Chapter 1: a reckoning
“A bit late, isn’t he?”
The watch adorning Thursday’s wrist reads the time as fifteen minutes past Morse’s usual arrival. The watch was a gift from the kids several Christmases ago. It’s got a nice, comforting weight to it, the face not too large or flashy. He wears it well and it’s garnered more than a few compliments over the years. At the end of the hallway, Win Thursday stands with an empty laundry basket balanced on her hip, her brow wrinkled in concern and confusion.
Fred Thursday, dallying at the hall stand, glances over at her. “Don’t fret too much. He might’ve slept past the alarm, or maybe he ran into a spot of traffic on the way.” Thursday didn’t get to his current station in life by worrying over tardy bagmen.
“I suppose,” Win says, tone still unsure. “It’s just… well. He’s never been this late before, now, has he? Especially not lately. It isn’t like him.”
“First time for everything, eh?” Thursday twists his watch strap, fidgeting. He won’t raise the alarms over Morse’s lateness, even if it is a touch unsettling.
The phone rings, startling the both of them.
Thursday regains his composure first. “See? That’s probably him now, calling to say he had a bit of a lie-in.” He raises the receiver to his ear. “Hello?”
“Hello? Hello, is this… Inspector Thursday?”
Not Morse, but the voice of a young woman on the line sounds familiar. “Yes, to whom am I speaking?” He shoots Win another glance down the hall.
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, I rang the station, and this is the number they gave me. You––Well, a long time ago you told me to call you if… if…”
Recognition dawns on him. “Miss Hicks?” It’s been a while since the two have crossed paths, but he’s certain that it’s her. In that moment, he remembers their first meeting. The pretty, concerned nurse who lived across the hall from Morse. He slipped her a card with the station number on it when they came back from London. Just in case, he had said. “Monica Hicks? Is everything all right?” He tries to ignore the knot growing cold in his stomach.
A damp sigh through the telephone. “It’s Morse, sir. I don’t––don’t want to worry anyone, but he and I were supposed to meet for dinner, you see, around half seven last night––to talk, he said––only he never showed.” She swallows. “I called his flat, but he never answered. Sir, it’s not like him to not––not show like that, without calling. I thought he might be working, or… or something.” She takes a shaky breath. “I––I’m sorry to bother you, sir, I… I’m sure it’s nothing, I––”
“That’s all right, Miss Hicks, you were right to call, I gave you my number for a reason. I’m going to come round to his flat right now, I’m sure there’s a fine answer for everything. I’ll let you know as soon as I have information, all right?”
“––Yes, sir, thank you. Thank you.”
Handset still pressed between his ear and shoulder, Thursday depresses the switchhook, ending the call. His fingers hover over the dial. He clenches them into a fist.
“Fred?” Win takes a few cautious steps towards her husband, reading his expression with the ease that comes from so many years of marriage. “What is it? Who was that?”
“One of Morse’s ladyfriends.” Thursday thought that Morse and Miss Hicks had broken up after––well, after the Blenheim Vale fiasco. Morse didn’t seem like the kind to rekindle old flames, but that was a different matter for another time. “Apparently, they were supposed to meet last night, only he never showed.”
“Fred…” The basket sags in her grip, but he waves her off. There isn’t time to spend worrying.
He flexes his hand and dials the number of Morse’s basement flat. It rings, and rings, and rings. Thursday hangs up, more sharply this time, and dials Strange at the station, who answers after the second ring.
“It’s Thursday. Just listen a moment. Morse hasn’t shown to bring me round. His nurse friend called, said he didn’t show to a date last night and he hasn’t been answering his telephone. Did he say anything to you? Going out of town somewhere, perhaps? Family trouble?”
Strange sounds taken aback. “No, sir, nothing. He mentioned the meeting, briefly, but nothing else. Should I––I’ll come get you now, we can stop by his flat?”
“Right. Have someone ring the Radcliffe, see if there were any John Does come in last night that match Morse’s description.”
“Yes sir. Do you want me to alert Bright?”
“Not yet. Let’s have a look about his flat first.”
“Yes sir. I’ll be there shortly.”
Thursday rests the receiver in its cradle. He draws his hands over his face and rubs heavily at his eyes and tries to ignore the familiar pang of anxiety that is desperate to wash over him.
