A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 3: Search and Rescue

Dominic’s absence from his desk the next morning went unremarked. If anyone noticed his empty chair they just assumed he was in a meeting or out of the office on a site visit. It wasn’t until Sarah Powell went over to the coffee machine mid morning and saw Dominic’s blank computer screen that anyone started asking questions. She knew that Dominic always turned his computer on the moment he arrived at work. She also knew that he had no plans to be out of the office that day as the two of them had arranged to eat at the Barbican after work before the attending the evening’s concert.

When she’d poured herself a cup of coffee Sarah walked thoughtfully back to her desk and tried to work out what must have happened. If Dominic was ill or unaccountably delayed he would surely have contacted the office. And she couldn’t believe he wouldn’t let her know as soon as possible if he was unable to go to the concert with her that evening. Once she’d finished her coffee, her hand hovered over the phone a couple of times as she tried to make up her mind whether or not to check on Dominic’s whereabouts. Finally she picked up the receiver and dialled security to enquire whether he had entered the building that morning. It was no surprise to have his absence confirmed and her next step was to ask security and then reception if Dominic had rung in sick or left any message for her or for Mr Merrow. When this line of enquiry also drew a blank, Sarah began to get worried.

She knew that Dominic lived on his own and she feared that he might have had an accident. She needed to ring him and make sure he was okay but when she pulled out her mobile phone to make the call she realised that he had never given her a contact number. As a member of the Human Resources team, however, Sarah had an instant solution to the problem. Strictly speaking, she wasn’t permitted to access personnel records without authorisation but she decided that, in the circumstances, she was justified in using her password to pull up Dominic’s home and mobile telephone numbers. She tried first one and then the other but when each rang until the answerphone kicked in, she became convinced there must be a problem.

The obvious person to alert was Dominic’s line manager but Sarah found Jude Merrow a rather formidable character. It wasn’t that she feared a hostile response; Mr Merrow was universally acknowledged to be a fair and courteous boss. But in repose his handsome features took on a rather forbidding aspect and Sarah hesitated to bring her fears to his attention. Eventually it was the mental image of Dominic lying somewhere ill or injured that drove her to knock hesitantly on his door and to step into his office in response to the curt invitation to enter.

“Ah, Miss Powell, what can I do for you?” he asked at once, pushing his paperwork to one side. “Come and take a seat.”

Sarah now had his full attention and she found herself unprepared for the intensity of his gaze. “I’m sorry to bother you, sir. I know you’re busy… It’s probably stupid… but I’m just worried.”

“You’re not bothering me and I’ve got plenty of time. Tell me what you’re worried about.”

Mr Merrow’s calm and reassuring manner helped to settle Sarah’s nerves and it suddenly seemed quite natural to confide in him. “It’s Dominic McAvinchey. He’s not come into work today and there’s no message to say he’s ill or anything.”

“In which case I’ll see him when he reports for work and remind him of the correct procedure to follow in the case of absence,” Dominic’s boss responded crisply.

“No, no, you don’t understand, sir. I’m afraid he’s had an accident or something. I’ve tried ringing him and there’s no answer. He lives on his own and no one would know if he’d had a fall or been taken ill.”

“He seems a very fit and capable young man to me,” said Mr Merrow with a laugh. “He’s probably taken an unauthorised day off and is planning to call in a sickie later on.”

“No. He wouldn’t do that. And, anyway, he and I are going out for a meal after work tonight. We’ve got tickets for a concert at the Barbican. He was looking forward to it. There’s no way he would let me down like that.”

Mr Merrow frowned as Sarah’s word’s chimed with his own observations. Dominic McAvinchey hadn’t struck him as the type of young man who would tell lies and certainly not the type who would let a colleague down. He was, however, surprised to hear that Dominic was going out with Miss Powell. Somehow he hadn’t thought Dominic’s interest lay in that direction but there was no doubting Sarah’s concern for Dominic’s welfare. “I take your point, Miss Powell,” he conceded. “You were right to bring this to my attention. Have you any ideas where we could start looking for Dominic?”

“If he’s not at home I’ve no idea where he would be. As far as I know he had no plans to go anywhere today apart from work and the concert this evening.”

“What about yesterday? Where did he go yesterday?”

