Crooks’ Mobile Home
Crook’s camper van stood on a cliff top caravan site just outside Barton on the south coast. The camp site was pretty much deserted at that time of year. There were a few caravans left there over the winter but no one used them till the summer season started. As always, the Crook’s van was parked at the campsite edge with the best view of the sea. Crook always left the van with its rear to the sea, to protect the windscreen from the salty wind. It also provided convenient cover if, when a dognapping went awry, there was a need to dispose of a dog quickly and quietly. Just pick it up and chuck it off the cliff. If the fall didn’t kill it, the swirling water at high tide would drown it and carry the body off into the channel.
At one side of the van was a metal trunk into which Hook had thrown Jadie as soon as they had arrived. On the other side, Crook and Hook were sitting on a couple of fold-away stools enjoying a beer.
“Why did you ask for £3,000?” asked Righty. “Isn’t that too much? We’ve only ever taken £2,000 before.”
“We’ll see,” responded Crook amiably. “I think they will manage £3,000. Let’s face it, a pedigree dog costs close to £1,000. Dog food costs about £2 a day, even the cheap stuff so that another £730 a year. Then there’s vet’s fees where every visit cost a minimum of £50. Pet insurance costs about £600 a year and, if you don’t have comprehensive insurance and you need to have anything major done, it can be thousands. So you have to have a fair bit of money to keep a dog. I don’t think £3,000 is too much to save your dog from a fate worse than death or at the very least a fate as bad as death, but we’ll see.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about the costs of keeping a pet,” Hook observed. “Have you kept dogs as pets?”
“Certainly not,” Crook responded sharply. “Can’t stand the buggers. As you know, I’m allergic to them. That’s one of the reasons why any dogs we are holding are put in the trunk outside. No, I just like to do my research. I like to know as much about our targets as I can. I need to know everything about the dog owners, what house they live in, what car they drive, where they shop. That way I can be pretty sure I know how much they can afford.”
On the other side of the camper van, in the metal trunk, Jade lay whimpering with fear and shivering with cold. When Hook had gone to put her in the trunk, she had struggled. He had punched her on the nose and now her nose hurt and had swollen. Boxer noses are pretty squashed to start with but now, with the swelling, she couldn’t breathe through either nostril. Jade tried not to panic but it was hard. It had never crossed her mind that humans could behave like this. She was accustomed to the kindness that the Truman family lavished on her. She seemed to have descended abruptly from dog heaven to dog hell. If only she had listened to Carter.
Carter would want to find her, to rescue her. She knew that. For all their bickering and sibling niggling, she knew he loved her. He had been father, mother, brother and sister to her and he would give his own life to save her.
But there was no hope. Jade had no idea where she was, except that it had been a long drive. She could be anywhere in a 30 mile radius of the Truman’s home. And if she had no idea where she was, what chance had Carter of finding her. And if he did, the men who had seized her would seize him, or kill him, or both.
No. When she had ignored Carter, she had made a mistake. And it was a bad mistake, an irreversible mistake and, quite possibly, a fatal mistake.
There was a clanging and a shaking of the trunk. Jade, fearful, trembling with cold and fear, whimpered.
“Good,” said Righty Hook to Al Crook. “The mut was so quiet I thought it must be dead.”
“We’re lucky it isn’t, after you punched it,” replied Crook. “We can’t get ransom for a dead dog.”
A sleepless night
None of the Trumans slept well that night.
Penny fell asleep before the others but she had terrible dreams about being shut in a small room, with a tiny window and no door.
Stephen did better, imagining himself as a game warden in pursuit poachers. All went well until he fell into a poachers’ trap, a deep pit with a ceiling of ferns that had given away as soon as he had stood on it.
John had so many worries that, if he slept at all, it was only for short periods between his waking nightmares. He had lost his job. They had so many expenses. They could economise to some extent. They would have to. But he was failing Sally and the kids. It was his job to provide; Sally’s job to make the home. She had kept her end of the bargain brilliantly. Now it looked as though he might have to ask Sally’s parents for help tide them over. A fine husband he was turning out to be. And then there was the kidnapping of Jade and the ransom demand. What could he do? He knew what he’d like to do. He’d like to find Jade, and beat the living daylights out of the kidnappers. But he had no idea how to find Jade; and the kidnappers were probably much better able to knock the living daylights out of him than he out of them. They must be a pretty unsavoury gang to make a living out of seizing people’s pets.
As for Sally, she hardly slept at all. She too was worried about the family’s finances but she knew that they would manage. John was a good man and he would find a way. And, even if everything went against them, her parents would help. John wouldn’t want to ask but, if it was necessary, that’s what they could do. No, it was the kidnapping of Jade that really upset her. She felt violated. Evil had found its way into their safe, comfortable, loving existence and she felt frightened and violated. That phone call kept prizing its way back into her mind., the distorted voice, the menacing demands.
In the morning, Al Crook got up early. He wanted to check the website to see whether Sally had done as she had been told. If they could wrap up this case quickly, they might even be able to squeeze in another dognapping before Saturday. He had already selected his next mark. If Sally paid £3,000 and the next target matched her contribution, that would be £8,000 in one week. Not bad. £8,000 tax free, with minimal expenses. Just petrol and a couple of phone calls.
Hook awoke about 10.00. “What’s that bloody awful noise?” he asked. He had drunk too much beer the night before and the inside of his head felt like a war zone.
