“You know, I can hardly believe it’s almost half term – where the hell have the last few weeks gone?”
“Don’t ask me,” I said as I sat back and looked at Alicia, Mary and Cathy, “I’ve been keeping my head down and catching up with my work!”
This was absolutely true – I had been keeping my head down and keeping up with my homework, and ever since the start of term things had been relatively quiet. Well, as relatively quiet as things can be for us.
In fact, we’d all been spending quite a lot of time with our various boyfriends. Colin Hampton and I had been out to the pictures a few times, and Alicia and Martin had become a fairly well known act on music nights in the local area. We’d always known Alicia could sing, but her own shyness meant she’d never realised it herself. With Martin, however, she’d begun to relax, and now they went round some of the local old folk’s homes as well to entertain the people there.
The three of us actually went with her last Saturday night to give moral support – and it wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours really. Admittedly, classical music still isn’t my favourite thing, but when they started signing Cole Porter, with Martin on the guitar as well as the piano, and even some Beatles songs – well, that was nice.
Then there was Mary – or Farmer Mary, as we’ve taken to calling her, since she started stepping out with Mark Cottrell. She’s smiling all the time now, and she spends a fair bit of time up at their farm – but they have been seen out and about as well. Mark’s a nice guy, and she seems to be very happy with him. Colin and I went out one night with them as a double date to the theatre, to see Avenue Q.
And sweet, shy Cathy has her beau as well in Sam Stewart. Sam’s the younger brother of Mrs Boyle, the housekeeper up at Wissenden Hall, and they met at Alicia’s birthday party earlier this year when he was staying with his sister. He actually lives a few miles away, but Cathy’s mums take turns in driving her there and back, and he’s stayed a few times as well.
He’s just as shy as her, and most of the time they’ve been off taking long walks, but they do seem to be getting closer and closer.
“So have you heard from Angela,” Mary said as we sat round the table at Starbucks, our coffees in front of us.
“Yup – she’s settled into halls, and hard at work, at least when a certain third year student doesn’t come to visit…”
Ever since they got engaged last February, Alicia’s sister and Mary’s brother Eddie have been talking and planning for the day they eventually get married – some years down the line, as Alicia put it, but they are a couple in all other ways – bar one.
And then there was the arrival of my latest cousin – little Janey Brown. I know Bobby and Suzie Holderness are also anxiously awaiting their little brother or sister, but their mum is taking it easy now after a little scare a few weeks ago. It’s helped that Mister Boyle’s sister Gail has moved in for a few weeks with her son Freddie, as it means she is helping Mrs Boyle and letting Mrs Holderness get all the rest she needs.
Sipping my coffee, I thought about them – Alicia had met Freddie just before we went back to school, when she went to the US to be at the christening of the twins, Bart and Sarah Holderness-Carter. She and her Uncle Alex, Bobby and Suzie’s dad, were among the godparents – and it turned out Freddie was a schoolmate of Jannifer Dale’s twin sisters.
You know, when you think about it, there are an amazing series of coincidences going on around us – me, Alicia, our family and friends. A couple of years back, Alicia and I were not quite mortal enemies, but we certainly didn’t like each other. Then we discovered our grandmothers were childhood friends, and – well, what happened is written down somewhere else. What matters is we are friends now – real, firm friends, and it was through Alicia I met Heidi Small, and her friends.
We had no idea back then that Heidi and Alicia were actually distantly related, or that the two families had a guardian angel or two watching over them – the latest incarnation of which was Sarah, now Sarah Holderness-Carter, the mother of the twins. Time and time again recently, she’s been there for us and Heidi and her friends – never more so than earlier this year, just before the summer holidays, when Cassie and I were kidnapped along with Lisa and Charlie Williamson, and their mother.
I still shiver when I think about that day and night – because what happened to us was, well, not the most pleasant of experiences. Compared to what happened to our mothers, aunts and grandmothers the previous year, it was small potatoes, but I got a taste of what they went through as did the others.
What was remarkable about that night was I had to tell them what I knew about Sarah and Brian – and then when Brian showed up and rescued us, it was the most wonderful thing in a long time. When things like that happen, Cassie and I can talk to our parents and the rest of our family – we have this thing called the Craig Compact where we share family secrets. But there was one thing we never told Cassie about – and that was what happened that night in the manor house to our mum and aunts, as well as Granny.
But after what happened with Lisa, Charlie and Mrs Williamson, I spoke to Dad – mainly because although she had been blindfolded, Cassie had gone through a similar fear. So a day or two later, Dad, Granny and I sat her down, under the Craig compact, and told her enough about the Manor House to let her know what had happened.
Not everything – she may be twelve, but she wasn’t ready yet to hear all the gory details. Enough, however, that she cried as she hugged Granny and Dad, and promised she’d never tell anyone else.
Which was just as well, because a few weeks later she ended up a hostage again – this time when she, Lisa, Patty and a friend of Patty’s called Louise were visiting the farm the Cottrell’s live on, and who should enter but Jay Edwards – a man who has held us hostage on a number of occasions.
After that, I noticed her and Lisa going there a bit more often - turns out Lisa was sweet on Mark’s younger brother, and Louise on his youngest, shy little Frank.
And then, just to complete the circle of coincidence – Gail, Mister Boyle’s sister? Turned out she had got engaged to Louise’s father, and they were getting married next month. The bans were read for the first time last week in the church, so only a few weeks to go for that as well, and she becomes Mrs Hobson and Freddie Hobson as opposed to Freddie Cork Jr.
All that was a few weeks away, however – our more immediate concern, and the reason we had come here for coffee after our football game, was what we were going to be doing over the next few nights.
“Charlie and Lisa? Are you sure you’re ready for them Mary,” Alicia said as she looked across at our friend.
“Come on – how bad can the two of them be?”
“Lisa’s no problem at all,” Alicia said with a laugh, “it’s Charlie you need to watch out for – he can be a real smooth talker when he wants to be, and before you know it, you’re unable to move as the Babysitter Bandit strikes again!”
“The Babywhatchs Whosamdinger?”
“It’s a story I read on line – a couple of crooks who like to strike when the babysitter’s at home. I think Charlie might have read it too, because it’s one of his favourite games.”
“I think someone’s been watching too many bad horror films,” Cathy said with a smile. “He can’t be that bad, can he?”
Alicia and I looked at each other – we’d been at the receiving end of Charlie’s smooth talk a few times, but sometimes you just have to let people find out for themselves.
“So what time are they expecting you tonight?”
“About seven – Mister Williamson said he’d run me back home afterwards. That’s when you’re looking after Hazel and Clare, right?”
“Oh yeah,” I said with a sigh, “I get to watch the twins for my penance tomorrow night.”
“And the money – the money soothes all sorts of pains,” Mary said with a laugh.
“Very very true – it does help.” I sipped my coffee and said. “Mind you, it could be worse – Cathy here gets to watch the tiny tornadoes.”
“Oh yeah – sleepover night with Patty and Rachel on Monday, right?”
“Just until her mother gets back from her night out with your folks – so you get baby watch again.”
“Cassie’s not a problem, and the twins are fine once they get settled. What about you Ali?”
“Just Andrew for me this week, thank goodness – Martin wants me to learn some new songs, so he may pop round as well.”
“Well then, it sounds as if we all have our plans laid out for the next few weeks,” I said with a smile, “now, about a week’s time?”
“Oh yeah – the grand London trip. Do you know if they’ve got the tickets?”
“Yup,” Alicia said, “Martin showed me them. We go shopping in the morning, meet them for the show and a meal, and then head back here.”
“A reward well earned for the babysitting,” I said as I looked at my watch. “And I need to get going, or mum’s going to be wondering where I got to. Call me later on, all right?”
“You got it,” they said as I stood up and made my way out – I had five minutes to catch the bus, and I didn’t want to be late back.
“Mary over with Lisa and Charlie? What time are their parents going out?”
“She has to be there for seven, so I imagine just after,” I said as I looked at Suzie, “why?”
She looked directly back at me, and said “five pounds that before nine, you get a call from Mary telling her to come over and rescue her.”
“You sound very sure of that.”
“Oh no,” I said as we shook hands, “I accept the bet. After all, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?”
“We are talking about the same Charlie Williamson, right?”
I smiled and shook my head as we finished our dinner. Mum and Dad were bathing the twins, so we got to wash up and put things away. Once that was done, we all went and watched Strictly Come Dancing – Mum’s choice, not mine.
So when the phone went at half past eight, I slowly got up and went to answer it. Two minutes later, I came in and handed Cassie a five pound note.
“I need to nip across the road,” I said as they all looked at me, “if I’m not back in an hour, call Colin and tell him I need rescuing.”
“Got it,” Cassie said without looking up as I put on a fleece and a pair of trainers, and went out of the front door. I could see the lights on at the Williamson place, but for once I decided that the front door may not be a good idea, so I walked round the side and let myself into the back door.
I could hear the sound of a DVD playing in the front room, so I peeked in to see Lisa sitting on a chair, her knees under her chin as she watched a Disney film. She seemed happy, so I left her to her fun and looked in the dining room, then in the bathroom.
Why the bathroom? It would not be the first time Charlie had played that trick on a babysitter. Last time I sat for them, I ended up spending an hour sitting on the toilet, tape all round my body and my head, while Lisa was in the bathtub, similarly bound and giggling away. I just hoped he hadn’t pulled the same stunt on Mary – she wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of tape, even the medical stuff we use.
Walking slowly up the stairs, I kept one ear open for the tell tale signs of Charlie. Not that there are that many, where he is concerned. That kid could literally charm a girl into doing anything for him, and some day he’s going to be a real heartbreaker. Probably with Patty’s friend Rachel, but who can tell?
Anyway, I knew Mary had called me on her mobile, so I checked Lisa’s bedroom first. No problem. Charlie’s room was empty too, and then I heard footsteps downstairs, so I presumed he’d managed to sneak past me and gone down, so I opened the door to their parent’s bedroom.
There was Mary, looking at me over the knotted red scarf that was pulled between her teeth, with eyes that said just one thing.
“You were right.”
“Sorry, I did try to warn you,” I said as I walked in and looked at her. Her wrists were crossed and tied together in the small of her back, and there were bands of rope around her waist and her chest, pulling her red jumper over her body. Her ankles were also crossed and bound, as were her legs below her knees.
It took me a couple of minutes to realise her ankles had not been tied to anything, and another minute to realise there was a reason for that.
“Let me take a wild guess, Mary, and say that Charlie is right behind me.”
I watched as she slowly nodded, and then heard Charlie say “Well well – I wondered who she managed to call before I gagged her. How nice of you to come and find out what happened to your fellow snoop.”
