By Peter Walsh
Our family gatherings were usually happy times for us all. We were a close and loving unit. This particular gathering was anything but happy, in fact it was terrifying.
My name is Lisa Ward and I am twenty three years old.
Mother, myself, my sister Jane, Auntie Kris and first cousin Nikki had been kidnapped and were being held for ransom.
The five of us were bound and gagged in a dimly lit locked room, shut away from all that was familiar.
We had been kidnapped one at a time over a three day period. Mother had been taken first, then Jane, then me, then Auntie Kris and finally Nikki.
My own abduction had happened with a speed that was hard to comprehend. The hospital car park, a rush of bodies and a drugged pad being held over my face until I passed out. I had woken up bound with rope and gagged with tape to find Mother and Jane in an identical predicament. I struggled desperately to free myself but it was hopeless.
Auntie Kris and then Nikki were brought in and were bound and gagged like Mother, Jane and myself.
We had two kidnappers. A man and a woman. They had not bothered to conceal their identities. The man was tall, wiry and balding probably around forty. The woman was younger with short dark hair and a trim athletic frame. They both wore dark clothes.
They both seemed to be very gifted at tying people up. The five of us were all trussed up very securely.
Mother tried to speak through the layers of tape on her mouth.
This amused the kidnappers.
‘Mrs Ward has a question, why have we done this?’ The man answered Mother’s muted enquiry. ‘Ransom of course?’
‘Ransom for five’. The woman then said. ‘Once we get our money from husbands and fathers, we can go our separate ways’.
‘Meanwhile you are our guests’. The man smiled.
‘I like prisoners better’. The woman said.
Prisoners. We were certainly that. I looked around the room that was our prison. Brownish walls, no windows and empty shelves. A heavy looking door was the only entrance. It was some type of store room. Almost perfect to store kidnap victims.
We were all bound to chairs. Strong wooden ones. Wrists bound behind us and our ankles secured together. We had been arranged in a captive row. It was in order of abduction. I was right in the middle between Jane and Auntie Kris.
I had tried to move the chair but had failed. Like the other captive members of my family I would stay put.
‘I am sorry about the tape across your mouths’. The man said. ‘We have to keep you all gagged. This place is not as remote as you might think and we can’t have any unwanted noise from you’.
I then saw that the woman had some folded lengths of white cloth draped over one arm. I counted five such lengths.
‘Now while we are on the topic of gags?’ The woman then said and she then took up the first of the cloths. ‘We have to attend to the business of your ransom and that means leaving you. While we are out we must insist on additional noise insulation’.
She then advanced on us.
In less than ten minutes she had all five of us double gagged. The cloths were tightly tied over our already taped up mouths.
I could hardly make the smallest of sounds. I looked to my right and exchanged shocked glances with Mother and Jane. I then looked left and found Auntie Kris and Nikki in a similar state of disbelief over what had been inflicted upon them.
‘You all look very smart ladies’. The man said.
‘Especially tied up for ransom’. The woman added.
‘We shall see you in due course’. The man said and exchanged a wry grin with the woman. They then left us and locked the stout door behind them.
I again strained at my bindings and looked at my beloved family, captive on either side of me. I felt a touch of pride. We were in a very frightening situation but so far there had been no tears or hysteria. We were holding up well but for how long?
Our faces were all somewhat distorted by the massive gags half covering them. We could only exchange comforting glances with our eyes.
Ransom. That was the reason we were trapped in that room. I knew how special Mother, Jane and I were to Father. He would pay anything to get us back safely. I could only think of the dreadful worry he was now feeling after we had been kidnapped.
Why us? Father was a successful importer of quality goods from South East Asia. Mother worked with him in the business. The family was wealthy but not excessively so. Auntie Kris and cousin Nikki being with us indicated that the whole family had been watched closely. We had been watched and plans had been made to take us.
I was an overworked junior Doctor at a London hospital currently employed on general medicine. Jane was currently an intern on a national daily newspaper. Auntie Kris ran an interior design company. Cousin Nikki was a musician.
I wondered what form the ransom would take. One big ransom for all five of us or five separate ransoms? If so, who was worth the most?
I shook my head in frustration. I had shoulder length hair and it was trapped against my head by the tight band of cloth covering my mouth.
I looked at Mother. She gave me a comforting smile over her gag. She was elegant as always. Her short bob of hair was un-fussed and her make-up was intact. She was wearing one of her grey Chanel suits and despite her abduction it still bore few creases. Her dark stockings were not laddered and her Jimmy Choo patent leather shoes still gleamed. I knew she would be strong for me so I would be strong for her.
