I am texting you from the railway station on my way to meet the train that connects to the airport bus. Judy, you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve won a trip! A mystery trip!
A man from one of those charities came knocking on my door a week or so ago. He was selling raffle tickets for a charity called Hopeless Helped. He was a bit of a charmer and I bought a ticket. I only bought one Judy and it was the winner. Can you believe it?
Whatever will you be telling me next? I am in Woolworth’s but heard the phone ding and saw it was you sending me a text. Whatever will you be up to next?
Hi again Judy,
I wonder where the trip is to? Have you ever been on a mystery trip? I remember my mum and dad went on one years ago and they ended up in Bourke. I hope I go somewhere more romantic. Who knows? Maybe the charming ticket seller will be there.
I am a little concerned I must say, am trying to be excited for you, but Annie, are you alone? Are you sure it’s a genuine prize? I’ve never heard of Hopeless Helped.
Happy for you dear friend but just a little worried.
Hello again Judy,
You are being a spoilsport, Judy. I knew I shouldn’t have told you, knew you would say something negative. That’s why I didn’t tell you till I’d left home. Didn’t want you coming round talking me out of it.
Don’t be cross. I’m not trying to be a spoilsport, just concerned. I’m going to Google Hopeless Helped when I get back to the car and see what I can find out about them. Did they give you spending money?
Your concerned friend,
Of course they are going to give me spending money, Judy. I am to collect it and the ticket when I meet their representative at the airport. I am to look for a man in a blue jacket with a red scarf.
Doesn’t that sound exciting?
Are there other people going? Other prizewinners?
I don’t think so. When their rep phoned me he said I was ‘the’ lucky winner. I guess as they are a charity they have to be careful how much money they splash about. They are a charity for The Hopeless after all.
Dear Annie, please keep in touch…promise!
What a worry wort you are Judy.
Yes, if it will make you feel better, I will stay in touch. Will text every few hours. That is if I have mobile coverage. Who knows what exciting place I might be going to.
I am just walking to my car now. Will let you know what Google says about Hopeless Helped. It’s a strange title Annie, not very complimentary to their customers.
Can’t text any more for a while. The train is here and it’s crowded. I’ll have to stand and hold onto the pole.
Judy knew she had some time to research before Annie reached the airport. She got to her car quickly, almost throwing the groceries in the boot, and settled in her seat with her phone. Hopeless Helped was not a website, she also checked Facebook and both searches led her to mental health services. She dialled her husband at his office and told him her concerns.
“… and you should be concerned Jude, I can’t believe Annie would be so naive.”
“Me either. Barry, but she has been very down since her marriage broke up six months ago, and with Covid lockdown she hasn’t been able to get away. I think this charismatic fellow that came to the door picked up on her loneliness. Oh poor Annie, what will I do Barry?”
“Leave it with me. I’ll call Fair Trading and see if they can offer any help. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Bye Jude.”
Judy felt much better but she hadn’t received a text or call from Annie and an hour had passed. She carried on her normal routine packing her groceries away and watching her phone like a hawk, her concern never leaving her mind. Still no text came from Annie, so she tried to call and there was no answer. She became very alarmed. Her phone rang, it was Barry.
“Hi Jude, I’ve rung both Fair Trading and Scam Watch. Fair Trading has no record of such a company or charity. It took a while to get onto Scam Watch and they have had complaints from charities with similar names. People have contacted them asking about the charity door canvassers, and none of them do door to door so they alerted Scam Watch.
“I hate to say so Jude, but I think Annie has definitely been scammed and I worry for her safety. Has she had her payout from her divorce yet? Scam Watch suggested I ring the Federal Police and alert them of what was happening. I did but I didn’t have the full details of where she was to meet them. Have you heard any more?”
“Oh Barry, I’m so worried for Annie! Should I ring the Federal Police and tell them what I know?” Judy was very alarmed.
“You are such a caring friend, Jude. Yes, I’ll text you the contact number for the Federal Police, Captain Briggs. Let’s hope they catch up with them before it is too late.”
“Hello Captain Briggs, my husband called you regarding my friend, Annie Willow, who I am so worried about. ….Yes … I can’t offer much more than what my husband told you but she said it was a mystery flight she won. So I guess it must be the domestic airport.
“…Yes… Yes of course I can give you a description. She has long dark hair, around 50 years of age, tall, and dresses very fashionable, often wearing a beret and dangly earrings. …Thank you. Oh, and she was to meet a fellow in a blue jacket with a red scarf. That should help a lot.
