First published in Down Town Magazine (Spain – 2003)
Words and images by Alan Emmins
A cute girl rushing along the sidewalk stops abruptly and asks a guy if he has the time. She rests a hand on his shoulder and smiles flirtatiously. She thanks him more than she needs to, and dashes on. Smiling, the man enters a building next to him.
A radio clicks and a voice says, “Go green, he’s in the building.”
The front door of the building opens and in he comes, up the steps, around a corner and BANG! They’ve got him. He struggles, and for a moment looks like he might free himself.
‘Cunts!’ he cries, but soon some guys who were waiting on the next floor up come down and join in. It’s all very organised. First they get a bag over his head and then they restrain his wrists with cable ties. He struggles on, doing a fairly decent job of resisting. One of the kidnappers elbows him in the face. It doesn’t stop him struggling, but it does throw his senses off long enough for them to bind his arms at the elbows. Soon after they fight with his legs and bind them. Once in the body bag he lies still, exhausted and frightened.
“The package is secure and ready to be shipped!” one of the kidnappers says into his radio.
There’s some static before a voice comes back, “Do not ship! Flies everywhere. Wait for signal.”
After a minute the signal comes. The kidnappers approach the door, removing their balaclavas as they exist onto the sidewalk.
Nobody on the street bats an eyelid. A white van pulls up, the side door slides open and the package is put inside. The kidnapers jump into the van. It’s cramped in the back. Along with the package there are 8 other people, including the girl who had asked the victim for the time as he entered the building.
The van skids away. The first phase has been completed without a hitch.
It’s hard to believe that somebody would pay to have themselves kidnapped. But this is the latest craze. In a bid for more realism, people are moving further away from reality. For most it’s about experiencing extreme circumstances and testing their own limits. They pay thousands of dollars for the pleasure. Kidnap for fun is not cheap. The basic kidnap lasts just six hours and comes with a price tag of $1500. The company performing the kidnappings is called Semagoediv, which is ‘video games’ backwards. And yes, as everybody points out, ‘That’s just like that film with Michael Douglas… what’s it called?’ Semagoediv founder, Brock Enright, staged his first kidnapping for a video art exhibition. The interest was immediate. Serious enquiries quickly followed. A lucrative business was a roll of gaffer tape away.
The kidnaps are well thought out. The ‘victims’ are interviewed by psychologists, who then recommend which of the victim’s fears should be addressed to cause maximum distress. A lawyer goes over every contract, advising on the legalities of certain actions. A team of up to 10 stalk people the victim for days leading up to the kidnap, reporting back on the target’s every move.
It’s also a growing business. The group have already made twenty-odd kidnappings this year and have another eight that are currently in design. One customer will soon be having his third kidnapping of the year. He has had a taste and now suffers the addiction. Another customer hired the team to kidnap him and hold him captive for 7 days, where he instructed them to feed him minimal amounts of food. This little 7-day package holiday cost him over $10,000.
The reasons why people are lining up for this experience are varied. Some, ridiculously, believe it is useful training for an inevitable apocalypse. Others treat the kidnap as an extreme sport. They want to see if they can escape. For others it’s sexual, like overpriced S&M. Group kidnappings are also becoming more popular. Three nineteen-year-old girls recently flew the team from New York to LA. They wanted to be kidnapped, like, together.
Today’s victim is Ian Woolly from Nottingham, England. He lives in New York, where he is studying ballet.
“How do you feel about shit and urine?” Adam asks.
“What about it.” Ian asks.
“Well, you know, some people like us to shit and piss on them.”
“No thanks,” Ian says.
Brock makes a note on a piece of paper, ‘Doesn’t like to be used as a toilet.’
Ian has to rate the level of pain he is looking for. It’s important to know on the front side so that the right kind of kidnappers can be hired. If he wants to resist and fight he will come face to face with a handful of ex-marines. Apparently, they even have a couple of Navy Seals on the books.
“Just don’t hurt my legs,” Ian tells him. “Seriously!”