My own attire had less chic appeal than Mothers but I still looked smart. There was a dress code at the hospital for the junior female doctors. A white blouse, black skirt (length was a matter of discretion, mine was slightly short), black tights and comfortable black shoes (I liked a bit of heel though). I had no idea how long I would have to live in these clothes.
Jane usually lived in loose tops and jeans but her internship decreed that she dress smartly. She looked good in the short blue woollen jersey dress, black tights and heels and with her hair worn up.
Jane had somehow managed to move her chair closer to Mothers. I knew Jane was very frightened. She was two years younger than myself. Very pretty and very kind but was terrified of violence of any kind. I hoped that hat the fact she was in this ordeal with her mother and sister was of some comfort. The white cloth had slipped down slightly from her mouth. Even if Jane was to work the first gag free, there was still the tape.
I moved my lips behind the strips of tape sealing them. There was no way of freeing my mouth from the sticky confines of it.
My arms drawn round the back of the chair had gone numb. I flexed my fingers and moved my hands as much as my bound wrists would allow. Being tied up for any length of time would be a painful experience. Mother had been tied up for the longest. I cast a concerned glance at her. She looked round at me and I managed to indicate that she should move her bound limbs as much as she could. Mother nodded and managed to nudge Jane.
I turned to Auntie Kris and Nikki. They soon got the message too.
Then there was the drug used to subdue us when we had been abducted. I knew it was chloroform. It was a highly dangerous method of rendering one unconscious. More than the smallest of doses could possibly result in death. Also there was the residual nausea and the fact we were all so heavily gagged gave me cause for considerable concern. So far, so good. The man and woman must have known exactly the dose of chloroform required to subdue and transport us.
We also had no idea of the passage of time. How long had we been here? Mother and Jane three days, me two days and the others about one? The only kidnappings I knew of were either political or conducted by terrorists. The victims ordeals in those cases often went on for years! This was all about money and so it was in the interests of both sides to move quickly. Our kidnappers obviously had a schedule they needed to keep to? Could Father and Uncle Guy raise the required money in time?
How would we be released? Then a dreadful thought struck me. Why hadn’t the man and woman disguised themselves? We could all identify them. Did this mean that they did not intend on leaving any witnesses to their crime?
I shuddered at those thoughts.
The man and woman returned.
We all sat up in our bindings. Were there any developments? We were desperate to know.
‘Good news’. The man said. ‘We have made contact with Mr Ward and Mr Lee and they are very keen to co-operate with us. There was also no haggling over the asking price for you all-so progress on all fronts’.
‘However!’ The woman interjected. ‘They want proof that we are looking after you, so we are going to make a little video to send them’.
The woman held up a sleek black smart phone which she obviously intended to employ in providing visual proof of our captivity.
‘Who shall speak on behalf of the group?’ The man asked us. ‘Can I ask for a volunteer from the audience?’
I started rocking the chair to which I was bound with all the strength I could manage and made frantic noises through the tape and tight cloth.
‘Ah! The young and lovely Doctor Ward? How I wish that you were my private physician! Very well and a good choice! Of five beautiful women you are probably the most beguiling’. The man smiled down at me.
I scowled at him over my gag. I was not kindly disposed towards his stupid compliments. However it had been said by others that the two generations of the Ward family presently captive were stunningly attractive to look at. We all had auburn hair and blue-green eyes.
‘Before we remove your gag Doctor Ward, we must remind you of the house rules’. The man said. ‘Any screaming and you’ll be chloroformed and so will Mummy and the others. Do you understand?’
I nodded quickly in reply.
‘Also stick to the script’. The woman told me. ‘Or the same will happen’.
The woman stepped behind the row of seated captives to stand behind my chair. I felt her fingers fuss with the knot on the cloth behind my head. The band was when pulled away from my face. Her hands were scented with the alcohol gel used in hospitals to prevent germs spreading. The layers of tape were pulled away from my lips. I then had a gloriously free mouth.
I was allowed a couple of minutes to compose myself and given a drink of water from a plastic bottle. I had my own local demands to make but decided to leave them until I had given the kidnappers what they needed.
‘Daddy-please help us. They have kidnapped Mummy, Jane, Auntie Kris, Nikki and me. They will only let us go if you and Uncle Guy pay them the money. We have not been harmed but as you can see we have been tied up. We are all very frightened and just want to come home, so Daddy please help us!’
The woman held up her hand for me to stop and lowered her phone having done the filming with it.
