Flip – 5 – Escape

This wasn’t good. The more time I spent as Phillip, the more likely I was to spontaneously change into Philippa during the night. There only needed to be a surprise inspection while I was changed and I’d lose the only advantage I had left.

The first week, I made sure I used a cubicle every time I went to the toilet, and a soon as I was out of sight, I’d allow myself a little girl time.

It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. They kept me pretty isolated, which lack of human contact suited my male side and helped to suppress the girl in me. I survived it reasonably well, and passed the time looking for weaknesses in their defences, especially ones that Philippa could exploit.

There weren’t many, but then you’d expect that. Military prison maintained by a professional army – not likely to have many holes. The fact that I found even one was pretty amazing. The fact that I spotted it after less than a week was nothing short of a miracle.

I picked up on the possibility during my third day, then spent the next four going over all possible contingencies. There were a lot of things that could go wrong, and not much I could do about any of them if they did, but I didn’t fancy spending the rest of my life behind bars without even the possibility of a trial. I hated to think what my parents were going through, but since I had chosen to be less than perfectly cooperative, I’d essentially been exiled to an indefinite exile. I wasn’t allowed visitors, and even my guards weren’t permitted to talk to me.

Fortunately, this worked in my favour. I tried to become the invisible man. Hunched, slow steps, no noise, no body language to speak of. I think it was about the fifth day they started to ignore me completely. It wasn’t just that they had orders not to communicate, but they started to dissociate themselves with me.

This was essential, because part one of my plan had to happen during one of my exercise periods, and since I exercised on my own, I’d have to persuade them it was okay for me to disappear from sight every now and again.

The disappearing wasn’t so difficult. It was an immense exercise yard, and even though I was the only person in it during my exercise, there were blind spots and it didn’t take long to find them.

At first the guards were nervous, yelling for me to come back where they could see me, and each time I complied, but then a few minutes later would disappear again. After a while they realised they were stuck between their orders not to communicate and their orders to keep an eye on me. Figuring that I couldn’t escape the yard, they decided that the lack of communication order superseded the other. I didn’t want to disabuse them of this, so each time I disappeared, I would only remain hidden for a few seconds before coming back into view.

Another essential part of the plan involved getting through the fence of the exercise enclosure. First, I needed to know if it was electrified. There weren’t any signs which, in our nanny state, was pretty much all the proof necessary, but the army did sneaky things, I was certain.

“You want to know if something is live,” I remember Dad telling me once, “brush the back of your hand against it. For one thing it’ll hurt less if it is, for another thing you won’t grab hold of it and end up electrocuting yourself.”

I hadn’t understood all he was saying but I’d taken it on board. I gently brushed my hand against the chain link fencing and breathed a sigh of relief when there were no sparks.

How to cut through was another gem from my dad. He’d wanted a length of stiff wire to use as a probe once and had fetched a wire coat hanger. Bending it back and forth for a couple of minutes, the wire had eventually weakened and broken in two.

I remember Dad winking at me. “Metal fatigue,” he’d said. “Any metal will give eventually as long as you can get it to bend, even a little.”

The chain link had been awkward as it had been quite tight, considerably stiffer than a coat hanger, and shorter, but I’d persevered, and after a couple of days working at it for a few seconds each time I ducked out of sight, it eventually gave.

The really neat thing was, the break was almost invisible. It would remain hidden until I needed it, then it would be just a few seconds work to unravel it enough to give me a hole I could squeeze through.

The last and most crucial part of the plan hinged on a conversation I’d overheard between two of the guards. The prison was on a base with family accommodation, and once of the guards had arranged for a group of his six-year-old daughter’s friends to be bussed on site for a surprise birthday party. If I could find the party location, sneak in and steal a party dress, then maybe they’d overlook there being one extra guest on board when they left.

Yeah, lots of ifs and buts. I did say there were a lot of things that could go wrong.

