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I'd stopped at the bar for one beer on my way home, but then bumped into Dave Colman, and one drink turned into three.
I knocked back the last of my beer, and said, 'I'm running late, Dave. I've got to hit the road.'
He raised a hand in farewell, 'Say hi to Catherine and the girls for me.'
I said I would – but I never did.
It was seven o'clock on a Friday night, and I should have been home with my wife and twin girls. Saturday morning Catherine would take Sarah to under fifteen's hockey, and I'd take Sophia to tennis. We had that same routine every weekend during hockey season. After sports we'd meet for lunch at the girls chosen fast-food place – generally Burger King. It was the one time each week we'd allow them to eat junk food. They called me mean, Catherine called me honey, and at work I was known as Midnight Mike.
I pulled my collar up to ward off the biting cold of the October night. The Norfolk wind is said to be lazy, going through you rather than around you, and that night was no exception.
My work van was off the road with a blown engine, an added expense I could have done without. The hire van I was using was parked two hundred yards further along the cold, wet street.
I walked fast, head down, feeling the effect of the beers. The van lights flashed when I pressed the remote, then something crunched against my head, red turned to black, and the pavement rushed up at my face.
There were muffled voices, muffled to me in my semi-conscious state. Rough hands dragged me out of the van and I fell to the floor. I blacked out again.
As my senses returned I could hear the sound of leather soled boots scuffing on concrete.
For a brief moment I thought it must be a prank, that I was in my workshop, and the work boots I could hear belonged to one of my workmates. But the smells were wrong. There was no smell of cut and welded steel, no smell of grinding dust. All I could sense was decay, like the dampness of a cellar that had been closed for years.
My hands had been bound behind my back, my ankles tied together, and what felt like duct tape wrapped tight across my eyes. Nobody had spoken. Not a single word.
Strong hands grabbed me by the jacket and shoved me against a wall. They passed a rope across my chest and under my arms, then pulled it tight somewhere above my head, trussing me up like an animal ready for slaughter.
The fear overcame my stoicism. I couldn’t hold out any longer. 'What do you want from me?'
There was no reply.
The rope cut into my shoulder muscles, so I tried to stand on my toes to ease the pressure. Leather scraped concrete and the rope was tightened further.
After what felt like an hour of being trussed up that way, I sensed somebody close to my left side.
'Who is it?' he said quietly, his voice calm and reasonable as if asking the time.
'Who's what? I've got no idea who you are or what you're talking about.'
'Tisk tisk tisk. Wrong answer, Tommy.'
'Wait.' My voice was abnormally high. I tried to swallow to wet my throat. 'My name's Mike, not Tommy. I'm not—'
My words were cut off by a huge punch to the side of the head. More tape was wrapped tight across my eyes and then around my mouth.
The man with the calm voice said, 'We'll try again in a while, shall we?'
I couldn't move, see, or speak. Confusion started to give way to panic. Who was Tommy? And who were these men who thought I was him?
The punch had dulled me, my head wracked with pain. My nose was partly blocked, and hauling in air made more difficult by the upward pull of the rope.
Time passed slowly. The only comfort was thinking that if they believed I was a man called Tommy, they wouldn’t be going after my family, Mike Bray's family. That thought was all I had to hang on to.
Considerable time had passed, and I'd lapsed in and out of consciousness, then I heard the familiar footsteps stop in front of me. My breathing quickened as I waited to be hit again. I flinched as something cold touched my face, pushed up beneath the tape bound across my eyes, then it twisted and cut.
It stung like hell when they ripped the tape away. I blinked a few times to clear my vision, then tried to focus on the short, balding man standing in front of me.
His head was tipped on one side, his pudgy face wearing an amused smile. 'Hello, Tommy.'
I closed my eyes hoping it would all go away and I'd wake beside my wife recalling fragments of a fading nightmare. I opened my eyes and he was still there, still smiling. The tape across my mouth made my attempt to reply impossible. I tried again to shake my head and say, 'I'm not Tommy', but only managed to chafe harder on the rope and blow blood and snot from my nose.
'You're a real disappointment to me. You know that?'
The man speaking was short and overweight, well dressed and self-confident. The two standing behind him were big, fit, and dressed to fight. They both stared me down, the bigger of the two showing me his balled fist, and I guessed he was the one who'd hit me.
'All this time I've trusted you, made you rich, kept you safe, and what do you do? You shit on me, that's what.'
