Band of Gold
Yeah, it was an interesting weekend if you think about it now, but at the time it just seemed like the craziest thing that could possibly have happened to me. I guess you had to go through something like that before you could possibly understand how it felt, what it was like, but anyway...
Sharon and I were going to go out to celebrate our wedding anniversary on Friday, and I had something very special planned as a surprise for her the next day, so when I kissed her good bye that morning I had nothing but a weekend of love and sharing planned. She was heading off to the office herself a bit later, and was wearing her office outfit – a pale blue jacket and skirt with a white camisole top underneath, a yellow chiffon scarf around her neck and three inch patent leather shoes.
It was about six when I returned home, but when I got no response to my call out it did not particularly bother me – our reservation was not until eight thirty, and it was the height of summer. We had plenty of time to get ready when she returned, so when I popped a beer and sat down to watch the news it was without a care in the world.
That was when I noticed the answering machine blinking at me, and I went to answer it. I guess that was when the whole crazy thing really got started, as it was her office asking why she had not returned from lunch. I quickly called back, and they confirmed she had left for lunch at about one, and then not come back. As I put the receiver down, wondering what was happening, I got a text message. The address said it was from Sharon, so I read it wondering what was going on.
“Would U lk 2 play a game? Cum 2 where we 1st met.”
OK, so I admit it, I was intrigued and figured Sharon had a different idea of how to spend the evening. I phoned the restaurant, cancelling our booking in case it proved impractical, and I figured we could find somewhere else anyway, before grabbing my keys and heading out of the door.
“Where we met” was at the university flats that were situated at the back of St James’ Stadium – we shared one for a year with two others, so it did not take me long before I found myself walking down that street, the stadium to one side and the railings that ran outside the converted houses on the other. As I approached the one we stayed in, number 13 in the row, I saw something fluttering in the breeze, translucent in the evening sunlight. Getting closer, I saw it was a long yellow chiffon scarf that had been tied to a railing, the ends blowing freely. It was only as I came up to it that I realised it was identical to the one Sharon had been wearing that morning.
I slowly untied it and held it in my hands, sniffing it and still smelling the faint aroma of her perfume. As I did so, I heard my mobile ringing again, to indicate there was a call. As I answered it, I could hear Sharon on the other end of the call.
“Did you find my scarf, darling?”
“Yes – yes I did. Where are you Sharon?”
“I can’t tell you just yet, sweetheart – it’s part of the game. I need you to do something for me first and then I’ll give you a clue where I am. Will you do that for me?”
“So long as it does not take too long, sweetheart. What can I do for you?”
“Do you remember where we first told each other how much we meant to each other? If you go there and ask at the reception, they will give you a clue. Be quick, darling – I’m waiting for you.”
I swear, I should have realised then that something was wrong, but I was getting caught up in the event. At any rate, I folded and pushed the scarf into my pocket and turned to walk towards the town centre, specifically the Railway Hotel opposite the main station. It was there, at a friend’s party, that we got to really talking about how we felt, spending the night with a couple of bottles of wine in a room I had rented.
As I walked into the reception area, the memories came back – the music, the gowns, the way she smiled as she walked towards me, her chest almost overflowing over the top of her strapless gown... I shook my head as I crossed the marble entrance area and walked towards the desk, the receptionist looking at me with a smile.
“Mister Whittaker – how nice to see you again. Will you need your usual room?”
“Room 80? No, not tonight, thank you – but I believe my wife may have left a package for me to collect?”
“Of course – if you can give me one moment,” she said as she turned and looked through a pile at the desk behind the counter. “Here we are,” she said as she handed me a plain manila envelope, which I accepted with thanks before heading to the bar. Ordering a whisky, I sat at the bar and peeked at the contents inside.
There was a 3x4 photo inside, and as I pulled it out I saw Sharon sitting on a chair, her hands on her lap and her legs crossed. She was smiling, but there was something unnatural about the look on her face, it seemed strained, almost as if she was been forced to do this. I took out my cell phone and dialled her number, but it was engaged, so instead I took a look at the inside of the envelope. There was a smaller envelope inside, and as I withdrew it I felt something round and hard inside. Tearing it open, I tipped the contents out – a slip of paper and a small, round golden band that made a sound as it hit the counter. I picked it up, turned it around and looked inside with a growing sense of concern – it was Sharon’s wedding ring.