I had to wait until the bus came on site. If they noticed me gone, they’d lock the base down and there would go my ride. Fortunately, my cell window gave me a view of the front gate. Maybe it was part of the psychology, give me a view of freedom and see how long it would take me to break.

Anyway, a minibus arrived an hour before my afternoon exercise. I watched it to get a rough idea of where it was going, and listened for when it stopped, for the sounds of excited children.

Yup definitely, and about a quarter of a mile away.

My time in the yard came. I kept my first disappearance short. The second a little longer than usual. The Third short again, looking for signs of nervousness among the guards. None. My fourth, I didn’t come back.

As predicted, it only took a few seconds to unravel the wire and squeeze through. It took a few more to thread the links back together, hopefully it would keep them guessing as to how I’d escaped, or even whether or not I had.

The next was unknown territory. I didn’t have much idea on the layout of the base – how many more fences, where the guards were – but this is where fitness and training came in. The first fence had a building nearby, so I scaled a drainpipe and jumped over. The second had an unguarded gate of all things. The third was the outer wall of the prison. It had razor wire across the top, so I stripped off my orange jumpsuit – it was too distinctive a colour anyway – and threw it across the wire.

You know that trick where Jackie Chan runs at a corner and climbs it more or less by walking up the wall on either side of the corner? It’s not that tough if you’re in shape. I made it over first time, grabbing my jumpsuit and tearing it off the top of the wall. No sense in leaving a trail.

I was a couple of houses inside the family part of the base when the alarms went off. I ducked out of sight into a nearby garden, hid the jumpsuit behind a shed and started making my way carefully through one garden after another. I didn’t want to risk being seen, but it was a beautifully sunny day, and there had to be some washing on a line somewhere.

There. A frilly pink dress in about Philippa’s size, along with some underwear and frilly socks. No-one visible in the window. I took a chance and ran in, grabbing the clothes and ducking back into cover.

A change of body and clothes later, and all I was missing was a pair of shoes. Couldn’t be helped. I continued to make my way towards the sound of children, most of them crying now.

The reason became obvious when I saw them all being herded back onto the minibus by a couple of armed soldiers.

I took as roundabout a route as I dared and joined the kids lining up. A very distracted and worried looking woman was looking around at the children, still milling around and slowly making their way onto the bus.

Act like you’re supposed to be there. I approached the woman and tugged her skirt.

“I can’t find my shoes,” I said, matching my tone to that of the other kids.

“Never mind dear,” the woman replied. “We’ll find them later and get then back to you. Now you really must get on the bus, all of you.” Her voice raised. “I’m really sorry about this, but you must get on the bus.”

It was like herding cats, and I really didn’t envy her. I couldn’t afford to be the first on, regardless of how much I wanted to be, so I joined the milling throng of small bodies and allowed myself to be the third little person captured and eased gently onto the bus.

Eventually we were all seated, with the distracted woman doing a head count and looking worried.

“I’m sure there were only nine,” she muttered.

“Miss, it’s her,” the girl next to me raised her hand and pointed at me. “She wasn’t with us.”

“I came late,” I responded in an annoying, sing-song, I know better than you voice. “You didn’t see me.”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Girls, girls, settle down.”

“Mrs Preston, is everyone on board?” a soldier called from the doors. “We really need to get this bus off site.”

“Well,” she said, still looking worried. “No-one’s missing.”

She withdrew, the door closed, and we were out on the road with the camp gates closing behind us.

I’d done it. But I couldn’t afford to be complacent. The girl next to me wasn’t ready to give up.

“So, who are you?” she demanded.

“Emma,” I replied. “Emma Owen.”

“Never heard of you.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of you either.”

“I never told you my name.”

“I don’t care. You’re mean.”

“Girls,” the driver said sharply from the front. “I don’t want to have to stop this bus. Please settle down.”

I stuck my tongue out at my newest threat, and she did the same to me, but at least she shut up.

