Below is the prologue and first chapter of my new e-book, No Escape. The book cover is currently being designed by a friend who is a graphic designer and the manuscript is being edited. Once it has been formatted it will be available via Amazon and Smashwords. Please send me an email if you would like to be informed when the book is published. The first ten people to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) will receive a free copy.
Pilar was handcuffed to the bed, her right arm extended above her head, her wrist attached to the metal-framed bedstead. Her left arm was free and her feet weren’t bound, but there was no escape. The bed was bolted to the floor, as far from the window as possible. The faded drapes kept shut so she couldn’t see out.
Was she in France or Spain, in the mountains or by the sea? She had no idea. She could hear no sound that gave a clue where she might be. She was alone, apart from when they came to feed her, three times a day.
The room was bare, except for the bed and near-full commode; the stench of urine strong, drowning out the smell of her own stale sweat. Pilar hadn’t washed since she’d been snatched from home and she’d had no change of clothes. She felt dirty, degraded, yet she feared there was still worse to come.
She’d spent hours lying on that bed, staring at the ceiling, with nothing to do but use the bedpan and stand up from time to time to stretch her legs.
She was trying to stay positive, but it was hard.
To keep her spirits up, Pilar recalled happy times: her daughter’s first communion; the games of make believe they used to play; the teddy bear, Coco, she’d bought her daughter as a small child. How she’d loved that bear …
But dark thoughts kept creeping into her mind. She couldn’t drive them out. When she recalled the last phone call with her daughter, she feared she’d never hear that voice again, not see her flick back her hair with that characteristic jerk of her head …
Her husband – Ángel Guardo – was an important man, with connections at the top of the Spanish government, so she guessed the authorities would feel compelled to rescue her. But how would they ever find out where she was? She recalled news stories about previous kidnaps, when the police had stormed hideouts and they’d all been shot: victim and kidnappers alike. She knew Ángel would never pay the ransom, and tried not to think about his reasons for that.
Pilar wondered what her fate would be, and if she’d be better off dead, than to continue like this. Then she thought about her daughter again and decided there was at least one reason to live.
One of her captors came into the room. Tall, thin, unshaven, with a scar cutting his left eyebrow in two, he was a caricature of a low-life criminal who wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a Hollywood B-movie.
None of them had bothered to hide their faces, not from the moment they’d snatched her from home. If she’d known much about kidnappers she’d have realised this was a bad sign.
She sat up, swung her legs down so her bare feet rested on the floor and winced as the handcuff cut into her wrist. When she’d first been shut in this room she’d tried to work it loose. She now regretted that, as the welt was red and raw. She shuffled toward the bedstead so the metal bracelet wasn’t cutting into her tender flesh.
Her captor placed a mess tin on the bed, the kind of thing you’d eat field rations from. It contained a small portion of scrambled eggs and a stale bread roll. He handed her a plastic spoon and watched her eat, his face expressionless. She felt clumsy using her left hand and kept dropping food on the frayed blanket, the only bedding she had. When she finished she brushed the morsels onto the floor, where they joined the rotting remnants of previous meals.
He took the mess tin from her, replaced it with a cup of lukewarm coffee. Once she’d gulped it down he collected the cup and left the room without having uttered a word. She felt the urge to call out, to ask what they planed to do with her, but knew if she did, he’d slap her face as her captors had done before.
She burst into tears, sobbing quietly to herself, wondering if anyone cared about her fate apart from her daughter.
Josh came out of the Basilica di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, his mind awash with images. Bright colours, vivid faces of The Apostles, Christ, The Madonna and Child, flashed before his eyes. The blinding sunlight hit him as he left the darkness behind, the flat-roofed white-washed buildings of Galatina making the square look Greek rather than Italian.
He didn’t pause in front of the ornate façade as he would normally have done. He didn’t survey the scene, asking himself what each person was doing, what their business was and if they belonged here. He simply headed for a bar, without thinking. All he wanted to do was sit down and reflect on what he’d seen.
It was his first mistake and about to cost him dearly.
In scenes like this, he always paid attention to the people others would have considered little more than street furniture: the beggars, the street vendors … They were the ones who could have been placed here to watch him, the ones to look out for.
If he’d followed his routine he’d have noticed someone who looked out of place, a dishevelled youth standing aimlessly in the corner of the square, Piazza Orsini. He wasn’t selling anything or begging, nor looking at his watch to check the time as he waited for his girlfriend to arrive. He was simply standing, seemingly aimless.