“She hasn’t answered her phone and the last text came about two hours ago as she was getting on the train. She must have arrived by now. She promised she would keep in touch. Thank you, I’ll wait to hear. Do you have my mobile number? Yes… Of course. Thank you.”
Judy sank breathlessly into her lounge chair and cried. Time slowed down as she checked her phone and watched the time constantly. She and Annie had been best friends since primary school.
Annie had been through a difficult few years with an abusive husband and was just settling into some sort of normal, or so she thought. Being so vulnerable, though, Annie was ripe for the picking.
“Oh, thank goodness! A text at last.” Judy thought as she heard her mobile ping.
Hi Jude, at airport now. Train delayed. Points problem or something. Walking round looking for man in blue jacket and red scarf. No luck yet. Perhaps he’s gone because I’m late. No. Wait. I see him.
Will text back.
Judy sighed with relief. “At least Annie is at the airport,” she thought, “but now I’ve got to tell her what Barry and I have found out.”
Annie, Stop looking. It’s a scam. Barry and I worried. Hopeless Helped doesn’t exist. Fair Trading and Scam Watch are warning people not to be tricked.
Come home. Jude xxx
Everything’s fine. Kevin seems nice. Have the ticket. Mystery still where I’m going. Checking in. Txt in a minute.
Judy poured herself a glass of wine and waited for Annie to text her. Thirty minutes went by. No news. Judy glanced anxiously at her watch. “It can’t take that long to check-in.”
Her phone rang. It was Barry.
“I’m on my way home, love. Is Annie coming back?”
“No, Barry. She won’t listen. She is texting when she has checked in. That was over half-an-hour ago. I’m so worried.”
“I’ll be home soon. Maybe she will have been in touch by then. Try to persuade her to come home.”
Judy placed her mobile on the coffee table, praying her friend would text.
Five minutes later, her phone rang. She sighed with relief; it was Annie.
“Where are you?” Judy screamed into the phone.
“I’ve checked in. I’m fine. Funny thing has just happened. My name was called out over the PA. I went to the desk and was met by a Federal police officer. He asked me a lot of questions about my prize and also about Kevin, but he didn’t know Kevin’s name. I had to tell him. Odd, don’t you think?”
“I told you, Annie, something is wrong. It’s a scam. Barry got on to the police. And I spoke to them too. I gave them your description. I’m so glad they’ve made contact with you. Tell the copper you are coming home.”
“No, he’s asked me to sit down while he makes further enquiries. He wants to speak to Kevin when he comes back. Everything will be fine. I am so excited about the trip and Kevin says he is coming too.”
“Don’t be so daft, Annie. I am pleading with you to come home.”
“It’s fine. You are a worry-pot. Oh, wait. I can see Kevin.”
Judy heard Annie call “Kevin, over here, over here!” Then she heard a loud scream. Her mobile went dead.
Judy called Annie’s number repeatedly. No answer. “Oh my God, where is she? What’s happened?” She shook her mobile and burst into tears.
Five minutes later Barry found his wife sobbing on the settee. He sat down beside her and hugged her. “What has happened?” He asked as calmly as he could.
“I-I-I heard Annie scream. Now she won’t answer her phone.”
“Come on, love, she’s a big girl. I’m sure she will be okay.”
Barry’s reassurance had no effect on Judy. She continued crying.
He sighed. “I’ll give Judy a minute to calm down,” he thought. He switched on the TV. The evening news was screening.
He gave a loud gasp, his eyes focussing on the words running across the bottom of the screen: Airport drama: Woman abducted at gunpoint.
Judy’s mobile rang. On the screen, Annie’s name appeared.
Barry answered the call. “Hello, hello Annie it’s Barry. Can you hear me?”
In the background he could hear shouting, screaming, then a gunshot, then………… Silence.
Judy and Barry looked at each other in horror.
“Annie …” Judy clutched at Barry, hardly able to breathe.
The phone pinged.
There was a text.
Someone’s shot Kevin. I’m in the back of a van. Help me.
Annie … We are ringing the police. We will save you! don’t worry!
Judy tried to sound upbeat but her heart was sinking. Barry was on his phone contacting Captain Briggs. Reassured by the officer’s immediate reaction and information that they could put a trace on Annie’s phone and locate her position within minutes.
Judy’s phone pinged again.
I can hear the sea. We’ve stopped. Help me.
Hold tight. Help is on the way.
Barry pulled the phone from her hands. “Be careful, don’t say too much. They might read the texts.”
With dismay, Judy realised he was right.
“I hope I haven’t said too much already. I should have thought. I just wanted to reassure Annie.” She was close to tears.
The phone pinged.
I’m in a cupboard I think. Boat travelling fast out to sea. Help me.
