The Stranger on the Train

The Stranger on the Train

4.6 9
by Abbie Taylor
     
 

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A mother’s worst nightmare: the subway doors close with her baby son still on the train. In this suspenseful debut novel, a woman goes to unimaginable lengths to get her child back.

A struggling, single mother, Emma sometimes wishes that her thirteen-month-old son Ritchie would just disappear. Then, one quiet Sunday evening, after a sinister encounter on

Overview

A mother’s worst nightmare: the subway doors close with her baby son still on the train. In this suspenseful debut novel, a woman goes to unimaginable lengths to get her child back.

A struggling, single mother, Emma sometimes wishes that her thirteen-month-old son Ritchie would just disappear. Then, one quiet Sunday evening, after a sinister encounter on the London Underground—Ritchie does just that.

Emma immediately reports his abduction to the police but there she faces a much worse situation than she ever imagined. Why do the police seem so reluctant to help her? And why do they think she would want hurt her own child?

If Emma wants Ritchie back, she’ll have to find him herself. With the help of a stranger named Rafe, the one person who seems to believe her, Emma sets off in search of her son. She is determined to find Ritchie no matter what it takes…but who exactly is the real enemy here?

With dark twists and intertwining narratives, The Stranger on the Train is an unforgettable novel of psychological suspense that you will keep you guessing until the shattering finale.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 03/03/2014
British author Taylor’s taut debut is a heart-stopper. One Sunday evening on a London Underground platform, single mom Emma Turner watches in horror as her one-year-old son, Ritchie, somehow gets on a train that leaves without her. Did someone snatch Ritchie? The police assigned to Emma’s missing person’s case have little sympathy. She has no family, few friends, and no connection with the boy’s father. Dirt poor, she’s overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising a child, the spawn of a quick fling. Worse, in a fit of desperation, she earlier confessed to her GP that she wished Ritchie were dead. So everybody doubts whether the tot was really kidnapped. But when the chips are down, with Ritchie really out of her life, Emma rises to the challenge of saving her son. Beginning with the gasp-inducing first chapter, readers won’t exhale until the end. Agent: Marianne Gunn O’Connor, Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary Agency. (May)
New York Times bestselling author - Lisa Unger
"The Stranger on the Train had me absolutely breathless. Abbie Taylor hooked me on page one and kept me riveted through every twist and turn. A sensitive meditation on the parenthood with all it's joys and hardships as well as an unputdownable thriller. Don't miss it!"
Booklist
"This first novel is driven by plot, and the roller-coaster ride...is compelling enough to grab and hold interest."
Closer (UK)
“A roller-coaster thriller and a great read.”
New York Daily News
“This scary psychological thriller just doesn’t let up. Very Hitchcockian.”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“Taylor keenly depicts the bliss and terrors of being a parent.”
Washington Post
“Many will devour in a gulp Abbie Taylor’s first-rate debut thriller...Taylor writes perceptively and poignantly about the powerful bond between parent and child.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-06
Taylor debuts with a wired-tight psychological thriller dissecting a kidnapping. Single mother Emma Turner is returning home from a London outing when her toddler son, Ritchie, becomes stranded alone in a subway carriage. Emma panics, but Antonia, a beautiful, stylish, 40-ish blonde already seated in the locked car, takes charge. She tells Emma through the closed door to meet her and Ritchie at the next station. Taylor does nail-biting work setting tension at a boil from the story's opening moments, with young toughs loitering on the subway stairs and the ominous noise of the train approaching. Antonia meets Emma to return Ritchie, but Emma is confused by her controlling attitude. Then, while Emma makes a quick trip to the bathroom, Antonia and Ritchie disappear. Characterization is deft: Emma, a mid-20s underemployed university grad who seduced herself into pregnancy; police officers Hill and Lindsay, one a hulking inspector with cold blue eyes who immediately suspects Emma of harming Ritchie, the other a victim-liaison officer who vacillates between suspicion and empathy; and witness Rafe, a young man who resigned from the police force after his probationary year and now decides to help Emma find her son. Telling the story chronologically with flashbacks to Emma's troubled childhood and her ill-starred romance with Ritchie's biological father, Taylor adeptly paints London, contrasting its immensity with its insular pubs and parks. Emma strays toward becoming a one-note character, "defensive...hostile and prickly and angry," but Taylor gradually reveals back story explaining why she's in a "rut of self-pity." Antonia's motive and actions are perfect—and logical in their own mad way—as are the police, trapped by bureaucracy and rigid preconceptions, but Rafe seems a bland hero without flaw. An Alfred Hitchcock–like psychodrama drawn from a mother's nightmare.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476754970
Publisher:
Atria Books
Publication date:
05/27/2014
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
327,959
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