“Oh great,” I thought to myself as I slowly raised my hands, and said “Who are you and why have you tied my friend up?”
“Uffdnthstftn,” Mary helpfully commented as Charlie said “Very slowly, put your hands behind your back and stand perfectly still.”
“Are you all right,” I said as I played along, Mary shrugging her shoulders and wriggling round as I felt my own wrists been secured together. As the rope went between my arms, I turned my head and said “who are you?”
“I’m the babysitter bandit,” Charlie said, “and you stopped me from raiding this house. Now I need to make sure both of you are kept out of the way.”
“What about the kid downstairs?”
“Oh I won’t hurt her, so long as she stays out of the way.”
“Whsscshswll,” Mary said as I felt Charlie carefully tie rope around my arms and chest. “Charlie, you know the rules,” I said, stepping out of character for the moment.
“Yeah – but Mary didn’t mind,” he said, and I looked at her, seeing her blush slightly as she nodded. I knew I would have to have words with her about this, but right now I had to admit, he was making sure he didn’t touch me anywhere he wasn’t meant to – and it did feel nice to have the ropes pressing down there again.
“Lie face down,” Charlie said as he tied the ropes off, and watched as I lay down next to Mary.
“So, I guess we’re going to spend some time together,” I said to Mary, who had the grace to just roll her eyes and nod as Charlie tied my ankles and legs tightly together.
As the rope went between my legs, he managed to tickle the back of my knees a little, and I didn’t manage to stifle a giggle. Mary looked at me and shook my head – and I swear to god, that’s the first time I noticed he had taken her shoes off.
So when he pulled my ankles back and tied them to Mary’s chest ropes, and then tied hers to mine, I called out “Charlie don’t you dare…”
“I’m not Charlie, I’m the babysitter bandit,” he said as he unlaced and removed my trainers, and then picked up one of his mother’s scarves, a blue and grey one, rolling it into a band before he tied a knot in it, and held it in front of my mouth.
“You’ll never get away with fhssuffnnddd” I mumbled as the silk knot was gently pushed into my mouth, pressing my tongue down as he tied it tightly round my head.
“Now then, you two just stay there,” Charlie said with a smile, “while I have a look round.”
“Lkwwrgnnnwhr,” I mumbled as he left the room for a minute, the two of us wriggling round as the ropes rubbed on my chest. I had to admit, I was enjoying more and more the feelings this gave me, and I was beginning to understand something of what might be happening when my parents and aunts are tied as well.
It used to irritate me like nothing else, and in a way it still did, but there was something else going on, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. At any rate, I figured I could ask mum about it when I got a chance.
“Well, I have everything I want now,” Charlie said when he came back in. “But I have a few minutes to spare, so I guess I can have a little fun now.”
Mary and I looked at each other, and shook our heads – we knew what was coming next, and we tried to move out of the way – then remembered – ankles tied to each other’s backs, wriggling round, and as he started to tickle the soles of our feet we started laughing into our gags, the ropes rubbing even more as we tried to get our feet out of the way – which only made the ropes rub even more.
I was actually enjoying it, much to my surprise – but there was another thing going on, something new. As I wriggled on the bed, I could feel my chest as well, and – it’s very difficult to describe in writing exactly what I was feeling. The only thing I knew – I really knew – was that if Charlie didn’t stop, and give me a chance to calm down, something else was starting to happen to me I did not want him or anyone else to see.
One look at Mary told me she was thinking the same thing, but our muffled pleas to him to stop just seemed to encourage him all the more. We were racking our brains, beginning to think we needed to push the gags out and yell at him, when a familiar voice said “Police – you’re under arrest.”
“What the…” we heard Charlie say and the tickling stopped. We both lay there, taking time to calm down and catch our breath, before we felt our ankles been released and our legs fell to the bed.
Rolling over, we saw Charlie standing there, his hands behind his back as Colin looked at us. “Cassie called, said you might need rescuing.”
“Shwssrrtt,” I mumbled as Charlie looked at us.
“Okay – you, young man, go and get ready for bed. Then go downstairs and I’ll come to give you and Lisa your supper.”
“Yes Colin,” he said as he walked slowly out of the room, and Colin walked over to us, helping us to sit up.
“I get the feeling you two would like a little while alone,” he said as he looked at us, and then untied Mary’s arms. “I’ll make sure those two get to their bed.”
“Fnkss,” Mary said as she rubbed her arms and wrists, and then reached behind her, untying the scarf and taking it out as she looked at the large dark stain around the knot.
“Wow – this really does soak up the saliva,” she said, and then she looked at me. “Want those arms freed?”
I nodded and turned round as she removed the ropes, and then untied my wrists, allowing me to remove my own gag.
“OH god, “I panted as I did so, “how are you feeling?”
“Stiff – but that’s not what you meant, was it?”
I shook my head and said “tell me… Tell me you felt it too?”
She nodded and looked at me, then down at her own chest. “Jenny, what happened there?”
“I don’t know – maybe we need to talk to our moms about it?”
Mary nodded as we started to untie our legs, and then sort out our clothes.
“Ready,” she said after we had sat for a few minutes. I nodded as we put our shoes back on and straightened the cover on the bed, and then slowly walked down the stairs.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said as we walked into the front room. “I was having so much fun, I didn’t realise how much time had passed…”
“It’s all right, Charlie,” Mary said, “but both of you need to get to your beds now.”
“I’ll take them up,” Colin said as he looked at both of us. “Come on – into bed, both of you.”
“I’m telling you Jenny, he’s a keeper,” Mary said as he took the kids up the stairs.
“Yeah, don’t I know it,” I said as I handed her a can of Coke. “He even left these out for us. So how long?”
“Before I managed to call you? About twenty minutes. I swear he left my phone within reach of me so that I could call you.”
“That would not surprise me – he likes to have company, that young man.”
Mary laughed and then said “Now she tells me…”
“I’m sorry – but on the other hand…”
“Yeah,” Mary said as she opened the can and took a drink. After a few minutes, she looked at me and said “Jen?”
“Colin ties you up from time to time, right?”
“Yeah – Mark?”
“Yup – and he puts the extra ropes on doesn’t he?”
“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds I may incriminate myself,” I said with a smile. “You?”
Mary just nodded and then said “but I swear it has never, ever felt like that.”
“I know,” I said quietly as Colin came back into the room. “They’re in their beds,” he said as he sat down, “you two all right?”
“Yeah – look don’t tell their parents how you found us. It just went on a little too long, that’s all.”
“All right,” he said as he looked at us, “if that’s what you want, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Do you think there really is a Babysitter Bandit out there?”
“Is that what he was playing,” Colin said with a smile. “Well, I think dad’s commenting enough about the two Games Players to worry about a Babysitter Bandit as well.”
“I read about them,” Mary said, “I thought they were a scare story, but apparently not.”
“Oh no – just ask Patty or Rachel some time,” Colin said with a smile as he opened a can of drink.
“So how did you get here so quickly anyway?”
“Who said I got here quickly? Cassie called me over an hour ago – she seemed to think you might need my help.”
Both of us looked at him and then burst out laughing, as we shook our heads.
“Her Ladyship really does have her head screwed on,” Mary said when we finally stopped.
“Does she know you call her that,” Colin said.
“Nope – and if you or anyone else tells Bobby or her, I will personally hang, draw and publically display you. Do we have an understanding, Colin?”
“I have learned never to argue with you on family matters,” Colin said with a smile. “I’ll go and clear up the bedroom.”
“Heh – you two are well suited,” Mary said with a smile. “So you’re not going to tell your mum about Charlie, are you?”
“No,” I said, “but I may have a word with his mum, tell her to remind him about our rules.” Colin came back down and put a bag into the kitchen, before coming back in to join us.
“So, want to watch a movie?”
Sunday lunch with us tends to be a lively affair – with the twins trying to feed themselves now, it can also get a little messy, especially for whoever ends up sitting next to them.
Which today, thank the lord, was not me – and Aunts Jo and Cassie had come prepared, wearing plastic aprons over their clothes as they alternatively helped David and June eat, or dodged a spoonful of mashed potato.
Cassie and I were sitting at the far end of the table, smiling as we watched the twins display their usual exquisite table manners.
“Before you say anything,” Mum said as she looked at us, “you two were just as bad. Want to see the pictures?”
Naturally, we declined mum’s kind invitation, and instead concentrated on eating our pork and vegetables.
“So I understand you are looking after Hazel and Clare tonight?”
“Yeah,” I said as I looked at Aunt Cassie, “their mum and dad are visiting someone so I get to have a nice quiet night in with them.”
“With those two? You are aware they have just bought a load of new CDs and want to play them?”
“So long as they do it in their room, I’m cool with that – they can play all the boy bands they like.”
“Even One Direction?”
“If they feel that desperate, yes.”
“Cool – I’ll ring and tell them,” Cassie said with a smile, as I realised I had walked right into that one.
“Anyway, won’t they have homework to finish off – like someone else I could mention?”
“Hey I’ve almost finished!”
“All right – I have those French words to learn, but…”
“Eh bien, vous avez besoin de le faire?”
“Not fair Jenny – you’re a couple of years ahead of her, remember?”
“Sorry Dad,” I said as he took the plates away, Cassie sticking her tongue out at me in response. She was smiling as she did that, though – which at least was something.
Mum served up apple crumble and custard, before we went into the front room, Dad bringing through coffees while Cassie sat and played with the twins.
“So when’s Bobby coming round to pick you up,” Aunt Cassie suddenly said, as Cassie blushed before saying “About four – the film starts at five.”
“What are you going to see?”
“Well, it was his choice this time so…”
“Oh lord – not the Turtles?”
Cassie nodded slowly and said “I threatened him with My Little Pony in retaliation, but I’m not that cruel.”
“So I suppose saying I hope you enjoy it is not that appropriate?”
“Well, he can buy the popcorn is all I’m saying.”
“I’ll pick you up at about eleven,” Dad said as he dropped me outside Hazel and Clare’s house. I was wearing an old grey cardigan over a black top and jeans, with black leather boots, and walked quickly up the path to where their mum was standing.
“Hello Mrs Irvine,” I said as I came in, “Sorry if I’m late?”
“No you’re just in time,” she said as she closed the door. She was wearing a long sleeved red dress, with high heels, as she called out “Grant! Jenny Craig’s here!”
“Great,” their father said as he came down the stairs, adjusting a bow tie as he did so. “The emergency numbers are by the telephone, but I’m sure you won’t need them. We should be back by eleven, but if not I’ll ring your dad and tell him you’ll stay over.”
“Thanks enjoy your evening,” I said as Mrs Irvine pulled on a brown fur coat, and they went out. I made my way into the front room, where Hazel and Clare were sitting watching the television. As always seemed to be the way with those two, they were identically dressed, in polo tops, denim shorts and leggings – Hazel in a brown top and leggings, Clare wearing green.
