Her voice was melancholy but the pitch woke him up. It was a high-pitch that pierced his ears.
‘Ryan… I need you.’
It was five a.m. and Ryan rubbed his eyes. His head swam in a groggy haze and he burped. ‘Sophie what is wrong?’
‘Please Ryan…’ Sophie sobbed and breathed raggedly. ‘Ryan…I…I need you.’
Ryan sat up straight and pushed the small brown switch under the bulb of his bedside lamp. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Ryan I… I have never forgotten you. I have never let you go.’
It had been a year since they broke-up. Ryan was in tears more than Sophie was. Sophie’s father stood beside her and pointed out the door. Ryan walked away, he looked back at Sophie but she was staring at the ground and tore up some pieces of paper on her lap. Ryan knew that Sophie wouldn’t be by her side. It has been a year since then. A year of humiliation, depression and anger.
‘Ryan, can you come over? I need to talk to you.’
‘Sophie you let me walk out that door.’
‘Sophie it has been a year.’
‘Ryan please I need you…I really need you.’
Ryan moved on his bed. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. He pondered over the situation, he thought that it was another chance but he also knew that it was a bad idea.
‘Ok Sophie I am coming.’
Ryan got off the bed and slipped on a shirt and jeans from the floor. He walked back to the nightstand and picked up a chain of keys. ‘Sophie.’ He mumbled to himself. Ryan walked out his room and checked his face on a small mirror along the second-floor hallway. He winced at his dishevelled hair. ‘Not a good impression.’ He thought. Ryan jogged down the stairs and walked out a white brass knobbed door. He reached the end of the gardened pathway and jumped on his motorbike. He kicked the motorbike to life and zoomed in the dusk.
Sophie lived in a beautiful redbrick apartment. It looked quite ancient but was very spacious. Sophie combined two adjoining units into a massive loft. She paced around the apartment in a floral evening robe. She glanced on the digital clock on her cell phone. ‘It’s been fifteen minutes.’ Sophie scrolled to the last dialled number and tapped on the keypad. She thought about calling Ryan. Ryan was the love of her life, but she couldn’t go against her father. Now that her father wasn’t around, she hoped that things could change. She looked at the digital clock again. A minute had hardly passed. ‘I will wait five more minutes.’ She paced around the apartment again when she heard three knocks at the main door.
Ryan watched the door open and was pushed back slightly when Sophie ran into him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He placed his hand on her head and sighed at her scent. Sophie’s hair smelled of strawberries…Ryan loved strawberries. ‘What’s wrong Sophie? Is everything ok?’
Sophie pulled back and shook her head. A straw of red hair got stuck in her mouth.
‘You should stop eating your hair.’ Ryan brushed the stray hair back and held her hand.
Sophie led Ryan into the kitchen. She placed two ceramic cups on a white countertop and picked up a kettle that had been boiling. ‘It’s daddy.’ She tipped the kettle and poured some tea on the teacups. She looked up at Ryan. ‘I know you hated him.’
Hate was an understatement, Ryan wanted Sophie’s father to suffer. He pulled the teacup close to him. ‘I admired your father.’ That was a lie, Ryan hated everything about Sophie’s father especially the maroon sweater and thick-framed glasses.
Sophie picked up her teacup. Her hands trembled and she dropped the teacup back on the saucer spilling some tea on the counter-top. She picked some paper napkins and wiped the counter-top clean. She whimpered and tears rolled down her eyes.
Ryan lifted Sophie’s chin. ‘What happened?’
Sophie clenched her fists. ‘Today I got a call.’ She turned and threw the soiled napkins in the dustbin. ‘It was a very deep voice and I thought it was you.’
‘You thought it was me?’
‘But then he told me something very disturbing and I knew it couldn’t be you.’
‘What did this man say?’
Sophie tightened her robe. ‘It was about daddy.’
Sophie gave a quick nod and looked away. ‘The man said that he…that he kidnapped daddy.’
Ryan walked around the counter and embraced Sophie from behind.
Sophie covered her face and sobbed in her hands.
‘Did you call the police?’ Ryan asked.
Sophie turned and created a space between her and Ryan. ‘No…They told me not to call the police.’
Ryan held Sophie’s hand. ‘What do they want?’
‘They want a ransom.’ Sophie squeezed Ryan’s hand. ‘But I can’t pay it.’
Ryan thought what Sophie did to get such a father. Her father had been involved with unsavory people, very seedy situations. Ryan knew it all. It was his job to know everything about Sophie’s father. ‘Ransom money?’
Sophie bit her lip.