He doesn’t need this. The last several months––hell, the last year––have been so incredibly difficult for him, for his family, for all of them.
And now this.
There’s always something.
“It’ll be all right, Fred,” Win speaks quietly in his ear, her hand against his back. “It’s––“ She stops herself and tries again. He knows she wants to say ‘It’s probably nothing’ but neither of them want to lie out loud like that. She gives him a tight smile. “It’ll be all right.”
Morse gave him the key to his new flat two weeks after he was all moved in. It had been in a small yellow envelope, already on a ring. Morse passed it across the dashboard one morning in the car. “In case I lose mine,” he has said with a humorless smile, and Thursday knew that somehow the odds of him losing his key were low. But he had taken it without comment and strung it on his keyring, beside the keys to his own house.
His fingers tremble now, very slightly, as he removes the ring from his pocket and unlocks the door to Morse’s basement flat. The curtains are drawn and to no one’s surprise, there hadn’t been an answer when he and Strange knocked. Strange is quiet and grim beside him as he pushes the door open.
Papers litter the front entry way. In the dim light, the sitting room looks like it’s been gone over, but not quite torn apart. The furniture is askew, a lamp on its side on the floor. There goes Thursday’s hopes that Morse had taken a surprise trip to see his sister. He exchanges looks with Strange and the two men fan out to search the small apartment.
Morse’s bedroom is tiny, tinier than the one in old flat. There’s barely enough room for the bed frame and wardrobe. The bed is sloppily made, sheets untucked, pillowcase holding on for dear life, rumpled but not slept in. Thursday’s frown deepens. The record player sits open on a rickety side table, vacant of a disk, though a small selection perches nearby. Compared to the front room, the area looks untouched. Thursday catches Strange in the hall, exiting the closet bathroom. “Anything?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing, sir.”
Back in the living room, Thursday runs his hands over the spines of several hardbacks strewn on a coffee table.
“Signs of a struggle.” Strange says, peering closely about. “But… there was no forced entry. Maybe someone he knew?”
Thursday considers it. “Maybe. He might’ve been caught just coming in, as well.” There’s so sign of blood, which is good, no gunshot holes or casings or anything of the sort. No note, either.
Thursday clenches his jaw.
“So the––the kidnapper, whoever it was, must’ve caught him in the entry way… there was a definite struggle, but Morse must’ve been overpowered.” Strange walks through the room, outlining the scene as he talks. “Big bloke, yeah? Otherwise there would’ve been more upset furniture, and the like.” He stops in front of the door and bends down to rifle through the fallen papers.
“Could’ve been a smaller block who had the upper hand. Weapon, perhaps. Maybe chloroform, to kn––”
“Sir.” Strange straightens up quickly, a large rectangle in his hand. “You should come have a look at this.” He swallows and holds it out.
Thursday frowns. As he approaches, he can see that rectangle is a calendar. The picture for the month is a black and white photograph of a dense, indistinct forest. He takes it from Strange’s grasp.
A glance, just a cursory look, and his stomach drops out onto the floor.
For each week, the fifth square from the left has been gouged out, paper puckered and torn with what looks like a pen knife. Hands shaking full force, he flips through each month, all twelve, and sees the same thing:
Each Thursday of the week, torn apart.
Morse wakes up, but he doesn’t know it.
He opens his eyes to a darkness that is stifling. It is not the simple darkness of night, of a moonlit walk or a room with all the lights turned off. It is the structured darkness of a windowless space that drinks up any ounce of light it is given, reflecting nothing back. He gasps aloud, mind turning over too rapidly to form coherent thoughts.
He has to be dreaming. The world he’s woken into is alien, all strange sounds and smells and sensations. The one familiar feeling is that of pain, like his head is being squeezed between a vice. He bucks against the surface on which he lies and discovers that it’s soft, with plenty of give, that he can’t move too much, and that his head isn’t the only thing that pulses with pain. He gasps again, body shuddering, and retches. His stomach heaves, and the darkness presses itself closer. He’s dreaming, he thinks. He has to be dreaming.
