A Picture of You
There were a lot of things going through Jennifer’s mind as she sat there, not many of which were comforting or peaceful. For example, there was the cold damp air in the room she was in, and the fact the only light was coming from a grubby window set high in the wall. Then there was the seat she was in – hard, heavy, wooden, and impossible to get out of.
She looked down at the thick leather straps that were holding her wrist tightly to the arms of the chair, the sweat on her bare arms making her skin itch underneath. Sweat stains were starting to appear on chest, and the thin straps that were holding her to up were slipping down her shoulders.
The most unpleasant thing, however, had to be the hard and bitter taste of rubber that filled her mouth, and the fact there was nothing that she could do about it. Even though she felt like retching, and her throat and mouth were as dry as the Gobi desert, there was no relief for her. She just had to sit there, waiting, and wondering how much longer this was going to last.
“All right, Margaret, are you ready to tell me what happened?”
The young girl looked up at the man sitting there, the dark mascara that had covered her eyes showing were her tears had flowed down her cheeks, and nodded. Through the doorway behind her, he could see scene of crime officers entering the front room of the house, ready to begin their work.
“Just take your time; I know this has been an ordeal for you.”
Margaret nodded and put her cup down on the table. He noticed the red lines that encircled her wrists as she pulled her denim jacket close around her body, and began to speak.
“Jen – sorry, Jennifer and I had just been down the pub for a drink with some friends. It was warm earlier, so we just threw on some clothes that we thought would impress and went off. We must have left at about nine – we both have to be in the office tomorrow.”
As he sat there, taking notes, he looked at Margaret. Early twenties, bleached blonde hair cut in a style like the new American singer – Madonna, that’s her name – and a lace band tied in it to hold the fringe back from her blue eyes. White t-shirt and layered skirt, and a blue denim jacket. He had already seen a pair of cowboy boots in the main room when he had first arrived, so he presumed they were hers.
“You came back to the flat straight away?”
“Yeah – anyway, we opened the door and let ourselves in, and that’s when.... That’s when...”
Margaret started crying again, her face falling into her open hands, and he waited as she let the tears fall down. Time may be of the essence, but he was sensitive enough to understand something of what she must be feeling right now. Some minutes later, she looked up again.
“For what, Margaret? You’ve had an experience tonight nobody should go through, but if you can help us now we can find out who did this to you and find Jennifer more quickly.” He picked up his pencil again. “What happened when you came into the flat?”
“There were two of them – big men, with pot bellies, dressed in overalls. I saw them when I turned the light on, but before I could scream one of them had grabbed me and placed his hand over my mouth. He had on woollen gloves, and there was a strange smell about him, almost as if he was wearing cologne that was masked by sweat.”
“Could you see their faces?”
“No – they had scarves tied over the lower half of their faces, and dark glasses over their eyes as well as woollen hats over their heads.
“Anyway – the other one grabs Jennifer, who’s just standing there shocked, and forces her to kneel down on the floor with her hands behind her back. He then takes a thick white scarf out of his pocket, and ties it over her eyes so that she can’t see what’s happening.”
“What was Jennifer wearing?”
“This new outfit she’d just bought – a trouser and top all in one set, red roses on a cream base. It had thin straps that held her top up on her shoulders, and floor length pants. She also had a pair of flat blue shoes on, and a short blue jacket over her bare arms.”
“I see,” he said as he wrote that down in his book. “So, what did they do to you at that point?”
“The one who grabbed me – he threw me face down on the couch, and pulled my hands behind my back. I tried to call out for help, but the other one stuffed a piece of cloth in my mouth, and then used some sort of rough rope to bind my wrist together while his friend held them in the small of my back. He then pulled my boots off and tied my ankles together, before pulling them up and making sure they were fixed to my wrists.”
The man nodded – he had seen the long lengths of twine that had been cut off Margaret when the police finally arrived, where they had been dropped on the floor. “So, they tied you up. What did Jennifer do during this time?”
“She just knelt there, whimpering and wondering what was happened. I guess she was too scared to call for help. Anyway, I watched one of them pull some sort of bottle out of his pocket, and pour stuff onto a sponge that he then held over Jennifer’s mouth. She seemed to struggle, and then fell asleep.
“She just slumped onto her side, and I watched as they picked her up. One of them flung her over his shoulder, and the other one just said that they would be in touch.”
