“Either we get five million by this time next week or your wife dies. It’s your choice.”
My hand was shaking as I replaced the receiver. The voice on the phone had been neutral, cold, business-like.
I knew he wasn’t bluffing.
My wife, Ann Gillibrand Smythe, hadn’t returned home last night, which is unlike her, so I phoned round her friends, who had not heard from her. You may have heard of Ann through her adverts for inspirational living and as a life coach, she’s often invited onto TV programmes. She had held one of her sales seminars in central London yesterday Make Lifestyle choices that matter, and hadn’t returned home last night.
Of course they had warned me not to involve the police, and I worried long and hard about what I should do for the best. But, shaking with fear, I took a calculated risk and walked up the road and contacted our local PCSO, not trusting the phone. He alerted the right people, and within the hour a couple of discreet plain clothes officers had arrived at my house, entering via the back door.
“You did absolutely the right thing, sir,” Sergeant McCalllum assured me, putting his hand on my arm reassuringly. He seemed like a kind, intelligent man, someone I could trust. “Despite them saying they’ll know if you contact the police, they can’t. It’s lucky you had the presence of mind to record the calls. We’ve done some preliminary enquiries, and I’m afraid the news is not good. We think this outfit are professionals. They’ve been doing this kind of thing in the States for a long time now – targeting rich individuals and kidnapping family members. I’m sorry to say that so far they’ve been very successful. I’ve called in our specialist teams and they’re getting cracking. The situation is going to need very careful handling.”
“But surely, they want my money, so why would they kill her?” I asked. “They wouldn’t get a penny then.”
“Not this time no, but they might do it as a threat for future kidnaps. Losing out on this job would mean that the next time they kidnap anyone, the victim would know they mean business and would pay up without question. They’ve killed their victims before. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid these people are worse than the worst scum.”
“So what should I do?” I asked him, still in a daze of confusion.
“Everything they tell you,” McCallum said. “Was it five million euros they asked for?”
“Can you raise a sum like that in cash in a few days?”
I thought hard. “If I could get the bank to give me emergency loans with my properties as collateral, I think so.”
“Then do it. Deliver the money where they tell you, and we keep behind at a discreet distance, so that we follow them when they pick it up, and find your wife. Our primary aim is of course to get your wife back safe and well. The second priority is to recover your money.”
“So I might lost the cash?”
“It’s a risk. I’m sorry to be so brutal, but as things stand, these bastards murdering your wife is by far the greater risk.”
I nodded, too scared to argue. “Okay.”
Sergeant McCallum set everything up, and on the day in question, the kidnapper phoned again and told me exactly what to do.
“Remember, if everything goes to plan there’s nothing to worry about,” McCallum reassured me, frowning as he stared into my eyes. “But I do have to warn you. We’ll do all in our power to follow your money and get it back, but there’s always the chance things might go wrong. But we’re agreed I take it, that the most important thing of all, is getting your wife back safe and sound? That’s obviously going to be our priority.”
“Of course, Sergeant. You’re absolutely right.”
I had been instructed to drive down the Abernathy Road, to a rubbish bin. I did so and found a mobile phone, taped to the top of it.
When I unfastened it, it started ringing and I held it to my ear.
“You’ve got the money?” echoed the voice in my ear.
“Yes, all in untraceable high denomination euros, like you said.”
“And no one is following you?”
“No.” I could see a small CCTV camera trained on me, fastened to a lamppost. The kidnappers were obviously watching me right now and would know if I was lying.
“Okay. Drive along this road until you get to the end. At the crossroads, turn right, drive for one third of a mile, then stop the car and leave this phone on the seat and the key in the ignition. We’ll be watching you all the time. Cross the road and walk back to the bus stop and take the bus back into town. Any tracking device you might have left on the money, we’ll know about it, and your wife will die. If you’ve done as we said, and we get the money, we’ll contact you when we’ve taken delivery, and we’ll let you know where you can find your wife.”
“Is she there? Is she all right?” I asked anxiously.
“We’re sending you a photo now. Do as I say.”
A second later the ping told me that a text had arrived. On the screen was Ann, holding up today’s newspaper, presumably printed only a couple of hours ago, with the date clearly displayed.
As I drove down the road my heartbeat was sky high, and my hands were trembling on the wheel. Right now Ann’s safety was in my hands, and it was a heck of a responsibility to make sure that I did everything right.
I thought of the ruthless gang who were holding her, how they held all the cards.
I thought about how I had been driven into a corner and that the gang wouldn’t hesitate to do their worst if I did anything wrong, or made the slightest mistake..
Everything depended on me. Tears formed in my eyes, as I thought of what was happening.
And as I sat there, I thought back to the years of my marriage, and our most recent conversations.
“Oh yeah, you want a divorce?” Ann had said, her face twisted into a scowl of hatred. “Just you try it! If you divorce me, I’ve got the best lawyers and I’ll screw you for every penny you’ve got. And I’ll use all my contacts in the media to tell them that you dress up in women’s clothes, you’re a closet gay, that you’re also a child molester. I swear I’ll ruin your life.”
“Have you always hated me?”
“Yes. It was your money I liked, that’s what I always will like. And that’s why I’ll never give you up.”
“But since you hate me as much as I hate you, why do you want to stay with me?”
“Who wouldn’t want the status of being married to Roy Azzopite, the computer genius, the self-made multi-millionaire? I like the status and the lifestyle. But most of all I like making you miserable.”
“I’ll divorce you anyway.”
“Just try it! I’ll ruin your life, just like I ruined your girlfriend’s life.”
“So you did have something to do with her car accident?”
She laughed. “What do you think? She might be still recovering in hospital in Belfast surrounded by her crazy family. But she’ll always be disabled. Next time she don’t be breathing.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, it’s a promise.”
I could still remember Ann’s twisted smile and her peal of laughter as she’d said those words. And the vicious cruelty in her eyes.
And as I reached the crossroads I turned left instead of right, then opened the car window and threw the mobile phone out into the road.
I had a car full of money, all of which was mine.
I programmed the satnav for Liverpool, from where I would take the car ferry to Belfast.
(image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay)