“Heidi!! Cindy’s here for you!!”
“Coming, mum” Heidi called down the stairs as she sat on her bed, putting on the new pair of knee length dark brown leather boots she had bought and pulling the zip up the inside of her leg. Repeating the process on the other side, she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror.
“This time Monday I’ll be in England,” she said to herself as she checked the way she looked. She was wearing a pair of dark blue denim jeans, the legs of which were tucked into her boots, and a grey v-necked pullover on top of a blue long sleeved top. Her jumper was tucked into the waistband of her jeans, with a thin leather belt around her waist.
Smiling, she closed the door to her bedroom behind her and went down the staircase. Entering her front room, she saw Cindy suiting there, smiling as she put her hand on her shoulder length dark hair.
“New haircut,” she said as she looked at Heidi. “Yeah - it needed a trim," she said as she unconsciously put her own hand to her fringe, her blonde hair cut to top of her neck.
“So,” Cindy said as she stood up, “all packed?”
“Almost - I just need to pick a few things up at the mall before we meet the others.” As far as Heidi knew, she was meeting all her friends for a pizza and a film that night, as she had a very busy day on the Sunday before leaving that night.
Cindy was dressed in a slightly more formal manner that she usually did these days. She had on a black pinafore dress, with large buttons on the shoulders where the straps came over, and a white long sleeved blouse underneath, open at the neck. She also had on a pair of short white socks and black Mary Jane shoes.
“I wanted to look smart,” she said as she twirled round. “After all, I won’t see you after today for nearly two months!”
“Fair point,” she said as Amy walked into the room. “My goodness,” she said as she saw the two girls standing there, “I forget sometimes just how much you are both turning into young women. What time are you meeting the others?”
“At about six at California Pizza Kitchen,” Cindy said as she picked up her shoulder bag. “Are you still able to give us a ride to the store?”
“Of course I can,” Amy said with a smile, “I need to go and visit your Aunt Veronica anyway. I’ll drop you off at the entrance to Macy’s, if that is all right?”
“Great,” Heidi said as she left the room, “Just let me get my bag and we can get going. We might be able to grab a bite to eat when we get there as well.”
“But you’ve only just...” Amy called after her daughter as she ran out of the room. “I’m going to miss her when she goes,” she said to Cindy.
“We all are,” Cindy said, “but we have video calls, and e-mails, and I’m sure she will have fun over there.”
“Yes, well,” Amy said as she grabbed her car keys from the table, “I’ve read some of the letters she gets from Miss Alicia Bailey, and I’m not sure she’s going to have that much fun. Who can tell though? Come on - I’ll be late for Veronica if we don’t get going soon.”
The mall was packed - not surprising given it was a Saturday in late June, and all the kids were free from the yoke of slavery called school.
Heidi and Cindy were sitting in a cafe, drinking shakes as the crowds walked past. On the other side of the mal she saw Dave walking past, a rucksack on his pack. She waved to him, calling out “Dave”, and he turned and waved back, before carrying on towards Newman and Marcus.
“Is Dave coming tonight as well,” Cindy said as Heidi turned back with a smile on her face.
“Yes, he’s coming,” Heidi said before sticking her tongue out. She had been out a few times with him now, each time more - pleasant than the last and last time they had just spent the night in her front room, hugging each other and talking about their experiences.
“So are we going to meet this mysterious boy of yours,” Heidi said as she flicked a biscuit crumb at her friend. “We keep hearing rumours of him, but no sign yet.”
“You might see him, you might not,” Cindy replied with a smile, “That’s for me to know and you to find out - one day. Come on - I want to see what passes for summer fashions at the moment.” She looked at a couple of girls walking past, with layered denim miniskirts and tank tops, shivering as she said “Are the Eighties really coming back?”
“God I hope not - I’ve seen the pictures of Mum and Aunt Veronica then,” Heidi said as they stood up and made their way out of the cafe, and towards the stores. As they went from store to store, laughing as they looked over the clothes and shoes, they didn’t notice the person following them, talking into a cell phone as they watched.
Eventually, Cindy looked at her watch, before saying “I need to visit the little girl’s room - want to wait for me out here?”
“Sure,” Heidi said as Cindy made her way down the corridor that led to the rest rooms. Turning to look at a stall that stood in the mall walkway, she picked up some of the cards and books that were on the side, flipping through them as she waited.
After ten minutes had passed, Heidi started to make her way down the passageway to the rest rooms, calling out “Cindy?” as she did so. The corridor seemed to be clear, with the white walls reflecting the neon light as she made her way down.
The door to the rest room was closed, but as Heidi stepped through she found no one inside. She checked the cubicles, before walking out, saying “Where the hell did she go?”
As she left the room, Heidi looked at the end of the corridor and saw a door that was standing slightly ajar. She was fairly sure that Cindy had not come back out, so she walked towards the door, calling out “Cindy? Are you trying to trick me,” as she did so.