The Stranger on the Train

Chapter Two

“Ngg.”

Ritchie wailed, arching his back and pushing Emma away with his fists. She was squashing him. His breath smelled of rusk, and orange lollipop. Emma’s arms were too weak to hold him. She needed to sit down. The sides of her vision were going dark.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked. Her voice echoed from a long way away. “Shall I take him for you?”

Emma felt Ritchie being lifted from her arms; she felt the seat behind her with her knees and sank into it. A tide sound rushed at her ears. She closed her eyes and leaned forward.

After a minute, the rushing noise receded. The platform returned to normal around her.

Emma sat up.

“Thank you,” she said, and burst into tears.

She didn’t know how long she cried. Probably no more than a few seconds, but when she looked up, Ritchie, sitting on the woman’s knee, was staring at her, open-mouthed. A long thread of drool hung from his lower lip, inches from the woman’s expensive-looking sleeve. It was that which made Emma get herself under control.

“I’m sorry.” She pressed the bases of her hands to her eyes. “There’s only the two of us, my little boy and me. It’s so hard sometimes . . . I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “You don’t want to hear this. You must think I’m a terrible mother.”

“Nonsense,” the woman murmured. “You’ve had a dreadful shock.”

She was right. Emma longed to cuddle Ritchie, but her hands were trembling and her face was soaked with tears and mucus. There was blood on her lip as well. She must have bitten it. She looked around for something to wipe it with. This station was much busier than the last one. Where were they? She looked at the sign above the seats. Whitechapel. Another train was pulling into the platform. Two girls stood up to meet it.

“Tissue?” The woman balanced Ritchie with one arm and rummaged in her bag. She did look the sort who would have a clean tissue with her at all times. Sensible, organized, like the headmistress of a school. She looked to be in her early forties, with blond hair cut in layers to just below her ears. Tweedy trousers. A short, fawn-colored jacket, with fur at the cuffs and collar.

“Here we are,” the woman said.

“Thank you.” Emma took the tissue and wiped her eyes and face. The woman watched her in a sympathetic sort of way. Close up, she had tiny, spidery veins on her cheeks. It was an outdoor face, despite the pearl earrings and coiffed hair. A horse rider’s or gardener’s face. Emma had seen plenty of women like her during her childhood in Bath. They were everywhere at Christmas, lunching in cozy tea shops with their daughters, surrounded by shopping bags. Emma had waited on them during her school holidays.

“Let me take him.” Emma finished drying her eyes and reached for Ritchie. Immediately he shook his head, leaned back into the woman’s elbow and stuck his fist in his mouth.

“What’s wrong?” Emma was upset. “Why won’t you come to me?”

The woman gave a little laugh. “I think he must have got a fright when you squeezed him.”

“I probably hurt him,” Emma worried. It wasn’t like Ritchie to be so manipulative. Normally he wouldn’t go to anyone except her.

“It was the shock. And of course he doesn’t know he nearly went missing, do you, little manikin?” The woman jiggled Ritchie and leaned sideways to look at him. He gazed up at her, chewing his fist. “You had your mummy all worried, didn’t you, you naughty little man?” She looked back at Emma. “He’s adorable, isn’t he? Such blond hair. And you’re so dark. What’s his name?”

“Richard. Ritchie.”

“Ritchie. How sweet. Is that after his daddy?”

“No.” Emma looked away.