‘Perfect!’ She said and smiled at the man.
They removed our bonds and gags and in turn let us use the small bathroom and toilet just outside the door. We were given water to drink and some small pieces of chopped fruit to eat.
However our liberty did not last and soon we were all once more tied to the chairs. The woman went down the line and starting with Mother taped our mouths in turn. The woman seemed to enjoy what she was doing. We already all had slight inflammation’s around our mouths and cheeks where the tape had been removed and re-applied several times. Having gagged us all the enforced silence once more enveloped the room.
‘We shall be right next door-so behave!’ The woman told us.
I hated the noise the heavy door made when it shut. I was once more sealed in with my family.
The Ward family business had been trading in London for six generations now. Father and Uncle Guy continued the family tradition. Ward Trading Ltd had offices in Shanghai, Seoul and Bangkok. Jane and I had enjoyed a privileged upbringing and had gone to expensive schools. I had studied hard to be a Doctor and Jane was very serious about becoming a journalist. Mother at fifty-one was beautiful and dynamic and a key to the success of Father’s business. Auntie Kris did not really need to work but did so for her own enjoyment. Cousin Nikki had studied music for seven years and played violin in the acclaimed ‘Red Flag Quartet’ that were a growing musical force on the classical scene. Nikki’s stunning good looks also aided in the quartet’s fortunes. Nikki posing with her red violin in black mini dresses and killer heels added to the mystique of the music.
We all had good lives, we all mattered, we all loved each other. So why had this awful thing happened to us. Bound and gagged and being held for ransom? I hated the kidnappers for stopping our lives in the way they had.
I made an angry noise behind the tape which gagged my mouth. The sound stirred the others from their forced contemplations. I felt guilty about startling them.
I settled myself down to await developments.
Nikki had managed to move her chair. Like the rest of us her ankles were bound to one of the front legs but Nikki had obtained some purchase with her heels. There were quite a few scraping noises and my cousin was determined and soon she had moved her chair so it was back to back with the one inhabited by Auntie Kris.
I felt a little ashamed of my own half-hearted efforts earlier in our captivity.
Nikki was hoping to get close enough to Auntie Kris so they might try to loosen the knots on their wrist bindings. Nikki was now lost to my view behind Auntie Kris but the lines of concentration on my Aunts face told me something was being attempted.
Then the woman entered the room. She took in what was happening in a split second.
‘No, no and no!’ She said and swiftly pulled Nikki’s chair back to its previous position. All our shoulders seemed to slump in unison.
The woman ran her dark eyes up and down the row of chairs of captive Wu women.
‘This means that I am going to have to re-tie all your feet so they don’t touch the floor!’
The woman went to one of the shelves and found additional ropes for the task ahead. She went first to Mother and dropped to one knee in front of the chair. She loosened the ropes about Mother’s ankles and then lifted her feet so that they were outside the left leg of the chair and clear of the floor. The woman swiftly re-bound Mother’s ankles to this new position. She hitched Mother’s ankle bindings to where the supporting front rung joined the chair leg.
‘I hope this doesn’t ruin your splendid silk stockings Mrs Ward but needs must’. The woman teased my Mother. Unable to reply because of the tape on her mouth Mother just sat and acted like the woman did not exist.
The woman then re-worked the bindings on Jane’s feet. I watched her closely as she worked. Jane chose to mirror Mothers indifference to the bondage.
I remember the familiar scent of the cleansing gel on the woman’s hands. There was definitely something about her that made me think I knew her. Some aspects of her body language and the way she spoke. A woman very like her worked at the same hospital where I spent many unsocial hours. I could not think of a name. Was she one of the administrators at the hospital? But the woman I was thinking of was blonde and blue eyed? This woman was dark haired and dark eyed but was the same build? I then knew that some hair dye and contact lenses could be used to provide a decent illusion that it was a different person.
Also the tape used for our gags? It was microfoam tape and the woman kidnapper had plenty of it. Had she obtained this from the hospital.
I had to mask my scrutiny of her. I pretended not to pay much attention as she unbound and then rebound my ankles to the new position. The way my ankles were now bound was more uncomfortable than the previous one.
The woman attended then to Auntie Kris and the Nikki. Nikki attempted to resist which led to the woman grabbing her hair and fixing her with a steely glare. ‘Watch it!’ She had admonished my cousin.
‘Thank you for the extra work ladies! It is now night time and I need my beauty sleep. I came in hear to gag you for the night but due to your poor behaviour I am going to have to blindfold you as well’.