Heidi was barely two steps from the door when it happened. Some sort of sack was thrown over her head and she felt her hands been pulled behind her back. “Wha... What’s going on,” she said as she felt some rough rope been use dot pull her wrists together, her palms slapping together as they were secured.
“Move,” she heard a deep voice say as she was pushed forward, her view obscured by the rough cloth that covered her head. She saw blurry images of a corridor before she felt her head been pushed down and she found herself sitting in the back of some sort of car.
“Cindy? What the hell is going on here?”
“I’ve no idea - they grabbed me when I came out of the rest room,” Cindy said as they felt the vehicle set off, the road bumping under them as they were driven away.
“Shut up in the back,” the voice said again, “or I will pull that hemp sack into your mouth.” It was a deep voice, strangely muffled, but Heidi could not recognise it at all.
How long the journey lasted they were not sure, but eventually the vehicle stopped and they were hauled out, then man handled across a gravel path into some sort of room. The hoods were pulled off their heads, and as they both blinked they saw that they were in a bare room, the brick walls reflecting the light from the bulb that hung from the ceiling.
There were three people in the room, wearing loose blue coveralls and black balaclavas over their heads. One of them was carrying several coils of rough rope in their gloved hands, as the voice said again “Bind their arms.”
“Is this your doing?” Heidi said to Cindy as the other two captors took a coil of rope each and pulled it round her arms, forcing them into her side under her chest as the rope was wound round.
“Nothing to do with me,” Cindy said as she felt more rope been passed round her shoulders and body, “I thought this was your idea of a surprise party.”
“Neither of you have anything to do with this,” the voice said as they both grunted at the tightness of the ropes been secured behind their backs. “Sit against the wall and stretch your legs out.”
“So is this a kidnapping, a robbery - what is it,” Heidi said as she watched her ankles been pulled together, the rope squeaking as it rubbed against her leather boots.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the voice said as Cindy looked over at me. “Who on earth are these guys anyway,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth as she watched her own ankles been bound, the rough ropes over the top of her ankle socks.
“Less talking or we stop you talking,” the voice said as we both watched our legs been bound above our knees, our legs bent slightly as they wound the rope around and pulled tightly.
“Oh come on,” I said as the two stood up, “who the hell are you?”
“I told you to shut up,” the voice said as the other two walked back with what looked like folded up silk scarves in their hands, one white and one light blue. As they knelt next to us, I looked at the one in the hand next to me and realised that was exactly what they were - folded up large headsquares.
“I’m told you’re used to this,” the voice continued, and Heidi almost heard a laugh behind it. “So be good girls and open up - we’re on a schedule here.”
“A schedmmfmfdmfmdmfdh,” Heidi said as the silk pad was stuffed into her mouth, then secured in place with a long strip of white cotton that was pulled tightly around her cheeks and fastened at the base of her neck, trapping the edge of her fringe underneath. She looked at Cindy as the same thing was done to her, the edges of the pad folding over the strip as the ends were pulled over her dark hair and secured in place.
Both Heidi and Cindy looked up at their three captors, as they in turn looked down on them. “Right then,” the voice said as their masked face looked at their colleagues, “Get going - you each have a cousin to pick up.”
As the two captors left, Cindy and Heidi looked at each other.
Natalie Jenkins was lying on her bed, flipping idly through a magazine to see if there was anything exciting, when her mother called up the stairs.
“Natalie? I need to go and do some shopping, will you be in when I get back.”
“No mum,” she called down as she kicked her bare feet up and down, “I’ll be going in thirty minutes to meet Alice and Jannifer. Heidi’s party remember?”
“Oh yeah - well, your father and brother are out as well, so make sure you lock the door behind you when you leave.”
“All right Mum,” Natalie called back, her attention riveted on the page in front of her. Her older brother was home on a much delayed R&R before his next posting, and she had seen him going with her father after lunch. She heard the door closing and the sound of the car driving off, before she pushed herself off the bed and looked at herself in the mirror.
Natalie had put on a white sleeveless blouse, and a long flowing skirt that moved every time she walked, swirling in the air. She lifted her skirt up to check her feet, the rope bracelet as always wrapped round one ankle, before turning and leaving the room, her bare feet almost slapping on the wooden floors as she made her way to the kitchen,
Opening the fridge door, she looked in, taking out the pitcher of fresh orange juice and setting it on the surface as she went to get a glass from the cupboard. Walking back, she poured enough in to half fill the glass, and then took a drink, setting it down on the top before she let out a satisfied “Ah....”
The next sound she uttered was more along the lines of “AAAHHHHH” as she was grabbed from behind and forced onto the floor, whoever had grabbed her sitting across her back as they grabbed her arms and pulled them behind her, crossing her wrists.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” Natalie screamed as she kicked her legs up and down, hitting her assailant as they wound some rope around her wrists and pulled them tightly together, making her cry out even more as the cords bit into her skin. She felt them turn round and then grab her ankles, and as she looked over her shoulder she saw the blue garbed attacker binding them tightly together with rope as well.
