By Peter Walsh
A story with Ellie Brand
It had not been easy but the events of Dark Wood were now behind me. I was back living the life I loved surrounded by those that I loved.
I had asked Max to move in with me as I no longer wished to sleep alone. My huge bed was meant for two anyway and I felt safe falling asleep in Max’s arms. Strong affection for Max had now become a very real love and though it was early days the relationship promised much. I was amused by how little Max owned. Two guitars, a dozen books and one bag of clothes so the restricted space in my flat was not an issue. He also only had a single pair of shoes while I had lost count of the number I owned. I suppose as a serious musician he had to take a vow of poverty.
My job at the ‘One World’ Gallery was just getting better and better. David and Julia West the owners listened to my ideas and seemed happy to take them on board. I wanted not just to be known as a hard worker but an innovative one too.
Although I had the best mum in the world I felt I had a great ‘Work’ mum in Julia West. Julia and I were very fond of each other and formed a mutual appreciation society. Professor Julia West, forty-three, tall, slim, blonde, grey eyed, beautiful, academic and TV personality. She was something I aspired to be in every way and I hoped that I would look as good as she did when I reached my early forties.
Julia was taking a break from her and David’s TV production company ‘Byzantium Films’. She wanted to spend more time at the gallery which was fine by me. We were a good team. David West, Julia’s professional and life partner, was travelling and researching for a passionate project of his, ‘Art of the Byzantine Era’. He would be lost for months in the rock churches of Cappadocia, the tufa monuments of Armenia and Georgia and the 13th century Bulgarian ceramic factories buried in the mud of the Danube. Julia wanted her comforts for a while so David would be travelling alone.
After a disappointing summer the cold months were creeping up on the city. Julia and I shared the same ritual of wearing comfy boots on our journeys to the gallery but switching to sexy heels on arrival. At Max’s request I had let my hair grow and my shiny black locks reached to my shoulders, I wore it down. Julia had also started wearing her hair down, the beautiful blonde waves really caught the light.
With the number of exhibits ever growing the gallery was running out of space and too much was in storage when it should have been on display. The country was a hive of different ethnic groups each with its own cultural identity. London was probably the strongest example of the fact. Julia and I had discussed the opening of a series of sub-galleries across London within the various ethnic communities celebrating their own unique heritage of art and craft. We had called round the local councils and community groups and there was enthusiasm but questions arose regarding suitable venues and most of all-funding. It would be a challenge but Julia and I were very excited about it.
It was a quiet day at the gallery when Julia got the call. There were no viewings that day and I was sending out another batch of e-mails regarding the community gallery plan.
Julia’s office was at the back of the gallery but I could here by her excited tone that the call was bringing positive news.
I heard her heels clicking as she came out to tell me the news.
‘Ellie! Good news. I have just spoken to a Mrs Nanava. She has heard about our project and wants to talk about getting involved!’ Her grey eyes were dancing.
‘Who is she?’ I asked.
‘A Georgian businesswoman. She owns quite a few properties in London and wants to be a patron of the arts. She is interested in setting up a Georgian Arts and Culture Centre’.
‘Is there enough of a Georgian community to justify it?’
‘She seems to think so. She wants to meet to discuss it’.
‘Today at two’.
‘No. At her office. This has a real possibility Ellie. We shall close the gallery put on the voice mail and see what she has to offer’.
‘I’m not sure Julia. She seems a bit too eager?’ Recent events had instilled a sense of caution in me.
‘Maybe but it could be the start we wanted’.
She was the Boss.
‘Boots or heels?’ I asked Julia.
‘Has to be heels’. She smiled.
We were checking our appearance before we left for our meeting with Mrs Nanava. We looked good. I was wearing a short red dress, black tights and black heels and was putting on a short red trench coat. Julia wore a black and white chequered top, a short pink skirt, black tights and heels and was donning a black trench coat that came down to her knees.
We gathered up bags and phones and closed the gallery. Julia drove a scarlet and white Mini Cooper which was parked outside. We would be driving to East London and the area known as Stratford and the venue for our meeting was on a road called Marsh Lane. I checked the area out on my phone as we set out onto the permanently busy roads of the capital.
‘Not much there Julia?’
‘I think it is where her office is. Don’t worry Ellie. This is all fine. She is going to love our ideas and you-because everybody does!’ She smiled warmly at me.
I was not sure about this. I sent a text to Max just in case.
We made good time to Stratford and found the road without difficulty. The area had been transformed due to the staging of the Olympic Games the previous year but there were still a few rough edges to the place. This was one of them. There was a tall fence to our left and beyond that some waste ground. To our right were some boarded up industrial units scarred with graffiti.
