Wrong Turn

Published January 15, 2015 by Naomi Rettig

The Southbank at dusk was a magical sight. Twinkling lights on trees lining the Thames like stars descending from the inky night sky, the London Eye drawing the crowds with its luminous blue hue monopolising the skyline. There were so many tourists still lining up for the Eye to view the cities illuminations, taking their photos in turn, and smiling happily. Natalie took her photos, arty shots at different angles, wishing her camera took better images in low light. A new camera went on her mental Christmas list.
Having taken enough photos of the Eye and Houses of Parliament across the Thames Natalie decided to walk back to her hotel along the river instead of jumping on the tube. It was a nice night for a walk, just the right temperature, cool enough not to overheat with brisk walking, plus the thought of trying to cope with Waterloo station was too much for her. It wasn’t the enclosed space of the underground that freaked her out but the escalators as her fear of heights would send her into a jumble of nerves and sweat when using one and the drop and depth of the Waterloo escalator was the worst one.
Walking along the Southbank she carried on taking a few more photographs passing by the eateries where ‘around the world’ aromas filled the night air, the Mexican burritos smelled divine and she was very tempted to pause and eat except the customers at the outdoor tables were all in couples or cosy groups of friends and she felt slightly self-conscious on her own. She decided to stick with her plan of buying snacks from the little shop next to her hotel.
Walking away from the hustle and bustle of the nightlife Natalie strolled further along the riverbank taking more photos, she really wanted to capture St Paul’s Cathedral lit up at night and it certainly was a beautiful night sky tonight for that. The chatter of pedestrians had petered out now and there was just an occasional couple hand in hand and a few fellow photographers milling about, all trying to capture that perfect photo. Taking her last snaps of St Paul’s across the Thames she tucked her camera away in her bag, glancing around to make sure no one was watching her.
Natalie noticed that her feet were really starting to hurt now, a full day walking on them was now telling. She weighed up in her mind the prospect of the long walk further ahead to the hotel or the quick walk back to Waterloo to brave the escalator and be back at the hotel much sooner. Her feet said tube so she went with that decision, having a quick spray of rescue remedy in preparation. Rather than retrace her route back along the river and then up to Waterloo she thought she’d cut through the streets in a more diagonal line to the station to save time and some steps for her feet. Not exactly how a crow flies but more the route of a cat walk.
A few streets in and Natalie was playing back the day in her mind, thinking of all the shots she would edit when she got home. She was suddenly aware how eerily quiet the streets were and how dark it was away from the riverbank’s illuminations and how nervous her stomach had just become.
‘Get a grip’, she told herself, ‘you’re nearly there now, it must be the next left’.
She took the next left but still felt uneasy as she couldn’t see anyone else around or signs of movement at the end of the street. Her walk picked up pace and her eyes were in overdrive scanning all around her like a malfunctioning robot. She was about halfway along the street and could see a few cars travelling past the end of it so her shoulders started to relax and she felt silly for having felt a little scared, it was then that she heard footsteps behind her.
Automatically glancing around while picking up her pace she saw a man about twelve foot behind her in jeans and a lightweight jacket, average height, average build, average attacker? Natalie’s shoulders had retreated once again to a hunched tense position and she was walking so fast her lungs felt like they would burst at any minute yet the man behind her was still keeping up with her, she chided herself for not being fitter and put ‘more fitness’ on her mental to do list.
His footsteps were matching hers and he must be taking bigger strides she thought as the sound of them was getting louder, her mind had started to panic, should she pull out her phone and call the police? No, that might slow her down or even if he wasn’t going to mug her seeing her phone might tempt him to. What was in her other pocket? Rescue remedy, great, she could calm her attacker with that. She’d just keep walking with intent, she was nearly at the end of the street now and she could hear a vehicle nearby, her heart was beating faster, his footsteps were getting louder, he was getting so close behind her, she swallowed – clearing her throat ready to scream and had her hands ready to dig nails into where needed. He was next to her, she held her breath, he overtook her, and she still held her breath. They were at the end of the street, he wasn’t going to attack her. She breathed out. A screech of tyres from an oncoming van that pulled up in front of both of them made Natalie and the man stop in their tracks for a split second. A lot happened in the few seconds that followed, the side door to the van slid open and two men with balaclavas jumped out holding guns and shouting at the man to get in. He did after having one of the guns thrust in his face.
‘And your girlfriend too,’ said one of the thugs as he pointed his gun at Natalie.
‘No, I’m not his girlfriend! I’m not with him!’
‘Get in’, said the thug.

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