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THE NEGOTIATION
Georgia Wetherall

They returned her to me in pieces. I was warned that might happen. Sometimes the ransom letters are sent with locks of hair or fingernails, they told me. It’s supposed to push the parents into a state of panic, always wondering which part of their child would be returned next. The police told me they seldom harm the victim. They’re much more valuable in one piece, they’d said. After all, no one would pay thousands of pounds for their daughter if she’d been chopped up into twenty individual parts.

The first time I saw Martha again, it was one of her toes. The blue paint on the nail was chipped, and I remember being so appalled that they hadn’t even given her the decency of repainting it for her. It was one of the middle toes too. An insignificant toe. I wouldn’t have even known it was hers if it hadn’t been for the letter. If you ask me, they should’ve taken her thumb.

It had panicked the police, that toe. They acted calm in front of me, but there was a new urgency to the way they spoke.

            ‘Mrs Foister, we might have to consider hiring a negotiator.’

            ‘We already have a negotiator.’

            ‘A better one then.’

The next time, I opened the envelope to find an eyelid. It was in perfect shape. I recall remarking at the wonderful job they’d done at removing it. The officer assured me that Martha would be able to have a new eyelid grafted when she came home, but I already knew that.

The ransom was set at ten thousand pounds. Even the negotiator couldn’t get them to reduce the sum.

            ‘I won’t pay them.’ I had made up my mind from the moment I had seen the eyelid.

The negotiator didn’t understand me. ‘Mrs Foister, I’m positive we will be able to lower the sum.’

I shook my head. ‘I won’t pay a thing. You said it yourselves. Who would pay for an incomplete daughter?’