‘We must have taken a wrong turning?’ Julia looked around her with a puzzled expression.
‘I don’t think we have?’ I told her at least not according to all the phone and navigation technology available to us.
Julia brought her car to a halt and then got out. ‘I’ll call her to check’. She moved her phone up to her ear brushing back some of her blonde waves of hair.
I looked about me and then suddenly saw a black transit van speeding down the road towards us. This was not good.
‘Julia! Get back in the car!’ I yelled.
Julia looked at me in bewildered surprise and then up at the black van which screeched to a halt behind us. Doors slid open and three dark clad and masked figures emerged. Julia was seized and her started cry was stopped at source by a black gloved hand sliding over her mouth. She was lifted off her feet and carried to the van putting up a hopeless struggle.
I was hauled out of the car by two more of our assailants. I tried to fight but was not attired for combat. I was gagged by a gloved hand and was lifted up and moved swiftly to the van. I was dumped inside almost on top of Julia. We righted ourselves and clung to each other to allay our mutual distress. It was dark in the van as the door rasped shut and it drove away at speed.
I looked at Julia just a black gloved hand holding a white cotton pad emerged to cover her and nose and mouth. Her grey eyes became wide and terrified and she made a muffled shriek.
Then another gloved hand holding another white cotton pad loomed up in my vision and was clamped to my face. I inadvertently inhaled a large amount of sweet smelling narcotic vapour. Julia and her terrified eyes above the drugged pad stuck to her face became a blur and then there was nothing at all.
I woke up blinded by my hair and with a dreadful headache. I shook my hair out of my face and cursed the pain in my head. I sensed I was in a sitting position. I tried to move but found I couldn’t. I was tied up.
I managed to open my eyes and the first thing I saw was Julia. She was a few meters away. Julia faced me and was tied to a straight backed wooden chair. Her arms were behind the back of the chair with the wrists bound. I knew that for a fact because mine were too. Three turns of white rope secured her upper body to the chair the same had happened to me. Our respective sets of black nylon clad legs were bound at the knees and the ankles. Our ankle ropes were fastened to the front of the chair.
Julia was gagged with strips of black tape across her mouth. They almost blotted out the lower part of her face and masked her beauty. Her grey eyes were pained by obvious concern for me. I had been gagged the same way and my lips, cheeks and jaws felt numbed by the tape.
I looked around me. Julia and I were captive in dimly lit corner of an abandoned warehouse. There was all manner of rubbish on the floor and the towering racks on the walls were all empty. The whole place smelled of damp neglect. There was a folding table near to us and on top of it was a black holdall. I did not want to know what might be inside it. We had both been relieved of our coats. The sleeves on my short red dress were brief and already I was starting to feel cold. I looked down at me feet and saw that I still had my shoes, the black high heels still adorned my fleet. I wished now that I had changed to the comfy black knee-high boots back at the gallery. My shoes would be a hindrance in any flight scenario. I also saw that Julia had managed to keep her shoes too, they were equally impractical as mine. I suspected she was also regretting not changing into her boots as well.
My friend and I were in a grim situation. I was afraid but having Julia with me was a comfort. However being tied up and gagged we could do little to help each other. We both flexed our bodies to the degree that our bonds would allow. My thoughts had now turned as to why we were here. Abducted and bound, by who and why?
Footsteps on the hard warehouse floor. Julia and I turned our heads in the direction of the sound. A single set of boot heels striking concrete. It was a feminine sound.
The source of the steps suddenly appeared against a backdrop of light round one of the empty stacks. A slender long legged woman approached where Julia and I sat as prisoners. No black clad thugs. Just one lone woman. She was wearing a grey and pink patterned jumper, slim fitting dark blue jeans, black leather knee boots with modest heels and black leather gloves. She had shoulder length dark hair and a knitted black cap covered her head and half her face was hidden by a large pair of wrap around shades. She had a wide mouth and wore bright red lipstick. She came to a halt and smiled.
‘Hi’. Our stylishly attired captor said.
Unable to reply through the tape gagging our mouths Julia and I just looked up at her.
‘Sorry you have been brought here like this but there is a point to it all. Don’t worry it will be just me taking care of you from now on. I have paid off the rent-a-thugs who grabbed you. Nice to finally meet you Julia and thank you for bringing along young Ellie here. She is very pretty isn’t she?’
She was then by me. She tilted my head up with two gloved fingers and gently brushed away a couple of stray black locks from my face. I looked up at her face obscured by the shades. I did not react to her attention.
She then turned to Julia. ‘For a very intelligent woman Julia what you did this afternoon was rather on the stupid side. As you may now realise Mrs Nanava does not exist, I am very good at accents. You made it very easy for me to get you where I wanted you-thank you for that. I think your idea for ethnic art in the community is a good one but that is not why we are all here. Your unfeasibly good looking husband David is currently in Georgia doing research for your next TV series-am I right?’