“Look, if this is some sort of prank or game,” she said as she was forced to sit up, “Then I’m not verymmfmgfdmgmgdfgmfd.” She was silenced by what felt like a balled up sock been pushed into her mouth, and then a thin length of fabric been pulled between her teeth, digging into her cheeks as it was passed round her head twice and tied off under her hair.
Her assailant passed a length of rope around Natalie’s arms and chest, pulling them tightly into her side as she moaned. She had no idea what was going on, who was doing this - nothing except the pressure on her arms as they were forced against her body,
As they walked round and pushed her legs up, folding her skirt back as a length of rope went round her legs, Natalie finally got a good look at the intruder. They were in blue coveralls, and had a black hood pulled over their heads. As she felt the rope pull her legs together, Natalie exclaimed “Whthduwnnntwffmmmm?”
They said nothing, merely continuing to bind her legs tightly together before they folded her skirt beck down, and lashed her legs together above her knees over the fabric. They then looked at Natalie, smiling as they showed her a sleep mask.
“NNNNNN,” was all she could say as the mask was fixed in place over her eyes, and she felt herself been picked up and carried - somewhere...
On the other side of town, Joanne was sitting in her front room, while Alexa carried in two cups. She was dressed in her normal style- a white t-shirt with a black top that reached down her sides, tight leggings and mid-length laced up boots. Joanne had on a pair of tight fitting jeans, a white roll necked short sleeved top and black shoes.
“So when does this farewell party for the kids start,” Alexa said as she sat next to Joanne.
“Not until later,” she said as she turned her head and looked into her friend’s eyes, “SO we have some quality time alone together.”
“Sounds good to me,” Alexa purred as the two brought their heads closer together. As their lips touched, a slight cough caught their attention, making them both look sideways.
Someone was standing there, dress in loose blue coveralls with a black mask covering their head, the only thing they could see the blue eyes as they looked at the two girls. The handgun that was been pointed at them also grabbed their attention.
“I think this kind person wants us to do something,” Alexa said as she looked at Joanne. “Your doing?”
“Nothing to do with me - or you by the appearance on your face,” Joanne said with a frown. “All right then, what do you want.” The intruder motioned to them both to stand up, watching as they slowly rose to their feet. They watched this person, wondering what they wanted, when they pointed to Alexa and beckoned her over to them with a gloved finger.
As Alexa walked over, she was handed a length of soft rope. “I guess they want you to tie me up,” Joanne said with a resigned sigh, as the intruder nodded and motioned to Alexa. “At least it’s you that’s doing it - I like it when you bind my hands.”
“Flatterer,” Alexa said with a smile, but as she crossed Joanne’s wrists behind her back and tied them together she glanced nervously at the intruder, who stood there silently watching. When she tied the rope off, she was handed a longer coil. “Do you want this round her arms,” Alexa asked, watching as the silent figure nodded.
“Do you think this is a robbery,” Joanne said as Alexa passed the rope around her arms and body, almost welding them to her side as she pulled it tightly above and below her breasts. “No idea,” Alexa replied as she tied the ropes off, then out her arms round Joanne’s waist and leaned on her shoulder. “I guess we just have to go with it.”
“At least you’re here,” Joanne said as she leaned back and placed her head next to Alexa, before the intruder pulled her back and handed her a father length of rope, pointing to Joanne’s knees as she did so. Alexa knelt down and wrapped the rope around her legs, saying “I guess they want us to walk,” as she pulled her legs close together, but not actually touching. Glancing up, she saw the masked person nod before she stood up and said “Now what?”
The intruder reached into one of the pockets of their coveralls, and handed Alexa two sponge balls. “Gag?”
“Gag,” Joanne said before opening her mouth and allowing Alexa to push the ball in, an action she repeated with herself, before kissing Joanne. She then heard a ripping sound and saw the intruder hand her a length of wide white tape, which she pressed down on Joanne’s mouth, sealing her lips and jaw in a band of tape. Taking a second strip, she smoothed it over her own mouth, and turned to stand behind Joanne, crossing her own wrists behind her back.
“Fttsnntundttsntm, thnhoo - hde?”
“Nnnnn,” Alexa mumbled as she felt her wrists been pulled tightly together, “dntfnks. Cldbvrnka.”
“Nnnn,” Joanne said as she shook her head, looking on as Alexa’s arms were lashed to her side, “Dntfnksefer.” She watched as their captor knelt and tied Alexa’s legs together over her leggings, before tying a final length of rope around her wrists, then took the other end and tied it to the front of Joanne’s chest.