You didn’t answer. Are you there Judy?
Judy, why don’t you answer?
It was tearing at Judy’s heartstrings not to answer, but she knew Barry was right. Better not to say too much.
Barry’s phone rang. It was Captain Briggs.
“We’re onto them. They’re in a catamaran heading out to sea. We’re sending a helicopter to intercept. Apparently Hopeless Help have been running a very lucrative con, targeting people with money, especially those who have recently acquired it and may be a bit naive. Has your friend come into money?”
“Yes, we think her divorce settlement has come through. Her husband was an abusive monster with criminal connections. I wonder if he had contact or involvement in this scammer organisation? He might have seen this as a way of getting his money back.”
“That sounds more than likely. Thanks. We’ll follow that line of thinking up. What’s his name and where does he live?”
“He is Warren Willow. I think he’s moved into a unit at Westport. How’s the chap who was shot at the airport? Kevin?” Barry replied.
“He’s unharmed. The bullet missed him. He put on a good show pretending to be injured. We think it was part of the plan – to focus attention on him while giving the kidnappers a chance to abduct Annie.”
The phone pinged.
The text read: “We have your friend and her phone! I suggest you call the police and get that helicopter out of here or you may find her worse for wear. If you don’t want her harmed, leave us alone.”
Judy was furious, without thinking any further she rang Annie’s phone before Barry could stop her.
“I told you to leave us alone, don’t you understand, woman!”
“How do we know you haven’t killed her? Please let us speak to her for a short moment to be sure she is okay.”
“Judy, Judy it’s me! You must do what they say and call the police off. Please, they are threatening to hurt me if you don’t.”
“I’m sorry Annie, I don’t want you to come to any harm and will tell the police but please stay calm. Remember when we went to Camp Barra and we needed to calm ourselves?”
The line went dead.
“What have you done, Judy? You could have made things worse by ringing her phone. I am sure they will throw it overboard now and the police won’t be able to track her.”
“I’ll explain after I ring the police, Barry.”
“Hello, Captain Briggs? It’s Judy Barnes, Annie’s friend. I received a message from the kidnappers and they said if you don’t call the helicopter off they will harm her. I got to talk to them for a minute and asked them to prove she was still alive. It gave me the opportunity to get a message to her.”
Judy continued to explain how when they were young and went to Camp Barra, if they wanted to get away from anyone they would jump in the deep water and hold their breath as long as they could. They became very proficient at it, holding their breath for long periods.
“Annie is a strong swimmer and not the slightest bit afraid of deep water, so I expect she will jump overboard anytime she gets the opportunity. Perhaps you could have a police boat at the ready.”
“I know you are trying to help Mrs. Barnes, but you shouldn’t interfere with what we are doing. If the phone has gone overboard we will have more trouble keeping tabs on her. Let us take care of this and we will contact you when we have more to report.” An angry Captain Briggs hung up the phone.
Barry also gave her a hard time.
“You should know better than to get mixed up with the kidnappers, Judy. You could have made things worse.”
Barry cut her short, angry at her interference and walked out of the room.
It was mid-summer and the sun would stay up till around 8pm. Judy hoped there was still enough daylight for Annie to make her escape and be rescued. She couldn’t eat, she didn’t prepare dinner for her or Barry. He just sat himself in front of the TV with a beer and didn’t ask for anything. The hours dragged, their phones were silent, the torment lingered on.
Judy continually checked her phone, both for the time and messages. Nothing. Barry, too, was anxious. As the evening dragged on with no news of Annie, his anger subsided. He should have taken into account the long friendship Judy had with Annie. “Of course, she wanted to help her and,” thought Barry, “My comments haven’t really helped.”
He switched off the TV. “Come on, old girl,” he said. He joined his wife on the settee. “Sorry, I blasted off. I know it won’t help Annie.”
“No, it won’t,” Judy snuggled into his chest. “I…”
Her mobile pinged. She shuddered. Barry took the call.
“Judy’s phone. Yes… Captain Briggs… No, she is asleep.” Barry crossed his fingers as he told the little white lie. “Yes, she has told me… Right, you’ve questioned Kevin.”
Captain Briggs spoke hurriedly, updating Barry on the investigations to date.
“Okay I’ll tell her all that. What’s happened to Annie? Have you a trace on her?”
Captain Briggs was prevented from answering, as another caller was on the line. He promised to keep the couple updated.
Barry looked thoughtful.
“That was Captain Briggs, wasn’t it? Why didn’t you let me talk to him? What did he tell you?”
“I thought it best, under the circumstances, for me to talk to him in view of the tone of his previous call with you. I’m not taking over, just trying to keep everything on an even keel.