“Hi Jenny,” Hazel said as she looked up, “our homework’s all done, and we’re just watching Totally Spies.”
“Do they still show that? I used to love watching it when I was your age,” I said as I sat and looked at the three girls.
“Yeah – on this channel anyway,” Clare said without looking over. “This one has a crazy woman who makes fashion boots and uses them to control women.”
“Like I said, when I was younger,” I said as I watched it with them. As I did so, I could read in their faces that they were thinking something, but what exactly I wasn’t sure.
When the program finished, Clare and Hazel looked at each other before Clare said “Jenny, can you play a game with us?”
“Oh – what sort of game?”
“We could pretend to be two of the girls, and you’re the evil villain who captures us and keeps us locked away, and we can try to escape.”
“Well, if you want to – all right.”
“Great – we’ll be back in a minute,” Hazel said as the two girls ran out of the room. “You can find something to use in the kitchen.”
“And I wonder what that could be,” I said as I went through, and found a roll of silver tape – as well as a ball of wool.
“Well, as good as anything,” I said to myself as I picked both up, as well as a pair of scissors, and then went back into the room, waiting as I heard a thump on the stairs.
I swear, it was all I could do to stop myself laughing as I saw them come in, each wearing a pair of their mother’s boots. Now, their mother is a little taller than me, and the girls a foot smaller, so the black short boots Hazel was wearing came up to her knees, and the grey knee length ones came over Clare’s knees.
“Any sign of the mad woman, Clover,” Hazel said as they walked in.
“Not yet Sam,” Clare said as they both turned and walked slowly backwards towards me.
“Well now, what have we here,” I said in a deep voice, as both girls turned and held their hands out, pointing their fingers at me.
“Where are all the women you’ve controlled,” Hazel said as she looked at me.
“Yeah, where are they?”
“Why don’t you join them – after all, you’re wearing my creations as well,” I said, along with a maniacal laugh, before I pressed the top of a Tic Tac box, and both twins froze on the spot.
“There now – I want you both to sit back to back, and link your arms before you put your hands in front of you,” I said, watching and smiling as the girls pretended to fight, but did as I asked, sitting with their arms linked and their hands in front of their bellies.
“You really thought you could get the better of me, Madame Du Pied,” I said quietly as I took the ball of wool, and tied Hazel’s wrists together, hands palm to palm, and then bent her legs, winding the wool around her legs below her knees and between them, before tying her ankles together as well.
“Must… Resist… But no… Will left…” Hazel said.
“It is better to relax, darling,” I said in my cool, deep voice before I started to bind Clare in the same way, “soon I will control all the young women in the country – and once I take over, the world is next!”
“You’re mad – and yet these are so comfy,” Clare said as I tied her ankles together.
“Why thank you,” I said quietly, “I only make the best – now the two of you need to be quiet.”
I tore three strips of the silver tape each and stuck them over their mouths – not a truly effective gag, I knew and they knew, but then wool is not exactly the best thing to tie someone up with either. This was a game, however, and at least I would get to clean it up quickly afterwards.
“All right now – I need to go and get the First Lady to assume command, thanks to the lovely black boots she is wearing. You two enjoy the time together – before I deal with you permanently.”
Another maniacal laugh, and I left the twins to struggle while I went up to the bathroom. I knew they were not in any real danger, and they were laughing and playing along, so I took care of what I needed to take care of.
When I came back down, I could still hear them giggling away, so I went to the kitchen to pour myself a drink. I took a glass from the cupboard, and was about to get some milk from the fridge when I was grabbed from behind, and I heard a voice saying “Don’t struggle, don’t scream – I promise you I will not hurt or harm you or the girls, so long as you do as I say.”
I nodded, confused for a moment by what I was hearing, as the leather gloved hand was taken away and I was turned round. The person who grabbed me was wearing a black leather jacket, zipped up to their neck, and pants with black trainers.
There were a few strange things – the leather gloves, and the stocking pulled down over their head for starters. It was when they said “Now, I am going to rob this house, and I am going to tie you and the girls in there up, but I want it to not be too traumatic for them, so you’re going to persuade them this is a pre-arranged game, understand?” that I realised who it was.
The Games Player – and the female one at that.
“Now, do you understand?”
“Yeah, but I’m only the babysitter, I don’t know where anything is here.”
“Not a problem,” the woman said, smiling under her stocking as she then said “What’s your name?”
“Jenny – Jenny Craig.”
For a moment, the masked woman just stared at me, and if it was a name she’d heard before. “Jenny Craig,” she finally said, “I’ve heard of you – and your sister.”
“Oh – good things, I hope?” It occurred to me that, with all the times we’ve ended up in trouble, we might be known a little outside our immediate circle.
Sheesh – I was starting to sound like Granny.
“Listen,” I said quietly, “If you’ve heard of me, I’m betting you’ve heard a few tales – and they’re all true. But all of those tales – all of them – were people who threatened to hurt me or my family or my friends. So my question is, apart from the fact you are masked and threatening to tie me and the girls up, are you going to hurt us?”
“No,” she said with a smile, “will they accept it if you say it’s a game?”
“I think so – in fact, they’ve already started. Let me talk to them and explain the situation. Come with me.”
I led the way to the front room, the Player following, and said to the twins “girls, there’s been a change of plan. I’ve been grabbed by the Masked Marauder, and she’s going to hold all three of us hostage while she demands the ransom I was going to claim.”
Hazel and Clare looked at us, and nodded as the Player said “My my, you are tied – but I’m going to have to do it properly. You two don’t move while I take care of your former captor.”
I smiled at them and said “Don’t worry – we’ll be fine,” as she took my hands behind my back, and I felt my wrists being secured together with rope. She then said “I need to make sure…”
“Madame du Pied.”
“Madame du Pied really can’t move,” she said as I looked at her producing more rope.
“Listen,” I whispered, “please not above and below – not with the kids watching.”
She nodded and turned me round, tying my wrists to my back and my arms to my side around my stomach as I said “You’ll never get away with this Marauder.”
“They all say that,” the player said as she tied the rope off, and then allowed me to sit down, kneeling as she tied my ankles together, and then my legs below my knees. She knew what she was doing, as I felt my arms against my side, and the rope rubbing between my legs.
“Now, sit still, Madame,” the Player said as she looked at me, “I need to look at your two little heroine captives.”
She looked at Hazel and Clare, and then said “I’m going to cut your wrists free young lady, and then I want you to disentangle your arms from your sister, lean forward and put your arms behind your back, all right?”
Clare nodded as the Player cut the wool from her wrists, and then leaned forward, staying still as she folded her arms behind her back and tied her wrists to her elbows.
“There now,” she said as she tied her forearms together as well, “Let me take care of your partner, and then you can shuffle round and stretch your legs out for a minute.”
She cut Hazel’s wrists free as I struggled a little, and said “You’ll never get away with this – I will find you and I will destroy you.”
“Sticks and stones,” the Player said as the two girls shuffled round, the burglar smiling as she removed the wool from their legs. “Now, nice boots – do you know what it sounds like when rope rubs on leather?”
“Nnnn,” Hazel said, and as the tape was peeled away from her mouth she said “What does it sound like?”
“Let me show you,” she said as he wrapped some rope around Hazel’s ankles, and pulled them together, taking it around and between her legs. We all listened to the squeak as the rope rubbed against the leather, and I saw Hazel grinning as she said “it sounds funny.”
“Yes it does,” the player said as she tied Hazel’s legs tightly together below her knees. “There – now for your fellow spy here.”
As she crossed and tied Clare’s ankles together, and then secured her knees, Clare giggled as she rubbed her legs together. “Damn – what do we do now,” she said as she looked at Hazel.
“I need to go and make a few calls,” the Player said as she looked at us, “but if you promise not to call out or shout out, I’ll let you talk to each other for a little while.”
“We’ll be quiet,” I said, “except for taunting these two little twerps.”
“Have fun then,” she said as she left us in the room, and I tried to find the knots for the ropes holding my arms to my side.
“Yeah,” I said as I looked at Hazel.
“It’s not really a game is it?”
Shaking my head, I said “You’ve heard about the man who visited Cassie and me, as well as Patty and Rachel.”
“The Games Player?”
“That’s right,” I said as I wriggled my legs. “Well, a female one appeared on the scene a few months ago – and this is her.”
“Wow,” Clare said, “a real live robber – and a nice one too. Totally different from those men at Pippa’s place.” She tried moving her arms from side to side, and said “I guess we’re really going to get gagged as well.”
“I think we are,” I said quietly, “and I also think none of us are going to be able to move, so while we can talk, thank you for being so brave, and I’ll make sure your mum and dad know how brave you both were.”
“It’s a game, right Jenny?”
“Right, let’s just make it a game,” I said quietly as the Player came back in. “I need to stop you three talking now,” she said as she held three large handkerchiefs in her gloved hands, “so I need you to open your mouths wide, and then I will put these in before I put some special tape over your mouths. I’m then going to move Madame du Pied onto the couch, and I need you two to lie on the floor.”
“I’ll get you for this, Marauder!!”
“Ah, shaddup,” she said with a smile as she pushed one of the cloths into my mouth, and then covered it with the wide medical tape we use. The two girls allowed her to gag them, and then helped them to lie down on the floor, pulling their ankles back and tying them to their forearms.
“Hop over here,” she said as she helped me to hop over to the couch, and then lie down, my ankles secured to the rope around my stomach before I rolled onto my side.
“Something to keep you occupied,” the Player said as she turned the television on, and found Pop – which was showing a Totally Spies marathon. Two trussed and gagged twins happily watching, and me trying to make the best of a slightly uncomfortable situation.
“Jenny? Are the girls… Oh my god, Grant, get in here?”
“Heemmheddd,” Hazel said as she rocked to and fro on the floor, Clare nodding as well as Mister Irvine came in and looked round.
“Holy – Call the police,” he said as he knelt next to the twins and peeled the tape away from their mouths, saying “are you girls all right?”
“We’re fine dad,” Clare said, “but I really need the toilet. Jenny took really good care of us, though – she was a great babysitter.”
“They’re on their way,” Mrs Irvine said as she removed the tape from my mouth and eased the cloth out. “Who was it?”
“The Games Player – the female one,” I whispered. “The girls were very brave, and didn’t show how scared they were.”
“It’s not the first time,” Mr Irvine said with a little smile, “but thank you for looking after them Jenny. Let’s get all three of them freed and then they can talk to the police.”
“I swear,” Dad said as I got into the car, “only you could end up getting bound and gagged by a robber during a simple night babysitting.”
“I didn’t exactly ask for it,” I said as he drove off, “and my arms ache a little.”