“He was here, at work. Oh… oh, and he was going out last night. He told me at lunchtime and I forgot. He was going out with Chris, Chris Wilkins, the caretaker. They’ve been seeing one another… after work…” Sarah blushed; she didn’t know how much she should say. She wondered whether she’d already divulged too much about Dominic’s private life to his boss, although she had the feeling that Mr Merrow had immediately grasped the nature of the relationship. He didn’t seem inclined to comment, however. He only seemed interested in establishing the facts about Dominic’s whereabouts.

“Did Mr McAvinchey tell you where he and Mr Wilkins were going?”

“No,” she said without thinking, before trying to recall precisely what Dominic had said about his plans for the evening. “Actually,” she explained, “I think he said they were going to a club; yes, they were going to a private club.”

Mr Merrow was beginning to share some of Sarah’s concern about Dominic’s whereabouts and he decided that the best way of following the trail was to make contact with the caretaker. “Do you know whether Mr Wilkins is in the building?” he enquired.

“No, I didn’t think to ask anyone. He normally comes on duty around midday. Shall I go and see if I can find him?”

“No, not yet. I’ll check with security first.” Mr Merrow picked up the phone and established that Mr Wilkins had not yet arrived but was expected at work in about an hour. Having got an answer to his question, he sat in silent thought for a while, running his fingers idly up and down his jawbone. Sarah listened to the faint scratching of his fingertips against the barely visible stubble and waited for the boss to come up with a plan of action.

Mr Merrow had some inkling about the nature of the private club to which the caretaker had escorted Dominic. It was all guesswork but he wasn’t about to share his guess with Miss Powell; he didn’t want to alarm her any further. There had been something about Mr Wilkins which had made his hackles rise when he first met the man. He had chosen to ignore his instincts as, in the normal course of events, he had minimal dealings with the caretaker. Nonetheless, he recognised the challenge in Chris Wilkins’s look, a certain assurance bordering on arrogance, the knowing recognition of one alpha male squaring up to another. It was a challenge Mr Merrow hadn’t felt the need to take up but now the situation had changed. Now Dominic McAvinchey was involved and all Jude Merrow’s protective instincts were coming to the fore.

When Mr Merrow spoke again it was with resolution. “Do you have access to Mr Wilkins’s personnel file?”

Sarah was about to say no, but then she read the look in Mr Merrow’s eye. He knew as well as she did the protocol for accessing personnel files. She had already breached that protocol by searching for Dominic’s contact numbers on the staff database. They both knew there was no time to get proper authorisation to remove the caretaker’s personnel records from the locked filing cabinet in the Human Resources storeroom. “Yes, sir,” she responded politely, knowing they were now partners in crime. “Give me a moment and I’ll just pop downstairs and collect the file.”

When she returned carrying the buff paper folder, with the cover displaying the caretaker’s name and photograph held protectively against her body, they sat down together at the conference table in Mr Merrow’s office and rapidly scanned the contents. In view of her greater familiarity with personnel records, Sarah was able to immediately pull out the caretaker’s employment history and the references which had been taken up when he was offered the job. Then she began to copy down Mr Wilkins’s home address and contact telephone numbers while Mr Merrow read through the paperwork.

There were a number of unexplained gaps in Chris Wilkins’s employment record which Mr Merrow would have questioned if he’d been in charge of appointing the caretaker. It might not be a highly paid or highly regarded job but it gave the post holder unrestricted access to the entire building. There were security implications which didn’t bear thinking about, quite apart from the importance of safeguarding other employees. He skim read the two references from previous employers and then went back to look at them more carefully, trying to match them against the caretaker’s employment history. Something didn’t feel right but he would have been hard pressed to explain his reservations. It was just gut instinct which made him ask Sarah, “Do you think you can check out these references?”

She knew at once what he meant. It was a task she had done before. Usually an employer’s reference was obtained in circumstances which meant that it was taken at face value but from time to time it was necessary to double check an employee’s references and qualifications. Actually it was normally an assignment which Sarah enjoyed, requiring as it did a certain investigative cunning. This time she was immediately on the alert. “Is there something wrong?” she asked anxiously. “What have you found?”

