The Girls in the Picture









When I look at the picture on the bookcase, it always takes me back to that day.  There had been nothing particularly special about it to begin with, no great signs of what was going to happen – and the question that is usually asked is, if I had known, would I have changed anything, done anything different.


That’s a silly question at heart, however – because there is no point in speculating what I may have done.  What is important is it happened, and what I did afterwards.  Still, the memory of that day still comes back unbidden to me...


I was working at the time for Teen Scene magazine – one of those attempts to do a glossy junior version of something like Elle or Vogue for the older teenager market.  On this particular day, I had been asked to do an interview with Amanda Wu, one of the new young singers that seem to graduate from the Children’s Television channels all the time.  At any rate, I crammed as much as I could on her career, and chose my outfit for the interview very carefully.


In the end, I went for a purple mini dress, which had a low neckline but was still tasteful, and elbow length sleeves.  The skirt was long enough, and I also decided to wear my favourite black leather boots.  A trip to the hairdresser the day before meant the blonde streaks had been touched up in my brown hair, and I had the edges cut a little, even though I wear it long.  Very long – as in down to my chest. 


I had my recorder and other essentials in my black leather handbag, as I got into the cab and was driven to the lobby of the hotel Amanda was staying in.  I had my questions ready, and everything was just as I hoped it would be.


Which proves one thing – you should always expect the unexpected, but honestly – as I walked into the lobby, I was more worried that I would make an idiot of myself when I first met her.  As it was, when I walked into the bar area, I saw her waiting, smiling as I came over to introduce myself.


Amanda was maybe an inch smaller than me, with long black hair as long as mine.  She was wearing a short sleeved dress made of black leather, which came down to her knees, dark tights and black suede ankle boots with a three inch heel.  Around her neck was a necklace made from some sort of turquoise stones, and she had a black Chanel handbag on her arm.


“You must be Abigail, the reporter,” she said as we greeted each other.


“That’s right, Miss Wu...”


“Amanda, Please.”


“All right – Amanda.  Do you mind if we pose for some publicity photos for the interview?”


“Of course not, “was her reply, and the photo I have now is one of us from there – my hand on her shoulder, her arm behind my back, and that little girl watching in the background.


But that’s immaterial to what happened next – Amanda invited me into a side room, and we both sat down as I got my recorder out, and started the interview.


It was a good interview too, and we were getting on so well.  Which made it even more of a shock when a door at the back of the room was thrown open, and three armed men walked in.


Amanda’s assistant was the only other person in the room, and as she stood up to ask what they were doing there, one of the men fired a burst of some sort of spray into her face.  We watched as her eyes opened wide in shock, and then closed as suddenly as she slumped to the floor.


We looked at each other in horror, barely registering what was happening as our arms were pulled behind our backs, and I felt a plastic strip tighten around my wrists, the rasping sound as they were secured together echoed behind Amanda.


One of the men then stood in front of me, and pressed some sort of tape over my mouth.  IT sealed my lips together, and looking at Amanda I barely registered the fact it was brown before a cloth sack was pulled over my head, and we were forced to go for a walk.


I had no idea where we were going – except when we were made to lie down, and then I knew we were in some sort of vehicle, as the floor vibrated and I could dimly hear an engine. 


We certainly were being taken somewhere – we were bumped up and down, and I could hear Amanda moaning beside me, as I tried to reach out and take her hand.  When I finally found her fingers, I give them a little squeeze – which, of course meant that was when we stopped moving, and we were made to stand again.


Another walk, and then I was made to sit on what felt like a wooden chair.   I was pushed forward, and I felt the strip around my wrists being cut away, before someone held my wrist against what I presumed was the chair back.


Then I heard it – a ripping sound, but not like paper, before my arm was pushed against the wood, and something tacky was wrapped around my wrist, locking it in place.  I genuinely could not move my arm on that side, and after a few minutes my other wrist had been somehow secured in place.  My ankles were then treated in the same way, as they were held against the legs of whatever seat I was in and secured in place.


I could hear Amanda whimpering next to me, and then the hood was pulled off my head, a light blinding me as I tried to figure out where I was.  Looking down, I saw I was indeed sitting on an old wooden chair, and then looked to my side to see Angela sitting there, her eyes wide as the brown tape covered her mouth.


Her wrists were taped to the side of the chair back, and her ankles to the front legs, which I presumed was what happened to me as I squinted into the light. 


“Listen carefully.”


I could make out three shadowy figures on the other side of the lights, and one of them seemed to be filming us.


“Listen carefully.  We have Amanda Wu, and the reporter who was interviewing her.  If you wish to see Amanda Wu again, in a position to continue to make you money, you will pay one million dollars for her release.  You will be contacted later with details of where and what to deliver.  If we find out you have talked to the authorities, her next album is the tribute and memorial one.  We are watching you.”




Amanda started to twist round as one of the figures walked round – I could now see it was one of the men from the room – and grabbed the corner of the tape, ripping it off before he placed a straw to her lips.  The straw was sitting in a bottle of water, which she sipped on greedily before she looked at me.