Ryan understood this as a yes. ‘How much do they want?’
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand’
‘What?!? What was your father into?’ Ryan knew what her father was into. How could he tell sweet Sophie that her father was a rapist and blackmailer?
‘I don’t know. I just remember that yesterday there were some people that came by asking about daddy.’
‘You met them?’
‘I asked daddy about them. He just told me to mind my own business.’
Ryan looked across the open kitchen. He noticed the messy bedroom across the hall. All drawers were upturned. The living room was a mess as well. There is no television but a row of torn oil paintings rested on easels. ‘Did they come here?’
Ryan looked around some more. ‘I didn’t know they came here.’ He mumbled. He turned to Sophie. ‘Did they hurt you?’
‘No. They said that they wanted to talk to daddy. I tried to tell them that daddy was not around. That was when they started throwing everything. One of them took out a knife and tore my paintings.’ Sophie bit her fingernails. ‘I was supposed to sell them for daddy’s ransom money.’
Ryan pulled her hand from her mouth and shook his head.
‘I didn’t know what to do so I called you.’
‘This happened before you called me?!?’
‘Yes. I’m sorry…I didn’t know what to do.’ Sophie leaned on Ryan’s shoulder and sobbed.
‘Don’t worry Sophie.’ Ryan furrowed his brows. Something was wrong he felt it.
Sophie’s father was fairly wealthy for an academic. Rumors spread about him selling drugs to college students. That wasn’t likely. Sophie’s dad was the most reproachable person he had ever met and no one would stop for a minute to talk to him. What was more likely and Ryan was very sure of this was that Sophie’s father was a blackmailer. He would take indecent photos of young women and blackmailed them for money or some sexual service. Poor Sophie. ‘Sophie.’
Sophie looked up at Ryan. Her green eyes shimmered through her tears. ‘Ryan what do I do?’ She walked to the window.
Ryan followed her and held her waist.
Sophie leaned back with folded arms.
‘Let it go Sophie. Your father got himself in this mess. It is not your responsibility.’
Sophie turned around and faced Ryan. ‘What did you say?!?’
‘He is a bastard and you know it Sophie!’
‘What happened to you Ryan? I know you were hurt but so was I!’
‘You don’t know what he has done Sophie! He…he’
‘He is my father Ryan!’
Ryan shook his head. He wanted Sophie back in his life but he did not want her father. ‘Why did you call me Sophie?’
Sophie stared back out the window.
Sophie leaned forward and planted her palm against the glass. ‘Ryan, take a look at those men down there.’
Ryan looks over Sophie’s shoulder. He could smell the strawberries. He rests his chin on her shoulder.
‘Ryan look!’ Sophie pointed at two men dressed in suits walking down the street.
‘What is wrong Sophie? They are probably walking home.’
‘Who walks home at six a.m.?’
Ryan agreed, but the two men didn’t look familiar at all. He looked more intently and he realized that they were the same two men that he saw when he came down the street. ‘They’re circling the block.’ Ryan thought.
‘Ryan I think one of them came to visit my father.’
‘Are you sure Sophie?’
‘Yes! Oh my God! Ryan do you think it was them? The ransom people?’
Ryan looked at them again. He knew they were the people who asked for the ransom. These two were too clean cut for that. Ryan was more worried about the people who thrashed the apartment. ‘Let’s step back from the window.’ Ryan pulled Sophie’s arm toward the rearranged living room. He cupped her face and looked into her eyes. ‘Listen to me and listen well. Grab your bag and pack some stuff in it. You need to get out of here.’
‘Ryan what is going on?’
‘Sophie you need to lay low for a while.’
‘Listen just go and pack your things. I will explain everything later.’ Ryan kissed Sophie’s forehead and pushed her towards her room.
Ryan looked out the window once more. The men we still walking around circling the block. ‘Who are these men?’ Ryan peered sharply below. His bike was parked just in front of the building. ‘Fuck! How could I have been so careless!’ This was a rare mistake for Ryan. He knew what to do and his timing had to be perfect. He leaned back and watched the two men for some time.
‘I’m ready.’ Sophie walked out of her room dressed in tight jeans and a loose shirt.
‘Is that my jersey?’
With bag in hand Sophie extended her arms and twirled. ‘Fits nicely doesn’t it?’
‘I thought I lost that.’
Sophie walked across the living room and gripped Ryan’s hand. ‘Well you found me then.’ She kissed Ryan on the cheek. ‘Thank you for coming.’
Ryan blushed and smiled. He led Sophie to the door and out of the apartment.
They walked down three flights of stairs to the main door.