“I haven’t found anything,” he replied calmly, not wanting to add to her worries. “I just think it would be worthwhile checking this guy out. Don’t spend too long on it. Just make a few phone calls and let me know what you discover.” He gathered together all the papers and passed her the file as she stood up quickly, eager to embark on the task.

Afterwards she could never explain why she didn’t go straight back to her desk. She’d been given a positive directive which might aid Dominic and she understood exactly why Mr Merrow wanted her to do some basic checks, but something drew her to the caretaker’s storeroom. She knew he wasn’t in the building, and she didn’t know what she was expecting to find but if Dominic’s last dealings had been with Chris Wilkins she wanted to check out the caretaker’s private domain. She knocked hesitantly on his door and then tried the handle. The door wasn’t locked and she entered a room filled with floor to ceiling shelving which was stacked with everything from floor cleaner to toilet rolls. One small corner of the room clearly served as the caretaker’s office as well as his rest area. There was a desk covered with an untidy heap of papers and post-it notes and beside it stood an old armchair with fraying covers and squashed cushions.

As Sarah turned to leave, her eye was caught by a rucksack lying on the floor beside the armchair. She was certain it was a rucksack she’d seen before, hanging on the back of Dominic’s chair. She walked back uncertainly, knowing that she would definitely be prying if she were to open it. She bent and her hand strayed to the zipper. A moment later she went rigid with shock as she recognised the contents as the clothing Dominic had worn to work the previous day. However, she retained enough self possession to close the zip in order to leave no evidence of her presence before rushing back to Mr Merrow’s office.

She knocked but walked straight in without waiting.

“That was a quick…” Mr Merrow began, before taking in her expression. “What’s the matter? Come and sit down, Sarah.” She might not work for him but he knew her first name, despite his preference for sticking to the formalities at work. But this wasn’t a time for formality; Sarah was as white as a sheet and Mr Merrow stood up hastily to get to her side. “You’re alright now. Sit down and tell me what’s wrong.”

Sarah collapsed gratefully into the chair he guided her towards. “His rucksack! I’ve found Dominic’s rucksack. It’s in the caretaker’s room.”

“He must have left it lying around somewhere, Sarah. Calm down. You know he isn’t the most organised person when it comes to keeping track of his belongings.”

“But it’s got his clothes in, the ones he wore to work yesterday.” Her voice went up in pitch as she became more agitated. “Where is he? What’s happened to him?” She was clearly on the verge of tears.

“There’s probably a simple explanation for this,” he said reassuringly while privately acknowledging that his own instincts were screaming as loudly as Sarah’s. “He probably got changed before going out and left his work clothes here.”

“I know, I know, that’s the obvious explanation… there’s just something which doesn’t feel right to me.”

“No. It doesn’t feel right to me either,” Mr Merrow admitted and, in voicing his concerns, he rapidly came to a decision. “We’ve really got nothing to go on but I’m going to drive over to Chris Wilkins’s house and check it out.”

He picked up the phone and asked reception to arrange for a fleet car to be brought to the front entrance, specifying that it be a vehicle equipped with sat nav.

Sarah wordlessly tore from her notebook the page on which she’d written the caretaker’s address and passed it over to Mr Merrow. “I’m so glad you’re going to look for him. I know I might be making a fuss about nothing but… well, I’m just glad you’re going.”

“You’re not making a fuss about nothing. You’re right to be worried and you were right to bring your worries to my attention. If Mr McAvinchey rolls up later today without a good reason for his absence he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do. In the meantime you and I are going to give this our best shot. Okay?”


“So, let’s get down to practicalities. I’d like you to get on with checking those references, if you will.”

“Right. I’ll start straightaway.” She made to get up.

“Hang on. I want you to ring me if you find anything of interest, anything at all. Let me give you my mobile number.” Mr Merrow wrote it on a yellow post-it note which he tore off the pad and handed to Sarah who stuck it to the outside of the personnel file she was still clutching. The sight of the file brought another issue to Mr Merrow’s mind. “I don’t want you going anywhere near Mr Wilkins while I’m away. Do you understand? When he gets into work you’re not to go and ask him about Dominic?”

Actually, Sarah hadn’t thought that far ahead but now she made a half hearted protest. “But what about the rucksack with Dominic’s clothes? What’s it doing in the caretaker’s office?”

