This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Brad had always looked at Sophia like she was made of pure light. He couldn’t help but adore her from their first meet cute, even if she did try to steal from him. While waiting for his drink to be spectacularly concocted by the new mixologist at “Myst”, a popular 20-something’s bar, Brad noticed a striking brunette as she sauntered up to meet the mahogany edge beside him. Captivated instantly, he let his eye wander away from his work colleagues and rather rudely eaves dropped as she placed the same drink order. Knowing it takes at least five minutes to make an espresso martini, he knew instantly what was coming when her hand went up to grab his drink as it was set down in front of them both. As his hand grazed hers, Sophia gripped the glass stem tighter and turned aggressively to meet his full -faced smile. Brad let her go on accusing him for a while, sure that she regarded him with suspicion before he finally informed her of what was happening. The quick retraction into an apology from Sophia only made him smile more broadly and he managed to convince her to sit down with him for a minute. After an exchange of basic information, they would learn that they had both lived abroad in Italy and had recently landed back in Sydney, ready to start settling in. They couldn’t break themselves apart and eventually would be kicked out of that bar at closing time, sober as judges but high from each other.
On this particular day, many amazing dates later, he was reflective and nervous as he waited for “one of those calls that change your life.” Sophia was expecting and had said she would call him immediately if there was any action of the ‘water on the floor’ variety. The phone rang while he was on site at the mine.
“Babe, babe, are you ok?” he blurted.
Sophia informed him that she was now at 7- minute contractions and had called the hospital.
“I think I should head in, but they don’t have an ambulance available. There’s been a pile up on the M1. You know I can’t wait for you Brad.”
“I can meet you there. Just order a `Ride’ on the app. I’ll do the same. I’ll be there, don’t worry, I love you so much baby,” Brad said assuring her.
“I love you too,” said Sophia.
And that was it. The last time he had heard her beautiful voice.
“Brad, Brad! Phone call!” came the announcement over the PA from Mason, the site supervisor of the largest mining quarry in the southern hemisphere. This July day was a hot one. The day crew worked on despite it being uncomfortable enough to cook bacon on the roof of the digger. It was the one-year anniversary of Sophia’s disappearance and only the fifth week back in the mining quarry for Brad. A tent was set up out of blast range with a few amenities, one being a satellite phone. It didn’t get used much though as most of the men only spoke to each other while on shift.
“Brad are you there?” asked Detective Miller as Brad sighed into the receiver.
“Yeah, I’m here,” Brad replied meekly despite his large physical frame. This lack of energy in his demeanour could be sensed by Miller as he recognised the lethargic reflex of a broken man.
“I have some news. We found a link to some other cases,” shared Miller.
Brad listened but found himself still triggered by some of the detail. He wanted so much to find a ray of hope somewhere in what the Detective uttered. At this rate, he’d take that over making a diamond discovery at the mine. These other cases were disturbingly similar and exposed a possible pattern or even a motive. The ride-share company had been sympathetic to Brad but had denied that they had not conducted due diligence on their drivers, blaming a sophisticated fraud for the ultimately false identification of the driver who picked up Sophia that day. In these cases, new entrants to the ride-share market would all be a factor in the abductions, which pointed to a conscious plan to exploit any shortcuts the companies had taken to enter the market. More importantly though, the victims were also expectant mothers in labour on their way to Emergency. This detail was significant according to Detective Miller.
“This now points at a less random event Brad” Miller provided. “For a year we have thought this was a single opportunistic offence, but now this could be the guy, or it could point us to a ring.”
Horrified by this conversation, Brad sank down in his seat and with a hand over his brow muttered, “Is that all Detective?”
Miller was quick to clarify his point, “If this is an organised ring, there is a stronger chance that the mothers are alive Brad.”
Brad hung up the phone and let that sink in. Sophia’s face flashed before him, smiling warmly as she normally did, her big belly holding their unborn daughter supported by her left arm as she reached for him with the other. He replayed that last conversation with her over and over. His skin felt like it was being grated against by a rusty blade. As he looked up into the sun filled cloudless sky, beads of sweat trickling into his red and tired eyes, he let himself wonder about the `what if?’. What if she was alive?
In the contrast of an air-conditioned sedan, Detective Miller read over a tip-off from a whistle-blower about a farm an hour’s drive from the city. There had been some unusual early hours activity that had scared the cattle. The caller had noted that he had heard a woman’s scream one night faint as ever from the neighbouring farm where his adversary old Bill lived alone. Bill was in his eighties and had no family, so the whistle-blower deemed it strange to say the least. They had called it in though because the cattle were deliberately avoiding that perimeter boundary and when the farmer had wandered over, he’d been met with a brand -new electrified fence which he claimed he hadn’t seen being erected and was well above what old Bill could afford. The Detective knew why he’d been given the tip-off. On any other day, it would have been forgotten, filed away with all the other pointless neighbour disputes that are far below the pay grade of the City’s finest. This one had a woman’s scream in a subtle, but possibly starring role. Detective Miller glanced at his partner who was driving the unmarked Ford and insisted they make a U-turn and go out to the farm. “It can’t hurt, can it?” asked Miller.
On approach to the farm, the Detective did notice a level of security on the farm in question, that seemed exorbitant when you saw the other farm frontages. Old Bill’s had nice new gates and fences with intercom and cameras. They deliberately drove straight by. Instead, they pulled into the driveway of a far less fancy property with a half-broken gate and moved slowly up the dirt road to the whistle-blower’s house so as not to draw attention.
Once inside they were advised by the whistle-blower to use the furthest common boundary from the neighbour’s property to enter the farmlands. As it was just on dusk, the fading light now gave them some much needed cover from which to observe. Through the constricted lens of his pocket binoculars, Miller could see light under the doors but as the windows were blacked out, this was the only sign of activity. Despite raising his suspicion, Miller knew he still needed ‘just cause’ to move in for a closer look. As if the universe were answering, Miller’s partner returned to the cover to share a gruesome discovery – a body of a deceased male found behind the feed stores. “Old Bill I presume,” said Miller. With that, he promptly called in back-up and monitored the property till it arrived.
What occurred next made national headlines. Upon storming the property, a gun battle erupted, and a force not expected came charging out of the property. Several men, armed with an arsenal of weapons made quick work of holding the police back across the paddock. Eventual reinforcement in the form of extra Special Forces, finally, laid down the frontline attack and allowed for entry into the farmhouse. The `comms’ confirmed contact with hostiles inside and the presence of hostages. All were woman and, in the back, a nursery with over 20 children.
Covered in red dust and sweat, Brad was hard at work when the PA announced a call. As before, he trudged into the tent never knowing this call would be one of those “calls that changes your life”.
“Yep”, said Brad absently.
It was Detective Miller, “We’ve found them both!”