The Most Unusual of Ransoms
They watched the two bound and gagged women trying to settle on the beds, then silently closed the door on them and left the room.
“I want them monitored constantly, and checked every hour. Show them the usual courtesies, and ensure that they are fed when required.”
The tall, dark haired woman left the guard, and made her way back to her office. The sound of her silk dress swishing in the air echoed down the long corridor. One advantage of having this warehouse as her base of operations was that there was plenty of room to make sure things happened.
Alighting from the lift, she saw Penelope waiting by her desk, clipboard in hand.
“Good evening, Penelope,” she said as she took her seat behind the large mahogany desk.
“Good evening, Madame. I trust everything is going well?”
“I believe so, yes. Sir Richard will be a fool if he refuses to accept my request – I anticipate we will hear from him in the morning as planned. How are the rest of the preparations going?”
Penelope smiled, nervously. “I am afraid we have hit a slight problem Madame.”
“A problem? That is unusual for you, Penelope. Pray, what is the issue?”
“I am afraid it is Professor Adams – he has refused to meet with us tomorrow as required. I fear we may have to take some – unusual steps for this one.”
Madame sat thinking for a moment. “That is most perplexing. Have you his dossier?”
Penelope handed her a manila folder, and while her boss read the contents she watched the two women on a monitor sitting on the desk. The younger one was still trying to find a way out of the ropes around her arms and chest, but Penelope knew there was no chance of escape – she had seen to that personally. The older woman seemed to be more relaxed, as if she had accepted her current situation.
“I think we need to be more persuasive with Professor Adams. I approve your plan. Let me know when you have things arranged.”
“Very good Madame.”
Penelope turned and walked across the marble floor, her heels clicking as she did so.
Carol Adams was cycling down the street, watching the people as they walked past on the pavement. It was a cool morning, so she was dressed in a warm Arran sweater, light slacks with the legs tucked into brown knee length leather boots, and a scarf wrapped around her neck. She was in no particular hurry – the library didn’t open until ten anyway.
Watching from a van, Penelope was talking on the telephone.
“There is no way Professor Adams is able to see my client today? That is most unfortunate – thank you for checking.”
Closing her cell phone, she turned to the two people in the back.
“It looks like we’ll have to proceed. I’ll drive ahead, and you make the preparations.”
She started the van and headed past the cyclist.
Half a mile further on, Carol could see two women looking at an A to Z, and they were obviously lost. One of the women looked up and flagged Carol down.
“I’m so sorry to stop you, but we appear to be lost. I wonder if you can help us?”
Carol stopped her bike and dismounted, keeping one of her hands on the handlebars.
“Of course, where are you trying to get to?”
As she talked to the first woman, she didn’t notice the second one walking up behind her, having first taken a small pad out of a plastic wallet in her handbag.
“We’re trying to find the Haymarket theatre?”
“Well, if you take a left at the next junction, and then MMPPHHHH!”
Carol let go of her bike as the sweet smelling cloth was clamped firmly over her nose and mouth, but it was caught by the woman she was talking to. She tried to pull the hand off her mouth, but soon her vision started to blur and she fell into a drug induced sleep.
The van pulled up alongside, and the two women loaded both Carol and her bike into the back before closing the side door after them. As Penelope drove off, one of the women crossed Carol’s wrists behind her back and began to lash them together with a length of soft white cord, while the other did the same to her booted ankles. Once she was secured, they took a white silk scarf and tied it into her mouth, while a second was tied over her eyes.
“We’re bringing a guest in”, Penelope said over a radio in the cab, “Prepare a room for her and one other to come later.”
In the warehouse, Madame was watching the two guests from last night. They had been lashed to chairs, with ropes around their chests and laps, and their ankles tied to the legs. One arm of each woman was lashed to an armrest of the chair, while the other was free to allow them to feed themselves from the plates of fruit placed before them. They were still blindfolded, but no gags in their mouth, and they were talking to each other.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
Andrea Adams was standing in the doorway of their house, talking to two policewomen. She was wearing a mustard coloured blouse and skirt, with a small scarf tied around her neck, and brown leather heels.
“Mrs Andrea Adams?”
“Yes, that’s me. Is there something wrong, officer?”
“Mrs Adams, I’m afraid your daughter has been involved in an accident. We need you to come with us now to the hospital.”
“Oh my god – is she badly hurt?”
“We don’t know yet, but we can check once we are in the car. If you could just come now?”
“I need to call my husband first…”
“One of our colleagues has gone to fetch him. Please, Mrs Adams, we must go now.”