As the van drives through the city, the body bag is unzipped and Ian takes a gasp of air. The kidnapper holding Ian removes the cloth bag from his and puts a set of industrial headphones on him to cut out any noises that might give him a clue as to where he is. The headphones are taped firmly to his head before the cloth bag is put back on. This time they tape it around his eyes to make sure that he can’t see out. When Ian tries to sit up he is pushed back down. He mumbles something, and somebody holds a hand over his mouth to stop him talking. He persists and gets a thump in the chest.
After a thirty-minute drive the van pulls over in an industrial estate. Everybody bar three exits and disappears quickly into a building. Ian is put in a mask. A fold up chair is opened and Ian is raised to his feet and thrown into it. He falls back hard. The front legs of the chair come off the ground and he topples over backwards.
‘Don’t hurt my legs! Don’t hurt my legs!” the kidnapper screams in a mock English accent. “I’ll break those fucking legs and shit in your face if you fall off that fucking chair again.”
Ian is dragged back up and placed once again in the chair. Two people on either side grab the chair and drag it to the back of the van. The kidnappers are talking to Ian at the same time, whispering, one in each ear. One minute Ian is in the chair, the next he is being dragged across the floor. People randomly enter and leave the back of the van.
“Okay,” one of the kidnappers, who is poking his head through the door, says. “Johan is ready for him now, bring him in.”
The two guys still in the van gaffer tape Ian’s legs and hands together. They run tape from his hands to his ankles so that he can’t stand properly. They take the mask off and place an orange balaclava over his head that they then tape around the eyes. With one kidnapper either side of him, they manoeuvre him to the door. When the all clear is given they rush him into an abandoned building. They carry him down some steps, around a corner, along a corridor, left around another corner, along for about thirty meters, then right, along for…
The basement to this building is basically a maze. It goes round and round randomly. If you can’t see, like Ian can’t, you could be fooled into thinking that you were going a long way into the depths of hell, instead of just around and around. Eventually the kidnappers stop and dump Ian in a corner. The guys whisper to him. Ian breathes heavily. The only thing moving is his chest.
Ian is left propped up in the corner for about thirty minutes. A balaclava checks regularly on his breathing. As soon as Ian is calm a loud scream echoes through the basement. After some seconds of silence a screaming argument can be heard.
“No! Not this one! He didn’t sign on for this! He’s not to be… This is a ‘no violence.’ Shit! Somebody stop him!”
Footsteps echo through the basement. I run around to see where they are coming from but only ever seem to be trailing them. I hear a scuffle. Ian screams and I run back to see what they are doing to him. I arrive just in time to see some large shadows run round the corner.
Ian is gasping deep panicky breaths. I want to ask him what happened, but have been told that if the experience is to be as real as possible it has to pass without my interference.
There’s a noise behind me. I spin and see three men in masks. One of them takes my camera and holds his finger to his lips. The other two tiptoe passed me towards Ian. Slowly. Slowly. They don’t make a sound. As they get to Ian, who sits sensing something but hearing nothing, they grab his head and start shouting at him.
“We’ve got to get you out. Johan won’t play this game! Do exactly what we say and you won’t be hurt! We’ll be back in five minutes to get you.”
With that they run off around the corner. The third guy gives me my camera back.
“Why couldn’t I shoot that?” I whisper to him.
“Because he would have heard the camera go off and he would have known that something was about to happen,” he tells me.
Two guys come around the corner and scoop Ian up. Off they go around the maze, carrying him around and around, stopping, listening.
“I vill hurt him!” a strange, mock accent calls out. “Tell me vhere he izzz!”
“Shit!” both the guys carrying Ian say in unison. They turn around and double back the other way.
“We’ve got to get you out,” one of the kidnappers says to Ian. “Johan has read the wrong contract. He thinks you signed up for a ‘hard resist’ and he’s not listening to us.”
The kidnappers rush through the maze, skidding to a halt and changing direction whenever they hear Johan shouting nearby. The radio crackles.
“Get him out! Get him out!” the crackled voice screams. “Johan is off script! We have no control!”