“I see – so how did you raise the alarm?”
“Honestly – I rolled off the couch and thumped on the floor for all it was worth. Eventually, the downstairs neighbour came up and found the door open – you know the rest.”
“I do indeed, Margaret. Look, we will want to talk to you again, but for now you need to be looked over. The policewoman will accompany you to the hospital and stay for a while, until your parents get here.”
Margaret nodded as she was helped to her feet by the young woman and escorted out of the room. He sat there, lost in thought for a moment until a uniformed officer came in.
“Sir? SOCO say they will let you have the results as soon as possible. Any idea why they went after this girl?”
“Not yet, son, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon. In the meantime, we’ll keep a lid on things until we hear anything from her family.”
She had woken up in the room, as she felt her jacket been taken off her. The scarf was still over her eyes at that point, but she tried to fight back as one of them held her arm against something cold and wooden. That was when she had felt the leather strap tightening around her arm, first on one side and then the other. Something had then been placed around her waist, pulling her back and making her gasp as it was tightened, and she had felt her ankles been secured to what must have been the leg of what she was sitting in.
Finally had been the awful sensation of something cold and hard been shoved between her teeth, which tasted of rubber as it was pulled further in. Again, the feel foe lather against her hair and head, and then silence. There had been a popping and whirring sound, as if something had been set off and was being wound up again, and then the scarf had been taken off her eyes before a door had closed behind her.
Since then, nothing except the cold and damp. She had seen light getting stronger through the small window, so she knew that the night had ended. She was also getting more and more uncomfortable – she tried to struggle free, but as the light dawned she had seen how thick the leather straps were around her arms, and given up hope of loosening them.
There was another reason she was uncomfortable, but she tried not to think about that too much. It was humiliating enough been in this situation without adding to it with acknowledging that particular problem, even if the acrid smell was acute at first. There literally was nothing she could do about it.
Her mouth was getting drier, and her jaw was starting to ache. Jennifer wondered just how much longer she was going to be left like this, when she heard a door open behind her. She tried to turn her head, but was unable to stop the scarf been used to blindfold her again before the straps around her head were loosened and the gag removed.
“Water,” she croaked, and had to stop herself from gulping as a bottle was placed to her lips and relief flowed into her mouth.
“Don’t drink too much, or you’ll be sick,” she heard a curiously high pitched male voice say. “Thank you,” Jennifer said quietly, and then “Where am I?”
“Not important, Jennifer,” the voice said. “You will stay here until the things we need to do are done, and I need you to be nice and still during that time. If you try anything – well, it will not be pleasant for you.”
“I don’t understand – why have you done this? I don’t have any money, my family doesn’t have any money, why have you...”
Her protests were silenced by the rubber object been placed back in her mouth, and the straps fastened. “I told you to behave;” the voice said, “now you’ll have to stay that way until our other guest arrives.” Jennifer sat still, wondering what the man was talking about as the blindfold was removed, and the door closed behind her.
“Tough one, isn’t it?”
He looked up from his desk to see the DCI standing in front of him.
“We’re following up all the leads, Boss, but this one is a bit unusual. Jennifer Blackman – twenty two, lives with a flatmate, and no discernable wealth. Why would someone want to kidnap her?”
“That’s what we need to find out – you may want to get that.”
He picked up the phone, listened for a minute and then replaced the receiver. “That was the family – they just got a message through the door. No-one saw who delivered it, but it had something inside.”
He looked at the picture that lay on the kitchen table. Jennifer was sat in an old dentist’s chair, her wrists strapped down to the arms and her ankles secured to the footrest. There was a wide leather belt around her waist, securing her to the chair back, and her jacket had been removed. Most disturbing of all was the wide leather panel that covered her mouth, held in place by straps at either side.
“Was there any message with the photograph?” he said to the policewoman standing next to her.
“Just this,” she said in reply as she handed him a piece of paper. On it, in letters cut from magazines, one word was spelt out – “Wait.”
He straightened up and scratched his head. “What the hell’s going on here?” he muttered to himself as the radio cackled in the background. The policewoman held a short conversation, and then turned to the detective.
“We’re getting reports of a second girl been taken, sir...”