Sometimes there are cases that require every single piece of investigative knowledge Detective Inspector Fred Thursday has in his arsenal, gathered over his long, long years as a copper. There are some cases that bend, and twist, and spin counter-clockwise, where he has to come up with new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing. New ways to be a policeman sometimes, too. There are cases that test his morals, his patience, his politics, there are cases that are draining, degrading, humiliating, cases that suck the life out of everything and everyone they touch. Most cases are frustrating. Some are debilitating. And some make him question everything.
There are a few––though fairly rare––which are completely straightforward. Once in a blue moon the culprit will come forward, proclaiming surely: “It was me. I did this.”
There are three folders covering the surface of his desk: two belong to him, the other to Morse. One is full, another half-complete, the other barely started. As Thursday stares down at them, he contemplates the nature of the case before him. How it begun, and how it will end, how it will leave everyone once it is over. When it’s over. If it’s over.
Here is the truth: Thursday has known the identity of the person who kidnapped Morse for the last ten minutes. Ten minutes have passed without him moving an inch. His pipe has gone out; it sits cold in his hand. He knows that he has to get up. He has to speak to Bright so they can focus their efforts where they need to be focused, he has to get flyers printed and distributed, he has to meet with Dorothea Frazil and break the story to her personally before someone else can. He has to call Win and hear her voice, if just for a minute or two. He has to move.
Perhaps it is the heaviness of truth that keeps him weighted to his seat. It sticks densely in his gut, keeps him rooted as if he were a tree, as if he were a balloon tied to the wrist of a careless child. All he wants to do in this moment is drift away––away from his office, away from Oxford, away from his past, and away from the truth.
Here is the truth: Morse is going to die, and it is all Thursday’s fault.
Morse wakes again, hours later, and this time there is no mistaking it. This time, he is prepared.
He opens his eyes slowly. The darkness has lifted some, replaced with dim, orange light emanating from somewhere above him that reaches to only to a few feet away. He makes out vague forms and after a moment of blinking and squinting, they sort themselves into recognizable shapes. A chair, the side of a table, the end of a stripped bed, and several worn cardboard boxes. The floor is dirty. No, hang on, not dirty, it’s covered in dirt. He breathes through his nose and tries not to panic.
“Hello?” His voice is pitiful to his own ears, tiny and wavering. He clears his throat and tries again. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The soft surface from earlier has vanished. He’s sitting in a chair––well, ‘sitting’, in a way: he’s strapped in, arms tied to those of the chair, feet tied together, something binding across his chest. He’s still mostly dressed, his clothes from work thoroughly wrinkled, though his tie is gone, and he is barefoot. His head aches, but it’s a central kind of ache, stemming from a point at the back of his skull. His stomach turns and rolls with waves of nausea. He breathes through his nose and tries not to panic.
He really wants to panic.
Morse knows, even in his addled, wrinkled state, that being strapped to a chair isn’t good. He knows that dark, damp room isn’t good. He knows he must’ve been kidnapped, but he doesn’t know why, or by whom, he doesn’t know where he is or how long it’s been. Not knowing things makes him panic. He really wants to panic.
Beyond his little circle of light, the door opens. Morse’s heart leaps into his throat as he watches the door open wider and wider. A silhouette of a man fills the doorframe, his features shrouded in shadow. Morse can’t see his face but he can see that he is very tall, and very broad. The man, his kidnapper, closes the door behind him and steps further into the room. He walks right up to the edge of light and stops. There’s a stiff folded rag in his hand. He stands there in half-lit stillness and waits with a probing gaze.
Morse has seen this man before, a realization that does nothing to lessen his anxiety. It’s not an I-see-you-everyday-but-we-never-speak kind of recognition that comes with working in the same building but in different departments, or the familiarity of neighbors in a building, or living on the same block. It’s a you-shoved-into-me-on-your-way-out-of-the-pub-on-a-Friday-night-and-it-was-raining-and-you-ruined-my-evening-you-rude-bastard kind of recognition. A vague but lingering and unmistakable bitterness that Morse cannot place. It’s something in this man’s face, he decides. His kidnapper is large, built like a lumberjack or some other profession that requires a certain amount of hard labor, but his face is soft. His eyes are round and far apart, nose small, his chin and neck fleshy and a broad, jutting brow. It gives the man a simple appearance, like he may be a farmer, if not for his intimidating bulk.