I didn’t recognise where we were going. For all I knew we could still be hundreds of miles away from home. My plans to slip away when we reached our destination were dashed when we arrived outside a primary school where a crowd of anxious parents awaited our arrival. I was soon singled out as not having anyone to collect me.

“What’s your name sweetheart?” one of the mothers said, crouched down to my level.

“My name is Emma Owen,” I said. “My sister, Stacey, is supposed to pick me up here at six.”

“But you weren’t meant to be back here until seven.”

“At seven,” I said as if I’d meant to all along. “I’m supposed to ask someone to call her if anything changes.”

“Do you know her number?”

You tend to commit things like your girlfriend’s phone number to memory, don’t you? Or maybe I’m weird, I don’t know. I reeled off a stream of numbers and had to repeat them twice.

The woman held the phone to her ear. “Hello, is that Stacey Owen? Do you have a sister called Emma? Yes, the party finished early, can you come and collect her?”

I prayed that Stacey would have the sense to find out more. She did.

“Yes of course,” the lady said. “Your sister wants to have a word.”

I took the phone and spoke into it. “Hello Stacey. The party finished early. You have to come and fetch me from Whitecotes Primary School, Whitecotes Lane, Chesterfield, S40 3HJ.” I read the name of the place from the sign outside using a stilted, early reader’s voice.

“Philippa?” Stacey asked. “How am I supposed to get to Chesterfield? It’s miles away.”

“You have to come,” I insisted. “Remember Mummy and Daddy said?”

“You want me to ask your parents?”

“Yes,” I sobbed. “You have to come. They said they couldn’t come, remember?”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“You have to come, but get here soon, please. The quickest way you can.”

The lady took back the phone. “Your sister’s quite upset,” she said. “Yes, I understand it might take you a while. Look, I live quite close to the school, just around the corner on Fenland Way. Number seven. She can come home with us and play with my little Faith. No, it’s no trouble. We weren’t going to do anything this afternoon anyway. How long do you..? Really? Well alright, but if you can get here sooner… Yes, I’ll pass you across.”

The phone came back to me.

“I’ll ask your parents to drive me to Chesterfield, then I’ll come and fetch you from this lady’s house. Is that alright?”

“Thank you,” I managed, my tears of relief not entirely fake.

“I don’t know how long it’ll take to get to you. I guessed about two hours, but I’ll see you soon okay?”

“Okay,” I said and handed the phone back.

It turned out Faith wasn’t anywhere near as inquisitive or obnoxious as the girl I’d sat with on the bus. We spent an hour playing with her dolls, which was wonderfully calming on the nerves, then we stopped for some tea. Fish and chips, since Faith’s parents hadn’t planned on feeding either their own daughter or their unexpected guest.

Stacey arrived just as we were finishing.

“Do I have to go?” I asked in as truly a childish a way as I could manage. “Me and Faith are having such a good time.”

“When you called, you couldn’t wait for me to come and pick you up.”

“But Stacey.” I dragged her name out into a whine.

“No buts little Miss Trouble,” she said. “You’ve already messed up my afternoon. You’re not going to mess up my evening as well. Besides, these nice people probably have plans.”

“Oh, no trouble, really. They’ve been wonderful together. Perhaps you’d like to come and play with Faith another time, Emma?”

“Okay,” I said managing to sound suitably disappointed.

“We do live some way away,” Stacey said, making our excuses, “but thank you for looking after her, and sorry it took me such a long time to get here.”

We made our exit and Stacey led me around the corner to where my father sat in our car. He wasn’t in a great mood. -oOo-

“What were you thinking?” he asked as soon as we were underway. “You’re a fugitive now. How do you hope to live a normal life with the authorities on your tail?”

“Phillip’s the fugitive,” I said matter of factly, “not Philippa. And what I was thinking was if they could keep me locked up and in isolation for a whole week without letting me see anyone – not my parents, not my girlfriend, not even a lawyer – then they could probably keep me locked up forever. My only hope for a normal life was to escape.”

