"Bert," Nicky whispered fiercely, "wait a sec!"
But the old guy was long gone. Probably away to find that guard with the kind voice.
Nicky through the sheet off him and sat up in the darkness. It was so black in there he felt as though someone has carpeted his retinas. Which in this bloody place, he thought, was not completely outside the realms of possibility.
"fucksake," he said out loud.
"Nicky?" came a voice from surprisingly close by.
"Bracken?" he recognised it, whirling round to try and locate her. "what are you doing here?"
"Hell if I know. Esmeralda had some heavies kidnap me from outside the library and now here I am, strapped to some kind of victorian hospital trolley in a room where it's perpetually night time."
"I was kidnapped too," Nicky said, "on my way home from poker. So have you been here all that time an Aw?"
"no," she told him guiltily, "I've not. Just got here really. I think. I don't have much concept of time in here. Nicky, is the wean with you?"
"No," he replied, "is he not with Nige's mum?"
She drew in a shaky breath. He thought she might be crying, or trying not to.
"Nut," she started, "he went missing the same time as you. I've been so worried about you both, and I keep phoning the police but they just take the piss it feels like. And I've asked around and tried to think of the places you guys might go together but you've never been there.. It never even crossed my mind that you might not be together!"
She burst into tears - not pretty girly ones but the trembling, wracking sobs of someone who thinks themselves completely and utterly defeated.
Nicky moved towards the sound, arm stretched out in front of him, intending to give her a hug.
He banged his hip on something hard, which turned out to be a handle of the trolley she was on.
"Did you say there were straps?" he asked, gingerly feeling for them.
"yeah," she sniffled, "go and get the head one first? It's too tight and it's hurting me."
He fumbled around to find it, accidentally poking her in the eye and pulling her hair before his fingers hit upon the cold metal of the buckle. He undid it, and then moved on to the ones binding her wrists.
Bracken shook her head from side to side in relief. She'd never take the right to stretch her neck for granted again, she vowed.
"Are you not wearing any shoes?" Nicky asked as he got to the straps around her ankles.
"That cow took em off me when I was unconscious. Seemingly she thought I might have a knife in there."
"Aw, like a wee skein dhu," he chuckled.
"Well she's not from round here," Bracken said.
"I was wanting to ask you about that," he said, suddenly serious. "who is this woman? How do you ken her? Why does she hate us?!"
"Well," she said, "it's sort of a long story..."
"Oh, dinnae bother then."
"Har Har. You need to know the enemy."
"I have heard that's preferable, in some states."
“Her name is Esmeralda Francesca MacGregor Di Saatchi Von Rollo,” Bracken started. “She used to go out with the new guy that works at the library, Aloysius Hunkington-Smythe.
“Those might actually be the stupidest names I have ever heard,” Nicky interrupted.
“Shut it, bawjaws” she snapped, “I’m trying tae fill you in.”
“You’re right,” he said, contrite, “I apologise. You aren’t the one who named them, after all.”
“No,” she nodded, not that he could see her as they were still in the pitch dark, “I didn’t. Why would you even say that? Weirdo.”
“Anyway, that’s basically all I know. She turned up the night Al’s mother died, and tried to convince me that the two of them were still together – which I don’t think they are-“
“Ooooh, Al now is it,” Nicky trilled, “darling Al, with his ridiculous name and his job in the library.”
“Yeah, you need to work on your insults a bit more Nick.”
He lowered his eyes in agreement. Not that she could see that as they were still in that room that was really really dark. But had she been able to see, she might not necessarily have recognized the eye-lowering thing as an admission of wrongness. It’s not the conventional sign in this day and age.
“She drives everywhere,” Bracken said, “she thought I’d keep weapons about me because she’s a racist…. And that’s about it. Oh, well she’s nuts of course. Seems perfectly nice till she drugs and kidnaps you.”
“That’s it?” Nicky asked, sounding askanced. “That’s your long story?”
“It sounded longer in my head,” she admitted, embarrassed. “Oh, wait, there was something else.”
“What was it? Another bit of her name that you missed out of the list?”
“No, don’t be facetious.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“She gave me a lift to work, even though she probably knew it was an in service day,” Bracken started, “but there was more… Before we got out of the car, she’d started to tell me something. She’d been asking me loads of annoying questions based on her blinkered social views of what it means to be a single parent, and then she admitted that there was a reason why she’d been doing it…”
“Then what happened?”
“There was a big clap of thunder that drowned her out and I couldn’t hear what she was saying, and we ran inside to avoid the rain taking out one of our eyes.”
“Rain can’t take people’s eyes out,” he snorted derisively.
“Yes it can,” Bracken said defensively, “from a certain angle. It was on a repeat of 999 Life Savers.”
“So why didn’t you ask her about it when you got into the library? Was she sucking face with Al?”
“No,” Bracken fumed, “she was not. As it goes Nige was trying it on with him at that point. But I forgot all about Esmeralda’s cryptic nonsense because Adric told us that the library is being closed and probably knocked down so that they can search for Mayan gold underneath.”