“Well, she didn’t hurt you, for which I am grateful,” Dad said, “was it scary?”
“Only that it was a woman doing it,” I said with a smile, “but on the other hand, she understood when I asked her not to tie me that tightly.”
“They were fantastic,” I said with a smile. “Played right along.”
“Good – let’s get you home. One advantage of you dating the CID chief’s son – he knows where to find you.”
“True – I may just lie in tomorrow,” I said as I yawned, “I’m very tired.”
“No problem, I think Cassie and Lisa are going over to the farm tomorrow, and we’re taking the twins to look at a nursery, so you should be all right.”
“Yeah – it gives the twins a chance to meet some new friends,” Dad said with a smile. “Let’s get you home…”
When I finally woke up the next morning, and looked at my alarm clock, I was surprised to see it was nearly eleven in the morning. Getting up, I went down to the kitchen and poured some corn flakes into a bowl, munching on them as I went into the front room.
I didn’t get a chance to sit down before the door bell went, and put the bowl down, walking to the front door and opening it.
“Ah,” Colin’s dad said as he stood there, with one of his colleagues, “Did we get you out of bed, Jenny?”
“Ten minutes earlier and you would have,” I said, “come on in.”
“This is DS Kate Capstowe, from my CID department,” Mister Hampton said, “She’s our local liaison on the Games Player cases. Can we talk to you about last night?”
“As good a time as any – can I get you either some tea or coffee?”
“Tea would be nice,” DS Capstowe said as I showed them into the front room, and took my cereal into the kitchen.
“We could do this with your parents present,” Mister Hampton said as I brought the tea through.
“It’s all right – I’ve been through this enough times to know what is involved,” I said as I handed the mugs over. I smiled as DS Capstowe looked at her boss.
“Read the files when you have a spare week,” he said with a smile. “Why don’t you just tell us what happened last night, Jenny, from start to finish?”
So we sat there for an hour or so, DS Capstowe taking notes as I told them about the game, the robbery, and being found later that evening.
“So she never actually harmed you or the girls, beyond the ropes and the gag?”
“No – she went out of her way to make it a game, I think to keep them calm.”
“Well, it fits the MO of both of them,” she said as she looked at Mister Hampton, “I’ll get the statement typed up, and we’ll call you to come down and sign it for us. Make sure one of your parents comes as well to witness it.”
“No problem,” I said as I stood up.
“One thing,” she said as she turned round, “do you play these games with the girls a lot?”
“Hazel and Clare? Yeah they play that game a lot. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just something I never came across, until we found out about the chat room.”
“Believe it or not,” Mister Hampton said, “there is a chat room where people these two have visited get together and share experiences. Interest you?”
“No thanks,” I said with a laugh, “I get more than enough talk about experiences and techniques without going to a chat room for it.”
DS Capstowe looked at Mister Hampton, who just shook his head and said “Don’t worry – I know what she means. We’ll let you go and get washed now Jenny – and thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” I said as I showed them out, and then went back to the kitchen. “Scratch breakfast, I’ll do a toastie instead,” I said to myself as I put the cereal in the bin, and got some bread, ham and cheese out.
Once I’d eaten, I went and had a shower, coming down just as mum and dad were coming in with the twins.
“Hey – when did you get up,” Mum said as she closed the door, Susan babbling away in her arms.
“After eleven – Colin’s dad came round with a colleague and talked to me. I’ll need to go and sign the statement at the station, and she says one of you needs to come with me?”
“Yeah – that’s the rule,” Dad said with a smile. “Don’t worry – when the time comes I’ll run down with you.”
“So how was the nursery,” I said as they took the coats off the toddlers, and sat them in their chairs in the kitchen.
“They enjoyed themselves, especially as Danny and Andy were there as well. They may all go to the same nursery at the same time.”
“Oh they’ll like that,” I said as I tickled David’s chin.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I looked at Mum and Dad,” what did you just say David?”
“That’s right,” I said as I gave him a big hug,” I’m Jen. Well done, David.”
The front door bell rang at that point, so I took my mug and went to answer it.
“Hey there,” Aunt Cassie said as she came in, “your dad told me what happened. You all right, kiddo?”
“Yeah – it was nothing compared to some of the situations we’ve faced in the past,” I said with a smile.
“That’s my Jennifer Alison – we’ll make a fighter of you yet.”
“Don’t let Aunt Connie hear you say that,” I said as we went into the kitchen.
“Hi sis,” Dad said as we came in, “what brings you round here?”
“Nothing major – I just needed to talk to both of you about Mum’s birthday. Have you made any plans yet?”
That was my cue to slip back out, as I grabbed my coat and went out to do some shopping.
I had planned a quiet night at home – Colin had gone with Bobby to a football match, and I really just wanted to sit in and watch the Apprentice.
So naturally, things began to go wrong while we were watching the news, as Mum looked at her diary.
“John, did you take the information round to Patricia yesterday?”
“Information? What information was that?”
I saw Mum look at Dad, and then say “the information about you know what?”
He looked at her for a moment, and then went “Oh – oh, no I didn’t, and I have to go over and see Mark later about something else. Can you…”
“It’s all right Mum – I can take it round later if you want. I need to talk to Cathy anyway about Saturday – I can deal with both things at the same time.”
“All right then,” Mum said, “we’ll give you an envelope to take round, and you can leave it there, but don’t open it.”
“Oh – a family secret?”
“Just don’t open it,” Dad said, “leave it for your Aunt Jessie.
“Try not to run into any masked robbers this time.”
It was actually a cold night, so I put on my fur lined bomber jacket over my hoodie, and walked as quickly as I could to Aunt Jessie’s house, the envelope tucked under my arm. I had a pair of trainers on, and it didn’t take me too long to walk round and up the path, knocking on the front door.
“Hey there,” Cathy said as she opened the door, “what brings you round here?” She was wearing a blue short sleeved top over a longer sleeved white top, a blue denim knee length skirt and white tights.
“I need to leave this for my aunt,” I said as I held up the envelope.
“Well, come away in – Sam and I were just having a drink,” she said as she opened the door, and we went into the front room. Sam Stewart was sitting on the couch, and as he turned round he said “Oh hi Jenny – what brings you here?”
“Patty’s Jenny’s cousin – she had to bring something for her mother. Wait here – I’ll get another glass.”
I sat down and looked at Sam. His hair was curlier than the last time I saw him, and he was wearing a long sleeved grey top and jeans.
“There we go,” Cathy said as she put the glass down and poured some coke. “I heard you got into a little bit of trouble last night.”
“That’s one way of putting it – I was babysitting for the Irvines when an intruder tied the three of us up, and robbed the place.”
“You were? Does that happen all the time around here?”
“Don’t you have burglars where you live Sam?”
“Oh we do – Dorset is a hotbed of criminal activity,” Sam said with a laugh. “It just seems to happen around here a lot more.”
“I’m not sure it does,” Cathy said, “it just appears that way.”
“Thanks,” I said as I took the glass and had a drink. “Speaking of my darling cousin, where is she? And Rachel for that matter – I thought she was staying here tonight?”
“She is – they’re upstairs in bed. They said, and I quote ‘we will leave you two oldsters to enjoy yourselves and go up’.”
“Fair enough – I’m just going to the toilet,” I said as I put the glass down and went upstairs. It was while I was coming out I heard the muffled laughs, and I looked in Patty’s room.
The girls were there all right, in their onesies – but they were sitting on the bed, their ankles tied together with silk scarves and then secured to the bottom legs of the bed. Their wrists were also tied together in front of them with another scarf, and a third one was tied in a knotted band into their mouths. They were looking at a laptop, and didn’t hear me as I came in and looked.
“Who on earth,” I said as they whipped their heads round, “are IvyTheTerrible and ViThrFirst?”
“Hhhllljnee” Patty mumbled as she typed on the keyboard, and on the screen appeared the following.
PattyBound Sorry about that – my older cousin just came in and surprised us.
IvyTheTerrible Oh dear – are you and Rach in trouble now Patty?
PattyBound Hardly – she’s the one who taught me how to treat it as a game, one of the heroines of The Lost Weekend.
“The Lost Weekend – oh no you haven’t told them about the weekend at the hall, have you?”
“Nleewhtthpprrssd,” Rachel mumbled.
“Only what the papers – oh boy…”
ViTheFirst Really? THE Jenny is in the room with you? Tell her she’s an inspiration to all of us, with the way she and Cassie helped you both.
IvyTheTerrible Agreed – I mean, the Games Player is one thing, but she’s dealt with far more terrifying people.
PattyBound You’re making her blush now.
They were actually, so I said “Look, you can keep talking for a while, and tell them – tell them thanks.”
“Gsha,” Patty said, and then she said “Cnuddussprlrlyinfeemns?”
“Yeah, I suppose I can – once you’re finished,” I said as I left them in the room, and went back downstairs.
“How are they,” Sam said as I came in. I looked over at Cathy, who nodded and said “It’s all right – he knows?”
“Tied themselves up with Aunt Jessie’s scarves and in some sort of online chat room – must be the one Colin told me about.”
“Online chat room? At their age?”
“It’s a small one – and I understand someone is monitoring activity anyway. It’s where those who have met this Games Player share their experiences. Apparently, Cass and I are heroines on that board.”
“Well, think about it Jenny – you’ve faced some of the most notorious criminals around and come through. Cassie even got a bravery award – and so did Bobby for that weekend.”
“Maybe – but I’m not sure I like the idea of being a hero to those girls.”
“And the occasional boy…”
Both Cathy and I looked at Sam, before he said “not me – a cousin of mine. He and his sister were held by this guy, while he robbed their house.”
“Sam Stewart, you really are a dark horse,” Cathy said as she cuddled him.
“Anyway, I said I‘d go and make them more secure in a little while…” I then saw Sam and Cathy look at each other, and I said “what?”
“Jen – will you do something for both of us?
“If Aunt Jessie gets back first…”
Cathy nodded to show she understood and then looked at Sam, who was wondering what it was he had agreed to. They were both sitting on the couch, their arms pulled behind their backs where I had tied their wrists together, and then some rope around their arms and stomach. Their ankles were crossed and secured, as were their legs below their knees, and a strip of white adhesive tape covered their mouths.
“Wllbffnnn,” Cathy said as she put her head on Sam’s shoulder, and then looked up as he leaned over and gently pressed his gagged mouth on hers.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” I said as I went back upstairs. Both Patty and Rachel were sitting on the bed, waiting as I took the lap top away and then looked at them.
“Is Aunt Jessie fine with you using these,” I said as I looked at the pile of old scarves on the bed. Patty nodded as I took two long scarves, re-tightened the one holding their wrists together, and then tied the second scarf between their wrists, before I secured again their ankles.