“Kevin, our guy in the blue jacket with the red scarf, is in police custody. He has admitted the whole thing with Annie was a scam which has been going on for about six or seven months that the police are aware of and was initiated by, guess who?”
Judy looked puzzled for a moment. Then the penny dropped. “Not, Warren, Warren Willow? Oh, my goodness, by the look on your face, it is that monster. Didn’t I reckon that? Tell me? Tell me? How did Annie become a target?”
“It was an absolute fluke! When Annie entered the competition, Warren, of course, recognised her name. Being the evil bastard he is, he made the most of the situation and conned her by saying she was the winner.
“Kevin told the police it was Warren’s intention, as you thought, to get back at her and increase the 60-40 divorce settlement in his favour. That’s why she is in this dangerous predicament now.”
“So, the kidnappers were organised by Warren?”
“Yep. According to the police, they have been identified as known associates of Warren’s, with long police records. ‘Unsavoury’ was the word Captain Briggs used.”
“Where is Annie now? Has she escaped?”
“Don’t know that, love. Captain Briggs had to end the call with us as he had another call coming in. He’s promised to get back in touch when he has more news.”
On board the catamaran, Lucky Dip, Annie was being held captive down below in a cupboard. The vessel was travelling through the water doing around 15 knots.
Felix and Brett, Warren Willow’s kidnapper mates, were pleased as punch with themselves. They had abducted the woman as Warren had instructed and the helicopter had disappeared. So, as the vessel ploughed through the water, they awaited further instructions from their boss.
Felix and Brett were experienced sailors, having learnt their trade carrying out and picking up drug drops and other contraband by sea for many years. Lucky Dip, was their baby, with two engines and rudders fitted to the vessel. It was ideally suited to cruising Australian waters unnoticed, but had the power to get out of trouble should the need arise.
They were experienced drug trade middle men, but a woman aboard, that was out of their league.
Warren had ordered them to make for the tiny, uninhabited island where their storage shed was located, and imprison Annie until she “came to her senses” and paid Warren what he felt he was entitled to – the entire divorce settlement! He was angry and didn’t need this woman in his life – just the money.
Annie, meanwhile, had decided she had to escape. She had recognised Felix as a mate of Warren’s. “This trip could get messy,” she thought, now that Brett had taken her mobile from her. Luckily, he hadn’t searched her handbag. In the darkness of the cupboard, she rummaged around and yes, thank goodness, her fingers touched her nail file.
“That’s it,” she decided. “I’ll pick this lock and escape by jumping overboard. I’m a strong swimmer, I just hope there are no sharks around!”
Thankfully, her kidnappers had left her alone and slowly, but surely, with the aid of a shaft of light coming through the cupboard door, she whittled away at the lock and hey presto, miraculously it sprung open.
She peered out of the cupboard and listened. She could hear the men talking on the deck above. She moved silently out of the room and made her way cautiously to the stern of the boat. The hatch wasn’t locked. She climbed through, making her way onto the deck. She heard laughter as she slipped into the water. Surfacing, she watched Lucky Dip sail into the distance.
“Right! Now for my swim back to civilisation.”
It was the Coast Guard who had called Captain Briggs interrupting his conversation with Barry Barnes. A lone swimmer had been spotted by a fisherman in the vicinity where the helicopter had been tracking Lucky Dip.
Police Search and Rescue, aided by the Coast Guard’s directions, honed in on the area and, to everyone’s relief, especially Annie’s, she was pulled out of the water, physically tired but safe.
Judy’s mobile pinged.
“Captain Briggs here.” Judy noted his friendly tone. “I am bringing you up to speed. Your friend is safe. Just as you suggested, she managed to get off the catamaran and swim, literally, for her life!”
“Thank you, thank you.” Tears of joys welled up in Judy’s eyes as she spoke.
“Now, you are not to worry. We are in the process of arresting Warren Willow and his accomplices. I think we can say with great confidence they definitely have no hope and certainly will be helpless for a long time in gaol.”
Judy gave a small, but appreciative, laugh.
“My one piece of advice for you and your friend is, refrain from entering any more competitions…” he paused. “Especially if the prize is a mystery trip!”
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Issy Jinarmo is the pen name for the writing trio Jill Baggett, Narelle Noppert and Maureen Kelly OAM. We live far apart, Mudgee, Picton and Adelaide, but started writing never ending stories by email during the lockdown. We have had eight stories published in anthologies and magazines. We never tire of seeing where our next story will take us.
Find more on Issy Jinarmo on the Fellowship of Australian Writers.