“Whrwgng,” Joanne mumbled as the intruder tied a thick scarf over her eyes, then Alexa’s, before they felt themselves been led out of the room, Joanne stumbling as she struggled to keep up.
Heidi and Cindy looked up as the door was opened, and two masked captors carried in a bound and struggling Natalie, her eyes covered by a sleep mask as she was laid gently on a mattress on the floor and her legs pulled back. “Whstgngnnn,” she called out as her ankles were pulled back, and the rope around her ankles lashed to the chest ropes with a further length.
As the sleep mask was pulled away, Natalie blinked in the bare light reflected off the stone walls, before she saw both Heidi and Cindy sitting against the wall. “Ntgn,” she mumbled as she tried to move her legs, and then said “whhssttstm?”
“Dntsks,” Cindy said as she tried once again to loosen the ropes around her wrists, only stopping when the door opened again and another guard led in the blindfolded Joanne and Alexa.
“Hnnntutwww,” Cindy called out as the two girls were led to the centre of the room, and made to sit down back to back, Joanne facing the two girls while Alexa was staring in the direction of Natalie through the thick blindfold. They both sat quietly as a length of rope was passed round their arms and waist, pulling them tightly together, and passed between their bodies as well.
Joanne had her blindfold removed first, blinking as she allowed her eyes to focus. “Grtmmm,” she said as she saw Heidi and Cindy, “whthvugtsnnttstm?”
“Dntsksss,” Cindy said as Alexa blinked, looking at Natalie as she tried to kick her legs to and fro. “Hlll,” Natalie said as she looked up, “Fnsmtnguhr.”
“Five down,” the strange voice Heidi had already heard before shouted, “and the next two are already on their way here. Go - fetch our final guests from the cinema.”
“Whtsgngnnn,” Cindy called out as the door was slammed shut...
“So is everything ready for Heidi’s trip?”
Amy nodded as she put the coffee cup to her lips, looking over at Veronica as they sat at the cafe table. She was wearing a white short sleeved blouse and cream coloured jeans, with a pair of high heeled sandals strapped to her feet.
Veronica had come from her Real Estate offices, and was dressed as she usually was on business days. She was wearing a light blue camisole top under a grey pinstripe jacket with matching trousers, and a pair of three inch heel black patent leather shoes.
“I can’t believe she’s going to be away for the whole summer,” Amy said as she put the coffee cup back down and ran her fingers through her blonde hair. “She’s never been away from home for so long, not even for summer camps.”
“It’s part of growing up,” Veronica said as she picked up her own cup. “After all, it’s been one hell of a year for all of us, and she may even blossom because of it.”
Amy nodded. “I know, I know - but I’m still going to miss her.”
“Well, she has promised to call every day using Skype, so it’s not like you’re not going to see her. This Alicia sounds like a nice girl anyway, and she gets to see some of the things we never did. Imagine been in London for the Olympics!”
“I don’t think she’s going to see much of that,” Amy said, “It sounds like they’ll be doing other things instead. Maybe I should take a holiday as well - get away for a couple of weeks.”
“Maybe we both should - although I do still have a lot of catching up to do with Natalie.” Veronica put her coffee cup down and placed a ten dollar note on the table. “I need to get back to the office - heading my way?”
“Yeah,” Amy said as she stood up, “My cat is in your car park, remember?” The two women walked out of the cafe front and onto the main street, talking together as a grey van turned the corner and slowly approached them.
As they turned the corner to the street where Cabot Realtors was situated, the van sped up and passed them, before screeching to a halt as the side of the van opened up. Amy and Veronica looked up as two people, dressed in blue coveralls with black masks over their faces, jumped out and grabbed the two women. They were stunned into silence as they were bundled into the back of the van, the door slamming shut as it drove off at speed down the road.
Coral Blackwood knocked on her daughter’s door and heard her say “Come in Mum,” before she opened the door. Andrea was sitting on her bed, sketching on her pad. The hood of her grey top was over her hair, while her skirt was trapped between her knees as she sat with them bent up to her chest, the pad leaning on her legs.
“Andrea, are you still planning to join Joanna and the others? If so, you need to get a move on - it’s after five already.”
“It is?” Andrea looked at the clock by her bed, and then put the pad to one side before climbing off the bed and slipping her feet into a pair of sandals, before grabbing her black leather coat.
“Isn’t it a little warm for that,” Coral said as she raised an eyebrow.
“It still gets cold at nights, mum,” Andrea said as she headed for the door. “Don’t wait up for me - we may go and grab some seats at the late film tonight.”
Coral smiled as she heard her daughter running down the stairs, and out of the front door, before she picked up the sketch pad and flipped through the pages. “Better make sure her father does not see that,” she said to herself as she pushed the pad under Andrea’s mattress, before leaving the room.
As she walked down the sidewalk, her hands thrust into the pockets of the coat, Andrea failed to see the grey van that started to follow her down the street. As it pulled up beside her, she glanced over into the passenger window and recognised the person behind the wheel.