“If it’s lost property, you can’t go accusing Wilkins of misconduct. If he’s in some way responsible for Dominic’s absence, you mustn’t challenge him on your own. Is that clear?”

“I suppose so.”

“Look, it’s not going to take me too long to drive out to Chris Wilkins’s house at this time of day. Let me put your number in my phone and I’ll keep you up to speed with my progress. When I get back here we’ll discuss the best thing to do next.”

“So you don’t really think your trip is going to give us any answers,” she observed astutely.

Sarah, I don’t know, I really don’t know. But if we both draw a blank this morning we’ll get some help.”

“You mean ring the police.”

“No. Dominic’s only absent from work. He’s an adult and we can’t report him missing when he’s just a few hours late. How many of the nation’s workforce do you think fall into that category? I was thinking of discussing this with others here at Semdar and then doing a bit more investigation.”

“Getting the caretaker’s line manager involved, do you mean? Getting him to question Wilkins?”

“We’ll see,” replied Mr Merrow, taking care not raise Sarah’s expectations, although he was thinking along those lines himself. “We’ll see,” he repeated, standing up to pull on his jacket.

As he nosed the powerful executive vehicle round the buses and taxis which clogged up the traffic in central London, Jude Merrow pondered the enigma that was Dominic McAvinchey. He had obviously made a conquest of Sarah Powell, although he was probably quite unaware of the fact. He seemed oblivious to the power of his own sex appeal which the unfashionable clothes and cheap haircut did nothing to diminish. Jude found that he was unaccountably pleased to learn that his initial impression of Dominic’s sexuality was correct, although he would not have chosen to learn the truth in such circumstances. There was no way such an intelligent, sensitive and highly educated young man should be hanging round with the caretaker, especially not with a man of Chris Wilkins’s ilk, for whom the young graduate had probably been easy prey.

The traffic eased as Jude reached the suburbs and he put his foot down, following the route carefully on the sat nav screen. He was anxious to see where Mr Wilkins lived, feeling that the location would somehow give him more of an insight into the man’s nature. He was expecting to end up in a rundown suburb, imagining that the caretaker would rent a room or perhaps a flat in some converted Victorian house. In fact he was led to a road of unexceptional 1930’s houses with tidy front gardens, paved driveways, identical garages and large bow windows to the front room and upstairs bedroom.

He parked outside Chris Wilkins’s house, walked up to the front door and rang the bell. In line with his expectation, there was no answer as the caretaker was meant to be on duty. Jude pulled his mobile out of his pocket and called Sarah Powell who answered at the first ring.

“Have you arrived there?” she asked at once. “I didn’t like to phone while you were driving but I’ve been so anxious to tell you: at least one of those references is a fake. Wilkins worked for the company alright but was dismissed without a testimonial. I couldn’t get any more information over the phone. They were very cagey but I was more or less told that this isn’t a man you’d want in your organisation.”

That information didn’t come as any surprise but it served to reinforce Jude’s conviction that he would have to try and search the house. “Do you know if Wilkins has reported for work?”

“Yes. I asked security to let me know as soon as he walked into the building. He’s been here about twenty minutes.”

“Remember what I said. You’re not to make any contact with him. You understand me?”

“I won’t go near him, I promise. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try and get a look round. I can see there’s a path down the side of the garage to the back door. Maybe he’s left a window open.”

“Take care, won’t you. Ring me back as soon as you can.”

Jude ended the call and walked down the side path as if he owned the place, reckoning that he would draw less attention to himself by being bold than if he showed any hesitation. Once round the back of the house he was out of sight of neighbouring properties and could take his time looking in the kitchen and dining room windows. There were dirty plates and saucepans stacked in the sink and on the draining board. The remains of a takeaway meal for one still lay on the dining room table but there was nothing untoward and no obvious sign of Dominic’s presence. He would have to get inside.

All the downstairs windows were closed but Jude noticed that a small upstairs window had been left on the latch in the back bedroom. If he could find a ladder there might be a chance he could reach in and open the larger window below. The back door to the garage was locked which meant Jude had to risk walking round to the front drive again to try the up and over door. This proved equally secure but as he stood looking up at the garage and contemplating the risk of breaking in, he noticed a small velux window in the roof which seemed a recent installation. A glance down the road at all the other identical garages confirmed Jude’s initial impression that this garage was the only one to have an added room in the roof space.