Ryan peeked through a small window and noticed that the morning rays were hitting the street. Ryan took a deep breath. He watched the street patiently.
‘Shhh Sophie. When I say so we have to move quickly to my bike.’ Ryan pointed to Sophie where his motorbike was parked on the street. ‘But don’t run, we don’t want to alert anyone.’
‘Don’t worry I won’t let anything happen to you.’
‘I know.’ Sophie smiled and held tightly on Ryan’s arm.
The two men kept ten meter gap from one another. Ryan also noticed that the men did not circle the block. They just patrolled the long stretch of road. Ryan watched the second figure pass and slowly opened the door. He walked briskly and made sure that Sophie was on his right and that his large body covered her entirely. He glanced on his left and the two men were halfway down the street. He reached his motorbike and lifted Sophie on the backseat. He fastened his helmet on her and looked back. The two men were about to reach the end of their stretch and the first man was about to make his turn. Ryan jumped on the seat in front of Sophie and kicked the motorbike to life. He looked at his side mirror and noticed that the second man was about to make his turn. Ryan pulled on the accelerator and zoomed down the road. His heart was beating hard and he felt Sophie’s arms around him. ‘That was close.’ He thought.
The couple zoomed and passed three traffic lights before turning right on the fourth one. They drove down a sloping street and around a curved road.
Ryan noticed a diner down the road. ‘Come let’s eat something.’
Ryan parked his motorbike and unfastened the helmet on Sophie before lifting her down.
Sophie walked through the open door and slid into a booth by the window. She smiled as Ryan slid in beside her. She held Ryan’s hand and whispered. ‘Thank you.’
Ryan looked up at the waitress. The black name tag pinned on her yellow candy-striped uniform read her name. ‘Diane.’ Ryan spoke softly. ‘Can you please rustle us some coffee and a stack of flapjacks.’ Ryan turned to Sophie and whispered back. ‘Everything will be ok.’
Sophie came back with a tray. She placed two cups of coffee and a plate of blueberry pancakes on the table.
‘Please leave the coffee pot.’ Ryan take sliced some pancakes and offered them to Sophie.
Sophie shook her head. ‘I am not hungry.’
Ryan shoved the forkful of pancakes in his mouth.
Sophie squeezed Ryan’s arm tight. Se could hardly wrap her hand around his bulging biceps. ‘Ryan is there a special someone in your life?’
Ryan stopped slicing the pancakes. He turned to Sophie. He wanted to say yes and make her jealous but she always made him tell the truth. ‘No.’ Ryan frowned.
‘Ok.’ Sophie smiled. ‘Tell me what has happened with you?’
‘You mean since you let me leave?’
‘Since I haven’t seen you.’
Ryan sighed. He didn’t know why he said that but he regretted it. He took another slice of flapjacks. ‘I got a job with a local businessman. Neville Myers.’
‘Neville Myers. That name sounds familiar…where do I?’ Sophie gripped tighter on Ryan’s arm and shrieked. ‘Crazy Myers?!? You are working with crazy Myers?!?’
‘Shhh!’ Ryan covered his hand on Sophie’s mouth. ‘Keep your voice down.’
‘Sorry. Daddy used to talk about crazy…I mean Neville Myers. He is a hoodlum! A thug! What are you doing with him?’
‘He is a misunderstood man Sophie.’ Ryan paused and chose his words carefully. ‘He is just a businessman.’
Sophie released her grip on Ryan’s arm and rested her palms on her lap. ‘What do you do for him?’
Ryan took in a moment of silence. Everything that Sophie said was true. Neville Myers was a hoodlum and as part of working for Neville Myers Ryan had to perform some dangerous tasks. Most of them included collecting money or breaking legs. The latter was Ryan’s specialty. A large man who was trained to fight like Ryan made a lot of money working for Neville Myers. ‘I look after the collection part of his business.’ Collecting checks or collecting notches on his arm, either way that was Ryan’s job.
‘Ok I trust you.’
Ryan wrapped his arms around Sophie. ‘How does your dad know Neville Myers?’
‘I hate daddy.’
‘Didn’t you hear me? I hate Daddy!’
Ryan dropped his fork. He held Sophie’s hand and wondered what had gotten into her.
‘Daddy ruined my life. My paintings are destroyed. Strange men are walking in and out of my apartment and …and…He took you away from me.’ Sophie took a deep breath. ‘I only want to be with you. I don’t care about daddy.’
‘Sophie you should not say such things. It might come true and…’
‘No! I am glad he is gone. I don’t know where he is and I have to pay for his ransom? What has he done for me?’