“Oh, hi,” she said as she started to smile. “Any chance of a lift?” The passenger door was opened, and Andrea climbed in, closing the door behind her before the van moved off.
“Where do you think they could have gone?”
Alice looked at her watch again, then over to Jannifer, who shrugged her shoulders as she looked up and down the mall. The two girls were standing near the entrance to California Pizza Kitchen, wondering where everyone else had got to.
Jannifer was wearing a white linen skirt, which came to just below her knees, and a faded denim jacket over a white t-shirt, while Alice was wearing a pair of dark blue pedal pushers and a matching peasant style blouse, the shoulder straps pulled up. Both girls were also wearing white deck shoes.
“I have no idea - I thought at least Cindy would have managed to drag Heidi here on time,” Jannifer finally said as she looked again down the crowded walkway. “Have you managed to raise Nats at all?”
“She’s not answering her phone either,” Alice said as she held the cell phone to her ear. “I’m beginning to wonder if something’s gone...” Her words were interrupted by the sound of a message arriving on Jannifer’s phone. She took it out of her handbag and looked at the small screen.
“They’re at the cinema - seems they got seats for the early show instead, and bought two for us. We have - oh, ten minutes to get to the other side of the mall. They’ve already changed to booking time here for later.”
“That’s a bit unusual.”
“Normally Cindy stops Heidi from doing something like that - must have been a real last minute thing.” Alice took Jannifer by the arm. “Come on - we need to make our way over there double quick.”
The two girls walked down the corridor, not noticing the two people following them with the hoods of their tops pulled over their heads.
Joanna looked up as the door opened, and the two masked captors carried Andrea in, wriggling in the ropes that were wrapped round her body. Her skirt had been wrapped round her legs and fixed into place with bands of thick grey rope, as were her crossed ankles. Her hands had been crossed and tied together in front of her, and pinned down to her body with ropes both around her waist and running down to her thighs, while her arms were fixe din place with bands that were cinched between her arms and chest.
A black eye mask was acting as a very effective blindfold, while a pair of earplugs could also be seen fixed into place. Finally, her lower jaw and mouth were covered in a white bandage, and from the way her cheeks were bulging it was obvious something had been pushed in first.
The group of five girls watched as she was laid on a mattress on the floor, and the eye mask removed. Andrea blinked for a few moments, and then looked to her side to see Heidi and Cindy sat against the wall, as well as Natalie lying on a mattress nearby.
“Hgrrrt,” she mumbled as she turned her head to see Joanna staring at her and what was probably Alexa tied behind her. “Smmssshfrpssaaa.”
“Lkklmmmfrtsss,” Both Heidi and Natalie said as they watched Andrea try to move herself, but only succeeding in rolling herself onto her side. “Ulkkllhr?” Cindy said as she tried once again to move her bound arms, “ntbfrriddd.”
The door opened again, and this time both Heidi and Natalie looked on wide-eyed as Amy and Veronica were led into the room. Their mouths were covered in white tape, but their eyes showed genuine surprise as they took in the assembled group.
“Whstgnnggnnnnn,” Amy said as she was made to sit on the floor, looking on as Heidi looked over from her left. Her arms were encircled in bands of rope that forced her arms into her side, pulling her blouse over her chest, and her wrists were tightly tied behind her back. She watched as one of the two masked men crossed her ankles and started to wind some rope round them, as Veronica was sat down next to her.
“Wfghtudddtssss,” Heidi said as she watched her mother and aunt been securely bound at the ankles, knees and thighs.
“Ntssss,” Veronica mumbled as she glared at her masked captor.
“Btfttssntuu,” Natalie said as she watched her mother’s legs been bound over her pants, “tnnhooo?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” the strange metallic voice said, “We only need a few more to arrive.”
“Hang on,” Alice said as she stopped walking for a moment, “something’s not quite right here. Show me your phone.”
Jannifer pulled her phone from her bag and handed it to Alice, who looked at the text message sent earlier.
“Did you see what number this message came from?” Alice scrolled down the phone and handed it back to Jannifer, who looked at the screen. Looking back at Alice, she said quietly “Why would Cindy send a message from her phone?”
“Why don’t you come and ask her,” a female voice said, and as Alice and Jannifer turned round they recognised the girl standing behind them, her hood pulled up over her face.
“Come,” she said quietly, “you don’t want to keep them waiting, do you?”
The door to the room opened one more time, as Alice and Jannifer were led in to a chorus of grunted cries from the others. Both had ropes wound round their arms, pinning them round behind their back where their forearms were tied together parallel to each other like a box. Thick scarves had been pulled into their mouths, and it was obvious from the way their cheeks were puffed out that there was something packed into their mouths underneath the bands.
