The Runaway Rescue: Chapter One

Story by Karen Cossey
Copyright © Karen Cossey, 2015
Note: This chapter includes a brief memory of Cole’s father being stabbed.

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All Alone with Nowhere to Go

It was after two in the morning when Cole crept into the cramped shipping container where his sister lay sleeping. He was getting used to these night raids; it was the only time it felt safe to steal food for Lauren. It had been easy to learn the guard’s routine off by heart, so that he could slip into the kitchen undetected. There were only five minutes to gather enough food for the next day before the guard returned. Cole never took very much—it was better to be hungry than to be caught.
Lauren stirred in her sleep and settled back down. She looked so peaceful tonight. Not like him. His thoughts were going round in circles. If only he could work out what to do next. His eyelids sure were heavy, but he so did not want to go to sleep. He’d have the dream again. The same dream he’d had every night since they’d moved into the container…
“Cole, where are you?” It was his Dad. He was almost under the branch that Cole was hiding on. One more step and he’d be in the perfect spot…
Cole let go of the branch and fell onto his dad They both fell over and went rolling down the bank. They laughed and groaned as they lay on their backs at the bottom of the incline.
“Want to race to the house? First one there can sneak Mum’s not-so-secret, secret ice cream stash.”
And with that, his dad took off, but Cole always passed him at the last moment, no matter how far behind he started. Pretty good for a five-year-old.
Or maybe that was only true because it was a dream. His eyes flickered open. Container walls. His eyelids were so heavy. He was sinking again… Mum was out the back, hanging up more washing. His baby sister was coming soon. Mum sure looked big. Hopefully his sister wasn’t an elephant!
He slunk into the kitchen, grabbed the ice-cream and two spoons, and ran out to meet Dad behind the garage. They were only up to their third mouthful when Mum caught them.
“I thought as much,” she said. “You guys are hopeless thieves. You left the freezer door open and the frozen peas on the floor.” She took out a spoon from behind her back and tried to perch on the saw bench. She was way too big! Dad jumped up and handed her the ice-cream. The sun was shining, they were laughing and joking. Happy. They were happy.

A dark cloud appeared and smothered them all. He wanted to wake up, but the cloud was too thick. He couldn’t move. Now there were bright lights, bright hospital lights shining on men in green overalls with masks on their faces and frozen peas falling out of their ears. They loomed over his dad who got smaller and smaller as he rocked himself backwards and forwards chanting: “She can’t be dead. She can’t be dead. She can’t be dead. She can’t be dead.”
Someone was shaking him—his eyes flew open: it was Lauren. “It’s a dream, Cole. It’s a dream. It’s not real,” she said.
If only it was a dream and not real. Probably the peas weren’t real though. He smiled at Lauren and dragged himself up to sit next to her, scratching his hand on some rust as he did. The container wall felt cold and his breath steamed in the air. They only had one blanket each that he’d bought from a nearby second-hand shop. It was getting light—he could see a rat’s tail twitch in the pile of broken car parts that he’d pushed to the back of the container. Best if Lauren didn’t see that.
She always talked his nightmare away for him. That would do the trick. “Tell me a story Lauren,” he said.
“I don’t have any this morning Colby Cheese. You tell me one,” she said.
Something was wrong. She always had a story. Sure, they were painful to listen to, seven-year-old girl’s Barbie stories. But she always had one. She was shivering.
“Are you cold Lauren-la-la?” he said. “Here, have my blanket.”
He wrapped it around her skinny little shoulders. She smiled at him but her blue eyes still looked sad. His heart sunk almost to below his knees. What did she need? He didn’t know. He wasn’t even twelve for a couple of months yet. If only Dad were still here.
If Dad were still here, they’d be home in York, not here in Plymouth, in this dump. He sniffed.
“Don’t cry Cole. We’ll be okay.” Lauren put her arm around his shoulder and clutched the blanket to her chin. “Tell me about when I was little.”
That would cheer them both up. There were all the stories of the fun they’d had with Dad as kids: the water fights, the silly games at dinnertime, the taekwondo lessons and stealth spy games, the poetry nights where they ate cake bought from the bakery. Dad would either make them laugh until they wet themselves, or scare them so much that they both had to sleep in his bed.

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Half an hour later Lauren was smiling again. Thank goodness. Maybe if she read Mum’s poetry book for awhile he’d have a chance to think. He needed to work out what to do next. They couldn’t stay here.
Cole stood up and rummaged through his backpack. He pulled out Mum’s old book of children’s poems she used to read to him at night. Until she’d died. Other than a photo of Mum and Dad, it was the only thing worthwhile he’d grabbed from home when they’d fled
Daylight stole through the cracks in the door that Cole had left ajar. Could he risk opening it a bit more? It was probably warmer outside than inside, even though the container was surrounded by trees. The Port people must have forgotten about it—this part of the compound had rusty old containers and lots of junk lying around.