I helped Patty to lie back, and removed her glasses before I put her hands above her head, and tied the scarf to the headboard. Waling round the bed, I did the same for Rachel, and removed her glasses as well, before I tightened the cleave gags, and used the tape I had used downstairs to cover their mouths as well.
“You two are sure you’re going to be all right like this,” I said quietly, Patty and Rachel nodding as I turned their light off, and went back downstairs, going into the kitchen and making myself a drink as I sat down with a magazine. I figured it would be best if I stayed around for a while, while Sam and Cathy were giggling in a muffled way in the front room. They had said they were going to try and free each other, but I got the feeling they might take their own times over it…
“You were a while,” Dad said as I finally came back in.
“Yeah, sorry – got caught up talking to Cathy and Sam. What’s happening?”
“Not a lot – I recorded The Apprentice for you. You’ll love it.”
“Great – thanks Dad.”
“Oh by the way – Alicia rang. Can you meet her in town tomorrow?”
“Yeah of course – did she say where and when?”
“Costa – eleven am.”
I was sitting at a table for about five to eleven, with a fleece on over my red top and blue jeans, my feet toasty warm in my new brown fur lined boots, when Alicia came in.
“I got you your usual,” I said as she came over, unzipping her sleeveless tunic as she sat down.
“Thanks – I need this,” she said, “so how are you?”
“I’m fine – I take it you heard about the other night as well?”
“Who hasn’t? According to Bobby, there’s a book starting on how long it might take you to complete the set.”
“To complete the what?”
Alicia put her cup down and sat back. “Let’s see – Jay Edwards three times, both Games Players, the Green Mask, that Mister Smith character, The Pearl – about the only major criminal you haven’t being held hostage by would be this Mrs McPhee that Jay Edwards sometimes uses, so if you got held by him again…”
“Are you seriously saying someone is taking bets on how long it is before I fall into the hands of Jay Edward again?”
“If they were, what would you say?”
I sipped my own coffee, and then said “Given my luck, who knows? Anyway, if it does happen, I hope it’s not for a good long while. So what’s up?”
“I need a favour from you, if truth be told.”
“Oh – what?”
“Thursday night – I was meant to be babysitting for a friend of Dad’s, but Martin and I have a late booking to go and entertain at the old folk’s home. Any chance you can do it for us?”
“I don’t know, Alicia – who are they?”
“Mister and Mrs Curson – he knows Dad through business contacts, and they’re going out with Mum and Dad on Thursday for dinner. You’d need to sleep over, but I do that sometimes as well. I know how long Dad can talk for when he gets started.”
I thought for a minute, and then said “Let me talk to mum and dad first, all right? I’ll call you later on and let you know. I don’t think it will be a problem, but you never can tell.”
“Great – so what are you going to wear on Saturday to go into London?”
“I’ve got this new Aztec print top I thought I’d wear with my skinny jeans – by the way, I saw Cathy with Sam last night.”
“Oh yeah – what’s the gossip on that front?”
“Well, they’re getting real close – they got me to tie them both up and tape gag them, so that they could try and free each other.”
“Really? You didn’t go full job on them then.”
“Oh come on – I went up to tend to Patty and Rachel, and they were gag kissing.”
“Oh now that is romantic,” Alicia said as she looked at me. “I wonder what would happen if I tried that with Martin?”
“Come on – he’s still getting used to the idea of tying you up!”
“Oh on he’s getting very good at that now, in fact,” Alicia said as she leaned over, “I got him to do the double chest ropes last time, and then he held me as I lay on his lap.”
“Really? What happened?”
“It’s difficult to describe, it just – felt right. He untied me later, but I’m hoping he might do it again tonight while we’re rehearsing at home.”
“Nice to have something to look forward to,” I said, and then we both laughed as we sat back.
“Mum, Dad, I’m back,” I said as I came back in.
“In the front room,” Mum said, and I went in to see Aunt Cassie having a coffee with her.
“Hey Jenny,” she said as she looked over, “how’s Alicia?”
“She’s good – she asked if I’d do her a favour and babysit a couple of kids on Thursday, but I’ve never heard of the couple.” Looking at Mum and Aunt Cassie, I said “do either of you know the Cursons?”
“I’ve met them at events,” Mum said, “Tom Curson works for Wolfe Barret, the stockbrokers, while Mandy is a sub-editor on a magazine. You’ve had some dealings with them as well, haven’t you Cassie?”
“With the firm, yes, but not with them,” Aunt Cassie said. “When I was doing my old job, certain finances went through that firm’s hands. We shut that side down, and those responsible were dealt with, so the fact I haven’t heard of that particular couple should be taken as a good thing Jenny.”
I nodded, and then said “I may have to stay late, so I’d need to take an overnight bag. Will that be a problem?”
“So long as you’re back by midday Friday it’s fine. Tell Dad tonight.”
I nodded and went to take my coat off. If only I’d known then…
“This must be the place,” Dad said as we pulled up outside a detached house near the Cottrell farm. It stood in a walled garden, and there was a large Bentley parked outside the front door.
“Yeah – well, here goes nothing,” I said as I got out and removed my bag from the boot of the car. “I’ll call if anything happens, but if not I’ll see you and the others tomorrow morning.”
I was wearing a white tunic over a black jumper and leggings, with a pair of black ankle boots, and as I walked up to the front door I hoped this was going to be a quiet, peaceful night.
Knocking on the front door, I waved to dad while he drove off, and then smiled as it was opened by a woman about the same height as me, wearing a black cocktail dress with high heels.
“Mrs Curson? I’m Jenny Craig, the babysitter?”
“Oh yes – come away in dear,” she said in a soft North of England accent. “The kids are in the front room watching television, I’ll introduce you to them.”
She closed the door behind me, and then showed me into the large main room. There were two girls sitting on the couch. One was about the same as Cassie, with long blonde hair pulled back in a pigtail. She was wearing a green blouse and blue jeans, and looked at me through her glasses.
“That’s Donna,” Mrs Curson said, “and this is Minnie, her younger sister.”
“Hi,” the redhead said as she looked up. Minnie had on a green t-shirt and green leggings with a floral print, as well as a pair of slippers.
“Was that the babysitter,” I heard a man say, and then Mr Curson came in, his red head receding and wearing a suit over a shirt and tie.
“Right – contact numbers are on the table with the phone, and we should be back in the early hours. And thanks again – I know this is an imposition.”
“No problem – when is it bedtime for the girls?”
“Nine o’clock for Minnie, ten for Donna,” Mrs Curzon said. “Bye girls – behave yourselves now.”
“We will mum,” Donna called out as their parents left, and I heard the car pulling away.
There wasn’t much of a response to that.
”Well now, is there anything in particular you want to do,” I said as I put my bag down and looked at them.
“Nah – mum and dad usually just let us watch television until we go to bed,” Minnie said as she looked at the screen.
“All right them,” I said as I looked at my watch. “What about supper?”
“We haven’t eaten yet – can we get some pizzas delivered in an hour or so? Mum or Dad should have left some money by the phone.”
I looked out on the table, and sure enough there was money on the phone table, so I looked back in and said “all right – I’m phone the order through in a little while, if you tell me what you want.”
“Pepperoni and Veggie Supreme,” Donna said, so I went into the kitchen to fix myself a drink, and then took it through, sitting with them as they watched some talent show.
I sat down, not paying much attention to it as I flipped through one of my books, until Minnie said “Can you order the pizzas please Jenny?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said as I went and used the phone to place the order. Coming back, I said “They’ll be half an hour to forty five minutes.”
“That’s good,” Donna said as she stood up, “it gives me time to go and have a shower, before I get ready for bed.”
Looking at the clock, I saw it was just after eight. “All right then – I’ll keep Minnie while you do that,” I said as Donna went up the staircase, and I sat down.
“So what sort of hobbies do you have Minnie,” I said in an attempt to start a conversation.
“Oh I sing in the choir – I love singing.”
“I’ve got a couple of friends that love singing as well – I’m not a very good singer, you know.”
“That’s all right – you seem like a nice friend to have anyway,” Minnie said with a smile. “Can I have a glass of coca cola?”
“Sure,” I said as I went to the fridge, hearing the sound of the shower start as I went in. Finding a glass, I poured some coke into it and then took it back through, turning as I heard a ring on the doorbell.
“That was quick,” Minnie said as I looked at my watch. “Twenty minutes, not bad at all,” I said as I left her sipping from her glass, and went to the door, picking up the money as I opened it.
“That was…” I wasn’t able to finish what I was saying, as a man dressed in a dark boiler suit, wearing black leather gloves and a balaclava over his head, pushed me back in and covered my mouth with his hand. There was something sickeningly familiar about this, as three more people dressed in the same way came in – two men and a woman. As she closed the door, one of the men looked at me, his head to one side, and said quietly “Good grief – bad enough we keep running into your sister, but you again?”
His voice was soft, and Geordie, and I knew who he was the second he started talking, my eyes moving across the group.
“Jay? Do you know this young lady?”
“I do indeed Mrs McPhee,” he said as he smiled, “this is Jenny Craig, the older sister of the redoubtable Cassie, who you met at the farm a few months ago.”
“Oh my – are you going to give us any trouble, Jenny?”
I shook my head as the man took his hand away. “No,” I said quietly, “so long as you don’t hurt me or the girls.”
I could still hear the shower running as the woman he called Mrs McPhee looked upstairs.
“Who’s in the front room?”
“Minnie – what are you going to do?”
“I think you already know, Jenny,” he said quietly.
“Look – there’s a pizza delivery coming soon. I know you’re probably going to tie us up and gag us, but let me take care of that first. I won’t tell them what’s going on here?”
Jay looked at me and nodded. “I trust you after the times we’ve met before, Jenny.”
“What’s going on?”
I turned to see Minnie coming out of the room, and looking at all of us. She opened her mouth to scream, but before she could Mrs McPhee walked over and put her hand over her mouth.
“Come in here with me,” she said as she walked Minnie back into the front room, “I promise you there’s nothing to be afraid of.” We followed her in, as Mrs McPhee said “now, Minnie, if you promise not to scream or make a loud noise, I’ll take my hand away, all right?”
She looked at me, as I nodded and said “it’s all right Minnie, I know you’re scared, but I’ve been with some of these people before. If you do as they say, you’ll be fine, and what happens to you they will do to me first, all right?”
Minnie nodded as well as Mrs McPhee took her hand away. “Good,” she said quietly, “now sit down on the couch, and finish your drink.”
I could hear the shower finish, and I said “Listen – let me talk to Donna first, tell her what is happening. It will sound better coming from me.”
“Only if I come with you,” Jay said, so I nodded and looked at Minnie. “Stay down here with the lady and the other two men,” I said as Jay and I walked up the stairs.