Jennifer stiffened as the door opened and the scarf was tied over her eyes. She could hear rustling, and some moaning, before the scarf was removed and the door closed. She blinked, and saw against the wall what looked like a pile of plastic sacks. As she watched, Jennifer realised both how wrong she was, and what the man had meant earlier, as the pile moved and straightened out.
The new arrival had jet black hair, which fell over her shoulders as she looked up. She was dressed in a black PVC pinafore dress, with the sleeves of a thin black t-shirt visible underneath and high Doc Marten boots. Rings of rope were around her ankles, legs and arms, which seemed to be pinned behind her back. A wide pad covered her mouth with straps to each side. She sat herself against the wall, staring with wide eyes at Jennifer as she sat there, and the two girls began to wonder what else was going to happen.
“Wh r u?”
“Jnfr. Whts gng n?”
“Esther Davies – a student at the local college, snatched off the street. Her friends saw a man jump out of a van, grab her and bundle her inside before it drove off at high speed. Then an hour later her mother had this pushed through her letterbox.”
He looked at the Polaroid picture, and then at the one word message that had accompanied it.
“Wait – wait for what?”
“Boss – another one. Posh side of town this time.”
“What the hell is going on here?”
Agatha looked over at the young man, her hand shaking as she spoke.
“I had just returned from London when I saw that the front door was slightly open. Well, at first I wondered if a burglar had come in, but it looked like nothing was taken.”
“How long had you been away for?”
“The weekend – I’d left Joanna here on her own. Anyway, I found this on the floor in the main room.”
She handed the officer an envelope. Inside was a picture of a young girl, wearing a high collared white blouse, a blue jumper and a straight blue linen skirt. She was bound, the Alice band in her blonde hair framing a face with eyes wide and a tape gag over her mouth, and on a piece of paper was the word “Wait.”
“When did you last speak to Joanna?”
“Saturday morning – she said she was going out that night, and I was busy yesterday, so I didn’t think anything of not hearing from her until now.”
“All right, Mrs Graham, we’ll see what we can find out. In the meantime, stay here and an officer will keep you company.”
He stood up and walked out, stopping at the telephone to call the DCI.
“Chief? It’s Brownstone – we have three identical kidnaps now, and still no slue as to what might connect them.”
They had watched the two men in overalls frogmarch her into the damp room and sit her down against the opposite wall, her eyes wide with fear as she saw the other two sitting there. They’d kept her on a bed in another room for the last two days, and she had thought she was alone until they brought her here to where the others were kept.
She looked over at the two girls, one in a stained floral top and trousers and the other a Goth in PVC and leather, and wondered what the hell was going on. To the surprise of all three, the two men removed their gags and left them alone in the room, looking at each other and wondering...
“I’m Jennifer,” the girl in the chair eventually said, “Do either of you have any idea what the hell is going on?”
“No idea at all,” Esther said as she spat out a glob of phlegm. “I was snatched off the street, and found myself here. You?”
“Taken from my flat. What about you?” she said looking at Joanna.
“I was at home waiting for mummy to return – Next thing I knew, I woke up in a room and then they brought me down here. What do you think they want with us?”
“I don’t know – it can’t be money, I don’t have any.”
“We do,” Joanna said, “but it’s all tied up – sorry, I just realised...”
“Don’t sweat it,” Esther said. “We could do with a good laugh. I wonder what’s going to happen next – we’re here for a reason, but why?”
As if in response, a male voice came into the room. “All will be revealed soon. In a short while, you will be asked to do something. Cooperate and all will go well. Do not, and you will regret it. For now, wait.”
“Wait? Wait for what you bastards,” Esther screamed out, but there was no reply.
The light in the window had dimmed as the three women talked, realising as they did so that they genuinely had nothing in common. No mutual friends, no business connections – nothing.
“So why us, and why here?” Joanna said as the tears still flowed down her cheeks. “I don’t understand...”
The blinding white light filled the room suddenly, startling the three girls. As their eyes adjusted to the glare, they saw their two captors standing there, one with a club in their hands and the other carrying a small box.
“We’re going to release you, one by one, and take you to be cleaned up. You first – and no funny stuff,” one of them said as the other unbuckled the straps holding Jennifer to the chair. As she slowly got to her feet, she was taken by the arm by one of the men and dragged out of the room. The others could hear the noise of running water and some protests, before he came back and started to untie Esther.