“Hey, Lauren,” Cole said. “How about we go outside, and you draw a picture of one of your poems on this paper I found last night.
“I don’t have a pen,” she said.
He reached into his jacket pocket. “Here’s one,” he said.
“Alakazam!” she said. And grinned. Actually grinned. She was still okay. The sunlight from outside reached all the way into his chest.
“I’ll draw the crocodile poem,” Lauren said. “It’s my favourite.”
He pushed open the door to give her light. And warmth.
All clear. But there’d be a better view from up the tree. Soon he was settled on a branch overlooking Lauren and the container. Nothing much was going on except for some people unloading cargo over at the docks. His thoughts were getting him nowhere new—he still had no idea what to do next. His mind drifted to the night when it had all happened—the night when they’d lost their dad.
It was only a month ago, on the night of Lauren’s seventh birthday. It had also been the anniversary of Mum’s death, seven years earlier. Dad and Cole had tried to be happy for Lauren, but late in the afternoon, when she was tired from her party and her friends, they all felt out of sorts.
“Let’s walk downtown through the park and get some pizza for dinner,” Dad had said. Lauren had been excited. She skipped ahead. Cole heard his Dad sigh and so he put his hand in his, even though he was almost twelve and way too old for holding hands. Still, he liked the feel of Dad’s strong hand and he gave it a squeeze. “Mum would have been proud of Lauren and how you’ve brought her up, Dad.”
Dad smiled at him. “Lauren is a combined effort, Cole. I’d never have made it by myself. Thanks, kiddo.”
They were quiet for a while, listening to Lauren having a conversation with her imaginary friend. “And after we played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, we had a lolly hunt. It was so much fun Ashleigh,” Lauren said.
“Was there any licorice?” the imaginary Ashleigh squeaked. “Licorice is my favourite.”
Suddenly, a tall man with a beard dashed out of the trees and grabbed Lauren by the arm. He had a knife in his other hand.
Lauren pulled away but the man yanked her towards himself.
He scowled at Dad. “Where is it, Simon?”
Dad let go of Cole’s hand and stepped towards the man. The man put the knife up to Lauren’s neck. She shrunk away from it.
“Keep back, or else. You know how I like to make people bleed.” The man licked his lips and grinned.
Cole’s hairs lifted on the back of his neck.
Dad stopped moving. “Ian, when did you get out of prison?”
“Last week. Surprised you didn’t know. I’ve had fun watching you. Nice party today.”
“How would I have known you were out? I left the RNP once Lauren was born. I’m a caretaker at the university now. Let her go, she’s only a kid. Don’t you hurt her.”
“That’s up to you. I want to know where it is. I know Adam gave it to you.” He pressed the knife against Lauren’s neck. She whimpered.
“Adam? I bumped into him at the park a few days ago. That’s all. He didn’t give me anything. Why would he give me anything? If I had something, I promise I’d give it to you. Please don’t hurt Lauren. My kids are all I’ve got. Let her go.”
Someone was coming. Cole heard them calling to their dog.
“Adam said he left it at your place, so it must be there,” the man said.
“Adam never came to my place. I don’t have anything.” Dad’s voice shook.
“Hmmm. Maybe you don’t know anything… but it’d be a shame if you found it now. Plus, I owe you for putting me away,” the man said, releasing Lauren and stepping forward. He punched Dad in the stomach, then as Dad fell back, he stepped forward and pulled Dad into his arms.
It all happened so fast. The man turned and hurried away. Dad slumped to the ground, blood pouring from his chest.
Cole fell to his knees. “Help, help! Someone help me!” he yelled as he put his father’s head and shoulders into his lap. Blood went all over his hands and t-shirt.
“Dad! Dad! Dad!” Lauren yelled and dropped to her knees beside Cole.
“I love you both so much,” rasped his Dad.
And then shut his eyes. They never opened again.
Lauren lay on top of their Dad, sobbing. The paramedics had to pry her off him. She’d held onto Cole then, and that was where she’d clung for the next two weeks: at the hospital, at the police station, at the funeral and at the Bradley’s, their dad’s friend’s where they were staying.
The whole thing was a blur. Except for when Mrs Quin from Social Services came and met with the Bradley’s one evening after bedtime. He and Lauren were hiding at the top of the stairs when she came inside. She wore a long, dark dress with a wide collar and bright red lipstick. Her black hair was pulled back tight into a high bun.
Lauren grabbed his hand and whispered in his ear, “She looks like Maleficent.”
“The Mistress of Evil?” Cole whispered back.