Jude reflected that a loft conversion was the usual method of acquiring an additional room and there was evidence that other properties in the street had been extended upwards. It was, of course, possible that Mr Wilkins had elected to install a hobby room in the roof of his garage but there was something about it which rang alarm bells for Jude. He walked round to the back garden and pulled a stone from the overgrown rockery before taking off his jacket and wrapping it round his hand for protection. He then went up to the back door of the garage which had a glazed upper section. The main house had replacement double glazing but the window in the garage door must have been the original 1930’s glass. It smashed easily when Jude hit it with the stone although he froze in horror at the sound of breaking glass which seemed inordinately loud.

When he heard no shouted challenge he relaxed and then gingerly inserted his arm through the hole in the glass and released the door lock. As he stepped into the garage he was surprised to find the gleaming sports car, but he spared no time to consider how the caretaker could have afforded such an expensive vehicle. All his energies were focused on getting into the upstairs room and he squeezed rapidly past the car to reach the staircase at the other side of the garage. He ran up it two steps at a time and then wrenched the handle of the door at the top. When the door failed to open he pounded on the wood and shouted Dominic’s name. He wasn’t seriously expecting a response but in the ensuing silence a muffled “yeah” came from the other side of the door.

“Dominic? Dominic, is that you? It’s Jude. Jude Merrow from work.”

“Yeah.” It sounded a little louder this time followed by a strangled cry, “Help, help me.”

Jude tried the door frantically and put his shoulder to the wood but it wouldn’t budge. He threw his full weight against it a couple of times but soon realised that the lock wasn’t going to give way. Then a further shout from inside made him stand still to listen. It was difficult to make out what Dominic was saying; his speech was not only muffled, it seemed distorted in some way.

“Ocked, is ocked.”

“Don’t worry, Dominic,” Jude shouted back. “I’m coming, I’m coming to get you.”

“Eee, eee,” Dominic shouted back more urgently.

Jude realised what he was trying to say. “Key. Key, Dominic. Where’s the key?”

“Airs, airs, under tairs.” This time Dominic’s instruction was more baffling.

Jude stood undecided for a moment, mentally repeating the words until they suddenly made sense. Then he turned and ran down the stairs, ducked under the open treads and began frantically searching along the garage wall for a hook on which a key to the upstairs room might be hung. When his search drew a blank he turned in frustration to the stairs themselves, running his hands along the back of the open treads and finally falling to his knees to search under the bottom steps where there was limited headroom. It was only as he was getting to his feet that a small Yale key caught his eye, hanging at the back of the fourth step. He realised it would be invisible from the front of the staircase but easily accessible to someone who knew where to reach through the open treads. Wilkins had hit upon the perfect hiding place and hadn’t bargained for Dominic’s attention to detail and total recall.

Jude grabbed the key, hurled himself up the stairs, turned the lock without fumbling and flung open the door. The sight which met his eyes would remain with him forever. Dominic was lying on a long narrow table in the centre of the room, bound around his wrists and ankles by leather straps which appeared to be attached to the underside of the purpose built structure. The reason for the muffled speech was immediately apparent. Dominic had been gagged but had managed to work the fabric between his teeth so that he could shout for help. His head was turned towards the door and his eyes were wide with terror which immediately gave way to mute appeal when he caught sight of his rescuer.

There was no way Jude could miss the relief and gratitude which overwhelmed Dominic as the gag was pulled out of his mouth and Jude set about unbuckling the restraints. Dominic needed help to sit up and Jude winced at the sight of the wheals across his naked back. When he seemed steady Jude helped him to the floor but his legs buckled and Jude pulled him into a supportive embrace. Dominic tensed for a moment before leaning gratefully into the powerful body which offered support and protection. His head fell onto Jude’s shoulder, his arms snaked around Jude’s waist and his whole body began to shake.

“Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe now, little one.” Jude began to whisper the first words of comfort and reassurance which came to mind. He ran his fingers through the sweat soaked strands of dark brown hair and rocked the young man gently from side to side.