Joanna watched her been taken out, then more sounds of water and arguing, before he came back and knelt by her side, untying the ropes that were around her. Taking her by the arm, he marched her out of the room, as the other man closed the door behind them. She looked for the others as they walked, but the first sign of what was happening was when she was taken into a shower room and pushed under the water outlets. As the cold water began to flow down, the man said simply “Strip.”
Shivering, she stripped off her clothes and stood there as the water stopped. A towel was thrown at her, and as she dried herself off she watched the man pick up her clothes and throw them in a laundry basket. He then handed a pile of clothes to her, and simply said “Put these on.”
She looked at the clothes, and slowly pulled on the panties and tight orange shorts. As she pulled the vest top on, she noticed how it fitted around her chest, especially where the eyes of the owl on the front were positioned. A pair of white tube socks followed and then trainers. She wondered how they knew her size, but those thoughts were wiped out as the man approached her with a strip of white tape held in his hands.
“No please, don’t mmph,” Joanna mumbled as the tape was placed over her lips, and then she was turned round and her wrist taped together behind her back. The man pushed her out of the door and into another room, where Esther and Jennifer were sat on the floor, similarly attired and gagged.
As she was pushed onto the floor and her legs taped, Joanna wondered what was going on, especially as they were left alone and the door closed on them. The three of them sat there, looking at each other and wondering what was going on, before Esther grunted at Jennifer and turned round, looking over her shoulder and nodding her head down to indicate where her hands were.
An hour passed as the three women moved around, grunting and squirming as they tried to free each other. Eventually, Jennifer managed to get a hand free, and peeled the tape away from her mouth.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said as she knelt behind Esther and untied her hands, “but we need to get out of here. Let me free you and then we’ll go.”
It took another ten or fifteen minutes for all three to get free, but as they stood up the door opened and the two masked men came in. “Well done,” one of them said as the other pointed a sawn off shotgun at them. “Now, come with us.”
Brownstone looked up at the DCI. “No ransom demand, no extortion, and no coercion – all we can do is wait and see what happens next.”
As the hours passed, the three girls found themselves in situation after situation. Each time, they were forced to dress in different outfits, bound and gagged and left alone. Each time, they managed to get free, only to be re-captured and the story to start again.
Once, they had been dressed as nurses, tied to chairs and tied with cloths in their mouths in a doctor’s surgery. It had taken a while before Joanna had managed to get hold of a scalpel and cut the ropes around Esther’s wrists, but once they were free the men had come in.
Another had all three dressed in ball gowns, complete with opera gloves and capes, and then tied to upright pillars, their arms pinned around the wooden posts and cloths tied over their noses and mouths. That time it was Esther who finally got free, but once again they had been captured.
The worst one, and this was the most recent, was when they were given pyjamas to wear. Esther in particular had been upset about that – she had been given a pair of pink cotton ones with white bunny rabbits on them – but then one of the men had come in wearing a black jumper, trousers and nylon mask, and forced them to tape each other up with black electrical tape – Esther took care of Joanna, then Jennifer of Esther, and finally she had been taped up by the masked man. The three of them had then been left on a bed to try and get free, but exhaustion had finally set in, and all three had fallen asleep, the sound of their breathing through their noses the only noise.
Jennifer was the first to wake up, her arms aching from her lying on her wrists as they were bound behind her back. She rolled onto her side, and started to rub her cheek on the duvet that lay on the bed. Slowly, the rubbing dislodged the tape over her mouth, so that she was able to say “We fell asleep – come on, let’s see if we can get out of this one again.” Esther opened her eyes and looked at the blonde girl in her blue nightgown, nodded as she slowly set up and scooted over so that they were sitting back to back. Her tape gag had come loose during the night, so that it hung on the side of her cheek as they talked.
“Have you figured out what the hell is going o n yet,” she said as she watched Jennifer pick at the tape around her wrists.
“Nope – it’s almost as if they want to play perverted games with us – ah,” Jennifer replied as she managed to grab an edge and start to peel the black tape away. As she did so, Joanna opened her eyes and grunted. “Come over here,” Esther said as she pulled her hands free, and she gently pulled the tape away from the other girl’s mouth.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” she said as she waited for her hands to be freed by Jennifer. “I just want to go home.”
