Well, when I pulled into the driveway tonight there did not seem to be anything wrong at all – in fact, everything looked just as it had when I left for work that morning. I had called Annie earlier that afternoon, as we had arranged to do, and picked up the gifts that we wanted to give the girls for the holiday weekend. They were in this bag here, which I brought in from the car as soon as I had switched the engine off.
I could see Jessie’s bike on the front path, which in itself was nothing unusual – she uses it to ride to and from school every day, and she does have a nasty habit of not putting it away as soon as she gets back. At any rate, as I said I opened the front door, and called out to see who would actually answer.
Yeah, I know there was no response at the time, but in itself that was also not unusual. It was a school day, and I just assumed Jessie and Sheila were busy in their rooms. So, I put my briefcase and bags down on the floor and went to the kitchen to get myself a cold drink.
It was when I closed the fridge door and put the can to my lips that I saw the note that was on the door, held in place by a Disney magnet. I took it off and looked closely at it, wondering what it actually meant for a few minutes.
The girls and I are playing a little game – we want you to find us. Start by looking for Jessie – she might be doing something for school.
It was a holiday weekend, so I thought this was just the rest of them wanting to get off to a fun start for the next few days. We had planned to drive off the next morning for a long weekend at a hotel, but it seemed as if they wanted to get a head start.
I called out for Jessie again, but did not get an answer. Intrigued, I put my drink down and headed towards the staircase, wondering what the three of them were playing at.
Opening the door to Jessie’s room, I looked round and saw nothing out of place. Her schoolbag was sitting on her bed, and a set of books were neatly laid out on the desk as if she was working at some point. The only thing that seemed a little out of place was the chair for her desk – it had been removed from the room, but Sheila did sometimes help her with her homework, so I presumed she had just taken it into her older sister’s room.
I turned round and started to walk out of the room, but something else caught my attention. There is a large walk in wardrobe in Jessie’s room, and she invariably leaves the doors open in the morning. This time the doors were closed to, so I walked over to have a look.
Nothing seemed to be out of place, but I decided just to check and opened the doors wide. The first thing I saw was that things had been moved about. The second thing was who had done the moving,
Jessie was sitting in her chair in the middle of the room, still wearing the blue checked dress the school insists she wears and her white socks, looking back at me with eyes that twinkled. For the life of me, however, I could not see why she was smiling, given she had been secured to the chair. Her arms were secured to the chair back with belts around her wrists, and her ankles were tied together with one of her long winter scarves. A second scarf was tied over her mouth, but not in a way that seemed to be causing her any distress. In fact, it almost looked as if she was enjoying it.
I walked in and reached behind her, untying the ends of the scarf and letting it drop to the floor. “Surprise, Dad,” she said as she looked up at me. “Mummy said we were going to play a game to surprise you. Was it a nice surprise?”
I was beginning to think that something else was wrong, given I had never known Annie to even suggest any of these types of games, but I did not want to distress her, so I merely said “Yes, it was a nice surprise honey. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“I was sitting at my desk doing my homework when Mummy came in. She said she had talked to you and you were coming home, and she wanted to have a surprise for you when you get back. She said I was going to be the first, and asked if I minded not been able to move or talk for a little while as part of the game.”
As Jessie was speaking, I was untying her from the chair, grateful that she was indeed unharmed. Whatever had made Annie do this, she had taken care to make sure our youngest daughter was not distressed in any way. As I helped her to stand up, I said “Listen, Honey, did Mummy tell you to say anything to me when I found you?”
“Yeah – she said to look for Sheila, and that she may be enjoying her favourite music.”
“All right, Jessie – listen, why don’t I take you downstairs and get you a drink. Then I’m going to see if I can find Sheila. While I do that, can you do me a favour?”
I walked down the stairs with Jessie, and took her into the kitchen before giving her a can of soft drink from the fridge. As she opened it, I sat down and said “Listen, Jessie – I’m going to look for Sheila now. When you finish your drink, I want you to call Uncle Jack and ask if he can come over a few minutes. Tell him that Daddy needs to talk to him quickly. Will you do that for me?”