“I am really sorry we have met again,” Jay whispered as we walked up, “it just seems to keep happening with your family.”
“We must have an invisible sign above us saying ‘experienced hostages’ or something,” I said with a smile. “Please, just treat them kindly.”
“I always do, don’t I?”
I nodded as we stopped outside a bedroom with “DONNA” written on a little plaque. “Donna,” I said as I knocked on the door, “can I come in a minute?”
“Hang on,” I heard the older sister say, and then she opened the door, wearing a pair of blue cotton pyjamas. “Sorry, I was just – ohmygodwhoisheandisthataguninhishand?”
“Calm down, Donna,” I said as she stared open mouthed at Jay, “his name is Jay Edwards, and I’ve met him a few times before. I’m afraid he’s going to get your dad to do something for him later, and that we are going to be held hostage while he does that. What I need you to do is to take deep breaths, and then listen to me without saying anything, all right?”
Donna slowly nodded as she tried to calm herself down, and then looked at me. “Good – now listen. As I said, I’ve met him a few times before, so I know what’s going to happen. So long as you keep calm, and do as he says, you, me and Minnie are going to be all right.”
“All… All right,” Donna finally said, “where’s Minnie?”
“Let’s go downstairs now and join her,” Jay said as I followed Donna back down the stairs and into the front room. When we went in, I saw that Mrs McPhee had taped Minnie’s wrists together in front of her with white tape, and also secured her ankles together.”
“It’s all right Donna,” Minnie said as she looked up, “it doesn’t hurt. Mrs McPhee says we’re going to play a big game of hostages – Jenny as well.”
“That’s right,” Mrs McPhee said as she looked at Donna, “so please sit next to your sister, and I’ll secure your wrists and ankles as well.”
“I need to wait for the pizzas to arrive,” I said as I sat down as well, “but once they are here, the lady will do the same thing to me, all right?”
“All right,” Donna said as the masked woman taped her wrists together, and then her ankles.
“All right girls,” Jay said, “we need to talk to your dad when he gets home to get him to do something for us, and you, your mother and regrettably your babysitter will be the incentive for him to do that. It does mean you’ll be unable to move most of the time, and talk some of the time, but I promise you it won’t hurt too much. Now, we need to start by making sure neither of you can tell the pizza delivery person we’re here, so Ms McPhee is going to put a little bit of that tape over your mouths for a few minutes, just to allow Jenny here to collect and pay for the pizzas.”
As she tore a piece of the tape off, she looked at Minnie and said “Put your lips together and smile for me please.” As the young girl did so, Mrs McPhee pressed the tape in place, and then she did the same for Donna.
“Rullrrtmnee,” Donna said as she tried to talk.
“Usndfnnee” Minnie giggled.
“You have no idea,” I said with a smile as the doorbell rang.
“Now remember,” Jay said as I stood up, “nice and natural, and bring the pizzas in here.”
I nodded as I picked up the money and went to the front door.
“Hey there,” the man at the door said, “two large pizzas?”
“That’s right,” I said as I handed the money over, “keep the change.”
“Thanks – we don’t often get that,” he said as he took the money and I closed the door, turning as the masked man who had been listening came out and smiled, then pointed to the door.
“Ah – your food,” Jay said as I put the boxes on the coffee table, and then sat down, holding my hands out as one of the other two men taped them together. “May I trouble you for your mobile phone Jenny?”
“It’s in my coat pocket in the hallway,” I said as he leaned down and taped my ankles together.
“All right then – you go and disable that and the other phones,” he said to the man who had taped me, “and you keep watch upstairs. Mrs McPhee?”
“Right girls,” she said as she removed the tape from the sisters, “who wants what?”
“Is it all right for us to eat,” Minnie said, looking at me.
“Trust me, both of you – if you keep things as normal as possible, it becomes less frightening. So yes, take some pizza and eat it.”
I knew Jay Edwards was a criminal, but that he looked after us all the other times we met. This Mrs McPhee, however, was also a revelation. She spoke quietly, was kind to Minnie especially, and even wiped her chin with a cloth when she got some tomato on it. Somehow, however, I also knew she was just as determined as Jay and the other men.
“Their parents aren’t due back until late tonight, you know,” I said as I looked at Jay.
“No problem – as you well know, Jenny, we are patient, and we can wait. Would you like a slice of this?”
“I’ll take a slice of the vegetable please,” I said, taking it in my hands and putting some in my mouth.
“So what’s going to happen to us now,” Donna said as she looked at me.
“Well,” I said after I had swallowed the food, “do you want the good news or the bad news?”
She looked at her younger sister, and said “the bad news please.”
“I’m afraid that at some point, you, me, Minnie and your mother are going to be tied up so that we really cannot move, and we won’t be able to speak.”
The two girls paled visibly before I said “the good news is, this has happened to me before, and I know what’s going to happen. So – if Jay will allow me – I’d like to be the one to do it when the time comes for each of you. Jay will direct me, and I’ll try and do it so that you are as comfortable as possible.”
“What will mummy say,” Minnie whispered as she looked at me.
“Minnie, she will have to accept what has happened, because they will do the same thing to her. We can play a game of something for a little while before they do that, however – what would you like to play?”
“Can we play a game of Jenga?”
“I don’t see why not,” Mrs McPhee said, “finish your food and tell me where you keep the box, and then we will set it up.”
“It’s kept in the cupboard under the stairs,” Donna said as she ate her last slice of pizza. Once Minnie had eaten enough, the masked man took the boxes away while Mrs McPhee set up the game, and we all started to play, me shuffling off the chair and moving on my knees to come over.
Sometime later, I could see Minnie was starting to yawn, and so did Jay.
“I think we need to get you ready for bed, young lady,” he said with a smile. “Will you take her upstairs, Mrs McPhee, and make sure she does what is needed?”
“Of course,” the Scottish woman said as she cut the tape from Minnie’s ankles, and then took her up the stairs. Once she was up there, Jay cut me free, and said “why don’t you come with me and sort out some milk and cookies for these two young ladies?”
“Sure,” I said as I left Donna with the third man, and went into the kitchen with Jay.
“I know normally all the people we visit go to bed together,” Jay said as I poured milk into glasses, “but just how late are they returning?”
“Not sure – I brought some pyjamas for myself just in case.”
He nodded as he said “well, we may let young Minnie fall asleep down here before we secure her in her bed. Let’s see what happens.” He picked up a plate of biscuits and then took them through while I carried the glasses of milk.
A few minutes later Minnie came back with the masked woman, dressed in a blue Belle nightgown. She had a pair of blue bedsocks on, and sat down to take the glass of milk.
“Thank you, Jenny,” she said with a smile as she had her supper, before saying “what happens now?”
Mrs McPhee handed her two sponge balls, and said “We need to make really sure you can’t move, so it’s time for you to be the first hostage. Take these in your hands and make a fist, then hold your hands out.”
“Like this,” Minnie said.
“Just like that,” I said to encourage her as Mrs McPhee wrapped tape around her wrists, and then pulled a pair of white socks over her fists and arms, taping them to her forearms.
“They look like boxing gloves,” she said as Jay handed me a length of rope. “Tie her wrists together behind her back now,” he said quietly, “the same way we tied yours before.”
Nodding, I took Minnie’s hands behind her back, and tied her sock covered wrists together, crossing them and wrapping the rope around and between them.
“Is that too tight,” I said as I took the rope between her arms.
“No – all I feel is like a rubber band round them,” she said as I tied the rope off, and then took a second length, wrapping it around her waist as it held her crossed wrists to the small of her back.
“There now – Can you move your hands,” I said as I held her upper arms. Minnie tried to, but then shook her head as she said “no – and it’s not that scary either Donna.”
The older girl looked at me as I said “the trick is to not get upset, or panic, but just try to treat it as a game. Now I need to tie Minnie’s arms to her side so that she really can’t move them, right Mr Edwards?”
“That’s right Jenny,” he said as he smiled and handed me a longer length of rope. “Tie it round her stomach first, and then around her arms.”
I then did the double figure of eight tie he was talking about, making sure it held her arms snugly against her side, before I said “sit down now Minnie. Perhaps Mrs McPhee can put the television on for a little while and let you watch a cartoon?”
“Let’s see what’s on,” she said as Minnie sat next to Donna and wriggled back, her legs hanging off the edge of the couch.
“Tie her ankles now, and then her legs,” Jay said, so I took the tope he offered me, and tied her ankles tightly together side by side, making sure I took the rope between her legs as well. I then folded back the skirt of her nightdress, before starting to tie her legs together below her knees.
“I need to go to the toilet,” Donna said quietly as she watched, fascinated at what I was doing.
“Of course – Mrs McPhee?”
The masked woman cut Donna free and took her upstairs as I folded the skirt back, and said “How does that feel?”
“Funny – strange – but not too bad,” Minnie said as she looked at me, and then at Jay Edwards. “Do I have to be kept quiet now?”
“No, not yet – we’ll wait until your sister comes down and we have her tied up as well before that,” Jay said, “so long as you promise me you won’t shout out or anything.”
“I promise,” Minnie said quietly as I smiled.
“Good girl – oh look, the third Lion King movie. Would you like to watch that?”
Minnie smiled and nodded as I waited for Donna to come down.
When she came in, Jay handed her the sponges, and I watched as her hands were covered, before binding her wrists and arms in the same way I had tied Minnie.
“Have a seat Donna,” Mrs McPhee said, and as I started to tie her ankles together I saw Jay take some other items out of his bag, knowing what was coming after I had finished securing the older girl.
“Right then,” Jay said as Donna wriggled on the chair, “it’s time for you to be kept quiet. The first thing you need to do is to open your mouths as wide as possible. Jenny is going to put a folded cloth in, and then tie a knotted length of towelling into your mouth. Once she’s done that, see how much you can talk.”
“What if we choke,” Donna said as she looked at me.
“Don’t struggle – and then you’ll be fine,” I said as I put the cloth in her mouth first, and then tied the knotted strip so that it went round her cheeks.
“Why don’t you use the tape again,” Minnie said as she looked at her sister.
“I’m going to use that as well, but they want to be really sure you can’t tell anyone what’s happening – especially your parents. Be brave, Minnie – you get used to it surprisingly quickly.”
She nodded as I cleave gagged her, and then looked at the roll of white tape as I tore the end free, and started to wrap it round Donna's mouth and head, to further silence her.
“Thsttht,” she mumbled, her eyes widening at how quiet she sounded while I wrapped the tape round Donna’s head. I then took the black scarf Jay handed to me, folded it into a band and tied it over Donna’s mouth, before using a red one on Minnie.
“Just keep breathing in and out through your nose,” I said quietly, “and you’ll be fine.”