I made a small and helpless protest through my gag and shook my head-no! She must not do this.
The woman again went to the shelves and liberated the lengths of white cloth, only twice the amount this time.
The woman put the additional gag on Mother and then tied an identical cloth around her eyes. As usual Mother was elegantly stoic.
Jane got the same treatment and then it was me. Gagged twice and blindfolded I was out of any further identity guessing games. Auntie Kris and Nikki were then obviously dealt with by the woman.
The gag and blindfold covered my face and shut everything else out. I was very distressed. I could not see my family. I made a long and fearful sound through the gags.
‘Treat it as an exercise in sensory depravation Doctor Ward!’ The woman laughed. ‘Good night ladies!’
The door then slammed shut.
We sat there silent and blind. So close but seemingly so far from each other. With our modified ankle bindings there was no hope of moving the chairs. The rope was tighter than before and my black tights offered little protection. I again thought about the health implications about being tied up for a lengthy period. I was particularly concerned about Mother and Auntie Kris.
The woman. I knew her, I most definitely knew her. I had been at the hospital in London for only five months. The work was hectic and tiring and I was on a steep learning curve. The blonde woman from administration had access to information about me. She could also have found out about Ward Trading, the family company. She may also have seen Mother visit me and from her car and clothes suspected we were fairly wealthy. She then must have planned it all. Kidnapping us all must have taken some planning and logistics not to mention very precise timing. So far the plan had worked very well.
I had to ensure that my knowledge of who this woman might be remained my secret. It might be vital later. The fact that I was gagged meant I could not share this information with my family. Probably a good thing.
Father would pay the ransom but then what? I had no choice but to continue to play a helpless role in the scary scenario.
The door opened and I heard two sets of steps. The woman’s click of boot heels and the slap of the man’s loafers.
They came straight for me.
I heard a knife blade click open and I flinched. My ankle bindings were swiftly severed and my shoes hit the floor. The ropes about my wrists were then cut away. I was pulled to my feet. I felt hands on my arms.
‘Things are moving Ladies!’ The mans voice rang out. ‘Mr Ward and Mr Lee have paid us our money. Shortly we shall tell them where to find you all’.
My heart gave an excited leap. Liberty was close at hand. I stood on unsteady limbs still gagged and blindfolded but with arms held by the kidnappers. What was happening now?
‘In two hours you’ll be free but we must insist on taking out an insurance policy’. It was the woman speaking. ‘So we are taking the lovely young Doctor Ward with us as a hostage’.
I could not hope to imagine how this statement must have sounded to my Mother, helpless only yards away. It must have been sheer torture.
‘Doctor Ward will be released when we have reached a safe distance’.
So I was now to be a hostage against any unwanted pursuit. Without further ceremony I was dragged from the room. The door was shut on my captive family.
The blindfold and the cloth gag were removed. I blinked through misted vision at the woman in front of me as the tape was taken off my mouth.
I looked around me. I was in the office of some derelict industrial unit. There was little furniture and the walls were void of anything save flaking paint.
The man was to left, talking on a phone.
The woman put her hands on my shoulders and shook me slightly.
‘Now young Doctor Ward, do exactly as we say and everybody will be safe by the end of the day. Do you understand?’
‘Y-yes I do’. I stuttered.
‘Good! Now go into that small bathroom, get out of those clothes, clean up and change into these’. She handed me a large plastic bag containing garments. ‘Need I remind you of a sense of urgency?
I moved quickly to the bathroom. I kicked off my shoes and swiftly shed my blouse, skirt, tights, bra and panties. I cleaned up as best I could with the soap and water to hand. The towel was rough against my skin. I blinked at my reflection in the mirror. I looked pale and scared. I combed my hair with my fingers.
I delved into the plastic bag. I put on clean white panties, there was no bra to be had. I pulled a black t-shirt over my head and shook out my hair. I drew on some stiff new jeans and put on some black woollen socks. I pulled on a pair of tan Ugg boots which came to my knees. Lastly I donned a red hooded top and zipped it up. The clothes were clean, warm and comfy.
I then re-joined the two kidnappers.
‘You look rather cute Doctor Ward and we appreciate your promptness’. The woman grinned at me. ‘Now come here please’.
I looked about me and then saw the door beyond which my family were still captive.
‘I want to see my Mother and my-’.
‘No time!’ The man interrupted me. ‘Get her sorted’.
The woman then loomed in front of me. She was taller than me and probably stronger. I looked her over again. She was aware of my scrutiny. She grabbed my wrists and deftly looped a black plastic cable tie about them. It was made very tight but the sleeves of the jacket protected my wrists.