Morse’s abductor reaches forward adjusts the position of the other chair. He fixes it so it’s angled partially away from Morse, facing the door, and he takes a seat. He fidgets and toys with the folded rag, though Morse cannot see doing what, just that his arm moves up and down, again and again.
Morse figures he should make demands, yell that he’s a policeman or he’s got the wrong man or that he better let him go or he’ll be sorry, but the only thing he manages to say is “Who are you?”
The man pauses his motion, glancing backwards. “Does it matter?” His voice sounds like two stones rubbing together. He resumes… whatever it was he was doing.
“Don’t you think I have a right to know who’s kidnapped me?”
An abrasive chuckle. “You don’t have a right to anything, Mister Morse.” He looks back again. “You can call me Thom, if it’ll help. It won’t, though. Nothing will.” He turns. In one hand, he holds an old rag. In the other, a knife. Not a kitchen knife, or a pen knife, but something that nearly resembles a medieval dagger, a blocky thing with a blade as long as his forearm.
A peculiar sensation overcomes Morse. It feels like cold water is dripping down his back. It’s as if his mind, consciousness, spirit, what have you, has risen from his body and is floating above him, watching the scene unfold as if it were a particularly gruesome play or film. He’s felt this before in flashes over the last several months, over the last year, really: the tiger in the maze, the bank heist, Blenheim Vale, his first night in prison, his second night in prison, his fifteenth night in prison.
When the sensation lifts it leaves something behind, a relic of some animalistic instinct: the knowledge that he is going to die.
second installment!! i have never attempted a fic of this kind in genre, length, or writing style (what is suspense?? what is plot????) so I would really appreciate feedback, to make sure that everything is going smoothly and to hear what you think!!
thank you so much for reading!!
Chapter 3: revelation
Who doesn't love exposition?
Fragments of dust drift lazily through the air. They are illuminated by the golden light that pours through the open windows of Bright’s office. It’s going to be hot today, the weatherman on the radio said so, but one could tell, even without the forecast. The air is different. It’s heavier than usual, stiller. There’s supposed to be thunderstorms later that evening, but the clouds have yet to gather.
Thursday sits in the chair right in front of Bright’s desk, his pipe held tightly in his hand while the Chief Superintendent looks on, eyes glassed but serious. Strange stands against the wall beside the door, having just been called in but not invited to sit. He wouldn’t though, even if he had been. The DI takes a draw of his pipe, thinking, choosing his words carefully. A lot must be said. He clears his throat and begins.
“There was a case, a while back when Jakes was green. Open-and-shut… or so it seemed.” As he speaks, Thursday removes photographs and papers from one of the folders on his lap, fanning them across the desk. Strange steps forward to look through them. “A Mrs. Isobel Elridge and her seven-year-old daughter, Wendy, were found in a creek three miles from their home, dead. Shot once through the chest, and their left hands cut off.” Thursday swallows. “Primary suspect was Mrs. Elridge’s husband, Thomas. Had anger issues, apparently. A neighbor reported that he had heard them fighting a day before she and the girl went missing. Suspected infidelity, on both sides.” He coughs into his hand, once. Strange ceases rifling. He stands by the desk, very still. Ashes grow on the tip of Bright’s cigarette.
“He was a carpenter, Elridge. Big man. And he had no alibi for the time of the murders. So we brought him in and had a look about his flat. He hemmed and hawed the entire time, cried too, saying he loved his wife and daughter. Said that he didn’t care if his wife had cheated, that he loved her.” He shakes his head. “Doubt there’s a man on earth who enjoys being a cuckold. In a toolbox in his shed we found a lady’s handkerchief and child’s locket, both covered with blood. Like I said before, open-and-shut. Though we never did find the gun. Figured he must’ve tossed it into the river, that sort of thing.” Thursday makes eye contact with Strange and Bright, then glances down at his pipe. It’s cold. He sighs and places it in his pocket and picks up a second folder and begins laying out papers and photographs once more.