“Very good Jenny,” Jay said as he looked at me. “Now, go with Mrs McPhee and change into your pyjamas – you will be staying the night as well.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all – remember, girls, just stay calm and you’ll be fine,” I said as I went upstairs with the masked woman.
“You’re doing very well keeping them calm,” she said as we got to the bathroom.
“Thanks – I think. I just don’t want them to be scared like I was the first time.”
“I understand – go in, do what you have to do, and then come out again.”
It took me a few minute to put on my knee length shorts and t-shirt top, and when I came out I saw her holding the sponge balls and the tape.
“Can we do this downstairs – it’s important they see I’m being treated in the same way as them,” I said.
“Sure,” she said in that lilting voice, and we went back down, where I saw Minnie’s eyes were slowly closing. I allowed Mrs McPhee to cover my hands, and then tie my wrists together behind my back, before Jay tied my arms to my sides, using rope around my stomach and my shoulders.
“Have a set Jenny,” he said quietly, “and we’ll get your legs nice and tightly tied.”
Donna watched as my legs were tied together, and then my legs below my knees. I know what was going to happen, as Minnie’s eyes closed and her head fell onto Donna’s arms.
“Why don’t you take young Minnie up to her room and secure her to her bed,” Jay said to the other masked man, “Mrs McPhee will come up with you just in case.”
He picked Minnie gently up and carried her upstairs, Mrs McPhee following, while Jay said “we’re only going to put something into Jenny’s mouth and tape over her lips Donna. She will get the same as you later, but she will need to talk to your mother and father later, all right?”
Donna nodded as I allowed him to push a sponge ball into my mouth, and then covered it with tape, watching as I sat back and said “Tllblrrttt” to Donna. She nodded as Jay sat with her, and we watched the television.
It was nearly eleven by the time Donna dropped off, and I watched as she was carried upstairs, Mrs McPhee accompanying her as well before she came back down.
“We tied their ankles to the bottom of the beds, as per usual,” Jay said as they both sat and looked at me. “Stay calm, Jenny – I am sure they will be back soon enough…”
I nodded to show I understood, while they turned the television off and then the room lights. We sat in darkness, with me wondering how long it would be before we saw headlights outside.
It was about another hour – so after midnight, perhaps nearly half past – when we saw the headlights outside. I saw Jay dimly put his finger to his lips as he stood by the side of the door, and waited as we listened to it open.
“Jenny must have fallen asleep,” I heard Mister Curson say, as the door closed. “Take a look in the front room, Mandy.”
I looked to the doorway as Mrs Curson came in and turned the light on, staring at me and then saying “Tom? Tom get in herrrmmmmmm….”
Mister Curson came in to see me sitting there, bound and gagged, and Jay Edwards holding his wife with his gloved hand over her mouth.
“Good evening, Tom,” he said quietly, “as you can see we have been here a while, so no shouting, no heroics. Very quietly, sit down with your hands on your head – then we can begin.”
“Who the hell are you,” Mister Curson said as he sat down.
“My name is Jay Edwards – perhaps you’ve heard of me? The lady next to your babysitter is Mrs McPhee.”
“Whrhrmgrls?” Mrs Curson mumbled as she looked at me.
“Your daughters are asleep upstairs, and perfectly safe, if unable to move or speak,” Mrs McPhee said. “Your babysitter did an exemplary job of keeping them calm given the fact we held them at gunpoint – you should be proud of her for that.”
“Please sit with your husband,” Jay said as he let go of Mrs Curson, who walked over and sat next to her husband.
“Are you all right, Jenny,” she said as she looked at me. I nodded and mumbled something about I’m used to it – then realised how glad I was that all they heard was “ysmffnnn.”
“Now then,” Jay said as he stood by the door, the other two men looking in, “I want you, Mrs Curson, to go with Mrs McPhee. She will show you the girls, and then I want you to change into something more comfortable. Mister Curson, I need to talk to you.
“Let me talk to Jenny first.”
“Of course,” Jay said as he removed the tape and eased the sponge out of my mouth. I worked my jaw for a moment, and then said “I promise you, Mrs Curson, I kept them clam and tried to stop them being scared. When I saw them go upstairs, they could not say anything, but they were calm and they weren’t afraid.”
“How can you be sure?”
I swallowed and said “because they made me tie them up, under their instruction. They had guns – I didn’t have a choice…”
“It’s all right, Jenny – I’ve heard of him, I know you had no choice. Mandy, go with her, do what she says, and then tell me the girls are all right.”
Mrs Curson nodded as she went out of the room with Mrs McPhee, and Jay sat down.
“It’s very simple, Tom – may I call you Tom? You are going to go with one of my associates to your offices, and there you will transfer some money to a private account. So long as you do as he says, your wife, your daughters and their delightful babysitter will be unharmed. Of course, you may choose to do something stupid, but you need to be aware there may be – consequences.”
Tom looked at me and nodes slowly. “I understand – just don’t hurt them.”
“We most sincerely hope we don’t have to, Tom – so I want you to sit forward, and put your hands behind your back. It is a necessary step.”
I struggled a little then as Jay tied Mister Curson’s wrists together behind his back, while I heard movement upstairs, where I knew their bedroom was. “How do I know I can trust you,” he said as he turned back and looked at Jay.
“You know of me – have I ever really hurt anyone I have visited?”
Mister Curson shook his head at the point, as Jay said “Well then do as I say and this will not be the first time.” Standing up, I saw him take a cloth and a knotted strip of towel from the bag, before he said “and now, Jenny, time for you to be quiet. Open wide please.”
“Please, Mister Curson, do as they say,” I whispered before I felt the cloth pushing my tongue down, and then the towelling in my mouth as he tied the band round my head.
“Oh my god,” I heard Mrs Curson said, and I saw her standing in the doorway with Mrs McPhee. She already had rope around her body, holding her arms to her side, and as I watched her walk past I saw her covered wrists tied tightly behind her back. The socks were taped to the sleeves of her green pyjama top.
“They’re asleep – tied like Jenny and me, and…” She watched as Jay wrapped the white tape round my head, and then tied a folded black scarf tightly over that.
“And gagged like that. Tom, please…”
“It’s all right Mandy – I’ll do what they tell me. Please, don’t be scared.”
“Thtsrtttmsscrsn – jssttltmmmdt.”
Mrs Curson looked at me and nodded as Jay helped her husband stood up. “You need to come with me now,” he said as he allowed them to share a kiss, and then led Mister Curson out of the room.
We heard the front door open and close again, and saw a set of headlights as the car drove off, before Jay came back in. “Time to keep you here Jenny,” he said as he helped me to lie on the couch, and then pulled my ankles back, tying them to my chest ropes before he rolled me onto his side, and placed a pillow under my head.
“Now then, Mrs Curson, we need to keep you quiet as well, and then we’ll make you comfortable on your bed.”
I watched as Jay gagged the girls’ mother in the same way as me, using a light yellow scarf as the last layer, before he helped her to stand up.
“I’ll keep young Jenny company,” Mrs McPhee said as he walked Mrs Curson out, looking at me as she left with eyes full of apologies.
“Just let your eyes close, Jenny,” Mrs McPhee said, “everything is going to be all right.” There was something about her voice that made me trust her, as I slowly relaxed, the adrenaline rush that had been keeping me going all night ebbing away as my eyes slowly closed…
“The babysitter’s in here!”
I opened my eyes to see sunlight coming through the curtains, and Barry Hampton standing in the doorway with a policewoman.
“Jenny? Good Lord, not again,” he said as he came in and removed my gag.
“Hello Mr Hampton,” I said quietly, “sorry.”
“For what, Jenny? Bad Luck?”
“Listen – don’t tell them how many times I’ve met Jay. Bad enough I got robbed while babysitting twice in a week, but…”
“The family’s upstairs!”
“Untie her,” Mister Hampton said to the police woman, and as she came forward and started to release me I could hear more people upstairs, and then the voices of Mrs Curson, Donna and Minnie.
“Where is she,” I heard Minnie say, and then she ran into the room, coming up and hugging me as she said “thank you, Jenny – I’m really sorry you had to go through that with us, but you made it not as scary.”
“Yeah, thank you,” Donna said as she appeared in the door with her mother, “we told her you kept us calm all night, and there was nothing you could do about it.”
“Why don’t you take the girls into the kitchen, Mrs Curson,” Mr Hampton said, “your husband will be back soon, and I want to talk to Jenny for a moment.”
“Come on girls, we can get your hero a drink ready,” Mrs Curson said as she smiled at me, and then took the girls out of the room while I rubbed my wrists.
“You and your sister are going to use up my quote of bravery medals – you know that don’t you?”
“I don’t want one,” I said quietly, “I was just doing my job, looking after the girls.”
“Well, they may disagree,” Mr Hampton said with a smile. “I’ve called your home – I told them I’d bring you home with me, so you go and get changed, and I’ll go and talk to the family, all right?”
I nodded as the policewoman helped me to stand up, and I went upstairs. My bag was still there in the bathroom, so I had a quick wash and changed, coming back downstairs and going into the kitchen to find Mr Curson had returned as well.
“Jenny – thank you,” he said as he came over and hugged me, “the girls told me about what happened, and hoe you kept talking to them and looked after them. IT could have been so much worse.”
“She’s a wonderful babysitter, mum and dad,” Donna said, “can she come and babysit for us again?”
“We’ll see,” Mrs Curson said as Mr Hampton stood up.
“I need to get Jenny home – her parents want to see her. We’ll send someone round later to see how you are coping.”
I nodded as he took my arm and picked up my bag, leading me out to his car. As I sat in it, and he got behind the wheel, he said “How many times is that now?”
“Four – I think. Maybe Patty is right – we do have this sign that says ‘rob us and tie us up’ over our heads?”
“I don’t think so,” Mr Hampton said quietly, “trust me – you get off with things lightly.”
“Even with the Pearl?”
“Point taken – come on, let’s get you home.”
“What am I going to do with you,” Mum said as she hugged me and kissed my head.
“I’m all right – it wasn’t that bad,” I said as Dad looked at me.
“In here,” he said as he took me in to where Aunts Cassie and Connie were waiting as well.
“What on earth happened this time,” Aunt Cassie said as she looked at me.
“They took me by surprise – the only thing I could think of was to keep talking to the girls, and keep them calm.”
“And you did the right thing,” Aunt Connie said. “Very well done.”
“Where’s my darling sister?”
“Gone to see Lisa across the road. Colin’s on his way round apparently.”
As if on cue, the front door bell rang and Colin came in, looking at me as he said “are you all right?”
“Yeah – it’s not the first time I’ve spent the night trussed up and gagged, after all.”
“You know what I mean!”
