“Yeah, I'm real. That's why I talked to you on the bus back home that day, you're real and Jake isn't, he's what you call a cardboard cut-out. I know who you are, just let me say ‘rue de la Loi’ and you might know who I am.”
“You must be a neighbour in Kortenbeek, you are Madame Bocard with the two kids, girl and boy.”
“Close but not right, you must think about me, who I am.”
“I'm always thinking about you, Charlotte.”
“Who am I, then?”
“You're Ethelena, the ten-year-old girl next door, aren't you?”
“Dad was always away from home, I saw him once a year, Mum said that he was at sea, I think he was in jail. You were like a father to us two, although you had three kids of your own. We adored you then and I adore you now.”
“Are you both here now? I mean...”
“Yes, but Mr James does not know about you and me, he suspects something...”
“He's thirty years older, you're six and I'm twenty years younger...”
“It's Saturday afternoon, my parents are shopping. And what do we normally do?”
“You're a dealer, aren't you? Buying and selling, I've heard you on your phone. I'm a dealer too. I bet you can't guess what I've been dealing in, really dirty stuff.”
“I don't believe you, you're just trying to annoy me.”
“I buy them at the 99 cent store real cheap and real nasty, they're scratchy. I wear 'em for a day, put 'em in a plastic bag and sell 'em to Mr Faster for twenty. Pretty good business model, don't you think?”
“Yeah, but that don't make you a dealer.”
“That's how I started, Mr Faster wanted more of them, so I gave the other girls four bucks to wear a pair of knickers for a day and let's say, season 'em. I gave half the money to charity...”
“I've stopped now, Mr Faster got too demanding, too dangerous. Your dealing is also dangerous, you better be careful.”
“You think so? I want to get enough money to buy a car and maybe rent an apartment.”
I was ‘invited’ to the police station, the police asked me lots of questions, they had tapped my phone. They said that I was dealing in a substance, something I code-named “barley”.
They accused me of being a dealer. I told them “I am a dealer.” This surprised them, I found this odd. They asked me to make a statement and then they would release me. I dictated a short statement that I dealt in barley. One of them typed it and printed two copies. “Sign here!”
“No, I'm going to read it first.” “I'm not signing this, every time I said ‘dealer’ you typed ‘drug dealer’ I don't deal in drugs.”
“Aha, you don't deal in drugs, just stuff to make drugs.”
“Yeah, it's true, some of the barley is used to make ethanol.”
“I've never heard of ‘ethanol’ before, what's it called on the street?”
“Beer!” I shouted.
Just then another policeman entered the room “All the telephone numbers he used belong to respectable people and businesses.”
“Let him go.”
Where was Charlotte? Her parents didn't know, they reported her missing. I looked all over town, but I could not find her. Where was she?
The police asked lots of questions, I had no answers. Maybe Charlotte's parents didn't want me to take Charlotte on a short Easter break holiday in my new car, I mean second-hand car.
Maybe Mr Faster had kidnapped Charlotte, I told the police about the seasoned knickers. The police searched Mr Faster's apartment and found mounds of child porno and schoolgirl-sized underwear, but no Charlotte.
I was still searching the next day when I saw her walking along the street. “Where have you been, Charlotte? We've all been worried about you.”
“Have I got a tale to tell.” She laughed. “My parents, told me early yesterday morning to pack a small bag to go to my Aunt Theresa in Northtown. They took me to the railway station and bought me a ticket and waved me off.”
“Aunt Theresa is my favourite aunt, you know. My parents said that she was ill and that I should care for her for a week. The first thing I did was to reach for my phone and speak to you, but I didn't.”
“Somehow I had lost my phone and my purse, all I had were my clothes and the return ticket. I got off the train in Northtown and had to walk. And my aunt was not expecting me. Yes, she was going to hospital the next day, that's today. No, it's a routine operation to remove some stones.”
“I stayed until this morning, it was fun being with my aunt, and caught the train back to be with you.”
No, Charlotte's parents did not explain, they were not particularly pleased to see her. All rather odd.
She's been kidnapped. Who? Charlotte Hayes is gone. Oh, not again.
We were driving along the Great South Road, the motorway was quicker, but we were in no hurry, we were on holiday, we were happy.
Until we ran into a police control block “When did you last have a drink, Sir?”
“Last night, it's a bit early in the day for an alcohol check, Officer?”
“You'd be surprised...” “Hey, the car number has turned up positive on the database. Where is Charlotte Hayes?”
“I'm Charlotte Hayes. What do you want?”
“I've got a report here that you are under-age and have been kidnapped by a Mr John McCracken...”
“He's sitting next to me. We're on holiday. We are adults. We can do what we damn well like.”
The police checked our IDs and on we drove.
We had a great time in a little seaside town on the south coast. After a week we drove back, we had been stopped five times by the police, somehow that did not trouble us. But something was troubling Charlotte, something with her parents.
Something was troubling me, it was Mr Faster. He was a jail awaiting trial for the possession of child porn and for stealing children's clothing. He had also lost his job. It was my fault, I didn't like Mr Faster, but I hadn't wished this upon him.
Don't say evil about somebody.
It will come back and smash you in the face.
“I'm moving in.” Charlotte stood at the front door of my new apartment. “I'm through with my parents, I can't take any more. I can stay, can't I?”
“Er yes, just what I wanted. Welcome to your new home, darling Charlotte.”
It took an hour to calm her down, a couple of drinks helped to unwind her. Her parents had been ignoring her for days, as if she wasn't there. And this morning something very strange happened in the garden.
“Daddy, darling, you still love me, don't you?”
“Of course, Charlotte has always been Daddy's darling, you know that.”
“Then Daddy has to prove it. Daddy put your hand in my...”
And it got worse than you think. Charlotte had seen this from an upstairs window, her Dad was in the garden together with her Mum who was dressed in Charlotte's clothes and pretending to be a little girl.
“They took the last bit of my childhood away from me. I put all the things I need in a bag and left all my childhood things behind. They can play with them, I don't care, I don't want to see them again ever.”
I bumped into Mr Faster in the street. I had to apologise to him.
“No need to apologise. Best thing that ever happened to me. I broke the rules and I had to pay. You know that the charges against me were dropped, I had no child porn, just ordinary porn and the children's clothing was all paid for. But it was wrong what I did, that's why I lost my job at the school.”
“However not so bad, I got transferred into the central administration, no children, but lots more rules. I'm happy there, I've even made some friends, people who like keeping to the rules.”
I wished him well.
“I've got to tell you the truth, I was not Ethelena, I was her brother.”
Life with Charlotte is so fine. She is so damned pretty.