“what are they going to do with both of us,” she whispered as her wrists were cut free from the chair, and then she was made to lean forward, the man folding her arms behind her back so that her elbows rested in the palms of her hands, and then he used ropes to bind her wrists to her elbows.


The tape was ripped away from my mouth, making me yelp before the straw was put to my mouth.  As I drank, I watched the man as he tied Amanda’s forearms together, and then wrapped rope around her upper arms and body, the bands squeaking as they rubbed on her dress while he pulled it tight, forcing her chest out as they sat above and below it.


She tried to struggle to stop him, but he was too strong, as the rope then went under one arm, up and around the back of her neck, and under her other arm to make it even tighter.  My own hands were then cut free, and my wrists crossed behind my back before they were lashed tightly together with rope.  The cords bit into my skin and flesh, making it sore as they were lashed tightly together, before rope was used to bind my own arms to my sides.


“Stand up, and walk.”


We were made to leave the room we were sitting in, before we taken down a corridor and into a second room, one with two mattresses on the floor.  We looked at each other before we were pushed over and made to lie face down on one of them each.


There was a faint musky smell about the one I lay on, before I felt one of the men cross and start to bind my ankles together.  I could hear the rope squeaking softly on Amanda’s dress where it sat round her body, and now I heard the same sound as well as my own ankles were crossed and secured together.


My legs were next, below my knee, before my ankles were pulled back and secured to the ropes around my chest.  I glanced over to see the same thing happening to Amanda, before I was forced to open my mouth and a knotted scarf pushed in, the band going around my head as he secured the ends tightly together at the base of my neck.


I watched as Amanda was secured in the same way, and then gagged with a folded and knotted black scarf, before the men went out, closing and locking the door behind themselves.  Amanda and I rolled over and looked at each other.




“Lssklkht.  Rullrrt?”


“Efnkksss.  Whtbttu?”


Amanda responded by trying to force the ropes off her body, but all that happened was the leather rubbing even more, so she stopped and said “”nsstreeefruu.”


“Wht?  Mscrstfff!”


“Smmeee – btwrhhrr, sswhtdwd?”


Well, she had a fair point there, so I settled down and looked round the bare room, wondering what we could do to pass the time away.  I looked over at Amanda, who was by the look of her eyes thinking the same thing, so we eventually tried into a position where we could try and help each other.


Which was easier said than done, if truth be told.  The heels of my boots were resting on my bottom, so getting onto my knees was going to be near impossible.  So we just lay still, keeping ourselves calm, and hoping it would not take too long for the ransom to be paid.


Eventually, I must have fallen asleep, because I was woken up by the door opening, and three men coming in, one of them carrying take-out bags and two bottles of water.  We were both untied, and ungagged, and allowed to eat and drink.


With three armed guards, true, but allowed to eat and drink.  Once we had done that, we were forced to stand facing each other, as our wrists were re-tied behind our backs, and then our arms secured to our sides.  As I watched Amanda, she smiled at me, and said “This is going to sound strange in these circumstances, but that dress really suits you.”


I blushed and said “thank you” as it was stretched over my chest again, and then the one binding me made a sort of rope bra by taking the rope between my breasts and back up.   Amanda’s arm bindings were tightened in the same way as before, before we both saw a folded cloth put in front of our mouths.


“Open wide,” we were told, and as I did so the cloth was pushed into our mouths, white tape then wrapped round our heads to seal our mouths and keep us quiet.  I could feel it pressing on my lips as the damp cloth filled my mouth – and then my eyelids began to droop.


I barely had time to sit down before my head slumped down, and I fell into a deep sleep, barely aware of being carried...





I opened my eyes wide to see Amanda looking at me over the white band round her head, and then she glanced down.  As I followed her gaze, I saw we were lying facing each other on a bed, and I looked down to see our ankles were secured together, and then to the foot of the bed.


What was more, we were in what looked like a motel room, with a television set showing some Latin soap.  We started to struggle like mad, the ropes squeaking even more on my boots and Amanda’s dress, before the door was opened and a maid came in.


Taking one look at us, she ran out screaming, only for a portly man wearing a stained t-shirt came in and stared at us.


“Gtssfrrr,” Amanda pleaded, as he ran to find some scissors and stared at each other, breathing deeply.




It turned out we had been missing for two days, and the ransom was paid, but the kidnappers had not left word of where to find us.  Amanda was very understanding, and we met a few times after that – became good friends, as a matter of fact, but we don’t talk about our memories of those few days.


Her assistant had been left behind, and was frantic with worry before we were returned to the hotel.  I could understand that – seeing your girlfriend kidnapped like that would do something to you.


And me?  I filed my report – of the interview and the kidnapping – and got a promotion.  Looking now at the photo, I think about those days, and the effect they had on me and how I approach people now.


Like armed, and with some real backup behind me...







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