“It’s the mut?” Crook replied. “Probably hungry or thirsty. You’d better give it some water. Don’t want it pegging out before we get our money.”
“Are they going to pay?”
“Oh yes. They’ll pay. Look,” he said, showing Hook the screen of his laptop. “There it is. Exactly what I told her. Substantial reward..”
“It doesn’t say £3,000,” observed Hook, a little grudgingly.
“That’s because I didn’t want her to mention the actual amount. If she’d said £3,000 it’s not impossible some unscrupulous bugger might have tried to palm them off with any old boxer. The world is full of conmen and thieves. I’ve no intention of letting some douche bag deprive me of my hard-earned cash.”
“Our hard earned cash,” Hook corrected his partner.
“Yes, of course. Our hard-earned cash.,” Crook hastily agreed.
“So we can go and collect,” said a mollified Hook.
“Absolutely. I’ll just finish my coffee and we can be off.”
In the excitement, Hook quite forgot to give Jade any water to drink.
In the trunk outside the mobile home, Jade had given up hope. She had found a small pool of dirty oily water in the bottom of the trunk and, in desperation, had drunk it. It had scarcely quenched her thirst but it had certainly made her feel sick. She had eaten nothing for 24 hours but she wasn’t hungry. Her swollen nose hurt from Hook’s punch. Her body ached. So this was how it ended. One mistake. What a world! Jade mused as she began to drift in and out of consciousness. She had always trusted humans. That was what you did. You trusted them, you followed them, you guarded them and, yes, you loved them. In return, they were good to you. They shared their homes with you, they fed you, they looked after you and ,yes, they loved you. This was how it had been, how it should be. But now she knew better. The relationship was not equal and some human could betray the understanding between man and dog. Such men would treat dogs as humans treated so many other animals, as creature to be used and abused, to satisfy their appetite for food or money. It was no consolation, but she would meet her end a wiser dog than the optimist who had set out into the forest the morning before.
Sally didn’t know why she had done it. After a sleepless night, she had got up before the others. She had looged into the family computer and placed an advertisement on the LostPetSearch website, using the exact words that Crook’s distorted voice has dictated to her.
In her head, she was doing what had to be done. They were not going to abandon Jadie. There was no point in contacting the police because the police would and could do nothing. Unless she placed the ad, they would never hear from the kidnappers again, and they would never see Jade again. Jade would be killed because, unless someone paid the ransom, she was nothing but a nuisance. No, she had done the right thing.
But it was odd she had not agreed this course of action with John. Of course, he would agree in the end. When he realised that there was no alternative, he would reluctantly hand over the money. But he hadn’t agreed yet. She should really have waited until they had talked it through properly. John was very logical. In any situation, he liked to identify all the possible courses of action, consider all the consequences, attach probabilities to each sequence of events and then take a balanced informed decision. It was most likely a result of his work as a programmer. Or perhaps he had become a programmer because that was the way his mind worked. Whatever, they always talked things through and came to a joint decision.
Not so this time. Something told her there was no time to waste. So she had done what she had done.
When Crook had finished his morning coffee and Hook had swilled down several pints of water in the forlorn hope of assuaging his hangover, Hook took the terrified Jadie out of the trunk and threw her into the back of the van.
Twenty five minutes later, Crook and Hook pulled up 100 yards from the Truman’s house, ignoring the parking restrictions which stipulated that spaces in the road were for resident’s only.
“Let’s do the business,” said Crook, swinging out of the driver’s seat. “I’ll tell them we are here. As soon as I have the money, I’ll call you on your mobile and you bring the dog. Then we skedaddle.”
Both Hook and Jadie were unfamiliar with the word skedaddle but Jadie worked out that it meant the pair would clear off as soon as they had the money. Hook on the other hand had no idea what skedaddle meant but didn’t feel it appropriate to ask for an explanation, confident that, whatever it meant, it was part of Crook’s plan, and that was good enough for him.
As Crook walked towards the Truman’s house, Luke spoke in Carter’s head. “They’re coming.”
“Who’s coming?” asked Carter sharply. He was usually a very calm, equable dog but the kidnapping of Jade had put his nerves on edge.
“The kidnappers,” Luke replied. “Now listen carefully. You have to slip out of the house, run to the van which is parked just up the road and urinate on it. Give the back of the van a good dousing.”
“Why would I do that?” asked Carter.
“For two reasons,” Luke explained. “First, it means we can track the kidnappers back to their base. Secondly, it will give Jade hope.”
“That sounds crazy,” Carter objected. “I can’t track a scent if it’s laid by a motor vehicle travelling at speed on a busy road. And why would my urine on a van give Jade hope?”
“Tell you what,” said Luke with an edge to his voice. “Just do as I tell you. You wanted my help. I’m giving you my help. There isn’t time for me to explain everything. This visit is likely to be both short and short-tempered. Go, urinate and return.”
The Truman’s door bell rang. John answered the door. As he opened it, Carter slipped out.
“Yes,” said John who was confronted by Crook, wearing a twisted smile on his face.
“I’ve come about the dog,” Crook responded.
“Have you found Jadie?” asked John eagerly.
Warning signals were bleeping in Crook’s mind. The woman had placed the advertisement. They must have been expecting a visit. So why the question?
“I’m replying to you advertisement on the LostPetSearch website,,” Crook replied formally and cautiously.
“What is it?” called Sally from the kitchen.
“It’s a man who says he’s come about Jadie,” John called over his shoulder. Sally dried her hand quickly and joined John at the door.