you’re so easy to read. It’s pathetic. You’re thinking, Sarah’s messed up again. Sarah, the black sheep of the family. Nothing like Katy, who doesn’t do anything wrong, ever.”
“So let me get this straight. You’re asking me for money in the same breath as calling me pathetic?” Mackinnon asked dryly.
Sarah’s cheeks flushed, and Mackinnon immediately felt guilty. If Sarah was in trouble, she should be able to confide in him.
“Sorry, let’s start over. If I can help, I will. What do you need the money for?”
Sarah pursed her lips and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll ask Mum.”
The kettle came to a boil, and Mackinnon poured hot water into the mugs. He couldn’t be bothered to faff about with the teapot.
He was about to press Sarah again when the phone rang.
It was his work mobile. It looked like his leave was going to be cut short.
“Can you finish making the tea?” Mackinnon asked Sarah as he reached for his mobile, even though he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get a chance to drink it.
He answered the phone. “Mackinnon.”
The voice of Detective Chief Inspector Brookbank said, “Mackinnon, you’re needed at Wood Street. ASAP. How soon can you get here?”
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