Morning came, and with it Joe woke up suddenly, feeling strangely energised. Brad was still asleep in the bed next to him, so Joe tiptoed out of the room, looking for the bathroom that Brad had convenient forgotten to show him last night. He finally found an open door at the other end of the corridor, and he crept in, closing the door silently behind him. Joe flicked on the light and looked for a lock on the door. The bathroom was as sterile as the bedrooms themselves. A cream bath with cracks running along the bottom, and an old sink and toilet that had obviously seen a lot of use over the years. Over the sink there was a glass shelf with some tubes of toothpaste and shower gel
that had leaked all over the glass, and had dripped down on to the sink.
Feeling confident that the door was secure, Joe opened his pocket and withdrew the envelope. He wondered he had dreamt it all last night – about the money and the note. Perhaps he'd been so tired and exhausted with what had happened, that he'd actually hallucinated its contents. But no, every word was still there, printed in his dad's typical block handwriting.
So it was all true. He wasn't who he thought he was and his parents weren't either. There were so many questions, and the note didn't answer any of them. He needed to know more. But his father's words were insistent, that there wasn't any time, that someone – they – were coming for him. The only reassurance he could feel, was that no-one actually knew where he was.
Joe returned the items to his pocket, used the toilet and washed his hands and face. He squeezed a bit of toothpaste from one of the tubes and rubbed it over his teeth, then rinsed with the cold water. Feeling a little refreshed, Joe opened the door.
Brad stood outside looking impatient.
"You're finally awake then are you? You missed supper last night and Sam wants to make sure that you're downstairs pronto. That social worker woman is coming to take you to the hospital. You'd best get a move on. And don't forget – anything you come back with is mine."
Brad grabbed hold of Joe's shirt and pulled him out of the bathroom, strode in himself and slammed the door in Joe's face.
Right – thought Joe – the hospital. Perhaps his mum and dad were awake now. Maybe they'd be able to speak to him and tell him what was going on. Surely it was worth taking a chance. And could he really go running off on a wild goose chase just because of a stupid note? What if they'd just been playing a silly joke on him – what if they really had won the lottery and the note was just part of the big set up for him. He'd look a right idiot he if he'd actually believed it and dashed off.
Joe convinced himself that it was best just to ignore the note's contents. He'd go to the hospital and wait for his parents.
Sam came out of his office just as Joe reached the bottom of the stairs. He nodded briefly to him then walked through the doorway, at the other end of the hall, closest to the front door. Joe followed him into what was obviously the dining room. There was a long trestle table with bench seats running alongside it. Kids were seated at other side, cramming spoonfuls of cereal into their mouths and grunting at each other. They barely seemed to notice Joe, who squeezed on to the end of one of the benches. There were bowls piled up on the side, so Joe took one, then filled it with the contents of one of the boxes of cereal. Splashing some cold milk into his bowl, Joe realised just how hungry he actually was, and began to devour his breakfast.
In no time at all, the bowl was empty, and Sam was tapping Joe on the shoulder.
"Bridget is here. She's going to take you to the hospital and then she'll bring you back here later. Don't mess about, she's waiting for you."
Joe scrambled to his feet and followed Sam back out to the hallway entrance. Bridget was stood there and she wrinkled her nose when she saw Joe.
"Have you slept in those clothes?" she asked in an accusing voice. Joe nodded and then hung his head shamefully – it seemed to be the response that Bridget demanded.
"We don't have time to call at your home first. We'll go to the hospital and then we'll go get you some clean clothes. Come on."
Bridget swept out of the door and Joe quickly hurried after him. He turned to look at Sam who closed the front door behind them. There seemed to be an air of finality about it.
Once back in Bridget's car, Joe nervously cleared his throat and turned to face Bridget.
"How are my parents. Have you heard?"
Bridget shook her head. "All I know is that they had a good night and they're holding their own. We'll know more when we get there."