“Alakazam.” Lauren’s hand trembled in his.
“You go to bed Lauren, I’ll come see you soon. It’ll be okay. I’m sure she’s only here to help.” He tiptoed down the stairs and pressed his ear to the closed lounge door.
“We haven’t been able to locate Simon’s cousin in Germany. Lauren and Cole are going to have to be placed in a foster family.”
Cole sank to the floor and hugged his knees. There had never been any mention of any uncles or aunts, let alone a cousin. His only grandmother had died a long time ago. He knew he’d had a grandmother because there had been a photo of her holding him when he was a baby.
“Well, as long as they can stay together,” Mr Bradley said.
There was a long pause.
“They WILL be kept together, won’t they?” Mrs Bradley asked.
“I’m having a lot of trouble finding a suitable family to take them both right now,” Mrs Quin said.
Maleficent. Mrs Quinn really was just like Maleficent. Cole stood and ran upstairs.
“Is everything okay, Colby-Cheese?” Lauren threw her arms around his middle and stared up at him with big blue eyes.
She looked so scared. He couldn’t let anything bad happen to her. She needed him. He was the only family she had left.
“It will be Lauren. Tomorrow it will all be sorted out good.” He rubbed her back. “Time for bed now.”
The next day, instead of going into class, Cole had skipped school and gone back to their home. His mouth fell open when he stepped inside. The kitchen was a mess, everything was pulled out of the pantry and strewn over the floor. Stepping over tipped up furniture he walked through into the lounge. Everything was pushed over in there too. Even the bean bag balls had been pulled out of Poet and Dad’s favourite bean bag. Something crunched under foot. What was it?
The photo of his Mum. Someone had torn the back off the frame and ripped the photo in half. Hot tears pricked Cole’s eyes. He didn’t have time for this. Lauren. He was here to help Lauren. He needed to get some things together. Some clothes, some food and some money. He grabbed some stuff and threw it in his school bag. Dad kept some emergency money in a wallet underneath the floorboards in the laundry. Cole went to check. It was still there!
Tucking the wallet in his backpack, he glanced out the laundry window and spied a police car driving by. Were they looking for him?
He dropped down low onto the floor and his hand touched something hard as he steadied himself. His mum’s book of children’s poems lying amongst the dirty washing that someone had thrown on the floor. Lauren had made a big deal about taking it off the coffee table and putting it in the laundry so none of her friends would spill party food on it on her birthday. She loved that book—it was her main link to Mum. It was heavy, but it fit in his backpack with a shove. Better make sure he shut it properly. Dad was always telling him to shut his bag properly.
His bag suddenly felt super heavy. Maybe it wasn’t the bag. Maybe it was his heart. Or his whole body. A sigh slipped through his lips and he swung the bag onto his back. He had to keep moving.
He opened the laundry door to the backyard, and headed towards the garden shed. The door was open! It was usually locked, especially when Lauren had friends around. Like on her birthday. No one had been here since then. Except for the thieves.
He crept to the back window. Was there someone inside? Or was that just a shadow?
Crash! That was his drums tipping over. It wasn’t a shadow, it was a person, ripping apart his drum kit. What if it was Ian, his father’s killer? Should he take a closer look? His hands were shaking. Breathing in deeply, Cole wiped a small corner of the glass and pressed his face against it.
A man snorted and kicked the drums over. A short, clean-shaven, red-faced, bald man. He sure had a fat stomach. Not Ian, his father’s murderer. This guy reminded Cole of a human version of a tomato.
The man inspected the shed then turned back to the door. He took a couple of short smooth steps—he even rolled like a tomato. But he wasn’t watching where he was going. Cole grinned as the man tripped over the cymbal and landed on one knee. Served him right. Tomato-Face swore, stood up and rubbed his knee for a few minutes. Finally, he hobbled out the door.
How long should Cole wait? How would he know when Tomato-Face had left? Cole checked his phone. He’d been home for forty minutes. It was time to go.
A car engine started up in the driveway. Cole ran to the side of the house and peered around the corner. It was Tomato-Face—he was leaving. Thank goodness.
What should he do now? Tell the police? That would get him and Lauren in even more trouble. Maleficent Mrs Quinn at Social Services would separate them for sure. No, his best plan was still to run away. He grabbed his bike and pedaled to school.
Nobody was about when he got there. All he needed to do was get Lauren out of her class somehow.
“Cole Parker!”
Cole groaned. It was Old Miss Lewis, the office lady, calling him from the door to the Admin Office. She’d been a big help to them, visiting the police with them and talking with them and the Bradleys about what Social Services expected. If only the Bradleys could have fostered them but they already had four children and no spare room.