‘Open your mouth!’
‘Do it! This is not the time for pointless gestures of defiance! Open up!’ She raised her right hand in a clenched fist.
Apart from our abductions and the bondage there had been no violence visited upon my family. I complied with her request. She stuffed a wad of cotton gauze into my mouth and then sealed it in place with strips of the dreaded tape. I was gagged yet again.
‘Something familiar to you Doctor’. She then pushed back my hair away from my ears and fastened a white surgical mask over my lower face. It was to disguise the gag. ‘Suits you too’.
The hood of the jacket was then pulled up over my head and the strings tightened and tied off under my chin. I could not see properly.
‘Bring her!’ I heard the mans voice.
I was in the back seat of a car. The seat belt held me in place. The woman was next to me. I had been ordered to keep my head angled down.
Initially we had moved slowly through what must have been heavy traffic. City traffic? I heard the man softly curse. I hoped we were still in London. It was a big place but it was where I lived and worked.
The kidnappers did not talk to each other. I gathered that this was to avoid giving out any clues to the current location and future destination. Unable to see anything under the hood or over the mask, I strained my ears for sounds but all I could hear was the muted roar of assorted vehicle engines.
I sat gagged and with my wrists secured in front of me. I was desperately worried about Mother and the others, helpless back in that awful room. I must have been shaking. I felt the woman’s hand on my shoulder. ‘Not long to go now’. She told me. I suddenly became angry. I did not need her comfort.
I know who you are and I shall remember you. These silent words to myself were a comfort. The gauze stuffed in my mouth was now a saliva sodden mass and felt ghastly but it was trapped there by the tape. I never wanted to be gagged again in my life.
The stuttering progress gave way to real speed. A motorway? I tried to find a way of measuring the elapsed time in my head but each formula faltered after a while. I raised my head but this time the woman did not force it down again. I could not see much through the gap in the hood but things were swiftly moving past me.
The vehicle slowed and then turned right then left and continued for a time.
‘Right there!’ I heard the woman tell the man.
The car slowed down and then came to a halt. I heard the door open on the woman’s side and her boot heels on a hard surface. I then felt a rush of air as the door on my left opened.
‘It’s your stop Doctor Ward. We part company here!’
The seat belt fell away and I was pulled out of the car. The woman had a painful grip on my arm and she manhandled me out into the open air and forced me to sit down on a hard bench like structure. It all happened too quickly for me to struggle.
‘Goodbye Doctor Ward!’ I heard something being tossed and it landing near my feet. Seconds later the car roared away.
With my wrists still trapped by the cable tie I managed to get the hood back off my head. I then pulled off the surgical mask. I then frantically and painfully got the tape off my mouth and coughed out the sodden gauze wad.
I took several deep breaths and blinked around me. The grey tarmac of a road, tall green hedges and the plastic, steel and glass of a bus shelter.
I was sitting on a bench at a rural bus stop. I noticed my shoulder bag on the ground a foot away from me.
I was on my feet and I looked down the road to my right. Nothing. I looked to my left. Nothing. I was at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. I stooped and retrieved my bag. I zipped it open. Phone, wallet, keys, money, make-up and assorted bits and pieces. It was all there.
My wrists. I had to free my wrists. Using the edge of the bench I managed to break the cable tie but it took several long and painful minutes. I stretched gloriously free arms. I then found my phone and using a couple of apps was able to find out where I was. The small town of Covington was 3.8 miles up the road.
I then called Father. He answered quickly. The relief in his voice was evident and I tried not to cry. He told me that the others were free and safe. I felt myself relax. I told him that I might know who one of the kidnappers was. He then said he would send a car for me. I told him not to bother, I was safe and had all my things and a bus was due soon. I would make it home on my own. He told me that I was very brave. I told him that I loved him and that I would be home soon.
I sat on the bench and waited. A bus was due in twenty minutes. I fiddled inside my bag. I found some wipes and cleaned up my face and ran a brush through my hair. I felt quite well under the circumstances.
I heard a car. It was a battered blue Volvo Estate. It pulled over and stopped right in front of me. The window squeaked down.
A gorgeous looking young man with sandy hair and bright blue eyes smiled at me. I looked him over. He had a sense of shabby chic about him. There was a black Labrador on the back seats. I sensed nothing but good vibes.
‘You look like a damsel in distress?’ He said.
I could not help but smile.
‘As a matter of fact I am!’
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