My phone went off again, indicating a new text message. I looked at the screen, which simply said “Take a lover’s seat.” By now I was getting worried – something had happened to Sharon, and it was obvious it was not her who was playing this game. I thought for a moment about going to the police there and then, but I didn’t want her to be in any sort of jeopardy either.
Besides, I knew what they meant. It was obvious they wanted me to go to places that were special to Sharon and me, and this was just one such place. I didn’t have time to get home to get the car either, so I ran out of the hotel and down to the Metro concourse, jumping on the first train out to Whitley Bay.
It takes about half an hour to get out there, and the whole time I was looking round, wondering if they had anybody watching me. It seemed unlikely, however – it was mainly families and young lovers, nothing suspicious.
I got off the train and walked down the long walk that led to the coast road, past the small shops and the gangs of youths. It’s never really been the same since the Spanish City closed down, but Whitley Bay still has a certain charm about it. At any rate, that was not my destination – I was heading for the row of benches that lay on the cliff face along the coast, and one in particular.
When we started courting, Sharon and I used to come here and sit for hours, holding each other as we watched the waves coming in. I found the bench still there – third from the right as you face the sea – and sat down, wondering just what the hell was going on.
The sun was starting to set, the sky over the coast a deep dark blue, and I began to wonder if I had imagined the whole thing. That was soon dashed as my phone went off again, indicating another message.
This time it was a photo – a pair of legs in black shoes, the hem of a pale blue skirt just showing, with the ankles encircled and held together with rope. As I stared at the photograph, realising who it was, a call came in.
“Darling, please, go to our proposalmmmdgfsdfg”
The line went dead as Sharon was cut off. Now I really was worried, as I turned and ran as fast as I could back up the hill to the station.
The sky was turning a deep purple as I jumped off the train at Ilford Road and walked down the road running parallel to the great park. This was where I took her that summer’s day, five years ago, to propose, and I knew exactly where she was talking about.
Half way down, I saw the place I was looking for and walked down the path. Yes, it was getting dark, but I didn’t care as I sat on the bench and looked at the large house opposite, a large 72 on the wall, wondering what was going to happen next.
The phone rang again – this time I could see a pair of wrists tied together in front of a pale blue jacket, holding a sign that said “Wait.” Well, waiting was about the last thing on my mind at this point, but what else could I do?
As it was, I did not have to wait long. The text that came simply read “Go to where you had your first house.” Now, I still had no real idea what was going on, but what choice did I have? As I got back to the road, a taxi was coming past, showing it was free. I flagged it down, jumped in, and told him to go to the west of the city.
The sky was black as we pulled in on Richardson Road, next to the Freeman’s Common, and I looked up at the terraced block of houses that ran up the top of the moor toward the halls of residence. They had long been converted into flats, and as I stood outside number 20 I recognised the windows of our first home – the one we had while I was setting up the business. By now my fear was turning into anger - who the hell was it who had my wife and was making me run round the city?
As if they could read my thoughts, another photo was sent to my phone. This time I knew it was Sharon – her eyes were looking straight at me, but something was covering her mouth, preventing her from speaking. I wasn’t sure what it was – her red lips were clearly visible, but her jaw seemed a little too shiny.
The text followed soon after – “VG – have u rung your MiL?”
I stood for a moment, wondering what that last message meant, especially the MiL bit. Suddenly, I had an inspiration and I dialled the phone of Sharon’s mother. The answering machine kicked in, but it wasn’t her mother’s voice I heard.
“Took you long enough,” a strange tinny voice said, “Now, if you want to know where your wife is, you need to come over here.” The phone cut off, and I looked around for a cab again. No way was I going to be able to get there without one, but was there one in sight? Not a chance, so I headed back to the city centre.
Blaydon sits a few miles outside the city – and yes, there is a Blaydon race every year. I’ve run it myself a few times. Anyway, up the hill from the town is a housing estate and it was to a large house in that estate that I drove. As I paid the driver, I could see our car parked outside, and hoped that I was coming to the end of the chase. It took me a moment to ring the doorbell, and several more to realise nobody was coming to answer, despite the lights been left on.
I tried the front door, and it opened inwards. I could hear muffled yells from inside the house, so I wasted no time in checking the rooms.
