Degrees of Separation - Chapter 1
In the end, it was efficient, brutal and noisy.
Melissa watched from their hiding place as the farmhouse was surrounded, as bulky black-clad figures strode towards Robert, looking at him down the sights of their guns. He ambled toward them, arms already spreading, hands pulled out of the pockets of his old cardigan which hung from his thin frame. Cigarette smoke billowed around his head as it flicked left and right, left and right, bewildered.
‘Get down. Get down! Down on the ground. Hands on your head. Hands on your head!’
Robert complied, raising his hands first in the air and then to his head. He began to kneel as quickly as his grinding joints would allow, but not quickly enough. An officer wearing body armour and a helmet levelled a gun to the back of his head and aimed a swift kick to the back of his legs. Knees buckling, he landed heavily with a grunt. His cigarette, knocked from his mouth, bounced on the ground and landed a few inches from his head, smouldering.
Three armour-clad officers fell on him immediately, pinning him down, shouting. They stretched his arms out in a cruel parody of crucifixion, leaning hard on his elbows and the side of his face.
Melissa winced, knowing the bolts of arthritic pain that would be shooting through his old body.
Ben quivered next to her, their faces touching, squashed together to peer through the crack. She pulled him close, drawing as much comfort as she offered.
‘Just keep quiet,’ she said, next to his ear. ‘We’ll be okay, I promise. Okay? Okay?’
They watched as he was handcuffed and hauled upright again, two officers dragging him along faster than his stuttering feet would allow. He recoiled from the slobbering German Shepherds, yipping and snarling as they hauled him by, unnecessarily close to their snapping jaws.
He looked smaller, diminished by their brutality. His yellow-stained vest hung down below his untucked shirt tails. A brief wave of guilt struck her; it was laundry day tomorrow. She would have made sure all his underwear was clean. Anger flared in her chest at the indignity with which they hauled him around with such dismissive ease. She fought an urge to call out, to stop them. They tossed him unceremoniously into the back of the van, climbed in after him and slammed the doors.
Melissa watched as guns were lowered, dogs packed away in cages. Laughter drifted across the yard toward her as she shrunk back into the darkness, pulling Ben closer in to her.
Eventually, as she knew they would, they came to the barn. The dogs were back out, snuffling and scraping under the door. Melissa pulled her jacket around Ben, shrouding him against the invasion, voices calling her name, beating on the huge door.
'Melissa! Melissa Curran! It's the police. Are you in there?' A woman's voice.
She heard conversation, urgent voices, feet running on gravel, car doors slamming. The woman who knew her name barked orders impatiently. A few minutes passed by.
'What do they want?' Ben whispered.
'Shh. I don't know. We'll be fine, don't worry.' Her words fell short of reassurance and sounded fake, even to her. She knew he didn't believe her. He was eleven, not stupid.
After a while, activity seemed to focus again around the door. They heard voices, quieter now. Urgent, monosyllabic conversation. The padlock on the door rattled, then a loud boom reverberated around the barn, and again, then a third. Pause. Padlock rattling. Talking. Three more enormous booms, pause. And again.
Persistent, determined activity.
Melissa's breath came in short gasps, her heart pounding. They were going to get in. A high pitched whine began in her head, getting louder and louder, drowning out rational thought. She felt the blackness taking over, fogging her brain, shutting her down.
'What's that noise? Mum? Mum!' Ben shook her, his fingers digging into her upper arm. His panic drew her back, focussed her thoughts. The whining noise grew louder and louder, echoing around the barn. Cutting equipment. Metal on metal.
The grinding, whining noise drowned out everything. It invaded all her senses, vibrating around her, permeating the darkness. Then it was gone. For a few seconds, silence settled; a wonderful absence of sound. She realised she'd been squeezing Ben tightly and loosened her grip. He turned toward her, his dirty face barely visible in the gloom. He opened his mouth to speak and then stopped, whipping his head around towards another sound.
The huge barn door was being rolled open, squeaking along its tracks.
The dogs were in a frenzy of excitement now, barking and yelping, claws skittering on the concrete floor. They did not take long to find them.
‘In the back! She's in there!'
'Jesus. Is she alive?'
'Melissa, are you in there?'
'Get Lauren up here. Now.'
Flash lights invaded, searching, spiking through the darkness around them. Voices calling, dogs barking. Noise and light everywhere, bouncing off the walls, seeking them out. Melissa and Ben clutched one another, shivering, shrinking backwards into the recess, away from everything.
Melissa's throat contracted, allowing only the smallest sips of air to enter her lungs. She fought to catch her breath past her swelling throat. Fought to cling on to her son, to keep him near, but the blackness surged forward again, stretching tendrils of murky fog into her head, clouding her vision. Her limbs loosened, muscle power diminishing. The voices faded, overwhelmed by a violent buzzing that shot pain through her head. She was vaguely aware of light, people and Ben slipping out of her arms as he was snatched away.