“Yeah, I know what you mean – we’re going up to my room mum.”
I took Colin by the hand and we went upstairs. As he sat down on the bed, he said “so how bad was it?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Mum and Dad, 10 being Mister Smith?”
Colin nodded as I said “a two – Jay was Jay, but it was Mrs McPhee that made it seem less scary. Whoever she is, she complements him.”
“Do I hear a hint of admiration in your voice for them?”
Smiling, I said “Actually, yes – I can see why Cassie says if she has to be held hostage, it should be by him.”
“Have you any conception of how strange that sounds – an appreciation society of robbers and hostage takers?”
“There’s something I need to show you some time – an online community that might blow your mind,” I said quietly. “Never mind that now, though – I need you to do something for me.”
“Oh – and what’s that?”
“Hold me and kiss me,” I said quietly, as Colin sat down and made me a very happy young girl.
And right then, that was all I needed.
A few minutes later, he said “by the way, I’ll pick you up at ten tomorrow. You haven’t forgotten have you?”
“Of course not – I’m looking forward to this!”
Saturday found me walking out with Colin, wearing a new light blue trouser suit over a white blouse and wearing my new black ankle boots, as we made our way down to the station. We had agreed to meet up and travel in together, before the girls went in one direction and the boys in another, meeting up again at 2 before we went into the show.
“You look nice today,” he said as we jumped onto the bus.
“Thanks,” I said, “you don’t look too bad yourself.” Colin was wearing a new brown leather jacket over a red jersey and jeans.
“So what exactly are you four boys going to be doing while we go along Oxford Street?”
“I’m not exactly sure, if truth be told – Mark said there was a shop he wanted to visit, but apart from that we’ll go where we fancy going.”
“Oh lovely – so we trust for you to meet us outside the Apollo at the appointed time?”
“Jenny, you have my word we will be there,” Colin said as we got off at the station. Mary was already there, Mark with his arm round her as she stood in her grey leather jacket.
“I don’t know Jenny Craig,” she said as she looked at me, “twice in one week? And him – AGAIN?”
“Don’t remind me – I still have some of the bruises,” I said as I hugged her.
“Mum and Dad heard – they wondered how you coped with it, or is it just a smily thing?”
“Little bit of both,” I said as Alicia arrived with Martin, her father dropping them off before he drove off, and finally Cathy arrived with Sam.
“You owe me a tenner,” Cathy said as she held out her hand, Alicia handing it over without a moment’s hesitation.
“You? You bet on me running into them again?”
“Seemed a prudent choice, given the history of you lot,” Cathy said, “but I honestly didn’t think it would be the same flaming week!”
“Trust me – neither did I. Come on – you can use that money to buy some drinks for the train journey…”
It was actually a very warm day in London – unseasonably so, as the four of us walked down Oxford Street. Cathy was wearing her sheepskin coat open at the front, while Alicia had on a grey knee length coat.
“Hey look at that,” Mary said as she looked at the window of Selfridges, “that skirt is gorgeous.”
“I never heard you say that about any clothes,” Alicia said as she looked at our friends. “Mark really has changed you, hasn’t he?”
“Only as much as you guys have changed thanks to Colin and Martin – and Sam in his own way.”
“Look at us – who would have thought a year ago we’d be talking about boys in this way to each other.”
“That reminds me,” Mary continued, “Mark said that his parents have been asked by Louise’s dad to do something for the wedding.”
“Them as well? Martin’s mum and dad have agreed to do the music for them.”
“So where are they getting married,” I asked as we walked into the shop, and Mary selected a skirt in her size.
“The old rectory,” Cathy said, “the reception’s going to be at Wissenden. You should apparently be getting invitations very soon now.”
The wedding was set for early December, and was promising to be quite an intimate event. Alicia whispered into my ear “Sarah and Brian are coming over for the wedding, and staying over Christmas.”
Good news to my ears – Sarah was a good friend. What’s more, I owed her my life – which was the most important thing of all.
“What do you think,” Mary said as she came out of the changing room, giving a little twirl as she looked at them.
“Not bad – a bit long, but not bad,” Alicia said.
“Hey, nothing wrong with long skirts,” Cathy said as she looked at her friend.
“I know I know – yeah, buy it if you can afford it,” I said, as I started to look at some tops.
“Are you sure chimmichungas are the best thing to eat before a theatre show,” Mary said as we sat round a table at Chiquitas on Leicester Square.
“Less talk, more eat,” I said as I put some of my burrito in my mouth.
“All right then – how terrifying was it meeting him again?”
“Not too bad surprisingly,” I said as I looked at Alicia. “Maybe it’s because we know what he can do, or maybe it was Mrs McPhee with him, but I wasn’t that scared.”
“Or maybe it’s the fact you were the responsible adult this time,” Cathy said.
I nodded – I’d been thinking the same thing. I guess I could now see something of what April must have felt way back when we first met Jay Edwards, back in our own house. She must have been petrified, but she kept calm, and in that way kept us calm. Cassie did the same thing at Louise’s house, with her friends – and it was my turn this time.
“I will say one thing though,” I finally answered, “we’re all acting adults when we babysit, aren’t we?”
We all nodded at that.
“Come on you three,” Mary said as she looked at us. “Can we stop being so morbid? Let us eat, drink and be merry, for later we watch Mormon!”
As we came out of the theatre, I was surprised to see Mister Bridges waiting with the car.
I wasn’t the only one – Alicia was surprised to see him as well, as he said “a small change of plan, young ladies and gentlemen. You are to accompany me please.”
“What’s going on,” Colin said as he looked at me.
“I have absolutely no idea,” I said as I sat inside, the others taking their seats before Mister Bridges closed the door, and we set off, all of us looking out of the window as we headed out of the city.
We were driven to Wissenden Hall, Mister Bridges stopping outside a tent in the front garden.
“What the hell is going on,” I said as I looked at Colin.
“This way please,” Mister Bridges said as he held the door open, the four of us walking in with our boyfriends to find Bobby and Cassie waiting for us.
“Enjoy the show,” Bobby said with a smile.
“Now, we kinda didn’t have the chance to celebrate your birthday properly,” Cassie said, “and with all that’s happened this week, we figured a little party where all of you get to be the pampered ones is exactly what’s called for. So, with that in mind, you four step into this area please, and get changed.”
“Into what,” Cathy said as we walked into a closed off area – and found four swimsuits and four bath robes waiting there.
“Pamper party? All right, if that’s what they want,” Alicia said as she stripped off.
“Come on – you three must have known about this…”
“Come on – you three must have known about this…”
I found out the next day that Colin had asked the others the exact same question, but when we came in it turned out they had been taken by surprise as well. Mind you, when we came out they had retreated somewhere else. Who was waiting for us? Cassie, Suzie, Patty and Rachel, all of them smiling as Suzie said “please, have a seat on the sun loungers over there.”
“What are you planning, oh devious cousin of mine,” Alicia said as she took one of the long bench like seats, the three of us occupying the others.
“Oh nothing much – just a nice little facial for all of you. So relax, and let us take care of you.”
As we leaned back, our heads resting on pillows, Patty walked round and said “close your eyes now,” placing what felt like cucumber slices over our eyes as we felt our arms being placed on the arm rests – and then the familiar sound of tape as they were secured in place, and then our ankles secured together.
“Open wide,” I heard Suzie say, and as I did so I could taste the silk as a scarf was placed in my mouth – and then nothing else. Instead, I could feel someone working on my nails, and someone else massaging my feet. From the sighs I could hear next to me, I got the distinct feeling they were having their nails and feet done as well – at the same time.
Which meant some others had joined them. I would guess at Hazel, Clare and Pippa, but who was the fourth? Anyway, I hate to admit it, but I was too relaxed after the week I had to really try to figure it out, so I just let them get on with it.
After a while, I felt the tape being cut away from my arms and legs, and reached up to take the cucumber slices away from my eyes. There were only the original four left, as Suzie said “please keep the cloths in your mouths until you are seated at the table.” They then led us through to the next part of the tent, where a table was laid out for a meal. We were each sat in a chair, and waited as they tied our ankles together, before securing them to one of the front legs, and then tied our waists to the chair.
“You may now remove the scarves,” Patty said, and as we did so we saw Pippa, Hazel, Clare and Louise bring out a cold platter for each of us.
“All right – so we’re going to be fed,” I said quietly, “but after – oh no, not that!”
“Oh yes that – but don’t worry, we have four willing volunteers lined up,” Cassie said. “For now, eat up – and enjoy.”
“What choice do we have,” Mary said, “I just hope we get to wear something nice later.”
Well, we got our wish, as we were led to the cellar and found the four camp beds laid out, as well as Suzie’s mother.
“All right girls – you may change into the pyjamas behind that screen,” Mrs Holderness said as the younger girls set off. We looked at each other and walked behind the screen, changing out of our robes and swimsuits into the silk pyjamas, and pulling on the bedsocks before we came back out – to see our boyfriends standing there, each of them holding a pair of sponges and big smiles.
“I think you know what you need to do,” Colin said as he handed me the sponges, and then they each picked up a roll of silver tape, turning our clenched fists into silver gloves before they pulled the socks up and taped them to our arms.
“Well, I guess we won’t be going anywhere tonight,” Cathy said as Sam folded her arms behind her back, and started to bind her wrists tightly together. I felt Colin doing the same to me, before he tied the rope around my waist to keep my arms in place.
“Why the folded arms,” Mary said as she looked over.
“I just feel more comfortable that way,” Cathy said with a shrug as Mrs Holderness came in. “I need to make sure your arms are secured,” she said as she started with Alicia, tying the rope round her arms and passing it above and below her chest. I nodded as she did the same to me, then Mary and Alicia.
“Before the boys come back in,” Alicia said, “can I ask a question Aunt Susan?”
“OF course – what is it?”
“Does Uncle Alex do these ropes on you sometimes?”
“Yes, he does.”
“and how does it feel to you?”
“Just the same way it feels to you,” Mrs Holderness said with a smile. “Shall I ask the boys back in?”
“Please,” Cathy said, smiling as we sat on the beds and waited for the four boys to come in. “You may proceed,” I said as Colin knelt in front of me, crossed my ankles and tied them tightly together, and then my legs below my knees, taking the rope in both places between my legs. I really felt secure and happy with him doing it, as he and the other boys picked up sponge balls and knotted lengths of towelling.
“Talk to you in the morning girls,” I said before Colin pushed the sponge into my mouth, and then tied the knot into my mouth as well, the band going around my head. They then took turns winding the white tape around our heads, before using silk scarves as bands to cover everything.
As we lay down, I wriggled round while Colin tied my ankles to the foot of the bed, enjoying the feeling before he said “Time to turn the lights off,” and left us to – well, that’s another story.