Jessie nodded as I kissed her on the forehead and left her alone. Before going back up, I did what I had not done before – looked into the rooms downstairs. Nothing looked totally out of place, but I could see that things had been moved about. Quickly, I ran up the stairs and cautiously opened the door to Sheila’s room.
Again, the room looked empty, but I could see that her drawers had been opened and some items thrown across the floor. IF it had been any other teenager, it may not have looked wrong, but this was my oldest daughter, and she was the neatest person I have ever known – even as a little girl, she insisted all her books were put back in order.
“Sheila,” I called out, and I got in response a muffled grunt from the other side of a long couch that she used to lie down on. Carefully, I walked over and moved the furniture out of the way, dropping to my knees after I had done so.
Sheila was sat on the floor, her legs crossed in front of her and a length of thick brown rope wrapped around the felt boots that were over her feet and lower legs, holding her ankles together as they crossed over. A length of rope went from her ankles up and around her arms and chest, holding her arms tightly into her side. Her wrists were been held together behind her back, and as I looked round I could see they do were crossed and tied, held to the chest ropes by a small length. A knotted green bandana was in her mouth, stifling any sounds she was trying to make as she looked up at me. The ropes went over her bare arms, with her yellow t-shirt and jeans not really held at all.
“Hold on darling,” I said quietly as I reached round and untied the two ends of the scarf. As the knot came from between her lips, the material a darker shade of green from the saliva it had soaked up, she coughed and said “Thank God, I did not know when you would get home. Where’s Jessie?”
“I found her first – she’s downstairs, and I’ve asked her to call your Uncle Jack. What happened here?”
“I was sitting in the kitchen, talking with Mum after coming back from college, when the doorbell rang. She went to answer it, and the next thing I know she’s been pushed into the room by two big, burly men wearing masks and carrying guns. They said they were here to rob the place, and asked who else was in.
“Well, Jessie was upstairs, but we did not want them to see her, but one of them threatened to go up and ‘make sure she was kept out of the way.’ I could see the hanks of rope in their pockets, so I asked if they would let Mum take care of Jessie. I then said she would make it look like a game we were playing for you, and that way she would not be too scared. Did I do the right thing?”
As I looked at her, I realised that somehow my other little girl had turned into a very resourceful young lady. “Yes,” I said as I started to untie her, the marks of the rope visible on her arms as I released them first, “she thought it was a game, and I want to keep it that way. What happened then?”
“While Mum was with Jessie, she knew the two men were in here with me. She told Jessie a hint to lead you here, then came out and was dragged in here just as I was gagged. They were about to take her out when I thought I heard the front door open, but by that point I was behind here, so I had no idea what was going on. Mum did say they were taking her to your room, but nothing else.”
“All right,” I said as I finished untying her, “Go downstairs and keep Jessie company. Hopefully Jack will be here soon, but until then say nothing to her, all right?” Sheila nodded as she stood up, rubbing her wrists as she left the room with me. She headed for the staircase while I made my way to our room.
This time there was no mistaking it – the contents of our cupboards and drawers were scattered all over the room, clothes lying everywhere, and empty jewellery boxes on the tops of the units. The duvet was over the bed, but it was obvious there was someone underneath, and that someone was wriggling round when they heard the door open. I walked in and cautiously lifted the bottom corner of the duvet up, to see a length of rope tied around an ankle encased in a black suede boot, the rope going down to the bottom of the bed and secured around the foot.
“Annie,” I said, and I got a very muffled response. Frightened now, I pulled back the duvet completely, to see a pair of frightened clear blue eyes staring back at me over a large floral print scarf that covered the lower part of her face.
It looked like Annie, but it wasn’t – it was her mother looking up at me, her arms tied spread-eagled above her head to the headboard and her ankles secured to the foot of the bed. She was wearing a silk blouse patterned with green, blue and grey swirls, and a black knee length skirt, but the cords were cutting into her bare wrists, while at least the boots on her legs afforded her ankles some protection.