“Then, hardly a week before the Blenheim Vale fiasco, Morse was called in to investigate a suicide. It was the neighbor, from the Elridge case, the one who had reported the arguing. He left a note.” The last thing that Thursday places on the desk is a copy of the note. It’s four pages long, written in a harried scrawl, torn from a notebook or journal. Bright stamps out his cigarette in an ash tray and picks up the note, eyes flipping over it quickly.
“It’s the usual tripe,” Thursday says, “Talking about how he’s haunted by what he’s done, how he hopes the Lord will forgive him. Absolute rubbish.” He shakes his head. “The bloke shot himself with the gun he used on Mrs. Elridge and her daughter. He even said where to find their hands. Buried in the garden, under the rhododendron bush.”
“Good God.” Bright’s own hands are trembling as he lights another cigarette. He takes a long draw. “And what––what of Mr. Elridge?”
“He was cleared and released from prison a month after the suicide. Although by that point, I was laid up with a bullet in my chest and Morse was in prison.”
“You’re sure of this, Thursday? You’re sure it’s him who took Morse?”
“It fits, sir. Though the truth is, I haven’t exactly got enemies lacking. Morse neither. ” There’s the chance that it’s not Elridge at all, that it’s someone else who Thursday has wronged in the past. He has to make a decision, and fast.
Bright takes several long draws of his cigarette, mulling over all of the information he’s received. It’s a lot to take in. Finally, he says, “Start with Elridge’s flat. See if you find anything to confirm or contradict your theory.”
Thursday nods firmly, and goes to stand. “Yes sir.”
“I can call in extra hands if needed. Anything you need, Thursday, you let me know.”
He nods again. “Yes sir. Thank you.”
Time moves with the same speed and fluidity as molasses; thick and dark and heavy, grudgingly traipsing along. Or maybe it’s moving as swift as the current of a flood-swollen river; uncontrollably fast. Morse can’t tell. He has no watch, and the boxes stacked to the low ceiling block light from any windows that might be behind them. Though, if he had to guess, time was moving like the former. The heat certainly didn’t help. There’s no ventilation in the little room, “Thom” having locked the door when he left. The air is thick, like it could be scooped and dished out or sliced through with a knife. Sweat drips down his spine, pools in the small of his back, while rivulets careen down the side of his face.
How long ago did Thom leave? Was it minutes, or hours?
How long since he was taken? A day or two? A week?
No. It can’t have been a week. Thursday would find him before them. Thursday, Bright, Strange, they won’t let him rot in a basement. They’ll come for him.
Morse takes a shaky breath. He has to trust that they’ll come for him. That they’ll find him, before––
Before. Before what? Before Thom cuts his throat or slices him to ribbons, before his air runs out and he suffocates, before he dies of starvation or dehydration, before––
Morse jerks his head against the back of the chair. The impact sends a wave of pain and nausea coursing through him, but it also brings him out of his thoughts. He swallows and squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t afford to think like that. He has to have hope. He has to. If he allows himself to fall into despair, all will be lost. He has to breathe. He has to concentrate.
He opens his eyes. He can’t hear anything, despite his straining. No rush of water from a river or a creek, no birds or animal noises, no sound of people chatter or grumbling automobiles. He only hears occasional creaks and groans of what must be a massive house settling.
Next, he tests his restraints. The rope wrapping his forearms to the arms of the chair is thinner than the rope binding his chest and his feet, but is tied no less tight. He’s secured expertly, with hardly any give. The only thing his fussing has managed to do is bruise his forearms and ankles. He presses his arms down firmly and tries to slide upward in his seat. There’s a bit of movement, but not much. The rope must be woven through slats.
Morse swears, and starts wrenching himself around harder. He shifts his weight from side to side, front to back, hoping the chair gives out before he does. After several minutes—perhaps—of trying, he stills and takes deep breaths again. He listens to the house settle, listens to his labored breathing, listens to the roar of blood in his ears. He tries again, throwing his weight around once more. The chair shifts, scraping against the dirt covered floor. He continues to shake and rock, the chair squeaking in protest. He hurls himself against the side, hears a crack––and is falling.