When his efforts to soothe Dominic appeared ineffective he began to worry about unseen injuries. “Okay,” he said more firmly. “I’m going to call an ambulance for you. We need to…”

Mention of an ambulance jerked Dominic upright. “No, no ambulance. I’m alright. Just get me out of here. He might come back.” The thought that the caretaker might return and find him still there galvanised Dominic into action. He pulled away from Jude and started towards the steps. Jude caught him, put an arm around his waist and supported him down the stairs, out through the back of the garage and round to the front of the house where the company car was parked. Dominic found he needed the assistance and placed his own arm round Jude’s neck, leaning heavily on him. The short walk gave Jude time to take in Dominic’s appalling state. His jeans were piss stained and, by the look of it, still wet around the crotch. There were flecks of vomit on his chest and down his jeans. He smelt dreadful but far from being revolted, Jude felt only intense pity and an overwhelming desire to comfort the young man and get him cleaned up.

Jude opened the passenger door but before helping Dominic to get into the car he said quietly and with infinite kindness, “You might like to slip off your jeans and underpants before sitting down.”

Dominic glanced down and seemed to notice for the first time the mess he was in. “I’m sorry. Your car…”

“It’s not my car,” Jude interjected quickly. “It’s a fleet car from the pool and the company will pay for any cleaning required. I’m just thinking you may be more comfortable if you get those wet things off.”

“But I’ve got nothing…” Dominic trailed off, looking anxiously down the street.

“Don’t worry about anyone seeing you,” said Jude, correctly deducing the cause of Dominic’s hesitation. He opened the rear door and stood between it and the front passenger door with his back turned, effectively creating a private space for Dominic. He pulled out his mobile phone to make a brief call to Sarah Powell, appearing to take no further notice of the embarrassed young man. And it was precisely that calm assumption that Dominic would do as his boss suggested that tipped the balance. Dominic stopped worrying about undressing in the street and began struggling with the fastening on his jeans. The wet fabric clung to his legs making it difficult to divest himself of the bulky garment. When he peeled his underpants away from his clammy skin the breeze around his nether parts made him shiver and he hastily lowered himself into the car seat, out of sight of prying eyes.

Jude ended the call which had consisted of a brief exchange of vital information and slipped his phone into his trouser pocket. He rapidly removed his designer jacket as he turned towards Jude and, in one smooth movement, spread it over the young man’s lap to protect his modesty and to keep him warm. Dominic gratefully tucked the edges of the jacket under his legs and relaxed a little in the seat. Jude was about to shut the passenger door when he glanced down and realised with compassion that Dominic had not been able to extract his feet from the sodden clothing which now formed a tangled ball around his trainers. Judging that a couple of minutes extra at the roadside would make no appreciable difference to the time it would take to get Dominic to a place of warmth and safety, Jude crouched down in the gutter, gently lifting first one leg and then the other to loosen Dominic’s laces and get his wet shoes and socks off. Dominic looked down at the dark head bowed over a task which his mother had performed for him when he was a little boy and he felt a profound sense of connection to this man who had come to his rescue. He couldn’t quite fathom how Mr Merrow knew where to find him but it now seemed the simplest thing in the world to entrust himself to his boss’s care.

Once Jude had extricated Dominic from his jeans and underwear, he rolled the soiled clothing up in a tight ball and put it in the car boot. Then he got into the driver’s seat, programmed the sat nav with his own postcode and drove off, turning up the temperature on the climate control as soon as the engine warmed up. They drove for some while in silence before Dominic roused himself to ask, “Where are we going? I want to go home.”

“We are going home,” said Jude firmly. “We’re going to my home.”

“No,” said Dominic, pulling himself upright. “I want to go back to my flat. I need to shower and all my clothes are there.”

“There’s plenty of hot water at my house too. I’m sure I can find something to fit you. And we need to talk, Dominic. You’re going to have to tell me what happened.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I can wait until you feel ready. And if you don’t want to talk to me, I can arrange for you to see someone else.”

“What do you mean? Some sort of counsellor?”

“If it would help, yes. We need to report this. You’ve been subject to false imprisonment and God knows what else.”

“No, no,” Dominic shouted in his agitation. “I’m not going to the police. I’m not going to be questioned about this and there’s no way I’d press charges. I’m not injured. You can see I’m not hurt. There’s no way I’m going to give evidence in court. Everything would come out… My mother… I couldn’t bear…” Dominic was close to tears.