The drive to the hospital seemed much quicker than the night before. Joe felt almost excited. He had now totally convinced himself that his parents were going to be fine, and that it would all turned out ok in the end. In fact, probably better than before – after all, they were rich now! The money in the envelope proved that. They had been playing a big joke on him, but once they were better, they'd all be able to laugh about it together.
Once they got to the hospital, Bridge and Joe went quickly up to the ITU unit. Bridget went to speak to the doctors while Joe stood at the window, watching his parents. They looked the same as before, the same tubes, the same bruising. But Joe felt hopeful. They had to recover, they had to be alright.
Joe turned to go into the relatives' room. But as he got there, he could see that the door was slightly open and he could hear hushed voices inside. Joe hesitated – he didn't want to go in, there could be other grieving relatives in there and he didn't want to intrude. He leaned in to the door slightly to see if he could hear anyone talking.
With a start, he realised that he could hear Nurse McKellon's voice, the nurse that had been so kind to him last night. Joe moved slightly and tried to peer through the crack in the door's hinges.
He could see his parents' case was open and there was a bald headed man bent over them, rifling through the contents furiously.
"Are you sure there's nothing else in here. Are you sure the boy didn't take anything?" he hissed at the nurse.
"Yes, I told you. The boy didn't have chance to go through the case, I was only out of the room for a second. Besides, I had him eating out of the palm of my hand. That social worker is a right bitch, and if he was going to confide in anyone, it was going to be me. He would have told me straight away if he'd found anything. They obviously didn't leave anything for him. You need to hurry up and put everything back. They'll be here soon. I'll bring the boy into the room, and then you can take him. I'll make out that he's run off upset."
Nurse McKellon and the man began stuffing everything back into the case, then the man slowly stood up, unfurling his body from its crouch. He was tall, freakishly tall. He seemed to go on and on forever. He was dressed in a black suit, which seemed to emphasise his height how thin he was. His head was shiny smooth, and he had piercing dark eyes embedded into his face. Just like a human crow. He turned to the nurse.
"Just make sure you what you've been paid to do. Get the boy in here alone and cause a distraction so I can get take him."
Joe reeled back in horror. It was true, everything in the note was true. There actually were people out to get him, this was no joke.
Joe quickly turned, looking for an escape route. But the corridor seemed to stretch on forever, and if they came out now, they'd see him for sure. There was another door way almost adjacent to the relatives' room. Joe pulled the door open and saw that it was a storage room. He darted in, pulling the door behind him, but leaving a small gap so that he could see what was happening. The angle was perfect - he could see the entrance to the relatives' room. Then he saw Bridget walking into the room. She paused in the doorway – obviously the nurse and the man hadn't quite finished clearing up their mess.
"What do you think you're doing?" she commanded in a loud, clear voice. "Those aren't your things, where is Joe? I'm going to call your superior, what on earth is going on here!" Bridget turned to walk out, but Joe could see that she was grabbed and pulled back into the room, and the door slammed shut behind her.
Joe hesitated, but only for a second. Now was his chance to get away without being seen. He leapt out of the room and starting running down the corridor. He was sure that Bridget would be able to get control of the situation. He couldn't imagine anyone being able to restrain her for long.
Joe entered the stairwell and raced down the stairs, taking them two at a time. As he got to the ground floor, he saw a sign pointing down towards the car park. Joe paused for a second. If they had been planning to take him, they would probably have someone stationed outside the entrance waiting. It was probably better to go out through the car park. He carried on down the next flight of stairs until he reached the exit door into the car park.
Luckily the car park was really quiet. Visiting time hadn't yet officially started, so most of the cars belonged to the employees of the hospital. As Joe weaved through the lines of stationary cars, another thought occurred to him. Bridget's car. If they had her, they wouldn't be looking for her car, they wouldn't expect it to be missing. Joe looked wildly from side to side, trying to remember what make and model it had been and where they'd parked. That was right, it was a Polo, a black one. Not new, but not too old either. Joe racked his brains – what was the registration? He spotted a black car two rows up from him and quickly scurried over, ducking down between the other cars. He peered into the back of the Polo and to his amazement saw a folder with his name on it on the back seat. Jackpot! First time lucky!