Grabbing her handbag and door keys, Andrea accompanied the two officers to their patrol car, and climbed in as one of them held the door open for her and the other went in beside her.
“How long will it take us to get there?” She asked as they set off down the driveway.
“Not long, Mrs Adams. Tell me, is there anyone else local we can contact?”
“No – there’s just my husband and I”
“Thank you, Mrs Adams. I suggest you sleep now.”
“I’m sorry, what did you mmmmph”
The sweet smelling cloth soon sent Andrea into a deep sleep, and the policewomen reached down under the seat to retrieve some supplies as Andrea’s head fell into her lap.
“Penelope?” the woman in the front said into the radio as her companion lashed Andrea’s wrists together behind her back, “We’re on our way in now.”
The patrol car pulled up at the rear entrance, and the two women carried the bound, gagged and blindfolded Andrea in through the back door and down the corridor. One of the guards held open the door as they took her in and laid her on a bed, while on the other bed in the room Carol was starting to stir.
A few moments later, Andrea began to rouse from the drug induced sleep, and quickly realised that she couldn’t bring her hands around from behind her back. She also knew there was someone else in the room.
“hlp, hlp m”
“ho r u?”
The blindfold was taken off Andrea’s eyes, and as she blinked in the dim light she saw lying on a bed opposite her a woman who looked like her daughter, bound hand and foot and with a scarf in her mouth as well as over her eyes. A woman dressed in black, and wearing a hat and dark glasses, was removing the other woman’s blindfold, and as Andrea’s eyes adjusted to the gloom she realised with a start who it was.
“Ladies, I welcome you to our home away from home. I do believe this will be a short stay for you, so forgive us if we don’t offer the usual amenities. Just relax, don’t struggle, and this will be over quickly. We merely need to take some photos, and then we will leave you alone.”
The two women looked at each other, then blinked as a flash went off from a camera in front of both of them. Satisfied, the woman left Andrea and Carol together in the dim room.
Professor Adams was catching up with his e-mail when the telephone rang.
“Professor – we have been trying to arrange an appointment with you today for a private consultation. I wondered if it was still a possibility to fit us in.”
“As I asked my secretary to explain, I am extremely busy and don’t have time today.”
“Professor,” the female voice said as a ping from Adams’ computer rang out, “May I suggest you open the e-mail that you have just been sent?”
He looked over at his computer, opened the e-mail labelled “Important documents for you to review”, and opened the attachments.
There were his wife and daughter, bound and gagged and looking frightened, in a dim room with only two beds in there.
“Are you still there Professor?”
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“As you can see, we really do need to have a meeting with you today, to discuss this issue. Be at your desk at 5.30 – send your other staff home beforehand – and tell no-one of this. We are watching you, Professor.”
“What do you want?”
“Five thirty, Professor” and the line went dead.
“Good afternoon, Penelope.”
“Good afternoon, Madame. Has Sir Richard been in touch?”
“He has indeed, and we have the item. How are the arrangements going with Professor Adams?”
“I think we have his attention, and he will see us at 5.30 today.”
“And our guests?”
“We will make sure they remember this only as a bad dream, and hopefully that is all it will be for them.”
“Very good – I will see you in the car at five pm.”
As Penelope walked away, Madame picked up the telephone.
“Sir Richard? We have received the parcel – remain calm, and tell no-one of this. Once we have it verified, your family will be released to you.”
The clock in his office struck five thirty pm as Professor Adams nervously paced the floor. His door opened, and a tall elegantly dressed woman with long dark hair walked in. Accompanying her was a slightly smaller woman, dressed in a pin-striped dress suit and carrying a small briefcase.
“Professor Adams?” The woman had a voice that could melt chocolate, and she offered her hand to the academic. “I’m so glad you were able to see us after all.”
“Did I have a choice? Where are my wife and daughter?”
“Professor, they are perfectly safe and cared for. If you had agreed to this meeting previously, however, I may not have had to resort to such drastic measures to secure this time.”
“What do you want? Money, whatever you want as a ransom, I’ll give you it, but don’t hurt them, please don’t hurt them….”
“Professor, I don’t want a monetary ransom for them. What I want is thirty minutes of your time – no more, no less.”
Professor Adams sat down behind is desk with a sudden thump.
“My time? You want some of my time?”
“Indeed, Professor. You are a foremost art expert, and I wanted your expert opinion on a recent acquisition. Penelope?”