The woman didn’t push it. “Would you like another tissue?” she asked. She pronounced it tiss-yoo. “No, give that old one back to me. There aren’t any bins down here.”

She took the sodden tissue from Emma and tucked it into her bag.

“By the way.” She held out her hand. “I’m Antonia.”

“Emma. Emma Turner.” Emma shook Antonia’s hand.

“Where do you live, Emma? Are you near home?”

“No,” Emma said. “I live in Fulham. Hammersmith, really, I suppose.”

“Well, you are a long way from home. Shall I come some of the way with you on the train? You shouldn’t travel alone in this state.”

“I’ll be fine. Honestly.” It was almost true. She was still shaky, but she was starting to recover. She just wanted to be alone now, to get her bearings and get herself and Ritchie back to the flat. And then she remembered. “Oh. My bag. I left it at the other station.”

“My goodness,” Antonia said. “You have got yourself in a mess.”

“I’ll be all right.” Emma stood up. She’d sort something out. What was a lost bag? A few minutes ago, she thought she’d lost her son. “Ritchie and I will go back there and ask. See if anyone’s handed it in.”

“Well,” said Antonia, “I think the chances of you finding that bag at this stage are really very small. Perhaps I should wait to see if you need some money to get home?”

“Oh, no.” Emma was horrified. She hadn’t meant to sound like she was asking for money.

“I insist. I’m going to make sure you get home safely. You’ve had a very nasty shock.” Antonia put a hand on Emma’s arm. “Won’t you come for a cup of coffee? My treat.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that. You’ve done enough.” Emma felt her barriers going up. She knew she must look awful, streaky with tears, her hair all over the place. The sleeve of her jacket was ripped from where she’d fallen on the platform, and the front of one of her trainers was lifting off its sole. Antonia seemed kind, but Emma just wanted to be left in peace. Just to get back to herself again, have another little cry, even, if she wanted to. She found it hard enough to talk to people these days, never mind someone like Antonia who was being very tactful but must be wondering how anyone could be so stupid as to leave their baby on a train.

“Just one coffee.” Antonia was watching her. “Look, I have an idea. I’ve been visiting a friend of mine, and I was supposed to meet my husband in town, but why don’t I call him and ask him to collect me here instead? He has a car. Let us take you home.”

Emma wanted to say no. She really did, but she felt beaten, weary, unexpectedly overwhelmed at the idea of someone being kind to her. Her shoulders were heavy, as though someone had put a blanket over them.

“Okay,” she said. Her eyes prickled. “Thank you.”

While she was blowing her nose again, Antonia stood up with Ritchie in her arms.

“I’ll get this young man settled,” she said.

“He won’t let—” Emma began, but Antonia was already loading Ritchie into his pushchair. He didn’t protest at all. His head nodded, his eyelids drooped. Antonia fastened him in with the straps. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing.

“There.” She patted Ritchie’s head. “You need a sleep, don’t you? Poor little man.”

Emma went to take the buggy, but Antonia had the handles in her grasp. She took off at a brisk pace, steering Ritchie towards the stairs. Emma had nothing to do but follow them, empty-handed. The platform was open at both ends; a chill breeze blew over their heads. Emma’s knees stung beneath her jeans. It felt strange to have nothing to carry, no Ritchie, no bag. She felt out of control. Vulnerable. She would have preferred to carry Rich, to take him out of the buggy and hold him; but Antonia had been so kind, it would be rude to wake him up. She settled for watching him as they walked. My God, my God.

She helped Antonia to lift the buggy up the stairs. At the turnstile, Antonia turned to her and said: “You’ve lost your ticket, haven’t you? You’ll need to report your missing bag to the guard. Ask him to let you through.”

Emma hesitated.

“Go on.” Antonia gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry about Ritchie and me. We’ll wait for you at the entrance.”

