As the local news came on, Dad gestured towards the car radio.
“Turn that thing off,” he told Jayne. “Find some music.”
Jayne was tempted to tell him she couldn’t do both, but she knew better than to argue. Dad was driving twice as fast as he should on the rain-slicked road, gripping the steering wheel as though he were suspended from a cliff edge. In the rear view mirror she glimpsed her four-year-old brother Sam, his round face flushed and excited by the sensation of speed.
Jayne turned the radio dial and found Guns n’ Roses’ Paradise City. One of Dad’s favourites, she thought with relief. But Dad barely noticed, his gaze tense on the road ahead.
Jayne fidgeted in her seat as the industrial estates flashed by. Questions clamoured at her mind, but she rejected them all. Finally she found one she dared ask.
“You did ring Mum, right? Only, she never said we were seeing you today.”
Dad’s shoulders tightened as he stamped on the accelerator. “’Course.”
The steel bands around Jayne’s heart eased a fraction. Dad wouldn’t lie. But why had he bundled them out of the garden like that, without letting them fetch their things, or even say goodbye to Mum?
Sam called from the back seat. “How long are we staying with you, Dad? Can we go to see a film?”
Jayne opened the glove compartment, where Dad sometimes kept her favourite sweets. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.
“Dad, there’s a gun in here!”
“Shut that.” Dad took his eyes off the road and the car swerved. “It’s only a toy, Jayne, don’t be daft.”
Jayne felt certain she’d seen the gun before. It looked like the one Great-granddad used to keep in his bedroom drawer. He’d killed men with it during the war, so he’d claimed.
The song on the radio faded halfway through. The presenter’s tone was serious. “We interrupt this broadcast with a newsflash. An Exeter man is suspected of kidnapping his two children from their home in the Sidwell area. He is believed to be armed, and should not be approached. The man is white, in his thirties, driving a-”
“That’s where we live,” cried Sam. “Cool!”
“Turn that off.” Dad’s voice was unusually harsh.
Jayne punched the dial, squashing down her sense of dread. She stole a glance at Dad. He looked pale, his skin almost grey, and his mouth was a thin line. He’d lost weight in the weeks since Jayne had last seen him. He was thinner every time, she thought sadly.
He was muttering under his breath. Jayne thought she caught the word “Bitch.”
“Dad, are you all right? Is everything all right?”
The car braked, throwing them forward. Up ahead, the traffic was slowing. Jayne peered past the line of cars and glimpsed the gaudy flash of a hi-viz jacket.
“They’re stopping the traffic, Dad. Looks like they’re talking to the drivers.”
Dad muttered again. “Damned surveys.” Jolting the car, he swerved left, down a muddy track.
“Are we going to the lake, Dad?” asked Sam, looking out at the drizzle.
Jayne struggled to catch her breath, fumbled in her pocket for her inhaler. Exeter was a huge place. There were hundreds of families, maybe thousands. The report on the radio couldn’t possibly refer to …
A noise like a sob startled her. Dad’s head was lolling.
The car screeched to a halt by the lakeside. Dad crossed his arms over the steering wheel and banged his face against them, twice, three times. He looked up and said, “Get out of the car.”
Fighting back fear, Jayne opened her door. She told herself nothing was wrong. Dad was just upset. Dad was always upset. Jayne’s job was to cheer him up.
As she got out, she looked back at Sam. He was still in his seat, staring at the deserted lake. His face froze as confusion crept into his eyes.
“Get out of the car,” Dad repeated.
Jayne nodded at Sam, tried to smile. Her brother stepped out. The three of them shuffled towards the lakeside.
Sam asked, “What’re we doing here, Dad? Are we fishing?”
Leaving Jayne with her brother, Dad retraced his steps, strode to the passenger door and opened it. He stood there, hanging onto the door, gazing towards the glove compartment.
In the distance, a siren blared.
“Is Dad okay?” Sam asked, his voice a whisper.
Dad peered at them over the car roof, suddenly furtive. His eyes were a slit, almost shut, and unkempt hair hung limply around his face.
Jayne shivered as raindrops seeped inside her shirt collar. Her gaze fell on the rain-pocked surface of the lake.
She forced her voice to stay level. “Come and see, Dad. There are lots of fish. Some are really big.”
Dad’s eyes had a mad, glazed look as he reached towards the glove compartment.
“Come and see the fish, Dad. They’re all different colours. Please come.”
“Oh Jayne.” Dad’s shoulders heaved. “Things don’t seem…” His hand halted in mid-air. “I just wanted… I’d never…”
Through the trees, lights flashed blue and white.
“Come away, Dad.”
Letting the door swing, Dad took a step towards Jayne.
Jayne ran to meet him. His hand was a shard of ice in hers. She led him towards the roadside. He stood, head bowed, while the police car swerved in beside them, siren bleating.
The officers leapt out and rushed towards Dad. While they grabbed him, Jayne slipped away, back to the car. She opened the glove compartment and withdrew the gun.
It flew in an arc across the lake, then vanished silently into the water.
Teresa Bassett is a writer from Cornwall’s ‘clay country’, UK. She has written for a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Seven Deadly Sins Volume 1: Pride. A graduate of the University of Bath, she has worked as a foreign tour guide, translator and teacher. Her favourite times are spent ‘up on the Downs’, with husband Mark and rescued greyhound Jinty. Find out more at: www.teresabassett.co.uk