“And what about your mother and me?”

“I imagine you’ll be okay as long as Phillip doesn’t show up on your doorstep.”

“They’ll keep us under surveillance until you do. And how are we going to explain having a six-year-old girl in the house?”

“I’m still working on that one.”

“Can’t we use that thing about you being your cousin?” Stacy asked.

“Not if they look into it,” I said. “Aunt Sally doesn’t have any children.”

“She’s always wanted one though,” Dad mused. “How would you fancy going to live with your aunt and uncle for a bit?”

“Sure, if it’ll help keep the authorities off yours and Mum’s backs, but won’t they be keeping an eye on all our friends and family?”

“No-one’s been watching me that I can tell,” Stacey said.

“Yeah, but why should they? I was safely locked up until this afternoon. I bet there’ll be people camped outside your house by the time you get home today.”

“I don’t know,” Dad chipped in. “I think you’re overestimating their resources and their resolve.”

“Better than underestimating it.”

“True, but I think we could still make it work. Your Uncle Mike works for social services, so he might be able to fiddle the paperwork. They’ve been in the system looking to adopt for a few years now, so the most of what they need’s already in place. All it’ll take is a few false signatures and a little bit of fiction.”

“And Uncle Mike’d do that? He’d be putting his career on the line, just like that?”

“He’d take the risk for you. Both he and Sally always had a soft spot for you, you know?

“Besides the risk probably isn’t that great. As Philippa, you don’t have a history to find. I have a mate down the pub who could cobble one together for you which should be good enough to pass muster. Then all it’ll take is a few greased palms. Like you said, they’ll be looking for a sixteen-year-old boy rather than a six-year-old girl, so they shouldn’t investigate you that closely. That is assuming they don’t know about this side of you.”

“No, they don’t; that’s how I escaped.”

“Might they be able to figure it out?”

“They might do. Jumpsuit hidden in the bushes, dress missing from a washing line, one extra child on the bus out of camp. I guess the clues are there. It just depends on how ready they are to believe in my ability to turn into a little girl.”

“I’m guessing not very. I’ve seen you do it, and I struggle to believe it,” Dad said.

“Well, I’ve got nothing better. Let’s go see Uncle Mike and Aunt Sally. What are we going to tell them though?” -oOo-

Apparently we were going to tell them everything. For one thing, none of us could come up with a plausible reason why Mum and Dad might be searching for a home for a mysterious, anonymous six-year-old girl. For another, Dad didn’t think it fair to get them involved without letting them know what sort of trouble might come their way. I guess when you want someone to help you, there’s nothing more persuasive than the truth.

I undressed and wrapped myself loosely in a towel, then focused on bringing Phillip to the fore. I’d been him quite a lot over the previous week, so my body – bodies? – was/were reluctant to cooperate. Thankfully, Stacey was there, and her presence had become an easy way back to masculinity.

Yes, Mike and Sally were shocked. Yes, they struggled to take it all in. Yes, of course they agreed to help us once they’d accepted the truth of our situation. As Dad had predicted, Mike said he knew the ins and outs of his job well enough to sort the paperwork, and their pre-existing adoption application would make it all relatively above board. As it happened, he didn’t need Dad’s mate’s help in coming up with false papers for me. “It’d amaze you,” he said, “how many kids get dumped on our doorstep with nothing but the clothes they’re standing up in.”

It didn’t take him long to come up with a plausible back story for my little girl persona, and he shut himself away in his study, apparently logging into work in order to start generating the relevant paper trail.

Dad sat awkwardly with Aunt Sally for a few moments, then drained his mug of tea. He’s always seemed a little uncomfortable around her, especially on the occasions they’ve been alone. I’ve had half an inkling for a while now that maybe he fancies her. In Philippa mode, my girly intuition, underdeveloped as it was, went into overdrive and confirmed my suspicions.