‘Along with that research David is doing a favour for the British Government, a very important favour and one that the people who are paying me don’t want him to do. If he wants to see you ever again he will return home on the first plane available. If he doesn’t I shall start to be very mean to pretty young Ellie here and then even meaner to you’.
Julia sat there in her enforced state of silence and took in the woman’s words. A chill of fear was already creeping through my body. It brought back the very bad memories of Dark Wood.
‘I have checked your phones. Nobody knows where either of you are. I checked your twitter accounts too. Ellie sent a text to boyfriend Max but he will be none the wiser’.
She then conjured up a phone. She went to Julia and deftly removed the tape from her mouth. ‘Now Julia. We are going to talk to David. Keep it simple. He comes home right now or both you and Ellie die!’
‘David-just do what you know is best and don’t-mmmmmmph!’
A black leather gloved hand swiftly covered Julia’s mouth.
Our captor took over the conversation ‘Yes David. Do what you know is best. We will be watching’. She then terminated the call. Her gloved hand remained over Julia’s mouth. Julia moved her head in an attempt to dislodge the gagging hand but the woman kept a firm grip.
Helplessly bound and gagged all I could do was watch my friends torment.
‘I now am going to do something to you Julia that I have always wanted to do’. The woman told her.
What was this?
The woman removed her hand and from nowhere conjured up a dirty cloth rag. She promptly crammed it into Julia’s mouth. Julia coughed and retched accordingly. Our captor then went to the table and rummaged in the holdall emerging with a roll of black tape. She secured the filthy rag in Julia’s mouth with several turns of black tape. She then stepped back.
‘That felt good!’ She said breathlessly. ‘How is it for you Julia?’
The whole lower part of Julia’s face was a mass of black tape, changing the shape of it and trapping and sticking to her lovely hair. Her eyes were narrowed as she came to terms with this extreme discomfort. I felt for her but all I could do in my mute state was offer a few sympathetic tears.
The woman then turned to me. ‘Don’t worry pretty Ellie I have no desire to do the same to you. Julia West needs a lesson in humility’.
Julia West was one of the kindest people I knew. I was furious about how she was being treated. I blinked away my tears and gave the woman the most hostile glare I could over the black tape blotting out my mouth. This amused her.
‘You have the most beautiful green eyes Ellie especially with murder in them’.
She then turned and went back to the holdall on the table for another rummage.
‘Such a lot of useful stuff in here! Enough rope and tape to tie and gag about fifty hostages, chloroform, hoods, handcuffs, phones and this!’
Julia and I turned to look at what our captor was now holding. We both visibly shuddered at the sight and it brought home what serious danger we were in. She was holding a deadly looking black pistol.
‘Meet Mr Sig P239 and his friend the silencer’. She gave a grim smile. ‘If David does not do as bidden- pop and pop-and no more you!’
The sound of our captors boot heels died away and Julia and I were alone again.
I felt dreadful in my bondage. I had a painful headache and the tape across my mouth made my breathing awkward. The ropes binding my wrists behind the chair were chafing me and those holding me to it were starting to cut into my breasts. My knee and ankle bindings had caused me to loose feeling in my legs. I was not sure how much longer I might last.
I could see Julia was in equal distress. The rag taped in her mouth might choke her. She looked up and smiled warmly at me with her eyes. This was a comfort.
I did not want to be here. Bound, in danger and afraid. I wanted to be doing my job and going home to Max or following him when he took to the road playing his music. Max would never make big money plying his particular craft. His ‘Alt Americana’ was something of a niche interest but his paired down music, distinctive vocals and songs about wide open spaces was gaining him a cult following. Max must have known that something was wrong. My text and the fact that I was missing along with Julia but what could he do?
I was going to cry now.
I then saw Julia suddenly sit up straight in her bonds and look to her right. Her eyes were wide over the gag. I also turned my head in the same direction.
A figure was rapidly moving towards us. They were crouched down awkwardly and looked furtively all around them as they grew closer.
Curly hair, boyish face, goatee beard, red hooded top, baggy jeans and black Converse shoes.
It was Max!
His blue eyes were appalled when he looked upon his girlfriend and her boss in their bound and gagged state. He came to a halt he was clearly horrified to see me this way. He knew he had to free us quickly but his nice guy sense of gallantry led him to the older woman first. Julia shook her head and then nodded towards me. Max then moved quickly.
