* * *
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - A Further Experiment
After leaving Anthea and Sandy seated at the table, I walked swiftly from the dining room and made straight for the hotel's main reception area. By promising Anthea that she would get her just reward that evening, I was hoping that it would prove good enough to keep her at bay for a little while longer. At that point in time the last thing I wanted was to be pursued out of the building and have women clicking at my heels all the way to Hendry's. Well I guess it must have worked, because I wasn't followed.
Once outside the Elms I descended the few steps and came to a halt. I tossed my car keys up and down in my hand. I had a big decision to make. Whether to walk to Hendry's, which was only half a mile down the road, or to take my car, which stood in a parking space in front of me.
I chose my car. I'd not driven it for five days. Not since I'd taken the train in Birmingham and left Sandy to drive off in it to collect Anthea. I guess I felt a need to check it out. With Sandy at the wheel the radiator could have boiled dry, the tyres gone flat, a thousand warning lights could have flashed on the dashboard and she wouldn't have noticed. She'd have driven for miles thinking how pretty they all looked.
The more I thought about it, the more I was overcome with worry and apprehension. In the end, just for peace of mind, there was only one choice I could make and that was to take my car. I guess I needed reassuring that a massive repair bill was not awaiting me around the corner.
Anyway, I can report that the car started fine, all the dashboard lights went out, the gears didn't crunch and grind, and when I moved away it drove smoothly and did everything I asked it to do. I guess by the time I'd reached Hendry's I was in a much happier frame of mind.
I then found myself in need of making yet another decision. Today was Friday. A much busier day at the club. The time was now something like a quarter to six in the late afternoon. Soon the car park inside Hendry's would be filling up and spilling out into the road. What I didn't want, was to find myself blocked in when the time came to leave. I knew that Anthea would be waiting for me back at the hotel and I had that rather rash promise to keep. Having weighed up all my options I came to a halt in the road outside. There were no other cars around so I was free to park wherever I liked, so I chose a spot right opposite one of the entrances to the club.
As I got out of the car and looked across the road and down the drive, I could see the main entrance to the club and the steps that led up to it. There was a clear line of vision from the steps to the car. I got to thinking. I was parked on the very same spot where Hulk had seen the abductor bundle Fatima into the boot of his car and drive away.
Then something came to me. On the evening of Fatima's abduction the club's driveway had been full to bursting point and the road outside littered with cars parked up and down both sides of the road. Anthea was with me at the time and we'd arrived late by taxi, so I was very well aware of the parking problems. I remember thinking just how lucky we both were to have travelled to Hendry's by taxi otherwise there would have been nowhere for us to park.
Now follow my reasoning here and see if you agree with me. Naturally, when first being informed of the abductor's car being parked across the road, I had assumed that whomever it was that had left it there had done so because he'd arrived late and found nowhere else to leave his car. Yet I'd arrived early and parked on the very same spot. So I asked myself; what would be the more logical? Would the spot be occupied by someone coming early and wanting to get away? Or by someone arriving late and finding nowhere else to park? That was the question I kept asking myself as I walked down the drive to the club.
I was a little disappointed to find no one at the door. I assumed that I was a bit early and that Hulk would be on duty later. However, if he had been there I was thinking of asking the big man about that second phone call to Pierre. The one he'd made after calling the bar. I still didn't know whether he'd made that call internally to the Men's Changing Room, or dialled Pierre's mobile number. That was something I always considered crucial to this case. If you remember, at one point I did attempt to check this out, but was prevented from doing so by Sadie and that wicked pointing finger of hers.
With no one around to greet me I walked straight in through the big double doors and made my way down the corridor. I found Suzette sat on a high stool in front of the bar and with Sadie serving. There'd been about half a dozen cars parked out in the drive so I wasn't expecting many people about, and I was right. Apart from Suzette and Sadie there were a couple chatting away in one corner, but no one else.
I climbed up onto a stool next to Suzette. Sadie was away at the other end of the bar wiping glasses, so I took this as my opportunity to speak to Suzette in private. "So we meet again," I told her.
Suzette gave me a suspicious look. "Again? Where?" she asked warily.
I decided it was time for a little untruth. "In Paris, two nights ago," I lied, "we didn't speak, but you were in a car over on the other side of the road when I last saw you."