Wanting to hurry, Emma didn’t mention anything to the cheerful orange-jacketed guard about Ritchie getting caught on the train. She just said that she’d lost her bag at the previous station, Stepney Green, and asked if anyone had handed it in. The guard went into a room at the side to use the phone. Emma glanced through the turnstiles, towards the entrance to the station. It was dark now outside. Raining, it looked like. The pavements were shiny with light. A couple of people stood inside the doors, sheltering from the rain, or queuing for the little newspaper and sweet kiosk at the side. More people pushed through the barriers: a man wearing a woolen hat, a woman in a hijab holding the hand of a little girl. Then they were gone, and there were just their footsteps on the wet floor. Emma looked again at the entrance. Then she froze. She took a jerky half step towards the barrier.

Where had Antonia gone?

She saw her then, just beside the kiosk. She was kneeling by Ritchie’s buggy, adjusting the zip of his fleece; that must be why she’d missed her at first. Emma let out a shaky breath. It just went to show how jumpy she was. Ritchie was asleep. She watched him hungrily. His head was on his chest, making him look as if he had three chins. His wispy hair was brushed straight down on his forehead. The smiley blue elephant on his front moved up and down as he breathed. Antonia looked up just then and saw Emma watching. She gave a little wave.

The guard came back.

“No bag, I’m afraid,” he said. “There’s a number for Lost Property if you—”

“It’s okay.” Emma was anxious to be back with Ritchie. She gestured to the barrier. “Is it all right if I go on through? My ticket was in my bag.”

The guard was in a good mood. He tipped his hand to his forehead and released the turnstile for her. Once through it, Emma headed straight for Ritchie. She reached for the handles of the pushchair and instead found Antonia pressing a twenty-pound note into her hand.

“You must take it,” Antonia insisted as Emma began to protest. “There’s a café open down that way, look.” She pointed down a side street to where a sign on a lighted window read: “Mr. Bap’s.”

“We’ll go there to wait for my husband,” Antonia said. “You can buy the coffees. You might want to get something for Ritchie too, and I wouldn’t know what to buy.”

“I . . . oh, okay.” Emma gave in. Antonia had a point. Ritchie would be hungry soon. She’d buy something for him to eat, but as soon as she was at the table she’d wake him up and take him onto her knee and have him back to herself again.

Mr. Bap’s turned out to be more of a fast-food restaurant than a café. Inside, the damp air of the street gave way to a strong smell of vinegar and chips. Rows of brown plastic tables and benches took up the front half of the restaurant. Most of the tables were in need of a wipe. At the back of the shop was the counter, lined with giant bottles of brown sauce and mustard. The only other customer, an elderly bearded man with a beige jacket zipped up to his neck, sat at a table by the wall, staring into a cup in his hand.

“Not very nice, is it?” Antonia wrinkled her nose. “Still, it’s warm. And we won’t be here for very long.”

She wheeled the buggy to a table by the window. Ritchie was still asleep. Emma went to order the drinks.

“Two coffees, please,” she said quickly to the gray-haired, stubble-faced man behind the counter. “And one of those chocolate buns. And a carton of milk.”

“Large or small coffees?”

“Any one. It doesn’t matter.”

Emma fidgeted, gazing around her as the man poked through a tall steel fridge. The wall beside the counter was smeared with something red, darkened and crusted into the paint. Ketchup, Emma hoped. She shuddered. What a dreary place to work on a Sunday evening. Over by the window, Antonia had her mobile phone to her ear. She was talking in a low voice, probably so as not to wake Ritchie. Her hand covered her mouth as she spoke.

“Anything else?” the man behind the counter asked.

“Oh.” Emma looked back at the tray. “No, thank you. Just what’s there.”

The man couldn’t seem to work the cash register. The drawer kept springing open at the wrong time. Every time it did, the man tutted and slammed it shut again. Emma wished he’d just hand over the change. Ritchie had moved in his sleep. Now his head was tipped back, his mouth open, his two white top teeth showing. Antonia was still on the phone. She had her back to Emma, but her head was turned to the side and her hand had moved away from her mouth. Emma could see the movements of her lips as she spoke.

Bird rack, Antonia seemed to be saying. Or at least that was what her lips made it look like.

