“I’m going now. To Thailand I mean, I’m going to find him,” said Arthur.
“You are as mad as our son,” said Mildred.
“Our son is missing for God's sake.”
“Not according to the Embassy in Bangkok when you pestered them.”
“We have not heard from him for one year. No Christmas cards, no birthday wishes. And you say he’s not missing?”
“This morning you got an email, from him, so what’s the panic?” said Mildred.
“That email was sent one year ago. It was the same one we opened exactly one year ago. Don’t you think that’s strange?”
“Okay, but before you buy a plane ticket, check with, what’s ‘is name, at the computer shop.”
“Yeah, yeah, his mate, Steve. I will. Are you coming?” asked Arthur.
Mildred popped into the butchers next to ‘Caversham Comps’, Arthur looked at the boxes of the latest Apples and packs of electronics he didn’t know how to open the packaging let alone know what to do with the stuff in them.
“Ah, Steve, just the man,” he said, leaning on the counter.
“Hi, Mr Stone, how are you? Is Mickey coming home?”
“We hope so. I need to tap your brain.”
“Sure, what can I do for you? Do you want an iPad?”
“A what? No, no, just some advice about emails, Mickey send me one this morning.”
“Great, what’s his news?”
“Uh, nothing. It was the same one he sent a year ago. Strange, eh?”
“It happens if you set a date to resend. Is it your birthday?”
“No, the message was nothing like that, just saying he was okay and asking about us. That’s all, why send it again?”
“Strange? I still see some of the old mates. No one has heard from him for ages. Wait a minute, I’ll check and see when he last contacted me. It was some time ago,” said Steve, tapping at his phone. “One year ago today, he told me it was hot, that was all. Hey, what’s this? A new mail, and it’s from Mickey, the same as last year. And, oddly, at the same time, eleven minutes past one.” Steve was scratching his head.
“How about his other mates?” asked Arthur.
“I’ll ask Alison.”
Mildred wandered in with bags full of pork chops.
“Do you know an Alison?” asked her husband.
“No, and I don’t want to. She is a weird girl. I’ve heard all about her and her crazy aunt,” answered Mildred.
“That was the girl, wild about him. Not a girlfriend, even if she wanted to be, but he was nice to her, even if the rest of us weren’t so kind. Maybe he kept in touch to keep her happy?” said Steve.
“Can you contact her?” asked Arthur.
“Her family brought stuff here, so I should have details.” He clicked at a keyboard. “Here we are.”
Steve waited a few seconds, then looked at his mobile.
“That’s funny, a photo of Mickey comes up, but no answer. I’ve also got her mum’s number, I’ll ask her.”
Steve showed them the picture, then called the new number.
“Hello, Mrs Albescu, sorry to trouble you…”
“Don’t you dare call this number.”
“Please, I need to speak to your daughter, Alison. Please.”
“Her name is Albie, she only changed it because of you lot teasing her.”
“I didn’t know. Sorry, can I speak to her?”
“Because she’s not here. She’s gone to Asia,” said Mrs Albescu.
“Has she gone to Thailand?”
“Some island called Samui. Don’t call again.”
Steve looked at his phone his chin dropped, ping, ping, ping. Emails streamed in.
“What in hell’s name? Excuse me, let me see what these are.”
Arthur and Mildred waited patiently.
“Look at this. Six-hundred and sixty-six emails, all saying the same, ‘White Romanian, Orange Brit’, what the hell does that mean?”
Arthur and Mildred shook their heads.
The shop’s door almost came away from the frame. Black and grey hair flying in all directions, scarlet lips snarled, teeth snapped.
“What is the meaning of this? Where’s your boss, I’ll have your job,” she screamed.
“Hello, Mrs Albescu, what can I do for you?” stammered Steve.
“You may think this is funny?”
“Wasting my time, sending stupid mails.”
“I didn’t. I just received a load of nonsense too, what does yours say?” asked Steve.
She blurted a sentence in Romanian.
“Can I see?”
“No. In English it is a curse,” she said slightly calmer.
“Mine says, ‘White Romanian, Orange Brit’, does that make sense in Romanian?”
“The first part of my name, Albe, means white. Does that help? Is it from my daughter?” she said, tidying her wayward locks.
“There is no way of telling who it is from. But the mails come from a contact centre in Samui.”
"White Romanian must be Albie,” said Mrs Albescu. “But orange Brit?”
“Has she met an Englishman called Mr Orange?” asked Mildred. “What’s orange in Romanian?”
“Nah, I think the orange refers to Thai monks?” said Arthur. “I’ve seen their pictures. The monks always wear orange. Do we know a Thai monk?”
“Of course we don’t know a monk. You never even go to church, where are you likely to get a religious fanatic.” As if a thunderbolt struck home. “Unless our boy is now a monk! That’s why we haven’t heard from him?” said Mildred.
“Can you go home and get our mobile? Maybe we’ve got messages too?” said Arthur.
“I need to put all this in the fridge anyway,” said Mildred as she trudged off.
“You seem anxious about your daughter, anything we should know. Odd both of them are in Samui, don’t you think?” asked Steve.
“Yes, you are right. She is not an easy child. I shouldn’t tell you our family secrets. But I’ve plenty to be worried about, my witch of a sister for example, Albie believed every word she breathed, she was even learning gypsy tricks,” said Mrs Albescu.
“Come on tell us more, anything that could affect Mickey?” asked Steve.
“He was all she talked about. Mickey did this, Mickey said that. She… no I’d better say nothing.”
“How do you work this thing,” Mildred said as she bumbled in, passing the phone to her husband.
“Shall I,” offered Steve. “Yep, you got the same as us. Hundreds of messages. Wait a minute, you’ve got a new one. Christ, is that Mickey?”
“What has he done,” said Arthur.
“Let me see,” said Mildred, snatching the phone. Her son, head shaven, no eyebrows glared from the screen. “Look at his robes.”
Ping, ping, ping called phones all around the shop, even boxed and uncharged mobiles were vibrating, all begging to be answered.
Mrs Albescu, Arthur and Steve answered theirs while the rest in the shop kept bleeping.
This time a video was displayed. Again it was Mickey, but this time he had a rope around his neck. He was tied to a tree. The thick nylon cord strung over a high branch. Struggling to keep his balance on an overhanging rock, above the crashing waves. Mickey wriggled against tightly tied wrists. Then Albie’s face appeared. Sweat streamed down her panting cheeks.
“We were to be married. Look what he’s done. Look at him. How can I marry a bald religious nut? He won’t even leave the temple. He is wed to his new faith.”
She kicked him off the cliff. Watching him dangle, she turned back to the camera.
“Maybe next life?”
She collapsed to her knees, laughing and cackling aloud as the connection was lost.