Trouble with a capital ‘T’

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I very nearly managed that second blog-post yesterday. The original posting had re-invigorated me somewhat, but had certainly chewed up some time. If I took a nap, I’d likely lose a night; waking up to Monday morning. Instead, I took advantage of the hot water, jumped in the shower, and popped up to the Adam & Eve. There, I plugged in to their electricity, the laptop automagically recalled the wifi credentials, and I returned to one of my more fully-formed drafts. I gave it a tickle in the quiet pub, over 3 pints of John Smiths paid for by credit-card.

Being a Sunday night, with a small, quiet, crowd – a few boaty types using the light / electric / wifi, some couples, that afternoon’s staff – they called orders as soon as they could; done by 23:00. England being stuck in the Middle Ages, 23:00 on a Sunday is good going short of a lock-in. I’d just about got the piece ready to publish, and the laptop battery indicated a full charge… you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!

I packed up, waved my thanks, and pootled back towards the boat. Heading down the hill, I picked up a couple packets of McCoys crisps from a late night place in lieu of dinner, with the loose change in my pockets.

Firing up the laptop again upon arrival home – ostensibly to proof and publish the piece – I noticed a Facebook comment appear from a friend; well, more an acquaintance, really. “any1 awake in uk??”. “Nope”, I commented back. I’m so funny. Well, it’s a classic – you have to. The screen refreshed, showing between the original post and my blithe reply there was now another message, “need a lil help…”.


I struck up a Messenger chat, and inquired was she OK. Based on a Facebook update last week, wasn’t she on her way home from Bali or something?

“yo…need to borrow some dosh asap….nslept ruff. have plenty money in build soc”. This was uncharacteristic. I pressed some more. “just spent nite sleeping rough..bit scary out here”. Alarm bells rang. Was this a scam? It would be totally characteristic of her to lose her bag / phone / purse and someone to be impersonating her. “need to get back . kuta ,lombok dangerous”. Her bank details followed. “anything!!!! desperate”.

I’d been buying beer on my credit-card, if you recall. I was pretty rooked myself. I checked to see how much she might need; was a hotel an option, or transport out. “???? battery going. anything 50?”

Well-aware it could be a scam, I logged on to my online banking to check the balance. “no…in kuta now. 50 quid should get me back to gili t. have room in gili t battery going gotta get outta kuta beach ssap wuick.”
“have friends in gili t”

My suspicions turned to concern; this sounded elaborate for a scam. There were aspects of her there in the text, for sure. The decline in spelling and rise in panic, though, worried me. Was she under duress? Was “gangsters” a hint? I wracked my brain for a way to communicate this on a potentially monitored channel; with who knows what danger on the other side. See, this is the thing about an emergency cypher with friends – you should get around to setting one up *before* you’re in a situation of immediate peril.

“Aye. Hang on a sec. What’s that girl I used to date’s name again? I’m sure you’d remember that unless you were in serious trouble. Like, needed the cops sorta trouble. LOL. Camden, eh? What a night?”

In reply? (Y)

Then nothing. I prodded once more, “LOL, what did she call herself, again?”

“i dunno please hurry”

That was it, she must be in trouble: hostage. Think, think, think!

“OK, it’s on its way.” I stalled for time. Obviously, I didn’t mind being scammed for £50 now, if she was in trouble. I was thinking more about what happens to her when the message ends and they have their money.

OK, she’d given her rough location. I googled the hell out of the local police, and found – to my delight – they have a IM account, proclaiming they usually respond within minutes. I wrote them a quick summary, asked for advice, police in one tab, my friend in the other. I checked the sort code and it appeared legit in that it pointed to the bank she mentioned, with a branch in “the Shire”, which made sense.

“jow long it take mate”

I better gamble, “Can you make it to the cop shop?”

“I dunno where I am….just found shuttle bus stop. lying low till they open
how long please?”

I made up a name for the Ex, an incorrect name “Angela! That was it, girl on the boat in Islington.”

“I funno mate. fucking banks here do not communicating with uj…just tried to draw tenner for some food. friend put in last nite. not eaten since yest am. slept rough with one eye open. I not good today”

Convinced something seriously was amiss, I processed the transfer. Or, rather, I tried to. For security purposes I was prompted for my card-reader. I hurriedly dug it out from a bag, reviewed the instructions, selected a card, function, PIN; it produced a code. I typed the code into the transfer box, and processed the transfer.

Or rather, I tried to.

The page threw up an error, indicating a valid recipient account number was required. Thinking an aspect may have timed out during my hunt for the card machine, I reviewed all the details, and stepped through the process once again.

“Please hurry”

A third attempt yielded the same hurdle. Reluctantly, I passed this info to my friend, and whomever else was there with her. I asked could she send a photo of the card perhaps.

“fuck. I check”

She came back after a few seconds with the details again, no photo – my concerns and suspicions to her plight escalating. Unfortunately, the account number matched what had originally been provided. I had spotted earlier my transfer was padding the account number entered with zeroes on the right, but I’d presumed the banking institutions knew what they were doing. In a last-ditch attempt, I calculated the required number of digits and re-entered the account number padded instead on the left. Submit. Loading. Loading. Loading. Still no dice. I stared at the chat box of our evening’s message, exacerbated, totally spent. As I stared, tired, my buzz wearing off – concerned, of course – my eyes defocussed; a slight blur. Shapes on a screen. And that’s how it hit me – the sort codes were different.

Re-energised, I rushed through the process one more time, with this second sort-code. Sort-code. Account number. Amount: £50. Insert card. Select card. PIN. Security code. Transfer. Click!

Loading. Loading. Loading. Transfer complete… and a familiar blurb about processing times, terms, etc, presented itself – which I merrily discarded with a click, “OK, that worked”.

“thanks man…no wud not blab on fb…u in a bitto bother yerself eh? and yes I gotta get back uk x” A beat. “how long?”

Tentatively, I conveyed my understanding anywhere between instantaneous, 2h, or “next day”, depending on her bank, unsure as to how her captor / gangster may take that news. I presumed they’d take her to a ATM to extract the money, so the next few messages would be vital.
“its 7’30”
“am. having coffee.”
I re-read the message, digested the news, replayed the events in my mind. Maybe the coffee was helping on her side, and I guess the sun was coming up over there. All sense of threat did seem to be dissipating. I began to second-guess the gangster plot – surely this wouldn’t be their first time, and they’d be certain to get the bank details right?. “You know, I was thinking for a bit there you were perhaps under duress. Now I reckon you’re just smashed. tongue emoticon”
“long story, gangsters, drug dealers, but also ace folk n gorgeous property developer, will tell all when bavk. land Heathrow 15’40”
Pretty laid back explanation. I typed my reply, “you are trouble, missus”

“I am an adventurous asshole”

That’s more like it. She was fine. Colonel Bacon, take us to DEFCON 5. Finally, time for bed. I closed the laptop, plugged my mobile on to charge, and made towards my bunk; taking care in the dark not to trip on a dog, or stub my toes. I flopped into bed, crawled under the covers, and closed my eyes.

Ping! It was another message. With a sigh, I dragged myself back out of bed, along the passage and checked the ‘phone. Ah, an update from the cops:

“Suttle bus are parking in central parking and stop in kuta Beach. Thank you”
Another Ping!

“Your welcome”


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