I found Sharon’s mother sitting in a chair in the dining area. She was wearing a white satin Grecian style mini dress with a purple and brown floral motif on the front. Her left shoulder was sleeveless, while the sleeve on the right side went to just below her elbow. A white sash was tied around her waist, and a pair of thronged sandals went up her tanned legs. Even in her fifties, she still had a body to carry that sort of dress off.
Mind you, it wasn’t the dress that was my main concern. It was the duct tape that had been used to secure her wrists and arms to the chair back, and her ankles to the front legs. Several strips had also been placed over her mouth, her makeup coming off with it as I peeled them away and pulled the sponge out that had been stuffed into her mouth.
“Where the hell have you been, Lad” she said with her Geordie accent as I went into a cabinet drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. “They had the two fo us heer for hours.”
“Who did?” I asked as I cut her loose from the chair.
“Two masked men – I met Sharon for lunch today, and when we got back to the car we were jumped and forced into the back of your car by them. They blindfolded us, and the next thing we knew we were both back here.
“They held us hostage here, and took Sharon upstairs at about five. Then an hour ago they went off with her – I heard a van outside. Where have you been all this time?”
“On a wild goose chase, it seems,” I said as I told her everything that had happened that night. As she poured herself a drink and sat down, she had a thoughtful look on her face.
“Why did they pick those locations? I mean, they obviously meant a lot to you and Sharon, but why there?”
“Did either of them say what they were planning to do?”
She shook her head. “They said something about using us to find out something about you, but what I don’t know. Why there...”
Her voice tailed off as a new text message came through. I looked at it, and then showed it to her.
“Do you know where she had the car keys,” I asked, and she threw me a set that were sitting on the sideboard. “I’m coming too,” she said as she stood up, “I want to make sure she’s all right.”
The sun was starting to rise as I pulled up outside our house. Jumping out at the same time, we both ran up the path and into the front door.
“Sharon?” I called out, and there was some sort of noise from upstairs. I ran up, taking two stairs at a time, and burst into our bedroom.
Sharon was lying on the bed, trying to loosen a large blue scarf that had been tied over her eyes. As I removed it, she looked up at me, her mascara having run down her cheeks, and said “Hlp” in a very quiet voice.
Her wrists and ankles had been tied and held together with a length of rope, but my first concern was her mouth. I could now see the strips of clear tape that had been smoothed over her mouth and jaw, and as I pulled them away she opened her mouth to reveal a large white cloth that had been pushed in, filling her mouth and preventing her from speaking. “Thank you,” she finally said as I pulled the sodden mass out from between her lips. “Mum, are you all right?”
“I am now that we’ve found you,” she said as I went to fetch a pair of scissors to cut her free. “I am now...”
“They just grabbed us and took us to my mum’s place,” Sharon said as she held a hot cup of coffee in her hands. She had taken off her sweat stained clothes and was wearing a pair of short pyjamas, the spaghetti straps over her shoulders. “They did nothing for a couple of hours, then about five they took me to a bedroom and made me answer some questions about us. They then told me to do exactly what they told me, and I had no choice.”
“Your mum said there was two of them.”
“I think so, but when they took the blindfolds off us I realised my scarf had gone missing.”
“This one,” I said as I pulled the yellow chiffon strip from my pocket. “It was the first thing I found.”
“Yeah – they asked where we met, things like that. I don’t get it, though – why would they want that.”
I shook my head, wondering what they could have wanted with sending me all over the area. As I sat there, however, a thought came to mind.
“How did they know I went to these places?”
“They had a laptop with them – I saw them looking at a map of Tyneside, with a blinking dot on it. Either someone was following you, or...”
“Or they didn’t have to,” I said as I looked at my phone. It was a state of the art Blackberry, with a few modifications my firm had developed. “The bastards – they must have tracked my phone by GSP. If that’s the case, then all they needed to do was come round later, and then...” My face fell for a moment.
“Darling, what’s wrong?”
“13, 80, 3, 72, 20, 51... Shit,” I said as I dialled my office.
In the darkened room, the two cleaning women looked at each other as the phone rang, and tried once again to break free from the tape that held their wrists together behind their back. They were both sat against a wall, their ankles and legs firmly secured and tape over their mouths, watching the three men as they calmly and efficiently emptied the contents of my safe into large bags...