Ariana stirred, her jaw unnatural and tender. A flicker of pain fanned across the right side of her face, her mouth full of slick, metallic grit. As consciousness dawned, she realised it was blood, her bottom lip throbbing rhythmically, an unanswered distress beacon that showed no sign of abating. Her tongue commenced an internal inventory and she realised the grit was actually shards of tooth, one of her incisors shorn of its top half by the fist of her captor. She prodded and probed at it, fascinated by its jagged, irregular contours. Her next dental bill was going to be horrific.
She chanced creaking an eyelid open to discover she was inside a bare, brick building, facing a roller shutter, it’s surface flecked with rust. She deduced she was in some sort of garage or lock up, rows of shelving on either side crammed with all sorts of tools and storage boxes. She tried to look over a shoulder to determine what lay behind, but the pain in her jaw convinced her otherwise. She was seated, her hands and legs immobile, tethered to a chair with coarse rope. She tensed and wriggled, hoping the knots could be manipulated but she could barely move a centimetre without the unforgiving cord cutting deep into wrists and ankles.
‘You’re awake then?’
The unmistakable tones of Adam O’Sullivan from behind her, caused Ariana to jolt upright. She was rewarded with a spasm of agony that made her cry aloud. She winced as her tongue danced across her swollen bottom lip, split open like an over ripened tomato.
‘Sorry about that. I can get you some ice. Ibuprofen?’ He emerged from behind her left shoulder, smirking features belying the kindness of his words. His dark eyes blazed with intensity and Ariana sensed he was beside himself with excitement. Given half a chance she could exploit that, catch him unawares, do something, anything to escape what she feared was her final resting place. She opened her mouth to speak, her clearing mind in overdrive as to the opening gambit. Compliance or defiance? Your choice, Ariana, spin the wheel, it’s only your life on the line.
‘I think you’ve broken my jaw. It’s completely numb,’ she lied, giving whatever speck of humanity lurked within him one last opportunity to come out and play. Adam leaned in to inspect the damage before grinning and standing upright once more.
‘Ach, don’t be silly. It was only a wee slap, I barely touched you. You’ll live. Well, for now anyway.’ He chuckled at his own humour before turning and starting to rummage through a jumble of junk on the shelving to his right.
‘Are you going to kill me?’ Ariana fought to keep the panic from her voice. ‘For what? It’s not my fault your father died. He had a choice. He didn’t have to do what he did.’ She paused, wondering if she had said too much, strayed over an unspoken line. He turned slowly to face her, a temporary halt in whatever he was searching for on the shelving. His face was pensive, thoughtful as he mulled over her outburst.
‘No, you’re right. It wasn’t your fault and, yes, my father had a choice. He chose to drive to Monksbridge that day and plant a bomb. But he didn’t choose to die and he didn’t intend to kill all those innocent people. My father was a soldier, a proud man, he took no pleasure in civilian casualties. Pity those bungling cops ignored the telephone warnings and moved people towards the bomb instead of away from it. Top of the town, top of the town, car bomb top of the town, 15 minutes. That’s what the message said. Yet those arseholes start to move people from the bottom of the town up towards the car. Idiots.’ He gritted his teeth, before exhaling and smiling sadly. ‘I apologise. I get a little emotional whenever I talk about it.
‘That’s okay.’ Ariana realised she was in deep, unnavigated waters, utterly ill equipped to deal with the erratic mood swings of the damaged young man standing in front of her.
‘It’s not okay though, is it Ariana?’ There he went again, drawing you in, making you feel almost sorry for him, before snapping shut, a chaotic, unpredictable steel trap. ‘My father is dead. A man who gave over twenty years of his life to a cause, only to be sold down the river by friend and foe alike. How do you think he felt when he saw his former comrades fawning over the enemy. Cheap suits and cheaper words. Peace process? Don’t make me laugh. We’ve no government, our schools and hospitals are falling apart, while they sit back and count their fat cat salaries. It’s sickening.’
Ariana chose silence on this occasion as Adam began to pace angrily in front of her. The wrong words would only provoke him further and she was certain he was capable of much worse than a punch in the face if she further pressed the young man’s buttons.