He lands, hard, the combined weight of his body and the chair on top of him. He gasps, pain searing through his head and arm. Breathe! he shouts at himself. Just breathe…
The original Elridge household was sold years ago. Its current residents are a comfortable family of five. Neither the father nor the mother reported any suspicious activity or strangers lingering about. The house belonging to the murderous neighbor is currently on the market. Thursday and Strange have a look around, but find nothing. It was a long shot, anyway; a man dragging a hostage would be far too conspicuous, no matter the time of day.
Thomas Elridge’s only living kin is a sister, so they go to see her next.
The woman who opens the door to the small flat is remarkably plain looking, and bears almost no resemblance to her brother.
“Ms. Elridge?” Thursday asks.
Her eyes ghost over the two men in her doorway. “Yes?” she asks. “Who are you? What do you want?”
The two men flash their IDs. “I’m Detective Inspector Thursday, this is Detective Sergeant Strange. Have you heard from your brother recently?”
“Thursday.” She shot him a look that could cause ice to form instantaneously, even in this heat. “Leave Thom alone, haven’t you ruined his life enough?” She made a move to close the door, but Thursday threw his arm out.
“Ms. Elridge, it is imperative that we find your brother, d—“
“Why? So you can torture him further? Put him in jail for something else he didn’t do? Let go of my door, damn you!”
“A man’s life is at stake! If he is harmed while you withhold information pertaining to your brother’s whereabouts, I will have you punished to the highest extent of the law. Do you understand me? I am not here to play games, Ms. Elridge. I will ask you one more time: where is your brother?”
Ms. Elridge smoldered. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since he got out of prison.”
“That was months ago. Did he tell you where he was going? Where he was going to live?”
“He mentioned something about getting out of Oxford. Out of the city. Whitney, maybe? I can’t remember. He was looking to settle down in the country somewhere, free of—of everything.” She shakes her head. “Leave him alone, would you? For God’s sake, just leave him alone. You’ve done enough damage already.”
Thursday takes his hand off the door. He slides one of his cards from of his pocket and holds it out for her to take. “Call the station if you can remember anything else, or if your brother tries to contact you, yes? Be a good samaritan. Help someone.”
Ms. Elridge sneers at him one last time and closes the door in his face. With a quiet swear, Thursday tosses the card down onto the welcome mat and heads back to the car. Strange slides into the passenger seat, his jaw working. “She seemed lovely.”
Thursday shakes his head. “She has every right to be angry. I didn’t expect her to be forthcoming. Bloody lot of good that did us. Whitney!”
“Think it’s worth checking out?”
“It’s the only lead we have. We’ll stop off at the station first, talk to Mr. Bright, see if anyone’s called in a tip or found anything.” He sighs and rubs at his face.
“Don’t worry, sir,” Strange says. “Morse is bright, he knows how to think. I wouldn’t be surprise if he’s half solved his own case already, no matter what state he’s in."
Morse hears footsteps from beyond the door while he lays on the floor, gasping like a beached fish. No, god damn it, no! Thom must’ve been waiting, expecting him to try something like this. Panic rises within him as he jostles himself, trying to find a position better suited to defending his fallen form.
The door opens, light streaming in, Thom entering with it. As he turns to close the door, Morse can see the gleam of the dirk in his hand. His heart hammers in his chest.
His captor steps forward into the room, casting a shadow over Morse. He stares down at him, his fleshy lips curling into a smirk. He snorts. “Pardon me, Mister Morse, but you look absurd, lying there in the dirt.” He kicks at the chair, moving it so Morse is on his back. “You broke the chair. Rather rude of you, seeing as I’ve been such a gracious host.” He shakes his head. “I suppose that’ll have to change now, won’t it? Pity.”
Thom lunges forward. He grabs a fistful of Morse’s hair and yanks back his head, exposing the wide expanse of his throat. He kneels like he’s going to pray and slowly raises the knife. The blade caresses one of Morse’s cheekbones. “I’m not going to kill you yet, though.” Thom presses down. Blood wells up. Morse forces himself not to make a sound. “I’m not that gracious.”
heyyyy i'm back!! school was Killer and i had to take a few months to recover but i found my notes for this story so i'm ready to get back into it!!
than you for being so patient :o) feedback is much appreciated!! i'd love to hear your thoughts!!
Chapter 4: rekindling
The blood on his face has dried, and it is too dark for him to see the ceiling.