For the first time in about 24 hours, Joe finally felt a jolt of happiness. Finally, something was going his way. As a smile spread across his face, he started to hear two noises. The sound of heavy footsteps thundering down the stairs towards him – they were obviously looking for him. However, it was the second noise that really frightened him. The same, whining, high pitched noise that had happened yesterday! Joe turned to face the fire exit door and watched as it flew open. The whining noise got louder and louder and then suddenly it stopped. As did the door.
Joe stood silently wondering what to do. Then curiosity took over and he quickly ran over to the door and peered behind it. It was the crow man, frozen in mid flight with his arms outstretched, holding on to the handle of the door. Joe reeled back but then realised what a golden opportunity this actually presented. The man couldn't do anything – going on past events, he'd be like this for the next 10 minutes. Ten minutes in which Joe could get away without being seen! He quickly ran his hands through the man's pockets until he found what he was looking for. Car keys, a wallet and a mobile phone. Joe pocketed the phone and wallet then threw the keys away, far under one of the other cars. Joe went back to Bridget's car and tried all of the doors. They were all locked but then Joe remembered that when they'd arrived early, Bridget had gone back to get some folders out of the boot. Perhaps she'd forgotten to lock it again? He tried the boot and couldn't believe it when it swung open. His second shot of good luck!
Joe climbed over the seats and into the driver's seat. Bending down, he fiddled with the steering column, feeling carefully for the wires hidden behind it. Like his father had shown him, he carefully pulled the wires loose and then stripped the covering from them. He then held the exposed wires together, and kept rubbing them together until he finally heard the engine start. His dad had shown him several times how to start a car without the keys. He'd always claimed this came in handy if you had to recover a broken down car and didn't have the keys. Joe had never understood why his dad had been so insistent on him learning this skill – but he could definitely see the benefits now!
One other thing that his dad had taught him..how to drive. Joe had been driving from a really early age. Another talent that his dad had thought essential?
Joe turned back to the back seat and pulled Bridget's coat over to him. He folded it up to make a temporary cushion and then sat on it. Without it, he could just about see over the wheel without a problem, but he didn't want to draw any attention to himself. The higher he was, the less likely anyone would think he was a kid.
One last thing. Joe opened the crow man's wallet and pulled a £5 note free. Then he took the parking ticket from the glove compartment, ready to get through the barrier.
Joe glanced at the clock. It was dangerously close to the end of the 10 minute freeze period. If he could just manage to time it right. Joe drove over to the barrier and inserted the ticket into the ticket machine, followed quickly by the money. The barrier slowly swung open and Joe pressed his foot on the accelerator. As the car sped up the ramp and out into the bright sunlight, Joe spotted a black van parked on the side of the road. Another man, very similar to crow man, was stood outside leaning on it. Joe was right – they had been waiting and watching outside!
As Joe drove past the van he glanced into the rear view mirror. He hadn't been a moment too soon. The people on the street started to move again. There didn't appear to be any confusion or bewilderment. They weren't even aware what had just happened to them!
Joe didn't care. He'd actually got away. All he had to do now was to stay hidden until he could reach his destination.
Joe glanced at crow man's mobile phone. It was still switched on and Joe knew that it would start ringing any second. He quickly switched it off. His dad had always refused to have a mobile phone, saying that they were just other ways that people could use to track you. That they were all fitted with GPS signals and microphones. If his dad was right, once they realised that he had the phone, then they could use it to find him. Joe didn't want to get rid of it though, there might be information on there that was useful. For now, he'd just have to leave it switched off.
Joe drove carefully along the road, being careful to observe the speed limit. He didn't need to be stopped right now for speeding. His initial sense of euphoria was slowly wearing off, replaced by yet more questions. He couldn't believe he'd actually escaped, but thinking about it, he realised that all those little tricks his dad had taught him – he'd actually used. It was almost as if his dad had been training him ready for this day.
But that still didn't answer the question of the noise and the stillness. Why was that happening and why to him?