Johan shouts from around a corner. The kidnappers drop Ian as they try to change direction. Johan is chasing now. The basement echoes with shouts that can’t be distinguished. They could belong to anyone. Around and around they go, until finally there is a door. The kidnappers rush Ian out onto the street. They throw him back in the waiting van. All the other masks exit the building and jump in the back. Off we go again, driving at speed. For reasons that I can’t work out they remove the balaclava and put the bag back over Ian’s head.
The van goes off road for a while. I can’t see where as the back windows are covered with bin liners. In the back we all bounce around and knock into each other. Ian lies there, head held, trying to remain calm.
He is not doing a good job.
We stop at the side of a road in an industrial estate. Ian is put back in the chair and is left sitting there. The side door opens and closes. People come in and out, but nothing happens for some time. Eventually one of the kidnappers, dressed a blue plastic boiler suit with a stocking over his head and a blond wig says, “Vould you like to danz for me?!”
Ian shakes his head and laughs, clearly unimpressed by the silly German accent. The kidnappers either side of him remove the bag and force him to look.
“Vot? Do you not vant to danz vis me? Vould you vazer hits me?”
Ian had clearly stated that he didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want a permanent injury that would stop him being able to train.
“Come on! Vhy don’ts you hitz me? You vill danz or you vill hitz me! Vot vill it be? Or maybe, you are just a little panzy ballerina, yes I thinks this is ze truths. You are vun of those, a fucking man in a skirt who dances for sausage. Fucking hitz me or danz you fucking…”
Ian has managed to break the gaffer tape holding his legs together. He dives at Johan.
“Oh yes, you are a feisty vun my friend!” Johan cries as he goes down.
The kidnapper situated behind the chair looks a little stunned. I expect him to pull out the signed contract and remind Ian, ‘I do not want to experience any violence’. But instead he comes to his senses and dives in, pulling Ian off Johan, who says, “Dis is it, my friend. Dis is it! Now vi iz really danzing my friend. Vot do you call sis vun?”
It is clear very quickly that the two guys have little control over Ian. Brock, who is sitting in the front seat of the van without his balaclava, jumps in the back and enters the fight with a graceful dive through the air.
“The reviews ver true my friend, you danz beautifully, you veally do!” Johan cries as he and the other two smash Ian against the back doors of the van.
Ian tries to grab the doors, desperately seeking out something to grip. The only thing he finds are the bin liners that are covering the window. For a second he is at the doors scrambling for the handle. He pulls the bin liners off the windows as three kidnappers lay blows on him to get control. One minute Ian has the upper hand, the next it’s the kidnappers. The fight lasts about three and a half minutes. Finally they have Ian pinned down. All involved are exhausted. The kidnappers have just enough energy to put cable ties back on Ian’s ankles and wrists. Still Ian tries to resist with his arms. One of the kidnappers musters up enough energy to deal Ian a heavy blow to the arm, numbing it. The ties go on.
The van is hot now. You can actually see steam coming off Ian. The kidnappers leave the van. Ian lies on the floor exhausted.
“We’re gonna wait until he starts to doze off from exhaustion and then we’re gonna go and give it to him again,” Brock says as we stand out on the sidewalk.
And sure enough, after about forty minutes they go in again.
“Vill you danz vis me this time my friend?”
“I can’t dance,” Ian says.
“I’m bound up.”
“Yes, you are, but a caterpillar can danz and he has nothing. Verk vis vot you have.”
It’s about 4:00am now. The second fight went pretty much the same as the first. They have allowed Ian to start dozing in and out of sleep and are now waking him up by pouring cold water in his face. As we drive, they wrestle with him until finally we stop in the middle of an unknown place. It could be Brooklyn. It could be the Bronx. They bind Ian heavily with gaffer tape and open the doors. They carry him out of the van and dump him on the steps of an abandoned building. Without any communication to me, the kidnappers get back in the van and drive off. I take a couple of shots of Ian and sit back, waiting to see what happens next. After thirty minutes pass I call Brock’s cell phone to see if this is the end of the kidnapping. He doesn’t answer. I take another picture of Ian before I begin removing the tape from his wrists and ankles.
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