But if Josh had stopped and looked, he’d have realised this scruffy young man wasn’t doing nothing. His eyes were darting around the square, taking in every movement. He was watching, waiting, for someone or something. But for who or what, and why, wasn’t clear.
With his mind still reeling from the frescos, Josh didn’t take a mental picture of this youth, so he could recall him later should the need arise. He didn’t track his movements across the square. He simply headed to the nearest bar.
Normally he’d have paused to check out the bars before taking a seat. He’d have chosen one with a good view of the piazza, and been careful not to sit near the bar’s entrance, so there’d be no flow of people going past. But instead, he took the first empty table he found and sat beside the gangway, taking no notice of the stream of passersby.
That was his second mistake.
Josh placed his folded copy of La Republica on the table, face up. He reminded himself to leave the newspaper there and not take it back to his hotel. Since leaving the basilica that was the only thing he’d done that was consistent with his routine for staying safe.
Travelling as an American, he’d been careful the hotel staff didn’t know he spoke Italian, as that wouldn’t be consistent with his cover as a Californian tourist. But away from the hotel he had a different persona. He told anyone who asked, that he was English and made sure to speak Italian at every opportunity. If for any reason someone wanted to track down where he’d stayed, it would be difficult. While the description of him might match that of the tourist, in his early thirties, staying at the Hotel Alfonso IV, nothing else would. No-one would think of linking this fair-haired, blue-eyed, art-loving Englishman with his American döppelganger. They’d simply assume there’d been two people of similar appearance in Galatina that day.
The waiter approached.
‘You have a beautiful basilica,’ Josh remarked. ‘The frescos are finer than those in Assisi.’ He knew some scholars argued they were the most important early-renaissance art work in the country, and now he could see why. He’d read about them, seen photographs, but the reality still filled him with awe.
Appearing pleased, the waiter asked, ‘You live in Italy?’
He glanced down at the newspaper that was published in the South, in Rome.
Josh caught the questioning look and instantly understood its significance. ‘I lived in Naples for a long time,’ he explained, taking the opportunity to spread more false information. ‘My spiritual home is the South.’
The waiter smiled again, clearly even more pleased by what Josh had said. He asked for his order.
‘A double espresso.’
‘You’d like a glass of water with that?’
Josh nodded, as if to say, of course.
His mind returned to the frescos. He thought about the book he was reading. He wondered if he agreed with the author’s point of view. That the images in the basilica in this obscure town were a bridge between the medieval and renaissance worlds. It was something to consider.
He drank the coffee in one gulp.
He didn’t notice that the young man who’d been standing in the square – watching, waiting – was now heading to the bar.
His third mistake.
As he walked past Josh’s table, the youth appeared to trip. If he’d been paying attention, Josh would have realised that as he seemed to lose balance and reach out for support, he purposely knocked the half-drunk glass of water into Josh’s lap.
He jumped to his feet and brushed the water off his pants.
A further mistake.
Josh felt the man’s hand slip into his pocket, in search of his billfold.
He responded automatically, hitting the dishevelled youth in the solar plexus. He delivered the blow with the heel of his hand, angling it so the ball joint between his palm and wrist drove deep under his assailant’s ribs. It occurred so quickly as to be almost imperceptible, its trajectory no more than two inches. But the stranger still crumpled from the pain and passed out.
Josh grabbed the young man with the hand he’d hit him with, so it looked like all he’d done was stop him falling. He lowered the stranger into a chair and called out, ‘I think he’s having a heart attack.’
The waiter rushed up, followed by customers from other tables. For the first time since he’d left the basilica, Josh tuned in to what was happening around him. He drove images of the Apostles, Christ, the Madonna and Child from his mind, as he slipped away from the sea of raised voices and animated gestures now engulfing him.
A couple of yards from the mêlée he paused to look back, as if he’d only just become aware of the commotion. He noticed a bead of sweat roll down his back. He realised he hadn’t paid the bill.
Yet another mistake, he cursed to himself.
If he’d been concentrating and following his routines, he’d have paid for the coffee when it arrived, so he could have left quickly if needed. Now the waiter was sure to remember him. No-one who supposedly lived in Milan would walk away from a café with an unpaid bill.