“What do you think they want?” Michael asks, putting down a cup of coffee in front of James and sitting down across the table. “Money? Publicity?”
“To hurt me,” James says, staring at his cup without seeing it. “They want to hurt me.”
Michael takes a sip of his coffee, unsure what to say.
“What did the cops say?” he asks after a few minutes.
“They’re sending someone over to pick up the letter and all other letters dating back the last few months,” James says numbly. “Everything since we announced Silent Scream.”
He wraps his hands around the coffee cup, leeching the warmth into his ice cold fingers. He has no desire to drink it, but when he tries to remember the last time he had something to eat or drink and can’t, he steels himself to take a sip.
It is disgusting.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Michael says, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have known. You couldn’t have seen this coming.”
James puts his cup down, but what he’d really like to do is hurl it at the wall. He wants to break things. He wants to scream and shout. He wants to breakdown and cry.
He wants to kill someone.
But when he answers Michael, his voice is hollow. “I can’t blame myself?? So those tweets, texts and letters…They weren’t warnings??”
“Yeah but J, how many threats do we get every week? How many obsessed fans have followed you home and sat outside your house, waving to you each time you walk out onto your balcony? How were you supposed to know that this one was serious?”
“I should have,” James whispers. “I should have known.”
The doorbell rings. James knocks over his coffee cup as he goes to open it. A couple of police officers are standing on the front steps. One shows his badge.
“Mr Axton? I’m Officer Grady and this is my partner, Officer Black. May we come in?”
James steps aside to allow them to come inside.
“You received a threatening letter?” Officer Grady asks, not wasting any time. James nods. He feels detached, like he is simply observing this nightmare unfold, rather than living in it. At the back of his mind, he wonders if he is having some kind of mental breakdown. If this is the calm before the storm.
“It’s over here.” He leads them into the living room where he’s already laid out all the letters Detective Oliver has asked for.
Officer Grady nods. “Bag and tag it,” he says to Officer Black. He turns back to James. “Detectives Oliver and Roberts will be in contact with you in the morning. An officer will be staying with you round the clock from now on, just in case you get a ransom call. Officer Black and I will be taking the first shift, though Officer Black will first be taking those letters down to the station.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out something small and hands it to James. It’s his sim card. “Do you have another phone?” he asks. “We will provide you with one if you don’t. Since the kidnappers have your number, it’s important that your phone stays on at all times.”
James nods. He feels like he is underwater. Like he is screaming at the top of his lungs, but no-one can hear him. “I have one. I’ll go get it.”
Officer Grady watches him leave just as Michael comes out of the kitchen and extends his hand, introducing himself.
In his bedroom, James numbly searches through his top drawer for one of several spare phones. He grabs the first one he sees and inserts the sim card. His phone rings immediately.
An unknown number.
His heart leaps into his throat and his hands shake as he swipes the screen, accepting the call.
“Hello?” he whispers.
There’s a few moments of silence. Then, “Hello, Mr Axton. We trust you are well.”
The voice is distorted. It sounds robotic.
James rushes towards the door, towards Officer Grady and Officer Black.
“We wouldn’t do that if we were you,” the voice says. “You go downstairs and we will hang up. We are aware this line is tapped. That is irrelevant. But we would like a few moments alone with you.”
James stops and spins around, half expecting to see the owner of the voice behind him.
He is alone.
He stalks over to the window and looks out onto the street. It’s empty. The sun hasn’t even risen yet.
“We’re not outside,” the voice says. It sounds amused. He can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. “But we are watching you. We’ve been watching you for a while, Mr Axton.”
“Who is this?” James whispers. “What do you want? Do you have…Is Alexander…”
The voice laughs. It sounds forced.
“We are the ones you walked all over in your search for glory.”
“Please,” he whispers. “Please don’t hurt him. Please.” His legs grow weak. “Alexander,” he whispers, unable to say anything else. “Alexander.”
The voice laughs again. “He’s here. Do you want to speak to him?” The voice doesn’t wait for an answer. There’s the sound of a scuffle as the phone changes hands. Then…
James’ heart stops.
“James.” He sounds like he is crying.
“It’s okay, buddy. I’m here.” James fights to keep the terror out of his voice. He fights to be strong. He can’t let his cracks show. He has to be strong for Alexander. He can’t fall apart.
He won’t fall apart.
“I’m here, Alexander, I’m here. Are you okay?? Did they hurt you??”
“They wear scary masks,” Alexander says, clearly sobbing now. “They don’t let me see their faces, they don’t let me…”
Alexander screams. There’s a loud thud, like something falling to the ground.
“He’s alive,” the voice says, returning. “And if you’d like him to stay that way, you’ll make sure that your abomination of a film never sees the light of day.”
“Listen to me, you son of a bitch,” James spits, ignoring the way his voice is wavering. “If you hurt him I swear to God I will fucking–”
The line goes dead.
James doesn’t move. He can’t. He is frozen in place. He pushes the phone harder against his ear, straining to hear something. Anything.
“Alexander?” he whispers into the dead phone. “Alexander??”
All he can hear is the sound of his own jagged breathing.