“So, I suppose we’d better leave you to get acquainted,” he said, coughing nervously. “Mum and I will visit at the weekend and bring some of the clothes she bought for Philippa. I imagine we’ll be dropping by more frequently from now on.”

“Can I come?” Stacey asked. Dad didn’t look to convinced.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m not sure that’s great idea. I mean, if they’re keeping an eye on you, they might be suspicious about any changes in your lifestyle.”

Dad blinked and looked thoughtful for a moment. “I hadn’t thought of that. Mind you, Philippa’s been seen around our neighbourhood with your mother enough times in the past few weeks. I’m pretty sure a lot of her friends will already be under the impression that your aunt has an adopted daughter who’s been visiting us regularly. I ought to tell Mike to backdate the adoption papers to when you first appeared.”

“How do we explain that Philippa hasn’t been here?” Sally asked. “It’d be a bit weird that she’s visited my sister without living here, don’t you think?”

Dad called Mike in and we reviewed the story of my reinvention. He was quite good at fiction, was my Uncle Mike. “What if we say our home wasn’t child friendly when Philippa came into the system?” he suggested. “What if you and Jennifer agreed to look after her while we got this place ready? Yes, I think that’ll work. What was the date Philippa first appeared, did you say?”

Dad told him and he scurried back to his study.

“So, we’ll be back at the weekend with all the clothes your mother bought,” Dad said to me. “It would make sense that we’d do something like that. All the trouble with Phillip being arrested meaning we couldn’t look after Philippa any more, Jennifer wanting a bit of moral support from her sister. Makes sense?”

I shrugged. “I guess so. Can I have a word with Stacey before you go please? Just the two of us?”

“Dressed like that?” He indicated the towel currently wrapped around my waist.

“Unless you want me to put my frock back on and do it as Philippa. Then there’s always the risk doing an Incredible Hulk on everyone and destroying the only dress I have. I can pretty much guarantee I’d end up being a lot less decent than I am now. I wouldn’t mind having a few of those stretchy singlet things Dr Wiesner gave me.”

“I’m surprised you want anything more to do with that man.”

“With him, no, but the gear he supplied is still pretty decent.”

“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, I suppose this,” he indicated my towel, “will have to be alright, but only a couple of minutes, mind, and we’ll be right here.”

Stacey and I stepped out into the hall. I couldn’t meet her eyes.

“You are not about to do what I think you’re going to do.”

“What do you think I’m going to do?”

“You are not going to break up with me, Phillip Merrick.”

“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

“Too flipping right I’m not! What the hey, Phil? I thought you liked me.”

“More than like, Stacey, but you have to see this is nuts, us trying to make this work. I have the government chasing after me. If you stick with me, they’ll be after you too.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should; it’s a big deal.”

“Yes, it is Phil, and if you were one of the bad guys, I wouldn’t want anything to do with you. But you’re not. You thought you were doing the right thing helping Wiesner. I mean we both did. You shouldn’t be among the UK’s most wanted.”

“And yet I am, but that’s my battle to fight.”

“Rubbish! Who did you call when you needed help today?”

“But that’s just it, Stace. I mean, yeah, I’m grateful for what you did…”

“Grateful? Grateful!?”

“Yes, grateful. Really grateful, but I shouldn’t have done it. I mean all this afternoon I’ve been thinking. I put you in danger when I called you, and I don’t want that for you.”

“Well tough, ‘cos that’s my choice to make. What does Philippa think about this?”

“I am Philippa.”

“You’re Phillip. You’re different when you’re her. How does she feel about you doing this?”

“She doesn’t want me to, but that’s not the point.”

“That’s totally the point. We’re two to one against you.”

“Well, she’s more of a half…”

“Okay, one and a half to a half. It’s still a majority.”

“But this isn’t a democracy.”

“Neither is it your personal dictatorship.”