He gave one brief nod and the balled fist slammed into the bottom of my ribcage. I gasped, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get enough air through my nose, started to black out again.
The knife slid inside the tape and cut. Somebody tore it away, taking skin from my lower lip with it. I gulped air, spat blood.
'Was there something you wanted to say?' the short man asked.
'I'm not Tommy.' I gulped more air. 'My name's not Tommy.'
He turned and spoke to the muscle. 'Does this look like Tommy?'
'Looks like Tommy to me, Boss.'
'Does he sound like Tommy?'
'Sounds like him, Boss.'
'I'm not him.' Even to my ears I sounded frightened, pathetic. I was past caring.
'You know what they say around here, don't you? If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it's a fucking duck. And you, you deceitful lying piece of shit are not talking your way out of this.'
His accent sounded London, or Essex.
'Get me a chair,' he said to no-one in particular. Within seconds a third man came in carrying a hardback chair and placed it behind him.
I wondered how many more there were, what my fate would be, how much it would hurt. Fear crept over me like the cold river water we'd swim in as teenagers, when life seemed easy and endless. Who was Tommy? Whoever he was, there must be a strong resemblance between us. I even sounded like him according to the fat man they called Boss.
My thoughts turned to Catherine and the twins. How would me being kidnapped, tortured, and killed affect them? The girls were studying for their GCSEs. Dad being killed would throw that into a loop. Sarah was set on science, she saw a future of wearing a white lab-coat and conducting experiments. Both the science teacher and school principal said she's gifted in that area. Sophia was the artistic one, and loved reading and drawing. Funny how they look so alike, but are such different characters. Just like me and Tommy from the sounds of it. Except Tommy wasn’t my twin.
What if they dump my body and it's never found? Will the girls believe I abandoned them? Will Catherine think I ran off with another woman? Surely not. And then there's the crushing mortgage. The life insurance would pay that out, but could Catherine keep up with all the other expenses? Would they have to sell and move into some dingy rental?
The Boss sat down with an audible sigh of relief. 'Any idea what problems you've created for me? How much running around we've had to do?' He splayed his arms indicating the other three men. 'You've given us a right run-around. You know that? Driving back and forth to darkest bloody Norfolk. And why pick that frigid hole to run to? Think we wouldn’t find you there?'
'This is where I live, where I've always lived. My name's Mike, not Tommy.'
'Oh, you're not there anymore,' he said with a short laugh. 'This isn’t bloody Norwich. You're back on home turf now, Tommy boy. Back in town. Amongst your friends, so to speak.'
Turning his head slightly to address the other men he said, 'Any of you know about Tommy being an identical twin?' There was a snicker followed by a murmured, 'No boss.'
'Wait. Wait. Look in my wallet. Please.'
I hated pleading, but I was afraid – I was terrified. I didn’t want to be hit again, and didn’t want to die either, which seemed a real possibility.
'And what will we learn, that you had the foresight to get false papers? Credit cards and a driver's licence in another name?' He raised a finger. 'Okay. Let's have a look inside his wallet.' The big guy who hit me before moved forward, then his boss said, 'But hit him first.'
He did, and again I was left fighting for breath as he ripped the front pocket of my trousers and took my wallet. He stepped back and handed it to his boss, then returned to his position behind him, a satisfied grin on his face.
The short, well-dressed man who I now thought of as The Boss, opened my wallet, pulled out the cash and let it fall to the floor beside him.
'Let's see.' He held the licence at arm's length so he could read it. 'Mike Bray? Is that the best you could come up with? Bray? Like a bloody donkey?'
'It's my real name.'
'I'm a steel worker. Look at my hands. Look at the scars. I bet Tommy hasn’t got hands like mine.' His eyes registered the first shadow of doubt, but then just as quickly it was gone again.
'Don't worry about your hands. These guys are going to take care of them shortly.' Without looking round he said, 'Any of you want to give Tommy a manicure?'
I wished I hadn’t said anything and tried to slow my breathing, knowing a manicure would involve pruning shears or bolt-cutters. When the big guy reached into his pocket I feared it was about to begin, but his hand came out holding an iPhone. He read something on the screen, then walked forward and spoke close to his Boss's ear. The short, fat man gave a single nod, then left the room, two of the others left with him. It was me and the big hitter facing each other. I braced for what was coming. He stared with the malevolence of a tightly-wound psychopath. Like a Pitbull in jeans and leather jacket that had scented blood.
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