“Grt - gnngssllhhrrr,” Heidi mumbled as the tow girls were made to sit back to back on the floor, while their masked captors bound the ankles of each girl together, and their legs above their knees, trapping Jannifer’s skirt underneath as they did so. “Fnnksbnssshhhh,” she mumbled as the two people left the couple on the floor and stood back.
“All of you,” the voice said as they all listened, “are here for one reason - you are here because you know Heidi Strong. All of you have something to do with this young lady, and as such you are been held captive until she can figure out one very simple thing.
“Why are you here?
“To that end, you are been left alone now to try and free yourselves by any means you have at your disposal. Then Ms Strong will need to ask each of you some questions, to see why you are here. Only Ms Strong can question, only she will be able to deliver the answer - and only she will be able to try and deduce which of you is the liar, the one planted to divert attention from the truth.
“You are been watched, but you will not be interfered with. Good Luck.” The intercom went dead as all eyes turned on Heidi.
“Hhhdntlktm,” she mumbled as she looked round,”I dnntkknwwhtshoppopng.” She shuffled round on her bottom and indicated to Cindy she should do the same, as Natalie looked over her shoulder and tried to probe with her fingers for any of the knots.
“YUrrddeee lxeee,” Joanne said as she looked over her shoulders, and felt Alexa pressing her hands against her back. Bracing her feet, she pushed upwards in unison with Alexa, waiting until they were both standing up before looking round to see if there was anything around the room they could use to free themselves.
Veronica and Amy sat back, looking around the room with an air of detachment. If anyone could have seen behind their backs, they would have seen their fingers probing the ropes around their own wrists, trying to find the knot or someway to feed the rope back through. Only the way they closed their eyes gave away the intense concentration they were bringing to bear on the task.
Andrea, Jannifer and Alice stayed where they were. IF truth be told, they were enjoying been as they were, and were in no real hurry to get free. They also figures any chance of getting to the cinema or the pizza place was limited, if not nil, so they wanted to see what was happening and enjoy the sight of everyone else trying to get free.
Eventually Heidi grunted as she managed to get her wrists free and bring her arms round, her boots squeaking as she got herself into a kneeling position and started to unravel the knots around Cindy’s wrists. He friend sat quietly, waiting as Heidi unravelled the ropes around her body and wrist and freed her arms before untying the now very wet scarf that was sitting in her mouth.
“That’s better,” she said as she started to untie the ropes around Heidi’s arms, while Amy and Veronica managed to get their own wrists free and removed the tape from over their mouths. “Remind me,” Veronica said as she shook her head and pushed the bands of rope over her head, “to kill someone for this.” Having vented, she reached down and started to untie her ankles.
As she stood up, Heidi could see Joanne and Alexa jumping on the spot, and watched as the ropes slowly slid down their bodies, separating the two of them as Joanne freed her own wrists. “So, my little cus,” she said to Cindy as she shook the ropes off, “why did you plan this little surprise for Heidi?”
“Nothing to do with me,” Cindy said quietly, “I was the first one to be captured - even before Heidi here.”
“That’s true,” Heidi said as she walked over and started to untie Jannifer and Alice. “What happened to you guys anyway?”
“Well, we were waiting for you at the Pizza Factory, when we got a text from Cindy to say we were going to the cinema instead. As we headed down there, we were - persuaded to come here instead.”
“Persuaded - who persuaded you Jannifer?”
“A girl with a scarf over her mouth and a gun in her hand,” Alice said as she rubbed her wrists. “She dragged us in here; her so-called fiends tied us up and then brought us in here.”
“Seems to me,” Cindy said as she stood up and walked over to Natalie to help her, “that we need to concentrate on freeing ourselves, and taking stock. Heidi and I were snatched from the mall here, and Jannifer and Alice say they were too. What about you, Joanne?”
“We were at my place when two masked - people came in and grabbed us. Andrea?”
“Snatched off the street as I was walking here. Bound, blindfolded, and dumped.”
“So were we,” Amy said as the group came together. “But if that voice is right, then one of us is lying.”
“If that voice is right,” Heidi said as she looked round the room. “I wonder how we’re going to find that one out?”
“Who says we have to,” Natalie said as she marched towards the door, “Why don’t we just walk out of here and find out where we are?” She opened the door, stood there for a moment, then closed it and came back.
“What’s up Nats?”
“The two nice big men outside politely suggested I might like to come back into the room.”
“Nice big men?”
“With very big sticks.”
The group looked at each other as Alice took out her cell phone. She tried to dial a number, put the phone to her ear, and then looked at it in frustration. “No signal - I wonder if it’s been blocked somehow.”
“That takes sophisticated equipment,” Natalie said as she looked at Alice’s phone. “So who do you think is behind this?”
“Well, whoever it is, they need to listen when we say WE’RE NOT AMUSED,” Amy shouted at the top of her voice. That for some reason provoked a response, as the voice came back over the tannoy.