“Look, I deliberately stuck with being Phillip to do this because I know how emotions get caught up in the decision-making process when you’re a girl. I can be more detached, more logical.”

“No wonder you’re making such a mess of things then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Since when did logic have anything to do with the way two people feel?”

“Since getting what you want means putting the person you care about in harm’s way. Since we’re stuck in a relationship that hasn’t got any future…”

“What do you mean no future?”

“I’m going to have to hide out as Philippa for the foreseeable future, possibly for years. That means that Phil’s not going to age much. We don’t know how long this is going to drag on for. I mean even now I look fourteen to your sixteen. What’s it going to be like in five years-time? You’ll be twenty-one, Philippa will be eleven and Phil will still be about fifteen. How’s that going to work out for us?”

“I don’t mind having a toy boy.”

“Stacey, be serious.”

“I am being serious. You need me Phillip Merrick. You needed me today. You called me, remember. Not your parents or anyone else. Me! And if we have to deal with this weird age thing, then fine, we deal.

“I don’t care about the future. Right now I care that I’m with you, whether you’re Phillip or Philippa. If things start falling apart in a few years, that’s then. This is now, and I don’t want to miss it.”

“And if the cops start coming after you too?”

“Let them come. We’ll Bonnie and Clyde it, or Thelma and Louise if you prefer.”

“Things didn’t work out too well for any of them.”

“But at least they were together, and you know what? None of them would have given up the time they had to avoid their end.”

“In the movies.”

“Bonnie and Clyde was real.”

“I’m reasonably sure the real-life ending wasn’t the same as the one in the film.”

“I don’t care. If it comes to it, ours will be.”

“You’re not going to change your mind on this, are you?”

“No, and I know where you live. I’ll come here on the train if I need to.”

I took her hands in mine. I’d run out of arguments and Philippa was clamouring for attention inside me. It took all my strength of will to keep from changing into her.

“Thank you,” I said.

“What?”

“I really didn’t want to break up with you – we didn’t, that is – so, I guess, thank you for making it so flipping impossible.”

I managed a wry grin.

“You really are an idiot, you know?”

I shrugged.

She reached in and kissed me. Before I knew it I was two feet shorter and naked with a towel round my ankles.

Stacey grabbed it and wrapped it round me, then she picked me up and carried me back to where Dad, Aunt Sally and Uncle Mike were waiting.

“That’s going to take a bit of getting used to,” Uncle Mike said.

“Tell me about it,” Dad replied. “So, I take it Stacey’s coming with us in a few days?”

I nodded and sniffled before burying my head in Stacey’s shoulders. Blasted little girl emotions. -oOo-

Six years old meant primary school, which grew old really quickly. By the end of my first day I wished I could – grow old quickly that is.

Uncle Mike pushed through all the paperwork and managed to get everything sorted within a couple of days, which paved the way for Aunt Sally to enrol me in the local primary school before the end of the week. On the plus side, that meant I was working towards an established and normal routine early on, but on the minus, I got to spend six hours out of every week day in the presence of dozens of other six-year olds.

Playing with Emma was one thing. She was a quiet and thoughtful little girl, at least she was whenever Stacey was nearby. Spending the best part of a day with a class full of my apparent peers was enough to take me to the brink of insanity.

I had boys pulling my hair – apparently a lot of them liked me for some reason – and I had girls chattering away inanely about things that made little sense to my slightly more mature mind. I found I did enjoy the chattering though. Girly emotions responding to the need for communication, even if the content left something to be desired.

I had to try and fit in though. If that guy from MI5 came snooping around and found evidence that I was anything but an ordinary six-year-old, he might start to do some advanced maths. “Two and two makes five for large values of two,” Miss Fallon had told us once. She’d thought it was quite funny, and I have to say, I didn’t really get the joke. I didn’t get the maths either, at least not at the time. It makes better sense now.

Rounding and stuff? Look it up, it’s supposed to be quite basic.

