Extract from “A Call from France”

Extract from “A Call from France”, a true story and considered a must-read for mothers:


I took a sleeping tablet, fearful that the events of the day would give me sleepless night. I dropped off immediately but was woken in the small wee hours by Euan shaking me.

“Wake up! Wake up!”

“God – what’s happened …?”

“Nothing – but I know she’s hurt – we just went to bed – Christ! How can we have been so stupid?! She’s hurt! She needs us!”

Suddenly wide awake I sat up.

“What …?”

“Listen to me! She was fine – she was OK – we’d got over all that business with Manolo! She was sorry. Something has happened to her! It’s obvious! She has fallen – or has been kidnapped!”

The night does terrible things to the brain. I tried hard to remain calm and logical, but Euan’s fear was infectious.

“It’s true we’ve been assuming that she’s sulking somewhere … perhaps she is hurt after all – God, we’d better find her and fast!”

“But Euan … you already looked, Max already looked …….”

“She might have fallen down the well!”

“Why ever would she fall down the well, Euan ………?”

But nonetheless we both got dressed and Euan went up to wake Max . Leaving Bernie sound asleep and Big Harry on guard we set out with torches, me starting by the abandoned pig huts and feeling a fool hobbling around like an old woman, Euan at the far end by the broken wall and Max at the back where the path was. If she was hiding and was feeling hungry and contrite, she was more likely to talk to Max than to us, and the path was her most likely hiding place on the property, the woodland offering shelter and the area being familiar to her. I was slightly frightened of the dark and seemed to hear odd noises at every turn, and the black looming brooding trees took on ghostly forms that waved and teased in the night.

“Debbie!” I called not too loudly, almost as though I was afraid of waking the birds, “Debbie!”

But nobody answered.

At six the following morning we phoned the police. We also phoned Michel who, although it was a Sunday, came round with the other men and we organized an inch-by-inch search of the grounds. Nothing.

“She has been kidnapped,” Euan told the police.

“Whatever for?” I asked him in English, “why would anybody kidnap her?”

“To the local people we must seem like millionaires,” he replied.

This was true.

Monsieur,” said the policeman, “do you have any particular reason to think she has been kidnapped – anything precise, apart from just a feeling? Do you think Manolo Costa has kidnapped her?”

“Yes! Yes, I do! I cannot – I CANNOT – believe she would just run off – she was happy with us! She had a happy holiday with us! We saw her dancing with friends, laughing, we went out to dinner, played card games …” His voice broke. The policeman reached out a hand to Euan’s shoulder.

“We will find her, monsieur, don’t worry.”

Debbie was only sixteen and so a Missing Child programme was launched by the local police. It was terrifying because it seemed so ineffectual and it made me realize just how utterly ghastly it must be for the parents of a small child. Apart from informing other police stations and keeping a general eye out, the gendarmes could do little. They interviewed the local gipsies. Claire’s husband, Joel, and their son, Matthieu, were very helpful, and went around the village talking to people who might know something.

“If it were a small kiddy missing they would do more,” I said to Euan, “but Debbie is sixteen and they know she is almost certainly being terribly naughty. That’s all.”

Euan was half the time convinced she was dead, and the rest of the time convinced she was in grave danger. He was totally desperate to find her.

“My honey,” I said, “we’ve got a lot to cope with here without you going over the top about it.”

“Over the top?! Over the top?! My little girl is missing and you tell me I’m over the top?!”

We held each other close. That evening we put on an old “Love Songs” CD and we danced slowly, round and round in little circles in our big empty living room, clinging on to one another and listening to the gentle music. Max went out with his friends and Bernie watched the cartoon channel while we continued our hypnotic little dance, on and on, through several CDs till we were too tired to go on.

I realized one of our best chances of finding Debbie was via Max . He knew nothing, but was well positioned with the village people to find out something. We were careful to not allow him to feel like some kind of spy, yet we needed him to tell us anything he could find out.

“Nobody has seen her,” he said when he got in, “but lots of people think they know a lot of things about her.”