“Time is running out, Miss Strong - you need to come to some decisions, as to who is lying and who is not.”
Heidi stood in thought for a moment, before she looked at Andrea. “You say you were snatched off the street, Andrea, and so do Mum and Aunt Veronica. You also arrived at about the same time, so tell me - were you in the same van?”
“I don’t remember hearing or feeling anyone else coming in the van behind us,” Amy said as she looked at Veronica. “It certainly stopped, but I don’t think the back was opened up.”
“I don’t remember anybody getting into the back either,” Veronica said as she looked at her sister, “Although I thought I heard the doors opening at the front.”
“Well, I was certainly dragged into the back of a van,” Andrea said as she looked at the others, “A big black one.”
“So were we - so either there are two black vans roaming the streets, picking us up, or one of us is lying.”
Heidi looked from her mother and aunt to Andrea, before saying “this is a put up job, isn’t it? Mum, you got out of those ropes awfully easily.”
“I do have a bit more experience than you, dear. But I assure you, your aunt and I have nothing to do with this - we need to get your things ready for the flight, and we haven’t had time to plan anything this elaborate.”
As Heidi thought this over, Cindy looked over at Natalie. “What about you, Nats - you haven’t got anything to do with this, have you?”
“Oh come on -most of my friends I would try this with are here. There’s only Chloe missing really - and she’s away at some librarian course. Besides, I was snatched from home - If I had arranged this, don’t you think I would have picked somewhere a little less difficult to be taken from?”
“Look, we need to stop arguing,” Heidi said as she looked at the assembled group. “I need a few moments to think. Jannifer - what exactly did the text say?”
“The sender was identified as Cindy, and it said you had managed to get tickets for an early showing of Brave. It said it help us to work up an appetite.”
“That doesn’t sound like you, Cindy.”
Cindy shook her head. “I didn’t want to see Brave anyway - why would I want to? I wanted to see...” She stopped and looked at the others for a moment.
“I know who sent that text.”
Heidi stepped back for a moment and looked at her friend. “Cindy? What’s going on?”
“When I checked the schedules, and times, there were two choices - Brave and the re-release of Beauty and the Beast. I only talked to one person about what was the best choice, and that person was you, Joanne.”
As she looked at her cousin, Joanne stared back, Alexa beside her. “Yeah, I remember, but trust me I didn’t set this up. I mean, the only other person that heard would have been...” Her eyes widened as she looked at Cindy. “Oh - now I see where you’re going.”
“Well, I don’t - would you mind filling in the rest of us?”
Heidi nodded her head. “Of course,” she finally said, “because when you decided on the film, then someone would have to pay for the tickets. But they can’t have worked alone - so who else would they call in?”
“Nats - what were the rest of your family doing today?”
Natalie sat down and put her arms around her knees. “Mum went shopping, and Dad went with Steve to pick up some supplies. They went early, but as far as I’m aware they were coming home after I left.”
“But you still play games with him, right?”
“Whenever he.... Dammit, if you’re right...”
“If I’m right, then you need to get in line,” Heidi said as she looked round. “Mum, when did you last see Dorothy?”
“Day before yesterday,” Amy said, “She wanted to find out some details for an upcoming trip. Hang on - She never said anything about a stunt like this.”
“She wouldn’t - because she’s not the main instigator. Which brings us to the other question -who the liar is
“Or if I’m been honest, liars, although one was only brought in on the plot at the last minute. Isn’t that right, Andrea?”
“Hmmm - sorry, what did you say, Heidi?”
“You said you, like Mum and Aunt Veronica, were dragged into a van, but you all arrived at about the same time. I think you all came in the same van, but you didn’t get in the back - you got in the front, because you knew who was driving, didn’t you?”
Andrea looked sheepish before saying “I plead the Fifth.”
“Hang on,” Alice said quietly, “Are you saying that Andrea is the so-called mole?”
“Only because she recognised who was driving the van - someone who told her about the change of plans before bringing her in here, someone who would already have cancelled the film tickets, and the restaurant booking, because she knew we were never going to make it.”
Cindy looked at Heidi, before nodding her head. “Yeah it could be - but there were others involved, men as well. What about them?”
“Easily solved, but first - if you’re listening, I know who you are, and I know who the mole is. Apart from Andrea - I know she’s a late addition.”
The room fell silent, before the strange voice said “Who is the mole?”
Heidi looked round the room, before walking over and putting her hand on Jannifer’s shoulder. “You are the mole, Jannifer, and I have to say you played a blinder. I tip my hat to you - well, I would if I was wearing one.”
“Jannifer,” Joanne said with a hint of surprise, “What makes you think it was her?”
“IT had to be one of Alice or Jannifer - the rest of you were picked up on a tight schedule, but these two were going to meet us at the restaurant. What gave it away, however, was the fact you got the message from Cindy - or purporting to be Cindy on my phone.