“Okay, okay, Dominic. Calm down. No one’s going to force you to do anything against your will but it seems obvious that Wilkins abused you. He’s a Semdar employee; we can’t just let this go. The man could be a danger to others to say nothing of the fact that you’re going to encounter him again at work.”

Dominic shivered at the thought of meeting the caretaker again. “Where is he? He said he wouldn’t be gone for long. He said he’d be back to give me a right seeing to. When I heard the glass shatter I thought that was him in the garage.”

Jude hesitated, aware that Dominic was terrified, but then decided to tell him the truth. “Wilkins went into work but Sarah just told me that he asked permission to leave after the first hour. He said he had a domestic emergency. He’s on his way back to the house. I gave instructions that he was to be allowed to go home without any questions being asked. He’ll find you’ve escaped when he gets there and it’s anybody’s guess what he’ll do then.”

“Do you think he’ll come looking for me?” asked Dominic in a trembling voice.

“I very much doubt it, but if he does he’ll have me to contend with first.”

Dominic found that a very reassuring thought. All his objections to going home with Jude Merrow rapidly melted away and he settled back for the rest of the journey which took them out of London into the affluent commuter belt lying to the south west of the capital. He roused himself from a fitful doze when the car came to a halt and he saw they were on a leafy drive leading up to a double fronted, detached house. Dominic started to panic about his filthy, naked state, wondering who he would have to face in the house. Jude seemed able to read his mind. “Sit there for a moment and I’ll pop inside and fetch a robe. No one’s going to see you. I live alone.”

Jude walked briskly up to the front door pulling his key ring from his trouser pocket. Within a couple of minutes he was back carrying a white towelling bath robe and a pair of rubber mules. Dominic felt very self conscious, trying to put the robe on discreetly as he got out of the car, but Jude was very matter of fact about the process, bending to place the mules ready for his bare feet and then guiding him into the house and straight upstairs to the bathroom. Jude turned on the shower himself, checking the temperature of the water before setting out shampoo, body wash, a clean flannel and towels.

“There you go. Get yourself warm and clean and then go into the bedroom opposite. I’ll get some clothes laid out for you. And leave the bathroom door open, Dominic, so I can hear if you need anything. You only have to shout; I’ll be here upstairs.”

Dominic stepped gratefully under the shower. The powerful jet of hot water seemed to wash away more than just the filth from his body; it felt as though his soul was being cleansed. Through the small hours of the night he had berated himself for the naivety and stupidity which had ended in his humiliating captivity but he had the strong feeling that Mr Merrow would not judge him harshly. Despite his unwillingness to recount the abuse he had undergone, he recognised the need to unburden himself and who better to tell than the man who had witnessed the full extent of his degradation.

Dominic reached for the shampoo and began washing his hair. He was normally ill at ease in other people’s houses but here he felt safe and cared for. He spared a moment to marvel that his boss, Mr Merrow, of whom he stood in awe at work, had shown himself to be such a compassionate and understanding man. Dominic had always known he wasn’t a good judge of character but it appeared he had got it spectacularly wrong with both Mr Wilkins and Mr Merrow. Not only that, he’d been so mesmerised by the caretaker’s macho style, he had failed to appreciate Jude Merrow’s classic good looks and calm air of authority. He estimated that the man couldn’t be much more than ten years older than him either. Then, fearing that he might be making the standard mistake of becoming infatuated with his rescuer, he ruthlessly put an end to such musings.

Walking through into the bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, he found a pair of boxers, a tee shirt and a track suit laid out on the bed. He had just pulled the boxers up round his waist when Jude Merrow walked into the bedroom carrying a first aid kit.

“Will you let me take a look at you?” he asked kindly.

Dominic knew what he meant and just nodded. Jude turned Dominic to the light and ran an exploratory hand down the young man’s back, relieved when he didn’t flinch under the pressure. Determined to make a complete check for injuries he pulled back the elastic waistband of the boxers and was unsurprised to find that the wheals on the young man’s back extended across his buttocks. However, the skin wasn’t broken and Dominic didn’t seem to be in pain. It was clear to Jude that Chris Wilkins knew what he was doing with a flogger.