‘He gave you a good life.’
‘He made me suffer!’
‘No! I don’t care!’
Ryan looked around and people were looking at their direction. ‘I think we better go.’ Ryan threw some bills on the table and walked out to his motorbike.
Sophie hopped on the motorbike after Ryan and wrapped her arms around him.
Ryan thought for a minute. ‘Is she ready?’ He kicked the motorbike to life and he continued down the winding road until he stopped at a beige painted house with a short garden footpath.
‘This is your place?’ Sophie asked.
The house was an old Victorian design with 4 bedrooms and a large hallway. It was minimally decorated and provided Ryan with plenty of space.
‘You must be doing a good job with Neville Myers.’
Ryan grinned. ‘Yeah, you could say that I am doing a cracking job.’
Sophie entered the house first. She turned around and looked at the pink painted walls and minimalist furniture. The walls were bare and the furniture was spread apart. A long john was placed to her right just across a wall mirror. Past the narrow hallway a flight of stairs started on the left and on the right a giant plasma television sat in front of an eight-seat dining table.
Ryan dropped down the bag and pinned Sophie against the wall. He leaned forward and kissed Sophie.
‘What was that?’ Sophie asked.
‘Sophie about what you said earlier… did you mean it?’
‘That you hate your father and that you don’t care what happens to him.’
‘I only want you’
Ryan smiled. ‘I want to show you something. I wasn’t sure if I should show it to you.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s a surprise.’
‘I hate surprises, you know that.’
‘Not this one.’
Sophie followed Ryan through a spacious kitchen that had hanging pots and pans above a central island counter.
‘He takes very good care of you.’
Past the counter was a small at door that led to the basement at the end of the kitchen.
Ryan pulled on a small chain and a light at the centre illuminated the dark room. He held on Sophie’s hand and guided her down creaky steps.
‘God! What is that smell?!?’
Ryan tugged on Sophie’s arm. ‘This way.’
Sophie skipped a step and she walked under the wavering light. Squinting her eyes and noticed a lean figure hanging by the far wall. All she saw was a silhouette. It seemed human until the light had swayed to the far wall.
‘Uhnn.’ The figure awoke and raised his head. The light reflected a faint glimmer in the figures eyes. ‘You fucking asshole! Do you know who I am?!’
‘Da..Daddy?’ Sophie screamed.
Ryan laughed. ‘Of course I do professor! You’re the biggest prick in the world and you messed up with the wrong person this time.’
‘Ryan.’ Sophie stopped. ‘What is the meaning of this?’
Ryan turned to Sophie. ‘Sophie listen to me your dad is a bad person he messed up big time. I tried to save him but he wouldn’t listen to me.’
Sophie turned to her father. ‘Daddy? What did you do?’
‘So… Sophie? Is that you?’ Sophie’s father turned his head to Ryan. ‘You fucking asshole! Why did you bring her here?!?’ Sophie’s father moved his arms and tried to break through. The chains wrapped around tighter around his naked flesh. ‘She is not part of this! Let her go!’
‘Daddy?!?’ Sophie ran to her father and rubbed her hand around the blood-stained chain. She looked in horror at the scars around his chest. She turned to Ryan. ‘Ryan! What did he do?’
Ryan took a step forward. ‘Oh Sophie for starters he owes Mr. Myers two hundred and fifty thousand.’
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand? The ransom? What for?’
Ryan smirked. ‘You know when your dad always took those little ice cream trips of his?’
Ryan continued taking small steps forward. ‘And he never took you along. Well he always went to the gambling dens and bet his life savings there… for quite some time he was winning a lot of money!’
Ryan leaned forward and pulled the hair of Sophie’s father. ‘But as we know the house always wins! Isn’t that right professor?’
‘So..Sophi…’ Sophie’s father winced at the pain of his hair being pulled out of his scalp.
Ryan slapped Sophie’s father tightly across his cheeks. ‘Shut up! You have no right to talk to her.’
‘Ryan…’ Sophie whispered.
‘And after that this cretin had the audacity to grab Mr. Myers’ niece! A freshman at his beloved university and blackmail her with indecent photographs. He dared to humiliate her and then blackmail Mr. Myers.’
Sophie’s father dropped his shoulders. ‘Sophie…’
Ryan slapped Sophie’s father again. ‘I told you to shut up!’
Sophie turned away from her father and broke into tears.
Ryan held Sophie’s arms and shook her slightly. He waited for her to raise her head before he spoke. ‘Sophie.’ Ryan’s heart raced, he was about to tell everything to Sophie. ‘I was the one that called you today.’