“You see, they took my phone off me when they snatched me, so they had to know your number. And nobody knows your cell phone number except me, Cindy - and the person who made the call.”
Jannifer looked round sheepishly and said “Well, if it wasn’t you or Cindy, who would I have given the number to?”
“The one person who isn’t here from our group - Chloe.”
The door to the room opened, and as they turned as one they saw Chloe standing in the door, a red scarf tucked into her v-neck jumper as she stood there. “Very good, Heidi,” she said in her soft accent, “How did you know it was me?”
“Truly - lucky guess. You see, I know it was not you who snatched the rest of us, but your absence was - conspicuous. You’re not the mastermind, or even the main kidnapper - you just brought Alice and Jannifer here, after Jannifer explained to Alice what was happening.”
“She’s got you,” Alice said as she clapped her hands together, “but how you kept it a secret I’ll never know.”
“I don’t get it,” Natalie said, “No way were the two who grabbed me women - they were much taller than Chloe.”
“Oh, they were men all right - two men who went out for other supplies in the morning. You, Nats, need to thank your father and brother for this.”
The door opened again and the group saw two similar looking men come in, one with close cropped brown hair and the other building with a grey fringe. “Dad? Steve? I am so going to kill you two...”
“Calm down, Sis,” the younger man said, “It was done for a good reason.”
“All right, so we know who snatched the girls - but what about us, what about Joanne and Alexa.”
“Keep it in the family, I always say.”
Dorothy Elsworth smiled at the assembled group. “Why don’t you all come and join us - we have everything ready now.”
“This - you did this? I’ll get you for this, Dorothy,” Amy said, but she had a smile on her face as they all moved to a larger room, with a large banner that read “SAFE JOURNEY, HEIDI.”
“Congratulations, Heidi, you passed the test,” Dorothy said as she handed Heidi a drink, her long skirt twirling as she did so. “How did you figure it out?”
“That it was you? The moment I realised someone had to cancel the tickets, and you had paid for them. I’ll give you the kudos for involving everyone else - including Joanne’s mum. IT was her who snatched Joanne and Alexa with you, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Suzanne said as she came over to join them. “It allowed us to get in and out without warning the others. It was Steve and his father who picked up Amy and Veronica, and then when Andrea recognised Steve behind the wheel she was brought in on the scheme.”
“I’m sorry I could not say anything,” Chloe said as she touched Heidi not he shoulder, “but my job was to make sure Jannifer brought Alice here. When she got suspicious, I had to invite them myself.”
“Oh I agree it was masterfully done,” Cindy said as she joined them, “but one thing I don’t understand. Who captured us?”
“Well I know who one of them was,” Heidi said as the door to the room opened and two young men came in. “And one of them is right here. Come here, you - I haven’t decided yet whether to hug you or kick you?”
“I’ll take the hug, if that’s all right,” Dave said as the two of them embraced. “Sorry I didn’t talk to you earlier, but I had to meet my partner in crime to start the whole thing going. Heidi, this is Karl.”
Heidi looked at the tall, thin lad with blonde hair, and said “Hi Karl, so where do you know Dave from?”
“I didn’t,” Karl said with a slight blush, “It was Mrs Elsworth who introduced us. You see, I...”
Heidi looked from him to Cindy, who was standing there with her head titled to one side, her eyes focused on him. “Oh.... OH,” she finally said, before taking Dave by the arm and leading him across the floor.
“So, how was your surprise evening so far?”
“Surprising, so all this...”
“Was to get you her for your going away party, yes,” Dave said as he looked at Heidi. “We wanted to make sure you got a great send off. I envy you, going abroad for so long.”
“What’s to envy - it’ll be boring visits to places and other things. I’ll miss a lot of things about here - you especially.”
“That’s sweet,” Dave said as he hugged Heidi, just as Amy hit a glass with a spoon.
“All right, all right - I still think if you’re going to throw a surprise party, there are easier ways of getting things together, but thank you to all who have done something today.”
She looked over at Heidi. “My little girl is going away, and I’m going to miss her so much, but we want to wish her good luck, bon voyage and an uneventful, trouble free holiday. To Heidi!”
“To Heidi!” the group said, before returning to chatter, food and drink.
“That’s my flight.”
Heidi hoisted her backpack on her shoulder before turning and hugging Amy and Veronica.
“Have a good flight, and keep in touch,” Amy said as she kissed her daughter on the head, before waving to her as she made her way through the customs gate.
“She’ll be fine,” Veronica said as she put her arm round her sister’s shoulders. “What you need is some time away with friends.”
“Oh yeah - any ideas?”
“One or two,” Veronica said. “I’ll book a cabin somewhere, and make some arrangements.”
“What sort of arrangements?”
“I’m putting the team back together,” Veronica said as the two women walked across the busy concourse...