“Like what?”

“I’ve heard that she’s a drunk, a drug addict, an escaped convict – the lot!” he said crossly.

It was to be expected. I didn’t feel annoyed or hurt for what the local people did or did not think about us was of absolutely no interest to me at all. They could all go to hell as far as I was concerned, though I felt badly about it for Max ’s sake. His lack of information from them did tell me one thing, however. It told me that whoever she was involved with or where ever she had disappeared to, it was not the immediate village. It was further afield than that. This pointed to Manolo, but despite everything I still could not believe that she had run off with him.

The police came back the following morning in case Debbie had turned up.

“No – nothing,” we said.

The police woman who this time accompanied the gendarme seemed far too young to know what she was doing, and she looked more like a model than the long arm of the law.

Reflechissez,” she said gently to us, – think, “try to think of something – anything – that she said or did. If she has been kidnapped we will find her, but whether she had been kidnapped or she has run away the clue to her whereabouts is almost certainly here in this house.”

“I can’t think of anything,” I bit my lip, “everything was just ordinary. We had been through a difficult patch, but nothing disastrous, she came on holiday with us, she had agreed to go to college in Brighton – en Angleterre – to do A-levels. Just ordinary stuff. She wanted her hair coloured, she wanted some new shoes, she had gone off fish, she likes Brian Adams … just ordinary stuff …”

“Had she been in touch with Manolo Costa?”

“Our elder son tells us she made a phone call last night, and the fact that she did it from a call box and not from here shows she didn’t want us to know … but I do not believe it was to Costa … she had told her brother that she wanted nothing more to do with him, she told me she was sorry and felt foolish and she was looking forward to leaving this area and going to England to make new friends.”

“She has been kidnapped,” Euan repeated, “or she is hurt, needs us, it’s ghastly … we must find her quickly…”

“The most likely explanation is that she has run away,” said the policeman. “You’d be surprised how common it is, even in the happiest families. Kidnapping is very rare, on the other hand. Also, she is a big girl. It would not be easy for somebody to bundle her up in to the back of a car. There is the possibility that she is hurt, but you have already searched the grounds. I will arrange some men to search the area. If she has run away with Costa that is not good either – he got out of prison only recently ……..”

“What?!!!” Yet somehow this did not surprise me. It fitted. “What was he in for?”

“Assault. Assault and robbery. It was his second time in prison for a violent offence. I’m sorry.”

I was lost for words. The enormity of the horrible possibilities hit us.

“She is so SELFISH!” shouted Max .

“What is your opinion?” I asked him. “Do you think she’s with Manolo?”

“I’ve no idea – truly, maman, I’ve no idea at all. If she is with him she deserves all she gets. He’ll beat her up.”

“Oh Max …”

I tried hard to keep the two boys out of it, but they picked up the tension and Bernie cried for his sister several times. He wanted to move down from his bedroom in to our room, which we allowed, realizing that it was important he should feel secure and that his little world, despite his sister, was all right. He slept on a mattress by the side of my bed, on the floor, for several weeks, and then migrated in to our dressing room where we rigged up a camp bed for him. He was eight. Such was the tension and the fear in his little mind that he was to never return to his own bedroom. Although that top bedroom at Les Cypres is to this day called “Bernie’s room”, he never slept up there again and remained close to us at night till well in to his teens. I had problems forgiving Debbie for that.

Although I experienced moments of utter panic for her safety, and although at odd moments – usually in the middle of the night – I felt nauseous with fear as to what had happened to her, during those first few days I was not really particularly worried. I was quite certain that she was fine and was being not only very naughty but very stupid. I racked my brains for what I would do if I wanted to hide somewhere and give everybody a fright. The sensible and logical side of me was remarkably cool and I mentally waded through all the possibilities, making notes on scraps of paper … things she had done or said, friends she could be with.

On the fourth day I said to Euan:

“I have it! Of course! She’s at Tulips!”

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A Call from France  Debbie aged 10


Posted on 11/06/2013 by Catherine
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