Suzette remained suspicious of my motives, but didn't deny our encounter. "What do you want?" she asked somewhat abruptly.
"The answers to a few simple questions," I replied and trying to remain courteous.
"And what makes you think I'll give them to you?" she said guardedly.
"Because, for one, I don't like being followed, and I want to know why? And two, I want to know what secrets you and Fernando are hiding from me. I don't think you or anyone else has been very honest with me up till now."
Suzette stared hard and long at me before responding. I guess she needed time to consider all the accusations. "Are you on the case then?" she asked eventually, "Fernando told me he'd made you an offer but you'd refused."
I guess this put me a little on the defensive. It was true, yes, I was made an offer, but refused. Thinking back, I couldn't actually put my finger on when I did start taking on the case. Perhaps it was my trip to Dundee? Or possibly even before that? Perhaps it was Bruce's little black book that finally swung it for me. Until I matched those phone numbers I think I was content to stay at home and let the world go by. Anyway, I was in too deeply now just to walk away, so I had to come clean. Well almost, but it needed another little fib to put the record straight. I nodded my head. "That's right. I was offered ten thousand pounds by Fernando and decided to take it. Anthea has very expensive tastes and I'm running out of money fast," I told her.
Suzette smiled. I think she understood my problem. She looked to the clock on the wall behind the bar. I got the impression that I still wasn't going to be told very much. At least not until she'd received confirmation from Fernando. "Fernando's been away for a few days. Pierre's gone to meet him, but he didn't say where," she informed me, "and I don't think either of them will be back tonight."
I looked to the clock too. The time was approaching six o'clock. Let me tell you I was getting a bit worried about Harry Bell. Six hours had now passed since I informed him of Claudette. He promised that he would phone me back as soon as he'd got any news, but hadn't so far. I told myself not to worry. He did point out that cargo vessels didn't get unloaded straightaway and that it may be sometime before my container was available. I decided to give Harry another couple of hours before contacting him.
I tried to put the issue to one side for the moment. I had every faith in Harry Bell, and the fact that Fernando wasn't around didn't bother me either. In fact this suited me better. It was Suzette I'd come to see, and possibly Hulk as well. I had a few questions to ask him too. But I did query the fact that Pierre was back in this country. He must have returned one day before me, on the Thursday, and this at a time when Claudette was being parcel wrapped and shipped to England.
I considered whether there was any significance in this? And why both Pierre and Fernando should be meeting up somewhere without fully informing Suzette? I came to no decisive conclusions. These were puzzling questions, but I tried to put everything to the back of my mind and enquired about Hulk since that was the other person I'd come to see. "Where's Hulk then?" I asked. "There was no one on the door when I came in."
Suzette found no problem in answering this question. "Hulk will be here soon. He comes in about seven o'clock on Fridays," she told me.
I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. I had about an hour to kill before Hulk arrived. I guess that gave me enough time to work on Suzette. However, from the many guarded responses I'd been getting I could see that I was facing someone with a considerable degree of Intelligence Training, and that further questioning wasn't going to be easy. But persist I did. I decided to come out with something of a wild shot. I reasoned like this: If Fernando had been away for a few days, then there was a strong possibility that he had been to Paris; and his reason for going could only have been for one thing: He'd gone there to check on Claudette's disappearance.
That second telephone call to Fernando - the one where he had to shoot off quickly after seeing Anthea, and the one he received an hour after the first - well that would have come through just about the time of Claudette's kidnapping. There was too much of a coincidence for it to be anything else. So tell me it was just a stab in the dark if you like, but could you have come up with anything better? Anyway, I put this to her. "Well, did Fernando discover anything on his trip to Paris? Did he find Claudette?" I asked and watched closely for her reactions.
What I got was another suspicious look followed by a shake to the head. "I'm not sure, Fernando will tell me everything when he gets here, but I don't think he had much luck," she replied.