‘But you know what really gets my goat, what really pisses me off?’ He made a sudden motion towards Ariana, grabbing her chin and making her squeal in terror. She frantically shook her head. Oh my God, oh my God, he’s going to kill me, I’m dead.
‘You. That’s what,’ he screamed, no more than three inches separating them. Flecks of spittle spayed from his mouth, mixing with the tears now running unchecked down Ariana’s cheeks. Any pretence at calm was now gone, terror reigning supreme within her quaking body.
He stepped back and the switch was flicked once more, this time thankfully off. Adam rolled his neck, like a tired office worker who had spent too long at their keyboard.
‘You really are my Achilles heel, wee girl. Normally the world sees the winning smile, chiselled cheekbones and charming patter, I can do it in my sleep. I walk amongst the sheep and nobody bats an eyelid. Yet along comes little Ariana Hennessy, the mask slips and Adam goes ga ga, proves the psychiatrists were right all along.’ He lifted a forefinger to his head and rotated it while pulling a silly face. ‘Cuckoo,’ he beamed as if they were just two friends shooting the breeze.
‘I’m….I’m sorry,’ blubbed Ariana, her face wet, glistening in the stark fluorescent lighting. ‘Just let me go, I promise I won’t tell anyone, please Adam…’
‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, gorgeous. You see, you’re an integral part of my masterplan. Your mad bitch of a mother wheeled you out year after year, the sweet little heroine, rubbing salt in the wounds of my grief. Front pages, sponsorship deals, free holidays from all the do gooders and well wishers. Meanwhile I’m the forgotten victim, raised in foster homes, beaten and kicked from pillar to post. Nobody wanted me, I was a repulsive reminder of the day the whole world wanted to forget. Well, before tomorrow is over they’ll remember me and I’ll make sure my name is never forgotten again.’ He returned to rooting through the shelving as Ariana struggled to squirm free from the ropes restraining her, no longer keeping up the pretence of being a docile prisoner.
‘Aha!’ He swivelled on his heel with a cry of triumph, holding aloft a crumpled piece of clothing. Unfolding it, Ariana saw it was a canvas vest, half a dozen pockets crudely stitched into the front of it. ‘Do you like it? Made it myself, not bad if I do say so. It’s amazing what you can teach yourself on the internet these days. Just simple electronics. I think I’ve got the size right but I can adjust it if you’re not comfortable.’
Ariana shook her head. ‘No Adam please, don’t do this, please.’
‘Tomorrow we’re going to go back to your lovely university and you’re going to model my fashion statement. Except there will be additions, a little bit of Semtex to spice up proceedings. My dear old dad may be no more but the name O’Sullivan still carries some weight within the circles he used to mix in. It cost me and I had to call in all sorts of favours but I’ve got what I need, stored away somewhere nice and safe. I’ll pack it in so tight you won’t even know you’re a walking, talking bomb.’
‘I won’t do it, you sick bastard, I won’t,’ she screamed, veins bulging on her forehead. She rocked the chair from side to side but eventually relented, exhausted and broken.
‘Oh you will,’ sniggered Adam, enjoying the show. ‘We’ve still got the whole night ahead of us and by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll be putty in my hands. I can be very persuasive when I want to be.’
‘Tess! Tess! Anyone. Help meeeeee,’ roared Ariana.’
Adam frowned. ‘Now there’s no need for that. No need at all.’ He reached into a back pocket of his jeans, producing a roll of black masking tape. Stepping forward he ripped a strip with his teeth before roughly placing it over Ariana’s mouth. Her screams were reduced to a muffled moan.
‘I’ll be back in a bit. Man’s got to eat and all that. If you’re a good girl, I’ll bring you some water, then we can get down to business. Cheerio now.’ Turning, he threw up the shutters to reveal a dark, featureless landscape. He flicked a switch, killing the light above and rolled the shutters back down, plunging Ariana into utter blackness. The only sound to be heard above her sobs were his boots, crunching over gravel, growing more distant, until it was just her.
The Bomb Girl. Alone with her bomb vest.