That night, Anne kept dreaming of death. It was of her father, bleeding to death in some dark corner; then her mother in a bed regurgitating her guts up and then Tintin. Tortured horribly by the hand of George. She saw each one a thousand times over, getting more and more gruesome and terrifying as time crept on. Eventually she couldn't stand it and she tried to force herself to wake up; because to stay would be hellish for her. She wasn't strong enough to endure the gore. She couldn't see it all over again.
When Anne did wake she had a cold sweat and shivers going up and down her spine. Her mouth was dry and tasted slightly of bile. Anne felt like she was going to cry; she didn't stop herself anymore. She couldn't – because she was weak. She felt like she was nothing; like her loneliness would take her and suffocate her in its embrace.
Anne thought that would be a better fate than to keep living. She kept wondering why she was carrying on with life. It seemed like an unbearable effort now; she had no home, no family and now, no Tintin. She wanted to be given a sign that she was still human and that she could, eventually, move on from this. But nothing came. Nothing ever came.
Then there was a knock on the door.
"Miss Anne?" Nestor. The butler that knew everything in the manor that happened. "Are you awake?"
She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. After they were cleaned she could still feel the salt on her skin, it itched. Anne tried to keep her voice steady as she spoke. "Yes. Yeah I'm awake."
"May I come in?"
She threw on a nightgown, to preserve the miniscule remainder of her pride. Again she wiped her eyes of the dried tears. "Come in."
The butler entered gracefully, bowing slightly towards her. "Professor Calculus would like you to meet him in the radio room to discuss the terms of the ransom."
"Already?" Anne asked, surprised they already figured out what they wanted precisely within a day. But then she supposed that they might have been thinking of this for a longer time than since she was unconscious.
"They will expect you in half an hour, Miss. I shall escort you when you are ready." Nestor retreated out the door with the calm and respect of a proud man.
She got ready slowly, considering what George would ask for. Trying to read him as easily as he did of others, finding out his weaknesses to exploit. He might want money, but that was too easy, surely? If he wanted money all he needed was to rob banks with his small army at his disposal. They would get the money they wanted because of the disorientated police force who was outnumbered a hundred to one. So what else would he ask for? He didn't want anything, really, he had the power to get what he wanted. He was invincible to everyone who dared go near him.
So why did he decide to kidnap Tintin rather than killing him on the spot? What did he need him for? Why did he keep Anne alive when he has always been so desperate to kill her?
These questions slammed against her brain like a bombardment of rocks, each one just adding to her confusion and making her head ache. Because she didn't know the answer, she didn't know anything about George, what he had said to her during the courtship were all lies. Even if some weren't how could she know? The perfect lie is always wrapped in the armour of certain truths.
Anne emerged wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans; the smartly dressed butler was in a pressed suit and looked down at her suspiciously. She didn't care for his judgement; they seemed to be all she wore nowadays. Then she remembered how Tintin bought her a dress in the middle of a blackened warehouse and she couldn't help but smile slightly. Because for a brief second – a single impossible moment; she was happy.
Nestor led her to a room filled with technical equipment that Anne couldn't name or even refer to. All she could really understand was the radio transmitter/receiver on the left of the room and even that had attachments that she couldn't recognise properly. There were fewer men here, but they didn't look at her, they were looking elsewhere, anywhere, except for her. Anne couldn't get used to it – how could she ever trust people who couldn't look her in the face? Why couldn't they look at her?
She was relieved that Skut and Calculus were there, greeting her briefly when she entered and beckoning her to the far end of the room. She swallowed dryly because she was going to speak to her spiteful husband. She was going to hear his voice that she cursed for the second time in a week. Anne hated him. Wished he would die in a dark hole.
She stood by the radio transmitter that nobody was sat at; staring at it like it had a rotting corpse in it. Anne was unsure if she wanted to do this still, but didn't dare voice this, she kept it to herself because she would be asked many questions about her relationship about Tintin. She wasn't particularly in the mood to discuss whether she actually loved the boy or not with strangers. "So what do want me to do?"
Calculus smiled cunningly. "We have listed only two demands for him. But they're both substantial. First he must let Tintin go, directly to us, unharmed."
Anne nodded, that was an obvious one.
"In return he must give himself to the authorities so they might do as they wish with him."
Her eyes inadvertently went cold and her chin hardened. She wanted to destroy him herself, not have some judge do it for her. Anne wanted to kill what he loved the most, himself. George had to die by her hand or not at all. She balled her hands into fists as she thought of ripping him apart. Limb from limb.