“Would you like me to put some cream on your back and bottom?”

“Will it sting?”

“No, it’ll just soothe the skin. There’s no need for antiseptic, you’ve got no cuts or bruises. Is there anywhere that feels particularly sore?”

Dominic hesitated.

“Where does it hurt, Dominic?” Jude enquired with the clear expectation of receiving an answer.

Dominic turned and ran his hand across his nipples, wincing at the discomfort and then, his face turning scarlet with embarrassment, he whispered, “My balls, he tortured my balls as well.”

Disguising his revulsion, Jude adopted a brisk, matter of fact tone. “We’ll put some cream on all the sore spots and then you’ll feel better.” He began by anointing Dominic’s back and then running his hand under the waistband of the boxers to reach the welts on the firm young buttocks. He adopted a much lighter touch to smear Dominic’s nipples which were an angry red and then he laughed and said, “I think you’d better do the rest yourself.” However, he pulled the waistband away from the front of Dominic’s body as the young man needed both hands to gently lift his testicles and rub ointment onto what Jude judged to be a couple of small burns.

“Now, when did you last have something to eat?” asked Jude focusing on the practicalities.

“I don’t know, yesterday…” Dominic had been too frightened to feel hungry.

“Well, it’s long past lunchtime now. Why don’t I go downstairs and rustle up a sandwich or something for us both? You can come down with me if you want or you can have a little rest on the bed while you’re waiting. In fact, I think it would be a great idea if you were just to get under the quilt, shut your eyes and try to relax. I bet you didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“You won’t go out and leave me?” Dominic asked, anxious for reassurance.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll just be in the kitchen. If you shout I’ll come straight back upstairs.” Jude pulled back the quilt and looked expectantly at the worried young man. “Come on, just a little lie down.”

Dominic responded automatically to Jude’s beckoning look and, without consciously making up his mind to get into bed, found himself stretching out under the covers and then turning on his side as he always did before sleep. As Jude turned to leave the room Dominic suddenly remembered his evening engagement.

“Sarah,” he said urgently. “I was going out with Sarah Powell tonight. She’s got tickets for a concert at the Barbican. I can’t let her down?”

“It’s alright,” said Jude soothingly. “She knew you wouldn’t let her down. She was the one who insisted something must have happened to you. You’ve got a lot to thank Sarah for and she’s so pleased to know you’re safe and well. She told me to pass on her good wishes and to tell you not to worry about the concert. She’s found a friend to go with her.”

“But her friends don’t like classical music and my two favourite Bach violin concertos are on the programme tonight. I was so looking forward to it.”

“There’ll be other concerts, other opportunities to hear your favourite music. Don’t worry about it. The important thing is that you’re here now and everything’s alright.”

Jude was far from sure it would be quite so easy for Dominic to recover from his ordeal but the young man seemed to take his boss’s reassurance at face value. He lay back down and closed his eyes and this time Jude was able to get out of the room without further delay.

When Jude returned fifteen minutes later with a mug of hot chocolate and a bacon sandwich he found Dominic fast asleep. He took a seat beside the bed and consumed Dominic’s lunch himself, realising that the young man was exhausted and unlikely to wake while the food and drink were still hot. For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, Jude kept a vigil by the bed, determined that Dominic would not wake up alone in a strange room. He only went downstairs once to collect the newspaper and a book to read but he spent most of the ensuing hours watching the young man in his spare bedroom, noting the way his hair spilled over the pillow, the way his impossibly long eyelashes lay on his pale cheeks and his fingers curled around the edge of the coverlet.

The truth was that Jude Merrow had been captivated by Dominic McAvinchey from the moment he first arrived at Semdar. The ferocious intellect combined with a volatile temperament and a charming naivety had Jude fantasising about the challenge of taming such a fascinating young man. His fantasy also ran to dressing Dominic in a bespoke suit and getting his hair cut by a top stylist in order to make the most of his drop dead good looks. But it all remained strictly within the realm of fantasy. Jude Merrow was Dominic’s line manager and he would never act so unprofessionally as to make sexual advances towards a member of his staff. He couldn’t quite establish when Dominic had broken through his defences but the sight of the young man bound and terrified had released powerful emotions and he suspected he would be unable to rest until he had Dominic permanently in his care.