“You will – soon,” the voice of their captor said as the door opened. “Here – let us free you, and then we will give you some breakfast.”
“Food? What happened – you haven’t fed us for days.”
“You have behaved admirably, so a little reward is in order. Here,” he said as the other man wheeled in a trolley, with cakes, orange juice and coffee on it. “Help yourselves, and then we will discuss how we are going to release you.”
“how do we know this isn’t a trick,” Esther said as she rubbed her wrists.
“You have to trust us,” the man said as the two turned to leave the room. “We’ll talk later.” They left, closing the door behind them as the three girls looked at the trolley.
“I don’t like this,” Esther said with a grimace, but she watched as Joanna poured herself a glass of juice and drained it in one.
“It seems to be fine,” she said, “and besides, I’m starved. Come on – who knows when the next meal might be?”
“Oh well – what else could possibly happen,” Esther said with a shrug as she and Jennifer joined their new friend at the trolley, drinking and eating. The food was good, tasty and much needed by all three, but that was not the problem.
The problem was evident to all as they started to feel drowsy, and barely made it back t the bed before they all collapsed, unconscious, on the duvet. The door opened as the two men came back in.
“I knew the thirst would get them,” one said as they brought in a bag, opened it and started to strip the three girls.
Brownstone looked up from his desk. “Yes,” he said to the WPC standing in the doorway.
“We’ve just had a call from all three families – they’ve had a message.”
“All three? What did it say?”
“Come – specifically to a field outside town in one hour.”
“Come on then,” Brownstone said as he stood up and grabbed his jacket, “Let’s go.”
The field was large, pen, flat and deserted, except for the plain grey transit van that was parked in the middle. Brownstone looked at it from a distance through a pair of binoculars, before handing them to the policeman next to him.
“I can’t wait any longer, or the families will be here,” he said as he started to walk forward. “I’m going in.” The small team watched as he walked forward, slowly approaching the van. As he got closer, he could hear two things. The first was that the radio in the front of the van was on, and a song was playing.
It's not the way you look
It's not the way that you smile
Although there's something to them
It's not the way you have your hair
It's not that certain style
It could be that with you
If I had a photograph of you
It's something to remind me
I wouldn't spend my life just wishing
It's not the make-up
And it's not the way that you dance
It's not the evening sky
It's more the way your eyes
Are laughing as they glance
Across the great divide
If I had a photograph of you
It's something to remind me
I wouldn't spend my life just wishing
It's not the things you say
It's not the things you do
It must be something more
And if I feel this way for so long
Tell me is it all for nothing
Just don't walk out the door
If I had a photograph of you
It's something to remind me
I wouldn't spend my life just wishing
The other thing was a banging from the rear of the van. Brownstone slowly reached out, grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. He looked for a moment, before turning and shouting “Get an ambulance over here – NOW!!!”
Climbing in, he knelt by Esther and unbuckled the black ball gag that was in her mouth, before starting to remove the ropes that encircled her as she lay there in a black bodice and fishnet stockings. Joanna and Jennifer were sat at the back of the van, similarly attired, bound and gagged – white for Jennifer, red for Joanna. As the sound of an ambulance siren grew louder, he said “It’s all right girls – it’s all over now” to all three as they started crying.
“So, they were almost – what, toys, playthings to their captors?”
Brownstone was sat with his DCI some days later. All three girls had been checked over, given statements and had time to recover, but there was nothing to work on.
“It looks that way – the van was clean of prints and stolen some days before. They were forced to act out these scenarios, and then drugged. The next thing they knew, they were in the van, and the radio was playing.”
“So we’ve nothing to go on?”
“Nothing – the file stays open, but I don’t hold out much hope.”
The two men sat for a moment, wondering and contemplating an unasked question – could this happen again?
“Excellent work, excellent.”
The man smiled as he switched off the video machine. “Girls, I think you have done a fantastic job. Perhaps I will be able to free you some time – but not yet. I have some further work for you.”
The two women nodded in silence. They had managed to disguise themselves to do the work for their master, pretending to be men, but only one of them had spoken. The other had remained silent, contemplative, and thoughtful. She spoke now though, in a deep and resonant voice that seemed to warm the room.
“As you wish, master,” she said in a tone of slight sarcasm, as the two stood and walked out of the room, the armed guard at the door allowing them to pass as the man rewound the tape.
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