For no reason at all, a vivid image popped into Emma’s head. Her mum, sitting, watching the telly in their terraced house in Bath. Emma was at the corner table, doing her homework. The curtains were drawn; the flames of the gas fire flickered. Emma could see her mum, sitting as usual in her brown-and-red flowery armchair by the fire. The half-drunk mug of tea beside her on the coffee table. The fixed, rather sad expression on her face as she concentrated on her program.

Emma frowned. How many times had she seen her mum watching the telly like that when she was young? What had made her suddenly think of it now? She looked again at Ritchie and shook her head.

Finally the man managed to get the drawer to work, and handed Emma her change. Emma took the coffees and bun over to the window. Antonia was still talking into her mobile phone. Emma slid the tray onto the table.

“Sorry for the delay,” she began.

Antonia jumped and spun around. Then she lifted her finger and smiled.

“I have to go now,” she said into the phone. “I’ll see you soon.”

She helped Emma to unload the tray.

“That was my husband,” she said. “He’s on his way.”

Emma sat down thankfully and pulled Ritchie’s buggy towards her.

“That young man’s out for the count,” Antonia said.

“He’ll wake up soon.” Emma peeled the wrapper off the chocolate bun. “He’s due his dinner.”

“I don’t think he looks like he’s interested in eating anything, do you?”

“He will soon,” Emma said, more sharply than she’d intended.

Antonia didn’t reply. She drew her cup of coffee towards her, picked up the tiny stainless-steel milk jug from the table and began to pour. Immediately, Emma regretted her tone. What on earth was wrong with her? Antonia was only trying to be nice.

In a politer voice, she asked: “Do you have children?”

The steel jug stopped pouring. Antonia held it in the air for a moment before she answered.

“Yes, we do,” she said. “We have a little boy.”

She tipped the jug again and went on pouring. Emma was surprised. For some reason, she’d have thought that if Antonia had children they’d be grown by now. Teenagers at least. Antonia looked much too groomed to be the mother of a young child. Maybe she had a nanny. Before she could ask her where the child was, Antonia put down the jug and nodded at Ritchie’s pushchair.

She said: “I gather from what you mentioned about it just being the two of you that this little chap’s father isn’t around?”

“No,” Emma said. “We split up before he was born.”

“But your family helps out?”

“I don’t have any family. My parents are dead.”

“I see,” said Antonia. “Alone in the world.”

Emma stirred her coffee.

“Money must be tight, I imagine,” Antonia said, eyeing Emma’s bobbly woolen jumper and faded jeans. “How on earth do you cope?”

“We manage.”

“But it isn’t an ideal environment for a child, is it? No money, no family support. Hardly fair on him, I would have thought.”

Emma felt uncomfortable. She really didn’t want to discuss this any more. She went to undo the straps of Ritchie’s pushchair. He stiffened at once and scrunched up his face. Emma knew she was forcing him out of sleep and he’d be cross, but she wanted to wake him, to have him back to herself.

“Shh,” she soothed him, tugging on the straps. He pushed against them, tightening the buckle.

“Still tired,” Antonia remarked. “Perhaps you should leave him.”

“Rich, look.” Abruptly, Emma turned to the table. “Do you want some bun?” She steadied her hands by breaking a piece off the muffin on her plate.

When she turned back, Antonia had Ritchie out of the pushchair and on her knee.

Emma didn’t know what to say.

“You shouldn’t let him eat sweets,” Antonia said. Ritchie sat on her knee, rubbing his eyes. “Should she, little man?”

Emma’s heart was hammering. She was thinking: I won’t take the lift. We’ll just go.

“Oh, look,” Antonia said. “Your lip’s started bleeding again.”

Emma put her hand up to her mouth. Wetness on her lower lip. She took away her fingers and saw that the tips were red.

“Oh dear.” Antonia’s face creased with concern. “And I’m afraid I don’t have any tissues left.”

Emma jumped up to get a paper towel from the counter. But she couldn’t see any. The man behind the counter had disappeared, presumably through a doorway beside the fridge hung with colored plastic strips.

“Hello?” Emma called to the plastic strips. “Hello?”

Antonia’s voice: “You might find something down there.”

Emma turned. Antonia was pointing at a gap between the counter and the wall. Through the gap, a narrow passage led to a brown door marked: “Toilets.”