It was another guarded reply, but at least it told me that I was heading in the right direction. Fernando was returning from Paris, Pierre was meeting him somewhere, and Claudette's disappearance the most likely cause of the clandestine meeting. I decided to change my mode of questioning. It's a well known ploy to catch them off guard. But this suited me. What I was really interested in was something that happened nearly a fortnight ago. I thought hard how best to ask my question. I needed to phrase it in such a way as to make her think that she was helping me without giving too much away. "Okay Suzette, you win, I won't ask you anything else about Paris or Claudette, I'll leave all that till Fernando gets here. I'll just stick to my remit, Fatima's disappearance. So answer me this will you? Remember that first night when we all got together in Fernando's office? Well, I'm trying to piece together everyone's movements for that evening. Anthea tells me you were with her most of the time, but where were you before that? What were you doing prior to meeting up with Anthea?"
Suzette looked at me hard and long. I could see that she was weighing up everything in her mind. I jogged her along. "Please, Fernando would expect it of you," I urged.
Suzette gave a little nod to the head. I could see that I was winning, if rather a little reluctantly. "Let me see," she started, "I walked into the ladies changing room to find Anthea sat in front of the mirror. I think she was putting make-up on. The show was still going on at the time. Fatima was up on stage with Pierre, and I was with Anthea after that, right up to the time when you came bursting into the room. So there you have it! Anthea is my alibi. I was with her all of the time it was happening."
I nodded my head. I knew this already. Anthea had told me as much, and she wouldn't tell me a lie. But it didn't really answer my question. I was more interested in what she was doing prior to meeting up with Anthea.
I asked the question straight. "Tell me, what were you doing just before you met Anthea?" I said. "I'm trying to fit together everyone's movements for the whole of that evening."
Suzette immediately became guarded. I was beginning to weigh her up by now and could see what the problem was. She was keeping something from me, something she didn't want to reveal. However, I remained patient and waited for an answer. This is another interviewing technique. Sometimes the interviewee feels compelled to speak, just to break the silence. Well it worked. "Let me see," she started, "I think I was just hanging around in the corridor."
I shook my head. "Anthea would have seen you," I suggested.
Suzette gave a little nervous smile. "Perhaps I was down the stairs then," she said hesitantly.
Immediately I knew what she was doing. She was an Agent and doing what all Agents do best. She was spying on someone and didn't want to tell me. But down stairs gave it away. She'd been spying on Pierre; the only man in the men's changing room that evening. I put her mind at rest. "You were checking on Pierre down in the men's changing room weren't you? You took the opportunity whilst he was up on stage. Did you find out anything?" I asked.
Suzette shook her head. She knew that she'd been rumbled and decided to answer. "No I didn't! Pierre had only joined us that day. I didn't know much about him, so I took the opportunity to check him out. So I went through his things whilst he was up on stage," she confessed.
I tried not to show my pleasure and kept a straight face. "Nothing suspicious at all?" I queried. I just needed to be certain.
Suzette shook her head. "No, nothing at all. Apart from Fatima's tracking device which I knew Fernando had given him earlier. No, he just had car keys, a mobile phone, his wallet, it contained cash and credit cards. Nothing more. In fact all the normal stuff one would expect, and nothing to suggest he was about to spy on anyone," she explained.
The tracking device I found interesting. I'd forgotten all about that. The transmitter was in the heel of Fatima's shoe, and Pierre had the tracking device with him when he burst in through the door to the ladies changing room. Other than that, and to be quite honest with you, I didn't know what constituted a spy anyway, so I moved on. I had a more important agenda of my own to follow. "When did Pierre join you?" I asked. "You said something about it earlier? About what time would that be?"
Suzette gave the question a little thought. "He arrived late afternoon. Five o'clock maybe! Why? Is that important?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Perhaps not," I told her.
I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. The only remaining question on my mind was; where did he park his car? That was if he came by car at all? He could have arrived by taxi, or come with someone else. "Did Pierre arrive by car?" I asked.
Suzette shrugged her shoulders. It seemed such an unimportant question to ask and not the sort of thing one remembers after two weeks had passed by. "Pierre arrived the same time as Fernando, that's for sure. In fact, now that you come to mention it, they arrived together, and Pierre didn't have a car. Fernando collected him from the airport and brought him straight here. At least I think that's what happened," she said after much thought, but still sounding a little unsure of herself.