Luckily for me, I only had to endure a couple of days of primary school hell before the weekend came around. Sally and I had been out shopping for clothes already, I mean I’m hardly going to get by with one dress, am I? Besides I needed a uniform for school.

Drab grey skirt, boring white, cotton blouse, hideous orange pullover, lacy white socks and sensible T-bar shoes. None if it did much to excite the girl in me, but that was okay.

Mum and Dad arrived halfway through Saturday morning, but they were on their own. I gave them a hug but couldn’t quite hide my disappointment that Stacey wasn’t with them.

“It turns out you were right, son,” Dad said to me, still living in denial somewhat, or maybe speaking out of habit. “There’s been a car outside the house pretty much all week. We called the police, because after all it might have been someone up to no good. They sent a patrol car and the officer went and had a word with whoever was in the car. Then he came up to our door and apologised. Said the blokes in the car were there on official government business, that we had nothing to worry about.

“When they were still there at the end of the third day, your mum went out and asked if they’d like a cup of tea and some cake. They turned her down, and she asked what they wanted. They told her they couldn’t talk about it and asked her not to approach the car again. They were still there again yesterday, and today. What’s more, I think they followed us here.

“Your girlfriend called yesterday. She’s a bright one, that girl. She asked if we had any news about you. Said she was sorry she hadn’t called earlier, but they’ve had a bit of a bug problem. I didn’t catch on to what she was talking about at first, then it twigged, maybe if they were sitting about outside our houses, they might be listening to our phone conversations too. I told her we’d not heard anything since you’d been arrested. She said thank you, and asked me, if I saw you, to let you know she’d be heading into town with her mother and sister today. I suppose her way of saying she wouldn’t be joining us. Sorry son.”

I shrugged. It was a shame, but probably as well. Mum came over and greeted me while Dad emptied the car of all the bags of clothing they’d brought, and we went back into Aunt Sally and Uncle Mike’s house.

I went up to my room and peaked out the window. I tried to do it without touching the curtains, or getting close enough to be visible, but it was hard. Small as I was, I needed to climb up onto my bed in order to look out, and when I did, the first thing I saw was car parked opposite with two men sitting up front. The one nearest was looking up at my window.

I wasn’t sure if he could see me through the net curtains, and I didn’t want to act suspicious, so I leaned onto the ledge, lifted the net to one side and waved at him. He simply stared back, so after a few seconds, I dropped the curtain and climbed off my bed.

Dad and Uncle Mike brought the bags upstairs and dropped them in my room. My mum and Aunt Sally followed, chatting away, and started pulling my clothes out and hanging them up. I hunted through the bags until I found the one with my toys in and dragged it to one side.

With the clothes away, Aunt Sally took the bags back downstairs and Mum stayed. She sat down on the floor beside me, and without saying a word, I climbed into her lap and put my hands around her.

“I’m sorry about Stacey,” she said.

“I think it’s as well,” I answered. “Dad was right, you were followed. It would have been kind of hard to explain why you brought her with you. I’m sorry too Mum. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“I know. We have to accept some of the fault though. I mean it was us that let that Dr Wiesner do what he did to you.”

“That wasn’t a bad thing though, Mum. He did fix me after all, didn’t he?”

“I suppose he did, but I he still did it for his own reasons. I do wish you’d told the people who arrested you more though. I still don’t understand why you refused to cooperate with them.”

“I’m not sure I can explain it, Mum. I guess I was a bit quick to trust Dr Wiesner, and when he turned out not to be who he said he was, it made me a more cautious. That bloke from MI5 may have been genuine, but there were still things about him that didn’t ring true. I don’t know, I feel this is something I have to put right myself.”

“You’re still very young, Phillip, or should I call you Philippa.”

“Philippa’s probably best at the moment. Dad needs to get out of the habit of calling me son as well. I suppose I ought to call you Auntie Jennifer, and Dad Uncle Bill. At least until this is sorted. I will sort it, Mum. I mean Auntie Jennifer.”