Without speaking, Emma marched to the gap and down the passage. She was going to get some tissues, wipe off the blood, take Ritchie and go. Just as she reached the brown door, she looked back. She could see all the way to the front of the shop, where Ritchie was sitting on Antonia’s knee, still rubbing his eyes. Then he saw Emma and his face lit up. He gave a heartbreaking smile and held up his arms.

“Muh,” he said.

She almost turned back to take him. Her weight went to one foot, then the other. But her face and hands were all bloody, and if the toilets were anything like the rest of the café, she could imagine only too well what condition they’d be in. She didn’t want to take Ritchie in there if she could help it. There was something funny about Antonia—something about her superior attitude that Emma didn’t like—but she’d done a good job minding Ritchie on her own already, those few minutes when she’d taken him off the train. Ritchie would be okay with her. Just for a few seconds more.

Emma smiled at him.

“I won’t be a minute,” she said.

Then she opened the door and went in.

As soon as she smelled the air, she was glad she’d left Ritchie outside. The toilet was just one room, with a tiny sink covered with gray cracks and no window. A ventilation fan in the wall above the sink was clogged on the inside with lumps of blackish material. This really was a horrible place. Emma would be just as glad to get Ritchie out of here as soon as possible, even if it meant him having to wait till much later to get anything to eat. She looked at herself in the mirror over the sink. The glass was rippled and bendy; her face looked wider than normal, but it was enough for her to see the swollen area on her lip, oozing from the tip. Blood streaked her cheek and chin. She looked a right mess.

On the cistern at the back of the toilet was an industrial-sized roll of toilet paper. Emma reached for it, avoiding looking into the toilet bowl. She unrolled some of the sheets and tore them off. They were probably filthy but she didn’t care. She wet the tissue under the tiny trickle from the tap and scrubbed at her face. There. That was the worst of it sorted. She threw the tissue into a bin under the sink and tore off a second piece. This she held to her lip, pressing it on the cut for a few seconds to stop the bleeding. But when she took the tissue away, it stuck to the cut and pulled the scab off, making the bleeding start all over again. Emma sighed with impatience. It took two more pieces of tissue before the cut finally stayed sealed. A final quick scrub at her chin, and a rinse of her fingers, and she was done. She didn’t bother looking for anything to dry her hands with.

When she came out of the toilet, she was too busy at first breathing in the fresher air to fully take in what she was seeing. She was looking down the passage towards the front of the restaurant; she had a good view of most of the tables from here. She could see the window with its flaking red lettering: “Mr. Bap’s” spelled back to front. But just inside that, where she would have expected to see Ritchie with his flushed, sleepy face, and Antonia with her flicky blond hair, there was a gap. Ritchie’s pushchair was gone. The table by the window was empty.

Emma didn’t start to worry straightaway. They were here somewhere. She just wasn’t seeing them. She came out into the main part of the café and looked around. The tabletops were sticky and yellow in the fluorescent light. The bearded old man sat with his eyes closed. The man behind the counter was still nowhere to be seen.

Uncertain, Emma stood in the middle of the room. What was happening here? What was going on that she didn’t understand? Then she got it. They’d gone outside! Antonia’s husband had arrived. They’d got Ritchie ready and put him back in his buggy. They were all out there, waiting for her in the street.

She went to the door and yanked it open. She looked up the street and then down. Cars and buses on the main road. Some shops still open, their lights glistening on the pavement. Music thumping from one of them, an unfamiliar Eastern beat. Groups of bearded men, some wearing round, colored hats. No sign of a woman in a furry jacket pushing a buggy.

A few feet along, the street turned onto another side road. Emma went to it and looked down. Railings along the pavement, three buses in a row. Blocks of flats, a pub.

No woman with a buggy.

Trying hard not to panic, Emma hurried back to the café. This was ridiculous. They must be here! Antonia must have taken Ritchie to some other table, some section of the restaurant Emma hadn’t noticed before. She really should have told her first, though. This was definitely the last straw. When she found Ritchie now, she really was just going to take him and go.