The assistant stepped forward, and laying the briefcase on the desk she opened it and unwrapped the layers of velvet that lay within. Professor Adams looked at the revealed contents.
“My god – those look like original work by William Hogarth. May I?”
The woman nodded, and taking a pair of soft white cotton gloves from a drawer he gently lifted the drawings from the protective lining.
“Yes, yes – there is the signature, and the date, and the style is uniquely distinctive. Where on earth did you get these?”
“It is perhaps better if you do not ask me to answer that question, Professor. My major concern is to know that these are indeed the genuine article.”
The professor turned the papers over, and examined them with a magnifying glass, before replacing them and nodding his head.
“Yes, they’re genuine – I’d place them in the 1730’s roughly. Are you telling me all you wanted was an expert opinion on them?”
“Indeed, but I could not give more reasons for the appointment without arousing suspicions.”
“My god – I’ve put Andrea and Carol through this for something I could have easily done.” He started to sob, and tears were rolling down his cheeks.
“Well, that is certainly something for you to consider, Professor. Now, I ask two further things of you.”
“I’m sorry – I thought you said you only wanted my opinion?”
“Indeed, but I need it in writing. You have confirmed my own views, so I wonder if you would not mind putting your signature at the bottom of this statement?”
The assistant handed Professor Adams a sheet of paper, and as he read it he realised it was a summary of his own opinion. Shaking, he picked up a pen and signed the document.
“Thank you Professor,” the woman said as her assistant placed the document in the briefcase, replaced the wrappings and closed it. “Now, wait one hour and return home, and I promise you your family will be there, safe and unharmed. I’m afraid there may be a slight mess, but nothing will be taken – I guarantee that.”
“Actually, there is one other thing. If you tell anyone of this meeting, including your family, or if any word gets out that you have talked to someone, we will visit your wife and daughter again. And that time, they will not be coming home. Good evening, Professor.”
The woman stood, and with her assistant following they left Professor Adams in his office, his head in his hands.
The clock was striking seven thirty when Professor Adams came into the driveway of his house, and leaving the car door open he sprinted into the open front door.
“Andrea? Carol? Where are you?”
Muffled shouts came from the front room, and the professor ran in. Papers were strewn across the floor, but his immediate attention was drawn to the two women sitting on the large leather settee.
Andrea and Carol were sat back to back. Their arms were tied together at the elbows with cord, and their upper bodies tied together above and below their breasts. Both women also had cords tied around their upper and lower legs, and these were cinched to prevent them moving. Their eyes were blindfolded with scarves, and their mouths filled with knotted scarves that were tied at the base of the neck. They were frantically screaming, until he managed to remove the gag from his wife’s mouth.
“David, is that you?” Andrea gasped as he removed her blindfold.
“Yes, it’s me. I was about to leave the office when someone called me and told me you had been left here. What happened?”
“I don’t know. Two women dressed as policewomen took me, and when I woke up there was Carol on a bed in a dark room. We must have been there for hours before they brought both of us back here. My god – what were they looking for?”
“I don’t know – whoever did this must have wanted the house empty, by the look of the mess here. Are you hurt, Carol?”
“No, Dad, but why would someone do this?”
“I don’t know – let me get you two free and we’ll start to clear up. I think it’s best we forget what happened – it looks like nothing valuable’s been taken – and try to get on with things. All right?”
The two women looked at the face of the man freeing them, and quietly nodded.
“Well, Ladies, I hope you have enjoyed your stay with us?”
The two women were lying down on beds in the room. Both were wearing silk nightgowns, and there was rope around their arms and wrists, chests and legs, and their crossed ankles. Tape was over their mouths, and there were obvious signs of something behind the tape as well.
“I am pleased to say that your father has settled the request we made of him, and you will be released soon. I regret the fact that you must now be sedated, but you will soon be home with your family. If you would?”
The two captives tried to squirm out of the way as the masked woman approached with a hypodermic, but their struggle was futile, and both were soon asleep. Madame watched as they were carried out of the room.
“Well, Penelope, another successful assignment. The Hogarth prints will fetch a suitable sum at auction, especially with Professor Adams’ affidavit.”
“Indeed Madame, but may I ask a question?”
“Of course, Penelope.”
“why did you not demand a ransom of Professor Adams as well?”
“Penelope, the most unusual of ransoms are those where you have no idea why you’ve been asked to pay it, but you know the consequences if it is found out you have paid it. We now have the means to ruin that man if we so wished – I think that is ransom enough.”
Madame X turned and walked down the waiting corridor, Penelope following close behind.