“Hold on Carol,” I said as I released her arms, letting her rub her wrists as I untied her ankles. She sat up and pulled the scarf down from over her mouth, revealing a second blue silk scarf that was pulled between her teeth. I reached round and untied that one, removing the sodden scarf as well as the pair of pink panties that had been stuffed into her mouth and held in place by the gag.
There were hurried footsteps behind me, and I turned to see my brother Jack running into the room. “what the hell happened here,” he said as he looked at Carol and I, before she said “I’ll tell you later – get the girls out of here first, though.”
“I just walked into it,” Carol said a short while later as we sat in the living room. I’d given Sheila some money to take Jessie out for “a treat” while Jack and I heard from Carol what had happened. She took a drink from the glass of brandy we had given her and started.
“I came in and called out to Annie, but when I didn’t get an answer I just presumed she was upstairs, and went to your room. That was when I walked in and found those tow ruffians searching the room, while Annie was just sitting there with her hands on her head.
“I had no chance – they grabbed me and made me sit next to her while they tore the room apart, and then they just stood there, looking at use, debating what they were going to do. She told me about the girls, so I kept quiet for their sake as much as anything. They then did something very strange – they asked Annie where the eggs were.”
“Well, Annie thought they meant the Easter eggs, so she asked what they wanted with a lot of chocolate. Well, that’s when they got really mad – they tied me down to the bed, tied Annie’s wrists behind her back, and then marched out. The last thing they said was that they would call.”
That was the moment the telephone picked to start ringing. Jack looked at me as I stood up and walked over.
“Yes this is me speaking.
“No, I do not want to discuss faster broadband. Good day!”
“I slammed the phone down and turned back to Carol. “You’re sure they said the eggs?”
Carol nodded as the phone rang again. I picked it up and said “Yes?”
“The park, one hour, come alone and bring them.”
That was all they said as the line went dead. I left the room for a minute, coming back with the bag I had brought in from the car and placing it on the table. “Jack,” I said quietly, “I’m going to need your help. Carol, will you trust me on this – I’m sorry you got hurt, but if we get the police in it will be much, much worse. All right?”
Carol looked at me for a minute before nodding. “Good – Sheila and Jessie will be back in an hour or so. Make sure they get some food, and tell Jessie I’ve taken mummy out to buy something nice. We’ll be back later.” With that I motioned to Jack and we both left the room.
The evening was drawing in as I sat on the bench, hoping nobody else was going to come nearby.
“Do you have them,” a voice said from behind me. “That depends,” I said without looking round, “Do you have my wife?”
I heard a muffled gasp from the bushes, and turned to see Annie been forced forward by a man with a mask over his head and a gun in his hand. She was wearing a grey leather blouson jacket and skirt, with her hand bound tightly together in front of her and ropes around her arms and chest. Her legs had been tied together just above her knees, and a rope ran from her wrists to the knee binding, which meant she could just about hobble along in her high heeled boots. She looked at me, her clear blue eyes filled with tears, and also with questions.
I patted a small, white box next to me on the bench. “they’re in there,” I said, “but you don’t get them until you let my wife go.”
I watched as Annie was allowed to hobble forward, a large strip of black tape preventing her from speaking as I stood up and walked towards her. I could see out of the corner of my eye the white box been lifted as I caught her in my arms.
Turning round, I saw no-one, and indeed as I turned back to Annie the other man had also disappeared. I gently peeled the strip away from her mouth as Annie said “Jessie? IS she...?”
“She’s fine – you played your part perfectly, and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to warn Sheila more. As for Carol, well...”
“It’s all right, darling – she’s a tough old bird.” Annie said as she watched me untying her. As I released the rope, Jack came back carrying the box. “We got them,” he said as he came closer. “Annie, I really am sorry you had to go through that.”
“It’s all right Jack,” she said as she hugged me, “It’s part of the life I chose when I married this big lunk here. When he called to say he had been warned someone may use us to get the secrets from him, I barely had time to prepare myself before they came, much less get Jessie out of the way.
“On which subject – come on, we don’t want to break your promise to her. After all, we have the weekend to get over this.” We walked off, arm in arm, as the sounds o fsirens came through from the far end of the park...
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