But even as she quickly examined every wall of the restaurant, and all around the counter, she knew what she’d known when she’d first walked into the place: that it was just one square room, with the window and door to the street at the front. There were no stairs, and no corner. No tables she hadn’t seen. No other section to the café at all.

Emma hurtled down the passage to the toilet. She flung open the door, just in case there was a second toilet in there and she’d missed it. But there was just the one stinking room.

Hands shaking, she ran to the front of the counter.

“Excuse me,” she called, her voice high-pitched. “Exc­use me.”

The colored plastic strips moved. The man with the stubbly beard poked his head through.

“Did you see them?” Emma asked.

“Who?”

“My son.” Emma looked past him, through the colored strips. “Are they in there? Did they go into your kitchen?”

The man began to lift his hands in incomprehension. Emma opened the flap on the counter. She ran to the doorway and shoved her way through the strips. Behind them was a steel kitchen, cluttered with pots and piles of plates and smelling of rotting food. No Ritchie. No Antonia.

“What are you doing?” The man was behind her.

Emma turned on him.

“There was a woman.” She struggled to stay calm. “By the window, with my son. Did she take him? Where did they go?”

“I didn’t—”

“Did she leave him on his own?” Emma was shouting now. “Did she take him, or did someone else? You must have seen something, are you blind?”

The man backed away, looking alarmed.

“I didn’t see nobody,” he said. “I don’t know where they go.”

Emma pushed past him, back to the shop. The old man by the wall was peering up at her. His eyes had a bluish film on the front.

“Did you see them?” Emma begged.

The man just gripped his cup. He was more elderly than she’d thought, shaky and vague. She couldn’t tell if he even understood what she was saying.

“Call the police!” she shouted to the man at the counter. “Someone’s taken my child.”

The two men stared at her.

“Call the police!” Emma screamed at them, and ran out into the street.

There was still no sign. She couldn’t even run—she didn’t know which way to go. The street blurred; she was dizzy and sick.

“Ritchie,” she called. “Ritchie.”

Her throat was clicky with fright. She looked up and down again, standing on tiptoe. People everywhere, in coats and scarves and hats, but no one with a baby. Ritchie seemed to have completely vanished. Emma wanted to vomit. She tried to cross the road to the island in the middle, to get a better view of the street on both sides of the café, but there were railings everywhere, blocking her way.

“Ritchie!” she yelled. And then: “Oh God. Please. Somebody help me. My baby’s been kidnapped.”

A man in a baseball cap and jacket was striding towards her on the path.

“Please.” Emma tried to stop him. “Please. I need help.”

The man veered past her and kept going.

“Someone. Please.” Emma was breathless with terror. She had to force herself to stay standing. Her legs were like water. She couldn’t think straight. What should she do? Someone had to help her; she couldn’t, she couldn’t think about anything.

A large middle-aged lady, laden with plastic shopping bags, slowed down to have a look.

“What’s going on here?” the lady asked.

Emma almost threw herself at her.

“Please. Oh, please. Someone’s taken my baby.”

“Who’s taken your baby?”

“The woman, she . . . Did you see them? A woman and a little boy? Did you pass them on your way up here?”

“I don’t . . .” The woman hesitated. Around her, more people were stopping. People were talking, mostly in foreign languages, she couldn’t understand what they were saying. One or two English phrases came through:

“Who’s taken a baby?”

“That thin girl with the torn coat.”

“Is that blood on her face?”

“My child has been kidnapped.” Emma couldn’t believe it. Why were they all just standing there? She grabbed the ­middle-aged woman by the front of her jumper.

“Call the police!” she yelled at her. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

The woman recoiled, her mouth a rectangle: What have I got myself into? Someone else said in a sharp voice to Emma: “Hey, hey, no need for that.”