"Is that it?" she said emotionlessly.
In answer she was handed the microphone, with static buzzing from one side.
Skut gripped her arm. "You sure you wanna do this?"
Anne looked at him – she was aware of the risks. But it was to get Tintin back, and to get at George. Both were much more important and vital than her; she lived only because of him. She would gladly die for their fates to be certain. She nodded once, curtly and sternly.
The static was silenced. Then a voice emitted from it, causing her insides to scramble and her hair to stand on end. His words burned her ears like acid – she wanted him to die more than anything else. "Good morning. Dearest wife." The sneer caused thorns to sting her throat.
Anne swallowed her chilling concerns. "Let's just get on with this."
"All in good time." He cooed calmly. "Tell me your terms."
There was a pause – everyone was still and only the wind could be heard outside the window. It took less than a minute for everything to be said but the silence afterward was constricting; almost suffocating as static filled the room. Anne exchanged a confused look with Calculus as the seconds ticked by; it was impossible that he would be thinking this long and in due time her paranoia took over. She imagined Tintin being sliced, tortured, shot and killed in this silence; no matter how much she banished the images they returned in tenfold, hurting her more than any knife. The terrifying nightmare was too much to bear, she saw the repeat of her dreams torture her. The minute cascaded past and nobody said a word, barely breathed whispers in the darkness of the early morning.
"I shall do everything you ask under one condition – I would like to spend one last day with you, Anne Poart."
Her skin went icy.
He continued, his voice convincing and almost on the verge of desperation of a defeated man: "One day with me and you can have Tintin. My surrender. Everything. All I want is one more day with my beloved. That's all I want."
Anne was about to open her mouth, spit objections and vile insults at his disgusting suggestion. She would find another way to save Tintin, but her hate was far too strong – she would never go near him. He had destroyed all she loved in the world; he had mutilated her and tried to murder her with his puppets of war. She wouldn't allow him to manipulate her like before, either. Not again.
But the microphone was snatched from her grasp before she could breathe a word.
"May we speak to Tintin?" Calculus asked desperately, ignoring Anne as she tried to take back the microphone. Every insult on the tip of her foul tongue.
A shuffled, muffled noise of clumsy movement was echoing at the other end, Anne felt her heart pump louder. She leaned closer to hear his voice once again. She tried to ignore the possibility of this being the last time she ever heard him; she was desperate to find out if he was really okay.
"I'm… I'm fine." He didn't sound it, Anne realised with a heavy, aching heart. He sounded tired, weak – she never thought that Tintin could ever sound like that but he did and he sounded desperate despite how he tried to hide it. "I'm okay, Professor. Can I… Can I talk to Anne?"
Calculus was relieved, but also frustrated as he reluctantly handed over the microphone.
She held it to her lips – trying to imagine Tintin in a different light than her nightmares. A hopeful scene that was near impossible for her mind to imagine. "Tintin. What has he done to you?"
"Nothing. Don't worry though; he's not going to hurt me if you stay away."
"But if I stay away then he'll just… he's gonna…"
"Anne…" Tintin said quietly. "It was always going to end like this. Just… Just don't try to find me, okay? I don't want him to hurt you again. If you try to find me, he'll kill you and I can't face that. Not again."
"He's not going to win. We beat him once, Tintin – we can do it again!"
"Yeah." He sounded tired, melancholy. "Yeah, Anne, we will."
Anne shut her eyes, trying to imagine them alone instead of being surrounded by strangers. She whispered to him and him alone, tightening her grip on the microphone. "I'll find you. Please don't give up, Tintin. Please."
"Don't look for me, Anne. I'm telling you – he will murder you!"
Anne laughed slightly. "Death isn't going to stop me. You should know that."
There was an unsure silence that made her uneasy.
"Promise me. Swear that you won't let him… That you won't just give up."
There was a second of hesitation – in which his voice hardened. "I swear, Anne."
Anne sighed and felt her throat close as she thought of different times, happier ones that she held close. "Y'know in the warehouse, that day we had together...? I want to have times like that with you. But not out of desperation or running but... but because I want to be there. I wish… I wish that it wouldn't have to be like this all the time, Tintin. I… I want to… stop. I'm tired of all this… insanity." Anne felt her throat close, she could say no more.
"Anne – I want to see you again too, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon."
"Don't say that."