Sophie’s eyes widened ‘What?!? No! No! I can’t believe it! I wouldn’t believe it! You wouldn’t do such a thing!’ Sophie broke from Ryan’s grip and thumped her fists on his chest.
‘Listen Sophie your father brought this on himself. I am sorry that you got caught in the middle of it all…but there is one way to save his life. You have to pay the money that he owes. If you don’t pay the money…well… I have orders to kill him.’
Sophie’s father lifted himself. ‘Kill me? Please…Please don’t kill me!’
‘Not so tough are we now old man?’
‘Sophie! Sophie! I have the money! I have the car and some money stored in my safe deposit box. It is in my office, the spare key is behind your painting in my office. Use that. Please Sophie! Save me!’
‘Daddy who were those men in suits?’
‘Men in suits?’
‘Some men broke into my apartment and destroyed everything, including my paintings. They said you had something they wanted.’
‘They were the people of this bastard!’ Sophie’s father spat at Ryan.
Ryan shook his head. ‘I don’t know who they were. I work alone, and if there was anyone who would go to your house or office it would have to go through me first. No those people don’t belong to Mr. Myers.’ Ryan turned to Sophie’s father. ‘Even I am curious to who they were. They seemed very clean.’
Sophie’s father stuttered.
Sophie cupped her father’s face in her hands. ‘Daddy please.’
‘Sophie go through my safe. There are envelopes there with different names, one of them belong to Senator Turner.’
‘Senator Turner? The Senator Turner?!?’ Ryan screamed hysterically. ‘Oh you are a piece of work old man, first blackmailing the boss of this place and then the government?!?’ Ryan broke out in laughter. ‘You really don’t know what you are doing do you?’
Sophie’s father spat at Ryan.
Ryan slapped Sophie’s father.
‘Please I’m sorry. Please save me.’
Ryan backhanded Sophie’s father. ‘Yes beg like the shit that you are! You don’t deserve to be saved after what you did to those innocent women!’
Ryan turned to the crying Sophie. ‘Sophie remember Rebecca?’
‘Ye… Yes. She dropped out of school because she got pregnant.’
Ryan shook his head. ‘She dropped out of school because he raped her and she was carrying his child…your sister!’
Sophie covered her mouth. ‘Daddy!’
Ryan continued. ‘He has the pictures to prove it as well.’ He pulled on the graying hair of Sophie’s father. ‘Don’t you old man?’
Sophie’s father screamed.
‘No use old man.’ Ryan knocked on the concrete walls. ‘These are damn thick and you are below ground.’ Ryan sneered. ‘Your luck has run out.’
Ryan walked to a nearby table. Various tools were lined up on the walls and on the table. Gardening tools, power tools, sharp and blunt objects alike. Ryan ran his hands through the table and drooled at the different tools that he had used. He turned to a shiny sharp object on his immediate right. ‘This will do nicely.’
Ryan walked back to Sophie and extended a knife to her. ‘You have a choice.’
Sophie’s father looked to his daughter and his lips quivered ‘Sophie…please…save me please…please forgive me…I’m sorry… I’m very sorry.’
Sophie grabbed the blade and watched it shine under the wavering light. She turned to her father and looked at his battered naked body. She turned to Ryan. ‘Ryan he is my father.’
‘It is your choice Sophie.’
Sophie runs her fingers along the edge. Thoughts flooded her head. A trip to the park when she was eight, eating an ice cream in the middle of winter, getting into art school and feeling her father’s embrace. Sophie smiled. Thoughts of her father screaming at Ryan, thoughts of her father cheating on her mother with students, thoughts of Rebecca, the daughters of Mr. Myers and Senator Turner. She looked at Ryan. She looked over his rough stubbly face. He made her happy, he protected her and he was her life. Sophie closed her eyes and breathed deeply. ‘Daddy I forgive you.’
‘Oh thank you! Thank you! See Ryan you will get paid now please take me out of these chains.’
Ryan frowned. He took out his chain of keys and walked towards Sophie’s father.
Sophie continued. ‘No dad he will do no such thing.’ She pulled her hand back.
Ryan whispered to Sophie’s father. ‘Looks like I win old man.’ He snickered. ‘By the way thank you for your information about Senator Turner. Mr. Myers will be very pleased.’
‘Daddy!’ Sophie screamed. ‘Goodbye!’ Sophie lunged towards her father and stuck the knife deep into his gut until the chains suspended her father’s limp body. She released the knife and ran to Ryan. ‘I love you Ryan.’
Ryan kissed Sophie’s head and held her tight. ‘I love you too.’