‘MEET ME AT UNION STATION’
‘Meet me at Union Station.’
My breath came in ragged gasps as my shoes slapped the pavement.
‘I have information about your daughter.’
Spurred by hope, I sprinted across the Hollywood Freeway onto the Los Angeles Street overpass. There were lanes and lanes of crawling traffic spewing exhaust fumes. My streaming eyes could barely read the next message:
‘Don’t call the police or your daughter’s dead.’
I fell face forward, yelping in terror. My iPhone danced along the broken concrete. I snatched it just as it was about to be scrunched by a scruffy boot. I lay there, panting, clutching it to my chest. If I lost my phone, the diabolical game would be over.
Ignoring my torn jeans and the pain in my knee, I struggled to my feet and pushed forwards again. I ran directly towards El Pueblo de Los Angeles.
As I passed the El Pueblo Historical monument, my mind flicked to what I’d once read about the old padres blessing the animals every Easter. ‘Oh bless me padre,’ I whispered, crossing myself, ‘Protect my Angelique.’
I checked the screen. I couldn’t read it for dust and sweat. A quick rub on my shirt and there was the next message:
‘Head through the Instituo Culturo Mexicana. Pay close attention to what you see.’
I stood rooted to the spot. What is the Instituo Culturo Mexicana? My head jerked around, looking for a landmark. I imagined malevolent eyes followed my every movement. I heard a laugh behind me, glanced around–just a crowd haggling over souvenirs.
Like a swimmer leaving the blocks I took a deep breath, dived in and raced through the curving arcade of churro stands. Even in my terror my stomach craved a churro’s warm crunch.
When had I last eaten? On the plane from Sydney? Twelve hours?
Everything had become blurred once I knew my Angel was missing: one moment a high school senior, and the next on a plane to Los Angles in search of her dreams
Dreams that had turned into a nightmare for both of us.
The LA crowd carried me along.
What was I meant to see? What did that last message mean?
The crowd paused. I stopped, ignored the ‘Watch it lady’ from the cowboy who’d bumped into me. I could hear mariachi music. Then I saw him, a snake-charmer in a side alley. What? My eyes focused on his brightly-coloured turban as he sat cross-legged, playing his flute, the snake swaying in time. I held my breath, mesmerised by the surreal scene.
Then I saw her.
Her long straight hair glinted in the sun as she stood watching the snake charmer.
My heart flip-flopped against my chest and I sobbed with the beginnings of relief.
Could it be my Angel? I’d know my daughter anywhere…I’m her mother…it must be…but why was she just standing there?
I ran forward screaming ‘Angel! Angel!’
One touch away from my Angel, a black-shirted arm hit me in the chest.
Pouf! I gasped, winded, nearly toppling over.
The blond head turned in my direction. Dark eyes instead of blue. Pale skin instead of bronze. Hate instead of love.
The energy drained from my body. Hopelessness instead of hope.
The black arm circled the slim waist. The two disappeared into the crowd like the fading credits of a movie.
‘Be at Union Station by 3:00. Or your daughter dies.’
‘Oh God, oh God, help me…’ I cried, but I knew it was up to me. I was on my own. I had to save my Angel...