“Why not kill me?” Morse asks as Thom finishes tying him to the bed, his tongue sticking to the top of his mouth. “Kill me, dump my body, go abroad. The longer you stay the better chance you have of getting caught.”
Thom draws a final line down Morse’s face with the dull side of his knife, from hairline to chin. Four horizontal cuts line his left cheek, and four line his right. They sting and bleed. “How do you want me to kill you, Mister Morse? Slit your throat? Drown you in the river? Shoot you in the chest and cut off your hand? Why do you think you should be exempt from suffering?”
“Purposefully causing suffering is needlessly cruel.”
“That’s very noble, Mister Morse. It is an unfortunate thing that we live in such a needlessly cruel world. Let me ask you, are you a man of religion?”
“Can’t say that I am.”
“No. Me neither. Not for a long time.” Thom wipes his blade clean of Morse’s blood and holds it up to the yellowing light. “‘Be like Job. Be like Job.’ That’s what I told myself, till I realized that I wanted nothing to do with a god who would treat his followers so poorly, who kills and jails the innocent.”
“Does this make you feel like G0d?” Morse demands, filled again with fight. “Killing an innocent man?”
Thom freezes, then slowly lowers his blade. “No man is innocent. We all carry with us the burden of sin. Even you, and even me. A tiger isn’t asked to go against its nature, so why is man?”
A chill shoots down Morse’s spine as he remembers then the maze – the relentless sun beating down, mocking him, the rustle of the hedges in the wind like a laugh, the stench of the great beast, blood dripping from her maw as she pawed the ground, ready to pounce – but when he speaks, he refuses to let his voice tremble. “A tiger knows nothing of right or wrong, good or evil. It does what it must; it has no choice. Man always has a choice.” Isn't that what makes us human? That we can choose? That we can always choose?
Thom sheathes his knife, quiet as he thinks. He reaches over the bed and, with careful hands, unbuttons Morse’s soiled shirt. Next he brings his knife out once more and slices open Morse’s sweat-soaked vest, revealing his pale, pale chest.
“Yes… you’re right. Man always has a choice.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cigarette lighter. It glints like it’s made of gold. He flicks it open, the flame small but bright. He brings the tip of his knife forward, surrounds it in the flame, and Morse’s breath hitches in his throat. Thom looks into Morse’s eyes. “And Thursday is going to think about the choice he made for the rest of his life.”
Ms. Elridge’s vague reference to Witney was the only useful tip they had to go on. One of Morse’s neighbors had reported being woken up by tires squealing sometime late at night, but couldn’t remember the exact time, and hadn’t seen the car itself. Some uniforms were going over the man’s flat now but so far hadn’t turned up anything useful. Thursday hears Strange on the telephone through the open door, he sees the man’s furrowed brow as he jots something down with a pencil. If Elridge hasn’t actually taken up residence in Witney, they are wasting their time. If Elridge hasn’t actually taken Morse, they are wasting their time. But there is simply nothing else.
“Damn it all to hell.” Thursday has a strong feeling they’re after the right man – the timing was simply too keen, too coincidental – and he should know better then to doubt this feeling, after so many years, but he is still filled with nervous dread. The kidnapper hadn’t left a note. They may be too late.
He shakes his head and paws at the sweat dripping down his face. He can’t think like that. He can’t think like that.
He finds himself picking up the phone and dialing his home number, and the feeling that washes over him when his Win answers, “Hello?” is vast and indescribable. His dread has not lessened, but that’s not really the point of the call. “Is that you, Fred?”
“It’s me, pet.” His voice is quiet. “We’re pursuing a lead on Morse. Just needed to hear your voice a moment.”
“Oh, Fred. You’ll find him soon, I’m sure of it. If anyone could, it’s you lot.”
“This is my fault, Win. It’s my fault he was taken.”
“You stop that talk right now.”
“It’s true. Our lead, I put him away years ago for a crime he didn’t commit, and now he’s gone after Morse to get back at me.”
“Fred… you may have made a mistake, but you cannot take responsibility for another person’s actions, only your own. You’ll find a way to make this right.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so.”
A rap at the door. Thursday looks up. “Sir.” Strange stands before him, holding his notepad.
