She had overheard a conversation while sitting in the hairdresser's and it had sounded like the perfect solution to her problem. The other woman had mentioned an Internet website address that she would need to look at. So for the next fifteen minutes until her hairdresser returned to complete the next part of the process, she sat mentally reciting the address over and over in her head, committing it, hopefully, to her memory. She had one more errand in town, then she could go home to look at the site in more detail.
An hour or so later, she was turning into the drive of her home. She had lived in that house for twelve years: it was her safe haven, where she retired when fatigued and stressed from the pressures of running her own business. She never wanted to move: it was perfect in every way ... except one.
There were two downstairs reception rooms: the one in the back containing a dining table and chairs and used only occasionally now. The other room was in constant use, and apart from the usual sofas, armchairs, TV, video and audio equipment; at the back, in one corner, stood a computer desk and chair. She walked over to the desk and turned on her iMac, then she walked into the kitchen to get coffee. Sitting down at the desk, she moved the mouse until the pointer was over her web browser icon and clicked: after a few seconds the familiar window opened on her preferred search engine. In the browser's address box, at the top of the page, she typed the following: www. inconnu.co.uk, then hit the 'Enter' key.
It must have been the plainest, most basic site on the whole of the world wide web: no graphics, no advertising ... just a simple block of text, explaining the aims of the site, and asking her if she wished to proceed. This is what she read:
Upon receipt of your once-only payment, you will be issued with a registration number. With this number you enter your account. An account gives you access to the database of other users. Each user provides simple information, regarding their preferences. Your name will never be used or disclosed to other account holders. In order to contact other account holders, complete the on-screen 'Contact Request' form. If your selected user chooses to respond, they do so via the 'Response' form, which is forwarded to your account for viewing. Only when you have accepted the response, will the next step of the process be told to you.
A photographic likeness is not compulsory, but it is recommended for all account holders, as it may increase your chances of contact opportunities. We cannot, of course, guarantee the accuracy of any likeness used by account holders. Click here to continue.
She had come too far not to continue. The next page was fairly standard and asked for debit/credit card details. These she gave and then clicked on a box that said:
I have read and agree to all conditions, and I hereby agree to the amount of £50.00 being debited from my account.
After a few more seconds of final reflection, she clicked on the 'Submit' button. She watched the screen expectantly, and after several more seconds, another message appeared:
Your payment has been accepted. Please make a careful note of the following eight digit account number. Thank you for using this service. Click here to enter your account.
Her heart was beating a little faster than usual, and she had that feeling in the pit of her stomach, but her bladder was telling her that before she proceeded, she needed to visit the bathroom! That done, she returned to the computer.
When she accessed her account there was a box with a silhouette outline of a head and the words: click here to add your image. She had some fairly recent photographs, from when she renewed her passport; but she thought them quite unflattering! She took out her phone and briefly looked at her reflected image, then took a photo of herself. It took several attempts before she had one she was satisfied with ... a nice smile, but not too 'cheesy'! She sent it by Bluetooth to her computer.
Clicking on the image box opened the folder with her personal files on the computer. A few clicks later and her picture appeared in the box. Not bad, she thought.
The next section was her Preferences:
And that was all: no likes or dislikes; no hobbies; no other telling details! She typed in her answers:
Male British 25 - 40
She paused for a minute over location: did she really want someone who lived in London, too? She typed: Midlands. Her mother lived in Leamington Spa, so she could always visit if she was in the area! Satisfied with her answers, she clicked on: Go to Accounts.
In a short while she was looking at a page of male faces, each with its own eight digit number next to it. As there were no other details, she quickly scrolled down the rows and columns on the page ... occasionally stopping to look at a particular photo for a little longer. She was quite surprised: so many attractive men apparently looking for the same thing as she was! She knew that it was a highly subjective process, but there were a few men who she didn't find at all attractive: she wondered how successful they were! There was more than one page, so she looked at the others, then she went back to the beginning and looked again.
It was actually impossible to go on looks alone: she'd met too many good looking, charming men who had ultimately disappointed her. So, what ... intuition? If that failed, she might as well just pick one out with a pin, she thought.
It was a bit like when she was a child and she stood in front of all the sweets, clutching her few pennies in her hand and trying to decide! However, after looking through all the faces several times, there were one or two that she kept going back to, and of these she eventually narrowed it down to one.
She copied his account number into her computer's memory, then pasted it into the Contact Request form. After that it was just a case of clicking on Submit, and then waiting...
She didn't have to wait long: she had bookmarked the site, so curiosity getting the better of her, she logged back in every hour. The third time there was a box with a simple message: Request accepted. If you wish to proceed, click here.
Of course she wished to proceed! She was trembling, but she clicked on the link. A new screen appeared:
10086324 would like to meet you at 7:00 p.m.; in the bar of the Menzies Strathallan Hotel, Birmingham; April 6.
If you accept, click here.
She took a deep breath, then clicked on the link.
She had one week: looking at her diary for that period, she had a few appointments for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; but nothing that she couldn't put off or reschedule! She could even work until lunchtime if she wanted to and still get to Birmingham in plenty of time. The hotel looked very impressive: four-stars, a nice restaurant, and less than two miles from New Street station; so she could either drive or take the train.
"Hello, Mother! I'm going to be in Birmingham on the 6th, for a meeting. I shall stay there overnight, but if you like, I can come to you for a few days before I go home again!"
"That would be lovely, Darling! Do you know what time you'll be here?"
"Sorry! I can't say, exactly! But is there anything I can bring you?"
"I don't think so, Darling! Just let me know when you're on your way!"
"OK! See you Thursday! Love you!"
She had decided not to work that morning: there was obviously some apprehension about what she was about to do and she knew that if she tried to work, a part of her mind would always be on something else; which was not how she liked to operate.
After bathing, she packed enough additional clothing for four days in Leamington Spa, then she selected the things that she needed for today: the blue suit, a simple white blouse, a pair of self-supporting stockings, and nice matching underwear. She calculated that it would take about the same time, within about half an hour, to travel by car from home, or by train from Euston, with taxis either end. However, she thought that the train would probably offer lower levels of stress, so she ordered a taxi to get her to the station in time to catch the 15:54 train, that should arrive at 18:17; giving her about forty minutes to get to the hotel. When the taxi arrived, she double-locked the house's front door behind her.
It was an uneventful journey from London to the Midlands. She bought coffee and a newspaper at the station, and her train was waiting on the platform, so she was able to board right away and settle into her seat. Just under two and a half hours later, her train was pulling into New Street station. She had to queue for a taxi, but she was still on schedule when it was her turn for the next one in the line. Arriving at the hotel she paid the driver and walked calmly into the foyer.
"Good Evening!" she said to the Receptionist, "I'm meeting someone in the bar: is there somewhere I can leave my luggage until later?"
"Certainly! May I take your name!"
"Oh, yes, of course! It's Jones, Alice!"
"Very well, Mrs Jones! You'll find the bar through there ... on your left!"
She looked at her watch: she still had eight minutes to go until seven, but she walked towards the bar. She looked quickly around her, but she didn't recognise anyone.
"Can I have an orange juice, please!"
"Would you like ice?"
"Would you like that charged to your room?"
"What? No, I haven't checked in yet!"
"Here! Let me get that!" a male voice behind her said.
She turned and recognised the face straight away. He leant in and kissed her cheek.
"Glad you could make it! Shall we have a seat?"
He led her to the table he had been sitting at.
"Thank you for the drink!" she said, sounding slightly nervous.
"You're welcome! I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of reserving a table in the restaurant: I hope you're hungry, I am!"