He got the tape off my mouth as gently as he could and quickly kissed my smarting lips. He was then behind my chair. Max had once been in the Scouts and since then he had always carried a Swiss Army Penknife. Today I was supremely grateful for the fact. He cut through the bonds at my wrists and chest and then dropping to one knee severed my knee and ankle bindings. He then moved to help Julia.
I sat for several long seconds rubbing my wrists and enjoyed the sensation of free movement but I had to help Max. I rose unsteadily from the chair and removed my heels, there was no way I could walk in them right then. The concrete floor was cold under my nylon clad soles as I almost lurched over to Julia and Max. While Max and his red handled knife worked at vanquishing Julia’s ties I began the awkward job of getting the dreadful gag off her. My nails found purchase on the tape wrapped about her face and head and began to unravel it. I managed to get it all off with the minimum loss of blonde hair. I plucked the filthy rag from her mouth. Full feeling was returning to my body now and all my limbs were starting to function properly. Max cut away the last of Julia’s bonds and we both helped her up out of the chair. It took several seconds for her to right herself. Julia followed my example and took her heels.
‘We have to move!’ Max grabbed us by a hand each and carrying our shoes we sort of stumbled behind him. We moved towards the light.
We had not gone far when our captor appeared in front of us. A dreaded apparition in wrap around shades.
She took in the situation at once and her red painted mouth became set in a grim line. She brought the silenced pistol up into the aim right at Max. Blind terror took hold of me and I screamed.
The sound of my scream seemed to expand and fill the whole warehouse. It must have startled the captor as she then hesitated. Julia then threw one of her shoes right at the gun toting woman. It was a great shot. The show struck the woman heel first right on the nose. I was suddenly spurred into action and I threw one of my shoes at her head. It was not in the class of Julia’s effort but it hit her on the head. She tottered back slightly, the gun coming down from the aim.
‘Get her!’ I yelled and Max, Julia and I formed a three person battering ram and slammed her to the floor. We all landed in a tangle on the dirty hard floor and an almost comic struggle ensued. The gun was dropped and fell out of reach. The three of us managed to flip the woman over on her front and pinned her to the floor with our collective body weights. She struggled and swore. I got the woolly cap off her head and took hold of her hair.
‘Shut up!’ I told her.
Max and Julia giggled.
We then were aware of the rush of feet and we looked up as a man came running up. Fair hair, blue eyes, slightly tanned dressed in a leather jacket and jeans. Handsome and familiar.
‘What kept you Darling?’ Julia West asked her husband.
David West stood over us smiling with relief and also some amusement.
‘Max!’ He addressed my hero boyfriend. ‘You were supposed to wait!’
Max and I faced Julia and David over an ornate wooden table in a delightfully restored pub in East London. It was about a mile from the miserable empty industrial unit where Julia and I had been held prisoner.
I had an enormous glass of red wine in front of me and was nestled comfortably close to my boyfriend. My shoes were back on my feet and I was wearing my retrieved red trench coat. I was also back in possession of my phone and bag. Two indispensable companions to the contemporary girl. About every five minutes I would turn to Max and stroke his face or kiss him. He had come and rescued me! This seemed to touch David and Julia who sat there holding hands and gently smiling. I had been presently surprised to learn that they had been married for twenty years!
The whole episode regarding Julia and mines kidnapping had been over and done in a little over six hours!
‘So!’ I asked Julia and David. ‘You two are secret agents?’
‘Time allowing’. David replied. ‘Our TV production company and the gallery takes up most of our available hours’.
‘So what was today about?’
‘Baiting a trap for a trap’.
‘You and I were the bait Ellie’. Julia told me. ‘David has been wanting to nab our kidnapper for quite a while now. We both thought it only proper that Max be involved in the rescue’.
I should have been angry but I wasn’t. It was a different way to spend an afternoon and nowhere near as freaky as the Dark Wood episode.
‘Who was that dreadful woman?’
‘Nobody you want to know about except for the fact that you kicked her well-shaped behind’. Julia said.
‘What has happened to her?’ I wanted to know despite all the fear and loathing she had subjected me to.
‘We gave a taste of what you and I endured and the appropriate government agency is dealing with her’.
‘Dealing with her?’ I did not like the sound of that.
‘In the sense that she will be detained for quite a while’.
My wine tasted so much the better after hearing that. I was nice and relaxed now but I wanted to get home, have a bath, order in dinner and give Max a night of loving he would not forget.
I was given two days off after the ordeal. Max and I had spent most of the time in my massive bed.
The work had piled up in my absence despite Julia’s efforts. I had a meeting with David and Julia, they were concerned that I might quit my job or sue them. I had no desire to do either. The gallery, the community art projects and future TV work would never be less than challenging and very interesting.
If a little danger was added to the mix so much the better!THE END
Enjoy Ellie's First Adventure: The Brides of Dark Wood