For a moment or two I didn't know what to make of Suzettes' revelation. Hearing that Pierre had arrived without a car sort of blew a gaping hole in my conspiracy theory. I put it to her again just to make certain I wasn't hearing things. "So you don't think Pierre had a car that evening?" I put to her.
Suzette shook her head. "No, I don't think he did!" she said, then asked: "Why? Is that important?"
I shook my head. "I guess not," I told her, "I'm just trying to tie up loose ends. Fatima's abductor drove away in a car. We know that. Hulk reported it. That means whoever did it came by car, that's all."
Suzette saw my logic and gave a little reassuring smile. I think she felt on safe grounds now. "Don't you want to know about me and my car then?" she asked.
I shook my head. "You were with Anthea when the car drove away, so it couldn't have been you," I told her.
"It could have been my car though?" she suggested.
I shook my head again. "Hulk said he saw a dark car, yours is light," I told her.
Suzette looked at me in amazement. "How did you know that?" she queried.
I smiled. "I know these things," I told her and left it at that.
Well I wasn't going to give everything away, was I? However, just for you the reader, the truth is this: All six cars parked outside the club when I walked in were either white or silver grey, and with Suzette inside, then one of those had to be hers.
It was at this point our conversation became interrupted. A working girl from the club entered the room via the back door and walked up to the bar. She was someone I'd not seen before. She was young, eighteen or nineteen years old with curly black hair and sizeable breasts. She was scantily dressed in bra and panties and had a black, lacy see-through dressing gown draped over her shoulders. She looked like she'd just been to bed with someone and shuffled along with pink fluffy slippers on her feet. She was also rubbing at her wrists as if they were in need of circulation. I assumed that a bit of bondage had been at play too.
"Hi Joanne, just finished?" greeted Suzette.
The young girl smiled, nodded her head and yawned deeply. I guessed she must have started early and that it had been a long day already. "Yes, thank God. Just got rid of him. At least that's him done for another week," she answered matter-of-factly.
She then climbed up on a stool next to the bar. She was sat the other side of Suzette from me. Sadie, who was behind the bar, must have known what she regularly drank, for she poured out a drink and placed it on the counter. I guess Joanne's client must have stood the expense since I saw no money being exchanged. At this point Joanne handed something to Sadie in return for the drink. It must have been in her dressing gown pocket.
"What's that?" I called down the bar to Sadie.
Sadie held up the object for me to see, but didn't speak. It was Suzette that gave me an explanation. "It's a roll of packing tape. Joanne's latest client's very much into bondage by sticky tape. He likes to make parcels of people," Suzette explained. She then turning to Sadie and added: "Be careful with that Sadie, that's the last roll. I don't know what Fernando's done with the rest. We must remember to get some more tomorrow."
Basically I could see what the object was. I'm not that stupid. The thing is, my mind was focused on Fatima at the time, and I recalled finding her in the garage with very similar tape covering her eyes and mouth. I'd also found pieces of old discarded tape tossed away in a corner that had once bound her arms and legs. It's funny how little events like these turn up to jog your memory. Well after thinking about Fatima in the garage, I recalled something else. Something Hulk had said after he'd seen Fatima being carried to the car. He said he saw Fatima in the man's arms. She didn't have any clothes on and looked unconscious. Her head and arms were flopping up and down.
I began to put two and two together and hopefully make four. See if you can follow my reasoning? Fatima must have been bound somewhere between leaving Hendry's and reaching the garage in Wimbledon, and the reason for doing so was simple. She'd been knocked unconscious by chloroform and that wasn't going to last for the duration of the journey between here and Wimbledon. At best I'd say that journey would take an hour, possibly more: And as for the after effects of chloroform? Well that was unknown, but to be safe, and if I were doing the abducting, then I wouldn't have allowed more than ten maybe fifteen minutes at the most before doing something about it.
I stood up from my stool. "Suzette, and Joanne, can I use you both for a few minutes? I want to test something out," I told them.I guess at this point my mind went into overdrive. Thoughts of those missing fifteen minutes stirred something up from the murky depths of my brain and I found myself with a sudden urge to conduct a further experiment. I'd already carried out one experiment using Anthea as the guinea pig and did a certain amount of timing. What I was looking for now were those missing fifteen minutes, and I was of the opinion that I knew exactly where I could find them.