“One of the kids was digging outside and found some Mayan gold. They had it checked out by experts, it was definitely real.”
“Shut up,” Nicky squeaked incredulously, “what would it be doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Bracken told him, “that’s exactly what I said as well. Adric seemed to think pirates brought it-“
“But that’s absurd. Pirates never actually buried treasure, that was a myth put about by Robert Louis Stevenson.”
“I know,” she said wearily, “I said that as well.”
They were quiet for a moment. The blackness seemed to swirl around them, a bit like treacle, only less likely to drown a man. Or woman. Or otter. Can otters drown? Yes. But it’s pretty rare, because they’re generally quite good with water.
“Right,” Nicky said briskly, “enough of this otter chat. Let’s escape.”
“How can we,” Bracken said, “its pitch black and I’d imagine that if we ever find the door it’ll be locked.”
“Why would they bother? It’s not like you were getting out of those straps any time soon. And the last person in here was Bert, who was rescuing me.”
“Who the hell is Bert and why was he rescuing you?”
“The two of those questions seem quite closely linked, as it goes,” he mused. “Bert is an old geezer who claims that he is my real dad, and that he wanted to make up for lot time. He sort of hinted at some kind of dark past, but didn’t really go into it in any detail. I think he was trying to keep a sense of mystery for later on in the text.’
“I think he might genuinely be my dad but. Steve and I were never very alike.”
“Whereas you and this Bert character are like two peas in a pod,” she posited sarcastically. “You know literally nothing about him.”
“True,” Nicky agreed, “but what I do know is that he got me out of that weird smelling little cell, and he would have got me out of the building if your pal Esmeralda hadn’t turned up and given him the willies.”
“Given him the willies? Where are you, an Enid Blyton book?”
“Point is, I reckon he’ll come back.”
“Assuming Esmeralda doesn’t strap him to a trolley and lock him in a dark room somewhere for mucking about with her fiendish plan. Whatever that may be.”
“Nah, he works for her,” Nicky said, “she trusts him. That was how he was able to get me out.”
“He works for her?” Bracken was incredulous, “then what exactly is it about him that you think we can trust? You utter muppet! This is probably all part of her grand design!”
“Jeez Bracken, she’s not Kevin McCloud.”
“I’ve told you before about making jokes about programming on channel four.”
Bracken crossed her arms dejectedly. What she wouldn’t give for a wee cuddle from the wean right now, with his sticky face and perpetually paint covered fingers.
“Oh my Christ,” Nicky said, as though reading her mind, “the wean!”
“What about him?”
“He must be here too!”
“You said yourself he’s nowhere to be found on the outside… And I’ve just remembered, the guard that Bert ran into said there were three McCrackens here!”
Nicky slapped his forehead, as people do on telly but less often in real life.
“I can’t believe I didn’t work it out then – I guess I was thinking about trying not to make any noise that would give us away. Three McCrackens though – you, me, and the wean!”
Bracken got to her feet.
“We are getting out of here,” she decided, stepping off the trolley and lurching forwards into the darkness.
“Ow,” she added, falling over. She had severe pins and needles and couldn’t feel either of her feet. Those straps had been tighter than she’d realized.
“Bracken, are you OK?”
He moved towards where he thought the sound of her crash to the floor had come.
Finding her hands, he pulled her to her feet.
“Ow ow ow,” she squeaked, hopping from foot to foot as the blood began to return.
“Lean on me,” he said, putting an arm around her waist, “and lets do this thing together.”
She let him support her weight, and together they inched slowly forwards, arms outstretched, in search of a door.
Amazingly, unbelievably luckily, the first thing that Nicky’s fingers alighted on was a door handle. Holding his breath, he gently pressed it down, and the door swung open.
“I can’t believe it wasn’t locked,” Bracken whispered mildly, blinking as the dazzling white light of the lavish marble corridor hit her corneas.
“There was no need,” Esmeralda said coldly, appearing out of the shadows and making them both jump, “you were supposed to be secured.”
“Better do the introductions then hey. Nicky McCracken, this is Esmeralda Francesca MacGregor Di Saatchi Von Rollo. Esmeralda, this is my cousin, Nicky McCracken.”
“Oh, I know Nicky already,” Esmeralda said, the ghost of a smile playing around her lips and getting a bit confused into thinking that maybe it was a sneer.
“What,” Nicky said, genuinely confused, “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“Oh but you have,” Esmeralda said enigmatically, making a mental note to stop beginning so many of her sentences with ‘oh’.
“Sorry hen, not ringing a bell. You must have one of those forgettable faces.”
Esmeralda’s nostrils flared in irritation.
“It’s about time both of you heard a few home truths,” she said. “I think you should come with me.”
“Where’s my son?” Bracken demanded, on the verge of tears. “What have you done with my wee boy?”
Esmeralda regarded her with arctic cool.
“That little boy,” she said deliberately, enunciating every syllable like a crisp footprint in snow, “is not your son.”