"Why? Because it's the truth?" Tintin sighed. "Look, I-"
He was cut off suddenly. Anne felt the sting of tears and then they started running down her cheeks. She didn't wipe them away, she couldn't. She could only stare at the radio speaker in despair. If Tintin was giving up – what hope did Anne have trying to find him?
George's voice returned. "I shall expect the delivery of my wife down Gossimer Road in London, 11AM. Be there and I shall make the swap. If you aren't, then Tintin dies."
The conversation was over. Tintin's cry was now static in the soft light of sunrise.
Anne was relieved he was alive. But wished that they could've had more time to be alone. There was so much she wanted to say – to apologise, to tell him that she missed him. That she needed him now. But it seemed that the promise to find him was enough for now. She only needed time. Her faith was restored and she became even more determined to find him.
"So," She said after a few seconds of reflecting this. "What's the plan?"
"What do you mean?" Skut replied.
"How're we going to trap him? This is a perfect opportunity we know where he is, when he'll be there-"
Calculus interrupted coldly. "But we don't know how many men he'll bring along. Whatever large number it will definitely be, we won't be able to match it."
"And? We shouldn't treat this like an attack, this is sabotage – we can trick him instead of taking on his goons." Her voice began to break from the emotion that forced through her chest.
"How can we trick a man who's managed to murder hundreds of innocents without being caught? Please answer, sweetheart, 'cause I'm lost for battle plans." Skut was the one who spoke, and he did so with daggers in his eyes.
Anne was afraid of where this was going. She stuttered in utter disbelief and shock. "You can't be considering bowing down to him, are you?"
Nobody spoke. There was a deathly silence that shrouded the room.
"Are you?!" Anne repeated.
There was no sound. All eyes were turned down.
"Anne…" Calculus softly began. "I can't see another way. Can you?"
"There's always another way! Are you all insane?!" She screamed. "We can trap him, tell the police, SOMETHING!"
Her cries leapt across the room, but Anne heard nothing from her allies.
Her eyes flooded with tears and she felt them cascade down her cheeks. "If I go with George… I won't be coming back, will I?"
There was no answer from anybody. It was as if the room was filled with voiceless, pitiful ghosts. She didn't need them to answer. She knew it would be a one-way trip and wouldn't end well at all.
Anne turned to Skut and Calculus, both standing and looking at her. "Was this your plan all along? To deliver me to him?"
Skut nodded. Calculus did nothing in his guilt.
"What if I don't want to kill myself?" She spat, voice shaking uncontrollably and her eyes stinging. "What if I have more to live for than saving him?"
Anne never considered. But as the thoughts of everything that she had lost in so little time, the emptiness that she couldn't ignore every time she even thought of Tintin, alone and hurt. If she was going to die… Tintin would be able to be the hero for longer. She would kill George – protect those she cared about from his wrath and they would go down together. This was always between them two, Tintin had got in between them and gave Anne the courage she needed.
This was what she wanted now. To protect the only person who truly cared about her. But she was terrified.
"I... I need to think about this…"
Anne tried to run like she did before, into the gardens to think, but the men formed a wall before her. Their eyes piercing into her with distrust and distain, almost robotic. They did not move, but they were clear that they would resort to violence if she tried to get past with their ready stance. Anne became scared quickly, her eyes narrowing in confusion.
"We can't let you change your mind about this, Anne." Calculus stated. "This time you will go there. With or without your help, we will get Tintin back."
"And you're happy with letting me die in the process?"
"Not happy, no. But it's the only option we have. I am sorry, Anne. I know how you feel about Tintin."
"You can't be serious…" she whispered, "This can't be happening – you were trying to help me get George! You have enough resources to flank him-"
"Tintin." Calculus corrected. "We're trying to help Tintin get away from that psychopath."
Anne tried to scream, but it was silenced almost immediately by a cloth that gagged her mouth. Her wrists were bound before she could fight back and unwelcome hands held her down on the polished wooden floor as she was tied up at the ankles. She panicked, thrashing out at her kidnappers – jerking her bound body out of their tight grips. It was no use; they had easily overwhelmed her and had no trouble dragging her into the basement of the manor. She screamed angrily, kicking at anybody who was careless enough to come near. They weren't careful with letting her tumble down the stairs of the basement.
She rolled down the stone stairs, feeling each knock become a bruise and uttering loud, muffled cries from her gagged mouth. When she reached the ground she saw the floor rapidly coming towards her – then only blackness.