Both girls turned to me and looked a little startled. "What do you want us for?" asked Suzette.
"A little experiment," I told them. "I want that roll of tape and Joanne for one thing, and I want you Suzette to make a couple of phone calls from the foyer."
Suzette looked to Joanne. "Are you game?" asked Suzette.
Joanne shrugged her shoulders then nodded her head. "I guess so," she answered.
Suzette turned to me. "What do you want us to do then?" she asked.
"Both of you, follow me to the foyer, and I'll explain everything when we get there. Oh, and don't forget that roll of tape," I told them. And with that I set off for the door with the two girls in tow.
* * *
About five minutes later we were ready. I'd explained to Joanne that she was meant to be Fatima and that I was proposing to carry her to my car, dump her in the back and drive away. I'd then given Suzette instructions to firstly phone the bar and ask for Pierre. On this occasion Sadie would answer and say he was not there. Suzette was then to phone a mobile number and speak to me. For this I wrote my own mobile number down on a piece of paper for her.
As soon as everything had been explained I looked out through the foyer doors. Conditions weren't ideal. It was still daylight and I was proposing to carry Joanne in my arms across the road. I wanted to make the experiment as realistic as possible, but at the same time not to frighten the neighbours. Seeing a naked girl carried across the road would never do. I therefore put this caution to Joanne. "Fatima was naked when she was abducted, but I guess just bra and panties will do for this little experiment," I told her. "Just take off your dressing gown and slippers and you'll be ready."
Joanne removed the things I'd suggested and placed them on a chair beside the phone. I then gave one final instruction to Suzette. "You wait until you see my car drive away before making the phone calls. Is that clear?" I said as a final reminder.
After that I carried Joanne to the corner of the building and stood her up. Without slippers on her feet, walking on the gravel path would have been difficult anyway, hence the reason for carrying her. It also gave me a chance to test out her weight. "This is where Hulk first spotted the abductor," I explained to Joanne, "He came from around this corner here. He was carrying Fatima in his arms and he took her all the way down the drive to his car which was parked just across the road where mine is now. So, let us repeat that shall we?"
I then scooped Joanne up off the ground. Immediately she threw her arms about my neck. "No, let your arms flop. You're meant to be unconscious the same as Fatima," I reminded her.
Joanne released her arms and let herself go. Suddenly she became very heavy in my arms. I then checked my watch. It was a little difficult to see the time, but by twisting my arm up high and leaning forward I was able to see the face. I then waited for the second hand to arrive at the twelve before setting off. After that I bounced and jogged along the drive with Joanne in my arms. She was a big girl, but no heavier than Anthea whom I carried before, and about the same size as Fatima which had triggered off this thought pattern in the first instance.
I crossed the road and reached the rear of my car. I was a bit out of breath already. I looked around. I couldn't see anyone around and there were no cars passing. I just hoped I wasn't about to be reported to the police by nosy neighbours.
My next problem was to get out my keys and unlock the back tailgate to my car. I fumbled for a while, and whilst I fumbled I realised that this wasn't a true reflection of what actually happened anyway. My car just happened to be an estate and Hulk had described the getaway vehicle as an ordinary car with a boot at the back.
Anyway, I eventually managed to unlock the rear door, raise it up and bundle Joanne inside. There were old blankets and things inside, including a foot pump, but in the back of a Volvo Estate there is always plenty of room. I reminded myself that the abductor wouldn't have found things any easier, and that I was only making a rough timing comparison anyway.
As Joanne rolled over and laid herself out flat I whispered to her: "Remember you're unconscious all the time. I just want you to lie there and do nothing. Not even when I stop and come back for you."
Joanne smiled then shut her eyes. I could see that she was taking her part seriously. I patted her on backside. "Good girl," I said then closed down the tailgate door.
I then moved to the front of the car, got in, started up the engine and drove away. Not long afterwards my mobile phone rang. I pulled up against the side of the road, put on my handbrake, then answered the phone. "Hello, Woody speaking," I answered.
"This is me! Suzette," came the reply. "I've phoned the bar and now I'm phoning you."
"You're meant to tell me you've just seen Fatima carried across the road to a car and it's driven away," I reminded her.