He was going to have to lie to her. He hated that—she’d be worried sick when she realised they were gone. Still, it had to happen. He could do this. If he pretended he was playing a part in a play, then it wouldn’t feel like lying.
“Cole, you’re here. I’m so relieved. I rang the Bradleys, but they didn’t know where you were either.”
Best to look a bit upset. That should work.
“What’s wrong Cole?” Old Miss Lewis squeezed his hand. This was going to be harder than he thought.
“I, I.” He sniffed—loudly. “I just needed to visit Dad’s grave that’s all. I’m okay now though. Could you please ring the Bradleys and tell them I’m back? I wouldn’t want them to worry.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” Miss Lewis said and squished him into a hug. She smelled of white-out and hot donuts. Plus, she was super soft, like an oversized teddy bear.
Cole inhaled one last whiff of doughnuts and took a step back. “Um, it’s alright Miss Lewis. I feel a lot better after talking to Dad. Well, talking to his grave.” He scuffed his feet and tried to look pitiful. “You know what I mean,” he said and put his hand on her arm.
“Of course I do dear,” Miss Lewis said, patting his hand. “Do you want to come to the sick bay and read until next class?”
Definitely not!
Free Mystery Book CoverHe took his hand back and ran it through his hair. “No, I think, I think what I really need is to see Lauren for a bit.” He frowned and crossed his fingers behind his back. “Would you be able to please give me a note so I can take her out of class, just for half an hour or so? We could sit in the playground and talk. She’s been having nightmares and I really worry about her.”
He hung his head and stared at his feet again. Was it going to work? He couldn’t bear to look at Miss Lewis.
“You’re such a good brother, Cole. There’s only twenty minutes until interval. I’ll write you a note and you can both go back to class after the break.”
It had worked! “Thank you, Miss Lewis. It means a lot to me.”
Lauren was excited to get out of class early. It took a few minutes to convince her to leave school, but when he promised her an ice-cream on the train, she was happy to come with him. Luckily, the train station was only six blocks away.
“Where shall we go?” he asked her when they got there, trying to make a game of it. “Somewhere by the sea or somewhere near a forest?”
Lauren clapped her hands. “The sea! The sea!”
He bought their train tickets for Plymouth and they headed off.
They had caught a taxi to a café near the port when they arrived. At night, they sneaked into the port through a hole in the wire fence. All those games of stealth that they had played with Dad were paying off. Even Lauren knew how to hide in the shadows and be so still the guards glanced over her.
They’d found the container and made it home. But we can’t stay here forever, thought Cole. Unless I could get a job, but then I would have to leave Lauren by herself all day. And who would give an eleven-year-old a job?
He sat in the tree overlooking the container while Lauren read out a poem from their mum’s poetry book, like their dad used to do. It was ‘Dentist and the Crocodile’ by Roald Dahl. It sure sounded funny. Cole glanced around as he listened.
A boy ran between two nearby containers. He wanted to warn Lauren to stop, but the boy would hear him call out. The boy ducked between two other old abandoned containers. Cole scanned for anyone else. No one.
If only Lauren would finish, but she was almost up to her favourite part. She loved to read that part especially loud. Some of Cole’s warnings must have got through to her though, because she was only half as loud as normal:
“He’s after me! He’s after you! He will eat us all!”
It was still too loud—the boy had heard. He ran to the front of their container yelling, “Don’t worry, I’ll get him. Open the door more and I’ll blast his head off with my Nerf gun.”
It was the funniest thing Cole had seen for weeks, and he almost laughed out loud. He clamped his mouth shut and bit his tongue. Ouch!
Lauren stood up and put her hands on her hips. “This place is off limits; you’re not allowed here.”
“Yes, I am. My dad says I’m allowed to play here. What are you doing here?”
“My brother says I’m allowed here, and I was here first, so you should go away.” Lauren swung her arm up and pointed at the sky.
“Will not. This is my playground.”
“I don’t want you here,” Lauren said, and she closed the container door behind her.
Clever girl, Cole thought. Don’t let him see what’s in there. Maybe the boy will run away in a minute and then they could escape.
“You’ll have to make me leave,” the boy said, putting his hands on his hips.
He was a sturdy looking young guy but still, he shouldn’t tempt Lauren like that.
Lauren ran at the boy and thrust her hands into his chest, knocking him over.
“Ow!” he shouted, jumping up and pushing her. She tried to kick him; the taekwondo training she’d had coming through strong. Cole shimmied down off the branch but as he did a man came round the corner of another container. Cole ducked behind the tree. The man raced over, yanked the two kids apart and held them at arm’s distance.
“What’s this, then?” he said.
“Dad, Dad, don’t be cross. It’s my new friend. She can fight great and she keeps a crocodile in that container.”

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