“One moment, love,” he says to the phone, then nods to Strange.
“There’s a few ‘Thomas Elridge’s living in Witney, but only two who’ve been there less than two years.” He raises his notepad. “I’ve got their addresses.”
“Grab the car. I’ll meet you in a moment.”
“I’ve got to go, Win. Expect me late tonight, if at all.”
“Take care of yourself, Fred. I love you.”
The first address they visit is a house in the center of town. The door is answered by a young nurse in a perfectly pressed uniform. “May I help you?” ask asks.
Thursday and Strange share a look. “Police business, miss,” Strange answers, showing his card. “Is this the residence of a Mr Thomas Elridge?”
“Who’s there, Maribelle?” asks a voice from within the house.
The nurse calls back, “The police, sir.” She looks back to the pair standing on the step and opens the door wider.
An elderly man in a wheelchair wheels himself over to the entrance. A pair of round, silver spectacles sit on his nose and make him look scholarly, like an aged professor. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Excuse me, sir, are you Thomas Elridge?”
“Indeed I am. Is everything alright?”
Thursday cuts in. “Actually sir, I’m afraid we have a case of mistaken identity. Pardon the interruption, Mr Elridge.”
“How unfortunate. Well, not for me, I suppose.” He smiles slightly. “Good day, then, gentlemen, and good luck.”
Thursday’s heart rate increases steadily the closer they get to the second address. It’s a very small house, more of a cottage really, right on the outskirts of town. The front lawn is overrun with weeds and tall grass, the pathway slabs cracked in places and sprouting dandelions.
“Quaint,” Strange remarks, shutting his door with slightly more force than usual, his own heart beating quicker. “I’ll check round back.”
Thursday doesn’t so much as knock on the front door as he does pound it repeatedly with his fist. “Elridge!” he bellows. “Are you in there? Morse!” When there’s no response, he tries the door, but it’s locked. He rattles the knob, gripping it like he means to rip it off.
“Sir!” Strange calls from somewhere behind the house.
Thursday moves quickly to meet him. The backyard is in the same state as the front, with an old shed in the corner, paint flaking off and littering the grass. Strange stands before the back door to the house where it hangs slightly ajar.
Thursday wrenches it open and charges forward, but it soon becomes evident that no one is home.
Elridge’s few possessions are strewn haphazardly about and the house itself is sparsely furnished. There are a couple of chairs in the front room and a table that appears to serve as a desk and where Elridge takes his meals, a side table near the door covered in papers, a narrow bed and dresser in the bedroom, and that’s about it.
While Strange looks through Elridge’s mail, Thursday goes to check the shed. He opens the door and lets in the light and the summer sun reveals: nothing. Not a damned thing. Not even a broken shovel or an empty bucket. “Blast.”
Strange holds up a letter upon Thursday’s reentry. “It looks like Elridge was in correspondence with a lawyer. There’s a lot of letters here.”
“Guess that wasn’t the direct action he really had in mind.”
There’s nothing to distinguish the bedroom except for a photograph in a cheap frame on top of the dresser. It’s of a little girl with pale hair in a school uniform beaming at the camera. Thursday’s heart contracts and he takes it from the frame to get a better look. On the back is printed Wendy’s first day at St Ann’s Academy along with the year it was taken. Thursday rubs at his face and sighs before going back out.
“I’ll radio for some hands to go over this place. Maybe Elridge left some sort of clue as to where he took Morse.” It was more of a prayer than anything.
It’s too dark for him to see the ceiling. The dim light gives the effect that the room is endless, that it stretches upward into the dark for eternity, a gaping, hungry void that may swallow him whole, if it were not for the ropes binding his wrists and ankles to the rusted bed frame. The blood on his face has dried, and it is too dark for him to see the ceiling.
There’s a fly in the room with him and Morse has started to wonder which of them will die first. It buzzes and whines and keeps landing on his face to lap at the crusted blood on his cheeks. He fights it, at first, shaking his head, trying to bring his arms together to cover himself, but after a while he realizes that they’ll both be dead soon, so he stops.
if you think this hiatus is bad, you should see some of my other fics.
thanks for all the comments over the last few months, knowing other people are out in the ether reading my writing is always touching. thank you for reading - i appreciate it