"Oh yes! Sorry!" apologised Suzette, then spoke the correct words: "I've just seen Fatima carried across the road to a car and it's driven away."
I smiled. "Thank you Suzette, that'll be all," I said then switched off my mobile.
After that, the first thing I did was check the mileage on my dashboard. I'd driven approximately three-quarters of a mile down the road before my mobile rang. I was thinking this to be about right. I then turned off my engine and grabbed the roll of packing tape. It was time to turn Joanne into a parcel for the second time that day.
I stepped out of the car and looked around. I was in the leafy suburbs. I was down a country lane with no pavements and only rough-cut grass verges. There were also no houses here as such, and what dwellings did exist were all hidden away behind tall hedgerows. I was thinking; what an ideal place to leave a vehicle. Especially at night when the abduction of Fatima took place.
I opened up the rear door to my car. Joanne gave me a momentary glance then shut her eyes. She was lying on her side with head facing me. She was naked except for wearing a bra and scanty black panties. "Good girl," I told her, "now just let it all happen. Don't resist in any way. I'm going to bind you with the tape now, and remember, you're meant to be unconscious all the time."
Joanne visibly relaxed. I then got to work. I rolled her over onto her stomach and drew her arms up behind her back. I then set about applying the tape. I had about half a roll left and considered this sufficient.
Starting with Joanne's hands, I wrapped the tape about her wrists several times before biting away the roll. I then moved up the arms to the elbows. Using another few turns of the tape, I locked the arms together at a point just above the elbows.
I think this must have proved uncomfortable for Joanne, as she issued a little hiss of displeasure as the elbows drew together. But all the same, she stuck to her allotted task well and let me get on with what I was doing without further protest.
With Joanne's arms firmly secured behind her back in two places, I moved to concentrate on the feet. This time it was the turn of the ankles. I was beginning to like packing tape as a medium for bondage. It was simple to use, easy to apply and did the job exceedingly well.
I secured the legs in the same manner as the wrists, passing the roll about the ankles several times before biting away the tape and sticking down the loose end.
Once both arms and legs were secured, I ended with a hogtie. I drew up Joanne's legs by bending them at the knees. I then taped the bindings about her ankles to her wrists and elbows.
Once the hogtie was in place I rolled Joanne over onto her side so that I could see her face. Her eyes remained closed. She was acting her part well. "Sorry about all this Joanne," I apologised, "but I've got to stop you seeing and calling out should you ever come round." Joanne returned a little smile, but kept those eyes firmly shut.
I passed a short length of tape over those closed eyes and stuck it down. I then wound the roll around the back of the head and returned to cover the eyes on a second pass. I did this three times in all, after that I dropped the fourth loop down so as to pass over the mouth. I then did another three turns about the head and, in doing so, sealing both the mouth and eyes in one continuous long winding about the head.
When I was done, I bit off the tape and put what was left of the roll in my pocket. I then rolled Joanne back onto her stomach. She looked a lot more comfortable lying like this. After that I made one last check of the bonds and gave everything a nod of approval. Considering the relatively short time it had taken to restrain her, I reckoned that I'd done a good job. There was no way she was going to get out of that little lot, which I guess was the object of the exercise.
My final act was to cover Joanne with a blanket. I didn't think the abductor would have done this. He would have simply slammed down the boot of his car. However, I was wary of prying eyes. The last thing I wanted was for some passer-by to look inside and find a semi-naked girl tied up in the back.
Once satisfied that all was in order and that Joanne was safely tucked away, I locked up my car, took one final look around, then set off on foot back to the club. I had about three-quarters of a mile to go and I had to do it in double-quick time.
* * *
I was out of breath when I arrived back at Hendry's. Suzette was pacing up and down in the doorway. I stopped at the base of the steps, and bending double I looked to my watch.
If my sides weren't splitting and I wasn't in such agony I think I would have punched the air and jumped for joy. For there it was staring me in the face. The entire operation had taken me precisely fifteen minutes.
I saw this as the proof I needed. However, the burning question now was; who did it? And that, I'm afraid, I just didn't have an answer for. If Pierre didn't have a car that evening, then someone else must have done it.
But who? That was the question that haunted me.
* * *
End of Chapter Fifteen