Emma let go of the woman. She sprinted down the street in the opposite direction from which the woman had come, trusting her that if she’d seen Ritchie on her way up she’d have said. Her breath sounded thin and whistly. Only a tiny amount of air was coming in each time. Oh God, don’t black out. Oh, please, let her not black out now, there wasn’t time, she had to find him before he got too far away. She was trying to look everywhere at once, at the lighted windows, the darker corners and side roads, straining to see Ritchie’s tufty little head and blue fleece in all the colors and the gloom. Had Antonia’s husband come? Had the two of them bundled Ritchie off together? Did Antonia even have a husband? Or a child? Or was she just some nutter who . . . Oh Jesus.

Ice.

Maybe Ritchie wasn’t with Antonia at all. Maybe Antonia had got bored, and walked out of the café and left him, and someone else, some person Emma couldn’t even begin to imagine, had seen him there on his own and come in and taken him.

The street disappeared. The road came and went in flashes, like the strobes at a nightclub. Then she was pushing past people, shoving them violently out of her way. She was flying down the street, spinning down side roads at random, then sprinting back up them again. She didn’t know which way she was going, whether she was searching the same places over again or different ones, they all looked the same, the same people and roads and buildings. Had she missed him, gone right past him? Was she flying around in circles, not making any progress at all, while all the time he was getting further and further away?

The flashes were coming faster. She screamed his name all around her, again and again and again.

“Ritchie! Ritchie! Ritchie!”

Then she knelt in the road and shrieked, no words coming out, just sounds. Car horns blared. Through the flashing lights came voices:

“Look at her. She’s not well.”

“Is it drugs?”

Emma’s head was full of noise. There was too much color and movement. She couldn’t cope; everything was coming too fast. She couldn’t think. Too many things to think about. Too urgent. Too much. She fell forward onto her hands. The road rushed at her face.

“Are you all right?” a woman asked.

“Someone call an ambulance.”

They swirled, blurred, and were gone.

Meet the Author

Abbie Taylor is a doctor, married, with two children. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. Emma’s Baby is her first novel.

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The Stranger on the Train 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
SpeedSD More than 1 year ago
GREAT STAND-ALONE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER! This is an amazing piece of work! The story starts pretty quickly and stays at a pretty quick pace through the whole book, until the end where I could barely put the book down to cook dinner for my family! What if your son was stolen and no one (police included) believed you? What if they all believed you had harmed your own child? What would you do? Who would you turn to? This book was a great read and I cannot wait to hear for more from this author! She has really impressed me with this one!-- SPeeD
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
We first meet Emma Turner as she and her 13-month-old son, Ritchie, on a Sunday in midi-September, are returning from a trip across London to the East End. They are waiting for a train on the platform of a nearly-deserted Underground station. In a dizzying sequence of events, Emma suddenly somehow has lost her baby when a stranger, a woman who had seemed to be helping her, appears to have kidnapped him. And from an innocent moment on a quiet Sunday evening in the middle of London, a nightmare begins. Of course Emma immediately reports the abduction to the police, who seem reluctant to believe her or give her any tangible assistance, notably D.I. Ian Hill, the SIO in charge of the case. The fact that Emma is a single mom very stressed out at her new responsibilities, with the child’s father barely aware of his existence, only adds to their skepticism. Lindsay, the family liaison officer assigned, is the only one who seems to have any belief in her version of events. Until, that is, a stranger named Rafe offers to help her. Rafe was, briefly, a cop, and has contacts that may prove helpful. Emma is in a state of torment, and will go to any lengths to get her child back. There are flashbacks to important and/or stressful moments in Emma’s and Ritchie’s young life that give the reader an insight into the years before and immediately after he was born, in a novel of increasing psychological suspense, in the course of which the reader reaches the point of asking, is Emma an unreliable narrator? Emma herself veers from anger and hostility to utter vulnerability, and it isn’t until very near to the end of the novel that Ritchie’s, and Emma’s, fate becomes known. This is a very engaging novel, and it is recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. Kept changing my mind about what i thought would happen. Not fine literature but a darn good read,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book, hungry family, great book, dirty dishes, great book, fast food, need I say more? Highly recommend!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Suspenseful read, very hard to put down. I was hooked from the beginning!
Anonymous 10 months ago
Captures the emotional turmoil of the mothers life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had me on The edge of my seat could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would like to buy