Mum laughed nervously. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get used to you calling me that.”

“You’re going to have to, at least for a while. If those men knock on the door, they have to believe I’m Uncle Mike and Aunt Sally’s adopted daughter.”

“Well, alright dear, I’ll do my best. We really ought to be getting back downstairs. You can bring your dolls if you like.”

After lunch, we all went out for a walk. There was a park nearby, and I did my part, running on ahead and getting all excited about going on the swings. Mum and Dad didn’t have to act much. They were worried, and by rights they should have been worried about me being held incommunicado for all this time. After the swings, I climbed onto the seesaw with Aunt Sally, or Sally as I called her. It felt too soon after the adoption for me to refer to her and Mike as Mum and Dad. Then after the seesaw, came the roundabout.

It was while I was spinning around and making myself laugh-out-loud dizzy, I noticed the man from the car. I waved at him again, and Dad noticed. His faced turned stormy, and he marched cross the playground to where the man stood, leaning against a tree.

“Why can’t you leave us alone?” Dad yelled at him. “It’s bad enough you’ve taken our son from us. Why the h…” He caught himself and glanced my way. “Why on Earth can’t you leave us be?”

The man was caught off guard. He held up his hands placatingly. “I’m sorry, Mr Merrick, I’m just following orders.”

“When are you going to let us see our son?” Dad yelled at him, his face turning purple.

I’m not sure how much of his tirade was him releasing pent up frustration, and how much simply a consummate piece of acting, but he had the man convinced. He backed off, stammering apologies.

Dad’s eruption disrupted the mood of the afternoon; I think it shocked us all more than a little. At Mikes suggestion, we headed away from the playground in the direction of an ice-cream van. Regardless of my real age, I was still enough of a six-year-old girl that a double scoop ninety-nine went a long way towards restoring my good mood, and with our government sponsored tail currently elsewhere, we actually had a pleasant rest of the day.

Mum and Dad left for home after an early dinner, and when I looked out of the window after my bath, there was no sign of the car from earlier. -oOo-

I woke in the middle of the night for the first time in several months. The soft flannel nightdress I’d worn to bed hung from my shoulders in strips. But for the duvet, I’d have been pretty much naked.

“Good evening, Phillip,” a familiar voice said from the other side of the room. Moonlight glinted off thick glasses.

“What do you want?” I asked, fighting fear with belligerence, if only to hold onto my larger, more muscular form.

“Ah yes, you are a good student.” His tone was gently mocking. “I want what I have wanted always from you, for you to help me.”

“And what makes you think I would do anything for you?”

“I would like to think you would do this from gratitude for what I have done for you. I have given you a much better life than you might have had.”

“And then you destroyed it by conning me into breaking the law.”

“Conning. This means to trick you, yes? Perhaps yes, I did ‘con’ you, but I am not an evil man.”

“Good luck convincing me of that now.”

“Unfortunate you should feel this way, because I have no time to spend persuading you. It is unfortunate, but necessary that I should do this.”

He stepped forward and handed me his phone.

I stared at the screen, my blood running cold. The room grew around me, the phone equally growing in my hand.

“If you…” I couldn’t muster the aggression for a threat, and my little girl voice held no menace.

“I will do nothing, at least for now. There is one more thing I need for you to acquire for me. When this is done, your girlfriend and her sister and mother can go back to their lives.”

He took the phone from my numb fingers. He knew I had no further need of it. The image wasn’t particularly shocking compared to what I’d seen in the cinema, but it was real which made all the difference. Stacey with her mother and Emma tied to three plain chairs in a darkened room, strips of tape stretched across their mouths and wrapped around their heads. The look on Stacey’s face was one of undiluted anger, but both Emma and her mother were evidently terrified.

Wiesner had won and he knew it. I’d do whatever he asked.

Chapter 6