Six Years Ago
Sarah Altman wasnt by any measure, the most attractive girl on campus. In fact, after watching skimpy clad, atlethic blondes who did nothing more than swivel around, baiting eager guys, most wouldn't have bothered to glance at her twice.
Yet she had the sort of charm which seemed make her the official link between a cupid struck guy and the girl he was hoping to date. She would give them the help they needed. An introduction, or perhaps just a mention. Maybe a phone number. Anything that'd help them get their date.
The only guy who didn't seem to have any favors to ask of her, was Richard Bremmer. A fellow student in her Accounting class, he seemed friendly enough at first. But Sarah had noticed how his gaze always seemed to linger for a moment longer than needed. She was polite enough to pretend not to see it. Besides, she found it sweet to see him fluster suddenly.
Richard spent the first year helping Sarah with the assignments. She was bright enough, but for some reason, weak in Accounts. They'd meet in the college canteen, and over the usual sandwiches and coffee, he'd write different sums feverishly, eager to make sure she understood.
It was towards the end of the first semester of second year that Sarah finally decided to take the first step. It was October 25th, two days before their exam. It had been raining heavily outside, and their coffee cups provided the only solace.
As Richard scratched out the Balance Sheet, he looked flustered. "Sorry," he mumbled incoherently, scribbling the figures all over again. "I thought I'd figured it out,-"
"Richard," Sarah said softly, watching him as he fretted over the table.
"Just hang on a minute -" Richard said without looking up.
"Richard," Sarah repeated, tapping Richard's hand. He stopped writing and looked up. "What's the matter?" He asked, his spectacles placed crooked.
"I was the topper in Accounts in O Levels from my school."
"Really?" Richard asked, looking surprised. He'd always assumed she was rather weak in Accounts.
"Yes. In fact, I aced the first year exam. I lied to you that I didn't, but I did. The truth is, I've been pretending all this while, because - well, because that's the only way we'd get to spend some time together, right?"
Richard adjusted his specs, not knowing what to reply.
"So - so your saying you dont need me to teach you Accounts?" he asked finally.
"No," she said, smiling softly. He'd forgotten how pretty she actually looked.
"Oh," he said, pointing at the scribbled pages in front of him. "Thank god, because I have no clue how to do this one."
Over the years, all Richard could remember was the way she laughed just then. It was one of those things that stayed with him forever.
"Hey, have you seen this guy around?" Tim asked the bartender as he held up a photo of Richard. It was past 11, and the bar was almost deserted, save for a few sloppy drunkards having their last call.
"You a cop?" The Bartender asked warily.
"No," Tim said, trying to smile reassuringly. "Just a friend trying to get him back before he passes out. Have you seen him?"
The Bartender nodded his head. Tim immediately took out his phone and called Mark. "Richard was at Randalls till, hold on - hey," he asked the bartender, "do you remember when he left?"
"About half an hour ago. If I were you I'd hurry. He looked pretty wasted to me."
"Mark, Richard was here-"
"I heard it. We'll be there in five," Mark cut in, before hanging up the phone again.
The five of them gathered outside the bar. No one said anything much. There was an air of quiet panic, as though they were anticipating something horrible. Without a foreword, Mark said curtly. "Best thing to do is split up and each take a block. We'll meet up here after an hour alright? Anyone find him, let us know. Alright?"
The rest of them nodded. It would certainly be a long night.
Six Years Ago
"You serious?" Alex asked, looking stumped.
Richard grinned, still practicing his rudimentary form of break dancing. "Yup. I asked her yesterday. May 21st," he said, more to himself than Alex and Tim.
"You're a lucky ass," Tim admitted enviously. "I just hope Alice accepts. I screwed up my high school prom; no way in hell I'm going to screw my college prom as well."
Just then, Mark and James entered their dorm. The two of them lived in the dorm down the corridor, but in the course of four years of college, they'd actually forgotten who lived where. They were always together anyways.
"Guess what," Alex said, as they watched Richard move his head in stop motion. "Richard's asked Sarah out for the prom. Who'd have ever thought, the nerd gets the girl."
"Congrats dude," Mark said, punching Richard's shoulder jovially. James, never missing a chance, took another shot. "What happened? You promised to do her Final Year Project?" he asked mockingly.
Surprisingly, Richard ignored the comment, and continued his celebrations. It would've taken a lot of happiness to make him react that way, Mark had thought. He was happy for the fellow.
"Where's Ben?" Tim asked, finally realising he was missing.
"He's still trying to finish his project before the Prom. Cant understand what he's hurrying for. He doesnt have a date anyway."
Just then there was a knock on the door. "Come in," Alex yelled. The door opened slightly, and a head bobbed into the room. "Err, is Richard here?" Sarah asked casually.
Richard froze just as he was mid way through his modified 'Wave' routine. Grabbing his jacket, he dashed to the door.
"Hey," he said, coming out of the dorm, "What's the matter?".
Sarah looked up at him, her eyes looking rather wide. He knew she had something important to tell him. He knew that look.
"My parents want me to visit for a week or so," she said softly, trying to figure out how Richard would react.
He should have asked her not to leave. He should have told her to stay. Instead, he merely hugged her and asked her to get back as soon as possible. He should have asked her to stay.
They found him. Lying in an alley way three blocks from Randalls. He was foaming at the mouth, partly unconsious.
"Jesus Christ!" Alex yelled, as he realised it was Richard. An ambulance was called, and half an hour later, the five of them were in Dr. Patterson's office.
"Well, before we can operate on Mr. Bremmer further," the doctor said, as he flipped through the patient's medical file, "I'll need to know more about his past medical condition. Has he been taking any special medication?"
Mark glanced at Ben apprehensively. Dr. Patterson could sense that there was something they weren't telling him.
Images flashed through Mark's mind, one after the other; disturbing images that he'd suppressed for long. Richard sniffing cocaine as they tried arguing with him. Richard sealing himself in his room for days on end, without food or water. Mark remembered how gaunt and hallowed Richard's face had become...
"Doctor, the truth is," Mark said cautiously, "Richard is a former drug addict. He's been clean for almost 6 years now, but..."
The doctor nodded his head, as though he'd guessed that information already.
As he continued to explain Richard's present medical problems, the Bartender at Randalls watched as the fellow dressed in jeans and a t-shirt dropped two 10 dollar bills and left. Pulling a cap over his head, Alex Passon slowly began walking towards his hotel. His mind was deep in thought, thinking about the drunken conversation he'd had with a stranger. The man kept mentioning someone named Sarah.
As he reached the hotel, Alex Passon had no doubt that he'd just seen Roger. Without his beard and moustache, as well as the accent. And one of his supposed buddies had dropped by later. Something was wrong, he concluded. And he intended to find out what it was.
Cafe La Veranda
"Mark and his five friends were less than four months away from their graduation. They'd all get reputable jobs, and have a decent enough life style." Philip said, as he finished drinking his coffee. It was almost time for them to part.
"All of that changed on May 22nd, 2003. Why do you think six college kids would decide to kidnap somebody?"
To Be Continued...